In Review: Into Battle: The Art of British War Comics

Into Battle: The Art of British War Comics opened to visitors at Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock last month and James Bacon has had opportunity to reconnoitre…

Into Battle: The Art of British War Comics - Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock, from 1st October 2023 until 30th April 2024. Photo © James Bacon

Woodstock is a small picturesque town just outside Oxford next to Blenheim Palace and it’s a gentle stride into a beautifully quiet, very English, yellow stoned world, with flowers, trees and a winter chill.

The Soldiers Museum is at the back of the Oxfordshire Museum, in a modern building built inside an ancient feeling old brick wall and is a very nice venue, a well set out Museum that obviously has a focus on education and entertainment for younger visitors.

As one walks into the exhibition, a clear voice meets you, coming from a large mounted screen – none other than former Battle editor David Hunt talking about the comic. From here, one turns the length of the gallery, which offers images, information and original art down its length.

Into Battle: The Art of British War Comics 2023 - Keith Burns

The displays are well done, nicely grouped and one is met with a mixture of art on one side, where we have three images by Keith Burns, all from this year’s Battle Action; then, on the other side, four pieces including “Gun Duel” by Graham Coton, “Battle Drill” by Jordi Penalva, “Crack of Doom”, a stunning German sidecar and armoured car by Graham Coton, and “Evasive Action”, featuring two Wellington bombers, by Nino Caroseli.

War Picture Library Covers

The history of the Picture Libraries is explained, and there is a special focus on artists from overseas who worked for comic book art agencies be it in Italy, Spain or Argentina.

There is some fabulous information about Graham Coton (1926 – 2003), who served in the Royal Air Force and started work in the 1950s. Jordi Penalva, born in 1927 was, we’re informed “a prolific cover painter and one of the most in-demand Spanish agency artists of the 1960s and 1970s. His paintings were celebrated for their bold colour choices, impactful compositions, and expressive heroic subjects.

“Between 1963 and 1969 he produced around 150 covers. He was just as productive in his work for Commando, producing 180 cover paintings over a decade and averaging just over one every two weeks between 1969 and 1974.”

There’s also information on Hugo Pratt, who was the creator of Coro Maltese, and Alessandro Biffignandi (1935-2017) “an Italian artist who specialised in comic and magazine covers. He is best known for his War Picture Library paintings from the late 1950s and 1960s.

“Biffignandi worked for Milanese art agencies and rarely signed his work. As a result, the quantity and consistency of his work was not celebrated until recently, and the full extent of his output is yet to be fully discovered, but he may have produced as many as 400 picture library covers for Fleetway.”

The history of certain comics are gone into with some detail, so there is a great explanation of Battler Britton, who “first appeared in SUN issue 361 in 1956″ and became a staple of British war comics. Battler Briton was drawn by many artists, including Hugo Pratt, Graham Coton, Francisco Solano Lopez and lan Kennedy.

Girls comics - war stories

A fabulous selection of girls comics that feature war are on display, including “The Great Escape”, from June and School Friend and Princess Library, 480 (1968), “Heroine of France”, Schoolgirls’ Own Library, 330 (1960), “Heroine of Invaded Isle”, Princess Picture Library, 110 (1966) and “Mam’selle X” Schoolgirls’ Own Library, 380 (1962) amongst others.

It is noted that “regardless of gender, war stories could be found everywhere by the late 1950s. They were a common feature of School Friend, a respected title that began life as a story paper and had been transformed into a comic, often with subjects relating to spies, resistance and escape.”

We’re also informed “Mam’selle X” was a popular recurring School Friend character, whose exploits were collected in Picture Library format. A blonde singer and Nazi collaborator by day, by night she removes her wig and dons her trademark striped jersey to serve the Resistance.” Cracking stuff!

We’re also treated to a lovely piece credited to Alex Toth from 1966, from “Password to Freedom” for June and School Friend.

Then we see two pages of original art, both “Hellman” pieces from Action, one by Mike Day White, the other unknown, from stories written by the brilliant Gerry Finley Day.


Six panels that talk about “Charley’s War”, the creation of Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. This includes two stunning pieces of original Joe Colquhoun art from this brilliant strip, and the engagement from the panels full of information is very thoughtful.

A section then talks about Garth Ennis, and the revival of war comics, something fans of the genre have really appreciated and have followed through on, and it was good to see the recognition for this modern writer, who has penned stories that have been drawn by so many excellent artists.

It was obviously quite an interesting undertaking, and there is a long list of people thanked, including Ben Smith, Charlene Taylor, Oliver Pickles and Tom Duckham from Rebellion, as well as comic creators David Roach, Garth Ennis, Keith Burns. The local team of Ursila Corcoran, Kim Davies and Duncan Parsons and Joe Graham, Joseph Morgan and Gemma Sheldrake.

What was especially nice was to see the Treasury of British Comics recognised, as well as Ridge and Rebellion, and especially all the creatives who were involved with the art on display.

It was altogether a very lovely visit. I stopped to buy some secondhand history books, at very affordable prices, and then as I walked across the open space to the Oxfordshire Museum, stopped at the cafe, to top up with a hot toastie and warm coffee.

James Bacon

• Into Battle: The Art of British War Comics. Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Park Street, Woodstock, OX20 1SN runs until 30th April 2024 | Registered Charity No. 1145408 | Web:


There are some souvenir postcards currently available at the ‘Into Battle’ exhibition. All are 60p each (With thanks to Richard Sheaf)

Categories: Art and Illustration, British Comics, Comic Art, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Events, Exhibitions, Features, Other Worlds, Reviews

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