Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April Fools' Day

It only seems appropriate that on April Fools' Day, Elly Patterson is making herself gorgeous. Elly’s looks gorgeous. April Fools!

Now for most people, looking gorgeous would mean dressing well, wearing your best makeup and doing up your hair in a difficult fashion. For Elly Patterson, it means all that, plus, thanks to the wizardry of Lynn Johnston artwork, changing the whole way you look. Her jaw shape is changed, her lips are changed, her nose is changed, her eyes are changed, her hair line has changed, and not only that but she has cleavage unsupported by any evident bra. Honestly, looking at Panel 1 in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, I wondered who the pretty woman was. In panel 2, she was still attractive but not as much as panel 1.

Young Michael makes the comment that it would take a long time to make his mother look gorgeous. It’s supposed to be youthful honesty which ends up insulting Elly. The truth of the matter is that if Elly pops out of the washroom looking like that, young Michael would be impressed at his mother’s ability to perform miracles on her appearance. Either that, or he would just wonder who the strange woman in the washroom was.

After all that, then just for fun, Lynn added a hanging basket with a dead plant right beside the toilet in the background. No doubt the fumes from people sitting on that toilet did the poor plant in.

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Floors Elly

"Good grief! Can I believe what I’m seeing?" Yes, Elly.

a. John doesn’t know how to use a mop.

b. John is wearing his good pants while he is on his knees cleaning the floor. Better hope he is not using a cleaner with bleach in it.

c. Your eyes have betrayed you so often, it is good to hold your belief until you get confirmation from another one of your senses.

d. John has found yet another way to ignore his children.

e. That little comment you had Jean Baker make to John about clean floors has paid off.

f. On his hands and knees, John’s shoulder does come up to the same height as the kitchen cabinet.

g. The floor really has been white all this time.

h. After yesterday’s kiss was destroyed by the children, you now have to find a way to make sure that John never cleans the floor again. What to try? How about asking John if he is trying to make you feel guilty and question his honesty? That’s the ticket.

i. When John leans over, you can see very clearly he has breasts.

j. John's shirt is buttoned down too far and you must go over to him and button it up to his neck.

k. When you said you would have sex with him again if he cleaned the floor, you never though he would actually do it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Kiss / Kids of John and Elly

Lynn Johnston did a lot of new-runs fleshing out the “Elly goes to Vancouver, while John goes out with Ted” story. So, prepare yourselves for a lot of reprints. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse shows John and Elly kissing for 2 whole panels. The last time we saw them kiss was on New Years’ Eve 2009 where they kissed for 1 panel. Thanks to the joy of AMU reprints, I have searched for modern Elly and John kissing in the time period AMU has archived 1996 – present. I found one strip from 1/28/2002, where John forced Elly into a kiss. As for kisses of mutual consent, there are none in that time between Elly and John.

I think that is one of the reasons that today’s reprint image of John and Elly kissing is so startling to me. It has been so long since we have seen any affection between the modern John and Elly, to see it in the younger set throws me off. Going to the Oedipus and Electra complexes, it seems appropriate that Elizabeth would grab her father and Michael would grab his mother to pull them apart. Perhaps they sense the lack of affection that is to come in the future, or perhaps they sense that Elly and John being together is just wrong.

My wife and I don’t usually have make-out sessions in front of the kids, but when they were younger and we snuggled, the kids often wanted to join in on the snuggling. I can see the event happening. The more interesting aspect of it is the line: “So much for never letting the kids come between us.” That means that John and Elly had a conversation at some point where they made this promise to each other. Foolish John and Elly for ever making such a promise. I only hope that they made this promise before they had kids, and did not know any better. However, given that Michael was a surprise baby, I suspect it was afterwards.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Who’s Responsible, Again?

“On the days I accomplish the most…it looks like I haven’t done a darned thing”. This quote from today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is true. Looking at that mess carefully, let’s see what it is that hasn’t been done:

Chesterfield: A stuffed teddy, a stuff rabbit, 2 alphabetical cubes – These belong to the kids, but Lizzie is too little to climb onto the chesterfield, so Mike is the culprit. The pair of pants – This belongs to John, and I really don’t want to know why John leaves his pants on the chesterfield in the living room.

Coffee table: Coffee cup with spilled coffee. Turned over soda can. Bowl with chips fallen out. Piece of half-eaten cheese. All of these, except possibly the coffee cup are probably the fault of John Patterson.

End table : Flying saucer toy – Probably Mike.

Fireplace: A log, a toy egg, a toy block. The log probably belongs there. The toys are probably Lizzie.

Matching chair: A raggedy doll. Lizzie.

Floor: Laundry basket – Elly, Drum, ball, storybook – Mike or Lizzie. Newspaper, box, buzz saw blade, gear, apple core (Baltimore) – John Patterson.

After a thorough examination I find that of the items in this mess, Elly is probably responsible for the coffee cup and the laundry basket. Oh, and one other thing, TRAINING HER FAMILY TO PICK UP THEIR OWN TRASH!!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daddy Took Care of Everything – NOT!

When we began this whole “Elly goes to Vancouver” sequence at the beginning of March, Lynn Johnston appeared to have put Jean Baker in the office manager position she had in the modern age as opposed to the dental assistant job she originally had back in the 1980s. Instead of Jean Baker assisting Dr. John Patterson, we had the unnamed April Patterson-like assistant who laughed at John’s jokes and admitted that she turned down Ted McCaulay for a date. Then on March 9, Lynn redrew the strip where Jean talked to John about Elly’s upcoming strip so that it occurred while Jean was doing office manager stuff. In the reprints, we saw Jean Baker playing with dental equipment as she warned John about mice turning into rats. In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Jean is clearly in the dental assistant role. There is a patient in the chair and she is handing Dr. Patterson dental equipment to use.

There were some obvious reasons for Lynn to put in the April Pattersonesque dental assistant. Lynn Johnston’s theme has been that John Patterson hires only attractive women to work with him in the office, and the young dental assistant fit that bill. Jean Baker did not, especially new-run Jean Baker who looks much heavier than 1980s Jean Baker. The rewrite of the Jean Baker strip introducing the story managed to work Ted McCaulay into it, since the story sequence was actually the combination of 2 different stories. After having gone through that trouble then the natural question is: Why destroy this setup with reprints showing Jean Baker doing exactly what the redrawn reprints avoided showing?

It is not only the re-done job of Jean Baker that has been ignored with the original reprint, but yesterday’s strip where Elly says “It looks like Dadd y took care of everything around here!” That statement does not match the statement in today’s reprint about John leaving things for Elly. If John truly did not do the dishes, the laundry, the floors and the mess for a full week, then it seems unlikely that Elly would not notice. The difference from the time this story was originally told is that before it was a weekend, now it’s a whole week. A weekend’s worth of mess escaping Elly’s attention as she walks through the door is more believable than a whole week.

Sometimes I think Lynn Johnston has forgotten the effect these little inconsistencies have on the story. If things don’t make logical sense, then the reader spends their time concentrating on all the things that have been done incorrectly, instead of concentrating on the story Lynn is trying to tell. The blending of the new-runs and reprints have been a nightmare of inconsistencies since they began. It’s been a snarker’s paradise, but as for story-telling, it stinks.

The final inconsistency comes today. If John had taken care of the kids for a weekend, Jean’s conversation with John would make sense. This would be the first time she had seen John since Elly left. The way the story was written, John was going to work every day, so Jean should have seen John several times before Elly came back. Her expectation that John would “rave on about the dishes, the laundry, the floors & the mess” is the kind of question she would have already asked John.

If you disregard this inconsistency, you still have a Jean Baker that seems to have a very low opinion of John. She disapproved of John going out with Ted, because she suspected he would turn into a rat. Here, she thinks not only can John not handle the kids and the housework, but she expects him to “rave on” about it. As it turns out from John’s answer, Jean is correct than John cannot handle the kids and the housework. She is right to have this low opinion of him. John takes it pretty well. Even though he is a household incompetent, he doesn’t mind having an assistant who points that out in front of patients. I guess you take what you can get, when you live in a remote place like Milborough.

