The Slave Story Theme

Pat Mills has declared online that there were three lynchpins for a girls’ comic that he would have if he launched a girls’ title today: the Cinderella story, the friendship story and the slave story (personally, I would add the regular story, the spooky story and the funny story). Apparently when readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story.

This post will be taking a look at the slave story. But as samples from Jinty are too limited to cover the variations of the formula, serials under discussion will expand beyond Jinty to include serials from DCT, Tammy, Girl (series 2) and Battle.

What was the slave story? There were two types: the individual slave story and the group slave story. In the group slave story, a group of girls or people are being held captive and used as slaves. The setting could be a cruel institution or prison, such as an orphanage, workhouse, factory, reformatory, prison camp, mine, quarry, or a school that is run along the lines of Wackford Squeers types. Sometimes the setting takes a more unusual form, such as a circus, a restaurant, a totalitarian regime, or a dystopian world. Or the enslavement could be based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming. For example, in “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” (Tammy) a ballet class is abducted to Siberia and forced to dance for the last remnant of the tzars and their imperialist rule, right down to starving peasants who get massacred when they beg for the release of food supplies.

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Sometimes there is more to the slavery than mere exploitation; the slavers may have more ulterior motives such as an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its residents are being ensnared for sinister purposes, such as in “The Camp on Candy Island” (Tammy) or “Prisoners of Paradise Island” (Jinty).

Occasionally the slave story focused on individuals trapped in slavery, such as “Bound for Botany Bay”. This will be discussed later. Right now the discussion will look at the group slavery.

The protagonist of the group slavery story could be either:
1. The slave who refuses to be broken by the cruelty. She is determined to escape and bring everything down. In the meantime she is singled out for the harshest treatment and her jailers pile on one torture after another which frequently went way over the top. Tortures over the years have included being locked in pillories, drip cells, dungeons, rat-infested cellars, punishment boxes, cages, underground pits and iron masks; forced to work in blazing hot sun until sunstroke sets in, being forced to play hockey with damaged sight; standing for long hours in freezing weather; even be targeted for murder, which is often part of the story’s climax. Or the protagonist could be:

2. The secret helper i.e. the one who is secretly helping the slaves. Sometimes, as part of her ruse, she pretends to side with the villains, and in so doing, makes herself hated by the victims she is secretly helping. Stories where this occurs include “Detestable Della” (Bunty) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy). Or the helper may help via a disguise, such as Lady Sarah in “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy). Lady Sarah helps victims of a cruel orphanage by disguising herself as the legendary ghost of the orphanage. Sometimes the helper is just there and coming up with quick plans to help the victims, such as “Betty vs Bumble” (Judy). This variance on the formula can allow for the slave story being played for laughs and comical comeuppances for the villain every week, as in “Betty vs Bumble”.

Sometimes, but not always, there is a mystery attached to the slave story. Resolving it is the key to resolving the story and bringing down the villain. Some common mysteries are:

1. What secret scheme are the villains up to? Sometimes it is evident they are up to something crooked as well as abusing and exploiting people, but the protagonist has to figure out what it is eg “Slaves of the Candle” (Jinty).

2. Who is the secret helper? Sometimes the secret helper is the mystery, not the protagonist of the story – and also part of its resolution. A mysterious helper keeps popping up to help the girls, such as the mystery trainer in “Land of no Tears”, (Jinty) who turns up in a disguise of a wig and heavy makeup (can’t she disguise herself better in this world of the future?). When the protagonist finally discovers who the woman is, it is another twist on the secret helper who has to pretend to be a villain as part of her ruse to secretly help the slaves.

3. How exactly is the racket operating? Sometimes motives or identities of the villains are kept hidden and need to be unravelled. For example, in “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl, series 2), the slaves do not know exactly who is running the sewing factory that kidnaps girls and uses them as slave labour. Their supervisor keeps herself nameless and they have to address her as “M’am.” When Amanda, the protagonist in this story, discovers the man operating the racket is her own father, it makes for one slave story that does not have a totally happy ending.

4. Hidden secret regarding protagonist. Sometimes there is a secret regarding the protagonist that she does not know herself. The jailers may know it and the torture is part of it, as in “Poor Law Polly” (Lindy), or it becomes part of resolving the story “Nina Nimble Fingers” (Lindy).

Lastly, there may be a toady character. A member of the group or more senior girl who helps the villains and participates in the torture of the girls. Sometimes it is the toady character who is the key to the resolution of the story. Essentially, the villain goes too far to the toady’s liking. Shocked, the toady has a change of heart and starts helping the victims. One example is Adolfa in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Right up until the last episode Adolfa has been the reformatory inmate who helped to torture them, especially Merry. But when Adolfa discovers the warden is out to kill Merry, she has an instant change of heart; she saves Merry and takes a hard crack on the head for doing so. But in some slave stories this was not the case with the toady, eg “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy) or “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”. And at times no such character is used, or not used much.

