Tumbleweeds was a popular long-run comic strip which offered a skewed perspective on life in the Old West. Writer-artist Tom K. Ryan (1926 - ) (who signed the strip "T.K. Ryan") was very familiar with conventions of the Western genre he satirized. Launched September 1965, the strip was distributed for decades initially by the Register and Tribune Syndicate and later by the King Features Syndicate after its acquisition.
After a 42-year run, Ryan retired and brought Tumbleweeds to a conclusion on December 30, 2007.
Characters and story
Tumbleweeds is set in and around the town of Grimy Gulch, whose population was stated at 49 (later it was marked out and added to 50), in an unspecified Western territory. Other locations include the nearby village of the Poohawk tribe of Native Americans, and the US Army outpost Fort Ridiculous, manned by the 6 7/8 Cavalry.
- Tumbleweeds, the main character, is a laconic cowpoke who would rather be anywhere else, but has no real ambition to do anything. Like his namesake, he is content to tumble wherever human foibles may carry him. (His worst nightmare is to be caught by, and married to, Hildegard Hamhocker.)
- Blossom, Tumbleweed's first horse; usually found asleep.
- Epic, Tumbleweed's toothless, alcoholic, plug-chewing, sway-backed horse; once a U.S. cavalry horse but drummed out of the service for spitting tobacco juice on a superior.
- Ace, a professional gambler, Tumbleweeds's best pal and a real smooth operator.
- Judge Horatio Curmudgeon Frump is the magistrate/mayor of Grimy Gulch. A pompous windbag who became a Justice of the Peace from a Diploma mill, his ambition is to become a member of the US Supreme Court. He once bought himself an 18th-century English judge's wig. Another time when he accidentally broke his lost glasses, he suspended a life sentence on the culprit--himself. He claims that he cannot be bought; however, he is susceptible to "rental fees."
- The Sheriff, a man with a ridiculous handlebar Moustache, is the short-handed "long arm of the law."
- Deputy Knuckles is the reason the Sheriff is so short-handed. He does not carry a gun; he has a yo yo instead.
- Quiet Burp is a diminutive lawman from Texas—only slightly bigger than "Screaming Flea." (His name, a play on Wyatt Earp, is a character name also used in the comic strip Rick O'Shay.)
- Hildegard Hamhocker, the town's only known woman, is drawn as a stereotypical homely old maid, trying to snag Tumbleweeds as a husband. She once tried to persuade Knuckles that they could live in "connubial bliss," and he responds that he likes it just fine living in Grimy Gulch.
- Echo is an orphan girl. Cute and precocious, she knows how to use those qualities when necessary. She is Hildegard's adopted niece.
- Pajamas, the world's laziest dog, is Echo's pet.
- Claude Clay is Grimy Gulch's undertaker, whose motto is, "You plug 'em, I plant 'em."
- Wart Wimble is a grave-digger who works for Clay; his motto is, "With Wart at the spade, you've got it made; rest assured, you're well interred."
- Blackie is Grimy Gulch's saloon keeper.
- Soppy Sopwell is the town drunk.
- Grover Galley is the crack-brained editor (he got struck with a printing press's composing stick, which "scattered his type") of the Desert Denouncer newspaper.
- Percy is a sardonic newsboy and copyboy for the Denouncer.
- Dusty Dewlap is a local cattle rancher. He only hires Tumbleweeds when he is desperate.
- Snake-Eye McFoul ia an outlaw.
- Snookie is Snake-Eye's little brother. Though only 12, he appears, due to an overactive pituitary gland, as though he is in his thirties, including an unshaven "eight-o'clock shadow," a mustache, and a cigarette. He dresses in "Little Lord Fauntleroy" type outfits and attended John Wesley Hardin Elementary School, where he majored in Hanging Around.
- Ham and Beans are mule skinners. Beans, who is short and loud, screams at the big, gentle Ham for pampering the mules to the point of carrying them around like infants.
- Slats is a cowboy who is always leaning on the fence.
- Hogarth Hemp is the town hangman, ropes typically being made of his surname.
- Clodwell Gunkley, who apparently wandered into the wrong strip, according to whoever he encounters, is a semi-effeminate bulk of a man whose speech patterns are somewhat similar to those of Ed Wynn, and he has a passion for marshmallows. Ace was pleased to learn that Gunkley had wandered into the strip, because "If there's a way in, there's a way out!"
The 6 7/8 Cavalry
- Colonel G. Armageddon Fluster, commander of the 6 7/8 Cavalry and Fort Ridiculous, is a parody of George Armstrong Custer. The Poohawk Chief refers to him as "Goldilocks" and "Poopsie."
- The 6 7/8 Cavalry itself consists of a major and troopers under Fluster's command.
- The General is Fluster's superior.
- "Mole Eye," a scout from Fort Ridiculous, is almost always shown coming in from the desert with a couple of arrows sticking out of his back; he wears a buckskin with the word "Scout" on his hat.
- The Poohawk Chief is always lamenting his tribe's pathetic standing.
- Little Pigeon is the Poohawk Chief's daughter, and "a flower among the weeds."
- Limpid Lizard is a klutzy Poohawk (Indiandom's answer to Daffy Duck) and a suitor to Little Pigeon. He butchers the English language.
- Green Gills is a Poohawk injun and was an early suitor to Little Pigeon.
- Lotsa Luck is a very rich Poohawk, depicted for years as mute and communicating by writing notes. He soon started using a very posh voice when he had vocal cords cloned from William F. Buckley Jr. surgically inplanted. He often did revert to the use of notes during the strip's run. He was also a suitor for Little Pigeon.
- Drudgeworth is a chauffeur employed by "Lotsa Luck" to "drive" his horse.
- The Poohawk medicine man.
- Screaming Flea is the smallest Poohawk, formally speaking in ornate word balloons. He is very sensitive about the size of his nose, which is enormous—and of which the Chief cannot resist making fun and/or mocking.
- Bucolic Buffalo is the biggest and strongest of Poohawks, but he is not very smart; a running joke is that anyone who makes him mad is sent "south" (into the ground) by Bucolic Buffalo, often Lotsa Luck or the Poohawk Chief. He once found a pair of discarded boxing gloves out on the desert–and ate them. He is another suitor for Little Pigeon.
- Hulking Hawk may not be quite as large as Bucolic Buffalo, but he is fearsome nonetheless–and a more suitable suitor to Little Pigeon than Limpid Lizard, according to the Poohawk Chief.
- Purple Polecat operates the trading post.
Appearances in other media
Tumbleweeds was to be one of the strips animated in Filmation's 1978 series The Fabulous Funnies (along with Broom-Hilda, Nancy, Alley Oop and others) and was included in the series' premiere episode with Alan Oppenheimer doing the voice of the title character. However, after the first episode aired, it was learned that Filmation lacked the rights to use the property, and the segment was removed from future episodes.
Tumbleweeds Gulch became an MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park attraction, and the strip also was the basis for a Las Vegas stage show. In 1983, Tumbleweeds was adapted into a musical comedy for high school productions by the same company that adapted the strip Luann.
Book collections included Presenting the Best of Tumbleweeds: An, Uh, Unusual Saga of the Old West (Cool Hand Communications, 1994), plus numerous mass-market paperbacks published by Fawcett.
- Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, California: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1