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Sunday’s For Better or For Worse to touch on Lynn’s personal life?

For those of us who have learned about Lynn Johnston’s separation from her husband (who left her for another woman), this Sunday’s For Better or For Worse may appear to be hitting close to Lynn’s home. According to a Chicago Tribune article (who’s opted not to describe the comic so as not to spoil it for readers), the strip was drawn years ago during the feature’s first year and apparently there was some pause as to whether to run it, but in the end Lynn chose to let it run.

She says:

“I really had that dream. … I put it in a strip, never thinking that it would ever be something that I would experience.

“I’ve been going over the very first strips that I did, and I decided to let it run. … I like it; it was good. It’s really kind of unique, considering the situation. The girls at [my] studio thought it was appropriate, and we all kind of smiled and said, yes, let’s run it.”

Community Comments

#1 Dawn Douglass
October/19/2007
@ 10:47 am

I wouldn’t be surprised if Elly and Rob eventually go through the same thing. Seems unthinkable, but writers write what they know. And given the real life, soap opera kind of approach to her strip, I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.

Cathy’s creator always said she would never ever marry Cathy off because her readers (mostly single women) would be far too upset at the idea. But then she herself got married and….

I just met yet another woman last night whose husband left her for somebody else. It’s happening all over the place, mostly by men in their late 40 and early 50s. At least that’s my anecdotal evidence…it’s certainly not scientific. But it does seem like it’s a growing phenomenon.

Depending on the reaction that Lynn gets to this strip on Sunday, Rob could eventually stray. He’d probably come back in the end, though. She likes happy endings.

#2 Alan Gardner
October/19/2007
@ 10:55 am

For clarification, it’s Elly and John and I was thinking about that this morning after I posted the news. Since Lynn has started this Hybrid format, I suspect it’s less likely that she’ll start a whole new extended story-line, but who knows.

#3 Dawn Douglass
October/19/2007
@ 12:37 pm

How did I get Rob? I’m really bad with names. I couldn’t tell you the kids’ names either. I haven’t read that strip in years, since I quit taking a paper long ago.

#4 Chris H.
October/21/2007
@ 9:30 am

Okay, this “Lynn’s personal life” strip has been published and I read it in my Sunday paper.

(It can be found online at http://www.gocomics.com/forbetterorforworse/2007/10/21/ )

Well…I must say that I was a little confused. It was a pretty decent strip, and gently humorous, but if this is a rerun from the first couple years of the strip (as stated here), why rerun it now?

If it was really based on a dream of Lynn Johnston’s that eventually came true years after the strip ran, what is the point of showing that strip again all these years later? I have been reading the new hybrid format on a daily basis, and I was under the impression that the idea was to segue into a focus on Mike’s family. So why rerun these old strip focusing on the character of Elly?

The average comics reader will not be aware of the link that this strip has to Lynn’s personal life, so I don’t understand how this contributes to the gradual change to the fusion of old and new material.

#5 Dawn Douglass
October/21/2007
@ 10:12 am

Yeah, I think it was pointless, except as a personal statement, and even that isn’t a very good statement. Showing that she had this dream yet again, like it’s been a recurring dream for all these years (otherwise, why would John know what she was talking about…it was “that dream”) just shows that Elly is insecure.

Not to mention the fact that she unintentionally opened up a can of worms by having John say that she has the memory of an elephant. That implies that something happened between John and somebody else that she can’t let go.

I don’t think that’s what Lynn meant to imply. I think she meant to say that she had the same dream she had thirty years ago. But she didn’t go a good job of it.

Unless she really is preparing the way for John to walk out the door eventually, this strip was pointless beyond being a slap in the face of her husband, and a bad move, IMO.

I think it’s most likely a trial balloon, to get reaction from her readers about the possibility of Elly and John getting divorced. I expect readers will clamor to not go down that path.

#6 Alan Gardner
October/21/2007
@ 1:32 pm

I believe Lynn when she says she was going through her first year’s material determining what to run and which not and she came to this one and decided to let it run. End of story. We can try to divine certain things, but Ockham’s Razor would suggest there’s nothing more to it. That’s my 2 cents.

#7 Dawn Douglass
October/21/2007
@ 2:31 pm

Oh, come on, Alan, she had 365 strips the first year that she could turned into a Sunday gag now. There were reasons behind her decision to choose that one. The simplist solution that Ockham’s Razor *demands* is that she chose that one because it resonated with her. And why would it resonate with her, except for her personal life?

As Chris pointed out, we were told that the hybrid strips were to move the strip to a focus on Mike’s family. Anything that wasn’t about that, you’d think would be about Elly’s father, given that he’s dying. This dream was totally out of the blue.

I don’t think talking about this is out of bounds but should be considered a legitimate part of the conversation. The motivation behind one’s art is the largest part of the art itself.

#8 Alan Gardner
October/21/2007
@ 4:10 pm

Re-read my comment Dawn. I never said that it didn’t resonated with her, I only object to the hypothesis that she’s somehow using this as a trial balloon to gauge if she can split Elly and John up (as if she needs a trial balloon to decide where to take the feature – think of introducing Lawrence, Michaels gay friend, or killing off the beloved dog, Farley.) From what I’ve observed, Lynn does what she wants with little consultation from the public.

I can imagine letting this strip run was some what cathartic for her, but any other motivations beyond that is pure conjecture on our part.

And, no, I’m not trying to discourage the conversation.

#9 Wiley Miller
October/21/2007
@ 4:32 pm

“From what Iâ??ve observed, Lynn does what she wants with little consultation from the public.”

Yes, she does has that nasty habit, doesn’t she?
It’s called being an author, and she’s using a sneaky device known as, “the creative process”.

“as if she needs a trial balloon to decide where to take the feature – think of introducing Lawrence, Michaels gay friend, or killing off the beloved dog, Farley.”

These aren’t “trial balloons”. They’re called storylines.

#10 Dawn Douglass
October/21/2007
@ 5:16 pm

I bet she still takes Lee Salem’s advice into account, even if she ultimately doesn’t follow it. I worked with Lee for a few years and I still don’t think the trial balloon is such a far-fetched idea.

#11 Eric Burke
October/21/2007
@ 6:00 pm

I think it’s silly to even consider the public’s opinion when you’re trying to tell a story. The creator owes in only to themselves and, more importantly, their characters to be true to their feature.

I having a saying around my store, and it’s “never let the inmates run the asylum”.

Having said that, I still don’t like the idea of a hybrid feature at all. With the recent split in her marriage, I would rather see a similar new storyline between Elly and “Rob” ;)

It would be far more interesting, Lynn’s health permitting of course…

#12 Dawn Douglass
October/21/2007
@ 6:16 pm

I agree with you, Eric, that cartoonists should ideally be beholden to themselves only, but that’s not the way newspaper syndication works.

#13 Chris H.
October/21/2007
@ 6:45 pm

It’s not just an art, it’s a business too.

#14 Wiley Miller
October/22/2007
@ 6:42 am

All of the arts are a business, too. So what’s your point?

#15 Mike Witmer
October/22/2007
@ 7:08 am

This discussion reminds me of the hassle Batiuk got for killing a character from cancer. It’s bad enough that cartoonists have a number of editors waving flags in their faces. If artists stuck to a safe format that fell into a public mold of acceptance, creativity would fly out the window (business or no business).

#16 Dawn Douglass
October/22/2007
@ 8:05 am

“All of the arts are a business, too.”

Not the same way newspaper cartooning is, Wiley. Comic strips were created to bring eyeballs to newspapers’ advertising, as you well know. Now most newspapers are a part of conglomerates that are beholden to Wall Street. This means there are more restrictions on what cartoonists, including editorial cartoonists, can get away with. Controversy is dreaded.

Wiley, you and folks like Lynn can get away with much more than new cartoonists can, for example. I’m sure you know that to be true. If creators could in practice be true to themselves only, this wouldn’t be the case.

Syndicated cartoonists’ real customers are newspaper editors not Jack and Jill Smith. You get the majority of your income from businesses, not from a buying public. You’re a B2B, whereas most artists are B2C.

All this isn’t to say that Lynn couldn’t turn John into an adultering cad who abandons his wife, but I don’t think it’s likely, and I think she’d take a huge hit if she started down that path. The strip is called “For Better of For Worse” as in “forsaking all others till death do us part.” She would get a much larger backlash over this, surely, than she did with the Lawrence storyline. Outraged readers would be calling newspaper editors who would drop the strip like a hot potato.

AND, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that! It’s a newspaper cartoonist’s job to please an audience. That’s what you get paid for.

Bill Watterson paints pictures and then burns them without letting anybody see them, including his wife. That’s an artist who can do whatever he wants to. Once you show your work to the public, then sorry, but it’s not just your work anymore. Yes, an artist creates an expression of something, but that expression is only half complete until somebody else absorbs it. Creators who don’t care about the viewer are just masterbating. Some artists can get away with that. Syndicated cartoonists can’t. And shouldn’t.

If anybody wants to be true to themselves only, then don’t pursue syndication.

#17 Norm Feuti
October/22/2007
@ 8:27 am

Bill Waterson paints pictures and then burns them?

#18 Alan Gardner
October/22/2007
@ 9:01 am

An industry source who wishes to remain anonymous says Watterson paints oil-on-canvas landscapes, but sets fire to each as soon as it’s finished. Supposedly, he was told that the first 500 paintings an artist creates are just practice.

