Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Years’ Eve

The AMU Reprints archive is a wonderful place for checking on-line archives of old comic strips. The For Better or For Worse archive goes back to 1996, and the site allows for key word searches on comic strips. When I saw today’s For Better or For Worse and its startlingly upbeat take on New Years’ Eve, I searched the AMU Reprints archive for moments when John and Elly kiss. Actually, I looked for “kiss*” in general, and read through all the strips. There was a lot of kissing from 1996 – 2008, and even one with John and Elly in the 1/28/2002 strip, which is, as near as I can tell, the only time since 1996 when the two have kissed. Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is more romantic than that strip, for no other reason than the kiss seems consensual. In 2002, the kiss is cute, but there is no evidence that Elly likes or enjoys it. As for real-life version of this, Lynn Johnston has stated in interviews this past year that she believed her husband was having affairs as early as 1980, when they lived in Lynn Lake. This dearth of kissing between the two main characters may have its origins in this belief of Lynn’s.

The humourous part of the story is that little Michael sees the kissing and declares that there is nothing special about New Years’ Eve night. The idea is that Michael would consider his parents kissing to be uninteresting, as it probably is to a lot of boys his age. Boys go, “Icky romance stuff. Ick! Ick!” That may be true to a certain degree. However, my daughter, at age 11, has an interest in seeing her parents be affectionate and has had this desire for a number of years now. My wife is not much into public displays of affection, especially in front of the children. My daughter, on the other hand, has from time-to-time demanded to see a public kiss, and she usually has the support of her brother when she makes these demands. When this happens, most times my wife will give in, even though it makes her uncomfortable to kiss, while her children are chanting, "Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"

I have long been told that children model their romantic behaviour off of their parents’, but it still surprises me when my daughter says these things. It has let me know, first-hand, that children want to see their parents be affectionate to each other (in an appropriate fashion, of course). What this boils down to is, I am not sure Michael’s reaction in the reprint is the correct one. Maybe Mike will want to look at his parents’ kissing because of the secure feeling he gets when they do that.

The other aspect of this is that young Michael in For Better or For Worse is modeled after Lynn Johnston’s son, Aaron. Young Aaron may very well have a different opinion if he chanced upon Lynn and Rod Johnston kissing, since Rod was not his father. What we have in today’s For Better or For Worse could well be a real reaction that Aaron had, when seeing Lynn and Rod kiss. For him, it might not be a sign of security, but a sign that his birth father would never be a part of his life.

It’s hard to say. I cannot tell my daughter’s reaction is typical, or if Michael Patterson’s reaction is typical. What I can tell is that today’s For Better or For Worse is pleasant to read and that I enjoyed seeing a moment where Elly and John genuinely seem to like each other.

Lynn Johnston Plotting: Stupid or Subtle?

I don’t have a copy of the original set of strips but I presume that yesterday’s and today’s For Better or For Worse strips are both reprints. Either way, I found it very amusing that in today’s For Better or For Worse, Elly is wearing a different outfit from the one she was in yesterday when she was seeing Phil off to his visit with Connie. Then the first thing out of her brother Phil’s mouth when he comes back is “Sorry I was so long, El – your friend asked me in!” Anyway you look at it; the period of time Phil spent over at Connie’s house was so long, that Elly had time and motivation to change outfits. Not only that but, as Phil starts recounting his time with Connie, he lights up his pipe and starts smoking, the stereotypical post-coital response.

The joke of today’s strip is that Phil caught onto Elly’s scheme of setting him up, and pays her back by recounting a list of everything he did with Connie and an appraisal of Connie. However, looking at Elly’s outfit change, and Phil’s smoking; I can’t help thinking that Connie and Phil did the mattress mambo, and Phil is covering for this with his sister by using this list of things they did together to distract her.

The real question in mind with me is whether Lynn Johnston was thinking this way. I would like to think she was not, that she was some kind of innocent in the matter. On the other hand, I remember the post-Christmas strip from 2007, where Lynn was extremely subtle in showing that Elizabeth and Anthony were sleeping together. How do you know? Liz fastens her seatbelt, Anthony makes a motion to start the car. That's it. When it comes to this subject, Lynn can be very subtle. She does not want to alienate her readers; but at the same time, she wants to inform the readers who are paying attention. In 1980, maybe the change of the clothes and the smoking were intended to be the clues to the astute reader that something else had gone on. At the same time, she doesn’t raise the issue with the more conservative reader who might be distressed at a comic strip talking about that activity.

Taking it one step further, how did Phil find out that Connie Poirier has good legs and good teeth? In a casual conversation during winter time, that might be difficult. Connie is likely to have her legs covered due to the cold, for example. But if Connie and Phil were a little more intimate, legs and teeth could easily be checked. After all, it’s not like Connie is a horse, where Phil as a prospective buyer, could be reasonably allowed to check her legs and teeth.

How would Phil find out about the common allergy to dust? Connie and Phil would have to both be exposed to dust. That sort of thing is not going to happen in casual conversation. But for two people rolling around on the floor, maybe it could.

Moreover, why is Connie so enamoured of Phil that she follows him to Montreal and humiliates herself chasing him? A casual conversation about dust allergies would not do that; but physical intimacy might.

I think the clues are all there, and I am not sure they were not done intentionally by Lynn. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Lynn pulled off such a stunt. All right. Considering this is a reprint from 1980, maybe this was the first time.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Valkryie vs. Elly’s Matchmaking

Today, I saw the Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie, with my brother-in-law, who had worked with the director, Bryan Singer, before. He had heard from numerous friends that the reviewers were being unusually harsh to the picture thanks to Tom Cruise’s involvement in the picture. That proved to be true. The movie is pretty decent, primarily due to a stellar supporting cast of players in the movie.

One of the things which was interesting about the picture was a steady use of window shots, i.e. pictures looking through windows from the inside of buildings or looking at solitary individuals through windows from outside the building. These carried an air of secrecy, and in some cases, carried an air of the character’s impending doom.

It is with this eye that I looked at today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. Elly has set up her brother Phil to take her son ostensibly to visit his best friend, Lawrence; when in fact, she has really set up Phil to meet with Connie Poirier, Lawrence’s mom and single woman on the prowl for a man. To do this, Elly looks through the window, pulling the curtain to hide her appearance, so she can detect and track the progress of Phil and Michael and inform Connie. In Valkyrie, just as the characters are trying to set up the assassination of Adolf Hitler, Connie and Elly are trying to set up the assassination of Phil’s status as a single man. Unlike the movie Valkyrie, Connie and Elly are not above using children as their pawns, and there are no dismembered fingers or missing eyes involved, unless you count the fact that both Elly and Phil only seem to have 3 fingers and a thumb on their hands.

The other similarity to Valkyrie is that I knew how the movie was going to end, because it was based on an historical event. In For Better or For Worse, it is the same way. I know Connie’s attempt to subjugate Phil into marriage will end in failure, because that is the way it happened back in 1980. What the movie Valkyrie would add then, is the visualization of historic events, an understanding of the motivation of the characters, and the inclusion of lesser-known facts which might surprise a viewer unfamiliar with them. Considering this aspect in For Better or For Worse, we know from last Saturday’s new-run, this plot to send Phil to visit Connie is Elly’s idea. I have a pretty good idea why it is that Connie wants to meet Phil (single woman desperate for a man); but I still do not know why Elly wants to send Phil to meet Connie. That is a crucial ingredient.

