August 28th, 2020
Next week we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Beetle Bailey. For more on that click here:
Mort Walker’s birthday was the day before Beetle’s debut. The Sunday page above was a tribute illustrated by Eric Reaves in 2018.
Addison Morton Walker was born in El Dorado, Kansas on Sept. 3, 1923 and had cartooning aspirations at a very young age. He entered cartoon contests, worked up ideas for comic strips, sent fan letters to famous cartoonists and drew cartoons for school publications. Here he is at age fourteen.
Mort’s first professional cartooning job was as a greeting card designer for Hallmark while he was attending Kansas City Junior College.
After serving in the Army during World War II and graduating from the University of Missouri, Mort was working as a magazine cartoonist in New York when John Bailey, the cartoon editor of the Saturday Evening Post, encouraged Mort to do some cartoons based on his college experiences. Beetle Bailey made his first appearance in 12 newspapers on Sept. 4, 1950.
King Features considered dropping Beetle Bailey after the first year’s contract was over. The Korean War was heating up at the time, so Mort decided to have Beetle enlist in the army. He quickly picked up a hundred papers. Mort redesigned the cast and a Sunday page was added in 1952.
After the Korean War ended in 1954, Mort was concerned that the military theme of Beetle Bailey would no longer be relevant. He created a sister, Lois, and brother-in-law, Hi, for Beetle and sent him home for a visit. After two weeks, readers demanded Beetle’s return to the army, so Mort gave in. He enjoyed doing family gags so much that he decided to start a second comic strip, which was illustrated by Dik Browne from the beginning.
Here’s a photo of Mort and Dik when Hi and Lois debuted in 1954.
The strip grew slowly and then took off when Trixie became the first “thinking baby” in the comics. Hi and Lois now appears in over 1,000 newspapers.
– Brian Walker
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