The Bechdel Test and Beyond – Part IV, Boys Comics

It looks like girls’ comics portray a very wide range of roles for girls and women – perhaps wider than is the case in some recent mainstream media targeted at a girls’ market – and that boys and men are integrated into that world of girls as well. The roles that boys and men are shown as playing are not as wide-ranging as those that girls and women are shown in, but compared to the representation of other groups such as Black and Minority Ethnic characters, boys and men get much more of a look-in. What about boys’ comics? What sort of representation do they have of girls and women? Do boys and men get as wide a range of representation in the comics targeted at them as a market?

A couple of notes of caution before I go further. One obvious one is about the scope of what I am looking at in this post – I don’t own very many boys’ comics at all and so I am restricted in what I can easily put through this test. I am of course very happy to hear comments to expand on or to refute the results I will go through below. If readers want to apply the tests to a wider range of boys’ comics I would be very happy to hear the results, and to put then in a followup post if people would like. For instance, I could imagine that repeating this analysis on 2000AD – perhaps on the same sort of date range as my examples below – could reveal an interesting set of different results. (Edited to add: the latest post on blog Great News For All Readers gives a clear hint that Valiant and Lion in 1975 would almost certainly have given different results even to the following year’s copy of Battle and Valiant that I look at below.)

The second, perhaps more major, caveat is to reiterate something I said in earlier posts: this test says nothing about the quality of the individual story or comic, and was never intended to. A story can be great entertainment, excellently written, touching and humane, exciting and innovative, while dealing with a very small subset of humanity or the human concern. The problem comes when only a small subset of humanity is used as the usual channel for stories – when no one else gets a look-in and it is not even questioned. The overall range of stories that are told ends up narrower, but also a wide range of people – those not included in that selected small subset – are implicitly told they are not the stuff of stories. To repeat again, please do not take the comments below as a negative judgment of the comics I am looking at – I can see the stories are exciting and well crafted. That’s exactly why it’s important to apply an analytic test that doesn’t talk about the way the story makes the reader feel or whether it’s well-done – to look at an aspect of the story or comic that can otherwise get hidden by those subjective judgments.

Rounded Representation 5

I was able to look at: four issues of Battle Action dated between March and April 1980, and one issue of Battle and Valiant dated December 1976, all five of which were published by IPC. I have grouped these under the heading ‘War comics’ above, coloured green. Not all boys’ comics are about war as a genre, I appreciate, and thankfully I also had an individual issue of a more general comic that featured a wider genre range – DC Thomson’s Spike, dated 26 November 1983. I didn’t look at humour comics (which weren’t marketed in as gender-specific a way) or at the action adventure comics of an earlier age. Other notable omissions are the weekly publications with a more overtly didactic element and an implicit seal of parental approval – Eagle, Look and Learn, and the like.

First of all, do any of the chosen boys’ comics pass the Bechdel test? If not, there is very little chance of them passing the Rounded Representation test because they are unlikely to have any sort of range of female characters depicted. It’s perhaps not that unexpected that none of the war comics I looked at had as many as two named female characters – there was one story in Battle and Valiant (“The Black Crow”) set in a nursing home, that showed three uniformed nurses, but each unnamed. Arguably two of the nurses have a minimal conversation, which I didn’t indicate in the analysis above, but this is about a man (“Mon dieu… Germans!” “It is Major Klaus von Steutsel… head of the Gestapo in Pontville!”). (Most of the issues had absolutely no women depicted at all, so to have turned to a page with as many as three women on it felt quite unusual.)

The copy of Spike also does not have any stories that pass the Bechdel Test: a couple of the stories had mothers mentioned or shown, but again none of the female characters were named. It felt like slightly less of an exclusively male world on show; balanced against that though, the nurses in “The Black Crow” were professionals with roles of their own, rather than generic wives and mothers, so perhaps honours are even.

In any case, it’s easy to see that girls and women are considerably less well represented in these boys’ comics than is the case for boys and men in girls’ comics. Even in publications that include a lot of fantastical stories, girls stories are not set in an exclusively female world; boys and men are given parts that are more than purely token. Not so in (these) boys’ comics. I have therefore not gone through the Rounded Representation test looking at depiction of girls and women in boys’ comics.

What of the roles that boys and men are depicted in, in these publications aimed at them? Now here’s an interesting thing – in terms of representation, boys are actually slightly hard-done-by in their ‘own’ comics, more so than in girls’ comics. That will need a little more teasing apart than the simple ticks in the various cells above show, however (which is also often the case with the Bechdel Test). So, let’s look at the Rounded Representation test as applied to male characters in boys’ comics.

