I havent' read them in years, but I certainly used to enjoy reading his comics. RIP Mr. Walker.
My local paper dropped Hi and Lois many years ago, but still carries Beetle Bailey, which I read every day.
One of my favorite books is Mort Walker's autobiography, Backstage at the Strips. It's a fun, funny read, detailing not only his life and early career, but insider stuff about working as a cartoonist for newspaper syndicates.
Unlike Charles Schulz, who did all the work on Peanuts, Walker had a team of collaborators for Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Sam and Silo (which evolved from Sam's Strip) and the short-lived Gamine and Patches. he last three I've never seen and wouldn't know about if I didn't have Walker's book.
R.I.P., Addison Morton Walker.
I always thought both comic strips were worth a grin at worst, and a big smile at best. That's a life well-lived. He made people smile.
68 years. That's pretty amazing.
I went to University of Missouri-Columbia, Mort Walker's alma mater. Beetle Bailey was originally a college strip set on that campus. I am glad to own a collection of the early strips which starts on campus and transitions to the army. When I went to school there, Walker's name could still be found scrawled into a tabl;e top at "The Shack" (since burned down) with a pen-knife. After I left, a statue of Beetle Bailey (in civvies) was erected in his honor. I've never been back to see it.
Here's the press release from King Features:
CHAMPION OF THE COMICS: “DEAN OF AMERICAN CARTOONING”
MORT WALKER DEAD AT 94
Beetle Bailey Creator Was One of the World’s
Most Prolific Cartoonists
Comic Strip to Continue Under Seasoned Hands of Sons Brian and Greg Walker
NEW YORK, January 27, 2018 – “Old cartoonists never die. They just erase away…” It was one of Mort Walker’s favorite sayings, and until his final days, Walker lived by the word of his motto, engaging millions through his beloved comics. At the age of 94, Walker died peacefully at home.
Dubbed “The Dean of American Cartooning,” Walker was one of the most prolific cartoonists in comic art history, with the creation of as many as nine different syndicated strips to his credit during his lifetime, including Beetle Bailey, the third-most widely syndicated strip in the world. The fact that the comic is still in syndication today with original material via King Features gave Walker the longest tenure of any cartoonist on his original creation in the history of comics.
“Mort has been a creative bridge between today’s talented artists and those of the earliest days of cartooning,” said Frank A. Bennack, Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst. “With sons Brian, Greg and Neal having worked in tandem with their father for many years, his greatest comic creations are in great hands and will remain so going forward. Not only did I greatly value my professional relationship with Mort but he and I shared a warm personal relationship that spanned three decades.”
“All of us at King Features join Beetle in giving a heartfelt final salute to his legendary creator and close personal friend,” said King Features Chairman Joe D’Angelo.
“Mort was an incredibly personable, compassionate man, a towering artistic talent the likes of which will not soon pass this way again,” added TR “Rocky” Shepard, current advisor to King Features and its former president, who worked with Walker over the last 20 years. “He founded the International Museum of Cartoon Art with the help of his wife Catherine and has served for decades as a tireless advocate for cartoonists, the profession of cartooning and the important place in history and in our culture that the comics have played.”
“Mort was an icon in the world of comics who set the standard for generations of cartoonists,” said King Features President C.J. Kettler.
Mort Walker: The Early Years
Addison Morton Walker was born in El Dorado, Kansas, on September 3, 1923, and had cartooning aspirations at a very young age. “If there is such a thing as being born into a profession, it happened to me,” Walker stated in the introduction to his autobiography. “From my first breath, all I ever wanted to be was a cartoonist.” He drew cartoons for his school newspaper, The Scarritt Scout, when he was 10. He sold his first cartoon to Child Life magazine at the age of 11. His first comic strip, The Limejuicers, ran in the Kansas City Journal when he was 13.
He submitted his first comic strip to a national syndicate at the age of 15 and sold magazine cartoons all over the country. By the time Walker graduated from high school, his work was polished and professional.
Walker’s first full-time art job was as a greeting card designer for Hallmark while he attended Kansas City Junior College. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army and served overseas in Naples, Italy, advancing from private to lieutenant in the Air and Signal Corps, the Engineers, the Infantry, Ordnance, Intelligence and Investigating Branches. He kept an illustrated diary, and some of the G.I.s who he met along the way later became inspirations for Beetle Bailey characters. The Army sent him to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri where he got an engineering degree. He was discharged as a first lieutenant four years later in 1946.
When he returned home, he attended the University of Missouri and graduated in 1948 with a degree in humanities, becoming an honored alumnus of Mizzou.
The Humble Origins of Comic-Strip Legends
Walker was working as a magazine cartoonist in New York when John Bailey, the cartoon editor of the Saturday Evening Post, encouraged him to do some cartoons based on his college experiences at the University of Missouri. One character, a goof-off with a hat over his eyes named “Spider,” emerged from these efforts. After selling a few college cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post, Walker then decided to submit a comic strip to King Features Syndicate starring “Spider” and his fraternity brothers. When King bought the strip, Walker changed Spider’s first name to “Beetle” (another King strip already had a character named Spider) and added “Bailey” in honor of John Bailey.
Beetle Bailey made his comic-strip debut as a college cutup on September 4, 1950, in a mere 12 newspapers and, after six months, King Features had signed up only 25 clients. Despite the fact that the strip is noted as the last strip personally approved by William Randolph Hearst, King Features considered dropping it at the end of Walker’s yearlong contract. However, when Beetle stumbled into an Army recruiting post in 1951 during the Korean War, circulation began to climb dramatically.
The comic strip experienced two other notable jumps in circulation: In the early 1950s, when the Tokyo edition of Stars & Stripes dropped the strip because it supposedly engendered lack of respect for officers, the U.S. press had a field day attacking the maneuver and 100 more newspapers enlisted Beetle Bailey. Then in 1970, when Lt. Jack Flap first marched into Sarge’s office, Beetle Bailey became one of the first established strips to integrate a black character into a white cast. Stars & Stripes and some Southern newspapers quickly discharged the strip, but 100 other newspapers joined up. And the client list just kept growing.
When Walker won the National Cartoonists Society’s award as the best cartoonist of the year in 1953, Beetle Bailey had become a certified success, with licensed products and a growing list of clients. From 1954 to 1968, the circulation of Beetle Bailey grew from 200 newspapers to 1,100, and many new characters were added to the cast. Today, after more than six decades, Walker’s creation is still one of the most popular comic strips in the world. More than 200 million readers enjoy Beetle Bailey every day in 1,800 print newspapers, as well as at ComicsKingdom.com and hundreds of other online outlets worldwide.
Walker conceived Hi and Lois as a spin-off of a Beetle Bailey strip in which Beetle takes a furlough to visit his sister, Lois, and her family. Launched into syndication in 1954 with artwork by Hägar the Horrible cartoonist Dik Browne, Hi and Lois appears today in more than 1,100 print newspapers, online at ComicsKingdom.com and on hundreds of other digital outlets worldwide.
Walker collaborated with many talented cartoonists over the years including Jerry Dumas, Bob Gustafon, Frank Johnson, Bud Jones and his longtime and current assistant Bill Janocha.
Mort Walker: The Hardest-Working Man in Comics
Walker served as president of the National Cartoonists Society and vice-president of the Newspaper Features Council. He won numerous awards and citations from cartoonist groups and government organizations. He did special drawings for charities, including the Red Cross, the President’s Committee to Hire the Handicapped and the U.S. Postal Service, and worked on advertising campaigns for major corporations. “I’m thankful for the good life cartooning has given me,” Walker said gratefully, “and I try to give back to the profession and the public.”
Prestigious Awards at the Pentagon
A World War II veteran himself, Walker has volunteered his time and talent to the effort to help the American Battle Monuments Commission build the National World War II Memorial. He created two special Beetle Bailey comic strips that ran in newspapers nationwide featuring Beetle and Sarge on the same side of an issue—a rare occurrence, as any comic strip fan knows. Walker first fell in step with the World War II Memorial Campaign in September of 1999, working closely with CSM Ron Bedford and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA) Honor Walk to raise money for the Memorial.
In May of 2000, Walker was honored by the United States Army at the Pentagon with The Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, the highest award the Secretary of the Army can bestow on a civilian. The military brass didn’t always appreciate Beetle Bailey and his messmates, which made Walker, as he noted in accepting the award, “persona non-grata around here (the Pentagon)” for many, many years. But Walker’s Army experience gave him the basic training for a lifetime of lampooning.
“All of my characters are based on real people, both from my Army days and my everyday life,” Walker said at the time. “I’m thankful for their inspiration and the chance to draw from it all these years.”
Walker was also lauded at the Pentagon ceremony by the Association of the United States Army, the National World War II Memorial Campaign and the Non Commissioned Officers Association for his efforts to help build awareness and raise funds for the National World War II Memorial. In addition, Walker was the guest of honor at a Twilight Tattoo sunset parade hosted by the Office, Chief of Public Affairs and the Military District of Washington.
Beetle Bailey 50th Anniversary Retrospectives
On November 11, 2000, Veterans Day, a retrospective exhibit commemorating 50 years of Beetle Bailey and curated by Walker’s son and comic art historian Brian Walker opened at the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida. It featured original comic strips and character art, special interactive exhibits for children, animated Beetle Bailey cartoons, Beetle and Sarge costumed character appearances and a 16-foot-high birthday cake display, complete with animatronic Beetle and Sarge characters.
Finally, in December of 2000, Walker’s autobiography, Mort Walker’s Private Scrapbook: Celebrating a Life of Love and Laughter, hit bookstore shelves across the country.
Celebrating Beetle Bailey
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of his classic Beetle Bailey comic strip on September 4, 2000, Walker created a special comic strip series in which Sarge Snorkel announced his plans for an early retirement from the army.
“As someone who’s dedicated his life to humor, I can’t help enjoying the irony that Beetle is celebrating his golden anniversary on Labor Day, particularly since he’s never done an honest day’s work in his life!” said Walker at the time. “Without Sarge to keep him in line, he might well sleep through all the festivities!”
Although the unthinkable scenario never came to fruition, the hilarious storyline set off a yearlong celebration of the popular comic, which included:
Beginning over Memorial Day Weekend in 2010, a series of Beetle Bailey tributes and events took place in the United States and internationally commemorating the milestone. The centerpiece of Beetle Bailey’s 60th anniversary includes:
Additionally, when Walker took a two-week furlough for the anniversary, fans were invited to enter “The Best of Beetle Bailey Contest” at BeetleBailey.comto help choose the strips that would be published surrounding the actual anniversary on September 4.
On the occasion of the Golden Anniversary of Beetle Bailey in 2010, Lucy Shelton Caswell, then professor of journalism at The Ohio State University and curator of its Cartoon Research Library, said, “By many measures, Mort Walker holds an honored place in the history of American cartoon art. To have created Beetle Bailey for readers worldwide for 50 years is a grand achievement. His success with this comic strip was acknowledged early on by his peers when the National Cartoonists Society awarded him the Reuben, its highest honor, only three years after it began.”
“In more recent years,” Caswell continued, “Walker has devoted a portion of his prodigious energy to the International Museum of Cartoon Art. He founded the museum in 1974 and worked tirelessly to promote the understanding and appreciation of cartoon art through this institution. Everyone who enjoys the comics is indebted to Mort Walker for the years of enjoyable reading he’s provided and for the legacy of the museum he founded.”
After many years of operation, it became clear that the International Cartoon Art Museum’s extensive collection should be housed among the other stellar archives at what is now the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. The union of these two institutions created the largest repository of original cartoon art in the world.
Mort Walker: Awards and Distinctions
1953: “Cartoonist of the Year,” National Cartoonists Society ("The Reuben")
1955: Banshee Award, Silver Lady, “Outstanding Cartoonist”
1966: “Best Humor Strip,” National Cartoonists Society
1969: “Best Humor Strip,” National Cartoonists Society
1972: Il Secolo XIX Award, Italy
1975: Adamson Award, “Best International Cartoonist,” Sweden
1977: Power of Printing Award
Elzie Segar Award, “Lifetime Achievement”
1978: “Fourth Estate Award,” American Legion
1979: The Jester, Newspaper Features Council
Inkpot Award, San Diego Comic Convention
1980: Faculty Alumni Award, University of Missouri, Scholar in residence
1981: Doctor of Letters, William Penn College
1987: “Man of the Year,” Kappa Sigma Fraternity
1988: Adamson Award Platinum, Sweden
1990: U.S. Army Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service
1999: Golden T-Square, National Cartoonists Society: 50 years of service, only second ever to receive award
1999: Order of Chevalier, French Minister of Culture and Communication
Elzie Segar Award
2000: The Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service
2010: The Sparky Award, The Cartoon Art Museum
On the Diamond Anniversary of Beetle Bailey, Walker said, “When I think back to where it all began, it amazes me that millions of people are still reading Beetle every day, 60 years later! Life with Beetle has been good to me and I am still having loads of fun with him. Somehow over time, I have managed to accumulate a tremendous archive of around 50,000 unused gags that should keep Beetle’s buddies in the Army and everyone else laughing well into the next century.”
Walker is survived by his wife Catherine, sons Greg, Brian, Neal and Roger Walker and Whitney Prentice, daughters Polly Blackstock, Marjorie Walker Hauer and Priscila Prentice Campbell. He had fifteen grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Funeral arrangements are private. The family has requested donations to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University.
An unusually engaging press release.