Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Michael Misunderstood

Seeing today’s For Better or For Worse after yesterday’s, I am beginning to wonder if the theme behind Elizabeth’s remembrances were: My brother = my parent. Mike is interacting with and trying to teach his sister. Elly simply pops in out of nowhere from doing whatever it is that she was doing, to come and discipline Mike as she misinterprets the situation. A few more times of this, and I will start analyzing why Mike doesn’t trust the way women think.

The other possibility is that we are seeing Bad Parenting 101

a. Leaving your older child alone with your very young child.
b. Not listening to your child.
c. Presuming one child is always the one at fault.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mike Takes One to the Eye

Back in For Better or For Worse on May 1, 2005, Michael Patterson took a yo-yo to his right eye thanks to his daughter. Thanks to today’s strip, we can tell the Patterson women have a thing out for Mike’s right eye. We can also tell that Michael hasn’t learned anything in the last 20 years when it comes to small children and potential injuries.

No Girl Talk. Hybrid Talk.

We were told that hybrid strips on For Better or For Worse might be introduced by some other means than a picture album, and sure enough, it appears today. It’s early enough in the week, where I think we may get the rest of the week as hybrid. As it turns out in the old days, Michael was jealous of the attention Liz got because she was younger and cuter. Now, of course, it’s the other way around.

At least in this case, the conversation members make a whole lot more sense than the ones where Mike and Merrie host the retcon, or Elly and Connie trying to entertain Iris with a story about Connie. April might be interested in a rehash of Mike is jealous of little Lizzie, but I am not. There was a lot of Mike / Elizabeth rivalry in the very early strips and it was not my favourite subject. The idea of rehashing old Mike vs. Elizabeth strips does not excite me.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Time For More Girl Talk

The last time April and Liz had any kind of meaningful conversation in For Better or For Worse was when Liz told April she should tell Gerald to stuff it. Now that April has finally done something sort of kind of like that, we gather together Liz and April again for an honest (or at least as honest as a Patterson gets) conversation. I think the conversation will go something like this:

April: So this is what a single girl does for fun--watch your laundry get done at a Laundromat?

Elizabeth: It can be pretty exciting if you come here and then one of your students walks in while you are folding your undergarments. I looked bad then wearing glasses and a ratty t-shirt, but this time I am ready. I am completely glammed up and this shirt shows off my breasts.

April: You are seriously kinky when it comes to your students, Liz. Don’t you remember what happened with Jesse Mukwa?

Elizabeth: That was an unrelated event. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a student knowing his teacher wears nice underwear. So, did you ever tell your boyfriend Gerald to stuff it?

Actually he broke up with me, when I told him I only wanted to play in our band for fun, and not for money,

Elizabeth: He broke up with you? Can someone do that to a Patterson?

April: Rhetta Blum did that with Mike.

Elizabeth: True, but Mike already had Deanna lined up to take his place.

April: Actually, we did agree for our paths to cross sometime in the future.

It’s good to keep your options open.

April: How are you and Anthony doing?

Elizabeth: It’s still incredibly hard to snuggle with him in a car. However, he has been working with me on my politeness. I don’t know if you noticed, but I asked you how you (are) doing? And I also came over to mom and dad’s house, to hang with the family, which I never do.

April: I had noticed you were acting differently, perhaps even nice. It was very strange.

Elizabeth: Yes. The things a girl has to do to get a guy to propose to her.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What Ever Happened to April?

Let’s say you are Lynn Johnston writing For Better or For Worse, and you have promised everyone that you are going to freeze time so your characters will never age again, but you also have an idea in your head that you want the readers to know how things will end up with your characters if time were to continue on running? Well that’s a dilemma isn’t it?

You have a character named April who is 16 years old and in Grade 11. She’s not established in a career. She doesn’t have a husband, but she has been dating the same guy for 4 years. She currently plays in a rock and roll band and has done so for the last 4 years. How do you let your readership know how April’s life will end up?

If you are Lynn Johnston, you set the basic premise for April’s life:
a. She is going to go to veterinary school and become a veterinarian, just like my ex-husband’s sister.
b. She is going to drop her high school boyfriend while she explores life, but then ultimately return back to him.
c. She is going to continue her love of music, but she will no longer be in a band.

The next question is how to put these ideas across in a week’s worth of strips. Lynn Johnston chose to have April raise the issue over a band performance put together by her boyfriend. This leads to April telling us her chosen profession and recognition that this is the right choice for her by the boyfriend. This leads to the end of the relationship with the boyfriend, but a promise to get together again later. This leads to the other band members acknowledging they no longer want to be in a band, except to play together for fun, but to enjoy their bandship while it lasts. This leads to some of the most ridiculous and stilted dialogue in comics today.

How would you do it? How could you achieve the goals set forth by Lynn Johnston and do it better than she did this week?

1. Vet school. There is no reason April could not have mentioned this. The easiest way would be for her to realize that pre-vet programs require certain courses to be taken in Senior Secondary School. Someone says to April, “What classes are you taking?”, and she replies “I am taking this and this, because this is what is required for veterinary school at the University of Guelph.” Thus in a few sentences not only does it communicate April plans to be a vet, but it also communicates she is serious about it, which the strips this week failed to do.
2. Dropping the high school boyfriend, while she explores life, but leaving the door open for him to come back. The easiest way to do this is to have a break with the boyfriend for reasons which do not leave any hard feelings. So, no infidelity. Disapproving parents are usually a good choice. That way there is someone else to blame, and there is a sense that when the person turns 18, then the parents are no longer allowed to interfere.
3. The band plays for fun and not professionally. This is the easiest one of all. A band member gets involved in some other activity they value more. For example, Duncan supposedly plays soccer, and the soccer schedule and the band schedule don’t mix. This kind of thing happens all the time in high school. Then the band, rather than getting a new bass guitar player, instead decides they will just play together when Duncan is available, effectively ending their ability to play professional gigs.

