“Beetle Bailey” comic strip artist Mort Walker died Jan. 27, 2018, at age 94. Walker, a former Army officer, was very supportive of the US military and often produced special drawings for units like the 24th Infantry Division.
Walker was part of producing more than a half-dozen comic strips in his career, including “Hi and Lois,” ‘’Boner’s Ark” and “Sam & Silo.” But his greatest success came from drawing Private Beetle Bailey, the hot-tempered Sergeant Snorkel and the rest of the gang at fictional Camp Swampy. Walker drew the strip for nearly 70 years.
Addison Morton “Mort” Walker was born Sept. 3, 1923, in Kansas and began publishing cartoons at age 11. He sold his first cartoon at 12, and at 14 he was selling gag cartoons regularly to Child Life, Inside Detective and Flying Aces magazines. By age 15, he was comic-strip artist for a weekly metropolitan newspaper, and at age 18, Walker became chief editorial designer at Hall Bros., ushering in a light, playful style to the company’s Hallmark Cards line.
Walker was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Europe during World War II. Walker served in Italy, where he was an intelligence officer and was in charge of an Allied POW camp for 10,000 Germans. After the war, he was posted to Italy, where he was in charge of an Italian guard company. He was discharged from the Army as a first lieutenant in 1947.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1948, Walker went to New York to continue to pursue his career in cartooning. He began doing “Spider,” a one-panel cartoon series for The Saturday Evening Post, about a lazy, laid-back college student. When he decided he could make more money doing a multi-panel comic strip, Spider morphed into “Beetle Bailey,” which was eventually distributed to 1,800 newspapers in more than 50 countries for a combined readership of 200 million daily.
“Beetle is the embodiment of everybody’s resistance to authority, all the rules and regulations which you’ve got to follow,” Walker explained. “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 oftentimes did what I wanted to do.”
The character of Beetle was originally a college student at Rockview University. The characters in that early strip were modeled after Walker’s Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers at the University of Missouri. On March 13, 1951, during the strip’s first year, Beetle quit school and enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Most of the humor in Beetle Bailey revolves around the inept characters stationed at Camp Swampy. The location was inspired by Camp Crowder, where Walker had once been stationed while in the Army. Camp Crowder was a U.S. Army post located in southwest Missouri which was constructed and used during World War II.
In May of 2000, Walker was honored by the Army at the Pentagon with The Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, the highest award the Secretary of the Army can bestow on a civilian. Walker was also honored 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.
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