PAT MILLS – JOE
COLQUHOUN – CHARLEY’S WAR – 17 OCTOBER 1916 – 21 FEBRUARY 1917
The Battle of the Somme was
becoming a little boring, so this volume is finishing it up in pain with its
balance of losses and wins on one page (unnumbered like the episodes, which is
more than irritating, simply unprofessional and disrespectful of the readers,
the real readers not the readers including and being simply summarized as the
author himself). “The total gain was . . .
seven miles and three
for the wins.
But for the losses the list and figures are slightly bigger: “Half-a-million tommies were killed or wounded
in the battle of the Somme.
. . Many of the tommies who never returned, now lie in a military cemetery in France known as “Blighty Valley’.
. . the soldiers who died there were all volunteers. . . the first to volunteer
. . . lads eager to serve their country. They were young, healthy and brave . .
The ‘Best of British’. . . The battle of the Somme wiped them out.”
And we must not forget “It was the only battle where British troops deserted in Great
With this captions in the bubbles. British soldiers
surrendering: “They can stick their
stinking war! I’m off!”
and the answer of the German soldier taking him
prisoner: “If you hadn’t come over to us,
Tommy, we would have come over to you!”
This last remark is in full contradiction with
the long description of the Battle
of the Somme
since the Germans were never able to come over and
the final balance just under this bubble is a British gain of seven miles.
This balance is extremely
bothering since it is in contradiction with the description of the battle and
it contains a contradiction, and not only in terms. That leads me to believing
that the Germans are not depicted properly and fairly. The balance is of course
totally mute on the losses and wins of the Germans, losses and wins that are
seen negatively only: they lost seven miles and three villages. But where are
the dead Germans? Certainly not in cemeteries in France. They are not numbered and
they are nowhere. The comic book then becomes very pro-British, critical maybe
but pro-British nevertheless. And that is a fairly serious shortcoming.
But the end of this battle is
rounded up with Charley getting hurt by shrapnel, evacuated to the hospital
behind the front line. Total loss of memory and haunting nightmares are his
state of “mind” till he meets his old sergeant who brings him back to life, to
consciousness and gives him an identity because he had lost his dog-tags.
These lost dog-tags enable the
author to shift back to England, since Charley is telegrammed as being lost in
a way or another (missing in action would be the proper term) and believed dead
to his family and then later on telegrammed again as having been recovered, as
having recovered his memory and as being alive. And Charley is sent back to England without escaping one more act of
barbarity from the Germans who, with one of their submarines, sink the ship on
which the wounded, and some dead, are transported back to England. Yet
they manage to reach Folkestone and then to go back to their destination,
Charley to London.
He discovers then the home situation. Silvertown has been gutted by the
explosion of several ammunition factories but many are still standing. His
mother and father, sister and brother, and the brother in law who was a pain in
the ass in the Battle of the Somme and had managed to be sent back home by the “accidentally
provoked” loss of three toes on one foot, all of them (not the lost toes of
course) are well and healthy.
Charley discovers there is a lot
to do and does it. He gets involved in civil defense and makes friend with a Crimean
War veteran who was blinded there and this blind man will save the situation on
the night when the Germans attack London
with their famous Zeppelins. That blind man is able to hear with the special
equipment at their disposal the coming of the Zeppelin though the official
soldier appointed to that task is not able to and anyway was using the equipment
to spy on surrounding neighbors, particularly couples? Voyeurism in war time.
Ah! Ah! Ah! The Germans are targeting Silvertown and its ammunition factories. Charley’s
mother is working that night. So we have a real hunt and chase in London by night without
any light. Charley brings down the lynching of two Russian shopkeepers accused
of being German and manages to get his mother’s factory evacuated against the
will of the “Sir” who owns it and must produce to feed the weapons on the
That is the first time the
capitalism that is behind this war is identified. That was a long wait indeed. And
yet it is identified in one man with a knighthood on the lapel of his coat,
seen too as a coward who tries to prevent the evacuation of the factory but
runs away in his chauffeured car as soon as the attack is confirmed.
And finally some human suspense
is introduced in this comic book: the first bomb falls in the chimney of the
factory with Charley and his semi-conscious mother still inside. The last image
of two women in total panic is finally human and not fake military horror, true
horror but dressed up to kill the Germans and the readers. The order from the policeman,
known as a bobby in London,
is “Get down! Hit the ground!” and the last comment from one of the two women
is “The bomb’s gone down the factory chimney! And Charley and his mum are still
inside.” You can note these pure East Enders do not speak cockney, even under
stress and in panic, and I regret it tremendously, especially since the author
bragged about the tremendous research done to produce this comic strip in his
introduction of the first volume. He must have forgotten that in London they speak a
That leads me to a last remark, a
generic remark. For those of you who do not like pictures, turning pages and reading
bubbles, you can always go to the end and read the “strip commentary” which is
a summary of the volume episode by episode (they are only numbered in this
commentary: so good luck to find the one you are concerned with), one after
another in just a few lines for each. In case you haven’t understood the proper
meaning of the episodes you can always read the official interpretation of the
Comic strip and comic book
readers are not very well read in that kind of “art,” in fact they are so badly
read in it that they need a commentary. You will get sentences like “It makes the ordinary soldier (and we, the
readers) seem powerless in the face of Armageddon.” You can note that
Pat Mills dares identifies himself as part of “we,
the readers.” If that is not subliminal manipulation, what is? That’s
why, Mr. Pat Mills, your comic strip did not have any descent in comic art: you
are only manipulating the audience with a purely pro-British subliminal
discourse and I can understand that many did not like it.
Your comic strip comes out in the
shape of ten comic books because it is the hundredth anniversary of this
totally barbaric and barbarous event, just as much on each side of the front
and even behind both sides, but you only give one side of the front and one
side of behind the front with a very finely and strictly guided commentary that
reveals the same finely and strictly guided intention. And that pro-British
approach leads at times to some kind of jingoism. Sorry to be obliged to say it.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU