By Tom Neven
Johnny Hart, creator of the B.C. comic strip, wants the world to know about his
saviorand to have a chuckle at the same time.
The pencil strokes are quick and deft, the drawing simple. A caveman. A
cave. In front of the cave, a stone rolled away. The caveman looks in, finds the cave
In the past panel, he walks away with a triumphant gesture:
Yes! Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, Humor is a prelude to faith, and
laughter is the beginning of prayer. Although Niebuhr no doubt did not have a comic
strip about bumbling cavemen in mind, he would probably appreciate the way cartoonist
Johnny Hart has taken this sentiment to heart. The creator of two nationally syndicated
comic strips, B.C. and The Wizard of Id, Johnny displays an open and enthusiastic faith
that expresses itself with a sense of wonder and sly fun.
A God-given opportunity
Johnnys faith finds its way into his comic strips on a regular
basis, some days more explicitly than others. But on special days such as Good Friday,
Easter and Christmas, he presents the truth of the gospel in as straightforward a manner
as youll ever find in a secular newspaper. God has given me a platform,
Johnny saysa far-reaching one. B.C. today is syndicated in more than 1,300
newspapers worldwide. When you factor in his second strip, which he co-produces with
longtime friend Brant Parker, Johnny is the most widely syndicated cartoonist in the
Rick Newcombe is a longtime friend who credits Johnny with helping lead
him to faith and is president of Creators Syndicate, which syndicates the two strips. He
stresses that Johnny is careful not to abuse his access to so many readers.
Johnny wants to be funny, and he has something important to
say, Newcombe says. If he can do it with a scalpel, hes happy. If he
does it with a bulldozer, it wont work.
Still, despite Johnnys care to present the gospel with grace and
even a bit of humor, some seem to find offense. For example, The Angeles Times pulled B.C.
for four years running when Johnny drew strips with an explicit Christian message.
The papers explanation was that its editors reserve the right to
edit. While that principle cannot be questioned, it still begs the question as to why they
felt the need to edit Johnnys strips on only certain days. In 1996 the
Times pulled Johnnys Easter Sunday strip but ran on its editorial page a cartoon
showing presidential candidate Bob Dole nailed to a cross wearing Christian
In response to reader protest, the Times has now set up B.C. on a
rotating schedule with The Wizard of Id, alternating the strips over a three-day period.
And Johnny says, Just by coincidence its always The Wizards turn to run
on Holy Days. But, he adds with a characteristic chuckle, Last year I stacked
the week (between Palm Sunday and Easter) with a Christian strip every day.
In January 1996 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution dropped B.C.
Altogether, and just last year The Chicago Sun-Times also killed the strip. Newcombe says
the Sun-Times justified its decision because B.C. allegedly offended Jewish
To charges of anti-Semitism, Johnny responded tartly in writing:
If there is any anti-Semitism in the fact that I have turned my life over to the
greatest Jew who ever lived, I stand guilty as accused.
He had other defenders, too. Daniel Polsby, a law professor at
Northwestern University, wrote a supportive note to Johnny as charges of anti-Semitism
You cannot imagine the discomfort your religious views seem to
cause in some of the more politically correct parts of our culture. (How DARE he do
that?!) But one Jewish law professors opinion is that you have done more for our
countrys freedom of expression than it is usually given to any one man to do. My
colleagues usually think of Larry Flynt (publisher of Hustler magazine) and Hugh Hefner
(publisher of Playboy) as the heroes, but youre the genuine article. Keepem
Being politically correct is the last thing one can accuse the
69-year-old self-described gag man of, what with two of his cartoon characters
named Fat Broad and Cute Chick. And in a discussion of the difficulties men and women
sometimes have communicating, Johnny sighs, Womenyou cant live with
em . . . and you cant shoot em!
Being administratively inclined is also a tag that would be
hard to assign to him. He relies on his daughter Perri to help keep him organized,
devoting an entire room in his 5,000-square-foot studio for her to keep his files in
order. Hes always jotting notes to himself and filing them away in a multitude of
colored folders. Those folders, with headings written in neat cartoon script, carry titles
such as Reader Unrest (letters of complaint), Anti-Happy File
(things he wishes he could do over again) and Omnifarious Doings (anything
that doesnt fit neatly into one of the approximately 30 other categories).
