howtheduck (howtheduck) wrote in binky_betsy,

The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part VI – Quit While You’re Ahead: Or Don’t Quit in the Worst Way

In this section we are going to talk about the post-divorce events that led up to Lynn setting a standard for how not to end a comic strip which I suspect that no one will ever match. We will discuss after the cut.


In 2007 Lynn and Rod were divorced. The support of her children, as well as her friends and family, saw Lynn through a difficult and painful period. Upon hearing the news of the affair, Aaron had dropped everything and headed home. After tying up loose ends, and packing up her apartment in Vancouver, Kate soon returned home, too. With Lynn’s world turned upside down, she and her kids worked together to sort out everything in her personal life and in the business. It was an awful time for everyone.


The “loose ends” Katie is talking about is her degree at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Why wouldn’t she just say that? After the summer of 2007 ended, the website noted that Katie had to go back and finish her degree. When that was completed, Katie was back in Corbeil full time. Katie’s long stay is what makes me suspect that there is something to this business of Lynn’s forgetfulness. She didn’t just come in to help her mother with her divorce and then move back to Vancouver, but she stuck around for 8 years. That’s the kind of hardcore commitment you do not make unless something is seriously wrong.

As for Aaron, this story makes it seem like he was on Lynn’s side from the start, but Lynn’s interviews in 2008 tell a different story. There was a long stretch where Lynn never mentioned Aaron in an interview and often mentioned only her support from Katie. Aaron and Lynn seem to get along today, so I am quite happy that Lynn and Aaron have mended that rift, whatever it was.


The one thing that calmed my nerves, strangely enough, was to lie on the floor and scream. Vodka helped, too. I can see why some people drink too much – it helps to deaden the pain.


That sounds pleasant for everyone around (not) and a little cray cray. Lynn did tell a story to the Peterborough Examiner about how she got drunk on vodka and destroyed the headlights to Rod’s jeep. I quote:

After he left, she drove into town, bought some vodka, drank too much vodka and unleashed her fury on her husband's jeep. Ironically, the Carrie Underwood song, Before He Cheats, was topping the charts at the time. It tells the tale of a jilted woman who takes a baseball bat to the headlights of her unfaithful lover's car; Lynn's weapon of choice was a rake.

Perhaps there is more truth to that story than I had originally guessed. (I note that the song "Before He Cheats" was released on August 19, 2006, which supports my 2006 divorce theory from Part V.)

After this point, Lynn wrote travelogues of her trips to other countries which were delightful to read. Large parts of these travelogues were devoted to discussing the alcoholic beverages of those countries and it made us snarkers a little suspicious that Lynn’s diet consisted entirely of beer and snacks, as she never talked about eating anything but snacks. We also noticed that when Lynn Johnston described the quality of her Reuben award National Cartoonist Society conventions, she often tied it to the quality of the hotel bar. While torsion dystonia is not a cause of memory loss, alcohol consumption definitely is. This writing about the vodka throws a little fuel on the fire of the idea that maybe the problem Lynn has is alcohol-related.


By now Lynn was down to a skeleton crew at the studio, which was easier in many ways. Kate did her best to fill in where she could. With the end of the strip in sight, Lynn spend the next year wrapping up ongoing plots, doing her best to see the characters settled on their paths and to come up with a good ending for the strip because, “a story is only as good as its ending.”


Not exactly a skeleton crew. Lynn did keep her art staff together until she finished up the ending to the strip, and then she fired them. In the beginning she lost only Nancy Vincent and Rod Johnston.


For almost thirty years, I had lived in a comic-strip world. People and places existed in my head and things happened on schedule according to dates and deadlines. I lived in the parallel world or For Better or For Worse until the saga ended with the marriage of the Pattersons’ eldest daughter, Elizabeth to her longtime friend Anthony Caine. Normally one wraps up a story and it’s done. But I was offered the opportunity to see my work appear a second time in the newspapers, and after the initial overwhelming surprise, a kind of panic set in.


