Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lizzie Imitates Farley, Lynn Imitates Her Old Strip

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I looked through the old strips involving dog food and found many strips where the kids (and grandpa Jim) end up eating the dog’s food. The closest approximation to the strip we had today was this one where Lizzie imitates Farley while sitting beside Farley on the ground. It is actually quite a bit cuter than the one we have today, where you have to guess that Lizzie is going face first in the food in imitation of Farley. Admittedly, you can draw the conclusion from the fact we have 4 solid panels of Farley eating and drinking with Lizzie watching; however, there are also 4 solid panels of Elly getting Lizzie ready to eat to distract you. As usual, the strip suffers from Lynn trying to stretch a 4-panel idea to 10 panels.

I remember my kids, when they were very little, could fall asleep on or in almost anything. We have pictures of my boy passing out with his cute, little head resting on the high chair in a plate of spaghetti. My first thought when I saw the strip was that this was where Lynn was going. I suffered from the “camera in my house” syndrome where readers take some part of the strip and then project something from their life into the story. Unlike many people who suffer from this syndrome, I went ahead and actually read the strip and realized that nothing like this had ever happened in my house. For one thing, my son has fur allergies, and so we have birds and fish as pets.

I grew up with dogs and cats and I feel very certain that if I were being served dinner and decided to eat that way in homage to them, my mother’s reaction would not have been shock. She would immediately correct me and inform me to use my fork or spoon because I was not an animal. I know this from all the years when I received this correction after picking up food with my fingers.

The parts I find strangest about the strip are the drawings of Lizzie’s face. Her jaw shape changes in almost every panel, and some of those faces look like little men and not a 2-year-old girl. In the panel before Lizzie shoves her face in the food, it looks like Lynn has brought in a stunt double. The inconsistency is disconcerting.

Even though the strip is poorly-drawn and executed and uses a joke Lynn Johnston has used before, I can at least take comfort that no character is shamed and no animals were harmed in the making of the strip. By current Lynn Johnston standards, that's a great strip.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Donga or Dunga?

Today’s new-run of For Better of For Worse explores a strip with the theme of Elly looks at the something the kids have done and has no idea what happened. In this case we see 8 solid panels of young Elizabeth playing with a horse and rider toy, that leads into Elly seeing the toy followed by a trail of dirt coming out of a planter. Does Elly think:

a. I wonder how that horse and rider managed to ride out of the planter?
b. I wonder if the horse and rider are really alive, as in Toy Story?
c. I wonder how long it will take to clean up this mess?
d. I wonder if the horse has left a trail of horse feces after it visited the planter?

The clue is the use of the phrase, “Donga” by Elizabeth to indicate the horse motion. “Donga” is not the term typically used by Patterson kids when playing horsey as you can see in these three strips with April. You may be thinking that those strips were April and not Elizabeth, so let’s look at the one strip with Lizzie playing horsey. In this strip, you can clearly why it is that Elizabeth stopped plying horsey. As for the phrase “Donga”, my first thought is of a bell ringing. As you can see from this strip and this strip, this is the way Lynn Johnston thinks of it also.

Why “Donga”? I think it is because “Donga” is close to “Dung-a” and Lynn is subtely trying to tell anyone viewing the comic strip, Elly is really thinking horse dung. In other words, I think (d) above is the correct answer. Lynn Johnston loves animal poop jokes and apparently that extends to toy animal poop jokes. As for the strip itself, it could have easily been done in the daily with 3 panels. Lynn is really horsing around to stretch all that horseplay through so many panels to fill a whole Sunday strip.

As for the strip itself, I could comment again on Lizzie’s language regression or her matching “heart” outfit, but those are well-worn comments from me. Suffice to say, Lynn Johnston has no idea how old Elizabeth is or how children should talk or dress at that age, or even how she used to have the character talk or dress at that age.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I’ve Never Met a Woman Who’s Less Organized

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse fall into the same category of strips as this one from November 19, 2006; where Lynn Johnston decided to show how busy Elly was after retirement, by showing Elly doing a lot of things she had never been shown doing before or since. Likewise this strip is a similar type of strip, except it shows all the things Elly did for conservation, which she had never been shown doing before or since.

Let’s run down the list for today’s “Elly is very organized” strip and see where Lynn Johnston strays from the norm:

1. Elly is shown dropping Michael off at school. As we know, Michael takes a bus to school. A more organized woman would have let him take the bus instead of driving him herself.

2. Elly is taking Elizabeth to see Dr. Flett and because Dr. Flett is able to take Elizabeth immediately after their arrival, Elly makes a note that she is going to be able to make her eye exam in 40 minutes. From what we have seen in the past, like many doctor’s offices, Elly and Lizzie had to wait before they went back. Regardless, it is idiotic to schedule an eye exam for 40 minutes after you scheduled a doctor’s exam for your daughter. However, Elly notes that because Dr. Flett is so organized she also has time to go to the cleaners. This goes to Dr. Flett's organizationsl skills and not Elly's.

