Friday, May 30, 2008

1930s Humour in 1979

The reprint strips are still going in reverse order in For Better or For Worse, so after Elly confronts John about his insults and tells him she is taking it personally, he continues to insult her. Except that the insult is really the line, “Hurry up, you can’t take all day, for heaven’s sake!” We never actually get to see John call Elly a klutz and a dummy. What we do see is that Mr. Shadbolt is concerned about the way John treats his assistant, and John tells him that it’s OK to abuse her, because she is his wife.

There was once a time when “wife” jokes were popular. The old standard joke was “Who was that lady you were with last night?” “That was no lady. That was my wife.” When I look back at these old For Better or For Worse comic strips, it makes John Patterson look like his style of humour was developed on vaudeville stage, and I sometimes forget that this strip was written in 1979, when this style of humour would have been considered to be highly offensive. Lynn Johnston obviously finds it funny, because she repeated a wife joke just last year.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Strip Reordering and Reinterpretation

It is interesting how reordering a strip can make a difference with its interpretation. As this sequence was originally presented in For Better or For Worse, John heaped abuse on his wife as a dental assistant, and then Elly got confirmation from fellow employee Helène that John was mean to her too. So, we learn it was equal opportunity abuse, and not just because Elly was his wife.

With the strips in reverse order, Helène’s comment to Elly comes off as a warning to her, and the need for the warning is fulfilled in today’s strip. John explains that he gets tense and called Elly (or presumably his regular dental assistant, too) names. And he expects that the dental assistant will understand that his name-calling comes from stress and should not be taken personally. Then if it continues in this order of presentation, tomorrow John will appear to be even more of an ass because, after learning Elly takes it personally, he will continue to heap abuse on her.

The strangest part of this equation is the knowledge that Lynn Johnston’s husband, Rod, would then have this sequence of strips which portrayed him as an abusive husband and an abusive employer out in the public for everyone to read. If I read these strips and Dr. Rod Johnston was my dentist, I would be seriously considering finding another dentist. I can’t imagine I would be the only one to think this.

There is a type of abuse where the victim of the abuse finds moments where retribution can be gotten without immediate consequence. For example, the wife who embarrasses her abusive husband at a party, knowing that he can do nothing to her while they are at the party. In many respects, these early For Better or For Worse strips feel like this to me. It seems like it is Lynn Johnston getting a very public revenge on Rod Johnston. If Rod deserved this, more power to Lynn for having humiliated him; but if he didn’t, this week of strips would feel like a punch to the stomach.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Throw a Fit or Get a Hit? I Choose Hit

This spring, my 10-year-old daughter took up the fine sport of softball, because her best friend was doing it. She had never played before. Tonight, she had her last game of the season and her first hit. She had been on base and scored runs before, thanks to being walked; but tonight was the first time she hit the ball and got on base. Typically, when she went up to bat, she would stand and watch the ball go by, and all that was required of the pitcher to get her out was to throw 3 strikes.

She worked out in batting cages, in separate practices with me, and with her team; but still, when she came up to bat, she would freeze and watch the ball go by. However, that all ended tonight, when she came up to bat and got her first hit. I had feared the whole season would go by, and this would never happen. So, I am quite excited by this event. It made the season for me.

In For Better or For Worse, the reprints started as predicted. It appears that once again, John Patterson cannot get a break, even in his own office. His assistant rakes him over the coals for throwing “a fit” and going “nuts” for cleanliness in his dentist office. Elly rakes him over the coals for not putting up his socks.

Who cares about his stinking socks? My girl got a hit!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

If It's Connie, It Must be Reprint

Connie Poirier and coffee mean only one thing: Reprint. Today’s For Better or For Worse is basically a strip designed to set up the old story where Elly worked for Dr. John Patterson as his assistant. If this is the case, then there is a whole storyline which could be reprinted from early For Better or For Worse. I suspect that is coming tomorrow. If so, it will be another example of Lynn Johnston listening to her fans who complained about how the reprints strayed too far from the memories introduced by the modern characters.

As for me, the idea of another week of reprints fills me with a sense of dread. I enjoyed the over-the-top praise of Michael’s writing and Elly’s minimal grandparenting skills last week and Elizabeth throwing herself at Warren Blackwood the week before. But this week, even the new stuff is just a rehash of old jokes For Better or For Worse has done before and better.

Not only that, but the art bothered me again today. The sticky-out tongue laughing is a trademark of the Lynn Johnston art style. The artist today and yesterday could not get it right, when drawing Connie Poirier laughing. I don’t know who is drawing this stuff these days, but even if it is Lynn Johnston doing it, she is not getting the Lynn Johnston style down right. There was a certain joy conveyed in the old, sticky-out tongue laugh. Connie Poirier’s version looks freakish to me.

As for the humour itself, the pun does actually make sense for a change, which is good. It’s not funny, but at least it doesn’t leave me scratching my head and asking myself what the pun means. I find these days, as I open my comic strip page in my local paper, in comparison to other strips on the page, For Better or For Worse is really struggling. Even The Quigmans, which I have often thought was the poorest, written and drawn series in my local paper, is starting to compare favourably to For Better or For Worse. The strips that surround it in the paper are filled with the work of artists who appear to be actually trying to make someone laugh, or to tell a story, even though they are often not successful. But with this strip, we see recycled jokes about technology and a very lame pun on dentistry and poverty. The artist does not even seem to be trying, and for some reason, it is bugging me today.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Elly: Hypocrite or Techno-guru?

The fact that Elly Patterson of For Better or For Worse is a hypocrite when it comes to text-messaging is not that surprising. The fact that Elly knows how to text-message in order to be labeled a hypocrite is the surprising part. Not only is it surprising, but it adds a different perspective to the usual fears of Elly Patterson when it comes to technology. After all, it hasn’t been that long since John and Elly held themselves together in fear of the dreaded internet.

The normal joke with Elly and technology and April is that Elly dislikes something about technology, April knows the technology, and consequently Elly dislikes something about what April does. I fully expected that was the direction we were headed. Elly would dislike text-messaging because she did not understand it, and consequently dislike Eva and April’s use of it. Instead what we get is that Elly knows the technology, so her complaint changes from generic texting hate to the idea that April and Eva are allowing the technology to erode their ability to converse and their ability to write. Considering our first significant exposure to Eva’s conversational skills led us to a week where she made one bizarre cowboy analogy after another, Elly could have a point.

This point ruins the perspective of the joke. You see, the fact that Elly would text her daughter does not mean that Elly uses a code, or sends a little note, etc. Elly may be using complete sentences to send her message. Connie’s open-mouthed laughing means that she has interpreted Elly’s statement to mean that she has condemned all text messaging. In fact, she should laugh only if she sees that Elly is not sending a complete sentence for her message and is using a code. That would make her a hypocrite.

Without that, the For Better or For Worse reader would look at the strip and say, "Ha! Look! Elly is a hypocrite for sending a text message." This would then be followed by the reaction I imagine most For Better or For Worse readers have to most of the strips, where they say, "But wait a minute...that doesn't make sense."

Girls Just Want to Hear Other Girls Talk

I had this situation occur just last night. My wife and her best friend were in the front seats, my daughter and the best friend’s daughter (who are also best friends) were in the next set of seats, and I and my son were in the back seat of our van as went to see the latest Indiana Jones’ picture, which my wife’s brother worked on. Just a little spoiler to let you know that my wife’s brother’s name was left off the credits at the end of the movie, which did spoil the ending for us as we looked for it and then had to call him up to find out what happened. As it turns out, even in a picture like Indiana Jones, where the credits run on for ages, studio executives still have to decide which names to list and which names to trim off, since running credits does cost money. But I digress.

As I look back on it, did Lynn Johnston have a camera in my car? As I think about the whole trip to and from the movie theatre, I would have to say the answer to that question is a big, fat “No”. My wife and her best friend chatted like their daughters weren’t there. Their daughters chatted like their mothers weren’t there. There was no texting back and forth, and there was no motherly concern about daughters being too quiet.

However, there are big differences between the situation in For Better or For Worse and in my family. For one thing, the lady in the front seat is Connie Poirier and not Eva Abuya’s mother, whom we have never met. For another thing, although Elly has met Eva before for April’s birthday celebrations in 2006 and 2007 and mall shopping in 2007, they have never had an actual mother-to-best friend-of-my-daughter conversation. This may come as a surprise to Lynn Johnston, but some mothers actually are interested in their daughters enough to find out a little about who they are hanging around with. In fact, and this may come as a shock to some people, but fathers sometimes do the same thing.

So, when I see this scene of Elly Patterson constantly fretting that April and Eva are not talking, instead of having her own conversation with Connie Poirier and ignoring her daughter, would I say that this is in character for Elly? Is she really worried that her daughter and Eva have had some kind of fight, and that is why they are not talking? You know, I would have to say, “Yes” to this one. April and Eva have fought before. April has a history of breaking up friendships (re: Becky McGuire and Gerald Delaney), and she has no female friends aside from Eva and Shannon Lake. This is despite having been born and spent her entire life in Milborough. April has no extracurricular activities in high school aside from her now-defunct band. April should have a lot of female friends, and yet her only ones are a girl who moved to the school system 2 years ago, and special needs girl, with whom April rarely socializes.

As it turns out, Eva and April are not fighting, but are texting to keep Elly from eavesdropping in on their conversation. There you have it. Elly eavesdropping and Elly ignoring Connie Poirer. In other words, Elly is rude and her social skills leave much to be desired. I wonder where April learns her antisocial behaviour.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Schulz Did It Better

Today’s For Better or For Worse reminded me of a very famous strip sequence in Peanuts where Linus convinces Charlie Brown to wait overnight in a pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin, who never shows up. The strip is so clearly a rip-off of that sequence, I am surprised that he did not protest.

A part that makes this sequence interesting is that unlike Linus' benign desire to see a nonexistent creature; little Michael plans to trap a live creature. His motivations are a lot less pure than that of Linus.

Friday, May 23, 2008

From Mike Praise to Elly Praise

Back when I lived in Dallas, Texas; I was closely located to 2 sets of grandparents, both on my wife’s side. Dallas is a big city, and so one set of grandparents was a 30-minute drive away and the other set was a 45-minute drive away. When the grandparents agreed to baby-sit, they never came to my house. We always went to theirs and picked up the kids in a similar fashion as Mike and Deanna do with Elly Patterson in today’s For Better or For Worse.

After we moved to Arizona, we really missed having grandparents in town. The part of today’s strip which seems realistic to me, is the part where Deanna says, “She makes life so much easier.” The part that doesn’t make sense is the dialogue around it. “We’re lucky your mom takes the kids for us.” This implies that there was a real possibility that Elly would not agree to take the kids for them.

When Deanna and Mike lived in Toronto, Elly was an event-baby-sitter. Someone had to be sick, or the parents were in desperate need, or it was Mother’s Day. This has proved to be the case, even with Elly living down the street from Mike. In this strip, Elly helps out because the regular sitter is sick or when Deanna cannot get her kids down to Elly’s in a reasonable time. If these are Elly’s conditions for sitting her grandchildren, then it follows that Michael and Deanna are lucky that Elly took the kids for them, because she normally would refuse to do so.

The other thing we never did was to stop on the way back from wherever we had gone in Dallas, to pick up flowers for the grandmother doing the baby-sitting. It’s a nice thought, but pretty impractical given the time of night they are approaching home. Or maybe, I am just a very, bad, in-law.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Boys Will be Boys, Even Mike and Weed

Today’s For Better or For Worse tapped into an uncomfortable memory for me. There is a tendency, when you are male and single, and you are into the arts, for people to assume that you are a homosexual. It is same sort of thing as assuming male hairdressers are homosexual I suppose. When I was just out of university, I took a job in Dallas, Texas, where I had no friends whatsoever, because I received a good job offer. I went to the local church to meet people and visited the singles group and got on very well with another guy, who was even more into the arts than I was, which is to say, it was his living. Because of this, he had access to free tickets to all kinds of things.

So, one day he offered me free tickets to something and I met him at his apartment and we went to the event. Then we came back to his apartment and we were chatting about the event and this guy’s enormous collection of classical music and a lot of the things we had in common, when the guy said he wanted to wrestle. It took me completely by surprise. When I was in high school, wrestling was strictly a venue for sports. When I was younger than in high school, wrestling was what you did to keep from getting beaten up in a boys’ restroom. Also, please bear in mind that I was young and very stupid when it came to such things. The upshot was this:

I had made the presumption that because he was in a church singles group, he was heterosexual.
He had made the presumption that because I was a single man heavily into the arts, I was homosexual.

Unfortunately for me, I discovered this after a little wrestling had occurred. You can fill in the blanks. Needless to say, it was an embarrassing moment for both of us. Despite this start, we remained good friends up to the point where he moved away. After all, we did have a lot of common interests. And we never again wrestled.

Now, when I see Josef Weeder and Michael Patterson engaging in a little friendly wrestling, this is the story of my past which pops into my head. I know Lynn Johnston is trying to have the characters do a little manly rough-housing; but Weed and Mike are artsy, pinky out, champagne-drinkers and not rough bruisers drinking Molsons. Not only that, but I cannot think of any strips where Michael and Josef Weeder wrestled each other before, even in university. Plus there is that camera Lynn Johnston had in my friend's apartment in Dallas, all those years ago. However, as I know first hand, you cannot presume that just because a guy is an artist...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good Fame / Bad Fame

In Tucson, from time-to-time I will go to the performance of a play and read the bio of the actors in the play to see if I have seen them in some other production. Sometimes, I will read the phrase, “I thank God that I am able to make a living as an actor” as a part of the biography. I was reminded of this phrase when I read Michael Patterson in today's For Better or For Worse saying, “I don’t want to be famous, Carleen…I just want to make a decent living.” The idea is then that Mike’s desire to be a writer is based only upon his desire to write and not because of any of the perks that go along with this. He seems to be very much his mother’s son with this kind of attitude. Elly wanted to own a bookstore, but she was often portrayed as a woman who could barely tolerate the public that came into her store. In the same fashion, Mike is going to be famous, not because he wants to be, but because he does not want to be. He just wants to be a writer. This kind of fame is acceptable.

If you compare this to the long-winded Becky McGuire story and also this strip from Gerald Delaney’s desire not to be happy but to be famous, then you can see the contrast. Being famous is OK if you don’t want to be famous. But if you do want to be famous, then things are not going to go your way.

In many respects, this has to be the philosophy behind Lynn Johnston. She did not go into cartooning to be a famous artist. Instead fame was thrust upon her by a syndicate who wanted to fill a niche in their strips. This means that the reason Lynn goes and does cartooning is because she loves being a cartoonist. I just wish she loved it enough to use an eraser.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mike Patterson Best-selling Author

Well today we finally had confirmation that Michael Patterson’s first novel Stone Season was a best-seller. One of his silhouetted fans at the book-signing tells us this. I suppose I should be happy none of them is calling the book the great Canadian novel, or telling exactly how long and what height Stone Season achieved on the best-seller list.

Today’s strip continued the theme of Mike being an even more important author than last time, because Elly actually says there are important people there. Then there is a random guy with a microphone seeking an interview in the middle of the signing. But, since the overriding theme is Mike’s need for humility Patterson style, he gets it dished to him by his children, who don’t find the idea that their father has written another book very exciting and don’t understand why other people are excited. “Incited” is the word and has to be a subtle dig at this whole storyline.

For the second novel, Lynn Johnston is throwing out what few story-telling techniques she used the last time.

For Stone Season, Michael had scheduled publicity appearances.
For Blood Cargo, Michael has a random person trying to interview him at a book-signing.

For Stone Season, his kids were excited and why shouldn’t they be? Books are something a kid can easily understand.
For Blood Cargo, his kids consider the book their own dad wrote as just another book in a bookstore and not special in any way.

For Stone Season, Mike was a little put-out and tired during his book-signing.
For Blood Cargo, his mother realizes important people are in attendance.

I had secretly hoped that Lynn Johnston was going to turn this around and not make Michael a phenomenal success. However, what we have instead is conversations which are probably lifted verbatim from Lynn’s upcoming Lives After Lives Behind the Lines book. We now know that Mike will continue to write bestsellers. Some of them will be optioned for movies. We saw this same phenomenon with Duncan Anderson, who is destined to be a travel agent who organizes worldwide sporting events. We also saw Dr. Ted McCaulay, whom we know will work until he dies. April will be a veterinarian, etc. If they say it once, then it will happen. Lynn Johnston definitely appears to be setting up a sequence of visiting each of the characters in order to line up her ideas for that book. I fear this means a lot of tedious strips.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Photography by Weed / Humility by Mike

Every 2 – 3 years, my family gets their picture taken by a professional photographer, so we can hand out pictures to relatives and the like. Usually we do it in combination with getting our picture in a church photo directory. So, as I looked at today’s For Better or For Worse as Michael Patterson was getting his publicity shots done, something bothered me. I had to look at pictures of an actual professional studio to see what was wrong. Basically, there is some equipment missing, most noticeably a backdrop for the picture.

My initial thought was that Lynn Johnston had not access to a photo studio for reference; so, I verified that North Bay, Ontario has photography studios.

I think what we have is a situation somewhat like the Howard Bunt courtroom scene, where Lynn Johnston had reference pictures of a courtroom, but must have decided they were too cluttered and removed items from them for the strip, like the court reporter sitting in front of the judge. However, by decluttering, she also made the courtroom look wrong. In today’s strip with Josef Weeder’s photography studio, I get the same impression. The only difference between what we have in the strip and a real photography studio situation is the missing equipment—a backdrop, lighting umbrellas and lights in front of Michael pointing at Michael, a camera on a tripod, etc.

There is a fine line in these kinds of things. A comic strip can’t hold everything; but if it is not going include it all, then there as to be a line as to what is or is not included, so the drawing is still believable. For example, the last 2 panels with close-ups did not bother me with their lack of equipment. But the second panel, with Carleen and the light behind Mike in the angle of the camera shot, did bother me. Weed using a handheld camera also bothered me, because when my family has had professional portraits done, the camera was always held on a tripod for the stillness, and it had a big old lens on it. That little handheld thing, just doesn't seem right to me.

The other surprising thing was Michael Patterson’s whole speech. While he is talking about how he doesn’t want success to change him, what tells me it has, more than any request for autograph space in his pictures, is the nonstop talking about himself. After the first novel, Michael Patterson couldn’t even put together a speech for his party. He played the humble card to the hilt. With book #2, he is a humble Mike no longer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blood Cargo

The second in a series of books by Michael Patterson, the first being Stone Season, where the title is a one-syllable word, followed by a two-syllable word. What I really want to know in For Better or For Worse is not whether Michael Patterson can produce another novel, but how much money he made on his first novel. I have suspected that his first novel would jump into some bestseller list and receive exceptional critical acclaim, because the history in the strip shows Michael Patterson with extraordinary luck when it comes to what he wants to do. It is impossible to tell if Mike is any good in his universe if he only receives praise from his friends.

My favourite part of today’s strip is Carleen Stein’s implication that Mike is crazy. This sentence in particular is great for that, “You must go nuts with all this material, all these images, all this dialogue pounding around inside your mind.” If she is serious, then you have to wonder if Mike wrote some kind psychedelic, drug-induced, flight of consciousness, kind of book.

My least favourite part of the strip is the image of Carleen Stein. I know Laura Piché has written in, denying culpability for these jumps in the art style, but the artwork in today’s strip is another in a series that looks like the work of a completely, different artist than Lynn Johnston. If Mike had not said, “Carleen” I would not have known who the character was supposed to be. The Carleen Stein I know has wiry hair, chipmunk cheeks and a flat nose. Also, she doesn’t talk very much.

However, now that it is novel time, my greatest regret is that there are no longer any monthly letters on the For Better or For Worse website, where we can see excerpts of Mike’s novel. The monthly letters describing Stone Season were so bad, it was inspirational. I would love to see how Michael Patterson does with a thriller on the open seas in a windjammer. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Elly, Back When She Felt Guilt

The early years of For Better or For Worse had many strips where the parents and mainly Elly would question her abilities as a parent. It was the type of strip that connected very well with parents; because when a parent makes a mistake, there is a type of humility that goes with it that is a unique sensation, at least to me it is.

Some years ago, I was in a car accident where the car was totaled. I was the driver and my wife and kids were in the car. I made a stupid driving error which led to the accident. The guilt over this for me was overwhelming, especially when I was in the hospital, and my kids and my wife were being examined for injuries. I realized just how close I had come to killing or severely injuring my family and potentially wrecking them for the rest of their lives.

I think this is the essence of parental guilt. At the same time you are trying to teach your children the skills necessary to survive in the world when you are not there to protect them, there is also the fear that you will screw up and mess up your kid for the rest of their lives. Most examples are not as extreme as my car accident; but the moments when I was not a good parent pop up into my head from time-to-time as “don’t do that ever again, you stupid idiot” lessons for my life.

As for today’s For Better or For Worse, I enjoy seeing Elly with some self-recrimination over her behaviour. She seems much more human to me that the Elly of the last several years who never, ever admits a mistake and spends an inordinate amount of time congratulating herself on her parenting skills, the most recent examples are this year’s, self-congratulatory, conversations with Connie Poirier. I think 1979 Elly should have a chat with 2008 Elly and remind her of a few things. For example, sometimes you have can have beautiful children, who do well, in spite of your parenting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It Wasn’t Love

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Elizabeth Patterson goes through a process I have seen many people do before including me, i.e. evaluate their current relationship based on their prior relationships. Usually the point of these exercises is to show how much better their current relationship is than their prior ones and with Elizabeth Patterson, this is no exception. Then later, if Liz and Anthony get divorced, and Liz remarries, she can make the same comparison with husband #2. I don’t think it is a case of really confirming the current relationship is the best one, as showing that she made the right decision to end the other relationships. At least that is my opinion of the reasons for the comparison, when I think about old girlfriends and say, “I am so happy I didn’t end up with her.”

As such, I cannot truly take this strip as a judgment of the quality of the other relationships. When it comes right down to it, I agree with Elizabeth, at least on the point that Anthony Caine is the best choice for her of all those men. Elizabeth showed this week that she is not above fondling old boyfriends and I expect that of all those men she named, Anthony Caine is going to be the one who would take such behaviour the best. During the March phone call with Elizabeth where Warren interrupted, he did not seem the least bit perturbed that Elizabeth had an old boyfriend in her apartment when he called. In contrast, Paul Wright was obviously upset when he ran into Warren back in December, 2005. Likewise Warren actively sought to eliminate Paul as a rival with his actions in Janary, 2007. As for Eric Chamberlain, he was unaware of Liz’s New Years’ Eve 2002 date with Anthony Caine during their relationship, so I cannot tell. I think that if Warren pops in from time-to-time, or Liz invites all her old boyfriends to her wedding, Anthony is the best guy to put up with that.

Liz wants a homebody who is not going to move, or change jobs, or all those things she criticized Warren for. Anthony is that guy and certainly the other men are not. Of those men, he is the best choice.

Now, whether or not it’s love between Liz and Anthony, that’s a whole different story.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Elizabeth the Snuggler

It seems in today’s For Better or For Worse, that being engaged does not prevent Elizabeth from snuggling on ex-boyfriends. Back in the days when Anthony Caine was engaged or married to Thérèse, Elizabeth was regularly snuggling him, and they were supposedly just friends; so it shouldn’t be any surprise to find Elizabeth is snuggling Warren Blackwood today. However, I wonder what Anthony Caine would do, if he were a witness to the events of today’s strip with the snuggling and yesterday’s strip with Elizabeth gazing deep into Warren’s eyes. Would he recognize that this is the same behaviour that she did with him, back in the days when he was engaged or married, and she was committed to another guy.

I would think he would have two responses:

a. Anthony would recognize that this snuggling is the way Elizabeth is, i.e. she just likes to hug on men. However, it also means that Anthony must realize any interpretation of his that she was interested in him when she was doing this to him, was completely wrong. Elizabeth’s snuggles show no emotional intent.

b. Anthony would recognize that Elizabeth has feelings for Warren Blackwood. She may not be willing to travel with him overseas, but she also is not saying to Warren, “Anthony Caine will never be the wrong one. Give me up. Make your own life without me, Warren.” The door is still open for Warren’s return and Liz is not shutting it.

I have been making jokes that the reason Elizabeth can’t tell Anthony she loves him, is because she is only marrying him because he works and lives in Milborough, Today’s strip actually seems to indicate that this interpretation is correct.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cartoon Comparisons

Some comparisons between today’s For Better or For Worse and the similar conversation Liz had with Paul when she told him she was moving back to Milborough.

Warren wants to ask Liz, to whom he is not engaged or married to come with him.
Liz asked Paul, to whom she was not engaged or married to come with her.

Warren is leaving, even though he knows that this leaves Liz with Anthony Caine.
Liz is leaving, even though she knows that this leaves Paul with Susan Dokis.

While Warren is talking, Liz is looking deeply into his eyes, as if she were in love.
While Liz is talking, Paul looks like Liz has punched him in the stomach or they don’t look at each other at all.

When Warren asks Liz to leave with him, the implication is that Liz will not work, because he doesn’t mention it.
When Liz asks Paul to leave with her, the implication is that he will have to work, because his transfer is a big part of the conversation.

When Warren tells Liz about his job offer, he pretends her opinion counts until Liz tell him that she knows it doesn’t.
When Liz tells Paul about her job offer, she doesn’t even pretend his opinion counts. She is moving and she would like it if he moved with her.

There is essentially no relationship between Warren and Liz, so if Liz stays or goes with Warren will have no effect on the relationship.
There was a relationship between Paul and Liz, so Paul’s decision to stay or go is effectively the same thing as his making a decision to continue or end the relationship.

Warren intentionally seeks out Liz to talk about the job move.
Liz only tells Paul about the move, after Vivian Crane guilts her into it.

When Warren will not alter his plans, Liz could care less.
When Liz will not alter her plans, Paul feels like she has hit him.

Coffee Cup symbolism
Both Liz and Warren have coffee until Liz drops her cup and decides to sit on the floor to absorb the spilt liquid with her pants. Then it is just Warren drinking coffee.
With Paul and Liz, only Paul drinks coffee. Perhaps Liz has already cleaned up the spill.

Shiimsa symbolism
Shiimsa is nowhere to be seen when Liz and Warren talk.
Shiimsa is in the house when Liz and Paul talk.

What I come away from both sequences is that Liz is completely in control. She gets what she wants without any compromise in both situations, and she does so primarily without considering the other person’s feelings in the matter. Ultimately, with Paul, she doesn’t get what she wants. And if the strip runs long enough, we may see that it is the same case with Warren; but I doubt we will see much past Liz and Anthony’s wedding, since Lynn has seen fit to waste a week to wrap up a storyline with Warren Blackwood that wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Story of Warren Blackwood

This is a fascinating story, not only because of the serious retconning that goes on in it, but also because it is clear that the author of the story, Beth Cruikshank, Lynn’s ex-sister-in-law, has not been informed that Warren is making appearances in the strip this week, which directly contradict her storyline. As for the rest, I will do my usual quote and comment:

One warm July morning in the summer that Warren Blackwood turned four, his father took a rare day off from farming, packed the family into their dusty station wagon and took them to an air show in nearby Milborough.

The idea that Milborough, which I have always thought was basically a suburb of Toronto was also a farming community struck me a little odd. A quick internet search for Toronto-area farms shows mainly farms which are used for tourism, but things may have changed over time since the early 1980s. Nevertheless, much of the story has to do with the idea that Warren’s brother and his fertile wife take over the life of Milborough farming. Oddly enough, this would make Warren a lot like John Patterson.

When the Snowbirds, the Canadian Air Force's elite aerial acrobatics team, thundered into the air for their breath-taking ballet among the clouds, Warren fell into awe-struck silence.

The story says that in 2002, Warren is 25, which means he was born in 1977. At age 4, when he sees the Snowbirds, this is 1981. According to the Snowbirds website, the 431 Squadron was re-activated on 1 April 1978 as the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, more commonly known as the Snowbirds. This means that in 1981, Warren would have seen the group when they were 3 years into their existence; so this is possible.

Early the next morning he said his good-byes and headed for the bus station to buy his ticket to North Bay, where he had enrolled to start training as a helicopter pilot.

