Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Smells and Stinks

Lynn Johnston likes jokes about smelling things. Thanks to AMU Reprints, I uncovered 54 jokes about smelling in their archives of For Better or For Worse. Believe it or not, not one of those times repeated the very obvious joke of today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Today we have the standard wordplay on the 2 different definitions for the word “smell.” “Smell” means “to smell something” and also “he stinks”. Even though Lynn hasn’t used it, my kids do this joke all the time; so it feels used to me. Maybe Lynn can do the “Why the chicken crossed the road?” joke tomorrow. I don’t think she’s used it in her strip before either.

Aside from this, Lynn Johnston returns to her theme that obedience school is not working with Farley. We even have a slam on the use of the command “heel”, which I am surprised Lynn did not turn into a pun. She has upgraded the strip to show Michael using a retractable dog leash on Farley. I did a quick internet search to find the history of those, but was not able to find anything conclusive as to when retractable dog leashes came into being.

On the plus side, Farley seems to be happy. He is not being abused. The joke doesn’t have anything to do with waste materials produced by dogs. If it wasn’t a joke I had not heard several time before, I might be pleased by today’s strip. Because I have, the joke is old and the setup for it is very laboured. It seems like the kind of strip my kids might have written back when they were 8 and 10.

Lynn's Travel Journal: Oaxaca, Mexico Day Three

As usual, I will quote and comment

Kate was sick for much of the night. Around 2am, I looked for the Imodium I always carry and she took a good dose. It didn’t work, so she took some more. Later, when the problem continued, she checked the expiry date on the package. It had expired in 1999!!!

To put this in perspective: Lynn Johnston bought this Imodium before Charles Schulz died and she has been carrying it around ever since.

Alanna and I went down to the farmácia and bought fresh stuff and Cypro, an antibiotic you can get over the counter, there. It’s what they gave us in Peru and Alanna, through experience, thought it would do the trick.

I think she means Cipro, although an antibiotic does not do the same thing as Imodium, which I presume is the "fresh stuff" she mentions. I notice that in this Travel Journal, it is “Alanna” and not “Alana” as it was in the prior Travel Journal. I guess we got a little spelling correction from the real Alanna, or Lynn is just spelling names however she wants.

Kate seemed well enough to take a trip to Monte Albán, one of the well preserved archaeological sights (sites) nearby. A great deal of restoration has been done to these ancient buildings and we were fortunate to be there on a clear, quiet morning. A few vendors on the entrance steps sold hats and masks, and guides were eager to show us around. Alanna knew the place well, so we followed her lead.

Lynn wants us to know that she did not spend money on hats or masks, and especially not guides. This continues her theme of frugality.

I always find these places to be powerful, somehow; sort of like being in a shrine; a living museum. The magic and the majesty of these ancient cities take my breath away. We climbed one of the temples and marveled at the view. You could see where terraced farming had taken place and where private homes had stood in rows on the hillsides.

This is the one point where Lynn talks about what she sees and interestingly enough, it is about where people lived and worked and not anything ornate or the restorations.

They say that one of the reasons this civilization collapsed is that Aztec rulers were allowed to have many wives, but the common people were monogamous by decree. So, the kings had hundreds of royal offspring who in turn produced lots of children, all of whom were too royal to work in the fields or build temples or do any of the real work. There is evidence of uprisings where the commoners overthrew the families of the kings, eliminating a lot of their own population. This combined with deforestation, war and illness made life tenuous long before the Spanish arrived. A real lost civilization.

Ha! Of the many reasons the Aztec Empire fell, Lynn Johnston latches onto the one reason related to men being with more than one woman. Look! The Aztec rulers were just like my ex-husband and all the people in Lynn Lake!

Kate was not well enough to continue to other sites, so we went back to our B&B and she went to bed. I felt terrible. A mother always hopes these things will happen to THEM and not their children!

An interesting switch to third person here. Why doesn’t Lynn say, “I wish it had happened to me and not Kate”? Well, at least she got a picture of Kate this time and I presume Alanna is the blonde woman in the background.

Fran, Alanna and I went back into town where we explored the artisan’s shops and the chocolatarías.

Judging from the statements which follow, Lynn doesn’t quite make it to the artisan’s shops. Of all the things she talks about in this Travel Journal, she spends the most time talking about chocolate. Big surprise.

Chocolate grows in Mexico. I’d always wondered what the pods looked like and we were fortunate to find one of the shops grinding the beans into powder. The pods are about the size of a pear. They are hard, fluted and filled with thumbnail shaped beans. Each bean has a dusty brown coating and when you break one open, the chocolate inside is black and a bit oily. The taste is bitter and strong.. These beans are roasted, ground and then mixed with other ingredients to make all kinds of products. We had chocolate milkshakes- to DIE for and bought stuff to eat to cook and make drinks with.

Now for a description of chocolate. Lynn eats and buys stuff to eat and, of course, make drinks with. We must mention the alcohol portion of the trip every time.

Back at the ranch, Kate was able to get up and socialize…(having also eaten something to die for) and we went over everything we could think of, trying to guess what Kate had eaten that none of us had. Well…It was MY fault! It was the carrots I bought at the market. I had washed them, but not in treated water, had cut them into sticks and put them on the table to eat raw. Nobody else had eaten the carrots. Case solved and another lesson hammered home. One: wash veggies in treated water and or boil them before they go down!!! Two: check the expiry dates on your meds before you travel. Stuff 10 years out of date won’t work.

In the prior travelogue, when Lynn said she made dinner, she did apparently use the carrots she bought at the market, but no one ate them but Kate! Not even Lynn! Just how awful and nasty-looking were these things?

I have apologized on my knees for the error. I knew better- I really did!! Nothing like learning from actual experience…and I still wish it had been ME!!

I doubt Lynn actually got on her knees. Well, Lynn, it could have been you, if you were brave enough to eat your own cooking.

Hasta manana (mañana)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bananas Are So 1998

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we see the surprise appearance of fruit, and not just any fruit, but a banana. The last time we saw a mention of a banana in this strip was back in 2002, when Elly was cleaning out the freezer and found a banana loaf from 1998. Oddly enough, the mention of bananas prior to that was from 1998 in this strip. Obviously, bananas are a 1998 food for the Pattersons. In neither strip, are Pattersons seen with a bare, peeled banana ready to be eaten; so it should come as no surprise in today’s strip that little Nizzie turns down the decorated banana offered to her by Elly in favour of a cookie. It is simply a food with which Pattersons are completely unaccustomed.

Cookies, however, are a whole different story. Thanks to AMU reprints, I was able to find 28 references to cookies in For Better or For Worse, the most recent one from last year. In fact, the last reference to plain old fruit in For Better or For Worse is this often-mocked strip from 2005, the last time John Patterson cooked. Notice how healthy his menu is. Notice that the particular fruit in question is not named. It is such an unfamiliar substance to April Patterson that she is unable to identify it as anything but fruit, even though she is fully capable of identifying couscous. If I put couscous or some kind of fruit in front of my kids, they would be much more likely to be able to put a name to the fruit than the couscous.

