Underground Comix legend Skip Williamson On Non Visual Radio
Friday Night March 29th on www.activatemedia.org
By Ed Wroblesk
Mervyn “Skip” Williamson (August 19, 1944 – March 16, 2017) was an American underground cartoonist and central figure in the underground comix movement. Williamson’s art was published in the National Lampoon, High Times, the Realist, the Industrial Worker, the Chicago Seed, Encyclopædia Britannica and others. His best-known character is Snappy Sammy Smoot.
Williamson’s first published cartoon was in Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine in 1961. The cartoon was accepted by then Help! editor Gloria Steinem. The cartoon was of two New Orleans trash cans. One was labeled “Negro Trash” the other “White Trash”. Subsequently, comedian Dick Gregory went on The Tonight Show and showed the cartoon on national television, launching Williamson into the mainstream.
Williamson moved to Chicago in 1967 and almost immediately teamed up with Jay Lynch to publish the underground newspaper The Chicago Mirror. (Williamson and Lynch remained friends for the rest of their lives.) In 1968, Williamson, Lynch, and Robert Crumb rechristened the Chicago Mirror as Bijou Funnies, which became one of the earliest and longest running underground comix titles. Williamson’s character Snappy Sammy Smoot became popular enough to appear (played by Carl Reiner) on the 1960s television program Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Some years later the Comix Journal wrote:
Skip Williamson was still the quintessential underground comix artist.. . . . Where (Robert) Crumb’s primary comix aim was introspective, . . . Williamson took a broader look, skewering both left-wing trendiness and right-wing over-reaction at a time of much-publicized left-wing trendiness. . . Crumb’s approach may have been more . . . artistically “legitimate,” but to those struggling to make sense of the socio-political chaos, Williamson was frequently the funnier.”
During the 1970s and 1980s Williamson art-directed and contributed artwork to men’s magazines. In 1973 he was art director of Gallery magazine, where he created the “Girl Next Door” concept by publishing snapshots of sweethearts and wives sent in by readers. In 1974 Williamson was the founding art director of Hustler, and in 1976 he joined the staff of Playboy. There he created the popular “Playboy Funnies” section and introduced millions of readers to his characters Neon Vincent and the “postmodern” couple Nell ‘n’ Void.
Williamson designed album covers for blues artists like Albert Collins (Cold Snap, 1986), Koko Taylor (An Audience With the Queen, 1987), Little Charlie and the Nightcats (All The Way Crazy, 1987) and Mudcat (You Better Mind, 2013). For the band Wilderness Road he drew a special comic book, Snuk Comics, to promote them.
In later years Williamson concentrated on producing large-scale canvases depicting political social abomination and political treachery.
He died at Albany Medical Center at 12:30 pm on March 16, 2017. The official cause of death was renal failure and complications from heart disease and diabetes.
Tune in this friday night to hear Skips classic interview with host Joe Viglione from January5, 2012 on this episode of Non Visual Radio from 8-9 p.m. on www.activatemedia.org