TCJ ARCHIVE

The S. Clay Wilson Interview

How and when did you get to Lawrence, Kan.?

I came back to Lawrence, after I did New York. My friend John Gary Brown … I met him at the University of Nebraska. He was some art-exchange guy. And John Gierlich. He’s from Wichita. I had this Kansas crossover at the University of Nebraska. There’re all these Wichita guys. [Michael] McClure’s from Wichita. He’s gonna be doing a poetry reading with some friends of Lorraine’s in the near future at City Lights Bookstore. A little McClure anecdote. McClure’s a little fey, you know, a little light in the loafers, and Lorraine’s a real fire breather; and McClure says, [effeminate voice] “Ooh, you look almost like a man,” and Lorraine’s rebuttal was, “I’m more of a woman than you’ll ever get, and more of a man than you’ll ever be.” [Enter Lorraine.] Did I get the quote right?

LORRAINE CHAMBERLAIN: “I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be and more of a woman than you’ll ever get.” He’s on the street wearing a Pashmina shawl. Excuse me! I’m wearing a dress, and he tells me I look like a man. So “Fuck you.”

[As she exits] On that note … J’get that on tape? Piss McClure off. Heh-heh.

Inscribed to Wilson's partner, artist Lorraine Chamberlian. ©2002 S. Clay Wilson

I know from reading Cows Are Freaky that Lawrence was a wild place in the ’60s. Your picture’s in there too. Aren’t you the guy with the derby, holding up
the gun?

Yeah. A Broomstick 9 mm. Mauser. OK, I’m in Lawrence, Kansas. I hook up with Brown. We get this house. The rent was like 60 bucks a month. Two-story, stone house, 837 Maine. We could’ve bought it for eight grand. It was there during Quantrell’s Raid. It was haunted and stuff. Raccoons running in and out. Judy Collins, the folk singer, abandoned her dog, Coya, there, a Malamute husky that adopted us. I’m done with college. Done with the Army. Done with New York …

What were you doing in Lawrence?

I was a model. We were dropping acid about once a week ’n’ going to beer parties ’n’ motorcycles ’n’ all kinds of hysteria. It was quite colorful. The Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers Association, which was the vigilantes that drove pick-up trucks with fucking lever-action Winchester rifles to keep [people] off their patches. It was real cowboy. And The Rancid Riders’d roar in there on their bikes and start growing shit. “No, No. Get these bikers outta there.” It’ll never happen again, probably. A friend of mine, during graduation, passed out 500 hits of purple Owsley Dome LSD, and these kids in caps and gowns would drop one as they got their diploma, and it completely fucked up everything. All the parents were there, and the whole fucking campus was lit on acid. It was a Be-In with robes, right? And they couldn’t figure out how to control this. Then they had parties called The Big Eat.

The Big Eat?

Oh yeah, then I’ll tell you about the modeling. The Big Eat started off small, in somebody’s back yard, and got larger ’n’ larger ’n’ larger and more LSD and everybody was fucking insane in Lawrence, Kan., at this time, about 1967. The state of Kansas was invited. The state. That was the most bizarre scene. I was on acid. Everybody was on acid. There was a couple murders. You had the bikers in there. You had stunt pilots in airplanes. You had cowboys. You had people on horseback, motorcycles. And the cops, they just gave up.

From Wilson's Portfolio ©S. Clay Wilson

Woodstock without bands.

There was bands, too. They had a bathtub full of pork ’n’ beans. A beer truck would show up with four taps — Budweiser beer — and they’d just open the taps, and people were drinking beer as fast as possible, because the bikers had taken over — “Free beer!” I was watching, laying against this fence, and the empty kegs being tossed out the back of the truck reminded me of the depth charges minesweepers fucking throw over to get rid of the Nazi submarines underneath you. [Laughter.] And I thought I better get a job or something. So I asked my friend Robert McNown, my Seattle buddy-artist, “Bob, where can I get a job, where I don’t have to cut my hair, and I could get paid cash once a week, and it’s easy?”

