Thursday, July 30, 2009

Messy Mouths vs. Messy Kids: A Dentist's Dilemma

I am not sure what to make of today's reprint in For Better or For Worse. John Patterson talks about arbitrarily and irresponsibly cancelling all his patients' appointments so he can take a day because he doesn't feel like going to work. Then when the kids begin their usual mayhem, he determines that he would prefer to be at work. Elly looks happy at the possibility of John staying home and irritated when he decides to go to work. However, it is hard for me to view the strip without seeing the perspective of the poor patients, who have made arrangements to take time off their work in order to get dental work done, and who may have to suffer because of a flighty dentist. It's nice to know that John Patterson can afford the loss of income and the potential loss of patients to play these kinds of games. Of course, I have to remember that when this strip originally appeared, Dr. Rod Johnston was in Lynn Lake, Manitoba and was probably the only dentist for miles. He could get away with such an action, because there was no alternative for his patients but him or a very long drive to a different town.

You can't take those things for granted though. When pushed, that is what people will do. I grew up in a small town and there was one doctor in the whole town. That was the one we visited. I later learned, as I got older, that he was generally considered to be incompetent and a number of my school friends did, in fact, start driving long distances to see other doctors. My family never did, but fortunately we never had any serious illnesses in my youth.

Despite Elly's irritation with John, the ultimate moral of the story is that even when he doesn't want to go to work, John Patterson would be prefer to do that than stay at home with his unruly kids. The aspect of the kids which John does not like is their mess-making, and not actual poor behaviour. So, the morale of the story really is that John does not want to clean up his kids' messes, and he would rather go to work and stick his hands in people's mouths than do that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

For Better or For Eating Disorder

With today's reprint in For Better or For Worse, we have a strip which is very much drawn in the Peanuts' style, up to, and including, the crinkly mouth of indecision which typified a lot of Charles Schulz's artwork. It tries to capture the same sense of desperation of decision-making as, let's say, Linus trying to give up his beloved blanket. However, in this case, we have a subject near and dear to Lynn Johnston's heart -- food.

Lynn Johnston admitted to having an eating disorder some years ago in the Hogan's Alley interview with Tom Heintjes . In the interview, she says that she and her friend Brunhilda or Bernie (take your pick) were both anorexic and would call each other at night for support. This is a classic Lynn Johnston-ism in interviews -- the late night female friend. I have grown to learn over the years of looking at her interviews, if she brings up a female friend she calls at night to talk about putting on makeup, or wearing thrift store negligees, etc. in order to show that they are attractive; Lynn is making it up. Notice in the text I quote below that Lynn's friend solves her anorexia problem by marrying a doctor, which is very much the same thing Lynn did when she married Dr. Rod Johnston. The part I can take from it is that Lynn is admitting that she was, at one point, anorexic. How that ended, if it ever did, is a different story.

Tom Heintjes: Contrast Aaron’s upbringing with your daughter’s, Kate.

Lynn Johnston: When Kate was born, she was born into a world of joy and happiness and confidence. The difference between the children is night and day. She’s happy, she’s thriving, she’s full of self-confidence. I tell her she’s beautiful every day before I send her off to school. When I had her, I was happy, and when you’re happy, you can look in the mirror and say, "You know, I’m not so bad." But when Aaron was born, it was different. My husband would say things to me like my mother did. "You’re fat and ugly." And he treated me like garbage. His girlfriends would call him at home, and when I would pick up the phone, they would giggle at me. And I would look in the mirror then and say to myself, "If only I were pretty. If only I were thin." So I decided to get thin, and boy, did I get thin—I went down to 110 pounds. I was anorexic. I would go to bed and my stomach would be cramped.

Tom Heintjes: What cured you of the anorexia?

Lynn Johnston: I think it was because a friend of mine did the same thing. We would call each other late at night and say, "I’m starving, are you starving? OK, don’t eat anything and I won’t, either."

Tom Heintjes: You were each other’s codependent.

Lynn Johnston: That’s right. She was from Germany. Her name was Brunhilda. She ran away from home to come to Canada, and we became best friends. We went on this incredible diet where we both became skeletons. I remember looking at her at one point and saying, "You look terrible!" Here we were, trying to become the models we saw in magazines. We wanted the pointed hips and the angular elbows—we looked like Biafrans. When I first met Bernie, she was wonderful, sexy, beautiful . . . every man’s dream. She wasn’t fat, but she was rounded, just a delicious-looking woman. Beautiful blue eyes, just perfect. And here she was after this diet, her back covered with bumps from her spine.

Tom Heintjes: I don’t imagine that you were much better off.

