Title: Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Words: Bill Griffith
Art: Bill Griffith
Published: March 19, 2019
Publisher’s Summary: Nobody’s Fool follows the story of Schlitzie’s long career—from Coney Island and the Ringling Bros. Circus to small-town carnivals and big-city sideshows—which is one of legend. Today, Schlitzie is most well-known for his appearance in the cult classic Freaks. The making of Freaks and Schlitzie’s role in the film is a centerpiece of the book. In researching Schlitzie’s life (1901–1971), Griffith has tracked down primary sources and archives throughout the country, including conducting interviews with those who worked with him and had intimate knowledge of his personality, his likes and dislikes, how he responded to being a sideshow “freak,” and much more. This graphic novel biography provides never-before-revealed details of his life, offering a unique look into his world and restoring dignity to his life by recognizing his contributions to popular culture.
Life can be cruel and people, strange; gazing and gawking at so-called freaks for pleasure has been an American past-time since caging otherness and displaying it, for the price of an admission ticket, of course, has been a thing…Schlitzie the Pinhead is one of the most famous sideshow freaks thanks to his role in Tod Browning’s 1932 film, Freaks; and, more recently, Schlitzie was brought to the forefront of the minds of television viewers as the fourth American Horror Story season, Freakshow, featured a ‘pinhead’ character named Pepper. In Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead, writer, and illustrator Bill Griffith sets out to tell the tale of the larger-than-life freak, Schlitzie, utilizing a visual medium that’s sure to appeal equally to readers of non-fiction and comic books.
As one would expect, Griffith follows Schlitzie from being sold to a handler as a child, to his death in 1971, spending extra time and focusing in on Schlitzie’s appearance in the film Freaks. Schlitze’s life was filled with great sadness and joy, as the Bronx-born sideshow performer was bounced around quite a bit; some of his handlers/promoters were significantly more caring and compassionate than others. At times, Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead is emotionally intense, and at others, it is humorous.
Throughout the entirety of the text, Griffiths high-contrast black-and-white artwork works well and complements the story; more detail is packed into each panel of this graphic novel than there is in Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead comic strips, but the overall feel is similar.
On account of how interested and invested I was in the Schlitzie, I finished this book in the same reading session that I started it in, but, the pacing of the story did nearly slow to a halt; and, at times, I was left under the impressions that more time was spent on certain events and exchanges for the sole sake of filling pages. If, say, twenty-or-so pages were removed from the text, the story would have felt cleaner, sleeker, and more streamlined and Griffith would have retained the story’s momentum through its midsection.
Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead works quite well and solicits and inspires a wide range of emotions from readers while managing to excite and entertain.
The Bottom Line
Although the overall pace of the storytelling could have been increased, Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead is a well-crafted biography that is as entertaining as it thought-provoking.