Comics are pretty much everywhere you look now; they aren’t just found at the local comic shop. They also aren’t just about superheroes with god-like powers.
In fact, Task & Purpose, a culture and news site focused on American veterans has been chronicling real world stories since May 22, 2014 in their column, Unsung Heroes. The column’s focus is to “highlight the stories of bravery and heroism that make up the history of the U.S. military post-9/11.” They put a specific emphasis on stories that are mostly forgotten or even ignored concerning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
They have just recently taken these written pieces and begun presenting them in comic format with their latest featuring a story about U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeremiah “Bull” Parvin and 1st Lt. Aaron Cavazos who were called in to provide air support in their A-10s for a four-hour mission that “saved the lives of six Marines and killed dozens of insurgents through almost 20 close-air support runs.”
For their efforts, Parvin and Cavazos received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.
While Task & Purpose isn’t the first to chronicle the events of military exploits, they are the latest in a rich tradition mixing comics and the military.
You may have heard of a couple folks named Stan Lee and Steve Ditko who both served in the U.S. Army. Stan Lee entered the Army in early 1942 and served in the Signal Corps. After repairing telegraph poles and other communications equipment he was transferred to the Training Film Division where he wrote training manuals, worked on training films, created slogans, and even did some occasional cartooning and posters for the U.S. Army.
Ditko took his cartooning skills into the U.S. Army in 1945. He enlisted and served in postwar Germany where he drew comics for a U.S. Army newspaper.
Comics legend Jack Kirby was drafted into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1943 and assigned to Company F of the 11th Infantry Regiment. Kirby used his drawing talents as a scout who drew reconnaissance maps and pictures.
Another comics legend, Will Eisner, was also a U.S. veteran, first being drafted during World War II and then serving as a contractor in Korea and Vietnam. Much like Ditko, he found himself making use of his comic talents within the military. He began working on a mimeograph magazine, Army Motors, that used comics as a training tool. With the advent of the Korean War, Eisner soon found himself back with the U.S. Army creating “Joe Dope” and “Sergeant Half-Mast” for P.S. Magazine and further exploring the use of comics for instruction material.
Wally Wood took a similar path to Lee and Ditko, enlisting in the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division in 1946. Like Ditko, Wood created content for a military audience, but it wasn’t until much later in his career when he created Sally Forth who made her first appearance in Military News and later in the Overseas Weekly. Wood would go on to create Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon in 1969 with art from fellow veteran, Steve Ditko. He followed up this work with a second magazine-format issue in conjunction with CPL Gang Publications. Aiding him in this endeavor was Larry Hama.
Hama also served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971 during the Vietnam War. Unlike most of the previously-mentioned veterans, Hama was a firearms and explosive ordnance expert. Not only did he aid Wally Wood on his Sally Forth and Cannon strips, but he took his Vietnam experience and applied it to his 1986-1993 Marvel Comics series The ‘Nam. However, Hama is probably best known for his work on the Marvel Comics licensed series G.I. JOE which now resides at IDW Publishing. Hama is even immortalized in the G.I. JOE character, Tunnel Rat, whose likeness is based on Hama.
More recently, Marine Maximilian Uriarte documented the “fictional story of a Marine, Abe, and his existential journey through the Marine Corps, Iraq, and his return home” in the graphic novel Terminal Lance: The White Donkey. Not only has Uriarte created this graphic novel, but he also has run a weekly comic strip, “Terminal Lance,” since 2010 that follows the adventures of two Marines, Garcia and Abe.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just let your imagination wonder about how many superheroes and villains have military backgrounds let alone the sheer number of comic book stories focused on military exploits. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Task & Purpose’s comics honoring the Unsung Heroes as they continue the rich tradition of comics and the military.