With Valkyrie, I had suspicions as to why the characters want to assassinate Hitler. The way the script is written, it is not the same motivation for every man. Some men fear the destruction of Europe, some men are anxious to have the power which Hitler has, and some men believe that what Hitler is doing is counter to the beliefs of their country. I got all those different motivations from Valkyrie. Even with the new-runs, I do not know why Elly wants Phil to be with Connie. There is no consideration of the idea that Lawrence would become her nephew, or that Connie would become her sister-in-law, or that Phil might end up living next to them. As the strip is written, Elly has set this up for no other reason than Connie wants her to. As a result, the reader has little interest in whether or not Connie is successful. From a comedic standpoint, they might be looking forward to seeing Connie fluster about, and embarrass herself. From my standpoint, I look at the story in terms of “What is Lynn Johnston doing differently with it than last time?” So far, not anything of consequence.

Another similarity is the use of real-life persons. Phil is based on Lynn Johnston’s own brother; but Connie is a made-up character. Unlike a lot of stories which Lynn wrote which were taken directly from real life, there should not be a direct, real-life parallel between Phil and Connie’s potential romance, and Lynn’s brother’s romantic life. In Valkyrie, this would be like writing in that Tom Cruise’s character had an aide, who worshipped what the Tom Cruise character was doing. Probably there was a real-life aide, but what the aide worshipped is unknown. Nevertheless, the writer for the movie chose to add that characteristic in order to flesh out the character. In the case of Lynn Johnston, she has a character of Phil representing her own real-life brother, but she has fleshed out the character by sticking him in a plotline involving a set-up date with an imaginary character. If in Valkyrie, the real-life character did not worship Tom Cruise, that’s OK because he is no longer alive to protest it. However, in Lynn Johnston’s case, her brother was and is alive. So, how would he feel about having his sister write a made-up story about his love life? Probably a little odd. I know I would feel that way.

It may be too early to judge how this storyline will end up. After all, it is not complete, and Lynn may have new-runs to add which will address the questions I have raised. Will there be something more to this than Phil meeting Connie and nothing happening? We’ll see.

Fight Flyer with Flyer

I am not sure what to make of today’s For Better or For Worse. First of all, why is John Patterson upset with receiving junk mail? When it comes to irritations of life, junk mail is easily solved by the same method John Patterson uses in the strip, i.e. toss it in the waste bin.

Second of all, what is it that John Patterson could possibly put on his flyer to the junk mail companies that would have any effect? Let’s say, for example, it is a grocery story mailing a list of their weekly sales to all the people who live in the neighbourhood of the grocery store. A letter from John Patterson comes in that says: "Don’t tell me about your sales"? "Don’t send me your mailers"? The person who received such a thing on behalf of the grocery store would consider John Patterson to be a maroon, and would chuck his letter the same place John chucked their flyer.

Perhaps this is the point Elly is trying to make with her “fight flyer with flyer” comment. In other words, she is pointing out the hypocrisy of saying you don’t like something by doing the exact same thing you don’t like. However, the visual imagery does not match this. Elly looks happy this is something John is doing and John appears bemused by Elly’s word play, instead of disturbed by it. Consequently it seems more like Elly is saying, “You give them a flyer, John, and see how they like them apples.”

Since this and every strip goes to Lynn Johnston and her current mental state, I can imagine what the source of her complaint may be. Lynn got rid of her staff, except for Liuba Liamzini who handles the accounting for her business. Now, there is no one to answer Lynn’s mail for her, and she has to do it herself. Lynn is tired of junk mail and must presume the rest of us are too. This strip is her personal flyer to the companies who send junk mail. If any of them still read this strip, they might cut it out and put on a bulletin board at their work. Maybe Lynn hopes they will read her strip and realize the error of their ways and stop sending junk mail.

As for the word play, the last time we saw this it was “Fighting foyer with foyer” in the 5/30/2005 strip. As in that situation, the Pattersons are fighting something that annoys them with an entirely inappropriate response that is even more annoying than the original annoyance. As far as that goes, it is nice to know that Michael Patterson will grow up to be just like his dad.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Curious Case of Richard Nichols

Some people are meant to be mothers. Some people are meant to be dancers. Some people are meant to sell buttons. Some people are meant to be artists. Some people are meant to be hit by lightning. Some people are meant to spend 29 years creating a magnum opus of comic strip art only to go nuts and try to change it. Such is the case with Richard Nichols.

I just saw the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and I was struck by the similarities of this story to the life of Richard Nichols, insomuch as the lead character in the movie and Richard Nichols do not age like regular people, and they both suffer from bad writing. This is his short history, as I know it.

On September 15, 2008 – Richard Nichols first becomes known to us. He is the son of Annie Nichols and he has a cold. Although he has a brother, the brother is not mentioned, but it is clear his mother has two children and they both have hair.

On September 16, 2008 – We see one of the Nichols boys playing with a young girl just over the age of one. Her name is Elizabeth Patterson. His older brother stands by his mother.

On September, 17, 2008 – The mother tells her older child to share his raisins. She calls this older child, Christopher, and he is close to the same size as Michael Patterson, a boy we know to be 6-years-old. This will be the last time we see the two brothers together.

On September 18, 2008 – We see the younger brother, presumably Richard Nichols on the chesterfield with a bottle.

On September 19, 2008 – We see the mother put the younger brother into the same crib as Elizabeth Patterson, whom we know to be a little older than one-year-old.

On October 17, 2008 – We see Annie with only one kid and he has hair. He appears to be younger than Lizzie Patterson. No name mentioned.

On November 9, 2008 – We see Michael Patterson in a fight with a boy identified as Richard Nichols, who appears to be Michael age.

On December 1, 2008 – Annie Nichols introduces her diet to Elly and makes her first reprint appearance.

On December 2, 2008 – Anne’s baby is bald and makes his first reprint appearance. No name is mentioned
On December 27, 2008 – Anne’s baby is again bald. No name is mentioned.

If I did not know that Lynn Johnston had gotten confused in her new-runs and decided that Richard Nichols, born in 1981, was already born and about 1-years-old in the new-runs; then I would be really confused about which Nichols boy was which. Today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse in conjunction with the reprint at the beginning of December, marks the first consistent appearance of Anne Nichols’ children with a separation in time. Bald baby on December 2 and on December 27. The question remaining is what Lynn Johnston will have Anne call this bald baby, if she ever does. There a couple of ways Lynn could have decided to solve her problem:

1. Call the bald baby Christopher. This is who he actually was in the original story line. Then she can pretend that the older child is called Richard. That way, she can mix the new-runs and reprints with the baby Nichols boy called the right name.
2. Call the bald baby Richard. Although this means rewriting all the reprint strips with the name the other way around, it also means skipping over the “birth of Richard” story, which put Steve Nichols into a positive light, as he played attentive father.
3. Show only the younger baby, and intentionally do not mention his name. She can’t keep them straight anyway, so why bother?
4. Continue to mix up the two boys’ names. She can’t keep them straight anyway, so why bother?

