End of the road for ‘Cul de Sac’ as cartoonist retires his pens

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A panel from "Cul de Sac" featuring Alice and Peetey from cartoonist Richard Thompson.

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A cul-de-sac goes round and round, but the end has come for Richard Thompson’s comic strip of the same name.

The cartoonist decided to end “Cul de Sac” because of his battle with Parkinson’s disease, first diagnosed in 2009. Thompson is 55 years old. He is so weakened that he is unable to meet the demands of a daily comic strip.

The last “Cul de Sac” — an original — runsSunday in the Sun-Times and 250 other newspapers in which it is syndicated through Universal Uclick.

Thompson was honored by his peers in June with the release of the book Team Cul de Sac: Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinson’s (Andrews McNeel), for which more than 100 cartoonists and artists including Garry Trudeau drew their intepretations of Thompson’s characters in the Otterloops family. The book quickly became a New York Times best seller. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

It is difficult for Thompson to talk, but he answered a few email questions from his home in Arlington, Va.

“Cul de Sac” debuted to rave reviews on Sept. 9, 2007, and by 2011 Thompson had received the Cartoonist of the Year award from the National Cartoonists Society. Naturally, Thompson’s muse is found in newspapers.

“We took the Washington Star instead of the Post,” Thompson wrote of his childhood in Baltimore. “Specifically because it carried ‘Pogo,’ which my mom loved. She also liked to draw.”

Thompson liked “Pogo” from the jump.

“I remember the first time I read Walt Kelly and understood it in fifth grade,” he wrote. “I almost suffocated with laughter. I love his constant tumult of slapstick and great characters.” Thompson blended the impulsive sprit of Kelly with the conversational wit of Mark Twain. Thompson used to read Twain’s Life on the Mississippi every year.

“I can’t tell a joke to save my life,” Thompson wrote. “The whole setup-punchline equation is like a foreign language to me. This presents a serious handicap for someone who proposes to do a comic strip. I like doing little ‘arcs’ that don’t have much of a story; Dill spends a week crawling after a bug. Petey sits on his bed. Insignificant stuff like this is a lot of fun for me to do and fits the comic strip form well. ”

Thompson’s studio is in the basement of his home. In February he recruited assisant Stacy Curtis to ink “Cul de Sac.”

But the disease continued to progress.

“It’s feeling an essential part of yourself dwindle and lessen and become slowly unrecognizable,” he wrote. “It’s like you’ve spent years mastering an instrument and now it’s popping springs and leaking from the seams and falling apart. Depression is a symptom, understandably.

“Parkinson’s is incurable, but it is treatable to a certain extent. The treatment combines medication and movement exercises designed to slow the progress of the disease. You pretty much have to run as fast as you can to stay in the same place. I’m in line for a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation where a neurosurgeon attaches jumper cables to your brain. Then a current is fine-tuned until the shakiness stops. After that I may be drawing again.

“Crank it up to 11 and see what happens.”