Comics writer Pat Mills explained why comics are a good medium to discuss the First World War, “They can be powerful and emotional. And they don’t have budget restrictions like a film.”
He has written the introduction to a new collection of graphic stories called To End All Wars featuring 27 stories by different artists and writers. “I especially like the way they’ve used some total newcomers alongside established pros,” Pat said.
To End All Wars is part of a response to Michael Gove and others to rehabilitate the First World War as heroic and necessary.
Pat has been one of the most successful and controversial comic writers in Britain over the past 40 years.
Even in the 1970s when he worked in the mainstream comics with weekly circulations over 100,000 like
He went on to produce more overtly subversive titles like Crisis, Toxic and the anti-superhero comic Marshal Law. How did he manage to challenge existing views?
“With difficulty and often even now by covert means. Most people in comics don't see a role for political counter-culture. I do. If comics are about good and evil, I'm never short of inspiration for villains!
“And the readers take a fresh anarchistic look at life, especially when they are younger and not conditioned by mortgages and jobs.”
“And comics were more anarchic in the past. That's why teachers used to hate comics and tear them up.
“Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids, told me that his first story had the kids steal an army tank and take over a police station. Could that happen today? I think not.”
From the late 1970s Pat wrote Charley’s War about an underage volunteer in the First World War.
“The readers loved Charley so Battle’s editor pretty much let me do what I liked,” Pat said. “I had three subversive story aims. The first was to show how the French suffered at Verdun—to get away from our jingoistic attitudes.
“Second, the British army mutiny which was a mega event—still covered up today. Third was the British invasion of Russia after the revolution. The British troops behaved as badly—if not worse—than American soldiers in Vietnam.
“The only major censorship I recall was the editor taking out a scene in another Charley story where white American soldiers—members of the KKK—are brutalising black American soldiers. He said to me, ‘We don't want to offend anyone’!”
“I know first hand that the strip influenced many young men not to join the army. Result!”
Its critical and commercial success has never given Pat the freedom to write what he wants. “I wrote another First World War story Brothers in Arms with artist David Hitchcock, and I’m still looking for a publisher,” he said.
“I’m passionate about getting this out partly because it features heroes like ED Morel, who was imprisoned for exposing what the ruling scum were up to. It also has John S Clarke and working class heroine supreme Alice Wheeldon. Hopefully the success of To End All Wars will boost its chances.”
Charley’s War is available in ten hardback volumes from Titan books