Mervyn “Skip” 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 grandmother gave him the nickname “Skip” after Percy Crosby’s comic strip character “Skippy“.
In 1961 Gloria Steinem, then editor of Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine, published one of Williamson’s cartoons featuring two New Orleans trash cans labeled “Negro Trash” the other “White Trash”. Comedian Dick Gregory subsequently appeared on The Tonight Show and presented the comic on national television, launching Williamson into the mainstream.
In 1967 Williamson moved to Chicago to help long-time friend Jay Lynch publish The Chicago Mirror. A year later 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.
He also contributed work to The Chicago Seed, an underground newspaper launched by artist Don Lewis and Earl Segal and published biweekly in Chicago from 1967 to 1974.
In 1969 Williamson’s friendship with Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman got him into the courtroom where the Chicago 8 trial was being held, where he sketched out key characters in the trial. Williamson also designed the cover of the first printing of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, and Hoffman gave Williamson the advance from his publishers to produce a comic book to raise money for the Chicago 8 defense fund. Williamson came out with the popular volume of Conspiracy Capers, including art by Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Jay Kinney, Dan Clyne, Paul David Simon, and others.
During the 1970s and 80s Williamson art-directed and contributed artwork to several 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 he was the founding art director of Hustler, and in 1976 he joined the staff of Playboy where 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 also 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). Snuk Comics was designed to promote the band Wilderness Road.
In later years Williamson concentrated on producing large-scale canvases depicting political social abomination and political treachery.
He died at Albany Medical Center on March 16, 2017. The official cause of death was renal failure and complications from heart disease and diabetes.
Free your mind: the underground comics of Skip Williamson
Skip Williamson, 1944-2017 – The Comics Journal
Skip Williamson, Jay Lynch & the World of 1960s Underground Comix – PRINT Magazine
Skip Williamson’s Comix & Stories Featuring Snappy Sammy Smoot – Comixjoint.com