We tend to think that in the United Kingdom the widening out of the presentation of comics to a more mature audience started in the 1980s, initially with Warrior and then the run of various titles such as Deadline and Crisis that followed the ongoing sales success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns graphic novels. Yet there were also titles in the 1970s for a mature readership such as New English Library’s little known Dracula and the more familiar Near Myths from Edinburgh’s Science Fiction Bookshop, plus one that was published by IPC and advertised in its children’s comics of the time – True War.
War comics were very popular in the 1970s, from the digest-sized War and Battle Picture Libraries and the perennial Commando, to the weekly Warlord and Battle titles, so perhaps it wasn’t unsurprising that in 1978 IPC, the biggest magazine publisher in the UK, would consider a monthly war title aimed at those older readers who would find its weekly comics titles too juvenile. The outcome was the monthly magazine True War which mixed comics with WWII history and biography to produce two complete strips per issue that retold the story of one battle and one war hero. These biography strips were effectively Victor’s familiar ‘True Stories of Men At War’ writ long.
The 40 page magazine used the small 25 by 18 cm format of the ‘true crime’ magazines of the time with hand-tinted style colour photographic covers, black and white interiors, and a full colour artwork centrespread used for cutaways of military equipment of the WWII period. The 15 page strips were rendered in line and wash giving them a much superior look compared to the black and white line art of the contemporary digests and weekly comics, plus black and white photos were added to some of the pages instead of art panels. While this was unusual it was also done in the early Stingray strips in TV Century 21 in the 1960s and in some of the Dan Dare strips in new Eagle in the 1980s.
The uncredited artists used on the strips included some whose art styles were familiar to war comics readers of the time including Jim Watson who worked on early issues of Warlord and later strips in Battle, and Ian Kennedy who also worked for Warlord and Battle but is now best known for his painted Commando covers. Jim Watson produced each of the battle strips while Ian Kennedy produced the aviation related biography strips. Indeed Kennedy’s pages for the Sir Douglas Bader and Dambuster leader Guy Gibson VC strips are amongst some of the finest black and white artwork that he has produced throughout the seven decades of his career.
Unfortunately True War never found its readership and only lasted for three issues which doomed it to obscurity, at least until the Illustration Art Gallery unearthed some of the original art boards from it which revived interest in the title. At a cover price of 30p the first issue was more than three times the 9p price of 2000AD Prog 69 which had the same cover date and, despite having a few more pages, it was also physically smaller on the newsagents’ shelves. Indeed the only thing on the cover to suggest that this was a comic rather than a text-based magazine was the title’s tagline of “Real-Life Action, All In Pictures”. While each of the first two issues included the details of the following issue on page 2, the third issue had this replaced with the winners of the first issue’s competition and so there is no indication of what would have been in a possible fourth issue.
Looking back on it from almost four decades later True War does appear to be ahead of its time with some excellent artwork from artists who were well used to working on the war comics of the day. It is a shame that it didn’t last longer.