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
- 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.