Local Obituaries

Mort Walker, El Dorado native who created ‘Beetle Bailey,’ dies at 94

Cartoonist Mort Walker talks about his most famous character Beetle Bailey at a luncheon honoring him in El Dorado in 1994. Walker, who was born in El Dorado, died Saturday at the age of 94.
Cartoonist Mort Walker talks about his most famous character Beetle Bailey at a luncheon honoring him in El Dorado in 1994. Walker, who was born in El Dorado, died Saturday at the age of 94. File photo

Mort Walker, who was born in El Dorado and created the legendary comic strip “Beetle Bailey,” died Saturday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 94.

“Beetle Bailey,” which chronicled the mishaps of the world’s laziest U.S. Army private, is the longest-running comic strip drawn by its original creator in the history of comics, the Stamford Advocate reported.

Walker reportedly died in his studio, where he kept his foot locker from his days as a second lieutenant in Italy during World War II. He was 2 when his family moved from El Dorado, though they eventually settled in Kansas City, where he lived most of his childhood.

He drew his first comic strip, “Lime Juices,” when he was 12. By the time he was 15, he was publishing a strip called “Sunshine and Shadow.” By 18, he had become the chief editorial designer of Hallmark Cards.

After World War II, he attended college and then moved to New York to pursue a career in cartooning. An editor at the Saturday Evening Post suggested Walker draw what he knew most about.

But “Spider,” a strip about a college student, struggled. Walker chose another bug, a beetle, and named him after his editor.

When the United States became involved in the Korean War, Beetle Bailey - who was a college student - was drafted and sent to war. Walker added other characters based on soldiers he had known.

The strip soon became one of the most popular in America. More than 60 years later, Beetle was still in the army.

In 1994, the residents of El Droado honored the cartoonist with Mort Walker Day and gave him a key to the city.

“Some things have changed since I left,” Walker quipped on that June day. “I guess the town now has locks.”

He charmed audiences during a luncheon at Butler Community College and later at a local art gallery. He also took time to look around El Dorado, where his father was an architect, and to sign autographs.

'I always tell people that I spent four years in the Army and 40 years getting even," Walker joked that day.

Walker created nine comic strips, but he is best-known for "Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois,” a “Beetle” spinoff he launched in 1954.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

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