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, April 5, 2015

The Art of Richard Thompson book excerpt: Thompson and Gene Weingarten talk

Here's another excerpt of the conversation from The Art of Richard Thompson, which you can buy right now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or order and wait for a copy signed by Richard from One More Page.  Part 1 of the Bill Watterson excerpt is here.  Part 2 of the Bill Watterson excerpt is here.

Gene Weingarten: As I recall, Richard’s Poor Almanac(k) originated over a lunch between us. I was the editor of the Sunday Style section of the Post. I was looking for a weekly feature to attract readers who were both smart and smart-alecky. Something both sophisticated and and seditious. I told you I wanted to pay you generously to draw a weekly, anarchic comic strip, with no creative limitations, and you agreed it was a swell idea, and you’d get right on it, and we shook hands, and then I didn’t hear from you for something like two years. What was that all about?


Richard Thompson: Yeah, I remember that restaurant. They gave us both bacon on our cheeseburgers and we didn’t even ask for it. And when we went there a year later they did it again. Auspicious. As I’ve said before, I’ve had three or four real dream jobs as a cartoonist, And I’ve been dragged into each of them kicking and screaming. I’m naturally slow and lazy and I really hate deadlines. Just the thought of deadlines stretching endlessly away, the kind that come with a daily strip, makes my stomach turn over, because I imagine a lifetime of 3 A.M.s at the drawing board looking at a drawing I’ve screwed up for the sixth time, and I’ve forgotten how to draw anyway, and what was I even thinking taking a job like this?

Also I thought if I waited long enough you’d forget all about it. This happened once before, in the late 1980s. I had a somewhat similar offer from the Outlook section when Jodie Allen was editor. And they didn’t offer as much money. I came up with some rough ideas, including an early version of “Little Neuro” my parody of Little Nemo in Slumberland, but it was undeveloped and pretty obvious I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t pursue it and neither did they. Small loss and no regrets.

And I do most of my work subconsciously, when I’m not paying attention to the process. If you’d pestered me every week for ideas (which I’m glad you didn’t) I would’ve come up with something, but it wouldn’t have been too good. It has to age, preferably without me meddling in it. This is nice because I get to dawdle. But without an eventual deadline I can’t get anything done. Somebody has to take it away from me and say, stop fussing with it.

GW: The thing I liked best about the Almanac was its unpredictability -- the reader never knew where you were going to go, week to week -- and I’d like you to explain that a little bit. (Yes, you and I both know I am asking that obnoxious dumb-reader question, “Where do you get your ideas?” but I’ve concealed it through misdirection, and you have to try to answer.)

RT: I never knew where I was going either. Quite often I’d have an idea on Tuesday that I hated on Wednesday (deadlines were Friday). If Thursday rolled around and I was still dry it got ugly; I’d have to sit down and sweat it out. I was always bad at planning ahead because I knew I’d change my mind by deadline time.

Of course, there are always holidays, events, anniversaries and other calendar happenings, or I could try a Restaurant Closings cartoon. Perennials. After I’d done it for a while I felt confident enough to do some really stupid cartoons just because I could make them funny. Stuff from real life, the duller the better, things that would be unworthy of space in a major newspaper. Like when we had opossums invading our garage I did a whole life-cycle of opossums and worked in Henry James somehow. The ideal cartoon  was made up off the top of my head with no research, with only its own comic logic holding it together.

I eventually felt like I could tell when a subject had comic possibilities; that is, when there was a rich enough vein of jokes in something that it’d stand the scrutiny, the analysis, the deconstruction, necessary to turn it into a cartoon. Like, if it rattled loudly enough when I shook it. But I couldn’t force it to be funny. One thing I’d learned after doing this for a while is to back off fast whenever I was forcing it.



Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Art of Richard Thompson book excerpt: Thompson and Bill Watterson talk comics some more

Here's another excerpt of the conversation of Richard Thompson and Bill Watterson from The Art of Richard Thompson, which you can buy right now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or order and wait for a copy signed by Richard from One More Page.  Part 1 of the excerpt is here.

