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11 November 2023

The long and complicated guide to collecting Charley's War

In honour of Armistice Day & Remembrance Sunday, here's a copy of my guide to collecting Charley's War (initially printed in the current issue of Comic Scene)...which is available here

The recent publication by the Treasury of British Comics imprint of their 3 volume collection of the first world war masterpiece Charley’s War got me thinking about what there is out there for fans of this amazing series to collect.

The first world war series (I’m glossing over the second world war series here) originally ran for 293 episodes in Battle from 6th Jan 1979 [issue 200] -26th Jan 1985 (that’s a total of 316 weeks so not many weeks missed) and charted the hellish story of world war one from the perspective, not of an officer and a gentleman, but rather from the viewpoint of an underage working class lad who joined up to ‘do his bit’ for King and country. The story is rightly regarded as both an anti-war classic and a high-water mark in British comics.

Let’s start with the most recent reprints and go backwards from there...

Treasury of British comics imprint (published 2018)

Charley’s War the definitive collection volume 1 – The Boy Soldier  - episodes 1-86

Charley’s War the definitive collection volume 2 – Brothers in arms  - episodes 87-176

Charley’s War the definitive collection volume 3 – Remembrance - episodes 177-293

Note that for each of these volumes there is also a limited edition ‘bookplate’ edition (of 150 copies) which contains a bookplate signed by Pat Mills.

Before this Titan Books published a series of hardback volumes collating Charley’s adventures...

1. Charley’s War – volume 1 (published November 2004); episodes 1-29

2. Charley’s War – 1 August 2016 – 17 October 1916; volume 2 (October 2005); episodes 30-59

3. Charley’s War – 17 October 1916 – 21 February 1917; volume 3 (October 2006); episodes 60-83

4. Charley’s War – Blue’s story; volume 4 (October 2007); episodes 84-109

5. Charley’s War – Return to the front; volume 5 (October 2008); episodes 110-136

6. Charley’s War – Underground and over the top; volume 6 (October 2009); episodes 137-166
Note that there are 30 episodes in this volume, not 29 episodes as the notes in the back say. The notes should summarise episodes 22-24, 25-26, 27-29 & 30 (rather than 22-23, 24-25, 26-28 & 29)

7. Charley’s War – The great mutiny; volume 7 (October 2010); episodes 167-195

8. Charley’s War – Hitler’s youth; volume 8 (October 2011); episodes 196-225

9. Charley’s War – Death from above; volume 9 (October 2012); episodes 226-260

10. Charley’s War – The end; volume 10 (October 2013); episodes 261-293

In addition two slipcased commemorative volumes (Charley’s War 1914-2014) were announced but never published.

And (in August 2014) one softback volume – A boy soldier in the great war – which reprinted episodes 1-86 of the series.

The Best of Battle (softback, Titan Books, October 2009) gives you nearly 300 pages of Battle strips including the first 4 episodes of Charley’s War.

Charley also had a run of reprints in the Judge Dredd Megazine, specifically

·         issue 211 (cover dated 21 October 2003) – issue 228 (cover dated 02 May 2006) reprinted episodes 1-76;

·         issues 234 (cover dated 26 July 2005) – 236 (cover dated 20 September 2005) reprinted episodes 77-88;

·         and then issues 238 (cover dated 15 November 2005) – 244 (cover dated 02 May 2006) reprinted episodes 89-109.

So, all in all that’s twenty-eight issues of the Megazine reprinting the first four volumes of material reprinted by Titan Books and I’d have to say the reproduction quality in the Megazine is better than in the Titan Books.

Meanwhile back over in Battle...After the World War One story had been completed (26/01/85) the story moved immediately (02/02/85) onto the World War Two story – this was completed on 04/10/86. 

Battle then moved into reprints of the World War One episodes and over the next 67 weeks (so up to 23/01/88) got the story up to episode 68. Week commencing 30/01/88 saw Battle merge with new Eagle and the reprints continued in new Eagle up until 21/01/90 – so a further 117 issues (episodes 69-84, 86-175, 178-184 & 272-275). 

After a break of about a year new Eagle then began reprinting Charley’s War AGAIN (from the issue dated 23/2/91 running all the way until the end of new Eagle, January 1994) – episodes 1-84 and 86-120 in total. So you may have noticed that episode 85 was not reprinted by new Eagle for a second time – this is an episode where you get a burning German falling from a zeppelin and Crimean war veteran Blind Bob run over by a lorry (and a zeppelin commander’s funeral is disrupted by a mob throwing eggs), and it was clearly deemed too much for new Eagle readers.

Before all these reprints there were the original 1980s reprints from Titan Books. The first of these slim volumes appeared in March 1983 and the cover shows a forlorn Charley looking at the graves he has dug for his fallen comrades. The first volume reprints the first 16 episodes of the saga. The second (and final) reprint volume wasn’t published until June 1986 but published a further 24 episodes in a volume with a particularly haunting cover. The cover for volume two was adapted from the opening frame of episode 25; whereas the cover for volume one seems more likely to have come from the harrowing start to episode 42 where Charley has literally scraped the remains of his best mate, Ginger, into a bag and is off to bury him.  

The final item that any Charley’s War collector should look out for is Lew Stringer’s (now rare and expensive) old fanzine, Fantasy Express, in particular issue 4 (Summer 1982) as this features the only interview Joe Colquhoun ever gave fandom. He also provides a Charley’s War cover. Fantasy Express is A5 sized and this issue is only 36 pages long (including covers) and the interview and associated features take up 13 pages in total (you also get an interview with Pat Mills and an interview with Kev O’Neill – it’s quite some issue). The wide ranging interview covers many facets of Joe’s life and career, but a couple of Charley moments stand out...

“...when I was first asked to take on Charley’s War after Johnny Red I said to the editor [Dave Hunt] “God Almighty, how are you going to make any subject matter out of such a static subject as trench warfare?” and he said “We’ve got a damn good author!”...” well Dave Hunt was certainly right about that.

Joe also remarks, with a large degree of under-statement, that “...I’ve tried very hard to bring out the realism in the trenches...that might lead to a certain amount of authenticity which is possibly lacking in the more blood and thunder, action-packed World War 2 stories [scripted, not by Pat Mills, but by M Scott Goodall].

So there you have it, the complete guide to Charley’s War reprints, here’s hoping that there’s something still for you to collect, and if not, long may you read about Charley Bourne.

And as a final treat here's Garen Ewing's depiction of Charley Bourne - this is taken from the British sketchbook volume 1 (edited by Darryl Cunningham) c.1996

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