The Washington Post‘s Comic Riffs blog is reporting the passing of Richard Thompson, illustrator and cartoonist, from complications of Parkinson’s Disease.
I’ve been a fan of his work since I saw his caricature of Franz Kafka trying to figure out the key concept of “The Metamorphosis” to illustrate a column in the March 5, 1993, edition of the Post.
The linework looks easy but belies a keen understanding of the human figure, with an economy that focuses the eye on the important details. I saved a clipping of that illustration, and thereafter, I began to see his work popping up everywhere, from the New Yorker to National Geographic and beyond. When he began “Richard’s Poor Almanac” for the Post and then the syndicated “Cul de Sac,” well, it was like a holiday every time I opened the paper.
Given that copies on the second hand market go for $75 and up, the fact that these new, signed copies will run you a twenty, shipped, with change back means you should run, (or type a very fast e-mail) to the store.
I’m a bit late with this news, but news this good never gets old: Richard Thompson announced on his site that this November brings with it the publication of The Complete Cul de Sac, collecting all of the “Cul de Sac” strips, including from pre-syndication in the Washington Post and, per a comment he made, tantalizing “other stuff.”
While I’m saddened that “Cul de Sac” is at a point where it can be considered complete, I trust that this collection will do justice to the best comic strip of the past decade (and more). It’s conveniently coming out for the holidays, so buy bigger stockings if you must, but stuff this book in there for all your friends and family.
“Richard’s Poor Almanac”, a series of observational sketch comics that ran weekly in the Washington Post for years, provides that same uniquely fussy drawing style we see in “Cul de Sac”, with the same wit and insight that never lets you look at the comic’s subject quite the same way again. Given that the collected print version of these comics routinely runs over $150 on the used market, to have access to them (albeit only one a week on Mondays!) is a great gift.
The presentation on GoComics leaves a little to be desired—the comics themselves are vertically oriented and far larger than the usual three-panel strip, so they appear in a reduced version on the screen. A simple click enlarges them, but these beauties deserve a custom presentation. Still, to have them available again is enough (although a reprint of the collected comics wouldn’t be amiss . . .)
Update: Looks like GoComics has made some changes, with a more frequent release cycle and, more importantly, a properly scaled presentation. Go and enjoy!
The expressive range of Thompson’s lettering conveys much of the emotional impact of the strip while still remaining secondary to the words themselves, integral to the content though not overwhelming it. Without the contrasting lettering in this particular strip—normal to start, then thick and shouty, then the light, all-caps conclusion underlined with, yes, plaintive squiggles—the joke falls not flat but, rather, unremarkable. But with that lettering, it all comes together as a whole. Even the slightly oversized question mark plays a role, helping the reader see Alice as a small, quite anxious, probably disturbed pangolin. That third panel is utterly plaintive and quite brilliant.
Emphasizing the right words is a tricky business. Like too many exclamation points, too much emphasis loses impact and everything turns into a shouting match. Choosing the right form of emphasis is tricky, too, as there are many of them and each marks a different change of tone. You’ve got the simple underline, the double and multiple underline, the wiggly underling, the boldface, the drop shadow block caps, and on and on. (188)
Ever since I read that note in the Treasury—and it’s full of insight on the strip and Thompson’s creative process—I’ve paid particular attention to his lettering and that of other cartoonists as well. Other strips use similar variable lettering techniques, but in combination with Thompson’s unique line style and frequent cross-hatching, the overall effect of the lettering in “Cul de Sac” makes the strip a delight to read again and again.
It will be missed. So hurry up and get the next Treasury out!
Richard Thompson, widely acclaimed among his peers as the best all-around comic-strip creator working today, won’t still be wearing that crown in six weeks. That’s because Thompson has decided to stop working as a comic-strip creator: He will end his beloved strip “Cul de Sac” on Sept. 23.
My feelings run towards the selfish here, because I have found “Cul de Sac” to be a refreshing, humble, and brilliant strip, awash with visual and linguistic delights. But I can only thank Richard Thompson and wish him the best, and I hope to see his work appearing here and there, even if not in a daily strip.