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, June 20, 2010

Mr. Otterloop

In honor of Father's Day here are a few very early Cul de Sacs with some floundering attempts to delineate the character of Peter Otterloop, Senior.

The Post Magazine strip was more explicitly set in DC than the syndicated version so Mr. Otterloop's government job was a slightly larger part of the strip. My dad had worked in government off and on for years, mostly in fields related to public health, and I knew a bit about the workings of regulatory agencies from him. And I'd done freelance work for a few places like the FDA and USDA. Back in the 80s I did a bunch of illustrations for a magazine called Food News for the USDA and went to meetings in their main building called the U.S. Agricultural Research Service, a big old place that mingles with the Smithsonian and Freer Gallery on the Mall. The meetings would be on the top floor, away from the fancier part of the building which includes the Secretary of Agriculture's office and a huge lobby. Up there were long echoey corridors, high ceilings, skylights overhead and doors with transoms. It was kind of remote and peaceful and I liked it and I liked the people who worked there. So I put Mr. Otterloop in a similar place. But I never really developed that side of the strip. Office humor isn't my forte, others do it much better, and Alice kept interrupting whatever else I tried to do with the strip.

I did give him a puny car early on. This was from March of 04, predating the previous strip by a month.

And I tried to give Mr.Otterloop more of a personal milieu once or twice. This is from November of 05. Mad Dog Mayhew was based on several people, not the least my late friend Joe Mayhew, who worked at the Library of Congress for years and who knew more about South American literature and science fiction and everything else than anyone I've yet met (though I doubt he liked military history much).

So these were some early attempts to enlarge the strip before it'd quite found its focus. The characters aren't yet who they were later on and the gags and pacing is clunky. And Mr. Otterloop looks like a bug in those first two. I was going to add a final sentence starting "But...", but I can't think of one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac in an Earlier Form

This was done for the Post Magazine in (I think) 2006 and I redrew it (from faulty memory) for today's daily Cul de Sac. Post-apocalyptic wastelands are fun to draw, as you can tell from any video game.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Bloomsday!

All around the world folks are gathering to celebrate Bloomsday, that day in 1904 when Leo Bloom and Stephen Dedalus had all sorts of wacky adventures around Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses. Having skimmed the book, read the jacket copy and heard the book mentioned somewhere, I felt compelled to express my love for Ulysses in several old Almanac cartoons.

This was from about ten years ago when Ulysses was named the Novel of the Century by a panel of experts. It's scanned from an old copy, as I gave the original to someone.

And this one is probably more helpful, as it reduces Ulysses down into more easily digestible form. It's accurate enough for classroom use, so feel free to crib from it, but please provide attribution. 

The only Joyce work I've really read is Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though I've read a good bit of Dubliners. We read PotAaaYM in 11th grade and I enjoyed it well enough, with help from a good English teacher. I've tried Finnegan's Wake a few times without success. It's one of those works you can only approach after a good bit of preparation, study, exercise, dieting and psychic purging I guess, and I'm not yet worthy. You can't just plunge in and let it wash over you, which is how I read Gravity's Rainbow and most of the rest of Thomas Pynchon. After 3 or 4 times swimming through it, Gravity's Rainbow made perfect sense. No it didn't, but it became less obscure. The first few times I just enjoyed the jokes, songs and vivid scenes and didn't worry too much. Actually, I only read it the first time after I heard that Pynchon, a notorious recluse, sent the vaudeville comic Professor Irwin Corey to pick up the National Book Award he won for Gravity's Rainbow and I thought, hey, that book's bound to be a hoot. If I was braver I'd do a cartoon about Gravity's Rainbow, but not yet. I'll wait for my 15th read through, which won't happen till sometime in 2035 at my present rate.

Meanwhile, happy Bloomsday, and if you go on any epic pubcrawls, let me know.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac. OK, Yesterday's

This was fun to draw, so I'm posting it. Though I was worried that it stopped making sense about 3 balloons in. So I added some more crosshatching, just to distract potentially confused readers

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustrations of the Day, Caricature Division

I spent today in one of those fits of pretend tidiness where you don't really clean things up, but rearrange them into new piles, then find a book you'd lost and read that instead of even pretending to clean up and then end up taking books off the shelf and strewing them all over the floor and then it's dinner time and then you don't get back to it and then, you, um. I lost my train of thought. But anyway, I took some old drawings out of frames that had never gotten hung up with the idea of putting newer drawings in them and not hanging those up either. And I took this one out. It's Al Gore from about ten years ago, done for USNews & World Report, and for some reason he's imitating Elvis. I remember doing this, finding the photo of Elvis and getting Al's expression just so, but I don't remember what the context was; something about Al Gore trying to funky up his image when he was running against GW Bush. But it does make a nice conversation piece, I guess, if you're trying to start a conversation on the intersection of Al Gore and Elvis Presley.

