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Bill Mauldin’s cartoons to be auctioned

November 18, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Two dozen original editorial cartoons created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and World War II veteran Bill Mauldin are set to hit the auction block for the first time this week.

The drawings are part of a massive collection of cartoons Maudlin had stashed away in boxes and file cabinets over a decades-long career that started on the battlefield and included stints at the Chicago Sun-Times and other American newspapers and magazines.

Mauldin is credited with using edgy humor and his Willie and Joe characters, fictional GIs who slogged their way through Italy and other parts of Europe, to lift the spirits of infantrymen by poking fun at officers and idealistic enlisted men who had yet to experience battle.

A native New Mexican, Mauldin enlisted in the Army in 1940 and spent his share of time in muddy foxholes, being shot at day and night. There were two choices: Go crazy or relieve the tension with some sarcasm.

“That was the thing about Dad. He didn’t draw these from some office in New York,” his son, Nat Mauldin, said of the wartime cartoons. “He drew them there — in the middle of it.”

“They knew that this guy was three foxholes over,” the younger Mauldin said of his father’s fellow soldiers. “It’s incredible what he did for the morale of the infantrymen in the war. It was an enormous contribution.”

In 1945, Mauldin won his first of two Pulitzer Prizes for distinguished service as a cartoonist.

After a long career, Mauldin died in 2003 in a California nursing home. He was 81.

An original Willie and Joe cartoon from 1951 will be among those sold later this week as part of a major comic art auction in Beverly Hills, California. Another offering from 1974 depicts former President Richard Nixon backed into a corner.

Heritage Auctions is offering the items on behalf of the estate.

Ten more cartoons will be auctioned early next year in New York, and Mauldin’s family plans to donate much of the remaining collection to the Library of Congress — where most of his WWII cartoons are already housed. Other museums and historical societies will get a share.

Biographer Todd DePastino said Mauldin’s work went beyond boosting soldier morale. It offered a glimpse into life on the front lines at a time when Americans were shielded from many of the horrors of war. His later work centered on issues still relevant today — civil rights, privacy and government overreach.

Mauldin would absorb everything going on around him, from the look in a politician’s eye to the timbre of someone’s voice.

“He was just awake and aware and alert at all times and would filter everything through this prism of his genius that would get expressed in these wonderful cartoons day in and day out,” DePastino said. “It’s a rare genius that can do that.”

Mauldin’s family spent years cataloging an estimated 5,000 cartoons. It’s only now that the collection is emerging from storage in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the cartoonist once lived.

The monumental task of deciding which cartoons to auction was unknowingly settled by Mauldin himself decades ago when he hand-picked some drawings for a gallery show.

“They were already separate from the rest. And they’re really good,” Nat Mauldin said.

The family said the goal is to bring the historic cartoons out of storage so they can be seen by others and used for research.

As for how much money the cartoons might bring, experts have no idea. Never before has the work of Mauldin, one of the 20th century’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonists, been auctioned.


Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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