Tom Wilson, creator of the beloved bald, moon-faced Ziggy, died Friday at age 80 at a Cincinnati nursing home. The cause was pneumonia.
“Tom leaves behind a wonderful legacy in Ziggy, a hard-luck comics page hero who serves as a reflection of Tom’s endearing wit and optimism in the face of adversity,” John McMeel, head of Andrews McMeel Universal, whose Universal Uclick syndicates Wilson’s daily comic strip, said in a statement.
Ziggy currently appears in more than 500 newspapers, as well as books, calendars and greeting cards. In 1982, he starred in “Ziggy’s Gift,” a Christmas special that aired on ABC. Wilson created more than 1,200 drawings and shared an Emmy award for best animated special.
In 1972, the artist told The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, “Is Ziggy me? I’m afraid so. Everybody is, to some degree.” Two years later, he told the city’s Sun Press “He’s such a small person in such a big world.”
Ziggy’s beginnings date back to 1969, when Wilson published a book of wordless cartoons called “When You’re Not Around,” featuring an anonymous, Ziggy-like character. It caught the eye of Kathy Andrews, a former Clevelander starting what was then Universal Press Syndicate in her basement in Leawood, Kansas, with her husband, Jim. She gave a copy of the book to him.
Two years later, looking for single-panel comics, the Andrews came across the book again and asked Wilson to add words to pictures.
“I settled on the name Ziggy,” he told the Sun Press, “because it started with a Z, and that seemed appropriate for this character.”
Wilson later took Ziggy to the card company American Greetings, where he spent 35 years and became president of the creative division. He also launched a subsidiary of American Greetings called Those Characters from Cleveland, which turned out popular characters like Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.