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‘LOAC Essentials Volume 14: Barney Google, 1928’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Billy Debeck
Published by LOAC Essentials / IDW Publishing


It’s a toss-up as to who was the better storyteller—Elzie Segar or Billy DeBeck. Me, I prefer the former with Popeye and his many other endearing and original characters and their amazing adventures. That’s not to say I don’t care for DeBeck’s Barney Google, though, just that I’m not that big a fan of horse racing and so very many of Barney’s adventures center around his race horse, Sparkplug.

Sparky dominates the first half of IDW’s new Barney Google for President volume in long continuities from the mid-1920s involving a big money cross-country horse race and a stunt where Google arranges to have Sparkplug swim the English Channel.

Where the book really livens up for me, though, is in its second half. I had read previously about the Brotherhood of Billy Goats in a couple of other Barney Google-related books but was very intrigued to learn more and I sure did here.

The Brotherhood of Billy Goats was not just a story construct. No, it transcended the funny pages and began to make real world news for months! Ostensibly a satire on secret societies and lodges with their rituals and private handshakes and catchphrases (OKMNX was briefly a household word…err…phrase!), it more or less BECAME what it lampooned.

For months, newspaper articles chronicled Barney’s doings in the lodge as well as local branches being set up for real. There were songs and contests, all of which meant more circulation for the papers. DeBeck would use the sequence to give shout-outs to some well-known friends and cronies. Eventually in the strip, the Billy Goats became a political party and nominate our diminutive protagonist for President of the United States.

This was all in 1928. No mention is ever made, that I noted, of whatever happened to Puzzums, Barney’s adopted baby boy whom he moved heaven and earth to get back to in the early parts of this book from 1926. Or Sunshine, his unfortunately racially caricatured jockey sidekick. Or for that matter, Sparkplug!

DeBeck though, as I said, is a master storyteller, one of the very best in the history of the comic strip, and he manages to tell some whoppers here, utilizing every trick in the book, from unique lettering styles to amazingly detailed illustrative panels reminiscent of the best of R. Crumb (who was clearly a devotee!)

Barney Google and Sparkplug wandered in and out of various comic strips last year searching for Snuffy Smith, the long-running strip that grew out of his legacy. This was a brief return in celebration of the strip’s 100th anniversary. But it’s here, in the pages of this IDW collection, where you’ll find the real Barney Google, still conniving, jiving, and thriving. OKMNX!

I just wish we knew whatever happened to poor li’l Puzzums.

Booksteve recommends.


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