Well, now we are getting to it. As a very young comics reader, stumbling upon issue 5 of the King Comics Flash Gordon, drawn by Al Williamson in the mid-1960’s was one of those “life-changing moments” that one hears about.
By that time, I had read my share of Might Mouse comics, Superman comics, Classics Illustrated, and even made my way to some of the “upstart” Marvel books. But I had never seen a book that read or looked like that Flash Gordon issue. No skin-tight costumes, superheroic flights amid modern cities, or punches that could take down a skyscraper. But stories told with flare, and art that breathed “high adventure” with every stroke of the pen or brush. That was the comic that made me say not, “I want to draw comics”, but, “I want to BE THAT GUY.” Never had I seen figures drawn with such grace and power, nor seen worlds evoked with such a range of textures and techniques. The folds of the clothing, the low-slung blasters, the boots! I was sold at my first glance of Flash, Dale and Zarkov slogging their way through the Mongo Swamps. And in many ways, I haven’t looked back since.By the time I discovered Al’s Flash Gordon work, he had already established himself as a consummate master of comic Sci-fi art. His affinity for the work was clear from his earliest stories for EC Comics back in the 1950’s, where Al began as a teenager. Along with the other great EC artists of the day, Al raised the bar of what a comics page could look like to astonishing heights. And along the way, he created his trademark “sci-fi hero” look: Leather jacket, tight pants, boots and that low-slung blaster. Elements that resurfaced not only when he took on drawing Flash Gordon, but elsewhere in the science fiction world. You may have notticed that description fits another swash-buckling space rogue as well: I wasn’t the only kid who had been entranced by Al’s vision and artistry as a kid. George Lucus must have been, too. Because it’s known that Al was the inspiration behind Han Solo’s look, and also that Al was George’s first choice to draw the Star Wars adaptations and newspaper strip. Unfortunately, Al was obligated elsewhere when Star Wars was first brought to the comics page. But his schedule had cleared in time for the newspaper strip, where he brought his sense of magic and wonder and updated it with the extra space-hardware textures of the Star Wars age.And now is a good time for a quick but special shout-out to a hero of all admirers of this classic science fiction art. Because Russ Cochran was responsible for collecting and printing some of the most handsome volumes of sci-fi comics art ever assembled. It’s been a tremendous service to fans ever since. Not only did he scan and print from many of the EC original art pages and bring us the legendary EC Portfolios back in the early 1970’s (long before there was an IDW or a line of “Artist Editions” books) but he also lovingly collected Al and Archie Goodwin’s entire run on the Star Wars newspaper strip in a prime, hardcover set. Both of these spectacular bits of publishing have been at the heart of my comics collection ever since.
Al was also available by the time the second Star Wars movie adaptation, The Empire Strikes Back, was ready to go. So, in 1980, after I’d been distracted by other artist’s work for a while, Al came roaring back onto my radar. It hit me just as hard as his earlier Flash Gordon work did, and as I was just beginning to get my professional career started, the timing made Al’s “reemergence” onto my comic artist landscape particularly influential.
(That original magazine-sized special had wonderfully over-sized art and crisp printing, but comics coloring was going through a wretched state at the time. Fortunately, the work has since been reprinted in much more flattering versions. The earlier row with interior pages above are from those later versions; the images directly above here are from that original 1980 magazine. Al’s elegant work was strong enough to survive even this jarring color handling.)Finally, just a couple years back, Al’s Flash Gordon work got it’s own classy “Artists Edition” treatment due to the love and care of none other than Mark Schultz. Somehow Mark found the time to gather together the bulk of the original art of Al’s entire body of work on Flash Gordon. This included early drawings, those seminal King Comic issues, the movie adaptation and the later work for Dark Horse and Marvel. It’s an exhaustive, gorgeous work of love by Al on his favorite title, and by Mark, on an artist who has inspired us both for the length of our separate careers. Thanks to Mark, “Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon, A lifelong Vision of the Heroic” has also taken it’s place at the heart of my comics library.
