The Peterborough Examiner has a long article on Lynn Johnston
. As usual I will comment on the parts I find interesting, which in this case is most of the article.For Lynn Johnston, creator of For Better or For Worse, one of the most successful comic strips of our time, April 23, 2007 was just an ordinary Saturday. Weatherwise, it was a good day, the kind residents of Northern Ontario live for: warm and sunny, swollen with the promise of summer.
Lynn probably passed the hours puttering around in her two-storey home, tidying up, but not too much; the house has a lived-in charm. She may have taken a few moments to gaze out her large living room window at the breath-taking view of Trout Lake -- a moving mural she calls it, signed by Mother Nature.
At some point she may have driven into the nearby town of Corbeil, a tiny community on the outskirts of North Bay, and picked up a few groceries, chatted with a local or two. Perhaps when she returned, she swept a few pine needles off the front porch and then mucked about in the garden.
If Lynn can't remember the details of the day she'll never forget, she knows this much is true: around eight o'clock in the evening her husband of 30 years walked into the kitchen and broke her heart.
I love these lead-in lines. It makes it more like a romance novel than an interview. She should write some bios for Who’s Who.I'm leaving you, he told her.
I've been seeing another woman for some time. You know her.
It may not have come out in precisely those words or in that exact order, but the message was clear. He was going and that was that; he would make no amends for his betrayal.
And at this point, if it was not obvious before, the author makes her bias plainly clear.At first Lynn was in shock, but then the pain set in -- along with its more outgoing sidekick, anger.
After he left, she drove into town, bought some vodka, drank too much vodka and unleashed her fury on her husband's jeep. Ironically, the Carrie Underwood song, Before He Cheats, was topping the charts at the time. It tells the tale of a jilted woman who takes a baseball bat to the headlights of her unfaithful lover's car; Lynn's weapon of choice was a rake.
This vandalism was approved by Carrie Underwood.It is the Saturday evening of Mother's Day weekend, 2008, when I interview Lynn, and while it's only been a year and a bit since her marriage fell apart, she is surprisingly together.
Saturday, May 10, 2008? This interview is over 4 months old? How fancy a paper is the Peterborough Examiner, when it takes that long to get a story to press? There are going to be statements coming from Lynn further in this article which could not have occurred at May 10. What the author means is that this is her first interview with Lynn, and she followed it up later.Physically, she appears stronger than her slight frame suggests, younger than her 60 years. Emotionally, she leads me through her ordeal with the sure-footed-ness of someone who's been over this territory hundreds of times in her head: she knows the way; there will be no surprise pot-holes.
Um, what?Even when I ask the question every woman in her position must dread, she doesn't stumble.
Did you know?
"I did not know," she says fixing me with her clear blue eyes. "But when I found out, I thought, ah-ha, this makes sense because of all of these changes ... his distance, the changing of clothing, the changing of habits, the changing of behaviour and his attitude towards me. He would look at me as if he really disliked me and I would think to myself, am I imagining this?"
I seem to remember some woman with clear blue eyes (I love that line) talking in another article about suspecting her husband of cheating when he lived in Lynn Lake, that hotbed of adultery. However, I am sure she is referring just to this particular incident of adultery. The new information is that Rod changed things, which should have been clues.Lynn's gift did not abandon her in her time of need, in fact, on many a sleepless night, it dragged her out of bed. The result is a series of paintings she calls her 3 a. m. portraits.
There are four in total, the first created two weeks after the break-up; the last, a month before our interview. Collectively, they represent an acrylic-on-canvas chronicle of Lynn's journey from devastation to wellness, from an unrecognizable image of a misshapen face, drained and heavy-lidded, to a resolute profile, strengthened yet softened somehow by an outline of glittering gold.
This is the first time I have heard of these paintings too. Lynn has often said she wanted to paint when she retired. My guess is that these paintings may have been too personal to mention before. It’s nice to know that there were some things too personal to mention.And it is her creativity that has put her in an enviable position career-wise. Seven years ago, when Lynn signed her syndication contract, she knew it would be the last.
