Barney Google Is 100 Years Old
And We Join John Rose in Celebrating the Occasion
IN THE YEAR 2019, swarming with anniversaries, the granddaddy of them all in comic strips this year is Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, which hit its 100th birthday anniversary on June 17. I intended to post a sample of the strip’s celebration in June, but the firewall at King Features website is impenetrable. I couldn’t steal—er, appropriate—a single sample. So we did little more than take note at the time. Then John Rose, who is the current master of the fates of Barney and Snuffy, heard about my frustration and arranged with King for me to post the entire two-and-a-half-week festivity. Which we’ll do in a trice.
So rare is the occasion that only one other comic strip can match Barney Google’s record: Gasoline Alley passed its century mark just a short year ago. We applauded the current Gas Alley mechanic, Jim Scancarelli, in his memorializing jubilee, which he began in the summer of 2018 when Walt Wallet visits the Old Comic Characters Retirement Home for a birthday party. The party lasted until the actual birthday on November 24.
arranges for Barney and Snuffy to show up to help with the excitements: they
remind the assembled multitude that their 100th anniversary is just
a year in the future. And then Snuffy starts throwing custard pies, and the
jubilee descends into a brief melee, custard pie throwing being the classic
feature of slapstick comedy on every stage where it is conducted.
For the history of Gasoline Alley, however, visit Harv’s Hindsight for November 2008. Scancarelli has now been doing the strip for 33 years, surpassing the 30-year mark left by his predecessor, Dick Moores, who inherited the strip from Frank King, its originator, who ran the Alley for 51 years (or 42 years, if you discount the years Moores was doing the strip over King’s signature).
The full, exhaustive history of Barney Google is unveiled at Harv’s Hindsight for December 2009. We’ll hit the high spots here by way of jogging your memory before we join the anniversary party.
Originated by cartoonist Billy DeBeck on June 17, 1919, the strip was called Take Barney Google, For Instance at first, briefly, before skimming off just the essential Barney Google alone. Then on July 17, 1922, the eponymous Barney acquires a race horse named Spark Plug, and the sad-faced nag, most of whose anatomy is hidden underneath a moth-eaten shroud-like horse blanket, became, as Brian Walker once put it, the Snoopy of the Roaring Twenties. Strange as it seems, Spark Plug actually won some of his races—and kept us all in suspense for weeks before every one of them.
Then in the fall of 1934, Barney inherits property in the mountains of North Carolina, and when he goes there to inspect the inheritance, he encounters a cantankerous hillbilly named Snuffy Smith and his wife Loweezy and an ensemble of picturesque characters with chin whiskers and big floppy-brimmed hats. After that, most of DeBeck’s stories were set in an imaginary Appalachian community called Hootin’ Holler. And by the end of the decade, the strip was entitled Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, a title that has endured until this very day.
DeBeck died in November 1942, and the strip fell happily into the hands of a Southern hayseed personality, Fred Lasswell, who had been assisting DeBeck since about 1934. Lasswell (known as “Uncle Fred” to legions of cartoonists) continued for almost 60 years, a record matched only by Jim Russell, an Australian cartoonist who, at the time of Lasswell’s death, had been producing The Potts for 62 years. Here’s a sample of Lasswell’s work from 1969.
When Lasswell died March 4, 2001, the strip was taken on by John Rose, an editorial cartoonist who had been assisting since 1998, inking Lasswell’s penciled pictures.
Lasswell had concentrated on Snuffy Smith, leaving Barney Google alone for long periods (bringing him back into the strip only rarely “for the old folks,” he said), but Rose began to bring Barney on stage about once a year.
And for the 100th anniversary sequence, Barney is the star for the entire 2 ½ week run, as you can see from the ensuing strips, the whole magilla, in which Barney encounters, via Rose’s delicious deployment (and at least one really good bad pun), what might well be the entire roster of King Features characters.
And with that, we’ll leave the celebration where we found it, having enjoyed every panel of Rose’s artful assembling of King Features personnel to join in the fun. How many can you name? Go back and look.