The Fun Stops Here

There are things my wife does not like to do. She does not like going to the circus. She does not like going to Renaissance festivals. She does not like camping outdoors. She does not like going to county fairs. So, when my wife leaves town, I usually consider those moments to be grand opportunities to take my kids to do those activities, which my wife does not like to do.

In trying to relate my life to today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, it is interesting to see the list of things the kids got to do while Elly was out-of-town.

1. Stay at home with a sitter while dad went out with Ted McCaulay.
2. Eat what they wanted. We really didn’t see this, because the only eating scene was the one where John was forcing Michael eat wiener-less beans.
3. Stay up late. We didn’t see this either. Instead we saw John putting the kids to bed in his own bed.
4. Sleep with clothes on. We didn’t see this either, because when we left that story, John has used reverse psychology to trick Michael into putting his pyjamas on.

This is an odd variation of Lynn Johnston’s style of “tell, not show”. I would call it “tell one thing, show another”. This is what is referred to in the vernacular as “lying”. Yet, I can’t make much sense of the motivation. Is John trying to make himself appear as a bad father in front of Elly by having convinced young Michael to lie about what happened? Is Michael lying to make his dad look bad? Or is this just another case where Lynn can’t keep straight in her head what happened in the story last week. After all, John seems to have no problem with Michael’s confession that he broke Elly’s rules. In fact, John goes so far as to tell Elly that he is more fun than she is because he lets the kids break her rules while she is gone.

The other interesting aspect of his strip is that the list of activities young Michael rattles off are not really ones that involve John except in getting permission to do something. The fun while Elly is gone, is not John doing things with the kids, but John giving the kids permission to break Elly’s rules. I will have to give it to Lynn Johnston that the sequence of events seems very much in-character for John.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Untold Story of John and Ted

Once again Lynn Johnston has chosen to tell and not show something that happened in today's new-run of For Better or For Worse. For some strange reason, she was more interested in showing John Patterson taking Ted McCaulay home, paying off his baby-sitter and kissing his kids good-night than showing what happened with John at the Swig and Swine. This is akin to taking the “Farley rescues April” story and just showing April heading down to the ravine followed by a strip with the Patterson family standing around Farley’s dead body and talking about how he rescued April. The most interesting story is the one Lynn leaves out, and she has been very bad about it lately.

Just last year, during the Liz and Anthony wedding sequence, we don’t see Elizabeth and Elly having a wedding day mother / daughter talk, and we don’t see Elly meeting Anthony’s mother. Both those stories would have been more interesting than the story about Gordon Mayes’ fleet of limousines. Instead we can just imagine how the interchange with John and Ted must have been:

Strip #1

John: I know how the single man lives, Ted – why do you think I got married?
Ted: John, you’re full of it. You got married in university. You don’t know how the single man lives at all.
John: Well, Elly tells me it is awful.
Ted: And she would know.

Strip #2

Ted: You don’t wanna ask a couple of girls to dance? That’s all right. Let’s just talk to some girls.
John: How do you do that?
Ted: You buy a couple of girls a drink. Then you ask them if they would like to play pool.
John: Does that work?
Ted: Sure, John. You have to know the magic words.
John: What are those? Abracadabra? Alakazaam? Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal?
Ted: No, John. The magic words are “I am a doctor.”

Strip #3

Carol: You scratched again, John. We win! You boys owe us another round of beer.
John: This stick is a “cue” that I am no good at pool.
Nancy: That’s so funny! You must keep your wife laughing all the time.
John: Elly does laugh sometimes.
Ted: She’s a regular laugh riot. Beer, John?
John: None for me, Ted. Somebody has to drive.
Carol: It’s a good thing you can drive, because you sure can’t play pool.
Ted, Carol and Nancy laugh.

Strip #4

Ted, Carol and Nancy:

Foam, Foam on deranged.
Where th’ beer and th’ cantaloupe pray.
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.
For what can a cantaloupe say?

Ted: A classic from my childhood. Join in with us next time, John.
Carol: Do you know any funny songs, John?
John: No. Elly likes Bobby Curtola, but he’s not very funny.
Nancy: You are so funny, John! Bobby Curtola?!
Ted: I have another one. Do you ladies know Black Velvet Band?
Carol: I don’t think I’ve heard of that band before. Are they related to the Black Sabbath band?
Ted: No.

Strip #5

Ted: Ladies. A pleasure to meet you both.
Carol: Call me, Ted.
Ted: I’ll be calling you-oo-oo-oo…oo-oo-oo!
Nancy: See you later, John. Maybe you and your wife can get together with my husband and me sometime.
John: I dunno. I’d have to get a sitter.
Nancy: “Have to get a sitter”? You are so funny, John. See you later, alligator.
Ted: K-K-K-Carol. Beautiful Carol. You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore!
John: Well, Ted. It looks like you found a new girlfriend.
Ted: I did? Who is that?
John: Carol.
Ted: If you insist. O Christmas Beer. O Christmas Beer. Of all the beers most lovely.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Foam on deranged

In yesterday’s reprint, both John Patterson and Ted McCaulay have the shaded noses of drunkenness. In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, only Ted’s nose is a blackened in. We learn that not only does Dr. Ted McCaulay apparently not know when to stop drinking; but that when he drinks too much he turns into Grandpa Jim. Look at these song selections:

Foamm, Foam on de-raanged
Where th’ beer an th’ cantaloupe praaayy

Is a beer-drinking take-off on "Home on the Range", state song of Kansas, written back in 1873. It would work except for the reference to praying cantaloupes, something which is not normally associated with drinking. I will give Lynn Johnston that one. There are just not that many words that rhyme with antelope other than cantaloupe. The original lyrics are:

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Ted's next song reference is this:

And, her hair hung over her shoulder …tied up with black velvet band.

This is pretty close to “The Black Velvet Band” an Irish drinking song that probably originated between 1837 and 1853. The original lyrics are:

Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair it hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band

It’s 1980 and Ted is about the same age as John, in his early 30s, so the music of his generation is music of the 60s. If we needed any more proof that Lynn Johnston thinks of Ted as his 60-year-old aging lethario persona instead of his 30-something self. The sad part is that Lynn missed an opportunity to tell a story there. The dialogue missing could have gone like this:

John: It’s late, I think I’ll go home.
Ted: Don’t forget, we came over here together.
John: Oh right, Ted. I forgot that the first time we did this 30 years ago, we took separate vehicles and we both drove home drunk. We can't do that today in the era of the designated driver.
Ted: I know what will put you in the right spirits. How about a couple of drinking songs from the 19th century? Mother never lets me play the devil music of rock-and-roll. All she has are these recording of 19th century music.
John: Now I really want to get home.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ted / John – Comparison / Contrast

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is the original panel of this storyline with Ted and John going out. There are some good contrasting points between the reprint and yesterday’s new-run:

1. Ted McCaulay has a neck and is (gasp!) drawn consistently from panel-to-panel. He is also drawn more cartoony in the reprints and less muppety than the new-runs. I find that, as I look at both strips, that inconsistency bothers me more than the cartoony aspect.

2. The characters are drawn closer to the reader and fill more of the panel. Lynn’s new-run or modern style often has the drawings as if we were viewing the characters from a long distance. In this respect, I prefer the reprints because it is easier to see the characters’ facial expressions, and it carries the story better. For example, in today’s strip, John Patterson’s hand covers the shocked look on his face in panel 1 when Ted asks him to ask girls to dance. That is a nice touch, and really helps the story-telling. John’s comic reaction to Ted yesterday was imperceptible because it was drawn so small.

3. The verbal humour works. “I know how the single man lives, Ted … Why do you think I got married?” It is a great retort to Ted’s line, is an honest opinion by the character, and is actually a little funny.

4. Both the reprint and new-run have homosexual overtones. In 3 of the 4 panels, Ted and John are touching each other, leaning into each other, and looking face-to-face.

5. Ted’s comments to John do not make any judgment about John’s married life. In the new-runs, Ted rambles on about how John needs to be free. In the reprint, Ted’s concern seems to be mainly that he wants John to experience the life of a single man. Oddly enough, in the reprints then, it is Jean Baker who raises the issue of John’s relationship with Elly being endangered by going out with Ted.

