Ziggy creator Tom Wilson Sr. dies at age 80

CLEVELAND (AP) — Tom Wilson Sr., the creator of the hard-luck comic strip character Ziggy, has died, his family said Monday. He was 80.

Tom Wilson Jr., who took over the comic in 1987, said his father died Friday of pneumonia at a Cincinnati hospital. The elder Wilson had moved from Cleveland to a Cincinnati nursing home about eight years ago to be near his family, his son said.

Wilson was an artist at American Greetings card company in Cleveland for more than 35 years and first published Ziggy in a 1969 cartoon collection, “When You’re Not Around.”

Ziggy was launched in 15 newspapers in 1971 and now appears in more than 500 daily and Sunday newspapers. It also has appeared in books, calendars and greeting cards.

Tom Wilson Jr. said the name Ziggy derived from his father’s school experience of being the last alphabetically. When a new classmate arrived with a last name beginning with “Z,” the idea took root with the friendly sounding “y” ending, such as Billy or Tommy.

“Ziggy is a last-in-line character,” the son said in a phone interview. “The last picked for everything and kind of a lovable kind of loser character.”

“I had a ‘y’ at the end and ‘z’ at the beginning, so the word Ziggy just fell into place. That became his name,” was the way Tom Wilson Sr. described it, according to his son.

Tom Wilson Jr. said his father was always optimistic.

“He was a passionate and charismatic man, it came out in everything he did,” he said. “He loved ideas and he loved creating — that was really what drove him. He wasn’t a loser in that sense because his passion just came out and inspired everyone around him.”

Wilson was “a visionary cartoonist,” said John McMeel, chairman and president of Andrews McMeel Universal, which owns Universal Uclick, formerly known as Universal Press Syndicate.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Ziggy also starred in the ABC Christmas special, “Ziggy’s Gift,” which won a 1983 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program and was re-released on DVD in 2005.

Universal Uclick, which syndicated the Ziggy column, said Wilson also was head of a creative team that developed the Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears character licensing.

“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.

Besides his son, Wilson is survived by his wife, Carol, and daughters Ava and Julie.

Funeral services will be private.

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Associated Press writer JoAnne Viviano in Columbus contributed to this report.

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