Years before those guys at GEICO decided to go for caveman humor and Harry Potter saw his first adventure, there was one man who trumped them both. Johnny Hart was the brain behind two long-running syndicated comic strips, “B.C.” and “The Wizard Of Id”.
Hart was the co-creator of the comic “Wizard Of Id” along with Brent Parker, a young man who met Hart shortly after Johnny graduated from high school. The main characters in that strip were the Wizard himself, the king, and a large-nosed palace guard. While it was popular in syndication, the comic that Hart was most well-known for was “B.C.”
“B.C.” was set in prehistoric times, with cavemen (and women) living side by side with dinosaurs. In spite of the wide differences in cultures, Hart’s clever wit gave his characters great rapport with modern society. At times he even managed to insert timely and relevant digs at news events, corporations, and politicians. Creators Syndicate, Inc., the comic’s distributor, released a statement saying that “B.C.” was being published in about 1300 newspapers and read by 100 million people. It was launched in 1958.
Hart, like many well-known cartoonists, worked from a home studio, and that’s where he was at the time of his death in Endicott, New York, the town he was born in, on Saturday, April 7, 2007. His wife Bobby told reporters that her husband had a stroke, adding that “he died at his storyboard”. He was 76 years old.
After his graduation from high school, he joined the Air Force and began drawing cartoons for military publication Pacific Stars And Stripes, a magazine that was also the launching pad for puppeteer and future film stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Hart was discharged from the Air Force in 1954 and shortly after that sold his first freelance cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post, a publication also frequented by science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury.
Hart twice won the highly regarded Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year from the National Cartoonist Society. Richard Newcombe, founder of the Creators Syndicate, said Hart was the first cartoonist to join the Syndicate when it was formed twenty years ago and it was Hart’s leadership that made it a success.
Both “Id” and “B.C.” will continue, Newcombe said, just as “Peanuts” went on with reprints after the passing of its creator Charles Schulz in 2000. One strip that probably won’t be reprinted, however, caused a lot of furor in 2001, just in time for Easter. It showed a menorah morphing into a cross, and while Hart said the intention was to honor both faiths, some Jewish groups took it to stand for the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. A number of newspapers also dropped the strip as a protest.
Mell Lazarus, the creator of “Miss Peach” and “Momma”, was a close friend of Hart. He said that Johnny “was generally regarded as one of the best cartoonists we’ve ever had”. In the comics industry, just like in movies, there is no finer tribute than that of your fellow artists.