Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leaving the Cul de Sac

"They're comic strips, examples of a mighty yet dying artform."

That thought opens and closes the final sequence of Richard Thompson's brilliant comic strip Cul de Sac. (click on images to enlarge). Fittingly, the very last strip was one of the first drawn.

Thompson brought fresh perspective to the medium with his inventive scripting and drawing. There aren't many comic strips that made me laugh out loud, but Cul de Sac did on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, Thompson had to give up his comic about 4-year old Alice Otterloop and her world to for health reasons. And his decision to end the strip, as opposed to turning it over to another artist, makes him an even greater asset to the artform.

Because there are plenty of comic strips that are still continuing on that should have left the scene with their creators. When the original artist leaves, often whatever freshness the strip has leaves with it. The inheritors stick with the same panel layouts, the same tropes, the same gags and the same characters.

Mark Tatulli summed it up best in his comic strip Lio (which I've noted before for its innovate take on the genre).

 Alice Otterloop, in a hat made of the Sunday comics section, marches away to the sound of her own drum. Inside are the strips are the characters that never change, the ones that endlessly recycle the same tired gags over and over. Unlike Cul de Sac (and Lio), they never require much from the reader. They don't offend, but they don't really engage, either. They're just... there. Remnants of a mighty, yet dying artform.

It's the reason I call out extraordinary examples of the medium in this blog. Because it's not often that a comic reaches the full potential of sequential art. Richard Thompson's work often exceeded it. He will be missed.

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