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 30, 2013


I had to draw this in early 2001 for The Washingtonian, D.C's Ten-Best-Places-to-Eat type magazine that works hard at making the city seem glamorous, or at least like it has a definable personality. I've never liked doing multiple caricatures. First, because getting all the faces to come out equally-caricatured is hard and second, because I'm lazy (which we've already established). I'm in awe of those who draw crowd caricatures regularly like Tom Richmond.

This came out okay, I guess. I'm not sure if we had a computer then, so my reference was limited. I do remember having trouble finding good pictures of the Senate chambers. I was given various facts about each woman, such as Patty Murray being "a prototypical do-gooder in tennis shoes." Blanche Lincoln had just had twins so I worked them in (years later my older daughter went to high school with them but didn't know about their mom). Barbara Mikulski's sister, a dead-ringer for Barbara, lived down the street from my folks for years. Barbara is by far the most successful caricature.

These days the Senate has 20 woman senators. I think about drawing 20 caricatures and I'm suddenly glad to be out of the business.

A Reader Writes....

I got an email the other day from Ben Morrow who, after apologizing for asking a strange question, asked, " how do you decide what your scenes are going to look like?"

It's actually an interesting question and seems so basic nobody ever asks it. Bear with me while I use his email as an excuse to post something, as it's been a while.

What you draw is all pretty dependent on what you've written. First you figure out where the balloons go in the panel; they have to be placed for easy reading (this can involve some rewriting). You have to keep in mind that the "tang"- the little bits hanging down to show who's speaking -  can't get tangled up in knots. Clarity is important here. If the speakers switch positions from panel to panel you can use several tricks to keep continuity; like moving your "camera" around or using the action to explain the shifts (even if the action has nothing to do with the dialog- the characters are kicking a ball around or playing on the floor or something; anything to make it more visually interesting, something I had to keep in mind with a talky strip like Cul de Sac). In theater this is called blocking. It prevents characters from colliding or walking out of windows.

Then you get into stuff like close-ups, group shots, etc. Again, it's determined by your script- how can you give the words the most oomph. I always tried to include a variety of shots per strip as long as it didn't get too jumpy. Of course, repetitious shots are fun too- Petey reading on his bed with tiny variations worked well. It gives you a chance to play director, cutting from this shot to that, trying always to heighten the comedy (if that's what you're aiming for). And what you don't show is often the funniest.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

To Our Friends Across the Sea

Chris Sparks has agreed to act as our International Sales Representative. Meaning those of you who wished to buy a copy of Richard's Poor Almanac but were stymied by accidents of geography from ordering from One More Page Books should email Chris at (I told you he was a fanboy) and give him your particulars. For only $20 plus shipping Chris will send you a rare, desirable, unfoxed first edition* of RPA, in the original untranslated English! As a bonus your package will be postmarked from Asheville, North Carolina, America's premier destination for fun!

*Ha! Like there was a second!

Hey! Mr. or Ms. Comics Professional!

Do you see this man? It's Chris Sparks, my friend and inspiration, the perfect audience, tireless supporter and fanboy miracle worker non-pariel. His good work as a fund-raiser, comics enthusiast, social director, brace and stalker add up to a debt I can never hope to repay. But I can do this: today's the final day of voting for the Eisner Awards. GO RIGHT NOW THIS SITE and vote a straight Chris Sparks/Team Cul de Sac ticket. If you do then Chris's trip to San Diego Comicon 2013, site of the Eisner Awards Ceremony, will have the happy outcome he deserves. And he won't return home to his daughter, the adorable Emily, empty-handed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Heroescon 2013

I know some of you will be attending Heroescon in Charlotte, NC this weekend. I wish I was! And not just for a plateful of Mert's shrimp and grits! If I was in Charlotte this Friday evening I'd be at the 3rd Annual Drink and Draw, where miracle worker Chris Sparks has assembled an eye-popping collection of books and art to be auctioned off for Team Cul de Sac (haven't we beat Parkinson's yet?). Among the fabulous swag Chris has pulled out of his sleeve: a copy of Maus, signed by & sketched in by the legendary Art Spiegelman; the paperback complete Calvin & Hobbes, signed by the so-legendary-he-may-be-imaginary Bill Watterson; and original art by cartoonists Patrick McDonnell, Mark Tatulli, Terri Libenson, Dan Piraro, John Hambrock, Jim Borgman, Ron Ferdinand, Bill Holbrook, Brian Bassett and Mo Willems.
Wow! What an array of fabulous swag! Of course, since it's Drink & Draw, the place will be crammed with artists, amateur and professional, doing just that! And the results of their labors will also be auctioned, the proceeds going to Team Cul de Sac! While you're out wandering the convention floor be sure to look for Chris's table at the address below. He'll have all kinds of stuff, including about 40 copies of Richard's Poor Almanac! Please say Hi to Chris for me, and find out if he's figured out a way to fedex plates of shrimp & grits directly from Mert's.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Twittering Machine