Speaking of unlikely intersections, I found this in a drawer. It was for the last page of Smithsonian Magazine about 5 years ago to illustrate a funny piece imagining Leo Tolstoy appearing on Oprah to shill for his book Anna Karenina. Tolstoy is a peach to draw, with that massive beard and big wedge of a nose. They don't make faces like that these days, of if they do, the don't put them on authors.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Your Answer in Essay Form

Please post you answer to this question (at right>) in the Comments section-
In the Washington Post, Cul de Sac now appears on page C-2 next to Doonesbury. This is a-
UPDATE- I asked for longer answers mostly because I was of two minds about the move. On the one hand I liked being on the comics page among all the strips I've read for so long. On the other hand, C-2 is a fine place to be, Doonesbury is a good neighbor to have and no strips were dropped from the Post lineup. From what I've heard, there was a good bit of editorial thinking on this by a whole stack of editors at the Post, and that was good to hear. So often editors are, often justly, accused of only looking at the comics out of the corner of their eyes, glancingly, to make sure they're still there and no funny business is going on. In this case decisions were made and for good reasons. So I'm fine with the move and as always it's just nice to see my strip on actual newsprint, every day.

And thanks for all your answers in essay form!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Barney & Clyde

Congratulations to my friends Gene & Dan Weingarten and David Clark on the launch of their daily comic strip, Barney & Clyde! I wish them great success. I have a personal stake in this as I introduced Gene to David and assured them all that this is a terrific time to launch a syndicated daily newspaper comic strip.

Above is an old illustration I did for Gene's Post Magazine column. I don't remember what the subject matter was for this, but it does look like me and Gene. Kinda.

Friday, June 4, 2010

HeroesCon 2010

I'm now in Charlotte NC, the Queen City, where I'll be sitting at table AA-105 at HeroesCon at the Convention Center. Tomorrow at 3 I'll be talking with the mighty Tom Spurgeon in front of a small but shrinking crowd. I expect to see you all there.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac, Again

Again, we present this as a public service as the strip isn't loading on GoComics. We apologize for any inconvenience, and assure you that, though this is not our fault, measures are being taken to remedy this situation. Though we aren't sure what they are.

UPDATE- Today's strip is up at GoComics, and so is yesterday's.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac

This is presented as a public service, as today's strip hasn't yet loaded on GoComics. It must be what we in the profession call a "glitch".

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Home Again

I just got back from the 64th Annual Reuben Awards in Jersey City, and oh boy, what a good time I had! First, my sincere congratulations to Mr. Dan Piraro, the hardest working man in comics, for getting the Reuben this year. Well deserved, and about time, and Dan! Where were you? There was a very real danger of someone like Stephan Pastis rushing the stage and making off with that big shiny object. Not that I would ever do such a thing, as it might require giving a speech.

More to come, when I remember it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Reuben Weekend

As everyone in the nation is no doubt aware, this weekend is the National Cartoonists Society's annual Reuben Award Convention Thing, and it's being held here (above) at the Hyatt Jersey City, somewhere off the coast of Manhattan. And look (below) they've got a boat in case you want to leave!

I'm going to the Reubens in Jersey this year 1, to see friends I never otherwise set eyes on; and 2, 
because I'm up for the Reuben Award (below).

Every year the NCS bestows the Reuben Award, named for Rube Goldberg, on the Cartoonist of the Year. This year they've run short of names so I'm a nominee, along with two other, more deserving cartoonists, Dan Piraro and Stephan Pastis. Not only does the winner get the lovely ornamental statue, also scultpted by Rube Goldberg, but he (or she) evidently gets a set of dinner plates too (I make this joke every damn year and so far nobody's laughed). Goldberg supposedly planned his tumbling dwarves to be the base for a table lamp, but it somehow got reconfigured into a trophy. I don't think the ink bottle on top actually works, which is a shame because who wouldn't be inspired, overawed or just terrified into drawing better by using this massive objet as an inkwell? 


