| 7 Apr 2008 @ 23:28, by David Bartholomew|
[excerpted from DoingIt!, May, 2005]
This month we are proud to bring you a chat with Bill Griffith, creator of the “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip, philosophy and fine line of quaity cleaning products (okay, so no cleaning products.. yet). Since discovering the strip over 20 years ago I have always appreciated the feeling that comes across-- that life is to be enjoyed, savored, played with and turned inside out. In this, I feel Zippy (and Bill) are living the lives they’ve been given to the fullest! Zippy asks, “Are We Having Fun Yet?,” and out of his surrealistic observations we gain a bit of wisdom and are able to see our world differently and anew.
DoingIt!: The two-sided Griffy/Zippy conversation is within a lot of us. How would you best characterize it, and who is winning inside of you?
Bill Griffith: Zippy and Griffy are essentially two sides of my split personality-- not that I limit myself to only two sides. Zippy is my accepting, happy, uncritical nature, Griffy is the neurotic, insecure, analytical side. The Zippy daily strip is, in one sense, my attempt to join the two and keep from going crazy. Neither side is winning, because that would be the death of both my delicate persona and the strip. Griffy without Zippy on his own would be, I think, a big blowhard and a bore. Zippy without Griffy would be like eating only cotton candy for eternity. Something fun to do, but best in small doses. Griffy is aware that his cynicism masks a desire to be happy and he literally asks Zippy, on occasion, for help in getting in touch with his "inner Pinhead". I've done this in a few strips. Zippy has reciprocated in a few other strips, becoming suddenly "rational", but only when he’s frightened or angry (rare states). In general, Zippy does not yearn to be like Griffy. In fact, Zippy rarely yearns at all. He’s too busy absorbing and recycling sensory and psychic input.
DI: One particular Zippyism—“Adopt my lifestyle or I’ll have to press charges”—really stands out with me this month. There are seemingly a lot of self-appointed hall monitors in the world today spending more time keeping track of the goings-on of everyone else than appreciating and playing with all of the "godstuff" strewn about, and really enjoying things, differences, each other, etc. Do you foresee anything that can shake people out of that beyond the short-term and keep us in “the moment” longer?
B.G.: Comedy (and the act of laughter) is the only thing short of brain surgery I know of to release us from the stresses and illusions we live with on a daily basis. All response to humor, from the belly laugh at a pratfall,
to the appreciation of cosmic absurdity, snaps us momentarily out of our socialized selves and allows us a glimpse of what’s behind the curtain.
DI: You have answered various objectors/detractors of Zippy that a good way to get to appreciate the strip would be to look at it from a mindset of jazz. Can you expand on that a little?
B.G.: When I compare Zippy to Jazz, what I mean is-- Zippy’s improvisational, serendipitous way of weaving in and out of various realities is akin to the Jazz musician’s toying with a melody, riffing on it, bending it. Zippy’s voice can be a little like a musician’s instrument, blowing words and phrases instead of notes, sometimes solely for the pleasure of the way they sound and the juxtaposition of images and ideas they bring about. Of course, post-Charlie Parker jazz isn’t the only kind of music the strip mimics. Griffy brings in a little structured Mozart once in a while just to balance things out.
DI: Some of the strip’s conversational banter almost feels like a set of zen koans—meant to distract the logical mind and allow the other parts to step in. What might be the value of those parts being able to come out and play more often?
B.G.: I approach writing a strip somewhat like writing a poem, I guess. Often I begin with a random exchange of dialogue, or Zippy’s sudden reaction to some cultural flotsam, without knowing where it will go. I try to listen to my subsconscious and not to filter out too much at first. I’m pretty tuned in to the rhythm of language, what phrase or word sounds "right" following another, keeping cadence and the "beat" in mind. I let the strip go where it wants for the first draft, then I start fine-tuning and editing until I feel it’s either funny or illuminating in some way. This can produce a non-linear, "gag-less" kind of humor, but it’s the only kind I can really do. I use punchlines, but I don’t make them a requirement—and their placement doesn’t always have to come in the last panel.
DI: Destiny question. You found out at some point that you and the character Zippy is named after had the same name. Can you describe any thoughts or feelings in the wake of this discovery?
B.G.: I was flabbergasted when I discovered, about five years after starting Zippy in 1970, that the birth name (William Henry Jackson) of one of Zippy’s inspirations, the circus sideshow performer "Zip the What-Is-It?", was the same as my great-grandfather’s---and mine as well (my full name is William Henry Jackson Griffith). I’m not superstitious –I accept the randomness of the universe and don’t need coincidences explained, but I was floored. It did seem as if I was "meant" to do Zippy. Either that or it’s just a good
cocktail party story.
DI: In Politically Correct America, 2005… is there less ability or more wariness to comment on certain subjects? Are we gaining or losing our collective sense of humor?
B.G.: There is a general tightening up when it comes to what’s "permissable" in humor these days. But I think that tendency is easily sidestepped if you’re willing to play outside the mainstream. If your intent as a humorist is primarily to please an audience, social taboos or political correctness may be restrictive. But if you’re willing to trade a bigger audience—and make less money—for total humoristic freedom, as I am, it’s a small price to pay.
DI: Finally, please fill in the Blanks: A world in which everyone read Zippy would be _______. A world in which everyone read Zippy and got it would be ________.
B.G.: A world in which everyone read Zippy would be perplexed and confused. A world in which everyone read Zippy and got it would be… Boston, Massachusetts.
For more on the work of Bill Griffith please visit: www.zippythepinhead.com. And to order the latest Zippy compilation and see God, go to: