Rowling not laughing about Army's comic

Is that bespectacled boy who's pouring a sleeping potion into a large jar Harry Potter?

And, next to him, is that Ron Weasley with some truth potion? And Hermione Granger with "Love Potion No. 9"?

Well, no. That's the point.

This is the May 2004 issue of PS: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly comic book, a 54-year-old publication aimed at passing along how-to tips to U.S. soldiers for taking care of everything from giant aircraft to their personal kits.

It's a parody of J.K. Rowling's literary juggernaut about an orphan boy with a scar on his forehead and an aptitude for magic. It was writ-ten and produced all in good fun, Army officials say, but that's not how Rowling and Warner Bros., which is producing the series of movies from her books, are taking it.

They're taking it as a possible copyright infringement, and, last week, a Warner lawyer began discussions of the question with Army officials.

"Our lawyers say the illustrations [of the Harry Potterish characters] are permissible under the U.S. copyright law as parody," says Lt. Col. Virginia Ezell, a spokeswoman for the Army Materiel Command in Ft. Belvoir, Va., which publishes PS.

The May 2004 issue of PS drew news attention earlier this month, particularly from the United Kingdom, after its existence became widely known through a Feb. 3 posting on one of the Harry Potter Internet fan sites,

PS, which is produced out of Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is a monthly comic with a circulation of 88,000. The Army has been using the colorful format for more than half a century, Ezell says, "to get the soldiers to pick it up. It needs some way to attract their attention."

The information tends to be nuts-and-bolts advice, such as one soldier would pass along to another, she says.

From the beginning, the comics have featured Master Sgt. Half-Mast, and, over the years, there have been one-shot parodies of such cultural icons as the Lone Ranger, Dr. Dolittle and The Twilight Zone.

In the Potter parody, Half-Mast gets a tour of Mogwart's School of Magical PM from Professor Rumbledoore during which he -- and the Army soldiers reading the comic -- learns that preventive maintenance is necessary before every flight on a broomstick, that magic wands need a light coating of oil once a week and that potions need to be stored in separate jars.

All of which, of course, underlines the need in Army life to give equipment its needed care.

"We're not trying to make money out of this," Ezell says. "We're trying to help soldiers. It's a way to keep them safe."