That didn’t take too much thought, and yet Lynn Johnston doesn’t think that way. She has to have her characters make sudden and unexpected announcements and also relies heavily on the clichéed romantic phrases and the awkward wordplay. The problem often claimed for Lynn Johnston is that she doesn't know how to write for teenagers, but I think the actual problem is that she has ceased to take the time to make sure the plot makes sense.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Backpack Joke for the Dailies

The Houston Chronicle does not keep an on-line copy of the For Better or For Worse Sunday strips but does keep the dailies, so I suppose for that audience, repeating the joke about April carrying the heavy backpack from Sunday, September 2, is reasonable. For the rest of us, it is a little redundant, particularly considering the joke is not done any better than last time, even though the final panel pun makes more sense and April is even more slumped over from the weight of the backpack. The joke is that April is too weak to carry her pack; or she is too stupid to learn how to pack it properly; or that a history essay, a test, a science project and a book review should not be assigned all at once to our girl or it will cause her back strain. As before, I will point out my 9-year-old daughter carries that kind of weight in her backpack, and her posture is much better than April’s.

In today’s strip, an unknown girl asks April about her homework, and April gives her a big list. At one time, this girl probably would have been Becky McGuire, but as it is, she is probably just an unknown girl never to be seen again. I wonder why Eva is not being used here. Did putting her arms around Duncan during the talk with Gerald, forever mark her as a Duncan girl and not an April friend?

In these long school storylines, Lynn Johnston usually likes to throw in a little humour strip to balance out the rest of the drama. Today is that strip. If Lynn follows her usual strip sequence, we will see either Becky McGuire next or Shannon Lake. These would be unfortunate choices as far as the story-telling goes, because the people we really want to see are Duncan, Eva, and Luis to get their opinion on the Gerald situation without Gerald being there. Either of those choices would run the strip into next week. It is also possible that tomorrow’s strip will be April seeking consolation from her mother, as Liz did when she broke up with Paul Wright.

Personally I have enjoyed this week, because for the first time in what seems like months, something happened in For Better or For Worse. The hardest part about the hybrid is the way it creates an air of nothing happening at all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

April = Elizabeth

There was a certain point in reading For Better or For Worse and its character of April, where I got the impression that April was going to be the Patterson who would break the cycle of Pattersons ending up in Milborough married to their childhood sweetheart. Today’s strip put that idea to rest. The dialogue ending April’s relationship to Gerald practically jumps off the page yelling, “For the future romantic life of April Patterson, see Elizabeth Patterson.”

If we are still getting new hybrid material 9 years from now (and assuming Lynn Johnston backs off her anti-aging stance), when April would be close to completing vet school, it is easy to see Lynn Johnston referring back to this strip, and trying to come up with a way to get April and Gerald back together and living in Milborough. As far as the character of April Patterson is concerned, I no longer have to read any more strips involving her. Her future is mapped out by Lynn Johnston’s bizarre desire to take storylines she has done before and put minour variations in them.

Say what you will about Lynn Johnston, but she knows her audience, and she knows her fans love seeing the same story repeated with little twists to it. They also love seeing the outcome of a story telegraphed years in advance. We can’t have any stories with any jolt to them. No. The stories just need to slowly creep up on you, so that when things happen, it’s not too surprising for the people who love For Better or For Worse.

I think 9 years in advance is enough time for April and Gerald, who have dated for the last 4 years. Liz and Anthony will probably marry next year after being involved in each other’s lives for 15 years after meeting when they were 12. When April graduates from vet school, she should be 27 too. Perfect age for a wedding. Really the only question for me is: Whom is Gerald going to marry and divorce in favour of April? Becky McGuire just doesn’t seem the type to be an imitation Thérèse.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

April and Gerald are Dunzo!!!

Well at least Lynn Johnston can end a romantic relationship in For Better or For Worse without having to resort to infidelity. Unfortunately, Lynn seems to be unaware of how relationships end, which don’t end with infidelity. This is how it should have happened:

The band 4Evah&Eva decide they are only going to play for fun. However, since there is no performance looming to encourage them to practise, their schedules for academics and other things which do have deadlines, take precedence, and the band can’t seem to find a time to get together. Gerald in the meantime, hooks up with another band, possibly with Rebecca, and starts performing with them regularly. He realizes the quality of the musicianship is so great with the professional group; he loses all motivation to do music for fun with 4Evah&Eva. Finally, after much time passes, 4Evah&Eva gets together to play music for fun. Very shortly into it, the band members who haven’t played in months, realize just how rusty they have gotten, and how bad they sound after an absence. It takes them most of the time together just to work one of their old numbers back up to satisfaction, which is a frustration to all involved. The playing together for fun never occurs again.

The Relationship Ends #1

In the meantime, Gerald and April, who rarely dated or did anything outside of the band start to find it difficult to find times to get together, because Gerald is always playing gigs on the weekends, and April doesn’t want to spend her time listening to him play. Gerald discovers there are girls who will come to hear him play every single weekend, and he finds the attention flattering. Eventually he decides to end things with April, so he can pursue a groupie. The guys I knew in high school, who played in bands on weekends, almost always ended up finding a girlfriend among their groupies.

The Relationship Ends #2

Without the band to draw them together, April finds she is spending more time with the kids who are on the same academic track she is. One of them, unaware of her relationship with Gerald, asks her out to something she wants to attend, which Gerald cannot attend due to his musical commitments. She accepts, and decides to break things off with Gerald.

These stories would take months to complete, and I know Lynn Johnston doesn’t have that kind of time, or does she? I am not certain any more. Anyway, it's much more fun to snark the way Lynn Johnston has chosen to end the relationship in a matter of a few panels.

High School Bands

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston shows not only that she is out of touch with today’s teenagers, but she is out of touch with musicians everywhere. The premise of the argument being put forth is that playing for fun is different from:
a. Playing for money.
b. Being famous.
c. Being good academically
d. Being happy.
I sing in amateur choruses and I have done so ever since before my high school years. I can tell with certainty that Lynn Johnston’s basic argument is completely wrong. Perhaps she means to say, that cartooning for fun is different from those things she mentions. I never played in a garage band, but I am somewhat familiar with the experience.