Anything you need to ask in 140 characters or less, well, now's your chance! Please, no answers requiring words of 9 or more characters or the letters Q, Z, M, Ø or Ç.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I'm happy to hear that Cicadas, these from Brood II, are popping up in the area, because this blog deals mostly in repeats and I've got some old Poor Almanacs just full of Cicadas! They all date from 2004, when the most recent infestation of the 17-year variety erupted in the East.
 And here's an early CdS with a cicada theme. it was redrawn for syndication and reused.  Who knew cicadas were such comedy goldmines? I hope they come back more often!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Who Wants a Copy of Richard's Poor Almanac?

The statistics above are provided by, where they used to appear on the page for the paperback collection of Richard's Poor Almanac. I'm not really sure what they mean, but boy, whatever they're describing sounds great, and it's probably a bargain, too. Or it would be if you could find it for less than $82.49.

Well now you can! As I've mentioned before, our fine local independent bookstore One More Page Books, under exclusive contract*, is the sole vendor of all those copies of Richard's Poor Almanac I bought cheap when the publisher went under. I mention this because my wife just dropped off a whole box of the wretched things because we're moving and space is tight. SIGNED COPIES are going for the original cover price of $15 (that's in 2004 dollars!) and they'll ship your book right to your door for just $4. Run on over to 2200 N. Westmoreland Street, Suite 101 Arlington, VA,  22213 or call 703-300-9746 or email Mention that you saw this offer on my blog and you'll get a blank stare!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Foreword, Ho!

You may recall my post of about two months ago announcing the complete Cul de Sac, coming this November but available for pre-order from Amazon at a price that fluctuates mysteriously but currently holds at $43.22. If you think that's a bargain, get a load of this.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Chris Sparks the foreword to this mammoth undertaking is being written by the renowned artist, editor, graphical polymath and all-around comix passionalist Art Spiegelman! Art joins a short line of other comics notables, like Pat Oliphant,  Bill Watterson, Mo Willems and Lincoln Peirce, who've attested to my overall lack of objectionable qualities. I've been very fortunate in the people who've written forewords for my books.
Except for Peter (Petey) Otterloop, Jr.. In his rather ungenerous foreword to the third CdS book, Shapes & Colors he wrote,

Cul de Sac is not my favorite comic strip. It's OK, but it's not my favorite (comic strip) and I didn't finish reading this book. All I got to was page 32 and I figured it wouldn't get better. There's too much talking and running and small kids and yelling and the colors are too bright. My favorite comic strip is Little Neuro. I like it because there's a lot less talking and running and the colors are not so bright. Little Neuro jokes are better than Cul de Sac jokes too. Cul de Sac has things like jokes but without the funny part at the end.

Also the back of my head doesn't look like that, so Cul de Sac is not an accurate comic strip.
 I'm confident Art Spiegelman will write something a bit more professional. Especially as, to the best of my knowledge, the back of his head has never appeared in the strip.

Friday, May 3, 2013

FCBD; Lo, It Approacheths Ever Nearer, A Lazy Repost

As everyone on Earth knows, Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. Here, again, are Poor Almanacs  that celebrated this fine national holiday. Mangaloid Wars X: Giant Spazzoid Zombie Robots Invade (third below) is the best thing I've ever written, I think. I should've had Petey read that comic.

Two of these are in the collection of Mr.Mike Rhode and the other two are in the collection of Mr.Paul Karasik.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lost Unintentional Adventures of Danders: Reconstructed, Part II, With Bonus Material

Thanks to Beth Broadwater and Daniele Seiss of the Washington Post Magazine, I lined up some old issues featuring Danders' final unintentional adventure and scanned 'em. So once more, here ya go-

But wait- there's more-
The issue of May 20, 2007 featured a cover piece by my old friend Joel Achenbach on the 2008 election. And guess who illustrated it? No, not Steve Brodner ( he was busy). Here's a clue-

Hey, not bad! It's not Brodner but it's not bad. That McCain on the stump is the best of him I've drawn (the one on the cover is mostly gouache slathered on thick, a good sign he gave me fits). But what happened to Obama's eyeballs?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Almanacs

While digging through drawers of Cul de Sac roughs I found a few for old Poor Almanacs, one of which I never finished, and a few I'd torn out of the Post. In the interest of sharing as much of my trash as humanly possible, here ya go-

As near as I can tell rumors of Bob Dole (and his wife) getting a facelift began in 1997. That's the year Richard's Poor Almanac began (though then nameless), which puts this among the earliest RPAs, back before I knew what I was doing. This is the rough; I traded the final to John Cuneo for a better drawing of Philip Glass that still hangs in my studio.

