Lynn Johnston, the eldest of two children, was born in 1947 in Collingwood, Ontario, as Lynn Beverley Ridgway. Her father was a jeweler and her mother was a calligrapher and bookkeeper. She was raised in Vancouver, British Columbia.
From 1965 to 1968, she studied General Arts and Graphic Design at the Vancouver School of Art. She worked at Canawest Films in the animation department, from 1966 to 1968.
She married a television cameraman and changed her name to Lynn Franks. She moved with her then husband to Hamilton, Ontario, where she worked as a graphic artist and medical illustrator for McMaster University.
Prior to the birth of her son, Lynn made over 80 comic drawings for Dr. Murray Enkin, her obstetrician, of her view of pregnancy. These were published in a book called 'David, We're Pregnant', which sold over 300,000 copies before going out of print. In 1973, the year her son was born, she converted a greenhouse into a graphics studio. As a freelance artist, she designed cereal boxes, billboards, leaflets, posters, fliers and book illustrations.
She changed her name to Lynn Johnston in 1975, when she married Rod Johnston, who is now Dr. Rod Johnston, a dentist. They have a daughter.
She and her family moved to Lynn Lake, Manitoba in 1978, where she began a 20-year contract from Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas for a daily comic strip. Her original submission to John McMeel and Jim Andrews consisted of 20 samples of "The Johnstons", a series based on her own family. Ultimately, the last name of Patterson was chosen for the characters, and their names were changed to the middle names of the family members, with the exception of Elly, named for a deceased friend. Lee Salem, Lynn's editor, suggested the name change to For Better or For WorseŽ. The cartoon appears in over 2,000 newspapers in Canada, the United States, and other countries. It is translated into eight languages.
In 1984, she and her husband moved to Corbeil, Ontario, where they currently reside.
Lynn has Honorary Degrees from Lakehead University (Doctor of Letters, 1990, Thunder Bay, Ontario), McMaster University (Doctor of Laws, 1993, Hamilton, Ontario), University of Western Ontario (Doctor of Laws, 1999, London, Ontario), Nipissing University (Doctor of Letters, 2000, North Bay, Ontario), and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (Doctor of Letters, 2000, Vancouver, British Columbia).
She received the Order of Canada in 1992 and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2003. Other awards include the Reuben Award (National Cartoonists' Society, 1986), Gemini Award for Children's Television Programming (1987 for animated show, The Bestest Present), the Inkpot Award for outstanding achievement in comic arts (1991, San Diego Comics Convention), EDI (Equality, Dignity, Independence) Award (1992, Easter Seals), Paul Harris Fellow (1992, The Rotary Club of North Bay), Best Comic Strip (1992, National Cartoonists' Society), Voice of Distinction Award-Voice & Vision: Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry (1993), Past Prez National Cartoonists Award (1993), GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award for outstanding comic strip (1998), B'Nai Brith Canada-Media Human Rights Special Award (2001), Order of Mariposa-Non-literary Humour Award (2001, Stephen Leacock Associates), Comic of the Year- (2001) from the magazine, Editor & Publisher; Cartoonists Hall of Fame (2002, Friends of Lulu), Honorary Membership Award (2003, Ontario Veterinary Medical Association), Debwentin Citation-Excellence in Aboriginal Issues-Journalism (2004), and Special Award of Merit (2005, Purnia Animal Hall of Fame).