Now, thanks to the new-runs, we get to see the true story of how Elly turned into the cook she is today – she was not smart enough to fool her 1-2 year-old daughter into eating a banana instead of a cookie. We also get to continue our theme from yesterday of Elly stopping whatever she is doing in order to satisfy Nizzie. Although she tries to divert Nizzie to a banana, Elly does stop right in the middle of washing the dishes to accede to her demands. Because of this, we know that the unseen 6th panel of today’s strip is Elly handing Nizzie a cookie and grumbling something like:

1. At least her cookie is as cold as this dishwater.
2. So much for Flower Power.
3. Kids these days. In my day, I would have eaten anything my mom disguised as a flower, even broccoli and carrots.
4. Hum! That trick always works with John.

Ups and Downs

With today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse, we have once again entered into the realm of Lynn recycling a joke she has used before. The last time we saw Lynn Johnston do this joke with kids wanting up and down and the “Ups and Downs” wordplay was on 3/14/2004. In that strip, it was Michael and Meredith. In comparing the two strips, it is interesting to notice the differences.

1. With today’s new-run Nizzie wants up in one panel and wants down in the next panel. However, in the 3/14/2004 strip, the sequence was Meredith wants up in one panel, Meredith gets attention from Michael in the second panel, and Meredith wants down in the third panel. The 3/14/2004 strip was on a Sunday and had more panels to spare. In today’s new-run, Lynn Johnston drops the middle panel of the sequence in order to fit everything in. The problem is that without the middle panel, the impression you get is that little Nizzie wants to be picked up and then immediately put down. With the 3/14/2004 strip middle panels, you get the impression that Meredith is picked up and played with for awhile, before making her request to get down.

2. The other difference is the circumstances in which the request for being picked up occurs. In today’s new-run, Nizzie gets picked up while Elly is in the middle of folding laundry, and then when Elly is carrying laundry. Elly actually puts the laundry down in order to accommodate Nizzie’s request. In the 3/14/2004 strip, Meredith’s requests do not seem to alter anything Michael was doing except at one point when he is typing on a computer. With this comparison, it appears that Michael understands the boundaries of accepting small children’s demands better than his mother did.

Both aprilp_katje and dreadedcandiru2 wanted me to comment on Lynn Johnston’s Travel Journal, for a trip she took to Oaxaca, Mexico while I was at Boy Scout camp. The two parts of it are listed here and here. I will quote the part about which I am commenting before I comment on it.

Lynn's Travel Journal: Oaxaca, Mexico
June 23, 2009

My friend Fran came to visit in January. She noticed that one of the carvings I bought in Mexico was without ears. She also discovered the carving was made in the village where her daughter, Alana is studying Mexican art and culture. Naturally, we decided we should go to Oaxaca, visit Alana and get some new ears. I had enough points to get us there so Kate and I met Fran in Toronto and the 3 of us headed south.

This part of the story hits on some of Lynn Johnston’s favourite themes. She mentions the points because it is important to her that we know that she didn’t actually spend any money on the trip. The reasons for the trip are to get some ears for a carving and to visit Fran’s daughter Alana. Once on the trip, we will find that Alana is barely visited and there is no talk of ears. Lynn wants to go to her favourite vacation country, Mexico, she does not want to go alone, and there is an implication that the daughter of Fran mades the local arrangements. The most interesting part of this to me is that Lynn is taking her daughter Kate on the trip, telling me that Kate and Lynn are spending more time with each other.

The Mexico City airport is large, light and attractive; a good thing since we have 4 hours to kill. We find our way to the “Click”counter where folks are lining up. There are a few other foreigners, easily spotted with their Tilley hats and practical footwear.

She changes planes in Mexico City, and is picked up in Oaxaca; but Lynn is not very clear about this. Lynn has used the phrase “Tilley hats and practical footwear” before when it comes to foreign travel. I would have to admit a Tilley hat would show someone off as a foreigner. I would also have to admit that on what few occasions I have traveled to Mexico, I have never worn or traveled with someone who has worn a Tilley hat. Of course, it should be mentioned that Mexicans often wear practical footwear, so I really don’t know what Lynn means by this.

We are met on arrival by Alana, a pretty, blonde and slender woman (heck, we can’t call our daughters “girls”!) and her boyfriend, Eric. Eric is a local fellow ( muy guapo!) with a busy printing business. He doesn’t speak English and focuses on the drive to the B&B where we will be staying.

muy guapo!
means “very handsome” or “very sexy”. Yes, Lynn is single. Eric is an interesting first name for a local, non-English-speaking fellow from Oaxaca.

They have borrowed a truck from our hosts. It’s a black 4 door vehicle with a metal cage on the back, very useful for carrying whatever one needs to schlep.

Why in the world are they driving the truck owned by the Bed and Breakfast people? Wouldn’t the Bed and Breakfast people be driving it? That’s what is listed in their website. This is what tells me that Alana is the one who set up Lynn’s accommodation.

Eric takes us around the center of town, as a recent strike ended in chaos, yesterday, with broken glass, burning tires and a barricade making it an unpleasant drive. Apparently the teachers are out of sorts and are making a political statement. Nothing like setting a good example!

Looking at the information on the internet, I don’t see anything about this strike happening in particular in 2009. The Oaxaca teacher’s strike that captured the world news occurred in 2006. I suppose what Lynn is viewing was something done in honor of the 3rd anniversary of that strike. Clearly she does not understand the issue and has not consulted her hosts to find out anything about the strike. However, condemning something she does not understand is perfectly in keeping with Lynn Johnston.

Rumbling over the many “topes”(speed bumps) we come to a steep and challenging hill at the top of which is a classy row of houses and Casa Machaya.

Topes are speed bumps, which are more extreme than speed bumps in the US. Lynn does not mention this.

Alvin and Arlene Starkman greet us at the door. They lead Kate and I to a suite on the second floor and we settle in. Alvin and Arlene are Canadians who have given up the grind for their dream of owning a little place in paradise.

Naturally, Lynn is staying with Canadians.

Our space in the Starkman house is perfect. There’s a large bed-sitting room and an attached alcove with double bunks. Kate takes the bunks and I spread out on the bed. Fran has their daughter, Sarah’s room and we are set.

This part is a little confusing. If you click on the Casa Machaya website, you will see a picture of a bedroom and optional guest bedroom with a bunk bed. Apparently each person traveling has to have their own room in this deal, so Sarah is out of her room for a bit. Why Fran wouldn’t be staying with her daughter, we don’t know.

The walls are green and orange. Matching handmade bedspread and drapes make you aware you’re in a country that reveres color and artistry.

Actually, according to the Casa Machaya website:

Your Canadian hosts spent four years building their home using a Oaxacan architect so you’re assured of classic Mexican flare, color and design, yet with all the conveniences of home without any cultural surprises:

What Lynn is seeing is a Canadian’s version of Mexican in the colour scheme to appeal to tourists. If you don’t believe me, look at those pictures. The strangest part of the pictures is that we do not see Kate or Lynn in the pictures. She shot a picture of her luggage on the bed instead.

A door leads onto a covered porch which is also our kitchen and dining room. There’s grub in the fridge, fresh fruit on the counter and we declare ourselves at home. Upstairs, Arlene has put out spicy nuts, wine and a variety of local tequilas. We sit and enjoy each other’s company. A great finale to day one.

