Tour of Duty: Covering Sgt. Rock with Billy Tucci

Tour of Duty: Covering Sgt. Rock

The Mission Begins.... 

Some of the best and most memorable images in the history of comic books have graced the covers of Our Army At War, GI Combat and Sgt. Rock. Heck, just to mention “war comics” conjures up scenes of dynamic heroism, meticulous draftsmanship and heartbreaking sorrow. Penned by legends, these unforgettable visions have become iconic to Pop Culture fans for more than sixty years. Now, add the fact that the name “Joe Kubert,” isn’t attached to such a cover featuring Sgt. Rock (though we’re hoping to change that), and you open a minefield for anyone stupid enough to cross.

So what in the hell was DC thinking? Having some cad with a fashion illustration background and known for drawing “babes”, take on the gruff and gritty genre of war comics? I don’t know myself, but it’s too late for anyone to back down now, so let me give it a shot and cowboy up – or else a lot of folks are gonna be pissed at me.

The six-issue’s for Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion will not be numbered in the traditional comic book form of numbers (i.e. #1-6), though it is for the solicitations to keep things simple, but rather by Days. Since the story takes place over six days, each issue will focus on a 24-hour period. Each day will also be a theme based on the events of that actual day back in 1944, via the elements of life -- Fire, Rain, Earth, Fog, Wind and Air. The cover artwork will also reflect the themes, but without being misleading or giving too much away.

So here we go, the mission begins!

(Pictures are above - use the arrow to rotate through them)

The Covers

Day One – Fire

Since this will be the first time in years that the leader of Easy Company has graced a mainstream comic cover, editor Mike Marts and myself felt we needed to go “classic” for the first issue. Unable to have our favorite top kick dragging on a cigarette, we figured to go with Rock’s traditional sharp-eyed scowl. Since this was my first cover there are some discrepancies, the most glaring is the grenade – the spoon is post WW2, but my good buddy Mark Sparacio fixed that in the painted version – I’ll post the completed version of that cover when I get it. Since Rock will return to the comic stage via the Normandy beach landings, he would be dressed in uniform and kit akin to the US 1st Division of June 1944. The second half of the issue takes place four months later and almost everything he would have worn, save his steel pot helmet had just about been replace by newer and more efficient gear. These little details, which I’m sure are annoying to some, will all be addressed when we focus on the painted versions of the covers in future columns, but for the black and white versions of the covers, they work. You may also notice Rock’s chevrons on his helmet. The helmet stripes are signature Rock – but I opted to have them drawn on his helmet with a soldier’s “cray stick” (a sort of crayon) – this is to foreshadow a scene in an upcoming issue. I also made Rock a First Sergeant – which he never was – though classically referred to as “Top Kick,” Rock was never more than (at least during WW2) a Master Sergeant. But I love the little 1SG diamond in the center of his chevron and wanted to draw that in. But alas, for the final versions, it will be deleted. You may notice that Rock’s not well, “hulking”– as he had been depicted in the later years of the Sgt. Rock series. He’s more like some of the airborne sergeants I had, and more akin to the way he was drawn in the early “Our Army at War” books – solidly built and tough as nails, Superman he’s not, but a real man, an American badass you know will whip the piss out of any other around him. A hero whom men will follow into hell and know he’ll bring them out the other side with the devil’s pitchfork as a trophy.

Day Two – Rain.

This cover, like all in the series is devoted to the ordinary dogface of WW2. Worn-out men in their twenties and thirties, plucked from a peaceful existence and sent to the other side of the world to kill. Men, prematurely aged beyond their years by the horrors of war -- but whose spirits, though battered are never bested and have become that of iron. They know they have a job to do, but hate it. Here, Rock, serving in 1st Battalion 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th “Texas” Division. Having seen so much brutality, this man knows the single rain droplet pelting his helmet is the harbinger of a coming storm. Not only anxious of being able to survive yet “another one”, he also has the burden of those men who are counting on him to keep them alive. The significance of one tiny raindrop is as powerful as having the entire world on one’s shoulders – especially when you’re surrounded on all sides by 7,000 crack troops and armor of the Wehrmacht.

Day Three – Earth

Ils ne passeront pas– “They Shall Not Pass!” The Rock of the Vosges Mountains holds his ground against the coming Hun! I wanted to get in your face with this one. Fiery red and orange leaves will be falling all about from artillery concussions and Hun bullets. We’ll have some of these leaves shot up with singeing holes and tracers will be streaking all over the blasted page! The Hun cometh, but Rock and Easy Company cannot let them through; they must hold the line – at all costs!

If you take a look at Rock’s Thompson sub-machinegun, you’ll notice it’s an M1928A1. This is the “gangster version” that came with a 50 round ammo drum. The only real change to it and the ones wielded by Al Capone’s killers during the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 is the horizontal handgrip. These were issued in the early days of the war, and thus by October 1944, Rock would most likely have opted for the newer, lighter, and more basic MA1 “Tommy.” Rock has traditionally been depicted with both and sometimes even an amalgamation of the two, so we had room to play here.

You may also notice the shell casings are a bit off in size – that’ll be fixed too. By the way, no, that’s not George Bush as Rock. Some folks have accused me of using the prez as a model, but it’s actually my good buddy Mike Falcone. Mike’s a twenty-year veteran of the USAF and really goes out of his way for the book, he’ll do just about anything for it. Heck why don’t I just show you the “cover process”.

Day Four – Fog

Stage One: We start off with a simple sketch in my indispensable moleskin journal – it’s a total homage to the great Joe Kubert and Russ Heath (my all time favorite comic book artists). The tank depicted here is a 70-ton King Tiger, but after speaking with veterans who swear it was a Tiger Mk. VI they encountered during the battle of the “Lost Battalion”, I opted to use that one instead – besides, every German tank to every GI was “a Tiger” during the war – it’s fear factor was just off the charts. These are real rushed (taking about a minute to do) I send in a couple to Mike Marts for approval and he picks the one he likes.

Stage Two: Photo reference. I visited the actual waterhole when I went to France. Foxholes still line it’s perimeter. I was so moved by being at a place where such fighting went on, that I had to take a drink – it was the best water I ever tasted. I took dozens of pictures of the area and am using them for the comic book. Afterward, the time came to get to the final illustration. Here’s my good buddy, Mike Falcone sliding across the floor for me and reaching for the bazooka. I have lots of weapons, but no bazooka – yet, but still Mike shows the effects of some good Scotch and Stellas by showing all the desperation of a man about to be crushed into ragweed. You might notice the M1A1 Thompson he wields, that will make the final cover as well.

Next , I needed reference for my Tiger Tank. So I head on out to WW2 reenactment and while partaking in the battle as a “war correspondent” in actual period gear – and get up close and personal with the actual tank used in “Saving Private Ryan.” This thing is huge and though built on a Soviet T-55 chassis it’s still incredibly imposing. Thank goodness they only made 1355 of these beasts (as opposed to the 50,000 US Sherman tanks) because staring down the business end of that 88mm cannon will scare the bejesus out of anyone!

But some of the angles were a bit off for the cover specification, so I need some extra help and got that from an old reliable – my 1:32nd scale die cast Tiger Mk.VI from Fields of Valor. It really helped with all the minor details. When the image is finalized for the cover, it will be ablaze with unit colors, numbers and motifs of the 22nd Panzer regiment (21st Pnz Division).

Stage Three: Draw the damn thing! The terrifying “fog of war” plays out here as a desperate Rock reaches for his only chance – a bazooka -- to ward off the 56 ton Tiger Tank barreling and blazing towards him through trees, foliage and mist. This is based on the real actions that happened at “the water hole.” By the fourth day of the siege, a bloodied Easy Company is being hunted by snipers, splintered and torn to pieces by artillery and now, armed with just one bazooka and armed only with small arms, have to take on this Teutonic monster of the 21st Panzer Division.

My bazooka is an M9 and it came from my 1:6th scale 101st Airborne paratrooper from Blue Box. Rock’s M.G. belt and leaves were a bitch to draw and the whole damn thing took me a couple of days. I cannot wait to see it in its final form!

So that’s where we are with our covers, soldiers. Though I’ve finished all the covers, I don’t want to get too long in the tooth with this column. In future articles you’ll see the last two and we’ll give you a very detailed look as to how they are painted, with stages, levels and interviews.

Finally look who’s “Fighting For Us!”: Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge

Katrina Hodge competed for Miss England last month, though she was a runner up, she’s a super star in the eyes of her fellow soldiers. In 2005, the then eighteen-year old received a commendation for bravery for saving the lives of members of her regiment in Iraq. She said: "I was in complete shock at first. The force of the accident caused our vehicle to roll over three times and threw us off guard. "As I came round, the Iraqi suspect was standing over us with the rifles. I knew if I didn't act fast then our lives would be in danger. I punched him and the force startled him enough for me to retrieve the rifles from him." On being selected to compete for Miss England, Hodge, now 21 stated that "Being a part-time model and a serving soldier is certainly a world apart. I want to use this competition to highlight the work that the Army are doing and what they have done for this country."

Hear – Hear, Katrina!!!

Next week Hellion For Hire TOD returns with Sgt. Rock – The Lost Battalion interior page art depicting the night of nights, the day of days, and bloody battle of Normandy! I’ll also make a point to check on the article every day to maintain a sort of message board for those who have any questions or comments!

Nous Restons Ici!

Billy Tucci

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