Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson is a good friend of mine, so of course I've been asking him to do this interview for a year. Only now that he has a new book coming out has he finally agreed. That, dear readers, is how the world works. And that's why he appears to be an overnight success, in spite of actually working hard at it for 30 years.

Seriously, Richard is a cartoonist's cartoonist. Pat Oliphant and Bill Watterson have written introductions to his books. Art Spiegelman speaks well of his work. The New Yorker runs his caricatures, as did US News & World Report before them. And for years, Richard was our local "go-to guy" when the Post needed a cartoonist. He illustrated Joel Achenbach and Gene Weingarten's columns in the Post Magazine, did his panel comic Richard's Poor Almanack for the Style section, illustrated a column in the Health section, and then started a little Sunday-only strip called Cul de Sac for the magazine. We can pick up his interview there...

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Richard Thompson: I draw a daily comic strip called Cul de Sac that started in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine in 2004 and is now syndicated country- and even world-wide by Universal Press. And I still do some freelancing when I can.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

RT: I was born in 1957 in Baltimore, Md.

WCP: Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

RT: We moved down here when I was four or five. I've since lived in various parts of D.C., Annandale, Gaithersburg and now Arlington. I lived in Gaithersburg for so long that Arlington still seems strange. Even after 18 years here I still think of D.C. as being to my south.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

RT: I always drew, especially when I should've been doing other things. But "formally," there's high school art classes and some very fun classes at Montgomery College in Rockville, from which I failed to graduate.

WCP: Who are your influences?

RT: Sometimes I think it's everyone I everyone whose work I ever saw, every author whose book I read, or every TV show or movie I saw or anything I personally experienced; other times I think it's just Ronald Searle. So let's say: Walt Kelly.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

RT: I'd do it all again, but 20 years earlier.

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

RT: Probably Cul de Sac, as it's gotten the widest exposure.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

RT: I can point to some individual works with pride: a caricature of Beethoven, another of Berlioz, a few of the old Richard's Poor Almanac cartoons I did for the Post and a couple illustrations for the New Yorker. But overall, I'm happiest with Cul de Sac.

WCP: What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

RT: One thing that's been in the back of my head for years is doing some kind of illustrated version of Candide. That would be fun, and different.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

RT: Wash dishes, putter around, reread old strips I've done to find the rhythm. Grind my teeth and go back to work.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

RT: I think we'll be operating in some kind of street-corner/door-to-door business model, maybe in those two empty parking spaces by the dumpster, or more ideally, in a van off Route 50 next to the guys who sell fresh flowers and hubcaps.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

RT: It's where all my stuff is!

WCP: Least favorite?

RT: My stuff is so poorly organized.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

RT: All the usual corny great museums and galleries; I love all of the Smithsonian to bits. My favorite these days is the National Portrait Gallery.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

RT: Yup: richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com and culdesacart.com

Richard Thompson will be signing his new book Shapes & Colors on Tuesday, Dec. 14  from 7 to 9 p.m. at Big Planet Comics, 4908 Fairmont Ave, Bethesda, and at One More Page bookstore 2200 N. Westmoreland Street, No. 101, Arlington, on Monday, Dec. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m.

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