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Inspirational Reads

While We're All Somber...

April 19, 2007

...I thought I'd write a little bit about a couple of legends and personal heroes that we've lost over the past few weeks: Kurt Vonnegut and Johnny Hart.

Vonnegut died April 11th at the age of 84. I've never taken the time to sit down and read an entire Vonnegut novel, but I'm familiar enough with his work that I've always admired it. One of the themes that constantly appeared in his works was what we now would call 'science fiction', but was largely looked at as being just a bit 'out there' at the time of publishing. In this way, I feel he was one of the pioneers of the genre; perhaps not a founding father like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne (and definitely not THE father, like Tolkien is considered for modern fantasy literature), but he was unquestionably before his time. Perhaps one of the most interesting concepts for a book that I've ever heard of was the plotline for Timequake, which was recommended to me many years ago and I still haven't picked up. However, once I'm finished with Tad Williams' newest offering (and writing my own...), I'm planning on finally following through on the recommendation.

Vonnegut was born and raised in Indianapolis, which is one of the reasons that I admire him. Despite the city and the state's clear difference with his political and religious beliefs, he always loved Indianapolis and Indiana. When asked, after living in New York for over 30 years, if he was a New Yorker or a Hoosier, he quickly responded "Hoosier" before the rest of the question was finished. I feel much the same way. I may have left the state, but the state has never left me. His pithy social commentary as well as his well-planned stories has made him an icon. But, my favorite memory of Vonnegut will always be his ability to make fun of himself in the movie "Back to School." I'm not a big Rodney Dangerfield fan (of course, no one was...zing!), but when Vonnegut showed up in the movie and then wrote a paper about himself (which subsequently got a failing grade), it showed that here was a man considered by many to be a social and cultural icon who could still come down out of the tower for a while and take a jab at himself, which I think is an applaudable, terribly human quality.

Johnny Hart died the night before Easter. Fittingly, he was sitting at his drawing board, working on another comic. He was 76. Hart was creator of two of my all time favorite daily comics: B.C. and Wizard of Id, the latter being a co-creation with friend Brant Parker. I've appreciated both of them over the years for their sociopolitical commentary as well as their bad puns. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for a truly offal pun. The stinkier, the better. Ahem.

Hart might best be remembered for his strongly Christian cartoons that would run around the major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, especially in the Sunday papers. Often, it was amazing to see how well a story could be put together in a few colored frames. B.C. was often more overtly Christianed in theme. I'm not sure if he meant it to be that way, since the cast of B.C. should have been alive over a million years before Christ showed up, making it all the more ironically amusing. However, even now, I can't make it through the day properly without first checking out the latest installment of both B.C. and Wizard of Id. Fortunately, Hart had several strips already drawn and saved and his family has promised to help keep the strip going strong, even in the wake of his death, so I can go on for several more years drinking my morning coffee and smiling over today's punny comic.

Here's to Vonnegut and Hart: two men who will definitely be missed around here. *pours out a little beer for both*

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