Retirement knocks, but Beetle Bailey stays put

Retirement knocks, but Beetle Bailey stays put

60 years of gags

Retirement knocks, but Beetle Bailey stays put

Mort Walker, the artist and author of the Beetle Bailey comic strip, in his studio in Stamford, Connecticut. AP

The indolent wise guy, whose popularity soared when he enlisted during the Korean War, turns 60 on Saturday.

Mort Walker, who conjured up Beetle and has been putting him on paper every day for all those decades, says he’ll continue with his creation until he’s no longer able.

“I don’t know how I’d be retired,” said Walker, 86. “I wake up every day with another idea.”

The genial gags by Beetle and the cast of characters — Sarge and his dog, Otto, Gen Amos Halftrack, Miss Buxley and others — are followed seven days a week by readers in 1,800 newspapers, which is “astronomically huge”, said Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features, the strip’s syndicating service.

Walker said he has kept Beetle as is over the decades.

“He’s still pretty much lazy,” he said. “He represents the little man in all of us.”
“Beetle is the embodiment of everybody’s resistance to authority, all the rules and regulations which you’ve got to follow,” Walker said. “He deals with it in his own way. And in a way, it’s sort of what I did when I was in the Army. I just often times did what I wanted to do.”

Humble origins

Beetle Bailey, originally called Spider, made his comic-strip debut as a smart aleck college student on September 4, 1950, in 12 newspapers, according to King Features. It considered dropping the strip at the end of Walker’s one-year contract, but when Beetle stumbled into an Army recruiting post in 1951 during the Korean War, the number of newspapers that picked up Beetle climbed.

Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, which is marking Beetle’s anniversary with an exhibit, said Beetle, his pals and their uncomplicated gags have become familiar friends to readers over the years.
“I think people find that really comforting,” he said.

Not everyone. Some women have been angry about the caricature of a dumb blond secretary, the curvaceous Miss Buxley, Walker said.

Burford said as an editor he wants artists “to work creatively and make people laugh and smile,” but had to restrain Walker at times. “Sometimes you have to pull back on this leash,” he said. “As the rights of women increased, he became more sensitive to it.”
Still, as the newspaper industry retrenches, editors have not axed Beetle, Burford said.
“Newspapers don’t want to cut features that readers love,” he said.

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