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Comic Strip / Willie And Joe

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A series of one-panel comics, created by Bill Mauldin, which humorously depicts the travails of the eponymous duo of front-line infantrymen as they slog through the foxholes of World War II Europe. Originally written for the 45th Infantry Division's paper as Mauldin and his fellow grunts endured basic training stateside, the comic was picked up by Stars and Stripes after the division was sent to Europe. Its creator was eventually moved to full-time staff at the magazine, and was given a Jeep to tour the front and make comics about his experiences. During its run, the series was lauded (and reviled) for its unstinting depiction of actual life at the front, as opposed to the sanitized rah-rah boosterism that was published in most official channels.

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After the end of the war, the comics were collected in the best-selling Up Front, and Mauldin became the youngest man in history to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. He turned to political cartoons, but was forced by popular demand to return to the Willie and Joe characters, placing them back home trying to readjust to civilian life. From then on, the characters were occasionally revisited during the Korean and Vietnam War, with the final comic coming in 1998 at the request of Charles Schultz, published in Peanuts for Veteran's Day. They even got a Shout-Out from the modern webcomic Delta Bravo Sierra, with a US Army platoon in Iraq (all of them anthropomorphic dogs) taking fire and counterattacking, with the next frame revealing Willie and Joe among the Soldiers, grumbling that they've been in the Army too long because "I swear them dawgs a'barkin' orders now."

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In 2008 Fantagraphics put out a two-volume work that attempted to definitively collect all of Mauldin's strips from the WWII era, but the originals were put out under such hectic conditions that some are probably lost forever.

Willie and Joe contains examples of:

