Saturday, February 28, 2009

Naked Elly and the Kids

In one respect, today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is yet another in a long line of comic strips involving poor put-upon Elly, who can’t even get away from her kids long enough to take a bath. I am reminded of my wife’s own travails sometimes. Occasionally, my kids have choices. For example, if we (for whatever reason) have to travel in 2 cars to a place, sometimes my kids are given the choice of riding back home with their mother or their father. My wife will hint broadly, “Oh you want to ride with Daddy”, which means that my kids end up both riding with her. Or sometimes we are in a seating arrangement around a dinner table, where there is space for them both to sit by their mother or with me. Invariably, they will choose their mother. I am not insulted by the matter, as I work a daily job and my wife is a stay-at-home mom. She gets most of the time with the kids and so she is their favourite. This appears to be no different in the Patterson household. Elly is taking a bath, and the kids want to be with mommy, so they go into the washroom to spend time with their mother. Even little Nizzie (now verbal and old enough to be in a bath unattended) wants to have a bath, if it’s with mommy. Kids go through a stage where they want to be with their favourite adult, and would prefer that to almost anything. Later on, when they hit their pre-teen age, that attitude changes. Nevertheless, I can see this strip as a somewhat accurate representation of that stage with Michael and Nizzie.

The difference between Elly Patterson and my wife are the following:

a. My wife has pretty strong beliefs about adults not being naked around kids, and if my son or daughter walked in on her the bath, she would immediately tell them in no uncertain terms to leave. Then she would shut and lock the door to keep it from happening again.

b. My wife would have shut and locked the door before taking the bath.

c. My kids would be in big trouble if they ignored my wife, like Mike and Nizzie ignored what Elly told them to do.

d. My wife would never leave a 1-year-old little girl unattended in a bath.

Friday, February 27, 2009


The things in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse which don’t make sense:

a. Letting a dog stay in the room where you want the baby to take a nap.
b. Blaming the dog for waking the baby, when you let the dog in the room in the first place.
c. Talking to the dog to give him a lecture on waking the baby, as if he can understand you.
d. Putting a baby in a crib with the crib wall set so low that the baby’s head, even when leaning almost completely over, can clear the top bar.
e. Babies that don’t pull up to look over the top bar to see something outside the crib, i.e. crib prison babies.
f. Babies with accurate throwing arms.
g. Elly

This is the second in what may be a new theme for the For Better or For Worse new-runs: Farley abuse at the hands of Lizzie and Elly. In the past, the Patterson kids have tortured Farley, and so has Elly. Now, they have teamed up. Yesterday, Lizzie played with Farley's food and as a result of Elly's reaction, he didn't get to eat his food. Today, Lizzie throws toys at Farley and as a result, Elly blames him for waking Lizzie up. We don't know the ultimate consequence of it; but it could be:

a. Farley doesn't get to sleep in Lizzie's room anymore.
b. Farley doesn't get to finish his nap.
c. Elly picks up Lizzie's toys and puts them in the same place she put Farley's food.
d. Farley is forced to promote a children's book, and possibly a plush toy too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Farley Goes Hungry, Readers Scratch Heads

Today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse brought back memories for me. Much to the chagrin of my daughter, we can’t have a dog in my house because my wife and son are deathly allergic. My mother-in-law has dogs and my daughter gets her fix of playing with dogs at her grandmother’s house. When she was about 3 years old, my daughter took great delight in taking dry dog food out of the bag and feeding it to the dogs by hand. She could do this for hours. When I saw little Lizzie with her hands headed toward Farley's upturned dog bowl, it immediately reminded me of how cute my daughter used to look going back and forth between the bag of dry dog food and the dogs.

Naturally, the Lynn Johnston version of this story has a few flaws in it. With my mother-in-law’s dogs, their dry dog food sits out, so the dogs can consume it any time during the day, if they so please. Judging from Farley’s reaction in panel 2, it appears that he is hungry for his food. So, I doubt the food has been left out for him over a long time. Therefore, Lizzie must have turned over food, which was recently placed in Farley’s bowl in preparation for feeding him.

That raises the question of where Farley is while Lizzie is dumping over his food. If he is hungry and close by, I doubt Lizzie would be able to get close to the food, because Farley would be busy eating it. On the other hand, we don’t see Elly pour out the food and then get Farley to eat it. Where is Farley when all this happens?

Unlike my daughter, Lizzie seems to be intent on playing with the food and not feeding it to Farley. Of course it’s hard to tell when she has her eyes closed, her tongue out, and she is reaching her hands out blindly. As a toddler, now apparently only able to pull up, it’s hard to tell what Lizzie’s plan was. One thing you can tell for sure is that the stress lines around Elly’s head in panels 2 and 3 which show Elly yelling at Lizzie, are indicating a lecture the intended recipient of Lizzie cannot possibly understand. I think Lynn must have forgotten how old Lizzie is.

As for poor Farley, his food is placed on the other side of that door where he can’t get it. Laugh with him, as Farley has a very, appropriate giant question mark over his head. After all, wouldn’t most moms remove the daughter from the food, so the dog could eat it; instead of removing the food from the daughter, so the dog can’t eat it? Most moms would, but that would require lifting and carrying Lizzie someplace away from the dog. It is a lot easier to move the dog food, even if it doesn’t make sense to do it. Naturally, this is Elly’s choice and the strip is once again funny because Elly has done something stupid. Even Farley knows it and doesn't understand it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Patterson: Back to Bad Dad

There was a brief period in the new-runs, where John Patterson was mysteriously being portrayed as a much better and more involved father with his kids than was being shown in the reprints. In fact, there was this strip back in September 21, 2008, where John is shown being handed Lizzie with a smelly diaper, and John is shown actually changing it and handing Lizzie back to Elly. I guess those times are past. Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse returns John Patterson back to his “uninvolved with the harder parts of parenting” lifestyle.

I honestly think John Patterson as a diaper-changer seemed a little out-of-place. We know he did it, because we had reprint strips where Elly would fly out to visit her parents, and John was alone with the kids. The big difference is whether or not John is shown doing this kind of stuff. He was shown doing it back in September and I was convinced then that Lynn Johnston had decided to alter the character of John so that he would seem like he was a better husband and father than John was originally. Now, it seems like the prevalence of reprint strips where John acts like a perfect ass has taken its toll on such ideas. John plays with the kids, but hands dirty diaper Lizzie off to Elly. New-run John has gone full circle back to the John I remember.

One thing I do find interesting is the contrast in motion lines between John lifting up happy Lizzie in this strip vs. the reprint from back on February 16, where it looked like Elly was shaking Lizzie. We have very clear motion lines under Lizzie’s feet today to show John is lifting Lizzie up. In the “shaking Lizzie” strip, there are no such motion lines. Needless to say, I prefer today’s picture of Lizzie being lifted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prophecy of Doom

In today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, Dr. John Patterson does the old “look at the mom to see how your wife is going to look when she gets old” business. Then he makes the joke about how he married Elly anyway, even though her mom was ugly. Yeah, that’s a funny one, John. Imagine the fun in the Johnston household when Ursula Ridgeway (Lynn’s mom) read that one.

Elly: But it was Rod who said it.
Ursula: But it was you who drew it and put it in a national paper.
Elly: I drew a picture of me with a giant, wobbly butt and put it in a national paper.
Ursula: Again, that’s you doing the drawing. And you had John say you were fine the way you were, even with your giant, wobbly butt. By the way, dear, you are actually very thin.
Elly: Thin! How dare you tell me such lies!! Oh! Yeah! Well, I think my nose is too small. I am going to start drawing myself with a giant nose.
Ursula: As long as you don’t draw me with a giant nose, then go right ahead dear.

Ironically, 20 years later Lynn Johnston does make Elly turn into her mother. Or rather I should say that she transformed both Elly and Marian from women with petite features into obese women with giant noses about the same time.


In today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston has changed the price for jogging suits from its $35 price back in 1980 to $135. Considering this is in the same time period where Elly begs John for a dishwasher, this expense seems a little out-of-character. Even with 1980 prices, it would have been out-of-character for Elly. However, the discussion about justifying the expense by jogging for a couple of weeks is very reminiscent of a Cathy comic strip style joke. “Guilt from buying” is a recurring theme of Cathy’s.

As a family, you oftentimes have to undergo these sorts of money trials. For example, my son and I went skiing last weekend with his Boy Scout troop. The leaders who planned the trip made a big list of things you needed to go skiing, like thermal underwear, ski goggles, waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, waterproof gloves. And when I say “need” I mean they actually checked to make sure each scout had them, or they didn’t get to go on the trip.

Back in my youth in the mountains of western North Carolina, when I would go outside sledding in my backyard, I think the only part of that which was required was the thermal underwear. We would just come inside from sledding soaked from the snow, change clothes and go back out again. With kids in particular, if you spend money on skiing, you really hope that the stuff will fit their younger sibling, when they get bigger and can no longer fit into it. It’s very expensive. For stuff for me, we have to think about it as a long term investment. That ski jacket is going to be my only ski jacket until I die. With your kids, it’s a lot harder to fork over the money knowing that they may only be able to wear those ski pants a few times. On the other hand, I attempted to learn to ski for the first time at age 47. I can tell you first hand, after flunking ski school and having a number of hard, knock-the-breath-out-of-you wipeouts, that I am very happy that my son has learned this skill when he was young. There is the real investment for me.

When it comes to Elly and Anne’s jogging suits, there is nothing really required there for jogging. When summer time comes, they will switch to shorts and a t-shirt for comfort. It’s not like they were buying special shoes to help with traction or the impact on their feet, where a $135 investment might make a lot more sense. However, Anne’s comment implies that if they don’t jog for at least 2 weeks, then it will be a wasted investment, when it is really only a fashion statement.

On the other hand, what we have with Elly is a lifelong commitment to occasional jogging. We know Annie doesn’t stick with it. Perhaps her upcoming pregnancy, where she gives birth to her son Richard recently placed back in her womb, throws her off. I know it would do that to me. I can’t imagine going through the birth process twice for the same child. Elly continues to jog, and just maybe in those 30 years of jogging, she might have justified in her mind, spending an outrageous sum of $135 for the suit.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cathy Called and Wants Her Joke Back

The difference between today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse and the standard Cathy comic strip is the presence of little Lizzie instead of a saleswoman and the use of the word, “Aack!!” I have the impression that Lynn Lake, Manitoba, where Lynn Johnston was living when she originally produced this strip was not a hotbed of swim suits and swimming. I expect most adulterers or swingers prefer not to wear clothes of any sort. It makes this choice of Elly in swimwear for a strip topic almost assuredly lifted from some other source material and Lynn has stolen from Cathy before. Just to let people know, when you suck in your stomach to look thin, you don’t have to hold your breath.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Am Angry and I Wish To Be Left Alone

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse touches on the nature of the Elly and John relationship. Elly is mad about something. We don’t know what. It doesn’t really matter, because Elly will show us in the course of the next 8 panels, the kind of thing which gets her upset with John.

