Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallowe’en Part III

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is a difficult one to read. In general, if Elly Patterson tries to force Michael Patterson into doing something, she succeeds. Sometimes she succeeds by trickery (2-17). Sometimes she succeeds but because she didn’t describe the letter of the law, Michael finds a loophole (7-04). Sometimes she succeeds by screaming (9-20). So, when Elly does not succeed in today’s strip, you have to wonder what Lynn Johnston means by it. Is she trying to say that Elly Patterson is wrong to take away Michael Patterson’s candy with only 5 minutes advance notice? Is she trying to say that new-run Michael really is smarter than his mother?

Another thing I have noticed is that Farley the dog’s number of appearances in the strip has significantly dropped. He is in only one panel of the strip today, an appearance I would describe as “Farley still exists”. You have to go back to September 20 to find a strip which uses Farley for more than one or two panels. I guess everyone doesn’t love Farley, if they have to make publicity appearances for their Farley children’s book over-and-over again.

My favourite part of the whole strip today is that Lynn Johnston appears to have forgotten that candy comes in wrappers. I can assure you, having observed my children eating their Hallowe’en candy, and constantly having to remind them to throw their candy wrappers away, the wrappers do exist. I would guess that not only has it been a long time since Lynn had children who went around trick-or-treating; but it has been a long time since Lynn has given out Hallowe’en candy to trick-or-treaters.

Friday, October 30, 2009

John the Glutton

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse ties into the new-run comic strip from 4 days ago, when the Pattersons and Poiriers visited the costume shop. The costume at which little Michael pointed and said, “Space Guy!!! Yeahh!” is the one that Michael appears to be wearing as he goes around with Lawrence and his father trick-or-treating. Even though that strip ended with Michael declaring “…I’ve changed my mind!!!”, it appears he ended up with Space Guy anyway. Either Elly didn’t give into Michael’s last minute request for change OR Michael wasn’t talking about the costume when he said that.

Ironically, Connie Poirier, who espoused the idea of store-bought costumes, appears to have outfitted Lawrence with a different costume than the King outfit at which Lawrence was looking in the costume shop. Lawrence appears to be dressed as Batman (in black and white) and brown Batman in the version done by the American Color colourist. I suspect brown Batman is a little further away from copyright infringement. Perhaps next time we will have pallid Batman or spotted Batman or vampire Batman.

As for the basic premise of the strip, you will have to cut Lynn Johnston a lot of artistic license to make this one work. I have been trick-or-treating with my kids many times, and they go at such a fast pace, it is simply not possible for a dad to have the time to consume 4 popcorn balls, 2 taffy apples and 6 chunks of homemade fudge while escorting kids around. It would make you sick. That sort of thing is a post-trick-or-treating activity. I can only imagine the reason why John would feel the need to do all that eating before he got home and her name is Elly. As to whether Elly would disapprove of John’s eating or whether Elly would eat all the stuff herself is unknown.

The other aspect of the strip which used to work and now doesn’t is the missing Lizzie. When the strip was originally published, I believe Lizzie couldn’t walk yet, so it was reasonable she wasn’t along with John, Mike and Lawrence. Thanks to the mixing of Year One and Year Two strips, Lizzie is able to walk and appears to have been left out of trick-or-treating. My daughter was mobile enough to trick-or-treat to a few houses when she was 20 months old. When she realized she was being handed free candy, she became a girl obsessed. It was very cute. We let her trick-or-treat for as long as she could do it. She almost covered the whole neighbourhood before she got tired. I wonder if Lynn Johnston is going to do a new-run to explain where Lizzie is, like she explained where Farley the dog was during the summer camping strips, which were originally done pre-Farley. I can see the strip now: After they finish trick-or-treating, they head to the kennel to pick up Lizzie.

John the Perv

As Elly Patterson looks through an enormous opening in the wall to the outside with there being no evidence of a window, John Patterson sits out in the open reading Macho Men magazine with a picture of a noseless, blonde woman on the front and an advertisement for Lion Tamer Cologne on the back. There is part of me that hopes that Macho Men magazine is a men’s adventure magazine, the type of which used to be popular decades ago. However, there is another part of me which says, “If John can’t find smutty books in the Contemporary English class material, then he is going to resort to smutty magazines instead.” Naturally, I cannot imagine John just reading a magazine like that out in the open where his children might come across him reading it. I also notice that as John reads the magazine, we see Elly sporting the enormous bottom she often waves about whenever she has negative thoughts about her appearance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hallowe’en 2009 Part III

After our brief break to look for smutty books in contemporary English, we return back at Hallowe’en.

Elly may look gobsmacked at Michael with the pumpkin innards in his hands (or possibly at Michael’s rapidly receding hairline or his borrowing Charlie Brown’s wardrobe), but to me the most shocking thing is in Panel 1, where we actually see Elly Patterson spending a happy time reading to her daughter (now reduced back in age thanks to Lynn Johnston pulling this reprint of For Better or For Worse from an earlier strip). It is a rare moment when Elly spends time with her children, much less enjoys that time. I want to drink it in for a moment. Ahhh! Now back to panels 2 and 3.

As for digging out pumpkins, when my kids were 6, they could not have done it. I have been the scraper of the inside of the pumpkin up for my kids until the last few years when my kids got big enough to do it themselves. Some of those pumpkin innards don’t want to come out easily. I am impressed that 6-year-old Michael could do, and that he could manage to keep the mass of it together long enough to carry it. I doubt I could do that. That stuff would just slide right out of my hands.

Of course, in my house, the pumpkins being cleaned out are kept close to the sink with the disposal. I am a little surprised that Elly would set Michael to work cleaning out a pumpkin without making sure he knew where to put the insides. Well, perhaps, “a little surprised” is not the right term. I should say, “I am impressed at how many ways Lynn Johnston has found to show what a poor parent Elly Patterson is.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Course Change

Somewhere in Lynn Johnston’s original run of Elly in night school, Elly went from Creative Writing to Contemporary English. I do not have access to the original collection to see if what has happened is a change from one semester to another. I don't know if today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse is due to a mistake Lynn Johnston made originally, or if this mistake is one caused by taking two reprints separated in time in their original publication and then putting them closer together in time in their modern publication order. I suppose the other possibility is that Lynn decided she wanted to make a joke about how people consider contemporary English to be smut books, and simply changed the night school class subject to accommodate the joke.

If you assume that Elly is now taking contemporary English, the next question to ask is “Where did John get the idea that contemporary English is smutty?” Looking at this syllabus from a Contemporary English course and also this one, you can tell that some of the books listed have their moments of smuttiness (if you are familiar with the books). I wonder if the point Lynn Johnston is trying to make is that contemporary English books may have smut in them, but it is not something you would recognize from the title of the book.

More amusing than this outrageously fascinating speculation is the idea that John Patterson, desperate for smut, would seek it out in Elly’s school books. I can just see it now:

Elly Patterson: John, what are these stains on my copy of Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon?

John Patterson: Stains? What stains? I don’t see any stains.

Elly Patterson: You were the last one who had my book. You said you were borrowing it to read in your train room.

John Patterson: Oh, that’s right. I must have gotten a little train grease on the book.

Elly Patterson: But this stain is kind of white and sticky. It doesn’t look like train grease.

John Patterson: Well, this is a special kind of train grease, that only I use in my train room, when I get lonely.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hallowe’en 2009 Part II

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Connie Poirier describes a pretty perfect description of what you would like to happen with a store bought costume: You go to the store, the kid sees what he wants, you get it and go home. Of course, Connie’s dialogue seems a little impersonal referring to either Michael or Lawrence as “the kid”. However, my experience with store bought costumes runs into complications when you get home and “the kid” wants to try on the costume. Let me see if I remember all the things:

1. The costume does not fit.
2. The costume does fit, but there is some part of the fabric of the costume which is extremely uncomfortable.
3. The costume is of such a cheap quality that your child rips it to shreds in the first few seconds of running around in it.
4. The costume is of a good quality, but your daughter decides she wants to wear it every day, all day long, until the costume is basically unusable for Hallowe’en.
5. The costume is great, but your daughter’s best friend, who by prearrangement with your daughter, was supposed to get a complimentary costume to match the one your daughter got, decided to get something else instead.
6. Not all the items on the picture of the costume on the front of the package, are in the package.
7. In order for the costume to stay on your child’s body, you practically have to superglue it in place.
8. The costume looks great, but you discover that your child cannot see, breathe, or walk, while he is wearing it.

