Johnny Hart was born “John Lewis Hart” on February 18, 1931, in Endicott, New York, to Grace Anna (Brown) Hart and Irwin James Hart. As a boy, Johnny demonstrated a talent for art along with an original sense of humor. “As far back as I can remember, I drew funny pictures which got me in or out of trouble depending on the circumstances,” but he never considered cartooning as a serious profession until he graduated from Union-Endicott High School in 1949 along with buddies, Jack “Clumsy Carp” Caprio and Dick “Curls” Boland.
Photograph by Ed Aswad, Carriage House Photography, Binghamton, NY.
At age 19, Johnny met Brant Parker, a young cartoonist who became a prime influence in his life, and later, in 1964, the artist of Wizard of Id comic strip. In 1952, while stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, and working as a cartoonist/photographer at the base newspaper, Johnny met and married Ida Jane “Bobby” Hatcher. In 1953, he was sent to Korea, where he produced cartoons for the Pacific Stars and Stripes. After his discharge, the couple lived at Bobby’s mother’s farm in Georgia, where, in 1954, Johnny sold his first freelance cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post.
Eventually Johnny and Bobby returned to Endicott and he took a position in the art department at General Electric while continuing to sell cartoons to major magazines. Influenced by Peanuts by Charles Schulz, Johnny decided to attempt a comic strip of his own. Obsessed by caveman gags, but unable to sell one to a magazine, his buddies at GE, Thornton “Thor” Kinney and Pete “Peter” Reuter said to him one day, “Why don’t you do a comic strip about cavemen. You can’t sell them anywhere else!”
Johnny thought, “That’s not a bad idea!” He began drawing little cave guys, and, at Bobby’s suggestion, decided to name the characters after the two GE friends, himself, his two high school buddies and Bobby’s brother-in-law, “Wiley”. Johnny submitted B.C. to several syndicates and finally, in 1958, the New York Herald Tribune, decided to take a chance on him because four years earlier they had turned down a strip called Peanuts.
Johnny’s dream of joining the distinguished company of fellow cartoonists he admired more than came true. He was lauded by his peers and praised by the public. He won numerous awards for his work, including twice receiving The National Cartoonist Society’s prestigious Reuben award, for Cartoonist of the Year, for B.C. in 1968, and for Wizard of Id in 1984.
On April 7th, 2007, Johnny Hart passed away quietly at his drawing board doing what he loved. Bobby assembled a team of family members headed up by grandsons, Mason and Mick Mastroianni, and daughters, Perri Hart and Patti Hart. The family continues to produce B.C. and Wizard of Id and their renowned cast of characters appear in newspapers worldwide.