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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XVII – Who Created What and Why?

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

1978
Do They Ever Grow Up? is published.
Rod graduated from dental school.
The family moves to Lynn Lake, Manitoba.
1979
September – The strip is published for the first time

As we go through this next part, Lynn talks about the development of her comic strip and we will discuss it after the cut.



Katie:

Lynn was given six months to move, get settled, and develop her strip before it was to be published. She has signed the contract with UPS without ever before having tried writing or drawing a comic strip.

Me:

No, Katie. The strip doesn’t get published until September, 1979. Six months from February, 1978 or even May, 1978 is not September, 1979. Do the math! According the prior part, Lynn asked for a 6 month reprieve from starting the strip because she just had a baby and just moved. Ultimately, she is going to generate enough material to have comfortable cushion on her deadline before she starts.

Lynn:

I had always done my cartoons as single panels. I was going to have to learn how to write dialogue and to sequence the art. Often strips submitted to a syndicate are by artists who have taken years to develop and perfect their characters, their scenarios, and their style. I was brand new at this and scared to death! On the other hand, this was the biggest door that had ever been opened for me! All I could do was my best. I had learned from Marjorie Baskin to always do my best work and to believe in myself. I had learned from Bruce Lansky to take direction when good direction is given and to be smart enough to do something over and over until it is right!

Me:

Bruce Lansky is the editor over at Meadowbrook who published Lynn’s books. I wonder why in the world she is going out of her way to praise him! Of the three publishers of her books, he was the one she has publicly maligned the least. And I really wonder what is up with Lynn’s relationship with Marjorie Baskin. She is on 8 pages of this book. She is way more important in this book than she has ever been before.

Katie:

Having based the first twenty strips she had sent to the syndicate on her own family and receiving such rave reviews, it seemed natural to commit to a family-based column. At first Lynn called the strip The Johnstons, but she quickly changed her mind after talking with Cathy Guisewite.

Me:

First of all. “column”. Really Katie? It’s not a column. Also, what rave reviews>? Three people at Universal liked it.

10th Anniversary Collection:

Before I could manage a daily feature, I felt I needed the time to create more clearly defined characters. I wanted to practice writing dialogue, learn timing and technique. Lee was a good editor. Here’s someone else with a natural affinity for humorous speech and comic writing. With his regular critiques and long phone conversations, I finally felt ready to launch the feature. It was Lee’s idea to call it For Bette or For Worse, as my approach was, in some ways, rather bittersweet. It was Jim Andrews’s idea to continue using the real family as the characters. Rod and I felt that using our names would eventually be tiresome, and perhaps embarrassing – especially for the kids.

Me:

Is it Lee Salem or Cathy Guisewite or Rod Johnston who made the “change the names” suggestion? Cathy is a better choice for someone like Lynn who likes to name drop, but the real answer is probably less exciting.

Lynn:

With just a short time to go before real daily publication began, Lee Salem asked me to give the family a name. On the spur of the moment, I thought “Patterson” would work: patter, as in dialogue, and son for the family connection. It was Lee’s suggestion that the title of the strip be For Better or For Worse because that’s what we had decided the strip was going to be about: the ups and downs of marriage and family life. I had been recruited to produce something edgier and closer to the truth, the kinds of things Jim Andrews had seen in my little cartoons books.

Katie:

Along with the family surname, the first names of the characters had to be altered as well. Lynn decided to change her characters’ names to her family’s second name: Aaron became Michael, Kate became Elizabeth, and Rod became John. Lynn’s middle name is Beverley. She couldn’t quite bring herself to use this name for the main character because, “Beverley isn’t an easy name to fit into a speech balloon; Bev was too short, and I felt too close to the character anyway to commit to it my own name.” Lee was pressuring Lynn to make a decision, as these final details needed to be ironed out as soon as possible.

Me:

And yet, Beth Cruikshank’s comic strip name is Beverly for Aunt Bev.

Katie:

With only a few days to go before Lynn’s finished ink drawings were to be submitted, she decided to name the heroine “Elly” in honour of her childhood friend.

{Elly Jansen story we already covered in part VII}

Although Elly Patterson was named after Elly Jansen, her personality was certainly based on Lynn’s.

Lynn:

As a single mother who ran a potentially successful advertising business, I’d earned a few stripes, so Elly Patterson was destined to reflect my points of view! She was a mirror of me. If she seemed unfulfilled and antagonistic sometimes, I was, too – but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all unsatisfied, unhinged, uncomfortable, and unhappy once in awhile? This is what makes comedy the healing art that it is!

Me:

“potentially successful advertising business.” Lynn is obsessed with this idea. I wonder how often Katie had to hear it before she suggested the fabric business instead.

Katie:

When Lynn began drawing For Better or For Worse, Elly’s character allowed her to express the frustrations of being a homemaker in the 1970s and ‘80s. The housewife’s perspective was underrepresented in mass media at the time, was something women all over North America could relate to. Elly Patterson said out loud what many women were thinking – men and women alike. Today, Lynn finds her early subject matter a bit too negative, but thirty years ago, when she touched on the tedium of being at home with toddlers, guilt at wanting a career, and the sexism many women faced, she was giving vent to issues that women had previously felt they couldn’t express publicly. Her approach certainly contributed to the strip’s early popularity. Lynn has frequently received the same feedback from many fans, with claims such as, “It’s like you’re watching from inside my house!”