He says, “Be a model.”

I was real skinny and pallid and ectomorphic and had hair down to here. So I was a model for a while. The models were all taking acid. We were having a lot of fun. There was no AIDS. It was just rock on. Lots of great-looking nude women models. Lots of fraternization, to put it lightly. Then I turned one of my instructors, Sudlow, on to LSD, and I didn’t see him until I showed up at his classroom to model. I had a bunch of pop-tops [linked together], and as a joke, I put ’em on my head; and Sudlow looked at me, still kinda coming down off acid. It takes a minute or two to get rid of it. I said, “Look, 20th century crown of thorns.”

He said, “I had a crucifixion pose in mind for you today, anyway.” ’Cause he didn’t have that good a trip. He got tangled up with this goat. He couldn’t tell if he was the goat or the goat was him. So he points to this big cross in the fucking room full of admiring students. So I’m getting up … [Takes pose of Christ on cross.] I wish I had some of those pictures today that the students drew, so I could sell ’em on eBay. [Laughs.]

Were you doing art in Lawrence?

Yeah. I did the portfolio, 20 dense-pack drawings through Charley Plymell, contained — ahem — in my coffee-table art book, The Art of S. Clay Wilson, available from Ten Speed Press.

You’ve been quoted as saying that up to this point you were planning to illustrate children’s books …

It was something I thought about.

… and then multiple acid trips in Kansas led you “to take a left turn graphically.”

That whole portfolio is pretty much acid. This is all stuff I’ve said over and over and over again. [Exclaims] The public has such a short memory. Got to keep the public fire lit, I guess.

How’d you meet Plymell?

He was a friend of Brown’s — and a true talent. Charley was doing Grist magazine. John Fowler. Aubergine Bookstore. That’s where I first had the portfolio for sale, for $4. Now, if you have one, they’re worth $20,000. Fetched the highest price at a Sotheby’s comic-art auction. 20 Drawings By S. Clay Wilson. That’s what I had under my arm when I came out here to give ’em back to Charley. Charley said, “Do the portfolio. I’ll see you in San Francisco if you ever get there.” So I decided to move to San Francisco, with my dear old friend, who’s now gone, Bob Gustafson, a brilliant artist. There’re all kind of stories about him and the tragedies in his life, but we don’t need to go there, unless you want to push it — eight cents a word. [Laughs.]

According to my notes, the first published drawing of the Checkered Demon was in an ad for that portfolio of drawings in Grist.

He had bigger horns — and his arm around a biker.

Where did the demon come from?

A variety of sources. One of the comic strips I drew was “Ivan and Igor.” (I shoulda hung onto some of those. They’re all in a collection.) Each strip was self-contained. Title on one side, story on the other. I had different categories. “War and its Men.” “Samurai Warriors.” “Cute Animals.” “Ivan and Igor” were twin vampire bat brothers, and they were short and squat and had horns. So the Checkered Demon kind of morphed from that. And about this time Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits, which was a real LSD movie, came out and had all these demons. So I was flipped out, and I thought, “Hmm, Checkered Demon.” Because if you’re doing black-and-white strips, black and white’s a neat pattern. It makes the page crackle visually.

OK, you don’t want to talk about how you met Crumb, and I know it already, so I can put it in myself.

Yeah, we took acid and discussed art and life. Shouda grabbed a stack of those fucking first Zap comix. They’re like 50 grand apiece now, if you happen to see one laying around.

So Crumb invites you to contribute to Zap 2 along with [Victor] Moscoso and Rick Griffin. Did you know either of them?

I knew their posters. I was intrigued by all this stuff. They were doing that thing, and Spain was in New York, doing Manning, the strip, for The East Village Other. Gilbert [Shelton] was drawing “Heads and Feds.” Crumb is instrumental in starting the underground comix thing, absolutely; but there was other shit going on in different directions. It was kind of simultaneous combustion. Here’s the war ’n’ here’s acid ’n’ drugs ’n’ the Haight-Ashbury and all that shit. February ’68, everything was going nuts.

