As a child, I liked the comic strip B.C. by Johnny Hart. I found the strip mildly amusing at best; instead, I liked it mainly due to the prestige of reading something mature, something challenging in its format of cavemen slinging anachronistic (and often inscrutable) wisecracks about psychiatry, politics, sports, and hippies. I owned several paperback collections of B.C. comics and watched its animated Thanksgiving TV special at least once, feeling a thrill during one protracted sequence where the titular character changed off-screen into that costumed cut-up the Midnight Skulker, one of the few thrills TV provided me during my geeky childhood. Sometime after I’d quit reading the strip, Hart the born-again Christian started overtly expressing his religious views in it (and yes, I know B.C. means Before Christ).
The local papers haven’t carried this strip in years, despite its popularity. Begun in 1958, the strip now “brings laughter to more than 100 million readers worldwide”, according to its syndicate’s website [as of 2006—DVM]. So I checked out a month’s worth of that special brand of gut-bustin’–well, more like gut-emptyin’–humor by everyone’s favorite caveman-drawin’, Bible-thumpin’ cartoonist:
4/1/06: Peter, the blonde caveman, plays sports reporter, holding a cordless microphone in front of the peg-legged caveman Wiley, who plays baseball manager. (Obviously someone’s invented electronics, and electricity, and sports, and peg legs, and baseball caps.) “I hear you have a fantastic Italian ‘pinch hitter’ this year,” Peter says.
“That I do,” Wiley says.
“Where’d you find him?”
“I found him hitting on a waitress in my bar.”
Oh, I get it. Italians are sex maniacs. Italians pinch women on the ass. Hence “pinch hitter” in quotes. Quotes signify humorous wordplay.
4/2/06: Daylight Savings Time sure is confusing!
4/3/06: Sports report number two for the month, just two days later. “Some managers use a speed gun on their pitchers,” Peter says. “What do you use?”
Wiley holds up an hourglass. Okay, a little funny.
4/4/06: “Would you say comparing the Cute Chick and the Fat Broad is like comparing apples and oranges?”
“Not really…apples and watermelons maybe…”
What, no cantaloupes?
Cute Chick and the redundantly-named Fat Broad are the strip´s only two human female characters. Both are named after their physical attributes. Only one of the male characters, Curls, has a name referring to his looks, though it could also refer to his lip-curled-in-contempt style of sarcastic humor. Still, for the most part:
Women = appearance. Men = substance.
4/5/06: A dictionary (printed on paper, in a bound book, in a stone-tablet world) on a moundlike rock that says WILEY’S DICTIONARY. “Science fiction: Any scientific acclaim that omits God.” Yeah, reality-based thinking sucks!
By the way: “Acclaim”? Does Hart mean “finding” or “theory”?
4/6/06: “Why do they bury people 6 feet under? Why not 5 feet or 7 feet?”
“Cause [sic] then the union guy with the 6-foot pole would be out of a job.”
Why union guy? Is this union-bashing, as in unionist = lazy? And who uses a pole to bury bodies? Does Hart mean “shovel”? Or does he have the expression “I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole” in mind, or in what passes for a mind?
4/7/06: Another book printed on paper: “See Puff stick her paw into the jalapeño dip. Oh, look, see Spot lick Puff’s paw. Look, look, see Spot drain the toilet bowl.” Toilet humor? From Holy Hart? And how many readers understand the Dick-and-Jane reference? At least Hart included the tilde in “jalapeño.”
4/8/06: A Hart routine: a moundlike rock with SHOW ME printed on it. Caveman in front of rock: “Show me a wife who is active in 12 different volunteer groups…”
Caveman behind rock: “And I’ll show you a husband who is about to become a regular at a neighborhood bar.” You can just feel the “joke” fizzle out as you read it.
4/9/06: The month’s first Sunday strip, and on Palm Sunday yet, which means Bible Time in the Hartland. B.C. reads aloud from the Bible (printed on paper) to a spherical rock named Rocky: “His followers took palm branches and cried out ‘Hosanna’ in a loud voice, and the Pharisees yelled, ‘Teacher—rebuke your disciples.’ ” Jesus’s words appear in red in B.C.’s word balloon: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would cry out.” The words WHAT DOES HOSANNA MEAN? appear on Rocky’s surface. (Words appear on Rocky in lieu of word balloons.) “It means, praise the Lord,” B.C. replies. Rocky suddenly grows eyes and a mouth. A huge word balloon appears over his head: HOSANNA in huge purple letters. Get it—the stones would cry out?
