Sunday, May 31, 2009

Compliment or Invitation? Try Insulting and Offensive

Back in 1979, the message that Lynn Johnston reprinted on Saturday with this storyline was:

If you act single, then waiters make passes at you. If you act married, they don’t.

With today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston takes it a step further with this message:

A pass at a married woman is a compliment. A pass at a single woman is an invitation.

In essence what has happened is the focus has changed from “Who is responsible for the waiter’s inappropriate actions (since it obviously can’t be the waiter’s fault)?” to “How do you interpret the waiter’s inappropriate actions (since he obviously can’t do something inappropriate)?” In both cases, no blame is placed on the waiter. Elly considers herself responsible for what the waiter did, because she was acting single. In other words, she thinks she brought it on herself. This is not the type of thinking which Lynn Johnston should promote. It most assuredly was not Elly's fault.

Nevertheless, Connie does not even argue this point. She is essentially saying to Elly, “It is your fault what the waiter did; but don’t feel guilty. Not only does the waiter find you attractive enough to want to solicit you for fun (sex); but he is bold enough to extend an invitation to you with the expectation you might accept, not ever having met him before or even having a conversation with him. Because you are happily married, you should think of it as a compliment.” Wow! What a compliment. “I have never met you before, but I would like to have fun (sex) with you, and I think you are so desperate you might accept.” Clearly that is not the same as complimenting a woman on her appearance.

That’s not enough. Then Connie goes to the next step where she says if the waiter had given her his phone number instead of Elly, because she is single, she would seriously consider the man’s invitation to have fun (sex) with him. Lynn Johnston really needs to stay away from this kind of subject, where she clearly does not know the difference between right and wrong. It’s not Elly’s fault, what the waiter did; it most assuredly is not a compliment; and I don’t think a woman should consider sleeping with a man she just met, just because she is single and he wants fun (sex). That goes for 1979 and for 2009.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Barking with Elly and Farley

Naturally the first thing I do when I see Elly Patterson trying to discipline a dog, is to see how long it takes me to find the correct way to do it on the internet. As it turns out, there are many, many websites that tell how to deal with a barking dog. This is one I found particularly amusing as it matches the joke with today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse perfectly:

Use a command such as NO BARK or ENOUGH and reinforce it with praise as soon as the dog quiets down. Use a firm but not yelling voice and again, yelling can sound like barking and make the situation worse as you are barking as well! Show the dog that you really like it when he is quiet. Just shouting NO can sound like a bark and get your dog even more exited and barky!

In fact this matches it so perfectly, I could easily see this strip being used in a dog training class as an example of how not to train a dog to stop barking.

“Look at this comic strip, class. What is Elly doing right? What is Elly doing wrong?”

The wrong is pretty obvious – no consistent command, grabbing his mouth, no reward when Farley finally stops barking and of course the shouting. On the right side though, Elly does not play her usual passive role of letting the dog bark for a long time and growling thought balloons at him, before finally getting up to try and stop him. She gets right over there to deal with the problem, and after the whole thing is over, she realizes one of things she did wrong in trying to train Farley.

This shockingly good behaviour for Elly Patterson. Farley is actually acting like a dog and Elly is acting like a human, albeit a human who doesn't know how to properly stop a dog from barking. Training a dog involves repetition and if Farley is inclined to bark, it will take several iterations before he finally gets it. The single most astonishing thing about the strip for me however is that for once, the wordplay in the final panel of the strip actually works.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Acting Single

My initial reaction to Elly’s line in today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is that Elly (and her counterpart) Lynn seem to have the idea that a woman can act single, or she can act married. If you act single, then waiters make passes at you. If you act married, they don’t. Based on that idea, then I would think most women would want to act married, so they don’t get harassed by waiters.

What did Elly do that was different between being single and married? The only thing we saw in this strip was that she bathed and wore nice clothes. The implication is Elly dresses like a frump the rest of the time because that is the way married women dress. If she dares to dress up, she will be acting single. That’s almost like a call to poverty. It’s another notch on the married mother martyrdom list. Aside from having to take care of the kids and clean the house all the time, Elly also can’t wear nice clothes, for fear of attracting unwanted male attention. I can think of a few countries that have these same beliefs, but I never thought Canada was one of them.

The second part of the strip is where Connie tries to get Elly not to feel guilty because a man found Elly attractive. That’s easy to do. The waiter never said one word about Elly’s appearance. Ergo, Elly is feeling guilty over something that did not happen. The waiter just thought Elly was easy, I mean single.

Then Connie mentions that John will have all kinds of opportunities at his dental convention. If Connie is doing an exact comparison to what she just said about what Elly did, she means if John dresses up and takes a bath, a woman might tell him that he is attractive. That’s not so bad.

However, if Connie is doing an exact comparison to what actually happened with Elly and the waiter, she means that if John dresses up and takes a bath, a woman may give him her room number at the convention hotel, or a prostitute working the convention may give John an opportunity to engage her services (depending how you view what the waiter was doing). This is the problem. Elly is only going to be upset with Connie, if she thinks this second way. After all, why would she be upset if John was clean and looked good at a convention among his dental professional peers? And why wouldn’t she think this second way? After all, that is exactly what happened to her. That waiter gave her a phone number, not a compliment. Connie's little comment about John only works to upset, if Elly is thinking phone number, not compliment.

Connie is a radiology technician and thus, works in a medical field like John Patterson. By extending Connie’s statement about John to Connie, then does Elly think that when Connie goes to conventions for radiology, she throws herself at married radiologists? Well, knowing Connie, she probably does.

This is acting single. It is not a just a marital state, but it is way of acting. It is not just the desire to have a husband, but the actions a woman must take to get a husband. If Elly thinks this way about Connie then getting her married is not just being nice to Connie, but it is practically a moral imperative. Connie is a danger to every man in her community -- a danger which can only be contained by marriage. I get the impression that when people consider marriage as “making an honest woman out of her”, Elly Patterson really believes it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elly Patterson and the Solicitous Waiter

We had Michael Patterson and his $25K bonus from the first publisher to whom he submitted his book. We had Elizabeth Patterson land her teaching job in Milborough thanks to someone getting a divorce, and she magically jumped ahead of any other prospective teachers. And in the beginning year of the strip shown by today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we had Elly Patterson get solicited for sex by a waiter within a few seconds of sitting down at Cafe Chez Louis. Classy place, but I can understand why Connie Poirier might like it.

The advantage of this situation for Elly is that she literally did not have to put forth any more effort than to clean up and put on something pretty. There are none of the standard methods used to attract someone else’s attention. No eye contact. No initiating a conversation. No reading body language. No scoping out the men to see which ones you think are the best-looking. And unlike the similar situation that John Patterson had with Ted McCaulay a few months ago, Connie does nothing more than to encourage Elly to dress sexy and flirty. And Connie did not even that in the original strip sequence. This man simply drops in Elly’s lap (so to speak), with no effort of her own or Connie's.

As for whether such an incident should improve a woman’s self-confidence, that is another story. If the situation happened in real life, a woman might be offended that she didn’t have eye contact, or a conversation, or body language, or even a chance to pick out the guy she liked. That’s what flirtation is about and what makes it fun; not being told a phone number by a waiter who thinks she is looking for “fun.” As bad as Ted McCaulay was, at least he would try to compliment the woman on how good she looked. Instead of having her self-confidence lifted, Elly should worry that she looks like a really desperate woman, with that kind of come-on from the waiter. Although Elly got a self-confidence boost; what should have happened was that she would have felt extremely uncomfortable with this waiter around her all during her dinner.

I remember a few years back, I had gone to a restaurant after doing a concert in a remote area of Tucson. I was by myself eating, when a very attractive young lady asked if she could sit at my table. After being startled by the request, I remember getting an initial ego boost that such an attractive woman would want to sit with me. Then I remembered that I am in my 40s, I am not what women would call attractive, and even back when I was in my young and single days, a woman that pretty would not have wanted to sit with me. Then it struck me why the woman had made that request, and I refused it. She left and went to ply her wares at a different table and found more success there.

