Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For Better or Worse?

Thanks to Gazette TV writer Andy Wineke for spotting this story on the wires.

"For Better or Worse" is The Gazette's No. 1 comic with local teens, young adults, 30- to 50-somethings and seniors.

By ERIC HARRISON, Houston Chronicle

First, the bad news: Lynn Johnston needs a break.

The cartoonist has, after all, written and drawn the popular comic strip“For Better or for Worse” for 28 years, in sickness and in health, without complaint, while Aaron McGruder (“Boondocks”), Bill Watterson(“Calvin and Hobbes”) and others griped, took extended hiatuses and retired.

“What wusses!” she exclaims.

But Johnston turns 60 this year, and she wants to do things in life that are difficult to do while producing 365 comic strips a year. “I want to travel and study and paint, and I want to spend some time with friends and family,” Johnston says. “We’re starting to get to the stage when you go to funerals and that’s where you reunite with friends,” she continues. “I want to be able to spend time with friends while they’re still alive.”

The good news, however, is that Johnston isn’t retiring. Instead, the strip — which appears in more than 2,000 newspapers — will be transformed in September into what Johnston calls “a hybrid” of new and old material. She will continue to write and draw, but the new material will serve to frame flashbacks consisting primarily of recycled material. These strolls down memory lane also sometimes will contain new material that amplifies, embellishes or completes story lines of old.

For instance, Johnston mentions a character, Deena, who was absent from the strip for a long time without explanation. In her head she knew why Deena disappeared, but she never got around to drawing it. Now she will. For the most part, however, the continuing saga of the Patterson family will end. Characters will stop aging. Existing story lines will be wrapped up before the change. Think of the new format as a long goodbye.

This creative solution to the problem of cartoonist burnout will lessen Johnston’s workload while still making the strip available to readersdaily. “I wanted to retire completely,” says Johnston, who has never taken a break from the strip. Her thinking always was, “If Charles Schulz can do it, so can I,” she said, referring to the creator of ‘Peanuts,’ who drew his strip for just short of 50 years, giving it up only weeks before he died Feb. 12, 2000.

“I don’t know whether it’s my age or that I was raised on hard work,” Johnston says, but while other cartoonists complained about oppressive deadlines her feeling was, “You’ve got a job — do it.”

But now she says she’d love to be able, for the first time in almost three decades, to take a two-week vacation without first laboring nights and weekends to finish two weeks’ worth of strips in advance. ...

“For Better or for Worse” has blazed trails from the beginning. Not only was it the first family-centered strip created by a woman, but its characters also inhabited something like the real world instead of the usual timeless cartoon universe where nobody dies or moves away. ...

She will use the time between now and September to finish existing storylines and provide an ending. “It will be a full family circle, one full generation,” she says, noting that Michael, who was a child when the strip started, now has two children, just as his parents did in 1979 when “For Better or for Worse” began.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Yipes! I'm horrible

This lack of posting is disappointing. I'm such a slacker! Sorry about that. Adding this to daily duties is tougher than I imagined. I'll try to pick up the pace. I'm posting this "Frazz" panel because it's one of my favorite strips. I love the humor and the way it plays off real life. If only we all had such caring and wise janitors at all our schools.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ruh-ro. Scooby-Doo creator dies

I know Scooby wasn't the best in art or story, but it's still a bummer. I read a lot of comics and watched a lot of cartoons as a kid, and while the oldies definitely shared a more sophisticated humor, there was something sweetly silly about Scooby and Shaggy and the gang.

From the AP
LOS ANGELES - In a career that spanned more than six decades, Iwao Takamoto assisted in the designs of some of the biggest animated features and television shows, including "Cinderella," "Peter Pan," "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Flintstones."

But it was Takamoto's creation of Scooby-Doo, the cowardly dog with an adventurous heart, that captivated audiences and endured for generations.

Takamoto died Monday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Warner Bros. spokesman Gary Miereanu said. He was 81.

Born in Los Angeles to parents who had emigrated from Japan, Takamoto graduated high school when World War II began. He and his family were sent to the Manzanar internment camp in the California desert, where he learned the art of illustration from fellow internees.

Despite a lack of formal training, he landed an interview with Walt Disney Studios when he returned to Los Angeles and was hired as an apprentice.

Takamoto worked under the tutelage of Disney's "nine old men," the studio's team of legendary animators responsible for its biggest full-length films before moving to Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1961. There he worked on cartoons for television, including "Josie and the Pussy Cats," "The Great Grape Ape Show," "Harlem Globe Trotters" and "The Secret Squirrel Show."

Takamoto said he created Scooby-Doo after talking with a Great Dane breeder, and named him after Frank Sinatra's final phrase in "Strangers in the Night."

The breeder "showed me some pictures and talked about the important points of a Great Dane, like a straight back, straight legs, small chin and such," Takamoto said in a recent talk at Cartoon Network Studios.

"I decided to go the opposite and gave him a hump back, bowed legs, big chin and such. Even his color is wrong."

Takamoto also created other famous cartoon dogs such as Astro from "The Jetsons" and Muttley, the mixed-breed that appeared in several Hanna-Barbera animations. He also directed the 1973 feature "Charlotte's Web."

Takamoto was survived by his wife, Barbara, son Michael and stepdaughter Leslie.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New strips

Hey there,

I'm not in the office this week, but a couple of readers sent e-mails about the new strips and the removal of Brevity. It's more difficult to check in than I thought - slow connection at the place where I'm staying in Crested Butte - but I'll try to address all concerns.

One thing I always ask readers: Give the strips a chance before railing on them. So far, it seems folks are enjoying Tundra, though a few miss Brevity.

Read and examine for a few more days and I'll be back in town and we can chat about their merits.