  • Emotions: in both the war comics and the individual issue of Spike it was possible to find depictions of the range of emotions. I must say though that it was a lot easier in the single issue of Spike; in the war comics it took me looking through most of the pages before I was able to find much in the way of happiness. There was a lot of fear and doubt, and friendship wasn’t hard to find (D-Day Dawson ready to sacrifice himself for his buddies, Jimmy Miller trying his hardest to win Machine Gun Cooley’s friendship). Happiness, and even anger, weren’t anything like as prevalent though. I felt like the tone was a fairly steady and grim one: not many highs and lows of emotion overall, other than perhaps fear in particular.
  • Abilities: Again the individual issue of Spike has a wider range shown of abilities – the war comics stuck to a fairly realistic representations of physical and mental feats. Spike included a story about a footballer, a Conan-type warrior, and the immortal “Wilson, Maker of Champions”, who was clearly especially clever to boot. (I wasn’t however quite sure on that brief sample that I could call him superhumanly so, hence the question mark for that cell.)
  • Challenges: as mentioned earlier, the war comics I looked at are pretty focused on realism so there are no fantastical challenges faced by the protagonists. And while World War II is clearly a society-wide threat if ever there was one, I didn’t feel that the protagonists’ roles in these stories were really about trying to stop the whole war, they were much more specific than that. There were of course plenty of threats in the war comics, driving the story along; fewer positive goals, but I counted Jimmy Miller’s quest to win Machine Gun Cooley’s friendship as such. Spike includes fantasy and realism, individual challenges and wider-spread ones, and a few positive goals as well as external threats (a group of inner-city kids work hard to start a City Farm, and Wilson has a visitor who wants to be made into a champion decathlon athlete).
  • Ages: neither the war comics nor Spike show any very young children – baby brothers or suchlike. Not very surprising in a war comic, but there were no families escaping the horrors of war or similar – the focus was pretty narrowly on the soldiers themselves, hence on young adults and grown ups. The story in Battle and Valiant mentioned above, “The Black Crow”, features old men in a nursing home, and expands the range of ages noticeably. Spike, once again, is wider in its range than the war comics and ticks most of the boxes fairly comfortably.
  • Roles: so few of the characters are female that there is hardly any way that these comics couldn’t have featured men and boys as all of the range looked at: protagonists, sidekicks, villains, and background characters.

Overall, the Rounded Representation test looks like it shows a pretty wide representation of male characters in these boys’ comics, though some of the ticks would have ended up as blank cells if only one or two individual issues had been examined. Certainly some of the result is about genre, with (these) war comics likely to focus on young adults and grown men in a realistic setting, facing individualistic challenges in an overall story tone of fear and anger, with little happiness depicted. Of course in principle war comics could work differently – “Rogue Trooper” is a war story set in a science fiction milieu with an overarching threat to the whole of the world and positive goals based in comradeship as well as threats from external forces. (There’s even at least one named woman in it, though whether as a whole it passes the Bechdel Test I am not sure.) Overall however it is pretty clear that whereas girl readers had their stories set in a world which represented them in a rounded way as people endowed with possibilities both good and bad, boy readers were given more circumscribed stories with a narrower set of options – and very little room indeed for their sisters, mothers, and fierce warrior Leelas.

The Bechdel Test and Beyond – Part III

So, in the last two posts on this blog I introduced a new Rounded Representation test that takes us beyond the starting point that is the Bechdel Test, and gave various examples of its use.

In the first post:

  • We saw that girls comics of the 1970s had very fully rounded representation of the female characters in their pages; even in a single issue of one girls comic (chosen primarily for easy accessibility) there was female representation of a wide range of emotions, abilities, challenges faced, ages, and roles.
  • In comparison, other groups of readers are not likely to be represented anything like as fully. The same test done for BME (Black / Minority Ethnic) characters results in a very much patchier picture of representation. Across the whole run of a single title, there are some significant gaps in representation, and in a single issue of a title, there is very little guarantee of representation of this group, despite the net being cast as widely as possible (by testing for any BME representation rather than specifically Asian or Black British representation, for instance).

In the second post:

  • We saw that recent stories targetted at girls (a My Little Pony feature film, a Barbie doll webcast, and the Tangled film from Disney) also generally showed a fairly fullly rounded representation of the female characters, though the representation of girls and women in the Barbie webclip was noticeably patchier than was the case for the other two.
  • Just because something is targetted at a female audience, it is not necessarily the case that the representation of female characters will be fully rounded.

In this post, we will look at the representation of male characters in comics aimed at girls, and in the next post we’ll look at the same in comics targetted at boys. Do girls’ comics only show us female characters – an almost absolute reversal of the way that mainstream media is dominated by male characters? Or do they give readers a rounded representation of both genders? Likewise in comics intended for a male market – how do they represent both the gender that they are targetting, and the other half of the world?

First of all, what happens when we do a ‘reverse Bechdel’ on girls’ comics – checking to see if there are at least two named male characters who interact with each other? There are a one or two stories in Tammy and in Jinty which have male protagonists, and if any stories pass this reverse Bechdel then they will. The Tammy story “Cuckoo In The Nest” is a particularly good example of such (see this Booksmonthly article for a synopsis halfway down the page). This story passes without many worries – although protagonist Leslie is forced to attend a girls’ boarding school in disguise as a girl and therefore mostly interacts with ‘other girls’, he also meets up with his friend from home, talks to his Uncle Fred, and even finds a local group of boys he can play football with when he escapes from his female disguise.

The story also covers most of the bases on the Rounded Representation test: the male characters are shown with a range of emotions (I didn’t have the whole story to hand and didn’t see much anger depicted, but I may have missed this through not looking at all the episodes). It’s a fairly realistic story, or at least not a story of magic or science fiction, so the male characters don’t show any superhuman abilities, but we see Leslie playing football and solving various problems (such as how to fool his schoolgirl chums into continuing to think he is a girl). The story is really based around the fairly individualistic challenge for him not to get caught out, though there are also some positive goals he is trying to achieve (such as continuing to enjoy himself by playing football well). We don’t see that wide a range of ages in the male characters shown – no little boys or old men in the episodes I looked at, but they may be included in later episodes so I have put question marks here. And of course Leslie in this case is clearly the protagonist, but the villains or antagonists are all female (his Great-Aunt, and a nosey schoolgirl who has to be prevented from finding out his secret). The sidekick in the story is a schoolgirl chum who has her own reasons for being on his side. We might perhaps count his Uncle Fred as a sidekick but I am more inclined to categorize him as a background character – happy to hear arguments on this though.