This situation with Elly in this strip reminded me of that strange incident. Unlike Elly, I realized what was going on. I wonder if the same situation happened to Lynn Johnston at one point, and she didn’t realize what was going on and took it as a compliment. Imagine Rod Johnston’s surprise at reading this strip for the first time after he had come back from his dental convention. I am sure he was really happy his wife managed to get out and have some time on her own while he was gone.

More likely what we have is just another indication that Lynn has had virtually no experience with being single. The standard cliché which would accomplished the same thing and not been as unbelievably creepy, would be the usual “man at another table buys the lady a drink" scenario. That would have been a temptation AND a compliment. As for the solicitous waiter, Elly should give him a call to find out what his rates are.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Skipping the Feminist

With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we get confirmation of aprilp_katje’s guess yesterday that Lynn Johnston is reprinting the strip sequence where John took a business trip, while Elly went out with Connie Poirier. Aside from skipping the strip where Elly dropped John off at the airport, with today’s strip we learn that Lynn has also skipped the strip where Elly is having trouble sleeping in her bed listening to night noises without John there and she thinks, "I wonder how many feminists are afraid of the dark."

There are several good reasons why that strip was skipped:

a. The word “feminists” would date the strip. I know the word is still used today, but AMU reprints tells me the word hasn’t been used in For Better or For Worse since before 1996, the start year of the AMU reprints archives.
b. Elly is shown to be dependent on John to make her feel safe.
c. The usual – it doesn’t make John Patterson look bad.

The strip that follows shows Elly thinking the line, “Now to give the impression of being irresistible – yet able to resist.” This line does go along with Connie’s lines from yesterday, where she tells Elly to wear “something sexy and flirty” and the dreadful catch-and-release fishing analogy, on how to handle men.

Elly’s line today is a little confusing. Elly is trying to give an impression. That impression is of being irresistible, meaning someone can’t resist her. That impression also includes being able to resist, which I presume means that she can resist the someone who can’t resist her. In other words, someone will be unable to resist being attracted to Elly, while Elly will have no trouble resisting her attraction to them. However, the whole thing is not real, but just an impression. So, we will only have an impression that someone cannot resist being attracted to Elly, while we will only have an impression Elly can resist being attracted to them. In reality, the situation is quite different. Maybe, no one is attracted to Elly and she is completely taken by them. It's confusing.

Of course, thanks to the extra information of the new-runs, we know how to interpret the story. “You can go fishing – but, you don’t have to keep the fish” said Connie as she looked at Elly Patterson with her bedroom eyes. Perhaps this is Lynn’s sly reference to the old slang term use of the word “fish” to mean “The scent of females who wash their private parts infrequently.” Ick! I hope not.

Toronto Star Article

This is the link to the article in the Toronto Star with my comments noted below to the parts I found interesting.

"I get to draw the dog, which I love to draw; it was an opportunity to see him big, and do a lot of expression and colour," said Johnston in a recent telephone interview during a promotional tour that took her away from her home outside North Bay.

The question of the art credits has been an issue with me ever since Lynn Johnston personally e-mailed me to say she didn’t know who the persons are who helped her with the art. As you will see later in this article, Lynn’s comment about the colour is very odd considering that supposedly she finally gives credit for that to someone else.

The book has also been given the thumbs-up from the Girl Guides. Farley is the first book to earn the Guides' stamp of approval for its monthly book club, an occasion that was to be celebrated Saturday with a book reading and signing at Yorkdale mall. Johnston herself was a Brownie and a guide leader.

Someone at Harper Collins publicity really knows their stuff. I am quite impressed. First Lynn gets the Humanitarian Award from the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society in order to attract the dog owners to the book. Then Lynn desperately needed someone younger to endorse the book, since kids at the age of the Girl Guides (and possibly their mothers too) would not be old enough to remember Farley who, until recently, had not appeared in the comic strip in 15 years. Touching on Lynn's experience as a Brownie and guide leader is a master stroke.

Johnston said she did the illustrations for Farley first in pencil, then inked them once they were approved, and then hired a watercolourist to put on the finishing touches. The book took about a year from start to finish.

Johnston said this? Johnston hired the watercolourist? Why no quotes? Why doesn’t it match her quote at the beginning of the article? These unquoted areas have all the feel of promotional information handed out by the publisher inserted in between two quotes from Lynn. Patty Weise (the uncredited watercolourist in question) lives near Hartford, Connecticut and does children’s books and editorial cartoons. She is not a member of the National Cartoonists Society. Lynn hires Corbeil, Ontario locals, Canadore College graduates, and relatives almost exclusively. The publisher would have hired the colourist. Let me reword this now with a little substitution:

HarperCollins said she did the illustrations for Farley first in pencil, then inked them once they were approved, and then HarperCollins hired a watercolourist to put on the finishing touches. The book took about a year from start to finish. That’s much better.

She enjoyed the process: "You don't get an opportunity to draw much when you are drawing (comic) panels," she said. "I love to draw."

Notice no mention of colouring this time.

The dog was jealous of her son, "so I flipped a coin and the dog lost – he went to a happy home on a farm."

We’ve heard the coin-flipping, “happy home on a farm” story before. I notice she was smart enough to leave that story out when she got the Humanitarian Award from the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society. They would know what “happy home on a farm” really means.

And neither Johnston, nor Farley, are done quite yet: she's already working on another storyline for the loveable sheepdog.

And by “she’s working on another storyline” we mean she is Beth Cruikshank.

Left Out

Rejected by John, Elly turns to Connie Poirier in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Connie says they should go out and get dinner, drinks and a show, and that Elly should dress sexy and flirty for her. Sheesh! Connie and Elly sitting in a tree.

If this were any kind of a decent strip, Elly and Connie would do this and run into Dr. Ted McCaulay, who will not recognize Elly dressed in this fashion, so he flirts outrageously with her until she finally reveals who she is. Then there would be complications as Ted would reveal to John that his wife was out trying to pick up men, which would make John mad at Elly. In the meantime, Connie would be angry that Ted came on to Elly and not to her.

I am pretty sure we won't see that strip; however, I am not sure where Lynn plans to go with this. She did a similar kind of story with Dr. Ted McCaulay and John Patterson a few months ago, which was primarily to show how much better John was than Ted. I don’t think she is headed down the same path with Connie.

The fear of being unattractive has been an overwhelming theme of Lynn Johnston’s in her interviews since her divorce. It’s not surprising to see it crop up in the strip. In one interview, Lynn told the story about how she dressed up in a negligee to feel sexy. In another interview she talked about putting on full makeup just before bedtime to make herself feel attractive. Clearly, Lynn feels her divorce happened because she was not attractive enough.

If I were to guess where this strip is going, Elly will dress sexy and flirty. She will attract some male attention and she will feel better about her own appearance. End of story.

In many respects this is an interesting change of pace for Lynn Johnston. Although John Patterson does take a hit for going to a convention without Elly; we see Lynn Johnston trying to deal with her own personal situation instead of spending so much time writing strips which paint John Patterson in the worst possible light.

When Lynn first started the new-runs, there were many that suggested that she should write about what she knows, instead of going back into the past with Elly to a time she barely remembers. They suggested that John and Elly could get divorced and then Lynn could explore her own life via Elly in the strip. It looks like, for the first time, we are going to get something like that. Admittedly, 1980s Elly is not really the best character for Lynn to use to push the themes of feeling left out by her ex-husband. It will be an interesting test to see if Lynn Johnston can really explore something important to her, and stay away from the blatant husband-bashing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not Your Mother’s Raspberries

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Elly does a raspberry of BLFPTTT!! This is very reminiscent of 2 strips. The first is from April 23, 2007, where Liz gives Warren Blackwood a big BWAPPBLFTT after she has hung up the phone with him, because he has informed Liz that he has taken a job in Yellowknife and has to cancel his date with her. Just as it happened today, the raspberry to Warren is delivered after the object of the raspberry cannot receive it, and the raspberry is delivered because a job-related matter has taken the man away from the woman. This fits in with our two themes for Patterson life: (1) Always complain about something passively and (2) Anything that causes the man to travel away from home, so he is not home for dinner every single day is a subject for complaint. With Elizabeth Patterson, this is practically the only reason homebody Anthony Caine was preferred over Warren Blackwood, who had to travel for his work, and over Paul Wright, who was unable or unwilling to move a second time to follow Elizabeth to Milborough.

