Posts Tagged ‘Cul de Sac’


ranking the comics

Most newspaper editors keep “legacy” strips (those comic strips that have outlived their creators) based on a negative-feedback system. That is, they may try to pull, say, Blondie, but quickly recapitulate when a few irate readers write or call to complain. They don’t get a lot of positive feedback (eg “You should run Cul de Sac because it’s actually funny“). There must be a better way to find out which comics are actually being read in the newspapers.

The Nielson Ratings, although somewhat obtuse, seem to work for television networks. They can judge how successful a show is by its number of viewers. Box office sales determine the success of a movie. Bookstores literally count the number of books sold, which contributes to bestseller lists.

The popularity of comics is a harder commodity to tabulate. You can’t judge how many people flip to that section of the newspaper, let alone which comics they peruse.

One good indicator of a comic strip’s popularity is how well it sells when collected into book form. Calvin and Hobbes books were still selling very well when I worked at a bookstore, and that was about seven years after Watterson decided to retire from the biz. I never saw a Blondie book collection, although the local paper did run it. That isn’t the only comic not to be regularly collected. Check the newspaper, then check your local bookstore or Amazon. Some comics really do disappear after they run in the paper.

Another indicator might be how often that comic is viewed online. People who don’t believe computers are the Great Satan like to read comics on the internet. I would like to ask the syndicates which comics receive the highest hit counts per day. Instead of hiding this information, syndicates should be sending it to every news organization. What comic is #1 online? Just like people are interested in the top-grossing movie of the week, we would love to follow the success of our favorite comic strip characters.

Knowing which comics are the most popular would only increase people’s interest overall. How often do comics get mentioned in mainstream media when they’re not being made into a movie or TV show? Talking about comics for the sake of comics would get people more interested in the art form itself. It would also turn the conversation from the dreadful “all comics are stale and out-of-touch” to a more positive tone.

So what do you say, syndicates? Is there a way to tabulate the most widely-read comics of today?


easter island robots

In high school, I had an (in my opinion) entirely healthy fascination with Easter Island heads. This led to me making many, many drawings of Easter Island heads in art class.

I can only imagine the resignation those unfortunate souls who had to share a table with me felt at the beginning of each class. “Here we go again,” they’d think, as the redhead hunched over his paper, moving his colored pencils and watercolor brushes by instinct alone.

Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to draw Easter Island heads!Picture+12
That’s right: I’m in good company. In solidarity, Friday Robots have traveled all the way to the southern Pacific to be with those towering stone monuments.

Happy Friday, everybody.friday-robots-2-20-9


comic con 2009 super all-star collector’s edition

This year marked my first pilgrimage to NerdFest 09, also known as ComicCon. ComicCon is the largest comics convention in the world. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. You could fill the Grand Canyon with the geeks, dorks, and nerds attending ComicCon. If you stacked all the comics from ComicCon, the pile would reach Saturn. Big is not a big enough word. Neither is huge or gigantic. Galactic may work, as it has the ring of science fiction. Essentially, ComicCon is the San Diego convention center overrun with comics and comic-related phenomena, spilling out into downtown.

In addition to the convention on the ground floor, the second floor hosted a continuous stream of panels and talks by some of the best cartoonists around. Sure, if you wanted to see James Cameron and Peter Jackson gab about movie stuff, you’d have to wait 2 1/2 hours in the sun. But for a brilliant cartoonist like Richard Thompson all you had to do was find the right room. I don’t have to tell you people’s priorities are messed up. On the other hand, James Cameron gave people 3D glasses. How can a newspaper cartoonist compete with 3D glasses?

I attended two panels: Richard Thompson and Stephan Pastis. Each was an hour in which the cartoonist showed a PowerPoint presentation of his work then answered questions.

