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Creators Syndicate mourns passing of Johnny Hart
By Rick Newcombe, President and Founder of Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Johnny Hart was a towering genius among cartoonists. He had a profound influence on my life ... and on the lives of all syndicated cartoonists. Johnny stands out as one of the kindest, most generous, patient and all-round decent people I have ever known.
When I first started working with him in 1984, he told me that if he could change one thing about the comic syndication business, it would be to allow cartoonists to own the comic strips they created -- the names, characters and likenesses. Historically, the syndicate retained those rights.
Three years later, I decided to launch Creators Syndicate, and Johnny Hart was the first cartoonist to join the company. Ann Landers was the first columnist.
Twenty years ago -- almost to the day -- Johnny wrote a beautiful letter to the newspaper editors who were running B.C. and The Wizard of Id. Last month, on March 13, 2007, I called Johnny to thank him again for making Creators Syndicate possible. I said that his goal at the time was for us to make waves for the tall ships, and now we have become one of the tallest ships at sea, due in no small part to his tremendous courage early on.
He was modest, as always, and tried to shift the credit back to me, but I told him that because of his commitment, syndicates no longer insist on ownership when they sign new cartoonists. He had revolutionized an entire industry, and empowered cartoonists to take control of their work and demand the freedoms they enjoy in their contracts today.
After Charles Schulz died in 2000, Johnny told me that he wanted B.C. and The Wizard of Id to continue after his death, and he spoke on that occasion, and subsequently, about how proud he was of his two daughters and two grandsons, all of whom have been involved with both comic strips over the years. I see in them his wit and remarkable sense of humor, as well as his genius for simple but beautiful artwork.
We thought you would enjoy reading the letter he sent to editors 20 years ago when he helped found Creators Syndicate:
March 13, 1987
In 1958 when B.C. was launched with the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate, contracts were still reasonably equitable.
In the years that followed, as the TRIB was absorbed by its many successors, the renewal contracts got tougher as the syndicates gradually increased their slices of the pie.
It seemed that the balance of equity was shifting noticeably with each succeeding negotiation and I and my hometown lawyer from Endicott, N.Y. were looking at greater numbers of black-suited leering faces at the conference tables. Corporate intimidation was in full effect.
On one occasion I risked the loss of the strip altogether from a simple point which prevented them from rewriting my dialogue without asking me first.
Why they gave in to that I'll never know.
I have held fast to my belief in fairness over the years, hoping that one day by chance my fellow cartoonists would reap the benefits.
The chances at best were bleak, until now.
In one single brash move, Rick Newcombe's newly formed Creators Syndicate practically overnight has given the "creators" of the features, which you proudly offer your readers, some pride and respect.
He offers his creators, old and new alike, the pride of ownership, an unprecedented option for long or short term contracts, and his own special concern for their personal well-being.
Along with Ann Landers, who obviously has good taste, I proudly leap aboard Rick's small skiff, with the strong hope that others will follow.
With every crew member who comes aboard, we will build the waves and surely the day will come when we rock the tall ships and make them take notice.
Perhaps then they will come about and shamelessly offer the industry the prosperity and dignity it deserves.
