Thursday, January 31, 2008

Another Cliché Another Strip

Yesterday in For Better or For Worse, we dealt with the standard motherhood cliché line, “What do you do all day?” and now we get another one “Thank God! A grownup!” I remember hearing my wife being told she would experience this, all the time during our early years of parenthood -- how the mom needs to get moments away from the children, so she can have an adult conversation.

As it turned out, there was a veritable plethora of moms' groups and organized playgroups in the area where we lived near Dallas, so I often found my wife was having more adult conversations when she was home with the kids than I was having sitting in a cubicle at work. I didn’t have young children in 1979 so my nearest corresponding recollection would be my own childhood in the 1960s. When I was Michael’s age of 5, I spent my time with a same-aged boy and his older brother who lived in the apartment a few doors down from mine. We were out and about the apartment complex most of the day. My mom, with my younger sister, spent a good part of her day socializing with my friend’s mother and that was how things were.

By the time we finally got into a house, my parents picked a neighbourhood with plenty of kids and plenty of moms. I honestly cannot remember my mother ever complaining for an adult conversation. I know that these kinds of jokes are only funny if they are based on truth, so somewhere, some place, some mom must have had an issue with it --- like a mom who lived in a neighbourhood with no kids, or with homes too far apart for easy visiting. The other possibility is that I was too little to recognize it or mom didn’t complain about it. I don’t know.

However, what it boils down to is that Elly, with Annie Nichols on one side and her kids, and with Connie Poirier on the other side with Lawrence; sequestered herself in the house with her children and after a period of time with this, became desperate for adult conversation, but not so desperate she would call someone herself or go visit either of her neighbours. Hand-sewing is a very portable hobby; so I don't think that should have stopped her.

What I can imagine is that Lynn Johnston, doing the art and story for her comic strip, while taking care of two kids at home, did remove herself from adult contact by the necessity to do her work (substituted for sewing in the strip) without distraction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Have No Complaints and Yet I Still Complain

Today’s For Better or For Worse is the classic line of the married man with the stay-at-home husband == "What do you do all day?" It was only a matter of time before we went there, and I have actually met husbands with stay-at-home-wives, who have asked that question. However, and this is a crucial “however”, they would not ask that question if this statement preceded it:

I come home to a clean house, good food, well-managed finances & happy kids.

The husbands I knew who asked that question, asked the question precisely because there was some part of that statement which wasn’t true, usually the finances or the clean house. And there is one other caveat. The husband has to have observed some other husband’s house who has a stay-at-home wife and he has perceived that their house is immaculate, or his wife hasn’t spent them into the poor house; and he wonders what it takes to get one of those (not an actual exchange of a person, but an exchange of the person’s habits).

What these husbands fail to realize is that keeping an orderly and clean house is a skill. Some people are very good at it and are strongly motivated to do it, and some people stink at it and have no desire to get any better. They also fail to realize one very important thing which is, if you really want something done around the house, do it yourself.

It was this very situation which propelled me into taking over the laundry duties in my house. Initially, after we were married, my wife did this job (mainly because she did not want me to touch her clothes, because she didn’t trust that I would read the washing instructions and not ruin her clothes.) However, my wife has about 4X more clothes than I have, so she can go a month without washing and be just fine. As for me, if I go a week without washing, then I have problems. I needed the clothes to be washed weekly, so I took over the wash and have done so ever since. I expect in a lot of marriages, the division of household chores occurs in this manner.

When John Patterson says, “What do you do all day?”, it is an idiotic question. If his prior statement is true, then he should have no complaints; but then he says he doesn’t know how it could take her every waking moment. That’s just crazy. A man really would have to have spent no time observing his family at all to make that statement. Shoot! Just Elizabeth alone at that age would take up at least ¾ of Elly’s time making sure she was fed, cleaned, diapered, and afternoon napped. It’s when you come home and find the house in total chaos, with the kids crying, and no supper made, and you find your wife sitting and watching television with a package of bon-bons in front of her; then you could possibly ask that question, but even then it would be a stupid question to ask.

It appears to me that Lynn Johnston wants it both ways. Elly hates housework, and yet John think she is aces at it. If she is, why would John ask the question? Lynn wants the question to be unjustified when it is asked; but without any justification it makes little sense and John appears to be stupider than ever.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What’s Said at a Patterson Party, Stays at a Patterson Party

Dishes do appear one again to be the combat zone of Elly and John’s marriage in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse.

But more interesting to me is the idea that John and Elly Patterson used to entertain at their home and had conversations with other adults over topics like the division of labour in the household. We have seen them at Halloween parties at other people’s homes in the recent past; but I think I would have to go all the way back to Elly’s 50th birthday party to have a social celebration thrown by the Pattersons where relatives were not involved (although technically Connie Poirier threw that party and John only helped to lure Elly there). I am not sure when this stopped, because I remember John and Elly in their young years, did have parties in their home from time-to-time. The on-line archive doesn’t go back far enough for me to pinpoint a stopping place.

The conversation topic was true-to-life for that time period. I remember during my university years in the early 1980s running into young ladies who loved to call men “male chauvinist pigs” at the slightest provocation. When John agrees to the idea that the man does half the chores, I can very well see a John Patterson saying that to avoid getting the fearful “male chauvinist pig” designation. Of course, among the ladies I knew who liked to use the phrase, it was virtually impossible to be a man around them and not get slapped with the phrase at some time or another. Nevertheless, Elly seems very amused at the things John Patterson said at that party to avoid that particular sobriquet. Knowing how John Patterson was in 1979, if I heard him say those kinds of things at a party, I would be pretty amused too.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dishwashers (Both Kinds)

I remember my first dishwasher, or rather the first dishwasher in my family. We had a portable job, that had these big rubber tubes to connect to the faucet in your sink. You would load it, hook the washer to the sink, turn the water on, and run the dishwasher. I am pretty sure we had that unit well before 1979, the time of today’s For Better or For Worse strip, but it was still before the days, when you would simply expect a house to have one. However, apartments I lived in during the early 1980s, all came equipped with built-in dishwashers as a standard. So, I think 1979 Elly and John are clearly living in an older house. Lynn Johnston would have been up in Lynn Lake at the time, and part of her frustration with that community could have been the lack of modern appliances in homes.

In the comments to yesterday’s blog entry, aprilp_katje suggested that Elly have a heart-to-heart with John about all the years where he didn’t do any housework. Since we are into a reprint from 1979 showing an example of John’s lack of sympathy about housework, I would like to think that Lynn Johnston has taken aprilp_katje’s suggestion, and the conclusion of a series of “John did no housework in 1979 and he liked it that way” strips, could be returning to the modern day, where John apologizes or at least sympathizes with Elly’s situation. However, given how the last round of reprints ended (a sudden jump to Grandpa Jim and his two-fingered salute), the more likely possibility is a jump to modern Elizabeth and Anthony discussing how to tell Elly she eloped and got married.

So, where is Lynn Johnston going with all this? I don’t know. She announced she is going to do all 1979 reprints in September; so I thought we were going to press in the modern age to resolve all those plotlines she had leftover to resolve. Instead we have a "dish-washing and blame John" sequence. I really hope that Lynn has not extended her storylines until September, so she can get in more strips showing John Patterson didn’t do housework.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sympathizing With John

In today’s For Better or For Worse, John Patterson is taken to task for doing the dishes when he never used to do them. He comes to the conclusion that he should never have done the dishes, because his act of cleaning has drawn criticism. This isn’t the first time this has happened for John, as he has caught flack for his dishwashing loading technique and his laundry-folding technique. It’s Elly’s way or no way in his house. This is, unfortunately, a situation to which I can easily relate.

Back in my early days of marriage, I had a way of cleaning bathrooms taught to me by my mother, and that was the method I used. My wife had a different way that she liked. Upon discovering I had this different way. I was encouraged to clean bathrooms the way she did it (and by encouraged, I mean a very Ellyesque style of complaining). It should be mentioned that my wife HATES cleaning bathrooms, but is still quite opinionated about the way they should be done.

