Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010 (or the year between 1981 and 1982)

Happy New Year everyone.

Looking at the New Year strips which webmaster Stephanie van Doleweerd has kindly pulled out for us, it appears that in the latter days of the Pattersons, the emphasis on New Years’ Eve was usually the parties attended by some Patterson or other. In the New Year 1981 strip reprinted for New Years 2009, it’s just Elly and John while the kids are looking on. In New Year 1982 strip, they celebrate the event with Grandpa Will and Carrie. With the straight reprints coming this year, that strip should be reprinted to coincide with New Year 2011. It appears in the early years of the Pattersons, they celebrated the New Year together without going to a party. Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse shows neither a party nor the appearance that young Michael Patterson stayed up for the countdown, as he is up at 6 in the morning. This implies that that the Patterson family togetherness with either themselves as in the early years or with their friends as in the later years did not occur this year. There is part of me which would prefer the final new strips of For Better or For Worse to end with family togetherness, and there is another part of me which finds this lack of togetherness to be entirely appropriate with the way the strip has been going.

As for New Years’ Eve strips from the past, I enjoyed this one and this one and especially this one.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mess of New-Runs

We got back from Dallas this evening and as I expected we have had a whole load of new-runs from Lynn Johnston to fill in for all those she reprinted last year. I will try and go through them all.

December 23 - The joke here is that Elly assumes that Lizzie doesn’t know what Christmas is all about since she is so young, but then Lizzie says, “Gimme” as she goes for a cookie demonstrating that she does know. So, Christmas is all about self-centered greedy children. This certainly falls in line with the anti-Christmas theme Lynn Johnston has had going for the last month, even though the sight of a child grabbing for food is hardly a demonstration of anything except hunger.

Highlight of the strip: Lynn actually shows a Christmas decoration of holly across the top of a picture frame in the background. Yes, folks, aside from the Christmas tree, this is Elly's only home decoration for Christmas for the entire month of December.

December 24 – The joke here is Michael Patterson’s amazement at Santa’s ability to apparently instantaneously produce presents even though Michael is regularly checking the Christmas tree under which there are no presents whatsoever. This strip only works if Lynn’s readers can forget the strips earlier this month where Michael already found wrapped presents in the crawl space. Even so, considering how frequently Michael is checking the tree, it is amazing that the adults in the house are all able to get the presents under the tree without attracting the attention of the obviously “not asleep” Mike. Interestingly enough, this is one of the only Christmas strips that does not feature someone complaining about Christmas.

Highlight of the strip: Michael’s enormous feet and Lynn Johnston’s extraordinary consistency in being unable to draw people walking on stairs.

December 25 – The joke here is that while Elly works her fingers to the bone getting a Christmas dinner ready, Michael mopes that Christmas is over once all the presents are opened. Lynn Johnston has done this strip with this punch line many times before.

Highlight of the strip: 5 place settings and a high chair for Lizzie. I count Phil, Elly, John, and Michael. Who is the extra place setting for? Also, I love the fact that after making such a big deal about John getting Elly jewellery for Christmas instead of a food sealer, we don't see one strip of her reaction to it.

December 26 – The joke here, if this can be called a joke, is that Lawrence realizes that Phil and Connie are more than good friends because Connie sends Lawrence over to Elly’s house whenever Phil goes to her house. There are a lot of ramifications to this one, aside from the obvious “Connie and Phil are doing it” scenario. Number one is that Lawrence recognizes this as a pattern showing that his mother is more than good friends with someone, implying that Phil is not the first. Number two is that all those times we have seen Lawrence playing over at Elly’s without Connie present could have been one of those occasions. Number three is that Elly seems to have been blissfully unaware that Connie was using her in this fashion.

Highlight of the strip: Michael refers to Lawrence’s mom as “Connie”. Lawrence refers to Michael’s mom as “Mrs. Patterson.”

December 27 – The joke here is that Phil wants a drink with some kick to it, so Elly kicks him. This is kind of like the old joke: "A bum came up to me and said he wanted some money because he hadn’t had a bite in a week, so I bit him." Considering the ready supply of alcohol in the Patterson house over the years, the implication that Phil has a drinking problem because Elly has nothing in the house is completely surprising. If I were to flatter myself, I would think that my comments on Lynn Johnston’s travelogues, where she speaks extensively on how much she drinks on her trips may have gotten back to Lynn, who has decided to take this peculiar, out-of-character stance on Elly and alcohol just so I know that she is not a lush.

Highlight of the strip: The cartoonish bump rising out of Phil’s bottom after Elly kicks it is reminiscent of the lumps which would grow of out of Fred Flinstone’s head after he took a shot to the head, and was probably where Lynn Johnston was going with that. Given that the lump is coming out of Phil’s pants, it makes him look like he crapped his pants after Elly kicked him. Lynn Johnston’s misguided art just doesn’t get any better than this.

December 28 – The joke here is that Lynn Johnston does not realize just what joke she made. Phil must have made some statement about how a trumpet player’s lips are good for kissing, which Mike passes on to Elly as the thing he learned from Uncle Phil. However, we don’t see that conversation with Uncle Phil to know exactly how or why he said it; so Elly’s gobsmacked look when Mike tells her could be that Phil is having, yet another, inappropriate conversation with Mike OR Phil has just tried to convince Mike to kiss him. Either option leaves me a little queasy.

Highlight of the strip: The mysterious page of music in panel 2, which appears in no other panel.

