Feature by Jonathan Clode
When the British government unveiled its plans for the centenary of the Great War last year, many of us shuddered with the expectation it would be a flag waving exercise, glossing over what Harry Patch, the last survivor of the war, called ‘organised mass murder’. Recent expressions of disdain by our Education Secretary Michael Gove have cemented the fear that the truth will be drowned in a mire of jingoism.
Over the years, comics about World War One have been few and far between. We all know Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War, published in Battle, and, perhaps, Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches, but in recent years little else of note has been produced. Most of my writing experience has been in anthologies, so when I expressed my concerns it was suggested I develop a World War One anthology to mark the coming centenary.
Not knowing how to go about this resulted in a handful of emails and a couple of blog posts. In a matter of days, a host of writers and artists from all over the world had been in touch, eager to contribute. Some knew less about World War One than others, and none of us were experts, but the desire to develop a story suggested everyone wanted to know more. Having never edited anything in my life, I was lucky to have Brick, author of Depresso, offer to ride shotgun throughout.
To End All Wars, which will be published by Soaring Penguin in July, was conceived as a humble effort to commemorate the countless lost and ruined lives, as well as tackling some of the myths and half-truths about ‘The Great War’. Early on, we set our stall out to cover as many aspects of this astonishing and horrific conflict as possible, basing each story on fact but giving our writers and artists the freedom to take them to wherever their imaginations desired. Scroll through the list of contributions and you will find an extraordinary breadth of subject matter and ways of telling.
We have a dramatic reconstruction of the war in the Atlantic that could have come straight out of Steve Ditko’s vault of horror. We have the story of combatants’ affection and need for pets in the trenches, related exclusively in pictures. We have the obligatory war poet’s story, but that of the Welsh hill farmer, Hedd Wyn, whose story is rarely told, even in his homeland. And we have a take on the controversial Mata Hari, the story of class conflict in a POW camp, and the very personal narrative of an author’s search for their great grandfather’s memorial.
We have low humour, high drama, weird fantasy, even a couple of love stories and sincere tributes. We take readers from the Home Front to East Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Turkey, and we are non-partisan, with narratives from the ‘other side’ of the conflict, not least that of the greatest unofficial war artist of all time, Otto Dix.
The challenge of bringing together 26 stories (far more than we originally intended) has been immense, particularly for inexperienced editors unsure how far we dare push contributors. Seeing the final product come together is a testament to the talent and passion of the 40 plus writers, artists and letterers who have given their time for no financial reward; all proceeds from the sale of To End All Wars will be given to Medicins Sans Frontières.
Everyone involved came to this project knowing very little about World War One, so perhaps most importantly, it will stand as an acknowledgement of the nightmare inflicted upon the world between 1914 and 1918, and the atrocities all of it’s people, allegiances aside, were forced to endure.
Ultimately, when you’ve read To End All Wars, we hope at the very least you will put it down and think, I must find out more about the truth of World War One.
• For more information on the project, visit: http://toendallwarscomic.wordpress.com
• Soaring Penguin Press: www.soaringpenguinpress.com