“I remember coming back from that first viewing of Freaks to my Brooklyn apartment and thinking, ‘I have to make art out of this somehow, but I don’t know how.'”
Who can top the memoir of his mother’s infidelity with the biography of a sideshow pinhead? Legendary cartoonist Bill Griffith, that’s who! Bill rejoins the show to talk about his new graphic biography, Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead (Abrams ComicArts), the empty nest syndrome that led him to dive into it right after finishing his first longform book, the challenges of separating fact from fiction in Schlitzie’s life, and how a 1963 viewing of Tod Browning’s movie Freaks changed Bill’s life forever and led him to create Zippy The Pinhead. We also get into Bill avoidance of cheap sentiment in the process of humanizing Schlitzie, the familial support network of sideshow folk, the decision by circus-owners to present to Schlitzie on stage as female, and how to answer the crucial question of whether sideshow work was exploitative. Along the way, we also get into Bill’s comics-making lessons, why Zippy is more about word-play (or word-jazz) than absurdity and non sequiturs, how that strip’s long stories fed into Bill’s book-length work, the biography of Nancy cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller he’s working on next (and why he’d like to do fiction for his 4th book), the riddle of his middle-of-the-night Post-Its, his dad’s very odd idea about keeping his son off skid row, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead!
“Art with a capital A is about self-expression; Comics with a capital C is about communication.”
“Zippy speaks a little like he’s playing a musical instrument.”
“I guess I’m a late-life graphic novelist.”
About our Guest
Bill Griffith is the creator of the syndicated daily comic strip Zippy. Griffith’s prolific output has been included in such publications as the Village Voice, National Lampoon, and the New Yorker. According to Bartlett, Griffith coined the popular phrase “Are we having fun yet?” He lives in Hadlyme, CT, and also Dingburg. His new book is Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a Marriott in Toronto on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Griffith by me. It’s on my instagram.