Ah-ha! There is the 7 years. I could swear she signed a 3-year contract extension in 2004. Is this my imagination?But mere re-runs proved to be not enough for Lynn. While examining her earlier material, she was struck with the urge to change things: to add and remove stuff, flesh out a few of the storylines. During this past year she has experimented with inserting flashbacks into current strips, a move which has landed mixed reviews.
Mixed reviews. Translation: Virtually everyone hated it, possibly this author too, since this is the first hint of a negative statement about Lynn she has made.Now, Lynn is going where she doesn't believe any cartoonist has been before - she's injecting new material into the old strips, but using her old style.
Actually in comic books this is not that uncommon a practice. It is unusual for a newspaper strip though.Why the reluctance to simply pack it in? Lynn blames a love of deadlines and an uncanny attachment to her work.
"This community lives in my head," she says referring to Milborough, the fictional suburb where her famous cartoon family, the Pattersons, live. "I know where the corners are, where the corner store is. I know where the schools are, I know where the playground is, and the ravine behind the house, I know what it looks like. I've got this little helicopter ride in my head of the community they live in and nobody else does, so it's a community that I can't leave, it's always going to be there. I'd like to continue to live there without having to visit it every single day."
Translation. I don’t want to create anything new.She is also enjoying vacationing with girlfriends who, traveling or not, have served as a form of therapy for Lynn this past year.
"Friends listen to me say the same thing over and over and over again," she says. "Even now, when I need to talk, to vent, they are there to tell me I am okay."
I wonder if this is a reference to her Cuba trip with her staff in early 2008, or if she is talking about something else.Throw in the perks and pitfalls of a girl's getaway, and Lynn's friendships grow even stronger.
"Sitting in airports, sharing a hotel room, going to an event, that's better than anything. Three or four days of that and you've connected all over the place. It's just wonderful."
This explains all the Connie and now Anne female-bonding stuff in the comic strip.Is it better than traveling with a man? "It's so uncomplicated," she laughs. "I mean, I got on a plane the other day and some guy was putting his wife's suitcase into the overhead compartment and she said, 'Oh excuse me, I just want to get my novel." And he screamed, 'You had two hours in the airport to get your stupid novel' and I just thought, I don't have to deal with that."
And this is a direct reference to Anne’s comment about husbands in today’s strip. If it hadn't been clear before that Lynn is reflecting her own modern sentiments in the new-run strips, it is now.Perhaps most of all, Lynn values her independence, something she realizes she let slip away over the years. When it came to finances, for example, she had entrusted everything to her husband and was shocked to discover, in the days following his departure, that her bank accounts were empty. Suddenly, the cartoonist whose strip appears in more than 2000 newspapers around the world, the Gemini Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, and the first female to ever win the prestigious Reuben Award from the U. S.-based National Cartoonists Society, didn't have enough cash to buy groceries.
Rod Johnston emptied the bank accounts of cash. I've known guys who did that. They are pretty low. The implication by the author with the large list of Lynn Johnston accolades is that this was a lot of money. However, the key phrase I notice is “her bank accounts”. The next part is more startling:"I'd been like a little kid, like a five year-old. Tell me how much I can spend this week, Dad," she sings in a little-girl voice, before shifting to a serious tone. "If I was not astute as a businessperson before, I suddenly had this overwhelming education within a month in which I had to learn how to do everything. It's empowering actually because you suddenly realize there's all this stuff you should have been doing all along."
You can take from this that Rod had complete control over Lynn and her spending. OR you can take from this that Lynn had no control over her spending except the limits of her own personal bank account. Sadly, I am reminded of my late grandfather, who was notorious for spending any money that came through his hands, and my late grandmother, who controlled that situation by limiting the money to which he had access. Later on, when my grandmother passed away, my grandfather found himself in this exact situation. My mom had to teach him how to write a check, and then found she was in the same situation as her mother, limiting his access to his money in order to keep him from spending away all his retirement money.
