Comic strip legend Mort Walker passed away early this morning. His health had been deteriorating and he’d been hospitalized with Pneumonia recently, so we all know this was coming. The National Cartoonists Society has a nice write up here as does writer extraordinaire Mark Evanier here.
Mort was, of course, best known for the long running syndicated comic strips Beetle Bailey (started in 1950) and Hi and Lois (started in 1954 with Dik Browne). By the way Hi and Lois is actually a spin-off of Beetle Bailey… Lois is Beetle’s sister. He was cartooning long before that, though. He’d sold hundreds of cartoons as a teenager to magazines, did a comic strip for a weekly Kansas City newspaper at age 15, and was a head artist for Hallmark at age 18. He was a big part of the cartooning community as well. He’s one of (if not THE) longest tenured members of the Society, and served as NCS president in 1959-1960. He’s been the NCS’s “Honorary Chairman” for a long, long time (that title is given to the surviving past president who’s time in office is the longest removed from today. Arnie Roth now becomes the NCS Honorary Chairman) and has been a great supporter of the NCS and the cartooning industry. Until recently he’d not missed a Reuben Weekend in over 50 years. He has been honored with many awards, including the NCS Reuben for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year” in 1953.
He also established the first museum for cartoon art in the U.S. in 1974. Originally located in Connecticut, the National Cartoon Museum went through a number of locations and name changes over the years. It was last located in Boca Raton, FL and called the International Museum of Cartoon Art. The museum had funding trouble and closed its doors in 2002. The museum’s collection is now part of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum and Library at Ohio State University.
Over the years at the NCS Reubens I’ve gotten to know Mort and his sons Brian, Greg, and Neal, who all work on the comic strips. Mort was a generous, friendly, and approachable guy, and it was always a pleasure to chat with him. He was also one of the last of the “rock star cartoonists” … those who were top creators at a time when newspaper comic strip artists were household names, hobnobbed with celebrities, and made astronomical amounts of money. That era is long gone.
Mort and the Walkers once drew me into a Beetle Bailey Sunday strip as a kind of congratulations for my being honored with the Reuben in 2011. One of the nicest gestures and singular honors of my career.
The cartooning world lost a true giant and a real champion today. Rest in peace, Mort.
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529 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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