The importance of not being a Foob

So Lynn Johnston has finally decided to respond to her critics, in a lengthy post to her website. It’s a curious document; half-condescending, half-defensive, all self-serving justification.

Much as I’d love to tear into it line by wretchedly spurious line…well, there is that whole ‘getting too worked up over a comic strip’ thingy. Also, I’m secure in the knowledge that the crews at

[info]binky_betsy and the CC have already thoroughly covered anything I might miss.
There are just a few things remaining that my brain stubbornly refuses to let past, in re: the creative process generally.
–Item one: She claims that she just doesn’t have the time to show everything in the strip. That her readers should assume that we’re only seeing a fraction of her characters’ wide and varied universe wherein all our complaints about their insensitivity and illogic just happen to be answered off-panel.

OK then! Based on the exact same rationale, I immediately constructed a scenario in which Anthony was a depraved child molester, also that Mike was cheating on his wife with his buddy Weed. But moving on…As an example of this logic, she claims that Anthony and Liz really love each other and are secure in their happiness; so secure that they show it ‘privately’.
Buh…? Uh, lady, you do realize your characters are, like, fictional, right? As in, they don’t have a ‘private life’, because they don’t frelling exist?
Honestly, Lynn. This is all just so breathtakingly stupid, from any kind of creative standpoint. Specifically, if you are a comic strip artist, and you have to personally explain that what we’re seeing therein isn’t what’s really happening, you are failing miserably. Simple as that.

Every work of art is ipso facto open to interpretation. That’s what makes it ‘art’, not a private therapy session for your myriad neuroses. Whatever your vision, if you want your audience to respond to it in a certain way, it is your responsibility to articulate that within the medium you’ve chosen. If you cannot do that within the limitations thereof, then you have the option of either adapting or finding a larger canvas. Or folding the tent altogether.

(Ironically, there’s a compromise that could easily be made within the strip as is, given that it contains a theoretically brilliant novelist. Having Mike draw on his family for inspiration would be a plausible and effective narrative device – as Lynn of all people should realize!)
The one thing you cannot do is attempt to edit your readers’ response after the fact. They will not take it from you, and no more they should. If you write (approve, whatever) a proposal sequence in which Liz and Anthony are sitting stiffly on the couch behaving as if they sincerely, intimately believe that touching each other will transmit Ebola, expecting people to believe they’re actually snogging madly just offscreen is insulting everyone’s intelligence. Including any random flies that might be crawling across the paper at the time.
–Item two: She claims that the bizarrely stunted worldview presented in the strip – in which her characters’ ability to form lasting, meaningful connexions with anything or anyone actually seems to be contracting as they age – is the unavoidable result of working within this ‘weird fantasy bubble’ in which she has real trouble creating new characters.
Ye-eah. Apparently, because doing so would cut into the loving care that must be taken to ensure that the readers realise down to the smallest detail that Elly’s a saint and/or John’s a jerk.  Entire strips must be devoted to April paying tribute to her mom’s fiscal responsibility in the matter of belt-shopping before we can show Liz – or for that matter anybody else in his damn family – visiting with a dying grandpa.

I’m reading this and I’m seriously wondering if their creator realizes that she’s confessing to being wholly inadequate to the artistic task at hand; that her own real-life limitations are informing her fictional ones to the point where the whole is untenable.

Probably not, because elsewhere she complains that she didn’t write Liz and Anthony as an affectionate couple – er, I mean, show the moments in which they’re affectionate – [sound of Shoe’s brain going ‘boom’] – anyway, she didn’t want to come off as too sticky-sweet.
In other words, she knows these characters so intimately she thinks of them as real, they age in real-time so she’s had a full decade to consider their eventual pairing…and she still can’t write a realistically loving, caring relationship between them. It’s either adolescent hearts-and-flowers, or arid negotiations.
She makes great play of blaming the medium – say, did you know that comic strips were totally unable to convey emotion? Me neither – but a very different story is revealed by her ‘reassurances’ that Anthony is a Nice Young Man in a Good Solid Business, and Liz’ folks like him, which ‘bodes well for her future happiness’.
In short, us readers should be partying like it’s 1955 (possibly 1855) – the man’s the provider, and the woman doesn’t have a life beyond what he’s going to provide, so she should head straight for the practicalities. That’s where the real drama lies: in her ability to fight off the passion and fun and excitement and all that other risky stuff and Settle Down.
Whoo-hoo! Yes, ma’am, I as a modern young female reader am just agog to find out where this is going to lead! Maybe they’ll hold hands on the way into Wal-Mart next week!
…Sorry, I do realize I’m not actually the target demographic of this strip anymore. Thing is, though, Shoemom most emphatically is, and if I ever behaved to her in re: my upcoming wedding as Liz does to Elly, I can guarantee you that the first thing out of her mouth would be ‘Honey, are you sure this is what you want? Because you don’t seem very happy with it at all.”
See, Lynn, for centuries now the people you’re writing for have been turning to literary romances to escape the practical, pragmatic model of feminine destiny. Jane Austen built an entire legend around finding true love in spite of societal obligation, and generations of writers from genius to outright drugstore-shelf hack have followed her lead. That you’re trying to fob off an ‘unsentimental’ romance on your current readership says volumes about your own issues, and an honest acknowledgment of that fact would have been appreciated.
Instead, we get this half-baked attempt to pretend everything’s OK in Foobville, it’s us that aren’t getting it. Did you really expect that to impress anyone at all?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. rj_anderson
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 17:42:13

    That whole thing is just… wow. “Weird fantasy bubble” indeed… but the sad thing is, it’s not even a fantasy bubble that anyone I can think of would enjoy living in.

    Except Lynn Johnson, apparently.

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