ffb: Willy and Joe

This is the 155th in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

These are far more than a couple books of cartoons. The contents of these books are a documentary of the ground soldiers’ life in European theater World War Two. It’s both humor and insightful criticism. Most of all, these are well worth reading.

Willie and Joe, The WWII Years by Bill Mauldin [Fantagraphics 2011 large soft cover]. This is 692 pages of Mauldin’s work just before and during WWII, when he served in the Infantry, 45th Division, mostly as a staff member of one military newspaper or another. The cartoons express the reality of soldiers on the ground in the war in Italy and Germany, as opposed to the “reality” of the Army publicity departments shown back home in the U.S. As such, there was a lot of criticism on the part of some. Patton loathed Mauldin and his cartoons, said it was bad for morale. Eisenhower liked the cartoons, saying the dose of reality was what was needed. Whatever opinion then or now, the drawing and humor make this and the following book well worth a look.

Willie and Joe, Back Home by Bill Mauldin [Fantagraphics 2011 oversized hardcover]. Comments on the above book apply here, except this is the way Mauldin and many G.I.s returning home found the reality of returning to civilian life. Funny, sad, engaging and sometimes anger-inducing, these are political cartoons of the finest caliber.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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12 Responses to ffb: Willy and Joe

  1. macavityabc says:

    Mauldin and these two characters were still well-remembered when I was in high school. Our English text even included some of the cartoons.

  2. Richard says:

    I’ll be leaving this up for FFB on Friday for that very reason. I wonder how many people under the age of 30 even know of them?

  3. Patti Abbott says:

    I am well over 30 and I have never heard of them.

  4. I’ve seen some Mauldin books over the years. Willy and Joe showed up in my high school textbooks, too.

  5. Richard says:

    Patti, wow, really? Well, I was born in 1945, so my parents knew the cartoons well and I often heard of them at home, though I was in high school before I saw any of them. These are outstanding collections.

  6. Richard says:

    George, these are worth another close look.

  7. I loved these. My brother in law had a collection of these when I was a young teen. It really brought home to me the strangness of war and the quality of cartoons to show so much depth.

  8. Richard says:

    Charles, these are very insightful looks at war and what the soldiers faced when they came home.

  9. Richard, like Patti, I haven’t heard of these either but now that I do, I’ll see if I’m lucky enough to find it. I have read Art Spiegelman’s MAUS..

  10. Richard says:

    Prashant, these are available in new copies and in used as well, you should have no trouble finding copies, even in far away land. 🙂

  11. Gerard says:

    Okay, I came over after your comment about WAY OF THE WANTON on my blog. It’s been a while since my last visit here because I would have commented as thus:

    I enjoyed “Bill Mauldin: a life up front” by Todd De Pastino (2008, 9780393061833).

    Mauldin had a tough life growing up in New Mexico and Arizona. His massive popularity as a young man kinda stunted recognition by the public for his lifetime of work.

    I know I read a 1947 or ’48 book by Mauldin talking about his return to the States, whether to continue Willie and Joe after the war, his views on veterans organizations, and his brief stint in Hollywood. I’ll be danged if I can find any of my notes about that book.

  12. Richard says:

    Gerard, thanks for that comment. The long introduction to Willie and Joe covered some of the tough upbringing and issues with art school, early fame and his fights with the syndicate when he wanted to stop using them, and even stop doing the cartoons. Good stuff. That book sounds good too.

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