December 29 – The joke here is that Phil’s trumpet playing is like a mating call for Connie Poirier, who walks right off the street and into the Patterson’s house. This marks the 3rd strip in a row with Elly doing dishes and it is interesting she goes right to that in order to leave Phil and Connie alone with each other. That's an odd thing to do considering what Elly is going to say to Phil tomorrow.

Highlight of the strip: The reappearance of Farley who has only been in 2 strips in December. I think Lynn may have forgotten that dogs often howl when instruments are played.

December 30 – The joke is that Phil is taking Connie for a ride. Or let me translate: He is spending time with Connie and does not plan to marry her, so Elly is not happy with Phil. Having Elly take this stance in the strip is a weak point of it. After the December 26 strip, where it is was pretty clear that Connie is doing things with Phil where she does not want Lawrence around, it would be difficult for me to consider Connie to be innocent and vulnerable. When you think about Connie's history with men, I would be more worried for Phil.

Highlight of the strip: Elly seems to be unable to appear in her house without doing some domestic chore. Hint to Lynn Johnston: Have Elly playing with her kids. This may be incredible to believe but some moms actually do that.

December 31 – The joke is that Connie knows the famous soliloquy from Hamlet and applies it to her situation with Phil in reaction to Elly’s judgment now applied to Connie. The funny part here is that even though Connie just said, “I’m staying at the hotel where he’s performing”, Elly fails to react to that statement. Is Phil going to come straight back home after performing? Toronto is not that far away from Milborough, so it is a reasonable assumption, especially when you consider that Phil failed to mention any plans of staying overnight in yesterday's strip. Is Lynn Johnston going to go with Connie weeping to Elly that Phil wouldn’t stay with her in her hotel room? That seems like an odd direction to go with this. Again, it’s very difficult to play Connie as innocent, when the hotel setup seems to be clearly for the purpose of seducing Phil. Elly’s fear seems to be only that even if Connie is successful in getting Phil to go to bed with her, she will not be successful in getting a marriage proposal out of him. Elly’s “It’s OK if you’re a slut, as long as you go for a marriage-minded man” is refreshingly immoral for her.

Highlight of the strip: Look! It’s not snowing outside. I didn’t know that was possible for Milborough in the winter time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Phil’s Pipe Appears

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse we have the introduction of Uncle Phil’s pipe. Phil’s pipe is there to set up a sequence of strips before Connie Poirier goes to Montreal, where Connie finds Michael and Lawrence trying out Phil’s pipe which he forgot and left behind. Looking at these strips again, it reminds me a lot of the sequence where Constable Paul Wright used Elly’s glasses as an excuse to visit Elizabeth Patterson in Mtigwaki. Paul Wright was instantaneously successful with Elizabeth because she consistently fell for good-looking men on sight. Since we know that’s not what’s going to happen with Phil and Connie in Montreal, I can only presume that he has a higher moral standard than Elizabeth.

I think this is the only time Phil’s pipe appears in the strip. After this, Phil spends most of his time trying to quit smoking cigarettes. I remember in my youth, pipe smoking was considered to be the smoking method of academics and intellectuals or at least persons who wanted to appear that way. Cigarette smoking was a device of the common man. It’s interesting to me that we don’t see Elly criticize Phil’s pipe-smoking, unless that is in a strip coming up. Once Phil switches to cigarettes, that all changes. Elly will eventually reach a point where she no longer allows Phil to smoke in the house. As you can tell from looking through these strips on smoking, it takes her awhile to get to that point.

As for the strip itself, this makes 2 in a row where no one was being judged and no one was playing the martyr, and the characters seem to enjoy being with each other and being nice to each other. What a difference that makes. The strip is shockingly pleasant for a change.

On a personal note: Tomorrow we are driving to Dallas, Texas to visit relatives for the Christmas holidays. This means the Howard Bunt Blog will be on hiatus for about a week. I hate to take a week off when Lynn Johnston is doing new strips, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. See you when I get back.

Early Spring: A Definition

Lynn Johnston announced she plans to do straight reprints in Early Spring. What does Early Spring mean? Thanks to the new Comic Strip Catalog, is possible to map the reprint strips to their original publication dates. Assuming Lynn plans to synchronize the reprint strips in time with the current calendar, then her ability to do that depends on which strips she has chosen to reprint from 1981.

Lynn has already reprinted strips from 1/1/1981 to 1/8/1981. These are the strips which Lynn reprinted in January 2009, which show Uncle Phil leaving to go back home and Connie Poirier’s reaction to it. Lynn is in the process of rewriting the Phil / Connie storyline and so this will probably be all new, even though it may very well still end up with Connie Poirier going to Montreal to chase after Phil, which was not reprinted.

Starting from 1/11/1981, Lynn has reprinted every Sunday strip through 3/29/1981 except for the one on 2/15/1981. The date pretty much tells you why that one didn’t make the cut with post-divorce Lynn. What this tells me is that we are going to be seeing a lot of new Sunday strips, even after the dailies have gone to reprint.

Lynn reprinted the Farley training sequence from 3/16/1981 to 3/21/1981 and she reprinted the Elly wants to cook gourmet sequence from 3/25/1981 to 3/30/1981. So there are 2 weeks which will require new dailies. This is probably the time Lynn meant for her Early Spring straight reprints to start.

After this it gets trickier, because Lynn did not restrain herself to reprinting strips prior to Early Spring, 1981. She also reprinted the Sunday strips from 4/12/1981, 5/3/1981, 5/10/1981, 5/17/1981, 6/7/1981, 6/14/1981, 6/21/1981, and 7/19/1981. Yes folks, this means that once again, thanks to her extraordinary disorganizational skills, Lynn Johnston has screwed herself over. She cannot go to straight reprints in Early Spring, unless she is planning to replace all these strips with Sunday strips she did not reprint from 1979 and 1980. That could very well be the case. However, I have the feeling that Lynn Johnston has not realized this yet. I am already amused imagining the conversation when that moment comes.

