Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lawrence Wept

Valentine’s Day, 1981 was the publication date for this reprint of For Better or For Worse. Not very romantic, unless you consider the idea that after his accident, Lawrence Poirier is finally speaking with the one person on earth whom he thinks loves him. Notice that since the strip from last Saturday, Elly Patterson has once again changed her shirt before she called Connie to let her know what was going on. Elly may have tried to call Connie earlier, but as we can tell from today's strip, Lawrence did not see her do it, if she did.

After 5 days (and 3 Elly shirt changes) of this sequence, where no one has said a kind or comforting word to him, Lawrence's tears seem to be a reasonable reaction to me. Clearly the joke is one in a theme which Lynn Johnston visited many times over the years, i.e. children use fake tears in order to get what they want. This doesn’t work as well in this case, because Lawrence has a legitimate claim of injury, even if he does think his cast is neat and his injury was a result of his doing something not particularly intelligent.

Despite the use of instantaneous tears as a joke for this strip, it still raises the question as to why Lawrence is crying. Is he:

a. Trying to get sympathy from his mom.

b. Trying to make Elly Patterson look bad. I could go for this one, but we are missing the horrified look on Elly’s face in the final panel to make that one complete.

c. Trying to get his mom to come back home early.

d. Frustrated because he has been several days now unable to go to the bathroom, since he has been shown only able to use the one in his house last summer.

e. Trying to see if there is someone out there who actually cares that he is hurt (aside from us picky face readers).

f. Is finally talking to someone, whom he can trust, to let out his emotions.

It is this last one to which I can most easily relate. Last summer, I was up with our troop of Boy Scouts at the summer scout camp taking care of my boy and a bunch of other boys. At the end of the week, the parents come up and they see what’s been going on during the week. I had thought the week had gone pretty well, but came to discover that one boy had had a miserable time all week, and I had been completely unaware of it. One of the boys with whom he had been sharing a tent had been using obscenities at night time when it was lights out and no one could hear him except this other boy. It was not until his parents were there, did the boy finally tell someone what had been going on, and we were able to deal with the situation. He did not feel comfortable telling the adult leaders or any of the other boys in the camp about it all week long. As one of the adult leaders on the trip, I was not very happy when this happened, to say the least; and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I had missed that would have tipped me off something was wrong.

When this story about Lawrence breaking his leg came up again, I had expected to not be terribly happy about either Connie or Elly’s parenting skills. This sequence does present Connie Poirier at her absolute worst. I did not realize on close examination of the strip that we would have 5 days in a row without anyone at all comforting Lawrence. It reminded me of what occurred last summer. Lawrence Poirier is finally talking to his mom, someone he trusts, and crying his eyes out. Who can blame him? That's a lot of trauma for a 6-year-old boy to take on his own.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Three Plotketeers

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we see Lynn Johnston combine together 3 types of storylines. In 1991, we saw a single strip of gum in the pants pocket messing up laundry. In 1994, we saw a sequence of little Aypo taking a pair of scissors to a number of things for a weeklong story. The difference between this story and the new-run is that unlike little Aypo, little Michael’s cutting of something with scissors is inadvertently directed by Elly. That leads us into theme #3, Elly tells the child to do something, and they try to follow the direction to humourous results.

I have never actually faced the situation of gum inside the pants from washing. I do the laundry in my family and I go through a ritual of sticking my hands in pants pockets and feeling across the body of the garment for any hidden hard things I may have missed. Even so, I still miss things. I would think gum would be hard to find. It’s soft and small and does not have hard edges. My kids like to chew gum, so it seems logical that some day they will decide to take the gum out of their little mouths and stick it in their pockets. Well, maybe not that logical. Gum in your pocket, means you lose the ability to stick your hand in your pocket. I would expect gum in your pocket to make a mess as you were putting it in your pocket, not just at laundry time. The only camera in my house this time is where I miss something and it gets washed and hopefully not destroyed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I am Elly, Hear Me Compliment Myself

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we have returned home from Dr. Plett’s office. Lawrence has his crutches. Lizzie is present along with John Patterson. After a long adventure like that there is nothing better than sitting back and relaxing and giving yourself a couple of compliments. So, for the 4th strip in a row, Lawrence Poirier has received no sympathy from these self-centred, self-obsessed Pattersons.

On the other hand it is very interesting the form the compliments take:

Panel 1 – Elly seems to be viewing the situation as if she were outside of it. “It’s amazing how well one can react in an emergency.” She’s looking over at Lawrence, so you might almost get the impression she was complimenting Lawrence or Michael. I would think if they were the objects of the compliment, she would say, “It’s amazing how well kids can react in an emergency. Michael ran over to get me. Lawrence didn’t give Dr. Plett any trouble during the examination, even when he leaned on his broken leg and started grabbing at his private bits.” It’s almost like Elly is trying out a compliment in front of John to see if he makes some rude remark, before she applies the compliment to herself.

Panel 2 – Turning to John now, Elly gives herself the full frontal compliment. She didn’t panic. She got him to the doctor. She did not mention the glasses, moustache guy who put Lawrence in the car; so we can add “She took credit for everything.” She kept him calm. She got Lizzie dressed for the cold before she went out. She left Farley some food. She left Lizzie behind when she went to the doctor (hopefully with someone, but who knows?). She even managed to temporarily blame herself for something, which is a tremendous achievement for Elly.

Panel 3 – John realizes that Elly’s in a good mood and feeling good about herself; so he does what any husband would do in that situation – he compliments his wife while taking off his clothes. Have to take advantage of the moment, you know. She might go back to being Mrs. Negativity at any minute. Of course, I don’t think it helps that John’s compliment is kind of backhanded. “You still haven’t gone to pieces” as if he anticipates that happening any second and he wants to get his loving before Elly falls apart.

Panel 4 – Oops! John's compliment backfired. Elly remembers she hasn’t called Connie yet. No sex for you t-shirt man! Of course, judging from the next strip in the originally published sequence, when Elly does finally tell Connie, it appears she has changed shirts again. Maybe John did get lucky after all! Or maybe Elly has an obsession with changing her shirt.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meanwhile at the Hospital?

I remember when I was a kid in school being a little jealous of kids who got to have a cast and crutches. I thought it would be fun to have a cast people could write on and I would have liked to have gotten the attention they were getting. However, that was not when I was in First Grade and 6 years old. At that time, I was too young to have seen much of crutches and casts. It is interesting to me that not only is Lawrence aware of casts and crutches at this tender age, but Mike is aware enough of the status they will give Lawrence to be jealous of him. My guess is that the one of the genetic problems that the Milborough resident mutant children may have is fragile bones. Certainly the shape of their heads and bodies would imply there are problems with their skeletal structure. It could explain why Lawrence and Michael are so familiar with casts and crutches, if their classmates are regularly using them.

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, we see Lawrence at the hospital in his boxer underwear. Gone is the mysterious man with the moustache and the glasses from yesterday who got him there. And if there was any dispute over whether he drove Lawrence or Elly drove him to the hospital, we need to look no further than Elly’s shirt which has changed colour since yesterday. Apparently, she took the time to change her shirt before she went to the hospital, which is something she would not do if she were the one driving Lawrence. This may be shocking behaviour to some; but remember that Elly took the time to dress Elizabeth in her outdoor clothes before going to see what happened to Lawrence in his accident. Clearly she considers the apparel for an occasion, before she considers the occasion. All things considered, Elly may have driven Lawrence to the hospital after going home to change first.

