Chat with Bill Griffith

"Zippy the Pinhead" creator Bill Griffith took readers' questions.

October 8, 2008
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hatezippy__Guest_: I once worked with a turd who loved zippy and we hated each day I finally had enough of his "did you see zippy today" so I beat him until he cried and finally admitted zippy made absolutely no sense and he only said he liked it to make people angry.
Bill_Griffith: OK--let's get the hate mail over with first. Your question doesn't actually contain cursing, so I'm happy to answer.No, I don't do Zippy to make people angry---although any strong reaction is OK with me. Readers who "don't get it" are probably going to be happier with other strips--that's what Garfield is for! But give Zippy a chance---the fact that it pisses you off means you might become a huge fan after 6 months of constant emotional turmoil.
Zippy_Fan__Guest_: Do you go to the diners profiled in the Zippy strip? If so what did you think about Zip's Diner in CT?
Bill_Griffith: Ever since my move back to New England after 28 years in San Francisco, I've been hyper-aware of my surroundings--especially roadside stuff like vintage diners. New England is :diner central" so I'm in heaven here. Whenever I stop off for some "slow food" at a diner, I bring my camera and snap away--readers also send me great diner fotos all the time. I use them to draw my diners in the strip--and, yes, "Zip's" diner in Dayville CT is a great one---plus, they give me free pie!
wasswhat: Hi Bill-I've loved Zippy forever. Well, as long as I've known about it. I grew up in the coastal region of eastern CT, and love the visual and Zip-style references to that region, and all the usages of real places and things. (I once played hooky and climbed up the walls of Gillette Castle.) Anyway, my question is not related to your using actual real things in the strip (because that's just a real joy and I love that you do it), but to your love of comics in general. It's obvious (ain't it?) that your formative years were spent in their company, and Zippy is both an homage and a continuation and an evolution of the comic art. Kudos, seriously. Harlan Ellison recently went on a rant because his audience did not know the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes- is the state of comics today, print and web, something to rant about? Or is it healthy and thriving? Posted by Wade Smith
Bill_Griffith: Thanks for the kind words---newspaper comics are definitely in flux these days, as we all get use to the effects of the web. My preference is for comics on good old newsprint, and I think that will always be around, byr comics online have their function, too. People who cant oick up the Globe can stiull see Zippy from anywhere in the world through the Zippy website, so my audience has greatly expanded over the years. I don;'t fgind a lot to like on the vomics pages today, though---I really like comics with good drawing and lots of detail--you don't see much of that anymore--though I still read Doonesbury every day and enjoy "Bizarro" by Dan Piraro...
failed_artist__Guest_: in todays publishing environment what do you think the chances are of an artist getting a new strip published by any of the major syndicates?
Bill_Griffith: My comics syndicate, King Features, still gets about 6,000 daily strip submissions a year---and they pick only about 6 to 10 to "launch" each year--so it's tough. But persistrence and belief in yourself are crucial in any art form. Don't give up!
Pmcd101__Guest_: Is there somehting I'm missing?
Bill_Griffith: For those of you who have trouble "getting" Zippy, let me direct you to the "tutorial" on the Zippy website--just go to and click on the "Understanding Zippy" donut at the top of the page. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it may give you a way to understand at what it is Ido. I'm not trying to be obscure---it's just that I'm not =interested in pleasing absolutely everyone. I hope readers will meet the strip halfway and eventually become hopeless Zippy addicts.
MON__Guest_: Also- We love Zippy! beats the others in the Globe by far. Most are sophmoric-yours are intelligent and sublime!
Bill_Griffith: Thanks---I try to primarily make myself laugh---or just to download what's on my mind--kind of liking writing a diary. I think of Zippy as someone who delights in wordplay and absurdity & who is completely comfortable with ambiguity and chaos, the twin handmaidens of reality as we know it.
big_fan__Guest_: What would Zippy think about Sarah Palin and all her folksy ways and gosh-darns?
Bill_Griffith: Coming up in the 2 weeks befire the election is a series of Zippy strips in which God seeks Zippy out to demand thast he replace Sarah Palin on the McCain ticket. Turns out that, as we suspected all along, God is a Republican.But Zippy has the last word....
MON__Guest_: Hey Bill-any plans for a major motion picture
Bill_Griffith: My "Hollywood career" has been on-again, off-again since the late 80s. I never refuse an offer to "take a meeting" in L.A., because they inevitably provide me with great satirical fodder for the strip. On the other hand, it's probably all to the good that a movie never got made---they'd probably have cast Adam Sandler as Zippy and I'd have to have my name taken off the credits.
Mr_Gowanus__Guest_: I have been reading Zippy since college in the mid '80's. Thank you for a comic that makes sense! When does the next tour bus head to Dingburgh - sign me up! Perhaps the Dingburghers have an answer for the banking crisis.
