Beetle Bailey (12 February 1956)
'Beetle Bailey' (12 February 1956).

Mort Walker was one of the best known gag-a-day cartoonists in the world. He created three long-running and famous newspaper comics, among them his signature series 'Beetle Bailey' (1950-   ), about the most incompetent military base ever. He and Dik Browne also co-created the spin-off family comic 'Hi and Lois' (1954-   ). Walker also launched 'Boner's Ark' (1968-2000), starring a modern-day Noah crossing the ocean with a bunch of animals aboard his ship. The artist additionally wrote less famous series like 'Mrs. Fits' Flats' (1952-1972) for Frank Roberge, 'The Evermores' (1982-1986) for Johnny Sajem and his own 'Gamin and Patches' (1987-1988). Walker's comedy is gentle and family friendly, which guaranteed him worldwide and enduring success. However, he and Jerry Dumas also co-created a more eccentric gag-a-day comic which is more beloved with comic fans than the general public: 'Sam's Strip' (1961-1963), which was continued as 'Sam and Silo' in 1977. And then there are, of course, the infamous "dirty" versions of his own 'Beetle Bailey', which were never published in the US, but published freely in Scandinavia. Mort Walker was not only a creative spirit in comedy, but he also loved his profession. He wrote various essays and books about comics. He was the first to think up names for comics symbols and imagery which had previously remained unnamed. The man also turned the National Cartoonists' Society into an actual professional organization and established its annual Reuben Award to honor artists and writers. He founded a Museum of Cartoon Art (1974-2002), whose huge collection of original artwork is nowadays part of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Mort Walker is furthermore notable for having one of the longest careers of any cartoonist (though he didn't work without interruptions). He started publishing when he was only 13 years old (!) and was still active until shortly before his death, at age 94. The world record actually goes to Al Jaffee, who is two years older than him.

Mort Walker in 1938
Young Mort Walker at his drawing table in 1938.

Early years
Morton Walker was born in 1923 in El Dorado, Kansas. His father was an architect who wrote daily poems, illustrated by his wife, which were published in a regional newspaper. From an early age, Walker showed great skill in thinking up gags. He also adored comics, particularly Al Capp's 'Li'l' Abner', Chic Young's 'Blondie', Ernie Bushmiller's 'Nancy', the works of Walt Disney and Frank Willard's 'Moon Mullins', even going so far to send fan letters to his favorite cartoonists. Willard wrote Walker back and predicted that he would one day become "a big shot cartoonist". This prediction came true sooner than he thought. At age thirteen Walker already sold his first cartoon to a regional newspaper. It was published on 24 January 1936. By the time he was 14 his work could be seen in Child Life, Flying Aces and Inside Detective and one year later he published his first weeky comic strip, 'The Limejuicers' (1938) in the Kansas City Journal. 'The Limejuicers' did well but was eventually cancelled when the journal was discontinued. In 1939 another early comic, 'Sunshine and Shadow' (1939), ran in the American Dairy Review. The series starred two stereotypical Chinese men who spoke in aphorisms. Sunshine was an obese but joyful character, while Shadow was tall and grumpy. Walker attributed his early success to the fact that none of these magazine editors knew he was just a teenager. In fact, he was paid so well that he simply left the fifth grade. After six months he returned to school because he felt he could use more lessons in spelling and writing. In 1943 the 18-year old man became chief editorial designer for Hallmark Cards. Back then, Hallmark merely made formulaic cards with pretty colours and scenery. Walker was able to convince his bosses to make use of humorous cartoons, an idea Hallmark has used ever since. The young artist drew many cards personally.

Showme cover by Mort WalkerShowme cover by Mort Walker
Cover illustrations for Missouri Showme. 

In 1943 Walker was drafted and served his country during World War II. He was stationed in Italy as first lieutenant and put in charge of a POW camp. Much like 'Beetle Bailey' he never fought on any battlefield, but was merely a supply officer. Yet he still did important work. As an intelligence officer he investigated crimes occuring at the camp. By basically doing administrational jobs Walker was one of the few military veterans who had nothing but fond memories about his time in the army. Back in civilian life he finished his studies of literature at Washington University and journalism at the University of Missouri on the G.I. Bill. His cartoons could be seen in the college magazine Showme, of which he was both editor and art director. Walker was such a dynamic person that he made several changes to the amateur publication, which eventually doubled its sales!

