Friday, October 31, 2008

Days of Expressive Hands

I remember in my university years seeing the work of a particularly fine local actress in a production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams. One of my friends, who knew about acting said when I saw the show I should watch the actress’ feet. Even though this sounded like a foot fetish, what he meant was that the actress would intentionally position her feet in ways which would tell us about her character, who was extremely shy and introverted, and that you could tell this about her character without her having to say a word. He was right and it was a marvelous performance, feet included.

Lynn Johnston has traditionally had a hard time drawing hands, and for whatever reason, usually ends up drawing deformed claws where hands should be. However, in today’s For Better or For Worse reprint, we can see that this was not always the case. The hands are not perfectly drawn, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are expressive.

In panel 1, we see Elly holding a small-looking Farley with just 2 fingers and a thumb, while Thelma Baird is pointing at the dog to make sure Elly is looking to see he is a runt.

In panel 2, Elly’s hands are snuggling Farley to her face with his little paws so cute on top of her right hand. Thelma has her hands clasped as if she is begging Elly to take the dog.

In panel 3, Thelma’s hand very clearly indicates the aside to John Patterson about her secret plan to help him get the puppy.

These hands are so expressive, I would say that if you stripped off the dialogue, you could have a pretty good guess what this strip was about just by looking at the hands. This is one of the key things that Lynn has lost in her cartooning art – the ability to tell the story by using the hands of the characters. Even if you go back 2 Sundays ago to the dialogue-free Sunday strip where Lizzie is assaulted by the ugly, old lady, Lynn resorted primarily to emotion lines off Lizzie’s head to tell the story. Looking at that strip, the hands have the fingers either all together or all apart with respect to what they meant for the story. Lynn Johnston seems to have lost that hand art.

As for the content of today’s reprint, it forces me to eat my words about yesterday. Mrs. Baird is still the conniving dog breeder we remember from 1980 and Farley is still a runt – a runt which will require no special care. I thought Lynn would fix those problems from 1980, but they are still there. It’s just as well. I liked Mrs. Baird pulling a fast one on Elly. It was my favourite strip of the sequence.

Just to let you know I got some correspondence with Lynn Johnston's Coffee Talk I will share with you:

My question: Dear Lynn,

We all know that the dog Farley was based on a real-life dog you once owned. Since Mrs. Thelma Baird has also come back to your comic strip, was she based on a real-life person in your life, and if so, what was the relationship between you two?



Thelma Baird is based on a number of ladies I have known over the years. She's most like my mom's British war bride friends..people I knew as a child.

Thanks for writing and all the best,
Lynn J.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thelma Baird is replaced by Hard-Sell Mike

I guess it is yet to be seen if Thelma Baird is going to do her hard-sell routine on Elly Patterson to take Farley. It’s possible she will, but I am beginning to have my doubts. One thing that is clear is Lynn Johnston has either violated her rules about not researching, or she is correcting mistakes she was told she made back in 1980, when she wrote the strip. We saw a little evidence of this back on Tuesday, when Mrs. Baird pointedly said, “They’re 8 weeks old” which is considered the standard youngest age for giving away puppies. Originally the puppies were much younger and they were drawn much younger as you can tell from their size relative to the Pattersons’ and Thelma’s hands. Clearly Lynn meant to draw puppies that were a few weeks old.

The other aspect of Thelma Baird, dog-breeder, is that part of her hard-sell for Elly was that Farley was a runt, rejected by his mother, and would have to be put down if Elly did not take him. Any person taking over a runt would have a significant task ahead to keep the puppy warm, to feed the puppy as if the mother were doing it, and to keep a careful watch on any difficulties the puppy may have with eating. Many times the runt of the litter is rejected by mom due to physical defects. The net effect is that Thelma Baird would be handing off a dog that would require a lot of work, and may have some serious health issues later on.

With today’s new-run of For Better of For Worse, we don’t see Thelma Baird doing the hard-sell or any mention of Farley being a runt. Instead, young Michael is doing the hard-sell. This has the effect that no longer is Mrs. Baird a conniving old dog breeder getting rid of a sickly dog, and no longer does Farley have that runt stigma on him. I’ll bet people up in Lynn Lake pointed this out to Lynn Johnston right away in 1980, and she has been waiting 28 years to finally fix this thing.

Lynn Johnston now thumbs her nose at those adulterous Lynn Lake residents. Ha! Farley is not a runt! Ha! He’s a good healthy dog, who will die from heart failure after jumping in water to hold up a little girl’s head. Ha! That’s to you Lynn Lake!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Trap Called Schadenfreude

As I read today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, where Elly is introduced to Farley, I am filled with a certain sense of Schadenfreude. Elly is opposed to getting a puppy. In fact, in the new-runs, she is so opposed, she has bought Mike a fish to substitute for a puppy and has spend 2 months denying John and Mike the opportunity to get a puppy. She heads over to Mrs. Baird’s house of puppies, and Mrs. Baird is going to hard sell Lynn with preposterous ideas that she would put down a runt pure-bred Old English Sheepdog and convince her to take Farley home. The funny part about this to me is that the reason Elly goes over to Mrs. Baird’s house is because she thinks Mike and John have spent too much time over there and she is going to put a stop to it. Mrs. Baird lives next door. They can walk there. There is very little opportunity for physical danger on the trip, unless Mrs. Baird proves to be a homicidal maniac in addition to dog breeder. Elly should have plenty to do in her own house, given that she doesn’t have time to read a paper, and yet, she feels the need to go to Mrs. Baird’s house. Elly’s belief that Mike and John can’t handle themselves, drives her to leave her house for Mrs. Baird's and discover what mischief they are up to.

So…because Elly can’t leave well enough alone and trust her husband and son, she ends up as a victim of the conniving Mrs. Baird, and ends up with Farley. Schadenfreude. How sweet it is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pee on John, Not Elly

I think I had one of my biggest laughs in a long time with today’s For Better or For Worse. Thanks to aprilp_katje listing the reprint strips for Farley’s adoption, I knew that little Farley leaked on Elly on the way home from Mrs. Baird’s house. In today’s new-run / retcon, the person being leaked upon is not Elly but John Patterson. When I read that, I just burst out laughing. These new-runs have slammed or heaped abuses upon John Patterson over and over again as a mark of Lynn Johnston using the strip to heap abuses on her ex-husband represented by John Patterson. So, this time instead of Elly receiving the abuse, it will be John.

I suppose I should have guessed it would happen that way, given how John has been treated in the strip since last Septamber. But still, I laughed because there appears to be no lower limit to how far Lynn Johnston will go with using this strip as a means of revenge on the man.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Farley Appears Again!

A few things to compliment Lynn on this new-run version of the Farley adoption in today's For Better or For Worse:

1. 8 weeks old is good. The USDA does not recommend selling puppies before they are 8 weeks old.
2. Lynn did actually manage to look at what Mike and John were wearing in Monday’s reprint strip and imitate that outfit for Tuesday’s new-run. I know it seems stupid not to and you would expect any idiot trying to put new strips in between old strips to keep the clothing consistent; but, up until today, Lynn did not keep the outfits the same for any reprint to new-run transition.
3. Mrs. Baird has rediscovered her Grandpa Jim-style chin, she did not have on Saturday.
4. Lynn’s image of Mrs. Baird is consistent with the image of Mrs. Baird in the Who’s Who section. She is pushing Farley hard on the Pattersons from the beginning.

