Comic Military Postcards of the WW II Era

BILL MAULDIN (25 K) Cartoon and Comic Art During WW II
   Cartooning and comic illustration during the WW II years ran the gamut from series like Corporal Vic Herman's "Winnie the Wac" to the often cheesy comic postcards sold to GIs at camps all over the country that poked fun at life in the armed services. But it was perhaps best defined by Bill Mauldin's (left) Willie and Joe (below), who appeared regularly in Stars and Stripes. Willie and Joe were, of course, in that most beleagured of branches, the infantry, " the group which gives more and gets less than anybody else." Their war-weary appearance — slouched shoulders, dented helmets, ragged uniforms, month-old beards — combined with Mauldin's starkly angular, expressionistic shading and mordant captions yielded an ineffable effect matched by no other illustrator in World War II. WILLIE AND JOE (25 K)

   More than sketches of the average infantryman fighting Eisenhower's "Great Crusade," his black-and-white palette and trenchant pen epitomized the lives of the common foot soldier, for whom talk of the "cause" was utterly alien; surviving was the only form of winning. Mauldin's cartoons demythologized the war, and he was often accused of undoing the efforts of the morale officers and politicians who assured the home front that our boys were having a fine time of it in Europe. Nope, Mauldin replied through Willie and Joe, our boys are being maimed and killed every day. G.I.s recognized the predicaments that Willie and Joe found themselves in, and learned to laugh at them together despite the hell they were immersed in, an experience that helped them bond, which made life at the front somewhat easier. What Ernie Pyle was to writing about the experience of the infantryman, Mauldin, who won a 1945 Pulitzer Prize for his work, was to illustration.

   And, of course, there were the comic books. By 1940, over 60 different comic books were available. But the industry didn't really reach its potential until World War II. When America entered the war in 1941, so did the comics. Joe Palooka was one of the first comic book characters to "enlist" in the Army. Shortly after, this comic character and his creator, Ham Fisher, were thanked publicly by President Roosevelt. Other comic heroes soon jumped on the bandwagon. Even characters like Snuffy Smith got involved, donning steel pots and cursing the Japs.

SNUFFY SMITH (25 K)    Although Clark Kent failed his Army physical, Superman did his bit in the war against the Nazis. And tall, curly-haired career girl Tillie the Toiler left secretarial work to join the WACs. It took "Skeezix" Wallet of Gasoline Alley a little longer to join the military — he didn't enlist until August of 1942. (He had been working in a defense plant until then.) Later, when rumors began to fly that Skeezix was going to be wounded by a Japanese bullet, concern was so widespread that the Pittsburgh Post Gazette devoted a front-page story to the perils facing him! Other familiar characters who helped in the war effort included Dick Tracy, Mickey Mouse, Charlie Chan, and Terry Lee of Terry and the Pirates. TERRY AND THE PIRATES (26 K)    Little Orphan Annie did her duty by starting the "Junior Commando" movement. Annie's Junior Commandos pitched in by collecting tons of newspapers, scrap metal, and other recyclable materials for the war effort. Thousands of kids all across the country joined — by late 1942 there were nearly 20,000 Junior Commandos in Boston alone! The mobilization of kids all across America reflected the phenomenal popularity that comic books enjoyed through the 1940s.    Meanwhile, at U.S. Army post exchanges, comic books outsold Life, Reader's Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post combined — by an astounding 10-to-1 margin! New comics like Sad Sack and G.I. Joe helped many a serviceman pass the lonely hours away from home. Toward the end of the war, it was estimated that 70 million Americans — nearly half the population of the United States at the time — were comic book fans. On the screen, in addition to Disney characters "drafted" into service, was Private Snafu. A curiousity of the genre certainly was "Bunnies at War". For an overview of cartoons during WW II, check out our overview section, Wartoons. SAD SACK (14 K)

   On the opposite end of the cartooning spectrum were the hundreds of humorous postcards printed during the war. Usually sold ten to a pack in a window envelope labeled "Comic Military Postcards from Camp X," with "X" being any of the dozens of camps, forts, airfields, and naval bases in the U.S., the subjects were usually the rigors of life in the service and sex, sex, sex, albeit expressed as innuendo that is tame by today's standards. Another popular subject for these types of postcards was propaganda: morale-building depictions of Uncle Sam boxing Tojo, WACs "whacking" Hitler, etc.

To view the Webmaster's collection of such postcards, use the slideshow controls below. If anyone has any information about the cartoonists who created these cards, please contact Skylighters.




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