Happy 70th anniversary to comic strip, Beetle Bailey! It's actually a special week because cartoonist Mort Walker was born yesterday, in 1923! Mort is best known for comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois, but in fact he was constantly creating new strips and projects he thought might benefit others (and maybe make a buck, too). He described himself to me as a “human inventing machine” and quipped “Seven days without laughter makes one weak.” Mort was a child prodigy who was endlessly enthusiastic about comics and jokes. He was selling work by 12, editorial designer at Hallmark by 18, humor mag editor in college, top magazine cartoonist by 27 -with Beetle syndicated that same year.
He loved the form and constantly fought to elevate comics, whether through battles over rights and contracts, leading the NCS, launching the comic US postage stamps, lending his talents to a variety of causes, or through his persistent dream to see a major comic museum thrive in the States. Mort was a great supporter of young cartoonists, sponsored new members in the NCS, and welcomed all into his life with a friendly, Huckleberry Hound voice (as Chance Browne once characterized it) and with a kind heart that seemed to say “the more the merrier.”
He sure loved the laughs, the wisecracks, but he could also listen when he needed to; his understanding and attitudes evolved. Trina Robbins told me this great story: “In about 1979 or 80, he came to the San Diego Comic Con and we women underground cartoonists all came to see his panel and challenge him. When I asked him about his in famous remark [about women not having a sense of humor], his reply showed how stereotyped his thinking was. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that he was surprised that there were so few women cartoonists because drawing comics was something you could do while the baby is sleeping or the laundry was getting done. We women walked out. But I’ll say this for him: he was good natured and open minded about it. Next time I saw him was at the SF Cartoon Art Museum, where I told him that I had considered pie-ing him, so that when he got mad I could tell him he had no sense of humor. My conversation with him opened his mind a little and he put on the first ever show of women cartoonists at his museum. And when he wrote to me announcing the show and asking my participation (remember letters?) he ended the letter by writing, ‘Next time we meet, I want the pie.’”
Time marches on and I see my students discover the creative works of their own time (some of them now are even publishing in The New Yorker!). But I hope the cartooning community will always save a special place for that enthusiastic kid named Mort, who perpetually nurtured his first great love- the funnies. Happy Birthday, Mort! We miss you. Below: celebrating a couple of fun 1960s topical stories from Beetle Bailey.
Mort's character, Sarge, had an on-going series of gags that featured various fantasy and pop-culture inspired dreams caused by his culinary indulgences. One of the key moments for Spy Vibers was this fun August 1966 homage to James Bond and Thunderball.
Beetle Bailey #38 appeared on the newsstands one year after the construction of the Berlin Wall. The issue featured a memorable cover design that depicted Beetle roasting marshmallows over a campfire and the bold title, Beetle Bailey in West Berlin by Mort Walker. Released in 1962, the same year as Deighton's The Ipcress File and the first 007 film, Dr No, the lead story in the comic addressed themes that would become popularized later with Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), Deighton's Funeral in Berlin (1964), and Trevor's The Quiller Memorandum (1965).
Spy Vibers can find my book, Talking Mort Walker, at all Amazon sites. Here are links to Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon Australia. Enjoy! Below: Mort in his studio. No matter what age we found him, he was always that enthusiastic kid at the drawing table following his bliss.