An interesting contrast to this is Deanna Patterson, whose response to Mike’s desires to travel for work are definitely not passive. In this strip, when Mike asks her to throw together a sandwich to help him take a work-related trip, Deanna literally starts throwing things.

As for our strip today, John Patterson tries to make it seem like Elly would not want to go on a trip to his dental convention, and she raspberries him in response. I have been to a few work-related conventions with my wife and frankly, John is right. Based on my experience at such things, it would be very dull for Elly. She should thank John for not insisting she get a babysitter so she could come.

The funny part about this is that I have seen old pictures of Lynn Johnston at the National Cartoonist Society dinner where they give out the Reuben awards, with Rod Johnston no where around. Given that, it seems an odd thing for Lynn to have Elly complain about. Nevertheless, it does fit in with a longstanding theme for this comic strip: Men who travel for work and are not home every day are not suitable marriage material.

A second odd thing is Elly use of the raspberry sound BLFPTTT!! Grown-up Liz used the more adult raspberry sound BWAPPBLFTT. Doing a search in AMU reprints across all of their For Better or For Worse archives for blf*, I discovered the following:

5/15/2003 Young Meredith does BLFFT
7/27/2003 Young Meredith does BLFPPPP
12/19/2003 Young Meredith does BLFFTT
12/14/2000 Young Rosemary does BLFTTT
11/20/2007 Young Lizzie does BLFF
2/1/2008 Young Lizzie does BLFFF
9/13/2008 Young Lizzie does BFLBTTT, PFFBLTTT, BLFPTT followed by young Michael doing BFPBTTF.
4/23/1997 Edgar does BLFFTTK

As you can see, adult humans do not make a raspberry sound beginning with BLF. That is the sign of a physically immature raspberry-maker. Obviously, if Lynn did her proper research, she would realize that. As it is, I imagine a 6th panel in today’s new-run where John Patterson returns and says, “You call that a raspberry? Lizzie can do a raspberry better than that and she is only somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2. I hereby swear a solemn oath that I will train Lizzie how to properly raspberry, so when she is old enough to be angry at a man for no good reason related to his job, she can do a proper raspberry. Obviously I can’t leave that important training in your incompetent, wimpy raspberrying hands (or tongue as it may be).

Catch Up After a Vacation: Lynn Johnston’s dilemma

“When you close the practice for a few days, you have to go like mad to catch up!” This is John’s comment in today's new-run of For Better or For Worse. While it is true to a certain extent. John’s job isn’t like a number of other jobs where work piles up while you are gone, even though this is the way John’s comment makes it sound. In the case of a true dental emergency with his patients, a doctor on vacation usually has made arrangements for another doctor to cover them.

When my wife worked for an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor; what happened was that he would let his patients know when a vacation was coming up. Usually his vacations were for an extensive period of time, so patients had to plan around them. If the patient couldn’t wait until the doctor got back from vacation, his staff would schedule up a lot of those kinds of appointments prior to his departure. The consequence was that her doctor was actually busier before the vacation than afterwards.

I don’t know if the same is true in dentistry in Canada, or even if Lynn Johnston paid enough attention to Rod Johnston’s dental practice to know the answer to what happens in this situation. Considering Lynn’s lack of attention to dental detail in the last several strips devoted to John’s dentistry, there is some evidence that Lynn did not pay attention. What we are seeing instead is probably Lynn’s interpretation of what happens when she takes a vacation. Upon her return, she realizes that she has to “go like mad to catch up” and produce the required number strips for the syndicate. I suspect today’s strip is really more Lynn’s story than Rod’s, consiering the number of vacations Lynn has taken recently.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

“Lizzie just locked herself in the bathroom.”

This is an interesting situation in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. When my kids were Lizzie’s age, this never happened. Of course we had all those childproof door knob covers on the doors, which I could barely turn myself. For a comparable experience I would have to go to my youth, before the days of childproofing. Again, I come up with a blank. All the doors in the house I grew up in had a little hole on the exterior door knob, where you could poke a long slender rod in and unlock the door. Even if a young kid were to, by some miracle, manage to turn the lock on the door, my parents could always unlock the door from the outside.

The biggest problem we had with locks was with cars. Both my wife and I were notorious for locking our keys in the car. I remember one occasion in particular where my wife locked her keys in the car, borrowed my keys to unlock the car to get her keys and somehow managed to lock both sets of keys in the car. She is very talented. Fortunately on none of these occasions were there kids still in the car.

For this joke to work, little Lizzie has to be able to lock and unlock the bathroom door at will, and the lock on the bathroom door has to be one that does not have an exterior unlocking mechanism. I suppose such locks exist; but they did not exist in the house I was brought up in the 1960s nor has it existed in any house I have lived in since.

The funny part about the strip is not how the Pattersons have to work so hard to get Lizzie out of the bathroom. The real joke is that little Lizzie, whose age is somewhere between 1-2 years old can obviously lock and unlock the bathroom door whenever she wants. She has manual dexterity far exceeding her age, which is a pretty common trait for children in this strip. Presumably, the rest of her family comes to realize this and that they were going to a lot of effort for no reason. Of course these are Pattersons, and they may have gone through the same sequence of “Lizzie locks herself in. Her parents try to rescue her and fail. Lizzie gets out by herself. Repeat.” several times before they finally realized this. Fortunately, Lynn Johnston limits us to only 2 times. At least until she reprints this strip again next year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

History of Dryer Sheets

In the late 1970s manufacturers found a way to deliver fabric softening benefits in a dryer sheet format. Believe it or not, in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we actually see Elly using what would have been a brand-new technology for 1979. This is amazing for a women who, in the later strips, still washed dishes by hand, even though she had a dishwasther.

It is interesting she is using Whiffo Spring instead of Whiffex 3. I guess she was unsatisfied with the Whiffex line of products after that incident with Farley. I guess we can also assume that these were the years before Elly turned into an environmentalist, except that in the linked strip we don’t see Elly putting her laundry on the line.

Not only that, but Anne Nichols takes us back to a young, more innocent, more clean-smelling time; when people living in the suburbs of Toronto believed that the suburban Toronto air had a clean and sweet scent.

I am very fond of putting laundry out to dry on lines in areas where that works. In Tucson, if you try that, you are likely to have dirt blown up on your laundry as very few people have grass in their yard. I have very fond memories of when my grandmother, who lived in Colonial Beach, Virginia, used to put her laundry out; and all the laundry had a certain salt water and beach smell to it (the nice smell, not the dead fish smell). They were great-smelling clothes, even if they were hard as bricks coming in off the line.

In case you were wondering where little Lizzie is during Elly’s visit with Anne, the answer is in Panel 4 where, if you look carefully, you can Lizzie is buried underneath the pile of dirty clothing. She has cleverly disguised herself as a laundry basket.

Lynn’s Interview with CTV Canada AM

Go to this link and then select "'For Better' creator pens a kids' book" from the list of video segments under their player image.

Transcript stolen from dreadedcandiru2]with my commentary added:

Interviewer: For thirty years, Lynn Johnston has entertained readers with her 'For Better or For Worse' comic strip and now she's back with a brand-new picture book for kids. 'Farley follows his nose' stars Farley, the Old English Sheepdog, and Lynn joins us now in studio. It's a pleasure to have you here.

Me: I love this line “and now she's back”. That has to unsettle Lynn, because she hates the idea that anyone would consider her gone.

Lynn: It's great to meet you in person. I see you all the time and it's so exciting to be here.

Me: At this point I realized that Lynn did not know the name of the interviewer. It is Marci Ien, if you are interested.

Interviewer: It's a pleasure to meet you. So Farley is one curious dog; this is a great read.

Lynn: Well, thank you! It was, it was a lot of fun to do; it was, it was nice that I got a letter from Harper Collins asking if I was interested in doing a children's book and that kind of thing just spurs you on. It's like "Well, it's like a lot of work but....". So my sister-in-law, whose name is Beth, she's a veterinarian, she loves to write, she's a good writer the two of us so I called her up and the two of us sort of collaborated on an outline and worked with the editors there and came up with this story and the best part was illustrating it 'cause that's what I love to do.

