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