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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/13/2008

The Rant: "Beetle Bailey" Must Shape Up or Ship Out

By Michael Cavna

BEETLE BAILEY: It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that relevant ring... (KFS) Enlarge Comic

In three weeks, "Beetle Bailey" will celebrate its 58th birthday. And to that we whoop: "Congratulations!" "What an accomplishment!" Oh, and one other sentiment:

"Time to get more relevant or go on leave."

Not long ago, a commenter to this blog asked whether Pvt. Beetle or anyone from his post had ever seen combat. Well according to the strip's lore, Beetle enlisted in 1951 during the Korean War, but has seemingly forever napped and quasi-toiled at Camp Swampy -- never seeing action as history marched into Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Somalia and Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else Americans have bravely fought since World War II.

Now, we have never served on a base or post, so if you're a huge "Beetle" backer who has, you can fairly tell us to go to hell. But we come from a family of military men -- Navy and Air Force, mostly -- and women who have worked for the military as civilians, and we know this: "Beetle" speaks to few veterans we know. That's not to say that "Beetle" is without merit, and it surely speaks to thousands of troops. On a tight civilian comics page, though, Beetle -- as famously lazy as the character is -- needs to pull his weight. So toward that constructive mission, we offer a few suggestions. To wit:

1. Beetle could blog about fighting soldiers' experiences: If it can work for "Doonesbury," a shot of the same purpose could rejuvenate "Beetle." Perhaps this goes too far afield of the strip's comic construct, but it's better than snoozing, creatively dormant in the barracks. The strip, with its large readership, could be used as a force for even greater good, insight and healing.

2. Pvt. Beetle could express empathy and connection to real life troops (i.e., in Iraq): If it could work for Snoopy, a shot of the same purpose could rejuvenate "Beetle."

3. Turn more of the strip over to Otto: If it could work for midlife "Peanuts" and Snoopy, a shot of the same purpose could rejuvenate "Beetle."

Oh, and one final word direct from Miss Buxley:

"Knock off the strip's misogyny!" Over 58 years, the least "Beetle Bailey" could do -- and Beetle always did embrace doing the least -- is E-V-O-L-V-E. Creatively and socially.

By Michael Cavna  | August 13, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Rants  
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Unfortunately, syndicates turn away thousands of submissions every year because there are only so many open spots in the funny pages. Rather than risk getting letters from angry Beetle Bailey fans, they keep these old has-been comics around and prevent any new comics from entering. That's why the funny pages are all but irrelevant these days.

Posted by: JC | August 13, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

It would be awesome if the strip evolved and became more relevant...but can it? As you said, the strip is 58 years young...what artist has the ability (or desire) to take this Battle Ship of an institution and turn it mid-stream (pardon the butchered metaphors.)

Posted by: Omaha | August 13, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I say get rid of it but for one reason -- IMO strips are funnier when they're not in the WaPo. Lio and Brewster were funnier before they were picked up. (I'm not saying they're not funny now -- the Donut People and the superheroes are great. It was just... funnier.)

Fusco Brothers and One Big Happy are funnier now that The Post dropped them. I don't know why this is, but I'd add BB to my on-line reading script to see if it follows the trend.

(I hear BC & Id followed form, but haven't checked them yet.)

Posted by: f2 | August 13, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

"That's not to say that "Beetle" is without merit, and it surely speaks to thousands of troops"

like Garfield speaks to cat owners right?

apparently according to Beetle Bailey's Wikipedia page(yes I know that makes it a fact) Miss Buxley appears in every Wednesday strip, for no discernible reason

Why not finally send Camp Swampy to fight? they've been training for a long time now... don't you think they are ready? Is there no world conflict going on in Beetle Bailey world?

suggestion to comic strip creators: instead of milking your strip till you retire,if your going to take space on the comics page why not retire the strip before it becomes tiresome and stale and start a fresh new comic strip with new characters and a new concept?

Say Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman ran out of good ideas for Zits(I'm not saying they have, just an example), and wanted to try something new retire Zits, and start a new strip, say one that focuses on forty-somethings dealings with their parents. They could call it "Wrinkles"

Posted by: david | August 13, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Changing Beetle Bailey to be more relevant, or P.C., would be like having changed Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. into Combat!, or Lassie into Rin Tin Tin. I don't think comics have an obligation to be political and relevant - just fun and interesting to read on a variety of levels.

Posted by: janietiptoe | August 13, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Okay, so who is "relevant" enough to cast the first stone? My daughter is a private in the Army. She sees stuff everyday that's not too far removed from the things I'm reading in this blog. SEXISM IS ALIVE AND WELL. Same with racism, laziness, avoiding combat duty, etc, etc. etc.

