Supporting Cast: Helen of BETWEEN FRIENDS

By Tea Fougner

If you’re a fan of Sandra Bell-Lundy’s BETWEEN FRIENDS, you already know all about Kim, Maeve, and Susan, the three friends whose ups and downs we follow every day. You’ve also probably noticed one of our favorite characters in the strip: Helen, Maeve’s practical, wise assistant, who often dispenses advice and tempers Maeve’s own hotheaded behavior. Sandra is joining us this week to tell us a little more about Helen!

Helen is Maeve’s assistant at the office. Since Maeve is an executive Sales Director, I suppose Helen is an executive assistant to the Sales Director. I’ve never been very specific about what their careers entail other than alluding to the fact that they are in upper management positions as opposed to the rank and file.

Helen is my favourite supporting cast member. She’s a no-nonsense, straightshooter who doesn’t mind giving her advice or her blunt opinion to Maeve about her avant-garde love life. Mother of two (Amelia is in university and Mark is a senior in high school), Helen is a late fifty-something woman who has been happily married to her husband, Grant, for many years.

Of all the characters in Between Friends, I think Helen would be the one I would enjoy hanging out with the most if she were a real person. I like that she’s self-possessed and that she’s not the type of person who would let you push her around. I like that she gets a little mom-fatigued and lets her kids know who’s boss…and I like her occasional cheek and her snark.

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I use Helen for two purposes. First, she serves as a foil for Maeve at the office. They respect and genuinely like each other but Helen is pragmatic and Maeve is a livewire. I use Helen as a person who’s strong enough to confront Maeve and nosy enough to prod Maeve into exposing aspects of her hedonistic lifestyle. Sometimes, Helen envies Maeve’s single life but I’ve flipped that and done the occasional strip where Maeve envies Helen’s home life.

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Secondly, Helen’s kids are close in age to my kids, so whenever I’m influenced to write about something that pertains to older teenagers, I use her character. For example, last year some of my son’s friends were getting ready to go to university. Since he’ll be going next year himself, there’s been a lot of chatter about the subject around our house. I wrote some university-themed strips and based them on Helen’s daughter, Amelia, because my main characters’ children are still too young.

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I have two other points about Helen…one is that I hear her speak with a cultured Jamaican accent in my mind although it’s not apparent in the strip because of the lack of slang. I don’t know why I hear her this way, but I do. The other point (and it’s another thing I really like about Helen’s character) is that she is a full-figured woman who doesn’t have any hang-ups about her body. She’s drawn as a beautiful woman and not as a stereotypical “frumpy, overweight” woman. I’m proud of the fact that in 17+ years, I have never written a gag that featured Helen as being anything less than comfortable in her own skin.

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Thanks, Sandra!

We’re at the start of a brand new year, and just wanted to take a moment to mention Sandra’s 2012 BETWEEN FRIENDS Calendar available on Cafepress. It features a different favorite comic each month!