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, December 31, 2009

The Uninteresting Times

This may be a little out of date (the "local hoopster" was Michael Jordan) but the sentiment still holds. Here's to a widespread increase in uneventfulness for 2010. Not that it's too likely...

From All of Us to All of You

A very happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Continued Some More, But Just Barely

This here's from just about four years ago. I redid it a couple years ago as a series of dailies, maybe two or three, but this shows the antic confusion more succinctly. And antic confusion is my middle name.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Continued Some More

I've got all these Christmas cartoons lying around that I didn't get around to posting, so I'll take advantage of the Twelve Days of Christmas. This is an Almanac from around 2000, and it was printed in the Almanac collection (you can see the "Poor Almanac" crudely whited out by me for reproduction in the book). I like getting these Christmas newsletters, though I've never sent one out. Or even sent out a Christmas card in recent memory. So, here's this instead.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Continued

Here are two old bits appropriate for the season, which I hadn't gotten around to posting earlier because of all the #@!% Christmas stuff going on. The above is a cover for USN&WR, now no longer an actual magazine, though at one time one of my favorite clients (in short, they kept me busy every week and paid well). It's in alkyd and casein paint, with some layers of Krylon to force it to dry in time (Krylon has been the savior of many a deadline-crazed illustrator and probably the bane of the ozone layer for years; even Norman Rockwell used something like it). I haven't used that technique in years, abandoning it after I figured out watercolor well enough to fake some competency. In this case, I was trying for an Ashcan School type of painting, to make it look like a turn of the 20th century sweatshop.

The below image was for the American Diabetes Association magazine, another long-time client I haven't worked for recently. DC has associations of every description (there's even an Association of Association Executives) and all of them have or had a magazine or newsletter that used freelance illustrators. You could build a pretty good career working for them, and before I got more into purer (ha!) cartooning, I did a lot of work for them, almost as much as I did for the Post.

This is in alkyd too. Alkyds are somewhat like oils, though their texture is a little tarrier they thin with turpentine, but they use a resin instead of linseed oil as the vehicle for the pigment. They also dry faster than oil and you can use them on paper, which oil will eventual corrode. So they're well-suited for illustration work. The way I used them was this; I'd draw a rough in ink on a thin, semi-translucent layout paper called Ad Art, once made by Beinfang (but alas, no longer, I loved that paper), put another piece of Ad Art paper on top and draw a more finished (but still loose enough) final, then spray mount it on a piece of 2-ply Bristol board (it had to be pliable to fit on a drum for scanning). Then I'd put a first layer of alkyd using Winsor & Newton Liquin (a thixotropic alkyd gel medium) mixed with some warm tint, like an ochre or something, and work some details a little with colored pencil, which would somewhat liquify and mix with the Liquin. Then I'd let it dry, maybe spraying it with Krylon, and do another layer of color and another, etc, building up a bunch of glazes, which gave it a nice depth. And what did I use to put the alkyds on the paper? My favorite tool was a little wad of the spongy foam rubber they put under wall to wall carpeting; I had a giant roll of it and I'd just tear off a suitable piece. That and Q-tips. Silly as it sounds, it wasn't too different from what others have used over the years. Casein paint, a milk-based paint, would stick well to the Krylon (if it was matte Krylon) and was useful for detail work, like the red threads in the sewing machine in the image above. When it was finished I'd have a pretty snappy looking little painted art objet. But it was time-consuming and smelly and messy, none of which you want on a deadline. And when we suddenly had a baby around, I wanted something less toxic.

I'd been leery of watercolor for years as I thought they were difficult and unforgiving. So I started with them fairly slow and easy, using only a few colors, a couple of warm colors and a blue maybe. The first watercolor I did under a deadline was a little drawing of Colin Powell for the New Yorker; it had maybe 3 colors in it and looked just fine. I learned a few simple rules and tricks. All colors handle somewhat differently, especially in a medium with the immediacy of watercolor, and as you use them their personalities reveal themselves. I still don't know exactly what I'm doing, but nobody's caught on yet, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell them.

