Will Eisner's 1968 M16 rifle manual

How to Be a Retronaut has a complete scanned copy of The M16A1 Rifle Operation and Preventative Maintenance, a US Army manual created by Will Eisner in 1968.

The M16A1 Rifle Operation and Preventative Maintenance


    1. I thought it was Samantha from Bewitched until I saw the boots. I’d expect her  identical evil twin cousin Serena  to shill M-16s  but not Sam…

      1. Or maybe Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made For Walking” 1966.
        I believe the A1 model had the shell extractor added as the original AR15 had the tendency to jam.  Gimme the M14 anyday.

        1. The M16A1 added the forward assist, which pushed the bolt carrier group forward to avoid the famous jams.  I used one for 4 years and only had a couple of jams, both due to crappy, short blank rounds.  I can still recall the SPORTS mnemonic for immediate action in case of a jam.  Slap magazine, pull charging handle back, observe the chamber, return the bolt, tap forward assist, and squeeze the trigger.

          Also, for dirty/wet firing, I definitely preferred the AK-47/74.  Those things are sturdy and the parts are interchangeable, which led the Sovs to stamp an rifle number on most of the parts to deter theft.  I always figured if somebody could steal a part out of your weapon, you deserve what you get.

  1. That seems like an awful lot of work – can’t we just get an Apple Assault rifle? iDeath?

      1. –Trigger, safety, and fire selection are all accomplished via an easy to use touchscreen.  

        –Soundtrack function dowloads Credance Clearwater Revival from iTunes anytime you board a UH-1.  

        –Chasing the dragon?  Ask Siri to find you the cheapest smack next time you’re in Saigon.

    1. Sheesh, where’s the nerds? Isn’t there already an Apple Assault Rifle, in Greg Bear’s Eon? Shoots laser beams instead of bullets. Maintenance consists of, what — cleaning the power pack contacts and replacing the lens cap. Battle-tested against invading Soviet forces; effectiveness against Frants and other boojums unknown, since no one ever got over the first-contact shock in time to squeeze off a shot.

  2. Will Eisner spent a large part of his career working as a technical illustrator and writer for the Army journal The Preventive Maintenance Monthly. Eddie Campbell provides some choice examples of Eisner’s work for the journal:

    For a lot more see “PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly”:

    All of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly issues Eisner worked on are available online as public domain resources:

    1. I like shooting, and I’ve owned quite a few semi-auto rifles and pistols. That manual makes the M-16 sound like a major finicky pain in the butt, and a terrible thing to send into field service, and very unfavorable compared to the AK-47 which reportedly can be mistreated a great deal and still perform reliably. (It’s also supposed to be less accurate, which is more desirable in an automatic weapon, as it produces a cone of bullets. This gets to be a sickening topic quickly.)

  3. If one was interested in getting an AR-15 that looked like a really really “Retro” M16, you can get upper and lower receivers (slab side and pre forward assist) + Carry handle trigger style cocking handles from nodakspud.com

    One of those would go well with the manual.

  4. In contrast the AK-47 manual has one page of instructions and 40pages of cartoons depicting scantily clad ladies and one wolf smoking a cigarette.

  5. I own a copy of this. A friend in the Air Force gave it to me more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, he took the time before giving it to me to deface it with his own little attempts at humor, adding word balloons, dick jokes, etc. I cry every time I look at it.

  6. It seems like a really sensible way to convey technical information to a general audience. I wish the Hayne’s manual for my car was illustrated and narrated in that style.

    It also suggests more reasons the the M16 might have been so hated when it was first issued. All those caveats and counter-intuitive requirements to remember (don’t remove the lower service receiver in case the steel bolts wear out the aluminum holes, don’t assume water will drain out of the under-width barrel, don’t clean your rifle to normal inspection standards in case you de-lube it and water works itself into bad places…). And then it wasn’t until v2.0 was released that the thing actually shot bullets when the trigger was pulled.

    1. I agree, this seemed uncharacteristically well-written and informative, down to including very practical and usable information for dealing with the reality of combat in the jungle. Most technical manuals seem to assume ideal conditions at all times.

      Also, I’m amazed at how much is involved in maintaining these things. All of my experience with guns is from movies and video games, so while I knew maintenance is required and that in boot camp you learn to disassemble and reassemble your gun in 60 seconds while blindfolded (or whatever), you never get the sense that it’s really that big a deal.

      1. “you never get the sense that it’s really that big a deal.”

        In basic, when not training on something specific, the drills had you reading your smart book (soldier book of tasks and info) or working with your weapon.  One poor fool didn’t have time to reassemble his weapon before chow, so he wrapped it in a blanket and locked it in his locker.  His platoon sergeant found it, parted it out to the company’s drills, and had him low-crawling up and down the company area over the sharp gravel, asking the drills for each piece in order.  You weren’t supposed to be more than an arm’s length away from it.  My drills were Vietnam and Korean war vets and stressed the importance of keeping that M16 close.

        1. That makes a lot of sense after having looked through this booklet, and puts all those movies with basic training scenes into a better context. A complex, precision machine that is surprisingly (to me) fragile and is the difference between life and death in combat… yeah I guess it’s pretty damn important to take care of it :)

  7. I’ve known about this for years, but I didn’t realize Eisner drew it. I saw one in person at a comic convention for not that much money.

    And IIRC the early problems were form using corrosive ammo and non-chrome-lined barrels . Modern ARs pretty reliable and much more accurate than the AK line. One of the big upgrades a rifleman has now is an ACOG scope.

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