Raina Telgemeier: I mean this leads me right into asking you about using your real families, whether they are based loosely on your real family members or whether you are doing autobio about your parents and your relationship with them. And I think that really connects with readers. But how do you know where to draw the line.
Lynn Johnston: I asked my family.
Raina Telgemeier: You did?
Lynn Johnston: Oh yeah, I did. And you’ve probably asked friends and family too. I know you did, you’ve asked friends and families.
Kate Beaton: Sometimes.
Raina Telgemeier: Sometimes after the fact, “Was this cool? Okay.”
Lynn Johnston: Well, if it’s a loving way of showing them. But most people want you to put their stories in the strip.
Kate Beaton: Yeah, yeah. But to a point.
Lynn Johnston: To a point, yeah. But they’ll tell you stuff hoping that you’ll put it out there and it’s really not… Yeah.
Kate Beaton: Oh, yeah, yeah. But that’s like every comedian, right? Like “I know a joke.” And like, “Oh…Do you?” I don’t have a problem. I have a problem with monetizing it, because my comics, unlike yours, are like my literal family. And people ask that I put them in a book, and I have a hard time exploiting that since it’s done specifically. And because I’m from such a small place that if there was something available for people to buy, that they can go into where my mum works and hold the comic and it feels like…It would make them uncomfortable. Somehow my town is so small and hilarious that nobody really has a Twitter account, so I can tweet as much as I want. And no one really figures that out. But if there was a book, everyone would just have it and then it would be like invasion. Because it would be like coming into their personal lives and their personal territory. But in the comics that I make, I just try to replicate the love that I see. So, I really enjoy connecting with readers in that sense and you probably did… Like so many people, even in anticipation of this panel, I saw people commenting about how they were excited to come because like “The Pattersons were my family. And I grew up with them and they were like my siblings, and..”
Raina Telgemeier: I had a crush on Michael when I was ten.
Lynn Johnston: When Michael. When Michael was engaged to Deanna, I got this desperate letter from a girl who said, “Wait, he’s gotta meet me first.”
Raina Telgemeier: Oh no!
Lynn Johnston: They were so real.
Autobiographical comics. Raina’s stuff is very autobiographical. Kate Beaton has moments in her stuff. Lynn’s comics also skirt around the issue. While Raina and Kate both acknowledge that the comics could lead to uncomfortable moments with their family, Lynn is maintaining the idea that she asked her family and that they wanted her to include their stories in her material. All I can say about that is I guess Lynn has not read the forewards from her kids in “Suddenly Silver” or the interview with her brother which was reprinted in her Treasury #4. It’s a little like saying, “They asked for the punishment. They wanted me to do it.”
I do love Raina’s confession that she had a crush on Michael. That was terrific. She sounds like a real fan.
Raina Telgemeier: What about…Is there anything either of you shared that was like over sharing that you regretted after the fact?
Kate Beaton: Oh, everything I put on Twitter probably. Just scrawling. Sometimes I’d delete them later. I’m like, “Why do you say that?” You should sleep on something emotional that you are about to put on the Internet. And if you still wanna say it the next day, maybe you can say it. There is that like immediate release of content. Less of my comic works but more on like the social media type part of my job.
Lynn Johnston: Well, for me doing stories for a syndicate meant that if you wrote a part of a story, ‘cause you are on this deadline all the time and you are desperate. And sometimes you’ve got to put out what you are doing, otherwise you are gonna miss your deadline, and once you send it out, if you send out half a story and then say, “Wait, I hate that.” You still have to finish it, because it’s already gone and it’s out there and it’s into the process. And there were times, yeah, when I wrote a story that I either didn’t like that much or that was awfully personal. But in the end, the responses from other people were always that they’d had the same thing happen to them. So…
Kate Beaton: Yeah. Yeah. But especially with the deadline, you probably just like…Having to come up with the content, you probably have a bad week and then you’d still have to deliver and then you live with it.
Lynn Johnston: Yeah, that’s why I had everybody grow up and change because it gave me a challenge, it gave me more incentive to be able to write stuff that was interesting to me. If it’s not interesting to me, it’s certainly not gonna be interesting to anybody else so…Yeah.
Kate Beaton: Yeah, and it gave it more depth too and life. Like as soon as I read like, Marvin, now. Marvin’s still a baby? Why? That’s a lot of diapers. It’s a lot…So many diapers. So…
Raina Telgemeier: So yeah, I mean, just based on what you both said, writing personal comics really draws out the weirdos.
Lynn Johnston: Yeah.
Personal material regrets. Kate talks about sleeping on it before she puts it out, because she has that option. Lynn points out how the syndicated contract prevented her from pulling back material she regretted (although for her it was mostly bad writing and not personal).
Raina Telgemeier: But it can also be incredibly rewarding. So if you could each share an example of how writing from a personal place has brought out the best in your readers.
