Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sittum on Poe!

There are a whole host of books on potty training (or pottie training). One of the things mentioned is the “Physiological readiness signals for potty training”. This means the child is aware of the need to go. Another is the “Verbal and Cognitive readiness signals for potty training”. This means that the child knows the words for using the potty, like “poo-poo”. The other parts are the Motor Skills (Can the child undress themselves?) and the Physiological Development (Can the child hold it long enough to get to the pottie?) and Emotional Growth and Social Awareness (Does the child want to go pottie?). Interestingly enough, in the new-run from Thursday, little Lizzie met quite a few of these qualifications. And yet in today’s reprint for For Better or For Worse, Lizzie doesn’t seem to have any of these qualifications. It’s almost like Lynn realizes that she had Elly try pottie-training with little Lizzie way too young in the original series and is attempting to compensate with the new-run.

As for my own children, I remember pottie-training very well. I was told “You don’t want to push the child to start, or you will emotionally scar them for the rest of their lives.” I always wondered what kind of emotional scars those were.

Then if your child is in daycare, you hear, “Your child cannot be moved to this class until he is pottie-trained. And since he is not pottie-trained by age 3, you are a failure as a parent.” There is a little bit of a mixed message when it comes to this subject.

In this particular strip, it actually works to Lynn Johnston’s advantage that no one knows anymore how old Lizzie is. Her constantly-changing physical size, her inconsistent ability to walk, her widely-varying vocabulary skills make her a tough target to pin down. It could be perfectly acceptable for Elly to start pottie-training her, or way too early, depending on this unknown factor.

As for Elly’s phrases, the one I like best is “Big girls sittum on poe!” The tendency to add “um” to the end of a phrase is usually mock First Nations speak. “Big Chief speakum with peace pipe!” The strip itself must be fairly early, since Elly describes herself as majoring in English, when she did not actually do that in her eventual life story.

The other part I like is that pottie chair. My guess for the back-story is that Elly couldn’t find the regular pottie chair she bought, so she is resorting to using a large pitcher instead. The thing looks really unstable, and I can see a disaster looming in the future if Lizzie decides to use it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There’s Something About Sewing

There’s something about sewing that brings out the worst in Elly. Most recently we had this strip reprinted showing Elly screaming at Michael while she was trying to concentrate on sewing. The theme is repeated in today’s For Better or For Worse. The big difference today is that Elly seems to have forgotten she has a sewing machine. We see Elly cutting out material, which implies a majour sewing effort. However, she ends up trying to thread a needle as if what she planned could be done by hand without the sewing machine.

In both strips, Elly tries to ignore her children. Michael is 4 or 5 years old and he can operate by himself, even though history has shown that a neglected Michael is a destructive Michael. If my children had that kind of history of mayhem, I would check on them pretty frequently. However, to ignore little, barely one-year-old Lizzie seems a little negligent.

The part of today's strip that makes the least sense is the part where little Lizzie is seeking out her mother to tell her “poo-poo.” I remember when my kids were just older than one years old, and I can’t remember a single time when either of them informed me that they had just messed their diaper by saying “poo-poo” or any of the other childhood variations on that word. They usually let me discover that on my own, often in very disgusting ways. It’s been 10 years since I had a child who was 1, and yet I can still remember that clearly. It’s been over 30 years for Lynn Johnston. Maybe I will forget such things when I get to be her age, but I hope not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Elly Patterson: Waitress or Short Order Cook?

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson reads that newspaper she never has time to read in order to find a job. She says she could be a waitress or a short order cook. Elly Patterson? Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!

History says otherwise. Elly Patterson is terrible at dealing with the public. I still remember the classic, telephone-biting strip from 2006. I can just imagine her reaction the first time some person asked if they could do a substitution. We have also seen Elly cook and it was not exactly appetizing.

This strip deals with the theme for Elly’s life up until the time when John bought her Lilliputs’ toy and book store in 2000. Elly was constantly trying to find something to do outside of the house and away from the children. John never understood why Elly needed to have something out of the house. Then when Elly did get Lilliput’s, she started to talk about retirement 3 years later in 2003, and finally sold the store in April, 2006 just as it was starting to turn a profit. In many respects, I would think this would justify John’s skepticism in the early strips. All it really proved was the flighty nature of Elly’s desire for something outside of the house. Elly ended up trying a lot of different things and none of them stuck.

When look at today’s new-run however, I don’t understand John’s position. Elly is in the house with the kids all day long and from the last panel of today’s strip, it appears that she has completely lost control of the kids, the dog, and the cleanliness of the house. I would say to John, “John, let Elly have her chance. It’s not like she is going to suddenly become Mrs. Good Parent or Mrs. Housecleaner. The obsessive sheet-shaver doesn’t come until years later, when Lynn decides that Elly has to have no flaws.” Admittedly as a waitress or a short order cook, Elly is probably not going to make enough money to justify her taking that job. My guess is that her cook’s salary would be almost entirely eliminated by the expense of putting both her kids in some kind of child care so she could work the cook’s job. I also doubt that she would make enough to offset the lawsuits from the food poisoning she would regularly give to the patrons of the restaurant where she worked.

Oftentimes these strips had a parallel in Lynn Johnston’s real life. I wonder if Rod Johnston questioned whether or not Lynn Johnston should have taken the job as a cartoonist. It wouldn’t make much sense if he did. After all, she was making a tremendous amount of money and the nature of the job allowed her to still spend quite a bit of time with her children. In the 1980 CBC interview, Rod’s complaints at that time had little to do with Lynn’s job as a cartoonist and more to do with (1) the fact Lynn despised living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba and (2) the personal shots he was taking from her strip.

It didn’t seem like there was a real-life parallel. However, I remember being a little surprised when I learned that Lynn had lost interest in doing her strip after Charles Schulz died. The downward spiral of the quality of the strip since that time is what attracted me to writing this Blog. It makes me wonder if the real-life parallel was Lynn Johnston’s own desire to do something else other than this strip.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Little Things I Need

Let me see if I understand today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse.

1.Elly goes to buy something from the groceries.
2. Whatever she doesn’t spend on groceries is in the form of change.
3. Elly takes that change and keeps it in a bottle.
4. Elly spends that change on little things she needs, instead of asking John for the money for whatever she wants.
5. Elly says that spending money from her change bottle makes her feel as though she has earned it.

What can we take from this?

1. It appears that Elly pays for her groceries in cash. Back in 1980, as I recollect, most grocery stores did not take credit cards; but almost all of them took personal checks, which were a lot more convenient than getting into the grocery checkout line and suddenly realizing you did not have enough cash to cover the grocery bill. This, plus the fact that John is giving Elly the line about how he will give her whatever money she needs, tells us that Elly does not have access to the family check book. And of course, this strip does not work in modern days, because John would just give Elly a debit card to the bank account and transfer in whatever money Elly needed. That would be a lot easier and safer than carrying around the cash necessary to buy groceries.

The situation in the strip seems crazy to me, but it also reminds me of the Peterborough Examiner article from last October, where Lynn Johnston accused Rod Johnston of cleaning her out.:

When it came to finances, for example, she had entrusted everything to her husband and was shocked to discover, in the days following his departure, that her bank accounts were empty. Suddenly, the cartoonist whose strip appears in more than 2000 newspapers around the world, the Gemini Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, and the first female to ever win the prestigious Reuben Award from the U. S.-based National Cartoonists Society, didn't have enough cash to buy groceries.

