Sunday, June 14, 2020

Gene Colan, Al Williamson, Harrowers #4, page 9, Marvel/Epic Comics

One of my fantasies, as a comics-phile, had always been to see Al Williamson ink Gene Colan’s pencils. I mean the Al Williamson of the late 60’s to early 80’s who drew the ‘Secret Agent Corrigan’ and ‘Star Wars’ syndicated strips. I didn’t realize that my dream pairing had actually occurred, in the early ’00’s, in issue #4 of the Epic/Marvel Comics mini-series, “Clive Barker’s: The Harrowers”, (among other places). 

This page showed up on the Heritage Auction site in early 2012. I bid on it, thinking it was a rarity, and won, only to see a plethora of other Colan/Williamson collaborations become available over the following weeks and months.

I should have looked more closely before I bid; frankly, I’m not wild about the ink work on this page. This is not the work of the slick inking machine that I remembered from my youth. In fact, it seems rather crude. I’m thinking of Frank Springer, only with more pen work. This is fine, I suppose; I own 3 Springer originals. It’s just not what I wanted from Al Williamson. All right, fan boy, get over it and look at it for what it IS, not dismiss it for not measuring up to expectations.

The whole thing has a rushed quality. From what I’ve just read on-line, Williamson was trying to communicate the energy of Colan’s pencils, but the subtlety and nuance is lost. In panel 1, the only inking I like is done on the twin’s two right-most faces, and on the frame-right man’s right-most hand. But why did W. cross-hatch (sort of) the shadow area instead of just slapping down a solid black with the brush? You know, to make it pop, setting into the foreground so it would make a proper frame along with the close-up head in the frame left?

In general terms, the pen line width is fairly dead. Though there’s pretty good thick/thin action, there’s very little attention paid to using line width to suggest depth, or create emphasis. I’m thinking specifically of the lines under the top eye-lids. It’s a drawing 101 thing; put a heavier line  under that facial feature to draw attention to the eyes, one of the most important features of the face. On this page, W. does this rarely.

Another truism (I learned this on my first portfolio review at San Diego Con 1983) don’t use squiggle lines for cross-hatching or feathering purposes.  On this page, W is doing it all over the place, leading to a messy look. It may seem self-contradictory to those following my ongoing essays: Recently I praised Caniff and Bernet for their glorious spontaneity, their muscular crudeness, but I’m chastising Williamson for the same. I can only say that there’s a difference between muscular crudeness and sloppiness. I’m not sure what it is, but (like the Supreme Court justices ruling on Pornography in the early 70’s) I know it when I see it. Or maybe I don’t. Perhaps, as I conjectured earlier, I’m letting me expectations and preconceptions blind me to seeing valid work on its own terms.

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