Joe Kubert, one of the grandmasters of thecomics field and the legendary creative force behind such classic comics as Sgt. Rock and Tor, has teamed with Vertigo to publish Dong Xaoi, Vietnam 1965, a hardcover graphic novel set during theVietnam War, in May.
A fictionalized account of an early, horrificbattle during the Vietnam conflict, Kubert's new and impressive work chroniclesthe dogged heroism of a squad of underequipped, undermanned U.S. Special Forcessoldiers as they attempt to hold a strategically vital compound from a Viet Congassault. The story captures the experiences of the solders and those of thenative Montagnard villagers as they face a hellish bedlam of mortar bombardments.
While certainly no stranger to narrativesinvolving warfare, Kubert's particular take on the subject is notable for itsemphasis on the humanity of the combatants involved, reminding us that soldiersare ordinary men who are tested under the most extreme conditions. Kubert's warstories do not glorify violence and killing, but rather they place his readersside by side with his protagonists, fully immersing them in the tense "now" ofcombat.
In the case of Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, Kubert drew inspiration from firsthandinformation provided by the surviving members of Special Forces DetachmentA-342, 5thSpecial Forces Group. In November 1967 Kubert furnished illustrationsfor a series of articles for The ChicagoTribune and New York News Syndicatethat coincided with Veterans Day. Decades later, Kubert was contacted byColonel Bill Stokes, one of the survivors of the battle at Dong Xoai, whosought to obtain one of the artist's illustrations from the articles; inparticular a drawing depicting two of his fellow Special Forces operativescarrying him to safety as the Viet Cong attacked their compound.
The original art had been lost so Kubert agreedto redraw the illustration. But after conversations with Stokes and seeing a comprehensive35-page document compiled by the surviving members of Detachment A-342 (whichis included as back material in the graphic novel), Kubert knew he wanted tocreate a graphic novel documenting their experiences. "What I heard from Col.Stokes and read in that document moved me to drive down to North Carolina tosee him and tell him I intended to do a graphic novel based on his experiences.I told him that this was something I just had to do," Kubert said.
DongXoai, Vietnam 1965 tells the story of Detachment A-342'sassignment to the title location, a strategically critical position due to itsproximity to several roads that intersect near it. Those roads move men andmaterials between war zones, and as such were ripe for an inevitable attackfrom hostile forces. Detachment A-342's task was to serve as advisors and trainthe Montagnards to defend against possible encroachment by the Viet Cong, andover time they came to care for their local charges. When the V.C. finally doattack, the American soldiers fight with an entrenched concern for theMontagnards, despite being underequipped and outmanned by the enemy. Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 offers thereader a tense account of ordinary men caught up in a waking nightmare whileattempting to offer assistance to a people in genuine need, and solidlyrespects those it depicts.
Vertigo publicist Pamela Mullin said the book is beingpublished to coincide with the anniversary of the original battle. Mullinsaid the house will have preview of pages from the book ready just prior to publication and, "we're reaching out tomilitary publications as well as National press outlets. With Memorial Daycoming we expect a variety of significant media attention throughout the monthof May."
Kubert's work on Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 displays his characteristic attention todetail and realism. Working from photographic reference material obtained fromCol. Stokes, Kubert captures the atmosphere of the narrative with a level ofverisimilitude that verges on the documentary. The dialogue reads as thoughspoken rather than scripted and the illustrations are reproduced directly fromKubert's pencils, their sketched quality serving to heighten the work'srealistic character.
"I worked in pencil because the story lentitself to a more spontaneous look," Kubert says," and with the dialogue, thestuff Stokes related was so real to me that I tried to adhere to whatever hetold me. Overall, I tried best to convey the credibility and reality of whathappened. These things that seemed totally impossible actually happened and itall deserves to be remembered."