6. John says he knows how the single man lives. We know John’s back history was that he married Elly in university; so he doesn’t really know how the single man lives, unless he is counting his university years before he met Elly. It's not the same being single during university as after you graduate, John. Trust me. At the time of the reprint, Lynn may have been thinking about John sharing Rod Johnston’s history and forgot that John’s history with Elly was different than hers with Rod’s.

7. The clothes Ted and John wore in the new-run match the clothes in the reprint. It was bound to happen eventually.

Man’s Inalienable Right to Cheat

On September 28, 2008, Lynn had a strip where a bunch of ladies are eating together and the first thing out of their mouths is a toast “to us”. To show that Lynn’s is not afraid to use the same dialogue with men as she uses with women, the first thing out of John Patterson’s mouth when out with Ted is “Well, here we are! -- To us!!” This either shows John Patterson’s feminine side, or shows that both men and women toast each other when they go out, or just shows (once again) that every character in this strip is actually Lynn Johnston.

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we get to see that Ted and John are out on the town and the first thing up is that Ted is supposedly hitting on the waitress, which offends John, whose offense does not discourage Ted. At least that’s what I think is happening. The dialogue is so strangely written, it is a little difficult to tell. Ted quotes the United States’ Declaration of Independence of all things. Then he tells the waitress that she is “something else,” which is neither a sexual come-on nor an intelligent flattering compliment. Then John and Ted interplay “toning it down” with “cranking it up” as if their conversation was more like control knobs on a sound system. Can this possibly be Lynn Johnston’s attempt at man-speak?

The real question I have about this storyline concerns its basic fundamental purpose. Saturday’s strip hinted that Jean Baker believed there was a real chance that John would become a “rat” by going out with Ted. We know what ultimately ends up happening is Ted tries to convince John to chase women and act like a bachelor, and John refuses to do this. To me, this is an absurd storyline. Why would a single man try to convince a man who is married with children to mess around with women while his wife is out-of-town? Does he want to break up his marriage and his family? What is his motivation? Why would anyone do what Ted is trying to do?

We know from Lynn Johnston’s interviews after-the-fact, she seems to consider married men messing around on their wives to be a commonplace activity. Ted thinks John has had his wings clipped by Elly. Ted thinks John should be free. From this perspective, Ted McCaulay is trying to encourage John Patterson to do something that Ted believes a married man should be doing. This is the part of the story that does not work for me.

Just for jollies I did the old internet search on statistics for the percentage of married men who cheat on their spouses and found that studies believe it is anywhere from 22 to 70%, depending on the point the study is trying to make. Then there were the studies which asked if people believed it was morally wrong to cheat and the answer was overwhelmingly “Yes.” I also tried to get a percentage on men who encourage men to cheat, but the internet didn’t find that particular statistic for me. No surprise there. What you have then is that most people think it is immoral to cheat, even if they do it themselves. Consequently, this whole story with Dr. Ted McCaulay and Dr. John Patterson does not work at its most fundamental level. It is true that married men cheat on their wives; but it is highly unlikely that these married men are encouraged to do so by their single male friends. I don’t think Lynn Johnston knows this.

I could see a single man and a married man looking at women and admiring their physical features. They would have this in common and there is no harm in looking. If Ted and John both looked at the waitress and made some comment like, “I like the way her hair is pulled back into a ponytail” or “Look at those lips of loveliness” or “I hope she opens her eyes so she doesn’t crash into something and drop our beer”, then it would be more believable to me. It would not, however, work on Lynn Johnston’s issues with her cheating ex-husband or her strange beliefs about how people act in Lynn Lake. The more I see of this comic strip, the more I realize that not only does Lynn Johnston put in her real-life stories, but she also puts in her real-life fears.

The fear of a cheating man permeates almost every relationship in this strip. I would be hard-pressed to find a story about a relationship ending in this strip that does not end because of cheating. Ultimately, this fear is what is at the heart of the story of Ted and John. John chooses not to cheat, but the author lets us know she fears it is possible.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Trends in Old Strips

One of the more interesting things about looking over old reprints with the critical eye of 30 years is when you see trends that you had previously never noticed. With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, I saw a new trend. Just like in the strip reprinted on November 30, 2008; we have a sequence where John attempts to parent while sitting on the old green-striped chesterfield, does a miserable job of it, thinks he has done a great job and Elly makes no comment one way or the other about it. In fact, Elly is completely silent in both strips.

In these strips, we see that John Patterson has flaws and he usually makes some kind of ironic statement which indirectly points out what that flaw is. It is unusual because it puts it on the reader to make a moral judgment about John as opposed to what happened in the later strips when the Pattersons would make moral judgments about other characters in the strip. It is almost as if over time, Lynn Johnston grew to trust the judgment of her readers less, and felt the need to have some character spell out the moral in words, to make sure that everyone got exactly why someone did something that was wrong. In my mind that is a huge error because, as we have learned, what Lynn Johnston considers to be the moral of a story is oftentimes very different from the way I would interpret the moral to be. It’s better for the reader to draw their own conclusion than to peer into the moral fabric of Lynn Johnston.

In today’s reprint, the joke is that John thinks his family is communicating when they watch television together. I might think that the indirect comment is that a family who watches something together is not truly communicating. However, I noticed that the TV program that the kids are watching is one with a lot of guns shooting. In the mind of Lynn Johnston, it could well turn out to be that she believes the program with guns shooting is bad because it features policemen. Lynn has done enough strips over the years which feature the police in a negative light, this could well be the case. If Lynn had Elly make a comment about how she doesn’t like that program because of the police in it, then she would spell out how she thinks, while at the same time spell out to us how she feels about the police. How she handled it in today’s is much better. Because she doesn’t spell it out, I think the joke is about how watching TV is not communication. I don’t get the impression that Lynn Johnston is mentally disturbed and has issues with law enforcement.

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Way or the Other, Men are Vermin

As InsertMonikerHere predicted yesterday, we are getting the cat and mice analogy reprint from a different Elly trip inserted into this storyline.

In this reprint, Jean Baker is acting as the moral conscience for John Patterson. John’s comment comparing Elly to a cat and himself to a mouse says that if Elly was in town, John would not be allowed to go out with Ted. Jean doesn’t even address that idea in her next comment. Her analogy of mice turning into rats works as wordplay, but the underlying implication is worse. What does she expect John to do that will turn him into a rat? The definition we are looking for can only be "a person who abandons or betrays someone else." "Scab worker, animal, or hairstyle" don’t fit the situation. We know from the story of Ted and John at the bar that Ted is going to encourage John to enjoy a bachelor life of chasing after women. Moreover, it appears that Jean Baker expects this to happen and is warning John Patterson not to commit adultery. Ultimately, John will reject Ted’s encouragement and we will get to see what a nice guy he is. Whoopee!

At the heart of the matter are a couple of disturbing ideas:

Jean Baker thinks that, with the right encouragement, John Patterson could be convinced to cheat on his wife. Not only that, but she seems to think that this is a common thing for men to do, when their wives are out-of-town. I don’t know about John Patterson, but if someone who worked for me said something like that to me (as a married man with kids at home), I would be extremely insulted. I would wonder what I had possibly done to make this woman think so poorly of me.

For the answer to this we have to go back to Lynn Johnston’s interview in Macleans last year, where she talked about life in Lynn Lake.

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."

When I read this article, I had thought that perhaps this was stuff Lynn Johnston was making up about Lynn Lake that she could not have possibly believed back in 1980 when she was living there. However we have this strip from 1980 which has Jean Baker warning John against cheating and then we will have Ted McCaulay encouraging John to cheat. Both of them seem to have the idea that John is weak and susceptible to cheating. John’s big triumph is that he doesn’t cheat. Oh goody! Daddy didn’t pick up a girl in a bar and bring her home while the kids were there. What a temptation! It seems ridiculous to me. In the mind of the author of the strip, it was not ridiculous. She put it in her strip for everyone across the nation to see. That is a pretty serious allegation to make that public, and there is no precedent for it. Dennis Mitchell's mom never said anything like that to Dennis Mitchell's dad in Dennis the Menace. There is nothing like that in Peanuts or Cathy. The closest you get is in Andy Capp, when we see drunken Andy rejected by women he hits on in a bar.

