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Comix reviewed at Hollywood Jesus with visuals and insights.
B.C. COMICS CENSORED
B.C. may be the most censored cartoon strip in America today. Religion--more specifically, Christianity -- seems to be considered offensive on the comics page, unless it's a spoof. In contrast, illicit sex, violence and witchcraft seem to be quite acceptable.
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Also: JOHNNY HART AND THE EASTER CONTROVERSY
At the Hart of B.C.
Comic strips have always fascinated me. My father, a cartoonist himself, taught me to read the daily comics page with a professional eye. I vividly remember him explaining to me the matter of style -- the distinctive look of a particular cartoonist's work.
And I will always remember the arrival of B.C. in our newspaper, the Portland Oregonian.
I was struck by the loose, quick style and the dry, acerbic wit. It seemed avant-garde. It resonated with my emerging adolescent rebellion.
I followed the strip through high school and college -- loosely imitating it when I did a comic strip for my college newspaper. I continued to read B.C. and the Wizard of Id through my adulthood. I can't remember exactly when I first noticed subtle Christian messages appearing in B.C., but I remember my reaction: "Good for Johnny Hart! He's spreading the Word!"
At the same time, I wondered how far he could go in expressing Christian messages through a secular medium.
How far he could go was demonstrated last spring with a series of overtly Christian strips leading up to Easter. The Los Angeles Times ran some, but refused to run others.
Christian groups heard about it and launched a phone-in campaign demanding that the Times run the censored strips. The Times did, but on the religion page, explaining that these strips were not appropriate for the general comics page because they were religious in nature.
Religion--more specifically, Christianity -- seems to be considered offensive on the comics page, unless it's a spoof. In contrast, illicit sex, violence and witchcraft seem to be quite acceptable.
I decided to call Johnny and find out more about the man whose work I had enjoyed for so many years -- the man who had dared to go against the current by expressing his faith in Christ through his comic strip.
Question: When and how did you become a Christian?
Johnny Hart: When I was a kid, my mom and dad were C&E Christians -- they didn't go to church except on Christmas and Easter. But they made sure I went to Sunday school.
I was fascinated by the stories in the Bible, without actually having read them. But I always believed in Jesus--that he died and was resurrected, and that he is in heaven.
But whenever I was around church people, I would be really nervous, because I felt like they suspected I was a hypocrite. I didn't want them to find me out, so I would exude goodness when I was around them. There are a lot of good people in the world. I was one of them.
I also had a fascination with nature. As a kid I used to spend time in the woods just looking at things. I would lay in the backyard and watch clouds for hours. The first time I ever got a helium balloon, I let it go, laid down and watched it go all the way up until it went through a cloud--one of the most fascinating things I'd ever seen.
I had this need to know things. Why are we here? What are we doing here? What is this all about? I also had a spiritual yearning.
I would gravitate toward anything that sounded spiritual or extraterrestrial. I got into things like Ouija boards and UFOs, ESP, astrology, psychics, seances, reincarnation, Edgar Cayce, the whole thing. I was always seeking anything outside of the physical realm, because that's where I thought everything was happening. But there was always a downside to these things. They were frustrating--not satisfying. There was no completeness -- no perfection.
Years later, we moved to this property -- about 150 acres outside of Nineveh, New York--God sent me to Nineveh. The property has a 30-acre lake on it--it's like a Shangri-la. The woods are full of rhododendrons and all kinds of flowers--a beautiful place.
There was no television out here. There were some local channels, but we were used to having the whole schmear -- HBO, ESPN and all that good stuff. We got along without them for a while.
Finally, my wife and I bought a satellite TV system. A father-and-son team came out to install it -- and it turned out they were born-again Christians.
We had several TV sets, so every room I went into, these guys would have Christian TV on. I'd go into one room and see D. James Kennedy. I'd go into another room and see the PTL Club or another preacher. I began to sit and watch and listen, and pretty soon I got hooked on it.
I began to read the Bible, to realize it was the Word of God, to find out that Jesus died to take away our sins, to learn about salvation and grace and all this fantastic stuff.
Once I got all that down in my heart, then all of the wonder, the doubt, the fear and the unknowing just dissolved into understanding and peace. I know why I'm here and what I'm doing and where I'm going and who's going to get me.
So I prayed for my wife, Bobby, to want to go to church. One Sunday morning she came popping into the room and said, "You wanna go to church?"
We went to a Presbyterian church over in Nineveh--a little country church with a membership of about 80. But the kicker is, it has 55 kids--a thriving youth group. It's a good, caring church, and nice people.
We became members, and elders, and now we teach Sunday school--we do the whole thing. Bobby is superintendent of the Sunday school. We just put a big annex on it, a brand-new parish hall and five or six more Sunday school rooms in the basement.
Q. How did you arrive at a caveman theme for your strip?
A. My thing in cartooning was simplicity. I tried to reduce my cartoons to the fewest words and the least clutter in the drawing. The simpler you do things, the more genius is required to do it. I used to take ideas as far back as I could take them--back to their origin.
So cavemen became my favorite thing to do because they are a combination of simplicity and the origin of ideas.
I was working at General Electric and doing magazine cartoons on the side for The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, True and Look--and I was becoming quite a success as a cartoonist. But I could never sell any cartoons about cavemen.
One night I was about to head home from work. I was clowning it up with the guys, and I said: "Good evening, friends. I must repair to my domicile. Tonight I'm going to create a world-famous comic strip." And one of the guys there said, as I'm going out the door: "Why don't you do one about cavemen? You can't sell 'em anyplace else."
So when I got home, I started doodling--drawing little cave guys. I was trying to think of a title, and Bobby said, "Why don't you just call it B.C." So I did.
Then I was having trouble putting characters together, so she said, "You could pattern them after your friends." So I did. Wylie is my brother-in-law, Thor and Peter are two guys I worked with at GE, and two others are personal friends of mine who work with me now.
B.C. is sort of the patsy, the straight man. Everybody says that's me.
Q. Do you consider the strip to be your ministry?
A. Yeah, it is, in a sense. Other than Sunday school.
Q. What do you want to accomplish with the strip?
A. When I began to do Christian themes, that's when I began what I'm trying to accomplish. I would do more Christian themes, but right now there's a balance--thanks to God. He holds me down. He makes it difficult for me to come up with enough Christian themes, because I probably would do it with all of them. But I realize the value in being subtle.
I think the current balance is effective -- using good secular humor. That keeps people reading it -- the audience I need to reach with the Christian stuff.
I'd like the content to be at least half-and-half. But to do that, I must do it with greater subtlety -- like having gags with morals. I want to do them with subtlety and with more "yucks." I want them to be really funny. The funnier they are, the more people remember them.
Q. Do you ever get complaints about the B.C. strip?
A. Every once in a while. But it's usually people who are offended by an antievolution gag. If I bring in a Christian message, they say: "Well, the title is B.C. -- it's before Christ. How can you bring in Christ?"
These things bother some. But otherwise, hundreds of people write me, and it's all "up" stuff. Everybody is flag-waving and saying "thank you" and "this is wonderful."
When we were in Fort Lauderdale, we saw Dr. James Kennedy one Sunday. He introduced me to the congregation and said, "I love it when you put those little Christian jabs in there." And everybody began applauding.
The pathetic thing is that people think I'm brave for doing this, which I'm not. They think I'm some kind of a hero. Maybe it's just that I'm too stupid to realize the consequences of doing these things.
The Los Angeles Times refuses to run my strips when they have Christian content, but they're just playing into my hands.
Q. Do you exercise total control over the content of your strips?
A. Yes. And I also have the blessing of the people who work for me, and the syndicate and all those people. They love it. Rick Newcombe, the president of my syndicate, is a brother to Jerry Newcombe, who works for Dr. Kennedy.
Q. What do you think of the current state of newspaper comic strips?
A. I think it seems devoid of what I'm doing -- of Christian messages.
There are some attempts. There's Bil Keane's Family Circus and a few of them out there who always mention Christmas and Easter. And they're rather unsung--people don't seem to have noticed. But I don't think they do it with the boldness (or the lack of intelligence) that I do.
Q. Do you think Christianity can maintain its distinctiveness when it merges with the secular?
A. Yes, absolutely. Jesus did OK, didn't he?
Q. Do you see a trend to allow more Christian-themed material into the mainstream media?
A. No, I don't. Not from the establishment, anyway. But I think these guys will cave in to the popular trend -- you know, the family values and all that good stuff that's going on now.
People are more conscious of Christianity and their Christian heritage. And I think the media establishment guys, being the hypocrites they are, are going to have to buckle down and go for it.
Take Christian music, for example. The kids in our Sunday school prefer that to secular rock. If you want to pull kids away from hard rock, you create some Christian rock and wean them off of the bad lyrics. And that's a growing trend in this country.
Q. Do you think Christianity and politics mix?
A. Yes. Absolutely. Politics came from Christianity, actually. The values, order, law--the Constitution was framed by Christians. The country was made by
Christians. The universities were first theological schools. John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, was a Christian. These people said things like, "The only way this nation will survive is if we fill our courts with Christians" -- I'm paraphrasing.
They were adamant about it. They said you've got to keep our elected officials and our judges Christian or the country will fail!
Q. What's the most gratifying thing you've done professionally?
A. Just what we're talking about. I've turned the strip into a ministry. I was almost beginning to get tired of my work until that happened.
Of course, I'm never tired of drawing or doing funny things, you know. It's hard to get down on your work if you're dealing with humor, and especially drawing pictures, which is my favorite thing in the world to do.
I think it's my mission to prove that the secular and Christianity do mix, and to prove that it can be fun. That's really what I'm after.
I don't think I've arrived at that yet. It's always nice to have a goal. Otherwise, you're just sitting there at your plateau saying, "Well, gotta go over to the plateau and do some more drawings today."
It's harder to draw when you're going uphill. Anyway, that's where I need to go.
Q. Do you have anything new that's coming out?
A. One thing I have in the back of my mind -- that's mushing its way forward to the front--is a book. Many readers have requested that I do a book of B.C. with Christian themes.
Actually, the Christianity that comes out of B.C. is not out of the characters -- it's out of me.
So, I think the book should be kind of a--I don't know what to call it--a nonbook book about my ideas and thoughts and a collection of my strips and things. God will publish it for me. He'll find somebody. Or, he'll kick me in the rear and say, "Publish it yourself, you lazy ... "
From the Plain Truth Magazine
July Aug 97 Used by permission
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Also: JOHNNY HART AND THE EASTER CONTROVERSY