I don’t know who this Sarah Rose writing Barney Google this week is either

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:

Barney Google introduces, 'Spark Plug's grandson .. .Li'l Sparky!' Li'l Sparky nuzzles Spark Plug, thinking, 'My grandfather ... oh, how I love him!' In the main strip Li'l Sparky races a rabbit and a chicken. The chicken says to the rabbit, 'Li'l Sparky is just like his grandfather! He's a happy pony who loves to race!' Rabbit :'When is he the happiest?' Li'l Sparky, crossing the finish line: 'WHINNY wins!'
John Rose and Sarah Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for the 10th of January, 2021. So far as I know the rabbit — who’s had almost as many appearances as Li’l Sparky so far this week — is a new character too. The chicken might be one of the ones Snuffy Smith’s been stealing for decades. Character parts are reliable, honest work, even in the comic 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.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

7 thoughts on “I don’t know who this Sarah Rose writing Barney Google this week is either”

  1. John Rose and or whoever handles his FB account gave me a heart icon for my comment “Nice to see Spark Plug’s Spark plug still sparks”. Before you put away that book, perhaps you might relate the tale of how Rudy the ostrich came into the story.


    1. Aw, good response to get! Sounds like fun.

      I don’t remember offhand what it says about Rudy the Ostrich but I’ll see what is there. I was mightily impressed by the work Billy DeBeck put in to getting his fake Appalachian hillbillies right, though. Like, he did an impressive amount of research.


  2. Sarah Rose is John’s daughter and helped him with Li’l Sparky. She is a graphic artist and designer. I think she did the coloring.
    Fred Lasswell took over when DeBeck died in 1942. DeBeck hired Fred when he was a teenager and Lasswell lived with the DeBecks for years. Many characters came through the strip including Rudy. In 1954 in Fred’s 12th year as artist decided to focus excusively on the hillbilly theme and Barney and Sparkplug were dropped. Fans of those two characters reached out via the mail so Fred announced ” I’m going to slip Barney and Sparky back in from time to time for the old folks”. By the late 1950’s Barney Google’s appeared less and less and was eventually seem just once every two to three years and after a 1997 Sunday page was out for 12 years. John Rose decided to bring back some of the old characters such as Google, Sparky, Granny Creeps, Snuffy’s father etc and I think it works well. Gives the strip more situations to play with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the word about Sarah Rose. It’s good to have any information.

      I am continually amazed by how long Fred Lasswell worked on the comic strip, although I’m also amazed to learn how much research Billy DeBeck put into the hillbilly setting when he decided that was the direction to take the comic. I suppose it paid off; the strip’s foundations have been strong enough to last nearly a century after Snuffy Smith became the star.

      And, to my tastes, it’s a great thing John Rose is bringing back older characters and trying to establish new ones like Li’l Sparky. Having a larger and evolving cast makes it easier for a comic strip to stay fresh. Even if you repeat a joke or a storyline, if the characters are different, the result is different.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Li’l Sparky is Spark Plug’s grandson, and is something new they’re trying out for an occasional change of pace. His stories tend to be more of the “cute” variety, with some subtle differences thrown in. For example, we can understand the other critters whenever he’s around).

    Sarah Rose is John’s daughter, and an up-and-coming artist on her own.

    John Rose talks about it a bit in his “Bodacious Blog” on the Comics Kingdom site.


    1. I appreciate the information! I did enjoy Li’l Sparky’s run last year and was glad to see the character reappear this year. It’s dangerous to extrapolate from only two instances but it does look like Father’s Day is being used as pretext to have them around. And, personally, I’m glad to see Google and Spark Plug around a bit more.


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