A short interview with Bill Griffith

I’m a big fan of newspaper comic strips. Among the great strips of our time is Zippy the Pinhead, created by Bill Griffith.

I recently sent an email to Mr. Griffith asking for a brief email Q & A session, and he agreed.

If this interview were conducted in real life, there would have been an awkward silence after the first question, followed by nervous laughter on my part after his initial response. In the future, I should proof read my interview questions more carefully.

  • Joe: I am fascinated by Ted Browning’s Freaks, and the Pinheads in
    particular. Brownings film was controversial, and your comic Zippy could
    be seen as being controversial in the eyes of human rights activists or
    similarly minded people. Have you come under attack by these types
    (elaborate if you’d like), and if so what is your response?
  • BG: (Um, it’s Tod, not Ted) “Freaks” was undoubtedly controversial in its
    day (1932), but today it’s seen more as a cult “oddity”, I think. I’ve
    always loved the film and Zippy was partially inspired by the “Schlitzie”
    character (real name: Simon Metz) in the film. Strangely, I’ve only received
    a handful of responses to Zippy from people who believe I’m exploiting the
    handicapped. And those were all in the 70’s—there have been virtually none
    since then, though many interviewers have asked your question. I assume
    Zippy is now seen primarily as simply a weird comic strip character and his
    origins, inspirationally speaking, are lost on most readers. I remember
    doing a radio interview in Santa Cruz CA in the late 70’s when someone from
    a nearby mental health clinic called in. I braced for an accusation, but
    instead, she told me Zippy was a “role model” and a “superhero” to the
    patients there. She asked if I’d come down and sign their Zippy books.
  • Joe: What comics have inspired you in your past works, and what inspires
    you now?
  • BG: As a kid growing up in the 50’s, my favorite comics were Scrooge McDuck,
    Little Lulu, Mad magazine and Plasticman. I’m sure they all had a hand in
    forming my own style and content, especially Harvey Kurtzman’s brand of
    satire. Today, my pantheon of great cartoonists includes Robert Crumb, Gary
    Panter, Kim Deitch, Dan Clowes, Ben Katchor and the late, great Ernie
    Bushmiller, among others.
  • Joe: In your online bio, it is said that you are annoyed by the simplicity
    of today’s comic strips. What is the cause of this over simplification,
    and what can budding creators do to avoid this and put out some high
    quality reading material?
  • BG: Today’s daily newspaper comic strips are printed at such a small size
    compared to decades previous, that cartoonists have adapted and made the art
    simpler. But I think that’s an overreaction– and a lazy one. Even printed
    at a small size, drawing can be rich and complex. It’s just more of a
  • Joe: How can one come up with good and original ideas for comics?
  • BG: It’s a mysterious process, involving a notebook I always carry to jot
    down ideas as they arrive in rough form, a lot of media monitoring and
    reading and staring into the void. Zippy says he gets all his ideas from
  • Joe: What impact has the Internet had on your career?
  • BG: Through the Zippy website, I receive 10 times the reader reaction than I
    used to get before the net, which is a good thing. It also has doubled my
    income and basically allowed me to keep doing the strip. Zippy is secure in
    his newspaper niche, but he’s no Dilbert in numbers. Sales of original art
    and prints over the website have been quite encouraging. Also, Zippy is now
    available in reader’s emailboxes free every day, and thousands of strips are
    archived on the site, allowing many more people to dip into my output
    without forking over a cent.

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