THE BARKERMedium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1944
Creators: Joe Millard (writer) and Jack Cole (artist)
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When The Barker debuted in the 42nd issue of National Comics (May, 1944), the cover blurb promised he'd be something "new" and "different". And for the publisher, Quality Comics, whose biggest stars were Blackhawk and Plastic Man, he certainly was. Gone was the theme of good versus evil, which had dominated the company's
output (as well as that of most other comic book publishers) in the form of superheroes fighting bad guys consisting largely of Nazis and Japs. In those waning days of World War II, the emphasis in The Barker had shifted to the humorous adventures of a guy in an unusual line of work, and his oddball co-workers. Not that he didn't encounter his share of murderers, thieves and other criminals, but the emphasis was on the funnier side of things.
The Barker was, as the title implied, one of those good-looking, fast-talking guys who stand in front of circus sideshows, cheerfully but urgently shouting at passers-by in an attempt to lure them inside. His name was Carnie Callahan, the first name being a slang expression denoting those itinerant performers, near-performers and hangers-on who go from town to town with traveling carnivals. Colleagues featured were Lena (the fat lady), Tiny Tim (the strong man) and Major Midge (billed as the smallest man in the world). Others that came and went over the course of the series included Peaches the Bearded Lady, Bombo the Human Cannonball (no relation) and Spudo the Spider Man (no relation). They all worked for Colonel Lane's Mammoth Circus.
Uncle Sam had been the National Comics cover feature before Carnie and his pals took over, but once they were on the scene, not only did Sam get relegated to the back pages with Quicksilver and Sally O'Neill, Policewoman — he was dropped completely only a few issues later as Quality adjusted to the imminent arrival of the postwar world.
The Barker's creators were writer Joe Millard (whose other credits are scattered — a few at DC such as Sierra Smith, a few at Fawcett such as Captain Marvel, etc.) and artist Jack Cole. Cole's prior creations had included The Claw, The Comet and Midnight. But both left the series early on, and the person most closely associated with the character is Klaus Nordling (Lady Luck, Pen Miller).
The Barker's popularity landed him in his own title a couple of years later. Quality published 15 issues of The Barker, dated Autumn, 1946 through December, 1949. But December, 1949 was also when, with its 75th issue, National Comics folded, leaving The Barker permanently out of work.