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Comics and Graphic Novels

Legendary 1960’s war comic, itself a casualty of war, tells its truth once again

Of 29 battle stories in Fantagraphics’ re-issue of legendary ’60’s war comic Blazing Combat, four are set in WW1. One is about British ace Billy Bishop. Another depicts the American Expeditionary Force at Cantigny.

Blazing Combat cover

© All Rights Reserved Fantagraphics

War is nothing but tragedy – a cutting short of lives that ought to have gone on much longer.

It’s ironic that the life of one of the finest war comics ever published in the 1960’s, Blazing Combat, was itself cut short. It wasn’t for lack of talent. Blazing Combat was written and illustrated by some of the greatest names in 20th-century comics. It died because it succeeded in driving home the tragedy of war. That was bound to draw the ire of powerful entities — ones whose interest lay in promoting a new and costly war… in Vietnam. By its fourth issue, Blazing Combat would be driven from the American publishing scene.

You can’t keep a great comic magazine down

Thankfully, Blazing Combat‘s four-issue run lives again in a single volume from Fantagraphics Books. All 29 stories are there, written by the late, legendary Archie Goodwin and illustrated by such 20th-century comics legends as Wally Wood, Gray Morrow, Alex Toth, John Severin, Russ Heath and Reed Crandall, to name a few.

The conflicts depicted in Blazing Combat span a 20-some centuries period, from the Peloponnesian war through The American Revolution, the War Between the States, two World Wars, plus Korea and Vietnam. Four stories (“Cantigny,” “Lone Hawk,” “How It Began” and “The Trench.”) are set in the First World War.

The artwork throughout is majestic, unstinting it its attention to detail and accuracy.  It’s hard to read these stories and not linger amazed over the breathtaking beauty of artwork by so many comics greats. Every page explodes with masterful design and a realism that thrusts you right into the action.

Goodwin’s tireless research and commitment to telling the most powerful stories possible drives home Blazing Combat‘s central theme: that war is costly, and good men frequently die for no good reason.

How Blazing Combat became a casualty of war

The original publisher of Blazing Combat was James Warren, whose Famous Monsters of Filmland enjoyed enormous success due to the monster and horror movie craze of the eary 1960’s. A sister publication, Creepy, featured black and white horror comics not subject to Comics Code restrictions and drawn by the same great artists mentioned above.

Released in October 1965, Blazing Combat‘s first issue appeared to do well. But over the next couple of issues, notes Warren in an interview with Fantagraphics publisher Michael Catron, “problems started… when word got out what the content was.”

Who word got out to was none other than the American military itself and the American Legion. For them, according to Warren, depicting the casualties of war with such relentless realism was anti-American. Warren insists that was never the creators’ intention. Goodwin and his artists’ only intention was to portray war honestly, through great storytelling, without an agenda.

The U.S. military banned sale of Blazing Combat on all its bases — a considerable portion of Warren’s market. The American legion pressured many wholesalers to block distribution of the magazine. By Summer of 1966, unable to absorb the cost so many undistributed copies, Warren was forced to cease publication. A towering milestone in American comic storytelling had been toppled.

Blazing Combat deserved to live far longer than it did. But the truth it expressed  goes on. It’s a truth few were ready to hear in the mid-1960’s. In time many did come around, just as today, they appear to be coming around again.  It’s the inescapable truth that the human and financial cost of all war — whether in Vietnam or in Afghanistan… on the distant shores of the Pelopponese or across the poppy-stained expanse of Flanders’ fields— is always too high.