I used to think that Lynn Johnston’s portrayal of Thérèse Caine, as the insanely jealous wife, was not based on anything out of Lynn Johnston’s own life. Now I am not so sure.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Man With No Neck

Looking at the new-run of Dr. Ted McCaulay in today’s For Better or For Worse, made me realize that Ted has no neck. His shirt collar goes straight up to his jawline. Then I looked back at all the pictures of Dr. Ted McCaulay over the last month and realized Ted doesn’t have a neck in any of those strips either. Somehow, Ted has lost his neck.

In today’s strip, Ted seems to have also lost his brain. When a man’s wife is out-of-town, is that the time when you go to a bar and shoot pool? No. That’s what you do when a wife is in town. It gets you out of the house. When a wife is out-of-town, that’s when you organize a poker game at your house or have the guys over to watch hockey. Of course if a man came up to me and told me he wanted to go to a bar with me when my wife was out-of-town and said, “A guy like you needs some freedom!” I would think he was trying to convince me to play for the other team.

I don’t really blame Lynn Johnston for not knowing this. Obviously she has not seen enough episodes of The Flintstones, to see the merry mix-ups that happen to Fred and Barney, when their wives go out-of-town. What I can blame Lynn Johnston for is the abrupt jump from Ted talking about freedom to John talking about a bird in a cage. She could be a little subtler about setting up her final panel pun. Let me see if I can give her some examples:

John: I dunno. I’d have to get a sitter.
Ted: So, get a sitter. You can afford it. Doctor.
John: It’s just extra money flying out the window. We could do it when Elly is in town and save money.
Ted: If Elly was in town, she would keep you and your money from flying out the window. You’ve had your wings clipped for so long, you’ve forgotten how to fly!!


John: I dunno. I’d have to get a sitter. Elly wouldn’t like it.
Ted: So, get a sitter. Break those chains that bind you while the jailer is out of town.
John: I am not a prisoner, Ted.
Ted: Right. You’re more like a bird in a cage, and Elly is like your owner that left you enough birdseed to survive while she’s on her trip.
John: I’m not a bird in a cage, Ted.
Ted: Hah! And you don’t have week’s worth of premade dinners in your freezer, either. You’ve had your wings clipped for so long, you’ve forgotten how to fly!!

The strangest part of this story is why Lynn Johnston picks this time, of all times, to introduce the story of John and Ted going out. It's an odd thing to mix into the story of John alone with the kids. My first thought is that some disaster is going to happen while John is out with Ted, with loads of guilty feelings when John finally arrives home and learns what happened. No matter what happens, I know it will not reflect well on John.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Does My Wife Do Mornings?

Looking at today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we get to see, once again, some continuity errors with the strip just over the last year. Poor Dr. John Patterson is rushing around so he can take Lizzie to her “sitter” and take Michael to school. The “sitter” turns out to be Anne Nichols who lives so close to their house you can walk to it. So why pack up everything in the car to drive there? Why not walk over?

Michael rides the bus to school. So why pack him up in the car and drive him there? This one is actually less of a problem, because the school could be on the way to work. It would be less complicated though, to let him ride the same bus he rides every day.

Then there is the question: Can you do up your own seat belt? It looks like that Lizzie and Mike are both in 3-point harness car seats, so the answer to that question is probably “No”. The more important question is why would you want your 1-year-old or your 4-year-old to do their own seat belt?

Then there is the question: Where’s your hat? It looks like it is on his head.

Then there is the statement: I put all her things in her stroller. Why would you take a stroller in your car, and then unfold it and take the time to put all the baby’s things in it, before dropping off your baby at the sitter, who lives in walking distance of your house. If it’s the dead of winter with snow on the ground, why would your sitter even need a stroller?

How does your wife do mornings, John Patterson? My guess is that she is not an idiot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Snuggling the Wife’s Pillow

How can I relate to today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse?:

1. I used to snuggle my wife’s pillow when she took trips away. Then she got a special foam pillow to help with head support that she likes so well she takes it with her on trips. I miss the old fluffy pillow.

2. The bed feels awfully big without Elly. There is the obvious comment that Elly is so big she takes up all the bed space. When my wife is away I find that I enjoy the extra space. I can sleep in the middle of the bed and stretch out without worrying about hitting someone.

3. It gets pretty lonely. I would like to say this thought crosses my mind, but to be honest, when my wife is out of town and I am handling the kids by myself, I am usually too busy to get to the lonely feeling. I am much more in the mind of, I can’t wait until she gets back because it is so much easier handling the kids and the logistics of getting them to all their activities while I am still trying to work at my job when she is around. Most times in these situations, when I finally get to the bedroom, I am too exhausted to worry about loneliness, and then I stay awake at night worrying about what I have to do the next day. If I am the one taking the trip, and I am away from my wife and kids for awhile, then that is when I feel lonely.

4. I’ll be macho in the morning. The fear of not appearing macho if you are caught snuggling a pillow. I can’t say I have ever had this thought or this worry.

Overall, this strip isn’t too bad. I can relate to it to a certain degree, and it does actually fit within the context of the storyline. I think I could enjoy it, if it weren’t for a few things:

a. For the first time that I can remember, Lynn Johnston has drawn John Patterson with a different face in every single panel. She’s done that with lesser characters before, like Ted McCaulay, but John is her most consistently-drawn character. It was a little shocking to see his jawline, nose, eyes and hair line change around like that.

b. I am trying not to look on this strip as a jab at the way Dr. Rod Johnston should be feeling without Lynn in his life; but I find I cannot.

c. The ever-changing headboard on the bed. Is there nothing Lynn can draw consistently any more?

Monday, March 16, 2009

But I Like Sleeping in my Clothes

I remember when my daughter was little and I was trying to rock her to sleep, all the things that would disrupt that. We see most of them here in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Farley is in the room. Michael is in the room talking to his father. The light is on. It’s a wonder Lizzie can fall asleep with all those distractions. My daughter never would have. I had to shut the door and turn the light off.

The humour of the strip is not based on the unrealistic situation with John putting Lizzie to bed (too bad), but John’s use of reverse psychology to get Mike to put on his pyjamas. The scenario works, if you assume that Michael wants to wear his clothes to bed for no other reason than to be defiant or if you assume that Michael suddenly develops a fear of sleeping in hot, uncomfortable and itchy clothes. My son has argued for sleeping in his clothes before, and I don’t remember any complaints from him about being hot, uncomfortable or itchy when he did it. Of course, in Tucson, Arizona, we have a tendency not to buy those 100% itchy wool kid clothes. The story with Michael developing the fear of sleeping in his clothes only works if his parents have been successful in putting him in pyjamas every night, and he has never worn clothes to bed.

On the other hand, it seems like John is playing the reverse psychology card by running through this bizarre “the world will not end” logic, and Michael falls for it. With my son, this would not work either. If he wanted something and got it, even if you told him he wouldn’t want it, and even if he realized he didn’t want it; he would still consider it a triumph to win it. Reverse psychology almost never works with my son, except for when my wife tells him not to smile. That works on him remarkably well.

Beans, and no Wieners

Thanks to today’s new-run strip in For Better or For Worse, I know where that awful wiener recipe in Elly’s weekly letter came from. In retrospect, would I consider that recipe to be better food than what appears to be John’s bean and unknown white substance diet? That’s a tough call. What is not a tough call is that Lynn Johnston is not keeping her story straight with the new-runs involving food:

Tuesday, March 10 – Elly tells John she put a week’s worth of meals in the freezer.

Thursday, March 12 - John promises Mike they would go out to eat, which means he is going to ignore the food Elly left. So far so good.

Saturday, March 14 - In the reprint, we see John looking for where Elly put the spaghetti, which conforms neither to the frozen food story nor to the eating out story. Lynn Johnston is rarely faithful to the reprint story, so this is not much of a surprise.

