Beetle Bailey is a newspaper comic that started in 1950, by Mort Walker. Originally it was about some people Walker went to college with, and was set in a university. However, when that idea didn't prove very successful he decided to change it into a military comic instead, drawing on Walker's experiences in the army.
It's got an incredibly diverse cast that increases as the years go by, possibly in attempts to boost low ratings or to keep up with the times. The comic used to deal with military issues that were either somewhat relevant, or were funny to those who were already in the army. The series is now run by Mort Walker's son, and much of the tone and theme of the strip, over the last couple of years has divorced itself from reality in terms of having Beetle and his fellow soldiers remain stationed within the US, oblivious to the wars currently waging in the Middle East.
As said before, there's a rich cast of characters, but here's a list of the ones most commonly seen:
Sergeant Orville "Sarge" Snorkel: The Sergeant of Company A, the company of soldiers that Beetle and others are part of. Sarge is a real piece of work, full of character flaws and issues that the comic's creator may or may not be aware of.
Ms. Buxley: General Halftrack's beautiful secretary. She used to be as dumb as a post, but has developed some since the whole sexism criticism thing. She usually works with Ms. Blips, Chip Gizmo, and the officers of the camp. She seems to be dating Beetle now, even though there wasn't much to their relationship before a few years ago.
General Amos T. Halftrack: The comander of Camp Swampy. While he has all this power, he's still bullied and henpecked by his wife and so has a lot of pent up sexual frustration. He plays golf every afternoon, really enjoys his liquor, and spends a lot of time thinking about his secretary. The latter caused the media to require him to take Sensitivity Training. These days he's more subtle about it.
Zero: The Fool, a Dumb Blond with buck teeth. His usual role is to be given an order by Sarge embellished with a careless metaphor, which he will proceed to carry out in the most literal manner possible (e.g., if told to "Make it snappy," he will embellish the project with mouse-traps and snapping turtles).
- Abhorrent Admirer: A few one-shot characters, Killer to some women, but most of all Sgt. Louise Lugg to Sgt. Snorkel. They actually sort of dated at one point, but the only explanation given to how that ever happened was that she forced him into it. It's ironic, anyway, as an earlier strip shows him imagining his ideal woman as a female version of himself, which Lugg was (admittedly without the bodybuilder figure).
- Accidental Hero: Beetle of all people receives a medal for being an exemplary worker. It starts when he gives his usual kind of lip ("I could do that, if I wanted to") to Sarge "asking" him to clean up some graffiti. Sarge gets angry and gives a violence-laden order for him to want to do it, then. When he's cleaning the wall, Killer happens by and asks why he's doing it, to which Beetle replies with angry sarcasm that it's because he wants to. The General also happens to walk by and is impressed by this dedication.
- Animal Talk: At least cats and dogs can communicate with each other.
- Alliterative Name
- Animated Adaptation: There was a TV series in 1963-64, often paired with animated versions of Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat (known collectively as the King Features Trilogy, produced by Al Brodax). Beetle's and General Halftrack's voices was Howard Morris, Sgt. Snorkel's was Allan Melvin.
- Anthropomorphic Shift: Happens in-universe with Otto; one strip shows his coming to wear clothes and walk upright as a result of rivalry between Sarge and another sergeant who were competing through their pets. Apparently it stuck, since he's now long been like that permanently.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Or rather, "...indecently flirt with me, which I'd be offended by?" Apparently that's expected of soldiers. Used several times; they even did "Aren't you going to inappropriately flirt with my sister? You saying she's not pretty enough?"
- Armed Farces
- Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: Happens sometimes between Sarge and Beetle, or Sarge and the privates in his company in general, typically involving a situation where someone is about to leave the company but starts remembering all the good times they've had together. Sometimes subverted instead: One party's happy memories about their times together are ones that make the other angry.
- Badass: In spite of everything, Sarge has his moments. Like killing a bull with his bare hands. Accidentally.
