10 Things You Might Not Know About Beetle Bailey

King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

It’s exceptionally rare for a cartoonist to have one breakout strip, but the late Mort Walker (1923-2018) managed to have two. In addition to the suburban family comedy Hi and Lois, Walker spearheaded the military farce Beetle Bailey, about a beleaguered recruit trying the patience of his commanding officer, the rather abusive Sergeant Snorkel. Check out some facts about Beetle’s origins, his brush with seriousness, and why Walker got in trouble for drawing navels.

1. IT STARTED AS A COLLEGE CAMPUS COMEDY.

Walker’s initial idea for a strip didn’t feature any fatigues or military equipment. While drawing cartoons for The Saturday Evening Post, he decided to try creating a story around a university student named Spider who kept his hat pulled over his eyes and tried to navigate college life by doing as little as possible. Changing his name to Beetle Bailey—the surname was a nod to a supportive editor at the Post—Walker had him wander into an Army recruiting station. Inspired, he retrofitted the strip so that barracks would take the place of a dorm. (Walker himself had been drafted, serving four years during World War II.) Debuting in 1950, Beetle Bailey set a record for the longest continuous work by a comic strip artist: Walker worked on it for 68 years.

2. IT WAS BANNED BY THE U.S. MILITARY.

In the 1950s, Beetle Bailey took its place as a steady but otherwise unremarkable addition to the comics pages. Then Walker got an unexpected promotional boost. The U.S. military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper, which had been running the strip, banned it from its Tokyo editions over fears it might incite disrespect toward commanding officers. (Beetle was lazy and typically disinterested in following orders.) The prohibition lasted for a decade and was subjected to so much ridicule that Beetle became a recurring presence in newspaper headlines. The strip was eventually syndicated to more than 1800 papers. 

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR INTRODUCING A BLACK CHARACTER.

In 1970, Walker “integrated” Beetle’s Camp Swampy by introducing Lt. Jack Flap, a black enlistee. Again, Stars and Stripes decided to ban the strip for fear it would incite racial tension among servicemen; some newspapers in the South also dropped the strip. The ensuing attention led to even more success for the cartoon, adding 100 newspapers to its roster.

4. EDITORS BANNED WALKER FROM DRAWING BELLY BUTTONS.

For decades, comic strips were perceived as being an all-ages form of entertainment and were often subjected to extreme forms of censorship. In 2005, Walker recalled having an extended disagreement decades prior with an editor who banned him from showing anyone’s bare belly button in Beetle Bailey.

“Every time I showed a girl in a bathing suit, I put in a navel,” he said. “They’d take it out. I’d put in another one. They’d take it out. I heard that the editor had started collecting my navels. He’d cut them out with a razor blade and put them in a small container labeled ‘Beetle Bailey’s Belly Button Box.'" To get even, Walker once drew Camp Swampy receiving a shipment of navel oranges, all of which had a mascot on the box with a bare midriff. The oranges each had a navel, as well. Overwhelmed, the editor left it alone.

5. WALKER DREW LITTLE-SEEN DIRTY VERSIONS OF THE STRIP.

It’s not unusual for artists working on juvenile material to doodle more explicit versions for their own amusement. Even Dr. Seuss was known to dash off adult material. Walker was no exception, though he did take the additional step of seeing his more mature Beetle Bailey sketches published in Sweden. Titled Knasen: Varning for Snusk (Warning for Smut), the collection depicts Beetle and his cast in a series of ribald, leering panels featuring jokes about sex and engaged in salacious, very not-safe-for-work activity. "We'll sometimes get ideas for strips that are dirty," Walker said in 2000. "And sometimes we'll draw them up, for private use. Well, an editor in Sweden once asked me about them, and I said, 'Oh, you can't run them in newspapers.' And he said, 'We can over here.'"