Me: "Well, it's like a lot of work but....". In other words, “I don’t want to do it because it’s too much work. Make it easy for me, and I will do it.” It is at this point, I imagined a conversation where the publisher suggests people to “help” Lynn do the book in order to get her to agree to do it. In the interview, Lynn leads into how she got Beth (no last name credited) Cruikshank to write the story. We know that the next part is where Lynn made arrangements with the publisher to not have to take on a full art load, since they hired Patty Weise to do the watercolours. You can practically hear the gears turning in Lynn’s head about what to say here. After saying that she and Beth “sort of” collaborated on an outline, i.e. the reason why Lynn got a writing credit for the book; then she drops her final line about how she loves to illustrate. When Lynn makes such a specific point about something, it makes my “Lynn is lying” meter go all a twitter. Of course it helps when you already know she is lying in advance.

Interviewer: Well, the pictures are great, they're just so full of life and vibrant and the whole thing is that Farley is following his nose. [An illustration from the book is shown] He's at this thing (the kids' party) and there's food that interests Farley [they show an illustration that has Farley salivating as he mentally pictures a hot dog] and kids that interest Farley and all the wonderful smells of flowers, all these things and the adventures he finds along the way [the next illustration shows him running up to what proves to be Phil's car] and this was based on a dog, a sheepdog you once owned; is that right?

Me: I haven’t bought this book, but there were a few illustrations I had not seen before in the on-line book sellers’ websites. I compared them to the drawings Lynn did of Farley in this strip which featured Farley extensively. To my eye, the figures of Farley in the book do not look right. He has a lolling tongue, the muzzle is the wrong shape, his legs are too long and look too dog-like, and there is un-Lynn-like texturing of the lines showing different shades of his dark fur. Ever since I learned Chrissie Boehm’s specialty is imitating other people’s art style and she was credited on-line for illustrating the book, I have been curious what her actual contribution to the art was. Chrissie said she just did a sample, but these pictures seem to tell me a different story.

Lynn: I once owned, I once owned an Old English Sheepdog called 'Farley' [the illustration shows him jumping headlong into a kiddie pool] and I think I wanted an Old English Sheepdog because they're cartoon dogs, I mean, they're all hair until they're wet...

Interviewer: ...and then they're Mr Muggs, do you remember Mister Muggs, oh boy, I'm probably dating myself [we shift to his SNIFFA-SNUFFA-SNIFFing the air]....

Me: Here is a link to Mr. Mugs.

Lynn: well anyway, well I haven't had a date in ever, the, the dog that we had was just a delight, he was a wonderful old guy but he was a lot of work and I had no idea but the brushing, the looking after, the training and all that kind of thing. So he's forever remembered in the comic strip, I had to bring him back to life.

Me: I love this segue. "I haven’t had a date in ever. " Hint. Hint. Single men. Lynn is advertising herself. It’s pretty obvious Lynn does not remember Mr. Mugs from the school room, since was from the 1960s and 70s. It is at this time, Lynn begins ignoring the interviewer and moving onto her main talking points. This one is: If you like Farley, he is currently in my comic strip.

Interviewer: You did and we're glad that you did. So here you are at thirtieth anniversary of the strip. Did you ever think, when you started this whole process, that thirty years later, you'd be here?

Lynn: Um, well, when you're, I was offered this job and so it was a panic so, I mean I knew I could be funny once in a while, I knew I could do a comic once in a while but to do one every single day forever is challenging. [The interview repeats that last phrase.] It's a challenge so what you do is you work from week to week and month to month and eventually it became a story and a saga and that kind of thing and thirty years went by and so I didn't, I didn't expect where it was, I didn't know where it was going but all you want to do is be able to is hit those deadlines and get it out and I've been so lucky that it's still out there, it's still, it's still in print and it's doing well.

Me: Lynn sort of ignores the interview question again, and makes her second main talking point: My strip still exists.

Interviewer: Well, you generated a lot of excitement in our offices because I was speaking to a friend earlier and we were talking about the fact that you were going to be here and how much we love the comic strip and her point was "And she ages her characters." [Lynn: That's right.] And that's not something that you often see. Why do you do that?

Lynn: Well, it worked best for me in writing story lines because you need change in something like this; to write something about characters that are static is very difficult. And so, for me, the change was really important and the story lines were really important but you have to deal with lifespans then so, of course, the dog had to disappear. So, when Farley died, it was tragic and it was hard to write about so to be able to go back and able to do a story about the dog has been a lot of fun. And to be able to start the strip again from the beginning has been a lot of fun too and I'm really enjoying that. And working on it.

Me: Lynn does answer the question this time, but quickly moves to her third main talking point: The strip has restarted from the beginning.

Interviewer: And the thing too is that you deal with real life. [They both repeat the sentence 'That's right.']

Me: The interviewer has realized Lynn has stopped listening to her and now she starts using one sentence phrases in the hope that Lynn will go along with her.

Lynn: And going back for me has really been great because I can identify with the young kids again. I couldn't identify with Michael, you know, the adult Michael with his [stammers a bit] new children coming up. I'm a, I'm a grandmother-age right now, I'm not, I don't know anything about kids today, about their iPods and their toys that do everything. So, it's much easier to go back into my own past.

Me: Lynn ignores the interviewer question and goes to her fourth main talking point: This is why I restarted the strip from the beginning.

Interviewer: And learn a few things along the way.

Me: The interviewer hopes in vain that Lynn will share one of these things.

Lynn: And remember a lot of things. [The interviewer smilingly repeats this.]You have a five-year-old right now, don't you?

Me: This is hilarious. Lynn, herself, has just remembered something someone told her to say in this interview related to the audience for the book.

Interviewer: Almost; she's four and three quarters, she'll tell you she's five. She's almost five and she's going to be thrilled because this is going to be her bedtime story tonight.

Lynn: I'll be thrilled to sign in for her, thanks.

Me: She didn’t ask, but Lynn volunteers anyway.

Interviewer: It was so nice to meet you.

Me: The interviewer did not thank for Lynn for her generous signature. In other words, she is thinking "Lynn has stopped talking to me and this interview is over.:

Lynn: You too.

My conclusion: A disaster. Lynn is here to push the children's book to an interviewer known for being an advocate of children's needs on this show, and she spends most of her time pushing her comic strip. The fact she says so little about the book speaks volumes about how much she actually worked towards its creation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Should Be Dead and No One Cares, Not Even John

There are a few odd things about today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse:

a. Judging from the shape of John’s body on the stairs in Panel 2, he has dislocated his right shoulder, broken his neck and snapped his spine. Of those injuries, his right arm appears to be still dislocated in Panels 3 and 4; and his spine and neck look questionable in Panel 4.

b. After having taken such a terrible fall, John Patterson seems to be more interesting in determining the person who left the *!@ screwdriver on the stairs than his own personal health. It’s almost like watching Wile E. Coyote get up after falling off a cliff, where you know he’s OK because he’s a comic strip character.

c. After having seen her husband take such a terrible fall, Elly Patterson seems to be more interesting in answering John’s question about the person who left the *!@ screwdriver on the stairs than his own personal health. Apparently Elly also thinks of John like she thinks of Wile E. Coyote.

d. Although John blames the screwdriver for his fall, a careful examination of the stairs shows that they are so uneven; the stairs could have easily been a contributing factor.

e. For some reason, in Panel 2, Elly appears to be raking up a stuffed animal of some sort, and there are no visible leaves in the yard. No doubt this is because they only had stuffed animal trees in their yard in the 1980s.

f. John uses the phrase “for Heaven’s sake.” A quick check against the AMU reprints archive shows 23 occurrences of “for Heaven’s sake” and 0 occurrences of “for God’s sake” and 1 occurrence of “for Pete’s sake” and 1 occurrence of “for goodness sake”. “for Heaven’s sake” is the clear winner. Pattersons believe in Heaven, but not so much in God, Pete or goodness.

g. The placement of the screwdriver in proximity to John’s body in Panel 4 is one of those phallic moments Lynn likes to slip into the strip from time-to-time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flashback to July 1, 2008

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is yet another strip which has been reprinted in the last year. Here is the link to the comment I made about the strip the first time it was reprinted. Since almost a year has passed since we last saw this strip, I would like to give you an update. My son is now 13 and he still burps. However, since he has discovered girls exist, he does not burp as much.

