Johnny Hart dies…

Cartoonist Johnny Hart, creator of the BC strip has died aged 76.

As a kid I used to collect a comic magazine with Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, and one of my favourite ‘guest strips’ was BC. Hart’s early work was synonymous with extraordiarily efficient, minimal drawings and clever sharp scripts. In recent years the quality unfortunately deteriorated steadily, as among other things, Hart made the comic strip his pulpit.

According to the BBC family members who have been helping to produce the strip in recent years, insist the series will continue.
Bad idea.
Particularly given the fact that this is going to be done with the help of an ‘extensive computer archive of drawings to work with,’ according to PA.
Even if you momentarily disregard the fact that to produce a successfull comic strip takes immense amounts of creative talent, and simply look at it as a family business, it seems like and absurd idea.
The family should learn a few lessons from Mort Walker and Dick Browne. Highly talented collaborators whose strips in terms of quality went into terminal decline when they both inlisted their sons to take over.

It must be difficult to lay to rest a successful and widely syndicated, lucrative strip. But everything should and must come to an end. Preferably with some dignity intact.
Bill Watterson knew that when he ended the exceptional Calvin and Hoobes strip – whilst still very much on top. Gary Larson too left the crowds begging for more.

BC should be laid to rest with its creator.


10 Responses to “Johnny Hart dies…”

  1. tataboule Says:

    Can you explain what you mean by ‘Hart made the comic strip his pulpit’? Is this a criticism of a particular ideological basis or simply revealing it?

    I have read a few comments about his work and there seems to have been a bit of a backlash over his religious beliefs and I am wondering whether this is mainly a secular-press backlash.

    BTW: enjoying your Times work.

  2. poldraw Says:

    I think you’re quite right in challenging me about the pulpit line. It was rather glibly put. My intention was to write that ‘MANY FELT he made the comic strip his pulpit’, which certainly was the case (although it’s only a tad less glibly put) There was probably, as you say, an element of a secular-press backlash. But I don’t think it was the main reason for the criticism he got.

    Personally I didn’t mind his message as such, but I felt the medium was wrong. It is by no means an attack on his personal religious beliefs. And this I think is what a lot of editors would have felt as well.

    Take Stephen Colbert as an example. He is an extremely popular and highly respected comedian, as well as being a Sunday school teacher (Like Johnny Hart) and a man of unquestionable religious belief. He doesn’t however use his comedy to promote that faith. And therein lies the difference.

    It was of course Johnny Hart’s prerogative to use BC as a way of expressing his views on religious issues. However, I feel that the comedy was lost somewhat when the message became more important, and it simply lost some of it’s quality as a comic strip.

    In addition to that, as I mentioned in the post, when he got older it didn’t help that the series was kept artificially alive with the help of family members…

    BTW: Thank you very much for the compliment!

  3. tataboule Says:

    Yes – the idea of syndication feels so heartless.

    It is an interesting point about Colbert. I suppose it raises the question – are personal beliefs worth pushing to promote even if ‘business’ suffers.

    You rub shoulders (well sort of) with all sorts of satirists and opinion formers – do you think that people buy into this alternative form of pulpiteering even if they don’t particularly believe it? I have often wondered how far the party/editorial line of an institution moulds it’s employees. (eg – How much of the cynicism in Steve Bell’s work come from the Guardian or himself?).

    I myself work within a doggedly secular institution (heading up an RE department in a secondary school) and occasionally find myself reflecting on whether I am simply a plaster-cast RE teacher…

  4. poldraw Says:

    Heading up an RE department in a secondary school sounds like possibly one of the most difficult things to do these days.

    About the question of whether personal beliefs are worth promoting even if ‘business’ suffers, I have no idea…

    In the case of Colbert though he is probably a more effective promoter of his faith by not letting it colour his comedy (although it inevitably does to an extent). By simply being open and clear about his beliefs, he is arguably reaching more people than if he decided to promote his own religious views in his shows.

    You wonder how much cynicism in Steve Bell’s work come from the Guardian rather than himself, and I think I can safely say NONE, if you think in terms of following an editorial line.
    Steve Bell, and Martin Rowson in the same paper, are the only ones with virtually complete editorial freedom. For the rest there are varied levels and types of ‘direction’, but particularly for the established main cartoonists it really doesn’t amount to much at all.

    There is bound to be a certain ‘moulding’ of course. As you become associated with a certain newspaper, you also start to play to its audience. How this manifests itself is hard to say though, but I’m sure it happens.

  5. tataboule Says:

    At risk of going too long on this discussion, (and it may not be appropriate to talk in this format anyway) I would love to know how you got into the Times position and also what kind of a deal it is

    – e.g. is it the sort of job where you don’t need other income,

    do you live a bit like an eastenders actor – working intense year-long shifts with weird plot-related breaks?

    Do you have a kind of rota of who is going to produce how much per week/month?

    Do you submit more than one finished idea when it’s your ‘go’?

    Does the isolation of home-working/news24/r4 operate as the norm or do you attend editorial meetings?

    I suppose I am partly asking – ‘Are you a loner (and happy with it)?’

    Don’t worry about answering all these if it is feeling a little too ‘stalky’. School holidays mean that I get too much time on my hands.

  6. poldraw Says:

    The brief answers would be:

    I got into the Times by presenting my portfolio there. They needed someone to stand in for Peter Brookes whenever he’s away, and fortunately they saw some potential in me.

    Cartooning is a full time job.

    Being number 2 cartoonist means working when most people have time off, so if that is the way of an eastender actor, then yes I suppose I do.

    I mostly work from home, which means I don’t tend to go to editorial meetings. The majority of cartoonists these days work from home.

    Am I a loner?
    No, there are days when I don’t work.
    And there are evenings too!
    And meetings to go to.
    And lunches.
    Having a home studio simply means you don’t have to deal with a stream of colleagues with ‘a funny idea that would make a good cartoon…’ Saves a lot of time.

  7. tataboule Says:

    It’s great – really exciting. The ‘funny idea’ comments are classic. ‘It would be nice’ and ‘you could just’ are a couple of others.

    Sorry about the long gap before replying – just had a couple of days break in london with the misses. London Zoo, Mira Nairs ‘The Namesake’ and Marylebone breakfasts were well worth it.

  8. mistrust Says:

    I’m gutted. He taught me to draw (when I watched him on “Vision On”)

  9. poldraw Says:

    I’m pretty sure that was Tony Hart – who you’ll be glad to hear is very much alive at the age of 80. Look for yourself:

  10. Celebrating Comics… « poldraw Says:

    […] of which I mention above) dominate. Increasingly however, as many of the American classic series deteriorate from being kept artificially alive after the death of the original creator, homegrown Norwegian talents are taking over – producing world class series for a more adult […]

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