They get there and they get drunk. Great day!


The sun is up around 6, heralded by several roosters- one of which has a serious throat ailment making his crow more of a croak, but it’s effective. The neighbours are already up, doing chores and puttering about.

Oaxaca slam #1. The place is so rustic, roosters are the alarm clock.

We overlook about 5 small houses, one of which is undergoing construction. (Probably for years.)

Oaxaca slam #2. The place is so poor, home construction takes years.

A loud mooing comes from somewhere and I go out onto the porch to look for a cow. The mooing is followed by a garbled announcement from one of those cartop bullhorns: “ MOOOOOOOO!!!! ……. blabarabbablabba OAXACA!” Turns out it’s the propane guys selling gas.

Possibly “Propano…Gas de Oaxaca” Maybe “propanoooooo” sounds like “MOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Good local advertising at 6 AM …..and appropriately, it’s about gas!

I don’t get this joke.

I put on the coffee, help myself to eggs and fresh mango and read some articles on the area.

As we will find out later, “articles on the area” means “places to eat.”

The variety of flowering shrubs around our outdoor kitchen are almost too pretty to be real and I find it hard to concentrate. Ivy and cactus decorate the walk. Blue, pink and white blossoms tumble over the wall separating us from the house next door. We are asked to keep the water we run before getting into the shower and pour it onto the plants. Even in the rainy season, there’s never enough water, and yet these plants bloom with joy.

An interesting bed and breakfast with this request. Speaking from recent Boy Scout experience, I can tell you that water is heavy.

The biff is a long tiled room with an open shower in the middle. A curtain separates the flusher from the douche which is next to the sink. An interesting and functional configuration which Kate and I find easy to share. It’s so dry here that everything evaporates fast. A wet floor is dry in minutes and laundry is ready to wear almost before it’s on the line. While Kate gets ready, I take out a bucket of agua and dump it on the grateful plants outside.

Looking at the picture makes part of this clear, although I am still not sure about where the water goes from the open shower. The shower must somehow drain into a bucket, not visible in the picture.

Around 9:00 Alana and Fran meet us upstairs and we head off for a look at the city of Oaxaca.

Translation here. It takes them 3 hours to get ready.

Along the tree-lined streets, people sell cool drinks and fresh pastries. Candy made from coconut, tamarind and cactus are delicious and we stop to buy a sample of each one.

First stop in Oaxaca – food!

Asphalt pavement gives way to cobblestone streets where carts are pulled, bicycles ridden and a social order is kept with cheerful greetings to all. We feel welcome and knowing enough of the language to have a conversation is a blessing. I think the language barrier is the one thing that keeps us all from getting along. Culture is part of it, religion, too…but if you know how to greet someone on the street and wish them a good day, eyes light up, smiles happen and you feel at altogether home.

Lynn knows how to say "Buenos dias." If only everyone could do that, then everyone would get along. World peace all thanks to Lynn Johnston.

The ancient town square is ringed with restaurants and we choose one for a snack and a cervesa. This is where the annual radish festival takes place. Fran tells us in detail about the festivities surrounding the displays, the carving, the artistry, the fireworks and the competition involved. We contemplate the act of radish carving. Are they soaked first, how long do they last, are they eaten later, is there a national radish carving champion?? This is one more thing I want to see before I die.

Lynn could do that or just look at these pictures. This festival does not occur until December 23 each year, so Lynn is getting awfully worked up over something she is only hearing about.

After lunch, we continue up the street past a group of demonstrators. Hanging over an entranceway is a large cloth on which is printed the graphic image of a woman with her throat slit. It’s hard to understand just what the message is…but the picture is worth a few words. In a place so full of beauty and history it’s hard to understand how something so violent can be so casually displayed.

Lynn doesn’t know this, but I will let you know that the response to the teacher’s strike in 2006 resulted in over 12 people being killed and reports of people be tortured. Most likely the picture is in reference to that event. Lynn refers to the town’s beauty and history and yet, what we have so far, is an eating trip with a little dose of condemnation for the local politics for marring Lynn’s trip. Lynn is disappointed that the Casa Machaya website promise of no “cultural surprises” is not proving to be true.

There is a large indoor market nearby and we go in. Stalls filled with spices and piled with peppers are separated by curtains and thin wooden frames from the meat sellers and cheese merchants and people selling flowers. Seated in rows alongside the stalls, ladies sell home made tortillas. They look delicious. Feeling like a local, now, I buy a bag full of carrots and some broccoli.

Huh? The tortillas look delicious, but she buys carrots and broccoli? Is that what locals do?

Suddenly remembering my camera, I take a photo of a huge pile of hot peppers and then a lady seated on the floor selling limes. OOPS I forgot to ask her permission. This is a real breach of etiquette and I sincerely apologize. I give her a 10 peso coin which she accepts, but it is evident that had I had the courtesy to ask first, she’d have been pleased to oblige.

In other words, Lynn wants you to know that she could have saved that money, continuing on in her frugal theme. 1 Mexican peso = 0.075523 dollars, so Lynn is giving her 75 cents.

Outside, merchants sit behind displays of clothing, jewelry, dvd’s , cotton candy and all kinds of nuts. Roasted grasshoppers are also for sale and I’m tempted, but need a shot of tequila first.

Lynn needs to be drunk before she will eat a grasshopper.

Babies sleep in baskets under the displays and a blind man plays the guitar so well, I want to stop and listen. His friend passes a hat and we’re glad to donate.

Lynn’s first stop that does not involve food.

Back at the B&B, we go through our purchases as Al and Arlene bring out the wine. Fortified with local brew, I volunteer to make dinner. Cooking is easy when it’s done with whatever you can find in the kitchen.

In other words, Lynn may have bought those carrots and broccoli, but she is not going to eat them. She does acknowledge that she will only cook when she is drunk enough. I wonder how drunk you have to be to eat Lynn's cooking.

Outside, the noises of the night begin; peeping toads, dogs barking, fireworks and mariachi music. We settle into our nest. It’s been a truly great day.

What an odd array of sounds. Once again, Lynn ends the day by drinking and declares the day to be good. All in all, this appears to be an eating vacation, which can be fun. The real question is whether or not Lynn Johnston will ever actually eat any Mexican food.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bed Selection

The last time Lynn Johnston dealt with the issue of having children change beds was back in a week-long sequence starting with this strip. In it, Michael and Deanna buy Meredith a “bump” bed, and then give Meredith’s old bed to Robin, because it has sides on it. One of my favourite bizarre sequences of this was when Robin hugged his baby bed goodbye. I note however, that Deanna does not give Robin any options, even though he makes an option by eventually choosing to sleep with this sister in her new “bump” bed. I give Deanna points for not caving in to Robin, but she loses points for not telling Robin in advance.

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse proves that over time, Lynn Johnston developed a better understanding of how to make that transition from crib to toddler bed work. In reprint, Elly Patterson allows little Lizzie or Nizzie (pick your panel) to refuse the new bed she has apparently purchased and go back to the crib. Deanna knows better than to do that. The joke is that L/Nizzie is more comfortable sleeping on all the toys in her crib. The real joke is that Elly Patterson thinks she is a decent mom, even though she so easily caved in to her daughter.

