Cartoonist Mort Walker on creating Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois! INTERVIEW

 

Beetle Bailey: The Daily & Sunday Strips 1966 by Mort Walker, Mr. Media Interviews

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Mort Walker is the dean and — in some ways — the curator of American cartoonists.

Best known for his long-running strips “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi & Lois,” Walker, 84, is also a bedrock member of the National Cartoonists Society, and he’s the founder and energy behind the National Cartoon Museum.

This is the third time I’ve had the pleasure of Mort’s company over the last 20 years. I enjoy interviewing him because he says what’s on his mind, and what’s on his mind is never dull.

But just in case my questions aren’t sharp enough for this American comic strip master, I’ve called in reinforcements.

Ray Billingsley, creator of the “Curtis” strip and an old friend of Walker’s, kindly contributed questions today. So did a newer member of the fraternity, Mark Tatulli, creator of “Heart of the City” and America’s fastest-growing new strip, “LIO.”

Mort Walker's Private Scrapbook

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Mr. MEDIA/BOB ANDELMAN: Mort, welcome to Mr. Media.

MORT WALKER: Good morning.

ANDELMAN: Did I get your age right?

WALKER: Yeah, very good.

ANDELMAN: Sorry. Should I not have brought that up?

WALKER: It always sounds old to me, but like I say, I’ll have to get used to it.

ANDELMAN: No, I don’t think you ever have to get used to it as long as you don’t act that way. I don’t think it’s an issue.

WALKER: They call me the Energizer Bunny around here. You wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” and they say, “Oh God, not another idea.”

ANDELMAN: The boys are probably waiting for you to slow down a little bit.

WALKER: Yeah, well, I hope I never do.

MORT WALKER audio excerpt: “Beetle Bailey’s based on my old high school buddy and college roommate, and his name was David Hornaday. And he was a big, lanky, lazy kind of guy, and everybody liked him and everything like that. And he was just goofing off all the time. I remember I went by to pick him up to play golf one day, and his mother said, ‘David’s still in bed. You gotta go wake him up.’ I went up, and I shook him in bed, and I said, ‘David, David, wake up! We’ve got a tee-off time at nine.’ He just grabbed his pillow, turned his back to me, and went on sleeping. I took his bed, and I turned it upside down. He fell out on the floor and just reached out and got his pillow and went on to sleep. I said, ‘David, you ought to be in a comic strip.'” 

You can LISTEN to this interview with cartoonist MORT WALKER, creator of BEETLE BAILEY and HI & LOIS, by clicking the audio player above!

ANDELMAN: Well, I want to ask you about that. Before we get to the questions from Mark and Ray, I’d like to hear about how you spend your days at the studio. What’s your level of involvement with your strips alongside your sons and, of course, your late partner Dik Browne’s boys?

WALKER: Well, one thing, you have to start with an idea so I’m always doing ideas. At breakfast, I usually get two or three gags. I have to have my pad with me, my clipboard with me all the time. Yesterday, my wife had to go to the doctor, and I went with her, and I was sitting in the waiting room, and she was in getting an MRI for an hour. I got 19 gags while I was waiting for her. So you never really waste any time. Then I get back and start doing my strips. I do all the penciling on the strips, and my son Greg does the inking. I usually can get those done in the morning. My work doesn’t take me an awful lot of time so that gets me involved in a lot of other things. I got a brand-new business I started.

ANDELMAN: What’s that?

WALKER: It’s a magazine. It’s called Mort Walker’s The Best of Times. And I got started because we have a lot of weekly magazines and newspapers around here, and I usually pick them up. They’re at the exits of the grocery store, the delicatessen, or wherever you’re in, and they’re piled up in a corner somewhere. And I looked at them, and I said, “They really don’t have much in them that’s very interesting.” Most of it is a repeat of what’s in the daily newspaper. So all of a sudden I thought my paper here in Stamford, Connecticut only uses about 10 of the King Features. King Features is the largest syndicate in the world. It’s syndicated all over the world. They have 140 features that they syndicate, and my local paper, as I said, only uses ten of them. That leaves 130 features that are available, and they’re all famous writers and cartoonists and puzzle writers and so forth. I thought, I could put out a great newspaper using all the excess that the local paper doesn’t use. And so I started this newspaper, this magazine. It started as a newspaper. Now it’s a magazine. And it’s full-color, 40 pages, and we sell advertising to make money.