I adopted this method and followed it for years, until…my wife decided she didn’t want me to clean that way anymore and the Ellyesque style of complaining appeared again. By this time, I was quite set in my ways, which were her old ways, and which I consider to be superiour to her new way of cleaning. I have expressed this opinion to her on multiple occasions.

The point of dispute is my wife likes the smell of these florally/orangey-scented cleaners which have come on the market in the last few years. I do not like those cleaners, because they do not clean as well as my more institutionally-smelling cleaners. (I did give them a test run for a few weeks at one point, which left me frustrated at their inability to remove dirt and grime. Things did not smell as much like strong chemicals, but they also did not look as clean.

The solution for me was to give in and do it my wife’s way, and grumble to myself a lot. By the way, the bathrooms in my house are not as clean as I would like, but they smell pretty. Grumble. Grumble. Just thought I’d let you know.

When John Patterson has his regret for ever doing the dishes, I can definitely relate. However, if I were to give him some advice, I would say, “John. If you have more time to help out, stay far away from household chores about which Elly has a strong opinion or that she does all the time (like laundry or dishes). Concentrate on those household chores that need to be done, but she hates to do, or she does infrequently (like cleaning out the refrigerator). Your chances are better to avoid interference if you go that route.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

Old Relatives

My dad and step-mom are visiting this weekend, so my daily participation will be down this weekend. Nevertheless, I have a story which goes along with today’s For Better or For Worse.

My grandparents established a tradition of taking each of their grandchildren on trips outside the country, which my father has decided to emulate with his grandchildren (my sister’s and my kids). I was recounting to my father today, a story about the trip I took to Turkey with my grandparents back in 1977, and my difficulties in getting my ancient, feeble grandparents across Istanbul streets which, at the time, had no such things as crosswalks or a forgiving traffic flow. My father countered with, “How old were they?” So, I thought about it and figured my grandfather’s age to have been 69 at the time. My father then reminded me that he will be turning 69 this year. Naturally, at 45 I don’t consider my dad to be ancient; but when I was 14, I definitely considered my grandfather to be ancient. It was interesting to be reminded of the difference in perspective even in myself.

What I found interesting in today’s strip is how defensive John Patterson gets when April refers to the time of his youth as old. I would think there has to be some point at which John would admit to himself that he is old. After all, his wife is retired and he is considering retirement. He is a grandparent and his youngest child is 16 years old. It shows an odd vanity for John Patterson to think of himself as young, given the circumstances. It does however, give credence to the some of the rumoured behavior of John’s real-life counterpart.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Education of Lynn Johnston

As much as Lynn Johnston may have said she does not mess with the internet, it is clear that she does pay attention to the things being written on her Coffee Talk column on her website and she makes adjustments based on the comments presented there.

As a proof, today’s For Better or For Worse strip concludes April’s weeklong visit with Iris and Grandpa Jim, and when you compare it to last year’s visit, the contrasts are startling. In last year’s visit, it was all about April spending time with Grandpa Jim. Iris was basically ignored until the last few panels, where Iris lavishes praise on April for coming to visit. April’s visit was usual one of the nicer ones to Iris. When Liz came to visit, she and Grandpa Jim took the opportunity to mentally mock Iris.

After that time, and considerable kvetching among the snarkers of the strip how retired Elly never seemed to help Iris out with Jim, the worm began to turn.

In August, 2007, Elly visited Iris bearing the gift of tuna, noodles, and grease; and she and Iris bonded together by comparing Grandpa Jim’s behaviour to that of a child. By the end, Elly realized that Iris is unhappy, since she was crying. Elly doesn’t do anything about it, but she does notice for a change. That’s an improvement.

In October, 2007, during Elly and Connie Poirier’s visit with Grandpa Jim in the hospital, Elly makes a point of saying she wants to help out Iris. Of course, her method was to have Connie Poirier regale her with stories about her dating life back in 1979, an idea which I still find hilarious. Nevertheless, the intent was there. Lynn may have not known how to help; but her heart was in the right place. That’s an improvement.

Now in today’s strip, after a week of Iris-oriented story-telling, April tells Iris that Elly is coming over the next day with the complete dinner (and not just a side dish). I see another improvement.

I think Lynn Johnston has read the Coffee Talk comments, realized that Iris needs comfort, and has responded. She can be taught. If we simply keep up the efforts, I can see a day when Elly Patterson may come over to Iris and Jim’s place and help out with something difficult for Iris to do, and has nothing whatsoever to do with food.

What am I saying? I must have been mad to write that. These are the Pattersons. Food is their life. OK. How about “in addition to bringing food, Elly helps Iris out with something difficult for Iris to do”? That might work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sunset Manor, Here I Come!

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Iris has begun to lay the groundwork for Grandpa Jim to go into the Sunset Manor. It seems obvious now, from the standard way Lynn does her plotting these days, that Grandpa Jim’s second stroke occurred for no other reason than to get Grandpa Jim into a long-term care facility.

I remember when Mike and Deanna moved into their new apartment in Toronto in 2005 and in short order they met the Kelpfroths, saw Melville Kelpfroth smoking a cigar in the very same panel where Mira Sobinski pointed out that she didn’t like the fire escape leading into the apartment. The plot elements were all there for the cause of and rescue from the apartment fire, set up in a few weeks. Then Lynn Johnston dilly-dallied around for 18 months before the fire occurred, so that the only people who would remember those initial clues were fiendishly-obsessed, detail-oriented people like me.

As I look back on it now, Jim went into stroke #2 and almost immediately Elly told Connie about Iris making reservations for Sunset Manor 2 years ago. The proximity of the plot points is typical of Lynn’s predictive style of writing, even if the idea of making a reservation for a long-term health facility in Toronto 2 years ago is ridiculous with the system in place in the health care system for allocating those facilities.

In this week’s sequence we are getting more information which is going to push Grandpa Jim in that direction. Grandpa Jim is not getting any better and Iris admits there is nothing she can do about it. The doctor blames Grandpa Jim’s depression, but when Iris unloaded the “he drifts into the past now” bomb, I was immediately reminded of my grandmother’s mental state just before she passed away, when she regularly referred to any young man in the room (which I was at the time) as her long-deceased brother Kenneth, who drowned when he was 16.

Then when Iris reveals she has placed a picture of Marian beside Grandpa Jim, there was a certain element of sadness to it that might have touched me, had it not been for the final panel shtick comparing rings on fingers to love in heart. That soft-hearted, faux-sentiment forced my cynical side to take over again.

What I noticed however, was not so much the unrelenting self-sacrifice which has typified the character of Iris since September, 2006 (stroke #1); but the idea now being presented of her separation or mental replacement from Grandpa Jim. In other words, if Grandpa Jim was being taken care of in a long-term facility and Iris was not there, but the picture of Marian was, would Jim even know the difference? Would Jim forget Iris because she is not a part of "how things used to be"? Jim is probably not at that stage yet, but Lynn Johnston seems to be putting the sequence together to get there. Now if she could just put it together without having those awful final panel jokes, that would really be something.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Not Quitting. Not Retiring. Not answering the same questions the same way.

One of the things I love about when Lynn Johnston goes on these newspaper interview circuits is that every time a new article comes out, there is something different from the last article, even if the articles are spaced within weeks. For some news reporting on a celebrity’s work, reading more than one article is boring, because the person being interviewed says the same basic thing to all the newspaper reporters. Not Lynn Johnston, by golly. The latest article from the Editor and Publisher seems to be specifically geared toward explaining the things which the reporters from the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune and the Ventura County Star just couldn’t get right.

So, once again, I will go through this article from the Editor & Publisher and comment or interpret the things which are new to me:

NEW YORK During the past couple of weeks, there have been newspaper and blog reports implying that the old/new "For Better or For Worse" hybrid may go completely into reruns later this year.That isn't true, said "FBorFW" creator Lynn Johnston. "I'm not quitting," she declared, when reached today by E&P. "I don't want to quit. I plan to keep working on the strip. I love what I do."

My interpretation: This is directly in contradiction with her prior 2 interviews where the words “quit” and “retire” were used liberally. Technically, in the last article, it was going to be reprints in chronological order and she would “draw fresh strips every once in a while.”

But Johnston has been making adjustments since starting the hybrid version of her comic last year. For instance, the original plan was to frame earlier "FBorFW" content by having the Michael Patterson character look back from the present day. But Johnston said some readers found that confusing, so she's dropping it.
The current plan: Continue tying up loose ends with various "FBorFW" characters (a process that's taking longer than Johnston expected). Then, no later than this September, freeze all these cast members in time. After that, the 1979-launched comic will focus on the younger versions of the characters.
But that doesn't mean the post-September strips will consist entirely of rerun material. Johnston plans to change various elements of the comics, create new story lines, etc. -- but do all that in the drawing style she used to have.

My interpretation: It would be easy to read this as, “I am dropping the hybrid right now” and tying up loose ends until September with all new strips. However, the comments she makes later in the article about not working as hard imply to me that she plans to drop the hybrid style in September. The Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune article gave me the impression that the old drawing style was going to be used to frame and make additions to things going on in the reprints in their time period. However, if that were the case, then it would no longer be necessary to freeze the modern cast members in time. If everything is going to be set in the reprint time after September, she wouldn’t be going back to the modern characters ever again. I am going to have to go with the idea that the line about freezing was a reflex action from talking about the modern characters from the hybrid days and not that she plans to write new stories with the modern characters, except drawn in her old style.

Johnston intends to do the part-old/part-new "FBorFW" strips chronologically, and also create some completely new Sunday strips in the old drawing style. Reconfigured past story lines may even delve more into things like divorce, which Johnston is now experiencing in real life. But, if that happens, it will not be a divorce between the characters of Elly (partly based on Lynn) and John Patterson.

My interpretation: Lynn says, “I looked through my old strips for material talking about divorce and slamming John Patterson, and there is not enough for me to work through all my emotions about my divorce. So, I am going to make some new ones.”

How will readers know that the strips drawn in the older style include new material? When "FBorFW" transitions no later than this September, Johnston plans to explain that transition in the comic itself.
My interpretation: Newspaper articles like this one failed to get the news out about the hybrid, and Lynn is not going to make that same mistake again.
Not all the post-September strips will have new content. "I don't want to quit entirely, but I do want to take some time off," said Johnston. She has already stopped working on her comic most holidays and weekends, and stopped putting in extra "FBorFW" hours before and after taking vacations. "It's been a blessing," she said.

My interpretation: A blessing, just like Elizabeth Patterson. I have this feeling Lynn Johnston uses that word a lot these days.

Her new schedule is not only allowing Johnston more time to travel, but to do other projects. For instance, a children's book is in the works starring the late and beloved "FBorFW" character of Farley the dog. And Johnston said there might be a book showing what various "FBorFW" cast members are doing in their future lives.

My interpretation: A book about Farley is new, and seems a likely choice since the old dog gets mentioned by Coffee Talk writers on a regular basis. If she were to go with her other storyline mentioned the most often, we could get a book called, “David. I’m coming out and I’m telling you first!”

In the present, the "FBorFW" client list has remained fairly steady since the hybrid began. Johnston said some newspapers have dropped the strip, but others have picked it up. It still runs in more than 2,000 papers via Universal Press Syndicate.Johnston concluded that she'd like to continue doing "FBorFW" as long as her health allows

My interpretation: She said, in her arrogance, “knock me off the page” and then when it happened, it was a big wakeup call for Lynn Johnston. Lynn Johnston has finally come to the conclusion that she no longer needs to or is motivated to completely retire. She’s never quitting.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Close to Greatness

In the comments from yesterday, I said:

There is one aspect of aphasia (like unto the Boxcar comments) that I had hoped would be explored with April, and that is the strange part of accessing parts of someone's brain through music that cannot be done with regular speech. In other words, an aphasic man can sing an old song he knew perfectly fine, but still be barely able to talk. Since Grandpa Jim had stroke #1, I keep expecting April to pick up that guitar and Grandpa Jim to warble along with her on some old favourite of his, and create both a special bonding moment and point out in no uncertain terms that there is still someone inside Grandpa Jim's body.

Well, Anon NYC went so far as to predict we would see this happen this week, and sure enough, April has that guitar out to play for Grandpa Jim. When I first saw the strip, I was immediately taken with the idea that Anon NYC had nailed this prediction exactly and April’s “Grampa ?!!!!” was in reaction to his singing along with her. But then I looked more carefully and saw, “Snozzz” was not really Grandpa Jim singing. Too bad. We came so close with this one. Instead we get Iris making a forced joke connecting “knowing how someone ticks” to “clocks and sleep habits.”

Ah, Lynn Johnston. You were tantalizingly close to a great For Better or For Worse strip today, and you were betrayed once again by your love of the almighty pun. Might as well face it, you’re addicted to puns.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Grandpa Jim : The End Days?

We got a new strip today in For Better or For Worse launching into a Grandpa Jim story arc. I had not expected a new story until next week; but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? 3 solid weeks of aging, ugliness, and “how I hate being a mom” were more than enough for me.

If Lynn Johnston is getting ready to roll us into the endgame, the final weeks of story, then Grandpa Jim’s appearance needs to tell us whether or not he is going to be going into the Sunset Manor for a higher quality of care, or just maintaining the status quo forever.

Today’s strip seems to be in the “status quo” territory, since April is delighted that Grandpa Jim has enough physical dexterity to put up two fingers. Grandpa Jim is back to his usual acerbic thought balloon wit comparing his tricks to those of a dog’s. If Grandpa Jim can actually sit up, beg and roll over; then those would be dramatic improvements in his physical condition previously presented. I expect Lynn Johnston is not thinking about that, and has instead focused on a new joke she heard among her aphasia friends, i.e. “What’s the difference between someone suffering from aphasia and a dog?”

Another possibility I that we are headed into Sunset Manor territory and April Patterson is there with Grandpa Jim either to support him or to give us the emotional feedback from April witnessing her grandfather climb another societal mountain to surpass on the way to death.

There is also the possibility that showing 2 finger is proof positive that Grandpa Jim will make a full recovery; but I doubt even Lynn would go there after all this time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

You’re Going to Hate Me, Ma! and other accurate predictions

Today’s For Better or For Worse plays off the old premise that it is better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. People are more inclined to forgive than permit. I have had some parts of the strip happen to me with my kids, specifically the part where the child is afraid to tell me what happened when they get in trouble. With my Asperger boy, oftentimes it is the teacher recounting the tale, and it takes some doing to get my son’s version of the story out of him. With my daughter, she tries to hide the evidence if she can. She has a tendency to lose her temper and destroy things. I remember on one occasion she decided to take her Girl Scout emblems off her vest, and physically tore them off, leaving gaping holes in the vest. Then she hid the vest, and it became a problem for when she went to the Girl Scouts. Eventually we found the vest, and figured out what happened, and explained to her about how to take things off her vest without destroying them.

Now the occasion of either of my children anticipating my reaction to something and then trying to head that off by playing the pity card before I found out about it (as in today’s strip); that has never happened to me. In fact, Mike plays the pity card either so skillfully or with such sincerity, I have to wonder what has happened to induce that much fear in his mother’s reaction. As it turns out the joke is that little Mike was completely correct what Elly’s reaction would be; and it stands out in contrast to the words she says about trust beforehand. In other words, he was right to fear her anger and hatred. However, this assumes I am correctly interpreting Elly’s reaction in the final panel. The face is so distorted, I honestly cannot tell what emotions are being expressed on her face.

These days, the parental answer would be, “Well, Mike. That’s why we only buy the washable felt pens. Let’s me get you something to wash that off with.” But back in 1979 what you have is evidence why it is futile to have nice furniture with a kid in the house. My wife and I have garage sale trash for furniture in our house with a promise to buy better stuff when the kids are older, for precisely this reason.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Looking Perfect when Unconscious

In today’s reprinted For Better or For Worse, John Patterson talks about how the kids always look perfect when they are sleeping. If it were me, I would caveat that by saying, they look perfect when they are sleeping and they are still. My son is a terrible sleeper and it was months and months before he could make it all the way through the night. In his early days, when I was getting up in the middle of the night with him, and I did the diapering, feeding, rocking and putting him to bed routine; the sound I always feared after I put him to bed was the “thump thump thump” of a restlessly sleeping child.

There are tricks you can try. We had a mechanical swing that my son liked, which was usually pretty good at knocking him out, but it was very difficult to get him in and out of it without waking him up due to its very noisy Velcro straps. Another alternative (only tried when I was desperate) was putting him in the car seat in the car and driving him around until he passed out. One trick someone told us was that you could put the car seat on top of a clothes dryer and it simulated car motion, but that never worked.

Most of the times I remember enjoying my children sleeping was when they would crawl on top of me while I was lying down on a couch, and then go to sleep on my stomach. These were great moments, because if you had a child sleeping on you (particularly a child like my boy who slept terribly) then you were exempt from doing other household chores. “Sorry, honey. Can’t take the trash out. The baby’s asleep. I’ll do it after he wakes up.”

However, I will admit on the surface of it, John Patterson is right. Kids (and even surly wives) look a lot more pleasant during sleep. Their features soften. You can hear their little kids breathing. Husbands probably look more pleasant when sleeping too; but I wouldn't know.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I Was Married to John Patterson for 31 Years

Another new article about For Better or For Worse and this one from the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune has more details than the last one. I will comment on the stuff which is new to me.

The strip now is a hybrid, which has never been tried before, Johnston said. “At first I was planning to retire completely and I wanted to bring the story full circle and have it so that it ended,” she said.But Universal Press polled its clients and decided to begin rerunning the strips from the start — no surprise because it’s one of only five comics in more than 2,000 newspapers.

Translation: Universal Press started losing papers and wanted to have leverage with Lynn Johnston to say that the hybrid was not working. Here is your poll:

Would you, as a Universal Press client, prefer to see the comic strip For Better or For Worse as:
It’s current hybrid format, where you can’t tell what is going on to whom and where your customers write to your Letters to the Editor column asking you what is going on to whom over and over again
b. Reprints rerun in exact chronological order so the stories makes sense again, even if they are 28 years old and drawn with a felt tip marker
c. New material written by some person the current author handpicks and then will fire a few months into the process, due to creative differences

Any comics creator “would give their right arm for that to happen,” she said. “But I said I’d like to be hands-on if it’s going to run again. I wanted to break it in slowly, but still give myself a break, because I do want to retire.”
The strip will begin again and Johnston will add new material as she sees fit, but in a style consistent with earlier strips. That’s a shift from the mix of old and new announced last September, but she thinks it has proven confusing to go back and forth in time. Plus, her original strips were individual gags, not part of a continuing story. Her new solution is to draw fresh strips every once in a while to create something of a unifying thread.

Translation: The clients chose option (b) and Universal Press tried to impress that on Lynn. Lynn said, “This is my strip and you’re not telling me what to do, however….”
Instead of agreeing to do that, Lynn decided to reach a compromise: a less-confusing hybrid, i.e. she maintains the same timeline as the reprint strips and puts new things in the reprint storyline.

The trick is that she’ll draw them in her original style. “It’s hard, but I like challenges,” said Johnston, who’s 60. “The strip has become very tight, and I’m far happier with my drawing now. There’s actually some perspective in the buildings! But you tend to improve and improve and improve until they’re so realistic. In the past, they were more fluid and comic, so I’m going back to my old style.”

Translation: My pet theory is that original Lynn style we have seen thus far in the hybrid is actually the work of Laura Piché, the background artist. Even today’s fix on the last panel of the reprint strip looks like Laura Piché’s work to me. Lynn’s use of the future tense in “I’m going back to my old style” is more proof my theory is correct. Otherwise, she would have said, “I have been occasionally using my old style with the hybrid, and now I will be using that style exclusively.” Now, the real question is whether or not Lynn really will be doing the art, or will it be more Laura Piché?

Talking about Rod--Again!

“It’s the classic story of middle-age angst,” she said of her husband’s decision to leave her. “He’s gone off” with someone much younger, she said, declining to share more details.

Much younger? I had heard rumours that Rod’s original someone else, rumoured to be Nancy Vincent, had returned back to her husband, leaving Rod off futilely chasing 20-something young girls of Corbeil, which does match a description of middle-age angst nicely (even though Rod is in his 60s). I would have guessed Nancy Vincent was about 10 years younger than Lynn; so maybe Rod is now with someone else other than Nancy, depending on how Lynn defines “much younger.” Who knows? I am, however, disappointed that Lynn is bringing this issue up again in a national publication, especially considering what she is about to say next:

Still, she spoke easily of how life and art have mingled for her. John Patterson is a dentist loosely based on her husband, Rod Johnston, who had recently retired from dentistry. His leaving suddenly made it difficult for her to draw John in the strip. So Elly’s husband was absent for several weeks until Johnston realized that, doodle by doodle, she could resume drawing him — which led to a rather startling insight.“John is a character in the strip, but I realize now, more than ever, that perhaps I had made up the real person,” she said. “I think the real person — the way things ended — seemed like something so unexpected and out of character. But I’m more at home with this stuff now and can see that there were signs of this for a long time. And perhaps because I do live in a fantasy world, I probably really was married for 31 years to John Patterson.”

Translation: I am still working through this divorce thing, and I still can’t manage to blame my cheating husband. Instead I am blaming myself for imagining Rod acted like John in the strip, and not recognizing the obvious clues that Rod has been cheating on me for a long time. In the meantime, can I possibly get someone to sit with me through interviews and tell me when I have wandered into things people shouldn’t say out loud?

And Now For Some Lies

She’s not yet sure how the FBorFW story lines will wrap up, and figures that her characters will direct her. She herself doesn’t read other comics, partly because the newspaper in her small community of Corbeil, Ontario, about three hours northwest of Toronto, only carries a few, “and I don’t go online.”

I have heard “The characters drive me” nonsense before, usually used by Lynn to try to throw us readers off the “Anthony and Elizabeth together forever” scent. I didn’t believe it before and I don’t believe it now.

I also find the other statement highly unlikely. She’s spoken of other people’s strips in interviews before, and considering Jan Eliot keeps putting Elly/Lynn into her strip, The Stone Soup, it seems like a pretty silly thing to say. Finally, Corbeil may be 3 hours NW of Toronto, but it is pretty darn close to North Bay. You're not that isolated from a decent-sized town and its newspaper, Lynn Johnston, and I have no idea why you are pretending to be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Finally!! -- Classic For Better or For Worse

The interesting part of today’s selection for a For Better or For Worse reprint is that this is the first of the bunch that have been chosen so far, that I actually remember reading years ago. Elly is expressing a frustration with having children which virtually every mother (and father) has experienced at some point (or right now, if you count me and the Christmas presents which don’t seem to be able to stay put away and off the living room floor). Moreover, Elly’s screaming frustration is not directed at anyone in particular, and seems less menacing than other strips where she is shrieking at someone recoiling from her in terror. The open-mouthed, head back, frustration is for once a good imitation of the way Charles Schulz did it for Peanuts.

In many early strips, John Patterson says something overtly sexist for comedic effect, and it does not work. However, when John Patterson tries to comfort Elly and then says something which, while it is true, is not something the mother wants to hear, that strikes a chord with inarticulate husbands and their wives everywhere. The humour comes from a slice of life, very realistic situation, which could just as easily happen today as 29 years ago. And the humour is not a pun.

Artwise, the characters look good. There are not the usual deformities which oftentimes have marred my enjoyment of the strip reprints. Also the proportions of the bodies relative to each other is pretty consistent.

