three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Bill MauldinSome of the most memorable characters from World War II were the people recording the memories: the writers and reporters who saw the war as it happened. One of the most eccentric of those journalists was Bill Mauldin (1921–2003), the cartoonist best known for his characters, infantrymen Willie and Joe. From the front lines to the home front, these two hardscrabble soldiers brought a bit of irreverence to their real-life counterparts and a bit of insight into civilians, too. DePastino’s biography, which is generously illustrated with Mauldin’s cartoons, focuses mostly on the war years and the impact of Willie and Joe. However, DePastino also chronicles the cartoonist’s complicated homecoming from Europe and subsequent career—which, Mauldin’s life suggests, can never really be separated.
Norton. 320 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0393061833

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Vibrant, moving, and full of wonderful cartoons, DePastino’s book breathes life into a fascinating American genius." Chris Patsilelis

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A Life Up Front is well-paced and written in an honest, straightforward manner. … True, the book will likely resonate with almost any member from the Greatest Generation, but Mauldin’s life was so interesting, and his stamp on the culture so indelible, that this is an enjoyable read for anyone with even a cursory interest in history." Steve Breen

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. DePastino gets behind the gauziness, fills in details and extends our knowledge of Mauldin’s remarkable postwar career as a newspaper editorial cartoonist. … It’s all in Mr. DePastino’s book—the gore of the beach landings, the close combat, the hassling that GIs took from the military police, and Mauldin’s own battles with the brass." Seth Lipsky

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Todd DePastino has written a commendable, readable first biography of Mauldin. … DePastino’s analysis of the significance of Mauldin’s work and its changes over time is one of the strengths of the book." Roger K. Miller

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This often grim, but inspiring biography is amply illustrated with Mauldin’s work. … But for all who remember him—and perhaps for today’s soldiers, too—it is well worth a browse if not a full-fledged read." Phyllis Meras

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[DePastino] proceeds cautiously to understand the hard-working, hard-drinking soldier-cartoonist who stood up to Patton and was liked by Ike. … Mauldin’s story has much to say about the development of an artist, but in this telling it seems almost as if a censoring hand has cut out pieces of what might have been a classic narrative of art’s paradoxically redemptive and imprisoning power." David Michaelis

Critical Summary

Every critic who reviewed A Life Up Front welcomed this biography; apart from Mauldin’s own memoir, Back Home (1947), it is the first full-length biography of the man. Because DePastino was the first to provide such a work, critics were inclined to be forgiving even when they found failings, such as a focus on career over personal life. The book’s sympathetic subject and engaging illustrations couldn’t have hurt either. While a few reviewers suspected DePastino of hero worship, they also appreciated his thorough research and his candor in describing the difficult episodes of Mauldin’s later life. Given the usual glowing treatment of "The Greatest Generation" and "The Good War," the overall assessment was that A Life Up Front is a respectful but balanced biography.