ALICE OTTERLOOP HAS danced on her last manhole. Petey Otterloop has read his last “Little Neuro” comic (we can relate, brother). And thousands of “Cul de Sac” fans feel as bereft as Mr. Danders, the caged class guinea pig, suddenly left alone in the dark.
After Sunday, Richard Thompson’s acclaimed Universal Uclick comic strip, born in 2004 in the pages of The Washington Post, will be no more. Thompson, 54, is unable to continue the strip because of his Parkinson’s disease, diagnosed four years ago.
“I’ve gotten too unreliable to produce a daily strip,” Thompson told Comic Riffs last month, until his announcement of the strip’s end. “I’m thankful for all the newspapers who took a chance on ‘Cul De Sac.’ “
Thompson’s fans — many of whom have followed his work since “Richard’s Poor Almanac” debuted in Style in 1997 — reacted to last month’s “Cul de Sac” announcement with disbelief, denial or sad acceptance. And foremost, of course, was the concern for the Arlington County cartoonist’s health.
[THE POST MAGAZINE PROFILE: Richard Thompson gracefully battles what ails comics — and himself]
To mark Thompson’s five-year run with “Cul de Sac,” which won the esteemed Reuben Award last year and has received Ignatz and Harvey awards this month, Comic Riffs asked some of Thompson’s cartooning colleagues for their reactions about the end of the strip, and their thoughts of his challenges as he battles Parkinson’s.
Here are their responses:
BILL WATTERSON (“Calvin and Hobbes”):
“It’s a heartbreaking loss, of course. I think Richard is brilliant, and his work shows off everything I love about cartoons. It’s a tragic situation, but I guess I’m just grateful we got to have ‘Cul de Sac’ as long as we did — it was a beautiful and fun gift.
“I admire not only Richard’s immense talent and artistic integrity, but also the grace and openness with which he’s confronted his struggles. What gives me hope is knowing that Richard is nothing if not artistically versatile, so he may find new ways to create yet.”
DAVE COVERLY (“Speed Bump”):
“Richard’s a remarkable human being. He’s funny as hell, incredibly smart and a thoughtful friend. By all accounts — and personal observation — he’s also a great father and husband. The planet is an inarguably better place with him on it . Oh, and he also did one of the most brilliantly written and skillfully rendered comic strips in the history of the medium, and I’ll miss it immensely. But mostly, I’m just proud and lucky to know him as a person and call him a pal.”
JEN SORENSEN (Slowpoke Comics):
“ ‘Cul de Sac’ has been the greatest daily strip of its era, and it saddens me very much to see it go. Deadlines can take a toll even under the best of circumstances, so I tip my pen to Richard for keeping the strip going as long as he did.
“As a big fan of Richard both personally and professionally, I hope we'll get to see his work in The Post in some form in the future — maybe some new ‘Richard's Poor Almanacs’? (Hint hint!)”
JERRY SCOTT (“Zits,” “Baby Blues”):
“ ‘Cul de Sac,’ Schmul de Sac. Richard is focusing on his health, and that's the most important thing. I'll miss the strip, but he has bigger battles to fight than funny-paper deadlines. If courage, grace and humor can beat Parkinson's, my money is on Richard.”
KEITH KNIGHT (“The K Chronicles,” “Knight Life”):
“Add ‘Cul de Sac’ to the tiny list of strips that ended at the top of their game. Richard Thompson’s talent is so far and above the rest of us, we can only sit back and grin in envy and admiration. Easily the best strip to hit since ‘Calvin and Hobbes.’ “
LINCOLN PEIRCE (“Big Nate”):
“I love ‘Cul de Sac.’ I think it's the best strip since ‘Peanuts’ was in its heyday. I was familiar with Richard's work prior to the strip and was in absolute awe of his draftsmanship; but the feeling I had when I first saw ‘Cul de Sac’ in the pages of the Boston Globe wasn't awe. You don't want to be awed by a comic strip, because that would suggest a separation between a feature and its readers — that a strip is somehow inaccessible. ‘Cul de Sac’ is the MOST accessible of strips. It's authentic, it's familiar, it's quirky, it's reassuring. And it's hilarious.
“So I'd describe my initial reaction to the strip as delight. Wouldn't anyone be delighted to read a masterpiece every day?”
LYNN JOHNSTON (“For Better or for Worse”):
“This is sad news, but understandable. The saddest thing is: I'm sure Richard is not ready to stop doing ‘Cul de Sac,’ When your body just will not permit you to continue to do something you love to do, the loss is overwhelming. Being able to write and draw and entertain is a gift in triplicate! The drive to use these gifts comes as much from within as it does from the deadlines we agree to adhere to.
