It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that comics has a massive arsenal of techniques for the representation of violence, of trauma, of horror, of life. Indeed, the array is so vast that this paper can only concentrate on a single technique – one that is both subtle and incredibly effective. This is a technique that allows violence to be implicit. It is sneakiness and cleverness combined. It is, to my mind, one of the best examples of the utter magic of the comics form. I am talking about the representation of the human eye. It may not seem at first that the drawing of an eye is anything more than just that – an eye. But I propose that the way an eye is drawn and its relationship to the rest of the image is in fact an acutely important representational tool and one that allows violence to be implicit, dependent on the reader’s imagination.
In this paper, I consider examples from two American war comics. The first is Doug Murray and Mike Golden’s The ‘Nam, a Marvel publication that ran from 1986 to 1993 that mimicked the typical tour of duty so the characters were rotated in and out of story arcs as they would have been in combat. The series followed the Comics Code Authority guidelines and as such does not depict certain aspects of the Vietnam War – no drug use, no swearing. That said, it does have a fairly level approach to combat and is rightly praised for not subscribing to the ‘men’s adventure’ derring-do style storytelling that is has been employed by other publications. The second example is Blazing Combat, written by Archie Goodwin, which ran from 1965 to 66 before being rather abruptly cancelled. The second issue ran a story set in Vietnam and this was something of a death knell. American PX shops (shops set up on American military bases internationally) refused to stock it because, while the comic is not necessarily anti-war, it steadfastly refuses to subscribe to any glorification of war and instead concentrates on individuals and the trauma of their experience. These are not typical war comics – neither are as brash as Commando or Battle. As Kurt Vonnegut would suggest there is no role for John Wayne here (see Slaughterhouse-Five, p.11).