Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Comic at Hart

Cartoonist Johnny Hart, creator of the popular, long-running American comic strip B.C. and co-creator (with Brant Parker) of The Wizard of Id, died at his New York home on Saturday. He was 76 years old. The Associated Press quotes his wife, Bobby, as saying that Hart “had a stroke. He died at his storyboard.”

Is that a perfect way for a cartoonist to go, or what?

My father, an architect and aspiring cartoonist himself, introduced me to B.C. when I was very young and still reading newspaper comics pages. The strip followed a small settlement of prehistoric cavemen, who were far wittier and more philosophical than their era would have suggested. But that absurdity, of course, was part of what made B.C. so funny. The strip was launched in 1958 and now appears in 1,300 newspapers. The Wizard of Id, which features the inhabitants of a fairly scruffy medieval European kingdom, Id (“the land of milk and honey”), debuted back in 1964 and currently runs in about 1,000 papers worldwide.

Although Hart was occasionally lambasted for his themes (especially those construed as being critical of religions), I found his humor dry, clever, and altogether satisfying. I was particularly entertained by his unconventional Wiley’s Dictionary definitions of common terms. Such panels usually found one of Hart’s cave dwellers gazing into an open, weighty book atop a huge rock, only to find definitions such as:

BORDERLINE OBESE: Won’t fit through the turnstile at the immigration booth.

GINGER SNAPS: The reason why nobody pets Ginger anymore.

POLITICAL PRISONERS: Everybody that didn’t vote for the guy that won.
If there really is a Heaven someplace, maybe Johnny Hart is already making the angels wet their robes with laughter.

FOLLOW-UP: Yipes! Just a week after Johnny Hart died, his “Wizard of Id” co-creator, cartoonist Brant Parker, has passed away as well. The Los Angeles Times has the obituary.

READ MORE: An Interview with Johnny Hart (Hogan’s Alley).

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