We will eventually find out that it is Lawrence’s right leg which is broken. However, for some strange reason the doctor has his right hand on a stethoscope in his ears, while his left hand seems to be counting out the number 1 or 3. I am not certain which number based on the fingers, but it could possibly be in response to Elly's strange hand gesture in the same panel.

I have to admit I am unfamiliar with this procedure. The doctors I know usually use at least one of their hands to hold the stethoscope chestpiece to whatever part of the body they are trying to listen to. It makes me wonder if this is a real doctor or an actor who is pretending to be a doctor and playing with the stethoscope in order to look more medical. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one in the comic strip For Better or For Worse and I think Lawrence has a small fracture. And no, I don’t need to look at an X-ray to figure that out thanks to this medical device I have in my ears.” To further this impression we see the doctor in Panel 2, resting his arm on the broken leg and playing with Lawrence’s knee. I would think that Lawrence might find that to be just a shade painful. Michael must also like that idea, because he has his hand moved up in the same direction like he wants to touch Lawrence’s knee too, or maybe slap the doctor’s hand if it moves much further north. Actually I think this doctor is supposed to be Dr. Ted McCaulay. He doesn’t look much like 1980s Ted, but in this strip from 1981, the resemblance is pretty close. However, the colourist did make him blonde, so I could very well be mistaken.

If this is Dr. Ted McCaulay, then it raises the question of whether or not this is a hospital emergency visit or a doctor’s appointment later. The Ted McCaulay I remember was a not an ER doctor, but a general practitioner or in family medicine. If it is a doctor’s appointment, then it would explain why Elly changed her shirt and why Elly says, “I got him to the doctor” as opposed to "I got him to the hospital" in tomorrow’s strip. It would not, however, explain why nothing happened in the emergency room. I suppose the other explanation is that Dr. Ted McCaulay has an office in the hospital, but we already know that he works in the same building as Dr. John Patterson.

Lawrence has his hands placed on his stomach in Panel 1, which is not the place you would normally expect for a boy with a broken leg. Lawrence’s body looks a lot like he has a fake body on top of his real body and he is holding it in place with his hands. I think this impression largely comes from the drawing of his shoulders at an odd angle relative to his body in the first two panels. Or as I call it, Lynn Johnston drew his head and shoulders and then drew the rest of his body, and then when she discovered they did not work together, decided not to do any erasing to fix the problem. In other words, standard Lynn Johnston art.

There also appears to be a mysterious suction force on the right side of the strip. Elly gets sucked off. The doctor gets sucked to the right and almost off. Lawrence is also being sucked over to the right. Only Michael seems to be unphased by all this sucking. Maybe his selfish jealousy over Lawrence's impending cast and crutches is holding him in place.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Kid’s Injured But Your Guilt is More Important

While I was looking for a keyword for pulling up today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse out of the Comic Strip Catalog, I searched for the word “fault” and came up with this selection of guilt-laden strips. The only one where Elly lays blame to herself in the whole bunch of them is the strip we have today.

We have a mysterious, moustached, receding hairline man in glasses (Nicholas Browne, Lawrence’s life partner from the future?) who appears from nowhere to lift broken-legged Lawrence into his car and then to take Lawrence to a his shack down by the river, I mean, into Elly’s car, so Elly can take Lawrence to the hospital. Although the man is physically interested in Lawrence’s situation, he seems to be more interested in assuaging Elly’s guilt.

My experience with people around injured kids is that they usually pay attention to the kids and not so much to the adults. However, since this is an Elly-centric strip, the important part is not an injured child, but Elly’s guilt. It is taken to the point where Elly is standing there thinking it is all her fault, instead of getting in her car and driving. Naturally that makes me think it is the other man who is driving Lawrence to the hospital and Elly follows later on, after she’s cleaned the house and changed clothes. I'm not kidding about this suggestion. If the story continues to the next strip originally printed after this, we see Elly in the hospital in a different shirt.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Few Questions

With respect to today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, I have a few questions:

Here’s a question for you: If you were taking care of a 6-year-old kid and your own 6-year-old kid said that other kid had an accident; would you finish feeding your dog, and then dress your 1-year-old daughter to go outside and then carry her over to where the accident occurred?

Here’s another question for you: If your best friend was in an accident on your bicycle would you be more concerned about your friend being hurt or your bicycle being hurt?

Here’s another question for you: If your dog was born in October 2008 and it is January 2010, should you still be feeding him Puppy Lunch? This question really doesn’t work. In the original printed order, Farley would only be 4 months old by this strip, so Puppy Lunch makes sense in that context.

Here’s another question for you: Are there hills in Milborough? Everytime I see the outdoor settings, the place appears to be flat. Assuming there are hills, then why a bicycle? Wouldn’t a sled be more fun? Going through the Comic Strip Catalog, it appears the Pattersons go to a ski resort to go skiing. However, they do go sledding at what appears to be a local location.

Here’s another question for you: If you saw last Sunday’s strip and your mother was wearing black pants with a loose sweater over it, and she was carrying you around her waist; would you be worried your mom was going to pop a seam running to an accident, and as a result, drop you?

Here's another question for you: If you are erasing the original publication date of 2-10 from the bottom of the final panel of your strip, are you going to do a good job or will you consider erasing 2-1 to be good enough, so that the 0 remains as a decoration for Michael's coat?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Filling in the Dialogue

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse originally published on February 9, 1981, we see Elly’s side of her conversation with Connie after the events from yesterday. I can just imagine Connie’s side of it:

Connie: I went to Phil’s apartment, knocked on the door, and there was a girl there. She said, “’Allo?” and I got confused. Was she saying, “Aloe?” and she wanted to know if I wanted some skin cream? Or was she saying, “A low” like I was not the high point of her day? Then I realized she didn’t know how to speak French, and she was used to talking French on a telephone. Who is she, Elly? Has Phil been sleeping around on me with some girl who can’t speak French?

Elly: Connie, I don’t know who the girl is!

Connie: Liar! You don’t want me to be with Phil. Instead of all that “Phil is going to break your heart, Connie”, maybe you should have said, “He’s living with a girl, Connie.” It would have saved me a trip, Elly. I could have just mailed the stinking pipe. {Sob} What am I saying? Sorry, El. I know you can’t keep a secret. If Phil had a girlfriend, you would have told me. What’s important is that if you didn’t know about her, then maybe Phil doesn’t know about her either.

Elly: Look, just go on down to the club and take in a show.

Connie: Why did I suddenly get the feeling you were going to tell me to take in a show with my cousin? That’s odd. So, El. Do you know what Phil likes in bed? If I am going to get him away from this other woman, I might have to bring out my naughty side. When I was sleeping with Pablo, he really liked it when I…

Elly: Connie, this is your problem and I really don’t want to get involved!

Connie: Oh sorry, El. I forgot all about you and the no-sex thing you have going. I’ll do just what you say and go see Phil’s show tonight. And if he plays his cards right, he could get lucky.

Elly: Famous words. Usually spoken when you’re up to your neck in someone else’s business.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

114 or 271? That is the question.

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we get to see, for the first time, Connie knocking on Phil’s apartment door to find another woman there. In the original print sequence, this strip featuring Connie was followed by this strip, and it makes you think you missed a strip when you really didn't. Lynn Johnston said she was going to explain who the woman is, although in today’s new-run there does not appear to be any explanation.

