Did you ever believe that Vietnam would become
as big a conflict as it eventually did?
No. In the beginning, like most Americans, I felt
that we would go in there and weíd win very
handily because we were, after all, the most powerful
army in the world. We had all this tremendous
equipment. I remember, in Vietnam, how amazed I was
with how much sophisticated equipment we had and how
small the enemy looked [laughs]. The little people
running in and out of the forests. But we had
underestimated the will of the people there. So in the
beginning I felt that we would win it and then after
awhile, after I visited Vietnam, I was certain we were
going to lose.
When did you go over to Vietnam?
I canít remember the exact date. I think it was
í67, í68, somewhere in there. I think it was just
before the Tet Offensive.
What were your first impressions when you
arrived in Vietnam?
I was kind of shocked by what I saw because I
felt that I had landed in another planet. I had never been in a tropical environment like that
before. And then the people I saw were little people;
they were tiny. I remember walking down the street in
Saigon and I felt like we were ten feet tall and these
were all very little people. I remember saying to the
guy I was with, ďI wonder how we would have felt if the Germans had
prevailed in World War II and were walking down
the street in New York in their uniforms, big and tall
and arrogant. The way we are.Ē
I remember a conversation I had with a
correspondent sitting and having a beer. Saying, ďYa
know, isnít this like the British coming into
America during the Revolutionary War? And fighting an
action against people who were living there.Ē And he
agreed with me. He said itís very much like that. So
that was my reaction. I was kind of shocked. I felt a
little embarrassed, I guess.
They say Vietnam is either really damn cold or
really damn hot.
Well, it was hot. It was very tropical. The weather
was wet and sticky. When I stayed one night in a hotel
room I felt there were bugs all over the place, you
know. It was a sticky, hot place.
How long were you in Vietnam for?
About six weeks.
Did you only go there for one visit?
Just once, yes.
Did the troops you met feel that they were
fighting a losing war, or that they didnít know what
they were fighting for?
Most of them didnít really know what they were
fighting for, but they were fighting. You know, if I
took you and put you into a gang fight in the middle
of the street, you would soon not remember anything
about the basic principals you were fighting for but
you would be looking to survive. And thatís what
most of these guys were doing. They were struggling to
A lot of the guys felt that they were being
hamstrung. They didnít feel that there was a clean,
clear enemy. The enemy was all around them. It
wasnít like World War II where the enemy was clearly
defined. They had a uniform, you know what they looked
like, you knew where they were, and so forth. Here the
enemy was all over. Youíd walk down the street in
Saigon and somebody would zip by on a motorcycle and
youíd wonder whether they were gonna throw a bomb.
As a matter of fact, I think I picked up a story from
this in Last Day In Vietnam. One of the hotels
in Saigon was entirely encased in a screen. Very much
like a fire screen, in front of a fireplace. The whole
hotel had it. The reason for that was that theyíd
find that people would go by the hotel and fling hand
grenades in through the windows.
I remember attending briefings where theyíd give
us body counts. I remember this colonel giving us a
briefing and saying that this would soon be over
because they are now putting teenage kids in combat.
The military was certain about winning. They had no
idea of losing.
What did you think of the anti-war
protestors in the United States burning their draft
cards, sending donations to the North Vietnamese, and
Well, I understood where they were coming from. I
was sympathetic with the idea that we should get out.
But it was hard to sympathize with the street action
because of the kind of person I am. By then I was a
fairly well-established person. Street
demonstrations were understandable but I didnít find
myself terribly sympathetic with it.
Was there any situations in Vietnam where you
felt you were really in danger?
Well, yeah. One scary thing was the first story I
did in Last Day In Vietnam where I went down to
the Delta in the helicopter, in the gunship. And the
story centers around the fact that where I was was
coming under fire and we had to get out. So yeah, that
was a hairy moment for me.
Are there any common threads that you found
between soldiers in all three wars that you were
Thereís one common thread of all soldiers and
that is survival. To stay alive. They all feel the
same way. For the G.I.ís, thereís a common anger
at the officer groups. What they refer to as
ďthem.Ē The powers-at-be, the War Department, the
people who were directing. Remember, as a soldier, you
feel that youíre being directed by someone above.
And thatís not very comfortable. Not for Americans,
A lot of guys did enjoy it. A lot of guys remained
in the Army because they liked the life of a
highly-defined, a highly-ordered life.
Do you know whether any of the
soldiers you wrote about in Last Day In Vietnam
read the book.
I got a letter from one guy who started a letter
that said, ďDear Mr. Eisner. I am George.Ē It was
the last of the stories, ďA Purple Heart For
George.Ē And he went on to say that he had shipped
out and so forth and so on. But I donít know how
many have read it. I sent copies to the old people at P.S.
Magazine, but theyíre all civilians now. So I
donít know. Iíve gotten some letters from guys who
were G.I.ís who said it was right on, which is one
of the most flattering things I could get. I
A fellow New Yorker and member of the comic
industry, Jimmy Palmiotti, wanted me to ask you how
life in New York has influenced your ideas.
Oh, tremendously. New York is a big theater. New
York is a whole life in itself. A whole world in
itself. Itís the center of the universe. I still
draw, I still mine, if you will, New York stories and
ideas, because itís all there. I try to get up to
New York at least twice a year. And to get a carbon
monoxide fix [laughs].
But yeah, New York has been very influential on my
story thinking. You walk down 42nd Street and you see
there are stories all over the place. And
everybodyís moving. The rhythm of movement in New
York City is enormous. I donít know of any other
city that has that.
Whatís next for you? Any new projects coming
Iím working on a book now. I want to
continue doing graphic novels. Push the envelope a
little bit more.
What is the book about?
Itís a book on family dynamics. The business of
marriage and the dynamics of marriage. Itís kind of
a social commentary. Itís a big book; itíll be
about 165-170 pages. Iím up to page 130 now. I got
enough 30 or 40 pages to go and Iím really in a
struggle with time.
Is Dark Horse putting it out?
No, itíll probably be published by DC. Under
their ďWill Eisner Library.Ē Theyíre keeping all
the Will Eisner books in print, so itíll be part of
that line. But Iíve been very happy with DC.
Theyíve been doing a wonderful job and theyíve
been very cooperative. In fact, they bend over
backwards. The entire staff of people over there have
been very eager to seek my advice on production and so
I say this, I sound a little surprised and probably
I am, because I avoided large companies all my career.
Stayed with small publishing companies like Kitchen
Sink and so forth. Largely because it gave me more
control over the ultimate product. But DC has really
done everything that I could have wished for.
And finally, what
should people keep in mind this Memorial Day?
I guess the only thing they should keep in
mind is the fact that we are dependant on the
military, just as weíre dependant on the people in
the fire house down the street. These are guys who are
there when and if we need it. And I think the military
is a very important part of our society.
Slush thanks Will Eisner both for his participation
in this interview and for his service to our
country. Be sure to check out last year's
interviews with Doug Murray, Dan DeCarlo, Will Eisner,
and Joe Kubert.