Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why We Care

For Better Or For Worse is the last great example of serial comic strips, the only one to survive into the twenty-first century. Doggedly old-fashioned, animated by a commitment to craft that sets it at direct odds with almost every other current strip of similar stature, endearingly corny in its commitment to heartfelt emotion and straight-ahead family values (in a totally non-ironic, non-ideological meaning of the phrase), it remains in its final years one of the last few universal touchstones of American cartooning.

Despite ourselves, we care about the Patterson clan, and as the strip continues its long-forecast march towards climax, we find ourselves drawn up in the emotions of the event. It is an event of significance: it's hard to imagine the ending of any current comic strip ever having a shadow of the same possible resonance. The format as it exists now just doesn't have the power it once did, and the strengths of For Better Or For Worse are only amplified by its pallid competition. By any yardstick its a square piece of work, but as the last gasp of a once vibrant and influential piece of American culture, it is hard not to reflect that the passing of the feature represents something more significant than merely the ending of a specific work of art.

This is why we care, why the impending Anthony is more than merely the comedic diversion we might expect from the senile likes of Mary Worth or Apt 3G. Against our better judgment we still care what happens to these characters. They're probably the last newspaper strip characters we ever will care about, but we do, and we will, until the last panel of the last strip on that last day. There's no way, seeing where Lynn Johnston is heading, we won't be unhappy with the destination, - like the last episode of The Sopranos, like Cerebus fading into a purgatory of his worst impulses, the creator seems doggedly intent on ending their magnum opus their way despite the howls of their most committed fans: so be it. But the fact that we care when by all rights we shouldn't is as much of a testament to the significance of Johnston's work as any other objective measurement.

This is why we care:

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