In Which Barney Google Makes Me Unsure About The Point Of Existence


Way, way back in the day Barney Google and Snuffy Smith was a story comic. It was always funny or trying to be, but it was also doing a storyline. Comics Kingdom is reprinting strips from that time. In like 1940 or so Snuffy Smith got drafted and the strips since then have put him in a bunch of goofing-around-the-Army-camp stories. In the current one Barney Google, stationed in Australia, sent a kangaroo over to his friend. Snuffy used it first to set up boxing matches that turned into some pretty solid comedy, with the poor human begging outwitted handily by the kangaroo. And now as of September 1942 Snuffy Smith is using the kangaroo to pass messages along for money. And now we get to this comic:

'Gee Snuffy - I'm s'pose to meet my gal at the Mosey Inn, 7 o'clock sharp - but I can't get out! Would you send Chosef over there with a note?' 'Why, shore! Jes' scribble it off and I'll chase him right over - uh - that'll cost ye 50 cents messenger fee - cash on th' barr'l top.' (Later) 'Hey, yard bird!! Here it is past midnight and that !!@#* kangaroo ain't back yet!' 'Simmer down, cousin - your leetle pullet got th'message - ye can depent on it.' (At the inn) The kangaroo is dancing with the woman.
Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for the 25th of September, 1942. Say what you will, but that as an almost oppressively adorable kangaroo. Like, possibly the most adorable kangaroo to ever appear in a syndicated comic strip and if you know a better one please send it along. But I warn you: I can provide other strips with the kangaroo holding stuff in his paws.

And I guess I’m just stuck thinking, when this was published the Battle of Stalingrad was barely through its first month. US Marines were trying (unsuccessfully) to pass the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal. Four Royal Air Force bombers sent to Oslo on a civilian-morale-building raid failed to destroy the Gestapo headquarters but did kill something like eighty civilians, and lose one of the bombers in the process. The British destroyer Somali finally sunk in the Greenland Sea four days after being damaged by German submarine U-255. Four ships of Allied convoy QP 14 had just been sunk by U-435. Japanese forces landed on the Gilbert Island of Maiana. And the British destroyer Veteran and the United States Liberty ship Stephen Hopkins were days away from being sunk. And … Snuffy Smith’s kangaroo was dancing. And I feel like this is utterly mad and then I think, well, what am I doing, and why that? I think what I’m saying is I don’t want to feel like I need a hug just because a kangaroo’s dancing to swing music.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index jumped nine points, but its knees aren’t what they used to be, and it had to fall down two of them before finishing, wincing and groaning about it all.

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Betty Boop: Sally Swing


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


When Betty Boop first appeared here character design was, frankly, hideous. She was some sort of humanoid dog and the canine ears and such just did not flatter her. Within a couple cartoons she had taken on human form and, with only minor variations, the character model she’d stick with through nearly a decade of cartoons and then seventy or so years of licensed merchandise.

But she did have a character redesign after all, good for a handful of her final cartoons in 1938-39. Sally Swing, released the 14th of October, 1938, was the first of these. She isn’t radically changed. Her head shrinks and she gets somewhat taller, moving a slight bit away from the rubber-hose animal style of her origins in dim, distant 1930 and approaching, though not reaching, the soft-but-realistic bodies that the non-comic characters in the Fleischer Studios’ Gulliver’s Travels or the Superman cartoons would take on.

As the title might suggest, though, Betty isn’t quite the star of this cartoon. The storyline suggests this is meant to be an introduction to the new character of Sally Swing, who looks to be an attempt to do for bobby-soxers what Betty did for flappers. After an appealing introduction to the University and Betty Boop’s Examination Room, the story settles on Betty trying to find a suitable leader for a swing dance and what do you know but the hall’s washer-woman — voiced, a Betty Boop Wiki claims, by Rose Marie (the claim sounds plausible to me) and resembling, Rachel Newstead’s review at Orphan Toons shares, the Lois Lane the Fleischers would animate in a few years — is Sally Swing, perfect for the part.

And so the cartoon dissolves into several minutes of Sally Swing leading the band, and spot gags of the kind that feature most in musical cartoons like this: the band not quite falling apart into chaos, onlookers being swept wholly up in the music, sourpusses having no choice but to get in on the fun. It’s a fun cartoon, and pretty appealing. It’s curious to me that Sally Swing didn’t get an appearance in another cartoon, though. She certainly seems able to support the kind of plotless music-feature cartoon that this is an example of. On the other hand, there’s also not much about this that Betty Boop couldn’t do, if she dressed the part.

So I’m left wondering: why bother redesigning Betty Boop in a cartoon that seems meant to introduce a successor? Was it just so she’d look less awkward standing next to the 1938-design cartoon mistress? Having introduced a plausible successor, why not use her in other cartoons? Even if Sally Swing proved to not be as popular as Betty Boop, wouldn’t it take more than a “backdoor pilot” cartoon of this kind to tell? Or did she, on screen, disappoint in some way not obvious now? Or was she just lost in the trouble and trauma — a move to Miami, and the attempt to make full-length animated movies — of the studio at the time? There’s something missing in Sally Swing’s story.