howtheduck (howtheduck) wrote in binky_betsy,

The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XVI – Behold the Contract Arrives, But When?

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

February. Lynn and Rod get married. Only Alan attends.
Rod starts his second year of dental school.
Rod starts his third year of dental school
Lynn is pregnant with Katie.
Hi Mom! Hi Dad! is published
Rod starts his fourth and final year of dental school
Do They Ever Grow Up? is published.
Rod graduates from dental school.
The family moves to Lynn Lake, Manitoba.

As we go through this next part, where the contract falls in this chronology will be a bit confusing which we will discuss after the cut.


By the summer of 1977, Rod was just finishing dental school, and the family was preparing to move to Lynn Lake. Lynn was now pregnant with Kate. Life was busy ( and slightly traumatic) for Lynn, who was about to move away from friends she had made and a place that had become home.

A few weeks before the move, Lynn received a phone call from someone at Universal Press Syndicate (UPS), in Kansas City, Missouri, to ask if Lynn would be interested in applying for a job to create a regular, daily comic strip for syndication.


Right away I am so proud of Katie for not saying, Kansas City, Kansas. However, I would like to remind Katie that her father is not going to graduate until 1978, probably some time around May.


My three little books had found their way to the desk of Jim Andrews, who, with the success of Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy, was looking for a cartoonist to do a strip on family life from a woman’s point of view. He wanted something contemporary, a little controversial perhaps. Based on the work they had seen, Jim and his associates thought I might be capable.

We were living out of boxes. Never one to refuse a challenge, I fired off twenty comic strip to Universal Press Syndicate. I had never developed a set of characters. The only people I knew I could draw over and over again were my family, having doodle cartoons of us on the countless letters I wrote home. The twenty strips feature the Johnston family. We waited for a response from the syndicate, never really expecting to hear from them again.


Copied straight from the 10th anniversary collection. I would like to point out that if UPS called up Lynn in 1977 it would not be because of the three books, but two. The last one was published in 1978.

Lee Salem’s version of the story from:

ANDELMAN: “Cathy.”
SALEM: Well, we just celebrated thirty years with “Cathy.” We had a nice dinner with her last fall. When “Cathy” began, everyone was apprehensive. We circulated it in the office before we launched it, and people were saying, what is this, the art and the character? And it is still in well over a thousand papers after thirty years, which, in this market, is quite an accomplishment. I really look on her as a pioneer, and if “Cathy” had not worked the way we hoped it would, I am not sure we would have made the plunge with Lynn Johnston and “For Better or For Worse.” But “Cathy” worked, and it seemed natural to us that the time was right for talented women on a comic page.
ANDELMAN: All right. Well, then, “For Better or For Worse.”
SALEM: Well, that’s a great segue. When we saw Lynn’s work, we loved it. We loved her perspective. In the late ’70s, there was not a great demand for more family strips because the pages seemed to be dominated by them, but what attracted us was the mother’s perspective and the somewhat wry tone she would take on her situation and her husband’s life and children’s lives, and it has proven to be a comic strip that has dominated the surveys in terms of popularity for a long time.

Hogan’s Alley version of the story:

It was Lee Salem who called up and asked for 20 samples, and I thought, “How crazy! How could they want so much so fast? They’ve got to give me time!” So within two weeks I sent them 20 comic strips. At the time, we were living out of packing boxes, I had a brand-new baby girl, and we were really living in chaos. And I didn’t hear from them forever, and then a 20-year contract arrived! Later, I found out that the reason they wanted the 20 strips right away was to see if I could produce fast and produce under pressure. That’s something new people aren’t prepared for. It might have taken them six months to put together the 20 samples they’re sending in, but the syndicate doesn’t know how long it took them to do those 20 strips, so they test you.


Hogan’s Alley makes it clear that this occurred just before the move to Lynn Lake, after Katie was born.


It wasn’t long before Lynn was contacted by UPS again. They liked what they saw. Before she knew it, she was on a plane to Kansas.


Oh, Katie. How quickly you disappoint. Just above you said, “Kansas City, Missouri.” Missouri. Not Kansas. Missouri. How could you make this mistake?