The woman does not appear to be Georgia, the woman who ends up being married to Phil. The “’Allo” clearly indicates the woman is someone who primarily speaks French. However, it is possible that this could be Georgia. In Georgia’s first appearance she has long hair and not short. In Georgia’s speech pattern there is no indication of being French. However, in Georgia’s last appearance in the modern strip, her hair style is not that far away from the girl in today’s strip. Also, it is entirely possible that Lynn has forgotten Phil’s claim of just barely having met Georgia when he introduces her to Elly and family. It wouldn’t be the first time Lynn Johnston got things wrong in drawing old characters. After all, there is new-run Mrs. Baird vs. reprint Mrs. Baird, and let us not forget the ghost of Grandma Marian vs. the original living Grandma Marian.

The strangest part of this strip is where Lynn Johnston has apparently decided to change Phil’s address. In the original strip, Phil lived on 271 Rue des Fèves and in today’s strip that address is now 114. Looking at the dialogue balloon in the first panel, it even looks like the script on the address has been changed, since it does not match that of the text below it. I can imagine the discussion that led to this decision:

Lynn: OK. Connie arrives at Phil’s apartment and finds Georgia there and that way she knows he is a lying, cheating cheater. And he breaks Connie’s heart, just like Elly told her she would.

Stephanie: You can’t do that. When Georgia shows up for the first time, Phil tells Elly that he’s only known her for 147 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds. That strip was originally printed November 11, 1982.

Lynn: And the problem is?

Stephanie: You are reprinting stories from February, 1981, and that’s 1 year and 9 months away.

Lynn: And the problem is?

Stephanie: 147 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds is less than a week.

Lynn: And the problem is?

Stephanie: It can’t be Georgia at the door. Phil doesn't know her yet.

Lynn: But I already drew the strip.

Stephanie: Then redraw it.

Lynn: Are you crazy? I made a sacred vow that I would never redraw a strip, not even one line of it, no matter how bad it was, and I have kept that vow for these many 30 years.

Stephanie: Somehow I have no problem believing that. Well, then redo the dialogue. You’ve done that before.

Lynn: I know. I’ll make the girl into a Quebecoise woman. She can say “’Allo” just like all those Quebec woman do. That way everyone will know she’s a slut.

Stephanie: How will that make her a slut?

Lynn: Because she’s from Quebec.

Stephanie: And this is why I have to screen out comments to Elly's Coffee Talk from people who live in Quebec.

Lynn: That will absolutely work. She’s a slut and she’s living with Phil.

Stephanie: You remember that Phil is based on your brother.

Lynn: And the problem is?

Stephanie: Maybe you don’t want to portray your brother sleeping around with slutty Quebec women.

Lynn: You have a point there. My brother does have better taste than that. But I already drew the strip with a woman answering the door and she looks slutty.

Stephanie: Let me see the strip. That’s Deanna with dark hair. She’s not slutty.

Lynn: Deanna?

Stephanie: Mike’s wife. Had the kids Merrie and Robin.

Lynn: Oh, right. Well Deanna was a bit of slut too. All right. I know what I’ll do. I have Connie get the address wrong and then she rings what she thinks is Phil’s apartment, only it really is the apartment of this slutty Quebec woman, and Connie is too embarrassed by the slutty woman being there to figure out she got the wrong apartment.

Stephanie: Um. There’s a problem.

Lynn: What now?

Stephanie: You didn’t reprint the strip where Elly tells Connie what Phil’s address is.

Lynn: Of course not. Connie already knows Phil’s address because they have been corresponding for over a year. I couldn’t have her just get it from Elly.

Stephanie: Yes, but without that strip, the reader won’t know Connie has the wrong address.

Lynn: Details. Details. They can look up that strip with the address on the Comic Strip Catalog. That’s what it’s there for. Those readers can't expect me to do everything for them. You know that annoying Katje person will find it. By the way has she done the latest FOOBar strip yet?

Stephanie: Yes, I’ve printed it out for you.

Lynn: Oh goody. I just love the Yammersons. It’s like she has a camera in my house, or at least the house I had with Rod.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Elly No One Wants to See

I remember some time back when Lynn Johnston was asked why Elly had such a huge nose, and she responded that when she felt good about herself, she drew Elly pretty, and when she felt bad about herself, she drew Elly ugly. Judging from today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse, Lynn must be going through a really bad patch. I don’t know if I have ever seen naked Elly look as bad as she does in this strip.

As for the future, you can look at this strip and it explains what happened to Elly’s red sweater and also the answer to the question: Why lose weight when you can redistribute it? Even Lawrence Poirier has an appreciation for Gayle wearing Elly’s red sweater.

As for the strip itself, this is clearly modern Lynn Johnston. The closet doesn’t show any of John’s clothing and the body is definitely not that of 1981 Elly Patterson who, while not as skinny as Connie Poirier, had a pretty nice figure for many years. I remember liking big, loose sweaters myself back when I lived in a place which had cold winters. Mainly I liked them because if I put them over a shirt, I didn’t have to iron that shirt. Most people can still tell you’re fat, when you have a sweater on.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Three Fingers and a Thumb

Cartoon characters starting from the days of Mickey Mouse have been sporting 3 fingers and a thumb. Supposedly this was because it eased the efforts of animation and made the characters appear more cartoony.

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, it appears that Lynn Johnston has decided to do the same thing. In every hand picture in every panel, you will not see more than 3 fingers and a thumb. In fact, little Michael in the first panel has one of his fingers going in the wrong direction. He may be complaining about his little sister; but we know the real reason he is upset is because of how poorly Lynn drew his hand. Something you can only tell with the black-and-white version of the strip is that in Panel 2, little Michael also has 2 right ears. It was not a good art day for Lynn Johnston when she drew this strip originally published on February 7, 1981. That being said, I do like the third panel drawing of Mike wiping his nose with his sleeve and slinging away 3 drops and a SNIVEL. It is important to get those SNIVELs out of your nose.

As for Michael’s concern, I can actually understand Elly’s perspective this time. Normally if my kids have a friend over, I try to let them have time alone with their friend without interference from their sibling. However, when my kids have a friend over for a week like Lawrence is doing (or really just more than one day), that rule goes away. Eventually the sibling has to be included.
The most interesting part of the strip is where Michael responds to Elly’s statement he plays well with his sister by saying, “Yeah, but that’s when I haven’t got a choice!” This could mean:

a. Michael doesn’t like playing with his sister, but since she’s the only one around most of the time, he has no choice but to play with her.
b. Michael does like playing with his sister, but he prefers to play with Lawrence.
c. Michael is telling Elly that the only reason he played with his sister in the past was because someone made him do it.
d. It was fate that Michael and Elizabeth would play together.

The one of these closest to my kids is (b). I think Michael could be any or all of those.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You Don’t Have a Friend Like You

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was originally published on Friday, February 6, 1981. Since the day of the week synchronizes up and leads into the “Connie in Montreal” story from February, 1981, there is a good chance tomorrow’s strip will come from Saturday, February 7, 1981. It still puts the current 2010 time about 2 weeks off from the reprint 1981 strip time, so Lynn will need 2 weeks of new-runs to synchronize the 1981 strips with the 2010 strips. In its original publication order, today’s strip followed this strip.

As for the strip itself, something I noticed is that in each panel, something or someone is being lifted. Elly lifts plates in Panel 1, John lifts Farley and Elly lifts Elizabeth in Panel 2, John lifts Elizabeth and Elly lifts the covers on Michael in Panel 3, and John lifts Elizabeth while Elly lifts her head in Panel 4. I have no idea what all this lifting means.