Source: Cleveland Scene

#19 Wiley Miller
October/22/2007
@ 9:05 am

I don’t disagree with you one bit, Dawn. Cartooning, like writing, is commercial art. One sells their art to a certain market, and, like columnists and novelists, what sells our art is the unique perspective of the artist, not a manufactured consensus of focus groups or industry executives.

So one hones their material to sell in the market they’re interested in. For instance, I’m not going to write the same material for my comic strip that I would when trying to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine. But that doesn’t mean one sacrifices their creativity and vision as an artist.

Painting a picture and destroying it without ever showing it to anyone doesn’t necessarily make one a “pure” artist. Perhaps it’s simply an indication of an artist having some serious issues.

I suppose purity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

#20 Wiley Miller
October/22/2007
@ 9:07 am

“An industry source who wishes to remain anonymous says Watterson paints oil-on-canvas landscapes, but sets fire to each as soon as itâ??s finished.”

It was watercolor paintings, I believe, not oils.

#21 Rick Stromoski
October/22/2007
@ 9:10 am

>>>Creators who donâ??t care about the viewer are just masterbating.

Just for clarification’s sake, Masturbating is spelled with a “u”.

Funky Wankerbeans

#22 Dawn Douglass
October/22/2007
@ 10:41 am

I agree that you, Wiley, that you don’t sacrifice your creativity and vision. But we were talking about FBOFW here. You asked what the point is, regarding art as a business. And what you said here is telling: “So one hones their material to sell in the market theyâ??re interested in.”

The niche that Lynn has carved is a family strip with family values. For 30 years, or whatever it is, FBOFW has been about “in good times and bad we’re a family.” That’s the cartoon she created for the marketplace. Having John abandon Elly for another woman would violate that market and there would be very harsh consequences for doing so.

That was the point. Or at least my point.

#23 Dawn Douglass
October/22/2007
@ 10:43 am

Rick, I unofficially give you the award for masterbaiting. ;)

#24 Wiley Miller
October/22/2007
@ 11:21 am

“Having John abandon Elly for another woman would violate that market and there would be very harsh consequences for doing so.”

No, that’s not “violating the market”. It just would mean she’d take it in another direction, just as Charles Schulz did with Peanuts when he made Snoopy stand upright and act more human.

But it’s all a moot point. Lynn has said emphatically in the past that she’s not going to have Elly and John separate. Her strip isn’t autobiographical, it just draws loosely from real life.

#25 Mike Lester
October/22/2007
@ 11:58 am

If Bill Watterson paints pictures and then burns them without letting anybody see them, including his wife he should be arrested for murder.

#26 Dawn Douglass
October/22/2007
@ 12:17 pm

Wiley, I love and respect you, but it’s not the same thing at all.

But that’s enough from me. I’m tired of hearing myself talk.

Murder, Mike?? Talk about far-fetched. :)

#27 Rick Stromoski
October/22/2007
@ 2:40 pm

If a painting burns in a forest and nobody actually saw it, did it even exist?

#28 Chris H.
October/22/2007
@ 2:45 pm

“All of the arts are a business, too. So whatâ??s your point?”

Wiley, I was going to explain myself, but you basically did it for me furhter down. I meant that comic are commercial and unlike, say, creating a painting, the objective of creating a comic strip is not only to create a piece of art that comes from the cartoonist’s personal interests, it is also to win over clients and make money. In that way I would say that a comic strip artist is more akin to a musical artist than to a painter or other fine artist. (And no, I am not saying that comics are by definition not high art — they are just more commercially oriented.)

However, not only is this discussion moot because Lynn has said that shed will not have Elly and John separate — this later part is irrelevant because “For Better or For Worse” is not trying to constantly win over new clients by catering to newspaper readers. Johnston has earned a huge clientele over 30+ years, and at this point, she can do a lot of stuff without upsetting her readers and losing a lot of papers.

I was merely wondering why a strip that did not further the transition to the new focus on Mike’s family was included. And so we come full circle. Clearly it was just a one-off thing, and she included it as a reference to her personal life, perhaps as a wink to those of us who actually knew what the strip was referring to. Case closed.

Also, I doubt that she would open up an entirely new storyline other than the current Liz/Anthony romance and the Grandpa Jim stroke. Of course, today ( http://www.gocomics.com/forbetterorforworse/2007/10/22/ ) she seems to be opening up a new story involving April and her band. Maybe she’s having such a hard time saying goodbye to the characters that it will be a long while before she completely transitions into the hybrid format (which I have never liked the idea of, anyway). Who knows.

#29 Mary McNeil
October/22/2007
@ 3:55 pm

Jeez, Wiley, can I butt in and tell you that I love your work (as well as Lynn’s)? Carry on!

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