Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hybrid Part 2 – The Secret Life of Deanna Sobinski

It looks like our next hybrid story-telling pair will be Michael and Deanna. With any luck Deanna will take the lead. ellcee is April’s Real Blog’s Deanna and she is very funny. However, she has not contributed to April’s Real Blog in a long time. So I anticipate having to fill the gap with the Michael perspective, unless of course, aprilp_katje is tired of Michael Patterson, (since he did almost all last month) and wants to do her version of Deanna, in imitation of ellcee. This involves the use of a lot of inappropriate quotation marks, usually.

As near as I can tell, Deanna Patterson was active as the love interest of Michael Patterson from 1980 – 81, and then disappeared until her reappearance as the car crash victim photographed by Michael Patterson some years later, in imitation of the same situation happening to Lynn Johnston’s son Aaron and not in imitation of the gruesome recent podcast version of the story, where Lynn Johnston described Aaron obsessed with getting a sunset picture with the body of a woman had hanged herself for a shot on the local TV station.

Already we have one Laura Piché-drawn panel. For those who are joining us lately, my theory is that Laura Piché, Lynn Johnston’s background artist, is the person doing the imitation old-style Lynn Johnston art. The reason for my theory is that Laura has long done the background characters in addition to the backgrounds with a style very different from Lynn Johnston’s. The art on those characters matches the style of the foreground characters in the imitation old-style Lynn very closely. The Deanna Sobinski story about moving is not covered in the old strips at all, so I expect we are going to get a lot of Laura Piché in the next few weeks. If you want a background on Deanna Sobinski to reference as we go through this, there is none better than Deanna’s May, 2004 monthly letter.

I expect Lynn Johnston may draw some parallels between early Mike and Deanna and early Liz and Anthony; but I had that opinion back with Elly and John and it did not come true. I am honestly, not sure why it is that Lynn Johnston feels the need to tell the “Deanna goes to Burlington from Milborough” story, but she has talked about it a lot. I hope there is an actual story there with a payoff other than, “Dad decided to move to open up a hardware store, and we had to go with him.”

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our First Hybrid Sequence Concludes

After months of speculation about what a hybrid would be like for the comic strip For Better or For Worse, the first sequence concluded, taking up the whole month of September. If I may summarize: Mike starts off looking at photographs with his daughter. He starts off telling Meredith about how his parents met and married and then launched into a discussion about a trip he took to Vancouver utilizing reprint strips. What Meredith takes out of it, is that it is permissible to throw a stuffed teddy bear whenever and wherever she pleases, so long as the teddy bear has a napkin tied around his neck and she does the patented yell. Which is the same lesson Mike got when he was little.

I presume we are going to launch into the Anthony and Elizabeth romance next week, but who know? Maybe it's more hybrid. I got the impression from the press releases, that Mike and Merrie were the hybrid narrators, but today's strip seemed to conclude that sequence. I wonder if Lynn Johnston plans for Mike and Merrie to return to the photo albums for another sequence, or if she plans to introduce completely different characters for another photo album journey into reprints. I suppose we find out the answers to these questions eventually.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Something I Could Never Do

Something I could never do as a parent was to maintain a conversation with my wife when my children were crying or fighting with each other. The kids were simply too loud to speak over. In fact my son was so loud when he cried as a baby, my wife discovered that it was impossible to speak over him. Even together, we were unable to raise our voices to match his decibel level. If he was in the car, and I turned the car stereo up to full blast, the stereo was able to be louder than my crying son. This was, of course, an experiment that didn’t last very long, because of potential ear damage. We couldn’t match him and we stopped trying very soon into parenthood.

As I viewed today’s round of For Better or For Worse reprints, Elly and John’s conversation seems completely unrealistic to me. This is the conversation you would have after both children are in bed and asleep, and then in a far separate room where your conversation will not wake them up. However, I understand the technique being used. Lynn Johnston desires to show the chaos John Patterson missed, as he talks about the chaos that he missed, without realizing that being able to talk about the chaos while the chaos is going on, lessens the effect of the chaos. Mike and Lizzie are kids quiet enough to talk over. Let Elly and John try having that conversation while putting my kids to bed.

On another note, the Yahoo colourist had problems today figuring out which kid was Lizzie and which kid was Michael. It’s an easy mistake to make, assuming you don’t pay attention to what outfit each child is wearing. There is very little different in the drawing of their heads and bodies. If this was a new strip, I would tell Lynn Johnston that crying babies rarely ever spit raspberries at their siblings, and she should correct that in the future. However, having seen the strips of the future, I know that Lynn Johnston never learns this lesson.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“Great” Gramma Marian

Now we are close to finishing the Vancouver trip sequence of For Better or For Worse, it occurs to me that if I were to pick one of the two, Jim or Marian, who was “great,” it would have been Jim. He takes abuse from the grandkids, walks them by the stream outdoors, puts Michael to bed, and tries to console Michael about his missing Super-Teddy with some good old-fashioned book reading. I suppose if I were analyzing the strip back in those days, I might have come to the conclusion Lynn Johnston was closer to her father than her mother. Given the introduction by Michael that everything about Marian was great, you would think that perhaps Lynn would have had Laura Piché do a retro-strip where Marian was more involved with her grandkids, so Michael could reasonably have gotten that impression. I suppose it is another situation where making a pun on something “great” is more important than actually having Michael make his point. Some people are born to greatness, Others have greatness thrust upon them by their grandchildren posthumously.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Art Development

