End of Marriage Leads to New Content in Revamped Strip

Article excerpt

As "For Better or For Worse" moved into "hybrid" mode this week with a look back at how Elly and John Patterson met, few readers of Lynn Johnston's partly autobiographical comic knew that her real-life husband left her this April.

The news that Rod Johnston had met someone else was a devastating shock to Lynn, whose millions of fans thought her long marriage -- like the long marriage of Elly and John -- was "storybook" in nature. "It shows our family was as vulnerable as anyone," she said during a phone interview with E&P.

But there's a silver lining of sorts in the breakup of the marriage, which will probably officially end in divorce next April. Johnston, who's feeling much better about the separation than she did this spring, has been devoting more time to her hybrid comic than initially planned. And she intends to continue doing so -- meaning there'll be more "new" in the new-old "FBorFW" than anyone could have expected.

"The sudden change in my life has given me a lot more need to focus on my work," said Johnston, who noted that one reason she had wanted to stop doing "FBorFW" was to share retirement with Rod, who had ended his career as a dentist.

Indeed, Johnston, 60, had originally wanted to halt "FBorFW" completely. Universal Press Syndicate -- which distributes the 1979-launched comic to more than 2,000 newspapers -- then suggested that the comic go into reruns (a la "Peanuts"). Johnston countered with the hybrid idea, because she wanted to give newspapers and readers at least some new material. "And I love a challenge," she said.

The hybrid "FBorFW" will still contain some material directly culled from the comic's earlier years, giving Johnston the time to travel more and do other things with her life that would be hard to do if she continued creating seven completely new "FBorFW" strips each week. But, with the separation as partial impetus, the fresh content will be plentiful.

For instance, Johnston plans to do many (though not all) future Sunday comics from scratch. Around the time of the phone interview with E&P, Johnston was enthusiastically working on the Nov. 25 strip showing Deanna (the wife of Elly and John's son Michael) dressing her children. "I'm having a wonderful time drawing the body language," she said.

Also, much of this week's flashback material about Elly and John meeting was newly drawn and newly written. (The cartoonist said she initially had a lot of trouble drawing John after Rod left her real-life marriage, but finally the "spell was broken" and she was able to do it.) But Johnston will also use some old "FBorFW" material that's not redrawn in future strips.

Johnston said she's not that pleased with her early "FBorFW" art. "It could have been better," she observed. "I had two kids and was very busy, so I had to do things more quickly." But Johnston does like her early writing in the comic -- and has enjoyed looking back to when Michael and his sister Elizabeth were young.

"Those were some of the funniest strips," said the Canadian creator, a 1994 Pulitzer Prize finalist and the first woman to win the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Award as cartoonist of the year..

Johnston has already frozen her characters in time (they'll no long age), but she'll continue to resolve certain things in the strip into next year. One of these things is the renewed relationship between Elizabeth and her high-school sweetheart Anthony. …