Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Zig-zagging His Way Through Life: A Cartoonist's Memoir

I have to confess, Ziggy is not my favorite cartoon. It's not that I have anything against the little guy; it's just that I prefer cartoons with political content. But I like Ziggy's self-described "older brother," Tom Wilson.

That's not Tom Wilson, the actor who played Biff in Back to the Future.

It's Tom Wilson, cartoonist and memoirist. Son of Tom Wilson, the creator of Ziggy, who took over from his father when the older man's health began to fail.

I've spent the last couple of days reading his book, Zig-zagging: Loving Madly, Losing Badly... How Ziggy Saved My Life. It's a sweet story of Wilson's life thus far, growing up with a successful cartoonist father, going to college where he studied art history and illustration, marrying the girl of his dreams, creating his own syndicated cartoon character, UG, fathering two fine sons...but it turns bittersweet as his father becomes too ill to continue his famous cartoon and he takes over the job, and his beloved wife is stricken with breast cancer and dies at the age of 44.

Yet Wilson relates his story in an uplifting, inspirational manner. He frames the tale within the context of his bimonthly drive from Cleveland, where his creative business is based, to his home in Cincinnati. The reader travels with him on a 250-mile journey as he reflects on the highs and lows of his life.

Wilson questioned why God had allowed these terrible things to happen. I could relate a bit, thinking back to the early 1990's, when my dear father died. He was only 62, but a lifetime of smoking gave him terminal lung cancer. We spent a year watching him waste away. It was ugly and painful and as a result, I was not on good terms with God, although I appreciated the fact that He answered my prayer one wintry morning to stop fooling around and just take my father rather than letting him continue to suffer. Wilson's father also had lung cancer, but he survived. Wilson refers to "the burning end of that eternal cigarette in Dad's gesturing hand," and notes "a hard-won battle with the not-so-Kool consequences of too many Joe Camels (lung cancer) have taken their toll on the man Dad one was." It was only when my son was born later that same year I lost my Dad that I was willing to appreciate God's gifts.

But Wilson lost a mate, not a father. And he struggled with grief and depression I've never had to face. His description of the funeral preparations for his wife made me simultaneously angry and awestruck. Angry at an industry which preys upon the sadness of survivors to sell obscenely priced coffins; awestruck at the depth of his late wife's spirituality and belief. It's a passage well worth reading.

I'm not a very religious person, so one of my favorite passages is more philosophical than biblical. It took place in one of my favorite cities, Paris when Wilson visited the Louvre. He writes:
I saw the great works of Leonardo da Vinci, but I viewed them as a student of life rather than as a life student of art. As a matter of the twin techniques of light and shade, Leonardo intimately understood the defining power of shadow, that great intangible that can only exist withna perfect balance between darkness and light, the known and the unknown. .... And I realized that just as Leonardo believed true illumination emanates from within, we too have the ability to draw from ourselves a delicate balance of self-awareness, one that comes from both our dark and our light sides by engaging the shadow within us.

Ultimately, the book is a lengthy love letter - to Wilson's father, his late wife, and his two sons. I enjoyed it very much. I'll certainly think of it from now on whenever I see a Ziggy cartoon.

This review is the first stop on Tom's virtual book tour, arranged by TLC Book Tours. You can go here for the full schedule and check out what other bloggers have to say about his book. I found out about TLC from my friend Shana's blog when she reviewed The Vigorous Mind.

Tom Wilson also heads an interesting business - Character Matters: Branding with Character - Corporate brand product identity design and strategy consultants. You can learn more about that here.

There's a drawing by publisher Health Communications, Inc. to win a copy of Zig-zagging. Click on this image to enter the giveaway!


LisaMM said...

Holly, thanks so much for a great review and for participating in Tom's tour!

FYI the link to the contest in your post doesn't work when you click on the picture, but will work from here:


Beth F said...

Nice review!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Lisa MM - noted and corrected, thanks! The link in the post will now work.

Beth F - thanks! I look forward to checking out your site.

Indrani said...

Nice review, makes me want to pick up the book now and read. In fact there are such a lot of books in my list waiting to be read and number of places in 'must visit' list... wonder if I will ever get the time to do all that.

It is nice knowing you and your blog. :) Thanks very much for visiting mine.

Lucy said...

Really interesting review, I liked the extract you chose very much.

thanks for visiting, and adding me to your 'followed' list. Bee really does have the nicest friends!

Margot said...

I just got the book today and couldn't put it down. It is an excellent book and your review did it justice.

Bee said...

I started this one thinking "I'm not much of a Ziggy person" and finished it by being totally intrigued by this person and what he had to say. His comment about shadows and illumintion was so thoughtful and so well-expressed.

I'm afraid that I did rather fix on the cancer bit, though. One of my best friends had a mastectomy last week. (Her husband's mother died of breast cancer.) It is a horrible shadow that touches us all . . . and seems to be increasingly common.