It’s also helpful to check an individual issue of a girls’ comic that wasn’t specially chosen as likely to pass, so let’s go back to the 1978 issue of Misty that was referred to in the first of these posts and do the same tests. This does pass the reverse Bechdel test, though only once you get over half way through the issue: in the complete story “The Love and the Laughter” the devil has a short conversation with two named male characters about a book, and in “The Sentinels” there are a few conversations between policemen.

As for the Rounded Representation test on this issue of Misty, it passes most of the hurdles relatively easily:

  • The male characters are shown with a wide variety of emotions (for instance the fathers in “Seal Song” and in “Paint It Black” are both happy, though not in ways that are likely to bode well for their respective daughters).
  • They show a range of abilities both physical and mental, realistic and supernatural (I’m not totally convinced that the devil in the Carnival story can be said to be using more than human mental powers, hence the question mark in that cell).
  • There are a range of challenges faced by the male characters, whether individual or more widespread (in “The Sentinels”, the father is part of a resistance group fighting the Nazis, which definitely counts). It’s not so clear as to whether any of the male characters in this issue have a positive goal they are trying to achieve, so much as threats they are aiming to survive; and of course this is a horror comic so most of the challenges that all the characters face are more supernatural than mundane. (The protagonist of “Moonchild” faces the mundane challenges of an abusive mother and some horrible bullies, but she is a female character and hence does not come into this specific test.)
  • We see a reasonable range of ages in the male characters depicted – no babies or toddlers at all whether girls or boys, but plenty of grown men, a boy of a simlar age to the protagonist in the background of the end of the seal story, one young adult in the Dragon story, and old men in the carnival story.
  • None of the male characters are given the role of protagonist in this issue but we do see men and boys as villains, background characters, and as ‘sidekicks’ – important characters who are not the main protagonist.

For completeness I have also scored the Rounded Representation test for Jinty as a whole; there are few male protagonists (but at least one) and none of the male characters I can immediately think of show superhuman physical abilities, though some of them can certainly do magic. I would also say that none of the male characters face widespread societal challenges, though again I am open to examples being sent in. (Perhaps little brother Per in “The Song of the Fir Tree”, as him and his sister escape Nazi persecution across the breadth of Europe.)

So we can see that in comics aimed at girls, the roles available to male characters were very nearly as wide as the roles available to female characters – there were very few male protagonists and perhaps some other gaps in what they were shown doing, but overall boys and men very much formed part of the world depicted in girls’ comics. Is the same the case in boys’ comics – did they show an equally wide range of female roles? Did they show a full range of male roles? The next post will tell more.

The Bechdel Test and Beyond – part II

Here are some more try outs of the new Rounded Representation test that I have devised. In explaining the results below it should hopefully make it clearer to readers how the test is supposed to work. This time, I have chosen three modern mainstream stories that are targeted at an audience of girls: the recent feature film based on My Little Pony, “Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks“; one sample episode of the Barbie webcast show “Life In The Dreamhouse“; and the 2010 Disney feature film “Tangled“.

Rounded Representation 2

Range of emotions shown:

  • The “My Little Pony” film (hereafter MLP) certainly covers all the bases on my test.
  • Barbie is a generally happy character and the short episode in question includes friends who collaborate with each other; I wouldn’t say there’s much depiction of anger or fear in that episode though I am being a bit unfair as I don’t like the show much and so haven’t watched much of it. In other clips, Barbie’s rival probably does show anger and the characters probably do show some fear at points, but this is not a series that has a lot of emotional highs & lows.
  • “Tangled” again has a pretty happy main character and a female villain who is quite angry at times; Rapunzel also has a lot to learn about the world so she has moments of fear and doubt but eventually wins through to the love of her family and to romantic love too.

Range of abilities shown:

  • In MLP, the main female characters play musical instruments (showing physical abilities that are things that real people might do), and they solve problems and therefore display mental abilities that match things that real people might do. They also can do astounding leaps into the air (showing physical powers that are more superhuman than realistic) and can do magic (thus mental superhuman abilities).
  • Barbie and her friends show realistic and more-than-realistic physical prowess but don’t really solve any intellectual challenges or show mental powers beyond the norm.
  • Rapunzel does quite a lot of physical stuff – running, jumping, hitting people with frying pans – and some of it is more-than-human (tying people up with her hair). Both she and her female antagonist can do magic, and they both have to think hard in order to solve problems too.

Range of challenges faced:

  • In MLP, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the one film. One character has to redeem herself in the eyes of her friends and her school (individual challenge), but the group as a whole have to save the world from the three magical sirens who are threatening it (societal challenge). There are threats to the well-being of the main characters but also goals that they are trying to reach (playing together really well as a rock band, having their song-writing skills appreciated). Some of these challenges are real-world ones that any viewer might also face, but saving the world from mystical forces definitely comes under the category of the fantastical.
  • Barbie and friends have a fairly fantastical (not to mention silly) challenge to face but it only affects them as individuals, and it’s more of a personal goal than a threat to them
  • Rapunzel doesn’t need to save the world but she does have both personal goals to fulfill and a very real threat to defeat. Arguably some of her challenges are ones that a real viewer might face – finding friends, finding love, getting back to her family – but it’s a bit tenuous and I would say the story is fairly firmly based in the fantastical challenges of defeating her magical enemy.