Growing up in Western North Carolina, there were a few high school garage bands in my high school who were good enough to make money playing. The best ones were Bluegrass bands, which I don’t think is a typical garage band for most of the rest of America. Two of my best friends played in two different Bluegrass bands and they played pretty regularly for paying gigs. The people who hired them liked them because they were dirt cheap compared to professionals, and the kids themselves made so much money doing that (compared to what high school students make at jobs), they had plenty of money to pay for a very active social life. When my friends told me how much they got paid, which was about $100 per gig for each member of their band back in those days, I was incredibly jealous. By the way, neither of these guys plays music professionally today. One works in a machine shop, and the other works as a doctor.

They had a good time playing in their garage bands. They got to stay out late, and girls thought they were cool. They didn’t have to work at Megafood bagging groceries to make money, or hauling plants for a nursery, or baby-sitting their brother’s kids. You see, if April really wanted that car she was talking about in her monthly letters, the course of action she is taking with the band is the exact opposite of the way she should go. She can make more money in 2-3 hours playing with the band than she would make working at Lilliputs’ all day or baby-sitting for her brother all day. Once the band has reached a certain proficiency and established a repertoire, it is actually a less time-consuming activity than the jobs April works.

However, the real reason I can tell that Lynn Johnston has never been a musician is that anyone who ever experienced the rush of having put your body, heart and soul into a great performance, and hearing an audience leap to their feet in an ovation would never ever say that performing just for fun is good enough. Live performance is so much better than sitting around someone’s garage and playing for yourself. It would be difficult for me to find a subject presented in For Better or For Worse, which is more wrong-headed than the one Lynn Johnston presented today.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Return of April

I honestly thought we would never see April at R.P. Boire Senior Secondary School again in For Better or For Worse, since Lynn Johnston was so adamant about focusing on Liz and Mike Patterson in her remaining non-hybrid strips. However, she does have the loose ends of April in the band, her boyfriend Gerald, and her commitment to become a vet. Lynn has hinted in the monthly letters for months that April would leave both Gerald and the band, and commit her life to veterinary school. She also hinted that Becky would take over Gerald as her boyfriend. It will be interesting to see how many of these things she will accomplish. I would rate it like this:

a. April quits the band – This is definitely going to happen.
b. April breaks up with Gerald – There is a pretty good chance of this. April already did it once back in June, and she hinted about doing it again if Gerald went on tour with Becky.
c. Becky takes over GeraldNot that likely. That whole idea was tied into the Evil Becky storyline, and I think that storyline was officially over at the Hearts Together telethon.
d. Becky returns to EvilPossible. Lynn Johnston has reversed on April’s opinion of Becky over and over again.
e. Shannon Lake comes back to comfort April because her former band is mad at her, and announces she is going to Washington, D.C. to make a speech. – Probable. And the tag line will be, “Your band may be mad at you, but that’s nothing compared to having U.S. Senators mad at you.”
f. April makes a statement about something she has to do to prepare for veterinary school which will be something no one actually has to do in preparation for veterinary school – Probable. Lynn Johnston has proved time and time again to enjoy making outrageous unresearched statements.
g. April mentions Grandpa Jim's stroke and the loss of his harmonica - Possible.
h. April does something which will indirectly hint that Rod Johnston left Lynn Johnston for another woman - Probable.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lynn’s Comments about Today’s Strip

In the Chicago Tribune article, Lynn Johnston spoke at length about today’s strips.

And readers who see her strip in Sunday's paper, which refers to a recurring dream of Elly's, might think Johnston's recent separation is reflected there. (To avoid spoiling the strip for readers, we have decided not to give a complete description of it.)'I decided to let it run'In a poignantly ironic way, the strip is autobiographical, but the events depicted there happened a long time ago. "I drew that strip years ago ... the first year that the strip came out," Johnston said, adding that it is one of the older strips that are running as part of the hybrid plan."I really had that dream. ... I put it in a strip, never thinking that it would ever be something that I would experience."I've been going over the very first strips that I did, and I decided to let it run. ... I like it; it was good. It's really kind of unique, considering the situation. The girls at [my] studio thought it was appropriate, and we all kind of smiled and said, yes, let's run it."

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

William Congreve (1670 - 1729), The Mourning Bride, 1697, act III scene 8

In her comments, Lynn Johnston sounds like she is trying to make a decision about whether or not to run a particular For Better or For Worse strip where Elly dreams of John being unfaithful. She makes it seem as if the strip was one of the early strips she had done and ergo it should be presented as one of the hybrid strips, but there is the sticky problem that it manages to predict the future. What to do? It’s the next strip set to be done in the hybrid because, you know we have a rhyme and a reason for which strips we present, and we don’t want to break that logical method of choosing strips to hybrid, just because the subject is uncomfortable. Well, what do you know, “The girls at [my] studio thought it was appropriate, and we all kind of smiled and said, yes, let's run it." So Lynn thought it might be inappropriate, but the studios girls said “Yes” and with their approval, she decided to go for the strip. The studio girls gave their approval.

I don’t buy a word of it. I will cut the woman some slack for being treated badly by Rod, but I see no reason to air her dirty laundry on a national scale, except for revenge. I might have believed she did not intentionally pick today’s strip for that purpose, if she had not gone on about it so long in the article and mentioned the studio girls’ approval as they all kind of smiled.

If this awful business has reached the Sunday colours, I have a feeling we are going to see it invade the daily hybrid sooner or later.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Kind Anonymous People

A lot of times when I write this Blog and the characters on April’s Real Blog, someone steps in from time to time and corrects my errant behaviour with good old-fashioned knowledge. More interestingly, a lot of times this happens on this Blog with comments which come in days after I had done the Blog entry. I don’t get an e-mail notification when this happens (I don’t know if Blogger does that), so from time to time I will go back over old Blog entries to find information I knew back then, and discover one of these knowledgeable persons has popped in and left me a treasure in the form of a comment I had not read before.

Way back in 2005, I had written that the character of Ardith Narayan on For Better or For Worse was probably Indian, and I later found a kind anonymous person posted to my Blog and said that Ardith was actually Armenian, which actually made a lot more sense than Indian.