ANDELMAN: Wow.

WALKER: Each issue brings in about $20,000. Well, that’s not bad.

ANDELMAN: Sounds like something you could spread out around the country, too.

WALKER: King Features puts it all together for me. I just tell them where the ads go.

ANDELMAN: Now, you don’t sound like a guy who has any intention of slowing down.

WALKER: No. I thought of a new comic strip yesterday morning, and I haven’t even got anybody to look at it yet so it’s not doing us any good.

ANDELMAN: Oh my goodness.

WALKER: I did about 15 gags of it for us, and I’m still waiting for my editors. I have a son that works with me here in the office. His name is Neal. He also does all my drawings for the foreign markets. I give him the gags, and he does the drawing. They print them. Beetle’s the number one comic book in Scandinavia, and they just can’t get enough work. They reprint everything I’ve got, and they need at least that much more to fill up the comic books. So I have to have somebody working on those things all the time.

ANDELMAN: You came up with a new strip idea. How different would a strip by you be today than it was 40 or 50 years ago?

WALKER: I don’t know. I just sort of do what I like and wait and see if anybody else likes it. I don’t know that this is ever going to come to fruition because it seems like I’m always thinking. I’ve got about 10 comic strip ideas in my drawer right now that have either been rejected by me or rejected by the syndicates.

ANDELMAN: The young guys who are gonna hear this interview are gonna be shocked that a guy with your experience still gets rejections from the syndicate.

WALKER: Yeah. I took some stuff in to the syndicate a few years ago, and the editor says, “Mort, we got enough of your stuff.” And I said, “But my stuff is the stuff that’s selling!” “Beetle,” “Hi & Lois,” you take “Blondie” and “Hagar the Horrible,” which I worked on. Those are the top-selling strips they’ve got. And all the new ones that they try last for maybe a year or two, and then they die. I said, “Why don’t you get along with my stuff?” Well, they look at my age, and they think How many more years do we have for you? So I don’t know. I can’t stop it, though.

ANDELMAN: Well, what hope is there for a new cartoonist coming up if an experienced veteran like yourself can’t get a new strip going?

WALKER: Well, look at the strip called “Zits.” That’s a brand-new strip and boy, it’s going great guns. I like it very much. Very well drawn, gags are good, everything. If you got the stuff, you’ll make it.

ANDELMAN: I wasn’t gonna go that way right now, but that was something Ray wanted me to ask you about. What do you think of the direction that present-day cartoonists are headed? Are there any particular strips that you like right now?

WALKER: There are a lot of them I like, but I guess about half of them I don’t. And usually, it’s because they’re hard to read, I don’t get the gags, the drawing is confusing, or it’s something that I’m not that interested in. I think a lot of them make the mistake of doing gags about animals or robots or something like that, or bugs. People are interested in people. And I try to create characters that everybody can relate to. Everybody knows a Beetle Bailey. Everybody knows a Sarge. Everybody knows a General Halftrack or Miss Buxley. And it’s funny how often in my fan mail, like yesterday, I got a letter, and somebody said, “Your favorite character is Cosmo. Can you send me a picture of Cosmo?” And I’m thinking, Cosmo, I only use him maybe once a month. I don’t know. It’s interesting.

ANDELMAN: You mention “Zits.” Are there others that you like particularly?

WALKER: Well, of course, “Hagar” is one of my favorites. And “Mother Goose and Grimm,” I always get a laugh out of that. Boy, I’d hate to start on all my favorites cause I got a lot of them.

ANDELMAN: Let me ask you about a couple of them specifically. What about “Get Fuzzy?” Is that one of the ones…you mention animals. I’m guessing maybe that’s one that you’re not so crazy about.

WALKER: I read it about half the time, and I don’t get that much out of it. I know a lot of people like it. Then I argue with people about it while they just say you just don’t get it. So I think that there’s an appeal level that some people have for certain strips that I don’t have or other people don’t have. It’s an individual thing.

ANDELMAN: What about “Pearls Before Swine”? That’s a very different strip, generationally speaking.

WALKER: I read it. A lot of times I get a laugh out of it. I find it a little confusing, and I don’t relate to it as well as I do a strip like “Zits.” Altogether we have 10 children. It’s a second marriage for both of us, and we have 15 grandchildren. I can see all my children in that strip. That’s the way they act, and it’s amusing to me the way they treat their parents and everything. I can relate to it.

ANDELMAN: Does it bother you in “Pearls” that sometimes the attacks on like “Family Circus,” for example, or other strips? Does that bother you, or does that amuse you?

WALKER: I don’t think it’s an attack cause he’s used Beetle Bailey in his strip. I always write him and thank him.

ANDELMAN: Mark Tatulli, this is one of the things he had wanted me to ask you. He wondered if you had ever read “LIO” and what you thought of it.

WALKER: I don’t see it.

ANDELMAN: Oh, you don’t?

WALKER: I get three papers everyday, and it’s not in any one of those. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it.

ANDELMAN: Mark will be disappointed, but I appreciate you being honest about it.

WALKER: Well, I’ll look for it. I just got back from Ohio, and it wasn’t in that paper. So I just don’t know.

ANDELMAN: Let me ask you about something that’s pretty close to your heart, and then we’ll move on to some of the questions that Ray had for you. Since the Cartoon Museum closed in Boca Raton a few years ago, I know you’ve devoted a great deal of time and energy and money, for that matter, to finding a new home. The last time we spoke, which was probably about three years ago, maybe four, it looked like you were heading toward the Empire State Building. And I was wondering if you could update us on what the status of the project is.

WALKER: We got killed there, and it was very unfair. We had a contract to go to the Empire State Building, and as a result of the contract, we went out, and we hired a staff of people and fundraisers. And we spent about half a million dollars preparing to move in there. Suddenly, we got a notice from the owner, who I’d been dealing with, that they had to cancel the contract because they have another attraction on the second floor called “Skyride,” which is a simulated helicopter ride over Manhattan. They sell their tickets. They were gonna sell our tickets. Instead of rent, we would split the profits. They figured that each one of us, they’d make three and a half million, and we’d make three and a half million. I said, “No more fundraising for me!” It was a perfect deal, I thought. And the Skyride people said, “We don’t want the competition. If you sell the museum tickets, we’ll sue you.” And so they cancelled our contract. They said, “But we’ll give you a cut rate in rent, and we’ll only charge you $850,000 a year in rent.” They just killed all of our sponsors, all of the people that were gonna give us money. They just figured we’d never make it, and so we’re out of business. Not only that, but they kept our $185,000 in security deposit.

ANDELMAN: You must’ve been crushed when that fell apart.

WALKER: It just killed us. We had no more people who were gonna give us money and no place to go. I had lent the museum $400,000, and I just couldn’t go on doing that.

ANDELMAN: Wow. And so where does the project stand now? Is there anything you can tell us?

WALKER: We have a new home for it, but I can’t announce it yet.

ANDELMAN: Okay. But there is something in the works.

WALKER: Yes.

ANDELMAN: Do you know when you might have something to reveal?

WALKER: They’re supposed to have a meeting on the 15th to discuss it. We’ve looked at the new headquarters, which are beautiful, and we haven’t had a board meeting on it yet. So that’s the reason they told me not to announce it yet.

ANDELMAN: Let’s go to some of the questions that Ray Billingsley had. You guys have known each other a long time.

WALKER: He used to hang out. When he was a kid, he used to hang out at the museum.

ANDELMAN: Is that right?

WALKER: Yeah.

ANDELMAN: Oh, so you do go back a ways with him.

WALKER: Oh yeah. He was just a teenager, and he was a very talented young man and very nice and everything. We formed a friendship, and we’ve been together. I’ve made speeches in his behalf and so forth. He’s a very nice guy.

