Friday, May 14, 2010

Newspaper Comics #4

Finally.  Why did this one take so long?  Well, mostly it was time, because I don't hate this comic or anything, I just needed time to sit down and work on this.

So what comic is it?  For Better or For Worse.

It's so different from, oh, 99% of comics in papers, at least the first run (we'll get to the second one in a bit) that it's hard to believe that it is in newspapers.  You see, it aged, in real time, through the course of some 28 years.  That's something few comics EVER do, and if they do it, they eventually stop.  Nothing lasts like that for 30 years.

Yet FBoFW did.  It's like a family soap opera, but without melodrama (mostly) and puns and jokes every strip.  This makes it stand out verses the static comics like Blondie or Family Circus, who had similar set ups, but not be as bizarre as the true soap opera comics that I mostly skip because, well, I just don't care.

And it also managed to be memorable.  Whether you liked or disliked the choices made by Lynn Johnston over the years, readers could remember them, and the characters grew up before your eyes.  She even killed a few of them off, something none of those other comics would even consider doing in most situations.  The death that stands out for me is the passing of Farley, the family dog.  It was ballsy, but understandable (the dog was 14 years old at that point) and it stands out as one of those comic moments that few strips ever get and it worked.

Of course, Farley was replaced by his own son, so really, the dog didn't "leave" as much as get a make over.  But I'm fine with that.  Other situations and dramas occurred, and while none had the impact of Farley, they still made the comic stand out in a sea of blandness and sameness.

Then the end came.  In August of 2008, For Better or For Worse came to an end.  Kind of.  The main, original storyline that had graced newspapers for 28 years came to a close.  And was immediately followed by a strip reboot that started from the beginning.

I understand why she did it, after all, you can't make money on a strip that isn't published any more, and she had a staff of people who helped with the comic at the end.  Still, why couldn't it have just ended and be gone?  I suppose I can't say much, I don't mind Peanuts still being in papers, but that strip is timeless and classic, while FBoFW had a single story, and that story was over.  Should it really be told again, from the beginning?

I do still read it though, but it's more like a habit than anything else.  Still, I remember the comic for doing what so few (meaning none) newspaper comics do, tell a long term story.

Webcomics can learn a lot from For Better or For Worse, especially in long term story telling.  No comic is as long lived as Johnston's strip, but a few are getting on in years now.  Characters in webcomics can grow and change because they aren't limited by the comic syndicates or the demands of daily publishing, and the fact that a strip like theirs can succeed should stand out.  It also should show that sometimes being bold with character development can pay off.

And it should serve as a warning that sometimes it's best to just let it go and not create yet another zombie comic to dominate the papers.

Next time, a comic that is nearly as universal as For Better or For Worse, but is the complete opposite of it in every significant way.  And I wish it would die.  Until then kiddies.

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