I can't tell from Lynn's statement if Rod took all the money, or did not deposit money in her own bank account for her to spend, as he had been doing.She learned a similar lesson about running her business. The combination of the winding down of her series and splitting assets in the wake of her separation meant she had to downsize her company dramatically.
This does not jibe with the letter she sent me stating the reason for downsizing had to do with a prediction it would need to happen after 7 years and everyone was (should have been) expecting it. A loss of assets from the divorce would make more sense, but I thought in Ontario, you didn't have to do that until the divorce was final, a year after the separation. From what I have been told, Lynn gave out letters announcing the layoffs well before then.Of course she trusted them, Lynn says, but downsizing meant lay-offs, and she had to learn how to do the jobs of those who were leaving.
"I didn't know," she says in amazement. "How can you not know your own business?"
Ironically, she still does not know it. She does the inking of her strip, the part she knew before; but all the other work is handled by former members of her staff as freelance, if northerngirl
's post to the Howard Bunt Blog is accurate.Although talent, tenacity and the unwavering support of friends have seen her through this time of crisis, it is her children, Aaron, 35, and Kate, 31, who held her hand, and when need be, held her up. "I really appreciate my kids so much more, now. I'm mean, they really looked after me, they really came through."
Things must be better with Aaron. When the divorce was first mentioned, Kate was the one who got mentioned, since she went to work for her mom starting in May, 2007. And to go for a comic strip comparison, the reprint choices for young Michael from 1979 were pretty awful, while new-run Michael is a like dream kid in comparison."It's an interesting thing why somebody would walk away from their history, their photographs, their life, their children, their possessions, their partner, their best friend ..."
This gets mentioned again as it did in a prior interview as her theme saying why people should not ever divorce."I'm the type of person who wants to know why things happen and I want to understand what happened here. Maybe it's just that when your partner has a fantasy, a woman he doesn't have to live with every day, you can't live up to that. You're real, you're not perfect, you just can't live up to a fantasy."
This one doesn’t quite work with the facts, given the nature of the person with whom Rod is supposed to have cheated, someone whom Rod and Lynn would have seen every day. At least this story doesn’t lead into the one about dressing up in a negligee from the Salvation Army to make yourself pretty just before bedtime.Would she take him back?
"No. It was unforgivable, absolutely unpardonable ... but I'm not a person who can hate."
No. I am just a person who can bring this topic up in national and local publications again and again, while each time bringing another little detail about how your ex-husband is scum. That’s not hate. That’s just good old-fashioned revenge.Lynn doesn't rule out, or fantasize about, the possibility of another partner.
Notice no gender mentioned.She sees a future exploring new career opportunities -her first children's book, Farley Follows His Nose (The Bowen Press, HarperCollins Children's Books) is coming out next spring -and wandering around the world, taking in art fairs along the way.
Wandering around the world to take in art fairs?She sees herself doing more charity work, painting, spending time with friends and family, and one day -- knock on wood -- grandkids.
And grandkids. Ha! Take note Katie and Aaron! If you haven’t picked it up from your mom’s comic strip over the last 5 years, your mom wants grandkids. And if you could married too, that would be nice. Also, if you could come to live down the street from her in Corbeil. That would be perfect.Much to the dismay of her fans, she doesn't see any scenario in which she would continue For Better or For Worse in real-time, following John and Elly Patterson into their retirement years."Who wants to read a strip about growing old?" she asks laughing.
If it mirrors your life, Lynn, perhaps we all would.
Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse comic strip still runs in syndication in The Examiner. But the creator wrapped up the story of the Patterson family in a comic strip that appeared in this paper Aug. 30.
I don't think the author likes the new-runs. Here is the one point where the author turns against Lynn, and amazingly it is over the issue of the new-runs. This has been a strange interview.