Tumbleweeds and his horse, Blossom. Artist: Tom K. Ryan.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Lew Little Syndicate
First Appeared: 1965
Creator: Tom K. Ryan
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It has a good guy in a white hat. It has a bad guy in a black hat. It has Cavalry, Indians, faithful horses, lonely pioneer women, and …

continued below

… all the other trappings of a good ol' rip-snortin' western. The only thing it lacks is any reason for the reader to take any of this stuff seriously.

While working as a freelance commercial artist, cartoonist Tom K. Ryan developed an interest in the works of Zane Grey and other writers about the "classic" period of the American Southwest. In 1965, he created Tumbleweeds, in which he lovingly skewers the conventions and cliches of that genre as only a true aficionado can.

The title character is a typical cowpoke, not too happy with his life in Grimy Gulch but not ambitious enough to do anything about it. His rather laconic steed's name is Blossom. 'Weeds is regularly beset by Hildegard Hamhocker, a love-starved female who will do anything to get a ring from him — or through his nose; she isn't particular. The bad guy is Snake Eye, who rustles cattle, cheats at poker, and does any number of other dastardly deeds. Then there's Judge Frump, who calls an offer of $10 "attempted bribery" but will usually accept $20. The Poohawk Indians provide as effective a menace as the strip needs, especially during Sneaky Week, and are utterly undeterred by the efforts of the local U.S. Cavalry outpost. The cast is rounded out by the usual bit players — barkeeps, grizzled prospectors, the town undertaker, etc.

Aside from tickling readers' funnybones on newspaper pages, Tumbleweeds has been reprinted in a couple of dozen paperback collections, appeared in animated form, served as the basis for a Las Vegas stage show and an MGM theme park attraction, and even, in 1983, been turned into a musical comedy (albeit, not one that was ever performed within miles of Broadway — in fact, it's designed mainly for school productions, and available from the same company that adapted Luann for the same purpose). Another claim to fame is that Ryan's assistant from 1969-78, Jim Davis, went on to create Garfield.

After more than 40 years on the newspaper page, most recently distributed by King Features Syndicate (which also distributed Redeye, which did the same thing, but from the Indians' point of view), Ryan retired. During December of 2007, he announced the end of one of the longest-running westerns in comics history. It was gone by the end of the year.


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Text ©2000-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tom K. Ryan.