January 08, 2016

Not many people know the name Jospeh Barbera, but pretty much everyone is familiar with his work. 

Joseph’s parents moved from Sicily to New York around 1900. He spent his childhood picking up odd jobs to help support his family. He worked for a a tailor, then got a gig at a deli. His real love, though, was drawing. 

The nuns at Joseph’s Catholic school in Brooklyn loved his art. They often asked him to draw great religious events on the blackboard for class. 

After years of working odd jobs, Joseph wanted something more lucrative. He decided to try his hand at banking, but he knew nothing about math – so it was rough sledding. 

One day, Joseph caught a break. Collier’s Magazine bought a drawing of his for $25, and sent him a check in the mail. When Joseph opened the letter, he was so surprised he fell on the kitchen floor. 

That was just the beginning. His work started getting snapped up by magazines, and he quickly got a job at an animation studio in Manhattan. He spent every night bent over a drawing board, practicing.

Eventually, he decided to head West – for a job at MGM. It was there that a tiny accident of geography changed his life. 

Joseph’s desk was next to the desk of a man named William Hanna. It was the middle of the depression, and work was trickling in at a desperately slow rate. The coworkers turned to each other to try and drum up some story ideas. 

Together, Barbera and Hanna produced cartoons that are still American touchstones: Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, The Flintstones. 

Many years later, when Joseph was famous, his favorite story to tell was about his days in Catholic school. He liked to compare himself to Michelangelo, who spent years on his back painting the Sistine Chapel. Joseph, meanwhile, had spent his childhood covered in chalk, decorating blackboards.

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