is an American
newspaper comic strip
created in 1958, written and drawn by Johnny Hart
until his death in 2007
. Set in prehistoric
times, it features a group of cavemen
animals from various geologic eras
. It is among the longest-running strips by its original creator, appearing daily in newspapers
since February 17
. Hart died on April 7
after suffering a stroke at his home in Nineveh, New York
, but the strip continues. Both Hart's daughter Perri Hart and his grandson Mason Mastroianni were involved with the strip prior to his death and have taken over the drawing and writing duties, with contributions by Mick Mastroianni. It is syndicated by Creators Syndicate
- BC, a caveman and a humble, naive slob. On occasion BC would make nighttime rounds as his alter-ego, The Midnight Skulker.
- Peter, a philosopher, genius and the first philosophical failure, founder of the Prehistoric Pessimists Society and the Column of Truth.
- Clumsy Carp, a spectacle-wearing conservationist clumsy enough to trip over a beach.
- Curls, a master of sarcastic wit.
- Thor, inventor of the wheel, the well, the rake, the comb, and many other things and a lady's man.
- Wiley, a superstitious, unshaven, woman-fearing, water-hating, one-legged poet, and manager of the local baseball team.
- Grog, a wild man with a one-word vocabulary and enough strength to knock the sun out of the sky using a golf ball; a caveman's caveman; a teddy bear for the macho. He basically looks like a huge, shaggy head with arms and legs attached.
- Fat Broad, a fat, bossy, and muscular cavewoman who enjoys clobbering snakes.
- Cute Chick, a beautiful, blonde cavewoman.
- The early bird and the early worm (who likes to sleep in while the early bird freezes his beak off waiting for him to emerge).
- The woodpecker, Wiley's worst enemy.
- The tortoise and the bird, inseparable friends. Their names are John and Dookie.
- Maude, an ant with a smart-alec son, and a quarrelsome husband who is always threatening to run off with Shirley.
- The Queen Ant, an unfeeling and abusive dictator. Her name is Ida.
- Various other ants, including a schoolteacher and her students.
- The anteater, i.e. aardvark (up to four of them appear at once, making their classic "Zot" sound).
- The purple-bellied dingwhopper, the last of its species.
- The dinosaur.
- The clams, talking clams with legs.
- The snake, the Fat Broad's worst enemy.
- The apteryx (kiwi), a "wingless bird with hairy feathers" (as he introduces himself).
Hart was inspired to draw cavemen (and many other creatures) through the chance suggestion of one of his General Electric
coworkers and took to the idea "because they are a combination of simplicity and the origin of ideas." The name for the strip was suggested by his wife, Bobby. "B.C." here refers to the calendar term "Before Christ
" and is also used for the name of one of the characters.
The name of the comic is also a reference to Broome County, NY, where Hart was born. The county actually uses the B.C. characters on places such as their transit lines and some local restaurants, and the characters were also part of two of the logos for Binghamton, NY's minor league hockey teams.
Hart describes the title character as similar to himself, playing the "patsy". The other major characters — Peter, Wiley, Clumsy Carp, the Fat Broad, the Cute Chick, Curls, Thor, and Grog — were patterned after friends, a relative, and GE co-workers. The animal characters include dinosaurs, ants and an ant-eater, clams, a snake, a turtle and bird duo, and an apteryx ("a wingless bird with hairy feathers", as it constantly reminds the reader, presented in the strip as being the sole surviving specimen and hence aware of its being doomed to extinction). Dry humor, prose, shameless puns and wordplays, and devices such as Wiley's Dictionary (where common words are defined humorously with a twist, see Daffynition) make for some of the mix of material in B.C. Example: "Rock - to cause something or someone to swing or sway, by hitting them with it!" - from an early 1967 strip.
Peter also sometimes communicates with an unseen correspondent on the other side of the ocean, sending a message on a slab of rock that floats across the ocean and is replied to by sarcastic writing on a similar slab of rock.
Two other characters were recently added following an attempt by B.C. to raft his way around the world: Anno Domini and Conahanty, who have the appearances and speech patterns of ethnic stereotypes of Italian-Americans and Native Americans, respectively.