As for the point of the strip, there are a few possibilities:

a. While showing that John is good friend to Elly by complimenting her and helping her with the kids, Elly laments about not having a friend. Elly ignores the fact her husband is her friend and doing the very things he complimented her for doing for Connie.

b. Elly realizes that she gives a lot more to Connie than Connie gives to her, and laments that her relationship with her friends is lopsided.

c. John compliments Elly for being a good friend, and then Elly launches into an extremely self-centred and unfriendly statement, effectively destroying the effect of John’s compliment.

d. Elly can’t take a compliment, because she is too busy playing the martyr.

I think all of those are reasonable choices. Oddly enough, when there is this much possible variation of interpretation and all the interpretations work within the context of the strip, that makes for a pretty well-written comic strip. So, congratulations to 1981 Lynn Johnston for writing a nice, layered strip. I wish 2010 Lynn could say the same.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deanna Hates Michael

I searched the Comic Strip Catalog to see if I could find another strip which utilizes a tree in the same way Deanna Sobinski does in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. I could not find any, but I did find this strip and this strip, where Michael and Gordon clearly consider throwing a snowball at a girl as a sign of affection. However, the only strips I found involving snow and trees, were ones with snow falling from trees on top of people thanks to gravity.

In fact, when I consider comic strips which feature the girl getting the better of the boy in a snowball fight, thanks to their scheming; the strip which comes to mind is Calvin and Hobbes, with Calvin almost always getting the worst of it from Susie Derkins. This comparison would almost work with this strip except, from what it looks like, Deanna Sobinski’s activities in the first panel, prior to Michael picking up snow, are confusing. She appears to be poking a stick into the ground through the snow. Why? We don't know.

When Michael picks up the snow to make a snowball, we see Deanna just standing there next to the tree. When Michael is behind the tree, Deanna bends it over without looking at it, as if she already had her hand on it in preparation for Michael’s approach. Lynn Johnston may be going with a situation where Deanna reacts to Michael and does a pre-emptive strike. However, stick-twiddling in the first panel and Deanna’s hand placement on the tree smack of a prepared trap. This would actually be in keeping with Deanna as we last saw her in September, 2009 where she spat at Michael for no apparent reason. Deanna has gone from a girl irritated by Michael’s antics to a girl who appears to bear Michael some ill will for reasons which have not yet been revealed.

I can only speculate why it is that Deanna suddenly bears this animosity towards Michael. Choices might be:

a. Deanna is mad that Michael was sick on her last day at school before she moved away and then moved back.
b. Deanna is mad that Michael did not write her after she left.
c. Deanna is mad that Lawrence is the gay one, and not Michael.
d. Deanna is madly in love with Michael and like most women in love in this strip, they make the life of their intended a living hell.
e. Since the divorce, Lynn Johnston can only write loveless romances that end in tragedy, like the Elizabeth / Anthony wedding for example.
f. He's Michael Patterson.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spitballs in the Dictionary

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was originally published 1981-01-28 and is the one directly following the strip published yesterday. In the reprint, we see Lynn Johnston utilizing the Charles Schulz style of drawing and the Dennis the Menace style of joke. The open-mouthed yelling was emblematic of Schulz’s work. Michael’s evil eyes in the last panel and the side views of Lawrence’s head could easily have been lifted from Peanuts characters.

As for the final panel joke, the Dennis the Menace typically would have some sort of misbehavior by Dennis and the reaction of other people to it in his strip. In this case, Mike just talks about what happened. Not getting to see the action is the part of the strip which is typical Lynn Johnston. It’s easier for her to have Mike talk about mashing spitballs in a dictionary than to actually show it. When it comes to drawing, she is not in Hank Ketchum’s league. When I looked at Hank Ketchum’s biography, I realize that he died a year after Charles Schulz. Two of Lynn’s greatest influences died in 2000 and 2001. I don’t know if she ever acknowledged borrowing from Hank Ketchum, the way she did Charles Schulz.

As near as I can tell, young Michael Patterson was in the library and decided to mash spitballs in the dictionary. He got caught doing this by his teacher, who removed him from the library and made him write lines and miss recess as a punishment. Considering the vigorous issue Mike has with his punishment and his expressed hatred of his teacher, it’s surprising in the final panel that he admits to what he did without some kind of protest, like “That’s all I did and it’s not like it hurt the dictionary.” If Mike were to make such an argument, he could probably convince me. After all, who does that? In all my years of going to school, I don’t remember ever hearing about a kid who mashed spitballs in a dictionary. In my day, you took the spitball and put it at the end of a straw and then blew it at someone. See this website, for instructions.

The other aspect of this strip which is confusing is the role of Lawrence. Obviously he is there to hear Mike’s protest and act as a straight man, asking, “Why?” However, my understanding was that Lawrence and Michael were in the same class. So, why doesn’t Lawrence already know all this? When Dennis the Menace would be a in similar situation with his friend Joey, the question would make sense because Joey was younger than Dennis and not in the same class in school.

What you end up with at the end of this strip is the impression Lynn Johnston does not know her characters and does not know what you do with spitballs.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taken For Granted, But Not Inadequate

Yesterday’s strip pretty much replaced this one from January 26, 1981, where Elly and Annie talk about how Elly doesn’t want to tell Connie that she is not planning to get a job. This leads to Elly asking the question, “Do you suppose that being a housewife will ever come back in style?" In turn, that leads into the first panel response by Anne in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse originally printed January 27, 1981. This strip actually occurred chronologically before Connie Poirier went off to Montreal. If Lynn Johnston continues reprinting strips from that week in 1981, it could possibly lead to reprinting the strips from January 28-30, 1981 for the remainder of this week. Those strips feature Lawrence and Michael going to the candy store and could conceivably occur while Lawrence is staying over at Michael’s. The other week not reprinted before Connie's trip to Montreal is the week starting January 19, 1981 the week prior. The strips from that week involve set up for Connie’s trip, which would have to been disallowed from reprinting due to their no longer being accurate with the new-run storyline. For example:

Elly talks about nothing happening between Connie and Phil on New Years’ Eve, which is no longer the case.

Connie skulks around to find Phil’s address without Elly’s help, which she doesn’t need with the new-runs because she already knows Phil’s address.

You get the idea. The one skipped yesterday also goes along with another strip from that prior week where Elly is losing interest in school. To me, this is the strip that leads into the consequence of Elly no longer being interested in trying to find a job. It makes me wonder if Lynn Johnston is planning to do a different new-run storyline to resolve the “I don’t want Elly to be a slacker in school this time around” issue Lynn Johnston seems to have going. The other possibility is that she may skip the whole thing and leave us with the strip where Elly was complaining about missing classes as the ending.

For these reasons, I don't think Lynn Johnston can reprint the strips from the week starting January 19. Lynn Johnston reprinted the 2/3/1981 to 2/5/1981 strips last week. The “Connie in Montreal” sequence started back in 2/9/1981. If Lynn plans to synchronize her strip with that so she can go to straight reprints, she will probably need to generate 2 weeks worth of new-runs.

As for today's strip, it seems a little odd without the strip from the prior day as the lead-in. Annie is clearly responding to something, but probably not her comment about coming back as a janitor. Anne says being a homemaker is back in style and back in the early 1980s, it definitely was. Even though it is called Stay-At-Home-Mom now instead of homemaker, it is still very much in fashion, at least among the people I know.

However, the points that Anne makes which follow this statement, don't exactly work. Inadequate means not adequate or sufficient; inept or unsuitable. Annie's point is that because being a homemake is in, kitchen aids are in abundance along with gourmet foods and books on parenting. In other words, a woman can be a more than adequate homemaker thanks to the resources at her fingertips.

