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posted: 8/13/2011 6:00 AM

Veteran's comic book focuses on Vietnam

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  • Don Lomax, 66, uses a fountain pen as he draws his comic "Vietnam Journal" at his home in Galesburg, Ill. Lomax bases the stories in his comics on his experience in the Vietnam War.

      Don Lomax, 66, uses a fountain pen as he draws his comic "Vietnam Journal" at his home in Galesburg, Ill. Lomax bases the stories in his comics on his experience in the Vietnam War.
    Nick Adams/The Register-Mail

  • Don Lomax enjoys being able to work from the tidy home he shares with his wife, Zeny. "I like the fact that my desk is 20 feet from my bed and 30 feet from my refrigerator," he said.

      Don Lomax enjoys being able to work from the tidy home he shares with his wife, Zeny. "I like the fact that my desk is 20 feet from my bed and 30 feet from my refrigerator," he said.
    Nick Adams/The Register-Mail

 
The (Galesburg) Register-Mail

GALESBURG, Ill. -- Don Lomax transforms a blank page with a black ink drawing pen.

The self-described "inkpot practitioner" is the creator of the comic "Vietnam Journal."

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Lomax, 66, of Galesburg offers an honest depiction of the Vietnam War.

The story follows Scott Neithammer, a freelance reporter the troops have nicknamed "Journal." It chronicles the lives and events of soldiers on the front line during Vietnam.

Lomax was drafted in 1965 and spent 11 months in Vietnam with the 98th Light Equipment Company. The stories he heard, the notes he made and the sketches he drew resulted in the creation of "Vietnam Journal."

"The stories go around camp," said Lomax, who retired from Burlington Northern Railroad in 1984 after 20 years.

But the railroad was a way to pay the bills, said Lomax, the veteran comic artist. He broke into the business after the war with stories in "Cavalier" and "Hustler Humor." His first job was with First Comics where he worked on "American Flagg," "Starslayer" and "The Black Flame."

"I've always loved comics," Lomax said. "As a kid, it was all about the scary stuff ... and stuff you knew you shouldn't be reading as a kid. It was before the Comics Code."

And then came the underground and non-code magazines, and that's where Lomax found a home. He sold his first professional work to the undergrounds and non-code magazines.

"It was when magazines were in their heyday," he said.

Admittedly, Lomax's style -- his images are often violent and the characters' language rough -- didn't fit the style of the big companies, such as Marvel and DC. Although, Lomax admits working for Marvel for a few years in the early 1990s on what he calls the "assembly line." He also wrote the later books of Marvel's series, "The 'Nam," issues 70 through 84.

But it was his own creation, Vietnam Journal, that would soon consume his creative life.

Lomax was working for Warp Graphics doing a comic entitled, Captain Obese, when the company was bought and the name changed to Apple Press. The owner of the company, Mike Catron, got the idea to do a regular comic about the war. It coincided with the time that movies about the Vietnam War such as "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" were big at the box office.

Lomax was intrigued by the challenge.

So "Vietnam Journal "was introduced in 1987 by Apple Comics. The series became quickly acclaimed and was nominated for a Harvey Award. It ran for 16 issues before being shelved.

"One reason why it didn't do well was Apple was a small company and it couldn't get space," Lomax said.

The original had several spinoffs, including "Tet '68," "Bloodbath at Khe Sanh," "Valley of Death" and "High Shining Brass."

Apple did produce two collections in a graphic-novel form, "Indian Country" and "The Iron Triangle" before the company closed when the comic market collapsed in 1994.

That's when Lomax went back to freelancing cartoons for slick magazines.

Then in 2001, Byron Preiss initiated the start-up of a new publishing house, I-Books, and approached Lomax to reissue Vietnam Journal and "Desert Storm Journal" in graphic-novel form. The company went under shortly after when Preiss was killed in an accident.

"Vietnam Journal," however, would not die.

Lomax took a beginning webpage design course and launched his own website to tell the rest of his stories.

Then in 2007, Transfuzion Publishing officially launched, and owner Gary Reed contacted Lomax about re-issuing the series to completion.

"They have the print rights, the property is mine," Lomax said.

Like his series, Lomax also doesn't see himself ending any time soon.

"I tried to retire once when I as 65. It lasted four hours," he said.

And he enjoys being able to work from his tidy home that he shares with his wife, Zeny.

"I like the fact that my desk is 20 feet from my bed and 30 feet from my refrigerator," he said. "I've just always had a passion for drawing. I don't think I could go through the day without doing it."

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