Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse, carried locally by the Daily Mail, is one of those comic strips that doesn’t get much in the way of critical love. Yet it’s one of the comics that people seem to read religiously, and it’s one of only five comic strips carried in more than 2,000 newspapers. That’s why it’s a bit of a surprise that, come September big changes are afoot. The characters will stop aging, as they have throughout the history of the comic. They will remain forever the age that they are this year. And the comic strip will go into what Universal Press Syndicate calls a “hybrid” mode, where new strips will primarily be framing sequences that will set up long periods of “re-runs” of earlier strips from the strip’s 28-year run.
While this is a gutsy move, it’s not as drastic as Bill Amend or Berkeley Breathed, who moved from doing daily comic strips to only doing Sunday pages. And it’s certainly not as severe as Bill Watterson ending Calvin and Hobbes at its peak. The fact is, producing a daily comic strip is a huge drain. Most cartoonists employ assistants, but still have to work long hours to create the storylines and crank out the artwork day-in and day-out.
Johnston writes and pencils FBorFW herself, but uses assistants to letter the strip and ink the backgrounds. There are some cartoonists who hire “ghosts” to do far more than that. Over the years, she has not gotten enough credit for being as adept at her craft as she is. FBorFW is one of the better-drawn comic strips of the modern age. It manages to balance humor with soap-opera continuity with equal success.
The reduced production schedule will allow Johnston, who turned 60 recently, time to enjoy other pursuits without giving the strip up completely. Johnston tells “Editor And Publisher” that she didn’t want to turn the strip over to another creator, who would then have to compete with her legacy. She also says that she would like to travel and has some health issues.
So our first “Cool Comic” is For Better Or For Worse, by Lynn Johnston. The unsung workhorse of the comics page.