Monday, November 5, 2012

The Commander In Chief

In honor of our impending jaunt to the polling place, I wish to pay tribute to those lead by our CIC; The American soldier. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with comic books, right? Well, plenty I would retort! The comic format has been used as platform to educate nearly as long as they've been around, and soldiers just like many other groups of young people make a great target audience. The U.S. Army recognized the potential for comics to be used as training tool in the years following World War One.

From 1939 through 1944 the Army issued "Army Motors" magazine. Printed by PMU-TAC, Camp Holabird at Baltimore, Maryland.(1) The purpose was to use a format that many soldiers were already or becoming increasingly familiar with(the comic book)to teach them how to maintain vehicles in an increasingly mechanized/motorized Army. To put this in to perspective Detective Comics was launched in 1937 with "The Batman" arriving in issue #27 in May of 1939. Action Comics #1 arrives in June of 1938 giving the world "Superman". The age of the super hero was born. The success of these comics helped to legitimize to some extent the medium in which they were presented.

"Army Motors" was a success in part due to the use of top tier talent.The same talent that was selling works at the five and dime could be put to use to further military readiness for an army gearing up for a potential conflict in both the European and Pacific theaters of operation. Men like Will Eisner, famous as the artist-writer of stories about Detective Denny Colt, a masked crime fighter otherwise known as "The Spirit", were used to bring to life "Army Motors." Eisner, drafted in 1940 used his comic stylings to engage a youthful audience in preventive maintenance of vehicles, thus keeping them in an operational state of readiness for deployment.

Post World War Two, their was a six year lull in publication of official comic styled works (seven years total as "Army Motors" ended in 1944.) In 1951 With Eisner as artistic director, a new magazine debuted "PS Magazine, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly." Focused not just on PM for vehicles it covered (and still does) everything from sidearms, artillery pieces, vehicle maintenance and more. Eisner enlisted top talent from the comic world to work on his magazine including Joe Kubert (Son of Sinbad, Sgt.Rock, founder of the Kubert School), Mike Ploog (Ghost Rider, Werewolf By Night), Murphy Anderson (Buck Rogers, Hawkman, Zatanna) to name just a few.

PS was originally published out of Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, it's current home is in Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama. Ask anyone you know who has served in the U.S. Army from 1939 to the present if he knows who "Joe Dope", "Sgt. Half-Mast McCanick" (promoted to SFC and now MSG), or "Connie Rodd" are, if they ever had to perform PM or fix anything, chances are he or she will know.These characters used in both "Army Motors" and "PS" are as familiar to most servicemen as Iron Man or Spider Man are to any child (or child at heart) today.

"PS Magazine" is alive and well today, with issue #720 issued for November 2012. So just as we former soldiers did our due diligence reading our comics to fix stuff, I hope that you will due yours by getting out to vote. It is a tribute, your right to vote, to our men and women in uniform, who put their lives on the line so that you may "maintain" it.
1. PMU-TAC stands for Preventive Maintenance Unit-Tank Automotive Center. Camp Holabird would change its name to Holabird Ordnace Depot in 1942. Holabird was closed in the early 1970's

2. The following are two links one for an archive of PS by Virginia Commonwealth University, the second the official home of PS today.

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