Boys’ Own Action! – Warlord #383 – Review

Warlord 383 - coverI was born in 1970 and I loved the Second World War. In 2018, the UK has largely shaken off its obsession with World War 2, arguably the last ‘good’ war in which the country has taken part, but it’s fair to say that my childhood was dominated by a conflict that left the UK without its Empire, in horrendous levels of debt to the US, in need of national re-building and yet somehow one whose result could reasonably be seen as a ‘victory’. Perhaps because of that strange dichotomy between patriotic satisfaction at a job well done and the real geopolitical and economic consequences of that endeavour, UK pop culture was positively saturated with World War 2. Airfix models of planes, tanks and soldiers; TV shows like Dad’s Army, Colditz and Secret Army (and latterly its far more successful parody ‘Allo, ‘Allo); the novels of Alastair MacLean and Sven Hassel; Biggles; comics like Commando and Battle Picture Library: as a boy growing up in the 70s, it was impossible to escape the war. And that’s not including the personal reminiscences of my grandparents (my dad’s father, not fit enough to fight on the frontlines, nevertheless helped man an AA battery on the North West coast of England that one night downed a Junkers 88 bomber on its way to bomb Liverpool) or the various documentaries about the war which regularly appeared on our black and white (and eventually colour) TV screens.

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Comics And The Art of the (Im)Possible – I

The following is the first in (probably) a series of personal posts detailing my relationship with the comic medium over the years. This one’s an introduction more than anything else. It’s also (mercifully) rather short…

TV Comic

Did I own this comic? It feels familiar, but that cover date suggests it’s a bit too late for me. Battle of the Planets, though…

A rambling, probably somewhat pretentious post today, but then I’m in a rambling mood and I’m rather tired. It may have come to your attention that I quite like comics. Comics have been a part of my reading DNA since childhood. Hardly surprising really, given that in the UK comics are still largely regarded as a childhood (and childish) medium. (As well as producing some of the most delicious soft cheese in the world, France also has a much more mature and sophisticated approach to the format, something that was brought home rather powerfully when I first visited a Leclerc hypermarche a couple of years ago and row upon row of hardback graphic albums glinted seductively – if mostly incomprehensibly – at me from their shelves.)

When I was a kid, I read stuff like Warlord and TV Comic, black and white weekly comics each featuring a range of strips, the former war stories and the latter a mix of single-page funnies and longer strips based (loosely) on TV series like Doctor Who and, if memory serves me correctly, Hazel. (Why I have no idea. Who remembers Hazel now???) My love affair with comics was largely formed at that point. They were disposable and ephemeral things, printed on cheap paper only slightly better than newsprint, but their links to science-fiction (particularly Doctor Who) and World War II cemented their place in my imagination and I collected them avidly all the same. My parents had an account at the local newsagents and my regular weekly delivery of a comic was something about which I got genuinely excited. Comics in the 70s had a smell and a smooth, slightly yielding – almost greasy – texture. Print dirtied your fingers, marked you as a reader. There was something grimy and physical about reading a comic back then. It was more than just words and images that were transferred from the page.

Holocaust Squadron

“Holocaust Squadron”? Alright, then. I vaguely remember this one. That’s a Harrier taking on a Mig-21 in a dogfight that, I think, took place in an oddly non-nuclear World War III. Alright, then.

The allure of comics, of course, is the mixing of images and text. There had been picture books, of course, and I can still remember my mum taking me to the local library (which, sadly, is no longer standing) for the first time. I took out three books that day, but I can only recall the one about trains with any clarity. Like any child, I enjoyed those picture books – large, beautifully drawn images above a few sparse lines of text. The dividing line between image and words was clear. Comic books were different, though. You didn’t find comic books in libraries and their images were more dynamic – less pretty – than the ones found in picture books. Comic book images told the story in a way that those that illustrated picture books didn’t. There’s a difference between comic book storytelling and illustration. The balance of narrative power between image and text is different; the images drive the story and, at times, it seems like the words are pushed to the side. There’s an alchemy at work, a collaboration that is as instinctively understood as it is obvious.

I have been known to say that the medium of comics is some kind of ‘half-way house’ between visual media like TV and film and the written word, but I no longer think that’s true. The comic medium is its own thing, misunderstood, scorned and disdained, the poor relation of more ‘literary’ forms. It is true, I suppose, that there are some comics creators who seek to redress the perceived unfairness of that viewpoint and good luck to them. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate comics’ strange pariah status, their pulpy roots and mass market appeal, their subversiveness and silliness, their puerile profundity. They remain my favourite medium and over the next few posts, I’ll try to understand a little more clearly just why I like them so much. I hope you’ll join me…