Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lynn Johnson's Freelance Work

Around the time For Better or For Worse was struggling towards an inconclusive ending to its long-running soap opera-ish comic, Lynn Johnson was branching out her artistic cartoony skills for other informative books, two of which are available on her site.  Leaving Home, a College introduction using Michael Patterson reprise in his Zonker Harris mode minus the distinctive goatee, and a Learn Spanish book for some reason.

It's well known that before she garnered fame with her famous strip, she ventured out with a collection of 101 comics inspired by waiting on her doctor's table that would later be known as David, We're Pregnant!  The first draft had rough elements suck as sketchy artwork and swearing, which was toned down and revised in the later family-friendly versions.  Prior to that, her only experience with being an outlet for humour was with providing medical illustrative material for McMaster University, only one of which appeared in a Comics Journal interview.  The only othe shared artwork was when Lynn later paid tribute to her roots in the form of a card  .She's often remarked that students who studied her amusing illustrations could remember the material much easier than students who were deprived of her talents. Learning medicine just to see these cartoons is a pretty wrong motivation to become a doctor, and hopefully these samples will be made public not posthumously.

But these attempts at outsourcing material aren't the only instance where the famed cartoonist lent her services to another writer.

Early in her career when she was still starting out, she provided some handy illustrations to humour columnist Gary Lautens.  He was a Canadian journalist who talked about his family in the 60's until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1992.  Her artwork appeared in the pages of Take my Family Please! and No Sex Please... We're Married.  His stuff was quite popular with Canadian readers, and when he died, they felt they'd lost a friend.  Despite his past accomplishments (over 10,000 written articles), he remains virtually unknown today, and his books are sadly out of print.  Coincidentally enough, the Lautens family donated his private papers to McMaster University, the very same school that Lynn Johnson started working.  There must be a connection there or something.

In addition to being influenced by Peanuts, Aislin and Doug Wright, we can now add Gary Lautens to the list.  Indeed, some of his writings clearly influenced her strips, and there are certainly several instances that are deliberately lifted from the man.

I have to admit, when I first saw these books, the first thing I did was flip through to look at the drawings first, then force myself to actually read the relevant text.  It's not easy to go from pictures to words, especially if the images and text don't match on the same page, and it's not helped if the prose isn't as funny as it thinks it is.

Your humour may vary, and some of the jokes and scenarios may fall flat since they may not be as timeless as one thinks.  One major fault that FBOFW did in trying to remain current with reruns was to try to pretend that these were taking place in a timeless moment when there are countless artifacts and background details that just screams '80s.  Updating the text doesn't work when you're talking about Boy George or Michael Jackson.  Hardly anybody watches TVs that aren't flatscreen, save for a few nostalgia seekers who prefer the company of manually changing channels by hand.

This is especially evident in this elaborate essay that gives more credit to Lynn's widening her worldview by having her characters move to exotic locations instead of remaining in a static hometown environment.
I was more interested in the cartoons that accompanied the piece than actually reading the lengthy point-form ridden essay.  Hopefully, if you pay more attention to the drawings and not the written stuff, then you won't notice how shoddily written the prepared piece is.  If you skimmed over this sentence in favor of the amusing cartoons in this post, then it means it's working!

But this wasn't the only instance where she lent her artwork for a writer.  Lynn Johnson also applied her talents to There's a Worm in my Apple, by Sheena Baker, a teacher Lynn was friends with.  Like the Gary Lautens books, Worm is filled with amusing anecdotes while teaching grade school children, but in bite-sized segments for easier digestion.

This book is even more obscure than the previously mentioned items, and its surprising that Lynn Johnson hasn't taken the time to publicize her earlier stuff, given how much she likes talking about her past.  This is the kind of stuff that would appeal to long-time fans seeking out past material of her previous artwork when it was still funny.

There's a conflicting conundrum where in order for a writer to become respected, they need to be doing serious work to gain foothold in the literary field.  Problem is, if you come from a place of humour, you're going to lose your audience just to favor curry with the select few whose opinions really "matter".  Is it any coincidence that when Steven Spielberg started listening to his detractors and produced serious material starting with Schindler's List, he became less popular with moviegoers, even as he was winning Academy Awards?  The last "fun" movie he made I can think of recently (that I've seen) is the memorable Catch Me if you Can.  (The Terminal fails with the tacked-on love interest)  When Gary Lautens tried to introduce serious elements into his family anecdotes, his readers backlashed saying they wanted to hear the funny stuff, since they had the rest of the paper to handle depressing stuff.  The man complied, since he knew when to listen.

Too bad Lynn Johnson didn't have anybody brave enough to tell her that her comic was declining in later years to the point it became a chore to read.  Since then, I've entered a death pact with my sister - if, at any time, either one of us recognizes that our current work is unsatisfactory to our high aspirations, and the other is unwilling to admit or acknowledge it, we have permission to stop the other by all means necessary before our work gets sullied even further.  Better to be remembered for our high points than our gradual decline.


  1. Do you mind if I post a link to this entry over at the Foobiverse comm?

    1. Feel free to. I'd been meaning to write about Lynn's work ever since I found Worm in my Apple in a second-hand bookstore years ago, but put it off until I found her artwork for another writer. It was only by pure chance that I happened upon Gary Lautens while helping the library repackage their archived books for another moving expedition.

