Story theme: Science Fiction

If Misty was the girls’ comic with horror stories in it, then Jinty was the one remembered for its science fiction stories. Although Jinty didn’t include sf from the very start, and was far from being the only girls’ comic title with science fictional themes, this is a justified link:  the first science fiction-influenced story appeared within the first year of Jinty, and sf appeared throughout the bulk of the run of the comic, forming some of the very strongest and most memorable stories in the title.

Core examples

There are a number of really key examples of sf stories in Jinty, and I could choose any one of them to talk about in more detail: “Fran of the Floods“, “The Robot Who Cried“, “Land of No Tears“, “Almost Human“, and “The Forbidden Garden” are all indubitably sf and memorable stories to boot. This time I want to talk about “The Human Zoo”, which we have hardly focused on at all as yet.

In “The Human Zoo”, a coachload of schoolgirls is abducted by aliens, and taken in a flying saucer (along with other, grown-up, abductees) to another planet. This planet, light-years away (everyone is put into cold-sleep to get there) has two suns, and the dominant life-form consists of the aforementioned aliens, who are bald, dome-headed, and speak only telepathically. From the alien point of view, humans are mere animals; indeed, there are wild humans living outside the alien cities who are hunted down as food and for sport.

At the beginning of the story we’re introduced to twin sisters, one of whom is a soft-hearted vegetarian animal-lover; her twin is the one we follow throughout, as they are separated and taken through all the horrific things that sentient beings do to creatures that they don’t think are sentient: putting them in zoos (including forcing them to have a chimp’s tea party), keeping them as pets, killing them for food, and even doing scientific experiments on them. In the end, the aliens are reconciled to the idea that humans are intelligent, coming round to this partly because one of the twins can talk to them due to the scientific experiments she’s undergone, and partly because the wild humans save the alien city, and the alien king’s daughter, from drowning. (Their secret weakness is being unable to swim, whereas the humans have learned.)

This is a good, solid sf story, taking the opportunity to swipe at a few other targets on the way (it is clearly an animal rights story too). It perhaps would fit better in the pulp years of some decades previously than in the more sophisticated and experimental New Wave of science fiction of the 60s and 70s: for instance at the end of the story, everything is reset and no lasting impact is seen from the girls’ trip to a far planet, and the aliens are pretty stereotypical. But really, you couldn’t get a story that was much more solidly in the heartland of science fiction themes.

  • “The Green People” (1975): this is the first story I would identify in Jinty as being science fiction. I hesitated initially, as the titular green people live underground in idyllic locations that make you think more of elves than of aliens: but they have ray-guns and a special metal and an advanced civilization that has gone through war into peace. They also use that trope beloved of sf writers of a certain era: telepathy. Like “The Human Zoo”, this uses an sf theme (here, it’s a first contact story) to talk about an issue that affects our society more immediately: wanton destruction of the environment.
  • “Fran of the Floods” (1976): this is a John Wyndham type-story done for a schoolgirl audience, an apocalypse and post-apocalypse in comics form. it is a rather cosier catastrophe than even Wyndham was ever accused of, but with pretty grim moments nevertheless and a roll-call of the dead and missing, at the end. The clock is not reset in this story, even if civilization is not gone forever.
  • Jassy’s Wand of Power” (1976): at the same time as running “Fran”, about climate change leading to flooding, Jinty also ran a story about drought. This disaster was man-made rather than unlucky; there is a fair amount of indicting of powerful men in the story. It is set slightly in the future, with psychic powers having been found to work and a backlash set in against them.
  • “The Robot Who Cried” (1977): a robot is created, in the shape of a girl; she runs away from her creator and learns what it is to be human. The ‘science’ in it is daft and thin but there’s lots of good stuff about misunderstanding human motivations and society.
  • Battle of the Wills” (1977): the protagonist is offered the chance to have herself duplicated by an unscrupulous scientist: she jumps at it, hoping to be able to concentrate on her beloved gymnastics and getting out of having to do ballet. But which of the duplicates is the original and which the copy? And – what will happen once the experiment comes to an end?
  • Land of No Tears” (1977-78): Lame schoolgirl Cassie is whirled into a future world where she is classed as a ‘Gamma’, inferior girl; with her fellow Gamma girls and some other help, she overthrows this cruel order of things.
  • “The Human Zoo” (1978): see above.
  • Almost Human” (1979): a cross between the Superman story and the Bionic Man, with a more emotional edge: protagonist Xenia is an alien from a dying world.
  • “The Forbidden Garden” (1979): set in a dystopian future where pollution has killed off all plants and people live in over-crowded and oppressive cities. Laika discovers a patch of earth which is able to support life and tries to grow a flower for her dying little sister.
  • Worlds Apart” (1981): following a leak of a mysterious chemical, six schoolgirls are thrown together into alternate universe after alternate universe. Some of the universes are more magical than is compatible with scientific reality but the notion of alternate universes, and the mechanism for their travel between them, is in itself more science fictional than magical.

Edge cases

  • Girl In A Bubble” (1976): the very idea of a girl in a bubble, kept by a scientist in order to study the effects of isolation, has plenty of science fiction elements (not least the scientist’s name – ‘Miss Vaal’). It is done more as a slave story, however.
  • The Birds” (1978): there is a scientific (or at least not magical) answer behind the question of why the birds in a certain town started to attack everything, but it is more horror story than science fiction. Of course, it is a take on Hitchcock’s film.

Not to be confused with

  • Other time travel stories: time travel into the future is necessarily science fictional as it requires construction of that future world. Time travel into the past, or time travel of a past character into our present, would typically be a historical story or a spooky story (such as in “Shadow on the Fens”, where a girl from the past escapes persecution as a witch, and a modern girl gets a friend, by making a wish on the old Wishing Tree).

Further thoughts

Of course, there were many sf stories outside of Jinty, too. “Supercats” in Spellbound features four space-travellers with special powers and many adventures; “E.T. Estate” in Tammy was a version of ‘The Bodysnatchers’, done with schoolgirls; “Tomorrow Town”, also in Tammy, tackles technological development and social pressures (Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” done with schoolgirls? I but jest). Particular mention should go to “The Frightening Fours”, in Judy & Emma (1979): an alien invasion story where anybody over the age of fifteen or under three is put into a deep sleep, but four year olds are given great strength, intelligence way beyond their years, organisational abilities, and made into an army to serve the aliens’ plans.

Outside of girls’ comics, 2000AD was of course a comic more or less entirely dedicated to science fiction. Interestingly enough, the 2000AD story Skizz (1983) – written by Alan Moore, drawn by Jim Baikie – could perfectly well have appeared in a girls comic; it even had a female protagonist, as well as a down-to-earth feel.

The prevalence of science fiction stories in many comics means that we can’t only point to the same names over and again as being the initiators of this theme. Malcolm Shaw is known to have written a number of key stories in this area (“The Robot Who Cried”, “E.T. Estate”) and likewise Pat Mills wrote “Land of No Tears” and “Girl In a Bubble”; but “Tomorrow Town” was written by Benita Brown, “Fran of the Floods” was written by Alan Davidson, and who knows who had the bonkers ideas in “The Frightening Fours”! I think that if we knew the names of more writers, we’d find that many different writers in many different titles had a go at some sf story or other.

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8 thoughts on “Story theme: Science Fiction

  1. Jake Adams wrote ET Estate and Benita Brown Tomorrow Town. Bill Harrington wrote The Clock and Cluny Jones for Tammy, a time travel story where a bully is sent into a harsh parallel world where she becomes the bullied. Pat Mills and Malcolm Shaw we already know as writers of plenty of sf serials in girls’ comics.

    I always wondered how the Outworlders in Human Zoo managed to carry on at all. The aliens separated the sexes by removing males to work for them while hunting the females, so how did they reproduce and have children? Did they allow them together for mating and then separate them again or have some other breeding programme? Or perhaps it extra blood stock from Earth? Episode 1 implied the aliens were responsible for the Mary Celeste mystery, so maybe they had been taking humans and animals from Earth for centuries.

    1. I still have a great love of sci-fi across all media which must stem to reading these stories when I was younger. “Battle of the Wills” is a story I’ve heard about but have never read it, I would like to track the story down at some point. “The Frightening Fours” is a favourite of mine, I still need to track down the last episode for my collection. Alien invasions were particularly popular sci-fi stories.

      Bunty also had a lot of humourous sci-fi stories “The Girl from Up There” and “Flights of Flopear” spring to mind. Environmental themes also cropped up in DC Thompson like in Judy’s “The Isle of a Million Wings” set in a future where there are food shortages due to all the bees dying from chemicals.

      1. I will do a story write up of “Battle of the Wills” at some point I’m sure (unless Mistyfan gets there first). I suspect I am unlikely to have enough time to scan it all any time soon, otherwise I’d send you a copy, sorry.

        “The Isle of a Million Wings” sounds very prescient!

    2. Thanks for the clarification on the writer of E.T. Estate, Mistyfan. I think I got the info that it was Malcolm Shaw who wrote it from Wikipedia; I assume that was an earlier understanding or guess that needs fixing on Wikipedia sometime. I did say above that Benita Brown wrote “Tomorrow Town”. I wouldn’t mind knowing more about “The Clock and Cluny Jones” sometime, I must say! I always love a good parallel world.

      Yes, the Outworlders in “The Human Zoo” weren’t very well thought through, but you could say that about a lot of the story elements! Why didn’t the aliens ever get round to learning to swim? And the time travel at the end was a total cop-out, but oh well.

      1. The aliens never learned to swim because they had a fear of water their race all shared. Like cats, I guess.

        I have The Clock and Cluny Jones. It was also reprinted in Misty annual 1985 as Grandfather’s Clock, an annual that still eludes me.

        Yes, the Isle of a Million Wings was very anticipatory, wasn’t it? If it was reprinted, it would be even more relevant today than when it appeared in the 1960s. I myself wouldn’t mind reading it.

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