The first story you did was “Hog-Ridin’ Fools.” The Checkered Demon appears in the story. He had magic powers then, which you seem to have gotten rid of later on.

Oh, he still has magic powers. Get Zap #16 and see for yourself.

He doesn’t stick people up on ceilings.

He’s doing something else. But like now, Crumb draws himself getting older, so I’m drawing the Checkered Demon as an old demon — and as a young demon.

From "Star-Eyed Stella" in Zap Comix #4

Zap #5, you’ve already got pirates, bikers, Star-Eyed Stella and Ruby the Dyke going, so you’ve pretty much got your basic elements in place.

Yeah — and half my main characters are fruits. People are like, “Oooh …” but “Hey, They’ve got money too.” Why not?

So Ruby and Captain Pissgums were conscious marketing decisions?

No. I was reading some weird psychoanalytical study of pirates — Krafft-Ebbing — and I thought, “Just throw a dyke in there. Throw in a fucking pervert pirate,” y’know. And if it adds to my audience …

James Stark, in his introduction to The Collected Checkered Demon, wrote that you’re sort of replaying the triangle in Krazy Kat.

Oh, yeah, I use that as a narrative hook to hang things on. I love Krazy Kat. The Mouse is the target. Offissa Pup wants the Mouse. Krazy Kat wants the Mouse. So the Mouse is essentially Star-Eyed Stella, and Ruby the Dyke is Offissa Pup, and Checkered Demon is Krazy Kat. It’s kind of a stretch, but … With two characters you can do a lot; but with three, you’re tripling your combination of grief or whatever you want to come up with.

I put a posting on the Comics Journal Message Board to say I was interviewing you, and asked if people had questions they wanted me to ask, and the first one was “What is Leonardo DiCaprio really like?”

He’s my fanboy. When I met him, I thought he was a cute kid. Kinda irritating … He kept filming me with his movie camera and demonstrating to me how he can hold a beer bottle between his shoulder blades. His first bed was a box of Checkered Demon comix.

You knew his father, right?

George did Greaser Comics. He’s a Sicilian from the Bronx. Real dark. A great guy. Leo, when they made that movie, Gangs of New York, had to play an Irishman. But his mom’s German, and he got the blond, blue-eyed gene. He should’ve played a Sicilian, because he’s more Sicilian than he is Irish. Anyway, he was a fanboy before he made his big killing and became star of the planet or whatever. I liked him — and during the William Burroughs exhibit at the L.A. County Art Museum a number of years ago, I brought the DiCaprio family as my entourage, and George didn’t like these chickenhawks hitting on little Leo. “Leave him alone. C’mon. Fuck off.” He was ready to bop one of them.

When Leo made it, George’d use his gold card to buy everybody drinks and shit. “Set ’em up!” I think Leo wanted to sue his father for illegal use of his credit card, but everybody’s friendly now.

One of the other questions had to do with your story “Bums and the Bird Spirit.” The fellow who posted the question referred to it as a “joyful, positive story” and noted you hadn’t done anything else like it and wondered why.

From "Bums and the Bird Street," Zap #10 ©1979 S. Clay Wilson

Here’s the answer. This is an example of your dreams nagging you, of showing you pictures, like “Draw this! Draw this!” The mind has pictures, and if you’re an artist, you draw them. I had a dream, and I saw like four or five panels, real vivid, in this two-page story. So I did “Bums and the Bird Spirit” as I saw it in my dream and filled in a couple panels to complete it stylistically.  So, at one point I was with this gal who knew this guy who wanted to buy this strip. A tomato farmer. A carpenter. I can’t remember. He said, “I like this strip very much.”

I said, “Why?” He said, “I had a dream just like that.” Honest to Christ.

I said, “Me too. Except I guess you were busy, so I drew it for you.”

