Visual Realism in Charley’s War

We’ve seen how Pat Mills brought realism to Charley’s War with his inclusion of real events into it’s storyline but Pat wasn’t the only one to do this. Joe Colquhoun must have researched the war extensively as well, as his frames were so full of detail and adhered to fact just as much as the script did.

This page gives a few examples of this.

Charley's War: Visual Realism - The Wiounded


Blind Leading the Blind

Above is an example of the attention to detail in Joe’s work. Above is a photograph from 1917
of men walking to the dressing station behind the line after being blinded by poison gas. Below is Joe’s artwork from 1979 of the same subject.

One of the great things about Joe was his ability to cover scenes such as the horrific wounds, and gruesome death suffered by the soldiers in the great war without ever becoming cliche or puerile. A lot of his work showed more because it left the bulk to the imagination. An example is an episode where the character Pop has his legs blown off. We only know this because charley thinks it while comforting him, Pop is cropped at the chest throughout. Ginger’s death is another good example: we just see him engulfed in flame, the imagination completes the image.

St Quentin Canal Bridge

Charley's War: Visual Realism - St Quentin

The merged picture above is another comparison. The photo shows the bridge crossing the canal at St Quentin, the scene of one of the most daring actions of the war in 1918 when the British advanced across the Canal under terrible machine gun and artillery fire. It is also the spot where the poet Wilfred Owen was killed. The canal was part of the Hindenburg Defensive positions that the Germans had built in 1917 when they withdrew from their positions and retreated three miles.

On the top is a scene of Charley’s War when he had become a Lance Corporal in the strip and was leading his Lewis section across the canal, below is a photo of the same bridge and crossing soon after the battle in 1918.

Lady Angela Forbes

Charley's War: Lady Angela Forbes

•Lady Angela Forbes

This a scene from the storyline about the British Army Mutiny at Etaples training camp (otherwise known as the Bullring). Lady Angela Forbes was the force’s sweetheart at the camp and was extremely voiciferous in her feelings towards the brutal treatment of soldiers there.

She was also a friend of the Royal Family and very respected in British high society. It’s said that she infuriated Haig who called ‘That damn Woman’ when she told of what was happening at Etaples.

Joe’s research is quite amazing considering there has only ever been one book about the Mutiny due to the cover up by the Army. (the records are released in 2017) (See also ‘Blue’ on the Characters page for more information).

Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson

Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson

Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson

Left is a photo of  Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson. the camp commandant at Etaples and right is Joe’s interpretation. As someone said to me in an email – who would have known the difference?

As Pat and Joe showed very well in Charley’s War, Thomson was taken to the river by the ringleaders of the mutiny and thrown in the river. He had been desperately trying to contact friends in the cavalry and machine gun corps at the time of the mutiny in order to ‘make some examples’ to regain control.

 The Bullring

Charley's War: The Bullring

Above, we see the brutal retraining ground known as the ‘Bullring’ at Etaples. The troops who had returned from leave or from convalescence would be ‘toughened’ up here before being returned to the trenches.

The picture here (and Joe’s interpretation of it) shows bayonet practice on the beach. Up to 20,000 men would be drilled here at one time. On the 8th September 1917, it was the setting for a mass sit-down protest against the brutal treatment by the drill NCOs and military police and marked the beginning of the mutiny.

From the Western Front to the Yorkshire Dales, London’s East-end to the battlefields of Gallipoli; Joe’s artwork was spot on every time. The leaning virgin of the famous Albert church in France was an image I thought I’d forgotten until I saw a photograph of it in Lyn Macdonald’s ‘The Somme’ and realised I’d seen it before in Charley’s War 20 years before.

Quite a feat for any artist. But then again Joe wasn’t just any artist.

Cloth Hall Ypres

Below is a photograph of the Cloth Hall Ypres after two years of shelling. Below is Joe’s interpretation of the scene from 1980.

Charley's War: Cloth Hall, Ypres



Third Battle of Ypres

Charley's War: Third Battle of Ypres

I really can’t think of anything more difficult a subject than this: the Third battle of Ypres look at the way Joe handles the mud, rain, showers of earth from the shells etc. The picture above shows the ypres salient’s conditions at the end of 1917.

The depth in this kind of scene would be difficult to produce in a drawing or painting, let alone the style that comic art demands.

Home Front

Charley's War: London Street

Joe’s handling of the home front was as accurate and detailed as his war scenes. It was a rare treat for most fans when Charley went home on leave to a London gripped by Zeppelin raids and black market dealing.

“I could look at some of Joe’s Edwardian London scenes and feel the clatter of horse-drawn trams an so on,” says Pat Mills. “His gift was exceptional.”


Charley's War: The Home Front


“Over the Top

Surprisingly the image below is one of the few ‘classic’  “Over the Top”  images Charley’s War ever contained, yet it’s the image one imagines when thinking of World War One (the idea of troops climbing scaling ladders and advancing across no-man’s land), I think the reason for that is realism yet again. The real truth of the Great War is that boredom and lack of action became the number one enemy for the men that fought it most of the time. Trench life consisted of living like a mole and never seeing your enemy and most deaths were at the hands of unaimed random shellfire.

Charley's War: Over The Top


Gallipoli ‘V’ Beach Cappe Helles

Setting for the disastrous landing of Commonwealth troops in 1915. This frame is a brilliant example of Joe’s expansive backgrounds. Look at the detail and depth in the distance, done with finer and finer linework.

Charley's War: Gallipoli



According to an article in Battle at the time Joe used a series of fine brushes to ink his work. (as opposed to the dip-pen traditionally used by comic artists) and this accounts for his varied lines and heavier style. It took five working days to complete just three pages and you can see why when you look at any page. Joe very rarely drew for the summer specials or annuals of Battle I only knew of him doing them twice – the reason I presume is sheer workload and perhaps he felt if he had, the quality of one or the other would be lacking.

Joe, you’re the ‘daddy’ of this game and always will be!

Neil Emery

All artwork by Joe Colquhoun. If anyone knows of or owns the copyright to the photos on these pages — sorry if I have stepped on your legal toes please contact us if you would like us to take them down.

Charley’s War created by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun


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