Bah Humbug!

As we saw from 2 days ago, John Patterson is very happy with what he got for Christmas - his Super Speedway. As we learn in today’s For Better or For Worse, Elly is not happy with her Christmas gift. Not only is she not happy, but she is on the phone complaining about it with Anne. Elly has not learned how to communicate with her husband. If you want a suede coat, you say, “Suede coat.” I have this conversation with my wife all the time. If I go to the groceries to buy her a can of green beans, I have to say, “What brand? What size? Salt or no salt?” If I don’t, then I get the wrong kind of green beans. Sometimes, my wife expects me to know what kind of green beans, because it’s same kind we always have. The moment we have green beans, I completely forget those kinds of details and have to be reminded with the exact details.

Why Elly Patterson would think “frivolous and expensive, something she can show off her friends” is a suede code? Personally, I would think she was hinting about jewelry. A dishwasher can be a lot more expensive than either of those things. Why is Elly complaining?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas 1980 (and 2008)

Back in 1980, the Johnston family lived in Lynn Lake, Manitoba; and if I remember correctly, Rod Johnston had not yet developed his fascination with model trains. However, if today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is any indication, showing John Patterson enthralled with Super Speedway racing set he got for Christmas, then Rod Johnston must have always had an interest in motorized miniature models. Later on in the strip annals, when John Patterson developed his love for elaborate model train sets, there would occasionally be a strip where a kid or kids would be jealous he got to play with it, and he alone. It appears the tradition for that kind of strip started in 1980, and I wouldn’t be surprised if little Aaron Johnston did express jealousy, when Rod Johnston got better toys than he did. A hint to the wise, don’t give yourselves gifts your kids will prefer to the gifts they got.

In the meantime, reprint or not, this strip is so much better than last years’ For Better or For Worse on Christmas Day, I am quite happy about that. Merry Christmas, those of you who celebrate today and a happy holiday season to the rest of you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reprint John is Naked

December 7, 2008 marked the only new-run where John Patterson is shown in bed with Elly. There have been several reprints of the same situation including today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse on Christmas Eve. The majour thing I notice as the difference between the two situations is that reprint John does not wear a pyjama top to bed, whereas new-run John does. Even in a strip on December 24, where you would think that in Toronto or Milborough or Lynn Lake, it has got to be cold enough outside to warrant a pyjama top, there is John Patterson without one. Why is that? And more importantly, why does Lynn Johnston feel it is necessary to cover the man up in the new-runs?

My guess is that in 1980 Rod and Lynn Johnston still had an active sex life. This is illustrated by John’s semi-nakedness. In 2008, Lynn Johnston would just soon forget they did. However, in 1980, the characters’ sexuality is mentioned far more often. Can you imagine the strip from yesterday, with young Michael mentioning “a blonde nubile wrapped in cellophane” appearing in a modern For Better or For Worse strip from 2008? In 2007, Lynn Johnston was extremely subtle about the times when Elizabeth Patterson and Anthony Caine engaged in premarital sex. Most readers missed their post-Christmas coupling, which was only indicated in the strip by Liz putting her seatbelt back on, instead of getting out of Anthony’s car when he pulled up to her apartment.

In 1980, John is half-naked, and Phil is talking blonde nubiles in cellophane, and Connie is going on about whether Phil is tall, dark and handsome. And when you get right down to it, little Lizzie is not that old. These people are young enough to be actively engaging in sex. In one recent interview, Lynn Johnston talked about how she could no longer relate to kids and had a hard time writing for them. Ironically, she has taken her strip back to another time in their lives to which she also can no longer relate. How do we know? Because new-run John wears a shirt to bed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Blonde Nubile Wrapped in Cellophane

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Michael uses the phrase, “blonde nubile wrapped in cellophane” as what Uncle Phil said he wanted for Christmas. I looked up “nubile” just to make sure there was not a noun form of the word of which I was unaware. There isn’t. You could have the expectation that little Michael has gotten his words mixed up. Uncle Phil said, “A nubile blonde wrapped in cellophane.” And Michael got blonde and nubile mixed up because blonde is a word he probably knows, while nubile is not. So, Elly will then yell at Phil for using the word “nubile” with Michael, because she doesn’t want Michael to know it means, “Of an age suitable for marriage.” The horror! Actually, Elly is probably more concerned about the waste of good cellophane.

Phil will take the hit from Elly. Of course, my mind goes to Uncle Phil telling Michael what “nubile” means and Michael’s response, “But Uncle Phil, you don’t get a girl suitable for marriage for free. Dad says every day that every time he is around mom, he is still paying for getting married.” Then in the strip right after that, Elly opens the door to find Connie standing there wrapped in cellophane saying, “Merry Christmas, Phil!!”

The other problem is that the word “nubile” as a part of the catchphrase, “nubile young woman” has not been in common use for awhile. In fact, if I heard Michael talking, I might have thought he misheard Phil asking for a blonde mobile (as in phone) wrapped in cellophane. Then in the next strip, Connie shows up at the door wrapped in cellophane saying, “You rang?”

Of course in a strip which makes light of two different meanings of the phrase "moot point", what is "nubile" to that?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is he Single, Warm and Breathing?

The joke in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is Connie Poirier’s level of desperation for a man. All Phil has to be is single, for Connie to be interested in him. Ultimately we know that Phil is going to leave after the holidays back to Montreal, and Connie will show just how desperate she is by going to Montreal to visit him. Then Connie will date Ted. Then she will date Phil again. Then Ted again. And then off to Thunder Bay, where she will find her husband. Connie is portrayed as a women’s libber and yet, the underlying theme with Connie throughout the first few years in the strip is that she is so hungry for a husband she will marry anyone who proposes, and she doesn’t mind humiliating herself in that pursuit. Unfortunately for Connie, much of the humour surrounding her appearances is based on this humiliation.

This single-minded pursuit of men is interesting in the character of Connie is interesting, because Lynn Johnston shows little-to-no interest in the idea that her new husband is someone Lawrence might be interested in having for a father. This is another recurring theme with Lynn Johnston. The same thing happened between Elizabeth and Françoise Caine. The relationship between them did not seem to matter until people writing into the Coffee Talk continually complained about it. I would think that this is Lynn Johnston’s general opinion of such things, except that in the case of Candace Halloran, the importance of a good step-father was emphasized with Candace’s bad one. Nevertheless, in the Lynn Johnston interview with Hogan’s Alley, where she said her marital arrangement with Rod Johnston was that he would put up with her son Aaron, if she would put up with Lynn Lake; does not sound like an arrangement where Aaron was greatly pleased with Rod as his new father. In this respect, Connie’s attitude could well have been an imitation of Lynn’s during her dating days after her first marriage ended.

