Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RIP, Richard Thompson

I am saddened today to hear of the death of cartoonist Richard Thompson, who succumbed to Parkinson's after a long struggle. Here's an article I wrote about him and efforts to help him back in 2011. Originally published at

Comic-Strip Fans Team Up to Fight Parkinson's Disease

When cartoonist Richard Thompson announced he had Parkinson's disease, one fan stood up to help make a difference.

Even though it is just a few years old, the comic strip Cul de Sac has already earned a legion of die-hard fans through its chaotic energy and vibrant characters. So when cartoonist Richard Thompson announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a brain disorder that can lead to tremors and more extreme physical coordination problems, his fans sat up and took notice.

One of those fans was Chris Sparks, a graphic designer and web developer in Asheville, N.C., who had met Thompson at a comic-book convention in 2008. The two became friends, and Sparks was building a website for Thompson when the artist announced his diagnosis.

"I started reading more about Parkinson's," says Sparks. His reading included books by Michael J. Fox, perhaps the world's most famous person with Parkinson's. "I was really touched," he says. Sparks visited the Michael J. Fox Foundation website and saw that people could form public fundraising teams to raise money for Parkinson's research. He quickly decided to form his own team: Team Cul de Sac.

But Sparks decided to take a different path than most "Team Fox" fundraisers. He has reached out to dozens of cartoonists around the world, who will be submitting artwork inspired by the Cul de Sac strip for inclusion in a book which Thompson's publisher, Andrews McMeel, has agreed to release next year. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to the foundation, but after the book is released, the artwork will also be auctioned off, with all proceeds going to Fox Foundation. The ultimate goal is to raise $250,000 for the foundation.

"We've already had around 60 people say they're interested in contributing," says Sparks. "Cartoonists, fine artists, anyone who wants to contribute is great. My goal is to get as many as possible."

One cartoonist who has already turned in his contribution is Alaska's Peter Dunlap-Shohl, who also has Parkinson's. "It always brightens my day when I get an email from someone who has Parkinson's who is touched that we are doing this different thing with a sense of humor," says Sparks.

Although many people with Parkinson's are private about their conditions, Thompson is not one of them. He's happy to put his support behind the project. "Parkinson's was described to me as a disease that first robs you of your dignity. So it's fitting to combat a slapstick disease with cartoons," he says.

The Team Cul de Sac fundraising page has full information on how artists can contribute to the project, as well as how others can donate toward their fundraising goal.

"I think we can make a difference," says Sparks, who points out that his love of comics inspired him. "I've been reading comics since I was five years old, and most of the cartoonists I've met have been wonderful human beings," he says. "They've made a difference in my life, and I hope to make a difference as well."

Image originally courtesy of Richard Thompson.

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