It’s not just the moustache

This guest post is by Helen on the Cast Iron Balcony.


It’s (gag) happened!

Elizabeth and the dweeby, creepy, moustached Anthony have finally realised that each other is their Only Trew Love, and they’re going at it like… well, as far as anyone can go at it in this agressively wholesome, goody two-shoes comic strip. I’m not the only one. There is appalledness all over the internets.

If you don’t know what I’m going on about, it’s the comic strip For Better or For Worse, or the FOOBiverse, which has been infesting the funnies page of the AGE for the last few decades. I’m drawn back to it time and again by the seeming inevitability that somehow, sometime, something interesting has to happen… and it never does. The strips ususally end with a bad pun, or a trite piece of folksy wisdom, in the final frame.

For years, young twentysomething Elizabeth has been seeing various attractive helicopter pilots and other charismatic, if one-dimensional, characters who inhabit her teaching zone in far north Canada, or wherever it is. Meanwhile, her dweeby High School boyfriend languishes in her home suburb (just around the corner from her parents), married to the evil Therese (who works full time while Anthony looks after their child – you see, he wanted a baby, she didn’t, and she acquiesced when he told her he’d be a SAHD. Well, she.. she… well, she took him at his word! Sheesh! She is the evil to end all evils.) Naturally, everything in the FBOFW plot is grinding hopelessly towards what Shaenon Garrity describes as “the plodding inevitability of the Liz-Anthony pairing”.

If indeed you haven’t seen this strip before, you also won’t know that Anthony, up to now, has sported a truly horrifying porn ‘tache. And for this strip, he’s SHAVED IT OFF! Which means I’ve won the bet I made with myself a couple of years ago: Creepy Anthony will shave off the ‘tache one day, and that will be the moment he will be … revealed … as the … prince. (Quick, the bucket!) Am I not correct? And.. he looks just like her Dad. Which, according to many veteran observers– or even the author herself— isn’t accidental.

Shaenon Garrity again:

I hate Anthony. I hate him more than I’ve ever hated a cartoon character, and, yes, I’m including both Scrappy-Doo and Ted Rall. I’m far from the only one; Anthony supporters appear to be a tiny minority among FBOFW readers, and most of them can’t muster much more enthusiasm than, “Hey, he’s not that bad.” Josh Fruhlinger, of the popular comic-strip blog The Comics Curmudgeon, rips into Anthony every time he appears. Venerable comics journalist Tom Spurgeon describes himself as “anti-Anthony, pro-anybody else, up to and including Snuffy Smith.” A woman on LiveJournal with the username ellcee writes elaborate anti-Anthony fanfics in which he appears as a murderer or the mustache-twirling villain of a Victorian romance.

The Anthony story follows the general theme that makes FBOFW so saccharine, that kids never really grow up or escape parental control.

Johnston gives the peculiar impression that she thinks everyone ought to be paired off with their first loves. Already, there have been exchanges hinting that teenage April’s forgettable boyfriend Gerald is the man with whom the youngest Patterson sibling is destined to spend her life. Since April and Gerald have known each other, if I’m remembering correctly, since preschool, this may be the ultimate FBOFW match: April will get to marry the first person outside her immediate family she ever met.

The strip has made no bones about why childhood sweethearts are preferable: the parents know them and get to oversee the courtship from beginning to end. Liz’s parents, Elly and John, haven’t shown much fondness for any of the men Liz has met outside Milborough. But they’re elated about the increasingly prominent role Anthony is playing in her life. When Liz and Anthony first ran into each other as adults, John and Elly (and their middle-aged friends) gloated about the “good news” and pushed Liz to attend a New Year’s Eve party with Anthony as her date””even though both Liz and Anthony were involved with other people. While April fretted about her sister’s infidelity (April has loved all of Liz’s non-Anthony boyfriends, which is held up as a sign of her immaturity), John and Elly exchanged a high-five in the background. Finally, a nice local boy they could keep an eye on! It’s Crossing Delancy on the comics page.