      I would've noted the moderators there, but the current climate of the Foobiverse has become much more insular and toxic compared to their lighter and well-deserved barbs at the later strips. Aiming their venom at Lynn's early comics when she was still getting in the game kinda takes the fun out of it, and their constant sniping over their messy eating habits, Lynn's artwork mistakes and self-referential notes make for targets that's reminiscent of shooting fish in a barrel. If it weren't for HowTheDuck's in-depth analysis, and the commentors other than DreadedCandiru2 and KefkaOwnsAll, I wouldn't bother checking out the site at all.

      The Foobiverse livejournal had its heyday back when FBoFW was trying too hard to stay relevant, but much like the comic itself, it's become an exercise in redundancy. Their constant hounding of the comic probably won't cease until they've driven the cartoonist to an early grave. At which point, they've essentially won. So now what? Do they continue harping over all her subliminal faults that only became evident when she overstayed her welcome, or do they compile all the evidence into a comprehensive tell-all dirty secrets book, tarnishing her reputation further?

      I guess we'll have to wait and see.

    2. I don't feel comfortable linking to this entry now that you have called out individual users by name....

      I did enjoy reading the entry--the early influence of Gary Lautens was interesting to see. Good point about the humor not being timeless.

    3. Well, I felt that those two commentors I mentioned tended to monopolize the Foob livejournal with their quotes, oftentimes seemingly wanting to get the last word in. There's a time and place to know when to put your two cents in, and a time to let the opinion stand on its own. And oftentimes, they're not content to let things be.

      One of the problems I have with DreadedCandiru2 is his constant creating mini-subjects of the targets of his rants. By themselves, they wouldn't be bad enough, but when they're spread out in multiple posts rather than collected together into a comprehensive essay, it makes for very shaky opinion pieces. If he would be able to condense his thoughts in a coherent manner, I wouldn't have as much of a bias against him. But his writing style has remained virtually unchanged since his inception. There's consistency, and there's familiarity breeding contempt, and for me, it's the latter.

      I'm not just talking about his viewpoint on the FBoFw comic - he has similar design flaws in his main homepage as well where he analyzes other comics in a similar vein. Trying to find a comprehensive in-depth analysis of a specific comic requires linking to over a dozen links instead of one helpful link summarizing all his points in one convenient spot. There's a reason Shaenon's essay "Why I Hate Anthony" gets more hits than other random forum entries on the same subject. It speaks honestly on the subject and relates to others as well as pointing out the various character failures as a whole, and how loathsome the man is for trying to gain sympathy points. Has there been anything DreadedCandiru2 written that can be viewed on a similar wavelength? If I'm being unduly harsh on a critic, it's because I expect better from my critics. If you're going to verbally assault someone online, you should be expected to have thick skin in regards for criticism.

  2. DeBT, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels irritated at DreadedCandiru2. I only found out about him recently from TVTropes' FBOFW Fanfic Recommendations page, and though I kind of liked his (her? I don't know) "Unofficial Liographies" at first, once I took a peek at his Livejournal entries, I started to loathe him.

    I didn't even think about the "he should have a single page on his thoughts instead of spreading it over countless blogs" thing, but my personal problem with DC2 is that he seems utterly opposed to everything Elly does. Not that I'm saying he doesn't have his points, but after trudging through daily post after daily post on how Elly is this horrible monster of a mother that abuses Michael and Elizabeth and doesn't appreciate all that she has, I start to feel that he's being disingenuous, like he's opposing Elly (and thus, the creator) just for the sake of opposing her.

    The one example I have is a strip where Michael's being ungrateful of Elly's costume that she made for him, presumably for Halloween. Although I agree with Elly being fed up with her son (she HAD been working on it for 2 days, and I feel Michael was being nitpicky), DC2 seemed to think she was in the wrong. Now I'm asking myself which is right: Elly's viewpoint, or DC2's? You can read that blog post here and decide for yourself:


    (Yes, I know that strip wasn't the one DC2 was focusing on that day, but since he used it as [in my opinion, faulty] evidence against Elly, I'm inclined to believe he's siding with Michael.)

    Also, DC2's been doing this daily, nonstop, for SEVERAL YEARS! Personally, it seems rather obsessive, borderline insanity, to do that without any sort of break. Of course, since comic strips update daily as well, it makes sense, but I just get this ridiculous image of him lying on a hospital bed with whatever physical or internal troubles he's been afflicted with, typing on a laptop detailing why that day's strip's implications are Wrong with a capital W.

    Also, his writing doesn't seem all that good to me. You can read it just fine, sure, but his formatting and punctuation could use some improvement; I feel like he just types whatever comes to mind and posts, only editing the egregious spelling errors. I put together the Michael liography DC2 did, and when I read it all in one document, I felt it could've used an editor. Plus I would've preferred first-person style rather than constantly referring to the subject of the liography as "he" or "she", which leads to tense confusion and a sense of detachment from the narrative.

    I didn't think DC2 was arrogant/egotistic, but I wouldn't be surprised, now that you bring it up. Do you have any evidence to it, or is it just an assumption on your part? I'm not about to trudge through his river of never-ending bile again if I can help it.

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