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Ants and turtles and cavemen and (of course) Jesus

B.C., 12/3/04

For me, one of the surprises in Jonathan Franzen’s Peanuts essay (yes, I’m plugging it again; you really should read it) was that his favorite comic in the newspaper he read as a kid was B.C. Since I refuse to actually spend good money on a B.C. anthology, or even risk being seen thumbing through one at the bookstore, I must pose this question to you all: was Franzen a little kid with no taste (not a crime; even I, current culture snob that I am, was under the spell of Garfield until I hit puberty), or was B.C. at some point in the distant past actually, you know, funny?

Since all I have to go on is what I read in the funny pages, though, I must humbly assert that B.C. is not, in fact, funny. Do I harp on this point? Well, it’s true. It also has too damn many characters, and it seems to arbitrarily introduce and get rid of them, and maybe if you’re Jonathan Franzen you’re familiar with them all, but I swear I’ve read this strip every day for years and this Queen Ida is new to me. I mean, yeah, ants have queens, and she’s a real queen, with a crown and a, um, robe and everything, but really: What the hell? I ask you.

This strip also offers a good example of a common comics misconception, which is that if you put two half-funny bits in a row in the same strip, you get an actually funny strip. Though “half-funny” might be too kind a description of the “Yankee Stadium” gag, or of the “then dig one” gag, which, I assume, against all logic, is the punchline.

And one last thing before I move on: What’s the deal with the “HBQBJ” thing at the bottom right of the third panel? Is it a secret code? A private joke? A Jesus thing? It’s a Jesus thing, isn’t it?

37 responses to “Ants and turtles and cavemen and (of course) Jesus”

  1. Johan
    December 4th, 2004 at 4:33 pm [Reply]

    Y’know, I saw that one in the paper, and I honestly didn’t understand a single bit of it. I read it again, and it still made zero logic to me.

    Now, the third time, seeing it here, reading what you had to say – now I /think/ I’m starting to grasp just what the HELL was going on in that.

    And no. It’s not funny.

    And as far as the “HBQBJ” thing goes, if we assume that the “Q” and the second “B” got reversed, then he wants to know “How to BBQ Jesus?”
    “Health Beauty Queen Brakes for Ju-ju beans?”
    “How Brown Quiche Beats Jalepenos?”

    It may indeed be one of those eternal mysteries. A google search for that term gives me three options (while google wonders if I’m horribly drunk or something, and meant to look up a “hobby.” None of these options are english; one is, apparently, someone’s email; another appears to be sheer jibberish, and the third wants to sell me a house for 120K EU.

    Fascination ensues.

  2. Johan
    December 4th, 2004 at 4:34 pm [Reply]

    …and yes, my punctuation was horrid. I’m watching football, sue me. :-P

  3. Tamex
    December 4th, 2004 at 4:57 pm [Reply]

    B.C. used to be a funny strip a long, long time ago. Once when I was a kid (in the mid-80′s, probably), I found a paperback of old B.C. strips (probably originally printed in the 60′s or 70′s) at a garage sale and I was amazed as to how funny they were, since the strips being printed at that time were generally pretty lame (and that was still when the religious strips were generally relegated to Palm Sunday or Easter.) The book also told you the names of the main characters (well, the male ones, anyway, since they are the only ones with real names) which is something I was never able to grasp from reading the comic itself.

  4. Michael Fry
    December 4th, 2004 at 5:21 pm [Reply]

    BC was very funny in the 60′s and early 70′s. I’m exactly the same age as Franzen (to the month) and I too enjoyed BC. It was very sarcastic and almost dark. The slide and eventual demise of BC neatly tracked with Mr. Hart’s quitting drinking and finding Jesus. A coincidence? Perhaps.

    Honey! Can you get me another beer?


  5. Editrix
    December 4th, 2004 at 5:22 pm [Reply]

    Maybe a it’s a secret message to his wife, Bobby: “Happy birthday, Queen Blowjob”? You can learn more about “the gray-haired ‘gag man’” in this article, where Hart talks about something he calls “plogging.”

  6. Dub Not Dubya
    December 4th, 2004 at 6:45 pm [Reply]

    No idea what HBQBJ means, but Queen Ida is the name of a popular Zydeco (Cajun) musician. (Google her for more information.) So I guess BC must actually be set in Louisiana. Learn something every day.

