Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Slice it up and you can say anything since there is no logic any more


Back to the front means back to the sliced up story with no unity, no objective and no real ideology. Before leaving London for instance, Charley bangs up his brother-in-law he finds involved in an Royal Air Force petrol stealing operation with the accompliceship of a pilot who crashes his plane on a tree so that the petrol can be stolen (note this is absolutely improbable). Charley is satisfied with banging up his brother-in-law and sending him to hospital instead of reporting him as he should have done. There is in this vignette or cameo a very sad element that the author did not exploit, ,probably such a scam never existed. Charley is in fact becoming an accomplice of the crime which is pure high treason. That makes the comic strip difficult to believe: too much suspension of disbelief.

This volume, back at the front, is centered on Captain Snell who has taken over Charley’s company. This officer is a bad officer. We learn later that he is the son of a mine-owning family in Wales and he has had some experience as a mine engineer in South African mines, in other words mines with black slaves rather than unionized workers. But there is no depth in the characterization of that man and in the pranks some men, Charley among others, are performing. A bad officer is a bad officer. It is slightly vain if you just play the Mickey out of him, now and then.

So this volume is an exploded plate of comic shrapnel and we are reduced to looking for interesting elements. There are a few because there always are a few gems in a cesspool of mud and muck, in a shell hole, be it only the rotting bodies at the bottom of it since they are the martyrs of this absurd war.

Captain Snell tells Charley, who he has turned into his servant, one night at dinner: “Speak properly, Bourne! I find your cockney accent rather GRATING!” Finally a mention of cockney, the particular dialect of London’s East End. But never in the whole comic strip have I found any use, let alone systematic use, of cockney. Actually Charley had said just before, a remark that prompted Captain Snell’s reaction: “Pudding coming up in a tick, Sir!” The use of “tick” is by far not even a cockney specialty. That’s a real problem in this comic strip. The language is standard English, British English if you please, and nothing but a popular brand of some Queen’s English or Oxford English. We do not see, hear or feel the various dialects of these Britishers who come from all over the British Isles. A lot there is missing. Where is your research Sir, Mister Pat Mills?

In the same way, the officers are supposed to speak the type of language that is aristocratic in words, sounds and sentences, never do so. It is extremely rare for us to find one allusion to this aristocratic language of officers and their aristocratic origins. I found one instance page “unnumbered,” episode “unnumbered,” find it if you can: “Raathaar! They won’t stand a chaaance against county men!” That is rather little and officers speak just the same language as even Charley from the London East End.

A quick meeting with some Australians, before they are blown into smithereens on the next page by some bomb, tells us they call this war THE BUTCHER’S PICNIC.But that is rather little. It goes along with reading the name of the city of Ypres “Wipers,” but once again that is little. Linguistically that comic strip is not believable: it does not really reflect the linguistic situation in the British army in this World War One. Even the few German or French phrases used here and there are not exactly correct or accurate and they are anyway anecdotic.

But the slicing up of the story leads the author to a very repetitive cyclical humdrum ritual of giving over and over again some details from previous episodes necessary in a new episode for us to understand. In other words the episodes were published as a serial and the comic book has not even been corrected of these repetitive and now useless rituals. If the comic strip had been conceived to be published as a book, it would have been one thousand percent better to have these recalling notes as footnotes at the bottom of a box or of a page, but not in the main captions of the boxes themselves. The way things are presented sounds very opportunistic as for publishing the book and in the end it is amateurish.

Another detail that is used only once, though it could have been used a lot more is Back Slang on page “unnumbered”, in episode “unnumbered.” The author gives us an explanation of course, plus an example so that we can enjoy the two bubbles using that back slang for the first time, and probably for the last time too. First the explanation and example:

“BACK-SLANG” was an INSULT language. The first letter of a word was put at the end and an “A” added. For example: fool – oolfa  chump – humpca.”

He forgot one thing and his description is deficient. Here is the best I have found, but there are many types of back-slang, this one is closest to the one Pat Mills uses.

