Charley's War

13th Jan, #201

Charley's War, by Mills and Colquhoun, this series told the story of 16-year-old Charley Bourne who enlists in the British army during the First World War. He serves in the trenches on the Western Front 1916-1918 and later in the Russian Civil War in 1919. The series was continued for a short period into the Second World War under a new writer, Scott Goodall but the series was then ceased due to the ill health of artist Joe Colquhoun.

Battle Action

6th January 1979 - 26th January 1985

Writer: Pat Mills

Artist: Joe Colquhoun

Commencing in 1916, Charley's War tells the story of an ordinary sixteen-year-old, Charley Bourne, an average lad who's not that bright, not that brave and not that different to anybody else. Sacked from his job at the bus depot, Charley lies about his age and joins up with the Westshires. He is soon posted to France, in the build up to the Somme, where he gets his first taste of life in the trenches. Under the watchful eye of Sergeant 'Old Bill' Tozer, Charley and his new friend 'Ginger' Jones discover the horrors of trench warfare, spending each day dealing with artillery fire, snipers, bombs, mud, water, poor rations, rats, the unburied bodies of their comrades and the disease they bring. Charley's eyes are opened to the reality of his situation as each day brings him closer to the 'big push', where he will go over-the-top for the first time. As the war progresses, Charley makes many friends, but also sees most of them die. The most notable example of this is the sudden demise of Ginger, taken in front of Charley's eyes by a stray shell. Mad Mick, Weeper, Pop, Lucky, Toots and Lonely are also lost, through death or dismemberment, along the way. Charley struggles with bureaucracy, and the politics of command, when he is assigned to a firing squad tasked with executing his own commanding officer for cowardice, where Charley knows that Lt. Thomas's actions saved many lives. He experiences military justice first hand, sees the rise of the tank and of chemical warfare, and discovers that not all officers are gentlemen. Lieutenant Snell, a Westshires officer of the upper-classes, becomes something of a nemesis for Charley, and the two cross paths many times before the conflict is finished. Through the horrors, Charley maintains something of his boyish naivety, bringing the reader into his world and experiencing it through his eyes.

There's not much that hasn't been said about Charley's War. Pat Mills provided probably the best work of his long career, meticulously researched and carefully plotted, using unusual narrative devices to push the story forward. The early chapters, featuring Charley's letters home, and replies from his family, contrasted the reality of life on the Western Front to the image portrayed for the families back home. As this idea ceased, stories from other parts of the war were recounted in flashback, such as 'Blue's Story', a tale of the horrors of Verdun, which Charley hears from a deserter who hiding in his brother-in-law's house whilst home recuperating from a shrapnel injury. Mills changed the focus of the story away from Charley on a number of occasions, to tells stories of the war at sea and in the air based around members of Charley's family, particularly his younger brother Wilf. Joe Colquhoun was moved from the highly successful Johnny Red strip to illustrate Charley's War, in a brave but inspired move from Battle editor David Hunt. Colquhoun was initially reluctant to draw the strip, seeing no possible flow to a story based on trench warfare. On receiving the scripts, he had a change of heart, and began to relish the challenge. His research and reference materials lifted Colquhoun's artwork to a new level, surpassing everything he had produced before, and resulted in a strip that is rightly regarded as the one of the finest ever produced in comics. When Charley's First World War run came to a close, Pat Mills decided to shift the character forwards to the conflict of 1939. He planned to produce a similarly-styled story to the original run, and wished to spend time researching certain aspects of his planned tale. Unfortunately his wishes would not be accommodated by IPC, who refused to grant Mills a research budget for what was, to them, just a comic strip. Consequently, Mills refused to write the story, and concentrated instead on the long development of Slaine for 2000AD. A replacement writer was found in the form of Scott Goodall, who was a regular scribe for IPC. Mills has a well-documented disliking for other writers using his creations, and this slight from IPC must have been particularly galling. The writer has stated that, to him, Charley's War ended with the final panel of the 26th January 1985 episode. Joe Colquhoun decided to remain with the strip despite Mills' absence, and it is possibly only this that stopped the second run of Charley's War from being a total disaster. Mills asked Colquhoun to come and work with him on Slaine at 2000AD, but Colquhoun had experienced a run of ill-health, culminating in a heart attack during the previous year, and decided to remain loyal to Battle as he approached his retirement. Goodall and Colquhoun made a good effort at taking Charley into the Second World War, but the change in setting was not to readers' tastes, and the strip's former popularity faded quickly. In less than two years, Charley's War was wrapped up, with a middle-aged Charley getting into an altercation with his son, and realising he is too old to go on fighting. Sadly, Joe Colquhoun's retirement was to be short-lived. He produced a few more strips for IPC comics such as M.A.S.K., but sadly died on 13th April 1987, following a second heart attack, only a few months after putting down his brushes.

Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.

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