To End All Wars was born out of a desire to see the UK comics community contribute something to the centenary of WWI. With the exception of Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War and Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches, we have seen few other notable comics on the subject this side of the Channel. Fearing, in Britain at least, that the centenary might be repackaged as a celebration of supreme sacrifice in the face of Austro Hungarian barbarism, we wanted to address the actual truth of the First World War, something that Harry Patch, our last surviving combatant most accurately and eloquently described as ‘organised mass murder.’ It is a sad fact that most people know very little about WWI, so an anthology seemed like the best approach. It allowed us to cover various aspects of the war that had quietly been consigned to history, and to give readers an insight into a conflict that was a world war in the truest sense, but preventable.
Such a project forced us, as editors, to extensively research the war – not just the facts, but also how it had been interpreted in prose, poetry, art and on the screen. In a conflict that was the first industrialized war, curious incidents, characters, superstitions and relationships started to emerge that we wanted to cover. At the beginning, we asked contributors to present us with three possible topics they would like to write about. Six months into the project, we were plugging gaps and suggesting to new writers pitching to come onboard what we needed their stories to cover.
ACBD – Tell us about the stories and their creators.
We decided early on that the stories should spring from true events, but that writers and artists would have the freedom to choose where to take their stories and how to depict them. The archetypal imagery of WWI is present throughout, but we took the road less travelled in terms of the perspectives. There are 26 stories in total covering such topics as desertion, the war at sea and below it, the UK home front, the struggle of the journalist, the French mutiny, the vantage point of ‘the enemy’, the war in the Dolomites as seen through the eyes of a cat, and the impact of the war in Africa.
In terms of historical figures, we took well-known themes but told them through lesser known faces. Our poet story features the Welsh bard Hedd Wyn, our war in the air is from the view of obsessive fighter ace Werner Voss, and the impact of war on the mind of the artist comes in the story of the Expressionist painter Otto Dix. Both Dix and Voss were German, and we felt a non-partisan approach was the only way we could even begin to do our idea justice. We have stories that tackle the myths of WWI, such as the Leaning Virgin of Albert and the Hound of Mons, as well as the myths that perpetuate the idea that this was somehow a crusade to be proud of.
The response from creators was astonishing, and quickly grew beyond the UK comics scene. In total we have 13 different nationalities contributing stories and art, which is testament to the desire people have to express something honest about this hideous conflict. There is a great mix of established professionals and people from the independent comics scene, and newcomers whose stories and art demanded more exposure. They number far too many to name individually, but the quality of their work and dedication to the book has been nothing short of remarkable. Every one of them gave their efforts with no thought of financial reward. All profits from TEAW are going to Medicins Sans Frontières.
Much of this book has been produced on blind faith. All of the contributors were recruited via email and word of mouth, and it was over six months before the editors even spoke to one another. We pitched our idea well ahead of schedule, fearing we might miss our opportunity should we hit the shelves after the initial centenary commemorations. Based in London, Soaring Penguin Press not only agreed to publish the book to coincide with the centenary, but believed in our idea enough to let us to retain creative control, a rarity in modern publishing circles.
The great irony of war is that so many ex-combatants and ancillary workers, like nurses, doctors and factory workers, look back on their experiences as the ‘time of their lives’. Acknowledging the utter waste and futility of the conflict, they find themselves admitting that their war was actually the defining moment in their lives – a time when fear, excitement, resourcefulness, humour, adventure and camaraderie reached levels they would never again experience in their post-war lives as working grunts and members of a family. Many simply cannot cope with the monotony and emotional blandness of peace, and there are still remote trailer parks in America populated by Vietnam veterans who never managed to slot back into mainstream mediocre society.
Few of the stories in our anthology address the horrors of WW1, and none are set in the war rooms and command posts occupied by the lords and masters who directed the war and considered the criminal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men each day as ‘acceptable’. By design, our stories overwhelmingly focus on the personal torments, aspirations, conflicts and friendships of those caught up in the insanity of this so-called ‘Great War’. Several stories explore or touch on the superstitions generated by the hyperactive imaginations of combatants and those left at home. Others are humorous reflections on the class system, brothels, censorship and the role of animals.
Our principal rant against the horror of this unnecessary war comes in the introduction, written by Pat Mills, author of Charley’s War. Our first story puts the protagonists in the build-up to war on trial at The Hague, but after that To End All Wars is much more about the personal than the political. Readers do not need to be told that war is horrific. Nor that they have become more so since WW1, when civilians became acceptable targets, or since the ‘War on Terror’, when war became a video game fought by soldiers thousands of miles from where their drones destroy peasant villages. War mongering is simply integral to the human disposition, albeit an immensely stupid disposition we should have grown out of by now.
Jonathan Clode & John Stuart Clark