- Bad Boss: General Halftrack just can't take criticism. Which can be a real problem, because he's also an inept boss. The only one who ever dares to tell him the truth is Ms. Blips, who often finds herself playing the part of the court jester.
- Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Like Sarge, canine companion Otto dresses himself pretty much in the same type of uniform, including the signature hat in dog size.
- Battle of Wits: Constant between Sarge and Beetle (and to some extent privates in general). Sometimes more "brains vs. brawn", but Sarge has plenty of cunning of his own in many strips.
- Beyond the Impossible:
- If the General has a headache and Sarge ORDERS you to fire a cannon quietly, then you fire it quietly.
- Beetle is slower than everyone else even when parachuting down from a plane.
- When training to be a cook, Cookie reportely ranked 50th out of a class of twenty-five.
- Big Ball of Violence: Almost any Sarge/Beetle fight. Beetle also manages to make one once by himself, when it appears he has attacked Sarge but is actually not even touching him because he's not that crazy. (They're sometimes portrayed as able to actually have a fight, sometimes so that Sarge is far superior.)
- Big Eater: Sarge.
- Non Sequitur Episode: CAMP SWAMPY CONSTRUCTION AREA. (A big sign saying that has crashed into the middle of the panel, and there's general mayhem around it... for some reason.)
- Blinding Bangs: Beetle's old but since disappeared by the looks of it best friend in the army Bammy had these, making him a little like Beetle in never showing his eyes.
- Brawn Hilda: Sergeant Lugg from is Distaff Counterpart to Sarge, so what else could she be? The biggest difference between them is that she's sexually aggressive, whereas he's afraid of women.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Zero observes that Beetle appears to be crying. Killer says that he must just have the flu, because he's too tough to be crying. Beetle says that anyone would cry if they had such a bad flu as his.
- Briffits and Squeans: You can bet there are lots of newspaper comic "visual" effects. Mort Walker wrote the book on these. Literally.
- Brother Chuck: Beetle previously had a girlfriend named Bunny, but since about 2002 or so, she's vanished without a trace. Plenty of others, too, including his even earlier girlfriend.
- The Casanova: Killer isn't all talk; he's often seen on the town with pretty ladies.
- Cats Are Mean: Sgt. Lugg's cat Bella has a tough, nasty attitude.
- Comic Book Time: Extremely little of anything changes, and when it does, it's by arbitrary decision rather than because of time passing.
- Confused Question Mark: General Halftrack sometimes has a question mark appear over his head when he comes upon members of his staff acting in a bizarre manner.
- Crazy Prepared: In one Sunday Strip, Sergeant Snorkel has several soldiers march through the desert in the event that they have to go over to the Middle East.
- Deadpan Snarker: Especially Ms. Blips, Otto coming a good second. But nearly everyone has the tendency occasionally.
- Death Glare
- Nobody can look as angry as Sarge. Of course, this means he also often overshoots the trope by looking furious rather than calm.
- Officers (with the possible exception of Lt. Fuzz) can generally pull this off when they catch someone they outrank doing something they shouldn't.
- General Halftrack has a tendency to end up being the recipient of the death glare from his wife or secretaries.
- Delusions of Doghood: Beetle once hypnotises Sarge to think he's whatever he secretly wants to be, making him act like a lion. He also accidentally affects General Halftrack, but he doesn't "become" an animal: "Have you gone mad! I'm an airplane!" (Paraphrased.)
- Dirty Old Man: Let's put it this way... Ms. Blip once remarks that no, the General probably isn't going to say anything about Ms. Buxley's pants being too tight, because it's hard to speak with your tongue hanging out. It was not always as extreme—sometimes, it was even subverted when his secretaries were expecting it—and was toned down later.
- Dream Sequence: Sarge gets a really trippy one about being a food-themed superhero.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty
- Driven to Suicide:
- Subverted/parodied: Killer has threatened to kill himself after being told off by his girlfriend. The others find him "doing it slowly"—smoking cigarettes, two at a time.
- Left hanging another time, in one variation of a reused gag where Beetle overhears the guys planning to pull a prank on him by calling in pretending to be Sarge. Of course, then the real Sarge calls in and buys it when Beetle pretends to be the General and tells him to do something absurd. In this one instance, Beetle says he's disappointed in him and he can just go tie a rock around his neck and jump into water. The last panel shows Sarge about to do so. Of course, it's entirely Played for Laughs and forgotten immediately afterwards; presumably he didn't do it.
- Engineered Public Confession: Not intentionally invoked, but in one strip, General Halftrack orders Beetle to find Sarge and bring him to his office in regards to something. After searching around the camp, he reports that he can't find Sarge, but then Halftrack tells him that he knows where he is, causing Beetle to be baffled about why Halftrack wanted him to find Sarge when he already knew where he was. That's because while Beetle was searching for Sarge, Sarge entered the room with Corporal Yo discussing getting front row seats for a Baseball game, and states to Yo to tell the General that he went to the Pentagon to look for a dog, with Yo joking that the General would believe anything. As Beetle had to put him on hold to look for Sarge, Halftrack heard the whole conversation.
- Epic Fail: Cookie manages to make soup that is too tough to cut with a knife... and steak that is too tough to cut with a machine gun and grenades.
- Escalating War: Defied in one Sunday strip, eventually. When going out for a three-day holiday, Beetle slaps Sarge on the back just before leaving. He runs after him and whacks him with a chair. After a trashcan thrown from a roof and dynamite, when Beetle is pointing at Sarge with an enormous artillery piece of some sort, Sarge tells him to wait and points out that while what they're doing is fun and all, Beetle should perhaps consider what kind of shape he wants to be in for his holiday.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Sarge, Cookie (the Camp Cook), the Captain, the Major, and the General. All of them except Cookie have been given full names, but these are only used on formal occasions.
- Flanderization. What characters didn't start out with completely stereotypical features got them eventually. Beetle himself was always a slacker, but by now he's literally won awards and set records for laziness and sleeping.
- Furry Confusion: Happens in-universe to Otto when he feels sorry for a dog that walks on four legs and wears no clothes. Otherwise usually averted, because Otto is still "animal" enough to interact with other dogs on the same level, even though he's closer to anthropomorphism than they.
- Game Show: Beetle and company became a puzzle on Password Plus.
- Genki Guy: Corporal Yo sometimes has the trait of getting really, really excited about anything he finds interesting, and he likes to run around doing everything as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Guile Hero: Say what you like of Beetle, and he certainly isn't very heroic for a start, but he shows considerable cunning in evading Sarge and the other officers... although some of his attempts are admittedly incredibly dumb instead. Plato is even better at it when he does it, and often manages to manipulate people with just a few words, but he doesn't make it so much a sport or hobby as Beetle does.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Sgt. Snorkel ("Terrified Of" variety)
- Henpecked Husband: General Halftrack; also the long-ago retired character Private Pop.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Inverted: When Beetle hears that Sarge has beaten up a private from another company, he becomes outraged and tries to report him for infidelity.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- More than once: A group of officers gathered to judge a breach of the dress code criticise it while wearing an array of prety random clothes themselves. Also other similar cases. Perhaps more often, it's done the other way around, with three parties, not getting as far as the trope: A tries to complain about B's behaviour X to their superior C, but it turns out C is doing X himself.
- Another one used in several variants: A criticises B for their hobby or obsession or habit, only to return to their own room/bunk, where they have a similar collection of things/arrangement/whatever going on set around another theme. For example, Corporal Yo notes Sarge's huge collection of food-related electronics before returning to his own room full of different electronics. Or Sarge says it's weird of Beetle to collect comics, only to have someone else point to his shelf full of different empty beer cans.
- General Halftrack's "Have you gone mad! I'm an airplane!" (He'd been hypnotised.)
