Friday, August 31, 2007

Ending #1

Let me see if I have this straight. April comes back from the farm excited about what she has done there. The progression is supposed to be that she rides horses better than she used to, and she can drive the truck. Last year, Uncle Danny closed out the farm sequence seriously talking to April about what it would take to get into veterinary school. The year before that, we had our last visit with Grandpa Will and Grandma Carrie where they told April she had a natural aptitude for horses. In comparison, this visit to farm nets us, the reader, very little. I had the expectation that April would declare she is definitely going to be trying for vet school, and some announcement of something she has done to move to that goal.

After April gets back, we have food strips, and the regular season closes with April, Michael and Meredith gathered around the refrigerator while Elly and John express the belief that their children will never truly leave them alone, so long as they keep the fridge stocked with food.

I think my mother had a similar belief when I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She expected me to find a job around the town where she lived, and I would live with her until the time came for me to move to my own place. In reality, what happened was I got a job which started a few weeks after my university graduation and it was in Texas. I cleaned out my room when I moved, and I have lived on my own ever since, with my mother lamenting for over 20 years now how I don't live closer.

Now my grandmother had the life my mom expected to have. She and my grandfather bought a house in the same town where my mom lived, after my mother and father got divorced, on the premise she was just there to help, in case my mother needed help. That move netted her tons of grandchildren time, and she could not have been happier. However, what got her that time was not a stocked refrigerator full of greasy food. What got her that time was going to virtually every thing we grandkids were doing, and offering baby-sitting to my mom as she was having to go back into the dating scene again.

What we have presented with Elly Patterson is an odd fantasy. The grandmother gets attention from her kids and grandkids with no more effort than making a meatloaf and making the "snacrifice" of buying a few butter tarts without raisins from the store. She doesn't have to leave her home, except for the butter tarts. Her family comes to her. She didn't go to the mall to see April play for the telethon. She doesn't play with or read to the grandkids, much less babysit the grandkids, in the 9 months since that apartment fire.

There are some people who write into that Coffee Talk with Elly who say the Pattersons are just like they are. I cannot relate to Elly Patterson at all. My grandmother is my model for how I plan to behave as a grandparent.

All Reprints in the Spring

this article:

Second generation

But all original good things must come to an end. The strip's current story line -- the budding romance between oldest daughter Elizabeth and an old high school flame -- will be spliced with Michael's remembrances until it gradually reaches a natural conclusion early next year.

"I'm interested and readers are interested to know what is going to happen with Anthony and Elizabeth," Johnston says. "That resolution can't happen too fast. They've only just started to see each other again after a long time apart."

But after that is settled, only old strips will be offered; essentially a greatest hits collection. The precedent for that was set by "Peanuts," which has served up repeats from the strip's 1970s heyday since creator Charles Schulz died in February 2000.

A lot of the information is repeated from the press release, but this article makes it clear, the hybrid stops early next year.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another Coffee Talk Entry Ignored

Served up for your enjoyment and delectation, another Coffee Talk entry which was not chosen to be used:

Last week’s story about Thérèse and Anthony’s marriage was a little disappointing. Lynn Johnston had already established that Thérèse worked for Anthony’s father in the August 3, 2002 strip. She had also already established that Anthony’s father was a successful businessman judging from the New Years’ Eve party he threw for his business associates in the January 1, 2002 strip. Even though the August 25, 2007 strip mentioned Thérèse had an affair with a co-worker, Lynn failed to mention that person would have also been an employee of Anthony’s father, and more importantly if there were any consequences to their employment due to the affair and the divorce. Surely the boss would notice, if his daughter-in-law divorced his son to go live with someone else who worked for him.

For that matter, it has never been told exactly why Anthony Caine continued to work for Gordon Mayes after he graduated from university, instead of working for his father to prepare to take over the family business. When the strips started talking about Thérèse Caine again, I thought we would finally get to see this aspect of the story. Aside from Thérèse talking to her parents by herself, the couple seemed to be operating in a vacuum with no family support whatsoever. Lynn Johnston has once again failed to mention the dynamic of Anthony’s family in his marriage, his divorce, and in his life as a single parent; which is odd considering her usual attention to detail and how vivid a portrait she painted of Deanna’s parents, Mira and Wilf Sobinski. Since Elizabeth Patterson seems to be on the path to marrying Anthony Caine, it seems like a significant missed opportunity to reintroduce those characters into the storyline. It was a little disappointing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Interpretation of News


Kansas City, MO (08/29/2007) Aug. 28, 2007 — Lynn Johnston’s popular comic strip “For Better or For Worse” begins a new phase Monday, Sept. 3, as character Michael Patterson looks through a family photo album with his 5-year-old daughter, Meredith. With this strip, Michael begins retelling the Patterson family story by recounting the courtship of his parents, John and Elly, the central characters in the 28-year-old comic strip read by millions each day.

My first thought is, “What about Robin?” My second is that it is interesting that Lynn has chosen to begin the hybrid this way. The very first strip of For Better or For Worse started with Elly and John already married with children, although I do not have the old collections to confirm this. I can recollect no occasion where Elly and John’s courtship was told as a complete story, so it seems like Lynn Johnston is going through her old work to piece together the John and Elly romance. If this is done really nicely, then Lynn Johnston could interlace the John and Elly romance with the Anthony and Elizabeth romance and even have both couples say “For Better or For Worse” in the closing strip sequence. That would be sweet.

The only strip in the on-line archive, I remember talking about their early days was this one. I honestly cannot remember any strips showing John and Elly getting married, but there must be something talking about it over the years.

In a mixture of new, old and retouched work, readers will begin to see scenes of the past — Elly reading in the library at college and catching the eye of the young dental student who will one day become her husband.

Elly, you minx! I assume by “retouched” this means something like this strip from the Howard Bunt trial testimony, which took parts from this strip and this strip. I know retouched usually means art corrections, but in light of recent strips which needed to be touched up and weren’t, my guess is no.

"This was an opportunity to give my readers new material, as well as my being able to pick and choose through the original art and making it different, making it a new entity, as it were,” says Johnston.

This sounds like a good description of taking the little bits and pieces of John and Elly romance sprinkled throughout the years and piecing them together.

Johnston will keep fans engaged with a mix of special strips from the past and newly drawn panels that will help reintroduce favorite storylines. The strip’s current storyline will be interlaced with Michael’s remembrances until it gradually reaches a natural closing stage sometime early next year. When that happens, time will stop for the extended Patterson family, but not their stories. The stories will be relived by a current generation of fans and introduced for the first time to a new generation.

If I read this correctly, then it sounds like we have the hybrid / clip show of favourite stories which runs to early next year. Then we go to straight reprints. Why drop the hybrid? The simple answer is that at this point and time, Lynn has already prepared hybrid for the next 6 weeks, and now she knows just how hard it is to take old strips and mix them with new strips, without having to treat it like it’s a whole new story. At some point in there, she realized the hybrid wouldn’t be that much of a vacation, and she has chosen to go to straight reprints once she finishes off Liz and Anthony.

Right now, Johnston is still exploring the budding romance between oldest daughter Elizabeth and an old high school flame.
“I’m interested and readers are interested to know what is going to happen with Anthony and Elizabeth,” she said. “That resolution can’t happen too fast. They’ve only just started to see each other again after a long time apart.”

This is a bravo to Lynn Johnston for me. Frankly I didn’t want to see Liz and Anthony thrown into a quickie marriage. Considering Lynn Johnston’s fascination for New Years’ Eve romance, my guess is an Anthony proposal on New Years’ Eve followed by a wedding a few months after. Plus, I want Thérèse to return and see Lynn Johnston once again try to show us she is evil. Lynn is so delightfully awful at portraying villains these days, I know she will not disappoint.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Grandparents

I thought April’s last visit to Winnipeg would net her some visit time with Grandpa Will and Carrie, who haven’t been seen in the strip since April’s visit 2 years ago, and even then it was a single strip with Grandpa Will telling a horse fart joke. My guess is Lynn Johnston thinks it was not necessary, since Grandpa Will and Carrie are likely to appear for Elizabeth’s big wedding to Anthony Caine. On the other hand, they might not.

