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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Today is of course the 172th birthday of Mark Twain, who's best known as a writer and author of such classics as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, 1601, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and the soon-to-be-produced-on-Broadway play, Is He Dead? And my favorite book, Life on the Mississippi. And some others.

A less well known part of Twain's output is his work as an illustrator and artist. In 1903 he wrote "Instructions in Art" for Metropolitan Magazine with his own illustrations, in which he set forth several novel yet cogent theories of Art. Here are some, mostly describing his struggles with technique. I've edited it a bit for space & format, but really, how dare I edit Mark Twain?

The figure (above) symbolizes solemn joy. It is severely Greek, therefore does not call details of drapery or other factitious helps to its aid, but depends wholly upon grace of action and symmetry of contour for its effects. It is intended to be viewed from the south or southeast, and I think that that is best; for while it expresses more and larger joy when viewed from the east or the north, the features of the face are too much foreshortened and wormy when viewed from that point. That thing in the right hand is not a skillet; it is a tambourine.

The next (above) picture is part of an animal, but I do not know the name of it. It is not finished. The front end of it went around a corner before I could get to it.

We will conclude with the portrait of a lady in the style of Raphael (above). Originally I started it out for Queen Elizabeth, but was not able to do the lace hopper her head projects out of, therefore I tried to turn it into Pocahontas, but was again baffled, and was compelled to make further modifications, this time achieving success. By spiritualizing it and turning it into the noble mother of our race and throwing into the countenance the sacred joy which her first tailor-made outfit infuses into her spirit, I was enabled to add to my gallery the best and most winning and eloquent portrait my brush has ever produced.

(Guest blogging by Mark Twain. Top that, Huffington Post. I couldn't find a copy of my favorite Twain drawing; a portrait of the Kaiser he sent unsoliscited to Harper's Weekly. It was of the same quality as the illustrations above, and with it Twain included several endorsements, including one purportedly from the pope, saying "we have nothing like it in the Vatican.")

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


There's something I need to know. Are the Whos in How the Grinch Stole Christmas the same as the Whos in Horton Hears a Who? That is, are they microscopic? If so then the Grinch would likewise be teeny-weeny, wouldn't he? Doesn't that somewhat diminish him as a threat, and make the whole story less compelling? I'm sure this has been discussed and settled somewhere on the web and I'm the last to know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Second-Favorite Drawing

The above drawing is 15 years old this week. Or last week, I forget. It's the first piece I did for Chris Curry at the New Yorker; she needed a quick drawing of Ross Perot for the last page, quick being it needed to be fedexed for the next day. I did five quick roughs, none bigger than your hand , faxed them, and she said, "This one's good. Don't do a final, just sign it and send it." I wish all my roughs turned out so well. I've tried to hit that sweet spot again, where every loose line fell into place just perfectly and, you know, the looser the better. But it's been all downhill since.

Maybe it just demands a gargoyle-in-embryo face like Ross Perot's to hit that spot again. Whatever happened to him, anyway?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Comics Reporter Blows Lid Off Cul de Sac

Thank you, Tom Spurgeon . Shucks, glad you liked it.

A Thanksgiving Memory, Belatedly

Fifteen years ago last week, my wife, Amy, and I were about to celebrate our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. We were going to serve a large feast on our new plates on our new table in our newly rented home for as many of our extended family as could make it. The night before Thanksgiving we went to a bar with friends and we had a most festive and enjoyable time, I personally enjoying it more than anyone else. When we got home, in hopes of coninuing my festively enjoyable time, I started dancing around like Fred Astaire would if Fred Astaire danced in his socks.

Our house was old and strangely shaped and it was heated by radiators, big iron monsters, all coils and ribs and flanges. The kind of fixture that would give sensitive children nightmares. I, as Fred Astaire would not, executed a kick that planted my foot squarely into the radiator in the hall, good and hard.

Amy, seeing me suddenly rolling around on the floor, thought I was still enjoying myself, until I pulled my sock off. One toe was bent completely back, and since it was the middle one, it looked like my foot was giving me the toe, if you know what I mean. It was indescrabably funny, in a silent-film-comedy-trauma way. And it hurt like "the dickens". The dickens is when the entire output of Charles Dickens-all 15 hardbound novels, plus journalism, letters and ephemera-is simultaneously dropped from a height and hits you.

The folks at the emergency room were extremely helpful and didn't laugh and didn't yell at me when I did some doughnuts with the wheelchair and knocked over the IV stand. But the nurse on duty did tell me an awful story about when he was in the Navy and won a $300 bet that he couldn't pull all the hairs off the top of his foot with tweezers without screaming. And they gave me some Tylenol 3, the kind with codeine, the kind that comes with the warning that not everybody reacts well to codeine.

So that is how I ended uup at the head of our table the next day, Thanksgiving Day, with my mangled foot elevated on another chair, presiding over our first Thanksgiving feast. And that is when, not ten minutes into the meal, I fould out I was one of the people who react badly to codeine. And it was Amy who quickly handed me a bowl, the fancy one that matched our new plates and was fortunately empty, for me to react badly in.