Monday, March 16 – John serves meal consisting primarily of beans, and Michael complains that John left out the wieners Elly usually puts with the beans. This story conforms to none of the stories we have seen so far – no spaghetti, no eating out, and no Elly frozen food. It would be easy to concoct a story that would make all these things work together logically to read between the lines, but ironically, I thought that was what the new-runs were supposed to do.

As for the strip itself, the joke depends on the idea that children will interpret what you say literally, if it works to their advantage. In fact, young Michael is so advanced in his preschool that not only can he count beans, but he understands the concept of how to calculate one half of that count. When my kids were in preschool, they were doing well to know the numbers necessary to count that many beans. Fortunately for Lynn, young Michael is so advanced or this joke would not work at all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Faster than A Speeding Farley

The reference in today's reprint of For Better or For Worse to mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent came from the introductory lines to the 1940s Superman cartoons by Max Fleischer. They stuck to the character, although in today’s world of Smallville, I don’t know how many people would see Tom Welling and think of Clark Kent as being mild-mannered anymore. Or for that matter, would even know what “mild-mannered’ means. Nevertheless, in 1980, it was probably still a well-known pop culture reference. The most unusual aspect of the strip is that Lynn Johnston is making a joke based off a pop culture reference at all. That is a pretty rare event for her humour. Aside from using Shania Twain instead of Cheryl Ladd, the reference I remember in recent years was one to Bobby Curtola. I liked the Bobby Curtola reference, actually.

Not only was the use of the pop culture reference a rarity, the whole story of the strip is a rarity. What happened with Farley chewing up a toy could happen in any family with a dog. That was very real. The kids’ reaction to it made sense. And what is the most unusual part of the strip overall is the fact that everyone seems to be happy. Michael helps out his sister, and is interested in what happens to her stuffed bunny. Elly takes Michael’s concern seriously and acts. She doesn’t get upset with what Farley did. She fixes the problem. Lizzie is upset and then she is satisfied with Elly’s sewing work. I almost feel like saying to the author of this strip, “Who are you, and what did you do with Lynn Johnston?”

Friday, March 13, 2009

He Just Lives There

And now for a moment that was originally presented in this storyline. The joke is that John does not know where the spaghetti is, Lizzie’s clean pants are, or Lizzie’s bottle is because he just lives at his house. He doesn’t work there. He doesn’t organize food or put away Lizzie’s clothing. Likewise, he has not developed that sixth sense that will tell him where his daughter will put her bottle when she has lost it. However with the bottle, there should be more than one that John can use to alleviate Lizzie’s trauma, if he doesn’t find the first one.

If only John cooked at his house or put up his daughter’s clothes or chased after her bottle from time-to-time, then he might know these things. It’s interesting that Lynn Johnston wrote up a new-run with Elly leaving John a week’s worth of food; but neglected to show a strip with Elly showing John where everything was, with John distracted or ignoring her. Without that strip, I cannot condemn John for his ignorance. I can understand where John is coming from. If he didn’t organize the pantry or establish the system for storing the clothes, then he is just guessing where things are. I have been through that before.

I remember years ago, I had a roommate who was of the opinion that the kitchen should be reorganized once a month. If everything was in the same place it was the prior month, she found that to be boring and unfashionable. Every month then, I would come home and play the game of “Where did you put the…?” That’s not my style. It makes me feel stupid. I like there to be a place for everything and that place doesn’t move. Who knows what kind of person Elly is when it comes to this stuff?

As for my own domestic situation, my wife is a stay-at-home mom and we have to go through things in advance before she leaves on trips. There is a whole ritual involved in picking up our children and delivering them to their after school activities that varies every day of the week. Not only does it vary every day of the week, but it is often not the same from week-to-week. When my wife leaves town, I have to run down the whole schedule of where who has to be when with her. It’s not that I am not active with my children. I drop them off at school. It is simply that I am usually at work when she picks the kids up from school. If someone were to draw a comic strip making fun of me for not knowing where my kids go after school, I would not be happy.

When you get right down to it, we don’t know if John’s ignorance is John’s failure or Elly’s failure for not informing John where things he would need are before she left.

Mr. Mom

Mr. Mom was a movie that came out in 1983, so today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse does make a reference to a subject which would not have been known in 1980. Mr. Mom may be the point of origin of the Male As Hapless Doofus school of storytelling. Now it’s everywhere, especially in advertisements for household cleaners. The hidden message is that women can do anything, but give a man a house to keep, and he’ll make an utter fool of himself. And what’s aggravating about this is that it’s a tool that plays on women’s self doubts about their place in the world as a way to sell them stuff. Women have fought hard to make sex a non-issue in their working lives. However, the idea of her husband as a bumbling father and homemaker calls into question a woman’s decision to have a career. As Lynn so aptly had John Patterson put it, "Why should you want to go out and raise consciousness, Elly? When we still need people who can raise kids!"

I would like to think that Lynn Johnston, who is much more successful in her career than most of the people in the world would appreciate the idea that a woman can have a career. And yet this issue shows up in her work over and over again. Although Elly Patterson spent much of her time in the early strips trying to establish something for herself outside of her family, she still emphasized that it was the mother’s primary responsibility to take care of her children. You can see this most clearly in the example of Deanna Patterson, who was the breadwinner in her family, and who also was the one responsible for taking care of her children. Ultimately, when Michael Patterson starts making money, Deanna quits her lucrative job to open a sewing school and destroys any idea that Deanna liked or wanted to be a pharmacist. Deanna is the ideal young, married woman. Thérèse Caine, on the other hand, was vilified for wanting a career and getting her husband to agree to be her child’s primary caregiver. As people often forget about Thérèse, it is not the career that made her evil. It was because she did not want to be the primary person to raise her daughter.

In the case of Elly Patterson, John’s turn as Mr. Mom calls into question whether or not Elly can even take a vacation by herself. The original story put this across pretty well, but the new-runs have upped the ante by adding in the emotional frailty of the children without their mother.

The movie Mr. Mom (1983), although played for laughs, had not only the bumbling father, but the title gave the implication that stay-at-home dads are maternal rather than paternal. Many fathers feel that their contributions are as fathers, equal yet distinct from mothers' contributions. Ted’s point (or Lynn’s through Ted) is that men are becoming more nurturing, becoming more hands-on, and spending more time with their kids. I have the feeling that Lynn doesn’t know that “hands-on” means “active participation as opposed to theoretical”. Likewise “nurturing” is a very feminine term, as it is derived from “nursing” as in providing nourishment. I think Lynn wants men to spend more time with their children, but I don’t think Lynn understands what men bring to the parenting package.

Before I had kids, my wife bought many books on raising children, and occasionally she would hand them to me and point to the one or two pages which addressed fatherhood specifically. I remember one of the books said what a father did that was important. It was:

a. Roughhousing. Both boys and girls can roughhouse with dad without worry. Moms can do this too, but after a certain point it gets difficult, i.e. the kids get too heavy for mom to lift easily. This is definitely the case in my family. I used to swing my son by his knees upside down until he got to the age where he weighed more than 100 pounds. There is no way my wife could have done that.

b. Straight talk. Dad were less likely to use baby-talk than mom, so the kids pick up their language better from the dads. I found this definitely to be true for me, but I can’t say it is true of all men. I am a maven for proper diction thanks to my singing background, and I think it may have tainted me.

c. Tell the daughter she is beautiful. When the girls go through their stage of realizing that looks are important, for some reason they will reject assurances about this from their mothers, but accept them from their dads. Somehow this is important to the girls developing a good self-image. I haven’t gotten to this point yet with my daughter; but I can see it coming.

As for the strip itself, seeing Dr. Ted McCaulay spout this stuff, of all people, reminded me of the strip from last year where Connie Poirier talked about how wonderful it was to be a grandparent. It was like Lynn Johnston had forgotten who Connie was and how she became a grandmother. I had the same feeling when I read Ted’s dialogue today – “We’re all learning how to be hands-on parents!” When did you learn that exactly, Ted? It’s no wonder John Patterson gives him the look that leads to Dr. Ted doing that ancient “family practice” joke as a defence. At least Ted partially redeems himself by calling Elly "the little woman".

