The Cinderella Theme

Pat Mills has said on online that the Cinderella theme was one of the lynchpins in girls’ comics. This feature will examine the Cinderella theme and how it played out in Jinty.

As the name suggests, the Cinderella theme refers to stories where girls are treated like Cinderella. Their parents, step parents or other types of guardians abuse them, use them as cheap labour, exploit them and take advantage of any talent they may have. There may be a wicked stepsister type (cousin, sister, stepsister or whatever) who is the nasty spoilt one and the exploitation is often geared towards investing in the spoilt one’s advancement, such as in Knight and Day and Make Believe Mandy from Jinty.

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Sometimes there is no wicked stepsister type at all, such as in the most famous example of the Cinderella story in girls’ comics, Bella Barlow from Tammy. Starting as another Cinderella serial, Bella proved so popular that she lasted for ten years, and was stopped only by Tammy’s cancellation.

And there are times when the Cinderella is the eldest of a group of siblings. They are all being abused by a nasty guardian, but it is the eldest who takes the brunt but also retains the determination to protect her siblings in any way she can and win through. Examples of this type of Cinderella story are more readily found in DCT titles, such as Slaves of the Singing Kettle from Tracy.

Some Cinderella themed strips are played for laughs, with the wicked stepmother or sisters getting a comical comeuppance every week. The best known example is Cinderella Jones from Judy. But for the most part it is serious, emotional abusive fare, and that was how it was played in Jinty.

The abuse occurs mostly because the abusers are nasty bullies or neglectful/lazy types who don’t care for the girl, or it is a combination of the two. But sometimes they have deeper motives. In Sadie and the Sticks (Tammy) and Champion in Hiding (Jinty), for example, it is revealed that the abusers are in the pay of an even bigger criminal. In Make Believe Mandy the abusers are motivated by a deep hatred and the reason for it forms the mystery of the story. It starts to unravel once Mandy realises she is not related to them by blood, which is a common reason for it all in Cinderella stories.

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As per the original, rescue may come in a supernatural form, such as Whistle and I’ll Come and Moonchild (Misty), Girl with the Power (Tracy), The Clothes Make Carol (Tammy), and The Valley of Shining Mist (Jinty). But in most cases the girl has to look to her own salvation. This usually takes the form of a hobby or talent that the girl is determined to pursue (gymnastics, ballet, music, a sport, art, a craft, sewing and herbology are just of the things that have been used). Or it may be a special secret, such as an injured animal. Whatever it is, it is not her only consolation in her unhappy home life but her ticket to freedom and happiness. Of course the road is not smooth; the abusers throw up obstacles along the way, and even take advantage of her ability. Running away often happens, which either leads to the resolution of the story or turns it into a fugitive story. But it is the fairy godmother type who usually resolves it, either by discovering the abuse or stumbling across the girl’s talent. Cinderella stories typically end up with the girl being adopted by a loving family, being reconciled with her former abusers who had a change of heart, or her talent/secret finally gives her an escape to happiness.

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Strangely, Tammy, the pioneer in darkness and cruelty, did not have a Cinderella sto in her first lineup. Her first Cinderella story, which came later, was Little Miss Nothing, and it set the template in Tammy, though the theme must have been much older than that in girls’ comics. Once discovered, there was no stopping the Cinderella story in Tammy until it, like the slave story, faded from Tammy by the late seventies. Only Bella remained from former times. Until then, Cinderella stories in byTammy included Jumble Sale Jilly, Tess on Tap, Sadie in the Sticks, Nell Nobody, Common Cathy, Sally in a Shell and, of course, Bella.

However, Jinty did have a Cinderella story in her first lineup as she was following the early Tammy. Notable Cinderella stories in Jinty were:

Make Believe Mandy (1974): the first one, starting in the first issue. Mandy Miller is abused her family who seem to hate her and compare her unfavourably with her sister Dinah.

Cinderella Smith (1975): The abuse of Cindy Smith under her cousins is so extreme that she is forced to wear shackles on her legs when she is working.

The Valley of Shining Mist (1975): Debbie Lane has been so psychologically damaged by the abuse from her adoptive family that she has become wild and thieving and has no confidence, which is reflected in a stammer. Then Debbie discovers confidence and can talk properly when she discovers the magical Valley of Shining Mist. But she soon finds that she has to learn to function that way outside the valley as well.

Finleg the Fox (1975): this story started in Lindy and concluded in the Jinty & Lindy merger. Lame Una Price is sent to the Dray family at Blindwall Farm in the hope of a country cure for her poor health. But the Drays are not very welcoming, nor do they welcome Finleg, the fox Una befriends.

Champion in Hiding (1976): Mitzi Morris is forced to live with her horrible Aunt Shirley, who does not treat her well. Mitzi has to hide her dog Firefly from Aunt Shirley as she is determined to train him as a sheepdog champion, but Aunt Shirley is being paid to prevent this.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell’s aunt brings her to her family theatre houseboat with the promise of drama training for the fame that Cherry wants. In reality, the family just want Cherry as an unpaid servant.

The Changeling (1978): Katy Palmer runs away and then steals another girl’s identity to escape her cruel uncle. In an unusual break with the theme, the uncle appears in only the first and last episodes. And he does not seem to launch much pursuit, if any, of his runaway niece, which is what the abusive guardian usually does when the girl runs off. But then he doesn’t get much chance as this story only ran for three episodes.

Knight and Day (1978): Pat Day is removed from her foster family because her natural mother, Mrs Knight, suddenly wants her back after years of ignoring her. But Pat soon finds that Mum only wants her so they can get a council flat and stepsister Janet is spiteful. This story is unusual in having the natural parent being cast in the wicked stepmother role while the foster parent is the good parent.

Spirit of the Lake (1979-80): Sometimes Mum shares the Cinderella role with the heroine, as is the case in this story. Karen Carstairs and her mother find themselves unpaid help when they come to stay with their relatives, the Grahams. And snooty cousin Cynthia sneers at Karen for not being able to skate while she is the best skater in the county. But then a fairy godmother appears in the form of the mysterious woman on the lake who starts teaching Karen to skate.

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Evidently the Cinderella theme was less frequent in Jinty than in Tammy, and eventually it faded from Jinty altogether. This may be due to the SF and sports emphasis that took hold in Jinty. Or it may be because stories of darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines faded at IPC because of changes in editorship. By the late seventies the Cinderella stories had faded altogether from Tammy, except for Bella. The same went for the slave story that Tammy had revelled in. Yet the Cinderella story remained popular at DCT, and titles like Bunty and Mandy continued to crank them out in quantity. Yet by the 1990s the Cinderella theme had waned at DCT too, except for reprints. Now what changes in editorship could have taken place here? Another question for comic book researchers to ponder.

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7 thoughts on “The Cinderella Theme

  1. I have just been re-reading the “Little Miss Nothing” post on The Tammy Project. It seems astounding that this is the first time someone came up with the Cinderella theme – you’d think it would have been a perennial theme used much earlier. Is it really never seen in Bunty or other earlier titles, then? Or are there any precursors?

    1. I’m sure there were precursors in earlier titles. Little Miss Nothing just set the template in Tammy.

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