Thursday, November 29, 2007

Responsibilities Toward Children

In For Better or For Worse, the main responsibility of the man towards his kids used to be not to ignore the kids. Deanna didn’t complain about the limited number of things Mike did with the kids, but she did complain about how he worked too much freelance work. In today’s For Better or For Worse, we have a whole new category: If you take a non-traditional male job, you must prove to your children, you can operate successfully in that career, or live in shame and degradation. After all, a man is nothing to his children, if he cannot make them proud of his chosen career.

This is certainly a thought which probably stems from Lynn Johnston’s days before Rod Johnston stepped into the picture, when she was making money from her David, We’re Pregnant! book and possibly thinking these thoughts as she looked at little, sleeping Aaron. There is a common belief that the man has to make money and cannot, simply, be a househusband. Without this, I can’t make sense of Michael Patterson’s desire to prove himself to his kids.

Of course, what Lynn Johnston may have been going for, had nothing to do with any sort of logical view of Michael Patterson wanting success as a proof for his children. Sometimes she just seems to like a man to say he is responsible for something, as an indication of his nobility, as she did with Anthony Caine last year. As Michael has chosen a nontraditional career, Anthony chose to stay in a dead-end job; and Lynn Johnston feels the need to show just how well each of them are doing, in a way she doesn’t feel is necessary for the women in the strip. You will never see Elizabeth Patterson looking over a sleeping Anthony or little Frannie thinking the thoughts Michael thought in today's strip.

Humbled writer Michael Patterson plays the noble card, by thinking a thought to prove he knows he is responsible for his children. Now, all that’s missing from the picture is the announcement that Michael Patterson is making a small fortune in book sales, but I suppose that could happen tomorrow to finish out this story arc. Considering how slow-going Lynn Johnston usually is about these things, I might expect that announcement to come sometime next year after Christmas, and tomorrow may be something completely unrelated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Show Up on Time

The indefatigable dreadedcandiru2 managed to find quotes for me from the old interview with Lynn Johnston by Jan Wong, a columnist for The Globe and Mail. This is easily the least flattering interview I have seen for Lynn Johnston, and yet, I think the overall theme of this week with Mike in the book store is that, after showing Mike suffering through a book-signing, he is going to be told something which will show the benefit of Lynn Johnston’s work ethic. I quote from the interview:

"I can't believe how easy it is to be successful," says Johnston...."There are millions of people who can draw like me. They just don't show up on time!" She said as much last month to graduates at the University of Western Ontario. "My parting words were: 'Show up on time; be good at what you do; charge a fair price; be honest and be a pleasant person to work with.'"

We have seen Mike in the last week do these things for the most part, and so by the Lynn Johnston standard of success, then my guess is that Mike is going to be told that Lilliput’s is sold out of his book, or something like that; and he will be told this is the result of his effort and hard work during the book-signing.

As for the strip itself, it is a classic case of Patterson overreaction. No one says anything particularly ego-shattering to Mike, or asks him to do things which are unreasonable. At real book signings, you might have some guy show up and buy a huge pile of books, which he will then want to have all autographed, and you can tell the only reason is so that he can turn around and sell them to other people for a profit. Or you have the guy who won’t stop talking and let the next person put in their request. Mike is not facing any of that. He is facing rudeness along the lines of the rudeness Elly faced which caused her to take a bite of a phone book and yet he refers to the experience as ego-deflating.

I expect the Johnston / Patterson work ethic to rear its ugly head by the end of the week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lynn Does A Sex Joke

Yesterday for April’s Real Blog, I wrote a Mike Patterson piece where he signed a book saying, “To Arli. Your cousin Anne says someone is really giving it to you for Christmas. Love, Mike.” Little did I suspect that a similar sexual double-entendre would be the joke for the next day’s For Better or For Worse strip.

Lynn Johnston must be in some kind of mood. First we had the “Little Lizzie likes to watch little Mike urinate” joke. Now we have a joke based on the double meaning of the phrase, “getting it.”

The question which occurs to me is:

a. Is Mike signing the book in this stupid fashion with the idea that the wife will not get his joke and give it to her husband as it is?
b. Is Mike truly so awful at signing books, he would innocently sign the book with a verbatim account of what the woman said to him, not realizing either the sexual double-entendre or how stupid his signature phrase is.
c. Does Mike realize the sexual double-entendre only when he tries to hand the book to a glaring woman?
d. Does Mike never realize the sexual double-entendre, and hands the book to Beatrice Alfarero only when he sees the woman glaring at him, like she will not take the book, so he better stop trying.

This has been a strange week where For Better or For Worse appears to be funny for a change, primary because it shows the characters with the ability to laugh at their situation. I hope Lynn can keep it up, but I also know that Liz and Anthony are bound to show up again, and will try to get all romantic.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is Mike Really a Hit?

Every once in awhile Lynn Johnston puts a character in the middle of the storyline whose acerbic comments cover the inanity of the situation quite nicely. In today’s For Better or For Worse, April Patterson fills that role. I learned that the people lining up to get their books signed at the Lilliput’s book signing are all friends of the family. The lady from yesterday, turned out to be Anne Nichols, who lives next door to Mike. When I looked at yesterday’s strip and compared it with the picture of Anne Nichols on the Who’s Who directory on the website, the hair style matches Anne pretty well, although modern Anne is wearing glasses and has put on weight.

