Monday, September 19, 2011

R.I.P Tom Wilson Sr.

I came across this article today where beloved, and sometimes hated, cartoonist Tom Wilson Sr. of Ziggy fame passed away.

I say sometimes hated because I know more people that hated Ziggy than loved him. However, from my point of view, any guy who can figure out a way to make it in the cartoon world, and make money at it, deserves some sort credit.

Despite how crappy the cartoons are perceived in some circles, the man gets my respect.

Wilson, who was a creative director at American Greetings for more than 30 years, first got his break at the age of 38 (which is good to read since I'm 39) when Ziggy first appeared in 1969 in a cartoon collection called When You're not Around .

Two years later and Ziggy was syndicated and, well, the rest is history.

When I worked as a copywriter for the Dispatch Marketing Deptartment in 2003, our VP of marketing had this brilliant idea to bring a local, award-winning cartoonist to speak at an account function hosted by the Columbus Dispatch.

Two or three months prior to this fantastic idea, we had the opportunity of seeing Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and Mother Goose & Grimm creator Mike Peters speak at a separate Dispatch function.

Peters, a very great speaker and entertainer, took us through a number of his personal political cartoons and added a couple fun quips about each cartoon. He had the entire crowd laughing. I noticed a couple of Dispatch execs (who will not be named at this time) spit up coffee while laughing at Peter's on-stage antics.

So, our VP thought he could capture that lightning in a bottle once again by asking Tom Wilson Sr.'s son, Tom Wilson Jr. to come up and speak. Wilson Jr. took over the reigns of the popular comic strip in 1987 after his father Wilson Sr. couldn't complete the daily demands of writing and drawing Ziggy.

So, we made the phone calls, set up the times and sent out the invitations and three months later, Wilson Jr. was driving up from Cincinnati to give a speech in Columbus.

I first met Wilson at the Dispatch Marketing Building. To be honest, I was expecting an old man with gray hair, thick glasses and a humpback from drawing over his cartoon table for years and years. Of course, I was thinking about the original Tom Wilson Sr. and forgot that we invited Tom Wilson Jr. - the current Ziggy cartoonist over.

Tom Jr. was a tall, thin, fit-looking man. He had all of his hair and, surprisingly, it wasn't even white. We shook hands and proceeded to take a small tour of the facilities.

Then, Wilson Jr., the VP of marketing and myself hopped into a car and headed out to the Wolfe's private lodge where they conduct a number of private Dispatch functions. Think, the Eyes Wide Shut mansion without the hard-core sex and you get an idea of the place.

We talked about cartoons, the ever-declining newspaper industry, his new company Character Matters and - of course - his father.  When we arrived at the Lodge, a number of account reps and other people greeted him warmly at the door. We proceeded to eat a decent lunch and then it was Wilson's time to shine.

As nicely as I can possibly say this, Tom Jr. was no Mike Peters. He stormed out of the gates like Barbaro at the Preakness Stakes...awkward and clumsy. He wheeled out this pretty big overhead projector and drew one picture of Ziggy. That's it just one picture of Ziggy smelling a flower. Then he talked - more like mumbled - a little bit about the philosophy of Ziggy and the cartoon industry.

Put it this way, no one was spitting up any coffee by insane laughter.

However, noticing a lapse in the excitement factor of Wilson Jr. and his non-crazy shenanigans, our fearless VP of Marketing (or was it our fearless Marketing Director?) leaped into action and asked the crowd if there were any questions for Mr. Wilson.

I rose my hand and asked a question about the newspaper industry. Pretty much, it was the same thing we talked about on the car ride over. And he responded eloquently. The crowd perked up and started paying more attention. And some other people started to wave their hands to ask questions. And a couple more. And a couple more.

About 15-20 different people asked Wilson Jr. questions, to which Wilson responded in a lively, congenial and actually pretty funny manner. People actually laughed at his remarks - with the beginning of the presentation a distant speck on the horizon in the rear-view mirror.

At the end of the Q&A, Wilson Jr. received a healthy appluase and proceeded to draw customized Ziggy drawings for everyone willing to stand in line. The event ended on a high note and everyone in attendance was pleasantly surprised.

So, although I didn't meet Tom Wilson Sr. I did get a chance taste of cartoon royalty by meeting his son.

Which, I guess you can either respect me or pity me depending on what you feel about the cartoon.


rjclancy said...

Very well-told story, Brad. Nice writing. But as to what happened with Wilson-fils, what did you expect? I mean, the son of the guy who draws Ziggy?!! No Hunter Thompson, or even Ralph Steadman, to be sure.
"Now, do you want me to write 'Brad' or 'Bradley' on the sketch of Ziggy holding a flower?"

rjclancy said...

Well written story, Brad. Nice language and storytelling.
But what did you expect from the son of the guy who created Ziggy? No Hunter Thompson, to be sure. Or even Ralph Steadman.
"Now, should I write 'Brad' or 'Bradley' on my sketch of Ziggy holding a flower?!!"