Even on a weekend with grim news, the Funnies can provide a welcome diversion. With Rita Braver this morning we'll mark a comic milestone:
"To this day people know Dennis the Menace," said King Features Syndicate editor Brendan Burford. "I mean, you might have a child and describe him as a Dennis. I think that comics gave people a way to talk about who they are, or talk or compare themselves to someone."
"We have about 65 comic strips right now," said Burford. "And over the years we've syndicated hundreds of different comic strips."
The syndicate was created one century ago by the brash and bold newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.
"He was audacious -- I mean, he was the original media tycoon," said Burford. "He understood something about connecting to the masses and giving them what they want."
Turns out, they wanted the funnies, as Hearst figured out when he stole "The Yellow Kid" from rival publisher Joseph Pulitzer.
It was 1896 and the first color Sunday supplement featuring the Kid and other strips sold 375,000 copies of Hearst's New York Journal. Hearst realized he could get a group of newspapers to share the costs of hiring a stable of comic strip artists.
"He said, 'I can collect these and send them out to the world, essentially.' And he did that," said Burford.
By 1915, Hearst had formed the King Syndicate to distribute comics and other features. There were existing syndicates, but King became, well, the King -- and still is, with comic strips now published in 2,800 newspapers in more than 70 countries.
Some, like Flash Gordon, the original comic strip superhero, have become screen stars, too. And like Flash Gordon, many strips have been drawn by a series of artists over the years.
But the longest-running comic strip in history drawn by ONE artist is Beetle Bailey, that slothful, perpetual Private.
At age 92, Mort Walker has been drawing Beetle and his cohorts at Camp Swampy for 65 years!
Braver asked, "You were in the military -- were you as big a goof-off and goldbrick as Beetle Bailey?"
"Where do you think I get the inspiration?" Walker replied. "And lazy! I was always takin' a nap, I didn't care where I was."
"Why do you think people are still reading the strip?"
"Well, what I like to think is that I keep coming up with things that make 'em laugh."
Today, his sons, Brian and Greg, work with him on both Beetle Bailey, and a strip Walker co-created in 1954 called Hi and Lois.