Lynn’s syndicate wasn’t willing to let For Better or For Worse go entirely, and three decades of material meant there was a generation who hadn’t yet read the entire strip. Lynn and the staff at UPS worked out a way to run the strip again from the beginning.

Lynn included occasional flashbacks to older strips within the current strips to introduce the original material, so people could get to know the characters as they were in the ‘80s. The syndicate started blending in weeks of old strips with the new material, and after the final For Better or For Worse strip ran in August, 2008, readers opened their newspapers the next day to find Lynn’s work was still on the comics page.

The use of flashbacks to transition readers to reading the comic from the beginning had never been done before. No one really knew how it was going to be received. Time has proven the strategy worked: Lynn has maintained her fan base and her readership, and her business is carrying on.


Flashbacks? I don’t know no stinking flashbacks. What about “hybrid” and “new-run”?

At the same time when Lynn was announcing her divorce and denouncing her husband to any news venue that would have her, she also started announcing she was going to begin the hybrid strips, mixing old strips with the modern strips. The modern strips would cease aging the characters, she would use gag-a-day material and the reprint strips were there to allow Lynn the opportunity to take time off.

I notice she is mysteriously giving credit to the syndicate for blending in old strips with new material, which suggests that Lynn was not in absolute control of which comic strips went where. In her Chicago Tribune interview, Lynn made it clear that she was the one picking the strips to be reprinted because she took a special delight in choosing ones that made John look bad. If in retrospect Lynn didn’t like the reprints that got used, she has no one to blame but herself.

The hybrid was an immediate disaster. Newspaper editors received letters from readers complaining that they could no longer follow the storyline and they found the radically-changing art style between the reprints and the modern strip to be very confusing. By early 2008, less than 6 months after Lynn started doing it, it was announced the hybrid was going away, the modern strip would end in September, and the new-runs would begin. The new-runs would be Lynn’s attempt to write stories in the style and time period of the reprints (thus avoiding the newspapers’ complaints about the confusing art style changes) and would allow Lynn to create new stories while still having time off during the reprints. It also meant Lynn could make the claim she was still doing 50% new material. People did not get that message and when the modern strip ended, many newspapers cancelled the comic strip immediately thinking the comic strip was in full reprint mode.

In the meantime, Lynn had been contacted by HarperCollinsChildrens to do a Farley children’s book, Farley Follows His Nose. While Lynn was being sent around by HarperCollinsChildrens to promote that book, she would spend most of her interview time on the promotion tour reminding people that her comic strip was still doing new material in a desperate attempt to keep her readership. She often did this instead of promoting her children’s book. I don’t know how HarperCollinsChildrens felt about that, but needless to say, they did not do another children’s book with Lynn. In the typical Lynn Johnston fashion, she went with another publisher for her next and final Farley children’s book, the stunningly bad, Farley and the Lost Bone.

Lynn often still claims that her comic strip is in over 2000 papers, but Universal Uclick no longer makes that claim. She lost a significant readership and fanbase when the reprints began in 2008. My local newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star carried the new-runs and then the reprints for a while, but dropped it a few years ago. I don’t know why Lynn maintains this fiction about the fanbase and readership. It’s not an insult to Lynn if newspapers don’t want the reprints. Rather Lynn should consider it a compliment that anyone wanted the reprints at all.

Believe it or not, I have covered all the material in the book talking about life in Corbeil after the move to the end of the modern strip. The next section in the book talks about Lynn’s painting and fabric design. Whatever was going on with Katie, Aaron and Rod, Ruth and Tom Johnston down the road, or Rod’s brother Ralph who also lived in the North Bay area from 1984 to 2008 and their effects on the comic strip is not discussed. Lynn could just as easily have said, “They chained me to my desk for 14 years and would only let me out once a year for the Reuben Awards” and no one would be able to contradict that using this biography.

Oh well. At least she talked about the divorce.


  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.