We are back once again True Believers, but not from our super secret headquarters in a far, distant and unknown land, today we have sent our field correspondent Bubblefox from Jon Esparza off to the legendary Hootin’ Holler to talk to our good friend and Root Beer Party Member John Rose on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith this year on June 17. Catch up with the latest Snuffy Smith and Barney Google here:
Over to you Bubblefox:
Bubblefox: “We are live here at Hootin’ Holler awaiting the arrival of Barney Google who is expected any day now for his annual visit to his good friends Snuffy and Loweezy Smith. We are talking today to the man behind the mythos, a third generation comic creator John Rose to find out all about the planned festivities.”
Question 1: Can you tell us about your personal journey in taking over Barney Google & Snuffy Smith back in 2001?
I had been Fred Lasswell’s inking assistant for three and a half years. When Fred passed away in 2001, I was offered an audition by Jay Kennedy, the late, great longtime editor at King Features. He auditioned four or five other people and apparently liked my work the best. Jay offered me the job to be the cartoonist for Barney Google and Snuffy Smith and with that, he made all my professional dreams come true. With this job came the responsibility to carry on a tremendous legacy that I do my best to uphold each day, while also injecting a little bit of myself into it as well. I am bodaciously thankful for the two giants that came before me, Billy DeBeck and Fred Lasswell, and I will also be forever grateful to Jay Kennedy for the opportunity he and King Features gave me.
(Fred Lasswell with Ol’ Snuffy)
Question 2: What can you tell us about Billy DeBeck and the creation of the comic strip?
When DeBeck created the comic strip in June of 1919, it appeared in the Chicago Herald and Examiner newspaper. It was picked up for syndication by King Features later that same year. Initially it centered on Barney and his wife, and the strip was successful. But the comic strip began to soar in popularity after Barney’s wife sued him for divorce and DeBeck introduced Spark Plug the horse. At that point, the strip became a continuity as well, and I’ve heard that readers sat on the edge of their seats waiting to read about the adventures of Barney and Spark Plug in the newspaper each day! Then in 1934, when the strip began to drop a bit in popularity, DeBeck introduced Snuffy and Loweezy Smith, and over time, Snuffy’s popularity eclipsed Barney’s.
(Billy Debeck hard at work and looking out for his fans.)
Question 3: What can you tell us about Fred Lasswell and his time creating the strip?
Fred was a great man, an incredibly talented cartoonist, a wonderful teacher and the guiding force behind Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for 55 years (not counting the many years he worked as an assistant to Billy DeBeck). He really developed Snuffy Smith and created almost all of the residents of Hootin’ Holler that are still so popular today. He had a wonderful sense of humor and could really light up a room with his personality. He was a brilliant artist and inventor, definitely a man ahead of his time.
Question 4: What has been your creative approach towards guiding this comic into the future?
I truly love creating this comic strip each and every day. Creatively, I try to stay true to all the characters and their personalities, most of which were created before me. Having characters that readers can relate to and enjoy spending time with each day is the secret of a successful comic strip in my opinion.
Question 5: At 100 years old Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have seen many changes. How has the strip adapted over the years to remain relevant to generations of comic fans?
We mention many of the changes here in this interview. For example, it started out as a strip about a man and his wife. It then became about a man and his race horse, and then about that same man and his hillbilly friend Snuffy Smith who eventually became the star of the feature. In addition, for a number of years, it also focused on these two men being in the service — one was in the Army and one in the Navy. It may seem like not a lot changes in Hootin’ Holler, but small, gradual changes do happen over time. One change I did make many years ago was to make the characters literate. I felt that was important in today’s world.
Question 6: What is your best memory of working with Fred Lasswell?
