Concrete Surfer (1978)

Sample images

From Jinty 3 June 1978

From Jinty 3 JUne 1978
(click thru)
From Jinty 3 June 1978
(click thru)
From Jinty 3 June 1978
(click thru)

Publication: 28 January 1978 – 10 June 1978

Sequel: a follow-up story was published in the 1978 Jinty Summer Special

Artist: unknown

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Jean Everidge migrated with her parents to Australia, as “Ten Pound Poms“. This isn’t a success story, though, much less one set in far-away lands: Jean has returned alone to be looked after by relatives, with her parents making their way back slowly in failure. By contrast her cousin, Carol, is a winner: popular, rich, top of the class at school. And she means to keep it that way too, or so Jean suspects. There is one thing that Jean can shine at: skateboarding, or surfing the concrete waves.

Jean has got the biggest chip ever on her shoulder, and knows it: but it’s fed by the fact that every ‘up’ she encounters has a ‘down’ (though likewise every ‘down’ has an ‘up’). On arrival back in the UK she is turned off by her cousin Carol’s very fan-clubby friends, and goes off by herself to practice her skateboarding by herself. Carol’s friends see her skating and admire her trick (up), and in showing off on the slalom Jean nearly cannons into a woman who turns out to be her new form teacher  (down). The next morning she is left to sleep in while Carol heads off to school (down). Furious, she skates as quick as she can to where she thinks the school is, and gets there just about in time (up) but it turns out that there are two similarly-named schools in the same town and of course she has gone to the wrong one first (down).

On accusation by Jean, Carol swears blind she left a note by the bedside telling her how to get to the school and pleads an early-morning gym class that meant she had to leave while Jean was still sleeping. Jean is mostly unconvinced, and this sets a pattern for their next few encounters: an unexpected triumph here (Jean writes a passionate essay that the formerly-hostile teacher loves, Jean is asked to demonstrate skating for a TV commercial that she will get paid for), a dubious incident there (Carol wants to send Jean upstairs so she can talk to her parents without the outsider girl hearing). An apology or a clarification by Carol makes it seem that everything is open and above-board, but the incidents keep piling up…

Jean starts to teach the other girls how to skate well, from simple tricks to more radical ones (artist and writer had clearly done their research in this area!). A gang of boys jeer and tease, only to be shown up by Jean’s skills; as they leave, one of the boys bumps into an old lady and they all run away. This puts the nascent teaching group into danger as they are forbidden to skate in the street again; but the new shopping area nearby is also going to be home to a skatepark! And in the meantime, the school is going to start a skate-club, which would be a joy to Jean except that – it wasn’t suggested by her, but by Carol, who looks like she is ready to take over the skating that is Jean’s only way to shine. Carol has been practicing in secret and sweet-talked her favourite teacher onside; between them they are making it a very rules-bound club, with no dangerous tricks and no fun.

Jean is ready to walk out and starts to do so, but this time it is the Head of the school who comes to the rescue. She asks to try some of the very tricks that teacher Miss Bainbridge has just been telling them off for doing, and has a good go, like the game old bird she is!

The showdown comes at the new skate park. To inaugurate it there will be a contest: both Jean and Carol are of course going to take part. The gleam in Carol’s eye shows that she thinks she will win, but Jean is determined not to let that happen. Carol clearly is angling to see Jean’s freestyle routine, and Jean is too wary to let that happen, but soon afterwards Jean’s skateboard goes missing from her bag! This is where the reveal happens – Carol commiserates and says how mean it is of someone to have taken it, whereupon Jean says that there is a serial number engraved on the board so the thief will soon be found by the police. Carol stumbles and says ‘Oh there isn’t, because I che-‘. Oops! It was a trap laid by Jean, and Carol went right into it. At this confession time, Carol says smugly and cheerfully that yes, it was her: it’s her right and duty to be top girl and Jean wouldn’t like it anyway because it’s hard work being at the top! And anyway she never really liked Jean anyway.

