August 19, 1944
San Antonio, Texas
Mervyn "Skip" Williamson (born August 19, 1944) is an American underground cartoonist and central figure in the underground comix movement. Williamson is known for being the most political and satirical cartoonist of the underground comix movement.
Williamson was born in San Antonio, Texas, but later moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, and then to Canton, Missouri. Williamson's real first name is Mervyn; however when he was a child, he was a bit of a troublemaker, so his Nana gave him the nickname "Skip" after Percy Crosby's comic strip character "Skippy".
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 to help long time friend Jay Lynch publish The Chicago Mirror. 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 said, "Skip Williamson is still the quintessential underground comix artist." and that "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."
The Chicago 8
Because of Williamson's friendship with Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman, he was allowed into the courtroom where the Chicago 8 trial was being held, where he did sketches of key characters in the trial. Williamson illustrated the first printing of Abbie Hoffman's book, Steal This Book. Hoffman gave Williamson the advance from his book, for Williamson to produce a comic that would raise money for the Chicago 8 defense fund. Williamson produced the comic book Conspiracy Capers, which featured the art of Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Jay Kinney, Dan Clyne, Paul David Simon and others.
During the 1970s and 80s Skip 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 Hugh Hefner’s Playboy. There he created the popular “Playboy Funnies” section and introduced millions of readers to his characters, Neon Vincent and the post-modern couple Nell ‘n’ Void. Skip Williamson's art has been published in the National Lampoon, High Times, the Realist, the Industrial Worker, the Chicago Seed, Encyclopaedia Britannica and others.
Skip Williamson’s work has been exhibited at the New York Cultural Center (NYC), the Maryland Institute of Design (Baltimore), the Chicago 4 Show (Chicago), the Phoenix Gallery (Berkeley CA), the American Contemporary Graphics Exhibition (a travelling exhibition), the Museum of Comic Art (Northampton MA), the 23rd Century Gallery (Chicago), the Corcoran Gallery at the DuPont Center (Washington DC), the Lucca Festival (Lucca, Italy), the Tate Gallery of Modern Art (London), the La Luz de Jesus gallery (LA), Gallery Bink (Portland OR), the Vinson Gallery (Atlanta) and many others. His work has been shown throughout Europe in the Comix 2000 traveling exhibition sponsored by the French publisher L’Association.
His art has been auctioned at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Heritage auction houses. In recent years Skip Williamson has concentrated on producing large-scale canvases depicting political social abomination and political treachery. These works have been exhibited in galleries in Portland OR, New Orleans LA, Los Angeles CA, New York City NY, Philadelphia and other cites.
In 2000 Williamson exhibited his paintings in a solo show at Atlanta’s Eyedrum gallery. Dr. Jerry Cullum (senior editor of Art Papers) wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Williamson knows how to put together a picture, balancing color and skewed perspective as effectively as any realist painter would…He fits perfectly into a type of art championed by Juxtapoz magazine, in which a cartoon style is put to intelligent but outrageous uses. And his cynical view of humanity, worthy of such past satirists as Honoré Daumier, is dead-on regarding the place where most people are."
"And yet, so much art reveals the places where people never even consider going. But that’s not Williamson’s concern. He reflectively steps on toes, and he rocks."
Skip Williamson’s art has become a matter of record and has been documented by Penguin Books (London), Brumm Publishing (Frankfurt/Main, Germany), E.P. Dutton and Company (NYC), Studio Vista Publishers (London), Boston Art & Book (Boston MA), the Graphis Press (Zurich, Switzerland), Arcanum Press (Amsterdam, Netherlands), School of African Studies – Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), the Designer’s Gaukuin College (Tokyo, Japan), Northwestern University Press (Evanston IL), The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Washington Post, The Milwaukee Bugle-American, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free-Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and many others.
Skip Williamson's comics are included in the permanent collection of the Ryerson & Burnham Library at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Skip Williamson characters
- Snappy Sammy Smoot
- Rag-time Billy
- Necropolis Keester
- Neon Vincent
- Nell & Void
- A history of underground comics by Mark James Estren, Ronin Publishing 091417164X