The New York Times is reporting that comic strip creator and artist Mort Walker has passed away at the age of 94 following a bout of pneumonia. Walker was best known as the man behind Beetle Bailey - the comic that lead to Walker holding the record of longest tenure of any cartoonist on an original comic. Two of Walker's sons - Brian and Greg Walker - have been working on the strip with their father for decades and plan to continue Beetle Bailey's adventures.
Walker was born Addison Morton Walker on September 3, 1923 in El Dorado, Kansas, the third of four children in his family. His father was an architect and his mother was a newspaper illustrator. His family moved around a bit before settling in Kansas City, Missouri. Walker followed in his mother's footsteps from an early age, drawing for his elementary school newspaper and editing his high school paper. He also began his professional career while still a child, selling cartoons and comics to magazines while in his early teens and becoming the chief editor for Hallmark greeting cards at the tender age of 18. Walker attended Kansas City Junior College for a year and was drafted into the Army in 1943.
Walker referred to his time in the military as "Four years of free research" in regards to Beetle Bailey. He rose through several ranks, claiming, "I was a private, a corporal, a sergeant, and a lieutenant and I was a goof-up in every rank." He also was sent to numerous locations, and learned enough about army life to help inspire his most famous comic. After leaving the Army, Walker graduated from the University of Missouri in 1948. He moved to New York City and started working full time making comic strips.
Walker began making a single panel comic called Spider, which was about a college student who excelled at getting out of doing any work. When Walker decided to make the comic multi-panel, he changed the setting to a military one and renamed the character Beetle Bailey. The Korean War was happening at the time, and Walker's comic - while not specifically topical - has updated over the years. Though the wars change, the characters stay the same. The comic was adapted to a cartoon series in 1963, which ran for 45 episodes, and was adapted again into a made-for-TV movie in 1989. At one time, the cartoon was displayed in 1,800 newspapers around the world.
Walker worked on other comics throughout his life, including the also successful and popular Hi and Lois, which is technically a spin-off of Beetle Bailey - Beetle and Lois are brother and sister. He was also a comic strip historian and preservationist. Walker is survived by his wife, and ten children and step-children.
Rest in Peace Mort Walker: September 3, 1923 - January 27, 2018
Source: New York Times