Why does the buxom lady appear in the strip so often? I dunno. Why do people swoon over the ladies in other strips?


Posted by: MSchafer | August 13, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

You're asking Beetle Bailey to "evolve." And you're asking this of the writer who, to my memory, has never even put a multi-day story together. It'll never happen, otherwise it would have already happened.
The only hope for this strip is a new writer to take over. It worked for B.C., it could work here, but it will have to be total change to have a chance.

Posted by: Ollabelle | August 13, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

but 'beetle' does not skewer the sexism -- it PERPETUATES it!! big difference, MSchafer.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 13, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Beetle has shown the potential to evlove.

Beetle used to have a "back home" girlfriend; now he's seeing Ms Buxley.

Sarge's "girlfriend" is a recent addition (20 years?).

They introduced a new character just 10 (?) years ago... the tech wiz.

And I'd have to measure but I think the branch Sarge is always hanging on to has gotten a bit bigger.

And, David, Garfield skips the cat owners and speaks directly to its demographic: 30+ year old cats. Cat owners are covered by "Arlo & Janis" and "9 Chickweed Lane".

Posted by: f2 | August 13, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

screw BB, get rid of preachy family circus

Posted by: Anonymous | August 13, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

fr JC:

>...Rather than risk getting letters from angry Beetle Bailey fans, they keep these old has-been comics around and prevent any new comics from entering. That's why the funny pages are all but irrelevant these days. <

So don't read it! Simple as that!

Posted by: Alex | August 13, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

BB is everything that's wrong with the comics page.

Nothing to say, not funny and only ostensibly done by the original creator. You may not be paying for reruns with Beetle, but the jokes are so bad and old you might as well be.

Posted by: Horacio | August 13, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of stale comics, is it true Opus is ending soon?

Posted by: whosis | August 13, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not saying that BB's present writer is good or bad - it is hard to come up with 300+ funny situations each year. But making the comic strip more relevant really has nothing to do with it. Funny comic strip is a funny comic strip regardless of the situation.

I do think that introducing combat situations would fundamentally change the strip and I don't see how it could be made funnier or more amusing by doing so.

Posted by: charlie | August 13, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

"It is hard to come up with 300+ funny situations every year"

If they can't with any new ideas then they should stop doing the strip, or start fresh with a new one, and stop relying on stale material...

evolving the strip makes for new jokes, new plots and situations, it may not make the strip funnier, but it'll make the strip better than it is now.

Posted by: david | August 13, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I think one of the strip's strengths is that Beetle is not in combat nor commenting on the current conflict of the time. Had it been keyed towards any particular war, from Korea to Iraq and all those in between, it would have lost all relevance long before now. It certainly isn't one of my favorites but it should continue until it has a natural death, fading away as it loses more and more readers/comic editors. An interesting trivia fact: Beetle is a brother of Lois Bailey of Hi and Lois.

Posted by: allenwoodhaven | August 13, 2008 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Can tomorrow's rant be about how Lynn Johnston is turning into George Lucas?

Posted by: whosis | August 13, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

For an example of how cartoons could both illustrate and comment on life in the military you have to go back sixty-plus years to Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" cartoons from World War II. The guys in the foxholes loved them; Gen. Patton wanted Mauldin behind bars for making fun of certain officers but Ike told Patton to leave Mauldin alone because you shouldn't jail someone for telling the truth.

Posted by: Compare Beetle With Mauldin's Work | August 14, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"Changing Beetle Bailey to be more relevant, or P.C., would be like having changed Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. into Combat!, or Lassie into Rin Tin Tin."


I agree that Beetle Bailey couldn't survive a transformation into relevance, and the comparison to Gomer Pyle or Lassie certainly seems apt, but doesn't that just prove the point? Both of those TV shows have been off the air for decades. It's long past time to give Beetle an honorable discharge and send him home.

As a comics fan, I can quote dozens - maybe hundreds - of funny lines from strips like Doonesbury, Pearls Before Swine, Zits, Get Fuzzy, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County. All of those strips have had something original and clever to say. They made me sit up and take notice. They made me laugh. But can anyone quote a single line from Beetle Bailey? Does it ever make anyone laugh?

Worn out strips like Beetle Bailey are just plodding through the motions like some tired musical act at a third-rate state fair. It's time to gently nudge them into retirement and open up the stage to a new generation.

Posted by: Oregonian | August 15, 2008 1:26 AM | Report abuse

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