Lynn Johnston: No, I wasn’t. But I looked at my friend Bernie and said, "This is it, we’re killing ourselves." I quit dieting, and she didn’t. Her period stopped, and she just got worse.

Tom Heintjes: What ultimately happened to her?

Lynn Johnston: She married a doctor, and that was a crazy relationship. They moved back to Germany, where they split up, and I lost touch with her. I know her father owned a pub in Germany, and I have a crazy idea that she’s working at that pub. I’d love to go there and see her again; she was a wonderful person.

I find the subject to be of interest to me partly because of Lynn Johnston's recent Blog entries about her vacation trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. She mentioned that she bought carrots, served them to her daughter (which made her ill) but....Lynn did not eat the carrots herself. I thought that was a little unusual. Why would you buy carrots, fix them to eat, and then fail to eat any yourself? This made me notice what it was that Lynn actually said that she ate on the trip.

On day 1 she says:

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.

On day 2 she says:

Candy made from coconut, tamarind and cactus are delicious and we stop to buy a sample of each one.

The ancient town square is ringed with restaurants and we choose one for a snack and a cervesa.

On day 3 she says:

We had chocolate milkshakes- to DIE for and bought stuff to eat to cook and make drinks with.

On day 4 she says:

Maria’s family owns a restaurant across the road. After goodbyes with hugs and a promise to return some day, we went for snacks and a cervesa.

Not once does Lynn mention eating a full-up Mexican dinner and she talks about food extensively in her Blog entries. If I were to judge from this, I would say Lynn is eating only a few snacks each day. When I look at the details of today's reprint, it looks like this strip was probably not too far from Lynn's Johnston's real life in her past and possibly her present too. The reality of the strip is not that funny, but I doubt that few reading the strip at the time were thinking that the author was talking about an eating disorder as severe as anorexia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Girls are Territorial; Boys are Beaten

Territory jokes for Lynn Johnston are a rare breed. Here are the 5 references to territory that AMU reprints found for me. As you can see, they are all fall into the same basic category: Animals mark their territory and some humans are like them, usually not as a compliment.

The most unusual parts of the strip are Michael’s politeness and Lizzie’s intentional violence. In the past, little Lizzie’s violence was more accidental than intentional. In the past, Michael was rarely polite to his younger sister. The last panel “joke” if you can call it that, is pretty normal in For Better or For Worse. By pretty normal, I mean that Michael behaves in a manner not like any 5-year-old boy I know that just got CLONKed on the head by his sister, in order to stop and make a final panel statement. For one thing, he refers to his sister as a “girl”. For another thing, he makes a statement about girls in general that would normally come from a boy much older than he is. For another thing, he didn’t grab that bucket out of Lizzie’s hand and CLONK her back.

Thematically, this week has been a week of “No” from women for Michael. “No, you can’t play in the sprinkler.” “No, you can’t play in the sandbox.” It’s also been a week of asking permission. A few more of these negative responses, and I think Michael would be fully justified to stop asking permission and return back to his old reprint ways of random violence.

As for me, today begins my summer vacation period. I will be spending a few days with my father and son in Winston-Salem, NC. Then we are off to Greece for a week. Then we are off to Garden City, SC for a week. I will try to check in and post as well as I can, but it will probably be sporadic at best.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Elly's Moral Thoughts = John's Immoral Actions

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is one of those rare instances where Lynn Johnston has chosen to continue or expand on a story we just saw in reprint. Because of this, we see an interesting series of contrasts with yesterday’s reprint:

1. The plant Elly is planting has suddenly grown more leaves, possibly because Elly has moved from planting it in dirt instead of grass.
2. Michael has changed his pants to shorts.
3. The sky has suddenly cleared up from all those black dots
4. Mike’s argument has moved from safety logic to “but the other kids do it”.
5. Yesterday, Elly admitted she was wrong via thought balloon; in this strip, that position is taken by John. For this reason alone, you could distinguish today’s new-run from a reprint.

One of the more interesting aspects of the strip is how Mike moves his argument from stating points about his safety to comparing his mother’s parenting to other mothers. First he starts with Connie Poirier, which Elly poo-poohs. She is essentially saying, “Connie is not as responsible as I am.” Then Michael moves on to Annie Nichols. Elly knows that Annie is not nearly as irresponsible as Connie, so instead of arguing, she tries to end the argument by saying she won’t change her mind. She is essentially saying, “I don’t care if the best mom in the neighbourhood does it with her one-or-four-year-old, I am not.” Mike has pulled out all the stops, and he still fails to convince his mother.