Cartoon by Mort Walker
Cartoon for '1000 Jokes' (late 1940s).

After graduation Walker moved to Manhattan with the desire to become a professional cartoonist. To earn some money he worked as editor for the joke magazine 1000 Jokes by Dell Publishing, and ghosting columns for humorists like Red Skelton and Bob Hope. He quickly managed to sell his first cartoons. These earliest works drew from his own life experience. 'Spider' (1948-1950) was a one-panel gag cartoon about a lazy university student, published in the Saturday Evening Post. Walker based his personality on a fellow student he used to know in high school. Spider was rarely seen without a hat, covering up his eyes. King Features Syndicate showed interest in the character, but requested a name change. Walker eventually chose 'Beetle Bailey', making a nod to Saturday Evening Post cartoon editor John Bailey. He also turned his cartoon into an actual comic strip.

Cartoon starring Spider, from The Saturday Evening Post
Cartoon starring Spider, from The Saturday Evening Post.

Beetle Bailey
The first episode of 'Beetle Bailey' appeared in twelve newspapers on 4 September 1950. It happened to be the final comic strip personally approved for publication by William Randolph Hearst. At first Beetle Bailey continued his life at school campus. Yet Walker had already been thinking up gags about university for three years now and wanted a change of setting. As the Korean war had started, many university students were called up for military service. Once again he took inspiration from his own life and decided to have Bailey drafted as well in March 1951. It was a drastic change in tone, but readers responded far more enthusiastically to this army setting than the college one. As such Bailey has never left the army since. Lucky for him he never saw actual combat either, another thing he has in common with his creator. Although 'Beetle Bailey' debuted the same year the Korean War broke out, Walker made a conscious decision to never let his characters be involved in an actual war or military conflict. Devoid of politics 'Beetle Bailey' could thus be enjoyed by all audiences.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
Beetle joins the army on 13 March 1951.

All action in 'Beetle Bailey' takes place at a military base, Camp Swampy. The camp is full of incompetent militaries. Bailey usually gets in trouble by making mistakes, being caught sleeping or asking questions at inappropriate times. His fellow recruits are equally unmotivated. Killer is only interested in women. The skirt-chaser was based on an oversexed roommate Walker used to know. Rocky enjoys rock 'n' roll and is therefore very easygoing to the point of not doing anything substantial. Zero manages to be even more stupid than all other soldiers combined. Zero took his inspiration from a nice recruit Walker used to know, but was just too clumsy to do his job straight. The only smart person is Plato, who often makes clever observations which unfortunately lead to punishments. Walker based him on Dik Browne. Another cast member based on people the artist used to know is Cookie Jowls, the filthy army cook. Walker created him as a summarization of all similar cooks he had to suffer through in the army.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
'Beetle Bailey', 29 January 1961.

Higher in rank but not in intelligence we find Sergeant Orville T. Snorkel and general Amos T. Halftrack. Snorkel is the second most recognizable character of the series after Bailey. He is an obese sergeant with one tooth sticking out his mouth. Snorkel constantly tries to bring discipline to his company, but fails every time. He is particularly irritated with Bailey who never learns from his mistakes. A running gag is that he often beats the helpless soldier up. Yet Snorkel could easily blame himself, since he never thinks his commands through. In the end he is not a real bully either. Snorkel has more of a love-hate relationship with his subordinates. They irritate him, but at the same time he occasionally feels sorry for them too. The sergeant also owns a dog, Otto, who shares the same uniform and strictness. The dog was named after legendary cartoonist Otto Soglow (of 'The Little King' fame) whom Walker knew personally. One rank above Snorkel is Lieutenant Sonny Fuzz. Fuzz is very strict and constantly critiques the others for minor violations, while showing off how excellent he follows "the rules". Walker based Fuzz partially on himself, because he too once had his success as an officer go to his head. Other character traits of Fuzz were based on a general he used to know and who lacked discipline.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
'Beetle Bailey'. 