4/10/06: Wiley’s Dictionary: “Placebo: A pill that has no side effects other than death.”
4/11/06: Peter the reporter: “How many ‘Golden Glove’ fielders do you have, coach?”
Wiley: “None yet, but we’ve already clinched the ‘Lead Mitt.’ ” In the background we see a baseball bonk a catcher on the head (sound effect: BONK), so we can figure out that “lead” rhymes with “head,” not with “bleed,” and Hart can salvage his joke.
4/12/06: Another Hart routine: a moundlike rock with YOU KNOW on it. A rock filled with mechanical parts that let it dispense “funny” cards. “You know it’s time to consider losing weight when your talking scale begs for mercy.” Haven’t Ziggy, Garfield, and a million other lame strips done a billion talking-scale-insults-the-fatties gags already? Does anyone even own a talking scale in real life?
4/13/06: Graffiti: TRUST YOUR BRAIN: IT KNOWS MORE THAN YOU DO.—THE MIDNIGHT SKULKER. Mr. MS himself runs off laughing maniacally, holding paint can and brush.
4/14/06: Good Friday. A pipe-smoking ant and his son. “Dad, why did they call Jesus ‘teacher’?” Biblical verses cited in the lower-left corners of the panels, Jack Chick style. A pedestal with TRVTH engraved on it.
4/15/06: A two-panel strip. In the first panel, Peter stands behind a moundlike IRS rock. B.C. asks “What can I count on as a refund this year?”
In the second panel Peter replies “Your fingers,” and B.C. has inexplicably turned into the four-eyed klutz Clumsy Carl. (Someone’s obviously invented eyeglasses.) Does today’s “joke” mean B.C./Carl will receive his own fingers as a refund? Does anyone proofread this strip?
4/16/06: Another Hart routine: Wiley sits under a tree and writes a poem on a stone tablet. (Obviously an old-school guy—no use for paper.) Today’s Easter Sunday, which means a poem about the Big J, with his quotes in red: “I must go away, for to die. / But after three days I will come back to life / To go live with my dad in the sky.” Thanks for the diabetes, Jesus. (The opening lines—“Even though the yeast was cast out of the dough / The bread of life is risen!”—might refer to unleavened bread. Hart’s customary Easter jab at the Jews?)
4/17/06: Fat Broad as umpire, with slanted eyes. “Ball three! Take your base!”
“I love the rate exchange in these international games,” B.C. thinks as he runs to first.
Slanted eyes—I get it now. At least she didn’t say “Barr thlee!” (Hart once did a strip about “Rroyds of Rondon” insuring a Ming vase.)
4/18/06: Moundlike rock reading DRY CLEANING. Sign reading NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ITEMS LEFT OVER 12 HOURS. “My uncle, the burglar, is in the ‘used garment’ business,” explains Peter the proprietor. The “joke” contains too much scaffolding.
4/19/06: The third appearance of Wiley’s Dictionary this month. “Nightmare, n.: A racehorse that only wins if there’s an eclipse of the sun.” Night ≠ solar eclipse, Hart, you idiot.
4/20/06: “My cousin Scruggy won a scholarship to a med school.”
“How did he swing that?”
“He aced the finals in ‘Scribbling 101.’ ”
Does this comatose joke refer to the sloppy handwriting doctors reportedly have? Did Hart intend the alliterative connection between “Scruggy” and “scribbling”?
4/21/06: Peter the sports reporter, IRS agent, and dry-cleaner also owns his own movie theater, PETER’S FLIX. “What’s with the mutt?” Curls the caveman asks him.
“Sniffs out illegal popcorn,” Peter replies. An amusing strip today—imagine that!
4/22/06: “*Sigh* Why is it that the sand always looks browner on the other side of the dune?” The old reliable crawling-in-the-desert gag.
4/23/06: A Sunday strip starring Johnny Ant and presumably his mother.