To get to Jersey City, you get on a train and get off at the stop just before Manhattan. I'm hoping I'm not the only one there because all the photos I've found of the hotel so far seem utterly devoid of life.

Updates if possible as they become available. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac

Today's strip features a musical in-joke so obscure and unfunny I'm ashamed of myself, and if you got it you should be too. Alice's four and a half minutes of lost time refers to a famous/infamous piece by the American Zen master composer John Cage, who investigated lots of sounds including silence. It's called 4'33", which is how long the performer is instructed to sit without playing anything; this makes the audience aware of the ambient sounds of the performing space, especially if somebody's stomach gurgles, or worse. And I figure Alice, as a 4 year old, places some significance on the number 4 and a half as that's her next step up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shapes and Colors

Here's the rough for the cover of the third Cul de Sac book (unless you count the other, previous, third Cul de Sac book, the Golden Treasury Keepsake Trove or whatever it's called). This one collects all the as-yet-uncollected daily & Sunday strips up through last winter some time. and it's due out this fall. I finished the watercolor yesterday and Fedexed it off the Caty Neis, my editor at Andrews & McMeel (who I'm looking forward to meeting in Jersey City next weekend).

I took the idea from this older sketch for a drop panel that I never used. Drop panels are the ornamental title panels on Sunday strips that feature the title and some art, and are often dropped by newspapers who don't run the Sundays full width. Which is very much their loss if the drop panels are as lovely as those by Patrick McDonnell in Mutts. At some point early on when I had delusions of grandeur, I'd thought of doing a whole string of drop panels that would rotate randomly from Sunday to Sunday. Here are a few of the sketches I did.

I'll get around to these any day now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crazy Daze Super Savings!

For a limited time the first Cul de Sac book is on sale at Amazon for $5.20! Hurry! It's probably already too late! 
UPDATE- the bargain book is all sold out. The full-price book is still available here, and not too awfully expensive.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Helping David Waste Paper

David Paccia has been conducting a far-ranging survey of cartoonists over at his blog, David Wasting Paper. I got to be #125. My thanks to David for asking me along with my apologies that it took me like six months to answer his questions.


While I was wasting my time with freelance work 25 years ago, Dan Piraro was busy getting his wonderful strip "Bizarro" into daily syndication. Yesterday's Bizarro featured this heartwarming, ingeniously extrapolated family scene, with an almost-recognizable character representing the newest generation of Gagas.

Dan is up for this swell award, and I'm guessing he's taking it home with him and deservedly so. A lesser, lazier cartoonist would've thought up "Baby Googoo" and quit early for the day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sam, the Boy Who Talks to Animals

This old Almanac was an idea that went kinda nowhere. Though it did lead to Petey, and the rest of Cul de Sac. I drew it in the early 2000s and when I turned it in Tom Shroder, then editing the Post Magazine, asked me if I'd ever thought of doing a strip with continuing characters. Wisely, I said no, but it did make me think about it, if only for a minute.

The concept of this one was having a kid who could talk to animals who are never much help and yammer on until he'd wish he'd kept his mouth shut. This would drain the magic and fantasy out of the whole idea of talking to animals and also be a real rollicking hoot. It wasn't much of a rollicking hoot and this was a far as it got. The kid, Sam, was from a character played by Bruce McCulloch on Kids in the Hall, a serious, non sequitur spouting, little boy named Gavin with a backpack. In slightly different form he turned into Petey. And like I said below, birds are fun to draw.

Deleted Birds

Out of concern for those bird watchers who may be wasting their time looking for these, we post this list of birds no longer considered worthy of your attention. Actually I only did this because birds are fun to draw.

Washington DC Back When

Here are two old Almanacs I later combined into one for the book. The black and white one predates the color drawing by a few years. Allen's Mink Yard is named in honor of my then-editor, the great Henry Allen, whose family has no connection to the mink ranching business, as far as I know.

I've lived around DC for 48 years, practically most of my life, so you can trust that anything I say about the city is true.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

25 Years Ago Today

I took a portfolio down to the Washington Post for the first time on May 14, 1985 to show it to the wonderful Francis Tanabe, who was then the art director of Book World. I was mostly ignorant of what an art director really was, or exactly where I was supposed to be going, except I knew we had a 1:30 appointment. I saw this door as I walked down L Street, and it had a sign that said Washington Post so I ducked in, not knowing it was the side door for employees only. I somehow completely missed seeing the security office or the guard (who also missed seeing me), jumped onto the elevator and got off on the 5th floor, practically right at Francis's desk. He wasn't there. I was early and he was out. So I sat and soaked up the awesome grandeur of the place for a while and tried to look like I fit in.