Now on the other side of the equation:

1. As drawn there, Farley and all the other puppies are quite a bit younger than 8 weeks old. At 8 weeks, they would be out of that box.
2. How many stripes on Mike’s shirt? Take a look at the sleeves and you can see the number change from panel-to-panel.
3. Mrs. Baird has lost her long Mrs. Baird nose from Saturday.
4. The relative height of the characters is so off in this strip, it drives me to distraction.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Come Thou Long-Expected Farley

A mother of a Boy Scout told me recently of the story how she got her most recent dog. Her son had asked his family to go to a local charity event for the adoption of animals. Her husband found himself at the mercy of a female news anchor who was the celebrity sponsor of the event. Tall and beautiful and well-dressed, she approached the hapless man and said something about the dog at which he was looking with his son along the lines of “Are you going to adopt this one?” And, as the mother of the Boy Scout informed me, the next thing you know they had a dog.

Mrs. Baird in her Who’s Who describes the arrival of Farley like this:

When a breeder she respected begged Thelma to breed Lily and allow him to choose the pick of the litter, she couldn't resist. It was a pleasure to connect again with some of the people she had liked in her dog showing days. More importantly, she thought it was past time that the Pattersons had a dog. Remembering her own early years, she believed firmly that there was nothing better than a dog to teach children responsibility and the wonder of unquestioning love. With a litter of cute, furry puppies to aid her, she had a shrewd notion that she could make John and Elly see things her way. It turned out to be easier than she thought. An ex-farm boy himself, John went down without a struggle. And Thelma knew just how to handle Elly...

For some reason Beth Cruikshank decided to portray Thelma Baird as a conniving dog-giver because she believes a dog will improve the Pattersons. However, in the strip, what you see is that Thelma Baird breeds dogs, and describes Farley as a runt she would not be able to sell. My thought, from observing my cat-breeding sister is that this is the correct answer. Pure breeds, who have some kind of damage to them so they can’t be sold, are sometimes given away because the breeder knows they will be difficult and expensive to take care of. My mother-in-law, has a purebred dog in her family with a deformed back leg, given to her by a breeder. It’s a beautiful dog, that has always run on 3 legs. The original story works for me and hope that new-run Lynn Johnston doesn't destroy it.

Looking at Thelma Baird with those eyes, I see her trying to get rid of a puppy she can’t sell to some people she likes and would take good care of the puppy.

Heroes Punched Out by the Punch Line

It’s rare to see a Sunday colour strip from Lynn Johnston where it doesn’t appear to be a 3-panel joke stretched throughout 11 panels. In today’s For Better or For Worse, we see one. There is an actual storyline that runs all the panels, without the usual filler.

It runs in 4 basic parts

1. In order to keep Michael and Lawrence from fighting over the right to be Batman (instead of sidekick Robin), Elly suggests that the two of them make something up. Speaking a parent who has kids who are fond of Batman and Robin, I can tell you that Robin (as the leader of the Teen Titans on the very well-done Teen Titans animated program) does not fall into the category of sidekick no one wants to be anymore. I don’t expect Lynn Johnston to know this, because her most recent pop culture reference to Batman and Robin is through the 1960s television show, which my kids know only because I forced them to watch the movie. If the new-runs were operating in 1980, Michael and Lawrence would know the Super-Friends. It is easy to criticize Lynn Johnston’s pop culture references because she is usually terrible at them. But I digress. The interesting part of the sequence is that Elly is aware enough of the dynamic between Michael and Lawrence to know that they will start fighting over who can be Batman. For this strip, this is pretty subtle plotting and an excellent start to the story.

2. In order to keep Michael and Lawrence from making burping and farting noises, Elly steps in again. This time she is not preventing a fight. The boys appear to be having fun with ideas that kids their age find to be hysterically funny. As often as Lynn Johnston resorts to strips whose humour is based on bodily function, you know she thinks they are funny too. Nevertheless, Elly divides the line between good stuff and stupid stuff, where what the kids were doing is stupid. It’s a harsh viewpoint, because it includes the word “stupid.” That may be what Elly thinks but she could have phrased it more delicately than that. Not too bad so far, because we get to see Elly's weakness as a parent.

3. The third sequence has to do with whether or not Burpman and Tootman are funny. To the boys Elly does not laugh, and yet by herself, Elly is laughing hysterically over their antics and they see her doing it. Yes, Michael and Lawrence, that is what you call being a hypocrite. It is mainstay of the modern attitudes of the Pattersons. That begs the question why Elly bothered to stop them from playing as Burpman and Tootman. If they think it is funny and are having a good time, and Elly thinks it is funny; then why can’t Elly admit it is funny? What is the overriding paradigm that prevents her from laughing with the boys instead of laughing in hiding? For example, I remember some years ago when my step-mother-in-law caught her very young niece on top of on an ironing board pretending it was a surfboard. She thought it was very funny, but pretended she did not think it was funny, for fear the niece would repeat the activity and get injured if the ironing board collapsed on her. There’s an instance I could see where safety overrides enjoying the humour. In this case though, I can only imagine that Elly does not want Michael or Lawrence to think burp and fart jokes are funny. It is a poor reason, but it is in character with our old friend, Elly the hypocrite.

So, far the storyline makes sense. Elly prevents a fight between the kids, then starts a fight between herself and the kids, and shows herself to be a hypocrite. Everything flows well until we get to part four.

4. In the fourth part Lawrence equates laughing with saving the world, a mistake no self-respecting crime-fighter familiar with 1960s Batman would ever make. After all, the villains in that old TV series did a lot of laughing. Frank Gorshin’s Riddler laughed maniacally though almost all his scenes. Burgess Meredith’s Penguin was known for his laugh imitating a bird call. And of course, there was the Crown Prince of Laughter, Cesar Romero’s Joker. It was Adam West’s Batman who never laughed, but kept a straight face through all of it. When you get right down to it, this final panel, this Hallmark Card moment, is yet another attempt by Lynn Johnston to say something trite in order to get people to clip the strip out and put it on their refrigerator. Instead of accomplishing that, it pulls Lawrence Poirier out of character and effectively ruins what was one of the better Sunday colour strips in awhile.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mrs. Baird

It’s difficult to complain about Lynn Johnston’s depiction of Mrs. Baird as she rises from the dead to reappear in today’s For Better or For Worse. As I went through the Who’s Who entry on her, with its selected strips reprinted for Mrs. Baird, I can see that Lynn Johnston’s drawing of her never seemed to stabilize. The nose, the head and jaw shape constantly changed. In the Farley adoption sequence coming up next week compared to today’s Mrs. Baird, she has pronounced jowels, and a pointed, clefted chin. She has different glasses, a different nose, and a different body shape (i.e. old Mrs. Baird was fairly large-breasted). Between all the strips, the only consistent feature was curly, white hair.

