So, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. John Rose, the current cartoonist, has made a habit of having Google reappear in his comic once or twice a year. This week looked like the start of one of those visits. Surprisingly soon after Barney Google’s last visit, but that happens sometimes.
After the first panel, though, Barney dropped away. Instead we saw and focused on what, I believe, is a new character, who’s been the star of this whole week’s strips:
Spark Plug the racehorse was one of the first great fads of Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google comic strip. Sparky caught the public’s imagination. The young Charles Schulz picked up the nickname Sparky in honor of the character, and friends of the Peanuts creator used it his whole life.
Spark Plug fueled a bunch of horserace-themed stories that DeBeck expertly used for publicity. (I’m drawing this from Brian Walker’s fascinating Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, which gave me a better appreciation for the strip’s craft.) Sometimes in surprisingly easy ways: he’d ask readers to write in names for horses and used the best-sounding ones for the rest of the horseracing field. (I am legitimately impressed with how simple but good a scheme that is.) Eventually DeBeck realized, or maybe intuited, that there were great possibilites for the strip by incorporating hillbilly humor in it. He introduced Snuffy Smith and clan, who took over the comic and squeezed Barney Google and Spark Plug out. Except for the occasional guest week.
This week we’ve seen a bunch of strips about Li’l Sparky, Spark Plug’s grandson. So far as I know, this is a new character. He makes a lot of horse-themed puns. This seems thin for a recurring character but, eh, I can’t blame John Rose for trying. The Wizard of Id’s pet dragon Henry and Peter’s pet Wolf in B.C. opened those strips up too.
What’s also caught my eye is that John Rose’s signature is accompanied by a Sarah Rose. I guess a relative, but don’t know. I also don’t know whether Sarah Rose is a new partner on the comic or is just contributing stuff for Li’l Sparky. If I get any news I’ll pass it along. Anyway you’re not the only person to notice the credit.