By Zach Mosca
Bob Barko Jr. is known today for his murals honoring Youngstown’s history and painting the Pete the Penguin fire hydrants at Youngstown State University. But before those projects, he was a cartoonist for The Jambar.
From 1990-1992, Barko worked with The Jambar to produce a serialized comic strip that ran for 90 issues titled “Shadoe Ryder,” a detective-style story set on a college campus following the titular character and a vampire.
“[Shadoe Ryder] is a detective and he actually gets hired by a vampire to find the vampire’s coffin, and as you can imagine, all kinds of craziness ensues,” Barko said.
Barko got the inspiration to create the series while looking at a demolished building on campus. While he passed by the demolition of an old church building at YSU, he noticed something peculiar when passing by.
“There was a big hole in the basement of the church, and I remember driving by, and you could see the foundation kind of opened up, and there was this green tile wall and there was just this door that kind of went into the earth, and for some reason that kind of inspired me. Like, ‘What’s in there? What could that be hiding?’” Barko said.
In addition to this, Barko cited his strong interest in detective stories, including the 1941 film “The Maltese Falcon” and classic “Dracula,” as influences for this series.
Barko said he has fond memories of bringing his artwork to The Jambar staff and watching it get published each week.
“I remember bringing a little half sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 [inches] of the inked-in drawing to [The Jambar staff] and they did their magic, shot it on camera and put it into the paper,” Barko said.
He recalled the sense of accomplishment he felt when he saw his cartoons in print and said there were plenty of students who approached him itching to know where the story would go next.
“If folks didn’t enjoy my work, I probably wouldn’t still be doing it, but it’s pretty cool to give other people enjoyment, and in this case it’s through my artwork and this story that I told for almost two years in The Jambar,” he said.
In the beginning, Barko was the only one drawing cartoons for The Jambar.
“But by the time I was done with my issue, there were three or four others, so it’s kind of cool to also inspire other folks to jump on board and say, ‘Hey, I can do that, and I want to do that,’” he said.
Barko is thrilled to see The Jambar alive and well going into 2021.
“It was part of the foundation of who I became as a professional artist. I look back on it fondly, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Barko said.