Saturday, 19 July 2014
Beetle Bailey On Parade
Throughout the Bronze Age, Tempo Books produced a seemingly endless run of lovely little slim paperbacks of various newspaper strips, and I bought every one I could find in Cambridge's legendary remaindered bookshop.
From Rick O'Shay to Mandrake to Flash Gordon, they seemed to get a new one in every week, all with that telltale remaindered groove cut into the top or bottom of the book.
( Funny how you can get nostalgic even about that groove - If I see a book like this from this era that hasn't got a groove in it, I always feel slightly cheated )
I bought this collection of Mort Walker's long, long running military yoks strip in 1972, and loved it. Walker is a master cartoonist and animator with an expert sense of timing, his style both slick and simplistic, and the characters are loveable and genuinely funny.
Some have accused the strip of not dealing with real world or real war issues. No, Beetle Bailey doesn't address real issues, and yes, it could just as easily be set in any huge, unwieldy organization, but those who accuse it of not being something Walker clearly has no interest in it being are missing the point. This is lightweight laffs, troops.
Beetle himself is a slacker before the word existed, who hates being in the army, and seems on permanent KP, but the real star of this collection is the strip's first black character, the Luke Cage of newspaper strips, Lt. Jackson Flap ( who definitely does have that groove, baby ).
Allegedly, Walker did lose some papers in the South when Flap was introduced, but equally gained about a 100 more, mostly in the Carribean. Swings and roundabouts. Interviewed in 1984 in Nemo Magazine, Walker had this to say:
Stars and Stripes banned me when I brought in Lt. Flap. The story was: They were having racial problems anyway and they thought this might heat up a few things, and cause some more trouble. They were the only paper that really actually banned me.
People were a little concerned when I started doing it, because they thought I was going to do a funny stereotype. And after a while they realized I wasn't making fun of him, he's just a funny character.