Sunday, April 01, 2012
With Sgt. Mike
Perhaps the reason I saved a bunch of "With Sgt. Mike" cartoons, is the my father served in Vietnam. A career Air Force officer, it was his final tour of duty as the commander of a unit at Bien Hoa maintaining helicopters.
Today I'm glad that in 1968 and 1969 I clipped the cartoons from, I believe, the Holyoke Transcript.
I believe, although I certainly could be wrong, that "With Sgt. Mike" was the last nationally syndicated comic strip that was created to comment on a specific war and on the condition of American troops in that war.
Service comedy is a signifiant genre in American popular culture. Think of movies such as "Buck Privates," comic strips such as "Beetle Bailey" and television shows such as Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko," "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." The bureaucracy of the military, the questioning of authority and the peace-time missions that spawned behaviors out of boredom have all been basis for comedy.
Shows or movies that adds the real issues of war into the comic stew are tricker propositions. A show such as "M.A.S.H." certainly proved that it could be done.
"With Sgt. Mike" had far less polish than a "Beetle Bailey," but far more soul. The cartoonist, Michael T. Hodgson, was a Marine who served in Vietnam. This is all I know about him. His work was definitely in the tradition of "Willie and Joe" and "Sad Sack."
The tone of his work is pretty black, but he pulls it off because he is writing from experience. He successfully conveyed the ambiguity of the troop's feeling: they wanted to complete the mission, even if they question it.
What fascinates me today is how much of his humor is applicable to what American troops are experiencing now in the longest conflict in the nation's history.
Who was or, hopefully is, Mike Hodgson? I've not been able to dig up much information. The cartoons were collected in one volume published in 1970 and copies can be found on eBay.
Any information would be appreciated.