Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Trouble with Knowing the Future

One of the things I liked most about the movie Pulp Fiction was that the film told different stories involving some of the same characters, but carried a story to its end, even if it wasn’t the end for that character. For example, in one sequence, we see a character get killed and he is only marginally important to that story. Then in another sequence, we would see that same character and his partner in a situation where they could both be killed. The tension was taken away from the character we saw killed in the other story, because we knew that was the way he was going to die. But for his partner, the issue still existed, and raised the question of why the character who was killed in the prior sequence was alone when he died. Was it because his partner was about to get killed in this story from his past? I thought the movie showed an excellent way to deal with situations where the viewer knows the future. You add in an element the viewer does not know about to get their interest.

In the case of the new-runs of For Better or For Worse, you have the same problem. We know the future. We know 29 solid years of the future. About Mike getting a dog named Farley, there is no doubt. However, there is some tension about the fate of Fred the fish, a completely unknown character. Not a lot of tension, but some. Oddly enough, Lynn Johnston adds some tension in, because she refuses to be faithful to the consistencies of her old storyline. How much will Lynn arbitrarily change for the purpose of her new-run, and will it make any kind of sense? So far, no.

When I saw today’s For Better or For Worse, continuing a storyline where Elly Patterson complains to single mom, Connie Poirier, of all people, about how hard her life is with her newspaper-reading, no laundry and no dishwashing husband; I was suddenly struck by the giant close-up of Connie Poirier in the last panel. I thought to myself, “It’s too bad I know the future; because if I didn’t, I would think this is the moment where Connie Poirier decides she is going to try to take John Patterson away from his ungrateful wife.” Not only that, but knowing how Lynn Johnston likes to insert her real life into the strip, I would start to wonder if Connie Poirier was going to stand in for the woman with whom Rod Johnston cheated. I would be anxious to see how much of her real life Lynn Johnston would put in the strip. Would she portray Connie as a seductress or would she simply be the sympathetic ear for John to talk to when Elly starts ranting over his poor dishwashing and clothes-washing? All these things popped into my head, and I found myself getting interesting in a For Better or For Worse storyline.

Then I remembered. I already know the future.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The End of New-Run John?

We had seen new-run John representing the ideals of the Lynn Johnston. No longer was John the man, uninvolved with anything in his household while Elly slaved away. John changed diapers, fed his daughter, played ball with his son, discussed feelings with his son, etc. New-run John was an example to fathers everywhere and especially to a certain father who dared to divorce Lynn Johnston.

That is once again a thing of the past. In today’s For Better or For Worse, Connie Poirier arrives to tell Elly that she should take a stand over reading the newspaper, which John has time to do but Elly does not. Good-bye new-run John. It was nice to know you. Welcome back, old-run John, who makes his wife work so hard she never has any time to herself to even read a newspaper. She even has to carry her child on her back in order to wash dishes. Unless of course, this strip sequence is leading to a moment where new-run John is shown being trained to let Elly read a paper. There may be some hope for new-run John after all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

From Marty

Today's For Better or For Worse reminded me of the classic lines from the old movie Marty, which I showed to my wife for the first time a few years ago, and it actually holds up very well.

Michael: So what do you feel like doing tonight?
Lawrence: I don't know. What do you feel like doing?

I remember when the fall used to come. My best friend and I would sit together and mourn the loss of summer, when we used to go swimming and have picnics and …. We never did that. Sorry. If it wasn’t raining, and my parents let me outside to play with my best friend, we wouldn’t come inside until my mom called me in for mealtime. Autumn is the time when you can jump in piles of leaves and in the mountains where I grew up, you could actually slide down hills on the leaves if they were moist and slick from dew or a recent rain. Autumn was the time for pick-up games of football, and you could be outside without getting sweaty.

Here’s the thing about swimming in the summer. Unless you have access to a pool or some other body of water safe for swimming, swimming is not an every day summer event. I haven’t seen a pool in either Elly or Connie’s yard. Maybe the local Milborough Park has a swimming pool we haven’t seen. Or maybe Mike is talking about that ravine behind his house, after it rains. In the modern strips, when we saw swimming, it was associated with a beach off a lake and the Pattersons had to make a special trip to drive there.

As for picnics, when you are 6, that depends a lot on mom making a picnic lunch for you. It’s not something kids usually plan as a daily event. Around noontime for lunch was a great time to come inside the house for lunch to cool off. That usually means no picnic in summer. The Pattersons traditionally have one big summer outdoor barbecue, and this may be what Michael is talking about.

Although these are nice activities, they are not the kinds of activities which would keep a 6-year-old kid occupied in the summer. The kind of activities which would keep a kid occupied, like a game of tag, a pick-up game of football or baseball, riding bicycles, etc. are all things that kids can do in the autumn too. When I was bored was when it was raining or sleeting, and I had to stay inside the house with my younger sisters. If my son was foolish enough to tell me that he was bored, my son would find himself suddenly assigned a household chore, and that would be the end of that. In fact, that exact thing has happened a few times, and now, it just doesn’t seem to happen any more. Imagine that.

“Kids being bored” is an old theme of Lynn Johnston’s that she has handled many times and almost always better than today. In this strip reprinted in the hybrid year on February 12, 2008; we see a situation where Mike is bored and it makes more sense. It is raining, and he can’t get outside to play with Lawrence. In today’s strip, Mike just seems like an idiot. What kid would ever leave his best friend outside to tell his mother he was bored? None I know of.

As for this week, I must admit I thought we would be in the middle of Farley reprints after last week. I guess Lynn Johnston was serious when she said the month of September would be all new. Is everyone ready for another week of old strips redone badly? Me either.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I think today’s For Better or For Worse offended me. I read it and I feel very defensive. Normally my reaction to a For Better or For Worse strip is:

a. That was an awful pun.
b. Look. Elly acts like a self-centred, stuck-up jerk …again.
c. Kids don’t talk or act like that.
d. I think Lynn has done that joke before, and it was better the first time.
e. That was creepy. I hope Lynn didn’t mean to do that on purpose.
f. Another joke about body waste material. Yawn!
g. Wait a minute! That’s not her history.

My reaction is different this time. I find myself wanting to rant about how I take care of my kids, even when my wife isn't there.

The joke of today’s For Better or For Worse is that the mothers of the children have been away from their kids for so long, that their husbands are going to make them pay. The pay, presumably, is for having their children’s father take care of the children for longer than some prescribed period of time that is universally acceptable to fathers. At the heart of the joke are the following beliefs:

a. The father of the child can’t take care of their own child for an evening, or rather, he can, but only for a limited time.
b. The mother of the child can’t have a full evening off from her kids.
c. The idea that a father would extract some kind of payment from the mother for spending too much time away from her children is not only acceptable by both parties, but is something the woman is worried about.
d. What I listed in a-c is true not only for the warped Patterson family, but for all mothers and fathers. It is a universal truth.

There was a time when jokes that ended with lines like, “That was no lady! That was my wife!” were considered to be funny. Now they are considered antiquated and offensive. Eventually, we will look back at husband-bashing strips from this time period and consider them to be just as offensive. I am already there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lying to Children

At my house, we have birds. My wife and my son have terrible allergies to fur-bearing creatures, so dogs and cats are not an option. My daughter desperately wants a cat, but it is not in her future while she lives with her mother and brother. She still believes though, if she nags her mother or me long enough, she will get a cat. It hasn’t worked. Nevertheless, when she asks about it, I give the straight answer about her mother and brother’s allergies.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, new-run John’s explanation of why mom doesn’t want a dog is not particularly truthful. The premise behind John’s logic is that since there is a time during the day when Elly is at home with just Lizzie, she would end up looking after the dog. Therefore, it is practical for the Pattersons not to get a dog. According to John’s logic, having that time alone with the dog makes you the sole bearer of responsibility for the dog.

From our old-run experience, we know a dog is just around the corner in the form of Farley, and so this logic is a lie. Elly proves to be able to handle a dog while John is at work and Michael is at school. We also know that the kids actively take care of the animals in the Patterson home (aside from Mr. B, which is another story). Knowing the future makes John’s little talk here, appear especially untruthful.

