It is an honor, and more than a little bit sad, to pass on the news that Al Williamson is the recipient of the 2010 Spectrum Grand Master Award. As a member of the advisory board I can say Mr. Williamson was an easy choice for the award and we all deeply regretted hearing of his passing.
The Grand Master Award is presented annually to a living artist whose career excellence has proven to be an influence on both readers and fellow artists; sadly, Al Williamson passed away on June 12th of this year. “The Advisory Board selected Al for this honor back in February,” Cathy Fenner, co-director of Spectrum Fantastic Art notes. “So while this announcement is being made several months after Al’s death, he was very much with us when the decision was made that he be this year’s honoree. It’s appropriate that his award be both a recognition and a remembrance of an important artist and member of the arts community.”
Born March 21, 1931 in Manhattan, Al Williamson spent much of his youth in Bogotá, Columbia; he returned to the States in 1943 and eventually resettled in New York. A deep interest in comics—and particularly the works of Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond—led him to enroll in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (the forerunner to the School of Visual Arts) where he studied under Burne Hogarth and met and befriended Roy Krenkel and Wally Wood.
He quickly began working in the comics industry and gained recognition for his science-fiction/heroic fantasy art for the EC Comics Weird Science and Weird Fantasy titles in the 1950s. In the 1960s he became famous for carrying on Raymond’s illustrative tradition with his work on the Flash Gordon comic book series for King Features and was a seminal contributor to Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror comics magazines, Creepy and Eerie.
Williamson spent most of the 1970s drawing his own strip (from scripts by Archie Goodwin), Secret Agent X-9 (which coincidentally was another Raymond creation); in the ’80s he became known for his work adapting the Star Wars films for newspaper strips. From the mid-1980s to 2003 he was primarily active as an inker mainly on Marvel Comics superhero titles featuring Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Spider-Girl. Early in his career Williamson often collaborated with other artists including Frank Frazetta, Krenkel, Angelo Torres, George Woodbridge, and George Evans; after he became established he also helped fellow artists that were down on their luck by hiring them to assist on jobs or steering clients in their direction. Williamson has been cited as a stylistic influence on a number of younger artists and nurtured and encouraged many. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2000.
Long considered an “artist’s artist,” Williamson’s friend and fellow illustrator Mark Schultz says, “What made his work unique is that he incorporated the fluid motion of cinema into his drawings. No other illustrator or cartoonist has approached his ability to create an illusion of action.” Flesk Publications has recently produced several books by Al, including Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic and Al Williamson Archives Vol. 1. Al Williamson Archives Vol. 2 will be released in 2011.
Past recipients of the Spectrum Grand Master Award are Frank Frazetta, Don Ivan Punchatz, Leo and Diane Dillon, James E. Bama, John Berkey, Alan Lee, Jean Giraud, Kinuko Y. Craft, Michael William Kaluta, Michael Whelan, H.R. Giger, Jeffrey Jones, Syd Mead, John Jude Palencar, and Richard V. Corben.
The Advisory Board consists of Rick Berry, Brom, Mark Chiarello, Leo Dillon, Diane Dillon, Harlan Ellison, John Fleskes, Irene Gallo, Bud Plant, Tim Underwood, and Michael Whelan.