I think it is fair to say that Lynn considers any strip reprinted during the hybrid year of September, 2007 to August, 2008 to be fair game for reprinting again. The last time she did this in April, I sent in multiple Coffee Talk comments pointing this out, not only to snark that she did it; but with the hope that it was a simple mistake and she would not do it again. It appears that either those comments did not make it to her, or that she simply does not care that she has recently reprinted this strip.

In times past, when people pointed out mistakes, Lynn would often get offended they were pointed out; but she would also try to correct the situation. For example, new-run Anne Nichols went from 2 children to 1 child, when it was pointed out the second child was not born by the first year of the strip. Reprinting recent reprints does not seem to bother Lynn as much, since she is at it again over a month later.

I had wondered when Lynn had finally reprinted all the strips from the first year, if she would go on to the second year or if she would start reprinting first year strips again. I was not trying to be serious with that question; but now I am having second thoughts.

Lynn had a certain number of story lines she mentioned when she started doing the new-runs. She wanted to show Farley’s reappearance to push the book. She wanted to tell the story of Deanna Sobinski leaving Milborough, which she did. Ever since she finished the story sequence in March with Ted and John going out on the town, the strip has been floundering. We see Connie and Anne and Elly talking about Connie’s love life, but they are simply rehashing the same old story. There is no progress there since January. It seems like Lynn Johnston has returned to the hybrid style of gathering strips together from the first year based on a common theme. Because of this we have seen re-reprinted strips in April and in May, and probably more to come.

I have this feeling that Lynn has run out of the new stories she originally planned to tell about the early days and she is coasting until she gets to September and fulfills her original promise to the syndicate for the strips to be one half reprint / one half new-run in the first year. The next 3 months are not looking good, if they are like the last 2 months.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Elly the Spy

With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse I am struck by 2 things. I am trying to think of how old I was before I was allowed to walk to a neighbour’s house by myself. Unfortunately for me I don’t remember much of my life prior to age 4; however, I do remember at that age walking to a friend’s house and even walking with that friend on the wooded trails behind our houses without any adult supervision. Given the theme of today’s For Better or For Worse, I have to ask the question, “Was I really walking alone, or did my mother surreptitiously hide behind objects and follow me the whole way?” Well, of course not. My mom could look out the window and watch me the whole way, just like I expect Elly could, considering Lawrence’s house is just across the street. Of course, this reprint could have occurred before Lynn Johnston had a clear idea just where Lawrence’s house was relative to Mike’s. Even so, it appears to be just down the road.

Nevertheless, by following Michael so closely, Elly is essentially saying that she thinks something can happen to Michael which will require her instantaneous intervention and not just her intervention as if she ran from her house to him. Not only that but she thinks it is important that Michael thinks he is walking without her. The net effect is that at some point, Michael will walk without her, and she will go into a panic, because she has failed to shadow him all the way. Yet again, we are seeing bad parenting in action. I will be very surprised if anyone writes in to say they did this with their kids too.

It appears that we have an emerging theme for this week, i.e. Elly is martyring herself over things which otherwise never bother her. This sort of thing only works for people who are reading the strip for the first time. Even people reading the strip just since September will know better. Monday, Elly is desperate for time alone, when we have already seen strips of her watching soap operas and yacking with Connie or Anne. Tuesday, Elly is all concerned about the mess her children make when they stay in from the rain, when we have already seen a strip where Elly gave Michael permission to play in the rain. Wednesday, Elly shadows Michael because she is nervous for him to walk to Lawrence’s house by himself; when we have already seen Michael playing in the rain by himself, wandering all over the neighbourhood with only Lawrence for company, and walking to a school bus by himself.

I made a joke in this blog on Monday about how time seems to be running backwards in this strip. I am beginning to wonder if it is true. Maybe we have moved back in time and we are seeing Elly let Michael go to Lawrence’s house alone for the very first time. That’s about the only way the chronology of this strip makes any sense.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rain = Mess?

April showers bring May flowers. And what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims. That’s the old joke. Apparently in Milborough, the showers are in May and not April. In Tucson, the rains mainly occur in late June through most of July. We’ve seen the complaints about summer before in this strip from February 12. In that strip Elly argues that Michael has plenty of toys and shouldn’t be bored.

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have another in what is turning out to be a genuine theme for these new-runs, i.e. the idea that a rainy day = a messy house. Back on October, 12, Lynn had a new-run exploring this idea, despite the fact that just a few weeks later, Lynn Johnston did a strip sequence with Michael being given permission by Elly to play in the rain.

Naturally, when I see a theme in the new-runs I feel obligated to use AMU reprints to check to see if these are jokes being stolen from the modern Pattersons. Interestingly enough, the theme of rainy day = messy house does not appear in any of the strips featuring rain. There are plenty of strips with people getting caught in the rain or dealing with umbrellas; but there is not one where the mother complains about the rainy day because the children are inside making messes and not outside.

It appears that the new-runs are beginning to establish their own identity outside of the reprint strips. Today we learn that this new identity involves lying to kids about the reason for rain, and whining about the mess in the house created by the rain. Lynn Johnston is using the new-runs to expand on the stories from the original strips and, as usual, the new message is not a positive one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Daily Backwards Life of Elly Patterson

In today's reprint of For Better or For Worse, we have a glimpse at Elly Patterson's daily routine.

First, she does the cleaning. Second, she does the ironing. Third she does the wash. Fourth, she puts the baby in bed. Fifth, she tries to use her free time for a cup of coffee and looking at a newspaper / magazine. Sixth, her son comes home from rolling in the mud and asks for food.

It seems like a strange chronological succession compared to my life. I usually do the ironing after I do the wash. When my kids were little, I often did the cleaning while they were asleep. Not only that, but I rarely put my youngest to bed, when my oldest had not yet been fed. Everything seems out-of-order to me.

However, I need to remember that this is the land of Milborough revisited. This is the land where the sports bars have flat screen TVs, while the house TV has dials for UHF and VHF. This is the land where Anne Nichols can unbirth a child. This is the land where a daughter can form complete sentences one day and revert to a one-word dialogue the next. When you live in a land like this, where time seems to be running amok, then maybe today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse makes perfect sense.

If I take today’s strip, this is the land where you do the ironing before you do the wash, instead of the opposite way around. This the land where you sit down to read the paper and have a cup of coffee just before your child comes home from school or the mud pits (or wherever), instead of the opposite way around. It’s all starting to make sense now. If I reverse the chronological order from what I would expect in my life, then I get the daily life of Elly Patterson.

Certainly it’s better to try and apply a certain logic which would make sense of the comic strip than to look at yet another, nonsensical attempt to make us pity poor Elly Patterson. What the reprint tells us is, even at the very beginning, in the first years of the strip, the worst strips Lynn Johnston does are the ones where she tries to make us sympathize with a poor, put-upon Patterson. She is so over-the-top. How could Lynn ever think that these kinds of strips would work? No housewife is going to look at that long litany of accomplishments Elly is spouting out that she did, and think “Wow! She’s done so much. I hope she gets time to rest.” They are going to think, “There’s no way she did all that stuff. Big liar!!”

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Parts Work / Some Parts Don’t

Today has one of those subtle moments where you can tell we are in Canada. I am speaking of the blue-coloured money Elly has in her hands to pay her bills. This is the first part of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse that makes sense.

The second part that works is little Lizzie latching onto the wrong leg. I can speak from experience that I have been latched onto by small children who thought I looked like their father from the knee down. Although those kids did not SHRIEK! like Lizzie did, they definitely looked disconcerted when they realized I was not their dad.