The true answer is that John doesn’t want to make the agreement with Elly to help take care of the dog. Both he and Elly know that if a dog comes, he is going to put all the responsibility for the dog’s care on her. He doesn’t tell that to Mike. He uses words like “practical” and “it stands to reason” to confuse him. I hate that kind of talk with my kids. I just tell them the answers and hope I don’t get asked anything too difficult to answer in a public venue, like the time when my daughter asked me where babies come from while we were out grocery-shopping.

Back to Fred (and Farley)

With today’s For Better or For Worse, it appears Lynn is not going to knock off Fred the fish in order to get Farley the wonder puppy. There is the possibility that we are going to knock off John with basketball-playing to get Farley. What’s worse is I can definitely see Lynn Johnston writing this way.

“Oh, John. We had a breakthrough with him before he died. He changed Lizzie’s diaper and he fed Lizzie. He even played with his son. John is so much better a man in 1980 than the man he was back in 2008, or the cheater he was in 2007.”

What’s really happening is that we have gone full circle from the first new-run strip of Mike asking for a puppy to this new-run strip of Mike asking for a puppy. From this I infer that Lynn Johnston is not going to wait until October 1 to do reprints, but will probably start next week with the Farley reprints. That would make it:

Week 1: The introduction of Fred the Fish and Lawrence as best friend of Mike

Week 2: The introduction of Connie Poirier and we retcon her married life.

Week 3: The introduction of Anne Nichols and we retcon her children’s ages and her character traits.

Week 4: A series of strips blatantly and shamelessly copied from For Better or For Worse’s history and then “improved” in order to fill time until the idea that Fred the Fish is not cutting it with Michael Patterson and needs to be replaced by Farley can be introduced.

Week 5: Farley reprints begin and there is general rejoicing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Babies and Bananas

I love the noises of babies. Not the shrieking, crying, screaming noises; but the noises where they are experimenting with their ability to make sound. The coos and the warbles and things like that. My daughter used to make a squeaking sound that I adored, and to this day, I call her “Squeakie” in homage to that time in her life. She hates that nickname, by the way.

With my son, he had unique ways of saying things, that my wife and I just loved and we still do imitations of him in our conversations, even though he is well past the point of saying those things. For example, when he had eaten as much food as he wanted, he would say, “My belly is all full of food.”

Today’s For Better or For Worse brought back pleasant memories for me. And as For Better or For Worse often does, it also draws me to compare what Lynn Johnston remembers vs. what I remember about young childhood.

I can go along with much of what Lynn has little Lizzie doing. Admittedly, she isn’t playing with her toys in the crib, which is what my daughter would have done; but she seems to be having a good time making noises.

In comes young Michael. He arrives, stares at Lizzie making the noises, and then hands her a half-peeled banana. The joke is that young Michael thinks Lizzie sounds like a monkey and he is giving her the peeled banana to let her know that’s what he thinks of her noises. The peeled banana is the problem part.

For one, bananas are hard for young children to peel. I still have a hard time peeling a banana as an adult.

The second part is the audience, which are just Michael and Lizzie. Michael may think he is being funny, but for whom is he being funny? Lizzie is not going to get the joke, so that leaves young Michael. However, Lynn does not show Michael laughing at his own joke, or doing anything with his joke except handing a banana to Lizzie. This means that the joke is for us, the reader. Michael is doing this schtick with the banana just for us. Isn’t that nice of him.

The third part is the premeditation. This isn’t Michael coming into the room with a banana, then hearing Lizzie, deciding she needs the banana more than he does. Michael shows up with a pre-peeled and prepared banana. He has intentionally gone to his kitchen and brought the banana to Lizzie’s room specifically with the purpose of using the banana to mock the sounds he knows she is making.

The fourth part is the danger. Bananas are a fairly dense fruit, and little Lizzie is not used to such things. If she takes a bite and it gets caught in her throat, that’s the end for Lizzie.

These four things distract me from whatever limited humour there was in the strip.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mike Channels His Future Self

With respect to today’s For Better or For Worse, I am tired of saying, “6-year-olds don’t talk like that.” Let’s visit Mike of the future who does.

Mike: People like girls better than they like boys…especially babies.

All those people who write into my mom’s Coffee Talk and want to see more of the story from the modern days, do they ever say, “I would love to see how Mike does in the future?” No. They say, “I wish we could see how Elizabeth is handling her marriage, her blended family, and her baby.” It was the same when I got married. Who was out there that said, “Mike shouldn’t marry Deanna. It’s all wrong for him. He should have stayed with Rhetta.”? No one. But Elizabeth marries Anthony and the whole world is concerned she made the wrong decision. She's just as much of a bitch as I am; but there's nothing about how Mike made the wrong decision, just Elizabeth.

Mike: Everyone like Elizabeth, but nobody likes me.

John: Mike that’s not true.

There are lots of people out there that like to hate you. Whenever you get a job you don’t deserve, or rescue a manuscript and don’t get burned, or get a $25K advance on your novel, or publish a second best-seller 6 months later; they hate you. I would even say they love to hate you. As for me, I like you when you rake the leaves without my asking. Hint. Hint.

Whenever you’re feeling jealous about Elizabeth and her upcoming birth of a baby boy she will name after Grandpa Jim, just remember that you have a hot babe for a wife, and not some potato-nosed woman who is determined to make you look as bad as possible in every single publication across the nation.

John: Babies need more attention, that’s all. You’re big, now! You can take care of yourself!

Mike: Dad?...Would you teach me how to drive?

Mom taught April, and I always felt like there was something lacking, since I was taught by Mrs. Carey, my driving instructor. All you did was laugh when I failed my driving test due to Martha McGuire, and told me I was a loser just like you. I want some good moments with you dad. Teach me to drive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Food on the Wall Behind the Chair

I remember when my son got to the stage where he could feed himself. He was a voracious feeder, and would grab the food from his bowl and sling it towards his open mouth as rapidly as he possibly could. Most of the times he made it, but a lot of the time he didn’t and the food would end up covering most of his head. If he ate very vigorously, he would miss his head completely and hit the wall behind his high chair. We put a big plastic mat under the chair, but he still managed to miss his mouth and go further than the mat.

Unlike today’s For Better or For Worse, where little Lizzie is obviously not hungry and just playing with her food, my son was genuinely trying to feed himself when he would miss his mouth. Personally, I think it made it a lot cuter that he was trying to feed himself and covering himself with food in the process, than just having Lizzie sling food all over the place.

As for Dr. John Patterson, I am not sure what to make of new-run John. On the one hand, he seems to be taking a much more active role in feeding and diapering Lizzie that ever before, but on the other hand, he appears to be a gross incompetent while he is taking care of her. Is this Lynn Johnston trying to make John do the things he never did before back in 1979?

In Print

I got this response from Lynn Johnston to a letter I sent to the Coffee Talk on the For Better or For Worse website. Her response and my original letter follow:

Dear P.

You are absolutely correct. I am revising the original work and I am going by the books I have in print rather than the actual story the way it originally ran. What you have discovered is a breach of storyline and there will likely be many!

Thanks for your diligence in finding this ...I certainly appreciate your accuracy!!
Lynn J.

-----Original Message
-----Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 11:15 AM
To: chrisdreger@eastlink.ca
Subject: Coffee Talk Submission

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by{me} on September 15th, 2008 at on September 15th, 2008 at 10:15AM (EDT).

location: Oro Valley, Arizona
question: Lynn Johnston,

I am really confused about your new-runs and I hope you can help me. As I understood your story, Farley the dog appeared over a year before Richard Nichols was born. It appears that you have reversed this. Unless I miss my guess, the new-runs appear to be a rewrite of the old storyline, and I should throw any of my expectations about the order of things out the window. Is this correct, or am I misinterpreting what you are doing?