"I'd been like a little kid, like a five year-old. Tell me how much I can spend this week, Dad," she sings in a little-girl voice, before shifting to a serious tone. "If I was not astute as a businessperson before, I suddenly had this overwhelming education within a month in which I had to learn how to do everything. It's empowering actually because you suddenly realize there's all this stuff you should have been doing all along."

To keep your wife from having access to a check book seems crazy back in 1980, but if the article is to be believed, then Rod Johnston kept Lynn Johnston on an allowance throughout the 30 years of their marriage.

2. Elly does not tell John what she spends her change on. She just says “little things I need.” Antidepressants is the first thing which comes to my mind. However, John’s statement in Panel 3 indicates that he expects her to ask for money for something in order to get the money. There is quite a bit of personal satisfaction in being able to buy something for yourself without having to ask. My kids can tell you that. They like having the money to buy things without having to ask their parents’ permission.

3. Elly feels as though she has earned the money in the bottle. The other difference between having to ask for money to spend is also the knowledge that the money will have a limit. With the money in the bottle, Elly can spend all or none of it, and she can wait until it gets bigger over time. I can see this being the bigger player in getting a weekly allowance. The line from the article "Tell me how much I can spend this week, Dad," is more about the limit of what she can spend than the ability to spend.

Today’s reprint, taken by itself, makes John seem like a money control freak and Elly like a little, pitiful girl, never allowed to spend money on anything she wants without having to ask permission. I would ask why Lynn Johnston would reprint such a thing, but, as usual, the clear answer is that it makes John look really bad. This matches well with the Peterborough Examiner article, but it hardly seems to work with the powerful image of Lynn Johnston who managed to get Rod Johnston to move to Corbeil from his home town and then who wrote to Phyllis Diller how she got Rod to move to a house on a lake in Corbeil. Of course, in both cases, Lynn had to get Rod to agree to the moves.

I have touched on the issue with Lynn and money before. She had so much of it, it makes me wonder how Rod Johnston ever managed to get Lynn to agree to an allowance system. I am reminded of the relationship between my grandmother and grandfather. The story told me was that my grandmother, early into her married life, realized that my grandfather would spend any money that came into his hands. So, she took over the money and kept him on an allowance for the whole of their marriage, in order to keep them out of debt. I don’t know if this is the situation with Lynn and Rod Johnston; but it makes no sense to me otherwise. If Rod was keeping Lynn on an allowance against her will, it is far too easy for her to get a credit card and completely circumvent that.

On a personal note: My mother-in-law’s kidneys were not recovering over several days now, and her doctor put her on dialysis today. We had hoped her kidneys would return to normal. Dialysis, unfortunately, makes the recovery process take a lot longer, according to the doctor. On the plus side, my wife has returned to Tucson from her trip to see her mother. We really missed her.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

The supposed inscription at the entrance to Hell, from Dante's Divine Comedy. Or rather the translation into English by H.F.Cary.

As far as Hell goes, it appears that to Lynn Johnston, it is somehow related to plumbing. We see stairs leading to toilet-looking bathtub. I think it is a bathtub, since there is a towel over the side and a toy sailboat. However there is also toilet paper coming down the stairs. The water flowing down the stairs could belong to either a toilet or a bathtub.

Given that there are dirty handprints on the walls, I could expect this is the reason for the bath. Elly has a dripping plunger in her hand and water dripping from her other hand, which doesn’t tell me which one.

There are some clues from history:
7/7/2000 - Grandpa Jim lost his teeth in a toilet, and they had to call a plumber.
1/6/2000 - Liz lost Deanna’s engagement ring down the sink
12/2/2006 – Mike calls a plumber in to find the Ned doll Meredith had dropped in the toilet years before, after Robin put Michael’s socks down the toilet.
4/09/2009 – Mike tells Elly about how Lizzie flushed John’s socks down the toilet

Lynn has a theme with kids putting items into the plumbing or losing precious items. We see little Lizzie screaming Peanuts style waving a baby doll with no head on it. My money is that the baby doll head is down in the plumbing.

As for the rest of the house, there is a remarkable similarity to the 4/20/2009 strip. We have the same foot-less picture of Mom and a smudge from some kind of 5-toed animal print next to a door. The difference now is that someone has added a picture beside the animal print, and someone has put a rocket-shaped dart into the picture. My kids never got to play with sharp-pointed darts at that age. We also see a lampshade and a picture off balance.

It would be nice to say all this stuff happened in a short period of time, but the strips reprinted recently with Elly ignoring her children for her soap opera and Elly leaving Lizzie alone in the bathtub and Elly unable to motivate herself to clean without someone critical coming over, leads me to believe that a lot of this stuff has been accumulating over time. Probably the only recent event was the plumbing issue.

In 1980, Lynn regularly portrayed Elly as a poor housekeeper and a poor parent. This strip hits all those marks. The funny part about the new-runs is that they often try to maintain the image of Elly, super cleaner, which was the perspective of modern Elly, into the the 1980s Elly. With the strip today, the two images do not fit.

Given that, Elly’s warning to John seems very appropriate. If John lived in a house with a woman who was alternatively hyper-clean and a slob, it could seem like a Hell of sorts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Giving Elly the Finger

I am not sure what the real meaning behind today's reprint in For Better or For Worse is, but I have a few guesses.

1. Pattersons are so excessively messy, it is difficult to find a moment when all of them have clean hands.
2. John, Mike and Lizzie all remember the last time Elly needed a finger to tie something and how difficult it was to get untangled. Therefore they intentionally get their hands messy when Elly starts wrapping packages.
3. Elly learned only one way to wrap a package and that is where another person holds the knot with their finger, and faced with a situation where there are no free fingers, she resorts to her usual method of getting people to clean their hands -- shrieking at the top of her lungs.
4. Elly cannot accomplish even the most basic tasks without help.
5. Elly is an idiot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Three in a Row

Goodness. This is three in a row. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was reprinted on 6/27/2008.

As it turns out, I was at Boy Scout camp with my son during that week, so I did not comment on this strip the first time around. Here we go:

John plays bad cop (good parent) and Elly plays good cop (bad parent), as she struggles over the idea that Michael may be in his room suffering because he was sent to bed without supper. I remember this same situation in my house some years ago. My son went to bed without supper and wept and wailed and caterwauled and eventually wore himself out so much with his crying that he fell asleep and didn’t get up until the next day. In comparison, Michael Patterson is a saintly, little boy. We don’t see him screaming and crying. We don’t see him trying to sneak out of his room. We don’t see him trying to convince little Lizzie to come into his room to play.

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse would have had more of an air of desperation on Elly’s part, if she were shown having to deal with Michael. As it is, I am reminded of a similar situation in the Simpsons’ TV show, where Bart’s parents cave in like Elly wants to do, and Bart’s response was “Suckers!”

I am beginning to think that I fit that particular designation for reading a strip which has moved to reprinting already recently-reprinted strips.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two Repeated Reprints in a Row!

Goodness. This is two in a row. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was reprinted on 6/26/2008. As it turns out, I was at Boy Scout camp with my son during that week, so I did not comment on this strip the first time around. I guess the second time is the charm.

Elly says that she made a threat to Michael that she wished she hadn’t made. She laments that “they”, which I presume is really just Michael, since I hope Lizzie is not old enough to be threatened by Elly for misbehaviour, made her act on her threat. Of course, Elly could be including John in her "they"statement.