Even though Fred was an older gentleman when I worked for him, he was very much into technology. In addition to creating the comic strip, he did these wonderful videos for children where he taught them how to draw cartoons. He had several videos, but in 1999 or 2000, he created one in DVD format. He was truly a man ahead of his time because I think this was when DVDs were just starting to come out. He called me and said he had created this children’s DVD and he wanted to send me a copy, have me look at it and tell him what I thought. Then he asked, “You do have a DVD player, don’t you?” And I answered, “Sure, yeah, uh…I have one!” But, of course I didn’t. So, I ran right out that afternoon and bought one. I think we were the first family on our block with a DVD player! Ha, ha! Fred was a great man in so many ways. I am bodaciously blessed to have known him and gotten to work with him. If he liked what I did, he would say something like, “That’s fine as a frog’s hair!” If he didn’t, he’d say something like, “What are you doing? Looking out the window?” Ha, ha!
Question 7: How are you preparing Snuffy and the whole gang for the next hundred years and the changing place and distribution of comics for the next century?
I think Barney, Snuffy and the gang from Hootin’ Holler will be around for many, many more years and be a part of whatever the popular platform for comics is at the time! King Features has a really great grasp on the digital side of things, and I am very thankful for that. I am definitely looking forward to Barney’s and Snuffy’s next 100 years!
Question 8: What is your most memorable fan interaction?
Fans of this comic strip are truly wonderful people and they have been very kind to me. I have had many fun fan interactions since 2001, but here are two that stand out. Over the years, I have had many fans tell me that they were nicknamed Snuffy or Tater after the characters in the comic strip. But after doing a Snuffy Smith Chalk Talk in eastern Tennessee several years ago, I had three women come up to me after the presentation and tell me they were nicknamed “Loweezy” after Loweezy Smith! The second interaction I wanted to mention happened when I was doing a book signing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An older fan of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith came up to buy a book and told me he had a gift he wanted to give me. He said he was growing older and wanted to pass this item along to me. He proceeded to hand me an old songsheet (still in great shape) of the hit novelty song from 1923 “Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)”. I was stunned! I gave him a signed book with a sketch of Snuffy Smith inside for free, needless to say!
Question 9: What is your favorite piece of memorabilia that you have seen from Barney Google and Snuffy Smith?
That’s a tough one. I love collecting Barney Google and Snuffy Smith items that I find for sale. It’s tough to choose, but I’ll go with this one–a Snuffy Smith ceramic planter from the 1940s that my wife Karen found on eBay and gave to me as a gift. Instead of putting a plant in it, I put my pens and brushes in it and use it every day.
Question 10: Since you brought him back, are you planning a return of Barney Google to the forefront of the comic strip or has Snuffy finally won out?
I really enjoy bringing Barney Google and Spark Plug back for visits. These visits occur several times a year and are usually week-long stints at a time, but sometimes longer. I have made him a semi-regular character again and I think it will probably stay that way for a while. Snuffy likes being in the spotlight, unless it’s when he’s trying to steal chickens at night!
Question 11: Since Barney Google and his horse Spark Plug have song written for them, is there any plan for an updated theme song for Snuffy Smith?
Not that I know of, but that would be fun! Well, it would be fun as long as I don’t have to sing it, of course! Trust me, no one would want to hear that! In 1963 there were some animated Snuffy Smith cartoons produced by Paramount that had a catchy little theme song. It went something like this:
Uh-uh-oh! Great balls o’ fire, I’m bodacious!
Uh-uh-oh! Great balls o’ fire, I’m a fright!
Uh-uh-oh! Great balls o’ fire, goodness gracious!
I’m chop-chop-chop-chop-choppin’ with all o’ my might—YEA!
Question 12: Will we ever see the return of “The Order of the Brotherhood of Billy Goats” or “The Sisterhood of Nanny Goats”?
That might not be a baaaaaaaaa-d idea! Ha, ha! I will have to think about it.
Question 13: Now that Snuffy has turned 100, will we finally learn “What did the Doodle-Bug Say?”
I don’t know, I’ll have to check with Snuffy, the Royal Doodle-Bug himself!
(The famous catch-phrase was an homage to L. Frank Baum’s famous book)
Question 14: Do you ever pay homage to DeBeck’s other comics Bughouse Fables or Bunky in the series?
