Friday, July 03, 2009


News of Yore 1950: Beetle Bailey Debuts

New King Comic Strip Has College Locale
By Jane McMaster (E&P, 8/12/50)

Mort Walker, whose "Beetle Bailey" may be unique in its status of a comic about college life,
is not so far removed from his subject. He finished at the University of Missouri in 1948 after an Army stint interrupted his studies.

The chief character in his daily gag strip, which King Features offers for Sept. 4 release, is an eyeless wonder (his hat covers his peepers) fashioned somewhat after a Kappa Sig fraternity brother of the cartoonist's. (The brother picked up the name of "Spider" after some tall climbing one night of exuberance.)

Anti-study, and regularly mooching off his freshman roommate, Beetle turned up first in the Saturday Evening Post about a year and a half ago. The advice of the Satevepost cartoon editor: "Draw what you know" resulted in more of the same, and eventually, the comic strip.

Authentic Collegiana
With a locale of Rockview University, the strip may cause waves of nostalgia among Missouri grads who will recognize "the Shack," student hangout made out of an old railroad car, and other spots. The 26-year-old cartoonist calls his background authentic collegiana: he's made a study and they all have equivalents of the shack; ivy, arbored walks, etc., he says.

Characters or composites of characters he's known people the feature in his effort to achieve life-likeness, says the artist. A basic realism pointed up with satire and slapstick humorous poses, and universal situations are some of his goals.

The cartoonist seems to have been something of a child prodigy in his field. He sold his first cartoon at 11 to Child Life magazine. At 14, he sold to Inside Detective, Flying Aces and others. At 15 he drew a once-a-week comic strip, "The Lime Juicers," for the Kansas City Journal for 20 weeks before the paper's demise. At 16, he was an editorial designer for Hallmark cards.

An attempt to major in journalism at college was foiled presumably because he lacked the proper courses for the first two years. But the cartoonist darkly hints his post as editor of "The Missouri Showme," humor magazine, probably considered the outhouse of journalism, had something to do with it.

Gag Panels in Magazines
Coming to New York in 1948, he began selling gag panels to the big magazines: Satevepost, Collier's and This Week, among others.

Almost painfully interested in verisimilitude for his strip, Mr. Walker admits pouring over old annuals, "Showme's" and other mementoes in an effort to recall the flavor of those salad days. His wife Jean, who was a classmate, helps on ideas.

Both cartoonist and syndicate feel the strip has comic appeal that goes beyond the ivied walls. Says King comics editor Sylvan Byck: "We think teen-agers will like it as well as adults who have kids in school now, had kids in school or are just plain interested in kids. The fact that the characters are in college is interesting but incidental. The humor has general appeal"


I know that the size and style of comics have changed over the years, but I often miss the kind of art that characterized Beetle (and later Hi and Lois) back in the 50's and early to mid 60's.
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