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Cul de Sac, part 6 of 6

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.

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Cul de Sac, part 5 of 6

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Cul de Sac, part 4 of 6

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Cul de Sac, part 3 of 6

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Cul de Sac week, part 2 of 6

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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.

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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

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Bill Watterson at Angouleme

Good news came Sunday morning with this tweet from The Comics Reporter:
comicsreportertweetI had to wait a little while for an article to confirm, and when it did come, it came in French.

Then, later, in English.

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, huge inspiration to this here blogger, first cartoonist to win the Tour de France, received the prestigious Grand Prix at one of the biggest comics festivals in the world.

It seems as less of a surprise than it would have been a few years ago. Lately it seems ol Bill’s work is getting more of the attention it deserves. In 2005 we got The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a hardbound three volume set that collects the run of the strip in its entirety. Better still, it included a preface by the author. Clocking in at about 20 pages, it was the most autobiography I’d ever seen from Watterson.

In 2009, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes popped up as a sort of meta-article on the elusive cartoonist. Although Nevin Martell interviewed just about everyone associated with Watterson, he was unable to speak with the man himself. On the record, at least.

Last year came Dear Mr. Watterson, a documentary on the lasting legacy of Calvin and Hobbes. This was not another biography of the man but a love letter to his work. I am proud to have been included in such a nice tribute to my favorite work of art.

With all these publications, Bill Watterson has been thrust once again into the spotlight. Let us hope he is not too angry at us for loving him so much. I doubt he is too bothered by it, as he has voluntarily taken part in two projects of late: one, a book called The Art of Richard Thompson, will feature an interview between Watterson and Thompson. In March, an exhibit of both Thompson and Watterson’s art will go up at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University.

Amid all this renewed interest, it makes sense that the judges at Angouleme to award Watterson their highest honor.
billwatterson-grandprix

Everyone wants to know: will Bill Watterson attend Angouleme next year? According to his editor Lee Salem (a superstar of the comics scene himself), “I’ll try to talk him into it.” I don’t know about you, but if I was in Ohio in late January a trip to France would sound pretty darn good.

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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.

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the hanging of bill watterson

I would be deficient in my duties as cartoonist/blogger if I failed to mention the triumphant return of Bill Watterson.  Bill, as you faithful readers may recall, took the funny pages by storm in the mid-eighties with his comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland.”  Nah, just kidding.  He’s the dude who drew Calvin and Hobbes, the comic strip that caused me to forsake my burgeoning career in astrophysics and become a cartoonist.

Another great cartoonist, Richard Thompson, who I have written about in this blog, started a charity  called Team Cul de Sac.  Professional cartoonists will donate original art and it will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting Parkinson’s research.  Before the paintings and drawings are scattered to the wealthy patrons of the world, they will be scanned and put together in a book, with the proceeds also  donated.  It is a more than worthy cause, and a fun way to see Richard’s comic characters reinterpreted by fellow cartoonists.

Last week, a mysterious FedEx package arrived in their offices, which upon opening revealed itself to be the first publicly-displayed Bill Watterson art since he retired Calvin and Hobbes in 1995. 

 

This is a rendering of Petey, Alice’s older brother.
Petey likes reading comics in which no action happens.

When Ol’ Bill retired, he claimed he would be painting (among other interests) and it seems he has indeed kept that promise.  He could not have picked a better reason to resurface, as this painting will bring John-Lennon-drank-out-of-this-cup-in-1968 money to a worthy cause.

It also gives me hope that Bill Watterson has not become a J.D. Salinger-type recluse, holing up in a shack in the Ohio woods with his shotgun and a snarling dog.  He has been happily living his life, painting and probably working as an undercover CIA agent.  Wouldn’t it be great to see a Watterson painting exhibit in some small gallery in Northeast Ohio?  It may even overshadow the fact that none of their sports teams seem to make it beyond the first round of the postseason.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying this painting as much for its artistic merit as for its authorship.  Isn’t it hilarious?  I’d love to see it in one of those elaborate gold frames, hanging next to Victorian portraits of rich fat people.  Somebody ought to smuggle it into the Louvre.