RIP, Mort Walker: Canned Funnies

Next stop, the Army
Next stop, the Army

The recent death of BEETLE BAILEY and HI & LOIS cartoonist Mort Walker brought back memories of my first job for The Portland Monthly in 2004. The trigger event was The Oregonian‘s controversial decision to drop Hi and Lois from its comics page after 50 years (it was displaced by Berkeley Breathed’s brief revival of Opus; Cathy was dropped at the same time). Think about this for a moment. Imagine that in 2004, Frank Sinatra’s Swing Easy (released in 1954) had just dropped off the charts, The Pajama Game was finishing a 50 year run on Broadway, and a local television affiliate was catching flack for dropping Father Knows Best, which first appeared the same month as Hi And Lois, from its lineup (Cathy, a relative stripling, made its debut in 1976, the same year as Frampton Comes Alive! the musical Annie and Charlie’s Angels.). On the other hand, The Tonight Show and Face The Nation started that same year and are still going strong, so network television is hardly a paragon of dynamic change.

David Chelsea is reading:Conversations with Mary McCarthy

As was usual with this client, the concept came entirely from the editors, though they left the script up to me. The final panel, in which the Flagstons enlist at Camp Swampy, hinges on a pretty obscure piece of comics trivia- that Lois is Beetle Bailey‘s sister- but the editors had nixed my original ending, in which the newsprint family is exposed to Portland’s rain, dissolve into mush and wash down a storm drain, on the grounds it was ”too depressing”.

Postscript: both Hi and Lois and Cathy were eventually reinstated, and as of this writing they are still running in The Oregonian comics section.

You can view this strip large at Comics Lifestyle.