Elly gets up set with John in the final panel, because:

a. He reveals that he knows Elly enough to know that she will eventually get over being angry, so long as he does exactly what she says.

b. Elly planned to reward John with her affection until he pointed out that he had a part in gaining her affection, so it is no longer an act which Elly can consider to be solely the result of her efforts.

c. John revealed that he thought of “to be left alone” as a definition for “ignore”. Oh, John. You can leave Elly alone; but you can never ignore her.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Fashions Time Forgot

According to Elly Patterson’s weekly letter on the For Better or For Worse website, she is taking up jogging to lose that weight she gained from eating 2 lollipops over Valentine’s Day. According to yesterday’s strip in For Better or For Worse, Anne Nichols is taking up jogging to lose the 20 lbs necessary for her to feel comfortable taking up the swinging lifestyle. Ultimately, Elly will continue her jogging habit with Connie Poirier, and will stop jogging with Anne. Now that I think about it, did Anne stop jogging because she got tired of it; or did she perhaps, lose that 20 lbs, try the swinging lifestyle, discovered she did not like it, and then stopped jogging with Elly because she no longer wanted to be a swinger? Maybe this is the side story that Lynn Johnston will tell in new-runs. More likely, Lynn will recycle a series of jogging jokes in her new-runs she has already told 5-6 times over the years. The “jog to the pastry shop” strip looms in our future.

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Anne and Elly try out jogging suits to motivate themselves to jog, on the premise that people who walk in jogging suits look like idiots. How exercise fashion has changed since 1980. Remember that the Jane Fonda Workout and Olivia Newton John’s Let's Get Physical did not happen until 1982. The movie Flashdance was in 1983. Within a matter of 2-3 years after this strip was originally presented, it became dated. In 2009, you look back at it and say, “Remember back when women used to be embarrassed to wear color-coordinated jogging suits in public?” And my honest answer to that question would be, “They were?” As I carefully examine the reprints, I keep getting the same feeling I did back in the 1970s, when I was a young lad and first discovered the idiosyncrasies of the 1950s, thanks to 50s retro, the TV show Happy Days and Nick at Nite. As for young people today, they can look at these old strips and say, “So that’s how things were when mom and pop were growing up? Weird.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Swingin’ Annie Nichols

The final panel of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse shows a shocked Elly Patterson in a situation where I think she genuinely should be shocked. Anne Nichols essentially says the only thing keeping her from being a swinger is 20 pounds of weight. Thank goodness Annie's fat.

For me, the shock of the strip comes, not from Anne Nichol’s unusual confession, but a sudden realization. In 1980, when this strip originally appeared, Lynn Johnston was living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba. Reading Anne’s statement, I was immediately reminded of Lynn Johnston’s interview in Maclean’s where she described the recreational sex in 1980s Lynn Lake. Lynn often included real things in her life in the strip, and today’s strip made me wonder if this conversation with Anne was based on a real conversation Lynn Johnston had with someone in Lynn Lake at the time. Considering the possibility that Lynn’s sexual references to 1980s Lynn Lake might be swinging couples puts a different spin on the interview. What we may have had then, was Lynn Johnston’s contact with one woman who did this activity and the knowledge that there were others in Lynn Lake who did it. I will quote the important part:

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.

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

The interview works in that context. What it boils down to is Lynn was aware of adultery going on in Lynn Lake, and that she did not participate. However, Lynn gives the impression that it is rampant.

In the strip we have Connie Poirier, who had her evening with Phil Richards, which neither Phil nor Connie will talk about. The implication from that is clear. Now we have Anne Nichols, only restrained from swinging by being overweight. Those are the two majour families in the early strip. Maybe Lynn Johnston really did believe Lynn Lake was rampant with people horsing around back in 1980.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Parental Curse – No thanks!

I remember the parental curse on your children was that their children would be just as awful to them when they are parents as they are being to their parents. By all accounts, I was a rotten child. I don’t remember too much of it, but I do remember later on in life meeting relatives who had not seen me since I was little and they would actually ask me why I had calmed down so much. The joke of the parental curse was slung about when I was younger. And then when the parenting moments came, you would see the sly, smiles on the old people’s faces when they saw their children being exasperated by their own children.

Well, I don’t wish that on my kids. I sincerely hope that my son who has Asperger’s Syndrome has great children, who hardly give him any trouble. He is going to have so much to deal with as he gets older, I don’t want to wish anything else on him.

I certainly don’t expect any verbal thank you from my son for having to deal with him when he was a sick kid or otherwise. I get payments from him all the time. He’s a huggy boy, with a wicked sense of humour. When he goes for a hug from me, I get thanked. When he is at a Boy Scout campout, and he tells a joke he has made up on the spot, I get thanked. When he thanks a waitress for filling up his glass at a restaurant, I get thanked. When he does his homework without being reminded, I get thanked. When some other adult tells me what a great kid he is, I get thanked.

I look at today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse and it makes sense as an exercise in selfishness. In panel 2, Elly makes a bizarre statement about how the kids kept her too busy overnight for her to think about herself. Then she follows it up with a panel 4 statement where she wonders if she ever thanked her mother for taking care of her. You could interpret this as a sudden realization that she has been so self-centred she is just now realizing, 30 years later, what her mother went through. You could interpret this as the author’s hint to her children that they should thank her for what she was currently doing. You could interpret this as a blatant attempt to get all the mothers who feel they didn’t get their just due from their kids to clip out this strip and send it to them. I think any and all of those work.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lynn Imitates Charles Schulz...Again!!!

Today’s observations about today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse:

1. Mike has windjammers on his pyjamas. I wonder if he will write a book some day based on this experience.

2. Michael’s pyjamas are not even. Normally, with kids this means that they have gotten their buttons matched to the wrong buttonhole, but everything else appears to be lined up at the top. Maybe we are seeing an example of Elly’s sewing prowess.

