'Snappy Sammy Smoot', Bijou Funnies #7 (November 1972). 

Skip Williamson was one of the pioneers of the 1960s U.S. underground comix movement. He is best-known for his satirical comic strip 'Snappy Sammy Smoot' (1968-1996). Williamson was co-founder of the influential underground comix magazine Bijou Funnies. He was notable for his fluid, roundish, psychedelic graphic style and political-social consciousness. He livened up the pages of various anarchic books and posters, while rallying for various causes during protest marches. Later in his career, Williamson became art director of the men's magazines Gallery (1973) and Hustler (1974), while instigating the section 'Playboy Funnies' (1976) in Hugh Hefner's Playboy. This latter comic column became a haven for underground artists. Willamson also drew the short-lived newspaper comic 'Halsted Street' (1977) in The Chicago Daily News. He was a great advocate of comics' potential to educate the masses. "Underground comics should be both propaganda and entertainment," Williamson once said. "They're effective - the antithesis of rhetoric." To him comics could be "subtle and exaggerated at the same time. So they are a valuable propaganda tool." 

The infamous Trash Can cartoon, Williamson's first published work.

Early life and career
Skip Williamson was born in 1944 in San Antionio, Texas, as Mervyn Williamson. His father hailed from Virginia, while his mother had Hispanic/Native American roots. The family later moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, and finally Canton, Missouri. Williamson's future career seemed predestined, since his grandmother nicknamed him "Skip", a reference to the protagonist from Percy Crosby's newspaper comic 'Skippy'. Comics weren't allowed in Williamson's parental household, making them all the more thrilling. One could state that, even back then, Williamson already took his comics "underground". He often got caught reading and stealing them, and was punished for drawing cartoons in his school books. He was also very politically conscious from a young age. In 1952, at age eight, he wore a button promoting Democratic Party candidate Adlai Stevenson, while most people in his neighborhood, even kids, liked Republican Party candidate and former U.S. general Dwight D. Eisenhower. Making a stance didn't make him popular, though. Other kids beat him up for it and Eisenhower was overwhelmingly elected as President. 

Among Williamson's main graphic influences were Walt Disney, Tex Avery, Harold Gray, Al Capp, Chester Gould, Harold Foster, Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch and Marcel Duchamp. But like most underground cartoonists, Williamson his biggest inspiration were the early issues of Mad Magazine, written and drawn by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. He once wrote a fan letter to Mad, published in issue #70 (April 1962). However, Mad's editors wrote his homestate wrong. Instead of Canton, Missouri, they printed that he lived in Canton, Ohio. Williamson's graphic career took off after he managed to sell a gag cartoon to Kurtzman's magazine Help!, depicting two trash cans in New Orleans, one reading "Negro Trash" and the other "White Crash". At the time, future feminist Gloria Steinem was part of Help's editorial board and picked out Williamson's clever commentary on the U.S. racial segregation laws. The cartoon received additional exposure when African-American comedian Dick Gregory showed it on an episode of Jack Paar's talks how 'The Tonight Show'. 

From Bijou Comix, by Skip Williamson
'The Thrilling Adventures of Bozo Rezebo' from Bijou Funnies #6. The character’s name is a pun on Bebe Rebozo, a businessman who was well known in the 1960s and 1970s for being a friend and confidant of U.S. President Richard Nixon.

Underground comix
One day, reading an issue of the satirical magazine Cracked, Williamson discovered that the editor had published a fanzine, Smudge. Smudge offered information about every possible satirical magazine in the United States. Williamson applied for a job in Smudge and got hired as a cartoonist. Many of his future underground comix colleagues, like Jay Lynch and Art Spiegelman, discovered Smudge the same way.  Williamson got actively involved in the fanzine network and published various articles and cartoons in magazines like The Realist, The Idiot, Aardvark, Triad and Don Dohler's Wild!. He launched his own short-lived magazine, Squire. All these independently published magazines created a counterculture press, outside the mainstream media. They offered news and entertainment appealing to young people, including the rising hippie movement. 

A more succesful endeavour by Lynch and Williamson was The Chicago Mirror, founded in the summer of 1967. The magazine featured a lot of satirical articles, but not everybody got the joke. One day, Lynch wrote that smoking dog excrement could be a substitute for marijuana. To his concern, some hippies actually congratulated him for giving him this "great advice". Even when he explained it was satire, they still didn't believe him. After four issues, it motivated him to change the format into a comic magazine, because the comedy would hopefully be a lot clearer. Inspired by Robert Crumb's groundbreaking underground comix magazine Zap Comix, Bijou Funnies hit the market in the summer of 1968. It quickly became the second most-read underground comix magazine after Zap.