So the answer to why you haven’t drawn anything like it since is you haven’t had similar dreams?

That was real specific. Like, “Here is the panel” — which I pretty much copied from the dream. The last panel, with a big bird eye, I think I added. I keep a dream journal. [William] Burroughs did that too quite a bit. You write stuff down while it’s still fresh. The more you dream, the more you can dream. And the more you record it, the more vivid your dreams become. Then the more vivid they become, the more you get this synchronicity thing, which I’m not sure I believe in. But enough patterns have developed to make me want to believe in synchronicity. According to Jung, right? Like, I thought [this morning], “Crumb’s gonna call, and as soon as I hang up, Bob’s gonna show up.” But he was gonna call anyway. And you were gonna show up anyway.

How did the realization that “You can do anything in a comic book” come about?

Primarily acid. There was a lot of acid being dropped in those days. Everybody was trying to figure it all out.

That ties in with another Paris Review question, which was one put to Aldous Huxley. How would you describe the relationship between creativity and LSD? Have you found it’s been a valuable …

I think so. I like getting stoned, too. You’re in and out of your subconscious, and I think there’s another wrinkle. Like the portfolio drawings were of people I knew, but I didn’t know exactly what I was drawing until I took acid; and then I realized, “Oh, this is so-and-so and this is so-and-so and this is so-and-so.” I see drawings quite a bit. Your mind is on the side of your body, and you want your body to stay alive, to feed the information, you know. Like the guy who invented the sewing machine. He couldn’t figure out the thread until he had this dream where he was being chased through the jungle, and he turned around and saw this spear, this harpoon coming after him, except the rope or the thread was at [Erupts] the end where the needle hole is, where the fucking action is. People obsess about something so much that … It finally shows up when it wants to.

This is another Message Board question: Do you find it difficult to break through your inhibitions and get to your art?

Depends. This goes back to the work ethic. I was taught: “Always give them their money’s worth.” So these drawings’re getting more ’n’ more elaborate. Which is stupid, in a way. They’d buy it anyway; it didn’t have to be a dense-pack. Lots prefer minimal cute images, but, to quote Warren Oates in Two-Lane Blacktop, “Homey don’t play that.” I’ll show you a center spread I blew up for this Norman in New York. Makes Guernica look like a walk through the park.

I’m starting to enlarge stuff. I told Justin Green about it because he did all this sign work. “Take it to Kinko’s.” Take a black-and-white drawing, and put it on paper that’s flexible that goes through a roller. You can blow it up wall size, so you can see what your stuff looks like, and that’s your template. I’ll show you. A little visual aide, here. [Unrolls six-by-eight-foot “Last Call at a Pirate Pub.”] This is for the next Zap and an homage to my friend G. Bob Hessler, who drank himself to death.

And that started out …

Ten-by-thirteen inches. Blowing it up makes it stronger in a way, and it’s still got a graphic punch. I thought the relationship between black and white would be different, but now everybody can really see what the fuck’s going on — and there’s a lot going on. I’ve been doing that with prints too. You don’t care if I blather away. Blathering through my lather. I think we should throw a hoax in here. Let’s start a vicious rumor. [Laughs.] Neo-Dada.

The hallmark of your art is …

Hallmark? Did I ever tell you that scholarship story to train [me] for their factory? I’d still be doing greeting cards, perhaps.

… is the over-the-top sex and violence. Was there a point when you realized, “OK, this is what I’ve got going. This is where I’m going to go?”

I’m just having fun. I’m like a 66-year-old kid. I’m trying to maintain my childlike sense of wonderment, Bob.

That childish sense of wonderment …

Childlike sense of wonderment.

… leads you to do an awful lot of blowjobs …

[Bellows] I never blew anybody in my life![Laughs.]

From "Biker" in the Checkered Demon #2©1978 S. Clay Wilson

… in your art. In your art. Is there anything that attracts you visually about that particular act?