Michael Patterson’s book party last spring did not pull Lawrence Poirier and Nicholas Browne back into the strip, when I was certain they would show up for that one. For Better or For Worse these days is really only for the dedicated fan. I should caveat and say, “somewhat dedicated fan.” Because today’s strip with April yelling “Daddy” is almost an exact duplicate of an Elizabeth strip from 2003, except the 2003 strip was better because the punch line of “Daddy” made more sense with Elizabeth thinking she was an adult compared to April thinking about a 1970s feminist doctrine about the future. A dedicated fan would be irritated by the repeat of the same joke. A somewhat dedicated fan wouldn’t remember well enough to be irritated. The average reader would be going, “Sheesh! Are newspaper comics all written for the elderly? That song is from 1972!”

My guess is the rest of the week is for the lead-in to the hybrid, which I am anxious to see. If the very first For Better or For Worse strip is repeated, it will give me the feeling Lynn Johnston plans to repeat strips in chronological order. However, there is also the possibility she could show repeat strips based on a theme. It will also give me an idea of what the lead-in material will be like, i.e. clip show or actual plotline. I can’t wait.

Oh Well. Back to Milborough

I guess April is not moving to Winnipeg for the rest of her high school in For Better or For Worse. So much for my guess.

Aside from that, this is an odd choice of strips to lead into the hybrid strips. If we don’t get to see the other relatives, I will be extremely disappointed.

Artistically, I see more differences from the way the strip was drawn just a year ago. Auntie Bev and cousin Laura do not look the same. The For Better or For Worse website has long maintained that Lynn is doing the art for the strip. I am almost completely positive, Lynn Johnston is not doing the art. When she goes to the hybrid format, I expect this is really a retirement for Lynn. With someone else doing the art, then her responsibilities are limited to writing. If the hybrid strips end up being joke-a-day strips, then Lynn Johnston may not even be doing that. I suppose she feels the need to maintain the fiction of being the one doing the hybrid, so it will attract the legion of fans who love and adore her. If they think someone else is doing the strip, then the legions of fans will turn elsewhere.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Meanwhile Back at the Farm

With the arrival of April on the farm, I guess last week’s strip sequence of For Better or For Worse with Liz and Candace is officially done and met the qualification of the Panels and Pixels interview when Lynn Johnston said:

And so that’s another reason why the strip has to be extended, so that Anthony’s character can be more fully explored. And his marriage discussed and his relationship as a single parent and his business sense and the things he likes to do. He’s just not a complete character and it’s hard to accept that Elizabeth, who is a well-known character should be lost to someone that nobody really knows.

Last week was “marriage discussed”. It was easy to see how Lynn Johnston addressed the majour problems with Anthony’s character as it had been presented before, and instead introduced us to a whole new set of problems. Anthony, the husband who either ignored or failed to learn how to deal with his wife's partpartum depression. Anthony, the husband who let his wife be browbeaten into having a child for her mother’s sake. Anthony, the husband who knew his wife wanted to live in the city, but accepted the house in Milborough, without making any apparent concessions to her desires other than to say that the Milborough house could be sold. Anthony, the man who changed from cultured sophisticate in university, to man who can’t dress or feed himself after university.

The Anthony we did have before last week, who mooned over Elizabeth every chance he could get, and was still in love with Elizabeth when he proposed to Thérèse is no longer. He is replaced by this new man-child Anthony, incapable of taking proper care of himself, and more importantly unable to do anything to help his wife, defend his wife, or consider her desires. We have gone from shameless reprobate to innocent impotence. Well, at least he’s innocent. I guess that's an improvement.

As for April and Laura on the farm, we start off with a back-handed compliment of April’s riding ability. I hope we get to see all the Cruikshanks and the other grandparents, before we go to hybrid next week; but there is not much time left. I had predicted a long time back, April might make the decision to stay on the farm, from all the comments during the house moving, where April seemed to be left out of the proceedings, along the lines of “April doesn’t live here anymore.” This week will be my moment of truth.

56 Forever

With the coming of the hybrid to For Better or For Worse, this becomes the last time Elly Patterson will have a birthday.

In Lynn Johnston’s interview on CBC, CBC says:

After completing her current storyline in September or October, she will stop telling the continuing story of the extended Patterson family and begin running a mix of older strips and occasional newly drawn panels that will help reintroduce old storylines.

By current storyline, I presume they mean Anthony and Elizabeth getting married. It’s good to know she doesn’t plan to drag that one on forever.

Q: This “hybrid” strip seems to have caused a lot of confusion among your readers and editors. Many of them assumed you’d be retiring outright in September 2007, which you had stated publicly in several interviews over the past few years. Then in January of this year, you announced an unusual new plan that will see you recycling older strips along with newly drawn panels that “frame” the story. It sounds kind of like a “clip show” on television. Is that essentially how it will look?

A: [It will be] the original strips mixed with some newer strips. There will be some newer Sunday comic content and some new daily content, but whatever I do that is in my new style, the way that I draw now — the characters won’t age or change. So I’m going to keep them constantly the same age.

Nobody’s done [a hybrid strip] before, so it’s an experiment for me as well to see how it’s going to be managed. My drawing style is so different now, I will have to stick with shifting back and forth in time. I was thinking about expanding some of the storylines and drawing the way I used to draw, but I tried and it’s not very easy. So I think we’re going to use the website for quite a bit of that added material, so if people want to know more about other characters or storylines they’ll be able to go to the website.

I found this particular part to be quite interesting. CBC seems to know the storyline is going to end in September and October, so it is possible they have gained access to the coming hybrid strips? If so, their description of “framing panels” is different from the impression I have gotten from reading Liz interviews. Liz defines the hybrid as whole strips, and that is not quite the same as I consider a “framing panels”.

The other interesting aspect is Lynn defence of her drawing style. She still claims those drawings are hers. I still think they are too different from her original style (re: poorly done) to be hers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Retcon 101

I remember years ago, well-known comic book creator John Byrne told the fine folks at DC Comics, he wanted to take over the Superman line of comics. However his condition in doing that was he got to start the whole story over and tell it the way he wanted to tell it. In other words, he wanted to retcon the whole Superman history which had been established back in 1938. Well, the fine folks at DC Comics let him do that, and we ended up with a Superman where Lex Luthor was an evil businessman and not an evil scientist, where Lois Lane had brown hair instead of her traditional black, and all kinds of things like that.

That retcon really didn’t work very well (Superman is suddenly young and inexperienced, but Batman isn’t, for example), but it was still quite a bit better than the one Lynn Johnston is pushing us through this week. The majour difference is that when John Byrne did his retcon of Superman, he was just starting a series of stories with years of stories to come, where people had the opportunity to get used to this new history of Superman.

With For Better or For Worse, the retcon of Anthony Caine’s marriage occurs just before the end of the strip leading into 2 weeks of the hybrid. It appears to be for no other purpose than to say, “Ignore what you read before. Anthony is a great guy and perfect for Elizabeth. Now feel happy for them when they get married in October.” However, for loyal readers, that wedding is going to come way too fast to be anything but irritated that our understanding of the story of Anthony and Elizabeth developed over years is no longer considered to be the official storyline. The Superman fans complained too, but they got over it (most of them anyway). The flawed Anthony with the ugly moustache has turned into the perfect, clean-shaven Anthony, and he is a less interesting character for it.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Today in For Better or For Worse, Elizabeth Patterson continues her story about the marriage of Anthony and Thérèse Caine. It does paint a more sympathetic view of Thérèse Caine, but what is notable is that it addresses most of the majour complaints about that story as it had been originally presented.

1. Jealous Thérèse is gone. Almost every old appearance of Thérèse Caine showed her to be upset whenever her husband showed the slightest bit of attention to Elizabeth Patterson, and did not accept that they were just friends. When I read the strips from 2003 – 2005, that was the impression I got, i.e. Thérèse Caine is irrationally jealous of anyone spending any time with her husband Anthony. As it turned out, Thérèse was justified in her suspicions, so you had to look back on the old strips with a different eye, that Thérèse knew what was really going on, and then that led you to draw a new conclusion about why Thérèse’ and Anthony’s marriage ended.
2. Anthony Caine is no longer the one who pushed Thérèse into having Françoise. The image of Anthony suffered when he pushed for a family, and complained when career-minded Thérèse, spent more time at work than at home. Now it was the mother’s fault.
3. The mustache. The ugly “pornstache” was the bane of regular readers for years. Now he has shed it as a sign of accepting his daughter’s opinion over his ex-wife”s.
4. Thérèse’s and Anthony’s divorce was uncontested. There was an element to Thérèse leaving Anthony the house and the child, which made it look as though the woman was so desperate to get away from Anthony she would make whatever concession was necessary. While it left Anthony free and clear to be with Elizabeth, it also painted a very bleak picture of the way Anthony treated Thérèse. Now, it turns out she decided to be greedy.

