The New York Times reports influential underground comix creator S. Clay Wilson died on Sunday, February 7, aged 79. Wilson had been in declining health since suffering a severe brain injury in 2008, and passed away at his home in San Francisco.
Steve Clay Wilson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 25, 1941. He grew up reading EC’s “Tales From the Crypt,” which greatly informed his distinctly grotesque drawing style. After attending the University of Nebraska, he served in the Army, and then joined a Beat Generation community of artists and poets in Lawrence, Kansas. He once stated, “I always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator way back when, but I took some LSD and took a left turn graphically.”
He relocated to San Francisco in 1968, where he became a leading member of the underground comix movement, and a local counterculture celebrity, partying with rock musicians like Janis Joplin. His violent, vulgar, and frequently pornographic comics starred characters like the Checkered Demon (pictured above on his shirt), Star-Eyed Stella, and Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates.
Robert Crumb cited him as an inspiration, explaining, “the level of mayhem, violence, dismemberment, naked women, loose body parts, huge, obscene sex organs, a nightmare vision of hell-on-earth never so graphically illustrated before in the history of art…. Suddenly my own work seemed insipid.” Like Crumb and other underground cartoonists, Wilson was frequently accused of being a misogynist: his defenders would respond the male characters in his comics were also subjected to rape, and that the female characters were equally sadistic.
A heavy drinker, Wilson was found lying unconscious on a San Francisco street in November 2008, having sustained severe brain and neck injuries from either a fight or a fall. He was largely unable to speak or draw during the last years of his life.
Wilson is survived by his wife, Lorraine Chamberlain, and his sister, Linda Lee Schafer.