Sex sells. And I like drawing dirty pictures. People say, “Are you still drawing dirty pictures?”

“Yes.”

I think that was a question The Paris Review asked Marianne Moore.

Really?

No. They said “Your poems rely on a lot of symbolism …” I thought, I can use that. I’ll just change “poems” to “cartoons” and “symbolism” to…

Do you know the difference between love and like?

No.

A spit and a swallow.

All right, what’s the best thing about being a cartoonist?

Money and pussy [laughs]. No, no, not really. That’s kinda rednecky.

What’s the worst thing about it?

Deadlines and not enough money. But plenty of pussy, still. I got some redneck fans. The Hell’s Angels want me to design a T-shirt for their Oakland tattoo parlor. I gave them a quote, but I guess they couldn’t afford me. I still might do it, if the money’s right. I know of at least two Hell’s Angels that have Checkered Demon tattoos.

At some point, Crumb gave ownership of Zap to the cartoonists, so do you guys own it equally?

Yeah, we’re a company, essentially. And we have to follow up and keep our copyright thing happening all the time, not having lost a lawsuit yet. That’s one of the reason’s Turner’s pissed off. [Ron Turner, Zap’s publisher.] I don’t care. Like, where’s the update? How many comics have been sold for the last several years? Who got paid? How many’d y’print? Nuts ’n’ bolts stuff. Mystery Accounting 101?

From "Circle of Jerks" jam in Zap Comix #15 ©2004 Crumb, Spain, Mavrides, Moscoso, Wilson, Shelton, Williams

As a group, how do you decide when it’s time for a new issue?

With difficulty and merriment [laughs] and a helluva lot of ego. I do my trick in the little monk’s cell there [indicating studio] and eavesdrop.

I’ve always jammed since I was a kid. Me and my childhood buddies all liked to draw. We’d go to this place that did mass printings on big rolls of paper. At the end of a printing session, in the big dumpster — Wow! — there’d be these leftover rolls. Pink and yellow, sometimes a white one. We’d steal these leftovers and take them down my basement — 1730 North 29th, Lincoln, Neb. — and we’d do these big battle scenes. And we’re still doing it. TCH-TCH-TCH. Making the sounds of planes and shit. Moscoso did it. We’ve all done that. All the Zap guys. That’s some kind of early glue that’s held us together in our jams. It’s fun, but I’m a stickler. If it’s a jam, I think all the guys that are drawing should be in that fucking room, arguing, yelling, “Whada’y’mean?” and discussing politics. A lot of chatter, smoking and joking. Having to send it to somebody’s the only thing that bugs me. But the money’s good. People want to film a jam session, but it’s verboten. I don’t want to become a celebrity or a clown dancing to somebody else’s drumbeat. Did that answer the question, Bob?

Sorta. If it doesn’t, I’ll change the question. In Spain’s interview in The Comics Journal …”

[Roars] Spain’s interview! Rife with errors!

… he said that after he and Williams and Shelton were invited into the group, Moscoso and you decided not to let anybody else in.

That’s not true.

All right! Let’s correct that error.

Absolutely! The way it works is: The only way to leave the Zap band is to die. So when you replace, like, Griffin, it’s got to be by unanimous vote. So we all voted for Paul Mavrides as the new Zap cat.

Why didn’t you add anybody after you had the original group of seven?

To quote Victor, [shrill New York accent] “Hey, man, if it’s a comic, let’s make some money. Hey, man, c’mon, y’know.” Once it was four; then it went fucking up to seven; now it’s eight. It’s kind of a blackball system. It’s unanimous, or it’s not gonna work. We all decided on Mavrides, because he’s real sharp. He’s funny. He’s a whiz on the computer. He’s got a lot of neat chops. So we got all these different styles. That’s why it’s great. It’s like the best example of the Exquisite Corpse, you know, the Surrealist thing, where somebody would draw a head and fold it over. Somebody’d draw a body and fold it over, until “Oh look, it’s a person with a funny little head.” This is taking the Exquisite Corpse to the length of a huge comic strip.

