June 17, 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of G.I. Joe’s debut. Joe was first drawn and published by Chicago native Irving David Breger (1908-1970) in the very first issue of Yank Magazine, dated June 17, 1942.
Breger began drawing cartoons for his high school newspaper, and later edited Northwestern University’s humor magazine Purple Parrot. Though without any formal training in art, he continued drawing cartoons during his college years, imitating the style of well-known 1920’s-era cartoonist, John Held, Jr. After earning a degree in abnormal psychology from Northwestern in 1931, he spent a year traveling and selling cartoons to the German magazine Lustigeblaetter.
He was drafted into the US Army in 1941, even while freelancing for various magazines including Esquire, Collier’s, The New Yorker and others. Employed as a truck mechanic by the army, he drew cartoons by night, with The Saturday Evening Post publishing them under the title Private Breger.
He was soon transferred to the Army’s Special Services Division, and was eventually transferred to the staff of the newly-created Yank Magazine. Though he wanted to draw in a style reminiscent of The Saturday Evening Post, Yank’s editors insisted on a unique name for his column. His character’s real name was Joe Trooper, but Breger added the acronym for “Government Issue” to the equation, and created a name that would find itself adopted by both soldiers and the American homefront as the new ‘doughboy’ term for American servicemen: G.I. Joe.
Breger would go on to draw Private Breger for King Features Syndicate until October 1945 when the character was discharged from the army and became Mister Breger. The cartoon’s popularity was enduring, and the Sunday panels would continue until shortly after his death in 1970.