Kate Beaton: Oh…It’s not like I’m gonna say something bad. No. I have a wonderful readership and I love it when people say that the personal work is their favourite, and I make comics when I go home for Christmas, I like, chronicle the whole thing and my family is great about it, they don’t complain. They should, but they don’t. And some people, you know they’re like….I wasn’t able to come home for the holidays and I get it vicariously through your comics and they are the best part of my holidays and that’s…What an amazing thing that is! Or when I made the Fort McMurray comics about working up in the oil sands, people who had worked there, who had felt the same thing and found it hard to articulate to others. Because it is another worldly experience, it’s very difficult to describe what it’s like working in this environment of money and destruction, and you are there and you’re participating in it but it’s not black and white by any means, what you see and what you experience. And to have people say that they felt comfort in reading those things and identifying with it meant a lot because, of course, I left there and moved to a city where no one else I knew had gone through it and I felt completely crazy. For awhile because it’s a totally different experience, but year, just relating to people one and one like that is the best and ….Yeah.
Lynn Johnston: I’m surprised by how personal the letters are.
Kate Beaton: Definitely.
Lynn Johnston: I mean they talk to you as if they’ve known you forever, that they know that their story is safe with you.
Kate Beaton: Yes, yeah.
Lynn Johnston: Although, my story’s been out there and everybody is reading it, that they feel that their story is safe with you. And I did a story…The story about Lawrence coming out and the letters that came back from that I still have actually. I have all of them, and those were some of the finest letters I’ve ever read and many of them were letters from people who had not spoken to their family or friends and…
Kate Beaton: He was the first comic character in the syndicated strips. Right?
Lynn Johnston: Actually, I think there was one in Doonesbury.
Shockingly, Lynn admits this. I was floored.
Kate Beaton: Oh, okay.
Lynn Johnston: Yeah. And…But his was very political and he tends to be in the political section of the editorial section of the newspaper and mine is still in the comics section. So I was walking on a thin edge there for a while with some editors.
Kate Beaton: Yeah, if anybody didn’t know, it was the early 90s?
Lynn Johnston: Yeah.
I love the way Kate Beaton explains the Lawrence story to the audience as if they have no idea what it’s about. It did happen 22 years ago.
Kate Beaton: Yeah, Lynn had a teenage character come out as gay in her comics, and it was enormous, and it caused a lot of talk and controversy but then a lot of obviously personal connection.
Lynn Johnston: Super positive response…
Kate Beaton: Wonderful.
Lynn Johnston: Really, in the end. But I realized that there are people who you will never ever have a conversation with because they will never agree to disagree, they are black and white and mostly black in terms of their darkness of their thought and I realized why things don’t change because there are some people that just…They would….Yeah.
Kate Beaton: I remember when it happened, I was pretty young ‘cause it was like ’93 or something,
Lynn Johnston: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Kate Beaton: But I remember it being reported outside of the comics world, which doesn’t always happen. There is not a lot that happens on the comics page where someone is like, “Wow!”
Raina Telgemeier: And then it was in the regular part of the newspaper.
Kate Beaton: Yeah.
Lynn Johnston: Well, my editor said he thought I might lose about six papers, and at the time I had about 1,500 papers and I thought, “Well, if I lose six then it’s worth it.” But I lost about 45 papers, they were all printable, all in the states. Halifax Herald mind you, dumped me right away. I’m still not back in the…
Kate Beaton: Are you kidding?
Lynn Johnston: Halifax Herald wiped me off the slate but…
If you look up the Halifax Herald on-line, you will see that they carry no comics at all.
Kate Beaton: Shame.
Lynn Johnston: And so…But the funny thing is, is that at the time, pretty well every major city had two papers, like Toronto Star, Toronto Sun. Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun. And so once a newspaper dropped you, the other paper would pick you up. So we sold like 55 papers like right off the bat. It was like, yes! But it was a really traumatic time and I would lie awake saying, “What have I done?” It’s one of those things where you send it off and say, “Oops, it’s out and running now. What do I do?” But it’s probably the story I’m most proud of and the response, the letters that I got back from people were fabulous, yeah.
This is exactly right. When I was living in Dallas, there was the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald. The Dallas Morning News carried Bloom County, but the Dallas Times Herald carried Doonesbury, my 2 favorite comic strips of the 1980s. When the Dallas Time Herald folded, the Dallas Morning News bought up all their syndicated comics and for a period of time had a fantastic 4-page comic section.
The more interesting part of Lynn retelling the Lawrence story once again was that she did actually tie it into the topic of bringing the best in her readers. Of course for Lynn “the best in her readers” does mean complimentary letters. I am a little disappointed that, if Lynn has those letters, she doesn’t spend any time in her solo presentations reading those letters instead of the stupid ones.
Raina Telgemeier: Awesome. I was in high school when that strip came out too. I like ran to school and said to my gay friends who were all still closeted. “Have you seen ‘For Better or For Worse’? It’s Michael’s best friend. It’s awesome.”
Lynn Johnston: The fun thing now is that it’s running again and anybody who was angry then can see Lawrence growing up with Michael as his best friend and next door neighbour, so I’m thinking, “Yes.”
Kate Beaton: No there you go.
Lynn Johnston: Kid next door.