- I Broke a Nail: This turns out to be the reason Sgt. Louise Lugg mauled a guy so badly while playing American football. The trope is played straight and she's shown "emotionally" crying over it; the comic in general repeatedly plays with her combination of masculine aggressiveness and feminine sensitivity.
- Idiot Hero: If Zero can be considered a hero, he's definitely the best example of the series.
- If It Was Funny the First Time: “But who dares to tell the general that he did a mistake...?”
- Ironic Echo: Not quite exact, but Sarge tells Corporal Yo to lie to General Halftrack about going to the Pentagon to find a dog when Sarge is actually going to go to a baseball game. Thanks to their conversation being heard by Halftrack on the phone while Beetle was searching for Sarge, several soldiers ruffed up Sarge and asks Halftrack (who ended up stealing Sarge's seat) where they should take Sarge, and Halftrack orders them to "take [Sarge] to the Dog Pound at the Pentagon."
- It Makes Sense in Context: Happens a lot in-universe, when a strip or other comic builds up a weird situation that someone then walks in on or sees only partially. It's a Running Gag that the General walks around and sees things that leave him completely puzzled.
- It Makes Just As Much Sense in Context: ...Then again, the soldiers have taken to intentionally doing weird stuff just to confuse the General and invoke the running gag.
- Perhaps the biggest setup for a weird situation for someone to walk in on appears in the story where the General finally receives a letter from the Pentagon, informing him that he has to be ready for a major inspection in a week. When the general from the Pentagon lands, in the middle of their combat practice with rockets and ammunition flying all over the place, he's met with Otto barking at his helicopter, Zero dressed as a tree going around saying hi to everyone, Sarge running around happily yelling charge while carrying a sleeping Beetle over his head, the Major up to his neck in a mud pit, Lt. Flap returning to the scene in one of his trademark outrageous outfits, Cookie carrying a cake and singing happy birthday, and General Halftrack getting drunk in a torn and ragged uniform.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sarge has a soft side, and he's not always very good at hiding it, either.
- Just Toying with Them: Beetle is sometimes shown as such a better runner than Sarge that he can annoy him further by reading a newspaper while being chased by him.
- Kicked Upstairs / Reassigned to Antarctica: It is heavily implied that the reason why Halftrack is made the commander of the camp was so the Pentagon and other bases wouldn't deal with him. Reassigned to Antarctica has also happened to others in one-off gags whose effects didn't survive the often Negative Continuity.
- Kitchen Sink Included: Cookie can't even get it right when he uses the kithen sink expression about what's in his food, as Beetle finds a tap in his stew right after that.
- A Lady on Each Arm: Killer's idea of a double date. He's also had two on each.
- Lampshade-Wearing: Subverted.
- Literal Ass-Kicking: Occasionally given to Beetle by Sarge.
- Literal-Minded: Zero. Usually Completely Missing the Point.
First Frame: Sarge: Zero, take this report to the General's office and step on it!
- Ms. Buxley when she was being portrayed as dumb.
- Medium Awareness: There are all kinds of weird gags involving the characters interacting with comic strips elements that are supposed to be only symbolic—such as Sarge eating a "Z" produced by a sleeping Beetle in an effort to get to sleep himself, or characters managing to produce empty speech bubbles.
- Mildly Military: Among other things, 40+ years of the characters in basic training and largely no suggestion that the characters will be ever shipped out on assignments in any of the major US wars that have happened during the life of the strip.
- Mistaken for Gay: One of the strip's minor characters is Julius, Gen. Halftrack's chauffeur. He originally had a larger role as the camp's resident Neat Freak, but when angry readers demanded to know why Walker had introduced a "homosexual character" in the strip, he was more or less Demoted to Extra.
- Negative Continuity
- Never Bareheaded: Beetle always wears either a hat or a helmet.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Otto, Sarge's canine second in command.
