You don't have to be a veteran of World War II or Korea to love cartoonist Bill Mauldin, but it helps. The vital simplicity of his "Willie and Joe" era, when he was so strong even Patton couldn't lay a glove on him, has often softened to sentimentality since the hot war grew cold.
The Jane Haslem Gallery this week opened what is said to be a Mauldin retrospective, but might better be described as a collection of leftover Mauldins; the range is from below his best work to what must be very nearly his worst. All are for sale for prices that range from much too high to curiously low, without any consistent relation to the quality of the particular drawing.
What keeps the show from sending a Mauldin-lover into blank depression is, first, that even maudlin Mauldin has lines and touches that are a treat to the eye, and second, that the other half of the exhibit is devoted to cartoons by Pat Oliphant, late of The Washington Star, and Oliphant can't help but make Our Bill look good.
Technically, Oliphant has almost everything Mauldin doesn't: wit, clean lines, deft shading and a sense of movement that simulates force. His caricatures are more recognizable and have far more bite. What's missing is humanity and substance, and here Mauldin overmatches Oliphant as a man brushes off a boy. I cannot comment on the Oliphant prices because I discovered after leaving the gallery that I hadn't looked at a single tag; yet I had priced all those second- rate Mauldins, and several times my hand had twitched toward my checkbook.
Haslem seems serious about this exhibition, having gone to the trouble of borrowing works by artists the men said influenced them. (Both named Daumier and Hogarth; Mauldin added Goya, Sloan, Marsh, Kollwitz, Picasso, Robinson and Bairnsfather; Oliphant listed Low, Illingsworth, Searle, Vicky, Trog, Jak, Rigby and Herriman.)
ORIGINS -- At the Jane Haslem Gallery, 2121 P Street NW, through April.