Submit: Spill Your Beans

If you check the collections for sale in the on-line store over at the For Better or For Worse website you will notice that the first 2 collections in chronological order are:

Collection #2: Is This "One of Those Days," Daddy? (Aug 1982)
Collection #4: Just One More Hug (Aug 1984)

Collection #1: I've Got the One-More-Washload Blues... (Aug 1981) and Collection #3: It Must Be Nice to Be Little (Aug 1983) are not listed. I double-checked at http://www.amazon.com/ and found the same thing. Collections #1 and #3 are not in print. Collections #2 and #4 are.

Without Collection #3, you miss the birth of Richard Nichols. With Collection #2, you have the arrival of Farley. With Collection #4, you have the Nichols kids as they appeared recently in the new-run strips.

Two possibilities for this creative choice by Lynn Johnston appear in my brain:

1. She didn’t keep, or does not know where she put her copy of Collections #1 and #3, especially since the staff has been laid off and can't find them for her.

2. She is all about the money and is writing the new-run strips to include only those elements of the early strip for which a collection can be purchase.

I favour the second of these two, because Lynn specifically told me “in print”. This strange idea popped into my head. Suppose you are Lynn Johnston and you have this inventory of collections in print, and you want to get rid of them. They are already printed, so costs in having them are:

a. The storage space to keep them in good condition.
b. The shipping costs to send them to someone.

How do you get someone interested enough in your old strip to buy these things? Answer: The new-run. Here is the beauty of the idea.

You have new strips to attract the attention of persons who will read anything For Better or For Worse, but never read the old stuff. Then you reprint part, but not all of the collections. The people reading the reprints will say, "I think I would like to read the rest of this story that has not been reprinted. I am so intrigued." Then a collection gets purchased, and before you know it, all those collections sitting around collecting dust are bought and the bulk of the money goes into Lynn Johnston's pocket.

Why didn't this work with the hybrid? Because the hybrid reprinted from the first collection, which no one can buy. That must be the reason for that failure. With the new-run we solve that problem because the storyline is completely about the time period of the purchaseable collections, and we have none of this "get back to the modern storyline" stuff to distract the collection-purchasers.

When you think about it, this is genius. Lynn gets to keep her newspapers, gets to take long vacations during the reprints, AND she finally gets rid of those collections taking up space in her closet, which no one would buy because they are so old.

The best part is that she pretends she is doing this as a means to correct or to flesh out her art. From her last modern strip:

"If I could do it all over again... Would I do some things differently?... I've been given the chance to find out!! Please join me on Monday as the story begins again... With new insights and new smiles. Looking back looks wonderful!"

Let me correct this. "Looking back in my storage closet and seeing a lot fewer unsold collections, looks wonderful!"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No Longer the Cutest

I remember the days when I would take my young daughter in the stroller with my older son, and old ladies would come up and greet my daughter and ignore my son, which would upset my son so much that he would shoot a raspberry at the old lady after she departed. Not really. My son could really care less if some passing old lady gave all her attention to his younger sister. In fact, he could really care less if some passing old lady gave him any attention. His eyes went to toys, candy, animals, and other kids. If the old lady was offering him a toy, or candy or had her grandkids or a pet with her; then he would pay her some attention. If she wanted earn my son’s anger, she would give my daughter a present of some sort and nothing to him. He still wouldn’t shoot raspberries. He would sulk, and then later whine and complain.

Old ladies, however, are very different story. If you take small children into an old age home, their eyes light up when they see young cute kids. They want to talk to them and see if they can get them to smile or laugh. They enjoy watching small children’s boundless cute energy. Naturally, given Lynn’s age, I think she has the old lady in today’s For Better or For Worse nailed. Young Michael not so much. However, I will grant her that Patterson kids seem to have an affection for raspberries that starts at an extremely young age and, in the case of Elizabeth Patterson, run on until adulthood. So, while it might not be in character for normal children to raspberry an old lady, it is in character for a Patterson child.

I find that today’s strip actually works best as a metaphor for the new-runs. The older audience comes by to take a look at the new-run, new work from Lynn Johnston. After staring at them for awhile and trying to figure them out, and maybe say how lucky Lynn Johnston is to be able to have a comic strip; they will turn and leave with a very solicitous “Kiss- kiss! Bye-bye!” After they have departed Lynn Johnston gives them a raspberry for their disloyalty to her.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Changing Someone Else's Baby

“Amazing, isn’t it – how changing someone else’s baby is so unpleasant…but it doesn’t bother us to change our own!” That is the statement by Elly Patterson in today's For Better or For Worse.

When have we seen Elly or John changing someone else’s baby? For that matter, when have we ever seen John change anyone’s diaper before today? Moreover, who would even think that this statement is true?

I have vivid memories of diaper-changing in my house. However, there were very few times when I changed someone else’s baby. I changed my nephew’s diaper once. I remember changing the diaper of one of my wife’s friend’s children, when my wife and her friend went out socializing. That may be it. As I recollect, they were quite pleasant experiences compared to my son and his explosive poopy, or my daughter and her projectile poopy. My daughter, in particular, was tough to change, because she tightened the muscles in her back so her legs wouldn’t bend up to put a diaper on her. When she did this, my wife handed her off to me to handle that powerful little infant back. So, when Elly makes this outrageous statement, I can’t imagine any mother saying that and keeping a straight face.

Then, I figured it out. Elizabeth (Katie) was Rod’s kid and Michael (Aaron) was not. John (Rod) takes Elizabeth (Katie) to change her diaper, and with Michael (Aaron) in the same situation, he must have complained bitterly or refused. The joke is that John (Rod) hated changing Elizabeth (Katie) too. That’s the only way I can make sense out of it.

5 appearances by John in the new-runs and he is slammed in 4 out of 5. I look forward to more in the future.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Everything Old is Old Again

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston has opted to go for a very routine kid’s comedy moment, i.e. baby feeding daddy. I remember when my kids got to the age where they thought it was hysterical to feed their father. Of course, when they got to that stage, they were at the age where they could feed themselves, unlike little Lizzie in today's strip.

Today’s For Better or For Worse is a little off from that. For one thing, Lizzie has her own spoon and is not taking the one John has. Plus she puts it into John’s mouth without having anything on it, which seems to miss the point about why she would want to do it in the first place. The way the strip comes off is that Lizzie puts her spoon in John’s mouth in order to get him to stop talking to her in baby talk, or because his mouth is open and she wants to put something in there. However, it loses that element of cuteness with the daughter trying to feed the father.

Now we are 3 weeks into them, the new-runs seems to be an odd mix of (a) jokes involving kids which have been done to death in comic strips and (b) Lynn Johnston rambling about her own thoughts using the mouths of Elly, Connie and Annie without respect to their personalities. Actually, Lynn’s ramblings are stronger material than the kid jokes because, while they may be hopelessly old-fashioned, they are more interesting than a recycled joke. Lynn’s forté is to pull from her own life, even if her own life is a whacked out, 61-year-old woman, raging over her divorce.

I thought she had learned this lesson back in 1979, but apparently not. In her earliest days it was the same way. When she did strips lifted almost directly off of Peanuts, or Dennis the Menace, or Cathy; they stank. But when she did strips taken from her own life, even if they made her look like a terrible mother, they still worked from a realism standpoint. When Elly shrieked at her kids, I could believe she would think she was a bad mom for doing it. I may not like the bad mothering, but at least I could believe it. I guess is going to have to learn this all over again.

As for those persons who wanted Lynn to portray Elly in her old age, they have it, but don’t know it. Elly in the new-runs is Elly in her old age. She just looks young and has small children. Everything coming out of her mouth is old.

The Peterborough Examiner

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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trading Places

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Anne Nichols takes another step to becoming like Elly, by saying she wants to be like Connie Poirier, for many of the same reasons Elly used to envy Connie back in the days of 1980. Just as she made Connie and Elly seem like they were one person, now she is doing the same with Anne and Elly. Eventually I think we will reach a point where every character is exactly the same, as Lynn Johnston moves further down the road of being unable to create unique characters with different viewpoints.

