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Billy DeBeck’s Office Door: Cultural stereotypes of Appalachia

VCU Libraries has an extensive Comic Arts Collection. But it also has a few items that are not in the book or comic book format — like the office door of pioneering cartoonist Billy DeBeck, featuring an oil painting of one of his most beloved characters.

William Morgan DeBeck, 1890-1942, was a giant in the comic strip art form. To readers in the Jazz Age and Depression era, his characters were as beloved as Superman, Peanuts and Doonesbury became to later generations. Dialogue from Barney Google became part of the cultural syntax. Catchphrases from his strips included: “Horsefeathers!” “Heebie-jeebies,” “Jeepers Creepers!” “Bus’ Mah Britches!” and “Time’s a’wastin’!” DeBeck invented the moniker “Google” for his character. DeBeck’s personal papers and other materials provide insight into American cultural stereotypes of Appalachia.

Like many illustrators and cartoonists, DeBeck didn’t confine his art to paper; he painted Barney Google and his equine sidekick, Spark Plug, right, on his office door.┬áThe door was donated to Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library by DeBeck’s former secretary.

To see the door, visit Special Collections and Archives at Cabell Library.

Image: Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries