Ned Riddle: Dallas Artist and Creator of “Mr. Tweedy”
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
A few years ago, I came across this cartoon in Joe E. Cooper’s chili bible, With or Without Beans, and I was delighted to see that the cartoonist was Ned Riddle, who, though having begun his career as a staff artist for the Dallas Morning News, is known primarily for his syndicated comic panel “Mr. Tweedy” which I loved as a kid.
A couple of interesting tidbits about Mr. Riddle, a Dallas resident until his death in 2003: during WWII, he served on a submarine with the unspeakably perfect name, the USS Piranha, and — unlikely as it seems — while studying art at Washington University in St. Louis, he apparently studied under the great Expressionist artist Max Beckmann.
I loved “Mr. Tweedy” — the look of it, the simple one-panel jokes, and the fact that (as I recall) the somewhat optimistic-though-beleaguered Mr. Tweedy rarely actually spoke. Sort of Mr. Bean-like. I also knew that the cartoonist was from Dallas, and I was always trying to spot any sort of hidden homage to the city (as far as I know that never happened, but it SHOULD have!).
Here are a couple of panels from the Mr. Tweedy book I read over and over growing up.
And some photos of Ned Riddle at his drawing board over the years.
DMN, Dec. 15, 1962
Below, from the DMN, an article on Riddle’s “Tweedy” retirement, and Riddle’s obituary.
GOODBYE MR. TWEEDY – HELLO NED RIDDLE – Comic strip artist sketches out a new direction for his career
The Dallas Morning News, October 31, 1988
Author: CYNTHIA SANZ
There are certain similarities between cartoonist Ned Riddle and his creation, Mr. Tweedy. They both drink diet colas and worry about getting a little thick around the middle. They both suffer from periodic ulcer problems that make them wary of Mexican restaurants. They both would rather chuckle over life’s little ironies than worry about them.
But Ned Riddle is more than Tweedy. He’s even more than Tweedy’s internationally syndicated cartoonist. Although best known for his drawings of the good-natured but ill-fated Tweedy, Riddle is also a serious painter and sculptor.
And after 34 years of sharing the spotlight with his little alter ego, Riddle has decided to focus his attention on those other pursuits. Earlier this month, Riddle drove Tweedy off into the sunset.
The abrupt goodbye came as a blow to many of Mr. Tweedy’s fans. Several readers of the comic panel (which ran in The Dallas Morning News from 1954 until Oct. 15) have tracked down Riddle at his North Dallas home to find out what happened to Tweedy, and to Riddle himself.
Riddle says he hopes they’ll understand that it was just time for a change.
“I’ve been wanting to devote more time to my painting and sculpture,” says Riddle, 66. “I wanted to zero in on this while I’m still kicking pretty good and really see what I can do.”
That wasn’t going to be possible while he was drawing six Mr. Tweedy cartoon panels a week, 52 weeks a year. And while the choice to leave Tweedy behind wasn’t an easy one, Riddle says it was something he simply felt he had to do.
“I’m going to miss Tweedy,” Riddle admits. “It was just time to move on.” The decision to concentrate on his art seems a natural for Riddle, who has been drawing since his childhood days in Valley Mills, Texas. In first grade, the teacher had him draw Halloween decorations for the other children to cut out and color. In high school and college, he drew cartoons for the student newspapers. Even while serving two years aboard a submarine in the Pacific during World War II, Riddle took time to entertain his shipmates with cartoons that poked fun at Navy brass. He tacked the cartoons onto the submarine’s bulletin board.
“I became sort of the enlisted man’s hero,” he remembers.
After the war, Riddle returned to Dallas where he studied art at Southern Methodist University, and completed his degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
He came back to Dallas after graduation, accepting a job in the promotions art department of The News, where he drew advertising art and an occasional cartoon for the employee magazine.
It wasn’t long before those cartoons caught the attention of the paper’s management. They invited Riddle to draw for the editorial page and encouraged him to offer his work to the various cartoon syndicates.
But getting a cartoon syndicated, even in the 1950s, was no easy feat. The problem the syndicates had with his work, Riddle remembers, was that it was too general. “Eskimos one day, cannibals the next,” is how they described it. “They said I needed to settle down on a specific character.”
Noting that Riddle was a Texan, the syndicates’ first instinct was for him to do a strip about a cowboy.
“I told them I was from Texas all right, but that I didn’t know many cowboys,” Riddle remembers.
Then what about a high-rolling Texas oilman, they suggested.
Wrong again. “There isn’t an oil well for 200 miles of Valley Mills,” Riddle said.
Without realizing it, however, Riddle already had locked onto a favorite character. In many of his cartoons, he had been drawing an average happy-go-lucky guy who worked hard in a typical office, had typically disastrous blind dates, and lived in a typical American city. A guy most folks could identify with. He just had never given him a name.
So Riddle and a syndicate executive began bouncing names off each other. Eventually, Riddle offered the name of the head of the Valley Mills school board — Mr. Tweedy — although he wasn’t sure it fit the character he’d been drawing.
“I said, “Nah, that’s a guy with a pipe and a tweed coat. That’s not him,'” Riddle remembers. But the syndicate executive liked it.
“The more I thought about it, the more the name began to grow on me,” Riddle says. “I told him he’d just bought a panel named Mr. Tweedy.”
From its start in 15 newspapers in 1954, Mr. Tweedy went on to be seen in some 180 newspapers in the United States, Canada, Australia and South America.
“Tweedy was a gentle, traditional, reliable source of comedy,” says David Seidman, who edited the panel for six years for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
Unlike some other strips, Seidman says, “there was hardly ever a real, solid clunker. Sometimes there may not have been blazing, screaming, aurora borealis inspiration to it, but it was always at least pretty good.”
And while Tweedy never seems to age much in the panel, he has changed considerably since his first days of publication.
“His life became much less catastrophic,” Riddle says, in large part because of reader concern that Riddle was putting him through too many disastrous situations.
Readers also played a part in plotting Mr. Tweedy’s love life. In 1958, Riddle decided to give Tweedy a “plump but pretty” girlfriend named Bernice. The result was a torrent of mail from readers named Bernice who were having to put up with wisecracks from friends and relatives. One letter in particular, from a Chicago Bernice who said she looked remarkably like Tweedy’s girlfriend and was about to lose her boyfriend because of constant ribbing about Tweedy, convinced Riddle that Tweedy was better off playing the field. (One major difference between Riddle and Tweedy: the artist has been married to wife Dana for 34 years and has three grown children.)
Throughout the years, one thing that never has changed about Tweedy, however, is his optimism.
“A lot of people say he’s a loser but I don’t really see him that way,” Riddle says. “He takes his knocks, but he bounces right back up. I like to think of him as an optimist. An optimist with a sense of humor.”
That’s how Riddle likes to think of himself, too, especially when he thinks about embarking on a new career at the age of 66. After all, he and Tweedy have a lot in common.
The final panel….
NED RIDDLE – Artist’s syndicated comic strip ‘Mr. Tweedy’ ran for 34 years
The Dallas Morning News, October 16, 2003
Author: JOE SIMNACHER
For 34 years, Ned Riddle , a former Dallas Morning News artist, drew the syndicated cartoon character he created, Mr. Tweedy, a little man onto whom adversity seemed to fall daily with a chuckle.
Mr. Riddle, 81, died Monday at Walnut Place nursing home in Dallas after being hospitalized for a series of strokes.
A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, 9800 Preston Road in Dallas.
From 1954 to 1988, Mr. Tweedy ran in newspapers in the United States, Canada, Australia and South America.
Born in Valley Mills, Texas, Mr. Riddle’s artistic talent was in demand from childhood, said his wife, Dana Riddle of Dallas. Early on, he lettered signs touting sales items for the local grocery store, she said.
He served in the Navy during World War II as a navigator’s assistant aboard the submarine USS Piranha in the Pacific. He drew caricatures of Navy brass for the weekly newsletter to entertain the crew.
Mr. Riddle attended North Texas Agricultural College, now the University of Texas at Arlington, and Southern Methodist University before completing his degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 1948.
Mr. Riddle began working with watercolors in the Navy and did 300 paintings of street people and cityscapes in St. Louis.
“He spent nights in the railroad station practicing his watercolor technique,” she said.
After earning a degree, Mr. Riddle worked at The News for 13 years.
He joined the newspaper intending to work as a commercial artist for three months to earn enough money to continue his education in Mexico City and become a sculptor.
His managers at The News, however, liked his work and suggested he syndicate his cartoons. He traveled to New York, where syndicate executives liked his work but suggested he focus on a single character. He developed Mr. Tweedy, who was named for the head of the Valley Mills school board.
Although Mr. Tweedy was pounded daily by a profusion of hard knocks, Mr. Riddle saw his character in a positive light.
“A lot of people say he’s a loser, but I don’t really see him that way,” Mr. Riddle said 15 years ago.
“He takes his knocks, but he bounces right back up. I like to think of him as an optimist. An optimist with a sense of humor.”
Mr. Tweedy matured with his creator, said Mr. Riddle’s daughter Emily Vassar of Bloomfield, N.J.
“Mr. Tweedy changed when he did,” his daughter said. “He got a receding hairline when dad did and he got a slight paunch when dad did.”
After retiring Mr. Tweedy in 1988, Mr. Riddle continued painting and sculpting in his studios in Dallas and at the family ranch near Carbon, Texas.
Mr. Riddle was commissioned to do many sculptures, including a bust of the late entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash.
“He liked all media,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Riddle is survived by a son, Dan Riddle of New York; another daughter, Kate Osbun of Bloomfield, N.J., and six grandchildren.
“The Texan Visits New York” cartoon appeared in With or Without Beans, An Informal Biography of Chili by Joe E. Cooper (Dallas: William S. Henson, Inc., 1952). Find (pricey) out-of-print copies for sale here.
First two “Mr. Tweedy” panels from Mr. Tweedy by Ned Riddle (NY: Fleet Publishing Corporation, 1960; reprinted in 1977). Find out-of-print copies for sale here. (Look around and compare prices for both books, because those are some pretty hefty prices!)
Later photo of Ned Riddle found on Flickr here.
Articles by Sanz and Simnacher from the Dallas Morning News, as noted.
To read the interview with Riddle by Larry Grove — “From Hubcaps, Coffee Cups Come ‘Mr. Tweedy’ Episodes” (DMN, Dec. 15, 1962) — click here.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.