Let me think now if any of my children have ever told me they changed their mind about the costume in the parking lot walking out of the store. I would have to say, “No.” Lynn Johnston does not have a camera on my family for this one.

Aside from that, I do have a few favourite artistic moments:

a. In the first panel, the spider has a line showing how it is suspended from the ceiling, but the 2 bats do not.

b. In the first panel, instead of having her legs down, Lizzie has her legs straight forward with her feet out, as if she were trying to push something with her feet, like the entrance door to the store perhaps? I wonder if Elly just rammed her into it.

c. In panel 3, while Michael is attracted to Space Guy, Lawrence appears to be looking at the Queen’s outfit, judging from the ruffles in the robe.

d. In panel 4, Michael is trying to return his costume by putting the bag for it right in between the handles of the stroller, which means he probably just whacked Lizzie in the head with the bag.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hallowe’en 2009 Part I

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we are moving into the last original Hallowe’en strips done by Lynn Johnston. While Lynn may have not cared to do any Thanksgiving strips over the years, she has not scrimped on Hallowe’en. In today’s strip Elly Patterson addresses the very, old and tired situation of store bought versus home made for costumes. In my mind, there is no question that the home made costumes are better. My family went to the annual “Trunk or Treat” at our church, with the kids dressed in costumes going from car trunk to car trunk in the church parking lot getting candy. 2 boys came in homemade robot outfits complete with blinking lights. They were the envy of most of the kids, and probably all of the parents. It reminded me of a similar situation with my son years ago, where he wore a homemade robot outfit and got envious looks from every parent he visited.

Elly is pushing the homemade costume in today’s strip, mainly to show that she is a better mom than Connie Poirier, who is going for a store bought for Lawrence. Despite the appearance that Elly favours homemade, history shows that the Pattersons and their friends have used both. Let me run them down for you from the AMU Reprints archive, which goes back to 1996:

10/31/1996 – no costumes at all
1997 – No Hallowe’en strip at all, just an extended storyline involving Elizabeth and a giant zit
11/1/1998 – homemade costume
10/31/1999 – store bought costume
10/29/2000 – homemade costume
10/31/2000 – homemade costume
11/1/2000 – store bought costumer
10/25/2001 – the scariest Halloween strip ever, where you wish there was a costume
10/28/2001 – store bought costume
10/27/2002 - unknown. No visible costumes, although the kids are in a Hallowe'en store.
10/26/2003 – unknown. No visible costume
10/31/2004 – no Halloween for Meredith, so no costume
10/30/2005 – homemade costume
10/29/2006 – third scariest Halloween strip. Homemade costume
10/28/2007 – close second for scariest Halloween strip. Store bought costume.
10/19/2008 – store bought costume
11/02/2008 – unknown, No visible costume

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Who is the Best Grocery Store Mom?

With today’s For Better or For Worse, we see the classic situation of the grocery, the child who asks for the same thing over and over again to see if the parent will relent. Our contenders are:

1. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse showing Elly Patterson vs. Michael Patterson.
2. The August 8, 2006 strip showing Deanna Patterson vs. Meredith Patterson.
3. The July 18, 2008 strip showing Elizabeth Patterson vs. Françoise Caine.

Criterion #1: Did the child get what they wanted?
1. Yes. Elly gives in and buys the children treats.
2. No. Meredith does not get to ride in the cart. Deanna is the clear winner.
3. Unknown, but probably yes. We see Françoise looking down at a sack she is carrying, appearing to be fairly contented, which implies the Elizabeth gave in. However, when the strip originally came out, there was considerable debate on the issue.

Criterion #2: Which child subjects the mom to the most relentless nagging?
1. Michael asked Elly for a treat at least 6 times.
2. Meredith asks Deanna to sit in the cart with Robin 2 times, but then resorts to sitting on the ground in protest (a technique which ultimately fails).
3. Françoise asks 3 times but then says, “Please” 7 times. I think Françoise wins, especially considering that she managed to get more repetitions in a daily strip, while the other are Sundays.

Criterion #3: Which mom had the funniest punch line?
1. Elly gets a few unintentional humour points by comparing her parenting choices to a “toss-up” which means “an even chance or risk”. Since the two choices Elly gives of “being consistent” and “remaining sane” don’t really fit choices based on the definition of “toss-up”, this can only mean that Elly herself considers there to be no essential difference between “being consistent” and “remaining sane”.
2. Deanna does a pun based on 2 definitions of the word “tough” as in “tough love” and “tough on everyone”. This is the closest to an actual punch line. Deanna is the winner.
3. Elizabeth declared that she has been accepted by your daughter (Françoise) because “shes’s started to nag me!” This is the best final panel of the bunch, but not really funny. Elizabeth tells Anthony that she considers Françoise’s behaviour to be a sign of acceptance, except…Elizabeth does not call Françoise by name and calls her “your daughter”. This use of language tells us that Elizabeth has not accepted Françoise, and that Françoise annoys her.

Criterion #4: Which mom went bug-eyed and which bug-eye is the best?
1. In the last 2 panels, Elly is bug-eyed, but it is not in reaction to anything. Instead in the reprints, those bulbous eyes appear be Elly’s natural state.
2. Deanna Patterson does not show even the slightest intent to bug out her eyes.
3. Elizabeth Patterson does a full speed freak, bug-eye in Panel 4. Elizabeth is the clear winner.

Criterion #5: Which mom gave a clear and concise reason for not doing what the child wanted to the child?
1. Elly’s reason is simply, “I said, ‘No!’” screamed over and over to Michael.
2. Deanna’s reason is that she gave Meredith a chance to share a cart with Robin and Meredith said, “No” and that there is no room for Meredith. Deanna only gives Meredith one chance to make a decision and then she gets no chance to change her mind.
3. Elizabeth points out to Françoise healthy cereal, that Françoise has candy at home, and that she is not getting a new toy today (but tomorrow is a possibility). Amazingly, Elizabeth’s response is the most reasonable of the 3, until Françoise resorts to doing an excess of straight “Pleases”s and wins her over.

Who is the overall winner?
1. Not Elly Patterson, with virtually no example of good parenting.
2. Deanna Patterson gets many points for not caving into Meredith, however, her line about “tough love” makes no sense. She expects a small child to make a choice and then never reconsider that choice. That’s not “tough love”. That’s expecting too much from your child.
3. Elizabeth loses points for caving into Françoise, however, she gets points for trying to reason with her.

It’s close, but I am going to have to give it to Deanna Patterson.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Creative Writing: Is it Fate?

I found this course syllabus on Creative Writing on-line. It says things like this:

Requiring NO formal training in or experience with creative writing, English 309 introduces you to three major genres of literature, Poetry, Non-Fiction, and Fiction. This eight-week course follows as much as possible the patterns and assignments established in a traditional Creative Writing course.

Beyond making you better writers, this class seeks to enhance your appreciation of the form and content of literature by giving due consideration to topics such as technique, figurative language, structure, tone, point of view, voice, etc. To that end, you will not only write a good deal of literature, but you will also read and discuss numerous poems and short stories contained in The Creative Writing Guide and in various handouts. You will learn, among other things, to distinguish between simple and sophisticated literature.