  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Military regulations were often parodied, particularly the insistence on spit-shine uniform cleanliness for front-line soldiers living in muddy foxholes.
    • Mauldin was called on the carpet by General Patton because soldiers were imitating his characters' undisciplined appearance—or more accurately, the appearance of the characters was a realistic depiction of what men living in muddy foxholes in a war zone were going to look like. This was right after a strip that openly mocked Patton's strict dress codenote . He was rescued by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who felt that the comics' effect on morale - that it gave the troops a means to vent - was more important. Besides, Ike thought it was Actually Pretty Funny!
  • Black Comedy: Some of the more insane realities of surviving on a battlefield come up often.
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    • A particularly memorable example pops up after our heroes have just survived sprinting across open ground under machine gun fire. Gambling on other people lives? Heinous. Gambling on your own? Hilarious.
    Willie: "Looks like I made it. I owe ya another fifty bucks."
  • Boot Camp Episode: The first three years of the strip, which Mauldin started in 1940.
  • Captain Obvious: A comic wherein Willie suggests that Joe might need a rest - because he's talking in his sleep(walking). note 
  • Combat Medic: Mauldin depicted the hardships of their work, especially in the rugged terrain of Italy, and brought attention to their low salaries:
    (To a Combat Medic, from the wounded man he's treating) Ya don't git combat pay 'cos ya don't fight!
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Nonsense, HQ reported that machine gun silenced hours ago. Stop wiggling your fingers at me!" An annoyed Willie is wiggling his fingers at the officer through holes in his helmet.
    • "I hate to run on a flat. Tears th' hell outta th' tires." The flat has been caused by incoming fire and the driver is remarking morosely to Willie and Joe, who are actively shooting back at the offending Germans as they all attempt to flee in the Jeep.
  • Cool Car: Jeeps pop up every now and again, with the soldiers love of the rugged little machines emphasized, for their speed in combat, all terrain utility and ability to run on almost anything. Almost.
    Soldier: (With a huge, smoking hole blown through the hood of his Jeep) "We shoulda drunk th' cognac and walked t' git th' gas."
  • Deadpan Snarker: The only way Willie and Joe can even survive out there.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: During the boot-camp strips, Joe is a Native American who speaks broken English. By Bill's own admission, he accidentally switched Willie and Joe's names towards the end of boot-camp and decided to stick with it. In those same early strips, Willie lacks his distinctive high-bridged nose.
  • The Engineer: One of them has this to report from under a bridge he'd built: "Yessir, B Comp'ny broke another bridge-buildin' record. A kraut company is retreating across it!"
  • Friendly Enemy: German soldiers occasionally show up being good-natured about not getting shot at.
    • One German patrolman catches Willie and Joe raiding an officer's stash of schnapps (right next to a sign declaring said schnapps verboten for enlisted men): "Nein, nein, I wouldn't dream of interfering!"
    • They'll even express some concern over the fates of their foes, such as when Joe is playing a harmonica in a trench and Willie notices something's off. "Krauts ain't followin' ya so good on Lily Marleen tonight... think maybe something happened to their tenor?"
  • Funetik Aksent: All th' time. Rare is th' Willie n' Joe strip where evvy word is spelt exackly like it's s'pposed to.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The one thing Mauldin couldn't get away with depicting was profanity, which comes into incredibly sharp focus when Willie and Joe stumble across the horrific scene of the cruelty of the retreating Germans: they've trashed the local bar's booze stores.
    Joe: "Them rats! Them sore-headed, atrocity-committin', stinkin' Huns...!"
  • Hypocritical Humor: The caption to one comic describes the "fresh, spirited troops bringing in ragged, battle-weary prisoners". Both groups look equally tired and about to pass out on their feet.
  • Lethal Chef: Army rations take a lot of flak in the strip.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The butt of a joke during the liberation of France. A pair of women have had their heads shaved and are being wheeled through town wearing signs proclaiming them as "Collaboratrices". Joe takes the opportunity to snap some photos to remind his girlfriend to be faithful.
  • Mercy Kill: A cavalry sergeant shoots a Jeep with a broken axle while turning away and covering his eyes, much the way he might've treated a horse with a broken leg. Bill Mauldin had said this was his favorite cartoon and to his dejection, he never saw much agreement with that. (Though the comic did make it on the front cover of one edition of the collection Bill Maudlin's Army.) It was also recreated by Col. Potter in an episode of M*A*S*H where his jeep was run over by a tank.
  • Mildly Military: Essentially a real-life example. The front-line troops often became very lax about cleanliness/grooming regulations, as well as discipline, which wasn't surprising considering what passed for living conditions at the frontnote . The classic (though slightly subtle) example is Willie and Joe playing cards with their CO, who looks as rough as they do, asking him "By the way sir, what wuz them changes you wuz going to make when you took over last month?"
  • Military Moonshiner: A soldier busily adjusts a still, as an officer looks on. The officer comments:
    Hell of a way to waste time. *beat* Does it work?
  • Mook: The comics focus squarely on the "dogfaces" of the army.
  • New Meat: New guys occasionally turn up at the front with strange attitudes, including one who complains that he's been in the Army two days and hasn't been shot at. The Army's system of "replacements" and the often short life of the poor souls brought in to fill out depleted units was also grimly mocked, such as Joe recommending a heavy-set recruit as he's "...packed wit' vitamins."
  • Not So Different: Whenever British, German or even Russian troops are depicted, they all have the same exhausted, scruffy bearded look that our protagonists do.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Joe and Willie take cover from German bullets in the front doorway of an Italian bank. One of them comments on how suspicious they must look.
  • Only Six Faces: Possibly intentionally, the "dogfaces" infantrymen tend to look very similar to one other with their Perma-Stubble, even after some Art Evolution, while other sorts of characters are more liable to have distinguishing aspects to their appearance by contrast. The titular characters themselves can be difficult to distinguish from one another aside from their nose - Willie's the one with a larger and higher bridge to his nose.
  • Perma-Stubble: The titular characters and many other frontline infantrymen as well. It's hard to find time to groom at the frontline. In fact, their full beards became such an iconic part of their faces that, following a rare visit to a barber for a proper shave, Willie remarks in mild shock, "My god, I'm naked."
  • The Pig Pen: It's a running theme and joke that being on the frontlines ensures you're not going to be able to keep very clean. Sometimes, even when you're trying to be.
  • Pocket Protector: One cartoon shows a soldier writing to Margaret Mitchell, saying he'd been carrying "[your] big book, Gone with the Wind, under my shirt," while the book sits next to his foxhole with a gaping hole in the cover.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Mauldin dared to show what life was really like for front-line soldiers.
  • Religious Russian Roulette: Downplayed example here, with Joe asking a fellow soldier if he knows any good Muslim prayers, ostensibly just in case.
  • Shot in the Ass: Two cartoons show sergeants trying to teach soldiers not to raise their rear while crawling to avoid this type of injury. One claps a helmet on that part of the body, saying that's where it'd do the most good. The other one goes down the line applying a spiked board.
  • Shown His Work: Mauldin was right there with the troops that he was depicting, and was meticulous in his attempts to get details right.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: A common target of dogface resentment, especially when they lay claim to quarters and amenities in liberated towns. Slightly closer to the front skulks a strange hybrid: "We call 'em garritroopers. They're too far forward t'wear ties, an' too far back t'get shot."
  • Southern-Fried Private: Willie (originally Joe) was described as "...a Chocktaw Indian with a hook nose and a smart mouth", which would peg him as hailing from around Louisiana, Alabama or Georgia.
  • Take That!: The strip was for, by, and about combat infantrymen. As such, it took shots at rear-echelon troops, officers whose sole qualification was a college degree in nothing related to the Army, and a memorable one against General Patton.
  • Tank Goodness: Willie, glancing at a passing Sherman tank, observes he'd rather be infantry and dig in the mud, as "...a movin' foxhole attracts th' eye."
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Underplayed, but it's there.
  • True Companions: The dogfaces are always depicted as this.
    Willie: Joe, yesterday ya saved my life and I swore, I'd pay ya back. Here's my last pair of dry socks.note 
  • War Is Hell: It's also drudgery, mud, foraging for food... and booze... and smokes, mud, surviving an artillery barrage from time to time, and mud.

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