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The Flowers are a Riot of Color ... and the Courtyard is a Riot of Peasants
March 28, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

In the summer of 1968, Jim Henson met Johnny Hart, the co-creator The Wizard of Id. The comic had been syndicated in US papers since 1964, and Henson and Hart discussed making a TV show based on the comic, featuring puppets by Henson and co. In early 1969, a short test pilot was shot and shopped around the TV networks. Over a year later, ABC supported the idea of a feature-length film, but by this time, Henson was busy with Sesame Street and other Muppet productions, so the program was scrapped. Earlier this month, the Henson Company posted the short test pilot on YouTube.

MuppetWiki has a bit more information.

If you're looking for more of the Wizard, John Hart Studios has full-color archives online, going back to October 2007, and Comic Strip Archive has an archive back to 2001, but the dailies are in black and white.
posted by filthy light thief (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember liking Wizard of Id back in the day. Way more than B.C., anyway, which often veered into Mallard Fillmore-ish territory.
posted by kmz at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2011


Michelle Malkin is a fan of Wiley's leaden Christian poetry. They both have hydrophobia, so perhaps that explains the sympathy.
posted by benzenedream at 10:36 AM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I never much cared for Wizard of Id, although at least its predictable Jesus-y-ness around the holidays made sense given the setting, as opposed to B.C. (Seriously guys the title of your frickin' strip means 'Before Christ,' why do your characters know what Easter is?) That said, Muppets can atone for a great many sins.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well now, that was terribly unfunny. Even Henson's warm blanket of a voice couldn't save it.
posted by item at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had no idea there was any religious or political crap in those strips. I usually skipped Id and BC because they weren't funny to me.
Interesting team up, but the material didn't seem string enough for Henson.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, from what I recall Johnny Hart got super-religious at some point and it showed in his comics. I think there was even one on Easter that was widely accused of being anti-Semitic.
posted by Melismata at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2011


ON APRIL 3RD, THE DEEPER YO[MUTE]

Before Hart found Jeebus B.C. was considered one of the better strips on the comics page, miles better than stuff like Blondie or Snuffy Smith. It's had a good number of published compilations over the years, and no fewer than two TV adaptations, including one voiced by Bob and Ray. But as with so many other things, once the creator decided he had a religious responsibility the quality went downhill, while the smug factor shot up.
posted by JHarris at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2011


It's not surprising that Malkin is a Hart fan. "He did not hesitate to express his religious views in other forums, telling the Washington Post in a 1999 interview, "Jews and Muslims who don't accept Jesus will burn in hell," and "Homosexuality is the handiwork of Satan," and "The end of the world is approaching, maybe by the year 2010."" (link)
posted by wadefranklin at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2011


Yeah, from what I recall Johnny Hart got super-religious at some point and it showed in his comics. I think there was even one on Easter that was widely accused of being anti-Semitic.

Ah yes, the notorious "menorah" strip.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2011


I think in the end, no matter what your religious or political views are, getting Sesame Street means we got the better end of the deal than the Earth Prime where they got the Wizard of Id show.
posted by kmz at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


God, those jokes are terrible. Horrible, horrible writing. I'd like to say Johnny Hart was the last of the terrible comic writer that were killed off by more sophisticated audiences and more competition to get the few remaining strips in the few remaining newspapers, but nope, there's the same shit still getting turned out day after day.
posted by GuyZero at 11:04 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Menorah strip was followed by the Islam Outhouse strip, just to make sure Muslims didn't feel left out.

Scientologists will have to settle for his theories on clams.
posted by delfin at 11:10 AM on March 28, 2011


kmz, I gotta agree. Even though this test pilot was from BC (before convictions, which happened in 1977), it was weird hearing Wizard of Id-style jokes coming from Muppet-like characters, complete with those familiar voices and mannerisms. The jokes are the typical smirk-worthy plays on words from Id, not even to the level of Statler and Waldorf.

Fun fact: this was the first time that Jim Henson worked with distinct characters created by someone else. The second was in 1977, with Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:11 AM on March 28, 2011


That Islam strip is repugnant.

The "menorah" strip is not particularly awful (to me), but I can see why reasonable people would disagree.

The funny-to-unfunny ratio of comics in newspapers is sad, but the moldy oldies (Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, Ziggy, Hagar, etc.) are never going away. The demographic that loves newspapers is the same demographic that loves these strips: older readers.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2011


I have to say the Islam strip was at least clever in trying to be subtle.
posted by GuyZero at 11:20 AM on March 28, 2011


Boy that king was a jerk!

there's the same shit still getting turned out day after day.

Shoe
posted by mrgrimm at 11:25 AM on March 28, 2011


GuyZero: "I have to say the Islam strip was at least clever in trying to be subtle."

I would agree with you if the joke made sense in any non-bigoted way. Subtext requires, you know, text.
posted by brundlefly at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2011


But was this written by Hart? I think it's a just a quick proof of concept thrown together by Henson and his people, to show the TV networks what the puppets would look like on television. And imo, they're not as cool as Muppets. The Wizard is okay, but Spook is a monster instead of a seedy looking human, and the King is just... weird. It's sort of the reverse of the uncanny valley, seeing something so stylized and spare reproduced in the real world, with solidity and differential lighting.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:27 AM on March 28, 2011


I would agree with you if the joke made sense in any non-bigoted way. Subtext requires, you know, text.

The joke is that shit stinks which, as far as Hart's jokes go, is really close to being funny.
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2011


Nowadays, yeah. He used to be funny.
posted by brundlefly at 11:37 AM on March 28, 2011


He used to be funny.

