This is the end of the comic strips I have on hand for now. Once some stuff is organized, I may be able to return to this. As with the other series, I grabbed every bit of Beetle Bailey comics I could find and read them to see how they hold up today and what if anything they’re saying about life. Twelve books were read for this piece, including:
I Just Want to Talk to You, Beetle Bailey (1977).
Lookin’ Good, Beetle Bailey (1977).
Up, Up and Away, Beetle Bailey (1980)
Would It Help to Say I’m Sorry, Beetle Bailey (1981).
Beetle Bailey: You Crack Me Up (1981).
Beetle Bailey: The Rough Riders (1982).
Beetle Bailey: General Alert (1982).
Beetle Bailey: Rise and Shine (1983).
Beetle Bailey: Take Ten (1984).
Beetle Bailey: Strategic Withdrawl (1985).
Let’s Change Places, Beetle Bailey (1987).
Beetle Bailey: Wiped Out (1989).
Overall, Beetle Bailey is a simple gag a day in a place where time mostly stands still. Beetle is constantly disiplined and beaten up by Sgt. Snorkel. Gen. Halftrack lusts over Ms. Buxley. The army life has its demands and oddities. Whether enlised today or 50 years ago, certain truths will always hold. Any superior rank is a jerk and any underneath are lazy. The food sucks, the hikes are brutal, and what’s a guy gotta do to get a three day pass and some time with a woman?
(Some strips shown below for journalistic purposes of review. All Beetle Bailey work is credit to Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate, Inc.)
As timeless as the idea is, and it’s still going today, I read 12 of these books and I’m left with a titter. A chuckle. I don’t have a deep connection to any of the characters after reading hundreds of strips. I didn’t even see one that would have made me want to cut it out of the local paper and attach to the fridge. Some of these books collect the Sunday strips, and even longer ones which I think originally appeared in comics books.
Now a modern artist might use this as a commentary on the military seeing all troops as characters that fit into different slots: the lazy one, the one only concerned about women, the suck up, etc. But Beetle Bailey started in 1950 by Mort Walker, himself an Army veteran. It even ran in Stars and Stripes. Yet at some point the world of the strip became stagnant. Sure, some steps were taken forward. Lt. Flap, the strip’s first black character in 1970. Chip Gizmo – a computer expert in 2002. Recently Beetle started and is still occasionally seen dating Ms. Buxley. Yet all of this is shown happening in a base that stopped getting new uniforms and equipment sometime in the 1970s. I’m not saying ship them all off to Afganistan and tell some jokes. However there have been additions to the military over 40 years that could probably lead to some punchlines. Serving side by side with women, gays in the military, drones, and these are off the top of my head. Someone who knows the military would have years worth of material.
This is disappointing because Beetle Bailey started as a strip full of change. Beetle was in college for the first year and when he discovered he wasn’t making any headway there joined the Army. Beetle is the brother of Lois from the Hi and Lois strip but I just read years worth of the comic and that never once comes up. Visit your family, have interactions with the shady businesses that always surround a military base to take advantage of young soldiers, Get a nighttime job just for an excuse to get off base. Not just Beetle, but any of the men at Camp Swampy. There should be more to an over 70 year old comic world than sarcastic remark, get beat up, and Beetle’s squiggle says the literal punchline.