“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.”
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.”
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.
“Everybody was looking for the next van Gogh . . . so that opened up the space for anybody who put two sticks together to be a sculptor, or two dabs of paint on a canvas to be a painter: ‘Don’t miss him! This man is a genius!’ You’re not going to catch the next van Gogh by just throwing everything on a wall.”
Jonah Kinigstein is having a moment . . . at 92! The painter and cartoonist has published his first collection, The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Tower of Babel in the “Art” World (FU Press) and had an exhibition of his work at the Society of Illustrators in the past few months, and he’s just getting warmed up! We met at his studio to talk about the abysmal and unredeemable state of modern art, and why he elected to stay in the representative mode of painting despite the allure and rewards of conceptual art. He also talks about a near-century of New York City, his glory years in Paris and Rome, his disenchantment with the National Academy, and more! Give it a listen!
“Here I was, studying anatomy . . . and there’s a man who’s dripping on the floor! I’ve got a lot of drippings on the floor; I think I’ll put them up!”
Jonah’s got plenty of venom to spare for artists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Hirst, but also talks about his great artistic influences, his reasons for pasting angry anti-modern-art cartoons on the walls in SoHo, why he paints on wood instead of canvas, and making a living designing department store windows and point-of-sale whiskey displays. It’s a fascinating life, and I’m glad we had the chance to talk! You can check out my photos from Jonah’s studio, including several of his panels, over here.
About our Guest
Born in 1923 in Coney Island, Jonah’s early influences were discovered during visits to the Metropolitan Museum- “When I really saw the old masters, it blew my mind, of course.” He attended Cooper Union for a year before he was drafted into the Army, serving from 1942 – 1945. Soon after, Jonah moved to Paris where he spent time at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, conversing with other aspiring artists, exchanging ideas, exhibiting his work, seeing established artists, and generally soaking up a fertile creative environment. He exhibited in several shows including the Salon D’Automne, Salon de Mai, and the Salon des Moins de Trente Ans, and had one-man shows in the Galerie Breteau and Les Impressions D’Art. After Paris, Jonah moved to Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at the La Schola Di Belles Artes. After a year, he returned to the U.S. and exhibited his paintings at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan. Like so many painters, he was unable to make a living solely from painting, so he worked in the commercial art world and did freelance illustration and design. Throughout this time, Jonah’s commitment to his own art never wavered, and he continued to paint and occasionally exhibit.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sous Le Ciel De Paris by Edith Piaf. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kinigstein’s home 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. Photo of Mr. Kinigstein by me.