Camp Swampy is run by general Halftrack, a moustached war veteran who is bullied around by his wife Martha. Not without reason, as Halftrack is often attracted and distracted by his young female secretary, Mrs. Buxley. Buxley was originally nothing else but dumb eye candy. When 'Beetle Bailey' was criticized in the 1960s for being too sexist she underwent the most notable personality change of all characters. She became more intelligent and received more lines in the series. Still, this didn't end accusations of sexism there and then. One 1997 gag had General Halftrack asking Ms. Buxley a "good explanation why she was late". When she answered that her bra strap had broken Halftrack had a lustful look on his face. So many readers' letters came in that Walker decided to make the controversy part of the plot. For a couple of episodes Halftrack had to undergo sensitivy training, which naturally wrote several new funny situations by itself.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
'Beetle Bailey', 17 November 1971.

It might surprise readers that this was hardly the only controversy generated by 'Beetle Bailey'. As early as the 1950s the comic was dropped from the Tokyo edition of Stars and Stripes magazine for its "disrespectful portrayal of military officers". In 1970 the paper banned the comic again, when Walker introduced a new recurring character: Lieutenant Flap, who is black. In 1992 'Beetle Bailey' made a rare topical joke when Halftrack was asked how he felt about "income tax becoming retroactive", to which he replied: "I think they ought to make the draft retroactive and send Clinton to Vietnam." This reference to President Bill Clinton's draft evasion led to several angry reactions. A 2006 gag in which Rocky claimed he "stole cars from a parking lot and resold them" was censored and the speech balloon changed into the more innocent claim that he sold the vehicles from " a junkyard". Though in some countries, like Norway, the gag appeared uncensored.

Unpublished joke, except in the Swedish book 'Knasen - Fräckisarna som stannade på skiss-stadiet'
Unpublished joke, except in the Swedish book 'Knasen - Fräckisarna som stannade på skiss-stadiet'.

Dirty jokes versions
'Beetle Bailey' has also gained some notoriety for featuring sexual innuendo. Apart from the attractive female recruits which appeared in the series at the instigation of Milton Caniff to "boost up readership", there have been various jokes with risqué allusions. In the United States these were usually censored, but they appeared without any problems in European translations. Walker and his assistants showed a gift for self-mockery by deliberately creating more explicit dirty jokes for 'Beetle Bailey' and other series. These were of course never intended for publication, though some did get printed in the far less prudish Scandinavian countries. In Sweden these censored jokes were even compiled and published in a separate book! It shows both the original comics in English, with subtitles added underneath.

Beetle Bailey (22 March 1966)
'Beetle Bailey' (22 March 1966).

Beetle Bailey's popularity
'Beetle Bailey' became a commercial success after he joined the army. By 14 September 1952 it received its own Sunday page. The series spawned various comic books sold by Dell Comics, Gold Key, King, Charlton, Gold Key again and eventually Harvey Comics. 'Beetle Bailey' is published and translated all over the globe in more than 1.800 newspapers. It has appeared in French, Italian, Dutch ('Flippie Flink'), German ('Schütze'), Spanish ('Beto el Recluta'), Portuguese ('Recruta Zero'), Danish ('Basserne'), Norwegian ('Billy'), Swedish (first as 'Nr. 13 Wilmer', then as 'Knasen'), Finnish ('Masi') and Turkish ('Hasbi Tembel Er'). The British weekly TV Comic even had local artists Mike Noble and Roland Davies produce original 'Beetle Bailey' gags for this magazine between 1964 and 1969. In 1962 the Famous Studios tried to adapt 'Beetle Bailey' into an animated TV series, but this failed to get huge ratings. In 1989 the comic strip received another animated TV special which remained unaired. Brazilian artists Primaggio Mantovi and Xalberto drew local versions of 'Beetle Bailey' named 'Recruta Zero'. Since 1992 a bronze statue of Beetle Bailey can be seen at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, where Walker was once a student.

Over the years, Walker has been assisted on the strip by Bob Gustafson, Jerry Dumas, Ralston Jones, Frank Johnson, Bill Janocha and his sons Neal, Brian and Greg Walker (who was eventually co-credited with his father). Original short stories for the comic books were drawn by Gustafson, Dumas, Johnson, Tony Di Preta and Fred Rhoads, while Jack Mendelsohn and Dave Berg were involved as scriptwriters. Mort Walker personally oversaw the production of his strip at his so-called "Connecticut laugh factory studio" until well into his 90s. In 2002 a new character was introduced to the series through a readers' contest. Chip Gizmo, the computer specialist, was suggested by reader Earl Hemminger. The profits of the contest went to the Fisher House Foundation.

