Blazing Combat and the ultimate futility of war

At PRINT magazine, comics critic and Loyola Marymount University professor Michael Dooley writes about mid-1960s-era black and white comics magazine Blazing Combat.

blazing combat anti war fantagraphics print A serial anthology of war comics stories from Warren Publications—publisher of graphic horror comics magazines Eerie and Creepy that skirted censorship by the Comics Code Authority via its cover price and magazine-sized format (see my piece on “banned” postwar comics)—Blazing Combat was demonstrative of the creators’ bold anti-Vietnam War sentiment at the time.

After an escalation of troop deployments, battlefield deaths, and a surge in draft letters to American homes in early 1966, the following two years saw “leaders from politics, science, medicine, academia, entertainment, the press and even business announced their opposition to the war,” recalled Bill Zimmerman at the New York Times.

The short-lived Blazing Combat, which had prominent detractors and ended during the summer of 1966, was “a vitally significant milestone at a time when anti-war demonstrations and underground comix were only starting to get mainstream attention,” writes Dooley. More:

Each of the seven or so Blazing Combat depicted a variety of clashes from the battle of Thermopalye through the American Revolution to the Korean conflict, with one always set in present-day Vietnam. “Conflict,” with art by Colan, is a compelling examination of discrimination against Asians and blacks. The others were drawn by Joe Orlando, who’d worked on EC’s science fiction and horror titles and eventually rose to become Vice President of DC Comics. His “Viet Cong,” the lead story in the very first issue, depicted barbarous atrocities being committed by the South Vietnamese army, who were our allies. Sales of that issue were decent, but some began to resent what they perceived as the comic’s dangerously incendiary anti-American attitudes.

Orlando’s “Landscape,” issue two’s opening story, was a scathing indictment of the cold-blooded brutality and ultimate futility of war as seen through the eyes of an elderly Vietnamese peasant. Wholesalers objected to the degree that they refused to ship thousands of copies to newsstands and began to return unopened cases for refunds. Consequently, many readers never even saw the magazine and sales began to decline. And in a move that recalls General Patton’s threat to ban Stars and Stripes, a military paper that published Herblock cartoons, the U.S. Army banned Blazing Combat from the PXs of its military bases. In another interview from the new book, publisher James Warren considers that “Landscape” may have motivated the then-influential American Legion to pressure distributors to drop the magazine. And after issue four, he could no longer afford to continue the title.

Read Dooley’s piece at PRINT. Fantagraphics Books has a new hardcover collection of Blazing Combat out now. See also 2014’s comics censorship-themed issue of PRINT.

Images: (L) January 1966 Frank Frazetta cover, Blazing Combat. (R) 2018 colorized Gene Colan cover, Blazing Combat. Via Blazing Combat from Fantagraphics Books.