8 Things You Might Not Know About B.C.

Creators Syndicate
Creators Syndicate

Debuting in 1958, cartoonist Johnny Hart’s B.C. took a humorous view of Stone Age life that pre-dated The Flintstones by two years. Although Hart passed away in 2007, the strip continues daily, with Hart’s grandson Mason Mastroianni currently at the drawing board. For more on the misadventures of Hart’s cavemen, check out some facts about the strip’s origins, its controversies, and how it changed the face of one California college.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED SUCK EGG.

After getting encouragement from artist—and future collaborator on The Wizard of Id—Brant Parker in a high school art contest, Hart decided to become a freelance cartoonist. But after seeing Peanuts in print for the first time in the late 1950s, Hart realized that comic strips provided a sequential freedom that single-panel gag cartoons didn’t. Fond of caveman jokes, Hart began designing triangular-shaped characters who could juxtapose primal life with modern day observations. He decided to call it Suck Egg based on an egg joke in an early strip; recalling his wife, Bobby, talked him out of it, the strip was later titled B.C. after one of its lead characters.

2. HART HAD A JOKE-GENERATING STRATEGY.

For the anachronistic punchlines in B.C.—his cavemen had concerns over technology, romance, and religion—Hart enlisted two of his friends, Jack Caprio and Dick Boland, for joke-writing sessions. Hart liked to focus on one concept, like books or jobs, and then write down every word he could think of that was associated with the idea, hoping to turn one or more of them into puns. 

3. HE DREW VERY QUICKLY.

While some cartoonists can take a full day to pencil and ink a strip, Hart preferred to expedite the process. Although writing jokes could resemble a marathon, executing them in panels was a sprint. Aided in some measure by the stylized, spare style of B.C., Hart could draw a week’s worth of strips in a matter of hours.

4. THE CHARACTERS WERE PATTERNED AFTER HIS FRIENDS.

Trying to assign distinct personalities to the cast of B.C., Hart took his wife’s suggestion that he use his friends as inspiration. Working as an art director for GE at the time, Hart created Thor after co-worker Thornton Kinney; Clumsy Carp was the nickname of a childhood friend; the one-legged Wiley was modeled after his brother-in-law, who had lost his leg in World War II. Wiley was an avid athlete, so Hart made him captain of the (prehistoric) sports teams.

5. HART ENDORSED DR PEPPER.

In 1963 and 1964, Hart agreed to design some original characters to accompany print ads for the Dr Pepper soft drink. After drafting a caveman named Harmon—who could eat bottles and extract the caps—he used him as inspiration for the monosyllabic Grog in the B.C. strip. The campaign also involved a 1966 television commercial featuring an animated interlude.

6. SOME NEWSPAPERS DROPPED THE STRIP OVER ITS RELIGIOUS CONTENT.

In the 1980s, Hart experienced a religious conversion, embracing Christianity and using B.C. as a pulpit for expressing his faith. At times, he would use overt Christian symbolism that alienated readers who believed comic strips should be nondenominational. Several newspapers dropped the strip, including the Chicago Sun-Times. Others, like The Washington Post, opted not to run the Sunday installments, which focused more on theology. Following a 2001 strip that depicted a menorah transforming into a cross, some readers took it as Hart implying Christianity was superior to Judaism. In a press release, Hart apologized if the cartoon caused any offense.

7. IT WAS ADAPTED INTO ANIMATION.

Hart’s first involvement in animation, B.C.: The First Thanksgiving, aired on NBC in 1973: The characters go in search of a turkey without actually knowing what one looks like. Preceding Hart’s future focus on religion, B.C. was also adapted into an animated Christmas short for HBO, B.C.: A Special Christmas, in 1981.  