Hi and Lois by Dik Browne and Mort Walker
'Hi and Lois' (7 December 1969), artwork by Dik Browne.

Hi and Lois
While 'Beetle Bailey' remains Walker's most recognizable work he also scripted other newspaper comics. On 18 October 1954 'Beetle Bailey' received a spin-off named 'Hi and Lois'. Lois was Beetle's sister in the series and the spin-off revolved around her and her husband, Hi, and their four children Chip, the twins Dot and Ditto and Trixie the baby. 'Hi and Lois' came about for two reasons. Walker noticed that most newspaper comics about couples always featured husbands and wives who were arguing. He felt audiences would enjoy a gentler kind of family comic more and thus 'Hi and Lois' only featured recognizable everyday situations which weren't too out-of-the-ordinary. Walker was also concerned that the popularity of 'Beetle Bailey' might fade away since the Korean War had come to an end. So, to be on the safe side a second comic series looked like a good idea. As it turned out 'Beetle Bailey' remained beloved with readers and has been in print almost as long as 'Hi & Lois' did. He wrote all gags and narratives for 'Hi and Lois', but hired another artist, Dik Browne (of 'Hagar the Terrible' fame) to provide the drawings. In October 1956 a Sunday page came about. In 1962 Browne won a Reuben Award for his work, while the series itself won the award for "Best Humor Strip" by the National Cartoonists' Society in 1959, 1960 and 1972. Over the years Browne received assistance from Jerry Dumas, Gill Fox, Fred Rhoads, Bob & Greg Gustafson, Madeline Brogan, as well as Walker's sons Greg Walker and Brian Walker (script) and Browne's own son Chance (art). After Browne passed away in 1994 Chance Browne continued the illustration work, while Greg and Brian Walker continued the scripts. 'Hi and Lois' appears in over 1.000 newspapers all over the world and had two comic book albums with longer stories, published by Dell in the late 1950s and again by Charlton between 1969 and 1971.

Mrs. Fitz's Flats (27 January 1962), drawn by Frank Roberge
'Mrs. Fitz's Flats' (27 January 1962), drawn by Frank Roberge.

Mrs. Fitz's Flats
Walker and his team also wrote most of the gags for Frank Roberge's gag series 'Mrs. Fitz's Flats' (1957-1972). The series made its debut on 7 January 1957 and was originally intended for a friend of Walker's, but Roberge insisted that it was given to him instead. The comic revolved around the eccentric inhabitants of an apartment block, owned by a nice old widow named Sophie Fitz. Among the people living in her flat were aspiring actress Sireen, incurable gambler Turf, failed painter Umber, lazy janitor Linseed, mad scientist Professor Neutron, the bickering couple Danube and Ludvig and the more loving but impoverished Lord and Lady Balderdash. Walker specifically choose for an apartment block as a location because it offered an excuse to combine all these off the wall characters in one comic. 'Mrs. Fitz's Flats' had a retro look and equally old-fashioned style of comedy. It might explain why the series didn't really catch on. Having learned from past experience with 'Beetle Bailey' Walker tried a change of setting. On 22 February 1961 Mrs. Fitz decided to stay at a farm for a while, which opened the gates for various hillbilly jokes. Two months later, on 10 April 1961, the series changed its title to 'Mrs. Fitz' and had her marry Linseed the janitor. The newlyweds promptly left for Florida, where a new cast of recurring characters was introduced. Mrs. Fitz and Linkweed met a retired ferry captain and his wife, two children named Trinket and Albert, Barf the teenager and a self-conscious cat called Mercedes. Walker and Roberge kept the setting in this locale for two years until Fitz and Linkweed moved back to their apartment, taking Barf with them to assist Linseed. All these changes could not conceal that the series ran out of steam. Some episodes occasionally feature "off model" art, hinting at a possible ghost artists whose identity remains unknown or Roberge possibly becoming less interested in the series. 'Mrs. Fitz's Flats' ended on 28 October 1972.

Sam and Silo (19 March 1978), artwork by Jerry Dumas
'Sam and Silo' (19 March 1978), artwork by Jerry Dumas.

