I guess as a Canadian, she’s considered to be international? Anyway, as usual, I will quote the text and comment on it after the cut.
International Women's Day: Lynn Johnston Discusses Her 'For Better Or For Worse' Career
by Caleb Goellner
Mar 8, 2017
When Lynn Johnston created For Better or For Worse in 1979, she was a pioneer -- one of small number of women cartooning from their own points of view and under their real names. This International Women's Day, we caught up with Johnston for her perspective on the evolution of comics under her tenure. We wanted to find out how history shaped her early experiences as a professional cartoonist, and how her ongoing success shaped history and contributed to a more inclusive comics page. Read on for a reflection on her career and to catch up on her current exploits.
My comment: Wow! That’s an ambitious project and having read ahead I would have to say that they failed to accomplish most of those things except the last sentence.
GoComics: It's been almost eight years since For Better or For Worse concluded, but it's clear on your website that you're as busy as ever. How has your 2017 been so far?
Lynn Johnston: So far 2017 has been busy and happy and exciting. We are all enjoying the fabric patterns so much. Our team of 4 continues to learn and experiment. We have some fun and funny designs, but ultimately, they are softly and attractively colored. Something different in comic art. I enjoy spending time with my two grandkids, Ryan, 3 and Laura, 5. Every so often, I take them on an "adventure". Last weekend, I took them on the bus up to the Grouse Mountain gondola. There weren't too many people in line, so, up we went to the top; a truly spectacular trip - no matter how many times you go. It was a snowy wet day at the top, but both kids wanted a Popsicle -- and nothing else! It was fun to see them eating an icy treat on the balcony in the snow, watching the boats in the harbor far below.
My comment: “team of 4”? I am not sure what to make of this. If they were back in North Bay, I would think the Team of 4 would be Lynn, Katie, and the two ladies Kathryn Brenne and Malia Janveaux, who originally helped Lynn put her designs to fabric. In North Vancouver, I don’t know. As you can see from the most recent St. Patrick’s Day offering from the Zazzle store, Lynn has 4 original drawings and 3 of them are on t-shirts, but none of them would qualify as a fabric design in the sense that she has used them before.
If there is a “team of 4” it would include Katie and Lynn for sure, but I don’t know if Katie has hired anyone to work with her in Vancouver. It’s difficult to say what is going on, because the closest thing the Zazzle store has had recently for fabric design has been clothing items with multiple shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and hearts for Valentine’s Day. None of those are Lynn designs. It’s also just as possible that Lynn considers the “team of 4” to be her, Katie, Ryan, and Laura.
For the very first time, Lynn mentions Ryan before Laura and she gets their ages right. Taking the bus to the Grouse Mountain gondola does sound like the only way Lynn would be able to get her grandkids there, but I would be surprised if they were by themselves with Lynn. The bit about “There weren't too many people in line, so, up we went to the top” is a little mysterious. The tickets are for the Alpine Experience, the Peak Experience and the Ultimate Experience. The Ultimate Experience is the most expensive and allows you to “stand inside the clear-glass viewPOD at the top for unbeatable 360 degree views.” I guess Lynn has little tolerance for long lines.
GC: You were a successful woman creating comics in a predominantly male field in the late '70s. Did this present any challenges in the early years of your comics career or later?
LJ: The only cartoonists who gave me a hard time as a female in a male-dominated field were the old guard. Guys my dad's age wanted me to serve them coffee rather than do the job of National Cartoonists Society president, which I had been elected to do. A couple were supportive but most were rude and dismissive. George Wolf, a magazine cartoonist, drew naked pictures of me as I conducted the meetings and was surprised by my drawings of him in return... wearing nothing but a smile. In contrast, the NCS members my own age were respectful and welcoming. It was a job that required a certain skill set, so anyone who was successful in any way, was part of the crew; a unique group of people with some extraordinary gifts. Today everyone is an equal, I'm proud to say!
My comment: I have heard this story before, but this time she calls out George Wolf. From the Wikipedia:
George Wolfe (January 19, 1911 – July 20, 1993) was an American cartoonist. He received the National Cartoonist Society Gag Cartoon Award for 1969, 1973, 1975, and 1976 for his work. He spent most of his life in Glen Rock, New Jersey.
George Wolf would have been 36 years older than Lynn Johnston and in 1988 when Lynn Johnston was the NCS president, he would have been 77 years old and 5 years away from death. I notice that Lynn is careful only to call out a man who is dead, because that is safer than offending people that she still knows and has to deal with.
I also notice that Lynn specifically says, “which I had been elected to do.” Lynn’s history as the president of the NCS is a mysterious thing and I have never heard the full story of what happened. Traditionally, the job is one that the cartoonist holds for 2 years. In 1987 Bill Hoest (Bunny’s husband) was the president and it would have been expected, he would serve until 1989. Unfortunately, Bill died in November, 1988. The Reuben website then says:
1987 – 1988 Bill Hoest
1988 Bill Rechin
1988 – 1989 Lynn Johnston
1989 – 1993 Mell Lazarus (He served 2 terms)
The implication is that Bill Rechin filled in for Bill Hoest only for 1988 (possibly when he was unable to do so before he died) and then after Bill died, Lynn Johnston was elected to fill out the final year of his term. In spite of Lynn’s comments about the cartoonists her own age being respectful, Lynn is still the only woman to serve as president of the NCS, which frankly shows a certain lack of respect for women even today. Remember it took this group almost 2 decades to hand out another Reuben Award to a woman after Cathy Guisewite got hers in 1992. Since Lynn specifically mentioned she was elected, that means something was up with the way she got the job that caused her to need to point this out. We don’t know for sure, but my guess is that because the election was just to fill out the term, Lynn may have sensed that she was projected to the position by virtue of her gender.
