Al Williamson Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon

Al Williamson – Flash Gordon Sunday pages

One of the highlights of doing Flash Gordon was the opportunity to work with Al Williamson (1931-2010).

Al worked on two Sunday pages during my tenure. This first page ran on November 7, 1999. The layout and partial pencils are by Al, the finished inks are by me.

Click on image to see larger.

This next page is dated July 8, 2001 and is all Al. It’s also the last Flash Gordon piece he did that saw print.


Backstory on the November 7th strip:

During the summer of 1998 I was working on staff as a colorist at King Features Syndicate. King was gearing up to move from the building it had occupied for decades and I got a tip that a number of old files were being thrown out. I was told by my editor that if I was up for it I could go through the dumpsters and keep whatever I wanted. The files that were being trashed mostly consisted of decades old paperwork and proof sheets from a myriad of projects/collections that spanned back for years and years.

Rooting through the dumpster I eventually came upon a a lost treasure – proof sheets of Al Williamson’s work on Flash Gordon from the old 1960’s King Comics. I could not believe my luck. Now this was around the time that Marvel was withholding artwork from Jack Kirby. That being the case I got Williamson’s contact info from our Comics Editor Tom Daning (who had worked with Al two years prior) and after making copies for myself I sent off the proof sheets.

About a week later, much to my surprise, I got a call from Al. He thanked me, then told me how all the artwork from that first issue of Flash Gordon he had drawn had been stolen years ago. He had sent it in to the publisher and after it saw print all the artwork went “missing” and was never returned to him. He greatly appreciated receiving the package of proof sheets from out of the blue – so much so in fact that he invited me out to his studio.

Al Williamson in his studio inking a Star Wars movie adaptation – October 1998.

I am still in awe of the original artwork I saw that day. His own and also of great pen and ink masters he admired from his personal collection; Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and much, much more…

Since I was the hired hand on Flash Gordon at the time, I inquired whether or not he would be interested in doing artwork for a Flash Sunday page. Granted, I knew he hadn’t had the best working conditions/relations with King in the past, so I was unsure if he’d be up for it. As he was under deadline inking a Star Wars movie adaptation at the time he politely declined and I left it at that.

Skip ahead a year…
Al would call me from time to time just to check in on how work was going and how the family was doing. By the fall of 1999 I decided to inquire again if he would be interested in doing a Flash page. At this time he said he’d be up for it, but he had two conditions.

1:  That he’d have plenty of lead time.
2:  Under no circumstance would he accept payment.

He wasn’t able to finish the page due to other deadline commitments, but he did provide a beautiful layout. What follows is the inking study he worked up on tracing paper.

Click on to see larger.

Williamson’s method of working up a page starts with an inked rough (to size). First laid out in pencil, Williamson then goes over it with ink to start tightening it up. He explained that comic pages he does the whole job on (pencils and inks) he literally ends up inking the page twice.

Click on to see larger.

I believe he later changed the figure of Dale because it was derivative of a drawing he had done shortly before this for another project.

Al blocked in partial pencils onto Bristol, then sent me the tracing paper so I could see what he intended. Due to time constraints he wasn’t able to pencil the inset characters.

And here’s my inks.

Click on to see larger.

I can’t say enough about how great a guy Al Williamson was, not just as an artist but as a mentor and friend.

For more on Al Williamson’s work on Flash (including these pages) I highly recommend Flesk publications’ Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon. The book includes an essay by Mark Schultz, and the art is beautifully shot from the originals whenever possible.


If Flash Gordon isn’t in your local paper, you can check it out online at…


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Flash Gordon Mark McMurray

Flash Gordon by Mark McMurray – 7/1/01

Today’s Flash Gordon strip (10/20/2013) originally ran on July 1, 2001.
The art assist is by Mark McMurray.



Shown below are the pencils followed by my inks.
Mark was always gracious enough to give me free reign if I wanted to alter anything.




For more of Mark’s work check out his website at:

Flash Gordon Francesco Marciuliano Sally Forth

Sally Forth/Flash Gordon Jam


The Back Story: The illustration above was actually my way of introducing myself to Sally Forth’s writer, Francesco Marciuliano, when I was initially trying out for drawing Sally Forth. (More on that in a previous post…)

It was originally part of a Sunday page I wrote and drew to show that I wouldn’t be drawing Sally Forth in the Flash Gordon style I was known for.

Here’s the genesis of the page starting with the partially inked pencils.


I hadn’t quite nailed the character’s likenesses in the first draft so I ended up inking the faces again then pasting them on the original.


Still was a little off – after checking my reference I discovered the style sheets I had were dated. I ended up inking the faces a third time on a separate piece of paper then making the switch in photoshop.


Last but not least, color was added (photoshop again) and the faux Sunday page was finished.

Click on image to see larger.
Click on image to see larger.

To wrap up, here’s the Al Williamson drawing (based on the 1980s movie the Forth family is watching) that I paid homage to in the splash panel.


Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon Page specs

Just got a question from Jim Frankenstin regarding the specs I used for Flash Gordon – thought I would answer it here for those interested…

Here’s my basic template.


This first strip is an example of a drop panel with a standard two tier layout underneath.
The drop panel is artwork the newspaper can opt not to print and it won’t affect the main body of the strip.

This second example is a drop panel followed by an irregular panel layout. Flash was offered in two formats; half page (with drop panel) and third page (without drop panel) so I could play with that bottom area however I felt as long as the proportions stayed the same.

I’ve played with different kinds of bristol and go back and forth between plate (smooth) and vellum (textured) – it usually depends on the job. I used 1-ply for awhile just because I didn’t have the best light box, but prefer 2-ply as it’s more durable.

I tended to work pretty small because the size it got printed was postage stamp size – far removed from the kind of real estate Alex Raymond had to work with in the Golden Age of the 1930s.

On the left, Flash Gordon 2/25/1934 by AlexRaymond.
On the right, Flash Gordon 11/10/2002 by Joe Kubert.

The size you work in is really dependent on the artist – as long as it stays proportional to the required specs. Patrick McDonnell on Mutts tends to work small compared to Ray Billingsley whose Curtis originals were larger than any other strip I saw during my tenure on staff at King.

Any other questions – just keep ’em coming…