We know from yesterday that John’s opinion is equal to Elly’s hidden opinion. However, I fully expect that if Lynn Johnston continues this storyline past today, then Elly will tear John a new one for his actions. The only thing which would make it funny for me is while Elly is lambasting John, Connie walks over and says, “Elly. Why are you letting Mike play in the sprinkler? I thought we agreed we weren’t going to do that.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Never Say You Were Wrong: Another Bad Parenting Tip from Elly Patterson

My initial thought, when seeing Elly Patterson’s face in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, as she says, “Once you’ve said no…you’ve got to save face…” is that “with that face in the final panel, Elly Patterson would be better off getting a new face.” That aside, let’s address the main issue of the strip, “Should parents admit they were wrong to their kids, or should they maintain their opinion in order to save face with their kids?”

I remember a line I was told in my youth by an elder relative, “Don’t ever apologize, because it makes you look weak.” Fortunately, by the time I turned into a parent, I was told a different line, “It’s important to apologize to your child when you are wrong. Your child can’t learn to say ‘I’m sorry’, if they never hear you say, ‘I’m sorry.’” Apparently Elly Patterson went to that old school. And once again, thanks to historical perspective, we know that the words, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” or “I apologize” never come out of her mouth.

Or do we? Thanks to the wonderful world of AMU reprints, I can actually look this up.

This strip from 3/17/1999 and this strip from 12/11/1998, Elly says “I’m sorry”. When Elly says she’s sorry for her behaviour, April’s response that it was OK because they were getting used to it, is the perfect response.

“I was wrong” or “I am wrong” do not appear in the AMU reprints from anyone. “You were wrong” or “Is there something wrong?” appear much more often.

In this strip from 6/26/1999, Elly talks about how she apologized for something she should not have apologized for. Elly apologizes in this strip from 1/27/2006. It shocks her coworkers so much, they ask if she is OK.

There you have it folks. In the years in the AMU reprints archives from 1996 to present, a period of 13 years, we have 2 “I’m sorry”’s and 2 apologies from Elly Patterson. Oddly enough, the most “I’m sorry”’s from a single character in a single strip of For Better or For Worse come in this strip. Yes, folks. In For Better or For Worse, it’s the villains who apologize.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nice Talking to You

There is a fine art to having a conversation when you have a young child around. However, I will admit that it takes a little while to figure out what that art is. Certainly the tricks I learned to allow for conversation while dealing with my son were not the same tricks that worked with my daughter. Nevertheless, the joke of today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is that Anne Nichols appears not have learned those tricks yet with her boy Christopher. She seems to have the expectation that her son, even as young as he is, can follow instructions like “find something to do” and “go and play”. Any parent of a 1-year-old can tell you statements like that are ridiculous. The usual trick is to find something for the child to do, so he can stay near you, but not interrupt you. Depending on the child, those things will differ. I remember my son was in such a foul mood in most of the first several months of his life, my wife and I used to have to “juice him up for visitations”. He was usually in a pretty good mood after he had been fed and diapered, so we would intentionally do that just before a visit. That might give us 30 – 60 minutes. Beyond that point, it was going to be iffy. As he got older, that time extended. Nevertheless, he was quite old before we could say to him, “Go and play”. Now that I think about it, we never said that. We always had to make sure he was settled somewhere he was happy before we could even think about conversation.

This strip falls into the “I have that exact same problem” category. What makes the strip are the little details. Elly’s coffee cup disappears after panel 1. Anne’s coffee cup disappears after panel 6. The coffee pot is in constant movement from panel to panel, spinning and turning. The plate of cookies moves closer and closer to Elly from panel to panel until is it right beside Elly, who has a cookie in her hand. It is no surprise that once we see Elly eating a cookie, in the next panel the plate of cookies is gone. I also like Elly’s protective stance over her coffee pot and sugar bowl, when Christopher starts waving his spoon in the air. However, the best part of all is Elly’s eye roll in panel 7. I don’t know why she’s so upset. When they do talk, the conversation centers on Connie Poirier’s love life and how Elly doesn't want to be a mom.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vasectomy or Baby? Celibacy is Looking Good

Elly’s response to Anne’s suggestion yesterday that she have another baby if she is bored is a surprising one. She mentions it to John Patterson, who balks at the idea, and then lays a threat on him that unless he gets a vasectomy, he is going to be making a baby. The joke is then that John has to decide if he wants no baby more than he wants a vasectomy. Men usually pale at the idea of anyone taking a knife to that part of their body. I remember a time some years back, when it was a pretty common joke for a woman to make that suggestion and then laugh when the man turned pale. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is along those lines. When the strip came out, Lynn Johnston would simply have been repeating a popular joke from the pop culture of the time.

