Abrams on September 1st will be releasing PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly. This is a must for Will Eisner fans. Many people have called this the “missing link” between The Spirit and Eisner’s start on graphic novels with A Contract with God, and in fact it couldn’t be a more apt description, so I’ll use it as well. PS Magazine is a monthly publication of the U.S military still going today, used to reinenforce the ideas of preventive maintenance to soldiers through the learning power of comic art. From its creation in 1951 until 1971, this was the love and labor of Will Eisner and his studio, created for the United States government. Abrams has gone through Eisner’s 20 year run and collected the best in a wonderful hardcover filled with over 250 glossy pages of lost goodness.
The things in these comics were basics in preventive maintenance made after standard technical manuals, so they really are educational comics for the soldiers. However, Eisner still knew how to tell a story and believed by creating a recurring cast, he could help create a comic that could really succeed in doing its job to educate. Between Pvt. Joe Dope, who did everything wrong usually and served as an example of what/what not to do, the sexy blonde Connie Rodd, and the old ever-knowing Sgt. Half-Mast, soldiers could easily get a refresher on weapons safety and care, vehicle maintenance, procedures, and the like. Told with a combination of stories, step-by-steps with illustrations, and pinups with limericks, Eisner did his job well.
A “best of” collection is the way to go with this material. It’s been buried in a sort of way for years, as it’s published for the U.S. Army and really has no purpose/economic value outside that crowd. However, fans of Eisner know it exists, and over the years have tracked the issues down one way or the other. Abrams has rustled through the issue and pulled the Eisner material out from the other artists who worked at his studio on the title. With this, we get to see a ton of great Eisner art and storytelling that keeps it fresh. I think for the everyday comic reader it could get a little tedious reading issue after issue of things to do with nuts and bolts or paperwork procedures if it was a “complete” collection, but by putting it in a “best of,” we get a clean A to B to C format, letting us get wrapped up in this unique chapter of an artist’s life and work.
Some of these comics are great, content aside. Highlights that really stick out are a tale of a soldier writing what seems to be his last diary as the end draws near, because no one kept up their maintenance, and now they are gonna get it from the enemy; a tale from the perspective of two army dogs delivering oil; and a fun piece where a soldier falls asleep reading newspaper comics and goes through the world of maintenance, all while running into parody versions of Dick Tracy (named Mr. Stacy), Madrake, Superman, and the gamut of yesteryear’s strips. Eisner’s artwork from the comics to the covers themselves is always wonderful in that iconic Eisner-style that only his brush had.
I highly recommend picking up PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly when it comes out. For the cover price of $21.95 you get an amazingly unique selection of hard to find Eisner work in a fantastic package, plus a preface by the late artist’s wife Ann Eisner, an overview by Eddie Campbell, and an introduction by General Peter J. Schoomaker, rounding us out with a wealth of background information and first hand accounts of Eisner’s work on this comic magazine.