While it is realistic, and I have known women like that; it does not endear me to Connie Poirier as a character. During my dating days, if I went out with a single mom, there was definitely an expectation that I was courting not only the mother, but the child. I had more respect for the women who valued the opinion of their child when it came to guys their mom dated. As we enter the new-run version of this story from 1980, it will be interesting to see if Lynn Johnston paints Connie as even more pathetic, or she will give Connie a little backbone and a little discrimination

Elly the Christmas Martyr

I opened up my paper today to look at For Better or For Worse. The version there always clips off the first few panels of the strip, and oftentimes that does not matter. In this case though, it did. The first 2 panels show Elly noticing that everyone is occupied and then at the end she declares she got everything done she wanted to get done while they were occupied. This actually makes a little sense with small children in the house. When my kids were young, I or my wife had to keep them occupied while present-wrapping occurred. Actually, the same happened this year. My mother-in-law is in from Texas and while she and my wife kept my children busy, I got to wrap presents. I must admit that normally, I am the one who occupies my kids; because my wife hates my wrapping. However, she wanted to spend time with her mom, and so everyone will have to suffer with my sloppy present-wrapping. Even the addition of the baking and the cleaning works within this idea. Elly wants the kids out-of-the-way so she can get all those things done.

Now, if you take away the first 2 panels, as they did in my paper; the sequence starts with Elly baking. Viewed from that perspective, Elly is doing all the work, and we find out later Phil and John are watching TV with the kids. In other words, it is strip #7824 in the “Elly is the martyr who does all the work” series and reflects what has to be the most popular theme of this strip. Judging from John’s punch line, that is exactly what Lynn Johnston intended with this strip. His punch line is intended for the reader to look at the John, Phil and the kids not being busy, contrast with it with Elly’s slavish working and you can laugh at the irony of John thinking he was the busy one.

“Elly is the martyr who does all the work” is a theme so prevalent in this strip, not only do I fail to find it funny, I consider those strips to be among the worst that Lynn Johnston produces. It falls into a category along the lines of “Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn hate each other” or “Marmaduke is a freakishly, large dog”. You see this joke over and over again. I think it shows up often enough, that the casual For Better or For Worse reader could take years off from reading the strip and come back to read it, thinking “Oh, that Elly. She always does all the work and no one appreciates its. Ha ha ha!” It is like the reassurance of knowing something that has always been and continues to always be.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Elf Girls

When I was young, going to visit with Santa was the opportunity to tell him which toy I wanted. It was not until I was much older did I realize that some parents have a tradition of getting a picture of Santa Claus with their kids each Christmas. There were a few Christmases where the Santa picture with my own kids was used as the Family Christmas card picture. Reading today’s For Better or For Worse, I get the impression that either this is not Lynn Johnston’s tradition, or she simply does not know what the Santa visit is for. At the time the strip was written, Lynn was living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba, which could very well be so small and remote a town that this tradition did not exist. Consequently, the idea that Uncle Phil would take Michael by himself to visit Santa does not make much sense to me. Why isn’t Lizzie going? Why would Uncle Phil go instead of Elly? Why would Phil be interested in girls in elf suits, which are typically temporary-employed teenaged help? It seems a little creepy for a guy who should be close to 30.

Little Michael, with his observation about his uncle and the girls in elf suits reveals that either Michael has the same desire and recognizes it in his uncle, or Phil and Michael have made this trip before. Michael's desire could be the same as Phil's. Judging from his extreme and excessive fascination with young Deanna Sobinski, Michael is a 6-year-old going on 16 years old. And not a healthy one, at that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Drowning out Sesame Street

Being a good Canadian, I thought Lynn might go with Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, The Littlest Hobo, or The Raccoons in today's reprint used in For Better or For Worse.

However, I cannot fault her for Sesame Street. Unlike those Canadian programs I mentioned, Sesame Street has been running since 1969 and still runs today. I tell my kids proudly that I started watching Sesame Street when the show numbers were in single and double digits, which is true. I tell them about the days before Elmo, back when Gordon had hair, there was a place called Mr. Hooper’s store with a Mr. Hooper, and when Cookie Monster only ate cookies and never anything healthy. Of course, I also tell my kids that our television could only pick up 5 channels back in those days. I am sure these stories, to my kids, seems just as antiquated as when my dad told me stories about how he would listen to The Lone Ranger on the radio and his mother didn’t like it because it was so violent.

As for the strip in general, Uncle Phil discovers that small children don’t like jazz and neither do dogs. Back in the days when I had a dog, the usual reaction of the animal was to bark or howl when someone started playing loud music. I guess Farley is not that kind of dog. As for Phil, I love his language. “Blues? Pops? Beebop?” Notice, no mention of fusion jazz which was really popular in the 1970s to 1980s. Bebop is misspelled and no one calls “pop” by the name “pops.” Lynn is trying to be cool, but as usual, isn’t.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let There Be Pizza on Earth

Today's reprint in For Better or For Worse, brings to mind a song:

Let there be pizza on earth
And let it begin with me;
Let there be pizza on earth,
The pizza that was meant to be.

With Lynn as our Creator
Pattersons all are we,
Let me eat with Elly’s brother
In perfect pepperoni.

Let pizza begin with me,
Let this be the moment now;
With every diet I break,
Let this be my solemn vow:

To take each pizza and eat each pizza
In pizza eternally.
Let there be pizza on earth
And let it begin with me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reprints to New-Runs

I think I am growing accustomed to these reprint-to-new-run transitions, like we have in today’s For Better or For Worse. Rude, young Michael turns into polite, young Michael. Uncle Phil goes from 1960s cool guy speech to 1980s cool dude speech. The fashions make subtle changes, usually having to do with the less-difficult-to-draw patterns of the new-runs. Close-ups and no silhouettes turn to awkwardly composed long distance views and lots of silhouettes. The list goes on and on.

Lynn Johnston has given lip service to imitating her old style of art and how it has rejuvenated her. The old characters just don’t look the same or act the same as they did back in 1980. What becomes clearer and clearer to me, the more I analyze this strip, is that all the characters are Lynn, and that is Lynn in whatever state she is in when she creates the strip. Even as she goes back and makes additions to her old strip storylines, modern day Lynn Johnston appears.

Monday, December 15, 2008

House of Rude

How many examples of rudeness can you find in today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse? These are the ones I found:

1. When people knock on the door of the Patterson household, they are too rude to answer the door.
2. When a Patterson is visiting someone, he is too rude to wait for them to come to the door, but just opens the door saying, “Is anybody home?”
3. When a Patterson child is about to make a verbal faux pas, the Patterson mother is too rude to take the child aside and correct him; but instead must clamp her hand over his mouth to physically prevent him from speaking.
4. A Patterson child is too rude to give a visitor a proper greeting, but instead asks for gifts.
5. A Patterson child is too rude to wait for a visitor to give an expected gift, but instead opens the visitor’s luggage and starts rummaging for it.
6. A Patterson parent is too rude to stop their children from rummaging through visitors’ luggage.
7. A Patterson visitor is too rude to take the children rummaging through their luggage aside and let them know that they are being rude.

Any others you can think of?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vegetarian Lasagna

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston does another of what have become a standard in her new-runs – repeat the same kind of joke she has done before with a reprint. The idea is that no one in her family likes eating Elly’s diet food. At first this was shown with bowls of leafy green vegetables, and now she has moved to vegetarian lasagna as her variation on the theme. We know that ultimately Uncle Phil is going to arrive and save the day with pizza; so the only question is: How many “I hate this healthy food” strips are we going to see before Phil arrives?

