Beethoven by Richard Thompson
And this is Richard.
You probably cannot tell from this picture but, when it was taken, Richard was already in the throes of his battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
At that same event he drew this wonderful rendition of his character “Alice” for my cartoonist husband John.
“What has this to do with the webcomic “Anne & God” ?” you ask.
Well, without Richard there would be no Anne & God.
You need to understand Richard to understand where these little scribblings of mine came from and what they mean to me.
Look at Richard again.
Doesn’t he look sweet?
And maybe even a little meek?
Don’t you believe it.
Behind that placid, slightly owl-like façade beats the heart of one of the most wickedly sarcastic and insightful satirists I ever met.
Here is another piece wherein perhaps you get a little more of that vibe.
THAT’S the kind of work I first encountered by Richard. Long before the charming comic strip “Cul De Sac” which introduced Richard to millions of regular every day newspaper comic readers, he was producing the deliciously pointed “Richard’s Poor Almanac” for the Washington Post.
By the time Richard and I became friends I had read a good deal of his comic work, as well as his prose, and so was prepared when he turned out to have just as deep a sense of irony and satire in person. He was never the sort of person who dominated a room. He didn’t ask for attention or tell hilarious stories. No, he was the person who sat quietly in the corner and, when your story was finished, he punctuated it with a perfect, quiet, insightful comment. Which was funnier, and usually a little more daring, than anything anyone else had said for at least an hour.
So when he received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s at the height of his career his public demeanor was dignified and accepting. Even self effacing, as he was wont to be. But you just knew that underneath the surface a million conflicting things were going on.
As time passed I found myself doing what most of us do when someone in our life is facing a debilitating or terminal illness.
I became an idiot.
By which I mean that, more and more of the time, I said idiotic things to Richard.
They were, of course, well intentioned. But idiotic all the same.
Phrases like: “I hope you are doing well!” “We’re thinking of you today” “Hope the treatments are going well!”
Perhaps if we had lived closer to one another and were actually in the same room, instead of communicating via email, I would have had more substantive conversation to offer. I’d like to hope so.
The point is that there came a time where I stopped emailing at all because I could not bear to utter one more silly platitude.
Then, whilst driving on a very long road trip (it’s amazing how much creative thinking you can do when driving 15 hour stretches) I started to think about some way I could communicate with Richard on a different level.
I myself have an extremely complicated relationship with religion and faith, which I might get into some time, but not today. Although I’ll mention that some of that complexity is driven by having lost a lot of my favorite people whose lives seemed to be cut inexplicably short.
I don’t know what Richard’s faith life looked like but, if the side of him I’d seen through his humor was anything to go by, he seemed like the sort of person who had a few choice things to say to the almighty.
So I hatched a plan.
I decided to write up short tweet like conversations between myself and “God” and send one to Richard every morning in hopes of giving at least a small humorous bump to his day. I did NOT send him drawings with these little witicisms. I can think of nothing more audacious than trying to send funny drawings to a cartoonist.
And that’s where all this started.
Eventually I stopped sending them everyday. I knew he was getting worse – I think it’s important for me to state here that I began this project 3 years ago, long before the webcomic version came into existence and when Richard was in much better shape.
But a funny thing happened to me. I found I liked doing them. Not so much drawing them because I don’t think the drawings are the strong part of Anne & God. But I enjoy the writing quite a bit. Because basically, at heart I am a smart ass. And, as long as I can do this project in a “smart ass” frame of mind rather than a pious one, I feel it fulfills something for me.
I write this to you today because we lost Richard about 2 weeks ago.
And, honestly, I don’t know how I feel about continuing on Anne & God without him.
I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to continue through January 1st 2017.
After that we’ll see.
Good Bye Richard!
We will miss you!