Vietnam veterans retreated internally, Doug Murray
felt his wartime experiences could help educate a
nation. With the help of Larry Hama, Doug
created and launched a new breed of Marvel book...the
relatively healthy run, THE 'NAM captured audiences
ranging from young children to fellow veterans.
Telling the story of multiple soldiers, THE 'NAM not
only gave us a glimpse into life in late-1960s
Vietnam, it also allowed us to peer into the souls of
the military men we asked to serve on America's
behalf. It was truly a remarkable book.
present a conversation with Doug Murray, the man
behind THE 'NAM.
(Note: This interview was originally published in May of 2001)
When did you first pitch
THE ‘NAM to Marvel and what was their reaction.
It wasn’t so much a
pitch. Larry Hama had contacted me around 1984
about doing a Vietnam War series for his Savage
Tales black and white magazine. I did The
5th of the 1st for that and
it was very well received. Larry then suggested
I put together a proposal for a regular comic book on
that. Which I
then did, and gave it to Marvel through Larry.
I never expected anything to
come of it because war books were already pretty much
dead at that point in 1985. But Jim Shooter was
willing to experiment with different stuff and he gave
us a go. I had kind of thought of it as a
limited series. I thought maybe we’d get
twelve issues out of it. But it sold really
well. I ended up doing about five years worth of
stories before changes in editorial policies got me
off the book.
What type of editorial
changes were those?
Basically we changed editors
several times and by the time Don Daley took over and
Shooter was long gone, they wanted a book that was a
regular comic book. They didn’t want
real-time, they wanted to include superheroes, and I
just didn’t want to do that.
Were you surprised Marvel
OK'ed it in the first place?
I was shocked. I
didn’t think there was a chance in hell they would
do it. But apparently the response from the Savage
Tales stories had been very positive and because
Shooter wanted to try different experiments in
different sub-genres he was willing to give it a try
and see how it worked.
You’ve said in the past
that you wanted to work under the Code to insure that
younger readers would be able to gain access to the
book. How important was that for you?
It was very important for
me. One of the things I knew about Vietnam by
the 80s was that a lot of Vets, and I include myself
in the group, just were uncomfortable talking about
experiences in Vietnam. Especially people who
were parents, they didn’t talk about it to their
kids. I wanted a way to at least tell a part of
the story to the kids and maybe get other people to
talk about it as well. Working under the Code
gave me the option to do that.
Working outside the Code
would have given me the chance to make things more
realistic in terms of the language, certainly.
And in terms of things like drug use I could have done
things more realistically as well, but if would have
denied me a substantial audience that I really wanted
to get to.
Were there occasions
where you wished you were non-Code? In one
letter column you said an issue that focused on the
drug use among the troops was out of the question
because you were Code.
There were times when there
were problems, but the problems were about weird
things. We had done a story relatively early in
the run about a fragging (killing your own
officer). About two years later in kind of a
reverse thing I ran into a weird situation in Marvel
about political correctness, in its earlier
stages. We had a black guy being killed by a
white guy and I wasn’t allowed to do it. In
fact, they cut page 22 out of a book that had already
gone to the printer to prevent it, even though it made
the story make no sense.
THE ‘NAM is the only
comic I know of that was done in real-time.
Whereas one year in real life, twelve issues, equated
to one year for the characters in the story. How
did you come to the decision to do the story in
Basically because the
Vietnam War lasted for so long, I didn’t want to do
a kind of anthology thing where we do a lot of
different stories with different people. And one
of the thing about the Vietnam War that most struck me
when I was there was the short-time concept.
Literally everybody had a calendar that kept track of
how long they had to go in-country. I really
wanted a way to kind of reflect that in the comic book
and I couldn’t do that unless I did real-time.
So it was a big part of my concept just as a real
person would arrive in Vietnam and start counting days
until he got to leave. I wanted to be able to
reflect that the characters would arrive in Vietnam
and a certain number of issues later would go home.
Also because, despite what
TV and movies show, there’s a certain pacing to life
in a war zone. They talk about months of boredom
punctuated by moments of panic, which is essentially
true. And it’s really tough to do that if
you’re doing it in a regular comic book format
because there’s no correspondence in time. It
becomes far too easy to do six months on the Tet
Offensive. You end up doing six issues on the
same incident that actually took place in a day or
so. I didn’t want to get involved in
that. I wanted to make it snappier and maybe
more accessible to readers where you could pick up a
book and each book was essentially a separate
story. And in many cases, not even about the
same people because you pick up an issue and six
months later pick up another issue I would have
changed at least a third of the cast. So that
gave me some liberties that I couldn’t have done in
a more traditional comic.
issue nine, Mike, one of the squad’s main
characters, is killed. Can you comment on that?