Given that April pops into the Patterson's life later, it’s obvious that John decided that he preferred to not have a vasectomy. With history in mind, this strip raises the issue of whether or not April was planned by Elly, or if this falls into the category of “Patterson women who get pregnant and play dumb”, which we had with the birth of Michael and Meredith. Although women are often portrayed as powerless in this comic strip, when it comes to sex, they wield sexual power like they are swinging a mighty club. Pregnancy threats and withholding sex are a household staple in this strip. Elly did it on a regular basis and when Deanna came into the strip, she followed right along in Elly’s footsteps. It would be nice to see physical affection used in a positive way to help build the relationship, but that is a rare occasion in this strip. Instead it is almost always used as a weapon.

The other choice of John’s in this strip is simply go celibate with his wife. The joke is that no real man can do that; but John should give it some consideration. After all, he wouldn’t have to live in fear that every time he did it, he just fathered a baby. And when you get right down to it, would sex with someone as passive and selfish as Elly Patterson be anything but horrifyingly awful? If John put on his train engineer outfit and wanted to play “Choo-choo in the tunnel”, I doubt Elly would go along with it. Celibacy is looking good, when Elly is your choice.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bored with Life? Make a Baby

My first thought reading today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse was that I had seen this strip recently. However, I realized that what I had really seen was the May 7 strip, which ends in a similar fashion with Christopher and Elizabeth each pulling on the arms of one of Lizzie’s dolls. The May 7 strip was a new-run, so it was another example of a new strip pilfering something from an old strip with a variation on it.

In today’s reprint, the topic is another play on another offensive feminine stereotype, i.e. that women gets pregnant because they are bored. We know that both Anne and Elly will have more children, and this strip opens up the possibility that Elly’s motivation for having little April was boredom. It’s hard to say with the Patterson women, who never seem to know that babies are coming, but are constantly surprised. Or at least they pretend they are surprised, anyway.

Lynn Johnston’s motivation for April was not similarly motivated. When April joined the family, Elizabeth was too old for her to do her young child jokes anymore, and so Lynn created one. Even though Lynn Johnston makes jokes about how she can no longer relate to younger kids (and rightly so), she has always managed to work them into her storyline. When April got old, Gordon and Tracy Mayes produced Paul and Rosemary, who appeared in the strip fairly often until Michael and Deanna produced Meredith. After Meredith appeared, Paul and Rosemary disappeared for all practical purposes. Meredith and Robin took the Paul and Rosemary spot, except that Meredith and Robin were 10 times brattier than the well-behaved Mayes kids. And now, Michael and Elizabeth are back in that spot, in reprint or doing variations on jokes from reprints, or doing old Meredith and Robin material.

It’s a similar kind of thing that has inflicted many family dramas. In entertainment circles, the term "Cousin Oliver Syndrome" is used when producers introduce a younger character to replace aging child stars, based on what happened to The Brady Bunch when Cousin Oliver was introduced (i.e. killed the show). This was done on several well-known sitcoms, including The Partridge Family, The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Family Ties and Married With Children. The writers know that if they can get a cute kid to say something, it’s comedy gold, no matter how stupid it is. I think in many respects this was Lynn’s motivation with April, which is why she had a button nose and went by Aypo. I know some folks wish Lynn had continued on with the old characters, but there really is no need. With Elizabeth’s baby, all we would see is a series of stinky diaper jokes.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Christopher Nichols – Named Again!

The last time Christopher Nichols was mentioned by name in For Better or For Worse was in this strip from September, 2008. It is with great amusement then, I read today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, where Elly tells Anne that “little Christopher is growing like a weed”. My response would be, “only if she means a weed that is being sucked into the ground.” Back in September, Lynn Johnston suddenly developed the idea that Anne Nichols’ 2 boys were about the same age as Elly’s 2 kids and she did a number of strips to that effect. Eventually, she listened to someone who pointed out to her that it was not this way when her strip was originally presented and it was going to completely foul up her plan to eventually go to all reprints. Since then, Anne Nichols has appeared several times in the strip where her son Christopher was there as an infant, but his name was not mentioned. I guess since it is now July and it has been 10 months since Lynn made that goof, it is safe to pull out this strip for reprint.

This is actually a fairly effective strip for visual jokes and bizarre mothering. While Elly is embarrassed that she gives little Nizzie commercial foods, since Anne doesn’t; I am more amused by the fact that Elly carries cookies in her purse and little Christopher is chewing on a crayon in the final panel. Both moms seem to be into a kind of motherhood where they talk a good game, but they don’t pay much attention to what is going on with their kids. Elly doesn’t pull that cookie out of Nizzie’s hands, any more than Anne pulls that crayon out of Christopher’s mouth. I like this motherhood interplay between Elly and Anne, and I kind of wish Lynn hadn’t got rid of it. It’s more fun when Elly is shown she isn’t perfect, if it is not coupled with rude and selfish behavior.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

John the Dog

Sometimes I think the real reason that Lynn Johnston wrote Farley the dog into the strip was so she would have something to use as a regular comparison to John Patterson. Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is yet another in the “John is like a dog” series, last seen in this strip from June 19. In this case, the comparison for point of humour is that John, who claims he could probably eat the same thing every day is like Farley, who eats the same dog chow every day. As John says, “Surely there are others like me!” we see Farley munching away on the chow. So, the joke is that John’s preferred eating habits are like that of a dog.