3. The dialogue (“That’s that!...Do you hear me?”) and Michael’s stance (head back, nose in the air, giant gaping maw for a mouth, and shouted words) are blatantly stolen from Peanuts.

4. Michael’s eyes glow in the dark. Maybe he’s not completely human and has cat eyes.

5. I don’t understand how this light was removed in Panel 3. In Panels 1 and 2, Michael appears to be standing in a doorway, presumably the doorway to his room, which should have its own individual lighting system. Is Elly turning off the light in the hallway outside Michael’s room to make everything so black? And if so, why doesn’t Michael just turn the light on in his own room?

6. What happened to Michael’s face in the last panel? It looks like his eyes have been pushed together on his face?

7. Isn’t it spelled “superiour” in Canada?

8. Why would turning off a light on a boy cause him to go to bed? Is Michael nyctophobic?

When my children were Michael’s age and they didn’t want to go to bed, turning off a light on them would have had no effect. As soon as the adult left, they would have turned the light back on and kept on playing. They would take a long time brushing their teeth, or putting on pyjamas to stall going to bed. They would come to me and ask for a drink of water, or a bedtime story, or a second bedtime story. They would wander around in the dark, until they made too much noise and were caught out of their bed. The one thing they would not do is decide to stand in one place all night and announce that was what they were going to do. What’s the fun in doing that?

The basic problem with this strip, in my mind, is that it is Lynn imitating Charles Schulz and not imitating real life. In her first few years, her Schulz imitations were among her worst strips. Her best strips are almost always strips taken from real-life incidents.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shaking Baby

This is the letter I submitted to Elly's Coffee Talk after I saw today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse:

Dear Lynn Johnston,

I did not like panel 3 of the February 16, 2009 For Better or For Worse comic strip, where you show Elly Patterson shaking baby Elizabeth. Shaking a baby can cause an inflicted traumatic brain injury; because the anatomy of infants puts them at particular risk for injury from this kind of action. I do not find this comic strip amusing in the slightest, and I am surprised that a cartoonist of your caliber would make light of such a situation.

I remember very clearly my early days with my son who has Asperger’s Syndrome. They tell me that a lot of babies spend most of their day sleeping; but not my son. He was so unhappy so much of the time, when people came to visit him in the first few days after he was born; we had to “prep” him for the visit. This is to say, he was usually in a good mood after he had been fed and diapered and had a nap. So we tried to time people’s visits so they would arrive around the time he had finished a nap, and had a meal and had a clean diaper on him. He would be in a pretty good mood for usually about an hour (or two), and generally most people didn’t visit for longer than that. Occasionally visitors would stay longer than that, and we would get very nervous that their visit would end with our son screaming bloody murder.

In the situation with Elly and Lizzie in For Better or For Worse today, Elly has discovered that Lizzie has entered a phase where Elly cannot figure out what is wrong with her. With my son, we would run through a sequence of changing his diaper, trying to feed him food, burping and the like to see if any of those standard things would settle him down. Most of the times it did; but sometimes, it didn’t. Then we would check his temperature, skin colour and the like to makes sure he wasn’t ill. After that, it was just holding him and rocking him in the hope that he would stop screaming. Before we found out that Sensory Integration was a part of his symptoms, I discovered that if I took him outside or to a different room, the change in environment would sometimes settle him out of his screaming where he could calm down. It was a few years later before I learned why this stimulus worked.

I look at Elly Patterson in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse and it reminds me a lot of those days, except I didn’t stop to ask my child inane questions I knew he couldn’t answer. That is except for panel 3, where Elly is shown holding Lizzie by her arm pits with motion lines around her head and bottom. This tells me that Elly has grown so frustrated with her child she is shaking her. That particular action terrifies me. I remember getting so frustrated with son, when nothing I tried would work with him. And I remember very clearly, being told by medical professionals and child-raising books that no matter how frustrated you are, you never shake your child. It made me hypersensitive to every news report of child abuse, which talked about some infant permanently injured or killed from being shaken to stop the baby from crying. I knew that I could very easily be in that situation if I ever let my frustration get the better of me even for an instant. To combat this, I found ways to ease my frustration which did not involve violence to the child.

Here are a few tips that worked for me, if you have a young child and you are going through this. Number #1 on my list is the children’s song “Rock-a-bye Baby” which describes in tender loving terms the story of an infant and cradle falling out of a tree. It’s very dark for a kids’ lullaby, but it is surprisingly comforting to sing, when you are rocking a kid who is screaming in your ear. Number #2 is blowing in your baby’s face while they are screaming. It startles them and stops them from screaming for a few seconds, and that moment of respite is very satisfying. Number #3, make an arrangement with your spouse that if you are at your wit’s end with your child, you can say to them, “Take the baby, before I kill him” and they will take the baby, no questions asked. Those 3 things allowed both me and my son to survive his younger years, so he is now a fine 13-year-old kid who is handling his Asperger's Syndrome better and better every day.

Panel #4 of today’s strip was also surprising to me, but for a different reason. It is very close to statements that I have heard people make about immigrants to the United States.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day is for the Dogs

The joke of today's For Better or For Worse new-run is: If your hands and face are sticky, dog fur will stick to them.

The reason this is funny is because: Most people know that dog fur sticks to sticky things, so there is no surprise element to the humour. The joke depends mostly on the sight gag of Lizzie with dog fur on her face and hands. I think Lynn Johnston realizes the joke is weak, because she gives Lizzie a much heavier layer of fur than would occur in real life, and puts Elly in the background for reaction to it, just in case you miss the idea that this is supposed to be an unexpected situation.

Additional objectives:

1. Include Farley the dog, because those plush toys are going to be finished and for sale sometime in the near future.
2. Include Valentine’s Day to keep that real-time aging thing going with the story.
3. Under no circumstances show John and Elly’s lips touching in a kiss.

