Sailors Blast Pirates in Navy Comic

The U.S. Navy releases a graphic novel to recruit shipsmen

The drawings are crisp and tales of Navy officers scouring the high seas for pirates and other rogues are enticing. Even vivid sound-effect words "FZZZZ" and "FZAAAT" appear in a new graphic novel the Naval Academy is rolling out to recruit midshipmen.

No, the Navy doesn't call it a comic book. A graphic novel is intended for more mature audiences. And the novel, released Thursday, is an ambitious attempt by the school established in 1845 to attract minority students and other applicants it has struggled to woo in recent years.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the academy's superintendent, said the novel's story lines about saving the world and serving country are served up in a format that appeals to youth. And it's not the first time the Navy has released a graphic novel either.

Last year the Navy issued another in Japan, where so-called manga comic books are immensely popular, bidding to ease concerns about the move there by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

The publication is called "Bravo Zulu" — the naval signal meaning "Well done." It runs just 12 action-packed pages.

Fowler has made diversity a priority at the academy, and minority characters play a prominent role in the plot. The academy received nearly 4,500 minority applications for the class of 2013 — the most ever in the school's history. But making the academy's student body more reflective of the Navy fleet has been a challenge over the years.

The academy, which trains future naval officers, faces fierce competition for highly qualified minority students, who are in hot demand at the nation's elite colleges and universities where military service isn't required after graduation.

The publication, which had an initial run of about 100,000 at 40 cents a copy, will be distributed during outreach programs by academy recruiters nationwide. Fowler said the academy has plans for a sequel, depending on how well the first is received.

"Bravo Zulu" tells the story of five midshipmen on the day of their academy induction. They envision their futures during a night spent in an ornate crypt beneath the academy's chapel, a shrine to Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones.

One student touches Jones' sarcophagus to a thunderous "FZZZZZZZ" and sees "Destruction. Despair ... the world is on the brink of chaos. It's strange how the decisions of one can affect so many ... and sometimes the entire planet."

The student then is shown "a future where you graduate first in your class and are assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan."

"Then one day ... while on watch navigating the ship ... you spot a pirate ship ... in the cornerstone of evil in the world." Panels illustrate the student peering through binoculars and spotting two armed pirates on a ship off in the distance.

A shadowy adult character who earlier chided the students for not being able to "see past the next five minutes to your future" tells the student: "Your eyes caught what no one else would have. And no one else might."

The shadowy character leaves the five students with these parting words: "Before you leave, remember two things! Mission first, shipmates always ... and don't give up the ship."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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