Looking at these old For Better or For Worse strips, I can see the art style of Lynn Johnston in its development stage. She has little Michael in two panels with no eyes. She has used silhouettes, however infrequently, and usually only in the background. She does have the tendency to change perspective from panel to panel, but it does not happen every time. The difference from the old strips to the more recent ones, is a subtle thing. In the old strips, Michael’s lack of eyes can be explained by a lack of resolution in drawing a character way in the background. The silhouettes make more sense to black them in so you make a point with the foreground characters. The change in perspective can liven up an otherwise dull subject. In the new strips, the sense behind the art seems to be lost. Eyes disappear on characters’ clearly visible faces. Silhouettes are on foreground characters, sometimes filling the ½ the panel with black. The change in perspective occurs between each and every panel. It is almost as if modern Lynn has forgotten the reason why she did those things as a part of a storytelling technique, and now just does them out of habit.

One thing which has changed for certain, is Lynn Johnston’s tendency to imitate the drawing style of Charles Schulz. The facial expression on Elly’s face in the last panel of today's strip is a Peanuts expression, complete with the curly smile line. Change the hair, and it could just as easily be Sally Brown cuddling up to her Sweet Baboo, Linus van Pelt.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Elly the Nag

aprilp_katje. Thanks for the head’s up on today’s For Better or For Worse strip. As it turns out Lynn Johnston didn’t skip over the “Elly the nag” strip. I found this one to be particularly interesting. My family visits my wife’s relatives back in Dallas and we discovered that one week is about enough. After a week, my wife’s relatives started returning to their old habits of dealing with us, which is to say, they started picking at the things we do. So, now we try to keep our visits under a week and everyone is a lot happier.

The interesting part in today’s strip is that Elly Patterson is the one who starts the picking and her parents’ reaction seems to be a primarily defensive reaction to Elly’s assault. Of course the whole venture in Vancouver has been filled with Elly wondering about her relationship with her mother, and when she will finally be considered an adult, and other ideas like that, which would make Elly a very dull conversationalist indeed.

I also found Elly’s pick about Gramma Marian not changing her hairstyle to be particularly ironic, considering Elly’s unending bun. I also like the idea that Gramma Marian let Jim chain smoke. Iris became the nag for Grampa Jim’s behaviour, which Marian never was, but maybe Elly (Lynn Johnston) always wanted her to be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I’ll Have Kids, with Respect on the Side

The idea that having children confers respect is not uncommon in For Better or For Worse. I remember that Gordon Mayes managed to get respect from his alcoholic father by getting married and having children. What is different between Elly, her mother, and Elly’s children is the means by which respect is not shown to children. Elly apparently got a weeklong lecture from her mother. Elly’s means of parenting seemed to be limited to unhinging her jaw and shrieking. While Michael Patterson seems to be more into the “give the child a wicked stare to discipline them" routine. I can’t really decide which of those methods is worse.

The method of parenting is not being passed down from generation to generation, even if the means by which status in the family is. It was interesting in seeing this shown so plainly. We make jokes about how the Pattersons considered Elizabeth in her unmarried and without kids state. In this old strip, here is Elly, who has kids, talking about getting treated like a kid, just because she visited once without her kids. It’s a sort of “I must treat someone like a kid, and if you didn’t bring any, then you’re the kid” thinking. Bizarre.

I remember, early in my marriage, my wife used to be called to have dinner with her dad, which she did for a few times, until she realized the purpose of the dinner was for her father to convey to her all the criticisms my step-mom had about the way my wife was handling her marriage. Needless to say, my wife started finding excuses not to go to those dinners. You see my father-in-law has been married 5 times and my step-mother-in-law is on her second marriage; so their lectures of my wife were a little on the hypocritical side.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Word Balloons

As we go through the hybrid, I have discovered that I notice little details I didn’t notice before. In the olden days, Lynn Johnston apparently drew the figures, wrote in the words for the word balloons, and then added the balloon line afterwards. The effect we have is that the word balloon often appears to be located behind the heads of the characters, and in the case of panel 4 of today’s reprint strip, even behind the lamp and the bedpost, even though the word balloon stem is in front of the bed headboard. This indicates someone knows how to use an eraser.

In the modern For Better or For Worse, if a word balloon looks like it would fall into the same category, i.e. words too close to the figures drawn so the balloon would have to go around their head; Lynn Johnston usually opts not to put in the balloon lines at all and leaves it as pure text.

Why is there this difference? The obvious answer is that the modern strip is penciled and inked before the lettering is done, and the letterer wants to eliminate the possibility a slip with the pen doing the word balloon which would cause the need for a correction to whatever has already been drawn and inked. In the old strip, I bet Lynn Johnston penciled in everything including the words, before inking it in.