In my life, we experienced a similar situation when we moved my son to a toddler bed as his younger sister came into being and took over the crib. We did not make the mistake of giving my son an option. However, my wife had in her mind the kind of toddler bed she wanted for my son, and she purchased it without consulting him. He refused to sleep in it and instead, chose to sleep on the floor by the door of his room. You wouldn’t think a 2 ½ year-old would be so picky, but there it was. We tried every trick we knew to get him into his bed. We snuck in his room after he was asleep and put him in the bed (which worked until he woke up and moved back to beside the door). We moved the bed next to the door. We put toys all over the floor next to the door (to make it less comfortable). Nothing worked.

Finally the time came for my daughter to move to a toddler bed almost 2 years later, and to pick a grown-up bed for my son. We went to the bed store and let my son pick out his own bed. He has slept on that same bed ever since and never again on the floor. The moral of the story is that if you get your kids involved in choices they can make about these great transitions in their life, the happier and more willing they will be to make that change.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fathers’ Day 2009: A Return to Sweetness

Fathers’ Day, 2009 in For Better or For Worse is a new-run which starts off very similarly to Fathers’ Day, 2007, with the children jumping on and dragging their father out of bed.

In that strip, Michael Patterson was overwhelmed by his children’s attention and called for help from his wife, Deanna. In today’s strip, we have the same arm-dragging by kids, but John Patterson is made of sterner stuff than his son. This is made obvious in panel 2, where he stands as bowlegged as a professional cowboy. When Elly finally does pop in, John appears to be happily making pancakes for his kids. Although the rest of the strip plays on the joke that for everything John would like to do on Fathers’ Day, Elly adds a honey-do onto it; the tone of the strip is shockingly pleasant and ends with Elly kissing John on the cheek. The most shocking thing of all is that Elly actually says the word, “please,” to John. The last time that happened was in the 3/12/2000 strip (I love AMU reprints for being able to look up trivia like that). That’s right. It’s been more than 9 years. 2000 is the year many long-term fans mark as the year which began the strip’s descent into negativity.

Lynn Johnston had promised in her Blog entry on her website to lighten up the negative tone and here is a strip where it is clearly and obviously being done, and there is not a poop joke in sight. We have both John and Elly in a strip together and neither is doing a thing to vilify the other for their behaviour. I am agog at such a thing. It honestly makes me wonder what could have inspired Lynn Johnston to step away from the “slam John Patterson at every opportunity” paradigm, which has been the guiding force of the strip over the last 2 years. Maybe Lynn has finally realized that her ex-husband doesn’t read her strip, so her efforts to slam him via the strip have been in vain. Maybe Lynn has finally gotten the message from all those Coffee Talk comments from faithful fans which have complained about the constant negative tone. Maybe the sales of the strip have finally dropped low enough to give Lynn a wake-up call. Who knows? What I know is that, for the first time in a long time, people will probably write in and say that they have had a Fathers’ Day like this, for a strip that has been written recently.

On a personal note: My Fathers' Day will be spent taking boys to the Camp Lawton Boy Scout Camp for the week. There are no computers there that I can use, so the Howard Bunt Blog will be on hiatus until we return on Saturday. Have a happy week without me!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Farley's Too Big for Michael

Looking at the drawing of Farley the dog in the final panel of today’s For Better or For Worse, I can see pretty well why Lynn Johnston only drew the top part of Farley’s head in the first 2 panels of the strip. Farley looks a little bit more rabbit-like than dog-like. That’s OK, though. Since John turns into a disembodied head and hands in the last panel, I can hardly complain about Farley the rabbit. As for the art, this dog training story has been pretty lazy artwork for Lynn Johnston. Seeing the severe decline in the quality of the art from year one to year two, it makes me wonder when the art improved after year two and what Lynn’s motivation for improving it was.

As for the joke, this is similar to the dog and grandma video which floated around the internet a few year back. The part that is hard to tell is if Michael pulls up smartly on the leash while saying “heel” before or after Farley the dog bounds off. If it is before, then we are getting demonstration number 2 of why obedience school is a waster of money. I didn't realize Lynn hated them so much.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Art Review

aprilp_katje requested an in-depth art review of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. Off we go!

Panel 1: John appears on the left with his collar turned up for some reason. It’s down for the rest of the strip. John’s glasses are missing the ear piece throughout the strip. Somehow I don’t think Lynn means for him to be wearing a pince-nez. In this panel, the Yahoo colourist works to good effect. The action should be on the figure of the instructor and maybe John, and yet the center of the strip focuses on 2 unknown characters and their dogs, which are nearly silhouetted. One has their dog by the collar, the other by a nice loose leash. Farley the dog, on the other hand, is being hung by the neck by John, judging from his snout straight up and the tightness of his leash. Possibly he is stuck in the bottom of the panel and John is trying to pull him out. In the background we see a modern Lynn art style: The giant blob of black silhouettes. In later years, Lynn would get better about giving these more definition. Not so in this panel, where we have simply a blob with an occasional, somewhat head-looking thing popping out.

Panel 2: This panel is better-composed than the first. The instructor is more prominently drawn and is mostly in-panel. However, the mismatched size between her head and the rest of her giant-sized body is distracting. Clearly Lynn drew the body first and then when she realized that the head to match it would exceed the bounds of the panel, she drew the head smaller to fit. This is the old “Lynn refuses to use an eraser” scenario which plagues her art for the next 30 years. In this panel we also see another favourite Lynn art style: The ever-changing perspective. Lynn loves to change the perspective in every single panel. Someone told her that changing perspective is a good thing, and she has done it ever since, even when it is confusing. We can see John is in the same place relative to the woman in the first panel. With this new perspective, we can see that embedded in the silhouette blob, are Elly, Michael and Lizzie. They are apparently sitting or standing right behind a very short black blob thing that is actually shorter than little Lizzie. In this panel the Yahoo colourist does not work to Lynn’s advantage, as Elly and the kids are not coloured in to help you notice them. One particularly nice touch in this panel, which Lynn eventually loses in her art is the changing interests of Farley the dog. Modern Lynn turns the dogs as eyeless and unemotional as the instructor. In this panel, Farley has spotted the other dog, who has turned to look away from Farley. This is nice background detail that enhances the story.

Panel 3: The silhouette blob is even more obvious in this panel, where it looks like there are both feet and heads sticking out of it, like it is a giant centipede. The focus is very poor on this one. Michael or Lizzie (I’m honestly not sure which one) appears as some kind of goiter coming out of Elly’s neck and has switched positions with Elly from the last panel. Both of them have eyes, but seem to have lost their mouths somewhere along the way. John is the speaker and should be the focus and yet he is almost completely off-panel, except for his head and arm. The focus of the panel is the unimportant lady in the back with her dog. Farley the dog appears to have been replaced by some kind of round hairy, tongue thing. He has completely lost the angular dog-like shape to his head.

Panel 4: Here, we have another example of a head attached to a body of a differing size. Clearly Lynn drew Elly’s arm first to touch John and then drew in Elly’s head later to fit the size of the panel. That’s twice in one strip she did that. Other later additions appear to be Farley, Lizzie and Mike’s heads and John’s leg. Mike does not have the correct relative height to Lizzie. Unless Farley’s head is now attached to John’s leg, it looks like he has pulled the poor dog’s head off its body. The Yahoo colourist salvaged Lizzie with a blot of pink under her head, otherwise she and Michael would also appear to be nothing but disembodied, floating heads.