This has been your art lesson for today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Pageant

I'm posting this  just because I like it. My favorite part is the tangle of typography to show that Nara and Alice are not too well in sync, but I like the scrape of the snow shovel too. We just had 20.5 inches dumped on us in under 24 hours, so I've heard that scrape a lot without actually participating in it (my thanks to Amy and Lars and to Andy Hemmindinger, who showed up with a snow blower!). And, in case you missed it in the comments section, here's Paul's completion of the Winter Jewels ditty-

"We are Winter's jewels,
Dancing through the air,
We filter out pollution
To deposit everywhere.

Just stop what you are doing,
And admire our symmetry,
Our awesome shining whiteness and our

We muck around with traffic,
And disarrange your day,
We bring the gift of frostbite
And an exuse for kids to play

Games like "snowball down the collar,"
And "hit the passing cars."
And "decorate the snowman
With Dad's finest choice cigars."

We provide a chance to shovel:
There's no time for being bored.
Remember, Mother Nature
Doesn't like to be ignored."

Christmas Sweater Voting Now Open!

The finalists have been chosen and their photos posted! Now it's up to you, the Great Unwashed American Public, to choose a winner! Please go over to the Christmas Sweater Contest at GoComics and make your selection from the finalists, each of whom will win a Cul de Sac book signed by me (with a drawing too). But only the winner will receive the Complete Calvin & Hobbes (ooh!), which, besides being a collection of masterworks, is also the heaviest book ever to make the New York Times bestseller list.

Here's the schedule (I could've said "schedYULE' again)-

  • 12/15 - Contest opens for submissions
  • 12/18 - Submissions period closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/21 - Five finalists announced, online voting begins
  • 12/23 - Voting closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/24 - The winner is announced!

  • So hurry! It's your duty as a patriot!

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Saint Santa

    Wouldn't this make a great all-purpose charming yet slightly offensive Christmas card? It's from a column by either Joel Achenbach, E J Dionne or Gene Weingarten, all of whom have had a column at some point in the Wash  Post Magazine that I got to illustrate. This one's probably from a Joel Achenbach piece. 

    Ancient and Unrelated Almanack

    This here's from Sunday, June 29, 1997. I know because I scanned it from a copy of the Wash Post Style section of that date, which I found in a drawer in my studio. This was about the third or fourth Poor Almanack I did, though it wasn't called Richard's Poor Almanac(k) then, or anything else. It changed names every time, which wasn't much use for building up a readership. I like this one just fine, though I'd forgotten all about it. I gave the original to Ms. Carolyn Hax, who liked it a lot too.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Winter's Jewels

    Here are two completions of Alice's Snowflake Ditty, which I swiped from my brother's old kindergarten play. The first line was all that I remembered; my patchwork gloss on it is above, from tomorrow's strip, and it's pretty straight. The two below are much funnier. Thanks to Jennifer and Fritz for letting me post these!

    This first one is by my friend Jennifer Hart, Arlington, who any close reader of the Washington Post will recognize as a master of the Washington Post Style Invitational entries.

    We are winter's jewels 
    dancing on the air
    Melting on  your sweater 
    but not your underwear.

    We are winter's jewels
    dancing on the air.
    We taste like icy  diamonds, with
    a hint of aged Gruyere.

    We are winter's jewels
    dancing on the air.
    If we were REALLY jewels,
    you'd be a zillionaire.

    We are winter's jewels
    dancing on the air.
    On break, we go antiquing
    and price Fiestaware.

    We are winter's jewels
    dancing on the air.
    We tried to tell that golfer,
    "Don't anger the au pair."

    We are winter's jewels
    dancing on the air.
    Tax and tags  included,
    except in Delaware!

    This is by Fritzoid, who left it as a comment on the GoComics post under the holiday nom de  plume Fritzkringle. 

