Let's set the story. You're an accomplished cartoonist. You've done covers and illustrations for national publications like U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post Magazine and the New Yorker. Then you craft a spectacular, syndicated comic strip. It lands you awards with the National Cartoonists Society. Artists and writers admire you. The world is your artistic oyster. Then you get diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder. Soon, the tremors in your hand deny you the ability to draw.
All of this happened to Richard Thompson, an amazing cartoonist and creator of the endearing comic strip Cul de Sac. Imagine getting robbed of the one thing that brings you joy and your livelihood. You'd think he'd be bitter, but that's not how Richard Thompson is built. Everything I've read about him describes a kind, affable and gentle man. No self pity. No complaining. When asked if he was angry about the cards life dealt him, all he said was,"my characters had more to say."
In the introduction to the wonderful book The Art Of Richard Thompson, fellow cartoonist Nick Galifianakis describes Thompson as "...just under 6 feet tall and what seemed like 75 pounds. Dirty blond hair hanging over one eye, Ichabod Crane's Adam's apple and glasses perched on...that spectacular nose."
Blogger David Apatoff wrote a brief biography of Richard Thompson in The Art Of Richard Thompson. Apatoff wrote, "Richard could have continued Cul de Sac by subcontracting all his responsibilities the way other comic strip creators have done. Some creators have prospered by turning their beloved strips into franchise operations, but for Richard that was unthinkable. His decision to end Cul de Sac was an act of artistic valor by someone who loved his art more than himself."
Richard Thompson was born to draw. When you strip away everything else, from the writing and sense of humor to the experimentation in different media, drawing is what made Richard Thompson tick. Parkinson's disease stole that from him, and yet in a strange way he saw it as a relief. No more pressure to produce, to reach new heights. With rare acceptance, Richard Thompson stepped away from his drawing board.
He leaves behind an impressive body of work. And an example for the rest of us who have our own disappointments and complaints. His indomitable spirit and grace have something to teach us. And the lesson is simply grace. The act of facing the worst things in life with a sort of elegance, maturity and refinement. No self pity. No regrets. A quiet acceptance and personal dignity. How utterly admirable.
The next time you have a bad day or something doesn't go your way, take a moment to think about Richard Thompson. The unfortunate hand life dealt him, and how he responded to it. His indomitable spirit and grace. Hopefully, it will afford you some perspective and strength to overcome whatever you are facing