By Shawn Conner
I will reprint the article and add my comments after the cut.
For Better or For Worse creator Lynn Johnston will appear at the 2016 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival
A Conversation with Lynn Johnston
12 p.m. Saturday, May 21, 181 Roundhouse Mews
Part of Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, May 21-22
Tickets: free admission for all events (info at vancaf.com)
When cartoonist Lynn Johnston began writing and drawing her syndicated comic strip For Better or For Worse, she was living in Lynn Lake, a small town in northwestern Manitoba.
The location was good for her, she says, especially as she found increasing success.
“Publicity, especially if you’re a bit of a ham, is really dangerous. It’s enticing, it’s addictive. I can see why people die from it.”
My comment: People die from publicity? The comment about Lynn Lake is a common one for Lynn these days, where she seems to remember Lynn Lake as the place where she was involved in the life of the community and with her kids because Lynn Lake forced that on her. In other words, in Lynn Lake, she could not hire people to cook and clean and do her yard work for her. Plus, Rod’s parents weren’t retired when they lived in Lynn Lake, so they could not devote as much time to Lynn and her business as they did when they were retired and living in the house next to door to Lynn’s in Corbeil.
Johnston survived, though she has since retired from the comic strip that she worked on for more than 30 years. And she still gets to ham it up every once in a while, such as when she attends events like the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival.
My comment: “More than 30 years.” I guess this guy got the memo about how Lynn did not really stop the comic strip until 2010.
Now in its fifth year, the two-day festival (running Saturday and Sunday) hosts comics creators and fans from all over the Lower Mainland as well as from further afield, such as Seattle and Portland.
Artists and writers sell their wares and meet their readers; some creators also appear on panels, such as Crystal Power: Magical Girls, Creativity and Feminism, and Rewriting History: Research & Invention in Historical Comics. Johnston will appear Saturday in conversation with fellow cartoonist Doug Savage.
Born in Ontario, Johnston moved with her family to North Vancouver when she was two. She attended Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) and worked in animation before moving to Ontario.
She began For Better or For Worse in 1978. The syndicated comic strip chronicled the lives of the middle-class Patterson family: Elly and John and their children Michael, Elizabeth and April. In the strip, Johnston tackled subjects like death, divorce, sexual harassment and coming out.
My comment: “sexual harassment”? If this is the Howard Bunt storyline, the correct phrase is “sexual assault”. If Lynn thinks of that as “sexual harassment” only, then it explains so much of what went wrong with that story. As for the year when the strip started, that’s 1979 and not 1978.
For her work, Johnston was recognized with a Reuben Award for cartoonist of the year (she was the first woman and first Canadian to win) by the National Cartoonists Society in 1985. She was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (1993) and has received the Order of Canada (1992).
Although she retired in 2010, she’s still not accustomed to the idea of a life without deadlines.
My comment: 2010 is the retirement year now, so she is taking credit for the 2 years of new-runs. She didn't use to do that.
“I find it’s very unnerving because I’m used to being aligned with a career,” she said.
She recently moved back to Vancouver with her daughter, Katie. Her son Aaron also lives here.
In fact, she’s landed on the same North Vancouver street that she grew up on, which has led her to reconnect with old friends.
My comment: 5th and Lonsdale was the old address, so I guess it means Lynn is on 5th or on Lonsdale.
“The relationships are kindled again, and it’s gone past ‘remember when,’ ” said Johnston, who is now 68. “We’re talking about personal things and a lot of it is, ‘Who am I now and what do I have to give?’ ”
My comment: Just as it is with many of Lynn’s recent conversations about her meetings with old friends, the conversations seem to be much more about Lynn than the other person. If you are a person who has lived in North Vancouver for 60 years or more, then there is a pretty good chance that you are well-established in who you are and what you have to give. Lynn Johnston, on the other hand, has been uprooted from her home of over 30 years and many of the ties to her old business, so these questions are very appropriate for her.
She also has the comics community, of course. Johnston estimates that she goes to at least one convention or similar event every year.
“It’s such a diverse bunch of people,” she said. “Cartooning covers such a vast expanse: everything from pornography to Tweety Bird. The people who love it live partly on the Earth and partly in this fantasy world. And so much of it is harmless stuff, but it allows you to escape from whatever it is you want to escape from.”
My comment: The escapism theme is an odd one for Lynn, but a little more complimentary than her usual comments about comic art fans. I do like the idea that the opposite of pornography is Tweety Bird.
In moving from her lakeside home in North Bay, Ont. — where she’s lived for the last 40 years — to a North Vancouver condo, Johnston downsized considerably. This meant giving away much of the art she collected over the years to Library and Archives Canada and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.
My comment: New information here. We have heard about Library and Archives Canada before, but Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University is new to me. Doing an internet search did not show a big announcement of them getting this work. However, it shows this is what they have of Lynn’s work:
Bulk dates: 1983-1998
Quantity: 2 boxes (plus original art)
Abstract: For Better or For Worse original comic strips and proofs and correspondence related to the death of Mrs. Baird (May 23-June 9, 1988); child abuse sequence (February 22-March 9, 1992); Farley's death (April 1995); the Lawrence story (March 22-April 24, 1993); and the death of Elly's mother (1998). Correspondence from Hazel creator Ted Key to Lynn Johnston.
It wasn’t hard to give up, she says, since a lot of it was hidden away where no one could see it anyway.
My comment: I guess it’s safe to say the touring gallery exhibit does not contain this material, which is a little surprising since Farley’s death and Lawrence coming out are her 2 biggest stories. If you go to the website, you will see that there is a lot of other material in the Lynn Johnston collection which just seems to be merchandising gifts from other comics creators.
Downsizing to a smaller living space also means she probably won’t be bringing home much from VanCAF.
“By the time you hit 70, you give away what you think is half of what you own, and when you move to a small place, you wonder why you’ve kept what you’ve kept. And in the end, all we need is a bed and lunch,” she says, and adds with a laugh: “And then after that, all you need is a box.”
My comment: Yeesh! This is morbid, even for Lynn. She’s only 68 years old. We know that Katie had to do something with all the stuff Lynn saved away from her career in that giant house she had, but this sounds like a Lynn who has no idea what to do with herself and is preparing herself for death. It’s depressing to hear Lynn sound so defeated.
For Better or For Worse still runs in more than 1,000 newspapers.
My comment: 1000 is more believable than 2000, but it’s still pretty unbelievable.