In the early 1980s, Burroughs collaborated with S. Clay Wilson on the German editions of Cities of the Red Night [Die Stadte der Roten Nacht, Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 1982] and The Wild Boys [Die Wilden Boys, Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 1980]. The collaboration represents two of the most extreme and influential artists in their respective media: Burroughs was not only one of the Big Three of the Beat movement, along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, he was also the one most influenced by, and most influential to, the avant garde tradition. He also was a pioneer of collaborative, multi-media ventures, such as this one. Wilson, for his part, was one of the most important of the underground comix artists of the 1960s, and one of the seminal figures of that movement.
This archive includes:
- the first German edition of The Wild Boys, signed by Burroughs and Wilson;
- a trial edition, rejected by Wilson, who was displeased with the endpapers, signed by Wilson;
- and Wilson's own copy of it, bound in Niger goat and snakeskin, signed by Wilson and inscribed by Burroughs to Wilson. The first two copies have a bit of edge-rubbing and are otherwise fine in the publisher's slipcases; the third copy is fine in a custom folding chemise.
- the German edition of Cities of the Red Night, signed by Burroughs and Wilson. Fine in slipcase.
- correspondence related to this and other collaborations between Burroughs and Wilson, as follows:
- from 1979 to 1982, six items from the publisher to Wilson;
- from 1979 to 1985, three items from Burroughs' associate James Grauerholz to Wilson;
- and from 1985 to 1995, eleven items from Burroughs to Wilson.
The earlier items, from the publisher and from Grauerholz, generally solicit drawings, convey approval for ideas, and give progress updates. The later items, from Burroughs himself (one typed note signed; four autograph postcards signed; six autograph cards signed), tend to be more personal, frequently conveying gratitude for a gift or appreciation of Wilson's work. In one, Burroughs (according to a pencil note by Wilson, he is referring to The Chequered Demon) says "vintage Clay Wilson hilarious, horrible disgusting as life itself...Its fine its swell itsa gawdy taste of Hell" – words that could equally be applied to Burroughs' own work. In another, in a card picturing a unicorn, Burroughs asks, "Did you see the Barnum & Bailey unicorn? I suspect it to be a goat." Several of the cards are holiday cards, and in one Burroughs wishes "All the best for 1986 and the time remaining to us all." In the last two items, Burroughs thanks Wilson for, respectively, the Graham Greene stories and for a cat book. He also complains about the heat: "Over 100 now for a week. Can't do anything but sit in my air conditioned house." This last card is signed "Bill Burroughs." All of the Burroughs correspondence items (excepting the postcards) have envelopes; one of the postcards is near fine; the others are fine; many depict Burroughs' artwork.
The archive also includes:
- three original pen-and-ink S. Clay Wilson illustrations for the German edition of Cities of the Red Night. Two of the images are 5¼" x 9", the third is 5¼" x 10", the actual size of the fold-out images in the book; all three are matted and framed to approximately 16" x 19";
- the original layout and lettering for the title page of the book: three hand-lettered sheets by Wilson and one printed sheet.
After R. Crumb, who cited him as a major influence in his own development, S. Clay Wilson is probably the best known of underground comix artists of the 1960s and '70s, and his images are almost certainly the most extreme: all of the underground artists sought to break barriers and defy convention, and Wilson's pictures are densely packed and crammed with sex and violence to an extreme degree. In this he was very much like Burroughs, whose verbal imagery sought to shatter all barriers, preconceptions and hypocrisies – to challenge the very basis for understanding, even for language itself; the collaboration between the two of them seems in retrospect to have been inevitable.
These drawings by Wilson were displayed at the Los Angeles County Art Museum in the landmark show "Ports of Entry: William Burroughs and the Arts," which sought to convey the influence Burroughs has had on visual arts. The images are extraordinary images, the result of an extraordinary collaboration, and are probably among the best work Wilson has done; they are, doubtless the best illustrations ever done for any of Burroughs' writings. Burroughs himself appears as a character in one of the images, as a stand-in for the doctor who is at the center of the novel. All items fine. A unique archive of an exceptional collaboration. For the archive: $40,000