There is no explanation as to why Warren Blackwood would go to North Bay for helicopter flight training at Canadore College in North Bay. National Helicopters is in Toronto and also has a helicopter flight training program. It is also interesting that Warren starts off as an airplane pilot and then moves to helicopters. I wonder if there is some sort of Rod Johnston parallel.

The trouble was, even though Liz was obviously attracted to him too, she was just coming off a bad break-up and was skittish about dating again. He managed to talk her into going along on a few group outings to movies and campus events, but she evaded all his attempts to arrange anything more intimate. The harder he tried, the firmer she was in refusing.

This makes it seem like Warren and Elizabeth are at the same school. They are not. Elizabeth is at Nippissing University. Warren is at Canadore College. They are in the same town, but different schools. I wonder if anyone explained this to Beth Cruikshank. I know I would not have gotten it had it not been for the Research part of the For Better or For Worse website.

He kept it casual, though, making sure he stayed available just in case Liz finally caved. He couldn't get her out of his mind.

In April’s Real Blog, we call this type of obsession the Patterson allure—the unnatural attraction men have to a Patterson woman, mainly Liz. It remains a theme throughout the rest of this, where Warren will find some other woman and have a relationship, and then he will run back to Liz, with whom he has had no real relationship.

He had a discreet chat with Liz' roommate and found out when she was heading home to Milborough for the break, and when she was coming back. He had a flight test the day she was leaving, which made it impossible to link up with her then. But on the way back to North Bay, he made sure he was on the same bus.

This makes Warren seem like a stalker. In fact, if you look at this strip, you will see that Liz changed her bus plans in order to attend April’s birthday party.

Liz says she has to get on the late bus if she stays for April’s B-day party.

In this strip, all indications are that Warren returning from a visit with his brother, since he shows off a picture of his 3-year-old nephew.

The prospect of the adventure helped to improve things between him and Liz in the meantime. As long as he didn't treat their time together too much like "dates", she was happy to be with him. At times, she relaxed enough to allow a few kisses and hugs, sweet moments of intimacy that left him wanting more.

Yes, I know lots of people kiss on their friends on outings that aren’t dates. And somewhere in there, Liz starts wearing Warren’s clothing, which also a common thing for people who kiss on not dates. Beth Cruikshank, like Liz herself, is trying to say that Warren and Liz are just friends, but just as Candace does not believe Liz, I don’t believe Beth.

When the helicopter ride finally happened, it was worth every bit of the effort he had made. Liz was thrilled. She came out of it starry-eyed and more than a little in love with him, although she would never have admitted it.

A theme for Liz’s life is to never admit you are in love and here it is again.

"And you got an ice-cold grog ready for me, right? Crikey, I'm ready to hit the piss after that bloody long run. You blokes are right back of Bourke up here." The pilot grinned at him. "Well, come on then, mate. Let's get on it."

Thus begins an embarrassingly bad sequence of dialogues involving Australian slang words and the character of Dray Colley, whom I think of as Stray Colley throughout the rest of this storyline. I get the impression that Beth Cruikshank, got a book of Australian slang and tried to insert as many words as possible, in order to create this character. Ironically, as Beth Cruikshank paints this picture of Warren Blackwood, loner, who has lost touch with his family and friends, she seems to ignore the fact that Warren and Dray are great friends and just get closer as times goes on.

Liz was as funny and interesting in her correspondence as she was in real life, and they had some great talks online.

That’s too bad, because Liz is not very funny or very interesting. This line shows us that Warren cannot think sensibly about her.

The quoted cartoon strips talking about Liz’s graduation leave out the part where Liz says Warren stops in when he can. In this narrative, he never stopped in; because it works against the overriding theme of the story, that Warren loses his friends from not spending time with them.

The happy glow of his rekindled romance kept him warm all the way to Montreal. It didn't last ten minutes after touch-down. There was a message waiting for him to call his boss as soon as he arrived.Their conversation was short, unpleasant and to the point. At the end of it, Warren was unemployed.

We had often suspected that Warren Blackwood couldn’t make these trips for Liz without consequences and there it is. He can’t. I applaud the realism.

Warren stayed on in BC, picking up work where he could. After the tight teamwork and close camaraderie of fire-fighting, it was lonely being on his own again. He found himself thinking more and more about Liz, and wondering if he had made a mistake in letting her go. They still e-mailed occasionally.

This is repeated over and over. In order to get Liz, Warren can’t just e-mail, but has to quit his job, and he wonders if he is making a mistake by not doing that.

He knew she was dating other guys, but there didn't seem to be anyone serious.

Unless he is talking about Howard Bunt, there are no other guys in the time period post-school, pre-Paul.

Shortly before Christmas, an e-card from Liz pinged into his in-box. The message in it sent Warren into a tailspin. It sounded like she might be getting serious about some guy she'd met up north. If he wanted to get back together with her, he had to move fast.

Here tries to say Warren knew in advance about Paul Wright. This does not match the strip.

But when she met him at the airfield in White River, there was another man with her. She introduced him as Paul Wright, the policeman she had mentioned in her e-card. The way the other guy stared Warren down - and kissed Liz a long, hot goodbye - sent an unmistakable 'hands-off' message.

Actually, Warren doesn’t know about Paul Wright and there is no kissing.

Actually, Warren and Paul shake hands.

Now and then Warren caught a glimpse of an odd dark mood in his friend, and wondered if Dray's footloose lifestyle was beginning to wear thin even for him. But the other man laughed uproariously when he asked. "Plenty of time for that." It was a standard answer whenever anyone mentioned settling down. "Heaps of time for the dull married life when we're cranky old foggers."

And the moral of the story is that you could die at any moment, so it is better for you to become a homebody and marry as early as possible. Otherwise, you may miss out on that married life.

The 'bush telegraph' told him within days of Liz' decision that she was leaving her teaching job in Mtigwaki to move back to southern Ontario. He also knew that her boyfriend Paul, the policeman, had asked for a transfer and was expected to follow her. But it was Dray who brought him the most startling piece of news, one day late in November.

The same “bush telegraph” which is amazingly aware of Constable Paul Wright's every move, is completely unaware of all the time Elizabeth is spending with Anthony Caine, which you would think would be a concern of Warren Blackwood also.

"Double-dipping, her copper is." Dray grinned as he popped the cap off another beer. "He's a right downy one, that lad! Got your Liz mooning after him down south, thinking he's the one and only and there's wedding bells going to chime. Meantime he's busy sucking face with another sheila in Mtigwaki."

Warren was riveted. "You're sure? This is solid?""Damn straight, mate. Young Paul bunks in with that beaut of a new teacher whenever he's in the village, and he's in the village a lot. That's the rock solid word." "There's more, too." Dray smirked. "He's nailed himself a transfer, all right. But it isn't to anywhere near sweet Liz. He's lobbed off the other direction. Up north to Spruce Narrows.""And Liz doesn't know yet?" Warren dragged in a deep breath. "Man, I have to tell her this. She'll drop that jerk like a stone."Dray made a noise that was pure insult. "Don't be daft. You go dobbing on Paul to her, you'll be the one who's the loser. Patience, lad. Bide your time. She's got mates in Mtigwaki, right? Sooner or later, one of them will let slip and she'll twig to the truth. Then you slide on in, slick as butter, and pick up the pieces."

