As a chap brought up at boarding school in the 70s in the pre-computer age with no telly and where radios were only illicitly kept, war comics were mother’s milk to most of us. Because of their small format, they were ideal for hiding in text books etc. I still have one in the attic somewhere as a keepsake. It’s called Assegai of War. Although mine features the Zulu Wars, most titles by Commando Comics and War Picture Library concentrated on World War II. They are typically stories of squaddies succeeding against the odds, misfits who come good, patriotism, esprit de corps and mateship. And laced, inevitably, with a strong dose of xenophobia.
So it was a fabulous trip down memory lane to visit the National Army Museum, Chelsea where this particularly British genre is celebrated in the exhibition Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics (until 30 April 2012).
The exhibition is mainly about cover artwork, in colour, so it doesn’t really feature the pen and ink content pages. These paintings, then, are usually commissioned specially and not done by the fellows whose job it is to churn out the inside pages. This is bit of a pity: I love pen and ink illustration. No matter, the pictures that are on show are magnificent, mostly done on paper with watercolour and gouache. As mentioned before on this blog, comic artists and illustrators generally represent the true artistic talent of the modern age, in my view. Unsung geniuses known only by name to committed comic geeks. As a nation with a very strong comic tradition, we don’t celebrate their work as much as the French, Americans and Japanese do their artists (and ours, for that matter).
So. For a blast from the past and to enjoy some outstandingly crafted comic illustration, do pop down to NAM and take in the other delights this excellent museum has to offer while you’re there.