ANDELMAN: Ray sent me an email and said, “You’ve got to talk to Mort for Mr. Media.” Ray’s interview was one of the most popular that’s ever run on the Mr. Media site so I have to bow to his advice on this. One of the things that Ray wanted to know was who was your first influence as a cartoonist?

WALKER: I think that it was probably “Moon Mullins.” Frank Willard was the cartoonist. We used to get the Sunday paper on the front porch, and my father would ask me to go down and get it. And I’d bring it back, and I’d get in bed with him, and he’d read the funnies to me. And when he read “Moon Mullins,” he started to laugh until tears came down his cheeks, and I just got the biggest kick out of that, seeing somebody laugh like that. And I can even remember specific strips that he read to me. And I think it influenced me and influenced my style of humor and characterizations and everything. I think that was my earliest influence.

ANDELMAN: Do you think you’ve always been trying to make your dad laugh?

WALKER: Yeah. Well, it’s a nice thing to do for people. In fact, I do it all the time anyway. I go to the grocery store, for instance, and Cathy goes down one aisle, I go down another aisle. Then I can’t find her again. I’m looking around, and the manager comes up and says, “Can I help you? What are you looking for?” And I go, “I’m looking for my wife. What aisle do you keep wives in?” And my wife says, “Can’t you ever go out without trying to make everybody laugh?”

ANDELMAN: Or trying to develop material for a strip?

WALKER: Yeah.

ANDELMAN: Would we recognize your dad as a character in any of your work over the years or other family members for that matter?

WALKER: I don’t think my father was in there, but a lot of my friends were. Beetle Bailey’s based on my old high school buddy and college roommate, and his name was David Hornaday. And he was a big, lanky, lazy kind of guy, and everybody liked him and everything like that. And he was just goofing off all the time. I remember I went by to pick him up to play golf one day, and his mother said, “David’s still in bed. You gotta go wake him up.” I went up, and I shook him in bed, and I said, “David, David, wake up! We’ve got a tee-off time at nine.” He just grabbed his pillow, turned his back to me, and went on sleeping. I took his bed, and I turned it upside down. He fell out on the floor and just reached out and got his pillow and went on to sleep. I said, “David, you ought to be in a comic strip.”

Beetle Bailey: The Daily & Sunday Strips, 1965, Mort Walker

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ANDELMAN: So does he collect residuals on that?

WALKER: Well, he’s dead now.

ANDELMAN: Oh.

WALKER: They used to play him up in his paper back in St. Joseph, Missouri, all the time on the front page. And I said, “Does it bother you?” He said, “A little bit, but I like it okay.” I don’t know that you’d really like being compared to Beetle, but…

ANDELMAN: Well, he’s gonna live on in some way, right? Did I read that Lt. Fuzz was actually closest to you at the time?

WALKER: I based it on my experiences when I first became a lieutenant in the Army. And I was so impressed with myself being an officer, and I was only 19 years old at the time. So using my official status, I walked into our sergeant’s office, and it was all cluttered with used coffee cups and papers and litter on the floor. And I said, “Sergeant let’s get this place cleaned up,” and he looked at me. Instead of saluting, he said, “Oh, knock it off, Lieutenant.” So I based some of my experiences of trying to be an officer on Lieutenant Fuzz.

ANDELMAN: Did you have formal art training?

WALKER: I used to take art courses until I suddenly got the idea when I was in high school that if I was gonna do a comic strip, which was my lifelong ambition to do, that was what I was preparing for, and I thought, If I just am an artist, I’m gonna have to pay somebody to write my ideas for me. And that means I’ll only make half as much money. I started taking writing courses instead of art courses. I took a couple because they were usually snap courses. I’d always get an ‘A,’ and I didn’t have to do any homework or anything like that. But after I came to New York and started doing cartoons, I was a top-selling magazine cartoonist in the country in 1948, a year after I got out of college. My art teacher in Missouri University used to hang up my drawings and say, “An example of fine art in cartooning.” They were trying to get some credit for me.

ANDELMAN: Oh, I see. They want the credit.

WALKER: Yeah.

ANDELMAN: Yeah, I see.

WALKER: “We trained that guy.”

ANDELMAN: I wonder how many people that they churned through there as a result of that.

