I'll miss you, Michael Patterson, though you're only a pen and ink drawing on smudgy newsprint.
For as long as I can remember reading the paper, I've followed "For Better or for Worse," the comic strip drawn for 29 years by Lynn Johnston. I'm the same age as the oldest child of the cartoon family, and I've enjoyed watching his life unfold alongside mine, often as a clear reflection of my own hopes and dreams.
In fact, Michael was often a few steps ahead of me. When he and his fictional wife conceived their first child, I was actively jealous. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for over a year. We didn't have much longer to wait, though, to catch right up and watch our son, Sam, grow up behind their Meredith. A few years later, we were able to watch our daughter follow along behind their second child, Robin.
Michael got his book deal first, too, and i was jealous again, though I knew full well how ridiculous it was -- that's how real these people were to me. And I still followed along behind Michael, achieving my own book deal. Real life publishing time is slower than cartoon time, however, and my book doesn't even come out until May 2009, and he's already on his second hit novel.
One of my favorite blogs, GalleyCat, sneered at Michael's unrealistically rapid success as a novelist. But Lynn Johnston was trying to quasi-retire. As of today's strip, she's frozen the characters in time, eliminating the stress and difficulty of aging her characters and keeping to a realistic timeline. She had to wrap up all their stories in short order, and so it seems Micheal was meant to be a success. Dare I hope to follow in his footsteps again?
Johnston intends to jump back in time with her strip to when the Michael and the other kids were little, mixing up old strips with new ones, but in the old storyline, and in her old, more carefree style of drawing. At least I think that's how it will go. You can read an explanation of her new scheme if you like here.
Thank you, Lynn Johnston, for writing us a 29-year graphic novel of family life, a few panels at a time, with a punchline every day.
Here's her last strip in the storyline. It brought tears to my eyes.