- No Sparks: Many readers see Beetle and Ms. Buxley's relationship this way. After they had been 'dating' for about a year, their relationship still never seemed to make it past third date or so. It may be due to 'Status Quo Is God', but you get the impression that the strip's possible ghostwriters don't know what to do with the relationship either. And now even she made a remark in-universe that hints at this.
- Noodle Incident: In one strip, the Captain asks where Sarge and Beetle are, before Mort informs him of Beetle and Sarge getting into an argument, leading to Sarge "taking a swing" at Beetle before promptly chasing him into the kitchen where he apparently did something with Cookie's meal, although the Captain cuts him off and tells him that he doesn't want the details and demands that he "cut to the chase." Mort then points out that the chase is occurring, literally, where in addition to Cookie and Sarge chasing him, the balding soldier is also chasing after them while wearing a towel (presumably was in the middle of a bath) and the General being right behind the balding soldier with broken golf clubs. Also qualifies as an In-Universe Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lieutenant Fuzz. His ambition is to become the U.S. Army's greatest desk officer.
- Only One Female Mold: Along with Only Six Faces, the strip is guilty of this. Apparently, all of Killer's girlfriends have a small slender build.
- Pin-Pulling Teeth: General Halftrack once tried to do this as a "This is how we did it back in my day!" demonstration—but just ended up throwing the still-pinned grenade along with his teeth (he wears dentures, obviously). Also played straight once when Beetle and Killer are very casually going through a training course they've done a million times.
- The Soldiers Who Don't Do Anything: By Word of God, the strip is specifically about the foibles of the peacetime army. Accordingly, we never see the soldiers do any soldiering.
- Used to be justified in-comic: General Halftrack's superiors know how bad he is (or they have even suppressed his existence), and don't want to risk anything by involving him in it. It was a running gag that the General would wait anxiously for "orders from Pentagon" that would never arrive because of this. When they did, in an album story, the eventual inspection was such a disaster the Pentagon felt at a liberty to go on ignoring him. Paraphrased conversation from the story:
"I've never heard of this Camp Swampy."
- Rather oddly used back in the Vietnam days; there were several instances when Sarge pined to go to war, when all he would have had to do would have been to say he wants to go; they weren't picky at Vietnam.
- Plot Tumor: The strip originally had nothing to with the army .
- Please Keep Your Hat On: An unpublished early strip had Beetle remove his hat after being instructed to do so by his college professor. One look was enough for the prof to tell Beetle to put the hat back on.
- Preacher Man: Chaplain Staneglass.
- Professional Slacker: Beetle works hard to avoid hard work.
- Retool: After a one-time joke of running into an army enlistment building to avoid being confronted by his angry girlfriend, Beetle suddenly gets sent off to boot camp and his college life, friends, and family members are all largely forgotten for the rest of the series. Most people have forgotten that Hi and Lois is supposed to be a spin-off with his sister.
- Rule 34:
- Mort Walker once drew Ms. Buxley nude and released the drawing as a limited edition series of art prints.
- Walker and his staff makes several dirty gag strips that never make it paste the sketch level. Mostly, they do this for their own amusement, but some of the strips has been published in Scandinavian magazines.
- Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Sometimes appears in simulated combat where no ammunition are used. One longer story devoted a few pages to a whole "battle" like this, including guys in airplanes shouting machine gun sounds but one of them commenting the people down below probably couldn't hear them anyway.
- Shell Game: Parodied in-universe by Sarge: Beetle is hiding in one of three large metal carbage cans, so Sarge shuffles them around quickly and pretends it's a shell game to teach him a lesson.
- The Shrink: Camp psychiatrist Dr. Bonkus.
- Smelly Skunk: In a Sunday strip, Camp Swampy was forced to postpone its war games because Army A encountered a skunk and were heavily implied to have been sprayed by it.
- Snap Back: Lampshaded here.