Elly regrets having made the threat to Michael of sending him to his room for the rest of the day with no supper. Which part does she regret? We don’t see Michael weeping or forlorn in his bedroom. We don’t see Michael suffering from hunger. I think the problem is that when Michael doesn’t eat his supper, then Elly must finish his supper for him, just as she does the leftovers. Elly’s regret for punishing Michael is probably her own suffering from overeating.

Another interesting thing I notice is that in Panel 3, when Elly is moving Michael to his bedroom, she has chosen to move Michael by grabbing his clothes (shirt collar, back of his pants) instead of grabbing Michael. Naturally this is because:

a. Michael’s skin is too slippery to grasp.
b. She wants to expose Michael’s belly button to the public, so that they will know that he is not a clone.
c. It isn’t enough to send Michael to his room without supper, but there must be a little strangulation and wedgie action to make the punishment complete.
d. Lynn just finished watching the Silly Walk sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and decided to take this opportunity to show young Michael how to do it.
e. Elly is not sure if the boy she caught is Michael, so she must verify that his name is written on the tags of the clothes he is wearing.

As for the habit of reprinting previously reprinted strips, I suspect that Lynn Johnston is unaware that they were reprinted before. Her method of choosing which strips to reprint seems haphazard at best. When she was doing the hybrid, which is where this strip was originally reprinted, she was in the habit of gathering reprint strips based on a theme. I imagine Lynn decided to gather a set of "Misbehaving Michael" strips, and then picked them based on that criterion and only that criterion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pattersons Eat Better Than Pigs, But Not Much

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston has reprinted a strip she reprinted just last July 3. In homage to that reprinting, I will now repeat what I put in the Howard Bunt Blog last July 3. If Lynn Johnston can do it, then so can I.

In today’s For Better or For Worse Elly complains about Michael eating like a pig and she commands Michael to slow down. Michael protests that if he slows down for liver & spinach, he will taste it. Personally I like spinach. I am not so fond of liver. However, I understand the basic sense of it. Those are 2 foods traditionally most kids hate. Michael is hungry, but can’t stand the taste of his food; so he has found a way to get around that. Honestly, speed is not a bad method. It’s better than refusing to eat at all.It reminds me of the story I heard about the man who learned how to survive in a prison situation on bread and water. The prison was dirty and infested with insects. The line was that if you use your bread to surround the cockroaches, they don’t taste nearly so bad. Or, the other story I remember is my grandparents who survived the Great Depression telling me things like, “You can eat dandelions and grass, if you cook them long enough.” So, really this is a story of human survival in many respects.The easy way to go is to criticize Elly for being hypocritical. We know this from the retrospective of seeing strips from 1979 to 2008 where Lynn Johnston has shown the Patterson family, consistently through the years, as completely disgusting slobs when it comes to eating food. This is 1979, when Lynn Johnston is just starting. Maybe her vision of Elly Patterson, food slob, has not yet been formed.But look at the strip carefully. When Elly says, “Where are your manners, Michael!”, there is no question mark. Then she does not tell Michael not to drool or slobber or spill his drink on the table or use a knife or use a napkin. She wants him to slow down because he is eating like a pig. In other words, the problem is one of speed, not cleanliness. The pattern is set here at the beginning. A Patterson can eat like a slob, but not a fast slob. Now there’s a lesson for us all.

On a personal note: My wife is entrenched in her hospital visit with her mother. She is conscious but loopy, and still in ICU. Apparently the infection she got with her cancer treatment damaged her kidneys and she has a creatinine test measurement of 4.5, where 1 is considered good. The doctor is waiting for her kidneys to recover before she gets to leave the ICU, and the doctor thinks it will happen in the next 3-4 days. In the meantime, she is undergoing physical and speech therapy. It’s shocking how much you can lose from being unconscious 6 days. Her mother is too weak to hold even a spoon. Something I did not know if that if you have been intubated for 6 days, you can experience a sore throat for up to a year after it happens. On the plus side, my wife has no doubt that her mother is relatively lucid and recognizes that she is there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bad Words, Bad Words, Watcha Gonna Do?

There is a certain element of society who finds it amusing when small children curse. Will Farrell’s video The Landlord works on that idea. The movie Meet the Fockers makes extensive use of a cursing toddler for humour.

The people who don’t find it amusing are the parents. My kids’ school takes the use of bad words very seriously, as in “the kid goes to the principal’s office and the parents are called to pick him up from school early” kind of serious. Although Elly Patterson in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse blames the grownups for using bad words around the kids, the main place where my kids pick up bad words are from other kids. My wife and I are pretty scrupulous about not using bad words around our children, and yet they still pick them up.

As in the Michael Patterson example, oftentimes my kids don’t know what the words mean and they repeat them as a part of normal language acquisition. In those situations, my wife and I say something like, “You don’t want to say {that word} again, especially not at school.”

However, this is not the point of today’s strip. The audience of today’s strip is clearly intended to feel guilty for having cursed around a child. The problem with putting that idea across is the stilted dialogue between Elly and Michael. Elly’s argument is that Michael shouldn’t use bad words, just because he hears grownups using bad words. Michael then addresses the basic problem, “How can he tell if a bad word is a bad word, if he doesn’t know what the words mean?” With my kids we had to acknowledge which word is the bad word and let them know “This is the word you shouldn’t say.” The easiest way to do that is to immediately react the first time you hear your child say the word. When my kids were younger, they never knew when they were saying a bad word. They just said a word they heard another kid say. It’s a reasonable argument for Michael to put forth, but not one a kid his age would ever come up with.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ghost of Elly Future

After today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, I half-expect the For Better or For Worse website "Coffee Talk with Elly" to feature a casserole recipe like this:

1 cup – gravy, nondescript
1 bowl – custard (sniff for freshness)
1 slice – bologna
1 – green pepper, mushy

Place all the ingredients in a pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve alone or with an expectorant like Ipecac for best effect.

I found Elly’s line about her mother turning all those ingredients into a casserole, amusing not only because it is disgusting to imagine them all together in a casserole; but because Elly turned into her mom by the time the strip ended. This strip from August, 2007; is often cited as the one strip where Elly’s cooking and her delight over it, managed to turn many a reader’s stomach. Lynn Johnston was not shy in showing the grease of those hamburgers literally pouring off the burger as Elly and John got ready to eat them. You have this in addition to Elly’s tuna noodle casserole in a prior panel for great stomach-churning fun. In 1980, Elly blames the food combinations on her mother, but in 2007, the food is all Elly. Lynn Johnston likes that “full circle” thing in her storyline with Mike and Deanna raising their children in the same home Mike grew up in; so I find it amusing that full circle includes cooking to disgust the reader. Elly eventually became her mother and lost her sense of guilt over wasting ingredients.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Elly Patterson: Event Cleaner

Back in the early days of For Better or For Worse, Elly’s house was dirty and she struggled with it constantly. Women, who also had dirty houses, bonded with her immediately. “Lynn Johnston, it’s like you have a camera in my house and can see my house is just as filthy as Elly Patterson’s is. Now can you remove that camera? I’m so embarrassed my house is a mess.”

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse reveals that Elly is an event cleaner, which is to say, she is motivated by setting up an event at her house that requires the house to be clean. I can actually relate to this strip pretty well. My wife is an event cleaner, just like Elly Patterson. She regularly has to schedule people coming over to our house to motivate her to clean. If no one comes to visit for a long, enough time, then the house starts to get dirty. This has been one of my marital struggles, because I am not an event cleaner. I am more of a regular, daily and weekly cleaner.

