Humor with a Hart

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If you haven't heard of the long-running newspaper comic strip B.C., you've probably been - well, living in a cave.

But most of you doubtlessly have read, or at least heard of, the cartoon with the Stone Age setting. The creator of this strip, Johnny Hart, died at his drawing board Saturday at age 76.

It's interesting, even appropriate, that Hart chose cavemen as the characters for his comic, because cavemen basically were the first cartoonists: Paleolithic artists who rendered pictures on rock faces, perhaps to communicate, or to beautify, or to record their history.

Hart stood among the most recent descendants of those first illustrators. He had drawn B.C. for nearly 50 years, which in comics-page terms makes him rather Paleolithic. But he aimed his funny, thoughtful jabs at modern society. And he had long abandoned the pretense of keeping his characters rooted in prehistoric times; humorous anachronism became part of the strip's foundation.

Much has been made of Hart's open professions of his Christian faith through his comics, as if the practice was genuinely controversial - or, for that matter, unprecedented.

Faithful readers of Charles Schulz's legendary comic Peanuts can recall the vein of spirituality that ran through his work, often articulated through the observations of the blanket-toting Linus. Minister and theologian Robert L. Short even devoted two popular books to Peanuts' spiritual messages: The Gospel Acording to Peanuts in 1964, and The Parables of Peanuts in 1968. Not surprisingly, Hart credits the soft-spoken Schulz's landmark strip with inspiring him in 1958 to draw his own comic strip, which became B.C.

Hart's friends and family remember him as loving and giving, offering his artwork free for many events and programs, usually around his native Broome County, N.Y. At the same time, though, he was a steadfast protector of artists' rights over their own works, something he felt had been compromised in the world of syndicated cartoons. In 1987 he made the bold move of signing with Creators Syndicate, which promised its contributors greater oversight over their creative output.

Hart's family has said that B.C. will continue publication, which years ago is what he said he wanted. Fans will continue to enjoy the strip's wry observations on life. And the strip is easy to enjoy.

It's so easy a caveman could do it.


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