Richard Thompson talks about Cul de Sac

Tom Spurgeon has posted an extensive interview with Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson. Topics covered include the origin of Cul de Sac, dealing with doing a daily, his Richard’s Poor Almanac weekly strip that runs in the Washington Post, and Richard’s cartoon influences.

SPURGEON: Am I right in that Cul De Sac grew out of an element of Richard’s Poor Almanac, a kind of strip you were doing there?

THOMPSON: Sort of, though not by plan. Tom Shroder, who was my third editor on the Almanac, took over as editor of the Post Magazine about eight years ago, and I did weekly illustration work for him, drawing for Gene Weingarten’s humor column. Tom asked me in about 2002 if I’d be interested in doing a weekly strip with continuing characters about Washington DC. I said let’s talk about it and then, in Tom’s words, “it took a year to schedule lunch. After that, we lost momentum.”

But what we finally agreed on was, it should be about DC, but not about The Capitol of the Free World, just about some people who live around here. I picked the suburbs, as I know them well, but with some trepidation because who needs another comic set in the suburbs? And I put all these little kids in it. I’d done about six Almanac cartoons called “Baby Roundtable” or “Toddler Roundtable” where I had small children arguing issues of the day, like the effectiveness of the Mozart Effect or the use of drugs to control learning disorders or the superiority of children’s literature to adult literature, and they were all real fun to do. All the little tangents the kids could fly off on, and how they ended up either crying or pushing each other’s heads into the Play Doh. Actually the first Roundtable cartoon was back in the early ’90s, as an illustration for the question “Why are babies cute?” for Why Things Are.

So the more sketches I did for Tom the more the little kids took it over. Alice pretty quickly became an Irresistible Force and Petey became an Immovable Object and their suburb became in my mind a kinda surreal place that looked like a movie still I found of the city in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, all piled up on its hill. So after about a year of dawdling I showed Tom the sketches and the title Cul de Sac, which I worried was too bland until an editor told me it means “bottom of the bag” in French. And what’s funnier than the bottom of the bag in French?

8 thoughts on “Richard Thompson talks about Cul de Sac

  1. Thompson’s work is the kind of stuff that depresses me. I sit here and become satisfied with something I’ve done, then I look at his linart and watercolors and realize I’ve been fooling myself. His work also gives me much hope for the future of newspaper comics.

  2. Wait, Mark T., you get depressed? You draw Lio! Where does that leave rest of us?

    To paraphrase Tom Hanks: “there’s no crying in comics!”

    The paper is still chock full of talented cartoonists.

  3. Thanks, guys, you’re too kind. The thing with Tom Spurgeon was all conducted by email, so I sound more coherent than I do in person.

    And yes, Mark, we laughed hard at the Sunday. If I tried to draw a pantomime comic, and do it well, and do it with all the character that Lio’s got, I’d pull all my hair out within two days. So cheer up! You’ve got a great strip, and a great head of hair, too.

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