During the Howard Bunt trial sequence of strips, I had an anonymous donor of information who was literally a treasure trove of Canadian law and procedure, and who produced more accurate criticisms of the way the trial was presented than anyone on any other commentary about For Better or For Worse I had ever seen. It was great.

Today I read an article in the Chicago Tribune about Lynn Johnston. In the article, she talked about her divorce from Rod Johnston and said:

"He fell in love with somebody else," Johnston said in a phone interview from her home in the Canadian city of Corbeil, Ontario. "It had been over a long period of time. I just -- " she paused, then continued, "well, it's a surprise."

The way she phrased it “It had been over a long period of time” struck me. You see, back on September 7, 2007 in the Howard Bunt Blog, I had come to the conclusion that the person with whom Rod Johnston had the affair was a lady named Nancy Vincent, who used to work for Lynn Johnston on For Better or For Worse until she left mysteriously, right around the time that Lynn and Rod apparently applied for a divorce. I was struck by the comment Lynn made in the article, because it made me think this description of the person with whom Rod had the affair fit the description of Nancy very well.

Back in September, as a proof, I had found a phone listing for Nancy Vincent and Rod in Corbeil, Ontario. However, my good friend, aprilp_katje, found a on-line donation listing for Nipissing University for a Rod and Nancy Vincent, so my proof had been disproved. Nancy actually had a husband Rod, so this was not Rod Johnston in the phone listing. Nevertheless, I had a lingering suspicion something had happened with Nancy Vincent, because it seemed too coincidental that Nancy had left working for Lynn at just the same time, and there was no fanfare for her departure, despite her years of working for Lynn.

Well, today, after I read the Chicago Tribune article, I went back to my old September 7 blog entry and found 2 comments there I had not seen before. They said the following things:

Anonymous said...
Why would the phone listing look like that? The way it's listed it's Nancy Vincent and Rod Vincent. Otherwise it would read Nancy Vincent and Rod Johnston. Besides, most online white pages are notoriously outdated - and updated only periodically, like once a quarter or once a year.

I think it's just coincidence that another MARRIED couple named Rod and Nancy Vincet live in Corbeil. I'm sure Corbeil's not huge - but those are all three pretty common names.

10:30 PM

Anonymous said...
The reason there is a telephone listing as Rod and Nancy Vincent is because Nancy's husband's (soon to be ex perhaps) name IS Rod Vincent. Never have to worry about shouting out the wrong name! Nancy Vincent workded for Dr. Rod Johnston for many many years in his dental practice as his restorative dental hygienist before being hired by Lynn. Nancy Vincent and Rod Johnston did work at Canadore College in the dental hygiene department. Nancy's husband Rod Vincent also worked at Canadore College for many years but has since left the college.
Rod Johnston and Nancy Vincent have since bought a house together in Corbeil, Ontario.

11:23 AM

Once again, I am kept well-informed thanks to kind anonymous people. Thank you anonymous people. Without you, I would wallow in ignorance.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

OK. I get it. Robin is stupid. Merrie is smart.

The type of wordplay where you nitpick on every little word someone says and then turn it around for humourous effect is beyond any 5-year-olds I know. Nevertheless, I must congratulate Lynn Johnston on her consistency. Meredith is portrayed as a bright, but stubborn girl. Robin is dumb as a brick. I can’t fault her consistent characterization, even if it seems age-inappropriate. In today’s For Better or For Worse strip, turning Deanna’s comment, which included the word “tonight” in a response playing on that word, by using the word “morning”, is pretty clever. It’s not particularly funny, but it is clever, especially for someone who just turned 5.

Of more concern was the fact that Meredith has to be told why there is a party and who the people are. I could never have a party in my house where my kids did not know what the party was for and who was coming. In fact, I don’t remember as a kid, not knowing why a party was being held at my house. The kids have to be forewarned, or they will make trouble. The way it comes off then, is that Meredith and Robin are put to bed, and then all these people come over. They get up to investigate with little sympathy from their mother as to why they are up. ”You will sleep. You will not question the motives of the party.”

My kids have done the “Why can’t we stay up as late as you do?” argument too, but since most of what I do late at night is cleaning, my response, “You can stay up too, if you help clean” rarely gets a positive reaction. So instead, my kids turn to the “My friend so-and-so gets to stay up” argument or “It’s not a school night, why can’t I stay up late? argument. Judging from Deanna’s reaction, this is an argument Meredith has posed more than once.

What Meredith wants is to be included in the party, or at least be allowed to stay up and watch the party. She does not want to go to bed. So her response in the joke line to Deanna makes no sense. She wants to stay up tonight, so saving the argument until the morning does not suit her purpose. Once again, Lynn Johnston has given us a joke which does not fit the plot which has been presented. Consequently, you end up scratching your head more than laughing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

OK. I get it. Robin is stupid.

Yesterday I wrote a For Better or For Worse website Coffee Talk comment basically saying the one thing I would tell Deanna Patterson is that Robin is developmentally disabled and needs help to get proper treatment. My expectation is that this comment will not make the Coffee Talk list, but I felt good just writing it. My initial thought was that since Stephanie, the webmaster, likes to include Coffee Talk comments that go along with the strip of the day, my comment might be excluded since it was unlikely Lynn Johnston would go with two “Robin is stupid” strips in a row. I was delighted to see today than Lynn has continued in this same vein with the humour, making my comment seem even more relevant.

Part of the strip which does work is the concept that the two Patterson children would want to eavesdrop on the party. Robin and Merrie are at the ages where they would want to do what the adults were doing, if there were no other kids in the house to play with. The party would make too much noise for them to sleep, and there is a natural curiosity at that age to see what adults do when they socialize. I did the same kind of thing when I was their age, except I was a lot better at hiding.

Thing they are doing I didn’t do, was to listen that carefully to the conversations going on. If Mike Patterson had suddenly launched into his “I could be a failure” speech followed by Deanna’s vehement denial of the possibility, I am sure that is the part of the conversation on which I would have focused at that age. Emotionally-charged statements will attract the attention of a kid more than misunderstanding what the word “misgivings” means.

It was also a nice touch that Michael Patterson has finally shown some sense of fear when it comes to his chosen profession. We all know Lynn Johnston will declare his book to be a best-seller, but it is good to know that Michael has not expressed the same trust in blind faith that his sister did when it came to her career. After all, if his novel does fail to sell, then his publisher is going to feel pretty foolish at having given $25K in advance and pushing his book with such heavy publicity. Unlike Liz, someone getting divorced is not going to cause his book to sell, so the usual Patterson method of achieving success will not work.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


When it comes to predicting For Better or For Worse plotlines, there is always an element of it, where you think to yourself, “The most ridiculous way this story could go is this, and it so ridiculous, Lynn Johnston would never do it, simply out of self-respect.” As Michael Patterson launches into a publicity tour which would cause best-selling authors to feel envy, I feel embarrassed. As often as I have written as the Michael Patterson character in April’s Real Blog, where he would mouth off about becoming a best-selling author and having his novel declared to be the great Canadian novel, it is a lot less funny to see Lynn Johnston actually doing it. It hammers home the idea that the once great Canadian cartoonist, has lost it. She might as well have Michael be bitten by a radioactive spider and turned into Spider-Mike, with this kind of plotting.

For my enjoyment, I have instead turned to the background characters of today’s strip. I note that Deanna Patterson never says anything to Mike throughout the strip, and continues on dusting, even replacing the bowl and canister on top of the television set after she has dusted it as evidenced in the final panel. The woman could care less about Mike and his publicity tour, and is not making any effort to disguise her disinterest.

The children’s interactions are also interesting. While Merrie is sharp enough to pick out of Mike’s list of publicity areas, that he is going to be on television. Robin is too stupid to realize that Mike doesn’t have to be in a television set to be on television.

Deanna, Mother of 3

Let me see if I have this straight. Mike writes a book. He gets 10 copies for free. In today's For Better or For Worse; he commits 4 copies to his mom, and his 3 friends Weed, Gordon and Lawrence. For some reason, Deanna Patterson thinks this means she has to grab the box of books and take them all the way upstairs to the second floor away from Michael before he gives the rest away. The joke is hapless Mike is too generous for his own good, and his wife has to protect him from himself. Deanna can’t just ask him to not to give away all the books. Deanna can’t even examine the situation and realize Mike doesn’t have any friends above the 3 he has just named, so there is no danger of giving away any more books. The required response is for her to pick up the box and carry them away, as if Mike is some kind book-giving away addict.

Once again this is humour based along the idea of the wife’s condescension to her incompetent husband. Lynn Johnston has done this type of joke many times before, usually with Elly having to tell John some way to do something in a demeaning fashion, like loading a dishwasher, or folding towels, or dressing himself. It is very popular in my wife’s generation to say things like, “I have 3 children: a boy, a girl and my husband.” Men in my generation have grown accustomed to getting that kind of insult and accepting it. I remember a line from the Roseanne TV show, where, after receiving a putdown for being a man from Roseanne, the son said to the father, “I thought it was good to be a man.” The father replied, “Oh no, son. Not since the ‘60s.”

In my mother and father’s generation, that kind of humour was completely unacceptable. My mom would never have said that about my dad. A man, whom a woman had to treat like a child, would not have been decent husband material and actually would have been a source of embarrassment for the woman. I know this, because my grandfather fell into this category. If money got into his hands, he spent it, and my grandmother (once she realized this), took control of the situation to keep them out of debt. However, she never demeaned my grandfather for his lack of monetary control. Instead, she went out of her way to build him up in public or social situations.

Michael Patterson may be stuck up and self-centred, but in this strip, I sympathized with him. He has 10 free books to use to celebrate his success as a first time author, and his wife won’t even let him enjoy it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book At Last

Ever since Michael Patterson started working on a novel in For Better or For Worse, I have been anxiously awaiting its publication. Naturally my motivations have little to do with the book itself, but my wonderings about exactly how far Lynn Johnston will go to make Michael Patterson a success with this book? Will she give a realistic portrayal of book tours and signings, or will she have Michael simply sit back and do nothing to promote it? The other question about which I am interested is the level to which Lynn will have Michael succeed? Will the book be a best-seller and declared to be the great Canadian novel, as I have often have Michael anticipate his outcome to be in April’s Real Blog? Or can Lynn Johnston show some degree of modesty of Mike’s career?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blessed ATM

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston really tapped into old feelings for as she shows Elly Patterson being laughed at by a bank teller as she rushes to the bank to do her business before it closes. I remember back in those days, when you had to go to a bank teller to get cash, and the lines to do so were quite long, especially on paydays. Bank teller jobs were often jobs that attracted women who liked to dress up to go to work in an air-conditioned office, and oftentimes they were quite attractive, well-dressed, and also condescending. Back in 1980 when this For Better or For Worse strip first appeared, Elly Patterson was probably tapping into an every day fear of being mocked by the pretty blonde girl working the teller’s desk.

I was fairly young at this time, and I had just gotten to the point where I was working, and depositing and withdrawing money from a bank. There were a number of occasions, I remember very clearly, where I received stern public lectures from bank tellers, who were astonished that I had not filled out the forms to deposit or receive money correctly. Eventually, I figured it out, but not before 2 or 3 quite humiliating incidents.

I remember one occasion in which I had not brought my bank card (card with my account number on it) with me to withdraw money from my account, and so I had to fill out a blank form to do so, with the teller’s assistance, since she could look up my account number by using my name. After having done this, the teller informed me that this was the third time she had done this for me, and she would not ever be doing this for me again. I had to bring my bank card, or receive no money. I found this lecture to be particularly disconcerting, because this was the first occasion I had ever done that. Thanks to the lecture, it was also my last.

ATM machines arrived in the early 1980s, but there were not many of them. In my college town, there was only one which worked for my bank, and I always made the long walk to visit it, instead of going into the bank to deal with the teller.

On a side note, I thought Lynn Johnston said in her interviews about the hybrid, she was going to have the old strips recoloured. This strip today, could really stand to be recoloured.

