Mort est mort


From last March, Beetle Bailey takes a personal interest in Arlo’s explanation of the comic-time continuum. Mort Walker is dead. The creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois died Saturday morning at his Connecticut home. He was 94. You can read the details of his amazing career elsewhere; I only want to add what I know. When I was a boy, Walker spearheaded a cabal of talented and successful humorists who were redefining the newspaper comic strip in a post-war world. It included Mell Lazarus, Johnny Hart, Dik Browne, Charles Schulz, Bud Blake and others. As a youngster, I read them all in their heyday. These men were the primary influence upon me, and foremost among them was the enterprising and prolific Walker. For someone who’s been in the business as long as I, I don’t really have many Mort Walker stories. In fact, I only have one. Very early in the run of Arlo & Janis, my syndicate invited me to New York to participate in a one-day symposium for young cartoonists who dreamed of being syndicated. There were several viable syndicates then, and they staged this shindig every year, in the days before the internet when money flowed and publishers did this sort of thing. The idea was to give young talent a chance to meet a few pros and get an inside look at the trade. Mort and I were on a panel together, just the two of us. There we were, the biggest name in the business and me, virtually a complete unknown, looking at the work of young people and trying to give them worthwhile advice. (Michael Jantze, creator of The Norm will back me up! He was there that day, as a young wannabe cartoonist.) We were pretty busy, as you might imagine, because everyone wanted a piece of Mort Walker, who was sitting beside me. Mostly, I talked with kids while they waited to get to him. One guy mentioned he was not familiar with my work, so I explained a bit about my strip. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “That’s the one that looks like it’s drawn real fast.” Mort’s not particularly kind laughter still rings in my ears.

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