The Art of War
Review by Tony L. Lear
From James May's foreword and on through 400 pages of superb artwork, this is very much a re-run of last year's Aarrgghh! It's War but with a title that won't make you cringe with embarrassment while you're trying to purchase it.
James May, we learn in the new volume, has managed to buy one of the covers that was included in last year's collection. Meanwhile, editor David Roach throws caution to the wind in his introductions and lets us know which artists are his favourites and why. You can see how impressed he is by Giorgio De Gaspari's draughtmanship and ability to capture moments of excitement and Jordi Penalva's rugged heroes in dramatic situations. May enthusiastically points to the sheer artistry displayed by the creators of these covers while Roach tries to bring some context to them whilst showing no less enthusiasm.
There's much to be enthusiastic about. The book contains hundreds of covers from the War, Battle, Air Ace, War at Sea, Thriller and Fleetway Super libraries, many of them taken from original art boards, others from the comics themselves. The original artwork is fantastic to see and the current book is printed so much better than the original comics that you can feel the heat of battle seering off every page. But lovely as it is to see the originals, the finished product—the printed libraries themselves, with their evocative titles and a one sentence hook to draw you in—are also great to see. With one you can marvel at the talent of the artist; with the other the talent of the designers and letterers who were an often forgotten part of the team that gave readers upwards of 20 pocket-sized works of art every month. The layouts and hand-drawn titles prove that the creativity was not limited to the mostly Italian and Spanish artists who painted the images.
The artwork for this volume is broken down into five areas: Allied forces, Axis Powers, Air Aces, Heavy Ordnance and Boys Own Heroes. While the first four concentrate on the subjects of war on land, in the air and at sea, the latter reprints some of the covers associated with regular characters from the Thriller Picture Library and Fleetway Super Library, which made stars of Battler Britton, Spy 13, Dogfight Dixon, Maddock's Marauders and Sergeant Ironside.
As with its predecessor, the reproduction of these sometimes garishly coloured covers is spot on; in fact, the whole book is bang on target for anyone who loves action illustration at its best.
The Art of War, edited by David Roach. (ISBN 978-1853756627, 6 October 2008).