In the 1970's, when I read the strip by Fred Laswell, Barney Google would sometimes visit the hills as a guest star, but his name still came first (though in smaller type) in the Masthead.

He drove an old beat-up Jalopy from the 1920's. Spark Plug usually had a checkerboard pattern on his horse coat (unlike left) - this is where Jim Hall & I got the checkerboard pattern for the pants of Walter Keane in
Art in Shambles

Walter Keane and Bubba Picasso

We visited Special Collections (home to the DeBeck personal library) prior to 2010 and looked at several novels from DeBeck's book collection (complete with "crib notes"), but we knew nothing about the Holy Door.

- David Bromley



Billy DeBeck's Office Door
featuring Barney Google and Spark Plug

William "Billy" DeBeck (1890- 1942) had intended to work as a comic artist until he had enough money to finance his fine arts ambitions. He never quite got around to changing careers, instead, he went on to create some of the most memorable comic strip characters of the 1920s and 1930s, among them Barney Google, a race horse called Spark Plug, and a hillbilly by the name of Snuffy Smith.

Take Barney Google, For Instance made its debut in the sports pages of newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst as a strip about a henpecked husband who was obsessed with the much anticipated Dempsey-Willard boxing match in July, 1919. It remained a domestic strip until 1922 when DeBeck introduced Spark Plug, a two year old race horse whose meager frame was covered in a horse blanket, down to his hooves. The horse became so beloved by readers that the name of the strip was changed to Barney Google and Spark Plug.

DeBeck introduced yet another new character to the strip in 1934. Barney Google inherited an estate in North Carolina, and in June of that year he arrived at a ramshackle cabin in the heart of hillbilly country and immediately became enmeshed in a romantic triangle that resulted in a huge wedding where a local by the name of Snuffy Smith and his wife, Loweezy, were guests. As the 1930s drew to a close, the strip's name was changed once more to Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to reflect the increasing popularity of the cantankerous hillbilly.

After DeBeck's death in November 1942, his longtime assistant, Fred Lasswell, took over the strip. Barney google was eventually fazed out in favor of a daily hillbilly gag. The name was changed to Snuffy Smith, reflecting the new direction the strip was taking.

The door (painted circa 1931) was donated to Special Collections and Archives by DeBeck's secretary and Richmond native, Mrs. Addison C. Armstrong, Jr. Also donated were 121 books from DeBeck's personal library and several sketches.

Source: The Encyclopedia off American Comics, Ron Goulart, ed.,
New York, Facts on File, 1990


Barney Google - click for home