24 November 2008

Beetle Bailey: The First Years 1950-1952 HC (Checker, 2008)

Looks like Fantagraphics started a trend in the American comics industry when they started collecting Peanuts strips in chronological order and wrapping them between hardcovers. Every classic comic strip from Dick Tracy to Popeye to Dennis the Menace to Pogo has been or will be collected for fans and new readers to enjoy. Thanks to the folks at Checker Book Publishing, Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey is the latest cartoon strip to be collected in hardbound format.

I used to read Beetle Bailey in the local rag back when I was still reading the local rags and whilst it was occasionally mildly amusing, most of the time it was just lame. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked up this book collecting the first two years of Bettle Bailey's 'life' and I'm glad I did. This book is a treasure and its present incarnation is just a far paler shadow of what it used to be.

I was surprised to discover that the strip did not begin with Beetle already in the U.S Army but instead in college. In fact it was the Korean War that prompted Mort Walker to shift locales and make Beetle a private at Camp Swampy where he has remained ever since. It is in Camp Swampy that we are first introduced to the regular supporting cast of the Beetle Bailey strip: Sarge (thinner here), General Halftrack, Cookie and Casanova wannabe, 'Killer'. Walker and his readers didn't know it then but all these characters would still be featured in the strip 50 years later.

Beetle Bailey's adventures are the same then as they are today: he puts his hat over his eyes so he can sleep undetected, tries to pick up girls and basically survive Army life while doing as little work as possible. So why is he so not funny today? Honestly, I don't know.

Also included is brief biography on Mort Walker and some rejected strips including one where Beetle's eyes are revealed.

All in all, this is a very good collection and I hope to collect any and all future collections up until the 1970s strips. That's when the strip jumped the shark, in my opinion.

1 comment:

Maxo said...

It's always interesting how a lot of these strips had a sharper edge in their earlier days - it's a shame most of them get into a rut or are picked up by new creators that just don't have the same oomph. Maybe they should be allowed to just end in an organic way instead of lurching along.