It’s 100 years since the start of World War One and there’s ceremonies commemorating it flooding the TV and the news. Most of these programmes discuss the dead soldiers who died but the pomp and glamour of royalty from across Europe mixing with political leaders seems somewhat inappropriate when it was royalty and political leaders who sent millions from all sides to their deaths.
Charley’s War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun isn’t just the finest comic you’ll ever read about the life of soldiers in WW1, but it’s one of the finest comics ever. It’s a fantastic work of art which although it appeared in a children’s comic (Battle Picture Weekly) initially, that doesn’t mean this is childish. Far from it. You’ll be hard pushed to get a more realistic vision of the war than this comic and for me as a kid, it provided me with an education in regards WW1 and pushed me into a library to find out more.
Charley’s War is sad, tragic, horrible, but still finds time to be funny and yes, even a wee bit heroic but not in the sense that Charley storms the Hun with a gun in each hand type of heroism, but small acts of heroism and humanity. The fact that Mills fills even a passing character with some level of realism which makes them human is astonishing, We may not like them, or we root for them but they feel real and that’s astonishing in a genre like war comics which was, and still is rooted in jingoism and bland heroics.
It’s also the first time I understand what Shell Shock was, or understood the trauma of war which was brilliantly drawn by the late Joe Colquhoun.
Mills and Colquhoun didn’t shirk on the horror or it’s affects on the soldiers, including the lead character Charley as can be seen in this scene which is still disturbing to me decades after I first read it.
So as you sit down to watch the services, or read how royalty and political leaders lay down wreaths in their finest clothes, think about the actual cost to human life on the Allied and German sides. Think about how some politicians and academics are whitewashing WW1 to be a glorious and needed war when what it did was set up another World War which ended millions more lives.
Charley’s War is available is a series of collected editions from Titan Books, and I suggest getting them not just as an antidote for some of the jingoism being displayed by some, but so you get to read one of the finest war comics, and finest comic strips ever.