As ambivalent as I am about the Foob-iverse, I was nevertheless genuinely excited that Lynn Johnston would be speaking at Librarian and Educator Day at TCAF. As I am an English teacher, I fell back on my strengths, and prepared by finding one of her books at my local library, where I discovered the boxcar-licious “Home Sweat Home.” The lack of punchlines were a bit of an issue at first, and I gave up in disgust a few times, but then I realized that I was missing something big. Foob Modern (as opposed to Foob Classic) is the suburban Canadian Zippy the Pinhead, eschewing humour for stark truths delivered as unfunny puns and wimpy, moustache-less suitors. Now you can enjoy it ironically. You’re welcome.
I was planning to do the embarassing thing and buy this book from my library after it was signed, but my mom saved my bacon and found a 1982 Foob Classic collection in the murky depths of her bookshelves. Armed with this positive proof that I had not just discovered Foob yesterday, I set out for my day of being developed, professionally.
You guys, Lynn Johnston is totally crusty! In a fun way, of course. As Dave Roman later commented, she has nothing to lose now. At multiple points during the Q&A with the delightful Raina Telgemeier, I paused in my frantic transcription of cusses to marvel at the idea that my school board was paying me to listen to Lynn Johnston swear. Life just doesn’t get any better than that, chums.
Working from my notes, here are some of the highlights:
- Lynn Johnston doesn’t do many events, but when she does, she does them for free. Raina was a little surprised by this, but the revenue model was completely different when LJ started. She always lived off syndicate fees and book royalties, so she didn’t have to do personal events. That said, she claims to love meeting people, but only if they can pay attention. This led to the first swear, in which Lynn described the moment of recognition she feels. “I was that kid. I know them to the tips of their sneakers. They’re assholes.”
- She would never do a Skype booktalk.
Raina: I’ve done them. They’re ok…
Lynn: But you look like shit!
- Lynn Johnston’s reasons for writing Foob in realtime are fairly compelling. I asked if she ever had pushback from an editor for doing what no one else in daily strips was doing. She replied that when a strip stays static, eventually you need a staff of writers, which she didn’t want. She also said that it hurt merchandising a little bit, because her characters were moving through product demographics before they could get a lucrative endorsement going. (i.e. April was toilet trained by the time the diaper contract was finalized.) Since her source material kept growing up, her subjects had to change as well. She also said that moving the strip through time allowed her to find new humour and challenged her drawing skills. (I’m not the first to notice that Foob Modern is much better artistically than Foob Classic.)
- The editors wanted her to relocate the Patterson family to America. To which Raina replied, “I always thought they were American.”
- The re-runs allow bigots to see the normality of gays. The biggest controversy in the Foob-iverse was Michael’s best friend Lawrence coming out, after which she received death threats. Now that the strips have returned to childhood, the haters get to watch Lawrence grow up next to Michael.
haters gonna hate
After the session, Lynn was gracious enough to sign my old book. While drawing a Farley (and misspelling my name, which was entirely my fault as I was too timid to correct her), she asked my profession, and then asked me what a teacher thought about the future of cursive writing. As in all stressful situations, I fell back on something I had heard on the CBC, which was that many kids who have difficulty printing are being taught cursive by occupational therapists, because it can be easier to do joined-up writing. This apparently satisfied her that the youth weren’t going entirely to hell.
My final encounter with LJ was when I was waiting in the lunch line, and she cut in front of me without realizing it. When she realized her mistake I tried to offer her a place in front of us, because what is more honourable than letting LJ eat before you? But she declined. Maybe she’s just too Canadian to feel comfortable violating the sanctity of line protocol. Maybe she was afraid I would talk to her if she stayed where she was.