Archive for the ‘story’ Category

Honoring Christ in Cartoons

April 9, 2007

Editor’s Note: I wrote this story at least ten years ago and it appeared in several print magazines. I also used it in the December 2004 issue of Right Writing News, a free ezine. If you aren’t a subscriber, please take a couple of seconds to fill out the simple registration form. I have not rewritten this story but I include it today as a tribute to Johnny Hart, who passed away yesterday at his drawing table after a stroke at 76. Our loss was heaven’s gain. I hope you will receive some inspiration from his story.

The wires were everywhere but it was the television test pattern–Christian programming–that caught Johnny Hart’s attention. For the last 44 years, this renowned cartoonist has drawn the daily comic strips, B.C. and Wizard of Id. Syndicated in over 1200 newspapers nationwide, many people get a boost for their day from Hart’s humorous look at life.

Several weeks earlier, a real estate agent called Hart. “I’m not interested,” he told the agent. “We’re remodeling our home and love it.”

“It’s a sizable estate of 150 acres and includes a 30 acre lake,” the agent said.
“A lake stocked with fish?” Hart asked. “I should probably see this place.”

Hart and his wife, Bobby, liked this heavily wooded property in upper state New York. They moved to the property several weeks later and were now trying to get the television to work. The reception was terrible.

Each day when Hart works at his drawing table, he likes to have something else going on such as jazz music or television. Hart’s carpenter from Endicott, New York encouraged Hart to purchase a satellite dish. The installation process for the satellite hook up wasn’t a simple connection from the house to the dish.

Johnny wanted TVs in different places of his home and several places of his studio. His 5,400 square-foot studio was located across an inlet from the lake. In order to properly set up the satellite dish, the installation meant digging underground laying wires and testing the connections.

“Every time I walked into the room, these men had Kenneth Copeland, D. James Kennedy and other Christian preachers on the television,” Hart recalls this incident from 1987. As children, Johnny and Bobby had attended church. Then when he married Bobby, he says, “I knocked church out of her.”

“Is this all we’re gonna get?” Hart grumbled as they set up the satellite connection. When the men offered to change it, Hart permitted them to continue. Before too long, Hart began sneaking into empty rooms and watching sermons. If his wife walked through the room, Johnny changed the channel.

One Sunday morning, Hart asked his wife, “Do you want to go to church?”

“Church? Not really,” Bobby responded firmly. Hart accepted the decision and quietly prayed for his wife. Another Sunday, Bobby came bounding into the room and asked Johnny, “Do you want to go to church?” Johnny quickly agreed and they attended the nearest church in Nineveh, New York. This small town has a grocery, a post office and the Nineveh Presbyterian Church.

For the last several years, Johnny teaches the young adult Sunday School class that he calls “the spill over class.” Hart explained about these junior and senior high school teens, “They’re the kids too old to care about Sunday school anymore. I teach things from the Bible which fascinate them and me.”

When it comes to cartooning, Hart is a master at his craft. His fellow cartoonists have often recognized him as the best in the field with awards like Best Humor Strip in America, six times (The National Cartoonist Society) or Best Cartoonist of the Year (France’s highest cartooning award). While 98 per cent of the response from readers to his cartoons are positive, sometimes Johnny strikes a blow for Christianity through his humor and stirs some controversy.

“No one had any problem when I was drawing Santa and Easter bunnies,” Hart said, “but their attitudes changed when I began giving a Christian message.” For Good Friday several years ago, Hart simply drew four black panels, which went from gray to pitch black. Underneath the final panel were the words, “Good Friday.” On the pages of the comics, Hart uses almost any occasion for his characters to reflect the Good News about Jesus Christ. Particularly on the holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or even Halloween (for an anti-Halloween cartoon) Johnny slips some Biblical truth to his readers.