Open war is declared between them, which suits Jean fine. The smug Carol even gives Jean her board back when she thinks Jean has no chance of winning, but this spurs her on even further and of course she pips her cousin to the final post. Carol’s reaction? To fake an asthma attack – and to subtly blame Jean for her ill-health! Poor Jean is an outcast at school; her and her just-returned parents are pushed away by Carol’s parents and made to fend for themselves. Not that they do badly in fact: Jean is part of the skate park skating team, her dad gets a job in the associated repair shop, and her mum gets a job in the café. All is well, except that Carol is still feigning illness and blaming Jean for it. Jean goes over to see if Carol really is ill after all, and their frank chat (no, of course she’s not ill, she’s going to milk it for a bit longer yet) is overheard by Carol’s mum and dad. Following this revelation, aunt and uncle apologise handsomely (if patronisingly) to Jean, and the world carries on with a smile on Jean’s face.

Further thoughts

I really like the light touch in the writing of the relationship between Jean and Carol. It takes a long time before we are sure whether Carol is smarmy or sincere, scheming or innocent, and Jean herself is not sure for a long time. It’s only now that I realise that we never hear Carol complimenting Jean on her skateboarding in the open way that her friends do; this is a nicely subtle way to show that Carol is not actually best pleased at this interloper cousin of hers! Carol and Jean are the flipside of each other – we never see Carol’s thoughts, only her words, while Jean is often outwardly silent but thinking loud rebellious thoughts that we see as readers. Jean’s words often belie her thoughts: the same is true of Carol, even if we don’t know it for sure for a long time.

I say ‘light touch’: the class distinction element of the story is more heavy-handed. Jean’s unspoken reaction to Carol’s humblebragging about Daddy’s new S registration car, her lovely bedroom, and her position as top girl of the class is pure Pat Mills: ‘You make me sick, Carol!’. I can just imagine him chortling as he wrote that line and others. I like the story for it – for instance, having Jean realise she needs to smile for the TV camera even though she is in pain, because otherwise she doesn’t get paid, is a strong moment.

I don’t know who the artist is, but I would love to know his or her name. This is the same artist who drew “Race For A Fortune” and “Dance Into Darkness“, though to my mind this surpasses either. There are exciting and imaginatively-drawn skateboarding tricks in pretty much every episode, apart from perhaps not the final one which is focused on the emotional reveal (though even then there is a shot of Jean skating). The artist really goes to town in terms of the page composition – see the last two pages featured above as an example, but most episodes include this sort of ‘wow’ factor.

It suits the fact that this is definitely treated as the lead story in Jinty at the time – it is featured on the cover more often than not, and is run as the first story in the issue almost every time. (One exception that bumps it off first place is the starting episode of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.) Exceptionally, there is also a story featuring the same characters in that year’s Summer Special: it is clearly a story specifically written for the special issue, of a sub-story that takes place during the feud. (I assume this too was written by Pat Mills, but would love to have confirmation.) [Edited to add: he thinks he didn’t write it.] I don’t recall this happening with other Jinty tales and take it as further supporting the special status of this story.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this fits squarely in the category of ‘sports story’, but done in that Jinty way: like “White Water” or “Spirit of the Lake” it deals with an unusual sport outside of the usual school teams such as netball, hockey, swimming. This is a very egalitarian, literally ‘street’ sport though, and about as far as you can get from the snobbish heights of horse-riding!

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28 thoughts on “Concrete Surfer (1978)

  1. This was certainly one of Pat Mills’ best pieces of writing. The setup between Carol and Jean is brilliantly crafted and it is so clever the way he keeps everyone guessing about Carol. Is she a creep or isn’t she? Carol could arguably be the best schemer ever in girls’ comics because she has even the readers flummoxed.

  2. One thing I don’t understand is how Carol was able to fool the doctor with her fake asthma attack.

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