  7. Ian
    December 4th, 2004 at 10:58 pm [Reply]

    Hart is getting a religious message out there, but his time he’s playing it a little more clever.

    Look at the strip again. Only the last three panels are needed. The first panel is superfluous, but it mentions a birthday card (and which religious leader’s birthday is imminent?) By setting this theme up early, Hart can make the excuse that it was a long running gag, not a Christmas day message.

    One odd thing is the name “queen ida”. It’s an unnecesary thing to add. A loyal subject would just say “your majesty”
    The words “queen ida diamond” make up the latin phrase “quid domini dei” which sounds like “which god is lord?” in my crappy latin.

    Maybe somebody brainier than me can work something better out, but Hart is definitely up to SOMEthing.

  8. Bill A
    December 5th, 2004 at 1:57 pm [Reply]

    My guess is this is an inside-joke birthday strip written for some “Queen Ida” in Hart’s life. The dialogue is just too out-of-left field. The HBQBJ looks like it’s a message along the lines of “Happy Birthday Queen (BJ).” A quick check of shows Hart’s wife’s name is Bobby, so maybe her initials are BJ (Bobby Joe… Bobby Jean… Bobby Jesussaves… whatever).

  9. Ian
    December 5th, 2004 at 7:56 pm [Reply]

    Nice idea Bill, and good thinking. However, the “Happy Birthday Queen BJ” and the “Queen Ida” clash.

    In any case, he’s the boss of the strip, what’s to stop him just writing “happy birthday bonnie” in discreet letters as a present for his wife?

    Nah, with Hart it has to be something more religious.

  10. Neil
    December 5th, 2004 at 9:45 pm [Reply]

    Yes, I know it’s hard to believe but it used to be that BC was one of the funniest strips going. I have all of the old paperbacks and they still crack me up. Sadly, Johnny Hart went senile and/or got religious sometime back in the mid-late 80s and hasn’t been even mildly amusing since.

    I recall Queen Ida from one or two of the old strips as well, so she’s not exactly new but long forgotten.

  11. Ian
    December 6th, 2004 at 1:55 am [Reply]

    BC was certainly funny in the 70s, Wizard of Id too. I just re-read a collection of Peanuts from the late 70s, and it shows that these guys deserved their reputations as leaders in their field.

    Something went wrong about twenty years ago. Sparky did recover, and approached something like his old form afore he died, but Hart and Brant Parker continued to phone ‘em in.

  12. Andreas
    December 6th, 2004 at 6:23 pm [Reply]

    Hey, I’ve still got a collection of a more than a dozen BC Paperbacks; the’re second and third editions, the original publication dates range from 1958 (the year of my birth!) to 1970. Nowadays, I don’t bother to read the strip, though it may be because I overdosed on it.

  13. T
    December 7th, 2004 at 2:43 pm [Reply]

    Queen Ida used to be an ongoing thing, but when I saw this strip, I believe it was the first time I ever saw her drawn. Hart used to just bring her up in ant-conversations; she was a queen talked about, never seen.

    And yes, it used to be funny.

  14. Crank
    December 9th, 2004 at 3:09 pm [Reply]

    Yeah, I’ve got an old BC book somewhere, and the strip used to be funny. Nobody stays funny that long – even Schultz, the Connie Mack of cartoonists, was mostly living off his reputation after those first 30-odd years of genius. Sorta makes you appreciate guys like Larson and Watterson who quit too early.

    Granted, I was young then too, but Garfield was actually funny for the first year or two back when Davis was writing the thing himself and Garfield was shaped like a microwave oven. He was a bit more darkly misanthropic then, and the Odie gags were witty the first time (the “wow, a cat eats lasagna” joke was pretty lame even the first time).

  15. Anonymous
    December 10th, 2004 at 1:01 pm [Reply]

    “Sorta makes you appreciate guys like Larson and Watterson who quit too early.”

    Better to go out early and on top than to drag out a strip until the characters in it are begging you to kill them off.

    Or, in the case of Berke Breathed, bringing back the same tired strip twice. Outland disappeared because it was not funny and Opus is a rehash of that. I keep reading Opus hoping for a glimmer of what used to be but always walk away with a sense of deep disappointment.

