The clowns of death and the frogs of Wellsboro

Two recent Zippy strips: the clowns of death on the 6th and the frogs of Wellsboro PA today:



Two strips on sad themes of abuse and loss: the clown as death’s head, the commercial folk-art figure as exploited, untended, and decaying. In both: humor as an ultimately failing warding-off of decline and death. But on the way we laugh.

The clowns of death. From Wikipedia:

A specific fear of clowns has sometimes been discussed in terms of a specific phobia. The term coulrophobia is a neologism coined in the context of informal “-phobia lists”.

… Clown costumes tend to exaggerate the facial features and some body parts, such as hands and feet and noses. This can be read as monstrous or deformed as easily as it can be read as comical. The significant aberrations in a clown’s face may alter a person’s appearance so much that it enters the so-called uncanny valley, in which a figure is lifelike enough to be disturbing, but not realistic enough to be pleasant — and thus frightens a child so much that they carry this phobia throughout their adult life.

According to psychology professor Joseph Durwin at California State University, Northridge, young children are “very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face”. Researchers who have studied the phobia believe there is some correlation to the uncanny valley effect. Additionally, clown behavior is often “transgressive” (anti-social behavior) which can create feelings of unease.

The contemporary “evil clown” archetype developed in the 1980s, notably popularized by Stephen King’s It, and perhaps influenced by John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer dubbed the Killer Clown in 1978. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a 1988 horror comedy dedicated to the topic. The Joker character in the Batman franchise was introduced in 1940 and has developed into one of the most-recognizable and iconic fictional characters in popular culture, leading the Wizard magazine’s “100 Greatest Villains of All Time” ranking in 2006. Although Krusty the Clown, a cartoon character introduced 1989 in the animated sitcom The Simpsons, is a comical, non-scary clown, the character reveals darker aspects in his personality. In The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s First Word” (1992), children’s fear of clowns features in the form of a very young Bart being traumatized by an inexpertly-built Krusty the Clown themed bed, repeatedly uttering the phrase “can’t sleep, clown will eat me….” The phrase inspired an Alice Cooper song in the album Dragontown (2001) and became a popular catchphrase.

The American rap duo Insane Clown Posse have exploited this theme since 1989 and have inspired Twiztid and similar acts, many on Psychopathic Records, to do likewise. Websites dedicated to evil clowns and the fear of clowns appeared in the late 1990s.

Numerous films on the topic have been produced since the late 1980s.

And then there’s the clown face as death’s head figure — both highly stylized, unrealistic representations of a human face. From Wikipedia:


Totenkopf (i.e. skull, literally dead’s head) is the German word for the skull and crossbones and death’s head symbols. The Totenkopf symbol is an old international symbol for death, the defiance of death, danger, or the dead, as well as piracy. It consists usually of the human skull with or without the mandible and often includes two crossed long-bones (femurs), most often depicted with the crossbones being behind some part of the skull.

It is commonly associated with 19th- and 20th-century German military use.

The image is widely exploited in comics, as the face of evil, death-dealing villains, among them Death’s Head and Skeletor:

From Wikipedia:


Death’s Head is a fictional character appearing in British comics and American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is depicted as a robotic bounty hunter (or rather, as he calls himself, a “freelance peace-keeping agent”). The character was created by writer Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior for the company’s Marvel UK imprint. Furman decided to use Death’s Head in his Transformers stories, but believed that characters appearing in Transformers “were prone to be absorbed into that title’s catchall copyright” … Furman has stated that he chose the name Death’s Head for the character while unaware of the “Nazi-connotations of the name”.

And, also from Wikipedia:


Skeletor is a fictional character and the primary antagonist of the Masters of the Universe franchise created by Mattel. He is the archenemy of He-Man. Depicted as a muscular blue humanoid with a purple hood over his yellow bare-bone skull, Skeletor seeks to conquer Castle Grayskull so he can obtain its ancient secrets, which would make him unstoppable and enable him to conquer and rule the fictional world of Eternia. However, the incompetence of his henchmen is always an impediment to achieving his ambitions.

The frogs of Wellsboro PA. The grotesque frog of the Frog Hut:


The Frog Hut offers “desserts, gelato, ice cream & frozen yogurt”; Perry’s soft-serve ice cream in 30+ flavors; and hamburgers, Texas hot dogs, actual frog’s legs, and more.  In a fast-food restaurant packed with ranabilia. The logo:


On Wellsboro, from Wikipedia:

Wellsboro is a borough in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, United States, 52 miles (84 km) northwest of Williamsport. Early in the 20th century, Wellsboro was the shipping point and trade center for a large area. It had fruit evaporators, flour and woolen mills, a milk-condensing plant, marble works, saw mills, foundry and machine shops, and manufactories of cut glass, chemicals, rugs, bolts, cigars, carriages, and furniture. … The population was 3,328 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Tioga County, and also home to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania [otherwise known as Pine Creek Gorge].

On the map:


In mountainous north-central Pennsylvania, not far from the New York state line. This map slice goes all the way south to Reading PA, the city of my childhood. And all the way north to Geneseo, just southwest of which lies the town of Perry NY, home of the excellent Burlingham Books (run by my old friend Ann Burlingham — hey, this is my blog, so I’m free to insert the occasional personal note).  And a lot in between.

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