Lynn Johnston

For other people named Lynn Johnston, see Lynn Johnston (disambiguation).
Lynn Franks Johnston

Brad Mackay (left), Director of the Doug Wright Awards, inducts Lynn Johnston into The Giants of the North: the Canadian Cartoonists Hall of Fame in August 2008
Born Lynn Ridgway
(1947-05-28) May 28, 1947
Collingwood, Ontario
Nationality Canadian
Notable works
For Better or For Worse

Lynn Johnston, CM OM (born May 28, 1947) is a Canadian cartoonist, known for her newspaper comic strip For Better or For Worse. She was the first woman and first Canadian to win the National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award.

Early life

Born Lynn Ridgway in Collingwood, Ontario, she was raised in North Vancouver, British Columbia. She attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) with hopes of making a living as an artist. After working briefly in animation, she married in 1969 and moved back to Ontario, where she worked as a medical artist at McMaster University for five years. Johnston's illustrations are in storage in McMaster's medical archive. They include depictions of routine hospital happenings, such as a father smoking in the waiting room.

While expecting her first child, she drew single-panel cartoons for the ceiling of her obstetrician's office. Those drawings were published in her first book, David We're Pregnant, which was published in 1973 under her then name of Lynn Franks (and subsequently republished under the name of Lynn Johnston) and became a best seller. After her divorce, she did free-lance commercial and medical art in a studio converted from a greenhouse. Hi Mom! Hi Dad!, a sequel to David, was published in 1975. Shortly thereafter, she met and married dental student Rod Johnston.[1][2]

For Better or For Worse

In 1978, the Johnstons and their two children relocated to Lynn Lake, Manitoba. She was asked by Universal Press Syndicate if she was interested in doing a comic strip. She sent twenty copies of a strip called The Johnstons, based on her family "since we were the only people I knew I could draw over and over again with some consistency."[1] Much to her surprise, the syndicate approved of the initial strips and offered her a twenty-year contract.[1] After a six-month "work-up" period, the strip first appeared in newspapers throughout Canada under the title For Better or For Worse. The strip has been carried by about 2000 newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and 20 other countries.[1][3]

Many story lines draw from her family's real-life experiences. Her main characters are named after the middle names of her husband and children, with the exception of the mother, as Lynn Johnston has no middle name. Instead, she elected to name the protagonist Elly, in honor of a friend of hers who died at a young age. Her brother-in-law Ralph Johnston inspired the controversial story about Lawrence's coming out. Deanna was based on Aaron's high school sweetheart, who died in a car accident years after their relationship ended. Johnston's niece Stephanie is developmentally handicapped and her experience is shared in recent story lines on the integration of developmentally handicapped students in April's class. Elizabeth's teaching career was based on daughter Kate's decision not to pursue a career in education, but provided Johnston with a chance to imagine how that might have turned out.[4]

The characters in For Better of For Worse have aged in "real time". On August 31, 2008, Johnston herself appeared in the Sunday strip, which was supposed to be the end of the cartoon, and announced that she would take the story back nearly 30 years to soon after its beginning, with half of the material to be new and the other half repeats.[3] The "new" material was actually reworked versions of older strips with retouched artwork and new dialogue that was sometimes only tweaked to use modern expressions or product names in place of older ones. On seldom occasion an entire strip or a panel has been redone, such as Michael or Elizabeth spanked being turned into a "time out". One spanking strip that remained was a story arc where Michael was spanked by John for hitting another child, and it percolating into a discussion with Elly that she disagreed that spanking was the proper remedy (although she agreed with John that Michael's violent attitude had to be nipped in the bud). Other strips, such as Elly getting annoyed and then hurling something such at the back of John's head (such as a coffee cup) were also censored. As the strip was a family strip, issues of throwing a hard object behind someone's back raised issues of spousal abuse.

Personal life

Since the 1990s, Johnston has been notably forthcoming in her discussion of the abuse inflicted on her by her mother[5] and her first husband,[6] and being unprepared to be a mother to her son Aaron[7]—topics which have also been reflected in the strip. A column by Jan Wong of The Globe and Mail, reprinted in Lunch With Jan Wong[8] notably portrayed Johnston as somewhat difficult and irascible.

Johnston now resides in the Northern Ontario town of Corbeil.[1] Her daughter Katie lives in Corbeil and works at the For Better or For Worse studio,[1] while her son Aaron works in the television industry in Vancouver, BC. In September 2007, Lynn and Rod Johnston announced their separation and intention to divorce.[9] Johnston had talked about either ending For Better or For Worse or handing it off to another cartoonist, but changed her mind as a result of her split from her husband of over 30 years.[3][10] In September 2008, For Better or For Worse transitioned into a unique mix of straight re-runs, and strips that featured original 1980s artwork (sometimes slightly retouched) but new dialogue by Johnston to reflect societal and technological changes.

Johnston had a close friendship with Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.[11] She wrote the introduction to The Complete Peanuts: 1981-1982.

On 13 March 2014, Library and Archives Canada announced that it had acquired material to add to its Johnston collection, including 3282 drawings, 296 watercolours, 244 photographs, about 3.5 m of textual items, and a few other objects.[12]

Awards and honours

Johnston's star on Canada's Walk of Fame

Selected bibliography


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lynn Johnston. "About Lynn, by Lynn". (official site).
  2. Johnston's For Better or For Worse retrospectives.
  3. 1 2 3 "Popular comic strip ignites controversy". CNN. Associated Press. September 5, 2008. Archived from the original on December 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  4. Suddenly Silver, 25 Years of For Better or For Worse, pg. 2
  5. "I haven’t told many people this because my parents were still alive and I didn’t want to reveal it ... It’s hard to describe. On the one hand, she beat the living crap out of me. On the other hand, though, she was bright and witty and well read. Neither of my parents ever stopped encouraging my brother and me from pursuing our creativity." - Hogan's Alley interview published in September 1994
  6. "I went for these guys who treated me like shit, and I married one of them! The guys who treated me badly were the funny guys, and I always went for the guys with the sense of humor.... My husband would say things to me like my mother did, “You’re fat and ugly.” And he treated me like garbage. His girlfriends would call him at home, and when I would pick up the phone, they would giggle at me.... I married a guy who treated me very badly, but I was happy. I was miserable, so I was happy." - Hogan's Alley interview published in September 1994
  7. "I didn’t know how to raise a child. And I wasn’t close to my parents, and because I was too proud to go to my parents for help, I mistreated that little baby.... I was exactly like my mother in that sense." - Hogan's Alley interview published in September 1994
  8. Jan Wong, Lunch With Jan Wong Bantam, 2001, trade paperback, ISBN 0-385-25982-4
  9. Kansas City Star, Sept 6, 2007 and Editor & Publisher, Sept 7, 2007
  10. Lynn Johnston says it's time to move on, Peterborough Examiner, September 19, 2008
  11. Sarah Boxer (February 14, 2000). "Charles M. Schulz, 'Peanuts' Creator, Dies at 77". New York Times LearningNetwork.
  12. "Library and Archives Canada Acquires Cartoonist Lynn Johnston's Material" (Press release). Library and Archives Canada. 13 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  13. Dave Astor (August 6, 2008). "Lynn Johnston to Enter Canadian Cartoonists' Hall of Fame on Friday". Editor & Publisher journal. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
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