Kubert's Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 Chronicles Military Heroism
The creator of Sgt. Rock recreates a real and horrific battle from the Vietnam War
by Steve Bunche -- Publishers Weekly
Joe Kubert, one of the grandmasters of the comics 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 the Vietnam War, in May.
A fictionalized account of an early, horrific battle during the Vietnam conflict, Kubert's new and impressive work chronicles the dogged heroism of a squad of underequipped, undermanned U.S. Special Forces soldiers as they attempt to hold a strategically vital compound from a Viet Cong assault. The story captures the experiences of the solders and those of the native Montagnard villagers as they face a hellish bedlam of mortar bombardments.
While certainly no stranger to narratives involving warfare, Kubert's particular take on the subject is notable for its emphasis on the humanity of the combatants involved, reminding us that soldiers are ordinary men who are tested under the most extreme conditions. Kubert's war stories do not glorify violence and killing, but rather they place his readers side by side with his protagonists, fully immersing them in the tense "now" of combat.
In the case of Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, Kubert drew inspiration from firsthand information provided by the surviving members of Special Forces Detachment A-342, 5thSpecial Forces Group. In November 1967 Kubert furnished illustrations for a series of articles for The Chicago Tribune and New York News Syndicate that coincided with Veterans Day. Decades later, Kubert was contacted by Colonel Bill Stokes, one of the survivors of the battle at Dong Xoai, who sought to obtain one of the artist's illustrations from the articles; in particular a drawing depicting two of his fellow Special Forces operatives carrying him to safety as the Viet Cong attacked their compound.
The original art had been lost so Kubert agreed to redraw the illustration. But after conversations with Stokes and seeing a comprehensive 35-page document compiled by the surviving members of Detachment A-342 (which is included as back material in the graphic novel), Kubert knew he wanted to create 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 to see 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.
Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 tells the story of Detachment A-342's assignment to the title location, a strategically critical position due to its proximity to several roads that intersect near it. Those roads move men and materials between war zones, and as such were ripe for an inevitable attack from hostile forces. Detachment A-342's task was to serve as advisors and train the Montagnards to defend against possible encroachment by the Viet Cong, and over time they came to care for their local charges. When the V.C. finally do attack, the American soldiers fight with an entrenched concern for the Montagnards, despite being underequipped and outmanned by the enemy. Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 offers the reader a tense account of ordinary men caught up in a waking nightmare while attempting to offer assistance to a people in genuine need, and solidly respects those it depicts.
Vertigo publicist Pamela Mullin said the book is being published to coincide with the anniversary of the original battle. Mullin said the house will have preview of pages from the book ready just prior to publication and, "we're reaching out to military publications as well as National press outlets. With Memorial Day coming we expect a variety of significant media attention throughout the month of May."
Kubert's work on Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 displays his characteristic attention to detail and realism. Working from photographic reference material obtained from Col. Stokes, Kubert captures the atmosphere of the narrative with a level of verisimilitude that verges on the documentary. The dialogue reads as though spoken rather than scripted and the illustrations are reproduced directly from Kubert's pencils, their sketched quality serving to heighten the work's realistic character.
"I worked in pencil because the story lent itself to a more spontaneous look," Kubert says," and with the dialogue, the stuff Stokes related was so real to me that I tried to adhere to whatever he told me. Overall, I tried best to convey the credibility and reality of what happened. These things that seemed totally impossible actually happened and it all deserves to be remembered."
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