The part I liked about Anne Nichols in the old days was that she seemed to be the only one of the crowd of ladies who knew what she wanted and, by-and-large, had it. Elly Patterson wanted work outside the home and she eventually got it with all her jobs and her ownership of Lilliput’s. Connie Poirier wanted a man, and she eventually got one. Anne Nichols, on the other hand, had simpler desires like wanting her husband to spend more time at home and to stop buying junk. The difference in those desires from Elly’s and Connie’s, was that she was not trying to alter herself, with which she seemed to be satisfied.

The worst part of this for me is I cannot really see where Lynn is going with this. Given the way Anne acts in some of the old material, it will eliminate Lynn’s ability to print the old material and have it make any sense. As Lynn has said many times when talking about Anne and Elly, she had originally intended for Elly to have 2 good friends and that Connie was going to rub Elly the wrong way a lot of times. She eventually turned Connie into a wife, and that pretty much defanged Connie the liberated woman, and eliminated Anne. Since we have seen Anne now step more into line with Elly’s desires, I wonder if Lynn has some kind of plan to keep Connie unmarried for a longer time in order to set these ladies’ relationships more as she had originally planned? Does Lynn Johnston think it was an error on her part to allow Anne to disappear from the strip in favour of Connie?

We should find out soon enough, depending on Lynn’s choice of reprints for the Connie / Phil / Ted dating triangle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Due Time

In today’s For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson expresses a view on dating that I would say is almost completely inaccurate as far as my own experience goes. With respect to Connie Poirier finding someone, Elly says, “No. And I think she should stop looking. Relationships happen in due time. When you’re always looking, you just get depressed and frustrated.” It is interesting that Elly is professing a philosophy almost the same as the Elizabeth Patterson’s often-quoted “It will happen if it’s fate” belief about relationships.

I know from my own personal experience that had I not actively and vigorously pursued dating, I would not be married today. There are people, who either due to wealth or good looks, do not have to work at find someone. However, even a woman who is wealthy, can’t have a relationship with someone, if she is hiding in her house in Corbeil and only coming out to speak in Spanish to her accountant. You have to put yourself in a place where you can meet someone to have a relationship. For me, this was theatre, chorus, social dance, and church; all areas which are dominated by women. I dated women from all these places over a loooong time, and eventually I found a woman I wanted to marry and who wanted to marry me and she wasn’t crazy (a more crucial ingredient than you would think).

Dating serves a number of excellent functions:
1. If you stink at socializing, you will find out right away. Not only that, but after going on several different dates with several different people, you should get better at it, and not worse (like Elizabeth Patterson).
2. It humanizes the person who is with you on the date. When you just look at someone beautiful, it can be intimidating. But when you have to maintain a conversation with them, you can realize that they are a human being too. Of course, if they only have conversations with themselves using thought balloons, then you’ve learned something also.
3. If you date a variety of different people, it can help you learn what you do or do not want in a long term mate. For example, how are you going to find out you like guys who emotionally cheat on their wife, unless you go out with them?
4. You will find out first hand that there are some people out there so desperate, that even the slightest bit of affection on a date (like agreeing to let him carry your telescope) can be transformed into a marriage proposal.
5. You will learn that there are quite a few people out there who never learned to take care of themselves, and they are waiting for someone like you to come along and take on that role. Beware of the girl who eats only Kraft dinner and whose place is a mess covered in cat fur.
6. You will learn that dating is a numbers game. For every 20 dates you go on, 3 of them might be fun dates, and 1 of them might be spectacular (even if it involves bringing lists of attributes you want in a mate to a restaurant).
7. You will learn that a successful date is one where you and your date have fun, and you both learn a little about each other, like that little prison he has in his basement.

With Connie Poirier, we know she is going to date Phil Richards and Ted McCaulay, and end up with Greg Thomas. In this universe, Connie would have found Greg anyway, according to Elly. But we readers know that without her failures with Ted and Phil, Connie would have never taken the job in Thunder Bay which led her to find Greg. So there, Elly!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


It’s been since September 14, 2007 in For Better or For Worse, that Lynn Johnston has resorted to food coming out of a kid’s mouth for comic relief. I knew it was only a matter of time before she resorted to a bodily function joke, since she loves them so much. Today we have Christopher Nichols spitting up raisins to prevent having to give them to Michael.

I know when I was young and I didn’t want to share a food with my sisters, I found that licking the food was sufficient. The problem with Christopher Nichols’ solution is that he still has the desired food, untouched in the box in his left hand. In order for the trick to work, you have to somehow taint the food the other kid would want.

The second problem with his trick is that he is doing it right in front of his mother. In my house, what would happen next is the box of raisins would be removed from Christopher’s hands and he would be taken to the washroom to wash his hands, while getting a serious lecture about how disgusting that was.

However, we know it’s not really Christopher’s fault. After all from the biography of Anne Nichols:

Her quiet child, Christopher, was acting out more, too, and in increasingly destructive ways. Anne suspected he missed his father and resented the amount of attention his younger brother claimed.

Yes, the real reason for this was because of his father. Everything is always the fault of the father. I suspect the real reason is because those raisins taste so good.

From 3 Dimensions to 1

The Anne Nichols character in For Better or For Worse used to have a lot more to her than “My husband cheats on me.” She tried to be super-mom, and was intended to be the opposite of Elly’s more laid-back (undeciplined) style. Steve Nichols picked up stuff from garage sales and filled his house full of the kind of things which would do great on E-Bay. Anne represented the strong Catholic view point. She does not believe in divorce. She practices the rhythm method. Anne was constantly getting pregnant.

Now Anne is down to just one thing---Her workaholic husband, whom she doesn’t know is not really a workaholic, but a cheater. What a surprise that Lynn Johnston would choose to focus on that particular thing before anything else in Anne’s life.

When Lynn Johnston talked about these new-runs, she talked about going to a gag-a-day strip. Here she is in week number 3, having brought in Connie Poirier to talk about her lack of a man and brought in Anne Nichols to talk about her worthless husband. Number of conversations about parenting techniques or problems dealing with their kids = 1. Lynn simply cannot do gag-a-day. As we can tell from her most recent interviews, she still has a rage going on over her ex-husband, and it is keeping her from doing anything else, even in her comic strip.

On the other hand, I am excited by the change in her plans. I was not looking forward to gag-a-day, and I lamented the potential loss of the Patterson family condescending to everyone and polite to no one. In this respect, I am not disappointed. In the new-runs, Elly has looked down her nose at Connie Poirier and Anne Nichols. Welcome to 1979, modern Elly!! And thanks for bringing us snarkers with you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


It’s Mid-September in For Better or For Worse and we start to see the free-floating leaves which typify any Lynn Johnston autumn strip. I suddenly have the impression that Lynn is trying to match the new-run to real time. Elly has gone to Anne (not Annie) Nichols’ house with little Lizzie (not Mike). For a brief moment, we think that “homemade organic food and cloth diapers” Annie is demonstrating a more energy conserving solution than a clothes dryer, sorry clothes drier. However, we learn differently as Anne answers Elly's question, and Anne gives us a series of woes including a startling one involving her son, named as Richard and not Christopher.

Lynn Johnston appears to be free-floating in the time stream. The appearance of Richard Nichols, puts the chronology of the strip in the 4th year, especially with the line “I’m out of diapers.” In the fourth collection, Annie has gone to disposable diapers, after using cloth diapers with her first child, Christopher.

I had thought with the predicted introduction of Farley in October, Lynn Johnston was going to go for strips in the second year, because that is when Farley was introduced in the strip. But now I have no idea. It seems to me that Lynn Johnston has completely forgotten she had the story of Richard’s birth in the 3rd year of the strip.

The thing which makes this the most curious for me, is we have already seen Lynn make a comment about reprint strips she could not include because there was a typewriter in them. This means she must have looked at the reprint strips. Perhaps even read them. So, how could she get the idea that Richard has already been born? Did she just look over strips looking for typewriters, and eliminate those? OR was she lying to the interviewer when she said that, and she just happened to notice 2 strips had typewriters in them, so she decided to exclude them?
Regardless, the appearance of Richard Nichols means that the timeline for the 29 years of For Better or For Worse is not sacred. Any character is fair game for an appearance. And if that is the case, I want Fiona Brass to visit in a new-run. This strip really needs someone like Fiona to liven things up.