Since the discussion of the divorce was introduced by Candace, it seems like this analysis of the Caine marriage is going to conclude on Saturday. We know the reprint strips start on September 3, so I expect next week is going to be Mike and the kids setting up the hybrid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why the Need to Retcon?

As we go through the retcon of the relationship between Thérèse and Anthony Caine in For Better or For Worse, I wonder why Lynn Johnston is bothering to go through this effort. Her stated reason in the Panels and Pixels interview was that she didn’t know Anthony, but most of what we have seen so far is a mild critique, saying Thérèse henpecked Anthony a little.

Back in my university days, my music theory class had a grad student for a teacher, who was leaving. So we undergrads decided to demonstrate what we had learned by writing compositions in honour of the teacher, and performing them for him. I decided to write a 4-part harmony choral piece talking about how about music theorists were notorious drunks. I handed this off to the guy who was accompanying the performance and much to my surprise, he read the music, and the text and interpreted it as an oompah band drinking song. That was not my original intent, but it was so much better than what I had intended, I went with the flow and grew to see my composition that way.

Why can’t Lynn Johnston do the same thing? Imagine you are Lynn Johnston, and you have written what you think is an incredible story of romance with Anthony and Elizabeth, and then you turn around and find that people don’t find it romantic at all. You discover your most romantic moment, when the hero rescues the girl and then confesses he loves her and asks for him to wait for her, is not considered romantic but instead horrifically inappropriate behaviour for a near-rape victim. Why can’t Lynn Johnston say to herself, “I guess this isn’t coming off the way I thought it would, but I can use it. I can turn the relationship into a character study of how two deeply-flawed individuals overcome their problems and make a life together.”?

Stories Anthony Told Me

We are now getting to find out all the dirt about Anthony and Thérèse’s marriage in For Better or For Worse, and we are getting it from Elizabeth. What this tells me is that Elizabeth and Anthony have talked about his relationship with Thérèse, and probably where it went wrong. In my dating years, I learned one of the forbidden subjects you must never mention when going out is your relationship with your ex. However, I did have the misfortune to go on dates, where my date wanted to talk about their ex in detail. Those were awful dates, where I usually felt like I should be charging some kind of psychiatrist’s fee after listening to it. My favourite of these stories was the one where my date talked and cried so much telling her story, I could not understand a word she said. I just nodded attentively for about an hour, until I could understand her again.

Since we will probably not get to see Anthony talking to Liz about Thérèse, I can only imagine why the discussion came up. If Liz is serious about wanting a longterm commitment to Anthony, then there will be some things about Thérèse, she will need to know. On the other hand, if the purpose of the conversation was for Anthony and Liz to address their own part in the destruction of Anthony’s marriage to make sure it does not happen in their own, then I can see the merit in the conversation, particularly if it occurred with the help of a licensed therapist. If, however, the purpose of the conversation is to blame the destruction of the marriage entirely on Thérèse, making her a scapegoat for everything, then this is going to be a tedious week, even if there will be loads of material for snarking.

A better person to tell this story would be Anthony’s cousin so-and-so or Anthony’s university friend, who knows the inside story, but without Anthony’s personal bias. Even better would be Thérèse herself. However, the one I would really like is Anthony’s parents, when Anthony takes Liz to meet them, particularly if one of the parents prefers Thérèse.

Already the 3 basic assertions of the story are false:
1. Anthony was crazy about Thérèse. There is not one single strip where Anthony says or thinks he loves Thérèse. The first time we hear about Thérèse in New Years Eve 2002, Anthony is shown to be in love with Elizabeth.
2. Anthony and Thérèse met dancing. The New Years 2004 strips show Anthony and Thérèse’s pitiful dancing, and being shown up by Elizabeth Patterson and Dennis North.
3. Thérèse is elegant and sophisticated. Sorry, “rent-a-baby” during the baby shower her parents throw for her, marked her as crass and vulgar.

My hope is that whatever story we hear next, Lynn Johnston will do a better job of matching them to the Thérèse we have already seen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Strips to Scratch Your Head By

This weeks’ strips of For Better or For Worse have got me scratching my head. If am to believe today's strip, Elizabeth Patterson didn’t choose Anthony Caine for a mate, because she wasn’t grown up. After living in Mtigwaki to find out who she is, she’s now grown up. We have no more mention of that “if it’s meant to be, then it will happen” business she pulled on Constable Paul Wright. She seems to be turning Mtigwaki into The Wizard of Oz, where the point of the whole story ends up that Liz learns “There’s no place like home.”

Lynn Johnston is headed off into a dangerous direction by having Elizabeth Patterson say she went to Mtigwaki to find out who she was, and ultimately ended up finding that not being in Mtigwaki was part of her growing up. She went through quite a bit of effort in researching First Nations people and making Mtigwaki into a pretty realistic place. I remember during the pow-wow strips finding the research to be so well-done, I was hard-pressed to find anything to snark about them. She seemed to be treating the people, their lifestyle and their customs with respect, even if she glossed over the worst parts of modern Ojibway life.

I was disappointed then, with the “Paul Wright cheating on Liz” storyline, because it implied that two persons whose professions would indicate a certain degree of moral integrity, teacher and police officer, were persons who were marked as Liz’s betrayers. Then she went further to justify it by saying people from Northwest Ontario can’t make it in the South, and she should not have expected Paul to, insulting the capabilities of the Ojibway people. And then went further by making the entire town of Mtigwaki culpable in not telling her about the cheating, implicating the culture of being too closed off to do the right thing by Elizabeth.

Now we are about to head in a direction that Lynn Johnston has hinted about before, when Liz left Mtigwaki for the summer teaching job in Mississauga and referred to it as a “real job” and being so happy about it she cried. I fear Lynn is going to make some comparison between immature life in Mtigwaki with Paul Wright and grown-up life in Milborough with Anthony Caine, and inadvertently insult the First Nations people again.

As for the main issue of the strips, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The last 3 days running have been justifications for the Liz / Anthony relationship. The thought that keeps running through my mind is that Lynn would not have to do this, if Liz had chosen Paul (pre-cheater version) or Warren. However, if Liz had chosen Eric Chamberlain, she would.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Hybrid

To All Client Editors of FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: With the strips for release the weeks of Sept. 3 and Sept. 10, Lynn Johnston begins looking back to the early years of "For Better or For Worse." We hope you and your readers enjoy them as much as we do. - UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE"

2 weeks of new stories and then at least 2 weeks of reprints. September 3 and 10 are Mondays, so the Sunday colours may lag going into hybrid from the dailies.

We have started the 2nd to last week with Candace talking to Liz about her relationship with Anthony, so this is likely to continue for the rest of the week. The objective of the sequence so far appears to be to have Candace take the position of the critics of Elizabeth’s characterization as it would relate to her being a potential wife and step-mom. Then Elizabeth is going to convince Candace (or the critics), she is going to do just fine. If the week does truly continue like this, then it will bring to mind one of the worst aspects of the recent writing on For Better or For Worse – “tell and not show”. The Sunday strip with Liz and Anthony was definitely along those lines. Instead of seeing them interact as a compatible couple, we have to be told they are compatible as they stare deeper and deeper into each other’s eyes.

One of the great things about the sequential art medium, is that the most powerful stories are told not only with words, but with pictures. The late, great Will Eisner was a master of using the form to tell stories with as few words as possible, and often stated that you should be able to tell what is happening in the story, even if you don’t know the language. One of my other favourite artists, Sergio Aragones, is quite capable in this area and has done series of wordless comic books.

