Comix Legend Bill Griffith on Breaking Taboos in the Industry

“Are we having fun yet?” In the late 1960s, the Underground Comix Movement emerged, and alongside it, the likes of R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman, and more, including Bill Griffith — creator of Zippy the Pinhead and practicing advocate for freedom of expression.

From the zines of San Francisco to the illustrious pages of The New Yorker and The New York Times to the illicit pages of High Times and National Lampoon, Bill Griffith lived counterculture through his art. In a time when “there were basically two kinds of comic books in the U.S. — superheroes and kid’s comics,” both restricted heavily by the Comics Code of 1954, Griffith sought to reclaim the comic book form and mold it into something that spoke to a new generation of youth about the contemporary politics and social issues that they were dealing with on a daily basis. From this sentiment, the underground comix movement was born.

In a recent interview with Michalis Limnios at Blues.Gr, Griffith talked about not only what inspired him to become a comix creator, but the long-lasting impact and value that the movement had on the industry, future generations of creators, and ultimately freedom of expression itself.

Bill Griffith’s art has an edge to it. His most iconic character, Zippy the Pinhead, boasted in his book not only zany adventures, but he tackled a lot of themes and issues that were outright censored by the Comics Code in the mainstream comics industry. He told Limnios:

Like the other Underground cartoonists of my time, I was interested in breaking taboos and lifting the restrictions of censorship. I just wanted to write and draw whatever I wanted, without “society” telling me what to do. There was no “philosophy” beyond that desire.

With his desire to essentially draw and publish what he wanted, Griffith would continue to illustrate for both underground comix as well as mainstream news press, sharing his point-of-view about how “adult” cartoons could really be. Griffith and other underground creators showed that they wouldn’t be held back by the Comics Code, and that fervid passion and dedication to their art would help lead to the demise of the Comics Code and the free expression enjoyed by contemporary comics creators today. Griffith emphasizes the direct line from Underground innovators to contemporary comics:

With the exception of manga and superhero comics, ALL of today’s cartoonists owe a lot to the Underground Comix of the 60s and 70s, most notably, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Kim Deitch and (if I may be immodest), myself. We reclaimed comics as a means of personal expression after decades of commercial, profit-driven comics like Marvel or DC.

Check out Limnios’ full profile and interview with Bill Griffith here!

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2015 by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!