As a note to aprilp_katje, I leave on Wednesday for a vacation with my wife and no kids, if you can believe it. My wife qualified for a free trip to Puerta Vallarta through her Homemade Gourmet work, and her mother and aunt are in this week to take care of the kids while we are gone. They arrived today, and took up most of my time today and yesterday in preparation. I will not be back until late Sunday, so feel free to do Michael Patterson as you wish in my absence, since it looks like we are in reprints all this week. I will try to do April’s Real Blog posts as Michael until I leave.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Baby Luggage

After looking at today’s For Better or For Worse, all I can say is “Thank God my kids are older now.” I remember the days when half the luggage was taken up with baby supplies. My memories are a little different from Lynn Johnston’s because I came from an age where people shared advice on traveling with small children which I guess they didn’t share back in the days of Elly Patterson. For example, the idea of asking for the bulkhead seats so you have room on the floor for the kids to move around a little during the flight without bothering other people, or feeding the child during the takeoff and landing to minimize ear irritation, or even special earplugs you can get from an audiologist which are designed to protect your ears from airplane pressure changes while still allowing you to hear, or the practice of reserving the innermost and outermost seats in a row with the hope that the flight will not be full, and you can get the middle seat for your < 2-year-old lap sitter for free. There is a fine art to traveling with an infant.

When my family traveled by plane and my kids were that age, the 2 carry-on bags for the kids were enormous. This was because you could never tell when an airport delay might mean sitting with your unchecked baggage in an airport for hours and hours with a tiny infant. We wanted to make sure we had enough changes of clothing, and diapers, all the different kinds of things required for baby maintenance. I remember one particularly long airline delay where my wife and I started to panic because our boy was a soy formula baby (screamed bloody murder for hours if he drank any milk-based formula) and we came very close to running out of food for him.

The two carry-on bags had big straps on them and I would put one over my head and over each shoulder, so they balanced on either side of my body. This left 2 hands free for the car seats, which we carried on the plane with us, as they were required by law in airplanes at the time. Because of the lifting and carrying required, my wife never took a trip on an airplane with both kids by herself. Now my kids each have their own suitcases they pack themselves, they can pull on its wheels, and they are quite cute pulling them around an airport.

As for picking up luggage, no man in my family would ever…ever…leave the mother to carry all the rest of the baby luggage by herself. That simply was not done. If Grandpa Jim was in my family, we would have words.

Mira and Wilf – Losers at Last

The 6th anniversary of Mike and Deanna’s fake wedding on September 15th is displayed on the main page of the For Better or For Worse website. It is interesting that this is the wedding celebrated, when the actual anniversary would have been December, the year prior. aprilp_katje reported over on the FOOBiverse’s Journal she was told that the reason this anniversary is the one celebrated by Mike and Deanna is because the Sobinskis still think this is Mike and Dee's wedding date.

I hadn’t thought about the Sobinskis in awhile, and I realized I had not seen them in a long time. They used to appear regularly back when Mike and Deanna lived in their old apartment. In fact, it seemed a little unusual for them not to appear, considering their character traits of being overly-involved in their children’s lives. The Sobinskis used to show up at all the kids’ birthday parties and the holiday gatherings. These were their last appearances:

January 9 – January 21, 2006 – The last daily strips featuring the Sobinskis ends with Deanna throwing Mira and Wilf out again due to Mira’s fight with Melville Kelpfroth scaring Meredith (the 3rd time the Pattersons ended a visit with the Sobinskis by asking them to leave) and with Deanna and Mike pillowtalking about how her parents were falling apart.

May 7 – May 14, 2006 – The last appearance of Mira Sobinski is in a Sunday colour strip, where Deanna complains about her giving the kids too many stickers. The interesting part of this sequence is the way this Sunday colour bookends the week of dailies with the Sunday colour on May 14, where Elly takes her grandkids on Mother’s Day. The dailies in between those two Sunday colours is the sequence where Elly Patterson made her one and only appearance in Mike and Deanna’s upstairs apartment, by showing up to help with Robin’s ear infection. At the end of the sequence, Meredith pretends to be sick so Elly will not leave.

1. Mira Sobinski visits all the time, she is not helpful and has to be asked to leave because she is frightening Meredith.
2. Elly Patterson visits only when needed, she is very helpful, and Meredith wants her to stay.

Since then, there have been no Sobinski appearances in the strip. The last mention of them occurs in this strip, where Deanna informs her mother about the apartment fire at a time which appears to be days after it occurred and then tells her they are staying with John and Elly for an undetermined time. As is typical, the Sobinskis are always the last to know about things.

It is a subtle thing Lynn Johnston has put across. Mira always wanted the kids to move closer to her and she attempted to lure them closer with offers of good housing and gifts for the kids. Elly expressed the desire for the kids to live closer, only to John Patterson, and left the Toronto Pattersons alone and gave no gifts. Who will the Toronto Pattersons chose to live by, when they buy a house?

By having Mike and Dee moving in the Sharon Park Drive house after their apartment fire, the moral victory over the Sobinskis has occurred and occurred decisively. Mike and Dee don’t just live closer to John and Elly, but live in their old house and even try to emulate their old life while examining the photographic evidence of how that old life used to be. I don’t think Elly Patterson could have a greater victory over Mira Sobinski than that.

Moreover, since the Sobinskis no longer appear, this demonstrates that their affection for their kids and grandkids was based solely on the idea that they could, by lavishing gifts and by dropping by all the time, gain the approval of Mike and Deanna to move closer to them. Now the Pattersons are in Milborough, the true colours of the Sobinskis shine through. They’ve lost the battle and there is no reason for them to appear anymore.

Elly Patterson’s parenting reigns supreme!! More hybrid, mule! More! We can’t get enough of that great Elly parenting.

Laura Piché Takes Charge

Today’s For Better or For Worse strip appears to be completely the work of Laura Piché, the lady who draws the backgrounds and background characters. It didn’t really come to me, until we got to today’s strip and there was the guy sitting next to Elly and company on the plane, who has the typical physical characteristics of the background characters. The line and figure work on this character so matches that of “old style” Elly, Mike and Elizabeth; Lynn Johnston must have decided to let Laura draw the whole thing. Herein lies the true secret of the hybrid. We have the hybrid art Lynn Johnston does (like Merrie with Super Teddy), hybrid art from reprints, and hybrid art from Laura (like today). If there are going to be lot of introductions to old strips like what we have in today’s strip, then Laura handles it, while Lynn takes off. That’s pretty clever to make updated old style art = modern Laura Piché-style art.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Full Circle

2 weeks ago the hybrid of For Better or For Worse started with little Meredith not recognizing Grampa Jim or knowing who Gramma Marian was, or why they lived so far away from Milborough. Mike is on the verge of getting around to answering this question 2 weeks later, with what has to be, in today’s strip, a lead-in to some Gramma Marian strips.

I don’t recollect Michael Patterson venerating his Gramma Marian before, but I do have a fondness for the Gramma Marian strips. Her death in the strip, the preparations for it and the repercussions after it, spawned some of the best sequences ever in For Better or For Worse. Some people like the Farley death story and some people like the Lawrence coming out story; but for me it was Gramma Marian. Lynn Johnston got to deal with the idea of how a child does deal with the death of a parent, and how to treat the parent who is left. Moreover, back in those days, Elly handled it well, I thought. Grampa Jim moved in with Elly, and there was much bonding with young April and older Elizabeth. I liked these strips, because I really liked the persons the Pattersons were at that time.

However, I seriously doubt Mike Patterson is going to lead into Gramma Marian dying. My money is we are going to see one of those, “Visit Gramma Marian” strips which happened about once a year back in the old days. With any luck, we will get the younger Grampa Jim too, because I remember him being even grumpier and saltier when he was younger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Suddenly Back in the Real World…Sort of

The dreadedcandiru2 remarked in yesterday’s comments:

If this sequence ends with him advising Meredith not to make the mistakes he made because of the damage he has yet to undo, I'd be willing to forgive Mike his stroll down Memory Lane.

Ironically, not only does it not end that way, it ends with Michael encouraging Meredith to emulate him, leaving Deanna to play the heavy roll of the disciplinarian. Even when confronted with more Super Teddy destruction, Michael is still unrepentant and instead remarks he was impressed with Meredith’s great toss. I am beginning to wonder if Michael is capable of showing remorse.

Yesterday, in April’s Real Blog, I addressed Michael and remorse, because the classic example of remorseful Michael was when he took the pictures of Deanna in her car accident. That story was significantly featured in a podcast interview with Lynn Johnston done by Steve Friess of USA today.

In the podcast, she told two stories which were quite gruesome. One had to do with a homosexual comedian who killed himself. The other had to do with a pregnant woman hanging herself, who turned out to be the girlfriend of a friend of Aaron Johnston, Lynn’s son. This last story was remarkable because, in the podcast, Lynn Johnston told this story about how Aaron had been hired to shoot sunsets for a television station and found himself with the unique opportunity to shoot a sunset which swept across into a picture of this girl hanging from the tree. Lynn said she turned this story into the Deanna car crash story, but in prior publications, she said Aaron’s story was actually a car crash. I thought that was quite an alteration to the story. Not only that, but suicides by hanging in public places is…shall we say…extremely rare.

I have to digress for a moment. My step father is a notorious liar. He tells whoppers. He has told stories about his activities in the Vietnam War, that if they occurred, he would have been a bigger hero than Audie Murphy. The family has learned not to call him on his lies, because he gets very upset. We usually just listen to him, and that’s about as far as it goes. I have gotten to the point where I can usually tell when he is lying. His story takes a certain tone, with the way some details are put in, and some are pulled out.

While I was listening to Lynn Johnston on this podcast, telling the story about the suicide, the same feeling crept over me. Initially I felt she was telling this horrible story, and it was interesting how she turned that into Mike and Deanna’s car crash. Then, I started thinking, “The dead girl is wearing a white sweater. Now that’s an odd detail to remember about a video clip you didn’t see. The police won’t let Aaron near the scene, and yet he gets the picture.” Then I started to think she was lying. I have no proof, one way or the other. I remember getting the same feelings I get when I listen to my stepfather tell one of his whoppers.

The other thing which concerned me was that each of the gruesome stories Lynn Johnston told in the podcast involved suicide. I am thinking good thoughts for you, Lynn Johnston. I hope you have good people up with you in Corbeil who are looking out for you.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Super Teddy

There are few things I remember about For Better or For Worse in its early days, but I do remember I hated Super Teddy. I wish I had a collection in front of me to review all the Super Teddy strips to see if my hatred is justified in the light of modern day, but based on this single appearance in today’s strip, I can’t see it not being justified. My recollection is that Super Teddy wreaked havoc around the Patterson household with little to no punishment issued to the Super Teddy-hurling boy.

The more amusing part was that I had pegged Michael’s relationship with Elizabeth as the theme for this week of strips and the lead-in line continues relentlessly along that path, even with Elizabeth nowhere to be seen in the strip. With the lead-in line, “Elizabeth seemed to get all of the attention—but I had something she didn’t have…” it appears that Michael Patterson is justifying Super Teddy, by saying he only did it to get attention from his mother. This implies, Super Teddy into the dishwater, was not an accident but on purpose. That certainly brings a new tenor to the Super Teddy strips. Now, instead of simply being a disobedient boy, young Michael is telling a story about the extremes to which he went to get attention from his mother. Super Teddy was just a cry for help. That is so weird. I never got that idea when I read the strips in the past.

