Mort Walker passed away yesterday the age of 94, and the many, many, many people who emailed and tweeted me to let me know are a testament to the huge impact he had on cartooning as an art form and as a business. His Washington Post obituary is a great summary of his life and career, but to me, these are the high points to show how he and the team he built affected the medium:
- “Beetle Bailey was among the first cartoons to mark a shift in the funny pages from the serial strips of the previous decade to the graphically simpler gag-a-day model that predominates today.”
- “He delighted in the history and tricks of his trade and wrote a tongue-in-cheek textbook, The Lexicon of Comicana (1980), in which he described commonly used cartooning conventions. Grawlix were the symbols deployed to convey foul language; briffits were the clouds often found at the end of hites (horizontal lines indicating speed). To Mr. Walker’s amusement, his book sometimes appeared in the art instruction section of bookstores, and his neologisms would pop up in discussions about the art of cartooning.”
- “He eventually found himself in charge of 10,000 German prisoners in a POW camp in Italy. At the end of the war, he helped oversee the destruction of binoculars and watches from an ordnance depot in Naples. His job was to make sure nobody stole anything before it was destroyed. ‘I began to realize,’ he wrote in the memoir, ‘that army humor writes itself.’”
There are many anecdotes around of his good humor and kindness to younger comics artists, and his ambitions for cartooning. He also helped create the workshop model of cartooning, and like many legacy strips Beetle Bailey (which he created) and Hi and Lois (which he co-created with Dik Browne) have long been written and illustrated by the next generation over at Walker-Browne Amalgamated Humor Industries LLC, so I look forward to making fun of them for years to come. But think of Mort the next time you see a grawlix or a briffit.