By Liz Lizama
From one cul de sac to another, Northern Virginia has a knack for attracting cartoonists. A new documentary short “The Art of Richard Thompson,” which shares the same name with a recently published book, follows the career of the Arlington resident and former Washington Post cartoonist and illustrator.
Andy Hemmendinger, a long-time neighbor of Thompson and president of the production company GVI, joined with Bob Burnett, GVI vice president and creative director, to create the film.
“I had met Richard at a social event Andy hosted and had a wonderful conversation with him about James Thurber getting his eye put out by a toy arrow shot by Thurber’s brother in Falls Church,” Burnett said.
The Ohio-born cartoonist and author James Thurber lived in Falls Church for the summer of 1902 after his father was offered a position to serve on a commission headed by an Ohio congressman. While the family rented a house in Washington, D.C., Thurber’s mother found summers in the city to be too humid, so they rented a house at 319 Maple Ave. in Falls Church that summer.
The original house was torn down and the cul de sac is now named James Thurber Court in his honor. As a result of the injury that took place in his Falls Church home, Thurber’s left eye was surgically removed and he eventually became visually impaired. He blamed the lack of care for the effect on his right eye.
A little more than a century after the Thurber incident, Lee-Harrison resident Richard Thompson’s “Cul de Sac” comic strip debuted in the Washington Post in 2004, and was later syndicated to over 150 publications.
Drawing from his own experience of raising children in the Washington suburbs, Thompson created the preschool-aged character Alice Otterloop in a series which depicted her daily life.
“Cul de Sac” came to an end in 2012 when Thompson was forced to retire due to Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to the regular comic strip, Thompson’s illustrations were featured in the New Yorker, National Geographic and U.S. News and World Report. The National Cartoonists Society also awarded him the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.
“He may have been best known for ‘Cul de Sac’ and other Washington Post drawings, but I loved that he put immense effort, skill and creative energy to what many would consider the ‘just pay the bills’ mundane, run of the mill association, trade and technical publications that he turned to magic,” Burnett said.
As mentioned in the documentary, Thompson focused more on the art rather than publicity for his illustrations. But despite Thompson’s diagnosis and retirement, his work will continue to expand to new viewers with the film and book launch.
The Arlington-based bookstore One More Page is holding an event this Saturday, Dec. 6, to celebrate the release of The Art of Richard Thompson book and documentary short. The discussion and screening, which starts at 2:30 p.m. will be held at the Arlington Central Library, located at 1015 Quincy St., Arlington. Thompson will be in attendance along with the book’s editors Nick Galifianakis, David Apatoff, Chris Sparks and Mike Rhode.