It appears that Lynn Johnston is going to live up to her promise to re-introduce Farley in October. The question to be introduced will mostly involve John Patterson, who is present for the Farley adoption story as it was originally shown. Will Lynn Johnston find some new way to make him look bad? Something else to look forward to will be the first new-run Farley and how Lynn plays him up in order to sell her Farley plush toy and the upcoming children’s book.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Playing in the Rain

I wrote this up for the FOOBiverse’s Journal for yesterday’s strip, little suspecting that Lynn Johnston was actually going this way with today’s strip in For Better or For Worse:

Michael: {music swells after Elly and Lizzie leave}

I'm playing in the rain
Just playing in the rain
What a glorious feeling
I'm new-run again
No laughing at clods
I’m intolerant of
No more writing books
Only a mother would love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Mom and sis from the place
Come on with the rain
Smacked a gob off my face
I walk down the lane
Not a single wet stain
From playing,
Playing in the rain

Of course, now I am troubled that Lynn Johnston and I are thinking alike. At least I can take comfort that I didn't write some line about how a boy thinks he is washing his feet by splashing in a puddle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wandering in the Rain – Looking for a Plot

If I were to attack today’s For Better or For Worse on the basis of poor parenting, the obvious point to make would be that Elly’s parting words to young Michael playing in the rain should not be “Don’t go getting wet!!” ; but should be “If you hear thunder or see lightning, you need to come inside.” However, the main point of this strip seems to be the joke that Elly is telling young Michael not only the wrong thing, but something that makes little sense considering where he is and what he plans to do.

She says it out of habit, I suppose; but that raises the issue of why she would say it out of habit. Possibly she is saying that because young Michael usually goes out into the rain without his rain gear. However, there is another possible reason. In order to know that reason, you have to know the “April rescued from the ravine waters by Farley” story, and the fact that there is a ravine close by the Patterson house where there is a regular water flow. Saying it out of habit would mean that Elly regularly tries to keep Mike from getting in that water.

We don’t know which one, and it doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this strip. This could have just as easily have been Mike going to play in the grass and Elly says, “Don’t get any grass stains on your clothes” or Mike going to play in the dirt and Elly says “Don’t get dirty” or rather “Don’t go getting dirty!!!!” Is that way of phrasing things a Canadianism? If I look at a recent strip, covering the same ground, Deanna says, “Don’t go XXXX-ing” several times to Meredith and Robin. Considering the example of that strip with Deanna, then maybe Elly really does expect young Michael to play in the rain without getting wet.

The other odd thing about the sequence of strips this week, is how we have gone from little Lizzie just learning to walk to Lizzie out in full rain regalia and able to play in the rain. Frankly I would think that this would be beyond the skills of a newly-learned walker. However, there they are out in the rain and little Lizzie seems to walk great after such a short time of learning. Maybe the point of Lizzie walking is so that she can play in the rain, and the point of playing in the rain is so that Michael can be left playing in the rain, and the point of leaving Michael in the rain is that he uncovers Farley the wonder puppy, just 9 days away from his scheduled deadline of reappearing in the month of October. Who knows? I look at the strips this week wondering where the story could possibly be going, and I still have no clue.

As for me, I have fond memories of my kids playing in the rain. In Arizona, the soil is terrible for absorbing water and so we often have the large mudless puddles that come up in our yard during a rain. When my kids were smaller, they enjoyed going out in the rain to play in the puddles, like they were little miniature swimming pools. Of course in Arizona, saying, “Don’t go getting wet!!” is definitely not a reflex command for parents, especially in Tucson where we have something like 340 days of sunshine a year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rain Gear - Sight Gag

It’s been awhile since we have seen a sight gag in For Better or For Worse. Little Elizabeth, who started walking yesterday, is now able to wear oversized boot, hat and coat; and still stand upright. I think the appeal of the joke is the same as when you see kids dress up in grown up clothing. I used to get great delight in seeing my daughter wear my old shirts as night shirts which dragged the ground.

The parts that don’t work about today’s strip are:
a. Kids who have just learned to walk are still pretty wobbly, and such an outfit would cause most kids to be back on the floor in the crawling stance.
b. The sainted Grandma Marion sent the world’s ugliest rain boots, hat and coat for an age obviously older than Elizabeth and then is more interested if it fits than Elizabeth’s walking.
c. Your baby just learned to walk and you put her in rain gear.

Unfortunately all the parts that don’t work are required in order to set up the sight gag. Not only that but the sight gag doesn’t really go along with the theme of Lizzie learning to walk. Those little nagging things spoil what might have been a nice little strip had it been done after Lizzie learned to walk.

Lizzie Walks (At Last!!)

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we get to relive the excitement of the Patterson parents as little Lizzie learns to walk. See Elly take pictures to commemorate the moment (not really). See John Patterson elated that another of his children can walk. See John express this excitement by pointing out that walking Lizzie can get into everything, whereas crawling Lizzie would not. See John show his enthusiasm for his walking daughter by picking her up so she can’t walk.

I remember when my kids started to walk. Instead of taking a step or two and falling down, they stepped 4 or 5 times and then fell down. Little Lizzie though, has gone straight from a few steps and falling down to being able to adjust her direction from heading toward the ball to heading toward John Patterson, even as he rises from his knees to his feet. She has gone from crawling to little Lizzie, super walker. If John let her go, she would probably start running circles around the room.

What is the purpose behind this story line? I have no idea why Lynn Johnston is focusing on, of all things, Lizzie’s ability to walk. I thought it might be tied into the return of Farley, but it obviously doesn’t. Anyone have any ideas?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Walking Lizzie

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we see little Lizzie trying to walk once again. She failed to do it for Elly. She fails to do it for Mike. I suppose she might be successful for John; but I have a different prediction to make. Little Lizzie will be successful in walking for the first time in order to get to Farley. Only time will tell if we get to see it happen.

As for kid strips, this one shows the usual flaws in Lynn Johnston’s story-telling when it comes to kids:

1. Kids have adult dialogue. Michael’s dialogue is more like a parent talking to a child learning to walk than a 6-year-old. The phrase “good girl” sticks out in particular.
2. Kids have unkidlike behaviour. The humour depends on the idea that little Lizzie will only attempt to walk rarely, so that Michael’s yelling to spoil it is humourous. It is almost as if Michael is trying to cook the perfect soufflé and by yelling causes it to drop. In real life Lizzie would get up and try again almost immediately.
3. Kids don’t look like kids. This is especially true in the case of little Lizzie, whose head size in proportion to the rest of her body changes in almost every panel.

I can pretty much repeat these comments for any strip Lynn Johnston does with children in it these days. However, I can’t see Lynn repeating a strip story about Lizzie learning to walk unless it is leading somewhere. Obviously we know that Lizzie did learn to walk, and then crawled back to Milborough to marry Anthony Caine. The only other unresolved storyline involves the acquisition of Farley, so I think the two will be meshed together.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elly / Anne Comparisons

As predicted, we have a new-run to help complete this sequence with today's For Better or For Worse. The new-run will make sure that we understand the focus is not on John Patterson hiring a beautiful girl because of his unfair hiring practices, but the focus is on John Patterson, potential cheater. We know from Lynn Johnston’s interview with Maclean’s magazine her thought when Rod hired his Cheryl Ladd woman and his other beautiful women on his staff, was Rod was cheating, along with the rest of Lynn Lake, Manitoba.