Lynn Johnston is saddled with some artist, who can’t even keep the height of a chesterfield straight from one panel to the next in today’s strip. Sometimes I think the difficulty is that Lynn may not trust her artist to be able to convey what she wants to convey in the art, and so she relies on the words.

If the 2nd to last week is Liz and Candace, then the last week has to be Mike introducing the 2 weeks of repeat strips. I wonder if they are going to be the first 2 weeks of For Better or For Worse from 1979. I don’t think we are going to get April at the farm, unless it is a Sunday strip. On the other hand, the Sunday colour readers don’t know April plans to be a vet, when she grows up, so it would be a good time to tell them. After all, they already think Anthony and Liz are engaged.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


It is highly unusual for a Sunday colour strip to push the storyline significantly forward, and yet, in today’s For Better or For Worse, that is what happened. Unless I am misreading this, Anthony asked Elizabeth to make a lifelong commitment, and Liz kissed him a “Yes” response. With the hurried departure from the restaurant after the kiss, it is also possible to assume that Liz and Anthony are sexually active, and consider a verbal engagement enough of a commitment to satisfy whatever they feel morally about that situation.

The daily strips may be very different from this, and may try to weasel out of it. Does “lifelong commitment” actually constitute a marriage proposal, particularly if there is no ring? Does a kiss constitute a “yes" answer? Does any of it count as romance, when they resort to using generic checklists and reading them to each other without including a question like, “Do you want to have children?”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Repetition Without Resolution

One of the ways Lynn Johnston was able to keep some of her storylines in For Better or For Worse running for so long, is her fearless use of repetition. How many times have we seen Shiimsa the cat jump on Elizabeth’s keyboard and hit just the right key sequence to delete all her work? How many times has that rabbit chewed the electrical wires, or jumped on the dog’s heads? How many times did the Kelpfroths bang on that ceiling? How many times did Becky McGuire say something self-centred to April? So we have it with Jim and Iris in the post-stroke months. Jim struggles. Iris suffers. Somebody says something positive. Rinse and repeat.

One of things I liked about the last year before the hybrid September start date, was Lynn Johnston was finally resolving storylines. Some of the storylines resolved somewhat abruptly, but they were resolved nevertheless. All those repetitions went away. Now, Lynn Johnston has decided to include new strips in the hybrid concentrating on Anthony and Elizabeth and the youngest and oldest set of Pattersons, I can see the wheels grinding slower and slower again. How many park dates between Anthony, Elizabeth and Francoise are we going to see, before something happens more than a bad pun? How many more times will we see Jim and Iris suffering together? How many more tacks will Robin try to eat?

I think those stories will end just before Lynn announces, “Okay. I am really going to retire this time.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not My Problem

I sometimes wonder about the personal philosophy of Lynn Johnston when it comes to a family member’s responsibility to their fellow family members. During the stretch of time from 1999 to 2006, when Mike, Deanna and the 2 kids were in the old Toronto apartment, I would make jokes about how infrequently Elly Patterson came to visit them and the motivations for the visits. She came to help out when Robin was sick. She came to help out when Mike and Deanna were overwhelmed with a new born. There were never visits, just to visit. She always had to be asked, and she only came when there was an actual need. Of course the only reason I paid attention to such things, is because Deanna’s parents, the Sobinskis were exactly the opposite. They stopped in unannounced, showered the grandchildren with presents, defended their kids against the neighbours, and visited oftentimes just to visit. Then they were reviled for it, which still make no sense to me.

When we see the Grandpa Jim and Iris struggling together to deal with his stroke, the usual complaint against Elly Patterson is she doesn’t help Iris out, even though she is retired. But, if Elly maintains a consistent internal logic for her character as she was with Mike and Deanna; she will not come to help Iris out, unless Iris asks. I can’t say I have ever seen Iris ask. All she seems to do is complain and play the martyr. We can criticize Elly for not realizing Iris needs help, and volunteering; but for her to stay in character, she has to be asked for help. Iris can moan on about Grandpa Jim only saying, “No!” or not responding to her; but until she actually says to Elly, “Will you help me?”, it’s not going to happen.

I must admit, those are skills which do not come naturally. You have to be aware enough of your environment to read when people are in need, and you have to know what to do to help. If Elly had simply said, “If you need any help, let me know,” Iris still may have not said anything. But if Elly said, “I’ll take Jim to the doctor the next time he goes,” then that is something more concrete, and Iris might agree. I know people who are excellent at that. I have to work at it, and certainly when I was young, I almost never did it. When I see Elly, I see a women who has never developed that skill, along with Iris, who has never learned when she needs to ask for help.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Complete Lynn Johnston Interview

The longer version of the Lynn Johnston interview is here:

Lynn basically says that Elizabeth’s reason for leaving Mtigwaki was really homesickness, instead of my theory that she left to chase after Anthony Caine. If this is true, then she really did not tell that story well. The only homesickness I remember Elizabeth showing was in her pre-Shiimsa days.

On the other hand, I was quite excited to read this part:

Q: That’s interesting that you say that. What didn’t feel right about it for you?

A: Well, if they were to get married it was not right, it was too soon. If they were to separate they had only just started to explore their relationship. The child was a very big question mark and also, what did happen to Anthony’s marriage? What really happened? All of those things I wanted to explore. I haven’t had a chance. I don’t know Anthony.

I have expounded at great length about what I think really happened to Anthony’s marriage, with the meager clues Lynn Johnston has dropped through the years. The possibility of getting the real story should be very interesting, to see how well it matches my theory.

Another Coffee Talk Entry

It's been long enough since I submitted this one, I am sure it is not going in the For Better or For Worse website Elly's Coffee Talk. So, for your enjoyment and delectation:

After seeing the outstanding way Lynn Johnston addressed the problems of children with special needs using the Shannon Lake character, I was quite delighted to see Lynn Johnston portray the opposite end of the spectrum with Françoise Caine. Like Françoise, my daughter was developmentally advanced and she could speak in complete, multi-word sentences when she was a little more than 2 years old. In comic strips, the normal tendency with advanced children is to put them in odd clothing, wearing glasses, having “buck teeth” and being experts with a computer. My daughter does not fit any of those stereotypes and I was gratified to see Lynn Johnston went with a realistic portrayal. My daughter is currently a cynical 9-year-old and when I showed her the Françoise Caine strips, she was unimpressed when I told her she was the same way when she was 2 years old. As she put it, “I didn’t wear pig-tails, and I couldn’t ride in a swing like that when I was 2.” My daughter is too young and inexperienced to appreciate the significance of what Lynn Johnston has done, but I am not.

Since Elizabeth Patterson is a trained school teacher, I can’t wait for the time to come when she recognizes just how smart Françoise is, and tells Anthony his daughter is gifted. I still remember the first time I was told that about my daughter. I’ve been so impressed by the way Shannon Lake was handled, I look forward to seeing how Lynn Johnston tackles this new direction, with the relationship between gifted Françoise and school teacher / new mother Elizabeth.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Should Jim Be Happy?

The focus on Grandpa Jim the last 2 days in For Better or For Worse has been on his overuse of the uncommunicative “No!” There are several levels on which this is stuff and nonsense, not the least of which are the already-existing strips which show Grandpa Jim’s verbal answer does not necessarily match his mental answer.

The common criticism with the treatment of the Jim and Iris story is that no one in the Patterson family ever seems to help them out, except in the monthly letters. We have read several strips of Iris struggling with Jim alone, and have been led to sympathize with them, for what they are both going through. When the Pattersons have visited, it has almost always been with the express purpose of spending time with Jim and not helping Iris with anything. Jim and Iris are so grateful for those visits, Iris usually lavishes praise on the visiting Patterson.

I have been waiting for the real Jim to return. Not the Jim who could talk, but the Jim who was shown time and time again, not to care much for anyone in his family except for April and Dixie. I remember his last pre-stroke birthday party week, in March 27 – April 1, 2006; where Jim talks about how he wished he could record the family conversations so he could play them back and put himself to sleep. Or how Jim declares that the best part of a birthday party is the part where everyone leaves. Or how Jim complains no one ever listens to his advice.

I loved cranky, old Jim. However, I think the rest of the world has forgotten about him. Iris is actually concerned she needs to talk to the doctor about Jim’s crankiness. Elly seems distressed about Jim’s “No”s, and badgers him with question after question, without waiting for the answer. Why can’t they let him be in a bad mood? They always used to let him.

Monday, August 13, 2007

While April’s Away, the Mice Will Play

The Monday and Tuesday For Better or For Worse strips this week seem to be clear indications that April Patterson is in Winnipeg, even if no one has expressed that directly. In contrast to last summer when April left and it appeared as though John and Elly were enjoying time having sex with no teenager in the house; this year it looks like April forces Elly and John to eat healthy food (and so they turn into ravenous gluttons after she leaves) and she is also the one responsible for visiting Grandpa Jim, since Elly pops in with food for Grandpa Jim for the first time since he had his stroke.

My guess is that we are headed for a week where we get to see Elly take some of the load off Iris in sympathy for her having to deal with Jim in a bad mood. One of the primary complaints about all the strips where it showed Iris and Jim struggling with Jim’s stroke recovery alone, is that we don’t know why Elly, retired and living in the same town, did not appear in those strips. This next sequence could be to address those complaints.

However, it is already set up for failure; because Jim has been presented as being in bad mood, in order to get sympathy for Iris. If Elly were truly interested in her father and Iris’ needs, then she would volunteer to help out Iris even when Grandpa Jim is in a good mood. If we saw Iris’ exhaustion from constantly having to deal with Jim, and then Elly’s guilty realization she has been letting Iris bear the load alone, it would come off better. Instead, I predict we will see Elly volunteer to help and Iris ladle excessive praise on her. I hope I am wrong. For a change, I would really like to see a Patterson do something nice for someone and not get lavish praise in return.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I Ain't Over Till the Fat-Bottomed Daughter is Married

The news came from the Patriot News:

Though Johnston originally planned to bring all the current storylines to a decisive close in September, the change will instead be more gradual. She wants to explore the budding romance between oldest daughter Elizabeth and an old high school flame.

"I'm interested and readers are interested to know what is going to happen with Anthony and Elizabeth," she said. "That resolution can't happen too fast. They've only just started to see each other again after a long time apart."

I think this is a nice way of Lynn saying, “I wanted to put in all my little nonsense strips with Elly cooking, or cleaning, or doing some other boring thing and making a bad pun; but I also wanted to make Liz and Anthony’s love story as painfully slow as possible. I couldn’t do both and get into the full up hybrid by September.”

I don’t think any serious reader of For Better or For Worse has any doubt as to what is going to happen with Anthony and Elizabeth. It’s been obvious to me she is going to end up married to Anthony for long time. The introduction of Constable Paul Wright made me doubt for a little while, because he is “Mr. Right” and the pun seems too irresistible for Lynn Johnston to ignore; but it always seemed to me, Lynn Johnston had too much time invested in Anthony for it to go any other way.

The upside is that if Lynn Johnston drags this on long enough we could see:
a. Warren Blackwood come back in and make a play for Liz, but then we find he has been messing around with fashion models in Yellowknife.
b. Constable Paul Wright come back in and make a play for Liz, so he can tell Liz she is so much better than Susan Dokis ever was, and Liz can finally use the “Mr. Wright” pun we have waited for ever since his name was revealed.
c. Thérèse come back in to make a play for little Frànçoise, and get smacked down.
d. Eric Chamberlain come back in and make a play for Liz.
e. Liz make a friend at work.
f. Merry mix-ups occur when little Frànçoise creates an elaborate scheme for getting Anthony and Liz back together after they break up over a minor detail of their relationship.
g. The reappearance of Anthony Caine’s mom and dad, who praise Anthony and Elizabeth for finally getting together. This is shortly followed by the strips where Elly Patterson decides Anthony’s parents are evil.

So many possibilities. I can only hope qnjones and eeknight are around to snark it properly.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sloppy Eaters

Something I have never quite understood about the female Pattersons of For Better or For Worse, is why Lynn Johnston often portrays them as sloppy eaters. Their mouths are open, or they have food dribbling out the sides of their mouths. In our strip today, Elly Patterson has shrimp in her mouth as she passes them out, and then we get to see possibly the most disgusting watermelon-eating scene in modern day comics, with a veritable waterfall of pink-coloured liquid coming off Elly’s watermelon as she consumes it. The punch line of today’s strip depends on those disgusting eating habits. Little Robin thinks Gramma Elly is going to explode when she eats one more piece of food, which is an impression he would not have gotten if he not just seen Elly voraciously gorging herself.

To be perfectly honest, I rarely ever see women who are sloppy eaters like the female Pattersons. When my son was little enough for a high chair, he used to shove food into his mouth so vigorously, he would cover his head and body and the wall behind him with the food. When I see these Patterson women eating like this, it reminds me of my boy in a high chair.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Jeremy Jones R.I.P.

We have gotten to a point in April’s Real Blog, where a number of our regular posters have found themselves in the situation where their characters will never appear again in the For Better or For Worse strip. the_berserker, in particular, who posts as Duncan Anderson, has established that her character has gone to Barbados and is showing all signs of not ever coming back.

I had similar feelings about my character of Jeremy Jones. His sign-off by Lynn Johnston was one strip where he insulted Shannon Lake by saying she talked slowly, and April yelled at him “Jeremy, you jerk!” I noticed that when the line of people who had made comments to Shannon, came back to Shannon to apologize after her speech on the cafeteria table, Jeremy Jones was not one of them. He seems to have been set up by Lynn Johnston as the unrepentant villain. When he did not show up at the Hearts Together telethon, I knew he had been officially separated from Becky McGuire, and his cafeteria appearance was his last one for the strip.

Jeremy Jones got his start in the strip by bullying April Patterson, an event which ultimately led to his getting seriously injured when he sought revenge on April for writing the "Germy, Wormy Jeremy Jones" song to get revenge on him for his bullying. One of the most intriguing parts of the story for me, was the way Lynn Johnston ended it. Jeremy is hit by a truck and ends up in the hospital. Then of all the kids in the school, Jeremy is only visited in the hospital by April Patterson. Poor Jeremy Jones. Let us have sympathy for him and his poor home life. Only, the problem is...What would have happened if Jeremy Jones had not gotten hit by that truck? What would he have done after he chased down April and caught her? He would have beaten the crap out of her is what would have happened, and it is entirely possible it would have been April in that hospital instead of Jeremy. That would have made for a very different (and I think a lot better) story. In the year or so I have been posting for Jeremy, I have not really had any problems with his taking abuse from other characters.

I thought a good way for him to go out would be to duplicate his original story, except this time with a deadly injury, and rely on aprilp_katje to provide sympathy again, and nobody else cares. The other aspect of that story, was the idea that Jeremy Jones actually liked April Patterson, but did not know how to express it without bullying. I wanted to touch on that part of the story too, so it had to be a girl who leads Jeremy to his death.

To this end, I have been relying on a story qnjones told in one of the April’s Real Blog temporary offshoots, a community college course taken by some of the adults in the For Better of For Worse cast at the Milborough Community College and Tractor Pull. qnjones chose to portray Gerald Delaney-Forsythe’s mother, whom she named Melanie, and turned her into a super-thin, obsessed with dieting and cleanliness woman.

This is the part I adopted from one of Melanie’s posts after a long story talking about why she learned to stay thin, after another child named Ronson van Daam called her fatass when she was 6:

Almost ten years later, Ronson van Daam was my date at my sweet sixteen party. If he hadn't been smothered when that truck of tulips overturned on him during his visit to one of his father's tulip farms, Ronson and I probably would have married.

The idea occurred to me that I could recreate the situation with the character of Melanie’s daughter, Honoria, turn it into a van Daam family curse, and this time Jeremy Jones would take an unappreciated, tulip-related death to save the girl.

Of course, this is just a story coming from nowhere essentially, and the purpose for April’s Real Blog is not fiction-writing, but snarking. So the way I decided to make it work with For Better or For Worse snarking was to draw parallels with the Liz and Anthony romance storyline wherever I could. Liz and Anthony treated a lot of people poorly during the course of their romance, and Jeremy represents them. Both Honoria and her ex-boyfriend, Bronson van Daam, take turns representing Anthony and Elizabeth. Then there was Gerald Delaney-Forsythe to provide the comedy relief by making fun of anything silly going on in the strip, like saying, “Hoo!”

The other aspect of it was to make it somewhat like a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a false mask unveiling, (making fun of Elly’s nose growth over the years), and evidence gathered with the unexpected confession of the villain, when the mask has been removed.

The long term setup for this was to set up Jeremy Jones and Honoria Delaney-Forsythe as boyfriend and girlfriend. Then to establish Honoria as being a vain girl, who concentrates more on ladylike behavior and boys with trust funds, than on anything else. Then to establish that Honoria considers Jeremy Jones to be acceptable, but far below the standards of her ex-boyfriend Bronson van Daam. I have been beating those drums for a long time (months and months), to establish those characteristics, so it would not seem out of character, when the flowers finally fall on Jeremy, for Honoria to completely ignore him and what happened to him, in favour of her ex-boyfriend. This is again to emulate the story-telling with Elizabeth preferring her ex-boyfriend Anthony over everyone else, except with moments to establish the credibility for Elizabeth’s character to do that.

Overall, I think it worked out well. In the event Lynn Johnston fools me, and brings back Jeremy Jones, then I have an idea in mind which will allow him to survive, should I need to do so. Until then, goodbye Jeremy Jones.

Curmudgeonly Compliments

I was quite excited recently to get another one of my letters into the For Better or For Worse Coffee Talk. However, I was even more amused to see it was noticed over on the Comics Curmudgeon:

188.CrabbyGenes says: Check out the August 9 COFFEE TALK letters at the Foobsite:
Letter #3 is the glurgiest glurge that ever glurged.
[Note: Letter #3 was mine.]
This comment caused me to actually look up the slang word "glurge" to make sure I understood it properly.

200.SecretMargo says: August 9th, 2007 at 10:04 pm
188: For once, I actually took a deep breath and clicked the link. I read the two letters you mention (and no other — I can only take so much). Brief thoughts:

KM from Toronto lays it out so well it should be sewn into a sampler somewhere and displayed in a museum of reasonable comix criticism. She comes off as an astute reader with a real love of the strip who just lays it out in the bleakest, barest of terms without any vitriol that Lynn could use as an alibi to ignore it. No matter what delusions are swirling, Sea-Monkey-like, within Lynn’s rapidly clouding cranial fluid, that letter had to hurt.

Paul S from Oro sounds like he longs for the days of arranged marriages, or is in a marriage
himself that resulted from him wooing his intended’s mother until she manipulated her daughter into his sweatily condescending embrace. The grim delight of his letter is realizing halfway through that by laying out the contrived series of events leading to this union in all their perverse glory as he praises Lynn for the “complexity’ and “depth” of characters shown contradicting themselves every few weeks as they lurch from plot point to plot point, he inadvertantly throws the problems with the whole mess in painfully stark relief. If she still has a half of her former wits about her, that letter should be as painful to read in its own way as KM’s.

SecretMargo’s analysis of my intent is quite good, although I would have replace “inadvertently” with “intentionally," and that is not the way I met my wife.

234.bats :[ says: 188. CrabbyGenes: as a resident of the greater Tucson metropolitan area, which barely includes Oro Valley, I humbly and sincerely apologize for the glurgings of Paul S over at Coffee Talk.
(Memo to self: seek out Paul S this weekend and beat the snot out of him…)

Bats comments make me nervous.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Great Romance

In many respects, for Lynn Johnston, the romance between Anthony Caine and Elizabeth Patterson in For Better or For Worse has to what she considers to be the great romance of the strip, because it somewhat emulates her own romance with her real-life husband Rod Johnston. The Michael – Deanna romance was nice, but technically it ran from university life to marriage shortly after graduation. Anthony and Elizabeth’s romance has gone on since Liz’s junior high days, over 10 years, and well outstrips Mike and Deanna in time.

Anthony Caine is the single parent, whose wife had an affair; whereas in real life that was Lynn. Elizabeth would then model Rod Johnston, except in terms of personal characteristics Anthony is also the model for Rod, whereas Elizabeth is the emotional roller coaster which is more like Lynn describes herself in her days before Rod. It is like an amalgamation of the different parts of the real-life story.

When Lynn met Rod, he was doing the flying dentist routine, and bringing dental care to First Nations people in remote places. In the interviews with her, Lynn said she was attracted to his flying, his desire to help people in the First Nations, and also his willingness to put up with her son, Aaron, who was difficult. By the time the Johnstons moved to Corbeil, my understanding is that Rod had to give up his flying dentistry. I find it very interesting then, the sequence of men Elizabeth has run through.

Warren Blackwood – the helicopter pilot closely matches the glamour of Rod’s planes. Liz’s main complaint about him is that he is never around when she wants him, and it makes me wonder if this was not a complaint Lynn had about Rod during those days.

Constable Paul Wright – By being a member of the Ontario Provincial Police and not the First Nations police, and also by being half-Ojibway and half-Irish, he had the characteristic of supporting First Nations and having a foot into White culture. Sadly, these aspects of Paul Wright were never explored, and ultimately Lynn opted to make him seem fully entrenched in Ojibway culture and unable to change. This somewhat models Rod helping out the First Nations people with his dental care, while maintaining his other practice.

Anthony Caine – Solid and steady, which in this strip means = Works a 9 to 5 job, never moves around, always there whenever Elizabeth wants him. This is the man Rod Johnston is now, with his flying dentist days behind him.

It is almost as if, Warren, Paul and then Anthony represent the evolution of Rod’s own life with Lynn, as he has changed his life to accommodate her career and her desires for him.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

After All These Years / This Time

Today’s For Better or For Worse strip really threw me. The book ended lines of “After all these years / this time” lead into a “we are finally together” meaning, which is the hallmark of many romance books. Perhaps Lynn Johnston really thinks of Anthony and Elizabeth like a Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights where class and racial differences keep them apart and cause them to marry and torture other people. The obvious problem with this idea is that there are no racial or class differences between Elizabeth and Anthony, and Elizabeth’s parents at least, enthusiastically endorse the couple.

They are more like Same Time Next Year, where the couple having an affair get to get together once a year for 25 years, marrying and loving other people at the same time, until finally one year they both are unattached at the same time. The obvious problem with this idea is that after all those years; Anthony and Elizabeth are still unable to make a verbal commitment to each other.

Oddly enough, Anthony tells Elizabeth he wished he had asked her to marry him in university, but he’s willing to wait now, which sounds like a reversal. That’s a pretty big statement and can be interpreted in many different ways. Maybe Anthony realizes that Elizabeth is unable to make a commitment to anyone, and he doesn’t want to waste time asking her a question to which she will answer, “Maybe” or “Perhaps” or something other than “Yes” or “No.” Maybe Anthony has grown up enough to realize that quite a bit of the reason his prior marriage failed was his own fault, and he doesn’t want to rush into another marriage until he has dealt with what caused his first marriage to fail. More likely Anthony realizes that wooing Elizabeth Patterson into marriage is a complex and difficult task, and it would be wise of him not to make the same mistakes Paul and Warren did, by openly declaring their love to her.

I remember back in my single days, a girl I dated, who was so easily offended by things people said, I felt as though I was constantly walking on eggshells around her. I had to be sure to word everything precisely, or I would have to deal with a huge argument and a lot of hurt feelings. She was very pretty, but ultimately I decided it was not worth it. I couldn't see a lifetime of eggshell-walking. When I see Elizabeth Patterson, I am reminded of her.

This strip: epitomizes for me, Elizabeth’s perspective on her own love life.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Kissing of Liz

The big difference in the way Liz is reacting to Anthony and Constable Paul Wright or Warren Blackwood is the kissing. I remember this in particular, because when I became aware of the Houston Chronicle archive of For Better or For Worse, which goes back to September, 2001 vs. the archive of strips on the For Better or For Worse website, which goes back to 2003; I read through the older strips and I was astonished how much more kissing there was from 2001 to 2002, than there was in succeeding years. Liz and Eric, Candace and Rudy, and even Elly and John kissed a lot. There was even one scene when Weed points out to Mike and Deanna the Lovey Saltzman apartment is available, that Weed gets a full-on kiss from Deanna.