Bill_Griffith: I started doing the "Dingburg" series last Seot., and don't seem to be able to stop. Finally---a whole city of pinheads for Zippy to play with!!
PuffFromDingburg__Guest_: Bill...Great to chat with you. First, I want you to know our 2-month old daughter Gretchen has her very own "Zippy For President" T-shirt, with the Zipster's pledge to not invade New Jersey on it. It seems especially relevant these days (and she looks really cute in it).
Bill_Griffith: Cool---send me a picture! I remember once doing a book-signing in San Diego when a young couple approached me holding their newborn dressed head to toe in a beautifyl handmade Zippy oufit----later, when they left, I saw them drive off in a 1958 two-tone Nash Metro---Zippy's dream car. Maybe I should have adopted the whole family!
Wade__Guest_: Did that Baltimore theatre marquee thing really happen?
Bill_Griffith: Yes, when Zippy was dropped from the Baltimore Sun, the local art deco movie palace put up a big "Save Our Zippuy" on thier marquee. During a premiere of the new Star Wars animation film, the theatre owner led the throng in an "Are WE Having Fun Yet?" chant, recorded it and sent it to the paper---I'm still waiting to see if it has the desired effect on the Sun's editors...
Colin__Guest_: How do you like R Crumb and zap comix? Also, check out the Golden Spoon diner at 495 and W Main Street in Hopkinton sometime, it's a great old diner. Thanks for the laughs.
Bill_Griffith: Robert Crumb is an old friend--we still visit each other, though he's moved to southern France. His stuff is still among the most powerful comics ever created. I look forward to new work from him with the same happy anticipation I had back in 1968 when I read the first Zap Comix in New York.
MON__Guest_: Didnt mean to be aggressive with the microcephalic point- I would have figured some special interest group would have called in un-PC police.
Bill_Griffith: I did a radio call-in show ince in Santa Cruz CA and a representative from a local mental health clinic called in--I girded myself for an assault--but she said the people at her center considered Zippy a "superhero" and a rople model and asked me to come down and judge their "Draw Zippy" contest.
PuffFromDingburg__Guest_: Oops, Bill..,. sorry: question: will Zippy relocate to Canada if Palin ever becomes President?
Bill_Griffith: I hate to say this, but if Sarah Palin is our next Veep, it'll be God's gift to cartoonists. Imagine---4 more years of Sarah Palin jokes! No, seriously, folks---if Obams loses, I'm moving to France for free health care and better bread.
yow___Guest_: i want you to know that I've personally converted several people away from 'Nancy', and into all that is Zippy
Bill_Griffith: There's a phenomenon I've noticed over the many years I've been doing Zippy. Some readers who at first don't get it, the ones who keep reading anyway---after about 6 months they become my biggest fans. I guess in some cases, Zippy has to slowly reveal himself. Once you get used to the absence of an obvious punchline and the non-linearity, Zippy's brilliant babble finally make sense...but when you find yourself dosing your Ding Dongs with extra hot taco sauce, it;s time to take a break and read a little "Dilbert"...
polymoo__Guest_: what inspried you to create the zipster
Bill_Griffith: Zippy got his start in Underground Comics in San Francisco, all the way back in the Decade That Time Forgot, the Seventies. I was asked to do a story about a "weird love triangle" and I'd been looking at old fotos of Circus sideshow performers, including a "pinhead" called Schlitzie (he was featured in the 1932 movie "Freaks). I decided to appropriate Schlitzie and put him together with 2 "normal" people in a story called "I Fell For A Pinhead But He Made A Fool Out Of Me"---thus Zippy was born! Here I am 38 years later and I still can't stop...
yow___Guest_: where is Dingburg? I am moving there right after the presidential election...
Bill_Griffith: Dingburg, Zippy's home town, is exactly 17 miles due west of Baltimore.
Wade__Guest_: That's a good point- how far in advance of publication are you drawing the strip?
Bill_Griffith: I draw Zippy with a 5 week lead time. This makes it hard to be as topical as an editorial cartoonist, but still allows for the occasional gratuitous political jab.
oldcarsman__Guest_: Bill, when will Zippy be visiting the Boston area? I'd like to get my picture taken while wearin my Obama-Lama-Dingdong t shirt while it's still relevant!
Bill_Griffith: My new book, "Welcome To Dingburg", will be out inNovember---I;ll be doing a few signings, beginning Nov 8 in Seattle asnd hpe to do something in Cambridge later in the year...I always get great crowds in Boston. My favorite Boston bookstore moment was when two twin Scottish ladies in their late nineties walked up to me offering me a box of Twinkies "for all the pleasure you've given us, my child..." Then they broke the mood by insisting I pour taco sauce on one and eat it in front of them.
