October 01, 2012

War comics

Special guest blogger Kelly Sheehan writes comics and, also, interesting things about comics, such as this:

Born too late for personal recollections of the Second World War my generation still managed to inherit a strong cultural memory of that great conflict. Games of war were a normal way of passing the time and small plastic soldiers, tanks and planes were a staple part of any boy’s toy box. Comics, which were then a more integrated part of a child’s life, featured a host of characters still fighting the war decades after it ended. Any New Zealand comics fan in his 30s or 40s would have vivid memories of Commando comics and Battle Picture Weekly, not to mention sundry characters such as Captain Hurricane who would routinely tie knots in the gun barrels of Nazi panzers without breaking a sweat.

One of the more bitter experiences of my childhood was going to hospital for a couple of days. I have no idea why I went but I have a very clear memory of the intense disappointment and sadness I felt when I discovered the huge cache of war comics, generously given to me by my older cousins, had disappeared from the locker next to my bed during the night. After that being in hospital kind of sucked.

(Picture from Sir George Grey Photograph Collection, 7-A13520)

There is part of me that wonders if my father was responsible for those comics vanishing. Certainly, he would have felt I should not be reading anything that glorified war. If it was Dad, he was mistaken. While the Commando’s featured pretty straight forward tales of Tommy fighting Jerry, Battle Picture Weekly was a subversive little rag that undermined those simplistic conventions and threw a whole new light on what goes on during war. Written by such luminaries as Pat Mills and John Wagner these were stories that dealt with the unfairness and inhumanity of war, not to mention class, wayward authority, fear and the brutalising effect of violence. Anyone who was ten when they read the episode of Charly’s War featured below did not walk away thinking the First World War was in any way glamorous:

The library carries a number of recently republished comics from Battle Picture Weekly, most notably Johnny Red and Charley’s War. Each volume is lovingly put together, with introductions and afterword material that give the strips, and the historic events featured in the stories, context. The Johnny Red volume features an introduction by Garth Ennis, the Irish writer responsible for comics such as Preacher, Hitman and The Boys.

Ennis has always been effusive in his praise of Battle Picture Weekly. He was a fan growing up, indeed he had a letter published in those hallowed pages:

It is hardly surprising that Ennis is one of the few of his generation to put his own mark on the genre of war comics. Reading interviews with him it is clear that this is where his heart lies. Published under the umbrella titles of War Stories and Battlefields each of the stories covers different characters, circumstances and theatres of war.

A number of Ennis’s stories are undoubtedly responses to various strips featured in his beloved Battle Picture Weekly. Johann’s Tiger featured in War Stories Volume 1 bares a strong resemblance to Hellman of Hammer Force, Nightingale in the same volume can be yoked with H.M.S Nightshade, and the recent Night Witches and Motherland draw heavy inspiration from Johnny Red and his struggles on the Eastern Front during the Great Patriotic War. These are not Boy’s Own narratives. War is shown as brutal and chaotic. If there is there is sentimentality it is hard earned and the price paid for survival is high.
I like to think that Ennis has a secret plan. That, at the end of his career, he will have completed a vast novel composed in parts over the years. An epic novel in pictures that will document the gigantic, tragic history of the Second World War.

- Kelly

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 04:30


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