Tuesday, June 19, 2012

British Markets & War Comics

First off, my apologies for not writing in almost a month. Between exams, meetings, jet lag and weddings, I've been busier and more tired than ever. But after a month long hiatus from writing, things are somewhat back to normal and I hope to get some comic reviews and features out in short order. Today's piece mixes comics and travel and I hope you enjoy it. 
Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill.
When you visit London (or most any other British city) sooner or later you happen upon a market that sells almost anything. London is full of them and a couple weeks ago I visited one of that city's most famous: The Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. It was featured in a Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film a couple years back and remains a major tourist attraction.
There's a mix of British and American comics to be found in the book stalls of most UK markets.
...along with other cool books
...action figures and toys
...and suits of armour. This is England, after all!
While there wasn't a lot of comics related items, there were the usual sequential art gems that I've noticed consistently show up at these markets. These includes the magazine-sized British editions of American comics, late 80s and early 90s US comics and some cool British war comics, of which I bought these three:  

Published from the late 1950s these comics differ quite a bit from American comics. They are smaller (7 x 5.5 inches) and have on average two black and white panels with a typed font on the page. Having about 66-68 pages per book, they result in about the same length of a modern comic and the art is good and realistic. Their coolest feature however is their fantastic insight into an idealized vision of British machismo and patriotism in the post-war period. 

For example, The Railway of Death story tells the tale of ne'er-do-wells from a Scottish suburb nicknamed 'The Shambles' and how a benevolent army Lt. Colonel persuades the courts to allow them to become a regiment in lieu of going to jail after a major brawl. Along the way they encounter a rough training process, burnt down canteens and class-based prejudice from an established English county regiment before eventually becoming the victorious defenders of British India. 
In a Bridge on the River Kwai-type story, these 'Jocks' (a somewhat archaic and mildly derogatory nick-name for Scotsmen) do their duty against the Japanese.
Before that they were getting into street fights in 'The Shambles'...
...and feeling age old British class based prejudice from a 'County' regiment of 'Guardsmen'. 
They made mistakes along the way...
..but eventually found their way as good British soldiers. This was from the final splash. 
In the book Special Force there is a similar story of redemption in the military setting. Here a naval Commando on manned torpedoes or 'chariots' washes out after a failed mission in France. From there he decides to leave the navy to join a parachute regiment only to soon be forced to team with his old colleagues to destroy a German dam.

'Special Forces' largely developed in the Second World War.
This story features chariots or manned torpedos.
... and the paratroopers.
and redemption -- all with the goal of beating the 'Jerries'.
The book The Lost Army by Commando War Stories in Pictures* was  different. This book told the story of action in the African desert, albeit with an archaeological twist. These 'Britishers' while trying to take out the treacherous 'Jerries' and led by a brainy corporal named Bill 'Prof' Stanley get help from some unlikely allies: a lost ancient Persian Army.

Mixing ancient history and modern warfare, this book was somewhat different from the previous two.
In a story fitting of Indiana Jones, these are not ghosts but descendants of an ancient army. It's never explained how these men reproduced for a hundred generations or how they find food in the middle of the North African desert, but those niceties are not needed. The fact is they help the British defeat the Germans and destroy the secret Afrika Korps base. Blimey! 

Persians and British fighting the Jerries in the desert.
A great closing splash from The Lost Army.
If you're ever in the UK and visit a market you'll be sure to find some of these cool old war comics. The Railway of Death was published by IPC Magazines 1972 (first in 1961), Special Forces by IPC Magazines in 1980 and The Lost Army by Commando in 1974 (first in 1966). They offer great insight into the British mentality during post-war period and are a cool comics souvenir. Please feel free to leave a comment if you've come across some cool comics-related items in your own personal travels. 

*Commando War Stories in Pictures has been publishing from the early 1960s and still publishes today.

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