  16. Chris Hansen
    December 12th, 2004 at 2:09 am [Reply]

    “Clams have feet!”

    As others have typed, it was funny years ago. Occasionally, it has a glimmer of funny but usually not.

    One of the running gags was the clams that tried to exist as sentients without being discovered. A bit difficult since the currency at the time was … clams.

  17. Charles
    January 14th, 2005 at 5:48 am [Reply]

    just to let you know, BC and Wizard of Id used to be funny. Check out the old books. It’s worth it.

  18. pam
    January 22nd, 2005 at 2:33 am [Reply]

    Check it out from the library! B.C. used to be funny, and not Jeebus-driven or rightwing-oriented at all. Wiley used to be a snarky grouch, not a prostheletyzer. No stars from the East ever appeared in the December sky. The characters acted like cavemen, as it were (albeit cavemen who speak standard English and meet dinosaurs). Fat Broad used to pound this snake every time she saw it. It was a running gag that I found very funny, along the lines of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown – a unique gag for its time.

  19. Dominic Sayers
    January 25th, 2005 at 4:44 am [Reply]

    7 results on Google for HBQBJ, 4 from this site. The other 3 don’t shed any light on the matter.

  20. Kandin Teh Mandin
    January 25th, 2005 at 5:45 pm [Reply]

    Up until today, all I had experienced of B.C. and Wizard of Id was old anthologies, as they don’t publish in newspapers in New Zealand, so, logically, I thought the strips would still be funny today. I got here from a link from, who recommended the BC section ‘for Josh realising it isn’t actually funny.’ I was shocked when I read this. Needless to say, I now see the comment is justified. Ah, for the golden age of comic strips.

  21. Nick
    January 26th, 2005 at 12:40 am [Reply]

    Happy birthday Queen(?) baby Jesus?

    But yeah these B.C. comics make absolutely no sense.

  22. Steve Rogers
    March 21st, 2005 at 6:59 pm [Reply]

    Johnny Hart’s B.C. comic was pretty funny in the 60’s and 70’s, ran out of steam in the 80’s, and became distinctly unfunny and nonsensical Christian propaganda in the 90’s. He told Today’s Christian in 1997 that “I find myself trying to put the gospel into practically every strip I create.” But the 3/21/05 strip beginning “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” with the punch line “Church and State, that’s who!” is really beyond the pale. Not only is it offensive to many, it speciously implies that a Christian theocracy is the best path for our nation. It’s time to take B.C. off the comic page.

  23. Spugnology
    April 8th, 2005 at 10:03 am [Reply]

    I scarcely pay attention to post-70′s B.C. strips, but way back in the day, Queen Ida was referred to but never seen. The first mention I can find of her comes in a mid-70s strip where an ant plants a flag on a lump on the ground and claims it “in the name of her majesty, Queen Ida!”

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  26. Cate
    December 5th, 2006 at 3:06 pm [Reply]

    HBQI – Johnny Hart cartoon.

    You posed this question years ago as did I, as my birthday is the same as Queen Ida’s. One of his daughter’s wrote to me explaining that it was an homage to her mother on her birthday. Not a Jesus thing.

  27. Joe Bftsplk
    July 10th, 2007 at 12:18 am [Reply]

    Don’t mind me, denizens of the year 2004; I’ve just time-traveled randomly back to this thread to try out some basic HTML comment stuff. Damn, it’s a B.C. thread… Yes, there was a time long ago, a time which I can actually remember, when B.C. was good, but we’d have to travel much farther back into the temporal mist to get there. Oh well. In the future – where I’m from, you see – Johnny Hart is DEAD. I’m not sayin’ that that’s good news, or bad. Just letting you all know.


    This should make a link to the future thread.

    Testing some other stuff:
    <less than / greater than characters>

    Now I see that with the Preview function, I don’t actually have to post this. But I will anyway.

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  35. The Archive Binge: Six Years Later
    January 20th, 2010 at 12:07 pm [Reply]

    What is anon on about?

  36. newday
    May 17th, 2010 at 4:00 am [Reply]

    I never understood why Hart didn’t just write a separate strip to discuss religious themes. Both strips would have done better, and he would have sold a lot of calanders and greeting cards with the spin-off.

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