When I was writing the characterization for Constable Paul Wright for April’s Real Blog, I kept being struck by the fact Liz never kissed him and never told him she was in love with him. They had their very first kiss in the strip, when he drove her back to live in Milborough, a farewell kiss. Later on, Liz remembered kissing him and played it back in her head, but that kiss never appeared anywhere in the strip except in Liz’s memory.

Then I went through a similar exercise to see if I could find Liz kissing Warren Blackwood, and there was only one, in the Sunday colour strip showing Elizabeth’s graduation from university. It was also a farewell kiss. I think I wrote something somewhere about how Liz never really kissed a man since Eric, and this was a sign that she was still recovering from the heartbreak he had delivered to her.

Now, I find it very interesting that in this wedding sequence with Anthony and Liz, there have been 4 strips with Liz kissing Anthony and in the 4th one (today), Liz is actually the aggressor. If you have been paying attention to Liz at all in the last 7 years, this visual / physical language speaks volumes. Liz has still yet to tell anyone she loves them. However, in the land of men, we know that physical affection is a clear signal a girl likes you. Not only that, but if I compare this kissing to the strips with Paul and Warren, you can see that they never had a chance with Elizabeth.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Timing Issues

The trouble with trying to work everything real time, is that you have plan where you put your storylines carefully. As we enter the final month before For Better or For Worse goes to the hybrid, you can tell that Lynn Johnston has a lot of Anthony and Liz to tell, since it is the last majour storyline left undone. However, she also had an obligation to her niece Stephanie, to give Shannon Lake a real send off, and to finally finish the Becky / April feud. The wedding started in June, but is interrupted by 2 weeks of Shannon Lake on the table. July starts and we get 1 week of wedding, two weeks confirming the house move leading up to the hybrid occurred, and two weeks of telethon farewell to Shannon, Becky, Eva, and Gerald. August, and we are back once again to the wedding, 2 months after it started.

The interesting thing about the wedding is that overall, the romance between Anthony and Elizabeth is mostly nonverbal—ballet moves, kissing, dancing, and running around outside in the park. There is also an element of it that makes it seem like two children misbehaving. Instead of celebrating Shawna-Marie Verano’s big day by observing all her wedding traditions, like the cutting of the cake, throwing the rice, catching the bouquet, talking with old friends they don’t see very often (Candace, Dawn, Rudy); they are shirking all those social responsibilities by running and hiding and giggling. The part of me which wants to find the situation romantic is thwarted by the part of me which says, “I would kind of like to see how Candace Halloran reacts to seeing Elizabeth back with Anthony. I want to see Anthony’s reaction when Elizabeth catches the bouquet. I can’t believe how rude and tactless Elizabeth Patterson is being to Shawna-Marie at her wedding.”

However, the wedding sequence does make yesterday’s stilted dialogue between Anthony and Elizabeth in broad daylight, seem even more plausible. If they are running and hiding and trying not to make much noise, then they are also not talking. Dialogue is not Lynn Johnston’s strong point, and perhaps she realizes she can make it seem more romantic, if she doesn’t have them talk to each other. It will be interesting to see if she can make it look like Anthony and Elizabeth actually like each other in the daylight, instead of just like to run around together in the nighttime.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Anthony and Elizabeth

Sometimes I wonder with the plotline involving Anthony and Elizabeth if Lynn Johnston is writing poorly and forcing these two together, or if she is a genius writer drawing together threads of things over a long period of time to tell a story rewarding to those who care to pay attention.

For example, the means by which Anthony and Elizabeth were put back together again at Shawna-Marie Verano's wedding. To recap, Elizabeth has been back in Milborough for almost a year and although she and Anthony had time together during the trial, he never asked her out on a date. So, Elizabeth asks Anthony to the wedding and he says he is taking someone else. Elizabeth then chastises herself for being an idiot.

At the wedding, she meets the someone else, and it is Julia, who is short, fat, and likes to show off her dental work. There is no tension in the air between Elizabeth and Julia, which is shown by both Elizabeth and Anthony laughing at Julia's antics. Immediately after this, as Elizabeth is being led off by best man, Mason, her thoughts turn to Anthony and how he has shaved his moustache, gotten new glasses, and her old feelings for him have returned. When Mason passes out, Anthony gallantly steps in, and with his date's encouragement, re-establishes his romance with Elizabeth.

Just awful. So superficial. Elizabeth only has feelings for Anthony because he shaved and the best man passed out? It seems weak to me. Taken by itself, it is. However, there are little threads of things leading up to this point, which could make this story seem much more elegant.

In contrast to this scene, you have to go back to a scene which never appeared in the For Better or For Worse comic strip, and we can only surmise what happened by what people say. This scene is the first meeting between Elizabeth and Anthony's ex-wife Therese. The sequence of events before their meeting is:

a. Anthony asks Elizabeth to a New Years Eve, 2002 party where the other people present are Anthony's father's business associates. Therese is not there.

b. At the party, Anthony tells Elizabeth he is engaged to a wonderful girl named Therese and that Elizabeth would love and he wishes she could meet her.

c. Anthony also indirectly tells Elizabeth he is engaged because he found out that Elizabeth was living with Eric Chamberlain.

d. They dance very closely (far too close for mere friends), leave the party early. Anthony specifically mentions no one would miss them if they left. Their thought balloons reveal they are still in love with each other.

e. In a later strip, Elizabeth is talking to Gordon Mayes, and he describes Therese as a nice girl, but said he was surprised Anthony was engaged to her and not to Elizabeth.

f. Anthony reveals that Therese works for Anthony's father.

What comes into view then, is that Anthony invited Elizabeth to a party filled full of people likely to be able to tell Therese what his actions were at the party. Then he close danced with Elizabeth and left early with her. If Anthony's dad wanted to introduce him to his business associates, then he is faced with an embarrassing "Where's Anthony?" What also comes into view is that everyone is complimentary about Therese, until after Elizabeth's first meeting with her. It is afterwards that the insults come, and they come first from Elizabeth.

In this strip,
Elizabeth reveals that Therese already thinks she is competition for Anthony and she has only met her once.

In this strip,
Elizabeth reveals she only met Therese once and she was like a total iceberg.

What happened during that first meeting? You can look at the differences between Julia and Therese and draw a conclusion easily. Julia is short, fat, and jolly. Therese is pretty, svelte, and described as cold and jealous by Elizabeth. In fact, in every appearance Therese had, she was shown to be jealous and unpleasant, when Anthony looked at or spent time with Elizabeth.

In every appearance except one. In this strip,
Therese is at the baby shower for her child, Francoise. We are supposed to get the idea the Therese is tactless, because she has asked for money for baby shower gifts and not actual presents. However, we are also shown the idea did not necessarily originate with Therese. Some person (Therese's mother?) tries to sell time holding the baby for $10 a minute, when April was holding the baby earlier at no cost. In contrast, Therese is not shown to be tactless. In fact, she is shown to be gracious to April, for her gift. The big difference here is that Elizabeth is not present, and we see a very different Therese. The conclusion I draw is that Therese is unpleasant and jealous when Elizabeth is around.

There is a strip which disagrees with that assessment.
At the 2005 New Years Eve party, Shawna Marie Verano tells Elizabeth that one of the mechanics at the garage is a friend of her cousin's and he heard Therese yell at Anthony for spending so much time with her at the office. From this incident, Shawna Marie has concluded Therese is even jealous of Tracey Mayes, not just Elizabeth. Is this truth, or something misheard, or something misunderstood? What you have is a story told 2 persons removed from the eyewitness. We have never seen Therese jealous of Tracey. As far as I know, Tracey and Anthony never dated or had any kind of romantic relationship, so there should be no cause for jealousy. Moreover, Tracey is Anthony's boss' wife. If Therese is jealous of Tracey, then it is proof she is really out of control.

However, at the 2004 New Years Eve party, where Tracey, Therese and Elizabeth were all present we get to see this strip, Tracey is concerned because Elizabeth hasn't spoken to Anthony all night. That tells me a lot more about Tracey and Therese, than Shawna-Marie's 3rd hand gossip. Is Therese jealous of Tracey, or did a mechanic overhear a conversation where Therese told Anthony to stop spending so much time talking to a woman we have been shown is pushing him to be with Elizabeth and not her? My interpretation of what was presented is that Therese is jealous of Elizabeth only.

