Real heroes: recognizing comic book creators that served in the military

Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby (Image credit: Jack Kirby)

Comic book creators have given more than just entertainment. They've also given service to their country when called upon in time of war.

As we take a moment to pause on Veterans Day to remember those who served, here's a glance at several greats who are not just comic book veterans, but actual veterans.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee

(Image credit: Stan Lee)

Stan 'the Man' Lee was Stan 'the sergeant' in the U.S. Army during World War 2. Even though he was only 20 years old when he entered the service, he already had a publishing background at Timely Comics, so he was assigned to the Signal Corps, the Army's communication and information division.

"I wrote training films, did posters, wrote instructional manuals, and visited Army posts to help them speed up their training methods and operations," Stan told Newsarama in 2015.

One poster Stan designed carried the legendary phrase 'VD? Not me!' and encouraged troops to get (free!) prophylactics on base, lest they catch a below-the-waist malady and be removed from the war effort.

"I like to think that poster singlehandedly won the war," he quipped.

Jack Kirby

Legendary artist Jack Kirby was also in the Army in WW2, and was deployed to the European Theater.

The King made PFC (private first class) in the 3rd Army, 11th Infantry Regiment, Company F.

Kirby saw quite a bit of combat in northern France, including the crossing of the Moselle River at Dornot, and the battle for the city of Metz. He was awarded a Regimental Bronze Star.


(Image credit: John Romita)

John Romita

Jazzy John was drafted during the Korean War in 1951, and the Army put his artistic talents to work.

"I did recruiting posters," he says. "I did the first WAC [Women's Army Corps] poster with the new uniform in 1952. It was in every recruiting station in the world for one month. The original art is now on display at the Women's Army Museum in Virginia. I tried to get it, but ‘the Army never gives such material to anyone,' I was told."

It's okay. Romita told the Army to go kick rocks once, too, as he started his art career at Marvel.

"I ended up being a sergeant, and they offered me a master sergeant position with a big retirement in 1953 if I re-upped for four years. I said, ‘Nope. Stan Lee won't let me.'"

Dick Ayers

(Image credit: Dick Ayers)

Dick Ayers

Dazzlin' Dick Ayers served three years and three weeks in the Army in WWII, and spent 21 months deployed overseas, where he was a radio operator on a bomber.

He also contributed his artistic talents, painting nose art for many planes.

Doug Murray

The co-creator of Marvel's The 'Nam did tours in Korea and Vietnam from 1967-1972, primarily as an Air Defense Radar specialist. He did see combat, but like many in his shoes, he says "I do not like to talk about it too much."

Still, Murray says the experience, "gave me an overview on war, life, and death that I like to think has carried into all my writing since." In addition to comic books, Murray has penned 14 military novels.

Larry Hama

(Image credit: Larry Hama)

Larry Hama

Writer and artist Larry Hama is famed in comic books for his long runs on G.I. Joe, and has the practical background for it. He was in the Army as an engineer at the height of the Vietnam War from 1969 through 1971.

"We put things together, and took them apart, and went to some interesting places and did boring things," he says.

Beyond that…he doesn't say much.

"When I was processing out of the service, walking from office to office with a stack of orders, they told me, ‘everything you can't forget, deny," and that is what I have tried to do."

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