Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cartoonist Richard Thompson Dies of Parkinson's Disease

One of Thompson's best-known drawings
Proof came today that rare talent, personal graciousness, hard work, high standards, and an extraordinary sense of humor are no shield against Parkinson's Disease. Cartoonist Richard Thompson died this morning. Richard struck me as a genuinely humble man, both aware of his great gifts and unimpressed by them. He cut his own brilliant path. It was marked with restless artistry that was held together by his enormous talent, great charm and intelligence, and driven by his uncompromising high standards. 

I used to keep one of his drawings, a caricature of the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, up above my drawing board at work. Not as an incentive to equal or surpass it. That was clearly out of the question. I put it there to inspire me to do the best work I could do, to remind myself that creativity matters, and mainly because it was a beautiful and devastating drawing that was a joy to look at. 

Richard varied the look of his work with a love of experimentation few could match.
 When Richard was diagnosed with PD, his friend Chris Sparks formed Team Cul de Sac, the cartoonist's project against Parkinson's Disease. Chris had the idea of publishing a book of tribute drawings by other cartoonists in honor of Richard's daily comic strip, Cul de Sac. Richard, with typical generosity, invited the other artists to play with his characters, transforming them with their different styles, and imagining their own interpretations. The project made news when the reclusive Bill Watterson, one of Thompson's many cartoonist admirers, contributed a small oil of Petey, one of the main characters in the comic. It was the first artwork the public had seen from the Calvin and Hobbes creator since his retirement of his beloved strip many years before.

Watterson was not alone, he was joined by the likes of Pat Oliphant, Lynn Johnston, Jim Davis, and others, both well-known and obscure. Including the drawing below, I'm proud to say. The book, and an auction of the artwork brought in thousands of dollars for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Since its founding, Team Cul de Sac has raised over $200,000 dollars toward ending Parkinson's Disease.

Richard and I met once, and spent an afternoon talking about the things we had in common, a shared love of British master cartoonist Ronald Searle, a shared burden of Parkinson's Disease. I left his house thinking our paths would cross again, that he would be helped by brain surgery and have years of drawing ahead of him yet. Parkinson's had other plans. Richard, once a most prolific artist, seemed cut off from his muse by Parkinson's disease. The hoped-for benefits of the surgery didn't take. Despite admirable support from family and friends, his decline became steep and irreversible. He died at 58 years old. 

Parkinson's Disease was cruel to him, and cruel to those that loved him or admired his work. I was wrong about his chances with PD, but I am sure of this: His reckless line will remain a thing of beauty with few peers.


Anonymous said...

R.I.P., Mr. Thompson. Thank you for your reckless line and Mr. Dunlap-Shohl for noting it and your passing.

if said...

So sad!