Thursday, February 23, 2023

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History – Connies and the Military, Part Four

We previously talked about the Navy’s old ships called USS Constellation and handsome newer ships bearing the name Constellation.

And the Air Force and other folks who used the beautiful Lockheed Constellation aircraft.    

But, our mud-dwelling friends in the Army may be feeling left out, so let’s spend a few minutes with the Army’s beautiful Connie. Connie Rodd—

Connie Rodd, by Will Eisner
(Source L - Source R)

Connie’s “father” was cartoonist Will Eisner (1917-2005).


Eisner’s father was a painter, who got him started in drawing, and even as a depression era teenager he helped support his family with occasional paid artwork for newspapers and magazines.   He went to high school with Bob Kane, who later created cartoon super hero Batman, and Eisner actually drew two Batman strips for him later.   In the late 1930s Eisner had gained prominence in the comics business and was invited to create a strip for Sunday newspapers, which became “The Spirit,” aimed at older audiences with continuing stories, not just a kids’ super hero strip.   

Upon being drafted in 1942, he ended up at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he was recognized for his skills and assigned to the base newspaper, the Flaming Bomb. He was also assigned to work on tech manuals, and soon started a series of cartoonish posters emphasizing good maintenance practices.  He was promoted to Warrant Officer and first worked on a mimeographed publication titled Army Motors covering vehicle maintenance, through the misadventures of an inept but trainable “Pvt. Joe Dope.” 

"Together with the people there ... I helped develop its format. I began doing cartoons – and we began fashioning a magazine that had the ability to talk to the G.I.s in their language. So I began to use comics as a teaching tool, and when I got to Washington, they assigned me to the business of teaching – or selling – preventive maintenance.” (Source)

Eisner then worked with the Ordnance Department’s “Firepower” magazine, bringing a similar approach to selling maintenance to the armament folks as was proving successful with the vehicle branch. His cast of characters grew to include crusty and always correct Master Sergeant Half Mast McKanick (whose name tape always showed as Half Mast, never his last name), and a pin-up babe, Corporal Connie Rodd.   Connie was originally a brunette, patterned after actress Lauren Bacall.   When the war ended, and Eisner was discharged, Army Motors and the comic stuff pretty much ended as well.

In 1951 at the start of the Korean War, Eisner was invited to become a contractor to resume a similar publication, which appeared as “PS- The Preventative Maintenance Monthly” covering all sorts of Army gear, not just under the Ordnance Department, but also communications, aviation and others.   But, his cast of characters returned to publication, and Eisner continued as a contractor in charge of the publication until 1971 when he retired.  (Or the Army decided to seek a lower bidder….).  

Since then it has gone thru numerous contractors, and Congressional oversight has slowly changed it from an effective communication tool for knuckle busting soldiers into politically correct uselessness.   In the 1970s, domination by Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI) and Rep. Bella Abzug (Harridan-NY), forced Connie to become a civilian instead of a soldier.   About the same time an African-American female names Bonnie joined Connie to share wisdom about maintenance matters and objectification.  Later cast additions include various ethnicities, but we won’t get into all those.

But, as any advertiser knows, sex sells, so Connie and Bonnie continued to be the starlets of PS magazine, although gradually becoming more fully clothed, less attractive and less double entendre in their speech.

Connie’s (and Eisner’s) greatest contribution to military readiness was at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, where the newly introduced M16 rifle was a disaster.   The cause was basically separate programs working on rifle and ammunition development, and a “failure to communicate.”  Powder changes resulted in excessive fouling, and unexpected need for more frequent cleaning for which gear had not been provided.  This was also the time when Army Technical and Field Manuals changed from the former readable and understandable text style to a gibberish format full of template nonsense, and the quality of the illustrations dropped to worthless.

Connie Rodd to the rescue!   

Eisner’s background in comics was instrumental in making The M-16A1 Rifle a success. He knew his audience well—basically the same Americans who read his comic books back home, now just a few years older.

Engaging and amusing, the comic didn’t bore the reader or come off as preachy, pushy or overly didactic. The illustrations were clear and to the point. This constrained the writing to the bare minimum, comic book style. It used exclamation points on nearly every page, where a regular Army field manual did not.

Eisner understood what would get young male draftees reading. The M-16A1 Rifle was not above sexual innuendos—it included them right from the start.
The first two pages introduced the comic’s mascot: a blonde, buxom Ann-Margret lookalike wielding the new, improved M-16A1. To the mascot’s flanks are instructions on how to take apart the rifle, entitled “How To Strip Your Baby.”

