Thursday, February 24, 2011

4 - SGT Rock and Easy Company Meet MSGT Half-Mast

The full-color meeting of SGT Rock and his Easy Company with MSGT Half-Mast in the pages of the 700th issue of PS Magazine (March 2011) may very well be the high-water mark—at least for certified comics fans—in this Sixtieth Anniversary Year of the U.S. Army's highly successful PS. Something like an imagined encounter of Alvin C. York with Audie Murphy.

We are able to present it here through the kind permission of DC Comics, granted promptly and with great enthusiasm for the PS celebration. Please note that DC Comics holds the copyright for this material and its presentation here is NOT FOR REPRODUCTION.

Half-Mast McCanick first flowed from Will Eisner's pen onto the pages of Army Motors in 1942, during World War II. We plan to give you, in a subsequent posting, a surprising display of his graphic evolution over the intervening 69 years.

SGT Rock, at least in the incarnation reflected here, was first seen in DC Comics' Our Army at War, No. 83, in June 1959, with Joe Kubert as artist and Robert Kanigher as editor. Developmental stabs at the character occurred as "The Rock" (without rank) in GI Combat No. 68 (January 1959) and in Our Army at War No. 81 (April 1959). (Kubert is now in his eleventh year as the contractor providing creative art, publication design, and pre-press production services for PS.)

Kubert's well-regarded artwork and storytelling on the title was as much a result of Kanigher's writing as his own cartooning talents. "[Bob's] writing was graphic and compelling and emotional and it instilled an interest in me to illustrate his stories and the character of Sgt Rock," Kubert told an interviewer.

In his scripts and dialogue, Kanigher described the characters to Kubert; in his art, Kubert brought those guys to life. Together, the two men told stories that captured the imaginations of thousands of readers. As Mark Chiarello wrote in his introduction to SGT Rock Archives, Vol. 3, "We all wanted to be Rock, but in reality we were the other guys of Easy. Like those characters, we were there to reinforce the idea that we all have strengths that form the whole. No one goes it alone."

That sense of unit cohesion and camaraderie inherent in the SGT Rock stories was a significant factor triggering the PS staff's interest in seeing those characters in the magazine's pages.

The initiative for this effort came from Stuart Henderson, and he wrote the story. Stuart has been a comics enthusiast since the age of ten. He joined the PS staff in August of 1993, and has been Production Manager since March of 2002.

We greatly appreciate the cooperation of DC Comics in making this possible as a part of our ongoing, year-long salute to PS.


When Stuart Henderson, current Production Manager of PS Magazine, came up with an idea to celebrate the 700th issue of PS as part of the Sixtieth Anniversary, I was really taken aback. His thought was to do a Continuity—an eight-page comic book story in the middle of the magazine—involving SGT Rock and Easy Company, the comic book characters with whom I have been associated for over fifty years. The thought of having Sgt Rock appear in a publication created by Will Eisner, with the characters he developed—well, to say it was a thrill would be the understatement of the year! Of course, there were legalities involved, obtaining permission from both Time/Warner (the parent company of DC Comics) and the Army. But the arrangement went off without a hitch, and I had a great time doing the story.



¶ Connie, with Pogo, Owl, Dick Tracy, Maggie, Jiggs, and Many More

¶ The One Piece of Art that Delivers the Essence of PS

¶ Artists Mentioned in Connection with PS

¶ Murphy Anderson's Best PS Front Covers

¶ Best PS Front Covers by the "Eisner Alumni" Group

Saturday, February 5, 2011

2 - The First Issue of 'PS' in June of 1951

The creation of PS Magazine was a direct response to some of the many needs arising during the Korean War. That war also triggered an agonizing examination of existing United States Army logistics concepts, leading to major institutional and systemic realignment that stretched over several subsequent decades.

When seven of North Korea's top army divisions invaded South Korea on the rainy Sunday morning of June 25, 1950, the United States' armed forces were close to completing their fifth year of an accelerated demobilization following the surrenders of Germany and Japan in 1945. The largest fighting force and the greatest mass of equipment ever assembled by this nation had been effectively dispersed.

The war in Korea that was predicted to "be over in three weeks" lasted three years. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, changed hands three times in six months. The boast by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (Any impression you may have that the officer on the right in the middle-ground trio in the Front Cover of the first PS issue resembles MacArthur) is purely coincidental.) that the troops "will be home for Christmas" was still a hollow echo in 1953 when the hostilities entered the beginning of a fourth year—the cease-fire began July 27, 1953, three years and thirty-two days after the fighting started. An estimated 33,000 Americans died, and another 105,000 were wounded.

Army personnel from privates to generals described the equipment used in the Korean War as "either too old or too new." Anything left over from World War II was at least five years old, perhaps marginally maintained in the intervening years, and frequently outdated by advancing technology. When development and production schedules were accelerated in response to combat needs, the resulting products often were not totally de-bugged and sometimes arrived without normal accompanying items-manuals, special tools, and stocks of replacement parts.

The plan for creating PS arose from a real need, in challenging circumstances, and was put together by hard-nosed realists

When the first issue of PS appeared in June of 1951, it was the opener of a six-issue trial, begrudgingly agreed to by the Office of the Adjutant General (TAG) wherein resided the guardians of Army publications standards. The very consideration of a “comic book” as a vehicle for communicating military technical and motivational information had been bad enough. Now TAG was faced with being a party to its own shaming by preparing, bidding, and awarding the printing contract for those first six issues.

