Review by Eamonn Clarke
To End All Wars – The Graphic Anthology of the First World War, edited by Jonathan Clode and John Stuart Clarke with an introduction by Pat Mills.
During 2014 we have all spent some time thinking about the “Great” War which started 100 years ago. I know I have tried to picture myself as one of those lads sent to fight in muddy fields and wondered how I would have felt as I marched off to war. Would I have had the jingoistic hope that it would indeed all be over by Christmas, or does the gift of 100 years hindsight make it impossible to be that soldier boy without knowing of the horrors that awaited him and his friends? There have been commemorations aplenty and here is a comic book version which I put up on this site because of Uncle Pat’s introduction.
Clode and Clark have compiled another impressive looking hard back edition containing 27 different black and white stories by a variety of new names in British comics. It’s a well bound heavy weight volume that retails at £18.99 and for every book sold £2 goes to the Doctors without Borders organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières. Pat Mills’ introduction takes up three pages and, as ever, he doesn’t pull his punches and is almost worth the price of admission alone. To quote from his second paragraph: “This anthology is important because A Very British Lie is currently being perpetrated about World War One. In summary, the Sandhurst trained revisionists are rewriting history in the most outrageous way to claim that ‘sacrifices’ like the Somme were necessary to help Field Marshall Haig win the war; even though Britain’s Daily Telegraph itself admits, ‘what a terrible shame it was that Haig’s progress along his learning curve had to be greased by such deep floods of blood’“.
It clearly a gross simplification and far too easy to just trot out the statement that all war is wrong, that every war is by its nature a crime, though even the most professional soldier probably knows this deep in their hearts, as do we all. But the first world war does stand out as one of the most pointless and bloodthirsty example of mankind’s foolhardy nature. It was supposed to be that mythical war to end all wars, the conflict that killed nine million combatants and caused the death of millions more civilians. A bloody, brutal and terrible time in our history, and one that is dealt with very well by the writers and artists of this compilation.
Uncle Pat picks out the first story by Brick in which the main culprits behind the slaughter are brought to a mythical war crimes tribunal and questioned by a simple soldier as to the reasons for going to war. And it is an effective tale, although as we may just about recall from our schoolbook histories the cogs and levers that led the world to war were complicated, and at the same time trivial, so it is no surprise that most of us have clung on to that single detail about a minor European royal being shot in an open topped car. Personally I found some of the other stories about the common men and women affected by the war much more effective, but I do agree with Mills in being glad that the voices of all sides are heard, including German, French and African soldiers as well as us Brits.
Possibly the most moving piece is the final one of the book, Joe Gordon’s impassioned prose ‘Memorial to the Mothers‘ illustrated by Kate Charlesworth. A simple reminder that for every male name we see on a war memorial there was at least one other wounded person, the mothers and wives who bore the terrible brunt of the criminal throwing away of their loved ones’ lives. Apart from this there was nothing in the volume that quite reached the heights of Mills and Colquhoun’s Charley’s War, or Jacques Tardi’s It was the War of the Trenches for me.
Competition for the 2000AD pound is strong at the moment and I should imagine that this fine volume is probably not going to be on many people’s lists. But if you come across it in a bookshop do read Uncle Pat’s powerful and polemical introduction, and if you do then think about giving that day’s sandwich money to Médecins Sans Frontières. Cheers and a Happy and Peaceful Christmas to us all.