PS magazine comics and the Army

PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly is a comic published by the U.S. Army as an additional Post Script (PS) to their technical manuals (TM’s).  From a comic book literature standpoint its importance is huge! Naturally most civilians don’t know about it, but this i believe is more because of its audience as much as anything else.

PS Magazine is published by the Department of the Army, the first issue was in June 1951 and it is still made to this day, now at 755 issues!

 

So what kind of comic book is it you may be wondering? Its a comic book designed to make some of the most boring and banal subjects interesting. Army TM are dense and boring, filled with the information to work on all of the equipment that the Army uses. Every single piece. Every tank, cargo truck, and helicopter. Guns, generators, gas masks, dog gas masks(Yes it’s a thing).  Has a Technical Manual that tells soldiers how to take it apart, put it back together, and maintain it. The problem is getting soldiers to read them and maintain their equipment before it breaks. And that is what PS magazine was for, it was a comic book that was easy to read, had good art, and told soldiers some of the more critical maintenance tips maintenance procedures that were often overlooked.

psmag example

As you can see a combination of comic word bubbles and characters, popping up around the page and the anthropomorphic vehicles were all designed to make soldiers care about the equipment and know the procedure for maintaining them. Connie Ross (in the above image) and Master Sergeant Half-Mast are the main characters that are present throughout PS magazine. The anthropomorphic vehicles are also important to note as it encouraged soldiers to see their equipment, something their life could depend upon, as more human and capable of feeling pain, and thusly encouraging them to maintain them properly.

And perhaps most importantly is that it worked. Soldiers liked them and the willingly read them, the pages often contained most of the information needed and provided page numbers to the TM’s when needed. The example above is typical of the pages with one of two paragraphs of text and a lot of art. In the 80 and 90s there was often a couple pages (3 -6) of more traditional comic style panels whose content varied between stories that were completely unrelated to maintenance, to more seasonal stories around Christmas and cold weather maintenance, and other holiday related stories.

Its size was also of note being closer to that of a reader’s digest than a normal comic book. And although I have no proof of this I think it was also made to fit into the back pocket of U.S. Army mechanics overalls. Because it is quick and easy to read, it’s the perfect thing to peruse during a few moments of downtime.

 

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Another thing of note is that Will Eisner was the illustrator till 1971, afterward a host of other notable names worked on it. (Murphy Anderson, Joe Kubert, Dan Spiegle, Scott Madsen, Malane Newman, Alfredo Alcala, and Mike Ploog. [list from Wikipedia])

 

The success of PS magazine is further emphasized by the fact that the British army copied the idea during Desert Storm with Kit! on which I could find very little info but it fills the same niche to get soldiers to do the maintance right. As bad as US TM’s are the British ones are even worse (electronics wiring NIGHTMARES).

 

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