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Monday, April 09, 2007

by Johnny Hart

A little known fact is that the "comic strip" is one of three art forms that our infant nation has offered to the world. The second, I am told, is "jazz." The third escapes me, although I suspect that it is "rebellion."

As far back as I care to remember, I drew funny pictures, which got me in or out of trouble depending on the circumstances. A certain amount of prominence and popularity resulted, which, I guess, is what I was after all the time.

My formal education ended abruptly when I graduated from Union-Endicott High School. School was different in those days; they taught softly but carried a big strap. Nowadays you can bad-mouth the teachers. In my day you resorted to placing reptiles in their drawers, which was pretty risky because sometimes they were wearing them.

Soon after I had reached the age of nineteen, a young cartoonist named Brant Parker became a prime influence in my life. In one quick evening we met, became great friends, and began a relationship which would one day culminate in a joint effort called The Wizard of Id. Brant imparted to me, with remarkable insight and perception, the essence of all that he had absorbed from the practical application and study of his craft.

To this point in my life I had never really considered cartooning as a profession, but in the years to follow, it became a driving force, seemingly etched in my subconscious from that meeting with Brant Parker.

My application for enrollment in the fraternity of comic heroes arrived in April, 1954, on a small farm in Georgia, when my wife, Bobby, came screaming from the mailbox with a sale from the Saturday Evening Post. We danced and sang and gorged ourselves on a chocolate cake which Bobby's mother whomped up for the occasion. Many magazine sales followed, but not with the frequency which is essential to sustain life. Two years in the art department with General Electric returned Bobby and me to a more substantial diet.

I continued my submssions to the magazines, utilizing those quiet hours when normal people slumber. Caveman gags, for reasons which I still cannot explain, were an obsession of mine in those days, although I must reluctantly confess that I have not sold a caveman gag to a magazine to this date.

During my two years with GE, I began to read with astonishment a comic strip called Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. His sense of humor and my own seemed remarkably similar, which inspired me to attempt a comic strip, "I shall repair to my domicile this evening a create a nationally famous comic strip." I announced to my cronies. "Why don't you make a caveman strip?" said one wag. "You can't seem to sell them anywhere else!"

So I did.

B.C. was rejected by five major syndicates before it was accepted. Two years after B.C. began, I created The Wizard of ID, which lay dormant for several years thereafter. I mentioned it to Brant Parkers and asked him if he would be willing to take on the job of illustrating it. To my delight he consented. Brant and I threw the Wizard together during three wild days and nights in a small, dank New York hotel room, taping the finished drawings to the walls as we completed them. When the walls were filled, we called the syndicate and asked them if they would like to see a new strip. They said they would. The men from the syndicate arrived earlier than we had anticipated, finding Brant barefoot and shirtless and me in my shorts shaving off a three-day beard. Ignorning us, they edged their way around the walls and scrutinized our efforts, scuffing away an occasional beer bottle as they went.

When they had finished, they seated themselves about the room amidst the rubble and eyed us carefully. "We think you're disgusting, but the strip is great," they said. "We'll take it!"

Ideas are commonplace. We all have them. What do with them is another thing. I had trouble for many years trying to come up with them because I needed them for my work. Then one day it occurred to me that it is impossible to run out of ideas...and...I...*GAD*...

- Johnny Hart, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, 1974

Rest In Peace, Johnny.

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