We pretty much have to ignore the differences between this and what happened in the strip, because Dray is getting his news from another source which might not be as accurate.

He knew the minute Liz turned on him that he'd blown it. If he'd just kept quiet, waited for her to tell him about Paul's betrayal, she would never have known that he had set up the whole humiliating incident. Now, just as Dray had warned him, she was almost as furious with him as she was with Paul.

This narrative matches the strip to a certain degree. Liz says she is mad at Warren and Paul.

It was late in March before the big break-through finally came. Liz called him up and invited him to a party being held to honour her brother's success as a writer.

And let us note that she invites Warren Blackwood, but does not invite Anthony Caine, even though Warren lives in Timmins 8 ½ hours drive away and Anthony lives in Milborough. That shows you where Anthony rates.

When Dray announced that he was chucking his job to fly for a company doing climate change research into the remotest and most barren regions of the far Arctic, Warren leapt at the chance to go with him. Two days later, they were in Yellowknife chatting up the researchers and checking out their new machines.

So, the retcon story is that Warren took a brand new job in Yellowknife and was not simply doing something required as a part of his old job. And also, he does this within a week after he was leaping in the air that Liz would go out with him again. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. It's an obvious retcon intended to show that Liz was right to spit at that phone.

They found nothing at all. There was no trace of the chopper or its occupants. They had vanished into the arctic wastelands as completely as if they had never existed.

As Dray disappears into nothing, I am reminded of the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where the main character discovers that his best friend is only a part of his imagination.

The last time he had spoken to Liz, late in the fall, she had been missing him badly. She would surely be delighted to see him and more than willing to take him in. He didn't take a chance on phoning, just grabbed a cab to her place. It would be easier to say all that he needed to say in person. With luck, he wouldn't have to say much at all.

Beth Cruikshank goes strip by strip through the March strips with Warren and Elizabeth. You can tell the retconner does not like this sequence with Warren at all. It is almost all reinterpretation that Warren is out of control and regrets his every move, as opposed to the way it looks to us and to Liz, that he is intentionally trying to wreck Liz's relationship with Anthony.

Beth seems to be intentionally leaving out these strips which fly in the face of her explanation of the events. In these strips, Warren clearly has planned to leave his job to be with Liz and he has made plans to teach at the flight school so he can be near Liz. It is very much like the situation with Paul Wright.

She reached down and engulfed him in a hug so tight it cut off his wind. When she let him go, he could see the gleam of tears in her eyes."You're getting the best breakfast in the house, young man. Steak and eggs and pancakes and hash browns and anything else you want. And don't you dare try to refuse."

This part referencing the chainsaw rescue from the first part of the story seems to be an apology for the poor reader who has to have been reading through this whole thing and thinking it was one shameful slam on helicopter pilots and the work they do, over and over again. Deep down inside, Beth must realize that a lot of helicopter pilots do have wives and families.

He phoned his parents in Arizona several times, and made the effort to really listen to them for the first time in his life. They were, he realized, amazing people. It was shameful that he had neglected them so long.

Cheeze. Even his parents don't know Warren. Although I like the fact that they are snowbirds in Arizona.

He looked around him at the comfortable, homey family room, then out the window at the sky beyond. "I'm going."

This is probably a spoiler for the way the daily strip sequence with Warren is going to end, but it is obvious with this ending, Lynn didn’t bother to tell Beth Cruikshank there was more to come with Warren Blackwood.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I See Warren Blackwood: Prepare for Nonsense

It’s gotten to the point with Warren Blackwood, where I dread his appearances in For Better or For Worse because the storyline invariably pushes into new levels of stupid. Warren should have just stayed a university boyfriend, who helped Liz overcome her bad feelings about guys after her experience with Eric Chamberlain. I liked that Warren.

But he had to reappear. Back in December, 2006; when Liz set up Warren and Constable Paul Wright to meet, was the beginning of the end of Warren Blackwood, nice guy. If I were Constable Paul Wright, and my girlfriend agreed to let me drive her to the town where my parents lived, only to tell me at the last minute she wasn’t going to meet my parents, but instead was going to jump into a helicopter driven by an old boyfriend; that would have been the end of the relationship right there. If I were Warren Blackwood, and I dated a girl for 2 months in university, I would wonder why she was obsessed with the idea that I could fly my work helicopter into her little Northwestern Ontario town anytime I pleased. When I finally put that trip together and she shows up with her new boyfriend, that would have been the end of the relationship right there. She would have to take the bus back to Mtigwaki.

Then Warren reappeared again in January, 2007 to take Liz to Mtigwaki “one day early”, so she could catch Paul and Susan Dokis red-handed having a visit. It made no sense at all then, and looking back on it, it still makes no sense.

Then Liz invited Warren to her brother’s book party (instead of Anthony Caine) and afterwards he jumped around like a madman, just because she agreed to go out with him a second time and like he had not known her since 2002 or ever been a date with her before. I still can’t fathom it.

Now we have Warren the apartment stalker, who announces he has quit his job in order to get his relationship with Liz going, while being so out of touch that he is unaware Liz is dating someone else. It is as if the man is mentally ill, only a mentally ill man would make more sense.

The Key to Romance: Warren Blackwood

The character of Elizabeth Patterson in For Better or For Worse received a lot of criticism for the time when she was dealing with Constable Paul Wright, who got a job transfer to live close to Elizabeth, just as she decided to move back home right after she learned Anthony Caine got a divorce. However, when it comes to a man who has been working to satisfy the mercurial desires of Elizabeth Patterson, there is none like Warren Blackwood.

After flying in to attend Elizabeth’s university graduation, Elizabeth got the idea that because Warren Blackwood flew a helicopter, he could fly into Mtigwaki, the town where she lived in Northwest Ontario, whenever he wanted. Since Warren was living and working in Vancouver at the time, the idea was ridiculous. Nevertheless, Warren Blackwood did eventually try to live up to that promise, only to find that she was dating Constable Paul Wright because she didn’t see Warren often enough.

When Warren reappears, he manages to get Elizabeth to Mtigwaki a day early so she could catch Paul visiting his good friend Susan Dokis. His plan was to break up Liz’s relationship with Paul so he could start one with her. This works and they date, but Warren has to break his second date because of work. This leads to Liz spitting at the phone and immediately running off to ask Anthony Caine on a date.

The work is the issue with Warren and Liz, who wants a man who is a homebody. Then back in March, Warren shows up and announces he has quit his job so he can live close to Liz, thus satisfying her majour complaint about him. This leads to Liz getting engaged to Anthony Caine.

If you think about it, a good deal of Liz’s romantic decisions have been based on the idea that she is trying to get away from / break up with Warren Blackwoodl

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lynn Johnston’s Mother’s Day

What an odd Mother’s Day strip. I think for the first time that I can recollect in For Better or For Worse, the mother presented is not portrayed with her children. Moreover, I cannot help but notice that the life of Elly today is probably very much like the life that Lynn Johnston has right now, divorced and with both kids out of the house, except for the part about brushing the dog, which Lynn does not have.

