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‘Beetle Bailey’ creator plans cartoon museum

Mort Walker has $3 million raised toward Empire State Building project
/ Source: The Associated Press

A plan to open a National Cartoon Museum in Manhattan is more than a laughing matter to organizers such as Mort Walker, who created the Beetle Bailey comic strip.

Comics tell the story of the ordinary person — “the Dagwood Bumstead,” Walker said. And cartoons have played a key role in political debates.

Thomas Nast’s satirical cartoons of the 1870s have been credited with helping to bring down the city’s corrupt Tammany Hall political organization.

“I decided these things had to be preserved,” said Walker, whose studio is in Stamford. “I think it’s very exciting.”

The museum, scheduled to open next year in the Empire State Building, will feature one of the largest collections of cartoon art in the world, he said. The 200,000 works span more than 100 years and 50 countries and include the first drawings of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, original comic strips of Dick Tracy, comic books, toys, film, CDs and DVDs.

The museum also plans to operate an archive and educational resource center in Stamford that will include memorabilia and other materials for students, teachers and the general public.

Organizers are trying to raise up to $8 million to open the museum, but so far have about $3 million in pledges, Walker said.

“I’m so confident that I mortgaged my home to pay all the expenses so far,” he said.

The museum is expected to benefit from the 3.5 million visitors to the Empire State Building annually, supporters said. The museum has leased three newly renovated floors in the skyscraper, said Stephen Kiviat, the museum’s director.

Walker opened the museum in Greenwich, Conn., in 1974. It was moved to Rye Brook, N.Y., and then to Boca Raton, Fla., where it closed in 2002 due to financial troubles.