He eventually showed up, apologized for being a few minutes late, and I showed him my portfolio.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Shiny New Website

With many thanks to the mighty Chris Sparks, renaissance man (comics, cheesemongering, websites, etc.) I am proud to announce the launch of my website, It's still being waxed and polished, and there'll be some additions over the summer and a bit of landscaping, but the construction is finished. And I think it looks pretty spiffy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Beyond Whistler's Mother

Here's a repeat for all the mothers and art appreciators out there. It didn't get any comments when I posted it in 2008 and it probably won't this time.

If I remember right, the painting everybody knows as "Whistler's Mother" is really entitled "Arrangement in Grey and Black". Whistler was a great painter and an even better etcher, but not too sentimental and a real full-of-himself jerk half the time, at least. He was pretty dang witty too, at least in person; when he sat down and tried to be witty for posterity it came out strained and mannered. His book, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies is unreadable, except for the title.
This cartoon doesn't have much to do with Whistler, except for the title.

For more information, see here for James Abbot McNeill Whistler, here for Giacometti, here for Botero, here for Arcimboldo,  here for Damian Hirst and here for Thomas Kinkade. There. Mothers like things that are educational or uplifting.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Five years ago the comic strip Blondie celebrated 75 years of the Bumstead's wedded Bliss, and had a huge crossover party with I think thousands of comic characters. This was before my time, comic strip-wise, so I could only add to the festivities tangentially. This was hard to draw as Blondie is so cleanly rendered, with every curl in place and every curve just so. It made me feel sloppy and hamfisted.

This year will mark their 80th, which is pretty much off the charts as far as traditional gift giving goes. I'd suggest an antique, or something fossilized. But nice!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Imaginary Places in the Comics

Brian Walker sent me these photos of the show he co-curated at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa CA. It's the third of a trilogy of exhibits called The Language of Lines, and it focuses on Imaginary Places in the Comics (like I said if you'd been paying attention). It's got all my favorite places, from Coconino County and Slumberland to Camp Swampy, the Okefenokee Swamp and Dingburg. And somehow Cul de Sac snuck in there too. I'm  enormously proud to be in this neighborhood.

Here's a trio of paintings by the mighty George Herriman.

On the Beetle Bailey wall there's a pretty accurate looking map of Camp Swampy.

Here's the text for Bill Griffith's wall, and a few Zippies.

Here's Cul de Sac's corner, in a tasteful pistachio green.

A very slightly different view, with less of the floor visible.

And here's most of the art, handsomely framed and labeled.

My thanks to all the fine folks at the Schulz Museum and to Brian Walker. Sorry I missed the opening, but I hope you saved me some wine. For those closer than me (and really, if you're anywhere west of the Continental Divide you should go to this) the show runs for April 24 to August 22. If I start hitching right now I should just make it.

A Very Happy Cartoonist's Day, Again

You may be wondering, "How can I best celebrate this festive day?" You might consider:
  • Finding a cartoonist near you and mowing his lawn, at least the front lawn (especially the hard part with the hill).
  • While you're at it trim his shrubs, so the mailman can find his front door again.
  • Does his house need vacuuming? Well, what are you waiting for?
  • Who left all these dishes in the sink?
  • The cats; somebody feed the cats.
  • You could take him to lunch at the Mexican place down the street, where they're having some no doubt cartoonist-related celebration.
  • For God's sake laugh at his cartoons. If they appear in a newspaper, buy extra copies (or multiple subscriptions, even) and laugh at them too.
Note: if the cartoonist near you is a lady, please substitute "her" for "his". The original of the cartoon reproduced above is in the collection of the fabulous Mr. Jef Mallett, so this is a scan of the Almanac book page. And it's the same one I ran last year, and the year before, if it looks familiar.

Monday, May 3, 2010

New Cul de Sac Animation to Make Your Life More Fun, Awkward and Slightly Intense

"Manhole Soliloquy" is one of my favorites so far, mostly because of the fine job Peteys' voice actor does of sounding awkward and slightly intense. And Petey's monologue is pretty much how I feel all the time anyway.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exciting Sneak Preview of an Upcoming Cul de Sac

I have no explanation for this baffling excerpt from a future Cul de Sac. It could be the strip's jumped the shark and gone in an unexpected and unnecessary direction. Whatever, we'll find out on May 30th.