Cartoonist's Turn For the Worse

For Better or For Worse 2003 panelGael Cooper regularly mocks the comic strip For Better or For Worse on Pop Culture Junk Mail, a great blog she's been publishing since 1999. Reading her latest entry reminded me of something I discovered recently: The creator of the strip, Lynn Johnston, shut down a longtime fan site in 2001 by threatening legal action:

We have our own very active website and are responsible for everything that is connected to For Better or For Worse. I support the initiatives taken by my syndicate to prohibit you from continuing your site. I hope we will not have to pursue this matter further.

The fan site, published by schoolteacher Rebecca Stephenson, made extremely limited use of Johnston's work, as you can see in the Alexa archive -- some people probably have more of her strips on their fridge. Stephenson wrote in the site's FAQ she was respecting copyright:

There is a strip on each of the character's pages which showcase them, but the reason I haven't put up any others is, first, because it is possible to find them elsewhere on the web (check the main page or the other FBoFW sites page for links) and second, because of copyright laws, I feel that I should only put enough actual FBoFW strips on this page to communicate the idea of what FBoFW is and who the characters are, and no more.

The site promoted Johnston's book collections and merchandise, noted the strip's copyright and declared its unofficial status. For three years before an official site was launched, it provided a place where fans could find out about the cartoonist and the characters. Her thank you for running the site, which was comfortably within the boundaries of fair use: Legal threats from the syndicate and Johnston.

With the pull she has at her syndicate, Johnston could have permitted the site under license or recognized that it wasn't an infringement. Instead, she bullied it offline to reduce the competition for her own site.


After hearing this, I'd say that Johnston is a "beetle-headed flap-eared knave".

One would be surprised at the amount of influence artists/writers actually DO NOT have with sydicates. Bill Waterson constantly fought with his syndicate to not exploit his creation (Calvin and Hobbes) and turn it into the merchandising goldmine it could have been. He wanted his work to be untainted by that world. It is possible that Johnston was under preasure from the syndicate, we can hope anyway. Otherwise it was a wrong thing to do. As an artist myself, I love the odd occasion that my work is immitated, as long as people know where to find more!

If Johnston indeed acted to suppress a competitor site, I'm saddened to hear it.

I've always admired her for having the courage to include a gay youth as a character in her strip. For that, she took a lot of heat from conservatives, who have been strangely silent about the moral values represented in some other strips:

Snuffy Smith is a chicken thief, a moonshiner, and a lazy, shiftless
"skonk" who refuses to work for an honest living.

Andy Capp is another layabout, who drinks, plays pool, and gambles while his wife works. Or else he lies on the couch and reads the paper while she serves him.

And we can't forget the beloved Beetle Bailey--a work-shirking, order-defying, curfew-ignoring bum who sullies the Army by calling himself a soldier.

Where is the righteous indignation of the conservatives about the inverted moral values of these characters, who are more often presented as the heroes of their little stories, rather than as the butts of satirical humour?

Wow. Lynn Johnston is a BITCH. That is all.

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