Monday 30 September 2019

Frank Bellamy and Al Williamson Part Two

Eagle 9 March 1963 Vol.14:10
My friend David Jackson is today's guest blogger and we have both looked extensively at the subject of Al Williamson 'recycling' Frank Bellamy's work. Before I hand over to him I have to say we both love Williamson's work, his fine line and his figure work are sublime. And as we'll see every artist has to use reference taken from somewhere, so please don't think this is critical of Williamson.

Norman has written here previously about Barry Smith, Al Williamson and Wally Wood on occasion borrowing some of their references from the published work of Frank Bellamy - (from "Heros the Spartan", "Montgomery" and "Dan Dare", respectively).

Now Norman has turned up online a fanzine discussion of the issue in Alter Ego #155 (November 2018), which focussed on the artistic borrowings of Dan Adkins, but also by chance had identified the same found references from "Heros the Spartan" used by Al Williamson which also separately came to light again recently.

Early professional comic art studio experiences, directed towards meeting deadlines and just 'getting the job done', served to lend themselves to a cavalier attitude towards such adaptations as, and when, needs must and also produced the quickest best results. Artists had learned 'This was how it was done!'.
Al Williamson drawing Flash Gordon in the mid-60s for
Flash Gordon #5 "Terror of the Blue Death" story
Thanks to Doug Pratt for the image

Wally Wood once set out a famous and often quoted credo:
"Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; and never trace what you can cut out and paste in!" 

Wally Wood's own work was itself used by Frank Frazetta as a Buck Rogers interior rocketship background for Famous Funnies #213, as Frazetta freely related in a 1995 interview and quoted by Heritage Auctions.

According to Frazetta, in a later Doc Dave interview "Frazetta and Photography and Life":
Wally (Wood), Al (Williamson) and Roy (Krenkel) had filing cabinets with swipe files of everything. Krenkel always quoted Picasso to Frazetta: “Picasso said to steal from the best if you want to get better.”
Such genius talents, whether up against a deadline or not, have sufficient abilities themselves never to need to take a lend of other artist's work. That they have sometimes done so obviously is likely to be an in-joke reference to those in the know, as from any realistic supposed necessity.

The question of influences was raised in the Fantasy Advertiser Frank Bellamy interview.
FB: "I've often been asked if people have influenced me. I find it difficult to sort out the difference between people who influence me or impress me with their work. One person who did impress me was Fortunino Matania, an artist who specialized in highly detailed work on Greece, Ancient Egypt and World War One. I have a great admiration for him."
The first Garth story, "Sundance", makes use of a design idea of figures which stand in front of, as distinct from within, a panoramic landscape frame background, in a 'tip-of-the-hat' (whilst still being original to FB - not in that sense copied from) to a motif of classic illustrator Fortunino Matania.

Garth: Sundance #E190 - see middle panel

"Ridicule, the Great Castigator" (1933) by Fortunino Matania
Alter Ego #155 credits both Frank Bellamy and Fortunino Matania among the then more obscure - as seen from American viewpoint - reference sources used in comic book art and illustration.

Sometimes it is simply a case of seeing a certain image or stylistic technique which so appeals to a particular artist that they feel they have to create their own version, possibly to somehow 'exorcise' it.

There is an understandable conflict for developing artists who have for so many years found their overriding inspiration in one particular artist. Neal Adams has acknowledged a number of influences, such as Stan Drake, and joked of his own stylistic influence on others, saying: "I don't know what I did to that guy."

There are variations on the theme discussed on the web, and 'found reference', copying, plagiarism, rip-off, or swiping is still a lively subject of back and forth debate.

Below is a further example in the Warren publishing black and white magazine Creepy #6  with a six page comic strip, set in an Ancient Rome arena, "Thumbs Down!" drawn by Al Williamson, with several identifiable similarities to episodes of "Heros the Spartan" in Eagle.

However - as disclosed in the previous post reference a story for Blazing Combat - despite Al Williamson's self-acknowledged indebtedness to Frank Bellamy in that instance, in the above case with "Heros the Spartan", it is also the rendering of that character by Luis Bermejo which provided references...

Let's take each Creepy page in turn and see if we can find the details borrowed by Al Williamson. Anne T. Murphy wrote the script for Williamson to draw and the issue of Creepy went on sale on 17 September 1965 in the States.


Creepy #6 p.13 (All page numbers are from the original Creepy magazine
- these scans are from the Dark Horse e-reprint)
Let's start with the helmet which is used as a title/introduction area decoration on page 13 of the Creepy story. This is an instance of Bermejo's art being used. It appears in Eagle (24th October 1964 Vol.15 No.43)

Eagle 24 Oct 1964 Vol.15:43 Art by Luis Bermejo
Is the Caesar's head on the right
(2nd frame from bottom of double spread)
the inspiration for Caesar in Creepy p. 13?

Now if we look at the second episode of Heros (in the story "Eagle of the Fifth"), drawn by Frank Bellamy  (Eagle 16 March 1963 Vol.14:11) we see the last panel contains a familiar head shot.

