I feel very, very conflicted about writing about Richard Thompson, whose strip Cul de Sac ends today. Richard has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for the last few years, and can’t keep up with the demands of a daily strip, even with help. I love Richard, both his body of work and him as a person, and hope I won’t write about this too cloddishly. Please forgive me if I do.
1. Richard Thompson is one of a very few greatest living cartoonists, and would rank pretty high for me on a Best Ever list. Not only for his chops and style, but because he’s one of those precious few newspaper cartoonists who created something fresh and idiosyncratic and vibrant, especially coming as it did squarely in the middle of the newspaper industry’s slow slide toward collapse.
2. It’s fucked up that Richard has Parkinson’s. Is that okay to say? I don’t know a more clever or polite or intelligent way to say it. Yes, it’s also fucked up that ANYone suffers from Parkinson’s, or ANY degenerative illness, or any life-threatening illness at all really. But for me, personally, the idea of an artist of Richard’s talent, training, and pedigree, with that level of finesse and elan in his line, being stricken with Parkinson’s makes me want to scream. The idea of a man of Richard’s quality and kindness. The idea of a man doing the best work of his career. No one should have Parkinson’s disease, and Richard Thompson shouldn’t have Parkinson’s disease. I know it’s dumb to say but I can’t stop saying it.
3. One of many things that excites me about Richard Thompson’s work is his straddling of lines–his style, his linework, his composition, all seem like something out of Punch rather than a modern newspaper, but he never comes across mired in style or anachronism or nostalgia. If anything, he seems to embrace new ideas; to seek out the work of young people. Many of us younger cartoonists met him through appearances at SPX or HeroesCon, where he would kindly answer one million questions about nibs and craft and ink brands and all the stuff young cartoonists ask their heroes. Joe Lambert walking away from Richard’s table with one of his nibs, holding it like Excalibur itself, will always be one of my favorite con memories.
4. One (of many) ways we’re lucky in this modern world, and specifically in our modern comics world, is that we have the luxury of access. We can meet a man like Richard Thompson, quiz him, interact with him as a human being AND an artist, buy him beers and stumble over our fannishness, and then receive a kind email from him a few days later. I’m very happy to live in a world where Richard Thompson is one of my heroes, just a quiet guy with a tiny voice bent over a drawing board not that different from mine, but about 7 hours north.
5. Another way we’re lucky is that Parkinson’s is treatable, and perhaps one day curable. We have all this access to our heroes, and when they get sick we can get upset about it and start casting about for ways to help. Team Cul de Sac is one. Another is donating directly to Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s charity. Which seems like a luxury, right? To want to help, and be able to help, even if it’s just to send $5 to a charity. It’s better than blogging!
6. The good news is that, while Cul de Sac is ending, Richard is still drawing, just not a daily comics strip–which surely must be an incredible workload, even without a degenerative illness and an assistant. I’m looking forward to whatever he does next, whether it’s editorial cartooning, or more Richard’s Poor Almanacs, or paintings, or something else. He’s certainly earned the right to do whatever he pleases, and I will gobble it up with glee, whatever it is.
7. I love Richard Thompson. He’s the kind of person I’d very much like to be one day. He’s an incredible artist and a lion to those of us who look up to him. His work is saturated with care and energy and slyness, without ever being arch or overwrought or snide. He’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met in comics, an industry that could benefit from more basic human kindness in places. He’s my hero and I wish him all the best, for his health, for his work, for his family and friends and all of us who love him. Thanks very much for Cul de Sac, Richard, and thanks in advance for whatever you do next.