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

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