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Posted at 9:15 AM ET, 09/30/2009

Does 'Cul de Sac' Feel Right at Home? Time to Defend That 'Toon

By Michael Cavna

Once again, it's time to Defend...That...'Toon:

CUL DE SAC: (UPS)Enlarge Comic

Some comic characters, you can read for seeming eons and they never, ever draw nearer to your heart. Then, at the other end of the aortic spectrum, are the Otterloops.

For me, it was impossible to follow the denizens of "Cul de Sac" for even a few months without beginning to feel fondly toward them with all their human quirks, quips and idiosyncracies. True to a child's nature, Alice lives so in the moment. Ernesto the Intellect is always plotting something. And Petey the Germophobe, bless him, just wants to be left alone in his room, away from all manner of person and pest.

The fact that Richard Thompson's "Cul de Sac" was first creatively paved in the pages of The Washington Post can't help but warm my heart all the more. These are children from our collective village. Which is partly why I feel so protective when they move to a new neighborhood on Sundays -- in The Post's Style&Arts section -- as they have done in recent days. (Speaking of, a programming note: The keepers of that section tell me "Cul de Sac" won't always be black-and-white on Sundays; the decision will depend on color-page availability every given Sunday.) Likewise, I feel a fierce parental affinity for the Otterloops when they don't have a home in The Post's online community.

Given the strip's recent Sunday move within The Post, Comic Riffs feels compelled to designate today for particularly voicing opinions about "Cul de Sac" -- a strip that's such a natural descendant of "Calvin and Hobbes," the reclusive Bill Watterson himself came forward to write the foreword for the strip's first book collection.

If you're not a big "CdS" fan, feel free to share that sentiment, too. Otherwise, now's the time to Defend. That. 'Toon.


THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: Richard Thompson discusses his admiration of "Calvin and Hobbes."

By Michael Cavna  | September 30, 2009; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  Defend That 'Toon  
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It's THE best comic strip of the century.

Posted by: greasypores | September 30, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Cul de Sac is a winner! In its use of children's perspective and its view of the suburbs, it does what Peanuts used to do 50 years ago -- both insightful and humorous, while avoiding both sappiness and nastiness. I was disappointed by its move out of the Washington Post Magazine; it seems adrift in the Style section amidst the Post's snarky cultural and fashion critics. And the panel that replaced it in the magazine is no winner -- cf. yesterday's Weingarten chat. (Sorry, Mr. Riffs. Wonder when you will ask people to defend your 'toon.)

Posted by: OTBerbur | September 30, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

What is up with it being moved from the Magazine to the Style section and not the Sunday comics? I swear you guys are deliberately sabotaging the newspaper.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 30, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

>> OTBerbur:

I was surprised by the decision to move it from the magazine, too. Short of the magazine, I'd run it in the Sunday comics. As for the new "Our Town" illustrated-reporting feature, let's set the record straight: That did not tell replace "Cul de Sac" (it's not even in the same part of the book) -- "Our Town" replaces what otherwise would be editorial TEXT -- aka, a "story". Any other claim is misinformation.

Perhaps one day, once readers have had a chance to see about a dozen "Our Town" features, the Magazine might indeed offer a "Defend That Illustrated Story" forum. Once readers have had a chance to fully sample this experimental graphic reportage, I know I'd welcome all constructive feedback.


Posted by: comicriffscavna | September 30, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Alice often reminds me of my own six-year-old daughter, making the strip that much more enjoyable. I can draw some parallels between C&H and CdS in terms of the wise-beyond-their-years Calvin and Alice, but CdS is definitely trodding its own creative path.

Posted by: burnhamish | September 30, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I like Cul de Sac as a comic, but I think animating it is a BIG mistake. (Also, the headline title attached to the present clip should be "Warning: Shameless Book Advertising Enclosed".)

One of the reasons that Watterson fought so hard against animating Calvin and Hobbes was that he didn't want a "foreign" voice attached to the characters. Peanuts survived several generations of speakers, but in all three of these cases, the hand-lettered word on the page does it best, because everyone has their OWN picture of what the voices are supposed to sound like.

Posted by: kilby | September 30, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

>> burnhamish:

couldn't agree more. While "CdS" and "C&H" might be kindred comic spirits, Thompson's creation is utterly, refreshingly, an original.


Posted by: comicriffscavna | September 30, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I tried to read CdS regularly but just could not get that interested...the way it is drawn? its look...I don;t know, just could not get into it. Gave up on Candorville for the same reasons. Something about the drawing....

Posted by: ZeldaJane | September 30, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

To me CdS is juvenile and trite. It is very poorly drawn and has a way of making its characters repugnant.

To mention it in the same breath with C&H is akin to sacrilege.

Posted by: kcghost | September 30, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

>> kcghost: Even when it's Bill Watterson himself who's doing the breathing? Still, point taken.

>> ZeldaJane: Fair enough. Different (brush) strokes for different folks.


Posted by: comicriffscavna | September 30, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Cul de Sac is fantastic.

That is all.

Posted by: Roto13 | September 30, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Cul de Sac is weird, precious, all too human and most of all funny. Richard Thompson has captured some of the essence of childhood in his strip. Children are all too often glorified, but they are in actuality strange little people with thoughts and phobias all their own. I think the drawing and the writing match perfectly and I wouldn't change a thing.

