Rebellion’s purchase of much of the Fleetway/IPC comic archives has unearthed some real treasures. The reprint program, under the Treasury of British Comics imprint, is a fantastically eclectic affair. Battle Stations is a lovely little gem, featuring a rare foray into British comics from Italian comics master Hugo Pratt.
Some five years before the appearance of perhaps his best known creation, Corto Maltese, Pratt was an artist for hire, and at the start of the 1960s the UK comics industry was producing so much content that publishers looked overseas to help fulfil their requirements. Pratt, at the time, was signed to an Argentinian art agency who supplied artists for Fleetway’s book-length war stories. As a result, Battle Stations appeared in 1963 as issue 34 of the War At Sea Picture Library.
Hugo Pratt’s name is emblazoned across the cover of the new edition, much larger than both the story’s name and, indeed, its writer. Donne Avenell, however, was also a hugely prolific comics creator himself, who from the 1950s to the 1980s, worked on dozens of war stories and fantasy-orientated strips.
The story is a simple one – British seamen are attacked by a German U-boat, which then goes on to smash through the survivors as it leaves, killing many more as it does so. The three British survivors are consumed with even more hate for the enemy, but some months later fate plays a cruel game, and they end up shipwrecked on a raft at sea. They find themselves having to rescue more survivors – who turn out to be three German sailors. Avenell cleverly balances plot and characterisation to create an action-packed story which still has time to ask some intriguing moral questions.
Art-wise Pratt’s loose but structured style is already in evidence, although this is an artist not yet at the top of his game. He uses a lot of linework to create the mood and atmosphere of the battles at sea, but he’s not yet found that economic style of storytelling that he would go onto employ so effectively later in his career.
Still, this is a lovely little book that feels as intriguing today as it must have nearly 60 years ago, and we’ll certainly be following the other re-releases of Hugo Pratt’s work with interest.