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Bill Mauldin's Early Years, 1938-1942

"Mauldin could draw. He was a trained artist. He knew human anatomy. He knew how men stand when they are dead tired, when they are afraid, and how they physically cringe when they are lying. He knew how to draw things like the fall of light and shadow, architecture and perspective, and reflections in the rain-pocked surface of water. He had an eye for detail, for the bolts that hold tank tracks together, for the shaky little folding tables that the U.S. Army set up in the middle of the bombed out shells of Europe's cities. These things are subtle, but he chose them the way a schooled writer uses words and syntax." - Cartoonist Jeff Danziger

Bill Mauldin was born October 29, 1921 in Mountain Park, New Mexico. After the divorce of his parents, he and his older brother, Sidney, headed for Arizona together in 1937, where they attended Phoenix Union High School. Mauldin concentrated on journalism, to the neglect of his other studies, and did not graduate with his class because of a missed quarter of biology. He ultimately graduated in1945 when the school decided that he had done sufficient work to warrant a diploma. Both the editor of the newspaper and his art teacher moved Mauldin toward cartooning as a profession, because, as he put it, he was "a pop-off." He joined the ROTC to solve his clothing budget problems and discovered that he enjoyed it. His ROTC experience served him well in the military.

In 1939, having failed to graduate from high school, Mauldin moved to Chicago to attend a cartooning course offered by the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. The school emphasized life drawing over cartooning, but Mauldin also studied political cartooning with Vaughn Shoemaker. He returned to Phoenix in 1940, the effects of his schooling and professional exposure having improved his art. He received a few commissions for election-year cartoons with the assistance of Phoenix cartoonist Reg Manning, but when his stepfather urged him to reconsider Phoenix as his choice of location, Mauldin enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, 45th Infantry Division, which was about to be nationalized. The Guard was "federalized" two days after Mauldin was sworn in and the troops moved to Oklahoma.

In September 1940 Walter M. Harrison, former editor of the Daily Oklahoman and Oklahoma City Times established the 45th Division News. Mauldin noticed it lacked a cartoonist, and soon worked his way into the job. Harrison set up a drawing table in his office, and gave Mauldin complete access to it when he was off-duty. Early in 1941 the division moved from Oklahoma to Camp Barkeley, near Abilene, Texas, where they remained for the next fifteen months.

In 1943, Mauldin headed to Italy with the rest of the 45th Division, participating in D-Day in Sicily on July 10, 1943. The News staff remained segregated from their units. Mauldin volunteered for gunning duty to get out of Hold 4-D during the voyage. The newspaper continued to issue editions, on mimeograph paper, requiring Mauldin to learn how to cut drawings into stencils.

Mine expropriation
[Mine expropriation] 1938.
Ink and white out over pencil
LC-DIG-ppmsca-03233 (digital file from original)
CD 1 - Mauldin, no. 1258 (A size)
Copyright 1938 by Bill Mauldin. Reproduced with Permission of the Estate of William Mauldin.

In his first published political cartoon, Mauldin shows Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas wearing a sombrero and giving the thumbs up signal as he faces off against a horse labeled "Mine expropriation." In a style typical of the of the late 1930s, Mauldin tackels Mexico's expropriation of United States oil properties.

Mauldin's early war cartoons made fun of camp life and the inadequate facilities for soldiers. It wasn't until he crossed the Atlantic that he seriously began exposing the difficulties of the soldiers' lives and the bitterness the "dogfaces" felt toward the officers that made him famous as a cartoonist.

Star Spangled Banter - The 45th is moving into its new temporary (we hope) field camp in the cornfields of Camp Barkeley, [between 1941 and 1942]
Ink and crayon over pencil
LC-DIG-ppmsca-03234 (digital file from original)
LC-USZ62-126150 (b&w film copy neg.)
CD 1 - Mauldin, no. 1695 (D size)
Copyright by Bill Mauldin. Reproduced with Permission of the Estate of William Mauldin.


  The Library of Congress >> Prints & Photographs
  August 8, 2003

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