The Source of Pain

Oddly enough, in today’s For Better or For Worse, we have the opportunity to do another comparison and contrast between a very similar strip reprinted last year on December 7, 2007.

In the reprint, John has a pretty stressful day of work, during which he keeps a smiling face. Then when he goes home he growls at Michael. At the time this was reprinted, I was reminded of Dr. John Patterson’s poor behaviour with his son (a regular theme in the first year of the strip). However, I had no qualms about the idea that he was stressed at work. Each and every panel had a new situation or problem to deal with.

In comparison, today’s For Better or For Worse’s Dr. John Patterson is a lightweight. He only has to deal with one patient who doesn’t do a lot of complaining and actually compliments John after he is done. And for some reason this gives John a headache.

It actually reminded me a lot more of the famous “Elly bites through a phone book” strip from 2006, where the phone book gets the treatment due to Elly being upset over 2 customers who don’t buy anything from Lilliput’s and just walk out. I regarded that strip as being a gross overreaction. Today’s strip also is an overreaction, but it is typical of the more recent writing for the strip.

When Lynn Johnston did her recent interview with Caring Today, she told stories about persons she admired because they suffered without complaining. Even though the patient, Mr. Fuddmulch is not much of a complainer, nevertheless, the setup is that any patient who complains can give Dr. John Patterson a head ache. This is right along with Lynn Johnston's beliefs about people who complain. However, for those of us who complain when we are uncomfortable, the reaction seems to make little sense.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New-run vs. Old run

Today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse provides a grand opportunity to compare old-style Lynn Johnston with new-run Lynn Johnston. Back in November 23, 2007, Lynn reprinted a strip almost identical in spirit to today’s strip.

In the November reprint, young Michael Patterson taunted little Lizzie with a cookie, eating it in front of her and finally leading her to scream in desperation, “GOOKIE!” complete with wiggly letters to show her frustration as Mike ate the last bite. Then in the last panel, a manic Mike grabbed his sister in his arms and yelled, “Ma! I taught Lizzie a new word!!”

The new-run strip, in contrast, has Mike intentionally trying to teach Lizzie the word “Ma-ma” Lizzie raspberries Mike in response, until Mike raspberries back at her causing Lizzie to scream “Ma-Maa!” in retaliation.

This is a pretty clear indication of the difference in understanding kids by Lynn Johnston from today vs. 29 years ago, when she had small kids. Today’s strip depends on little Lizzie being able to:
a. Recognize a raspberry sound as an insult, instead of a sound babies can make with their tongue.
b. Recognize that “Ma-ma” is her mother, and that she can call that word to get aid from her mother.

The only way this makes sense is that Lizzie already knows how to say the word “Ma-ma” to call Elly, so Michael is trying to teach Lizzie a word she already knows. Lizzie is raspberrying at him to mock him (we know from her reaction to being raspberried by Mike), but can’t take being raspberried herself and calls for aid, using that word she already knows. That implies a level of subterfuge I would think is beyond that of a 1 or 2-year-old. The humour of the strip relies on the reader being surprised by it. In other words, you have to think that Lizzie cannot say the word “Ma-ma” until she does, with our expression matching that of Michael’s surprise.

In the reprint strip, Michael is working with a word we can tell that Lizzie does not know, because she ultimately mispronounces it when she says it. The humour of the strip actually relies on the manic appearance of Michael in his excitement over having taught his sister a word through playful torture and the shocked expression on Lizzie’s face when the brother who had been taunting her with the cookie is suddenly hugging her with great vigor.

In my opinion, the reprint strip is superiour to the new strip for the following reasons:

1. It more accurately represents the way children would play together.
2. It more accurately represents the skills of the children in the story for their ages.
3. The brother ends up excited for his sister’s accomplishments instead of shocked and betrayed by them.
4. The physical humour is much more evident in the reprint. Larger parts of the characters bodies are drawn to fill up the space and emotion is carried not just in the face but in the whole body. The new-run has a lot of space filled by floor and wall.

I am sorry to say, but it looks like Lynn Johnston, with 29 years of comic strip-writing experience is being outdone by herself when she just got started.

Reprint Preparation

During the course of the last year of For Better or For Worse and its hybrid from, there were quite a few of the older strips which provided a narrative to allow the modern characters to connect to the reprint strips. It occurs to me, now that we are in the second week of the new-runs, what we may be seeing are Lynn Johnston’s efforts to prepare the reader for reprints starting from the second year, the year where Farley was introduced.

In week one, we are introduced to Fred the fish, the idea that Michael considers Fred boring for a pet, and that John Patterson is in favour of getting a dog, if not for Michael then for him. This sets up pretty well for the introduction to Farley, with Mike and John and Mrs. Baird acting in concert to convince Elly to accept Farley into the family.

Week number two shows Connie is a bad parent and introduces the idea of Connie and Pablo da Silva, the father of Lawrence. It also introduces the idea that Connie is looking for a man. Looking back on it, I realize that most of the references to Connie’s ex-husband, Peter Landry, occurred in the first year, with the second year of the strip spending a lot of time with the Connie / Phil Richards / Ted McCaulay triangle. By skipping over the first year, Lynn misses a lot of the Peter Landry strips.

The question then, is what will Lynn do to set things up for the rest of the year? I predict:

a. The introduction of Phil Richards and Ted McCaulay. This may not happen, because both these characters have reappeared in the last year. A good bit of the 2nd year was devoted to Connie’s relationship with Phil and Ted, so they are likely to reappear.

b. Miss (Shelagh) Campbell, Mike’s first grade teacher, along with young Deanna Sobinski and young Gordon Mayes in strips with Mike at school.

c. Will and Carrie Patterson. These characters will need to be reintroduced, since they have not appeared in over 3 years.

Any thoughts as to what you think Lynn Johnston will introduce in the remaining 2-3 weeks of new-runs to set up year two in reprints?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rebel Strip Without a Cause

It’s been a rough time getting over not doing daily posts for April’s Real Blog viewing the strip through the perspective of a particular character from the strip. It was never so evident to me until I read today’s For Better or For Worse. There were so many incongruities; I could have created a whacky story to fill in all the spaces. Just a few things I noticed were:

1. Connie has stayed at Elly’s house late enough in the day for it to get cold. Connie is a single mom, so that means this has to be a weekend, or because she is in the medical profession, it is a day where she doesn’t have to work. It needs to be the latter, because Dr. John Patterson is nowhere in sight the whole time. In the beginning, he wasn’t into model trains yet.
2. Elly and Connie shared tea and not coffee. Connie feels comfortable enough in the Patterson home to wash the tea mugs herself, while Elly watches.
3. Elly Patterson has cookies, which she has placed unceremoniously directly on the table in the Tuesday strip, but now offers them to Connie on a plate. The running gag in April’s Real Blog is that Elly would never give away a cookie or a pastry. We’ve seen young Elly eat before, and she is not a delicate eater.
4. Connie Poirier refuses to take the cookies from Elly, which is a not-so-delicate slam on her abilities as a cookie maker.
5. Young Michael uses the word “dude”, which I am pretty sure was not in common use by youth until sometime around the late 1990s.
6. The extraordinary change in Michael’s facial features for the final panel.
7. The disappearance of Lizzie during this cookie exchange.

Aside from all those little things, at the heart of the matter is a comic strip which does not have any purpose. Although little Michael ends up with the cookies, it doesn’t seem like he is scheming to get them. He appears to be denying his mother’s statement that his family could not eat them all, which they could. It is not so much rude as factual. Nevertheless, Mike oddly rejoices that he managed to keep Connie and Lawrence from eating the cookies he is now enjoying.

On the other hand, you have Elly trying to get rid of the cookies, and the implication is that Connie refuses to take them because she believes young Michael would be deprived without all those cookies. That makes little sense also, and is a very strange way to have Connie and Elly part company.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Return of the Pun

I went back through the reprint strips of the last year to see how many of them resorted to the final panel pun. There was one on June 28. John walks in and say, “Elly, it’s a jungle out there.” To which Elly responds, “I’ll trade you for the zoo in here.” That’s as close as it gets.

