By Bill Mauldin
Hardcover in dustjacket, 228 pages, numerous illustrations
Published by The World Publishing Company, August 1945
Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 x 0.7 inches
Bill Mauldin started drawing his famous cartoon panels for the 45th Division’s newspaper before the war. His illustrations depicted Army life from the perspective of the common soldier. The featured characters Willie and Joe are seen before the Division landed at Sicily, but became more defined as the war in Italy progressed. They came to represent the common Dogface, dirty and tired, and Mauldin used them to satirize life in the Army from the infantryman’s perspective. In many ways his cartoons have withstood the test of time and are still relevant today.
Mauldin was a cartoonist by trade, not a trained journalist. His Up Front is not a masterpiece of historical literature, but is written in the style of a soldier relating his experiences over a pitcher of beer. The text is a series of anecdotes and his own experiences, illustrated with several of his Willie and Joe cartoons. The narrative often detours off to explain what was happening in the Italian campaign or in Southern France, and why Mauldin chose to draw what he did. He also reveals the reactions to his work and the political fallout when he hit a nerve. There are no chapter breaks, the text jumps from one story to another.
Mauldin was 23 when he wrote Up Front, and he had been in the Army since he was 18. His cartoons are very relatable. The text is interesting, but there is no central plotline or developing story, it reads almost like a series of letters home and I would not be surprised if that were not the inspiration behind several parts of this book. Still, I found it very engaging and a good compliment to the many cartoons. I finished the book in one sitting (bookmarks are for quitters!) My copy was from one of the printings made just as the war ended, it has been reprinted several times and is still easily found today. Recommended!