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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Historic Otterloop Artifact

Here's something else I found recently. It's a page from a sketchbook I was using in 2003 when I was trying to think up funny names for a comic strip. Right before your very eyes you can see the actual invention of the word "Otterloop," just like watching Beethoven think up da da da daaa, or Shakespeare come up with "Hamlet", or George Lucas putting the words Jar, Jar and Binks together! And the hokiest part of it is, the final names are underlined, like one of those unbelievable clues a detective in a noire thriller finds, where there's a name and address heavily underlined in a phonebook with the note "let's kill this guy" written under it. But that's how it happened and there's the proof. I might have googled the word "Otterloop" to see if anybody else had used it. I did that the other day, and I found the photo below. It's a bus turnaround in Toronto called the Otter Loop that (as of 2006) was in danger of being torn down, and had some people interested in preserving it as an historic example of mid-20th century Toronto area bus turnarounds. That's the kind of vital provenance that you don't usual dream of when you think up a funny name, and I'm glad I underlined "Otterloop" and stuck with it, all right. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Richard's Poor Almanack

This is a book I found on eBay a year or so ago and promptly lost, then found tonight on a bookshelf, of all places. It was copyrighted in 1907 by Maurice Switzer who, from what I can tell from some googling, was an author and humorist of the early 20th century who wrote a half-dozen or so books (some of which were illustrated by Frank Godwin, the illustrator and cartoonist who drew the strip Connie). This book, the Almanack, looks like it was produced as an advertisement for White Rock Beverages, as you can tell from the citation on the cover. And every so often there's a full page that says something like, "You should drink White Rock," so it's pretty soft-sell.

It's a handsome little book. I like the almanac parody look of it, with little decorative bits and devices. The humor's kinda thin, as you can tell from this brief excerpt.

But I don't know, if you look at my Almanac book in a hundred years (and please try to hang on that long, or maybe consider cryogenics) you might find yourself wondering when the laughs start. Meanwhile I'm just grateful that you can't copyright a book title. And I'm thinking, maybe White Rock would like to update their advertising with a slightly more contemporary Almanac, like mine.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Snow Jokes

I we all laugh hard enough, maybe the snow will melt faster.

Snow Scupltors

More old stuff. Bob Ryan, lower left, has been the Channel 4 weatherman for 30 years. The Awakening, lower right, is a popular sculpture that was installed at Hains Point, but has since been moved to somewhere else, I forget exactly where. My wife had wanted to do something sculptury with the piles of snow in our front yard, but I think we're all now so sick of the stuff that the best approach would be to use a flamethrower on it. Maybe call it Solid into Water, and claim it's process art.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Winter Haikus

Another old Almanac, this time in lovely color. We've had enough feet of winter here to last me until about 2023. This predates Cul de Sac by some years, yet keen eyes will note the kids in silly hats and the pile of parking lot snow, which have both found their way into the strip. But I haven't done hat hair yet...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For Matt Wuerker By Way of Herblock, By Way of Me

Matt Wuerker, the vastly talented and enormously affable cartoonist for Politico, has won this year's Herblock Prize. The Prize, created by the Herblock Foundation, involves giving a speech, attending a swell reception in one of the most beautiful rooms in America, and a nice chunk of cash. I've known Matt since he moved to DC almost ten years ago, and I've learned that his previous job experience includes working at Yellowstone Park, helping to animate the California Raisins and directing Michael Jackson and Peter Gabriel in videos (though not at the same time). So this whole Herblock thing is kind of a big comedown for him.

Whatever, I'm just hoping, having written this fawning post, that sometime during his acceptance speech before the assembled heavyweights at the Library of Congress Matt will give me a big shout-out.

Below is an Almanac I drew in 2001 when Herblock died. I'd meant to post it on the 100th anniversary of his birth last October, but I couldn't find it. If you ever saw Herblock's office you'd know what mine looks like, and you wouldn't be too surprised how much stuff I can't find.

Your Olympic Dictionary

I hope this helps. It's from about three Olympics ago and I'm sure they've added new words since.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More Valentine's Day Fun, This Time With Educational Value

This is also a lazy repost, also from the Post mag, this time from Valentine's Day '03. And every word of it is true, or close enough. I was shocked to find out that my editor didn't know that diarist Samuel Pepys' name is pronounced "Peeps", especially as I'd only learned it the day before. I always thought it was Pep-eez, which is actually a stomach antacid. And look, aren't the colors pretty?

