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Comic books, G.I.s mix well

Some years ago I faithfully attended the annual Comic-Con gathering in San Diego with my young son, a fan of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, to be sure. Short for “comic book convention,” the international event has since grown into what is probably the largest pop culture convention in the U.S., if not the world. This year, 130,000 individuals showed up, hundreds of them in costume depicting superheroes, Harry Potter characters, Ninja Turtles, Wonder Woman, Usagi Yojimbo of Japanese fame and many others.

Although I confess I always actually enjoyed the artistic spectacle, I also managed to write a feature or two at the time about the military. For example, G.I. Joe comic books were (and still are, to an extent) popular among a segment of readers, and were certainly worthy of a news story aimed at veterans. Then, there was a small publisher who printed a comic book series about Elvis Presley, including the years he was in the Army. And there was the year I did a feature on vintage World War II comic book covers showing our side beating back the Germans and the Japanese.

As my son matured (he’s now a Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant), he and I stayed away from Comic-Con, although we did not lose our appreciation for the art form. This year we felt it was time to go again.

I can tell you things have not changed at the convention, except, perhaps, they are bigger and better. Besides the hundreds of vendors hawking comic books, toys, original comic art, clothing, pins and animation, there were dozens of seminars hosted by well-known industry animators, sci-fi film and TV producers, comic book creators (writers and illustrators) and actors who have or have had roles in sci-fi motion pictures.

Today, select superheroes tend to be the ones who fight terrorists on the comic pages, but they do not carry quite the same cache as soldiers. Somehow, I had to find a “G.I. Joe type angle” if I expected to write a veterans story at the convention. And somehow, I did.

Enter Ed Hawkins, a former Las Vegas resident and a 20-year information technology employee at UNLV. A vendor at Comic-Con, he is also a writer. Several years ago he wrote comic books with the titles “Tales From Fremont Street” and “Tales From Lost Vegas” in conjunction with the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival.

“Proceeds from the books went to benefit the Las Vegas Library District,” Hawkins said. “The comic books featured art from local artists and they were published by a Las Vegas publisher.”

Hawkins is employed by a college in Portland, Ore., and works in the comics industry on the side. “We represent a number of artists and world-famous comics … some of our people are newer artists, who we try to support as they come up in the industry. We sell a lot of art prints, we sell some comic books, we sell original art. Mostly, we’re just trying to get friends of ours, essentially, kind of a foothold in these comic conventions so that they can get their material out there.”

Oh yes, the veteran’s angle. On the wall of his exhibit was a large patriotic print that read, “VICTORY — Enlist Today. A Real American Hero, Defeat Cobra.” Hawkins said it was done by artist Brian Miller and features a character from a G.I. Joe comic. “It’s a recruitment poster for G.I. Joe, basically.” Cobra is an enemy in the story.

But Hawkins has more of a veteran’s connection than Joe or Cobra.

“I was an airborne infantryman from 1990 to 1994, stationed mostly at Fort Carson, Colo.” He said he was in Saudi Arabia for six months at the end of the Gulf War. He always wanted to be in the military and joined the Army while still in high school.

“My dad was in the Air Force, he was a career man. His dad was in the Air Force, his dad was in the Army. All the way back, all the Hawkins were always in the military. So when I turned 17, I quit school early and went and joined the Army and learned how to jump out of airplanes and blow things up.”

He is still blowing things up, but today his ordnance explodes off the pages of comic books, and his red badges of courage flow from the ends of brushes in the hands of skilled illustrators.

Coast Guard auxiliary needs you

The latest local flotilla (unit) of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary was formed in Southern Nevada’s 11th District-South in late July. Although monthly meetings are being held at the North Las Vegas Airport, the organization is open to people who reside in the Las Vegas Valley as well as Boulder City, according to newly elected Flotilla 95 commander and longtime auxiliary member Barry Keller. Kirk Scarborough was elected as vice commander.

The initial meeting was attended by 20 new members and about two dozen potential members, who were invited to learn what being an auxiliary member has to offer.

“Most locals don’t realize there is a Coast Guard, and an auxiliary, in the desert,” Keller said.

In addition to teaching boating safety to individuals and families who use Lake Mead and parts of the Colorado River, auxiliary volunteers also can take on assignments in communications, finance, human resources, public education, diversity and aviation among others. (Full disclosure — they even accept journalists, so I joined.)

The core values of the auxiliary are the same as those of the active Coast Guard: honor, respect and devotion to duty. The Coast Guard motto is Semper Paratus — Always Ready — and members come under the Homeland Security Department.

Auxiliary members come from all disciplines and walks of life — tradesmen, doctors and medical professionals, security personnel, artists, musicians, educators and retirees to name a few. Virtually anyone is welcome to contribute his or her talents.

To attend a meeting or to seek additional information, call Keller at 702-219-2236 or visit www.goaux.us.

Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He can be heard each Thursday from 8-9 p.m. on “The Veterans Reporter Radio Show” on KLAV-AM 1230.

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