Lynn Johnston : Well, it’s Early Spring. Time to retire.
Stephanie: But Lynn, what about all these 8 Sunday strips that you already reprinted?
Lynn Johnston : What do you mean “these 8 Sunday strips that you already reprinted”?
Stephanie: Last year you reprinted 8 Sunday strips that were originally published from April to July, 1981.
Lynn Johnston : Will this nonsense never end? Well, reprint them again. I have already announced we are doing straight reprints and I am a woman of my word. I never change my retirement date.
Stephanie: More like you never stick by your retirement date.
Lynn Johnston : Those other times don’t count. I am like the Barbara Streisand or Cher final tour of the comic strip world.
Stephanie: But Lynn, the syndicate complained the last time you re-reprinted something within a year of the last time you re-reprinted it.
Lynn Johnston : That was because of those picky-face nitpickers who ratted me out. Don’t worry. Once the straight reprints start, they’ll stop sending in comments like that. I’ve already got Beth to turn Coffee Talk into nothing but purile, generic compliments to drive them away. They won’t have a way to tell me. They’ll be gone and what we will have left are my true fans who will adore me simply because I am willing to have my work reprinted. Besides, I won’t care. I will be on a steaming hot Mexican beach with Tim Oliphant.
Stephanie: Right.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Phil is the Better Parent

Aside from the pillow-fighting, today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse does actually fall into the “camera in my house” category for me. One of my favourite things to do when my kids were younger was to make intentional, obvious mistakes in things so my kids could catch me in an error. They loved doing that. I read the same books to them over and over again to the point where they were able to “read” the books back to me, even though at the time they couldn’t read. Even the slightest variation would elicit a response, and it was good to see they were paying attention, especially when I put something silly in as a substitute. This strip hit home for me and it actually made me like the Uncle Phil character more.

As for the pillow-fighting, if you are going to do that with a 1-year-old girl like Lizzie you have to be really careful. A girl that age does not have a good sense-of-balance yet and a well-placed pillow strike can knock her to the floor. Looking at little Michael swinging away in panel 4, I doubt that he has that kind of restraint. Of course, considering how violent the Pattersons get with pillows, I doubt we will see any effect of this.

As for the redone versions of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", see this link for some more original ones than what Lynn has used. This is a pretty popular poem to change.

The best part about this strip is the shift to Elly and John in the final panel. It makes me realize that this scene of play and even this scene of reading to the kids is something you almost never see them do with their kids, nor would you see them approve of. Uncles are about fun. Parents are not. This is one of the perspectives of the strip I don’t like very much.

Santa Claus = The Bestest Mom Ever

In contrast to this strip from 1982 where Elly revealed to a Michael the truth about Santa Claus on the premise the Michael asked for the truth, in this new-run from today’s For Better or For Worse, Elly opts for the lie. If you ever wanted proof that reprint Elly has more integrity than new-run Elly, there it is.

We also see the Lizzie in the backpack / baby carrier. We haven’t seen that since November, 2008. In more recent strips Elly seemed to favour the stroller. Frankly, in a crowded mall situation, where it is a lot easier to get knocked over by other people, the back carrier is not the safest option. In my children’s younger days in that situation, I got asked by security personnel to take my child off my back and let them walk if they were able to do so.

Artwise, this is an odd strip. Lynn took the time to hand-draw the brick walls without using a straight edge and including a lot of hand-drawn mortar, but then she turns around and makes the background people in the mall almost all silhouettes for the last 5 panels. We have the stark contrast of artistic excellence with artistic laziness. That's unusual for Lynn Johnston, where artistic laziness has been the hallmark of the strip for the last few years.

As for the point of the strip, this one falls into a category I call, “Retroactively complimenting mom” strips. It’s kind of like this strip from earlier this year. One might question why Michael Patterson would let Elly’s comparison of motherhood to Santa get away without a word of explanation. For the boy who thinks moms are magic, Elly’s explanation could be perfectly reasonable; although he does go to completely silence and shows no reaction to what Elly said. No doubt he is thinking something like: “There she goes again – comparing everything to how hard being a mother is.”

Elly says that Santa is like being a mom, because “everyone expects you to do everything and be everywhere at the same time!” Obviously this does not work in today’s strip where Michael’s expectation is the exact opposite of that. Michael questioned the appearance of multiple Santa precisely because he did not expect Santa to be everywhere at the same time. Personally, I never really thought of omnipresence as a mom-like aspect. “Do everything” seems much more like it. That being said, the idea that Elly thinks Santa’s job is like the job of being a mom, where that job is defined as the martyrdom of motherhood, is very amusing to me. In other words, Santa is like being a mom, except for that birthing babies and taking care of the children part.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Clock Jokes

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have a series of clock jokes:

1. Uncle Phil says it’s time for bed.
2. Elly tells Phil the kids are all wound up.
3. Elly tells Phil he wound up the kids so he has to unwind them.
4. Phil thinks, “I’ll never what makes kids tick.”

