Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

04 Sep

CharleysWarOneLargeGraphic novels/comic books are an underrated medium but one stand out comic series has been re-released in the last few years makes everything all right with the world again. Bringing together as it does an important anti-war message as well as a compelling storyline.

War serials in comics – the British comics at least – have a rich history stories which usually featured one hero running through a hail of bullets whilst everyone was being cut down and saving the day.

Charley’s War though is refreshingly different, not only bringing the insanity and horrors of war to the fore but also framing a moving and action packed story in the world of static trench warfare.

Appearing in Battle Picture Weekly, the story follows Charley Bourne a 16 year old who lied to get into the army and subsequently arrives at the trenches not long before the Battle of the Somme is due to start, what follows is a powerfully poignant tale of growing up, of life, death, friendship, bitterness and questions of why?

Although the subject matter is no doubt grim, it is offset not only with the legendary camaraderie of the troops abut also with some clever and  wonderfully moving plot devices to stop you warying from the inhumanity of the conflict.  One of which are the letters exchanged between Charley and his family, which start out all care free like he is on an adventure and having fun. Later when the realities of war kick in and he changes and grows harder to the carnage around him, we see the frivolities of family life back home and how the letters from the front keep the upbeat tone as the world goes to hell around him, it’s an admirable and touching thing he does, adding a lot of depth to his character.

The backdrop to our working class protagonist is provided by the genuinely staggering artwork of Joe Colquhoun, there is so much CWar_Part_2_022going off and the attention to detail is genuinely impressive, all the more when both script and art work were only completed a week ahead due to Battle’s weekly publishing.  The violence of explosions is expressed very strongly and I felt I could almost hear the artillery, it takes a special artist to create such feelings.

And so to the script and this is one heck of a script, very well researched and realistic, it holds nothing back, from field punishments, the ridiculous waste of life, the self-sacrifice and the under currents of the class war, as well main characters getting killed off with alarming regularity to drive home the point about war.   The bit that most moved me in the book was one heartbreaking drawing and accompanying text to the right, if you struggle to make it out the words it says:  As huge guns pulled into position, mass graves are dug,ready for the soldiers who have come to the Somme to die.

That is such an epically tragic way to put into context what would take place on that battleground and you will find it does have an impact.  it is almost as if it has always been the soldiers’ destiny to come here for a heroic and ultimately useless charge.  All this scene setting is helped by several other sections in the book, a commentary on each episode, a history of key events in real life to which the book grounds itself and a revealing introduction about the inspiration behind the work.

This being Volume one the initial impact which does wear off gradually throughout the ten volumes but nevertheless this is a powerful indictment of war and can’t be faulted in any way.  Just watching the Tommies kicking footballs over No Man’s Land towards the Germans who start to mow them down, whilst at the bottom of each caption Charley’s brother Wilf talks about watching a good game of football and one team being massacred…

At the end of the first day, the British armies alone lost, in total, 57,470 soldiers on the first day alone.: 19,240 killed.  35,493 injured.  2,152 went missing.   585 were captured.


Tags: , , , , , ,

19 responses to “Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

  1. Alastair

    04/09/2013 at 16:35

    Holy …. !!!!

    All of those dead on the first day. And they were just the British.

    I remember I used to read the Battle weekly. Or was it Commando? It was about the second world war and I think one of the main characters was killed off at one point. Either LT or Union Jack Jackson.

    I like what they did with this one though. They showed that war is not pretty. War is not fun. The way it should be. The first world war was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

    Maybe this needs to go out again before World War 3 starts.


    • Ste J

      04/09/2013 at 16:46

      Statistics are a scary thing…the carnage that took place is not only harrowing but I find impossible to even process, who knows what went through those men’s minds.

      I remember reading somewhere…possibly the introduction in the book, that kids were telling Mills that they wanted to be in a war because of the adventures they read and that’s why he chose to write the story, to show the true nature of it all. Whilst governments and big business want money there will always be another war, still the printing presses should start cranking up now just in case!

      I only came in at the tail end of comics, getting the Victor annuals of the 80’s so am a bit rusty on such matters…I do have some Commando books somewhere though…


      • Alastair

        04/09/2013 at 17:08

        Due to playing Call of Duty, my son wanted to go into the army. With his Asperger’s, he thought that if he was shot, then all he had to do was hide and it would heal quickly. Games show it as a glory as well. Maybe something will show kids that it is not a fun place to be


        • Ste J

          04/09/2013 at 17:35

          A quick respawn and all is right with the world…you are right games have more impact than a history book to the young and all the ‘cool’ graphics do seek to jazz it up somewhat. Perhaps they should put stuff like this on the curriculum at schools, although such a forward thinking idea would be met with a lot of opposition one would expect.


