Experience life in the trenches of World War I with Charley's War

On a “Military History – What are you Reading Now” booklist, I came across the Charley’s War series, set in World War I. Having just completed the excellent historical non-fiction WWII graphic novel, Two Generals, I thought I would check out how "the war to end all wars" was covered in graphic novel fashion.

Wow, I was not disappointed. Charley’s War 2 June 1916 – 1 August 1916 is the first in a series of volumes following the life of Charley Bourne, who enlists in the British Army at the age of 16. In this volume you see Charley go from enlistment to the frontlines just in time for preparations for the Battle of the Somme. By the time the attack is launched, you’ll know just enough about his trench mates to be anxious of their fate as they ‘go over the top’.

This series is actually a compilation of a 3 to 4 page strip that ran in the British comic book "Battle Action" from 1979-85. Writer Pat Mills moves the action along at a brisk but smooth pace. Though a few of the characters may seem a bit stock/stereotypical, every one of them is compelling and pulls you in to learn their story. Joe Colquhoun’s artwork – fantastic. As long as you are not turned off by black and white, there is much to like here. The details in the panels and the way they are laid out works great.

The period history seems well researched, and the book includes not only a section where the writer gives current day commentary and he does address a few things that in hindsight may not have been too accurate or likely to have occurred, but also includes a brief independent essay on the Battle of the Somme itself.

You may not agree with the author’s preface, but I think you will agree the graphic novel itself is one grim and gripping yarn.