Fellow Cartoonists Remember Johnny Hart: "Johnny Hart has been part of my life and my family's life for over 50 years. As artist for The Wizard of Id, my father (Brant Parker) would spend hours on the phone with Johnny -- laughing and talking as they worked out ideas for their beloved cast of characters: the king, the wizard, the jester 'Bung' and many others. Johnny always said that my father was a mentor to him. Years later, in 1987, I began working with my father drawing the strip. In 1997, my father retired and I started drawing The Wizard of Id full time. John Hart, in turn, became a mentor to me. He has continually given me encouragement and inspiration over the last ten years. My father and Johnny Hart shared a sense of humor and joy of cartooning that has endured for over 50 years. It is a privilege and honor to be part of that legacy. I will deeply miss Johnny Hart. His humor and warmth will be with me as I continue to draw The Wizard of Id." - Jeff T. Parker, cartoonist for The Wizard of Id
"Like millions of daily readers, I too loved B.C. and marveled at Johnny's talent as a cartoonist and creator. It wasn't until I had the opportunity to play in the B.C. Open and know Johnny, Bobby, Jack, Curly and all the Harts in the Hills that I fully appreciated how amazing these folks tucked up in Endicot New york really were. Year after year I would so look forward to that little chunk of a week that would be so jammed packed with friendship, fun and a lot of love. I feel so blessed that I got to know and spend time with Johnny, Bobby and the Harts in The Hills gang." - Paul Szep, editorial cartoonist
"When I was a kid, my uncle gave me a B.C. paperback, and I was hooked. There was a simple beauty in the lines and the writing that was pure genius, and an oddball streak in the subject matter that really appealed to me. 'Clams got legs!'?? It was funny and it was nuts, and it seemed made just for my own burgeoning sense of humor. I even made my parents buy me the B.C. tumblers they sold at the gas station with a fill-up. Somewhat miraculously, Johnny was instrumental in my syndication with Creators, and the idea that this hero of mine had a hand in it remains one of the highlights of my career. As an artist, he was groundbreaking; as a human being, he was kind and generous. In my eyes, he'll always be larger than life." - Dave Coverly, Speed Bump cartoonist
"I didn't know johnny well, but he was sweet, gentle and silly, which made him a great cartooning ambassador."
- Mike Luckovich, editorial cartoonist
"Before Johnny introduced religion into B.C., he wrote what I consider one the best strips about language ever. B.C. is trying to give a flower to a pretty girl, but she refuses him, saying, "As far as I'm concerned, you can go to heck." B.C. stalks off dejectedly, and then, in the last panel, looks at us and asks, 'Where the hell is heck?'
Understand that no one -- ever -- used the word 'hell' in the comics back then. But the gag was so funny and self-mocking, what editor could refuse to print it? That was Johnny at his best -- brilliant wordplay executed with the elegant simplicity of haiku." - Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury cartoonist
"He kept it simple, kept it smart, and made it all look so easy.
Oh, and the man knew how to work a pun.
I'll miss you, Johnny." - Rick Detorie, One Big Happy cartoonist
From Mick Mastroianni, Johnny's grandson and creator of the comic strip The Dogs of C-Kennel:
"Great good fortune was ours who knew Johnny Hart. He was a great cartoonist and a delightful companion. He was generous, funny, open, inventive and absolutely decent in every way. He was better than we have ever deserved. Fortunately for us he didn’t know it.
It is too sad."
-Arnold Roth, cartoonist
"It's no secret, I've always given Johnny credit for being one of the biggest inspirations of my career. Johnny's style of doing humor was just so much fun. He taught me to relax and simply have fun doing the strip. All his line work, his gags, his humor, his characters were so much fun you just had to have fun reading it ... It's hard to believe he's gone - he was larger than life. He was a huge inspiration to me, and I’m sure I'm speaking for all cartoonists, not just myself." - Jim Davis, Garfield cartoonist
Jim Davis on playing golf with Johnny Hart and John Daly:
"My favorite times at the B.C. Open [a golf tournament held in Endicott, NY from 1971-2006] were when I got to play with Johnny. There was one time that was the highlight of my golfing career. We were playing with John Daly, who, if you know anything about golf, is one of the longest driving players in the game. We were hitting off the amateur tees and he was hitting off the pro tee about 50 yards back, and he had a bad hit with his iron. I crushed my driver from the amateur tee and out drove him by about 5 feet. As we got closer to the fairway Johnny kept poking me and saying 'You've got to say it, Jim! You've got to say it!' So when we got up there I looked at John Daly and said, 'You're away, John', and Johnny and I laughed and laughed like two grade school kids."
"He was an absolute giant, even though he was teeny. He was just so twinkly he'd make you laugh and then he'd make you cry ... I know he's gonna be a star looking down on all of us cartoonists." - Mike Peters, editorial cartoonist and creator of Mother Goose & Grimm
Mike Peters on Johnny Hart as a friend:
"When Dick Brown, who started Hagar the Horrible, was very ill ... he got a letter from Johnny. You could see Johnny's name on the return address, and when he opened it up there was an outline of Johnny's hand. He must have put his hand down and traced around it. Inside there was a note that said 'Dick - call me.' So he called Johnny and said 'I got your letter - what does this hand mean?' Johnny said, "Oh, good you got the letter! Open it up and put it flat on a table. Now put your hand where the drawn hand is.' Dick did and said, 'Ok, now what?' Johnny said, 'Now we're holding hands -- let's pray a little bit.'"