However, it might not have been clear to those persons who originally read the strip back in 1980, this is what Lynn was saying. Back in those days, men’s hiring practices were a hot topic with the Women's Liberation movement. So you might have drawn the conclusion that the story was really about John hiring a beautiful woman who ended up being qualified for the job, despite her beauty. Lynn wants to correct that misperception.

Enter Anne Nichols. We already know her husband is cheating on her from her history/future. So, when she argues for John hiring a beautiful girl and says, “Marriage is all about trust”, the message is pretty clear. It’s not about trust. It’s about being suspicious, when everything you know says you should be suspicious. In the final panel, even though Anne has displayed her trust of her husband, she then makes a joke about what would happen if her husband was fooling around. This tells us that maybe Anne isn’t that trusting after all. She talks the talk, but she isn’t walking the walk. And we know from what comes up, she shouldn’t.

This is pretty clever on Lynn’s part. She doesn’t want to say that John Patterson is a cheater, but she does want the reader to get her subtext that Rod Johnston was. Anne Nichols fulfills this function pretty well by comparison. We know her husband is cheating, and so Lynn can put across the subtle message that maybe John is too.

This is the 1000th post of the Howard Bunt Blug, and to celebrate, I will be camping out with Boy Scouts the next 2 nights and not updating the blog. I should be back late Sunday. Hopefully, Lynn Johnston won't do anything spectacular while I am gone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John’s Joke

I think the big joke was supposed to be kind of like when someone deliberately lies about something to get them so upset they have to check and see if you are lying. Then when they find out the person was lying, they get to laugh that they got you upset in the first place over something that should have been an obvious lie. That is certainly the way this sequence plays out with today’s For Better or For Worse reprint. It something akin to when my son gets a rubber spider and tries to convince his mother it is real. It is that level of a joke.

John makes it seem like he hired his staff based on appearance alone, and even made jokes about it to Elly. Apparently, this caused Elly to need to visit with the new hygienist to verify that John only hired her because she looked like Shania Twain / Cheryl Ladd. After the meeting she finds that John was lying. The woman is not dumb, eye candy. In addition to looking like Shania Twain / Cheryl Ladd, Elly describes her as “interesting, intelligent, witty…and really very nice”. Then John crows about how he fooled Elly. He got Elly to believe that he would hire his staff based on appearance alone, and gives his marriage to Elly as example that looks obviously don’t matter to him.

Why would John do that? What point is he trying to make? There is oftentimes an element of these stories taken from the real life of Lynn Johnston that makes me feel there is a significant part of the story being left out from John’s perspective and we will never know what they are. There are a few clues though:

1. We know that Dr. Rod Johnston did, in fact, hire a dental assistant for his office in Lynn Lake who looked enough like Cheryl Ladd for the interviewer in the CBC interview in 1980 to comment on it.
2. In 2 strips of this sequence, John gets so nervous about Elly’s anger that he is shown nervously sweating over it. In today’s strip, he quickly rewords his statement about her appearance in order to avoid it. And yet, he did not reword his statement about the reason why he hired the hygienist, which did upset Elly. He sweats inconsistently.
3. Elly has taken the time to visit with John’s new worker in order to give her approval.
4. John was so upset over the loss of his prior hygienist, Marie; he used terms to describe her, from which a more-than-a-working relationship could be inferred.

Lynn Johnston’s perspective on these strips is quite obvious, particularly from her Macleans interview:

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.

Here you have Lynn’s theme. Just as Dr. John Patterson hired the Shania Twain hygienist, Dr. Rod Johnston worked with beautiful women. The implication is that if Rod Johnston is man enough to be intimate with all those beautiful women, then Lynn should join in the fun.

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."

Here Lynn uses the same language as she used with the hygienist in today’s strip: “and really very nice”. In this context, Lynn is using it as a reason that she should not worry about Rod having an affair, along with the idea that there was more than one woman in his office as protection. Nevertheless, we can tell from the Macleans interview, Lynn Johnston did and still does thinks that way about Rod Johnston and his office staff.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Male Chauvinist Pigs

I remember this catchphrase. Back in 1980, when this strip from For Better or For Worse originally was presented, I was just entering university. It was a time period that, whenever a woman was angry with a man, you could count on that phrase, “male chauvinist pig” to make an appearance. I have fond memories of the times when I was called a “male chauvinist pig” especially if there were some accompanying pig noises. The terms women use to insult men today are not nearly as much fun.

By definition, a male chauvinist is: “A man whose behavior and attitude toward women indicate a belief that they are innately inferior to men.”

In the reprint for today, Elly Patterson calls John Patterson a “male chauvinist pig” (corrected from the 1980s' "chauvenist") because she believes (and he has pretty much stated) that he has hired his new hygienist based on the idea she looks like Shania Twain (Cheryl Ladd for the real-life 1980s' Rod Johnston), over a hygienist who was better-qualified. This is not actually male chauvinism by definition. If John Patterson hired a less-qualified man over a more qualified woman, then the charge would stick. Nevertheless, I was excited to see the old term used once again, and as was typical back in the 1980s, incorrectly used.

The simple fact of the matter is that attractive people are more likely to get hired, earn more money, and are much more likely to date and make friends than their less-attractive counterparts. Attractive people are also more likely to get jobs as actors and are more likely to attain an elected office (See Sarah Palin). Some years back, the TV show Dateline NBC had an episode that showed people have a preference for pretty people when seeking medical attention, or change for the bus or even simple directions. Humans are visually-oriented, and that’s the way it has been forever (See Helen of Troy).

The way it works in the dental business (at least where I go), is you have your semiannual visit with your hygienist. The hygienist will clean your teeth up, and then if there are any problems, they are pointed out to the dentist who will then suggest things which can make some real money for the dental practice. If the dental hygienist is the dentist’s first line of greeting for most dental patients, I can see a strong economic reason why the dentist might want the hygienist to be attractive. It’s almost the same as wanting attractive people in your sales force, or as the greeter for your business. As for me personally, my wife picks our dental care service and, believe it or not, the hygienist is a big factor for her. She has switched dentists when a new hygienist came into the practice she did not like.

Let’s say I am Dr. Rod Johnston in a town like the mining town of Lynn Lake, Manitoba in 1980. I have just started my business in a town that has had virtually no dental care before me. The people are accustomed to not going to a dentist except in dire emergencies. I have a choice between a hygienist that looks like Cheryl Ladd or a less-attractive, but more-experienced one. It wouldn’t take much to see that an attractive hygienist might draw in some of those Lynn Lake miners. It would seem like good business sense, even if it is not fair to the less-attractive, but more-experienced hygienist. I applaud Lynn Johnston for pointing out the inequity, but it would have been a better-rounded strip if John Patterson had offered an excuse smarter than “Somebody’s got to hire them.”

When this strip was originally published, I wonder if young Dr. Rod Johnston was embarrassed by it or simply said, “Now even more people know I have a pretty hygienist. Business will be booming!”