Hm. *cocks eyebrow dubiously*

I require proof.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:45 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, needs more Bung.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:45 AM on March 28, 2011


You could boil down The Wizard of Id and BC into a couple of decent books by taking the best strips from the first ten years or so of each and discarding everything else. But both features go on and on forever, long past the point where anyone still reading them ever knew they were supposed to be funny. They're just newspaper rituals now, something to focus bleary eyes on while eating breakfast. Not as upsetting as the headlines, and slightly more interesting than the classified ads.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:49 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to comment on the lame-ness of today's comics, but figured that 1) you're living under a rock if you don't know that reading Garfield is like pouring lemon juice on a cut, and 2) newspapers are going away anyway, so who cares.
posted by Melismata at 11:58 AM on March 28, 2011


Yeah, imagine an alternate universe where someone like Berke Breathed kept on drawing long after his "prime" in the '80s.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2011


Throughout the 70's, B.C. and Wizard of ID paperbacks were best sellers for a reason. They were funny, but like so many legacy strips, there have been decades of weak material that overwhelms the actual worthy material.
posted by jkosmicki at 12:18 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Henson could make even a mundane IBM promotional film seem sort of up-to-date and cool (with Raymond Scott scoring it, no less), so it's telling that this pilot is as bad as it is.
posted by sonascope at 12:49 PM on March 28, 2011




Does anyone have samples of the old BC and Wizard of Id strips? I've heard "They used to be awesome" before but have been unable to find examples.
posted by schroedinger at 2:09 PM on March 28, 2011


A funny theory I once heard about B.C. and the weird Christian stuff was that it wasn't anachronistic, because B.C. isn't really about the distant past—it's about an apocalyptic future, where we've all been bombed back to the stone age. In that context, it makes a little bit more sense.
posted by sonascope at 2:45 PM on March 28, 2011


it's about an apocalyptic future

That explains the dinosaur fighting the whale strip then.
posted by GuyZero at 3:08 PM on March 28, 2011


Well, given that a particular B.C. strip referred to "an old science magazine from back in 2004..."
posted by delfin at 3:53 PM on March 28, 2011


Mutants! Maybe the apocalypse destroyed everything but Las Vegas, leaving desert animals (plus the occasional whale from a water show), broken down alcoholics and bar flies to repopulate the world.

I like that Kricfalusi blog post. Rat Pack cartoons is a pretty good description, although I hope he's wrong about them portraying the way the real world works.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:55 PM on March 28, 2011


Oh yeah, and those clams. Escapees from an irradiated buffet, no doubt.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:03 PM on March 28, 2011


I wouldn't say old B.C. was quite "awesome", but the early strips actually built a self-consistent little caveman world out of very minimalist elements, so it was pretty sharp that way. Always super sexist of course.
posted by furiousthought at 4:25 PM on March 28, 2011


I remember having this BC paperback when I was like 5, in the '70s. It's funny now because it reminds me that the word "dip" used to be an insult. I can remember my sisters saying things like "don't be such a dip!" As we got older it morphed into "dipshit."

Anyone remember the adult muppets on the first season of SNL, The Land of Gorch?
posted by puny human at 5:53 PM on March 28, 2011


What about "American's Next Muppet?" I wish that Jim Henson's company would release the pilot, which was shot at Raliegh Studios in Hollywood in July, 2004. How awesome would it be to see THAT!
posted by Strawman at 6:57 PM on March 28, 2011


Rat Pack cartoons is a pretty good description, although I hope he's wrong about them portraying the way the real world works.

John K. is a bit opinionated. He knows his stuff, but he's not a friendly liberal type, hence the disparaging remark about "hippies." (I guess some people never quite got over the 60s.)
posted by JHarris at 7:44 PM on March 28, 2011


Netflix is streaming (some of) the first season of SNL - it seems so different, so rough compared to the current material. I'm too young to have experienced it first-hand, and the only Gorch clip I could find is this song with Lily Tomlin and Scred singing 'I Got You Babe'. The audio is a bit weird, and the video is washed out, but it's not bad.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:21 PM on March 28, 2011


And it seems that America's Next Muppet never made it past the "test pilot" phase, so it might only be a really short clip, like the Wizard of Id clip in the OP. If you're looking for spoof clips, there's a Henson Company playlist featuring spoofs of Antiques Road Show, The Hills, Super Nanny, dating reality shows, and Hells Kitchen. I think my favorite of the bunch is the Antiques spoof, as the rest are a bit too close to the obnoxious reality of reality TV.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:34 PM on March 28, 2011


Boy that king was a jerk!

Fink! The king is a fink!
posted by malocchio at 6:40 AM on March 29, 2011


I was going to comment on the lame-ness of today's comics, but figured that 1) you're living under a rock if you don't know that reading Garfield is like pouring lemon juice on a cut, and 2) newspapers are going away anyway, so who cares.

Today's comics aren't bad at all. When I was growing up, Garfield was one of the better comics. Family Circle, Marmaduke, Ziggy, Beetle Bailey, Id, BC, Mary Worth, Apartment 3G, Dick Tracy, Marvin, Momma, Frank and Ernest, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith... (I believe all of those comics still exist?) ... Drabble?

Nowadays, at least there's Pearls Before Swine.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:21 AM on March 29, 2011


So... This Islam strip. It's about Islam because of... The moon? I Googled to try and find some reason for the outrage about it, and it seems like people are saying "The strip wasn't funny, so it *must* have been a secret slam against Islam!" - that seems absolutely ridiculous to me. Maybe my cynicism about the comics page has gotten the better of me, but I read that comic and thought "Wow, a poop joke. That sounds like the typical unfunny garbage that most syndicated strips are pumping out these days"
posted by antifuse at 12:39 PM on March 29, 2011


Ahhh - another article posits that the "Slam" of him slamming the door is actually hinting at the missing "I" at the beginning of the word. WOW.
posted by antifuse at 12:41 PM on March 29, 2011


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