Editor’s Dispatch: Happy Anniversary to Between Friends!

By Tea Fougner
Between Friends turns twenty this week, so it’s time to congratulate Sandra Bell-Lundy on two decades’ worth of fun, friendship, and family through the eyes of three fabulous ladies: Susan, Maeve, and Kim.
To celebrate, Sandra graciously answered some questions about working on Between Friends over the past twenty years.  

What have been some of the most significant changes to the strip over the past 20 years?

When my strip launched in 1994, it featured Susan (married), Maeve (divorced) and Kim (single). Changes in their lives have been influenced by my own…mainly that I’m not as young as I was 20 years ago and so neither are they. My characters’ aging has been gradual and subtle. For example, they wear reading glasses now. The bigger change was bringing children into the strip. Again, this was a result of me having children of my own. Eventually, their influence was just too big to ignore and it couldn’t help but affect my day-to-day life and my perspective on some things. So, Susan adopted a daughter and Kim married a widower with a young son. Maeve has remained a single divorcee and I like her character and her dynamic in the strip so I don’t see that changing. My son is away at university now and my daughter will be leaving next year…so the children in my strip are following suit. The strip isn’t exactly my life but it has reflected the different stage-of-life events that me and my friends experience.


What are some of your fondest memories from the early days of “Between Friends?”

My fondest memories…I self-syndicated Between Friends for four years before my association with King Features and I very clearly remember the day my husband and I came home from shopping and my answering machine was blinking. It was Jay Kennedy calling from King in New York…asking me to call him back. I had to drink a glass of water and walk up and down the stairs to burn off energy before I returned his call because I was beyond excited. I think the other best memory I have of my early strip years was when I wrote a story arc about Susan facing infertility and subsequently having her adopt. It was the first time I received a significant amount of mail…very serious, heartfelt mail from people who were experiencing the same issues as Susan. The reader response changed the direction of my story line. I had planned to have Susan give birth, but so many readers wanted her to adopt, that I changed my mind. The day Susan meets her adopted daughter for the first time generated the most mail. One woman told me her daughter asked her why she was crying while she was reading the funnies. It was very…I don’t know even know the right word…surreal maybe…to know that my comic had that kind of impact on her.


What have been some of your favorite recent moments?

Recently, I’ve had the most fun writing the series about Kim creating a super hero for women named “Hot Flash Woman.” In the series I had Kim’s son Danny mocking her for creating a super hero for women her age…saying that they don’t read the comics. In one strip I had Kim ask the readers if women liked to read comics. I thought the gag was a bit lame…but it was one of those strips that needed to be written to carry the story from one point to the next. The day it appeared I had at least 50 e-mails from women in their 40’s and up (practically all of them told me their age) very emphatically saying that YES, they LOVED the comics. I loved that…especially because I thought the strip was just one of those connector strips…not anything particularly special.


Are there any moments in your own life as the creator of Between Friends— relating to fans, other cartoonists, etc., that are especially memorable?

As a cartoonist, you really feel like you’re in a vacuum at times because you’re at home alone just doing what you do. Whenever I do a presentation and I hear people laughing out loud at some strips that I show, I always feel very flattered. I think the most memorable moment would be when I was asked to assist the Canadian Cancer Society by creating some Between Friends strips for their awareness campaign to promote regular mammograms in the early detection of Breast Cancer.


Are there specific motifs, themes, or issues that you find yourself returning to? Have the ways you’ve incorporated them into the strip changed?

The basic premise of my strip is still the same as it was when I first started…which is the interaction between three close women friends. It’s just the influences and stage of life events that have changed. Structurally, the strip has evolved. In the beginning, I always wrote in four panels. One of my editors pointed out to me one time that I was writing all my gags with the same beat…panel 1..build up in panel 2…bigger build up in panel 3…punchline. I hadn’t noticed it but when he pointed it out, I could see it so clearly. So I started changing the rhythms of my writing…sometimes having the punch in panel 3 with an afterword in panel 4…shortening the build-up to the punch…doing some visual gags (although I don’t do that often, it doesn’t seem to be my thing) and doing single gags. I think it improved my writing.


Are there any ways that the strip, story, or characters have surprised you?

Whenever I write a serious story arc, I never plan out the entire story in advance. I just write it as it comes…so I’m always surprised by the ending.

Are there any stories you’ve wanted to tell but haven’t had the opportunity to tell (yet)?

The great thing about writing a comic strip is that you create what you want…so I’ve never felt like I had to wait to write something.

What do you most look forward to in the future of the strip?

I moved my characters into their early fifties last year and since that time I feel like I’ve been getting to know them in a new sense. Both Kim and Maeve are experiencing changes…Susan will but not quite yet. It probably sounds odd but I needed a little time to get to know how their lives are going to be different…it’s not like they were a certain character yesterday and the next day they are someone new. There’s been a process of evolving. I feel like I’m there now and I’m looking forward to writing about them with some different context. I don’t know if that makes any sense! But things feel fresh to me because I’ve moved them ahead…and also maybe because I know my life is going to change soon too.


Thanks, Sandra! Here’s to two decades more!