Fans react emotionally to comic strip pregnancy

March 27, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Eily Patterson is nine months pregnant and thinks life will be easier after her child is born.

Not necessarily, warns her creator, Lynn Johnston, who draws the comic strip "For Better or For Worse."

"The baby will be one heck of a lot like me . . . and my mother cursed me, saying, 'I hope you have a child as rotten as you are.' "

The cartoon strip's main characters are John and Elly Patterson, their two kids, Michael and Elizabeth, and their dog, Farley. Elly's late pregnancy was unplanned.

Her fans are reacting as emotionally as if it were a pregnancy in their own families. Ms. Johnston is particularly pleased with the letters from women who have gone through a surprise late pregnancy and found the child to be a special blessing.

Not all are supportive: "I've had a number of vicious letters saying this woman should have an abortion, there are too many people in the world already."

Many people assume the strip is following Ms. Johnston's real life, as it often has, and that she is pregnant. Not so, she says. A baby would not fit into the hectic schedule of the Canadian cartoonist whose strip runs in more than 500 newspapers, including The Sun.

But with her two children, like those in the strip, growing up, Ms. Johnston said she was suffering "the almost-empty-nest syndrome . . . and I was missing a baby."

So she conceived a baby on paper, and Elly Patterson has been carrying the burden ever since.

"I don't think I've ever had such an instant connection with people through the strip, except when the neighbor lady had a baby born with six fingers . . . and went through a terrible time of wondering what else was wrong."

People write with tips on caring for the baby. Some suggest names. "The name that stands out was Siegfried, with documentation on what fine people Siegfrieds are."

After Elly mentioned the possibility of having a midwife delivethe baby at home, Ms. Johnston got packets from midwives who think she should support them and from doctors who think she shouldn't.

"It makes you realize how important comic strips are to people and how seriously people take them."

As delivery day nears, she has suffered one unpleasant side effect: "Mind you, I have gained some weight."

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