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Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, originally Take Barney Google, F’rinstance, is an American comic strip created by cartoonist Billy DeBeck. Since its debut on June 17, 1919, the strip has gained a huge international readership, appearing in 900 newspapers in 21 countries. The initial appeal of the strip led to its adaptation to film, animation, popular song and television. It added several terms and phrases to the English language and inspired the 1923 hit tune “Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)” with lyrics by Billy Rose, as well as the 1923 record, “Come On, Spark Plug!”

Barney Google himself, once the star of the strip and a very popular character in his own right, has been almost entirely phased out of the feature. An increasingly peripheral player in his own strip beginning in the late 1930s, Google was officially “written out” in 1954, although he would occasionally return for cameo appearances. These cameos were often years apart—from a period between 1997 and 2012, Barney Google wasn’t seen in the strip at all. Google was reintroduced to the strip in 2012, and has been seen very occasionally since, making several week-long appearances.  barney05

Snuffy Smith, who was initially introduced as a supporting player in 1934, has now been the comic strip’s central character for over 60 years. Nevertheless, the feature is still titled Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.

Like Mutt and Jeff, Barney Google started out on the sports page. First appearing as a daily strip in the sports sections of the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1919, it was originally titled Take Barney Google, F’rinstance. The title character, a little fellow (although he would shrink in stature even more after the first year) with big “banjo” eyes, was an avid sportsman and ne’er-do-well involved in poker, horse racing and prize fights.

The “goggle-eyed, moustached, gloved and top-hatted, bulbous-nosed, cigar-chomping shrimp” (according to comics historian Bill Blackbeard) was relentlessly henpecked by “a wife three times his size” (as the song lyric goes). The formidable Mrs. Lizzie Google, a.k.a. “the sweet woman”, sued Barney for divorce and thereafter virtually disappeared from the strip. By October 1919, the strip was distributed by King Features Syndicate and was published in newspapers across the country.

Beginning on July 17, 1922, the strip would take a momentous turn in popularity with the seemingly innocuous introduction of an endearing race horse named “Spark Plug”. Barney’s beloved “brown-eyed baby” was a bow-legged nag who seldom raced, and he was typically seen almost totally covered by his trademark patched blanket with his name scrawled on the side. Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz was known to his friends as Sparky, a lifelong nickname given to him by his uncle as a diminutive of Barney Google’s Spark Plug.

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Sparky’s first race became one of comics’ first national media events, eagerly anticipated by millions of newspaper readers. So great was the public’s enthusiasm that DeBeck, who had been planning to retire the plug after that one storyline, made him a permanent part of the cast. Spark Plug was such a star during the 1920s that children who enjoyed the comics were liable to get “Sparky” for a nickname—for example, Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz, who grew up to create Peanuts.

 

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119 strips 1919
352 strips 1920
408 strips 1921
687 strips 1922

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423 strips 1923
384 strips 1924
428 strips 1925
544 strips 1926

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522 strips 1927
575 strips 1928
544 strips 1929

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456 strips 1930
136 strips 1931
54 strips 1932
86 strips 1933
93 strips 1934
89 strips 1935
129 strips 1936
227 strips 1937
79 strips 1938

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235 strips 1939
358 strips 1940
180 strips 1941
210 strips 1942
98 strips 1943
28 strips 1944
138 strips 1945

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