I did several elaborate scenes with titles to match presented as "fine art for your refrigerator" and here's one. I'm kinda shocked I got away with a nude, but I guess if it's art, anything goes.

Another Almanac that's just a fun drawing with an elaborate label. The final of this one's in the custody of the wonderful Susie Hirt, who taught both of my daughters in first grade.

Here's the rough I abandoned at the pencil stage. It parodies George Lucas's groan-making proper names from the later Star Wars trilogy and I'm not sure why I dropped it. Oopsy Boomshot has the making of a thoroughly compelling character, worthy of his own trilogy.

Like so many before me I steal a page from Bil Keane and press my daughter Emma, then about 2 1/2, into service when I'm under the weather. Close readers of Cul de Sac may note how some of her artistic pretensions later showed up in Alice.

Finally, when the National Gallery had the big Van Gogh show in the late 90s I drew several Almanacs about it. Here's one.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lost Unintentional Adventures of Danders: Reconstructed

In May of 2007, Mr. Danders was launched in a toy truck, exited Blisshaven Preschool and disappeared into the Metro subway system. It would prove to be his last adventure; Cul de Sac went daily a few months later and Danders role in the syndicated strip was much diminished. For that reason and others it's driven me nuts that I can't find many of the originals. Some I lent to the Museum of Natural History, where they've disappeared, and others I've lost on my own. But I did keep drawers full of pencil sketches of the pre-syndication strips. They're one step removed from inking. I'd put these roughs under a piece of Arches 140 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper on a lightbox and ink it, hoping the looseness of the pencil line translated to the ink line.

So I dug around in the drawers of roughs and found those I'd used for the last of Mr. Danders' unintentional adventures. I hope to have a better version ready for inclusion in the Complete Cul de Sac, but here's what I've got so far-


This last one is scanned from an old copy of the Post Magazine, courtesy of Jennifer Hart.

The museum had a life-size model of a blue whale in their hall of undersea life that I loved when I was a kid (I thought it was real). When they redid the hall in the 90s, they gave the by-then decrepit blue whale to one of the contractors. Who put it, in pieces, in his garage. The information on the Smithsonian's blue whale model from the DC City Paper. I hope it's accurate. Also I hope Alice found a drinking fountain.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You Can't Tie Down a Banjo Man

Rob McLaren, the Toronto-based multi-threat musician and songwriter, sent me this wonderful tune. He was inspired by Timmy Fretwork's battle cry of romantic avoidance, "You can't tie down a banjo man!" It was, he says,"it was too good a potential song title to pass up!"
Here's Timmy Fretwork's first appearance from an October '04 Post Magazine, which I redrew three years later for the syndicated strip. Mr. Fretwork is based on about five real people. And below is the bit of folk wisdom in action.
To buy an MP3 of this tune, or the full digital album, please go here.

Eisner Awards

The list of 2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominees was announced yesterday. And by golly look what's on it under Best Comics-Related Book- Team Cul de Sac! This is a very big deal, and not just because it gives Chris Sparks a good excuse to go to Comic Con. I mean, look at the other names on that list: Chris Ware, both of Los Bros. Hernandez, Seymour Chwast, Carol Tyler, Skottie Young, Joe Lambert (twice!), Chris Schweizer, Jerry Scott, Rick Kirkman, Etc, Usw! Each one of 'em a giant in the field, all of them possessing a talent that can bestride the comics world like a Colossus. What chance does a little fanboy* like Chris Sparks have?

