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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part IV – Quit While You’re Ahead: To Retire or Not to Retire?

In this section we are going to talk about Lynn’s decision to retire, her reasons for doing so (real or imagined) and the complications that come when your retirement means unemployment for others. We will discuss after the cut.



Page 146

Katie:

After nearly thirty years of writing For Better or For Worse, the story of the Pattersons was going to end. Lynn was reaching retirement age and was looking forward to life with no deadlines. She wanted to try her hand at painting.

With the larger number of characters and the many storylines within the story, Lynn had to plan to wrap up the strip years before it actually ended. The readers certainly didn’t want to see the story end; it had become a regular part of their lives. The prospect of an end to the strip posed a tremendous personal, emotional, and psychological loss for Lynn, too: “I don’t think that anyone really takes the time to think about how difficult it is to write and create and produce a column like this.”

There were a number of reasons that made the timing perfect for Lynn to end the strip. The story had naturally begun again: Elly and John’s children had become adults with kids of their own. Lynn’s “real” children were both living on the West Coast of Canada and had lives of their own. Grandchildren were just a passing thought.

Lynn:

It was not the same as having young children around for inspiration. I began to struggle to connect with the language and the mannerisms of young people today.

Katie:

By now Charles Schulz had died. He had been her mentor, her friend, and her hero. Besides her editors, Schulz was the one person in the industry she looked to for approval. He was a father figure. Lynn acknowledges, “When he died, a spark in me died too.”

Me:

First of all, it's not a column; it's a comic strip. Had to get that off my chest.

There are a lot of timing issues in the text. Charles Schulz died in 2000, when For Better or For Worse was 21 years old. The “nearly 30 years” was only true when the modern strip ended in 2008, but Lynn went on for 2 more years after that, so technically it lasted 31 years. Lynn admitted in her letter to Phyllis Diller (that Phyllis’ estate put up for auction so we could all see it), that losing Charles Schulz had caused her to lose interest in doing the comic strip. We snarkers have marked that time as the beginning of the snark era, when Lynn’s loss of her Schulz spark led to some of the greatest and most awful storylines of her career.

The notion that Lynn had to have kids around is an odd one. Admittedly Lynn was terrible with the language of young people, but she was bad at that even when she had kids in her house. I don’t buy that excuse as a reason.

It is true that Lynn planned to wrap up the strip earlier than she actually did. She announced she would stop in 2004 and then again in 2007, but each time she backed off on that. There was something keeping her going. Artists draw because they love to draw. Charles Schulz kept it up until he died. One of Lynn’s favorite artists (and mine), Sergio Aragonés, keeps on producing a prodigious amount of work at age 78. Unlike Schulz, Sergio doesn’t keep doing the same, old thing. Lynn may not have liked the deadlines, but she did want to go on. She’s an artist, after all, and that’s the way things are with artists.

The next big reason given for Lynn quitting is us snarkers bringing her down with our critiques and predictions about the ending of the strip which I covered in Part I. I am still excited we got mentioned. Yay!

Pages 149-152

Katie:

Despite what anyone was saying online, it did not detract from the success of For Better or For Worse. But it was time for the strip to end.

In fact, Lynn and her staff knew seven years in advance that the strip would be ending. For those seven years, the work continued. Lynn kept producing the strip every day. Together they tied up loose storylines and tried to figure out how to keep the company running after For Better or For Worse ended. With all the talent housed in Lynn’s studio and all the projects the staff worked on, the strip was the only thing that generated an income. At the time, Lynn believed they had all the right people with all the right skills to start a great advertising agency, and she felt the community could support such a business. All they needed was someone to take the bull by the horns and get it done. No one jumped at the opportunity.

Me:

Lynn likes to throw out this “seven years” thing, but when 2007 rolled around, it was obvious that Lynn was nowhere close to ending her comic strip that year. In the comic strip storyline, Elizabeth was still dating Constable Paul Wright at the beginning of 2007 and had not started the courtship with Anthony Caine that would lead to their marriage and the end of the comic strip a year later in 2008. Lynn uses the “7 year” excuse as a reason her staff should have expected to be fired. Some of her staff weren’t hired until well after 2000, so it’s silly to think someone is going to take a job with the expectation that it will only last until 2007.

Entercom never seemed to me like it was intended to be an advertising agency. That seems to be a current fantasy of Lynn’s. She mentioned it during the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival panel and also in this book as a career she wanted before she became syndicated. I am not sure Lynn knows what advertising agencies actually do. It appears she wanted Entercom to be a marketing or promotion company, kind of like the way Charles Schulz’ family has a company that licenses out Peanuts characters for use by Met Life and other companies.

With her “bull by the horns” and “right people with the right skills” comments, Lynn has the odd expectation that someone is just going to go off and do this, when none of these people had any experience running an advertising or marketing firm or any direction from the company owner. Her Toon Team was mostly occupied with things associated with producing the comic strip, and only Nancy Vincent as the executive director and Allison Zadoronzy as the executive associate were not tied directly to the strip, the website or keeping the books. That’s just two people. Nancy’s background was in dental hygiene and she may have had some experience running a dental office. I don’t know what Allison’s background was, except that her current job of today is doing the books for Dr. Rod Johnston’s dental clinic, so I guess it’s something like accounting. That’s 2 people to put together Lynn’s advertising firm with no direction from the owner or training to do so, or as I put it, “a recipe for failure.” It’s hardly the “right people with the right skills”, as Lynn puts it.