WALKER: As opposed to that, my journalism school claimed me as a star student in journalism.

ANDELMAN: People living off of you all over the place.

WALKER: I remember I was taking this writing course, and I was getting straight A’s. I was the top student in the writing course. The teacher asked me one day, “I’d like for you to come home and have dinner with me and my wife,” and I said okay. So I go to dinner, and we talked about writing all through dinner, the great writers that we were. After dinner, he shoved his chair back, and he says, “I guess you’d like to write the great American novel.” I said, “No, sir.” He said, “No?” I said, “No. I want to write the great American comic strip.” And you never saw such a look on a guy’s face. He was like I’d hit him with a brick.

ANDELMAN: Do you feel like guys that do what you do are held in more esteem today than they were 50 years ago?

WALKER: No. It’s just the opposite.

ANDELMAN: Really?

WALKER: When I grew up, cartoonists were national heroes. Boy, they were famous. I remember going into a restaurant with Al Capp and Milton Caniff, and everybody turned around, and they said, “There’s Milton Caniff! And he’s with Al Capp!” They were on the cover of Time magazine and written about all the time. And they were revered, and they were rich and famous. They used to drive around in Mercedes and expensive cars and everything. They were well respected. But you’ve got so many other things going on for people today — a lot of television, movies, and things that we didn’t have in those days.

ANDELMAN: We’ve talked about Will Eisner before. I remember Will Eisner had said that he wanted to rise to the level of the comic strip artist from the comic book artist because there were comic strip artists, then there were pornographers, and then there were comic book artists. That was about the way he thought that the pecking order worked.

WALKER: There was a time there when comic books were just about out of business.

ANDELMAN: Yep.

WALKER: And then suddenly, I guess it was the movies that came out with Spiderman and Superman and everything like that that revitalized the comic book business. But they were almost dead at one time.

ANDELMAN: Well, speaking of almost dead, let’s talk about the newspaper business and the effect of the Internet and other things. Where do you see it going? Do you think there will be a newspaper business for cartoonists to sell their wares in five, ten years?

WALKER: Boy, you just don’t know. I’ve seen so many businesses and things go out of business because of changes. Everything’s changing so rapidly these days. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know how you can get along without newspapers. Maybe people aren’t reading them as much as they used to, but I find I can’t move along without them. I’ve got all my computers all around here and television sets and DVDs and all that kind of stuff, but I depend on the paper to find out what’s going on.

ANDELMAN: I know there were circulation numbers just this past week for the major newspapers around the country. I think only three of them were up in circulation, and even that, none of them were up more than two percent, and the rest were all down. That’s gotta be a little frightening.

WALKER: It is, and I know that the papers are cutting back on their comics. They go from two pages to one page. They’re trying to cut the costs because the owners of the papers always want to make more money. And while they’re still making as much money as they did 10 years ago, just about, the owners want to make more. They think by cutting back on their expenses… Our local paper here just fired 15 of its top editors and combined its operations with another paper in the town next to us, cutting back on their comics and everything like that. And I’m thinking if they want to appeal to people, they ought to keep their most popular features. Comics are the best-read part of the newspaper and usually right after the headlines, the favorite part of the paper. A lot of editors don’t see it. They think their editorials are the big stars.

ANDELMAN: Little do they know. You know when they find out, of course…My wife’s an editor at a newspaper. They find out when they drop a strip, and the phone starts ringing off the hook. Then they realize, “Oh, people do care about that stuff.”

WALKER: I know, but it takes something like that to tell them. I don’t know why they don’t realize it before. While I don’t think comic strips run the newspaper or anything like that, they’re very popular with people so don’t cut them out. They’re the things that people look for.

ANDELMAN: I should give credit where credit is due, by the way. This is the line of questioning that Mark Tatulli, creator of “LIO,” had in mind, which I actually found interesting that he was concerned, as a guy who’s sold his strip into more than 300 papers in about a year and a half, but he, nonetheless, is concerned. I guess he’s wondering…He’s been on a fast rise, but I guess even he is concerned about how much further it can go if they’re all cutting back.

