Thursday, April 12, 2007


By now, most of my Esteemed Readers are aware of the passing of novelist Kurt Vonnegut at the age of 84.

It’s been some time since I have read any of Vonnegut’s work, but there was a time some 36 years ago that I developed a sort of Vonnegut-mania, plowing through all six of his (as-yet published) novels in about two weeks. On top of finals, no less.

I had first discovered Vonnegut’s writing in the form of a collection of short stories, Welcome To The Monkey House, that my mother, of blessèd memory and voracious reading habits, had brought home from the library. I loved the black humor, the cynicism. Just right for a high-school senior.

Then, in the fall of my freshman year at college, I got hold of a copy of Cat’s Cradle. I started it but for some reason it didn’t get its hooks into me. Months later, in the heat of springtime, I picked it up again. This time, it made perfect sense. Which, if you are familiar with Cat’s Cradle, makes no sense at all.

Maybe it was a manifestation of Spring Fever, but I proceeded to read all of Vonnegut’s other books. Mother Night. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Player Piano. The Sirens of Titan. I was fascinated with the way characters from one novel would pop up in the others, the interconnectedness of them all.

A few years later, when Breakfast of Champions came out, I read that, too. But this time, it seemed that Vonnegut was trying too hard, having just a little too much fun with his propensity for coining words, writing in choppy little chapters. Meh.

But here it is, some thirty years later, and this brilliant, satirical, creative mind is gone. I will miss him.

Of course, the Scythe-Dude likes to economize on travel. And so this week he claimed not one, but two cultural luminaries. Vonnegut...and Johnny Hart.

Johnny Hart, who died last week, was the creator of the Reuben award-winning comic strip B.C., as well as the co-creator (and scripter) of The Wizard of Id. Both were brilliant strips, although one could make the case that in recent years, both suffered from that gradual decline in quality that overtakes anyone who must create new content on a daily basis. Go look at Hart’s earlier work, and you’ll be amazed at how good it is...and how much black humor it contained, especially The Wizard of Id.

Hart, in recent years, would incorporate overtly Christian themes into his strips. But his messages could be, on occasion, lacking in subtlety. On Easter Sunday, 2001, the B.C. strip showed a menorah with seven candles progressively burning out as the strip captions ran the final words of Jesus. In the penultimate panel, the outer arms of the menorah were shown broken away, leaving a Christian cross. The last panel portrayed the opened and empty tomb of Jesus. You don’t have to have a whole lot of brain cells to rub together to see that Jews just might find this paean to Replacement Theology a mite offensive...and even Protestant and Catholic clergy agreed.

But, on the whole, the world of the Funny Pages was made happier by the contributions of Johnny Hart, and I will miss him too.

Ave atque vale, gentlemen. Godspeed.

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