Valentine's Day, or Now We Are Six

Or, another crummy rerun repost, this from last year. This is Alice's first appearance in print, on the cover of the Valentine's Day issue of the Washington Post Magazine in '04. There had been a plan to also have this printed on the bag that holds the Post supplements, but that didn't happen, probably because they were afraid it might depress sales. Alice has since gotten a haircut and a face-reshaping. But haven't we all?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Games of the 21st Olympiad

This is actually from six years ago, the Athens Olympics, but it still makes some sense inasmuch as its roots are Greek. And this blog post is actually from two years ago, so I might be stuck in some kind of temporal loop. But no, I'm actually at my wife's family farm in Salem, Ohio, sitting at a large kitchen table watching about a dozen loaves of bread come out of the oven. Mmmmm.

What I like best about the Olympics is that it's spread out so that I can be a sports fan every four, or two, years, and for me that works out just right.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Whole Cover

Here, courtesy of Ms. Caty Neis, Graphic Goddess, is the Whole Shebang.

I might try my hand at designing or counterfeiting paper money some time. I hear there's bucks to be made in that field, and drawing little ornatey curlicues sure is fun.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Current Conditions

We're under 26"+ of the damn white stuff with another 10-20" forecast and our internet is intermittent. And the phone's out too. If anybody needs to call, the cell phone is working. Any interested parties who'd care to visit are welcome, as long as they bring a shovel. And some brandy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

This is a better scan of an old, previously posted cartoon, sort of reheated leftovers. It's about the best you can expect from this blog

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bottom of the Bag

In Denmark they say "Blindtofte," while in Finland it's Pellonreuna. In France, it is known as "Cul de Sac," and I won't even try to pronounce that (I took French for two years in middle school, until the teacher suggested maybe I'd like to try another language, like German). But I can say it's coming out this month from the French publisher Delcourt. As this is the last day of the annual cartoon festival in Angouleme (see here, here and here), it seemed a good time to mention this.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Scaring Away the Customers

These are from a series of about a dozen drawings I did as promotional mailers for GVI, a video production company that my friend and neighbor Andy runs. I don't often do stuff like this, advertising or institutional or whatever category it fits into, because my work likely scares away customers, thus depressing sales. But mostly because you have to chase after work like this, and do proposals and submit a potential budget and I'm lazy and I keep going back to the same old clients over and over until they wise up and find somebody better and cheaper.

But this was fun, because Andy has taste and a sense of humor, and access to a snowblower when such a thing becomes necessary. So he's a perfect neighbor, friend and client. Each card showed a possible problem that might present itself in your search for a suitable video production company, then offered a solution on the back. And the solution, of course, is GVI- the one video production company with taste, a sense of humor, access to a snowblower and a great recipe for a frozen gin and tonic. And a nice family to boot!

For what it's worth, the first one is the best drawing but the last one is the funniest.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

As it's now after midnight and time for a brand new day, here's another. This was for the Smithsonian Magazine, whose last page I got to illustrate for a few years, for an article on Queen Elizabeth fooling around with online aliases.

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

Our theme for today's Unnecessary Spot Illustrations is "Newspapers."

These first two were for the Atlantic some years back. The one below was for the Washington Post a bit more recently.

A Public Service Announcement

This is a public service announcement. No real reason, but it might be helpful. I drew this about twelve years ago, but it's still as accurate as ever, I'm sure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mike Rhode at the City Paper

Mike Rhode, the noted author, renaissance man, polymath, comics blogger & historian, medical historian, archivist, stalker/chauffeur and good friend, just started writing on comics for the Washington City Paper online. Rush right over en masse and crash their site please, and tell Mike hello!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Artsy Stuff

Somebody asked what my palette is for watercolor, so this is it. To illustrate this I took the scrap piece of paper I put on the right side of my drawing board to wipe off brushes, catch ink splots and doodle on. I usually use a piece of watercolor paper that's got a drawing on it I've rejected. This one has what looks like a doctor sitting in an armchair; I don't remember why I did it, but it was some old illustration job. There's a pile of these rejects in a drawer by my drawing table and some date back a ways, like to the Clinton years. The medium here is pen and ink and watercolor, and in a few bits, like that almost-elephant, was scribbled with iron gall ink, an ancient type of ink that'll eat through the page, if you're lucky.

