Monday, January 29, 2018

Mort Walker 1923 - 2018

Above Collier's magazine gag cartoon by Mort Walker from Ger Apeldoorn's blog. Ger has a tremendous selection of Mr. Walker's early cartoon work.

"Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois" cartoonist Mort Walker passed away Saturday morning at his Stamford, CT home. He was 94.

He was, along with fellow post-war cartoonists Hank Ketcham, Bil Keane and Charles Schulz, one of the giants of 20th century syndicated newspaper comic strips. He jokingly referred to his Connecticut studio as "King Features East."

He also was one of the nicest, most unassuming fellows. If you were a cartoonist, he treated you as a pal.

There are a lot of obituaries on the web. Here's one from the local paper, the Connecticut Post. And a lot of personal stories about him. Here is one of mine.

Back in 2000, at the World Trade Center, it was intermission time at the annual Saturday night Reuben Awards show. I was in my tuxedo, washing my hands in the men's room. Mort Walker came into the bathroom. He didn't know me personally, but he saw I was formally dressed and I had on my NCS name tag. So, we glanced at each other and said hello. No one else was there. Just us.

I told him that this was the first National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards event I had attended. He asked how I liked the convention and I told him it was great. And then I asked him how it was going for him, which I thought was kind of a dopey question. He had been going for the Reubens for several decades and was an NCS president and board member.

And I remember that he paused for a second, and got a paper towel. "Oh, it's going to be tough," he told me, "without Sparky." He went on to explain that it was tradition that when the big Reuben award was to be awarded, Mort and Charles "Sparky" Schulz, walked onstage together and presented it. As we all know, Mr. Schulz had died just three months prior.  Mort admitted he was sad and even feeling a little lost. I said that, yes, it was very hard losing a friend.

I was surprised at the encounter. Mort was open, friendly and treated me as a confidante. I genuinely felt for him.

He did a fine job presenting the award. Patrick McDonnell won it that year for his "Mutts" strip. Patrick's speech, which consisted of him saying, I want to thank Richard Outcault, Winsor McCay, George McManus -- and he went on, listing so many seminal, famous cartoonists. The room went wild. Mort was upstage, beaming. They all are still remembered. They all are loved.

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