Cartoonist Bill Griffith appears at the Society of Illustrators to open a retrospective art exhibition on Wednesday March 20, 2013 from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
“Are we having fun yet?” This non sequitur utterance by the clown-suited philosopher/media star Zippy the Pinhead has become so oft-quoted that it is now in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Zippy has in fact become an international icon, even appearing on the (former) Berlin Wall. Zippy’s creator, Bill Griffith, began his comics career in New York City in 1969.
His first strips were published in the East Village Other and SCREW magazine and featured an angry amphibian named Mr. The Toad.
He ventured to San Francisco in 1970 to join the burgeoning underground comics movement and made his home there until 1998. His first major comic book titles included Tales of Toad and Young Lust, a best-selling series parodying romance comics of the time. He was co-editor of Arcade, The Comics Revue for its seven issue run in the mid-70s and worked with the important underground publishers throughout the seventies and up to the present: Print Mint, Last Gasp, Rip Off Press, Kitchen Sink and Fantagraphics Books. The first Zippy strip appeared in Real Pulp No. 1 (Print Mint) in 1970. The strip went weekly in 1976, first in the Berkeley Barb and then syndicated nationally through Rip Off Press.
In 1980 weekly syndication was taken over by Zipsynd (later Pinhead Productions), owned and operated by the artist. Zippy also appeared in the pages of the National Lampoon and High Times from 1977 to 1984. In 1985 the San Francisco Examiner asked Griffith to do Zippy six days a week, and in 1986 he was approached by King Features Syndicate to take the daily strip to a national audience. Sunday color strips began running in 1990. Today Zippy appears in over 150 newspapers worldwide. There have been over a dozen paperback collections of Griffith’s work and numerous comic book and magazine appearances, both here and abroad.
He became an irregular contributor to The New Yorker in 1994. Griffith’s inspiration for Zippy came from several sources, among them the sideshow “pinheads” in Tod Browning’s 1932 filmFreaks. The name “Zippy” springs from “Zip the What-Is-It?” a “freak” exhibited by P.T. Barnum from 1864 to 1926. Zip’s real name was William Henry Jackson, born in 1842. Coincidentally, Griffith (as he discovered in 1975, five years after creating Zippy) bears the same name. He was born William Henry Jackson Griffith (in 1944), named after his great-grandfather, well-known photographer of the Old West William H. Jackson (1842–1941).
Griffith is currently teaching comics at the School of Visual Arts in New York and is at work on a graphic memoir. He lives and works in East Haddam, Connecticut with his wife, cartoonist Diane Noomin.
Society of Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10065