About the Comic
Beetle Bailey, which started as a college-themed strip in 1950, debuted inauspiciously in 12 newspapers. After six months, it had signed on only 25 clients, and King Features Syndicate considered dropping it. The Korean War was heating up at that time, so Mort Walker decided to have Beetle enlist in the Army. He quickly picked up 100 newspapers. Mort redesigned the cast and a Sunday page was added in 1952. After the Korean War was over, Army brass wanted to tighten up discipline and felt that Beetle Bailey encouraged disrespect for officers. The strip was banned in the Tokyo Stars and Stripes, and the sympathetic publicity rocketed Beetle’s circulation another 100 papers. When Mort won the National Cartoonist Society’s award as the best cartoonist of the year for 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, Mort Walker’s creation is still one of the most popular comic strips in the world.
About Mort Walker
Addison Morton Walker was born in El Dorado, Kansas on Sept. 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,” claimed Mort 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 ten. He sold his first cartoon to Child Life magazine at the age of eleven. His first comic strip, The Limejuicers, ran in the Kansas City Journal when he was thirteen. He submitted his first comic strip to a national syndicate at the age of fifteen and sold magazine cartoons all over the country. By the time Mort graduated from high school, his work was polished and professional.
Mort was working as a magazine cartoonist in New York when John Bailey, the cartoon editor of the Saturday Evening Post, encouraged Mort 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, Mort then decided to submit a comic strip to King Features Syndicate starring Spider and his fraternity brothers. When King bought the strip, Mort changed Spider’s first name to “Beetle” (another King strip, Big Ben Bolt, had a character named Spider) and added “Bailey” in honor of John Bailey.
Jerry Dumas and three of Mort’s sons, Greg, Brian and Neal, currently assist with the production of Beetle Bailey. Mort and his staff have developed a patented method for delivering daily laughs. Ideas for comic strip “gags” begin with sketchbook drawings and written observations and eventually evolve into the penciled, inked and lettered “originals” which are used to produce the final printed strips. In the endless search for fresh material, the writers occasionally come up with ideas that are unsuitable for American newspapers. Many of these “censored gags” are sent toSweden to be published. Censorship and size reduction are just two of the creative challenges that cartoonists face on a daily basis.
Today, after more than six decades, Mort Walker is still producing Beetle Bailey, which is the longest tenure of any cartoonist on his original creation in the history of comics.