Dong Xoai, Vietnam, 1965
Written & Illustrated by Joe Kubert
Lettering and Production by Pete Carlsson
Published by DC Comics
Happy Memorial Day, ‘Rama readers.
The Battle of Dong Xoai, waged during the United States’ early “advisory” days in Vietnam, marked one of the earliest major battles of the Vietnam war. Joe Kubert’s latest graphic novel, Dong Xoai, Vietnam, 1965 does chronicle that battle, but it does far more than simply detail troop movements and casualties.
Kubert actually begins Dong Xoai following the A-313 as they are inserted into Vietnam, initially as advisors to the South Vietnamese at Bu Gia Map. Working from first-hand accounts, many of which are reproduced in the book’s back matter, Kubert creates fictional characters, but inserts them into real events. Doing so, he’s able to cut away the issue of trying to capture the voices and personas of the people involved, and he’s able to focus on the events that unfolded around them.
Flown into the country on an old, twin-prop cargo plane, the soldiers quickly found nothing as they expected. Hardware and manpower didn’t exist in the expected numbers. Many dedicated Vietnamese soldiers were undermined my less driven colleagues. And when the troop is moved to Dong Xoai, the capital village of a province, a flashpoint along several major trade routes, everybody knows that armed conflict is only a matter of time – and reinforcements are not coming.
Kubert doesn’t use word balloons in Dong Xoai. Rather, the entire story is told in narrative boxes, some in narrative voice, others attributed to characters and containing a person’s dialogue. The effect distances the reader from the cast, making the book less about the individual persons and more about their shared experience.
Illustrated in uninked pencil, Kubert takes on the role of a battlefield reporter, delivering rough images, posed character profiles, sketches from the field, all done to enhance the book’s aura of authenticity. The pencil art also allows for nuanced shadowing and detailed renderings, offering a softer humanity that only manages to support the power of Kubert’s usual artwork.
Joe Kubert’s narrative in Dong Xoai, Vietnam, 1965 is accompanied by supplemental text pages that present accounts of the experience of the A-313 by surviving members of the troop. Readers can truly examine how closely Kubert skews to the facts of what this group of men experienced, while Kubert’s fictional cast maintains the story’s focus on what occurred. It’s beautifully drawn, as you’d expect from Joe, and it’s a moving historical document.