Episode 138 – Bill Griffith

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Virtual Memories Show #138:
Bill Griffith

“With this new book, I’m reconnecting with my earlier self from the underground era, but with all the experience and skill that I’ve gained in the last 30 years of doing a daily strip.”

517fEFCEZ1L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_ Bill Griffith is best known for nearly 30 years of daily comic strips featuring the absurd, surreal American treasure known as Zippy the Pinhead, but he’s also the author of the amazing graphic memoir, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics). This new 200-page work chronicles Bill’s mother’s affair with the cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, and explores notions of family, infidelity, art, vanishing New York, the transience of reputation and memory, and of course, comics. The book is so significant that I decided to have two separate sessions with Bill, one to discuss his background and his comics history, and the other to focus on Invisible Ink. In part 1, we tackle Bill’s discovery of underground comics and the scene in ’70s San Francisco, his fine art education, the inescapable importance of Robert Crumb, his collaboration with Art Spiegelman on Arcade magazine, how he wound up with a syndicated daily Zippy comic strip, his rediscovery of diners, muffler-men, and roadside advertising icons, his surprisingly youthful audience, the responsibility of blowing up his readers’ minds, and more! Give it a listen! (And go buy Invisible Ink!)

“We thought of Arcade magazine as a life-raft. We were worried that underground comics would die in two ways: economically, with the Supreme Court ruling on pornography . . . and through the limits of its own audience, which was centered around headshops. Arcade was supposed to be where underground comics went to grow up, and build a wider audience.”

Part 2 of this episode takes place at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, where I interviewed Bill in front of an audience that included Art Spiegelman. This section focuses on Invisible Ink, and covers Bill’s relationship with his parents, the reasons he pursued the story of his mother’s affair, the transience of fame, his need to re-draw all of Lawrence Lariar’s art in his book, how he reacted when his mother wanted to get a tattoo of Zippy, what he’s learned from teaching cartooning at SVA, and more! We had two great conversations, so go listen to them!

“Art Spiegelman told me he liked Zippy, but it was a little like being stuck in an elevator with a crazy person.”

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Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Bill Griffith grew up in Levittown, NY. He attended Pratt Institute and studied painting and graphic arts concurrently with Kim Deitch — they dropped out about the same time. Inspired by Zap, Griffith began making underground comics in 1969, and joined the cartoonists in San Francisco in 1970. Griffith’s famous character Zippy the Pinhead made his initial appearances in early underground comic books, morphing into a syndicated weekly strip in 1976 and then a nationally-syndicated daily strip a decade later. Griffith is married to cartoonist and editor Diane Noomin. They live in Connecticut. His new book is Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics).

You can find a more extensive bio at Bill’s site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Griffith’s studio in Connecticut in August 2015 and at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in October 2015 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Mr. Griffith by me.

Unrequired Reading: MARCH!

It’s time for another month’s worth of tweets and funny links, dear readers! Remember, you can keep up with these more easily by following my feed at twitter.com/groth18!

The Things He Carried (he being @acontinuouslean)

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Even in @ArcadiaBroadway I am. yfrog.com/gy1r6hvj

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Great @michaelbierut piece on 15 years of design-work for United.

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EVERYONE has trouble finding their way around #neworleans

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Wisdom from #TomFord: (I still wear shorts, but I’m in the ‘burbs, so hey.)

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NYC: dancing in the ’70s wasn’t all Soul Train

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@jeremoss lays a palimpsest over 7th Ave. bet. 47 & 48: #vanishingNY

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The Arab world’s greatest contribution to society? #Coffee! #justmyopinion

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My top symptom of depression is when I’m convinced I’d fail a #TuringTest. Spambots have it easier than I do

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Kindasorta pet sounds (via @bldgblog) #bringthenoise

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@thebookslut (whom I’m hoping to interview soon for my podcast) on writers and their politics: #KnutthePolarNazi

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I gotta get around to reading #Lanark sometime, since a trusted pal gave it to me a while ago: #andIshouldvisitGlasgow

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Good thing they didn’t goof on @DeadliestCatch: #nabokov

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Explaining the Northern Lights: #auroraborealis (make sure you watch this time-lapse video that shows up at the end)

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

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Why do people get angry? #theydriveinNJ #iwouldhaveaskedforHappyGilmore

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Cutest thing ever: greyhound puppy edition #greyhound #sickeninglycute

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Mallrats of 1990: I was no great shakes back then either: #napoleondynamite

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RT @radleybalko – Prosecutor: “You bet your ass I ain’t gonna be mean to Willie Nelson.”

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I did a #screenhijack of the electronic billboard at the Annapolis Mall in ’94 and posted some @danielclowes messages.

