As she nears her semi-retirement, For Better or For Worse comic creator Lynn Johnson spoke with the CBC about the history of the beloved strip. Naturally, the interview goes into one of FBoFW's landmark storylines: the outing of Lawrence Poirier, the close friend of then-teenage Michael Patterson.
When asked about the inspiration for Lawrence's coming out, Johnson explains:
For me Lawrence had always been particularly [long pause] I don’t know: gentle, unique, sensitive. It just seemed right — he just always appeared that way to me. Plus, I’ve had a number of friends who were gay, and what made me decide to do this story was that one of them [Michael Boncoeur] was murdered. Michael was a wonderful comedy writer for the CBC, and I had known him since we were in about Grade 8, and when Michael was murdered the authorities in Toronto reacted to it in a very cavalier manner — like “Well, that’s one more of them off the streets.” In the end, the young man who took a knife to him [following a scuffle over his bicycle] was ultimately seen as the victim.
His death really prompted that story, because I wanted people to know that this young man, that you’ve grown up with for so many years, is still the same person. Just because his sexual orientation is suddenly different, he’s still the young man who helped you in the garden, helped carry your groceries and sat with you when you cried at school.
Wow. I haven't read FBoFW since I stopped subscribing to the paper, but I usually check out discussion of the strip to see if Lawrence comes up. I hadn't heard that Lawrence's story was partially inspired by the murder of a friend, which gives the sensitive way that Johnson handled the character over the years additional poignancy. Have I been reading the wrong articles?
Johnson also discusses the reaction to the storyline:
In the end, I think we received well over 3,000 letters, and this was before e-mail. It turned out that 72 per cent of the mail was positive, but the negative ones were so outrageously negative and the people — I mean I don’t think there were more than two people out of the negative letters that you would ever want to speak to in person. They were so ugly.
Considering how long ago Lawrence came out, that 72% figure is a very happy surprise for me.
In September, For Better or For Worse is switching to a "hybrid" format that'll mix old strips with new content. Considering how it's one of the more prominent stories in FBoFW's history, I imagine Lawrence's coming out and later stories will be highlighted. It'll be interesting to see how the format will turn out and how it mines the strip's history.