Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Look! It's Luke! (and then I gush about Al Williamson)

I tried giving this drawing an Al Williamson feel.  I didn't succeed, but why would I even try such a thing given the gap in our skill levels?  I'll tell you... at length...
So many wonderful artists have worked on the Star Wars property over the years.  Start with the movie posters themselves, painted by the likes of Tom Chantrell, Tom Jung (with droids by one of my faves, Nick Cardy), the Brothers Hildebrandt and Drew Struzan.  There are others, but those pop into my head at the moment.  And in the comics and comic strips we’ve seen art from Howard Chaykin, Russ Manning, Carmine Infantino, Michael Golden, Cam Kennedy, Jan Duursema, Chris Sprouse, Alfredo Alcala, Dave Gibbons, P. Craig Russell and many more I can’t think of right now.

They’ve all contributed mightily to George Lucas’ universe, but the guy who best captured the spirit of the enterprise (crossover!) is Al Williamson.  Probably because he was the most naturally in-tune artist for Star Wars.  Influenced as it was by the works of Alex Raymond and film serials, Star Wars was perfect for Al Williamson, the foremost artist coming out of the Raymond tradition, and himself a big fan of the same serials.

Williamson didn’t do photo-realism.  He just treated Star Wars as it was meant to be treated, as if it was a classic old comic strip itself, and he gave it a lush, rich, illustrative look with his mastery of figure drawing, black-spotting and linework.  His Star Wars strips and comics are gorgeously drawn versions of the films, timeless and classic at the same time.  No one needs to go back and fix the special effects or add creatures and background elements.  The Williamson Star Wars universe is fully-realized and already perfect.  Idealized, even.  In many respects I find it superior to the films themselves.

Whenever I try to draw Star Wars characters, I can’t help but turn into the 12-year-old kid I was when I bought the Marvel paperback adaptation of Empire Strikes Back and first saw Williamson’s art and then had to copy it as best he could, line-for-line.  Williamson’s art exerted that kind of magical appeal immediately.  There’s no way I can overemphasize its impact on my sense of comic book aesthetics.  Earlier that day I had one idea about what I wanted to see and how I wanted to draw, I read Empire Strikes Back and by that night I had a new idea.  I enjoyed the more sketchy approach from Chaykin with its rushed energy and the slick, stylized caricatures of Infantino (especially when cleanly inked by Terry Austin), but Williamson finally gave me the Star Wars comic I had been longing for and hadn’t even known it.  I was, like many kids my age, already a confirmed Star Wars fanatic, but Williamson, more than the toys and novelizations and eventual TV movies and cartoons and very nearly as much as the films themselves, cemented my love for this stuff.

Shoot, Williamson gave me the COMIC I’d been longing for without knowing it.  I already liked Joe Kubert, Jack Kirby, Alex Toth and Alcala, and my appreciation of their work possibly primed me for Williamson.  But I might have been locked into a Neal Adams/John Byrne kind of mindset as the “correct” approach, bar none, had I not encountered Williamson and had I not been more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan than a superhero fan (actually, I was more into comedy than any of those, but you don’t see a lot of comic books based on sketch comedy or SCTV). 

From Star Wars, Williamson (and Jack Davis to an extent) also provided my entry point to the world of comic artists like Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, George Evans, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Roy Krenkel, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, then further into the past with Raymond and Hal Foster and all the way back to the present with Mark Schultz.

Now I know there’s not one true approach to drawing.  It take less time to point out the artist I think who are doing it wrong than it does to list the ones I think do it right because there are so few of the former and so many of the latter.  On any given day I might be more Kirby-oriented or more Tothian in my thinking, I never get tired of Steve Rude, spent last week imitating John Buscema while trying to teach myself to ink, love Adams, dig on some Byrne, think Michael Golden needed to do a long run on Star Wars himself, find Walt Simonson’s work looking better and better all the time, Bob McLeod remains a big influence and I am in love with the beauty of Colleen Doran’s characters.  I’m way into Mike Mignola, Paul Pope, Bruce Timm and Mike Allred, probably too much so for my own good.  Misako Rocks! just kills me, as do Matt Groening, Peter Bagge and Evan Dorkin.  John Severin, Nick Cardy, Los Bros Hernandez, Lynda Barry, check, check and check!  Oh, and let's not forget Rumiko Takahashi, Goseki Kojima, Ai Yazawa and Junji Ito.  And, as I said, all those other Star Wars artists who aren’t Al Williamson have done sterling work, stuff I also admire.

It’s just when it comes to Star Wars, they’re various planets and moons and satellites while Williamson is the bright center of the galaxy and when you see his take on it, you’re no longer on the planet it’s farthest from.  You’re right there with him, in the middle of adventure and magic and everything fun and good in the world of comics.

1 comment:

Richard Bensam said...

Look, we're all still disappointed Edith Prickley Team-Up never got off the ground. Nothing I say now can change that. The world will never know what really happened when Edith and Yosh Shmenge joined forces against Ed Grimley, or how she and Guy Caballero stopped the return of CCCP-1. But just like The Uncanny Pirini Scleroso, it was not to be.