Unfortunately, anyone who is a dog owner knows, the comparison is not a fair one. Dogs munch on the same chow every day, not usually by choice. If Elly were to offer the coq au vin and the beef stroganoff of yesterday’s strip to Farley, she would probably find that Farley would eat both of them with little difficulty. After all, this is the same dog who was so desperate for food, he scented out Easter eggs to eat which were hidden in a number of unusual locations.

If John wants to meet someone who really is like him, I recommend he chat with Don Gorske, renowned Big Mac enthusiast. Now, there is a man who eats the same thing every day. In fact, I am little like John Patterson. There are a few restaurants in Tucson, I really like and there are a few dishes on their menu I really like, and so a lot of times I end up ordering the same thing from those restaurants whenever I go there. If I apply the same philosophy to John Patterson, he may be saying, “I could probably eat the same thing every day” while he is thinking, “There are only a few things Elly makes I can stand to eat.”

On a side note, I enjoy the fact that Elly is carrying that big bowl of fruit. Even though John is talking about food, I wouldn’t be surprised if that fruit is for decoration only, especially considering how well the Pattersons recently handled a banana.

I also enjoy the artistic use of the counter. It appears that Lynn Johnston does not want to draw the lower half of John’s body. In the first 2 panels, John’s lower body is off panel, and in the last 2 panels, she has essentially replaced his lower body with the counter.

On the plus side, this strip is one of a few where Elly appears but does not say anything. Although the comparison with Farley is there, it is never stated directly. Eventually Lynn Johnston will find Elly’s screaming when she is upset to be funnier than these slow burns Elly used in today’s strip. Personally, I find the slow burns to be funnier.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Coq au Vin

I can’t hear the name of the dish “coq au vin” without thinking of this Mary Worth strip from May 12. 2005. Mary Worth invited Rita Begler, the alcoholic whose daughter recently died, to lunch at her place. Rita, when asked about coq au vin, quipped that she has cooked with wine before and “sometimes I even add it to the food!” From that point, you knew that Rita was going to get sloshed and do something. It was so over-the-top, I remember it to this day, and I have found I can’t think of coq au vin without associating it with alcoholics. In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, coq au vin seems to be mentioned for no other reason than to give Elly an excuse to talk in mock French in the second panel. But there may be another reason.

The other potential dish mentioned in panel 1 is beef stroganoff. I note that many beef stroganoff recipes call for sherry wine as one of the ingredients. Basically you have 2 dishes mentioned that include alcohol. In Lynn Johnston’s recent travelogue of her journey to Oaxaca, Mexico; alcoholic beverages were mentioned in each and every part of the travelogue. Alcohol is near and dear to Lynn Johnston. I know this is a weak connection to today's strip. Nevertheless, I find it mildly amusing.

As for the punch line of the strip, I am trying to make sense of it. After John says he will eat anything as long it’s something he recognizes, Elly thinks, “Somehow macaroni and cheese has lost its challenge.” This means:

a. Elly is no longer challenged by making Kraft dinner. The scary part is that at one point she thought there was a challenge there.

b. Elly thinks that John’s statement essentially means that the other recipes no longer have a chance in competing for the affection of John Patterson (lost challengers). John can too easily recognize Kraft dinner and so it has his affection.

c. Kraft dinner is so easy to recognize, Elly Patterson can’t think of a way to alter it to make it something John won’t recognize.

d. Elly has made Kraft dinner so often, John can actually recognize what it is. "That misshapen glob of yellowish stuff. That's macaroni and cheese! I remember it from the last time!"

e. Gourmet food is wasted on John, who only like meals he knows. My kids are the same way, although my son at 13 has gotten to the age where he is interested in trying foods he doesn't know. In this respect, he is more advanced than John Patterson. Elly Patterson could cook for my son, but I would be afraid of those asparagus tips. Vegetables are suspect when it comes to Elly's cooking. Hopefully these asparagus tips come in a can.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Elly Patterson Can Open a Can, Can’t She?

With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we actually tread into dangerous territory. Elly Patterson genuinely does something that a lot of people do. Let me caveat to say that it is not the usually Elly-ism, where only part of what she does is remotely like what people do, while the rest of it is crazy.

