Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.
1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.
Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.
2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.
Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”
3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.
In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."
4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.
Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.
5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.
An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.
6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.
Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.
7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.
In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.
8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.
When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.