Sam's Strip
The most style-breaking comic of Walker's career was 'Sam's Strip' (1961-1963), for which Jerry Dumas provided the drawings. This gag-a-day comic premiered on 16 October 1961 and is a satirical deconstruction of every conceivable comic strip cliché, even the ones found in Walker's own work. The series also had numerous cameos of other well known comic series by other artists, including George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan', Chic Young's 'Blondie', Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google', Bud Fisher's 'Mutt & Jeff', Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts' and Walt Disney's 'Donald Duck'. At the time most of the comedy was far too self-referential and full of inside jokes for the general public to understand every punchline. Some comics by other artists referenced in the series required a certain familiarity with early 20th century newspaper comics. As a result 'Sam's Strip' ended its run on 1 June 1963, after less than two years. Yet it remains beloved among comic fans. On 18 April 1977 Dumas and Walker would pick up the same characters again and retitle the series it as 'Sam and Silo'. This spin-off, however, was a more conventional audience-pleaser in which the duo became a bumbling sheriff and his deputy. Walker worked on the strip until 1995, after which Dumas took over sole control.

Boner's Ark (12 May 1968), drawn by Addison
'Boner's Ark' (12 May 1968), drawn by Addison.

Boner's Ark
On 11 March 1968 Walker launched 'Boner's Ark' (1968-2000), a gag comic about a sea captain, Boner. Just like Noah, Boner travels the ocean with a large group of animals. It was never explained why there had been an enormous flood, nor why Boner only brought one animal of each species along? Nevertheless: they kept sailing for a solid 32 years. Contrary to most of Walker's other long-running series 'Boner's Ark' initially wasn't a huge success. He correctly assumed it had something to do with the recurring cast. Originally new animals appeared every episode. Walker felt readers couldn't relate to a cast that was always changing. After a while he picked out all the characters which had comedic potential and dropped all others. Boner remained the only human on board. In terms of animals he only kept nine characters: Aarnie the aardvark, Duke the penguin, Rex the Tyrannosaurus, Cubcake the koala, Priscilla the Pig, Dum-Dum the gorilla and a duck whom everyone refers to as "The Doctor" since he is the ship's medical aid. Lookout the giraffe is the literal look-out who searches for new land. Also on board is an unnamed hyena who frequently complains about whatever irritates him about the ship. Walker initially drew the comic strip personally, albeit under the pseudonym Addison - which is his second surname. In 1971 he passed the pencil to Frank B. Johnson, while remaining on board of the ark as scriptwriter. It took until 1981 before Johnson started signing his name on the panels. Despite a long run 'Boner's Ark' never enjoyed the same worldwide popularity as 'Beetle Bailey' or 'Hi and Lois', despite translations in Norwegian, Swedish (both under the title 'Arken'), Danish ('Olsen's Ark'), Finnish ('Masan Arkki'), Italian and Dutch ('De Ark van Zoo'). Boner and his animal passengers eventually went ashore on 27 May 2000.

The Evermores (29 March 1982), artwork by Johnny Sajem
'The Evermores' (29 March 1982), artwork by Johnny Sajem.

The Evermores
In the early 1970s Walker wrote the children's books, 'Most' (1971) and 'Land of Lost Things' (1972), both illustrated by Dik Browne. A decade later he created no less than three extra daily gag comics, though in nearly all cases he was just the writer. First in line was 'The Evermores' (1982-1986), drawn by Johnny Sajem. 'The Evermores' was a family comic and though it centered around the same father, mother and their children each episode was set in a different time period. Walker's initial idea was to show that all throughout the ages every family had problems comparable to modern families. His characters therefore appeared as cavemen, knights, pirates, cowboys, musketeers, ancient Egyptians... Though naturally anachronisms were included for extra laughs. Still, Walker quickly noticed readers didn't really like these constant changes. Some even had difficulty recognizing the cast in their different costumes. Having learned from past experiences with 'Beetle Bailey' Walker therefore looked for a more permanent setting. The newspaper organized a readers' poll to find out which historical time period pleased the general public the most? The end result was Ancient Rome and thus from that point on all episodes took place in that time period.