Johnny: “My teacher slapped my rear end for not doing my homework and for failing my finals!”
Presumably His Mother: “I thought that was against the law.”
“So did I! That’s why I never study my homework!”
“You never study your???” (Nice use of staggered question marks here to represent befuddlement.)
“Anyway, I threatened to report her to the authorities for giving me a spank!”
“What did she say to that?”
“She said the ‘No Kids Left Behind’ slogan, ‘don’t cover your right behind.’ ”
Does Hart mean “program” instead of “slogan”? Maybe I shouldn’t engage in another Hart attack. “Right behind” is as clever a euphemism as we’ll get from him, I suppose.
4/24/06: Wiley’s Dictionary again?! “Accordion: An open and shut case.” Uh…
4/25/06: Wiley the poet: “An unlikely team / Once met in a stream. / A fish called crappie; / A turtle called snapper. / They formed an alliance / And built an appliance, / That served as a real snappy crapper.” More toilet humor from Johnny Jesusfreak? (Hart likes the word “crappie”; years ago I saw a strip in one of my B.C. paperbacks in which one of the cavemen talks about inventing a fish-shaped cereal called Crappies. Still, I didn’t know you could now say “crapper” in the comics.
4/26/06: Fat Broad as the advice columnist Miss Know-It-All. She reads a fan letter from someone named Sally: “I want to grow up to be just like you! What should I do?” Ms. Broad’s response: “Dear Sally, Eat suet and don’t chew it.” Today’s strip is not a disgrace / I like the rhymes and Sally’s wacky typeface.
4/27/06: Fat Broad and Cute Chick read what looks like blank four-page magazines. “Says here: ‘big band sound’ died out in the ’60s,” Ms. Broad says.
“What replaced it?” Ms. Chick asks.
“Small group noise.”
Bashing the Sixties never grows old. Bashing the “noise” people listen to today never grows old. Bashing the “noise” known as Sixties music never grows old. Feh.
4/28/06: First panel: “My uncle, the race car driver, had a degree in mathematics.”
“How did that help his driving?”
Second panel: “He did great parallelograms in the grass when he won.” Oh, I get it—doing donuts. I have some familiarity with red-state kultur.
The left shoulder of the straight man suddenly disappears in this panel.
4/29/06: The Book of Phrases—not Wiley’s Dictionary, but the Book of Phrases. Totally different. “Generation gap: When your high school uniform will no longer button.”
First Hart says today’s music is noise. Then he uses the phrase “generation gap.” Will he make fun of long-haired, bell-bottomed, banana- peel-smoking youngsters next?
4/30/06: A Sunday installment. B.C. is riding his stone unicycle (!) on a golf course when he sees a sign reading F. Then he rides toward a sign reading I. Then a sign reading V. Then a sign reading E. He stops with a SCREECH, looks toward us with an exclamation point above his head, then looks back with a question mark above his head as five golf balls hurtle toward him from the opposite direction.
Wouldn’t this “joke” make more sense if the sign read FORE and one ball hurtled toward him?
May 2, 2006
Afterword: Ah, low-hanging fruit—as an immature and snarky forty-one-year-old kid in 2006, I thought ridiculing a comic strip decades past its prime, a comic strip written and drawn by a seventy-five-year-old man (who would die the following year, by the way, though of course I didn’t know that), would bring me instant fame. Everyone loves Net snark, right?
Yes, Hart’s racist jokes and religious bigotry deserved comment. (He also tended to slag Muslims after 9/11.) But instead of (or maybe along with?) spewing out Hart burn after Hart burn, I should have appreciated B.C.’s retro status. B.C. served as a window to a long-lost era of humor, one where its practitioners could crack wise about the swarthy race, the yellow race, fat gals, that dreadful noise the kids listen to nowadays—virtually anyone and anything not “normal,” as in white, conservative, Christian, and American. That comic strip, in other words, served as a historical document.
Today, Hart’s grandsons Mason and Mick Mastroianni produce the strip while avoiding religious content or anything non-PC (such as gags about how men of a certain ethnicity display uninvited physical attention toward women). As a result, the strip is a little funnier but not funny enough for me to seek it out regularly.—DVM, May 14, 2016 (revised May 19, 2016)