Tom Wilson Sr., creator of icon Ziggy, dead at 80

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Tom Wilson Sr., creator of Ziggy

Tom Wil­son Sr., cre­ator of Ziggy

Tom Wil­son Sr., cre­ator of comics page and licens­ing icon Ziggy, died Fri­day in his sleep of pneu­mo­nia at a Cincin­nati hos­pi­tal. He was 80.

Spend­ing most of his career in Cleve­land, Wil­son moved to a nurs­ing home in Cincin­nati about eight years ago in order to be near family.

Wil­son made his mark in ani­ma­tion with the Christ­mas spe­cial Ziggy’s Gift, first released on ABC in 1982. Directed by Richard Williams and Eric Gold­berg at Wel­come Pro­duc­tions, Ziggy’s Gift won an Emmy Award the fol­low­ing year for Out­stand­ing Ani­mated Program.

Re-released in 2005, the half-hour car­toon — star­ring the bald, round-faced char­ac­ter — con­sisted of over 30,000 draw­ings. Unlike most other mod­ern ani­mated films, these were made directly onto cels, not photocopied.

Ziggy, which cel­e­brated 40 years in syn­di­ca­tion in June, con­tin­ues to be pro­duced by Wilson’s son, Tom Wil­son Jr., who has han­dled the day-to-day oper­a­tion of the panel since 1987. Ziggy is dis­trib­uted to news­pa­pers world­wide by Uni­ver­sal Uclick, an Andrews McMeel Uni­ver­sal company.

We are sad­dened at the pass­ing of Tom Wil­son, a vision­ary car­toon­ist and long­time friend,” said John McMeel, chair­man and pres­i­dent of Andrews McMeel Uni­ver­sal. “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. Our hearts are with the Wil­son fam­ily dur­ing this time of loss.”

Tom Wil­son had a unique gift for pro­duc­ing cre­ations that stirred imag­i­na­tions and touched people’s lives,” said Hugh Andrews, chief exec­u­tive offi­cer and pres­i­dent of Andrews McMeel Pub­lish­ing. “It speaks vol­umes about Tom that Ziggy, a char­ac­ter he held very dear to his heart, has been a main­stay on the comics page for more than 40 years and con­tin­ues to make new fans world­wide to this day. We join mil­lions of fans around the world in mourn­ing the loss of a truly excep­tional innovator.”

A coal miner’s son, Thomas Albert Wil­son was born on August 1, 1941 in Grant Town, West Vir­ginia and raised in Union­town, Penn­syl­va­nia. “He was born draw­ing,” said a daugh­ter, Ava Wilson-Stewart of Sebas­t­ian, Florida.

A grad­u­ate of the Art Insti­tute of Pitts­burgh, he came to Cleve­land with his artist wife, the for­mer Carol Sob­ble, to seek work.

For more than 35 years, he served as a cre­ative direc­tor at Amer­i­can Greet­ings, where he was respon­si­ble for the devel­op­ment of many break­through card lines.

A ver­sion of Ziggy first appeared in the 1969 car­toon col­lec­tion When You’re Not Around. The book of word­less car­toons fea­tured an anony­mous, Ziggy-like character.

Ziggy

Ziggy

The Ziggy comic panel, syn­di­cated by Uni­ver­sal Uclick (for­merly Uni­ver­sal Press Syn­di­cate), launched in 15 news­pa­pers in June 1971. It now appears in more than 500 daily and Sun­day news­pa­pers, and has been fea­tured in best-selling books, cal­en­dars and greet­ing cards.

Through­out his career, Wil­son demon­strated a remark­able abil­ity to antic­i­pate future trends in the mar­ket­place. A vet­eran of the licens­ing busi­ness, Wil­son headed up the cre­ative team that devel­oped such char­ac­ter licens­ing block­busters as Straw­berry Short­cake and Care Bears.

In 1987, Wil­son passed the Ziggy torch to his son, Tom Wil­son Jr., after the younger Wil­son had served as an assis­tant on the strip for many years.

He lived in Rocky River, Brook Park and Lake­wood, Ohio over the years, with sec­ondary homes in Hol­ly­wood and New York.
Wil­son was a tal­ented painter, with works appear­ing in exhi­bi­tions through­out the United States, includ­ing the Cleve­land Museum of Art and the Soci­ety of Illus­tra­tions annual show in New York.

Ziggy often stum­bled but never stopped, Wil­son once told the Cleve­land Plain Dealer: “He is never really done in by any­thing that hap­pens. He forges on.”

Tom Wil­son is sur­vived by his wife, the for­mer Carol Sob­ble; chil­dren Thomas M. Wil­son, of Love­land, Ohio, Ava Wilson-Stewart, of Sebas­t­ian, Florida, and Julianne Webb of Lan­den, Ohio; and five grandchildren.

Arrange­ments were made by Weil Funeral Home in Cincinnati.

Con­tri­bu­tions made be made to Leukemia and Lym­phoma Soci­ety, Donor Ser­vices, P.O. Box 4072, Pitts­field, MA 01202, lls.org.

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