Although I like the strip pretty well, I find the most interesting part of it is the stuff in the background:

1. What is the animal that left that print on the wall in Panel 1? It doesn’t look human or like a dog. Is there some other kind of animal wandering around the Patterson house?

2. What is the substance on the wall next to the animal print? Did someone have a food fight with mayonnaise?

3. Is the Panel 1 picture on the wall really labeled “MOM”, and if so, is it some kind of indication that someone’s mother was one of those Milborough mutants?

4. In the final 2 panels, why is there a punch bowl with a ladle on a desk next to a rotary phone? Is it a common thing to need punch from a punch bowl, while you are doing work in your home?

One of the things I used to like about this strip back in the old days was that its background details might convey a story more than just about the main characters. This is a skill which I am sorry that Lynn Johnston lost as she got older.

On a personal note: My mother-in-law regained consciousness today and was able to breathe on her own. My wife was relieved to hear this, because she was not looking forward to spending the next week going to visit her in the hospital, just to see her unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator. She leaves today, and she gave me a big list of “where the kids have to be when.” It is going to be a complicated week.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

If Moms Ruled the World

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is definitely not a strip Charles Schulz would ever do. It seems more like a strip Lynn might do after reading Lord of the Flies and thinking, "If only Elly were there, she would sort out those boys."

Michael’s violent statement about killing the other boys gives the strip an unusual air of seriousness, that he would be so upset he would actually say something like that to his mother. The final panel pulls the plug on the serious nature, because once the boys are disarmed their struggle immediately ceases. The implication is that the boys never intended to harm each other and were just playing. However, that does not work with Michael’s statement to his mom. If it were a fake war, Michael would say something like, “Mooom! We’re just playing war!”

I remember the days of my youth, and if was really upset with a kid to the point I wanted to hurt him, my mother had better take me home and force the other boys to go to their homes, letting them know she was going to call their mothers to let them know what happened. Elly makes a critical mistake by disarming the boys and then leaving. If those boys are still steamed up, leaving them alone is tantamount to disaster. Does she think they won’t use their fists or go and pick up other sticks?

Up until the final panel, the strip runs pretty close to a realistic situation. In the final panel, Lynn can’t resist the preachy, self-complimenting statement which is, as usual, coming from someone else other than Elly. Throughout the 30 years of her strip, these kinds of moments are the weakest parts of her story-telling. The boys suddenly change from boys to minor league philosophers.

The strip following this final should look like this:

Michael: If moms ruled the world there wouldn’t be any bombs.
Other kids: Yeah. The bombmakers would be out of business.
Michael: If moms ruled the world no one would hate each other.
Other kids: Yeah. All the people would love each other.
Michael: If moms ruled the world everyone would be happy.
Other kids: Yeah. Moms are the happiest people in the world.
Michael: If moms ruled the world, everyone would be nice to each other and give flowers to the poor people.
Other kids: Yeah. There wouldn’t be any poor people, if moms ruled the world.
Michael: If moms ruled the world I think I would have to kill myself.
Other kids: Yeah. Me too.

On the personal front, my mother-in-law is still showing no improvement and my father-in-law asked my wife to come out to Dallas, so he doesn't have to go to the hospital every day by himself. In other words, so he doesn't go bonkers doing that by himself. For me this means, doing work and handling the kids by myself. If you find the Howard Bunt Blog not updated sometime this week, this is probably the reason why.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Connie Poirier: Blonde, Not Red-Head

The big text change in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is “red-head” was changed to “blonde.” I had always thought Connie was a natural blonde, who dyed her hair red for a brief period because of her ex-husband Peter. Now I find out that Connie is a bottle blonde and her natural hair colour I can only guess, since Connie is blonde in all the modern strips. I have no idea why Lynn Johnston felt it was necessary to change Connie’s dyed hair colour from 1980. Not too far into the future she runs off to Thunder Bay and meets her future husband, and neither her ex-husband nor her hair dye is ever mentioned again.

I have this feeling that Lynn Johnston read this old strip and got confused. I imagine she had a conversation with herself that went like this:

Lynn Johnston: This is a great old, strip. I call her ex-husband a rat.
Lynn Johnston: Wait a minute, Lynn. Did you see that?
Lynn Johnston: See what?
Lynn Johnston: Elly says Connie became an artsy, athletic red-head, a kitchen genius and a model wife!
Lynn Johnston: Exactly! That’s what husbands do. The bastards. No woman can do all that and look like a model too.
Lynn Johnston: I don’t think that’s what “model wife” means.
Lynn Johnston: You’re not going to ask me to look that up are you? You know I don’t do research. That’s why I retired, so I would never have to do research again.
Lynn Johnston: No. No. No. I mean look at the part about the red-head.
Lynn Johnston: Whoa! Connie’s not a red-head. She’s blonde.
Lynn Johnston: I know. We have to fix this. Elly can help Connie dye her hair blonde. You can just change the words and leave the reprint the same.
Lynn Johnston: No. No. Connie is a natural blonde. We can’t have Elly dye Connie’s hair blonde.
Lynn Johnston: Well, if you don’t then there are 2 reprint strips we can’t use with Elly dyeing Connie’s hair. You’ll have to make 2 new-runs instead.
Lynn Johnston: Screw that. I need the vacation time. OK. Connie is a now a bottle blonde. I wish I wasn’t so stupid back in 1980.
Lynn Johnston: You and me both.

That’s how I think it happened. What do you think?

By the way, I notice that when Elly describes Peter’s demands for Connie, there is not one word about sex or dressing like a rented lady mentioned. In fact, if Peter only wanted Connie to become an artsy, athletic red-head, a kitchen genius and a model wife; then I am beginning to wonder a little about Peter’s orientation.

On a personal note: My mother-in-law doesn’t seem to be getting any worse or any better. While that is a good thing on the not getting worse part, it is also frustrating that she is not showing any more signs of improvement.

Here’s Mud in Your Eye

Every time Lynn Johnston goes to her beauty masque joke, I remember the first time my daughter encountered my wife wearing one. I told her, “Your mother is turning into a monster.” My daughter was probably 3 years old at the time and after looking at my wife, she gave me a startled look like she wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth or not. My wife was not happy with me for scaring her.

When I saw Lawrence and Michael laughing hysterically at Connie wearing a beauty masque, my initial reaction is…Why are they laughing? Even without my monster talk, Mike and Lawrence’s reaction is completely different from my kids at the same age when they saw a beauty masque for the first time.

I would have to think that part of the problem is that Elly has inadvertently given Mike and Lawrence the impression that the beauty masque involves some kind of food product, by going to the kitchen to mix it up. When my wife does this, she does everything in our bathroom. Maybe Mike and Lawrence think that Elly has just made some kind of food and she is now smearing it on Connie’s face. Either that or they know what is going on and simply find it amusing that anyone would try to make Connie Poirier more attractice.

Is it typical for women to mix up their beauty masques in the kitchen? My only experience with such things is with my wife and the one time I was invited to a Mary Kay party. I don’t remember my wife using a bowl and a spoon to mix the masque or applying it with a brush either. Is that typical?