The watercolor paint I use most often-
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Lemon
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Quinacridone Coral
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Terra Verte
  • Green Gold
  • Pthalo Green
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Indigo
Those are the paints that are always squeezed out on my butcher tray palette. But wait- there's more! There are likely also some blobs of
  • Perinone Orange
  • Pyrrol Red
  • Perylene Maroon
  • Cobalt Green
  • Viridian
  • Emerald Green
  • Sepia
  • Manganese Blue
  • Some Kind of Black (Lamp or Ivory or Carbon)
Plus maybe a few "convenience colors", some of 'em proprietary colors like Daniel Smith's Undersea Green, which is a mix of French Ultramarine and Quinacridone Gold that just looks purty. I've got a big tackle box full of paint tubes, some I've barely touched in years and some that I go through every few months. A few are no longer made, like Manganese Blue (toxic) and Green Gold (same, I think), but there are "hues" available, which is a near identical mix. The strangest tube of watercolor paint I've got is Red Lead, which is highly toxic and hasn't been made in years as an oil paint (I've got some old tubes that've since hardened) and should never have been made as a watercolor. It was stuck on a shelf at the old Pearl Paint in Alexandria, under the label for Cadmium Red, and I bought it so no one else would. I'm not about to use it either. The history of paint and pigments has some nasty things in it (like "mummy", which I leave to your imagination) and some intensely toxic substances. The most poisonous was the original Emerald Green, which was a bright, happy green good for foliage and grass. It was a copper arsenate, i.e. arsenic, and in the 19th century it was used as a house paint and for coloring wallpaper, and would off-gas when exposed to dampness. Yikes.

The piece of scrap paper up top is Arches 140# cold press, the paper I like best overall. Finding the right kind of paper for this kind of pen & ink and watercolor work, you fall between two stools; either it takes ink cleanly or it takes watercolors beautifully, and few papers do both. The cold press, with some tooth, can be too rough for pen & ink, therefor some prefer the hot press, which takes watercolor a little too weird and blotty for my taste (it's like the paint sits too far on top of the paper, but sinks in too fast).

Since John asked about this (see comment), I'll tell you. I draw a loose rough on thinnish paper, put it on the lightbox with the watercolor paper on top, draw it in ink (repeat as necessary till satisfied. Don' t overdo it, let the paint do some of the work or you're just coloring a drawing. Bo-ring), then I stretch it. This is so it can be painted without buckling. I do it like this; soak the drawn-on wc paper under the tap, both sides till all the surface is wet (this is where the importance of waterproof ink is vital), then attach it to a board. I've got this thing called a Zip-Strip (or something like that) that consists of a plywood board the size of a quarter sheet of wc paper and four plastic clamps that hammer into place along each edge, holding the paper till dry. The more common procedure is to tape it with brown tape (the kind you have to moisten) or staple it (I've got some heavy-duty foamcore board with a resin that makes is sturdy for stapling). Then wait an hour or so till it's good and dry and paint at will. When you pry it off the board it'll still be reasonably flat, with very little warping. The most enjoyable part of the process is soaking the drawing in the sink and seeing the ink turn glossy, though sometimes it's all I can do to keep myself from pushing it down the disposal.

Here are some fun links-

Friday, January 15, 2010

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

Who knows why I drew this, but I'm pretty tickled I did.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

Blackboards are fun to paint, so if I get a chance to stick one into an illustration I jump at it. It's also easier to work some words into the drawing that way, and words are marginally easier to contend with than drawing. This might be what makes one a cartoonist; not a facility for combining art and language, but an inability to decide which one you'd rather be using.

I don't know; whatever. This was done for an academic engineering association magazine, and the article detailed the sometimes-overwhelmingness of the academic life. I've only got a passing acquaintance with academia- a coupla years at a (very good) community college without graduating and a brief stint teaching illustration at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore as an adjunct professor (I think it's called). It was a limited course of one day a week for a month, but pretty hands-on. I ran out of things to say really quickly, and the students probably wished they'd chosen one of the other professionals to learn from. But it was fun and interesting, and I did learn that as a teacher I lack the ability to teach.

