During the combat phase of Operation Desert Storm (17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991) the U.S. Army began implementing the first field operational version of a GPS (Global Positioning System). Unfortunately that first unit was barely portable and was saddled with an extremely difficult user interface. The Army was shocked to find most of the units unused and the 500+ page manual was often discarded to the winds! Fast forward to the spring of 1994 and I had just graduated from Platt College in San Diego. My first graphic design assignment out of school was to design a 160-page manual detailing the practical use of a newly developed PLGR ( Personal Lightweight GPS Receiver).
The Army had decided that the average reading level for a foot soldier at that time was at an 8th grade level and the best format for the new manual should be a comic book! So I worked away for six months putting a huge amount of technical data into some form of a comic book. I had zero experience in life drawing so I had the company I was working for borrow a platoon from the local Marine base and I shot a bunch of reference photos. So I just traced the scans and used the same poses over and over! Real clever, eh?
Of course I couldn’t wait to turn the PLGR unit into a cartoon character and thus the Little Plugger was born! And this little character, which I initially dashed off in just a couple of minutes, turned out to be the part of this entire project that resonated the most with the Army brass!
My first attempt at putting this project together was on the best dos-based pc available at that time and it just kept crashing. So, I convinced my boss to go out and get me a powerful Mac computer and everything went pretty smooth after that. I used QuarkXPress to lay the book out. All the graphics were hand drawn and then scaled and placed for position. I had to develop a whole array of word balloon shapes for the various text inserts, plus a bunch of graphics representing the data screen on the PLGR unit. The final comic book was deemed a success by the military and went into multiple printings here in the states and at bases in Japan.
Lots of technical data here…but I had some fun putting the troops thru various missions. I even inserted a picture at the bottom of page 86 that looked suspiciously like Betty of Archie’s fame, but it’s really Larry Welz’s Cherry Poptart! I showed it to Larry a few years back and he got a kick out of it!