One of the interesting details of this strip sequence is that today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse has Elly’s clothes matching those of the reprint yesterday. However, I will note that in the strips before the reprint, Elly’s clothes do not match those of the reprint. Either the reprint represents a different day, or Elly changed her clothes or…Lynn did the new-runs before the reprint without looking at the reprint to what Elly and Connie were wearing. Then when she saw the reprint had Elly in different clothes she did today’s new-run to match, but did not go back to correct the other new-runs to make everything match. Typical Lynn Johnston.

On a personal note: There’s nothing new with my mother-in-law unfortunately. She’s still unconscious in ICU hooked up to a ventilator.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pablo da Silva Lives!

The second panel line of Connie Poirier in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse used to be: "I know. Still--when it's the only relationship I've had, it's hard to forget." The main reason Lynn Johnston would be making this alteration is to allow for the Pablo da Silva story to have taken place. Of course, since this is really Lynn Johnston speaking and not Connie, it makes more sense this way too.

Our timeline is then:

Pablo da Silva and Connie. If Lawrence is in pre-school and 4 years old, spent a few weeks together 5 years ago. If Lawrence is in kindergarten and 5 years old, 6 years ago.
Peter Landry and Connie. Assuming the Who's Who time of marriage of 2 years is now correct, they met 3.5 years ago. Married 3 years ago. Divorced 1 year ago.
Phil Richards and Connie. Dated and had sex a few times 4 months ago at Christmas and New Years.

Connie does like those “p” names, doesn’t she? When you get right down to it, I would have to wonder why Connie is so desperate and lonely. We have 1-2 years between Pablo and Peter. We have 8 months between Peter and Phil. You would think, from the way she is acting, she had a much longer time alone.

Without Pablo in the picture and using Peter as Lawrence's father, the timeline with Connie and Peter would have been 6 months dating, at least 6 years together, 1 year divorced. Even without Pablo in the picture, Connie's desperation for a man does not make sense.

On a personal note: The hospital where my mother-in-law is staying has started trying to wean her off the ventilator and let her breath on her own for a few hours a day. So far so good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Connie Poirier is not a natural blonde?

I have to admit that one of the most horrifying things I have heard of in a comic strip happens in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. That thing is one woman letting Elly Patterson, the queen of frump, give them a makeover!

Yesterday, I suggested the possibility that Connie in this story sequence represents the modern day, post-divorce Lynn Johnston, and the strip hits almost all the post-divorce marks Lynn has hit in her interviews – not thinking you are attractive, doing something to make yourself feel beautiful shared between you and another female friend, gazing at yourself in a mirror and wondering. Now it makes so much more sense that this storyline started with Connie Poirier reversing herself on whether she was ever married. With the mention of ex-husband Peter Landry, Connie's worry about being unattractive is directly related to her rejection by Peter, just like a certain comic strip writer we all know feels about being rejected by her ex-husband. Even the part where Connie said she spends her time thinking about the past reflects Lynn Johnston. We know Lynn thinks about this constantly because we see interview after interview and strip after strip with her divorce issues influencing their content.

If only Lynn had put in the business about doing all this stuff just before she goes to bed, or mentioned wearing a negligee she bought at a thrift store, it would be an exact duplicate of her interview material. Nevertheless, Lynn’s interview story about getting fully made up just before going to bed and calling a friend up to talk about how beautiful they each are is very close to the dialogue in this strip. This strip touches close to the heart of modern Lynn Johnston. Like most times when Lynn writes from her own situation, it works reasonably well. The main drawback, as I mentioned at the top, is the idea that anyone would let new-run Elly Patterson touch their hair, makeup or nails. Brr! I get chills just thinking about it.

On a personal note: My mother-in-law continues to improve and the hospital plans to wean her off her ventilator any time now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Connie’s Career?

Now I am getting confused about Connie Poirier’s job. In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Elly says that Connie is an X-ray technician. In the Who’s Who for Connie, it says:

It was partly in reaction to Elly’s decision that Connie decided to switch from general Sciences to some form of medical training and invade a traditionally male domain. After careful consideration, she chose radiology. In 1974, she graduated as a registered Radiology Technician.

This might be a reference to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (arrt), which is a separate institution from a university to register radiology technicians, supposedly to guarantee their quality.

However, in Canada, as an X-ray technician, Connie Poirier is probably certified by the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists and the College of Medical Radiation Technologists of Ontario (Canada). If Elly were to refer to her as a M.R.T. (Medical Radiation Technologist), then Connie could have turned the joke around and stated that what she really wanted was an MRS degree instead of being an MRT. MRT and MRS are close enough in spelling that would work pretty well as a joke of sorts.

The problem with being an X-ray technician, is that Elly then specifies that Connie has a B.S.C. which I think means Bachelor of Science. It’s actually spelled B.Sc. at the University of Toronto. As near as I can tell from my internet researching, an X-ray technician is a job you get with a 2-year-degree. The University of Toronto where supposedly Elly and Connie both went to school has an undergraduate program in Medical Imaging.

Is there someone out there who can straighten me out on this? Am I right, or is Lynn Johnston just making things up again?

I don’t have much to say about the strip itself. Comparing the B.Sc. degree to the Mrs. degree. Ick and double ick. Take 2 giant steps backward for feminism. Connie Poirier out-and-out says she envies Elly because she is married. No, since Connie has been married before, what it really boils down to is that Connie envies Elly because Elly has managed to stay married. That’s right, Connie. If only you had done like Elly did and spent your university days hanging around the medical library at the University of Toronto, waiting for a future doctor to notice you; you could have Elly’s life – feeding the dog, doing dishes by hand because your cheap husband won’t pony up for a dishwasher. Yes, sirree. That’s the life.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Introducing a New Character: Connie Poirier

I am really starting to get confused by what I am now going to have to refer to as the 2009 new-run version of Connie Poirier. In 2008, new-run Connie acknowledged her relationship with Brazilian doctor Pablo da Silva, the father of her son Lawrence, and stated that she had never been married, retconning away her marriage to Peter Landry. 2009 new-run Connie not only has returned back to the story that she was married to Peter Landry, but in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, she makes this mysterious statement:

I wouldn’t think about the past so much if I had some excitement in my life, El.

The implication of the statement is that her past (her life with Peter Landry) was more exciting than her current life. Remember that this is the same Peter Landry whose supposed reason for being was to put Connie into a very traditional housewife role and not allow her to work, and wooed Connie by acting very traditionally to her (opening doors for her and the like). Connie considers that to be exciting. Some people might consider going on a medical mission to Ecuador, and getting knocked up and having a love child from a Brazilian doctor on that medical mission and raising a child on your own to be more exciting that being a housewife; but for some strange reason, this is not the excitement Connie remembers. From this, you might get the impression that Pablo da Silva has just been retconned away. Maybe, Lynn Johnston has suddenly realized she has a few strips from 1980 she can’t reprint, unless she has 2009 new-run Connie admit Peter Landry exists and moreover, that Peter Landry was originally considered to be Lawrence’s father. It makes sense in a certain respect. After all, the strips involving Pablo da Silva do not appear for another 19 years to contradict it.

The more interesting part of the 2009 new-run Connie Poirier is that she makes a sudden departure from her character from 1980. She no longer considers doctors to be handsome, unless they are TV doctors. According to the Who’s Who on the For Better or For Worse website:

Tall and handsome, Pablo charmed Connie with his old-world courtesy, irrepressible sense of humour and deep compassion for the people they cared for each day.

When she realized that one of her co-workers, Peter Landry, was interested in her, it seemed like the answer to her prayers. Pete was a divorcee, seven years older than she was, a handsome man and a sharp dresser with an air of sleek confidence about him.

