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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays to all

Team Cul de Sac member Mike Rhode stepping in for Richard here -

I saw Richard in rehab last night, and he wants to wish all his family and friends a happy holiday season and also specifically requested this picture be posted. May all your wishes come true. Except for the mean ones.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Music, a dilettante's love story

Music is weird. I mean that literally; I think its effect on the brain is potent stuff, not easily measured. The neurologist Oliver  Sachs  wrote a book on it  called Musicophilia. Nowadays I can't listen to it with the intensity I used to; it's like drawing in that respect.

When he was about 11 my brother got a piano. He wanted to take lessons and he did for 6 years or so. And having a piano handy I started fooling with it. I had a friend who could play the German National anthem (Deutschland uber alles, from a string quartet by Haydn, then set to Gott erhalte Franz denn Kaiser) ( sorry). We had a children's encyclopedia set my mom bought in like 1960 and it had a chart with piano keys, notes of the scale and their names with dotted lines to each. So I figured out a C major chord. Pianos are just sitting there all tuned with every note visible  and they're easy enough to figure once the basic logic of notation's clear, and there're books for that. I didn't want lessons, I wanted a satisfying project, and I had the time to waste on it.

I was at Montgomery College then and the library had music books, opera vocal scores for piano in particular, and I got Wagner's Meistersinger and figured out the first page. It's great, real pompous and soaring, just what an 18 year old geek wants. It was an education in not just culture but history, but I just wanted to know how it worked. And keeping the radio on all the time just made it worse. It was sensory overload almost. I think I've mentioned that I've always found the point when you realize hey, I like this! you know, the aha! moment really interesting. I rememober getting interested in monster movies was precipitated by buying a poster of Bela Lugosi spreading his cape, and my wife got into Chinese culture big time after seeing a Jackie Chan movie.

It hit me how much I liked music after seeing a film in German class that featured Beethoven's fifth. And I wondered how it worked. For instance, how did I know a symphonic movement was coming to an end? There were these gears  shifting way down in the orchestra so you'd feel this change in velocity. That was the Coda, the tail of the piece. Brahms often overworked his, stuffing like 5 key changes into a few bars.

Anyway I got to the point where I could play the middle movement of Beethoven's Pathetique sonata, about ten rags by Scott Joplin and lots of chunks of things. On a good day I could manage the end of Wagner's Die Walkure (the magic fire music, it'll tear your head off) and several pieces by Ravel and Brahms. But I didn't have the patience to learn basics, scales and such. And then I got married and there wasn't a piano (my brother had quit his lessons after several years from the, ahem, spinster who covered her living room furniture with plastic to protect it from children. He offered his piano but that seemed wrong).

But in about 2005 I finally bought a piano, a  Charles Walter studio model, my dream piano, and started again. I decided lessons were necessary, which was brave I guess because I'm scared to death to perform publicly and I knew it would entail a recital. I took my first lesson the day before I first met Lee Salem, strangely enough, from Grace Chang, a delightful,, funny but no nonsense teacher recommended by friends. She had me sight-read a Brahms intermezzo, one of his (somewhat) easier ones except for a bit that has 2 against 3 crossrythms (dense). She was impressed and said my trills were good.. I knew I'd get along with her when we both liked a bit from Brahms' first piano trio; in the first movement; on the first page, the piano, playing in B flat, dips down unexpectedly to a chord with a bass in low E major, the polar opposite. When played right it's quietly seismic. Within two years I played in 2 recitals, once four hands with my daughter Charlotte who also took lessons and once with Grace.  

Then I started on the strip and didn't have time. I also realized most music was really beyond me (I still harbored delusions of playing the Meistersinger prelude). I was always a sucker for transcriptions; orchestral pieces arranged for piano and, thanks mostly to the internet, I had hundreds of pieces I loved,  all for piano, at my fingertips, if they could handle it. My piano tuner, a funny man,   said most self-taught pianists have eyes bigger than their stomachs and I knew what he meant.

Then it got harder. I couldn't wrap my head or my fingers around it like before. When we moved I donated the piano to Arena Stage, where my brother works . It was time to let that obsession go.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Whole Thing 2

Annotated, copyedited, collated, and now covered. The only thing left to be done is the printing and gluing it or sewing or whatever they do to make it hold together And, of course, buying it.

It'll be available in Spring 2014 in conjunction with a two-man show of original cartoons at Ohio State's fabulous new $10 trilllion cartoon library. Bill Watterson will be the other man. Maybe he'll have a complete book of cartoons too! And I'll bet his'll be heavier!

Here are all the covers, to the books and the box.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Whole Thing

Here's a link to the whole entire Cul de Sac panel at Comicon. It's very nice. For maximum effect wait out in your hall for an hour before you watch it and abstain from bathing for a few days. My sincere thanks to all who participated.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sparks Rules Comicon

Eminent humanitarian Chris Sparks was recognized for his good works at last night's Eisner Awards banquet, a highlight of San Diego Comicon. Today, the indefatigable Sparks leads this-

I'm lucky in my friendships.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


On Saturday we're moving seven blocks south to a more accessible house. The new place is a single-level "Craftsman ranchette" with no basement. With no stairs at all except for a folding ladder thing that goes to the attic. It's pretty adorable overall. The interior was completely redone fairly recently and the kitchen features a wine bar, a large island and I forget what else as I've only been inside once.

Right now we're packing like madmen. We've shed as many things a possible. Books, CDs, clothes, furniture, the piano, pretty much everything, was piteously weighed by intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic (surprisingly, the cats made the cut). We gotta fit into this place somehow.

So if you've got my address please e advised it'll be obsolete as of the 6th of July, Anno Domini 2013. Email if you need the new one; thankfully our phone number remains the same. And if you're not busy on Saturday...

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.