Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't Call him Shirley

Woke up a little later this morning, after having to deal with a puzzle in my dream that I was having trouble solving. I was in a Metroid-like environment, and in order to get past the first door, I had to destroy three canisters. Problem was, they were suspended in mid-air, like some sort of anti-gravity spaceship. There were two missle cases a floor below one carrying 4x missles, the other 6x, which seemed odd, since all the missles in the Metroid franchise were in the 5x category. I kept firing weapons at the cases, but everything kept bouncing off the coating. After fidling with the cases for awhile, I figured out that the trick was to open the spray a bit from all three canisters and then fire.

Problem was, for some reason, I decided to use my lighter around that time to set them off. Not only was I putting myself under unnecessary risk to light them, I also couldn't get the lighter to work properly. I kept clicking and clicking the thing, and the canisters were floating further away from each other, which would mean I'd have to start all over again...

...And then I woke up. What's really aggravating is that I originally woke up an hour ago, but promptly fell back to sleep, thinking I'd only need another five minutes or so. I could've stayed in bed longer to solve the puzzle properly, but had to get up because I was late.

Shortly after that, I went downstairs to check the latest headliners, which are usually less interesting than the rest of the paper, when an obituary in the lower left hand corner caught my eye:

"Leslie Neilson dies at age of 84"

I was just as shocked as everybody else. Like many humourists, I based much of my personality on his dry straight-man speech which was quite up my alley. The interesting thing is, even though he started out doing serious roles and only entered comedy for the later third of his life, you can't take his earlier roles seriously anymore. Since they're done in such a deadpan manner, you keep expecting him to come up with a witticism when there isn't one. A little tip - if you want to respect the man's works, don't look for pre-Airplaine! movies with him in the cast - you'll only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

After the decline that was the third Naked Gun movie, he wasn't able to obtain the heights he'd grown to. He was being continuously cast for less and less sophisicated parodical roles that demanded only the barest strands of his talents. The scripts couldn't match up the the genius of the early Naked Gun movies, and relied too much on visual cues that became less funny the more they were used.

However, because I woke up late, I missed the boat, and other bloggers were more eloquent, insightful and informative than I was. Not to mention that many of the commentors beat me to the punch in potential one-liners.

One thing that I never understood was why when the DVDs of the Naked Gun movies were released, did they never show the outtakes that were shown on TV, such as when Frank accidentally turned off Nordberg's life support system. Or the fight with the football fans before exposing the fake Meinheimer. Or Frank's continuous exploits at the sperm hospital getting him penile surgery. Hopefully now we'll get a chance to see these exploits that originally showed up on TV get a proper release.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Doug Wright's Cats

I seem to have a kind of knack for finding rare books that I like. I was lucky enough to find garage sales that sold old collections of Sunday comics of For Better or For Worse and Herman, especially since they're no longer printed anymore. I even found some old Pogo books of original stories that weren't in the newspaper for $0.25 each. (I highly recommend Pogo's Peek-a-Book, which has two of the funniest stories I've read that had a direct influence on Calvin & Hobbes) In that same bookstore, I passed up five issues of the colourized Akira comic, issues 1, 2, 13, 19 and 27. Incredibly enough, I later found those very same issues for sale at a garage sale just outside my jurisdiction. That led me on a serious comic-hunting spree to find the rest of the series once I got the most expensive issues cheap.

Some months ago, I was doing some book-hunting at library booksale looking for bargains. After finding several out-of-print children's books, I didn't want to leave just yet, because I felt a slight buzzing in the back of my head that gave me the sense that there was still a good book lying around, just hiding in plain sight. Then, tucked in a corner of the non-fiction section, I saw the title Stolen Innocence, a biography about growing up in a polygamous society. I figured my mother would like it, since she enjoyed the first three seasons of the HBO series Big Love, a kind of cross between Desperate Housewives and the Sopranos. Once I found it, the buzzing stopped and I was able to pay and leave.