Now when I do an internet search on “6th sense, superstitions, premonitions, fate, daydreaming”, I got a website talking about “The Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena” by Carl Gustav Jung. While I wouldn’t say it’s not possible that a Creative Writing covers the material discussed by Elly from her first day of class in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I would say that I am very amused by Lynn’s choice of what the items are. Of all things she mentions, she includes 6th sense, premonitions and fate. Although the Patterson speak only rarely about religion, the idea of things that are meant to be, fate or destiny have come up in the strip over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. If Lynn Johnston plans to rewrite her strip's history by having Elly Patterson embrace her creative writing class, then the use of one of her favourite terms makes perfect sense.

However, if I were John Patterson, after hearing this long list of things Elly did in one class, my response would not be “Did you do any work?” but it would be “Are you sure you were in the right class?”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

From Bored Housewife to Self-Enjoyment

With today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, the dialogue of the last panel has been changed from "bored housewives looking for a change" to “others just want to write for their own enjoyment.” In both cases, the professor was speaking dismissively of the type of person Elly is without knowing what type of person Elly is. In the old version, Elly was the bored housewife, and what followed were strips showing how she didn’t take the class seriously, in order to demonstrate the professor was right. The humour poked a little fun at Elly and her aspirations.

With this new version though, we have hit upon one of Lynn Johnston’s themes, i.e. there is a difference between art for enjoyment and art to make a living, and art for enjoyment is better. It reminds me of the old Becky McGuire vs. April Patterson fight and the John Patterson monthly letter written to give John’s (Lynn’s) opinion on the matter. I liked the letter because the opinion expressed by John is exactly the way the storyline played in the comic strip years later.

John's Letter, August 2005

Music has to be fun. That's why it was invented. The very best times with music that I remember were when family and friends got together, gathered in a kitchen or living room, and someone played the guitar, somebody else played the fiddle, and everyone started to sing or dance. These are absolutely the best times! That's when playing an instrument is for the pure love of it. It doesn't matter if you're incredibly good or not. What matters is the fun. Unfortunately music has been turned into a huge industry, and we now have such a lot of hype. It's unfortunate that Becky is choosing to off with stars in her eyes and will be missing the most important part of life: friendship.

Now, instead of “music”, insert the word “writing”. When you understand Lynn’s opinion on the matter, then it becomes clear what the most significant change in today’s strip is compared to the original. In the original, the professor was right, and Elly was gobsmacked to be so accurately categorized. In the new one, the professor is wrong and does not understand the real reason for writing. Elly is gobsmacked that someone who appears so smart, can be so dumb about the reason for writing. Fortunately for him, there is no one better for teaching a teacher a life lesson than Elly Patterson.

Professor: Elly Patterson, I had forgotten that writing is supposed to be fun, until I met you.
Elly: I would say “thank you” or “you’re welcome”; but I’m a Patterson and we don’t do things like that.
Professor: It doesn’t matter. You have warmed my heart with your homespun humourous writings about how awful your husband and kids are. I only wish I could write with half the honesty you do.
Elly: Maybe some day you can! I only wish I didn’t have a husband and kids, so I could have a serious career. Then I could show the whole literary world that writing was invented to be for your own enjoyment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wrong Jokes on Wright

I remember Constable Paul Wright, Liz’s boyfriend in Northwest Ontario, and the only guy she dated who genuinely seemed to like her. When he was introduced Lynn Johnston had Elly make a comment about how Liz had not met Mr. Right and then put an arrow pointing directly to Constable Paul Wright’s name, so we would get the point.

Considering Lynn’s love of puns, I was convinced that this was an indication Paul Wright was going to be Mr. Right for Liz. Later on, as the business with Anthony Caine dragged on, I began to think that Lynn Johnston was waiting to do the pun, “I guess Paul Wright wasn’t Mr. Right.” It never happened. So, in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, seeing Lynn do wordplay on Wright Wing, right, left, and wrong; it brought back pleasant memories of Paul Wright and the terrible pun which gave him his last name.

As for the strip, the joke appears to be that the instructions for finding Room 301 D are so difficult for Elly to understand, she has to ask another person for the directions she just got, instead of asking the information lady to repeat herself. This is passive Elly Patterson at her best, making unnecessary trouble for herself for humourous effect. I guess in tomorrow’s strip, Elly will be late to class.

The biggest problem I have with the strip is in Panel 3, where Elly stares at us, the reader. She is supposed to be giving us a look which says, “I can’t believe what bad directions this woman is giving me.” Instead it seems like she is looking at us suspiciously, like we may have noticed that her right hand is on her left arm (which it appears to be). Lynn used to be able to draw gobsmacked pretty well, as in the last panel of this strip. I think she may have forgotten how crucial that is to putting over the joke. Without a good Elly reaction, there is nothing very funny about the strip.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to School and Back to Lost

It has been a confusing week in For Better or For Worse. According to Stephanie van Doleweerd, the website manager, the strip on Monday in the newspapers was not supposed to run. This is the run-down of the week so far.


Go Comics had the reprint marked 10-19 duplicating the redone strip from 10-7

The For Better or For Worse website had this new-run marked 10-20, which is the same as what Go Comics has on Tuesday.


The For Better or For Worse website had this reprint marked 10-20.

Go Comics had the strip from the For Better or For Worse website from Monday marked 10-20.


Go Comics has this new-run marked 10-21.
The For Better or For Worse website has the same strip.

Now with respect to the new-run strip for Wednesday, we start off seeing Elly say farewell to Lizzie (in her first appearance since the beer-drinking incident. Glad to know she’s OK), and apparently ignoring Farley and Michael, if Michael’s hands in his pants pockets are any indication. Then it’s off to school and Elly remarks mentally about her feelings of being completely lost. I suppose Elly should have gotten one of those nifty campus maps I’ve heard so much about. It makes navigating a lot easier than just walking around and staring, while keeping a death grip on your purse. Speaking of a purse, the best part about Elly going to class is the long list of things which Elly does not have. I found this class on Creative Writing using an internet search in about 5 seconds. It mentions required materials like a textbook, and a folio for writing materials. Also, a laptop or a notebook for taking notes, might be an appropriate item to have.

Will Elly have no clue about a textbook or will Elly pull all that stuff out of her purse? I certainly hope so! It would be one of the best laughs I have had in awhile.

Because When Elly Talks, Michael Listens

“I just wish I’d taken my education seriously – when I had the chance!”

From this statement of Elly’s, Michael Patterson divines that his mother knows he and Lawrence Poirier are listening to her conversation with Connie Poirier. Assuming you can get past the ridiculousness of a 6-year-old saying something like this, the situation raises the following questions:

1. Why would Lawrence and Michael want to listen to what Elly was saying to Connie?
2. What would Elly have said to Connie if she did not know Michael was listening?
3. How did Michael know Elly was saying something because she knew he was listening?

In order for those questions to work, you will have to presume that Michael is correct: He and Lawrence have been listening to Elly talk, despite the way Lawrence Poirier looks at him in the final panel of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse like he is crazy.

1. Why would Lawrence and Michael want to listen to what Elly was saying to Connie?

First you would have to presume that there is something there which Michael and Lawrence would want to hear, for example, the location of the Hallowe’en candy or possibly the location of little Lizzie (who has not reappeared in the strip after her beer-drinking episode, and could be in hospital recovering from alcohol poisoning.) Another possibility might be to eavesdrop on his mom for his dad. Notice in this strip that Michael is hanging around and eavesdropping on Elly as she plans a night out on the town with Connie while John is away, with the specific intent of attracting men. After all, this isn’t the first time Mike and Lawrence eavesdropped on Elly and Connie when they were talking romance. This would also explain Mike’s fear that Deanna would cheat on him with Dr. Smythe during her trip to Honduras.

2. What would Elly have said to Connie if she did not know Michael was listening?

Based on what she is saying in the first panel, Elly would probably talk about what she planned to do after getting her degree. Probably this means getting a job. Elly never gets her degree, but she continued to pursue having a job for years until John Patterson bought her Lilliput’s in 2000 and put an end to it.