Next up was Jean Baker, who has worked the reception desk for Dr. John Patterson for years. Add to that Josef Weeder and Gordon Mayes, and you have a Patterson friend fest. My snarking sense went off that Lynn Johnston, in an effort to bring back old friends to show them off once more before the end, was inadvertently making it look like no one showed up to Mike’s book signing except for friends and relatives. But then Lynn Johnston had April Patterson say the exact same thing. It made me wonder, if Lynn was in on the joke. Is she saying, “I know Mike’s writing isn’t that good, so I’ll have April point it out that his success is due to his friends?” It is kind of like that classic moment where Candace Halloran pointed out that Deanna’s mistake which ended up being Meredith, was not really a mistake on the part of Deanna. It’s good to have someone in the strip on my side in pointing these kinds of things out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Revised Standards

I have to revise my guesses. I have previously guessed that the hybrid reprints of For Better or For Worse would run on a month-by-month basis, but it appears instead to be running on a 4 week-by-4 week basis. That puts November 26 to December 22 as new material and then reprints afterwards. I hope that is not the case, because I was counting on Anthony Caine to propose to Liz Patterson before the end of the year, preferably on New Years’ Eve.

Today’s For Better or For Worse strip sets up an interesting situation of Mike signing April’s copy of Stone Season and this is the main focus of attention at the signing. Elly is even taking a picture of the event. I know that we in the snarking community have made fun of the writing for Stone Season for months after looking at the excerpts in the monthly letters. However, in the strip, the only person to have any kind of a negative viewpoint about Michael’s book was April; so it seems appropriate that she should have to be the one getting a copy to be signed.

There is a big woman in a polka-dotted shirt standing next to the table where Mike is signing the book and I don’t think I have seen her character before. I suspect she is going to turn out to be a majour fan of Mike’s or she is going to be someone who will advance Mike’s career. Either choice could prove to be quite amusing, especially if she goes way overboard.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It Takes a Long Time to Get Kids Anywhere

There are few For Better or For Worse strips to which I can relate anymore, but today’s was one of them. My kids can dress themselves, but every morning getting them to school or getting them to church seems like a majour ordeal in preparation and coordination. No matter how much time I give them to get ready, they always seem to need to have to be nagged every inch of the way, so they don’t use up that time doing whatever has distracted them.

This theme is one Lynn Johnston has done before in this strip and this strip, so it is not a new joke. It is, however, a consistent joke. The littlest Pattersons are pretty awful kids and time has not caused them to behave any better than they did a few years ago. These are the days of the hybrid, so sometimes we see the joke as it was originally presented and some days we see the newest variation on the joke. Even though today’s strip is a new one, and we know Lynn Johnston has done little-to-no work in the month of November, this extra time is not reflected in the art for the strip which is uniformly bad across the whole of it. For example, Deanna’s face is different in every single panel.

The interesting difference from the old strips and today’s is that Michael used to help get the kids ready, but now he doesn’t. I thought Lynn Johnston had moved past that “Mike is a nonparticipating father” stance after they moved to the new house and Mike had more time. However, after getting Mike in the old house and establishing him as a successful author, Lynn Johnston seems to have forgotten that one of the reasons Mike wanted to quit working at Portrait Magazine, was so he could spend more time with his kids. That’s the trouble with repeating jokes, is that sometimes the joke no longer makes sense in the new context.

Friday, November 23, 2007


My traditional Thanksgiving travel has been to leave on the Wednesday before and then return on the Sunday after. For those folks in Canada, who may read this, Thanksgiving in the United States is the most-traveled holiday in the U.S. What’s more is that the airlines seem to be aware of this and ruthlessly raise their rates for travel on those Wednesday through Sunday days.

After 9/11, one of the only good things to come out of it was that airline travel in the U.S. plummeted, and the airlines, which had, in prior years, never reduced the rates of air travel over Thanksgiving suddenly did. Each year since then, my family has enjoyed the Wednesday to Sunday traveling and the benefit of a low rate (provided we booked our travel early). That ended this year.

This year, we could not find a cheap rate at anytime traveling Wednesday through Sunday, and instead found ourselves having to travel on Monday and return on Friday to get a decent air travel rate. As my family got into planes which were completely full on Monday and Friday, I was quite amused to hear an airline steward express amazement at the number of people who were traveling on the day immediately after Thanksgiving. I agreed. It felt odd to me too. Nevertheless, you do what you have to do to visit family and not spend a small fortune. I feel for the poor families who had no option to leave on Monday and return on Friday possible to them.

Having spent the last week ignoring For Better or For Worse, I come back to find we have an Elizabeth week, or more specifically a ”talking to or being aware of Elizabeth” week. I remember when my kids were in the crawling stages, and our view as parents in these ages. We basically did not leave the kids out of our sight, unless there was another adult looking after the kids, or unless the kids were some place where they could not get into any trouble (like in a crib sleeping). I remember in particular, when my son was at that stage, and my wife suggested that I could leave him in the house unattended while I went outside to mow the yard, and my horrified reaction that she would even suggest such a thing.

So this week when we see Elly go into sewing mode, and is seemingly unaware of where Elizabeth is and where Mike is, and given the violent way their relationship has gone in the past, I wonder if I was overly attentive to my kid, or Elly Patterson was under attentive to her kids. I do not remember how I was in those days when I was crawling, but I do remember my younger sisters were always underfoot and never left alone by my mother. There was always a fear that they were going to find something to swallow, no matter how child-proofed the house was. I remember with my youngest sister in particular, my parents were constantly taking things out of her mouth, and she was constantly finding new things to put there. My sisters were never “in trouble”. Likewise, my son and daughter were never “in trouble” at that age. There is no malicious intent. However, they kept me hopping. The only time I felt like I could relax was when the kids were asleep or when I was playing with them directly or another adult was with them.

