by John A. Lent, publisher and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Comic Art. This
review will appear in print in the Spring/Summer 2016 IJOCA issue later this summer.
David, Nick Galifianakis, Mike Rhode, Chris Sparks, and Bill Watterson. The Art of Richard Thompson.
Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2014. 224 pp. $35. ISBN 978-1-4494-4795-3.
Richard and Mike Rhode (editor). The
Incompleat Art of Why Things Are (preview edition).
Arlington, VA: Comics DC, 2015. 179pp.
Richard, with Mike Rhode and Chris Sparks.
Compleating Cul de Sac, Asheville,
NC: Team Cul de Sac & Arlington, VA: Comic DC, 2015. 146 pp.
Thompson, who has had exalted praise heaped upon him from the likes of Arnold
Roth, Pat Oliphant, and Edward Sorel, figured as the subject or author of three
books since 2014*, on all of which, IJOCA exhibitions and media reviews editor
Mike Rhode was a main sparkplug. For at
least two decades, Mike has enriched comic art and its scholarship through his
many bibliographies, resource aid to researchers (check out acknowledgements in
books by comics researchers and you are likely to see Mike’s name), and interviews with cartoonists published in his online Comics DC, IJOCA, Washington City Paper, and elsewhere.
is a close friend of Thompson, recognized by Richard sometimes in jest, such as
when he signed a copy of his book for Mike: “to my friend, chauffeur, source,
& #1 stalker.” I assume the
“stalker” label has to do with Mike’s hounding him to gather together in books
the abundance of strips, gag cartoons, humorous drawings, and paintings Richard
has penned over the years.
The Art of Richard Thompson, Mike was
part of a team of editors that also included David Apatoff, Nick Galifianakis,
Chris Sparks, and Bill Watterson. In the
credits, Mike is listed as “Editor, Project Coordinator, and Copy Editor.” Mike’s key role was noted with a touch of
humor in Galifianakis’s “Introduction”: “…Mike was called in to focus our
collective ADHD. He took to the job,
maybe too well, eventually nicknaming himself ‘The Enforcer.’ He’s been superb. We will never speak to him after this, but he
has been superb.” Mike was sole editor and
his Comics DC co-publisher of The
Incompleat Art of Why Things Are and co-editor with Chris Sparks of Compleating Cul de Sac. Comics DC also co-published Compleating Cul de Sac.
to Richard Thompson and the books under review.
Thompson is best known for his “Cul de Sac” comic strip that was nationally
syndicated for five years in 150 newspapers.
Starring four-year old Alice Otterloop and her eight-year-old brother
Petey, the strip dealt with their relationship and the foibles of living the
suburban life. Thompson retired the
strip in September 2012, three years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s
|Thompson's original art for IJOCA|
Thompson’s genius has been spread over different forms and genres (magazine,
book, and newspaper illustration, comic strips, caricature, humorous paintings)
and shared by an assortment of audiences during his long stints with periodicals
such as The New Yorker, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and National Geographic. He is
much respected by other artists for his widespread knowledge, whimsical
drawings, articulate use of words, and experimentation with styles and
The Art of Richard Thompson captures the
life and career of the artist through interviews or discussions with
Galifianakis, Peter de Sève, Gene Weingarten, and John Kascht, and essays by
Thompson himself and Apatoff. The book
is attractively designed with hundreds of Thompson’s art works, including
scratchy sketchbook drawings, doodlings, exquisite and wall-displayable
caricatures and humorous paintings, parodies of other masters’ work (e.g.
“Little Neuro in Slumberland”), regularly published strips (“Cul de Sac,”
“Richard’s Poor Almanac(k)”), and one-shot (sometimes rhyming), multi-panel,
nonsense-filled “instructive” comics. Some
cartoons could easily serve as editorial cartoons. Acclaimed illustrator John Cuneo summed up
Thompson’s art very well:
in a Richard Thompson drawing is funny--each line is put down with a
caricaturist’s eye and cartoonist’s vigor.
It’s a rare and daunting thing to pull off; a sofa in a room is somehow
drawn ‘funny’ the same way the person sitting on it is. And also the dog, the side table, the lamp,
the vase of flowers, the teacup and the lettering--everything gets filtered
through a visual sensibility that’s grounded in exquisite draftsmanship and
giddy comic exaggeration. It becomes a
wholly realized world--and it’s delightful.
prose of The Art of Richard Thompson
suits the drawings: casual, to the point, and sometimes meant to be funny. Half (9) of the sub-chapters were written by
Thompson; three others were interviews with him. Thompson’s articles recounted all types of
subjects--his new favorite nib, music, caricaturing Berlioz, thinking up a
funny name for his “Cul de Sac” family, and the circumstances surrounding his
doing a drawing during a Deep Brain Stimulation surgical procedure performed on
The Incompleat Art of Why Things Are and
Compleating Cul de Sac are part of
Mike Rhode’s continuing efforts to fill out the Richard Thompson story. “Why Things Are” was a weekly column by Joel
Achenbach in The Washington Post,
which Thompson illustrated with a cartoon.
In the foreword to the book, Achenbach said he would pose a question for
the column and Thompson would come up with an hilarious drawing. An example: The question--Why is time travel
impossible? The illustration-- a man in
a time machine hovering over Adam and Eve and the snake and disappointedly
bellowing, “Oops! Too Late.” Or, “Why do
we presume that human meat tastes worse than, say, cow meat or pig meat?” Thompson’s image--a meat counter called
“Downer Pass Gourmet” with a butcher standing next to meats called “Franks,”
“Chuck,” and “Steak Diane.”
Compleating Cul de Sac supplements
Thompson’s The Complete Cul de Sac,
which Rhode and Sparks explain is not complete, because Thompson was ill while
compiling the book and “accidentally left out some strips,” actually more than
Cul de Sac collects the “lost” strips, as well as “the early inchoate
musings about what the strip should be, the promotional material, the sketches
for fans, and finally some fugitive Team
Cul de Sac charity art,” the latter to benefit the fight against
Parkinson’s Disease. As with the other
two books above, Compleating Cul de Sac
is a rich compendium of brilliant art going back to his high school newspaper
strip, “Fleabag Theater,” Thompson
interviews with Rhode and John Read, three live Post website chats Thompson participated in, and, of course, the
missing “Cul de Sac” strips.
or apart, these books provide hours of enjoyment at the same time that they
describe in an interesting fashion how a top-level artist got to where he is,
how he generates ideas, characters, and strips, and how he copes with
adversities. Rhode and the others
responsible for compiling this material have done a great service not just to
Thompson’s name, but also to comic art practitioners,
those waiting in the shadows to become cartoonists, and to the growing field of
Compleating Cul de Sac and The Incompleat Art of “Why Things Are”
are no longer available from Lulu.com. Instead,
Lost Art Books under Joseph Procopio has undertaken The Richard Thompson
Library project and will be publishing editions of them this fall. Compleating Cul de Sac will be
published in a second, substantially expanded edition with additional
interviews and recently-unearthed artwork. After these two volumes, other books
are projected in the series -- one on caricature by Thompson, pulled together by
Scott Stewart, another collecting the best of his comic strip “Richard's Poor Almanac” compiled by Rhode,
and likely a Thompson sketchbook.