Annie's other point is that a homemaker, despite her homemaking abilities, can be taken for granted, which means, "to use, accept, or treat in a careless or indifferent manner." In other words, you can be a great homemaker, but still not get praise for what you do. These things don't really work together. If homemaking is in style, then how would you be taken for granted? It would be a point of pride. Otherwise it would not be in style.

Anne Nichols is not making a very good argument for her point.
Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is all over the map. In the first panel, Lynn has apparently decided to write the anti-Elly, who doesn’t complain about unexpected houseguests, who says Connie is gone for a few days without once mentioning how terrible it is for her to be chasing after Phil, and declaring she can get a lot done because the boys are in school. Not only that but this anti-Elly wishes she could get excited about vacuuming. To make this point perfectly, anti-Elly declares she would come back in her next life as a man. Why do that? Anti-Elly is already acting like a man in this universe – no matter what she says about doing chores, we don’t see her doing them.

In the meantime, Anne disparages janitors, the only men in this universe known to do household chores. Anne would rather be a woman doing household chores than a man doing household chores. That says a lot about being a man in this universe.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Snow Fort Strip Returns for the First Time

Today’s For Better or For Worse falls in the category of a strip where the situation and the joke and even the style (silent) of doing the strip are the same. In this link, we point to strips from January 22, 1989 and February 20, 2000. I guess Lynn feels it's OK to repeat this strip every 10 years or so.

The January 22, 1989 strip features Elizabeth at a time when she would have been about 8 or 9 years old. The differences between this version and the one today is that Elizabeth actively solicits John’s help to build a snow fort, and Elizabeth’s friends are not characters I know. In the final panel, Elizabeth and friends end up in front of the fire place. The layout for a number of panels in this strip seem to be duplicated in today's new-run to the point where it seems likely Lynn Johnston was using this1989 strip as a model. The point where John loses the kids is exactly the same as in today’s strip -- while he is crawling through the snow fort tunnel.

The February 20, 2000 strip features a similar situation with April Patterson getting unsolicited help from John and Grandpa Jim. April has no friends with her except for Edgar the dog and starts out making a snow fort for an action figure or possibly a Ned Tanner doll. Grandpa Jim and John make a snow fort so sophisticated it actually has windows on it and a roof. After they finish, they see April inside with Edgar, looking at them through the window. Prior to this point we saw April sullenly staring at John and Jim taking over all the labor from April. I guess she figured if she wasn't going to get to do anything, she might as well watch from where it is warm. This is a different sort of situation than the prior strip or today’s strip. The point is to be a moral lesson that adults don't need to take over the fun work from the kids, as opposed to the "kids' attention span is not that long, so they abandon the adult." However, it is similar to today’s strip in that the help is unsolicited.

The unique elements of today’s new-run vs. those other strips are:
1. The kids end up in front of the television (evil TV) when they come back in the house.
2. That cute little picture of Elizabeth eating the snow in the foreground of panel 3.

As for me and my family, it doesn't snow much in Tucson. We were in Dallas, Texas in December and it snowed there. My kids and I went outside and we each made 3 balls of snow for a snowman, which the kids decorated. My wife came outside briefly to take a picture. I don't really have the same issue as John in this situation. It's more fun to play with the kids in the snow than to take over.

Friday, January 15, 2010

No Longer Childlike and Innocent, but Young and Sweet

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is one of the rare re-do strips. It is very close to the originally published strip. Lynn Johnston mentioned correcting seat belts recently, and this strip could very well fall into that category. The last time Lynn Johnston did that though, she just added seatbelts with this strip where they had not been in this strip. Otherwise the two strips were identical.

There a variety of reasons why Lynn chose to completely rewrite this strip, especially if you compare the dialogue.

First re-do Connie starts off with “I can’t believe I’m driving all the way to Montreal to see Phil Richards.” This seems to be for the purpose of indicating that Connie is acting on a whim, as opposed to being a well thought-out stalker. That panel doesn’t exist in the original.

In the second panel, Lynn added “He’s so happy to see me. He smiles, we touch and …embrace. The re-do Connie is adding in Phil’s perspective from the original which did not. Phil is happy and embraces Connie in re-do version. This changes the perspective where Connie has a specific expectation of Phil’s behaviour, whereas the original concentrated on Connie entering her fantasy.

The biggest change is the next one. Connie goes from looking “childlike, innocent, helpless, weak and femine” to “young and so sweet. He gazes into my eyes. Then…my lips taste the salt on his moustache…” “Childlike, innocent, helpless, weak and feminine” is hardly the thinking of a 1980s feminist, is it? However, the switch in dialogue favours youth and niceness. Plus it touches on the idea that Connie and Phil have already been intimate, since she knows his moustache tastes salty.

However, in the dialogue following the HONK!, the original Connie is talking about herself being helpless, weak, and feminine and then she turns around and yells out the window to the other motorist, “Shaddup you *!!@* moron!” The joke was that the real-life Connie was not helpless, weak, or especially feminine judging from her reaction to the HONK!

With the re-do, Connie’s dialogue changes to “Humph! Some drivers should pay more attention to their driving!” which is essentially Connie snarking her own lack of attention, while fantasizing about Phil. In both the original and the re-do, we see a contradiction. In the original the contradiction was in the character of real-life Connie from the actions of fantasy Connie. In the re-do, the contradiction is between what Connie says to do vs. what Connie actually does. In the original, Connie is aggressive, when she wants to be passive. In the re-do, Connie is a hypocrite. Frankly, the original Connie fits the storyline better, because only a very aggressive woman would be pursuing Phil with the fervor Connie has during this story.

One common element in the strip is the reference to the Rue des Fèves, which is Phil’s address mentioned by Elly in this strip that Lynn Johnston chose not to reprint. I understand the reason for not reprinting that one, because it was when Connie was trying to sneak Phil’s address out of Elly. In this new-run version of things, Connie and Phil have corresponded over a year, so Connie is well-aware of Phil’s address. Reprinting the strip makes no sense given the new situation, but without it you don’t get the connection between Rue des Fèves and Phil’s address.

As for the street, it translates to “street of the broad beans” or “street of the fava beans.” Of course it’s difficult for me to think of fava beans anymore without going to Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal Lecter saying, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

According to my on-line mapping websites, this street does not actually exist in Montreal. We have two pieces of art imaged here and here, by the artist Adolphe ThÈodore Jules Martial Potemont, a French etcher who did these two etchings of the Rue Aux Fèves, which was located in l’île de la Cité, one of two natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris. My guess is that this is what Lynn Johnston is referencing with this street name.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sleepover Night of Horror #1

There’s lot to like about today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, originally printed on February 4, 1981.

First of all, I like that both Elly and John are getting up to yell at the boys to be quiet. If Elly is doing her usual martyr thing, then we would see Elly get up while John would just lie in bed. I get tired of seeing the Elly martyr thing, so it’s nice to see both parents acting like parents for a change.

Second, I like that after John gives the “LAST warning” that Elly gives another warning. This is very typical of parents that I know, namely me.

Third, I like it when John looks in the room, we see young Michael and Lawrence both with sheets in their mouths. I have no idea why they would have sheets in their mouths, but the sight of it is very amusing to me.

Fourth, I like it that when Elly yells at the boys she covers herself up when she speaks to them directly, and shows her sleeveless nightie when she yells from around the corner. That’s a nice touch and realistic.

Fifth, I like Michael’s room with its decorative wall clock, the block, the smiling face poster and Star Wars. Back in 1981 was right after The Empire Strikes Back. All the kids I knew in 1981 were really into Star Wars.

Sixth, I like the teddy bear sitting on the knee of the scowling, cross-armed John Patterson in the final panel.