Prior to that, I made an amazing discovery. Buried somewhere in the humour section was a collection of Doug Wright's editorial cartoons. Knowing that Doug was finally gaining some respect in the comics field by having his Nipper comics reprinted, it seemed too good to pass up.

It feels a little unusual seeing Doug's normally silent people giving lengthy monologues in a New-Yorker style of speech. It's the same problem I have when reading Groo - I'm so used to Sergio's pantomime that Evanier's script seems overly redundant. Most of the comics are in the very dry joke category, rather than the laugh-out-loud kind. Not to mention that despite the title, many of them are hardly political at all. They seemed more like large one-panel strips that could fit comfortably between Hi & Lois and The Family Circus. Except that there's no reoccuring characters; it's a different set of people and location every time. The closest it gets to an editorial comic is a meeting between Nixon & Trudeau, who're doing each other's makeup on live TV. What this is supposed to mean is anyone's guess.

The front cover isn't much to look at, but it's the back cover that's the main selling point. I'm always amazed at how much effort artists put on the unseen portion of a cover, when they're likely to be overlooked. Most online bookstores don't even bother with the back cover unless it's covered with reviews of glowing praise from multiple sources on how good the book is.

There is one saving grace though. There were three pages about a cartoon cat, whose philosophies seemed pretty much spot on. It's radically different from any of the other strips in the book and seems to be done for a special in the Spectator magazine it originally ran in. For the sake of saving anybody's bank accounts from having to pay for an overpriced book online just to see the best parts, I'll be reproducing them here:

The cat's exasperation in the next-to-last panel there is very reminiscent of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Even better when you consider that there's a children's book titled All Cats have Asperger's Syndrome. This could tie in to how Sheldon could relate to cats when his "girl-not girlfriend" didn't want to see him anymore.

Next up is a perfectly explainable reason for why cats are constantly wanting to go in and out of houses, seemingly on a whim.

The dog in that last panel there is modeled exactly how Farley in For Better or for Worse tended to run. Goes to show just how influental Doug Wright was.

Pay special attention to the upper left hand corner of the next strip...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lack of Drawing Skills

Recently, the creator of Xkcd formally announced that due to a family emergency, he would have to take a slight hiatus from his popular webcomic. Despite this, he was still able to update his webpage with doodles of half-finished bad jokes. In light of his remarkable devotion to his fans, other cartoonists sprung out of the woodwork to contribute guest strips to help fill in the four-five month gap while he deals with his family illness.

I would've liked to contribute something myself, if not for two conflicting interests: 1. I'm an even worse artist than the Xkcd guy, which is saying something. 2. I don't have a webcomic page. Apart from my submissions to Square Root of Minus Garfield, I don't have much experience drawing comics. It's rather ironic, since I think and read about comics daily, and even envision writing an enjoyable comic that'll be read and reread for generations to come. But I utterly suck at drawing, when I can easily see the panel layout for a theoretical comic that doesn't even exist yet. Even the act of doing rough drafts tire me out.

I can never work myself to draw properly, because I'm always upset at how the comic character comes out. It never looks like the way I envisioned it to be. It makes it even worse if they're looking at me, silently demeaning me for warping their pure existence.

Cartoon: What are you doing? My jawline should be shaped rounder and my nose should be curvier!
Me: Sorry.
Cartoon: Oh great, and now you've completly drawn my arms out of proportion to each other! Are you trying to disfigure me?
Me: (clutching my head in shame) I'm sorry.

I could escape my fear of drawing eyes by drawing totally blank eyes in the same vein as Little Orphan Annie or the Sins from Jack. However, to me, it feels something like a visual shortcut, and not something I could build on. I've tried to break down my inepitude by focusing on one facial body part at a time, drawing it over and over until I get it right. It's easier when I just have to focus on one thing at a time. Then I'll be able to put all the pieces together in a way that makes sense.

Problem is, this approach fails me too, since I can never bring myself to stay interested enough to work on the details. Not to mention that drawing the same open mouth multiple times and not getting the same results I wanted is extremely demoralizing. For some reason, on the rare occasions that I can get a doodle to work exactly the way I want it to, when I think about it too much, I can't capture that essense I wanted again.

