RIP Al Williamson

Al Williamson passed away earlier this week, and we are all poorer for it.  To mention his name is to evoke images of lush landscapes, chiseled heroes, needlenosed rockets and snarling dinosaurs.  His Weird Science and Weird Fantasy comics for EC were as significant to the genre as Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (a series he took over in the 1960s) and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  Think of Anne Francis in a bathing suit, riding a velociraptor out of a ruined city of Mars — that’s Al Williamson for you.

I got to meet Al once.  I think it was ten years ago, and I think it was Pittsburgh, but it was definitely Al Williamson — there in the flesh, with a stack of original Secret Agent X-9 pages for sale which I stupidly did not mortgage my house to buy.  I did pick up a gorgeous print and asked him to sign my Superman #400, the only book of his I’d happened to have on me at the time.  He started to put pen to paper… and then his hand started shaking.  He stopped.  Started again… and stopped.   He cursed, looked up at me and said “I just can’t do it anymore”.

My heart shattered.  It was like Beethoven telling you he never heard his 9th symphony because the ringing in his ears drowned it all out.  In a distant voice I told him that it was alright and reached for my comic, but he waved me back, in that way that only angry old men can do.  He focused himself for a second, squinting… and signed the comic.  Then he took his print out of my hands and signed that, too.  “There you go”, he said.

I remember gushing thank-yous at that point and telling him how much his work meant to me, and I remember him barely acknowledging my words; bitterly turning his head away.  It was AWFUL.  Eventually I finished stammering out whatever I was saying and backed away.

I’m glad I got to meet Al Williamson for the briefest of moments and got to thank him for all that gorgeous artwork.  But I wish I’d never asked him to sign my comic.

Rest in peace, Al Williamson.  You’ve earned it.


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