The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. Kate Grumbacher. Washington, DC:
Embassy of Canada Art Gallery, September 13, 2019-January 31, 2020.
The Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between the
White House and Congress is a striking setting for this small exhibit on For Better or For Worse, the
long-running and popular comic strip. From 1979- 2008, the strip followed the
lives of the Patterson family, a wife and husband (a dentist) and their three
kids and dogs as they grew up in Canada. The strip is still running in
reprints. The exhibit was originally shown in a gallery in Canada and modified
by Grumbacher for exhibit in Washington. Johnston was in town for the exhibit
opening, and also spoke at the Library of Congress the following day. She noted
that she can no longer draw the strip due to tremors, but she’s being creative
in other ways. On the back of the introductory plinth is fabric that she’s designed
and goofy paintings of dogs and cats, but the exhibit largely concentrates on
the comic strip.
As you walk into the exhibit, a large panel depicts a
collage of her characters over the life of the strip, and has the title of the
exhibit in French and English. The exhibit is bilingual throughout. In French, for
the record the title is L’Art de la Bande
Dessineé selon Lynn Johnston.
Turning left from the title plinth, Johnston’s desk is featured along with some
early drawings framed above it. The desk looks barely used compared to some other
cartoonists’. The ‘office area’ is bounded by a small wall, and on the other
side of that is a small interactive section where a visitor could color a sheet
with characters from the strip, or create their own four-panel strip in a blank
sheet of squares. A large set of labels explains the process of creating a
comic strip. Next to that is a small enclosed exhibit case with family photos, toy
cars and other materials she used as references to draw the strip. Next to the
exhibit case is a group of several original Sunday strips matched with color
prints to show how they
actually appeared in the newspaper.
The main characters of the strip are introduced, and then
large panels with purple headers explains the high points of the strip over the
years. These included “Michael & Deanna” (the oldest son and his wife), “April’s
Birth” (the third child), “Infidelity,” “Lawrence Comes Out” (when the
character was revealed to be gay, it was a major controversy), “Mtigwaki” (the
eldest daughter Elizabeth goes to work in a First Nations community), “Shannon
Lake” (an autistic character introduced in a school setting), “Elizabeth’s
Sexual Assault,” “Elizabeth’s Wedding,” “Death & Illness,” and “Farley’s
Death” (also controversial when the family dog died saving April from a
The exhibit concludes with a short film, a quilt of the
characters (hanging up very high), and in a nod to our locality, reproductions
from the Washington Post of a page of
comic strips, and Michael Cavna’s article about the end of the strip.
This is a celebratory exhibit. There is no deep analysis of
the social or historical implications of the strip, beyond the purple panels’
basic claims, and that is fine. The exhibit is both a celebration of a Canadian
artist and an enjoyable hour-long stop for Washington’s tourists, in a venue
they would not normally see. More photographs of the exhibit are at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGVy4FY and
Johnston’s Library of Congress talk at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGVvahH
(This review was written for the
International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the
exhibit is still open for viewing.)
(This review was
written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version
appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the
exhibit is still open for viewing.)
Washington, D.C., September 11, 2019 – The Embassy of Canada is pleased to present The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston, an art exhibition exploring the career of Canadian comic artist Lynn Johnston and the themes of her popular comic strip For Better or Worse. The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston shows selections from the comic's 30-year history, highlighting the characters that readers know and love, and includes content from the Washington Post, as well as original artwork and current projects.
For Better or For Worse underwent many changes - taking the comic from a glimpse into the everyday home life of the Patterson family, to a comic with three-dimensional characters that seemed like real people. Seeing Elly Patterson and her family go through familiar situations added to the overwhelming success of the strip. Styling changes and character development were features that made For Better or For Worse uniquely relatable.
Throughout her career Johnston consistently drew from her own life and personal experiences. The exhibition gives a behind the scenes look at Johnston's creative process, her life, and the ways that her experiences made their way into her work, culminating in realistic characters and a complex storyline full of detail, color and humor in For Better or For Worse.
The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston opens September 13, 2019, through January 31, 2020. The Embassy's art gallery is located next to the Newseum at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW and is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, free of charge.
Actually, there was a 3rd bit in the Post today, at least the electronic one - Cavna, Michael. 2008. "Interview With the Artist: "For Better or For Worse's" Lynn Johnston," Washington Post Comic Riffs blog (August 27). It ended with the surprise news that "As of next Monday, The Washington Post plans to drop "For Better or for Worse" from its print edition but continue to carry it online."