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hygienist Hiring

aprilp_katje has so nicely provided this look at the whole strip sequence being reprinted.

When you look at this set of strips which is being reprinted we have:

a. The new hygienist looks like Cheryl Ladd. I saw her in the 1980 CBC documentary and she did look a little like her. This assertion is based on truth.

b. There were two hygienists down from five competing for the same position. One who “has great references, loads of experience, & is making a career of her work…” and one who has “almost no experience.” This one is questionable and my main problem with the idea that Dr. John Patterson’s alter ego Dr. Rod Johnston intentionally hired only pretty women for his office. The Lynn Lake I saw in the CBC documentary appeared to be so small and so remote, it’s hard to imagine that there were any dental hygienists competing for a position to work there, much less 5. It seems unlikely that Dr. Rod Johnston would be able to intentionally staff an office in Lynn Lake with brainless beauties, even if he wanted to.

In this website, we have this description of Lynn Lake and dentistry:

Dental Clinic
A dentist that visits the Lynn Lake region once a month.

Once a month is the town’s current status. To have a local dentist in Lynn Lake would have been huge boon for the town and the surrounding area. Doing a quick Google shows the closest dentist to Lynn Lake to be a 4-hour drive away. If Dr. Rod Johnston showed up and set up office, he would be the only dentist around for many kilometres. There would be virtually no one with a dental background he could hire to fill technical positions.

In my mind, here is what happened: Dr. Rod Johnston put out offers across Manitoba to fill his hygienist job or any other technical dentistry jobs he needed. A person who might be interested would be someone young, not settled, and willing to move—probably a recent graduate from the University of Manitoba dental hygiene program and would expect to be well-paid to live in Lynn Lake. I notice the key phrase in the strip: “is making a career of her work.” No offense to dental hygienists out there, but my guess is that Lynn Johnston is drawing a contrast between a woman who became a dental hygienist with the plan to work at the job forever vs. those women who wanted to make some quick money until they had enough to do something better. Dental hygiene is pretty quick degree to get with a very good chance of employment. I can see Dr. Rod Johnston with a very young staff, who would not stick around for very long. This could be the source for the John Patterson overreaction to the loss of Marie, who would stand for any employee of Rod’s who might stick around for awhile.

c. Elly concedes that the Cheryl Ladd hygienist is “interesting, intelligent, witty, …and really very nice.” This could be out of consideration to the hygienist John hired, as Lynn probably realized the real-life hygienist would be offended by the strip referring to John as a chauvinist who only hires “beautiful and dumb” women. Or, this could really be Lynn saying that she realizes that just because a woman is attractive, doesn’t mean she is incompetent and stupid. Or, this could be Lynn’s point where she acknowledges Rod had little choice in whom he hired and did not hire this woman based simply on her looks.

d. John compares the quality of his staff-hiring to his selection of Elly as a wife, by pointing out that his choice of Elly is proof that he is not only interested in “a beautiful face and a sexy shape”. This is the heart of the issue and the point of these strips.

There is a running theme in For Better or For Worse that men are lechers. Grandpa Jim was constantly ogling other women in front of Iris, and you could always count on John Patterson to do the same during those trips to Mexico. If Dr. John Patterson were located in Milborough, just outside of Toronto, it would be easy to see how he could pick one hygienist over another based on looks. Regardless of Rod’s intent (limited selection vs. lechery); Lynn was intimidated by it, probably questioned Rod’s choice, and was not satisfied with his answer (which I am guessing is, “No. I am not going to hire someone else, just because you think she is too pretty.”) Then she published her comic strip sequence to let everyone know she was still upset, and Rod had to undergo his usual humiliation at the way he was portrayed in his wife’s comic strip.

In the Macleans’ article, what we see from Lynn Johnston is her belief that Dr. Rod Johnston always staffed his office with beautiful women, and not just in Lynn Lake. She says, “There were all really nice people” and talks about how she didn’t want to be a jealous wife. On the other hand, this strip sequence shows us that she was jealous back in 1980 and she still is in 2008.

With respect to the validity of Lynn’s claim past the hiring of the Cheryl Ladd hygienist, I have one more data point. The person, for whom Rod Johnston is rumoured to have left Lynn, used to work for him as a dental hygienist. I have seen pictures of her that used to be on Lynn’s website when she worked for Lynn, and in my opinion, she was not a stunning beauty. She was reasonably attractive. I know that Lynn Johnston has very low self-esteem when it comes to her appearance, and this is the key to the claim. She mentions it in the Macleans article with her strange negligee story, and we need no more proof than a drawing of Elly Patterson circa 2008. I can’t imagine anyone John Patterson or Rod Johnston hiring who is less attractive than old turnip-nose.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Plan 9 From Outer Space

I remember seeing Plan 9 From Outer Space for the first time in university, which was notorious for being the worst movie every made. One of the things that made it great was its use of footage inserted within footage that was intended to be a part of the plot, but was clearly unrelated to the plot. As we enter this period of new-run inserted into old-runs, I cannot help but think that Lynn Johnston is doing a sort of Plan 9 From Outer Space homage.

Last week we saw an extended sequence of reprints which showed Dr. John Patterson getting ready for work in his striped shirt and coat. When he arrived at work last Saturday, his striped shirt was replaced with a white shirt and a tie. In Sunday’s strip coming back from work, he also is shown wearing a white shirt and a tie. But the last panel of the Saturday strip was a lead-in to reprint of John Patterson talking to Dr. Ted McCaulay, in today’s For Better or For Worse where John is wearing a dental smock. It’s like in Plan 9 From Outer Space where 2 unrelated film clips are set together with a new bit of story, and none of the clothes match from scene-to-scene, so it is obvious they don’t match and the director did not care to take the time to make them match. He was just editing together pieces of film to try to make a story.

I wonder if Lynn Johnston is thinking the same way. If she were to have written last Saturday’s strip to connect the two reprint series we would have had something like this:

Panel 1: John takes off his coat and a striped shirt is revealed underneath it. Jean Baker says, “You had 2 calls this morning.”

Panel 2: John puts on his dental smock. Jean says, “One from Marie our hygienist and one from your wife.”

Panel 3: John is on the phone saying, “But, what can I do to keep you from leaving me? Sob!” Jean Baker says, “Is there something wrong, Dr. Patterson?” John says, “I need a coffee.”

Panel 4: John and Ted in the coffee shop. John is still wearing his dental smock. John says, “Have you ever had someone leave you Ted?” Ted thinks, “I think I’m going to leave and get a stronger coffee. It’s way too early in the morning for this.”

This way, John has moved from costume to costume linking the strips and the surprise punchline of John being all worked up over Marie leaving instead of Elly leaving still works, having been set up but not directly revealed.

Instead we have Saturday’s strip revealing the punchline, and a jarring change of outfit for Dr. Patterson which cannot be explained. It is like Lynn Johnston has this story to tell about Marie the departing hygienist and she has already written and drawn it. Then she picks 2 series of strips somewhat related to the story to add to it. You would think a more sensible method would be to look at the strips, see how people appear in the strips and try to match their dialogue and costume. But sensible and Lynn Johnston are two terms that do not belong together.