10th Anniversary Collection:

Katie had been born by the time we heard from Jim Andrews. With my returned submissions was a critique from the editor, Lee Salem, and a twenty-year contract. I was to look it over and fly to Kansas City as soon as possible.


Sitting across from Jim Andrews, Lee Salem, and John McMeel at the large rosewood table in their boardroom was terrifying. Despite the enthusiasm and confidence radiating from the faces of thee articulate, well-dressed people, I was a mess of indecision. I knew I could produce a book a year, but could I be funny, or at least worth reading every single day? A merciless deadline, I couldn’t imagine. What boundless inner resources one would have to have to possess before agreeing to something like this?

Eventually […} they left me alone in the room with the dreaded contract. In the moments that followed, I watched my right hand pick up the pen and draw my signature on the bottom line. Everyone seemed pleased. There were handshakes and congratulations and someone suggested that we all go out for lunch. I respectfully declined. I went back to my hotel room and was ill.


The […] = “tired of coddling and reassuring me”
The rest is directly from the 10th anniversary collection.


Lynn, about to have a baby and be uprooted had just made a 20-year commitment to write and draw a daily comic strip – 365 days of the year for 20 years!


No, Katie. The timing is just not going to work out. She had you before she signed the contract. Lynn wasn’t flying to Missouri when she was that pregnant with you. Think about it woman! You’ve had kids! Actually, it’s easy to see why Katie is confused. This is from Suddenly Silver:

Suddenly Silver:

It will have been 25 years since I signed the contract with Universal Press Syndicate to produce the comic strip, For Better or For Worse. I sat at a rosewood table, watched my hand form my signature, and instead of celebrating with the folks who would be my coworkers for perhaps one-third of my life … I went back to my Kansas City hotel and was sick. I called my husband, Rod. “Do I say congratulations,” he asked, or “Do you want sympathy?” It took awhile for us to conclude (nervously) that I could really do this, it would be OK. I went home to Dundas, Ontario, looking profoundly confused, insecure, and more pregnant than when I’d left.


You see. Katie just doesn’t know which Lynn to believe – 10th anniversary or 25th anniversary Lynn. Let me give you a hint, Katie. Your mother gets less honest the older she gets.

10th Anniversary Collection:

We had made the move to Lynn Lake. I worked briefly as Rod’s dental assistant while plans and details of my “job” and my contract were being worked out.

Although the contract was signed in 1978, the strip did not appear until September 9, 1979.


Before her preliminary work began, Lee Salem, her editor and mentor, suggested she call Cathy Guisewite for some advice – from one woman in the profession to another.


Cathy was wonderful. She told me that she worked from a script – something like the dialogue in a short play. This sounded like a great way to being the process. She also told me not to use any real family names, as her title “Cathy” had made for some uncomfortable interviews and reader commentary.


Kate was born December 28, 1977, with the help of Dr. Murray Enkin. Two months later, the family moved to Lynn Lake, Manitoba.


No, Katie. Your dad graduated in 1978 around May. You were not moving in February. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind drive up to Lynn Lake in February to move there? It's a little cray cray. That is possibly the worst time of the year to do that. What could possibly motivate you to lie like this? Even Suddenly Silver gets the timing of the move right.

Suddenly Silver

When I found myself trying to make rudimentary comic strips at the kitchen table, while counting contractions, it seemed not at all out of the ordinary. Fortunately, I had asked for a six-month reprieve from a launch date, so these were practice pieces, a time to learn just how to draw the characters I modeled after us, how to time a three- or four-panel gag, and how to time myself. There was so much to do.

Kate was born in December and Rod graduated that spring. We sold our house, I turned my freelance clients over to friends, and we packed everything we had and drove to Lynn Lake, Manitoba – “home” to Rod and “the middle of nowhere” to me.


The consistent element in all these stories is that Lynn gets this request and sends off her 20 samples when she is the middle of preparing to move to Lynn Lake. My money is the move did not occur until after Rod graduated from dental school, which we know happened in 1978. Moving in the summertime is so much easier.

Next up, early development of the comic strip and Lynn’s relationship with Lee Salem, her editor.

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