Seventh, I like the whole premise of the strip. When I was a young lad, when I spent the night at my best friend’s house, his father was very grouchy, and yelled at even the slightest noise. This strip reminded me a lot of those moments. As for me in my house, the rule with sleepovers is that you can giggle all you want as long as you don’t wake me up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just Wonderful

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse was originally published on Tuesday, February 3, 1981, now putting Lynn Johnston 17 days off from being able to synchronize her reprints with the strip being published today. The strip announces that Lawrence is staying for a whole week, even though the originally published storyline will run about 3 weeks to cover Connie in Montreal and Lawrence’s accident in Milborough.

In the strip Michael is very enthusiastic about Lawrence’s arrival to which Elly replies, “Just wonderful.” In the Comic Strip Catalog looking for the punch line “just wonderful” 3 different strips came up and in each case, the phrase “just wonderful” means a completely different thing.

In today’s strip, “just wonderful” is said by a weary-looking Elly, already tired out from having Lawrence over at her house for a few minutes. The strip has already established that Elly is not that excited about the daily care of children, so adding an extra one to the mix for a week is not something which will make her happy. In this case, “just wonderful” is sarcastic Elly saying one thing while mean the exact opposite. Considering what is coming up for Elly as a part of taking care of Lawrence, this sarcasm is justified.

I have some symphathy for Elly in this case. Last year, I took care of one of my son's friends for a week, which happened to be a week that my wife was also gone out-of-town for a few days. By the end of the week, I was quite ready to hand the kid back. He wasn't poorly-behaved, but his presence meant having to readjust doing a lot of things. I can't imagine handling someone else's kid, if he broke his leg, or could only go to the bathroom in his own house.

The next case of “just wonderful” is when Elly is appraising John’s newly-acquired dog-training skills with Farley. She pats John on the head as if he were a dog. In this case, “just wonderful” is done in a mocking tone, where Elly is making fun of John’s dog training.

The final case of “just wonderful” is a 2001 strip where Elly is watching April go snowboarding. Most of the panels are Elly’s silent expressions of shock and terror as she watches. We don’t see what Elly is seeing until the penultimate panel, where we can see that April is actually a fairly decent snowboarder. When Elly says, “just wonderful” in the final panel, it is with parental pride, and she means what she says. This strip is a pretty good one. Nicely drawn and well-written.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


In today's new-run of For Better or For Worse, let’s just ignore the fact that by offering to keep Lawrence, Elly has essentially given her approval to Connie to go on the trip to Montreal to chase after Phil, even after telling both Phil and Connie that she disapproved of the relationship. So much for Elly standing by her own opinion. Let’s also ignore that by announcing she was making the trip without mentioning Lawrence and by prepacking Lawrence’s suitcase and putting it in Elly’s house, Connie knew that Elly would agree to take Lawrence and most likely did not bring him up in yesterday’s strip in order to give Elly the opportunity to volunteer. In fact, Connie practically says that with the line, “I didn’t want to ask for such a favor.”

What I found the most interesting was Connie’s use of the word “Gosh”. The term seems affected coming from Connie. Given that Connie has pre-packed for Lawrence in anticipation of the outcome, it implies that Connie is used to manipulating Elly. When she says, “Gosh. You are so sweet. I don’t want to impose.” the whole line sounds like a sweet-talking person getting ready to take advantage of someone.

The term “Gosh” in this strip has been used almost entirely for mild swearing. “Oh my gosh” or “my gosh” are the phrases used. You can see them in these strips. In contrast, the use of the term “God” is used almost exclusively as a proper name, as you can see in these strips and these strips. The exceptions are this strip and this strip, where “God” is used for the swearing.

Even so, in all those strips showing “Gosh” and “God”, you don’t get the impression that one of the characters is putting on a fake speech and using the term in order to fool another character, as you do in today’s strip. This is an unusual move for Connie, who usually is a very straight talker, when she talks to Elly. Although Elly blames Phil for leading her on, it seems clear to me that new-run Connie is the one doing all the leading. This is a far cry from the clueless and selfish, but innocent Connie of 1981. New-run Connie is a manipulative schemer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Chasing, Running in His Direction

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we see Connie making plans to go to Montreal. Lynn Johnston has eliminated the “visit the cousin” reason, and the strips where Connie skulked about trying to get Phil’s address and the name of his band as she did the first time around in 1981 when she only had one date with Phil before he went back home. Connie has been corresponding with Phil for over a year, so she knows all that information.

Here Connie just announces to Elly that she has decided to take a break and go to Montreal, and notice, not once does she mention Lawrence in all of this. Unless Lynn does a huge rewrite, we are going to have Elly be the one taking care of Lawrence and you would think Connie would bring this up at this point as “I would like to take a trip to Montreal; but it depends on whether you would be willing to handle Lawrence while I am gone.” Maybe tomorrow Connie will ask the question, but I doubt it. She didn’t ask it the first time around in 1981.

In fact, considering Elly’s disapproving look and the number of new-run strips Lynn has devoted to Elly’s opposition to the relationship between Connie and Phil, it becomes even more amazing that Elly will enable to Connie to take this trip. It is not an insubstantial task for Elly and when you add Lawrence’s injury to the mix, Connie is really taking advantage of Elly. More importantly, all of Elly’s disapproval loses its punch, because she agrees to go along with this. All she has to do is say, “No” and no more Connie and Phil.

The other aspect which will have difficulty coming across is that when Connie does finally get to Montreal, Phil blows her off. Lynn Johnston has written several strips where it is apparent that Phil and Connie have been intimate. She buys him intimate gifts, she sends Lawrence out when Phil comes over to her house, and she made it a point of saying she was spending the night in Toronto with Phil over New Years’ Eve. If she is going to take the time to visit Phil in Montreal, and they have this relationship, and Phil is a single man, then why would he turn her down, when he didn’t before? Lynn Johnston said she would explain who opens Phil’s apartment door, and perhaps this will be the reason. Perhaps it could be the “first” appearance of Georgia.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why You Don’t Let Toddlers in the Bathroom by Themselves

With today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston has jumped from the daily strips of January 15, 1981, which she reprinted on Saturday to a strip originally printed on January 22, 1981. Looking at the strips she skipped, her reasoning does appear to be sound.

The January 19, 1981 strip features Elly back at school talking about how can still sleep with her eyes wide open. Lynn has been trying to establish that this time Elly likes school and wants to complete her class, as opposed to how Elly lost interest in her class last time.

The January 20, 1981 strip features Elly and Annie talking about Connie and Phil. Elly clearly says that nothing happened between Phil and Connie and now Connie is wandering about imagining a relationship with a man she hardly knows. This a stark contrast from the Connie and Phil who have been communicating together for over a year, where Phil is leading Connie on. Lynn has to scratch this one.

The January 21, 1981 strip shows Connie trying to find out Phil’s address in Montreal so she can return his pipe to him, without have to ask Elly for it. Naturally this strip also does not work with a couple who have been corresponding to each other over the last years. Connie would be very aware of Phil’s address.

That brings us to January 22, 1981, a strip now 11 days out-of-synch with today’s day. In other words, Lynn will need at least 11 new-runs in order to synchronize her 1981 daily strips with the 2010 daily strips so she can go to straight reprints.

With today’s reprint, we see Elly use the phrase “Help!” as the punchline for the joke. In order to enjoy this strip, first you will have to take a giant step past the safety issues with Elly letting little Elizabeth play in a bathroom without supervision. Lynn has used the “Help!” punchline before in this strip when Michael was in his graduation tuxedo. Although the punchline is the same, the meaning is entirely different. Michael wanted to escape from being in the tuxedo, whereas Elly appears to be on the verge of collapse because her daughter made a mess.

