Statistics Saturday: Animals We Can Say The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Or Hasn’t Seen


Animal Can we say the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has seen this?
Duck No because why aren’t its feet webbed and do they even rest in trees? But if that’s not a mallard then what is it?
Squirrel Still Not Yet
Snake Yes
Another duck or maybe a badly colored pigeon? I guess? I’m stuck figuring out what it’s holding.
Horse Maybe?
Bear From the front and only the front
Mouse Also only from the front
Butterfly Yes
Uh … is … that one of those comical fish lures you see in 1950s cartoons and sitcoms about marginally competent fathers? I guess so?
Whatever kind of bird that is standing on the edge of the large tub there? No
Raccoon Turns out, yeah
Dog? Maybe? In that lower right corner? Or maybe it’s another bear? Y … uh … yeah? Maybe?

Reference:

Cookie: 'I thought the men would like a vegetarian meal for a change.' Sarge: 'Well, they didn't go for it.' Cookie: 'But it's a hit with the herbivores.' They look, in silhouette, over a number of animals drawn in that worn-down mid-century-modern style of Beetle Bailey; the animals include several birds, a horse, at least one bear cub, a squirrel, a raccoon, a mouse, a snake, and some flying insects.
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 14th of May, 2019. So, mallards, bears, and raccoons are omnivores. While mice and squirrels are mostly herbivorous, they’ll eat meat given the chance. I’ve heard rumors of an herbivorous snake but I’m not believing it before I see Mark Trail introduce it in a Sunday panel. And if that’s a dog instead of another bear cub under the table, that’s not an herbivore.

We Have No Information About Whether The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Ever Seen A Raccoon


I concede that this is not part of the contentious issue about whether the people who draw Beetle Bailey have ever seen a squirrel. But it’s surely worth keeping track of what animals we can and can’t say they’ve seen, based on the artwork depicting such creatures.

And so last Friday we had the hope of a new entry to the roster of animals definitely seen or not seen by whoever it is draws Beetle Bailey these days. The credits say Greg Walker, but the credits also say Mort Walker, who died fifteen months ago now. I know there’s people who work ahead of deadline, but, this far ahead of deadline? I have my doubts.

Cookie: 'Did you take care of the raccoons in the dumpster?' Beetle (off-screen): 'No ... ' (On-screen; he's torn up and scratched much like if Sarge had beaten him up): 'They took care of me.'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 26th of April, 2019. All right, but does Beetle look any worse now than after any random encounter with Sarge? Except I guess he’s standing up instead of a heap of body rubble on the ground? Can we conclude from this that Sarge is a raccoon? He’s kind of tall for that, though. Maybe he’s a stack of five raccoons wearing a human mask? All right, but then why does Sarge get along so well with his dog Otto? Is it a keep-your-opponents-close thing? In short, I had a very busy weekend and not enough time to think about productive or useful things.

Anyway last Friday’s installment allows us to say: we have no idea whether the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has ever seen a raccoon. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Speaking of inconvenience, the Comics Kingdom redesign. While it’s getting less bad, it’s still bad. Besides ignoring the top row of the Sunday comics, they haven’t shown any new Vintage daily strips since Friday. And it’ll show the Vintage comic strips in a random order that’s not alphabetical and not the order I set for the comics to appear, or anything else. Yes, every web site redesign is about making things work less well, but they really overachieved on this one.

The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Still Never Seen A Squirrel


Yes, I know, I mostly want to complain about the redesign of Comics Kingdom. Like every web site redesign, it uses more Javascript so as to make things slower, and show the comics smaller, and make the archive not work at all. I’m having a merry little freak-out about how I’m going to describe three months’ worth of Mark Trail. I mean freak-out by my standards, which is to say, if someone in person specifically asked me, “Hey, are you feeling confident you’re going to be able to review three months’ worth of Mark Trail and select several representative comic strips to illustrate the plot before Sunday night?” I would admit to having doubts. I underplay my feelings.

But I’ll save my complaints about that for the Comics Kingdom tech support, who won’t do anything about them, or read them. Instead I’d like to offer a follow-up to the August 2017 question, Has The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Ever Seen A Squirrel?

Beetle, tossing some crumbs at a couple of ... shaggy, dog-like squirrels running off (the implication is one is chasing the other two): 'I've noticed that with animals, the biggest is usually the boss.' In the commissary Beetle demands of Cookie: 'From now on, I want THREE helpings!'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 4th of April, 2019. Beetle has never observed a red squirrel, which is a tiny, aggressive model squirrel that’s about the size of a golf ball, chase off a pack of four or more fox squirrels, which are the size of subcompact cars, to get at the squirrel feeder with the door that the red squirrel is too small to open without help.

I have to rule “No, not yet.”

