If you flip through the funnies or skim the editorials, you might miss what Bill Wilson calls a “fine art” often overlooked by its audience. This resident of Aberdeen Heights in Kirkwood is not only a former cartoonist—he’s an avid collector of editorial cartoons, illustrations and comic strips.
“It’s an art that very few people pay any attention to or understand,” Wilson explains, noting that he started his collection in this 1960s during business travels. “I’d stop by a newspaper and try to meet the editorial cartoonists (or whoever was on the art staff) and get to know them and try to get an original drawing.”
Wilson says his collection includes a “couple of hundred” pieces, ranging from editorials to classic Disney characters. “When it comes to favorite artists, that’s a hard question to answer because there’s so many,” he explains while naming a small handful, including Dan Martin, the man behind the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Weatherbird. “Probably the finest piece I have is Prince Valiant, done by Hal Foster—he’s like God in the comic business.” Other collection notables include pieces by late editorial cartoonist Joe Parrish and Beetle Bailey artist Mort Walker.
About the same time as his collection began, Wilson started creating his own cartoons. He says his pieces were primarily black-and-white editorials using a brush and ink, pen and ink, charcoal and black crayon. “I started doing some drawings for one of the New York investment trade papers. Once a year, we put out a parody newspaper full of drawings and comics about different guys in the business, and it was really a slam on a lot of the big guns—all in humor and good fun.” Because this was a published newspaper, Wilson explains, it earned him the right to apply to the National Cartoonist Society after his 1991 retirement. Now a member, he typically attends the annual convention, which he dubs the 'cartooning Oscars.' “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of the people whose work you see in magazines and newspapers,” he says. “It’s been interesting and a lot of fun—a great bunch of people!”
Despite his knack for drawing, Wilson’s journey into the comic world has been a roundabout experience. Originally from New Jersey, Wilson went to the University of Arkansas to study agriculture. After changing his major to economics, he entered the world of Wall Street, followed by five years in the Air Force. After his service, he returned to Wall Street, then later took an out-of-state opening with his company, landing him in St. Louis.
A true renaissance man, Wilson balanced both a career in finance with his artistic flair—an impressive accomplishment in a world where people say they’re lucky to be good at one or the other. Seemingly unusual, this parity of numbers and creativity apparently runs in his family. “My brothers were very good artists and I’d try to copy them,” he explains. “My oldest brother became a banker, my middle brother became an architect and I ended up in the bond business.”
Now retired, Wilson focuses on traveling, reading, politics and physical fitness. While he no longer creates his own cartoons, he still is an avid art appreciator. “Over the years, I have amassed a nice, small collection. It’s not big, but I enjoy it—and I’ve enjoyed meeting all the artists and getting to know them.”