Other choices Lynn Johnston decided not to use were:

1. You have to face facts Phil, and not like a clock face either.
2. Let me give you a hand, Phil. A clock hand that is.
3. If you don’t unwind these kids Phil, I will clean your clock.
4. You would know more about kids, Phil, if you didn’t spend so much time in whorology – the study of whores. Phil responds, “I don’t think you know what horology means.”
5. Oh Phil don’t be such a fob. Watch I how unwind them. You might want to put your hands over your ears.
6. When will the kids calm down? That all de-pendulums.
7. These kids are not self-winding, so they sure aren’t self-unwinding.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Phil at Play (Things Phil Never Did Before)

Today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse reminded me a lot of the old strip with April playing with Robin and Meredith. In fact, 2 of the panels appear to have been used as models for this strip. However, it could just be the way Lynn draws things, so they appear to be similar by coincidence. For example, this strip and this strip and this strip all have similarities to the strip from today. I tried to find other strips where Uncle Phil played with Michael and Elizabeth like this and found none. I tried to find a strip where Elly played with Michael and Elizabeth like this and found none. There was a strip where Phil took Michael and Elizabeth to a fair, but nothing this physical.

Instead the only strip with Elly playing using the Comic Strip Catalog looking for “Elly play” is this strip. I just love that strip. It showed that Elly can only play with kids if they are not her kids or grandkids.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Settle Down

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, once again Lynn goes to her old theme with the avatar for her brother, “When will you settle down?” This was mentioned twice when Phil was in town last.

If you want to see what Lynn’s real brother was doing in the early 1980s, this is the quote from his website:

Alan came to southern Ontario to continue his studies with Ron Romm of the Canadian Brass and spent ten years teaching and freelancing in Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and St. Catherines including seven seasons with the theatre orchestra at the Stratford Festival. Cutbacks at the theatre in the early 1980's and in the industry in general, convinced Alan to move over to teaching full-time. In 1983 he went back to U.B.C. to do a year in education, a path which eventually brought him to Ottawa. He has taught music at Canterbury High School since 1989.

Alan was teaching and freelancing with a variety of groups which apparently drove Lynn to distraction. What does she want him to do? Settle down. What does that mean? In these Deanna and Michael strips, “settle down” means to get married. That’s also what it means in this Elizabeth strip.

When the phrase “settle down” was used for April however, it means to be still and quiet. That same use meaning was used for Robin with his earache and again when we saw Françoise dealing with Thérèse and Elly. When you get right down to it, considering how sedate married life is in Milborough, I can easily see both definitions of “settle down” will work.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crazy Unoriginal

Last year when Uncle Phil came to visit, he just opened the door and walked in. There is some evidence he did the same this year in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Not only does Elly not make an appearance until Panel 3 (implying that she was not the one who let Phil in), but Michael and Lizzie are reaching their arms out to Uncle Phil with their eyes closed, their arms out, and facing the wrong direction away from Phil. It is as if they are making a proclamation for the rest of the house to hear after Phil enters the house.

After this the joke is the usual “The kids will drive you crazy” joke. Lynn Johnson had done strips along this theme several times. All I can really think of to say is that the Patterson kids’ politeness is a vast improvement over the present-grabbing kids from the first year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

I am really not sure where Lynn Johnston is going with this new-run in today’s For Better or For Worse. We have seen that Elly Patterson, thanks to knowing virtually nothing about her husband, ended up buying him a shirt and tie. We saw yesterday that John Patterson, thanks to only knowing his wife in relationship to food, planned to buy Elly a food sealer.

In today’s new-run, Dr. Ted McCaulay has Dr. John Patterson in a jewellery story buying Elly a pearl necklace, which Ted picks out and the jeweller gift wraps. You would think that Elly would love a gift like this. However, we have a few clues that this gift will go horribly wrong:

1. Elly only bought John a shirt and a tie, and since the theme for the last 2 years has been “John Patterson is an asshat”, I cannot imagine John outdoing Elly in terms of generosity.

2. The person giving the gift purchase advice is Dr. Ted McCaulay, who never gives good advice when it comes to women. Never. The mere association of Ted with this idea should set off alarm bells that John is doing the wrong thing.

3. The final panel joke is about how impersonal the gift is, since John didn’t pick it out and John didn’t wrap it. That’s not a good sign, and is probably a clue to how things will go horribly wrong.

4. The only time that I have been able to find in the Comic Catalog or AMU reprints where John gave Elly jewellery (as opposed to Elly buying it for herself on a Mexican vacation), was this strip. In this strip, April finds a pearl necklace in a closet that John was planning to give to Elly sometime. That’s kind of an expensive thing to forget. Maybe today’s necklace is that pearl necklace that John planned to give Elly, only he loses it in the closet, and ends up buying Elly the food sealer, which she decides she loves because John picked it out himself and wrapped the present himself and it’s not as good a present as a shirt and tie.

Food Sealer

Last year around Christmas, Lynn Johnston reprinted this strip where Elly lamented to Anne that John got her a dishwasher instead of a suede coat. This was something Lynn apparently forgot when she did this strip. In any case, Lynn Johnston can’t reprint that strip, so we have a new-run in today’s For Better or For Worse. The joke that John doesn’t buy Elly jewellery and almost always gets her appliances continued through almost 30 years of the strip. Looking at the jewellery strips over the years, it appears that Elly buys her jewellery almost exclusively in Mexico. One of the only strips to accurately show why it is that John doesn’t buy things like this for Elly is in this strip, where it appears Elly is so passive that John cannot figure out what she wants.

The only time I can find where John did get Elly jewellery was in this strip, and then it was a gift he bought for Elly that April accidentally found. The implication is that John may buy Elly jewellery, but he just forgets he did it. The other implication is that John has virtually no short term memory and April got the pearls herself and tricked John into giving them to Elly. Certainly the long term evidence of the strip would favour that assumption, since I have never actually seen John buying Elly jewellery.

