As a child growing up in the 1960s I used to avoid war stories in comics. They often seemed too gung-ho, treating war as a great adventure. To be fair, IPC's Battle Picture Weekly portrayed a grittier side to war, but I was already swerving it because I thought it'd be like previous war comics. Plus I was in my mid teens by the time Battle arrived on the scene so had eschewed most British comics in favour of the adolescent power fantasies of Marvel and DC.
Somehow or other though I did pick up Battle (by then renamed Battle-Action) in 1980 and was immediately hooked by Charley's War, clearly an anti-war strip, there in the middle of a war comic. The fact that it had the superb writing of Pat Mills and art by Joe Coloquhoun (whose Football Family Robinson I had admired in Jag back in 1968) made it even more compelling. This wasn't the light-adventure style he'd employed on the Robinsons though. This was a more brutal and realistic approach. (I've since bought the first 250 issues of Battle as back issues and can now appreciate what a great comic it was in its early years.)
Charley's War quite rightly won the admiration of thousands of readers, and has been reprinted a few times over the years. Now, Rebellion are to collect the entire World War One saga in three chunky volumes as part of their Treasury of British Comics line, and Charley's War The Definitive Collection Volume 1 will be published on April 18th.
The 320 page first volume is certainly true to its definitive title. The artwork has never looked as sharp and clear as this. It's also been re-lettered by Jim Campbell, as the original printing used typeset (Battle's only real mis-step was that use of typeset). The few pages that were in full colour were greyscale in previous reprint books, but here they are in colour as intended.
There's also a couple of bonus items at the back of the book in the form of full colour Battle covers that featured Charley, and seven pages of Pat Mills' commentary on the stories.
Charley's War is the war story for people who hate war stories... but it's also for those who love war comics too, because it respects those soldiers who endured so much suffering and made great sacrifices. It's a war story that champions bravery and condemns cruelty, whether that be the sadism of the enemy or that of some British officers Charley encounters. It's a true epic of British comics, starting with Charley Bourne as an idealistic, very naive 16 year-old and taking us through his journey of hardship and courage. There's humour too, - the black humour of the trenches that was part of the necessity to survive such conditions.
Charley's War is an essential read. Buy it.
Here's the PR from Rebellion...
• CREATIVE TEAM: Pat Mills, (w) Joe Colquhoun (a) John Aldrich, Jim Campbell (l)
• REGIONS: UK, worldwide digital
• RELEASE DATE: 18th April 2018
• PAPERBACK, 323 pages
• PRICE: £19.99 (UK) TBC (US)
• ISBN: 9781781086193
• DIAMOND: FEB181726
Considered by many as the most important war story to appear in comics, Charley’s War follows the working class Charley Bourne who eagerly signs up to fight on the Western front in 1916. The idealistic sixteen-year-old experiences a hellish world of trench warfare where every day is a bitter fight for survival. Charley and his friends soon realise they have been thrust into a conflict where ordinary people are expected to throw away their lives to serve the selfish interests of those in power! Written by British comics legend Pat Mills and featuring the breathtaking artwork of Joe Colquhoun, this first volume of Charley’s War includes Charley’s harrowing participation in one of the bloodiest encounters in human history - The Battle of the Somme.
As a taster, here's the first chapter, originally published in Battle-Action No.200, dated 6th January 1979...
Available in print from: book stores, Amazon, and comic book stores via Diamond