This is why I prefer to write instead of draw. At least if any of my characters say something stupid, I can change it to sound more profound and memorable. Still, this didn't stop me from trying to create crude drawings that could work. Every year, in order to save money, I would write a creative card for my parents' birthdays and Mother's/Father's Days. Thing is, I could never just create a card with a simple "Happy Birthday" in it, oh no. It had to have social commentary that would tie in to whatever current theme was happening around then.

One such example was around my grandmother's 91st birthday. Like any geriatic, she was rather shy about revealing her true age. I had two characters argue over whether it was ethical to create a monument to her surviving this long. Eventually, there was a scuffle over the banner covering the number, causing the hook of the "9" to fall off. When it hit the ground, it created a dense plume of smoke covering both characters as they looked in horror at the remaining numbers, which now spelled out "11". The soot-covered supervisor was going to say something about modifying the monument, when the designer said, "Forget it. It's too soon. Maybe next year."

It probably loses a little something in the retelling. I may post it online if there's any interest, but for now, I might as well show two Xkcd-style comics that I drew.

First up, I can't take any credit for the idea here. I found somebody's doodle of this page in High School, and was impressed enough to copy it and tape it on my bedroom door as a kind of warning of what would happen if anybody set foot in my room. Because, like one of my other signs said, "Occupancy of more than one person is considered unlawful and dangerous". I added the mutant fish, and the looping plot myself.

The other comic I drew for my Mother's birthday was a rebus that I thought she'd be easily able to decipher. Sadly, I grossly underestimated her capacity to understand pictures, and had to explain it to her. My sister who's an artist and a comics fan was able to understand it instantly.

For the less observant among you who remain baffled, maybe this link will give you a clue. But don't click or highlight it until you've considered every option. The fun of puzzles is figuring things out in the end.

Of course, the real reason I posted these up here was that I had no guarantee that my comics would even be accepted, and didn't want to take that risk. After all, what would Randall Munroe have to gain from linking to my blog? My comics don't have any mathematical relevance to them. Not to mention that I have no real desire to redraw my comics again. The panda one was hard enough.

Conversely, I’ve heard of artist who suffer from the opposite problem. They can compose scenes of elaborate poetry in their images, but they can’t tell a story to save their lives. There has got to be a way for these authors with visions and artists with talent to get together somehow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Koko be Nimble, Koko be Good

After the recent discussion of the lack of success of homegrown Manga, it would be remiss of me to not support such works when they're worthy of spreading the word and letting the outside world know they exist.

One such work I recently read that impressed me was Koko be Good. When I first read the first chapter, I was rather bored, since it started out very wordy, and focused on a lonely guy pining for his girlfriend who was currently in another country. It seemed like another one of those books that would be the archtype for those stereotypical "oh-woe-is-me" autobiographical comics. Things only perk up when the titular character pops up. From that moment on, Koko litererally steals the show with every appearance she makes. From her free-spirted personality to her expressive appearance, everything she does make her a joy to look at.

After her gatecrashing entrance, before she can be arrested for trespassing, she makes off with Jon's taperecording from his overseas girlfriend in the confusion. So it's up to him to track down this elusive maniac girl. While it seems like an obvious setup for a romantic comedy between two opposing people, I'm glad to say that the story doesn't follow those conventions. Jon manages to find Koko and get his tape recording back (slightly overtaped though), but the two of them still go off their paths in their separate ways. They converse with each other, but there's never any sexual tension or chemistry between them. I'm always impressed when there's stories done without having to rely on gender roles.

Koko's character design and personality reminds me a lot of the snake-girl-like appearance from Solanin. This isn't a knock against snake girls - I find that the wide mouth gives them an incredible air of expressiveness. Just look at the popularity of Gin from Bleach as an example. My first experience with a Snake Girl was one of the cast members in the out-of-print Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show who didn't appear in the book. I wondered why she didn't appear, despite looking much better drawn than the other characters. It wasn't until years later that I found out it was an in-joke reference to Kazuo Umezu's Reptilia. That's the kind of thing that'll fly over your head unless you're paying attention.

