'Zippy' to feature Tastee
Oct. 11, 2000
Liz M. Zylwitis
Staff Writer

Silver Spring diner will be in syndicated comic strip Oct. 22

Tastee Diner fans should be on the lookout for the Tastee in the Oct. 22 edition of Bill Griffith's nationally syndicated comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead."

Griffith, who resides in Connecticut, learned about the Tastee from a local reader of his comic who sent him a packet of information about the Tastee. The packet included information on the efforts to save the Tastee to the diner's move.

"In the last couple of years, readers have sent in their diner memories and pictures and they have shown up in the strip a few months later," Griffith said. "Diners make the strip a lot more fun for my readers and me."

Jerry McCoy, president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, had sent Griffin information on Silver Spring's Tastee Diner.

McCoy, who said he has read the Zippy comic strip for several years, sent Griffith photographs of the diner and articles about the Tastee going back to the early '90s when the diner was being threatened with demolition.

With the help of Montgomery County, Tastee owner Gene Wilkes orchestrated the move from the Tastee's original site on the Silver Triangle at Georgia and Colesville Road in Silver Spring to a spot a few blocks north earlier this summer.

"I first got in touch with Griffith shortly after the Tastee was moved this summer, because I felt the entire production would be perfect source material for 'Zippy,'" McCoy said. "I wanted Griffith to realize that Tastee salvation had truly been a community effort."

Griffith said learning about the Tastee has been like keeping up with an ongoing story that one checks in on every now and then.

He believes there are two categories of diners: real and nostalgic.

Although he has never been to the Silver Spring Tastee Diner, he suspects that when you walk inside, you will not find salt and peppershakers in the shape of jukeboxes.

"The problem with some of the new diners is that they get too self-conscious," Griffith said. "You can find diners practically anywhere these days, even at the mall."

During a recent book signing at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, Griffith stopped into the Tastee Diner there.

"I have been in The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun for a long time," he said. "So I have a large following in the area."

Griffith recalls attending art school with the intention of becoming a painter, but within a couple of years, he said, the people in his paintings started sprouting word balloons.

"It was no longer possible for me to repress my childhood desire," Griffith said. "So I dropped out of school and started doing comics."

Griffith first started doing the "Zippy" character in the '70s. It was highly surreal then, and grew more satirical over the years, he said.

"At its best, Zippy is entertaining on the surface," Griffith said. "It draws you in with humor. Then once inside, you get an unexpected oddball view of life. Zippy is not always concerned with the punch lines and gags a reader gets from comics that are more easily digested."

McCoy, who shares Griffith's admiration of commercial architecture and agrees pieces of the past are disappearing from the landscape at an alarming pace, thinks Griffith's view of popular culture is incredibly biting.

Many of McCoy's friends were unfamiliar with the strip before he told them the Tastee would be appearing in it.

"People seeing the strip for the first time might not agree the strip comes across as social commentary," Griffith said. "I could see how it might take a little getting used to."

Even McCoy admits he sometimes scratches his head after reading the strip. Just the same, he and his friend, Bruce Johansen, who is writing his dissertation on the social history revolving around Tastee, are thrilled the Tastee and Silver Spring history are being revealed to a national public.

"I hope my telling of the Tastee story prompts people to think about the important functions such places serve in a society that is becoming increasingly centered around private dwellings and prone to ignore history," Johansen said. "The other important lesson, in my view, is that it shows people are capable of making a difference if they mobilize and exert some agency."