To set up the joke, you need one panel showing Lizzie with a sticky face and hands; one panel with Lizzie hugging and kissing on Farley; one panel with Lizzie covered in fur. Unfortunately Lynn uses a lot more panels than that because, as usual, she doesn’t have enough story to get to this joke. Sunday strips are often a problem for Lynn Johnston for this reason. It’s rare when she fully uses all the panels available to her on Sundays.

As for the kiss between John and Elly, Lynn Johnston uses a silhouette to obscure the details and then draws Elly as if she were a short man with a crew cut, just so there is no doubt. You can compare Elly’s picture in the prior panel to Elly in silhouette to see what I am talking about. Elly in silhouette has no bangs, no poof to her hairline, a different nose shape, and a different jaw line in contrast to Elly in the prior panel. Silhouette Elly doesn’t look anything like Elly, which is probably what Lynn Johnston was after.

For Valentine’s Day, we have a backstory of how Lizzie got a sucker to make her hands sticky that involves buying flowers and suckers from a florist to give to Elly. I know that in some families there is a tradition of the woman giving something to the man, but scanning through the old Valentine’s Day strips, thanks to AMU reprints that is never the case with Elly. If she ever gave John something on Valentine’s Day, it was before 1996. Going back through those, the best Valentine’s Day strip in the last 12 years in my opinion is this one from 2004. Admittedly, it is not very romantic, but at least it tells a story using all the panels of a Sunday strip and sets Elly on fire. The saddest Valentine's Day strip was the one from 2000, which was a Peanuts tribute strip addressing Sparky and Jeanne Schulz. Sadly, Charles Schulz died on February 12, 2000, and probably never saw it.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I am not sure how to take today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Possibilities are:

a. This is a continuation of the “Everyone’s sick except John” storyline from the end of January. Michael and Elly may be better, but little Lizzie is still suffering from it and her illness wakes her up in the middle of the night.

b. Lizzie is just sick again for reasons unrelated to the story from the end of January. Possibly the rapidly-changing storyline from day-to-day during this week has upset her delicate system.

c. Since Michael has reduced in age to being a preschooler, Lizzie has reduced in age to being an infant and now is no longer old enough to sleep through the night. Join us in future strips as Lizzie unlearns how to crawl.

d. Judging from the “Hic” and “Hick” noises and Lynn Johnston’s tendency to jump to plot points in these new-runs much earlier than she did originally, we are seeing the first stages of Lizzie’s future drinking problem.

As for the punch line, I am a little confused. “Sympathy” has “s” and “a” in common with “Snarl”. Usually when Lynn does these kinds of jokes, like “prayer” and “prairie”, for example, the words are a little closer together in spelling or sound. As for character empathy, Elly gets more snarl than sympathy from me, or from probably any parent who has had to stay up all night with a sick kid. On the other hand, I am sure that Susan Smith thinks it is a real knee-slapper.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Complexion all day / Sleep Mask all night

How can you tell it’s a reprint of For Better or For Worse? Answer: John doesn’t wear a shirt to bed in the reprints. Art-wise, I enjoy the way Elly’s sleep mask seeps into her eyes and mouth by panel 2, so it looks like she dipped her face in plaster of Paris with her eyes open. Both these things, and the point of the strip I guess, is the subtext that John and Elly are still physically active in the bedroom. Otherwise, why would John care what Elly wears on her face at night? After all, she could be covered from head to toe in a sleep mask, and John could sleep next to that without being disturbed unless…he wanted to do things with her that involved touching. It’s easy to misinterpret this as the usual “sleep mask makes me hideous” kind of joke, until you realize that most people sleep with their eyes closed.

John doesn’t care what Elly looks like during the day, as long as she is physically accessible during the night. I can understand his concern. I can’t imagine kissing someone wearing a sleep mask is all that pleasant. As in yesterday’s For Better or For Worse, we have a clever comic strip which indirectly addresses a typical gender issue. Elly, wants to look good during the day, and believes that John wants her too also. John, on other hand, is more interested in physical bedroom activity with Elly than her appearance.

As a male, I get the male perspective of this pretty well. The drive for this kind of physical activity is powerful in men. Oftentimes a wife does not understand just how powerful and relentless it is, because they don’t experience the same drive. For the man, regular physical activity of this sort is directly tied into their self-esteem, their ability to relax, and is one of the most important parts of their relationship to their wife.

From the female perspective, Elly’s desire to have a better complexion is a pretty typical desire for a lot of women. I remember a Mary Kay salesperson explaining to me that one of reasons makeup continued to sell well, even after the advent of indoor plumbing and regular bathing, is that it was directly tied to a woman’s self-esteem. There is definitely a power there. I have a seen a very beautiful woman get her way repeatedly with fairly powerful men, for no other reason than her looks. I would think that women get this and know why it is important to have a “healthy, youthful complexion all day”. It is part of her arsenal for dealing with the world.

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, hits its points quickly. It touches on timeless areas of the male / female relationship. It makes a little joke about it. It’s not a bad strip and certainly more timeless than yesterday's "Equal Rights for Women, unless they are busy with the children" strip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wanted: People to Raise Kids

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse once again dates the strip. In 1980, women were in the final decade of what has come to be called “second wave feminism”. To define terms, the first wave fought and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave obtained the right for women to have access and equal opportunity to the workforce, as well as ending of legal sex discrimination. It was the era of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States and women were not afraid to refer to themselves as feminists. Elly Patterson’s reference in the second panel to “others are fighting for equal rights” seems to be a clear link to this time period.