Mike Vergo is a real
person. He’s actually a friend of my
brothers. But he was a reflection of a character
I knew in Vietnam. The thing I wanted to show
with Mike is he’s a really likable character.
That was the way the readership responded to him and
that was the way I wanted him to be. I wanted to
show that everybody was in equal danger and that you
often didn’t really know… You know, there
was no warning when someone was killed, which is one
of the real problems with people’s emotions in
Vietnam. Which is why so many people didn’t
form friendships or the ones that did had real
problems. So I wanted to have an out-of-the-blue
killing of a character who everybody liked that
didn’t have any kind of relevance to the
storyline. It just happened. And that’s
the way I handled it.
During one patrol, Agent
Orange is dropped on the squad and Ed Marks comments,
“This stuff feels cool, doesn’t it.” The
government repeatedly says that it posed no danger but
you obviously disagree.
I wanted to do something
with that later on had I continued the book. My
plan was to wrap the whole thing around with Ed Marks
coming back to Vietnam as a reporter because I had
mentioned that he was a writer. And I wanted to
deal with the Agent Orange situation then. So
that was a set-up for something that I never got to
In a letter column, you also mentioned
that one of your friends had passed away from leukemia
which you blamed on Agent Orange.
More than one at this
point. But the “cool” thing was also… I
mean I was never exposed to Agent Orange, per say, but
they used to spray all kinds of crap from the
sky. It’d be 96 degrees in a really, really
humid jungle and I can’t describe just what the
weather’s like there. And you’d get hit with
this cool stuff from above and it actually felt pretty
I’m guessing you
disagree with the government’s findings then.
I don’t know, I’m not
scientific enough to say for sure or not. But
it’s like the Golf War Syndrome thing.
There’s something there. The government
doesn’t want to admit it because it gives them
certain liabilities and that’s the way it’s going
to stay. Things will change in twenty or thirty
years when most of the Vets die out. Then
they’ll come up with some kind of explanation and
pay off some of the descendants. But I think
there’s something there. I just don’t think I’m
going to know about it particularly in my lifetime.
You also mentioned in a letter column that
you believed that there were still Americans being
held as prisoners of war. Do you still subscribe
Yes, I still kind of feel
that there are.
Are we making progress
towards investigating those types of circumstances?
No, I don’t think
there’s a chance, if there are any guys over there,
that they will ever come home. I think the
government wrote them off years ago because they’re
There’s rumors of them
being transferred to Russia and such.
Yeah, well they’re
politically embarrassing because they force people to
look at the fact that this war never really ended and
that we gave up these people. When we signed the
Paris Peace Accords, we just said, “Keep ‘em.”
It’s the first war we actually did that. And
while it’s certainly precedent setting, and has been
reflected in later wars, I just don’t think the
government is ready to talk about that.
So a microcosm of that is
when one of your characters was taken prisoner and the
lieutenant just said to leave him.
In issue 18, Sergeant
Little gets into an argument with the lieutenant and
eventually gets injured by a grenade. That issue
marks two major occurrences: the first inkling of
racism in the ranks and fragging.
I wanted to do something on
both racism and on fragging, and it just so happened
that I was able to put them both in a single story,
which simplified things for me. Again, I dealt
with it some more later on but I was forced to soften
it because of Marvel policy at the time.
So that’s another
instance of where not working under the Code would
have been beneficial.
Yeah, that was a situation
where I would preferred to be able to do it outside
the Code, but at that point we were already firmly
established under the Code, so that was just the way
it was. One of my problems with the movie Platoon
is that the platoon breaks apart along racial
lines. More likely, in the way that platoon was
depicted, it might have done so along head and
non-head lines. I mean people who were users and
non-users. The racism situation changed as the
war lengthened. Having been there twice, with
almost three years in between, what was happening,
because a great abundances of draftees were coming
from big cities, a lot of the new troops by ’71 and
early ’72 were blacks and Puerto Ricans. Way,
way more than there should have been in terms of
numbers of people there. That’s when the
racial problems got really bad because they thought
they were getting taken advantage of, that they were
cannon fodder. And they were right. I have
no argument with their opinion on that. I think
Click here for the next
Interview with Will Eisner
Interview with Joe Kubert
Interview with Dan DeCarlo
Interview with Doug Murray
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