I had just finished reading "Transgression: An Elegy" by Laura Kipnis, when word arrived that S. Clay Wilson had died.
Wilson was always my favorite of the "underground/Zap comix" writers. A little more than 12 years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and suffered for the rest of his life. His wife, Lorraine Chamberlain, has been steadfast at his side all of those years, and her dedication to him has been awe-inspiring. In a time of transgressing, Wilson was pre-eminent.
Kipnis concluded her essay:
We used to know what transgression was, but that’s not plausible anymore. Maybe violating boundaries was a more meaningful enterprise when bourgeois norms reigned, when liberal democracy seemed like something that would always endure. The ethos of transgression presumed a stable moral order, the disruption of which would prove beneficial. But why bother trying to disrupt things when disruption is the new norm, and permanence ever more of a receding illusion?
In my years in the factory, I had one co-worker, good man, a Jehovah's Witness who took his religion seriously. One day I brought in a Zap Comic that featured Wilson. My friend checked it out ... as I recall, it was Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates that made him laugh. ("They came from every crud-crusted corner of the globe, these lice-infested losers. Some were sadists ... some were masochists ... some just licked stinky ol' boots. And the captain settled for having his crew whiz into his mouth while others looked on delighted.") The prose told the story, but it was in the drawings that Wilson's genius was expressed. And transgression? Even now, I hesitate to put a sample of his drawing here. (Check him in Google Images if you'd like, or click on the "Captain Pissgums" link above.)
Anyway, my religious friend thought Pissgums was funny. But then he turned the page to the next story, which featured perhaps Wilson's most famous creation, the Checkered Demon. Wikipedia describes him:
A portly, shirtless being generally seen wearing checkered pants, the Demon emerged from Wilson's experience of watching Federico Fellini's 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits while on LSD. The Checkered Demon's gap-toothed grin was inspired by Mad magazine's mascot Alfred E. Neuman. It is also rumored that Wilson's inspiration for the Checkered Demon was artist and friend Alfredo Arreguin.
The Checkered Demon is frequently called upon to kill the various demented bikers, pirates, and rapists who populate Wilson's universe. The Demon is unbeatable in combat, but prefers to copulate with rapacious women—such as Star-Eyed Stella, Ruby the Dyke, or Lady Coozette—or to sit around drinking Tree Frog beer. He has no concern for human life.
When my friend saw the Demon, he threw the comic in the air and jumped back, shouting. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. You see, my friend's religious training took special interest in representations of the devil ... at least that's how it seemed. Whatever, the same person who had laughed at pirates chopping off limbs and fucking and drinking and biting each other's cranks was disgusted, even frightened, at the sight of the Checkered Demon.
Which shows that transgression has many faces.