My all time favourite gift John gave Elly is the tool kit from this strip. However, my reason has less to do with the strip than with the monthly letter which went along with it. I think it is one of the all-time best John letters.

John's Letter, December 2005

I just love these tool kits you can buy at the hardware stores these days. They have almost everything you need around the house, and they come in these very well organized plastic containers. If if you ask me what a great present is, personally, I think everyone should get these as gifts! I mean, they are not only useful, but they are conversation pieces at various social functions with other guys. With enough of these, they could have a serious toolkit collection, with each one marked as to what year it was made, with the model types, and get into documenting the changes that the kits had each year. Hmm, that makes me think about my tie collection. I should document who sent me which one, and have them marked as to the occasions that I have to wear them, in case the giver happens to be there, and I want to afford them the thrill of recognizing the tie they gave me.

Now that I think of it, the wives would have been the ones purchasing the ties, so it would be a great excuse to talk to all sorts of lovely ladies. Here, I guess you would not want to document the conversations. Just the year, who they came from, and how you felt about it when you opened the present. Yes, I can see it all now, inviting all sorts of people over to see your tie collection, joining the tie collectors club, going to tie collectors conventions in exotic places like Milwaukee, or Peduka, or Porcupine Ontario.

In comparison it makes tool kit collecting seem pretty exciting, AND they are useful. I mean what is a tie good for? Spilling soup on? If they were at least absorbent, you could wipe things up with them. I wonder why ties were originally invented?

Anyway, if I was to give everyone a toolkit for Christmas, year after year, it might solve this problem of gift wars. If you knew I was giving you a present this year, and you knew it was a tool kit, you might just write me a note and suggest that perhaps we NOT exchange gifts this year! It could even be in the form of a legal agreement so no one would be sued for not having given a gift.

Sorry, I not only digress, I have flown off into a complete tangent! On other fronts, we've had a bit of snow, and being truly macho, I, after seeing that half an inch of snow had fallen, started up the old snow blower (36", heavy duty tracks, 8 horsepower, turbocharged) and blew off the sidewalk. One thing I had not thought to do was to get rid of a few stones, and some leftover leaves and branches from a windstorm, and in my macho save-the-world-from-snow mode, I just happened to break one of the front windows. Incidentally, I want you to know that I had to use one of my toolkits to fix the snow blower first. Once the window was broken, I finished snow blowing, turning the chute AWAY from the house. Then I had something to do! I used my toolkit to remove the window and got a replacement one from the hardware store. Isn't modern technology great?

Luckily hardware stores stay open late now, so I was able to get the piece of glass I needed, but would you believe it, they had these absolutely fantastic toolkits with more parts included than I had ever seen, and they were on sale for an unbelievably low price. I don't know how they could ever produce them for such a low price. So I bought three of them, in case I have to come up with an emergency gift for someone!

When I got home, the original toolkit that I had used did not have one particular tool that I needed, but the new toolkits did! Of course I had to open a new toolkit to get the window installed. Well, now that it's been opened, I can't give it as a gift anymore, so... I guess I'll just have to keep it for myself! Thank goodness there are still two unopened ones that I can give away. I wonder if Jean, my assistant at the office, needs another toolkit?

Perhaps you don't personally share my toolkit fixation, so I think this is a good time for me to go. This letter brings an old song to mind: "I'm a Ramblin' Man".

Some ad-vice: Have a good December!
'Til next time!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shared Procrastination

We haven’s seen Anne Nichols since October, so it’s good to see her again in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. Elly’s other friend, Connie Poirier, we have seen more recently. Connie mentioned that she had already bought Elly’s brother Phil his presents, when Elly said that her only thing left was to get something for her brother. This turned out to be a lie, because we saw that Elly bought things for Phil and also for John. A week earlier, Connie used the idea of writing a Christmas letter as a means of proving that Elly was not taking advantage of all her opportunities to write.

Connie seems very prepared for Christmas and she seems to have an expectation that others should be too. Annie, on the other hand, appears to be even more behind than Elly. Even though today’s strip celebrates Elly and Anne’s mutual lack of Christmas preparedness, I also notice it is also set in opposition to the strips featuring the ultra-prepared Connie. We know the “Connie in Montreal” strips are coming, where she makes a fool of herself and abandons her child to chase after a man. I have this feeling Connie is being set up so the Elly can take the judgmental point of view of her decision to chase after Phil. In other words, even though Connie is prepared for Christmas, her life is wreck. Anne is not prepared for Christmas, and her life is great.

Saw It / Redraw It

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse falls into a category I would call, “Redrawn strip with a different punch line”. For an example of this look at this old Farley strip about Easter and compare it to this year’s Farley strip about Easter. The set up is the same, but the punch line is different.

For today’s strip, the original set up is the strip from 1992 with 12-year-old Elizabeth looking to the sky and talking to 16-year-old Michael. Ironically Michael, who makes the same observation at 6 years old to Lawrence, now tells Elizabeth that she’s nuts. To this Elizabeth responds, “I guess some people's thoughts are heavier than others.” That’s a pretty weak punch line, and I can understand why Lynn Johnston might not want to go with it.

Once Lynn Johnston decided to reuse the strip, the next question is in what new-run characters’ mouths the conversation should go. The oldest kids about are Lawrence and Michael, so Lynn chose those. It really fit much better with kids the age of the older Michael and Elizabeth. For the new-runs, I think a better choice would have been John and Elly or Phil and Elly or Connie and Elly, because the dialogue is too sophisticated for 6-year-old kids. It could work with 2 adult characters where one of them is displaying a certain degree of whimsy and the other is not, i.e. Elly would be the one complaining about her cold feet.