I will attempt to teach you this; my secret to painting an interesting blackboard in watercolor. The board is a loose mix of two colors that I often use for a dull yet textured green: Daniel Smith quinacridone burnt orange and Holbein terra verte. They're opposites in several ways. The burnt orange is transparent and staining and the terra verte is opaque and floats above the orange. Put some of the orange down and flood it with the terra verte and it'll granulate quite nicely, then keep messing with it till satisfied. The white lettering is Schmincke's Calligraphy Gouache, which is very heavily pigmented and dense, and applied with a long, thin lettering brush. There, who says I can't teach? For extra credit, somebody please tell me why stints are always brief.

Cheese War

Sometime in the late 90s the Washington Post ran an odd story about cheese preferences in the District of Columbia and its environs, specifically contrasting brie and Velveeta. It broke down along all kinds of ethnic and economic lines based on some kind of complex poll, and I never figured out why they did it. Except it was interesting to read, so I drew this thing. Me, I've eaten about as much Velveeta as brie, though my preference remains Havarti or Swiss. I post this for anyone's benefit who needs a cheese joke today, and especially for Mr. Chris Sparks, who's an actual cheesemonger.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Elvis

We now have 75 years of Elvis, though he left this building in "77. I've posted this like ten times, but it's all I got.

Happy Birthday, Charles Addams

Go look at what Mike and Michael have to say.

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

This was drawn for Smithsonian Magazine to illustrate a piece on various laws. Benford's Law states that in an argument passion increases in direct proportion to paucity of information (the less you know the louder you get); Godwin's Law is that, as an argument gets longer (specifically an argument on the internet), the likelihood of comparisons to Nazis or Hitler becomes greater; Murphy's Law we all know, some of us too well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Your Unnecessary Spot Illustration of the Day

Today (January 6th) Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves (in 1540), his fourth wife. I've got all these loose drawings lying around, like the above, and I might as well post them. I don't remember who I did this for, but there are a few more in the series with a similar theme, which might be called Royalty Misbehaving.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, J.R.R.R.R.R.R.Tolkien

As today is the 118th birthday of John Rail Road Tolkien, we present this scarce item, a cartoon from around 2002. The original, which was in color, was given to our friend Ben, who got us tickets to the DC premier of the Two Towers at the fabled Uptown Theater (the last movie theater around here with a balcony). This was scanned off a copy, so it's not too high-grade.

My dad gave me The Hobbit when I was about 10 and sick in bed and I still remember reading it for the first time and having weird and intense dreams. It took me a few years to get through the Rings trilogy (or nonology, or whatever it is), and in high school I got in trouble in English class for laughing because I was reading Bored of the Rings (the teacher confiscated the book and gave it back two days later saying, jeez, that's hilarious). I didn't really reread it until the late 90s, when I heard they were making a movie (that I thought would be lousy). I've got several friends who read it every year or so, and one guy I knew years ago read it on a long cross-country motorcycle trip. That seems like the ideal way to make your way through it. Just imagine there are Black Riders on your tail, and watch those miles whiz by.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fan Art Saturday Falls On A Saturday Every Week So Far This Year

This beautiful set of figures was sculpted by Caleb Giannini, who sent me these photos. He used Sculpey and air-drying clay, and I think he's captured them just perfectly. Thank you, Caleb, for starting off another year of Fan Art with such fine work! Take a bow!

Next up, the Uh-Oh Baby Dashboard Bobblehead, sure to make drivers everywhere more alert and aware and slightly more paranoid, leading to a nationwide decline in traffic accidents.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Things To Come

To begin the year we present the cover to the Cul de Sac Golden Treasury, A Keepsake Garland of Classics, due out this June. It'll feature extensive Author Commentary (and I'll get it finished early next week, Caty! Swear!), which will no doubt deepen and enrich the reader's Cul de Sac-reading experience and provide unique insights into the creative process, and pad the book out to a coupla thousand pages if I can gas on about the creative process long enough, and god knows I can.

For more on what this means, go here.