Do you guys interact with each other around individual stories you’re doing for each issue of Zap?

We put it all together. They haven’t seen my stuff, and I haven’t seen their stuff. We put it all in a pile and figure out how to compose it. For the dense-pack stuff, there’re always like four jam sessions, which is like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight pages, an amazing amount of drawing, but by the time it’s shrunk, it’s like philatelic, y’know. You need a jeweler’s loupe to eyeball the detail. What the fuck? Seeing something enlarged … ’Course it’s bigger — bigger-better. I thought somehow it would get weaker, but it gets stronger.

From "My Big Break" in Zap #14 ©1998 Wilson, Moscoso, Spain, Mavrides, Williams, Shelton, Crumb

In Zap 14, where there’s the Crumb-Moscoso story — Crumb not wanting to participate …

Where Crumb got killed by an ice pick? THWAK! Like Lenin. Not John Lennon, the other one. [Trotsky.] It was an ice-ax!

There were three versions, and in all of them, uncharacteristically, you’re virtually silent. The only sounds I saw were in Crumb’s version, where you’re quoted as “Belch” and “Slurp.” You’re drinking a beer in the background, but you don’t say anything, and you didn’t do a version, so I was wondering how come?

Crumb is a teetotaler. I’m a drunk, OK. The panel was “There goes Wilson to the icebox for another beer.” Made me feel all rosy and nostalgic.

I guess I’m wondering why you don’t enter into the discussion in anybody’s story. Why nobody gave you any dialogue.

How many idiots do you need trying to be funny?

I put dialogue in a cartoon balloon because it uses up space, and the thing I don’t like about illustrating the Bible, or something, is you have too much text. Yeah, throw that in there. [Crumb] doing all this research and stuff. I think we should do a universal Zap comic where we don’t use any words. I think that’s the true essence of it, [and with text] we argue and have to correct the spelling and stuff. It’s fun, because it takes up space. Like “BOOM!” takes up more space than drawing three women, you know, leg wrestling with each other on a barroom floor.

Most recently, you’ve been doing these single drawings …

They’re illustrations for a book that has yet to be written.

You don’t have dialogue or captions. You don’t even have your sound effects, and I loved all that stuff. Do you miss that?

Nah! I thought I was being more classical by seeing it as these book illustrations, as opposed to cartoon drawings. But now I realized, “Hey, wait a minute … They like this stuff.” So that’s what I’m working on now. It takes up room; that’s the good thing about it. It’s easier to draw lettering — “BOOM!” — than to cover a whole panel; and I like the artwork pushing the outside of the envelope. How much art can you pack — how much drawing — is in the fucking comic? That’s the whole thing behind EC; these were good artists. They were good drawers. It wasn’t nebbishy. Now we have the new Cute School, like in Juxtapoz magazine. It’s all spin-offs and spin-offs and spin-offs. You have the Catholic imagery as tattoo art. You have these guys who spray mailboxes. It’s [Raises voice] dreck. Do I sound like an old guy?

One of the interesting things you said in the profile I wrote was, when you were talking about your own art, and you were explaining the different levels it worked on: the intensity of the details up close, and further back is sort of an abstract expressionist swirl and Japanese patterned …

Yeah, yeah, yup. And Spain’s always giving me shit about perspective. I said, “Look, draw anything you want. Do perspective, you know.” I’m like Kurosawa in Yojimbo with guys walking towards you like …  It’s all flat. It’s like flat-patterned. And I’m not big on perspective, so I put in a lot of other shit.

How did that style come about?

Gradually. You get more and more elaborate stylistically as you progress. I’m sure writers do the same thing. Do you know Ray Carver’s work? Did you read The New Yorker thing about [Gordon] Lish? The editing created the style that sold the books. That’s what an editor is for. But, see, I don’t have an editor. So I do all this stuff because it’s fun. It’s a con. But you get a lot of drawing — or whatever it is. You get aesthetic debates and nuances of details and shit. But just draw the motherfucker and argue later. Arguing and nitpicking and macho posturing. Who’s hot and who’s not.