3. How did Michael know Elly was saying something because she knew he was listening.

Elly said, “I just wish I’d taken my education seriously – when I had the chance!” If Mike has been paying any attention, he would know that Elly isn’t interested in taking her education seriously. Whenever Elly talks about university, she invariably couches the idea in terms of “getting a degree” or “getting a job”. She is never jealous of Connie learning about radiology. She is jealous of Connie’s degree and job. We see both those themes in the first panel. I went through AMU reprints to see if there was ever an instance where Elly said, “I loved going to university because I enjoyed learning.” Or “There was a class or a professor I really liked.” That is never there. In this strip and this strip and this strip, it is “I left university when I got married and had 2 kids.” If Michael has been paying attention, he knows that his mom considers him to be reason she didn’t finish her degree.

What it boils down to is that when Elly says she wished she had taken her education seriously, Michael knows that the statement is not something that his mother would normally say in a conversation with Connie. Certainly after 30 years of observing Elly Patterson, I would have to agree with Michael’s opinion on the matter.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Elly, the Writer

One of the more fascinating aspects about when Lynn Johnston took her strip back in time was the re-imaging of Elly Patterson as a writer. The long-running story about Elly was that she quit going to university due to money reasons. However, when the character page on the website was updated for the newly young Elly, it said this instead:

It was in a campus library where she met John Patterson, snoozing away in her familiar study nook. He was funny, witty and charming (once awake, anyway) and she instantly felt comfortable in his company. The fact that he offered her free dental work was just a bonus! After a year of serious dating, he proposed and they were married the next February and settled happily into a small basement bachelor apartment. Elly's interest in her degree was fading by this time and she wanted to get out and WRITE! She left university early to work in a bookstore and do some freelance writing while John finished up his dentistry training.

Not money. Writing. Let’s not think too hard about the idea of Elly quitting the University of Toronto to have a chance to write so that she could eventually go to a Milborough night school to learn how to write, as represented in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Money made more sense. In more recent strips, the implication is that Elly quit school to get her MRS degree, so maybe Lynn understands how silly that is too.

Nevertheless, what I took away from the updated character reference is that Lynn Johnston wants to establish Elly as a writer, and maybe not the way she appeared the first time through these strips in 1981, as a disinterested housewife thinking about writing as a hobby. We have recently learned that Lynn Johnston in personal appearances has a very shaky hand, implying that her career as a comic strip artist would be limited. The idea of pursuing writing as a career may resonate with Lynn in her own situation. It takes less manual dexterity to type than it does to draw. What we may have coming up is the last great round of wish-fulfillment for Lynn Johnston as experienced through Elly Patterson. It will be interesting to see where it goes. Unlike the situation with Michael Patterson, where Lynn Johnston made him outrageously and unbelievably successful in his writing career, Lynn is restrained by 30 years of her strip, where we know that Elly Patterson never becomes a best-selling author. The net effect is that we may get a more reasonable demonstration of Elly’s writing skills. And then again, it could be some disaster with her kids that stops her.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Redo Reprinted

If today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse seems familiar, it’s because Lynn Johnston reworked this same strip back on October 7, just 12 days ago. While there are those who may look at this moment as an indication of Lynn’s mental instability and inattention to detail, I look at it from the perspective of a man in awe of Lynn Johnston’s talent in taking her once-mighty For Better or For Worse to geniuinely new lows that other comic strips have only dreamed about.

There are those who think the worst comic strip ever is Uncle Funny Bunny and Chumpy. Others think it is the Family Circus. My personal choice for years has been The Quigmans, a strip notorious for repeating its material. According to this website, the strip has repeated its material 144 times in the year 2009. That’s impressive, but Lynn Johnston beats that number of repeats in 2009. Even Buddy Hickerson, the author of The Quigmans, has to bow down to Lynn Johnston. Buddy has the good sense to put significant time between duplicate strips being printed. With today’s reprint, the time from redo to reprint is 12 days. 12 days! Beat that, Buddy!

Not only that, but the redo/reprint combination is something brand-new. Buddy Hickerson is just old-fashioned lazy. He reprints the same strip or keeps the art and sometimes reworks the words. Boring! Everyone does that. Lynn Johnston is breaking new ground and is lazy in fresh and original ways. This has been the fascination of this strip for the last several years and I have to congratulate Lynn for finding yet another way to destroy her strip that's never been done before.

I think there are possibilities for future destruction, and if I may, I have a few suggestions for the next generation. For example, Lynn could take this same strip and redo it again, but with a twist. For example, the Scooby-Doo version:

Shaggy: What’s this – a night school program?
Scooby: Right, Raggy. I want to learn.
Shaggy: Zoinks! You want to take Creative Writing, Scooby?
Scooby: Ruh, Roh!
Shaggy: What’s wrong, Scoob?
Scooby: I rought it was a class for cooking Scooby Snacks.

Or the Bugs Bunny version:

Bugs Bunny: What’s up, doc?
Elmer Fudd: It’s wabbit-hunting season. See my license?
Bugs Bunny: No, doc. That paper is for a class in creative writing.
Elmer Fudd: Wabbit-hunting season!
Bugs Bunny: Creative writing class!
Elmer Fudd: Wabbit-hunting season!!
Bugs Bunny: Creative writing class!!
Elmer Fudd: Wabbit-hunting season!!!
Bugs Bunny: Wabbit-hunting season!
Elmer Fudd: Creative writing class! Oh fooey, it isn’t offered until next semester.

Those are my humble suggestions. If I know Lynn Johnston, before she takes her comic strip to straight reprints in Early Spring, there will be yet another new low, even lower than the one she reached today. I can hardly wait to see it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lynn Has a Camera on my Dessert

It has finally happened. Finally a For Better or For Worse cartoon has imitated a part of my life. When I dine out with my wife, and she plays the “I’m going to be good and not have a dessert” game, that means I will not be the only person eating the dessert I order. In fact, this is such a common occurrence with couples dining; the wait staff often automatically brings out 2 spoons in anticipation. That also appears to be the case with today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse as both John and Elly are shown with spoons in their hands in Panel 8. Moreover, if my wife has managed to eat almost all of the dessert and I offer the whole thing to her, her response would be almost exactly the same as Elly’s in this strip. Congratulations, Lynn Johnston. At long last, you have duplicated a part of my life.

As for what to comment on, let’s start with the Strawberry Mocha Parfait. There are plenty of Mocha Parfaits and Strawberry Parfaits, but the exact combination did not come up in my internet searching. The best I could find was this recipe, which has this picture. This is a Mocha Berry Parfait, but as you can tell, the berries are on top. In the Lynn Johnston picture, there are no strawberries in sight and there appears to be a maraschino cherry on top. However, I am not enough of an authority on parfaits to know if Lynn botched this one.

Second is the waiter, whose eyes are always closed. He has on black arm bands, which is very old-style formal wear. At least it is very old-style in my section of the country. When I say old-style, I mean I have only seen people wear them in movies. My experience with formal wear started in the 1970s, and no one I knew wore them then. Maybe things were different in Canada in 1980.

As for the art, there are the obvious things:

1. The mysterious appearing and disappearing rose on the table.
2. The mysterious appearing and disappearing pink scarf on Elly’s neck.
3. The mysterious disappearing lower half of the waiter’s body.
4. The mysterious appearing and disappearing eaten portion of the parfait.

The parts that work best for me are:

1. Elly’s bug-eye expression in Panel 5 as she sees the parfait delivered to John. This tells me in a single expression that Elly realizes she has made a mistake in refusing to order dessert. Telling a story with pictures and not words, is one of the most powerful aspects of sequential art and one Lynn Johnston should use more often.
2. The dialogue in Panel 8, with the word “leeetle”. This gives the strip a sense of playfulness with the way Elly is asking permission to eat John’s dessert.
3. None of the characters are being cruel or mean to each other.

