We take a break from vacation blogging to talk about an important event of cultural significance, one that will be talked about at dinner tables and coffee shops today.
No, no, I’m not talking about the fact that Sarah Palin apparently eats babies for breakfast along with her moose smoothies and state trooper omelets. I’m talking about the ending of the comic strip For Better or Worse.
I should say right off that I have not been a FBoW fan since the early days, when the kids were cute and provided a nice antithesis to the sugary, perfect children of Family Circus. Hell, I barely read the comics at all anymore. I get my daily dose of Pearls Before Swine online and when you think about it, everything after Pearls is just crap. Anyhow. I only started reading FBoW again for three reasons:
1. I heard the strip was going to end, and that intrigued me enough to find out if she was going to end it in some obtuse way, like the Sopranos, which would have been cool.
2. I happened to go to the FBoW website and read some exchanges between Lynn Johnston and her fans and realized that this chick is out of her freaking mind. She (and a lot of her readers) have so blurred the line between fiction and reality that it made me curious about how she would bring this thing to a close.
3. Todd is weirdly obsessed with this comic. I think he got pissed off when they killed off the dog, Farley, and has been reading it just to see if Johnston would atone for that grievous error. I like to get to the comic before him in the morning and taunt him with phrases like “OH my god, they killed off April!”
To be completely honest, I was reading it because I really wanted to see how these kids grew up. Unlike the comics of my youth like Peanuts and Dondi, the people in FBoW actually aged and went through various stages of life. Unlike Beetle Bailey, where joining the army apparently stops the aging process.
I liked Michael and Elizabeth and April. They got into trouble. They made their mother miserable sometimes. It wasn’t exactly Calvin and Hobbes, but at least it wasn’t Billy and his stupid footsteps. And while the mother was somewhat predictable and cliche, she had more life to her than Cathy, whose only two emotions were fat and lonely.
So I followed the trials and tribulations of the Patterson family until about the time the kids stopped being precociously cute and started being teenagers. The whole thing turned into a soap opera, like a family friendly version of Apartment 3-G. There was strife and death and illness and unrequited love and I just don’t want that kind of stuff in my comics. The word comic intones that I should be laughing. “Hullooo, zeeba neighbah!” makes me laugh. A dead dog does not.
And now, as you probably know, FBoW has officially ended. I really thought she was going to kill off Grandpa before she closed shop (why not, she killed off Grandma in 1998). Surprisingly, Grandpa lived, which should have given me some indication of just how she was going to wrap this up.
Once again, I will be honest about this. What I was hoping for was never going to happen. A nuclear blast goes off right before Elizabeth and Anthony exchange vows. An ugly home invasion ends in carnage. April turns out to be a meth addict and the strip closes with an illustrated intervention. Explosions. Fire. Brimstone. Hell, I would have even taken Grandpa’s perfectly timed death over what was printed today.
Everyone lives happily ever after.
After all the years of putting reality into her comics – homosexuality, car accidents, a dead dog, hospital stays, death in the family, attempted rape, a house fire, mental disability, a mugging, illness, abusive parents, promiscuity, broken marriages, embezzlement and infidelity – she decided to opt out with a fantastical, storybook ending in which everyone’s hopes and dreams are fulfilled and the FBoW universe is one of fuzzy bunnies and rainbows and unicorns, where everyone smiles all the time and nothing goes wrong.
Seriously. It’s all one big, neatly wrapped package of fluff.
Yea, I know. It’s fiction. It’s Lynn Johnston’s family and she can do whatever she wants with them, no matter how hokey and heart warming. It’s just not fair to Farley that everyone else gets to go to the great comic book retirement pasture as happy, fulfilled, perfect people and him and Grandma are six feet under. It seems ridiculous that there was so much unhappiness thrown into that comic over the years – and I don’t mean Cathy unhappiness where she cries because the donuts went to her hips – and everything should wrap up so neatly.
Forgive me. I’m a cynic and a realist. This is probably why I need my comic strips to be absurdly unrealistic; there’s no chance of me being disappointed when things like “happily ever after” enter into the picture after years of turbulence. I like Pearls Before Swine because it has a zebra and a crocodile living next door to each other and a naive pig and a cunning rat are best friends and no matter what happens, it can’t be out of character or a surprise because what could possibly be a surprise in a strip where your neighbors try daily to kill you in the most moronic ways possible? NOTHING! That’s the point! Nothing is out of the ordinary, nothing is a surprise. And in this last FBoW comic, the over the top happy endings for everyone is a surprise.
Maybe it’s that the wrap up is so hyperbolic. Maybe if Johnston just said “And they all lived happily ever after,” I would have bought it. I would have sighed and said “Well, done, Lynn. Well done,” and forgot about FBoW two minutes later. But, no. She had to make it grandiose. Michael had four published books and a film contract. Ellie and John lived the perfect retired life. Everyone is living out their dreams. There’s no strife in the imaginary future. There’s no stress. Everything went right. Which works well and good in fairy tales, but FBoW, what with it’s rape and death story lines, is no fairy tale.
It just would have sat a lot better with me – and keep in mind that I’m not really a fan of the strip and read it only to mock it to my boyfriend – if there was at least one dose of reality in that ending. Like “April put herself through college by stripping and dealing coke.” Or, “Anthony left Elizabeth when he realized that he was only doing what people expected of him and not what he wanted, which was to be a rodeo clown.” “Michael’s first screenplay was eventually turned into a movie by Michael Bay and got 1/2 tomato on Rotten Tomatoes.”
Or, they all move into a house with a rat and a pig and neighbors who say “hullooo zeeba neighbah!”