After nearly 30 years, John and Elly Patterson are looking at retirement. They've seen their kids grow up: Michael and Elizabeth have joined...
After nearly 30 years, John and Elly Patterson are looking at retirement.
They’ve seen their kids grow up: Michael and Elizabeth have joined the work force, Michael has gotten married, and younger daughter April has grown into her teens. They’ve dealt with the death of their dog, Farley, helped Elly’s dad recover from a debilitating stroke and, in general, handled the ups and downs of life with humor and tears.
Now their lives will come to a halt. Sort of.
The Pattersons aren’t real people but the cast of one of the most beloved — and at times controversial — daily comic strips, “For Better or For Worse,” which runs daily and Sunday in The Seattle Times.
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Cartoonist Lynn Johnston has been chronicling the ups and downs of Elly and her family and friends for almost three decades. “For Better or for Worse,” which runs in more than 2,000 markets, began in 1979 in 150 newspapers. It has been translated into eight languages and reprinted in 31 collections and books.
The strip isn’t going away, but Johnston is scaling back. Next month, she will start running older material, which will occasionally be interspersed with new strips. She eases into it beginning today as older daughter Elizabeth, just reunited with her old high-school flame Anthony, reminisces with a friend in flashbacks about how Anthony went through a bad marriage and now is divorced.
“I’m looking at this as a real challenge so that I can have some time,” Johnston said from her studio in Corbeil, Ontario. ” … I’m 60 and I want to travel and there’s other things I want to do.”
As a result, the characters, who have aged in real time over the past three decades — a rarity in the comic-strip world — will put the brakes on the advancing years. They all will stay the same age they are now.
Another reason for the change is Johnston is suffering from health issues including dystonia, a neurological condition she treats with medication.
While the strip has delighted legions of readers with its portrayal of everyday family life, it has garnered its share of controversy as Johnston has attempted to deal with more serious themes.
In 1993, Michael’s close friend Lawrence came out of the closet, and ignited a firestorm. Forty newspapers refused to carry the strip and 19 canceled it, Johnston said.
“I felt that I was being true to life and true to my work if I gave Lawrence the courage to tell Michael he was gay,” Johnston said. “I wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could broach a sensitive subject and write it into the strip with care and compassion. I included a bit of laughter, too.”
Though Johnston originally planned to bring all the current story lines to a decisive close in September, the change will instead be more gradual. She wants to explore the budding romance between Elizabeth and Anthony.
“I’m interested and readers are interested to know what is going to happen with Anthony and Elizabeth,” she said. “That resolution can’t happen too fast. They’ve only just started to see each other again after a long time apart.”
Johnston recently discussed her revamping of the strip:
Q: You’ve talked extensively about why you’re scaling the strip back, but I am interested in learning about how you came upon this rather innovative approach.
A: I didn’t want the strip to run as it was entirely, because I wasn’t happy with a lot of the very first pieces I did. I thought I would like to be able to integrate new material with it, so that people would be looking back in time. I just wanted to challenge myself to do it. … I thought this was an opportunity to give my readers new material as well as my being able to pick and choose through the original art and making it different, making it a new entity, as it were.
Q: Have you been going over the old strips in preparation for the new sequences?
A: Yes, and they’ll start running [next month]. I was going to bring the main story line to sort of a significant conclusion while I was working my way into the new format, but that sort of tie-up is not going to happen in September. It’s just not time, the characters sort of won’t let me.
Q: How has your strip changed over the years?
A: I’m much more meticulous. I do floor plans for every building. If there’s a window behind somebody with a certain kind of curtain that’s there day after day, it’s sort of like somebody who makes sure on the set of a movie the coffee cup is always with the handle to the right. It’s that carefully done. If I need to draw a machine, I find pictures of a machine. If I want to do a story about a health problem, I go to the health professionals and get my story straight before I do it.