There are many forms of back-slang but West Midlanders pride themselves as being aficionados. 
In this part of the country, as for others, back-slang consists of taking each first letter of a word and putting it at the end of that word. e.g. girl becomes irlg. 
Then a letter 'a' (pronounced ay) is added to the end of each word. 
Then, irlg becomes irlga (sounded as irlg-ay). 
For single letter words such as 'I' the 'ay' sound is simply added at the end of the word - Ia (I -ay). The letter 'a' itself just has another -ay sound added: a-ay. 
For you as 'posh girls' from West Sussex, back-slang would be: 
"Eway llaay omecay romefay Estway Ussexsay." (We all come from East Sussex). Note that I have used the 'ay' sound to help in speaking, although in writing, just a letter 'a' would usually suffice. The written message below contains the 'ay' sound to help you. 
Odgay, ouyay eallyray oday ucksay - utbay otna ustjay taay anguageslay!

Then the two bubbles:

“ottenra reepca! nowka hatwa ouya anca oda?”
“ticksa your cream cakes pua ourya ostrilna!”

You are totally justified in noticing the politeness of such insults and “ostrilna” is quite polite for what would really have been said but the expected word stating with “A” the back-slang word would have been more difficult to produce: “SSA-A.” With the pronunciation suggested by the description of back-slang I just gave it would have been easy to have “SSA-A” pronounced SSA-ay.” It would also have been more explicit with “SSHOLA-ay.” That’s surprising because that reveals the desire of the author to remain within some strict moral standards, even in simple language. He is writing for a family audience, or at least for children who are reading the comic strip within a family circle and under family scrutiny.

Now what is remarkable about this volume?

I will take only one instance to show how ambiguous everything is. Charley has been seen so far as a chap who helps the weaker. We are not surprised when an intellectual draftee (in other words someone who was a university student and who did not volunteer but waited for the draft to bring him in) is victimized and bullied by one brutal survivor of the Battle of the Somme because he did not volunteer and thus tried to dodge the military service everyone should have volunteered for. The bullying is extreme and Charley is getting in between the intellectual and the bully. We say or think that Charley is doing good and that the author is also doing good.

But the author chooses to turn the tables around. Here are the bubbles of this intellectual in the last episodes:

“I think you’re being too hard on Mister Snell, Charley. He’s been very helpful to me. He helped me fill my application to be an OFFICER.”
“Mister Snell feels. . . with my education. . . I’m destined for better things. Anyone can carry a rifle, but it takes someone with brains to be in charge. . . I’m more suited to commanding other people.”
“Now Grogan’s dead [Grogan was the bully] I can achieve my full potential.”
“Disgraceful behaviour! when I become an officer I won’t stand for that sort of things!”

Charley reacts twice to this discourse. The first time in his own mind:

“Maybe I was wrong about Grogan. Maybe the scholar needed a good hiding. And if I hadn’t interfered and protected him, Grogan would still be alive.”

And the second time aloud:

“You’re not an officer yet, Scholar, so shut up.”

That treatment is surprising because it seems to exonerate the bullies against intellectuals and to justify the bullying against intellectuals. This is definitely a caricature about intellectuals (and in this case a poet) in this WWI. Many poets actually enlisted and died on the front or were severely wounded, like for one French case Apollinaire. Maybe Pat Mills should check the following site: Lives of war poets of the First World War, http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/biogs99.htm and he would know that many poets fought and/or died in the war: Vera Brittain, Rupert Brooke, Eleanor Farjeon, Gilbert Frankau, Robert Graves, Julian Grenfell, Ivor Gurney, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, John McCrae, Henry Newbolt, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen, John Oxenham, Jessie Pope, Herbert Read, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Owen Seaman, Alan Seeger, Charles Sorley, Muriel Stuart, Edward Thomas, Katharine Tynan, A G West.

 Most surviving intellectuals, poets, writers or others were severely against the war after it was concluded, some even turned communists because of it. But that did not mean they refused to do their “duty,” though I would consider deserting or dodging the draft would have been a politically correct position in front of this useless “Butcher’s Picnic.” The author here is ostracizing poets, intellectuals, is being hostile against them because of their education and nothing else. If it were a question of color of skin or ethnic origin, we would speak of racism. In this case is pure discrimination.

And it implies the idea that dodging the draft or deserting actually is not a conscientious objection act but nothing but high treason. Where is the author’s opposition to the war?

It is all the more surprising because the author pretended in the introduction of the first volume that the comic strip was against the war. It sounds as if the author were settling personal accounts or business. He is neither objective nor “politically correct” from his own point of view since he justifies the worst part of this war: the fact that any opposition was considered as treason, and since intellectuals were hostile to it around 1917 onward he depicts one intellectual as the vainest inhuman and inhumane condescending narrow mind with no different alternative. This comic strip was not good as for these details when it was first published, but it is very bad now in the 21st century.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?