or the generations of PS Magazine readers, this question garners many answers. The simple answer is that Connie was, and continues to be, a fixture of wisdom for readers of PS. She interjects safety reminders and requirements throughout the pocketsize magazine while providing valuable information at key moments in the maintenance narrative. Connie is the voice of reason, the gentle prompt, the (fantastic) drill sergeant in your head. But this description is, perhaps, too simple and too ignorant of Connie’s original purpose in PS and fails to explain her inevitable evolution from the inaugural issue in 1951 to the latest digital issue. As PS Magazine celebrates 60 years of preventative maintenance, we have to ask, who is Connie Rodd? A sexy piece of eye candy? A trusty civilian side-kick? Or some amalgamation of the two?
The Connie Rodd of Will Eisner’s years at PS is perhaps the most famous depiction of the blonde bombshell. Eisner began working on the Joe Dope and Connie Rodd characters during WWII when he worked on various publications for the Army. Eisner was already famous in the comic world for his graphic novel The Spirit, and his love of combining illustration and education evolved out of Army Motors and into PS. By the time Connie arrived in PS, her civilian status allowed her character to take on a highly ambiguous role in the publication. She transformed into whatever character type she needed to be to get the point across—an unassuming buxom blonde on the beach, or a (partially) dressed soldier on the battlefield. Undoubtedly, Connie was sexy—extremely sexy—and this fact was not lost on Dope, Half-Mask or any of the other recurring characters (or readers) of PS. Eisner never missed an opportunity to accentuate Connie’s bust line or her long legs, and he never, ever missed an opportunity for licentious innuendo. (Two issues in 1956 alone allude to male soldiers learning the ins-and-outs of lube with a barely dressed Connie waiting on a beach.)
These early images of Connie reinforce the fact that her role was never clearly defined (unlike the male characters), and the sexual innuendo was always from the male perspective. Throughout these issues, Connie was both motherly and sexual. She dispensed important knowledge throughout the issue, often in a tone of parental disapproval or gentle, teacherly guidance. Yet, she was also a distraction for the male characters. Provocatively dressed (even in the winter!), Connie’s maintenance information seemed overwhelmed by her overt sex appeal.
And sex appeal was in short supply in comics during the 1950s. Still in the grips of the Comics Code Authority, Eisner was able to circumvent the draconian restrictions on comics as an Army illustrator. Enacted in 1954, the Comics Code severely limited any type of sexual depictions in comics (and a host of other words and depictions that could corrupt the youth), but you would never know it looking through PS. For comic lovers, PS carried on the fantasy that mainstream comics could not. Connie was a faithful and reliable reminder of not only the Veronica Lake-esque pin ups but also of the sexy comic characters many of the soldiers grew up with.
The nostalgia for pin up girls and golden age renditions of comic femme fatales was not lost on Eisner. By merging these cultural idols with the very real technical information in Preventative Maintenance, he was able to create a useful and necessary tool through illustration and cultural familiarity. (Only in the earliest issues of PS are technical images photographed.) Yet, this cultural familiarity, if we agree that Connie falls into this category, raises many questions on her role not just PS, but as a fixture in Army culture. With overt sexual innuendoes continually directed at Connie, as well as ogling eyes, perverted peeping Toms, and a wildly unrealistic wardrobe, was Connie simply bait for male soldiers to the detriment of women? Was Eisner’s Connie Rodd bad for women in the Army?
The short answer would be “yes.” Connie’s character went through a dramatic rewrite during the 1980s. Gone was the ambiguous role as mother and sexy teacher. Gone were the range of revealing dresses and fantasy uniforms. Gone were the sexual comments and drooling troops. Such a revision did not happen by accident. Pressure from the women’s movement led to a more realistic portrayal of Connie (and her compatriot, Bonnie). The original Connie reinforced the objectification of women as civilians and women in uniform. PS was a publication that focused on technical maintenance, and it was, despite the illustrations, not a comic book (per se).
The original Connie reinforced the objectification of women as civilians and women in uniform.
Yet, these assertions, while accurate, do not explain the unique relationship between Connie and the other characters in PS. Oddly enough, Connie held a rather powerful position in the pages of PS during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She was by far the most knowledgeable character, and she routinely found herself frustrated with the lack of patience and attention from the male soldiers. Connie, while buxom, blonde, and scantily clad, was serious about her duty to preventative maintenance. Cindy Jackson, comic aficionado and archival assistant of the comic arts collection at Virginia Commonwealth University, notes that the depiction of Connie was simply in line with general depiction of women in traditional, pre-code comics. The fact that Eisner carried the portrayal of femme fatales through PS should come as no surprise. What is surprising lies in Connie’s thinking role in the publication. Keeping in line with the femme fatales of comics’ golden age would give us a Connie that either greedily accepted and prompted the male attention, or was too clueless to notice. Connie Rodd does neither. Her sex appeal lured and amused readers, but her informative role in PS was indispensable. Hence, her inevitable evolution to the Connie we read in PS today.
The “cheesecake” Connie Rodd lured readers to PS and kept their attention long enough to dispense useful and often life-saving information. Eisner knew his audience and played to his strengths as an artist and readerly desires. While Connie’s character in the publication certainly reinforced sexism in the military (and in the general population as well), her role as a knowledgeable, no nonsense, powerful woman associated with the Army is undeniable. Connie Rodd’s character is simple and paradoxical, objectifying and powerful, but, above all, highly historical. Her evolution highlights not the evolving role of women in uniform, but the evolving consciousness of women in the Army.