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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44 responses to “Mort est mort

  1. As a youngster, I remember my dad getting the color Sunday Funnies section and reading them to me and my younger siblings. Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, Alley Oop, Dagwood, Pogo, Snuffy Smith, and the ones geared toward kids. This was the early to mid-60s and probably while I still love the old comics.

    I also enjoy The Norm (also on but the one that speaks my language and has for a long time is Arlo and Janis. The cream rises to the top.

  2. Well, Jimmy, that sounds like you had a long day for a few hours. I hope that didn’t keep you from looking him up later once you had begun to sharpen your skills.

  3. Jim in Tennessee, you make me feel really old!

    I won’t say what I was doing while your daddy read the Sunday comics to you and your siblings but I had been reading the comics to myself for at least 15 years!

    I do agree, Jimmy has matured and grown and improved like fine wine. Other strips have not held their flavor or nose, as we wine snobs say.

  4. Thank you for that memory, Jimmy. I grew up reading most of those, too. Except for Mell Lazarus. I don’t think any of the papers my folks ever got had his strip.

  5. While searching for coverage of Mort Walker’s death I found one of the top results was that of the New York Times. Oh, the irony. The NYT, as you are probably aware, has no comics section.

  6. That’s a great story Jimmy. I am sure that Mort is upstairs giggling as we speak. I remember watching cartoons of Beetle Bailey on TV many years ago. The voices were pretty good, if I recall. Rest easy kind friend. I never met you, but you came into our home every day.

  7. Bringing up Father, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Little Orphan Annie, Joe Palooka, Mutt and Jeff, and the strip [name forgotten] on p. 1 of the Herald Tribune Sunday comics featuring Joe Green and his wife Vi. If that strip were run in an Italian paper, its male lead would have been Giuseppe Verdi. [Bruno Giletti, prof. emeritus of geology at Brown, brought that to my attn. when we were in h.s.] Was the strip that featured Dixie Dugan also named Dixie Dugan? The one now called Nancy was originally Fritzi Ritz.

    Surfing yesterday, watched Fantasia, incl. the centaur scenes. You could show nipples in the late ’30s, but not now.* Also, all the centaurs, M and F were white, except that one white F was attended by a black midget F centaur, who braided the hair of her mistress’s tail, and such. Non-PC as all get out. *Much more strikingly on harpies in A Night on Bald Mt.


  8. emb, classical art showed a lot that went out of fashion in later years and the centaur scenes were trying to recapture that classical pastoral imagery. If you can find an older copy of the book “The Art of Walt Disney”, it has chapters on each animated film up to Robin Hood, with full page reproductions of the animation art. Gives you a better chance to see if your eyes supplied what the animator couldn’t.

  9. Jimmy, your short story is a wonderful eulogy. I know Mr. Walker a little better through your experience. Thanks for giving it. I would be repeating other peoples experiences here, and probably not as well. But I would like to highlight a very nice turn of phrase by Steve above: “Rest easy kind friend. I never met you, but you came into our home every day.” A truly beautiful sentiment. Thanks for that, too.

    Ruth Anne, I first assumed you were speaking of another Disney piece. I remember some, and have recently seen more showcased on TCM. A few cover classical subjects of music and mathematics. But when I read your link I found something so much more. The cover art, and description of Bolero, reminded me also of the unrelated film The Gods Must Be Crazy. The only shared element being the iconic Coca~Cola bottle, and my habit of strange connections.

  10. Jimmy, I so admire your admiration—and respect for—all these artists. It’s why I and others come here, really, I think. Thank you for the story! Mort Walker, requiescat in pace.

  11. Elaine and I saw “Allegro non Troppo” when it debuted; don’t recall where. Just read a website. Remember parts of the movie, including the “orchestra”, who resembled older Italian women in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, S & W of Washington Square Park, ’30-’80s. Don’t recall the live pretty girl bit, or the “animator” w/ the “binding contract”.

    Hmm: Pb “Oxford American Dictionary” [copyright ’80] says “Do not use debut as a verb.” Maybe /pronouncing it is an issue? Tough!


  12. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist (so of course, deep down, I still do), and I sometimes wrote fanboy letters to my favorite pros. I never asked for anything, but most sent me original cartoons with some personal inscription. Mort Walker went above and beyond — he sent me not only a Beetle strip (which is still funny, and still on my wall), but also a pamphlet he produced, called “So You Want to be a Cartoonist.” I’m still a fan — Mort was the “Dean” of cartoonists! RIP, Mort.

