Grab Your Socks!
New Army Cartoons
As stated previously, this book is actually the paperback version of Take Ten, which was published in 1955. The contents are very similar to that of the hardcover version. For a sample, go to Carol's Banned Width, which goes into great detail.
However, there are some new additions. Their are no less than three different introductions to the book. The first is by the publisher, Ballantine:
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.
This is followed by an introduction by Bill Mauldin:
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 amry 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.
Oh boy, did he ever.
And following all that, we have Shel himself giving an introduction to his own book:
They called us out on a surprise alert in the middle of the night and we stood there in the dark in full field pack while a young lieutenant came around to inspect.
"Don't you know how to come to inspection arms, soldier?"
"Well then get that bolt back. . . is this your weapon, soldier?"
"When was the last time you cleaned it?"
"Er. . . two days ago, sir."
"When was the last time you fired it?"
"About three months ago, sir."
"Did you qualify?"
He came to Ed Tharp. "Is this your weapon, soldier?"
"When was the last time you fired it?"
"Oh, about a year ago, sir."
"Did you qualify?"
"I don't know, sir," Tharp said. "I was shooting at people."
Everybody laughed--but it was a self-conscious sort of laughter. The rest of us had never shot at people; we shot at bull's-eyes. We were part of what is now called "the new army"--Tharp had been part of the old one and in a few words he'd just summed up the difference between the two. There's been a lot written and drawn about that "other army"; about the guys who fought the wars with live ammo and read V mail and liberated towns and kissed French girls and caught bouquets and wore baggy pants and six-day growth of beard.
I've never known that army.
According to the books and movies, each platoon had it's O'Brien and Schwart and Trimarco, and Wong Lee and Rodriguez and Washington Jones. There was the old bristly seargeant, soft as butter inside, the fuzzy-cheeked West Point lieutenant trying to prove to himself that he wasn't afraid. There was the little wise guy from the Bronx, the mysterious tight-lipped loner from Chicago and the shuffling Tennessee hillbilly who broke every record on the firing range and played taps on the harmonica at lights out.
I've never been in a platoon like that.
They guys I knew were ordinary guys. With no war to fight, they dragged through two years, cleaning the grease trap, bugging out of detail and forgetting their general orders. They signed statements of charges for canteen cups, policed up the area, tried to wangle soft deals and waited for the rank that never came down. Their lives were a round of tent pegs, squat jumps and Maggie's drawers. Their great hope was making supernumerary--their only fear: full field inspections. . .
On base or off base, today's G.I. isn't a very important guy. Civilians don't seem like soldiers any more. No one expects any confetti or brass bands, but you can't help but wonder what's become of the legendary stage-door canteens and the girls at the U.S.O., and the people who would ask a G.I. to dinner and weren't ashamed to have him meet their daughters. But there's no war now, no casualties, no rationing and no immediate danger. I suppose that people's attitudes are bound to change.
Overseas, in Japan at least, it's different; people treat you like a man. It's been said that the respect they accord a G.I. is insincere and is really a respect for the American Buck and a fear of the American military. I don't believe this is true. In any case there's a lot that's new and exciting, a lot to see and think about and understand--a lot to do and enjoy. And a G.I. is a human being there. You can't ask for more than that.
Korea is different again. There was a Christmas card that many of the guys were sending home. . . It showed a drawing of a steaming honey bucket sitting in the mud and the verse was:
"Merry Christmas from Korea,"
Land of lice and diarrhea.
From these lands that we half-mastered,
Merry Christmas, you lucky bastard!"
That's about what it was: lice, diarrhea, mud, kimche, rice paddies and honey buckets. And sixteen months of waiting for nothing to happen.
These cartoons were drawn for the entertainment of those guys in Korea. They may not be as funny back here where creamed chipped beef is called creamed chipped beef, and garbage cans don't have "edible" signs on them and there's a lot more than Stars and Stripes. It's been said that through my drawings I was trying to take a poke at the army. This is not so. The army was good to me and exceptfor my first months with "Stripes" and my last months, I was given almost complete freedom to say what I had to say. There was a lot about the military that I thought was pretty silly--and I enjoyed kidding those things because I knew the guys felt the same way--but these cartoons weren't meant to take a poke at anybody or anything. They were meant to make people laugh.
I hope they did.
Well said, if I may say so.
What follows are 114 pages of one-shot cartoons; some are very, very funny.Many I don't get simply because I have no clue about life in the army, especially life in the army a good 25 years before I was born; still, there are signs of what is to come: the contrast of overly large or overly small with normality, the interaction between men and women and how they are different; genies (later pops up in Now Here's My Plan) and other things. Certainly not a bad little book at all.
Finally, we have the "about the artist":
In September 1953, the United States Army drafted Shel Silverstein from the streets of Chicago. A year later, without realizing their mistake, they assigned him to Pacific Stars and Stripes, a service newspaper read by the thousands of army men in Japan and Korea. Almost immediately Silverstein began drawing cartoons. After a feverish day pasting up picture stories at Stars and Stripes he would seek inspiration in the streets of Shimbashi, there to dream up his fantastic drawings of fifteen foot P.F.C's and seedy noncoms for the next day's edition. In no time at all, army men were passing up important events like Marilyn Monroe and baseball to guffaw over the latest Silverstein cartoon.
Following is a contemporary account from Bob Brown, who met Silverstein at the Stars and Stripes offices in Seoul. "He stays up all night chewing pencils, drawing cartoons and writing ideas on little scraps of paper he never finds again. But," Brown adds, "he knows the people he draws. He's lived through the same experiences and heard the same lines. He spends his time up front in the outposts and squad tents with the fellows he most wants to please."
The rest is legend. How Silverstein talked himself into and out of trouble with military censors, often hiding out for weeks at a time in the Korean hills, and how he turned up two years later in Chicago in civilian clothes--the full story may perhaps be never known. Although seemingly always at odds with the army, he admits that the drawing of these cartoons and their enthusiastic reception by the G.I.'s is the most rewarding experience of his life.
At the very back of the book, we have the usual trite stuff from the publisher (something about how this is a manual that "depicts the characters and customs of our new, tough--but fun loving!--peacetime army) and a picture of Shel with hair, sans beard. Oh, do I ever wish I could scan this. Maybe I will in the near future. If you want me to, email me.