Hybrid Observations

We have two For Better or For Worse hybrid strips in a row featuring Michael and Elizabeth. If this is an indication of how the hybrid is going to go, then there is a distinct possibility that Lynn Johnston may organize her reprint material into themes. For example, Monday and Saturday are strips which detail the relationship between Mike and Liz.

Today, we have Elly chastising Michael for not giving his candy to Elizabeth, who is too little to walk and too little to verbalize. My son, at Elizabeth’s age, had a very sensitive stomach, and I remember one time his grandmother thought it would be amusing to let him eat whipped cream off a spoon. He liked it, but it did not like him. He screamed and cried for several hours before it passed through his system. I find it interesting that Mike’s excuse for not sharing with his sister, seems very true-to-life to me, as does also the bad parenting from Elly. I can only suppose the real-life Elizabeth, did not have any problems with eating.

I also notice that the picture of modern Mike looking wistful as he recounts the story, is a panel which could easily be repeated. Maybe Lynn Johnston, drew up a series of Mike looking wistful, in order to have them ready for the hybrid. The staff can then take one of them, insert text as they will, and make hybrids to their heart’s content.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Falling Leaves, The Failing Art

I remember when I was a younger father, carrying my son on my shoulders around trees in Texas, and he would, from time-to-time try to pull leaves off. Usually he would get a shredded leaf or a part of a leave. Leaves on trees, are fairly resistant to being pulled off. If you snap a leaf off a tree you usually get some branch movement to go along with it.

Of course, with small children, most of the purpose of a nature walk was not the walking, but the looking at nature. If you saw an animal or a bug, I would stop and point and try to teach a little about what I knew about it to my kid and let them look at it for as long as they cared to look.

In today’s For Better or For Worse strip we have the Pattersons going for a walk and the strip typifies all the things which have been wrong with the strip lately, i.e. there is little-to-no interaction between the parents and the kids until something goes wrong. They are just walking, while we have panel after panel of Robin pulling off leaves as no one in his stern-faced, silent family notices. The devil is in the details and this is never more true than in the sequential art form. Even though the joke is that they find Robin has stuffed his pants full of leaves without them noticing; Lynn Johnston could have used little things like showing Merrie talking to Mike and Deanna about the stuff she sees, or their body positions set in such a way as to indicate affection or conversation. Instead, these might as well be 4 robots going down the trail, where the littlest robot collects a few too many leaf samples. The masters of this art form, can tell tremendous stories in details. A sly wink here, a grin or a frown there, and these people turn from robots into real people.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Art: The Future and the Past

Today was our first official hybrid strip with an authentic reprint, and it looks a lot like those strips of Luann, where Greg Evans takes a vacation. With Lynn Johnston getting a divorce, her primary motivation for retiring appears to have disappeared. So, it should be interesting to see if she backs off the idea of the hybrid, or at least decides to continue creating quite a bit of new stuff for the hybrid.

As for the strip itself, it’s old For Better or For Worse. Crude art or not, there is a lack of almost all the artistic things about which I have been complaining in the modern age strip. Michael may have dots for eyes, which is less realistic-looking, but at least he has eyes. I fear when Lynn Johnston goes back to the Liz / Anthony saga with a final panel pun in each strip, the two strips will not compare well.

Lynn’s art style development over the years reminds me a lot of when a performer, who has certain traits, allows those traits to take over the performance. For example, I remember last year seeing the movie, Dreamgirls with Jennifer Hudson singing up a storm on her character’s main number, “And I am Telling You.” I remarked to my wife that Jennifer Hudson was as good as Jennifer Holliday in the original Broadway Show. Thanks to the wonderful world of Youtube, I was able to find Jennifer Holliday in the original Broadway Show doing that number and showed it to my wife. But while I was looking, I also found the modern day Jennifer Holliday doing the same number. The modern day version had all these vocal ticks and grunts, and I was surprised how bad she had gotten. But when I looked back at the 1982 version, the vocal ticks and grunts are all there. However, they were subdued and did not overtake the overall performance.

When I see modern Lynn Johnston art, it reminds me of modern day Jennifer Holliday. The little tricks like changing the perspective, or putting silhouettes in, are no longer something used to enhance the story-telling; but something done almost all the time as the way Lynn Johnston does her drawing. There is no reason for it anymore. In this week’s worth of strips, every strip except Monday’s has a silhouette. Every strip changes perspective in every single panel. The tricks have overtaken the art.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sad News

This is the article where it is revealed the Lynn and Rod Johnston have been separated since April.

The news that Rod Johnston had met someone else was a devastating shock to Lynn, whose millions of fans thought her long marriage -- like the long marriage of Elly and John -- was "storybook" in nature. "It shows our family was as vulnerable as anyone," she said during a phone interview with E&P.

Count me among those millions of fans. I always liked the idea that John and Elly mimicked Rod and Lynn, and how they represented a solid marriage. I was surprised at how this news affected me. I liked the idea that there was good, old, goofy Rod; who was willing to take on Lynn and everything that went with her.

Having learned this news, there were a number of things which suddenly made sense.

(The cartoonist said she initially had a lot of trouble drawing John after Rod left her real-life marriage, but finally the "spell was broken" and she was able to do it.)

I. The 2 month departure of John Patterson in the strip now makes sense.

II. May 15, 2007 – I was announced that Kate Johnston was now on Lynn Johnston’s staff. While most folks were speculating nepotism, it now appears that Kate moved back in to support her mom in her separation. Good for her.

III. I wrote up a Blog entry devoted to what happened to Nancy Vincent, whose place on the staff Kate Johnston had taken.

I made the following observations then, which I find very interesting now.

1. Nancy Vincent, who used to be in charge of both the For Better or For Worse office and its promotion side business Entercom Canada, Inc is gone.
2. In Nancy’s place over at Entercom Canada, Inc, is Robert Kuenzlen, C.I.M.
3. Nancy’s position is gone completely on the For Better or For Worse side, but Kate Johnston has been added.
4. I notice that Entercom Canada, Inc., which used to say it was a business which could promote other business than For Better or For Worse, is now strictly a business promoting For Better or For Worse. I don’t see the stuff about promoting Rod Johnston’s train business anymore on the website for Entercom Canada, Inc. I wonder if this was the issue which was causing problems for Nancy Vincent.
5. One of my pet theories for the hybrid was that if Lynn Johnston retired completely, her staff would have to find new jobs. I wonder if the shift in Entercom’s direction is due to the announcement of the hybrid. Now, no longer do the Lynnions have to pretend to do things other than with For Better or For Worse, since their future is assured.

In the comments that day I wrote:

While browsing for Nancy Vincent, I found this article about Canadore College alumni who work for Lynn Johnston

As near as I can tell, every member of her staff, except for Allison Zadorozny and now, Kate Johnston are Canadore alums. Allison Zadorozny is the only person on Lynn’s staff who joined Dr. Rod Johnston in his Community Waterfront Friends project. See:

What I find very intriguing is that that Dr. Rod Johnston was the Canadore College Director of the Dental Program from 1984 – 1987 and Nancy Vincent, graduated from Canadore College with a degree in Dental Hygiene from 1978. It’s interesting that while the other Canadore graduates had degrees related to what they do on For Better or For Worse, Nancy didn’t and she has definite ties to Rod Johnston’s field.

The connection between these events from May, and Lynn and Rod Johnston’s separation, and the sudden and mysterious departure of Nancy Vincent (and by mysterious, I mean there was no notice of her departure on the website and she had worked for Lynn for years), makes it obvious who the other woman was.

Just to confirm, I did a White Pages search of Corbeil, Ontario and found this listing:

Vincent, Nancy & Rod
304 Mac Pherson Dr
Corbeil, ON P0H 1K0
(705) 752-2104

It also makes the situation seem even more bizarre:

1. Through Canadore College or through dental work or both, Rod Johnston could have known Nancy Vincent for a period of time starting as early as 1984.

2. Nancy Vincent was Lynn’s number #1 staff person as her Executive Director.

3. Because of her background as a dental hygienist, it is highly likely that the professional connection to Rod, got her the job working for Lynn.

How long Rod’s relationship with Nancy was, and how long Lynn knew about it, I have no idea and I don’t care to know. I have not been through a divorce as a participant, only as a child of divorce or an uncle of divorce. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I discovered my best friend was having an affair with my husband.

I feel very badly for Lynn Johnston.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The First Strip this Week I Didn’t Hate

I have a confession to make. I don’t own For Better or For Worse collections from the old days. Not only that, but I don’t plan to buy any. This week, I really could have used them, because there were some obscure references in the strip this week, like that hand hanging from the ceiling in yesterday’s strip, which is a story that predates the on-line archive. I looked all over the archive for that thing. I can tell it would be near impossible for me to snark an actual reprint from that time period.

I was getting a little stressed this week for writing Michael over at April’s Real Blog. My problems were (a) I could tell the story was not right, but I didn’t know exactly what was not right and (b) I wasn’t sure how to take the part of Mike in the story-telling. Should I do it as Mike just making things up because he wasn’t there and doesn’t know better? Or he doesn’t remember it exactly right because he was told this story a long time ago? Or Mike has some kind of agenda in telling Meredith out-and-out lies? Or should Mike blame Elly? I finally opted with Mike blaming Elly; but I am not sure that was the best choice.

Because I had Mike blame Elly, I ended up yesterday writing one of the most sympathetic posts I have written for Michael, as he realizes Elly tricked John with him, just like Deanna tricked him with Meredith. Mike was an oops baby, and from the phrase Elly uses to explain it to John, it’s pretty clear Mike was only “oops” for John. “Honestly. I don’t know how it happened.” When Deanna pulled the same stunt with Mike, Lynn Johnston had Candace Halloran spell it out in no uncertain terms, what Deanna’s game was. Looking through the FOOBiverse’s Journal yesterday, I didn’t realize how often this had happened with the Milborough kids. Lawrence Poirier, Paul Mayes were others who were oops.

One of the more interesting things, was the decision by the artist to draw university Elly and John in the “modern” style, where they looked essentially like slightly younger versions of their “modern” selves; and then today, to alter the style to more like the strips from 1979. I imagine the reason for university Elly and John to look so much like their modern counterparts, was to get the face recognition for the character. That way, when the switch occurred today to go to the old style of art, the casual reader might be able to follow that Elly was the person on the chesterfield in the last two panels, even though her nose was small and her hair was not in a bun. Personally, I think that was an error. Today’s strip picture of young mother Elly with young Mike, was jarring to me. If university Elly and John looked more like their “classic” selves, then it would have been a better lead-in to their appearance in the classic strips. In my opinion, anyway.

