Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, “two seminal figures of the underground comics movement,” as the Sun-Times described them in its obit Monday, died recently, 11 days apart. Each was 72.
“Their work was genuinely subversive,” Art Spiegelman, whose graphic novel Maus won a special Pulitzer citation in 1992, told the paper. “It opened up and personalized a new art form.”
I’ve known Jane Shay Wald, Lynch’s ex-wife, for some time. The daughter of Life photographer Art Shay—who hung out with Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir—Wald was no stranger to nonconformity. She and Lynch married in a small ceremony in the late 1960s (she can’t remember the year). Williamson was the best man, and his wedding gift—”for some reason,” says Wald—was a bouquet of cigars.
I spoke to Wald at length this week, about her memories of her ex-husband, Williamson, and their work.
The late 60s was “quite a vibrant era,” she remembers. “The comix community was tightly knit. There was a real bonhomie kind of feeling, with Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman—they would all crash at our apartment.”
Lynch and Williamson “were very different people,” she says, “even though they collaborated and were in touch on a daily basis for years.”
Jay liked to create this character of himself as an old fart even though he was in his 20s. He was very disciplined in his artwork, and if you step away from the page ten feet, it still holds together as a design. He bought this 1940s or 1950s timeclock on Maxwell Street. He’d punch in and out when he went to work—and he worked at home.
Skip was the opposite. He would come into a room and be very loud and very ostentatiously countercultural and try to get a rise out of people. His artwork would reflect that. They made an interesting counterpart to each other but I think they both knew that the other was living a preferred persona and they were opposite, like yin and yang.
Wald describes very different senses of humor:
“[Mad magazine founder] Harvey Kurtzman used to invite us to the Playboy Mansion when [Hugh] Hefner was there just to hang out, and with Crumb also when he was in town. Skip one time told everybody he was going to defecate in the grotto pool. I don’t know why he thought it was so funny, but he saw it as countercultural.”
“No,” says Wald. “He wasn’t nuts.
Then she tries to convey Lynch’s idea of a prank.
“We had a lot of fans who were always hanging around the apartment—young cartoonists, fan boys, you know the type. Jay said, ‘Let’s see if we can get these fan boys to do some work.’ So he drew versions of himself and of me as if we were religious figures, and he’d make a piece of yarn so they’d go around peoples’ necks—a scapular—is that the right word? He’d get fan boys to wear these things and wash the dishes—but they never did.”
I can’t say I follow the thread of this prank—you have to be Catholic, I guess. Lynch was, if lapsed. Wald, incidentally, was Jewish, if lapsed, and they were married by the Protestant minister who’d helped Lynch get conscientious objector status and avoid Vietnam.
In 1973 Wald entered law school. She split up with Lynch in 1976, the summer she got her law degree.
“I became a lawyer,” she remembers, “and he was sitting in a room drawing lines on paper. [The marriage] wasn’t working for him either.”
“I was attracted to the countercultural nature of the times,” she goes on, looking back almost half a century. “But I never fell into this ‘We are all one’ bullshit. I never dropped acid, never wanted to drop acid. People on acid really looked stupid.”
Wald went on to be one of the nation’s leading intellectual property attorneys, and eventually remarried—her second husband was the late Eliot Wald, a Chicago newspaperman turned Saturday Night Live writer who also went on to write Hollywood movies.
In January, when she heard Lynch was dying, she wrote the former husband she hadn’t seen in about 40 years:
“You were a cultural force helping to shape an important era. I am proud when I read about your mark on our generation, and your influence on the art of our generation. In so many books, blogs, and (egads) college degree programs. . . .
We were just kids when we united. . . . I apologize for being a crappy wife after—OK—a few years of devotion.
If there is anything I can do, please let me know. People say this stuff, but I mean it. Set up an archive/foundation in your name with a good university? Get the mean nurse fired? The good one promoted? Just let me know.”