    We are winter’s jewels, 
    Dancing through the air. 
    Crystal shards of starlight, 
    Sticking in your hair.

    Accumulating on the ground, 
    A foot or two (or more). 
    We hope the plow comes down your street, 
    If you need to reach the store…

    Traffic’s at a standstill! 
    Cabin fever’s rife! 
    Three months out of every year 
    We paralyze your life!

    Heart attacks from shoveling! 
    Power lines that break! 
    So much havoc wrought from 
    Each tiny little flake!

    But if by chance the sun comes out, 
    And melts us all away, 
    Remember Frosty’s vengeful vow: 
    ”I’LL BE BACK… on Christmas Day!”

    Last Day! Christmas Sweater Contest! Prizes Prizes Prizes!

    This is the last day to enter the Christmas Sweater Contest over at GoComics. Do you have a Christmas sweater so ridiculous that it's a sartorial slap in the face? Well, check your closet if you're not sure. You could win these great prizes- a Cul de Sac book signed by me (with a drawing too), the Complete Calvin & Hobbes (ooh!), and the admiration of your peers, if any.

    Here's the schedule (I could've said "schedYULE' again)-

  • 12/15 - Contest opens for submissions
  • 12/18 - Submissions period closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/21 - Five finalists announced, online voting begins
  • 12/23 - Voting closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/24 - The winner is announced!

  • So hurry! No time to lose! It'll make all those years of wearing a big ugly Christmas sweater finally pay off!

    Some Popularity Contest

    Hey, I'm not saying anything about that.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Today's Cul de Sac

    This is a backhanded salute to my little brother, Tim. He appeared in a Winter Pageant in either kindergarten or first grade, portraying an icicle, and the first few lines of Alice's poem were his. He took his role very seriously. It involved a little sideways dance that the several icicles were to execute in unison while reciting the poem. He was told to project his lines. I attended the performance (I was in 6th or 7th grade), sitting with my folks near the back of the school auditorium. When the icicles took the stage they exhibited something more like Brownian motion than ensemble work, except for Tim, who slid back and forth in the correct way (I guess; it looked right to me). The other icicles mostly flubbed their lines or mumbled. But Tim projected with enough force that he practically blew the civilians out of the back of the theater (that's theater talk, I think). 

    This became a Family Story, and it's still vivid enough I'll swear by it, though I only remember the beginning of the poem. Tim is now (ahem) the Master Sound Designer at Arena Stage in DC, a career that is obviously a direct outgrowth of his experience as an icicle in the Winter Pageant. The moral is: kids, pay attention in school, especially to the potentially embarrassing parts.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Christmas Sweater Contest! Prizes Prizes Prizes!

    The folks over at GoComics, providers of some of the finest cartoons online (and Cul de Sac too), have announced a Christmas Sweater Contest inspired by Ms. Madeline Otterloop's Christmas sweater-of-many-holidays. Do you have a Christmas sweater so ridiculous that it's very existence makes you question the whole nature of reality? (I don't, but there is a festive potholder in the kitchen drawer that tests my sanity every time I behold it). You could win these great prizes- a Cul de Sac book signed by me (with a drawing too), the Complete Calvin & Hobbes (ooh!), and the admiration of your peers, who've been secretly mocking your Christmas sweater behind your back.

    Here's the schedule (I could've said "schedYULE')- 

  • 12/15 - Contest opens for submissions
  • 12/18 - Submissions period closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/21 - Five finalists announced, online voting begins
  • 12/23 - Voting closes at 11:59pm
  • 12/24 - The winner is announced!

  • So hurry! No time to lose! It'll make all those years of wearing a big ugly Christmas sweater finally pay off!

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Fan Art Saturday Falls On A Saturday, After Already Falling on a Thursday

    Our friend Mary Hanson sent us these photos, which we immediately printed out and ate because they look so good. And it's cookie season, so who can blame us? 