Where was I? Oh yes, Koko. She's impressed with Jon's devotion to his girlfriend overseas (even as she ridicules him) and decides she wants to contribute something to society. She thinks that the best way to do so is to donate money for a underpriviliged child. Trouble is, she's something of a dilettante and can't settle down on any one job to acquire the funds she needs.

One thing that I really liked was Jon's pose here:

While most Manga characters usually put their hands behind their necks when they're slightly uncomfortable, it's also become something of a shortcut for too many artists. Check out the positioning of multiple Mangas, and you'll notice that there are a lot of similarities between character's stiff poses. When someone's making a speech, they'll spread their arms across to take up room on the panel. But not everybody worldwide uses the same positions like everybody else. It's important to have as much variety as possible to gain that sense of authenticy. The fluidity of the charater's body language also helps here.

This review covers a lot of the subtlety that I missed when reading it the first time around. I'm much more interested in the mechanics behind a comic and whether they work or not. Trouble is, with works like these and Solanin, when it comes to recalling a specific piece of dialogue that stands out, nothing comes to mind. It leans too much into real-world conversations, which is generally unmemorable, such as it is. That's fine when you're conveying a realistic world view - neither overly optimistic or pessimistic, but somewhere in between. But it makes it incredibly difficult to pinpoint a point you're trying to make.

This is the kind of story that I'd be incapable of writing. When I tell a story, I always do so with the intent of choosing the most interesting path possible.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Red Ketchup

There’s been some recent tributes to Canadian cartoonists who are well-regarded, but are virtually unknown in their home country. This is hardly a secret shame, since there’s plenty of unsung cartoonists worldwide, and due to the competition, some have better PR than others. Still, its surprising when some works aren’t better known considering their imaginative quality.

I’ve just recently reintroduced myself to a French Canadian comic titled Red Ketchup. He originally ran in CROC, the Quebec equivalent of MAD Magazine, only raunchier. Red Ketchup is an albino FBI Agent who could be described as a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hunter S. Thompson. He’s very effective at interrogation, killing, and regularly takes various drugs to starve off the “shakes & headaches”, and is absolutely insane.

It’s not that he’s a rogue agent, but rather that he’s too dedicated to his country. He usually goes off on whatever madcap caper he’s on until he’s ordered to otherwise. By the time the higher authorities are informed on what he’s up to, its too late to find and recall him.

Steve “Red” Ketchup originally started out as a side character in Michel Risque in a series of Black & White comics similar to European comic designs. Given the amount of imported French comics Quebec gets, this isn’t an unusual disposition.

Once he grew popular enough to have his own spin-off, he got what could be described as his origin:

Born an albino, Steve Ketchup was the son of Polish immigrant, a violent alcoholic who beat his son regularly to "educate" him. He used to force Red to play chicken with oncoming trains to help him "become more of a man." and would beat Red if he dodged the train too quickly. His father suffered a massive stroke after beating Red's older sister for her hippy lifestyle. Months later, Red was asked by his sister to take their wheelchair-bound father for a walk around the neighborhood. Red took his dad for a nostalgic trip to the trainyard and left Dad's chair (complete with Dad) on the tracks (you can imagine the result).
As soon as Red was sixteen he enlisted to get away from his father, and was sent to Vietnam, where he became heavily decorated. After the war he joined first the Detroit police force, and then the F.B.I.
In the Bureau he swiftly established a reputation for being extremely violent, but terrifyingly effective. "Red" Ketchup, as he had become known, was investigating the drugs trafficker Raul Escobar, when he was exposed to a mixture of drugs including cocaine, and somehow became nearly invulnerable. Since then his boss in the F.B.I., Edgar G. Sullivan, has employed him on the most dangerous missions that the agency encounters, including (from what I can devine with my non-existent French) tracking down Elvis, taking on a cloning racket, and going to Hell.