The premise of the strip is that Elly and this man are wearing the same jeans and Lizzie got confused which was which from the knee down (joke is that Elly’s legs are very manly). We even see in Panel 4, 2 sets of legs with jeans on them and Lizzie attached to one of them to emphasize this. The problem is that we never see Elly’s pants. We don’t know if the set of legs Lizzie is not grabbing in Panel 4 belong to Elly, or if Elly is even wearing jeans. In fact, there is some evidence she is not. Panels 1 and 3 show the people standing around Elly, and they do not look like the people standing around the man with jeans in Panel 5. Moreover, in Panel 3, Elly is looking around and cannot see Lizzie. If Lizzie was right next to her, as the Panel 4 picture of 4 legs in jeans might suggest, then you would think Elly could spot her easily.

For these reasons, it does not make any sense when the man says, “Same jeans…Wrong leg!” unless Elly is wearing jeans also. The joke does not work unless you can see clearly Elly is wearing jeans. Otherwise, you just sit there wondering why it is that Elly couldn’t spot Lizzie standing right next to her.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Malevolent Bath Duck

It’s good to see the malevolent bath duck finally get the blame for all his mischief in today's reprint of For Better or For Worse. Through the glories of AMU reprints I am proud to present to you the bath duck’s history, at least as far back as 1996, the limit of the AMU reprint archive:

6/8/1999 – April discovers that bath oil in a bath makes you extra slippery and she makes a mess, while the malevolent bath duck looks on in approval.

7/2/2000 – John Patterson’s bath is interrupted by a continuous series of wrong numbers via FAX. The malevolent bath duck appears just before John makes the ridiculous choice to sit dripping wet by the phone to wait for the FAX machine’s 3rd call.

1/27/2002 - Elly gets a “me” day which starts with her in the bath tub. The malevolent bath duck sits in the bath staring at what it, no doubt, hopes are Elly’s knees sticking out of the water.

4/12/2002 – Elly sits in a bath discharging as the bath duck makes its only appearance as a duck with darkened skin. If I were in a tub with Elly discharging, I would probably look the same way. I think this must have killed the bath duck, because it does not appear again until we get to reprints.


11/23/2008 – Michael can’t turn off the water and the malevolent bath duck does not lend a hand, or even a beak or a wing to help him.

4/12/2009 – Farley eats an Easter Egg in the drain of the bathtub, while the malevolent bath duck sits back and points the way to the egg.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Real Working Marriage

We have hit upon this theme before in For Better or For Worse. Back on October 2, 2008; Lynn reprinted another strip where Connie praised Elly and John’s real working partnership / marriage. Using AMU reprints, I discovered that the phrases “working partnership” or “working marriage” only occur in these two strips, at least as far back as AMU reprints goes (1996). There was one other location though.

In Liz's Letter, January 2007, she says, in reference to Constable Paul Wright’s potential as a husband:

But - I'm not going into wedding mode. Some of my friends totally focused on gowns and gala events, maybe more than they focused on the seriousness of the ceremony. When I say "yes", it'll be because I know it's going to be a working, long-term partnership. The ceremony is secondary. Security and commitment come first!

It’s interesting that this would be such a theme for Lynn back when she first started the strip and would rarely occur later on. With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, the statement is odd. After all, Connie knows Anne and Steve Nichols and it is before the time period when Steve became known as a philanderer. Why would Connie pick Elly and John over Anne and Steve? Especially after listening to Elly whine and complain again and again about her marriage, why would Connie ever say that Elly and John have a near perfect relationship? I would think that Elly’s whining about John would put that idea right out of her head. To me, this is not typical behavior. In my experience, if a woman complains to me about her marriage, the last thing she wants to hear from me is: “I think your marriage is nearly perfect.”

What we have instead is practice that became a standard in the final years of the strip – a separate character from the Pattersons, compliments the Pattersons. In these early years, it’s Elly and John marriage. In the later years, the complimentary subject changes to Elly’s parenting or house cleaning or cooking or business management.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creative Insults

There is a mindset with the creative insult that presumes that you have to include a clever phrase to it like:

When you go to the mind-reader, do you get half price?"
I would have a debate with you, but there is no honor fighting an unarmed opponent.
For you to be any lower you'd have to dig with heavy machinery or explosives.

Then there is another mindset with the creative insult that presumes the more adjectives the better like:

You are the ignoble, ignorant, illiterate, incestuous, illegitimate progeny of parents who belong to the phyla insecta.
You are a sleezy, slimy, sticky, stinky, scum bucket full of maggot vomit and horse poo.

It is when young Michael Patterson descends into the latter of these two choices, does his insult get praise from Lawrence Poirier. Prior to that point, Lawrence and Michael were dealing with one-word insults that seemed to be more a vocabulary test to see which one knew the most insulting nouns. Michael went with the adjectives and won the contest.

The nice thing about "new-runs and reprints" vs. "hybrid and reprints" is that at least we don’t have to endure modern Elizabeth looking back at the past and claiming that today’s reprint strip in For Better or For Worse is an indication of Michael’s genius which will result in his becoming a best-selling author. More likely it is an indication of how Michael will one day grow up and abuse adjectives terribly in his writing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Leaving Blanks Unfilled

Sometimes it is better to leave things to the readers’ imagination. There are moments in writing when this is true. I remember in the old TV show, Frasier, one of the characters had an off-screen wife whose eccentricities were often described for comic effect. It was funnier to imagine what she must be like than to see her. The writers for that show knew that no actress could ever live up to the viewers’ imagination of what she must be like, and so they never showed her.

In a similar fashion we have this old sequence with gossiping Elly, which was reprinted today in For Better or For Worse. Originally we had Elly talking with Anne about Connie, and Elly’s confession that if Anne called her interest in Connie’s love life to be “human interest”, then Elly would tell her everything. This was then followed by today’s strip, where Elly almost feels guilty about what she said to Anne about Connie. The difference between then and now, is that Lynn Johnston felt the need to flesh out what the gossip over Connie was all about in a series of new-run strips. Before, Lynn left it up to our imagination. Guess which one is better?

Now the story has been fleshed out, and we have learned the things Elly said about Connie:

1. Connie is still obsessed with Pablo da Silva, who has never contacted her about Lawrence. This is a story that dates back to before Lawrence was born.
2. Connie’s marriage with Peter Landry was bad and they had an awful divorce. Anne says she was around for that one.
3. Elly’s brother Phil, answers Connie’s letters, and it gives Connie hope, despite the fact that Connie is still obsessed with Pablo da Silva.

Of those things, the only thing that should be new to Anne is that Phil responds to Connie’s letters. Yuck! That is not even gossip-worthy. So now you have Elly in the reprint, all worried about Connie’s big, confidential secrets she has shared with Anne. Only this time, we see what the secrets are, and we know that there is nothing to it. My imagination was better. I imagined Elly telling Anne all about the latest men Connie was sleeping with, and what techniques they used on Connie. At least that would have been gossip-worthy and guilt-inducing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Montreal, Here Comes Connie!

I wondered why we were getting all this rehash of the Connie situation until today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. When we last left Connie and Elly's brother Phil, Phil had returned home to Montreal. We readers were expecting the plotline to follow its original form where Connie chased after Phil, only to embarrass herself and put things in perspective with her son, when she failed to return home after learning that he had gotten injured while she was gone. This was Connie at an all-time low. She was chasing after a man who was not interested in her all the way to Montreal and she let her son know that finding a man was more important to her than his welfare.

When this plotline did not show up, and Elly gave Connie a lecture about chasing after men, I secretly rejoiced not to see Connie dredged through the mud. I thought Lynn might go straight to the Connie and Ted story, when Ted was introduced. But then Ted was dredged through the mud instead, and I was even more pleased. I thought that perhaps Lynn was just going to skip over this awful period in Connie’s life and send her off to Thunder Bay several years early. After all, if she can send Deanna off several years early, then why not Connie too?

But then today’s strip showed up and mentioned poor Connie had been writing Phil, and mean old Phil was writing back to her, and thus encouraging the little psychopath. I loved Elly’s judgmental, anti-male attitude, even though the male in question is her own brother. Cruel and vicious, old Phil. Connie writes to him and he has the nerve to be polite and write back. He should just be rude and ignore her. After all, unless you plan to marry someone, you shouldn’t be writing back to them. Phil is taking her virtuous mail with no plans to make an honest mail woman out of her. You know what they say: It’s like getting the cow’s mail, without buying the cow. Or something like that.

