Table of contents
2. Analysis of the comic
2.1 The comic in general
2.2 The Vietnam War
2.3 The Vietnamese
2.4 Captain Hunter
3. Comparison to “The 'Nam“
4. Influences of the comic
Until the late years of the Vietnam War, nearly all media of popular culture ignored the war. „It is the comic books that had the most consistent coverage of the Vietnam War“ (Mundey: 2012, p.159). Comic books are popular media and fascinate their readers. „The ability of cartoons to focus our attention on an idea is (...) an important part of their special power“ (McCloud: 1993, p.31).
In the comic series „Our Fighting Forces“, the American Soldier Captain Hunter is featured in „Cold Steel for a Hot War!“. The issue was published in August 1966, during the Vietnam War. Of course, you can read the comic from the perspective of young readers who desire to be entertained, but it is immensely interesting to look at the picture of American Soldiers which is conveyed by the comic, especially taking its effect on the readers into consideration.
Thus, this paper focuses on the question: How is the American Soldier in the Vietnam War portrayed in the comic? In the course of this paper I will attempt to point out why the American Society as readers should be influenced by the heroic portrayal of Captain Hunter and the positive representation of American involvement in the Vietnam War.
In order to find out how the American Soldiers are portrayed in the comic, the comic will be analyzed. The analysis focuses on the principal character Captain Hunter, but I will also take a look at the portrayal of the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese, intending to have a general idea of the entire comic and the world of Captain Hunter.
A comparison to another comic follows after the analysis. The `Nam is a different type of war comic, the portrayal of the Vietnam War is very close to the reality. The editor Larry Hama points out in the introduction, that the comic even received an award for being the „best media portrayal of the Vietnam War“ (Hama: 1999, p.5).
Every medium tries to deliver a message, which is also valid for comic books. For this reason, I will have a closer look at the possible influences of the comic in the next step. Here, it is essential to look at the addressees of the comic and explain the effect on the target group.
2. Analysis of the comic
2.1 The comic in general
The first striking feature of the comic series “Our fighting Forces” is the use of color in the comic, although the colored production is more expensive. “Color boosted sales but it also boosted costs“ (McCloud, p.187). This way the comic stands out, color makes it special. Furthermore, readers are attracted more easily (McCloud, p.192) and the comic appeals to more people. “Color comics will always seem more ,real‘ at first glance“ (McCloud, p.192). Color is only one of the factors that contribute to the closeness to reality.
Apart from the color, the drawing of the characters adds to the connection to real people. “The more cartoony a face is, the more people it could be said to describe“ (McCloud, p. 31). The universality of cartoon imagery leads to a universal identification. More people can identify with the characters in the comic. However, for cartoon characters, Captain Hunter and the other characters in the comic are drawn rather realistically. They have real faces and individual looks. Possibly, the reader should not identify with every character in the comic, but only with Captain Hunter, since he resembles the readers the most.
Closure appears in every comic book and is defined by “observing the parts but perceiving the whole“ (McCould, p.63). Human imagination is necessary in order to connect the moments and the pictures in comics. By using their imagination the readers participate in the story of Captain Hunter in the Vietnam War. Between the panels, all of our senses are engaged, because the reader must fill the gaps (McCloud, p.88f) and add their own interpretations.
“Traditional western art and literature don‘t wander much. On the whole we are a [...] goal oriented culture.“ (McCloud, p.81). This determination also applies to the comic, since certain transition types are used far more often than others. The non-sequitur and the aspect-to-aspect transitions (McCloud, p.74), where nothing happens and time stands still, are not used. Moment-to-moment transition appear rarely. The primary use of action-to-action, subject-to-subject and scene-to-scene transitions shows the focus on events. Especially in subject-to-subject transitions, the reader is involved in a higher degree, because he has to imagine what happens between the panels in order to render it meaningful (McCloud, p.71).
“In the mid 1960s when the average marvel reader was pre-adolescent, popular inkers used dynamic but friendly lines“ (McCloud, p.126). The painting style in “Our Fighting forces” can also be referred to as dynamic and friendly. The drawings are not too abstract, nor too cartoony, but rather realistic.
2.2 The Vietnam War
In the beginning of the comic Captain Hunter says: “The dirty little war in Vietnam turns all the rules upside down“ (Kanigher:1966, p.1). The term “dirty little war“ is repeated several times throughout the story. The Vietnam War is portrayed as a very cruel war, in which the American soldiers are never safe: “I was still alive, but in Vietnam that‘s nothing an insurance company will rush to you with a police for“ (Kanigher, p.5). The soldiers are always in danger. In the comic, Captain Hunter says: “This dirty little war is tougher than a lot of man can swallow“ (Kanigher, p.15). The war is a stiff challenge and seems to place excessive demands on the soldiers.