Shortly after his appearance in Michel Risque, he was gravely wounded by a shotgun blast to the face while tussling with a drug lord. The colour comics pick up from where the Michel Risque scenes left off.

The chief is justifiably surprised, since Ketchup was in a condition that would put a lesser man in a coma for months. He tells Ketchup that despite his enthusiasm to go back to work, he doesn’t have anything for him right now, and should go on vacation. Ketchup takes this a code that he’s being ordered to go undercover. Shortly after Red Ketchup leaves, the chief wonders where the Denver file is.

Sure enough, Red Ketchup stole the file lying on the Chief’s desk. The file shows the profile of a football player who’s suspected of having drug connections, and if proved, should be approached discreetly. Upon finding a packet of cocaine in his locker, what does Red Ketchup do?

He tackles the football player from making the winning touchdown in front of millions of viewers in the audience and on TV. Red Ketchup then breaks the Football player’s arm and congragulates himself on a job well done, using the packet of drugs he found earlier.

Here's Ketchups' room before...

And here's his room after. You can see the parallels with H.S.T. right there.

Later, using information from his last connection, he finds a plane shipping cargo to an undisclosed country. Hiding onboard, he finds the crates are packed with guns. He decides to hide inside one of them with the intent of surprising the gun-runners...

...just not in the way he originally intended.

This brings a diplomatic note of complaint back to Washington about interfering with domestic affairs.

After Red Ketchup regains his senses, he gets a migraine that demands immediate treatment. His first instinct is to knock out the guard and go to the infirmary. Upon arrival, he shoots everyone there. In the immortal words of Fletcher Hanks, “even the nurse is destroyed”. The gunfire noise attracts the attention of soldiers surveying the camp from the sidelines, causing them to enter the fray.

To recap, after waking up from a comatose state, he tackles a drug-using quarterback, stows away in a illegal weapons crate, sparks an international incident, and all he cares about is curing his headache. Sounds like a typical day at work to me.

After being taken in by the army, he's led to an interrogation room where a soldier had been torturing a terrorist to reveal his plans without much success. Red Ketchup offers to lend his expertise.

Jack Bauer’s got nothing on this guy. If Red Ketchup was the protagonist of 24, it would have to be retitled 12, considering how quickly he mows through his enemies to get to his target. In this case, a nuclear bomb in a suitcase was going to detonate at the Washington Monument at 8:00. Upon calculating that he’s not going to be able to make it to the detonation site on time, what does he do?

He hijacks the plane he’s riding and pilots it towards the terrorism spot just so he can shoot the dirty bomber at point-blank range.

Unfortunately, he’s too late. With her dying words, the suicide bomber tells Ketchup that it’s already armed and unstoppable. Faced with the impending explosion, he throws himself on the briefcase to absorb the blast, much like a grenade... even though a nuclear explosion doesn’t work like a normal bomb. The radiation would rip through his body like paper and spread out into a radius despite his best intentions.

However, it all turns out to be moot, since the dirty bomb turns out to be a dud. Congratulations are offered to Red Ketchup for his duties, even though all he wants an aspirin and the chief wants to get rid of him. The chief will routinely send Red Ketchup on suicide missions in the hopes that he'll get rid of him, usually without much success.

Keep in mind that all of the above took place in the span of less than twenty pages, and that’s including the origin. There’s two more stories in the book after this, but I figured I’ll save that later if anybody’s interested.

He’s what the Implacable Man would be like if he was a main character. However, because of it’s casual nudity of both male and female anatomy, it’ll probably never be translated in English. Maybe a scanlation will be available on a 4chan board, but I’m not holding my breath.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Flip Open the Random Book

Was clicking around various people’s comments’ names that led to links, and found this book meme that seemed interesting, and decided to give it a try. The rules are simple:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4-7 sentences on your LJ along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

So, I opened the closest book around me, which has the most incomprehensible plot ever written and got this result. I’ve simplified it somewhat, since it was previously unreadable:

"A firm chewy candy. Carapace: a protective case or shell on the back of some animals (as turtles or crabs). Carat: a unit of weight for precious stones equal to 200 milligrams. Caravan: a group of travelers journeying together through desert or hostile regions."

