Created by: Mort Walker
Since 1952 a mainstay of reading the Sunday funny pages has been BEETLE BAILEY by Mort Walker. It’s a joy to revisit comic strips after spending so many years bypassing them for comic books. The books we know and love today were the natural progeny from the strips which were serialized in newspapers bringing weekly or daily enjoyment to Americans who had to live through challenging times of World Wars and the Korean War.
Brian Walker tells The Beetle Bailey story right after Mort Walker’s foreward in this compendium of military gag strips from 1965 by Titan Books. Between the two narratives, it’s revealed that Mort Walker was a professional cartoonist by age 11. That’s how young he was when he sold his very first cartoon. He thought he hit gold and tried to quit school but fortunately returned and eventually became an esteemed student. He had a column in his high school paper and went on to helm his college’s magazine as editor.
The gags are just as valuable for providing a chuckle today as they were back then. Very few of the strips come off as dated. The zeitgeist of gender roles is actually pretty rare within these pages. There are only a few instances where the female military characters are even shown; when they are they are WACs of course and sometimes a misogynistic joke comes out about a woman finding the battle plan “cute.” The female characters more prevalent are the girlfriends of the boys in Beetle’s company: Privates Cosmo, Rocky, Zero, Diller, and Plato. The General’s secretary is of course the average but quirky looking blonde woman, Private Blips. The roll call also consists of Mess Sgt. Cookie, Sarge, Lt. Fuzz, Capt. Scabbard, Gen. Halftrack and of course Sarge’s dog Otto.
This hardcover also features personal mementos given to Mort by some of his cartoonist friends including Mike Peters (MOTHER GOOSE AND GRIMM) and Patrick McDonnell (MUTTS).
Proof that Mort has been one of the hardest working cartoonists in history is evident in his stats. He would pencil six dailies and one Sunday (longer in length) then ink the characters all in one work day. His assistant Jerry Dumas would ink the backgrounds and do the lettering. They would have 15 strips in the can at King Features for the publishing queue.
This tradition of comic strip entertainment does not struggle to continue as newspapers succumb to the digital age. Web comic strips are prolific and BEETLE BAILEY is available online for those who need a chuckle on the go. However, if you’re looking to embrace the pre-cyber age and stretch out in a recliner with a good yet lighthearted read, the hardcover collection is a great option. It also would be a great gift for the upcoming holidays whether you need to buy for a vet of the greatest generation or dear ol’ dad of any age.