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Nov 20, 2015

(Tech Note from Mr. Media: For some stupid reason, my audio during this interview is engulfed in static; I don't know why. The good news is that my guest, Bill Griffith, sounds and looks great. I apologize for the sound difficulties in advance.)

Cartoonist Bill Griffith has always shared bits and pieces of his life, his world view – and maybe even a neurosis or two – through his personal window on the soul, Zippy the Pinhead. In fact, as regular readers know, Griffith – as “Griffy” – often plays sidekick to Zippy in the long-running daily comic strip. But in his latest work, Griffith takes readers deeper into his real life than ever before. His subject matter? Mom.

BILL GRIFFITH podcast excerpt: "My mother read my work from the very beginning. It caused her quite a bit of discomfort. There's a point in the book where I quote from a letter she wrote to me in the early '70s where she says, 'Tell me, Dear Son, how do I tell my friends about your work, since it's often X-rated and pornographic? What do I say to them when they say, "Your son draws dirty pictures!"' She literally wanted me to advise her."

It seems that Barbara Jackson Griffith led a most interesting life outside of her marriage, carrying on a years-long affair with her employer, a married man who was well known in the industry that Barbara’s son would eventually become an American master of: cartooning. In Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist!!, Griffith takes us from his moment of discovery through the amateur sleuthing that revealed ever greater details of his late mother’s most profound secret.

Reading Invisible Ink, you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh, drop your jaw, and occasionally squirm uncomfortably as a legendary cartoonist draws scenes of his own mother in bed with a not-so-legendary cartoonist of an earlier era.

BILL GRIFFITH podcast excerpt: "The first Zippy strip was in 1970... He will eventually be in the grave with me. I made a deal in my contract with King Features that when I go, Zippy goes. There is no next-in-line cartoonist waiting to do Zippy."

The book has already achieved a mainstream acceptance that has often eluded Griffith; Entertainment Weekly’s website, for example, proudly offers a sneak peak at several pages. NPR and the Toronto Globe and Mail reviewed the book. And Françoise Mouly – wife of Maus cartoonist Art Spiegelman – together with Mina Kaneko interviewed Griffith for The New Yorker. Bill Griffith has a history with Mr. Media that goes back to the mid-1990s when this was a syndicated newspaper column. He most recently joined us in 2012 to talk in depth about Zippy.

Key interview moments:

• 8:15 Ever wonder how an adult-oriented artist such as Bill Griffith explained their work to Mom? Or how Mom, full of pride, explains it to the neighbors?;

• 25:00 Griffith explains a bit about what his mother's lover, artist Lawrence Lariar contributed to the early days of comic books, comic strips, commercial art and mystery novels, and how he inadvertently had an impact on Griffith himself;

• 38:50 Griffith reveals the future of his 50-year-old daily comic strip, "Zippy the Pinhead."

Bill Griffith WebsiteGoodreads • Wikipedia