Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is it Better or is it Worse? A Rant

This isn't a comic book post. It's a comic strip post and newspaper comics were my intro to graphic storytelling (Mark Trail, The Phantom, On Stage, Little Orphan Annie, Steve Roper, and dozens of others), and this interview with Lynn Johnston is bugging me, so I'm blogging about it.

I was saddened to learn of the breakup of Lynn Johnston's marriage and am glad she'll now be doing more new material for the For Better or for Worse comic strip, but I just don't get the reasoning behind reuniting Elizabeth and Anthony. In particular, this is the paragraph that irritated my comic reading sensibilities:
Johnston said she reunited Elizabeth with Anthony partly because of advice from late "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. "'Sparky' accused me of having too many characters," she recalled with a chuckle. "'It's so confusing,' he said. He was right." So bringing back Anthony rather than introducing a new permanent love interest for Elizabeth made sense in that respect.
Let me add a big WTF? and a HUH? That comic has had dozens of characters on and off over the years, with many fading into the woodwork when their stories ended. Or they're tied to individual members of the Patterson family. There are Elizabeth's friends, Michael's friends and family, Ellie's friends, John's co-workers, April's school friends, and the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. So it's assumed we can't keep track of Elizabeth's boyfriends?

One would think, after a breakup, we wouldn't see them again, but there was Warren showing up after Liz broke it off with Paul. And the whole breakup with Paul? That didn't have to happen. I think a lot of readers liked him. As long as characters are drawn as individuals, they can be differentiated by the average reader and Paul was interesting. Personally, I wish Liz had stayed up north. Sure, the stories might have become limited, but I think Liz settling down there with Paul, having kids, becoming a true member of that community, would have led to interesting stories. And his cheating on her was so obviously a setup/plot contrivance, given he was ready to follow her back to her hometown. But okay, if not him, why not Warren, another character we already knew?

But no, we get Liz and Anthony. And the overall effect is that you can travel, but at heart, we're all just homebodies. Excitement is for the young, but then reality settles in and excitement is left behind. That sort of theme might've worked in Thomas Hardy's day (know yourself and your lot in life and don't try to change it or disaster will befall you), but it doesn't cut it now. Especially since that theme has already played out with Michael and Deanna. And talk of too many characters being confusing comes across as a smokescreen for the truth.

I'm not happy about freezing the characters in time, either. I loved that FBOFW characters aged. I loved the real life feel of the strip. So, while I'm glad Lynn will be doing more original work than she'd planned, albeit for a sad reason, I'm still not sure if the strip will continue to be one of my must-reads.


  1. I have an almost holy reverence for Peanuts, but Charles Schulz telling anyone their strip has too many characters is the pot calling the kettle black. Even though some of them disappeared for years at a time, Peanuts had dozens of at least semi-recurring characters.

  2. You're right, Bill, and except for generalities like clothing, they looked a lot alike, unlike Lynn's beautifully drawn characters who all look very individualized.

  3. I've got to admit that Anthony doesn't do much for me, but what really surprises me, is the outrage that some fans generate! You'd think it was Hal vs Kyle or something!

    And speaking of comic strips...the youthful doctor in Mary Worth is something of a cad!

  4. When it comes to FBOFW, so many people have a lot of emotion invested in the strip. It is like Hal vs Kyle!

    I don't get Mary Worth anymore, but I do get to follow it somewhat on The Comics Curmudgeon. And yeah, that doc is a real cad.