Beats Beetle Bailey
March 14, 2007 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Sad Sack George Baker's subtly subversive WWII strip.
posted by klangklangston (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by interrobang at 10:26 PM on March 14, 2007

This is great stuff. Thanks, klangklangston.
posted by maryh at 10:32 PM on March 14, 2007

Sad Sack was a real fave during my tweenish years which intersected with the early 1970's. Could that history explain why these comics were plentiful even in the hinterlands where I lived?

Hey, Sack!
posted by telstar at 10:33 PM on March 14, 2007

OBITUARIES: Fred Rhoads:
Sad Sack Comics no 1 was published in September 1949. It was destined to run 287 issues, all the way to October 1982, seven years after George Baker had died. Originally the only new art was the cover cartoon, which Baker himself drew every month. Once the weekly strips ran out, a new cartoonist was needed. This was Fred Rhoads.
Harvey got Rhoads to streamline his style and produce title after new title. There came Sad Sack Goes Home (1951), Sad Sack's Funny Friends (1955), Sad Sack and Sarge (1957), Sad Sack Laugh Special (1958), Sad Sack's Army Life (1963), Sad Sad Sack World (1964), Sad Sack USA (1972), Sad Fun Around the World (1974) and even Sad Sack Navy (1972).

The new comics were hugely successful, something which Rhoads put down to his own way in which he had developed the character. "Baker was used to drawing for men in the service. His humour tended to be more dirty, more sexy, and that didn't work as well in the comic books," he said. The comic books, of course, were aimed at children, not at servicemen.

Rhoads drew Sad Sack until 1977, when suddenly Harvey stopped sending him assignments. The following year he sued Harvey for royalties on his artwork, which was then being republished every month. Rhoads had drawn a total of 9,500 pages of Sad Sack strips for an average fee of $35 each. An Arizona jury awarded Rhoads $2.5m, but Harvey appealed and won. The appeal court said that the loss was Rhoads's fault: he should have enquired about his rights long before the publisher terminated their relationship.

Bankrupted by the legal battle, Rhoads went back to work in 1985, drawing cartoons for his local newspaper, the Tucson Citizen. In 1989 he was seen at a San Diego comic convention, selling Sad Sack artwork to his fans. He was 78 when he died, never having once signed his name to a single Sad Sack strip.
Sacked. Sad.
posted by cenoxo at 11:00 PM on March 14, 2007

Yeah, unfortunately, the Yank stuff is the only stuff that I think is truly great. Everything else has kinda a blah feel to it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 PM on March 14, 2007

"subtly subversive" -- well, yeah, I guess so. Sort of Beetle Bailey-ish with its fairly gentle lampooning of Army life.

Having grown up thoroughly exposed to the work of Bill Mauldin, who won the 1945 Pulitzer for editorial cartooning with his "Willie and Joe" cartoons in the Stars and Stripes, I found Sad Sack a little bland in that area. Nice trip down memory lane for me, though -- thanks for posting this, kk'ston.
posted by pax digita at 5:16 AM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks to both klangklangston and pax digita. Sad Sack is indeed a little more "bland" but it is also an amazingly well done wordless strip in which nearly all of the gags are visual. That's where it stands out as a comic. But wow, Mauldin... those are funny even now. And just fantastic ink drawings. You guys made my morning.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2007

This Mauldin one kills me. And, weirdly, I remember the one above it, with the dry socks, from a high school history textbook. My high school was cooler than I remember!
posted by COBRA! at 9:01 AM on March 15, 2007

D'oh. This one.
posted by COBRA! at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2007

I haven't checked out every link on the page, but I don't see anywere that the name Sad Sack is actually shortened version of "Sad Sack of Shit" -- supposedly a common term of disparagement at the time.
posted by Faze at 9:23 AM on March 15, 2007

Also worth a look: the Male Call cartoons by Milton Caniff, which you may have missed when cenoxo recently pointed them out. (The "Winnie the WAC" single-panels also featured there are bit less compelling.)

And furthermore, until forced to stop, I will continue linking to this every time Beetle Bailey's name comes up.
posted by staggernation at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2007

COBRA!, the one with the chaplain and the AA gun in the background was one of Maudin's Anzio ones while he was still with the 45th Division. (He was a 150th Rgt infantryman before Pearl Harbor.)

The one with the StG III parked atop the FOP...I watched a Vietnam-era Force Recon guy laugh so hard he couldn't speak for a whole minute over that one.

Mauldin's memoir of life up to the end of World War II is The Brass Ring. Up Front is essentially a long essay on war from the perspective of a "dogface," what we now call a "grunt." Back Home is his reaction to postwar adjustment and becoming a civilian editorial cartoonist. All three are full of his cartoons, tight writing and fascinating reading.
posted by pax digita at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2007

Imagine seeing a cartoon like this in today's military (or mainstream civilian) newspapers:
Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory, are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged, battle-weary prisoners.
RIP, Bill.
posted by cenoxo at 4:05 PM on March 15, 2007

Those Mauldin ones are great. Thanks a lot, pax.
posted by klangklangston at 4:15 PM on March 15, 2007

Y'all are entirely welcome.

Imagine if there were a Bill Mauldin today. He'd have to get completely out of the system to draw what he really felt, then he'd have to publish his cartoons on the Web because Stars and Stripes wouldn't want to, or be allowed to, have anything to do with them.
posted by pax digita at 4:45 AM on March 16, 2007

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