Monday, December 13, 2010


Richard Thompson's drawings make me happy, not just because he is so darn funny but because his work is a daily reminder that a beautiful line and a lively intellect are still enough to succeed in this wicked world. No software, Dolby sound or corporate financing necessary; just pure observations about human nature scratched onto bristol with a dip pen nib.

Thompson is an illustrator / cartoonist / writer in the tradition of James Thurber. If Ronald Searle and Bill Watterson got married and had a baby which was raised by Crockett Johnson, that would be Thompson.

His illustrations have appeared in the New Yorker, The National Geographic, the Atlantic Monthly and other publications. I love this smart, witty series of drawings about superstition that appeared in the Washington Post:

Look at the marvelous way he handles the horizon line in this next image:

Thompson's syndicated comic strip, cul de sac, is regularly the most delightful space on the newspaper comic page. With the demise of Calvin & Hobbes, I feared that every possible comic strip idea had been exhausted, and that we were now doomed to an endless loop of formulaic gags of the type found in Garfield, Cathy and Family Circus. (The world's leading recycling industry is not Waste Management Inc. but newspaper comic syndicates.) But cul de sac views the world with a child-like freshness and offers a new, recognizably true insight every day. This is really hard work; it requires high standards and a hyper-active conscience. But Thompson understands the importance of making the end result appear effortless, and cul de sac floats lighter than air.

In the immortal words of Jessica Rabbit, "He makes me laugh."


Anonymous MORAN said...

How did I miss him? He's quite good.

12/13/2010 2:23 PM  
Blogger Chris Vosters said...

Glad to see him get a bit more spotlight. I've been following his blog for a long time, and he truly is an amazing artist. Lovely imagination, great technique (nobody can blotch ink like Richard Thompson!)

12/13/2010 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read his strip but didn't know he did illustration too. These are excellent. I see the Searle influence.


12/13/2010 6:03 PM  
Blogger BOOPI Q said...

Two things:

You've gotta love his cross hatching (not so much in these images). I get the sense from Mr. Thompson's blog that cross hatching is one of the things he enjoys the most (as opposed to things he hates like horses back legs and the interiors of cars).

Also, while not drawing-related, I love the use of underlines. They are subtle but provide the perfect level of emphasis. I bet most people don't even notice them. For example, check out the soccer mom panel, the caption emphasizes that "She will get you"

12/13/2010 6:58 PM  
Blogger Tim Opsahl said...

Am I crazy for seeing some Quentin Blake in there?

12/14/2010 12:03 AM  
Blogger Joss said...

When you showcase an artist like this I want to wonder how you can call this great drawing and trash others who draw "messy", except for the fact that I am in complete agreement with you. These lovely lines are brimming with character, thanks for another installment.

12/14/2010 12:29 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

MORAN: Thompson is justly famous in many circles; he won the National Cartoonists Society Magazine and Book Illustration Award and their Newspaper Illustration Award. But he definitely deserves to be famous in other circles as well.

Chris Vosters: agreed!

Anonymous/JSL: I am quite fond of both his strip and his illustrations.

12/14/2010 1:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

BOOPI Q: I think his underlines, along with his blotches, the variety of lines in his letters, and his distinctive writing style all combine to add wonderful flavor to his texts. But his texts by themselves are extremely well written.

Tim Opsahl-- I suppose it's possible, although I prefer Thompson to Blake.

12/14/2010 2:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joss-- isn't it great? I have struggled in previous posts to articulate standards for why some such drawings are excellent and others are dreadful. Many readers have weighed in on this subject and together I think we have made some good progress toward a theory. But bottom line, yes-- sometimes artists who draw in this loose, erratic style are excellent (think of John Cuneo or Richard Thompson) while others (I'm not going to name them all over again but if you look at previous posts you will see that I do name specific artists) are pretty bad.

12/14/2010 3:13 AM  
Anonymous chiropractic cincinnati said...