Thought I’d share this fun trio of commissions from last month’s Baltimore Comic Con by way of a last-minute reminder of this weekend’s upcoming Eugene Comic Con. Molly, Mercy and Uncle Alex will all be there along with me and the irrepressible Scuf. Drop by to say hi, get books signed, and talk Trekker. I’ll see you in Artist Alley at table H-6!
First, I’m working to add more behind-the-scenes, work in progress and advanced look materials to the Trekker Patreon page. The image above is from a new process post there, where next week’s page is posted early, along with notes and images of the steps along the way to the finished page. So, here’s your helpful reminder that Trekker has a Patreon Page!Next, I’ve also realized that a dedicated Trekker E-mail list is will occasionally be a terrifically valuable tool. Notably, this is the most reliable way I’ll be able to directly notify you Trekker followers of major Trekker events, such as when the next TPB will be coming to print. With Jekka completed and The Volstock Payoff well underway, the plans to get our next volume into print are getting closer all the time. And I’ll want to let everyone know as soon as I have word on that. So, feel free to shoot me a message and let em know to add you to the E-mail list!
And one more reminder that liking the Trekker Facebook Fan page, following me on Twitter and other social media are all great and valuable ways of showing and sharing your support. Every convention I attend, I see and hear from more and more fans and readers. it’s clear to me that the word is continuing to grow steadily ever since I returned to telling Mercy’s story. That is immensely exciting and gratifying to me.
Lastly, a heads up that next weekend, Nov 14-15 I’ll be rounding out my fall convention travels at the bustling Eugene Comic Con! This will be my first Eugene comic show experience, and if it’s anything like the great time I had up in Tacoma last weekend, it will be a fine way to end my road trips until my convention season returns next spring. Hope to see many of you in Eugene.
We have a long way to go in telling Mercy’s story. I have the next several adventures blocked out, and Mercy’s world will be growing and changing in lots of exhilarating ways. I hope you’ll stay captivated as well, and I trust you’ll keep letting me know how I’m doing!
I was reminded recently that this yer marks the 50th anniversary of the publication on DUNE, Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel. I could not let this anniversary year pass without acknowledging the impact that the book has made on my life as a comics creator and on Trekker specifically.
I came across the book as a young teenager a few years after it was published. I had already discovered a love for science fiction through the adventures of Flash Gordon, Johnny Quest, Doc Savage and other high-voltage action tales. Dune was something else entirely: a subtle, complex, sophisticated and sprawling story of mind-bending scale and concepts. It had many of the trappings of the Sci-Fi I’d already found– strange worlds, colorful characters, exotic devices, ships and battles… but the tale unfolded in a much more deliberate fashion– an entire, vivid universe was conceived and presented in the unfolding of a dense, high-stakes drama.
The concepts were huge– desert planets, giant sand worms, an invaluable “spice” that enabled star travel, political forces locked in a conflict to control all of it. Rebels, corrupt systems, and young heroes who would rise to affect the course of humankind’s evolving path through the stars. No wonder DUNE arrived like a thunderbolt, why it won awards and influenced so many science fiction writers with an impact like Tolkien’s trilogy had on fantasy novels: inescapable.Now here’s my confession: I had to start and put down the book several times before it got its hooks in me and wouldn’t let go. As a fairly young sci-fi novel reader, I found the pace of the story too slow and the concepts too abstract to grab me at first blush. But– there was something intriguing enough there that kept me coming back to the book until I did get caught up in the thing. And once that happened, there was no stopping. Anyone who has had the exhilarating experience of getting entranced and completely lost in a novel’s spell knows what I mean.Following DUNE there was a long string of sequel novels, some brilliant, some less so. And there was a rather bizarre (naturally) David Lynch-directed movie as well which served at least as a curious scrapbook of images based on the story. But for me, the deepest impact by far was made by that first book, with the central story of young Paul Atreides, and his journey of revelation and discovery.
