Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson's popular comic strip, "Cul de Sac," which has thrived in the Washington Post for almost four years, is about to take its place among Deseret Morning News comics.

The strip will take the place of Mark Pett's "Lucky Cow," which the artist has decided to discontinue.

During an interview with the Deseret Morning News, the cartoonist, who lives in Arlington, Va., said, "It is a family strip that focuses on Alice Otterloop, a 4-year-old girl who is a self-absorbed, domineering little girl, a master of all she surveys and who thinks the world revolves around her."

Sound familiar? Anyone who has had a 4-year-old will likely identify with her.

If not, maybe they'll identify with Alice's dad, Peter Otterloop, who works as director of Pamphlets at the U.S. Department of Consumption, Office of Consumer Complaints, whatever that is.

Madeline Otterloop is the mom. She drives a van and has a loud laugh that embarrasses Alice's 8-year-old brother, Petey, causing him to pull his head inside his shirt collar. Petey is the reserved type, a picky eater whom teachers have called "a gifted but not really talented" kid with a "gloomy imagination."

Thompson has been "doodling" and drawing ever since he was a child. He studied art at a community college with the hope of doing illustrations. He has been a successful freelance illustrator for at least 25 years, working for such magazines as The New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly.

But his weekly gig at The Washington Post, drawing "Richard's Poor Almanac," raised his prestige and led to "Cul de Sac."

Thompson is happy as a cartoonist, although he doesn't see himself as "a life-of-the-party-type" person. "I usually keep my mouth shut in large groups. I might be occasionally funny, but it's apt to be while mumbling something to my wife under my breath. I'm not a good performer."

But Thompson has a finely tuned sense of humor, as a look at some of his past strips will indicate. "I do what makes me laugh," Thompson said. "I have two daughters, one 9 and the other 12, and they both have a good sense of humor. Knowing what they laugh at helps me."

He conceded that cartoonists are "off the wall" and usually have senses of humor that "can't turn off when they should. They are also often obsessive loners." Thompson often goes a week without any interaction with an adult besides his wife, but then he needs some time to observe people in action, so the ideas can germinate.

He's also been known to eavesdrop on other people's conversations.

"I'm aware that I'm often watching or listening to things no one else would," he said.

Getting a comic strip of your own is no small accomplishment in this era of struggling newspapers. According to Thompson, his syndicate, Universal Press, only launches two or three comic strips a year. There are online opportunities, he said, but "making money remains the unanswered question."

Thompson is so unassuming that he is "shocked if someone likes the strip."

It's hard to know how people react until a single person pops up who says their refrigerator is "plastered with Cul de Sac cartoons," Thompson said. He has trouble picking his own "top 15 best comic strips" because he likes so many, including "Peanuts," "Pogo" and, of course, "Calvin and Hobbes."


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com