I remember thinking that Entercom was not going anywhere because their website back in 2005 had attestations from a few small businesses that had employed them for a couple of months and Rod Johnston’s own Riding Railkits business. My impression was that they were going to depend on For Better or For Worse promotion to maintain the business because they were not getting enough work outside of the comic strip. When you think about it, the Pattersons characters would be a difficult choice for promoting things. Unlike the ageless and easy-to-advertise Snoopy for Peanuts or Garfield or Spongebob Squarepants, none of the FOOB characters are easily recognizable because their appearance keeps changing. While aging the characters was great for the comic strip, it takes away from using the characters for promotion. The best choice would have been the long-dead Farley the dog, but from the “living” characters that were around in 2005, the only character that maintained a steady appearance over the 29 years was John Patterson. Dental products, anyone?

Katie:

Things were beginning to get tense at Lynn’s studio. As the end crept closer, the tension grew stronger. With uncertainty about their jobs and the prospect of finding alternative employment, the staff grew anxious. Making matters worse, a rift between the staff developed when the executive team began turning the company’s focus to investing and real estate. Neglecting the business of the comic strip, and other creative aspects of the business, made the art department and the design staff feel neglected and undervalued. On top of all of that, Lynn sensed there was something more going on – but what?

Me:

“But what?” Katie is playing coy here with Rod’s affair and she is distracting us from the topic at hand.

Lynn wanted someone to take the bull by the horns and apparent the bull they took was a bullish North Bay real estate market and not the advertising market dream that Lynn wished. Lynn wanted a direction that would still leave her involved to draw from time-to-time, but that was not going to happen with investing and real estate. I can why she would be concerned. It’s her company and this is a sharp change in direction. Moreover it is likely this decision was led by her husband Rod. I found an on-line description that said Rod has a number of investment properties that require property management from his Riding Railkits co-partner Paul Gauthier. Under the North Bay Waterfront Friends Pergola Leaf description for Paul Gauthier, it says:

My dad (Paul Gauthier) continues to work, and remains a self-employed contractor. Overall, he has worked 32 years for himself, and the last 7 years he has also worked as a property manager for Rod Johnston.

Lynn:

I was starting to realize that my business had gotten out of my control. Meetings about the direction of my company didn’t include me – even though I was the sole breadwinner. I was under a tremendous amount of stress at the time, and I admit that I was becoming very forgetful. My husband told me that I had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and would eventually have to be put in a home. If this wasn’t bad enough, he told my staff and other people in the community this “news,” too. Every time I forgot my keys or left a door unlocked, it was a sign of senility.

I went to a neurologist and was told I was healthy but suffering from anxiety. Rod and a number of my staff didn’t believe this. I, too, began to doubt my own sanity.

Me:

Lynn is diverting here from the business problem to her health kind of like the old play/movie Gas Light about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she's going insane so he can get her committed in order to get her money and cheat on her with a floozy. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Sorry, Lynn. This is idiotic and I am not buying it. This sort of tactic does not get my sympathy.

Let’s deal with the business part first. Lynn is concerned that her business has moved into a direction that does not involve her artwork and her breadwinning is the big stick that could be used to get her way. After all, it’s her syndicate contract that pays the bills and she doesn’t really need all these people to fulfill that contract. Her dream to have an advertising agency may be squirrely but it’s her money and it’s her dream. Why spend it on something she does not want?

At this point, I am going to start referencing anonymous comments from my old Howard Bunt Blog, where oftentimes former staffers and people who knew what was going on at Lynn’s studio would chime in. I don’t know who they were (although I have my suspicions) and they could easily have an agenda, but the information does make sense in the context. The comment I got discussing this period of time was that Lynn would not allow anyone to disagree with her and anyone who did disagree would find themselves without a job. The consequence was that no one would dare to disagree with her over anything and they started treating her with kid gloves.

While Entercom was not functioning as an advertising agency and Lynn’s impending retirement meant it had to function as something that made money, it is highly unlikely that Lynn would have approved of a change in direction that did not favor her dream for the company. Most likely she would have actively and vigorously opposed it. More importantly, the only person in the company that could have stood toe-to-toe with her on the subject was her husband, using their marriage as collateral. She couldn’t fire Rod and so they were stuck.

Now for the health. The major reveal here that she has never discussed before is Lynn admits she was becoming forgetful. It’s not like we snarkers haven’t noticed it, but this is the first time she has admitted it. We have seen that in the old Coffee Talk when she shockingly got her son’s age and his birth year wrong and then would not back down off of that opinion when she was gently corrected by aprilp_katje. I don’t know if Lynn has Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, but I have long suspected something was going on with Lynn that required her to have constant care. I expect Katie knows this too, but she doesn’t seem to be talking about memory loss as we will see in the next segment.

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  • Friday, 30 July 2021

    The one where two boomer numbskulls piss and moan because people 'hate their childhood' or some such drivel. Panel 1: As they drive around, Phil…

  • Thursday, 29 July 2021

    The one where Marian reminds us where Elly gets that inability to admit that her kids are growing up from. Panel 1: Now that the trip out West is…

  • Wednesday, 28 July 2021

    The second of two strips that tell us that John will also crow about finally stepping up after Elly is too feeble to do housework. Panel 1: Having…

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  • 15 comments

  • Friday, 30 July 2021

    The one where two boomer numbskulls piss and moan because people 'hate their childhood' or some such drivel. Panel 1: As they drive around, Phil…

  • Thursday, 29 July 2021

    The one where Marian reminds us where Elly gets that inability to admit that her kids are growing up from. Panel 1: Now that the trip out West is…

  • Wednesday, 28 July 2021

    The second of two strips that tell us that John will also crow about finally stepping up after Elly is too feeble to do housework. Panel 1: Having…