The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire about one's personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust. At the end of the nineteenth century, when Proust was still in his teens, he answered a questionnaire in an English-language confession album and people liked his answers. Here is the interview:
As usual, I will quote the text and then put in my comments after the cut.
For more than 30 years Lynn Johnston drew the lives of the Patterson family in her comic strip For Better or For Worse. Lynn's illustration of suburban family life came out of her own experiences as a wife and mother. For Better or For Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston is an anthology of the series and it coincides with a touring exhibit of Lynn's work. Lynn Johnston answered The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.
Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.
It has to go back to my childhood and it was Little Lulu. That's because her nemesis was a witch and I always thought my mother was a witch. That's embarrassing, but that's it.
My comment: While Lynn has said she like Little Lulu in prior interviews, it was usually because she liked the fantasy element and because Lulu was not like Wonder Woman. Lynn has also compared her mother to a witch before, but it was as the Wicked Witch of the West after her mother died, and not Witch Hazel from Little Lulu, who was not really Lulu's nemesis (see the picture).
What characteristic do you value most in your friends?
Integrity. And listening and caring. Because if a friend does not listen to you and hear what you're saying and return their concern or their interest, then I don't think it's a friendship at all, it's just someone.
My comment: It’s not what you give your friends. It’s what your friends give you. Really, I expected no different answer from Lynn Johnston. That's a very honest answer from her perspective.
Your favourite painter?
Henri Matisse. He slows me down and makes me calm. I love that. I think I like the colours, the use of pastel, the flickering shapes that he uses.
My comment: Oddly, Matisse is not mentioned as an art influence in The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. Possibly this is because he appears to be more therapeutic influence than art influence.
Your favourite occupation?
Reading, right now. Reading and drawing funny things. I've always been able to draw but I've never been able to draw things and enjoy drawing things seriously. I get the most fun out of drawing silly things and the sillier they are, the more joy I get out of it.
My comment: She starts off with reading and then smartly adds drawing funny things, because she has nothing to say about reading.
In the radio interview portion, Lynn goes onto say that she likes drawing silly things because it makes her feel good to know that she has drawn something that she is better than. I can see why they edited that part out.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loneliness. When you feel as though you are all alone, and you are handling all kinds of trauma all by yourself, and you feel as though you have no one to turn to.
My comment: She has nicely worded this with the phrase “feel as though”, which would be an accurate phrase. Lynn has always had people to take care of her, but she may have felt alone in spite of this.
What is your principal defect?
I guess vanity? I don't like arrogance in myself. I want to stay aware of who I am and what I can do in relation to the world. So often, when you achieve something and you get a lot of pats on the head, you start to think about how wonderful you are. But when you get in an airplane and look down on the world, and everything is reduces to specks of sand, you think "How important am I, anyways?" You keep it all in perspective.
My comment: Vanity would be my answer for Lynn too. Very good answer. It sounds like the best time to be around Lynn is when she is in an airplane looking out the window.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I give things away. Over the years, I've owned many, many things, whether it's clothing or toys or artwork or jewelry. When someone says, "Gosh, that's a beautiful necklace," I say, "Here, you should have this necklace." And I enjoy giving things away. I give things away all the time, and sometimes I say, "Wow, why did I do that? I really wanted to keep it."
My comment: I have heard about Lynn giving away her artwork and I am sure that when it came to archiving, she may have wished she had not given away some of her originals. As for jewelry, I have not heard this story before. It makes her seem very generous, but it also says, "I have so much money, I can just give jewelry away."
In the radio interview portion, Lynn goes onto say that she picked up her habit of giving things away from her father who did it so that he could get people to like him. She also adds that her motivation is that if she gives something to someone then there is an obligation for the other person to give her something in return. I can see why they edited that part out.
What's your greatest fear?
Losing people that I love. At one point, I prayed to God that if anything terrible happened to anybody in the family, please let it be me.
My comment: I remember that comic strip.
In the radio interview portion, Lynn goes onto say that she is glad that she has her neurological condition and that her grandchildren do not. I can see why they would edit that part out.
What's your greatest regret?
That I did not get to know my mother well as an adult. We did not get along when I was very young and it wasn't until I was maybe in my 40s we were able to converse comfortably and then she died far too young. So I would have very much liked to have more time with her because she was a marvelous person. She was bright and talented and just a brilliant writer and illustrator. We had a lot in common, but we got off to a bad start.
My comment: Lynn in her 40s, so that's a pretty long bad start. Born in 1947, that means 1987. Ursula died in 1989, when Lynn was 42. The interview with Tom Heintjes where she compared Ursula to a witch and made the claim that Ursula had beaten Lynn so hard that “I used to go to school with bruises from the middle of my back to my heels” was 1994 when Lynn was 47. Lynn may have been able to converse comfortably with her mother only when she knew her mother was dying of cancer, but it did not seem to have any effect on her hatred of her mother. In fact, you only have to go back as far as The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston from 2015 to find recent evidence of how much Lynn still hates her mother. Maybe she has finally started to turn the corner on this, now that her mother has been dead for 28 years.
Lynn Johnston's comments have been edited and condensed.
Aside from the parts I mentioned, there are other minor variations you can hear if you want to check out the radio interview part of the CBC radio website listed above.