As usual, in today’s For Better or For Worse, the conversation between Michael and Elizabeth seems unnatural to me. I cannot imagine an older brother ever saying the things Michael says to Elizabeth. However, let me assume for the sake of argument, this is a conversation which Lynn Johnston overheard between Aaron and Katie Johnston, and Lynn has reproduced it, not knowing how unnatural it seems. If Aaron really said this to Katie, it takes on an air that Aaron actually questioned how it was that Katie was able to restrain herself from doing things which would get her into trouble. We have seen that little Michael was a holy terror, and perhaps little Aaron wondered why he could not stop himself from doing those things. If the conversation were real, it would show a boy at a very young age aware that he seemed to have no control over his actions. This is something, with a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome I can actually relate to. My son, when he got upset with something, could not let it go. Other kids might calm down after a few minutes, but he could go for hours. He literally did not know how to stop, unless someone gave him a stimulus to stop. I remember when he would cry as an infant, and there was nothing apparently wrong (i.e. diaper is dry, he doesn’t want food, he doesn’t want to be burped, etc.), if I were to walk him around the house and go from room to room, the visual stimulation would sometimes stop him. If I were to take today’s strip as a serious recounting of an actual event, then maybe little Aaron wasn’t a rotten kid, but maybe he was a kid with some serious problems, and he struggled to control himself and he was self-aware enough to question why his baby sister did not seem to have the same problem he did. If this is truly the case, then I feel sorry for little Aaron Johnston, that his mother looked at his overheard conversation with his little sister not as a cry for help, but as fodder for her comic strip.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Feeling Good About Leaving

As I was sitting down to write my last Howard Bunt Blog before I leave for Thanksgiving, I briefly thought to myself, “What if Lynn Johnston breaks her newly-established habit of one month Hybrid and one month new strips? What if next week is all new, and I am going to miss it because of Thanksgiving?” I now have something new to thank someone for. Thank you Lynn Johnston. With another week of reprints on the way, I have no feelings of guilt for missing this week of For Better or For Worse.

As for the strip itself, I remember seeing my daughter at age 2 having a fall like that off a climbing ladder on a piece of playground equipment. I remember very well the horrifying thoughts that passed through my brain as I rushed over to get to her. “Will she be brain-damaged? Will she be paralyzed for life? Did she break her neck?” Fortunately, she was relatively uninjured; but this was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the strip.

Naturally my daughter was crying immediately. The fall in the strip, with the way the arms and legs are rendered, is clearly a takeoff on the old Peanuts falls, where Charlie Brown or Linus would flip completely over if someone yelled really loudly. They don’t translate to For Better or For Worse’s more realistic style, even though it is clearly intended to. We are to get the idea that little Lizzie experiences the comedy gold of stars and lines around the head, but that she saves the crying for when she manages to make it to the top of the stairs. I have seen kids restrain their crying for effect before, but not after such a serious fall.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Home Businesses

My wife currently sells Homemade Gourmet. She used to sell Creative Memories. The Grubberware sequence being reprinted in today’s For Better or For Worse is very familiar to me. There are a few minor discrepancies as is usual for Lynn Johnston, but one of the big ones is that the saleslady is portrayed as being old, while the persons attending the party are much younger. A lot of what I have noticed about the Home-based business salespeople, is that they appeal primarily to stay-at-home mothers who want to have some kind of income, even though they are saddled with the kids most of the time. As such, the sales force is not typically made up of old women, but women with kids. That may be the perception Lynn Johnston got from her Grubberware party, but I doubt even in Lynn Lake,only old women sold products in people’s homes.

Just to let my fellow participants in April’s Real Blog know, as of Monday, I will be beginning a 5-day-long vacation with my family to celebrate Thanksgiving. They have a computer setup there, but it is likely that I will have limited or no time to put in my usual April’s Real Blog comments or to maintain a Howard Bunt Blog. We will see.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Watching Your Brother Pee

I have an older son and a younger daughter. Today’s For Better or For Worse strip tested my memories about when they learned their parts weren’t the same. In their younger years, it took awhile for my kids to understand about how they were not supposed to walk into a washroom when the door was closed, even if it was unlocked. Or likewise, to understand that they were supposed to close the door when they were using the washroom.

When they were very little, but old enough to be bathed in a bathtub, I did wash them both at the same time in the same bathtub. After the bathing, they would play together in the soap suds with their bathtub toys and they had a great time. Eventually they got too big for that, and by too big, I mean they both couldn’t fit comfortably in the bathtub at the same time. It was a sad moment for both of them, because they missed playing together. I hope I am not disturbing anyone by these statements. I realize that in many families, there is a strict separation of children by gender and a definite taboo over one gender seeing the other gender without clothes at the very earliest ages. My kids have definitely passed into that age where they do not want anyone to see them naked; but when they were little, they could have cared less.

Needless to say, her fascination with her brother’s ability to pee standing up displayed by little Lizzie in today’s For Better or For Worse was not a thing which ever happened in my household with my daughter and my son. I certainly would have been horrified to see my daughter grasping on the toilet bowl for a really close look at my son urinating for a whole host of reasons.

As disturbing as this strip was, however, you can derive the following understandings:

a. Little Lizzie had seen Michael pee standing up before.
b. Michael did not like Lizzie watching him pee.
c. As a diaper-wearer, little Lizzie is quite a bit more interested in the physical differences between her and her brother than I would have expected.
d. Michael has called his mother on little Lizzie before, because he apparently lacks the ability to get her out of the way, i.e. shutting and locking the washroom door.
e. After the last 2 weeks of Michael, I have a good understanding of why his parents might not want little Michael to know how to shut and lock a door; even though we know from Michael’s experience with John in the washroom, the door can be shut and locked.
f. It is possible for Lynn Johnston to put subject matter in this strip more disturbing and unsettling than I would have ever imagined.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Full Circle

We started this whole For Better or For Worse strip sequence with Michael staring at Elizabeth and it appears that is how it is ending. I expect that tomorrow’s strip will be a jump back to modern Elizabeth and April concluding the storyline, but you can’t really tell. After all, the Connie Poirier storyline did not end up back with Connie, Elly and Iris.

The majour thing accomplished during the course of this 3-week run of reprints appears to be a retcon that little Michael was 5 years old when the early strips happened, not 6. Of course, the website has Michael born on April 28, 1976. This puts him at 5 in 1981. The website also has Elizabeth born on June 26, 1981; so the retcon of Michael’s age is also officially setting the early strips in 1981and not 1980. I anticipate that if we ever see a year marked on a hybrid strip, we will find that changed also.

November has been a nothing month compared to the very active October. If Lynn Johnston continues this scheme of every other month we get new material, then we will have a busy December, a reprint January and a busy February. Let’s see if I can predict the state of things in December:

a. Thanks to Christmas and Santa’s divorce from Mrs. Claus, Mike Patterson’s book will achieve astonishing sales as people seek solace in an industry completely different from toy-making, i.e. post-WWII sod farming.
b. Grandpa Jim will make the transition to Sunset Manor, still saying nothing and keeping his eyes closed like he is asleep. However Iris will interpret for him that he loves the new place and can’t wait to ogle the Sunset Manor staff girls. In the meantime, Lynn Johnston will do a lot of research on long-term care facilities and retcon all the mistakes in the first strip where she talked about it (like 2 year reservation lists), while making brand new mistakes due to her inability to follow her own notes and Polaroid pictures on the matter. Shortly thereafter, Lynn will get an award from a long-term care facility organization.
c. A Sunday strip will humorously refer to John Patterson as philanderer, a skunk, a snake or some other derogatory animal term associated with men who cheat.
d. Anthony Caine will propose to Elizabeth Patterson on New Years’ Eve using romantic language so hackneyed and a storyline so improbably put-together that the Brontës, Ann Radcliffe, and Jane Austen will simultaneously turn in their graves. We snarkers will be in heaven.
e. There will be one speech balloon in one panel of one strip, where someone will mention that John Patterson retired and sold his business.
f. Christmas will come and Lynn Johnston will do a joke with Merrie and Robin about how they didn’t get enough presents, or a joke about Santa Claus delivering presents which Robin will interpret literally. In the meantime, we will not question why Anthony Caine and little Françoise are celebrating Christmas with the Pattersons; while Grandpa Jim, Iris and the Sobinskis are not.
g. I will cry bitter tears when Thérèse Caine does not appear.

January will be reprints, narrated by characters having little or nothing to do with the strips being reprinted.

February will have:

a. Anthony and Elizabeth get married and have their wedding corresponding to Valentine’s Day, except of course it will go all February about the events occurring on Valentine’s Day. To make matters worse, 2008 is a leap year.
b. In between the strips about the wedding, we will break off for one week to see April at school, having a conversation with Shannon Lake, who reveals she (like real-life Stephanie) has taken a trip to Washington, D.C. to talk about being special needs. Unlike real-life, the Washington, D. C. people will heap praise on Shannon and declare it Shannon Lake Day, only to change it to April Patterson Day, when Shannon informs them she couldn’t have made that trip if it weren’t for April occasionally talking to her.
c. When we return to Elizabeth’s wedding, we will discover that Anthony’s mom and dad are selfish, self-centered pigs; who happened to have picked up the entire tab for the wedding and the honeymoon. Elly and John have made the ultimate sacrifice and paid for Anne Nichols to make the cake. Anthony and Elizabeth can’t stop talking about how wonderful the cake is, and how awful the rest of their wedding was, thanks to Anthony’s parents.
d. As Anthony and Elizabeth leave for their honeymoon, John and Elly proclaim to each other, “No more kids to worry about getting married!! They high five and slap each other on the back and talk about how wonderful it will be have a new granddaughter in the house as we see April baby-sitting little Françoise while Anthony and Elizabeth take their honeymoon.
e. Anthony and Elizabeth return from their honeymoon and announce Elizabeth is pregnant. Elizabeth, Deanna and Elly all high five each other as Elizabeth says, “I don’t know how it happened.”

Let’s see how many of those predictions come true.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Smoking in the Boy’s Room

Today’s For Better or For Worse started me down the road of “What could John Patterson have been doing in that bathroom, he couldn’t answer his son?” A whole pile of things popped into my head and quite a few of them were a little nasty. In this respect the strip works on a few levels:

a. Michael is being ignored by his parents. Considering we have spent the last 2 ½ weeks watching little Michael, demon child, this reaction from his parents should not be too surprising. The consistent statement from many observers has been, “Why don’t John and Elly do something to set this kid straight?” Maybe today, Lynn Johnston is giving us the answer.
b. John is doing nasty things behind that door. This is not something which would jump out to the kids reading this strip, but I expect any parents who have gone in the bathroom to smoke, or a lot of other less legal things, would pick up on this particular aspect of the strip. This is the early 80s after all, and John, as a dentist, has easy access to drugs.
c. John Patterson will not even talk to Michael to tell him to go away. This tells you the level to which Mike and his father are separated.

This strip may not be funny, but it reveals a lot about the Pattersons in 3 short panels, and in particular John Patterson. It does paint him as a much more complex character, even if he is also being painted as fantastically bad, dad.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


When I was young, I was a rotten kid. When I hit 1st grade I think, I calmed down. However, whenever I went to visit relatives who had seen me when I was young, they all exclaimed how calm I was compared to how I was before. I remember doing some Michael-like stunts. I remember when I discovered (and this was actually a point of inquisitive experimentation), that even if you are small lad, you can topple a grown adult off a 4-legged chair (3 legs were not enough), by applying all your force to lifting one leg of the chair. Once you get the adult unexpectedly off balance, their shifting weight will finish the topple out. I loved doing that, because it made me feel very strong.

Thus it is with young Michael Patterson in today’s For Better or For Worse (although he is older than I was when I did those things), as he discovers his mom’s eyes are not in the back or her head. Of course, Michael did this same thing to the mail carrier in last Saturday’s strip, so the chance of this being scientific explanation is remote. As with my learning to topple an adult in a chair, the second time I did it was for fun and without any expectation of the consequences.