Today’s strip joke is much more similar to this strip. The basic premise is that little Lizzie has the capacity to make a huge mess with very little effort and each time she does this, Elly becomes overwhelmed. Let me tell you Elly Patterson, until you deal with explosive poopie flying across the room or projectile vomiting with your young daughter, these little bathroom messes are nothing.

Pet Bed or Chesterfield: Is There Really a Choice?

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse falls into the “pet on the couch” series of strips. You can see from the selection of strips available for searching for “couch” that there are quite a few strips involving pets on the old chesterfield. This strip in particular is one that comes close to matching the storyline of today’s strip. In both cases, Farley is sleeping soundly on the couch to be not only awakened by the sound of Elly shrieking but ends up with marks around his head indicating that he is dizzy from the sound. The difference in that strip is that Farley starts off looking like a dog lying on a couch in the old-run, instead of like a human in a dog suit as he does in today’s new-run.

The oddest part about the strip is in Panel 10, with the silhouette of Elly running and the odd light show radiating from her body. I think I may have seen a Bionic Woman poster that looked like that years ago. Even if it is really Elly running, wouldn’t she be running straight into a wall?

Friday, January 08, 2010

This is Phil’s Pipe?

You are not going to get any better example of how Connie Poirier placed the importance of chasing after a man over good parenting than in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. Connie goes instantly from an accusing mother to a woman in love with any little thing owned by her potential husband Phil. Mike points out that Lawrence said a magic word, but the fun comes when you consider other possibilities for “pipe”:

1. Mike and Lawrence find Phil’s old condoms and use them to make water balloons to throw at passing cars. This is Phil’s condom?
2. Mike and Lawrence find Phil’s girlie magazine and sell the pictures inside to their friends. This is Phil’s porn?
3. Mike and Lawrence find the liquor Phil purchased to drink on the side when he discovered his sister had nothing in the house for him but a kick in the pants and get hammered. This is Phil’s liquor bottle?
4. Mike and Lawrence find Phil’s fingernail trimmings and so on…

The part that is the most fun about the strip though, is the way Lawrence immediately turns on Mike after they are caught. Look at the panel 2 body language. Lawrence has handed the pipe to his mom and appears to have grabbed Mike with his right hand, while pointing at him with his left hand says, “It’s not my fault! – It’s Mike’s” Clearly Lawrence has far more fear of his mother than he has fear of losing his friendship with Mike. We have not really seen Connie discipline Lawrence before; but clearly he is showing more fear of her than Michael does of Elly.

Years later when Lawrence is thrown out of his house for announcing he is gay seemed like a parent overreacting and doing something they wouldn’t normally do. Looking at the fear on Lawrence’s face in this strip, I am not so sure anymore.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Michael Patterson: Pipe Professional

From this website:

How to light a pipe:

Take your match or pipe lighter (Zippo makes a good one) and pass it very slowly and evenly over the top of the tobacco while puffing on your pipe.

Looking at today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, I have to say young Michael Patterson looks like a professional. His cheeks are puffed from puffing, his match is lit and being held horizontally across the pipe end to evenly light the top of the tobacco. It’s an impressive display. Me personally, I would have a hard time getting the match to stay lit outdoors long enough to do this, much less anything else. My guess is that Lynn Johnston used some kind of model to show how someone should look lighting a pipe and failed to recognize that a 6-year-old kid, who’s never smoked a pipe before, should be really bad at it.

In the second panel, you see young Michael Patterson go “koff” in reaction as if he is an inexperienced smoker. After his display in the first panel, this is sort of like having a 6-year-old repair your car engine, but then not know how to put a seat belt on.

As for artistic integrity, in the third panel there appears to be a tree behind the fence behind Michael. In the fourth panel, we see the tree from the other side of the fence. It has shrunk down to a small branch-like shrub, so the pipe smoke can be easily visible to Connie Poirier,which will lead into what is going to happen in tomorrow's strip. Yes, folks, even the background trees will shrink in order to support a plot point.

I do like the final panel as a cliff-hanger. In the modern times, Lynn Johnston stopped doing this kind of strip ending in order to drop a punch line in the final panel of almost every strip, even ones telling a story. If she were to do this one today, Connie would have a thought balloon with wordplay about fences and smoke. Something like:

a. You can fence in a fire, but you can't fence in the smoke.

b. I feel Phil is in the field behind the fence; but instead I see the smoke from the sneaky schemes of 2 small fry.

c. Where there's smoke there's going to be spankings.

d. Sniff! That smells like some of my good stuff.

I had hoped that Michael and Lawrence would be protected from pipe burns by wearing gloves outside, but as I look at the strip carefully, it appears both boys take off their mittens and handle the pipe with their bare hands. Then they put the mittens back on when they are not handling the pipe. I guess from Lynn's perspective, she was more concerned the boys would set the mittens on fire with the pipe and burn their hands that way.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Role Reversal

In the past year, we have seen Lawrence Poirier usually be the instigator when it comes to getting Michael to do foolish things, whether it comes to grabbing things at the back of your throat, or drinking water from a drain pipe, or learning how to insult someone. Rarely will Michael be the instigator, except when it comes to tricks being played on his own family, where Michael excels.

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Michael is the instigator of trouble. Lawrence did not seem to have any problem daring Michael to do something, especially since it never put Lawrence in harm’s way. In the case of smoking, Michael is the one causing the trouble, but unlike the other times, Lawrence seems to be opposed to it instead of starting it up. I think the big difference is that Mike expects them both to smoke. It is one thing for Lawrence to put Michael at risk, but he doesn’t like to do the same. One of the interesting things to note is that Lawrence has an expectation of getting real sick if he smokes. I wonder where he got that information.

A question I have about this strip, which maybe someone out there can answer. We saw little spots dropping out of Uncle Phil’s pipe when Lizzie was playing with it and now the same with Michael. It makes Phil’s pipe look empty. Can you light a pipe with nothing in it? I suspect not. However, I do notice that Michael is leading Lawrence to his house before they light the pipe. Although the temptation is to think this because Mike doesn’t want Elly to catch him; the other possibility is that there is some material to burn over at Lawrence’s house, i.e. tobacco that Connie has specifically for the purpose of entertaining Phil. Naturally, Elly would not have tobacco to entertain her brother, and would expect him to bring his own.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Skip Over Where Michael Gets the Pipe from Lizzie

Yesterday we had the reprint from Friday, January 9, 1981. Today we have the reprint from Monday, January 12, 1981 – a 3 day jump. The sequence from January 12 to January 15, 1981 covered Michael, Lawrence, Connie dealing with Phil’s pipe. If Lynn Johnston reprints it, then she will have Wednesday to Saturday for this week. However, she will not have synchronized her strip with her reprints. In order for this to work, Lynn Johnston has to have the reprints for a week in a month line up with the same week in the month for 2010. We are in the first week of January, 2010; but with the reprint from today, Lynn has launched into the second week of January, 1981. Lynn will need some new-runs to fix it. And I suspect I know what they will be about.

The storyline Lynn has greatly expanded since the last time is Elly as an adult student. Lynn Johnston clearly has an agenda in making Elly seem like a more enthusiastic student than she was in her early days. If there are going to be more new-runs to line up the “Connie goes to Montreal” story with its original publication date, then this story seems the likely choice. This would actually make sense because that would give Lynn Johnston a good week to explain to everyone how Elly’s lack of success in going back to school is not her fault.