Bill Watterson: We talked about the strips you read growing up, but what about the classic strips that were long gone by then? Did those shape your thinking much? Krazy Kat really set off fireworks for me when I was drawing Calvin and Hobbes. The better I got, the more it taught me. People today would not believe how difficult it used to be to find and read the early comic strips. How did you discover them, and which ones, if any, had a serious impact on you?

Richard Thompson: I discovered, or started discovering, old classic strips when I was in high school. I remember the occasion. Sometime in the mid-70s, the Kennedy Center mounted a show of historic cartoons. All the greats were in it. As a matter of fact, there was an ancient pencil drawing of Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie that had slipped loose of its mat, so I tucked it back in, marveling that I was touching a bit of History. Disney, Krazy Kat, Barney Google, all the usual suspects. I was no expert.

Of all the comics on display, none appealed to me like a Krazy Kat Sunday page. It had a depth and charm that kept pulling me back to stare at that inky, scratchy piece of ancient Bristol board. I remember that some of the white lines were scraped into the inky patches, going right back to the white Bristol. Wow.

BW: Right, in places it’s almost like scratchboard, drawing with white. He also scratched away tiny mistakes. The originals aren’t caked with white-out like mine; they’re gorgeous. But what I’m curious to know is, where do you personally connect with what Herriman brought to comics? I mean, there are some comic strips that I’m happy to acknowledge are great, but which don’t open any doors for me. Steve Canyon, or something. Other works, like Krazy Kat, lit a fuse in my head and blew down the walls. Where does Krazy Kat fit for you?

RT: I can’t say that Krazy Kat is a deep personal touchstone, because I did not discover it until I was in high school or later. But it is the strip that sets off fireworks for me too. I love the way Herriman pushes the medium as far as he can. It’s done with such casual playfulness. One big thing it does: it makes me want to do what Herriman’s doing. Not copy him - every time I try to imitate his style it looks boring. Like imitating Herriman’s dramatic lighting effects where it looks like high noon but the sky is pitch black. Yeah, I want to draw Krazy Kat, but my own way. It makes me want to do something comparable in depth and gesture. Silly, no?

BW: I think I know what you mean. It’s such a pure vision--that’s what we all aspire to. But you’re right, you can’t copy it, because it’s so quirky and personal that it just screams “phony” in anyone else’s hands. What seems silly and natural with Herriman looks precious and contrived outside its own context. Obviously, I learned a lot from Krazy Kat’s panel designs in my own Sunday strips, but mostly, I think Krazy Kat made me more attuned to timing, language, and how you express the idea. Heaven knows, the guy drew thirty years of strips with just one joke, so he got very inventive in how he said it, and that’s the fun of it.

RT: Herriman has things that would work in no other  medium, like the constant changes in background detail and you know he only does it to avoid the boredom of drawing something over and over. And the presentation: It’s theatrical and artificial, yet when the wind blows through and the weather changes, the effect is more natural than nature. It’s a heightened reality. I can see how people miss the point of the strip. I have friends who just don’t get it; it’s not for everybody. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t you don’t. But once you decipher Krazy Kat and learn its odd and hilarious humor, it opens a whole new world like no other. There are strips that are classics that I respond to on many levels without loving them (Little Nemo is one). I can enjoy such strips without really learning too much from them. But Krazy Kat is a whole course in comics. A feast.

BW: I feel the same in admiring, but not loving, Nemo. It’s wonderfully imaginative visually, but I find the strip very thin. The setting is always more interesting than the characters. Your satire of Little Nemo goes back some years before you used it in Cul de Sac, right? What brought on “Little Neuro”?

RT: It was an idea for a predecessor to Richard’s Poor Almanac that I put together for The Washington Post’s Outlook section in the late 80’s and went nowhere. It was merely clever, like most early ideas.

BW: A predecessor? You mean like a regular feature?

