In advance of Lynn's going to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, they did an interview with her. As usual, I will repeat the interview and include my comments after the cut.
With the Lakes International Comic Art Festival just over a week away, we continue our Kendal Calling interviews with a chat with Lynn Johnston, a Canadian cartoonist known for her newspaper comic strip For Better or For Worse. She was the first woman and first Canadian to win the National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award.
Lynn was born in Ontario and grew up in British Columbia. She attended the Vancouver School of Art then took a job in an animation studio in Vancouver, where she began to apprentice as an animator. After getting married, Johnston moved to Ontario in 1969, and in 1972 the discovery that she was expecting her first child led to the publication of David, We’re Pregnant! which sold over 300,000 copies. Shortly after, she was divorced and worked as a commercial artist, freelancing from home.
In 1975, Hi Mom! Hi Dad! was published as a sequel to David, We’re Pregnant!. By this time she was remarried and continued to freelance until her daughter Kate was born. Do They Ever Grow Up? was the third publication in her first sequence of books about parenting.
In 1978, Universal Press Syndicate asked if Johnston was interested in doing a daily comic strip. She signed a 20-year contract and the work on For Better or For Worse began. This comic strip has been syndicated since 1979 and, at its peak, appeared in more than 2,000 newspapers in 23 countries.
Lynn was the first woman to receive a Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year in 1985, she has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has received the Order of Canada and claims a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
My comment: Boilerplate Lynn biography.
John Freeman: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Lynn Johnston: I ended the story of For Better or for Worse in 2007. It was a syndicated comic strip, running in over 2000 papers at the time. Right now, I’m painting and working on a series of comic art fabric patterns. I hope to have a few clients interested in bedding, draperies and children’s apparel. I’m also updating my original comic strip art for the web.
My comment: First of all, this is the point where Lynn should absolutely be talking about her new book coming from IDW and letting people know they can buy it at any on-line bookstore. Instead she goes off on the fabrics and she gets her date wrong. Lynn ended the story of the modern family in 2008, not 2007. As for bedding, draperies and children’s apparel I know that Lynn went to the SURTEX convention in New York this year and had her own display pushing that very idea. However, we also know that on Katie’s Zazzle store bedding, draperies and children’s apparel are not for sale. Katie is selling t-shirts and leggings. I can only guess that the booth at SURTEX has not generated any business.
John Freeman: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Lynn: I’m proud of everything I do! I’d like folks to see my comic strip – all 29 years worth on our website. There are many collection books available through Amazon and it will soon be available again in a series of hard cover books. The first of these should be on sale soon.
My comment: John Freeman realizes Lynn didn’t answer his question and he actually asks her the exact same question a second time and this time Lynn seems to pay attention to what he is saying and she still manages to avoid plugging her new book. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it plug a book about water. Fortunately for Lynn, the website showing this interview has a link to Amazon and Lynn's newest book, right over where Lynn says, "Amazon."
John Freeman: How do you plan your day as a cartoonist? Do you plan your day?
Lynn: I have just turned 70, but I’m still working. I put in three days a week on the fabric patterns and paint when I feel the muse. I also produce new art for the website and occasionally write an article for same. I am also working with another artist on a graphic novel about his life. We have set a year from now as our goal for publication.
My comment: Three days a week? You would not know that looking at Lynn’s work in the Zazzle store, where Lynn’s most recent work was 4 pictures of comic turkeys. If Lynn thinks they are hawking bedding, draperies and children’s apparel; then there is no telling what Lynn is doing and where that work is going. She does write occasional articles for the website and hopefully we will get one about this trip. The bit about working with another artist on a graphic novel about his life is pretty exciting. I wonder which artist and exactly what Lynn would be doing on the graphic novel.
John Freeman: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Lynn: The best thing…for me, was doing what I loved to do and be gainfully employed doing it. I think that all of us who were/ are syndicated or in some way, doing comic art for a living, feel the same.
Another tremendous plus was meeting all my heroes. I came into the business when Charles Schulz was there – and Will Eisner, Bil Keane, Dik Browne, Johnny Hart... I knew many of these wonderful, talented and generous people. What a privilege to have called them my friends.
My comment: All of Lynn’s famous dead friends.
John Freeman: And the worst?
Lynn: The worst part of doing a syndicated comic strip was also the best: I hated the pressure. No matter what else was happening in my life, I had the relentless pressure of deadlines. I worked harder than I ever worked before. This made me more productive and focused than I had ever been, so I did a huge amount of work; something I’d never have done on my own!
Aside from the comic strip, I worked on a series of animated specials. It was a pleasure to work with talented artists and writers; the bad side was dealing with horrible budgets, which resulted in a poor quality product. “We don’t want it good, we want it now!” was the mantra, and the lack of care showed.
