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Comic Strip / Tumbleweeds

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Tumbleweeds is a newspaper comic strip that ran from September 1965 to December 30, 2007, first distributed by the Register and Tribune Syndicate, then by King Features Syndicate. It was written and drawn by Tom K. Ryan (1926-2019), who usually signed the work under "T.K.Ryan".

Featuring a large cast, the comic strip was about the title character, Tumbleweeds, a cowboy based in the town of Grimy Gulch somewhere in the old West. Notable characters included (but are not limited to): Hildegarde Hamhocker, the only woman in town who was obsessed with marrying Tumbleweeds; The Sheriff and his inept assistant, Deputy Knuckles; the nearby military unit, the 6 7/8 Cavalry; and a local Indian tribe, the Poohawks. (See the other Wiki entry for more details on the extensive cast.)

The strip itself followed a gag-per-day format, focusing on Tumbleweeds, the townspeople, the 6 7/8 Cavalry, the Poohawks or any combination of those characters; various conventions of The Western were parodied.

Tumbleweeds was notable enough that its characters were featured as an attraction at MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park in Paradise, Nevada. A Tumbleweeds stage play was also written, usually being performed in school theater.

Various books were released over the years reprinting the strips. Fawcett printed a number of titles in the United States from the 1960s through the 1980s. Beaumont released a number of soft-cover magazine size books in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s.

This comic strip contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Hildegarde was this to Tumbleweeds.
  • Adults Dressed as Children: Snookie McFoul was always seen wearing a sailor suit. This trope is subverted, however, in that while he looks like a 30-something, he's actually 12 and just has an overactive pituitary gland.
  • The Alcoholic: Soppy Sopwell, the town drunk
  • The Alleged Steed: The main character's horse Epic chews tobacco and is a textbook example. One trail boss, on being told that Epic was a "quarter horse", responded "You've got change coming".note 
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Happens in one exchange between the Sheriff and Deputy Knuckles.
    Deputy: Chief! Chief! Somebody stealed m'horsie!
    Sheriff: No, no, Deputy: "Someone stole my horse!"
    Deputy: Goll'! A crime wave!
  • Angry Collar Grab: A humorous example; how Screaming Flea reacted to anyone joking about his height or his Gag Nose. He'd grab the offender's collar, lifting himself up off the ground in doing so until eye to eye with the offender.
  • Animated Adaptation:
    • A brief one but Tumbleweeds was animated on the 1980 television special The Fabulous Funnies.
    • Another brief one. Tumbleweeds also appeared in the first episode of the Filmation series Fabulous Funnies (no relation to the above). Watch it on the Internet Archive.
  • Armed Farces: The 6 7/8 Cavalry was prominently featured, interacting frequently with both the Poohawks and Grimy Gulch, all the while showing their hilarious incompetence.
  • Aside Glance: Done by many characters when the punch line happened. If it involved Deputy Knuckles saying or doing something stupid, this might be followed by the Sheriff leaning with his face against the wall.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy:
    • The Poohawks' brawny giant Bucolic Buffalo, and the diminutive Screaming Flea, who didn't like when the Chief joked about his small size or his nose.
    • Muleskinner Ham was the big guy to his shorter partner Beans.
  • Big Little Brother: Snookie McFoul, little brother of Snake Eye McFoul, was much bigger in both height and weight.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Played straight with the Poohawks; they wore buckskin aprons and their hair in braids.
  • Brought to You by the Letter "S": Mole Eye, a scout for the 6 7/8 Cavalry, had the word "scout" printed on his hat.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Little Pigeon was the daughter of the Poohawk Chief.
  • Clueless Deputy: Deputy Knuckles was this to the Sheriff.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Frequent with Limpid Lizard. In one strip, he is wearing a new jacket with long sleeves. Little Pigeon, his unrequited love interest, compliments him tactfully.
    Little Pigeon: You look nice, Limpid Lizard. That new jacket really does something for you.
    Limpid Lizard: [proudly examines sleeves] How troo. No more wipin' m'mouth on m'bare wrists.
  • Compliment Backfire: Tumbleweeds praises the cook Greasy for baking a blueberry pie and calls Greasy one of the best pie bakers in the whole world. Cue Tumbleweeds getting a Pie in the Face.
    Greasy: "One of" don't cut it.
  • Dumb Muscle: Bucolic Buffalo of the Poohawks.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • The sheriff of Grimy Gulch.
    • The Poohawk Medicine Man; he was never named.
  • Gag Nose: Screaming Flea had one. Pointing that out, especially as a joke or insult, was Flea's Berserk Button.
  • Gonk: All the characters are this to an extent, given their short statures and big bulbous noses. Hildegarde though takes the cake with her buck teeth and upturned beak nose.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Horatio Curmudgeon Frump, who hangs a noose from his bonsai tree.
  • I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You!: A 1977 strip has Tumbleweeds encountering a big man named "Bunny". The man uses that name to hide the fact that he's Paul Bunyan...which he realizes he just revealed.
  • Injun Country: A comedic example being a newspaper comic strip, the Poohawk tribe's lands were this.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: The Sheriff would sometimes tear off the star badge from Deputy Knuckles when he did something really stupid. But it was always restored in the next strip.
  • Lethal Chef: Greasy, a Camp Cook Tumbleweeds encounters and has to endure a whole week's story arc of his cooking and antics.
  • Medium Awareness: Happened sometimes such as when one of the characters addressed T.K. Ryan directly and in this strip with the Poohawks.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Wart Wimble, the local gravedigger. He actually lived in a mausoleum and slept in a mausoleum drawer complete with a pillow and blanket.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Col. G. Armageddon Fluster, commander of the 6 7/8 Cavalry, is a caricature of General George Armstrong Custer.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Blackie, the local saloon keeper, is usually seen drying glasses when not serving drinks.
  • Pie in the Face: Happens usually when a character insults another one holding a pie; Tumbleweeds taunts Hildegarde when refusing a pie she baked for him. Guess what she does with it.
  • Professional Gambler: Ace, the best friend of Tumbleweeds
  • Protagonist Title: Named for the main character himself, Tumbleweeds.
  • Reused Character Design: Green Gills, an early suitor of Little Pigeon, looked nearly identical to Limpid Lizard.
  • The Sheriff: The Sheriff of Grimy Gulch was a literal example of this trope; besides being the sheriff, he had no other name.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Two Smurfettes — Hildegarde Hamhocker among the townsfolk of Grimy Gulch, and Little Pigeon among the Poohawks. Aside from Hildegarde's little niece Echo, other female characters are extremely rare (if not non-existent) in the strip.
  • Story Arc: Tumbleweeds sometimes would go out of Grimy Gulch for weeks at a time. He'd often get lost, meet tertiary characters and have characters back in town wondering about him. Eventually Tumbleweeds would return to town weeks later
  • Tonto Talk: Bucolic Buffalo played this straight, adding "um" to his words. The other Poohawks though averted this trope.
  • Tribal Face Paint: Parodied in a few strips where the Poohawk Chief introduced a peel-and-stick version to his tribe.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Snookie McFoul does so in one strip where he tells his brother that an old lady he tried to help could take a punch well.