With a few stark lines on paper, cartoonist Gene Basset captures colliding cultures
IN 1965 GENE BASSET shipped out for Vietnam, not as yet another American GI but as a political cartoonist for the Scripps Howard News Service. But like a GI, Basset found out what it meant to come under enemy fire. Despite the danger, or maybe because of it, Basset caught the fever of other great combat artists—from Alfred Waud in the Civil War to Bill Mauldin in World War II.
Basset’s sketches have the simplicity and elegance of Japanese ink paintings, and he used a similar technique. “Nobody else had done much with spontaneous drawing like this,” he says, “at least not in a war setting. They were done in ink, so it was definitely a case of ‘first impression.’ I couldn’t significantly change anything later.”
The following images are from a book on his work, Gene Basset’s Vietnam Sketchbook, by Thom Rooke (Syracuse University Press). With a few stark lines on paper, Basset captures the moments of pathos, absurdity, humor, brutality, and even beauty that occur when cultures collide and everyday life is surrounded by war.
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