Meet Alice Otterloop. Again.
Alice is the first among equals in the ensemble of weirdly familiar characters populating Richard Thompson's "Cul de Sac." The comic strip debuted on this page February 8, 2004, following a brief courtship. Thompson had been drawing brilliant one-off cartoons for the Style section in his "Richard's Poor Almanac." I proposed the strip idea, mainly because I wanted to see what would happen if he created some characters and stuck with them. If memory serves, it took about a year to schedule lunch. After that, we lost momentum.
But, eventually, Thompson came through with what I believe is one of the freshest, most engaging strips published. It has warmth, an inner life that is sorely lacking from so many occupants of the comics pages. It passes Thompson's own test for a successful strip, which is that the reader feels that the panels on the page are "just a glimpse of the characters, and they're doing other things the rest of the day."
In the first installment 3 1/2 years ago, Thompson told us that Alice was 4; that her mom was so used to transporting a minivan full of kids that she has to ask, "Are any of you mine?"; that her dad was a federal employee who works in the "Office of Petty Consumer Frustration." We also soon learned that, when nobody is looking, the photos, crayon drawings and reminder notes on the Otterloop refrigerator gossip and argue among themselves.
You might be getting a refresher course on some of this. This week, "Cul de Sac" begins national syndication. John Glynn of Universal Press Syndicate says it will appear in 50 to 60 newspapers, including those in Boston, Houston, Seattle, Las Vegas, Toronto and Portland, Ore. But in reintroducing the characters to those readers, Richard, being Richard, couldn't resist adding a few twists. For instance, when Alice introduced the neighborhood's scary old lady the first time, she was just a scary old lady. This time, well . . . you can see for yourselves below.
Getting a strip syndicated is a big deal, and this one might be a bigger deal than most. The re-launch of "Cul de Sac" has drawn an unsolicited endorsement from none other than Bill Watterson, the creator of the now-retired mega-strip "Calvin and Hobbes," a man so famously reclusive that he's listed by name in the Wikipedia entry on "recluses." Watterson never comments on anything. But about "Cul de Sac" he wrote: "I have high hopes that Thompson will bring a much-needed jolt of energy to the daily newspaper. We have a real talent here."
But then, readers of this space know that already.
Tom Shroder is editor of the Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.