Lynn Johnston has now taken comic strips in a range of badness matched in film-making by the famed bad movie director Edward Wood. As I have said many times, just when you think Lynn Johnston can’t make it worse than it is, she does it again, and in a way and style I wouldn’t have thought possible. I can no longer evaluate her for quality of her slice-of-life drama. Instead I must consider her creativity in making her strip worse. The woman is a genius in the same way that director Ed Wood was with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Can she make this strip worse than it is? I have every confidence in Lynn Johnston.

Who Is This Woman, and What Have You Done With Elly Patterson?

Here’s the premise of the joke in today’s For Better or For Worse:

Dr. John Patterson comes home to find a mess on the floor and says, “What happened here?”
In order for this to be a realistic comment, this has to be a rare occasion.

Elly responds, “…it was a rainy day.”
If seeing a mess is a rare occasion, then this means that:
1. It doesn’t rain much in Milborough.
2. Elly’s personal involvement with her children on a rainy day is a rare occasion.

On the part of #2, I can completely agree. In fact, after so many strips where the mother ignores her children, it was refreshing to see one where that didn’t happen for a change..

Here is another area of deviation from the old strip. Elly used to be a mediocre housekeeper, and there were many strips where John would come home, find a huge mess, and wonder what Elly did all day. The new-run Elly is an obsessive house-cleaner to the point where she doesn’t have time to read a newspaper. Therefore, in the new-run, for John to come home to a mess, is an unusual occasion.

The other area of difference is Elly’s explanation of “…it was a rainy day.” Without any kids in sight, old-run Elly would be actively trying to clean up that mess, and might growl at John with his question. New-run Elly seems to be unconcerned, unemotional, and maybe even proud of the mess. She seems to be saying, “Look, John. I can act like a mother every once in awhile, and not go completely crazy over a mess.” While that is a very healthy attitude to have, it also seems very out-of-character with old-run Elly.

Friday, October 10, 2008

John and the Hygienist

Today’s For Better or For Worse new-run indicates that we are headed into a series of strips that I had thought Lynn Johnston would avoid reprinting at all costs. It is the sequence where John interviews five women to replace Marie, the dental hygienist. John’s choice boils down to choose between one who looks like Cheryl Ladd (a reference which would need updating to work today) and one with experience and good references. Also included in this sequence is Connie Poirier’s comment that all of the girls in John’s office are gorgeous.

In the Maclean’s interview Lynn Johnston spoke at length about her ex-husband in Lynn Lake, a town described by Lynn as being a hot bed of adultery, and his office full of gorgeous girls with whom she suspected he might be cheating. In fact, the woman rumoured to have been the one with whom Rod Johnston had the affair in Corbeil, had worked for him at one point as his dental hygienist. I would have thought the real-life associations with her painful divorce would clearly mark this sequence of strips in the “do not reprint” pile.

However, when I consider that Lynn Johnston thought nothing of branding Lynn Lake as a place where adultery was commonplace in a national publication, then this set of strips could very well have been among the highest on her list to reprint. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how she enhances the story with her new-runs.

Right off the bat, we get John making a disparaging comment about women, “Women! – They drive me crazy, Ted!” in reference to a woman who, after taking a maternity leave, decided to leave her job due to her husband’s transfer. According to John, this decision was a weakness of her gender. We also see that Lynn Johnston has redrawn Jean Baker to be much heavier than she was in the strips from the first year. I suppose this is in preparation for the contrast to the “Cheryl Ladd” hygienist. This way, when Connie makes her remark about the beautiful women in John’s office, Jean Baker will not count.

All in all, this coming week could prove to be very interesting to see just how far Lynn Johnston will go with her John Patterson-flogging.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Flawless with Flaws

In today’s For Better or For Worse, what appears to be a loving moment between John and Elly Patterson, on closer inspection appears to be the 2 characters swapping insults. The premise of the idea is one of unconditional love. Elly loves John, even though he is not perfect. John marries Elly despite her flaws. There are a lot of kinder ways to say this. Aside from the last panel, the pictures make it seem like the characters are happy with each other.

However, the dialogue tells a different story.

Elly: Don’t be so sensitive. I wasn’t looking for perfection when I married you…I was looking for love!

Translated this means: Don’t be such a crybaby! I knew you weren’t perfect when I married you.

How it could be better: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you upset, John. I love you just like you are and that’s what’s important.

John: Right! And I married you because I knew it would last…despite your flaws…

Translated this means: As if I believe that! That’s like me saying I married you because I knew you would never ask for a divorce…

How it could be better: I’m sorry, too. You’re such a forgiving woman, Elly. I knew when I married you, you were a woman I could be with forever.

Elly: What flaws?

Translated this means: I am perfect. How dare you question my perfection!

How it could be better: Then why did you bring up me remarrying in the first place, if you thought we would be together forever?

I hope by comparison, I have made my point. John and Elly don’t tell each other they love each other. The dialogue has them politely insulting each other, and then Elly screams at John after he leaves, when she realizes she has been insulted. Even in the old days, there was quite a bit of hate between John and Elly.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Perfect Man (not John)

Having raised the question that no husband should ever raise, in today’s For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson launches down her list of things she would want in a husband, OR, in other words, the list no wife should ever utter to her husband:

1. Tall, dark, and handsome (the stereotype), and Elly adds “but rugged” as if tall, dark and handsome were not enough. As near as I can tell, John Patterson is tall and dark. Handsome is a no. However, I am not so sure about the rugged part. He is modeled off Rod Johnston, the flying dentist who wanted to live in Lynn Lake of all places. In these early strips, his arms are often drawn significantly larger than Elly’s. Also, he is frequently off on fishing or canoeing or camping trips in these early strips. John Patterson might have rugged. If Elly is talking about a hairy chest and a lot of scars, then no for rugged and John Patterson.

2. Witty and warm. This really depends on whether or not you consider someone who makes terrible puns to be witty. Warm is so subjective, I can’t judge it. John Patterson has had his warm moments, like in last Sunday’s reprint, playing in the leaves with Michael. But there have been a lot of other, not-so-warm moments when he was sequestered with his trains and spewing off sexist remarks.

3. Self-assured, well-educated. I have to give this to John Patterson. I can’t think of many poorly-educated, insecure dentists who run their own practice.

4. Athletic build, articulate. Now Elly is putting together two things that normally don’t go with each other. John seems to be relatively articulate, and one of the mainstays of the strip is that John Patterson works to stay in shape. I have to give these to him too.

5. Good singing voice. I honestly don’t know this one. There have been a few strips with John singing, but usually the persons complimented on their music have been April and Grandpa Jim. I am going to guess John is average on this one. Whether or not his voice is good enough for Elly, I don't know. Consider how little we see Elly singing, I wonder why this was even a criterion.

6. Financially secure. This one is tricky. The Pattersons usually like to play themselves as barely able to scrape by. On the other hand, John is a doctor, who owns his own practice, and he makes enough for Elly not to have to work, if she doesn’t want to. I think financially secure is accurate for John, even if he doesn't agree.

