When William “Bill” Mauldin from New Mexico voluntarily enlisted in the US army in 1940, he barely doubted this decision. His father participated in World War I, and his grandfather had been a civilian scout in the Apache Wars. The young man was hungry for glory and dreamed that adventures and fame are awaiting him. Before enlisting, he managed to complete courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. And it was the army and his interest in the arts that determined Mauldin’s further life.
While volunteering for the division newspaper, in 1943 sergeant Mauldin created the image of Willie and Joe, thick as thieves. The unshaved, butt-smoking, wearing crumpled uniform infantrymen already saw enough to give up the fear of the enemy or command. After the 45th division was sent to Europe and participated in the invasion of Sicily in 1943, Willie and Joe’s things went very well. Mauldin began working for Stars and Stripes, the American soldier’s newspaper. The issues of this newspaper were published in each region where the parts of the US army were located. Therefore, each American soldier in the European theatre could meet two drawn friends. In the spring of 1944, Mauldin was given his own Willys, in which he roamed Italy, collecting materials for his work. Now Willie and Joe appeared in Stars and Stripes six times a week.
Not all understood the bleak and absurdly comic idea of the war as expected. For instance, general George Patton, who was well known for his pedantry and caprice, wanted Mauldin to stand trial and suggested prohibiting Stars and Stripes from being distributed among the soldiers of his 3rd army. Superior officers had to interfere in the situation. Patton left Mauldin alone on the personal order of Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe Dwight Eisenhower.
When the war ended, Mauldin wanted to kill his characters; however, he was convinced to leave them alive. Not only soldiers liked Willie and Joe. The artist won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 when the first collection of his work was published. Later Mauldin tended to politics and tried to draw political cartoons that did not bring success to him. However, he made a couple of good pictures again and won the second Pulitzer Prize for the picture about Boris Pasternak and his Nobel Prize. He was not successful at politics in general.
Willie and Joe remained the main achievement in Bill Mauldin’s life. Bill died in 2003, and in 2008, a two-volume set of Mauldin's complete wartime Willie and Joe cartoons was published in the USA. Below you will see several of his pictures, which were popular among American soldiers and remain popular around the world even today.