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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XIV – Things Are Looking Up: The Books

To recap, the chronology as I understand it is this:

1973 – Aaron is born in April. Doug departs in October to move in with another woman. Marjorie Baskin drops a major clue that Doug’s departure had something to do with Lynn being seen out with another man (most likely Rod). Farley is sent to “the farm”. Lynn going with freelance only and fails. Lynn takes a 2-year job with Standard Engravers which should last her until 1975.

We will discuss what happens next after the cut.



Katie:


Lynn was still in contact with Murray Enkin. One day he called out of the blue to say he had something he wanted to discuss with her and to invite her for dinner. She happily agreed.

Lynn:

I arrived with kid in tow. His dear wife, Eleanor, opened the door and led us, with a mischievous smile, into the living room. Murray sat on the floor with all eighty cartoons I had drawn for his ceiling, spread around him in order, like a great fan.
“Kid,” he said, as he popped the cork out of a champagne bottle, “you’ve got a book.”

Me:

Directly from the 10th anniversary collection

Katie:

Marjorie and Bernard Baskin, friends of the Enkins’, had an antiquarian book dealership and knew a lot of people in the business. With their help and Murray’s persistence and encouragement, Lynn as able to find a local publisher. Murray became her editor and suggested she increase the number of cartoons to 101. In 1974 Lynn’s first book, David, We’re Pregnant!” was published under the name Lynn Franks.

David, We’re Pregnant!” was not a bestseller; but because it addressed a topic that was somewhat taboo at the time, it garnered a lot of interest.

Me:

First of all, it is a shock that David, We’re Pregnant! was not claimed as a best-seller. This directly contradicts Lynn’s previous statements about the book.

10th Anniversary Collection:

To my great surprise this irreverent and rather rough little book was something the market seemed to be ready for, and almost immediately it was called a success. With my freelance business doing well, and the prospects of producing books in my future, I impulsively quit my job and began working again at home.

Me:

In the 10th anniversary collection, Lynn also claims the book was published in 1974, while at the same time the collection listed copyright year for material reproduced from the book was 1975. In this book, Katie lists the copyright year as 1974 to match Lynn’s date.

Rabbi Baskin. For fifty years he has been an assiduous book collector, and in that time has amassed 10,000 books. For years, he was the proprietor of Ibis Books and Arts, an antiquarian bookselling firm that specialized in Judaica, typography, private press books, pre-1800 books and manuscripts, illustrated books, art and the occult. - See more at: http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/worth-mentioning/the-art-of-the-book-celebrating-rabbi-bernard-baskin/#sthash.i5KIySD0.dpuf

This puts it all on Rabbi Baskin for the publishing experience as Lynn fails to mention that Dr. Murray Enkin was also a published author. They find a guy who works at McMaster and had just started a publishing business. He name is Robert Nielsen and the firm Is Potlatch Productions.

On their website, he describes his company as:

We publish novels and poetry, biographies and autobiographies, children’s books and – especially – humour, including our “novelty book” series of wide-format paperbacks. Enjoyed by thousands, the first of these was David, We’re Pregnant! by Lynn Johnston of “For Better or For Worse” fame (no longer available from Potlatch, but published worldwide).


Lynn:

The only other cartoon book about pregnancy that I knew of was Eggbert. It had come out in the ‘60s, and to my mother’s great discomfort, I’d bought one. Eggbert was an unborn baby in a U-shaped bag. He had all kinds of opinions and comments, one of which I remember: Eggbert is looking through the opening of his bag, at the doctor, one supposes, and saying, “You-hoo, I see you!” It was something very suggestive for the day! I had in no way copied Eggbert; my cartoons were all about the parents, not the babies. I wanted to show different reactions, different nationalities, and different situations. There was really nothing else like it on the market at the time.

Me:

I found Eggbert by Lester A. Freidman on the amazon and they don’t appear to be remotely like Lynn’s stuff. The item I remember that covered some of the same material was Free to Be...You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends which was published in 1973, but it was still a baby’s point-of-view.


Picture of original David, We’re Pregnant! cover:
Lynn’s first book , David, We’re Pregnant!, was later published under the name Lynn Johnston with a different publisher.

Kate:

Lynn had stumbled upon a niche market in the book industry that was showing real signs of growth. When David, We’re Pregnant!” began to generate a few royalty dollars, Lynn left the job at Standard Engravers to focus her attention on her freelance work. Her goal was to have a full-time, home-based commercial art business.