7. Patient with children. OK. John fails this one.

8. Considerate. OK. John the chauvinist fails this one too.

It’s interesting, as I go through this list of items, I find that John Patterson has most of them. Nevertheless, when confronted by Elly’s list, he thinks he has so few of them, that he wonders how Elly ended up with him? Spoken like a man with very limited dating experience.

Let me give you a hint, John. When I was in school, there were a number of young ladies who hung around the Medical School library and the Law library to study, who were not actually taking any university courses that were legal or medical. Now think back to where you met Elly. Now think about how important her education was to her after you two started dating seriously. Can you say, “Almost immediately quit school”? How did Elly end up with you, John Patterson? She hunted you and tracked you down, while all the time making it seem like it was your idea. The standard joke is that she got her MRS degree.

And just in case you think this is not the way Lynn Johnston views it, let me remind you that the great tragedy of Anthony Caine and Elizabeth Patterson, mentioned by other characters over and over again, was that Anthony married Thérèse, when everyone expected he was going to marry Elizabeth. If only Elizabeth had not moved in with Eric Chamberlain in university, then the marriage proposal that Thérèse got, would have gone to Elizabeth instead. Let me also remind you that Michael Patterson wanted to propose to Deanna while they were both still in university.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Skipping Strip #2

Since aprilp_katje so nicely scanned in the sequence of 3 strips involving life insurance, we can now see that Lynn Johnston has intentionally skipped past strip #2 of the sequence for today's For Better or For Worse. She has skipped the one where John is so concerned about the welfare of his family in case something happened to him, he can’t sleep. We will see tomorrow whether or not Lynn Johnston will go back to it; but I doubt it.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to see how the story plays out now that strip #2 has been eliminated. In Strip #1 from yesterday, we see John asking Elly about how much insurance he should get for death or dismemberment and Elly cries. Now, we jump to strip #3 and see John Patterson up and deciding that Elly should remarry if something happens to him. The way it looks now is the reader does not see the resolution of Elly crying and could come to the conclusion that John’s discussion at 2 am is a very poor response to Elly’s weeping. In fact, Elly’s comeback line about 2 am, makes it seem like John is responding too late to her needs. The humour of seeing John obsessed about taking care of his family is lost, and because it is gone, there is no setup for Strip #3. Now it is just John’s personal care for Elly, and without the reference to the life insurance from earlier, it seems less humourous and kind of creepy.

Leaving out Strip #2 seems to be a mistake now. It showed John caring for his family and Elly trying to understand John’s obsession, and concerned for him. Strip #1 is just upset Elly, and Strip #3 is rude John. Without Strip #2, we get uncaring Pattersons…again. Lynn Johnston pulled this stunt during the last year with her choice in hybrid reprints. One month into picking reprints for the new-runs, and it looks like she is back up to her old tricks. If it makes John look good, then it is out. After she showed Mike and John playing with each other on Sunday’s reprint, I thought that perhaps she was past that. I guess not.

Tomorrow’s strip will probably be the one chronologically after today’s strip, where Elly lists off the list of things she wants in a man, and John asks how she ended up with him. Then after that, a few new-run strips where Lynn Johnston hammers that point home, in the hope that her ex-husband gets the message. That’s my prediction.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Life Insurance Plus Three

aprilp_katje correctly identified the sequence of reprints we are going to get this week based on the theme of life insurance and has nicely scanned them for us. I looked through them and the first thing that struck me about them was that they were funny. Lynn could have a good thing going here. One of the standard comic strip-writing practices is to find a theme for the week, and then do 6 strips about that theme. With these new-run / old-run combinations, all she has to do is find a few old-run jokes on a theme, and then provide new-run strips along the same theme. Plus, if the old-run strips are funny, then they can provide balance to the humourless new-runs.

Strip #1 - the one that appears in today’s For Better or For Worse, is the weakest of the bunch, because it relies on the Cathy method of humour, which is that the woman reacts very strongly to news that does not require that strong a reaction. Originally we would have laughed that Elly's reaction is too strong and that surprises us. Cathy has been using that one for years, so it’s not that funny to me anymore to see Cathy say, “AACK!” Artwise, the things I found interesting were the first panel picture of Elly playing with her hair. Almost every woman I know with long hair plays with it. After years of Elly in a bun, it was nice to see Elly play with her hair for a change. Also, the other interesting thing is the background pattern changed in each panel. The strip does establish a theme for the rest of them, which is, no matter how much John tries to talk about the subject with Elly, she steadfastly refuses to engage him in a discussion about how to deal with potential future disasters. Curiously enough, when the subject comes up again in a later strip a few years ago, Elly is the driving force behind getting things done.

Strip #2 – This strip has Elly and John in bed, with John fretting over the possibility of what would happen to Elly if he died or had an accident, etc. The joke in the final panel works pretty well in this one. Elly tells John to change the subject, and John changes the subject to something just as morbid as life insurance. The best part of the strip is Elly’s head on the pillow as John talks, staring at the readers for empathy. Sorry, Elly, but one of the biggest mistake young parents make is not working out the insurance details or the will, especially with young children involved. There comes a point when you will have to discuss the subject with your husband. However, I have this feeling that Elly never did talk about it, and John Patterson will do what he needs to do.

Because Strip #2 has a change in location, I can easily see a new-run with John and Elly talking (or rather not talking) insurance as they prepare for bed. All you have to do is fill in some pun involving life insurance and preparation for going to bed, and you probably have tomorrow’s strip. The only thing iffy is whether Lynn Johnston will have John talking to Elly, which she has done very rarely in the new-runs.

Strip #3 has the best lead-in because you see it is late enough for John to have stubble and he appears to wake Elly out of sleep (which would be the kiss of death in my house, if I woke up my wife in the middle of the night at 2 a.m.) I can easily see this situation happening to Lynn Johnston in real life, except without Elly’s clever comeback, which is a little too clever for a sleepy brain. Rod Johnston was notoriously obsessed over model trains, so it is not too far a stretch to see him get worked up over the “what if’s” of a life insurance policy that he can’t fall asleep.

I can see a new-run after this, developing off the idea of “What kind of man would Elly want to replace John?” This is a subject near and dear to Lynn Johnston, and I doubt she will be able to resist using the subject matter to take a shot at her ex-husband.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lynn Explains Life Insurance

A number of odd things ran through my head as I read today’s For Better or For Worse. Mainly, those thoughts had to do with trying to understand what would be going on in Lynn Johnston’s life that would bring her to write a strip about life insurance. A quick check using the Universal Reprints search on For Better or For Worse and the word “insurance” found that since 1996, the Pattersons have only spoken about insurance with respect to home owners, car and fire insurance. I have this feeling that Lynn Johnston has been looking over her life insurance policies lately, particularly the ones that said things like “in the event you die, your husband, Rod Johnston, is the principal beneficiary.”

Part of a good life insurance policy is an estimation of how much the person is worth for the purpose of determining what would be required to replace that person financially, so I can see how the punch line “How much are you worth?” might come from someone reading a policy. Unfortunately for Lynn Johnston, she has young Michael making this joke without any reference of any kind to a life insurance policy being a measure of how much a man is worth. John describes it as if it was disability insurance, and then describes it covering funeral costs or as emergency money. Based on what is there, there is no reason for Michael to jump to this conclusion.

