January 31, 2007
"For Better or For Worse", but not for much longer

The pile of comic strip retirements is about to get bigger. Well, sort of.

First, the bad news: Lynn Johnston needs a break.

The cartoonist has, after all, written and drawn the popular comic strip For Better or for Worse for 28 years, in sickness and in health, without complaint, while Aaron McGruder (Boondocks), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and others griped, took extended hiatuses and retired.

"What wusses!" she exclaims.

But Johnston turns 60 this year, and she wants to do things in life that are difficult to do while producing 365 comic strips a year.

"I want to travel and study and paint, and I want to spend some time with friends and family," Johnston says.

"We're starting to get to the stage when you go to funerals and that's where you reunite with friends," she continues. "I want to be able to spend time with friends while they're still alive."

The good news, however, is that Johnston isn't retiring. Instead, the strip -- which appears in more than 2,000 newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle -- will be transformed in September into what Johnston calls "a hybrid" of new and old material.

She will continue to write and draw, but the new material will serve to frame flashbacks consisting primarily of recycled material. These strolls down memory lane also sometimes will contain new material that amplifies, embellishes or completes story lines of old.

For instance, Johnston mentions a character, Deena, who was absent from the strip for a long time without explanation. In her head she knew why Deena disappeared, but she never got around to drawing it. Now she will.

For the most part, however, the continuing saga of the Patterson family will end. Characters will stop aging. Existing story lines will be wrapped up before the change. Think of the new format as a long goodbye.

Well, okay. I'm a longtime fan of FBoFW, so I'm glad I'll still have it, for however long Johnston does it. She'll still be adding some content, and the strip will still be hers, so this is better in every meaningful respect than the continued flogging of old joke-a-day strips where the original artist is long dead. I presume at some point she'll retire fully, and by then I figure I'll be ready to let go.

Just guessing here, but I suppose we'll see Michael and family move into new digs; Elizabeth finally find the right guy (I'm betting Anthony gets his wish); and maybe John join Ellie in retirement. I presume we'll be spared seeing Ellie's dad die as her mom did some years ago. That's about it in terms of major story lines. Anybody want to add to that?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 31, 2007 to Society and cultcha