Publication: 25 April 1981 to 3 October 1981
Artist: Guy Peeters
Writer: Unknown (this story has been incorrectly credited to Pat Mills in other publications)
“Imagine the dream worlds inside your head becoming real! That’s what happened to six girls from Crawley Comprehensive after an accident with a road tanker carrying dangerous chemicals from a secret government research establishment.” So runs the blurb for this story.
Each world is governed by the respective girl’s characteristic – making it an ideal world for her, but a nightmare for the other girls: “It seems that given a free rein, the worst comes out in us.” The only release from these worlds is for its respective creator to die – and this happens when each creator meets her downfall through the very same characteristic that shaped her world. The respective adventures and nightmares in each world develop as follows:
Sarah (greedy): Sarah’s world is ruled by fat, greed and gluttony. The people only think about food and being as fat as they can possibly be; 20 stone is “such a trim figure”. Even the animals are fat, including the sparrows. Exercise is considered “disgusting”. The girls are emaciated by the standards of this world, even fat Sarah. So the girls are force-fed in hospital until they are so grotesquely obese that they can hardly walk. Sarah is the only one to enjoy this world because she can stuff herself with as much food as she likes and nobody calls her “fatty”. Then Sarah gets a horrible shock when sporty Ann dies from running half a mile because she is too fat. Now Sarah sees the fatty world in a whole new light. Afterwards she falls into a river and drowns because she can’t swim.
Ann (sporty): Ann’s world is ruled by sport. Education, clothes, foodstuffs, food consumption, architecture, city planning, transport, politics, war, and even the death penalty are all linked to sport. In fact, everything revolves around sport and keeping fit at all costs, even if you are old and infirm. Ann simply loves her world because she can indulge in sport at every waking moment. But like the others, Ann’s indulgence becomes her undoing. It begins when the Soviet Union declares war on Britain. War is played with a sports match; the losing team is executed and the invading country just walks in if its team wins. Ann is honoured to be in the British team, but doesn’t know that the Russians are cheating by taking drugs. When Britain loses, Ann meets her downfall by the very thing she loves – sport. The method used to execute her is to be tied to an exercise bicycle until she dies from exhaustion.
Samantha (vain): Samantha’s world is ruled by vanity. It is a fairy tale world and she is Sleeping Beauty – who rules this world more than her royal parents. But Samantha is no fairytale princess. She is cruel, tyrannical, power mad, and indulges in admiring her beauty at every waking moment. Her castle is known as the Castle of Mirrors because there are mirrors everywhere for Samantha to admire her beautiful face. As for the other girls, they are her downtrodden servants and threatened with torture if they displease her. Mo, whom Samantha dislikes, suffers the most in this world – partly because she refuses to be downtrodden.
Then, when Samantha dumps Prince Charming for the Frog Prince, he gets revenge by hiring the witch (Mo’s mother!) who originally put Samantha to sleep. So the witch turns Samantha’s vanity against her with a spell that causes Samantha’s face to appear as a pig when reflected in the mirrors. Samantha becomes hysterical when she realises that she can never see her beautiful face again. “How can I live without admiring myself? I can’t stand it!” Samantha shrieks like a maniac, shattering all the mirrors and herself in the process. Talk about narcissism.
Mo (delinquent): Mo’s world is ruled by crime, where crime, violence and anarchy are the rule. Everyone has prison numbers, and if they are stripped of them they become non-persons and fall prey to lynch mobs. Education at reform schools (which in the girls’ case is modelled on Alcatraz and patrolled by guards with live bullets in their guns) teaches crime (safe-cracking, forgery, framing, pickpocketing etc). The only crime in this world is to do a good deed, which is punishable by lynching – and nearly happens to the other girls. It seems the perfect world for the delinquent Mo to flourish – until she is kidnapped by gangsters and given a pair of concrete shoes when the ransom demand fails. This has Mo anxious to turn over a new leaf if she returns to the real world before she is even thrown into the river to drown.
