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.