When the new-runs began, the artwork was a questionable imitation of Lynn Johnston’s older style, but the storylines seemed to be doing a fairly decent job of imitating the style of the stories as they were told 29 years ago, in which a child-like statement of understanding was often the source of the humour. Little Michael, the hellion was back, and ready to inflict childlike pain and suffering on Fred the fish; but little Michael did not pun.

Then we have this week and I think Lynn has hit her roadblock. In the old strips, John and Elly had most of the conversation, and Lynn Johnston is faced with the same dilemma which has plagued her all last year, i.e. she does not want to put John and Elly together. Her modern day alternative to John was Connie Poirier and it appears that Lynn is going to resort to this same alternative with the new-run strips.

The problem with Connie is that either Lynn doesn’t remember her or she does and wants to change her. And with Connie, the mindset changed. Lynn is no longer imitating the old style of storytelling. Modern Connie’s interests appear, and we see the reintroduction of the final panel pun used on multiple meanings of the word “market”.

You can almost see it happening. When Lynn did her video interview, she was shown drawing the strip from Monday with the “BONK”. It makes me wonder if, after the interview was done, Lynn Johnston said, “Whew! Glad that’s over with. Now I can go back to awful puns.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

Retconning Connie

Here are the retcons in today's For Better or For Worse:

1. Connie wants a daughter.

In the comic strip, you don’t see Connie wanting more children until she gets to the point where Lawrence is old and Elly is pregnant with April. She ends up getting a dog instead. This a carry-over from a conversation Elly and Connie had in the modern times, where Connie tells Elly she wants to be a mother-of-the-bride like Elly is.

2. Connie told Elly that she and Pablo were married, so when Elly asks her about getting married again, she thinks of Pablo.

Ignoring the original retcon which turned Lawrence ethnic, the bio describes the situation like this:

Connie had deliberately dropped all contact with friends from her previous life, unable to tolerate their pity or disapproval. But when her ex-roommate Elly Patterson, worried about her friend's long silence, tracked her down at her mother's house and demanded to know what was up, Connie gave in to her overwhelming need for a sympathetic ear. "Connie! That's great." Her voice rang cheerily through the phone. "Not about Pablo, I mean. �.I'm so thrilled that you have a baby boy, just like we do. He sounds darling. I'd love to see him and swap new-mommy stories with you. Why don't you come visit us? We can move Michael into our room for a few days and free up the other bedroom for you and Lawrence."

Where in that do you get the idea that Connie told Elly she was married to Pablo. It sounds like she is completely aware of the situation. And moreover, given that Lawrence is about 5-6 years old, why is the marriage reference not to her actual first husband, Pete Landry?

What has happened to Connie is:

a. Lynn Johnston has not read Beth Cruikshank’s bio of Connie Poirier, and thus forgotten how Pete Landry was married and divorced from Connie after she arrived in Milborough and before Lawrence turned 6.
b. Lynn is taking the modern Connie concerns and planting them on young Connie, whose main concern was finding a man (and not having more children).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Learning to Walk, New-Run Style

The magic moments of motherhood. There is nothing like them. Your baby has been pulling up and walking around by holding on to things, and then there comes that time when you can tell they are ready to walk. While some mothers clear a pathway of obstacles and get the camera out to video that stellar moment there are also other moms, moms who think to themselves, “Dammit. I am not ready for this child to walk yet. She already gets into things. How can I put a stop to this? Tacks on the floor? Slippery floor surface? Bind her feet? No, wait. I know. Have her walk right next to a hard surface with sharp points on it; so if she trips and falls she will get a severe enough injury to put her off walking for another month. That’s the ticket. It is into this category of motherhood that Elly Patterson, mother worthy of being a referee, falls.

Although some people have their doubts about the new-runs, Lynn Johnston is doing an excellent job of capturing Elly during 1979. She was a clueless mom, and in these new-runs, she continues that trend quite nicely. It has been awhile since my kids were the age of little Lizzie in today’s For Better or For Worse, but 8 years ago, if you didn’t want to put your coffee table in the garage as a safety measure, there were these table bumpers you could put on the corners of coffee tables to remove the danger of them cracking open your youngster’s skull.

I know there are differing opinions as to how far one should child-proof their home; but I know the vigorous child-proofers would look at today’s strip and cringe. Actually, I think even persons who are not into child-proofing (qnjones?) would also cringe.

There is a second aspect of today’s strip which says, “I don’t know much about small children.” I was always amazed at how quickly a small child could forget an unpleasant or painful situation. Elly sits with crying Lizzie in her arms thinking the experience will put her off walking for a month. As I remember my kids at that age, a bonk on the head would only put off my kids trying something they wanted to do, for maybe an hour or two.

Last week we had potential fish abuse at the hands of young Michael. This week has started off with small child injury. I wonder if we are going to have 2-3 more strips of Lizzie in physical peril. We know from last year’s hybrid, that Lynn Johnston was not afraid of showing Lizzie getting injured; so I have high hopes. There’s nothing like the laughs you get showing the very young getting hurt. It's comedy gold, baby. Comedy gold.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wanted: Referee. Must have more than one kid.

“You can’t be a referee if you don’t know the game.” That is an interesting analogy from today's For Better or For Worse and not entirely true. As I learned when my daughter played softball this past spring, there are some referees who don’t know all the rules of the game, and that’s why they carry those handheld rulebooks.

That aside, the analogy as applied here is supposed to mean, “You can’t give anyone parenting advice, if you only have one child.” The basic premise is that by having more than one child, you know the proper way for children to interact. A parent with only one child doesn’t know this.

I have mixed feelings about that statement. I think a parent with one child, whose child regularly interacts with other children, gets a feeling about the proper behaviour of children together and how well their child will respond to discipline. It doesn’t take that much to know that hitting and biting are wrong. Those other children don’t have to be yours after all. I know that with my daughter, she has some girlfriends you can leave them alone and not worry about a thing, and with other girlfriends you have to keep an eye on them, because they tend to get into fights (Verbal, not physical battles.)

On the other hand, if you’ve been around your own children long enough, you soon get a feeling for what will or will not work with them. Not all parenting techniques work with all kids, and considering Michael’s history of violence toward his sister, Elly may know that it is better for her to pick up Lizzie than to get him all stirred up trying to force him to play with her.

Ignoring the fact that asking your 5-year-old son to play with his younger sister so you can visit, is fairly ridiculous; the most fun part about the visit between Connie and Elly is that they are not visiting. They are sniping at each other over their parenting technique. It’s hard to believe these two are going to be fast friends and will one day, 29 years in the future, tell each other what wonderful parents they were.

Putting the Pieces in Place

In today’s For Better or For Worse, John Patterson enters the fray in the fight to get a dog. Ultimately we know that Elly gives in to getting Farley after she is ganged up on my Mrs. Baird, John, and Michael. Today we would call that an intervention. Back then it was yet another example of “Mom runs the house and nothing happens unless she agrees, and that won’t happen unless you gang up on her.”

However, the motivation for Lynn Johnston to focus the strip this way, is to show why it is that John will push for the dog along with the kids. He wants a dog too. This also provides the humour for today’s strip, because he is a grown adult and he wants a puppy.

The real-life Farley entered Lynn’s life before she even met John Patterson or even her son Aaron, so the curious question is from whom is she modeling John and Mike’s behaviour? Presumably the only person possible would be her first husband. Given that the original Farley was sent off to the “farm” because he was rough with baby Aaron, my guess is that Lynn’s first husband was the one who wanted the dog.

The interesting part is that in the second year of For Better or For Worse, the incident with Farley the dog being sent to the farm was years past. It make me wonder if, by putting Farley in the comic strip, Lynn was somehow trying to atone for having gotten rid of Farley back then.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fred the Traveling Fish

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we see young Michael and young Lawrence taking Fred the fish out for a spin on the old wagon. This is another thing I wouldn’t have done with a fish in my house. For one thing, even a small fish bowl filled with water is heavy. When my kids first got fish about 4 years ago, they were 9 and 6 respectively, and it would have been dangerous for them to lift their fish bowls because of the weight. Not only that but fish bowls don’t have any good places to hold them. I guess Mike and Lawrence are made of sturdier stuff and managed to get the fish bowl on to that wagon.