Richard took us on a journey through Richard’s Poor Almanack, his weekly for the Washington Post, and the origins of the daily Cul de Sac. Cul de Sac, as I’ve mentioned before, is the best comic strip in papers today, bar none. His humor is wry and goofy at the same time, which is probably why I identify with it so strongly. He’s also one heckuva artist. Unsurprisingly, he began his career as an illustrator and, as he put it, started sneaking words in until he arrived at comics. Instead of deciding beforehand he wanted to make comics, he slowly realized comics was the best means of expression for him. It was similar (yet backwards) to my own discovery: writing came first and I slowly added pictures.
(Below is neither Cul de Sac or Falling Rock. It is an original Pogo Sunday, which I was happily allowed to photograph for free. Buying it would have put me out about 500 bucks.)
Stephan was cheered for getting his PowerPoint presentation up and running. It was somewhat surprising they had any technical difficulties at all. I would think you could page the convention floor for help: “ComicCon attendees: is there anyone in the crowd with IT experience? Does anyone know how to work a computer?”

It was not surprising to hear Stephan got his initial inspiration from Peanuts and Dilbert, as that aesthetic permeates Pearls Before Swine to great success. He told a very funny story about angering an entire country: Turkey. In one strip, he named a llama Atatürk. This is seen as sacrilege: like a Turkish cartoonist naming a doofus character Washington Lincoln Jefferson. The scandal culminated in Stephan’s receiving an admonishing letter from the Ambassador of Turkey.



In addition to panels, a good place to meet cartoonists was at their booths.

Jeff Smith signed at Cartoon Books. I was truly surprised when he recognized my comic book. I had sent him a copy a while ago, after I missed seeing him at Stumptown in Portland. The man must have the memory of an elephant, because he said he owed me a letter and made his inscription “To the creator of Falling Rock…” If there’s any cartoonist who is able to make comics accessible to readers of all ages and that don’t necessarily read comics, it’s Mr. Smith. If you haven’t read Bone, Shazam, or Rasl, do it. Now. Now!

Keith Knight (The K Chronicles) generously talked about self-syndication and gave me a badly needed boost to continue promoting Falling Rock. One booth over, Bob the Angry Flower creator Stephen Notley (in full flower regalia) signed my copy of Everybody vs. Bob the Angry Flower. While I was talking to Stephen, Keith interjected some tips aimed at Stephen about how to get Bob into more papers. Keith is not only a great cartoonist but a savvy businessman AND he looks good in a hat. Triple threat.

Kevin McShane, creator of ToupyDoops. When I first got to college, I checked the school paper to size up who I’d have to compete with for space. ToupyDoops was THE strip. Everyone knew it and loved it. Kevin turned out to be a great guy in addition to a talented cartoonist, and my strip, Atticus and Glen, wouldn’t have been as good if I didn’t have ToupyDoops as friendly competition. I was pleasantly surprised to see him again and glad he’s still cartooning.

Steve Lieber, Whiteout. I’m excited to read this murder mystery set in Antarctica. Steve also passed along a preview of his upcoming story Underground, about a cave in a state park in Kentucky and how differently the townspeople and park rangers see it. The townspeople want to open it to tourists and the rangers want to keep it closed for preservation. Values clash! Ed Abbey would have liked this comic, I think.

Scott C.’s Double Fine Action Comics. I’ve been following Scott’s blog for a while now, really enjoying his watercolor prints. Meeting him in person, he struck me as an older, taller, cooler, more successful version of myself. Action Comics is a web comic he later collected into a book. His day job? Video game designer. He also has a beard. Triple threat!
I made new friends; perhaps they saw a guy not dressed as a stormtrooper and thought “he can’t be in the right place.” Christian Ward, whose series Olympus is fantastic and not done with watercolor (but don’t tell anyone). Stephen McCranie is an Albuquerque cartoonist and is as talented as he is tall (he’s tall).
Of course I had to wander the movie side of the convention. It was there that I got all my cool swag, including: a Green Lantern ring that lights up (I’m thinking of going back in time and proposing to my wife with this Green Lantern ring.), a gigantic Watchmen swag bag, a Transformers seat cushion that does not transform into a robot, a light-up Astro Boy pin, an Adventureland key chain that lights up, and a few other buttons and posters that do not light up.