Thinking About Mort Walker


When I was growing up there was one author and one comic strip on the pages that was just the comic strip, the thing so great it was kind of the reason newspapers were made, so it could carry this. That was Charles Schulz and Peanuts, naturally. But it’s not like that was the only strip I read. I read all of them, at least except for the story strips, which always looked like these dark, muddy things about realistically-drawn adults saying they’d have to talk about stuff. But the rest of the comics page was exciting stuff.

I knew there were better and worse strips, yes. But I also recognized there were some strips that just seemed central. Comics that all the other comics were kind-of-like. Some that drew closer to the Platonic Ideal of the 1970s/80s comic strip. So if you read the subject line or the comics news the past week you know what strips I’m talking about.

And yet I was kind of a dumb kid; it took a newspaper article about an upcoming visit Beetle Bailey was going to pay to Hi and Lois for me to realize they were made by the same guy, or were set in the same universe. Still, that was mindblowing, in the way that Muppet Show where they have to do the show from a train station because the theater was being fumigated was. It revealed to me something comic strips could do.

Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois were the Mort Walker strips I always saw, of course. But somewhere along the line I realized that Hagar the Horrible had some connection to all this (Dik Browne, co-creator of Hi and Lois, created it). And now and then, in out-of-town newspapers, I’d see other weird alien comic strips clearly from the same hand, like Boner’s Ark or, rarely, Sam and Silo. And I do remember at least excerpts of Walker’s Lexicon of Comicana, about graphic design elements, appearing in newspapers and being read. (I have a particularly strong memory of reading one at the house of my aunt in Connecticut, on a family visit that I think coincided with when they took the toll booths out of the Connecticut Turnpike and the roads were torn up for that. I may be collapsing memories together.) I think that his last original comic strip, Gamin and Patches, might have run in a newspaper I read, but I’m just not at all sure.

Boner walks past the sign: Poultry Research Station! Caution! Chicken Crossing! Boner looks carefully, starts to talk. A giant chicken claw descends from the sky.
Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark for the 10th of March, 1972 and rerun the 29th of January, 2018. Walker signed the strip “Addison” (his actual first name, somehow) so it didn’t look like he drew everything King Features offered. Also, if this wasn’t also a Gary Larson The Far Side or a Sydney Harris panel then both Larson and Harris have missed an easy one.

Oddly, for all that I recognized Mort Walker had this style that everybody was roughly imitating, and for all that I liked reading any of these strips, I don’t remember doing stuff like redrawing characters from it. Garfield, Popeye, Snoopy, sure, but somehow not these. Seems like a shame; I suspect that, like, Sarge or Beetle are pretty fun to draw. There’s something in their line.

Yes, I’m aware Mort Walker drew some “adult” installments of his strips, for the naughty fun of it. Not interested in them. I’m also aware there was an animated cartoon based on Beetle Bailey in the 60s, and a half-hour pilot made in Like 1989. I’ve never seen those but a a little curious. Apparently there was a musical, too, created in the late 80s because every comic strip made a musical in the 80s for some reason.

General Halftrack: 'Say! Maybe there ISN'T a Pentagon after all! That's it! The Pentagon doesn't even EXIST! I've been worrying for NOTHING!' Aide: 'I can't agree with you, sir. If there's no Pentagon, then who hangs up when we phone them?'
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 19th of April, 1961, and rerun the 10th of November, 2017. That generation’s answer to the Ontological Argument. Another intersting thread that sometime got dropped, in these early-60s comics, was of Camp Swampy trying to launch satellites. It gives a setting for Space Race jokes that oddly tickle me even today, and it’s a shame that the comic strip did narrow its horizons to the point it couldn’t sustain a gag like that anymore.

Comics Kingdom has among its vintage comics Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois from the early 60s. They also have Boner’s Ark, from the early 70s, running. There’s some interesting stuff in them, not least the running thread that the Pentagon told General Halftrack not to call them anymore and hasn’t sent any orders in years. One of the snark community’s recurring jokes is that Camp Swampy is this nonsense pretend camp the actual Army would be embarrassed to be affiliated with. I’m amused that Walker had that joke a half-century sooner. And the vintage strips are, mostly, better than their contemporary versions. There’s more detail to the art and the characters and scenarios are 55 years less worn down. It can be easy to forget that comic strips that seem old and fusty — things that have been running in every newspaper since the glaciers receded — mostly got there by being novel and exciting, and staying so for a good long while.

Art moves on, and styles pass from fashion. Mort Walker-touched comics aren’t as dominant in setting the style of newspaper comics anymore. So it happens. There’s a lot of art, and a lot of what people thought art could be, that he guided. It’s amazing work.

Also I’m reminded of a Mort Walker quote in some Peanuts retrospective about how, yeah, his comic strip took off in the newspapers way earlier than Schulz’s, starting nearly the same time, did. But when Schulz’s came out in book collections those books just started selling and never stopped. This point can’t fit in the essay at all logically, but I don’t want it to go to waste either, so here it is, in a paragraph after the end of the essay.