As for vegetable lasagna itself, I like the stuff quite a bit. I have never made it, but I seem to remember that lasagna was a fairly complex dish to make which, in my mind, means that Elly bought this from the store. As for store-bought vegetable lasagna purchased in the early 1980s; I have a different opinion. That stuff stank. In the early 1980s, I was just entering university and cooking for myself, i.e. buying a lot of frozen foods. Frozen vegetable lasagna was disgusting. If this is what Elly is serving, then I sympathize with Michael Patterson.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sunday week before Christmas

How can you tell it’s a reprint? With today’s reprint used in For Better or For Worse, the simple answer is the happy ending. There is no wordplay. When you get right down to it, you can tell it’s a reprint if it doesn’t seem like For Better or For Worse.

However, there is quite a bit of bickering on the way to the happy ending and Lynn Johnston hits a lot of her favourite themes:

a. Elly can’t control the kids.
b. The kids are brats who can’t behave in a public place.
c. People are always trying to get money from you by taking advantage of you.
d. Elly is hypersensitive about house-cleanliness.
e. Something happens which defies the laws of nature, like putting 2 children, 3 adults, a dog and a full-grown tree in the inside of a car.
f. Lynn Johnston can’t draw a decent tree in 2008 and couldn’t draw one in 1980.

2007 – Sunday week before Christmas strip had Merrie and Robin being bratty and driving Deanna crazy until she forced Mike to take them out.
2006 – Sunday week before Christmas strip had April and Elizabeth listening to “wrap” music.
2005 – Sunday week before Christmas strip had Grandpa Jim complaining about his Christmas routine.
2004 – Sunday week before Christmas strip had April working at the Food Bank and making a thought balloon about giving.
2003 – Sunday week before Christmas strip had Merrie menacing a Department Store Santa.

I declare this Sunday week before Christmas For Better or For Worse strip to be the best since before 2003. I guess it’s no surprise it is a reprint.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dogs and Diapers: Together for the First Time

A dog chewing up a diaper while it is still on the toddler is the source of humour in today's new-run in For Better or For Worse. That’s a new one on me. I can’t think there is much about that to be appealing for the dog. For one thing, the toddler would be screaming. For another the thing, the diaper would not smell very good. It’s a good thing we know the actual ending of the Farley story, because if we didn’t, then my thought entering the weekend would be that Farley was about to go away.

However, we do have a style of comedy used infrequently in For Better or For Worse, which typically relies on final panel puns. In this style of comedy, you start with a statement that gives the reader a certain expectation; and as the person asking questions about the statement continues on, the situation gets worse and worse. At each point in the questioning, the next answer is a surprise from what you expect, and there is the source of the humour. In this respect the strip works. When Michael says Farley chewed up a diaper, I would not have imagined the diaper was still on Elizabeth. The surprise of that creates the humour.

This is one of the rare cases in For Better or For Worse, where having Michael talk about it instead of showing it happen is better. After all, if we saw little Farley ripping and shredding a diaper off a screaming Lizzie, unable to get Farley off her and getting scratched up in the process; it would make the young puppy seem much more dangerous than amusing. Also, if we saw this happening and saw young Michael nonchalantly going off to find his father and then going off to find his mother to help, without taking any action himself; then we might draw the conclusion that young Michael is a kid with a heart of cold stone and very little brains. Of course, having seen young Michael grow up into a man with a heart of stone and very little brains; this action from young Michael seems to be very much in character.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

House Almost Full of Music

I remember Kindermusik. It’s a program for young children to learn the basics of rhythm and music. Oftentimes rhythm instruments are used and at the end of a series of sessions, the parents are given the opportunity to buy the instruments used in the class for their very own home. We bought a nice drum with soft mallets that we have to this day, and some maracas and a triangle that are probably hidden in a box somewhere. Both my son and my daughter participated in Kindermusik, but looking at their website, they don’t operate in Canada, just the US, New Zealand and Australia. How odd. I blame the French.

As I looked at the array of instruments Michael Patterson collects together in today’s new-run in
, my first thought was, “That’s a lot of instruments for a family who complains about the expense of things.” I have never seen them before, and yet at the mere mention of Uncle Phil and his trumpets, the kids decide to pull them all out and play them. Lynn Johnston is going for a cute moment and, for reasons I don’t understand, completely misses the opportunity for real cuteness.

In real life, my kids pull out the instruments either when (a) they happen to see them and remember that they like playing them or (b) someone suggests it. This strip actually would have made more sense if Uncle Phil was there playing his trumpet and he asked Michael or Lizzie if they played an instrument. Then Michael and Lizzie pull out these 12 instruments and have a jam session with their uncle. If Elly pulled out her old guitar and John played a kazoo or something, then we would have a moment of cuteness and family warmth with the whole family. Today’s strip isn’t bad. I just don’t understand how Lynn could write in one panel that Uncle Phil would play his trumpet while he is there, and in another panel show the kids playing their instruments, and not realize both of those things go together. I don’t have to think about it hard, and it immediately came to me. Why not Lynn?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Where’s Lawrence?

One of the things I seem to remember about Connie Poirier and Phil Richard's relationship was that Lawrence Poirier seemed to have very little involvement in it. In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have little Michael show up with Farley and not with Lawrence. Where is Lawrence? Even expanding the storylines with new-runs, he is forgotten.

Meanwhile Elly continues to give Connie information about her brother in anticipation of his arrival. For whatever reason, when Lynn Johnston set up this story, she seemed to forget 2 basic things (1) Lawrence should be interested in anything his mom was doing to find a new dad for him and (2) Phil may actually want to spend his time with his family and not spend all his time off over at the neighbour’s house knocking boots with the single neighbour.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Connie and Elly: A Love Story?

We had begun, in the latter days of the modern For Better or For Worse strip, to regularly see sequences where Connie and Elly spent so much time together walking arm-in-arm and the like, that the question of the nature of their relationship was raised. This was especially considering that at the same time Elly was rarely seen with her husband John, and Connie’s husband had not been seen in years.

In today’s new-run strip of For Better or For Worse, we see the first indication of this same situation set back in 1980. When I read the strip, I had a hard time making sense of what was being said. After Connie pretended she was not really interested in Elly’s brother Phil, Connie says, “The fact that I’m ALSO single is really a moot point!” Elly then, puts her arm in Connie’s and says, “That’s debatable.” The joke is extremely obscure and based on two different definitions of the phrase “moot point.” I quote now from this website:

[A] Moot point is one of those phrases that once had a firm and well-understood meaning, but no longer does. It was just as you say: a matter that was uncertain or undecided, so open to debate.

