Luann got her ears pierced. She got braces. She went on her first date.
It was time, cartoonist Greg Evans decided, for the adolescent star of the comic strip bearing her name to make her way through an even more significant girlhood rite of passage.
This week Luann gets her period.
"It's something I had thought about when I started the strip six years ago," said Mr. Evans, on the phone from his home in San Marcos, Calif. "Luann is 13, and the first thing that pops into your mind with a 13-year-old is puberty, coming of age."
He decided, though, that menstruation would probably not be the best topic to use to inaugurate a new strip, and put the subject on a back burner until a few months ago when he decided readers were ready for it.
"I hope that the strip will open communication and ease discussion," Mr. Evans said. "In doing a little research, I found that some girls begin menstruation and have no idea what's happening. I think that's awful."
Still, Mr. Evans added, he anticipates some negative reaction to introducing such a delicate topic in the comics.
"I tried to cloak it in such a way that young innocent eyes wouldn't stumble across a word that parents have to explain," he said. "I imagine I'll get a certain percentage of grumpy mail. But I'm willing to brave some angry letters if it'll save one girl from going through this without knowing what's going on."
In the strip, which runs in about 250 papers including The Sun, the topic of first menstruation is handled discreetly, with Luann screaming from behind closed doors for her mother, considering thorny issues such as wearing white, and lording her new maturity over her ever-contentious older brother.
Mr. Evans is the father of a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old son and lifts some of the material for his strip from the constant bickering of their relationship. His daughter Karen said she sometimes sees herself in Luann, but doesn't find this latest subject in the least bit embarrassing.
"I have no objection to my dad's doing this," she said. "I'm a big fan of the strip. It often seems to reflect the way things really are."
People who work professionally with adolescent girls also commend Mr. Evans for taking the wraps off a once-taboo subject.
"I think it's wonderful," said Rosalie Streett, executive director of Friends of the Family, a local support group for city families. "I know there are girls who get their periods without ever having been told about it. It shouldn't be a secret, it shouldn't be something hidden. A comic strip is a great place to bring it up."
"I'm delighted that this physical process, which is as normal as the adolescent growth spurt and other aspects of life which have always been part of our humor, is being treated as normal," said Meg Boyd Meyer, director of education for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. "I'm looking forward to the day when wet dreams or menopause at the other end of the reproductive years gets equally frank treatment."