Charley avoids the Germans. Artist: Joe Colquhoun.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: IPC Magazines
First Appeared: 1979
Creators: Pat Mills (writer) and Joe Colquhoun (artist)
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The problem of underage teenagers lying about their age to enlist for war can make devastating heartache for their families, and at best embarrassment for the military outfits that accept them. But for fiction about war, it can be hard-hitting and dramatic. "Charley's War," which many people consider the most hard-hitting …

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… and dramatic war series ever to come out of British comic books, started with the enlistment of Charles Bourne in the British Army of World War I, at the age of 16. The first cause of military embarrassment was overlooking the fact that he carelessly entered the correct year of his birth on the form, yet was immediately whisked away to the front.

That happened in the Jan. 16, 1979 issue of Battle Action, a weekly comic book published by IPC Magazines (2000 AD). The story was written by Pat Mills (Judge Dredd) and drawn by Joe Colquhoun (Roy of the Rovers). Charley grew up in the Army, eventually participating in the 1919 invasion of Russia.

One of the factors leading to its favored status among fans of British comics was the fact that it didn't emphasize impossible heroics, like Marvel did with Sgt. Fury and DC with Sgt. Rock. Life in the trenches with Charley was boring, scary, squalid and unpleasant in every other possible way — just like life in a real combat situation. Both Mills and Colquhoun did extensive research to make Charley's war experience as realistic as they possibly could.

The original plan was to carry the story into the 1930s and end with Charley, in his mid-30s and on the dole, hearing about the ascent of Hitler to the chancellorship of Germany. But in 1985, Mills quarreled with IPC over his budget for research, and wound up quitting. He was replaced as writer by Scott Goodall (Manix), de-railing plans. Charley was moved to the next big war, always the most popular one among comic book creators.

In World War II, Charley was a much more typical hero, despite the fact that he was in his 40s. But it was early in that war that Charley realized he was too old for fighting, and the series ended. He began to reminisce about how he became a soldier in the first place, and the series went into reprints. That lasted until in 1988, when the title ended, merging into IPC's Eagle.

The reason Charley's War went into reruns was Colquhoun's failing health. He retired in 1986 at age 60, and died a year later.

In 2004, Titan Books (Modesty Blaise) began reprinting Charley's War. Seven volumes have appeared so far.


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Text ©2011 Donald D. Markstein. Art © IPC Publications.