As for cold feet, this punch line does not come from any kid. Using the Comic Strip Catalog, I found 3 strips about cold feet and they all related to Elly. In other words, it appears that having cold feet is a problem near and dear to the heart, or rather the feet, of Lynn Johnston. It makes sense then that a cold feet punch line would come up as a substitute from her.

As for snow strips, my all time favorite For Better or For Worse strip is this one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston continues her anti-Christmas theme by focusing on the element of Santa Claus as a threat. This is an element of Santa Claus going all the way back to the 16th century when St. Nicholas was so overwhelmed with updating his ledgers on children's behavior and rewards, that he hired a Moorish youth named Zwart Piet (Black Pete), to keep his records. He accompanies Sinter Claes to Holland and on the eve of his feast day, December 6th, Sinter Claes rides his horse, lands on rooftops and descends through chimneys. Black Pete transported and dispensed birch rods for bad children.

In For Better or For Worse, the most recent example of Santa Claus used as a threat was this strip from 12/7/2007, when Anthony used Santa as a threat to force Françoise to agree to let Elizabeth go with them to see Santa. The only other time I could find using AMU reprints or the Comic Strip Catalog where Santa Claus was used as a threat was in this strip, where April says Elly is not going to get any presents from Santa if she keeps on being crabby.

Aside from that, the For Better or For Worse strips which discuss Santa usually do so in terms discussing how Santa does the magic things he is able to do, or pictures with the mall Santa. The Comic Strip Catalog does not have keyword searches of all the strips dialogue like AMU reprints does, so I have may have missed something. Nevertheless, at least back to 1996, the AMU reprints archive start year, there is nothing punitive about Santa. It’s like the working paradigm of the strip dealing with Santa has changed to be more adversarial between the parents and the kids. In the old strips, we had many strips where Michael or Lizzie would walk in on Elly wrapping presents. Now we have strips where the presents are concealed and Michael and Lizzie are threatened for looking for the presents, using Santa. In many respects it’s a good thing Lynn Johnston is ending the strip in Early Spring, or there is no telling how negative an image Santa would have by next Christmas.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Return (or First Appearance) of the Crawl Space

Back in February, 2008; Deanna Patterson found the crawl space of the old Patterson house she and Mike bought from Elly and John. In that crawl space, behind a rock (I don’t know why there was a rock there), she found Grandma Marian’s old wedding dress, which ended up being Elizabeth’s wedding dress for her wedding to Anthony Caine.

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we see the crawl space again. Young Michael has apparently ditched his sister and tried looking for presents in the crawl space. I don’t remember ever seeing this crawl space before it appeared in February 2008. Using AMU reprints and the FBorFW Comic Strip Catalog, there was no appearance of a crawl space listed. It seems like Lynn Johnston created the crawl space in order to introduce Elizabeth’s dress, and here we are seeing that crawl space has always existed in the house.

The big complaint about Grandma Marian’s dress was that it was supposed have been the dress she wore when got married just after World War II, but its style was more like a wedding dress from the 1980s. It would be a dream come true if this sequence of strips was somehow going to explain how a 1980s wedding dress ended up in the crawl space behind a rock and someone would think it was Grandma Marian’s old dress.

Maybe it will be like this:

Elly: My friend from Creative Writing got divorced this week.
John: You have a friend aside from Connie and Annie?
Elly: John, be serious. You remember my friend, Marian.
John: Oh right. Same name as your mother. I thought she just got married.
Elly: She did. Now she hates him. Turns out he was cheating on her with the woman who manages her office.
John: Poor girl. Can you imagine a guy who would do something like that?
Elly: For some reason I can. Anyway, she’s giving away her old wedding dress.
John: And you decided to take it.
Elly: You never can tell when you might need a wedding dress. Lizzie will get married some day, and this could be her dress. She will save a fortune.
John: You and your penny pinching. You are not going to put that dress in my workshop.
Elly: I’ll put it in the crawl space in one of those dress-preserving containers and put Marian’s name on it, so you won’t think it was mine.
John: The crawl space? That’s where I keep my pet rock collection.
Elly: There’s enough space for a wedding dress behind the rock.
John: OK. Just don’t forget you put it there. I don’t want you to forget it, if we ever move out of this house.
Elly: That’s not likely. The only person I would ever sell this house to is Michael, AFTER he’s married to a woman with a lisp and bowl haircut, has at least 2 children, and has become a best-selling author.
John: I guess that means we are never selling this house.
Elly: We’ll see.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Games of Hide and Seek

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is a variation on 2 older strips. First is the new-run from last year at Christmas, also showing Elly in a wrapping frenzy. The first one of these that I can find comes from an earlier time in 2001. In both cases we see “WRAP WRAP WRAP WRAP” as Elly wraps and then similar things with other activities. In the one from 2001, we also see “BUY BUY BUY” and “SEND SEND SEND”. The one from last year had as its addition “CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN.” So to continue on this theme, today’s strip adds “HIDE HIDE HIDE” and “SEEK SEEK SEEK”. Oddly enough, I was unable to find any strips with kids looking for hidden presents in any of the strips. As near as I can tell, Lynn has managed to find a subject which is different from the ones she has done before. It's interesting that even though she did find a unique, but commonplace, subject for her strip; she still manages to reuse an old joke.

