« I used to be Snow White, but I drifted. » — Mae West
Spring has most definitely arrived, even up here in the Northern latitudes.
Last week, while wandering the neighbourhood on a gorgeous, inviting day, we roamed farther afield than usual, and happened upon a mostly-deserted parking lot flanked by a humongous pile of sooty snow. I’ve always been fascinated by these filthy behemoths; where I grew up, increasingly crusty and grotesque snowbanks would endure midway through June each year.
It always made sense to me that, being dark, these mounds would absorb more heat from the spring sunlight and melt faster than pristine snow. Counterintuitively, they just stuck around. As it usually turns out, there are more factors at play than one might initially suspect. Here’s a handy scientific explanation.
Another individual who shared my bemused interest in the phenomenon was incredibly-gifted cartoonist Richard Church Thompson (1957-2016), who bestowed upon the unsightly obsidian lumps some intriguing bits of mythology, as he so often and compellingly did to the base materials of the everyday.
« Superstition, the mother of those hideous twins, fear and faith, from her throne of skulls, still rules the world. » — Robert G. Ingersoll
Feeling a tad superstitious? Today, as it also happens to be Richard Thompson’s birthday (coïncidence? hardly!), we combine two fabulous flavours into this confection of sheer frightful delight. Careful you don’t bite your tongue or deal yourself a case of whiplash.
Take the quiz and quell, at least for a time, those vicious neighbourhood rumours concerning you. For further such priceless resources, do take a gander at our prior Thompson posts, including this Hallowe’en-themed goodie and this fair sampling from Richard’s Poor Almanac.
Here, then, is a trio of seasonally-and-thematically pertinent excerpts from his Richard’s Poor Almanac, a feature that made its august début in The Washington Post in 1997. Mr. Thompson is somewhat better known for his (other) masterpiece, the beyond-brilliant suburban family comic strip, Cul de Sac (2004-2012).
And since I brought up Cul de Sac, and insolently pilfered a panel from it for this post’s preview image, I would be remiss in my duties were I to not include the strip in its entirety. Here you are.
For more of Mr. Thompson’s Almanac, check out, if you will, this earlier post on the topic.
Richard Thompson*, cartoonist extraordinaire and an exceptionally kind and talented man, tragically passed away in 2016 – and I don’t like to throw the word “tragically” about without good cause. His was a rare combination of wit, imagination, and style – think of how often one comes across an excellent writer whose material suffers from his poor drawing ability, or an artist whose beautiful art is like en empty shell, with nary a story nor convincing characterization in sight. Thompson had ideas, tons of ideas, and he was able to translate them into visuals with a dynamic pen-line and elegant watercolours.
His first truly successful strip was Richard’s Poor Almanac, which ran in the Washington Post for seven years or so from 1997. These little gems have been collected in “Richard’s Poor Almanac: 12 Months of Misinformation in Handy Cartoon Form” in 2004, but sadly this wonderful volume is quite out of print. You can get your fix from GoComics, however, as they’re re-running the whole thing here.
*not the musician.
Here’s a few strips from Richard’s Poor Almanac that always make me chuckle, no matter how many times I see them.
The sprawling, madcap Almanac presented “misinformation in handy cartoon form” on subjects ranging from traditional almanac fodder like weather phenomena and local fauna to entertainment and political news. “The ideal cartoon for the Almanac was made up off the top of my head with no research, with only its own comic logic holding it together,” noted the artist in The Art of Richard Thompson. (Andrew Farago for the Comics Journal.)
You may have heard about the Almanac thanks to the fame of “Make the Pie Higher”.
«Upon learning that George W. Bush had opted not to invite an official poet to his inauguration ceremony in January 2001, Thompson composed his own poem from Bush malapropisms, and assembled them into a free-form verse entitled “Make the Pie Higher”. The cartoon was widely circulated online over the next year, was set to music by multiple composers, and earned its own entry on the fact-checking website Snopes.com. » (source)
I understand that this image has to do with the tradition of greeting the new year by banging on pots and pans and generally making a racket, but I presume that both sailor-garbed primate and pneumatic drill were optional, particularly in times of scarcity.
Art by Stephen Douglas, from Famous Funniesno. 138 (January, 1946). FF number one (July, 1934) was likely the second comic book issued, and the first one *sold*. It was published by Eastern Color / Dell Comics.
And while we’re on the subject of ushering in the New Year by making a hellacious din, let’s treat ourselves to a couple of relevant Cul de sac pieces. The first returns us to the strip’s formative, water-coloured years, when it appeared weekly (2004-2007) in The Washington Post‘s weekly magazine section.
Nothing left to do now but to wish a joyful 2018 to all you monkeys and assorted critters!
What better way to start Tentacle Tuesday than with the Big Pop-Up Book of Giant Squids? Sensitive people may want to skip this one.
« Dirk Dragonslapper », other than making me giggle every time, sounds like an actual character from some fantasy trilogy, which may be a comment on the state of fantasy these days (hint: it’s not fantastical). I’ll go with the cephalopods, thanks!
Incidentally, there’s a lot of dreadful fantasy covers out there (and that’s quite out of the scope of this blog, anyway), but I can’t resist sharing this one with you.
Poor Fritz Leiber! An octopus holding a bunch of swords at completely ridiculous angles, a squat muscle-bound freak with a bare ass and some booby green-and-purple women floating a distance away. Thanks, Peter Elson.
Let’s take a break from cuteness. Next up is some serious cause for alarm from Tom Sutton, who’s excellent at psychological horror. His weird art is full of details one can sink into; his sketchiness and sweeping lines leave one with the disquieting impression of being inextricably pulled into a distorted, nightmarish world.
There’s an inspired essay about Sutton here which I heartily recommend! I’ll take the liberty of borrowing a great Sutton quote from it (itself taken from a 2000 interview by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artistno. 12). Voilà:
« They published weird stuff, and I have always been fascinated by weird stuff, and the weirder the better…. I do owe a certain amount to Charlton, because they allowed me to write a lot of ditties of my own, to paint a lot of horrible covers, and they never, ever, ever remarked on my technique. »
Brr. I think we need an example of straightforward macho heroism to counter-act the icky impression left by the creeping horror glimpsed above. Here’s Doc Savage to the rescue, as usual. Watch the epic struggle between muscled man and malevolent tentacled beast!
Let’s see the cover as it was published:
Interestingly, upon opening the magazine, the first thing one sees is a Tom Sutton illustration. Small world! The cover story, « The Crimson Plague », is an adaptation of a novella published in Doc Savage Magazine in September 1939, and most likely written by Lester Dent (as Kenneth Robeson), who’s responsible for most of the classic Doc Savage epics. It’s an « adventure in which Doc Savage and his team deal with kidnapped scientists, captured comrades, and the deadly secret of the Octo-Brain » (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?) and is illustrated by Ernie Chan.
Borborygmi [bawr-buh-rig-mahy] a rumbling or gurgling sound caused by the movement of gas in the intestines. Did you know you could have a whole conversation in borborygmese? But don’t take my word for it:
Claire Bretécher is a socio-satirical cartoonist from France, best known for her comics dealing with women and gender-related issues (Les frustrés, Aggripine…) Lots of them have been translated into English. A quick rundown of her career: her work has been published in Spirou and Pilote in 1972, and she co-founded the Franco-Belgian comics magazine “L’écho des savanes” (Echoes of the Savannah) together with Marcel Gotlib and Nikita Mandryka. She also has a pretty good handle on Weird Body Things and how people react to them.
And speaking of odd stomach noises, this pertinent little gem comes to mind: