Tuesday, February 17, 2015

From the Archives: 'Ziggy' Artist Draws Fight Against Cancer

(Originally published October 12, 2009, on Tonic.com)

There are two ways to look at the comic-strip character Ziggy: either as a perpetual loser, or as someone who maintains a positive attitude no matter what life throws his way.

Cartoonist Tom Wilson, Jr., definitely embodies the second viewpoint. Even in the face of terrible tragedy, he is working hard to create positive change in the world.

Wilson's wife, Susan, died nine years ago from breast cancer at the young age of 44. Earlier this year, Wilson recounted the experience in the book Zig-Zagging: Loving Madly, Losing Badly…How Ziggy Saved My Life, a memoir about dealing with his wife's untimely death, her strength and courage in the face of her own cancer, and how the comic strip character created by his father helped to keep him going.

Now, a new chapter has been added: Wilson has announced an ambitious plan to raise up to $1 million to fight cancer through sales of his book. It's a legacy to his wife's memory, and to his attitude toward life.

"You go through the worst possible things in your life and you carry them around with you," says Wilson. "But you have to ask, how can you make something good of this? The book was like that for me. It's a chance to make something positive out of a negative."

Even though he has published close to 75 books of 'Ziggy' cartoons, Wilson didn't set out to create a book about his grief. He started writing a journal in the months after his wife's passing, and "it turned into a book on its own," says Wilson.

"It came from an unexpected place. It was a long process, and the book was the end result. It was cathartic to me, just going through the process."

Shortly after Zig-Zagging's publication, Wilson got a surprise call from Doug Ulman, president of Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG foundation.

"He had read the book and invited me to come down to Austin to talk to their leadership at their offices. Of course, I had to do that, because I've always admired them and what they do."

Wilson traveled to the LIVESTRONG offices this fall, and then threw out an idea: "I've got this book. Is there anything I can do? I want to do more."

The result: Wilson pledged to donate 100% of his Zig-Zagging royalties between November 18, 2009 -- the anniversary of Susan's death -- through January 19, 2010 -- her birthday. "My fondest wish is that we'll raise $1 million for LIVESTRONG," says Wilson.

"One of the things I love about how this has taken place is because I didn't plan it at all," says Wilson. "It's like cartooning: You do your work and send it out there, and you don't know whose life has been touched. It's part of the mystique. You don't know where it will land."

Wilson says he is glad that Zig-Zagging has already touch a number of people's lives. "Readers have sent letters telling me they found something in the book they weren't able to get anywhere else. I'm glad it turned out to be a friend to a lot of people."

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