    Mary says-
    Just in time for the holiday season!  The full set of "cul de sac" cookie cutters including such favorites as Miss Bliss, Dad's little car, Tim's banjo and more!   OK, really I just got bored with christmas trees and stars--but when the cookie cutter set does come out I expect a major cut of the profits.  I've got to get started on that south-of-France retirement fund.

    Which sounds much nicer than refurbishing that dumpster behind Appleby's like I've been planning. Thanks, Mary, and it's a deal!

    The Wizard

    According to Alan Gardner's indispensable Daily Cartoonist, November 16th marked the 45th anniversary of Parker & Hart's The Wizard of Id. So I've missed it by less than a month.

    The first cartoonist I ever saw in person was likely Virgil Partch, in the early 60s at a car show in DC. He was sitting at a little table signing little books of VW cartoons and my dad took me over to watch him. It was memorable; I know because I remember it, he was wearing glasses and a crewcut and I got a copy of his book, which may well be up in my Dad's attic. I remember it being printed on black paper with white type.

    The second cartoonist I ever saw in person was Brant Parker, who drew The Wizard of Id. I was in high school in Gaithersburg MD, taking a journalism class from the wonderful Mrs. Molly Christie, and she had Brant Parker's phone number. Brant lived in Virginia and had a studio on Lee Highway in Vienna. One assignment for class was to interview someone, an actual adult. I was on the school paper, the wonderful Blue & Gold, so if the interview was any good it might run in the paper. Mrs. Christie gave me Brant's card and said, drop him a line. So I did, though I don't remember what I sent him, and he replied thusly-

    And I called him. I know this because on his letter's envelope I've carefully written a script for my call, starting with the opening "hello Mr. Parker my name is Richard Thompson." The script must have been compelling because he invited me down to his studio for the above mentioned rap session. There must've been some lag time between his invitation and our eventual meeting, but my life is full enough of lag time, so I don't remember the time line too well.

    But I went to Brant's studio. I took along a tape recorder and an empty cassette, some drawings to show him and a list of questions. My dad drove me down, as I think I only had a learner's permit at the time. The address, 10805 Lee Highway in Fairfax VA, was (and is) about a dozen or more miles west of DC, and Gaithersburg was (and is) about 25 miles north of DC, so it was a bit of a hike. 

    10805 was (and still is, almost; the above is a Google maps screenshot) a little Cape Cod style house. The downstairs at the time was a saddlery (Fairfax is on the edge of horsey country) and I stepped inside to the rich smell of leather and soap. Immediately inside was a staircase going up to a short hall and I headed up. If I remember right, Brant had the whole upstairs for his studio; I think there was a door with a picture of the Wizard on it. If so, I knocked on it.

    Brant answered. He had a moustache, great eyebrows and kind eyes and he was affable and twinkly and immensely droll. I guess we went through a handshake and pleased to meet you and I love your work and all the usual niceties. Then I sat and listened to him answer questions, all the usual ones, and describe his work process, pretty much the usual process, and tell funny stories. And I remember what his studio looked like; it had a kitchen and an American flag on the ceiling and a TV that he kept on with the sound off (as inspiration, he said) and there were drawings everywhere. He showed me a Sunday page he was loosely coloring with watercolor as a rough guide. It had the character Robbing Hood in it fairly prominently, and some trees. He told me he colored the various greens in first, because Robbing Hood had to be green and so did the trees, then added the other various bits. It made sense. And he showed me the roughs leading up to it, and the numbered color guide the printers would use (still a mystery to me, though I've learned to fake it).  I kept my tape recorder on so I could transcribe this into some kind of article form for the journalism class. I guess the cassette probably resides in my dad's attic too. 

