‘For Better or For Worse’ Calls it a Wrap
Just shy of its 29th anniversary, today Lynn Johnston completes her run on For Better or For Worse. The comic strip, though, isn’t going away nor is it exactly going into reruns.
Instead, Johnston is going back to the beginning, when the strip debuted on September 9, 1979 and is cleaning up her art and dialogue.
She’s been reaching an end point for some time now and has repeatedly revised how she intends to carry on once the storyline ends. One thing has remained certain, she wanted to bring the characters full circle so John and Elly are now the grandparents and Michael’s children are about the same age as he was when the strip first arrived.
"All of September will be brand-new material," Johnston explained to The Washington Post. "In October, it will be [a ratio of] 50-50. The color Sunday comics will be all-new material. . . . I think it will be 50-50 for the first year, at least."
Johnston continues to work in her Toronto studio although does so after recently separating from her husband, an act she says now frees her. "I really wanted to be happy as a couple and make everything right, but things became more stressful. . . . It made me look again at my career. I thought I would now be a retired woman with my Tilley hat and sitting on a cruise ship and going to the Galapagos," Johnston said.
While running in 2000 newspapers, the strip is now poised to lose many papers as editor seschew reruns or revised strips in favor of something new. The Post, for example, polled its readers and according to Editor & Publisher, 64% want the strip to stick around. The paper, though, decided to split the difference by dropping it from the print edition and keeping it on their website.
"The descriptive ‘new-runs’ was new to us, but it does hint at the blend of new and old that she’ll undertake," Lee Salem, Universal Press Syndicate’s president and editor, told the Post. "It’s quite a gamble on her part and much of this terrain will be new to her, too. Only time will tell if it’s effective or not."
The strip, from the Canadian artist, has been one of the few where the characters aged in real time. She used her own family experiences to propel the adventures of the Patterson family, initially featuring John and Elly and their children Michael, Elizabeth and April. Over time, it expanded the cast to family, friends, school mates and co-workers. It did not shy away from real world issues such as sexual harassment in the work place and a friend who came out of the closet.
Heart strings were continually plucked as the children grew, fell in love and two of them married. The family dog, Farley, exited the strip with a final heroic act, the effort bringing about the animal’s death which earned Johnston an outpouring of letters.
Her peers recognized her efforts by handing her the Reuben Award in 1985 and nearly a decade later she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.