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“Ziggy” Creator Tom Wilson Dies at 80

Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson Sr., the creator of everyone’s favorite clumpy loser Ziggy, passed away last Friday, September 16, at the age of 80. I never knew much about Wilson until last year when I read the book Studio Cards. Wilson actually had a really interesting career in the Sixties and Seventies as the art director of the goofy Hi-Brows division of Cleveland’s American Greetings. Through his position, he helped encourage a lot of artists and writers including a young Robert Crumb.

The most complete obituary about Wilson that I’ve read so far is this one in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was surprised to see the article directly contradict Wilson’s own version of how he came up with the name Ziggy. It quotes one of Wilson’s former colleagues Tom McGreevey who says that Ziggy’s name was actually inspired by the barber of one of Wilson’s colleagues.

Because of some research I’ve recently done, I feel that I can add a bit to the story. The unnamed colleague was John Gibbons, a prolific greeting card writer who Crumb once called “Cleveland’s funniest person,” and Gibbons did more than suggest Ziggy’s name. He was also the concept person for Wilson’s illustrated book When You’re Not Around, published by American Greetings in 1969 and featuring a proto-Ziggy before he even had a name. Gibbons felt enough ownership as co-creator that he even tried to sell a Ziggy newspaper strip before Wilson sold his in 1971, and he was the strip’s primary writer in the early years. With both Wilson and Gibbons now gone, the true genesis of Ziggy may be lost to history, but it’s safe to assume the strip eventually became Wilson’s baby, and as time passed, came to reflect his personal viewpoint more than anyone else’s.

To bring this back around to animation, here’s the beginning of the delightful 1982 TV special Ziggy’s Gift which was directed by Richard Williams.

  • Did the creator of Ziggy REALLY have that much hair?

    • swac

      Is it just me or does the creator of Ziggy have “Cathy”‘s hairdo?

  • Inkan1969

    Sorry to hear that about Mr. Wilson. My sympathy to his family.

    When I was a little kid, “Ziggy” was a favorite comic strip of mine. I had a partiality to “loser” characters, and so I liked Ziggy just like I liked Charlie Brown. Now as an adult, I have to say that I don’t find the “Ziggy” strip all that interesting. It’s like most other comic strips in that it tells the same bland jokes over and over again. Nonetheless, the Christmas special was unique. I was struck by how different the special was from the strip: very few “loser” jokes, Ziggy almost never spoke, and the story had a magical element never seen in the strip.

  • Tim Hodge

    I remember that little book “When You’re Not Around”. My dad bought it for me when he was on a business trip when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (’71 or ’72). I think I still have it somewhere.

    I think it was the funniest Ziggy comic ever. Full of tragic humor, not quite the eternal optimist Ziggy came to be.

  • Clint H

    This is indeed sad news. Ziggy is one of my favorite comic strips, and the animated Christmas special was very cute and well-animated. Rest In Peace, Tom Wilson.

  • Rick R.

    I agree in later years it was just repetition, but I remember when there was a Ziggy craze about 1973 and we were all quite fond of the strip back then.

    Glad Tom had a nice and peaceful life. Condolences to the family.

  • Craig M

    Amid, in your research, did you come across anything about a koala Ziggy-clone name “Mumby”?

  • Orlando

    “Ziggy’s Gift” won an Emmy (despite misspelling composer Harry Nilsson’s name upfront). The simple design belies a ton of work, much of it on ones, drawn directly on cels by the animators with Rapidograph ink pens. This is craft at a level that competing animation studios could not touch in 1982. Richard Williams Animation produced at least two animated Christmas specials that took the Emmy, this one and 1971’s “A Christmas Carol”, which also won an Oscar in 1972. The unique Williams library deserves to be available on something other than the snippets up on You Tube.

    • Bud

      ” drawn directly on cels by the animators with Rapidograph ink pens”

      A lot of it, but not ALL of it. Quite a few of the animators posed things out on paper for timing purposes before moving the work onto cels. Still an amazing feat–as it was, indeed, all eventually inked directly onto cels by individual animators.

      I always liked that special! Now if only I could find a decent copy of the animated special “Carlton, Your Doorman!”

      RIP Tom Wilson.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        They would usually start on paper anyway and I’m sure ink it later on cels.

        Apart from Ziggy’s Gift, the studio also apparently made these little short snippets as well of the character. I don’t know precisely what they were used for, I think I kinda saw one of these once on TV in the 80’s someplace.

      • Kristjan B

        I would think these little short snippets are spot gags used as social satire, probably used in between commercials or between TV shows or something similar is my wild guess what they were fore.

  • I remember after Raggedy Ann Dick Williams had a small, private screening of the 40 minutes finished for THE COBBLER AND THE THIEF, and I was invited. At the screening, Tom Wilson was with book publisher Lena Tabori (Abbeville Press, at the time). Apparently, Dick was setting up the ZIGGY Special. Lena produced it. Dick introduced me to both and we exchanged a couple of laughs. The event stands out in my mind. I also met Sidney Lumet there; we were to work together on a number of his films.

    I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of the comic strip until I saw the animated film. Then it all fell into place. Eric Goldberg really made that work.

    • bob kurtz

      michael,you are right. eric goldberg was amazing on that project.

  • My mom loved Ziggy when she was young. It’s sad to hear the creator of Ziggy has passed away.