The den mother of these Young Turks was Lynn Johnston, whose comic strip For Better Or For Worse is arguably on of the most popular strips in print, appearing in over 2000 newspapers around the world, having outlived far brighter but quicker burning fare such as Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes, and Farside. Her strip is also notable as one of a handful in history where the characters live and age in real time. They have real birthdays where the calendars actually roll over. They graduate from school, get jobs, and start families of their own.
I recently spent an evening at Borders thumbing through Suddenly Silver, her latest retrospective, which has sample story lines from the 25-year history of the strip with Lynn writing little essays about how the strip has changed over the years. I was completely underwhelmed with how little has actually happened. Here are some of the highlights:
There’s also a strong strain of old-fashioned values that underscore the stories. When Liz’s boyfriend Eric suggests she share his room at college, she makes his other roommate sleep on the couch instead. Mike and Deanna secretly get married rather than live together because she’s “not that kind of girl”. April’s pal Becky learns the hard way that senior guys don’t respect the trashy underclassmen they go “roadside” with.
The strip treads a fine line between slice-of-life and soap opera with the strip getting a little sudsier every year. A recent storyline has grown daughter Elizabeth become the victim of a sexual assault only to then have to shoot down the advances of her unhappily married high school sweetheart in the same day. A real opportunity to give a message about sexual harassment in the workplace is used merely as a springboard to close out a long simmering plot thread.
The creepiest parts of Suddenly Silver are the testimonials from Lynn’s family about how great it has been to be a comic strip character. I’m not sure if this is to atone for years of airing family laundry on the funny pages or a misplaced sense of our interest in Johnston’s inspirations, but the whole theme has a little whiff of rationalization about it. It’s like Lynn is saying “It’s all right that I have strip-mined the personal lives of my children and closest relatives for a quarter century because they really, really love me.” As long as everybody is OK with that, who am I to snipe?
Lynn threatens/promises to end the strip when her current syndication contract ends in 2007, causing (in comic-geek circles at least) a lot of speculation of how the strip will end. Based on the low-key pace of the past 25 years, I’m predicting whimper rather than bang.
Or more likely a long syrupy sweet “AWWWWWW!”
The next installment of my FBOFW vivisection is Meet The Foobs. For a fuller hagiography of Lynn Johnston, see this article. There is also an extremely candid interview about her traumatic childhood here.
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