Art imitates life as comic-style illustrators visit Picatinny Arsenal

By Mr Eric Kowal (RDECOM)September 12, 2011

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1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. Two of the six illustrators from PS Magazine who visited Picatinny Arsenal created this depiction of their visit to Building 18, where they saw and studied the M1 Abrams Tank so that their drawings are as accurate as possible.... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Maintenance magazine drawn in nearby Dover

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - You may have seen the magazine in an Army setting, yet you most likely would not know that its illustrations were drawn less than 10 miles from Picatinny Arsenal.

The U.S. Army's monthly "PS Magazine," also known as the Preventive Maintenance Monthly, has been published since June 1951 to demonstrate proper preventive maintenance methods using comic-book style art.

The publication is regarded internationally as the most successful, and longest-running communication program that features sequential art to convey technical and motivational information.

Soldiers have been using the magazine for 60 years, helping to shape the Army's logistical landscape and providing generations of Soldiers the latest tips on operating and maintaining their equipment.

Joe Kubert is an American comic book artist who went on to found The Kubert School, which is located in the nearby town of Dover. Kubert is best known for his work on the DC Comics characters Sgt. Rock and Hawkman.

Kubert and a staff of illustrators from his company, Tell-A-Graphics, began their work with PS Magazine in 2001 with issue number 579 after winning a bid on a contract. They are now working on issue number 709.

Rob Van Hook, one of Kubert's former students and now a freelance artist, recently contacted the Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs Office to coordinate a visit to the installation.

Van Hook, a 2006 graduate of the Kubert School, said he started working at Tell-A-Graphics immediately after graduation.

After several weeks of coordination Van Hook and his supervisor, Pete Carlsson, along with four other co-workers, came to the Arsenal July 26 to view a variety of military tactical vehicles.


The purpose of their visit was to acquire an accurate sense and point of reference for the subjects they have to draw.

"We work a lot off of stock photos and we needed that up-close value which Picatinny provided for us," Van Hook said. "So it was great to be able to see the actual size of these vehicles instead of just looking at pictures of them. It was like being in the audience at the Colbert Show instead of watching it on TV.

"All the illustrations we do for the magazine are drawn from photo reference," said Van Hook.

In nearly every motor pool, and at every Army post, camp, and station throughout the world, you are likely to see copies of the magazine in the office, posted on a wall, or used at a workbench.

"I used to use this magazine all the time over 20 years ago, when I used to do preventive maintenance checks and services on my deuce- and-a-half and five- ton tractor," said Picatinny's Command Sgt. Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Koroll.

"It was great to see those little things that were hard to find and tips to make things easier," he added. "Great magazine."

One of the magazines longest running character--and probably best known--is Master Sgt. Half-Mast.

James Smith, another Picatinny employee and retired Army veteran, also recalls reading PS during his 20-year military career.

"The vital information Sgt Rock, Master Sgt. Halfmast and Connie gave us were not just required reading but a valuable source of information to keep our Soldiers and equipment battle ready," Smith said. "Few government publications have touched service members throughout the years as much as this one."

The characters and themes in PS Magazine have changed in appearance over the years to reflect war scenarios and changes within the Army and society in general.

However, while equipment has evolved tremendously over the past 60 years, the need to properly maintain that equipment has not diminished.

Corrosion, metal fatigue, sand and mud--and simple wear and tear--continue to take a toll on Army equipment. Finding and fixing these problems when they are still detectable remains the most economical way to keep equipment combat ready for Soldiers. PS Magazine's focus on preventive maintenance is expected continue to play a significant role in operational readiness in the future.

Because of the need to inform Soldiers properly, artists like Carlsson and Van Hook work hard to ensure accuracy in their drawings.

"We send a penciled version as a first draft to the editorial office," said Carlsson. "Then once that is reviewed, we finish the illustrations in ink and send it in once again for another round of notes and corrections. Then we color it and send it for one more pass through the editors' hands."

The magazine is printed monthly, although it takes roughly three months to create one issue.

The magazine is edited at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. However, the originating site for some stories is at the Army's Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, Mich.

"We do all of the artwork to include penciling, inking, and coloring in-house as well as all the production work," Van Hook said.

"We typically work on three issues at a time, each in one of the stages of development."

During their visit to Picatinny, the illustrators took nearly 1,500 photographs of tactical vehicles and now have an entire catalog from which to work.

After their visit, Van Hook etched a drawing of the team's visit to Building 18, where they photographed the M1 Abrams Tank.

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