I would rate this as one of best strips Lynn Johnston has reprinted this year.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Candy is Food Energy

In today’s “American Kids Are Obese” climate, more attention is being paid attention to the food kids eat and their sugar content. I remember when my kids were old enough to be interested in breakfast cereal and our trips to the grocery store to see what was there. I was surprised to see that Sugar Smacks is now Honey Smacks, and Super Sugar Crisp was Super Golden Crisp. This was part of an effort to make breakfast food seem healthier. In my day, the way they tried to make cereals seem healthier was throw a name like King Vitamin at it. In both cases and in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, the advertisors are trying to win over the parents by touting the health quality of their extemely unhealthy food. Consequently, this part of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse does work in the modern day. I could easily see an advertisement refer to candy as “food energy” a kid would need. It is a rare moment when something in the strip resonates today. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Of course the other parts of the strip which don’t work are Elly’s completely out-of-character giving into Michael’s advertising-related arguments, and Michael’s bizarre physical appearance, while he is explaining his argument. He looks like he is terrified of something, with those crossed and bugged out eyes, and giant gaping mouth.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lizzie the Lush

The idea that John Patterson cannot relax at home without being confronted by a “busy-around-the-house” Elly is a common theme in the early strip. Today’s reprint is one of the rare ones which shows John any sympathy in his relaxing. This makes the 3rd strip in a row being reprinted from what I would call “strips Lynn Johnston did not reprint last year because they made John (i.e. ex-husband Rod) look good.” Now that Lynn Johnston is trying to fill Year Two space from the Farley the dog adoption Year Two material she alreadyreprinted last year, her standards have apparently changed.

The most interesting part of today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is little Lizzie getting a taste of beer. John Patterson doesn’t see it happen and Elly Patterson is so busy being angry with John for relaxing, she doesn’t see it happen. I am sure that for many children, getting an alcoholic drink from something unattended by an adult is their first experience with alcohol. In my house, leaving an open beer can where a 1-year-old like Lizzie could get at it would not ever happen. We are very conscious of the health risks to toddlers who drink alcohol.

What prevents most children from having a problem with taking more than a sip of alcohol is that it tastes unpleasant to them. However, in this strip, Lizzie doesn’t seem to mind the taste. Naturally, I can’t see toddler Lizzie drinking beer without thinking about the many strips of adult Elizabeth Patterson drinking and waking up hungover. In particular I remember this strip and this strip.

Looking at today’s strip now in relationship to those others, it makes me think that this could be the moment where Elizabeth develops a liking for the beverage, which will last her for the rest of her life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Identification of Miss Moreau

This is a pretty good description of anterior hypoplasia. Basically, this is if you get hit in the mouth when you are a kid, and the baby tooth whacks the permanent tooth developing underneath and knock offs some enamel on the permanent tooth.

Here is a description of crossbite. Basically this is when when your upper teeth fall inside your lower teeth on one side when you bite down. Aside from dental accuracy, today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse travels into the world of “What is the character of this character, really?”

Jean Baker

On the one hand, Jean Baker supports Elly and warns John not to fool around her while she is gone on a trip. Jean even knows Elly well enough to tell John that Elly will expect to start looking for a job. And yet, in today’s strip, Jean is practically whispering to Dr. John Patterson that a hot patient has arrived in the office and describes her in terms which would imply that she expects John to enjoy looking at the patient’s body. It’s hard to believe this is the same woman.

John Patterson

John Patterson is the man, who runs around after the pretty girls on the beach right in front of his wife and daughter. John Patterson hires a hygienist who looks like Shania Twain.

However, John Patterson is from time-to-time, completely oblivious how a woman looks, only pays attention to how her teeth look. This isn’t the first time we have seen a strip like that, and today’s strip falls into that category. You can’t really have it both ways. Either John is a lecher, or John is obsessed with teeth to the point where he ignores women. I suppose it depends on how Lynn Johnston feels that day about John.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nizzie Needs a Different Boyfriend than Her Dad

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we see little Nizzie (doing a great imitation of young Sally Brown from Peanuts), sitting down and going at the cookie box, saying, “Cookie! Num-num! Cookie good. Nizzie eat cookie!” From this John Patterson draws the conclusion that Nizzie is “walking and talking and turning into a real little girl.” At this point I would say to John, “The way it works is that you see her do those things, and then you praise her for doing them." Cause and effect works better as a story-telling device. That way you don't get people scratching their heads and thinking, "What is John talking about? Nizzie is just imitating Cookie Monster."

Then John picks up Nizzie and says, “Let’s hope I’ve got a few years before she finds another boyfriend!” My initial thought was, “What? John considers the cookie to be Nizzie’s boyfriend?” Then I thought maybe I missed a strip where Nizzie had a boyfriend. Then I remembered that when it comes to his daughters, John Patterson is creepy. He is talking about being Nizzie’s boyfriend himself. I have a daughter and trust me when I say that I have never said that I was her boyfriend.

As proof of John Patterson’s creepiness factor, I offer the following strips:


12/4/2001 - John’s says his baby turn into a babe.

9/25/2004 – John says April won’t be invisible for much longer while giving her the eye.

3/10/2005 – April talks about how she has been getting the look, and not the look that comes from dad.

8/2/2007 – John and April have a vicious pillow fight as if they were a couple.

12/31/2007 – April wears a slinky dress and John has to hug her

8/5/2008 - April dresses John for Liz’ wedding, as if they were a couple.


5/17/2002 – John immediately notices when Liz has her navel exposed

2/24/2007 – The strip where John comes into Liz’s bedroom and then puts odds on which of Liz’s suitors will be successful in wooing her.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Elly’s Been Demoted: And It’s About Time

Since For Better or For Worse was often taken from the real life of Lynn Johnston, I find it a little strange that young Michael Patterson would be telling Elly Patterson that his teacher draws, prints and reads better than Elly. These should be Lynn Johnston’s strengths. If Lynn’s son, Aaron, criticized her in comparison to his teacher, I doubt that Lynn would take it very well. Did Lynn pick these items because she knew she could outshine any teacher in these areas?

As for my own kids, I experienced a situation similar to this, but not exactly the same. Since my son has Asperger’s Syndrome, there have been a number of occasions where I was called upon to help him with homework at home (i.e. teach him the things he zoned out during in class and missed). He did not like this. Nevertheless, it was a necessary thing to do to keep him up in class. We often would get to a point where my son would be absolutely defiant, and tell me that his teacher at the school taught him something which was the exact opposite of what I was trying to tell him. A lot of times these would be about subjects with which I am so familiar, that I was absolutely sure that I was correct. Then I would have to say, “Son, if the teacher said that, then she is wrong. However, I seriously doubt that she said that.”

These were difficult moments for me, because I remember in my youth, there were moments when I had teachers who did teach me things which were incorrect. You don’t want to undermine the teacher. At the same time, you don’t want your kid to learn the wrong thing. However, considering the very limited attention span of my son, this was never very much of a problem. He was arguing more for the sake of his understanding and interpretation of the lesson, than for the teacher.

In today’s strip, little Michael hits on a different element than just that of education. When my children hit Grade One, I was never demoted. My kids’ teacher was a tall, very beautiful woman, who was fantastic with young kids, and just as nice as she could be. My kids loved her. Even so, I never felt any kind of competiton with her, nor did my wife. We were glad that they had such a great teacher.

I don’t ever remember my kids comparing their teacher to their mother, with the mother coming in an unfavourable light. However, if my kids had a different relationship with their mother, then this might be different story. Why would a kid compare his mother to his Grade One teacher? Why would a kid tell his mother his teacher is better than she is, particularly in areas where the mother believes she is very good? These kinds of statements speak more to the relationship between the mother and son, than to the teacher’s actual skills.

