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.

This App Lets You Download Free E-Books, Magazines, Comic Books, and Audiobooks From Your Library

boggy22, iStock via Getty Images
boggy22, iStock via Getty Images

Even if your local library is closed during the novel coronavirus outbreak, you can still use your library card in quarantine. As Thrillist reports, Libby is an app that works with local libraries to give you free access to audiobooks, e-books, comic books, and magazines wherever you are.

Libby, an app from the digital reading company Overdrive, is connected to 90 percent of public libraries in North America. To use the app, just enter the information from your library card and start browsing digital titles available through your local branches. If you don't have a library card yet, some participating libraries will allow you to sign up for a digital card in the app. That way, you don't have to leave home to start reading.

As more people are looking for e-books and audiobooks to pass the time at home, Overdrive has made it possible for multiple users to check out the same title at once. That means as more libraries shift to a 100 percent online loan system for the time being, it will be easier to meet their patrons' needs.

No matter what your current literary mood may be, you should have no trouble finding something to read on Libby. Downloadable titles from the New York Public Library currently available through the app include the e-book of Becoming by Michelle Obama, the e-book of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and the audiobook of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After you download a book, you can send it to your Kindle device, and all items are automatically returned on their due date. Download the free app today to start browsing.

[h/t Thrillist]

How Did Casper the Friendly Ghost Die?

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The star of dozens of animated shorts and specials, hundreds of comics, and one big-screen feature (which spawned a couple of straight-to-video follow-ups), Casper the Friendly Ghost has enjoyed a great deal of spooky success since he debuted in 1945. An affable spirit, the seemingly pre-adolescent blob of ectoplasm only wants to make friends. Unfortunately, people are consistently wary of his ethereal qualities. In the earliest shorts, he preferred to hang out by himself near a tombstone.

Does the tombstone belong to him? By virtue of being a ghost, doesn’t that mean Casper was once a real, live boy who suffered a tragic fate at a young age?

The Ghost With No Name

When Casper was created back in 1940 by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, the question apparently didn’t come up. Reit and Oriolo planned to have Casper—who did not yet have a name—be the star of an illustrated children’s book, with Reit writing and Oriolo illustrating it. They never got the chance. The two, who worked at Fleischer Studios on animated shorts, were both drafted to serve in World War II. When they returned, Fleischer Studios had been purchased by Paramount, renamed Famous Studios, and wanted complete control over the intellectual property of work created by employees. The two sold Casper and other characters for a total of $200 to Paramount.

When Casper made his animated debut in the 1945 Famous Studios short “The Friendly Ghost,” he finally got a name, but no mention was made of his origins. The short references his “brothers and sisters” who enjoy scaring people but offers no other details of his private life.

A second short, 1948’s “There’s Good Boos To-Night,” shows Casper leaning on a tombstone while reading a book, with a “Love Thy Neighbor” sign hanging nearby. The ghosts in the cemetery are referred to as his “neighbors” and appear to rise from their respective resting places when it’s time to go haunting. This would imply Casper is relaxing at his own gravesite, though his name doesn’t appear on the tombstone. If so, it would support the idea he once occupied the land of the living.

As Casper moved into another medium, however, a case began to be made for his existence as something other than human. In 1949, St. John Publishing produced five Casper comics. In 1952, Harvey Comics took over the license. In an effort to expand Casper’s world, Harvey gave him a ghost family, including a mom and three uncles. None of them were named until 1955, when the uncles were dubbed Fatso, Fusso, and Lazo. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether Casper’s relatives were all deceased as well or whether the Casper mythology implies ghosts are simply "born" ghosts.

The Pneumonia Theory

When the Casper feature film starring Christina Ricci was released in 1995, producers apparently thought moviegoers would be confused by a lack of explanation, and so the Casper of that film was portrayed as a boy named Casper McFadden. He was said to have died of pneumonia at the age of 12 after staying out in cold weather for too long playing with a sled he had just received as a gift.

There is one alternative, and slightly darker, theory that was purportedly first floated by The Simpsons. In the 1991 episode “Three Men and a Comic Book,” Bart and Lisa speculate that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich, another Harvey Comics icon. (The two bear a resemblance.) Lisa believes that his realization of “how hollow the pursuit of money really is” caused Richie to take his own life. Other observers have speculated that perhaps Richie’s parents killed their son for the insurance money.

This is, of course, virtually impossible, as Richie Rich wasn’t created until 1953, 13 years after Reit and Oriolo conceived of Casper.

So what is Casper—former boy or forever ghost? Given his comfort hanging around a tombstone and his pleasant nature preventing him from besmirching the grave of another, it seems likely he was once human. To date, only the 1995 feature has attempted to detail what led him to the afterlife. Considering Casper's appeal as a children's property, that's probably for the best.

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