Open Letter to Lynn Johnston: “Why, Why”?

Mason Adams is a staff writer for the Roanoke Times and has penned an open letter to For Better or For Worse creator Lynn Johnston. In the letter he relates having grown up with characters Michael and Elizabeth but feels that the story-arc involving Elizabeth and Anthony is “trite.”

I’ve invested a lot of time and emotion into these two-dimensional characters in the past 20 years. So I hope you understand why I want a satisfying ending for them.

The lingering question for me is: What does this mean for your characters — particularly Elizabeth and Anthony Caine, her old high school flame?

A few years ago you broke them up. Anthony got married and divorced, while Elizabeth’s gone through a succession of failed relationships.

Now, you’re putting them back together again — apparently for the long term. Some people love the pairing, seeing it as the perfect ending to a story line that has run for years. Others are less enthusiastic. From the “For Better or For Worse” Web site, here’s one response: “WHY??? For the love of God, WHY?? The L & A hook-up is the most trite, unimaginable story arc in the history of comics.”

Between you and me, Lynn, I’ve got mixed feelings. The romantic in me sees the logic: It is, after all, the plotline to most romantic comedies — Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again and the two live happily ever after.

But remember that I grew up with Michael and Elizabeth. And I remember that Michael already lived this story. Deanna was his childhood flame, and they grew apart before finding each other once again.

For the same thing to happen to Liz, I see the cruel machinations of a manipulative matriarch at work here. It’s no secret that Elly (whom I think of as you in cartoon form, Lynn) wanted Liz and Anthony to get back together.

23 thoughts on “Open Letter to Lynn Johnston: “Why, Why”?

  1. Mason Adams kind of reminds me of the Kathy Bates character in “Misery”… Lynn should keep an eye out for anyone in her driveway carrying a sledgehammer and a 30 inch 4×4 block of wood.

    Man…get a life.

  2. Yeah, how about Mason just continues to read along and enjoy the story?

    Criiiiipes…did mason also Pester George Lucas during the last three Star Wars films?

  3. Gee, I think you’re being kind of uncharitable towards Mr. Adams. In the golden age of comics, presidents and captains of industry wrote to creators, anxious to see their favorite characters delivered from whatever fresh peril had befallen their favorite characters. As a proponent of the form, I’m happy to see that a comic strip storyline still has the power to motivate kvetching from its audience, especially in a time where newspaper comics are struggling to maintain relevance to popular culture. He has a thoughtful criticism, motivated by love of the series, and he advanced it respectfully. I’ll take one hudred more just like it, please.

  4. I think it’s great that the characters are invoking such a strong response. Wouldn’t we all like to get that kind of a following for our characters?

    Writing a letter is entirely appropriate…I doubt anyone could change Lynn’s mind when it comes to her comic, but it’s a testament to how she writes the FBOFW characters that people would want the best for them.

  5. I’m sorry but to write a column about comics characters as if they were real people seems a tad overboard to me.

  6. loving the strip as I do, I like the love affair, but I hope Lynn gives the two a bit of drama in stead of just wedding off into married life.

  7. If people didn’t get emotionally attached to the characters, there would be no such thing as comic strips. Seems to me that cartoonists should love people like Adams, not call them crazy with an insulting comparison that is MORE than “a tad overboard.”

  8. Rick, It’s far from overboard. I think it speaks to the impact that Lynn’s feature has had on generations of comic readers. That’s the power of that comics can have. Quite frankly, if a serial feature can’t generate that kind of reaction (perhaps not so publicaly), its wasting a lot of people’s time.

  9. Madeleine L’Engle, James Taylor, and many other creative artists in different disciplines have often commented that they do not ‘make up’ the art that they create, rather, they channel it onto the page (or canvas, etc). Ms. L’Engle has often said that she was not happy with the direction her characters were moving in but that they made their own choices and she just recorded them. In my opinion, it seems like Lynn Johnston is not allowing her characters to do the same, but is instead steering them in the direction she would like to see them go. Thererfore, I would have to agree with Mr. Adams’ open letter.

  10. Lynn Johnston herself has said the same thing; specifically I remember reading something about her “discovering”, not deciding, that Lawrence was gay.

    That said, I have to agree that the Liz/Anthony storyline feels like she’s imposing her will on the characters, not letting them direct their own lives.

  11. Whenever I try to let my fictional characters to make their own choices and take themselves wherever they wish to go and not influence them in any way or direct their lives whatsoever I end up with an empty piece of strathmore bristol.

    Then I’m forced to actually write something.

  12. But surely you have to admit, as a writer: there are times when something just doesn’t feel right for a particular character. The writer may want to take the story in a certain direction, but it means the character does something they wouldn’t actually do in real life.

    I especially see it in movies, usually romantic comedies, when the “formula” says there needs to be a conflict to bring the story into the third act. So someone (usually the woman) gets upset over some trivial little nothing and it drives them apart until the final reel. That’s bad writing, it’s lazy writing, and it’s not true to the characters.

    That’s all I’m trying to say here.

  13. I believe the key is character driven writing. If you have strong, well developed characters the writing comes very easily. Sometimes you may not be aware that your writing is following a particular pattern or vein until it is pointed out by someone with an outside perspective. I love it when that happens, because then it really is almost like the characters write for themselves. Kind of like growing crystals, you just never know what you’re really going to end up with, because what you see in your writing may not be what others see. And that’s the beauty in all art.

  14. Blasphemer that I am, FBoFW has been a self-important bore for the past, I dunno — dozen years?

    I was a huge fan of the strip years ago when it was actually funny AND telling. Now, it comes off like the later seasons of “M*A*S*H” – self-important and concerned mainly with delivering The Epiphany Of The Day.

    Amusement? Eh, there’s some of that, too. The writing and art are still top-notch. I just miss the broadly comic (but still true) treatment of family realtions and especially kids — compare the younger Michael and Liz of yore to Michael’s own kids now, who come off as insufferable ciphers by comparison.

    Like Pogo (the greatest strip American strip to my mind), FBoFW once was lively, loose and unprepossessing. It’s lost that.

  15. JBoy, thank you! I stopped reading FBoFW a few years ago, and have never been totally able to explain all of the reasons why I gave it up. You really hit the nail on the head.

  16. JBoy, don’t you mean that *now* FBOFW is unprepossessing???

    I quit taking the newspaper about ten years ago, but at the time I did think that FBOFW was going downhill a bit. You can only beat one concept for so long, and if you don’t move on to something else, you wind up jumping sharks. It’s inevitable. It would be nice if newspapers and syndicates were artist-driven, not feature-driven. I would have liked to see what else Lynn Johnston could do.

  17. Dawn raises a good point. I’d like to see what else Lynn Johnston could do too. The problem is, FBoFW is so much a factory churned out production, I think LYNN JOHNSTON would like to see what else Lynn Johnston could do, rather than the staff hired to churn out FBoFW.

  18. Cool to see all the reactions. I got about the same variety in my inbox after the story ran. I usually cover city council, but I’m sort of a comics aficionado, and I wanted to
    1) Give our readers a heads-up on the changes coming to the strip.
    2) Do it in a way that let older readers, without internet, in on the debate about Liz & Anthony I’ve seen raging online.
    3) Put a little bit of myself in there too.

    I didn’t actually send this thing to Ms. Johnston, BTW. Despite the title it was written less for her than for our readers.

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