The blog of Richard Thompson, caricaturist, creator of "Cul de Sac," and winner of the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 2

So, feeling over-dressed, I opened the door and stepped into the White House Press Room. I think that's what it's called; it's the place you always see on TV with the podium, the blue curtain, and the blue oval White House sign with the Press Secretary talking in front of it, and all the reporters in front of him. And jeez, what a dump. I've heard it's been cleaned up, but it was like stepping onto a bus full of junior high kids on a long trip, with crap (cameras mostly) piled everywhere and people sprawled all over the place. It was at least half an hour before we'd be led over to the OEB for the Pardoning, and this was a novelty event, not exactly newsworthy, so there weren't any particular big names in journalism to be found. I'd guess they were mostly wire guys, network and cable guys, and some foreign press and most of them were cameramen. I sat down and became invisible, and pulled out a little dinky sketchbook I'd brought along.

I don't sketch much in public and although I've got like a dozen little Moleskin sketchbooks they're mostly full of phone numbers and lists of things. But I figured, here I am being a cartoon journalist, like Steve Brodner or Feliks Topolski, and I'd better for godsake draw something. So I drew the guy sitting in front of me, who had his feet propped up and a newspaper open. On the newspaper page was a photo of a green lizard with a bright pink tongue. 

Presently an attractive blonde woman came out from backstage and began answering questions to an invisible audience. It was Dana Perino doing an interview with no one I could see, but she smiled and gestured and repeated certain lines often enough I understood them to be talking points. I think the questions had to do with the Iraq war, because most of the answers did. Nobody corporeal paid any attention to her. She finished, smiled and left.

There were a few big happy guys laden with cameras on my right, leaning on the wall between the arched windows and laughing about something.

I sat there long enough that I drew them twice.

The combination of tedium and tension was slightly nerve-wracking, and the thought of the two turkeys pent up in a pickup truck somewhere on the White House grounds awaiting their fate (what if the Pardon doesn't come through?) made me kind of hungry.

More TK.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Personal Note to All Those I Owe A Book To

Just a note to all of you who've so patiently waited for me to send you back your signed Cul de Sac book. It's currently up on Ebay and it could be yours for the low price of only $14.31!

NO! NO! I'm only kidding! That part was a joke! Ha ha!

Ok, now that we've all laughed, please accept my apologies for being so slow sending them back to you. I'll try to get them all out in the next week, before we leave for Thanksgiving in Ohio. 'Cause when I come back I'll be too stuffed & logy to move much for at least a week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 1

Every year since 1947, The National Turkey Federation, originally with the help of the Poultry and Egg National Board, has presented the White House with a live Thanksgiving turkey, a gift that was always welcomed with a ceremony and photo op. And for years the turkey made his way onto the White House Thanksgiving table. Then for some reason, in 1989, President George H. W. Bush officially pardoned the bird, maybe because his feelings for turkey were the same as his feelings for asparagus. And ever since the Presidential Turkey Pardon has become a little piece of what happens in Your Nation's Capitol, through the terms of Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2. Two birds, a primary and a back-up, would be presented by the Turkey Federation, pardoned by the president in a Rose Garden ceremony, and then trucked out to a happy retirement at Frying Pan Farm Park in Fairfax, Virginia.

And, of course, every year the Washington Post covered it, passing it among the Style section reporters like a not particularly appetizing dish at the Thanksgiving table. There's only so much you can say about an event like this, and most of it is in the preceding paragraph. So in 2005 they asked me to please cover it, attend the ceremony and then draw a cartoon about it. Hello, big time! My first question was, do I have to dress up or what? Gene Weingarten said yes, a suit & tie, which meant I had to get an overcoat as it was supposed to be sunny, cold & windy in the Rose Garden on November 22nd, the date for the ceremony. So I spent the night before at Hecht's buying an overcoat, a pretty nice grey one by Michael Kors, the orange-faced guy on Project Runway, and it was on sale. And I did a little research on the Turkey Pardon, discovering among other things that the president, no matter which one, always made the same jokes in his remarks. The rote nature of the ceremony meant I could start sketching the cartoon in my head and hope that nothing untoward would occur, like Dick Cheney showing up and eating the bird raw before he could be stopped.

