If most Americans too young for membership in the Greatest Generation have any inkling at all who Bill Mauldin was, the knowledge probably comes smeared with a dash of sepia, like some Norman Rockwell of the cartoon world. The actuality of the man and his art, as presented in the fantastic two-volume box set, Willie & Joe: The WWII Years, has quite a bit more of the stink of reality to it. Said reality is accentuated by the olive-drab packaging and old typescript-dossier design. Not someone who trafficked in instant nostalgia (just as, come to think of it, Rockwell wasn’t either, regardless of his current reputation), Mauldin was instead a chronicler of the everyday grime and misery that was the life of the average G.I. The appreciation of the important if common reality of small things—cigarettes, pretty girls, wine, a bath, clean clothes—that runs through Mauldin’s work is a key to his enduring success. Wars, weapons, and causes may change, but soldiers are forever.
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