The art of war

Published On May 22, 2007 | By Joe Gordon | Animation, Comics

The always-excellent Drawn! has a link to The Art of War on the National Archives site, which is stuffed full of artwork, comics and caricatures from Second World War, as well as propaganda and even a section which, unusually for the time, depicted some of the more horrific elements of life and death under the Axis as opposed to the more square-jawed, get up there and give Johnny Fritz a good British uppercut variety. It is often said that the kingdom was never as united as it was during the darkest days of the war and that every level of society did their bit to help, from retired gardners pulling up their prize plants to grow vegetables to feed people to the actual folks on the front line and this shows how illustration too was used for the war effort, from propaganda posters to bolster moral for adults to comic books aimed at youngters as a way of not only entertaining them but explaining a bit of why we were fighting. Interestingly a glance at some of these is so reminiscent of some of the war comics I read as a very young lad in the 70s that it seems pretty clear that decades later some of the styles, stories and art were still influencing British boy’s comics and ensuring even the most cynical of us still gets a patriotic lump in the throat on the rare occassions when we see a Spitfire flying. Later comics like Battle would rip this cosy Boy’s Own Adventure style of war comics apart, of course (Pat Mills playing no small part in that), although a touch of it still survives in the likes of the Commando Books.
RAF Cartoon.jpg

(three panels from Book C, Boy’s Adventure Stories, depicting RAF pilots in Spitfires and Mosquitos – an incredibly fast plane made from balsa wood – doing the “chocks away, ginger! Tallyho!” approach to war)

On the humour front too the cartoonists were actively doing their bit (remember, this is a time when comics publishers like DC Thomson were on the Nazi’s list of people to round up had they managed to invade Britain – satire could get you killed), lampooning away, as in this cartoon (below) by Kimon Evan Marengo – who usually went by ‘Kem’ – depicting French, American and British army boots kicking Hitler and Mussolini. On one level you may view these as historical curiousities of a different era and perhaps observe similarities to modern-day cartooning (especially the use of humour to deal with dreadful events), but we have to remember that humour and the ability to laugh in the face of oblivion was one of the best weapons we had during this time. As dear old Spike Milligan put it in his war memoirs (which also featured some great cartoon covers originally), that humour was, he was sure, one of they keys to eventual victory. Perhaps not as glamorous as a Spitfire ace, not as solid as a Sherman tank, but still bloody important in keeping people going when they really needed it.

kicking hitler.jpg

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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