Bedcheck Charlie

In 1963 George Wunder, artist and writer of the popular comic strip Terry and the Pirates penned a story about two fourth-class cadets at the Air Force Academy, Bucky Warbow, and Dudley Darby.

A 1972 article in Talon magazine continues the story:

“...they get into trouble with a Firstie – Cadet Major Rampart. It seems that Rampy was being literally chased by a female, Hildy Tome, who was in search of a husband, and the Doolies kindly offered him some advice. For this breach of the “system,” Rampy gives a difficult task to Bucky and Dudley as punishment..."

“Well, as things would have it, Hildy devises a scheme which not only aids the Dools, but also gains her revenge over the Rock – Rampy. Bedcheck Charlie is born: the ghost of a World War I pilot who has returned to aid the Fourth Class with its bedtime inspections, giving advance warning of approaching upperclassmen."

"The whole affair almost backfires as the appearance of the ghost receives nationwide attention – even the Pentagon becomes concerned. An explanation has to be found in order to save the Academy, but Rampy will not put the two doolies in jeopardy. Instead he will sacrifice his career in order to save them and USAFA.”

“It really looks bleak until Hildy shows up at the big football game, scares the hell out of the opponents, and the Falcons emerge victorious. Then the whole thing is exposed as a manifestation of spirit, thus saving face for everyone. All is resolved and a tradition is born.”

The original story arc ran in newspapers nationwide from June through October 1963. The story unfolded concurrently, but separately, in the daily and Sunday strips. The entire story is available in the 99 daily strips and the 18 Sunday strips, via the links below.

Bedcheck Charlie and Lewis University

Lewis University, southwest of Chicago, uses Bedcheck Charlie as their official mascot (thanks to Paul Lotakis for the tip), although they appear to get some of the historical facts wrong. From the Lewis University Website:

"In 1963, a cartoonist by the name of Milton Caniff illustrated a comic strip called Steve Canyon. This series was a follow-up to a previous strip called Terry and the Pirates, and followed the adventures of an Air Force pilot. Steve Canyon would investigate mysteries within the Air Force. One of Steve Canyon’s adventures took him to a flight school, at which he learned of the existence of Bedcheck Charlie. Charlie was a student at the school who dressed up in World War I flight gear and went around scaring the other cadets. It was unknown whether the cadet was a male or female, and the person was never caught.

"In the fall of ’63, some Lewis students were sitting in Sheil Hall one weekend discussing the need for a mascot. Steve Moskal, a freshman history major, and his proctor, Roger Mills, were discussing the fact that the students needed a symbol with which to identify. Moskal, having been a fan of Caniff’s work, remembered reading about Bedcheck Charlie in the Chicago Tribune. The two of them decided to write Caniff, asking him for permission to use Charlie as the school symbol. Caniff wrote back and gave permission to use Charlie."

Terry and the Pirates was originally created by Milt Caniff in 1934, but he relinquished the strip in 1946 after a dispute with his syndicate over creative control. Caniff then created Steve Canyon, while Terry and the Pirates was assigned to George Wunder, who continued it until 1973.

All the evidence seems to point to the fact that Bedcheck Charlie was created by George Wunder as a character in Terry and the Pirates, not by Milt Caniff in Steve Canyon, that the unnamed flight school was actually the U.S. Air Force Academy, that the perpetrators were two male cadets and a female friend, and that they were eventually caught and identified.

George Wunder's Bedcheck Charlie

Lewis University's Bedcheck Charlie

While the Lewis University artwork is definitely in the style of Milt Caniff, the signature cartouche at the bottom of the drawing, although unreadable, resembles George Wunder's, not Milt Caniff's. The small panels below show versions of each signature cartouche.

Terry and the Pirates 1936

Terry and the Pirates 1963

Steve Canyon