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for Thursday, December 17, 2009

For Better or For Worse

Today I'm taking a break from the Marvel reviews to revisit a matter I wrote about a couple weeks back. Here's what I wrote in the December 4 edition of this column:

Your Tipster has a question for the veteran "For Better or For Worse" fans in the audience. The Akron Beacon-Journal kept running Lynn Johnston's strip even after it switched to its current format of refurbished reprints. I enjoy the strips, but something about them seems a little off to me.

Was John, the husband and father in the strip, really such a jerk in the feature's early days? He seems to take Ellie, the wife and mother, for granted. For example, when Ellie considers taking some classes, he suggests cooking classes because that will result in tastier meals for him. The only time she works outside of their home is when he needs temporary help in his dentist office.

I haven't kept notes on what I see as a pattern of behavior. The recognition of this pattern, if it truly exists, has just sort of grown on me as I've been reading the reprints. Especially when I also consider Johnston's unpleasant divorce from the man she was married to during her strip's original run.

If you have any thoughts on this, please send them my way or post them on my message board. Because it's been driving me crazy since it first occurred to me.

Here's how you responded to my query, starting with a e-mail from ROGER GLENFIELD:
Ah, blasts from the past.

I attended college in Alliance Ohio, between 1969-1973, (Mount Union College, class of 1973). Go Raiders. After checking most of the local Sunday papers, Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and Canton Repository, I choose the Beacon Journal as my Sunday paper, partly because I liked their version of comics and because their editorial page didn't just reprint the GOP weekly points.

There was a column in my NJ local paper, Newark Star Ledger, listing FBoFW as one of the better strips, at which time I started to read it. Michael was probably in high school. Even then, the dad seemed a bit removed from the family, but I'll blame it on his full time job and Lynn staying home with the herd. Such that Lynn would be there for more of the daily drama of teenagers.

I do wish Lynn and Bill Amend (Foxtrot) would return to daily strips. Right now, all we get are Funky Winkerbean and Luann, and the Ledger has taken to shrinking the strips down, Much smaller and they can stop printing them altogether, as nobody will be able to read them.
Other readers posted on my message board.

BRAD WALKER posted this:
Re: Jon's being a jerk in early FBoFW strips. I think that's a reflection of the times. I remember reading one of Johnston's compilations - It's The Thought That Counts? - in which she describes her family looking at her strips like a family album...

So much of FBoFW is based on Johnston's wish-fulfillment. The whole character of April, of course; Johnston had a late baby in the strip rather than in real life. And some commentators remarked how unrealistic it was to have Elizabeth room with two guys and still be a virgin on her wedding day, which makes sense if we consider it Ellie/Lynn's fantasy.

If Jon's attitude is a little rough, it's possibly because it didn't occur to Johnston to "enlighten" him, or possibly she meant it to reflect real life. I can remember giving new-parent friends copies of Johnston's first books - David, We're Pregnant! Hello Mom! Hello Dad! and Do They Ever Grow Up? - and them remarking on how true-to-life they were.

"All of a sudden life seems so important!"
About revised FBOFW: No, John wasn't a jerk originally. The changed attitude is a result of the author's divorce and how she has chosen to reflect it in her revised strips.
Finally, we have this from JOHN WELLS:
John was definitely a jerk in the early years of FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE. I have most of the clipped strips and all but the last couple book collections so it's easy to confirm. [The night school gag, for instance, is on page 12 of Is This "One of Those Days," Daddy?.] Flip through I've Got the One-More-Washload Blues with the earliest strips and you'll see a shallow, sexist John who's a far cry from the more-rounded figure who developed as Johnston matured and expanded her vision beyond going for easy gags at the expense of character. I haven't compared the current hybrid to the originals in any detail but it seems to me the new material in the 2009 version is specifically designed to balance the lack of depth in the early reprints.
Though WILDCARD disagrees with JOHN WELLS, sans anyone sending me an example of a reprinted strip that increases John's jerkiness over the original, I'm going to consider this a case of my reading something into the reprints that's not actually there.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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