As I look at these backgrounds, I think I owe Laura Piché an apology. I used to complain about her drawing everything in the background with a straight edge. Now with Lynn 100%in charge of the art, I can see that all that straight-edging was because of Lynn Johston. Sorry, Laura!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Faster, Fred the Fish! Kill! Kill!

In today's For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson has a timely intervention which prevents Fred the fish from being killed in the first week of his existence. After all, Lynn Johnston has to milk this fish for all he’s worth, before she brings in the Farley adoption reprints next month. We know from the strips done before, that Farley had quite a bit of stamina when it comes to young Michael, and he is a much better choice than poor Fred, for the type of rough play Michael likes.

I have to admit that a lot of the joy of looking at a fish is seeing them swim around the things in their environment, which makes those little fake trees and pebbles a good addition to an aquarium. This plain fish bowl is the height of dull. My kids had fish, but they did not keep their attention for very long in any particular day. Aside from watching them swim, my kids noticed if they had any personality characteristics and things like that.

Oddly enough, young Michael wishes his fish were faster. I can forgive Lynn Johnston this particular piece of writing, by saying Michael really wants his fish to do things that are more visually interesting. It will be interesting to see how Lynn Johnston will concentrate on the idea that Mike thinks his fish is boring. Most kids will realize it immediately and go off to play with something else. Young Michael, may wallow in 5-year-old fish owner angst for longer than that.

McCleans Magazine article

Here is the link to the article. As usual, I will talk about the parts in which I am interested which, in this case, is most of the article.

Cartoonist Lynn Johnston talks to Anne Kingston about the new 'For Better or For Worse' and her own domestic drama

Q: Retelling the Patterson family story with new storylines is either supreme artistic catharsis or supreme regression.

A: [Laughs] Actually it's one of those neat experiments that you know is working as soon as you get started on it. At first I thought: "Maybe it should go back and forth in time." But the year that I tried that was a year that I had some personal chaos and found it awfully hard to concentrate. It didn't flow. Also I would have to keep developing the characters and I would have even less time than I have now to do it. So I ended the story. It comes to a full stop the last week of August. The whole month of August has been the wedding of Anthony and Elizabeth. Some people are thrilled with the wedding, some people aren't. I don't care. They're happy, they want to get married, and it's going to be good. And, really, the whole story is about marriage and how you deal with the for-better-or-for-worse, and that was what I wanted to point out

I take away from this:
a. One of the primary reasons Lynn likes doing the new-runs is that she will not be spending any time developing characters. This is odd, because normally when you add stories to existing stories, that is what you are doing.
b. The reason that Lynn stuck the Grandpa Jim heart attack in the middle of the wedding proceedings in August was to show For Better (wedding) or For Worse (heart attack). And the reason for all the wedding donations was…?

Q: Is that an allusion to your own marriage suddenly ending for "the worse" a year ago?
A: Oh, yeah, that was a shocker! I had no idea, you know? I knew that there were things not working, but I kept thinking, "When I'm retired, we'll work it out." But there was no conversation, no discussion, and suddenly I find that there's another woman in the picture. So I sat there when I found out, absolutely stunned, thinking, "Who's writing this story?!?"

This line is very similar to the line “Then who’s guiding mine?” she used in this strip where Liz found out Paul was cheating on her. This seems like a pretty direct connection to me.

Given Lynn’s statement, there are some obvious parallels. Liz is waiting until January, 2007 to see her boyfriend again, whom she had not seen since summer. Lynn is waiting until retirement to work on problems she knows exist in her marriage. Liz finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, and her friends knew, but told her nothing. If the rumours about Rod Johnston’s affair are true, then Lynn faced a similar situation with her friends.

A brief summary of the rumours, for those of you joining us late:

Rod Johnston had an affair with a married woman, who used to work for him, and at the time was working in Lynn Johnston's staff. Her relationship with Rod ended, and the current rumour is that Rod is in a relationship with someone with whom he works.

Q: Did you ever consider incorporating the breakup into your work?
A: No. It's far too personal, and it's far too stressful, and if I can enjoy a fantasy world along with everybody else then I should just keep doing that. You know, if I start to put what really happened in the strip it's unfair to my family.

What she means to say is that she is not going to have John and Elly divorce. That part is true. However, she is certainly not above using disguised versions of it and barely concealed slams against her ex-husband using John Patterson. She has already admitted in interviews to doing this at least 2 times.

Q: No, not divorce, which makes me wonder if one of the reasons the cartoon has been such a sanctuary of comfort is because the Pattersons have their ups and downs but remain solid at the core.
A: That's what I thought I had! I was divorced once before, so all of that memory is still there. I was thinking of using that, in that Anne — Elly's neighbour — her marriage is not working too well, but I never worked it into the strip.

If you wanted proof that Anne and Steve Nichols were going to be modeled after Lynn’s first marriage, there you have it.

Q: But recently you recycled an old strip in which Elly has a recurrent dream that [her husband] John leaves her for another woman.
A: Yes, it was so prophetic I thought, "You know what? I'm going to just throw that in there." I think it's funny; it's so déjà vu.

Here is where the interviewer is calling her on her statement about not including her divorce in the strip, only Lynn doesn't get it. The interviewer pursues this angle.

Q: So that was a dream that you had during your own marriage?
A: Well, [my former husband] worked with beautiful women ever since I met him. He's a dentist. He has hygienists and front-desk girls, and there are usually eight girls around him all the time, and he used to travel to the Native villages taking his staff with him, and people in the town would look at me as if to say, "Well, girl, join the club," because in a small northern mining town there's a lot of horsing around, and the joke was you can steal a man's wife, but you don't touch his woodpile, you know? It was rampant up here.

Although North Bay was once a mining town, that is no longer its main economy. Lynn Lake is a mining town and is probably the town about which Lynn is speaking. It was during this time that Rod was the flying dentist, and visited Native villages. I think Lynn is saying that she had the nightmare about Rod cheating on her because he had a staff of beautiful women. On the other hand, there is also the implication that fooling around was acceptable either in Lynn Lake or in the Native villages near Lynn Lake or both, and people encouraged Lynn to fool around. I don’t know Lynn Lake, but if I lived there, I think I might be just a little insulted. As for the interviewer, she has no idea Lynn is describing a place she hasn’t lived since the early 1980s.

Q: Adultery is a form of entertainment where you live?
A: It was recreation. It was like a high school, all these different personalities thrown into this one inescapable place where you had to be there together all the time, whether you wanted to or not, and someone you hated might turn out to be the guy in the bar that you're hitting the sack with next year, you know? I didn't have time for that, nor did I want it, but it was there in the town. But I thought there was safety in numbers if he was with a bunch of girls. And they were all really nice people. But I thought to myself, "If I'm going to be a jealous wife, I'll drive myself crazy."

The interviewer was confused by her last answer too. And the way she phrased her question tells us that maybe she is starting to get a hint of Lynn Johnston’s somewhat nonlinear way of thinking.

Q: This is your second divorce. The terrain must be so different at this stage; you were a young mother of one son the first time; now you have two grown children.
A: Well, thank goodness they're adult children. It was terribly hard on them anyway. My heart goes out to the younger moms who have children at home who are thrown between the two and have to spend time between two families. It's so difficult. But [my husband and I] had very individual lives. He had lots of hobbies, and I spent a lot of time on my own, and so being on my own is not something that I'm uncomfortable with. I think I've coped really, really well. When I was divorced the first time, I met another young woman who was also divorced. Actually, what happened with her was her husband took her to the hospital as she was having her second baby and she never saw him again.

Q: Wow. Really?

I love this question. I can see the interviewer thinking, “Is this a real story, or is this something she just made up?”

