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.
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.