Elly has cooking devices that she doesn’t use. I can relate. My most recent acquisition in this department was a gift that allows you to microwave Smores. It is microwave safe and has a little device that, oh-so-delicately holds the graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate combination together as the microwave melts the chocolate and the marshmallow. I also got a gift cup not too long ago that would automatically mix together chocolate sauce and milk to make chocolate milk right in the cup. The difference between my acquisitions and the ones in Elly’s kitchen is that Anne Nichols has declared them to be beautiful and not only that, capable.

The joke is that Elly does not know how to use those devices and apparently has no ambition to use them. She prefers the can opener. As those of us who are familiar with Elly’s “sploit” soup, this comes as no surprise. In fact, this is Elly’s appliance of preference for years to come.

Among the things which are visually interesting for this strip are:

a. The Silhouette. In panel 2, Anne is the focus of the conversation and yet, she is completely blacked out. As is the usual trend for Lynn Johnston’s silhouettes, this one has some anatomically unusual features, not the least of which is the fact that Anne Nichols has a knee on her right leg that is not the same height as the knee on her left leg.

b. The mysterious coffee cup. We know that Anne is probably just picking up a coffee cup near where Elly is. However, Lynn Johnston often loses track of the coffee cup and this strip is a good example of that. The drawing makes it look like Anne is grabbing Elly’s cup and drinking out of it (or maybe doing a modified spit-take).

Elly is Missing Something

Sometimes the future works against you. When I originally read Elly’s theory about what happens with the missing socks in the laundry, I thought that Elly was just making up a nonsense theory, so ridiculous that neither John nor she took it seriously. The idea that the speed of the rotating dryer + the forced, heated air would send socks into another time dimension is silly. Anyone who has opened up the inside of an old dryer, or moved an old dryer, has been able to find the location of many, missing socks. I would think that Lynn Johnston was trying to do a Linus type of strip from Peanuts, where Linus would theorize the fantastic (like the Great Pumpkin, for example) and have no one believe him. The humour relied on Linus being young and everyone remembering back when they were his age and trying to make sense of things. It works great with Linus, but not so much with a grown woman. The final panel makes me wonder if Elly takes her own theory seriously, and whether Lynn Johnston sympathizes with Elly or is just trying to make her appear a little silly.

Then along came this strip from Sunday June 26, 2005, where April puts forth a ridiculous theory about how hummingbirds and insects must live in a parallel time dimension and calls it a quantum physics sort of hypothesis. At the end of it, Elly ponders how time flies (i.e. April is growing up), as if April sounded intelligent instead of sounding like a young teenager who learned a few big words without really knowing what they meant. I think Lynn intended us readers to be impressed with April’s knowledge. With today’s reprint strip in For Better or For Worse, it makes me wonder if Lynn wanted us to be impressed with Elly’s theory about the socks too.

After all, this is the same woman, who in her Mexico travelogue spouts off nonsense about Aztec civilizations as if she knows something about it and is extremely impressed that ancient peoples in Mexico used natural colours. The difference between the April strip and the Elly strip is that John is clearly portrayed in the Elly strip as finding Elly’s theory to be very amusing. That tells us to not take it too seriously. The problem is that we don’t ever see Elly laugh at herself. Ultimately, I don’t know if I am supposed to empathize with John or empathize with Elly or empathize with the missing socks.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Farley Gets 2 Baths

When I was growing up, we had outdoor dogs. They got washed occasionally. I can’t remember any day where we washed a dog more than once a day, unless you count instances where we got a hose and sprayed the dog with it more than once. I think we were just accustomed to the idea that dogs smelled like dogs. My thought in seeing Elly in today's new-run of For Better or For Worse say, “I just washed, dried and brushed the dog for the second time today” was "Either she is washing this dog a lot more often than is needed or I was not washing my dog often enough when I was growing up." 2 times in one day seems excessive to me for a dog that spends its time outdoors.

As for Elly’s claims that she is the one always washing the dog, looking back through AMU Reprints what I find is that we have an interesting trend. Going chronologically:

In this strip from 3/15/1998, it is John who is washing Eddy the dog.

In this strip from 5/21/2000, it is April who is brushing the dogs.

In this strip from 5/3/2003, it is John and April who are washing Eddy the dog.

In this strip from 5/21/2006, it April who is washing both dogs.

In this strip from 9/16/2007, Elly is the one shown washing the dogs for reasons of biting insects.

In this strip from 5/11/2008, Elly is shown to be brushing Eddy the dog.

