Barnaby was a comic strip which began 20 April 1942 in the newspaper PM and was later syndicated in 64 American newspapers (for a combined circulation of more than 5,500,000).
Created by Crockett Johnson, who is best known today for his children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, the strip featured a cherubic-looking five-year-old and his far-from-cherubic fairy godfather, Jackeen J. O’Malley, a short, cigar-smoking man with four tiny wings. With a distinctive appearance because of its use of typography, the strip had numerous reprints and was adapted into a 1940s stage production. The usually caustic Dorothy Parker had nothing but praise: “I think, and I’m trying to talk calmly, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American Arts and Letters in Lord knows how many years.”
Barnaby Baxter got into a fair number of scrapes. However, most of them were either of Mr. O’Malley’s making or resulted in embarrassment of some sort for the rather clumsy fairy godfather, a member of the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society.
Barnaby’s parents denied that Mr. O’Malley was real and took Barnaby to a number of child psychologists. They continued this denial even when O’Malley was seen flying past their picture window, when he walked into their living room, and even after O’Malley was elected their representative to Congress.
The strip ended when Barnaby finally reached his sixth birthday, the magical point beyond which he could no longer have a fairy godfather. With much regret, O’Malley left, and so (after a short-lived attempt in the 1960s to revive the strip by redoing the original stories) did Johnson, to pursue other interests.
Barnaby was primarily a daily strip which began 20 April 1942 and later had a short-lived Sunday strip. Instead of hand-lettering, Barnaby used typography in the balloons. The typeface is Italic Futura Medium, which was designed by the German typographer Paul Renner in the 1920s.
In 1946–47, when Johnson began to concentrate on his children’s books, the strip was drawn by Johnson’s Connecticut neighbor, artist Jack Morley, who had previously drawn editorial cartoons for the New York Journal American. For a year, Morley collaborated on the writing of the strip with Ted Ferro, who teamed with his wife for nine years on their scripts for the daytime comedy-drama radio serial, Lorenzo Jones.
In September 1947, Johnson began scripting again, with Morley doing the art. Johnson assisted Morley by giving him specific layouts for each panel, and the credit “Jack Morley and CJ” was then used on the strip. The final story reached a conclusion on 2 February 1952.
The strip was briefly revived, with adaptations of the early stories minus their World War II references, for a run from September 1960 to 14 April 1962. These strips were redrawn in Johnson’s style by Warren Sattler.
Barnaby received much critical praise when it first appeared, and it has been reprinted in Barnaby Quarterly (three issues, 1940s), by Henry Holt and Company (two hardcover books, with strips redrawn), Dover books (reprinting the first hardcover, 1960s), Ballantine Books (six paperbacks, 1980s) and in Comics Revue magazine. These reprints still command high prices from used book dealers.
Fantagraphics Books has begun publishing a five-volume series of collections designed by Daniel Clowes, reprinting the entire original run (1942-1952) of the strip. The first volume became available in June 2013, and the second in June 2014; the series is estimated to complete in 2017.
Jerome Chodorov wrote a 1946 stage adaptation, Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley, produced by Barney Josephson. It ran in several East Coast cities, drawing attention with a scene in which O’Malley (J. M. Kerrigan) flew over the audience tossing out leaflets urging support for his run for Congress. Barnaby was portrayed by Thomas Wm. Hamilton, who later had the minor planet 4897 Tomhamilton named after him. Iris Mann played Jane, and Royal Dano had the role of the leprechaun Launcelot McSnoyd.
144 pages/strips Barnaby 1942-1943
19 strips 1949