Interview: Skip Williamson Pt. 2 (of 2)

Categories:  Interviews

Skip WilliamsonThe beauty about interviewing a seasoned veteran like Skip Williamson, is that essentially all that’s involved is turning on a tape recorder, asking the occasional lame question, and then simply sitting back and listening.

Williamson first made his mark alongside UG comix legends, Robert Crumb and Jay Lynch, by helping to launch Bijou Funnies in 1968. Since then, Williamson illustrated the classic Steal this Book for everyone’s favorite fun-loving counter-cultural superman, Abbie Hoffman, and did time on the staff of Playboy. This time around, the artists tells us about being kidnapped by a pack of gun-wielding, Good Humor truck driving lesbians, and getting kicked out of the Playboy Mansion. We just sit there with our mouths open, nodding along.

Are you from Atlanta, originally?

Oh no, I moved out here in 1994. I lived in Chicago for 30 years, and before that, from the time I was 11 until I was 21, I lived in a small Mississippi River village in Missouri. During that period, through the fanzine network, I got to know Jay Lynch, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman. We were all 14, 15, 16-years-old, publishing fanzines. The Crumb brothers did FOO, which was a fanzine with funny animal comics. Jay, Artie, and I did homages to Harvey Kurtzman. We were true Kurtzmaniacs. That’s kind of how we all got started in this business.

Spiegelman definitely seems to have taken it in a very different direction that the lighthearted stuff that we were talking about before.

Crumb’s taking it in a very different direction, too, don’t you think? The stuff in the New Yorker that I see is all about fashion and his wife getting face lifts. It’s some weird stuff that he never would have written about in the early days. I definitely admire his draftsmanship. Everything he draws is beautiful, but some of the things that he’s touching on now, I find kind of uninteresting. But you know, I’m getting old. My problem is that I never grew up…

What kind of subject matter are you tackling now, in your strips?

The Blab strip that I’m doing is about—now here’s a weird story: in 1965, I was kidnapped and held hostage by a mafia of lesbians who drove Good Humor trucks in a suburb of Kansas City. This is a true story [laughs]. I’ve been meaning to tell this story for years. My first job away from home was as a publicity director for a summerstock theatre in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Cripple Creek is almost level with Pike’s Peak, so it’s above the timber line, and at that time, it was just like the 1800s, full of Indians and guys with six-guns walking the sidewalks. There was no law. It was truly insane. And I was the publicity director for this transvestite who about 72-years old. His name was Ray Bourbon. Toward the end of summer, he drove me and a few other people to Kansas City, and we were held for about five days by these lesbians, with shaved heads, army-issued 45s, who drove Good Humor trucks. In Blab, I’m telling the story of Ray Bourbon. He’s kind of a seminal character in the gay community. He’s kind of their Lenny Bruce. He produced party records. He was kind of an old Hollywood cronie. He knew everyone, Valentino, Gloria Swanson—all the old Hollywood people. He was later convicted of murder. That’s the reason they kidnapped us, because they found out, and weren’t sure what to do about that. In 1968, he was arrested for murder, and died in prison. That’s kind of my coming of age story. People wondered why I ended up in comic books. What else would I do, after that?

How about a good Playboy story to close us out?

Well, there was the time that I was kicked out of the mansion because I threatened to take a shit in the Playboy pool.

That’ll do.

This was before I was actually working at Playboy Magazine. I happened to be working at Playboy Press, which repackaged cartoons from the magazine into paperback books. This is right around the time that underground comics were getting some notoriety, and Playboy was about to publish an article about them. They were trying to woo Robert Crumb to the magazine, and he was having great fun turning them down. Robert, Harvey Kurtzman, Jay Lynch, and I were invited to the Playboy Mansion. We went at about 4:00 in the afternoon, and there was not a lot going on. Hef was still in bed. We were told that we could order whatever we wanted, so I began assaulting the liquor supply, and I got very drunk. I told Jay that I was going to go to the grotto pool and let loose a floater. And then I forgot about it, because it was just an off-hand, drunken comment, but Jay knew that I was kind of a crazy person and there was a possibility that this could happen. Kurtzman was trying to get some money from Hef at the time, for creating Annie Fannie, so Jay told Kurtzman about what he thought I was going to do, and Kurtzman thought this would diminish his ability to get a raise, if I did that. I’d completely forgotten that I’d said I’d do that, when I stripped down naked and jumped into the pool. The security came, closed down the pool, and hustled me out. I didn’t know why I was being kicked out. I got angry because I thought that it was because I was naked in the pool. I said, “what’s the matter? Haven’t you ever had naked people in the pool before?” so I got dressed, kicked a suit of armor in the shins, and stormed out, before Hef even showed up.

–Brian Heater