The Beetle Bailey comic strip will celebrate its 60th birthday this weekend and its creator Mort Walker has no plans for retiring _ either himself or Beetle. Now 86, Walker has been drawing Beetle and his pals ( Sarge and his dog, Otto, Gen Amos Halftrack, Miss Buxley and others) from Day One and he plans to continue as long as he is able to. His 60 year career is by far the longest of any ; the runner-up is Charles Schulz who created and continued with the iconic Peanuts strip for almost 50 years before his death ten years ago.
Beetle’s escapades appear seven days a week in 1,800 newspapers and readers can’t seem to get enough of the lazy private who is forever trying to find new ways of shirking work. In an Assosciated Press interview , Mort Walker tried to explain the continuing popularity of his famous creation. “Beetle is the embodiment of everybody’s resistance to authority, all the rules and regulations which you’ve got to follow…. He represents the little man in all of us“, he said. Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, which is marking Beetle’s anniversary with an exhibit, said Beetle, his pals and their uncomplicated gags have become familiar friends to readers over the years.“I think people find that really comforting,” he said.
Perhaps that explains why so many people still follow Beetle’s adventures. Because I don’t know that I ( or anyone else) ever found them funny. I started reading the comics when I was a kid and Beetle Bailey was among my early favorites along with Bringing Up Father , Blondie , Prince Valiant , The Little King , and Archie and Jughead. Over the years , some of them dropped off my A- list and others , such as Hagar the Horrible ,took their place . With the exception of Prince Valiant, which I read for the story, all the others were what were classified as “funnies”. Except that they weren’t funny. Even as a child , I don’t think I ever laughed at any of them. Let’s face it , after only six months steady readership one has seen all the possible plots and besides , they weren’t really sidesplitting to begin with. Jiggs trying to sneak off to Dinty Moore’s for some corned beef hash and suds , Maggie catching him in the act and braining him with a frying pan . Mr. Dithers bullying Dagwood even as he himself lives in terror of his wife Cora. Beetle trying to outwit Sarge and snatch 40 winks . The plots never changed except for the little details. Perhaps it was their very predictability that made them so alluring and , as we grew older, perhaps an element of nostalgia also kicked in.
Over the years , a newer type of comic debuted that was meant not just for children but for adults. One example was Calvin and Hobbes which I used to love and which occasionally did make me laugh out loud. Unfortunately creator burned out artistically and the strip was discontinued. Yet others were meant primarily for adults and were clever rather than funny. Some of them I liked ( Dilbert,Pogo) and others I hated ( Funky Winkerbean) but none of them could justifiably be called “funnies”. I wonder what children today look for when they turn to the comics page.