Comic strip artist Mort Walker, a World War II veteran who satirized the Army and tickled millions of newspaper readers with the antics of the lazy private “Beetle Bailey,” died yesterday. He was 94.
Walker died at his home in Stamford, Conn., said Greg Walker, his eldest son and a collaborator. His father’s advanced age was the cause of death, he said.
Walker began publishing cartoons at age 11 and was involved with more than a half-dozen comic strips in his career, including “Hi and Lois,” “Boner’s Ark” and “Sam & Silo.” But he found his greatest success drawing slacker Beetle, his hot-tempered sergeant and the rest of the gang at fictional Camp Swampy for nearly 70 years.
The character that was to become Beetle Bailey made his debut as Spider in Walker’s cartoons published by the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. Walker changed Spider’s name and launched “Beetle Bailey” as a college humor strip in 1950.
Walker attributed the success of the strip to Beetle’s indolence and reluctance to follow authority.
“Most people are sort of against authority,” he said. “Here’s Beetle always challenging authority. I think people relate to it.”
“Beetle Bailey” led to spin-off comic strip “Hi and Lois,” which he created with Dik Browne, in 1954. The premise was that Beetle went home on furlough to visit his sister Lois and brother-in-law Hi.
Fellow cartoonists remembered Walker yesterday as a pleasant man who adored his fans. Bill Morrison, president of the National Cartoonists Society, called Walker the definition of “cartoonist” in a post on the society’s website.
“He lived and breathed the art every day of his life. He will be sorely missed by his friends in the NCS and by a world of comic strip fans,” Morrison said.
Fellow cartoonist Mark Evanier said on his website that Walker was “delightful to be around and always willing to draw Beetle or Sarge for any of his fans.”
Addison Morton Walker was born Sept. 3, 1923, in El Dorado, Kan., and grew up in Kansas City, Mo.
In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in Europe during World II. He was discharged as a first lieutenant, graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia and pursued a career as a cartoonist in New York.
Besides sons Greg and Brian, Walker is survived by his second wife, Catherine; daughters Polly Blackstock and Margie Walker Hauer; sons Neal and Roger Walker; stepdaughters Whitney Prentice and Priscilla Prentice Campbell and several grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private.
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