For Worse

I’ve been reading the Comics Curmudgeon for a while now, and have laughed along with the rest when Josh mercilessly mocked the direction For Better or For Worse has taken – even if I could remember, not so many years ago, thinking it was one of the best strips in the newspaper.

When I read Shaenon’s essay on Why She Hates Anthony, I nodded along in agreement – and even a bit in relief, at finally being able to pinpoint exactly why my opinion regarding the strip had shifted.

But from there… when Davi Willis added his two cents, I found it a bit lackluster. When T Campbell and Amy Mebberson had their say, I found it downright uncomfortable. And when a parody showed up in Least I Could Do, almost haphazardly thrown in for no reason, it seemed like people were beginning to simply try and jump on the bandwagon for the sake of publicity.

But the matter seemed to die down. Most seemed resigned to the direction the strip was going in, and put it out of their minds. The Curmudgeon continued to bash it – but then, that’s what the man does.

Then along comes Eric Burns with a simple proposal. And his proposal… well, it isn’t a bad one. In many ways, it rings true – he proposes that all those who remember the glory days of FBoFW band together to recreate the elements that made the strip great. When the strip goes into the upcoming time freeze, why shouldn’t fans step in to take over the story and tell it the way it should be told?

Well… I’ll admit, at first I thought it sounded like a neat enough idea – more from the perspective of the joint effort it would become. But still, it didn’t quite sit right, and the commentary from William G and R.K. Milholland really helped to put things into perspective – this was really, really disrespectful to the creator of FBOFW, a comic these people once loved.

Now, there isn’t anything saying they have to play nice on Lynn Johnston’s behalf – but I found myself pondering what the response would be if people tried this with a popular webcomic. Say someone came up with Debatable Subjects, wherein Donna and Freya realized they didn’t all need to fall in love with nerdy Marvin, and Freya managed to actually overcome her insecurities and begin leading a well-balanced life, and so forth.

People would be outraged. It would be the most thinly-veiled of rip-offs, no matter the intent, and it would be treated as such. Regardless of whether there was an audience that thought it was a better vision of the story, it would come off as a downright dickish thing to do… and yet here we are, proposing just that, only for a newspaper comic that doesn’t have a broad base of supporters in the circles we tread.

Now, some would say that there is a difference between copying off an ongoing story versus a completed one. In some respects, this is true – but that doesn’t really change the attitude it is displaying towards the creator of the work. And hell – FBoFW isn’t just vanishing away, it is simply transitioning from story-driven to gag-driven, becoming like the majority of the newspaper strips, or like any number of countless webcomics. Johnston has hardly given up the rights to her characters – and the fact that the proposal recognizes the need to change the characters’ names seems to tell me that, on some level, those suggesting this know that it is wrong.

If you want a strip in the spirit of FBoFW, then by all means, go for it. Celebrate the lessons that the early days of the comic taught you. Share the inspiration of a strip that was willing to touch on death, and differences, over a decade ago, while most newspaper strips would be scared to do so today.

But what does it really accomplish to produce an imperfect replica of the strip, tuned to your own personal tastes? It might not be entitlement – but it is indulgence, and perhaps a healthy dose of spite, directed at Johnston for “ruining” the story you used to like.

I’m not going to claim I like the story she is telling these days – I’ve argued with my mom, trying to get her to see the downward spiral of the strip.

But she doesn’t see it – and she doesn’t have to. Some people do enjoy the strip just as much as we all used to. And trying to prove them wrong, trying to prove the creator wrong, is not only a needless insult to someone who entertained you for years, but a complete waste of energy that could be spent making something new and inspirational.

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4 responses

  1. First off, I would read Debatable Subjects. And now I’m tempted to figure out what the clone strip would be for all the popular webcomics. I’m thinking Nickel-Odeon starring Raph and Johannes.

    Or Wormy Contractor, or Painbark, or Clan of the Line, or Dynamo Honies, or Trying Too Hard, or zbnw.

    Ok, I’m done with those for now.

    Anyway, there’s nothing stopping your mom from reading for better for worse instead of “In Sickness and In Health” or whatever the take off would be.

    It’s not about right and wrong. There are multiple stories, and it doesn’t have to be either-or.

  2. That should be Dynamo Honeys.

  3. It’s true, it doesn’t need to be either or – but there does seem to be a level of disrespect in taking someone else’s work and ‘fixing it’. And while you might be cool with clones of many of the popular webcomics, I suspect that opinion would be in the minority, and the creators themselves would get pretty upset.

    In the end, I just see that energy being better put to use recreating the spirit and ideals with a new work – something original, something less limited, something that stands on its own.

  4. My comments here were somewhat glib. For a better explanation and defense of my position, check out my post about this at ComixTalk.

    http://comixtalk.com/entitlement_and_derivative_works

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