This website is devoted to the work of Bill Mauldin (1921-2003), one of the most influential American cartoonists of the 20th century. More specifically, this site will focus on WWII soldier-signed copies of Mauldin’s self-published Sicily Sketch Book. Mauldin was stationed in the Mediterranean Theater at the time, in Sicily, where the 45th Division News was being created and printed. Todd DePastino, writing in his excellent biography of Mauldin, Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front, describes the fighting Mauldin witnessed in Sicily, none of which impacted Mauldin as much as the firefight on Bloody Ridge. You can see Mauldin’s depiction of Bloody Ridge on this website’s homepage. Bloody Ridge left its mark on Mauldin, and as DePastino writes: “After Bloody Ridge, Bill found it harder to repress his feelings of guilt over escaping from the infantry.” According to DePastino, Mauldin explained, “I had been conniving for several years to end up with a sketchbook in my hand instead of a weapon…” This realization may have led Mauldin to the darker humor in his work, which resonated with the infantrymen, or “dogfaces”, as Mauldin referred to them.
Once the Battle of Bloody Ridge had ended, resulting in the Germans falling back, Mauldin took this time of respite to create a souvenir book of the Sicilian campaign. Mauldin had been an entrepreneur from a young age and this was no different. He now had a young son, born on the same day that Italy officially withdrew from the war. He needed to send money home to help support his wife and son. Mauldin gathered together cartoons, drawings, and “Quote the Dogface” columns into a 28-page collection. The 8½” x 6” softcover book could easily fit in a soldier’s backpack, or folded vertically, in a back pocket. Mauldin had 5000 copies printed, which sold out immediately. He then had another 12,000 copies printed, which also sold out. Sicily Sketch Book was a hit with the soldiers. There was something about Mauldin’s voice that struck a chord with the dogfaces. It’s possible that Mauldin’s conniving, as he called it, led him to something more honest in the work. Whatever the case, his fame spread throughout the Seventh Army, eventually attracting the attention of Stars and Stripes.
Sicily Sketch Book is among the rarest of Mauldin’s books. The book had a low print run, even with the two printings. But it was also created during war, near the front, and paper remained a disposable material. Many of them likely did not survive. But these books meant something to the soldiers, so much so that there are copies that were passed around within divisions, signed like high school yearbooks. Soldiers would vary the information they would write, sometimes including their rank or a brief comment. But all listed their hometown and states, sometimes adding their street address. These are time capsules, documents that capture a momentary time and place. And war. Not all of these young men made it home. I will write about some of them in the blog portion of this site.
Each of the five signed Sicily Sketch Books that I own will be pictured and described under the Sicily Sketch Books menu on the website. Each soldier will be listed, along with the information they wrote in the book. Maybe families will discover relatives here, or researchers will find some use for the material. I welcome contact from families and would be glad to provide higher resolution images of pages their relatives have signed.
In addition to writing about the soldiers who did not make it home from the war, I will use the blog portion of this site to post interesting images and articles about Mauldin from time to time. I do have another blog, related to cartoons and comic strips, that has a piece I wrote about Mauldin’s artistic transformation during WWII. For anyone interested, that post can be viewed at my Inkslingers site.
A Bit About Me
Rob Stolzer has been collecting original comic strip and cartoon artwork for over 40 years. He has written numerous articles for Hogan’s Alley, the CFA-APA, 1506 Nix Nix and other journals. Stolzer has also contributed to numerous comic strip reprint books and exhibition catalogues over the past four decades. Stolzer taught art at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for 33 years, where he taught Art Seminar, Drawing, Figure Drawing, Graphic Narration, Illustration, and Painting courses.