Old Jokes

One of the things about comic strips is that you frequently see the creators of the strips run through the same pop culture items to make their jokes on the comic strip. Many times these things show up on the same day, which shows that the creative talent of the comic strip page thinks a lot alike. In the reprint version of For Better or For Worse today, we have a different trend, where the joke is based on a pop culture phrase which was very popular in the past, but when used today simply reminds me the phrase was once popular and a desperate creator used it. The phrase is “Your place or mine?” and the joke is: “He went to his place and I went to mine.” I actually remember that joke being used before in many different places other than For Better or For Worse in the past. Seeing it today made me feel old, and the joke resonated in areas of my mind which had not resonated in quite some time. It reminded me how difficult it is to create humour which is timeless, that people will find funny no matter how much time passes.

In the comic strip pages, this is especially difficult, because there is a tendency to rely on topical humour. The truly great artists can write material which is enjoyable reading for years to come, however it is a lot easier with drama than with humour. When I think of the great old strips, my memory of quality tends to run to the adventure strips. Unfortunately for Lynn Johnston, what is becoming readily more and more apparent as she runs through the strips from the first year or so of For Better or For Worse, is that she was quite an inexperienced writer and artist when she first started. She did not hit her stride until some years later. The artwork in today’s strip is so bad, it is hard to get past it to the humour of the strip. I am distracted the car drawn so poorly, my kids could have done a better job drawing one from memory. I am distracted by the memory from where this joke came. I think this is the reason the Peanuts reprints do not come from the earliest of Charles Schulz’s work. Lynn Johnston’s idea is that since these For Better or For Worse hybrid strips were in a limited number of papers, the lack of exposure will cause people will think of it as new material. The problem is that they may also think of it as poorly done, amateurish, and not very funny material.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Connie Goes Hybrid

It is an interesting quality of For Better and For Worse, that the single mother life is praised based on the virtue of being able to go out on a date. I think it says a lot about what kind of woman Elly Patterson is and likewise, what kind of woman Lynn Johnston is.

My wife, for example, hates dating. She hates going out on dates with me. She went out on dates with me when we were dating, because I liked dating. I took a special delight in finding out where the new hot place was to eat; or which plays, movies, art, or dance was well-reviewed; so I could take a date there. Once married, my wife turned into a homebody, totally dedicated to home living, child-rearing, and whole nine yards of that. I have to struggle to get her to go out. She would much rather see a movie by rental in her own home; than to get a sitter, get dinner, go to a theatre, and make a night of it. She would not relate to Connie or to Elly in today’s strip.

When I see these early strips with Elly Patterson, it is clear to me that she has not embraced the whole motherhood, child-rearing, lifestyle. She may have gotten into it, but she doesn’t seem to like it. Many of the early strips, which are being shown in our hybrid format, reflect a time period where Elly is shown again and again, beaten down by the whole motherhood thing. I think that this is a pretty common situation for a lot of women. I remember a survey some years back where mothers were polled and asked if they would do it all over again, and a shockingly large number of them said they wouldn’t. I have a feeling this is where Elly Patterson would fall. Given it to do all over again, she wouldn’t have married John and she wouldn’t have had her kids.

Imagine if you will, Lynn Johnston, in the same situation. She starts off very dependent on Rod Johnston to provide the income to take care of her and her children, but then later on, For Better or For Worse takes off and money is rolling in. She has to be wondering what life would be like without the encumbrances of husband and children, now she no longer needs the husband for his income. Oftentimes, when I read these early strips, I see the gears turning in Lynn Johnston’s mind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

And the reason Connie was there is to….

Give Elly someone to talk to instead of Iris. In For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston frequently works in story arcs stretching over long periods of time, and in order to appreciate what she is doing, you have to look at those story arcs in a sequence.

Last August, Elly visited Iris with the leftover tuna casserole; and was treated to Iris complaining about Jim’s bad mood, complaining about how much medicine he takes, and then Iris’ weeping after she tucks Jim into bed. The next time Elly sees Iris she brings Connie Poirier along. Considering Iris’ behaviour before, can there be any other reason for a neighbour, an admitted stranger to Iris and Jim, being there; except to provide a conversational buffer with Iris? Maybe Iris won’t complain as much or cry over things, if Connie is there. Not only that, but maybe Connie can steer the conversation onto a different topic, like her history with Elly.

I have had this happen to me before. I remember one time when my wife and I were invited to sing Karaoke with one of our friends, who had her sister and her sister’s husband in town. I felt awkward in the situation because, in my mind, our friend should be spending time with her sister, who traveled a long way to visit her. As it turned out, she was using us as a buffer against her sister and her sister’s husband. I ended up spending a lot of time talking to the husband and trying to engage him in conversation about whatever it was that he did. I felt a little used after the experience, although my wife didn’t mind it at all. I have no idea how Connie Poirier will feel, once she realizes what is going on.

The other possibility is that Connie is there solely for the purpose of cranking out the Connie / Elly historical retcon. If that is the case, I am already disappointed Lynn Johnston opted to start at the same time the strip did with their relationship, instead of going back to their university days together. I would love to hear Connie’s first impression of one, John Patterson, BMOC.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Answering the Criticisms

In today's For Better or For Worse, we see Elly Patterson on the verge of doing something the fans of this strip have been complaining about ever since Grandpa Jim had his first stroke---help Iris. I think Lynn Johnston must have had the idea over the last year she wanted to display the plight the elderly have when one of them gets sick and has to take care of the other. In and among itself, that is not a bad thing. However, you have to set the situation up properly.

My wife's mother works in a home as a nurse, and has frequently described to me the situation where the dutiful children call back home to their parents every week, and the parents tell them what is going on with their lives, but they leave out all the nasty stuff so they don't worry their children. Then the children make the trek from wherever they live to come and see their parents and are completely shocked to find out how bad the situation has gotten. Naturally this has happened to my wife and me on a regular basis whenever we make the trek from Arizona to Texas to visit her mother and stepfather. I remember quite well my stepfather-in-law telling me for the first time about his esophogial cancer as if I were already aware of it.