Me:

Except later on, Lynn is going to claim her goal was to start an advertising agency, just like she talked about at the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Also, Lynn didn't stumble upon the niche market, it was Murray Enkin's idea.

Lynn is going to claim that the publisher for David, We’re Pregnant!” did not pay her and yet, she got enough money from the book for her to think that it would be all right to quit her job. You can’t get paid enough to quit your day job and then not get paid. It's one or the other, but not both.

Lynn has a history of keeping no loyalties when it comes to publishers. She will switch publishers for all 3 of the books. She will jump syndicates when her comic strip contract is completed. When she was doing her Farley children’s books, she jumped publishers from the first one to the second one. My guess is that her issues with Potlatch Publications had less to do with not being paid and more to do with trying to find a more experienced publisher from a bigger city than Hamilton.

Lynn:

During my time at Standard Engravers, it was clear to me that I could not work for someone else. I had worked for some wonderful people, but for the most part, my relationship with “the boss” had not gone well. I could not comfortably work with, and take orders from, someone I didn’t respect. I always did a good job of the projects I was given, but I became juvenile, a prankster, and a comic thorn in everyone’s side. As soon as David, We’re Pregnant!” showed some signs of success, I left my job at Standard Engravers. I was a single mom, willing to take the chance that my freelance work and book a year might sustain my son and myself. A couple of people were sad to see me go, other were relieved and said so!

Me:

No, Lynn. If you do a good job on the projects, then your bosses will little care if you are a comic. No one at a workplace says, “We love your work, but we wish you were less funny.”

Kate:

Lynn managed to build up quite a few regular clients. She was receiving so much work, that she had to hire her friend Dennis Weir to pick up the slack. Lynn had worked with Dennis in the art department at McMaster University.

Me:

Here we have the mysterious Dennis Weir. He was only mentioned before in the 20th anniversary collection in a list of names that were inspirations for the “Lawrence comes out” storyline. I now realize that the list was probably all the people Lynn knew that were gay.

Lynn:

My work with Dennis began very positively. We were both eager to be on our own —away from the confines of the university and independent from the ad agencies that took our ideas but didn’t pay us for them! At the time, if you were asked to submit ideas for an ad campaign, for example, they might keep your sketches for “review,” reject them, have their “in-house” artists rework your idea, publish it, and claim they had come up with it themselves. This happened to me several times, and I soon learned to mistrust just about anyone who asked for preliminary sketches!

If Dennis and I had been able to work together continuously, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have owned and operated a thriving, and very competitive, advertising agency. He had amazing art and technical skills. He could write and produce everything from fine illustrations to the fast layouts and roughs needed for client presentations. We were well matched as colleagues. When we eventually went our separate ways, Dennis moved to Nova Scotia, where he began a landscaping company. He died of AIDS three years later.

Me:

There are timing issues with this statement. In North America, AIDS was not listed as a cause of death until the 1980s and mostly not until a few years into the 1980s. “3 years later” means that Dennis and Lynn stopped working together long before Dennis went to Nova Scotia to start a landscaping business, which is probably good since Lynn might have asked him to provide flowers for free for her wedding in 1975. If she started working for Standard Engravers in 1973 and worked for them for 2 years, then she quit in 1975 after David, We’re Pregnant! was published. The next book does not come until 1977, so she could have worked with Dennis during that time. Rod would not be bringing home money yet because he was still in dental school.

Page 96

We are now jumping pages in the book to continue talking about the books.

Kate:

Before Lynn met Rod, she had been working on a sequel to David, We’re Pregnant!”, entitled Hi Mom! Hi Dad! She began to have problems with her publisher before the contract for this second cartoon book was signed. Her biggest complaint: he didn’t pay her, although David, We’re Pregnant!” was still earning royalties. She had also done illustrations for the same publisher on a series of books called The Canadian Children’s Annual; payment for this work was withheld, too.

Lynn:

One day, the publisher came to my door and demanded an illustration, which was well overdue for the annual. I refused to give him the art unless he paid me for my book and for other jobs. He said he didn’t have the money and asked if there was anything else he could do to make me release the art, which he needed that day. I looked at him with disgust and said, “Mow my lawn.” He did. It was a very big lawn. I gave him the drawing he needed and vowed to find a new publisher for the second book. That must be the only instance on record where a publisher mowed an author’s lawn!

Me:

This is the Canadian Children’s Annual of 1976. It has a cover by Lynn Franks, "Our Room in North Vancouver". Obviously the need for the cover is why Lynn held such sway over him.