The Pardon was set for 1 pm, and I had to go through security, so wearing my new duds I got to the Post around 11 for the letter that'd give me access to the White House. This was handed to me by Robin Groom, Sweetheart of the Style Section, who'd set everything up and told me if I had any problems to ask for Wally (I think it was Wally) and he'd give me a hand. Leaving my drawing supplies at the Post, I walked over to the main gate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was sunny, cold & windy, very windy in fact, big fat gusts that tried to knock you down. But with the determination and perseverance that'd made me a White House correspondent at the tender age of 48, I made it to the heavily fortified gate and bellowed through the little hole in the thick glass that I was here to witness the Pardon. I could dimly see two, large happy-looking guards, police or Marines or some special blend, inside the guardhouse, and they shouted back that I should go down to the Old Executive Building entrance down the block. The OEB, right next to the White House, is one of my favorite buildings in DC, partly because it's got ten billion columns on it, and I'd only been in it once before. I walked down to the plaza in front, where a little security tent had been erected and policemen were checking Turkey Pardon attendee's names on an official list. After some back and forth with the guard sitting at a little table it came out that I was Press, or nearly Press, and I should go back to the main guardhouse. There was one guy who kinda stood out in the security detail, a baby-faced slacker kid with a knit cap who looked like Elijah Wood before he'd started shaving. I asked a hard-nosed cop if the kid was Wally and the cop chewed his mustache and barked that We don't call agents of the Secret Service Wally. I hurried back to the main gate.

This time the happy guards let me into the first gate, into the guardhouse, and I presented my letter, my ID, spun around a few times, walked through some sensors, got wanded, and passed through the second gate onto the White House grounds, where it was somehow quieter and brighter, and everything was in Technicolor instead of sepia, but it was still too damn windy. At some point I'd heard that, because of all this wind, the Rose Garden ceremony would be moved into an auditorium in the OEB. I'm sure they were afraid that the turkey would be alarmed by the gusts and might attack the president, and after that pretzel incident no one wanted him assaulted by another food item. I walked up the driveway from the guardhouse to where a crowd of reporters were gathered by the awninged entrance to the press room, a low wing that reaches from the main White House toward the West Wing. The first thing I noticed about my fellow White House correspondents was that they were dressed like middle school kids hanging out at a mall. Everybody was wearing crummy jeans and sneakers and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

More TK, as we journalists say.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hello, San Diego

I got an invitation to attend the massive San Diego Comic Convention next year as a Special Guest . My thanks to the kind people at SDCC, and to Jackie Estrada, who delivered the invitation. The only small hitch is that all attendees are required to dress as either Spiderman, Princess Leia, Captain Crunch or the Phillies Phanatic.

If you check the link you'll note there are some interesting names on the list so far, like the brilliant French polymath cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, and Pearls Before Swine genius Stephan Pastis, known as possibly the second handsomest syndicated cartoonist in America, if he'd only get his hair to behave. The guest list will eventually grow into the tens of thousands. I understand that there's legislation in the works that makes attendance at the SDCC a duty of all US citizens, like being on a jury, and anyone not an attendee will be designated a special guest, and that honor will rotate through the population until everyone has been heard from. So why wait? Go ahead and get your ticket today, and choose a nice costume.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Uh-oh, it's that time of year again. We've been getting catalogs for most of a month now, some of them tinged with a little panic at the possibility that this holiday shopping season will be a disaster. My dad tells me he recently drove past a Lord & Taylor, a very elegant, high-end department store that used to kind of scare me when I was a kid. He says they had some kids out by the street with big red & yellow signs trumpeting their big sales. If the lacquered giantesses they used to hire as sales help could see that they'd spin in their vampire coffins, I'm sure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Thurber Carnival