Why Bother?

Zoom! From the first date, to married with a surprise baby, all in one strip. Just when I thought Lynn Johnston could not make this story any less romantic, she managed to prove me wrong once again.

The more surprising aspect of this sequence is that it looks like she is rushing to get through to the 1979 start point of the strip after a single week of stories. For Better or For Worse started with John and Elly having Lizzie and Mike. Given the speed of the plot, she could knock that out in the next 2 days. However, why is she buzzing through this story so quickly? Why can’t we see Elly on that date? Why can’t we see Elly and John as young marrieds, without children, coping with a new dentistry practice? If Lynn Johnston is not going to expand on the story, then why is she bothering to do it in the first place?

I am reminded of old comic strips, which had a preset sequence of lead-in strips which a newspaper could use whenever a strip was introduced to a new newspaper. I remember The Phantom had a one week "origin of the Phantom" which would be run just before the newspaper would start with the current storyline. I think that is what we have here. The origin of Elly and John (and also Mike and Lizzie), which can be run before a newspaper decides to run the hybrid. Or more specifically, the origin of the hybrid strips.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dr. Norman Plett

About Norman: Dr. Plett is a family doctor who treated Lizzie when she was little.

The good doctor was added to the Who's Who section in the For Better or For Worse website, and it is one of those starred sections to show it has a backstory.

The backstory is essentially that Dr. Norman Plett broke his arm while playing Spider-Man when he was 10, and was so impressed by the doctor, he decided that should be his profession and he became a family practise doctor. There is a strip linked from May 1, 1981; where Elly takes sniveling Lizzie through a door which says: Dr. N. Plett physician and surgeon. Then there is another strip he is being man-handled by a diaper-clad Lizzie who is chewing on his stethoscope. The doctor says, “Her glands are up, she’s got some tonsillitis and a touch of otitis media.”

Then the punch line is when he says, “I think” as Liz grabs his collar and plays with his stethoscope. The joke is that Lizzie is such a handful, the doctor can’t make a good diagnosis. Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear. A doctor talking to a mom would probably say, “ear infection.”

I have no recollection of the doctor, and I do not know if he made any more appearances aside from these. A quick google reveals no Dr. Normal Pletts in the North Bay / Corbeil area; but in 1981, I don’t think Lynn Johnston lived there yet.

The obvious problems are the doctor is shown to be a little incompetent, and he is not a pediatrician. If Elly opted to go to another doctor, I would understand completely. However, I expect the good doctor is important to the strips coming up for reprint from the early years of the strip. However, the odd part is that in the back story, the Patterson family is not mentioned at all. I would have guessed there would be at least one sentence talking about their relationship, as there are in the other back stories for the Who's Who.

University Dentistry and the Single Man

Back in my single days, I lived in the Dallas, Texas area and worked with a man whose wife was in the dental hygienist school at Texas Women’s University in Denton. She swore that one of the best ways to meet a girl, was to get a free appointment at the dental hygienist school, and said that if I ever did that, then she would make sure to introduce me to a cute hygienist.

Well, I took her up on that offer and discovered first hand why the whole idea would not work. Part of the business of dental hygiene, and particularly at a school, is to go through every nook and cranny of your mouth and find the spots you missed. Not only that, but part of the treatment is that the hygienist then has to give you some kind of lecture about how to properly brush or floss that area or areas you missed. It is one of the least romantic settings I can imagine. Needless to say, there were no dates scheduled between me and Miss “You Missed a Spot. Now show me how you are going to improve your brushing.”

I had a good time today researching dental equipment and techniques from the 1960s and 1970s in order to snark today's strip. Most of it was based on my own memory, because as a young lad of 10 (in 1972), I had an overzealous orthodontist who insisted my baby teeth be pulled so I could get a set of braces put in. I ended up having 12 baby teeth pulled + 4 adult teeth (mouth too small for fat teeth), not counting my 4 wisdom teeth which came in later. The teeth were not all pulled at once, just a few every month. Over time, I became quite familiar with the dentist’s office, where my teeth were being pulled. When I saw John’s dental set up today, I said, “No way. Lynn Johnston is not even remotely trying to make this the slightest bit authentic, and she’s married to a dentist who was in practice back in those days.” In particular, I remember "rinse and spit" vividly, and there is not a spittoon to be seen anywhere in that strip. Imagine the ribbing Rod Johnston is going to take from his dental friends about this.

I read the updated version of Agnes Dingle's life on the Who’s Who section. There are 3 other new ones, marked by a star, but I have not looked them over thoroughly.

After her heart attack in 2004, when Michael's impulsive phone call may have been all that saved her from dying alone on her kitchen floor, Agnes reluctantly sold her house.

So now it is a heart attack, and not a stroke as they said back in 2004. I guess Lynn Johnston decided Agnes can’t recover so nicely from her stroke (even though some people actually do), if Grandpa Jim has to suffer with his aphasia from his stroke. I guess these expansions are what were described to us as the website back stories, where we get to learn more about the characters. They are written in the flowery, Mike monthly letter style, so they are a little difficult to stomach.