Waitaminit! Is that Chris Sparks looming over his lovely wife Jen and Hollywood legend & Parkie role model Michael J Fox? Jeez, look at the size of that guy! He's gonna mop up at the Eisners, or else! I'm glad I've got a behemoth like Chris on my team!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hopsy Bunsy & Peeps McCracken

This has been posted before, but I love it, so much so that I did two more almost exactly like it. In the first sketch I'd originally had Hopsy saying "JESUS CHRIST", but I knew my editor's limits. And it may make slightly more sense if you know that Doonesbury ran under the Almanac on the third page of Style.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Brahms Variations, Slightly Updated

I've been trying to draw this guy for 30 years. And all I've got to show for it is piles of drawings that aren't what I want them to look like. I mean, I've got a Beethoven and a Mozart, I've even got a Berlioz. But I like Brahms best, so I need to do one of him too, so I can put it in a frame with every intention of hanging it on the wall but then leave it on the floor instead.  I'm not sure I can explain why I like Brahms so much, except to say go listen to his Second Symphony. Or even better, his Third. It's been my favorite for thirty years. Or his First Piano Quartet! Why can't I draw cartoons like that?

The problem is, all those other drawings were happy accidents, spontaneous and unplanned (except for weeks of planning, doing studies, throwing studies away, etc etc ). That is, after all that preliminary work,  I ended up ignoring it and doing a final piece that bore no resemblance to what I'd started out to do. But each time what ultimately happened on the paper, what I ended up with, was way better than I could plan. Part of the problem is that when I have a drawing in mind, something to put in a frame and look at every day, I inevitably end up building walls for myself to run into. I don't mind my own work that much, but it can be uncomfortable if I'm exposed to one of my pieces on a daily basis. My eye goes right to the bit that doesn't work or the line that's out of place and it drives me crazy. I think that's why I freelanced illustration for so long; other people are easier to draw for. As a client, I'm a jerk. Who needs that kind of aggravation?

Take the caricature of Berlioz. It was originally going to be painted on a gessoed board in egg tempera and oil using mischteknik, which I'd been studying and obsessing over for a while. It's a way of painting that demands careful planning and premeditation. It can't be rushed, which I found attractive after all those short, don't-think-about-it-do-it deadlines. And, after all that careful planning and premeditation, I wanted to have an objet d'art, a marvel of craftsmanship, a little goddam masterpiece that would surprise me every time I saw it.

Well, fat chance of that."Learning to paint by reading a book is like learning to swim on a sofa," says some book on painting I've got. My studio has a five foot shelf of books on, not how to paint, but the history of artist's materials (which is pretty cool, especially pigments), how brushes are made, the toxicity of artist's materials, methods of the renaissance artist, paint chemistry (with charts), etc, etc, each more arcane than the last. Of very little practical use to a deadline cartoonist. Which, as this is a sideline, is as it should be. Oh, and I've got the stuff they talk about in the books too. Jars of raw pigments, binders, glues, oils and resins, each with a label that warns you not to inhale within a city block of the contents. And jars, too, of brushes; filberts, mops, flats, fans, rounds, brights, blenders, quills, overgrainers, mottlers, floggers, daggers, stripers, liners, riggers, deerfoot stipplers cat's tongues; each with its own use and story (like the fabulous Winsor & Newton #7 watercolor round, named in honor or Queen Victoria, who liked to paint and liked the number 7). Made with hair from badgers, mongooses, sables (really weasels), grey- blue- black- and brown squirrels, fitches. polecats, oxen, goats and pigs.

While in the grip of this (fairly benign) obsession, art supply catalogs became my favorite reading matter. The little catalog for Kremer Pigments was filled with inscrutable ingredients, ancient paraphernalia, and other stuff I couldn't afford, didn't need, but wanted really bad. New York Central Art Supply had two, large catalogs, one offering art papers from around the world (the other one had everything else). At the time, Pearl Paint had two stores in the DC area. I've only been to their flagship store in New York once, in the late 80s. Mostly I remember climbing an ancient staircase that listed drunkenly for five stories. Imagine, five stories of art supplies!

Let me interrupt this digression to describe my Tipping Point Theory of Why People Suddenly Like Something a Whole Lot. What started me off on this? Why was I spending so much time and energy at such a fairly useless enterprise? Doesn't it seem like the object of the enterprise got further away the more time I spent on it? Yeah, but that's for another digression. My theory has to do with those passing fancies that suddenly blossom into full fledged life-filling passions, how it's a process of gradual accumulation of latent enthusiasm that needs only a little push. I've got three examples.

In my high school German class we watched these short educational films called "Guten Tag!" Each one told a story that introduced new vocabulary words and they were usually pretty good; half hour slice-of-life, anecdotal things that were better than they could be. One had a bit about Beethoven, gently but humorously comparing him to modern, long-haired youth (this was in '74). And, of course, it used the opening of the Fifth Symphony. I'd heard that opening hundreds of times, like everybody else had. But this time for some reason it hit me square in that part of the brain that regulates enthusiasms and BLAMMO, it pulled together all my previous agreeable encounters with classical music (like when a chamber group came to my elementary school and the horn player devised a perfectly acceptable instrument out of a garden hose and a funnel) into a permanent and consuming love that I still enjoy.