WALKER: I think that somebody starting out is probably going to be having a more difficult time because the editors are not adding the strips as fast as they used to. And they’re just trying to hold onto the ones that they’ve got and hold onto the price of the thing. I’m not making any more money now than I made 30 years ago. They’re just not raising their prices anymore. But still, “Beetle” is in 52 different countries and 1,800 newspapers, and it has a readership of 200 million everyday. That’s the kind of readership that I think any writer would love to have.

ANDELMAN: Sure. One of the other things that Mark was wondering is if, along that same line, is if you see a future for new comic artists being able to make a living as comic strippers?

WALKER: It’s going to be more and more difficult. Yeah.

ANDELMAN: Do they need to look for other media like the Internet, for example? Do you think that publishing your strips directly to the web is going to be a way of the future?

WALKER: I haven’t found anybody that’s been able yet to figure out how to make money at it. You can put yourself on the Internet and hope people are going to see it, but how are you going to get them to pay for it? That’s the big problem.

ANDELMAN: Speaking of strips that kind of mix the old and the new, I wondered what you made of the hybridization of Lynn Johnston’s “For Better or For Worse.”

WALKER: You mean that she’s going back to re-doing her old strips?

ANDELMAN: Yeah, but you can’t tell from day to day if it’s a new strip or a reprint. You can, but you don’t know from day to day what you’re getting. I don’t even think some of the newspapers have caught on to that yet.

WALKER: I don’t know how that’s gonna work out. I was reading it this morning, and I was trying to figure out when that strip first appeared, probably, what, 30 years ago or something like that?

ANDELMAN: Yes.

WALKER: She’s always been an experimenter. I read an editorial yesterday from, I think, the Cleveland Plain Dealer where the author said what’s going on with comic strips. You’ve got “Doonesbury” writing stories about a guy who lost his leg in battle, and Tom Batiuk (“Funky Winkerbean”) has a main character die of cancer. Lynn Johnston, she’s got dogs dying, and she’s got the old man with Alzheimer’s…Where’s the funny stuff? So many strips now are dealing with emotional problems and things like that rather than making you laugh everyday.

ANDELMAN: It’s probably not unusual to find that in “Doonesbury” over the years, but “Funky Winkerbean,” which I hadn’t seen in years. It’s not carried near us. I read about the character dying of cancer, and I thought that must be kind of shocking in that strip. I’ve always equated that strip more along the lines of a “Hi & Lois” or a “Blondie” in that it’s about people, and it’s a gag-a-day kind of a thing. And then what? A comic strip character is dying of cancer? Wow. That’s a wake-up call for people reading that strip.

WALKER: It’s not the traditional thing that you see in comic strips. I like to make everybody laugh and maybe enjoy the day a little bit better or something like that. Laughter is a great healing conduit for enjoying life more.

ANDELMAN: You’ve gradually brought family, as did Dik Browne, into your strips and kind of pass it along, although obviously you’re still involved. In the case of Lynn Johnston, though — and I know she has staff — but if she’s tired of doing the strip, shouldn’t she just stop doing it? Or financially, is it just too hard to walk away from that kind of thing?

WALKER: I’ve heard some rumors about her getting a divorce, and her husband leaving her penniless. I don’t know. I guess he took the money or something. I don’t know. So maybe she still needs the money.

ANDELMAN: Oh, so the motivation might be a little different. Yeah. It’s sad. It’s such a great strip for so long, but it just seems kind of lackluster now. There are times when Garry Trudeau has taken a couple weeks or a few months off, and you’ll see older strips run. You can just see the difference in the quality of the art and the gags. And you know what’s happening, I think, with “For Better or For Worse.” I think it’s unfortunate because it doesn’t add to the legacy of the strip.

WALKER: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s interesting. They’ve been re-running the “Peanuts” strips for a long time, and it’s like I’m reading them for the first time. He and I started at the same time in 1950.

ANDELMAN: Right.

WALKER: I started one month before he did, and we became friends and had a lot of experiences together over the years. It was interesting to me to go back and see his early work. And while I think he learned how to draw a little bit better than the early years, it’s still interesting.

