Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey, has died. The cartoonist was 94 years old.
Walker died on January 27th at home in Stamford, Connecticut from pneumonia. His death was confirmed by Bill Morrison, the president of the National Cartoonists Society.
Walker created Beetle Bailey in 1950. Walker drew the comic strip, a staple of newspaper comics sections, for 70 years, the longest run on a comic strip for any American artist in history.
Beetle Bailey was distributed by King Features Syndicate. The strip was delivered via 1,800 newspapers in more than 50 countries, reaching a readership of over 200 million. Beetle and the other characters from the strip appeared in comic books, a television cartoon series, games, toys, books, musicals, and postage stamps.
Beetle Bailey was an early pioneer in moving comic strips away from serialized adventures to self-contained gag strips, which is the dominant structure for the medium today.
Beetle Bailey centered on a group of military men posted at Camp Swampy. The characters Walker created for Beetle Bailey include the strip’s lazy, slacker namesake. The was also Sgt. Snorkel, a Beetle’s passionate but violent commanding officer. Gen. Halftrack ran Camp Swampy with little to no success. Halftrack’s secretary was the alluring Miss Buxley. Pvt. Zero and the camp’s chef, Cookie, rounded out the cast.
Beetle Bailey wasn’t Walker’s only comic strip success. In 1954, Walker launched a family strip titled Hi and Lois with illustrator Dick Browne, who would later go on to create Hagar the Horrible.
Walker worked closely with his assistants Jerry Dumas and Bill Janocha and his sons Brian and Greg on Beetle Bailey and the creation of several more comic strips, including Boner’s Ark and Sam’s Strip. Brian and Greg have been writing Hi and Lois since the 1980s and have been reviewing their father’s Beetle Bailey gags since the 1970s. Brian and Greg will continue to create new Beetle Bailey strips.
Walker was dedicated to his art form. He opened the Museum of Cartoon Art in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1974. The museum’s collection grew to be worth an estimated $20 million. The museum closed in 2002, but its collection can be found as part of Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, where a gallery has been named after Walker.