Feb 5, 2007

Why I hate the funny pages

I cannot claim to ever consider the comics in my local newspaper (or, more recently, online) to be a representation of 'real life.' There are liberties that must be taken for the sake of entertainment. Even Doonesbury (still the greatest, most incisive comic strip of all time), while holding to a semblance of reality, has toyed with talking plants, zombies, and trash-talking robots.

But For Better or For Worse was different. Lynn Johnston aged the characters over the decades, rarely strived for cheap jokes, and created an empathy for her cartoon family that cannot be compared to any other comic strip out there. Johnston courted controversy when a secondary player came out, toyed with fate when the family's beloved dog Farley died, created righteous anger when daughter Elizabeth was attacked by a co-worker, and has always maintained a fairly strict adherence to the realities of everyday life.

But this...this will not stand. Even more than her recent statements that she will no longer age the family, this is something completely ridiculous:

Michael, the eldest, has recently finished his first novel (and by recently, I mean last month). Now, suddenly, he receives an unexpected contract in the mail, offering him an advance of $25,000.00


I accept that there are liberties that must be taken. Perhaps he already had a firm promise from this publisher (although this is never mentioned). Perhaps the publisher had a relatively small slush pile, and was somehow able to give Michael's manuscript more than a cursory once-over.

But, c'mon! $25,000? Without so much as a phone call beforehand? Out of the blue? Johnston has always flirted with treacle, but this plot twist, coming as it does as Michael and his family are enduring the hardship of losing their belongings to a fire, doesn't hold to a single element of realism. If a single publisher is willing to put $25,000 on the line for an unproven talent, Michael should hold out for more money, for he is truly the second coming of Hemingway (or Robert James Waller, if the glimpses into his prose style over the years can be trusted).

It's agony to be jealous of a fictional character, but there it is. Lynn, you have always, always sought to present a reality in line with our own. You stood out from the pack of Beetle Baileys, Lockhorns, and Born Losers with a sharp understanding of character relationships and plot development. Don't stop now. If we can't relate to your characters, then For Better or for Worse may take a disastrous turn towards the abomination that is Family Circus. Consider yourself warned.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I read that comic strip and was a little amused that he was gettin a $25,000 advance. That's more than I make in a year.

What percentage of the total projected income is the advance? like 25%? 10%?? He must be a freakin' genius!!

E. Ann Bardawill said...

That struck me as dumbass too.

Ah well...

Nikki Stafford said...

Wow, I totally hadn't seen this. And you are SO right. Don't be jealous of Michael; Lynn's clearly placed him in a fantasy world. This strip is ridiculous on so many levels I don't even know where to start. (Uh... whatever backwoods publisher he's signing with apparently doesn't use email or phones, and instead uses the MAIL? Who uses the MAIL?) Geez, you'd think Lynn Johnston had never published a book before.

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