Selected Spy Vibe Posts: RSD Spies Vinyl, Ian Fleming Tribute, Fellini Box Set, Spy Vibe Radio: Vendetta, The Saint Podcast Bonus, The Saint Podcast, Barber Lotus, Diana Rigg at 82, Trad Roots, Morricone R.I.P., Fleetway Spy Designs, John Steel Casebooks, Paul at 78, ITC Podcast: The Persuaders, Dazzle Ships, Spy Vibe Radio: Raumpatrouille, Remembering Richard Sala, Crime & Spy Jazz books, Soviet Space Graphics, Numan is FAB, Bruce Lee Blu, John Barry Event, RSD Vinyl Spies, James Bond's DB5, UFO CD Set, Spy Vibe radio: Phantom Agents, Steranko is Revolutionary!, Interview: The Saint I Ain't, Diabolik Interview, New 007 Song, Diabolik Figures, Diabolik Sounds, Diabolik Set Design, Diabolik Park Ride, Danger Diabolik Blu, Count Arthur Strong, Honey West Title Cards, Bowie Day, New Year Cosmonauts, Neil Innes R.I.P., Claudine Auger R.I.P., OHMSS at 50, Italian Job 50th OST, Charles Schulz Modern, Paul Desmond, Python 50th, Randall Hopkirk 50th, Thunderbirds Day, Lazenby Returns to MI6, Dr. John R.I.P., Spy Vibe Radio: Lupin III, Lupin Ska, Spy Vibe Prime, Zigomar Translation, The Village: Part 1, Monkey Punch R.I.P., Bubble Girl 63, ITC Soundtracks, Spy Vibe Radio: Public Eye, UFO Prime, Spaceship to Mars, Modesty Blaise Companion, Spy Vibe Radio: Fantomas, George Day, Fantomas Blu, Dark Shadows Doc, Bedazzled Blu-ray, Mary Quant Exhibit, Laika Calypso, Lost in Space Japan, Spy Dust Calypso, Atomic Cafe, John Barry Mono, Interview: John Barry Book, Land of the Giants Score, Skyfall Concert, Dearest Emma, Spy Vibe Radio: Upperseven, Ogilvy at Elstree, Mabuse Propaganda, Bond Beatles Day, Spy Vibe Radio: Liquidator, Diabolik LP, Fab Dresses, Eurospy Music Collection, Beetle Bailey in West Berlin, Why Mort Walker?, Spy Vibe radio: The Beatles Help!, Avengers Critical Guide, The Spotnicks, Benny Spies, James Pond 0017', Satire Stones, Annette Andre Book, Cat Day, Spy Vibe Radio: Get Smart, Caine: My Generation, Interview: Ian Ogilvy, Horror of Party Beach, Sylvie Vartan Renown, Ringo At 78, Dark Shadows Strips, Spy Vibe Radio: Flint, Archie Batman 66, Paul at 76, Beatles Pac-Man, Spy Vibe Radio: Jerry Cotton, The Invaders, 007 Horowitz Book Tour, McGoohan/Prisoner Event at Elstree, The Prisoner Interviews Vol 1, British Underground Press, Interview: Fab4 Mania, Bond Cocktail Book, Bond at Bletchley, Spy Smasher, Spy Vibe Radio: Peter Gunn, Agent Zero M, New Prisoner Comic, Dr. No Villains Edition, Spy Vibe Radio: Danger Diabolik, Dr. No 60th, Oy-Oy-Seven, Spy Vibe Radio (UFO), Cold War Comic Strips, Thunderball Event, Mission to India, Mort Walker Celebration, Peter Wyngarde Celebration, Batman 66 Exhibit, Prisoner Fifty Event, Ian Fleming Publications 2017-2018, Interview: Ed Hulse Pulp, Avengers Audio Drama, Interview: Callan At 50, Interview: Playboys, Spies, Private Eyes, TWA Returns, Spy Vibe Radio 8, Interview: Ryan Heshka, Mid-Century Modern Schulz, Agent Werewolf, Johnny Sokko 50th, Interview: Trina Robbins, Eddie Izzard, The Prisoner Capt Scarlet 50th, Hugh Hefner R.I.P., Jack Good R.I.P., Interview: Shaken Not Stirred, Callan 50th, Spy Vibe Radio 7, The Prisoner 50th Event, Spy-Fi Event, Kaho Aso 007, Two Million, Bo Diddley, Carnaby Pop, Le Carre Events, Billy Bragg Skiffle, Elvis 68, Jack Kirby The Prisoner, Casino Royale Concert, Review: The Prisoner Vol 2, Interview: The Prisoner Essential Guide, Maud Russell Mottisfont, Spy Vibe Radio 4, Batman Gallants, Adam West R.I.P., Village Triangle, Roger Moore R.I.P., Spy Vibe Radio 3, Sgt Pepper 50th, Satanik Kriminal OST, 60s Overdrive, Make Love in London, Spy Vibe Radio 2, Spy Vibe Radio 1, James Bond Strips, Propaganda Mabuse, Interview: Police Surgeon, XTC Avengers, 1966 Pep Spies, Batman Book Interview, Exclusive Fleming Interview, Avengers Comic Strips, Robert Vaughn RIP, UNCLE Fashions, Thunderbirds Are Pop!, Interview: Spy Film Guide, Lost Avengers Found, The Callan File, Mission Impossible 50th, Green Hornet 50th, Star Trek 50th, Portmeirion Photography 1, Filming the Prisoner, Gaiman McGinnins Project, Ian Fleming Grave, Revolver at 50, Karen Romanko Interview, Mod Tales 2, Umbrella Man: Patrick Macnee, New Beatles Film, The Curious Camera, Esterel Fashion 1966, Exclusive Ian Ogilvy Interview, 007 Tribute Covers, The Phantom Avon novels return, Ian Fleming Festival, Argoman Design, Sylvia Anderson R.I.P., Ken Adam R.I.P., George Martin R.I.P., The New Avengers Comics, The Phantom at 80, 007 Manga, Avengerworld Book, Diana Rigg Auto Show, The Prisoner Audio Drama Review.