ANDELMAN: It’s funny. You’ve done a wonderful thing here. You’ve set me up for the last couple questions I wanted to ask you, which actually were about Charles Schulz, cause I know that you’ve been friends, and of course, he’s the subject of this new book, Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. You go back, obviously, a long time. You nominated Schulz to be a member of the National Cartoonists Society. He was rejected at first because nobody knew him. I remember that it’s a great story that you told me, and I know you told Michaelis. What do you think of Michaelis’ belief that Schulz was largely an unhappy, perhaps clinically depressed, man?

WALKER: I don’t think it showed up that much as far as I’m concerned. He was always a little shy, and that’s how I got to know him. Somebody said, “There’s a cartoonist that just started a strip out in Minneapolis, but he doesn’t know any other cartoonists. Could you write him?” So I said sure. So I started writing him, and we began to correspond. Then I invited him to come up to New York and meet some of the cartoonists. He came up, and I put him up and gave him a place to stay. I threw some parties for him, and he met everybody. He wandered around New York looking at the big buildings. I called him a “Hayseed,” which he didn’t like.

ANDELMAN: I think you called him “A hayseed’s hayseed.”

WALKER: I didn’t think it was derogatory, but he took a little offense at it. But anyway, we still remained friends. And then we began to sit together at the National Cartoonists meetings. He’d come up here, and we’d sit at the same table. And I got him into the Cartoonists Society. They said, “You don’t know him. He doesn’t have any other friends so you can’t really nominate him.” That’s one of the reasons I invited him to come up here. I said, “You can’t keep him out. He’s got a comic strip that’s in the paper. He’s a cartoonist!” And so they finally let him in. And we used to sit together at all the cartoonists meetings, and then later on, he and I were invited to hand out the yearly Reuben Awards, Cartoonist of the Year. He and I were on the stage together for many years. He gave us a million dollars to help start the museum. And anyway, he was just a good friend, and we were always related along the way.

ANDELMAN: Have you read the book?

WALKER: I started it, but I haven’t had the time really to get really engrossed in it. It’s right in front of me.

ANDELMAN: It’s funny, same here. It really is a fascinating book, but I also wonder if it gives you pause as someone who’s had a very long, very successful career to think about what might be written when your time comes if there’s someone out there thinking I’m going to write a posthumous biography of Mort. Are there things that you worry about being written or said about you at that time?

WALKER: You reminded me of a biographer, and somebody was asking him one day, all these books he’s written about people, and he said, “Why don’t you write a book about this guy?” And he named somebody, and the writer said, “I can’t write a book about him. I don’t know anything against him.” I would think that I’ve always been such a happy-go-lucky type of cheerful person and everything like that. It isn’t interesting.

ANDELMAN: Is there anything that you hope will be written about you when that time comes? Playboy liked to end its interviews over the years with what would you like to see on a tombstone, final words kind of thing. Do you have any thoughts about that?

WALKER: Only that I probably enjoyed life more than anybody I know, and I always like to leave them laughing, even on the street. I’m always saying funny things to people as they walk down the street. I like little kids. In the grocery store, I’m always talking to little kids: “Are you really a New York Yankee? You’ve got their T-shirt on there. Do you play baseball for them?” I’m always having fun.

Mort Walker WebsiteBeetle BaileyHi & LoisOrder Mort Walker’s Private Scrapbook from Amazon.comMr. Media interview with Mort’s son and current Hi & Lois writer, Brian Walker (May 10, 2011)

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About Bob Andelman (Mr. Media) @andelman (Twitter)

Bob Andelman is the host and producer of Mr. Media® Interviews. He is also the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Wawa Way with Howard Stoeckel, Building Atlanta with Herman J. Russell, Fans Not Customers with Vernon W. Hill, founder of Commerce Bank and Metro Bank UK, Mind Over Business with Ken Baum, The Consulate with Thomas R. Stutler, The Profiler with Pat Brown, Built From Scratch with the founders of The Home Depot, The Profit Zone with Adrian Slywotzky, Mean Business with Albert J. Dunlap, and Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Click here to see Bob Andelman's Amazon Central author page. He is a member in good standing of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (member page).