A comic strip set in the Wild West, an often bizarre parody of the classic picture of cowboys, Indians, and pioneer citizens. It was created by Tom K. Ryan in 1965 and is as far as I'm aware still going. The facial expressions of the people (and horses) display their characters superbly: sublime idiocy or cruel cunning, for the most part.

Tumbleweeds himself is the dimwitted white-hat cowboy, with a jutting upper lip and a slackjawed gaze, freckled under an unruly shock of black hair. His horse Blossom looks even less reliable than him, as if it's about to keel over at any moment. Tumbleweeds is pursued (vigorously) by Hildegard Hamhocker, a buck-toothed virginal spinster of more than usually plain appearance, who is quite capable of knocking him out of the saddle in a flying leap and covering him with cartoon hearts as he vainly struggles to get out from under her.

In the town of Grimy Gulch law is upheld by the shifty, corrupt Judge Horatio Curmudgeon Frump; and everyday life in the West is represented by the pompous undertaker Claude Clay, whose motto "You Plug 'Em, I Plant 'Em" is prominently displayed on his establishment. He has a heavily whiskered gravedigger assistant Wart Wimble to deflate his schemes. There is of course a saloon, a drunk, and a prospector. Wisdom is occasionally dispensed by Echo, a little orphan girl with ringlets and brimming eyes, and a tired-looking bloodhound Pajamas in tow.

Beyond Grimy Gulch live the Poohawk tribe, one of whom Lotsa Luck is fabulously rich and has a fully kitted chauffeur Drudgeworth standing on his horse, the only one that doesn't look broken-backed, vicious, or senile. Another is the neanderthal thug Bucolic Buffalo. One runs a stand selling pemmican burgers for 15c. But my favourite is the exquisitely idiotic Limpid Lizard. The love of his life is the chief's daughter Little Pigeon, a delicate doe-eyed creature, preternaturally doe-eyed in fact, with her dark pools of eyes occupying much of her head. Their relationship can be summed up in one strip I will remember to my dying days: the scene is a starlit night, clear and beautiful, and they are alone on top of a mesa staring out at the universe.

LITTLE PIGEON: Say something romantic, Limpid Lizard.
LIMPID LIZARD: Something romantic Limpid Lizard.
LIMPID LIZARD (now on his own): Even when she's crazy I love her.

Opposing them (seldom successfully) is a cavalry regiment, the 6 7/8th, based at Fort Ridiculous. It is led by Colonel G. Armageddon Fluster when he can take time from keeping his golden locks immaculate.

Then you need villains. There are two black-hat cowboys, Snake Eye McFoul, a wiry, rangy, moustachioed, stubble-laden card cheat and gunslinger, and his Baby Brudder, whom Snake Eye calls Snookie and treats as if he is six years old. Baby Brudder is in fact twelve, and wears children's clothes, but he is a monstrous, evil-eyed, stubbled and mustachioed adult in appearance. Another of my imperishable favourites:

SNAKE EYE (at breakfast table): Snookums, dear, it ain't polite for a child to smoke whilst at the table.
BABY BRUDDER (in high chair with bib tucked in): Da cig ain't lit.
SNAKE EYE: Dat's me little gentleman.

Jim Davis later of Garfield fame was an assistant on Tumbleweeds in its early days, from 1969 to 1978. The strip was widely disseminated not only by syndication but by books of strips, and alas it's many years since I've seen one of these, as I'm going on fond memories now and the fairly sparse information on the tribute website. There don't seem to be any large collections of strips on the Web. There has apparently been an MGM theme park, a musical comedy, and a Las Vegas stage show based on Tumbleweeds.

Cartoonist Tom Ryan, who signs the strips T.K. Ryan, was born on 6th June 1926.


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