Eagle 16 March 1963 Vol.14:11

Moving on to page 14 of the Creepy story we find some more Bellamy artwork. But before that you might spot that the cityscape in the top tier of Bermejo's Heros frames at left (Eagle 24 Oct 1964 Vol.15:43) are re-used in Creepy p14 below.
Creepy #6 p.14
The muscular figure at bottom left looks very like a Gray Morrow figure

Eagle 30 March 1963 Vol.14:13
The top tier of Heros shows a very close likeness to the guy in the middle of Creepy page 14 (as seen below)

Cassius' portrait from Creepy p.14 above (in the middle tier, right hand side) comes from a later episode in the Heros story (Eagle 5 October 1963 Vol.14:40)

Berbrix from Eagle 5 October 1963 Vol.14:40

The 30 March 1963 issue of Eagle certainly helped Williamson a lot as we'll see.


Creepy #6 p.15
The background stonework arches in second tier, used in Creepy p.15 appear in the first Bermejo strip above (Eagle 24 Oct 1964 Vol.15:43) and the scene showing the prison bars are very similar to Frank Bellamy's in Eagle 9 March 1963 Vol.14:10 (at the top of this article). The most glaring example of a swipe is the head at the bottom of this page - taken from Eagle shown above (Eagle 16 March 1963 Vol.14:11)

Eagle 16 March 1963 Vol.14:11
Bracchus' head facing right, in the middle tier, looks as if it could be adapted from many Bellamy drawings, but we can't exactly match it, but imagine the head in the second panel in Eagle 30 March 1963 Vol.14:13 (- shown above) mirrored or flipped as below

Unlikely match as Williamson seems to have not mirrored anything...but see below


Creepy #6 p.16
Eagle 23 March 1963 Vol.14:12
In Eagle Vol.14:12 the figure at the top right is reversed for Creepy p.16 top left frame. And the most noticeable head is of Bracchus in the bottom right of Creepy p.16 which is also from the above Eagle.  But interestingly the head is adapted successively by both Luis Bermejo (for a later Heros story) and Al Williamson for the last frames of Eagle Vol.14:46 (see image below) and Creepy p.16.

Eagle 16 November 1963 Vol.14:46 Art by Luis Bermejo

Creepy #6 p.17

See below for Eagle 30 March 1963 Vol.14:13 for the two heads at the bottom of Creepy p.17.

Eagle 30 March 1963 Vol.14:13
We couldn't match any of this to Bellamy

Creepy #6 p.18

Frank Bellamy, by contrast, interestingly and invariably, produced finished art which only superficially derived from his source references, even those which could have been supplied for the purpose by clients commissioning the work. Providing the client with an original work seems to have been a boundary FB set for himself.

David Bellamy says in his Commentary for Timeview, (the engaging book of collected "Doctor Who" illustrations for Radio Times), that the photographic references sent to his father were not then traced but rather the essential elements of a photograph were envisioned in the resulting illustration. "Bridge On The River Kwai" for Radio Times is similarly an example of this.

Radio Times (21/12/1974 - 03/01/1975) Bridge on the River Kwai p.46

Even the uncompleted first version of The Sunday Times Magazine inside horse racing spread, originally titled "Devious Ways to Win", was not reused by Frank Bellamy when for some reason it became necessary, part way through, to re-draw it. It might be expected that any artist would trace-off and re-use his own work but FB did not do so. Instead, surprisingly and seemingly as easily, the work was started again from scratch and entirely re-envisioned and redrawn..!

Many thanks David.

The inspiration for this article was Twomorrows' excellent magazine Alter Ego : -
Alter Ego (2018) #155 “Dan Adkins And The Incredible Tracing Machine!” Revisited (Part 3) by Michael T. Gilbert. November 2018, pp 63-69.

Dan Adkins himself (quoted from a "circa 1969-70 letter to Modern Collectors Review’s editor, John McLaughlin") states:

I don’t have any Eagles, [..] a great British comic. [...] Al Williamson’s gladiator story in Creepy #6 was taken almost entirely from Frank Bellamy’s art from Eagle

That’s what I mean by the whole thing being silly. I know that some of the best artists around swipe. I see it. They tell me! But you don’t have the old stuff or the British stuff to catch them and I don’t have it to play the games. Not that I could play as well as Al anyway. I could play the same, but he’s a better artist.
I remember when I was a kid, Rich Buckler coming under similar fire, but as he recently said in a Comic Book Creator article his work at Marvel was seen as cloning Kirby and at DC cloning Neal Adams!
The interesting thing for me has been looking more closely for 'borrowed' images and wondering where did Bellamy get such confidence in his portraits? I look at a lot of images all over the Internet and hardly ever see anything similar to Williamson's borrowing when it comes to Bellamy and as David has said above with Alec Guinness' image (and previously regarding Olivia de Havilland) he uses photos but adjusts them.

I hope this is the last review of Williamson and Bellamy I do, but does anyone want to join in and identify any of Bellamy's work in others' work?