The Patterson family, out for a stroll. Artist: Lynn Johnston.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Universal Press Syndicate
First Appeared: 1979
Creator: Lynn Johnston
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

Soap opera comics started with The Gumps and Gasoline Alley, cartoon-style strips about families involved in little …

continued below

… family-like stories. They evolved into the Mary Worth/Rex Morgan mold, with realistically drawn, highly dramatic stories about the various acquaintances that come and go in the title characters' lives. Lynn Johnston's For Better or for Worse is a throwback to that earlier era — family stories, drawn in an appealing cartoon style. That may be one reason it's the most successful and highly-acclaimed soap opera strip in half a century.

Another way the Patterson family, stars of For Better or for Worse, resemble the Wallets of Gasoline Alley is that both live in real time, just like the readers. Since the strip debuted (September 9, 1979), each character has aged exactly one year for every 12 months passing in the outside world.

The Pattersons are Elly (mom, born 1951, bookstore owner), John (dad, born 1949, dentist), Michael (son, born 1976, journalist), Elizabeth (daughter, born 1981, college student) and April (daughter, born 1991, kid). There's also Grandpa Jim (Elly's dad), grandkid Meredith (Michael's daughter) and a couple of pets (dogs Dixie and Edgar, and rabbits Butterscotch and Mr. B). Farley, the dog that had been with the family since the strip began, died saving April from drowning, in an emotion-charged 1995 sequence that fans of the strip are still talking about.

And that's not the only thing fans are still talking about. There have been other stories involving death, and the family's response has been both realistic and moving. Characters have also been born, gotten married, and done any number of other memorable things. Possibly the most memorable came in 1993, when Michael's friend, Lawrence Poirier, announced he was gay. Tho he was far from the first homosexual character in newspaper comics, Lawrence provided a true-to-life look at how such an announcement can affect the person making it, and the people close to him. (The down side: 18 papers canceled the strip because of that sequence, and more than 50 requested alternate strips.)

Lynn Johnston was already a well established cartoonist in Canada when she started For Better or for Worse. In fact, it was a sequence of cartoon-filled books about parenting that brought her to the attention of Universal Press Syndicate (Ziggy, Overboard and many others), which contacted her in 1978 about the possibility of creating a new story strip for them. After one look at The Johnstons, loosely based on her own home life, they signed her to a 20-year contract. The fictional Johnston family became the strip's Pattersons, but were otherwise the same — tho the Pattersons and the real-life Johnstons have diverged considerably in the past couple of decades.

The strip has since been published in book form, with a couple of dozen volumes already in print and more coming out at a regular pace. It's been adapted into TV animation, starting with The Bestest Present, which first aired in 1986, and continuing with a half-dozen 30-minute episodes originally aired on The Disney Channel in 1992. In 2001, it was made into 16 six-minute cartoons for Canada's Teletoons Network.

Honors showered on Johnston include the Order of Canada in 1991, a Pulitzer nomination in 1995, and presidency of the National Cartoonists' Society. In 1985, the NCS gave her its prestigious Reuben Award, naming her Cartoonist of the Year. It was the first time the Reuben had ever gone to a woman — or, for that matter, a Canadian.

The Pattersons continue to age at a normal rate, and to pass life's little milestones. In 2001, for example, Michael (who was three years old when the strip began) married his long-time sweetheart, Deanna Sobinski. For Better or for Worse entered its third generation on October 10, 2002, with the birth of their daughter, Meredith Anne Patterson.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


Purchase Toon-related Merchandise Online

Text ©2002-05 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Lynn Johnston.