Has The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Ever Seen A Squirrel?


Before I get into writing way too much about way too small a point, I want to mention my mathematics blog, where I had some more comic strips to write about yesterday. I’d like to say a little more about that, because I want to include an image of a comic strip with alarming art in it.

And if I pad the text enough before including the image, then WordPress makes it appear below the little block on the left with the dateline and tags and so on, then the image is larger, and that’s better.

And I need like one more line before it works on my computer to come out right.

Maybe one more.

One more, I think.

No, don’t need that one.

Beetle, offering food to some kind of small dog. 'I'm giving this squirrel a taste of cookie's stew.' Plato: 'That's kind.' The 'squirrel' looks dazed. Beetle: 'If he doesn't get sick, it's safe for ME to eat.' Plato: 'That's cruel.'
Mort Walker and Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 15th of August, 2017. So, in the vintage circa-1960 run of Beetle Bailey also on Comics Kingdom they have this fascinating running joke. General Halftrack frets that he hasn’t gotten any orders from the Pentagon for the last three years or so, and that last order was to just wait for their next order. It’s a good joke. It also feeds into the fan theory — yes, yes, all fan theories are the same fan theory — that Camp Swampy is some dopey military-fantasy camp with no connection to the actual US Army. I don’t care for the fan theory but, must say, an utterly forgotten camp kind of makes sense.

OK, so, yeah, since about 1950 comic strips have relied on this Mid-Century-Modern-influenced styling. Every comic strip develops its own non-representational but, hopefully, expressive design. And trying to fit something very different into that design can be difficult. Charles Schulz never figured out how to put a cat he liked into Peanuts. But this … I mean … what the heck?

I’m not saying I can do better. My own squirrel-drawing abilities are sharply limited. I would probably give you a better squirrel if I handed a canvas and ink brush to a raccoon and asked her to draw something. She would refuse, because it’s really crummy to ask an artist to draw something for free. I would offer the onion we kind of forgot we’ve had in the refrigerator since May as payment. She would insist also on getting the block of year-old cheddar that’s going a bit off because we’re not eating as much cheese as we expected. I would say she could have the parts that are starting to go dry, but not the salvageable part. And there we would reach an impasse. In any case, we wouldn’t get some Apartment 3-G nightmare like that. That’s what I’m saying.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a starting 23 points over the day to close at 400, a new high number and a nice, round number too. Everybody’s in quite the giddy mood, pondering, what can they possibly do to top this? Someone came in from consoling Lisa with the suggestion of “401”, but was called a mad fool and a dreamer.

400

Here I Just Have To Sit Down Quietly A While


So then this turned up in the “Licensing” section of Wikipedia’s entry on the comic strip Beetle Bailey:

2012 Rolex and Bamford Watch Department created a Beetle Bailey Rolex watch.

And I just don’t even remember what I was getting worked up about before that. I think it was trying to understand my completely irrational annoyance that Hagar the Horrible mentioned potatoes this week. But I just … you know, I just … I don’t know.

Hagar, running like two steps and swinging his sword: 'Swordplay is my meat and potatoes!' Hagar bows over, desperately short on breath. Helga: 'Looks like your met and potatoes are getting in the way of your swordplay!'
Chris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible for the 16th of June, 2016. And, look, I’m basically fine with anachronistic humor in these strips. It’s the whole point. I don’t insist on historic accuracy in Hagar or B.C. or whatever other situation comic strips are even out there, no more than I insist on it when The Muppets are doing a Medieval Silliness sketch. So I have no grounds for being bothered by this and yet I am. Also, so, like, Hagar’s dead, right? I mean, if running four feet and swinging his sword knocks him over, then the next time he gets shipwrecked and stranded on a desert island — which happens to him like three times a month — his eyeballs are seagull snacks, right? And not for a large seagull, either, one of those little trainee seagulls that needs it explained again what the difference is between eyeballs and eggs.

Next, the Comics


Over on my mathematics blog I had a fresh collection of mathematics-themed comic strips to talk about, and I want to make sure people who missed that had some kind of warning about it. So, ah, warning.

Mort Walker's _Beetle Baily_ of 24 August 1957. Apparently the General has a niece.

For those who weren’t so interested in that, I offer the above installment of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, from the vintage comics collection at comicskingdom.com. One of the wonderful things about the Internet has been that comics syndicates have made the ancient runs of comics more available. At its best, this lets you see now-stagnant comics in their prime and understand why (say) Hi and Lois became part of the default comics page. When it’s not doing that, you can at least get interesting observations such as (a) apparently General Halftrack had a niece, at least in August of 1957, and (b) this comic strip originally ran three days after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first successful intercontinental ballistic missile.