The M-16 was billed as a wonder weapon—a light, lethal rifle that would give U.S. troops a battlefield advantage in Vietnam. But soldiers initially encountered problems with the new rifle, prompting the Army, in desperation, to hire Will Eisner to create a comic book training manual.
As the blog War Is Boring explains, the M-16 worked well initially. But, when the rifle went into mass production, the Army instituted some changes, including a new type of gunpowder, which was dirtier and more like to jam the weapon. The military made matters worse when it failed to send enough cleaning kits to Vietnam.
Reports of failing M-16s grew frequent enough to prompt a massive investigation. The Army redesigned the rifle to be more reliable, and fixed the gunpowder issue. But the soldiers still needed to learn how to properly clean and service their rifles—and they needed to learn fast. (A number of troops were even under the impression that the rifles were so advanced, they didn't require cleaning.)
And thus was born The M-16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventative Maintenance, otherwise known as Department of the Army Pamphlet 750-30:
The "pamphlet" was actually 32-page comic written by none other than Will Eisner, a cartoonist and writer who had created The Spirit, a popular comic book series about a masked crime fighter. Drafted into the Army in 1942, Eisner devoted his talents to illustrating a series of comics designed to teach G.I.s how to service vehicles.
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.
Things do get a little weird in the chapter "Putting Maggie Together," in which a 20-round magazine is transformed into a pseudo-girlfriend, complete with long eyelashes and shapely legs. "Maggie" begs a lovestruck G.I.,"Protect me, you big strong guy!" The reason for this is because Vietnam's severe humidity corroded the M-16's steel magazines, causing jams. Eisner apparently thought the solution was to make G.I.s protective of their magazines, as though they were … girlfriends or something.
"The M-16A1 Rifle" almost certainly saved the lives of American troops in the middle of a war in Southeast Asia. The comic format was also so popular it persists to this day—minus double entendre and cheesecake—with the latest Army comics issued in January 2014.
[Source: War Is Boring]