Monday, January 29, 2018

Mort Man Walking

Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois, and multiple other innovative comics with his imitable doodles, just died.  Though you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd passed on years ago, given the sheer redundancy of the newspaper page, and the desire to see newer comics that pushed the boundaries of experimentation. 

In addition to his impressive factory output, he also put effort in preserving cartoon history at a time when such childish entertainment was still seen as disposable.  (Not to be confused with the Cartoon Museum in London which collects British comics)

He also coined nonsensical-sounding names for the ubiquitous symbolic visual shortcuts inherent of comics, such as sound effects, flop sweat, and cursing, which he called Quimps, Plewds, And Grawlixes, which never really caught on with the later generation for some reason.

His comics were known for being problematic with portrayal of women, which Mort Walker casually brushed off, saying that he was constantly constrained by newspaper censors who'd cover up his lovely ladies using black markers.

The Army in particular didn't take their casual mocking lightly, which only made Beetle Bailey more popular.  The more the authorities decried it, the more the lower ranked private personal identified with it.

Which just goes to show you that the more you try to stop people from seeing something, they resist all attempts to do so.  Though sometimes they succeed, which is why censors of 'good taste' keep trying.

Oh yes, there was also the occasional crossover with Hi & Lois, which didn't exactly reach the heights of crossover appeal achieved in Sam's Strip, which was years ahead of its time.

Ironically enough, for someone who went to such lengths to preserve lost arts, Mort Walker didn't do much to produce material that would last throughout the ages, going for the quick and easy commercial stuff that would be easily marketable anywhere.  The few times that he did go out of the way to make commentary were remarkable in being unremarkable, being sandwiched between so many instances of mediocrity.

New characters would be routinely introduced throughout the years to reflect changing times, but they were just as ephemeral and insubstantial as any other.  The lack of ongoing stories made it easy to jump in, but the limited character interaction between multiple parties played havoc with your memory thanks to a continuous stagnation of the status quo.

You could jump in any random Mort Walker comic within the last 50 years, and feel like you hadn't missed anything of substance.  That in itself is his greatest strength and weakness.

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