King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

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."

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A Canadian Man Set a Guinness World Record for Most Marvel Comic Tattoos

Here’s something to Marvel at: A 36-year-old man from Alberta, Canada just set a Guinness World Record for having the highest number of Marvel comic tattoos on his body, Nerdist reports.

Rick Scolamiero, of Edmonton, boasts 31 Marvel tattoos in total and is inked from his neck down to his feet. What started out as a plan to get a sleeve (full arm tattoo) of his favorite Marvel characters quickly morphed into a full-body makeover.

"I fell in love with the artist’s work and wanted to continue to see what else we could come up with regarding tattoos,” Scolamiero told Guinness World Records. “I have been a Marvel comic lover since I was small and growing up we didn’t have much but I always had my Marvel comics and Marvel trading cards. They actually got me through some tough times so the idea of having them on my body forever just really appealed to me."

Wolverine and Spider-Man can be seen on his forearms, the Guardians of the Galaxy trail down his left calf, and LEGO versions of Daredevil and Deadpool adorn his ankles, to name but a few designs. Scolamiero didn’t want to leave any superheroes behind, so he had them inked onto his, well, behind. His left and right buttocks feature depictions of Spider-Man 2099 (a futuristic version of the original) and Vision (from The Avengers), respectively.

He even got Marvel comic artist Stan Lee’s autograph tattooed onto his wrist. In total, he attended one tattoo session per month for the past seven years and endured 350 hours under the needle. Now that’s dedication.

Check out the video below to see Scolamiero show off his tats.

[h/t Nerdist]

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Andrews McMeel
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10 Things You Might Not Know About Pearls Before Swine
Andrews McMeel
Andrews McMeel

Since its quiet debut online in 2001, Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis’s strip about an anthropomorphic and acerbic band of animals trading barbs and cultural commentary, has become one of the bigger success stories in modern-day cartooning. Take a look at a few things you might not have realized about the strip’s history, including its origins and why the notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson once paid it an illustrated visit.

1. STEPHAN PASTIS STARTED OUT AS A CARTOONING LAWYER.

Before he committed to cartooning as a profession, Stephan Pastis studied to become an attorney. The San Marino, California native practiced in the field of insurance defense from 1993 to 2002, representing insurance companies who were being sued by policyholders. At night, he would draw and send samples to syndicates. “When you’re in law school, you think you’re going to be a lawyer like Oliver Wendell Holmes, arguing esoteric points of law,” he told Cartoonician.com in 2014. “But in truth, what you do is, you get in petty fights with other lawyers about who served whom and when, and how well you can bury someone in discovery, and keep someone in deposition for hours.”

2. CHARLES SCHULZ ENCOURAGED HIM.

Hearing that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz stopped in for breakfast every morning at a Santa Rosa ice skating rink, Pastis staked out the arena in 1996 in the hopes of soliciting some advice from the legendary cartoonist. Schulz graciously invited him to sit down and gave him some input on The Infirm, a legal comedy Pastis was working on at the time. The meeting emboldened Pastis, who took to reading Dilbert collections to try and evaluate why successful strips worked. Focusing more on two misanthropic animal characters, Rat and Pig, Pastis started circulating samples of Pearls Before Swine in 1999. (The title comes from a Bible verse, Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”)

3. A SALES GUY ALMOST KILLED THE STRIP.

After honing his skills, Pastis’s Pearls drew the attention of several syndicates. One of them, United, offered a “trial” run where they would verify he could turn in strips on a consistent basis before going out to newspapers. After that phase, Pastis expected to start appearing in print. But one salesman at the syndicate changed that with just one word. Pearls, he said, “sucks.” Fearing the strip wouldn’t catch on, United let Pastis shop the strip around in 2000 before calling him back and offering to put the strip on their website to see if readers responded. They did. Bolstered by an endorsement from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, Pearls wound up in newspapers in 2002. Eight months after its debut, Pastis quit practicing law for good.

4. IT MIGHT BE THE DON RICKLES OF COMIC STRIPS.

In 2006, Pastis drew some criticism for poking fun at the comparatively mundane strips Baby Blues and Zits, as well as the highly homogenized Family Circus. Some fans of those strips wrote in to complain, but the targets of his ribbing didn’t take things so seriously. Bil Keane of Family Circus requested to see the strips mocking Jeffy and company—Pastis depicted them as profanity-spewing alcoholics—while Baby Blues referenced Pearls by having the kids in the strip play with a toy crocodile, a nod to his acerbic crocodile characters.

5. HE UPSET CATHY GUISEWITE.

One of Pastis's repeated targets has been Cathy, the laconic strip about a harried single woman that ran through 2010. On his blog, Pastis recalled a phone conversation he had with Cathy creator Cathy Guisewite in which he called to inform her he wanted to depict her playing naked Twister in the strip. An appalled Guisewite insisted he withhold it from publication. Later, Pastis won a National Cartoonists Society award for Best Comic Strip, an honor presented by Guisewite during the ceremony. Pastis feared some reprisal, but Guisewite just said she was proud of his accomplishment.

6. ONE STRIP ABOUT ISIS WAS WITHHELD FROM PRINT.

In 2016, Pastis depicted the character of Pig on the phone with his sister and trying to correct her grammar from using “me” to “I.” His insistence leads to screaming, "I, sis!” into the receiver, with the National Security Agency subsequently hauling him away. His syndicate refused to run the strip, citing concerns people would be upset if a terrorist attack happened to unfold in the days or weeks surrounding publication.

7. BILL WATTERSON MADE HIS RETURN TO COMICS IN THE STRIP.

After finishing his 10-year run on Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, cartoonist Bill Watterson largely stepped away from the public eye. He ended his extended sabbatical from comics in 2014, covertly stepping in as a guest artist for Pearls. Watterson was a fan of Pastis’s work and got in touch via a mutual friend. Watterson wound up doing three daily strips, leaving readers to wonder why the Pearls style was suddenly hewing so closely to Watterson’s, before Pastis broke the news. Once the story was out, the strips blew out a server on Universal’s Uclick site.

8. PASTIS IS A CHARACTER IN THE STRIP.

While Pastis has said that the character of Rat exhibits some of his humor, he has been known to frequently insert himself into the strip. This can confuse some readers, as in the case when the illustrated Pastis divorced his wife, Staci, within the narrative of the comic. That led people to believe the cartoonist was really getting a divorce. (He wasn’t.)

9. YOU CAN BUY PLUSH PEARLS CHARACTERS.

In 2009, Pastis and Universal struck a deal with plush toy manufacturer Aurora for a line of stuffed Pearls Before Swine characters, including Pig, Rat, and a Croc. Pastis joked that the three-dimensional products would help him “draw the back-view” of his cast when he needs a visual reference.

10. IT GOT AN ENDORSEMENT FROM A CONVICTED MURDERER.

In 2010, Pastis was somewhat horrified to read that a man awaiting trial for a double homicide in Utah wrote in to a local newspaper to chastise the prosecution and offer his view of the offending circumstances. At the end, in a weird non-sequitur, he implored the paper to “bring back Pearls Before Swines [sic] and Garfield.” The defendant, Jeremy Valdes, pled guilty in 2015 and was ordered to serve two life sentences.

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