Lynn Johnston is best known for the creation and illustration of her popular syndicated comic strip, For Better or for Worse, which has run in over 2,000 newspapers in 160 countries. Inspired by Johnston’s experience with her own family life, the comic offers humorous, touching, and thoughtful renderings of the fictional Patterson family—John and Elly, their children Michael, Elizabeth and April, and beloved family dog Farley—as they move through the challenges and enjoyments of life.
This summer, the Art Gallery of Sudbury is curating a travelling retrospective exhibition of Johnston’s work entitled, For Better or for Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. It will celebrate the 30-year run of the comic strip by exploring the artist’s life, creative process, and the responses she received from readers over the years. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will be lending close to 50 of Johnston’s original panel drawings from its collection to be included in the exhibition.
Ranging from Johnston’s early strips in 1979 to later works created in 1995, the selection of drawings from LAC covers a variety of relatable and humorous subjects, a number of which focus on Elly Patterson’s experiences as a housewife.
The Lynn Johnston collection at LAC contains other objects that speak to the popularity of Johnston’s comic strip. Included among these is a collection of dolls that were made in the likeness of April Patterson, the youngest of the Patterson children. LAC also houses memorabilia from the Farley Foundation, an organization dedicated to assisting those in need with the finances associated with taking care of beloved pets. The organization is named after Farley Patterson, the family’s cherished Old English Sheepdog who passes away in the strip.
Finally, the collection holds a large amount of fan mail that was written by Johnston’s readers. Most notable are two sub-series of the collection that concentrate on major events that took place in the comic strip. For example, Johnston’s decision to incorporate an openly gay character in her strip generated a huge number of responses from readers across North America. Similarly, the death of Elly Patterson’s mother resulted in many fans reaching out to Johnston as they mourned for the fictional Pattersons alongside their own personal losses.
Be sure to check out the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Sudbury between July 11 and November 1, 2015 for more details about Johnston’s work and creative process!