RT: I almost did a weekly comic. Fortunately, I dawdled it to death. I wasn’t ready for such a thing, but it got me thinking in terms of a weekly strip. One page of roughs was a whole series of Little Neuros. It’s like the genesis of Calvin and Hobbes; you have disparate pieces that need to be fit together.

BW: You did a cartoon essay on bigfoot cartooning that I absolutely love. It’s all true, and describing Beetle Bailey as “Bigfoot Moderne” makes me laugh every time I think of it.

RT: Thanks. I made it up as I went along. I enjoyed using art speak on something as silly as bigfoot cartoons.

BW: Barney Google, Popeye... don’t you miss some of that rollicking energy in comics now? When was the last time a comic character jumped out of his socks when he heard the punchline?

RT: It was about the last time a character’s derby hat jumped off his head in response to some similar stimuli. Yeah, I do miss it in comics now.

BW: I’ve changed my mind about things--I think comics have gotten too sophisticated for their own good! You should always feel a teeny twinge of embarrassment when you read a comic strip. If there’s not something a bit stupid or sleazy in it, you’re doing it wrong.

RT: “Teeny twinge” of embarrassment is entirely too small; I prefer a full-on debilitating attack of shame with my comics.

BW: Says the guy who drew cartoons about Mozart and James Joyce!

Monday, March 16, 2015

NOVA Film Festival, The; NOW WITH UPDATES

That docudrama I posed for for the folks at GVI has been selected  for the first annual NOVA Film Festival,  to be held in mid-April at the Angelika theater in Merrifield.  Specifically, it'll be shown on April 13th at 8 O'Clock in theatre @6. AND it's up for an award (details as they become  available).                                   .




Now ask me about the Athens Film Festival.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

WHAT'S NEW AT THOMPSONIANA

ST. PATRICK'S  DAY CARDS
FROM 

WE AT THOMPSONIANA TAKE ST. PATRICK'S DAY 
AND OUR PART IN UPHOLDING OUR IRISH CULTURE
VERY SERIOUSLY. THAT'S WHY WE'VE
DEVELOPED THESE CARDS, BOTH AS A
SALUTE TO OUR PROUD HERITAGE
AND TO MAKE A FEW BUCKS OFF DRUNKEN
STEREOTYPES.

THE OTHER ST. PATRICK'S DAY CARD


  



THE PUB CARD




THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY CARD


THE GOOD  LUCK CARD

                                                   

HURRY!

THOMPSONIANA

 ONLY FIVE MORE SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL
ST. PATRICK'S DAY*! 
*AND HEADS WILL ROLL,BELIEVE 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Old & Lost Art

Bono Mitchell, the well-known Graphic Goddess, found these drawings in a drawer and  immediately notified the authorities. No, I'm kidding, she wisely kept one, which I did for National Geographic (twice because of a spelling error-their-fault-so doubling the price), which she'd better, as I'd given it to her when she got back from New Zealand.


Here's the one she didn't keep, done for who can say, though I remember all too well struggling with it. It came out well; I'm happiest with the shark, and the elephant not far behind. Realizing the high quality of the art, I released cards of the image through the good folks at Thompsoniana.


It'll be in the St.Patrick's Day section, which aside from being non-existent will feature many Irish-themed images, all in the best taste, you can be sure.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Today is my brother Tim's 50th birthday. I can remember what I was dreaming when I was awoken to be told had a brother (it was boring).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mary Z. Gray, R.I.P..


This is my friend Mary Z. Gray, whose work was among the first I ever illustrated (including the first drawing for the Post). Mary died on February 6 of congestive heart failure. She was 96 years old.

My dad worked with Mary on the President's Committee on Mental Retardation back in the 60s and 70s. In 1982, after Mary had become a crack freelancer of humor and travel pieces, she sold a story to the Washington Post Style section and sent along a drawing I did with it. The Post published the story, which wasn't unusual, they'd run Mary's stuff for some time, but they ran the drawing too, thus inadvertently launching my dubious career.


