Saturday, 11 February 2012

Dear Mr Mauldin

Willie & Joe (Cerebus #295, October 2003)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from a letter to Bill Mauldin in The Last Annotations, Cerebus Vol 16: The Last Day, 2004)

Dear Mr Mauldin,
A recent issue of the Comics Buyer's Guide mentioned that you had had a run of bad luck lately with your health and that you might appreciate hearing from any army veterans and admirers of your work. I regret to say that I am not a veteran, but rather one of the very fortunate beneficiaries of the "blood, sweat and tears" which you and your generation so willingly gave on our behalf. So, first of all, thank you for that.

Second of all, I am very much an admirer of your work, as is my Uncle Vic, and my dad, Ken Sim. The first time I saw your Willie and Joe cartoons, it would have been in the hard-cover collection Up Front, which my uncle always had, ready-to-hand, in his bookshelf. I don't remember exactly the first time I saw your work, but - as was mentioned by you as a common occurrence in an old interview excerpted in the CBG article - I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that it began with my uncle and my father at the dining room table quoting cations of Willie and Joe cartoons to each other and busting up laughing. Any occasion for a boy when he sees his father bust up laughing (as long as it isn't at the boy himself) is sure to excite a level of interest. Curious as to where my father would have first seen the Willie and Joe cartoons (like myself he is a beneficiary of the sacrifices of veterans but not a veteran himself), I phoned him yesterday. He knew right away, that the first time that he had read Up Front would've been a copy that he got from the Book of the Month club shortly after he and my mother were married (which puts it at 1951 or shortly thereafter)... Anyway, once I had explained to Dad the reason that I was asking about his personal history with Up Front (and once he had ascertained that I wasn't harbouring any delusions that I was going to get his copy. I am blood of his blood and flesh of his flesh, but there are - as I well understand - limits to these things), he then remarked that he and Uncle Vic know the Willie and Joe cartoons just from their captions. "Ord'nance? Ahm havin' trouble with mah shootin' arn," He said.

...I phoned my Uncle Vic this morning to get his recollections of Up Front... [and he] reminded me of your later career as a political cartoonist and that your cartoons would often turn up in Time magazine and other places illustrating articles on current events. Like most people I thought you deserved a Pulitzer Prize for your cartoon on the occasion of JFK's assassination depicting the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial weeping.

...the Willie and Joe cartoons still hold up as tip-top examples of the cartoonist's craft more than half a century later. Great composition, great expression, great body language, great execution, buoyant spontaneous brush strokes, spotting of blacks. I'll stop now before I start sporting a beret and a pointy little goatee. But to say the least, you always made the most difficult parts of cartooning look easy... If even a handful of my own readers still find my own work half so memorable decades after I have at last put down my pen and brush, I will count myself fortunate, indeed. To use the phrase which always denoted my father's highest accolade, Mr Mauldin, "Y'done good."

Hope you are feeling better soon.
Dave Sim

(from the biography posted on Bill
Bill Mauldin retired from cartooning in 1991 after an injury to his drawing hand. Stricken by Alzheimer’s disease, he entered a nursing home in 2002 . In the months before he died, old veterans and their relatives sent him over 10,000 cards and letters They thanked him for keeping their humanity alive during that most savage of wars. These tributes, more than any honor or award, rank Bill Mauldin as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Bill Mauldin died on January 22, 2003. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Up Front by Bill Mauldin was originally published in 1945 and is one of the most famous books to emerge from World War II. In a text generously illustrated with a selection of his Willie & Joe cartoons, he describes his time serving with the 45th Infantry Division and other outfits during World War II. He received the purple heart for wounds received in Italy, where he created the majority of his Willie & Joe cartoons. Up Front remains in print and is widely available to this day.

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front is the biography written by Todd DePastino, which was published by WW Norton in 2008. You can read a fascinating in-depth interview with Todd at The Comics Reporter, in which he discusses the impact learning about Bill Mauldin's life has had on his own.

Two collections of Willie & Joe cartoons, The WWII Years and Back Home (both edited by Todd DePastino) are currently available from Fantagraphics Books.

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