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BILL MAULDIN by Todd DePastino Kirkus Star

BILL MAULDIN

A Life Up Front

By Todd DePastino

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-06183-3
Publisher: Norton

Entertaining biography of a poor boy who entered the military as a teenager and became perhaps the greatest war cartoonist of all time, thanks to a couple of GIs named Willie and Joe.

Mauldin (1921–2003) had a hardscrabble childhood in Depression-era New Mexico, avers DePastino (Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America, 2003). His destitute parents made no objection when he left home at 14 to live in Phoenix, where he attended high school and tried to support himself by cartooning, a lifelong passion. Sales were rare, so he enlisted in the Arizona National Guard on September 12, 1940. Four days later, the Guard was mobilized as part of the U.S. Army, and a month after that he was drawing a weekly cartoon for the 45th Division News. Aided by generous illustrations, DePastino, who edited a collection of Mauldin’s cartoons (Willie & Joe: The WWII Years, 2008), does a superb job explaining the evolution of his technique. Unlike other bungling comic-strip soldiers from Sad Sack to Beetle Bailey, Willie and Joe were competent infantrymen who hated their job but plugged away. By the time the 45th landed in Italy, Mauldin’s devastatingly funny portrayals of the utter misery of battle, combined with digs at superior officers and noncombatants, had made the cartoons both wildly popular and controversial; his superior officers had to protect him from other superior officers infuriated by his satire. By 1944, national magazines were syndicating his work, and publishers eagerly offered book contracts. Although Mauldin went on to great success as an editorial cartoonist, DePastino argues that his life peaked when he was 24, the year he won his first Pulitzer and the final year of the war. His fiercely obsessive ambition kept him at work day and night, exacting a toll on his stormy personal life.

An engrossing portrait of a cartooning genius.