Garth Ennis returns to one of his favourite subject matters with his new comic book series from AfterShock Comics, World War II. Along with artist PJ Holden, colourist Matt Milla and Letterer Rob Steen, Ennis launches Lion and the Eagle #1 February 2022 published in an oversized prestige format.
“1944: Imperial Japan still commands most of Asia. Determined to regain their hold on Burma, the British send a special forces unit – the Chindits – deep behind Japanese lines. Their mission is to attack the enemy wherever they find him. What awaits them is a nightmare equal to anything the Second World War can deliver.
Colonel Keith Crosby and Doctor Alistair Whitamore have old scores to settle, being veterans of the long retreat through Burma two years before. But neither the jungle nor the foe have gotten any less savage, and when the shooting starts and the Japanese descend on the smaller British force in their midst, every man will be tested to his limit.
Writer Garth Ennis (The Boys, Preacher, DREAMING EAGLES) and artist PJ Holden (The Stringbags, World of Tanks, Judge Dredd) present a tale of hellish jungle warfare, as apparently civilized human beings descend into an apocalyptic heart of darkness.”
As well as an this new announcement, AfterShock spoke with Ennis and Holden about the new series, set nearer the end of the war:
This is a relatively unknown part of the war, can you talk a bit on what the book is about, why this story resonated with you and why you want to tell it?
GARTH ENNIS: “The conflict between the British and Japanese in Burma is almost lost to history now; indeed, the British soldiers who fought there came to refer to themselves as The Forgotten Army. That’s partly what drew me to their story, a chance to keep alive the memories of the men who faced Imperial Japan. There’s also the political aspect, as the two warring nations find themselves fighting for possession of Burma and India, two countries who by and large would have preferred to have neither of these foreign powers on their soil.
Finally there’s the sheer intensity and savagery of the combat. The British made what seemed like a bold strategic play in airlifting a massive force of highly trained men behind enemy lines; unfortunately they failed to reckon with either the tenacity of the Japanese or the sheer lethality of the jungle itself. The war in the Far East was famously lacking in humanity, with none of the occasional civility that leavened the slaughter of the Anglo-American-German conflict. The Japanese neither gave nor asked for quarter, and the British force soon found themselves in an unusually vicious struggle to the death.”
Can you talk about working with Garth and the team at AfterShock?
PJ HOLDEN: “Well, as ever with Garth, as long as I’m sticking to the script it’s a joyful experience, it’s only when I veer off it that I land in trouble. The team at AfterShock have just let me get on with it. My job has been making sure I tell Garth’s story to the best of my ability, and they’ve allowed that.
It’s been a long process bringing this one out, any book of this length will be, but I think it’s really stretched what I’m capable of doing and I think it’s the best thing Garth and I have done together.
Can you talk about the relationship between the two leads and how that friendship will be tried/tested during the plot?
GARTH ENNIS: “Keith Crosby is an English officer of great ability and experience, albeit a tad young to command the large force he’s been given. Alistair Whitamore is his Chief Medical Officer, a very decent man but not a natural soldier by any means. As Keith says, on paper the two shouldn’t really be friends at all, but they share a certain sense of humor and they’re united by a grim experience during the retreat through Burma a couple of years before – when Keith helped Alistair survive in quite hellish circumstances. This is what’s now going to cause them problems, however, as both officers are determined that the men under their command won’t suffer as others have – but with very different priorities (military command vs. medical care), the two soon find themselves in serious conflict. When things get truly desperate, Alistair starts to find the choices he has to make simply unbearable.”
Can you talk about your approach to the artwork?
PJ HOLDEN: “Well, Garth and I have worked together a few times now (actually, I think this will be 10 years of various war stories in a variety of settings), so I have a system. Largely it’s heads down and do the homework, research the period, find 3D models of things and get the costumes right, then characters – characters are really important and much trickier when you’re working in a war story. Primarily because, well, you might have a cast of thousands but the upshot is that the characters you expect to spend a lot of time with are dressed nearly identical, often have similar body types and need to be identifiable up close (which is relatively easy) but also at a distance – again, much harder. It’s a tightrope. My normal art style leans a little cartoonier than most and so my characters, even when drawn realistically tend to be a little warmer and more open (I think) than anything too hard edged, and it means I get to push their characteristics a little further. But again, all caveated by the fact you’re drawing real situations, real people (in some cases) and real things.”
How has it been so far working with artist PJ Holden?
GARTH ENNIS: “Working with PJ was a terrific experience, as usual. This is our fifth or sixth war story together, and his storytelling, sense of character and ability to capture action are all as finely tuned as ever.”
This book is a long one, too, so I’ve been trying to do it in bitesize chunks. Penciling 15-20 pages then inking those 15-20 pages, 40 pages per chapter is a heck of a long book. Plus I’ve gone entirely digitally with this book, so the pencils are actually digital pencils and the inks digital inks. But I come, like Garth, from a background of British war comics, printed on newspaper and with a gritty texture, which I try and keep in mind. Even when digital inks allow me to be needle sharp, I still want that rough edge.”
Do you have a favorite page/panel and if so, why?
PJ HOLDEN: “This is tough, because, well, picking any favorite is always a hard choice. I think there’re some spreads in the book that are pretty impressive – even if I say so myself – I think I’ve been able to do both scale (hundreds of planes, thousands of soldiers, miles of jungle) and personal, close up faces, tight, important character work and, importantly, carry them off. So I’m pretty proud of everything in the book, easily some of my best work to date, I think.”
Lion and the Eagle #1 is out Wednesday 16th February from AfterShock Comics