COMIC REVIEW: CHARLEY’S WAR / AUTHOR: PAT MILLS / ARTIST: JOE COLQUHOUN / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Charley’s War is one of those comic strip stories that characterises a nation. British comics have always been a little bit more down to Earth than continental or transatlantic equivalents, and you can’t get more gritty and blunt than Pat Mills' seminal examination of World War One through the eyes of a British Tommy.
Subversive even back in the day, Charley’s War is a stridently anti-war comic strip that appeared in kids' adventure book Battle Picture Weekly from January 1979 to October 1985. It’s the story of Charley Bourne, a stupid but brave boy who lies about his age to sign up for the Great War. As it's 1916, many horrors await him, including the Somme. Partly educational, partly a polemic against the stupidity of war, Charley’s War is regarded by many as a classic and for good reason.
It’s brutal. It’s funny. It’s blunt in its honesty, yet edgy in its depiction of history. The characters are all broad caricatures, but that’s the point; Mills' talent is to make you care about these exaggerated clichés. The reason the characters are so large and loud is because the world they inhabit is one that is all too real, even though such horror should be inconceivable. The story is compulsive and sickening in equal measure, much like any other tale of human tragedy.
There are some issues with picture quality, the strips were created in a time when no one thought it was really worth archiving this sort of thing and Titan have clearly done their level best to keep Joe Colquhoun’s meticulously drawn and well-researched artwork as clear and attractive as possible. It's a style of artwork uniquely suited to Mill’s storytelling, juxtaposing the humorous and ridiculous with the utter misery that was World War One.
This softcover collects all the stories written by Mills and is illustrated by Colquhoun throughout. It also has an interview with the artist (who passed away in 1987), a couple of essays on the story and its setting, and a strip by strip commentary by Mills, which wanders into a general commentary on the state of British comics at the time. A must-have for the shelves of any serious fan of sequential art.