Military Comic Strips
From WWII-era Classics to Modern Webcomics
April 18, 2014 by Jake Butler
Through all the trials and tribulations that come with military service, one thing is certain: you've got to keep your sense of humor.
From World War II-era humor straight from classic military magazines to modern webcomics published only online, here is a rundown of military comic strips worth checking out, starting with the most famous of them all.
When Beetle Bailey first launched on September 4, 1950, creator Mort Walker probably didn't expect it to last this long. It's now among the longest-running comic strips still being produced by the original creator, who's going strong at the age of 90.
The main character, Private Beetle Bailey, was originally a college student at a fictional school based on the University of Missouri, which is Walker's alma mater. Beetle didn't last long as an academic though – he dropped out and enlisted in the Army within the first year of production.
Even through 60 years of production, the characters have never once seen battle. Instead, they're stuck in a perpetual cycle of training drills and on-base antics, still wearing the same late-40s-era uniforms as when the comic first began. It's unclear what kind of unit they're even a part of; artillery, armor, infantry and paratrooping are all depicted in one way or another.
We do know, however, that Walker draws his inspiration from his experiences at Camp Crowder in southwest Missouri. Pvt. Bailey is modeled after one of his lazy buddies from high school who would rather nap and slack off than do any actual work. Know anybody like that? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think of Walker's comedic depiction of the Army. If you've been missing this comic strip lately, you can check it out online at BeetleBailey.com.
Although Beetle Bailey is by far the most successful and well-recognized comic strip about the military, there are a handful of other notable classics from years past.
- Sad Sack by Sgt. George Baker followed an unnamed but similarly inept and goofy Army soldier – noticing a pattern here? It debuted in 1942 in the very first issue of Yank, the Army Weekly. It was eventually picked for newspaper syndication and continued production until it was sold to Harvey Comics in 1957. The result was a huge series of spin-offs and new characters, so the library of related comics is truly massive.
- Buz Sawyer by Roy Crane was a critically acclaimed strip that ran from November 1, 1943, to 1989. The last strip credited to Crane ran on April 21, 1979. Unlike a lot of comic strips, Buz Sawyer was a little more realistic, following the characters through deployment and civilian life alike. Buz started as a Navy fighter pilot in WW II, but worked for an oil company upon his return home. He then got married, had a son, and later rejoined the Navy in the 1950s, eventually flying reconnaissance missions in Vietnam.
- Half Hitch by Hank Ketcham was another comic strip that focused on the Navy. Ketcham, who is probably more famous for creating Dennis the Menace, used his experiences in WWII for inspiration. He originally created it for the amusement of his friends and fellow sailors, but later found success when it was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. It followed Hitch, various NCOs and sailors, and Poopsy, his talking pet seagull.
The medium for original comic strips certainly has evolved since the days of Beetle Bailey and Sad Sack. In 2014, you no longer need to rely on a magazine or newspaper to find readers and entertain service members. There are a number of webcomics currently in production, and many of them come with free archives.
- For the airmen out there, Air Force Times' Flightlines section offers a weekly strip loaded with a variety of characters and situational humor. I was enthralled when I found their archives online and eventually had to force myself to stop reading and get back to work. Many of the comics you'll find out there focus on the Army so it's refreshing to find something different.
- Not to be outdone, the Marines are also well represented. Lance Corporal Maximillian Uriarte created Terminal Lance to poke fun at the Corps and showcase his own perspective through his protagonists, Abe and Garcia, as well as a few unnamed, recurring characters. It's often crude and unapologetic, but Uriarte never loses sight of the goal: to make people laugh with original material that service members can relate to.
- Lastly, Delta Bravo Sierra follows Army soldiers who are currently deployed in Afghanistan. It was created by Damon Bryan Shackelford in 2007 and is still going strong, with a full archive available for free online. Although the characters are actually talking, anthropomorphic animals, you'll find it's just as human as the rest of the strips discussed above.
Do you have a favorite military-related comic we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below.