Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Review of: Johnny Hart's B.C.

Someone, a long time ago, made a point of putting a time limit on the comic strip: i.e. any single strip that hit 35 years needed to be retired. Even the great Peanuts was tired at 35 years of age, and finished up its run dimming the memory of just how good it was in its decade long prime.

B.C., which obviously will end with Johnny Hart's death, will end, but it will be remembered more for the its controversy than for its earlier highlights. As a child, I read the paperback collections that were published in the 60's and 70's and didn't always get the sardonic tone that Hart had in the strip, not did I get some of his more obscure puns, but there were others that were so simple and direct that they were the equivalent of a visual knock-out punch.

What, unfortunately, will be remembered, is Hart's overt religious stance in the last 16 years of his life, and the effect that it had on his strip. The Washington Post's Obit on Hart has two paragraphs on two of the most directly offensive strips from the last 16 years of B.C.:

One Easter "B.C." strip showed a menorah's candles being extinguished as the candelabra morphs into a cross; the final frame included the words, "It is finished." To his critics, this symbolized a triumph of Christianity over Judaism, but Mr. Hart said it was meant to "pay tribute to both" religions.

Muslims were enraged by another "B.C." strip that ran during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It featured an outhouse with multiple crescents -- a symbol associated with Islam -- and showed a cave man saying from inside the makeshift bathroom, "Is it just me, or does it stink in here?"

Wow, that's really subtle. Hart also has this quote from 1999:

"I don't know if it's the liberalization of this country or whatever [that] has taken prayer out of schools and pulled the Ten Commandments off the walls of courts, and we've become a nation of heathens. The Christians are still out there, but they're hiding," he said. "They're afraid because every time somebody tries to make a move, somebody steps on them and pushes them back or locks them out. So they think that I'm a hero, and I'm not. . . . That's probably the most pathetic thing of all, that they admire me and think that I'm courageous and brave to mention God's name."
Guess what, last I heard, there was separation of church and state in this country. And, by the way, calling the rest of the country "heathens" if they don't believe what you believe is a good way to get people to hate you, even people like me, who strongly believe in the right for you to say whatever you wish with your art. Even if it gets you into trouble.

No one gets a free pass with their death, and, personally, I dislike Hart's overtly religious cartoons, no matter who they're directed at, even while I appreciate the talent in the early years. Unlike the Anti-terrorist cartoons that landed the dutch in trouble (since they were labeled as anti-muslim), his cartoon have no specific statement, other than: "My religion is better than yours." If you want to go after my work when I'm dead, don't pull your punches, 'cause my feelings won't be hurt, I promise you.

Especially using a caveman to write a poem lamenting Jesus' death. Sorry, the title of your terrible screed is "B.C." as in "Before Christ". This is the only bit of continuity cop I'll bother to play: duh, Johnny, Jesus hadn't been born yet.

I won't miss having to watch more trees destroyed for B.C. or the miserable Wizard of ID. Both strips are better off six feet under.

Edited to add this terrible news:

Daily strips already done by Hart will run through April 28, and Sundays through May 20.

In tribute to Hart, his family will select six weeks of their favorite “B.C.” strips to run daily between April 30 and June 9, and Sunday between May 27 and July 1.

After that, “B.C.” will resume its regular schedule. As previously reported, Hart’s children and grandchildren will continue the comic.


Kid Sis said...

But what do you really think?


RAB said...

Clearly those cavemen were not actually living before the Christian era, but were the debased survivors of a nuclear war fought over religion...still acting out the intolerance which destroyed their world. Kind of tragic, really.

For that matter, the Flintstones were actually living after the era of the Jetsons, whose civilization was destroyed by the evil manipulations of Gazoo the Great, thereby explaining how they could be a "modern Stone Age family" with knowledge of television.

Yes, I've given this way too much thought.

Anonymous Reader said...

Nicely put. I too appreciated Hart's early stuff back when I was as a kid, but he we changed in different directions and I found his later stuff to be stodgy, ugly and repulsive.

I think this quote--which I pulled from Dirk Deppy over at Journalista!--amply sums up my feelings about Hart:

“[Johnny] Hart was a genius. Then he got weird and scared, and it made him selfish and intolerant and preachy. I hope he’s in heaven, because it was REALLY important to him to get there. It warped his priorities.”
- Washington Post Staff writer Gene Weingarten