New Collection of a U.S. Army Comic Books Series Available

[This blog post was written by Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

The Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina would like to announce the recent donation of the PS: Preventive Maintenance Monthly Collection. The PS Collection is composed currently of 69 issues of the U.S. Army technical bulletin PS: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly, ranging from 1953 to 1993 (with gaps).

Two-page spread of the PS: Preventive Maintenance Monthly

PS: Preventive Maintenance Monthly, Issue 203, 1969

The bulletin uses cartoon characters and graphics in a comic-book style to add humor to maintenance challenges and equipment repair processes for Army soldiers, Army civilians, and contractors that own, operate, and maintain the Army’s equipment—particularly vehicles and tanks. PS is filled with cartoons detailing technical, safety, and policy information, with artwork from leading cartoons and comic-book artists. The PS: Preventive Maintenance Monthly Collection is available for use in the Search Room at the State Archives, with a finding aid consisting of an inventory of the bulletin’s issues available.

As the U.S. Army ramped up for its involvement in the Korean War between 1950 and 1951, it realized that its soldiers were encountering problems with their Army equipment—particularly vehicles and tanks. The Army had experienced some degree of acceptance and success during World War II in utilizing cartoons for educational purposes through the publication Army Motors. Army Motors utilized the cartoon drawings of then Cpl. Will Eisner, who was already famous for his work on the comic book The Spirit when he was drafted for duty during WWII. An established comic-book writer, artist, and editor, Eisner had been appropriated to draw such characters for WWII publications (including Army Motors) as Private Joe Dope, Connie Rodd, and Master Sergeant Half-Mast McCanick. In 1951, the U.S. Army hired Eisner to create similar instructional material for its new publication to address equipment issues, called PS: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly. PS is an official Army technical bulletin.

Eisner founded the American Visuals Corporation in the late 1940s as a commercial cartoon artwork company. The company produced educational cartoons and illustrations and giveaway comics for a variety of clients and industries. As part of AVC’s contracts, PS was created by Eisner and his contract artists, with him serving as the publication’s artistic director from its inception in 1951 through the end of 1971. In the case of PS, Eisner created the continuity section and the art of each issue, based upon the technical manuscripts provided to him by the Army’s PS staff. As part of his contract with the magazine, Eisner was sent on location to places like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, in order to meet soldiers and better understand the situations they and their equipment experienced.

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Each issue of the PS magazine consisted of a color comic-book-style cover, often designed and drawn by Eisner; eight full pages of a four-color comic continuity story in the middle; and the rest of the publication filled with technical, safety, and policy information printed in two colors to save money. The continuity story starred Eisner’s earlier character, and was called “Joe’s Dope Sheet.” Each episode offers the same cautionary tale: a soldier who ignores preventive maintenance learns of its importance in the end.

The Military Collection could use your help in building the collection’s holdings of issues of PS. There are over 750 issues as of 2017. If you or someone you know has any issues of PS: Preventive Maintenance Monthly and are willing to donate them, please contact Military Collection Archivist Matthew Peek by phone at 919-807-7314 or by email at matthew.peek@ncdcr.gov. Any new issues will be added to the collection. We hope to build it into one of the largest collections of PS in the United States.

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