Impressive illustration, I like it.

12/14/2010 7:06 AM  
Anonymous Joe Procopio said...

I've met Thomson on a couple of occasions (he's a swell guy) and will have the good fortune of getting to do so again tonight at a book signing at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, Maryland. Given the circumstances under which he creates his art, I find him an even greater inspiration...

12/14/2010 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the long-overdue tribute to a brilliant artist and writer. I love Cul de Sac for its deep understanding of the way kids think and an hilariously demented specificity. A pangolin costume? Watterson nailed it in his intro: "Cul de Sac avoids both mawkishness and cynicism and instead finds genuine charm in its loopy appreciation of small events."

Thompson's wit in word, character, and dialogue is a sustaining pleasure in these dark days for newspapers. I hope you will post a follow-up with even more of his wonderful work.

12/14/2010 5:49 PM  
Anonymous john cuneo said...

-And we're not even talking about his caricatures, some of which are in National Portrait Gallery and have earned medals from the Society of Illustrators. Richard contains multitudes - if he was a baseball player he'd be a five tool guy-all of which makes him formidable as a talent, but unwieldy as a subject. He draws with an electric wire of a line and his singular kind of 'funny' permeates every little element of every panel and every character - his approach to graphic humor is a total immersion kind of thing. ( The idea of a humorous illustrator who draws everything 'funny' isn't as obvious as it sounds. Many comic artists find the laughs in their work through a juxtaposition of literal rendering bumping up against comic scenarios and characters, or sometimes highly stylized figures are employed in a more subtle, deadpan, comedy-of-manners approach.) Many of these styles overlap and borrow similar flourishes or incorporate older, established graphic nuances, all of it legitimate and much of it successful. Richard's work has elements of all of this, but his drawing is distinctive in it's omnivorous embrace of visual humor. Everything in a Richard Thompson drawing is funny, and it's all put down with a caricaturist's eye and a cartoonist's vigor. Everything gets filtered through a visual sensibility that's grounded in exquisite draughtsmanship and comic exaggeration. It becomes a wholly realized world - and it's delightful. Searle can do this and George Herriman and Sullivant did it as well. It's a rare, daunting thing: A sofa in a room is drawn 'funny' the same way that the person sitting on it is. And also the dog, the side table , the lamp, the vase of flowers and the teacup and the lettering. I recall a small, almost anonymous panel from a multi-paneled Richard's Poor Almanac cartoon- it was a drawing of a completely non desrcript alley in DC ( the strip was about "boring things in the City" or something). This tiny square was mostly just vertical lines of various widths -the backs of buildings- with a couple of receding lines to show some depth and define the borders of the street. A few wires crossed at one end from a telephone pole that jutted up and out at a slightly worrisome angle, and in the foreground was an abandoned, ineffably forlorn shopping cart, rendered just enough (that's probably half the battle right there)
and drawn the tiniest bit foreshortened and out of perspective - perfectly skewed just a brilliant smidge - which gave an off-kilter, slightly manic energy to this bleak little citi-scape. It looked just like a Richard Thompson shopping cart, in a Richard Thompson alley. And it was funny.

12/14/2010 5:54 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...


12/14/2010 7:10 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chiropractic Cincinnati, Joe Procopio and Anonymous: I agree with each of you. Thanks for chiming in.

John Cuneo, how about if we do a favor for the readers of this blog-- I'll step down and you can write it? Me, I'm going off to look for that Richard's Poor Almanac shopping cart.

12/14/2010 8:41 PM  
Blogger richardcthompson said...

Thanks very much for the kind words, David et al. I'm blushing hard enough to induce a nosebleed. And John C, you who draw bette'n me, I'm having your comment done as a sampler for my studio wall.

