There have already been quite a few Great War comics and graphic novels published this year in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the conflict and no doubt there will be many more to come as the anniversaries of various World War One battles and the final armistice come and go over the next four years. Soaring Penguin’s contribution is the 328 page hardback anthology To End All Wars edited by Jonathan Clode & John Stuart Clark and featuring 27 tales, 26 strips and 1 text, from a multitude of mainly small press creators, some familiar and some not.
Initially the most striking thing about this book is the quality of its publication, a heavy hardback with black edging to its pages and a bound-in fabric bookmark, showing that independent publisher Soaring Penguin have made a real effort in the production of this title. The cover, of a German A7V tank in a muddy devastated battlefield by Liz Waterhouse, sets the tone for the book as grim and gritty. It is an unusual choice for a cover subject given that the Germans had so few of them, they actually had more captured British tanks than their own A7Vs, which means that the tank design is not well-known and I do wonder how many readers or potential readers actually know what they are looking at.
Inside the artwork is in black and white with a multitude of different styles, from sketchy to bold, clean to grimy, while the themes of the stories cover land, sea and air combat as well as those on the home front. As with all anthologies by multiple creators, some tales work better than others and which ones those are will be down to individual readers. For me some are impressive while others come across as being initial drafts, either due to less than fully formed artwork or scripts that do not offer enough information to be fully understandable. However the following stood out –
The Bitter Harvest by Steve Earles and Johnny McMonagle – three brothers from Ireland go to war in France having each promised their mother to look after the others. This unashamedly echoes Charley’s War both in the script using letters to home as its text boxes and art layouts which could have come straight out of an issue of Battle Picture Weekly.
Between The Darkness by Petri Hanninen and Neil McClements – two German tank crew in a captured French Renault FT light tank await their fate after their vehicle breaks down during a battle. Grim and brutal, this claustrophobic tale truly pulls no punches and is perhaps the best in the book.
Only Remember by Christopher & Faye Colley and Jessica Martin & John Maybury – a modern-day couple research an ancestor who fought in a Bantam Battalion on the Western Front. A touching story that strikingly alternates between Jessica Martin’s sketchily detailed Great War sections and John Maybury’s stylised modern-day sections.
To End All Wars is an impressive if somewhat uneven publication that works best when it moves beyond its initial preachiness and gets on with simply telling the human stories of the Great War.
There is much more information about To End All Wars on the book’s blog.
There are more details of To End All Wars on the Soaring Penguin website.
There is a free exhibition of some of the artwork from To End All Wars at the Barbican Library in London until 22 November 2014.
Soaring Penguin will be at Thought Bubble in Leeds over the weekend of 15-16 November 2014 where their sales table will be in the New Dock Hall.