College honors 'Beetle Bailey' cartoonist Mort Walker at Camp Crowder anniversary

Cartoonist Mort Walker, in a 2002 photo at the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida.


By INES KAGUBARE | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: April 13, 2018

NEOSHO, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — Nearly a hundred fans of comic strip creator Mort Walker came to pay tribute to him and his work at the 76th anniversary of Camp Crowder.

One of those fans was Sandy Peters. The Neosho woman came in honor of her late husband, who was also an admirer of Walker’s comic strips, including "Beetle Bailey," which he read regularly in the newspaper.

“I really came for him,” Peters said. “If he could have come today, he would have loved it.”

Crowder College invited several speakers on Thursday to share their knowledge and expertise on Walker’s life and the adventures of soldiers stationed at Camp Crowder.

Kay Hively, a local historian and author of "Red, Hot and Dusty," recounted how she decided to write about the stories of Camp Crowder’s soldiers for her graduate thesis. That thesis turned into a book published in 1983. In it, she talks about their everyday life and some of their misadventures. She said the book is intended to show soldiers as humans who have friends, laugh and make mistakes like everyone else.

“As long as there are soldiers, there will be Beetle Bailey,” Hively said, explaining that the character embodies some of the adventures experienced by soldiers at Camp Crowder.

"Beetle Bailey," Walker’s most popular work, was created in 1950 and set at Camp Swampy, a fictional Army station that was inspired by his time at Camp Crowder in the 1940s.

Walker was born in El Dorado, Kansas, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He sold his first cartoon to Child Life magazine at the age of 11. His first comic strip, "The Limejuicers," ran in the Kansas City Journal when he was 13. He submitted his first comic strip to a national syndicate at the age of 15 and sold magazine cartoons all over the country.

Keith Zoromski, a speaker at the event and social science division chair at the college, said Walker was a pillar in the cartooning industry and that although he was born in Kansas, Missouri practically adopted Walker as a son.

“Walker’s work has transcended generations because many of the aspects of the comic appeal to many of us,” Zoromski said. “The military aspect is just a backdrop for things that are relatable to all of us.”

In 1943, when he was 19, Walker was at Camp Crowder before being drafted in the Army and serving overseas in Naples, Italy.

Upon his return to the U.S., Walker earned a degree in humanities at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1948. He died Jan. 27 at age 94 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut.

“I believe that Beetle Bailey has been seminal for all people who want peace,” Peters said. “I think the cartoonist was addressing the needs of people who really thought that the military was necessary but certainly not the end-all.”

Crowder also held a ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicating a newly purchased section of Mort Walker’s private scrapbook and conversations as well as copies of "Camp Swampy" and "The Best of Beetle Bailey." They will be housed in the Herb and Barbara Schade Rare Books Collection inside Lee Library.

©2018 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
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