[Marxism] Skip Williamson, Underground Cartoonist, Dies at 72
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 24 10:28:29 MDT 2017
NY Times, Mar. 24 2017
Skip Williamson, Underground Cartoonist, Dies at 72
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
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
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
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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