The way to do this kind of setup to get sympathy for the elderly characters is to either (a) put the younger relatives a distance away or (b) make the younger relatives selfish louts, who could care less about helping their parents. I have often gotten the impression that Lynn Johnston has not realized that with Grandpa Jim and Iris living in Milborough, the same town as Elly, and with Elly retired, she falls into the selfish lout category, no matter how many tuna casseroles or homemade puddings she brings over.

Now we are into retconning the situation. Iris is more aggressively pushing Elly's help away from Jim than she has done in any prior strip, and now Elly mentions helping out Iris (and not Jim) for the first time. Lynn is trying to answer those critics again, and the answer is "Iris has made her own situation with Jim and refused help. And despite that, Elly is going to help her."

So far, Lynn Johnston has done the "Liz gave away the WWII harmonica" criticism and the "Elly is not helping Iris" criticism. I wonder what's next?

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Battle Over Jim

I honestly could not believe my eyes were reading what I read in today’s For Better or For Worse. Were Elly and Iris actually battling over Jim? Jim appears to be unconscious with an oxygen mask on and an IV in his arm, while Elly and Iris each seem to be trying to get him to do something: Recognize someone, or smile, or eat homemade pudding. I was incredulous. They are treating him like two little girls fighting over a favourite doll. Is this what people really do after their husband or father has a stroke? Can this truly be the story that Lynn Johnston is trying to tell about these characters?

It’s interesting in an odd kind of way, to see Elly and Iris each trying to say what Jim feels, or hears, or does; when we, the reader, can look right at Jim and see he is plainly asleep. It’s kind of like watching one of those shows, where the dysfunctional family gets into huge arguments when the patriarch dies or is on his deathbed. And I think it works pretty well that way. Neither Iris nor Elly are really in each other’s faces. It’s a lot subtler than that. There are no bad words, or evil looks, or backhanded compliments. You see, this is the difference between “show and not tell,” which is so vastly superiour to “Tell and not show” in the sequential art medium. When the pictures of the events are shown, then you get to bring in the additional and important character of the reader into the story. The reader can see what is really happening, and not just be forced to take the characters’ words about it.

If it was just based on yesterday’s “tell and not show” strip, I would think Grandpa Jim is sitting up and eating and on his merry way to recovery. In this strip, I can see where Grandpa Jim really is, and more importantly, I can understand why Elly Patterson’s diagnosis from yesterday was so completely fouled up, and also why Elly might be anxious to get Jim into a long term care facility and out of the hands of his current caretaker, Iris.

I would say this is a fine strip, in the same vein as the strip where Liz pretended she was leaving Mtigwaki because she said she was homesick, when we could plainly see it was really to chase after the newly-divorced Anthony Caine. Unfortunately, I know from Lynn Johnston’s interviews, these subtleties of plotting are lost even on the person who is creating this strip. In interview, Lynn Johnston steadfastly stuck to the idea that Liz Patterson left Mtigwaki because she was homesick and not intended for a Mtigwaki lifestyle. I have a feeling that Lynn Johnston has no idea how nicely she has rendered the competition between Elly and Iris over Jim. No matter. I will enjoy the details of the story, even if the creator cannot.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Relief for Iris

Now we begin a sequence in For Better or For Worse, which appears to be Lynn Johnston's answer to the regular complaint by For Better or For Worse readers about the Patterson family’s seeming inability to help out Iris Richards in the care of Jim Richards after his stroke (or really even before his stroke too). When we were getting monthly letters on the website, I sensed a real disparity between the handling of Grandpa Jim in the letters and in the strip. In the letters, the Pattersons were constantly doing things to help Iris with Grandpa Jim; but then the strip would turn around and show Iris in despair that no one was helping and she did not have anyone to talk to. The strip on May 17, 2007, where she tried to beg the speech therapist to stay to talk to her was particularly good at spelling out this point.

Oddly enough, Lynn Johnston’s response to this now appears to be a second stroke to get Grandpa Jim in the Sunset Manor long-term care facility, where there is a staff hired to help him out and alleviate the stress on poor Iris. Lynn could have had some strips showing the Pattersons helping out Iris, but has chosen a different path. It seems like a missed opportunity to show her characters caring for another character; but on the other hand, I will have to admire Lynn’s understanding of the personalities she has created. We have had Grandpa Jim recovering from stroke #1 for the last year, and we have been shown the Pattersons’ caring and giving side with respect to him (and the lack thereof). If she turned around and had the Pattersons suddenly pitching in, then it really would be out-of-character for her creations.

Speaking of that, in today’s strip, Elly Patterson comes off as morbid, cold, and aloof to her dad’s situation, but if she showed any real concern, then it wouldn’t be Elly. The final joke with respect to the direction of death is pretty dark, but Elly has shown us in the past, there is no subject about which a joke cannot be made.

Hybrid on Sundays

I believe in today’s For Better or For Worse, we have entered the stage in which the Sunday strips will also be hybridized. For those viewers whose papers only subscribe to the Sunday colour section, nothing has changed or happened to For Better or For Worse. The Sunday strips have all been new material. I had been wondering if Lynn Johnston would go to hybrids on Sundays because, after all, those strips are about the equivalent of 3-4 daily strips and would have to be a considerable consumption of time to produce them. If Lynn really wanted to take a vacation, she would have to turn them to hybrid also.

Today’s strip is a variation on a theme often touched on by Elly Patterson, which is that she preferred her kids when they were small and cute. This is a common problem with parenting. I remember before I even had children reading the results of a survey that showed the favourite age of parenting was between the ages of 2 and 12, when the kids were still cute, but not completely helpless. The second favourite stage was the 0 – 2 stage, and the least favourite stage of parenting was the 13+.

Elly’s opinion seems to match this pretty well and even Lynn Johnston’s to a certain degree, since she seems to take delight in showing April in her Aypo stage, whenever she shows pictures of the Patterson family for her sideline business of using them as company advertisers. I do not know if my experience will match hers. My son with Asperger’s Syndrome made the 0 – 2 stage extraordinarily difficult and I have a hard time imagining ever having a worse time with him. My life with him today, as he grows older and is more aware of his situation, and makes more adjustments to compensate is far better than it was back in his early years, when none of us knew what was going on, and were desperately trying everything and anything which worked.

