Dec 9, 2016

Beetle Bailey's Boyfriend

In 1950 Mort Walker started the newspaper comic strip Beetle Bailey, about a lazy, inept student at Rockview University.  The large cast of characters included students, faculty, and Beetle's longsuffering family (his sister eventually married and spun off into her own strip, Hi and Lois).

College humor didn't attract many reader, so on March 13, 1951, Walker had Beetle join the army.  He was stationed at Camp Swampy in South Carolina, where he has stayed ever since, still lazy and inept, still surrounded by a colorful characters: girl-crazy Killer, intellectual Plato, dimwitted Zero.

And Sarge -- Sergeant Orville P. Snorkle, Beetle's platoon leader.

Their relationship was antagonistic -- Sarge often yelled at Beetle and pounded him into a pulp -- but affectionate.  They were often shown hanging out together as friends.

Or more than friends.

As the years passed, and especially after Mort Walker's sons, Neal, Brian, and Greg, took over the writing in the 1980s, the homoromantic subtext became increasingly important to the plotlines.

Many gags involved Sarge's total lack of interest in women.

Beetle dated girls, but less and less frequently, as strips hinted that his main interest lay in the masculine as well.

Beetle exhibited a freedom of speech and action that no other soldier had, relishing his special place in Sarge's life.

They used blatantly romantic vocabulary and themes.

A number of strips hinted that Beetle regularly shared Sarge's room, or his bed.

Other characters treated them as a couple.

Their fights became the standard squabbles of comic-strip couples, where physical violence demonstrates affection rather than hatred.

The question is, were Mort Walker and his sons aware of the subtexts?

Doubtful -- bickering buddies are a comic strip staple.

Still, we have to wonder about the August 19, 2013 strip, with Beetle looking for the blue skies over the rainbow.  Sounds like he's coming out.

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