Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker dies at 94
Cartoonist Mort Walker, who drew upon his experiences as a World War II veteran to create his most iconic character, the lazy private Beetle Bailey, has died at age 94.
According to the Associated Press, Walker died of natural causes Saturday at his home in Connecticut.
Walker had a lifelong association with cartoons, publishing them as early as age 11. Although the indolent, anti-authority Beetle Bailey and the cast of characters at Camp Swampy were his most popular creations, he worked on several comic strips over the course of his career, including Hi and Lois, Boner’s Ark, and Sam & Silo.
Beetle Bailey began his life as a character named Spider in a series of cartoons published in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He took off in the 1950s when he changed his named to Beetle Bailey and joined the army in the wake of the Korean War. Bailey proved such a success that he led to a spin-off comic in 1954, Hi and Lois, co-created with Dik Browne and following Beetle Bailey home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois, and her husband, Hi.
Addison Morton Walker was born Sept. 3, 1923, in El Dorado, Kansas, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He served in World War II after being drafted in 1943, and his time in the war greatly influenced his comics throughout the rest of his life.
Though Beetle Bailey was Walker’s most indelible creation, he was also not without controversy. The comic faced criticism for fear that it would encourage disrespect of officers, as well as reports of sexism and Bailey’s own scrutiny of President Bill Clinton. However, the comic also became one of the first to add an African-American character to a pre-existing cast of characters when it introduced Lt. Jack Flap in 1970.
Along with a bevy of co-creators, Walker also created comics Sam and Silo, Boner’s Ark, and Mrs. Fitz’s Flats. Walker played a crucial role in preserving the art of comics for future generations, founding the Museum of Cartoon Art in Connecticut in 1974. It moved twice and closed in 2002 in Boca Raton, Florida. Walker planned to re-open it as the National Cartoon Museum in the Empire State Building, a plan he announced in 2005, but it never came to fruition.
For both his military service and his work with the Beetle Bailey comic, the Pentagon awarded Walker the Distinguished Civilian Service medal in 2000.
Walker is survived by four sons and two daughters, two step-children, as well as his second wife and several grandchildren.