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 Montpelier Magazine

John Rose takes over Hootin' Holler

Snuffy, Loweezy and Jughaid recently welcomed John R. Rose ('86) to Hootin' Holler, where coonskin caps are still in style and the phrases "horsefeathers" and "heebie-jeebies" are part of the vernacular.

In May, Rose became the artist for King Features' Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, one of the longest-running and most widely syndicated comic strips in America. Rose, who had worked with Snuffy artist and writer Fred Lasswell since 1998, said being chosen as his successor was the fulfillment of a dream.

"All I've really ever wanted to do is to be a cartoonist," says Rose, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in art with a double major in art history.

Rose began working with Snuffy Smith after submitting some samples of his work to Lasswell, who drew and wrote the comic strip from 1942 until he died in March of this year. Lasswell, who lived in Tampa, Fla., enlisted Rose, a Harrisonburg resident, to ink his sketches. The pair collaborated by phone and e-mail and met in person on several occasions.

"He was a great guy, very funny," Rose says, sitting in his home office. Wearing a Kermit the Frog shirt and surrounded by drawings of Mickey Mouse, Hagar the Horrible and pretty crayon drawings by his daughter, Rose pointed out a picture of himself with Lasswell. "He was a giant in his field."

Snuffy Smith is the second oldest of King Features' comic strips, which include Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible. Lasswell took over the comic strip from Billy DeBeck, who created it in 1919.

Today, Snuffy Smithis distributed to 900 newspapers in 21 countries and 11 languages.

While Rose had worked on the strip for three years, he was not guaranteed to be Lasswell's successor, according to Jay Kennedy, editor-in-chief for King Features. Kennedy tried out four people for the strip.

"I thought John Rose was the best of the four, which says a lot because we chose good quality artists to begin with," he says.

Various writers provide the scripts, and Rose does all of the drawing.

"His line is very steady," the King Features chief says. "He has a good grasp of the line of the characters, and he gives a friendliness to the drawings."

Rose is no stranger to drawing comics. Through Copley News Service, John has been drawing for the Kids' Home Newspaper since 1991. His character, Pup, has spurred on three activity books for children. The activity cartoon for children began while he was an editorial cartoonist and designer at the Warren Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Front Royal. In 1993, Rose became art director for Harrisonburg's Daily News-Record for which he continues to provide editorial cartoons.

He and his wife, Karen Irby Rose ('84), and their daughters, Meredith, 10, and Sarah, 6, will stay in Harrisonburg.

News-RecordGeneral Manager and Editor Peter Yates says, "Rose is an exceptional talent. He has a great knowledge of current events and a great wit in the way he presents it to the reader."

Rose who has won a number of National Newspaper Association and Virginia Press Association awards, first met an editorial cartoonist during Fine Arts Week at JMU when he was a student. Mike Peters, a Pulitzer Prize winner for journalism and artist for the Mother Goose and Grim comic strip, looked at his editorial cartoons for The Breeze and offered suggestions.

Rose says his JMU experience prepared him well for creating editorial cartoons. "Going to a liberal arts school is a good thing because as an editorial cartoonist you have to be a writer as well as an artist," Rose says.

Rose says his editorial cartoons and Pup books allow him to express his own style, while Snuffy Smith is an extension of Lasswell's creation. But he loves being in the midst of those crazy characters in Hootin' Holler.

"I think Fred created some great characters that people can relate to," he adds. "I think that's the secret to a successful cartoon."

Story by Donna Dunn ('94)