'Beetle Bailey' Cartoonist's Latest Creation is a Free Magazine

By: Dave Astor Mort Walker: cartoonist, author, museum founder, and ... magazine publisher.

The creator of the 1950-launched "Beetle Bailey" comic has created the 2007-launched "Mort Walker's The Best of Times." After trying several prototypes (including one with a newspaper-tabloid format), a magazine-size version of the free publication was placed late last month in street racks, stores, train stations, and other locales in Stamford, Norwalk, and Greenwich, Conn.

"We distributed 20,000 copies, and they're all gone," said the Connecticut-based Walker.

The full-color magazine is starting as a 20-page monthly (the next issue is slated for early August), with the hope that it will eventually become a 40-page weekly. Walker told E&P that he wants to take the magazine national -- with regional publishers selling ads and distributing the paper in various locales in return for a share of the profits.

"We've already had inquiries from upstate Connecticut, upstate New York, California, Utah, Colorado, Tulsa, and elsewhere," said Walker. "Our goal is to be in 100 different cities. We're also trying to do an edition for shopping malls that would include a map of stores."

"Mort Walker's The Best of Times" is designed to be 50% editorial and 50% ads -- the ratio of the current issue. Ads (sold by a husband-and-wife team via phone, mailings, and in-person visits) have so far come from a dental practice, a gas station, and various other local and non-local advertisers. To help attract advertisers, Walker created about 100 cartoon icons that can be used in the ads.

The magazine's editorial content includes comics, editorial cartoons, political columns, feature columns, puzzles, and other material from King Features Syndicate -- which distributes "Beetle Bailey" (to about 1,800 newspapers) and the Walker-created "Hi and Lois."

Walker noted that a local daily might use, say, 10 of King's 150 or so features. That leaves about 140 features that can run in "The Best of Times" without violating the territorial exclusivity of that daily.

"There's so much stuff that people don't see," said Walker, adding that the King features appearing in the magazine's different editions would vary somewhat depending on the King features running in the local daily.

What about the other free publications with which "The Best of Times" competes? "Some weeklies pretty much repeat what's in the daily paper," Walker replied. "Others are very specialized. We've got a general-interest magazine that has cartoons, home-decorating features, Heloise, political columns, sports columns, and more."

And the creators of those features, he added, will have more readership because of "The Best of Times."

The magazine's editor is Neal Walker, who also handles the international comic-book versions of his father Mort's work. And Preston Stewart is business manager of "The Best of Times," which is asking potential regional publishers to contact Mort Walker at mort@thebestoftimes.us. More information on the magazine can be seen here.

How does Walker, 83, have time for yet another project? "It's a whirlwind," he replied. "I've never been so busy in my life. My desk is loaded with stacks here and stacks there. My problem is I keep thinking up new ideas!"

Actually, said Walker, that's not really a problem. "I love being busy and I hate wasting time," he told E&P. "It keeps me young."


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