That's it for the art review. As for the joke, Elly is demeaning or mocking John’s question by treating him like a dog. It looks like she is joking with the expression on her face, but John's expression tells us he doesn’t seem to get the joke. On the other hand, this may be one of the few times during the entire course of the strip where Elly actually tells John that he is wonderful. If I were John married to Elly, I would run with it.

Daily Cartoonist Article I Missed

This is the link to a Daily Cartoonist article I missed. I probably ignored it, because it refers to an interview with Lynn Johnston in the Peterborough Examiner I had already seen. What got me excited is that there is a comment to the article from my old favourite Laura Piché. Laura is a former Lynn Johnston staffer who has in the past made my day by taking the time to write to the Howard Bunt Blog. The Peterborough Examiner article has been one of the most illuminating with respect to understanding Lynn Johnston's unusual perspective on things, which often comes out in her comic strip, even in its earliest years. For example, the reference to John Patterson as "Daddy" in today's strip shows up there to let us know this was not a dog-only reference for Lynn. Check it out if you are interested.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can Farley Talk?

Back in the days before grandchildren, my sisters referred to their pets as their kids and likewise, my parents were their pets’ grandparents. The word “grandpets” was used often. We see a similar sort of logic in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, when Elly Patterson refers to John Patterson not as John, but as Daddy, when talking to Farley the dog. John appears to be a little disturbed by this reference, I think. His sentence doesn’t make sense. In the final panel he says, “Wouldn’t it be just as reassuring if he called me by my first name?”

What does this mean? I think the possibilities are:

a. The dreadedcandiru2 often makes jokes about how the Pattersons expect their pets to act as if they were humans in animal suits; but this is one of the rare instances where a situation like that could make the dialogue make sense. Maybe John genuinely thinks Farley can call him by his first name.

b. John has mistaken Elly for a “he,” possibly because her shoulders are the same width as her head in this comic strip.

c. John walked in during the second panel, when Elly says, “He’s going to be daddy’s good puppy! He’s going to do everything daddy says!” and has mistakenly come to the conclusion that “daddy” is Elly’s father and he (John) is the “puppy.” John doesn’t want Elly’s father to call him “puppy”. He would prefer to be called by his first name.

d. John walked in during the second panel when Farley is giving Elly a raspberry, and has mistakenly come to the conclusion that this is Farley’s method of referring to him (John). John doesn’t want Farley to call him by giving him a raspberry. He would prefer to be called by his first name.

e. John sees Elly being kind and affectionate to Farley instead of screaming at or abusing him as is her custom. He is confused by this unusual and rare situation and gets his words mixed up.

f. John has heard what Elly is saying and does not consider it to be reassuring. He makes up an impossible situation to which to compare it, to show that he does not consider what Elly said to be reassuring. It is like saying, "Wouldn’t it be just as reassuring if the moon fell out of the sky and danced a jig on our front lawn?”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome to Disobedience

Judging from today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we are headed into the Obedience Training Class storyline. Elly wonders if they accept children because her children are so disobedient. Even though this is the impression the strip is trying to give you this is not what I see:

1. Elly told Michael to put up the toys ages ago, but Michael is in the middle of building something. Aside from the flying saucer toy behind him, it looks like Michael is active with his toys and not just leaving them out after he finished playing with them. He probably would question why Elly wants him to put them up. In the very next panel, he is still playing with the same toys, so Elly’s demand did not even register with him. Why is this? Maybe he is being disobedient, or maybe he is just ignoring Elly’s arbitrary demand on him, since he knows she will not enforce it and doesn't really mean it.

2. Elly accusation of fighting between Michael and Lizzie appears nothing other than the idea that kids Lizzie’s age like to knock things down. When my daughter went through a similar phase, we tried to explain to her not to do that, and we put my son’s building stuff in a place where our daughter could not get to it.

In both cases, it seems less a situation of disobedience, and more of a situation where Elly has no idea how to handle her kids.

We also see 3 characteristics of Lynn Johnston-style art:

1. No relationship of objects to each other. In Panel 1, is the flying saucer toy hovering around in the air, attached to Lizzie’s head or lying on the floor behind her?

2. Where the action requires detail, there is nothing there at all. In Panel 2, behind Michael’s pointing hand is the invisible lower body of John Patterson. I think this must be the precursor to the use of silhouettes in such situations, which Lynn uses a lot in the modern drawings to show things Lynn doesn’t want to draw, but wants the reader to know is there.

3. Glasses without the ear piece (which is almost as fun as glasses with no eyes behind them). This shows up in Panels 3 and 4, and is a long-standing trademark of the comic strip.

Lynn’s Drawing Style Emerges – Lazy!

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we have another Farley strip. The sight gag works pretty well. Farley trains Mike to sit, possibly one of the few times we will see young Michael Patterson disciplined. Despite the fact that this is a primarily a visual strip, you can see some of the drawing shortcuts Lynn Johnston is starting to take, which will become emblematic of her art over time. By drawing shortcuts, I mean things that Lynn refused to draw or correct.

In panel 1, the lower half of Mike’s body is off panel, possibly because Lynn didn’t want to draw his hideous pants in all 3 panels.

In panel 2, we see what will become a standard drawing method for Lynn Johnston. Mike’s left leg and upper torso connect, but his right leg does not. Obviously it was drawn last, and even back in the second year of her strip, Lynn Johnston could not be bothered to erase Mike’s torso to make it connect to both of his legs. This is a very common drawing error for Lynn Johnston throughout the 30 years of her strip. For some reason, Lynn also decided to blacken in Farley’s fur on his forechest. It returns to white in the next panel. The darkening of his fur is so close to the drawing and expression of his little doggie face, the blackening is likely a method of repairing a poor drawing of the dog’s head, without erasing.

Panel 3 is the most interesting, because there are so many missing body parts on Michael Patterson. The best part is his disembodied hand, hovering over Farley.

In panel 4, the unusual part is the relative shifting of the horizontal line representing the connection of the floor to the wall. As the action concludes, young Michael has shifted several metres away from the wall as he fell. Farley, on the other hand, appears to be walking in an undog-like manner. Dogs don’t move legs on both sides in the same direction. They would fall over. You can see why Lynn Johnston eventually moved to using drawing models for such things.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Welcome Back, Year Two!!

Since today’s reprint strip of For Better or For Worse is a reprint including young Farley the dog, and little Lizzie is shown walking in the Keep on Truckin’ style, it is safe to assume that Lynn has moved back to reprinting strips from the second year collection, for the first time since January. Elly has the bulging eyes stare popularized by Charles Schulz. Then there are the usual anomalies: The handprints that look like animal tracks which appear not only behind Michael but in front of him, the mysterious footprints beside Lizzie who appears to be leaving no footprints, the large clumps of fleas near Lizzie and Farley’s feet and Elly’s head, the pictures of falling rain that seems to indicate that all 3 of them were playing in the rain with only a few drops of wetness between them (except on the floor), and the scratches on the wall which cannot be attributed to any of them.

