I’ve always been drawn to anything counter-culture. Anything humorous or clever that calls out the pretentiousness of the mainstream, I’m there. Our self-righteous culture inflates our ego, and eventually, the pin comes along to deflate your head a size or two. And thus my current home at Film Threat.
Arguably, the most colorful form of counter-culture came out of the 60’s and in his documentary Pigheaded, director John Kinhart pieces together the colorful life of the subversive, satirical artist Skip Williamson, who passed away not long ago in 2017. While his colleagues were angry and brooding in their commentary, Skip was known as being fun and funny.
Skip is most known as a founding member of the Underground Comix Movement. Its members included Williamson, Jay Lynch, and Robert Crumb amongst others. The three they lived together in Chicago in 1968. Their office overlooked the famed protests at the Democratic National Convention. While Jay and Robert looked from above, Skip inserts himself in the middle of the protest and riots. From the plumes of police tear gas rose their first and longest running title, Bijou Funnies, and a movement was born.
“…a founding member of the Underground Comix Movement. Its members included Williamson, Jay Lynch, and Robert Crumb amongst others.”
Williamson’s life is split in two in Pigheaded, and these two threads are interwoven throughout the documentary. The first is an extensive review of Skip’s infamous career during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Commenting on the Chicago riots, the Vietnam War protests, and the fall and resignation of President Nixon, Williamson comes across as this larger-than-life, somewhat jovial person, whose most significant act of rebellion was becoming a cartoonist against the wishes of his intellectual professor father.
He had a way at poking fun at the establishment regardless of what side of the aisle you sit. The Underground crew went as far as to have a real pig named Pigasus, announce its run for President. The publicity caused such a commotion; the Chicago police had Pigasus arrested, never to be seen again. Williamson suspects a BBQ would become Pigasus’ ultimate demise.
We then move on to Williamson’s career as a professional illustrator after the demise of Underground Comix. He would work for Gallery, Hustler, and finally, Playboy and rub shoulders with some of the great icons of that time like Abbie Hoffman and Shel Silverstein. His work would also influence the next generation of cartoonists and illustrators. But with time and the move toward digital, the magazine industry would change drastically, and many artists like Skip would have to adapt to the changes. It was not easy for Skip.
“…while it offers an extensive history of Williamson’s career, instead Kinhart truly paints a portrait of the man.”
The second part of the film looks at Skip’s life starting in June 2008. Director Kinhart would film Williamson’s personal life for the next eight years. That’s an admirable dedication to a single subject. Here Williamson is an artist from the 60s trying to survive in an industry that has passed him by. We meet Skip and his ex-wife Harriet and find a couple who have great admiration for one another and are still best of friends. Skip chose to live in seclusion and not to go the comic convention route like his contemporaries to sustain a living. One thing about Skip is he didn’t throw things away as we see him going through his archives/basement and reminiscing about his career.
What I like most about John Kinhart’s Pigheaded is that while it offers an extensive history of Williamson’s career, instead Kinart truly paints a portrait of the man. Skip is someone you’d want to get to know, a guy to get high with and at the same time blow your mind with his thoughts on politics and society.
Pigheaded (2019) Directed by John Kinhart. Featuring Skip Williamson.
7.5 out of 10 stars