It's been 15 years. The toe's still there, of course, though it's still bent a little funny. The house is gone, or at least so renovated it's unrecognizable, and good riddance; it was an astestos-clad eyesore and a menace.

Somehow, subsequent family holidays have never quite matched that First Thanksgiving for intensitiy of emotion, not the Christmas of the Flaming Oven Mitt, or the Other Thanksgiving When the Fireplace Blew Up, or that Day or Two Before Easter When We Had to Evacuate Because of a Carbon Monoxide Leak That Almost Killed Everybody.

The only downside is that, ever since I broke my toe that night, I've been forced to draw with my hands.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

As soon as I've finished up some drawings we're escaping to Salem, Ohio for Thanksgiving. My wife's family farm is just outside of Salem, and it's got a huge kitchen that sometimes produces food without human intervention; at some point over the holidays, someone will discover a pie, side dish, casserole, etc. that no one's entirely sure where it came from. Everything else is made by Aunt Marge, with help from whatever spare hands are available. Every time we go there we're thankful for Marge's hospitality, and Uncle Phil's too.

Weather permitting we'll be lolling on the porch after the meal, or at least in front of the fireplace , groaning blissfully. When I get back I'll tell you the Adventure of Our First Thanksgiving as a Married Couple, and what happened that involved a trip to the emergency room and why I still walk funny sometimes.

Till then everybody go somewhere among friends & relatives, eat too much and loll around and groan blissfully. Here's a bonus Cul de Sac for you to enjoy while you do. Grandma is very much my Grandma.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Thanksgiving Fun!

This week's Poor Almanack. Ha ha! Who knew Thanksgiving was such a fun holiday!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is It Thanksgiving Yet?

Not quite! But you can pretend it is with this handy Thanksgiving Parade in cartoon form. From about 1999; if I drew it today the Rugrats balloon would probably be Spongebob.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dream Previews for Next Week

As it's a holiday week, you're going to be busy next week running errands, gathering supplies, seeing the relatives, traveling, etc. etc. So I thought I'd give you an early "heads up" of what to expect in the dream department.

Another Exclusive Preview Available Only Here

This is from an upcoming strip, or a string of strips, wherein Petey faces off against Babies. Reading the strips you'll suddenly realize what feral, terrifying creatures babies can be, especially if they're traveling in packs. This isn't the punchline, so I'm not spoiling anything.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's Still A-Comin'

This was prettier in color, but here it is in black & white.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanksgiving is A-Coming

This is all true, I swear, every word of it. Kids, if you've got a report on Thanksgiving to write, please use this as a source! Then let me know how you did on it, and how the parent-teacher conference went.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What I'm Reading

When I really should be drawing. My favorite story in it so far is about an animated feature that never was, an aborted collaboration between Walt Disney and a young Roald Dahl about Gremlins. That would've been something to see, as I think of Disney's and Dahl's sensibilities as being pretty dissimilar, though both had a good sense of the dark side of a story. Heck, Dahl's stories are about as dark as children's literature gets, and about as funny, too.

I hear that Wes Anderson is doing an animated version of Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. That might be something to see, too. I wish someone would do George's Marvelous Medicine. And if you're going to animate Dahl, it'd be great to see it done in the style of his long-time illustrator, the great Quentin Blake. His is another name I meant to add to that list of those who inspire me.

Now I gotta go draw, after I read the next article in Hogan's Alley.

Sweeps Week!

Is it time for Sweeps Week yet? I have no idea, but here's a cartoon on it anyway. And a Shark Week is in the works.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Anyone living in the DC area recognize the joke behind the name "Otterloop" (at least I hope they do; it took me forever to get it myself). It's a play on "Outer Loop", the outside, counter-clockwise ring of DC's Beltway. You would most often hear it in a sentence with the word "delays", as in, "Delays on the Outer Loop start at the Springfield Interchange." If you don't live in DC and aren't familiar with the "Outer Loop" be glad, it's usually a nightmare. And the "Springfield Interchange" is even worse.

Looking at the map of the Beltway provided above and comparing it to Mr. Otterloop's head I see a resemblance, kinda. But mostly it looks like an upside-down cartoon dialog balloon.


Here's a panel from a strip that won't be in papers for another month, and since it isn't the punchline I'm not giving anything away. Sometimes people ask if I get ideas from my two daughters and the answer is yes of course, but not directly. Usually things are rearranged for comic effect and filtered to protect the innocent. This, though, is taken almost verbatim from something my wife said to my daughter. I encourage the girls to come up with more comic bits & routines and to say more of the darnedest things, just to help Daddy out with his work. In return we provide them with a household full of eccentrics like James Thurber had, so they'll have material to draw on later in life should they ever take up cartooning or literature. It's the least we can do for each other as a family, I think.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Some Literary Laffs

Tonight I went to a talk on The Graphic Novel in the Classroom with my friend Mike Rhode (see ComicsDC under Nice Places to Visit to the right). Me, I'm all for gettin' kids' noses in them funnybooks, so I say the more of 'em in the classroom the better.

