LOS ANGELES — Comic strip artist Mort Walker, a World War II veteran who satirized the Army and tickled millions of newspaper readers with the antics of the lazy private "Beetle Bailey," died Saturday. He was 94.
Walker died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, said Greg Walker, his eldest son and a collaborator. His father's advanced age was the cause of death, he said.
Walker began publishing cartoons at age 11 and was involved with more than a half-dozen comic strips in his career, including "Hi and Lois," "Boner's Ark" and "Sam & Silo." But he found his greatest success drawing slacker Beetle, his hot-tempered sergeant and the rest of the gang at fictional Camp Swampy for nearly 70 years.
The character that was to become Beetle Bailey made his debut as Spider in Walker's cartoons published by the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. Walker changed Spider's name and launched "Beetle Bailey" as a college humor strip in 1950.
At first the strip failed to attract readers and King Features Syndicate considered dropping it after just six months, Walker said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press. The syndicate suggested Beetle join the Army after the start of the Korean War, Walker said.
"I was kind of against it because after World War II, Bill Mauldin and Sad Sack were fading away," he said. But his misgivings were overcome and Beetle "enlisted" in 1951.
Walker attributed the success of the strip to Beetle's indolence and reluctance to follow authority.
"Beetle Bailey" led to spin-off comic strip "Hi and Lois," which he created with Dik Browne, in 1954. The premise was that Beetle went home on furlough to visit his sister Lois and brother-in-law Hi.
Fellow cartoonists remembered Walker on Saturday as a pleasant man who adored his fans. Bill Morrison, president of the National Cartoonists Society, called Walker the definition of "cartoonist" in a post on the society's website.
"He lived and breathed the art every day of his life. He will be sorely missed by his friends in the NCS and by a world of comic strip fans," Morrison said.
Funeral services will be private.