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KC comic strip readers remember ‘Beetle Bailey’ cartoonist Mort Walker, a Mizzou alum

A statue of the fictional Army private Beetle Bailey sits in a booth on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, where creator Morton Walker graduated in 1948.
A statue of the fictional Army private Beetle Bailey sits in a booth on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, where creator Morton Walker graduated in 1948. The University of Missouri Archives

When Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey,” died over the weekend many readers noted the comic strip artist’s connections to the Kansas City area.

Born Addison Morton Walker in El Dorado, Kan., in 1923, Walker grew up in Kansas City. He graduated from the University of Missouri, where a statue of the lazy, insubordinate Army private “Beetle Bailey” stands in a garden on the Columbia campus.

Walker’s fraternity brothers became models for many of the early “Beetle Bailey” characters and the fictional Camp Swampy took inspiration from Walker’s Army stint at Camp Crowder near Neosho, Mo.

Walker, a World War II veteran, entertained millions of readers over the decades as he satirized the Army through the antics of Bailey and his fellow enlisted men.

Walker died Saturday at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 94. Readers reacted to the news on social media Saturday.

“I read this cartoon every morning when I was kid. R.i.p.,” reader Angela Burkett wrote in a message posted to Twitter.

“My father lived the Beetle Bailey cartoon strip. RIP.,” wrote another reader, Carol Peters.

Walker’s advanced age was the cause of death, said Greg Walker, his eldest son and a collaborator.

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 for nearly 70 years.

Growing up in Kansas City, Walker attended Northeast High School. He spent a year at a junior college in Kansas City before heading to the University of Missouri.

Walker completed one semester before being drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in Europe during World II. Discharged as a first lieutenant, he returned to the Columbia campus where he served as editor of the student humor magazine the ShowMe, according to the University of Missouri archives.

Staff meetings for the ShowMe were often held in The Shack, a student hangout that was popular at the time and burned to the ground in the 1980s. The spot is now marked by the statue of Beetle Bailey, sitting in a booth with a foamy mug in front of him.

Walker graduated from the University of Missouri in 1948, pursuing his career as a cartoonist in New York.

In 2000, Walker was honored at the Pentagon with the Army's highest civilian award — the Distinguished Civilian Service award — for his work, his military service and his contribution to a new military memorial.

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; stepchildren Whitney Prentice and Priscilla Prentice Campbell and several grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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