I’m probably doing something wrong, since the closest book on my desk was a dictionary.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Regular Bill Tozer

Wanted to do a small follow-up to my Veteran's Day tribute. Pat Mills often lamented that there weren’t any Historical War Stories that covered any of the grounds that he was unable to write, such as the Iraq presence in the first World War. (That later theme was covered in Rebellion.)

So far, only Garth Ennis’ War Stories seems to be among the relative few that manage to do the research and be lucky enough to have artists willing to do their illustrations for him. I’m not usually a fan of War Stories, since there’s a sense of futility to most of them, but there were two stories Ennis did that I particularly enjoyed, both of which dealt with a small group of men. One was Screaming Eagles, the remainder of Easy Company being ordered to safeguard a house at the end of the second war, and most likely influenced the HBO series Band of Brothers.

The other was Condors, about four soldiers from opposing sides bunkering under a bombing bombardment during the almost unknown Spanish War. Each of them took turns talking about their reasons for fighting. In particular, I wanted to point out a certain Socialist Sergeant:

Quite an enthusiastic cheerleader in the vein of Full Metal Jacket, ain't he? Of course, it doesn't last for long...

So, faced against increasingly diminishing long odds, what does he do?

Sergeant Lilley may have been based on a chapter in Alvah Bessie’s Spanish Civil War Notebooks, but its just as likely he was influenced by Bill Tozer, since Garth Ennis was living in Britain at the time Charlie’s War was serialized. He even does the afterword for the second volume talking about how his favorite artist was no longer working on an airplane story, and was now working on a WWI comic.

Bill Tozer might be a watered down version of Sergeant Lilley, but don’t let that discourage you. He’s watered down only in the same sense that Duke from Doonesbury was a watered down version of Hunter S. Thompson. Even in milder form, Duke was crazy enough to do things that defied common sense, such as putting land mines on the couch to keep the dogs off them. This brought the uncomfortable question of, “What dogs?” Even though all this was done off panel, it should give you some idea of what Bill Tozer is like.

All in all, he's a much more three-dimensional Sergeant than another I could name.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Charley’s War

Charley’s War is the best War comic you’re not reading right now. Not to be confused with Charlie’s War (different spelling), Charlie Wilson's War (different war) or Foyle’s War (different medium). This Charley is Charley Bourne who’s an idealistic (if dim) kid who wants to enlist in the army to help support the war effort. The army, wanting new volunteers accept Bourne’s admission, even though he lists his age as 16, but writes his date of birth as 1900. (The war started in 1914)

From the moment he steps out of training, he’s thrust into a hellish experience that’s nothing like he ever expected.

The early issues started out with dual narratives, with Charley experiencing the war, and toning it down in his letters to his parents in cursive. Eventually, the things happening began to outpace his ability to write home, which was a good thing, since the letters slowed down the rapid-fire pace.

There were several things that postponed my knowledge about this comic. 1. It ran in a British magazine. 2. It was published in a war comic magazine. 3. The artwork was mainly in black and white. 4. When serialized, it only posted a few pages from last week’s release. Comic creators may talk about how difficult it is to do 16 pages for a Manga chapter on a weekly basis, but I’ll posit that it’s far harder to do a continuing storyline 3-4 pages at a time.

One thing that I liked was that they sung old war songs that were immortalized by Peanuts characters. Thanks to this, I was finally able to find out what the missing lyrics were.

