Thursday, August 6, 2009

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon

The Flesk Publications book Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic may just be the finest comics/art book I purchase all year.

As you might gather from the title, this tome collects the Flash Gordon artwork produced by Al Williamson. Williamson is justly revered for his talents, and a cursory glance at the samples at the link above will demonstrate why. But Flash Gordon in particular is near and dear to his heart, as it was Flash who started him on the road to his artistic career. So Williamson's work on the character is always truly heartfelt.

The bulk of the art comes from three sources : the 1960s run of King Comics' Flash Gordon title, the adaptation of the 1980 movie published by Gold Key, and a two issue limited series from Marvel in the 1990s. This gives the reader the opportunity to trace the evolution of Williamson's career and talents through his favorite character. It's an eye-opening experience.

In terms of story, none of them are especially distinguished. The 1960s stories are pulpish action, but rather simplistic. The movie adaptation was, to me, almost incomprehensible. Is that a reflection of the movie, or just the condensed nature of the script? The 1990s mini is a bit more rewarding, and was probably the most interesting story of the lot. But Flash Gordon is more about gorgeous, fantastic set pieces than complex narratives, and all of the stories deliver those in spades.

Accompanying the artwork is running commentary by Mark Schultz, creator of Xenozoic Tales/Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. His insights are remarkably astute, as perhaps benefits one artist examining the work of another. What's more, the vast majority of the pieces included are reproduced directly from the original artwork. This adds considerably to the ability to appreciate just how good Al Williamson's work was.

I give Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon my highest possible recommendation.

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