Shel Silverstein in 1955-56
Shel Silverstein's first book, Take Ten
(1955), collected his cartoons from Pacific Stars and Stripes
. Returning to civilian life, he visited Ian Ballantine, and Ballantine Books published his second book, Grab Your Socks!
(1956), a reprint of Take Ten
with a few changes and additions. The title of the Ballantine collection was taken from the military catchphrase, heard last week on HBO's The Pacific
, when soldiers are awakened at dawn with the cry, "Drop your cocks, and grab your socks."
This was Ballantine's introduction of Silverstein to the American public: "Several weeks ago a burly, gravel-voiced young man walked into our offices with a set of drawings which military experts immediately identified as the funniest cartoons about Army life to appear in the last decade. Shel Silverstein, who drew these cartoons, was a sensational success for almost two years in Pacific Stars and Stripes
. Whether braving the dust of Korea or working under fire from the big guns in Tokyo, Silverstein spared no pains to bring a daily ration of laughter to the troops. Now, after a brilliant military career (he rose from the ranks to become a P.F.C), Silverstein is back in civilian life. Grab Your Socks!
is his first book, a rowdy, uproarious tribute to the men who are facing the hazards of peacetime life in the new Army."
Considering how many people have been in armies and how long the printing press has been invented, you'd think there would have been a surplus of good soldier humor on file. Actually, there hasn't been. Shel Silverstein has added substantially to the file. Lots of humorists get assigned to military publications, especially during wartime, and there is hardly a civilian cartoonist or gag man who hasn't contributed his share of "soldier jokes". But most of them just go right on being gag men. Silverstein didn't. The thing about real military humor is that when a soldier says something really funny he is mainly trying to ventilate his innards. He may sound silly sometimes, but behind it he's being sardonic. Many times he expresses himself in a wisecrack because if he tried to say it straight he'd simply bust down a cry. The ordinary gag man says, "See the funny soldier," and doesn't get the message. Shel Silverstein has got the message and passes it on. Motives and methods of warfare change from generation to generation, but soldiering stays pretty much the same messy proposition. The way to judge an army cartoon or any other bit of military humor is to show it to veterans of two or three recent wars. Given slight changes in costume and background, what was valid in Korea would have been valid in the Crusades. I suspect Shel Silverstein would have amused the cootie-pickingest roman centurion. As a soldier, Silverstein was witty, original and in tune with his subjects. I hope that as a civilian he waxes prosperous in his profession.
After Grab Your Socks!, Silverstein then began doing his series of cartoon sketchbook travelogues for Playboy. Traveling to London, Mexico, Spain, Africa and other four corners of the globe, Silverstein continued the series into the mid-1960s. He drew himself into the cartoons, as seen in the one above from "Silverstein on Fire Island". The series was reprinted three years ago in Silverstein Around the World (Fireside, 2007).
Labels: cartoons, mauldin, playboy, shel silverstein