Interview: Lynn Johnston

“For Better Or For Worse” Only Gets Better By our Vote

I was recently at the launch for Farley Follows His Nose, a picture book co-written and illustrated by Lynn "For Better Or For Worse" Johnston.

In person she is as funny and engaging as her cartoons, and hearing her speak was a delight.  Several things she said stuck with me, but one anecdote really hit home:  Each year a book of her strips would be published, and she'd have to go on a publicity tour.  As she’d pack her bags and get ready, her young son would say “Mom, do you have to be “Lynn Johnston” again??”

Nowadays many women, including myself, are balancing careers and motherhood as they work from home; but back when she started, Lynn was an anomaly.  I had to find out more:  I had to find out how she managed to balance it all.

So I called her.

I must confess, when she answered the phone, I got a little tongue tied.  How could I speak to an icon whose work I'd grown up reading every morning at the breakfast table?  When I finally stopped stuttering, I asked her what it was like working from home in a time when others did not.

It’s not that women didn’t want to,” says Johnston, “but it’s something not a lot of women could do.  I happened to have an aggressive full-time job I could only do from home.

For those who don't know, Lynn started drawing For Better or for Worse, about the trials and tribulations of the Patterson family, in 1979.  Championed by the legendary Charles Schultz, her strip quickly became an international hit.  Since then she's received accolades and honours ranging from the Rueben Award for "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year" to the Order of Canada.  She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and she’s broken barriers in a male dominated field.

She says she was fortunate to live in a small town and have a lot of support.  She could see the schoolyard from her front window, her in-laws were a 10-minute walk away and a neighbour across the street helped look after her kids while she was working.  “I couldn’t have done it without them” she says simply.

I asked her if, looking back, she felt she had compromised anything or felt she had missed out.  She replied, frankly, that she got the best of everything: she was able to pursue a career she loved, while keeping actively involved with both her family and community.

She does confess though, that occasionally the kids did have to resort to dire tactics to get her attention when she was in “work” mode:

They’d come up eating cake from their hands and say ‘Mum, can I have a piece of cake?’ And I’d nod and say ‘yep, yep,’ not realising what they’d said because I was so focused on my work.  The running gag in our house became ‘Mom!  I’m going to take the scissors to the sheers!’” Once those words were uttered, she knew it was time to stop work and shift her focus to the kids.

It's something all work-at-home-mothers struggle with.  We want to give everything to our children, but part of that everything is actually working.  Managing business calls and babies can be challenging.  One mother confessed conducting a conference call in her closet so that the person she was interviewing couldn't hear her children fighting in the background.

I use the garage.

Lynn says having a room of her own where the kids were not allowed and holding regular “office” hours were what kept her in balance.  Interestingly, that's also how Lucy Maud Montgomery, another Canadian icon, was able to write books while raising her sons.

Lynn's children are now grown and successful in their own fields, and she was on the verge of retiring when her 31 year marriage broke down.  She chose to delve back into work, with a creative twist: she decided to start the strip over again, intermixing original and new work.  "It gives me a chance to revisit, update and revise." Without the deadlines and pressures of creating a daily strip, it also allows her to pursue other ventures.

I started reading For Better or for Worse as a pre-teen.  Now I get the unique perspective of being able to follow the Patterson's story in a different light –as a parent instead of a child.  I'm also thrilled to be able to share Lynn's work with my own kids.  Farley Follows His Nose is her first story book for young readers and I hope she writes many, many more.


Read Racheal's hilarious blog about multi-tasking mayhem in a mummy's life...



Racheal McCaig keeps going AND going AND going. She lives in a state of Multi-Tasking Mayhem! She's the mother of 2 AND a loving wife AND a devoted daughter AND daughter-in-law AND a loyal sister AND a good friend AND a board member for the HGJT AND a volunteer for her son’s nursery school...Whew!

A critically acclaimed playwright, songwriter, performer AND photographer AND a local history buff AND “kindred spirit” AND an America's Next Top Model junkie AND a runner (but only so she can eat Big Macs) AND...she's in desperate need of a vacation…

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