Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Williamson/Frazetta Space Opera

I recall buying a copy SPA FON #5 in the late 60’s. It was published by a few fans in the Chicago area. They loved comic books, comic art, and they really loved Frank Frazetta. They even had a nice watercolor printed in full color on the cover by Frazetta. Nice classy touch, especially in those days. I have added a shot of the art from that cover. I recall that the original art was purchased by Helmut Mueller at a con art auction for $65.
They included a small Frazetta index in that magical issue. The index was annotated with comments. I recall that they commented on the Williamson/Frazetta story in DANGER IS MY BUSINESS #1: “There is some special magic in this story”. The story was “Capt. Comet and the Vicious Space Pirates”. What a title! After a couple of years of searching I found the book. In those days finding a comic was not easy. One had to scour the classifieds in various fanzines or spend hours looking through boxes at local comic cons. Ebay has eliminated the charm of that type of hunt. When a comic was found in the old days, it was a moment for rejoicing and celebration. It was treasured and revered as a quasi-sacred object. Well, that story was a revelation and a sheer joy to behold. Here were the two greatest science fiction artists (with apologies to Wally Wood) working together on a space opera inspired by Flash Gordon and the great Buster Crabbe serials. This was “the good stuff”; it just did not get any better.
Al Williamson penciled the pages and laid them out. Frank came in and poured his magical ink over every square inch. This WAS something special. I always yearned for the original art to this story. I knew it would be spectacular. In the early 1970’s the complete story emerged from the Toby Art find. It was immediately purchased by Bruce Hamilton. Bruce, in turn, sold the pages to Tony Dispoto (who, along with Russ Cochran, were the two people who really gave structure and credibility to art selling in fandom). Dispoto issued a selling list in 1974 listing 3 pages from this story, priced at $1000 each, a hefty price in those days for interior pages. I wanted the splash. I contacted Tony. It was already sold! I was heartsick. Tony had just sold it to longtime collector Marty Greim. Marty kept it for many years. I was forced to buy another page. Actually, I bought two. I used my graduate school fellowship checks and sent them directly to Dispoto. I spent the next months living on rice and turkey pot pies. It was worth it. What is food compared to great art, eh?
There is a happy ending to the story. Marty Greim sold the splash to collector Dennis Beaulieu. Finally, I was able to acquire this great monument from Dennis. It has had a place of honor on my wall for many years. The page is a tremendous blend of Al and Frank’s talents. The prototypical Williamson “punch” scene counterpointed by the soft interior shot showcasing a standing and clearly heroic Capt. Comet. The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon headgear is the perfect homage. (Frank even drew a shot of Buster Crabbe in the last page of the story.) Frazetta added the signatures and Frank drew Al’s signature as well.
Space opera at its finest, the grand battle between good and evil…that’s what the golden days of childhood are all about.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz ©2008