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from World War II was at least five years old, perhaps marginally maintained in the intervening years, and frequently outdated by advancing technology.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!