In her book,  301 East Capitol Street, Mary, who was one of the funniest raconteurs I know, writes quite movingly about growing up on Capitol Hill, meeting Calvin Coolidge (or at least his feet) and living above her father's funeral parlor. I'd heard her talk about this before, but never known the address of her old residence. The book's cover has a photo of the house's current incarnation. It's now the Haskell Center, part of the Folger Shakespeare Library where my wife works as a teaching artist. It's cosmic, like it was meant to be, and I think she'd be tickled.

There's a full interview with Mary right here.

WAMU has more.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

HAPPY 2015

Traditions are important; they're a way of saying, "I did it this way before and it seemed to work OK" or "I haven't got anything new." So to start the year off the same, here's a drawing of an elephant with a New Year's Baby. Because traditions are important, like I said.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Next


The next Gala Launch Party is scheduled for 7:00, January 9, 2015, at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. Washington, D.C. We'll have folklife exhibitions, tests of balance,  methods of reusing old newsprint,  amusing ways to pass the time, whittling, yodeling for bureaucrats,  rasslin' for the meek and an exhaustive tutorial on shoplifting tiny novelty books from up near the cash register.                                            

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best Review Ever

I used to buy Print Magazine in its more substantial iteration as an actual, you know, magazine, when it cost a week's salary and bristled with rate cards. It was one of a flock of "design" magazines, like Communication Arts & the slightly inscrutable Graphis that filled my shelves when I was a dewy-eyed illustrator.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

So imagine my surprise, in a spate of Google self-searches, to come across this;

I’d planned to include The Art of Richard Thompson on this list, but my Print colleague Steven Brower just beat me to it with an excellent write-up of his own. But luckily, I can substitute another new Thompson book from earlier this year: The Complete Cul de Sac, a two-volume paperback with an intro by Art Spiegelman.
For my money, when it comes to comics about kids with visual kicks, no cartoonist – not even fellow fan Bill Watterson – comes close to Thompson. Sure, Charles Schulz may have created the world’s most famous strip. But let’s be honest: design-wise, compared to Cul de SacPeanuts ain’t worth peanuts.
Listen: Schulz drew a tiny cast of simple, standardized characters on a shallow stage with practically no backdrop. Over and over and over. Every single day. For fifty frickin’ years. Aaugh! Thompson, on the other hand, has built on the lineage of such masters of the excitable pen cartoon form as George “Krazy Kat” Herriman, Ronald “St. Trinian’s” Searle, and Elwood “PushPin Studios” Smith.
Take your time to savor all five years of this hilariously clever, helpfully annotated collection. And after that, you can still look forward to the 2004 Richard’s Poor Almanac: 12 Months of Misinformation in Handy Cartoon Form.
(Excuse the sudden shift in fonts; I don't know how to fix it). This was signed Michael Dooley and titled "7 Outstanding Cartoon Books for 2014". He was further identified as-
the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches Design History at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor  and writes on art and design for a variety of publications. 
So he had gravitas, or at least a paying job (what is wrong with the fonts?), and we were even Facebook friends, always a good sign.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Frohliche Geburtstag



Here, one version of this Poor Almanac (and not the original one) which ran on Beethoven's birthday. I liked it so much I made several copies (I gave this one to my piano teacher). Here's another, in bistre ink.


CHRISTMAS AT THOMPSONIANA

CHRISTMAS CARDS
FROM 

CHRISTMAS AT THOMPSONIANA IS A VERY SPECIAL TIME, A TIME FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY,
AND THEY ALL WANT CARDS FOR SOME
INEXPLICABLE REASON. SO WE TRY TO TAKE
ADVANTAGE OF IT BY SELLING A FEW COLORFUL BITS OF PAPER WITH HOMILIES STAMPED ON THEM.       

THE TINKY THE SPOKESELF CARD I




          THE DICKENSIAN CARD


       THE TINY TIM CARD


THE TREE CARD

 THE CHRISTMAS SWEATER CARD


THE ST. SANTA CARD

ONLY $2.95 A CARD
THOMPSONIANA
EVEN OUR NAME
INSPIRES FEAR

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Good Review

Here's a nice review of the Art book by one who'd know-professor & historian Charles Solomon.  I dunno, a Christmas special....?