The best part of all, there is no mention of e-mail, texting, or any other kind of means of communication that would tag the strip as modern. Connie uses the snail mail, and so does Phil. Isn’t that great for a modern strip?

Now we have spent a few days rehashing Phil and Connie so that we can return to the storyline abandoned back in January. Get ready for Connie to go to Montreal. Get ready for the lowest point in Connie’s life (aside from when she got her husband to throw her son out of the house for being gay). I can hardly wait. It was a terrible sequence before but I have every confidence that Lynn Johnston is going to find a way, via the new-runs, to make it worse. She is just that good.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is really confusing. Let’s take a look:

1. “I was going to teach English”?

From the current character description of Elly:

After a year of serious dating, he proposed and they were married the next February and settled happily into a small basement bachelor apartment. Elly's interest in her degree was fading by this time and she wanted to get out and WRITE! She left university early to work in a bookstore and do some freelance writing while John finished up his dentistry training.

Not teaching. Writing is the answer.

2. “She went off to work in South America, and me? …well…I got married.

From the Connie Poirier biography:

When Elly quit university at the end of second year to marry John and support him through his final year of dentistry, it hardened Connie's conviction that men were a handicap. She was glad to do her part in the wedding as Elly's maid of honour, but silently disapproved her friend's decision to sacrifice her own career to John's.

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.

Connie's first job was at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. It was there that she knew beyond doubt that she had made the right career choice. She loved the scientific rigour of radiology, the precision and care needed to produce good, clear x-rays. It was deeply satisfying, too, to know the value of her work, to see every day how it helped doctors to confirm diagnoses, expose hidden killers, and find ways to relieve the suffering of the children who came from all over Canada for treatment. For the first time in her life, she felt truly needed, an equal with the men she worked alongside.

There was more yet she could do to help bring greater fairness to a troubled world. When a doctor she knew asked her to join a medical mission going to South America to offer free care in the neediest regions, Connie signed up without hesitation.

If the biography is correct, Elly got married well before Connie graduated or went off to work in South America.

3. “Connie thinks my life is perfect because I have a husband”

No, Elly. Connie has been married before. It’s not any old husband she likes. She thinks your life is perfect because you have your husband.

4. Anne says, ”All your knowledge, skill and experience you pour into your children!” Elly agrees, “True…Maybe that’s why I feel empty sometimes.” Obviously Elly feels empty because’

a. She poured all her knowledge, skill and experience into her children; despite the fact her kids are 1 and 4.
b. She realizes that she had nothing to pour into her children. They are doomed.
c. Her overwhelming desire to do wordplay caused her to ignore the fact that the wordplay made her appear to be pathetic.
d. Annie's response was not, "You envy Connie Poirier for her career? Where has that gotten her? Knocked up! Divorced!"

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Something We Haven’t Seen Since 2002

As it cracks 100 degrees Fahrenheit here in Arizona, I have to remind myself that up in Canada, people are still putting on winter jackets before they go out to see a movie on Mother’s Day. Today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse is a surprising strip. It is a happy strip, where the mother wants to be with her children. You have to go back to 2002 to find another one close to that:

2008 Mother’s Day had Elly completely by herself, being treated by no one other than herself, after she slaved away all day.

2007 Mother’s Day had Deanna being tortured by her kids as she tried to take them to see some newborn puppies.

2006 Mother’s Day had Deanna ditching her kids with Elly, as she spent Mother’s Day with Mike.

2005 Mother’s Day showed John with a string of good luck as he showered Elly with gifts for Mother’s Day.

2004 Mother’s Day showed Deanna ditching a screaming Meredith with Elly as she spent Mother’s Day with Mike.

2003 Mother’s Day showed Deanna getting a gift for Mother’s Day as Meredith screams throughout.

2002 Mother’s Day showed all 3 kids getting Elly a gift certificate because they didn’t know what to get her for Mother’s Day. Then Elly goes shopping with the girls.

There you have it. It’s been 7 years and finally a mom is happy to be with her kids again!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Peter and Pablo Together Again for the First Time

Look at today’s new-run strip of For Better or For Worse. Lynn Johnston has finally sat down and read Beth Cruikshank’s story about the background of Connie, where she tied in Pablo and Pete to Connie’s life. Lynn has been all over the map on this one.

Back in September, Lynn painted the picture of Connie revealing to Elly that she was not actually married to Pablo da Silva, but she just told Elly they were. This is in response to Elly asking Connie if she would ever get married again, which effectively knocks the whole Peter Landry, ex-husband, story out the window. It is not a question Elly would ask if she was aware of Connie being married to Peter Landry.

Then in April, Lynn reprinted the strip sequence where Elly and Connie talk about her relationship with Peter Landry and Lynn eliminated the line, "I know. Still--when it's the only relationship I've had, it's hard to forget." This opened the door to Pablo da Silva, but all the emotion and regret expressed by Connie is for life with Peter.

Now we find out that Pablo was the love of Connie’s life. This contradicts the prior strips about Peter, but that’s OK because it is Elly saying it and not Connie. After all, if Pablo was the love of Connie’s life, then why did she put all those conditions on it, like “I’m going to Canada now. Follow me!!” This is old news however.

Then we have the usual retcons. The Who’s Who on Connie says this:

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.

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

The divorce was a miserable business. Pete did his best to load all the blame of the break-up onto her, and in her unhappy state, Connie more than half believed him. Afterward, she felt more lonely and insecure than ever. When the house next door came up for sale, she was quick to phone Elly and convince the Pattersons to buy it. How helpful it was to have a friend nearby.

In today’s strip we have the usual round of retcons, Elly says this:

1. He never really wanted a family.

I don’t get that Peter never wanted a family from that. What I get was that Peter disapproved of Lawrence because he was born out of wedlock. That’s not quite the same.

2. He was so mean to her.

She has a case here. Peter made all the decisions, insisted Connie did not work, was jealous of any man she spoke to. That’s horribly mean.

3. Annie and Elly were there to pick up the pieces from the awful divorce.

No mention of Elly or Anne with Connie’s divorce in the Who’ Who. It looks like Connie handled it on her own and then invited Elly to move near her.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Return of Connie’s Love Life

Lynn Johnston managed to wrangle almost a week out of Lizzie learning to talk. And by wrangled, I mean managed to tell essentially the same joke 4 days in a row, i.e. Lizzie doesn’t say what Elly expects her to say and instead says, “No!”, “Nizabeff”, raspberries John, and then back to “No!” to complete the sequence from Monday to Thursday.

Today’s strip of For Better or For Worse is a classic rerun in the Cathy vein of humour, i.e. character starts with normal behaviour and then contradicts that behaviour in the last panel. Lynn was very fond of ripping off Cathy whenever she put adult females together in the early years of the strip.

Lynn has Elly say something very seriously, which would only be said in real life if you were not serious. The subject of discussion between Anne Nichols and Elly Patterson is Connie Poirier’s love life. The last time Connie discussed this with Elly, we learned that Connie really had been married to Peter Landry after all. There’s no telling what kind of retcon on Connie’s life is coming up. Lynn Johnston completely eliminated Connie chasing after Elly’s brother, Phil to Montreal. The next story coming up should involve Connie’s romance with Ted McCaulay; but I am not so sure, since Lynn has painted such a horrific vision of Ted in his early 30s with the new-runs. It’s hard to imagine the idea of his being with anyone would be appealing.

Looking at the strip I am starting to develop new questions: Why do people hold their drink in one hand, but drink holding the drink in the other hand? Where did Anne’s coffee cup go in Panel 3? Did she eat it? What is going on with Elly's right arm in the last 2 panels? It looks like it is alternatively on different sides of her body.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The “N” Word

What a strange conversation Anne Nichols and Elly Patterson have in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. In my experience, when parents refer to words by their first initial, these are bad words you don’t want your child to start using. In my house, the “N” word is a whole different word than “No” and is, in fact, a word I never want my children to use. Since when is “No” a word you don’t want your child to pick up? Imagine this scenario:

Lizzie falls down
Elly: Lizzie, does it hurt?
Lizzie: Oh, mother. The word I want to use is the opposite of “Yes” but I don’t know a word for that.
Elly: Yes! My motherhood is a success! Lizzie doesn’t know the “N” word.
Lizzie: “N” word? You mean “ne'er-do-well”? I already know that word, mother.

