This episode features a cussing contest between Sgt. Webbing and Sgt. Snorkel. It escalates to an extreme level of what Mort Walker has termed “maladicta.”
“Even in today’s permissive society many four letter words are not permissible in the comics,” Mort wrote in his 1980 book, The Lexicon of Comicana. “Even though profanity may be used in other sections of the paper, people feel that, since children read cartoons, the comic section should be inviolate.”
Mort explained how this problem has been resolved. “Cartoonists, therefore have had to develop acceptable substitutes. A first sergeant would lose a lot of his charm if he said, ‘Gee whiz, Beetle. You make me so terribly mad!’ So the creative mind came up with a variety of ‘jarns,’ ‘quimps,’ ‘nittles,’ and ‘grawlixes’ to help convey a sergeant’s strong emotion and add color and dimension to his personality.”
The Sunday page above goes beyond these basic symbols by representing explosive cursing with a bloody dagger, a skull and crossbones, an erupting volcano and a ominously closed coffin. The winning maladicta is too strong to be expressed even in pictorial terms. It is rare for Sarge to be outdone when it comes to salty language.
This is the first classic strip from 1963 in our ongoing Timeline series. Stay tooned for more examples from our archives.
– Brian Walker