8. IT INSPIRED A COLLEGE SPORTS MASCOT.

Like Snoopy, the personable anteater of B.C. became an early breakout animal character that helped draw attention to the strip. It also inspired a movement at UC Irvine, which had settled on an anteater mascot in 1965 and proceeded to use Hart’s drawings (with Hart’s permission) as the basis for their graphic design. “Peter the Anteater” appears as bronze statues and personal accessories like key chains on campus.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

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How 8 Famous Writers Chose Their Pen Names

Comic book legend Stan Lee signs copies of his work.
Comic book legend Stan Lee signs copies of his work.
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Some pen names are fairly well-known for what they are. Most people know that Mark Twain was the alias of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The outing of Richard Bachman as a pen name used by Stephen King was well-publicized and inspired King’s novel, The Dark Half. But not all authors go by obvious aliases. Here’s the story behind how eight famous writers chose their pen names.

1. Lewis Carroll

While Lewis Carroll might sound delightfully British to American ears, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is even more so. Dodgson adopted his pen name in 1856 because, according to the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, he was modest and wanted to maintain the privacy of his personal life. When letters addressed to Carroll arrived at Dodgson’s offices at Oxford, he would refuse them to maintain deniability. Dodgson came up with the alias by Latinizing Charles Lutwidge into Carolus Ludovicus, loosely Anglicizing that into Carroll Lewis, and then changing their order. His publisher chose it from a list of several possible pen names.

2. Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad, 1904.George Charles Beresford (1864–1938), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski is a bit of a mouthful, and when the Polish-born novelist began publishing his writing in the late 1800s, he used an Anglicized version of his name: Joseph Conrad. He caught some flak for this from Polish intellectuals who thought he was disrespecting his homeland and heritage (it didn’t help that he became a British citizen and published in English), but Korzeniowski explained, “It is widely known that I am a Pole and that Józef Konrad are my two Christian names, the latter being used by me as a surname so that foreign mouths should not distort my real surname … It does not seem to me that I have been unfaithful to my country by having proved to the English that a gentleman from the Ukraine [Korzeniowski was an ethnic Pole born in formerly Polish territory that was controlled by Ukraine, and later the Russian Empire] can be as good a sailor as they, and has something to tell them in their own language.”

3. Pablo Neruda

Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto had an interest in literature from a young age, but his father disapproved. When Basoalto began publishing his own poetry, he needed a byline that wouldn’t tip off his father, and chose Pablo Neruda in homage to the Czech poet Jan Neruda. Basoalto later adopted his pen name as his legal name.

4. Stan Lee

Stanley Martin Lieber got his start writing comic books, but hoped to one day graduate to more serious literary work and wanted to save his real name for that. He wrote the comics stuff under the pen name Stan Lee, and eventually took it as his legal name after achieving worldwide recognition as a comic book writer.

5. Ann Landers

Ann Landers was the pseudonym for several women who wrote the "Ask Ann Landers" column over the years. The name was created by the column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who adopted it because she was already writing a newspaper column about child care and didn’t want readers confusing the two. She borrowed the name from a friend of her family, Bill Landers, and made an effort to keep her real identity a secret.

6. Voltaire

Voltaire had a fancy pen name and fancy hair.Workshop of Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When François-Marie Arouet was imprisoned in the Bastille in the early 1700s, he wrote a play. To signify his breaking away from his past, especially his family, he signed the work with the alias Voltaire. The name, the Voltaire Foundation explains, was derived from “Arouet, the younger.” He took his family name and the initial letters of le jeune—“Arouet l(e) j(eune)”—and anagrammed them. If you’re left scratching your head, the foundation helpfully points out that I and j, and u and v, were typographically interchangeable in Voltaire’s day.

7. George Orwell

When Eric Arthur Blair was getting ready to publish his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, he decided to use a pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty. According to the Orwell Foundation, the name George Orwell is a mix of the name of the reigning monarch, King George VI, and that of a local river.

8. J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling’s publishers weren’t sure that the intended readers of the Harry Potter books—pre-adolescent boys—would read stories about wizards written by a woman, so they asked her to use her initials on the book instead of her full name. Rowling didn’t have a middle name, though, and had to borrow one from her grandmother Kathleen to get her pen name J.K. Rowling.