HARRISONBURG — Award-winning Daily News-Record cartoonist John Rose is sharing a collection of his popular comic strips spanning two decades at the Arts Council of the Valley’s Smith House Galleries.
“A Bodacious Barney Google and Snuffy Smith Retrospective” opens June 7.
Rose, 55, began his newspaper career in 1988 at the Byrd-owned Warren Sentinel in Front Royal. He traveled down the Valley to the Daily News-Record in 1993, where he has worked as a cartoonist since.
“Being a cartoonist is all I’ve ever really wanted to be,” he said.
Rose, who grew up in Covington and Manassas, drew for his school’s paper and freelanced cartoons as a high-schooler. He remembers first drawing at a young age.
“My mom and dad say that when I was very young we were traveling on a trip and I asked my mom to draw a man on a piece of paper and she drew a little stick figure and she handed it back to me and I said, ‘That’s not a man’ and she said, ‘Well, draw your own’ and she said I’ve been drawing ever since,” Rose said.
He graduated from James Madison University in 1986 with a double major in art and art history and a concentration in commercial art. After graduating college, Rose worked for a sign and display company as a graphic artist in Manassas and freelanced cartoons for two years before joining the Front Royal paper.
This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of Rose’s comic strip, which was created by Billy DeBeck in 1919 as “Take Barney Google, F’rinstance,” in the sports section of the Chicago Herald and Examiner.
The comic originally centered around city slicker Barney Google and his horse, Spark Plug, whom he’d take to the horse track. The comic strip became widely known and even inspired a song in 1923 called “Barney Google (With The Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes).”
“Apparently, from what I read it was a very exciting comic strip,” Rose said. “Readers would sit on the edge of their seat waiting for the paper to come out the next day to read about Barney Google.”
Snuffy Smith’s character was first introduced to readers in 1934 when Barney visited the Appalachian Mountains. The comic strip was then changed to “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.”
Snuffy became a popular character for his hillbilly humor, which led to Barney being eventually phased out of the comic. Since the 1950s, the comic has focused on Snuffy and his friends and family in Hootin’ Holler.
“The comic strip became more about the adventures of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith together,” Rose said. “By the 1950s, they phased out Barney Google and focused on Snuffy Smith. The comic strip really became popular once the focus was on Snuffy Smith.”
Over the years, Barney Google has continued to make special appearances in the comic.
After the comic’s creator DeBeck died in 1942, his assistant Fred Lasswell took over.
Rose’s professional goal was always to work on a comic strip. As a member of the National Cartoon Society, he was able to reach out to Lasswell through his connections and send samples of his work. He was hired as Lasswell’s inking assistant in 1998.
“I thought about different comic strips that I maybe wanted to be an assistant on and the first one that I thought of was ‘Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,’” he said.
Lasswell became Rose’s mentor as he assisted him with the comic.
“He was such a great man and a wonderful teacher,” Rose said.
Rose became the strip’s full-time cartoonist after Lasswell died in 2001.
Today, the comic, distributed by Kings Feature Syndicate to hundreds of newspapers and digital clients, is known as one of the longest-running comic strips of all time. “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” has gained an international audience in 21 countries and is available in 11 languages. Rose said the comic is especially popular in Norway.
Rose has published three collections of his work in book form.
Outside of “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” Rose founded the Kids’ Home Newspaper in 1991 that is distributed through Creators Syndicate. He was also a writer and inker for Archie Comic Publications.
He has won numerous awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Virginia Press Association for his editorial cartoons.
At least 20 of Rose’s “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” comics will be displayed at Smith House Galleries, representing his nearly 20 years of work on the strip.
The cartoonist said an assortment of his comics will be represented in the new exhibit.
“I wanted some variety so I have some of the Norwegian comics and I’m going to have some illustrations that I’ve had in different books, and some Sunday comics and daily comics,” he said. “With those Sunday comics and daily comics, I’m going to have the original black and white art for some and then for others I’m going to have digitized vinyl color print so the readers can see how it looks in color.”
The opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 7 will also feature a performance by a classical music duo from the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. Rose will be on hand to answer questions about the work.
“I think it will be a bodacious time for all,” Rose said.
The exhibit will be on display at Smith House Galleries, located at 311 S. Main St., until June 27.