For some reason, the news today that cartoonist Lynn Johnston has chosen to reboot her popular “For Better or for Worse” strip has… affected me. It’s not like I read the comic strip; I haven’t read the funny pages with any regularity since the days of “Calvin and Hobbes,” but I did read the strip in my local papers every time I looked at the comics. I thought it was unique that the characters in the strip aged in real time and had life-altering experiences as time wore on.
But now Johnston has ended the story. In the Aug. 30 strip, a note at the bottom indicated that it was the end of the tale, and an epilogue strip on Sunday let us know what happened to the characters readers have watched grow over the past 27 years.
Johnston has repeatedly told media outlets that she felt like the strip was becoming too large, too sentimental and too complicated. In a letter to fans on her Web site, Johnston wrote, “For the past 7 years or so I was aware that the stories were becoming more complicated, the drawings more controlled and the characters more realistic. Gone was the loose, funny, free-hand line I had started with.” Johnson originally planned on ending the strip and retiring, but now that she has separated from her husband, Johnston has decided to keep things going with a J.J. Abrams-like reboot.
Starting on Sept. 1, the strip traveled back in time 27 years. Suddenly characters that were grown, married and with children of their own were once again children. Gone were the characters’ wrinkles and pot-bellies. Gone were 27 years of accumulated plot. The new strips, which Johnston calls “new-runs” instead of the familiar “re-runs,” will be intermixed with classic strips to allow the 61-year-old cartoonist some time off. I haven’t been able to tell from my reading today whether the characters in the “new-run” strips will age and grow as they did in the original time line.
What bothers me about this? Well, it’s irrational, but — being a new father — I can’t stand the thought of some lord-god-of-the-universe rewinding my time line so that I had to relive my past and possibly screw up the present that I find quite nice. I cannot stand the idea of not having my Susan and my little Nathan.
What intrigues me about this? Well, duh, it’s never been done before. It’s a new start, a fresh chance to do things “right” the second time around. Stephen King, after his roadside accident a few years ago, picked up his Dark Tower series and wrote and revised with a vengeance, finding new inspiration in his life crisis. Johnston’s recent separation from her husband is the same sort of traumatic event (though a bit less life threatening). Perhaps it will open up new creativity she’s never imagined she had.
Also, the whole idea of a reboot has been bouncing around in my head since the debut of “Star Trek: Enterprise” and announcements of the new “Star Trek” film. We are obsessed with the “missing years” in the fictional universes we read about. What happened between the episodes or the comic strips? What other details are there that would flesh out these fictional characters, build up their world and make it so much more real for us? It’s escapism, pure and simple. Johnston is using her godlike power as author to escape into her characters’ histories and relive them, massage them and make them fresh again.
It’s not natural. Hell no, it’s not. The remade versions of these comic strip characters will be too polished, too fleshed-out, too overdone to be as loveable as they were when they were first inked. Johnston, in escaping to the past will turn it into a postcard, a plastic, tourist-trap figurine version of the past, the one she prefers to remember, the one she wishes could have been.
Will it still be enjoyable? Doubtlessly. But will the same sparkle that has captured fans for 30 years still be there, the same originality and charm? Probably not.