America’s Army: The Game, the Graphic Novel and Now the Tablet App

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U.S. Army

If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that I’d be meeting with representatives of the U.S. Army here at Comic-Con, I’d probably have been really, really confused. But I did, and it all made sense: They were there promoting new iOS and Android versions of the America’s Army comic book.

America’s Army began a decade ago as a video game that was part entertainment and part recruiting tool–and which became very popular. More recently, it became a graphic novel you can read in your browser. Now the apps let you download an ongoing comic series for free. I chatted with writer M. Zachary Sherman (a former Marine) and with Mike Barnett and Marsha Berry, two Army employees responsible for both the game and the comic.

The app turns America’s Army into a motion comic: a pretty traditional comic with some movement, transitions, simple animation effects (such as a helicopter’s blades whirring), music and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue and no full-blown animation. (The Army also plans to produce a print version in the not-too-distant future.)

The goal, other than to create a good comic, is to provide backstory for the game–details about the characters and their activities which are easier to convey in narrative form. As with the game, there’s an emphasis on accurate weapons, vehicles and other bits of realism.

Sherman told me that he wants the depiction of soldiers to be real, too: “These guys don’t think of themselves as John McClane or Rambo,” he said of the type of military members he strives to depict. He also includes specialists, such as veterinarians, who are unlikely to show up in an action-oriented video game.

Sherman did note that the comic book has a Teen rating and is therefore devoid of the F-bombs that would fly if America’s Army was utterly true to life in the Army.

How’s the comic as a comic? David Axe of Wired found it “boring” and too obviously designed to make the Army look good. I’m not really a member of the target audience, but I didn’t expect an Army comic produced by the Army to do anything but depict its subject matter in a positive light.

The Army, incidentally, is actually an old hand at comics: Over the past 61 years, it’s published over 700 issues of PS Magazine, which teaches members of the service about preventative maintenance  in comic-strip form. It’s even showed great taste in the cartoonists it’s hired to create the comics: Will Eisner, the amazing creator of the Spirit, produced the magazine for years (you can read his vintage issues online). And Joe Kubert, one of the greatest war-comics artists ever, is responsible for PS‘s current incarnation.

Maybe they should ask Kubert to do a guest issue of America’s Army–the Army plans to publish a new installment every other month.