Salute To Ol’ Sarge
A 1938 illustration in the monthly Battalion Humor Magazine depicts a strong-jawed prisoner casually smoking as prison guards and a lawyer discuss his fate with a judge. It reads, “He’s too tough for Alcatraz, y’r’onor. Let’s send him to A&M.”
And there began the legend of the beloved Ol’ Sarge character, created by the late Pete Tumlinson ’42 while he was a student at the A&M College of Texas. As the story goes, Ol’ Sarge was a prisoner at Alcatraz, but a judge ruled to send him to Texas A&M when he became too tough for the guards to handle.
Ol’ Sarge entertained cadets in illustrations throughout the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, when the university was still an all-male military school. Although he’s no longer in a monthly comic strip, he remains an enduring symbol of Texas A&M’s history and Old Army days. “The illustrations Pete created live on even now,” said Richard “Dick” Tumlinson ’51, Pete’s brother. “Pete was one of my heroes. He was a fine man, and I was always very proud of him.”
Creating a legacy
Ol’ Sarge made his first appearance in 1938 in the Battalion Humor Magazine comic strip as a character named Magarkin. He later morphed into the strong-jawed sergeant, where he embodied the demeanor of the rough-and-tough upperclassman who continually harassed another of Tumlinson’s creations, Fish Blotto. As Pete continued to develop Ol’ Sarge, he depicted the character in comedic situations that reflected the experiences of members of the Corps of Cadets leading up to World War II. When cadets saw Ol’ Sarge, they were comforted and entertained.
During Tumlinson’s tenure at the Battalion from 1938 to 1942, he advanced to editor and introduced other popular characters, beginning with “Battalion Betty,” who was frequently featured on the covers of the Batt magazines. He later created “The Tumlinson Boy,” a satirical male pinup character, and “Fish Blotto,” a sidekick to Ol’ Sarge. Pete designed the characters to complement each other, allowing his sense of humor to show through the expressions and gestures of his creations.
Ol’ Sarge evolved many times while Pete worked at The Battalion. Even after the magazine was discontinued and Pete graduated, other artists drew renditions of Ol’ Sarge, including the late Jim Earl ’54 (also known for his “Cadet Slouch” cartoons) and Bob Shemwell ’82, who drew “Super Sarge.” Together, these artists shaped Ol’ Sarge into the character you see today. “I don’t think Pete had any idea what he was creating and that it would be passed on,” said Dick’s wife, Judy. “He did it because he enjoyed it, not because he thought 50 years from now it would still be popular.”
Magarkin and Marvel
Besides the skills he learned in class, Pete used only raw talent to create his unique art. In addition to the Ol’ Sarge and friends comics, he also drew many of the local advertisements and story illustrations found within the Battalion magazine.
During his senior year in 1942, nearly the entire senior class put classes on hold to enlist in WWII. Pete was commissioned into the Army Air Corps, where he trained to be a fighter pilot in P-39s. But the day his outfit was due to be shipped to Europe, Pete came down with pneumonia, leading him to become a liaison pilot attached to Gen. Eisenhower’s headquarters. He flew around Europe from war base to war base, where he met leaders of the war efforts along the way.
When Pete returned home, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1946. He quickly moved to New York City to chase his dream of being a cartoonist and illustrator, and it was there that Stan Lee hired Pete to work for him as a cartoonist at Timely Comics, which later became Marvel Comics. Pete worked on some of the first drawings for famous superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America.
When the New York weather became too much for him, Pete moved to New Mexico to develop his painting skills until an opportunity arose to work for Convair, an aircraft manufacturing company, as a technical illustrator in Fort Worth. Eventually, Pete took on freelance work as a personal artist in Austin, where he did various portrait and advertisement illustrations. He finally retired to Cameron, Texas, to look after the family ranch and passed away there in 2008.
Sharing the story
While searching through Pete’s belongings after his passing, Dick came across a box marked “Old Batt. Magazines,” which contained every copy of the Battalion Humor Magazine that Pete contributed to. Feeling that his work was “too good to be left in a box,” Dick was inspired to compile all of Pete’s work into a dedicated book called “Magarkin: The Original Ol’ Sarge.”
In 2013, the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets Association celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first Ol’ Sarge cartoon at its annual Rally to the Guidons with posters and displays of Pete’s illustrations and an introduction of the book. Since the book’s release, Dick has donated the old copies of the magazine to the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center, where they have been on display.