“ACHTUNG SPITFEUER!” GALLERY

How British war comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s aided the formulation of a militarised state-of-mind among white English speaking boys during apartheid.

Gallery instructions: Move the slider in the middle of the gallery image either left or right to reveal the image or its associated quote.

Before Image After Image

Boys at War! Depictions of the heroic acts of boys at war were commonplace in British war comics such as BATTLE and WARLORD and function as a form of “Heroic Realism”. The above examples depict World War I & II narratives of courageous acts by “boy-soldiers”, more specifically under-age combatants and civilians. These narratives reinforced romanticised and masculine notions that not only men, but boys were capable of playing a vital role in the defence of a nation.

Before Image After Image

Boys at War! The above examples depict an episode from the American Civil War (Hurricane, 1964) & World War I (BATTLE PICTURE WEEKLY, 1975). The romanticised and hyper-patriotic notion of boys waging war as capably as adults was a common theme, providing readers with identifiable heroes of a similar age. In this sense, children are not necessarily exempt from war, yet if the need arises, a boy can also be called upon to serve his country.

Before Image After Image

Achtung Spitfeuer! Narratives of aerial warfare were a staple of all British war comics. The impersonal nature of aerial warfare, and concept of engaging and destroying “machines” rather than “men” emphasised the distancing of a faceless enemy. Additionally, Battle of Britain narratives, of an island nation facing overwhelming odds, dovetailed ideally with the apartheid era concepts of “Total Onslaught” and the “Rooigevaar”.

Before Image After Image

Essentialised and racist deceptions of the enemy, particularly of Japanese soldiers, were commonplace. Comics such as WARLORD and BATTLE PICTURE WEEKLY would regularly feature scenes of caricatured Japanese and German combatants engaged in acts of torture or extreme violence. This “othering”, dehumanising and simplification of the enemy by means of racist stereotypes could act as subtle propagandistic aids in the formulation of racist views, particularly among young readers. Notably, within a South African context, it required no great imaginative leap to substitute comic book enemies with those of the apartheid regime.

Before Image After Image

Essentialised and racist deceptions of the enemy, particularly of Japanese soldiers, were commonplace. Comics such as WARLORD and BATTLE PICTURE WEEKLY would regularly feature scenes of caricatured Japanese and German combatants engaged in acts of torture or extreme violence. This “othering”, dehumanising and simplification of the enemy by means of racist stereotypes could act as subtle propagandistic aids in the formulation of racist views, particularly among young readers. Notably, within a South African context, it required no great imaginative leap to substitute comic book enemies with those of the apartheid regime.

Before Image After Image

War Picture Library and Battle Picture Library were 64-page “pocket library” war comic magazines title published by Amalgamated Press/Fleetway over a period of almost 26 years. Commando Comics was first published in 1961 and remains Britain’s longest serving war comic. These pocket-sized comic books featured complete stories and often took the form of morality tales that were redemptive in nature. The horror and human cost of war was of secondary importance to honour, acts of heroism and the concept of an ultimate sacrifice in service to one’s country or comrades.

Before Image After Image

A number of series that appeared in comics such as WARLORD and BATTLE PICTURE WEEKLY attempted to present the war from the perspective of Axis soldiers, in most instances German Luftwaffe or Panzer officers. These Axis protagonists were vehemently anti-Nazi and always chivalrous, often risking their lives to prevent war-crimes such as the summary execution of Allied soldiers, prisoners or civilians. Narratives consistently attempted to make a clear distinction between ‘honourable’ Wehrmacht soldiers and Nazi extremists of Waffen SS divisions. Notions of honour, duty and service to one’s country, even if you were on the ‘losing side’, served as common denominators and moral reference points, deserving of respect, irrespective of what side a soldier was fighting on.

Before Image After Image

A common theme of British war comic-strips was the perception of threat, whether real or imagined. This required the use of language as a means of cementing the concept of an alien other. Japanese soldiers were referred to as nips, yellow bastards or Japs, whereas German soldiers were referred to as krauts or Fritz. Note the use of colour and bold typography to draw attention to headlines such as “Encircled”, “Hell Island” and “Track of Terror”. In all of the above examples there is a pervasive element of threat, and within the racialised divides of the apartheid-era, comic book representations of an objectified enemy dovetailed ideally with the regime’s references to the enemy as terrorists or commies and concept of the swart and rooigevaar.

Before Image After Image

Although the narratives of British war comics were not directly related conflicts within South Africa during apartheid, their depictions of conflict were driven by moral, nationalist or political means which offered obvious propagandistic connections in furthering the agendas of the apartheid regime. Therefore, the influence of British war comics on white English speaking apartheid-era boys offer a “disturbing view” of how popular media allowed for subtle “manifestation(s) of nationalism” that echo into the present.

Before Image After Image

Sergeant Rayker comic strip from the WARLORD SUMMER SPECIAL (Great Britain, D.C. Thomson & Co, 1990). The series ran from early 1979 to 1984. The Sergeant Rayker series was a rare depiction of a black soldier in the US army (and military police) during World War II. Sergeant Rayker did not only have to face his enemies, but also had to deal with issues of racism from his comrades. The series was reprinted under the title “Black Boy” in the French Comic Bengali in 1983-85.

Before Image After Image

The above artworks were ‘creative replies’ to British war comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s. These artworks, amongst others, were exhibited at the 2018 NUTRIA exhibitions, forming part of Stephen Symons’ PhD research project at the University of Pretoria. The re-imagining of images, characters and excerpts from British war comics within a South African historical context, in this case focusing on the conscription of white males during apartheid, allowed for interesting visual, historical and conceptual linkages to occur. How British war comics aided the tacit construction of a militarised state-of-mind during apartheid certainly calls for further research.

UP Humanities
Contact the "Saying No!" Project

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search