On March 12th, 2019 my Dad, Tom K Ryan passed away. My siblings and I miss him every day. He was funny, humble, God-loving and smart…an all-round good guy!
His journey began as a child having lived in the Hoosier State of Indiana. As a kid he fell sick. To get through his illness he began to draw. While in high school his Basketball skill afforded him scholarship offers to a few different colleges. He decided to attend the University of Notre Dame. Soon the allure of story-telling through art became his passion. He left Notre Dame and went on study art at the University of Cincinnati.
Having met and married his wife, JoAnne, he found himself faced with the very real prospect of having to support a young family. I recall that he rented a small office space about three blocks from our home in Muncie, IN. In that office he started as a commercial artist taking jobs for various companies in middle town USA. He would walk to/from work. On his way home I would often meet him half way. Regardless of whether he had a great day, with his creative juices flowing freely, or a less then productive one he always made me feel that I was the most important person in the world. He was a really great listener and he always made me laugh.
In 1965 his drawing board talent converged with his love of the old west (he loved old western movies like Rio Bravo, High Noon and Shane) and one of the all-time great comic strips was spawned. Tumbleweeds, the central character, was created as a friendly, quick witted and ever so lovable dreamer. Remind you of anyone? I never asked Dad, but part of me thinks that he created ‘Weeds’ in his own image. The strip peaked with a presence in over 300 newspapers nationwide. He has published over 27 books. Many were published worldwide in a variety of languages. In the early years, before computerization, he drew every strip and authored every gag. In those days Artists traditionally hired a person to fill in the color for their Sunday strips. For a time his assistant was Jim Davis who later went on to be the creator of the famous cartoon strip, Garfield.
After 57 years of marriage, Mom passed away in 2005. Having worked out of the home for 25 years up to that point they were together all the time (like Ham and Beans the mule skinners J). She was feisty and outspoken counteracting his more gentle personality. Dad loved her very much. He really struggled without Mom.
Over the years he created numerous and memorable characters that touched our hearts not to mention our funny bones. Hildegard, Snake-Eye, Judge Frump, The Colonel, Claude Clay, Limpid Lizard and Bucolic Buffalo to name a few. There were many of his strips that really hit home. None more so for me then the day of my wedding. Tumbleweeds (Dad) and Echo (Me) were hanging out on a bluff above Grimy Gulch. Weeds was a little down. Echo tried her best to cheer him up before explaining, “I’ve got more important things to do now. Bye!”
In There were three F’s that were important to Dad. Faith and Family defined him, but his appreciation for his Fans cannot be understated. You will never know how grateful he was for your support. As is often the case with genuinely humble people Dad was never really sure or convinced of his success. Your kind thoughts, words and endorsement of his excellence meant the world to him.
We miss him every day. He was a thoughtful, wonderful and sweet man. His legacy will live on through his iconic cast of characters and the crazy town of Grimy Gulch. As Dad would say…
”Adios, for now…”
Thank you and all the best to you and your families.
Diane Ryan Finn
- Named Grand Marshall for Ball State University homecoming parade
- Numerous accolades from the National Cartoon Society and various Native American Organizations.
- In 1983 Tumbleweeds was featured as part of the opening of the MGM Grand Hotel and Theme Park in Las Vegas
- Featured in animation in the Fantastic Funnies Saturday morning cartoon.
- A stage production of Tumbleweeds was put on by high schools across America.
2007, after 42 years of writing gags and drawing, Tumbleweeds rode off into the sunset. It was a great ride, but Dad felt that the end had come. He continued to sell his books and original strips up until his passing.