One of the more improbably durable comics in American popular culture is Zippy, the adventures of “Zippy the Pinhead,” Bill Griffith’s non sequitur-spouting polkadot muumuu-wearing Ding Dong and taco sauce-obsessed pinhead everyman. Because so many readers are totally baffled by it, there is a primer for “Understanding Zippy in Six Easy Lessons” on the Zippy website. Robert Crumb called Zippy “by far the very best daily comic strip that exists in America.”
Zippy was born in 1971 when Roger Brand, an underground/mainstream comics writer-editor-illustrator asked Griffith to “Maybe do some kind of love story, but with really weird people” for Real Pulp Comics #1. The name comes from P. T. Barnum’s famous sideshow performer Zip the Pinhead (who probably wasn’t an actual microcephalic) but the character’s features and clothing are patterned after Schlitzie from Tod Browning’s Freaks.
After Griffith launched Zippy in The Berkeley Barb in 1976, his character went on to a daily strip in 1986 and a Sunday funnies version debuted in 1990. The comic is distributed by King Features Syndicate.
In 1980, Griffith wrote the scripts for a handful of live-action Zippy shorts that were (I think) produced and directed for San Francisco cable access by Erik Nelson and his Videowest production company. Here are some of my favorites (all are on YouTube if you search for “Videowest” and “Zippy”). It’s worth noting that the reporter we see in a few of these pieces is a fellow named Tony Russomanno, then of KSFO Radio in San Francisco, who was the sole radio reporter to cover the mass suicides at the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.
Zippy is played by Jim Turner of NPR’s Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre comedy troupe. Turner would go on to play MTV’s presidential candidate “Randee of the Redwoods” and you might also recognize him from HBO’s Arli$$ series where he played a sports agent.
The theme music is “Laughing Blues” by The Bonzo Dog Band.
“Zippy Stories—Take 1”
More live action Zippy after the jump…