Books by Lynn include: I've Got the One-More-Washload Blues (1981), Is This "One of Those Days," Daddy? (1982), It Must Be Nice To Be Little (1983), Just One More Hug (1984), The Last Straw (1985), Keep the Home Fries Burning (1986), It's All Downhill From Here (1987), Pushing 40 (1988), A Look Inside... 10th Anniversary (1989), If This Is a Lecture, How Long Will It Be? (1990), What, Me Pregnant? (1991), Things Are Looking Up... (1992), There Goes My Baby! (1993), 15th Anniversary - It's the Thought that Counts (1994), Starting From Scratch (1995), Remembering Farley (1996), Love Just Screws Everything Up (1996), Growing Like a Weed (1997), Middle Age Spread (1998), Sunshine & Shadow (1999), The Lives Behind the Lines (Hardcover, 1999), The Lives Behind the Lines (1999), The Big 5-0 (2000), Isn't She Beautiful? (Little Book, 2000), Isn't He Beautiful? (Little Book, 2000), Graduation: A Time for Change (2001), Perfect Christmas (Little Book, 2001), Wag's and Kisses (Little Book, 2001), All About April: Our Little Girl Grows Up (2001), Family Business (2002), Graduation...Just the Beginning (Little Book, 2002), Leaving Home (2003), With This Ring (2003), Reality Check (2003), Laugh n' Learn Spanish (2003), Suddenly Silver (2004), So You're Going to Be a Grandma! (Gift Book, 2005), Striking a Chord (2005), Never Wink at a Worried Woman (2005), I Love My Grandpa! (Gift Book, 2006) and She's Turning into One of Them (2006). All books are published by Andrews McKeel (Kansas City), except Laugh n' Learn Spanish, which is published by McGraw Hill.
The following public service organizations have received Lynn's support: The Farley Foundation, which is operated by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and finances medical care for pets owned by seniors and people with disabilities who meet specified criteria is supported by For Better or For WorseŽ. Raising Readers Early Years program, which services French, English and Ojibway-speaking families in helping children develop literacy and problem-solving skills, is supported by Lynn Johnston Productions, Inc. Lynn Johnston Productions, Inc. is a Family and Education Series Sponsor of the Capitol Centre in North Bay, Ontario. Lynn Johnston Productions, Inc. assisted in the creation of Crimestoppers in North Bay and surrounding areas; Lynn Johnston Productions, Inc. is the core funding agency for the Connections program, which supports potential high school drop-outs. Lynn worked with architect Brian Bertrand to design a community-focused illustration for promotional purposes for the North Bay Regional Health Centre project.
(The biographical information featured here was written in consultation with the artist in 2006.)
Lynn Johnston remembers being two years old when she analyzed the realism of a tree drawing with her aunt. From then on, she always felt like an artist.
Prior to developing the well-known cartoon, For Better or For WorseŽ, she worked as a medical illustrator. When asked about the impact of this experience on her art, Lynn replied that in additional to the technical benefits of studying anatomy through visits to the morgue and life drawing classes, she was left with a tremendous sense of spirituality. Realizing the similarity of the human form from person to person, she came away feeling that "what makes us unique is the spirit inside". Indeed, the human spirit is a key component of For Better or For WorseŽ.
In the cartoon, "people don't get run over by steamrollers and bounce back," says Lynn. It's true to real life. The topics that arise are of interest to everyone, says Lynn, because families can relate to challenges like illness and watching their kids grow up. She has never felt alone, because she knows that her readers are sensitive to "whatever it is that makes a family come together or fall apart a bit."
Lynn had once mentioned in an article printed in The Nugget, a North Bay newspaper, that she felt the character to whom she most related was Elly. At the same time, on the For Better or For WorseŽ web site, she states that Elly is the most challenging character to draw. When asked if there's any connection, Lynn says that she while denies that Elly is her, but there are many commonalities. Elly tends to change to reflect the artist's mood, making her the least consistent-or one might argue, dynamic-characters. Elly, consequently, "tends to be the most cartoon-like," says Lynn.
When asked to identify the creative challenges facing cartoonists compared to other artists, Lynn replies, "We have a relentless deadline." It doesn't matter if you're in a creative mood or not, she says, and the same is true of writers." Sometimes you resent it, other times you are proud of it" she says. In a field with a lot of competition, she says that she becomes competitive with herself. A newspaper can be considered like real estate, and it's important to "improve and improve all the time" to be "worthy of that space".
(By Heather Saunders, based on an interview in August, 2006).
Lynn Johnston, For Better or For Worse (TM)
27 January 2002
Lynn Johnston, featured in W. K. P. Kennedy newsletter
Lynn Johnston, featured in White Water Gallery newsletter
10 October 1985