Kate:

Shortly after this, Lynn met a new publisher from Toronto, who published Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Even though the book sold well, he didn’t pay Lynn either.

When Lynn began work on a third book, she also began to look for a third publisher.

Part of Hogan’s Alley interview appropriate for the subject:

While I was freelancing, I had done three little books, one of which was done while I was pregnant with Aaron. I had done them for the ceiling above my obstetrician’s examining table, and he convinced me to turn them into a book.
Heintjes: Who published these?
Johnston: Oh, there are some horror stories. The first one, David, We’re Pregnant, was published in Hamilton, Ontario, by a publisher who never paid me. For the second book, Hi Mom, Hi Dad, I signed up with a second publisher in Toronto, who ended up being such an alcoholic that he went bankrupt and lost his business, and the second book disappeared.
Heintjes: The second book just ceased being published?
Johnston: That’s right.
Heintjes: Did you ever get your originals back?
Johnston: Oh, no. Then, the third book, Do They Ever Grow Up?, was done through a Minneapolis guy.
Heintjes: What happened to the first book?
Johnston: I ended up hiring a lawyer to buy the rights to my first book back for the amount the guy in Hamilton owed me, which at that point, three years later, was $25,000. To date, David, We’re Pregnant has sold more than 300,000 copies. And he’ll go to his grave telling everybody what a shit I am because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have the job I have now. “Once they get big they dump on the little guy,” that kind of stuff. The second guy in Toronto died. The third guy in Minneapolis got the rights to all three books and did a wonderful job publishing them, but we’ve since had a…difference of opinion. So he keeps publishing the books, but I don’t do artwork for him anymore.
But he was the one who sent my books to the syndicate, saying “If you don’t publish her, I will.”
Heintjes: That was to Jim Andrews at Universal.

Me:

While Lynn complains about not being paid, it appears that if her second publisher went bankrupt, he probably didn’t make any money selling the book. As for the first publisher, he speaks better of her than she does of him. Next let’s see what Lynn’s “difference of opinion” is with the third publisher, who apparently was the major contributor to Lynn's having a career.

Picture of original Hi Mom! Hi Dad! cover:
Lynn’s second book, first book , Hi Mom! Hi Dad!, was published in 1977, and the cartoons covered the first year of parenthood.

Picture of original Do They Ever Grow Up? cover:
Lynn’s third book, first book , Do They Ever Grow Up?, was published in 1978 and featured a collection of cartoons about “the terrible twos and beyond.”

Lynn:

An American publisher had seen my books, and by the time I finished Do They Ever Grow Up?, he was interesting in producing all three, but the Canadian rights for David, We’re Pregnant!” remained with the Canadian publisher – who still hadn’t paid me. Much later, I was able to buy the Canadian rights back from him for the amount that he owed me: $25,000! As a single mom at the time, I sure could have used that money.

I was now signed with my new American publisher, Meadowbrook Press. The president and editor of Meadowbook, Bruce Lansky, made me take a second look at my drawing – he said it just wasn’t good enough, and it all had to be redone. I was outraged! I thought my work was fine. I wasn’t used to people telling me my work wasn’t good as it could be.

Once I was able to look more objectively at what I’d done, I had to admit he was right. I redrew all three books, including the covers. The new ones were coloured and stood out from the first productions. This was classy stuff! The three books were beginning to sell as a set, and ideas for other collections were being discussed.

Me:

I like the way Lynn says, “I wasn’t used to people telling me my work wasn’t good as it could be.” Oh, Lynn. At this point that is all they have been saying to you at McMaster and at Standard Engravers. Your time of getting accolades is yet to come.

Assuming Lynn’s comment to Tom Heintjes is correct about losing the originals to her second book, I can see the need to reproduce the material. As for the cover redrawing, the amazon confirms the cover for David, We’re Pregnant! has been redrawn. The covers for the other two only seem to have the addition of colour and make me doubt that Lynn’s claim that she did not keep her originals for Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Lynn’s comment about seeing how Bruce Lansky was right was clearly not Lynn’s opinion in 1994 when she was talking to Tom Heintjes. What I notice in this description is that it becomes obvious why Lynn jumped to a U.S. publisher, because apparently she had only signed the rights away to her books for Canadian publication. Is that possible for art? I know it’s true in patent law, where you have to apply for a patent in every single country where there might be a company that wants to steal your work.

Coming up next, Rod Johnston officially arrives and Lynn Lake suddenly doesn’t seem to be that bad anymore.
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