Marvel via their in-house creative agency Marvel Custom Solutions — and the US Military have teamed up again, continuing a limited series available only to servicemen and women. One million comics are being distributed by the AAFES, or “The Exchange,” a government store, (Army Air-Force Exchange Service) — and the comics are not only hugely popular with servicemen and women and their children, but offer welcome escape and entertainment, and are completely free of charge.
The latest in the series, titled Deep Freeze, (#16) stars THOR, and is set in New York City during holiday time. It’s a fantastical, witty, and dynamic story — beautifully drawn and rendered — and we were lucky enough to be able to chat with members of the Marvel team — William Harms, the writer of the story, Tom Grummett, the penciler/lead artist of the comic and Bill Rosemann, editor.
William Harms’ previous Marvel stories include several Captain America, Avengers and a Wolverine comic — three of which were also in this AAFES limited series. The very prolific Tom Grummett’s Marvel work has included being penciler on Thunderbolts for a run, and co-creating the X-Men Forever series, which he also drew in 2010. Bill Rosemann is a fixture at Marvel Comics, currently editing Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, Avengers Undercover and overseeing the Marvel Custom Solutions projects, including this one.
We wondered whether creating comic books in the AAFES series, which are for such a specific audience — US Military only — presents any particular challenges, opportunities or considerations for the creative team in terms of the content. Writing and drawing superheroes for an audience of real life heroes — seems like it could be daunting. Here’s what they had to say on the subject:
Harms: For the AAFES comics, I always try and keep in mind that the audience for these books runs the gamut from adults to kids. That means including story elements that appeal to both, from the big, over-the-top action sequences, to some light hearted banter, to some thematic moments. In the recent issue, for example, the thematic thrust was Thor being away from Asgard during the holidays, which is something both enlisted men and women and their kids can appreciate on different levels.
And writing a comic for such a diverse audience is a little more difficult, I think, than writing one for the typical comic book reader. Anyone can walk into an Exchange store and get one of these, so it could be a guy away from home for the first time, a woman deployed halfway around the world, or even a child. They all appreciate the story on different levels, but the thing that connects all of them is the military, so it’s really important for that to come through.
Grummett: I don’t really think in terms of a specific audience. Ideally, the stories we tell should be appealing to any reader. In my own mind, I try to imagine that I’m drawing for that one reader that’s never read a comic book before. Hopefully that reader will enjoy the experience enough to come back for more.
The creative process really isn’t all that different between a custom project and a mainstream comic — I get a script, and get drawing. A custom project usually requires I submit a preliminary layout of each page for approval by the sundry parties before I actually begin full pencils. That being said, what attracts me to the comics we’ve done for the US Military is that we’ve been doing straight ahead superhero stories — there’s a beginning, middle and end all in one issue, and I really enjoy doing them. I’m pretty proud of ‘em, too.
Rosemann: The creative process of each issue of this cherished series begins the same way we kick-off every Marvel Custom Solutions project: First we speak to our friends at AAFES and discuss the key theme or themes they want to communicate, and who they want to communicate that to, then everything grows from there. While the AAFES audience — the men and women (and their families) of the U.S. Armed Forces — remains the same, in each issue we’re able to not only tell an entertaining super hero story, but also shine a spotlight on a different message such as teamwork, sacrifice, determination or duty.
Our greatest inspiration for crafting superior stories is the soldiers and their families. The true power of the Marvel heroes is their ability to not only entertain, but to inspire us to be our best selves, something which the men and women of the Armed Forces do every day. Like the Marvel heroes, despite great hardships and challenges, our military strives to protect our freedoms and make the world a safer place, so we have an extra motivation — and the great honor — to create stories that will both entertain and thank them.
We asked Rosemann whether the AAFES comics included any “inside jokes” that play directly to the servicemen and women:
Rosemann: It’s funny, while we’re speaking to a military audience with each AAFES issue, we don’t try to overload the stories with military jargon and visuals. While we try very hard to make our depiction of the military accurate, and to always represent the military in a respectful way, we also never lose sight of the fact that our military readers are coming to us to be entertained and inspired. They want that magic Marvel mix of action, humor and excitement. They want to see their favorite Marvel heroes struggle against and ultimately triumph over nefarious villains. They may be reading each issue after a challenging day, or sharing the story with their children, so our goal in addition to saluting the military and respectfully representing their experience is to entertain them for twenty minutes while speaking to the very human themes that we all connect with, such as redemption, humility, sharing and honor.
Finally, we asked Harms if he’d ever received any direct feedback from his readers in the military.
Harms: I received a letter about AAFES # 14, which prominently featured the Vision, from a sergeant in the Army who read the comic with his son. It was his son’s first exposure to the Vision, so it was a cool moment for the both of them. It’s pretty awesome to know that you played a part in that.