My dad tells me he used to spank my bottom until it turned blue (a fact which horrifies him today), but I honestly have no recollection of such things. The spanking I remember was the one which occurred when I was much older, when I got spanked in 4th grade by the school principal for talking in the library line, while waiting to check out a book.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Early Morning Wakeup Call

When I was 6 years old, I got up every morning at 6 am. I would go into my parents’ bedroom and wake them up. It drove my father crazy, particularly on weekends, when he didn’t have to get up. At age 12, my boy went through a similar stage, except for him it was at 4 am and he had to be talked into going back to bed every night. That was quite tiring.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, after 2 solid weeks of Michael the brat, we actually have a scene where Michael is cute and somewhat charming. Is it a fluke, or will there be more?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Letting Kids Win

Today in For Better or For Worse, John Patterson learns that his son Michael is not only a kid who has to win to enjoy a game, but has to take no losses whatsoever on the way to that win. The truth to the matter is that little kids like to win games starting out, and if they don’t win them, then they don’t want to play them.

For my little girl, the game is “Tic-Tac-Toe” which has the advantage of being able to be played almost anywhere you have paper and pencil. She always starts first and she always takes the center square. I have learned if you put your first mark after that in the side squares and not the corner squares, your opponent in that situation is almost assured of winning, if they don’t goof it up. The best part after that move, is you can play like you would regularly play, and you will still lose or draw. With my daughter in her young ages, the percentage of wins was about 50%, but the other 50% were draws. She likes Tic-Tac-Toe. Daddy only won, if she really goofed it up.

Checkers is tougher. To lose in checkers, you have to use the art of indirection. You submit a playing piece to be jumped by your opponent, but then you have to move someone else on the board in your next turn, with the hope that your opponent will have realized the piece you moved on the prior turn is jumpable. With young kids, this often does not happen and you end up having to jump your opponent’s pieces in order to keep the game moving.

Now, both my kids play chess. They are older and have different expectations of me. They expect me to win, and they are embarrassed for me, if I don’t win. Daddy is supposed to be better, because he is the Daddy. I wonder if John Patterson ever got to a point where he played an older Michael in checkers. I don't remember one. The last competition I remember was when John took April fishing and she did a lot better than he did.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Remembrance Day

One of the things I like about the “people” shown in For Better or For Worse is the picture of the Lynn Johnston’s mother and father in their WWII uniforms. They look so cute together and hardly like the monsters of parenthood described by Lynn Johnston in her interviews after their deaths.

You can see that Lynn’s mother is taller than her father. And yet on Jim’s RCAF page, the pictures of Elly’s mom and dad show the father is clearly taller. When I see things like that, I cannot help but think the resizing of Mervyn and Ursula Ridgway has to do with the way Lynn Johnston has described her mother and her relationship with her father, where she dominated him and he did not protect Lynn from her brutal punishments.

The other thing I wonder, as we have today’s strip, where Iris alternatively takes care of and makes interpretations about Jim, it makes me wonder if Lynn is still wrestling with the demons of her parents. World War II started it all for Lynn Johnston, because her parents met and married due to the war. When Remembrance Day comes along, I imagine Lynn remembers the war was also her beginning.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mischievous Young Lad

There was a time in our history in which the mischievous young lad was considered to be a popular character. Sticks and snails and puppy dog tails are what little boys are made of. I can think of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, or Jack Kirby’s Newsboy Legion or even Charles Schulz’ favourite old strip of Skippy. The idea is that these young lads would go about creating mischief, but would do so in such a clever way that you couldn’t help but be charmed by them, even though they were up to no good.

During the course of the past week of hybrid reprint strips of For Better or For Worse starring 5-year-old Michael Patterson, he is trodding on this well-worn path of charming mischief. He scalds his dad by turning on all the water. He embarrasses his dad by asking about sex. He gets his mom to provide him and all his friends with nearly free lemonade. He curses like a sailor, and antagonizes mail carriers in the spirit of good, clean fun. After all, no one is really hurt (except for his dad’s burns, and the mail carrier’s ears). Let’s try to forget that Tom Sawyer was punished by his Aunt Polly, the Newsboy Legion had Officer Harper, and Skippy had someone, I forget the name. But is this the way it should have gone? Isn’t it better than Michael Patterson is not punished?

When I was doing the character for April’s Real Blog of Constable Paul Wright, I saw Jesse Mukwa, the Objiway kid constantly getting into trouble, and I was curious as to what the Ojibway way of punishing kids was. After some research, I discovered the Ojibway method wasn’t about punishing. For example, if they told the kids not to go into the woods, because there were bears there, and the kids went into the woods anyway, the Ojibway method would be for someone to go into the woods and pretend to be a bear to scare the kids into compliance. The other method was to tell the children the stories of their ancestors, so they could, by example, learn the difference between right and wrong. The Ojibway writers who addressed punishment of children on-line were adamantly against the “white” method of punishing kids.

This matched pretty well with something I had read years ago, The Journals of Lewis and Clark, where the young explorers visited the Apaches and discovered that they did not punish their boy children, because they believed it would break their spirit. As highly-disciplined military men, during a time when flogging was considered an acceptable means of punishment, Lewis and Clark were appalled and annoyed by the Apache boys.