There were no less than two captain chairs from the deck of the USS Enterprise at the Con. One was part of a raffle. Yes, you could win Captain Kirk’s chair. Every time I walked by, someone was getting their picture taken while sitting in the chair. I was recruited for employment at Stark Industries. I saw Kenan Thompson (of Saturday Night Live) walking into a restaurant and subsequently getting stopped for pictures. Seth Green (of Robot Chicken) was doing some kind of webcast from the convention floor.
A few celebrities I did not see but were there: Kristen Bell, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Sigourney Weaver, Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Henry Selick & Neil Gaiman (promoting Coraline’s DVD release), Eliza Dusku, Denzel Washington (?!?!?!), and more! Since I’m already good friends with Denzel, why try to get together at the busy Con? We’ll just have a beer back at his place in Indiana.
Finally, the ComicCon experience would not be complete without a stack of new reading material to take home:

Neptune, by Aron Nels Steinke. He was not able to attend ComicCon in person, but Aron’s book made its debut in San Diego. Having finished reading it, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to people who A) have either read comics before or not, B) like books or don’t, C) think Dick Cheney should run for President or think he’s the Great Satan. All political joking aside, Neptune is, like Jeff Smith’s Bone, accessible to anyone. I hope it becomes a huge seller so I can sell my signed copy on ebay for 50 million dollars. Which reminds me, I saw an issue of Spider-Man #1 at ComicCon. That shouldn’t be out in the open. It belongs in a museum!
Owly: Tiny Tales, Andy Runton

The Gigantic Robot, Tom Gauld

Little Mouse Gets Ready, Jeff Smith

Lonely Heart, Tara McPherson


plugging

Longtime readers of this blog know of my fondness for Richard Thompson’s comic strip Cul de Sac.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to read a comic strip that is visually innovative, wittily written, and plain old funny, look no further. Hey, and he’s got a new book out!
But the point of this post is not just a shameless plug. One of the individual strips contained within caught my eye:
I was more than a little excited to find an echo of Falling Rock National Park mentioned in this strip. Tottering Rock may only be a State Park, and the rock itself may not yet be falling, but I was giddy nonetheless. And the character mentioning the park is named Ernesto! Such an avalanche of happy coincidence.


when the blogger becomes the blogged

My little piece of fan art can be found over at Richard Thompson’s blog Cul de Sac right now!

Richard, as longtime readers will be aware, draws the hilarious and provocative comic strip Cul de Sac, seen daily in newspapers across the globe and in easily digestible book form. Do yourself a favor if you don’t already follow the hijinks of the Otterloop clan, check it out absolutely free online. Seriously, I wouldn’t create a timeless piece of fan art if the strip wasn’t pure gold.

Long live the newspaper comic strip.


richard thompson and cul de sac

When Bill Watterson ended Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, I felt as though I had lost a family member.  It was as much of a gut punch when, this morning, I read the news that Richard Thompson is ending his daily comic strip Cul de Sac.

Readers of this blog will know of my deep and abiding love of Thompson’s work. It is exactly the kind of effortlessly funny, quick-witted, and fun-to-look-at strip that got me into comics in the first place. It is no hyperbole to say that it was the best new strip of the millennium, the next in that prestigious line that began with Krazy Kat and went through Pogo and Calvin and Hobbes.

I can’t help but think Richard’s mysterious character Ernesto Lacuna had something to do with this.  The possibly imaginary Ernesto caught my attention right away as a standout character, partly due to his overly mannered attitude and partly because he happens to share a first name with my own character Ernesto the lizard.

I’ve long wondered what the two Ernestos would have to say to each other if they happened to meet.  I wanted to take this opportunity to draw it out.  This comic is dedicated to Richard for all his hard work and for showing the world that comic strips can still be essential.


Richard Thompson 1957-2016

As a grown-up type person, I never expected to fall in love with a comic strip as deeply as I did when I was 8. Cul de Sac took me back to that 8 year-old self, but it also propelled me forward to the future, where I wanted desperately to make comics as moving and flat-out funny as Richard Thompson’s.

