[Marxism] Skip Williamson, Underground Cartoonist, Dies at 72

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 24 10:28:29 MDT 2017

NY Times, Mar. 24 2017
Skip Williamson, Underground Cartoonist, Dies at 72

Skip Williamson, a rambunctious creator of underground comics that 
merged his radical politics with his love of scatological humor, died on 
March 16 in a hospital in Albany, near his home in Wilmington, Vt. He 
was 72.

The cause was renal failure, his daughter Molly Hiland Parmer said.

For the underground cartoonists of the 1960s and ’70s, sex, drugs, 
profanity and violence were as common as superheroes in mainstream 
comics, and Mr. Williamson was among the most provocative. His 
characters were often visual grotesques, like Snappy Sammy Smoot, a 
dandy with googly eyes, gigantic red (or pink) lips, pomaded black hair 
and a delicate mustache. Smoot’s naïveté placed him in counterpoint with 
the era’s changing politics and mores.

Mr. Williamson found President Richard M. Nixon a particularly inviting 
target for caricature, distorting him a few degrees more than editorial 
cartoonists did. In a two-panel cartoon published in Class War Comix, 
Nixon wonders how to react to a phony newspaper article that accuses 
Vice President Spiro T. Agnew of killing thousands by flatulence.

“We’re in serious trouble, Spiggy,” a fretful Nixon says, applying a 
powder puff to his 5 o’clock shadow with one hand and holding lipstick 
in the other. “Cruel anarchists have perpetrated an incredibly 
effective, image-shattering hoax on the American public.”

Mr. Williamson was one of those anarchists. He aligned himself in the 
1960s with the Youth International Party, better known as the Yippies. 
He knew its leaders, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. He edited a comic 
book, Conspiracy Capers, to raise money to pay the legal fees of the 
radicals known as the Chicago Seven — including Mr. Hoffman and Mr. 
Rubin — who were tried for conspiring to disrupt the 1968 Democratic 
National Convention. He was a courtroom artist during the trial and also 
helped illustrate Mr. Hoffman’s prankish best seller “Steal This Book.”

“I was always more political than most of the other underground 
artists,” Mr. Williamson told The Comics Journal in 1986. “Or 
antipolitical. I believe honestly that if you vote for these bastards, 
you only encourage them.”

The protesting outside the convention — and the violent response by the 
Chicago police — radicalized him, and his work. He waded into the 
protests, he said, and was tear-gassed.

“I was doing psychedelic cartoons,” he said in “Pigheaded,” a 
documentary about Mr. Williamson by John Kinhart that has been shown at 
a few film festivals. “After that, it was, ‘Kill the pigs.’”

Mervyn Wilton Williamson Jr. was born in San Antonio on Aug. 19, 1944, 
and grew up in Austin, Tex., Lynchburg, Va., and Canton, Mo. His father 
was a humanities professor and minister, and his mother, the former 
Rhodie Lott, was a homemaker.

When he was a boy, his troublemaking led his grandmother to nickname him 
after Percy Crosby’s mischievous comic strip character Skippy. Mr. 
Williamson’s high jinks extended to stealing comic books from a local 
candy store and drawing Mickey Mouse in the margins of a notebook, which 
led to his being disciplined by his third-grade teacher.

He became a pacifist because of his father’s experience in World War II: 
Mervyn Sr. was shot down during a bombing raid over Romania and was 
still designated missing in action when Skip was born. The father was, 
in fact, a prisoner of war whose captors showed him the bodies of 
children who had died in the raid. The experience led to undiagnosed 
post-traumatic stress disorder, his children said in interviews in 

Still, Mr. Williamson loved to infuriate his strait-laced, professorial 
father with his love of comics. “I made comics because it was an 
anti-intellectual behavior,” he says in the documentary.

In 1961 he sold his first cartoon, to Help!, a satirical magazine 
founded by Harvey Kurtzman, whose irreverent, pioneering work at Mad 
magazine in the previous decade made him a prominent influence on future 
underground cartoonists like Mr. Williamson, R. Crumb and Gilbert 
Shelton. The cartoon showed two garbage cans in New Orleans that are 
identical but for their signs.

One says “White trash”; the other, “Negro trash.”

He later recalled that the comedian Dick Gregory showed the cartoon to 
Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show.” “Boy, what an ego boost for a high 
school kid in Canton, Mo.,” Mr. Williamson told The Comics Journal. 
“That really gave me a shot to want to keep going.”

As underground comics surged in popularity in the late 1960s, Mr. 
Williamson and his fellow cartoonist Jay Lynch created Bijou Funnies, a 
comic book that showcased their work and that of other artists.

Mr. Lynch died on March 5.

“He was heartbroken” by Mr. Lynch’s death, said Harriett Hiland, the 
third of Mr. Williamson’s four wives, who stayed friendly with him after 
their divorce. “We had a long talk about Jay dying. He was terribly down 
about that.”

Mr. Williamson never gave up on Sammy Smoot and the gallery of other 
characters in his comics — or comix, as underground practitioners 
preferred to spell it — but the genre faded. He found work at men’s 
magazines like Hustler, Gallery and Playboy, where he was an art editor 
and created a comics section, Playboy Funnies.

For Playboy, he illustrated a short story by the science-fiction writer 
Arthur C. Clarke, “When the Twerms Came,” about aliens conquering Earth 
with a Psychedelic Ray, an Itching Beam, a Diarrhea Bomb and Tumescent 
Aerosol Spray. Mr. Williamson turned the short tale into a silly, 
preposterous visual tableau, with one Twerm munching on a hot dog and 
another watching “The Mod Squad.”

In later years, he began to paint large acrylic canvasses and had shows 
at the Vinson Gallery in Decatur, Ga., and the Eyedrum Art & Music 
Gallery in Atlanta.

“At one of his shows in Atlanta,” said Patrick Rosenkranz, an 
underground comics historian, “somebody asked him to move one of his 
paintings, of Jesus packing heat. They had hung it so you could see it 
through the gallery door and got complaints.”

Two years ago Mr. Williamson married Adrienne Morales, who survives him, 
as do his daughters, Ms. Parmer, Nikki Williamson Weiner, and Megan and 
Rita Williamson; two grandchildren; a sister, Rhonda Baker; and his 
brothers, Joseph and Alan. His previous marriages ended in divorce.

Mr. Williamson’s sympathies might have rested with the Yippies for a 
while, but he had little trust in politicians of any stripe.

In one panel of a comic, Sammy Smoot stands between two figures: a 
crew-cut, vampire-fanged, cigar-smoking “conservative” and a 
cool-looking “liberal” wearing buttons that exhort “Save Soviet Jews,” 
“Boycott Lettuce” and “Keep On Truckin’.”

“Liberals are patronizing egomaniacs,” Smoot says. “And conservatives 
are vicious power brokers!”

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