From Brian Anderson, Dog Eat Doug cartoonist:
"It was grade eight English class. My friend Joanne had brought in a B.C. cartoon and we were both laughing, tears in our eyes, reading the word “GRONK”. Johnny Hart was a genius. Words like “POINK”, “FWAPP”, “KRANGGG”, became part of our vocabulary, and our teacher was astute enough to encourage us. At least we were reading, and B.C. was “study” for anyone with a keen eye for comedy.
Years later, I had the great pleasure of getting to know John for real! We were part of the rat pack of cartoonists who joined in the fun of the “B.C. Open”, a golfing fundraiser held near John and Bobby’s home town of Nineveh, N.Y. We met at the Reuben awards and any other get together that promised us one more evening of uninhibited laughter. Cartoonists aren’t always comedians, but John’s circle of friends generated some of the finest jokes and storytelling ever.
He was kind and thoughtful, loving, generous and private. His and Bobby’s refuge is hidden in green hills with a small lake and a welcoming cottage home. His studio was a guy magnet, with a great pool table, fireplace and bar. All were welcome. Everyone felt at home with John and Bobby.
John was one of our “original” friends. He was someone I always thought we’d see again. I read his Easter Sunday cartoon, and it made me think of him fondly. That he should pass away on an Easter weekend is comforting. He was strongly committed to his religion, his work and his family.
Now, he’s committed to my memory and it goes all the way back to grade eight. You’ve been part of my life for many years, John. Rest in peace, and know that you’ll be remembered with love, respect, gratitude and laughter." - Lynn Johnston, cartoonist For Better or For Worse
From Gary Varvel, editorial cartoonist:
"The world has just lost a cartooning giant. Johnny Hart was one of the masters. His humor and drawing style influenced my generation of cartoonists but it was how he wove his faith into his work that inspired me most. The Bible says that God knows the plans he has for us. Johnny discovered early in life what God's plan was for him and he fulfilled that plan. Well done, Johnny."
- Gary Varvel, editorial cartoonist
"Right now I’m looking at a Johnny Hart drawing hanging on my wall. It’s the Fat Broad jumping up and down yelling, 'Way to Go, Chip, Baby! You Make us Proud!' 'Congrats! Bobby and Johnny'. Johnny drew it on his stationery and faxed it to me when I won an award. I had only recently met him. I’ve been a fan of B.C. since I was a little kid so it was a real treat when Rick Newcombe introduced me to Johnny. He was a sincerely kind and warm person who stuck by his faith and convictions and still kept his huge following. He also happened to be an excellent cartoonist. Maybe that had something to do with it.
I think the Fat Broad is hot.
Peace, Johnny." - Chip Bok, editorial cartoonist
"The thing I remember most about Johnny is that he was a sweet sweet man. Every year we would look forward to the B.C. Open - it was a wonderful golf tournament. It was great because I got to meet so many really esoteric cartoonists, who are really different from everyone else, not like comics. It was like I was adopted and allowed to be with them. And then we would go to a wine dinner afterwards and it would get wild and crazy and funny and always magical ... I want to thank him for allowing me to spend time with him and all the cartoonists." - Tommy Smothers, of The Smothers Brothers
From John Deering, editorial cartoonist
"He was generally regarded as one of the best cartoonists we've ever had. He was totally original. B.C. broke ground and led the way for a number of imitators, none of which ever came close ... He was really an extraordinary man -- gentle, warm, smart, funny, loving, devoted to his family. He helped change the face of the business, and it's a real loss" - Mell Lazarus, Miss Peach and Momma cartoonist
"Johnny was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known in my entire life…and one of the most loved. What a sweetheart! What a prince! What a talented guy! I am absolutely certain that he will be remembered as one of brightest stars in the history of our cartooning profession. The Bumsteads and I will miss him dearly." - Dean Young, Blondie cartoonist
"I didn't know Johnny, but he's been a part of my life as long as I've been around. My dad, Don Campbell, made a career as a syndicated financial columnist, but he simply loved cartooning and cartoonists. In fact, he put himself through college way back when by writing gags for struggling cartoonists. And one of his very favorite 'customers', before B.C. got syndicated, was Johnny. I lost my dad in 1991, but to this day, my prized possession in my own studio is a framed, autographed Johnny Hart/Brant Parker original that Johnny drew especially for my dad. I wish I'd known Johnny. But in a way, I do, because a little piece of him lives on my wall everyday, and I cherish it. Godspeed, Johnny. Say hi to Dad."
