Author Spotlight: Thom Rooke
Recently we spoke with the author of Gene Basset’s Vietnam Sketchbook: A Cartoonist’s Wartime Perspective, Thom Rooke.
I hadn’t paid attention / thought about the Vietnam War in decades. Maybe I never had? It was fun going back and reading up on the war. It was also nice to work with Gene – he’s full of great stories (and not just about the war.)
How did your collaboration with cartoonist Gene Basset begin?
Gene was a patient of mine. Along with our wives and my kids, we began doing things socially. Things grew from there. Note – the part about “learning to drink martinis” is true – Ann and Gene tried to teach me to drink them. I got sick on both occasions and gave up.
We see this book is dedicated to Paul Revere, why?
I knew Paul well. He was a conscientious objector during the war, but made sure that he “gave back” afterward. He worked closely with a lot of Vietnam veterans / groups (including the “Ride to the Wall” organization. Paul died this year, and it seemed fitting to dedicate the book to him.
Through these sketches, how is the Vietnam War portrayed differently? What do you find especially unique about these drawings?
The “unique” thing is the lack of combat. With the exception of one or two scenes, there’s no fighting. Gene was sent to sketch a war; it seems he sketched everything else.
What would you like readers to gain from Basset’s sketches?
There’s more to war than combat.
Have your views on the Vietnam War changed since working with Basset?
I’m not sure. Like everyone else, I couldn’t make sense of this war when we were fighting it. I couldn’t make sense of it when we stopped. I really can’t make sense of it now.
Has analyzing grief through the Vietnam War changed your perceptions on grief as a whole?
It’s reinforced my belief that “bad things happen to everyone” and that most of us find a way to get through / over them.
Working directly with Basset, were your perceptions of his art challenged in ways you had not considered?
I had not realized how quickly he drew. I always assumed his sketches were careful, thought out works. They’re not. These are impressions (does that make him an “Impressionist?”
Which one of Basset’s illustrations do you like most?
There are 2 favorites. The one titled “You #@$% — Next time don’t forget the beer,” which shows a soldier shaking his fist at a departing plane, is one I had originally hoped to put on the cover of the book. I’m not alone in also liking “ELEPHANT GRASS, PUNGI STICKS, MINES AND VIET CONG” which shows soldiers disappearing into the tall grass. Powerful image!