My favourite part of the strip is the final panel where we see Michael Patterson wearing a blanket sleeper with a drop seat. I think the only time I have ever seen those things is in a Dennis the Menace comic strip. I have the feeling that was the only place Lynn Johnston saw one of those things, too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Ol’ Stare of Truth: Another Positively Passive Patterson Parenting Principle

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse presents the idea that a young child can be intimidated into telling the truth by staring at them. I would like to say that my children were susceptible to such things, but sadly, that is not the case.

My son, when caught in wrongdoing, will simply deny it or will make up a story describing how he didn’t do it. It doesn’t matter if you catch him red-handed, he will still deny it. Moreover, the stories he will tell to cover his tracks are so outlandish, it’s hard to believe he would ever expect anyone to fall for them.

His little sister, on the other hand, is a notorious truth-teller. She does not go from lie to truth. She goes from truth to more truth. When it comes to wrongdoing, she is much more likely to conceal the evidence, to prevent being asked about it. When the evidence is discovered, she immediately admits to the wrongdoing. On the other hand, if you accuse her of doing something she did not do, she gets very upset, many times to the point of tears.

As for the Ol’ Stare of Truth, it flat out does not work with a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome like my son. The in-the-face, grabbing-the-shoulders method Elly is using would make my son very uncomfortable. He would find it difficult to concentrate on what you were asking him to confess. He would be much more interested in getting you out of his face and to get you to stop touching him. Most likely he would completely shut down and stop talking. The Ol’ Stare of Truth works with Michael Patterson, but if I wanted to wipe that smug look off Elly’s face, I would have her try that trick with my son.

The strangest part of today’s reprint is the final panel. I am not sure what Elly is holding in her right hand, or what it has to do with the Ol’ Stare of Truth. Also, I am not particularly fond of seeing Elly lead Mike by yanking up the back of his shirt collar, which would choke most kids I know. However, the most disconcerting thing of the strip is to see Elly’s butt, looking so petite and delicate. Clearly this strip was done before the time when Lynn Johnston decided that big bottoms on women were funny, like Friday’s and Saturday’s strip.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Elly and the Refrigerator: No Longer Best Friends

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse actually falls into the category of something I have done with my children on more than one occasion in my life -- the toy under the refrigerator, or its very popular alternate, the toy under the stove. In my house, the stove and the refrigerator are nestled between wall and cabinets, so the only access underneath is through the front, unless you want to move the appliance away from the back wall (which no one wants to do). If a toy goes under there, we usually reach with a broom handle under the appliance and that almost always works. The exception is if the toy goes behind the leg of the refrigerator or stove, which will block the broom handle. On those occasions, I have to pull the appliance away from the wall.

As far as the strip goes, I can agree with the premise of it. However, Lynn Johnston shows a thin refrigerator with both a side access and a front access. Comparing it to my experiences, Elly Patterson comes off as a light weight. She has a side access on that refrigerator. That would be easy-peasy to get Michael’s car. The other thing that Elly does which I would not do is stick my hand under the refrigerator. My fridge is too low to the ground to do that. Plus, sometimes there are sharp things under there. I go straight for the broom handle.

In fact, after working the broom handle in front of my children, they learned that trick immediately. Whenever they lose something under the refrigerator or stove, they go to the broom handle before they go for me. I only get called in if the broom handle does not work and things have to be moved.

One of my favourite stories about these things has to do with a time several years ago when my kids were very little. We had a brief infestation of mice in the house, and the exterminator put sticky traps throughout the house. Some weeks later, after the mice were gone, my kids lost a toy under the stove and ran a broom handle under it to retrieve the toy. In addition to the toy, they got a sticky trap with a mouse still attached.

My wife was at home at the time. My children came up to her with their hands behind their back, looking very forlorn. They told my wife they found something under the stove, and no matter how many times they petted it, it wasn’t moving. Then they produced the trap and mouse from behind their back to my wife. My wife, it should be mentioned, is very afraid of mice. Needless to say, after my children’s presentation, there was much shrieking and hand-washing. Just the thought of that moment brings a smile to my face, even though I was not there to see it happen.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sylphan Lovelies

Sylph. Lynn Johnston just loves that word. I had thought that the name originated in Greek mythology, but upon looking it up discovered that the term originates in Paracelsus in his Liber de Nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus, who describes sylphs as invisible beings of the air, his elementals of air. Traditionally, there are four types:

gnomes, earth elementals
undines, water elementals
sylphs, air elementals
salamanders, fire elementals.

Because of their association with the ballet La Sylphide, where sylphs are identified with fairies and the medieval legends of fairyland, a slender girl may be referred to as a "sylph".

The term does not appear in the AMU reprints archive of the strip, but it does appear in the old classic monthly letters. In this letter, Mike Patterson is complaining about his work at Portrait Magazines and launches into an odd attack on an advertisement in the magazine:

Mike's Letter, March 2006

The most memorable portrait we've printed recently wasn't an interview, but an advertisement. Four pages, set in the front, middle and back of the mag, featured a sylphan lovely removing her garments - with the last page showing her holding a bottle of perfume in such a way that her obvious assets were obscured. Not a bad idea, really - and the money generated by that one bit of branding likely paid for the publisher's implants - however. The look on this girl's face was way beyond raunchy...and they tell me she's just seventeen.

Notice he used the word "sylphan". That is my one and only other reference to the word in For Better or For Worse.

As for today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, this is one in a series of strips where Lynn Johnston likes to show the enlarged bottoms of the female protagonists for comic effect and no one is immune. Usually Anne Nichols is the recipient of the largest bottom award, like in today's reprint. In the new-runs, sometimes Lynn forgets that Connie Poirier was skinny and sticks her with the big butt.

I am not sure why Lynn Johnston considers big butts to be funny. Certainly Sir Mixalot would not agree.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Size 10, or Conversations I Have Never Had with My Wife

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Elly comes home after her shopping and declares to John she just got into a size 10. This is something my wife has never said to me. Moreover, I have no male friends who have reported their wives saying it to them. In fact, the only time I ever talk about my wife’s clothing size with my wife, is on birthdays and holidays when I ask her what size to buy her. At that point, she usually says something like, “Please don’t buy me any clothes,” because she knows my taste in clothing never satisfies her clothing sensibilities. This is why I always take my daughter with me when I go clothes-shopping for my wife.

John actually gets up out of his chair to praise Elly on her clothing size accomplishment and to check the clothing size tag. This is not only something I have never done; but after reading today’s comic strip, it is something I would never do. I got in trouble with my wife one time when I innocently suggested going shopping in a Lane Bryant store. My wife has told me never, ever to buy her something from Lane Bryant. I am sure it is a fine store, but for the longevity of my marriage, I have decided to take my wife at her word.

Elly says she got into a size 10, but she ends up buying a size 12. She is, therefore, simply bragging that she managed to squeeze her body uncomfortably in a smaller size, even though she bought the larger size. Again, this has never happened in my house, to my knowledge. For all I know, my wife may regularly try on smaller size outfits to see if they fit her. If she does, she has never seen fit to describe those moments to me. And what’s more, I do not feel that I have missed out by not hearing those descriptions.

Lynn Johnston doesn’t have a camera in my house for today’s strip, or for that matter, a camera anywhere in my neighbourhood.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Women! They Love Their Shopping

When women are depressed, they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It's a whole different way of thinking. ~Elayne Boosler

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston pushes the “women love shopping or eating when they get depressed” button. If you are going for that broad a target, you are sure to get people writing in to say, “I’m just like Elly. I shop when I get depressed too.” Sometimes with this strip, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

If you are a person who likes to look at cause-and-effect, like I do, then you could draw the conclusion that Elly Patterson is depressed because yesterday her husband suggested she try Creative Cooking instead of Creative Writing for night school, and this encounter ended with Elly closing her eyes and shoving her husband. As aprilp_katje pointed out, yesterday’s strip was a re-do of an old strip where John, instead of suggesting only Creative Cooking also suggested Belly-Dancing, pointing out that they were more useful than the 1980s-trendy Creative Writing. In my mind, this was light-hearted jesting on the part of John. So, I wondered if, in yesterday’s strip, Elly’s shove of John was also good-natured playfulness or if Elly was angry with John. Judging from Elly being “kinda down in the dumps” for today’s strip, it appears that Elly really was angry. I can’t say this is too surprising because, whenever Lynn Johnston has redone strips instead of reprinting the original, she has increased the anger of Elly at John. The classic example of this is when Lynn took the strip of Elly seeing John off at the airport and wrote this very angry strip instead.

