Today's strip wherein John and Elly organize their slides by person and subject reminds me that the strip itself can be divided into four discreet time periods. The quality of the artwork and story telling are different in each era. The first of these is what Lynn herself calls the Early Years. The general theme was that of the struggles that a young family had getting on their feet and along with each other. The artwork and characterizations were broader than they later became and we saw more of John and Elly's friends and relations. Towards the end of it, Phil became for all intents and purposes a fifth main character. As a matter of fact, the time he and John got lost on a camping trip was the transition to the Middle Years. The artwork was closer to what we are familiar with and the characters all became more believable in their motivations. Strips from this era and the one following it are what people talk about when they remember how good the strip used to be. Phil left for Montreal a few years into this era but April took his place towrds the end. As happened beforehand, the transition from the Middle to Later years was a dramatic storyline: the death of Farley. As I said, the strip continued to not suck. It looked as if Mike and Liz had grown out of the negative character traits that made their childhood so turbulent and John had finally got over himself and realized Elly could stand on her own two feet. If you were to ask me ten years or so ago, I'd have said the Patterson's futures were fairly bright. Then, another violent catastrophe occured: Deanna and Mike's Big Fat Sham Wedding. After they left for whereever, the artwork and writing slowly started to decline, plotlines became increasingly more farfetched, John, Elly, Mike and Liz started to regress to the annoying creeps they started out as and there was all the endless harping on Mike and Dee being so poor, the Patterspawn being so bratty, Liz being a needy idiot, April geting smacked down all the time, Therese making trouble and Anthony being funny, hard-working and charming. Add in the annoying reliance on physical comedy and cheap wordplay to the rancid horse manure the strip had been allowed to become and you get what I call the Declining Years.