Re/Read: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson by Patrick Rosenkranz


Re/Read in a recurring column by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid that examines backlist titles you may have missed or are worthy of another read. This week we’ll look at The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, an ambitious 3-volume set by Patrick Rosenkranz.

Comix historian Rosenkranz chronicles the life of legendary underground cartoonist/provocateur S. Clay Wilson in Pirates in the Heartland, Demons and Angels, and Belgian Lace from Hell. These books document his early years as an outlaw artist in the Midwest to his move to San Francisco where he became a founding member of the Zap Comix collective. According to Robert Crumb, “Wilson was the strongest, most original artist of my generation.” His transgressive comix are matched by his gonzo personae, by turns endearing and incendiary. Wilson’s storied ardor for overindulgence, however, didn’t impair his prolific output.

Wilson frequently visited Seattle in his formative years. He met his current wife Lorraine in 1968 while drinking at Seattle’s fabled bohemian bar, the Blue Moon. There he also met artist Alfredo Arreguin, the inspiration for his signature Checkered Demon character. Wilson’s drawing of the artist shown above. (Coincidentally, Arreguin and Fantagraphics Books were both nominees for the 2016 Mayor’s Art Award in the “Cultural Ambassador” category.) Wilson introduced me to William S. Burroughs in 1986, enabling me to arrange a weeklong residency with the writer in Seattle in 1988. One of my most memorable encounters with Wilson occurred in 1991 for Minneapolis installment of the “Misfit Lit” art exhibition. At least it would be if I could remember it. Following the opening, I accompanied Wilson and my friend Tom Hazelmyer on a night of carousing that found me waking in my hotel room the next morning with a screaming hangover and a Wilson drawing as a memento – a prized possession to this day. Rosenkranz perfectly captures the mystique of this amazing American artist over the course of the series.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson and other books on the history of underground comix can be found at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street in the heart of Seattle’s Georgetown art community. Open daily, 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Phone 206-557-4910.