Saturday, August 18, 2012


America's great poet, Walt Whitman, worked most of his life writing and revising his epic poem, Leaves of Grass.  He would add or subtract new sections and change lines,  refining his masterpiece.

But Whitman fretted that he might not realize when his age and disabilities were beginning to erode the quality of his masterpiece:
 As I sit writing here, sick and grown old,
Not my least burden is that dulness of the years, querilities,
Ungracious glooms, aches, lethargy...
May filter in my daily songs. 
To protect his work, Whitman had to recognize when he was no longer capable of doing his very best.  Even more important, he had to have the strength of character to give up what he loved when the time came.   It is tempting to lower your standards just a little bit, and continue to milk your past successes a little longer.   It's hard to love your art more than yourself.

I have previously written of my great admiration for the work of Richard Thompson.  His hilarious comic strip, Cul de Sac has been an oasis of talent and intelligence on the comic page for years.

Yesterday Richard announced with his typical grace, dignity and humor that he is ending his strip because Parkinson's disease prevents him from maintaining his standards in a daily strip.

A funny guinea pig cage on a funny table with funny word balloons encased by funny panel borders.

He will continue to work on other projects. 

These days the comic pages are filled with strips that long ago became franchise operations, handed down from generation to generation or subcontracted out by Baldo Smudges.  But Thompson explained why he could not lighten his own burden by subcontracting the words or the pictures in his strip:
I was having trouble separating the writing and the drawing. I found that one fed off the other more than I'd realized, that it was an organic process, to use pretentious art talk. Most of the time I'd start a strip with no clear idea where it was going, or There'd be an end without a beginning. And I'd figure it all out as I was inking it, which isn't the best way to work....
Thompson's gentle whimsy is so light, it floats on air.  His style, sweet and self-deprecating.  Yet, we see in  yesterday's announcement that you don't stay the best comic strip by having mushy standards.  The same unflinching honesty that made his strip special every day made it impossible for Thompson to continue the strip.  His standards were always as hard as diamonds, and for that reason the legacy of Cul de Sac is assured.

Ave atque vale.


Anonymous said...

Well, DANG. We've only had it in our paper for about a year, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I am sorry to hear about his health problems, best of luck to him. DANG.

~ Peggasus

MORAN said...

Thompson and watterson are the two who prove that it still can be done.

JSL said...

Damn. Now Thompson is in his own cul de sac. How is he taking it?

Will said...

It's just not funny.Sorry.

Robert Cook said...

What sad news. I knew he had Parkinson's but hoped he'd be able to maintain his strip for a while. I live in NYC and, as far as I know, CUL DE SAC does not appear in any local papers, but I discovered the strip in book collection form a couple of years ago and just bought the most recent collection last month. CUL DE SAC will be the last great comic strip we will see...not because there are not talented cartoonists who will come along, but because newspapers are doomed. Comic strips have been dying for years because of editorial indifference, if not outright antagonism toward comics--a "necessary but hated evil," in the minds of those running newspapers--and because strips that should have ended with the deaths of their creators were kept going to ever more diminishing creative returns merely because they were licensing evergreens.

I hope some publisher will collect all the CUL DE SAC strips together--first to last--in a fantabulous extranganzaspecial edition.

Unknown said...

I think Cul De Sac will go down as one of the funniest and best comics of our generation- right up there with Calvin and Hobbes and the venerable Peanuts.

David Apatoff said...

Peggasus-- Sorry you came late to Richard's work, but you have a treasure of trove of past work to see in his anthologies.

MORAN-- Agreed.

JSL-- From his written comments, he is dealing with it far better than I would. His fans seem to be the ones who are disconsolate. As one of them told me, "Why couldn't it have been Ringo?"

David Apatoff said...

Will-- I agree the situation is a damn shame,but if you read Richard's comments about it on his blog, he makes them pretty funny.

Robert Cook-- I agree on all fronts. I think when newspapers have finally morphed into their new identity, the fate of comic strips cnnected to newspapers will become more clear.

Greg Newbold-- Thanks for writing. I share your view, with the added point that Peanuts became a little TOO venerable toward the end. Calvin & Hobbes and Cul de Sac both ended while they were still jewels.

Domo said...

Sergio Toppi has gone yesterday... One of the gratest illustrator of last centuries :-(

kev ferrara said...

Who is "Ringo?" And why is somebody being quoted as wishing he would get parkinson's?

David Apatoff said...

Domo-- I had not heard that. It's a shame, he was quite a presence and will be missed.

Kev Ferrara-- I believe it was a reference to the death of John Lennon. The point was that it seems particularly tragic when nature thwarts the most talented among us.

kev ferrara said...

An ill conceived thought, that is. Exchanging one life for another doesn't save the next life worth saving. Not to hit the soapbox too hard here, but what we need is the biotech revolution to hurry the hell up. To that moral opportunity, or to the funding of its possibility at least, whatever gets the economy going is the only tactic on the table.

john cuneo said...

That officious, absurdly proportioned little Christmas elf is funnier than a year of Sunday strips by most anyone else. I'm taking the news that Richard will continue to work on other projects as a sliver of a silver
lining. It may be shaky, but his is the best line in cartooning.

Jamie Condroski said...

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Laurence John said...

John Cuneo, that's funny; when i saw the first drawing (before scrolling down to read the rest of the post) i thought it was by you.

David Apatoff said...

John Cuneo-- Coming from you, that's quite a compliment.

Laurence John-- I understand your point, yet I think of the two very differently. There have been a large number of artists in the past 50 years who experiment with a line that that looks like a dog chewed on it: Picasso, William Steig, Booth, Ciardiello, Blitt, Panter, Cuneo, to name just a few. There is a surface similarity in that they all reject the sleek, polished look that preceded them. The scraggly, rough tooth on the linework has a beauty all its own, that previous generations did not appreciate.

Yet, within this genre there seems (to me) to be very clear distinctions between artists. Some work strikes me as successful and beautiful, while other work strikes me as ugly and unsuccessful. Some lines strike me as uproariously funny, while others do not. Why is this? I have struggled to articulate criteria for a successful, messy childlike line. When I wrote about this issue on a previous post about Richard Thompson all he could respond was "I know it when I see it." Well, to bring this topic full circle back to Richard: damn, he sure does. Along with the terrible burden of Parkinson's, the gods gave him a mighty gift.

Benjamin Raucher said...

Many thoughtful comments here


Laurence John said...

David, i should mention that it was only the first drawing that i thought looked like John Cuneo's work, not the others. probably because the fist one has more 'modelling'.

(i'd never heard of Richard Thompson before this post. not sure if he's ever been printed in the UK)

Matthew Adams said...

My guess is that type of line can not be forced, you just have to let it happen while concentrating on the rest of the drawing. And by guess I mean I have attempted it many times and never succeeded except by accident (and I could never duplicate the accident).

I am thankful that Thompson got to create and work on cul de sac before the parkinson's became too debilitating. And Thompson can step away from it knowing that he created something truly wonderful and worthwhile.

And it sucks that that is all there is.

And it sucks that Richard Thompson has parkinson's, not because of his talent, but just because.

What a wonderful shitty world.

Boss said...

who find this funny?