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B. C. It's A Funny World - Johnny Hart

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Genre: Graphic Novels / Comics / Author: Johnny Hart / Paperback / 128 Pages / Book is published 1976-11-01 by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

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      03.10.2010 18:32
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      The modern Stone Age family?

      The B.C. cartoon strip is perhaps not one of the best known in Britain these days, but it was well enough liked years ago for Coronet Books to issue a whole series of compilation albums, in the small paperback format familiar to those who collect the similar Peanuts collections. B.C. itself is still going, more than half a century on from its creation in 1958, although original cartoonist Johnny Hart died (at his drawing board, no less) three years ago, and the strips are now produced by his two grandsons. Hart himself was probably rather better known for being the co-creator of The Wizard of Id, but I actually rather prefer B.C..

      The setting of the B.C. strip, as its name rather implies, is prehistoric Earth. It's a pretty barren place on the whole, and is shown as such: each (monochrome) strip is drawn with very little background detail. There might be mountains in the distance, or the odd exploding volcano, but for the most part this is a very firmly character-based comic. In his later years Hart would attract some ire for his increasing use of overtly Christian themes in the comics and controversial remarks outside them (eg "homosexuality is the handiwork of Satan") but "It's a Funny World" dates from the 1970s, before this was a factor.

      In general, each strip - they usually consist of three panels - is self-contained and follows the time-honoured path of set-up, action, punchline. The final panels are often very cleverly and non-obviously done, and I found myself laughing out loud at them more often than I tend to when reading books like this. Even when the jokes themselves are not new, they're quietly but perfectly set up. For example, we see "The Cute Chick" (yep, that's her name; some aspects *are* a bit startling from a 21st century perspective) painting graffiti reading "Down with the establishment" on a cave wall. When complimented on her lettering skills, she replies: "It's a job."

      When B.C. first began, it was an out-and-out prehistoric strip, but over the years it has become increasingly anachronistic. At the time of "It's a Funny World", this process had not gone as far as making direct references to modern nations or businesses - that came along rather later - but we do see plenty of satire on 1970s life. For example, the clams (my favourite characters) often act out scenes that could have been seen in human activities of the day - a large clam with a sheriff's badge whops a hippie clam over the head, leading a watching caveman to exclaim: "Clams got police brutality!"

      For devotees of later B.C., the most obvious difference will not be the drawing style, which though subtly evolved remains recognisable to this day, but the significantly smaller cast of characters. The biggest omission is probably Grog, the hairy, near-spherical caveman, though to be honest I don't find him quite as amusing as most readers seem to and so it's not a big problem for me that he's not there. On the plus side (at least in my view), this leaves more space for strips involving the ants, who provide slightly more subtle, often wordplay-based, humour than do the clams.

      I picked this book up for 45p in a charity shop, and for that money I can't complain at all. Admittedly charity shops have become more business savvy since then and it's much harder now to find really cheap books, but "It's a Funny World" would be decent value even at a pound. There is some (fairly mild) innuendo and comic violence that probably makes it unsuitable for young children, but that's unlikely to be an issue as at least a vague grounding in 1970s American culture is needed to enjoy many of the strips. All in all, good fun.

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