GC: The syndicate side of comics is still male-dominated in some respects, but there's growing gender parity in the digital space and elsewhere. How do you feel about having contributed to representing success in the field for so long?
LJ: I'm proud of what I did during the years I produced FBorFW. The characters grew and storylines happened... to keep ME from getting bored. This was the only way I could sustain the strip for so long. When I was ready to let it go, I felt I had said all I could say and that it was time to end everything as best I could. I am almost 70 and though many of my contemporaries keep up to date with what's happening o n the internet, I do not. I have other things to occupy my time now. I do have a young friend: Sean Karemaker, who is doing some wonderful work as a graphic novelist. It's people like Sean who are making the best use of the incredible technology available to us now.
My comment: Lynn dodges the whole gender aspect of the question, which you can tell because instead of mentioning any of the women I know she knows who do web comics (Kate Beaton or Raina Telgemeier from her panel at the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival?), Lynn name drops a man, who is probably someone she met recently. Sean Karemaker is a Vancouver artist and his website is pretty interesting, but the Vancouver location gives it away that this is someone Lynn met at some recent Vancouver event and not someone she actually follows.
GC: Sustaining a narrative for 30 years seems like it could have been daunting personally and professionally. What were some of your biggest challenges as a creator while working on For Better or For Worse?
LJ: The biggest challenge a syndicated cartoonist has is doing your best work on a deadline. It's more than a full-time job and you have to be the best you can be -- even when you don't have an idea and don't have a clue. There is no taking time off. It's a demanding job. Your audience demands the best and you have to try and deliver. Many new artists cave after 3 years. It takes 3 years for your audience to care about your work enough to look for it... and it takes less than 30 seconds a day to read! Think about it; you have 30 seconds a day to create a dedicated audience, some of whom only read you on the weekends. So, you'd better have something to say, an engaging drawing style and likable characters, or your strip will die a sad and unhappy death!
My comment: The usual bit about deadlines and how you can’t ever take time off and how the new artists are all wimps who can’t last 3 years compared to Lynn's 30+ years. Never mind that Lynn took time off and had someone working for her going back even to her Lynn Lake days. I think it is fairly safe to say that any cartoonist getting Lynn’s salary when she started would have been strongly motivated to make those deadlines to keep getting that money. I know I would.
GC: You meet a lot of fans -- including creators in comics and other media. What's been the most surprising feedback you get from younger generations?
LJ: The feedback I get from younger generations is great. Many who read FBorFW as children are reading my work from a parents' perspective, now and enjoying it all over again. There is no surprise, really. I'm glad they see my work as having merit after all this time. Their response is just plain wonderful.
My comment: I am very amused that the younger generation to Lynn are the people who were kids when they first started reading her comic strip. I guess she recognizes that few members of the younger generation are interested in her strip today and instead focuses on people that would be in their 40s today.
GC: What do you consider to be the most striking changes in the world of comics since you began For Better or For Worse?
LJ: I read very few comics today, so I'm not able to answer this well. I see enormous talent in illustration and color thanks to technology. I see experimentation and great leaps into fantasy. I also see open and honest forays into very personal and private lives. Making a living is the biggest concern. I have no idea what the Holy Grail is now. In my day, it was syndication. Now, perhaps, it's a best-selling graphic novel and a movie based on it. This is what I would aspire to if I was starting now.
My comment: This is fairly honest observation and no one is getting slammed, although it is kind of sad that Lynn hardly reads any comics.
GC: Do you still keep up with comics and cartoons? What, if anything, has excited you lately?
LJ: I don't keep up with anything! I meet wonderful people at comic art events, marvel at what they are doing and go home! I'm focused on fabric designs now and my energy is going into that. I never thought I'd give up "cartooning"; captioned illustrations... but here I am starting a whole different career.
My comment: I guess the interviewer must have been asleep when Lynn said she didn't read comics in her answer to the prior question. Lynn is still doing those fabric designs. If she is, Katie doesn’t seem to be selling them. What she has on the Zazzle store are the same set of designs Lynn did over 2 years ago. It really makes me wonder if she does them and Katie doesn't use them and instead asks her to draw pictures of demented leprechauns.
GC: What comics (or other media) would you recommend to creators who might want to follow in your footsteps?
LJ: I'm afraid I have no advice. Right now, I'm on the learning end, not the teaching! Technology has outdistanced me. All I have is paper, pencil, pen, ink and a gift for drawing funny pictures. At my age, this is all I need!
My comment: We have reached the point where Lynn is no longer saying for artists to bring her their portfolios. I think she has realized that new artists that get syndicated are few and far between and certainly no one could follow her method of getting syndicated. However, there are still plenty of artists who use paper, pencil, pen, ink.