Featured Profile

Bill Griffith
Cartoonist

Zippy the Pinhead, a comic strip by the cartoonist Bill
Griffith, features a demented microcephalic in a polka-dotted muumuu who
spouts surreal aphorisms. The strip is, according to some, a
delightfully bizarre social commentary; it appears daily in more than
200 newspapers nationwide, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the
Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. Griffith's strips are collected
in the Zippy Quarterly, as well as a number of books, including Kingpin,
Zippy's House of Fun. His work has also been reprinted in German,
French, Swedish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Finnish, and Spanish, and it
has been featured in the New Yorker, National Lampoon, and various
comics magazines, such as Arcade, Yow, and Weirdo. Griffith, a member of
the San Francisco underground art scene, appeared in John O'Hagan's 1997
documentary Wonderland, a hilarious look at the suburban development in
Levittown, Long Island, where the cartoonist was raised. Zippy has been
the subject of at least two doctoral dissertations and has also been
cited as the inspiration for Saturday Night Live's popular recurring
characters the Coneheads. "A lot of people write angry letters saying
Zippy is stupid," Griffith told Mark Anderson for the Monthly (February
2000). "And that's why they don't get it: because it is stupid."

Initially referred to as Danny, Zippy is a microcephalic clown
based in part on the "pinheads" who appeared in Tod Browning's classic
1932 horror film, Freaks. In addition to the uncommon shape of their
heads, microcephalics are known for their childlike personalities and
rapid-fire speech. "Their scrambled attention spans struck me as a
metaphor for the way we get our doses of reality these days," Griffith
told Jon Randall and Wesley Joost for an interview in Goblin Magazine
that was reprinted on Zippy the Pinhead's official home page. "The kind
of fractured, short term information overload that we're all exposed to
every day." Griffith was also inspired by old posters of Zip the
What-Is-It?, an actual microcephalic who was featured in the Barnum &
Bailey sideshow from 1864 to 1926. (In 1975 Griffith became aware of a
remarkable coincidence--he and Zip the What-Is-It? shared the same name.

Griffith was named William Henry Jackson after his great-grandfather,
the old West photographer William H. Jackson; Zip the What-Is-It? was
born William Henry Jackson, in 1842.)

Griffith also had the good fortune to meet Dooley, an actual
"pinhead" whom a friend in Connecticut drove to work every day. The
cartoonist took notes as Dooley explained why Walter Cronkite was God
and uttered a dizzying stream of non sequiturs such as "Are you still an
alcoholic?" Similarly, Zippy responds to most situations with seemingly
out-of-context phrases including: "I just accepted provolone into my
life," "I just became one with my browser software," "Frivolity is a
stern taskmaster," and "All life is a blur of Republicans and meat."

Although several people, including the comedienne Carol Burnett, claimed
to have created it, the phrase "Are we having fun yet?" was in fact
first uttered by Zippy in the mid-70s and has been immortalized in
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. "It is an expression of the American
existential dilemma, of anxiousness," Griffith explained to John
Marshall for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (July 1, 1992). "The phrase
is supposed to be satirical, but lots of people don't see the subtext."

Griffith tolerated the line's appearance on countless bootleg T-shirts
and bumper stickers, but was particularly disturbed when it began to be
repeated by such mainstream cartoon characters as Garfield, Dennis the
Menace, and Ziggy.

Griffith described Zippy to Carolyn Baptista for the New York
Times (July 11, 1999) as a "walking subconscious." Zippy behaves like a
Zen master engaged in a gleeful exploration of pop culture. "Zippy is
living in the moment," Griffith explained to Baptista. "He's at peace
with himself because he's out of step with everyone; he doesn't know it,
and he doesn't care. . . . Zippy has no problem with the irrationality
of the universe, whereas most of us are desperately trying to make order
out of the universe, and our lives. Zippy accepts chaos as what it is,
which is the real order of everything." Zippy enjoys ding dongs and
taco sauce, and can often be found meditating about the washer at his
local laundromat. Most strips consist of a dialogue between Zippy and
Griffy, the cartoonist's neurotic alter ego, a judgmental type who
comments on the inescapable vapidity of consumer culture. In a
conversation with Gary Groth for the Comics Journal (March 1993),
Griffith described their relationship as the "manifestation of an inner
dialogue" between "the critic and the fool." "I think Zippy is part of
me, but I'm not Zippy. Whereas I'm more Griffy than I am not Griffy. . .
. Without that dialogue, the strip would probably sink into surrealism,
or, in Griffy's case, mere ranting and raving." Other characters include
the lovesick barroom philosopher Claude Funston; Zippy's wife, Zerbina;
and their children, Fuelrod and Meltdown.


Recent Contributions by Bill Griffith