Comics: Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection, Volume 1 – Boy Soldier - Reviewed

Amy reviews Charley's War Volume 1

Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection, Volume 1 – Boy Soldier, is one of the best anti-war comics out there in my opinion. Written by Pat Mills, this was a comic that first appeared in the British magazine Battle Picture Weekly from 1979 to 1985. While the other war comics at that time were pro-war, this comic stood alone in showing the true horrors of war.

Charley’s War follows sixteen-year-old Charley Bourne, a soldier in World War I, who is serving on the western front in 1916. Throughout the comic, Charlie writes and receives letters from home, which were inspired by real correspondence from World War I. In the comic, we discover that he will be fighting in the Battle of the Somme, where more than a million soldiers were injured or killed. It is important to know that Charley and his other comrades were all volunteers and not professional soldiers. This comic showcases the realities of war from both sides as well as the inexperience of the soldiers, and it critiques the methods used by both sides. It not only gives an idea behind the poor judgement calls that were made, it displays the brutal strategies that were used as well, such as the poison gas, and the two gas attacks. It also gives the reader a real sense of what the soldiers had to endure aside from the fighting as there were lots of rats and bugs that they had to grow accustomed to, and they would boil water in the machine gun to make tea. Moreover, it was uneasy for them as mass graves were dug ahead of time in order to be prepared for the men who lost their lives in the war. The comic tells of Lucky, one of Charley’s mates, who gets scared that he will die when the fighting starts. He tells Charley that he is going to shoot himself in the foot in order to injure himself so he can’t fight, and comes up with a plan to put a sandbag on top of his foot before he shoots himself so you won’t be able to see any burn marks. Self-inflicted wounds were extremely common during the war, and Charley knows as well as Lucky that if you hurt yourself on purpose and are caught, you will be executed. Thankfully, Charley is able to talk his friend out of it.

The characters are interesting and relatable. It’s the little things that make the characters come to life. If you are someone like me who never made the honor roll in school, you will relate well to Charley. He has trouble with math, spelling, reading, and is a bit naïve. He does have redeeming qualities though, as he always tries to do the right thing, is brave, and very loyal. He stayed with one of his mates as he lay dying and comforted him in his last moments, and saved his fellow soldiers from the Germans. Ginger Jones becomes one of Charley’s closest friends, and has more of a realist attitude, and is more of a pessimist, which is a contrast to Charley’s hopeful optimism. “Pop” is an older man, who volunteered to fight in the war after his wife died from a shell factory explosion and his two sons were killed by poisonous gas. He vowed to take down as many Germans as he could so his sons would not die in vain. There are many unethical officers who act as adversaries throughout the comic, as they will put Charley and his men into deliberate danger. The Germans are portrayed as an antagonist in this comic as well, as Charley and his fellow soldiers are British. It gives personality to the Germans, and adds terror as one in particular is fighting in order for Germany to rule the world. He takes pleasure in killing those who are not German, and adds a notch to his rifle with every heart he stops.

The artwork by Joe Colquhoun is truly remarkable. While it is mostly in black and white, the attention to detail is spectacular. Not only is he able to present the horrors of World War I through the trenches, explosions, and dead bodies covering No Man’s Land, but he also adds authentic elements such as the medieval armor the sniper wore, and showing the gas masks on the horses and dogs. The postcards that are pictured are based off actual postcards from the era. The characters’ expressions are lifelike and throughout the comic you can see their faces age considerably even though it’s only been a few months. If you like war movies or documentaries on war, I highly recommend picking up this volume. A treat at the end is a commentary by Pat Mills. This comic has action, adventure, and a horrific realism as it delves deep into the terrors of war.

-Amy Walker-LaFollette