My mom’s life is somewhat like Elly’s on Mother’s Day, except she has my step-dad living with her. She hasn’t had any kids living in the house since my youngest sister graduated from university in 1988. So it’s been 20 years. None of her kids have lived close to her since then, having scattered ourselves across the country. I can imagine her on Mother’s Day, grocery shopping and cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and taking out the garbage; while waiting for her children to call her up and wish her Happy Mother’s Day. Actually, my mother usually goes to church on Mother’s Day and shows off her Mother’s Day corsage, which I have delivered to her every year (southern U.S. tradition), and then my step-dad takes her to a Mother’s Day lunch. Then she goes home and waits for phone calls from her kids.

As my kids are 10 and 12, I have a few more years before they depart the house; but it will not be long. I wonder how I will adjust when I get to that point, where Father’s Day means for me maybe a gift and a phone call. Will I do a lot of work around the house and then collapse into a bubble bath? Probably not. I am not really a bubble bath kind of guy. Judging from the drawing of Elly in the bath, neither is Lynn Johnston. Her bubble bath bubbles look more like she is unusually flatulent than a real bubble bath. Also, considering she has been working like a dog all day, I think she needs a little help on the definition of the word “lazy”.

The oddest part about this strip is that Elly Patterson has all her kids in close proximity now, so Mother's Day should be a big deal with all the Patterson children and grandchildren gathered around and giving her great praise for her wonderful mothering skills. For the second year in a row we have had with all the Patterson kids living close, that situation is avoided. Last year, we had the very odd strip with Deanna taking her kids by herself to see a dog with puppies; and the main point of the strip was how rotten Meredith and Robin were and how lucky Deanna was she didn't have more than 2 kids.

I get the impression Lynn Johnston does not like Mother's Day very much, don't you?

Friday, May 09, 2008

John has Feet of Cliché

Before Lynn Johnston became mistress (chief torturer?) of the final panel pun in For Better or For Worse; back in 1979, it appears she was quite fond of the final panel cliché. The phrase, “Just wait till your father gets home” was dated, even back in 1979.

I have always found it to be a method that is fairly impractical. Although it has the advantage of not administering punishment when the parent may be angry about whatever the event was, it has the disadvantage of not giving the child an immediate punishment directly related to their actions. I always hated having to go through the explanation part of it. “Your mother is upset because you yadda yadda, and so this is your punishment.” When my kids were little, the attention spans were so short, you really had to strike while the iron was hot.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dr. John (Denver) Patterson

As often as Lynn Johnston has praised country music in For Better or For Worse, I cannot say I am too surprised that John Patterson is singing John Denver in today’s For Better or For Worse as a means to checking his patient’s sedation.

I remember John Denver well. I did not know him personally, but when I was a very young lad, his song Grandma’s Feather Bed was well-liked among my age set, particularly the part about the “Gal down the road.” Later on, when I got to go to an actual John Denver concert, I remember getting in the concert early, because one of my friends had a handicapped sister (thanks to a terrible car accident), and John Denver was known for reserving seats near the front of the audience for handicapped people who attended his concerts. Not only that, but he would usually make it a point to interact with them. I liked that about him. He was also in a TV special with the Muppets, which kept his cool factor high with me.

As for this strip itself, you can tell that Lynn Johnston is just making random stuff up to be funny. It doesn’t even make sense. I cannot imagine any dentist looking at this strip and saying, “Lynn must have a camera in my dental examination room.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Young John in Fear

For the second time in the For Better or For Worse reprints from 1979, we see a moment where Dr. John Patterson is afraid of a client. The first one was in a single panel of this strip. These strips are interesting, particularly during this time when Lynn Johnston was known for taking real life stories and translating them to her strip. However, today’s strip where the joke is that the big scary guy is really a softie is standard comedy material and seems unlikely to come from real life.

On the other hand, Lynn Lake, where Lynn and real-life dentist husband, Rod lived in 1979, is in the middle of Manitoba, where the primary occupation of the town appears to be hunting and fishing tourism and the town was founded as a part of a mining operation. One could imagine tough guys living there. In my mind, the situation where the patient threatens the doctor seems like it came out of a Hollywood gangster movie, and not from real life. It makes me wonder if Lynn Lake was such a tough town, that the local dentist really was threatened to be beaten up, if he didn’t do good work.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

John and Patience (Patients) Part V

I remember being back in Dallas, Texas and seeing the musical Little Shop of Horrors for the first time, and without ever having seen the Roger Corman movie. Spoiler***I am about to reveal a plot point, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the movie musical ****. There comes the section where the motorcycle, leather-jacket-wearing, girlfriend-abusing villain reveals that his profession is as a dentist. The lyrics leading up to that point go like this:

{In his motorcycle outfit, he sings:}
When I was young and just a bad little kid,
My momma noticed funny things I did.
Like shootin' puppies with a BB-Gun.
I'd poison guppies, and when I was done,
I'd find a pussy-cat and bash in its head.
That's when my momma said...
(What did she say?)
She said my boy I think someday
You'll find a way
To make your natural tendencies pay...

{Big reveal, he has on a dentist’s smock}
You'll be a dentist.
You have a talent for causing things pain!
Son, be a dentist.
People will pay you to be inhumane!

Then there are more lyrics after that. I revealed my experiences with my dentist in my youth a few Howard Bunt Blog entries back, so you can understand my perspective on dental work. When I saw this moment in the musical, I pretty much lost it.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we have John Patterson lamenting to his assistant Jean Baker about stereotypes of dentists. The predictable joke comes as John stereotypes lawyers.

When I look at this strip, I see something else. John is sharing his personal insecurities and having coffee with Jean Baker. In For Better or For Worse, that’s practically like having an affair. In the modern strip, you almost never see John have a moment like this with anyone. John has receded so far from the focus of the strip, that even the moment where he sold his business to Dr. Everett Callahan went unnoticed in the strip. More importantly, any emotion, any character development, any doubts, anything which would make for a good storyline involving this event has been lost by having John simply come home one day and say, “I told Everett, I am only working on Fridays in September.”

In this respect, the reprints work against Lynn Johnston. The strips of the last few days have been on John and his career as a dentist, and I find it refreshing to see old strips from 1979, which did not focus on gender wars or the idea that John and Elly are terrible parents. I even like the idea that John has feelings. I cannot remember seeing a strip like this with John in it in any of the archived strips going back to 2003. This reprint shows me, that somewhere along the way, John Patterson stopped developing as a character. He became the dentist who likes model trains and fast cars, and he has not progressed past that point in all this time.

Frankly, there have been opportunities. When Elly’s dad has his stroke, John disappeared and missed the chance to show everyone what he would do in Elly’s time of need.

Monday, May 05, 2008

John and Patience (Patients) Part IV

I seem to remember the rule of thumb in For Better or For Worse is if you can see the character’s teeth, then they are up to no good. Considering one of the main characters is a dentist, I find this rule of thumb to be somewhat ironic. In today’s For Better or For Worse reprint, it proves to be true. John and Elly are at a different party from yesterday, judging from Elly’s sleeveless look; and John is assaulted by a man whose mouth is constantly showing teeth, who knows a dentist joke, and seems determined to prove that John has no muscle mass in his left arm. Although the dentist joke is not funny, his efforts with respect to John’s muscle mass meet with some success. I am now no longer sure that 1979 John had a real left arm.

The final panel joke seems to work pretty well. Most times when people say, “No offense” it means they are offending someone. I am trying to remember the old comedian who used to say, “I hate you guys” as a part of his routine, but my internet searches keep coming up with Michael Richards and that can’t be right.

