Last week, the comic strip For Better or For Worse started running some flashback strips, framed by Michael telling his daughter about how his parents met and his early childhood. Some of the strips were newly-drawn, but other were re-runs of the strip’s earliest days, from circa 1980.
Apparently this is because FBoFW was originally intended to end this month – creator Lynn Johnston had planned to retire once Michael’s children got to the same ages that Michael and his sister Lizzie were when the strip started. But plans changed, and instead FBoFW will continue as a flashback strip with occasional new material. Johnston said in an interview:
My initial plan was if I could not find someone else to continue the strip, I would not continue it at all and leave the space.
But they felt that because the strip had begun in only 150 papers that many papers had not seen that initial work and readers would probably enjoy it. So they talked to a number of their editors, and they were receptive.
But apparently another factor is that Johnston’s getting divorced, and so the motivation to retire to spend her retirement with her husband is no longer there.
I have mixed feelings about all of this. For a long time, FBoFW was an excellent comic strip, and Johnston was one of the best artists in the business. I think she’s disappointed a lot of her readers in recent years (as I’ve commented on before). Apparently the current-day strip is going to be “frozen in time”, so the story won’t move much further ahead. This is disappointing because it means there won’t be much closure to the strip, something which Johnston had a rare opportunity to provide in a comic strip: Certainly the strip was going to end with some dangling stories, but it could have gone out on a high note: Perhaps a wedding anniversary for John an Elly, or retirement (which they’ve discussed in some strips). Instead it’s going to go into “zombie mode”, with extensive reprints and occasional new strips. But even if the new stuff is enjoyable, it feels like it will be a strip dying a slow and uncomfortable death.
It’s hard to begrudge anyone from wanting to continue their career – as with sports athletes, I don’t believe stories of retirement until the person actually retires. But I hope she’ll either go back to doing all-new material, or just give the strip a big send-off and end it, because this approach seems like a sad fate for a once-great comic strip.
(Thanks to my Dad for pointing me at the links about the strip, both of which are worth reading.)