I wanted to post yesterday. In the midst of a marathon-three days of busyness, I realized that I was in the middle of an internal avalanche of words and philosophy and emotion. Though I feel I’ve shut down my words in all mediums, all of a sudden stories were colliding and collapsing and spilling in my head and over the edges of my control. That, in and of itself, wouldn’t have landed me on the blog. But an unexpected half hour with a comic strip turned things around–and that brought me to the blog. This is a strip you have to see… whether you have young illustrators yourself or whether you scrawl your own daily notes in comic style, or whether you are simply a fan of the genre.
Here is how it went…
Up early , I did a few morning things in the dim light and then worked on hand-sewing another leaf for what is beginning to feel like the endless ’42′ quilt. When the youngest woke a bit later, we moved back to blankets and pillows, each with a book in hand. And somehow, as I snuggled back into my space next to him, too much washed over me. He read his book, and I struggled to hold my tears in place. Shaking myself, I picked up a book of comics I’ve been carrying around for days and days. It is Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics. I found it quite accidentally at the library. Cul de Sac is by Richard Thompson, an illustrator I had never heard of before, but a glance at the opening pages told me it was a comic series I had to look at, both because of the style… and because of the content.
I’m a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes, which I didn’t really discover until I read it with the kids in the last few years. I love the strip both for the line of it and for the wonderful and very funny articulation of Calvin’s thought and speech patterns. When we were big into Calvin and Hobbes, we read every collection we could find at the library, and we read some of them several times. Yesterday, sitting and reading the Cul de Sac book, I found a similar combination of humor and attention to the thought processes of children. The strip deals with a 4-year-old girl named Alice and her time at the Blisshaven Academy Preschool. You see her both at school and at home with her family. Some of the strips are just drop-dead funny. Some of the strips, you read as a parent, and you see the role of parenting stripped down to some bare essential… beneath the humor of it all, Thompson has an uncanny way of distilling the family setting and the way parents circle around the periphery.
I read for about a half hour while the youngest was engrossed in his own graphic novel. And then, we started reading Cul de Sac together. He, too, found the panels funny, and when his brother got up, he insisted we backtrack and read a bunch of them aloud again for his brother’s benefit. We all laughed out loud together throughout the reading. I know there are a number of other collections, and I am looking forward to finding and going through them all!
From an illustrator’s perspective, one thing I love about looking at a strip like Cul de Sac or Calvin and Hobbes is that it reiterates that you often really do draw the same character in almost the same position for several cells in a row. I think sometimes beginning comic artists resist this or thing there’s something else that has to go on. You can learn a lot by reading, enjoying, and absorbing wonderful strips like Cul de Sac.
Thompson has a very distinct line in his illustrations, but I find it really amazing how much he can depict in a small space and still have room for plenty of text. There’s a lot to study here! When I get a chance, I’ll be poking around to find out more. Part of me wonders how I had never even heard of this strip. I think it might should be required reading for parents of preschoolers! But then the practical side of me admits that I don’t even get the daily paper. I wonder what other amazing comics I’m missing?
(Something in me continues to percolate in this genre…)
All in all, Cul de Sac gave me a mental break, and we moved into our day. Shortly after, we found ourselves on the front steps whittling down a pencil for a science project. We broke several in the process. It was much more difficult than we anticipated–and we’ve each got sore thumbs to prove it!
Tying it all together… do you think I haven’t suggested that he do a comic strip panel or two about his experience with this science project. Absolutely! Do you think he’s buying that idea? Not really. The reality is that I am the one that should do it. I should be documenting that, along with a zillion other day to day moments, in my own strip. It’s always had a name in my head anyway, and there are scads of panels scrawled into various sketchbooks tucked here and there, and the cup of spilled lemonade yesterday afternoon fits right in. Someday, right?