In the 1960s, war comic bookss such as Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos were as commonplace as superhero books. Yet one book captured the chaos of combat in such a unique, harrowing manner that it allegedly inspired some readers to become conscientious objectors - and blowback from the United States military itself.
The cover feature in the Charlton title Fightin’ Army, The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz ran from issues #76 to #92 of that title and was sporadically reprinted thereafter. Written by teenager Will Franz and drawn by legendary artist Sam Glanzman, the series’ premise was similar to TV’s The Fugitive, only darker and set against the European theatre of World War II. Willy Schultz, an American of German descent, was framed for killing his commanding officer and sentenced to death, only to find his trip to the firing squad interrupted by a land mine. Discovering a German uniform in a burnt-out tank during his flight from the law, Schultz used his knowledge of German to fake his way into a German unit – knowing that his true identity could get him killed by both sides.
In the series, Schultz bounced from unit to unit and side to side in the war – always in danger from both combat and his own suspicious comrades, and torn between his need to stay alive while not betraying his own country. Though set during WWII, these stories often reflected the conflicted feelings many had about another war that was brewing in Vietnam – and that might have proved to be the series’ undoing. It abruptly ended with Schultz’s tale unfinished, and writer Franz found himself unable to get work elsewhere in the industry.
Now, the series is finally being collected and completed through the IDW Publishing imprint It's Alive!. A Kickstarter campaign, which is in its last hours, has already raised the funds necessary for a new hardcover collection, which includes restored versions of the original stories…in addition to an all-new ending by Will Franz, joined by artist Wayne Vansant.
With The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Shultz finally due to end – and reach a new audience in the process – Newsarama spoke with writer Will Franz and It's Alive! publisher Drew Ford about the story and its extraordinary history.
Newsarama: Drew – how did you come to do this collection of Willy Schultz? What were some of the challenges in getting the rights and the original material?
DrewFord: I came across this lost war comics masterwork while looking for out-of-print material by Sam Glanzman. The story blew me away, and I wanted to learn more. When I learned the complex history behind the work never being finished, and the rights being up in the air, I really wanted to help Sam Glanzman and Will Franz get this thing completed and properly collected.
After doing some research with the U.S. Copyright office, it turns out the work had never been properly copyrighted by the original publisher and had fallen into the public domain. I spoke to Sam Glanzman and Will Franz about this, and finally this year I was able to make it happen. Sadly, Glanzman passed last year at the age of 92. But I know from our conversations about Franz and The Lonely War that Sam would have wanted me to push on... so I have.
Also, we will be making actual changes to the story and art, based on direction from Franz (the author), because of changes that Charlton had originally made to his story when it was first being published in the 1960s, in issues of Fightin' Army. Once completed, the work will not only be properly collected, but it will be properly registered with the U.S. Copyright office as owned by the author Will Franz, and illustrator Sam Glanzman.
Nrama: Will, how does it feel to see this work finally collected? I know you had the ending in mind for a while, but what was it like going back to finally write it?
Will Franz: I feel wonderfully overwhelmed, complimented… I feel honored to have made a difference in other people’s lives through my work, as I was in my mid-teens and had rarely left Brooklyn, New York when I was working on the original story. To be able to complete Willy Schultz now is extremely rewarding.
It is somewhat bittersweet, because wonderful men like Sam Glanzman, Dick Giordiano, Sal Gentile, Joe Kubert and George Wildman are all gone now. It’s bringing up a lot of memories for me, as well as the social/political turmoil of the civil rights/Vietnam War era.
Nrama:I know there were a few efforts to do something with the material for decades – I first heard of Willy Schultz when I found an ad from A+ Comics in 1990 advertising a 176-page collection with a Frank Frazetta cover, and I recall another reprinting of a few stories in the late 1990s/early 2000s. What happened with these, and what do you feel made things different this time around?
Ford: There was no 176-page collection with a Frank Frazetta cover. There were a few attempts throughout the years to pull together a proper collection, but it never happened...until now!
Franz: That’s right, the 176-page collection never happened. I don’t want to name names or go into the incredible details of this foul up, but it never happened. The reprintings in the 1990’s were without my approval or endorsement, and were awkwardly altered.
That is why what’s happening now is thrilling – the story will be told as it was meant to.
Nrama: Drew, what was your reaction when you first encountered this material?
Ford: As I mentioned earlier, I found the work while talking to Sam Glanzman about his out-of-print work. I had been working on collections of his A Sailor’s Story graphic novels, USS Stevens short stories, and Attu graphic novels, while working at Dover a few years before launching my own imprint, and Sam had told me about The Lonely War material.
At that point, I believe I had been put in touch with Will Franz via Sam and his wife Sue, and Will and I started talking. Then Will sent me all the old comics to read, and I was honestly blown away by the storytelling. It was like nothing I had ever read in comics. And then I found out Will was only 16 when he had written it! I couldn't believe how good it was!
Nrama: Will, how did you get into writing comics at that time, and what was your collaboration with Sam Glanzman like?
Franz: I always enjoyed drawing and writing my own comic book stories. One day I picked up a copy of the Dunkirk issue of Dell’s Combat comic, where I saw the name Sam Glanzman. I always admired Sam’s artwork, and once I knew his name, rather than just (the initials) SJG, I contacted him through Dell.
I sent him my own drawings and he responded positively, and he wanted to meet me. I visited him in his home in Commack, Long Island. He liked my writing and recommended me to Charlton editor, Dick Giordano. Dick rejected my first stories, but critiqued them, and wanted to see more. From that point on, collaboration with Sam was a respectful mentor/eager student relationship, which eventually developed into a genuine friendship.