- Soul Brotha: Lieutenant Flap, when he was introduced in the seventies. A JoshReads.com commenter scanned a few of his earliest appearances from microfilm
- Speech-Impaired Animal: Otto just barely manages to qualify in a few individual strips, turning his growls into something resembling speech. Most of the time he sticks to using thought bubbles to comment on things, sort of like Garfield.
- Spin-Off: Mort Walker introduced the title characters of his second strip, Hi and Lois, in Beetle Bailey. (Lois Flagston is Beetle's sister, and there has been at least one Crossover between the strips.)
- Status Quo Is God: Among other things, the reason why no one ever gets a promotion.
- Two longer album stories use this to make their storylines especially notable: In one, Sarge actually manages to lose weight, while Lt. Fuzz tries to Take a Level In Badass; in the other, the General finally receives orders from Pentagon. Both end with the status quo returning with a vengeance.
- Story Arc: Over the decades, there have been a handful connecting the actual strips (actual longer album stories notwithstanding), including at least "Beetle arrives at college," "Beetle joins the army," "Beetle goes home on holiday alone," "Beetle goes home on holiday with Sarge," "Beetle goes on holiday at home with Sarge and Otto," "Zero goes on holiday home with Beetle and Sarge," and "Sarge briefly tries to leave the army but comes back."
- Stout Strength: Sergeant Snorkel.
- According to a one-off strip, when deprived of food he gets even stronger. He also turns a greenish shade and goes berserk in his pursuit of sustenance. "Look out! It's the Incredible Bulk!"
- The Swear Jar: Due to an excess of Symbol Swearing, Sgt. Snorkel finds himself contributing.
- Sir Swearsalot: Sgt. Snorkel is heavily implied to be the worst swear offender in the camp. He does lose a swearing contest once when his opponent hits him with something rendered as CENSORED. That's right, they couldn't even show the symbol for it.
- Symbol Swearing: Sarge is a man of his word. Unfortunately, this is the word.
- Token Minority: Lieutenant Flap and Corporal Yo.
- Took a Level in Badass: Lt. Fuzz tries to invoke this once by becoming as heavy as Sarge. It doesn't work, though he does at least manage to intimidate the General with the strength he happens to acquire after the obesity ploy fails.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Sarge was obsessed with pizza long before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made it their trademark. Of course, if this term ever appeared in the comic, they'd be sure to point out that food is his trademark favorite food.
- 20% More Awesome: Plato gives an interpretation of what a demand of "giving 110%" is going to mean: The rest of them give 100%, Beetle gives 10%.
- The Un-Reveal: Sarge and the Captain once conspire to see Beetle's eyes by scaring him so that his hat will jump off. When they do, it turns out he's wearing shades underneath.
- The Un-Smile: Appears once when Beetle is depressed. Dr. Bonkus first tells him to smile, but seeing the result asks him to go back to looking sad.
- Wardrobe Malfunction: The Army supply corps ended up from an unfortunate order mixup delivering pajama bottoms instead of standard army pants to Camp Swampy (which the corps refused to amend their mistake by rationalizing that they are "two legs, same thing, pal!"), and it is implied that this is not the first time such a tragic mixup happened (General Halftrack, when seeing their... new wardrobe, mutters in exhasperation "First the Berets, now THIS?!")
- Where the Hell Is Camp Swampy?
- Write What You Know: The fact that Camp Swampy's soldiers never go to war makes sense if you know that Walker had an uneventful military career as a supply officer during WWII. He was never on the front line.
- Write Who You Know: Mort Walker claims to have based most of his original cast on people he knew in the miltary.
- He has said that both Beetle and Lt. Fuzz were based on himself (he was a 'maverick' who gained a commission while in the army).
- The general was based on one who "couldn't lead a cubscout troop into a candy store."
- Zero is based on a nice guy who tried his best but always ended up bumbling things.
- Yes Men: The Major and the Captain. Subverted with Lieutenant Fuzz, who is trying too hard to be one.
"I haven't said anything yet."
- At least in a Finnish translation. It's the kind of joke that could have been changed in translation.