Zap has been through Apex Novelties, The Print Mint and Last Gasp as publishers. You were never published by Rip Off, were you?

I went to Rip Off with my Checkered Demon comic, but they said, “No. Your stuff’s too edgy or too left-field or too violent or too something.” Some kind of infusion of cuteness was needed. I was, “No, no. I draw what I want.” That’s the whole idea behind underground comix. It’s underground. Which means it’s pornographic. Underground means, you know, underground. Now everything’s getting cuter and cuter and cuter. I like to make it gnarlier and gnarlier and gnarlier and more horrific and more horrific, but still with humor at the same time. There’s different ways to look at this stuff, so when we put the book together, we compose it visually …

Which book are you talking about?

The new Zap that we’re working on. We look at it and compose it visually. Dense-pack. Dense-pack. Black and white. Black and white. So it’s got a rhythm inside the comic. That’s what’s neat about individual artists, because you can see who’s doing what. But everybody’s getting intrigued by the group effort. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s like camaraderie. Williams said, “I miss the camaraderie.”

“Well, get your ass down here and draw with us then.” You lose the spontaneity, back and forth, [when you’re not] drawing on each other’s figures. Did I stray from the mark there?

I was going to ask you about the personalities of Bob Rita, at the Print Mint, and Ron Turner …

Rita I liked. There was some biz grief … What a surprise! I don’t want to say ill of the dead. I got along with him fine, but they were jerking us around. And, you know “Strength in Power” “We got to get along.” Finally, now, there’s a lot of people interested [in my work], who couldn’t give a shit for 53 years of drawing comic strips. If you hang around long enough …

How do you feel about the way you and your contemporaries are regarded today? Do you think you’ve gotten a fair shake?

It’s a free-fire zone. [Ruminates.] I always wanted to be a beatnik. I was too young to be a beatnik, too old to be a hippy.

Collected in the Art of S. Clay Wilson ©1993 S. Clay Wilson

Starting in about ’68, you came out with a series of 75¢ books, five-by-seven-inch, Jiz, Felch, Snatch, Pork

How many do you want? I still got ’em.

I think I’ve got ’em all. I’ve got doubles of some you’ve sold me over the years. I was gonna bring ’em back, but they’re signed to me.

That’s when Crumb took the smut ball and ran with it. Now he’s denying it.

I noticed you didn’t sign your own name to any of those stories. Was there a fear of being prosecuted? Did you think you guys had gone too far?

No. No. Here’s the name thing. Everybody’s, “What’s the “S.” stand for?” God, did I ever hear that enough, y’think? OK, a little anecdote. In hillbilly families everybody’s got a nickname. My father, John Wilson, and his lovely wife, before I was born, played cards next door with a guy named John. And while they played, they listened to a radio program called Steve Wilson of the Illustrated Press. My father’s name was John, and the other guy’s name was John, so they started calling him Steve.  Dah-DAH! There it is. Before I’m born, OK.

This radio program was still popular when I was going to kindergarten or fucking first grade, so because I liked to draw, “There goes Steve Wilson of the Illustrated Press.” It was like the fix was in. I had nothing to do with it. It’s sublime enlightenment. So I got tired of it, you know, “Fuck.” So I used “S. Clay Wilson.” Now I’m “S. Clay Wilson of the Illustrated Press,” so I might as well have kept the Steve Wilson.

Then my sister started calling me “Steven Henry.” Why, I don’t know. And my father would call me “Hank,” which is short for “Henry.” I shoulda been Hank Wilson, which is more rednecky anyway than S. Clay Wilson. But one of my artist friends said S. Clay Wilson sounds like the name of a gunfighter. So there it is. It’s got that kind of Southern decadence.