As for the art, kudos to Lynn Johnston again. Who’s taller? Dr. Ted or Dr. P? It all depends on what panel you are looking at, because they exchange heights in almost every panel. Speaking of almost every panel: What also looks different in almost every panel? If you guessed Dr. Ted’s head, then you are right. It is different in every single panel. It takes a special talent to be able to do that. If I were drawing it, Dr. Ted would have the same appearance in at least 2 panels. It's too hard to draw him differently every time; but somehow Lynn manages it. She is truly amazing.

There is one obvious error. Ted is on the left. Ted has the short coat. In the panel 3 silhouette, the one with the short coat is on the right. However, the dialogue between the panels makes it clear that Ted is the one saying the dialogue in Panel 3.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

John Patterson, Symbol of Fear

I thought Lynn Johnston was headed for a “John is an incompetent father” story with the story she is telling this week in For Better or For Worse about Elly spending a week away visiting her parents. Instead we have the second new-run showing young Michael and Lizzie completely panicked about the idea of being away from their mother. In the meantime, John appears to be a competent parent up until the last panel when he foolishly pulls the kids out of their normal sleeping environment to sleep in bed with him.

I remember when my wife went through a brief period of wanting to put our very young son in bed with us. I couldn’t sleep. I kept having nightmares I would roll over and crush him in my sleep. John’s solution wouldn’t have worked for me. There is a reason babies are kept in cribs. Even today, I dread going on road trips and having to share a hotel bed with my son who rolls, squirms, kicks and flails about all night. I suspect Lynn Johnston was more intrigued by drawing John surrounded by his children and their favourite stuffed animals than anything practical. In that respect, it works for visual humour, even if it doesn’t make any sense.

I can not see where sleeping with the kids would provide a solution. If the children are so terrified by being away from their mother, when their father is in clear view, then what possible difference would it make where they slept? The little nervous wrecks would be frightened either in their own beds or in their father’s bed. Perhaps it is the scent of Elly in her bedroom that calms them. John might have sprayed a little Elly perfume about. Eau de hamburger grease. Or the children simply could be comforted sleeping on the sheets their mother so meticulously shaves.

I am not sure why Lynn Johnston has chosen the path to take of showing the children traumatized by Elly’s departure. It doesn’t make much sense with the story we have been shown so far. Lizzie has been with a sitter. Michael goes to preschool every day. If they are paralyzed with fear with Elly gone, how do they handle a sitter and preschool? The obvious answer is that it is not so much Elly being gone as John being there. That would explain their ability to handle a sitter and preschool. John is not there. The conclusion to draw is that even though their father has promised dining out (smartly kicking away those frozen dinners left by Elly) and movies, it does not dissuade the children from their fear of their father.

Is that what I am supposed to take away from this? John is a competent parent, but his children are terrified of being alone with him? All I can say is that Lynn Johnston has taken a story-telling position I never would have suspected was coming. I congratulate her once again for surprising me. Maybe if we are lucky tomorrow’s strip will have them at a restaurant with the children running away from John screaming, “Stay away from us. We want mama!”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

¼ new-run - ¾ reprint

The fascinating part of looking at strip like today’s ¼ new-run / ¾ reprint strip in For Better or For Worse is to see if the author drawing the one panel of new-run can duplicate her 30-year-old style shown in the last 3 panels. The answer is “no.” However, I think Lynn Johnston made a valiant attempt.

On the plus side, Michael, Lizzie, and John appear to be wearing the same clothes and they are about the same height. My only complaint is that the distinct 2-line combinations in Mike’s shirt appear to be indistinct lines in the new-run version. Also on the plus side is the inclusion of a background, not present in the reprint panels.

On the down side, Lizzie experiences a sudden round of hair loss between the new-run and reprint strips, in which Lynn has forgotten just how long it takes a toddler to grow a head of hair. The other plus is that Lynn kept the last 3 panels, which have a pretty good joke to them and there is no pun. I especially love the panel where Lizzie is chewing on John’s shoe lace. That’s the kind of minor detail you almost never see Lynn Johnston doing anymore.

A Week’s Worth of Strips in the Freezer

The issue I had with my kids when they were the age of toddler Liz, is similar to the one we see with Elly leaving the kids today. If my kids saw you leave, they would get upset. If you snuck out while they were playing with the sitter, they wouldn’t even notice until you came back. When I saw today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, my first thought was that Elly should have snuck away while John was playing with the kids and Elly could have avoided that long and dramatic farewell. Then again, the nature of this strip is that Elly probably did not want to avoid it. Even though Michael goes to preschool every day, he is still upset to see Elly go.

The only real change I see from the original storyline is Elly’s comment about putting “a week’s worth of meals in the freezer”. In the original strip, I believe Panel one has John saying, "I told Elly to take off this weekend... And let me take the kids for a change." In this version, Elly appears to be gone for a week and not a weekend. It’s funny she made all the food before she left. It kind of takes the fun out of Elly leaving. When my mom went on trips when I was growing up, I looked forward to mealtime, because then I could have delicious frozen pot pies.

As for John, he has spelled out that Michael is in preschool and Liz has a sitter. Supposedly this means that John can still go to work. However, the last time I looked, preschools do not usually keep the kids all day. The preschool day is short compared to the standard work day. Either John is working shortened hours, or Lynn Johnston thinks preschools run all day. Of course, this is the same woman who has kids riding the bus to preschool, so there is no telling what kind of ideas she has.

The setup is that even though John Patterson is taking care of the kids, what we are really talking about is getting them ready and dropping them off in the morning, picking them up in the evening and warming up an Elly meal, and getting them to bed, and maybe bathing them. She has given John as little responsibility as possible and shown the kids weeping on her departure. The only thing left is to show that even with that little responsibility, John is incompetent.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Solo Parenting: The Retcon Begins

Since John Patterson says he is going to “try his hand at solo parenting” in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I suppose this means that we are going back to the first year of the strip when John offered to ease Elly’s stress and look after the kids for a weekend while she made a visit to her parents in Vancouver. We saw a reprint from this storyline back on Thursday April 3, 2008. Maybe we will be lucky enough to see this strip reprinted again. This is the first year storyline that usually flies in the face of all those stories where John doesn’t do anything with the kids; so I cannot say that I am too surprised that Lynn Johnston would address it. And by “address it”, I mean “rewrite it to make John look bad.”

As John tells his story to Jean Baker, whose head shape and head’s relative size to her body changes in every single panel (Good job, Lynn!!), we get the first glimmer of retcon. Jean tells John that he is a nice guy; but John seems to prefer the compliment he got from Dr. Ted McCaulay that he is a saint. Because the compliment comes from Ted, from the author’s perspective, it should be disregarded. The main point is that John Patterson is complimenting himself for doing this thing for Elly. The seeds have been sown for John to be shown to be less competent than he was before when the strip storyline was originally presented.

This is an odd statement from Ted. I don’t remember Ted as being the guy who commiserated with John over having to take care of children. As I recollect, Ted does have the idea that the woman should do the cooking and the laundry; but I thought when Ted and Connie were dating, Ted bonded better with Lawrence than he did with Connie. I am not sure 1980 Ted’s views with respect to a man taking care of his kids are as severe as they are made out to be in today’s strip. Of course, I don’t own a copy of the collection for the first year, so there may be something I am forgetting.

As we progress this week, I suspect we can expect new-runs showing things like:

a. John desperately calling Elly to ask about a spare peeler.
b. John getting help from Connie or Annie with the kids.
c. The kids weeping over their mother leaving them with dad.
d. John trying to sell his children into slavery.
e. Other moments of John’s gross incompetence with the kids.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Melting Snow Michael’s Woe

Having spent the last 10 years in Arizona and the 15 years before that in Texas, it took me a little while to figure out what Michael was doing in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. The icicle on the drain pipe means that air is cold, but the continuous water flow from the drain pipe means we are probably dealing with snow melting from the roof of some house. Since it is snow just above freezing temperature, it must be cold. Lawrence’s dare for Michael has to do with enduring the cold water, which Michael does with great ease.

