Saturday, 18 August 2012

CUL DE SAC


America's great poet, Walt Whitman, worked most of his life writing and revising his epic poem, Leaves of Grass.  He would add or subtract new sections and change lines,  refining his masterpiece.

But Whitman fretted that he might not realize when his age and disabilities were beginning to erode the quality of his masterpiece:
 As I sit writing here, sick and grown old,
Not my least burden is that dulness of the years, querilities,
Ungracious glooms, aches, lethargy...
May filter in my daily songs. 
To protect his work, Whitman had to recognize when he was no longer capable of doing his very best.  Even more important, he had to have the strength of character to give up what he loved when the time came.   It is tempting to lower your standards just a little bit, and continue to milk your past successes a little longer.   It's hard to love your art more than yourself.

I have previously written of my great admiration for the work of Richard Thompson.  His hilarious comic strip, Cul de Sac has been an oasis of talent and intelligence on the comic page for years.


Yesterday Richard announced with his typical grace, dignity and humor that he is ending his strip because Parkinson's disease prevents him from maintaining his standards in a daily strip.


A funny guinea pig cage on a funny table with funny word balloons encased by funny panel borders.

He will continue to work on other projects. 

These days the comic pages are filled with strips that long ago became franchise operations, handed down from generation to generation or subcontracted out by Baldo Smudges.  But Thompson explained why he could not lighten his own burden by subcontracting the words or the pictures in his strip:
I was having trouble separating the writing and the drawing. I found that one fed off the other more than I'd realized, that it was an organic process, to use pretentious art talk. Most of the time I'd start a strip with no clear idea where it was going, or There'd be an end without a beginning. And I'd figure it all out as I was inking it, which isn't the best way to work....
Thompson's gentle whimsy is so light, it floats on air.  His style, sweet and self-deprecating.  Yet, we see in  yesterday's announcement that you don't stay the best comic strip by having mushy standards.  The same unflinching honesty that made his strip special every day made it impossible for Thompson to continue the strip.  His standards were always as hard as diamonds, and for that reason the legacy of Cul de Sac is assured.

Ave atque vale.