Editor/Writer: Archie Goodwin. Illustrators: Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, John Severin, Al Williamson, Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, Gene Colan, Al MacWilliams, Joe Orlando, Angelo Torres, Gray Morrow, George Evans
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books

Hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-56097-965-4)
Softcover (ISBN: 978-1-60699-366-8)


About Rick Koobs

I'm an ex-pat from the American South ("Born in old Virginia, North Carolina I did roam"), happily relocated to East Anglia in the United Kingdom since Jan 2010. I reside in Norfolk's fine old city of Norwich with its grand Norman castle, ancient cathedral, and quite extensive history, and I'm loving (almost) everything about it. My interests include writing, Web publishing, art (appreciating it AND making it), movies, history, Tai Chi, permaculture design and the Transition movement. I have a more-than-passing interest in the First World War, and occasionally enjoy building scale model aircraft of that era.


6 thoughts on “Legendary 1960’s war comic, itself a casualty of war, tells its truth once again

  1. Like this site very much. Very informative. Will make a place on my schedule. Well done rick

    Posted by Douglas morgan | August 26, 2011, 9:16 am
    • Thanks, Doug. I appreciate very much your popping ’round to have a look.

      I have a lot of ideas for this; still trying to feel my way through these early stages. Lot of amin asks to be done, as well: switching to wordpress.org, get a web host and a dedicated domain name. Headers to be designed, new pages to be written up, plus content, content, content. And a hundred other things. One probably needs to be crazy to start a blog, but I guess I am just crazy enough to give this particular one a go. There’s some fascinating stuff out there to be written about.

      Posted by rkoobs | August 26, 2011, 12:26 pm
  2. I thought Frank Warren’s thoughts about his publishing failure was sad; ‘If Warren Publishing is turning out this unpatriotic crap, we don’t want any of their other books!’- referring to the negative fan mail and poor sales. Unpatriotic indeed. Good ol right wing rhetoric.
    surprised they didn’t attempt to reissue in more temperate political times in the later sixties. I’m sorry to have missed it considering the awesome roster of talent- Frazetta, Wood, Toth etc.. damn, I’m surprised not to see W Eisner

    Posted by aumcooking | August 27, 2011, 1:25 am
    • I believe Warren’s other books were doing quite well… Famous Monsters and Creepy, which, at that time were all they had. Eerie came soon after the semise of Blazing Combat. Later there would be Vampirella.

      You’re right about the roster of talent in this early days: the creme de la creme. I’m still looking at these pages and just going ga-ga. One wonders how they even did it, the quality of the work is so incredibly high. Alas, ovr the years, Warren was never able to maintain that level. Though there were some very good artists that came later, few could match what this early line-up were doing, IMO.

      Posted by rkoobs | August 27, 2011, 5:43 am
  3. I received my copy of Blazing Combat yesterday from Amazon. Damn, that.s a well done series of stories. The pen and brush skill alone is worth the price There are some beautiful graphics. Stories are good, but 6- 7 pages per story barely gives you a scenario with a punchline.
    Funny about its political repercussions; the stories are not about political point of view per se, but the general message of maintaining basic humanity/morality. No one should have taken offense politically from these stories..

    Posted by aumcooking | September 3, 2011, 1:04 pm
    • You’re certainly right about the art alone being worth the price. Reading this stuff, I frequently found myself stopping for long stretches, just soaking in the drawings and trying to figure out how they got some of those tonal effects. And yes, all of the stories are too short: most could have been developed into a whole (or at least half a) book with no problem. But that was the Warren format in those days. And obviously, given the amount of research Archie Goodwin had to do, not to mention the artists, I doubt they could have gone much over the six or seven pages per story comfortably.

      As for the politics of it, there’s no way Goodwin et. al. were trying to be anti-war about it, from what I can tell. Neither were they trying to be pro war. The were just showing what war is… what happens. That was apparently a problem for the militaristic entities that had a vested interest in recruiting cannon fodder for the Southeast Aisan adventure, then only getting underway in earnest.

      Glad to know you were moved to buy a copy. That’s two books now that have sold because of what I wrote. I need to get this blog moved over to my own Web host, have a domain, switch to Worpress.org and start having affiliate links . I’m missing out on commissions here!

      Posted by Rick Koobs | September 3, 2011, 5:43 pm

I heartily welcome and thank you for your comments.

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