After having endured the cold water, instead of enjoying Lawrence’s adulation, young Michael Patterson’s thought immediately turn to the reaction of his mother. Maybe there are boys like Michael who would do this. My son, at that age, in the same situation, would take great pride in his accomplishment and would be very excited to share his triumph with his mother, who could very well react in the fashion that Michael is predicting Elly will react. My son was much older than 5 before he gained any sense of how his parents would react to such things. At 5, he was still jumping in mud puddles and sitting in the dirt. It is a testimony to Elly’s parenting ability to instill guilt in her children that young Michael is able to come to the conclusion he does so early in his childhood.

As this is a reprint from early For Better or For Worse, we get to see the Lynn Johnston imitation of Charles Schulz's art style in full flourish. The final panel, with the mouth shape and head thrown back and apple-shaped mouth opened is pure Schulz. Even back in 1980, I would have recognized this imitation. As for the storyline, it is pure Dennis the Menace, except that Dennis would have been daring his friend Joey to get wet and Joey would get upset at the end.

Friday, March 06, 2009

High-Pitched Whistling

“High-pitched whistling” is an interesting description for the sound of a dental drill. I usually think of it as more of a grinding sound with the terrible smell of burn tooth.

The joke in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is more difficult to fathom. Is Dr. Patterson saying that he has done so much drilling that he thinks something is wrong when he doesn’t hear the drill going? Or is the joke that Dr. Patterson is sticking fingers in his ears to symbolize that he no longer has the high-pitched whistling in them? Or is the joke that Dr. John Patterson has two hands that look as though they have been mutilated by using a dental drill all day?

Actually, I think what has happened is a case of “I changed the joke after I drew the strip.” This is seen rarely with Lynn Johnston because she oftentimes builds the entire strip to set up the joke in the final panel. There are some giveaways:

1. John Patterson’s joke makes no sense. Why would something be wrong if he didn’t have high-pitched whistling in his ears?
2. The head placement of the April Patterson-esque dental assistant is very low in Panel 4. Typically Lynn Johnston does not do that unless she plans to put dialogue there. The word balloon above her head is not close to touching it, so I think there were supposed to be some extra words there originally.
3. John Patterson’s hand gesture does not match what he is saying. You put fingers in your ears to block sounds, not to point out which sounds you cannot hear. I think the joke originally had something to do with a sound the John Patterson was trying to block, most likely the sound of the drill in panels 1 and 2. What would the joke have been:

Assistant: Is something wrong, Dr. P?
John Patterson: Yeah! I can put my fingers in my ears and they touch together.

Assistant: Is something wrong, Dr. P?
John Patterson: Yeah! That pun you told yesterday was so bad, I am considering it a personal challenge to make a worse one. I want to tell a joke so bad, people will cover their ears.

John Patterson: Whew!...It’s been a long day!
Assistant: How long has it been, Dr. P?
John Patterson: It’s been soooo long, I think it’s been a whole Wheeeeeeek.

John Patterson:
Whew!...That drill is loud and noisy.
Assistant: How loud has it been, Dr. P?
John Patterson: It’s been soooo loud, if I don’t put my fingers in my ears, I am going to Weeeeeeeeep!

John Patterson: Whew!...That drill is loud and noisy.
Assistant: How loud has it been, Dr. P?
John Patterson: It’s been soooo loud, I would rather hear my wife shrieking at me.

Not Employed For Her Punning Ability

It was good to know in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, that Dr. John Patterson’s dental assistant looks a lot more like April Patterson than Shania Twain. Of course, this could be how Lynn Johnston thinks Shania Twain looks.

The more interesting part is a theme I have noticed where Dr. Patterson seems to like dental assistants who do word play. Jennifer, Dr. Patterson’s assistant in 2003, was clearly expected to make a pun on the word “explorer” in this strip from June 22, 2003. Today’s assistant from 1980 tries, but “out-of-date” to “date I got out of” is weak at best. With this kind of requirement for working with John, I can see why he might have difficulty keeping an assistant.

The comparison between that June 22, 2003 strip and today’s is very interesting.

In 2003, Lynn Johnston put Grandpa Jim in a mask covering his mouth for getting his crown. There is a mask on Mavis Snodwigg which shows up in the final panel, but not in the prior 2. It’s too bad, Lynn couldn’t be bothered to draw it in all the panels, once she realized she had left it out of panels 2 and 3. Of course Lynn also appears to be so distracted by drawing the mask in Panel 4 that she forgot to draw Mavis’ glasses in Panel 4.

In 2003, Lynn drew the detail of the dental bib on Grandpa Jim, so it had those little absorbent stripes across. Mavis Snodwigg looks like she is wearing a cloth napkin tied around her neck.

In 2003, Dr. Patterson and his assistant Jennifer, are actually sitting down while they work on Grandpa Jim. With Mavis Snodwigg, they haven’t learned how to lower the head on the dentist chair, so they are standing for the operation. The last time I had dental work, the dentist and the assistant both sat.

In 2003, Dr. Patterson and his assistant Jennifer appear to be using dental tools for the operation. With Mavis Snodwigg, it appears to be a pen, a turkey baster, a rubber hose, and dental floss. Also, judging from Dr. Patterson’s fist in Panel 2, in addition to nitrous, he appears to be beating Mavis in the head as an additional anesthetic.

In 2003, Dr. Patterson and his assistant Jennifer are operating without an overhead light. With Mavis Snodwigg, there is an overhead light in Panel 2, that immediately disappears in Panels 3 and 4, but at least it was there.

As for the theme of the strip, where John Patterson actually says that Ted McCaulay’s attitude towards women is so out of date, all I can say is “pot meet the kettle.”

John’s only statement about the matter during the whole Ted sequence this week is “Forgive me for saying this, Ted – but you need someone else in your life!” Behind that is the idea that a man needs a woman, and he needs it to be someone other than his mother. This is very close to saying that women exist to meet men’s needs.

Dr. Ted, on the other hand, defines his needs as “cooking, cleaning, laundry, and romance.” He says he has a consistent source with his mom for the cooking, cleaning and laundry. He says that after marriage, the romance cools off, and all that is left from a woman is her cooking, cleaning, and laundry; so he plans to play the field.

As far as I can tell, the difference between Dr. John Patterson’s attitude towards women and Dr. Ted McCaulay’s attitude towards women is Dr. Ted defines what needs of men that women exist to meet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I Hate Doctors Like This

I have a few comments about today's new-run of For Better or For Worse:

Hey, Dr. Patterson! Some patients like to give you a lengthy description of what’s going on, because they have this bizarre idea that doctors don’t know everything and might need that information to make an informed diagnosis. You know what’s really rude, Dr. Patterson? Pretending to listen to your patient and then making a bad pun about it.

And what is up with this sitting behind the patient? I had dental work done a few weeks ago and the dentist sat on my right while his assistant sat on my left. And just to give you a little hint, Dr. Patterson. When you are holding a sharp dental instrument, it’s a really good idea to open your eyes.

And Lynn Johnston, just to let you know, in modern dental offices, the dentists chairs usually have these things called lights over them to help to illuminate the inside of the mouth. I know it’s been a long time since you have been in one, so here’s a picture.

Also, Lynn Johnston, here’s a picture of a new-run featuring Jean Baker. You seem to have forgotten how she looks. Just to let you know, drawing a head with short, dark hair and glasses is not sufficient to be called Jean. I don’t know who this pointy-headed freak is that John is calling Jean, but the nose shape, jawline, and hair style on the real Jean are different. Here’s another new-run picture of Jean Baker to help you. It also has a picture of new-run Ted McCaulay, which you might find interesting, since the drawings you did of Ted in the last 3 days don’t look anything like this.

Here’s a question for you, Lynn Johnston. Do you really think dentists ignore long-winded patients trying to describe their medical problems, or are you trying, once again, to disparage your ex-husband’s dental skills?

One last question, Lynn Johnston. Now that you have gotten to the point where you no longer draw Ted McCaulay, Jean Baker, Michael or Elizabeth Patterson like you used to; how long will it be before you started drawing Elly or John Patterson where they are no longer recognizable?

