Writer-Artist 14: Clifford Thompson
“Being at odds with the world around you is a common theme among personal essayists, and my first model of an artistic treatment of such themes was Peanuts.”
Writing and Art Were a Single Pursuit
Even as a child of seven or eight, Thompson says his attempts at writing and art were for him a single pursuit, expressed in his love of reading and drawing comics. In those early years his influences were Peanuts and Marvel Comics, especially Spider-Man and The Thing, and he found a commonality among them that resonated.
“Charlie Brown was a good kid who was depressed, insecure, and lonely; my Marvel heroes were good guys who were depressed, insecure, and lonely and had superpowers. I imitated Peanuts first, with a strip I called “Jerome,” featuring a kid who was basically a black Charlie Brown. Later I imitated the Marvel heroes, culminating with “The Telstar,” a black teenager with superpowers.”
From Cartoonist to Writer
By 18, cartooning had yielded to “straight prose, especially the essay. Being at odds with the world around you, at certain times and in various ways, is a common theme among personal essayists, and my very first model of an artistic treatment of such themes was Peanuts.”
Although his focus was writing, Thompson never lost the urge to draw and paint, and by his mid-forties, painting was a constant in his life. “I tend,” he says, “to paint the things I love, through representations of literature (books, notebooks, pens), allusions to jazz (covers of CDs), and images of objects associated with bygone eras (such as fedoras—which I wear).
A Lasting Influence
“All these years later, I see the influences of good old Peanuts and Marvel. If I respond viscerally to a painting as seemingly simple as Matisse’s ‘Nono Lebasque,’ it is because I developed a taste for such simplicity through Charles Schulz’s very basic drawing. And I trace my love of bold color—in the work of the Fauves, for example—to Stan Lee’s 1974 book, Origins of Marvel Comics, the bible of my childhood.”
The winner of the 2013 Whiting Award for nonfiction for Love for Sale and Other Essays, Thompson has also published a novel, Signifying Nothing, and a memoir, Twin of Blackness. His essays on books, film, jazz, and American identity have appeared in many prominent venues including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The Threepenny Review, and The Best American Essays 2018.
And check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
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