Me:

No, Katie! “camera in my house” is a little less voyeuristic and it is by far the more commonly-used phrase. “Elly Patterson said out loud what many women were thinking – men and women alike. “ I don’t think I understand this sentence. Is this one of those fluid gender things?

Katie:

The other Patterson characters, although loosely based on their namesakes, really represented different parts of Lynn’s own personality. “I write and draw myself and my family, but the insights and personal glimpses are, for the most part, scenes from my childhood.”

Me:

Remember that Lynn says this, because she will contradict herself later.

Katie:

Lee Salem worked directly with Lynn on her ideas and pencil roughs until she felt she was ready to launch. Lynn acknowledges that Lee has been a tremendous resource and mentor for her throughout her entire career.

Me:

Lee Salem is getting a lot of compliments. In the past, Lynn has complimented Jim Andrews more often and sometimes has not been so nice with Lee.

Lynn:

Smart, funny, hard-working, and serious about business, Lee became one of Universal Press’s most outstanding staff members. Fair and firm, he had a good relationship with all of us cartoonists. He was an excellent editor and drove a hard bargain when it came to disputes and contract negotiations. I was always appreciative of his skillful management and his heartfelt diplomacy. My respect for Lee was another reason to work hard for this job. I have much to thank him for.

Me:

Ah, yes. Contract negotiation. Once again Lynn is going to skirt around this story. As we know, when Lynn’s 20-year contract with Universal is up, she jumps ship to another syndicate and then came back after her contract was up with the other syndicate. I have the feeling there is a story there. We have not ever heard Lynn’s side, but here is Lee’s side:

http://mrmedia.com/2007/02/universal-press-syndicate-editor-lee-salem-funny-pages-interview/#.VhioVIoQVHg

ANDELMAN: Lee, as you look back, if you would look back on Lynn Johnston’s separation from Universal, is there anything you wish you had done differently? And the reason I ask that is that was a tough time to lose a strip that had, I think, 1,800 clients, given that you had just lost, I think, within a period of time Watterson, Larson, and Erma Bombeck had died on the column side.
SALEM: Yeah, that was in a relatively short space of three years or so, and those are four people who left us for different reasons. Yeah, looking back, I am sure that there are things we could have done in our relationship with Lynn that would have encouraged her to renew with us. She decided she wanted to try something else, and we always know that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and in this case, it wasn’t as green as perhaps she thought it was. It wasn’t too long into it before she called and tried to renew the relationship, and when the opportunity afforded itself contractually, she came back to us.

Me: I will briefly point out that Lee Salem knows the difference between a comic strip and column. Erma Bombeck is a column. Lynn Johnston is a comic strip. And now onto a bit from the official press release from Lynn’s departure to United from way back in 1997.

http://www.cagle.com/prolinks/library/mcGeean/ed1-9711.asp

The official press release said:

Astor revealed that the move to United was negotiated by Johnston's new business manager, David Waisglass, who heads Laughingstock Licensing in Ottawa, Canada. A native of Toronto, he co-created “Farcus”; an off-beat gag panel that ran in the L.A. Daily News and was syndicated by Universal and has since been retired. He now represents other cartoonists—including “Herman” creator Jim Unger, another Universal alumnus, whose rerun panels are being syndicated by United. Johnston said she asked Waisglass to contact United on her behalf when she was thinking of leaving Universal.

Me:

Ironically, Farcus and Herman (now created by David Waisglass after Jim Unger’s death in 2012) are both under Universal Uclick (the current name of Universal Press Syndicate). Laughingstock Licensing still exists and only seem to represent Farcus and Herman and not Lynn Johnston. I wonder why?

http://laughingstock.com/

Katie:

Before Lynn knew it, her six months were up, and it was time to start the demanding schedule of writing, drawing, and submitting a daily column six weeks ahead of the publication date – 365 days a year.

Me:

First of all. “column”. Really Katie? It’s not a column. Remember Erma Bombeck? That’s a column. Is there some sort of “column vs. comic strip” rivalry going on where the strip writers want their work to be known as columns too?

Lynn:

When the strip debuted in September 1979, I thought I was ready. The regular faxes to Lee […]has set me up with a routine, a style, and a few weeks “in the bank,” which was a safety net before the crush of the real deadlines began. Strangely enough, I had no problem digging material out of the normal day-to-day stuff that went on around us. The [dental] practice and parenthood provided an endless wellspring of grumbling, which became gags. I was really good at grumbling! The strip was like a sounding board, someone I could talk to about how I really felt.

Me:

Copied from Suddenly Silver […] = “my editor in Kansas City”. You will note here Lynn claims her inspiration is no longer her childhood. As we have seen from her Lynn’s Notes, the consistent element is grumbling. Grumbling over grievances from her childhood, her current family, and her parents, especially her mother. Also mixed in are a number of strips ideas plagiarized from other comics strips and TV sitcoms, but I don’t expect Lynn to mention those.

Next up. Life in Lynn Lake (such as it is).
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