So, why is it that Connie Poirier suddenly downplays the attractiveness of guys in a hospital? Isn’t this the same woman who was crazy after Phil Richards and Dr. Ted McCaulay after a single meeting? How could this woman ever be so picky about a man that she considers TV doctors to be the only time she checks handsome guys in a hospital setting? It doesn't make sense with 1980s Connie.

The answer to the question is obvious. We have, yet again, another back-handed slam at a certain doctor by the author of this strip – maybe a certain doctor who thinks he is handsome. Lynn Johnston in one interview, said that whe wrote this strip, in particular to make light of Dr. Rod Johnston and his pride over his body. Given that, it’s not difficult to figure out which doctor Lynn Johnston is targeting, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Lynn took Connie Poirier out of character to make a point of her own. As I have said before, every character in this strip is Lynn Johnston.

On a personal note: The hospital had no real change in my mother-in-law's status today. Still stable. Still unconscious. Still in ICU. Thanks again for the well-wishes and prayers from all of you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter eggs can damage your dog

It took very little effort to find information on this subject. Here is one article and here is another one. Based on this information, the scene following the one where the Pattersons come home and find Farley with a gurgling stomach and apparently unable to stand up should be followed by a scene of the Pattersons racing to get Farley to a veterinarian. I expect in the Coffee Talk section of the For Better or For Worse website, we will get the usual round of letters from readers addressing the issue on the behalf of the dogs of the world and chiding Lynn Johnston for the second instance of dog abuse in a week (the first being last Sunday where Elly booted Farley out the door after he did his business on the carpet). This will be followed by a number of readers chiding the dog lovers for taking a comic strip too seriously and recounting stories of how they feed their dogs Easter eggs every Easter and none of them have died from it.

As for me, I find it remarkable that Lynn Johnston seems to be unable to do a new-run Farley strip that does not result in the dog being abused in some way. Here is the list of all the new-runs with Farley this year:

1-10-2009 – Mike gets Farley to drink Frank (Fred?) the fish’s fish tank water.

1-19-2009 – Mike puts hair oil onto Farley to give him a Mohawk.

2-5-2009 – Michael and Lawrence sit on top of Farley’s body until he loses consciousness.

2-15-2009 – Lizzie pulls out some of Farley’s hair using sticky sucker material on her mouth and hands, while Farley is distracted by the sucker.

2-27-2009 – After Lizzie tries to eat Farley’s food, Elly puts the food where Farley can’t get it.

2-28-2009 – Lizzie throws toys at Farley and when he protests, Elly blames him for waking up Lizzie.

3-17-2009 – Farley is ignored by the Pattersons

3-27-2009 – Farley is ignored by the Pattersons

4-5-2009 – Elly boots Farley out of the house

On the other hand, all this Farley abuse makes me really wonder how many moments of Farley abuse there will be in the upcoming children’s book featuring Farley. Is it possible, that Lynn’s Johnston’s hatred of men we have seen amply demonstrated in the new-run strips negative portrayal of Mike, John, Ted McCaulay and Pete Landry; has been transferred to include all males, even Farley? I hope not, but now I am beginning to wonder.

On a personal note: My step father-in-law informed us today that my mother-in-law is started to get her colour back and they are thinking about weaning her off the ventilator in the next few days. We were relieved to hear that. However, the hospital officials warned him that she’s going to be in the hospital for awhile. Thanks again for any prayers you are sending her way.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peter the Unknowable

Since Lynn Johnston is using today's new-run of For Better or For Worse to finally take the story of Peter Landry and Connie from the Who’s Who retcon, let’s see how close she gets. From the Who’s Who:

When she realized that one of her co-workers, Peter Landry, was interested in her, it seemed like the answer to her prayers. Pete was a divorcee, seven years older than she was, a handsome man and a sharp dresser with an air of sleek confidence about him. He was attentive, always opening doors for her, helping her on with her coat and generally displaying an old-fashioned chivalry that was irresistibly flattering to a woman in her insecure state. She wasn't in love with him, but after the anguish of loving and losing Pablo, that seemed like a plus. Her mother liked him, too. It only occurred to Connie afterward that this should have been a warning.

Oops! Elly thinks Connie was crazy about Peter Landry.

Six months after their first date, Connie and Pete married.

At least Lynn got this part right.

Two years later, they divorced. In her eagerness for marriage, Connie hadn't let herself see Pete as he really was, until it was too late. His traditional attitudes went much further than she could accept. He made all the decisions, insisted his wife not work, was jealous of any man she spoke to, and once they were married, no longer hid his disapproval of the child she had borne out of wedlock. It was a shock to realize she had married a younger version of her father. In fact, he was worse, for Pete had a self-centred vanity that her father would have scorned.

And now for Elly's final statement: “Some people you wouldn’t get to know in a lifetime!” If this is supposed to apply to Peter Landry then Elly is saying to Connie that even if she had dated Peter Landry for as long as she lived (instead of 6 months), she still wouldn’t have gotten to know him. That doesn’t make sense. After all, within 2 years Connie got to know Peter well enough to get divorced from him.

I wonder who it could possibly be that we are talking about in this strip, if it’s not Peter Landry? Is there some person in the strip with whom Elly was involved that she felt she didn’t get to know even after having known him for a lifetime? Hum? It’s so mysterious. After all, Elly is only 32. She hasn’t really lived long enough to know a man romantically for most of her life, unlike a certain 60+ year-old cartoonist we know.

On a personal note: The current update on my mother-in-law is that there is no update. She is stable in ICU and hasn’t changed since yesterday. Thanks for all the prayers for her.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Return of Pete

Originally the story was that Connie was married to Pete Landry and Lawrence was their son. Then it was rewritten that Lawrence was the son of Pablo da Silva and Pete married and divorced Connie after Lawrence was around. Then back last September, in a new-run strip, Lynn Johnston retconned away Pete by having Connie say that she was never married. With today’s For Better or For Worse reprint, it appears that Lynn has forgotten she did that retcon because the reprint talks about Connie’s marriage to Pete.

The fact that Lynn Johnston forgot she retconned this is not too exciting. Considering Lynn's track record with her new-run retcons, it would have been more impressive if she actually remembered one. What is more interesting is the belief expressed by Elly Patterson that all housewives have soap operas. It’s one thing to embrace gender stereotypes, but when was there ever a stereotype that housewives had to watch soap operas? As I recollect the soap opera-watching housewife, was considered to be the lazy housewife.

On a personal note, my wife's mother is in the hospital right now, so if you are inclined to say a prayer for someone, she could use one.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Socks Down the Toilet Again (for the first time)!

My initial reaction when seeing this reprint in today’s For Better or For Worse is that this is yet another reused theme. In this strip from November 29, 2006, little Robin did the same thing with grown-up Michael’s socks when he was 2 years old. With little Lizzie, you would have to question a few fundamental things like (a) What is she doing alone in the washroom? (b) How did she get John’s socks and (c) Since when is she tall enough and strong enough to open a toilet lid and then reach a toilet handle to flush it?

I would say Elly’s lack of attention for the safety of little Lizzie was established with these strips. As for Lizzie’s actions today, I would question the validity of anything Michael said having to do with him, Lizzie and toilets.

