Introducing the Mort Walker Collection

Modern Graphic History Library is excited to announce its newest collection of original Mort Walker comic strips. Walker is best known for creating Beetle Bailey and its spin-off strip Hi and Lois.

Walker was born in El Dorado, Kansas and grew up in the Kansas City area. He was drafted while attending college in 1943 and was sent to Italy as an intelligence officer. His experience in the Army would provide the characters and source material he would later use in Beetle Bailey.

After being discharged four years later, he returned to college and after graduating, moved to New York to pursue a career in cartooning.  A Saturday Evening Post editor suggested he create a college-themed strip since Walker was familiar with the college scene. King Features picked up Walker’s college-based strip about a slacker named “Spider” in 1951. After six months, it had a low syndication of 25 papers.

A Philadelphia newspaper editor suggested sending Spider to the Army.  Walker knew that the interest in Army-themed comic strips during World War II faded after the war ended. Fearing the same would happen with strips during the Korean War, Walker was reluctant to add in the Army theme, but eventually did.  After Spider went to the Army, 200 newspapers picked up the strip, and Spider was renamed Beetle Bailey.

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A Beetle Bailey strip originally published September 10, 1981.

In 1954, Walker teamed up with illustrator Dik Browne to create a spin-off strip about Beetle’s sister, Lois, and her family living in the suburbs. Walker used his own family experience of raising seven kids to provide the gags he would write in Hi and Lois.  Readers never saw Hi and Lois argue, however, since Walker’s wife feared that readers would think they were fighting in real life.

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Hi and Lois strip featuring Trixie, originally published March 18, 1982.

Walker then branched out into a fantasy-themed strip, Boner’s Ark, with walking and talking animals on a ship.  Walker often signed these strips “Addison.” While Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois were strips based on personal experience, Boner’s Ark was his commentary on modern day mores.

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Boner’s Ark strip originally published January 17, 1970.

Walker’s style of using high-contrast images with simple scenarios and gags has set a standard still used by today’s cartoonists. Unlike the typical “one strip a day” method used by many cartoonists, Walker chose to pencil a week’s worth of strips in one day and ink them the next day. He would sketch ideas two days a week.

The Mort Walker Collection has eight Beetle Bailey strips, including four from 2012 that he co-created with his son, Greg Walker.  The collection also includes two strips from Hi & Lois and two from Boner’s Ark.  All 12 strips will soon be available online.

For more information on the collection, check out our Finding Aid

For more information on Mort Walker, check out the following:

  • Cartoonist Mort Walker Explains his Beetle Bailey Comics
  • Mort’s Biography
  • These top cartoonists tell how they created America’s favorite comics. Fort Lauderdale: Allied, 1964 (available through MOBIUS)
  • Mort Walker conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005 (available through MOBIUS)
  • Walker, Mort. Backstage at the strips. New York: Mason/Charter, 1975 (available at Olin Library)

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.