Betty Boop and Felix
In 1984 Walker was involved in the creation of 'Betty Boop and Felix' (1984-1988), an unusual newspaper comic in the sense that it starred two characters he didn't create personally, namely Max Fleischer's flapper girl Betty Boop and Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer's 'Felix the Cat'. Walker came up with the idea after reading a book about the history of animation. He felt that Betty and Felix were such great graphic characters that they ought to be revived. Rather than write and draw the series himself he left this task to his sons Brian, Morgan, Neal and Greg, who signed it as "Walker brothers". The pair were also recast in different roles. Betty was now a housewife, while Felix became her pet. Much like Charles M. Schulz' 'Snoopy' and Jim Davis' 'Garfield' Felix never spoke, but just communicated his lines through thought balloons. 'Betty Boop and Felix' was in some ways comparable to 'Sam's Strip', in the sense that occasionally other well known animated characters had a cameo, like Fleischer's Koko the Clown and Jay Ward's Bullwinkle J. Moose. Ironically enough the Walker brothers didn't encounter any copyright issues with these characters, but after a while King Features discovered that they didn't own the rights to Felix! From that moment on Felix was dropped from the series which became a vehicle for Betty alone.

Gamin and Patches by Addison
'Gamin and Patches '(11 December 1987), with guest appearance by Mrs. Fitz.

Gamin and Patches
Walker's final personal project was 'Gamin and Patches' (1987-1988), which wasn't distributed by King Features but by their rival United Feature Syndicate. The series debuted on 27 April 1987 and revolved around a homeless boy, Gamin, and his moustached dog Patches. Walker had classic literary characters in mind like Hector Malot's 'Rémy', Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' and Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn' and happy-go-lucky comic characters such as Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan' and Clarence D. Russell's 'Pete the Tramp'. He assumed Gamin would charm readers in the same way. Unfortunately the general audience looked at Gamin with pity, more in line with Harold Gray's 'Little Orphan Annie' and Ed Verdier's 'Little Annie Rooney'. Even though Walker kept the tone of his comic happy and carefree people still couldn't see the comedy in a poor young boy who had to live on the street. The series thus was cancelled again after a year. Walker drew every episode personally, with assistance of Bill Janocha. He signed them with his pseudonym "Addison" and added a tiny drawing of a walking man next to his signature, as a pun on his last name. One other newspaper comic Walker occasionally wrote gags for was 'Bringing Up Father', originally created by George McManus, but continued from 1981 on by his 'Boner's Ark' companion Frank Johnson.

The Lexicon of Comicana
Explanation of grawlixes, from 'The Lexicon of Comicana'.

Comics promotion
Mort Walker has also been important in promoting comics through other media. He expanded the National Cartoonists' Society from a mere hobby club of twenty members into a professional organisation. Apart from comic artists he also included cartoonists and made sure female members were welcome as well. In 1953 he became the final person to win the Billy DeBeck Memorial Award for professional cartoonists. Walker then renamed the prize into the Reuben Award, which is still distributed on an annual basis. Originally named after Billy DeBeck, the prize is nowadays named after Rube Goldberg. Walker was known to be a great communicator who easily won other people's charm. He even managed to invite pop art painter Roy Lichtenstein over for a speech. Lichtenstein was a very polarizing artist among comic fans, because some felt he cashed in and downgraded comics by merely plagiarizing imagery without permission and then selling it for millions. So when the artist came over many people in the hall weren't very happy to see him. Yet Walker gave Lichtenstein the opportunity to defend himself and as a result he received a standing ovation from everybody, even people who originally didn't like him.

Sprite advertisement by Mort Walker
Sprite advertisement drawn by Walker in 1969.

Walker also wrote numerous books and essays about comics. In 1964 he wrote an article named 'Let's Get Down to Grawlixes' for the National Cartoonists Society. In this text he suggested using the term "grawlixes" to describe typographical symbols used when comic characters swear. Though merely meant as a joke the term did eventually find common use among comic scholars. As such Walker decided to expand on his initial idea and wrote an entire book thinking up terms for iconography and typography commonly found in every comic strip: 'The Lexicon of Comicana' (1980). Several of these terms have been used by comic scholars and fans, but have yet to make it as a dictionary entry. Between 2006 and 2010 he also set up his own monthly newsletter, The Best of Times, with his son Neal as editor and publisher. The humorous publication was distributed freely throughout Connecticut and was also made available through the Internet.

Hi and Lois by Mort Walker and Dik Browne
The Flagstone family visits the National Cartoon Museum on 27 August 1989 ('Hi and Lois', drawn by Dik Browne).