- Jenny Campbell, Flo & Friends cartoonist
From Gary Markstein, editorial cartoonist:
"My first Reubens was in NYC a year before the Trade Centers came down. I was fresh from the launch of my then-new strip with Creators Syndicate. You talk about a man star struck by his surroundings! Here were all the artists I'd read and heard about for years. Rick told me that Vickie and I could sit with him and Johnny Hart at the breakfast at Windows on the World. THE Johnny Hart? I had been reading his strip since I was 5 (yes, I could read at 5)! He was quiet, polite, and very gracious. If he thought anything I said was gushy or awestruck, he didn't let on. He would just smile and look at me through those huge glasses and put me totally at ease. Thanks for B.C., Johnny. Thanks for the Wizard. Thanks for the laughs. Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks for the honesty of your work. We'll talk about it when we meet again."
-Tony Cochran, Agnes cartoonist
"I grew up in New Zealand, reading B.C. and Wizard of Id and it is because of those two strips and their creators that I do what I do today. Johnny Hart had a unique style and could convey more character and emotion in a few simple strokes of the pen than most cartoonists could in an entire week. He was funny, irreverent, enormously talented and will be sorely missed." - Adrian Raeside, The Other Coast cartoonist
Also from Adrian Raeside, originally released in 2006:
"Johnny was one of the friendliest of the established cartoonists, and he was very welcoming when I began attending the Reuben weekends with Sparky [Charles Schulz]. I will always remember him for that and for his kindness after Sparky died. He was full of good humor and will be missed greatly." - Jeannie Schulz, widow of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about Johnny. I am usually not one to be at a loss for words, but in this case, who can possibly sum up a man's life and career and all of the wonderful effects he created in a few simple lines?
What can you say about a man who for almost fifty years had the talent and intention to bring us all a daily laugh?
Thank you, Johnny. Each day you made our world just a little bit brighter." - Leigh Rubin, Rubes cartoonist
From Eric Reaves, editorial cartoonist:
"I did not know Johnny personally, but admired the economy, the energy of his drawing." - Geoffrey Moss, MOSSPRINTS
"I think it goes without saying that two of the most influential cartoonists of my generation were Charles Schulz and Johnny Hart. Clearly these were men of true character who showed no fear when it came to expressing their Christian faith through the voices of their comic creations. They were the ones who allowed me to occasionally sneak some scripture verse or sense of value within my own cartoons.
I met Johnny at the Washington D.C. Reuben Awards in the early 90's and found him to be a generous man who was willing to share his thoughts on the business of cartoons. I only wish I had the boldness to push my way to speak to him, but I could certainly see how beloved he was by the multitude of those surrounding him. It was hard to crack the circle of people that were around him.
I will miss his simplicity of line, his wit and his sharing his faith. I can only hope and pray that those influenced by his work will strive to continue the style of spirit and humor Johnny provided. God bless you Johnny Hart."
