Heartland: The Art of Richard Thompson
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“The Art of Richard Thompson” is a documentary short that serves as a retrospective on the career of award-winning cartoonist and illustrator Richard Thompson. Thompson is best known for his syndicated comic strip “Cul de Sac,” his cartoon work for The Washington Post, and his illustrations that have appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, National Geographic and The Atlantic Monthly. In 2009, Thompson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and his condition forced him to retire in 2012.
The documentary includes footage from a 2010 interview with Thompson (his current condition makes speaking very difficult) mixed with recent footage of the artist going through some of his art with the curator of ab exhibit of his life’s work at Ohio State University. Intercut with these scenes are art professionals, experts and historians talking about Thompson’s career as “a cartoonist’s cartoonist.”
Thompson’s cartoon art was simple and loosely sketched, possessing a childlike simplicity that belied its sophistication both in terms of style and content. In the documentary Thompson is praised for his artistic versatility, as he also excelled at illustration, caricature, inking and painting as well as being a master at different comic formats ranging from standard strips to single- and multi-panel cartoons. One of Thompson’s most famous cartoons for the Washington Post was published the week of George W. Bush’s first inauguration and included a poem titled “Make the Pie Higher,” a mock inaugural poem composed entirely out of Bush malapropisms.
The documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into Thompson’s personal life outside of his struggles with Parkinson’s and instead focuses on reviewing his career and contributions to cartooning over the course of its 21 minute run-time. “The Art of Richard Thompson” is solid, informative and entertaining if unspectacular. Those unfamiliar with his work will certainly learn quite a bit, and fans of the artist will appreciate it as a warm retrospective on a career that ended much too soon.