Graphic 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 going 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.