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"Snuffy Smith" cartoonist discusses career, comics and new book at Bristol Public Library

Jennifer Sprouse • Jul 13, 2013 at 4:26 PM

BRISTOL — With an easel of white paper, a black pen and a series of swirls and lines, cartoonist John R. Rose brought to life a group of lovable comic strip characters from “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” for audience members of all ages Saturday morning at the Bristol Public Library.

Rose, the syndicated cartoonist of the comic strip and an editorial cartoonist for Byrd Newspapers, based at the Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg, Va., came to the library around 10 to set up for his scheduled “Chalk Talk” — a presentation and demonstration of his cartoon drawings — and a book signing.

Rose said prior to the presentation that he is the third cartoonist to work on the comic strip, which was started in 1919 by Billy DeBeck, before being handed off to Rose’s former boss, Fred Lasswell.

Rose said the focus of the strip, in the transition from DeBeck to Lasswell, switched from the main character of Barney Google to the now recognized character of Snuffy Smith.

Rose said he started with comic strip in 1998 as Lasswell’s inking assistant, before taking over full time in 2001.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s really all I ever wanted to do, draw cartoons. I did it all through middle school, high school and then I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg and I studied art there,” Rose said. “I got a bachelor’s of fine art degree and while I was there I worked on the school newspaper and that was really where I got my on the job training. I did comic strips and editorial cartoons and illustrations for newspaper articles.”

The whole Smith clan — Snuffy, Loweezy, Jughaid, Tater and Ol’ Bullet –– were drawn during the presentation as Rose discussed the comic strip’s origin, his career, as well as his new book “The Bodacious Best of Snuffy Smith.”

“It’s the first collection of my work on the comic strip. It was published this year ... and I picked my favorite strips from 2004 to 2013,” he said.

Rose said his book featured his favorite gags and artwork from his Snuffy Smith drawings, including strips with the Barney Google character that have been brought back recently for weeklong appearances.

He said in his career he’s been able to work on a lot of neat jobs, including writing scripts and doing inking artwork for Archie Comic Books, as well as collaborating with around 94 cartoonists to create a special comic strip to remember the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Rose’s visit to Bristol lasted two days, with appearances both Friday and Saturday. He held a book signing at One of a Kind Gallery, 604 State St., on Friday, as well as a cartooning workshop that night at Broadmore Senior Living.

Doris Stickley, in charge of programming and marketing for the Bristol Public Library said the comic strip “is probably one of the iconic ... comic strip cartoons that’s been with the people of this area, certainly, for many years. We’re very excited to be able to offer something a little different for our patrons, something fun, but also educational. We’re very excited to have him here.”

The comic strip has appeared in the pages of the Johnson City Press newspapers for more than three decades.

Jeanne Powers of Bristol said after Saturday’s demonstration that she enjoyed Rose’s program and said she has been a fan of comic strips for years.

“People sometimes take them for granted when a lot of thought and artistic ability come into it,” Powers said. “If you go back and read old strips, you can get commentary on the social conditions of that time, even though it’s done through humor and I think that’s something that people still appreciate in strips today. It’s a reflection of our society.”

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