In grade school, I was very annoyed with having to memorize the lyrics to Flander’s Fields. Even now, the first five stanzas are still stuck in my head. It wasn’t until I read this War comic that I began to understand what the lyrics meant. This is required reading for anyone who doesn’t know the significance of the poppies that’re sold around this time every year. There’s plenty of comics detailing the horrors of World War II, but there’s almost nothing known about The Great War (also known as The War to end All Wars)

The ironic thing is that it was published in Battle Magazine, which was well known for its patriotic war stories. Charley’s War was different in that it wasn’t done in the style of boy’s stories, which was the norm, but was done in an anti-war vent. In that sense, it was completely different from the other comics in the magazine. (I’ve never actually seen a pro-war comic or movie, so I have no idea what they’re like)

The amount of research and detail that Pat Mills and John Colquhoun were able to accomplish on a deadline schedule is astounding. Not to mention the amount of trivia that would be considered unbelievable:

Germans using their men as wheelbarrows to shoot machine guns.

Using champagne to cool down a machine gun.

Shooting through your own plane to hit an enemy flying in your blind spot.

British Officers treating war like some kind of game.

Singing the enemy’s anti-British war songs.

All these and more were events that actually happened during wartime. When Charley’s War was serialized, there were letters of complaint that such things were inconceivable. In fact, the only unbelievable element is that for all the brutality that goes on during the war, there’s practically no swearing. It never gets much raunchier than a “blimey!” around there, despite the brutality of the battlefield. Considering that this was serialized for young boys, this kind of censorship was understandable.

As Pat mentioned in his notes, WWI was the major inspiration for SteamPunk stories. Many of the early inventions such as tanks, gas masks and flamethrowers were due to creative innovations during wartime. Fans of the 15th volume of Full Metal Alchemist would surely identify with this comic.

If Legend of Galactic Heroes displayed the idealistic view of WWI, Charley’s War showed the humane (and inhumane) brutality that war movies generally avoid.

Charlie’s War was also notable for having plenty of side characters that were rotated out once they’d gotten killed or wounded in action. Some of the more memorable characters who managed to survive long enough include:

Weeper, a grinning fellow who was constantly crying from the aftereffects of a gas attack.
Smith 70, one of the numbered Smiths who was a technician who had the phrasing tic of, “it’s a bit technical, know what I mean?”
Officer Snell, a snobbish man who was more concerned with appearances and authority than actually winning the war.
Blue, a veteran war deserter who looked and acted like Jack Nicholson.

Of all the interesting characters that’re peppered throughout the various war stories, general notice should be paid for the most intriguing side character, Sergeant Bill Tozer. He displayed a certain sadistic glee over torturing his men...

...while also knowing when to look the other way. He’s the kind of man who you wouldn’t want as a friend, but when the chips were down, he’d look out for you better than anybody higher up the ladder of authority.

Another thing that makes this so memorable is how Charley’s family was involved. They weren’t just chuffed off to the side - they had their own roles. His father was a policeman, his mother worked in a munition factory, his wheeling-dealing cousin Oiley dealt with the black market, and his brother Wilf wanted to join the war despite Charley’s warnings not to make the same mistake he did. There was also cousin Jack’s naval battle in what Pat said was his least successful storyline. It might not have been a big hit back home, but I was riveted to my seat while reading the duel between two ships doing everything they could to sink the other.

Sadly, lack of funding for Pat Mill’s research led him to abort his planned storylines and was continued past The Great War to WWII where Charley’s son wanted to enlist himself. The writing was done by Scott Goodall in a tone similar to boy’s adventure stories. Despite still being drawn by Colquhoun, it was cancelled after just a year. It’s still unknown whether the WWII stories will be reprinted, since Pat Mills said his ending point would be this panel after the first war was over.

Charley’s War is currently being reprinted by Titan Books. Only six volumes have been released so far. When I found out that they were going to be released at the pace of one book a year, I couldn’t wait and downloaded a torrent of the entire series. If you’re planning to do so, I should warn you that scans for the Battle of the Somme are rather small and inferior compared to the higher quality version of the reprints. While reading those, you might wonder what the fuss is all about. If you want to enjoy the full experience, request an interlibrary loan or purchase the books yourself. You won’t regret it.

If there is one fault I have with the Titan Books reprint (other than the slow release dates) it would be that the volume endings for the first three books end in awful cliffhangers that don’t stop until the 4th volume. For those only interested in the Battle of the Somme (the first and longest story), go with the first three books.