One of my favorite cartoonists, the brilliant Johnny Hart, died yesterday–Holy Saturday. He was funny, fierce, and faithful:
Cartoonist Johnny Hart, whose award-winning “B.C.” comic strip appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide, died Saturday while working at his home in Endicott. He was 76.
“He had a stroke,” Hart’s wife, Bobby, said Sunday. “He died at his storyboard.”
“B.C.,” populated by prehistoric cavemen and dinosaurs, was launched in 1958 and eventually appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers with an audience of 100 million, according to Creators Syndicate Inc., which distributes it.
“He was generally regarded as one of the best cartoonists we’ve ever had,” Hart’s friend Mell Lazarus, creator of the “Momma” and “Miss Peach” comic strips, said from his California home. “He was totally original. ‘B.C’ broke ground and led the way for a number of imitators, none of which ever came close.”
After he graduated from Union-Endicott High School, Hart met Brant Parker, a young cartoonist who became a prime influence and co-creator with Hart of the “Wizard of Id” comic strip.
Hart enlisted in the Air Force and began producing cartoons for Pacific Stars and Stripes. He sold his first freelance cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post after his discharge from the military in 1954.
Later in his career, some of Hart’s cartoons had religious themes, a reflection of his own Christian faith. That sometimes led to controversy…
Flashback, my syndicated column, April 18, 2001: P.C. vs. B.C.
HAVE you read the comics lately? They’re not your father’s funny pages, anymore. The superheroes and silly creatures of old have taken a back seat to more politically correct characters – such as single working women (“Cathy” and “Maxine”), gay teens (“For Better or For Worse”), and racially charged smart alecks (“Boondocks”).
There’s nothing wrong with the modernization and diversification of a newspaper’s comics section. But as is typically the case with the liberal media’s narrow concept of “diversity,” some kinds of differences don’t count. Like spiritual diversity.
“B.C.” by Johnny Hart, the most widely read cartoonist in the world, is under fire for being too overtly Christian. Hart’s unique blend of gentle caveman humor and serious messages of faith have won him millions of lifelong readers worldwide. But after carrying Hart’s strip for 33 years, the Los Angeles Times dropped B.C. last week. The paper, like several in Denver, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., refused to run many religious-themed B.C. installments. (The strip is sold by Creators Syndicate, which also syndicates this column.)
The Times’ cancellation came on the heels of a hysterical protest by left-wing Jewish groups who called on newspapers nationwide to censor Hart’s Easter weekend strip. In the cartoon, Hart drew seven panels containing Biblical passages of Jesus’ last words. In each panel, a seven-branched candelabra light goes out until the shape of a cross remains. The last panel evokes the resurrection of Christ, with a trail of blood running from the cross into an empty tomb. One fringe group, the Jewish Defense League, complained that the strip was “an affront to the Jewish people. It is telling Christians to destroy our religion in the name of Jesus.” Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League carped that Hart’s work was “insensitive and offensive.” They demanded the comic strip be censored…
…The N.Y.-based Hart, a devout evangelical Christian, says he in no way intended to denigrate the Jewish faith. At least one courageous and common-sensical Jew agrees, and he castigated Hart’s censorious critics. Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor of JewishWorldReview.com, said last week that “A comic strip in honor of a holy season that is not my own doesn’t send a chill down my spine, nor make my blood boil, even if it includes Jewish symbols.” He continued: “As a Sabbath-observant Jew, rabbinical school alumnus and publisher of the most-accessed Jewish Web site, I see absolutely nothing wrong with Hart’s message.”
The real danger, Jolkovsky warns, is the increasing attack on public displays of all faiths. For Christians and Jews alike, the slow and steady snuffing out of religious expression in the mainstream marketplace of ideas is no laughing matter.
Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
Here is Hart’s B.C. page at Creators.com. From his bio:
President John F. Kennedy said, “There are three things which are real: God, human folly and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.” Cartoonist Johnny Hart does what he can with the third. And what he does is tremendous. For Johnny Hart’s B.C. brings laughter to more than 100 million readers worldwide.
“As far back as I can remember, I drew funny pictures which got me in or out of trouble depending on the circumstances,” recalls the successful comic strip creator.
Here’s a profile of Hart in Christianity Today that ran ten years ago.
Here’s Kathleen Parker defending Johnny Hart from the CAIR police in 2003.
One of B.C. cartoons the LA Times first refused to run was his Palm Sunday 1996 strip featuring the famous character Wiley sitting against a tree, tablet in hand, writing a poem entitled “The Suffering Prince.” Here’s the poem:
Picture yourself tied to a tree,
condemned of the sins of eternity.
Then picture a spear, parting the air,
seeking your heart to cut your despair.
Suddenly—a knight, in armor of white,
stands in the gap betwixt you and its flight,
And shedding his ‘armor of God’ for you—
bears the lance that runs him through.
His heart has been pierced that yours may beat,
and the blood of his corpse washes your feet.
Picture yourself in raiment white,
cleansed by the blood of the lifeless knight.
Never to mourn,
the prince who was downed,
For he is not lost! It is you who are found.
An e-mail tonight from one of B.C.’s millions of fans:
Thanks for your obituary notice of the passing of Johnny Hart. I
heard him speak and do a sketch at a World Journalism Institute
session. At a banquet later that evening he gave an account of his
conversion and Christian perspective on his vocation which was
illuminating and very moving. At the informal WJI session is asked
what we are supposed to call the day between Good Friday and Easter.
It’s Holy Saturday, of course, but in view of Christ’s victory over
the underworld Johnny Hart suggested it might be called “kick butt
Saturday.” How appropriate that the Lord chose Holy Saturday to
usher him into His presence.
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Mo.
Ed Morrissey pays tribute:
Comic strips used to be one of my passions. I learned to read from Peanuts strips and books, and ever since, my subscriptions to the newspapers in the various places I have lived had as much to do with the comics section as the op-ed pages and news articles. In a way, the comic strips created the passion for news that has led me to becoming a full-time blogger.
One of those comic strip artists I particularly enjoyed was Johnny Hart, who wrote “B.C.” and co-wrote “The Wizard of Id”.
…Some claimed him as a triumphalist, but Hart tried to show what he felt was the importance of Christianity to Western civilization, and he never apologized for incorporating his faith into his work.
It seems especially fitting that Hart went to his Lord on Easter, and passed away at the storyboard. May the Lord accept Hart with open arms. Godspeed, Johnny, and thank you.
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