From left: Skip Williamson, Jay Lynch
Skip Williamson died yesterday. He had been in poor health for a while due to diabetes and heart disease. He was 72 years old.
Best known as one of the most political of the underground cartoonists, Mervyn Williamson was nicknamed "Skip" by his Nana, after the Percy Crosby "Skippy" comic strip because he was a troublemaker.
From the TCJ obituary by Patrick Rosenkranz:
In his memoir Spontaneous Combustion, Williamson described early skirmishes with rules and expectations, like getting busted in third grade for drawing cartoons on his textbooks, and stealing copies of Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories from the local drugstore in Lynchburg, Virginia.
In 1952 ,when the Democrats nominated Adali Stevenson for their presidential candidate, 8-year-old Williamson chose to support him. “I was beaten up in the schoolyard that year for wearing a Stevenson for President button, and forced to wear an ‘I Like Ike’ button. It was my first visceral lesson regarding the unhealthy potential of unpopular ideas.” Neither incident deterred him from choosing his own path in life though. “At the time it was just another thumping,” he wrote. “In the long run it was a harbinger that foreshadowed my art’s unsteady relationship with Authority over the years.”
Above: Skip Williamson's first published work from Help! Magazine.
His first published cartoon appeared in 1961 in Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine. It was okayed by then-editor Gloria Steinem. After its publication, Dick Gregory showed the cartoon on The Tonight Show.
He moved to Chicago to help his friend Jay Lynch launch The Chicago Mirror. It was soon rechristened Bijou Funnies by Williamson, Lynch and Robert Crumb. It would become one of underground comix' longest running titles. He also created his Snappy Sammy Smoot character. So popular, that Carl Reiner dressed up as Smoot for the 1960s TV show Laugh In.
Skip was friends with Abbie Hoffman and was allowed into the courtroom during the Chicago 8 trial. He sketched the participants, and later drew the illustrations for Hoffman's Steal This Book. Hoffman gave Williamson all of the advance money and, with it, Williamson produced an underground comic to raise funds for the defense. Titled Conspiracy Capers, the book included artwork by him, Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Jay Kinney and others.
During the 1970s and 80s, he became art director at men's magazines. First at Gallery, then he was the first AD at Hustler in 1974. He then went to Playboy in 1976, where he created the popular "Playboy Funnies" section. During this time he also contributed to magazines like National Lampoon, The Realist and High Times.
Skip Williamson had gallery shows all over the world, and his work is in permanent museum collections.
John Kinhart recently finished a documentary on the life of Skip Williamson. "Pigheaded" premiered in Washington, DC and Newburyport, MA. There is no release date as of now.