There have been many strips of Elly being horrified at other people making messes. Lynn Johnston repeated this theme regularly throughout the 30 years of her strip. I can conclude that either Elly’s children are unteachable, or that they just make messes to antagonize Elly. Oftentimes in these situations, Lynn Johnston exaggerates the mess to be beyond what could have been created by the little ones, and this time is no exception. Generally, Lynn is a little more subtle. The handprints are in front of Mike on the wall after all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lynn on never letting people go

Lynn Johnston has a new blog entry. My comments on it follow the parts I am quoting.

My friend Alice called last night. She has just lost her mom and felt like talking.

A late night phone call sets off alarm bells for me when it comes to Lynn Johnston. Lynn has told stories in the past about her friend she would talk to just before bedtime. They both put on full makeup or they both put on negligees purchased at a thrift store and talked to each other to tell each other they were beautiful. Those situations seemed so strange; I wondered if Lynn was just making it up.

I wished I could have had that last meaningful talk, that reconciliation, say the things that needed to be said. But it never happened. Mom died and I stayed angry for years. That's just the way it was.

And by “for years”, we mean up to at least 2 weeks ago on CBC's "The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos" where Lynn’s abuse at the hands of her mother was mentioned as a part of her introduction. I have a real difficulty with this. Lynn did an extensive interview back in 1994, for Hogan’s Alley, where she told the interviewer, Tom Heintjes, about how her mother abused her. Lynn’s mother passed away from cancer in 1991, so there was no chance of repercussions from her mother.

Then a few years back, Lynn Johnston did a podcast interview where she significantly changed the story she had always told about how her son Aaron had taken pictures of a car wreck of someone it ended up that he knew. Lynn used this story for the comic strip sequence where Michael Patterson took pictures of Deanna Sobinski’s car wreck. In the podcast, Lynn changed the story to one where Aaron took pictures of a girl who had hung herself from a tree in a public park. It was so different, the 2 stories could not both be correct. It was at this moment, I came to doubt things Lynn Johnston has said in public. Unfortunately for Lynn, in her interviews, she simply strengthens that belief. In her interview with Macleans magazine, she accused the entire town of Lynn Lake, Manitoba of being casual adulterers, to the clear disbelief of the interviewer. She was interviewed by the Peterborough Examiner and told a story about how her ex-husband had stolen all of her money, so she didn’t have enough to buy groceries. Both of these were obvious lies.

That doubt culminated into outright disbelief, when Lynn Johnston personally responded to one of my Coffee Talk comments asking her who Patty Weise and Chrissie Boehm were, the ladies credited for art on her children’s book Farley Follows His Nose. Her response was that she didn’t know who either of them was and that she had done all the art on the book. Then later, she told the Toronto Star she hired a watercolourist to colour the book. So, she lied to me.

When I go back to the Hogan's Alley interview in 1994, what I notice is that not only does Lynn Johnston claim abuse from her mother, but she blames her father for not protecting her, and her mother’s father for abusing her mother, and her father’s father for abusing her father. It’s too over-the-top for me. I doubt the whole story now. When she brings up issues with her mother in this Blog entry, I wonder what those issues were, and if they were real or imagined.

Alice told me that before she left home to see her mom for the last time, she asked a friend from her church if there was a passage she could read from the Bible, any scripture that would help her and her mother through this difficult time. Instead of recommending words from the bible, her friend just said, "Say to your mother: I forgive you, you forgive me, I love you, you love me...it's ok."

I'm OK, You're OK, by Thomas A Harris MD. I have seen Lynn espouse his philosophy before in the comic strip. Note that this advice is being asked before Alice sees her mom for the last time. In the next paragraph, Lynn is going to change that story slightly. This adds to my doubt that Alice is a real person.

During their days in the hospital, as her mom became increasingly weak and disoriented, Allie tried to start the conversation that would resolve everything. Her mom would say "not now, let's talk later". Then, she told me "I just said it straight out...Mom, I forgive you, you forgive me, I love you, you love me...it's ok."

So, instead of the last time she sees her mom, it is sometime during her days in the hospital. Either Lynn is taking a little dramatic license here, or she doesn't have the story straight.

I told her I wish I'd had that same advice before I kissed my mom goodbye. These things resolve themselves over the years, but oh how nice it would have been to have let the dark stuff go before she died. I thanked Allie for telling me this and......

As for Lynn Johnston, she still hasn’t let the dark stuff go. I don’t even need her intro on CBC's "The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos" to tell me this. This blog entry is proof enough.

I wanted to pass it on to you. Who knows, it might make a difficult time a bit easier. LJ

Not really for me. If I said that to my mom, she would say, “Forgive me for what?”

By the way, I am going on a Boy Scout trip this weekend, so the Howard Bunt Blog will be on hiatus for a few days.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

She’s Worth $500 a Pound

I had to read today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse a few times to figure out what Anne Nichols is saying. She pays $10 a week to a weight control clinic until she reaches her goal. Her husband Steve thinks that Anne has no will power. Steve believes that it will take Anne $500 or 50 weeks to lose one pound. Judging from the big mound of cookies in front of Anne, he may be right, but to say that out loud? Is he crazy? For some reason, in the land where Anne and Elly live, husbands are brutally honest. Just 2 days ago, John Patterson said the magic left his relationship with Elly when she stopped putting on makeup before breakfast. Why is it that Connie Poirier wants to be married again, if this is what husbands are like?

As for the $10 a week, that fee seems pretty high by 1979 standards. Current Weight Watchers traditional meetings cost between $10-12 per week depending on local variation. My guess is that this text has been edited and unlike the jogging suit strip price alteration, it looks like Lynn Johnston did a little research instead of just making something up. Will wonders never cease?

In Lynn Johnston’s latest entry in her new Coffee Talk Blog, she talks about how she was “so sarcastic and perhaps a little negative at the time (1979).” Judging from today’s reprint, that is definitely an understatement.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

All This Lightning and No Farley

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse gives us a pretty good indication that it was written prior to Farley entering the comic strip. Thanks to the wonderful world of AMU reprints, I found 3 instances of thunderstorm strips, and all of them involved dogs. The first 2 involve April and the dogs. The last involves Elly and John and the dogs.

If Farley was around, today’s strip would involve Michael and Farley. Instead, Lynn Johnston had to go to the next best thing to Farley, the teddy bear. He pulls out the cuteness when he wakes up Elly. Thunder and lightning fears are typical for small children, and for once we get an age-appropriate reaction for young Michael Patterson. Lynn is hitting on a pretty easy target in the “my kids did this too” category. Moreover, with lightning fears we get the rare instance where Elly and John are not portrayed as bad parents. They usually comfort their child and take the fear seriously, which is what most experts recommend.

My children never seemed to experience lightning fears. To be honest, the thunder and lightning in Arizona is pretty pitiful. We have heat lightning and it can be quite beautiful to behold. But the thunder just doesn’t seem to have much punch to it. My kids were much more susceptible to bad dreams and that was usually the reason they came to invade my bedroom in the middle of the night. That plus the fact that I am such a heavy sleeper, they could often sneak into the bed without my noticing, at least when they were little.

