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2014 Toronto Comics Art Festival: Part Four. Lynn is not like you

The fourth part is discussed below the cut.


Raina Telgemeier: So you’re both pretty funny cartoonists. You’re the funniest cartoonists I’ve ever read. Can we talk about writing humour? And…

Kate Beaton: Sure.

Raina Telgemeier: And I want to know whether jokes work best if they kinda come to you out of nowhere? Or if you spend your time crafting your jokes?

Lynn Johnston: Both.

Kate Beaton: Both, yeah.

Lynn Johnston: Oh, yeah, both.

Kate Beaton: Yeah. Well, how many of you have watched Stripped, the documentary? Oh, yeah, quite a few. ‘Cause you talk about having ideas and dry spells and then intense flashes of inspiration in that one. But, yeah, it’s not dependable at all. You wanna…You, especially on the deadline and stuff, if I’m in a bad mood, I’m just like, “Not comics today.” No syndicator is holding a gun to my head. And…I don’t know, I have…I’d like to think that I have some process. I read, and read, and hope for the best, honestly.

Lynn Johnston: I found, it’s funny, because you’re on a deadline and you have material right away, after a while, after you’ve been in the industry for about 10 years, you trust yourself and you trust whatever it is that brings you the material. That it’s going to come back, even though you have days when you’re absolutely brain dead and empty. And my process was to sit on my couch with a coffee, and a lined pad and to write out the dailies, as if I was writing a script. And there were times when I couldn’t even think of one, not one. But I knew that if I waited for 24 hours, I would be able to write for two or three weeks, just sitting there. And I knew that it would come back, but it would take a long time before I had the confidence to know that it would come back. There were times when personal things happened that were horrible, but I knew that it was gonna make the best cartoon in the world. And I couldn’t wait. And one night, my husband and I… My husband and I had moved into a new house and we were used to a great big bathtub where we could light candles and sit down with a glass of wine and talk in this great big Jacuzzi tub…

Kate Beaton: In your bathtub? Oh!

Lynn Johnston: Yeah. It was a Jacuzzi, it was a big one. Then, we moved to this other house and we had a much smaller bathtub, and we lit up the candles, took out the wine. And as I settled down into the bath, he started to yell at me because my hair caught fire. Because a candle was right behind me. And he immediately shoved me down into the tub… My feet are up in the air. So much for the romance of the evening, and I could not wait to get to that strip.

Money. I enjoyed this section. Both Kate Beaton and Raina Telgemeier have had books on the New York Times bestseller lists, but neither of them will know anywhere near the money that Lynn Johnston made as a syndicated cartoonist in the top 10. You can tell from their surprise at how big Lynn’s bathtub/Jacuzzi is. The story is from this comic from 2004, where for John and Elly, the giant tub is in a fancy hotel and not in their own home.



This was the first time I had heard this story, but it is a pretty good comic strip. Most of Lynn’s best comics are straight from real life.

What Lynn does not mention (and there is no reason why she should) the reason she has the confidence to know that she will always be able to produce. Lynn did not have any moral problem with wholesale lifting of strip ideas from other creators. As long as she had a Doug Wright or Charles Schulz collection book about, if she got into a pinch, she could open the book and find one of theirs to adapt to her characters and it was never questioned (except by us snarkers of course). There is no writer’s block that can’t be fixed with some good, old-fashioned plagiarism. That way she knew even if nothing was coming to her, she always had a backup plan.


Raina Telgemeier: Oh, thank you for sharing that. Do you still love comics as much as you did when you first started?

Lynn Johnston: Me?

Raina Telgemeier: Both of you.

Lynn Johnston: Both of us?

Kate Beaton: Yeah. It’s funny ‘cause neither of us were like die hard comics fans, I feel like, coming into it. Like, enjoying, yeah, but I was never around too much comics. I came into like some weird sideways door. Then, when got into it, I was like, “Wow, there’s so much.” There was a shelf in my university library of graphic novels, and I read Chester Brown, and I read Craig Thompson, and the ones you would find at the Canadian libraries, I suppose. Just those two books. One was just called Chester Brown. Anyway. But, that was amazing to me because I hadn’t been part of any kind of comics culture. But then, I was running the comics page and…Yeah, I love comics just as much as that kind of virgin-ing, late teens, early 20s discovery of what they were. It was just an entire world I had not been aware of and there’s always more and more. Yeah. I mean how do you not love comics? That’s why we’re here.

Raina Telgemeier: And, you’re still making them.

Kate Beaton: Yeah.

Raina Telgemeier: So hopefully that means you’re still into it.

The question is “Do you still love comics as much as you did when you first started?” Lynn has listened to Kate’s answer and is going to move to “Where did you first see comics?” which leads to talking about her dad and her job with Canawest and she never answers the question.

Lynn Johnston: Well, I grew up in a comic family. My father should of been in Vaudeville. He was born too late. But he would show us how to prat fall and how to do crazy, loose leg dances, and he used to get the Keystone Cop movies and run them forward and backwards to show us how the gags worked and say, “See, it doesn’t just happen. Everything is choreographed and everything is timed.” And he would run the pictures back and forth so we could see it. And he was the one who read me the comics in the Sunday funnies. He was the one who used to buy me the comic books. And the two of us watched the Disney films and we would laugh ‘til we cried, ‘til we literally cried, we would laugh so hard at Mickey Mouse, and Goofy, and Donald Duck, and all that stuff. And he took me to all the movies and we would sit through them twice. And I grew up loving, loving, comic art and I wanted to be an animator so badly.

Kate Beaton: Oh, I guess I was wrong about that then.

Lynn Johnston: But there was no animation school at the time. It was not something you could learn. I went to Vancouver School of Art and there was a little bit from the National Film Board. But really you had to apprentice. You had to go to a studio and beg for a job cleaning cells or something so that you could get in the door. And I got a job, literally working in the ink and paint department at Canawest Films in Vancouver. And they were a subsidiary of Hanna-Barbera, and we did some dreadful comics. Worst, worst, worst stuff on the planet. But the people were wonderful, the writers, the background people, the artists, all the people were wonderful. And I knew when I got involved in that, that I belonged, because there was an aura in that room of cartoonists and comics people that just felt right. Up until then, I was swimming in the world trying to figure out, who are my people? My peeps, right? That’s what you say now. “I belong here.”

Kate Beaton: That’s funny, because I had the impression that you weren’t involved in a comic or art scene before you started with the…

Lynn Johnston: Oh, yeah.

Kate Beaton: Oh, yeah. Wow. That’s awesome. Good.

And at this point Kate Beaton realizes that she is not the same as Lynn. Sorry, Kate. If it makes you feel better, Lynn dropped out of art school after 2 years and left the animation job after one year.

Lynn Johnston: You bet. And, comedians. I love comedians. I mean, Bob Hope, and Phyllis Diller, and Carol Burnett, and Bill Cosby, and all those people. I just…I not only watched them and enjoyed them. I wanted to be them. I loved what they did.

In addition to wanting to run an advertising agency, Lynn wants to be a standup comic. It’s a good thing this Bill Cosby reference was last year and not this year.
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