Thirty years ago, I got the chance to interview Mort Walker about his experiences at Neosho's Camp Crowder during World War II, and how they shaped the comic strip he would soon start writing, "Beetle Bailey."
Walker, who was 65 years old at the time and living in Connecticut, told me that Camp Crowder was his first experience of a U.S. Army Camp. He said he was 19 years old when he arrived at the hastily-constructed base in 1943.
He also told me he was here long enough to experience a Southwest Missouri flood, and later he would be assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, which he said the soldiers called "Pneumonia Gulch."
Those water-logged memories were dredged up when he needed a name for his fictitious Army base.
"That is the reason I named the camp 'Camp Swampy,'" he told me.
Some of the characters — Beetle Bailey, Sgt. Snorkel, Gen. Halftrack — were based on actual people he met in the Army, but he admitted that he couldn't remember a specific person from Camp Crowder who morphed into one of the main players. Still, he said some of his story lines were straight out of Crowder. So was the attitude reflected by some of the characters in the series. Walker, for example, said that even though he was trained as a radio repairman at Camp Crowder, he wrote in his diary, "They will never make a radio repairman out of me."
Beetle, by the way, is not the only newspaper comic with a local tie.
In 1946, the Globe reported that Joplin had been chosen as the hometown of the Bumsteads — Dagwood, Blondie and their children. Their hometown was revealed in an interview given to Cosmopolitan magazine that summer. The comic created by Chic Young, "Blondie," was appearing in The Joplin News Herald at the time, as well as more than 600 other U.S. newspapers and more than 100 papers in 29 other countries.
"That Young has selected Joplin as a typical American hometown in the number one comic strip of the world is indeed a compliment to this community," the editors opined.
Joplin residents jumped into the act, with the YMCA creating a fictional scholarship for the Bumstead's son, Alexander, for example, and Joplin scouts naming him an honorary member.
So I found it a bit ironic when, in the strip a couple of weeks ago, Dagwood dressed as none other than Beetle Bailey for Halloween.
There is one other comic with a (possible) local connection worth mentioning.
"Li'l Abner" ran for more than four decades, and while it is not clear exactly where the fictional Dogpatch was located (initially, it was thought to be in Kentucky) a theme park by that name opened in the Ozarks, south of Harrison, Arkansas, more than 50 years ago. It stayed open only a few years, and a lot of people around the region have fond memories of the place.
Now, I tell you these stories in order to set the stage for something — The Joplin Globe would like to know what you think of our daily and Sunday comic line-up, and we are inviting you to take attached survey. It will run in the paper and online — joplinglobe.com — for the next two weeks.
Let us know what you like, what you don't like, and if you know of a comic you think we should carry, please tell us that, too. We will be looking to improve the line-up.
We'll tell your the results of the survey after it wraps up.
Those who return the survey with a name and telephone number will be eligible for a drawing, as we will give away some umbrellas, beach towels and aprons decorated with characters from our comics.
Thanks for your help.