The other characteristic with the new-runs for Lynn Johnston to increase the appearance of Elly’s pitiful state. In today’s new-run, Elly plans to shop to alleviate her depression, but the shopping she plans is the ever-practical grocery-shopping, since she already has shoes. Anne Nichols encourages Elly to buy something for herself. Before talking to Anne, Elly planned to simply enjoy grocery-shopping without also having to deal with the ever-silent Elizabeth. Thanks to Anne, poor, pitiful Elly plans to purchase a personal product. This presumes that Elly never purchases personal products, because she is so pitiful. Lynn Johnston is pushing the “poor, put-upon Elly” button; but it does not match my all-time favourite one of these illustrated in this strip. Nothing beats Elly walking Farley the dog during a snow storm with little Lizzie strapped on her back for put-upon pitifulness.

As for the drawing today, my favourite moment is the transition between panels 3 and 4. It looks like Anne is standing in front of a book case. Then in the next panel, the bookcase has been magically transformed into a tree with leaves flying in the air, while Elly, Anne and Lizzie maintain the same approximate positions from panel to panel.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cooking or Writing: Which is more sexist?

The woman who rarely has enough time to read is in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse considering taking a night school course in creative writing. To me, this means that Elly’s comment yesterday about reading, was just for show. It appears also that Elly’s desire to “be someone who did something that involved books” is to write books herself or to be someone who wishes that they could write well enough to write books for themselves.

John Patterson gets pushed by Elly for suggesting Creative Cooking instead of Creative Writing. It would be in character for John to disparage writing (as he did many times in his website monthly letters when talking about Mike’s career) as impractical. However, considering the usual tone of this strip with respect to John, the point of the strip may be that John considers cooking to be woman’s work.

Interestingly enough, at my son’s Boy Scout meeting tonight, they had a pancake cookoff between the different patrols. My son’s patrol did not win. However, one of the boys thought it would be amusing to present the awards dressed up as a famous chef, and so he dressed up like Julia Child. It was at this point I suddenly realized that the Julie and Julia movie had hit more into the mainstream than I had expected, for a 13-year-old Boy Scout to consider her to be the model of great cooking, as opposed to the rat in the movie Ratatouille. One of the main points of the Julie and Julia movie was that Julia Child was the equal of the great male chefs in France. If Lynn had intended John Patterson’s statements to be sexist, they do not resound that way with me.

Consider the 2 alternatives: Elly as writer. Elly as cook.

As the comic strip progresses over 30 years, Elly moves from being a marginal cook to being a cook praised for her cooking by her friends and relatives. No matter what you may think about the disgustingly greasy food she served up, nevertheless she was praised for her cooking. As for her writing, nothing comes of it. She tries briefly and gives up. She does not have the discipline to accomplish it. 30 years into the strip, Elly is praised for being knowledgeable about books, but she is not praised for her writing.

All things considered, I think John Patterson is making a good suggestion here. He may be thinking “Elly stinks at writing, but she is not a bad cook. Why not encourage her in an area where she actually has some talent?” Remember, it was not too long ago when John Patterson said he didn’t like fancy cooking; so to suggest creative cooking is a little bit of a sacrifice for John. Not only that, but in the next 30 years, John’s suggestion ultimately will prove to be the best one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Someone who did something that involved books

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have another example of what I would refer to as “fighting on cue.” This is the type of comic strip where the characters are about to make a joke about how their lives have been changed by having to deal with children, and then to illustrate their point, the kids fight on cue. We have other example of this in this strip and this strip from this year.

The weakness with these kinds of jokes are readily apparent in today’s strip. Elly is trying to make a point about how wants some kind of career involving books, and then Mike and Lizzie fight on-cue to show why Elly will never have that career involving books. The humour, such as it is, relies on the ability to think of the timing of the fight of the kids as a coincidence. In other words, you can see the fight coming, so the timing of it seems more natural. In today’s strip, the fight comes out of nowhere, it is not evident what the fight is about, and then the fight is immediately resolved. Elly’s line to Connie about not being able to read, makes little-to-no sense when she is holding a very calm Lizzie as she says it.

The other aspect of the strip is its foreshadowing of future strips. We are supposed to grasp that someday Elly Patterson is going to own a bookstore. Going back into the past to show how things got the way they are, is not too bad a thing to do. However, in this strip, we don’t get that at all. Elly Patterson wants to own a bookstore because liked working at John’s office for a week? No. No. No. First of all, you have to show how the character likes books (not just talking about them, but actually reading them) and why the character likes books. At least the character could be shown handling a book at some point. This sort of thing worked better with Sharon Edwards and Elizabeth Patterson’s decision to become a teacher. Elizabeth wants to be like Sharon, and she is inspired to make that her career. With Elly Patterson, she doesn’t seem to be picking a career with any more inspiration than just pulling something out of midair.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson compares her moment of working at John’s clinic to the Cinderella story. The comparison works pretty well. Elly slaves at home for the evil step-mother (John), and ugly step-sisters (Liz and Michael), and the fairy godmother is Anne Nichols, willing to handle the kids for Elly. If only Elly were a princess, she could do the princess-like duties of “getting out every day, working with the public, and using her brains”. Not only that but Elly would get to dress the part of the princess with “wearing nice clothes and putting (her) hair up and looking professional”.

The skeptics among us would probably notice little things like: (a) Elly wore a uniform and not nice clothes, (b) Elly did not put her hair up, and most importantly (c) her actual duties at the office do not really match her description of them. However, it is easy to imagine Elly trying to give Connie this impression, since supposedly Connie works.

The key ingredient missing in the story is that of the prince. The story of Cinderella does not work unless there is a prince. He is the motivation for everything. There is no ball without the prince and there is no marriage to the prince if he did not have his unusual foot fetish. This comparison works with Elly’s situation also (except the foot fetish part). John brings her on and puts her in a position for which Elly would probably not qualify otherwise. If Elly were to take the job she could get without John’s help, she might not have liked working as much. The prince has given Cinder-Elly the taste of the good life, and she wants more.

Naturally, in this discussion, John is not mentioned at all. His business is simply referred to as “the clinic”. This is the situation later on too, when John buys Elly her bookstore business of Lilliput’s. John, the prince, rescues Elly from her situation, even though he is also the evil step-mother.

In the meantime, I get the biggest kick out of watching these characters "march" down the street. In the first panel, it even looks like Michael is trying to teach Lawrence to walk in step like the adults.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Pattersonhood of the Traveling Razor

I looked extensively through AMU Reprints and I could not find a single strip of John Patterson shaving. Somehow I had thought he was a blade man and not an electric razor man, but I could not find a strip to show otherwise. The best I could find was this strip, where John brushes his teeth. Elly Patterson, however, is a blade woman when it comes to her legs and her sheets. While I was looking through the strips, I did find the toilet plunger strip which Lynn Johnston referenced in her recent interview.

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse uses a joke which has been used before in this strip. Kids play with an adult object and then the adult doesn’t know what has happened to the object. Most recently, this occurred with Meredith and Grandpa Jim’s dentures.