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Perhaps the most famous – or infamous – slave story was “Slaves of War Orphan Farm”. It was launched in the first issue of Tammy, and it made Tammy‘s name for the darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines that she pioneered at IPC. Ma Thatcher (yes, named after a milk snatcher and future prime minister) running a racket where she uses war orphans she was supposed to be taking care of as slave labour in a rock quarry. She also locks them in cages as a punishment, even in cold weather, sets vicious dogs and gin traps on them, and even tries to burn them alive in the barn at the climax of the story. But the mysterious helper, in this case a woman called Mad Emma, has been steadily helping some kids to escape. Now they combine forces for the great escape with the help of Bonnie, a toady who does have a change of heart.

Other slave stories followed thick and fast in the early years of Tammy. They included The Revenge of Edna Hack, Secret Ballet of the Steppes, Dara into Danger, The Camp on Candy Island, Swim for Your Life, Sari, Slaves of the Hot Stove, Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall and Waifs of the Wigmaker.

It is not surprising that Battle, which drew much inspiration from the dark trend that pioneered in Tammy, attempted the slave story in its first issue. This was “The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain”. Sadly, Bamboo Curtain proved that the slave story was one trend in girls’ comics that did not work so well with the boys and it folded after twelve episodes. But the attempt shows a world of difference when the slave story is played in the man’s world that is worth discussing here.

The evil Sado runs a Japanese POW camp. He revels in punishing prisoners by sending them into the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest rigged with deadly booby traps. Alarmed at how the Bamboo Curtain is intimidating his fellow prisoners, Jim Blake gets himself sent there in the hope of overcoming it and stopping it turning his friends into “cringing coolies.” Blake does survive the Bamboo Curtain but is surprised to stumble across a nest of brainwashed British soldiers in the power of Sado. They mysteriously disappear before he can probe too much.

Determined to help the soldiers, Blake returns to the camp as the answer to the mystery must be there, although he risks even more savage punishment and perhaps death from Sado. The extra tortures include being locked in a metal hut in blazing heat, forced to fight a masked man to the death (Blake is shocked afterwards to find it is one of the brainwashed soldiers), being trapped in a minefield, and being tied to Sado’s jeep and being dragged behind. War-based tortures that soldiers are more likely to encounter than girls. Nor would you expect the girls to punch their jailers in the face and take up guns in their escape.

The story also made daring breaks with clichés, such as when Blake fails to save his friend Jensen from the quicksand trap in the Bamboo Curtain. And, when Blake and Sado face off in the final episode – no spoilers, so let us say we do not get the typical clichéd honourable conduct we would normally expect from the hero.  Unlikely that even Tammy would have done the same.

So how did the slave story play out in Jinty? As the early Jinty was cast in the same mould as the early Tammy, there was of course a slave story in the first lineup. This was “Merry at Misery House”. Wrongly sent to a reformatory nicknamed Misery House because of its harshness, Merry Summers is cast in the mould of the protagonist who refuses to let the cruelty break her spirit. This singles her out for one torture after another to break her down and turns the story into the longest running slave story ever. It ran for over a year before the misery finally ended with the warden and head guard being arrested for racketeering, Misery House burning down and Merry getting her name cleared.

Maybe the sheer length of this slave story is the reason Jinty had fewer slave stories than Tammy. But the ones she did have were:

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Merry at Misery House (1974-75): Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft and sent to a reformatory where sadistic treatment is the rule.

Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974-75): a hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. In a twist that turns the slave story on its head, they are given every luxury instead of being tortured, abused and exploited. But the purpose is just as evil – their captors want to make them fat, unfit and lazy so they cannot win a hockey championship. Then the crooks will take punts against them and make a fortune.

Barracuda Bay (1975): More of a twist on the slave story than a pure slave story. The slaves are a bunch of kidnapped scientists in this James Bond style story.

Too Old to Cry! (1975-76): a cruel orphanage run by a matron who can lie her way out of anything. In a break with the usual pattern, Nell, the protagonist, escapes from the orphanage in the early stages of the story. Many episodes pass before the matron catches up to Nell.

Slaves of the Candle (1975-76): Lydia Lagtree falls foul of Mrs Tallow, who is running a candle making slave racket. But she is also committing thefts that she often has Lydia carrying the can for. Mrs Tallow believes the price that keeps rising on Lydia’s head will keep her under control, but Lydia remains determined to escape and stop the racket. As the story progresses, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Mrs Tallow is planning something even bigger, and it involves the Tower of London. Hmm, could there be treason here?

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): it is more individual slavery than group slavery in this story about the horrors of transportation in the 19th century. But Betsy Tanner is arriving with a group of convicts and they will be slaves all but in name, and later encounters a group of slaves in an opal mine.

Land of No Tears (1977-78): The slave story set in dystopia, which makes a nice change from the more common settings of factories, schools etc. Lame Cassy Shaw is transported to a future world where perfection is everything. People who are not perfect are classed as Gamma and regarded as inferior. In the hive (children’s home) where Cassy ends up, the Gamma girls are slaves who do the cleaning, wear shabby clothes, and eat nothing but scraps left by the perfect Alpha girls. The Alphas bully them and live in luxurious rooms while the Gammas share a cold, grim dormitory. This story is regarded as one of Jinty’s classics, so while Merry was the longest slave story in Jinty, this one has to be the best.

