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Talk looks back on cartoon character Snuffy Smith and his creator

May 23, 2013

Many know comic-strip character Snuffy Smith, but attendees of a talk in James Branch Cabell Library on May 23 were treated to a behind-the-scenes look into his origins. Snuffy Smith first appeared in 1934 in artist Billy DeBeck's extremely popular "Barney Google" strip. While working on panels featuring Snuffy Smith, Billy DeBeck amassed a library of some 100 books on Appalachia, the Ozarks and the American South, from which he borrowed or adapted colorful turns of phrase and other elements of mountain dialect, in addition to details that would become a part of Snuffy Smith's backwoods home of Hootin' Holler.

In the May 23 talk, speaker Paul Robertson, a research assistant in Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives and a doctoral student in VCU's Media Art & Text (MATX) program, surveyed DeBeck's library (all of which is now a part of the Comics Arts Collection housed in Cabell Library) and carefully considered DeBeck's own marginalia and annotations. Robertson argued that DeBeck's loving attention to detail made Snuffy Smith one of the more accurate depictions of "hillbilly" life in the early twentieth century and was a welcome departure from the highly romanticized or decadent imagery found in many novels and movies of the era.

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