Yesterday evening I had a wonderful opportunity to meet and hear John Rose speak about his career as a cartoonist. John Rose wanted to be a cartoonist at a young age. He started drawing on his parents' living room walls and continued throughout his school years. He even published his first cartoon book at a young age and had his first book signing in his school. The Virginia-born Rose graduated from James Madison University in 1986 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in art and art history. After graduation he drew freelance sports cartoons for newspapers then on to editorial cartoons in Virginia. His cartoons have won awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Virginia Press Association.
Mr. Rose's path changed a bit after attending a Cartoonist convention. “Cartoonists have an annual convention in May,” Rose said. “This particular year it was in North Carolina. I was talking to a fellow cartoonist and he told me he was working as an assistant on the ‘Blondie’ comic strip. I didn’t know cartoonists used assistants. On the drive home from North Carolina I told my wife, ‘Maybe I could try that.’
“The year was 1998 and I came home and the first comic strip I thought of right away was the Snuffy Smith comic strip. I had grown up reading it. It was my grandfather’s favorite strip and I felt like I could draw the characters. I did a Sunday comic strip along with some character drawings.” Rose says he sent out his samples and hoped for the best.
“I sent some things to Fred Lasswell, who was the cartoonist of the feature for about 60 years,” he said. “As a cartoonist you send out a lot of things whether it’s by mail or e-mail. A lot of times you get rejected or you don’t hear back at all. It’s just the nature of the business. I didn’t really know if I’d hear back from Fred.
“About two weeks after I mailed it out, I was at home eating lunch and the phone rang. I answered it and on the other end of the line the guy says, ‘John, this is Fred Lasswell. I got the sample of things you sent me and I really like the way you draw big noses.’ That’s exactly what he said.” Lasswell ended up hiring Rose to be his inking assistant.
“He lived in Florida and I lived in Virginia,” Rose said. “The syndicate was in New York City. Fred was an older man, up in his 80s, but he was really into technology so we could do everything by phone, fax or e-mail. “He would sketch out and write the comic before he would fax it to me. I would ink and do all the final artwork. I would scan it back into the computer and e-mail to him for approval to be sent to the syndicate in New York City. It was neat how technology let me work with him without having to relocate.”
Rose said he and Lasswell worked together for about three and a half years before Lasswell’s death in 2001. Rose went on to audition to become the cartoonist for “Snuffy Smith” and got the job.
Mr Rose spent some time sharing his talent and tips on how to draw the main characters in the Snuffy Smith comic strip. I enjoyed seeing him break down the different parts and describe the associations of shape he created.Barney Google and Snuffy Smith is one of the longest-running comic strips in history. Created by Billy DeBeck in 1919, it first appeared in the sports section of the Chicago Herald and Examiner as Take Barney Google, F'rinstance. It starred the cigar-smoking, sports-loving, poker-playing, girl-chasing ne'er-do-well Barney Google. By October of that year, the strip was distributed by King Features to newspapers all across the country.
In 1934, Barney Google met Snuffy Smith, a hillbilly who soon eclipsed him in popularity. Not long after this meeting, the strip became known as Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. In 1942, the comic strip was inherited by DeBeck’s long-time assistant, Fred Lasswell, who continued to draw the strip until his death in March 2001. Lasswell, a master of the sight gag, really developed the hillbilly characters of Hootin’ Holler. John Rose, who inked the strip for Lasswell, has been carrying on the bodacious tradition of being the strip’s cartoonist since 2001.
This tremendously popular feature boasts clients in 21 countries and 11 languages. It has added several phrases to the American vernacular, including “sweet mama,” “horsefeathers,” “heebie-jeebies” and “hotsie-totsie.” It has been the inspiration for a hit song, “Barney Google (With Your Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)” and is one of a few historical comic strips to be honored on a special set of U.S. postage stamps.
The talk was hosted by our local ADK Chapter and we are thrilled that Rose has donated the three signed drawings for us to auction later for our education scholarship fund. I will be sure to share information on the auction of the images when more details have been decided.