Range of ages shown:

  • MLP is set in a high school and it does have a restricted group of ages as a result. The characters are young, perhaps teenagers rather than tweens, but you don’t really see any female babies or children, or any old women. (You do in the TV series of MLP, however.) There are some female grownups (teachers) who have a minor role in the film but are present. (NB I am counting ‘young adult’ as being around the 18 – 25 range – treated as an adult for many purposes in society, but not expected to have a family of their own or necessarily to have embarked on a career.)
  • Barbie only really seems to include young adults and grownups (I am categorizing Barbie as a grownup because the episode I watched had her talking about her many careers, and referring to Ken as her boyfriend of many years). Other episodes in the series do include Barbie’s younger sisters so would score slightly more widely.
  • Tangled does show a pretty wide range of female characters at different ages.

Range of roles shown:

  • MLP – the many female characters cover the wide range of possibilities, as heroes, villains, sidekicks, and background cast.
  • Barbie doesn’t really seem to have any antagonists in this episode (in others she does have a rival, Raquelle) but nor are any background characters shown, whether female or male.
  • And in Tangled there is a notable gap in that there are no female sidekicks (something that has been noticed recently elsewhere).

I will get back to British comics in the next post, promise ! Hopefully the above gives an easy-to-follow explanation of what the various categories meant in my test, and why they might be ticked or left blank. I think it also shows that just because something is targetted at a female audience, it does not necessarily cover a diverse range of representation possibilities.

The Bechdel Test and Beyond

I have been trying to come up with a good way of looking at the characters in girls’ comics (and boys comics too), to help me think about diversity and representation in a structured, repeatable fashion. Hopefully that structure could also be used on other ranges of comics, to compare and contrast.

The Bechdel Test, which you may well have heard of previously, has become a fairly well-known way to check whether a story passes a pretty basic test of representation. It works quite interestingly in the context whereby the vast majority of stories told are by, about, and for men, in that it highlights those stories which have at least a bare minimum of female representation in them (to pass, they have to include at least two named female characters, who talk to each other at some point, and who don’t just talk about a man). It’s a starting point for analysis, not a tick that says the story is a great feminist achievement. But in a genre which is intrinsically focused around girls, this test becomes fairly meaningless. I could imagine a Jinty story which doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (though the vast majority of them would do), but it would fail it in a different way from the male-dominated Hollywood stories that the test was designed for. The first rule of doing comics for girls is clearly that the main character must (almost always) be a girl: so stories in this genre will almost certainly only fail the test if the main character is the only character and therefore had no one else to speak to.

So there is little point in trying to measure female representation in girls’ comics by using the Bechdel Test (you could measure the lack of male representation in them by doing a reverse Bechdel Test but I’m not sure that this would tell you very much more). We need something with a higher bar than testing for the mere existence of female characters and their minimal interaction together. I propose a ‘Rounded Representation’ test, therefore: looking at the range of portrayals of female characters in the stories under analysis. OK, so girls’ comics are focused around girls, duh. But do they still stereotype girls and limit the ways they are represented, or do they allow their female characters to represent a much wider range?

I have chosen a few initial attributes to look at, and made some initial scores off the top of my head. The yellow items below are my generalised scores for Jinty across its run; the items in blue are scored with reference to a specific issue of Misty that I could easily access at the time of writing (April 1978 – available online). Does Jinty include stories where the female characters show the basic emotions listed below? Do the characters have a range of things they are shown as doing, whether realistic or not (sports, feats of superhuman strength, doing well in school, reading people’s minds)? Do the stories show the girls facing a wide range of different kinds of challenges, in a range of roles both positive and negative? And do you see only young and pretty girls represented, or are they shown as people who feature in stories across the spectrum of ages? If you are looking at the whole run of Jinty then yes, you see pretty much the whole gamut; and even if you only look at one specific issue of one comic targeted at girls (the Misty example in blue) then again, yes, even in one issue you see a pretty wide range of representation of the female condition.

Rounded Representation test

So what, you might say – surely it’s almost a dead cert that across a whole run of several years you will get the range of possibilities used. Well, let’s try that analysis again, but this time with BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) characters.

Rounded Representation 2

Even though we are talking about some 350 issues / 7 years worth of comics, the yellow items show right away that the range of depictions of BME characters is massively much thinner than that of female characters*. BME characters aren’t (in Jinty) shown as saving the whole world or depicted in fantastical situations – they are shown in more mundane situations where the challenge they face is about them individually. They aren’t shown in whole families or as ‘people in the crowd’ (actually I need to amend this a little, because in “Life’s a Ball for Nadine” we do see Nadine’s parents). If you are going to include fewer BME characters in the first place then it’s unsurprising that there are fewer roles given to them, but I suspect the gaps also highlight some tokenistic thinking too. Perhaps the gaps imply that it’s reasonable to have a story or two that are specifically about a Black British girl or a Chinese girl, or indeed to make her a villain; but to include BME characters as part of the expected background pattern of life is too much to expect?

* I am happy to explain my scoring in more detail if anyone asks in the comments; some of the elements may well need revising as it was a fairly hasty assessment. Apologies also for assessing at the pretty crude level of ‘BME characters’ which is itself a loaded choice, I know.

The blue items from my fairly brief analysis of an issue of Misty highlight further the fact that there is just so much less inclusion of non-white people in this era of comics. In one of the stories there is a sinister Chinese man who smiles happily and is clearly a villain – single-handedly he accounts for 3 of the 5 attributes ticked. This issue also includes “The Cult of the Cat” and I have slightly generously included Bast’s priestesses young and old, in the background, to account for the remaining two attributes ticked.

