Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Corporal Gee Eye

May 21st, 2009 · 8 Comments

geeeyeOkay, we’ve got a spare second while Microkhan Jr. roams about the Sandman’s domain, so it’s time to dash off today’s installment of NtHWS Extras. Our focus today is on the cartoon art of World War II—not the stuff from the homefront op-ed pages, but rather the quasi-humorous strips meant to bolster troop morale. The most famous of these, of course, is the work of Bill Mauldin, who slogged through Europe with the 45th Infantry Division. Mauldin’s work remains celebrated to this day, and the man was just honored with a new biography.

His forgotten counterpart in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations was a sergeant named Jack Nolan, creator of Cpl. Gee Eye. The typically one-panel strip appeared semi-regularly in CBI Roundup, the Army’s official newspaper in South Asia. Nolan’s career as chronicler of frontline life actually began aboard his troop transport:

It was on the Brazil that Cpl. Gee Eye was born in the bowels of a liner that in 12 hurry-up days was transformed into a troopship. During the 60-day period the vessel wandered the seas, Nolan drew the first Cpl. Gee Eye to illustrate a song the guys of his outfit were singing. His buddies tacked it on the bulletin board. Not long after, the C.O. called him into his office and asked him to draw four identical cartoons each day for the Brazil‘s bulletin boards.

Cpl. Gee Eye proved to be a tremendous morale factor during the trip, which was hardly what you could call a pleasure cruise. Quarters were cramped. Food spoiled. Hardboiled eggs were served so often everyone started sprouting feathers. Nolan lost 20 pounds because he couldn’t eat during the final 16 days of the historic journey.

Nolan used his cartoon character to introduce humor into situations that had many G.I.’s dauber down. At trip’s end, the C.O. presented him a written citation. That appeared to have written finis to Cpl. Gee Eye’s antics, but the Roundup was born and Nolan was recommended to be its staff artist.

We wish we could say that Nolan’s strip deserves the same contemporary adulation as Mauldin’s work, but that would be a lie. For starters, Cpl. Gee Eye was occasionally (to put it mildly) a bit un-PC in its depictions of Asians; see here and here. Also, a lot of them tend to baffle—try as we might, we still can’t make heads or tails of this.

But we love this wry whack at Dale Carnegie. And we’d be curious to know what happened to Nolan after the war, beyond returning to his Irish enclave in New York’s Inwood Heights. Anyone?

UPDATE: Jack Nolan today. (Thanks, Matt!)

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Gramsci

    I’m puzzled over the last strip too. Something about a drunk soldier treating a Japanese soldier as a piece of property– he can’t trade him for a new checkerboard, so he asks the prison guard for a receipt before returning him? Best I got…

  • Matt Shipman

    Actually it seems like the GI took the Japanese guard to try to trade him for a checkerboard at a U.S. depot, and gets rebuffed. Then the Japanese guard takes the GI back to a Japanese prison camp and tells him to sleep off his drunk. Exceedingly odd.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: I guess it’s one of those “You had to be there” works of art.

    Here’s another I don’t entirely grok–feel like the “joke” can’t possibly be as obvious as I think it is:

    http://cbi-theater-1.home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-1/roundup/r2043.jpg

    So he sneezes and accidentally bombs Tokyo. But, um, wasn’t that the apparent mission?

  • Gramsci

    I’m too intimidated to ask him about the cartoons. He looks like he’s just told Mr. Pink he can’t be Mr. Black.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Gramsci: +1 for “Reservoir Dogs” ref.

  • Shela

    Hello! . Happy Thanksgiving! .! :) :) :) :)
    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and each yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, when it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” For example, those stories are mostly about friends and family, about coming together to heal old hurts and giving them thanks for the gift of love. … . ”
    Have You Been Much better Off These days Than You Had been 7 Years Ago?

  • Chris Pustorino

    The Jack Nolan (watercolorist) linked at the bottom of this article is NOT the cartoonist from WWll. If anyone has any info concerning the whereabouts of the Jack Nolan in this article please contact me. He was a friend of my father’s and I would very much like to contact him.

  • Combat in Charcoal | Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

    [...] previously covered various pen-and-paper chroniclers of era’s military exploits, such as the cartoonist behind Corporal Gee Eye and illustrators who chronicled America’s H-bomb tests. Now I’ve gotten turned onto the [...]

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