On comics page, Ozarks met Appalachians

[Billy] DeBeck‘s primary focus as a cartoonist was always amusement rather than cultural edification, and he played a leading role in constructing a broad-based public conception of Southern hill folk as cartoonish figures.

“He was also instrumental in freely blending Ozark and Appalachian settings into a single mythical geographic location. Although [his comic strip “Barney Google & Snuffy Smith” ] was initially set in the North Carolina mountains, characters in an early episode refer to ordering store-bought clothes from the nearby big city of ‘Little Rock’ — in reality, 600 plus miles to the west. A month later, Sairy Hopkins runs away from Hootin’ Holler and after three days of wandering through the woods arrives in ‘Crystal Springs, Arkansas.’

“Such geographic confusion suggests the willingness of both the creators of the hillbilly image and the reading public to accept the conflation of hundreds of miles of distance and two diverse cultures into a homogenous fantasy mountain South — a process that would only accelerate in the work of [“Li’l Abner” cartoonist] Al Capp.”

— From “Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon” by Anthony Harkins (2003)


In 1914, you needn’t smile when you said ‘hillbilly’

“The most fascinating example of the term’s mid-1910s usage, and the one that best illustrates the still unformalized nature of the term ‘hillbilly,’ is the monthly literary magazine written and published beginning in 1914 by students at Asheville High School in North Carolina, simply entitled ‘The Hillbilly.’

“One might expect a cartoonish mountaineer with a slouch hat and rifle as the cover illustration. Instead, the title page of the first several years’ editions feature a highly stylized female visagein the manner of Aubrey Beardsley with flowing tresses and exotic neckwear. The use of gothic print for article and poem titles, the high quality of the paper, and the lack of any discussion of the meaning or significance of the magazine title all indicate that ‘hillbilly’ had not yet developed the stereotyped meaning that it later would but instead was used as a nearly apolitical regional marker….

“More than 10 years would pass before this publication began to adopt more standardized mountain imagery.”

— From “Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon” by Anthony Harkins (2003)