One of James Madison University's biggest fans, long-running comic strip character Snuffy Smith, has sent JMU “congratulations on 100 bodacious years” from his home in Hootin' Holler.
Snuffy’s greeting came from the artist for the popular strip, JMU alumnus John Rose (’86). The comic, which is syndicated by King Features, is carried in more than 500 newspapers in 21 countries and in 11 different languages.
The comic strip is almost as old as JMU. It was originally titled “Barney Google” and dealt with a bug-eyed ne'er-do-well whose main interests were sports, cigars, poker and chasing girls.
The strip, created in 1919 by Billy DeBeck, grew dramatically in popularity in 1922 when it added a race horse named “Spark Plug” – a nag who seldom raced and was usually seen almost totally covered by his horse blanket.
Snuffy Smith joined the strip in 1934 when Barney Google and Spark Plug visited Hootin' Holler in the mountains of southern Appalachia.
Snuffy, an irascible moonshiner, quickly became more popular than Barney and his name was added to the strip in the late 1930s. Although the strip is still officially named “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” Barney left Hootin' Holler in 1954 and is rarely seen in the strip.
Artist DeBeck died in 1942 and was replaced by his assistant, Fred Lasswell, who more than doubled the number of newspapers carrying the strip.
JMU alumnus Rose began working as Lasswell's assistant in 1998 and inked the cartoon.
When Lasswell died in 2001, Rose took over the strip. (Rose was featured in the fall, 2001, issue of Montpeliermagazine.)
Over the years, the comic strip has added several phrases to the American vernacular – including “sweet mama,” “horsefeathers,” “heebie-jeebies,” and “hotsie-totsie.”
In 1995, the comic strip was one of 20 included in the Post Office's Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative U.S. postage stamps.
Rose's Snuffy has cleaned up his act a bit. He's never seen engaging in his long-time profession – moonshining – and he hardly ever shoots at “revenooers” anymore.