It’s immediately obvious when reading girls’ comics that the majority of the characters in them are female: that means that these comics have a great chance to represent a wide range of human possibilities in the shape of those female characters. Girls’ comics may not be bastions of feminism but just the fact that they show girls and women as main characters, villains, and sidekicks – and shows them as schemers, bullies, and heroes as well as paragons of virtue – means that the girl reader sees lots of ways of being, not a single simple straitjacket. The above gives us a way to show this range of ways of being: a method that can be applied in other cases too. We can ask whether this range of representation is made available in cases of other disadvantaged groups (the answer above being, probably not).

We can also ask whether other girl-focused stories show the same range of representation. I’ve watched a few episodes of Barbie’s “Life In the Dreamhouse” and while I am not going to do a full analysis of that show, I would score it as probably lower than the Jinty or Misty scores above – do you ever see old people on it or only beautiful young people? Does the protagonist ever face a widespread societal challenge? I don’t think so (but could be proved wrong by a more assiduous viewer). Compare that to “My Little Pony”, also targeted at a young female audience – the scores for female representation are likely to be much more akin to the Jinty scores, I’d hazard.

Now I need to apply the same analysis to girls in boys’ comics – and to boys in girls’ comics!

Health warning – as with any fairly basic analysis, there is lots and lots omitted in the interest of simplicity. There could be a lot more emotions included, for a start – such as guilt or envy – and this analysis certainly says nothing about whether any individual character is a thin cardboard cutout. It just says whether, in this genre, girls and women are allowed a range of slots in the story rather than always being shown doing the same thing in the same way – always the love interest and never the hero.

Edited to add – this is the 400th post on this blog! Very suitable to have this sort of thinky analytic piece on such an auspicious number. Many thanks all for reading the blog.

Jinty 7 December 1974

Jinty cover 7 December 1974

  • The Jinx from St. Jonah’s (artist Mike White)
  • Jackie’s Two Lives (artist Ana Rodrigues, writer Alan Davidson)
  • Get Time on Your Side! – competition
  • Merry at Misery House (writer Terry Magee)
  • The Kat and Mouse Game (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Prisoners of Paradise Island – first episode (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
  • Always Together… (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Jinty Made It…for Christmas – feature
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot (artist Alf Saporito)
  • Slave of the Mirror (artist Carlos Freixas)

“The Hostess with the Mostest” and “Bird-Girl Brenda” do not appear in this issue. Maybe they have been pushed out by the competitions and features, including Christmas features that are leading up to the Christmas issue.

A new story, “Prisoners of Paradise Island” is a slave story, but the cage is a complete contrast to the harshness of the reformatory in “Merry at Misery House”. Rather, the prison is a tropical island and the prisoners are pampered with treats and luxury instead of being tortured and abused like Merry and her fellow inmates. But the intention behind it all is just as evil as the sadistic Misery House staff – it is meant to ruin the girls and make them unfit to win a hockey championship. It’s Trini Tinturé’s first story for Jinty, and Tinturé became a regular Jinty artist, lasting well up to Jinty’s last issues in 1981.

And in our regular Jinty slave story, the Warden is out to crush the girls’ new-found joy: a dog that has somehow found its way into Misery House. She’s tried poison and now it’s bullets – but then the dog’s owner turns up to claim him.

The wedges Mrs Mandell is driving between Jackie and her family are getting wider. Jackie has ruined her own mother’s birthday dinner because of it, hit her sister when she tries to talk sense into her, and the blurb for next week tells us that it’s going to get worse because it will be the ‘death’ of Jackie Lester.

Kat is sabotaging Mouse’s dancing while making sure she does not go too far, because she does not want to lose her mug. And Mouse is such a mug that she does not listen to warnings from the other girls about Kat.

The “Slave of the Mirror” is still under the mirror’s evil influence to drive off customers from the boarding house. And now she is being directed to get rid of Inez, the new help.

Prejudice against gypsies erupts in “Always Together”. Johnny has been kicked out of school, just because the new headmaster has a personal hatred towards gypsies and bans them all from the school. Hmm, aren’t there supposed to be laws against that kind of thing? But it’s the Harveys’ pram to the rescue, of all things.

A cat in the dogs’ hotel? Yes, that’s Mrs. Siddons’ latest charge this week. And to make matters worse, the cat is a real troublemaker.

Katie goes sleuthing to clear her father, who has been wrongly sacked on suspicion of smuggling. She spreads her jinxing along the way of course, but has found vital evidence. Or has she? She has been warned that she has got things all wrong.

 

Jinty 14 December 1974

Jinty cover 14 December 1974.jpeg

This issue has just arrived in my collection.

Kate discovers plotters aboard her dad’s ship and is out to expose them. Knowing our jinx, maybe we should pity the poor plotters. Meanwhile, another crook pulls a fast one over Mrs Siddons with a phoney ghost act. By the time she finds out, she has paid good money to him to exorcise the ghost. But given what an unsavoury character she is, Dora has more sympathy for the crook.

Jackie goes too far – she fakes her own death so she can play up to Mrs. Mandell as her daughter Isabella full-time. But she had forgotten what a hard mother Mrs. Mandell can be, and already the demands are starting. Meanwhile, Jackie’s sister Wendy is not convinced she is dead – but how can she prove it?

Two different types of punishment cells appear in this issue. For “Merry at Misery House”, it’s a week in solitary on meagre rations of bread and water, which puts her in the infirmary. And then she is very surprised to see the sadistic Warden suddenly being friendly to her! But it can’t be sincere, so what’s the Warden up to now? For Sally in “Prisoners of Paradise Island”, the punishment cell is a room filled with luxury, temptation, and gorgeous fruit to eat (far better than bread and water). But Sally is determined not to let this type of punishment room break her either.