Other chapters included “Sweet -16” and “All the Way with Negligee.” (The “negligee” in question was a plastic storage bag used to keep the rifle dry.) If that wasn’t an attention getter for grunts who hadn’t seen an American woman in months, nothing was. (Source)

Here’s the cover:


And Connie gets right to the good stuff:

There are many sources for scans of this important document, but are mostly poor resolution.
For the best quality I could find, go to this site.

There is full run of PS Magazine issues 1-229 by Will Eisner at the Virginia Commonwealth University Library, in case you need to catch up on maintenance tips for all that antique militaria in your collection here.   

I suspect that retired senior Milblogger John Donovan over at Castle Argghhh has a full set, probably memorized to properly care for his gear.

Today, the Army even has their PS magazine on Facebook, and as you would expect, Connie and her enticing attributes are nowhere to be seen, and the cast is predictably diverse and inclusive, and frankly so inoffensive as to be boring, and probably not very effective. But, it is diverse, so none dare criticize it.

So, indeed every service has a fondness for a Connie of some sort.

Shortly before Eisner left PS Magazine to return to civilian art work, he made a trip to Vietnam and drew this piece on the day he left.

Thought provoking, perhaps even prophetic, it is.


  1. I loved reading each issue as it came out. Always filled with good information that helped me to be a better Soldier. True that some of it was esoteric but still "nice to know" (unlikely I'd be working on an M1 or an MLRS but just maybe...). And a little eye candy is always nice.
    My thanks to John for putting this together!

  2. Crusty Old TV Tech here. I remember the 70's version of Connie. Saw it as an AFROTC cadet in HS. Not as risque', but still more effective than the 80's version. But those 50's originals, man, that WOULD get a GI's attention. Know your audience!

    What is it about the Puzzle Palace, they could turn elderberry wine into goat whizz (to reverse the Blues Brothers saying)! And yeah, USAF TO's and Army TM's definitely went downhill sometime in the 60's. Look at the old Korean war and WW2 comm gear TM's versus the TO's I had to deal with in the 80's. Template indeed, and not a good one either. I'll bet the -1's weren't as good in the 80's, either.

  3. I had no idea John Blackshoe. Thanks for introducing me to this gem of American Military history.

  4. Good stuff JB. Army buddy of mine gave me a couple of little training pamphlets (didn't have Connie, too bad) that were very comic book-ish. One was on map reading, the other was on how to knock out a tank as an infantryman. Seemed goofy but they were very effective. I still remember how to knock out a tank.

  5. Connie Rodd.....
    Mom worked as a GS clerk at Camp Pendleton and used to bring those home for me in the late '60 and early '70s. Just the thing for a teenaged boy.

    "Rep. Bella Abzug (Harridan-NY)" Subtle. Like an axe subtle.

  6. The memories I have of Preventive Maintenance are the conversion we went through from POMSEE Books to PMS Cards. We all know what PMS is.

  7. What a fun read! I always learn a lot from your posts. Thanks JB.

  8. As a calibration tech, that warms my heart, it does.
    --Tennessee Budd

  9. There was another WW2 comic series "Bunnies at War" that was published and distributed as pure (male) entertainment - Kind of like the Sgt Rock combat comics, but with buxom scantily uniformed female bunnies (in a variety of nationalities: US, Brit, French, Aussie) fighting the Germans. Apparently, very few issues still exist because they were cheap comic books and quickly wore out from rereading. I found a reference to them once, but nothing more, and the original reference I cannot find again.

    1. Apparently they had a very low survival rate. More info on them here, including covers for several issues, but no inner pages.

    2. One of the links from the Bunny page above has a tale worthy of Sarge hisself. No idea if it is true, or has even the slightest factual basis, but a great read!

  10. Asked my dad if he was going to sponsor a non-nuclear Lance Missile version back when he was PM for Lance. Being cruel, I also asked about the M3 and M3 and when they would go to print. I really miss the old man. I'd love to ping the current events off him but he is barely a whisper of the smartest man I ever knew.

  11. Fascinating post! I was a big comics reader/collector (still got 'em all) so this was especially interesting, including that he was a friend of Bob Kane. I thought this would end with him joining Disney, but that's an unrelated Eisner. He was a great artist.

  12. Another BZ, Brother Blackshoe!. I well remember the 70's versions, might even have a couple around here somewhere.
    Snob that I was; I thought the "operator level"( 10 in Army-speak) advice on the small arms was in the nature of " well, duh" I did enjoy the stuff on tracks and helos. I do remember Bonnie making her appearance alongside Connie, and the funny faces on the ailing tank or whatever.
    A blast from my distant past.
    Boat Guy


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