Barney Bear. Artist: Al Hartley

BARNEY BEAR

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Spire Christian Comics
First Appeared: 1977
Creator: Al Hartley
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Ask a knowledgeable animation fan who Barney Bear is, and you'll hear all about a minor star at MGM, where the guys with high Q-ratings were Droopy and Tom & Jerry. Ask the same …

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… question of someone who isn't into comics and cartoons, but has spent an appreciable amount of time hanging around Christian bookstores, and you'll get a very different reply.

Barney Bear would be found in such a bookstore, alongside other comic books published by Spire Christian Comics. Spire, a division of Fleming H. Revell, a leading publisher of Christian-oriented books, had been in the comic book business since 1972, publishing inspirational materials such as God Is (1972), conversion stories such as Hansi, the Girl Who Loved the Swastika (1973), hero stories such as God's Smuggler (1972), and even the occasional celebrity vehicle such as Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (1976). Starting in 1973, Spire also licensed the Archie characters for use in specifically Christian-oriented stories.

It was cartoonist Al Hartley, who had formerly worked at Archie Comics (as well as Marvel, where he handled Millie the Model, co-created Della Vision and, on one memorable occasion, drew The Mighty Thor), who engineered the Archie deal. Hartley drew quite a few of Spire's comics, including Barney, the company's one foray into the funny animal genre.

Barney was a very young bear, about the age of the readers his comic books were intended for. He lived with Mom and Dad in a cozy cave in Yellowstone Park, where the family had been in the tourist business (i.e., posing for photos and begging for handouts) for generations. As a kid, he was still discovering the world around him, and many of his discoveries had to do with seeing the hand of God wherever he looked, and the actions of God's adversaries in most cases where things go wrong. Like the rest of the Spire line, he emphasized the gentle aspects of Christianity, as opposed to the wrath-of-God aspects emphasized by, say, the comic books of Jack Chick Publications.

The first Barney Bear comic book was Hartley's Barney Bear Wakes Up (1977), in which Barney's reluctance to hibernate past February is used as a metaphor for his initial realization of the grandeur of God. Over the next few years, Hartley produced several more comics about Barney. All were kept in print for years. Eventually, the company was acquired by Barbour Publishing, which reissued many of the Spire comic books under the imprint "Barbour Christian Comics".

Barney is currently out of print, but reportedly, plans are afoot to make him available to a new generation of Christian children.

— DDM

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Text ©2005-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Spire Christian Comics.