Welcome, Baby April!

Lynn Discusses Adding April to the Strip:

I had been working on the strip for some time and the Patterson family was beginning to grow up—away from the baby days, where kids learning how to walk and eat and talk made writing and drawing the comic strip so much fun.

I often talked to other cartoonists when I was working out a problem, and I happened to tell Cathy Guisewite (Creator of “Cathy“) about losing some of my comic material.

“Why can’t Elly have another baby?” she asked.

“Because I don’t have a third child!” I replied.

“So?” she said. “It’s a comic strip, Lynn!…Make one up!”

This caught me offguard. I never thought about adding a child to a strip that was, in many ways, autobiographical. The wonderful thing about making up a baby was that she would not be based on anyone. She would be entirely fictional, and as such, I’d be free to write about anything and it would not reflect on my own children. Even though I made up all the stories I wrote, my son, Aaron, was closely associated with Michael. Katie was, in many ways, Elizabeth—but a third child would be completely separate. I would not have to consider feelings, or teasing at school, or comments from friends. I’d be free to work with this new character without reservation.

Elly’s pregnancy was interesting. Because I had to show the character slowly changing shape, I worked with my doc and some good books to make her 9-month expectancy believable. I actually felt pregnant myself as I wrote and drew about her “gestation period!” As her due date drew near, I began to have input from childbirth professionals telling me that Elly should have a home birth, or that she should have a standard hospital birth. There were two camps here, both telling me how they wanted to see the event unfold.

My obstetrician and good friend, Murray Enkin,  (the man who helped me publish my first book) was an advocate for home birth. He encouraged people to work with midwives, saying that childbirth was a natural process, and unless the mom was in danger, home was the best place to deliver a baby. Many readers disagreed.

With a bit of a dilemma on my hands, I worked out a compromise: Elly, who is planning a hospital birth, is stuck at home during a snowstorm. Her neighbours (one of whom was a nurse) come to help deliver the baby. A hospital-bound mom has a home birth after all. I covered both bases.

Then, I got to enjoy the fun of having a new baby to write about. The new little Patterson was named April because she was born on April 1st (affirming that she was a made-up character). She became a favourite to draw and to work with. April added so much fun and interest to the strip that I often wondered why I hadn’t thought to make up a new baby myself! I will always thank Cathy (whose lovely daughter, Ivy, is about to get married) for the suggestion. She and I both agree…a made-up kid is much easier to “bring up” than a real one!

Friends in North Bay decided to give me a surprise baby shower when April was “born.” As I drove into my yard, there in the field were several signs welcoming the new baby into the family!

Watch Lynn Discussing April’s Birth In these Podcasts:

Part One:

Part Two:

A Note From Lynn: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

I decided yesterday morning that this was going to be a productive day. I checked out the closet for cool and attractive work duds. I put them on. I painted my chops, arranged my coif, and bumbled into the kitchen. These stay-at-home measures would not deter me from doing stuff. Not today. My partner, Paul—who has set up a small recording studio in the storage room—emerged from downstairs and said “Ahhh…all dressed up and nowhere to go!” And he was right. But, going nowhere is fine. I have been going nowhere for weeks now. In fact, as a cartoonist, I’ve stayed pretty close to home for most of my working life, so this is doable. I just have to be in the right mood.

Lynn in her home office.

Lynn in her home office.

Looking good, I sat down in my small office space and prepared to write the best article I have ever written for the site. I was on a roll. The words flowed. Folks my age have seen something like this before…I smiled at my own cleverness as I described my childhood memories of impending doom. Listening to the air raid sirens in the park and being told to hide under my school desk. Watching the NORAD sign on our black and white TV as a nasally-voiced authoritarian warned us to be vigilant and prepare for, well…our imaginations ran wild. Some folks were digging shelters and fighting with once-friendly neighbours who asked if there was room (should the bombs fall) for their kids, too. My folks talked about rationing and hoarding, and what would happen if they couldn’t work.

As kids, we were afraid, then—but there was always music and laughter and friends who looked on the good side. Life went on even as the news became more and more threatening. Eventually post-war politics evened out and the sirens were removed or left in the parks as a reminder of a time gone by. For the most part, the fear and the panic had brought our neighbourhoods closer together.

I wrote about all kinds of stuff. Man, it was a truly great article. I was just about to end with a list of comedians I thought folks might enjoy when my screen went blank and everything disappeared. How does this happen? What did I touch? Where did it go? Together, Paul and I tried everything we could think of. We went to advice sites and help lines and then gave up. This is when a margarita makes sense. Or a good cup of tea. I chose the marg, and stewed for the rest of the morning. By noon, I had lost the coif, removed the attractive attire and melted into my TV couch with a bowl of nuts and a bag of Doritos; these things are still available. So much for productivity. *sigh* Technology is wonderful until it sucks.

So here I am the next day, nursing something that might have margarita undertones. I’m in less-than-stunning attire and thinking not-so-profound thoughts…but the incentive is still there to say hello and thank you to everyone who still reads my work and still enjoys it. Stay safe and sane. Love your kids. Write to friends. Call them. I’ve had some amazing conversations lately with folks I should call more often. Cook stuff you haven’t cooked before. Watch comedy! The comedians I’ve turned to are: Ron James, Danny Bhoy, Kathleen Madigan, and Lewis Black. I’ve watched Gaffigan and Carlin and Seinfeld and “The Debaters” on CBC. Thank heavens for the people who poke fun at life and love, and all the stuff we worry about. This time will be analyzed, criticized, eulogized, and studied for years to come. This world will change because of COVID-19. We will all be changed and our children today will tell their children that they were here when it happened, they were part of it all. Take good care of yourselves. We need each other—and that sudden reality, in the end, is a gift.

For Better or For Worse: The Complete Library, Vol. 4 Is Available!

Our 4th treasury book in The Complete Library series is now available! Look for it at your local independent bookstore or comic shop! (We don’t sell these in our online store, as they’re very heavy and shipping is too expensive).

This volume includes the story that earned Lynn Johnston a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The ’90s start with a bang for the Pattersons when Elly finds out she is pregnant! Follow April Patterson as she grows from a toddler to a three year old, all in this single volume, but that isn’t all the excitement in the house, especially when there is a teenager around. Michael gets his first summer job, a steady girlfriend, and a driver’s license–if he passes the test. Adolescence is just as challenging for Elizabeth, who navigates middle school, learns to cope with the stigma of wearing glasses, and is peer-pressured into smoking a cigarette! Meanwhile, John succumbs to his (first) mid-life crisis when he buys his first model train.

The highlight of this collection, however, is Lawrence’s coming out story, a tender and compassionate tale of gender identity and acceptance for which Lynn was deservedly nominated for the newspaper industry’s top honor. Includes every comic strip from December 10, 1989 to April 24, 1993.

Each volume also contains a number of annotations by Lynn Johnston detailing motivations for certain strips, funny anecdotes, observations about the reaction from fans, and much more!