What is there to say about this strip? I was amused in panel 2 by the sound effect “Flash” in the pitch black room. Maybe Lynn didn’t think that one through. I was relieved to see that Michael’s bed turned back to normal after Lawrence visited last week. In panel 1 it seemed a little odd for the drapes to be blown back from the window. I would think the window would be closed, if it was raining outside.

These are minor points. What we have today is a rarity in For Better or For Worse land – a good strip. Naturally, it’s a reprint.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Elly and John’s Dating Years

The story of Elly and John’s beginning has varied over the years. In the beginning we saw regret from Grandma Marian that Elly had quit university before getting married. In 1997 that story changed so that Elly quit university because she got married, with the clear implication that having babies and paying the bills were the primary motivation. At some point after this, Lynn Johnston realized the timeline of that didn’t work out with the kids’ ages, and so it was changed to just paying the bills. The latest version of this is in the current website character description of Elly, where neither bill-paying nor babies are mentioned:

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.

Another question of interest was whether or not John and Elly lived together before they got married. With today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, you can see pretty clearly that Elly and John were living together (or at sleeping together on a fairly regular basis) when they were dating. It also appears that they were together long enough for John to declare the magic disappeared in their relationship when she stopped putting on makeup before breakfast.

If my wife asked me such a question as Elly asks John, I would wonder if the follow-up question would be, "Well, if you think the magic has left our relationship, then why don't we divorce?" The answer to such a thing should always be something like, "But honey. I still feel the magic when I am with you." Instead of saying that, John Patterson decides to mention Elly's makeup at breakfast.

That’s a pretty bold statement for John to make. What’s so special about breakfast that it requires makeup? Thanks to the magic of the 1980 CBC interview with Lynn Johnston, I have a feeling I know where it came from. In the interview, the young, married Lynn Johnston is pretty much without makeup the entire time. My guess is that when John and Elly were dating, she put on makeup in the morning and then after a certain point in their relationship, she reverted back to her normal habit of not wearing any at all. I think the problem has less to do with breakfast and more to do with Elly's daily makeup-wearing habits. If the strip were worded better, then this would be clear.

Just based on the first year strips, it appears the chronological sequence was Elly and John started living together. Elly quit university. After a time long enough for the breakfast makeup magic to leave, they got married. In 1997 when that story changed to make marriage the cause for Elly to quit university, this was about the same time the younger Pattersons were starting to enter university. With Elizabeth Patterson in particular, Elly could not disapprove of Elizabeth moving in with her boyfriend, Eric; if Elly had lived with John before marriage. I suspect this is why the story changed from what was presented in 1979. For Elly to judge, she must first be made blameless.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Can’t Read…Bills

Lynn Johnston can’t seem to decide if Elly Patterson is competent paying the bills, has money given to her by her husband like a child or, as in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, incompetent paying the bills. As usual, when it comes to Lynn Johnston and money, I am reminded of the part of her interview with the Peterborough Examiner months ago. My favourite part:

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."

If this is accurate, then we could well be seeing in these reprint strips the real-life example of why Lynn Johnston needed to entrust the family finances to her husband. She could pay the bills, but she couldn’t (or wouldn’t try to) understand the bill itself. This may have eventually moved her to a situation where her husband paid the bills and gave her money to pay for the things she needed.

That’s a somewhat condescending attitude for her husband to take, and it is easy to cast aspersions on him for treating his wife like a child. Nevertheless, if your spouse says to you that they are not responsible for reading the bill where it says, “Do Not Pay,” then you have come to the unpleasant discovery that when it comes to money, your spouse demands to be treated like a child. Unless Elly is speaking facetiously to John, that’s the essence of the humour of today’s reprint. Looking at the final panel carefully, I don’t see a sly wink or a grin that tells a different story. It looks like Elly is serious when she says it, and it looks like John is shocked she is saying it.

I would like to think Lynn Johnston is playing Elly as a buffoon, as she often seems to do. However, from time-to-time we get a hint that Lynn doesn’t think of Elly that way. The Peterborough Examiner article seems to tell me that this is a true reflection of real-life Lynn Johnston. So, 28 years later, when she gets divorced, it never occurred to her that when her husband became her ex-husband, he would stop doling out her weekly allowance. There is as good a reason as any not to give in to your spouse’s demand to be treated like a child. John Patterson’s 4th panel response should be, “Elly. You’ve got to be kidding. Reading is fund…amental.”

Love Your Uvula

I wondered if there would be a comic strip response to Miley Cyrus cutting her uvula back in January. Little did I suspect it would be Lynn Johnston with this reprint in today’s For Better or For Worse. Young Miss Cyrus temporarily lost her voice from a simple cut to her uvula coming from a piece of chicken she ate. In the strip, it’s a lucky thing for little Michael Patterson that his fist is too big to fit in his mouth, or he may have had a similar problem. Of course, I am sure comic strip Michael would not be injured if he actually did pull on his uvula. Real humans could do some damage. Fortunately for Lynn Johnston, there are almost no kids in her readership anymore; so the likelihood of a little kid reading the strip and deciding to imitate Michael is remote.

The whole idea of the strip makes me cringe. My late uncle was reputed to be a fabulous singer as a young man. He never completely recovered his singing voice when his university voice professor decided one day to make a point by grabbing his tongue and yanking. It effectively ended his potential career as a professional singer and he was forced to change his major to music education from music performance. That was a tongue and this is a uvula, but grabbing anything in a mouth sets me off.

As for the theme of the strip, this isn’t the first time in the strip Michael Patterson has been susceptible to a dare by Lawrence Poirier. To me, the oddest part of the strip is in the final panel of the strip. Lawrence seems to be completely unfazed when he is caught by Elly Patterson. He mockingly opens his mouth to show Elly his uvula, when Michael implicates him. It’s hard to believe this is the same kid who was afraid of waking the mothers when he was going to the bathroom in the strip storyline last week. The more I see these reprints from the first year of the strip, the more I realize that Lynn Johnston portrayed Michael as the violent kid who acts without thinking, and portrayed Lawrence as the smarter, but more mischievous of the two.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Strange Bread, Stange Blame

I know virtually nothing about bread-making; however, my understanding is from aprilp_katje that salt is not an essential ingredient to good-tasting bread, contrary to the opinion expressed by Elly Patterson in today's reprint of For Better or For Worse.

According to Wiki Answers:

Without salt, bread rises faster and air pockets enlarge where the gluten has broken, allowing holes to form. Bread made without salt will taste bland. If you choose to eliminate salt, decrease the proofing time so that the large air pockets don't have time to develop. Salt should not be eliminated from recipes using automatic bread-making machines.

According to this, what Elly should have done was decrease the proofing time.

According to the Blood Pressure Association, you don’t even need to do that, and they provide a number of salt-free bread recipes.

Regardless, clearly Elly Patterson believes bread without salt is ruined and it is not difficult to find people who agree with her.

The oddest part of the strip comes in the final 2 panels. Elly exclaims in a voice loud enough to be heard clearly outside that she could not tell John she had forgotten to put salt in the bread, because if he ever found out, she would never live it down. What? Is John Patterson a master baker now? Is he an expert in making bread? Is he going to march in and say, “Elly! How could you forget to put salt in the bread? What were you thinking? It will never inhibit the fermentation properly now and the developing gluten will be weakened!”

