In a time where the Internet has made it possible for almost anyone to create and mass produce satire such as, “PowerPoint Ranger,” “The Duffel Blog” and other works pushed through social media, it may be difficult to believe that one day all these may be an important part of our military’s history.
Former Army illustrator and cartoonist, Tim Wallace, recently donated many of his “GI Bill” cartoons and black propaganda leaflets, which are called that because they are written by an unknown source, that were published during his enlistment from 1987-1991.
He chose to donate them to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.
Wallace originally set out to be a cartoonist for the Washington Post after spending five years drawing cartoons for smaller newspapers. They told him he needed more life experience.
“The next day I enlisted as a paratrooper,” he said.
Most of his first years were spent supporting the Cold War in Central America, the drug war in South America, the invasion of Panama and many other missions in psychological operations and special operations units.
Most of his surviving black propaganda cartoons featured Manuel Noriega, the military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989, who was portrayed as lazy, greedy, or even dressed as a woman.
Since Wallace was not allowed to sign his own name to his leaflets, he came up with a penname to keep the cartoons from being suspicious.
“My middle name is Randolph which means, wolf shield or dark wolf,” Wallace said. “So, I suggested that we use the Spanish translation for wolf, which is lobo.”
Like most Soldiers, Wallace needed an outlet and GI Bill was born and provided that release during training and deployment.
“He was based on a play on words; the Montgomery GI Bill of 1984, which was my generation, lured guys in for college money, and the old GI Joes of the 60’s and 70’s,” Wallace said.
Published in the Fort Bragg Paraglide, GI Bill found its way across the Army.
Soldiers could easily relate to the sarcastic tone that GI Bill used to describe Army life.
“It’s about embracing the best and worst of Army life,” Wallace said. “So, when I was out there marching in the rain, I’d just smile because the ideas would just start to come.
“I’d get many of my ideas during the bad things,” Wallace said. “Then they would cease being bad and become an opportunity to embrace it and document it.”
Two wise-cracking crows found their way into the Noriega cartoons during Operation Just Cause and became more popular than the cartoon’s main focus.
The two birds eventually became regular cast members in the GI Bill strip.
When his mission in South America was over, Wallace was ready to return to civilian life and focus on his career as a cartoonist. However, his widespread popularity had caught the attention of Col. Layton G. Dunbar, commander of 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) during Desert Storm after Dec. 17, 1990.
Dunbar specifically requested Wallace deploy in support of Desert Storm with his PSYOPs unit.
Wallace said he was just honored to be recognized by someone he had only briefly spoken to once years before and jumped at the opportunity to turn around and deploy again.
During Desert Storm, Wallace focused on Saddam Hussein and the interaction of the two opposing armies in battle.
Where most would just see two jets firing rounds, he envisioned large, angry sharks diving into a sea of enemy soldiers.
“I looked at the size of their noses, they had the shark mouths on them, and I thought, ya know what, they’re tank killers,” Wallace said about seeing A-10 planes for the first time.
Wallace continued to send back GI Bill cartoons to the Paraglide during Desert Storm, but when he returned, GI Bill, mysteriously did not.
Many believed Wallace killed off GI Bill since he just stopped showing up in the weekly newspaper.
“I didn’t kill him off. He just kind of faded away over there in the dessert.”
It wasn’t just GI Bill that was radically changed. Wallace also noticed a change in himself that he said he still doesn’t quite understand.
“Maybe a loss of innocence, or maybe like a young boy that out grows his G.I. Joe and moves on, but something happened to me over there during the Gulf War that changed me and my perspective on what I want and how I was going to get it,” Wallace continued.
After 22 years of teaching art in elementary, middle and high schools, Wallace has decided to pick up the pen again and tell the unknown story of GI Bill’s disappearance, his reasons for giving up on his dream of becoming a political cartoonist, and the long lineage of military service in his Family.
His new graphic novel, called Dirtdart 357, will be told by the two birds he now calls “Tar and Feather” who he says were locked in a box for the last 20 years and now must get used to this fast, technological era.
The name Dirtdart 357 came from his time as a paratrooper.
“Dirtdart was slang for paratroopers and 357 was the number they slapped on my helmet in jump school,” Wallace said.
Aside from his passion for art and story telling, Wallace hopes to be able to reach out to struggling veterans.
“War effects everybody differently,” Wallace said. “I know one of the things that helped me was talking, and I want to get veterans to start to tell their stories.”
He said his recent research at the Veteran’s Affairs showed that 24 servicemembers and veteran’s commit suicide daily. This was his main motivation for wanting to reach out.
Wallace is planning to have a website set up for Dirtdart 357 in a month.