Al Williamson: 1931 - 2010
That's what my pal Jimmy Palmiotti and I used to call him. That's what he was to us: a friend, a mentor, an inspiration...but at the end of the day, just "Uncle Al."
If I was ever asked to describe Al in one sentence, it would simply be, "He lived up to his billing." I remember as a young artist not only being in awe of the brilliant work that cemented Al as one of the true, few geniuses that ever graced our industry, but also reveling in the stories of his youth, of a young artist making his way and name in the big city. The tales of Al's adventures with friends and contemporaries like Frank Frazetta are the stuff of comic book legend, the urban equivalent of Flash Gordon or any other of Al's favorite pulp characters. It all seemed bigger than life, romanticized, an obvious myth exaggerated by others unintentionally through time. But then came the day that I was lucky enough to meet Al. There he stood - charismatic, movie star good looks, with a glorious mane of white hair that would make any aging rock star envious. He shook my hand and it was as if I'd known him my whole life. It wasn't long before I realized that these stories weren't myth. Nope, meeting Al was like meeting Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Cary Grant all rolled into one.
We got to know each other pretty well during that time. Surprising us both, and perhaps cementing our relationship, was the fact that Al was Colombian and I was Cuban, yet neither one of us would have guessed the other. To hear us speaking in fluent Spanish must've seemed just as weird to the people around us as it did to both of us. As it turned out, Al's wife was Cuban as well, so we had plenty in common and he made a point from that moment on to always call me by my given name, José. To this day, he's the only person outside of my parents to do that - it was very cool. Al was incredibly fond of Jimmy as well. I'm pretty sure it was the Brooklyn swagger and accent that reminded Al of some of his closest friends from days gone by.
Jimmy and I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Al, including taking a visit out to his amazing art studio where he showed us drawers filled with original art from some of his heroes, his prize possessions being Sunday pages from Hal Foster's Prince Valiant strip. Al was a historian and connoisseur of the art form and was actually a better draftsman than all of the greats he admired, but you'd never know it from speaking to him. He was as humble as they come, always deflecting compliments on his work. If you told him how much you loved his Flash Gordon art, he would tell you it wasn't that good, merely smoke and mirrors. If you drooled over his inks on Daredevil, he would tell you he was merely tracing and it was all John Romita, Jr. With all his talent, he never stopped short of complimenting the people he worked with.
He was truly a man from a different place and time. I doubt we'll ever see another like him in our industry again. Like I said, he lived up to his billing.
Godspeed, "Uncle Al,"
In lieu of flowers, All Williamson's family is requesting that donations be made to either of the following:
Yesteryears Day Program (a program for frail, isolated, or impaired seniors)
2801 Wayne Street
Endwell, NY 13760
The Al Williamson Scholarship Fund
The Kubert School
37 Myrtle Avenue
Dover, NJ 07801