I'm feeling all frisky 'n' literary, so here's this.

I don't speak Italian either

I wish I'd learned how to at some point. From what I can tell, the above is saying something nice about Cul de Sac for which I'm grateful, though I'd like to've seen them translate "Otterloop" into Italian. Mille grazie to Gianfranco Goria for this!

I tried French for a couple of years in middle school, until the teacher finally suggested maybe I'd like to try another language. So I tried German and had an easier time with it. But Italian, that's the language of art, music, love, food. And cartoons! Or as we say, fumetti.

One thing I do know in French is that cul-de-sac means bottom of the bag, and I only know that because Washington Post Genius Editor Pat Myers told me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Hey, go look at this guy'swork. It's great. And thanks to RC Harvey, who mentioned it on his blog over on

How would you pronounce Voutch? I'm rhyming it with "couch", but it's French so it's probably more "vooouuusssh". And I wish the images on his site were larger and the type more readable for those of us who squint. Not that I can read French anyway; I got the above image here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Names, or, The Place is Getting Crowded

Lyonel Feininger, Ed Koren, J J Sempe, Jim Borgman, Elzie Segar, Frank Willard, Saul Steinberg, William Steig, Barry Blitt, Bruce McCall, John Cuneo, Heinrich Kley, Peter Steiner, Steve Brodner, David Levine, Chuck Jones, Chris Ware, Crockett Johnson, Percy Crosby, Dr. Seuss, Lisbeth Zwerger, Ernest Shepard,...

(click on dailycartoonist at right for some explanation, if necessary)

Peanut Allergies

Here's this week's Poor Almanack. Charlie Brown's head, for all it's simplicity, is hard to draw. And the zigzag is even worse.

Comic Strip Previews

I did this at the beginning of the year. Let's read it and see how well my prognostications panned out.

Yup! Looks like they all came true (I knew that squid would get those Pattersons). Except maybe the last one, but it's only a matter of time before the van pulls up in my driveway and the Pulizter people leap out with a bouquet of helium balloons and the giant novelty check and knock on my door. Or maybe they just push it through the mail slot, I'm not sure. But either way, I'm ready!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hey Writers!

These are all drawn from real life, except the old guy losing an overshoe in the Metro escalator didn't realize it'd happened until his wife pointed it out. She then turned to me and said, "Isn't life funny?" and I said, "Oh, yeah."

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Pixar Story

On Wednesday I snuck out of work and went downtown with Ann Telnaes to see a documentary called "The Pixar Story". It was produced & directed by Leslie Iwerks, daughter of the great animator Ub Iwerks, and it was showing very briefly in DC to qualify for the Oscars. Ann and I were the only ones in the theater, maybe in the whole theater complex, so we could chat during the show. Ann trained as an animator at CalArts, the school that produced John Lasseter and she knew some of the people in the documentary.

Watching it I was struck by how dicey a business like Pixar can be, how close it is to the verge of collapse from one blockbuster to the next; Toy Story did spectacularly well, but then A Bug's Life had to do even better, and when Toy Story 2 almost fell apart and had to be redone the whole company almost fell apart with it. And Pixar's partnership with Disney was played as a somewhat atonal counterpoint to its ever-changing fortunes. Ann booed when some of the Disney executives were interviewed, especially when the subject was Disney's idiotic switch from 2-D animation to 3-D, when they let go animators with years of experience in classic animation. Now of course Lasseter's in charge of Disney animation so things have changed and We'll See. Disney's always been a company that can put a smile on your face and make you grind your teeth hard enough to loosen a molar at the same time.

It was an interesting film, very much a bouquet to John Lasseter, his cohort of geniuses and their story-telling skills. We bought a little Pixar stock years ago and haven't paid much attention to it, though they do send shareholders a nice poster every year, so maybe I've got a vested interest. I admitted to Ann that I choked up at the end of both Toy Stories and Ratatouille. But then I blubber when the laundry soap works in the TV commercials, just 'cause everybody is so happy about it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Drop Panels

Drop Panels are the title panels in Sunday strips that are used as filler or dropped because they're filler. The size and shape of a Sunday strip is an arcane science that I haven't figured out yet, I've just used a default 1/4 page size. But there are things you can do with a drop panel, like do a nice drawing or a separate gag or reproduce a sketch like Zits does, and I need to do something more interesting. So I'm coming up with some different title panels, with maybe a little gag in them. Here are a couple of roughs that I like, especially for the scratchy velocity of the line. They're on my to-do list, like finishing this week's strips, mowing the lawn, cleaning up my studio enough that I can walk from one end to the other, and arranging for a lasting worldwide peace based on love & understanding. And maybe tune the banjo if I've got time.