On this day, 6 October 1979: Battle Action
On this day, 6 October 1979 … This year of ‘On this day’ posts has turned into quite a journey of discovery for me. In part, I’m attempting to put together a sort of story of the IPC comics of the 1970s and 1980s by hopping about between publications and years (and my plan is to try to pull together all the threads in one long post at the end of the year). As it turns out, however, I’m been doing a lot of learning myself along the way – not just facts about the comics and their creators, which I knew would be a part of the process, but about what I like and don’t like.
War comics are a case in point. I used to think that these were not for me; in fact, I only started collecting Battle around this time last year, and I started the blog with the intention of looking only at selected titles that I remember from when I was young. As a kid I only played war when one or two of my friends persuaded me too. I didn’t collect toy solidiers or tanks or guns. Both my grandfathers were alive all the way through my childhood: one was an RAF pilot but never spoke to me about his experiences, while the other – like many others on his side of the family – was a conscientious objector, and I would say that I was brought up far more influenced and intrigued by the ideals and influence of pacifism. ‘War’ was something that interested other boys. I don’t think I ever read Battle, Victor or Warlord, and even now the styles of war comic art and narrative are a bit unfamiliar to me. The pages seem quite cramped, with lots of exposition, historical detail and a similarity of set dressing: uniforms, tanks, planes and explosions.
For these reasons it takes me a little longer to get to grips with an issue of Battle. But I’m so pleased that I have taken the time to get to know the comic over the last few months. Particular aspects have drawn me in: the covers, for example, such as this issue’s superb Mike Western design, are very often stunning pieces of work; Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War is also outstanding – one of the greatest pieces of British literature about the Great War, in my opinion. I’ve discovered that some of my favourite writers and artists (not only Mills and Colquhoun, but also John Wagner, Mike Western, Ron Turner, Carlos Ezquerra and Eric Bradbury, among others) were important members of the Battle team, and that actually – beneath the familiar imagery – the writing and the artwork is often top quality, thrilling, emotional, thoughtful and challenging. There are some terrific splash pages in this particular issue – the opening pages of Charley’s War, H.M.S. Nightshade and Rat Pack – and some eye-catching single panels – Colquhoun’s Mr Chips dummy, and John Cooper’s opening frame of Johnny Red. I’ve realised that one doesn’t have to be ‘into War’ to appreciate Battle; in fact, it has as much to say to someone like me who never found it at all interesting as to those who grew up well-used to its narratives. Here are stories about life and death, and who we really are when society breaks down around us.