Clare (intellectual): Clare’s world is ruled intellectualism, and the size of your IQ determines your standing in society. At the top of society are the “swots” and at the bottom are the “dullards” – a dimwitted subhuman species who are classed as animals and are treated as such (experimentation, slaughter houses, etc). The other girls are dullards because Clare always considered them stupid, “so in her world, we are stupid.” Clare is an arrogant, clinical scientist ready to perform experiments on her “dullard” classmates. But she doesn’t get the chance because dullard liberationists break them out of the laboratory and turn them loose into the wild.
Clare comes after them, but she quarrels bitterly with her co-worker who wants to make a dullard wildlife film. Clare protests that this is cruel to the dullards because they cannot survive in the wild. The man retorts that she was cruel herself, for experimenting on them and what’s more, the law states that his word overrules hers because his IQ is higher than hers. Well, these were the rules Clare made for this world. Then the helicopter crashes. Clare is unhurt and is saved by her dullard friends. But she cannot survive in the wild herself; she runs away and dies in an unshown accident.
Jilly (timid): Jilly’s world is ruled by fear. It is a horror-movie Goth world where everything serves only one purpose – to terrify! There is a particular emphasis on vampires, and lessons in school are geared to turn pupils into vampires, with coffin building lessons, blood pudding (with real blood) in domestic science, and first aid class includes mouth-to-neck resuscitation i.e. be bitten on the neck and be turned into one of the Undead.
Clare realises that if Jilly becomes one of the Undead, she will never die – and the only way to escape this horror world is for Jilly to die. They will become trapped in this world if Jilly becomes one of the Undead and never dies, and in the penultimate episode it looks like this is going to happen. The girls do save Jilly from becoming one of the Undead, but she is a girl who is still scared of her own shadow. This too is taken to its extreme – Jilly is attacked and killed by her own shadow.
The girls now wake up in hospital in the real world. They discuss their adventure and ponder over why their worlds were so horrible: “We’re not terrible people, are we?” Clare decides it was because if you take things to extremes, it gets all twisted. The girls then reflect on the lessons they have learned, including becoming more tolerant and understanding, that greed, sport, cleverness and beauty are not everything, and crime does not pay.
“Worlds Apart” was Jinty’s last science fiction/fantasy story before her merge with Tammy in 1981. It was also the last serial that Guy Peeters drew for Jinty. In discussions of girls’ comics this story is widely regarded as Jinty’s ultimate classic in science fiction, not to mention being an incredible adventure story, perils-and-adversity story and a sobering, thought-provoking morality story. It touches all of us because we have all had a dream world at some point and wished they could come true. But if they did, would they live up to our expectations or would they turn out to be the stuff of nightmares?
Although “Worlds Apart” is considered one of the best, perhaps it could have been better. The ending suffers a bit because it looks like it was rushed to make way for the seven-issue ‘countdown’ to the merger. The last world is given short shrift (one and a half episodes while the others get four or five), so it is not as developed as much as the others and Jilly emerges as the only one not to learn anything from her world. Instead, the other girls end up feeling sorry for her for being so terrified. It feels a bit unsatisfying. All right, so maybe Jinty wanted to make a statement here that some people never learn. Or they cannot learn because they are too entrenched in what they are. This is what some of the others begin to think about Jilly: “If this is Jilly’s mind, she must be permanently scared, poor girl!” Then again, the last two episodes were given four pages instead of the usual three. I have observed that an increase in pages and even double episodes can be a sign of pressure to finish a story quickly to clear the decks fast for something big – such as a merger.
Nonetheless, “Worlds Apart” is far more hard hitting and bizarre than anything Jinty had produced before in moralism as it depicts the dangers of extremism (extremes of greed, sports-mania, vanity, crime, intellectualism and fear), and how terrible the consequences can be if extremism is allowed to carry to its logical conclusion. In fact, Clare decides that this is why the worlds were so horrible.