The specifications for the paper used resulted in the lowest grade of newsprint that I have ever seen in a lifetime of dealing with publications. The fact that it was a self-cover piece whose destination was an unfriendly physical environment assured from the outset a greatly diminished archival possibility. The paper was coarse, thus dictating that the line-screen spec was coarse. I never heard it discussed, but there has always been a suspicion that the printing was a letterpress operation, considering the “mud” that seems to be a common presence in areas intended to be solid. The four-color separations were the hand-brushed “bogus” variety prevalent at the time.

Surviving printed copies of those first six issues are rare, reflecting tender, loving care, and usually appearing in protective plastic sleeves or bags. Beginning with the seventh issue, printing was by offset lithography, on appropriate stock, and with a coated, heavier stock for a separate cover.

Here, then, are the Front Cover, Mini-Poster, and Continuity from the first issue of PS. In the 60 years since then, there has been a frightening parade of second-guessing, hair-splitting and massaging the fine points, yet—if you will listen to what your eyes will tell you—the heritage still runs true. Will Eisner set the bar high!



3 - The Roster of Artists—60 Years of Dedicated Talent

4 - PS No. 700 (March 2011): SGT ROCK and EASY CO.


5 - Connie with Pogo, Owl, Dick Tracy, Tess, Maggie, Jiggs, and Many More

6 - The One Piece of Art that Delivers the Essence of PS

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1 - Roots of 'PS' in World War II

The United States Army's PS Magazine, internationally acclaimed as the most successful and longest-running communications program utilizing sequential art to convey technical and motivational information, will mark its Sixtieth Anniversary in June 2011 with publication of Issue No. 703. We have established this blog, The Best of PS Magazine 1951-2011, as a vehicle for an ongoing, year-long salute.

Joe—artist, graphic novelist, and head of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art—simultaneously is completing his tenth year and 120 issues as the PS contractor providing creative art, design, and pre-press production for the pocket-size publication-the same services provided by Will Eisner for 227 issues in the program's first 21 years.

Fitzgerald, who was the first managing editor of PS, is the author of the 2010 Eisner Award nominated Will Eisner and PS Magazine, which reflects the six-decade saga plus the art of Eisner, Kubert, and six other art contractors between the two.

In this, our first posting, we are presenting art and information that reflect the World War II roots of the PS concept, which became the fatigue-pocket companion of America's Warriors during the Korean War.

Our continuing "Best Of" presentations will include selections from all eight art contractors. All of the artists, the length and dates of their PSwork, and the editions each produced, will be discussed in our third blogpost.

When Will Eisner was inducted into the Army in May of 1942, Army Motorshad marked its second anniversary, its production quality had been improved well beyond its mimeographed-sheet beginnings, and distribution numbers were higher every month. His first window of artistic opportunity came in the pages of The Flaming Bomb, the post newspaper at Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland, where he had been sent for basic training.

The availability of the fantastic creative potential of Will Eisner, along with his enthusiastic spirit of cooperation, moved southward from Aberdeen to Washington with amazing rapidity. The presence of his signature on The Spirit inserts in newspapers serving major markets across the nation helped move things along. Will was made an entry-level warrant officer and promoted to the grade of chief warrant officer as quickly as the proprieties permitted.

Eisner initiated a makeover of the graphic personality of Army Motors, polishing existing characters such as Connie Rodd and Half-Mast McCanick, and adding Joe Dope and Fosgnoff as new ones. Continuities were introduced into the mix, and a limping poster program was given new life. The ratio between text and illustrations began to shift.

The circulation of Army Motors eventually reached 1,500,000 copies monthly. In an effort to reduce printing and shipping costs, during a portion of the magazine's life (specifically known to have occurred in 1945) identical material was offered in a choice of two formats—the original size that was eight inches wide and ten and one-half inches long, and a smaller overseas edition that was six inches wide and eight inches long.

The last official issue of Army Motors was Volume 6, Number 6, for August of 1945.

The art presented with this blogpost will present followers of sequential art with an introduction to Eisner's concepts that began a rise to full flower five years later when he and his band of cartoon cronies were called back to serving "them what's in the fight," as Will frequently phrased it.


I was fortunate early on that I met Will Eisner when I was a kid training to break into the profession of cartooning. While attending the High School of Music and Art on 135th Street and Convent Avenue in Manhattan—an hour and a half trip from my home in East New York, Brooklyn—I wangled a summer job as a 'gofer' in Will's studio. Besides sweeping the floors and erasing pencil marks from other artists's work (Will employed several top artists who worked on his Spirit magazine) I was able to absorb a a lot of the know-how that's stood me in good stead over these many years.

Will's declaration (a hypothesis by which I've lived) was that any subject — no matter how dry or arid — could be made interesting reading if accompanied by entertaining, inviting and attractive illustrations. Y'know somethin'? He was absolutely right! He did it with Army Motors and the Army's PS Magazine.


(The two-page continuity below is from Army Motors, May, 1944)

Upcoming postings:

2 - The First Issue of PS, June 1951
3 - The Roster of Artists—60 Years of Dedicated Talent
4 - PS No. 700 (March 2011): SGT ROCK and EASY CO.
5 - Connie with Pogo, Owl, Dick Tracy, Tess, Maggie, Jiggs, and Many More
6 - The One Piece of Art that Delivers the Essence of PS