Something must have happened at that unseen first meeting between Elizabeth and Therese. By contrast with what happened with Elizabeth and Julia, we know that Elizabeth saw Therese was a real threat, and not some temporary girlfriend Anthony picked up to make her jealous as he did in their high school years. What was the difference? Was it just because she was thin and attractive? The clue is that when we first meet Therese, it is at her wedding. She and Anthony have just greeted Elizabeth and Dennis North. She asks Anthony if she is jealous Elizabeth is with a handsome man, and Anthony responds, "Not now." This tells us Therese knows Anthony still has a thing for Elizabeth. Why didn't she break the engagement as soon as she found out? Why did she have a child with Anthony, when she didn't want children, and she knew her husband was still in love with Elizabeth? Could it be that the characteristic that kept Therese with Anthony, to bear a child for Anthony was the one characteristic which made her a threat to Elizabeth? Could it be that Therese was actually in love with Anthony?

If we had seen that scene, it would have changed everything. If we saw Therese in love with Anthony, and the realization cross her face when she met Elizabeth for the first time, and learned that Anthony still had feelings for her; then we would never side with Elizabeth. Her antics in preparing for Anthony's wedding would make her seem like a cruel and heartless homewrecker. And so, the story-teller does not show us the scene and let's us figure out what happened.

If you put all this together over the 5+ years the story is stretched, then you can come up with a completely different reason Elizabeth and Anthony ended up together at the Shawna-Marie Verano party. It isn't because Mason was drunk / medicated. It isn't because Anthony shaved his moustache and got new glasses. It has much more to do with Anthony's date, Julia. In this strip,, when Anthony discovered that Elizabeth had broken up with Paul and then did not come to him, but went to Warren, he tells Elizabeth he asked someone else to the wedding. It bares a startling parallel to the 2002 strip where Anthony told Elizabeth he was engaged, because he heard Elizabeth was living with Eric. This time though, Anthony did not choose another girl like Therese to take to the wedding. He chose Julia.

This sends the message to Elizabeth loud and clear, that although Anthony was hurt when he found out Elizabeth went out with Warren (just like he was back in 2002 when she was with Eric), this time he is showing Elizabeth that he has his pride by having a date, but he was still waiting for Elizabeth. He didn't give her a chance to recover from the mistake of dating Eric and he made the mistake of marrying Therese. This time he is giving her a chance to recover from her mistake of dating Warren and Paul, and shows her he is not going make the same marriage mistake again. Sound preposterous? Read this strip carefully:
The word "mistake" is clearly linked to Elizabeth dating Eric and Anthony's engagement.

Taken over the 5-year period, the story seems much more complex and textured. The reader is challenged to discover the difference between what people say or think and what is truth. The reader has to figure out what really happened in crucial scenes we were not shown. The reader has to figure out the parallels in the story and draw conclusions from the differences. The reader has to be able to go through old strips with a fine toothed comb to put it all together.

On the other hand, this story is being told through a venue which makes it nearly impossible to appreciate it. You have to have collections or be aware and willing to go through an on-line archive and pick through these things. OR you have to have a phenomenal memory. It's like when I watch a daytime soap opera with my wife and she says things like, "You have to know that these two people used to be married a long time for that scene to make sense."

Work of genius or very poor writing? It all depends on whom you ask.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Becky is Nice to You Again

In today's For Better or For Worse, Shannon Lake types, “I’m glad Becky is nice to you again.” This is the first official declaration that the Becky / April feud is over. To me, this was the most astounding part of today’s strip. Lynn Johnston has been writing the Becky / April feud starting from their Grade 8 entrance into the home economics class together in October, 2004. This is a storyline spanning almost 3 years and how does it end? We get one strip in which we get to observe Becky eating a little humble pie. Then we get to see April summarizing the rest of her conversation with Becky to her father with jam-packed word balloons. And if April’s summarization is to be believed exactly as it is printed in the August 1 strip, April declares Becky to be nice because Becky told April she prefers April’s life to hers.

To me, this rapid conclusion to a long storyline was even more shocking than Anthony and Elizabeth running off together madly in love at the Verano wedding after he shaved his moustache and asked her to dance. At least there was some build up to that moment, with Julia goading Anthony on, and Elizabeth trying to ask Anthony to be her date.

With Becky and April, we have seen nothing at all to motivate Becky to have this sudden change of heart. Becky has mentioned fighting parents for years and she mentioned the stresses of her career just last September. However, in September, she said she totally loved what she did, even though she was complaining about it. To my knowledge she has never before said she would rather be April. That’s a big change in Becky. Surely, Lynn Johnston is not suggesting that Becky listened to Eva and April’s song and it made her heart grow 10 times larger, like the Grinch hearing the Who’s in Whoville singing in Dr. Seuss' The Grinch That Stole Christmas. And yet, that is the only bone we have been thrown. Becky's hears the song, declares it to be truly good, and then goes to be nice to April. In other words, Becky has recognized the quality of Eva and April's singing and composing, realizes it is possible to be a quality music performer without fame and messed up parents, and goes to tell April what she has discovered, all in 2 strips. I feel as though I have been robbed.

We are in the end days, and plot development is being thrown out the window. I am starting to believe that Sunday colour strip with Anthony and Liz in the park with Francie, is going to be the only dating strip we are going to have with those two. Maybe we can have John’s retirement, the release of Mike’s book to best-selling status and Anthony proposing to Elizabeth all in the same week. I can’t believe the award-winning Lynn Johnston has budgeted her time so poorly for ending her strip's storylines. I am reminded of the lines from this poem:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925)

Thursday, August 02, 2007


In today’s For Better or For Worse, April Patterson does a self-evaluation and judges her life to be good. This time though, she does it without comparing herself to Becky McGuire or having Eva Abuya or Luis Guzmán point it out to her. I find that for me, this makes all the difference for my enjoyment of the strip. In all those cases the comparisons never seemed to be fair to me. Moreover, they seemed to be leading to this moment with April, where the teenaged girl, who has been described as bitter and complaining (primarily in the monthly letters) for almost 2 years now, finally realizes that her life is good. Is this one of those 2-year storylines that Lynn Johnston likes to put together. Are we finally seeing the culmination of 2 years of plotting for April Patterson? If we are, it is really a plotline that I have completely ignored, primarily because I thought April had legitimate complaints.

The other possibility is that we are seeing part 2 of a self-assessment strip sequence. April’s moment is very similar to the strip back last August, where Elly looked in a mirror and evaluated her face and her life at the same time.

It makes me wonder if all the Patterson characters are going to go through a similar strip sequence. That could be quite dull, unless of course, Edgar and Dixie were included in it.

Failed Coffee Attempt Part I

The following is a Coffee Talk entry I submitted but failed to get accepted. I reproduce it here for your enjoyment and delectation, and also as a testimony to the type of entry which will not make it in Coffee Talk.

There are few comic strip writers in the world today who are willing to take on the injustices of the world today like Lynn Johnston does in For Better or For Worse. When I opened my paper today, read For Better or For Worse and saw the clear vilification of the woefully inadequate labour and education laws for protecting underage entertainers, I was ready to stand up and cheer for Lynn Johnston. The idea that Becky McGuire was on the road so much, she had to take 3 Grade 11 courses over again, is a strong statement on this subject. Where is the law to make sure these young people have tutors? Where is the law to protect their right to an education? 3 cheers for Lynn Johnston for having the bravery to expose this serious problem on a national scale!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Pillow Fight

One of the things I have noticed over the years in For Better or For Worse is that when the Pattersons are the most affectionate with each other, the manifestation is pillow fights. It has been a recurring theme throughout the course of the strip. I find it interesting primarily because, although I like a good pillow fight, in my family, hugging is the more accepted form of affection.

The other interesting thing about Patterson pillow fights is that the combatants almost always end up exhausted and with things knocked off their body -- glasses, hair clips, and the like. They do not mess around. One of the things I have learned with pillow-fighting, especially with kids, it is very easy for someone to get hurt. My guess is that in a family where coffee cups and frozen vegetables can be launched at your head with little-to-no effect, a hard swing of a pillow is probably a minor thing.

Finally, I don't know any other strips which do pillow fighting. I think it is a unique characteristic of For Better or For Worse.