I've read many posts and comments here about the differences between messy & clean and good & bad drawing, and all I know is that I think I recognize the good stuff when I see it. Which is no help whatsoever. But I believe I've got a notion what qualities define an ink line. It's a combination of weight, velocity and direction. and when those 3 fit together just right, the line works and so does the drawing.

There, that was no help either, but I'm still working on it.

12/16/2010 1:02 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard, thank you for giving me permission to use your excellent drawings as bait to lure readers who would otherwise have no reason to stop by.

As you can tell from this blog, I am one of those who believes it can be rewarding to explore the reasons why a line sometimes works and sometimes does not(as long as one doesn't get too carried away with the process). I am entertained by the fact that one who draws so beautifully can take the explanation about as far as a physics professor ("It's a combination of weight, velocity and direction") and then gives out. Glad to hear you are still "working on it." If you crack the code, I hope you'll give us an exclusive.

PS-- I found the shopping cart John Cuneo described, and I agree.

12/16/2010 3:00 PM  
Blogger Sonia said...

those drawings are really wonderful.

12/17/2010 5:51 PM  
Blogger Sonia said...

Oh, and I totally see Blake here.

12/17/2010 5:55 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I had never heard of Richard Thompson so this post was great for me. His work is fantastic.

I can see some influence (not sure which way) between his work and Patrick McDonnell's. I prefer Richard's though, his sense of humour really makes me laugh.

12/17/2010 10:38 PM  
Blogger Victoryperfect said...

congrats! keep up the good work/this is a great presentation.
oil painting on canvas

12/18/2010 1:31 AM  
Blogger Eric Noble said...

These are wonderful!!!! So hilarious!!! I love the one about the law firm or the Headless Soccer Mom! He reminds me a bit of Gary Larson, what with his cheerfully surreal subject matter.

12/18/2010 11:20 PM  
Blogger Rob Dunlavey said...

I've always loved Richard Thompson's work and to be able to experience his art and his wit & world view in Cul-de-sac daily has restored my faith in the comic pages. Thanks for the post and thanks to John Cuneo for that eloquent tribute.

12/19/2010 7:18 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams: If you've never heard of Richard Thompson before, I envy you because you have so much ahead of you to explore. Try his Cul de Sac Golden Treasury to start. I'd urge you to pay specual attention to the care and subtlety of his words. Notice in the examples I've selected for this post how, when he asks readers to choose between two alternatives, he doesn't just offer them simple "yes/no" choices. Even after he has done all the hard work of writing and illustrating each joke, he continues to provide readers with a last treat: hilarious choices such as "nonsense" vs. "I believe" or "no way" vs. "it happened to a friend of mine." Each and every one of them is different, and each one is funny.

Sonia and Eric Noble: I agree! Thanks for writing.

Rob Dunlavey: Thompson restored my faith in the comic pages as well. I find it very interesting that Thompson, who deals with sweet and gentle children's themes, and Cuneo, who deals with dark and explicit adult themes, both speak the common language of brilliant drawing and respect each other so much.

12/19/2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger Eric Noble said...

BTW David, I've posted one of the Jack Rickard works from MAD.

12/19/2010 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that author was influenced by dusan petricic (another great name to post on "illustration art"), much older one.

12/28/2010 1:12 PM  
Blogger Robert Cook said...

I had never heard of Mr. Thompson or his strip CUL DE SAC until I came across an omnibus collection of the strip at FORBIDDEN PLANET here in NYC a few months ago.

He's astonishingly excellent...and entertaining!

Funny, sharp writing and beautiful drawing.

(Another cartoonist whose drawings I've started looking for is editorial cartoonist Mike Lukovich from the Atlanta Journal Thompson, his work looks superficially tossed off but it's beautifully drawn...and he's funny.)

1/02/2011 10:12 PM  
Blogger Cleggo said...

I've been a fan of Richard's for years. I love everything he does.
I just stumbled across this blog yesterday and I'm spending way too much time here. Great stuff. Thanks David.

2/01/2011 7:28 AM  

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