B.C. is a daily American comic strip created by cartoonist Johnny Hart. Set in prehistoric times, it features a group of cavemen and anthropomorphic animals from various geologic eras. B.C. made its newspaper debut on February 17, 1958, and was among the longest-running strips still written and drawn by its original creator when Hart died at his drawing board in Nineveh, New York on April 7, 2007.
Now, the strip is produced by Hart’s grandsons Mason Mastroianni (head writer and cartoonist) and Mick Mastroianni (writer for both B.C. and Hart’s other creation, The Wizard of Id), and Hart’s daughter Perri (letterer and colorist). The Mastroianni Brothers also created an original strip, The Dogs of C Kennel, in 2009. It is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
Hart was inspired to draw cavemen (and many other creatures) through the chance suggestion of one of his coworkers at General Electric, and took to the idea “because they are a combination of simplicity and the origin of ideas.” The name for the strip “may have been suggested by my wife, Bobby,” Johnny recalls. Hart was born and lived his entire life in Broome County, New York, and freely donated the use of his characters to the county parks, public transit lines, many community organizations and local sports teams including the logos for Binghamton, New York’s minor league hockey teams (see Hometown).
Hart describes the title character as similar to himself, playing the “patsy.” The other major characters — Peter, Wiley, Clumsy Carp, Curls, and Thor — were patterned after friends and co-workers. The animal characters include dinosaurs, ants and an anteater, clams, a snake, a turtle and bird duo, and an apteryx (presented in the strip as being the sole surviving specimen, and hence self-aware of its being doomed to extinction).
The characters live, for the most part, in caves, in what appears to be a barren, mountainous desert by an unidentified sea. Background detail is often limited to a simple horizon line broken up by the occasional silhouettes of a stray volcano or cloud. “Retail stores,” “shop counters,” and “businesses” are symbolized by a single boulder, labeled (for instance) “Wheel Repair,” “Advice Column,” “Psychiatrist,” etc. The February 5, 2012 strip gives a nearby location of N 53° 24′ 17″ W 6° 12′ 3″, which is in present day Dublin, Ireland
Originally, the strip was 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 a miniature glacier which melted to reveal what Wiley called “Prehistoric man!”
B.C., like Hart’s Wizard of Id, is a period burlesque with a deliberately broad, non-literal time frame. As time went on the strip began to mine humor from having the characters make explicit references to modern-day current events, inventions, and celebrities. Increasingly familiar visual devices, like the makeshift “telephone” built into a tree trunk, also 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, 1967, 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, modified his usual spiel: “Hi there, I’m an Apterclaus, a wingless toymonger with batteries not included!” The Washington Post columnist and comics critic Gene Weingarten suggested that B.C. is actually set not in the past but in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic future.
41 strips 1966
37 strips 1967