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.
For my upcoming Falling Rock National Park #3, I thought I’d take you on a trip. In creating this page, I wanted to do something surreal. Ernesto is certainly having a rough time, but we don’t know exactly what’s happening to him yet.The surrounding patterns are based on Islamic tiles, especially from Marrakesh. Though I have not had the fortune of visiting in person, a few internet searches yielded impressive results. For this page, I did something that I don’t normally do: finish it in Photoshop. I inked all the figures, text, and patterns the old fashioned brush-and-ink way, but when it came to filling the background I waited until I scanned the artwork. I didn’t want to inadvertently ink over a nice pretty line I had made, so digital black was my decision. Hopefully it isn’t too artificial-looking. Issue 3 is getting back from the printer this week! I hope you will order a copy for yourself or a loved one. Comics make great gifts.
Is it possible? The Cleveland Indians currently, as in now, as in 2014, have a logo that belongs in the history books under the heading “Americans Sure Used to be Racist, Right?” Turns out Americans are currently racist, as well. This horrendous smiling insult is emblazoned on the uniforms of the Cleveland Indians, a Major League Baseball team. As though white people have not done enough to Native Americans (née Indians), they continue to use these awful images as mascots for their sportsteams.
Partner blogger Stabbone and McGraw has made numerouspleas over the years to eliminate this terrible stereotype which mars his favorite baseball team, but the public has turned a deaf ear. I thought I could pitch in with an idea, just to get the gears turning. To satisfy those fans accustomed to Chief Wahoo’s trademarked grin, but to eliminate the racist overtones, I have turned the Cleveland Indians into the Cleveland Lizards. Presto! Ernesto as major league mascot: As part of the deal, if Cleveland’s management agrees to my changes, I will lend them Ernesto’s likeness for the lifetime of the ball club. All I request in return is a small fee to be paid to the Shawnee Tribe, formerly of Ohio but now residing in Oklahoma. Much like the story of the University of Oregon’s Duck, this is a deal that could outlive its creators.
Issue 3 of Falling Rock National Park is finished! Here is the finished cover: Subscribers will be getting their copies as soon as they get back from the printer.
If you don’t subscribe, why not start now? Reading more comics is a great New Year’s resolution.
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.
A while back I mentioned my choices for a Falling Rock movie. Well, dear readers, Hollywood has truly come through. My friend (and fellow cartoonist) Reid alerted me to a new animated film starring a lizard wearing a goofy shirt:
Johnny Depp is, I must say, an inspired choice. Not only is he good at doing voices, he’s one of those actors who has a face for radio. Better to use him for his vocal talents alone.
I have a standing invitation to cartoonists and non-cartoonists alike: if you submit a drawing of any of the inhabitants of Falling Rock National Park, I will post it right here. The last cartoonist to grace these pages was none other than Patrick McDonnell. He drew a very flattering likeness of Carver.
Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to find the following drawing of Carver and Ernesto by New Mexican cartoonist Stephen McCranie. It looks to me like Carver is contemplating an O.K. Corral-style shootout, while Ernesto is happily baffled. Par for the course at Falling Rock.
Thanks Stephen! And make sure to read his comic strip, Mal and Chad, which he is currently adapting into a graphic novel. Movies, plush toys, and complete world domination are certain to follow.
My friend and sometimes tablemate Kenan created a form called the Foldy Comic. It’s pretty simple: take one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, fold it five times, and draw on it. Each time you unfold the paper it’s another panel, until you reach the last (full) page.
I created my first foldy comic and Kenan was good enough to include it on his Foldy Comic website. You can read it in digital form right here!
Since they are, in fact, designed to be physical objects that you open and read, I can mail you one. Email me your address and I’ll send one out. I am asking for a donation of $1 to cover the cost of paper and postage. Seems fair, right?