This week, Bill Griffith was kind enough to answer some questions about Mr. The Toad, the green, warty, cynical antagonist of ZIPPY THE PINHEAD:
Q) Start off by telling us a little bit about Mr. The Toad and how you see his role in the strip!
A) Well, first, remember what Freud said about dreams: every character in your dreams is you. In my Zippy daily, I’ve come to realize that all of my “cast of characters” are me, too. The essential two characters, Zippy and Griffy (my alter ego), kind of form one whole—the divided self. When Zippy and Griffy are engaged in dialogue, I think it’s really the two halves of my brain trying to communicate. Mr. The Toad is that hyper-judgmental, ego-and-id-driven part of me, I guess. He’s also the embodiment of my angry father, to be honest. His function in the Zippy strip is to inject danger and threat into the strip’s happy little world. He’s the Devil in the Garden of Pinheads.
Q) How does he interact with the other characters? What are his relationships with them like?
A) Mr. The Toad tries to scare everyone he comes on contact with. The only character in the strip who isn’t afraid of him is Zippy, whose open-hearted, somewhat non-reality-based persona is incapable of fear (unless he’s confronted with a Ding Dong and taco sauce shortage). Griffy is easily–and constantly–intimidated by The Toad, who delights in frightening and berating him.
Q) Mr. The Toad is sort of the antagonist of the piece. Talk a little bit about his philosophies and how he plays as a contrast to the other characters?
A) An important thing to remember about the “Mean, Green Thinking Machine”: The Toad contains much wisdom. He’s kind of a parable-dispensing, dark guru, who uses emotional manipulation to deliver his sage advice. If he was only scary and mean, I would have lost interest in him a long time ago. He’s evolved from purely bad to bad-with-wisdom over the years.
Under his nasty exterior is a nasty wise man. While Griffy needs Zippy to soften his critical nature, Toad sits alone and brooding, down at the end of the bar, muttering in the shadows.
Q) Why did you choose this particular type of cynical, self-serving personality to use for your antagonist? Is he inspired by anything in particular?
A) He originally came from the Mr. Toad character in the classic children’s book by Kenneth Grahame, “Wind in the Willows” (1908). Before I did comics, I drew The Toad in scenes from that book, which I loved both as a kid and an adult. My Toad came out of those drawings.
Q) Tell us a little bit about his history! Mr. The Toad predates Zippy, right?
A) As I said, my first comic efforts featured stories with Mr. The Toad. (I added the “The” to both distinguish him from the “Wind in the Willows” character and to make him more imposing).
I did a series of one-page strips featuring The Toad for several New York underground newspapers ( Screw , The East Village Other and The New York Ace) from 1969 to 1972. In 1970, I collected a bunch of this early Toad material, as well as new work, and published it in my first solo underground comic book, “Tales of Toad #1 (Print Mint, Berkeley CA).
Q) Has he changed much over the years? In what ways?
A) Yes, he’s changed quite a bit. Instead of being simply angry and intimidating, he now regularly veers into philosophical territory, as likely to spout aphorisms as bile. He also seems to currently live in Zippy’s hometown of “Dingburg,” the “city inhabited entirely by Pinheads” (and one Toad). In a recent strip, he broke into the Dingburg Art Museum and replaced all the paintings and sculpture done by Zippy’s relatives with pieces of his own, going so far as to paint Toad heads on all the pinhead oil portraits in the museum.
Q) What are your favorite sorts of scenarios to use him in?
A) I like to pair him with Griffy, to see how unnerved Griffy becomes. Kind of like playing with fire. And, of course, it’s always fun to put him together with Zippy, whom he can’t scare no matter how demonic he gets. He’s seen more often than not at the bowling alley local bar, ruminating and lying in wait.
Q) Are there any other interesting bits of trivia or secrets about Mr. the Toad that you’d like to share with us?
A) The most unexpected thing about The Toad to me is that so many of my readers really like him. Which goes to prove, I guess—that he’s likeable! Who Knew?