A new threat threatens the Harveys in “Always Together” – a nosy reporter who has realised they are runaways and wants the full story! New help, Inez, arrives at the hotel, and the evil power over Mia, the “Slave of the Mirror” is forcing her to cause trouble for Inez. But Mia is soon caught out. And at least someone has caught Kat out in taking advantage of Mouse – her own mother, who stops her pocket money in punishment. But not even this causes Mouse to see through Kat.

 

Maria Barrera (Barrera Gesali)

Gemini Girl 1Gemini Girl 2Gemini Girl 3Gemini Girl 4

Maria Barrera, full name María Barrera i Castells, is a Catalan artist. She was a member of a group of female artists who drew romantic comic series for 1950s Spanish girls’ comics. Publications included Sissi, Jana and Pulgarcito. She also illustrated several books in the collections Historias (“Genoveva de Bravante”, “Alicia en el País de las Maravillas”, “Sissi emperatriz”, “Aquellas Mujercitas”) and Joyas Literarias Juveniles (“Hombrecitos”, 1975). During the 1970s-1990s Barrera became involved in agency art through the Bruguera agency Creaciones Editoriales. Publications in which her artwork appeared included Tammy, Jinty, Misty and the Dutch Tina. Source: Lambiek Comiclopedia.

Barrera only drew two Gypsy Rose stories for Jinty, “The Gemini Girl” and “Hide-and-Seek with a Ghost!”. She never drew a serial for Jinty. However, the Gemini Girl story is noteworthy in that the last two images of Gypsy Rose on the last page of the story appeared again and again as paste-ups on a lot of the old Strange Stories that were recycled as Gypsy Roses.

Barrera was a more frequent artist in Misty, where she drew many of Misty’s complete stories such as “Cry Baby” and “Danse Macabre”, and one serial “The Body Snatchers”. She did not start in Tammy until the first issue of the Tammy & Jinty merger, with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”. This one was about a jealous, spiteful ghost that will go to just about any lengths (including near murder) to protect what used to belong to her when she was alive. Barrera did have a flair for supernatural stories, and could also draw ballet stories.

When Tammy started credits, Barrera was credited as Barrera Gesali for some reason. Her best known story during this period was “Slave of the Clock”, about an unenthusiastic ballerina who is hypnotised into ballet dancing whenever she hears the ticking of a clock. Other stories included “Lonely Ballerina” and “Dear Diary – I Hate You!” The latter was her last Tammy story and was uncredited because Tammy had stopped running them.

 

Jinty 30 September 1978

Jinty cover 30 September 1978

  • Dance into Darkness – last episode (unknown Concrete Surfer artist)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend)
  • No Cheers for Cherry (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Wild Rose – (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Clancy on Trial (artist Ron Lumsden)
  • Rinty ‘n’ Jinty
  • Tim Curry – feature
  • The Human Zoo – (artist Guy Peeters)
  • 7 Steps to the Sisterhood – last episode (artist Ron Smith)

Jinty is about to honour her promise to bring back “Fran’ll Fix It!”. There is an announcement saying that Fran will return in the next issue, and there will also be a new story called “The Girl Who Never Was”. They are replacing “Dance into Darkness” and “7 Steps to the Sisterhood”. The return of Fran means a double workload for Jim Baikie, who is still working on “Wild Rose”. But Rose has tracked down the woman in her locket now (Lady Vere), so maybe the ending to the story isn’t too far away.

Meanwhile “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is still going strong, despite Max falling dangerously ill and getting buried in snow. So is Clancy, who has now been named grandfather’s heir. But this is causing a rift with her cousin Sandra. Aunt and Uncle are understandably upset too; they have helped with grandfather’s business for years and must feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back.

Cherry still hasn’t caught on to how her relatives are taking advantage of her. They are very slick at pulling the wool over her eyes (they are actors, after all), and Cherry is by nature trusting and naïve, just like her mother.

Shona narrowly escapes being turned into food at the aliens’ slaughterhouse – a circus owner buys her in the nick of time. But now she is about to be forced into a cruel circus act where she is brought to the brink of drowning each time she performs it. And all because she can’t swim (like the aliens themselves, as it turns out).

 

Jinty 9 September 1978

Jinty cover 9 September 1978

  • Dance into Darkness (unknown Concrete Surfer artist)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Was My Face Red! (feature)
  • No Cheers for Cherry (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Wild Rose – (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Clancy on Trial (artist Ron Lumsden)
  • The Human Zoo – (artist Guy Peeters)
  • 7 Steps to the Sisterhood – (artist Ron Smith)
  • Alley Cat
  • Let’s Go Blackberrying! (feature)

A new competition has pushed all the stories off the cover. The letters page of this issue informs us that popular demand has prevailed and “Fran’ll Fix It!” will return in one month’s time (almost a year after her first story ended). So now we know one story that will replace whatever ends in three weeks, which raises speculation as to what will end.

Della is beginning to find she is beginning to like Winnie after all – and suddenly realising that she does not like the idea of foisting the curse onto her. So Della, who started off as a rather selfish, shallow person, is beginning to change her ways. At least something is coming out of the curse.

The Cinderella theme is now manifest in part two of “No Cheers for Cherry”. Aunt Margot just wants Cherry to do all the donkeywork for her family, who are too selfish and lazy to pitch in to help their theatre barge business. Poor Cherry does not even have a proper bed – she is forced to sleep on the floor in her cousin Michelle’s cabin. Worst of all, she is too naïve to realise that her relatives are exploiting her.

By contrast, Wild Rose now knows how the fairground people have duped and exploited her, and she has run away from them. But they are determined to recapture her for their snake girl act.

