Richard Thompson passed away yesterday. Along with Lynda Barry and Bill Watterson, he was one of my favorite cartoonists. He was also a pen pal to my fifth grade art students. He responded to our postcards with original, hand colored artwork. He even included the edges of the drawings to teach the students how he tested his colors before using them. (Can we all agree that he was a genius with line and color?)
As is always the case with death, Richard’s left me with a deep regret. The last time that we corresponded was for me to nag him about a pen pal – a budding cartoonist – who had yet to hear back from him. He told me that he was sick, but I didn’t understand yet what he meant. So, I urged him to send anything at all and said something like “If it was for me, I wouldn’t pester you about it but, because it’s for a child, I really feel like I have to.” I thanked him sincerely when he did send several sketches to her. After that though, he was no longer available for the pen pal project. It was in a video that I later saw how afflicted by Parkinson’s he was. I was ashamed of myself for not being more supportive of him. (It could have been a life lesson for my student too.) I wanted to send an apology to Richard, but we were only casual internet acquaintances and, after serious consideration, I decided that the letter would have been for my benefit more than his.
I will forever be inspired by and so grateful to Richard Thompson for his artwork and his generosity. And I will use what I learned from him to become a better, more compassionate person.