Earlier this month, DC Thomson released two very special issues of their war comic, Commando, which focused on female heroes. Published on International Women’s Day, the stories were commissioned by Heritage Brands Editor Kirsten Murray and marked something of an unusual but welcome departure from the book’s normally male-led war stories.
Still on sale in all good newsagents, Kirsten outlines the story behind these all-new adventures…
One of the most exciting things about Commando Comics is the opportunity to read two new adventures every two weeks. That was something I was most looking forward to when I became DC Thomson’s Heritage Brands editor (and therefore Commando editor) in November 2016: the opportunity to bring new stories to life.
Crucially, Commando has the reputation for being historically accurate in detail and for paying tribute to some of the biggest events in history. One of my duties as editor was to ensure we picked the correct events to pay homage to, so in early 2017, I found myself plotting not only the months ahead, but well into 2018.
I knew well in advance that 2018 would be a mammoth year for anniversaries and events, considering it’s the year of World War One’s Armistice centennial. As I sat at my desk, confronted with this huge list of landmark events, it seemed like an almost impossible task to decide exactly which events we could choose to tie in with, as we were keen to ensure Commando‘s contribution to the 100-year celebration was both respectful and relevant, whilst being interesting and entertaining for our readers. Looking over Commando’s hefty back catalogue, the changing shape of the comics industry and readership, and keeping the desire to tell new stories at the forefront of my mind, an idea began to form.
Commando Comics may have long been thought of as an adventure book for boys, but comics and adventure have never solely been for boys. The comics market has evolved and changed so much since Commando‘s launch in 1961, and, supported by my superiors at DC Thomson, we were keen to make sure stories were being told from all perspectives to interest all readers. It was with this in mind that I approached my Editor in Chief with the idea of putting out a call for new artists and writers in July 2017, with specific calls for pitches about women in war and ANZAC heroes. We agreed that, whilst Commando would still tell traditional stories, it was also time to make room for other heroes of military history and give them their opportunity to shine.
With 2018 also marking 100 Years of Votes for Women, it seemed like the perfect year to celebrate the important – and often overlooked – roles women have played in military history. Women have been courageous leaders, fearless warriors, and brilliant innovators in combat throughout the ages, so we were very keen to tackle the idea that women did little to contribute during wartime. This not only opened the door to potential new stories for Commando to tell, but also gave us a platform to recognise the achievements of women in history.
We received an overwhelming number of story pitches. The whole team was delighted and astonished at the response and passion for Commando. (The eagle eyed amongst our readers will likely have spotted some of the new artists we were fortunate enough to add to our contacts list following this call, including Paolo Ongaro and Neil Roberts). It took the Commando team quite a while to sift through all of the pitches, as we wanted to ensure all submissions were given a fair chance. In the end, we narrowed our options down to two stories which we would release on International Women’s Day (8th March 2018): “The Land Army Marches” and “Flak Run!”
Although set after 1918, the idea of telling a story from the Home Front seemed like the ideal way to introduce these female led stories, reflecting the significant role women played in keeping Britain running whilst the men were away fighting – something true to both the First and Second World Wars. This is why Iain McLaughlin‘s suspense thriller, “The Land Army Marches”, really caught my attention – it was a brilliant blend of nodding towards the contribution these women made with a hearty dose of classic Commando action to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Vicente Alcazar‘s stunning artwork seemed like the perfect pairing for me, and our newest cover artist, Neil Roberts, tackled the period inspired cover beautifully.
I know as editor, I shouldn’t have favourites, but “The Land Army Marches” was definitely one of them.
Our second adventure, “Flak Run!”, paid homage to fearless female pilots in history, such as Winifred Spooner, Lettice Curtis, and Micky Axton. Submitted by new Commando writer, Brent Towns, this aviation adventure celebrated the bravery of test pilots and the undervalued skill which many women awarded pilot’s licenses had during this era, which really helped it soar in the eyes of the Commando team. Brent Towns injected a lot of humour into this script, giving it a nice change of tone from “The Land Army Marches”.
One of our newer interior artists, Paolo Ongaro, was a natural fit, effortlessly bringing these characters to life on the page. It only seemed right to have the legendary Ian Kennedy create another incredible air war cover, proving that he is the master of painting danger in the skies action as the planes roar into battle over the Norwegian fjords.
Encouraged by the huge number of submissions we received, as well as the positivity shared by writers, artists and readers at our interest in stories about women in war, I knew that we couldn’t stop at simply celebrating International Women’s Day.
As previously mentioned, Commando Comics gives us the opportunity to breathe life into exciting stories, shining the spotlight on some of the lesser known heroics in military history. Driven by this enthusiasm, it was decided that 2018 would be the year where the comic would introduce a variety of female-fronted adventures. Over the course of the year, we’ll see women take to the skies, race to deliver important intel, fight on the Home Front, and stand strong behind enemy lines.
It has been a real pleasure being at the helm of such an iconic comic, and my goal as editor was to ensure our readers kept returning to our adventures whilst opening the door to any new readers who may want to jump into the action. For me, seeing these ideas become reality was certainly one of my proudest moments, and the support for seeing more women in action in the pages of Commando has been truly wonderful. I wish the new team the best of luck on the front lines of such an important staple in British comics.
• Kirsten Murray is now a freelance copywriter, proof reader and comics editor. You can find her on Twitter @KirstenAMurray
Commando 5103: Home of Heroes: The Land Army Marches
Story: Iain McLaughlin | Art: Vicente Alcazar | Cover: Neil Roberts
Isolated in the Norfolk countryside, trapped in a barn with armed Luftwaffe airmen swarming outside, two women decided that, like Mister Churchill said, they’d have to make do and mend. They would never give up hope. After all, they had one advantage over their Nazi invaders: they knew the barn, and the Germans didn’t. That’s when they turned the tables, rigging the barn with a series of traps, turning the hunters into the hunted…
Commando 5105: Action and Adventure: Flak Run!
Story: Brent Towns | Art: Paolo Ongaro | Cover: Ian Kennedy
When the Special Operations Executive set their sights on a Nazi heavy-water plant in Norway, there was only one pilot Squadron Leader Bill Travers had in mind for the job – Nancy Peacocke. But, despite being a test pilot for the WAAF with extra-ordinary skills, Nancy has her own reservations for flying the new De Havilland Mosquitos. But, even if Bill gets Nancy back in the cockpit, she’ll have more than her own fears to face on the flak run to the plant…
• Commando Comics are on sale every fortnight in all good newsagents and Commando #5103 and #5105 are still on sale now for £2 per issue. Commando Comics are available to buy and request in WHSmith and local newsagents.
• Print and digital subscriptions are available worldwide, and can be bought through the DC Thomson website