REVIEW

The Stringbags

Garth Ennis returns to WWII with the true story of British Royal Navy pilots, flying venerable wooden biplanes covered only in fabric

Garth Ennis might be best known as the co-creator of the comics behind TV series such as Preacher and The Boys, but as we’ve noted before, he’s also carved out a sizeable niche in war comics, including his 2016 revival of Battle comic’s Johnny Red. Ennis returns to the skies in this original graphic novel, The Stringbags, released by US publisher Dead Reckoning – part of the book-publishing division of the US Naval Institute. And once again, here’s an Ennis war comic that we highly recommended.

Featuring vivid art by PJ Holden, the book re-tells some of the true stories behind the Royal Navy’s Swordfish crews, who piloted the Stringbags. These were out-of-time biplanes, made from wood and metal and covered with simple fabric, but still flying at the outbreak of the Second World War. 

As usual, Ennis combines detailed knowledge and meticulous research with interesting characters. Their experiences in these planes tell emotional, heartfelt stories that are all the stronger for being based on fact. Each chapter features a separate incident, and each leaves the reader wondering how our heroes will get out. And these truly are heroes, thrown into the shocking action to do their part for their country.

Holden creates some truly memorable characters, really bringing out the emotions in the story. Very occasionally it feels a little stiff, with broad-stroke caricatures for the background scenes. But it’s in the action that the images really excel, the dogfights paused at the critical moments for the reader to take in every shocking detail. Saying that, every one of the cast is clear and well-defined. You won’t forget this crew for a while.

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