Mort Walker, the famous comic book artist best known for his cartoon depicting the high jinks of the lazy army soldier ‘Beetle Bailey’, died on Saturday at the age of 94 at his home in Stamford, New York. Connecticut.
Walker drew Bailey Beetle as a daily comic for 68 years, making him the longest-serving artist in the medium’s history, according to a statement from King Features, which did the original syndication of the strip.
Bailey Beetle was eventually published in 1,800 newspapers in more than 50 countries, accumulating a daily readership of 200 million people.
Bailey Beetle wasn’t Walker’s only creation. He also made Hi and Lois with Dik Browne in 1954, Sam’s Band in 1961, Boner’s Arch in 1968, among others.
The first incarnation of her most beloved character was Behind Another Name. The languid young man with a hat permanently falling over his forehead started out as “Spider” the student.
But with the start of the Korean War, Walker – who later described his four years of conscription in World War II as “free research” – changed the setting of his comic. Bailey Beetle was now an ineffectual army soldier who was invariably content to shirk his responsibilities and stand up to Camp Swampy’s authority figures.
The rest of the cast included the restless General Halftrack, his shapely secretary Miss Buxley, Cookie the leader, and the wild-toothed Private Zero.
Bailey Beetle had gained modest circulation until the early 1950s, when the Tokyo edition of stars and stripes banned it for fear it would encourage the military to model Bailey’s nonchalant behavior. The ban backfired, leading to a massive wave of publicity and increased distribution of the comic.
In the 1970s, against his editor’s advice, Walker added a black character to the team: Lt. Flap, who sported an Afro and goatee and first appeared with the line, “How come there ain’t no black people in that honkie outfit?!” The new character again got traffic going.
In 1997, faced with criticism over how General Halftrack continually ogled his secretary, Miss Buxley, Walker introduced a new story: the general was now being forced into sensitivity training.
In 2000, the Army invited Walker to the Pentagon to receive the Distinguished Civilian Service Decoration.
Although Walker never quit his job, he brought in collaborators, including his two sons Brian and Greg, who say they intend to help the comic live.
In 1974, he founded the Museum of Cartoon Art in Greenwich, Connecticut, the first of its kind. Although the collection grew, funding problems ensued and after changing location several times, the museum was closed in 2002. However, in 2008 the collection was moved to a gallery in the library and the Billy Ireland comic book museum at Ohio State University.
Addison Morton Walker was born in El Dorado, Kan. in 1923 – his father was an architect and his mother a newspaper illustrator. He recognized his passion for cartoons at a young age. He had already sold 300 cartoons by the age of 15.
Much later in life, he reportedly said, “I’m grateful for the good life the cartoon gave me.”