Book Look: Willie And Joe: The WWII Years

Book Look: Willie And Joe: The WWII Years

The definitive collection of Bill Mauldin's wartime cartoons

Every time I mention his cartoons to WWII vets, he gets nothing but praise, yet Bill Mauldin did not get off to an easy start as a cartoonist, nor did he always draw just for the fabled Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Edited and with an informative introduction giving a capsule history of his life by biographer Todd DePastino, Willie and Joe: The WWII years gives readers the whole enchilada of Bill’s cartoons ranging from the first ones he ever got published (mostly Indian-related wit for Arizona Highways) to the last one to appear in Stars and Stripes before Bill returned to civilian life.

Born amidst hardscrabble conditions in a remote area of New Mexico scarcely touched by the Great Depression, Bill Mauldin decided early on to be a cartoonist as his career.  Despite studying under several local cartoonists during his youth, however, as well as some schooling in the fine arts, the only publication that would take his craft was Arizona Highways ... until he enlisted and the 45th Division News was formed.   The rest, as this book shows, was history.

The thing that surprised me the most in this book is that the Willie and Joe I knew from Bill’s classic book Up Front* did not come onto the scene until Bill swung aboard Stars and Stripes.  He did have a character named “Joe” for his “Star Spangled Banter” comic strip for the 45th Division News but he was a big-nosed Choctaw whose last name was “Bearfoot” and at first talked cartoon Indian dialect in which he always uses his first name in the third person singular thanks to Bill at first being in –ironically enough- a rear echelon unit –the 120th Quartermasters Regiment- when first became a member of the 45th in the summer of 1940; but when Bill tired of the corruption and bad discipline of the 120th and volunteered for the “foot sloggers” of the 180th Infantry regiment, he discovered in his company a Choctaw named Rayson Billey who soon taught him the fine arts of soldiering and how to refine his cartoons.   Soon Joe Bearfoot took on a lot of Rayson.    Sadly, by the time Bill joined Stars and Stripes (at first simultaneously continuing his “Star Spangled Banter” for the 45th before dropping it) the 45th had gotten so cut-up by the fighting in Italy most of its Native American soldiers were either dead or wounded (Bill got a bad scare when he heard a false rumor Rayson Billey had been killed but then found out after the war he had made it) the Willie and Joe we know today took the place of the likes of Joe Bearfoot and his buddies who dominated Bill’s prewar and stateside training drawings.

There is much more in the book cartoon-wise, including in the back original drawings whose original publication date is unknown.   And there are footnotes for select cartoons that appear in the main body of the book that explain to the general reader what they are all about.

If you are a Bill Mauldin fan, don’t miss a chance to get a copy of this book!