My wife recently heard a report on NPR with a man who discovered he had Asperger’s Syndrome at age 40, and the revolution that occurred in his life when he “got it.” He said that had he known earlier in his life, he may have gotten it earlier. My wife's and my sincere desire is that my son will reach a similar understanding, or the 13+ plus years may not be very much fun.

Monday’s For Better or For Worse remains a question mark. We were left on Saturday with Liz and Anthony leaning on each other, in an awkward, romantic pose. Will we have more Liz and Anthony romance, more dealing with Grandpa Jim and his stroke, or will we return to a hybrid strip discussing those subjects abstractly through reprint strips? Or better yet, will it now be time to go back to the history of young Deanna Sobinski briefly touched on this week?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ouch!! Whiplash week!

Super Teddy to Elly coming to babysit to Grandpa Jim looking dead to Grandpa Jim back in the hospital to that harmonica thing to Liz and Anthony sitting in a car. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a week where the subject matter changed this rapidly day-to-day in For Better or For Worse before. What a mixed bag of subjects! Is Lynn Johnston trying to imitate Gil Thorp's eclectic style of story-telling, or is she simply trying to hit all the main characters (except for that cheater John Patterson) in one week, before she launches back into another hybrid sequence? I guess we'll find out next week.

On April's Real Blog, I had Michael Patterson joke that Anthony Caine would find a way to pursue romance with Elizabeth over the decidedly unromantic topic of Grandpa Jim's stroke #2, and can you believe it? That's exactly what Lynn Johnston did. There are Anthony and Liz, sitting alone in a car, looking over some body of water (if the colourist is right), and leaning romantically against each other. The joke I made was that Anthony Caine considered attempted rape, a rape trial, and a person passing out at a wedding due to mixing medication and alcohol, occasions for romance; so how could he miss the opportunity to use a stroke to stoke the romantic fires?

This is what I love about Liz and Anthony. Back in 2005, I was just a lurker on the internet, and never planned to ever be involved with April's Real Blog, until I was floored by the whole attempted rape and it's resolution. I couldn't believe a writer could write something so obviously intended to be romantic, which was so unromantic. It was not only unromantic, but spectacularly unromantic. It called me to the world of snarking this strip.

And here we are again. Grandpa had a stroke = Let's cuddle. This is so bad, it's good.

April and Liz Live!

The Grandpa Jim stroke #2 saga of For Better or For Worse continues as Lynn Johnston appears to have gone through her Coffee Talk comments and noted criticisms she considers to be legitimate and has started addressing them. In this instance, Elizabeth Patterson is taken to task for giving away Grandpa Jim’s harmonica to Jesse Mukwa after she discovered from his Aunt Margaret that he had stolen it from her from back in January. This strip will stretch the resources of her readers to remember back in 2004 when April gave Liz that harmonica and back in January, 2007 when Liz “gave" the harmonica to Jesse.

The whole “revisit Mtigwaki” sequence back in January was very poorly done, with several plot points which made so little sense, most of the fans were scratching their heads trying to understand it. It was snark heaven for the rest of us. Certainly one of the worst parts was the treatment of Jesse Mukwa, who proved how much he liked Liz the teacher that he stole from her. Lynn Johnston was trying to show how well Liz had done with Jesse that he admired her enough to want a keepsake from her. What she ended up doing was showing that Liz had failed to pass onto Jesse even one of her majour beliefs. I wonder how many of those issues Lynn Johnston will revisit before the end.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Do Not Resuscitate

Not a dead Grandpa Jim, but now we welcome stroke #2 for For Better or For Worse. Stroke #2 is pretty common for someone who survived stroke #1. The real question in my mind is: Where is Lynn Johnston going with this? Is it going to be a long drawn out affair where Grandpa Jim gets a death sequence like Grandma Marian got? And if so, then how is that depressing sequence going to work with the wedding of Liz and Anthony? Is Grandpa Jim going to struggle again and recover again, so he is able to make it to Liz and Anthony’s wedding, to make it an especially happy wedding day? Or will stroke #2 magically reconnect all the brain tissue which stroke #1 damaged, so Grandpa Jim is magically back to his old self, just in time for Liz and Anthony to get married?

I am not sure when Lynn Johnston can do the hybrid, deal with Grandpa Jim, and have Liz and Anthony married by early next year.

The End of Grandpa Jim?

I remember reading some months ago on-line articles about aphasia and the ability to recover from it, in order to snark the Grandpa Jim strips in For Better or For Worse. The articles said that persons with aphasia, if they recover their speech at all, usually do it in the first few months. Since that time we have seen Grandpa Jim with virtually no improvement since his since stroke last year. I thought for sure he would be an aphasia recoverer, so he would be able to narrate the old strips during the hybrid. Then I would also be an aphasia strip snarker, by pointing out the recovery should not have occurred at this point.

Instead I have been led by the nose by a significant number of interviews where Lynn Johnston said she was not going to kill any more characters. I seem to remember Lynn Johnston being coy about what was going to happen between Anthony and Eliazabeth. There has not been any doubt in my mind about those two getting together, but I suddenly have the feeling the same thing has been done to me with Grandpa Jim. After a year of torturing him, Lynn may have decided to finally knock him off. And foolish me, I believed her on those interviews.

Monday, October 01, 2007


My wife had a colonoscopy today, and so I had this foolish idea in my head that I was going to be sitting around the house today writing things into April’s Real Blog as she slept. That did not end up being the case. It took quite a bit longer than I had anticipated, and it was not too long after I got my wife home and finally settled into sleep that I had to go pick up my kids from school, and get my daughter to her horseback riding lesson. I promise to try and do better today.

Much to my surprise, yesterday’s Deanna reminiscence did not lead to a story about her youth, but led to her taking back over the discipline of the children from Michael. I should say “discipline sort of” since she still allows Meredith to throw the destructive bear about, as long as Meredith picks her targets carefully.

We do know the Deanna history story is coming. With the arrival of Elly Patterson on the scene in the final panel of today’s strip, I suspect now that Elly and Deanna may be the narrators behind the Deanna story, Lynn Johnston has long promised us.