Comics Legend Billy De Beck

Barney Google     “Where did you get those gu-gu-googly eyes?” asked the popular novelty song. Why, from cartoonist B-B-B-Billy
De Beck, silly.

     Born in 1890 in Chicago, Billy De Beck graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts located there, and was
cartooning by 1910.

     His comic strip Barney Google and Spark Plug premiered in June 1919 in the San Francisco Herald-Examiner.

     Barney Google was characterized as a hen-pecked husband with an eye for sports, but grew into a big city rascal and dapper dresser by the late 1920s. After a bony race horse named Spark Plug, joined the cast (1922), the strip changed titles. It would do so again when Barney met his popular hillbilly friend Snuffy Smith (1934).
At first, Barney Google was an icon of the rakish, hand-to-mouth, noisy, “common man” of the 1920s. De Beck even added a dash of Paris expatriate to Barney from the popular novels of Ernest Hemingway. But the wide-eyed character slowly turned to backwoods hillbilly humor with the introduction of Snuffy Smith in the early ‘30s. Smith was an escape for De Beck’s readers from the Great De-pression that had crushed the exuberance from the ‘20s.

     The cartoonist’s distinctive but simple art was of the “big-foot” abstract style that has dominated the American
comic strip from The Katzenjammer Kids to today’s Hagar the Horrible.

     De Beck’s comic book work included: Barney Google & Snuffy Smith (Dell, 1942-’43; 4 Color #19, ‘42; 4 Color
#40, ‘44; Large Feature Comic #11, ‘43; Gold Key #4; ‘64); Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (Charlton, 1970-’71); Barney Google and Spark Plug (Cupples & Leon, pre-comic book anthology, 1923-’28); Comic Monthly # 4 & 11 (Embee. 1922), Giant Comic Album (King, 1972). 

     De Beck died in 1942. The strip was continued by Fred Lasswell. De Beck’s work in highly recommended. 

     Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops,
conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

     Review by Michael Vance


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Write: 1427 S. Delaware Ave., Tulsa, OK, 74104. Or email Michael Vance.