2 key fig­ures in un­der­ground comics

Cre­ated Bi­jou Fun­nies in Chicago in 1968

Chicago Sun-Times - - REMEMBERING - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL Staff Re­porter | SUN- TIMES FILES Email: mod­on­nell@sun­times.com Twit­ter: @sun­time­so­bits

Two sem­i­nal fig­ures of the un­der­ground comics move­ment, both with strong ties to Chicago, have died within 11 days of each other.

Artists Mervyn “Skip” Wil­liamson and Jay Lynch helped make the Chicago Seed un­der­ground news­pa­per a “cross­roads be­tween the East Vil­lage Other and the Berke­ley Barb,” said Art Spiegel­man, an un­der­ground car­toon­ist and creator of “Maus,” the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

“These two were very im­por­tant pi­o­neers, and it put Chicago on my map,” Spiegel­man said.

In the days be­fore cell­phones and email, “Jay’s [ Chicago] house be­came a pit stop for car­toon­ists trav­el­ing back and forth in their VW vans” be­tween the East Coast and West Coast, Spiegel­man said.

Mr. Wil­liamson died March 16 at Al­bany Med­i­cal Cen­ter in New York, said his wife, Adri­enne Mo­rales. She said her hus­band, who had heart fail­ure and di­a­betes, had an ad­verse re­ac­tion to medicine.

Mr. Lynch died March 5 in Can­dor, New York, said Pa­trick Rosenkranz, author of 12 books on un­der­ground comics, in­clud­ing 2002’ s “Rebel Vi­sions: the Un­der­ground Comix Rev­o­lu­tion, 1963- 1975.” Both artists were 72. Mr. Lynch ar­rived in Chicago from Florida. Mr. Wil­liamson came from Mis­souri. To­gether in Chicago, they cre­ated a 1968 comic book, Bi­jou Fun­nies, with con­tri­bu­tions from Spiegel­man and Robert Crumb, known as R. Crumb, the creator of Fritz the Cat, Rosenkranz said. He said Crumb came to Chicago dur­ing the 1968 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, stay­ing at Mr. Wil­liamson’s apart­ment. Mr. Crumb and Mr. Lynch mostly stayed in and worked on Bi­jou while Mr. Wil­liamson went to protests against the Viet­nam War, then re­turned to work on the comic.

“Skip would come back at the end of the day, smelling like tear gas, and do his part,” Rosenkranz said.

Crumb’s Zap Comix came out in Fe­bru­ary 1968, Bi­jou Fun­nies in Au­gust.

“They were a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new look in comics that changed the medium for­ever,” Rosenkranz said.

“Their work was gen­uinely sub­ver­sive,” Spiegel­man said. “It opened up and per­son­al­ized a new art form.”

It was “highly po­lit­i­cal but also very art­ful,” said Al­bert Wil­liams, a lec­turer at Columbia Col­lege Chicago.

“I sort of think of Skip and many of his col­leagues as ca­naries in the coal mines,” said John Kin­hart, a Mary­land doc­u­men­tar­ian who did a film on Wil­liamson last year called “Pig­headed.” “They were very ir­rev­er­ent. It took a lot of courage to do the sub­ver­sive stuff that they did.”

The artists had grown up with the sub­ver­sive sly­ness of Cracked and Mad mag­a­zines and were in­flu­enced by rock ’ n’ roll, the anti- war move­ment and drug and hip­pie cul­ture. They also were re­belling against Chicago’s Demo­cratic Ma­chine and the cen­sor­ship of the 1950s Comics Code.

As young men, “Skip, Jay and I were part of the world of fanzines” when they were mimeo­graphed, pur­ple- inked works, Spiegel­man said. “Skip had one called Squire. Jay was in­volved with one called Wild! I had one called Blase.”

Be­fore Bi­jou, Mr. Lynch and Mr. Wil­liamson pub­lished a satire mag­a­zine called Chicago Mir­ror, Rosenkranz said.

Mr. Wil­liamson at­tended the Chicago Seven trial as a sketch artist after Yip­pie leader Ab­bie Hoff­man es­corted him to court, Rosenkranz said, telling a deputy: “This is my sis­ter— he can come in.”

He also did il­lus­tra­tions for books by Hoff­man and Jerry Ru­bin, an­other de­fen­dant in the cir­cus- like Chicago Seven trial, where lead­ers of ’ 68 con­ven­tion protests were tried on charges of in­cit­ing ri­ots.

In Chicago, Mr. Lynch worked as a fry cook and taught at the Learn­ing Cen­ter, bring­ing in lec­tur­ers in­clud­ing Crumb and Mad car­toon­ist Har­vey Kurtz­man, ac­cord­ing to Rosenkranz. Mr. Lynch also cre­ated cov­ers for Midwest, the Chicago Sun- Times’ Sun­day mag­a­zine. Mr. Wil­liamson worked in Play­boy’s art depart­ment, at ad agen­cies and con­trib­uted to Gallery and Hustler mag­a­zines.

“This was the birth­place for a lot of this coun­ter­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity, not just San Fran­cisco and New York,” Wil­liams said. “Chicago was home to Play­boy mag­a­zine, which meant these guys could get jobs. A lot of ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies were based here and still are.”

“In the Chicago Seed and else­where, Skip clev­erly sat­i­rized both mil­i­tarist ma­cho and rev­o­lu­tion­ary bravado,” said Abe Peck, for­mer Seed editor and a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at North­west­ern Univer­sity. “Jay wryly inked Nard n’ Pat, and later his Phoebe and the Pi­geon Peo­ple brought smiles to Chicago Reader read­ers. . . . Their dy­ing within 11 days seems like a cos­mic joke but made them lit­er­ally friends to the end.”

In 2000, Mr. Lynch left Chicago, say­ing the rents were too high. He even­tu­ally set­tled in Can­dor, New York, Rosenkranz said. Mr. Wil­liamson moved to At­lanta and then Wilm­ing­ton, Ver­mont. Mr. Wil­liamson met his wife Adri­enne through the web­site De­viant Art, and they got mar­ried in 2015 at their Ver­mont town hall.

He ex­pe­ri­enced a heart prob­lem in 2015. Af­ter­ward, he told Adri­enne Mo­rales that, at his most ill, he felt as if he were float­ing in a stream, ac­com­pa­nied by a pow­er­ful, calm­ing pres­ence. When Mr. Lynch died, she said her hus­band told her: “I know Jay is OK. I was there.”

Un­der­ground comics artists Skip Wil­liamson ( left) and Jay Lynch in Chicago in 1973.

| PA­TRICK ROSENKRANZ IM­AGE

Chicago’s coun­ter­cul­ture news­pa­per, the Seed, con­tained art by Jay Lynch and Skip Wil­liamson.

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