Thursday, June 12, 2008

For Better or For Worse Cop-Out

I need to take a moment and discuss a daily comic strip, not a comic book today. Thanks to McBangle's Angle, I read this note from Lynn J0hnston about the recent storyline in FBoFW, and frankly, I'm not surprised, just saddened. What was once a fairly daring strip, introducing gay and disabled characters, killing off characters (including the family's beloved pet), and aging the characters in real time, FBoFW has become just another comic, and saying there isn't enough time left to develop the stories fully just won't cut it.

I get that some things need to be shortened up. What bugs me is the content that's there. So many of the dailies read like excuses for lousy puns. In the past, when they ended in puns, there was bite to them, or a familiarity that led to reader nods of understanding. Now, we usually scratch our heads or groan or wonder why we wasted time reading the thing. And why waste time on Mike's big writing career, with nothing much happening, when there's so much more that needs to be done with Liz, and even with April who is about to move on to the next stage of her life, the part after graduation.

But it's the continued nonsense of Liz and Anthony that keeps me fuming. Yes, we've had enough warning that Lynn prefers her characters to settle down with childhood sweethearts. After all, Mike did that. But Liz doesn't have to, and Lynn seemed to be giving Liz a life beyond her hometown, and an adventurous spirit, only to pull everything back and negate all that she created, the stories that were wonderful, vital expressions of life and hope and maturity, of independence and dreams and making your own way despite mistakes and missteps.

Here's what Lynn said, in part, about Liz and Anthony:
"For those of you who oppose Anthony as a marriage partner for Liz. Please consider the fact that he has been closely tied to her family all the while she's been away at school and up north. John and Elly invested in, buy their cars from and constantly connect with Gordon Mayes who owns a successful automotive complex with Anthony now as manager of the repairs and maintainance division. Both Elly and John regard Anthony highly and ultimately, this bodes well for Elizabeth's future with him. She respects her parents' opinions. She knows his family, his past, his friends and his personality. His appearance as a successful single parent also says a lot about his ability to commit to and sustain a lasting relationship.l I haven't gone into a lot of kissing, embracing, "I love you dialogue" for fear of making you jump on me for being too saccharine!! I should have turned on the treacle!! Trust me, she does love him and she's confident enough in her choice, and he with her, that their relationship is easy. They simply know they're making the right choice and display their serious, physical affection privately!!"
Give me a break. Why should I trust what Lynn says on her site? I'm reading the comic. That's where it should be. Not in an explanation in a whole different medium that many people can't or won't know about or see. What the author says is intended doesn't matter much if it's not on the page. Because we read the stories, on the comics pages. They don't come with notes or appendices.

The only reason the other guys Liz dated didn't work out, especially Paul, is that Lynn wrote it that way. She built up Warren, then Paul, to be the right guy, especially Paul, then had Liz decide, "I'm finished with adventure, I'm going home and if the guy can't go with me, who needs him." Then, when he doesn't want to change his life, when he/Paul reasonably expects that Liz would stay there, where she's been teaching for 2 years, he's the bad guy in the relationship. And to drive the point home, Lynn brings in an old friend of his so he can be caught with her by Liz. Yeah, that deck wasn't stacked. Much. Lynn toyed with us, giving us guys we could like and root for, then making them into idiots. She says on her site that we didn't know much about them is shortsighted. She gave us enough. She showed us more than she thinks. She's better at doing more with one panel than some comics creators do with pages. And the scene a ways back that played out over a week, with Liz and Paul looking at the stars is among my favorites. It was romantic and full of life. Not lifeless the way every scene with Liz and Anthony feels, as if they're marionettes with Lynn pulling the strings.

The fact that Anthony, who married a woman who clearly wasn't right for him and has a failed marriage, is capable of keeping a steady job (which Paul also is doing, as well as Warren, despite his recent pathetic-ness), and is someone her parents respect, is hardly a reason to marry the guy. And suddenly, for Liz to love him, despite all the ambivalence she's been showing, rings so false, that Lynn's claim that "The problem with a visual art like this is that it's static. If these people were on a screen, moving and alive, the subtle exchanges, eye contact, expressions, teasing and so on would be charming and endearing. In film, you can avoid saccharine in the way the actors behave. In a comic, static image, all you see is the kiss," is disproved simply because Lynn is a masterful artist and her characters have never felt static.

Is she (and her staff) losing her touch? Does she mean for Liz to not appear ambivalent or conflicted? Because that's how she's been coming across. In words. In images.

The whole case for Anthony doesn't really wash, either. After all, it was Elly who put Paul in Liz' path in the first place, when she was driving up to see Liz and ended up meeting Paul who took her to the Mountie station where she spent the night. And let him see a pic of Liz. And left her glasses so he'd have to return them, gallant sort of guy that he is. And a man of the law!

Anthony might be a dedicated single father, but he's spineless. The only reason I can see for Liz to marry him is that she'll always have the upper hand in the relationship. Whatever she wants, Anthony will want, too, just because she wants it. Can't beat that, right? After all, he has her parents' respect.

They're Lynn's characters and if she says Liz loves Anthony, then that's the final word. She's the one in control. But she isn't making many of us believe her, anymore, and that's what really saddens me. Because this was once a fresh, vital comic, one with unexpected turns as its characters went about their lives, and now, it's a stale, predictable imitation of that comic.

Okay, rant over. For now. I expect I'll need to lather and repeat a few more times before the summer ends.


  1. There's an old saying: "If you have to explain the joke, then it isn't funny." I think that applies to any form of writing. If the author has to explain what's going on OUTSIDE of the context of the written work, then the author isn't doing a very good job of producing the work in the first place.

  2. Yes, exactly, s of g. If one or two people don't get it, it's probably them. If a whole lot of people don't get it, it's probably the writing.

  3. It really has become rather Victorian in nature, hasn't it? I have to wonder if Liz's parents are going to throw in a dowry for her or something.

    And yes, Sea is right. As usual.

  4. I'm not a regular FBoFW reader, but I think the most creepy thing about Liz ending up with Anthony is that Anthony LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE LIZ' DAD. I don't know if that's due to some issues on Johnson's part or just her limited drawing skill, but it's just..uggh!

  5. Ick. I hadn't realized it, but you're right. It's not lack of skill, because she's a wonderful artist, great with expressions. But it is ugh!

  6. Anonymous9:07 PM EDT

    I so feel your pain. I blogged about it here:

  7. I read your post, Jennifer, and it was a good summary of the mess. I would've commented there, but I'd have to register.