A Brief History Lesson: PS Monthly Magazines / by David Anderson


This next one goes out to all the war nerds. Also the ladies, but mostly the war nerds. So a while back, I visited my alma mater. Nice place. It's way too cold in the winter, but it has lots of gorgeous hills in a nice, semi-secluded spot of a valley.  It's a military academy in Vermont called Norwich University. Montpelier is about 40 minutes away, which is about the same amount of time it takes to get to the Wal-mart, so if you ever decide to visit that place don't go expecting a burgeoning metropolis.

I went for several reasons I won't get into, but one thing I took the opportunity to do while I was there was to visit the armory. See, the guy who runs it has a magazine stand right outside the window where you grab your gear issue, and it was stacked with comic booklets from PS Magazine,The Preventative Maintenance Monthly, a magazine dedicated to making easy-to-read guides on how to properly maintain your equipment.

During WWII, Corporal Will Eisner (yes THAT Will Eisner) had achieved some success in drawing cartoon field guides for the army in a publication called Army Motors. In 1951, as the US Army was now ramping up for Korea, they found themselves in need of easy-to-read instruction manuals again, and, remembering the acceptance of Army Motors during the last war, hired Eisner to create another publication for them. PS, The Preventative Maintenance Monthly  was born, titled PS to indicate that it was a Post Script to the regular manuals.

Using his iconic art style, Eisner made a cadre of recurring characters that would show how to clean gear, deal with upgrades and new equipment, and talk about how to use it properly and avoid abuse. It was an awesome idea, because the worst case scenario for a soldier is knowing that cleaning his weapon can save his life, but being forced to read a giant, boring-ass word tome with dull diagrams and army wordsoup to find out. But with comics, it could actually be entertaining to read about how to keep your rifle clean. It certainly made it easier, taking what would have been paragraphs and converting them to images.

Eisner remained artistic director from 1951 until 1971, overseeing 227 issues of PS. Today, even though he is long gone from the job, the magazine is still printed monthly by the Army and still retains his essence, refined and distilled. Characters wear modern ACUs and have modern looks, but they're still drawn in a style that's heavily influenced by Eisner, generally authentic but with cartoony touches. Trucks and tanks and rifles have faces, which is initially terrifying, but more amusing once you've stopped screaming. The writing style encapsulates that expository feel of comics from the 50s and is somewhat reminiscent of G.I. Joe PSA's from the 80s. God, I can just hear it in my head. You know how they talked in those! I mean, if you grew up with them, in the US, during the 80s. It's like that. Not the voiceover re-dubs that made them hilarious in the mid 2000s. Also, it is cheesy as hell. That just makes it funny, of course.

I think it's a pretty cool piece of Americana, especially since this mag was an official government project using comics to educate (in its Army Motors format) years before people started freaking out and calling comic books a degenerate art in the 50s witch hunts. And it was founded by one of modern comic books' most famous artists, to boot. It's a little bit of a time capsule in this way, and my only hope is that still has a lot of life in it before it either dies from neglect or gets outsourced in a no-bid contract to Halliburton or something.

I took a ton of pictures of this stuff with my Android, so forgive the quality. Some of the images come in clear and others are a little shaky. Also, some of the pages get cut off at the bottom. Still, not bad. Just wish I'd taken some more time to get better photos. It's over 30 pictures, so check them out here.

If you are interested in reading PS Magazine or learning more about its history, there are a few ways to do it. You can read back issues up to 1990, including the most recent issues, online on the Army's website. The Virginia Commonwealth University library has an online archive of all the issues from 1951 to 1971. Abrams ComicArts also published a very nice book last year PS Magazine: The Best of Preventitive Maintenance Monthly with all of Eisner's 227 issues as well as additional material covering the history and writings from other comic book artists. You can ask for your local comic book shop to order it for you or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon web store.