The only way you can interpret this is if young Michael has heard about life insurance policies from other associations, and is now testing the waters to see what it would be worth to off his dad. This would explain the odd expression on John’s face in the final panel. And it sends my brain on a tizzy of thoughts like:

a. Is Lynn Johnston thinking about offing Rod Johnston, in the hope that he hasn’t updated his insurance policy?
b. Does Michael’s progressive thinking about insurance mimic Lynn Johnston’s own thoughts about how much Rod Johnston said he was worth for the purpose of their division of property?
c. Maybe there was something to that story Lynn Johnston gave to the Peterborough Examiner about how he cleaned out her bank accounts, because the strip describes life insurance in ways someone might, if they were thinking about paying day-to-day living expenses (like buying those groceries), and the money was gone.

Of course after the final modern strip's references to the Calgary Stampede and the Just for Laughs Festival in Québec; my other thought is that Lynn Johnston might be trying to get that Metropolitan Life Insurance Company money for For Better or For Worse, just like her idol Charles Schulz did for Peanuts.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Look, Lynn! Happy people!!

A Sunday strip which actually seems to follow the storyline of the daily strip immediately preceding it has just occurred in today’s For Better or For Worse. It can be done. Now Lynn Johnston can explain to me why she couldn’t do that with the wedding in August. Maybe the new-runs are the rejuvenating experience Lynn has described. Maybe now she has the energy to actually sit down and figure out which daily will be published when and which Sunday strip will be published when and make them work together. Maybe she has turned the corner on this slide into sloppiness and start producing strips of the quality we were used to back in the…um…last millennium. OR maybe this was a freak accident, like a stopped clock having the right time 2 times a day. I don’t know.

However, I do think that today’s choice of a reprint is the first genuine reprint that depicts John Patterson in a positive way, while having fun with his kids, since Lynn started using reprints over a year ago. I wonder if she used up all the negative ones and now there are only positive ones left from the first year. I wonder if Lynn Johnston has finally gotten over her long-standing hatred of her ex-husband. I wonder if someone at Lynn’s syndicate or someone she respects has pointed out to her that her strip has been one long continuous downer for the last year. I wonder if Lynn was looking for a Sunday reprint involving leaf-raking, and this was the only one which applied.

Now, the most interesting part about today’s strip, is that the positive image of the final panel seems so out-of-place with the For Better or For Worse in recent times, that I am actually noting it as anomaly, a freak accident, or an occurrence that requires an explanation. What used to be commonplace for this strip, is now evident only in a reprint.

Look, Lynn! Happy people!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Raking It In

Comparing the art in yesterday’s new-run and today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, Lynn appears to have made a real effort to imitate the style of drawing John Patterson’s head at least. She has captured the moveable cleft in his chin quite nicely. As for fleshing out the story with the new-run and reprint combination, we now know that instead of going out and raking leaves as one of his regular chores, Elly handed John a rake. As for the reprint itself, we see a theme, which I can honestly say has not been repeated much in the annals of For Better or For Worse, i.e. John trying to convince young Mike to do one of his chores for him, using a famous literary example, in this case Tom Sawyer's white-washing the fence.

You can tell this strip was from Lynn’s younger days when she took things more from real stories than from making things up. I have tried to convince my children to do things they did not want to do, by making it seem more appealing with my enjoyment of it. For example, vacuuming carpets. My kids like pushing a vacuum pretty well, and have enjoyed it ever since their early days, but mainly because I made a game of chasing them with it. I can easily see a real-life Rod Johnston trying to convince Aaron that raking was fun and not tedious; and not fooling Aaron one bit. It makes for a nice slice-of-life moment, even though Lynn Johnston is playing it as though John Patterson is trying to get his son to do his work for him, with the Tom Sawyer reference.

As for Tom Sawyer, the method actually is for kids to ask Tom to do things with them (fishing, usually), and Tom refuses because he claims to be enjoying white-washing the fence so much. In order to get a direct comparison, Mike would have to ask John to do something with him, and John refuse because he enjoys raking so much. However, John Patterson is close enough for the Tom Sawyer reference to work, even if it isn’t exact.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Time of Year

One of thing I have noticed about the new-runs in For Better or For Worse is that Lynn Johnston appears running them in some sort of real time, which is to say, she recognizes the seasons. After yesterday’s jump into a reprint from year 1, I was surprised to see that we are immediately back into new-run territory and in particular, a new-run showing a seasonal change. This could be the purpose for the new-run – to set up the season and then let the reprints exist within that framework.

One of the other aspects of the new-runs, and appears to be one of the more pleasant aspects of it, is Elly handing John work to do. She did this effectively by handing John a basketball last week, and this week he gets a rake. Presumably, John won’t take the rake to the lights on Elly’s car in revenge after consuming too much vodka.

These are the moments when we have seen a happy Elly, and in my opinion, these have been the best of the new-runs. It does not involve Elly whining about motherhood or cleaning a house. It does not involve man-bashing. It is not an old joke done again (although I am not completely sure about this one, since we have seen raking strips before). It does not involve kids with unkidlike behaviour. No jokes about bodily excretions and best of all, no puns.

One of the things aprilp_katje noted yesterday was that the reprint on Thursday was a one-off. Connie is never seen telling Elly that she doesn't appreciate John enough. Nor is there any follow-up afterwards. So we had 2 new-runs with Elly talking to Connie about John, and then a reprint addressing the same issue. As aprilp_katje pointed out, Lynn is fulfilling her stated intention to flesh out old storylines.

Based on this, we will probably continue to see the new-run establish the season of the year and we may see more sequences which were short before be fleshed out, i.e. add new-run strips surrounding them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The First Reprint of the New-runs is Here

Today's For Better or Worse is very different. Zip-a-tone and not Screentone. A consistent jaw shape for Elly. A background with decorations on the sheets and on the wall. The perspective does not change in every single panel. No silhouettes. Elly is wearing a low cut night gown. John has his sideburns back. Elly is no longer self-centred and self-assured, but is actually concerned about a criticism of her leveled by Connie Poirier. And best of all, no final panel pun.

Ladies and gentlemen, just as Lynn Johnston promised, September was all new. In fact, she even gave us October 1, too. We are in reprint territory, and aprilp_katje can probably tell us what collection this strip came from and whether or not it is chronologially earlier than the Farley adoption strips. She can also tell me if I am wrong that this is a rerint.

The joke is one similar to one between Jim and Iris on October 20, 2003. We know this is good enough material to steal from in later strips. More interesting than that is the way Lynn Johnston worked it in. She set up strips with Elly and Connie to introduce today's For Better or For Worse. It would have been a fairly seemless transition, except for the art and plotting differences.

I thought Lynn’s plan was to reintroduce Farley in October, but I suppose she has the whole month to get to it. Instead she has picked a strip which is an interesting choice considering her real-life situation, where supposedly she didn’t know that her marriage was suffering (or she did but planned to work on it after she retired, depending on which interview with Lynn Johnston you read). Now the question is how many of these real-life-appropriate strips will show up before Lynn gets around to showing us the Farley?