Cover illustrations for Chicago Seed and Comix Book. 

Snappy Sammy Smoot
In the first issue of Bijou Funnies (Summer 1968), Williamson's signature character Snappy Sammy Smoot made his debut. Snappy Sammy is a flamboyant man with a large chin, pencil-thin moustache and a curly beehive haircut. He comes from a more old-fashioned, innocent past and thus behaves accordingly. Whatever happens, he remains the eternal optimist. Even when confronted with hippies, drugs, angry policemen and activists he never loses his innocent outlook on things, even if he is blissfully unaware or in denial about what really goes on around him. The comics were funny because they lampooned both the politically left and the right. Sammy's neighbour, Ragtime Billy, for instance, is an angry ultra-conservative right-winger, while Necropolis Keester is a braindead hippie, completely dependent on drugs. 'Snappy Sammy Smoot' appeared in other magazines as well, like Blab!, Comix Book, Zero Zero and National Lampoon.

Snappy Sammy Smoot was one of the few underground comix characters to gain mainstream exposure. In the TV comedy show 'Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In' (1968-1973), he was played by comedian Carl Reiner in a few sketches. It was also one of the few underground comix series to survive the hippie era. 'Snappy Sammy Smoot' kept running on a regular basis until the mid-1990s. This gave Williamson the opportunity to satirize new sociological changes, like born-again Christians and hip-hop musicians. 

Snappy Sammy Smoot
'Snappy Sammy Smoot'.

Other late 1960s and early 1970s comics
Other recurring underground features by Williamson were 'Bozo Rebebo', about an odd monster whose name was a pun on Nixon's confidant Bebe Rebozo, and 'On The Job', a satirical comic about the magazine publishing business.

Williamson was also one of several comic artists, including Robert Crumb, Jay Kinney, Jay Lynch, Jim Mitchell, Peter Loft, Ned Sonntag, Dave Dozier, Wendel Pugh, Dave L. Herring, Bruce Walthers, Dale Kuipers, S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, Pete Poplaski, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman, Evert Geradts, Denis Kitchen, Joel Beck and Bill Grifith to make a graphic contribution to a special 1971 tribute comic book named 'ProJunior', starring Don Dohler's character of the same name.

'Black Icarus' (Bijou Funnies #3, October 1969).

Social activism and obscenity trial
Skip Williamson was a politically conscious man. He actively joined the protest marches against the Vietnam War, Nixon and for civil rights for African-Americans. He once designed a flyer, but it was rejected because it depicted Vice-President Spiro Agnew as a child molester in the Boy Scouts movement. In 1969, a trial was held against "The Chicago Eight", a group of left-wing anti-Vietnam war activists charged with conspiracy and inciting riots. Williamson and Lynch published a comic book, 'Conspiracy Capers' (1969), to raise funds for the activists' legal defense. The case was controversial and Lynch had to go through great lengths to actually find anybody in Chicago willing to cash the check with the benefit money. He was forced to sign it over and send it off to Washington D.C. to more kindred spirits. By the time he received everything back in the mail two months had passed by. Even worse: his letter had been opened and inspected. It turned out that two shady men in suits had visited the printing shop he had in mind for the job, threatening to put the owner out of business if he dared to published Conspiracy Capers.

Nevertheless, 'Conspiracy Capers' did get published and featured graphic contributions by Skip Williamson (who designed the cover), Jay Lynch, Jim Osborne, Baron, Daniel Clyne, Paul David Simon, Jay Kinney, Ralph Reese, Gary Arlington, Rory Hayes, Charles Winans and Art Spiegelman. Skip Williamson attended the Chicago Eight trial as a courtroom sketch artist and sketched the proceedings. The trial itself originally resulted in only five "guilty" verdicts, but these were later overturned in a federal court of appeals. As a good friend of the most famous activist on trial, Abbie Hoffman, Williamson not only illustrated the cover of 'Conspiracy Capers' but also Hoffman's cult book, 'Steal This Book' (1971). He provided artwork for Jerry Rubin's equally anarchic 'DO IT! Scenarios of the Revolution' (1970) and 'We Are Everywhere' (1971).

'On The Job' (Comix Book #3).