3. Instead of the strip showing us Elly at the eye exam with Elizabeth or at the cleaners with Elizabeth, we see Elly loading up the back of her minivan with groceries and thinking she can drop Elizabeth off at Annie’s house. She has done all these things with Elizabeth in tow, and is just now thinking she should drop Lizzie off at Annie’s house. Hum. Seems a little disorganized to me. Hint to Elly. Drop Lizzie off first and then go to the eye doctor. It will make your eye exam a lot more pleasant for everyone involved.

4. Elly picks up Mike to drop him off with his dad. Then Elly is going to the gym. Then Elly is going to writing class, which had its last session on Thursday. The Sunday strips have often been out-of-synch with the dailies, so this not really a problem. However, Elly didn’t go to the gym back in 1981. Her exercise was to occasionally go jogging with Annie.

5. We see woman leaving the office who looks a little like Jean Baker that John describes as his receptionist. This has been a perpetual problem for Lynn Johnston doing the character of Jean Baker. In the new-runs, Lynn has put Jean Baker in the receptionist role, which she had at the end of the modern run of the strip. This woman is quite a bit heavier than Jean and John does not call her by name. It makes me wonder if it is has been so long since Lynn did a new strip with Jean Baker, that Lynn no longer remembers the character’s name or what she looks like. In 1981, Jean Baker was very thin dental assistant, so it also makes me wonder if this is another woman entirely.

6. Finally the joke is that John does not recognize or appreciate that Elly is organized. I hate to break it to you Lynn, but scheduling a lot of things to be done on the same day is not an example of organization. In fact, if anything, it is an example of disorganization.

Lynn was going more for a strip like this one, where John doesn’t appreciate what Elly does. Like most situations where Lynn tries to make a point, she ends up making the exact opposite point.

The most amazing part of the strip to me is the eighth panel. Elly has a figure. We see her from behind and for once, she does not have a giant rear end. I am simply shocked that Lynn Johnston could draw such a picture of Elly.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Why Celebrate Mother’s Day?

Today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse is an odd strip for Mother’s Day, as Elly convinces Annie that she should insist on being honored for Mother’s Day by her husband. The nature of the Mother’s Day holiday is that it does fall on the father to provide the celebration. When the children are little, as Christopher Nichols is portrayed in the strip, they can do little. When they are older, the father can bankroll their efforts. Once the children are old enough to be money earners they could provide the Mother’s Day celebration themselves, but that is a very brief period of time. After that, the children will be out of the house and Mother’s Day falls back on the shoulders of the father, with the hope that the children will have the decency to call from wherever it is they are living. Since Lynn Johnston is now cut off from the fathers of both her children, for her, Mother’s Day celebrations depend entirely upon her children. She appears to have a good relationship with her daughter, with whom she went to Thailand, and so I expect Mother’s Day will fall on the shoulder of Kate for awhile. Lynn’s aloneness on Mother’s Day was reflected very well in the Mother’s Day strip from 2008, which showed Elly essentially celebrating Mother’s Day by herself. Obviously that’s Lynn and not Elly, who ended the strip with all her children living within walking distance of her home.

Today’s Mother’s Day strips shows Lynn’s first original Mother's Day strip work since then. If Lynn had written this strip back in 1981, you probably would have seen a strip featuring Elly being celebrating by John, Mike and Lizzie. Instead we have an odd strip where Elly tries to convince Annie Nichols to insist that her husband Steve honor her for Mother’s Day by canceling his bowling night and taking her to dinner. The logic Elly uses is that mothers’ efforts affect the future and that Annie is doing such a good job. Taken for what it is, the strip appears to be a message strip for all those husbands out there, that they should celebrate their wives as mothers. However, the last panel shows Annie calling Steve up on the phone to tell him this. Why wouldn’t Steve be home on a Sunday for her to tell him directly? I suspect this is a connection between Annie and real-life Lynn Johnston who has to call up whomever it is she wants to celebrate Mother’s Day with her.

There is also a self-congratulatory aspect to the strip which has an odd ring to it. Unlike this latter day self-congratulatory strip where Elly and Connie talk about what wonderful moms they were, here we have Elly complimenting Annie Nichols, without also a laying a compliment on herself. This is very odd for Elly. I don’t think she has complimented another mother on anything for the entire set of new-runs, and certainly does not fit in well with the most recent set of reprints from last week where Elly and Annie were at each other’s throats over child-rearing.

I think a little of this has to do with the character of Steve Nichols, who ended up being known as the husband who cheats, even though in the bulk of his few appearances in the strip, Steve was mainly the husband whose wife keeps having children. Steve’s one-and-only appearance in the new-runs was in this daily from March 31, 2010, where he gave Christopher a cookie in defiance of Anne. Immediately afterwards, Elly and Annie commiserated on how awful he was, with Annie comparing marriage to Steve to raising another child. Ouch!

