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Jack Thompson
3 articles

Willie & Joe

January 21, 2016 · in Diorama · 17 · 3.4K

I have an original, 1944 first edition copy of “Up Front” by Bill Mauldin. I got it from my mother (yes, my mother) who brought it back from the ETO at the end of the Second World War. She had been a “donut dolly,” driving an American Red Cross “Clubmobile” that rolled with Patton’s Third Army, passing out hot coffee and fresh doughnuts to the troops, often right behind the front lines. My mom DID wear combat boots and I’ve got the photos to prove it. I’ve also got one of her sitting in a Sherman tank at Bastogne, taken the day after it was relieved.

She often joked that she “…saw a lot of action, but no combat.” (She was still single at the time.)

Anyway, she had a first-hand, personal acquaintance with “Willie” and “Joe”, Mauldin’s two weary and bedraggled "dogface sojers" who became synonymous with American combat infantrymen in WWII. He eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for his "Up Front" cartoons published in the “Stars and Stripes” army newspaper. On the other hand, he really p****d off General George Patton for depicting US soldiers in something less than a "spit-and-polish" condition. The GIs loved him for it, however.

As a kid, I enjoyed looking through the book and laughing at the cartoons in it - no matter that I often didn’t understand the humor. Eventually, I even read Mauldin’s text and gained a new respect for the drudgery and danger of GI life “up front” and the grim humor they often used to help deal with it. Later, during my figure-painting days in the Marine Corps many years ago, I decided to build a small diorama (or is that "a vignette"?) recreating my all-time favorite Willie & Joe cartoon, using some 135 Tamiya figures I had lying around.

Here’s the result: (first, the original cartoon itself, then the 1/35 scale diorama.)

Reader reactions:
9  Awesome

8 additional images. Click to enlarge.

17 responses

  1. That is very cool! I have a wartime edition of the same book and echo your sentiments regarding the cartoons. All very poignant and moving once you understand the subject.

    My favorite cartoon has to be Willie and Joe in a dark building, staring down a rat with one of those old 90 degree GI flashlights and a .45 pistol. "Aim between the eyes, Joe. Sometimes they charge when they're wounded."

  2. Outstanding Jack, one of my favorite books to read as well as view when I was a kid. God those cartoons got even funnier when I served in the Army. I agree with Jamie the rat and the .45 was the best.

  3. A very original concept.

  4. Yeah...I remember that book as well...but I don't still HAVE mine. 🙁

    Nice work on your vignette - diorama - whatever... (I still don't know where to "draw the line").

  5. Very creative use of excellent modeling skills! Well done!

  6. Very well done, I like the idea of trying to reproduce photos with models. That is one scroungy-looking Landser for sure.

  7. Excellent! I can't think of anything else to say!

  8. I have the book as well…somewhere, and I have several favorite drawings as well, and now I am going to have to find it again.

  9. Jack this is absolutely amazing. You even captured that exact facial expressions as depicted in the cartoon. I hope this vignette earns you this month's prize. Love the personal connection you have with the cartoon as well. Well done!

  10. "I want a couple of guys who don't owe me money, for a little routine patrol!", that and the classic P-40 pulling up with a bayoneted rifle sticking from the underside. The GI says to his buddy "I heard a muffled scream as he flew past".

  11. Lots of ironic sarcasm and humor. The German's (face is no different than the G.I.'s) holding a bottle of 3 star brandy or is it a reference to a General? The cartoons say's a lot of things at many levels. Neat Dio Jack. You've captured Mauldin's down to earth unvarnished take on " this is how it is folks" on being a G.I. in WWII. No wonder Patton didn't like him.Any thoughts on scaling up this piece?Turning up the volume?

    • Stephen -
      Thanks for the kind words. I never caught the significance of the three star brandy as a reference to Patton - good observation. (Mauldin was sneaky like that.)
      How do you mean "scaling up" the piece? Doing it again with larger figures or doing more Willie 'n' Joe cartoons? If the latter, I hope I'll be able to do so when I have a little more time after I retire in a few years.

      • Yeah, do it again with larger figures. No pun intended but, sculptors and folks who work in the movie industry will make a"Cartoon" of what they intend to model in a smaller scale to work out the bugs and help refine and figure out what they're trying to say in a larger 3-D image. Mauldin drew pretty much the same face to represent the every day man. The Joe or the German...the common man stuck in this mans war. If you where to do this again in a larger scale it would be more effective at showing Mauldin's humor and sarcasm. Those dog faced soldiers... done in a larger scale would jump out at the viewer. Then your plaque or pedestal could have a cartoon and then maybe a book at the base for folks who know little or nothing about Mauldin. So many kids these day's don'thave a clue about Vietnam or even the 1st Gulf war. This would be a great teachable project in modeling.

  12. Really nice Jack, and wonderful compliment to the original. You managed to bring that original drawing to an almost life like / believable rendition.

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