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The Art of Richard Thompson

Illustrators are expected to find a singular style and mine that field the rest of their careers. Likewise, cartoonists, who in addition to style, are expected to work within a single genre – be it comic books, strips or single panels. Add to this the myriad forms of expression: caricature, political cartooning, satire, etc. Throw into the mix pen and ink, watercolor and painting. Artist Richard Thompson somehow managed to traverse these disparate terrains throughout his career with amazing aplomb.

All of it is collected in a remarkable new volume, The Art of Richard Thompson, a loving tribute by fellow illustrators and cartoonists Nick Galifianakis and Bill Watterson, and authors David Apatoof, Chris Sparks and Mike Rhode, published by Andrews McMeel. Regrettably, Thompson’s career has been cut short due to Parkinson’s Disease. A lush coffee table book, clocking in at 224 pages, the beautifully reproduced artwork displays a remarkable amount of work that would suffice for several lifetimes.

The Art of Richard Thompson

Thompson was born 1957 in Baltimore, MD and moved to Washington, DC while still a toddler. Displaying a proclivity for art at an early age, his first published work appeared in his high school newspaper. He later studied at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Montgomery County Community College, although he never graduated. His early influences included Ronald Searle, Arnold Roth and Ralph Steadman. According to Thompson, “At first I thought you developed a style by combining a bunch of other styles stitched together like a Frankenstein’s monster. But the lightening has to come from somewhere. And you just hope that when it does, that the stitches will heal and that the total effect will take on a more organic look…”

Lightening struck in 1982 when Thompson began freelancing for the Washington Post. Soon afterward his work appeared in U.S. News & World Report, National Geographic, the FDA’s Food News, and in 1991 The New Yorker, where his work continued until 2010.

Ross Perot, cover of the Washington Post National Weekly Edition.

In 2004 he launched the comic strip Cul De Sac, a regular feature in the Washington Post Magazine. By 2007 the strip was nationally syndicated. In 2011 he won the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Detail from Cul De Sac strip, Washington Post, published November 26, 2006.

The book features copious interviews, reflections and anecdotes by a stellar list of fellow illustrators, including Peter de Séve, John Kascht, Galifianakis and Watterson, and Pulitzer Prize winning humor columnist Gene Weingarten among others, as well as Thompson’s own writings. In tandem this volume offers remarkable insight into the inner workings of a truly creative and inventive artist. The book is finely designed by Steve Conley, and is a must have for anyone’s bookshelf who has an interest in caricature, satire or comics. But first and foremost it is Thompson’s witty, cerebral caricatures and cartoons and beautifully rendered art that makes this book essential.

“Cul de Sac and Adjacent Places”, done for the Schulz Museum’s exhibit “The Language of Lines: Imaginary Places in the Comics.”

Portrait of composer Hector Berlioz.

Portrait of Willie Nelson.