Monday was Memorial Day here in the U.S., which means UPS had the day off, which means comics (including new Shaky Kane) don’t arrive until Thursday, which means Diamond didn’t release their finalized new comics list until this afternoon, which means I’m here 24 hours later than expected. Given the benefit of an added day of contemplation, I realized that this would be the first New Comics Day since the middle of May to feature no Joe Kubert comics — no gigantic Sgt. Rock in Wednesday Comics, no inks over son Andy’s pencils in DC Universe Legacies #1 — so I took it upon myself to post the above image, a pencils & paint depiction of combat from the artist’s Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, a drastic severing of sides of the brain in the body comics.
I haven’t heard a lot about the book online – I imagine it looks and quacks like some of Will Eisner’s later work, if you manage to claw under the shrink wrap, but it’s really a far odder, conflicted work, paring Kubert’s drawing down to its barest and most nakedly expressive, even more so than his 2003 Yossel: April 19, 1943, a fictional sketchbook autobiography from an alternate life. There he marked out places and faces and scenes; here he depicts action for just under half of the book, but without the panel borders that might impose a tighter notion of pacing, or restrain his slashing lines from almost reaching into adjoining scenes. The given sensation is less depiction than recollection, scenes still woozy behind the eyelids of someone who knows how to draw these things so damn well he can work as if by prolonged fit of instinct. It’s not ‘finished’-looking art, no. Sometimes it doesn’t even behave as if finished – I had trouble just telling characters apart at times.
But, I never didn’t know how they felt. Look at those faces. Bodies. In loosening his war comic style, Kubert’s excitement segues into terror, and froths with agony.
Also, look at those captions: white and digital in keeping with DC’s house style, and, in several instances depicted here, defiantly failing to match Kubert’s penciled guidelines, which somewhat unnervingly remain on the page. And the lettering/production is in fact the work of another person — Kubert cohort Pete Carlsson — although it’s Joe writing the transcript-style dialogue, and the ultra-dry, stolid narration, not that either mode sounds particularly different. To say the words and pictures in this book jar isn’t halfway enough – they don’t even seem to occupy the same space. It’s like the drawings were a comic somebody found, and then a narration was constructed around it, as if to make sense of it.
It’s a fictional story, albeit hewing very closely to the activities of the eventually-designated Detachment A-342, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam in 1965, leading up to the actual Battle of Dong Xoai in June. Fascinatingly, an included 40+ pages of text-based supplements are apparently not supplemental at all – they’re Kubert’s source material, a newsletter put together by surviving members of Detachment A-342, through which you can observe how events have been compressed or combined in the story proper. And, just as the newsletter is largely unconcerned with conveying the personalities of the men involved in favor of hard procedure and incident, Kubert’s invented dialogues serve as almost purely transitional between alternately choked and purplish spreads of info-rich narration. And, of course, those leaping drawings.
I realize my interest in this book is a little esoteric; I couldn’t flatly recommend it without some major caveats pertaining to its clash between text and drawing, the latter more overpowering than ever. Yet – that’s the beauty. This is a heavily fact-based work of fiction, broken down and adapted and put on the page, as logic would dictate, but the art nonetheless feels like it existed first, because it is expressive and personal, and primal to battle, and it called for facts and text to tease it into a slightly heavier place of recognition so we can know which uniforms are worn and how the scenes should doodle in. Push it back, loosen it up a little more, in the second half of the book where the shooting starts, and suddenly it’s soldiers everywhere.
Anyway, as for my fellow latecomers: