Born in Anderson, Indiana, Tom K. Ryan attended both Notre Dame University and the University of Cincinatti. He started his career as a commercial artist, designing football helmets, but also drawing editorial and sports cartoons for local newspapers. Out of boredom, he started reading Western Literature. This resulted in the creation of an innovative newspaper strip called 'Tumbleweeds', which combined the Old West with a hip, modern approach.
Originally syndicated by Lew Little Syndicate, it first appeared in 1965, and was then distributed to over 300 newspapers by King Features until Ryan's retirement from the strip in December 2007. The strip has been collected in many paperbacks, and has even been made into a musical, that was performed in Las Vegas in 1983. 'Thumbleweeds' has inspired many comic artists, including Jim Davis, creator of 'Garfield', who assisted Ryan from 1969 until 1978.