Saturday, May 14, 2016

War Instruction

Friday Comic Book Day.

One of the fist pieces I wrote about Hank Chapman, was an extensive set of notes to the story The Assault from Men in Action #6 (September 1952), used on the Atlas Tales website. It was drawn by Mac Pakula, all except page 5 which for some reason was a collage (possibly added after the story was done) of a tank assault, using images from various other artists and probably from other stories. At the time I wrote these comments, I was not yet aware of the work of Hank Chapman in 1951 and 1952, which I have written about later to a larger extent. If you follow the link you will find those writings. This story is not included there, because it is not signed by Chapman. But the language, the use of sound effects and the documentary style make it probably his. I came across these notes when I prepared my copy f this book to be sold on EBay (which will go up this weekend).

This is what I wrote back then:

Assault, is a propaganda piece aimed at the humble foot soldier (many of whom were reading these books). Pvt. William Manning is a scary guy. He and his fellow soldiers of the second regiment are scattered over the terrain at Dwakai in October 1951. Pvt. Manning is afraid they will all die, because it's only 300 of them against thousands of reds. His friends tell him to leave the brain work to the big brass, but when he hears they are going to attack at 1200 hours, he is sure they'll die. The narrator takes over and addresses him directly, a trick often used in these books, mostly by Hank Chapman, whose work this surely resembles. "But that is only part of the picture... the part that you're involved in! There are more parts in this giant jig-saw called assault!" He goes on to explain that the 300 men are backed-up by guns, howitzers, tanks, planes and other hardware firing over their heads at the reds. When the assault finally happens (in a full page splash on page 5), the army wins. And to assure the lowly foot soldiers reading this, the story ends with a army bigwig saying: "With all we've got, the most important element of assault is still the foot soldier! Bless everyone of the mud-slogging, foxhole-digging sons of battle!" Several things make this story stand out production-wise. First of all, on the opening page, above the title, as quick introduction has been added - in such a way that is partly runs over the title block: "A soldier's mind can be a hodgepodge of doubts, bravery, fear and uncertainty! Here's a close look into such a mind and the story of what happened to it in the face of... assault!" Did someone object to the story? If so, maybe other parts of the story were rewritten as well. There's no evidence of any of that. And then there is the assault splash on page 5. There are several signs that that page has been doctored with and it might even have been assembled after the story was finished. One would think that such a page was the whole point of the story - to show the different parts that make up an assault in one huge page - but in fact the story reads just as well without it, so it could have been a later addition. The splash itself has an uneasy mix of perspectives, that could indicate that is was cobbled together from something else. On the top half there are two down-looking shots of a row of jeeps driving though a camp and several tanks coming over the ridge of a mountain. We would have to assume that the mountains we are looking at are sloping very much, to accommodate such a shot. Under that is a single group of soldiers running over another ridge. They are looking sideways and it is not quite clear what they are doing. Then there is a group of soldiers running towards the camera, charging a couple of red soldiers. In the back is an explosion. These are the only reds on the whole page and frankly, the positioning of the groups makes you wonder what they are doing so far behind the enemy lines. Underneath them is a group of soldiers shooting a totally different way. This is a downward shot that fits very badly with upshot of the charging soldiers above them. And in front of that is a purple colored close-up of a soldier firing in yet another direction. This is a pasted in image drawn by Joe Maneely. I knew I'd seen it somewhere, so I searched Atlas Tales for Maneely samples and found it soon enough... it's the shooting soldier from Battlefront #2, published a couple of months earlier. Oh and there are five almost identical planes added to the sky, flying from the left to the right, further mystifying as to where the action really is. Other signs that this page has been doctored with are the slight (or sometimes not so slight) lines that suggest some cutting and pasting has been performed... two vertical lines, one through one of the tents in the camp and one next to the group charging the reds... the second one has a different type of crosshatching to the left than to the right. There's also a line visible on the bottom of the page underneath the past-up of Maneely's cover image and a very slight line to the right of the group running over the ridge. So what does it all mean? I don't think the page was especially assembled, because it would have been better if it was done as a whole. Still, it could be. I am not even sure if the images used are all by the same artist. The charging group in the middle could be by Russ Heath, making the whole clip and mix theory more likely. Or could it be a reassembly of an earlier version of the page, maybe some sort of action page? 
The same book has another Hank Chapman story (illustrated by George Tuska) that is signed.


libraryguy said...

Very nice. Now go back and try to read one of DC comics war books and you see how divorced (although better artwork) from reality they were. War was and is hell.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Which is why I make such a point of telling everyone that EC's war stories were not the only ones going against the grain. In fact, in all their bitterness some of the war stories written by Hank Chapman (and possibly Stan Lee as well) were more anti-war than Harvey Kurtzman's (which were primarily pro-human). As for the comparison to DC, I always point out that most of Atlas' war stories played out during the night while the DC stories were almost always during the day.