National Cartoon Museum
The artist furthermore built up an entire collection of authentic comic strip pages and made them available for exhibition. At the time many people saw no genuine value in comics, even the artists themselves. Numerous drawings were thrown away after publishment. One day, when Walker saw original 'Krazy Kat' episodes by George Herriman being used to sop up water leaks in King Features' headquarters, he was so shocked that he felt the need to save these drawings. In 1974 he established the Museum of Cartoon Art in Stamford, Connecticut. It was dedicated to the exhibition and preservation of cartoons, comics and animated films by various artists. He also established his own Hall of Fame, named the William Randolph Hearst Hall of Fame, to pay homage to classic comic artists. In 1976 the museum moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, moving to Port Chester, New York and in 1992 to Boca Raton, Florida where it was renamed the National Cartoon Museum. While Walker also saw it as his greatest achievement, the museum always battled with financial problems. In 2002 it definitively closed its doors, though six years later the collection was purchased by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
'Beetle Bailey', 3 September 1980.

Walker has received many awards and honors throughout his career. In 1954 he received a Reuben Award for 'Beetle Bailey'. The National Cartoonists Society awarded him the Humor Strip Award in 1966 and 1969, while Walker also won the Elzie Segar Award twice: (1977) and (1999). In 1979 he won a Inkpot Award, in 1989 he was inducted in the Museum of Cartoon Art Hall of Fame, while the Pentagon awarded him the Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service. In 2000 he was decorated by the U.S. army for Distinguished Civilian Service and honored as a Chevalier dans les Arts et des Lettres. Ten years later he received a lifetime achievement Sparky Award (2010). On 6 October 1965 he was also one of six cartoonists (the others being Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, Bill Mauldin, Don Sherwood and George Wunder) to be invited by U.S President Lyndon B. Johnson to the White House as "creators of military comics."

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
'Beetle Bailey' (2 March 1965).

Longevity and family atmosphere in the studio
Mort Walker was one of the most productive and longest-running comic artists and writers of all time. Starting off at age 13 and continuing until age 94, though strictly as a writer and creative advisor, his career lasted over 80 years. In terms of age he was only surpassed by Al Jaffee who was not only two years older than him and had an uninterrupted career, but also only retired at age 99(!). Walker on the other hand went through times when he couldn't publish, like his army years. Another distinction is that Jaffee has always drawn his comics personally, while Walker eventually solely concentrated on writing, lettering and making the preliminary sketches for new episodes, while his assistants inked and made the finished art. Nevertheless Walker's studio remained a family business throughout the decades. Walker, his sons and assistant Jerry Dumas all prepared gags on their own, then sat together each month to read them all through. Good gags were given high grades. Gags others didn't find funny or weren't instantly understandable were rated down, sometimes to be reworked later. This artisanal creative collaboration provided a more intimate atmosphere which likely helped the production to be more a labour of love than a soulless factory mentality. 

Death, legacy and influence
Walker died from complications of pneumonia on 27 January 2018, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 94 years old. Besides on his many co-workers and assistants, Walker was also a huge influence on Gordon Bess, Jim Davis, Peter de Wit, Guy GilchristPrimaggio MantoviRick Tulka, Bob EnglehartZoran Kovacevic, Werner Wejp-Olsen and many other newspaper gag strip artists. Both Caroll Spinney's 'Harvey' and David Law's 'Corporal Clott' were obviously modelled after 'Beetle Bailey'. 

Books about Mort Walker
For those interested in Walker's life, his autobiography 'Mort Walker's Private Scrapbook. Celebrating a Life of Love and Laughter' (2000) is highly recommended. Bill Janocha also wrote a book about his taskmaster: 'Birth Of A Beetle. The Magazine Cartoons of Mort Walker' (Hermes Press, 2018), which collects gags and art from Walker's early career before he made 'Beetle Bailey'. In 2020 a short documentary, 'Reveille - A Family Legacy in Comics' (2020), was released, directed by Mort Walker's grandson Dave, which shows footage from 2014, proving how close-knit and artisanal the production of 'Beetle Bailey' still was after all those years. 

Mort Walker

Beetle Bailey (on King Features site)
Mort Walker on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

Series and books by Mort Walker you can order today:


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