Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, by curators James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff (2012), accompanies an expansive Lichtenstein exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, later moving to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., then to the Tate Modern in London, and finally to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Among the works in the show are, of course, Lichtenstein’s iconic paintings of images based on comic strips. A precocious viewer may well wonder, Who are those characters? We wondered the same thing.
Several of Lichtenstein’s comics-inspired paintings, including Okay Hot-Shot, Okay! (1963); Von Karp (1963); and Jet Pilot (1962), are based on a character named Johnny Cloud from the DC Comic’s All American Men of War series (1956 to 1966). Johnny is a Navajo fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He was named “Flying Cloud” by his father, a Navajo Indian Chief, and called “Navajo Ace” by his fellow fighters. Johnny was the victim of prejudice growing up but went on to become Lieutenant and, later, Captain of the U.S. Army Air Force. Regardless of promotion, he continued to feel like a victim of racial prejudice.
Johnny destroyed a large number of Nazi planes and became a reoccurring DC Comic hero, joining a member of the elite military combat unit called The Losers. They operated in the European theater behind enemy lines for many years fighting for the Allies. Cloud always felt responsible when a pilot died under his command. When a pilot named “Wyoming”, who was flying beside him, died in aerial combat, Cloud’s guilt-ridden actions flew him into a mountain.
Information provided by: The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Comicvine.com, and the DC Comic Database.