My conclusion: This is the type of strip Lynn Johnston should be using for her reprints. I remember that I liked this strip when it came out, and it ages well. It’s a shame it’s taken Lynn 5 months to get to it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Coulda Been A Contender

Yesterday, there were a number of elements of the last 2 days of the strip about how “It sucks to be me” and “We’ve given the best of our lives to our families” that made me think of the “I coulda been a contender” speech from the movie On the Waterfront. So I did a takeoff on that speech with Elly Patterson blaming Michael Patterson for keeping her from becoming another Margaret Atwood. I was amused by the idea, but it was probably too obscure a reference to be funny.

Little did I suspect that today’s For Better or For Worse reprint would run along the same lines. The reprint depicts the early life of Elly Patterson talking about how she got all the things she wanted (marriage, house, and children) and having these things has caused her to put off deciding what and who she wanted to be.

I remember at the time in the United States in the early 1980s, there had begun a change in feminism where the push was to embrace motherhood. I had a Women’s Studies class in university at about 1983, I think, where the professor asked the women in the class how many of them planned to be mothers and the professor was shocked when the majority of the women raised their hands. Apparently just a few years before, the exact opposite situation had occurred when the professor asked the same question.

In the case of Elly Patterson, she clearly considers the idea of mother and wife and home owner not to be what and who she wants to be. It did end up being a recurring theme throughout most of the early strips, with Elly trying one thing or another outside of those roles and then eventually becoming a business owner with Lilliput’s. The odd thing about this strip reminding me of early Elly’s impression is that the new strips we had this week gave me the impression that Elly still considers her children something which took “the best of her life” and “they better *@- well better appreciate it”.

I remember this was the issue with 1980s feminism. You have to have the husband, the kids, the house, and the fantastic, well-paying job; and you couldn’t be happy unless you did. Whatever it is that Elly wanted to be, either Lilliput’s wasn’t enough to satisfy it or Elly still resents having to wait for it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Connie Poirier Doesn’t Know

Back on January 4, Connie Poirier was speaking about gray hairs, lines on the face and exclaims, “And there isn’t an exercise of a diet or cram—There’ s nothing you can do to make yourself look the way you feel!” Then in today's For Better or For Worse, Connie claims that her wrinkled grizzled face is due to raising children and is a sign of the hard work that it was to bring forth a “healthy, bright new generation”. What doesn’t Connie know?

First off, Connie doesn’t know what causes people’s skins to wrinkle when they get old.

Connie’s self-congratulatory point about parenting is based upon the idea that she is now a grandparent, something I am pretty sure her son Lawrence did not provide for her. I would feel bad for Lawrence Poirier, except I know that Connie is not truly talking about herself, but giving a straight line to Elly. On the other hand, Lynn should know that Connie’s grandparent status only comes from her husband’s daughter’s kids, and she can take very little credit for the hard work she spent on them.

Lynn Johnston has gone through a great deal of effort to get Mike and Deanna back in the ancestral home. There is no validation of parenting through that, but getting the kids to make kids, that is the question of parental satisfaction. I wonder if Katie or Aaron Johnston is going to take this subtle hint.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ding, Dong, the Hybrid’s Dead

On 01/07/2008, Allison Zadorozny told me:

Thanks for contacting us. There are no plans at this time to reconsider the hybrid format. After almost 30 years it is a necessary transition, and we hope people will understand that and allow future generations to enjoy For Better or For Worse.

But then 5 days later, her boss, Lynn Johnston had a different story for the Ventura County Star. I will address the parts which are new to me.

We're about to part from the ever-evolving Pattersons, however, because new versions of "For Better or For Worse" will end this year.

Johnston hasn't set a specific end date but did start a slow phaseout of the comic in September with a "hybrid" version, alternating new strips with reprints of old ones. The "reruns," which have a much different look from the current strips because Johnston's artistic style has evolved, are presented in the guise of Michael Patterson talking to his daughter about his parents when they, like him, were starting a family.

Speaking via phone from her studio in Corbeil, a town in Ontario, Canada, Johnston, 60, said that after tying up loose ends, she plans to stop writing material about the modern-day characters, although she will make a few mainly cosmetic changes to the classic versions. "I'll fix up some of the old illustrations that I want to improve, and flesh out some story lines," she said.

Although Johnston had originally planned to continue integrating the new and old versions of the comic when the strip ends, she's since decided that "going back in time is confusing to people," so she won't have Michael et al introducing the material.

Let me translate for you: Lynn Johnston knows the hybrid has failed. She said, “Knock me off the comics page” and some people did. I believe Lynn had hoped that the regular inclusion of new material with old would allow the strip to hold the same number of papers for the syndicate, because the fans would put up with the old in order to get the new. Perhaps if all the fans were lunatics like me, that would be the case; but with newspapers who regularly poll their readers about which comics to keep, you have to ask yourself, “Since the hybrid started in September, have things gotten better or have they gotten worse?” For me, definitely worse. Lynn has still tried to juggle the same number of storylines in half the space she previously allotted and this is beyond her. You can’t jump from story to story, strip to strip in the same week and expect to tell a coherent story.

The Star will stop publishing "For Better or For Worse" when Johnston finishes the current story lines and the strip goes into reprints. It will be replaced with "Family Tree," a new comic by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson about an environmentally conscious modern family, the Trees, who are trying to live green while navigating the usual conundrums of family life.

Here’s an example of another a paper interested enough in For Better or For Worse to run this article, but not enough to try to stick with reprints of the strip. However, notice that they are going with somewhat of a name artist to replace Lynn.

John Matthews, vice president of Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes "For Better or For Worse," said that even the reprints will be fresh to readers who missed the strip's earlier years. "Anyone under 65 probably hasn't seen them, so they'll be new to a lot of people," he said.

Under 65? I think I have been insulted. This is the old argument handed out by Lynn and now by the Syndicate and although it may be true, the best strips from 1979-80 were not picked out by Lynn to impress the people it should have impressed. Thematic strip choices of low quality were clearly not the way to go.

But Joe Howry, The Star's editor, said he decided to discontinue the comic after the Patterson saga wraps because he believes that "rehashing old strips" is "unfair to our readers. It is a way to just keep the strip going but not having to do anything new or original."

The Star does run reprints of "Peanuts" cartoons on its comics pages, but, Howry said, he does not place "For Better or For Worse" in the same category as Charles Schulz's cartoon. "There's no comic strip as loved and popular as Peanuts,'" he said. Reruns also are "unfair to the many talented cartoonists creating new material," he said.

Let me translate Howry for you: Peanuts reprints sells papers. Peanuts reprints from the 1950s are not much different from recent Peanuts. For Better or For Worse reprints cause people to write letters to the editor saying, “What is going on? What happened to the art?”

"For Better or For Worse," as the title suggests, isn't always a bag of laughs. Elly's gone through menopause. Michael and Deanna's apartment was destroyed in a fire. Farley the dog died (heroically). April's enveloped in adolescent angst. Grandpa Jim is recovering from a stroke. And who knows what's happening between Elizabeth and her former flame Anthony, now a single dad (Johnston has promised to bring this fluctuating romance to a conclusion).

I love that quote “fluctuating romance”. It is a very good description of the Anthony and Elizabeth romance.

Johnston, who's won numerous honors, including the National Cartoonist's Society's Reuben Award (the Oscar of the cartooning world), plans to travel, paint and spend time with her family when "For Better or For Worse" ends this year. She also plans to contribute to the "For Better or For Worse" Web site,, and publish a detailed book — text with some illustrations — about the characters' long-term futures.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Lynn Johnston has now had her first interview since September, 2007, where she does not mention her divorce. Thank you, Lynn.

She's open to letting another artist write and draw the strip, continuing the cycle with Michael and Deanna's story, but "only if it were the right person. It really has to come from the heart."

Let me translate this for you: The Syndicate has realized that they can still make money on For Better or For Worse, if there is new stuff. They have also realized that the difference in quality between the old stuff and the new stuff means, they are not talking the same thing as Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes reprints. They point their fingers over to Gasoline Alley and say, “Look. Jim Scancarelli didn’t change it that much from Dick Moores.”

They offer Lynn some money and Lynn has a majour breakthrough that maybe she can hand her strip off, and still specify what the strip is about (retain creative control). It must be about Michael and Deanna. Lynn has already let Laura Piché draw a lot of stuff, so she is clearly comfortable with someone else drawing her strip, but apparently not Laura Piché as a final choice. Somebody (the Syndicate, Laura Piché or Lynn Johnston) are saying, “Not Laura Piché.” And to be frank, Laura Piché’s art is not as good as Lynn’s.

As for today’s strip, apparently Lynn has seen Avenue Q.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I Love You

My wife is in San Antonio, Texas this weekend getting some training as a part of her Homemade Gourmet business. She called briefly this evening, and as my son interrupted me to talk to his mother, my wife dropped the “I love you” line while she was getting ready to hang up. After talking to my son for a bit, where he described his day, the phone was returned to me and I was informed that I had failed to give the “I love you” response. I explained that my son had interrupted me and I missed it, and this explanation was accepted. I was reminded of this when I saw the reprint strip for this Sunday, where Michael Patterson asks his mother repetitively if she loves him and instead of giving him an answer, shrieks out at him a verbal pun insult based on his question.

Another bad parenting moment for Elly Patterson. However, I have noticed several times that Pattersons almost never say, “I love you.” I first noticed this when Elizabeth had her relationship with Constable Paul Wright in December of 2005. The man was practically falling all over himself in love with Elizabeth, little suspecting that she was going to shove Warren Blackwood in his face just as he reached the town where his parents lived and he had planned to introduce them. I had been writing Constable Paul Wright over at April’s Real Blog, and I noticed that Elizabeth had not given Paul Wright any kind of assurances of love in response to his. As time went on, this continued. In fact, the one and only time Elizabeth tells Paul Wright she loves him, is in her last telephone conversation with him, before they break up.

I decided to check to see how Elizabeth had treated her other boyfriends, and I found that she treated Warren Blackwood pretty coldly too. Eric Chamberlain was the exception, where Elizabeth asked Eric on several occasions if he loved her, as a sign of her insecurity with him. In fact, I took the lack of “I love you” from Elizabeth as a sign. If Elizabeth said, “I love you” face-to-face with a character, then I knew that character was the one for her, and a clear indication that she had finally gotten over Eric Chamberlain. I had high hopes this moment would come with Anthony Caine. And then, it didn’t. The grand romantic moment where Elizabeth tells Anthony to take her “home” comes after Anthony tells Elizabeth that she is a “blessing”.

I had an expectation with Elizabeth and Anthony. I have no such expectations with any of the other Pattersons. Parents don’t tell it to the kids, and kids don’t tell it to the parents. Today’s For Better or For Worse is the perfect example of it. So ingrained is this tradition, little Michael goes begging for it, and Elly Patterson will do almost anything to avoid saying it.

The interesting part about the phrase with my kids is that they really love to hear it. I didn’t realize it as much until I was a parent, but that parental “I love you” is a reassurance that kids need to have regularly, particularly after they have had a very bad day with their parents. I expect this is what led to Michael having this particular conversation with Elly Patterson. He has done something so rotten; he is actually concerned that he lost her love. However, without that lead-in, the reader only gets a boy who is insecure for unknown reasons about his parent’s love. Elly could have sought the sewing as a refuge against completely losing her temper with Michael over that rotten thing he did, and then he is pursuing her for an answer to a question she has not calmed down enough to give. However, because we don’t have that lead-in, what we have is a parent who seems to be exasperated that the child would even ask such a question and would ask over and over again, when she fails to answer.

I think Lynn Johnston intended this to be a strip, where the reader might relate to the parent being nagged by the child and that might have even been my response until I became a parent. There are moments with my kids, where they absolutely have to have that “I love you” from their mom or dad or they are heartbroken. The first time I read this strip, I was shocked at the Elly Patterson response, thanks to the baggage I bring in from my parenting background. But then I had to think, something had to happen to get little Michael Patterson to this point, and the situation became slightly more understandable.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Dreaded Fear of Looking Like Mom Part 2

In today’s For Better or For Worse Elly starts to go through body parts to pick spots where she looks like Gramma Marian. Ultimately, John pops in out of nowhere with the feeling he looks like his father. John has always looked exactly like his father except taller and except with the dominant cleft in his chin which came from his mother. Or rather I should say it came from the early version of his mother. When I look at the strips shown in the Who’s Who section of the For Better or For Worse website under Carrie Patterson, it appears that as time went on her hair got curlier and the cleft in her chin disappeared. I suspect she got old, got a perm, and had a little face work done.

In stark contrast, thanks to the hybrid reprints from 1979, we can see that young Elly looked almost nothing like her mother or father. As time went on, Elly adopted the bun of her mother, and they both developed the rounded face (instead of the pear shape of 1979 for Elly) and turnip nose.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Dreaded Fear of Looking Like Mom

This was an odd For Better or For Worse strip for me and is definitely not in the line of “You must have a camera in my house.” My wife likes looking like her mom. In fact, she dyes her hair red, specifically because she wants her hair to look like her mother’s naturally red hair. Ironically, my daughter has hair that is the same shade as I think my wife’s natural colour would be; however, since I have never seen my wife’s natural colour and neither have any of my children, it is just speculation. Nevertheless, it is the conclusion to which my daughter has come based on old pictures of her mother and she is a little perturbed that her mother would not want to wear her natural hair colour ever again; daughter wants to look like my wife. She just doesn’t want to dye her hair red to do it, which is reasonable, since she is only 10. To a woman, today’s For Better or For Worse is not like the women in my family.

I know that our Anonymous poster from Corbeil may not like this; but this strip made me feel sad for Lynn Johnston in real life. I can’t help but to think that John’s message to Elly is really a message that Lynn is sending to herself through John Patterson and maybe it’s a message Lynn would have liked to have gotten or maybe did one get at one point from the real-life John, Rod Johnston. If so, I would like to say to John, “You should have stopped after you said, ‘and you’re a beautiful woman now!’” The rest of it is a little condescending, and would irritate me, if someone told me that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

10 Miles to School Uphill Both Ways in the Snow

Today is the first reprint in this For Better of For Worse sequence which doesn’t have anything to do with Elly getting old or worried about her appearance. Instead she laments to herself how she did something just like her mother did, and she swore she wouldn't do. So, maybe the theme for this sequence is not looking old, but perhaps anything having to do with feeling that you are older.

Over on April’s Real Blog, I wrote a version of adult Mike telling this story, pointing out the most obvious difference in letting a kid walk to kindergarten by themselves between 1979 and 2007, which is Stranger Danger, a program in both the United States and Canada. Before my boy’s Asperger Syndrome got the better of the local public elementary school, we lived close enough to my kid’s school to walk them to school. This is something that I miss doing. Nevertheless, I remember that Stranger Danger was an issue, even in suburban Arizona. In addition to managing the school cross walks, the school crossing guards were also instructed to look out for strangers. The most common form of it was “the same car passing by the school over and over again.” And it happened a few times. As parents, we would get reports from the school to be extra cautious, because the school crossing guards spotted someone and they would call the police. Naturally that someone in the car, would disappear when the police car came rolling in to talk to the guards. Then, for a few days, there would be a police car by the school cross walk.

These things seem overly cautious, but as I have mentioned before in this space, I was in Texas back when the incident with Amber Hagerman occurred (of the Amber Alert System fame). It was big news at the time, and made a deep impression on all the parents of young children because the kidnapping was not one of those, “stranger enticing a kid into a dark alley where the kid could be taken with no one watching” kinds of things, but a man pulling a kid off her bike, throwing her into his truck and driving away before the parents could do anything to stop it.

My daughter attends a class called Girl Power, where a good part of the class is to instruct young girls how to physically defend themselves from adults. My son’s Boy Scout literature requires that he know about Stranger Danger in order to advance as a Scout. The joke of today’s For Better or For Worse has to do with the old joke where the kid complains and the parent tells them how much better they have it than they did. In my kids’ case, they have it worse than I did. When I was young, I didn’t worry about some pervert trying to kidnap me, like my kids have to.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Little E-Mail

Instead of tackling the important issue of whether or not a 28-year-old woman's forehead can visibly and consistently wrinkle when angry, I decided to share a little e-mail I got from my last Coffee Talk submission. It's in reverse chronological order, like most e-mails.

"Allison Zadorozny" 01/07/2008 11:17 AM
Subject FW: Coffee Talk Submission

Hi Paul,

Thanks for contacting us. There are no plans at this time to reconsider the hybrid format. After almost 30 years it is a necessary transition, and we hope people will understand that and allow future generations to enjoy For Better or For Worse.

Enjoy your day,


Allison Zadorozny
Business Coordinator

Lynn Johnston Productions Inc.
353 MacPherson Drive
Corbeil, ON Canada P0H 1K0
Ph (705) 752-4226 Ex: 234
Fx (705) 752-4589
Visit the Patterson family at

It’s 2008! Stay up to date with one of our For Better or For Worse calendars! On sale now!

-----Original Message-----
Sent: 06 January 2008 17:53
To: Stephanie A. Van Doleweerd
Subject: Coffee Talk Submission

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted on January 6th, 2008 at 05:53PM (EST).

name: Paul S
location: Oro Valley, Arizona
question: Lynn Johnston,

I heard the New York Daily News has replaced you with “Chuckle Brothers” and St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press has replaced your Sunday strip with “My Cage”. If there are more papers doing the same, is there a possibility that the hybrid method of doing For Better or For Worse will be reconsidered?

Submit: Spill Your Beans

Not only did I find it interesting that Stephanie would forward this one off to Allison, but I found Allison's response that the hybrid was a "necessary transition" an interesting turn of phrase; mainly because the thought going through my head is "transition to what?" Retirement? Not doing new storylines? Not aging the characters? I suppose we will find out after Lynn finally marries off Elizabeth and Anthony, so we can see what the post-wedding strips look like.

Monday, January 07, 2008

I Didn’t Call You Fat, I Called You Rotund

Number 1 on the list of things you don’t tell your wife if you want to stay married and John Patterson says it to Elly. Not only does he say it to Elly, but he says it while he is sitting around doing nothing but drinking coffee and reading a newspaper and Elly is putting up dishes. If I did that to my wife; I would be in the ground, dead and buried before I heard the end of that one.

The interesting thing is that just last September, Elly did the same thing to John and accused him of getting a little paunch. Back in 1979, Elly responds to John’s accusation by pointing out his flaws, which John then says are OK because he is a man. Then in 2007, John also indicated that his paunch was OK, because they were just relaxed abdominals. In both cases, John denies any problem with his fatness; but in 2007 he does not return the accusation back to Elly and accuse her of having a paunch. The other difference is that 1979 Elly has a pretty nice figure and 2007 Elly is not in as good shape. Could it be that John Patterson knows the point of fatness on his wife at which an accusation of fatness would be dangerous to his health?

Probably not. There is a double standard when it comes to societally-acceptable fatness between men and women (love handes vs. fat, as Elly says), and there is also a double standard when it comes to talking about spousal fatness between men and women. My wife has no problem at all having conversations with my mother or her mother, or my sisters, or her friends about me being overweight. If I go on a diet, or if I go off a diet; it is fodder for feminine conversation. However, I certainly cannot do the same to my wife if I want there to be peace in the house. The conversation in 2007 with Elly accusing John of having a paunch could easily happen to me, except the word “paunch” would be changed to a word not quite as kind. The conversation in 1979 with John telling Elly she is rotund is something I cannot imagine ever doing to a girl, even back in 1979.

1979 John Patterson could give Archie Bunker a run for his money when it came to sexist remarks. 2007 John Patterson has long since stopped making those kinds of remarks. When I read strips like today’s reprint For Better or For Worse, I wonder if Rod Johnston really was this awful to Lynn Johnston, or if Lynn is exaggerating what he said for comic effect. I hope it is an exaggeration because, otherwise, Rod Johnston was a rotund head.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Young Lady

I found an on-line reference on avoiding sexist language. Among other things, it says:

1. Do not use the word girl to refer to an adult. Many women find this term offensive. Call females over the age of 18 women, not girls, gals, or ladies. (The definition of girl is a female child. One possibility for eliminating problems with this word is to use the terms young woman and young man for teenagers to suggest a continuum.)
2. Use parallel terms for women and men. Use men and women, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, husband and wife (not man and wife). Alternate the order sometimes: women and men, gentlemen and ladies, wife and husband. Use ladies only when men are being referred to as gentlemen. And don't call women wives and mothers unless you are calling men husbands and fathers.

Today’s For Better or For Worse strip, with its bag boy carrying groceries by hand for Elly, and Elly’s desire to be called a term, which is now considered to be sexist, shows the age of this strip. I know that Lynn Johnston is about to launch down a series of reprint strips where 1980s Elly complained about anything making her look or feel old; but this strip might have been a good strip to skip. After all, a lot of companies which try to market their old material, usually leave out the material which is considered to be offensive by modern standards. Try buying a DVD of Disney’s Song of the South, for instance.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Entertaining Children

I remember when my boy got a Gameboy from his grandparents on the occasion of them coming to visit us in Arizona back in 2002, when he was 7 years old. It was an amazing thing, because the Gameboy was the first toy he had which would keep him occupied for more than an hour. Keeping the children occupied during the course of a day was one of the majour activities of being a parent in my house for most of their early years. Eventually my kids got to the point where they could watch a whole movie lasting more than an hour without getting restless and having to take a bathroom break to alleviate their boredom and their bladder, but it took awhile.

Now my kids are 10 and 12 and keeping them occupied during a day is not a problem at all. Now the problem is making sure they do the school work or their household cleaning assignments before they go to the activities they like to do. The early days of diaper-changing seem long ago. Although I remember them, I sometimes forget how those days were until I think hard about particular incidents. I suspect Lynn Johnston is the same way.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we get to see Deanna Patterson dealing with her kids again, where once again Elly gets to pop in at the end for a good laugh at Deanna’s laughable parenting. To evaluate it, I have to think back to when my kids were those ages. Would I have done or said what Deanna did? The answer is no.

I think back to my house as it was in those days, with the awful baby gates all over the place and constantly having to open them or step over them. Naturally Robin at 3 is up and down the stairs and not a gate in sight. I think back to how I used to have to clean in those days. If my wife wasn’t there to wrangle them, the kids had to be on the same floor I was and occupied with some activity, so I could hear anything going wrong.

I think back to all those parenting books we read. I will have to digress and point out that when my boy started manifesting behaviour from his Asperger’s Syndrome, my wife and I had no idea what was going on. The pediatrician suggested that he was simply having the terrible 2's over a year early, that there was nothing going on with my son that good discipline wouldn’t fix. So, we read a lot of books on disciplining children and we tried most everything that was suggested. If you guessed it didn’t work, you would have guessed right.

Would I have thought I knew everything about raising children before I became a parent? No! Absolutely not! Moreover, who would? Only someone who had a lot of experience with other people’s kids, I would guess, like a daycare worker or the oldest sibling in a large family. That’s certainly not Deanna, who was the youngest of 2 kids and has worked only as a pharmacist. The joke of the strip is to show that once again, Deanna’s meager parenting skills have been trounced by her kids, and that she was once arrogant enough to think she knew everything. I'll give Lynn Johnston points on the realistic way Meredith and Robin react to the situation Deanna created; but Deanna loses points from me in general. Someone who has been a parent for 5 years now, should know better.

Friday, January 04, 2008

When Connie Cometh, So the Reprint Comes Also

Based on this strip also reprinted in October from 1979, young Elly Patterson must have had a real problem with being mocked by salespersons and bank tellers. I actually suspect the theme of those strips had more to do with popular comedy routines where a salesperson would inadvertently mock someone for their purchase by asking in a loud voice for someone to check the price on the item of embarrassment, as opposed to actual experience.