For the next two weeks, on Friday and Saturday evenings, the play A Thurber Carnival will be playing at The Kellar Theater in Manassass, Virginia. Featured in the cast is my wife Amy, who not only hails from James Thurber's hometown of Coumbus, Ohio, but is also a whiz at acting, prop building, scenery painting and doing spot-on accents (her Sarah Palin imitation will make your hair just about walk off your head). If I were you I'd be buying my ticket now. Hurry!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Because of an error in bookkeeping/editing/counting/drawing, the Cul de Sacs for 11-12 and 1-13 were transposed. This may be traced back to my own innumerancy and clumsiness in telling a joke; i.e., the punch line comes after the set up. My apologies, unless you didn't notice. In which case it didn't happen, and this whole blog post is another dull figment of your imagination.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama Again

Here's Obama as FDR for the New Yorker. I didn't get a chance to read the article by George Packer that it illustrates, but the image seemed to fit the brief description of it they sent. Now if Obama can just find himself a Fala.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Many of you may have seen this image before, though I don't remember where. With this Almanack I'm retiring the finger puppet concept, at least until I want to draw Rahm Emanuel or Joe Biden.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Never Mind

Please disregard that whiny post of about a month ago. This drawing is in this week's New Yorker. I didn't know about it till Sarah, the nice person at the Cartoon Bank, called today and told me someone was interested in buying the original. I think the suggested retail price ($17.00) might've scared 'em off though.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Balm for Elephants

This ran right after the 2006 elections. With one small edit it works just fine for today. I hope to use it again in the future too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Well dang, I feel good. At about 11 pm my wife popped open a tiny novelty bottle of champagne that's been in the fridge for 4 months and my older daughter finally went up to bed. Now I've gotta draw an Obama for the New Yorker, 'cause it's due tomorrow morning. Some things never change. But other things do.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Here's today's Poor Almanack. Later I'll put up a similar one from four years ago when circumstances were similar. Hope this is helpful if you, like me, haven't yet voted.

And here's the one from four years ago, when passions were a little different if no less intense. At least the Voter Hostess changed her hair.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Three Scary Stories

My Halloween gift to you; three tales of terror for you to tell as you sit around the glow of your monitor. As Count Floyd would say, Pretty scary, huh, kids?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thank you,

AV Club. I apologize for making fun of you kids in high school.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The Sunday strip that ran today is a reworked version of a Post Magazine strip of two years ago. Yet more evidence of laziness, I'd say. What I really wanted was another chance to draw Alice's oblivious self-absorption and that explosion of candy. And Dad's ghoulish face looming out from behind the tree. That's what Halloween is all about.

Saturday's Almanack

Here's yesterdays. I'd done a few of these Treat Giving Guides before, but this is the most up-to-date and useful, at least for the next 5 to 8 days.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Saturday Night at the Writer's Center

Tomorrow night the Writer's Center in Bethesda MD is holding a panel discussion called Political Cartooning in an Election Year at 7:30. On the panel will be King Kevin Kallaugher , Master Matt Wuerker and me . Kal and Matt will present an informative, dazzling multi-media tour of recent politics, a landscape right out of Hieronymous Bosch for sure. I'll mostly defer to them, as they're far more experienced, wiser and slightly older than me. And I don't know how to work a powerpoint thing, so I'll do a chalk talk.
And afterwards we're all heading over to the Tastee Diner, so the waitress can call us Honey and bring us a plate of scrapple and eggs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bark the Vote

This is a cover for the Comic Book section of Nickelodeon Magazine. I'd probably vote for dogs, as they'd more likely have the good of the pack in mind, whereas cats would think only of themselves. Yet somehow the rodents keep getting into office.
There, that's my political thought for the day.

(The patriotic dog in the upper left corner is by the great Sam Henderson.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hello, Sailor!

This is from this very week's New Yorker, drawn for a story about how over the years Gov. Palin may have actually been courting those very inside-the-Beltway elites she so professes to despise. Shocking, shocking. Go read it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Great Divide

This was done about four years ago for the Wash Post Mag. The differences between Maryland and Virginia (the suburban parts around DC anyway) are many yet ineffable; everybody knows them but nobody can quite define them. And the Post Mag had wanted to do an issue exploring them, but it never happened, so I stepped into the breach just to muddy the waters.
I grew up in the outer Maryland suburbs, but I've lived in the inner Virginia suburbs for 16 years. So you think I'd be an expert, but as it is I still think of DC as being to my south, when it's directly east. On the other hand I don't get lost in VA like I used to, but going back to the first hand I don't leave the house often enough to have a chance to get lost.
Those of you familiar with the area will notice that Arlington is actually over about an inch to the right from what's indicated on the map. Everything else is entirely accurate.

