For Worse

Today's For Better Or For Worse strip is funny because it's so far removed from reality. It's not unusual for small children to draw all over the furniture. And it's not unusual for abused children to freak out when they mess up or break something because they know their parent's response will be so scary. What isn't going to happen is that a child who is old enough to analyze the situation and predict that his mother will freak out will go ahead and draw all over the couch and then get upset about it.

Okay, I can think of one possibility. Maybe Michael is multiple, and an even younger kid in his system came out and drew all over the sofa (I like to imagine this as an act of pure rage against their mother) and then this Michael found himself just holding the pens and the fear. But I'm pretty sure that's not what Lynn Johnston was going for.

The funny thing, especially in the "flashback" strips of the past several months (which, apparently, are a combination of actual old strips and "fake" old For Better Or For Worses that Johnston is drawing as the strip winds down... so very, very slowly....) is that she draws them as if the kids are just acting crazy. She always has. I actually have a vintage strip which my parents cut out and put in my childhood photo album because it reminded them of me. In the strip, Liz is two or three and she is insisting that she wants to wear the RED hat. Her mother, for some reason, is absolutely insistent that Liz wear the white hat. So she makes up a whole elaborate story that goes on for panel after panel, all about a special magical bunny rabbit that gave up its tail to make Liz this hat. And in the last panel, she finally finishes, and Liz replies at the top of her lungs, "I WANT THE RED HAT!!!"

It was in there because, like Liz, I was very clear about what I wanted, very stubborn, and at times very loud. And as an adult, I looked back at it and thought, "Why the hell couldn't Liz wear the red hat?" I always knew there was a second story running underneath it, about adults making exasperated jokes at the expense of their frustrating children. As an adult, I can see that there's a second and third story running underneath the whole "FOOBiverse." Lynn Johnston clearly thinks that the joke lies in that secondary subtext. Oh, wacky Liz, insisting on wearing the stupid red hat when her poor mother made up that clever story about a rabbit! Wacky Michael, drawing all over the new couch! How they try Elly's patience!

The real story, the obvious and simple story that she misses every time, and which is being highlighted over and over as she revisits the strip's roots, is this one:

Michael is tired and Elly screams her refusal to carry his toy airplane

John smiles all through a hard day at work and then growls violently at Michael as soon as he gets home

And, my favorite, in its entirety: (More....)


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