    Mostly I was kind of dazzled to be in the presence of so august a personage; someone who could turn out an actual comic strip, a certifiably great comic strip. I'd always liked the Wizard of Id. The loose, handwritten style appealed to me and the dark humor often cracked me up. I'd researched the strip some for my article, and one source commented on its rather grim nature, pointing out that the strip was populated by failures who hated each other, and that only Bung the jester was redeemably human. Which may be a little harsh, but Id did traffic pretty heavily in harsh material; hangings, petty human vanity, cowardice, dictatorial royalty, and on and on. In short, the best kind of comedy.

    I think we chatted for about an hour and a half. The interview I wrote for the journalism class got an A (I think) and appeared in the Blue & Gold. I hope I sent Brant a copy. We had a good school paper under a good editor, Mary Kay Kruzel, and the little newspaper . Without that paper, high school would've been a lot harder to get through and a whole lot less fun.

    Years later, when I'd started freelancing around DC, I'd bump into Brant now and then at an infrequent cartoonist get-together. He once gave me a ride in his big car to a bar where various cartoonists were meeting, and I reminded him that I'd visited his studio years earlier, but he didn't really remember it, though he was affable and droll as ever, though lacking the moustache. In 1996, at the NCS Reuben dinner in New York, I won the divisional award for best newspaper illustration, and by sheer chance it was Brant who handed me the little plaque and shook my hand. He, of course, had won the comic strip division award in '71, '76, '80, '82 and '83 as well as the Reuben itself in '84 and the Elzie Segar Award in '86.

    He died in 2007 after a long illness. I'd lost track of him and I feel bad about it for all kinds of reasons, not the least being that he was one of the first cartoonists ever I saw in person.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Will the Merchandising Never Stop?

    Doesn't look like it! Did you know that you can now got to Zazzle and have the Cul de Sac of the day put on a T-shirt? Yes, you can turn this-

    Into this-

    Simply by going
    here. Or through the Gocomics Cul de Sac page.

    If you're in the mood to splurge a little, you might consider ordering the full year's run; the convenience of having 365 T-shirts in your drawer is not to be underestimated. And then you wouldn't need to buy all those Cul de Sac books they keep putting out. What am I saying?

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    RIP E&P

    Oh, this makes me sad.

    'Editor & Publisher' to Cease Publication After 125 Years

    By Shawn Moynihan

    Published: December 10, 2009 12:13 PM ET 

    NEW YORK Editor & Publisher, the bible of the newspaper industry and a journalism institution that traces its origins back to 1884, is ceasing publication.

    An announcement, made by parent company The Nielsen Co., was made Thursday morning as staffers were informed that E&P, in both print and online, was shutting down.

    The expressions of surprise and outpouring of strong support for E&P that have followed across the Web -- Editor & Publisher has even hit No. 4 as a Twitter trending topic -- raise the notion that the publication might yet continue in some form.

    Nielsen Business Media, of which E&P was a part, has forged a deal with e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC, a new company formed jointly by Pluribus Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners, for the sale of eight brands in the Media and Entertainment Group, including E&P sister magazines Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek, Backstage, Billboard, Film Journal International and The Hollywood Reporter. E&P was not included in this transaction.

    As news spread of E&P's fate, the staffers have been inundated with calls from members of the industry it covers, and many others, expressing shock and hopes for a revival. Staff members will stay on for the remainder of 2009.

    Greg Mitchell, editor since 2002, has hailed the staff and accomplishments, including a dozen major awards and strong showing on the Web for many years. Some staff writers/editors have been at E&P for a quarter of a century. "I'm shocked that a way was not found for the magazine to continue it some form -- and remain hopeful that this may still occur," he said.

    Editor & Publisher was launched in 1901 but traces its history to 1884 -- it merged with the magazine The Journalist, which had started on that earlier date.

    Just in Time for Christmas Giving!

    Universal Uclick tells me they have now partnered with Zazzle to offer all the Cul de Sac-related products that you could ever possibly want, and then some. Including neckties, hats, keychains, hot water heaters, automotive repair, medical devices, pet needs and home furnishings! Go here if you dare.

