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Bill Mauldin Dies

Though it’s probably unfair to indulge in such comparisons, I’ve got to admit that I felt a stronger affinity to the late Bill Mauldin than I did recently deceased caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Mauldin was the first editorial cartoonist that I paid regular attention to. I’ve mentioned the influence Walt Kelly’s Pogo collections had on me in the past: discovering ’em as a pre-teen in the Arlington Heights Public Library was the first time I keyed into the fact that comics could be popular art. After I’d checked out and culled over all the Kelly collections, the next artist I latched onto was Mauldin.
The man was the Chicago Sun-Times editorial cartoonist at the time: a proud liberal Democrat who could assert w/o irony that LBJ was an underrated president. Read his WWII memoir Up Front (even watched the slight Tom Ewell comedies made from Mauldin’s Willie & Joe cartoons), but because I was the age I was, I appreciated him more for his then-current work than I did his groundbreaking war cartoons.
Now, I can better understand the affection his early work engendered. In his Stars and Stripes panels, Mauldin depicted the war around him minus gung-ho romanticism or sentimentality. That he was allowed to present this funny, yet unglamorized vision of service in the mouthpiece for the American military was a small miracle: I’m betting there were times he seemed like the only empathetic voice the average Joe serviceman had. Small wonder that when word got out about Mauldin’s struggles w./ Alzheimer’s, a small army of veterans willingly sent off letters to help boost his morale – they were returning the favor.
For me, when Mauldin left the editorial cartoon field, a certain kind of humanism left w./ it. Mauldin could be merciless when it came to fingering bigots and blowhards, but he never lost his humane touch. There are those who assert that this type of work is better done by the merciless, and I can see their point. But at his best, Mauldin showed it was possible to be politically passionate and keep a hold of your humanity. I’ve been missing his work for years; now I’ll miss it even more.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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