Posted by: elyrest | September 30, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm apparently in the minority. I've never got into this comic. I can't really explain why other than that, unlike Michael, I never could get any feeling for the characters. Sorry, everyone.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | September 30, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Charles Shultz may have pioneered adult angst & neuroses expressed through children, but Thompson has made it funny/relevant again. Freakin' genius. The Post has always had problems w/ "intelligent" comics; never ran Zippy on Sundays (unlike the B'more Sun), yet puts Gary Trudeau's uber-left sermonizing on page one.

Posted by: nonsensical2001 | September 30, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I think Cul de Sac is the funniest comic to come along since C&H. Not many G-rated strips make me laugh anymore, but this one does almost daily. If I could only read one strip a day (out of the dozens I follow in print and online) this would be the one.

Posted by: W2SQ | September 30, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Cul de Sac is one of the all time greats.
Richard Thompson's ability to capture the life of children as seen by children (as opposed to the perspective of sentimental adults) amazes me on an almost daily basis. It's rare to see that level of writing anywhere- much less on a comics page. And it's nothing less than a miracle that such a gifted writer can also produce such beautiful artwork.

Posted by: kevingreenlee1 | September 30, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"Cul de Sac" is the best comic strip since "Calvin and Hobbes." I hope Richard Thompson keeps it going for many, many years.

Posted by: jobro1 | September 30, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Love Cul de Sac. Hate that it's moved and that I no longer seem to be able to get it on line. Forget the animation, but bring the strip back in color, either in the Sunday comics or in the Magazine. The Post continues to self-destruct.

Posted by: Lauzertine | September 30, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Richard Thompson is a great word smith as well. Sometimes I will laugh just at the choice or words, or the sound of a phrase, and often time its hidden in the second panel. I love this comic. best thing going these days by a long shot.

Posted by: jessecline | September 30, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

I have loved CdS since it started. As good as C & H, much lamented. It doesn't belong in Style, please restore to the Magazine, or the comics.
And get rid of Little Liu and Garfield while you're at it.

Posted by: dandysmom | September 30, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Cul de Sac's main problem is that when you combine its verbosity with the tiny space that you allow for it, it becomes one of the two or three most "cramped" strips in the paper, even when it was in the Sunday magazine. This is the result of all the cutbacks and penny pinching that have left the physical appearance of the comics page a melancholy shadow of its former self. You've almost forced artists to become three word wonders in order to be understood in your micro-print format.

Other than that, Cul de Sac is a fine strip, if not on the acidic level of Watch Your Head, which is far and away the best you've got. But reading it in its current state is like seeing a teenager in baby clothes. You need to give it room to breathe.

Posted by: andym108 | October 1, 2009 6:21 AM | Report abuse

CdS is refreshing, and appeals to my sense of zaniness. A week or so back, one of Alice's friends, among other things, shoved a stick through the mail slot, calling it the Big Stick of the Day, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Otterloop. When Alice appears crying "Yay! My Big Stick of the Day!", I spent a good fifteen minutes laughing. That is my new catch phrase, in fact. The wonderful persectives of both the very young (Alice) and slightly older (her brother whose name escapes me) are very well laid out by the cartoonist.
I miss its presence in the magazine. So I'll have to add this to my daily on-line viewing repertoire. (Gives me a chance to gain an appreciation for the dailies.)

Posted by: draxan_phlipp | October 1, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

CdS is the new C&H, with a touch of Far Side tossed in for good measure. With all the cartoonists using children (and I do mean using) for lame knee-slappers, CdS has kids nailed, with all the false cutsie removed.
By isolating it in Style, the opportunity for new fans to get hooked is diminished.
Long may Richard Thompson draw!

Posted by: snowshoecat | October 1, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Richard Thompson is a Treasure! National, local, whatever and every! His color work is wonderful, and must be seen. Now, could I please get the daily strip on the comics page on the WaPo site??

Posted by: Kas300 | October 1, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

>> snowshoecat: I second the motion!

>> Kas300: Hear, hear! And me, I'd kill *two* other .com strips if that's what it took to cover the separate cost of an online Otterloop.


Posted by: comicriffscavna | October 1, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I don't want to compare Cul de Sac with the other late, great strips because it's so fresh and funny all by itself. I love it so much I save it for last when reading the paper in the AM, and it always starts my day with a smile.

I also like the fact that we can claim Richard Thompson as a local and by extension, the Otterloops.

Posted by: pbwg | October 1, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Nthing the love for CdS. It's one of the few G-rated strips that's actually consistently funny.

Posted by: RKaufman13 | October 1, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Here's the deal, Richard Thompson is way smart, way intelligent, way educated, and way, way funny. Add to this not only hella drawing skills but some honest-to-god art chops and anybody who’s not a fan for life is not paying attention.
The Post became my personal paper of record when the Times started acting like the Bush administration (issuing sanctimonious dicta and harboring liars). That Tom Toles and Richard Thompson have a home at the Post proves my point. Please all youall beltway area folk—don’t let them mess with Cul de Sac.

Posted by: beeisfor | October 2, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

PS (You can read Cul de Sac daily on, which would be your only choice if you lived here. Now, go buy all RT's books.)

Posted by: beeisfor | October 2, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm a little late to this discussion, but... I flipped when I saw the new Post 'zine and couldn't find Cul de Sac. What's up with that? R.T. is brilliant; CdS is quirky and funny. Give it the play it deserves!

Posted by: etaoin-shrdlu | October 3, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

It's well-written, well-drawn and one of my new favorites. PLEASE put it back into the magazine or into the comics pages. The Sunday strip deserves to be in color.

And bring back Richard's Poor Almanac"!!!!

Posted by: redsfan323 | October 4, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

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