It wasn't like today where you can grab a DVD
All in all you'd think we were starved of exciting adventure stories designed to stir the blood, but there was one avenue open to us. There was one medium offering wildly entertaining stories whenever the fancy took us. That was the comic book - the newsagents shelves were stuffed full of books with titles like Tiger, Warlord, Battle, Victor, Action - they cost pennies (I think the average price of a comic book when I started buying on a regular basis was around 5p) and yet provided entertainment worth many times that paltry sum.
In the far off United States (a country that seemed so exciting to any British kid) the comic book industry was dominated by colourful stories of super heroes, but in the UK super heroes, with very few exceptions, failed to take off. If Superman's capsule had crashed down in Clacton instead of the Mid-West, then Kal-Ell would have been grounded from the off. It wasn't that British comic books were any less fantastic, but by and large the settings for our tales were far more grounded in reality. Of course we had our science fiction strips, Dan Dare and so forth but for pulse pounding adventure it was the war comics to which we turned.
War comics were always popular in the UK - And for decades after the guns of the second world war fell silent, British kids celebrated our victory over the Nazis in wonderfully drawn, black and white comic books. Characters like Lord Peter Flint kept a stiff upper lip while besting evil Nazi spies, Union Jack Jackson fought alongside the Americans and usually got them out of some tough spots, and the Rat Pack were too good at Hun killing to leave rotting in a high security prison. In skilfully drawn pages scores of humble Tommies stood up to the might of the enemy and gained victories against incredible odds.
Warlord first hit the stands in 1974 and was far grittier than the usual war comics for sale during that period - so successful was it that rival publisher, IPC launched Battle Picture Weekly in order to snare some of the readers eager for this new kind of comic book reader.
Warlord was the first UK title to be dedicated solely to war stories, other comics usually contained several genres. And right from the start it set the bar very high in terms of artwork and storytelling.
Battle Picture Weekly, first published in 1975, was launched directly as a result of the success that rival publisher, D C Thomson were scoring with Warlord, and to my mind became far the superior title. With a creative team that included Pat Mills and John Wagner how could it not be! This was the comic that would one day feature a truly groundbreaking first world war strip by Pat Mills, called Charley's War which remains arguably the best war strip ever produced.
“Pat (Mills) and John ( Wagner) wrote the initial episodes and then farmed them out to other writers. GFD ( Gerry Finley Day) was the author of D-Day Dawson. Lofty’s One-Man Luftwaffe – that was John and Pat. Their brief was not only to create a new title but bring new talent into the industry. We’d worked with a bed-rock of people. When you launched a new title, you rang up Tom Tully, he would do four of the new strips, Ted Cowan – people of that era – Ken Mennall. A lot of the people in Battle #1 were new to me." Original Battle Staff Editor, Dave Hunt.
|The original Major Easy|
|MAJOR EASY LIVES ON AS CURSED EARTH COBURN|
It was in 1979 that Battle finally came of age, with the strip Charley's War which was written by Pat Mills and drawn initially by Joe Colquhoun. This was a different kind of war story. For one thing it was set in the First World War, when most adventure strips tended to favour the second world conflict, and for another it was an anti-war strip. YEP, AN ANTI WAR STRIP IN A WAR COMIC!!!!
'I did not want Battle to glorify war, and Charley's War is an anti-war story," said Mills. "I think that in the 1970s and 80s it was legitimate, more so than it is today, to describe the Great War as a tragedy, a mistake and criticise the incompetence of generals. In 2014, revisionists have been trying to improve the image of the generals." Pat Mills.
Charley's War is a true work of literature - a harrowing, intricately drawn look at the Great War as seen through the eyes of working class, semi-literate Charley Bourne. Pat Mills took the inspired method of telling much of the story through young Charley's diary. The strip was truly groundbreaking, featuring not gung-ho adventure but a look at the war as it truly must have been.
'A combination of well-researched and heartfelt scriptwriting, Pat’s work is the antithesis of the ‘war is hell’ gung-ho Sergeant Rock-style story. While never doubting for a second the heroism of the brave men in the trenches, The Great War is shown to be the tragedy it was, a meat-grinder that took the lives of millions of soldiers and set the stage for the even greater horrors of World War Two. On a personal note, Charley’s War was the first comic I ever read to show the heroism of the many thousands of Irish soldiers who fought in The Great War. Hitherto we were portrayed, if at all, as ignorant savages, vilely insulting caricatures the likes of which even Punch would have hesitated to use (one notable earlier example in comics featured an Irish soldier who went into the fray with a pot of Irish stew). The artwork for Charley’s War was provided by Joe Colquhoun, one of comics’ great unsung heroes. The Gustave Doré of British comics, Colquhoun created beautiful expressive storytelling week-in week-out. Both Joe and Pat put their hearts into Charley’s War, and readers of all ages were drawn to the care evident in their work.' By Steve Earls click for full article
'We often imagine that Armageddon is a horror that awaits us sometime in the future. But Armageddon has already happened. It was World War One." Pat Mills
Charley's War are available as a series of handsome graphic novels from Titan Books.
These days the British comic industry seems to consist of 2000AD and a plethora of licenced titles with the free cover gift more important than the stories between the covers, and the days of true variety in British comics is a distant memory - The Spectator bemoaned the lack of a British comic book industry in this article HERE
Pat Mills can be found here
For a history of Warlord
For a history of Battle
Images from the front line -
|The Sarge was another popular Battle character|
|Battle's Johnny Red|