Originally,the strip was very firmly set in prehistoric times, with the characters clearly living in an era untouched by modernity. Typical plotlines, for example, include B.C.'s friend Thor (inventor of the wheel and the comb) trying to discover a use for the wheel
. Thor was also seen making calendars out of stone every December. Other characters attempt to harness fire or to discover an unexplored territory, like Peter trying to find the "new world" by crossing the ocean on a raft. Animals like the dinosaur think such thoughts as, "There's one consolation to becoming extinct-I'll go down in history as the first one to go down in history." Grog arrived in early 1966, emerging from an iceberg which melted to reveal what Clumsy Carp called a Prehistoric Man. As time went on the strip began to frequently mine humor from having the characters make explicit references to modern-day current events
, and celebrities
which started to blur the comic's supposed prehistoric setting and make it rife with intentional anachronisms
. One of the comic's early out-of-context jokes, from June 22
, was this one:
- Peter: "I used to think sun revolved around the earth."
- B.C.: "What does it revolve around?"
- Peter: "The United States!"
Another early example: near Christmas time, the apteryx dressed as Santa Claus and modified his usual spiel: "I'm an ApterClaus, a wingless toymonger with batteries not included!"
References to Christianity (see "Religious aspect" below), anachronistic given the strips supposed setting and the implications of its title, would become increasingly frequent during Hart's later years of working on the strip.
According to a theory—put forth most notably by Washington Post columnist and comics critic Gene Weingarten—B.C. is set not in the past but in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic future. This theory makes the anachronisms more easily understood as references to an ancient history the characters dimly comprehend.
Following a renewal of Hart's Christian
faith in 1977
, the strip increasingly incorporated religious, social, and political commentary and continued to do so until Hart's death in 2007. In interviews, Hart referred to his strip as a "ministry" intended to mix religious themes with "secular humor". Though other strips such as The Family Circus
and Hart's own The Wizard of Id
have included Christian themes, B.C.
strips were pulled from comics pages on several occasions due to editorial perception of religious favoritism or overt proselytizing. Easter strips in 1996
, for example, prompted editorial reaction from a handful of U.S. newspapers, chiefly the Los Angeles Times
and written and oral responses from Jewish
groups. The American Jewish Committee termed the Easter 2001 strip, which depicted the last words of Jesus Christ
and a menorah
transforming into a cross, "religiously offensive" and "shameful. The Los Angeles Times
consequently relegated strips which its editorial staff deemed objectionable to the religion
pages, instead of the regular comics pages.
Examples of religious themes in strips
The B.C. strip on December 7, 2006, attracted criticism for defining infamy as "a word seldom used after Toyota sales topped 2 million." The day was the 65th anniversary of the Japanese military's attack on Pearl Harbor, and the punchline of the strip refers to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Infamy Speech" which requested from Congress a declaration of war against Japan.
The day's strip was pulled from at least one newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. The paper's managing editor, Brett Thacker, said the comic was "more than just a feeble attempt at being topical, it's a regressive and insensitive statement about one of the worst days in American history… [Hart's comic represented] an old way of thinking. The preceding generations lived through that horrible era—I can certainly appreciate their sacrifice. The world has changed, and much to our benefit. Unfortunately, some people haven't.
The strip has been collected in various paperback books over the years, and the characters were featured in the animated television specials B.C.: The First Thanksgiving
(1973) and B.C.: A Special Christmas
(1981). The latter production starred the comedians Bob and Ray
as the voices of Peter and Wiley, respectively.
B.C. was turned into two video games for the ColecoVision home video game system and the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 home computers: B.C.'s Quest for Tires and B.C. 2: Grog's Revenge.
Clumsy Carp was present at the 75th anniversary party of the comic strip Blondie.
The strip was also referred to in an unflattering light in an episode of Family Guy. Stewie Griffin says that he is going to do to his archnemesis what B.C. does to comedy on a daily basis.
Johnny Hart's Hometown
Influences from B.C.
are found throughout Johnny Hart's home of Broome County
, New York
. A PGA Tour
event, The B.C. Open
, took place every summer in Endicott, New York
through 2005 (the final scheduled B.C. Open in 2006 was disrupted by flooding
, prompting a change of venue to the Turning Stone Resort & Casino
in central New York state.) The county parks department features a green dinosaur, and a caveman riding a wheel graces every B.C. Transit bus. In the past, Hart has also left his mark on the logos of the Broome Dusters
and B.C. Icemen
's awards include:
- Best Humor Strip in America, National Cartoonist Society, 1967
- The Reuben, Cartoonist of the Year, National Cartoonist Society, 1968
- The Yellow Kid Award, International Congress of Comics, 1970
- Adamson Award, Swedish Museum of Comic Art, 1975
- The Seger Award, King Features, 1981
- Best Newspaper Comic Strip, National Cartoonist Society, 1989