While I was looking through these I stumbled across an old strip remarkably similar to new-run. Here’s the old strip. Here’s the new-run from this year. Kind of similar aren’t they? Look how different the Farley from 1990 and the Farley from 2009 are.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Taking the 25th

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was originally published on December 23, 1980; so the punch line about the 25th makes a little more sense than it does on December 8, 2009. However, the curious thing is why Lynn Johnston chose to use “the 25th” instead of “Christmas.” She certainly is not shy about using the “Christmas” word in her comic strip. Frankly, little Michael would be more likely to say, “Christmas” than “the 25th.” Kids at that age are not so good with calendar days, but they are pretty good with naming holidays.

I like the art in the strip pretty well. In the first few years of the strip, Lynn Johnston used to use the entire strip filled with drawing detail. This is a practice that never occurred in the later years of the strip. Lynn almost always used silhouettes to indicate the unseen crowd. I think it’s a shame she got away from that. The visual image in this strip conveys the story so much better than a giant blob of blank ink would.

I can remember when Santas used to be on elevated stages like that, with girls in elf costumes. It has been years since I have seen one like that. Most of the Santas I have seen in recent years have been at ground level with a normally-dressed photographer. I have also had the experience of waiting in line to see Santa both as an adult with kids and as a kid. This is an easy-to-relate-to strip. Elly is with all her kids. Elly isn't screaming. Elly isn't lamenting about how she wishes weren't a parent. Elly isn't insulting or putting anyone down. It even works within the context of the characters. Connie Poirier is the working mom, so it makes complete sense that Elly would take Lawrence to see Santa with her family during hours where Connie may be at work. This strip works for me.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Signatures, Santa and Knees

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is a Christmas strip from the second year, originally published 12-22-1980. Thanks to the FOOB search, I can see the original and its publication date. It looks pretty much the same as the reprint except the stuff in the columns between the panels is different and oddly enough, the Lynn signature is not the same. Looking at the two “Lynn”s side-by-side makes me realize that there is a significant difference in the way the “L” and the “y” are formed. The “n”s look basically the same. Either Lynn has changed her signature or someone else is signing these things for her.

In the reprint, young Michael Patterson is expressing the standard Christmas greed associated with children. I remember when my own kids were small enough to take to see Santa, their usual reaction was stark terror, or utter shyness. Occasionally, they would answer the “What do you want for Christmas?” question and we paid special attention to what was answered. In general my kids would only have the presence of mind, or the time, to ask for one thing. We tried to make sure that the one thing appeared under the Christmas tree with a big “From Santa” on it. That maintained the Santa Claus mystique for many years in my house.

One of my father’s favourite stories was when I was a young lad living in an apartment complex in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. My father had decided that it was wrong to lie to children and that if asked a question, he would always give a truthful answer. At this point I was 5 years old, and I asked my dad if Santa Claus was real. Immediately after I got his answer, I took this startling news to my best friend Timothy, who lived in the same apartment complex. Timothy immediately told his mother, and his mother immediately came to our apartment and confronted my father with, “You’ve ruined Christmas for my child!!”

As for the strip itself, the part I like best is in the first panel as young Michael Patterson puts on his boot. His bent knee goes so far up his body that his chin is resting on his knee as he stands up. Try this one yourself to see if you can do it. It is such an amazing demonstration of dexterity that the American Color colourist got confused and thought his knee was a part of his jacket.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unescorted Viewer: Then, Now and Foob

Since the very beginning of movie theaters, there have been unescorted children in the theaters. I am quoting from this article:

As with theater sixty years earlier, the image of mother and child in attendance would help to certify the safety and propriety of the nickelodeon. Some exhibitors and producers fostered this image by encouraging women to bring the children. Theaters in Lewiston, Maine in 1907 offered teddy-bear souvenirs, checked baby carriages, and encouraged parents to send their children unattended. Some mothers apparently agreed and let their boys go unattended.

A large percentage of the regular audience were children. Estimates of children in the audience ranged from 20 percent in Detroit and Madison, Wisonsin to two-thirds in Pittsburgh and Portland, Oregon. Reports from New York and Cleveland complained that large numbers of these children were unescorted by adults. The thought of unchaperoned teenage girls in particular raised fears of sexual promiscuity. A Chicago Tribune reporter in 19807 observed a downtown nickelodeon at 6 p.m. “composed largely of girls from the big department stores who came in with bundles under their arms.” The reporter’s concern was that they made “undesirable acquaintances [men] of mature age.”

Even back in the early days, there were those who tried to crack down on unescorted children. Bill Clinton tried it back in 1999, saying, "Too often children do get past the ticket counter unescorted and under-age..." Even this year, there are movie theaters trying to deal with the problem.

Personally, I would never, ever send 2 6-year-old kids into a movie theater by themselves. I always go with my kids to see the movies they want to see, and some of them are sheer torture. This is not a problem Lynn Johnston seems to have in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, as she draws Elly Patterson dropping off Michael and Lawrence and then picking them up after the movie. I know parents have been doing this since 1907, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

Missing Word Balloon

One of the characteristics of the Lynn Johnston art style is that a character can be shrunk or grown to accommodate the text of the panel; for example yesterday’s strip, panel 3, with shrunken Michael; or the day before that, panel 1, with shrunken Michael; or the day before that, panels 1-3 where the line representing the top of the wall changes depending on the word balloon. Occasionally, Lynn Johnston will reach a point where she opts not to put in a word balloon, because part of the panel is already too dense with drawings. Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is one of those days. In Panel 2, Elly says:

Stark bare branches against a canvas of white,
Gray skies, icy drifts sculptured by the wind!

