I have collected original artwork by Bill Mauldin for the past 25 years. While his editorial cartoons can be found, Mauldin’s WWII artwork is quite scarce. Below are some pieces from my collection, presented in chronological order.
This is an early published piece by Mauldin, appearing in the October 1940 issue of Arizona Highways. The drawing is pretty rudimentary, and if it was not signed, most people would not guess that Mauldin drew it. Remarkably, just two or three years later, Mauldin would be at the front, penning some of the greatest WWII cartoons ever seen.
You might recognize this “Bloody Ridge” drawing from Mauldin’s Sicily Sketch Book. It was also published in the Daily Oklahoman back in the States. As the soldier in book 5 noted, there is nothing funny about this drawing. Maudlin drew this piece within a month of arriving into the Mediterranean Theater. Mauldin had already witnessed some of the horrors of war at the beach landings, but the battle of Hill 335 — better known as “Bloody Ridge” — was the bloodiest, and scarred Mauldin for life. Soldiers from the 45th Division struggled to take the mountain, pulling and cajoling supply-carrying donkeys upward, as the Germans fired at them from already entrenched nearby positions. The terrain was so rugged that many of the donkeys collapsed and died in mid-journey. The Allied Forces eventually took the mountain, but at great cost, which caused Mauldin to question what he was doing with a pen instead of a gun. 1943.
This Mauldin WWII cartoon is one of the last ones that he drew for the 45th Division News. Dated January 8, 1944, the cartoon features Willie (of Willie and Joe fame) talking to an Army Air Force corporal, saying: “Wot’s your job – steady K.P.?”, referring to the corporal’s weight.
At the time Mauldin drew this piece, he was already drawing for Stars and Stripes. He would draw only three more pieces for 45th Division News before devoting himself full-time to Stars and Stripes.
This was also a period of artistic transition for Mauldin. This piece is drawn entirely with a dip pen and India ink. Mauldin would soon trade his pen for a brush, creating the work he is most well known for.
This spot drawing appeared in the October 7, 1944 Mediterranean edition (published in Rome) of Stars and Stripes. There were multiple Mediterranean editions of the newspaper, as they would set up shop in various parts of Europe. This drawing accompanied an article about a woman who was the widow of a well-known Italian painter. After Italy had been freed during WWII, she took to reading Stars and Stripes on a daily basis, where she fell in love with Mauldin’s Up Front and Al Capp’s L’il Abner. She was so appreciative of their work that she wanted to gift both artists with one of her husband’s works.
The drawing came from the estate of Ed Vebell, the longtime illustrator who was Bill Mauldin’s boss at Stars and Stripes for a short time in Italy. I spoke with Ed when researching my article on Gregor Duncan, and he told me that he was the one who got Mauldin to make the switch from a pen to a brush.
This rare original Up Front WWII cartoon panel originally appeared in the Mediterranean edition of Stars & Stripes on February 17, 1945. It later appeared in a collection of Mauldin’s cartoons, This Damn Tree Leaks, also in 1945. The gag refers to the changing situation in the European theater at the time. Todd DePastino, the Mauldin biographer, wrote “After the invasion of Normandy, Italy became the “forgotten front”, as correspondents moved to France. The fighting in Italy remained fierce, nonetheless.”
The writing on the wall, which is a variant of the slogan used by the Nazis, translates to: Ein Reich (One Nation), Ein Volk (One People), Ein Führer (One Leader).
This panel is from September 20, 1945, just four months after Mauldin returned home from the Mediterranean Theater. Mauldin did not want to bring his characters into civilian life, preferring to kill them off in war, but the syndicate that helped bring him fame and money wouldn’t hear of it. Besides that, had a contract with United Features until 1948. The panel ran under different titles, including Willie and Joe, and Back Home.
This cartoon appeared in Mauldin’s book, Back Home, which followed up his Pulitzer Prize winning Up Front. Mauldin wrote about the cartoon when he wrote about Willie’s single friend Joe: “…and once I had him besieged with sidewalk urchins who behave in America very much like their counterparts in Europe. The principal difference is that even poverty-stricken kids in America are in rather better shape than European children, who have been robbed of every vestige of their innocence and naivete by the war, and who had been schooled, by privation and hunger, in the fine arts of pimping, bootlegging, and armed robbery before they had lost their first milk teeth.”
This wonderful Back Home panel was published on November 20, 1946, and is an example of some of Mauldin’s finest post-WWII work. John Q. Public is in bed with Francisco Franco, Juan Perón, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and a member of a group identified as Little Hitlers. The Little Hitlers referred to small pockets of neo-Nazis found in parts of the world, post-WWII. The caption reads: “They may not smell good, but they say they hate communism.” Mauldin’s politics were decidedly left-of-center, as is shown in this editorial cartoon.
This wonderful ink and watercolor drawing of Joe, half of Bill Mauldin’s famous dogface duo, was drawn on the front end page of a 1968 reissue of Up Front. The drawing is inscribed to Bob Anderson, Mauldin’s colleague and friend at the Chicago Sun-Times. The “hollow-eyed brigade” that Mauldin notes likely refers to the thousand yard stare.