The Wizard of Id’s co-creator Brant Parker has died at 86, a week after the strip’s writer Johnny Hart also died. I might not have been marking their passing if it weren’t for the fact that I grew up in a time and place owned by Parker and Hart: The Wizard of Id was the only daily strip carried by The Mercury, the daily newspaper of southern Tasmania, throughout the 1970s and 1980s; the only strip of any kind that it carried for most of that time, in fact. That and its editorial cartoonist Kev Bailey were the only regular exposure to newspaper cartooning we had. Not for us, the glory days of Peanuts or the early days of Calvin and Hobbes—let alone anything Australian. We didn’t even get those first few months of Garfield that were actually any good. It was just Rodney, the Wizard, Blanch, Bung, Spook, and the fink. No wonder I used to marvel at the luxurious comics supplements of the Sunday papers on visits to my grandparents in Sydney.
Looking around the web now I’m finding vilification for the Wiz, but after such long childhood exposure you couldn’t help liking it. After all, the early 1980s was when it was still winning awards for best American strip. True, it was hit and miss, but some of its hits made for sharp little satires on politics and government. (I have no idea if the hits have kept coming in the decade since Parker handed the strip to his son.)
An Australian publisher used to put out large-format collections of The Wizard of Id on cheap newsprint priced within range of teenage pocket-money, and I still have a bunch of them. B.C. was available the same way, and also seemed entertaining at the time, though I don’t know how it would read now. Hart may in later years have become a crank writing jokes below his best, but in his prime he was the comic-strip equivalent of those sharp sitcoms of the 1970s that are still fondly remembered but don’t stand up to fresh viewing today. Even Peanuts towards the end was a far cry from Schulz’s prime of the late ’60s and early ’70s. I prefer to ignore the elder Hart’s proselytizing and remember his goofy caveman jokes of old, the same way I still have a fondness for Parker’s hairy prisoner Spook. So farewell, Parker and Hart.
(And yes, there really was a brief period when Garfield was actually good, and my brother has the cheap newsprint collection to prove it. In the strip’s early months he was an apathetic cynic the size of a sack of potatoes whose pastimes were torturing his owner’s dog and hating on Nermal, “the world’s cutest kitten”. A few years later, Garfield had been re-drawn to exactly the same size and shape as Nermal, making all of the diet jokes utterly pointless—which wouldn’t have been so bad if those hadn’t become all of the jokes.)