“As a reader, I will mourn the loss of Richard's wonderful art. As a colleague, I understand his sorrow at having to say goodbye, far too soon, to characters he created and a life he enjoyed. Some people set the bar in the comic art world, and Richard Thompson's ‘Cul de Sac’ is up there! I wish him all the best.”
MARK TATULLI (“Lio,” “Heart of the City”):
“I am truly devastated to hear that ‘Cul de Sac’ will be ending, but I'm glad that Richard isn't completely turning it over to someone else to create a reasonable facsimile.
“Listen, doing a comic strip is tough enough without Parkinson's disease, so it makes complete sense to me that Richard decided to slow down and focus on taking care of himself and dealing with his daily challenges. I am confident we will continue to see much new work from Richard for years to come, and I am anxious to see what he comes up with as he works at a more reasonable pace.
“I salute the incredibly original breath of fresh air he has blown into our largely stale comic-strip industry in so short a time, and I know he has more surprises coming from his bag of tricks.”
MIKE PETERS (“Mother Goose & Grimm,” Dayton Daily News):
“It's so tragic about Richard. It's very Greek, you know. This amazing talent, right at the moment we are recognizing this supernova in our profession. I wish the comic page had something like Broadway, so we could dim our lights for a few minutes over ‘Cul de Sac.’ ”
NATE BEELER (Columbus Dispatch):
“I was lucky enough to have been a reader of ‘Cul de Sac’ before it got big. I was even luckier to get to know Richard early on in my career in Washington, which gave me even more insight than the average reader into the strip's delightful humor and artistry. When I look at Alice or Petey, I picture Richard hunched over his drawing board, scratching his nib across the paper. I can only imagine how tough it is for him now to have to end the relationship he built with the Otterloop family and all of the characters that entered into their orbit.
“Even though it is ending, ‘Cul de Sac’ will remain an inspiration to me and other cartoonists. In book form, it will continue to be a source of enjoyment for Richard's loyal readers and their children. Beyond that, its legacy should also be a greater awareness about the need to fight Parkinson's. Frankly, it makes me mad that this disease would take ‘Cul de Sac’ away from us.”
SCOTT ADAMS (“Dilbert”):
“It’s hard news to digest. I wish him well. And I hope he decides to get back in the game as a writer.”
STEPHAN PASTIS (“Pearls Before Swine”):
“Let’s be honest. The comics page is filled with comic strips that are old, out-of-date, past-their-prime and plain old repeats. It is not the hippest place in humordom.
“So when something like ‘Cul de Sac’ ends, it is devastating. There are so few good comic strips to begin with. And there are even fewer ones where you can see actual genius. And so you naturally think: Man, of all the comic strips that have to go, why this one? Why Richard Thompson? It’s like Beethoven going deaf. Of all the people to lose that particular ability, why him?
“Very depressing. for me, as a fan. And for comics in general.”
WILEY MILLER (“Non Sequitur”):
“The word that comes to mind regarding Richard and Cul de Sac is ’transcendent.’
“First, on ‘Cul de Sac’: The testament to its quality, its uniqueness, is that it can’t be carried on by another hand, or team of writers and artists. It joins the pantheon of great strips like ‘Peanuts,’ ‘Pogo,’ ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ ‘The Far Side’ and ‘For Better of for Worse’ in that regard, as it is approached truly as an art, not manufactured to please the masses.
“Richard doesn’t do gags. He’s not a joke machine. The writing and his wonderful, whimsical style of art are so intertwined that one cannot be read separately from the other. He doesn’t do talking heads, he draws the reader into his world, as though you are a bystander who just happens to walk by as the characters and overhear their interaction with each other in that unfiltered guileless manner only children possess...and that we adults long to have back. Richard is the strip and the strip is Richard. It simply cannot be separated, much less handed off to someone else to carry on. ...
“[As for] his Parkinson’s being so debilitating, I am all too aware of the affects of this damned disease, as my grandfather was afflicted with it. I witnessed first hand just how Parkinson’s steals the body’s functions, while leaving an active mind trapped inside. ... He finally passed 33 years ago, and I had hoped there had been more advances in medication and treatment that would allow people like Richard to carry on. Sadly, this isn’t the case yet.
“Seeing Richard over the past few years at the annual Reuben Awards, I could readily see the progression of his affliction. I knew that this sad time was inevitable, but I was hoping that the advances in medicine would stave it off for years down the road. I’m saddened that it has come this early, not because of the loss of such a wonderful strip, but because of what it’s doing to such a wonderful, gentle soul as Richard. I know what’s ahead for him and it’s not easy.
“I’m hoping that continued treatment and medication will still allow him to continue his marvelous art in some capacity. I know he’ll try, because he’s an artist.”