Monday 5 September 2016

Al Williamson and Frank Bellamy recycled

Bellamy's art on "Dan Dare"
Eagle 7 Nov 1959 Vol.10 No38

****UPDATED: February 2023****See also Part Two

I recently saw a story drawn by Al Williamson, a great artist, on 'Groovy's' brilliant blog and remembered previously writing something on Williamson's 'borrowing' of others' work.Unfortunately none of my wonderful storage methods have enabled me to recover this work, so here goes again!

Referring to the first King Comics, (a short-lived comic book imprint of King Features Syndicate), "Flash Gordon" comic, the author (Mark Schultz, no mean artists himself) states:

"Produced under an intimidating deadline, the leadoff story in particular not only borrows from a Raymond but also features panels lifted cold from instalments of Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy's Dan Dare, a British science fiction comic.  Williamson has been open about his "swipes" of the work of others, a not-uncommon practice in the comics field and one attributable to the constant deadline pressure.  He has always willingly given credit to his sources." (p.20) - Al Williamson's Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic, (2009), Flesk Publications. ISBN-13: 978-1933865126
 Indeed he did say such things, I'd previously noted in James Van Hise book "The Art of Al Williamson", that he learned about drawing using photographs from assisting John Prentice (read more here about that work) and after this kept a 'morgue file' as artists call their clippings before the Internet made it so much easier.

I should acknowledge that until today I was not aware of Eric Mackenzie's interesting article in Spaceship Away #3 - another strange coincidence whilst researching this topic. I did see the article on BritishComicArt blog and it was then that I thought 'Crow', the blog author, 'borrowed' from my article (which I suspect was in an old Facebook profile and lost now!) but as you can read in the comments, it was a coincidence! I also remember long ago in the 1970s reading (was it in Fantasy Advertiser Dez Skinn?) an article on the same subject, but that's long gone! However I think I have remembered something of this - see below.

So let's get started.

Firstly I quote Frank Bellamy's letter to Mike Tiefenbacher and Jerome Sinkovec of Menomonee Falls Gazette
Thank you for the complimentary remarks about my work. You are very kind. It means a lot to me to find acceptance in the United States. I was very interested to read about Al Williamson. As I am a great admirer of his work it gives me great pleasure to know that he is familiar with at least some of my work. Taken from Bellamy's letter to Menomonee Falls Gazette  Published in no.81, July 2nd, 1973.

Oh he certainly was Frank! The page above contains the following panel which we will see was a definite favourite of Williamson's!

Bellamy foliage from Eagle 7 Nov 1959 Vol.10 No38

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon #1, 1966 p.4
Note the shape of the foliage

Williamson à la Bellamy

UPDATE: I thought that was it until Bill Storie mentioned he'd see Bellamy's explosion appear in another Williamson work and he's sent it to me!

Al Williamson Star Wars

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon #5, 1967 p.28
Below an enlarged panel

Hmm, that foliage looks familiar
The most frequently spotted of Williamson's 'recycled' Bellamy pieces is the spaceship "Nimbus 2" Bellamy created in the "Dan Dare" story "Project Nimbus". Frank Hampson (Don Harley, Gerald Palmer, Keith Watson inter alia) created "Dan Dare" over a 10 year period before Bellamy, Harley and others took over. Bellamy, unfairly I think, gets a lot of criticism by those who were reading "Dan Dare" at that time because he was asked to upgrade things. Fortunately he agreed from the start to do it for one year and that's what his contract stated.

Bellamy's art on "Dan Dare"
Eagle 16 April 1960 Vol.11 No16

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon #1, 1966 p.1
...and Bellamy's Nimbus 2!

Williamson loved the craft so much he used another panel
Bellamy's art on "Dan Dare"
Eagle 7 May 1960 Vol.11 No19

Enlarged panel by Bellamy
Al Williamson's Flash Gordon #1, 1966 p.15 - see below for full page

An interview mentioned in Gopherville Argus (a short-lived fanzine on Bellamy, put out by Bill Storie and Terry Doyle) quotes an interview with Williamson (original source unknown)

From Gopherville Argus #3
Off I went...tanks?...Tanks...Ah, TANKS! Take a look at the tank on the right in the first panel and then....

The well renowned Blazing Combat (1965) #2
take a look at the tank on the right above Monty's profile - to the right of the page!
Eagle 21 April 1962

While I was researching this article, I found something very interesting. Remember I said I thought there was an article in Fantasy Advertiser, Dez Skinn's fanzine of the 70s, well my memory says it included this page by Bellamy but you know what memory is like - especially after 40 years!

Bellamy's art on "Dan Dare"
Eagle 9 April 1960 Vol.11 No15
Here's the panel in question I wish to highlight

Bellamy's unique hardware
Well whilst re-reading Flash Gordon comics I tripped over this page by the wonderful Wally Wood

The Phantom #18, 1966
"Flash Gordon and the Space Pirates"
One moment what's that hardware there? It looks familiar! So Wally Wood copied Bellamy, or did Williamson sketch for Wood to ink his work. Personally I don't think this looks like a Wood original despite the excellent Grand Comics Database entry. The figure of Gordon does not look 'Wood-y' enough for my liking.
Wally Wood copies Bellamy
 And before we round off Williamson's recycling of Bellamy art, I should point you to Bellamy's art above which shows the launch of the Nimbus 2. The first panel of that page looks very similar to this one:
The Phantom #18, 1966
"Flash Gordon and the Space Pirates"

The figure here certainly looks like Wally Wood's work but the spacecraft? I don't think it was his original idea!

UPDATE (17 May 2022): Lastly "HarryDobermann Esq" pointed out a later image I missed completely in the same Wood story! Look closely at the bottom right hand panel! Thunderbird One is go!