Between these retcon strips; and the September monthly letters, which were loaded down with retcons; and now these back story character retcons, I am beginning to wonder if there is any part of any For Better or For Worse story which is sacred.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Forget Meredith

The premise of the For Better or For Worse hybrid is that Mike Patterson is supposed to be telling old stories in the life of the Pattersons using old strips to his daughter, of almost 5 years, Meredith. Today’s strip is not even trying to make that premise believable. It requires a certain suspension of belief to accept Merrie would be interested in the story of Elly and John’s courtship; but it requires even more to get around the idea that Michael Patterson starts telling Meredith about details of university applications, dental school, and following someone around a university campus because you believe she is special, due to her “nice teeth.”

What we have is pure narrative flow without respect to the presumed audience of Meredith. The dialogue could have been reworked to make it perfectly acceptable, and I am dumbfounded that the creator of the strip did not even try. Therefore, I will.

Panel 1: Your Grandma Elly went to university in Toronto. That’s the big town where we used to live in the apartment before it burned down. University is a school for grown-ups. Grandpa John went to the very same school as Grandma Elly. That’s where they met.

Panel 2: Do you want to know how they met? Well, you know how sometimes we go to a library to get books? Well, your Grandpa John saw your Grandma Elly in a library at school studying. He liked her right away. But, he didn’t know why he liked her. Can you guess why?

Panel 3: Grandpa John didn’t know either. So Grandpa John waited until Grandma Elly left the library to talk to her, because you are supposed to be quiet in a library. Remember how we tell you to whisper in a library because people are trying to read?

Panel 4: When Grandpa John caught up with Grandma Elly, you know what he decided he liked the best about her. It was her teeth. Now, isn’t that silly?

It could be done, but it would take very little time for that kind of narrative flow to get on your nerves. To do the sort of story-telling Lynn Johnston wants to do, the person doing the telling should be Elly, John or Mike, who know the story; and the person hearing the story should be Mike, Deanna, Liz or April, who might be interested in the story. That way, the language could be kept more adult, and the person hearing the story might be expected to understand it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Hybrid Begins

As announced in the For Better or For Worse News Bites, Michael and Meredith are looking at an old photo album and this is to lead into talking about the courtship of John and Elly. Since these strips are to be used crossing back and forth with strips discussing the Liz and Anthony romance, I fully expect we are going to see lots of intentional parallels between the two love stories.

In order for this sequence to work, the reader must suspend disbelief that Meredith is actually interested in those old pictures or the history of how Elly went from Vancouver to Milborough. We must also suspend disbelief that Michael would take the time to do this, particularly when his behaviour with his children before largely focused on activities with them outdoors.

The main purpose of this hybrid appears to be for Lynn Johnston to tell some backstories, she always wanted to tell. I believe she mentioned something about showing why Deanna Sobinski left Milborough when she was a little girl also. It seems odd to have these stories which will show character development, just as the strip is about to end. Most times when something comes to a close, you would like to see the culmination of some epic story. In this case, the culmination of the epic story is that everyone moves back home to reminisce about things which happened before the beginning of the epic story.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Recycling Jokes

I think it is highly appropriate that Lynn Johnston has opted to make today’s For Better or For Worse Sunday colour strip a repeat of a joke she has done before back when April was much younger (9 or 10 years old), i.e. she has too much stuff in her new backpack and can’t carry it. Considering the hybrid strip starts on Monday, and they are going to be a mixture of old and new strips, where we get to enjoy the repeated humour of old strips, it makes sense for today’s strip to also repeat humour from old strips. It gets us in the mood for jokes we have seen before.

I remember back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I went to high school and college, I did not have a backpack. I carried all my books and school supplies to and from school in my arms, and that was a treacherous business. When you are loaded up with books, it is easy to drop them and difficult to get them all picked back up. I would have loved to have had a backpack in those days. So, it is with mixed emotions I see Lynn Johnston making fun of overloaded backpacks.

Monday begins the hybrid and Mike Patterson starts his story of John Patterson and Elly Richards falling in love. I have some doubts as to whether Lynn Johnston can put together a convincing love story. The whole time Mike and Deanna were dating, I had this idea in the back of my head, “And eventually this guy is going to realize someone who puts him off this often, isn’t really into him.” Then it didn’t happen. Up until their first marriage ceremony, I was convinced Mike was going to wise up. Obviously, it did not make much of an impression on me, as far as a love story goes, and I did not examine the strip anywhere near as critically then as I do now.

As for Liz and Anthony, I have written much about their romance over the last several months. The clearest example I have found to compare to it, and this still applies, is that Liz and Anthony’s love story is like the reality TV series The Bachelorette, where the producers of the show want to leave the audience guessing which guy the girl will choose, and in order to do that, they intentionally leave out most of the romantic bits between the two who end up being the final couple. So, when the final couple is revealed, the viewers who like to see romance feel as though they have been robbed. We are the viewers of For Better and For Worse and in the last year, we had red herrings of Paul Wright, Warren Blackwood and Mason the best man to try and throw us off. All they really did was make Elizabeth Patterson look like a woman who could care less about the men interested in her.

With Elly and John, Lynn Johnston has the advantage that we already know they are going to end up together and get married, so she really can just focus on the romance aspect of their relationship and not anything of that “will she or will she not” stuff. Without all those other constraints she had with Mike, Deanna, Liz, and Anthony; it will be a true test to see if she can fashion a romance story. If she can’t with John and Elly, then there is no prayer for her to pull off Liz and Anthony, who have a whole lot more baggage.