Monday, October 6, 2008

Read: "Bill Mauldin: a life up front" by Todd De Pastino

Read: Bill Mauldin: a life up front by Todd De Pastino, 2008, 9780393061833.

I ran across Mauldin's cartoons while doing a paper at Gustavus my Junior year. The illustrations were striking in their truthfulness. No wonder so many generals, Patton included, hated Mauldin and tried to shut him down. Mauldin said he never met a stuffed shirt he did not want to poke.

Mauldin grew up dirt poor in New Mexico and Arizona under a mentally ill mother and a shiftless father. He always enjoyed drawing and kept a paper and pencil with him. He started selling illustrations while high school aged and took instruction during H.S. in Phoenix and through a correspondence course. He joined the peacetime Army and ended up in Oklahoma and Texas during the Army's build up of 1939-1941. Mauldin despised the pissant rules and bureacracy of the Army and hated the politics and incompetence of his former National Guard - now regular Army - division. Mauldin wrangled a space on the division newspaper and from there on was always working.

Mauldin's career had assistance from sympathetic and admiring officers who gave him a chance at different military papers but his success was pure talent and hard work. He busted his ass observing troops in the field and front lines and then worked long, long hours sketching his final panels. He also worked hard to sell his work commercially and at the end of the year was w-i-d-e-l-y syndicated.

The bulk of Mauldin's fame came from his war work. A Pulitzer Prize, the love of millions of former GIs, the famous Willie and Joe characters, Mauldin's clash with General Patton, all of that was difficult to outlive. But Mauldin's growing work through the '50s and '60s as a journalist - a writer and columnist - was something he worked at and took pride in. Mauldin stayed away from Willie and Joe and his past career. But, when his illness was publicized in newspapers infantry veterans from everywhere came to show their thanks to him. His cartoons' impact during the war on both troops and at home was massive.

A couple interesting bits:

Mauldin made slovenly-less and cynicism chic for rear-echelon troops. Instead of emulating pilots by wearing silk scarves and rakish hats, some troops stopped shaving and wore beat-up fatigues.

Mauldin got punched out by a crony of Mayor Daly in Chicago when he was photographing all the double-parked cars on the street outside the Mayor's house during a wedding reception there.

There were some great quotes by Mauldin in the book. Mauldin had plenty of faults but was a very perceptive and smart fella and a person worth emulating in many respects.

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