Richard Thompson (1957-2016)

Cul de sac obit cartntease

Richard Thompson

Illustrator and cartoonist Richard Thompson, creator of the comic strip Cul De Sac, passed away July 27 from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009 and retired his strip in 2012.

Michael Cavna, who writes the Comic Riffs blog for the Washington Post, today commemorated Thompson’s career.

Within “Cul de Sac,” Thompson created a wry and whimsical suburban world partly inspired by his own upbringing in Maryland’s Montgomery County, just outside Washington. His pen-and-ink neighborhood featured outgoing 4-year-old Alice Otterloop (her surname a bit of wordplay on the Beltway’s “Outer Loop”), introverted 8-year-old brother Petey, her friends Beni and Dill and classmates at Blisshaven Academy preschool, and the Otterloop parents, who always seemed one step behind their children’s wild imaginations and antics….

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In 2012, Cavna interviewed Thompson about ending his strip:

MICHAEL CAVNA: How did you come to this decision now, Richard? Was there a moment that this choice became clear, or has this been a long and gradual decision — perhaps one that had a tipping point?

RICHARD THOMPSON: I’ve known for a year or more that I was working on borrowed time. My lettering had begun to wander off in 2009, but that could be fixed easily enough. But when Alice’s and Dill’s heads began to look under-inflated last winter, I figured I was losing control of the drawing, too. When I needed help with the inking (the hardest but most satisfying part of drawing the strip),well that was probably a tipping point. Parkinson’s disease is horribly selfish and demanding. A daily comic strip is too and I can only deal with one at a time. So it was a long, gradual, sudden decision.

Thompson came out of fanzine fandom. Many of his cartoons appeared in the 1980s and 1990s in such fanzines as Stephen Brown and Dan Steffan’s Science Fiction Eye, Ted White and Dan Steffan’s Blat! and the Disclave program book.

[Thanks to Arnie Fenner and Simon Bisson for the story.]

8 thoughts on “Richard Thompson (1957-2016)

  1. I didn’t know Richard Thompson as well as some people who will post here, but I did know him somewhat when he was drawing for fanzines in the 1980s, and I knew early that he had a LOT of talent. He’s almost certainly the only artist who came out of fandom who regularly sold to the NEW YORKER. CUL-DE-SAC was also a very enjoyable strip. He deserves our appreciation and respect.

  2. I’ve marked the Kindle version of the collected strips for later purchase. This was a huge little strip.

  3. While it is true that I was lucky enough to publish Richard’s work in the pages of SF EYE, that was a number of years after I first met him at WSFA meetings and saw his early art and cartoons in Dan Joy & Sumtow’s fanzine, and on the cover of a Disclave program book, as you note. All of the cartoons by him that we published in BLAT! were actually reprints from his WASHINGTON POST spot illos — he suggested I pick what I wanted and reprint them because he was too busy to do fanzine art by that time (mid-90s). So while he was interested in SF and fanzines, he did relatively little actual fanzine art, which was our loss.

    By the time he drew for SF EYE he was already well established in the D.C. art community (where I also had the privilege of working with him as an art director) and it was only as a favor to me that he worked for us for free, producing a half dozen caricatures of sf writers like Chip Delany, Bill Gibson, Lucius Shepherd and others, as well as a fine cover painting for the fifth issue that hangs on my living room wall to this day.

    But all of this is irrelevant in the context of his enormous talents and his success and achievements as an illustrator and cartoonist. His comic strip will go down in history as perhaps the last great strip in the form’s lifetime — considering the fate of newspapers these days. He was kind, funny, humble and I’ll never forget him.

  4. Having literally grown up on a cul-de-sac, I appreciated his pro work. I wasn’t as familiar with his fan work, being on the other side of the country.

  5. I have photos of Sarah at the age of three, laughing on top of a manhole cover (somewhat raised because they’d scraped the street) in the cul-de-sac we lived on at the time, so when I saw Alice Otterloop at work in the comic, I knew I was seeing a real, actual, true-to-life kid at work.

  6. Richard Thompson’s blog (richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com) has examples of his work in fandom, including his illustrations for the 1979 and 1980 Disclave program books, FANNY HILL, and SCIENCE FICTION EYE.

  7. I had the honor of knowing Richard in a different way,he and I are cousins.Although we didn’t spend a lot of time together(I live in Michigan), he is a wonderful man.Richard and Amy are two of the kindest people I know. I am 2 years older than Richard and every time his family came to Michigan for a visit,my mother would tell me it was my job to entertain him and his younger brother Tim. I never saw this as a chore but as a chance to get to know them. You don’t have to spend a lot of time with someone for them to impact your life. I am a better person for having these two great cousins as well as Amy,and their girls in my life. .My heart breaks for all of you. .Jan

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