Mort Walker was working in New York City as a magazine editor in 1950 when he started drawing Beetle.
“The editor of the Saturday Evening Post said, ‘Why don’t you do something you know about? Why don’t you do some college cartoons?’” Walker said in a phone interview Thursday from his office in Stamford, Conn.
After Walker sketched a few characters, his editor picked one he thought looked funny.
“The future Beetle Bailey,” Walker said.
Inspired by his time at MU in the late 1940s, Walker said he modeled Beetle after David Hornaday, a since-deceased friend from high school and fellow Kappa Sigma fraternity brother.
Walker took Beetle to King Features Syndicate, a comic print company. "They bought him right away,” he said.
The first Beetle Bailey comic strip in 1950 featured The Shack, a campus watering hole where Walker held meetings of ShowMe, a humorous student publication he ran while attending MU.
Unlike Walker, Beetle didn’t do well as a college student.
“College wasn’t a familiar theme with the readers,” Walker said. “The war had started again and my editor said ‘put him in the Army.’”
Walker didn’t want Beetle to enlist but signed him up anyway. He even started Hi and Lois, a family cartoon, because he thought it was the end for Beetle. Instead, it was the opposite.
“Sales just zoomed," Walker said. "Pretty soon I had 1,000 papers instead of 25.”
While The Shack is gone, it is marked by a statue of Beetle. The site will serve as the location for a ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday to present a U.S. Postal Service stamp that features Sarge yelling at Beetle.
Walker won’t be attending but said he plans to visit MU in late October for the dedication of the new student center. The center will feature a restaurant dedicated to him as well as a student lounge with original booths and other pieces of The Shack.
On Sept. 4, the Beetle Bailey comic strip will celebrate its 60th anniversary. Walker still draws the comic strip by hand and works on it daily with his sons. He attributes Beetle’s long-term success to basing characters on real-life people.
“It gave me a guide for their personality,” Walker said. “You’ve gotta be consistent, to be true to the characters. People form an affinity towards them. To last 60 years you gotta do something people care about.”