We like to cheer on the underdogs because their fortune is a kind of reassurance that there is, in fact, a way to beat the odds and succeed. The Pattersons encounter a few underdogs and it’s not always obvious who they are. Here are five of the most loved characters who we either didn’t expect to succeed, or whom we didn’t really think of as underdogs right away.
After the cut it’s number Two:
#2. Shannon Lake
Human beings, and specifically children and teens, can be scathing and cruel to those they deem as “other”. We rarely get to see people in the “other” groups find the courage and the support to stand up against the cruelty and ridicule when it happens. Shannon’s story gives us that much needed feel-good boost because not only does Shannon bear the brunt of the snide remarks and ridicule with aplomb and snark, but with the support of April, manages to stand up loudly against it
My comment: Shannon Lake is the only one of the underdogs that is introduced being ridiculed in her very first appearance. It was an interesting choice because Shannon Lake is also the only one of these underdogs that was based on a real person, Lynn Johnston’s niece, Stephanie.
Lynn’s second husband, Rod, had a brother Ralph. Stephanie’s birth father, Chuck, moved in with Ralph and divorced Stephanie’s mother when Stephanie was five. Her mother remarried, but Ralph and Chuck were still an active part in Stephanie’s life. Rod Johnston was also her dentist. This is Lynn’s connection to her niece Stephanie.
Lynn Johnston’s approach with Stephanie was unusual because she went after the underdog situation right away with Becky McGuire making fun of her. However, the other interesting part was that Shannon Lake was always presented with her mother alone and there was never any representation of Ralph, Chuck or her step-dad, Yves.
Stephanie’s family: Her brother, mother, and father.
My comment: I always felt that Lynn had a double motivation there because Ralph was notoriously the only immediate member of her husband’s family that was not represented with his own avatar in the comic strip. I could not tell if that was because Ralph was gay, or Ralph was heavily involved in the Anglican church or because Ralph’s politics were definitely leaning to the left.
However, there are several other issues that Shannon’s story shows us: how “normal” for us can sometimes be a challenge for those with learning difficulties, how things such as being able to read and write are skills that are taken for granted, and how people like Shannon get to work around those barriers in ways that we think are “cute” or “lucky” or “privileged” – like how Shannon takes notes in class with a recorder instead of a pencil and paper. Sometimes we forget how simple things – like boiling an egg – are a lot more of a challenge for some; and how much joy people get from accomplishing those tasks.
Sometimes we take our abilities for granted
My comment: These comic strips were taken from Shannon’s first appearance and amazingly did not include the story where Shannon got on top of a cafeteria table and made a speech denouncing the people who had been actively ridiculing her just seconds before that. That was Shannon’s great moment that was based on a more realistic situation with Stephanie where she got to make a speech about disability in front of the student body in her school.
If nothing else, Shannon’s story reminds us of three things:
- never take things for granted – sometimes accomplishing the smallest of tasks is a huge accomplishment for someone, somewhere
- “other” should never mean ridicule and cruelty, but calls for empathy and understanding and acceptance without judgment.
- even the most challenged among us have something to say and can make a difference.
My comment: My biggest issue with Lynn’s storytelling was her imitation of Stephanie’s speech via Shannon. On her website, they have a recording of Shannon talking. I remember listening to it and being amazed that she did not talk like I had been interpreting Shannon’s speech to be from the comic strip. She did not stutter and she did not have big delays between her words. I know that this was Lynn’s intent in putting in all those ellipses in Shannon’s speech, because in this comic strip, Jeremy Jones makes a joke specifically about Shannon being a slow talker. It made me realize that the person mocking Stephanie via Shannon’s speech was Lynn Johnston herself
Shannon was getting it from all sides -- other characters and from her creator. She definitely qualifies as an underdog.