The Human Zoo (1978): not strictly a slave story but contains some elements of it. Sisters Jenny and Shona Owens and some other people are kidnapped by aliens and taken to their planet. The aliens think humans are animals and treat them as beasts of burden.

Children of Edenford (1979): hints of the slave story can be seen in this story too, though it is not a slave story as such. Bamboo Curtain is one example that brainwashing techniques are sometimes used in the slave story, but this one takes it to frightening levels that threaten the whole world. Insane headmistress Purity Goodfellow is obsessed with perfection. To this end she turns her pupils into glazed-eyed docile zombies by feeding them drugged food. But she isn’t stopping there – soon it is the whole district and eventually it is revealed she has her eyes on the whole world.

Now we turn to the individual slavery story. This centres on one individual who is enslaved by legal slavery or exploitation of some sort or, more often, by criminals and other nasty types. In the case of the latter, the girl often has amnesia, lost her voice or has some other disability that has made it easier for the villain to enslave her. Overcoming her disability or regaining her voice/memory is the only way to escape. At other times straight out blackmail is used, though blackmail themes did not seem to occur much in Jinty. And finally, there are villains who use hypnotism or other brainwashing techniques to enslave the girl.

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Notable Jinty stories with this theme were:

Tricia’s Tragedy (1975): Tricia Hunt becomes a slave to her cousin Diana Lloyd because she blames herself for an accident that left Diana blind. But Mr Hunt thinks something is fishy, especially when it becomes apparent that the Lloyds are trying to stop Tricia winning a vital swimming trophy.

Miss No-Name (1976): Lori Mills loses her memory and becomes ensnared by Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella, who abuse her and force her into crime. For good measure, Ma Crabb cuts off Lori’s hair so nobody recognises her as the missing girl in the papers.

The Slave of Form 3B (1976): bully Stacey discovers she can hynotise new girl Tania. She uses it to force Tania into theft, sabotage, cheating, bad conduct and eventually an accident that nearly kills Tania.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): Betsy Tanner and her father are enslaved by convict transportation.

Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud (1976-77): Lady Daisy de Vere is mistaken for a servant, Maud, and ends up in a cruel household where even the other servants mistreat her.

Made-up Mandy (1976-77): Mandy Mason is not a slave per se, but the employer at the beauty salon where Mandy works as a caretaker does not treat her well.

Curtain of Silence (1977): Yvonne Berridge is kidnapped in an Iron Curtain country and forced to pose as their cycling star. Yvonne has lost her voice, which makes it hard for her to get help.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell joins her aunt’s theatre boat in the hope of drama training and stardom. But she finds herself being used as an unpaid servant. This story has some overlap with the Cinderella theme.

Slave of the Swan (1978): Again an amnesiac girl, Katrina Vale, is taken advantage of, this time by a ballet mistress who wants revenge on her mother rather than simply exploiting the girl.

As the 1970s wore on, slave stories (and the accompanying lynchpin, the Cinderella story) faded from Tammy. The same happened with Jinty. This was particularly the case with the group slave story. Counterrevolution and changes in editorship had set in against the revolution of cruelty and tortured heroines that Tammy pioneered and the early Jinty followed. Yet the slave story remained popular at DCT, and it played over and over in Bunty, Mandy and Judy long after it faded at IPC.

 

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17 thoughts on “The Slave Story Theme

  1. Many thanks for this – a key theme in girls comics generally! Gosh, ordering the stories by date really does make it clear how the pure slave story just didn’t appear in the later Jinty at all – even by 79 it is really only stories with hints of slavery, not the straight-up slave story type.

    You mention “Slave of the Swan” but don’t break it out for individual discussion in the list of stories – probably this is one of the latest examples of a slave story in Jinty.

    1. I think Merry at Misery House is the one with the purest slave story theme. Maybe its length is the reason why few other slave stories appeared in Jinty.

  2. What are some of the best slave stories, you reckon? Slave of the Trapeze (Sandie), Merry at Misery House, The Slave of Form 3B, Curtain of Silence (Jinty), Slaves of War Orphan Farm, The Four Friends at Spartan School (Tammy) are several top contenders. For me, the slave story that sticks the most is Slaves of the Nightmare Factory from Girl 2.

    1. Good question. I don’t know “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” except in brief discussion. Of the Jinty ones mentioned, I’d say Form 3B is especially bonkers and “Curtain of Silence” is especially gripping. (Don’t forget Slave of the Swan, too, which is one of the most viscerally deadly ones.) The others are all good picks but I don’t know them as well.

    1. Another nice piece of information to add to our database! Bill Harrington also wrote “The Clock and Cluny Jones” from Tammy. I have wondered about covering that one at some point.

      1. Will Prigmore told me Harrington had a tendency towards the historical stories, and that Waifs was exemplary of the sort of thing he would write.

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