I find that the problem I am having doing commentary on For Better or For Worse with this blog is finding something new to say about it. It’s hard to say anything about this strip without covering the same old ground: Lizzie is too capable for her age. Elly is shown to be a terrible parent. Michael does the “thrown back” head and gaping maw blatantly stolen from Charles Schulz’s art style. The art is bad. The joke is weak and old, even by 1980 standards. Blah-blah-blah.

Back in 1980, Lynn Johnston didn’t know what she was doing and she eventually got better. It’s easier to be vicious with the new-runs because I know that at their heart they were born out of Lynn’s greed and Lynn’s apparent lack of respect for her own work.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Old Habits of Young Elly

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, like yesterday, is another Cathy-esque type of joke – 3 panels of rational thought followed by 1 panel of excessive behaviour. Although Elly did not maintain her habit of watching soap operas throughout the length of 30 years of the strip, the tendency to grab coffee and pastries to gain weight is a lifelong habit. Another lifelong habit appears to be the tendency to dribble food out of your mouth while you eat. Watching one soap opera a day cannot take credit for this. We saw yesterday that Lynn Johnston’s choice of soap opera name, “Sudden Illness”, betrayed her unfamiliarity with soap opera names. On the other hand, Elly has stuffed her face, while letting the crumbs fly so often, I have a feeling this is a behaviour Lynn Johnston knows very well. It’s good to know that as the strip went on, Lynn stuck with her strengths.

Overall, the strip works pretty well. Elly casts her judgment against soap operas, while at the same time embracing them. The image of the Pattersons realizing and embracing their flaws was a standard joke in the early days of the strip, and probably one of the reasons that readers liked them. Later on, the tone of the strip would change to judgment of something without embracing it, to the detriment of the strip. In this strip from June 5, 2005; Elly and John judge modern movies and reject them. In this strip from August 2, 2005; Elly actually goes so far as to cast judgment on people who are sloppy eaters. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Looking at the light-hearted tone of today’s strip, I wonder why Lynn would move away from having her characters embrace their flaws, which was at the heart of her creation. Or was it really at the heart of her creation? Is this the Charles Schulz influence? When you think about the Peanuts characters, many of them have flaws which they embrace as a part of their character, and that makes them endearing. Is Lynn Johnston writing this strip this way because she is imitating this aspect of Peanuts? Do we owe years and years of pleasant For Better or For Worse strips to Charles Schulz? Was Lynn following a practice of “What Would Charlie Brown Do?” After all, when Schulz died, Lynn confessed to Phyllis Diller that she lost interest in doing the strip. Shortly after this, the characters in her strips started turning mean.

To Charles Schulz, thanks for all those years of making Lynn Johnston better than she would normally be. We have seen For Better or For Worse without your influence and it is definitely for worse.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Elly Patterson: Soap Opera Addict

A quick use of AMU Reprints to check over all the For Better or For Worse strips from 1996 to the present has revealed what I suspected to be true. The word “opera” as in “soap opera” yields no occurrences until today’s reprint. The word “soap” got 7 references and as you would expect for this strip, they were all for the soap that you use for cleaning. Honestly, if Elly is supposed to be a woman who spends so much time taking care of her kids and cleaning that she doesn’t have time to read a newspaper, it is difficult to believe that this same woman would be a soap opera addict.

Who are our soap opera watchers in AMU reprints? In other words, from whom would Lynn Johnston have stolen this strip?

Adam and Nick in Adam@Home have the most occurrences. Tia Carmen in Baldo is in second place. And we have a 3-way tie between Calvin in Calvin & Hobbes, Daisy in Gaucho Ronaldinho and Ziggy in Ziggy. The joke seems to be very much like a Cathy joke (i.e. 3 panels of rational thought followed by 1 panel of irrational behaviour), but Cathy is a working woman and does not have time to become addicted to soap operas. In fact, AMU reprints include Cathy as a choice and she also has no references to soap operas in her strip.

As proof that Lynn does not know anything about soap operas, the title of the series is “Sudden Illness”. Checking the wikipedia list of soap opera names by country, I find there are none with the word “sudden” or “illness” in the title. Instead, Canadian soap operas around 1980 were called things like Street Legal, Time of Your Life, Loving Friends and Perfect Couples, Country Joy and High Hopes. “Sudden Illness” is not very close to any of those names.

The other unrealistic aspect of the strip is Elly’s declaration that she is willingly going to miss her soap opera for the first time in 2 years. And this is as she is pushing a baby stroller with Lizzie, who is less than 2 years old. That’s some dedication to a soap opera if Elly managed to watch it even during the time when Lizzie was in her first few days of life. However, more mysterious than this is the reason why Elly is trying to withdraw from watching her soap opera. Lynn Johnston has given us no clue for Elly's motivation. She only shows that Elly is too addicted to stop. If she were addicted to drugs, cigarettes, coffee, amphetamines, crack cocaine or something like that, we could interpret her motivation. However, with something as benign as soap operas, there is no guessing.

The only thing which works in the strip is the horrified look on Lizzie’s face as her mother starts speeding with her to make it to the TV set. The only question is whether or not she is horrified that her mother is pushing her so quickly, or if she is horrified at how far out-of-character Lynn had to take Elly in order to make this joke.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Remember the 70s

I remember low cut, v-neck shirts that guys would wear to show off their chest hair and this variation of it in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. They were very popular shirts in the 1970s. As near as I can tell, the current fashion with men is to have your chest waxed so that you don’t have any chest hair. Oddly enough, hairless John would be macho by today’s metrosexual standards. The people, who wear low-cut, v-neck shirts these days, are usually women, and they don't usually wear them to show off their chest hair.

As I recollect, even in 1979, this joke would have been old because the style of clothing was on its way out to be replaced by the neo conservative preppy look exemplified by the Izod alligator. In 2009, the joke works as historical humour reflecting a bygone age. In other words, this is what people thought was funny back then.

I remember seeing the 1979 film The Jerk with my father and there was a joke in there where Steve Martin’s father shows him two things and says that they are shit and Shinola, so Steve Martin would know the difference. It was the only joke at which my father laughed in the entire movie, and I didn’t get it. So, my father had to explain the phrase “You don't know shit from Shinola” and said it was a common phrase when he was growing up.

That’s how I feel looking at today’s strip. I get the joke because I know the historical context. I can see myself explaining it to my children:

Back in 1979, men used to wear shirts to show off their chest hair. They used to believe men with chest hair were better than men without chest hair. Yes, I know Zac Ephon doesn’t have any chest hair in High School Musical.

The man in this comic strip only has one chest hair. He doesn’t have any hair to show off, so he looks silly. His wife is making fun of him because he only has one chest hair. Yes, I know it’s not nice to make fun of other people. Yes, I know it’s not funny. OK. Go back to playing your video games.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Whiffex 3: I Don’t Buy It

It was just a matter of time before Lynn Johnston returned back to one of her favourite sources of humour in For Better or For Worse – animal poop. If I understand the basic point of this strip: The best method of getting rid of pet odor in your house is to boot the pet outdoors. As a corollary, pet odor deodorizers do not work as advertised, at least not to the sensitivity required by Elly’s ever-growing, new-run nose. I wonder what pet odor deodorizers did to Lynn Johnston? This is the first time I can think of that she has decided to slander a product in the pet care industry to my knowledge.