    Fan Art Saturday Falls On A Thursday This Week

    Since I've passed the responsibility for filling this blog with content along to you people, it seems like a good idea to spread Fine Art Saturday more evenly over the week.

    The ingenious and hugely talented illustrator and cartoonist Ted Dawson wondered what Alice would look like as A Harveytoon.  And being an ingenious and hugely talented illustrator and cartoonist, he did something about it and very kindly sent it to me.

    Ted is also a partner, along with the ingenious and hugely talented Wes Hargis, in the sketchblog Three Men in a Tub, which I highly recommend.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Old Stuff

    Back in the 90s I did a string of illustrations for National Geographic, usually for Geographica, up in the front of the book. They were great people to deal with, with long deadlines, interesting stories and occasional lunch invitations. This was one of the earliest ones I did and it's one I still like (it's pen & ink, colored pencil and alkyd, for those who care). What I remember most from this one is, in the first sketch I sent in I had penguins in it, that is, penguins in the north Pacific. The National Geographic is awfully particular about factual matters, especially those having something to do with nature, and they informed me most emphatically that there are no penguins in the north Pacific (maybe I knew it but had forgotten). So these are some kind of seagulls, which, as experts can attest, do live in the north Pacific. 

    I also remember this; after a year or so, when they'd gotten enough drawings down in the art department to ship back, they would package up the pile in an actual wooden crate and have it delivered to the artist. In my studio closet I've still got one of the big flat wooden crates, carefully constructed of some kind of pine and screws, full of National Geographic drawings. And each drawing has assorted stamps and markings on it or paperwork attached, as though it had taken a long journey into a more exotic world.

    Fan Art Saturday Falls On A Monday This Week

    This fabulous sculpture of Alice with the Talking Stick was created by Mr. Michael Gauttery, who lives up in my old hometown of Baltimore MD.  I'm not sure what the medium is, but I'm guessing Sculpey, which is fun stuff (though a good deal less tasty than Play-Doh).  My daughters suggested it would make a lovely Christmas tree ornament, and I have to agree. Thanks, Michael!

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Fan Art Saturday- Updated!

    More Fine Fan Art this week! A little more and I'll be able to cut-and-paste a whole month of Cul de Sac strips, which is of course the whole idea behind this exercise. (You knew that, right?)

    First, our friend David Hagen, cartoonist, painter, slide-shooting lifesaver, sent this lovely portrait of Big Shirley, probably the biggest Shirley we've seen. This looks exactly like David's paintings, but it was colored in photoshop, which impresses me no end as I'm pretty hamfisted as a photoshopist. Thanks, David! We gotta do that lunch thing! 

    And Mr. Logan Giannini, who claims he cannot draw (never stopped us!), sent this charming pastiche, combining some of our favorite comic strips. From left to right: Lucy, Alice, Lio, Grundoon, Little Nemo and Calvin. Thanks, Logan!

    And from Mr.
    David Troy, the master of design from Los Angeles, we've just received this ingenious view of Petey. A sort of psychological portrait in signage, or diagram, form. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Petey Piechart-

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Alice in Sweden

    She's in Swedish! Who knew? Nobody tells me anything, for which I'm thankful. And Mr. Fredrik Strömberg

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Now Available at the Otterloop Store

    Many fine giftables, necessities, unmentionables, sundries and kitschy schlock, all with the handmade artisanal attention to detail that makes Otterloop a synonym for quality! Including many items with Feral Two Year Old Alice and our exclusive line of Uh-Oh Baby Infantwear. Go here, or simply head over to Cafe Press and search for Otterloop. And watch for our full-page color ad in tomorrow's Faquier Democrat-Gazette, next week's New Yorker, or next year's McSweeney's!

    Sneak Peek

    Here's a bit of the cover for the Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics. Some adjustments may be made in the color. The first time I drew it, I lettered in A Keepsake Garden of Classics. Which is, of course, completely wrong and makes no sense.