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.

15 Comments:

Blogger DreadedCandiru2 said...

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.

I know; instead of making him look like a typical naughty kid, she makes him look halfway crazy and halfway stupid. Or, to put it another way, halfway Elly and halfway John.

9:53 PM  
Blogger forworse said...

Not getting to see the action is the part of the strip which is typical Lynn Johnston.

The master of not showing what happened was Bill Watterson with characters mentioning the noodle incident. Did he copy Lynn? I don't think so, since we never saw a strip taking place immediately afterwards, where the action is described as well as the reaction of others. All we ever heard were oblique references to something having happened and Calvin insisting that nothing was proven, which made a far funnier situation because of the lack of details.

11:09 PM  
Blogger April Patterson said...

I can kind of give Lynn a pass on Lawrence not knowing what Michael had done with the dictionary. He could have been in a different corner of the library, doing what he was actually supposed to be doing there!

The oddness of the spitball incident makes me wonder if this was one of those occurrences that Lynn lifted directly from Aaron's life.

Couldn't agree more about the copying of Schultz for the art. This especially struck me as I was drawing the FOOBAR for today. Michael has a case of Linushead again.

3:47 AM  
Blogger howard said...

DreadedCandiru2,

Or, to put it another way, halfway Elly and halfway John.

Well, at least Michael has the right gene pool for his behaviour.

5:32 AM  
Blogger howard said...

forworse,

The master of not showing what happened was Bill Watterson with characters mentioning the noodle incident.

The noodle incident was funny, but I would not count it in the same category as mashing spitballs in a dictionary. The noodle incident was a running gag, and there were other things thrown in with it, that put it over the top like Hobbes asking about the sirens at noon, or Calvin having dreams about not getting presents at Christmas while the elves examine the particulars of the noodle incident. Mashing spitballs in a dictionary is so pedestrian in comparison; it is almost a non-punishable offense.

5:33 AM  
Blogger howard said...

aprilp_katje,

The oddness of the spitball incident makes me wonder if this was one of those occurrences that Lynn lifted directly from Aaron's life.

I hope not, for Aaron’s sake.

Couldn't agree more about the copying of Schultz for the art. This especially struck me as I was drawing the FOOBAR for today. Michael has a case of Linushead again.

That’s true. Plus I would give the side view of Lawrence a shot at being a Charlie Brown head with Lawrence hair.

5:33 AM  
Blogger April Patterson said...

I hope not, for Aaron’s sake.

Same here. Another possibility, since Lynn is always saying that all of the characters are her is that this is something from her own misspent youth.

Plus I would give the side view of Lawrence a shot at being a Charlie Brown head with Lawrence hair.

Yup. It's no mistake that I put Lawrence in the "Charlie Brown" role when I did my "Sparky tribute" FOOBAR. :)

6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing that suggests that this is an incident lifted from real life is that the basic implausibility of Michael using a dictionary. He's supposed to be in either Grade 1 or 2. (Lynn Johnston has managed to mess up this detail by mingling newruns and reruns.) A first grader would certainly not be dictionary-conscious, and a second grader probably wouldn't be either. It's far more likely that this was based on something Aaron (about three years older than the Michael character) had done recently.

8:35 AM  
Blogger April Patterson said...

A first grader would certainly not be dictionary-conscious, and a second grader probably wouldn't be either. It's far more likely that this was based on something Aaron (about three years older than the Michael character) had done recently.

In January of 1981, Aaron was seven going on eight. Michael was in grade one, making him six going on seven.

Actually, my son is the age that Michael is currently supposed to be (is in first grade and will turn seven in March) and he loves his dictionary. He has an illustrated dictionary and leafs through to learn new words, as well as finding pictures to draw from. However, I will readily admit my child is a bit unusual (he was reading by age two!). :)

8:42 AM  
Blogger howard said...

aprilp_katje,

Same here. Another possibility, since Lynn is always saying that all of the characters are her is that this is something from her own misspent youth.

That’s certainly a possibility. Lynn has pulled some bizarre stories out of her youth, like boiling raccoons, which is also something I never heard of kids doing when I was growing up.

9:23 AM  
Blogger howard said...

Anonymous,

A first grader would certainly not be dictionary-conscious, and a second grader probably wouldn't be either.

Well, when it comes to mashing something, you usually want to go with the biggest book in the room, and in my school library, that was the dictionary. However, to your point, Grade 1 Michael might not have known what a dictionary was, and maybe Grade 2 Aaron did. I certainly cannot imagine him being a prodigy like aprilp_katje’s son, who was clearly affected early in his life by exposure to For Better or For Worse and April’s Real Blog.

9:24 AM  
Blogger April Patterson said...

I certainly cannot imagine him being a prodigy like aprilp_katje’s son, who was clearly affected early in his life by exposure to For Better or For Worse and April’s Real Blog.

I just hope I haven't scarred him with such exposure! He is familiar with all of the characters and especially likes to read the Sunday strips (color bias). Sometimes he makes comments such as "Elly Patterson yells 'AUGH' a lot." :)

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember looking stuff up in the dictionary at age 6, mostly because we wanted to see if there were dirty words in it. There are!

I only know when it happened because the girl I did this with dressed like one of the women on Big Love, and she left my school after first grade.

I assume that mashing spitballs in the dictionary means that he was making spitballs and then flattening them into the dictionary. Most dictionaries having thin paper for their many, many pages, this could potentially cause a lot of damage if they dried and stuck.

11:24 AM  
Blogger howard said...

aprilp_katje,

Sometimes he makes comments such as "Elly Patterson yells 'AUGH' a lot." :)

Ah, the wisdom of youth.

1:43 PM  
Blogger howard said...

Anonymous,

Most dictionaries having thin paper for their many, many pages, this could potentially cause a lot of damage if they dried and stuck.

I suppose another element would the adhesive nature of Michael Patterson's spittle. However, having just tried a spitball with my dictionary here, it appears that my spittle and paper combination is not all that damaging to my dictionary.

1:46 PM  

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