Monday, May 17, 2010

Richard Thompson - Cartoonist Survey #125

Richard C. Thompson is an illustrator and cartoonist who was born in 1957. His pen and watercolor style is immediately recognizable. For years his weekly comic series, Richard’s Poor Almanac, has been appearing most Saturdays in The Washington Post Style section and in 2004 Emmis Books published a collection of them. Richard is also the creator of the hugely successful comic strip, Cul de Sac, which is distributed by Universal Press Syndicate. Cul de Sac was originally a Sunday feature in The Washington Post Magazine and then in the fall of 2007 it was launched in more than 70 newspapers. The strip centers around Alice Otterloop, a pre-school girl and her suburban life experiences on a cul-de-sac with her friends Beni and Dill, older brother Petey and her classmates. Two books collecting Cul de Sac have been published, ‘Cul de Sac’ in 2008 and ‘Children at Play’ in 2009. A third book which collects the first two ‘Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics’ will be released in July of this year.

Richard’s illustrations have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic and U.S. News & World Report. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Cartoonists Society Magazine and Book Illustration Award for 1995, plus their Newspaper Illustration Award for 1995. In 1989 he won a Gold and a Silver Funny Bone Award from the Society of Illustrators for humorous illustration. This year he is nominated for the National Cartoonists Society’s highest accolade the Reuben, for Cartoonist of the Year. Richard shares the nomination with Stephan Pastis and Dan Piraro (Cartoonist Survey #28). He lives in Virginia with his wife and two daughters. Check out Richard’s blog where he posts all kinds of neat stuff including fan art and read his Cul de Sac strip here. Also be sure to check out Richard’s spiffy new website that was just launched.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I like the old, classic, slow, fussy, splattery dip pens. My favorite nib is the Hunt 101 Imperial, which I've covered at painful length in various posts on my blog.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
For the strip, my first rough drawings are in pencil and pen (usually Micron or Copic or dip pen) as loose as possible on thin paper, which I then put on a lightbox and draw over on good paper in ink. Though if I can, especially for illustration work, I'll draw right in ink.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I still haven't really learned computer color and I love watercolor. For the Sunday strips I was using the old number spot color system, but when I got way behind in everything the syndicate offered to color it using a talented freelancer. For which I'm grateful, but I really should learn PhotoShop color at least.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Like I said, watercolor. But I've also used oil, pastel, gouache and all that fine stuff.

What type of paper do you use?
Various brands of two ply vellum Bristol for the strip. For watercolor work it's usually 140 lb. cold press Arches paper.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Crowds and horse’s back legs.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
As recently as a few months ago I bought almost everything locally, most often at Pearl Paint. But then they closed both the Pearl stores in the DC area. And most of the smaller independent local stores have disappeared, which sucks a lot of the fun out of art supply shopping, because I love poking around in art stores. So now I mostly shop online.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
I stare into space, pointlessly rearrange things, start a few unnecessary tasks and have a few titanic mood swings until the deadline is so close that the pressure is like that of the Mariana Trench. Then I'm good to go!

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Yes, I love classical a lot, and Scottish and Irish music maybe more.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Yes. Probably Pogo.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
Probably still Pogo.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
I had lots of favorites at various ages. One was the Mad Scientist's Club, and I bought another copy of it about 10 years ago.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I was a fine arts major at Montgomery College in Rockville MD. It's a community college, two years. I went for two and a half years and didn't graduate. But it was good, and there were some excellent teachers there.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Both, and so inextricably I'm not sure which at any given moment.

Did either of your parents draw?
My mom loved to draw for her own amusement.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Both of my folks and my wife, Amy.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I start them all the time then I forget about them. Then I find them and feel guilty.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
Only once formally, at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I was an adjunct professor for a few months in a program for illustration students. I enjoyed it, but I ran out of things to say real fast.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Passion. Talent is a tool, but you can't use it successfully without passion.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Not really. I've got a lot of CDs and books and some original art, but nothing organized enough to call a collection.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
That hopping mynah bird from the old Warner Bros. cartoons. He was inexplicable.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Righty. My lefty is shot all to hell these days.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I honestly don't know.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
A decent and fairly cozy finished room in out basement. Lousy view, stuff everywhere and don't stand up too quickly.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I played the bagpipes till I was in my teens. Later I taught myself enough piano to get by, and I loved to fool with it. But I've lost that now, too.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Draw and draw and put it out there where people can see it and don't dawdle. I dawdled around for a while and regret (some) of it. And don't worry about "style"; that'll come when you need it.

Who is your favorite artist?

Edgar Degas. Cartoonist? Probably Herriman, followed very closely by Searle, Steadman, Kelly, Schulz, Watterson, Sorel and several thousand others.

Thanks again Richard for taking the time to answer my questions!

Up next is cartoonist and illustrator Peter Kuper.

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