One night about ten or more years ago I was watching a Jackie Chan movie on the late show. He was doing some jaw-dropping stunt, like fighting a series of ever-larger bad guys while suspended on a platform 50 feet in the air. When my wife walked into the room I said, Hey, get a load of this. She watched for a few minutes, then sat and watched more intently till Jackie triumphed and the credits rolled. During that time I swear I heard the ping of new synapses being formed. Within a week she was learning Chinese brush painting, Tai Chi, watching the Mandarin channel, had her own chop made, and that year my daughter had a Lion Dance at her birthday party featuring a home-made lion with Amy and me inside. (You thought I'd say she'd gone to the Chinese opera and been trained in fighting and gymnastics, didn't you? No, but it was close.)

Finally, I can think of two comments by friends that launched my fascination with outdated painting techniques. I'd done a promo piece for a calendar and used oil paint to color it. John Kascht made an off-hand remark about coloring a goofy drawing using Renaissance colors; about the sober color scheme giving it a false dignity. And Bryan Leister told me a short version of the history of the color ultramarine blue; basically, it was once difficult to produce, greatly expensive and reserved for important passages in a painting until, in a contest sponsored by the French government, an easy method for synthesizing it was discovered. BLAMMO again. I wanted to work with materials that had a pedigree this interesting.

So back to Brahms. First, my deliberative approach to the caricature of Hector Berlioz started out well, then stalled. Like I said, I'd gotten enchanted by the idea of the objet d'art, mostly by reading about one of my favorite paintings, Vermeer's Girl with a Red Hat. It's tiny and perfect, and before he built the National Gallery Paul Mellon kept it on his piano. Which news made my jaw drop a little. He could pick it up, examine the back, hold it up to the light, even spit on his handkerchief to wipe off a schmutz. Heck, he could take it outside and play with it in the sandbox if he was a mind to, and was infantile.

The egg tempera underpainting of Berlioz came out well enough, in a grey-green tone (Verona green) that would contrast with the oil glazes and give it depth. It started to fall apart after 3 or 4 layers of glaze. Each had to be laid on then dabbed till it was evenly distributed using a badger blender. The first few looked great. I made the little piece of sky behind him dark indigo, and when I laid the red of his hair in all the little sculptural coils seemed jump out. But then it started to go awry. Each layer looked labored. I would wipe them off and put them back on. The surface wasn't smooth anymore. I think at one point I wiped the whole thing off, removing all the oil paint, and I realized the obvious that obsessions often blind you to: this way of working wasn't for me. I mean, it was stupid. Who has the time for this kind of nonsense?

A few months later I was doodling, working on something else, and I did this sketch without thinking too hard. There he is! I thought. Watercolor, I thought. And boom, like magic, three months later I had finished the Berlioz caricature, subsequently hated it intensely, and put it in a drawer for 3 years.

Now it's one of my favorite pieces. So much so that I put it in a frame and left it on the floor. I have a frame for the Brahms caricature if I ever draw it. Meanwhile I had drawn a little dinky pencil sketch of Brahms at the piano I liked and I wanted an inked version. These are a few of the attempts, in bister ink on watercolor paper, all about 7" x 10". They've been in the drawer for about 5 years.

They've been in the drawer because after I drew them I hated them intensely. The problem with doing so many versions is that none of them is perfect. You want to pick and choose among little bits and pieces- a foot here, a hand there, an expression there- till you've got an ideal version. It worked for Dr. Frankenstein.

Looking at them now I don't hate them as intensely. In fact I quite like 'em, though among the seven I don't have a clear favorite. Variations were central to Brahms' composing style. Anne Midgette, the Washington Post's music critic and no lover of Brahms' music, wrote,

As soon as Brahms puts an idea on the table, he begins playing with it in a process that Arnold Schoenberg dubbed "developing variation," merging two classical forms in a long process of aural working-out. It is no accident that some of his best and most popular works are variations: the Op. 24 Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, for piano, or the beloved Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, which Mahler called "an enchanted stream."
The harpist and blogger Helen Radice confessed a couple of years ago that she found "something neurotic in his endless development and variation." So maybe I've got my caricature of Brahms, and in a  form he would've appreciated.