G.I. Joe Takes on Veterans’ Mental Health

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States, and IDW Publishing took an interesting tack to raise awareness: they tackled PTSD and veterans’ mental health head on in an issue of G.I. Joe

August’s G.I. Joe #7, by Paul Allor, Chris Evenheus and Brittany Peer, takes a look back at the rebooted Scarlett’s time before the Joes’ current war with Cobra. Scarlett is suffering through the aftereffects of her time in Afghanistan, reconnecting with Duke who is fighting to get her treatment for her PTSD. This issue is something Allor had in mind from before the reboot launched, he told a panel discussion put on by IDW to help raise awareness for the issue. 

“That allowed me to do the research for this issue in the background, while I was working on issues 1-6,” he said. “I really wanted to make sure to get it right, and to honor those who have served and been through these issues, and not do something that was melodramatic or maudlin…and fit into the overall G.I. Joe story we were telling.”

Allor, Evenheus and Peer’s representation of the challenges of PTSD was roundly praised by the panel, which included Duane France, a Sergeant First Class with the Army and certified mental health counselor; and Dr. Patricia Watson from the National Center on PTSD, both of whom consulted on the issue. France even said he and some of his mental health counselor colleagues have been using the issue with clients.

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The issue does an outstanding job of using the comics form to show the iterative process of Scarlett’s recovery. Peer’s coloring shows Scarlett’s anxious stress visualizations, seeing flashes of danger where there is none, and the repetitions of sequences and panels from Evenheus, Peer, and Allor help make the climaxes of the issue that much more effective. It is a genuinely excellent issue of comics, made even better by the fact that it is serving a positive social end as well.

The issue comes as part of a rebooted series that threw out the various threads of past Joe continuity and replaced them with a world conquered by tech giant Cobra, enabled by a public enamored with the concept of law and order, with the Joes serving as a scrappy American resistance underground working to secure true freedom. Totally ridiculous, right? 

Michael Kelly, Vice President of Publishing at Hasbro (G.I. Joe’s parent company), said the inspiration for the reboot came out of the Special Operations Executive in World War II. They were fascinated with the sacrifices made by civilians behind enemy lines in that war, and wanted something with a similar feeling to it. That aligned nicely with how modern warfare is conducted, said Allor – increasingly asymmetrical and non-traditional. And it gave them the space to fit a story like this issue in.

IDW and Hasbro have made G.I. Joe #7 available for free through the end of September. The panel discussion with Allor, Kelly, France, and Dr. Watson can be viewed here. And if you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can get help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here.

Mental Health Crisis Resources

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month piece by Freddie Williams

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