Griffy Dimwit

… on cutural memory and the nature of the comics, in two recent Zippy strips:

(#1)

(#2)

Denny Dimwit. In both strips, Griffy the cartoonist presents himself in the form of Denny Dimwit, the dunce character from the comic strip Winnie Winkle. From Wikipedia:

(#3)

Winnie Winkle is an American comic strip which appeared over a 76-year span (1920–96). The strip’s premise was conceived by Joseph Medill Patterson, but the stories and artwork were by Martin Branner, who wrote the strip for over 40 years. Winnie Winkle was one of the first comic strips about working women. The main character Winnie was a young woman who had to support her parents and adopted brother, serving as a reflection of the changing role of women in society. It ran in more than 100 newspapers for several decades, and translations of the strip’s Sunday pages were made available in Europe, focusing on her little brother Perry Winkle and his gang.

Due to its originality and longevity, Winnie Winkle became a household name and an icon, inspiring even Pop Art artist Roy Lichtenstein. Winnie Winkle was reprinted in Dell Comics, and for a time her face appeared on a cigar box lid. In retrospect, Winnie Winkle is seen as one of the comic strips heralding a new, more independent role for American women after World War I.

… During its first years, the daily Winnie Winkle evolved from simple gags to more complex humorous situations. A new character was introduced in the form of Perry, a little boy from the backstreets, whom the Winkles adopted in 1922. The focus of the Sunday pages then shifted to the adventures of Perry at home, school and on the streets. Although compelled to wear a duffle coat and fancy clothes, he continued to frequent his old neighborhood. The local gang, the Rinkydinks, in contrast, still wore torn and patchy clothing, and were regarded by Winnie as “loafers.” One member of the Rinkydinks was the dunce, Denny Dimwit, who popularized the catch phrase, “Youse is a good boy, Denny.”

(#4)

(#5)

As you can see, Denny is microcephalic (small skull, larger face) and jug-eared; note that Griffy is presented in #1 and #2 as having an abnormally large skull, that is as being “brainy”, with a corresponding intellectual, analytic, reflective cast of mind, plus a grotesquely large cartoon nose and no ears at all. Denny, on the other had, is presented as a dimwit or dunce (that is, intellectually disabled) but amiable and good-hearted, and his speech is notably non-standard working-class New York. The whole Denny package is that of microcephalic mental retardation, with abnormal facial features and with non-standard speech standing in for the characteristic speech and motor defects of microcephaly.

A collection of synonyms for dimwit from several thesaurus sources:

dimwit, dunce, fool, blockhead, bonehead, dolt, ignoramus, imbecile, cretin, dullard, simpleton, moron, clod, nitwit, idiot, halfwit, dope, ninny, nincompoop, twit, chump, dingbat, dipstick, goober, dumbo, dummy, ditz, dumdum, butthead, numbskull, numbnuts, dunderhead, thickhead, airhead, flake, lamebrain, mouth-breather, peabrain, birdbrain, jughead, chowderhead, goofus, doofus, knuckle-dragger, meatball, dumb cluck

Missing from this list: (mentallyretarded and the offensive clipping retard; euphemisms for these words, like slow and special; and, notable in connection with Zippy and his comic strip, pinhead.

The nature of comics. The second strip is a diatribe from Bill Griffith in his Griffy Dimwit guise about the academic literature on the comics. The quotations are, I have no doubt, all real; I recognized a couple of them immediately.

This literature is oriented very strongly towards story-telling comics, in which events unfold in time; graphic novels are literary developments of this sort of comic.  (I note that the June 4th NYT Magazine, the “New York Stories” issue, is an all-comics fiction issue, with 11 stories set in NYC.)

But there are other sorts of comic strips, and Zippy the Pinhead is one of the others: the comic rarely tells a story, though the strips do unfold in time. Instead, they represent conversations between characters (Zippy and Griffy, Zippy and a counterman at a diner, and so on) or monologues, either internal relections or addresses to us as readers. #1 and #2 are monologues.

#2 climaxes in Griffy Dimwit’s defiant defense of comics as clowning rather than story-telling.

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