My Personal Commintment to Recycling, or, Today's Poor Almanack

Above is today's Poor Almanack. It's a pretty bald-faced steal from one I did eight years ago when there were some undecided voters who needed help. That one is below.

And four years ago, under similar circumstances, I did another one, also meant to help undecided voters. I guess indecisive voters are just an ongoing problem.

Though I can't help but note that the indecisive voter guy who's featured in the two top cartoons sure seems decisive enough in his choice of loud-checked jackets. And I have to admit that the original cartoon of eight years ago has the strongest finish in the yard sign joke. Maybe I'll use that again in four years, when we're due for another spate of Undecided Voters

Friday, October 17, 2008

Metro Games

In these purse-tightening times it behooves us to make our own fun. This is for all you commuters out there killing some time on the Metro each day. Anybody who wants to organize a team, please let me know.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Media Darling, or, More Than You Need to Know

I talked to that nice Zack Smith at Newsarama , and that nice Amanda Hess at the DC City Paper . And they went and published it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Things Work

It's been a while, so here are three drawings that describe How Things Work. I can't vouch for the accuracy of any of these, as I don't have a clue how anything works. It's all string theory or donut theory or little magic homunculi pulling levers to me.

The first is The Government. This was for a Dave Barry article in the Post Magazine.

The next is The Senate, and it was for the New Yorker, back when a group of senators was threatening the "nuclear option". They may be better behaved now.

The last is Everything Else. It was for a NYer piece on conspiracies and how they comfort the idiots who believe in them.

There now, hope it's all clear. I'm working on one on The Economy, so you won't have to worry about that any more.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Unseen New Yorker

This was done two or three weeks ago for a piece in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, a book review, that will likely never run. The book dealt with a long-time head of Goldman Sachs who'd grown up poor in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood and started at the firm as an assistant janitor while in his mid-teens. He'd gone on to be a titan of finance, deal-maker & adviser to presidents, and Gladwell's take was that outsiders can often do things within the system that others can't, and hence do well. One of his counter-intuitive pieces, and it was interesting.

Well, Wall Street looks different now, and the piece may now be too out-dated to run without a lot of revisions, which is too bad. But here's the drawing to go with it, selected for finish from 3 roughs, and tweaked some. At SPX last weekend I talked to two artists who do New Yorker illustrations, Joost Swarte and Istvan Banyai, and we wept over drawings we'd done for them that because of circumstances will never see print. That collection of rejected NYer cartoons "The Rejection Collection" needs a counterpart for illustration work. Maybe call it "The Refuseum".

Two More Days of Poetic Inspiration-

Before your poetic licence expires! Michael Cavna's Comic Riffs blog is offering a signed copy of the Cul de Sac book to the winning Cul de Sac poem! See here for details!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturday's Almanack

In case ya need such a thing. I got one for ya.


This is one I've wanted to draw for a while now, but I couldn't figure out quite how to do it, or if it'd be something that anyone would recognize. A daily strip about daily lives is obviously dealing with the quotidian, the mundane and homely, and the hard part can be teasing out the unexpected, unnoticed and weird from all that day-to-day stuff without making it unrecognizable.
That was unnecessary exposition to lead into a personal admission: I make silly noises when I'm driving, sometimes silly faces, too. And I don't think I'm alone in this (Hi, Paul!). I once heard a radio announcer say that on the way to work every morning he'd sing the Modern Major General patter song from Pirates of Penzance, just to loosen up his face and get his tongue going. He at least had some reason to do it, but me, I just babble, sing, talk in accents, parrot radio commercials, even do bbrrrm bbrrrm car sounds. It doesn't affect my driving, on the contrary, I'm sure it makes me more alert and speeds up my reflexes.
There, I've said it and I'm proud.

