Recent Dorkiness

Fugitives From the Law of Averages: Revisit World War II with Willie and Joe

A Retro Review this week! Or, well… A Retro Appreciation, maybe. Because “review” ain’t really what’s gonna be happening here…

Willie and Joe, by Bill Mauldin

Mauldin - Willie & Joe

If you’re looking for a chronicle of the American experience in World War II, you could do a lot worse than the work of cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Starting in 1940, the young Mauldin (then an Army private) started drawing cartoons lampooning military life for his battalion’s newsletter. He kept it up, through multiple postings and into the European campaign, always championing the infantry, and (now a sergeant in the Army press corps) spending as much time as possible with the men on the front lines of the war. That experience gave Mauldin’s work a grit, and an authenticity, it would have otherwise lacked.

Authenticity was important to Mauldin. He wanted to show the real war, to capture the life and attitude of the average soldier, giving the men a voice they sorely lacked, both in the Army itself, and in the sanitized media coverage the war too often received. While he never showed the carnage of battle, he didn’t really need to. Reading his work, it’s easy to get the impression that the bodies are often lying just outside camera range.

Besides, death ain’t funny. And Mauldin’s strips almost always are. They’re especially funny once the war really gets going, and the gallows humor really starts to shine through. As one of Mauldin’s many nameless soldiers says while dodging bullets, they’re all “fugitives from the law of averages.” This kind of ugly, unvarnished truth sometimes didn’t sit well with Mauldin’s superiors, including General George Patton. But the official line on his work was that it offered the troops a much-needed safety valve, a way to blow off steam about the horrible conditions through some harmless cartoons. So Patton was over-ruled, and the pugnacious Mauldin became even more bold.

But that’s enough talk. The only way to really appreciate Bill Mauldin’s work is to read it. So here are ten of his best, what I hope is a representative sampling of one of the greatest comic strips ever made. And we’ll start with my personal favorite…

Mauldin - Up Front 1 Mauldin - Up Front 2 Mauldin - Up Front 3 Mauldin - Up Front 4 Mauldin - Up Front 5 Mauldin - Up Front 6 Mauldin - Up Front 7 Mauldin - Up Front 8 Mauldin - Up Front 9 Mauldin - Up Front 10

Okay, one bonus: Mauldin continued chronicling the lives of Willie and Joe after they returned home, but things didn’t really get that much easier for them…

Mauldin - Post War


About Mark Brett (459 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at

1 Comment on Fugitives From the Law of Averages: Revisit World War II with Willie and Joe

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