April 15, 2007


Johnny Hart: Not Caving In: The cartoon characters of "B.C." reflect their imaginative creator, Johnny Hart. Especially his unapologetic faith in God. (Joe Maxwell, Christianity Today)

Editor's Note: Cartoonist Johnny Hart, a devoted Christian whose award-winning B.C. comic strip appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide, died on April 7 at age 76. Today's Christian interviewed Hart in 1997. [...]

Hart believes the Lord put him into the cartooning world for a reason. Every prudent chance he gets, he takes advantage of it.

On Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter—and many days between—Hart's characters offer messages reflecting the cartoonist's own firm belief in the gospel message. "I find myself trying to put the gospel into practically every strip I create without being obvious about it," he says.

Hart says he wants to create a "spasm" in his reader, putting a new twist on an old truth. He's been creating nationwide twitches for years now, and his peers often have paid him homage:

—Best Humor Strip in America, six times (The National Cartoonist Society)

—The Reuben—Cartoonist of the Year (The National Cartoonist Society)

—The Yellow Kid Award for Best Cartoonist (The International Congress of Comics)

—Best Cartoonist of the Year (France's highest cartooning award)

—The Sam Adamson Award, twice (Sweden's international award for graphic artists)

—The Elsie Segar Award (King Features Syndicate).

In many ways, Hart is a preacher, only his congregation absorbs his message via America's mainstream newspapers as he brings light into the often dark daily news. People who don't read the Bible or attend church services often do read Johnny's comics.

He was gratified when a woman wrote to say that a "Wizard of Id" strip kept her from committing suicide. "The strip had no real mind-jarring message," says Hart, "so I just knew that [it was] God [who] had used it to reach that precious soul."

B.C. vs. The Times

Johnny's work stirs more than a love for life. For some, Johnny's bent has become too religious and/or political. While other cartoonists' characters get away with blatant statements reflecting non-Christian views, over the past few years a different standard has been applied by some newspaper editors to Johnny's cartoon figures.

For four years now, The Los Angeles Times has refused to run certain "B.C." strips containing witty Christian messages during holiday seasons. In March 1996, when the Times refused to run his Palm Sunday strip, a national uproar ensued, reaching even the Washington, D.C., talk show circuit. The strip had Wiley—a brooding, poet-wannabe in B.C.'s cast of characters—sitting against a tree, tablet in hand, writing a poem entitled "The Suffering Prince":

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.

Spokeswoman Gloria Lopez of the Times says Mr. Hart's strip isn't the only one that has been pulled. Other examples of edited strips she cited include "Doonesbury" and "The Far Side." Says Ms. Lopez: "The bottom line is the editors reserve the right to edit."

Johnny believes such treatment is symptomatic of the battle for America's soul, and he likes the idea that his recent flaps with the Times "have gotten Christians up in arms. That's what they all need."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 15, 2007 11:29 PM
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