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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEETLE

Beetle and MortMort Walker’s comic strip about a lazy private turned 67 years old on September 4th. When Walker devised the strip in 1950, the title character was in college; he was based upon a character Walker used in magazine gag cartoons, whose name was Spider. When King Features bought the strip, they dropped the name because another of the syndicate’s features was using it, and instead called Walker’s college kid Beetle. Good choice: as everyone knows, spiders are icky but beetles are intriguing. Walker gave his new creation a last name that gestured gratitude to John Bailey, the cartoon editor at the Saturday Evening Post who had advised the young cartoonist that if he wanted to do a comic strip he should do it about something he knew well — in Walker’s case, college life.

However deep Walker’s insight into higher educational shenanigans, the strip didn’t sell. King was thinking of dropping it. Then inspiration struck. The Korean War was going on at the time, and since men of Beetle’s age were being called up left and right, it seemed logical to take the kid out of college and put him in uniform. So Walker did just that: on March 13, 1951, with the strip barely six months old, Beetle enlisted. Due to the interest in the military during the war, a hundred papers promptly picked up the strip. Thanks to his own military experience at the end of World War II (particularly being in charge of a German POW camp in Italy), Walker knew army life as well as he knew college life.

Beetle67

Walker still draws the strip (he pencils; son Greg inks), making him an uncontested record-holder: he’s drawn the same comic strip longer than anyone else on the planet has drawn the same comic strip. When the strip started, Beetle was probably around 20 years old, which would make him 87 now. Walker's birthday is September 3rd -- a day before Beetle's -- and he this year he turned 94. And I’m a mere broth of a boy at 80.

Happy birthday, Mort. Ditto Beetle. Onward.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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