S. Clay Wilson Biography

S. Clay Wilson




Comic artist and illustrator Steven Clay Wilson, known professionally as S. Clay Wilson, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 25, 1941. As a child he was known for obsessively drawing in the margins of his books and on any available scrap paper, and was an avid comic book reader, especially the EC Comics publications, which were known for their stylistic variety. Despite his tireless interest in art, his teachers mostly discouraged him, including art professors at the University of Nebraska where Wilson studied art and anthropology - their disinterest possibly due to his deliquent behavior: drinking, taking drugs, brawling, and riding a morotcycle. This did not deter Wilson, and after his stint the National Guard, he completed his Bachelors degree at the university and left Nebraska, living briefly in New York City before settling in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1966.

Wilson's first published work in a non-academic setting was in publisher John Fowler's literary magazine Grist (1964 - 1967). He built enough of a reputation with his irreverant comic strips that he caught the attention of R. Crumb, who by now had established himself in the San Francisco Bay Area underground "comix" scene and who Wilson idolized. In 1968 Wilson relocated to San Francisco and found work with Zap Comix. His work grew increasingly concerned with sexual deviancy, violence, and other subjects that were considered taboo at the time, such as homosexuality and drug use. His popularity in the underground scene rapidly traveled beyond the Bay Area, particularly his character known as The Checkered Demon, who would become a recurring element of his work. He would go on to work for Yellow Dog, Insect Fear, Laugh in the Dark, Barbarian Women, and Snatch Comics underground publications until a 1973 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court expanded its definiation of obscene material to include such work in the comic book world.  

Despite the setbacks this ruling would cause, Wilson continued to publish his comics throughout the 1970s in Arcade, The Realist, Playboy, Hustler, and L.A. Weekly, as well as his own magazine, Pork. In the early 1980s he began pursuing book illustration, working on imagery various William S. Burroughs novels. He later illustrated the Brothers Grimm in a collection pubished by Cottage Classics, titled Wilson's Andersen: Seven Stories by Andersen and Wilson's Grimm. His reputation only grew when, in 1991, copies of his work titled This is Dynamite destined for Canada were seized by its government, labeled too obscene for importation. In 1992 he was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry's Hall of Fame.

Declining health in the early 2000s stalled his career, and in 2008 he suffered from a brain injury which eventually led to dementia. He died on February 12, 2021.