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'B.C.' and 'Wizard of Id' Cartoonist Johnny Hart, 76

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 9, 2007

Johnny Hart, 76, whose comic strips "B.C." and "The Wizard of Id" used wisecracking cave men and henpecked sorcerers to comment on modern life, and who attracted controversy when he introduced Christianity into his work, died April 7 at his home in Nineveh, N.Y., near Binghamton.

Mr. Hart recently completed treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and died at his drawing table after a stroke, said his wife of 55 years, Bobby Hatcher Hart.

Mr. Hart became one of the most popular cartoonists of his era, with a readership estimated at 100 million since starting "B.C." in 1958 and "The Wizard of Id" in 1964 (with artist Brant Parker). Creators Syndicate distributed both strips, each of which appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers, including The Washington Post.

"B.C." refers to the age "Before Christ" and also is the name of Mr. Hart's naive cave-dwelling protagonist, but for years there was little overt religious plotting in the strip.

Among the characters were the one-legged cave man poet, Wiley, and a menagerie of talking animals, including an ant, a clam and a lovelorn dinosaur named Gronk. The female characters were Cute Chick and Fat Broad, names that were anatomically, if not politically, correct.

For a strip whose tone was lighthearted, "B.C" suddenly became controversial in the 1990s when Mr. Hart included themes influenced by his fundamental Christianity and literal interpretation of the Bible. He did so sparingly, often around holy days, but its inclusion was perceived by many readers as making him far more frank about Christianity than any of his mainstream contemporaries.

Some newspapers canceled the strip. Others, including The Post, pulled it selectively.

On at least one occasion, the Los Angeles Times relocated it to the religion page. The Times initially canceled the strip -- scheduled to run on Palm Sunday 1996 -- showing Wiley drafting a poem about Jesus's suffering on the cross.

Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson told viewers of his "700 Club" show to protest, especially as political cartoons often criticized religion. The uproar that followed led the paper to run the "B.C." strip on the religion page.

Other work by Mr. Hart brought criticism from Jewish and Muslim groups for what they called insensitive and at times offensive themes.

One Easter "B.C." strip showed a menorah's candles being extinguished as the candelabra morphs into a cross; the final frame included the words, "It is finished." To his critics, this symbolized a triumph of Christianity over Judaism, but Mr. Hart said it was meant to "pay tribute to both" religions.

Muslims were enraged by another "B.C." strip that ran during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It featured an outhouse with multiple crescents -- a symbol associated with Islam -- and showed a cave man saying from inside the makeshift bathroom, "Is it just me, or does it stink in here?"

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