On this day, 17 June 1978: True War
On this day, 17 June 1978 … I almost didn’t write today’s post. It’s a comic about a time of conflict and death, and a hopelessly divided world, and after the events of yesterday it’s been difficult to find the enthusiasm. But this is a rare comic, and an interesting sidenote in the story of IPC comics, so I think it’s important to take a look.
True War was a short-lived (three issues) comic published by IPC in the summer of 1978, and an attempt to appeal to a market looking for more factual content and depth than that offered at the time by Battle Action. There’s a very good article about the publication by Jeremy Briggs on John Freeman’s downthetubes site, which positions it as a before-its-time example of the widening of British comics to a more mature audience that occurred in the late 1980s. It’s a good way of looking at it, although the tone of True War is obviously much more of its time than of the ilk of Crisis and Deadline. There’s a respectful gravitas to the comic, reflective of the awe and symbolic reverence with which memories of the Second World War in particular imbued our popular consciousness in the 1970s. I remember this as a time in which tales of British heroes and tough, gritty but proud and victorious campaigns were commonplace – on television, in the movies and in the gardens, fields, backyards and bedroom floors of my friends.
I was a couple of months short of my eighth birthday when this first issue of True War was published and I doubt many of my classmates would have read it, but kids not much older than them will have done so and would have found inside two sixteen-page, text-heavy comic strips recounting The Battle of El Alamein and the story of disabled RAF hero Douglas Bader, Legless Legend, a poster featuring two warplane cutaway diagrams and a short feature on prisoners’ efforts to build a glider to escape Colditz. The artwork – from Jim Watson and Ian Kennedy – is absolutely superb, and undoubtedly the standout aspect of this publication. The text comprises a quaint mix of storytelling captions and occasional speech balloons to humanise the narrative and provide a bridge to the heavier subject matter for readers making a step up from more juvenile comics.
True War is informative, well-planned and honours (without glorifying) those who risked, and in some cases gave up their lives, in defence of the free world. That’s all good, and important for all post-war generations to know. What this comic lacks – in fact, what all the war narratives that were part of the background to my childhood lacked – was any explanation of why we were at war in the first place. These were the battles, and they were victorious, and that’s good … but what were we fighting against? What was it all for? If there had been more explanation of that when my generation was growing up then perhaps there would be less tolerance today for obscenities such as Nigel Farage’s latest UKIP poster, or the hardening of right-wing prejudice in this country and all around the so-called ‘civilised’ world.