Reviewed by Steve Earles
By Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun
Publisher: Titan Books
The Book: In the final explosive volume of never-before-collected comic strip, including for the first time reproductions of strip pages from Joe Colquhoun’s original artwork, we finally reach the epic conclusion of Charley’s story, and the harrowing final days of World War One. The tenth action-packed volume of Charley’s War is rich in the detailed minutiae of the terror-punctuated existence of a Tommy, and includes a feature on the Treaty of Versailles and Germany’s capitulation.
The Review (Reviewed by Steve Earles): It’s appropriate to review this fine graphic novel in 2014, the centenary of the start of the Great War, the so-called ‘War To End All Wars’. Sadly, it was no such thing, it was the war that heralded a century of mechanised carnage and barbarism. Many of the 20th century’s great bloodbaths grew out of the First World War, the Second World War, the Spanish Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, all owe something to the Great War. And look at the news tonight: we haven’t come very far at all. We learn nothing from history, and are doomed to repeat it.
And that is one of the many significant things about Charley’s War, it should be on the school curriculum,
So, for those who don’t know, this is the tenth volume of Charley’s War, written by Pat Mills, easily Britain’s most significant comics creator of the last forty years, and illustrated by the legendary Joe Colquhon.
People ask why Charley’s War is as popular now as it was when it originally appeared in the much-missed Battle comic.
There are many reasons for this:
Firstly, while Charley’s War rightly celebrates the heroism of the ordinary soldier, it rightly derides the stupidity and human waste of the war they fight. The soldiers came home after the war to unemployment and misery, and they were the survivors!
Secondly, the scripts by Pat Mills are superb, beautifully written and extensively researched (NB research appears to be anathema to the majority of comics writers. But then, how much research does a ‘superhero’ comic require? To me a hero would be, for example, a surgeon who saves lives, a postman who delivers the mail rain or shine. But then we live in a world where people follow vacuous ‘celebrities’ on Twitter and think Facebook ‘friends’ are real friends.). The characters in Charley’s War speak like real people, not in a Thor-like bollocks ‘verily I shall smite the enemy with my hammer’ way that infects the majority of comics.
So, my question is, why don’t more writers take Pat’s approach and why don’t more publishers seek and nurture such writers? Because Charley’s War proves it works on all levels. Titan Books wouldn’t bring out the Charley’s War graphic novels unless there was a market for them. Art and commerce actually working, publishers! And Charley’s War is popular with all ages, male or female, which proves that comics to not have to relegated to the ghetto of a small comic book clique.
Finally, last but by no bloody means least, there is the artwork of Joe Colquhon. We are not worthy! Joe is the Gustav Dore of comics, unmatched in his ability to portray ordinary people in extraordinary situation, and seriously, his artwork is beautiful and heartfelt. He did Pat’s scripts the justice they deserved. His drawings are as detailed as pat’s scripts, it’s like a time machine to the period of the Great War. And again, he’s a superb storyteller. It’s the perfect symbiosis of artist and writer.
Charley’s War raised the bar for war comics and sadly, it’s all too seldom anyone tries to at least reach for that bar.
There are numerous reasons for this. The British comics industry was allowed to wither on the vine, it could be thriving today if a little commonsense was shown. Publishers needed to firstly savour the legacy of decades of readers, and then move with the time and build on it, and make sure the creators can actually earn a fair living from their efforts. A look at the extreme lack of British comics will prove this never happened.
The knock-on effects of this are tragic. Firstly, budding writers and artists lose their inspiration, thus we have few new artists and writers. Secondly, with no comics industry, even if there is talent available where will it appear? How will it earn a living?
Finally, Charley’s War was about ordinary people, you cannot get more subversive than that. In the sad celebrity obsessed culture of today, I can’t see that happening again.
Yet in many other countries, comics cover a variety of genres and appeal to all age groups. So things don’t have to be the way they are.
I’d say to any budding artists and writers picking up Charley’s War, for artists, take inspiration from Joe’s work, he’s a master storyteller, for writers, look at Pat’s work, that’s how to do it.
• This review first featured on the Destructive Music web-zine and is re-published here with the kind permission of Steve Earles