The Next Chapter

Lynn Johnston answers the Proust questionnaire

The For Better or For Worse creator reveals her favourite character, her favourite occupation and what is her biggest regret in life.
(AP Photo/Ed Eng Photography/Ed Eng)

For more than 30 years Lynn Johnston drew the lives of the Patterson family in her comic strip For Better or For Worse. Lynn's illustration of suburban family life came out of her own experiences as a wife and mother. For Better or For Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston is an anthology of the series and it coincides with a touring exhibit of Lynn's work. Lynn Johnston answered The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Tell me about  your favourite character in fiction.

It has to go back to my childhood and it was Little Lulu. That's because her nemesis was a witch and I always thought my mother was a witch. That's embarrassing, but that's it.

What characteristic do you value most in your friends?

Integrity. And listening and caring. Because if a friend does not listen to you and hear what you're saying and return their concern or their interest, then I don't think it's a friendship at all, it's just someone.

Your favourite painter?

Henri Matisse. He slows me down and makes me calm. I love that. I think I like the colours, the use of pastel, the flickering shapes that he uses.

Your favourite occupation?

Reading, right now. Reading and drawing funny things. I've always been able to draw but I've never been able to draw things and enjoy drawing things seriously. I get the most fun out of drawing silly things and the sillier they are, the more joy I get out of it.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Loneliness. When you feel as though you are all alone, and you are handling all kinds of trauma all by yourself, and you feel as though you have no one to turn to.

What is your principal defect?

I guess vanity? I don't like arrogance in myself. I want to stay aware of who I am and what I  can do in relation to the world. So often, when you achieve something and you get a lot of pats on the head, you start to think about how wonderful you are. But when you get in an airplane and look down on the world, and everything is reduces to specks of sand, you think "How important am I, anyways?" You keep it all in perspective.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I give things away. Over the years, I've owned many, many things, whether it's clothing or toys or artwork or jewelry. When someone says, "Gosh, that's a beautiful necklace," I say, "Here, you should have this necklace." And I enjoy giving things away. I give things away all the time, and sometimes I say, "Wow, why did I do that? I really wanted to keep it."

What's your greatest fear?

Losing people that I love. At one point, I prayed to God that if anything terrible happened to anybody in the family, please let it be me.

What's your greatest regret?

That I did not get to know my mother well as an adult. We did not get along when I was very young and it wasn't until I was maybe in my 40s we were able to converse comfortably and then she died far too young. So I would have very much liked to have more time with her because she was a marvelous person. She was bright and talented and just a brilliant writer and illustrator. We had a lot in common, but we got off to a bad start.

Lynn Johnston's comments have been edited and condensed.