A: Yeah, and the two of us were looking at each other saying, "You know what? We're really fine people, we're worth keeping," and we supported each other through being brand-new moms with new babies and on our own. We were hoping to help other people through this once we'd survived. We had our survival mechanism, which we thought was superb. And the first thing was never go to bed ugly, because if you look in the mirror at three in the morning and you've been crying all night and you're saying, "Well, no wonder he left me. Look at you!"

The “worth keeping” line is very reminiscent of Liz’s line in this strip.

Q: That's such a female response, to blame yourselves.

Not even a question, the interviewer has strayed into commenting, just as I am doing.

A: Yeah. We had no money, so we went to the Salvation Army and we bought the best negligees. I mean, who wears a negligee? You wear it one night, it goes to the Salvation Army, so that's the best place to go to buy a fancy, swanky negligee. So we would go to bed and we would do our hair, our makeup. We'd call each other at 11 o'clock at night: "Hey, babe, you look good?" "Oh, I look great. Did you do your nails?" "Yeah, I did my nails." "Great." Then we'd go to bed looking great, feeling good, and we'd call each other in the morning.

I am amused just thinking about this one. Lynn Johnston, barely employed mother of a small child, goes into the Salvation Army looking for negligees, the fancy, swanky kind that I have seen so often in the Salvation Army stores. The interviewer can tell she is losing control of the interview, and then attempts to put it back into focus with an odd question.

Q: You were ramping down For Better or For Worse when the marriage dissolved. Do you see any connection?
A: I think catching someone [being unfaithful] is . . . it's the end.

My interpretation is that interviewer wants Lynn to realize that ending the strip set things into motion which helped to cause the marriage to dissolve. I have wondered whether or not the idea that Rod would be spending all his time with Lynn caused him to realize he would no longer be able to conceal his affair.

Q: Certainly adultery is a recurrent marital theme.
A: Do you know what it is? It's cowardice. If you're not happy, work it out. Some marriages are worth keeping if there's a really good basis for it, no matter what's gone on, because at this stage of our lives there's so much history, so much family, so much . . . not just possessions, but mental possessions, like the time we did this, and when we did that, and all the wonderful history there. When you're in your declining years, your memories are so important, and your family and friends. Do you really want to throw that away and start a brand-new life with brand-new people?

Here you have as clear an explanation as you can have as to why childhood sweethearts are best. The implication is that Lynn might have considered forgiving Rod, if he tried to work it out. A statement coming up as to how many times Lynn has seen Rod flies in the face of this statement.

Q: Do you ever cross paths?
A: I've never seen him. I mean, it's a small town so he probably knows what I'm doing and I probably know a little bit of what he's doing, but my life is rolling along and I have a very full life. I've had a lot of fun, actually. I've really enjoyed being single; after you pass through the shock, then it's like, "Well, I can do anything I want. I can go anywhere I want." One of the things I've been wanting to do for years and years is to go to South America and be a translator, and I went to Peru this year and I worked for two weeks as a translator with the Medical Missionaries, and I had a wonderful time.

I wondered if Lynn was actually going to do this after she talked about it for so long, and it looks like she did.

Q: Your work now gives you the flexibility to do that?

Here the interviewer betrays her lack of research. If she knew anything about the hybrid of the last year, she wouldn’t ask this question.

A: Oh, sure, absolutely, because I won't have to do six dailies and a Sunday every week. I might do three dailies, I might do five, I might do one, it all depends on how well the classic material works into what I'm doing now. The stories are already written, and the backgrounds are already drawn. I don't have to devise another character.

Q: You talk about reaching a new generation with the strip but it's a very different generation than existed in the '70s, pre-Internet, pre-YouTube. How are you adjusting to that?

A: Well, I've just gone past a couple of strips that were really funny — they were both about a typewriter, and those are both gone. Not because I didn't think they were good. I just didn't think it would go. So it's not as if I'll change things. I just won't include them if they don't have any relationship to today.

Ah-Ha!! My pet theory was that Lynn is trying to turn the strip into something more timeless, and she just said it. Anything Lynn views that is not modern in her strip is going. Rod’s sideburns are bye-bye. Good-bye plaid shirts and pants. Now the real question is whether or not, Lynn will alter reprint strips to remove sideburns and plaid.

Q: What has readers' reaction to your own marital split been?
A: Well, people want to know a lot about it, and it's nobody's business but mine, you know? And they're sad because it was a fantasy. And I was sad for them because I wanted to give them a real family behind the family in the strip that was together and communicated and could see through... see each other though all the ups and downs.

It’s nobody’s business but yours, Lynn Johnston, or anybody who has read an interview with you in the last 18 months.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Killing Animals for Fun and Pleasure

Back in May, Lynn Johnston created a minor league stir when she chose to reprint a strip depicting young Michael Patterson and a bird trap. On one side of the issue were persons who were against cruelty to animals, regardless of whether or not Michael had built an effective bird trap. On the other side were persons who said Michael was just doing what kids did in those days. With today’s For Better or For Worse, we get to test those waters again, and we see Michael Patterson with spoon in hand, getting ready to torture his fish.

We know that ultimately we are going to see Michael get Farley the dog next month, so his fish is not likely to survive the month. With today’s strip, there is a question as to whether he will survive the next strip. Lynn is not shying away from her portrayal of young Michael Patterson, as a Dennis the Menace devotee. Lynn is starting to tread on difficult ground now. It is one thing to reprint something which might offend some people, and use the excuse that was how things were in those days; and it is another thing to create today something that represents how things were in those days.

For example, one of the classics of literature is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I briefly considered playing a spoken recording of it on CD for my kids, so they could experience this treasure. Only I was not more than a few pages into it, when I remembered that Mark Twain uses the “N” word a lot in this book, and if either of my kids used the “N” word in their school, they would be in deep trouble. I didn’t want to tempt my children, and so I refrained from playing them the book until they get older (i.e. less excited about bad language). It is one thing for Mark Twain to have done that, but if Mark Twain’s great-great-grandson wanted to write a sequel to the book and used the “N” word, it would not be considered acceptable, even if it were the way things were.

Tomorrow will tell the tale of Phil the Fish. Will Elly intervene just in time to save Phil, or will young Michael manage to kill the fish in order to entertain Lawrence? Not only that, but if Michael does kill Phil, then how can Elly possibly justify getting him a dog? The answers to all these deep, philosophical questions come tomorrow. I can hardly wait.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Fred the Fish

I know Lynn Johnston said she going to go to gag-a-day with her new-runs in For Better or For Worse, but 2 strips into it, and it looks like she has decided to tell stories instead. We are in the process of a one month lead-in to getting Farley the dog, so he can be in place in time for Lynn Johnston’s new children’s book on Farley.

Heading in the direction is the acquisition of Fred the Fish, who appears to be a goldfish. Lynn Johnston also said she wanted to fill out her old stories and right away we have a missed opportunity for one. What happens when Elly takes her kids to the pet store? How does she manage to get Michael away from the puppies and over to the fish? How does she manage to get Mike to agree to the cheapest possible fish and the cheapest possible bowl? Even well-behaved children, confronted with a series of possible choices in a pet store, have trouble making choices. What would happen with misbehaving Michael? Instead of showing that, we jump right to the conclusion, because even in the new-runs, Lynn only has 30 seconds a day. After all, as we all know, what is not important is the journey, what is important is the destination.

My kids had goldfish before from a county fair as a prize for winning some game. They only lasted a week, mainly because they would not eat the goldfish food we got from the pet store. As to why they did not eat the food, I can only speculate.

We had a lot better luck with Bettas, which lived for years and are a very low maintenance (hard for kids to kill) fish. Fish are a pretty tough pet to keep healthy and alive. Using them as an example of young Michael’s responsibility with a pet is not so good a choice. If Lynn Johnston is going true-to-life, then this is a lesson Elly Patterson will learn and not Michael. If not, then she will decide for Michael not to have a pet, based on poor dead Fred; and then she will get Farley anyway because we have seen those strips from year 2.

There is not much story tension here, except to see how imaginative Lynn Johnston is in coming up with the means for Fred’s demise.