  13. For those who care to know about the photo:

    That photo was taken from my hometown, in the midst of real light pollution, and with a street light across the road. As for the technical details:

    Taken on January 28, 2018, with the moon at about 92% full
    Telescope: Orion SkyScanner 100 telescope
    Camera: Taken with iPod Touch, 6th Generation
    Software: NightCap Camera
    Settings (in NightCap): ISO 30, Shutter 1/150, Zoom factor 1.8

    I plan eventually to get a decent refractor scope with tracking capability to minimize the “smearing” of images caused, of course, by the earth’s rotation during time-lapse pictures. When you’re magnifying the stars they “move” across a stationary telescope’s field of view very quickly during the seconds or minutes required to collect enough light for the camera.

  14. [Posted on the wrong day’s comments. What I get for posting on a tiny screen.]

    There would have been a heck of a pun baked into today’s (Sunday’s) cartoon if Arlo had used “broad jump” instead of “long jump”. Alas, the latter term has likely been declared politically incorrect.

    There was a previous cartoon regarding Janis’s dash for the bed on a cold winter’s night. I remember it well, as she was stripping off her clothes and donning her nightgown on the fly. I’ll post a link when I have time to look it up.

  15. There’s something weird about chess-by-mail? nahhhhhhh Altho the game did tend to take forever to lose.

    Trucker: Great photo! As I looked at it, it started moving. HONEST! Guess it was the earth moving thing you talked about…..


    A lot of neat stories about Mort. Thanks, folks.

  16. That’s the aggravating thing about buying clothes by mail. No matter if the sizes claim to be the same, no two manufacturers clothes/shoes fit exactly alike. The only safe way to go is reorder what you have already worn, or go try them on in the store before you order.

  17. Jackie – what a visual image! (re: how much snot . . .) Glad that episode is safely behind you and you have recovered. I wish the season of snot was behind us all, but I’m afraid we have a few more weeks to go. In the meantime, I’ll go enjoy the slightly warmer weather we are having today, just north of Houston, and bring some camellia blooms inside the house before they get nipped by the freezing weather we are supposed to get again tonight.

  18. Trucker Ron – what a beautiful moon! Thanks for sharing.

    RIP Mort Walker. This winter has been a hard one – we lost Ursula Leguin and Sue Grafton. I just discovered Grafton’s mystery novels about PI Kinsey Millhone last year and have read through “L is for Lawless.” How sad to think that the series will end with the “Y” book.

    I’m getting old enough now that it is sadly not uncommon for me to hear about the passing of those who had an impact on my life. I’m thankful for the good friends I still have and I’ll treasure the memories of those who have passed on.

    I was once a substitute teacher and one of the assignments that the English teacher left was for students to write on the following topic “How I Would Like to be Remembered.” My answer would have been short: “With a smile.”

  19. Judy: good answer!

    The assignment reminds me of when my 10th grade English teacher was invited to festivities honoring a former student, astronaut John Young, following his first space flight. She was hoping that no one would ask her what she remembered about him, because she didn’t want to say “Not much.” He was one of those quiet, good students who do their work but are otherwise not remarkable. She then asked all of us quiet kids to leave her with something to say in case we ever got famous.

    I used that story and a variation of her question with my homeroom group as they neared graduation (we kept the same kids for four years) and got some interesting and insightful answers.

  20. At age 95 the old man lovingly referred to his elderly wife as Sweetie, Baby and Honey.

    Touched, I said “I hope that Ghost and I are so in love when we reach your age.”

    He replied “I forgot her name ten years ago and I’m afraid to ask.”

  21. Maybe I’ve posted this before. In June ’09, at Summer Theology Workshop, Koronis Assembly Grounds, in Paynesville , a woman said to someone, maybe Elaine, “I hope my husband looks at me that way when I’m 79.” Actually, I was 79; Elaine was only 78, 79th coming up in July. But it warms my heart every time I think about it, which is often.


  22. Jackie, that is a thinking man’s man right there, in spite of his forgetfulness. It may be possible that Rodin’s Thinker is not sitting on a rock, but the plinth may be just the jutting corner of the unseen bed. Picture the morning sun peeking through the shade, ‘I’ve got to wake her and get to work. But I can’t just say, “hey, you! Get up!” Can’t just leave. Can’t look in her purse. Who was with us last night that I can call? God I wish I were sober.’