Ironically, Lynn has chosen to show Elly struggling to use Whiffex 3 to remove Farley the dog’s odor during the course of a commercial. Commercials of this sort usually run 30 seconds and Elly’s effort looks like it should last longer than that, unless we are talking one of those infomercials that can run up to 30 minutes or more. I have a hard time imagining the necessity for an infomercial on pet odor removal. If the commercial runs 30 seconds, it diminishes the appearance of Elly’s effort and makes you wonder why Elly is not really giving the product time to work. If it’s an infomercial, you would have to wonder why Elly is watching it in the first place.

The fun parts of the strip are 2 panels of underbite Elly sniffing the remains of dog poop, the mutant selling Whiffex on the television, Farley’s cross-eyed semi-deranged look as he poops, and the magically-appearing Whiffex 3. It must be interesting to live in a world where a product appears in your hand if it appears on the television, just at the time when you need it. Of course, only Elly Patterson would question the quality of such a gift. However, Elly lives in the land of Pattersons, where submitted books get $25K advance checks, and where you can find a teaching job without looking for one. In such a land, you might not appreciate magically-appearing products and consider them to be commonplace.

Given how Farley looks when he poops, I might be a little more worried that I have a sick dog. It would be unusual for a dog that is house-trained to walk next to the home owner and dump a load right next to her instead of begging to be sent outside. In such a situation, is the best thing is take the sick dog outside or to move the sick dog to the garage so he is protected from the cold? More importantly, if your objective is to paint the picture of a beloved dog to push children’s books or plush toys of said dog, maybe it would be good to show strips featuring the dog doing something other than pooping, pissing, or destroying children’s toys or the furniture. Maybe the dog should be shown playing with the children or some kind of strange behaviour like that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dinner and Sex

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse reminded me a lot of the list date between Anthony and Elizabeth. There’s seems to be a running theme of formal dinners and sex with the Pattersons. In today’s new-run Elly flat out tell John it has been so long since they had a formal date with just themselves that the last time was when Elizabeth was conceived.

We know that Michael was an oops baby, but with this new-run we also get the impression that Elizabeth falls into this category too. A planned pregnancy, for example, does not usually come with a night of passion following a formal dinner date. However it is possible that the message Elly is giving is that they were trying to conceive Elizabeth, but there was something about prime rib which made her particularly fertile. We already know she has a thing for prime rib.

The real implication of the statement is that Elly has sex infrequently with John. For Elly to pinpoint Elizabeth’s conception to their actions after a formal dinner date implies that Elly and John, at the time of Elizabeth’s conception, were not having sex very often, possibly less often than once a month. If it were more often than that, then Elly would be less certain she knew the exact moment when Elizabeth was conceived.

The other implication is that Elly and John decided not to use birth control in the heat of the moment or Elly pulled a “Deanna” on John.

All I can say is that this is proof positive of the statement, “Don’t feed the Pattersons.”

Thursday, April 02, 2009


{To the tune of the song "Rent" from the musical Rent}


How do you document real time life
When real time life is more than
Thirty years away?

Pun, rhyme, no time
Blows my mind
And 6 week deadlines
Too bad reprints don’t pay



How do you write a strip
When you’re no longer hip
Though you were once in the top ten

When the art is sour
Where is the power
You once had when you used a pen?


And we're Canadian and frozen


This life that we've chosen


How we gonna pay
How we gonna pay
How we gonna pay
Elly’s rented


We fire our staff


How do you fire a staff
When there's no one to burn
And it feels like there’s nothing left to do


How can you generate cash
When you have to go slash


Everyone helping you!


You light up a new craze


With Farley plush--


Shipping delays


How we gonna pay
How we gonna pay
How we gonna pay
Elly’s rented


How do you leave the past behind
When it keeps finding ways to get to your strip

It reaches way down deep and tears you inside out
Till Lynn finally quits



How can you connect in an age
Where Trudeau is Prime Minister and
Lawrence Poirier’s not yet gay


What binds the storyline together
When the raging, inconsistent timeline
Keeps ripping it away


Draw a line in the strip
And then let it rip


Use your skills to parlay


A children’s book with Farley


When Coffee Talk acts tough - you call their bluff


We're not gonna pay


We're not gonna pay


We're not gonna pay


Hybrid rented
New-run rented
Reprint rented
Rented rented rented rented rented
We're not gonna pay
Elly’s rented


'Cause Elly Patterson is rented

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Timeless and Ageless

In 2002, we had the strip sequence where Elly revealed to Connie that she turned 50 the prior year. This puts Elly’s birth year at 1951. In 1980 or 1979 with today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Elly should be 28 or 29. Over time, I know that Mike and Elizabeth got younger, because Lynn Johnston supposedly froze time for 3 years out of deference to her kids. That meant when the strip started, little Lizzie hadn’t been born yet and Mike would have been 4, which ironically, is what he is now being in preschool in the new-runs. If I make the same application to Elly, then I can presume that when the strip started she was 32, about 3 years older than she would have been if time had not been frozen. This way, Elly is embarrased to confess her real age to the baby-sitter.

More difficult to explain is Connie Poirier’s age of 35, if she and Elly were roommates in university and the same approximate age. If this is true, then Elly is making herself appear younger to the baby-sitter.

The hard part of this strip then is, if we don’t really know what age Elly is, how can we determine what is supposed to be funny about today’s strip? 13-year-old babysitter Karen (or as we know her, a grown up Little Orphan Annie or a grown-up Margaret from Dennis the Menace), stares Elly down after she tells Elly her age. Elly gives her a shocked look like she is expecting Karen to be some age other than 13. Elly then confesses that she is 32 and looks embarrassed to do it, while Karen has a broad grin on her face.

I am completely dumbfounded as to what is going on. Let’s run through the possibilities:

a. Elly is surprised the babysitter is so young and feels as though she is old in comparison. If this is the case, then Elly’s confession of 32 could be a lie or the truth and have the same basic effect.

b. Elly is attracted to the babysitter and lies about her age to appear younger and more attractive to the babysitter. The babysitter sees right through the lie.

c. Elly senses a rivalry with Karen and lies to say she is older than she actually is in order to gain her respect. The babysitter sees right through the lie.

Regardless of which way you think about it, Elly is embarrassed to confess her age to a 13-year-old babysitter, who appears to be strangely satisified that Elly made this confession. The reason for Elly's embarrassment is unknown.

At the time of the strip, Michael is 6. The average age for a woman to get married in 1980 was about 23-24 years old. The average age for a woman to bear her first child in 1980 was about 25-26 years old. If Elly is 32, then she is right on the average. Could it be that Lynn Johnston, even back in 1980, had this strange expectation that a woman should be married directly after university at age 22 and pregnant shorly thereafter, like Thérèse Caine was?

If you read between the lines, the obvious story is this. When Elly was gone to Vancouver, John employed his overly-familiar baby-sitter, shown by her calling him Dr. P. John slept with this baby-sitter and although Elly could not prove the John did this, she suspected something. As a result she has to turn to a sitter recommended to her by Connie, with whom Elly is unfamiliar. Seeing the girl, Elly wants to confirm the girl's age to make sure John won't try to sleep with her, hoping that she will be like April was back in in 2003, when she was 11 years old and baby-sitting for the Mayes-- too young to sleep with John. Unfortunately, the girl turns out to be 13 years old, the age when Milborough girls are usually picking out their husbands. Despite being deceptively shorter than Elly, the baby-sitter still proves to be a threat. Elly then lies about her age in order to let the baby-sitter know that she is still young enough to compete with her for the affections of John Patterson.

Stupid yes? But it makes about as much sense as today's strip does.