With help from Nirhani, Shelley now realises what a dupe she has been as well. There is no “Sisterhood” at all – an enemy has set her up with phoney tests that are actually traps. It’s the turning point of the story, and now they plot to turn things around on the enemy. It’s started with the fourth challenge that was clearly meant to get Shelley expelled. And now the fifth one is here. What nasty setup is planned with this one?

Shona makes friends with Tamsha’s hitherto jealous pet, and now she has an ally. But then she is horrified to see her fellow humans at the zoo being humiliated and abused in the aliens’ version of the chimps’ tea party! And the reference to chimps’ tea parties shows how much things have changed for chimps in our PC times.

Dorrie is surprised to find herself being offered the role of Dorothy in another production of The Wizard of Oz. Let’s hope her being a fugitive doesn’t mess up her chance.

The sale of a priceless ring gets Clancy on the wrong side of her grandfather and then on his good side when she shows signs of his knack for profit. But then Clancy’s health problems begin to plague her again….

 

7 Steps to the Sisterhood (1978)

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Publication: 12 August 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Ron Smith

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Kim Mason and Shelley Vernon are both on their way to Lansdale, a boarding school that specialises in foreign languages. Shelley is a bit nervous because she is a clumsy, accident-prone girl and is worried it will go against her at her new school.

Meanwhile, on the train, Kim overhears two staff members, Miss Tweed and Miss Frost, talking about them. Both of them are candidates for a special opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. But only one will be picked, so both will be watched carefully during the term. Kim is keeping this piece of information to herself…hmm, sounds like something for the reader to note as well.

When the girls arrive, Shelley is delighted that her room is next to Kim’s. She looks on Kim as a friend, even if Kim is acting a bit aloof. Meanwhile, Miss Tweed is unpacking priceless Thai costumes as background for an upcoming lecture.

Later, Shelley is surprised to see a note on her bed, from “The Sisterhood of Lansdale”. It claims to be a secret society that is considering her as a new member, but she must pass seven tests to qualify. She must not try to investigate the Sisterhood, ask help from anyone, or talk to anyone about the Sisterhood. If she agrees, she must tie a hanky to her bedroom door handle. Shelley jumps at it and ties the hanky to her door handle.

Someone takes the hanky, and next morning Shelley receives instructions for her first challenge: obtain a colour photograph of herself in one of the Thai costumes and leave it outside her door that night.

So Shelley borrows one of the costumes and sneaks out of school to use a photo kiosk to take the photograph. She does not know someone is watching her, and that person realises that Shelley is not solving the problem in the way she anticipated. When Shelley returns, someone throws water at her from a window, narrowly soaking her and the priceless costume. She has made it, but has to iron the costume to get rid of some damp spots. Miss Tweed catches her but thinks Shelley is just trying to help, and even allows Shelley to wear the costume at the display!

The second challenge is to bake a strawberry cake and leave it on the tack shelf in the stables on Friday night. Seems straightforward and harmless enough. Shelley even lets Major, a terror of a horse that only the headmistress can ride, have a few strawberries from the cake. But the third challenge is to ride Major bareback at dawn tomorrow!

Hoping that Major will return the strawberry favour, Shelley takes him out for the bareback ride. She sees a light flash back at the school and suspects the Sisterhood is watching her. Shelley gets caught by the headmistress and stable-hand. The head is astonished at what Shelley is trying to do – and bareback. But remembering daft things she did in her own youth, she decides to go along with it and help Shelley ride Major bareback. But Shelley does not get away with it altogether – she has to write a 500-word essay on horse riding in Spanish, which takes days! Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is watching. She thinks how lucky Shelley was that time, and if she’d had her way, things would have turned out differently. Now what can this mean?

The fourth challenge wants Shelley to take the new gold earrings belonging to an Indian student, Nirhani. She is to keep them until told what to do next. Shelley does not like the idea of stealing or risking trouble and is now having second thoughts about the Sisterhood itself. Shelley compromises by taking the jewel box, but not the earrings.

Then Nirhani comes up and says she found Shelley’s hanky (the one Shelley tied to her door handle) in her drawer. Shelley is now so thoroughly frightened by everything that she tells Nirhani (disregarding the conditions she agreed to). Nirhani, a long-standing student, says she has never heard of “The Sisterhood”. She also surmises that if Shelley really had taken the earrings, the theft reported, and then Shelley’s hanky found in the drawer – she would have been expelled. In other words, it was a set-up. Nirhani, who has second sight, gets psychic impressions that there is no “Sisterhood” at all – rather, Shelley has an enemy.

They start planning to catch the culprit. Shelley will pretend to steal the earrings, and Nirhani writes her a cover letter to say she lent them. They gamble that when Nirhani does not report the theft as the enemy expects, she will come into the open.

Another student, Fran, has a birthday and has been permitted to have a midnight BBQ. This brings in the fifth challenge – arrange a fireworks display as an extra surprise for the party. Fireworks are not available at that time of year, but then a book arrives with instructions on how to make your own. Shelley and Nirhani see the dangers at once, and realise the enemy must have as well. However, Shelley has to give the impression she is going along with it, so they use the instructions to make dummy fireworks filled with talcum powder. At the party they hide the fireworks in some bushes and take turns to keep an eye on it discreetly.

Before long, Nirhani sees someone try to light the fake fireworks – but then there are real ones as the BBQ suddenly goes up in flames. In the confusion and firefighting, Nirhani fails to get a look at the enemy. They are horrified when they realise what the enemy tried to do and get Shelley blamed for.

