Monday, April 09, 2007

Honoring Christ in Cartoons

Editor's Note: I wrote this story at least ten years ago and it appeared in several print magazines. I also used it in the December 2004 issue of Right Writing News, a free ezine. If you aren't a subscriber, please take a couple of seconds to fill out the simple registration form. I have not rewritten this story but I include it today as a tribute to Johnny Hart, who passed away yesterday at his drawing table after a stroke at 76. Our loss was heaven's gain. I hope you will receive some inspiration from his story.

The wires were everywhere but it was the television test pattern--Christian programming--that caught Johnny Hart's attention. For the last 44 years, this renowned cartoonist has drawn the daily comic strips, B.C. and Wizard of Id. Syndicated in over 1200 newspapers nationwide, many people get a boost for their day from Hart's humorous look at life.

Several weeks earlier, a real estate agent called Hart. "I'm not interested," he told the agent. "We're remodeling our home and love it."

"It's a sizable estate of 150 acres and includes a 30 acre lake," the agent said. "A lake stocked with fish?" Hart asked. "I should probably see this place."

Hart and his wife, Bobby, liked this heavily wooded property in upper state New York. They moved to the property several weeks later and were now trying to get the television to work. The reception was terrible.

Each day when Hart works at his drawing table, he likes to have something else going on such as jazz music or television. Hart's carpenter from Endicott, New York encouraged Hart to purchase a satellite dish. The installation process for the satellite hook up wasn't a simple connection from the house to the dish.

Johnny wanted TVs in different places of his home and several places of his studio. His 5,400 square-foot studio was located across an inlet from the lake. In order to properly set up the satellite dish, the installation meant digging underground laying wires and testing the connections.

"Every time I walked into the room, these men had Kenneth Copeland, D. James Kennedy and other Christian preachers on the television," Hart recalls this incident from 1987. As children, Johnny and Bobby had attended church. Then when he married Bobby, he says, "I knocked church out of her."

"Is this all we're gonna get?" Hart grumbled as they set up the satellite connection. When the men offered to change it, Hart permitted them to continue. Before too long, Hart began sneaking into empty rooms and watching sermons. If his wife walked through the room, Johnny changed the channel.

One Sunday morning, Hart asked his wife, "Do you want to go to church?"

"Church? Not really," Bobby responded firmly. Hart accepted the decision and quietly prayed for his wife. Another Sunday, Bobby came bounding into the room and asked Johnny, "Do you want to go to church?" Johnny quickly agreed and they attended the nearest church in Nineveh, New York. This small town has a grocery, a post office and the Nineveh Presbyterian Church.

For the last several years, Johnny teaches the young adult Sunday School class that he calls "the spill over class." Hart explained about these junior and senior high school teens, "They're the kids too old to care about Sunday school anymore. I teach things from the Bible which fascinate them and me."

When it comes to cartooning, Hart is a master at his craft. His fellow cartoonists have often recognized him as the best in the field with awards like Best Humor Strip in America, six times (The National Cartoonist Society) or Best Cartoonist of the Year (France's highest cartooning award). While 98 per cent of the response from readers to his cartoons are positive, sometimes Johnny strikes a blow for Christianity through his humor and stirs some controversy.

"No one had any problem when I was drawing Santa and Easter bunnies," Hart said, "but their attitudes changed when I began giving a Christian message." For Good Friday several years ago, Hart simply drew four black panels, which went from gray to pitch black. Underneath the final panel were the words, "Good Friday." On the pages of the comics, Hart uses almost any occasion for his characters to reflect the Good News about Jesus Christ. Particularly on the holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or even Halloween (for an anti-Halloween cartoon) Johnny slips some Biblical truth to his readers.

The newspapers receive his cartoons several weeks before they are printed. Because of the liberal viewpoints in the newsroom, Hart says that these newspapers reserve the right to "edit" his materials. "Edit" is their code word for omitting the B.C. comics with a spiritual message. Often, Hart doesn't discover about these "edits" until his readers write or call and tell him.

One of the worst culprits is the Los Angeles Times. Several years ago a Christian ministry stirred readers to complain about the issue of Hart's B.C. cartoons around Easter. In cynical fashion, the L.A. Times moved the cartoons from their usual spot to the religion page. According to Hart, they ran the comic strips for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter on the same day--and in "postage stamp size."

Before drawing his Christmas comic, Johnny will often re-read the Christmas story from the Bible for inspiration. Recently for Christmas, Johnny had his cave girl looking at a cross-shaped Christmas star, positioned over a skull-like mountain (Golgatha), saying, "Wow look at that star!" A little further to the right, a snake, lurking behind an apple tree (readers see the Garden of Eden) says, "It's show time."

Whether it's the Christmas season or any other day, Hart is constantly looking for creative ways and humorous ways to challenge his readers with truth from the Bible. Keep an eye out for the subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle message from this master cartoonist. He shows his readers that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

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5 Comment:

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD Left a note...

Thank you for honoring Johnny Hart. I've been blessed by his wit and wisdom for so many years. The world has lost a voice that spoke for Christ through a medium that no one would consider "evangelical." I can only hope that newspapers will accord his work the same honor they did for Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts: continuing to run the strips from their archives, so that future generations can benefit from them.
Once more, your post resonated with me. Thanks.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Crystal Laine Left a note...

My childhood ambition was to be a cartoonist. I had a comic strip in our HS newspaper and studied the "greats" of my time. Johnny Hart was one of (a long list)of my favorites. When I was a kid I collected glassware with B.C. characters on them that we got from purchasing gasoline.(Does that tell you how old I am?)

This is a great article/nice tribute, Terry, and we will miss B.C. and its creator, Johnny Hart. Thanks for posting it. I love this story!

At 9:42 AM, Blogger LAW Left a note...


Our local paper doesn't carry the "B.C." comic strip so every Christmas & Easter, whenever I remember, I go looking for it on the Creators Syndicate website. This past Sunday, I was moved to write a brief e-mail to Johnny Hart expressing my appreciation for his work. Then I opened my newspaper on Monday and discovered his obituary. I'm so sad to lose a quiet hero of the faith, but I know he had a joyous Easter.

I write a bi-weekly opinion column for our local newspaper. My deadline was yesterday, so I was able to use this week's column to write a small tribute to Johnny Hart. Thank you for posting your own article as a tribute to him, too.


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Kevin Spear Left a note...

Johnny's Sunday cartoon was a powerful statement about Easter. (http://www.comics.com/creators/bc/archive/bc-20070408.html)

I admired him because when he came to Christ, he left no doubt where he stood. We'll miss you, Johnny.

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun Left a note...

So sorry that I'm late. Johnny was my neighbor. Here is a tribute I paid to his life:

Johnny Hart

And these were a picture of his last words to a dying world!

Johnny Hart


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