Wednesday, November 03, 2010

back home

Shain got me a copy of Bill Mauldin's BACK HOME at a vintage shop on Queen a few weeks back - well, another copy, really. I've had a beat-up paperback for a while, but this one's hardback, I want to say first printing 1947. This is the book he wrote after UP FRONT, after he got out of the Army a decorated wonder-boy with cartooning talent, lots of press attention, a fat bank roll, and more than a hundred papers running his strip. After a year or so, it was all gone but the talent, thanks to the combination of the public's fickle attention being distracted from returning servicemen, and Mauldin's prodigious gift for getting into scraps.

Anyway there are a lot of great cartoons in the book, most of which haven't been reprinted anywhere else; the Fantagraphics Mauldin set is swell but obviously most of these strips are outside their purview. You can see his work kind of start to tighten up once he gets back to the States - particularly anything involving women, which obviously he hadn't had a lot of practice drawing in the past five years - but a lot of the strips aren't as clumsy as I remembered. And now that I have a hardback copy I can share.

mauldin3

This is what I love about his work - his ability to suggest mass with nothing more than silhouette, the casual, dashed-off nature of his line that gives you the wrinkles, the shapes, and the human form in a confident way.

mauldin4

I don't think this one's as successful - there's something fakey about the guard, hard to tell if they're statues or human beings - but the two walking figures have that great looseness, all wrinkles and loopy brush strokes.

mauldin2

Always a sucker for cartoons that show Hitler and top Nazis burning in Hell, and this one's no exception. Great dramatic low-angle lighting on all the figures, and Goebbels squatting like a little rat is perfect.

mauldin1

This one isn't as dark as the others - it's a cartoon about the terrible state of cars in the immediate postwar period - but look at the great way he works that streetlight, the shading on the cab continues with that circular motion, it's terrific. Looks like it took him about two minutes, tops. I love the way the giant black spaces aren't completely spotted, either. You get a sense that there's actually a building there.

Mauldin actually gave up cartooning for a while, but once the 50s really got going he was back in the game, would rack up another Pulitzer. An American original.