Ziggy’s comic returns home to the Cincinnati pages of The Enquirer

Goodbye Mutts, hello Ziggy: Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell is taking a sabbatical to work on a special project. Ziggy will step in and return to the Cincinnati comic book pages beginning Monday, July 5. Check it out daily on The Enquirer’s Fun page.

Ziggy, the seemingly ageless main character of the newspaper comic strip, is a Cincinnatian — or at least the guy who draws him and puts words in his mouth.

And this year, this band celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Tom Wilson II has been working on “Ziggy” for more than 30 of those 50 years, first helping his namesake father, who created the tape, later taking over the entire operation.

And Wilson, 64, says he expects the daily comic to continue for many more years.

He recently talked about the birthday on the phone from his suburban home.

Question: Your father’s 2011 obituaries indicate that he died in Cincinnati. What is your story related to Cincinnati?

Answer: Dad lived in Cleveland. That’s where I grew up. I’ve lived in Cincinnati since the early 90’s I guess. I shuttled between the Cleveland office when I started years ago and worked there and then back. Dad’s a guy from Cleveland, and I’m pretty much just a guy from Ohio. He came here when he got too sick, and he was at Seasons for a while, and that’s where he died a few years ago.

Q: Where do you live?

A: I am in the South Lebanon region.

Q: And you attended the University of Miami?

A right. Miami University and Boston University. I started in Miami and moved to Boston and got a bachelor of arts there, then I went to New York and worked there for a while, then I came back to the Ohio. I got married and eventually moved to Clifton.

Q: Was Miami not for you?

A: No, I loved Miami. It’s such a cool place. In fact, I entered to study graphic design and I changed. I decided I liked fine art and painting better, and Boston was great for that. Graphics was always part of it, but I like painting and drawing a lot more.

Q: Was “Ziggy” a success from the start?

A: I think it started in 18 newspapers. It’s not a bad start, but it’s not great either. So for a few years, “Ziggy” struggled to get a foothold. Gradually, he got more and more attention and became more popular.

Q: In its heyday, how many newspapers carried “Ziggy?”

A: In the 800s, I think. It’s hard to say internationally. In Cincinnati, we had been in the Post for a long time. They were good big newspapers in the big cities, and it was about the 80s.

Q: Is Ziggy a fan of the Browns or the Bengals?

A: I’m not going to answer that one, because like me, Dad was never into sports. He would take me to a game in Cleveland. We saw the Browns and watched the Indians games. When I’m in Cincinnati, I’m a Cincinnati fan. My son is passionate about sports. He lives here too. He’s a huge Cincinnati fan.

Q: Was there a smooth transition between you and your dad doing “Ziggy?”

A: It was fluid, because we worked together a lot, on the phone, by fax, in person, exchanging ideas. It was years in the making. I tried to calculate this. I started doing all the drawing in 1984 or 1985, so I’ve been doing it for 37 years or something.

Q: Who was the best “Ziggy” cartoonist between you two?

A: We have our own styles. I try to stay true to his way of writing and his way of drawing. There will naturally be my own influences in there, but “Ziggy” is his creation, and I’m basically following his example and trying to keep the character true to how he was originally conceived. Dad was just a wonderful artist and painter.

Q: Do you draw and write all the content?

A: One hundred percent, working from my home here.

Q: How many “Ziggy” cartoons have been released over the years?

A: You are probably better at math than me. We’re seven days a week, so multiply 365 by 50, and you get the number. (Editor’s note: That equals 18,250.) It’s kind of mind-boggling when I think about it.

Q: What is the secret of its popularity?

A: I think it’s because he’s an ordinary man. Everyone has had some Ziggy experience. They used to call him America’s Lovable Loser when he first came out because things always happened to him, and people could say, “oh yeah, I can relate to that. ” But now I think he’s acquired a certain element as an inspirational character, from the perspective of 50 years of that and he continues to come back every day to be with his fans in the newspaper. No matter what life throws at him, he gets up and starts again.

Q: Are you still working from home, or could people spot you in Lebanon, in a cafe or on a park bench, maybe, working on “Ziggy?”

A: No, I’m a bit of a homebody. I work outside the home. I like the setup at the kitchen table here. I take out all my things and I draw.

Q: What does the 50th anniversary mean to you?

A: He slipped. It means a lot to me from my dad’s perspective. I don’t know when dad started if he paid much attention to how long it would last. I know he had a lot of faith in the character to have some longevity because he was very sure of his ideas and his thoughts. I had a dream some time ago. Dad appeared in my dream. It was shortly after his death. He just said the word “jubilee” to me in the dream and just disappeared. And I thought, it’s still a long way off. Now, I think maybe it’s pretty important to him that his character continues for as long as he can. He seems to have the power to stay. He’s been through pretty much everything we’ve been through in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and the last horrible things we’ve had to deal with in the last two years. It means a lot from a character perspective especially, I have to say. I want to see Ziggy continue as long as he can.

Goodbye Mutts, hello Ziggy

Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell is taking a sabbatical to work on a special project. Ziggy will step in and return to the Cincinnati comic pages starting today. Check it out daily on The Enquirer’s Fun page.