I suppose what Elly is talking about is John’s reaction to the wasted food. We have seen before that Elly has an obsession with finishing leftovers, but at the time it was not related to demands by John. Nevertheless, what we discover is that when John uncovers the bread fermenting away in the garbage can, it is not Elly that gets the blame but little Michael Patterson. Michael explains that he is not responsible, as "it’s been growin’ in there since lunchtime.” Their reaction is a little ambiguous. It could mean:

a. John is criticizing Michael’s use of a trash can to make bread.

b. John and Michael think it is some kind of alien thing that has decided to take root and grow in their trash can.

c. John sees the bread and wonders if the 3-second rule applies.

It has been a very strange week in For Better or For Worse, and this strip is another strange one. It fits the theme of the week nicely.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Missing Strip and its Effects

In this original storyline in For Better or For Worse back in 1979, after Elly and Connie came back from their night out the action shifted not to 2 boys and bathroom jokes, but to Elly with the kids reading a book to them on the chesterfield. Michael says, "I wish Daddy would hurry up an' come home..." Then Elly says, "I miss Daddy, too, Michael. We're just not a family without him." Then she continues with, "We don't realize how much we need our daddy until he's not here." And Michael concludes with, "Is that why he goes away sometimes?"

Awww! They miss John. They think about him while he is gone. It’s just like when they missed Elly while she was gone. It’s so sweet and heart-warming. It’s so obvious why this strip was cut from the original sequence. We can’t have any strips where Elly is getting along with her kids!!

Today’s strip is much more along the lines of what we need. We have seen young Michael Patterson with his expectation that traveling people are going to give him a present before, and it is time to see it again. With the original sequence, Michael misses his father, and then it is funny in contrast to see him turn from that sentiment to one of greed. In this version, Michael is being told by Elly that he missed his father, and then Michael forgets these instructions and goes to greed. Without the moment with the kids missing John, the whole tone of today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse changes. The kids never miss John. He has to buy their affection.

Thus ends one of the strangest For Better or For Worse stories that I can remember. To recap:

John does not give Elly a choice to go to his dental convention with him, and gives her the excuse that she would be bored. Elly gets so angry with him, she makes plans to attract other men, with the encouragement of her best friend, Connie. Elly goes so far as to actually attract a guy, but then feels guilty about it. Connie tries to help Elly feel better about her guilt by explaining that since she was married it didn’t count, and by pointing out that John is probably messing around on her at his convention.

Meanwhile, Lawrence has been waiting for his mother to come back to Elly’s house, where he is spending the night. Lawrence has shy bowel and expects his mother will help him out with this in some way, which he does not reveal. However, when Connie does not do that and goes straight home; Lawrence is forced to hang his head and reveal his problem to Michael. Together they sneak over to Lawrence’s house to use the bathroom, but they don’t flush in order not to attract Connie’s attention.

John returns from the convention and Elly tries to convince her kids to tell him they missed him. In reality, none of the Patterson kids mentioned John even once while he was gone and they fail to follow Elly’s instructions, revealing their only interest in their father is one of greed.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


It appears that Lawrence Poirier has Parcopresis or Shy Bowel . Parcopresis is a psychological disorder, more accurately termed psychogenic fecal retention, whereby the sufferer is unable to defecate unless they have a certain level of privacy. The level of privacy involved varies from sufferer to sufferer. I can honestly say that Lynn Johnston had gone into territory in which I have never seen a comic strip head with this one. As much as I have complained about the new-runs just repeating old storylines without expanding on them, Lynn Johnston has actually surprised me with this one. I would have never guessed that anyone would do a story sequence based on Parcopresis in a comic strip. This is definitely not a repeated storyline, and I congratulate Lynn Johnston for trying something different.

Just for fun I pulled up AMU reprints and searched for the word “bowel” to see what came up for any comic out there covered by AMU reprints. Into the Bleachers had 2 strips featuring Irritable Bowel Syndrome, where the joke each time had to do with the idea that a character’s bowl was irritable, i.e. picking fights with other people. The other one was (you guessed it) For Better or For Worse. In this strip from 2/4/2000, Elly’s bowel was mentioned. At least Lynn Johnston didn't win Battle of the Comic Strip bowel jokes. Well, not until this week.

As near as I can tell then, Lawrence has Parcopresis and Connie Poirier has left him to spend the night over at the Patterson’s house, instead of picking him up after her night with Elly. My son had bed-wetting problems for years and I can tell you, as a parent, we were aware of the situation. We were very cautious about any place where he slept and made sure everything was properly prepared, so my son would not suffer embarrassment and the sleeping area would not suffer damage.

Parents are usually, intimately aware of problems their kids have in these types of areas. Unless Connie Poirier is an extraordinarily inept parent, she would know about Lawrence’s Parcopresis. It would have come up with Lawrence going to preschool. Moreover, the sitter that Connie regularly uses, who was supposedly there taking care of all the kids, would be aware of Lawrence’s Parcopresis. Why wouldn’t Connie or the sitter have made some kind of accommodation for Lawrence? This whole storyline with Lawrence and the bathroom depends on both of these persons, who are supposed to be taking care of Lawrence every day, not thinking about whether or not Lawrence could spend the night away from home.

Historically, the strip does not make much sense. When Connie went chasing to Montreal after Phil, in the original strips, she left Lawrence with the Pattersons. Of course, in that sequence, Lawrence broke a limb and Connie didn’t care. So, maybe this woman knows that Lawrence has Parcopresis and simply does not care enough to let the persons taking care of him for her know enough to deal with it. Is that where we are going with this strip? A gigantic slam of Connie Poirier’s parenting?

I guess it would make sense. John went out with Ted, and Ted got stinking drunk. Bad Ted! Elly goes out with Connie and she shows she doesn’t care about her son. Bad Connie! If Lynn really is heading this way, then we can expect Elly to come along and somehow save the day. I am sure she will come out of it smelling like a rose, or some other odor appropriate to the theme of this strip.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Unexplained Bathroom Humour

My daughter did the same as Lawrence Poirier in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. We were on a road trip. She needed to go to a restroom as small children often do, immediately with no advance notice. We were in the middle of west Texas where there were few rest stops. We stopped at the first one available and after stopping there, my daughter declared that the rest room at the gas station where we stopped was too dirty for her to use. I couldn’t believe it. Personally, if I am in pain needing to use the restroom, it doesn’t matter how dirty that restroom is. However, my daughter was little and she refused to go, no matter how much we tried to coax her into it. So, it was back on the road to find another restroom for her to use, one that would meet her cleanliness standard. That happened with my daughter one time, so I can actually relate to Lawrence’s plight to a certain degree.

Of course, there are other degrees which don’t make much sense. This isn't an unfamiliar bathroom where Lawrence has never been before. Lawrence has been shown over at the Patterson’s house several times, so he should be very familiar with their bathroom. We have seen the Patterson bath room on a number of occasions, and I cannot imagine Elly Patterson keeps the place so filthy that Lawrence would refuse to use it for that reason. In other words, I have no idea why Lawrence would refuse to use the bathroom at the Patterson house.