Unfortunately, not all trials ended in underground comix' favour. In 1973, the court case Miller vs. California resulted in an official decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to broaden prosecution of "obscene material", making it nearly impossible to publish and distribute underground magazines with the same amount of freedom. Bijou Funnies also called it quits with their eighth and final issue. As a special treat, all underground artists took turns spoofing each other's series in the style of Mad Magazine. Skip Williamson parodied Robert Crumb's 'Mr. Natural', while his own 'Snappy Sammy Smoot' was lampooned by William Stout.

'Neon Vincents Massage Parlor'. 

Gallery / Hustler
From the mid-1970s on, Williamson, like many of his colleagues, ventured to more mainstream media. In 1973, he became the art director of the men's magazine Gallery, where he created the column 'The Girl Next Door'. Readers could send in sexy photos of their girlfriends or wives for this section. In 1974, Williamson became art director for the porn magazine Hustler, but only lasted a week, because, in his own words, chief editor Larry Flynt "drove him crazy". 

'Nell 'N' Void'. 

Playboy Funnies
Williamson was also the main instigator behind the 'Playboy Funnies' (1976), a comic section in Hugh Hefner's Playboy. featured hip, young artists like Lynch and himself, Art Spiegelman, Jay Kinney, Randall Enos, Lou Brooks, Mark Alan Stamaty and Howard Cruse. For many former underground comix artists, it was a welcome spot in a widely read magazine where they could still publish explicit, subversive stories that couldn't be published elsewhere. Williamson naturally also had comic strips of his own in Playboy: 'Neon Vincent's Massage Parlor' and 'Nu-Wave Romance with Nell 'n' Void'. 

Halsted Street
In 1977, Williamson made the daily comic 'Halsted Street', for the Chicago Daily News section 'Sidetracks'. 'Halsted Street' centers on a couple, Bosco and Sheila Spoonbread, who try to make a living in the tough street life of Halsted. The newspaper editors hoped that hiring a well-known underground cartoonist like Williamson could bring in more young readers. At the same time, they hindered his creativity by forcing him to keep everything family friendly. Williamson nevertheless still snuck in occasional satirical jabs at the media, governor James R. Thompson and even left-wing politics. Naturally, this didn't please his editors. Williamson recalled that they asked him whether the protagonists were an interracial couple, a question he considered utterly irrelevant. Soon the comic's size was reduced and moved to the back pages, before it was inevitably discontinued. The Chicago Daily News went bankrupt three months later. 

'Class War Comix', from Bijou Funnies #5 (December 1970). The caricatured politicians are U.S. President Richard Nixon and his Vice President Spiro Agnew. 

Graphic and written contributions
Together with Jay Lynch, Williamson designed the album cover of 'The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette' (1969) by The Four Seasons. The cover was made to look like a newspaper, even featuring an eight-page newspaper-like booklet inside with an underground comic named 'High Frequency Funnies', drawn by Lynch and Williamson. While an obvious attempt to appear more hip to young listeners, the record cover did prove to be quite influential. Jethro Tull's 'Thick as a Brick' (1972), John Lennon's 'Some Time In New York City' (1973), Tom Waits' 'Heartattack and Vine' (1980) and Radiohead's 'The King of Limbs' (2011) also designed their album covers to look like a newspaper. Williamson additionally 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.

Williamson wrote a personal homage to Robert Crumb in Monte Beauchamp's book 'The Life and Times of R. Crumb. Comments From Contemporaries (St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 1998). 

Final years and death
In the late 20th and early 21st century, Williamson published comics, cartoons and illustrations in The Chicago Seed, High Times, The Industrial Worker, National Lampoon, The Realist and even the prestigious Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1994, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, making large-scale canvas paintings about political themes. Recurring targets were politicians like Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Ronald Reagan. Some of these paintings were exhibited in various musea and cultural centra in the U.S. and Europe. Williamson also had his own blog. 

In 2017, Skip Williamson passed away at the age of 72.  He was a diabetic and died after a bad reaction to antibiotics while undergoing treatment for a toe infection in Albany Medical Center. Only a week earlier, his frequent collaborator Jay Lynch had passed away too.

Legacy and influence
Skip Williamson was an influence on Rod Kierkegaard

Books about Skip Williamson
Skip Williamson and Jay Lynch were interviewed in John Paul Kinhart's documentary 'Blood, Boobs & Beast' (2007) about Don Dohler. In 2016 Williamson became subject of another documentary by Kinhart named 'Pigheaded' (2016). The underground comix veteran also published an autobiography: 'Spontaneous Combustion' (as an eBook, 2011) which, aside from his life story, also offers the most complete overview of his graphic career available. 

The Bijou Funnies team, as presented in Bijou Funnies #1 (1968). 

Series and books by Skip Williamson you can order today:


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