We start off with John handling the dog-washing. Then April takes over. At the end, finally Elly Patterson takes over in 2007 with martyr complex operating at full power in 2008. When we go to the new-runs, this most recent modern trend is taken back in time to 1980, where Elly is the sole dog-washer.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Shrieker Cometh

One of the nice things about first year Elly was that, when faced with a difficult circumstance, she oftentimes responded with big, bulging eyes and a shocked expression on her face. While on the outset of it, that doesn’t sound very pleasant, it is more pleasant than the stance that Elly developed in later years of shrieking at the top of her lungs with her mouth wide open. With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I think Lynn has officially introduced shrieking Elly to the world of 1980.

Today’s new-run joke with young Michael staring at Elly in mid-shriek is similar to this strip with April from 2007. Michael did not really develop this ability to handle Elly’s shrieking until much later in life. Similarly with April, her look at Elly shrieking came after many years of dealing with situations more like this.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Smells and Vomit – High Humour

Earlier this month, Lynn Johnston promised she would get off the negative and bring back the funny. There were those among us snarkers who believed that this would mean more jokes about bodily excretions (Lynn’s favourite subject) and sure enough, that’s what we are getting with today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse.

It used to be that Lynn relied heavily on babies and dogs to produce the excretions, but it appears that Lynn Johnston’s new protagonist in the bathroom humour department is young Lawrence Poirier. A few weeks ago, Lawrence had a problem with bowel movement shyness, and in today’s strip, young Lawrence appears to be highly sensitive to dog smell. Lynn’s Johnston’s last reference to “barf” was in this strip from 2002 using new-born Meredith. AMU Reprints has no reference to “hurl” or its popular alternatives “vomit” or “puke” in their archive of For Better or For Worse comic strips. We welcome "hurl" to the lexicon.

Ultimately the joke of the strip is that Lawrence is reacting more strongly to Farley’s odor because he is sniffing Farley’s back side, unlike Michael, who is sniffing Farley’s front side. Why Lawrence is sniffing Farley’s back side is the more interesting question. I have owned a few dogs in my life, and I can tell you that even at a young age, I knew which side of a dog not to sniff. Possible reasons Lawrence is doing this are:

1. For information. If Farley has been eating the same thing as Michael, a good butt sniff may give Lawrence the answer.

2. Rank with Michael. A higher ranking dog can sniff a lower one whenever it feels like it. A lower ranking one must sniff the upper ranking one when it shoves its bum in the other's face. Perhaps this is a sign that Lawrence now ranks lower in Michael’s favour than Farley. After all, Farley has a children’s book and a plushie – two things Lawrence doesn’t have.

3. Lynn Johnston has decided that bowel movement shyness is not enough for Lawrence’s repertoire of problems, and has decided to add being highly sensitive to smell to the list. If this continues on, then by the time Lynn gets around to reprinting the “Lawrence coming out” sequence of strips, readers will be relieved and say, “At last, something normal and average about Lawrence.”

4. In tomorrow’s strip, Lynn Johnston will reveal that young Michael Patterson has lost his sense of smell, as not only does Lawrence hurl, but several passers-by join him en masse. As the vomit flows freely, Lynn Johnston will cackle, “Now that’s funny.”

Lynn's Travel Journal: Oaxaca, Mexico Day Four

As usual, I will quote and then comment.

First we have some missing text. I will fill it in for you.

Kate got up this morning and found me passed out on the floor as usual. Those chocolate liquors we drank were to die for, but I guess not to make it all the way to bed for. After spending 4 hours trying to figure out the washroom and dumping water all over the plants outside, we made it upstairs where we found Fran and Alanna waiting for us. I told Alanna, I have this carved wooden armadillo with missing ears that Fran told me I could get fixed in Oaxaca for free, because Alanna is studying Mexican art and culture. I also told her if the people who fix the ears are near a restaurant where we could get cervesa and some grub cheap, that would be even better.

Alanna took her mother, Fran, outside for awhile so they could talk about the best place to go. I know this because I kept on hearing words like, “How could you?” and “These are people I work with” and “Next time I will pay your way to visit me.” When they came back in, Alanna said we were going to Ocotlan to see some artis…

ts she is working with. Ocotlan is about a half hour drive from the city of Oaxaca. The highways are good and we drive with one wheel over the shoulder line to allow others to pass. Alanna points out the shapes of ruins on the hillsides. There are glyphs alongside modern graffiti and we wonder if the messages are somewhat the same. Alanna figures the original artworks were community markers…boundary lines between villages. Considering that we haven’t changed much over the years, I figure they could be ads like: “Eat at Xolotl’s, good grub, cheap prices” and “Monteczuma’s Wagon Repairs”. Sure, they could be more political in nature, but I prefer to think the archaeologists read too much into these things.

In Aztec mythology, Xolotl was the god with associations to both lightning and death. Lynn Johnston could be the cook there. As for Monteczuma, I think this is a reference to Moctezuma II, the ninth Aztec emperor, ruler at the beginning of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. As for glyphs beside graffiti, we have similar problems in the US, with people defacing ruins and ancient artifacts.

We stop at a couple of artisan’s pottery shops and marvel at some comic female characters, sculpted with scanty dress, dancing with lascivious beaus. Kate buys a lady of the night, smoking a large cig. It’s so well posed, it looks like one of Bob McKinley’s characters, (wonderful doll artist, now deceased). The whimsy and the fine detail are delightful to see and, combined with superb craftsmanship, the Oaxaca province produces some of the finest art in Mexico.

You can see something on Bob McKinley here.

There is a cochineal place along the way. This is a rare opportunity to see how cochineal bugs are cultivated and grown on cactus leaves. These tiny, soft pea-shaped insects crawl in their larval stage onto the leaf, put their mouth parts into the plant and stay there. They are covered in a white powder that protects them from the sun and come off easily when brushed onto your hand. Pop one, and the liquid stains your hand a rich dark red. This dye was sought after for centuries and was used among other things, to dye the uniforms of British and French armies. Until the discovery of synthetic dyes, it was the best known red coloring agent. It went out of favor, but now that we are more aware of the evils of synthetic chemical compounds, it is being grown once again. Indigo and ochre are also rich coloring agents as are nut shells, gourds and citrus fruits. Examples of naturally dyed feather headdresses, garments and wool are part of the display and it’s amazing to think that people in ancient times wore colors so rich and long lasting. I guess we always think of anything old as being in black and white.

Lynn has been fooled by black and white photographs. For some reason she thinks the era of synthetic dyes was so long it branched the ancient times to the modern return of natural dyeing. Synthetic dyes haven't been around that long, Lynn.

María Angeles greets us at her taller (workshop) where about 10 young people are painting the carved wooden animals we are there to see. I present her with the armadillo I’ve brought – with the missing ears and she immediately sets one of her staff on the job of making new ones. There are shelves full of unpainted animals. The copal tree is the best wood for carving, but the tree is small and the wood needs to be dried well before it can be painted. Altogether, it takes about a month to do each piece, so the price is more than reasonable. María and Jacobo’s staff are experts.

María Angeles pops in and later we have a reference to Jacobo, whom I assume is somehow related, but Lynn does not say. It’s best not to mention husbands to0 much around Lynn. Considering the month of work, the number of young people María has working and of course the reasonable price; I doubt María pays these people very much. Later she refers to them all as family members. The important thing to Lynn is that it is cheap, in case you haven’t caught onto that yet. She must constantly mention the expense of things, and how she isn’t spending much money.

Their ability comes to the taller through word of mouth and many of these young artists are family members.

I have no idea what this means. How do you transfer ability by size and word of mouth?

They work at a long, sheltered table under daylight ,with no electric lighting. The fine lines and patterns they paint are done with firm, steady hands- a job for young people to be sure!

Lynn is old and she no longer does fine lines and patterns. Good art is done only by the young! So the next time you see sloppy art in For Better or For Worse, you know why.

Most of the crafts are done entirely by one family. Each family creates a unique product and continues to produce their “signature work” for decades. There are other families doing the painted, carved copal, but in my opinion, this is the finest.

It’s nice that Lynn can make this statement after viewing exactly one place.

Maria gave us cold drinks, answered all our questions and showed us on her hands how the dyes are combined to make brilliant colors. Using cochineal, indigo, lime juice and baking soda, she quickly turned her hand from red to brilliant orange, blue green, purple and violet. She amazed us all with the speed in which she did the demonstration. Again, the ancient peoples of Mexico wore rich and vibrant colors, a tradition still so evident today.

Now she is no longer María, but Maria. In any case, after giving her dye-mixing demonstration, Lynn is once again impressed by the ancient peoples of Mexico, who no doubt wore rich and vibrant colors on their hands too.

Maria’s family owns a restaurant across the road. After goodbyes with hugs and a promise to return some day, we went for snacks and a cervesa (cerveza).

As usual, Lynn mentions alcohol in every travelogue. Also notice they are having snacks and not a meal. We have yet to see Lynn write about eating an authentic Mexican dinner.

The flowers that surrounded the patio were so unusual, we took more pictures. Sitting in the shade, admiring our new purchases (and my new ears) we talked again about how truly fortunate we are to be travelling with friends who love the art, know the area and have so many friends here.

As Lynn sat getting drunk, she talked about lucky she was to be travelling with friends who have friends in Mexico she can mooch off of.

Hasta la proxima

Please no more.