It comes from the same source as meet and originally had the same meaning. In England in medieval times it referred specifically to an assembly of people, in particular one that had some sort of judicial function, and was often spelled mot or mote. So you find references to the witenagemot (the assembly of the witan, the national council of Anglo-Saxon times), hundred-mote (where a hundred was an Anglo-Saxon administrative area, part of a county or shire), and many others. So something that was mooted was put up for discussion and decision at a meeting — by definition something not yet decided.
The confusion over the meaning of moot point is modern. It is a misunderstanding of another sense of moot for a discussion forum in which hypothetical cases are argued by law students for practice. Since there is no practical outcome of these sessions, and the cases are invented anyway, people seem to have assumed that a moot point means one of no importance. So we’ve seen a curious shift in which the sense of “open to debate” has become “not worth debating”.

Using the 2 different definitions then in Connie’s dialogue from today's new-run from panel 3 of For Better or For Worse, she either means that (not debatable definition of moot point) her singleness is not relevant to her questions about Phil, or that (debatable definition of moot point) the relevance of her singleness in her questions is undecided or up for debate. My guess is that Connie means the not debatable definition, based on her dialogue in panels 1 and 2.

If Connie means (debatable definition of moot point), then Elly is just agreeing with her and there is no joke. However, if Connie means (not debatable definition of moot point), then Elly disagrees with her and thinks her singleness does apply to the questions she was asking about Phil; and there is still no joke. Where’s the joke coming from?

The joke comes because Elly takes Connie’s Panel 3 response to stand alone without relating it to anything she said in the prior 2 panels. In other words, Elly is reinterpreting Connie’s sentence as if she said whether or not she is single is not debatable (Connie is definitely single). Then Elly puts her arm in Connie’s to show Connie that Elly considers her single status to be debatable. In other words Elly is saying that she and Connie may be together, so Connie may not be single after all.

I think Lynn Johnston may have been going after a heart-warming “You are not alone, Connie;” but it comes off as Elly hitting on Connie. The net effect is that Elly tells Connie to not get any ideas about her brother Phil, because Elly has her own ideas about Connie.

To take it one step further, note that Elly is putting Lizzie to bed and yesterday’s strip implies that Connie was over when Elly is making supper. So they have eaten together; it’s bedtime; and Michael, Lawrence, and John are nowhere in sight. Maybe John has taken Lawrence and Michael to a Leafs game as a boys' night out. This gives Elly’s statement a little more intimacy. After all, it would not come out the same way, if she were doing this in front of John or the boys.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Shocking Things

In today’s For Better or For Worse, perhaps the most shocking thing was the drawing in Panel 4 which made little Lizzie look like her mother was Connie Poirier and not Elly. They have nearly identical noses, eyes, mouths, jawlines, hair texture, and lipstick use. If I had never read the strip before, I would look at the last panel and see a mother and daughter both eager to find out if Elly’s brother has a girlfriend.

Another shocking thing is the way this new-run actually makes Connie Poirier seem more desperate for brother Phil than in the original strip. Who would have thought that was possible? In yesterday’s For Better or For Worse, there is a hint when Connie on the other side of the phone asked Elly if Phil was married. That was at least subtle. In today’s version, Connie knows 4 panels of information that she should not know about Phil. How would she know if he was attractive or had a great sense of humo(u)r? That’s not the way Elly would describe her brother (I hope). Moreover, how could Connie know so much about Phil without knowing if he had a girlfriend or not? Unless she had someone run background checks for her, Elly is the likely source of her Phil information and Elly would have mentioned his love life. After all, she did mention it in yesterday’s strip when she mentioned his crazy life of late nights, women and traveling.

Another shock was Elly’s appearance. In yesterday’s reprint, she was rail-thin and wore an earring. In today’s new-run, she’s put on quite a bit of weight, and looks more like middle-aged frumpy Elly than Elly in her 20s. For some reason, Lynn just doesn’t seem to be able to draw a thin new-run Elly. If you compare today’s strip to yesterday’s, you can tell the Lynn is barely able to restrain herself from plunking a giant nose on the woman.

A fun shock was to see Lynn Johnston incorporate some background action with little Lizzie. As Connie picks her up, she grabs onto the panel wall, to keep from being moved. Then when Connie gets Lizzie close to Elly, Lizzie lunges for Elly to get away from Connie, all while holding that rabbit by the ear.

The last shock was that Lynn Johnston is not going to skip over the Connie / Phil / Ted love triangle story. The hooks are being put in place to tell that whole story. Get ready!! Lynn is getting ready to tackle romance again. There are few who are worse at telling romance stories than Lynn Johnston.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Big Welcome to Phil: The Anti-Elly

This has been a very busy weekend in my family. My daughter turned 11 and had a sleepover with 8 girls. In order to keep my son busy, my wife invited one of his friends to spend the night. It was the first time I have experienced something like that. The girls liked it, but it was exhausting. My daughter was proud of pointing out that she stayed up until 5:07 am. I cannot say the same. Fortunately the kind of mischief 11-year-old girls get into at night involve fairly mild things like, “See how loud my daddy snores at night.” The next day I found my questioning my wife when the kids were ever going to leave. It took until 1:45 pm to get rid of the last kid, oddly enough the boy who was over visiting with my son.

In the midst of all this, I was doing performances of Handel’s Messiah with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and dragged my poor son to hear his first live performance of the piece. He said he enjoyed it, and the bass soloist for the piece (who could see him clearly from where he was sitting) reported that he was attentive. What this boils down to is not a lot of responding to things on the old Howard Bunt Blog, for which I apologize.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we see the reprint that leads into the visit from brother Phil. It essentially makes Phil seem like the anti-Elly from Elly’s own comparison to herself. There is also the potential to begin the love triangle storyline involving Phil Richards / Connie Poirier / Ted McCaulay. The real question is whether Lynn Johnston will do it. Lynn has given off some subtle hints that she is focusing on the Patterson family exclusively and not going into the long storylines with the side characters. On the other hand, the updated Who’s Who on the website leaves in all those characters as if they are going to be used. In each case, the character's original biography was left intact up to the point where the romance had been described. If I were just going by the Who's Who, it would seem that romance is imminent.

I think the real question coming up is about the use of new-runs in general. We have gone through 7 reprints of dailies as of today, which is the longest stretch of daily reprints we have had since Lynn started doing new-runs mixed with reprints. It’s too early to call that Lynn has officially gone to straight reprints. We could just be seeing the effects of a long vacation.

Will there be romance? I think there probably will be. The more interesting aspect for me is the new-runs. I saw how brutally unromantic Liz and Anthony’s romance was, and it will be interesting to see how unromantic the new-runs for Connie and Ted will be.

John Patterson, Good Dad: Can It Be True?

Even back in 1980, Elly Patterson’s method of dealing with young Elizabeth Patterson in today's For Better or For Worse would have been considered poor parenting. Shortly after putting young Michael to bed, Elly hears Elizabeth screaming. We don’t know what time Elizabeth was originally put to bed. Nevertheless, we see Elly pick Elizabeth up and attempt to reason with her using words and then shoving her back into the crib and leaving her by saying that she is going to bed also, which she does. Then Elly has the nerve to proclaim her actions are the actions of “tough love.” I would call them the actions of “stupid mom.”

Elly doesn’t check Lizzie at all for any reason that she might legitimately have for screaming like that. Not only that, but if Elly is going to play the same game of not going to Lizzie if she wakes up in the night like Deanna did with Merrie, then Elly failed that by going into see Lizzie. If Lynn Johnston wanted to show a true trial of parenting, she could show Elly checking all these things and little Lizzie is still crying. If she wanted to put a camera in my house, she could show a parent trying all kinds of techniques to try to calm down a child with colic where the only thing that seems to satisfy them is belly-to-belly contact with another human being. She could show a parent rocking their child to sleep and then, oh-so-carefully, trying to shift the child to their crib without waking them up and failing. But Lynn doesn’t do this. Does Lynn really expect any parent to admire Elly for her parenting technique?

The temptation is to see this strip as one where John Patterson fails as a parent, because he does not follow Elly’s lead by letting Lizzie cry it out. However, the final panel makes a minor joke off the phrase “tough love” without Elly saying anything to condemn John for his actions. Moreover, little Lizzie has stopped howling, which means that John has been successful in solving her problem, where Elly was not. I don’t see this as John Patterson failure. In fact, I am not so sure the Lynn Johnston intends it to go that way; however, it wouldn’t be the first time she wrote a strip with one expectation and ended up producing a strip with an entirely different conclusion. If anything, today’s For Better or For Worse portrays a very, real situation in a family where the father comes to understand that his wife is not doing the best thing for the child and makes the decision to oppose the technique being used by the child’s mother.

I remember this moment vividly with my son. My son was doing was Lizzie is doing. He shrieked and cried and nothing seemed to slow him down. It was not until years later that we learned that, thanks to his Asperger’s Syndrome, he would get upset about something, but lacked the ability to calm down. There were times when he was too much for my wife. He would arch his back and you had to be very strong to be able to hold him without dropping him. It was during these times when I discovered that if I changed his environment, his mind would react to the change, and that reaction caused him to be able to concentrate on something other than being upset and angry. So, when our baby son was really upset, he got picked up and walked around all the rooms of the house, in case being in a different room calmed him. Or sometimes, it meant walking him outside, where the temperature change or a breeze (or sometimes rain), would do the trick.

If I take the point of the strip is “Elly is wrong and John is right,” the strip actually works for me; because Elly’s method looks so wrong to me. Moreover, if it was Lynn’s intent to write the strip that way, then kudos to you, Lynn Johnston. This would be the first, decent new-run I have seen. It actually does what the new-runs were supposed to do, expand on the characters of the early strips by telling new stories.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Santa vs. God: Patterson Style

Sometimes my son will start conversations out of nowhere. You might think he would be thinking about what is going on around him, and then he will break into an observation on something unrelated. When I saw today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, I got the same impression. There is little Michael looking through the toy store window with a big smile on his face, and you might his thoughts would be about what toy he would like to get for Christmas. You would be wrong. Young 6-year-old Michael is concerned with theological matters. Why do more people talk about Santa than God? Elly quips that God does less advertising.

Those who observe Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ have had issues with the secular side of Christmas for as long as I have been alive. “Jesus is the reason for the season” and things of that nature. Lynn Johnston has traditionally portrayed the Patterson family as the type of family who goes to church once a year at Easter, and in recent times has actually taken a more anti-religious stance by associating religious practice with Mira Sobinski. Last year’s Christmas strip with the Patterson family united in thought balloon complaint about Mira’s long prayer keeping them from eating, was a shocking, if accurate portrayal of a family for whom food appears to be its god.

It is interesting to see the strip reprinted from 1980 and Elly’s response to Mike’s question. Elly does not take the usual stance. She does not condemn the persons who prefer Santa. She does not say that people should talk more about God than Santa. Instead, she points out that God does less advertising. This is true. Advertising is expensive, and I know very few churches that spend large amounts on advertising. Who would advertise Jesus? I know of few businesses brave enough to use baby Jesus as an icon to sell toys or other products, for fear of religios retribution. Santa is a different story because he is not as well-protected. Santa provides advertisers the icon they need for the season to sell products that Jesus doesn’t. In a rare moment, I believe Elly Patterson is absolutely correct.

Overhear and Disapprove

Both my daughter and my son talk aloud to themselves when they are alone. Sometimes I hear it and to me, it is a delight to hear the things going on in their heads, and remember how I used to think about things when I was that age. If I run across that situation, I have no intention of interrupting my child to correct them. Those thoughts are not intended for me, and it would make them self-conscious if they knew I accidentally heard them.

In today’s For Better or For Worse, we see young Michael Patterson talking to himself and then we find out that Elly Patterson has been listening to him and she does not approve of the thought Michael is expressing. Then we go to the joke which is that Elly is so busy cleaning on her hands and knees, with Farley underneath her and Lizzie on top of her; she cannot understand Michael’s perspective. As usual, the setup doesn’t work.

1. If Elly were that busy, then why would have the time to listen to or even be bothered by thoughts Michael is expressing out loud? She has to get Lizzie off her back, get up off the floor and then travel to where Mike is and tell him that she doesn’t like what he is saying to himself.

2. Elly does not give Michael any positive instruction. All she does is tell Michael she is fed up with what he has been saying to himself. Does she want Michael to be quiet, or speak only of things that cannot be considered complaining?

3. Elly is cleaning on her hands and knees. I am pretty sure that by 1980, the mop had been invented.

The theme of overworked Elly has been pretty well used in the strip. However, we do have another theme with the Patterson parents where they eavesdrop on their kids and interrupt them in order to express their disapproval. A recent example of this is when April is composing her Christmas song and Elly drops by to let April know that she disapproves of the song. Is it any wonder that Michael Patterson ends up going to the attic to work and write, later on in life?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lettuce Make No Sense

In yesterday’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, John and family were fine. In today's reprint of For Better or For Worse, after a diet of rabbit food, John can actually see a bulge appear in his belly along with a floating gas bubble. From this he concludes that he needs to eat more lettuce. I don’t know about you, but if my belly suddenly bulged like that with a visible gas bubble, I might wonder how that gas bubble got there in the front of my body instead from the back, where gas bubbles usually make their appearances. I might think that I had something going seriously wrong with my internal organs, like a rapidly-developing tumor.

I know the humour setup behind it. We see it all the time on animated programs where a character is on a diet then smells one whiff of chocolate and instantly gains back all their lost weight. The part I don’t get is the gas bubble. I can’t think of a time when I saw a gas bubble used for humourous effect except when the character is farting, burping, or just plain old drunk. Usually, the comic strip writer, to show the humourously upset stomach will put “growl” or “rumble” as a side-effect beside the stomach. This is not that situation though. This is the rapid weight gain to be funny, not the upset stomach to be funny. Why would a stomach that is gassy have anything to do with rapid weight gain, when it comes to classic humour? They are two different points of humour.

The other part of the strip which does not make sense is that John’s rapid weight gain occurs after he has been on the rabbit food diet long enough to threaten to leave home. The logical conclusion would then be that the bulge in the stomach would be related to the rabbit food and John should try something less taxing to digest on his system. In order for this strip to make sense as John goes back to eat more lettuce, John has to have gained weight rapidly from something he ate before he went on the diet. If that is true, then John has barely been on the diet and has no reason to complain about it.

