Willard Harlan Mullin (1902-1978) was born near Columbus, Ohio, but grew up in Los Angeles, California. He began his professional career as a cartoonist in 1923 working for the Los Angeles Herald first doing spot illustrations and later sports cartoons.
Working for a short time for newspapers in Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas, he then moved to New York in 1934 replacing Pete Llanuza as sports cartoonist for the New York World-Telegram.
It was Mullin who created the infamous 'Brooklyn Bum' character which became synonymous with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mullin is generally regarded as the 'Dean of Sports Cartooning', an undeniable titan who inspired many a cartoonist -- including Karl Hubenthal, Gene Basset, Jim Dobbins, Lou Darvas and Len Hollreiser. Hubenthal long considered Mullin his mentor (referring to him always -- and affectionately -- as 'Uncle Will'). Indeed, Mullin used to kiddingly joke that Hubenthal's work "looked like me on a good day".
On the occasion
of Mullin's retirement on January 26, 1971, five younger cartoonists
whom he especially inpsired and counseled over the years created
the above artwork as a tribute with self caricatures (from top
to bottom) of Karl
Hubenthal, Jim Dobbins, Lou Darvas, Len Hollresier, Gene Basset and, of course,
Mullin as depicted by Hubenthal.
When the World-Telegram folded in 1966, Mullin began doing work as a freelance cartoonist -- illustrating pieces for sports publications, books, and such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, TIME, and LIFE.
Cartooning critic Maurice Horn stated that "Mullin's love of his craft and of his subjects shone through in all of his cartoons: under the surface roughness lurked a strong undercurrent of affection and optimism."
Indeed, Mullin's artwork always exuded a delightfully playful sense of spontaneity and his uncommon ability to gesturally capture the poetry of sports became his trademark. He worked large -- usually 16" x 20" for a sports cartoon -- employing pen and ink, brushwork, and conte crayon on coquille board. His signature in itself is a work of art -- and was comprised of 26 (primarily vertical) pen slashes.
Mullin greatly defined the modern sports cartoon, now a dying art form, by combining representative portraiture, cartoonish doodlery, and editorial commentary -- part news account, part personal observation, Willard Mullin's cartoons celebrated sport for its entertainment, cultural and artistic values.
The recipient of numerous awards including the National Cartoonists Society Reuben, Mullin passed away on December 21, 1978 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was 76.
-Compiled by Bob Staake
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