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Monday, March 3, 2014

COMIC BOOK COMPULSIVE Large Feature Comic #11 — Barney Google and Snuffy Smith

I didn’t actually read Snuffy Smith in the comic strip section of my hometown paper the Akron Beacon Journal growing up, but I was always vaguely aware of  the fantastically lazy, unemployable and unlikable miniature grotesque mountaineer and his strained marital relations with a much bigger spouse.  To my mind it was just a rural version of Andy Capp, another strip that appeared in the Beacon I was more vaguely aware of than actually read. I never gave it’s rustic setting a second thought seeing as how the 1960′s was a veritable Hillbilly Renaissance; CBS’s prime-time schedule was front-loaded with hillbilly themed programs (Hee-Haw, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, etc.).  Back then the strip looked like this:

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Even at an early age I found Snuffy’s predictable antics barren at best, and never dreamt the strip had been around for decades under the name Barney Google, a much different and, to my mind, far better strip.  The creation of the incredibly talented Billy DeBeck it was one of those early comic strips that was insanely popular, dominating every aspect of popular culture, but is probably best remembered for the popular ditty “Barney Google Song” , a.k.a.  ”Barney Google (Foxtrot)”,  which had the haunting refrain “Barney Google—with the goo-goo-googly eyes!’ 

BillyDeBeck_OurFirstFamilyReunion_1930s_100

Over the years I finally was able to read chunks of Barney Google in collections and old comic books but I never got the chance to read it on a regular basis, which was, I told myself, the reason why I could certainly admire the skill behind the strip I never actually warmed to it.  Oh I admired the hell out of Billy DeBeck’s work,but contrarian son of a bitch that I am, felt his signature creation wasn’t Barney or Snuffy, but Bunky, the super intelligent baby who became the star of “Parlor, Bedroom and Bath”, the strip which for years and years literally topped the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith Sunday strips.  Your opinion may differ but if you want to see it for yourself you can check it out here: http://jeffoverturf.blogspot.com/2010/06/nemo-3-billy-deback-and-parlor-bedroom.html

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The 1930′s was another decade when Americans became over fascinated with hillbilly culture and while visiting the tiny Blue Mountain community of Hootin’ Holler Barney was introduced to his cousin Sniffy Smith.  And for reasons yet to be discovered in spite of his distaste and distrust of big city ways the tiny moonshiner abandoned his wife and child  for long periods of time to mooch off of Barney’s meager opportunities.  In their fairly squalid adventures Snuffy attempted to deal with urban life; hilarity supposedly ensued, but I’ve pretty much got to take their word for it because I for one just don’t “get” the appeal of Snuffy Smith.   And I’ve really tried; thanks to the King Features website, comicskingdom.com (who, unbeknownst to them, provided me with the “after and before” examples of the strip seen above) I’ve steadily been working my way through 1939 for almost a year now and I just flat out don’t see the funny.  Maybe it’s just that humor about “hillbillies” (like, say tramps) is just one of those things that just don’t age very well.  And I must confess I also find Snuffy’s mountain patois for the most part to be impenetrable gibberish.  But, mainly, I just don’t find a homicidal maniac with a hair trigger  who’s also a serial philanderer to be all that funny and frankly can’t understand why America did.  It just doesn’t make sense, unless Snuffy was using his magical “eyeball” (basically an evil eye) to convince a generation of readers they just couldn’t do without the desperate antics of an insufferable douchebag.

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Like most comic strip creators at the time DeBeck must have felt a lot of pressure to get a least one of his major characters into uniform, in spite of the fact both Barney and Snuffy were both obviously too old, undersized and otherwise demonstratively unfit for military duty.  With Snuffy being the most popular he got the nod and I have to hand it to DeBeck; he found a way to get a character so thoroughly repellent and antiauthoritarian  (in a lot of ways Snuffy Smith was a proto-punk) involved in standard Army Game antics without “rehabilitating” him in any way.  And where before Snuffy would settle problems with either physical violence or barely understandable invective here he schemes his way around the rules, revealing a keen intellect.  And I bet the newly conscripted servicemen must have just loved it

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Believe it or not Snuffy even made it to the movies in the remarkably named Hillbilly Blitzkrieg.  See for yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kSygSx1OGQ

Hillbilly-Blitzkrieg-(1942)-picture-MOV_29d8322e_b


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3 Responses to “COMIC BOOK COMPULSIVE Large Feature Comic #11 — Barney Google and Snuffy Smith”

  1. Larry Rippee Says:

    Thank for the great Barney Google and Snuffy Smith post.

    Many, many, moons ago I acquired a 1941 Barney Google original from the sequence you have on display here.

    I noticed that my original wasn’t signed by Debeck (consistent with the dailies posted here staring around January 20 of 1941). The drawing style—although certainly more than competent– didn’t have the exuberance of Debeck.

    All of this aroused my curiosity at the time so I asked Bill Blackbeard about this. He told me that Debeck wouldn’t sign pieces he didn’t work on.

    Which suggested my original was by a ghost artist. There were a few likely suspects –Fred Laswell, Paul Fung, Joe Musial.

    The whole thing remained a mystery for me for a couple of decades.
    The answer finally came by way of Brian Walker’s book “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith”.

    Walker says about this early 1941 series: “This six-week episode was written and drawn entirely by Fred Laswell—his first “solo” assignment.”

    So for the latter half of this story, DeBeck simply handed the whole thing over to Laswell. (Of course Laswell later took formal control of the strip after DeBeck’s death in 1942).

    Again, thanks for posting. It was great to finally get a chance to read the full continuity.

    -Larry Rippee

  2. Steve Bennett Says:

    Thanks for the comment — and the information. I’m always ready to be educated.
    Steve Bennett

  3. ethan young Says:

    Parlor, Bedroom & Sink is a parody of Little Orphan Annie. Think about it.

    In the late 60s there was a singing group called Bunky & Jake – their first lp was ‘For Heaven’s Sake.’ They were pretty good, with a minor hit called ‘Uncle Henry’s Basement.”

I.T.C.H is looking forward to your thoughts. Please, no flame. Thanks!

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