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The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston Part XX – Evil Ursula, the Woman Nobody But Lynn Hated (even Katie)

We have previously covered Lynn’s relationship with her mother Ursula in her life after Lynn left Vancouver. Lynn has revealed to us that her mother failed to help her when she left Doug, and that Lynn could not move back to Vancouver because of a rift between her and her mother. Now we are going to take on Ursula from the beginning of her description in The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston after the cut.



Katie:

Lynn was born in 1947 in Collinwood, Ontario, a railway and port town located on the shores of Georgian Bay, roughly two hours north of Toronto. Her parents, Mervyn and Ursula Ridgway had met in England during the Second World War; they were both enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and met in England on an air force base. After the war, they were married and settled down in Collinwood, where her father had been raised. Lynn still has a number relatives living there.

Homesick for her family on the West Coast and unable to feel at home in the small town her husband loved, Ursula insisted the family move west. Lynn, age two, and her newborn brother, Alan, were uprooted and moved to North Vancouver. Unsettled and without the opportunities he enjoyed in Collinwood, Lynn’s father found in the city of Vancouver as a watchmaker and a jeweller. Ursula busied herself with the children, managed the household, and occasionally worked for her father in his stamp business.

Me:

Is it me or do I see a similar pattern here with a wife forcing a husband to move from his hometown? Ursula did it once, but I think Lynn Johnston outdid her by accomplishing it twice with two different husbands. Ironically, Lynn is trying to criticize Ursula for doing something that she herself did better. Some of the details here are not going to match the way Lynn talked about this in the 10th Anniversary Collection, so let’s go there next.

10th Anniversary Collection:

Ursula Bainbridge and Merv Ridgway both enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and met, overseas, on an air force base in the town of Linton-on-Ouze, England. When the squadrons returned home, they were married and settled in Collingwood, Ontario. Dad had grown up there, but with business prospects dim and a wife who longed for the west coast, he pulled up his roots, and now, with two toddlers in tow, started again, this time on my mother’s home turf. While Dad took the ferry into the city every day, my mother continued to work for her father who, by the time I was five had become one of Canada’s foremost stamp dealers and experts on the art of Forgery.

I was three and my brother Alan barely six months old when we moved from Collinwood, Ontario, to British Columba. Dad was a jeweler and a watchmaker and, hoping to find work in Vancouver, he moved the family west. For a few months, we lived with my grandparents in their dark, Tudor house overlooking the sea.

Me:

It appears that for The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston, she lowered her age from 3 to 2, and lowered Alan’s age from 6 months old to newborn, which seems more likely given the 2 ½ year age difference between Lynn and Alan. Lynn does have a theme going in this book of decreasing the age of children to make their situation seem more tragic (Elly Jansen story), but at least she stayed relatively close this time. I notice in the 10th anniversary, Mervyn was already a jeweller and watchmaker before he moved to Vancouver, but the The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston tries to get me to infer that working in the jewellery store was a change in career for Mervyn forced on him by the move to Vancouver.

Lynn:

[She] had been trained as Granddad’s private secretary before she left home during the war, and did the painstaking illustrations and calligraphy that made some of his customers’ stamp collections among the most beautiful and valuable in the country.

I watched the hours and she inscribed with India ink on the fine cream-coloured paper. […]I learned to love the characters she drew even before I recognized them as the alphabet.

Me:

Quoted from the 10th anniversary collection.

Katie:

Lynn’s father loved comic art. He had a collection of cartoon books, and even though the cost of taking the family to a movie was prohibitive, he would splurge when a good comedy came to town. He enjoyed music, too. He spent much of his spare time with his children, singing wartime songs, playing the guitar, and reading aloud. He delighted in puns, limericks, slapstick gags, and comedic performance. With an entertainer on one side and a conservative on the other, the Ridgways were a rather mismatched couple.

Me:

I thought they were matched very well. Both fought the Nazis in WWII. Both worked together to run the family business once they bought their own jewellery story (a fact Lynn fails to mention even once).

As for those movies, how was the cost of them prohibitive? Those expensive movies that cost what? A quarter? Anyway, in the 10th Anniversary Collection, they were a little less impoverished.

10th Anniversary Collection:


Alan, Luccia, and I took in every Abbott and Costello, every Charlie Chaplin, every Three Stooges film the industry could supply.

Lynn:

I inherited my mother’s ability to draw, and from my father, I inherited the love of silliness. Music and a good laugh are the things he live[d] for. He was born to entertain, to story tell. I don’t believe he’s forgotten a joke he’s ever heard. In fact, despite my mother’s rather Victorian upbringing, she too had a gift for puns and wordplay. If my parents did not communicate with the openness and directness one expects today, they communicated with humour. If you can’t say it right out…joke about it.

Me:

Copied directly from the 10th Anniversary Collection and in that book, Lynn admits her mother was funny too. While I notice that Lynn says her parents were not open and direct and communicated with humour, it is not lost on me that Rod Johnston in the Suddenly Silver collection talked about how he read the comic strips that Lynn had just finished in order to judge her mood. Once again, Lynn has outdone her mother in communicating indirectly through humour.

Pencil sketch by Ursula [Bainbridge] Ridgway along the Fraser River, 1938


Me:

The sketch is actually very good. Looking at it, it seems like Lynn inherited her artistic ability directly from her mother.

Katie:

Perhaps it was the lack of family communication, or maybe it was Lynn’s unwillingness to what she was told – either way, young Lynn found herself occupying much of her time in her room. This is where she discovered her joy of drawing.