You might be detecting by now of some of the ways in which DUNE has had its impact on Trekker, although to this point that influence has been mostly an indirect one, hinted at but not center-stage. All of that will be changing with the stories that are poised to follow the Volstock Payoff.
From the first, as I was planning the series, I always wanted to achieve some degree of that epic scale that Herbert accomplished so well in DUNE. But I knew that initially, I was far to inexperienced a writer to command that type of story. So, Trekker began with the more basic, elemental tales that I was most familiar and comfortable with. They are also the kind of stories that lend themselves most readily to the comic page.
But even in those earliest tales I tried to plant some seeds– hints of the large, distant ruling Council, the resistance movements like Rigel, power-struggles among factions as shown in “the Babel Cannon”. All to prepare for the eventual, gradual shift of our focus from the streets of New Gelaph to a larger stage.
It’s taking a lot longer to get there than I’d anticipated, but at last the series and its author are prepared for that step.
Along the way, Mercy will, of course, remain at the core of everything. She will still continue her own “journey of discovery”, whether she is willing or no. She will continue to leap into action, whether it is wise or no. And she will continue to be as compelling and powerful a character as I can make her.
I can’t wait to share it all.
I’m back from another fun convention, this time down in Friendly Fresno. More about that later. But for now, time to pay homage to another of the many sources that have fueled my passion for comics, for storytelling, and for creating Mercy St. Clair.
I might well have entitled this installment “The Top Of The Mountain”, because in many ways, that’s the position Hal Foster and Prince Valiant hold for me. There’s a good reason I chose one of the great collections of his work to poise alone atop my comics bookshelves.
There are so many aspects of Valiant that inspire and impress me that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s Foster’s remarkable draftsmanship, his mastery of the human figure, his impeccable rendering, the exhaustive research into the era of Valiant which shines through in the depiction of the clothing, the architecture, the weapons (as Joe Kubert once told me, you could tell the thickness of the leather on a horse’s saddle in one of Foster’s immaculately detailed and accurate drawings) and every other aspect of the series. All of which Foster puts unfailingly in the service of telling his story. And I’m just getting started….
Foster imbued Valiant with a sense of high adventure and Romanticism in every panel he drew. His people and the situations they found themselves in were always both recognizable and yet clearly larger that ordinary life. We were always transported to a world of endless, breathtaking possibilities.
At the heart of this sprawling series, of course, was Valiant himself. We get to know him as a brash, reckless fighter, at home on foot, on horseback, at sea… anywhere he has his “Singing Sword” close to hand. But again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg… Val is infinitely more than simply a fighter. Otherwise, the series would have become thin, repetitive reading long before now. (And it’s worth pointing out that it has run and continues to run weekly in newspapers ever since it began well over seventy years ago.) Along his adventurous way, Val has encountered witches, despots, thieves, brigands, wenches, rascals, misfits, monsters, buffoons, lovers, murderers and much much more. And each of these characters is sharply portrayed with a compelling story of their own.
Val himself is a fully realized character. He is charismatic, loyal, fearless, clever, passionate, reckless, headstrong, arrogant, temperamental, mischievous, subtle, playful, immature, noble… always fascinating, always larger than life and yet profoundly human.
Any story this huge, this epic, will lose focus and fall apart without such a central pillar to anchor it. Val’s adventures continue to intrigue us– from his first encounter with the mysterious young vision of mercy whom eventually becomes his wife and guiding light through a life filled with breathtaking escapes, heroic last stands, journeys to breath-taking realms, tests of nerve and cunning, and the mysterious journey into one’s own heart. Val has walked all these roads and taken us with him.I’ve collected Val’s adventures in many reprint and collection versions over the years (Black and white, shot from original colored Sunday pages, toned, re-colored, in English, French, Dutch, German and more….), and will no doubt keep doing so as each new formatting does its best to capture the scale, power and nuance of Foster’s vivid writing and art.
I could ask for little more that to achieve some degree of the spirit of Foster’s masterwork in my telling of Mercy’s story. With each page of Trekker, I’m working on getting a little further up that mountain.