(b. 18 Feb 1931, Endicott, New York)

The metamorphosis of cartoonist Johnny Hart into a born-again Christian is oft told, but it begs to be repeated here: Mr. Hart moved to a beautiful 150-acre property in Nineveh, New York with no cable TV. He liked TV, so he ordered a satellite TV system. A father and son, born-again Christian team of cable installers came by, and as they set up the equipment, they left Christian television shows on. Johnny Hart sat and watched the shows and got "hooked" on them. From there he began to read the Bible and came to believe in Jesus Christ as his savior.

Johnny's surrender to Christianity put an end to untold soul-searching. Previously, he had researched "Ouija boards and UFOs, ESP, astrology, psychics, seances, reincarnation, Edgar Cayce, the whole thing" without finding peace. Christianity is what finally did it.

This sort of thing happens all the time all over the planet, but it rarely happens to someone so famous. Johnny Hart's "B.C." is considered the most widely read comic strip on the planet, and the Guinness Book of World Records claims he is the most read author, read by a billion people every day. (This is probably quite exaggerated, but nevertheless he is popular.) So, it came as quite a shock when Mr. Hart started putting Christian messages in his comics.

Editors were aghast that lowly comic strips, now reduced to three panel gags at the back of the newspaper, could carry such controversial content. The Jewish community was particularly incensed by the Good Friday / Easter 2001 strip which features a bloody cross, a tomb with a round stone door, the symbolic red wine and bread, and the message "Do this in remembrance of me". The Los Angeles Times refused to print the piece, and Johnny Hart put out a press release apologizing that the strip was misunderstood and wasn't meant to be anti-Semitic. The Jewish press claimed that Mr. Hart was a vicious anti-Semite who claimed all Jews would "rot in hell". Of course, not all Jews said this - only a significant few.

It's worth noting that the addition of Christian themes to B.C. revitalized the comic, which had become tired and boring. There's really nothing like a scandal to grab new readers, and a new theme to resurrect flat, lifeless characters. You don't have to believe in Christianity to see the little messages in the comics and how they've added drama and debate into the B.C. universe. The actual content, however, is woefully small. Three one-inch panels are not nearly enough to convey anything beyond quick quotes from the Bible or niggling quips about evolution. Things would be a lot more interesting if Mr. Hart had more space. I suspect that we'd end up with slightly humourous Chick tracts.


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