Naturally I would question Elly’s statement about discovering the “N” word’s true potential with the example she gives today. Is it a true potential if Lizzie says “No!” to a boy trying to take one of her toys? I would think Lizzie’s “No!!” from Monday’s strip would be more like the “No!” a parent would fear, i.e. directed at the parent. However, I must put myself in Elly’s shoes. Is it more important that Lizzie doesn’t say “No!” to boys her age or doesn’t say “No!” to her mother? You would think with Elly, the answer would be “to her mother.” However, history grants a different perspective on this. Elly was shopping her daughter around to Constable Paul Wright, and encouraged Elizabeth to break up a man’s marriage so she could be with the man instead. It could well be that Elly considered Lizzie’s power to say “No!” instead of “Yes!” to a potential mate, like Anne’s son, might not be in Elly’s interest for Lizzie.

The best part of the strip however, is the way Lynn Johnston let us know that Elly is exaggerating Elizabeth’s speaking ability to Anne Nichols. Elly told Anne, “She knows the parts of the face.” Did we see Elly going through the parts of the face with Elizabeth to see if she could say them? We did not. We saw Elizabeth saying when she wanted to go pottie. We know that Elizabeth has more than a few words in her vocabulary. The other parts of Elizabeth's speaking ability, which Elly claimed, we saw. With "parts of the face" either we have a case of "Tell and not show" which is common for Lynn Johnston's strip; or we have a case of good, old-fashioned, parental lying to impress another parent. I like that perspective. It makes Elly seem more human.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Nivabeff of the Spit

The Sunday strip on November 30, 2003 was a great strip. On May 4 this week, Lynn Johnston repeated the “No!!” part of it. In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston repeated the part of it where the mom is trying to get the child to show off her language skills to her dad, and then failing. Instead of a “No!!” we get a raspberry. The net effect is still the same. You can lead a child to daddy, but you can’t get them to say their name.

The problem with substituting a raspberry for “No!!” is that we have been shown on more than one occasion that Elizabeth knows a raspberry is used for taunting an enemy, usually Michael. In fact, we have not been shown Elizabeth making a raspberry just to hear the sound of it. When Elizabeth does a raspberry at John instead of saying, “Nivabeff” as she did yesterday; how are we supposed to interpret this? Is Elizabeth just making noises? Or is she saying, “I hold you in contempt, father. You will hear no ‘Nivabeff’ from me.”? Or is she saying, “Oh, mother. Yesterday you pointed at things and asked me to name them. If I follow the same course, then what I should be saying is ‘Da-da’ or ‘Father’ or ‘Pater’ or something like that, not ‘Nivabeff’.”

The real question is what will Lynn Johnston be able to stretch out of that November 30, 2003 strip for the rest of the week.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Nivabeff Celebrates Cinco de Mayo

In yesterday's For Better or For Worse, Meredith called Elly “Mum-mum” and not “Ma-ma”. As I said yesterday, this is much less well-developed than when Lizzie said, “Nizzie want in there” from the 03/01/2009 strip. Other than that, Lynn is doing pretty well.

Mispronouncing “dog” as “gog” is an example of consonant harmony, where the whole word is influenced by a particular sound. The pronunciation of the whole word is influenced by the presence of a particular sound in the word.

Mispronouncing Michael as Miggah is an example of context sensitive voicing, where a voiceless sound is replaced by a voiced sound.

Mispronouncing Elizabeth as Nivabeff is not quite correct.

Normally you expect to see a fricative consonant (/f/ /v/ /s/ /z/, 'sh', 'zh', 'th' or /h/) which is very hard to pronounce replaced by a stop consonant (/p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ or /g/). However we do have the weak syllable deletion which eliminated the “el” part of the name.

In other words, Lynn is doing astonishingly well with Elizabeth’s speech pattern, until she gets to the joke line, where she sacrifices her accuracy for supposed humour.

My favourite part is in the final panel where Elizabeth’s name pronunciation causes her left boob to develop to maturity. It's very freaky-looking.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Continuing the new-run trend of appropriating jokes from the modern strip is today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. We last saw this joke on 11/30/2003 with Meredith as the girl who says, “No!!” The strip with Meredith makes no more sense than today’s strip with Elizabeth’s giant “No!!” With neither Meredith nor Elizabeth do we see the child getting upset enough to start screaming "No!!"

I suppose I could point out that Meredith’s “Mum-mum, Da-da, Goggie, Baby, No” are all much less developed than “Nizzie want in there” from the 03/01/2009 strip. That ground is well-covered. Lizzie’s development alters depending on what joke is being told. Then, of course, I could point out that in language development, little girls do not usually sit down and practice the words they know. They usually use words in context, as in saying “Ma-ma” when they want or see their mother. Pointing out that Elizabeth does not act like normal little girls is also a well-worn comment.

The best part of today’s strip is the final panel where Lizzie’s “No!!” not only blows back Elly’s hair, but causes her nose to grow and causes what appears to be an almost instantaneous pregnancy. That is one powerful “No!!”.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Recycled Hockey Joke

In spite of the fact that Lynn Johnston is recycling another joke she has done a few times before, I liked the strip. Lynn has taken to doing “funny” names in the new-runs for For Better or For Worse and she really runs the well dry in the strip going up to 6 “funny” names. Clearly all the hockey players were recruited from persons who went to Dr. Patterson for dental work. Someone should tell her that 6 “funny” names does not equal 6 times funnier.

The funniest parts of the strip are the various facial expressions on Ted and John as they watch the game. The best of these is the one with Ted hugging John. Second best is the second panel from the end where John appears to have grown a hunchback. Strangely enough, Lynn sabotages the best element of the strip by doing so many panels with full silhouette and featuring no background characters at all who are not in silhouette. Amorphous black blobs are just not that funny. The other sabotage is the repetition of the facial expressions. John triangle mouth point up for sad, triangle mouth point down for happy repeated again and again. If Lynn had done this strip in 1980, she would have done it better.

Oddly enough the part I liked best about the entire strip was that neither Ted nor John got slammed for being at a bar and watching a hockey game.

Now, let’s look at a history of this joke:

2/4/2007- The joke about being exhausted after watching hockey with April and Gerald watching a live game.

I liked this strip. I believe it was the only strip showing Gerald and April out on a date by themselves and not as a part of their group or as a part of the band.

2/9/1997 - The joke about not having done anything with Weed and Mike watching hockey at a bar.

This is one is a little obvious, with Weed specifically pointing out that he and Mike did nothing to help their hockey team. Jokes are never as funny when you have to explain the punch line.

3/7/1997 – Sally and Elizabeth being ignored for hockey after inviting their respective boyfriends over.

This is one is the best of the bunch, with Sally and Elizabeth both paying the price for trying to get the better of each other.

On a personal note: My mother-in-law has been taken out of the ICU to a regular hospital room. She’s not well enough to go home; but this is a majour improvement.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Watching Vegetables, but not Eating Vegetables

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse falls into the category of: “Kids doing something that kids do, except that kids don’t talk about it.” My kids do this all the time. I say, “Turn off the TV, please.” Then when I return 5 minutes later, the TV is still on. That hypnotic magic box holds sway over them. My kids however, would never have the conversation Lawrence and Michael are having. If one of my daughter’s friends said to my daughter what Lawrence is saying to Michael, my daughter would say, “Sshhh!! I can’t hear the TV.” When I come back to my kids and get irked at them for not turning off the TV, they simply stare at me and wonder why I am upset. This is the case, no matter how many times it happens.

In this area young Michael is different. He is intentionally continuing to watch television in order to make his mother mad. That may be some kind of parental fantasy Lynn Johnston had about her kids, but the truth of the matter is that most children are self-absorbed creatures that have to be reminded again and again that there are other people in the world than themselves, and some of them are parents who will make them do things that they do not want to do. Like turn off the TV.

The part I like best about today’s reprint is that old-fashioned TV with the separate dials for UHF and VHF. It’s been awhile since I have seen one of those. The TV program appears to be one with talking vegetables, like Veggietales except, since these are Pattersons, this is probably a horror movie.