6. THE GENERAL WAS ACCUSED OF BEING SEXIST.

In 1997, General Amos Halftrack, the commanding officer of Camp Swampy, was singled out for being sexist, having made decades’ worth of comments directed at voluptuous secretary Miss Buxley. Walker decided to have Halftrack undergo sensitivity training after a series of headlines about real Army commanders behaving inappropriately. Years earlier, Walker had altered Buxley’s wardrobe to be more conservative after complaints from readers that she was coming to work in attire that was too revealing.

7. BEETLE BATTLED PTSD.

In a rare detour into seriousness, Walker decided to explore the real-world issues of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and brain trauma suffered by soldiers in the panels of his strip. In one 2013 installment, Beetle is shown having nightmares and trouble sleeping. Walker said he did it to help raise awareness for the lingering effects of war on returning military personnel.

8. LINCOLN HELPED INSPIRE HIS SCULPTURE.

A bronze sculpture of Beetle sits on the campus of the University of Missouri, the school which Walker graduated from in 1948. After being approached by faculty about a sculpture, Walker decided to model it after a statue he had seen of Abraham Lincoln sitting, which had been created by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Tourists could sit beside him for photos. The Beetle sculpture is similar, with the character relaxing at a table. The statue was unveiled in 1992.

9. HE ANGERED SUPPORTERS OF BILL CLINTON.

In 1997, Walker made a contemporary reference in a strip that was otherwise frozen in time. A character remarked that the draft should be made retroactive so then-president Bill Clinton would be sent to Vietnam. (In 1992, Clinton was criticized for enrolling in the Reserve Officer Training Corps to allegedly avoid being drafted.) Walker said he got hundreds of angry letters for the joke.

10. THE STRIP WAS RECOGNIZED BY THE PENTAGON.

After 50 years of “service,” Beetle Bailey finally got a little acknowledgment from his higher-ups. The (real) Pentagon invited Walker and three of his costumed characters to a ceremony in May 2000 that honored the cartoonist for his work in supporting the military. Walker was presented with the Secretary of the Army’s Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, the Army’s highest civilian honor. "I think finally the brass has learned how to laugh at themselves a little bit," Walker said. "They're not kicking me out of Stars and Stripes anymore like they did a couple of times."

This Graphic Novel Scratch-Off Chart Lets You Track Your Comic Reading List

Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

With so many comic books being adapted into some of the most popular movies and television shows in Hollywood right now, you might find yourself wanting to go back to their roots on the page. But reading through the world’s most celebrated graphic novels isn’t so simple. There are so many different genres, publishers, and styles to choose from, making it overwhelming to find a proper starting point. This new scratch-off poster from the folks at Pop Chart Lab solves that problem by turning that daunting reading list into a colorful piece of home decor.

The chart features illustrated icons from dozens of different graphic novels from all around the world. Though you’ll recognize familiar sights like the bat signal from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan, they’ll be colored in a drab grey. Once you gently scratch off that monochrome outer layer, though, you’ll reveal a vibrant new image underneath.

The idea is to scratch off each title as you read through the list to turn the chart into colorful wall art that shows off your progress. And don’t worry, there’s no filler on this chart. Standards like Watchmen, Maus, and A Contract With God share space with recent hits, including the Civil Rights Movement title March, the spellbinding sci-fi world of Saga, and the coming-of-age tale This One Summer.

Pop Chart Lab's Essential Graphic Novels Scratch-Off Chart
Pop Chart Lab

It’s also perfect for fans looking to expand beyond superhero titles, as you’ll only find a handful of men in tights here, with the highlights being Marvels, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Killing Joke. The rest is made up of samurai epics (Usagi Yojimbo), fantasy classics (Sandman), memoirs (Fun Home), and crime comics (Stray Bullets).

The chart is 12 inches by 16 inches and costs $25 over on the Pop Chart Lab website. Once you pre-order, the pieces will start shipping on August 21.

Pop Chart Lab's Essential Graphic Novels Scratch-Off Chart
Pop Chart Lab

5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past

Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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