BOB GARFIELD: Since the 1960s when his creation Zippy the Pinhead first appeared in the city's alternative weekly, cartoonist Bill Griffith has hefted his pen in San Francisco. Zippy became a daily strip in 1985 at the urging of the San Francisco Examiner which would be the first of 200-some papers attracted to the strip's satirical skewering of society, especially the consumer society. Then a year ago Zippy and his alienated alter ego Griffey picked up another half million potential readers when the San Francisco Chronicle subscribed. But a recent readers' poll at that paper resulted in the cancellation of the comic along with Marmaduke and Family Circus, leaving Griffith to incite readers to write the Chronicle demanding their daily dose of subversion.
BILL GRIFFITH: You would think a newspaper would value such a thing. Newspapers are supposed to value both, both ends of the spectrum -- controversial columns and comic strips are what -- well usually what make editors happy, and I think I've filled that-- need pretty well.
BOB GARFIELD:There are always new features coming along, new strips, new talents, and-- periodically newspapers find themselves going through this culling process. What would you suggest that newspaper editors do when something has to give -- how, how should they go about it?
BILL GRIFFITH: What I wish they would do, rather than try to accommodate the lowest common denominator or the popularity contest way of figuring out who your readers are, I think editors should you know just respect the variety among their readers and, and think of comics as, as being for different groups -- not, not that each strip has to appeal to the widest possible audience. Zippy appeals primarily to a younger -- dare I day it? -- hipper audience who tend to be more educated and, and -- dare I say it again? --more affluent and I, I would think newspapers would value that.
BOB GARFIELD:Let me read you something that was in the Baltimore Sun. It describes Zippy as quote "a richly cultured enthusiast for American industrial sculpture and architecture of the first half of the 20th Century. To those who recognize the metaphoric fullness of his projected personality, Zippy is an embodiment of the nostalgic zeitgeist of Americans befuddled by post-Modernist obscurantism." And, you know, and of, of course I, I've always said the same thing. [LAUGHTER] I'm pretty sure I, I think that. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BILL GRIFFITH: It means-- It means he likes Zippy. [LAUGHTER] Zippy, together with Griffey which is kind of like - you know they're kind of the Abbott and Costello of surreal pop culture criticism -they embody one person which is I guess - has to be me - in my love/hate relationship with America and everything about America. Zippy loves everything he sees. Griffey hates everything he sees, and somewhere in that dialogue between them both I hope some sort of satirical picture of America emerges, and I, I would think newspapers would value that.
BOB GARFIELD:For the listeners who are not familiar with Zippy, if Zippy is about anything, he's about raising his eyebrows at the, the commerce that, that so drives our society. Am I, am I, am I -- okay on that? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BILL GRIFFITH: Well yeah. Yes. Yes. To just-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: So what the hell are you talking about-- [LAUGHTER] demographics and, and age and income and trying to - how, how can you of all people [LAUGHS] try to pers-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BILL GRIFFITH: I'm trying to talk newspaper language. You know. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] But-- haven't you become-- exactly the sort of monster that Zippy comments on day after day after day? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BILL GRIFFITH: Well you know you have-- I'm asking the San Francisco Chronicle to, to, to recognize the, the-- to hold two opposing thoughts in their mind at once -- one being Zippy is, is weird and bizarre and, and who gets it and what the hell is it all about, and on the other hand Zippy appeals to a younger, more affluent [LAUGHTER] and, and ultimately desirable demographic.
BOB GARFIELD: Zippy must live because he of-- is subversive. Zippy must live because--?
BILL GRIFFITH: He brings in advertising. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: [SIGHS]
BILL GRIFFITH: Yes, well--
BOB GARFIELD:I'm sighing only because the clock makes a funny sound in the microphone. If there were a real Griffey -- he would obviously be very upset about this turn of events. What would Zippy say?
BILL GRIFFITH: Zippy would primarily be I think at this point amused by Griffey's reaction, and pretty much ignore the whole hurricane swirling around him.
BOB GARFIELD: Which I guess proves that at long last Bill Griffith and Zippy are not one and the same.
BILL GRIFFITH: You got me.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well thank you very much.
BILL GRIFFITH: [LAUGHS] Okay.
BOB GARFIELD:Bill Griffith is the author of Zippy the Pinhead appearing daily in newspapers around the country, albeit not the San Francisco Chronicle. [MUSIC]