I'll confess up front that I wrote a couple of the articles for War Comics: A Graphic History, although my contributions account for 4 of the 192 pages, so I don't think it will bias my view of the book. Said view is that this is an excellent addition to any comics' reference library and sits very comfortably on my shelf alongside the two volumes of Tim Pilcher's history of Erotic Comics (Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, Volume 1: From Birth to the 1970s and Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, Volume 2: From the 1970s to the Present Day) and Dez Skinn's Comic Art Now.
The format is identical to my Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History and, as with that, I'm hugely impressed by the look of the book. The design is colourful and clear and the images taken from a vast range of comics, all informatively captioned.
The text meanders across all theatres of war, from the days of Troy to the current "War on Terror". The two World Wars account for only around half the book, leaving plenty of space for conflicts as disparate as the American-Indian wars and the battle for the Falklands. The diversity saves the book from becoming unrelentingly one-sided. The coverage is primarily American and British, so expect depictions of Allied and Axis powers to be poles apart: the allies are impossibly heroic and gung-ho; their enemy are ugly and evil. Coverage of later comics is more interesting as the book turns to the likes of Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen, Joe Sacco (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde), Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo and the American comics' response to 9/11.
The selection of artwork shows a fantastic range of styles. As an unrepentant fan of British comics it's great to see Joe Colquhoun, Ian Kennedy and others celebrated alongside classic war artwork by the likes of Russ Heath, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman and Joe Orlando. Although I don't collect American comics, I'm certainly aware of these fine artists; American readers, on the other hand, are less likely to have seen the British comics and should be in for a treat.
War Comics: A Graphic History, ed. Mike Conroy. Ilex ISBN 978-1905814473, 18 May 2009.