Me:

This is Katie at her most feisty in the book. Maybe it was communication or just maybe my mother has a tendency to get into fights with anyone who gives her orders. That is certainly true. Throughout the book Lynn talks about how she rebelled against all her bosses and realized that she would never be happy in a job where she had to take orders. Unlike her mother, Lynn would not have done well in the military.

Skipping over the Alan and Aunt Unity stuff

Katie:

Despite her family’s abundant artistic talent and humour, Lynn recalls being a relatively negative child with low self-esteem. She partly attributes this to her mother’s inability to show approval and appreciation towards her children. Lynn determined that Ursula’s family did not believe in compliments. On the contrary, they believed praise discouraged people from striving to do better.

Me:

“partly attributes”. Katie is feisty again. In Lynn’s paragraph that follows, she lays all the blame right on her mother.

Lynn:

My mother never praised us – at least not to us personally. She might brag to a friend, but to us she would say it wasn’t good enough. “That’s a nice story that you wrote, but the ending isn’t good enough.” “That’s a nice pie you baked dear, but the crust is too soggy.” And so on. I grew up thinking that nothing I did was good enough and that I wasn’t good enough either. It took me a lifetime to get over this insecurity and to eventually believe I was capable of doing something worthwhile.

Me:

First of all, if you have been confused by dreadedcandiru2’s regular references to soggy pie crust, this is where it comes from.

If by “lifetime”, Lynn is not going to get over her obsessive need to receive praise until she is dead, then I think that is an honest assessment. However, to blame this all on her mother is silly. Lynn had more than one parent and I don’t think any one person can take credit for the praise-sucking creature that Lynn has become. Lynn’s obsession with getting praise is way beyond that of anyone I have ever met. Her panel at the 2014 Toronto Festival of Comic Art was not much more than an hour-long Lynn Johnston lovefest, and she has done many of those. She has probably gotten more praise this year than I have in my entire life.

Katie:

Lynn’s openness over the years, about her tenuous relationship with her mother has, at times, caused friction within the family. The people who were close to Ursula adored her. Her downfall, in Lynn’s eyes, was that she really didn’t know how to deal with children. Unfortunately, by the time Lynn had reached an age Ursula could handle, the damage had already been done, and Lynn had broken away from her mother. The issues with their relationship would never truly be resolved. The silver lining from this relationship is Lynn developed an insatiable hunger to strive to do better: to draw better, to write better, to be funnier.

Me:

I think Katie is being mild here. If any part of her 1994 interview with Tom Heintjes for Hogan’s Alley Magazine made it out into the public, a person who knew and loved Ursula would have been horrified by Lynn’s description that Ursula mercilessly beat Lynn until her strength gave out. However, Katie is still her feisty self by pointing out that people adored her grandmother. It is not lost on me that both Aaron and Katie were drawn to Vancouver and moved there to go to school and to live after they left the house in Corbeil. In other words, I suspect one of the people who adored Ursula was Katie. It has to be especially rough on her to see her mother describe Ursula in this way, and so in this section we have seen the spot where Katie is most honest and not just third person Lynn.

Skipping over the school stuff and the long litany of artists Lynn admired whose work (Len Norris and Virgil Patch) she put in her book of cartoon art.

Katie:

MAD magazine debuted in the United States in 1952, when Lynn was only five years old, but she didn’t see her first copy until she was in her early teens. By the time it reached North Vancouver, its youthful, twisted satire had set the world of comic art on fire. In Lynn’s opinion, MAD has the most outstanding, creative talent ever assembled.

Lynn:


My mother thought it was crude and offensive: “It’s disgusting, dear,” she would say. “I don’t want you looking at all those awful illustrations and reading that …stuff!” If Mom found me reading Virgil Patch, she’d take the book away because it was Dad’s, but if she saw a MAD magazine in the house, she’d destroy it. This made MAD even more wonderful! My friends and I would buy MAD and then pass it around, hidden in something like Little Lulu or Mickey Mouse. We’d remove the cover of an acceptable comic and fit the MAD inside. I would disappear into the alcove under the basement stairs and read the contraband, loving every part of it and trying not to laugh out loud. I began to copy from MAD as I’d done from Norris and VIP, learning what I could from the artists whose work I so admired.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_(magazine)

Mad began as a comic book published by EC, debuting in August 1952 (cover date October–November). The first issue was written almost entirely by Harvey Kurtzman, and featured illustrations by Kurtzman, along with Wally Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis, and John Severin. Wood, Elder, and Davis were the three main illustrators throughout the 23-issue run of the comic book. To retain Kurtzman as its editor, the comic book converted to magazine format as of issue #24 (1955).

Me:

Lynn does not mention any of these MAD artists as being her favourites, so I think her reading of the magazine was post-1955. The reason the magazine format is important is because it says that Lynn’s stories about hiding MAD in acceptable comic books or in acceptable comic book covers has a problem, because the magazine size meant that any MAD magazine published after 1955 would be clearly obvious as it was bigger than a regular comic book. In other words, the story about the efforts Lynn went through to read her MAD magazines without Ursula destroying them are probably not true.

That’s it for Ursula in the book although she does talk about how Phil was able to visit Marion in her death bed in the comic strip, when Alan was unable to do the same for real-life Ursula. Fortunately there are no “Ding. Dong. The witch is dead” moments as there where when Lynn talked about Ursula’s passing with Tom Heintjes. In The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston, it seems like Lynn’s major complaint is not getting compliments from her mother, but if you get right down to it, in the very same book, Lynn had the very same complaint about us snarkertrolls.

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    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…

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  • 47 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…