I have an electric razor, but I have never experienced the situation which John does here. My kids have shown no interest whatsoever, in using my razor on themselves, or the carpet, or a stuffed animal. However, it doesn’t seem too farfetched that this could happen. The objects of mine which have disappeared most often from kid use are my shoes and my ties. Every once in a while I will find that my daughter has adopted one of my T-shirts as a night shirt. I lead a very boring life compared to John Patterson; but at least my kids haven't trashed my razor.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Days Before the Pill

With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we have an example of a strip which would be difficult to set in modern times. Connie Poirier and Elly Patterson are having a conversation about the choice of having or not having children. It’s hard to get a grasp on now, but in my grandmother’s time and my mother’s time, there were not as many reliable options as there are today for birth control. As near as I can tell from the number of children in my family’s records per family, there was very little a sexually active fertile woman could do to prevent having babies. The best she could do was slow it down a little. This all changed in the 1960s with the advent of the birth control pill.

Lynn Johnston was born in 1947, so her generation was the first to have the choice of having or not having children. This fits very well with the conversation until we get to Panel 3, for which I will have to ask someone owning a collection if this is a dialogue rewrite. The letters look kind of squeezed together when Elly says, “Your mom must have wanted a large family, Connie.” This is not really a comment someone from Elly’s 1951 generation would say, knowing how ineffective birth control methods were back in the late 1940s and early 1950s when Connie and her siblings would have been born.

If we consider the comic strip to be set in the modern times of 2009, the comparison between Elly and Connie Poirier’s mom could be a case of want and don’t want. Most of the women in my family’s history had large families and also had no choice in the matter. Connie tells us it was the same situation with her mother, but it was not because of the lack of birth control. It was because her father continually impregnated her mother in the hope of getting a boy.

I have seen a modern equivalent of such a desire a few times, but oddly enough it was not the father making those demands. It was the mother. We had some friends back in Dallas, where the mom was obsessed with getting a girl; but she kept having boys. After 4 boys, she gave up. If Lynn had decided to update the strip, she could have gone that way. Instead we have the old tried-and-true of the woman put upon by the man, which is the mainstay of this strip for 30 years.

My favourite part of the strip is the fog which descends on Elly and Connie in panels 1 and 2, lifting in panel 3 so we can see Lawrence and Michael. If I were to rewrite the dialogue for today’s strip it would be:

Elly: Well we found Liz in the swing.
Connie: But where are Michael and Lawrence?
Elly: This darn fog.
Connie: There they are. Quick, let’s run over to them before the fog comes back.
Elly: Made it just in time!

Carman Valley Leader Article

This is an interview with Lynn Johnston and Beth Cruikshank talking about Farley Follows His Nose from the Carman Valley Leader. I will quote the parts of interest to me and my comments follow:

In one story line from the mid 1980’s, Farley went missing for the better part of a day. The story followed the point of view of the Pattersons. “In the original story you never find out where Farley went, It’s all about the Pattersons worried about him and wondering where he is,” Cruikshank explained.

It’s interesting that Cruikshank mentions this. Although longtime readers of the strip recognized that the book was a retelling of this comic strip story from Farley’s point-of-view, this is the first time that either Johnston or Cruikshank have mentioned they reused the story for this book. This could be the reason why Johnston got a writing credit for the book, when in the times past, she credited Cruikshank solely for the writing.

“The collaboration was really interesting because neither of us had worked with another person before. You have been really careful not to correct something or change something, or demand something that the other wasn’t kind of keen on. We were surprised at the start that we got along really well.” Johnston said.

This is a startling statement. I suspect that Laura Piché, Jackie Levesque, and Kevin Strang – persons with whom Lynn has worked before and currently on her comic strip – might disagree with that statement. Perhaps Lynn means that she hasn’t worked with another person on a book before, but there is that book she wrote with Andie Parton. Maybe Lynn just means that Beth is a person and all those other people weren’t persons. That’s the only way this statement is true.

“The worst part was dealing with the publishers, because not only are we editors of our own work, but the publisher also comes with their editors,” she added.

Prior to For Better Or For Worse, Johnston was a graphic artist and explained how she dealt with editors back then.

“When I worked in graphics I used to make sure that I had a spelling mistake whenever I did a poster so they would correct the spelling mistake and not touch my art!”

In other words, Lynn Johnston and the HarperCollins editors had issues with her art. Moreover, Lynn Johnston doesn’t seem to have any problem slamming them in a public venue at the same time she is promoting the book for them. Slamming the people who probably set up this little interview opportunity to sell that book of yours and theirs, seems a little in bad taste to me.

I had wondered about this book ever since the very first time it was announced Lynn Johnston would be doing the art on the children’s book. Would Lynn Johnston turn the job she was capable of doing (as had been illustrated in the pow-wow strips of For Better or For Worse from 2005), or would she turn in the same kind of garbage she has been churning out for the last several years (silhouettes, characters with missing body parts, etc.)? And moreover, would the publisher accept bad work when they were trying to sell a book to children, which depends heavily on appealing illustrations?

Clearly, Lynn is saying that the publishers’ editors saw Lynn’s artwork and they had issues. They contacted Chrissie Boehm’s art group to do samples (according to Chrissie) for the book. They were also the ones who hired Patty Weise to do her uncredited colouring of the book. Both of these things would not have been known to me, except HarperCollins gave them credit in the on-line solicitation for the book. I have often wondered why HarperCollins gave them that on-line credit, when those people were not credited in the book cover.

When I contacted Lynn personally about Patty Weise and Chrissie Boehm, she denied any knowledge of them. Later on, in another interview, she admitted someone else coloured the book. Somehow I suspect the relationship between HarperCollins and Lynn Johnston over the art was a little bit more acrimonious that she lets on.

For the book, Johnston said the only big argument with the editors was over the front cover. Johnston and Cruikshank wanted Farely with his nose to the ground, while the editors wanted the dog to be running.

Lynn clearly won this battle, as Farley has his nose somewhere near the ground on the cover.

In turn the editors took her illustration that included a lot of scenery and made it into a close up of the beloved sheep dog. At one point during the 45-minute presentation Johnston hilariously summed up the meaning of editors. “Editors, they’re like mosquitoes at a picnic!” she joked.

This is very interesting to me. As we have been comparing Lynn’s 1980s art to her modern art due to her use of reprints in the comic strip for the last 2 years, I have often been struck by just how often Lynn’s modern work rarely does close-ups, often to the detriment to the art.

However, contrary to Lynn’s statement, the cover of the book does have scenery in it. There is a bird, a rabbit, some flowers, a bush, and the fence in the background. The part that caught my eye, when I first saw the cover, was none of those things looked like the standard way I had seen Lynn Johnston draw those things. The rabbit in particular has its ears on the right spot on its head, not at all the way Lynn Johnston drew Mr. B or Butterscotch from the strip. When I first saw this picture, I was convinced Lynn did not draw it, because of the background. Now, Lynn hints, ever so delicately, that the only part of the cover she did was the close-up of Farley. I think my suspicions have been subtly confirmed.

“One of the good things about cartoons is writing and drawing as well. You can do all of these funny sounds. One of my favourite sound effect to write is a toilet plunger.” “Flup-flup-baga, flup-flup-baga!” Johnston said as she demonstrated the plunging motion.

There are no plungers in the book, but the reason Lynn mentions it is because the clever typography in the book is done by Rachel Zegar, who is credited in the inner cover on the book. The typography really makes the book work, but Lynn has never mentioned Rachel in any of her interviews. Most likely, Lynn only did the lettering for the sound effects in the book.

As usual, Lynn Johnston uses a public venue to grind her axe against people with whom she has issues. It would be nice to see her have an interview somewhere without taking a shot at someone.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I’m Gassed, or I am All A-gassed

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is a gassy blast from the past

1. With very little difficulty, I was able to determine that there are still some full service gas stations in Ontario, but not very many.
2. I don’t know if gas stations will still take a cheque (check). Many of them in Tucson will not.
3. I can remember when cars used to take regular or unleaded, so regular was a choice.
4. At 90 cents a litre, $1.80 is only going to get Elly 2 litres. That won’t get Elly very far, maybe 40 kilometres.

I think the real question now is whether Lynn Johnston would recognize that things have changed at the gas pump since 1980. How long has it been since Lynn Johnston pumped her own gas?