Book reviews of When the Comics Went to War and Football's Comic Book Heroes (published late 2009).

Front covers of both books. © .
The above images show the front covers of both books.

Riches, Adam. Tim Parker and Robert Frankland When the Comics Went to War.- Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009.- 256 page.- ill. b+w, col.- ISBN 9781845965549.- Price 19.99, but probably cheaper if bought via a web bookshop.

This volume tells the story of how daring do war adventures for children began to be published in the latter half of the 19th century through to their demise in the late 20th century. Of some of the magazines that were published, the people who had an influence on the progress of the magazines and comics. The story of boys war comics is arranged by timeline.

War stories for boys had begun as text stories, focusing on the Napoleonic and Crimean wars. Publishers realised that they were popular and thanks to better education more boys could read. Books in the latter half of the 19th century were too expensive for most boys to buy, but magazines could be published cheaply (thanks to the abolishment of a duty tax on paper). And the competition between rival publishers was fierce. As Britain's military forces were fighting in one war or another there was no shortage of material for writers.

By the late 1950's, early 1960's the war stories had evolved from text adventures to picture stories. (One influence was the American comics market). These new breed of comics proved as popular as their predecessors. (Although they never sold in the same quantities as the text stories. The golden age of boys war comics had long been passed). One by one the comics disappeared. Today in the UK there are small (very small) pockets holding out, the main one being the Commando! booklets published by D.C. Thomson, who still publish eight titles every month. Another being war stories (usually written by Garth Ennis) about British armed forces, but published by American comic publishers. (Not sure if they count as British comics or not).

As with any work which deals with a mass of information and dates, errors are made. I did a check of dates for those Victor and Hornet stories that were mentioned in the book. Most of the information was correct, but some wasn't. And in the interests of accuracy, (not me just nit-picking) the correct information is as follows:-

Note - as my collection consists mainly of Victor and Hornet comics, I haven't been able to check any information for other characters and strips that appeared in other comics.

Riches, Adam. Tim Parker and Robert Frankland Football's Comic Heroes.- Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009.- 256 page.- ill. b+w, col.- ISBN 9781845964085.- Price 19.99, but probably cheaper if bought via a web bookshop.

Review of the above book to follow shortly.


Both volumes provide an interesting general overview of war and football (soccer in America), comics history. Because of the multitude of characters and strips mentioned, neither work has time to go into any great depth about each and every character/strip. It's very much a fast gallop. To be fair, this is what both books set out to do.

Printed on quality paper, (each book weighs over 2 1/4 pounds each), both books are colourfully and entertainingly presented. The scans of the stories are bright and clear and illustrations appear on most pages throughout each book. Finally, (and this is a nice touch), each volume ends with a small selection of example text and picture war and football comic strips.

On the negative side, if you're looking for information about artists and writers, you won't find that information in these volumes. Also there is no index of characters or strips. It's a question of flipping through the book to find your favourite character, artist or story. (Although some people find that an attraction in a book).

The authors are to be congratulated on putting these two volumes together. It must have taken many months of locating, obtaining and reading of comics, noting down dates and deciding on which illustrations to publish.

© Adrian Banfield, 2009.