De mortuis nil nisi bonum
I picked up the Sunday paper and paged through the comics section. Given that it's Easter Sunday, no one could be surprised that Johnny Hart had penned another of his cloyingly Christian comic strips. I had pretty much sworn off complaining about B.C., especially since it had gotten so lame that it just wasn't fun to make fun of it anymore. The Easter Sunday strip, however, tempted me strongly. It had all of Hart's least appealing characteristics: pugnacious proselytizing, pallid humor, and a paucity of invention. And he was supposedly harping on math, so this time it was personal.
Hart devised a goofy joke based on stringing together thirty-three words to signify the age of Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. It wasn't particularly funny and it wasn't particularly inspiring, unless one is already inclined to be thrilled by an extended quotation from scripture. Thirty-three words.
I guess it would be just as clever to try to string together seventy-six words to sum up Hart's career, and his trajectory from an eccentric, off-beat comic wit to a pushy and nearly humorless Bible-thumper. But I haven't the knack or the inclination. This post was originally outlined in my head while driving up California's Central Valley, traveling back home from my parents' residence, where we all met for an Easter luncheon and egg hunt. It was their paper where I first saw today's B.C. and turned up my nose at it (although I can just imagine Mom and Dad nodding their heads in sober agreement with its sentiment and ersatz cleverness).
Most of my thoughts were jettisoned as soon as I got home and checked my blog reader. It was the Comics Curmudgeon who first tipped me off that Johnny Hart had died yesterday, right at his drafting table, doing what he loved best. I guess that's probably the way to go. His legacy will survive mostly in the form of his earlier comic strips, before his religiosity overwhelmed his sense of humor and swamped his off-beat playfulness.
Hart was supremely confident that he had the Truth and that it had set him free. People of his persuasion—anxiously awaiting the afterlife—have one thing that we skeptics lack: They don't risk finding out if they're wrong about life after death. If you're simply extinguished at the moment of death, you get spared all of that stressful disappointment. I think Hart's moment of disappointment has arrived. Of course, he'll never know that (and I, of course, will never know if I'm right), so one could say the disappointment never actually occurred.
I am certainly sincere when I say I hope he rests in peace, but I happen to think it's inevitable.