The newspapers receive his cartoons several weeks before they are printed. Because of the liberal viewpoints in the newsroom, Hart says that these newspapers reserve the right to “edit” his materials. “Edit” is their code word for omitting the B.C. comics with a spiritual message. Often, Hart doesn’t discover about these “edits” until his readers write or call and tell him.

One of the worst culprits is the Los Angeles Times. Several years ago a Christian ministry stirred readers to complain about the issue of Hart’s B.C. cartoons around Easter. In cynical fashion, the L.A. Times moved the cartoons from their usual spot to the religion page. According to Hart, they ran the comic strips for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter on the same day–and in “postage stamp size.”

Before drawing his Christmas comic, Johnny will often re-read the Christmas story from the Bible for inspiration. Recently for Christmas, Johnny had his cave girl looking at a cross-shaped Christmas star, positioned over a skull-like mountain (Golgatha), saying, “Wow look at that star!” A little further to the right, a snake, lurking behind an apple tree (readers see the Garden of Eden) says, “It’s show time.”

Whether it’s the Christmas season or any other day, Hart is constantly looking for creative ways and humorous ways to challenge his readers with truth from the Bible. Keep an eye out for the subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle message from this master cartoonist. He shows his readers that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

Relationship Building Is Important

March 14, 2007

Writing is one of those skills exercised in isolation. You curl up with your keyboard and crank some words on the page. You pour your stories and your characters or your research and experiences. It’s important to work hard at the craft of writing.

In addition to the writing, it is important to build new relationships and readers. It’s a question authors continue to ask about blogging. It’s time consuming and is it worth the time or not. I’ve decided it is worth it for me because of the relationship building part of it. In the March 5th issue of Publishers Weekly they tackle this question in the area of children’s books. Sue Corbett writes in part of this article, “Okay, so blogging is not exactly how all writers like to spend their time. But the big question, of course, is, do blogs sell books? On that, everyone agrees that the answer is yes, though no one can point to any numbers, at least not yet. “Saleswise, I’m not necessarily expecting to see a post-for-post, purchase-for-purchase correlation,” said Julie Strauss-Gabel, who edits Green at Dutton. “Blogging is a long-term endeavor, one that builds and sustains a loyal fan base over a career.”

Cabot says that after she started blogging, visits to her Web site soared. [Sarah] Dessen used her blog to count down the days to her pub date for Just Listen, and readers stormed bookstores looking for their copy. “I had a lot of girls go to stores on the first day and when the book wasn’t on display, they had someone go into the back and made them open a box,” she recalled. “I really liked hearing that.””

I’m certain this discussion will continue for the days ahead. As for me and my house, I’m going to continue with these entries about the Writing Life.

The Cliff Hanger

February 26, 2007

I love a good pageturner. Years ago when I lived overseas I appreciated listening to Radio Personality Paul Harvey. For part of his broadcast, he called The Rest of the Story. At least one book was created from these stories. He began telling some details about a particular person and the hook drew you into it. Except you didn’t know the name of the main subject wasn’t revealed until the next to last sentence. After speaking the name of the subject, Harvey ended with the trademark phrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Last week I was reading The New Yorker magazine and noticed a special advertising section from Lunesta called The Art of The Story. The title alone caught my attention. The ad includes a story from former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. His story was interesting on the topic about some of the first days in his new job when he traveled with President Clinton to Moscow. Visiting an old friend, he stayed up all night and returned to his hotel at 5 a.m. Here’s how the printed story in the magazine ended:

“So I got back to my hotel and made one mistake, which was to sit down on the bed. And, obviously, I fell asleep. I’m telling you, you don’t know anxiety until you’ve woken up as the White House press secretary on your first foreign trip at 6:15 a.m., in Moscow, without a passport, knowing you’ve missed Air Force One. Now, the only good thing that I could think of was, the day couldn’t get worse. I was wrong …” “Then it says read the story in entirety at

You can see why I had to read the rest of it. Thankfully the full story was online. It was an effective cliff hanger technique.