This is a strip which would not appear in the modern-day strip. Aside from the fact that Elly and John no longer attend parties like this, there is an interesting, pitying look on Elly’s face as she looks forlornly on as John takes this abuse from this man. Back in 1979, this man walks away without any response from John or Elly and without any comeuppance. If the same strip were to happen today, something would happen to the man as a result of the his actions. In this respect, I prefer the 1979 strip’s realism. There are simply people out in the world who are obnoxious and offensive, and it does no good whatsoever to tell them. They will just say, “No offense.”

Sunday, May 04, 2008

John and Patience (Patients) Part III

Remarkably, this For Better or For Worse flashback reprint sequence was to be about John showing patience with his patients and we are the 3rd strip into it, and the theme is sticking. Now, it is not exactly about John’s wish to have had more patience, which is the way we were led into it. It seems to be mainly how John showed patience. Still, compared to other flashbacks we have seen, I would have to rate this one the best one so far for sticking to a theme. It is as if someone has read the complaints about the flashbacks meandering all over the landscape and has decided to react to counter the complaints.

Today’s strip follows 2 themes which were common to the early strip.
1. Elly and John go to a cocktail party, where the people are well-dressed and even Elly appears well-dressed; while John spends his time involved with the other guests’ teeth.
2. People think it is OK to ask for doctor consultations of John when he is in public.

The part I like the best about this strip sequence is this phrase, “And what about that dentist husband of yours---Does he like parties?” There are many things I have heard as rumours about dentists over the years, but I can tell you that, “anti-partying” is not one of the adjectives that I have heard commonly used. The professions which I think are typically considered to be staffed by anti-partying people are like engineers, physicists, etc. Considering this was written during the Lynn Lake period, it makes wonder about what the people there thought about Lynn Johnston and her dentist husband.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Days Before Pediatric Dentists

My kids have always gone to pediatric dentists. They have big, warm colourful rooms with lots of toys in the waiting rooms. They have television sets with cartoons or kids movies playing in the examination rooms to distract the kids. The dentists wear kid-friendly clothing. The whole thing is pretty positive experience, and my kids have almost always done well with them.

When I was growing up and where I lived in the mountains of western North Carolina, there were no such things. Everyone went to the same dentist and he was the only dentist in town. If you didn’t like him, it was a drive to the next town. In 1979, he was probably like Rod Johnston in Lynn Lake (or John Patterson in Milborough).

I don’t remember approaching the dentist with fear and dread the first times I went when I was little. However, when I got to be 10 years old, and started the cycle of having braces on my teeth, I learned fear and dread. My orthodontist (for which we did have to travel to a nearby town, because there were none where I lived), was of the mind that braces needed to be put on me at the tender age of 10, and those baby teeth had to go. So, every 6 weeks or so, he would put in an order to my dentist to pull 1 or 2 teeth until they were all gone. I had 12 baby teeth left at the time, so this process took awhile. My mom would drop me off at the dentist for his first appointment of the morning. I would get a few teeth pulled and then I would walk from the dentist’s office to school. I marvel at this now, because I cannot imagine letting my kids do the same thing today. Nevertheless, that is what happened. I made it to school fine. I survived the pullings fine.

I say “fine” but the reality of the matter was that after those 12 baby teeth, and the 4 adult teeth which followed because my teeth were "too big for my mouth," and the 4 wisdom teeth surgically removed when I was 16 years old; I developed a distinct hatred for tooth-pulling and dentists in general. I also had 2 sets of braces, and I still vividly remember the wooden mallet and hard rubber chisel which were used to break the concrete which held each brace on my teeth, and made me feel like each tooth was getting knocked out of my head when they were removed. When the time came for my younger sister to get braces, I recounted these stories to her, and she was also filled with dread. Fortunately for my younger sister, she went to a different dentist and orthodontist, and she accused me of making the whole thing up to scare her. I only wish that I had.

Nevertheless there is this image of dentistry and pain, which have long been associated with one another. You can see this reflected in today’s reprint from 1979 For Better or For Worse. The joke is that Harold has gotten the idea that dentists are scary, and the mother says she doesn’t know why he is acting like that until you see the mother creep around the corner to tell the kid not to yell when it hurts. I am sure that this was a dental pet peeve for Dr. Rod Johnston, and this is why it made it into the strip. As far as childlike fear goes, it is a strip which plays well today, unlike many of the reprints strips to which we have been subjected.

I can relate to the situation very well. Just a scant 7 years prior to 1979 was 1972, when my dental ordeals started, and there was definitely an element of “The dentist is going to hurt, but you have to be a strong kid and bear it.” in that day and time. Perhaps Rod Johnston was a dentist like my younger sister got, and so he didn’t understand the attitude of the mother, because he didn’t hurt his patients. Perhaps his mother had a dentist like mine, and remembered the pain.

My dentist and orthodontist were pretty old when I went to them, and they retired not more than 10 years after my visits with them. They would have been part of the generation of dentists prior to Rod Johnston. I expect when my kids get to be old enough to be parents, they would look at this strip and wonder what it was all about, with their positive experiences with dentistry. This is assuming that they don't get the guy who replaced my old fillings last year, who did not numb me up properly, and ignored my protests with the statement "But I'm almost done. You can last a few more minutes." That experience brought back old memories.

Edited to add:

I will camping with the Scouts overnight and so there will be no new Howard Bunt Blog entry for tomorrow until I get back. And to aprilp_katje, this means that even though tomorrow's strip is Mike-oriented, there will not be a Mike entry for April's Real Blog. Sorry.

First John Patterson Reminiscence

Perhaps Dr. Ted McCaulay can perform for John Patterson the same function for remembering about 1979 as Connie Poirier does for Elly Patterson in For Better or For Worse. It will be interesting to see if Lynn Johnston repeats this combination of characters for this purpose.

We are back into the wonderful world of repeats and the first strip out of the shoot is a dentistry one. 1979 John complains about his day in dentistry, oddly complaining about a kid who bites and counts nose hairs. If you have your hands in a kid’s mouth, I can understand why biting would be a concern. However, the counting of nose hairs presents an interesting dilemma. Most times when I am in a dentist’s office, and the dentist tries to carry on a conversation, I am pretty limited due to the number of things in my mouth.

So, imagine this kid counting nose hairs. We know that Dr. Patterson knows they are nose hairs he is counting, so he must give that indication somehow. He has to say, “1 nose hair. 2 nose hairs. 3 nose hairs.” It could be distracting to Dr. John Patterson, but how the kid could carry this on with someone digging around their mouth with a sharp implement is beyond me. Even more beyond me is why any kid would want to look inside Dr. Patterson’s nose to count the hairs in the first place. John Patterson has on glasses, and I can tell you when I have been operated on by a dentist with glasses, what I look at is the reflection of my mouth in the glasses, so I can see what he or she is doing to me.

On the other hand, I have never been operating on by a dentist with as big a nose as John Patterson, so perhaps his nose blocks the view to his glasses. If that’s the case, then maybe John has a lot of hair flopping out of his nose, as if he had never learned how to trim that hair. That could provide an extra distraction. OK. I am starting to gross myself out now, so I will leave the subject right here.