Beetle Bailey (begun on September 4, 1950) is a comic strip set in a United States Army military post, created by Mort Walker. It is among the oldest comic strips still being produced by the original creator. The strip also remains among the most popular comic strips today.
History and origins
In 1948 and 1949, Mort Walker submitted his comics to magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. The Post's editor, John Bailey, suggested he draw some comics in a university setting, having seen some of Mort Walker's work during university. Walker did so, and Bailey suggested that he feature one character, who wore a hat down over his eyes. Walker named him Spider, after a fraternity brother.
Walker then decided to create a comic strip about a university, putting all of his fraternity brothers from the University of Missouri in it. Changing the name from Spider to Beetle, King Features Syndicate bought it; it was the last comic strip personally approved by William Randolph Hearst. Bailey was added as a family name in honor of John Bailey. Beetle Bailey first ran in twelve newspapers on September 4, 1950, the day after Mort Walker's birthday.
On March 13, 1951, during the Korean War, Walker had Beetle Bailey enlist in the Army. At the time, Beetle was dating two girls at his university at the same time, each did not know about the other. One day, he saw them walking down the street separately to the corner where he was. They didn't see him or each other. Right in front of him was the U.S. Army Enlistment Office and Beetle ducked in and enlisted to avoid being seen by them. All characters other than Beetle were dropped, and new ones created. The struggling comic strip (King Features was considering not renewing the one-year contract) soon appeared in more newspapers, beginning Beetle's rise to popularity.
Walker received the Reuben Award for 1953, as well as the National Cartoonist Society Humor Strip Award for 1966 and 1969 for the strip. King Features Syndicate is the distributor. A TV version was made in 1963.
Most of the humor revolves around the mostly inept characters stationed at Camp Swampy, inspired by Camp Crowder
, where Walker had been stationed while in the Army. Private Bailey is a lazy sort who usually naps and avoids work, and thus is often the subject of verbal and physical chastising from his Sergeant.
The comic strip currently takes place in present day. The characters in Beetle Bailey have never seen combat themselves, with the exception of mock battles and combat drills. In fact, they seem to be in their own version of stereotypical comic strip purgatory (initially basic training, they now appear to be stuck in time in a regular infantry division). The uniforms of Beetle Bailey are still the uniforms of the 1950s Army, with green fatigues and baseball caps as the basic uniform, and the open jeep as the basic military vehicle. Sgt. Snorkel wears a green dress uniform with heavily wrinkled garrison cap; the officers wear M1 helmet liners painted with their insignia. While Beetle's unit is "Company A", one running gag is that the Beetle Bailey characters are variously seen in different branches of the Army, such as artillery, armor, infantry, paratroops, etc.
Beetle's sister is Lois Flagston of the comic strip Hi and Lois, a spinoff that debuted in 1954.
Beetle is always seen with a hat or helmet over his head, forehead, and eyes. He was only seen without it once in the original strip when he was still in college; the strip never ran in any newspaper and is only seen in various books on the history of the strip. In a Mad Magazine parody in the April 1969 issue, Beetle's hat is removed and on his forehead is written "Get out of Vietnam". One daily comic strip had Sarge scaring Beetle's hat off, but Beetle was wearing sunglasses.
A running gag in the strip is of Sgt. Snorkel hanging helplessly to a small tree after having fallen off a cliff. While he is never shown falling off, or even walking close to the edge of a cliff, he always seems to hold on to that tree, yelling out for help.
Over the years, Mort Walker has been assisted by (among others) Jerry Dumas, Bob Gustafson, Frank Johnson, and his sons Brian and Greg Walker, of whom the latter is credited on the strips today.
Beetle and Sarge guest-starred in the 75th anniversary party of Blondie and Dagwood in 2005.
Beetle Bailey is unusual in having one of the largest and most varied permanent casts of any comic strip. While many of the older characters are rarely seen, almost none have been completely retired.
- Private Beetle Bailey — the main character, known for his chronic laziness. He always has a hat over his eyes, because he is always sleeping.
- Sergeant 1st Class Orville P. Snorkel (Sarge) — Beetle's nemesis; known to frequently beat up Beetle for any excuse he can think of; overeater, introduced in 1951.
- Otto — Sgt. Snorkel's anthropomorphic dog, whom Sarge dresses up the same as himself.
- Brigadier General Amos T. Halftrack — the inept, semi-alcoholic commander of Camp Swampy; introduced in 1951. Loves to golf but hates when he misses.
- Martha Halftrack — the General's domineering wife.
- Miss Buxley — Halftrack's beautiful, blonde, buxom, civilian secretary, and occasional soldier's date (as well as a constant distraction for Halftrack). She used to live in Amarillo, Texas. She appears in every Wednesday strip, for no discernible reason. Has an apparent interest in Beetle and is constantly pursued by Killer.
- Private Blips — Halftrack's competent, not at all buxom, secretary ("blips" are small points of light on a radar screen). Resents Halftrack's constant ogling of Miss Buxley.
- Bunny — Beetle's rarely seen girlfriend.
- Private "Killer" Diller — the ladies man, introduced in 1951.
- Private Zero — the buck-toothed, village idiot boy who takes everything literally and misunderstands practically everything.
- Lieutenant Sonny Fuzz — very young (with noticeably pointy eyebrows and very little facial hair), over-earnest, by the book, always trying to impress uninterested superiors (especially Halftrack), and rubbing it in with his subordinates, introduced 1956. Mort Walker said he modeled the character and personality of Lt. Fuzz after himself, having taken himself too seriously upon leaving Officer Training.
- Private Rocky — Camp Swampy's long-haired resident rebel-without-a-cause, introduced 1958.