Not at this time, but I wouldn’t ever rule it out. I do enjoy bringing back characters that appeared in our comic strip long ago and reintroducing them to our readers. For example, in 2018, I brought back Snuffy’s Paw who had not appeared in the comic strip in many, many years. And now he shows up from time to time and has fun being a grandpaw to Tater and Jughaid.
Question 15: Is there any plans for a year-by-year collection of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comics, like they did with Peanuts or Garfield?
As part of the comic strip’s centennial anniversary, IDW is publishing a book entitled Barney Google For President. It will be one of the books in their beautiful Library Of American Comics series. It will come out in December of 2019 and will feature several Barney Google comic strip stories by Billy DeBeck which ran during the height of Barney’s early fame. I was very honored to have a small part in this exciting project. I was asked to write the foreword and also contribute an illustration. Bodacious thanks to Dean Mullaney at IDW for inviting me to work on this with him!
Question 16: More of a suggestion then a question: In our more family friendly times, why doesn’t Snuffy Smith brew his own root beer? Snuffy brewing a super-secret elixir of life could turn into a great product that would become the official root beer of the Root Beer Party.
Ha, ha! True! I will have to keep that in mind!
Question 17: Are there any great plans in the works to celebrate the comic strip’s 100th Anniversary?
Yes! I have created a special storyline that will begin on Monday, June 3rd and run through Tuesday, June 19th. Everyone at King Features has been really helpful and enthusiastic about this storyline. I hope our readers will really like it! It was so much fun to create. I actually came up with the story idea a little over two years ago and have been revisiting, refining and working with it ever since. If Barney Google and Snuffy Smith is not in your local newspaper, you can follow the whole series at my website which is: comicskingdom.com/barney-google-and-snuffy-smith. In addition to that, we have the IDW book coming out that I mentioned earlier. Locally, here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I was invited by the Arts Council Of The Valley to have a gallery show that will open on Friday, June 7th and run through Thursday, June 27th. It is titled “A Bodacious Barney Google And Snuffy Smith Retrospective by John Rose.” It will feature a variety of my work on the comic strip from 2001 to 2019. I have had several speaking engagements and appearances this year and have quite a few others lined up this coming fall at comic cons, libraries and colleges. Hopefully, I will have some next year, too.
Question 18: As the 3rd generation creator of the comic, how important is it to continue DeBeck’s and Lasswell’s legacy?
I think it is very important. I am so honored to do it and I strive to do my bodacious best at it every day. Creating this comic strip is the true joy of my professional career.
Question 19: What are the odds of Spark Plug winning the Triple Crown?
Ha, ha! Probably not so great! But he would have a bodacious time trying!
Question 20: With the success of your “Snuff Out Wildfires Before They Start” campaign, Do you plan on using your platform for other public awareness causes?
That was such a wonderfully worthwhile project! I was very proud to be a part of it. The special ads I created with the Snuffy Smith family appeared first in the Knoxville News-Sentinel and then throughout newspapers in the state of Tennessee. The Tennessee Press Association recognized our PSA campaign with a First Place award. What an honor! Snuffy fit perfectly into raising awareness for “snuffing out wildfires before they start.” I would gladly partner with King Features and do it again with another organization.
Bubblefox: “Thank you for giving us this time John Rose. It has been great talking with you and learning all about our good friends Barney google and Snuffy Smith. Speaking of which, I think you should call Snuffy and send out a search party for Barney, he might be lost out there? I hear a witch has been spotted in the area. Now we go back to Mr. Blob in the studio at Root Beer Party Headquarters. This is Bubblefox live from Hootin’ Holler signing off.”
So there you have it True Believers another great interview from our friends here at the Root Beer Party. Happy 100th birthday Barney Google! Your legend is still going strong today in the talented hands of John Rose. Here is a special tribute from our Co-President Kim Belding of Picpak Dog:
A special thanks to Billy Debeck, Fred Lasswell and John Rose for 100 years of great comics and countless laughs. Thank you all for a true comic legacy, we raise a frosty mug of root beer in your honor tonight. Until next time True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.
(All Banner art is done by James Boyd of Sunny Side Up Comics)