- Stephen Bentley, Herb and Jamaal cartoonist
"I met Johnny Hart at a Reuben awards weekend many years ago. The NCS meeting had just concluded and I was sitting at a table with one other cartoonist when Johnny walked by. I grabbed him with a “Hey, Johnny, can I have your autograph?” “Sure, sure,” he replied. Then he pulled out a pen and started drawing. As the characters appeared, he was quickly conversing, “So, Peter, did ya hear they opened a restaurant on the moon?” “No,” I responded. “Yeah,” he shot back. “But it didn’t last very long....no atmosphere.” As he slid the finished drawing in front of me, he made sure I fully understood his sketch, “So you know what those two bumps are?” pointing to the mountains. “Uh, mountains?” I obviously answered. “Nope, that’s The Fat Broad lying on her back.” He smiled, tucked his pen away as I thanked him, then kept on walking. That happened over 20 years ago. Needless to say, I won’t forget it." - Peter Guren, Ask Shagg cartoonist
The cartoon Johnny Hart drew and signed for Peter Guren:
"I never had the honor of meeting Johnny Hart in person, but I knew him through his wonderful work.
He brought to the comics page an unmatched mastery of the simple line and perfect composition.
Most of all, he let his very soul, self and faith flow through his work onto the newspaper page.
Fittingly, Johnny Hart's art was always, absolutely full of heart."
- Bob Gorrell, cartoonist
"Johnny Hart and his masterpiece cartoon, B.C. ,reached millions of people every day, delivering Life's precious elixer, smiles and laughter. Too many will miss him, but so many will always remember Johnny and his classic creation." - Julie Larson, The Dinette Set cartoonist
"When I first got my job doing The Muppets for King and Henson, Bill Yates, my Editor at King, told me how to write and illustrate a comic strip. He told me to read every paperback by Mort Walker, Johnny Hart, and Dik Browne….then, try to do THAT.
THAT, folks, is a full course in how to be funny in a comic strip.
Johnny Hart was funny.
I have too many memories of Johnny to share them all here, but, he was always generous with his art, his talents, his time. He was never, ever rude, or ever to my knowledge did he ever say anything critical of anyone else’s strip, or work. Johnny took the criticism that came his way graciously.
Johnny was real.
I knew him before he found the Lord, and after. He was always himself. Thoroughly comfortable in his own skin, with who he was and how he did things.
I think that being real, being honest, and natural when you're at the board drawing and writing is certainly what is the hardest struggle.
Some call it finding your style. Some call it finding your voice.
Johnny’s work seemed effortless. Like Wllie Mays catching a fly ball. Effortless. You don’t realize how much work that is until you try to play Center…or do a comic strip. It takes a lot of work to make it look that easy.
Johnny made it look easy. Day after day, for 50 years! Johnny Hart's art, that hand of his holding the pen....and what he wrote and drew... was an extention of his heart and soul and smile.. Like that piano keyboard is part of Jerry Lee Lewis.
I will always treasure the notes that passed between us. In the later years, there were good wishes for my own faith based strip. Johnny didn’t have to tell me that it was worth it…but he did. Johnny is with the Lord now, and the Lord has quite a bullpen up there….and the king of the one liners is now cracking that bullpen up.
Johnny Hart was funny. A real artist.
And a real friend."
- Guy Gilchrist, cartoonist Nancy, Night Lights, Muppets, Your Angels Speak
From Mort Walker, Beetle Bailey cartoonist:
"Both B.C. and The Wizard of Id were comic strips that immediately captivated me as a young boy, within the grand comics section of the old Philadelphia Bulletin back in the mid-1960s. I clipped so many of them out of the newspaper and raided our neighbor's stack of old papers when I needed more. For a year I aped B.C. with my own childhood strip Just Us, containing my own versions of all of Johnny's animal characters. It was the content of Johnny's strips, along with Sparky's Peanuts that inspired me more than any others, into this field of cartooning and syndicated comics. The upcoming Growing Old With B.C. book will be a true tribute to Johnny's creative output.
Both Johnny and Brant were equally endearing in person, as I was privileged to befriend them both as a young professional. Both were generous goodwill ambassadors that vastly improved and sustained our profession for decades, and their passings mark a sad milestone in the history of syndication. Both of these features need to continue, thrive and entertain in order to fulfill the legacy started by these gentlemen.
Thank you, Johnny and Brant. You simply made our lives better, period. Who could argue with that?!" - Bill Janocha, Beetle Bailey assistant and freelance illustrator