Just back from an afternoon visit to Housmans bookshop, a wonderful place I discovered quite by accident on one of my doomed lunchbreaks. It’s stuffed full of angry political tomes, zines and periodicals, and also has a great stock of second-hand books that tend not to be authored by Jordan.
Today “The Mammoth Book of Best War Comics‘ immediately grabbed my attention – from the cover (a seemingly invincible guy in a Sherman tank) I automatically assumed it’d be stuffed with tales of unlikely heroism and haughty Nazis going “Achtung! Spitfire!”, so not really the sort of thing I would imagine radical old Housmans selling.
Instead, it’s a lovely compendium of anti-war war stories, including a horrifying eye-witnesses’ account of Hiroshima, Raymond Brigg’s children’s story retelling of the Falklands conflict (featuring a giant robot Thatcher pouring out money from her (war) chest) and Charley’s War. And as soon as I saw it had the first ever Charley’s War strip, I bought it.
I read Charley’s War as a kid, and it – along with Blackadder Goes Fourth and my more general fear of nuclear armageddon – helped me along my path from battleship ‘n’ harrier jump jets obsessed six year old to the thoroughly sane war hater I am today. As I said, most war comics of the time tended to feature comedy Germans shouting ‘aiieeee’ while being shot by a series of chunky, colourless British and US heroes. Charley’s War was different; It was meticulously researched, beautifully realised, and heartbreakingly sad. From the start, it made no bones about war being hell, not some cheery cowboys and indians game where the goodies always win and the baddies are innately evil but have cooler uniforms.