Ironically, this strip from the very beginning of For Better or For Worse shows that Elly has never been satisfied with her appearance, even in the days when she should have been satisfied. One of my wife’s favourite stories is how when she ran track in her junior high school days she thought she was a fat cow, when in reality she was in the best shape of her life. Apparently, Elly Patterson is the same way.

This is a problem which is common to a lot of women. I found a lot of times, women do have an opinion of their own appearance which shapes how they treat other people. My wife’s roommate in university was a tall, tan blonde woman, whom my wife referred to as “The Goddess”. Naturally, she had her complaints about her appearance and had surgeries to enhance them; but she did also realize that men found her attractive. For example, she was proud of the fact she could go into a bar and never have to pay for a drink. Or as another example, she restricted her dates to men who had 6-figure salaries, and still got plenty of dates. She liked my wife because they had similar tastes in music; but my personal appearance fell well below the point of her civility, which is to say, she wouldn’t talk to me when my wife and I got together with her. Later on in life she gained a lot of weight, and was quite a bit more pleasant to be around, which is to say, she would talk to me when my wife and I got together with her.

When I see today’s For Better or For Worse, I wonder where it is that Lynn Johnston really thought or thinks she is. Young Elly Patterson has a slender figure and a fashion sense which was appropriate for the time period. Even when she buys the aging cream, you have a sense that she really doesn’t need it.

Modern Elly Patterson does not dress fashionably, and looks pretty bad at times, especially with yesterday’s Ben Franklin imitation. In contrast, Lynn Johnston in her website pictures, looks pretty good. I can’t tell if Elly Patterson still reflects Lynn own opinion of herself, or if Lynn draws Elly much worse as a way of relating to the way a lot of 60-year-old women look or simply for comic effect. After all, as a dentist’s wife, Elly should have the money to look and dress a lot better.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Looking the Way You Feel

The last time I heard the phrase: “One minute you’re an attractive woman – and the next you’re looking at someone you hardly recognize” was from a woman who was explaining how it is a husband’s fault that the woman they considered attractive when they were dating them is no longer attractive as their wife. The rant had to do with how older women are still attractive, but the problem is that their husbands don’t take the time to properly appreciate them. So, when Connie Poirier started down the road in today’s For Better or For Worse strip about how she has gotten old seemingly overnight without noticing it, it was nice to see that this was not used as an opportunity to slam men.

I would imagine that with the nature of the marital problems Lynn Johnston had last year, dealing with issues about her attractiveness would certainly be a part of it. I view this strip as a very good sign that Lynn has gotten over or dealt with this aspect of divorce, so that issues of attractiveness with respect to men has not even been mentioned in today's strip.

Instead Lynn Johnston is focusing on the differences between your self-image and your real life image. Personally I notice such things less when looking in the mirror, as Connie Poirier describes; because that happens every day, and more from seeing myself in a photograph from an angle I rarely see. The more difficult perception (and I don’t know if Connie is going to head this way in her diatribe) is seeing the way people see your personality and react to it. For example, I went through a period in my life, where I didn’t like giving long and detailed explanations of things, and I simply said, “Yes” or “No” to “Yes or No questions”. Even though I would say these things in a level tone of voice, frequently people would assume I was angry with them, and I learned that longer explanations were necessary, more conversational, and made people feel better about you (even if all those extra words were not necessary to answer the question).

This is even true of comic strip characters. However, Lynn Johnston oftentime circumvents that necessity and relies heavily on a relational shorthand for telling her stories. Today’s strip is the perfect example of that. If I take the strip on its merits, I might simply say, “Real people don’t have conversations like this” or “Photoshopping is not really a method to replace exercise, diet and skin cream, so this joke makes no sense.” However, Lynn depends on her readership looking at the few things being said and relating to them. Any person who has felt younger than they think they looked can say, “That’s the way I feel” and then can feel good about the strip speaking for them. They replace Connie or Elly with their own personality, and therefore Lynn Johnston does not have to write a personality for Connie or Elly except as a generic older woman, who thinks she is unattractive because she is old. The rest of the personality is the reader’s own perspective on what happens to the character.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Back From Vacation

After 17 hours on the road and we are back from Dallas, Texas to Arizona. The trip was a partial success; but my kids were very patient with the parts which should have gotten them very upset. The single biggest and most painful incident was one in which my kids and their step-cousins (children of my wife’s stepbrother) were scheduled to attend a post-Christmas gathering, gift-exchange and family meal at their mutual grandparents’ house last Sunday. The time came and my wife’s step-brother showed up at his mother’s house without his kids or his wife because they “decided they didn’t want to come”. The grandmother called over to their house to talk to the mother and the kids to find out what’s up and they basically give that same answer to the tune of “mom just came back from traveling to California and we would rather spend time with her.” Their mom is a stay-at-home mom, whom they normally see day-in and day-out. They get to see my kids 2 times a year, when we travel to Dallas. My daughter got on the phone with her cousin, a girl about her same age and she got the same answer. We were astonished, and my kids were hurt, but hid their disappointment pretty well. I was impressed with them.

Aside from this moment, we pretty hit all the parts I wanted to hit. My kids got to spend time with both sets of their grandparents and had about as much fun as they could have, considering the grandparents mainly wanted to spend their days watching all the college bowl games on TV, and the kids got pretty stir crazy. We did have one outing to the National Cowgirl Museum in Dallas, where I had never been before, and my son and my daughter both got to go on individual shopping trips with their favourite grandmother (the one who visits us in Arizona). It definitely could have gone better, but we did put forth the effort anyway, to try to keep in touch with my wife’s Dallas-area relatives.

As for the wonderful world of For Better or For Worse, it was interesting to see what did (and in particular) did not happen. I was quite surprised we did not get an authentic proposal from Anthony Caine to Elizabeth Patterson by New Years’ Eve. An indication that the two are definitely living together (instead of vague hints they are sleeping together) was not what I expected at all. Lynn Johnston did virtually the same thing with Liz and Eric Chamberlain living together at university. I thought she would not repeat the same situation with Liz and Anthony as a contrast to the inferiour Eric and Liz relationship.

April and Gerald are in an odd state of perpetual farewell. It’s almost like the April/Becky McGuire feud where they would fight and make up, and then the next time they got together, they would repeat the same sequence with no regard to the prior “make up” part. April and Gerald seem to be “I love you, but wait…we are leaving each other because we are going different ways when we graduate high school in 2009.” I think Lynn Johnston is determined to let us know, in each of April’s farewell appearances with her friends, exactly what April’s life is going to be like after she retires from doing this strip. Maybe April could wear a sandwich board listing all those things in her future. That might be easier and would make about as much sense.

Grandpa Jim was the one I found the most interesting. My wife’s grandmother, during the year she died, continually made reference in conversation with other people to the idea that “This is my last Christmas” or “This is my last Spring” and things of that nature. The usual response from my wife and the other relatives was “You’re wrong. You’re in good health (which she was for the most part)” or “Don’t talk that way.” As it turned out, she was right. So, when Grandpa Jim dropped the line about it being his last Christmas, I was immediately reminded of my wife’s grandmother. Unfortunately, Lynn Johnston has decided to completely eliminate Grandpa Jim’s ability to communicate, so none of those denial kinds of reactions to Grandpa Jim’s statement can occur, except in the mind of the reader. Ultimately, it doesn’t make any difference, since Lynn Johnston is going to eventually freeze time, so a storyline about Grandpa Jim’s death is a moot point. However, if Lynn Johnston were going to continue on, I would expect Jim to be dead within the year.

Elly/John or Mike/Deanna. These couples have gotten into a permanent reminiscing mode of operation, so they don’t seem to be able to do anything anymore without thinking about how it was when they did that thing before. Lynn Johnston could delete all their most recent strips and no one would notice.

The strip sequences in general are hopping from person-to-person in strip-to-strip in these last few weeks. I don’t like it. It’s very jarring and makes for poor story-telling.

As for the art, it looks to be all Laura Piché these days. In today’s strip, the figure-drawing has a flatness and a straightness very similar to Laura’s figures for her background characters. I think Lynn Johnston has given up the art chores at least on these strips, even on the main characters.

I am back and Happy New Year!