It also took the torture of its heroines to fantastical heights of grotesqueness and perversity that remain unmatched today. For example, in the fat world the girls are force-fed until they are grotesquely fat – probably the “trim figure” of 20 stone. In the sports world they are expected to exercise while they have their school dinners, take cold showers to toughen them up, and run across the town to their dormitories because the run will help keep them fit. And in the horror world, they have classes for building their own coffins for when they are turned into vampires. Talk about digging your own grave….
There is perverse and tongue-in-cheek humour and satire too, such as where the vain world turns the fairy tale on its head. Sleeping Beauty is a tyrant instead of an innocent princess, she jilts her prince, and you find yourself sympathising with the fairy-tale witch who punishes Samantha. There are some jokes even in the horror world – the train station, for example, is called Lugosi station, and Britain is called The United Kingdom of Transylvania. And in the sports world, we learn that Hitler fought World War II via a footy match. Yes, the class is shown a slide of Hitler – “German manager and chief coach” – in his footy gear!
45 thoughts on “Worlds Apart (1981)”
I have more than a suspicion the plot for this was lifted from Philip K. Dick’s novel Eye in the Sky, which follows a group of people who are caught in an industrial accident and subsequently find themselves in a series of parallel worlds, each derived from the subconscious of one of the group members.
The specifics of each world are completely different, of course, but the set up is a blatant steal. It’s not the only classic SF plot I’ve found in a girls’ comic, either. I suspect someone writing girls’ comics in the 1970s was a big SF fan.
Many serials on girls’ comics drew from popular books such as Carrie and Aubrey Rose. I suspect Jinty’s Song of the Fir Tree may have been influenced by I am David. TV programmes such as Doctor Who, the bionic series, The Good Life and Grange Hill also made their influence keenly felt as well.
I always think of Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword in connection with Song of the Fir Tree but then I don’t think I’ve actually read “I Am David”. A quick look at the plot of the latter on Wikipedia is enough to convince, it looks pretty close indeed.
Thanks for the comparison with “Eye In The Sky”! I know various other PKD short stories and novels, but seem to have missed this one. Yes, girls’ comics often lifted plots or setups from other media as Mistyfan says – Moonchild in Misty is clearly Carrie. Pat Mills goes so far as to say that this is a deliberate policy, if you look a bit over halfway down my interview with him here.
Although then the question is, why copy stuff quite so blatantly? Of course there are lots of possible reasons, but I wonder which one(s) applied – because the original was popular and a version might inherit some of that popularity? (Perhaps the stories that riffed on the Bionic Man idea, like The Robot Who Cried or Almost Human.) Or because the originals proved that they’d worked really well, and a good idea is a good idea wherever it’s from? Or as an in-joke homage to those very few readers who would get it – maybe other girls’ comics writers? Probably not the latter, or at least not as the main motivator, because that would be insufficiently commercial.
I hadn’t thought of The Silver Sword being an influence on Song of the Fir Tree too. But it could well be, come to think of it.
I was thinking about Hitler as a soccer coach in the soccer world. How can the concentration camps happen in the sports world, the greed world, or any of them? Especially the greed world, how can anyone starve people when you’re supposed to be fat?!
The appearance of Hitler in the sports world has had me wondering how the Holocaust would have worked too. No doubt it would be linked to sports. Ann’s execution shows people are executed by being exercised to death, so I think the death camps would have worked that way somehow too. Death treadmills instead of gas chambers, maybe?
As for the other worlds, we are presented with no evidence that Nazism even existed in any of them. But assuming it was…yes, how would the Holocaust have worked in them? Interesting question.
I can just see Hitler in the fat world…a great big fat Hitler! And declaring that the Germans are the Master Race because they’re the fattest, so the Ayrans are all driven to be the fattest they can be….
The panel of Hitler as the sports coach is now up at the Panel Gallery. Go to “Galleries”, “Panel Gallery” and “Guy Peeters”.