S. Clay Wilson – RIP

Underground comix creator S. Clay Wilson has passed away.

Steven Clay (S. Clay) Wilson
July 25, 1941 – February 7, 2021

cartoonist, artist

Lorraine let the world know of the sad news today:

? S. Clay Wilson 7/25/1941 – 2/7/2021. ?

He’s gone. At 4pm yesterday. I sat next to him all day yesterday, telling him stories…one of arriving here in a crowd of topless woman on Pride Day…..astonished by the nudity on the streets…..laughing at the memory of Wilson – tall & gallant – tryna help a drunk topless woman in cowboy boots down off the hood of a gleaming cadillac,holding one hand, while she gripped a long, battered trombone with the other…..She stepped down to the pavement with pendulous breast swaying….for all the world like a newly crowned Queen….stumbling a bit..but royal in her carriage…strolling off proudly without so much as a nod or a thank you… Wilson gleaming with Pride for his city…his rebellious Barbary Coast…

“I know you want to stay” I whispered,”but you know who’s there, waiting for you?”
His glazed eyes flickered slightly, and he gasped another airless little gulp… “SPAIN!
He’s waiting there with Geiser and with John Riddell!
They’re going to welcome you with warm clothes, loads of art supplies, and a shot to warm up yr insides.
They’re going to be so happy to see you. “

Underground comix, infamous for sex and violence, found there were no limits in S. Clay Wilson.

From his Lambiek Comiclopedia page:

His comics are so completely off-the-wall that they inspired several artists to jump over their personal artistic barriers and draw whatever they wanted. It’s been said that once you’ve read S. Clay Wilson’s comics nothing will shock you anymore. Or as the man explained it himself: “You can draw anything you want. Reach down and grab some in the murky recesses of your psyche, the dark side of your subconscious, the last rotting grandfather cell.”

From a Broad Street Review item:

The comic art historian Patrick Rosenkranz has posited that no artist in history has “gone further… [than Wilson] in drawing mutilation and sexual deviancy.” His work has been compared to Breughel’s and has hung in museums beside Bosch.

Also S. Clay seemly had no use for that empty, “negative” space. His art filled the panels, the “chicken fat” of other artists look bare compared to S. Clay comix.

The combination of sex and violence reached a pinnacle in Steve’s pirate comix.

S. Clay was quite prolific in that first decade of undergrounds – Zap Comix, Snatch Comics, Gothic Blimp Works, Knockabout, and more contributions to a number of other anthology comics.

Then there were his individual comix like Bent, The Checkered Demon, Pork, and some whose titles, much less images, won’t be shown here. (And yes, I bought my fair share of his solo comix and his stuff as part of a group effort.)

Wilson’s work took some getting used to. Eventually I grew accustomed to it and eventually would agree with M. Steven Fox:

In any case, including the cover artwork the book presents 28 full-page drawings from Wilson, and they’re all quite beautiful. I know there are a lot of Wilson critics who think his drawings are ugly and repulsive, but they’re just f#@king wrong.

The last dozen years of Steve’s life was marked by tragedy:

S Clay Wilson was trying to get home from a friend’s house November 1, 2008, the night his life changed forever. We will never be certain if he fell or was attacked, since he has no memory of it. The numerous injuries on his face and head made him look like he was beat up. Two good samaritans found him unconscious between parked cars, face down in the rain, and called an ambulance … He’d suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, bleeding in three hemispheres of his brain. He spent three weeks in a coma, and we had no idea how severely impaired he was for many months. Once he began to speak again we realized he hadn’t just “awakened” to resume life as it had been before.

The Patrick Rosencranz eulogy at The Comics Journal:

Wilson’s unique artwork went further than any of his predecessors in art history in depicting sexual deviation, mutilation, torture, demonology, vampirism, religious and racial iconoclasm and perversities of every stripe — awash with gallows humor and a sense of outrage. Painters from the past who have tilled similar ground include Édouard-Henri Avril, Federico Zuccaro, Félicien Rops, Franz von Bayros and Matthias Grünewald, but Wilson, born in 20th-century America, could express himself in print without risk of being beheaded or burned at the stake or tossed into a dungeon to rot. He outdid them all in quantity and audacity, and forged a new direction in art’s evolution. He insisted on drawing anything he could imagine in his fevered inner landscape, which was an unpredictable territory. Not only did he advance in his own mastery of his medium over 50 years of prodigious output, but he freed up others who didn’t realize they were censoring their own work until they saw what he dared to draw. He was the cartoonist you either loved or hated — but you couldn’t forget him.

Rest in Peace, S. Clay.