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I’m loving me these Out of Print t-shirts: #nakedlunch #mobydick

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“Militant” bombing of bus stop in #Jerusalem: #goodthingitsnotterrorism

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GREAT piece on the big problem with Big Idea books: #jointheclub #iwouldntjoinanyclubthatwouldtakemeasamember

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Holi isn’t the same without #karlpilkington #anidiotabroad

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The (Frank) King of Gift Shops: #gasolinealley

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Fear & Loathing in LV, 40 years later. #hst

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I really gotta get to re-reading #thucydides sometime. http://bit.ly/i6mQmJ

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Coincidentally, I have #Impromptu coming in from @netflix tomorrow: #chopin #liszt

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Cheech & Chong should sue for royalties: #nicedreams

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How to kill a zombie: #themoreyouknow

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No pic of Spencer Tracy playing Ultimate Frisbee? (thanks, @kottke!) #katherinehepburn

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Hey, @kottke! I see your #katherinehepburn and raise you a #farrahfawcett!#sk8ergirl

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Swaziland’s king faces strikes! He should name Richard E. Grant as his successor! #withnailandswazis #wahwah

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Speaking of #richardegrant, let’s have lunch! #whenisthenextbookcomingout

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Is @gsk about to relive #officespace? #ibelieveyouhavemystapler

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Neoconservatives: advocates of a new managerial state. Also, kindasorta fascist?

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@simondoonan on the flattering adjacent and the $12k jacket: #pythonsareexpensive

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@nytimes to conduct digital experiment on Canadians! #greatwhitepaywall #blamecanada

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@gregbeato offers an ode to the mall: #somehowradioshackisstillinbusiness

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Who watches the watch, man? #bespokewatch

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George Michael’s beard: Iron and Wine covers “One More Try”

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My cholesterol dropped 60 points within a year after I got a dog (who needed regular walkies) #gogreyhound

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The bank is closed, bitch! #bankshot #hoopitup #timduncan

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I was so hoping @therealshockg was part of this article on the N. Korean Digital Underground. #humptyhump

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Henry Miller: Brooklynite #tropicofhipster

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Should I take my #coffee more seriously? done and done! #pourover #caffeinedreams

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Unreal City #dubai #moneychangeseverything

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Before/Ater palimpsest pictures of earthquake & tsunami damage in Japan. #disastersunday

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Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 25 years later. #disastersunday #atomicsafari

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Louisiana gulf coast ecology, post-Katrina & BP: #disastersunday

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Awesome Sam Lipsyte piece on cheating and the new #Monopoly. #goreadTheAsk #nownownow #SamLipsyte

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I’m very happy that there’s a Montaigne renaissance going on. #nowforplutarch

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Via @AlexBalk of @theawl, an encomium for Local Hero, one of the most wonderful movies ever.

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Whither the big box? Wither, the big box!

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Chuck Person had something to do with DEFENSE? I call shenanigans. #firsttimeforeverything #nba #lalakers

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My God, it’s full of stars” #afghanair (whole set here)

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The Torah is wheat, the Bible is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. #itrynottodiscussreligiontoooften

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What happens to the Aerotropolises that fail? #justwondering

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New Orleans documentaries, in black and white. #mardigras

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Financial Times = Scientology: “every time you reach one level, you realize there’s another, more expensive level awaiting you.”

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100 Days of Designitude: via @designobserver

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V5 Precise is my office-pen of choice, but I use Pilot G-2 05 for travel: retractable, less leak-prone. #mypenishuge

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Who needs therapy? Here and here – #iprobablydo #drugsandvideogames

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The bottom of the world: beautiful pictures from Antarctica! thx, @in_focus!

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I wondered what became of Mats Wilander: #havegamewilltravel #bywinnebago

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I gotta get out west to In-N-Out and hit up that secret menu. #bestburgerever

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I’ve pretty much bailed on contempo fiction. Does it still suck?

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NYer interview with Tom Stoppard about @arcadiabroadway. #whatiscarnalembrace

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Yay! Drugs cost nil to discover! No wonder R&D productivity is falling apart and FDA approvals are at record lows!

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How To End A Conversation“: I usually feign death.

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I guess I have to catch up on those American Masters docs, huh? #pbs #americanmasters #lovedLOVEDtheschultzone

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“This could be the greatest critical roundtable in Comics Journal history.” #dilbert #noseriouslydilbert

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Ron Rosenbaum on the man who questioned the bomb. #youdroppedabombonme

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#charliesheen via #wittgenstein via @walterkirn

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I used to play the Journey vid just so I could kill #steveperry. #videogamedeaths #nosinistar?