 

Cul de Sac made its debut in newspapers in 2007. I was a fan immediately. Mere descriptions will not do this comic justice. Please do yourself a favor and, if you haven’t already, click over and read some of the brilliant work Richard did. At a time when everybody thought of newspaper comics as moribund, Richard created one of the greatest strips of all time. That is not hyperbole, that is fact. Had Parkinson’s not made it impossible for Richard to continue Cul de Sac, he could have easily told stories about the Otterloop family for decades. Cul de Sac ended in 2012. Four years later, Richard has left us as well.

On the last day of Cul de Sac, I drew a meeting between Richard's Ernesto and my own.

On the last day of Cul de Sac, I drew a meeting between Richard’s Ernesto and my own.

Compounding my feelings of loss, the man himself was as kind and generous as any of us could ever hope to be. When I emailed him soon after Cul de Sac was announced, he shot back a complimentary email in no time. Despite the fact that he had a full-time illustration career, a newly-launched DAILY comic strip, and, you know, family and friends, he took time to encourage a twenty-something cartoonist whom he had never once met. I cannot overestimate what that meant to me, and still means to me now. Cartooning can be a lonely endeavor, but with people like Richard out there it sure feels like a community.

 

From Richard’s first email to me: “I enjoyed your comic; today’s with the quick view of the statue holding its own head cracked me up, and I’m a sucker for a Beethoven gag. And the owl’s Fossilarium made me laugh up.  I’m lousy with advice right now, I haven’t figured it out yet myself. A friend of mine just started teaching a law class and he told me he’s keeping one chapter ahead of the students and I feel pretty much like him, except he probably uses more phrases in Latin.”

 

And later, he sent some kind words about the Falling Rock books I sent him: “I just read through them while I should’ve been sketching (distractions help) and I just really enjoyed the hell out of them. I think you must enjoy writing for Carver the most. If I didn’t know I was dealing with someone from a law firm I’d steal some ideas from you, like the Passing Fancy. I’d forgotten how much I like that phrase.”

 

Richard had a fondness for language that suited him perfectly to the constraints of a comic strip, where every word counts.

 

In 2009 I was fortunate enough to see Richard speak as an honored guest of San Diego ComicCon. His panel was hugely entertaining and enlightening. Afterwards, I snuck backstage and got to talk with him for a few minutes. He was as gracious in person as he was as a pen pal. It felt like I was talking to a guru. Benevolent, modest, and of course incredibly funny.

richard-thompson-signature

Of the many compliments I could pay to Richard’s work, I think the most important aspect was his fearless creativity. Very few artists can make the act of creation look so gosh darn fun. It was like he found new toys daily and couldn’t wait to share them with us all. I could try to imitate Richard’s chaotic/controlled linework, I could try to write characters and stories with the same whimsy, but the real legacy Richard left us was his artistic expedition. The goal of comic strips is to make us laugh, but Richard wasn’t content with that (although I’m sure he’d take it). Richard made the suburbs a surreal place, he took the anger and vitriol out of editorial cartooning, and he raised caricature to high art. I’ll miss Richard’s work, I’ll miss our sporadic correspondence, but I will try my best to remember the artistic path he was leading us on.
tottering-rock-cul-de-sac


Cul de Sac tribute week

I’ve been a fan of Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac since even before it was first syndicated. I found his blog and, with it, early versions of the characters we all came to know as the Otterloops. His sense of humor was loopy and filled with kid logic, and his art was at once messy and incredibly precise. There has been no cartoonist like him before or since. If there is a comic strip royalty lineage, it could easily be argued that it goes Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Richard Thompson.

With Richard’s death in 2016 Cul de Sac’s (way, way too premature) end was certain. Comics had lost a truly great artist and a really good guy, too.

Ernesto Lacuna is one of my favorite characters from the strip. I have been curious for a long time what it might be like to write a story about Richard’s Ernesto meeting my Ernesto. And so, this being Inktober, I decided to finally scratch that itch. I wrote a weeklong (6 strips) story about Ernesto L.’s journey to Falling Rock. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it. Below is part one.


Cul de Sac week, part 2 of 6


Cul de Sac, part 3 of 6