- Cookie — the cook who smokes cigarettes while preparing the mess hall's questionable menu; except for the presence of cauliflower ears, bears a striking resemblance to Sgt. Snorkel and has also been known to occasionally beat up on Beetle. Like Sarge he also loves food.
- Private Plato — the intellectual (as Tom Lehrer might say, "brings a book to every meal"); named after Plato. Pvt. Plato is the only character other than Beetle to evolve from the years of the strip depicting Beetle's college experience.
- Captain Sam Scabbard — flat-top wearing officer, often as mean to Sarge as Sarge is to Beetle.
- Major Greenbrass — straight man and golf partner to Gen. Halftrack.
- Chaplain Staneglass — "He's praying... he's looking at the food... he's praying again!"
- Private Julius Plewer — fastidious fussbudget, who eventually became Halftrack's chauffeur.
- Private Cosmo — Camp Swampy's sunglass-wearing resident "shady entrepreneur"; almost forgotten in the 1980s.
- Lieutenant Jack Flap — the strip's first black character, introduced in 1970. Originally wore an afro hairstyle.
- Corporal Yo — the strip's first Asian character, introduced in 1990.
- Dr. Bonkus — Camp Swampy's staff psychiatrist, whose own sanity is questionable.
- Specialist Chip Gizmo — Camp Swampy's resident computer geek, was named by a write-in contest in 2002. The contest sponsored by Dell Computer Corp., received more than 84,000 entries. It raised more than $100,000 for the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit organistation that provides housing for families of patients at military and veterans hospitals.
- Sergeant Louise Lugg — wants to be Sarge Snorkel's girlfriend, introduced in 1986.
- Bella — Sgt. Louise Lugg's female cat.
- Chigger — Beetle's younger brother (a chigger, like a beetle, is a kind of insect).
- Beetle's unnamed parents.
- A camp doctor whose appearance is consistent, but who is apparently unnamed.
- An unnamed officers' club bartender, frequent intermediary between the Halftracks.
- An unnamed Secretary of Defence who has made numerous appearances.
- Colonel Cohen, CEO
- Major Burk, CFO
- General Snead, CIO
- Captain Finn, COO
- Canteen (early 1950s) — always eating.
- Snake Eyes (early 1950s) — the barracks gambler, replaced by Cosmo, Rocky, and others.
- Big Blush (early 1950s) — tall, innocent, and a great attraction to the girls; many of his characteristics incorporated into both Sarge and Zero.
- Fireball (early 1950s) — neophyte who always seems to be in the way; forerunner of both Zero and Lt. Fuzz.
- Bammy (early 1950s) — the southern patriot who is still fighting the Civil war.
- Dawg (early 1950s) — the guy in every barracks who creates his own pollution.
- Ozone (late 1950s) — Zero's bigger, more naive friend.
- Moocher (early 1960s) — stingy and always borrowing things.
- Pop (1960s) — married private: gets yelled at by Sarge all day and goes home at night for more abuse from his wife.
- The entire cast, except for Beetle, of the early strip as set at Rockview University (although both incarnations of the strip include a spectacled intellectual named Plato). Four characters from the original cast (Bitter Bill, Diamond Jim, Freshman, and Sweatsock) made at least one appearance, in the January 5th strip from either 1962 or 1963.
- Sergeant Webbing — variously described as being from either B Company or D Company. He somewhat resembles Snorkel, except that he lacks the trademark wrinkles in Snorkel's garrison cap, and has wavy hair and thick eyebrows. He has pointy teeth. On at least two separate occasions, Webbing engaged Sgt. Snorkel in a cussing duel. He also attempted to one-up Snorkel in anthropomorphizing dogs, leading to Otto's first appearance in uniform, and was most recently seen (recognizably, but not mentioned by name) in 1983.
- Rolf (early 1980s) — civilian tennis instructor, very popular with the female cast (including both Mrs. Halftrack and Miss Buxley, much to the General's consternation). First appearance was in the September 9, 1982 strip, and he disappeared completely by the mid 1980s.
Extras, one-shots, and walk-ons
Numerous one-shot characters have appeared over the years, mostly unnamed, including an inspector general
who looks like Alfred E. Neuman
, and various officers and civilians. Among the few to be given names is Julian, a nondescript chauffer eventually replaced by Julius.
A TV version, in shorts by King Features Syndicate, aired in 1963. The introduction included the sound of a reveille
, followed by a song specifically made for the cartoon.
has released 20 Episodes as part of
Animated All Stars
2 DVD BCI 46952
- Everything's Ducky
- Leap No More My Lady
- "V" for Visitors
- Son of a Gun of a Gun
- Halftrack's Navy
- Hoss Laffs
- For Officers Only
- Bye Bye Young Lovers
- Breaking the Leash
- 60...Count 'Em...60
- Sweet Sunday
- The Spy
- Sgt. Snorkle's Longest Day
- The Sergeant's Master
- Cosmo's Naught
- Operation Butler
- We Love You Sgt. Snorkle
- Welsh Rabbit
Rhino Home Video also released a DVD containing 10 skits along with a couple of Hagar the Horrible and Betty Boop skits:
In the webcomic Nate Speed, Nate drew the comic strip Beagle Bailey, which starred Beetle Bailey in the role of the beagle.
On July 6 2007, in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, Beetle and Zero are talking to Pig when Beetle informs Pig that Zero will be going away for a while. When Zero is about to leave, Beetle gives Zero a hug and tells him to take care of himself. Unknown to them, Rat takes a picture of the two hugging and places in his tabloid newspaper with the caption "Don't Ask Don't Tell?" as if to indicate Beetle and Zero were homosexual lovers. Sarge's photo is seen on the front page of the newspaper saying, "I'm not pleased.