Monday, December 8, 2014

Old & Lost Almanac(k)s

First, I'd like to thank all those who came to the Gala Book Launch on Saturday; a report, heavily-illustrated with photos, is forthcoming.

Now then,  this comes to us courtesy of the indefatigable Michael Rhode, partner in crime and Claire's dad, who found it behind a coffee mug at the National Portrait Gallery during a recent backstage tour, which I didn't attend because if I'm around art* I tend to drool.

               
As you can see, the humor's a little dated, but you only have to put "Isis" in and BOOM you're OK. Like it says, this is the famous (and expensive) Landsberg Portrait, named for the retail giant who owned it.

*Or anything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Well, That Happened

So on Tuesday, November 25th, everyone walked just a bit straighter  and carried themselves with a new-found dignity, a dignity they could  not have mustered a mere 24 hours before  Tiny children, barely human, settled down and behaved without urging. Stray cats & dogs and other lost souls wandered home, and everywhere the joyous sound of reunions could be heard, if you listened real hard and didn't let the racket from cash registers pushed beyond their capacity demand for my new book, THE ART OF RICHARD THOMPSON,  224 pages jam-packed with laffs and full color pictures for the low price of only $35.00!      


Let's look at the stats


Friday, November 21, 2014

Arlington Central Library Releases Details

Looking south along the auxiliary astrolabe repository

Arlington Central Library, that sober bulwark against the advance of illiteracy, that immovable redoubt of civilization, that last hope against the fidgety and loud, that shining beacon of all that we may aspire to has gladsome news of a celebratory nature concerning the goings-on of December  6th of this year. So be there or be square, Jake.

The Great Hall

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NOT IN THE BOOK LXIvIV oh I lose track

Here again are several random images, drawn from the pool of images that were considered and discarded as somehow lacking in that certain something, that je ne sais quoi, that separates winners from under-achievers.

First up is this pair of under-achievers I did for Bono Mitchell-






Then, this non-performer for The Atlantic-


Finally, we ha-HEY! THIS ONE IS IN THE BOOK! SOMEBODY MADE A BOO-BOO!

 
We'll have to get back to you on this...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

J. Arthur Wood, Jr.,1927 - 2014

When you opened the front door of the spacious yet unassuming house in Rockville, Maryland the first thing you saw was Prince Valiant. A choice Sunday page, all sweeping vistas and heraldic detail. The fact that the house contained almost 40,000 original cartoons, the largest private collection of comic art in America, if not the world was too much for the mind, so great was the discrepancy between the blandly comfortable house and what it contained

I said, "when YOU opened the front door," but that wouldn't happen. Steeped as he was in Southern Manners, it was unthinkable for someone else to open a door, any door, when Art was around.  So there you'd stand, confronted with a man who looked like Hollywood's ideal of a Southern Senator living in this house with drawings. "Come out to the house," he'd say, to the amusement of Pat Oliphant who knew the house was really a shrine. "Come out to the house. We're having some of the troops out."  The troops were inevitably Big Names of Cartooning and stacks of  their Christmas cards could be found on the coffee table in season.


I met Art in the early 80s, courtesy of my high school friend Greg's mom. Doris Fronsdorff was a respected collector-and expert in children's books and she had a sharp eye, so when Art needed someone to authenticate some drawings by Kate Greenway, he called Doris. And Doris called me.

The  Greenways were fakes, but it didn't matter. At least to me. I was at loose ends, unsure of what to do next. Or first. But Art Wood's enthralling tales and fabulous collection turned my head. The old-school Southern charm got me. And he knew everybody! My favorite Art Wood story from among millions is from later, after I'd quit Cul de Sac. I said my new work would look like Cy Twombly if he used his sleeve. I soon got a note from Art that said he and Cy Twombly were old schoolmates who'd gone on sketching expeditions together. There are two names I wouldn't put in the same sentence and they are "Art Wood" and "Cy Twombly."



