Okay, 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!)