Johnny Hart's cartoon strips B.C. and The Wizard of Id (the latter co-authored with Brant Parker) have delighted fans for 42 years and earned him a mantle full of awards, including six for "Best Humor Strip of the Year" from the National Cartoonist Society. They have also earned him the honor of being censored by major newspapers across the country for his witty Christian messages about Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.
WORLD first interviewed Mr. Hart four years ago, shortly after the Los Angeles Times refused to use his Palm Sunday strip and the Atlanta Constitution dropped B.C. altogether ("A caveman with convictions," April 20, 1996). It was, he said, a symptom of the battle for America's soul, and he "liked the idea that this has gotten Christians up in arms. That's what they all need."
Things haven't improved. Since then the Chicago Sun-Times has also dropped B.C. and five other major American dailies (including the Los Angeles Times and the Denver Post) want to be notified in advance if Mr. Hart includes any overtly Christian messages.
Editors who suspend their "liberalism" long enough to spike B.C. argue that editors retain the right to remove potentially offensive material. But the double standard is obvious and getting worse every day, according to George Mason University law professor and First Amendment expert Daniel Polsby. He pointed out that the same people who love it when Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau promotes the secular religion of politics "can't stand it when Johnny Hart does it with his religion."
"I'm not a Christian, let alone the sort of Christian like the people at Bob Jones University," said Mr. Polsby, "but here's some people with a certain set of beliefs who are demonized as though they are a bunch of Nazis." He pointed out that, soon after George W. Bush went to speak at Bob Jones, another candidate spoke at a Jewish synagogue, where the men and women sit separately, yet no one complained that the congregation was sexist.
"You can't believe how much hilarity there was around here when George Bush gave his favorite philosopher as Jesus Christ," continued Mr. Polsby, who lives in Arlington, Va. "What everybody took off on was that his relationship to his religion should be the most important thing in his life. It was like, 'What a dweeb.'"
"I take Johnny Hart to be part of a counterculture that's trying to remind readers of their religious roots and the religious roots of society," he said. "But the better sort of people find themselves embarrassed by Johnny Hart and his gentle references to religion, kind of like if they had gone up to somebody's house and the person answering the front door was naked."
When informed that the Sun-Times dropped B.C. early last year, Mr. Hart said, "Let me get a pencil. People tell me these things and I forget to write them down." He doesn't keep close track of these things, then? "How did you guess?" he chuckled. Mr. Hart won't bring it up, but between B.C. and The Wizard of Id he's the most widely read cartoonist on the planet, with or without the Sun-Times.
For his boldness some Christians regard the cartoonist as a hero, and they write in to say so. "They seem to feel like I'm breaking the law or something. I picture them hiding behind the curtains, and when the paper comes they tip-toe out to grab it, and inside the house they open it up and say, 'Look! He mentioned Jesus on Easter!'"
The death of Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was a jolt for Mr. Hart. "He was my inspiration for doing a strip," said Mr. Hart. "I used to call him up every year and invite him to the B.C. Open [a PGA event], just to hear him say, 'That's too far to go for a game of golf.'"
Mr. Hart is now nearly 70 but he intends to keep drawing B.C., Peter, Wiley, the Fat Broad, the Cute Chick and the rest of the politically incorrect bunch. "Drawing these guys is my favorite thing," he said. "I still have that same neat feeling that I had when I started."