Zippy the Pinhead -- What makes this comic strip character so popular?

Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith gets letters. Packages, really. ”There’s some guy in San Jose who every month sends Zippy — not me, Zippy — all the wrappers from all of the junk food he’s eaten that month,” Griffith, 47, says over the phone from his home in San Francisco.

Not the work of your typical Doonesbury fan, but then Zippy the Pinhead has never been your typical comic strip. Originally appearing in the underground comic Real Pulp in 1970, Zippy eventually became Griffith’s signature character — and in the process a counterculture phenomenon who ran for President in 1984 (his slogan was ”Am I reelected yet?”), picking up over 10,000 votes in California.

By 1985, Griffith was drawing Zip daily for the San Francisco Examiner when he was contacted by King Features, the syndicate that distributes the likes of Beetle Bailey to your hometown paper. ”The VP at King in charge of finding new strips was about to quit,” admits Griffith, ”and he wanted to leave Zippy like a ticking time bomb on their doorstep.”

Mission accomplished: No sooner had Zippy appeared in The Boston Globe than it was banned, touching off a heated war on the letters page between foes and fans (the strip was reinstated). Other flurries have erupted over the years; as Griffith says, ”Everywhere Zippy goes, there’s always controversy.”

There will be plenty more if the long-threatened movie Zippyvision ever makes it to the screen. The script (written by Griffith with wife Diane Noomin) has been through nine drafts over the years, and Randy Quaid has even donned Zip’s muumuu to the cartoonist’s approval. But Griffith isn’t holding his breath: He has been to too many bizarre story meetings. At Disney they asked him two questions: ”Can Zippy lose the stubble?” and ”Do you think he might frighten small children if he greeted them at Disneyland?”

Well, maybe. But no more than Goofy.