|For Better or For Worse|
Every day comic strip readers around the world enjoy following the trials and tribulations of the Patterson family who live in Lynn Johnston's studio near North Bay, Ontario. You see, Lynn is the woman who created the immensely popular "For Better or For Worse" which appears in more than 700 newspapers worldwide. Selected the number three choice of all cartoonists in North America.
It should be known by all that Lynn Johnston is without a doubt one of the nicest, most genuine people in the entire world. I have long been a fan of her comic strip family. When her publicist arranged our interview for Canadian Achievers, I hurried out and bought two copies of her latest book. I hoped she would autograph one for my private collection, and one for a Toronto friend of mine, Dick Moody who was recovering from a heart attack and would enjoy the humor in her book. I fully expected Lynn would scribble her signature like most famous people do. Instead she took much time and signed with an illustration, both my copy and Dick Moody's copy. Several weeks later I built up my courage and wrote asking her permission to reprint her autographed illustration and share it with you in this book. Being the gracious lady that she is. . . she agreed.
Lynn's is a success story that even Lynn still finds a bit hard to believe. In addition to the popularity of her daily comic strip, Lynn, past president of the National Cartoonist Society, has sold over 500,000 copies of her collected works in book form. Yet Lynn projects a feeling of insecurity.
"It's the insecurity that makes you good. I say to myself, I don't think I can do it for 365 days. I'm not good enough. Insecurity does make you better and makes you excell in this business."
Lynn wasn't always on top. She had struggles and some heartbreak along the way.
"But I knew almost from the beginning that I was going to be an artist for a living. I guess it began when I was asked by the elementary school to do all the place settings for a teacher's meeting. I was so thrilled! I always knew I could draw; it was almost an obsession. It was just almost like I had to do it."
It was fortunate for Lynn that she had her drawing to concentrate on because she was a lonely little girl growing up in Collingwood, Ontario and, later, in Vancouver, B.C. To get attention Lynn would do almost anything.
"My methods were rarely appropriate. No noise was too vulgar, no prank too risky, no rule went untested. And if I got a laugh, then the inevitable punishment was worthwhile."
Her irrepressible sense of humor and involvement in class shennanigans continued right through school, especially in art class in North Vancouver. Lynn and her cohorts were frustrated by the "Veddy British" teaching methods.
"Strangely enough, four of us from that class now make our living in the entertainment business and several others went to colourful careers in art and advertising."
The urge to draw and get attention finally came to fruition when she began to do cartoons. After several years of rejection, that is.
"In this business, rejection letters are something to collect. People gauge their success by the number of rejections they have received. Jim Davis, who draws Garfield, has boxes of them. My advice to beginners is to be critical enough of your own work to know what's good and what isn't. If someone doesn't get it-do it again!"
Lynn didn't go through the rejection slip routine.
"I did three little books on pregnancy and raising kids. These were picked up by a syndicate and they offered me the opportunity. I sent in 20 strips and they sent me a 20 year contract. This almost never happens!"
Now that she had hit the big time, it was pretty scarey.
"I was in a dilemma: on one side I was really happy; but it's terrifying to think that these people are expecting this kind of quality consistently. So the insecurity really comes in. It keeps you awake at night biting your nails and thinking, am I going to come up with another good idea?"
Where do her ideas come from?
"When cartoonists get together we always ask each other that question. I
will walk over to Sparky Schultz and ask him where he gets his ideas for PEANUTS; even he says he doesn't know! Maybe there are Vaudeville guys who passed on years ago who are sitting on your shoulder who say 'try this' -or maybe there's a mystical chemical there that you draw on and wonder sometimes if you are going to use it all up.
"There are times when something happens to you, like a death in the family or the loss of a relationship. The creative urge does dry up and the terror mounts as the deadline approaches. If I don't have six weeks written in advance, and eight weeks for the colored weekend comics, I'm in big trouble.
"And there's no escape for Christmas or family get-togethers. The six week deadline is always there and for anyone who is thinking of breaking into cartooning, they should keep that in mind. Also, we are fined $100 if our strip is late!"
Lynn admits her characters are somewhat drawn from life-her own family's life to be specific. Her dentist husband, Rod, daughter Kate and son Aaron bear an uncanny resemblance to the fictional Patterson family of the strip. However, the newest addition to the cartoon family, "April," is on her own!
Scarey, sleep-disturbing, but well worth it, says Lynn, whose collected works are sold in book form worldwide.
"I can't imagine working at any other job. It can be tough but if you are confident in your ability and you keep working at your very best, you'll succeed."
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