Hey, Mavis Snodwigg! Get yourself a better dentist!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Welcome to the Judgmental Café

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I think Lynn Johnston is trying to make an effort to flesh out the character of Ted McCaulay that we really only knew from his biography. Ultimately, Ted is going to end up in a romance with Connie Poirier, and like Phil Richards before him, Ted is condemned for being a man who is not serious about getting married. As Elly put it about Phil, “He’s independent, his life is music and late nights! – He practices at 3 a.m., (and my favourite part) He does yoga. He’s not a family man—he’ll never settle down.” Basically, it is the musician’s lifestyle which condemns Phil. Maybe the yoga.

With Dr. Ted McCaulay, his point seems to be that he doesn’t need to settle down because he already has with his mother what a man needs after the romance cools off – cooking, cleaning and laundry. Notice that Dr. Ted does not say one word about having children. If I take Ted at his word, then what he is interested in with women is the romance. He may really mean “sex” when he says, “romance”, but that’s not what he says. It works either way. We have seen enough of Elly Patterson to know that her life with John Patterson has very little romance or sex to it. Ted can take a look at John and say, “If that’s married life, I would rather be single. There’s no romance, and probably there’s no sex either.”

I can actually empathize with Ted on this point. When I was a single, young man; I liked dating. There’s a girl you think is attractive, and you would like to get to know her better. You ask her out on a date and do something fun. After it’s over if you had a good time, and if she had a good time, and you got to know her a little better; then it was a good date. You don’t have to ask her out again. You don’t have to consider marriage with her. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The difference between me and Dr. Ted McCaulay, is that he seems to have no expectation that he might come across someone that he falls in love with and realizes he wants to spend the rest of his life with her (or him). For me, this is the point where you want to go from casual dating for fun to a more serious commitment. There is not a specific time by which this has to happen. However, love is not even discussed in this strip, and we have seen by the Liz and Anthony courtship, “love” is unimportant to marriage. As I have pointed out many times, Anthony Caine never told Liz he loved her.

John Patterson’s advice to Ted is that he needs someone else in his life, as if getting a wife is something like hiring a maid or an interior decorator. The implication from the strip is that there is a certain point in a man’s life when he should realize that he is no longer young, single and good-looking and he should move out of his mother’s house and get settled down, so he has a wife who will do the cooking, cleaning and laundry for him instead of his mom. As insulting as Dr. Ted is in his regard for what women bring to a marriage, I don’t find John Patterson’s attitude to be much better.

Because Dr. Ted McCaulay does not realize that he is too old to be playing the field, the waitress at the Judgmental Café gives him the big “Loser!” designation. That’s ridiculous. What we do know about Dr. Ted, is that he has made it through medical school, is competent enough to maintain his own practice, and apparently pays his mother’s living expenses. Assuming Ted is about the same age as John Patterson at this point, then he is in his early 30s. How is he too old to be playing the field?

Here is the timeline issue for this strip. John and Elly married in university. Mike wanted to marry Deanna when they were both in university, and did get married shortly after graduation. I didn’t really even think about his until we got to the romance of Liz and Anthony. With Liz and Anthony, the implication was that Liz was supposed to get engaged to Anthony when they were in university, but Anthony got engaged to Thérèse instead. Gordon Mayes pointedly said, “I thought Anthony would be engaged to you.” Anthony then marries Thérèse just after they graduate university. Then Liz got her second chance to marry Anthony and "Another Chance" is the title of their romance page on the website, so I know I am not just making this up. For some reason, the timeline for getting married is just after or during university, and if you don’t do that, then you have screwed up.

Oh my God! Dr. Ted is in his 30s, and he graduated from medical school when he was 28. He should be married by now with children on the way. And when he talks about romance, he never says to John Patterson, “John. I plan to get married. I just haven’t found the right girl.” No. He says, “I’m gonna play the field.” He should be on a desperate search to find Miss Right. When Connie Poirier comes around, Dr. Ted should have just snatched her right up and put her to work doing his cooking, cleaning and laundry. But no! He doesn’t do that. What a loser!

At least, when it comes to Lynn Johnston expressing a point-of-view, she is still a complete success at getting me to think the exact opposite way from that point-of-view. I never really cared for Dr. Ted; but thanks to this strip, now I don’t think of Dr. Ted as a loser. I actually have more respect for him for not settling down with these judgmental Milborough women.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Many Views of Ted McCaulay

We have had 2 strips now with Dr. Ted McCaulay. His face has appeared clearly in drawing or in silhouette in 7 panels. The miracle of Lynn Johnston’s art is that Dr. Ted McCaulay’s face looks different in every single panel. Some artists might make a mistake and draw the same face at least one time; but not Lynn Johnston. She is especially talented this way.

Monday, Panel 1: Ted is eyeless and with a bad toupee, which has slid over his ear and makes it look like Ted needs a haircut.

Monday, Panel 2: Ted gets his haircut, and his ear magically reappears, along with his eye, which is shut, so he can’t see the huge indentation of his face, leading under his nose.

Monday, Panel 4: The muppet, Guy Smiley, makes a guest appearance as Ted.

Tuesday, Panel 2: Elly Patterson puts a Ted wig on, and appears as Ted. The bulbous Elly nose is the giveaway. Coming along with Elly is Dawn Enjo, playing the waitress and once again reminding us that Lynn Johnston no longer can draw Asian characters with their eyes open.

Tuesday, Panel 3: John says Ted needs someone else in his life besides his mom. Someone who can trim Ted’s rapidly-growing eyebrows.

Tuesday, Panel 4: Bela Lugosi as Dracula lives. He has no trouble attracting girlfriends. Blah-blah! One little bite, and they are all his. If only they would stop looking at his pointed ears.

Tuesday, Panel 5: In silhouette, Ted’s nose retracts from the prior panel.

As for the strip, I enjoy the inadvertent subtext. In yesterday’s strip, John Patterson suggested that they both go to the pub. Today, John suggests that Ted needs someone else in his life. Ted immediately leaps to the conclusion that John means a girlfriend; but is that what John is really saying?

John: I don’t know about you, Ted, but I need a break. Life’s too short. Wanna go to the pub on Friday?
Ted: I told my mom I’d stay home.
John: Forgive me for saying this, Ted – but, you need someone else in your life! Someone who will understand you better than your mother. Someone who’s a doctor like you. Someone who’s a man like you. Do you understand what I’m saying Ted?
Ted: You think I need “guy time,” John?
John: Oh, yes, Ted. Yes I do.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Return of Ted (and his mom)

I had wondered if Lynn Johnston was going to slash that whole “Connie Poirier visits Montreal to see Phil Richards” storyline. The appearance of Ted McCaulay seems to say that she did. The next man in Connie’s life is Ted, as I recollect, and this appearance in this new-run in For Better or For Worse by Ted may lead to Connie and Ted’s first meeting. This strip introduces the concept of Ted McCaulay, man who is a momma’s boy, to the new-run chronology and that seems like an obvious lead-in to the Connie and Ted stories.

The interesting part of today’s strip is the personality presented of John Patterson. John said he needs a break because “Life is too short.” The surprising suggestion by John that comes next is for Ted and him to go to the pub on Friday. I guess I must be too much of an old, married guy by now; but the times when I go out with male friends and only male friends to a bar or pub is far in my single man past. I think it pretty much ended with the arrival of my kids. When I go home now, it’s not “guy time”, it’s "kid time." My socializing is now pretty much with just my wife and kids, and sometimes with other couples. I am not nearly as exciting as John Patterson.

On the other hand, I never really enjoyed going to a bar and drinking and it's odd to think of nerdy John Patterson that way. I have to remember that nerdy John Patterson is based on macho Rod Johnston, who used to live out in remote Lynn Lake, Manitoba, flying his plane to do dental work for the First Nations people out there. Going out and getting a drink is more in line with his character than John’s . I also have to remember that Dr. John Patterson only employed beautiful women for his staff, so when Ted suggests John needs “guy time” it actually makes sense to a certain degree. John has to get away not only from his home, but also from his office.