Interestingly enough, these ended up being two of the last few new-runs Lynn Johnston did in the dailies before she went to straight reprints. Likewise I expect today’s strip will also fall into that category for Sundays. This sudden and unexpected charging into Steve Nichols may be a part of Lynn Johnston realizing she has not really done much with him. However, I suspect that Lynn may have realized that she doesn’t have to do all her man-bashing in revenge of Rod Johnston with just John Patterson.

The ironic part of the strip is that just this past Christmas and Hallowe’en we had strips that were distinctly anti-holiday. Here we have the exact opposite message. It’s OK to celebrate mothers, because they affect the future of the world; not like Jesus. However, I notice that this anti-Christmas strip was also a pro-mother strip. That actually fits well with this pro-mother, anti-holiday theme.

The most interesting part of today’s strip for me is oddly enough, the art. Modern day Lynn Johnston loves to draw full figure characters and rarely ever shows facial expressions reacting to things. Every time Elly reacts to something Anne says in the strip, Lynn just draws 2 dots for the eyes and a straight line for Elly’s mouth. There’s nothing there. Anne might as well be talking to a robot. And yet, in the last 2 panels of the strip, we have 2 full-on pictures of Annie Nichols showing her facial expression very clearly. What a difference it makes. Believe it or not, the first thought that came through my mind when I saw those last panels was, “Someone else must have drawn those panels.” That is how low my expectation is of the quality of Lynn Johnston’s art used to tell a story is these days.

Finally, happy Mother’s Day to all those moms out there, especially all those moms who have to call their husbands away from Sunday night bowling to celebrate Mother’s Day. I expect they are a very rare breed.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Farley’s business = John’s business

Another Boy Scout trip and of course, another new-run by Lynn Johnston.

The last few new-runs of For Better or For Worse have continued on an interesting and odd theme. We continually see Dr. John Patterson performing household tasks that he rarely did in the original strip. Morever, we are seeing him do them badly.

Last Sunday, he was seen feeding Elizabeth and putting her to bed as soon as she refused to eat raisins. Back in March, he was seen bringing home groceries and asking permission from Elly to go out with Ted McCaulay. Today, Dr. John Patterson walks Farley, so Farley can relieve himself. Going through the strips, I did find instances where John Patterson walked the dogs, but it was almost always with someone else.

Strips dealing with dogs doing their business on a walk seemed to be limited to Liz and humourous things being done with the doggy poop bag, something clearly not in evidence with John Patterson. The closest we come to John’s involvement with Farley is the original training sequence and the new-run follow-up sequence from last month. In both cases, the extendo-leash was not used and yet today it is. Imagine that.

As for sound effects, those seem to be a popular theme with these last new-runs. Lynn seems to like to use sound effects as a space filler, as she did in this recent new-run. That's a lot easier than actually having to write something. In today's strip we have 6 panels of Farley snuffing, up to and including the visual element of having a dog sniff the panel corner, which also a popular theme with Lynn.

The strip which is the most closely equivalent in theme to today’s is this one, where dogs using the bathroom and John using the bathroom are closely linked. However, the all time best use of the sound effects, “SNUFF” and “SNORT” are in this strip, featuring someone other than John acting like a dog.

As usual, there are other common elements in the new-runs these days. The relative height of John and Farley to each other changes in every single panel. When John walks in the door of his house, his waist is so high relative to the ground, his groin is higher than the door knob on the door. Also, Lynn has gotten in the habit, when she draws John, of using unusual physical postures, like in this strip.

However, the most unusual part of the strip is the inconguity of having young Michael Patterson make a verbal joke on something which John does not actually say. This is very strange for Lynn Johnston, who oftentimes sets up whole Sunday strips for no other reason than to get the final panel pun. For example, there was the recent new-run which set up Connie as a gardener, for no other reason than to get to the “Not Tonight Deer” joke in the final panel.

In this strip, we have to presume that John Patterson said something about Farley taking a long time, because he is pointing at his watch. Only, John does not actually say that. Now, in order for the joke to work, Lynn has introduced a new level of indirection, where you have to guess the straight line in order for the punch line to make sense. I can tell you that with verbal humour, this never works. The straight line creates the expectation of the line to follow and the punch line surprises you, so that makes you laugh. With no straight line, there is no expectation, and consequently there is no laugh. The joke seems to be that John should not complain about Farley taking a long time to excrete his waste, because John takes a long time to do that too. And this is funny because…?

Why is it that John’s dialogue is not shown? Moreover, why does Elly have such a shocked look on her face when John says it? Is Lynn Johnston trying to suggest that John Patterson used such foul language talking about the time it took for Farley to unload, it was not suitable for the family audience reading the strip? That’s possible.

What would John’s line be?

a. Chee! Farley takes a long time to pee. I am never going to walk him again.
b. If it is going to take Farley such a long time to pee, then I think we need to get rid of Farley.
c. It took such a long time for Farley to pee, my watch stopped running.
d. It took such a long time for Farley to pee, one of my fingers fell off my left hand.
e. It takes Farley a longer time to pee than it takes you to get ready to have sex.