A childhood dream
Johnny has never wanted to be anything but a cartoonist. As a child he
drew whenever he got the chance, even hoping to copy Walt Disneys success by
producing his own cartoon. Dopey Duck, which he painstakingly drew on typewriter paper.
I always loved to draw, he says, although hes never
studied art. Ive had no formal training for anything in my life, he
While serving in the Air Force in the early 1950s, he drew cartoons for
the Pacific Stars and Strips newspaper. An Air Force posting to Georgia led to Johnny
meeting his wife, Bobby, and they were married April 26, 1952.
Living on a small farm in rural Georgia after his discharge, Johnny
sold his first cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post in 1954. Still, freelance cartooning
didnt pay the bills, so he took a position in the art department at General Electric
in Johnson City, N.Y., while he continued to sell cartoons to magazines such as Colliers,
True and Look.
At GE, a fellow illustrator named Thornton Kinney inspired Johnny to
try his hand at a syndicated strip. Cavemen gags, for reasons I still cannot
explain, were an obsession in those days, Johnny says. The strip, he says, is
the product of a simple mind, and he is attracted by the simplicity of being
able to communicate human foibles through the antics of clueless cavemen.
After being rejected by five syndicates, B.C. was picked up by the New
York Herald Tribune Syndicate, and on Feb. 17, 1958, the first B.C. strip was published in
Oh, by the way, the character Thor, the guy on the stone wheel, is
named after his friend Thornton. Most of the other characters are based on friends,
including peg-legged Wiley, named after Johnnys brother-in-law, who lost a leg in
World War II. Clumsy Carp is Jack Caprio, Johnnys boyhood friend and present
business partner. Johnny says he models the character B.C. after himself, a native
slob. He insists with a twinkle in his eye that Fat Broad, Cute Chick and Grog, the
nearly subhuman hairball with a big nose, are not modeled on anyone in particular.
Since achieving his dream of becoming a syndicated cartoonist, Johnny
has been richly honored by his colleagues. B.C. has been awarded numerous honors,
Strip in America, National Cartoonist Society (six times)
The Reuben, Cartoonist of the Year, National Cartoonist Society,
The Yellow Kid Award, International Congress of Comics 1970
Sam Adamson Award, Swedish Museum of Comic Art (twice)
Elsie Segar Award, King Features Syndicate, 1981
Go to Nineveh
Johnny says his journey to faith culminated with a sudden
dawning. His family were C&E Christiansthey went to church on
Christmas and Easter.
I came from one of those good families, he
says. Despite periodically attending church and Sunday school as a child, I
dont remember really learning anything at all, he says. Religion was
always a good part of life, but I always felt awkward. I wasnt all that sure what
was going on.
As an adult, Johnny moved away from any semblance of faith. He
developed a drinking problem, getting swacked to help improve his
work. I lived for parties on the weekend, he says.
He also got heavily involved in the occult, relying on a Ouija board
for advice and exploring astrology, seances and what he calls mystical things.
Reincarnation was really attractive to me. I was formulating my own ideas of God,
who I wanted Him to be.
But God called him to Nineveh (New York, that is)not to preach
Gods Word but to find it. His studio, on 150 acres outside the small upstate town,
got poor TV reception. He bought a satellite dish, and the father-son team he hired to
install it turned it in to religious broadcasting as they fine-tuned the signal.
For several days Johnny was exposed to a virtually nonstop Christian
message. It drew me in, he says. I slowly became convinced that the
Bible is the Word of God. Id always known about Jesus, but now I knew the truth of
why he went to the cross.
He began praying for Bobby, and within a short time she asked him if he
wanted to go to church with her the next Sunday. That was in 1987, and Johnny says his
faith now colors everything he does.
Newcombe of Creators Syndicate says Johnnys faith was a big
influence in leading him to the Lord, and despite Johnnys self-deprecating
humor, Newcombe sees him as a genius. We had long talks, Newcombe says.
Johnnys personality changed. He and Bobby were so happy. I said, I want
And so, apparently, do a lot of B.C. readers. Johnny has no intention
of quitting cartooning, and he intends, he says, to do more with the message end of
things with the strip. What form that will take he wont say, but based on the
past, its sure to be a fun ride.
Focus on the Family, April, 1999, published by Focus on the Family. Copyright
1999. Focus on the Family. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by