          • Alastair

            04/09/2013 at 18:18

            My daughter has done WWII in history last year, and she had words with her brother once when he said that war was fun. She told him what Hitler was like and about all the people that never came home.

            I do think that stuff like that should be out there for kids to see. It may get them to see the true nature of war.


            • Ste J

              06/09/2013 at 18:50

              Yes, anything that promotes peace is a good thing. If they are happy to put all those scary government adverts on TV about drink driving and stuff that kids can see and have nightmares about then why not shock them but with a better medium about war.


              • Alastair

                06/09/2013 at 19:48

                I couldn’t agree more with you. War is horrific. There is no restart at the next level. There are real snipers.

                I watched Full Metal Jacket the other day. That promotes the nastiness of the war.


  2. nancyrae4

    04/09/2013 at 17:15

    The number of dead in one day is almost half the number of American deaths in the 25 years of the Vietnam War. I can’t even begin to imagine the carnage. That being said, I think graphic novels can express intense and violent situations even better than words.


    • Ste J

      04/09/2013 at 17:33

      I agree when they are done right they have a huge impact and the images stay with us in a way that the news can’t provide, what with desensitising us all to terrible things. The colossal waste of life is unbelievable…it makes you wonder how anyone thought they could justify such losses on any level.


  3. sakuraandme

    05/09/2013 at 05:41

    Afternoon my friend. 🙂
    How terrifying! It gave me goose bumps reading it. So senseless all in the name of war. These men are so brave and courageous. I can’t even imagine what courage it took to stand up knowing you were only going to get shot down. Sometimes life is so hard to understand and wars? even worse. Was this put on DVD? I need to hug you as this was a bit depressing. Okay, nice hug, thank you! Paula xxxxx


    • Ste J

      06/09/2013 at 18:42

      Sorry for the depressing nature of my words and statistics…it is something that always effects me…not sure why this war in particular though. No DVD but the books are easily gettable should you wish to read one. It isn’t a totally depressing story, there are hints of humour but it is just so well done that it demands to be read. Hugs make everything better! xx


  4. renxkyoko

    05/09/2013 at 06:25

    SteJ, you should watch the anime ” Graveyard of the Fireflies”. It got so many awards. Google it first.


    • Ste J

      06/09/2013 at 18:39

      I hadn’t heard of this but I shall have a look into this…it sounds like a must watch…thanks for the heads up.


  5. RoSy

    05/09/2013 at 21:28

    The numbers of people lost in war are heartbreaking. I will always wonder ask why – lots of whys. I think a lot comes down to power, ego, & greed. Sometimes just plain hate. So sad.


    • Ste J

      06/09/2013 at 18:36

      so sad and so sometimes so pointless, wars change borders on a map or make people hate more but that is all. Wars of freedom are corrupted by propaganda, and power like you say. I think we need a pick-me-up now!


  6. Alastair Savage

    10/09/2013 at 07:22

    A nice blast from the past. Looking back at my childhood in the 1980s, I’m astonished that so many British comics were based on war, as well as Battle, there was also Warlord and the little Commando books, as my namesake mentions above. It’s worth remembering that it was an event that was very fresh in many people’s minds at the time. In 1980, the Second World War was only 35 years old, and 1980 is now 33 years ago for us… Charley’s War still stand out for its anti-war message because the vast majority of those comics tended to glamorise the combat.
    Another unusual strip appeared in the 1970s comic Action, which had a complete story told from the point of view of the German side. There’s a great history of the comic here:


  7. Christina ~

    12/09/2013 at 02:15

    War is heartbreaking…whatever the reason. Only with hindsight do any of us learn this truth. I think these should be required reading for all teens…globally. I didn’t know of this so 7ish years ago when my eldest daughter and her friend brought up how “cool” it would be to go to war with Russia….with the friend’s parent’s permission….I sat them down and had them watch Saving Private Ryan….perhaps too bold but it did make the point. War….is heartbreaking! xxxxx ~


  8. quirkybooks

    23/09/2013 at 22:15

    It’s always interesting reading your reviews. They seem incredibly balanced an intriguing.



Tell me stuff...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: