I hope you’ve enjoyed my little homage to Richard Thompson. He was (and still is) a cartoonist who deeply inspires me. The fact he is no longer around to make new work doesn’t lessen the impact he had on me, or really, the industry as a whole.
This was a unique Inktober for me. Instead of making one drawing per day, I made six strips (the equivalent of one week of newspaper strips). I drew them entirely digitally, making the “pencil” sketches on my iPad then using Photoshop and my Cintiq tablet for the finished, “inked” strips. It was a useful experiment, and I find the finished product fairly close to my traditionally inked pages. Maybe you can tell me if you find this approach appealing.
I hope to make more new work soon. In the meantime, this has been a fun diversion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.