In this respect, I think Lynn Johnston has the Apache or Ojibway spirit when it comes to punishing young Michael for his behaviour. He is allowed to flourish in his methods of torturing those around him, and I think this is where he got the creative spark which allowed him to write a best-seller and the great Canadian novel. If he had been punished as a child, he probably would have ended up doing television video work or working as a ski instructor.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Foul-Mouthed Michael Part V

I know that young kids have foul mouths these days, and I feel very blessed that my wife's and my efforts to keep bad words from seeping into my kid’s language have by-and-large been successful. At their schools, the use of bad language is a punishable offence, so the pay-off is they don’t get in trouble.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, I can’t fault Elly for reacting swiftly to Michael’s use of the language, but once again, the boy who is never punished reacts just like…well…he’s never punished. “I like to curse with my friends and if mom won’t let me curse in my own yard, then I’ll to the park and curse.” The strip is funny in a creepy way, because the joke is that Michael doesn’t like to be yelled at by his mother, but on the other hand, he doesn’t respect either her or what she is trying to impress upon him. “I disrespect my mom. Ha-ha!” That’s the joke. His attitude is “If I can get away from her, I can do what I want.” Given this strip beginning, I am beginning to wonder who it is that actually gave Michael Patterson a sense of morality, and why any person would say, "My boy was just like Michael. When he was 5 years old, he swore like a sailor too."

I am prejudiced in this respect. I don’t like cursing and I don’t like being around people who regularly curse as a part of their communication abilities. When I go to my high school reunions, I find that the kids I knew growing up that had foul mouths grew up to be adults with foul mouths. And their parents had foul mouths, so I know where they got it. So, from whom is Michael Patterson getting his foul mouth? Elly disapproves of it. Grandpa Jim is a likely source, but at this age, Michael is not around him that often. The simple truth is that the style of cursing we see here: star, Saturn, exclamation point, asterisk, ampersand; is done by virtually all the Pattersons except Merrie and Robin at some point or another. Elly may disapprove of cursing, but she curses and so does John. The most likely source of it for Michael is his parents. Because we, as readers, only get the symbols, we are not as offended as we would be if we heard the real words.

Somehow or other, Michael Patterson goes from the 5-year-old with a foul mouth to the boy who eventually will think his aphasic grandfather is crazy because he curses. That is quite a change from the boy who goes to the park so he can curse freely. I am not sure at what age Michael started to think differently about cursing, but this week of strips is painting a pretty bleak picture of young Michael and the way he treats his parents.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Michael on Top Part IV

Now we have a For Better or For Worse reprint strip where Michael is not torturing John, but Elly. Of course, this time Elly brought it on herself, so it is difficult to blame anyone but Elly. The overall theme of this arc is still, “Michael has everything go his way”: Monday is practical jokes. Tuesday is sex jokes. Wednesday is explosions where nothing falls. Thursday is free lemonade. I am still waiting for a FBorFW website Coffee Talk comment which runs like, “I’ve been reading For Better or For Worse every day since 1979, and not a day has passed when I didn’t want to slap Michael.”

Today’s strip brings up lemonade stands and generically I can empathize with the strip. When I was a kid I did lemonade or Kool-Aid stands. Kool-Aid was easy. My kids have done a lemonade stand, because my wife was willing to sacrifice the frozen concentrated lemonade to the cause. (We disagreed on this point.) The way this is the same between my family and this strip:

a. There is lemonade, a table, a sign, cups, and kids for customers.
b. When my kids sold lemonade, my wife made the lemonade.
c. I set up a table for the kids and found them chairs to sit on.
d. I sat out with the kids while they sold lemonade to make sure no one tried to abduct them.

The way this is not the same between me and this strip:

e. As a kid, I made the Kool-Aid.
f. As a kid, I made the sign saying how much things cost. My kids did the same.
g. As a kid, I served the Kool-Aid. My kids did the same.
h. As a kid, I collected money for my services, which I kept. My kids did the same.
i. As a kid, I did not go around my neighbourhood recruiting people to come to the stand. It was not necessary, since most kids were outside anyway. My kids did the same.
j. As a kid, I set up my stand on the street, so passersby could see the stand and would stop.

I look at that list of “not the same” and I start to lose my empathy with the strip, particularly after 3 days of Michael untouched and unpunished for anything he has done. I look at that “not the same” list and I think, “Did Lynn Johnston really set up this kind of lemonade stand with Aaron, and do so many things differently from what I would consider standard lemonade stand operation? And if so, then why did she suggest it?” Lynn says she took many of the items in the strip from real life, but when I see today’s strip, I think, “This was someone else’s improperly documented life."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

John Smacked Around Part III

When I wrote that For Better or For Worse is using a series of John Patterson strips as a means for Lynn Johnston to vent about her divorce, I didn’t really think it was true. “Surely not,” I said. But here we are 3 days in a row of something exasperating John.

Today’s strip is a little dumbfounding. Something makes a huge “Ka Smash” sound, and I see a dust cloud and debris. What kinds of things can make a loud noise, a dust cloud and debris AND not cause anything to fall? The old joke, years gone by, is about the soufflé which people try to keep from falling, and comedy comes when after a series of door slams and loud accidents which had no effect, it is the tiniest little sound which ruins the soufflé and causes it to fall. That is what I thought of when I saw today’s For Better or For Worse. A slammed door might cause dust to rise, but what about the debris? My thought is little Michael is playing with “My First Chemistry set” and managed to cause an explosion, but I don’t know for sure. There is also the mysterious “puff puff” which indicates he was running from where he was to see if something fell in the house. This implies that whatever caused the “Ka Smash” was outside the house, or a good distance away.

More interesting is the idea that little Michael has that if the “Ka Smash” caused something to fall, then John Patterson would be upset. This implies that Michael has done things in the past, which have caused things to fall. So, in some respects, we should be happy this is a “Ka Smash”, because if Michael had a “Ka Boom” things would fall.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jokes Charles Schulz Wouldn’t Do

Today’s For Better or For Worse had one. The closest Peanuts got to sex was when Rerun van Pelt or Sally Brown showed up out of nowhere.

Today’s For Better or For Worse joke falls into the category of “Ask dad an embarrassing question, and then when he tries to answer it, let him know the real answer is a simple number joke, so he was getting embarrassed for nothing.” My kids do ones like, “Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9 (seven ate nine).” Of course they do those jokes at ages 8 – 12. If my kids did a joke like “What’s sex?” to me at age 4, I would look around for the older kid who conned them into doing it. In Michael’s case, there is no older sibling, so a neighbourhood kid would be more likely, possibly Molly or Gayle Thomas, except they weren’t in the strip by 1980.

This is not the conclusion to which John Patterson heads. Instead he wonders if his kid at age 4 really knows enough about sex and a parents’ discomfort in discussing the subject with their children, to be able to understand the prank he just played on him. I find it a little difficult to believe John Patterson could be so ignorant about the thought processes of 4-year-olds, but For Better or For Worse is notorious for turning people into idiots in order to make a joke, particularly John.

I talked yesterday about the possibility that Lynn Johnston might start dragging out “embarrassing John Patterson” strips in order to vent her anger over her divorce, and this could be one of them to follow the sequence of the one we had yesterday. Of course this is only two strips in a row. I would have to see more than this to be convinced it was a pattern. At least, we don’t have to hear that it was little Michael’s smartness and inquisitive nature which caused him to ask this question.

My practice as a parent is to try to answer the kids’ questions when they ask them, and then to give them truthful answers, and hope they don’t ask them while we are in a very public place (which is what they did). So, unlike John Patterson, when my son asked me, “What’s sex?” I had a different answer than his dodge about plants and animals being divided into male and female. This is obviously a difficult question for the Pattersons, because some years later I remember Elly taught April about the birds and bees by leaving a book in a bookshelf where she could find it. Then of course, there was the humourous strip where John looks in the same book to learn some things too. I don’t have a copy of all the collections, so I don’t know if there ever was a moment where John or Elly had “the talk” with their kids. My guess is they did not. After all, there are jokes Lynn Johnston won’t do either.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hybrid Scheming

It is becoming more and more obvious the method by which Lynn Johnston is picking which strips to use for the For Better or For Worse hybrid. She has the whole run of strips from 1980 she is using under the premise that since the strip was out in less than 200 papers in 1980, these strips will be new to most people. That is probably true.

The complaints about the hybrid have to do with:

a. The narrators of the strips have little-to-nothing to do with the strips, nor could they have remembered the events of them, much less cared about them.
b. A theme is introduced for the narration, and the strips do not match the theme more than the first couple of strips in the reprints.
c. The story doesn’t make sense with the inserted reprints.

These are unimportant points to Lynn Johnston. What appears to be important to her is:

a. The theme, if there is one, is used to introduce the first strip only and after that, then the strips chosen run in sequence as they originally did regardless of the story presented, except not every strip may be used in order to make room to set up the narration.
b. The narrators chosen are chosen not because they can remember those things happening, but because the chosen ones are given exposure. We have had Michael and Merrie, Michael and Deanna, Connie and Elly and Iris, April and Liz. That is cast coverage, not counting the evil John Patterson.
c. These are reprints to give Lynn time off, and the narration strips were never intended to tell a coherent story outside of introducing the reprints.

If we can get our minds around what is important to Lynn Johnston in the hybrids, then we can realize little details about the hybrid making sense are an unrealistic expectation.

CBC Observations

The CBC sent its reporter Sandra Abma from CBC North Bay out to interview Lynn Johnston in one video talking about her life and another looser video showing her demonstrating how she draws a strip. Both videos were enjoyable and Lynn Johnston came off very well in them, and not flaky, as she sometimes comes across in interviews.

In the video talking about her life, I was quite surprised to learn that she had created the studio where she and her staff work within walking distance of her house. I realized that when I was hunting down information on Lynn’s former employee Nancy Vincent and found that she used to live on Mac Pherson Drive, the same street as the studio; it is possible that Lynn may not be the only member of her staff to live within walking distance of the studio.

One of the other things I found interesting was a scene where Lynn passes on the art for a For Better or For Worse strip I have never seen before, to Laura Piché, the lady who letters the strip and puts in the background. Laura seemed like a giant compared to Lynn, and I was quite amused to see that neither Lynn nor Laura used those fingerless gloves pictured in the Making of a Comic Strip featured on the For Better or For Worse website.

Thanks to the ability to pause the video, I was able to take a good look at the material Lynn handed off to Laura. Based upon this one strip, it would be incorrect to say that Lynn did completed pencils and inks on the figures of the main characters which is the usual story about her contribution to the art. “Heads and most of the body” would be a better description. She frequently left off hands and feet in the pictured art and only had them lightly pencilled. This confirmed one of my most basic theories about the artwork, which is that Lynn does a light pencilling of those body parts and expects Laura to finish them out.

I wish I could have seen Laura inking them, to see if she inked the hands and feet exactly as Lynn lightly pencilled them, or if she tried to fix them to make them more hand or foot-like before inking them. I have long suspected she inks them just as Lynn has laid them out, without realizing Lynn can’t draw hands or feet well and wants Laura to fix them. I have a friend from high school, who does work for Marvel Comics and he has told me this is a standard practice in sequential art. As he put it, some pencillers will draw a triangle where the hand is supposed to be. It would explain so much about why the characters’ hands are deformed or the feet are shaped like those of a cartoon duck. However, it would not explain to me why Lynn Johnston has not taken the time to make sure Laura understands this. The other possibility is that Laura stinks at drawing hands and feet also.

In the art demonstration video, I actually saw Lynn Johnston use an eraser to correct an error, so I know that she has one. I often suspected she didn’t. On the other hand, I saw her slapping down heads and faces without once taking a look to see if the eyes were placed properly on the head. She also talked about how each character’s room had a specific design, but then she drew the picture without referencing something to show what the character’s room looked like. This explained why there are little subtle differences everytime the rooms reappear from the last time they appear. Lynn is operating from memory and doing a pretty job with that, but not good enough to be exactly right. Everything shown in the video seemed to match up well with the artwork errors we get to see on a daily basis.

We have an artist who cares enough to be consistent, but doesn’t care enough to check her consistency with a given standard other than her own memory. Even when I was a young lad, I knew enough not to trust my memory for things I wanted to be precisely correct. But what does it matter? People are not going to stop reading For Better or For Worse, because rooms don’t look the same.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Older Brother’s Lament

With the reprints of For Better or For Worse, it is sometimes difficult to see the younger characters without also seeing what the character will ultimately become. The young Michael, desperate for his mother’s love over his sister, is a theme which will carry through for a lot of years in this strip and even into his adult life. I have to admire Lynn Johnston’s remarkable consistency with the theme.

Back in 1980, this strip is very realistic, and shows what appears to be one of the few moments where Elly Patterson applies what I would consider a good parenting technique. I have two kids, one boy and one girl, and when the question comes up about which child we love the best, which both my children have asked me, I often say “You’re my favourite son” or “You’re my favourite daughter.” Once my kids got wise to that answer, then the answer became, “I love both of you equally.” Unknown to my kids, the first answer was the correct one.

I find that there are certain characteristics about my daughter, which I just love. Many times they are characteristics which are traditionally considered to be feminine in nature. It is not considered to be politically correct to think of certain traits as male or female, but nevertheless, that is the way they come out of my children, and can hardly think of anything I do to encourage it one way or the other.

My daughter is the second born, and she was born into a house which had nothing but “boy” toys in it, largely purchased by others: trucks, cars, footballs, and of course, some stuffed animals. My daughter, in her earliest days, discovered those stuffed animals and did something with them my son never did. She would put diapers on them, and put them to bed, and hug and snuggle on them. When I consider my daughter now, lying in a bed with dozens of stuffed animals around it, I love that caring part of her.

On the other hand, my boy is very boyish, and those parts of his character, which include big hugs, big laughs, and aggressive physical behaviour are delightful too. He loves to build things, and construct things out of nothing, and has all the spatial skills which are considered to be the traditional venue of boys. I love him seeing him go to work, and produce things which are impressive by any standard.

In my family, I was the oldest, with 2 younger sisters, and I remember my sisters got away with murder, just as Michael complains about today. Each kid does what they can do to get what they can get. As the oldest, I got to drive first, date first, leave the house first, and set the standard in school by which my sisters would be judged by the teachers who had me prior to them. On the other hand, with two younger sisters, if Michael experienced what I experienced as an older son, he would discover that his sisters would be taken care of better, when it came to injuries, or clothing, or higher education.

However, for his age, Michael’s lament is appropriate. If I were reading the strip without any preconceived notions back in 1980, I would say the dialogue is realistic, but the awful art (namely those deformed hands and overly long arms) would turn me off. However, given what we have seen in the hybrid so far, this is one of the better strips. I can actually relate to it, for a change.

The Mind of Lizzie Patterson

Hello, folks! I am Lizzie Patterson, a cute and adorable baby. Life is pretty much perfect for me. I get food when I want it. I don’t have to clean up after myself. Even my poop is handled. And I am gosh darn cute, kind of like Sally Brown, a friend of mine.

I only have one problem. I have an older brother and he likes to play with me. I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t play games. Heck, I can’t even crawl, and this guy still wants to play with me. I think he is seriously disturbed.

I think I know the reason. One is my dad. He’s never around. Other babies tell me it the dad’s responsibility to rough house with their sons, but my dad never does. The other is my mom. She just leaves me alone with this guy, unsupervised and everything. Some parents might worry their baby would be accidentally hurt, but not my mom. The only time she comes in the room is when she thinks I have been hurt. The rest of the time, it’s just me and my brother. Obviously, since I can’t crawl, I can’t get away from him.

One day my nemesis, my brother tried to say, “Hi!” to me. Well, I gave him what for. A rattle to the eye. Then just when he started to give my arms a shake, mom shows up and lectures him.

Another day, my brother got ahold of my bottle and put it on a string. I would grab at the bottle and then he would pull the string so I would fall down trying to get it. Mom showed up then and she was mad at him like always. If she had thought about it, she would have realized that she shouldn’t have left me alone with a bottle and that only an idiot would tie a string on a bottle he wasn’t planning to give to me in the first place. You can just hold it in your hands to do that. You don’t need a string. After all, it’s not like I can crawl after you.

You might think my brother and I weren’t exactly “friends.” That’s another way of saying we were enemies. Or as they say when you are talking about family, “We loved each other—we just had our differences.” That’s another way of saying, when I noticed his differences, I hated him.

One thing I noticed about my brother, even when mom was changing my diaper…let me stop for a moment and say that when I get to be a mommy, I am definitely going to get easy-removal pants for my babies, and not these things where you have to tip the baby on her side just to take her pants down to change her diaper. That’s just stupid…anyway, I digress. One thing I noticed about my brother is he is emotional (which mean he will cry if I hit or pinch him) and sensitive (same as emotional) and theatrical (which means he makes a lot of noise when he cries). Let me rephrase that. I noticed my brother would fly off the handle whenever I spit at him, so I did it all the time. I would take my pacifier out of my mouth with one hand, and then give a big, old raspberry. He hated it. You know, I think if I ever know a boy (other than my brother) who doesn’t do exactly what I want him to do, I am going to raspberry him too.

You have to wait for the right time to do it though. I recommend waiting until your mommy is cleaning up the poop in your diaper. She’s distracted than and wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference in wetness coming from a raspberry or wetness coming from your poop. I tell you there is nothing more hilarious than watching your mom get all upset at your brother, at the same time she is changing your diaper. There’s poop everywhere and who gets blamed? You got it, the brother. Ah, life is sweet.