Q__Guest_: There are really only a handful of comic strips that have ever been in your leauge. Your work is among the finest. I've been a fan for many years. I've always wondered how you decided on the "look" of each of the main characters. How & why did you make the decision to shape & color them the way you have? (Straightforword reply is welcome, but, of course, not necessary...)
Bill_Griffith: Well, i guess I just love to draw, so I try to give each character aas much personality as I can. I find that making a cartoon character as specific as possible gives them the "reality" level that allows me to explore their individual natures--to try and bring them alive. I'm not really interested in "generic" or "cartoony" cartoon characters. I try to treat them as characters in some long, never-ending novel---
al__Guest_: I don't get Zippy!
Bill_Griffith: Once again, Zippy is not meant for everyone. It's got the 2 things that some readers just don't expect from a comic strip---ambiguity and surrealism. But there's a link on the Zippy "Understanding Zippy"--check it out. It'll either confuse you further or you'll experience a blinding flash of light and suddenly find yourself at TJ Maxx, shopping for polka-dotted muu-muus.
Posty__Guest_: I loved the Obama, Lama, Ding Dong strip - is it possible to get a large scale copy of it?
Bill_Griffith: Yes, if you go to the Zippy home page (,& look on the left side and you'll see a link to order a large signed print of the "Obama-Lama-Ding Dong" image. Who knew? It's proven to be the second most popular t-shirt I've ever done, right after the classic "Are We Having Fun Yet?" model...
The_Sagest__Guest_: What's your obsession with giant monuments and old signs?
Bill_Griffith: Zippy, like me, is intrigued by the power of roadside icons and statuary---like Muffler Men, giant bowling pins, Big Ducks---they seem almost alive---ready to speak if we'd only listen. Zippy takes it one step further and engages them in deeply meaningful conversations. He even fell in love with one of them--a giant dachshund head with a 3-foot shiny black nose. Love is a great mystery---Each to his own!
rooster__Guest_: Thanks for opening our eyes, minds, and hearts with your art and Zippy's random eloquence
Bill_Griffith: Thanks--maybe you should talk to the emailers who don't "get" Zippy---although art and eloquence might not be what they're looking for on the comics page...personally, I find lots of art and eloquence in "The Family Circus"---go figure.
Wade__Guest_: Zippy is always on top of the popular media- how much time do you spend keeping abreast, hehe, of the current crop of inanities posing as entertainments these days? What's your most-used media- TV, magazines, the check-out aisle?
Bill_Griffith: I surf YouTube and other websites---I read the NY Times every day---I listen to NPR while I'm inking (not while I'm writing) and even monitor Rush Limbaugh to keep up with the zeitgeist. It's all material for strips!!
choads__Guest_: What are your favorite recent comics?
Bill_Griffith: My favorite recent continuing comic strip is "Julius Knipel, Real Estate Photographer" by Ben Katchor. But it's hard to top the old "Nancy" by Ernie Bushmiller.
Hank__Guest_: Your comic strip isn't funny, it's just really weird.
Bill_Griffith: "To be weird--that is my goal!!"
Bill_Griffith: -Alfred Jarry, french playwright and occasional character in Zippy strips
zips__Guest_: Why is Zippy so scary looking?
Bill_Griffith: I try to give Zippy an "edge" of scariness so you never quite know if he might stop talking to the eggplants and suddenly ask you to "think about dry cleaning really hard".
rich__Guest_: Last diners you have been too in the framingham natick area?? Any love for Casey's??
Bill_Griffith: I've been to Natick--I once was given a tour of the Hostess Bakery factory there (a memorable experience)--but I'm not aware of Casey's---send me fotos! (PO box 88, Hadlyme CT 06439--or through the Zippy website.)
yow___Guest_: well, being an engineer, i must admit that I never start my day without Zippy first, then Dilbert second. Always.
Bill_Griffith: I know someone who reads the comics in the Globe vertically---like, the first panel of each strip from the top of the page down, and so on. He says it makes ALL the comics just like Zippy.
mon__Guest_: What can we do to make sure the Globe continues Zippy?
Bill_Griffith: Just tell them a morning without Zippy is like a morning without Martinizing.No---seriously---newspaper editors really listen to comics readers. They know that not every comic appeals to every reader and that a variety of styles abd tastes is a healthy mix on the comics page--just make sure they know how much you depend on your daily dose!-
polymoo__Guest_: is mr toad the antagonist by design
Bill_Griffith: Mr. The Toad was actually my first character, even before I started doing Zippy in 1970. He was a kinf of "venting" character, full of rage and malevolence. He still is, but it's a subtler, more psychological kind now. I like having an ominous, somewhat threatening character in my cast---there are things the Toad can say that Zippy or Griffy never would.
swirlingsuckingeddy__Guest_: What would you like to do next?
Bill_Griffith: Well, I have to say goodbye now and get back to Dingburg. It's been great--thanks for all the interaction--I'm exhausted!

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