A look at Lynn Johnston
From the wholesome wartime heroics of Johnny Canuck to the exploits of a three-foot-tall aardvark named Cerebus, Canadian comics are anything but dull. Though comics got their start south of the border, Canada has become home to an eclectic roster of cartoon talent from the Pulitzer Prize-nominated strips of Lynn Johnston, to the world-renowned comic art of Seth and the multi-media phenomenon of Todd Mcfarlane's Spawn. The CBC Digital Archives takes an in-depth look at the history of our homegrown comic strips, comic books and graphic novels.
No matter how you measure it, Lynn Johnston is one of the most successful and celebrated cartoonists in history - Canadian or otherwise. By 2006, her strip is being carried in more than 2,000 newspapers in 23 countries and can be read in eight languages. She's also won a Gemini Award, been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is a member of the Order of Canada and is the first woman to ever win a Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist from the U.S.-based National Cartoonists Society.
• She grew up in a creative family, and was encouraged by her mother to be pursue a career in fine art. When she was three, her family moved to Vancouver, where Lynn later enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art. After graduation she got a job at an animation studio.
• In 1969, she married a television camera operator and moved to Hamilton, Ont., so he could pursue his career. Unable to find animation work, Johnston got a job as a medical illustrator at McMaster University.
• In 1972, she became pregnant with her first child. Her obstetrician jumpstarted her love of cartooning by challenging her to pen some drawings for his office. The end result was dozens of humorous cartoons about her pregnancy experience.
• The best of these were later published as her first book, David We're Pregnant. Over the next 25 years it would sell 300,000 copies.
• Shortly after the book was published, she and her husband divorced. For several years she worked as a freelance artist while raising her son Aaron. In 1975, she married a dental student named Rod Johnston.
• A few years later, her daughter Kate was born. In 1978, Johnston and her family were preparing to move to the small town of Lynn Lake in northern Manitoba.
• Before they could leave, Johnston was invited to propose a comic strip for Universal Press Syndicate. Her proposal, which she called The Johnstons, was modelled on her daily routine running a young family.
• The company accepted her strip, changed the name to For Better or For Worse and signed her to a 20-year contract (not a 10-year contract as this clip mentions.)
• Johnston has said that she was so overwhelmed, that she vomited in her hotel room later that night.
• The new title for the strip was suggested by Universal Press Syndicate employee Lee Salem, who is interviewed in this clip.
• In addition to the change of the strip's title, Johnston changed the name of the family to Patterson and the names of the characters to correspond with her real family members middle names ( e.g. Aaron became Michael) The exception to this was the main character, Elly, who was named after a friend of the cartoonist who died of brain cancer in high school.
• Over the years, several events in the strip have received widespread attention.
• In 1995, the Patterson family dog Farley died in a story that saw him rescue daughter April from a river. The event generated headlines and outrage, including an indignant response from Johnston's friend Charles Schulz.
• The Peanuts creator was so upset that he threatened to have Snoopy hit by a bus as a protest.
• But Johnston's most controversial story line involved a supporting character, Lawrence Poirier.
• In 1993, Lawrence, a childhood friend of Michael's, revealed that he was gay. The revelation garnered accolades from gay and lesbian groups and provoked outrage from religious organizations. Nineteen papers dropped the strip, while 54 picked it up.
• The story earned Johnston a Pulitzer Prize nomination for cartooning.
• In 1986, Johnston became the first woman to win a Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year. Other awards include a 1987 Gemini Award (for an animated series based on her strip) and a Best Newspaper Comic Strip Award in 1991 from the U.S.-based National Cartoonist Society.
• In 1992, she was made a member of the Order of Canada.
• While Johnston continues to write and draw her strip, she has said publicly she plans on retiring and ending its run, in 2008.
• To watch Hana Gartner interview Lynn Johnston in 1980, go to our additional clip: Lynn Johnston, up close and personal.
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1980
Guest(s): Lynn Johnston, Rod Johnston, Lee Salem
Reporter: Adrienne Clarkson
Last updated: October 29, 2012
Page consulted on April 22, 2013
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