I had to quit the shows and refuse to let them be released as a series. I have never been as angry at anything as I was when we did these animated shows!
My comment: “refuse to let them be released as a series”. Lynn sells out of her store The Bestest Present and the six specials done by Lacewood Productions. However, according to the Wikipedia, the Ottawa's Funbag Animation series two seasons with eight episodes each were released as a complete series on DVD on March 23, 2004, by Koch Vision. However, I do not see them on Amazon, so possibly Lynn means a re-release or being sold by her store. When we finally see those for sale, we will know that Lynn has lost another part of her creative control to Katie, because the person who would want to sell them would be Katie.
downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Lynn: Everything distracts me now. Now that I am my own supervisor and have flexible, self imposed deadlines, I tend to slack off, dawdle about and generally waste time. I’m “retired” but for me, that’s a lame excuse for not doing more! The deadlines for syndication were wicked, but I sure got things done!
My comment: So Lynn had a deadline with this other artist on the graphic novel, and here she has no deadlines, so that raises some suspicions about just how much she is doing with that graphic novel story.
John Freeman: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Lynn: I don’t know what’s happening in the comic art world right now! With newspapers not too sure what to do with themselves, the internet still coming into focus, graphic novels becoming the new go-to for reading and new technology turning animation into the most incredible resource imaginable, we are seeing new areas for cartoonists to explore every day.
I think if you are really good at what you do, can deliver on time and work well with a team, you’re going to find employment as a cartoonist.
My comment: Back to the graphic novels.
John Freeman: Have you ever been to the Lake District before?
Lynn: No. My mom’s family was from Lincolnshire and my dad’s was from the Stonehenge area. The last name was “Ridgway” from the area of the Ridgeway. My partner was born in South Shields and moved to Canada at the age of nine, so we both have strong ties to “the old country”.
What do I expect? To really enjoy myself in Kendal and to feel quite at home!
My comment: I don’t think he asked “What does she expect?” However, I do like the way she keeps referring to Paul Lucas as “her partner”.
John Freeman: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Lynn: I think I’ve met all the people I dearly wanted to meet. How fortunate I’ve been.
My comment: In other words, if you don’t do the National Cartoonist Society, I don’t care about you. If you do the NCS, then I’ve already met you.
John Freeman: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Lynn: What festivals do for me is to allow me to see what’s new; what’s happening and to meet young cartoonists (and old friends) who are experimenting with and sharing their talent.
I’ve met a number of people here in Vancouver who are doing wonderful stuff - with graphic novels and animation. I’m excited to see that comic art still has the power to inspire artists who then pull us into their world. What a gift.
My comment: Ah, this means that if she is working with a graphic novel person, that person lives in Vancouver.
John Freeman: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Lynn: Advice? Learn how to draw backgrounds. Everyone likes to focus on characters, but characters have to live somewhere! Young artists especially, spend hour after hour perfecting a superhero costume and forget that this character has to eat and sleep and get to work somehow.
So, draw stuff! Houses and trees and vehicles and chairs...stuff!!
I find that realistic toys are extremely helpful. Those good quality die-cast cars, trucks and buses will give you a vehicle you can hold up and see from all angles. I have a box full of toys. In the box are animals, toy bicycles, hats, shoes, roller blades, skis - all kinds of realistic “models” for my drawings.
Another piece of advice is; learn how to write. If you can’t write well, you can’t create a good story or time a good punch line. Reading poetry is helpful because there is a cadence to good writing, which draws the reader along; as if he was driving on a good highway. Any junk on the road, any unnecessary detour, anything that detracts from the easy drive will pull your audience out of your world and what happens to them? They become critics. Learn how to write.
My comment: Ironically, Lynn gave up drawing backgrounds to her assistants. She pitches the model toys again without realizing how that ruined her art, where every car looked like her model cars. Her highway driving example makes me very glad that Lynn does not drive.
John Freeman: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Lynn: Right now, I’m enjoying Sean Karemaker’s work. He is a graphic novelist who works on long scrolls. It’s a unique way to work and it allows him to use stereographic imaging to create a movable, interactive environment. He writes about his childhood in Denmark, with charm and insight.
John Freeman: Lynn, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you at the Festival!
My comment: And we have the reveal. Sean Karemaker is an artist living in Vancouver, BC and he does autobiographical comics. There is now no doubt in my mind that Lynn Johnston believes she is making some kind of contribution to the next Sean Karemaker publication. She has mentioned him before:
I have other things to occupy my time now. I do have a young friend: Sean Karemaker, who is doing some wonderful work as a graphic novelist. It's people like Sean who are making the best use of the incredible technology available to us now.
And as an aside, the convention was not without controversy. It will be interesting to see if Lynn's says anything about this when she writes her description of the convention.