GI Joe and Willie?

1921 – Bill Maudlin, American political cartoonist whose GI “Willie” and “Joe” characters appeared in Stars and Stripes newspapers, was born in New Mexico. William Henry Mauldin was born in […]
October 29, 2015

1921 – Bill Maudlin, American political cartoonist whose GI “Willie” and “Joe” characters appeared in Stars and Stripes newspapers, was born in New Mexico.

William Henry Mauldin was born in Mountain Park, New Mexico. He knew from an early age that he wanted to make cartooning his career, and after high school, began studying toward that goal at Chicago’s Academy of Fine Art. But World War II intervened, as it did for so many young men of his generation, and he’d scarcely begun his studies when he found himself a member of the U.S. Army’s 45th Division. But the war didn’t even slow his career down.

In 1940, he created Willie & Joe, a couple of cartoon soldiers, for the division’s newspaper. They resonated so well with the army’s rank and file that by 1944 Mauldin was cartooning full time for Stars & Stripes, also a military newspaper, but one that served the entire U.S. Army. His work there received a favorable write-up by the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle. As a result, by the time the war was over, Mauldin’s cartoons were being syndicated by United Feature, alongside The Captain & the Kids and Nancy. In 1945, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for newspaper cartooning, and published his first book — Up Front, which reprinted dozens of Willie & Joe cartoons, accompanied by Mauldin’s comments on the real-life situation his fictional characters were in. It has remained in print for decades, and even now stands as one of the most vivid and true-to-life accounts of the typical American soldier’s life during World War II. More books followed — Back Home (1947), Bill Mauldin in Korea (1952), The Brass Ring (1971), and several others. He also wrote a few short stories, and appeared in the 1951 movie, The Red Badge of Courage.

He won a second Pulitzer in 1959, so it was almost an anticlimax when, two years later, he took home The National Cartoonists’ Society’s Reuben Award, as Cartoonist of the Year. By that time, he was working as editorial cartoonist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. United Feature had found his cartoons hard to sell in many markets, because of his tendency not to pull punches when cartooning about McCarthyism or The Ku Klux Klan; and he’d been so discouraged that for a few years during the ’50s, he’d actually given up cartooning altogether. It was a mistake he didn’t make again — but he did find larger urban areas, where a wider range of opinion has always flourished, more receptive to his viewpoints.

Mauldin moved to The Chicago Sun-Times in 1962, and stayed there for many years. By the time he retired, in 1992, his cartoons were being syndicated to about 250 papers. He died in a nursing home on January 22, 2003, 81 years of age.

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