British Columbia

'For Better or For Worse' creator says successful comic strip was 'cathartic'

Lynn Johnston took questions about her successful comic strip at Vancouver's Comic Arts Festival.

'If I couldn't laugh about life, I don't know what I'do,' says Lynn Johnston

Canadian Lynn Johnston began the popular comic strip 'For Better or For Worse' in 1979 and continued drawing it for over 30 years. (Facebook.com/lynnjohnstonproductions)

For those who read the comic strip For Better or For Worse, it was like keeping up with a second family — one that creator Lynn Johnston said mirrored her own family's life when she started the strip in 1979.

While the characters Elly, Michael, John and Elizabeth Patterson were initially going to stay the same age (and they did for the first three years of the comic strip), Johnston made the unusual decision to let her characters age as if they were real people.

"As my own children aged it was exciting to hear their new vocabulary and see their relationships with friends and banter with them, they became people, and I couldn't let that material go," said Johnston, who gave a Q&A at Vancouver's Comic Arts Festival on May 21.

Three years into drawing her strip, Lynn Johnston decided to make her characters age. Those who were children when she started, ended up having children of their own. (Facebook.com/lynnjohnstonproductions)

Over the 30 years that the comic ran, it gathered a loyal following and no shortage of recognition from the cartoon world.

Johnston was inducted in the Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame, was shortlisted for a Pulitzer prize, and won the prestigious comic strip prize the Reuben Award.

Doug Savage, a Vancouver cartoonist who moderated the Q&A, said that Johnston had a "groundbreaking career."

"She did things that people didn't think you could do with a comic. One of the best ways to get through life is to laugh at it, and I think she captured that perfectly in the strip," said Savage, who draws the strip Savage Chickens.

Johnston said humour was definitely an important element: "If I couldn't laugh about life, I don't know what I'd do, and the fun of the strip was knowing that other people were laughing along with me."

"I would get letters from people saying, 'I felt exactly that way today, thank you for saying that', so it was cathartic and it allowed me to vent and make a lot of friends."

Though Johnston stopped drawing the strip in 2008, For Better or For Worse is still being reprinted.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition


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