Nrama: In the 1960s, there was certainly a glamorizing of WWII in the media – I can only think of a few works I've seen, such as some episodes of TV's Combat! and the film The Americanization of Emily that took a more cynical view. What did you draw from to create the WWII seen in Willy Schultz, both in terms of historical details and literary/other media influences?
Franz: All Quiet on the Western Front; The Cross of Iron and The Crack of Doom by German author Willi Heinrich; films such as Attack!, Hell is for Heroes, and Five Branded Women were some of my influences for Willy Schultz. There is nothing glamorous about war, except for those who benefit financially/politically from the blood of other men’s children.
I had a particular interest in studying WWII, because I talked to and learned from veterans. I studied the German military, wanting to write about the Panzers on the Eastern Front, as well as the “grunts” of every army. I used the everyman name Schultz, rather than the likes of “Rock” or “Storm” or “Fury” – apparently, the everyman connected.
Nrama: I was also curious about how you developed the second-person narration of the original comic. It's very literary and unique for a book of that time period.
Franz: It just felt like the right thing to do, pure and simple. Maybe I was questioning myself, or the morality of the period, especially as I could never be a part of the U.S. military due to my chronic illness – what would I do similar circumstances?
Nrama: Tell us a little bit about the controversy over the original series – I understand we are speaking in terms of allegations here, so want to be careful in phrasing.
Ford: In a nutshell...the story goes that The Lonely War story was causing young men to become conscientious objectors during the height of the Vietnam War. This caused the military at that time to put pressure on Charlton to cancel the series, which they did.
Nrama: Just to chime in, military bases were major distribution centers for comics sales at that time, part of the reason war comics proved so long-lasting.
Ford: Yes. It has also been said that due to a misunderstanding about the nature of the work, and the intentions of the author, other pros quietly began to blackball Franz for having written this story. I am sure Will has something to add here.
Franz: Any properly written war story is an anti-war story, though it was not my intention to write an “anti-war story.” I was not a peacenik or a dove, I simply felt our government owed our service people the best chances for survival. I was writing a story of a man caught up in the man-made hell of war.
Only once, in 1969, did I hear anyone mention that they’d signed up as a conscientious objector (son of someone famous in Hollywood), but the following fall, Charlton dropped my titles, saying they had a “backlog.”
Yet, DC also rejected my work, calling it “too good”, suggesting I write them as plays or radio plays. Marvel’s approach to war through Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos was not my style.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that an FBI agent friend suggested that the Nixon/Hoover regime had a file on me, and I began to realize what may have happened.
Nrama: What did you do you after you got out of comics?
Franz: I had to pay the bills! I got a job as an accountant technician for a major insurance company in Manhattan. After two years, I went on to the City College of New York. A disastrous eye operation cut my scholastic career short, but I had the good fortune to study swordplay and be made a Fencing Master by the first American-born Olympic coach.
Through my own understanding of disabilities, I have spent the past 21 years in the disability advocacy community running social programs and teaching creative writing. Non-professionally, I have also engaged in medieval military reenactment.
Nrama: What has your working relationship been like on this project?
Ford:Will is a pro, and a brilliant writer. He also has a lot of integrity. After getting to know him while working on this project, I understand why Sam Glanzman held him in such high esteem as a writer and person.
Franz:Oh man… I was first impressed by Drew’s admiration and dedication to Sam Glanzman. I trust Drew. I like Drew. I hope we’ll work more together!
Nrama: Will – having gotten to conclude Schultz's story, would you like to do any more comics at this point?
Franz: Yes, in the graphic novel format, similar to Watchmen. I’m constantly writing – I never really stopped. I have several major ideas, plus a bunch of shorter stories in the war and adventure/horror genres I’d like to get done, if a practical opportunity presents itself. Hell yeah!
Nrama: Drew, what projects are next for you?
Ford: I am delving into publishing new work for the first time. A new Red Range mini-series by Joe and Keith Lansdale, with a brilliant new artist named Jok who I think will become a household name very soon, at least in homes where comics are being collected! I'm also excited to soon be publishing new issues of The Bozz Chronicles, by original creators David Michelinie and Bret Blevins! Also working with Chuck Dixon and artist Dalibor Talajic on bringing back Airboy, the one from the 1980s comics written by Dixon and published by Eclipse.
Of course, I also have plenty of reprints coming up. More reprints of Combat by Sam Glanzman. A Father & Son omnibus – finally! – by Jeff Nicholson, the first ever collection of The Nazz by Tom Veitch & Bryan Talbot, and a few secret projects – new material and reprints – that I am working on for the future.
I also wrote an original graphic novel entitled Steam, with brilliant art by Duane Leslie and Eva de la Cruz, that will be coming out from Dark Horse next year.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Wayne on this?
Ford: Wayne is bonafide war comics legend. We are lucky to have him, and I for one can't wait to see what he does with the Finale that Franz has written.
Franz: Due to scheduling I haven’t worked with him directly yet, but I am thrilled that he has signed on!
Nrama:For both of you, what do you feel remains timeless about Schultz's story?
Ford: For me... Schultz's story shows us how young men and women have struggled in wars throughout history to maintain their humanity, in the most inhuman of situations.
Franz: You wonder why Drew and I get along? Drew understands the character! I feel very gratified about that. I was going to say the same thing – humanity and survival.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Ford: Thank you for giving Will Franz the chance to share his incredible story with your readers. I would also like to mention that anyone interested in picking up a copy of The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz by Will Franz and Sam Glanzman, can do so from the Kickstarter campaign we are currently running to make this important collection a reality. Thanks again!
Franz: I feel privileged that Willy Schultz has remained so important to so many people, and I thank them for it. Thank you for affording us this opportunity to share our thoughts and memories today.