That doesn't leave much space for anything else. Then in Panel 3, Elly says, “John…why don’t you see the beauty of nature?” This is in response to Panel 2’s John reading the newspaper or Panel 3’s John sipping his coffee? Something is missing. I think it is in response to the dreaded missing word balloon. John’s facial expression as he reads the paper in Panel 2 shows the rounded mouth dot of speaking, and his eyes are all scrunched up in reaction to something. Maybe it’s the news, but most likely it’s in reaction to what Elly just said. Regardless, the panel drawings appear to be too dense to put in the words for what John said. The only reason we know he said something is because Elly seems to be reacting to nothing, where there should be something.

I expect John might have said something like:

1. Nature is ugly.
2. Dead bare branches against a canvas of more dead branches, black ice, slippery streets covered in snowy dirt pushed from a snow plow.
3. You have seen snow before. We live in Toronto.
4. Why is that you are taking Creative Writing, but your analogies are all references to other kinds of art?
5. Elly, I saw your ear in the first panel. It's been so long since I have seen it uncovered from your hair, I didn't hear what you said from the shock.
6. That’s “grey” not “gray”. We live in Canada.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Everybody! Get It?

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse uses word play on the word “everybody”. Michael Patterson tells Lawrence Poirier that he “had to get somethin’ for EVERYBODY” where the word “everybody" is in large letters and bolded, so we poor hapless readers will get the joke. The problem here is that the readers are missing the crucial part of the setup for the joke.

Michael gets a present for everybody, which in his mind includes Michael. So, he eats his share of the box of chocolates. Lawrence is gobsmacked that Michael would do something like that. I cannot tell what Michael’s motivations are, aside from wanting to eat chocolate. It could be that:

1. Michael resents being told he has to buy something for everybody, so he eats the chocolates in revenge for having a present-buying mandate given to him by his parents.
2. Michael eats the chocolate out of innocence, since he is too young to realize that he can no longer wrap his gift and left unprotected, the chocolates will go bad between now and Christmas.
3. Michael eats the chocolate because of the word play. If Elly told Michael specifically to buy something for everybody, then Michael is mocking that command by intentionally doing a literal interpretation which included himself with “everybody.”
4. Michael is too stupid to realize that when Elly told him to buy something for everybody that did not include him.

In order to figure this out, you would need to see someone tell Michael for whom to buy presents and his reaction. Instead we see Michael relay this information to Lawrence rather matter-of-factly with no sly winks or body language to clue us in that he is in on the joke. Without that, it is impossible to tell if we should be laughing with Michael or laughing at Michael.

The way it looks, it appears answers (2) and / or (4) are correct. This strip is very similar to the "Elly yelling at the slow cooker" strip, which relies on Elly being an idiot for the joke to work. I think we may have another entry in the "character does something stupidly out-of-character for the sake of the joke" category.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Patterson Values: Money Earned not Given…Except

One of the nice things about the new Foob search site ( is that the strips go back much further than the AMU reprints limit of 1996. One of the downsides is that AMU reprints keyword search is much better, because you can search the texts of all the panels of the comic strip. With the Foob search, you can search the texts of the final panel only. Nevertheless, using both tools I was able to determine that the word “loonie” and the word “toonie” were not used in For Better or For Worse after 1996 and are not a part of any final panels ever. The word “buck” used to stand for a dollar is much more common in the comic strips. I suppose it is a safer thing to write, considering that the word is common both in the US and Canada.

The big advantage with the Foob search is now I can see a sort of history of Michael Patterson with money. In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Michael is seeking after free money. John refuses to give anything for free. He has to earn it. Does Michael learn this lesson? Probably not, since he goes right to Elly for the money instead.

What a good example John Patterson is. It makes me wonder how it is that Michael Patterson grew up to the man who squandered 50 bucks on a parking space as an adult.

The answer is in this comic strip from 1981. In this strip, John Patterson complains about the high prices for things. Then he runs into Helen Binks, an old friend, and asks her for her address. She asks for a worthless piece of paper to write on, and John gives her buck. Moreover, John does this right in front of Michael. Oops! Lesson learned.

Now flash forward to 2007. The parking lot attendant says to Michael, “I’ll need something on paper” and what is the phrase old Michael says when handing over the 50 bucks for the parking space he has already paid for: “50 bucks is something on paper.” Notice the similarities between that strip and the one from 1981?

No matter what John may say to Michael in today’s new-run, ultimately Michael will see that John considers paper money to be no more than something to write on, and can be given away without earning it. Consequently, older Michael will think nothing of throwing away 50 bucks in 2007.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Drawn a Complete Blank

In the past, we could count on new-run Elly to display a new level of loathing for John Patterson. We could also count on new-run John to be even more sexist than he had been before.

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, as we see Elly considering what to buy for John Patterson. She has no idea what to get her husband. Elly says, “You get a shirt and tie for someone if you don’t know what else to buy. You get a shirt and tie if you’re at a total loss – if you’re desperate and you’ve drawn a completely blank.”

For the first time I can remember, Lynn Johnston is taking the characters further than just their humorous loathing for each other. Not only do the Patterson parents not get along very well, but Elly knows nothing whatsoever about her husband. She doesn’t know what he needs. She doesn’t know what he wants. She doesn’t even know what she wants him to have. Although The Lockhorns and Andy Capp are comic strips notorious for their husband / wife hatred; I never got the impression that the characters in those strips did not know each other’s personal likes and dislikes. With today’s strip, the relationship between John and Elly Patterson actually becomes worse than the husbands and wives of those strips.

Who would have thought such a thing was possible? Only Lynn Johnston. Yes, Lynn. Now we understand that your relationship with ex-husband Rod Johnston was a complete blank even at the very beginning.