There is another possibility which does make sense. Due to the drawn placement of the bulge on John’s body and the use of the word "bulge," which has sexual connotations; what may be happening is that John has become sexually aroused in front of Elly. In order to prevent anything from happening due to that, John eats lettuce to get himself out of the mood. If I were in that situation, with Elly Patterson as the logical recipient of my ardor, and I knew lettuce would calm me down, then I think I would eat a lot of lettuce too.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Glory Days of Cottage Cheese

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse brought back memories for me. I love cottage cheese. The days when cottage cheese was considered to be a recommended diet food were great for me. Then later someone actually took a look at cottage cheese and pointed out it was loaded with saturated fat and sodium. It was a very sad day for me. I’ve tried diet cottage cheese, and it just isn’t the same.

As for the strip itself, the most interesting aspect is the way that Elly, not only forces the family to go on a diet with her, but she has her nose pointed in the air and waves her index finger, and looks down on the family, as if she were punishing her wayward charges. In 1980, this is played for laughs; but 29 years later, this would become the way Elly acted as a matter-of-course and it was not played for laughs. At least that’s the way it seemed to me. It makes me wonder if, when the modern day Elly would stick her nose in the air over some matter, Lynn Johnston intended it to be played for laughs like it is here in the 1980 strips and she just forgot how to do it. It would certainly change my impression of the strip, if every time I thought modern Elly was stuck-up, she was actually trying to make me laugh at her own pretentiousness.

The second most interesting aspect of the reprint is the second panel, where Lizzie actually tries gumming on that big hunk of lettuce while Mike and John protest their dietary treatment. There is an age in there where a toddler will try new foods, especially if they are being served to an adult. I remember when my boy was in a Mexican food restaurant in Dallas and decided he wanted to try chips and salsa. He immediately went for the spiciest, hottest salsa there. My wife and I were convinced he would react to the strong taste, and never want chips and hot salsa again. Much to our surprise, he loved it, and dipped his chip in the hot salsa over and over again. We later learned that young children do not have well-developed taste buds. Some months later, my son developed a taste for mild salsa, which he maintains to this day. Looking at Lizzie fearlessly gumming on that lettuce reminded me of my son during that particular age.

Overall, today's strip is not a bad strip. Happy family. Funny joke. It's just dated with its use of cottage cheese. Lynn Johnston could have updated it with a modern, trendy diet food that people don't like to eat, and it would have worked pretty well. Maybe those pseudo-chocolate-flavoured, diet shakes or those grainy, healthy cereals that taste like you are eating gravel.

North Bay Nugget article

This is an article in the North Bay Nugget. As usual I will comment on the parts I find interesting.

Retirement is not in the picture for Lynn Johnston.

That’s a nice thought, but it is simply not true. Lynn plans to go to straight reprints of the strip eventually.

The Corbeil illustrator and creator of the syndicated comic strip For Better or For Worse, settled into Gulliver's Quality Books & Toys Saturday afternoon to sign her newest book, Home, Sweat Home, which follows one generation of the Patterson family to the next over more than 25 years.

In North Bay, it must be pointed out that Johnston doesn’t live in North Bay.

This year has been exciting for Johnston, who wrapped up For Better or For Worse.

On the plus side, not one mention of Rod Johnston as being the cause for the strip to end. I think this may be the first interview with Lynn Johnston, where this was not mentioned in the last 1½ years.

I got to the point where I couldn't count the characters in the strip," she explained. The number of characters made it difficult for her to tell a story in a few frames per day.

Now we know how high Lynn Johnston can count. Of course the notion that a large number of characters was the motivation for ending the modern strip is ridiculous.

But instead of laying the strip to rest, Johnston restarted For Better or For Worse from the beginning, filling in gaps and adding to the album of Patterson family stories.

Someone is quoting a publicity announcement from Corbeil.

The new strip appeared in more than 2,000 newspapers around the world in early September.

Love the past tense. As expected, For Better or For Worse has dropped out of the 2000+ club.

Johnston also has been sifting through boxes of calendars, books, illustrations and original artwork, selecting pieces to be preserved in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.

Now I know the significance of her statement to me in an e-mail earlier about how her reprint work was to be taken from her books in print. I suspect collections 1 and 3 might not have made those archives.

With help from an archivist, Johnston managed to take 17 boxes of work to Ottawa last week. After receiving a tour of the facility, she had a better understanding of the prestige of the archives.

The way this is written, Lynn didn’t think much of what she had in those 17 boxes, until she went to the archives and realized that other famous people had stuff stored there. Who knows how Lynn thought before then. “This is a great chance to clean out my basement.”

Archived within Johnston's art is North Bay's influence on her work. The bookstore in the comic is based on Suzanne's store," she said referring to Suzanne Brooks of Gulliver's Quality Books & Toys. I don't think I could do what I did without North Bay's help," Johnston said.

And a reminder why the North Bay Nugget is writing this article.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Old-Fangled Health Nut Humour Part 2

In today's reprint of For Better or For Worse, we have another day into our blast from the past session of “Reasons people used to make fun of diets.” The giveaway in the first panel is the word "newfangled." Who says “newfangled”? To use this word, instead of a less-prejudiced word like "new", Lynn Johnston tells us right away how the diet is to be considered.

There is no such thing as a fangle The word first appears in the 14th century as newfanglyd or newfangel and was applied to a person who delighted in novelty. The fangle portion of the word comes from the Old English word fon meaning "to capture or seize". Thus a newfangled person was one who seized new things.

The giveaway in the second panel is the use of plain yogurt. Yogurt used to be the standard food of choice for mocking health nuts.

When nutrition promoter Benjamin Gayelord Hauser published an excerpt from his book Live Younger, Live Longer (1950), in the October 1950 issue of Reader's Digest magazine extolling the health virtues of yogurt, the product's sales soared. They leaped again when so-called health foods were popularized by the counterculture of the 1960s.

The giveaway in the last 2 panels is where the diet is mocked by Anne Nichols. The diet described appears to be a standard low calorie, low fat and low carb diet. Plain meats and leafy green vegetables. That’s not too bad a diet, even though it is bland and boring. Obviously these are the days before more mockable diets like the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Grapefruit Diet, the Coconut Diet, or the Bread and Butter Diet. If Lynn really wanted to have fun, she would replace the items in that diet list with those of one of the fad diets. Then it might be funny now, just as it was back in 1980.

As for the Nichols’ kid, this child is about the same age as Richard Nichols when he previously appeared in the new-runs. and he is clearly younger than the Christopher Nichols who previously appeared in the new-runs. The child is not named (so far), but I believe it was originally considered in the strip to be Christopher Nichols. We have seen the updated Who’s Who on the FBorFW website point out that Christopher is the only Nichols boy born so far. Now the question is whether or not Lynn Johnston will abide by that correction, or if she will defiantly spell out the boy is named Richard. Lynn has proved in the past that she ignores Beth Cruikshank’s autobiographies and she ignores what is in her own old strips. Can Lynn admit a mistake? Or will Lynn continue to insist on her error? I find it very amusing that the most dramatic tension delivered by these new-runs is how badly Lynn Johnston will intentionally screw up her own continuity.