A note arrives from “The Sisterhood” telling Shelley to stay behind after the party – alone. She does, hoping to catch her enemy. A hooded figure appears, her voice disguised, and not allowing Shelley to get close. She tells Shelley she failed the fifth task (the fireworks did not go off as she planned) but Shelley manages to wriggle out of it with a cover story. Shelley tries to get closer as the girl begins to outline the sixth task: tomorrow she is to kidnap Nirhani and lock her in the hayloft in the stables. But just as Shelley is about to unmask the girl, Miss Tweed interrupts and the girl gets away.

Nirhani and Shelley realise what the enemy is up to: “find” Nirhani, be a big heroine, and get Shelley expelled. And Nirhani is getting premonitions of real danger if they go along with it in order to trap the enemy. This has them thinking of all the lucky escapes Shelley has had so far in avoiding serious accidents or being expelled because of all the traps the enemy has set for her.

In the end, Nirhani goes into the hayloft, with Shelley leaving a ladder outside for her to get out with. She then joins the others on a nature ramble. But the teacher drops a bombshell – the headmistress is getting the stable block fumigated! Shelley dashes off for the stables – and so is Kim. Seeing this, Shelley now realises that Kim is the enemy, not her friend. She also sees that the fumigators have moved the ladder, cutting off Nirhani’s escape, so she has to get the fumigators to rescue Nirhani.

Nirhani and Shelley confront Kim over her being the enemy. At first Kim almost gets out of it with a slick move – but then she makes the mistake of claiming that Shelley stole Nirhani’s earrings (she still thinks Shelley has retained them from the earlier challenge). Nirvana and Shelley then spring their long-waiting ace – Nirhani lent Shelley the earrings, and they have the note to prove it. Cornered, Kim confesses that she was trying to put Shelley out of the running for the opportunity of a lifetime that she learned about on the train.

Kim is expelled, of course. And it was all for nothing, because it turns out that Kim was not an ideal student for it after all. Moreover, there is now a chance for two students to win the opportunity, which is a world tour to publicise Lansdale’s methods. The head chooses Shelley and Nirhani because she has been so impressed over how they handled “The Secret Sisterhood”.

Thoughts

This is the first of only two stories that Ron Smith drew for Jinty. Smith was more frequent in Judge Dredd, so it is a delight to see him here.

A girl who causes trouble for another (motivated by revenge, personal gain, jealousy or just plain spite) is one of the oldest and most frequent formulas in girls’ comics. The DCT titles ran them so constantly that they must have run into the zillions. In Mandy alone, not many weeks went by without one such story, and Mandy’s cruellest example was probably The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina aka The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee. In Tammy and Jinty the formula appeared less frequently, which helped to keep it fresh.

In this version of the formula, we get a whole new take on the formula that is extremely rare, if not unique in its genre. Instead of pulling downright nasty tricks to sabotage the girl and get her into trouble, the troublemaker takes a far more insidious and convoluted approach – trying to get her into trouble with challenges from a non-existent secret society. This approach is extremely clever, not only on the part of the troublemaker but also the plotting. It is not so apparent straight away as to what is going on because the sabotage is being disguised as challenges, and it is more difficult for the reader to put the pieces together. Downright nasty tricks would have been a dead giveaway for the reader, and they would have known who it was and why immediately because it was all established in the first episode. Of course it all depends on Shelley rising to the bait in the first place – if she had decided against joining the society and not left her hanky on the door handle, the scheme would have been over for Kim immediately and she would have had to think of something else.

Girls’ comics have long made a strong comment on the dangers of secret societies, whether it is ones who issue challenges that are increasingly foolish and reckless, or are dark and bullying. This one is no exception – even if the society does turn out to be non-existent and it is all the work of one spiteful individual. Kim must be one of the most evil girls ever to appear in girls’ comics. Forget about trying to get Shelley expelled – Kim almost got Shelley (and others) hurt or even killed several times. She had no compunction about it whatsoever, though she must have been aware of what could happen with, say, letting off the boxful of fireworks near a crowd of people. Only at the end does she show any horror at her actions, when she realises that Nirhani could get killed because of her sixth challenge. And if that was the sixth challenge, what would the seventh have been like? The seventh step was never revealed, which must have had readers curious as to what it would have been.

This is one of the few stories in girls’ comics to have some ethnic characters. Though girls’ comics are not intentionally racist, there is a long-standing absenteeism of non-white girls in girls’ comics. Appearances of coloured or Asian girls are more the exception than the rule. But given that this is a language school, it is expected that there are girls of mixed races speaking diverse languages, and Jinty does deliver. Nirhani is Indian while Kim is part Chinese. It is interesting that both a heroine and the villain are of ethnic origin, and both are strong characters. Kim, the part Chinese, is a cold fish who is capable of just about anything to get rid of Shelley and seize the opportunity for herself. She is extremely clever and calculating, as shown in the way she is going about it – luring Shelley into trouble with a phoney secret society. Even the dress she always wears lends to her clinical nature, for it gives her an “evil scientist” look. By contrast, Nirhani the Indian girl is a warm and colourful character. Her second sight (which she handles with more success than 1977’s “Destiny Brown”) lends weight to the brains that figure out what is really going on. Nirhani is brilliant at working that part out, but we wonder if she really could have done it without her second sight.

“7 Steps to the Sisterhood” does seem to come across as a bit short-lived – only eight episodes. It could have been taken an episode or two more, if only to reveal the seventh challenge. Could it have been cut a bit short to make way for a new line-up of stories, and perhaps the seventh challenge cut off with it? Still, while it lasted, it was a whole new take on one of the most formulaic themes in girls’ comics.