Of course, the fighting in the war is also pictured. In one scene, children are hiding in holes with grenades, waiting for the NLF to attack them. On one picture you can see Hunter in the front and the South Vietnamese behind him (Kanigher, p.15). Thus, it is made clear that Captain Hunter is in command. He is the expert who helps the South Vietnamese. During the fight, there are typical sounds, for example “wham” or “pow”. The different lettering styles, also located outside of word balloons, try to capture the essence of sound (McCloud, p.134).
With regard to the setting in Vietnam, the landscape is drawn rather inexactly. The reader knows that the story is taking place in the jungle, because bushes and plants are visible, but the background is not very detailed. This vague drawing could mean that the comic focuses on the story and the characters. Moreover, the readers get involved and imagine the landscape in their minds. “A lack of clarity can also foster greater participation by the reader and a sense of involvement“ (McCloud p.133).
2.3 The Vietnamese
The first Vietnamese character that appears in the comic is Lu Lin, a Vietnamese girl, who helps Hunter to find his brother. She wears an elegant red dress and a hat, has got long hair and feminine curves. Hunter is not sure whether he can trust her, because he says: “I‘ll never know if she‘s really a Charlie girl leading me to the slaughter until the moment my throat‘s cut!“ (Kanigher, p.2). However, his fear of her betraying him is not confirmed, since she helps him out of a trap (Kanigher, p.5) and seems to be on his side.
The NLF is called “a murderous enemy“ by Captain Hunter (Kanigher, p.1). This statement evokes the idea of them being very cruel and evil. Furthermore, Captain Hunter uses the term “Charlie”, which is American slang for the Vietcong communist forces (FitzGibbon: 2005, p.141). The appearance of the NLF can be describes as angry, mean and menacing, for instance they have a mad look on their faces. They are pictured as very devious, since they hide in the bushes and attack American Soldiers without warning. Besides, they try to bribe the American soldiers in order to find out information about the army. They say to Nick: “You can have this canteen. Just by answering a few questions? No one will ever know“ (Kanigher, p.3). Therefore, they fight unfairly and they are portrayed negatively.
South Vietnamese children appear in the comic, who ask Hunter for help. They say to him: “You must help us fight the VC“ (Kanigher, p.8). One child even tries to threaten him by saying: “Do not force me to shoot you, sir!“ (Kanigher, p.8). Their parents fought against the NLF and were killed by them. They say: “We do not want to be guerillas, Sir! We want to be farmers!“. This shows their desire for the war to end and their dislike for guerillas.
Moreover, they do not have enough weapons to fight against the NLF. Hunter says: “You can‘t fight them with those two pistols and just the arms you‘ve got“ (Kanigher, p.11). The children ask Hunter: “Will you lead us or do we fight alone?“ (Kanigher, p.12). Firstly, this scene reinforces the idea of the necessity of american help and secondly, the desire for it. “American support for the non-communist South Vietnamese was a frequent theme in the early war comics.“ (Mundey, p.173). Hunter also supports the South Vietnamese in this comic.
At first, Hunter's view of the South Vietnamese children is negative. Hunter calls them “Kindergarten Company” and “A crazy bunch of kids“ (Kanigher, p.9). He does not take them seriously. In his opinion, “Kids are always playing games“ (Kanigher, p.9) and he thinks that “they probably made it all up“ (Kanigher, p.9). Hunter fears that the kids are not strong enough to fight against the NLF. In the foreshadowing which shows Hunters thoughts and fears, you can see them suffering from defeat (Kanigher, p.13).
Later, it turns out that the South Vietnamese children are stronger than Hunter expected them to be. They refuse Hunter‘s commands, cross the battlefield and drop the bombs on the enemy (Kanigher, p.16). In the end, Hunter learns that he is proud to be fighting with them (Kanigher, p.18). In the last picture you can see that at least some of the kids survived. Hunter learns that “there are no children in this war” (Kanigher, p.18), which could mean that they are more grown-up than he thinks.
A similar portrayal of the Vietnamese is offered in the comic issue “Riding Shotgun“, from the comic series “Fightin‘ Army” (1964). In this story, a Vietnamese unit is accompanied by an American soldier. In the end, “reflecting on his experience, the advisor realizes he admires the Vietnamese who are fighting the communists.“ (Mundey, p.173). In Charlton‘s comics, “American characters often appear as idealized selfless heroes who help the weaker local Vietnamese population and engage an enemy who does not fight fairly.“ (Mundey, p.174). These comics are another example for American soldiers helping the Vietnamese and also show the unfair behavior of the NLF during battles. As a result, the support of South Vietnamese, the appreciation of their effort to fight against the NLF and the negative portrayal of the NLF are themes that appear in comic book stories.