By Kelley Lane-Sivley, Redstone Rocket StaffAugust 13, 2009
As the Army's PS Magazine celebrates its 58th year in publication, a book about its history is hot off the presses.
The author, Paul Fitzgerald, tells the history of celebrated graphic novelist and artist Will Eisner, who spent 21 years bringing the material in PS Magazine to life.
"PS, the Preventive Maintenance Monthly has been in existence for over 58 years. In any organization that's been around that long, you run the risk of losing the institutional memories, the earliest anecdotes and stories, and the actual truth involved with your organization's origin," Stuart Henderson, production manager at PS Magazine, said. "None of our current staff members were with PS during those early years. I know of only four living people who were, and one of them is Paul Fitzgerald."
Fitzgerald served in the Army at the close of World War II. After his uniformed days were over, he went to West Virginia University and graduated in journalism. When one of his former professors took over editorship with PS Magazine, then located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., he offered a newly created position to Fitzgerald.
"I was the managing editor of a weekly newspaper in Elkton, Md., which is about 20 miles north of Aberdeen Proving Ground," Fitzgerald said. "He reached out and recruited me as his managing editor. I was the first managing editor of PS Magazine."
Fitzgerald spent 10 years as PS Magazine's managing editor. He is flattered that many of the deadlines and guidelines he set up in those early days are still being used by the publication today.
"When I first got there it was editorial anarchy," he said, laughing. "I established a system procedures and deadlines... After we did that, PS never missed a production deadline again."
He also formed a close relationship with Eisner, the graphic artist who gave PS Magazine its signature comic feel. Eisner had risen to prominence in the 1940s with his serial, "The Spirit," which was made into a motion picture just last year.
Eisner spent 21 years creating characters and designing artwork for PS. While their look may have changed over the years, some of his characters soldier on within PS Magazine's pages today.
Eisner's fame for the work he did before and after his time with PS Magazine is unquestionable. Besides winning all applicable awards over the years, the most coveted award in the modern industry is the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, created in 1988. Many fans though know almost nothing about his time with PS Magazine, Fitzgerald said.
"Will Eisner and his strip, 'The Spirit,' were at the top of the comics world in the 1940s, and he became known as 'the father of the graphic novel' following the 1978 publication of his 'A Contract with God.' The quarter-century between the two periods has come to be known as Eisner's 'missing middle years' because his main body of work then -- the first 21 years of PS -- was not readily available to the general public," he said. "My book is the first publication to convey the scope of those efforts along with a comprehensive narrative."
Fitzgerald's time working at PS Magazine spanned a decade. His friendship with Eisner lasted much longer. The pair remained close for 52 years, until Eisner's death in early 2005. In fact, Fitzgerald said the book was Eisner's idea.
"He urged me to do it and I promised him that I would someday," he said. "When he died, I was determined to keep that promise to him."
The book, which includes 440 full color illustrations, was finally completed this year. When the first copy was published, Fitzgerald sent it to Eisner's widow, Ann.
"Thank you for taking me with you on your journey with Will (and beyond) through the inception and workings of PS. I read the book from cover to cover almost the minute it arrived," she wrote to him. "You captured a great deal of his humor which others have often missed. It was wonderful, and, to quote Will, 'You sure can write!'"
It is being embraced by magazine staffers as well.
"We are so glad that he has set this all down in print for us and for all future PS staff members," said Henderson, who works in the Logistics Support Activity. "The fact that he has done so with wit and style is icing on the cake."
Fitzgerald is looking forward to visiting PS again when he returns to Redstone next week. He will spend time on Aug. 18-19 signing copies of his book at the Space and Missile Defense Conference in the Von Braun Center downtown before coming to Redstone on Aug. 20.
He is proud of how PS has endured over the years. The August issue will be number 681. Although time has seen a slow shift to the electronic format versus the printed, Fitzgerald said more than 107 million copies of PS Magazine have managed to roll off the presses since the beginning.
"The 58-year history of PS Magazine is an ongoing U.S. Army success story that has been internationally acclaimed as the longest enduring and most effective communications program of the last six decades utilizing sequential art to convey technical and motivational information," he said.
For more information on Fitzgerald or his book, "Will Eisner and PS Magazine," visit www.willeisnerandpsmagazine.com. Fitzgerald will be available at the SMDC conference from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 18 and 9:30-11:30 a.m. Aug. 19. His book signing at the Post Exchange is slated from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Aug. 20.