Not only that, but the Monday, January 19, 1981 strip is the one where Elly is back in school talking about sleeping with her eyes open in class. The strip right after that launches back into Connie and Phil. That is barely any coverage for the adult Elly back in school. The story practically is begging for Lynn to do new-runs to expand it.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Smack vs. Hug

Today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse was originally published Friday, 9 January 1981. I believe Lynn Johnston is very close to synchronizing her reprints in 2010 with the original publication dates in 1981, and straight reprints will soon be upon us. Based on the very limited number of reprints published in November and December, 2009, I think Lynn Johnston will make up for that with lots of reprints in January – March, 2010.

This reprint clearly shows a return back to the “Elly in school” storyline and we see Elly eating a pencil and giving the Roget’s Thesaurus a big hug. This is a nice physical contrast to the hug which Mike is asking for in a fairly obnoxious way. The Pattersons were never big on corporal punishment and as a result you find many more strips featuring hugs than you find strips featuring smacks. The big difference I notice looking through the “hug” strips is that the kid who got the most hugs from the Patterson parents appears to be April. Not only that, but Elly giving one of her kids a hug is a fairly rare occurrence in the strips from the 1980s. In the later years she got much better at it.

That being said, here are ten reasons why Roget’s Thesaurus is better than Michael Patterson (and thus more deserving of a hug):

1. If you abuse a Roget’s Thesaurus, people will not write into Coffee Talk complaining about your bad parenting.
2. Roget’s Thesaurus does not criticize or antagonize its mother.
3. Roget’s Thesaurus does not have an evil Mother-In-Law.
4. There is a better chance of training Roget’s Thesaurus to write well than Michael Patterson.
5. Roget’s Thesaurus doesn't complain about your cooking.
6. Roget’s Thesaurus will not expect you to pay for its university education and then go off and get a useless Journalism degree.
7. You won’t have to send Roget’s Thesaurus to the farm in Winnipeg because of some girl it is dating.
8. You can put Christopher Nichols in a room with your Roget’s Thesaurus, and it won’t get into a fight.
9. Roget’s Thesaurus doesn't make a mess in your nice, clean house.
10. Roget’s Thesaurus doesn’t sulk or throw a temper tantrum.

She’s a Smoker, She’s a Joker, She's a Toddler

The joke in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse appears to be that in spite of Elly’s promise to return anything Phil left back to him in good shape, unbeknownst to her little Lizzie is crunching on Phil’s pipe and I suppose is going to ruin it with her 1-year-old teeth which, at her age, are probably just the upper and lower front 4 + canine teeth.

Or is the joke that little Lizzie is crunching on a smoking pipe, one of the more disgusting things she could possibly put in her mouth, so the humour is based on the idea that it’s funny when toddlers take on the more repugnant adult habits? After all, it hasn’t been that long since Lizzie took her first drink for comic effect. This level of humour is not beneath Lynn Johnston.

The part which should be the most interesting is whether or not Lynn Johnston will reprint the “Michael and Lawrence smoke Phil’s pipe” strips, for which this strip is the obvious lead-in. Those strips, as I understand it, were not chosen to make the list of strips to be placed in a book of reprints or as they say in the Comic Strip Catalog, “(We haven't entered book data for this strip yet. Sorry.)” If it was too politically incorrect to show 2 6-year-old kids smoking back in the 1980s book of reprints, will it be too politically incorrect to show them smoking in reprint in 2010? I remember back in 1980, the anti-smoking furor was beginning to hit companies, which started implementing anti-smoking policies. These days, my kids have gotten the big pitch since they were very young from school programs which are anti-drug, anti-drinking, and anti-smoking. The anti-smoking drive, from what I can tell, is far more pervasive than it was back in 1980. Will Lynn Johnston recognize this, or just plow ahead with her reprint plans?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Insomnia with Michael

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have an attempt by Lynn to do a heart-warming strip. In one respect I would like to enjoy a moment where a Patterson is actually doing something nice to another Patterson. On the other hand, the weird parts of the strip execution throw me off:

1. The sizes of Elly and Michael relative to each other and the furniture change at random throughout the strip.
2. Michael’s dialogue is more like that of an adult or more particularly a psychologist.
3. Elly’s final panel comment takes on an air of cruelty which gives the whole thing a bad taste. If only Lynn hadn’t gone to the “I wanted to give him away” part, the strip would have been a lot better.

I decided to go back through the Comic Strip Catalog to look at old insomnia strips over the last 30 years. The thing I notice in them, which is not evident in today’s strip, is the presence of John Patterson. In the old strips, if Elly was awake, John was awake. Even in the long series of strips of Elly suffering through menopausal hot flashes, John was an awakened participant. If the dogs were in the bed, or a child was waking Elly up for a variety of reasons, John was awake and there too.

That seems to be the key ingredient here. Elly’s comforter and companion is not John Patterson. His form is not even recognizable as anything but a hairy silhouette. Perhaps this is the reason why Elly never questions why Michael is also up at 2:45 am. Perhaps this is the reason why Elly does not question why Michael would assume she was worried about something. Michael is not playing the role of a child here. Michael is playing the role of the person who comforts Elly in the absence of John. More than anything else, I think that is what gives this strip a strange feeling.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Once Again, It’s All About Elly

Meanwhile, back in Milborough in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson finally reveals the true reason she is concerned about Connie and Phil. Check out the dialogue:

She’s one of my closest friends, John.

Notice that Elly does not mention the nature of her relationship to Phil. She does not say, “And he’s my only brother.” Her concern is based entirely on the relationship between her and Connie.

If my brother breaks her heart, …Where will that leave me?.- I would feel so responsible.

By bringing up the nature of her relationship with Connie, is Elly saying that it would be OK to set her brother up with a single woman she knew, if it wasn’t one of her closest friends, so she would not fear the outcome? Or is Elly saying that if things don’t work out between Connie and Phil, Connie may blame her, and then she would lose one of her closest friends? Or is this at a more basic level of “I have exposed my poor, innocent friend to a sinister evil, which may cause her great harm”? It seems like the last one, but it seems strange that Elly would consider her brother to be so terrible. What’s going to happen there? Connie and Phil have sex, and Phil says, “Just because we had sex doesn’t mean I plan to marry you.” That seems a little backward attitude to have about a woman who has been married before and had a child out of wedlock before.

By drawing a connection between introducing them and the ultimate outcome of their relationship, is Elly saying that she only set up her single friends with men where there is a guaranteed outcome, like “You should date my friend Joe. He will definitely marry you.” Look at the way Elly steered Mike away from Rhetta Blum and Martha McRae and Elizabeth away from Eric Chamberlain and Constable Paul Wright. She may honestly have the opinion that any recommendation she makes in romance should be absolutely correct, since she is the all-seeing, all-knowing Elly.

Unless Lynn Johnston makes some changes, in the upcoming strips, Elly will enable Connie to travel to Montreal to chase after Phil. In those strips, Elly will be a woman trying to help her friend seek romance, even if she doesn’t think it will work out. That Elly will be a lot more human than this bizarre new-run Elly, who is afraid to admit any imperfections.

My favourite part of the dialogue is this line from John:

Don't worry about Connie, El --- She can take care of herself.

Just how would John know that? It certainly does not reflect John's opinion of Connie in this strip. Moreover, Connie's history would seem to indicate the exact opposite of that. Ever since this strip and this strip, my running theory is that John and Connie have something going on the side. Plus Connie seemed a little too knowledgeable about John in this strip. Today's strip is just another addition to that running theory.