Whenever he visited my studio, Art would sit on the floor like a little kid and go through piles of originals. To his utter delight I'd say, "Keep what you want." I figured he'd take better care of anything I gave him than I would. I mean, a guy with not just an animation cel hung on his wall but a cel with all seven dwarves signed, "To Art from Walt Disney" is at least trustworthy, monomaniac though he be, right?

Art sold his collection for just under a million dollars (though technically it was priceless) to the Library of Congress, where he'd worked as a boy (he'd also attended Hearst school, a public school in northwest DC, like my brother and even went to kindergarten in the same room). They had a nice ceremony in one of the fancier rooms attended by many cartoonists and Woodses and a show drawn from the collection. Art was expansive.

The last time I saw him was just before he moved to Charlottesville. He and his wife, the ever-gracious Sallie, had pretty much emptied the house, so now it was what it appeared to be, a normal suburban house. All the custom-built drawers Art had installed were empty. It was strange.

We had lunch at his club, where the waiters were vaguely insulting yet the food was good. It called to mind all the lunches we'd had; at one of them, memorably, I met Pat Oliphant for the first time. I remember because it was at the Press Club and Bill Mitchell was there and we went bar-hopping and my car got towed and I missed a date at the Phillip's.



Sallie & Art at my show with Roman Genn, Susan Conway Gallery, 1996
photo courtesy of Bruce Guthrie, whom I met at a Smithsonian event hosted by Art 

But that was in 1987 (I could tell you the date because I asked Pat what he'd drawn - Nancy Reagan dropping a chandelier on Donald Regan). Art said he had something for me. I thought of one particular Krazy Kat I'd long admired. Heck, I'd told him I'd steal it.



He held out an old case. "I never could figure this out," he said. Inside was a complex optical device for transferring drawings. I never could figure it out either but it's handsome and mysterious.

J. Arthur Wood died on the fourth of November, in Charlottesville.
                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, November 6, 2014

GALA ANNOUNCEMENT WITH EARTH-SHAKING CONSEQUENCES!


THIS BLOG, IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE ONE MORE PAGE, IS PLEASED, HECK TICKLED PINK, TO ANNOUNCE A BOOK-SIGNING & LAUNCH PARTY FOR
THE ART OF
RICHARD THOMPSON
 WITH EXTRAS ON
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6TH
2:30 PIP EMMA
AT THE
ARLINGTON CENTRAL LIBRARY
AUDITORIUM
1015 NORTH QUINCY STREET
THERE'LL BE A PANEL DISCUSSION, CELEBRITY APPEARANCES, SIGNED BOOKS, A WORLD PREMIERE OF A MAJOR VIDEO, CLOWNISH ANTICS AND FACE PAINTING! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5 Favourite Things

I always thought it was a song cue from a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. But over at Comics & Cola Zainab Akhtar proves me wrong in this very nice review of theComplete Cul de Sac.


oh, who cares?

WHAT IS NEW AT 

NOT MUCH, OUR KID JUST GOT HIS WISDOM TEETH OUT,
THE OLD LADY WENT TO HER 30tTH HIGH SCHOOL REUNION,  I FOUND A $20 BILL IN THE PARKING LOT,  YOU KNOW, NOTHING  EARTH-SHAKING.
OH, YOU MEAN "WHAT NEW PRODUCTS HAVE YOU GOT?" I SEE, I SEE. WELL, WE GOT THESE, BUT THEY'RE NOT REALLY MOVING, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. NOW, IF HE'D DRAW SOME PUPPIES OR KITTENS, THEY'D MOVE.

INSTEAD, WE GET ELEPHANTS.

THE HAPPY NEW YEAR CARD
Inside it says, "And many more."


THE PETEY CARD
Inside, it says, "It's going to be one of those days."


THE HEY,  JACKASS CARD
Inside, it says, "No, not you."
I'm quite proud of this card, and I'm posting it despite the fact that it does appear in the book and I could get in serious tr-


WHO SENDS GREETING CARDS NOWADAYS?
   THOMPSONIANA
WHAT TH-?