"Bunnies at War" [c. 1943-c.1950(?)]
by W. Wentz
Anyone who has watched old film documentaries of World War II will have noticed some scenes of enlisted men reading comic books in their rare moments of relaxation.
Many of those men were, after all, barely out of boyhood, and
comic books remained a favored reading material for young enlisted men on all
Most of those comics were designed for children. This
shortcoming was noted by several Red Cross volunteers at overseas entrepots, and
suggestions were sent to the publishers for a more adult variety of comics
designed for the military.
The proposal was largely ignored as unprofitable by most
publishers, but at least one small, patriotic publishing house took up the
challenge ... and the remarkable result was "Bunnies at War," a very early
example of the "funny animals" genre, that in the words of one veteran "did
not insult either the intelligence or the masculinity of the fighting man."
Research into this little-known but surprisingly sophisticated series is hampered by the fact that so few examples survive,
and due to the devotion of the original readership even fewer have been seen
on the market. Due to wartime constraints, circulation was never large, and most
copies of "Bunnies at War" were hauled about, handled, and re-read by their
owners until they literally disintegrated. Of the few examples I have seen,
virtually all were in very worn condition, or incomplete some represented by
only a single tattered page. Covers and large splash panels are particularly
rare, perhaps because they were removed for pinups.
The cheap pulp paper on which these comics were printed was
never intended for longevity, and due to paper rationing print runs were
apparently short. Also, the "high brass" apparently had no time and perhaps no
interest in the military-comic-book project, and as a result the books had a
very low priority in crucial overseas shipping. Perhaps for all these reasons,
even the Library of Congress does not have a file of this comic. It was truly an
orphan of the war.
The origins of "Bunnies at War" are obscure, and will likely remain so until some researcher with more time and resources takes up the study.
On the inside front cover of issue #3 appears a facsimile of a
letter from R. L. Dives of the American Red Cross, issuing the challenge to the
comics publishers which apparently inspired the project. Along the bottom of the
page is a copyright notice, "© 1943 by PS&G Co, Peoria, Ill." This name does
not appear in any index of comics publishers I have seen.
The identity of the artist and writers of "Bunnies at War" also
remains a mystery or even whether they were all one person. No bylines appear
anywhere in the books, although the artist is as good or better than most comic-book artists of that time.
I have been unable even to find close resemblances to other
comics of the 1940s. The book is simply too unique, bearing little resemblance
to anything else being done at the time ... or for years afterward. The artist
seems at least partly inspired by Al Capp's voluptuous mountain women and Tex
Avery's long-stemmed cartoon beauties. There existed cartoon animals aplenty,
but none so appealingly humanized as these. There were "funny-books" by the
dozen, but none written with this strangely-addictive mix of reality, fantasy,
whimsy, satire, adventure, eroticism, and pathos.
Nowhere is this complex, multi-layered writing style more apparent than in issue #3, in the story "Underneath the Arches," which begins as a typical spy-versus-spy thriller, with the heroine hunting and being
hunted by a Nazi saboteur through the London underworld. In one six-panel page
at the finale are depicted physical and intellectual conflict, intense erotic
attraction, high comedy, and vain regrets a little masterpiece of concise,
By contrast, a lengthy sequence in issue #5, an erotic episode
involving the heroine, a British WREN and MI5 agent, and an American fighter
pilot, is expansive, superficially simple, and startlingly graphic, even by
today's standards. Yet it perfectly reflects the hurried, intense, haunted
romances of the times, even to the girl's bittersweet farewell to the sleeping
pilot at the end.
Predictably, any visual depiction of sexuality even in funny
animals aroused the ire of official meddlers. Gordon D. Twilley, the veteran
quoted above, cites the amusing example of one deskbound USAAF squadron exec in
England, who issued the order:
"Re: Pornographic Comic Books.
"The comic book titled 'Bunnies at War' is deemed pornographic,
and all examples are to be surrendered at once to this office, particularly
issue # 5, if it still has its cover."
It is doubtful the sly little officer ever got his issue # 5.
Due to all the negative factors affecting its distribution and its apparently
very irregular publishing schedule, there were never enough "Bunnies at War" to
come close to filling the demand. Other comics were skimmed and discarded or
traded away; "Bunnies at War" was eagerly acquired, repeatedly read, jealously
hoarded, and loaned only with reluctance.
One issue, #18, has the distinction of being the only American
comic book suppressed by the British M15 during the war. Judging from the
illustrated preview in the previous issue, the story "The Devil's Broomstick" was to be based on the German V-1 "buzz bomb"
being launched against England at the time. Shortly after #18 was distributed in England, somebody in British intelligence apparently saw it and went ballistic. Perhaps some detail in the
comic revealed something M15 didn't want generally known. All copies were
seized, at the insistence of our British allies, and apparently destroyed. At
any rate, I have been unable to find anybody who will admit to having seen this
story since it first appeared, 50-odd years ago.
Patrick O'Malley, a B-24 gunner based in England during the war, is a retired auto mechanic I interviewed in 1997. He remembered buying
"Bunnies at War" #18 two days before the flap, and enjoying it immensely.
"It was a real good one," he recalled. "One of the very best. Had this cute bunny secret agent infiltrating the German V-1 base at Pennemunde,
ending up riding in one of the things funny as all get-out. I only got to read
it once, and then two big MPs and a British officer showed up at the barracks,
and the Brit took it away from me and locked it into a briefcase and that was
the last I saw of it."
"Later, the old man made me swear I'd never had time to read
it. Otherwise, he said, they'd have to take me off flying status, because the
Germans might shoot us down and capture me."
In fact, O'Malley's bomber was shot down, on his very next
flight. Fortunately, however, he fell in with the Resistance rather than the
Nazis. He only made it back to home base after his bunkmates, in keeping with
the thrifty custom of the time, had already divided or sold his personal
property including his near-complete collection of "Bunnies at War."
"That was the last damn Bunny comic I ever saw," he recalled sadly.
It seems fitting that in a publication whose origins are so
obscure, even the date of its demise is unknown. Although Twilley is of the
opinion that "Bunnies at War" continued publication at least until the late
1940s, I have found little evidence to support this theory.
And the book would be out of place in the postwar world,
&uqot;Bunnies at War" was, after all, a child of the war, in tune
with the spirit of the times. Once the hectic, heroic, free-wheeling, and
fear-driven ebullience of the war years had declined into the complacent,
straitlaced, acquisitive early 1950s, there no place left for this odd little
book except in the fading memories of a generation of once-youthful
soldier-citizens, and in a few musty footlockers tucked away in garages or
attics of identical Miltown homes.
"Bunnies at War," #3, #5, #7, #9 (?), #13 (?), #15 #16,
PS&G Co., Peoria, IL., 1943-1946 (?);
"The Comic Book as a Mirror to War, Thesis for Master of Fine
Arts Degree," Gordon D. Twilley,
University of Oregon School of Fine Arts, Eugene, OR. 1948
Interview with Patrick O'Malley, October, 1997.
of the "Bunny BombShell"