Anthony also follows the Nice Guy™ script, while demonising his wife for not following the submissive wife script.

Therese’s sins, for which she was constantly excoriated by the other characters, included having a career; continuing to work after getting married; not wanting children; agreeing to have a child but wanting her husband to take care of it; being jealous of her husband’s friendship with his ex-girlfriend (which, as it turned out, was eminently sensible of her); and a host of minor grievances such as asking for money at her baby shower. Therese’s heartless behavior is consistently linked to her status as a liberated career woman with no interest in becoming a stay-at-home mom. In some strips, her disinterest in children and possession of a career are discussed as if they were every bit as scandalous as her infidelity.

Every storyline involving Anthony during his married years included at least one scene in which characters shook their heads over his misfortune at having shackled himself to an unnatural, unfeminine woman who didn’t want to quit her job to raise his children. Before long, I came to instinctively recoil from any appearance of Anthony, bracing myself for the anti-feminist scolding that was sure to come. That instinct remains, lodged in my reptilian hindbrain, and stirs to action every time Anthony rears his moustachioed head.

… Liz has been set up to oppose her as the Good Woman in the conflict, which is why, upon learning Anthony was single again, she promptly quit her job and moved home. Forget having a life of her own; she can push her kids into whatever career she regrets not having, like Elly has done with Michael. And little Françoise still needs a mother, dammit.

Garrity’s essay is the best exposition out there on the Disaster that is Anthony. Read the whole thing.

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, relationships

Tags: , , ,

7 replies

  1. I’ve only been following FBOFW for a few months, through Comics Curmudgeon. I’m flabbergasted to learn that Elizabeth and Anthony were childhood friends — I’ve been assuming all along (based on how they’re drawn and how they act) that she was in her mid-twenties and he was in his forties.

  2. arrgh!! i’ve always hated “for better or for worse.” never funny, never poignant–it’s like reading an ingredients label in the middle of the comics page. plus, the treatment of gender roles is so weak. any “important” issue that the comic has addressed (homophobia, sexism, racism) over the years is seen through such a milky, preachy lens that it loses any impact it could have had.

  3. Great points!
    I rly can’t stand all the Elizabeth/Anthony OTP stuff that Johnston is forcing down our throats!
    Esp since she constructs 1 dimensional characters for both Elizabeth and Anthony who turn out to be “evil” in order to make us like her proposed pairing more. >.>;;
    It annoys me how every single one of Elizabeth’s boyfriends turn out to be uncaring or cheating on her >.

  4. At least the characters in the strip age in almost-real time, which is rare (apart from, perhaps, Doonesbury). Yes, the love-story thread is tedious, but even when the strip is at its worst, it is infinitely better than Bristow. (As for will-they/won’t they, the guy from Non Sequitur and the love interest is much less predictable in the long term).

  5. I recognize all of these points and they frustrate me to death, but I was still happy to see Liz and Anthony making out this week. It is naive of me I know, but as a long time fan of the strip who loves it IN SPITE of its bizarre judgmental passages I am hoping that we can close the Anthony and Therese passage once Anthony and Liz get together. Since it has been coming for, literally, years I am choosing to be happy for them … and extra happy that the facial hair has left before the wedding.

  6. I’ve grown up reading FBOFW and have almost all of the books. Even had the calendars for many years. My family loves it and sometimes we talk about the characters as if they are real people! Just reading some of the links, I realize how blinded I’ve been to some of the issues, lol. I don’t know, I’ll still always like it, especially the fact that they age in real time. That said, I don’t really like Anthony either (especially with the moustache!) and I hoped they didn’t get back together. It does seem kind of odd that both Liz and Mike end up with their first loves.

  7. I’ll never get the hours back that I spent last night catching up on FOOBs backstory, will I?
    Curses on that Porntache, curses I say.

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