COLUMBIA — In 1995, Beetle Bailey didn't make the cut for the Comic Strip Classics.
The U.S. Postal Service wanted to create a series of commemorative postage stamps to celebrate the centennial of newspaper color comics.
"When we did this series in 1995, we contacted the Cartoonists Society," Terry McCaffrey, manager of stamp development for the U.S. Postal Service, said. “We actually talked to Mort Walker.”
Walker, an MU alumus and creator of the long-running comic strip, helped poll cartoonists of the day, and they decided on the 20 comics that would make up Comic Strip Classics. The original series featured strips such as Blondie, Dick Tracy and The Yellow Kid.
“Ironically, we ended up not picking Beetle Bailey for the first strip, but he was very gracious about it,” McCaffrey said. So gracious, in fact, that Walker included a shout-out for the 1995 series by featuring the stamps in his own strip.
“Those 20 designs on Comic Strip Classics were some of the most popular-selling stamps of all times,” McCaffrey said. “We decided to revisit this and pay attention to the ones that had been considered, but we had felt were too contemporary at the time.”
Fifteen years later, the ageless Private Bailey has earned his postal stripes as part of five stamps dedicated to comics that missed the sheet in the first round. The release coincided with the 11th anniversary of the campuswide Mizzou Botanic Garden. A statue of Beetle that pays homage to Walker is part of one of the campus gardens.
At 11 Friday morning, a large framed picture of the stamp will be unveiled at the sculpture next to the Reynolds Alumni Center. Private Bailey himself is expected to make an appearance, along with Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace and Bill Janocha, Mort Walker’s assistant.
Cheryl Hudson, customer relations coordinator for the postal service, said she expects about 200 people to attend. In addition to viewing the unveiling of the stamp, the audience will have the opportunity to take home a piece of Beetle Bailey history.
“There’s a tradition with stamp unveilings,” Hudson said. “There’s a program that everyone receives that has a space available to put the stamp and receive a special postmark, or cancellation.”
The special cancellations and stamps will be available on-site. The stamps are available for purchase individually or as a part of the five-comic set.
The stamp of Beetle and co-character Sgt. Orville P. Snorkel joined comic strip neighbors Archie, Dennis the Menace, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes in the iconic series. Maintaining his own tradition, Walker persuaded his fellow cartoonists to help publicize the strip on their own medium.
Columbia stamp collector and MU finance professor Dan French said he plans to take advantage of the special cancellation but expects the stamp to linger around its current face value of 44 cents. Although a stamp's selling price generally follows inflation, he said, the value is determined by the individual collector.