28 June 2007

The Great Canadian Graphic Novel

My comments yesterday about the minority of comic strips that have their characters age reminded me that for months I've been meaning to declare that the greatest Canadian storyteller of our time is not Margaret Atwood, nor Rohinton Mistry, Douglas Coupland, Farley Mowat, and other talented writers.

It's Lynn Johnston, creator of the comic strip For Better or For Worse.

For the first three years or so of the strip, Johnston's characters didn't age--a phenomenon most apparent in the kids, of course. Since then, however, everyone's grown older in "real time," and the storylines have expanded along with them.

The fact that the saga is being created in "real time" with daily reader feedback means that Johnston can both set up developments years in advance and change course or pursue new ideas as she goes along. That creates a new kind of storytelling, even apart from the graphic dimension.

Reader interaction has become even more public since the strip began because of the internet. Johnston and her staff maintain an extensive website that offers "Q & Eh" [it is Canadian, after all] and discussion boards. Elly's blog is the current site for reader feedback. Current issue: Does the character of Shannon have any function besides enlightening April and her classmates about people with disabilities?

Web-only features even offer information not found within the panels of the strip, as well as helping occasional readers catch up, as in monthly letters from characters like Michael and Elizabeth.

The site also includes, for fans of all ages, a step-by-step guide to how Johnston and her staff create each strip. It contains such insights as, "For Lynn, it's important to begin inking her character illustrations with the eyeballs."

And for Oz and Ends's Divided by a Common Language feature, I quote from the short section on "Canadianisms":

Bags of Milk: OK, it only appeared once, but this also confused even most of Canada! In Ontario and in some parts of other provinces, you can buy your milk in convenient plastic bags that slip into a jug. You snip off one corner of the bag and voila, you go with the flow! In one strip, Farley punctures a milk bag, streaming milk all over. We received many letters asking: "what the heck was that all about?"
I seem to recall hitting the same problem reediting Toronto-published children's books for the US market years ago. Bags of milk? Is that proper talk for a children's book, or a daily newspaper?


J. L. Bell said...

Just to tie everything together, here's For Better or for Worse's long-ago comment on the gender ed nature of diary-keeping.

Camille said...

How fun to discover another FBOFW fan. I have been convinced for years that Lynn Johnston has a window into our home. Her character April and my youngest daughter have shared many similar experiences over the years, often at the same time. It is almost spooky.

pussreboots said...

Yay for this post! I agree about Lynn Johnston. I've learned more about Canada from following For Better or Worse than I have from reading Atwood's novels.