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Beetle Bailey "The First Years: 1950-1952" Hardcover – September 1, 2008
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From School Library Journal
Lanky, leisure-loving Beetle Bailey, eternal army private, has been a humorous fixture on newspaper comics pages for over five decades. But even longtime readers might not know that at the strip's inception in September 1950, Beetle wasn't in the army at all—he was a lazy college student. Swedish publisher Egmont Karnan AB has been collecting the complete Beetle Bailey strips; now Checker has brought Egmont's series to the United States with this inaugural volume reprinting the strip's first 21 months. For six months, Beetle skipped class, hung out with girlfriend Buzz, and mooched off his propeller-beanied freshman roommate. But in March 1951, as his friends got drafted, Beetle enlisted (against his will). Though the move was initially resisted by Walker's syndicate, it proved a turning point in the struggling strip's popularity. Included among the still-funny gags here are appearances by early versions of the bellowing Sarge, ladies' man Killer, General Halftrack, and intellectual Plato. Background material reveals Beetle's origin as Spider, a character Walker created in 1948; several early rejected strips are included. For all collections.—S.R.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Having read many of the Beetle Bailey collections from Comicana over the years, I was tempted to undervalue this one, as I thought it was merely a European version of already published comics. On closer look, however, it's a bit more than that. Beetle Bailey: The First Years is a coffee table sized, color cover, hardback 280 page collection of all the Beetle strips from September 1950, when the strip first appeared, through 1952. In that it follows the format of the Complete Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, John Stanley comics and other collections happily finding their way presently back into print. What casual Beetle readers may not know however, is that Beetle started out in college, not the Army, and his nickname was Spider, easily changed to Beetle as another comic had first claim on that name.
The Sunday strips are unfortunately not in color in this book, but a five page introduction is. The black and white daily strips are large, printed three to a page on slick, quality paper, the way they ought to be. Beetle doesn't join up until around fifty pages in, and then he's recruited partly on a dare from his college dorm pals, some of whom enlist and some get drafted for the Korean War, and partly by accident. The next two hundred pages or so are a treasure trove of the sort of early Beetle Bailey comics that collectors line-up to buy on E-Bay, with a brief afterword about the milleu of the 'fifties, and a two page spread of unpublished and alternate version strips.
The roster of personnel has changed over the years, along with the style and character design, as with most long-running comics. My view is that the character look gets better and better. The most dramatic change is Sergeant Snorkel, who doesn't gain his well-known rotund look until 1963 (the cover interestingly shows a latter-day incarnation of Beetle and the Sarge).
Anyone having read the Private Scrapbook, and there seen glimpses of these early strips, would doubtless like to read more. Comic fans cracking the cover of the present volume will likely be surprised at the vim and vigor in the early strips, as well as the clean, bold, graphic style and careful artistry. Now that the King Features cartoons are out on DVD, and with more comics being reprinted, it's a great time to discover more of Mort and Walkerania.
* Hopefully this book will get great distribution as today's Beetle Bailey is woefully unfunny. Beetle should have been retired 5 to 10 years ago. Why Walker didn't is - to me - a major mystery. Young people who know who know the strip only from the last few years will not have fond memories of it as, today, it is just another forgettable strip.
It's also interesting to see the evolution of certain characters, like Sarge. In the very beginning, he isn't quite as bumbling, but his demeanor quickly changes into that of the sergeant we know and love today. His thinner, gruffer appearance, though, makes him almost unrecognizable!
The book also includes some strips that didn't make it into print. In one, Beetle's eyes are shown for the first and only time . . . along with the joke that he should keep his hat on.
Some of the most endearing characters may be less familiar to current readers. One is Chigger, Beetle's little brother. Beetle's parents are also interesting characters, though it seems they show up in the plot only when Beetle wants money! The other is Buzz, his charmingly sweet girlfriend from college, who continues to keep in contact with him after he enlists. These characters make me hope that Beetle will go on furlough, and that these characters will receive their share of the Beetle Bailey comic strip today. At the very least, they're worth getting to know in this anthology.
The book follows more Walker and his transition into the position of Beetle Bailey comic strip writer. We also see how his character spider morphed into beetle Bailey and in March 19 third 21 of 1951 we see how beetle went from college student to military.
"Shall we pass him?"
"Let's face it! Everyone has to put up with inferior products these days!"
Now sit back, has some fun, read of antics of beetle Bailey and prepare to kibitz.
I even find myself once in a while reading out loud.
The bonus material contains a few unpublished strips.
Anyone who wants to know how Beetle Baily started out as a college student to then become an Army private should buy this book.
Wonderful commentary, terrific reproduction of comics.
I only wish they would have continued with 1952 to 1953, instead of 1965.
It is the 1950's strips that are really hard to find.