Where did “Collingswood” and “Long-whatever-it-was” come from? [Author’s note: Names used by Wilson in aforementioned books.]

“Hank ‘Elephant Boy’ Longcrank.” That’s an affectionate nickname one of my many sluts gave me.

In Felch, the story “The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary …” That was probably the most out-there story of yours I’ve read. Did you …

I sold it to the guy who used to run the Strand Theater. He was real Catholic, and he bought the artwork, because it was the most extreme example … OK, I had a lot of Bible training. I hate the fucking church. I was baptized; that’s why I don’t swim; and, you know, on and on and on. So this is for the Catholics, a double satire, to keep the Virgin Mary virgin. I mean, that Christ was the product of a rectal birth because of felching. [Laughs.] So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Is that clear enough. What do y’think?

From Felch Cumics #1 ©1975 S. Clay Wilson

As an explanation? I’m still waiting to hear if you caught any grief for that story?

Well, yeah, they busted Felch. The cop that busted the head shop that had the issue didn’t show up [in court] with the copy. The judge is going, “What’s Felch? Where’s Felch?” The guy decided to keep the comic, maybe, for his old age and sell for, you know, 25 bucks.

Has any of your work been busted?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Fucking-Police trashed some of my stuff in Canada. But they don’t go after the artist when they go after the head shop. The guy that gets the grief is the guy selling the comics. So there is some slight amount of justice there.

Is there anything you won’t do in your stories? Have you ever said, “I’m going too far. I’m not gonna draw this.”

No. Art is therapy. And I don’t care if they hate it. I don’t care if they love it. Maybe I’m trying to culticize myself, but the whole impetus behind this is: “Draw anything you want.”

And people’ll say, “Well, it’s a cheap shot, drawing all this sex and violence.”

“Well, you draw it. Somebody’s gotta draw it.” I take that responsibility on, on my humble fucking Harris tweed shoulders. It’s called “Shock and awe. Shock and awe.”

Didn’t you run into trouble with Ken Kesey after he asked you to draw the cover to Demon Box?

Oh yeah. Did I show you the amount of changes he wanted? Ken Lopez, an antiquarian book dealer, who I sold my Carver collection to, his new catalog has the cover I did for Demon Box. It all came back to me. Ken Kesey wanted me to do the cover because he loved the Checkered Demon. I’m drawing the Checkered Demon, but he wants to be the Checkered Demon. He thought it was stealing his thunder. So he wanted millions and millions of changes. Doing a lot of downhill skiing [flicks nose], donchu know. He said, “It’s my book. It’s not your book. Change this. Change that. Change this. Change that.”

[Paul] Krassner called Kesey a psychedelic Quaker. He’d get upset at all this evil stuff. We’d get in these weird arguments. “D’you want the Checkered Demon?”

“The Checkered Demon’s evil. Make him cute.”

“He’s from hell. He ain’t cute. Don’t you get it?” They didn’t use my cover, but I got paid for the job, thanks to my Irish agent, Kirby McCauley. My rough would have been perfect, and the cover he put on there looked like fucking Christmas wrapping paper.

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2 Responses to The S. Clay Wilson Interview

  1. Randy Fleming says:

    This stuff is too good , I’m afraid , to catch an audience in today’s self absorbed market . They’ve even stopped teaching the concept of irony or O’Henry’esque in schools / colleges…. 28 – 30 year olds playing ‘ Candy Crush ‘ , would lose interest in nihilist story telling like this , from Monsieur Wilson’s pen . There are exceptions , i. e. actor Leonardo DiCaprio , who did write a foreward to one of S. Clay Wilson’s collected pubs ( I consider him nearly millennial . ) .

  2. John Sonnett says:

    “There are exceptions , i. e. actor Leonardo DiCaprio , who did write a foreward to one of S. Clay Wilson’s collected pubs ( I consider him nearly millennial . )”

    Hardly, he’s 40 years old, squarely in Gen X. Well, the Millionaire Model Fucking Contingent of Gen X.

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