The Phantom #18, 1966
"Flash Gordon and the Space Pirates"
TV21 #77 has the following image which I'm guessing formed the basis for Woody's image. But who knows? TB1 launches with wings 'in', maybe that's why this copy doesn't look too true to the original. 

TV21 #77 cropped

Bear with me as I round off this article with two more examples of Williamson's use of the Eagle comic, although I must emphasize this is not Frank Bellamy artwork. the first is one of my favourite comic covers of all time by the UK's other Frank...Hampson.

Frank Hampson's art for Eagle 28 March 1959 Vol.10 No13
"The Galactic Galleon"
Take note of the rounded base of the craft. Williamson used the bottom of this craft as positioned in the above image, below!

Frank Hampson and Don Harley's art for Eagle 12 March 1960 Vol.11 No11

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon #1, 1966 p.15 -
see above for enlarged panel by Bellamy
and Hampson's gorgeous ship
Notice these three panes are all 'recycled'!

The craft, "Tempus Frangit" is so iconic in later "Dan Dare" stories as drawn by Keith Watson, I thought it worth showing this recycling by Williamson too. Take a look at the following - my post . Some of this is also mentioned here

Eagle Vol 14:41 12 Oct 1963
Keith Watson artwork

Creepy #112
Al Williamson art
Thanks to Eric Mackenzie's article in Spaceship Away #3 I also see now I have a copy, that Willimason borrowed from Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell

Eagle Vol 11 #52

One of a few adverts which Williamson
drew for various magazines for Union carbide

If you can add anything, let me know! And I must emphasise that I love a lot of Williamson's work and am in no way criticising his practice. Even Bellamy used reference photographs...more on that another day.




Kid said...

Fascinating stuff. Even the best of artists swiped. What's that old saying? "Good artists imitate - great artists steal." Seems it's true.

Mike Nicoll said...

Williamson's Secret Agent Corrigan strip (compiled into 5 not inexpensive but well worth the price volumes by IDW) shows a great many swipes from Mike Noble's TV21 output - particularly his Captain Scarlet strips - but only as far as machinery and futuristic planes and rockets...I think his figurework and faces are all his own work albeit heavily photoreferenced but then again we all know Bellamy would often take snapshots of himself in a mirror for posing references - I'm sure you have a few examples of these Norm but if not I can send you copies which I got from Alan Davis (I'm sure he won't mind but I'll ask him anyway). Thanks again for the feature - Bill Storie

Norman Boyd said...

Hi Bill, thanks for the offer but I have some news to follow re the this pace! And thanks for the tip re Williamson and Noble! I'm sure I have access to Mike's brilliant work in one form or I'll have to buy Williamson's Corrigan! How am i ever gonna de-clutter!

Unknown said...

Most artists use photo reference. I had a photographer shoot some of the poses for my story "Mime" which appeared in Marvel's Epic Illustrated magazine issue 17 published in the early eighties. The shooter was a friend, Jim Burkardt, who also posed for the guard in the story. I took the photos Of him. I was the model for the mime.

Jeffrey Catherine Jones was a friend and art coach when I was a teenager. He used photos occasionally. He posed for a lot of his reference or used the other artists at the Studio: Wrightson, Kaluta and Windsor-Smith.
Frazetta said he didn't …most of the time. He did for the movie posters where he had to capture an accurate likeness.
Alex Raymond most certainly did and he used professional models.
Swiping with or without credit IS stealing and a violation of copyright law. It's rarely enforced.
I use 3D models for much of my work now, using Zbrush and Poser to generate most of my reference for current paintings. I get better control of lighting than at a photo shoot. It's faster. The model can be posed exactly the way I want. Most 3D off-the shelf human models are anatomically accurate. Poser and DAZ STudio offer extensive pose libraries which makes getting a reference shot really fast. Sometimes, I sculpt the entire figure in Zbrush. Using animation tools to generate reference is a way to avoid the ethical issues of swiping.

Norman Boyd said...

Hi Will
I had a quick browse of our website and loved your Conrad Veidt "Man who laughs".
I am so jealous that you knew Jeff Jones, who is another artist I love. The recent film by Maria Cabardo was superb and I'm so glad she carried on working on it, despite my measly offering for it on Indiegogo!

Thanks for your thoughts on photographic reference and the link to you! I remember "Mime" when it was published

I have avoided too much talk of copyright on this blog as it's a really tough one. Every single picture (bar some very early work, or personal drawings) should not really be on this blog. I'm happy to say Nancy Bellamy was happy with what I was doing, but even her approval does not equal copyright clearance. Some work for hire is copyright of companies and not Bellamy himself.
I'll leave it there and hope my modest offering carries on without any lawsuits!


lord mikolaj said...

Swiping was an established practice in the Fleagle gang, and in other comic artists of the day (Gil Kane, etc)...I always thought it was funny that Woody used to advise to swipe first, and as a last resort draw! Lucas obviously was "inspired" the same way. I don't think anyone minded back then...we all tend to look at it differently today. I always thought it was funny everyone used to swipe from Hal Foster! I'll just bet that if he had known he'd laugh!
I don't think of comic art swiping as stealing, at least not in the historical context.
It's a practice that isn't correct today, but of course we are now more "aware" of things.

Anonymous said...

Foster was swiping from Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth, and Pyle modelled his Knights of the Round Table illustrations after Albrecht Durer's etchings and woodcuts. The trail goes on and on.


Chris A.

Norman Boyd said...

Hi Chris
Yep, there's so many borrowings in all art - not just comics - and literature as well. Have you read Harry Potter - you're a braver man than me!