Monday, October 6, 2008


To Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Frank, Ngoc, Kevin, Claire, Mark, Mark, Marc, Joost, Mary, Istvan, Brendan, Raina, Dave, Keith, Libby, Dustin, Van, Dave, Jen, Warren, Andrew, Charles, Joe, Matt, Rob, John, Zack, John, Brian, Chris, Trade, TJ, Matt, LInda, Jason, Jason, Joel, Abby, Magnolia, Calla, Paul, Jackie, Nell, David, Greg, Drew, Casey & Matt. Good to see you all at SPX!
If I've left your name off the list, please remind me.

Friday, October 3, 2008


SPX - The Expo
Just a reminder. I'll be there both days hanging around. I'll sell anybody a book who can find me. On Sunday at 5, I'll talk with Mike Rhode, mostly about our kids.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Poetry Slam

Michael Cavna at the Washington Post's Comic Riffs blog thinks I know about poetry . Here's my fragmentary entry-

There once was a rodent named Danders,
Who spoke in a voice like George Sanders,

And that's all I got.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Walk Like Groucho Day

This is a repeat of a post from a year ago. October 2nd is the birthday of Groucho Marx, born Julius Henry Marx in 1890. In celebration, I propose a national Walk Like Groucho Day, to be held on this date annually. Everybody walks like Groucho, or we line 'em up against the wall and Pop goes the weasel!

How do you walk like Groucho? You just squat and scuttle, taking long strides, not as extreme as a duck-walk and not as athletic as a Silly Walk. If you can wear a tail coat that flaps behind you so much the better. I've included this chart which illustrates Newton's 2nd Law of Motion (Force = Mass x acceleration), and shows ground reaction forces measured in various strides and different types of footwear. Please note the looping blue line labeled "Groucho". I'm sure this'll help you a whole lot. The chart was taken from Dr. Chris Kirtley's site Clinical Gait Analysis (You can't propose a day of national celebration without some kind of scientific & academic support.)

So quick everybody! Squat 'n' Scuttle!

It's also Wash Post Genius Gene Weingarten's birthday! I detect a theme, and it may not be in the way they walk.

Old Glamor Job

About 17 years ago I got a call to do a cover for one of a series of Honeymooners VHS tapes. What made the job particlarly cool was that it was art directed by Lou Dorfsman (a legend in the field), the other illustrators doing covers were some of my heroes (Hirschfeld, Brodner, Burke...), the money was swell (they bought the originals) and coolest of all there was no deadline (within reason).

So they sent me the tape I was to illustrate, something about Ed Norton sleepwalking and dreaming about his dog. Unfortunately the tape was the wrong one, and I'd never watched much Honeymooners (though I'd seen the cartoons with the Honeymooner mice several times). But I found enough photos that I could fake up a scene okay; Norton sleepwalking, dreamed-of dog, and annoyed Kramden. Here's the first skech I did, just a quick one of Kramden & Norton. I like the Norton, though from the little pen mark over Kramden's head you can see that Lou Dorfsman chose the Kramden. This was back when roughs were exchanged leisurely with a client via FedEx, or carrier pigeon, or footmen with velvet cushions. However we did it, I eventually came up with a usable sketch.

Here's the final, and the first thing you'll notice is that I slightly mismeasured the height, leaving some dead space between the focus of the illustration and the main type, but nobody minded. I did it in alkyd paint, which is somewhat like oil but it dries faster and it's a little more tar-like in consistency, and it's a little less aesthetically pleasing, if you're into that. Despite there being no firm deadline and despite the fast-drying quality of the paint, two hours before FedEx closed on the day before it was due I was down on the floor spraying the finished illustration with half-a-can of Krylon in hopes of forcing the paint to dry. I understand Norman Rockwell worked the same way.

The last cool things about the job were that the original went into a museum in New York City, I forget what it's called but it's full of TV stuff, and when the complete series of VHS tapes was released Leonard Maltin showed several of the covers on Entertainment Tonight, and not only showed mine but said my name out loud on TV (along with Hirschfeld, Brodner, etc). That was when my career peaked. The most I could hope for now is a mention by Pat O'Brian on Access Hollywood, and who wants that?