Lynn Johnston’s coverage of feminism in those days is very likely influenced by the fact that Lynn managed to score a job which allowed her to stay at home and take care of her kids, while at the same time allowed her to make more money than her husband. Elly Patterson is often portrayed as the woman caught between both desires. On the one hand, she is a stay-at-home mom; but on the other hand, Elly Patterson is constantly trying to find things to do to take her away from those activities. She struggled with it continually in the strip until John bought her Lilliput’s and she finally established a permanent working identity as a book and toystore owner.

As for radical feminism, the best Lynn Johnston could do was Connie Poirier, who sometimes acts as a mouthpiece for the feminist view, but most times shows us that Lynn Johnston truly did not understand the view. Connie’s feminist views were often shown for comedic effect, and Connie’s 5-year long, obsessive struggle to find a husband pretty much did in any idea that Connie was a serious feminist.

Why should Lynn Johnston fight for equal rights when she already has it all? The women’s right movement by-and-large came from the middle class women. As it was explained to me, the wealthy women liked where they were, and the poor women were too busy trying to survive. This leads to the situation where wealthy Lynn is trying to write a middle-class woman like Elly, but can’t quite connect to this perspective.

Consequently, you have the opinion expressed by John Patterson today, which is clearly coming from Lynn Johnston. The idea of raising kids as a societal need in contrast to raising consciousness is probably not an idea which would come from a man who typically disparages his wife for the things she does or does not do while raising their children. Lynn is saying that she is not fighting for equal rights, but she is raising children, and both things are worthy choices. This is hardly an idea that would come from John Patterson, who doesn't know what Elly does all day.

This was a big issue coming up with women in the 1980s for feminism. If you spend your time fighting for equal rights, when do you have time to have and raise the kids? Both were considered to be valuable things to do, but adverse to each other. I remember the 1980s as the time when women themselves began to push back at radical feminism because of these warring instincts. Back in 1980, today’s strip would have reflected the conflicting thoughts of woman, and from that point-of-view, it is not a bad strip. By putting the idea of raising kids in John’s mouth, it keeps Elly from expressing an opinion which would alienate her from her readers one way or the other. Lynn was smarter about which characters she had expressing her opinion back in those days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Amend, Amen!!

Judging from today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, one of these things is being indicated:

a. In 1980, the taxpayer was not allowed to amend their tax returns in Canada.

b. Dr. John Patterson is unaware that your tax return may be amended if you find an error of any type. You have three years from the date of your assessment in which to make your correction. There is also a “fairness policy” which allows you up to ten years should you find you had missed something in your favour. Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may allow or disallow the request depending on the circumstances.

c. Dr. John Patterson is unaware that persons with self employment income or a spouse with self employment income, the filing deadline is extended to June 15..

d. I have whiplash from this strip changing the subject matter back and forth every day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

How Elly Saved Connie from the Personal Ads

In today’s For Better or For Worse we get the reprint of the strip which originally followed right after the one that Lynn Johnston redrew for Saturday. Instead of taking the opportunity to modernize the strip to mention a web-based dating site; Lynn Johnston has opted to stick Connie with the original personals ad. By placing Monday’s strip in between, Lynn makes it seem like Connie wrote the ad; went to tell Elly who was not there and “talked” to John instead; and then produced the ad when Elly approached her about it later on. If I were to continue my theory from yesterday that Lynn is hinting about something between John and Connie, then today’s strip could easily be interpreted as Elly lecturing Connie about her man obsession, while Connie’s response is not really to Elly’s lecture but to the idea about whether or not she will continue doing things with John. That interpretation works surprisingly well.

The interesting part about this strip is what is being condemned and by whom. The what is the advertisement in the Personals. However, the who is Elly Patterson, the same person who was trying to set up her friend with her brother. It seems a little hypocritical for her to complain about Connie’s man obsession all things considered. I remember back in the 1980s, personals ads were considered to be a little sleazy and they were known for attracting weirdos. What you really have is Elly’s opinion that Connie’s man obsession is OK if you are set up by friends, but not OK if you are set up from a personals advertisement. This is possibly the reason why Lynn didn’t update the strip to say web-based dating, because many of them are considered higher class than the old personal ads from the 1980s. That and the possibility that Lynn Johnston has never heard of web-based dating.

Given that Connie’s hunt for a man continued on for years after this strip was originally printed, the perspective of the strip really is that Connie dodged the personal ads bullet thanks to Elly’s intervention. Thanks Elly! You saved Connie from dating some crazy nutcase who wants to sleep with a lot of different women and who has an unhealthy obsession with his mother. Now let’s bring on Ted McCaulay for Connie.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

(Crazy) Emotional Nutcase

The last we saw of Connie Poirier was last Saturday in For Better or For Worse, where she was writing her Singles Advertisement. Lynn apparently redrew the original of the strip in order to get rid of the typewriter. However, in addition to redrawing it, Lynn also changed the dialogue. In particular, I note that in the third panel the modern strip has added "crazy" before "nut case", and in the fourth panel the original says "Then again...a weird relationship can sometimes be better than nothing" and the reprint says "Then again...a weird relationship might be better than nothing". For some reason, Lynn wanted Connie to be more certain about weird relationships and she wanted us to know nutcases are also crazy, and not just a casing for nuts.

Given this, I find it very interesting that

a. John Patterson tells Elly he doesn’t know how to handle “crazy emotional nutcases” which is shockingly close to the language Connie used with the additions to the modern version of the strip from Saturday.

b. John says he wished he could have said something to cheer her up.

c. Connie has come by the house at a time when Elly was not there.

It seems a little suspicious to me. After all, if Connie Poirier is willing to go to Montreal to chase after Phil, then what would stop her from chasing after John? He lives closer. He's solid husband material. If Connie can ignore Lawrence to chase after a man, then why not ignore Elly too?

Is Lynn trying to send us this message by adding the word “crazy” to connect Connie to John? Does Lynn want us to think that a relationship between John and Connie is merely a weird relationship?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Those Whacky Kids!

Visually I can enjoy the last panel picture of all those blown-up latex gloves and the surprised look on Dr. John Patterson’s face in today's new-run For Better or For Worse. It does have a genuine comedic element to it and unlike a lot of comic strips with young Michael Patterson making some kind of mess, he is not intentionally malicious. After all, if the dental supplies were this easily available to him, we are lucky that the story doesn’t involve Lizzie and a scalpel.

Mentally, I remember back to times when I had to blow and / or tie balloons for my kids, and I think there is no way a 5-year-old kid like Michael Patterson did all that.

Artistically, it is not a very effective use of the space available for a Sunday strip. The last 4 panels are essentially the joke, and the panels before it are filler. It could have been more effective as a daily strip. After all, who cares if John Patterson has to fix the plumbing on his office and he has to take his kids with him while he does it? On the other hand, Lynn Johnston could be answering my accusations that she is constantly telling but not showing. So, here we see exactly how John got Michael and Elizabeth to his office, and what he is doing there. Let me rephrase to Lynn, “You don’t have to show and tell every little thing, if the show part is not important to the storyline.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Age 35

Back in 2002, it was established that Connie Poirier was turning 50 and that Elly Patterson had turned 50 the prior year. Given this timeline, you could assume that Connie would be 35 years old in 1987. In 1986, when she went to Thunder Bay, she would be 34 and in 1987, the year she ended up with Greg, she was 35.

I can’t tell what Lynn Johnston is up to with this new-run with Connie Poiriter talking about how she is 35 and filling out a singles want ad. Has she jumped 7 years into the future to the time when Connie meets up with Greg? Has she, after skipping over the “Connie goes to Montreal” story, decided to skip over all of the Connie romance strips? Or is it something more basic like, Lynn is just making up stuff as she goes along?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Potty or Pottie?

It finally happened. I had suspected that with Lynn Johnston whipping back and forth between reprinting strips from the first year and the second year, she would eventually reach a point in her reprints where she would reprint one she already reprinted. And yet, the strip being reprinted is not exactly the same as before. When today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse was reprinted on Wednesday February 13, 2008, the spelling Elly Patterson used was “potty”. Today it is “pottie”.

Here is my theory on what happened. As near as I can tell from searching .uk and .ca websites, even in England and Canada, “potty” is considered to be the correct spelling. However, in England, the word has some extra meanings:

1. Chiefly British Informal. slightly insane; eccentric.

2. British. paltry; trifling; petty.

Maybe Lynn Johnston remembers these alternate definitions with her English background of language use, and got confused. Maybe Lynn said to herself, “Well, it couldn’t be spelled ‘potty’ because that means ‘insane.’ So it must be spelled ‘pottie’ to distinguish between the two different versions.” With this logic in mind, she altered the spelling and then reprinted the strip again. After all, if you change the spelling of one word in a strip, it is essentially an all-new strip, eh?

Aside from this confused spelling, the whiplash I am feeling from the “Connie and Elly talking about Phil” sequence we had yesterday has increased my confidence in my belief that Connie Poirier is not going to be taking that humiliating trip to Montreal to chase after Phil Richards. Maybe that series of new-runs put that storyline to rest. If so, I approve wholeheartedly. I never liked that story in the first place.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Connie and Phil: Is it over?

In yesterday’s Blog entry I said, “The only way I can see this coming off is if Lynn completely rewrites the story and Connie does not go to Montreal.” After today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, it looks a lot that is what Lynn is doing. Elly flat out tells Connie that Phil is not the one for her and he is not interested. It seems almost impossible now that Connie can make that Montreal trip to chase after Phil. Of course I said the same thing after Anthony Caine got married and had a baby “It seems almost impossible that Liz and Anthony will get married”; and look how that turned out. The skewed moral fabric of the characters in this strip sometimes calls them to do things only the most depraved and immoral person would do.

The most interesting part of the strip, aside from young Michael sitting on top of Farley the dog who appears to have doubled in size since we last saw him, is Lawrence’s final panel comment. It is a damning condemnation of single mothers who are desperate to get married. It makes me wonder, in these days post-Rod Johnston, if this is the statement that Lynn wished Aaron had made to her, all those years ago when Lynn was hot after Rod.

In this strip from back in September in the beginning of the new-runs, Elly said (WRT Connie), “Relationships happen in due time. When you’re always looking, you just get depressed and frustrated.” I had thought, at the time, this could be a sign that Lynn Johnston was going to jump over the Ted and Phil triangle with Connie. Then the first part of Phil and Connie appeared, and I thought I was mistaken in my impression. Now, I am not so sure. The old Lynn Johnston of the modern strip used to telegraph her storylines years in advance. Maybe this is one of those.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Connie: Even More Pathetic

After reading today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I have no idea how Lynn Johnston is going to be able to make Connie’s trip to Montreal to chase after Phil work. Phil tells Elly in no uncertain terms, he is not the one for Connie. If Elly tells Connie what Phil says and Connie ignores it, then Connie will come off as a raving lunatic, so obsessed that she has lost control and won’t listen to common sense. Given the way Connie continues to manhandle Elly in today’s strip, that may be the way we are going. On the other hand, if Elly lies to Connie about what Phil said, then she is a friend of the worst sort. The only way I can see this coming off is if Lynn completely rewrites the story and Connie does not go to Montreal. However, those are the reprint parts of this story, and I don’t see Lynn Johnston leaving out her “reprints that let me take a vacation” strips.

The other thing that particularly strikes me in this strip, especially in the final panel, is how big Elly and Connie are. Connie used to be rail thin in the early strips. This figure for her, looks more like her modern day figure.

As for the punch line, it keys entirely off the expression on Elly’s face. Connie has seen some thing on Elly’s face which makes her think that she has no chance with Phil. And yet, there is nothing on Elly’s face in Panel 4 that wasn’t there on Panel 2, and what’s more, little motivation for humour.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Crazy Connie Breast Grabber

In yesterday’s Blog entry I examined the strip from the perspective of removing the dialogue and looking at the pictures to see what story would appear. The story that appeared was a nice, little reconciliation story with distinct Lesbian undertones. Looking at today’s new-run for For Better or For Worse, I realize I should have saved that for today. We have panels with Connie grabbing Elly’s arm, leaning into Elly’s body and getting within inches of her face; and then, grabbing Elly’s breast in the final panel. Is this still a family strip? Howard Bunt was less aggressive with Elizabeth than Connie is with Elly. Of course, in Elizabeth’s case, the aggression was unwanted. With Connie and Elly, who knows? Certainly not me anymore.

It appears that Elly has taken up Connie’s request from yesterday to “happen to talk to him (Phil)” and has called him up. It is interesting the format that Elly’s conversation takes:

1. A question or a response to a question: How’s it going in Montreal? What’s happening with your work? Oh, the kids are fine.
2. A one or two word response to a response to a question (usually one): Yeah? No kidding…Really? Cool! Yeah,
3. 2 Uh Huhs.
4. Connie says, “Ask him about me.”

Lynn has set up this format, so that it can be repeated for comic effect. The humour of the strip is based on Connie’s increased desperation to get Elly to get to the point of her call to Phil in the first place. In this respect, it is very similar to old-style humour where the bachelorette’s plight of finding a husband is played for laughs. To Lynn Johnston’s credit, I could easily see this strip coming out of her pen back in 1980. The style of humour does not play as well today and in fact, back in 1980, it would have been antiquated. I remember the TV show Laverne and Shirley used to have jokes along those lines, because the series was set in the 1950s; but it kept its modern 1980s sensibility about the independence of the female leads. Lynn Johnston writes like her humour is from the 1950s with 1950s sensibility.

Even though the humour is old, Lynn Johnston gets it wrong. The threatening character would take the other character by the shirt or the lapels of a jacket when they got frustrated, not by the breast. Looking at this strip, I can’t see Connie’s hand anywhere but firmly in the bosom of Elly Patterson. No doubt, Lynn intended it to be the collar but goofed up the drawing and then couldn’t be bothered to fix it, due to her extraordinary artistic laziness. You would think when the drawing came out to look like Connie grabbing Elly’s breast, that would inspire Lynn to pull out her long-neglected eraser, but that does not appear to be the case. Is there no drawing error so heinous it would cause Lynn to erase?

Meanwhile Back in Year Two

After establishing clearly that young Michael Patterson is in preschool, and using a number of strips from Year One for reprints; it is surprising to see that in today's new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston has returned back to where she left off with Phil and Connie over Christmas in Year Two. I thought she would continue reprinting strips she had left unreprinted from Year One. Now it seems clear that they were just filler until Lynn delivered the “Deanna leaves while Mike is home sick” tragic storyline.

Meanwhile back to Connie and Phil. As before with this story, Lynn has decided to insert Elly in places where she was not before. I could go into a discussion about how Connie Poirier seems even more aware that her relationship with Phil Richards is doomed to failure, making her upcoming trip to Montreal to see him even more deranged. I could talk about the creepiness of Elly’s apparent belief that Phil has some kind of responsibility to Connie, judging from her “light a match under him” comment. I could talk about the theme of Connie having extremely unrealistic expectations of men who live long distances from her using Pablo da Silva and now Phil as examples. I could talk about how all the text is necessary because Lynn is reintroducing this storyline over a month since New Years. However, the thing that struck me the most about today’s new-run is, oddly enough, the lesbian undertone. If I were to remove all the dialogue and just look at the strip to figure out what was going on, I would see:

Panel 1: 2 women talking. One dressed in a feminine fashion, the other dressed in a masculine fashion. The masculine one is holding a shovel, from having done the work of shoveling snow. The masculine one has taken a defensive stance by placing the shovel between them. I imagine the feminine one is addressing some wrong between the two of them.

Panel 2: The two women are walking. To show her as the less delicate one, the artist gives the masculine one a dripping nose. The women are closer than before, but the shovel is still there between them. I imagine the masculine one is beginning to weaken over the wrong being discussed. I sense reconciliation.

Panel 3: The shovel is left behind as the masculine woman, going first, is opening her house to the feminine one. The wrong has been settled between them.

Panel 4: The two women begin undressing. Underneath her masculine coat, the masculine one is wearing a man sweater, effectively disguising her figure. The two women look earnestly into each other’s eyes.

Panel 5: With her coat off, we see the feminine one is wearing a more form-fitting and lower-cut shirt. As the masculine one starts to make a beverage, the feminine one makes her move and leans in tentatively for an embrace.

I think it works better that way than this ridiculous rehashing of the Connie and Phil relationship, which makes Connie seem even more embarrassingly pathetic than she did before. Of course there is an upside. When Elly "takes care" of Lawrence while Connie is gone, I expect we are going to get new-runs which will show Elly is even more irresponsible with Lawrence than she was the last time, if Elly's handing of her family's flu is any indication.

By the way, I enjoyed watching a great Super Bowl this Sunday. Even though my Arizona Cardinals ended up losing, I am in pretty good spirits about it. Sob!! They came so close to winning!!