    Kinda explains why the naked guy is sitting on a rock.

    In today’s published strip, I think Arlo is pointing out that Janis’s opening gambit will take up the rest of winter, her middle-game will use up the rest of boot season through the spring, so her end-game is really shopping for next year’s need. By then, the fashion of play will have changed.

  23. TruckerRon, assuming the cloud cover remains clear, will there be enough nightdark in your area to view the lunar eclipse before it sets? Hey, HAL if daylight is a word then nightdark should be fair play. I know moonset is skewed northward to be opposite the sun at this time of year. But not sure it delays setting long enough. Yeah HAL, sunset/moonset too.

    HAL is clearly biased in favor of Ra.

  24. The umbral part of the lunar eclipse will end here at 07:08, the sun officially rises behind the mountains to the east at 07:36, so things should have been dark enough to enjoy most of the eclipse.

  25. Mark: Thanks.

    All: Luna is necessarily just opposite Sol during a complete lunar eclipse, and is practically so for a time before and after. Wrote about it in a column decades back and incorporated that in a 5-6 fictional series [mostly cardboard characters, but fun] of columns. Will see if I can find a paragraph to excerpt.

    Trucker: Your mts. are essentially eclipsing Sol as it rises. “True” sunrise, passing a horizon at the observer’s altitude, would likely coincide w/ moonset during a lunar eclipse.


  26. While it is true that a lunar eclipse defines or is defined by opposition, It’s apparent position in the sky, day or night depends on your location on planet earth at the correct time that opposition is attained.

    I have observed eclipses high in the sky, and missed eclipses that occurred during my local daytime, when the moon (Luna) was necessarily located below the horizon. My question had to do with the coincidental nature of TruckerRon’s particular location.

    Also, while the mountainous terrain may occlude the sunrise by some short time, it is very likely to lighten the atmosphere just as significantly as floating in the Pacific.

    I hope conditions are in your favor, TR. Enjoy.

  27. Here is an excerpt, from the Afterword to a 5-part fictional series about Raki, the high functioning autistic women in Anatolia 10m ago, who made the observations that resulted in “our” present 8-day week.

    “After publishing the first installment, I remembered a minor epiphany I had decades back while driving home at sunset from Lake xxx. South of xxx’s Resort, a half moon rose over a sumac clone to the east. But wait: only full moons rise at sunset! Then I recalled that a lunar eclipse was due, and realized I was seeing Earth’s shadow half-covering Luna. I hadn’t thought about it much since then, but now Raki came along, took it from me, combined it with her earlier knowledge, and had a major Copernican epiphany.”

    The late Ursula LeGuin [88, my senior by about 3 wks, d. in Jan., great SF/fantasy writer], refers to this sort of thing: characters develop a life of their own. Raki did; I sobbed when she died at 80 or so [good age for an 8,000 BCE Anatolian].


  28. All: Apologies. Should have read Trucker’s post more carefully, since he did refer to “official” time of sunrise, which is what I later wrote about, and also about leaving the umbral stage. Official “moment” of a lunar eclipse is at midpoint of umbral stage, when Luna will be exactly opposite of Sol, as viewed from above the solar system. Peace,

  29. I appreciate your effort to create a fictional story to present a natural fact. And for the purpose of the story, and the point you desired to make, it is exactly accurate.

    However another aged woman, in a village around 1000mi away, would observe the same event simultaneously. Without regard to any timekeeping in use at the fictional time, the event would be happening at the same time. And she would see that event at a location approximately 15° away from the apparent position, in the direction opposite. If she were to the south the event would slip northerly along the horizon. Further West or East would lower or raise the event below or above the Eastern horizon. [in your shared story]

    A misspoken point is all, I’m sure you recognize the error. The confusion only arises because of the time of the event near TruckerRon.

  30. There are times I feel transported into a world and place that exists simultaneously with mine, an alternative world where people speak an almost incomprehensible language phrased in scholarly sentences.

    Wait, could there be worlds of tortuous collegiate lectures that never end? Could this be the worlds glimpsed by some that were the ofigins of souls waiting for purgatory? Or salvation and release?

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