Monthly Archives: February 2015

Female writers in a girls’ genre

This is my 100th post! To celebrate, a thinky piece of the sort I particularly enjoy having the space to do here on this blog. Comments and further information very welcome indeed, as ever, but especially useful for this sort of wider coverage article.

For a genre based around a female readership, you could be forgiven for thinking there were hardly any women involved in producing British girls comics. In 1998 I first started writing about Jinty, and looking back at that article (published in feminist ‘by women for people’ zine GirlFrenzy), the few names mentioned were of men: Jim Baikie, Casanovas, Pat Mills. These were the only creators I recognized from having seen them, their work, or their commentary in the fairly male world of British mainstream comics.

Some years later I met Pat Mills in person, and he subsequently attended the Oxford-based comics festival CAPTION2004, during which I interviewed him about his editorial and authorial role in Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. Some more creator names were added to the pot, but really only two female names stood out – those of Mavis Miller and of Pat Davidson, of which Pat Davidson was the only name of a writer. (I was by then aware of Trini Tinture’s work, too.) Additionally, I’d also managed to ask Phil Gascoine who wrote “Fran of the Floods”, but he could remember no names, just that it was a female writer.

As recently as early last year, therefore, there was so little information readily available that it was still possible for Adi Tantimedh’s post on Bleeding Cool to attribute the authorship of the vast majority of stories in girls comics to Pat Mills or to ‘the creators of Judge Dredd and 2000AD’. (He subsequently corrected the article text to read ‘his fair share of the series in Jinty were written by Pat Mills.’) This isn’t helped by the fact that when in that interview Pat M did give us Pat Davidson’s name, it was linked to a fairly sweeping assessment of women writers: “Generally, it was male writers in this field. I think Pat Davidson is the only woman I can think of who genuinely had a better touch in the way she did this, she wrote far more from the heart, the rest of us were 23-year-old guys killing ourselves laughing as we wrote this stuff, but she wrote from the heart, and it was quite genuine.”

We’re now in a position where we can bring together more information so that we can bring a more nuanced analysis to bear. Alison Christie is now known to have written not only a great swathe of Jinty stories, but also to have written many stories for other titles before, afterwards, and simultaneously (very literally!). We also have heard that Veronica Weir wrote at least one story for Jinty. (We also know that one of the writers was Len Wenn, then only a few years away from his retirement age and hence also quite far from the demographic highlighted by Mills.) Generally we now know what could have been guessed before, which is that creating comics was quite a good profession for women at the time: drawing or writing comics is something that a young mother can do from home! We also know that the same people worked for a range of comics; we could have guessed that from the artists, but a writer can be working on more than one script at the same time more easily than an artist can, so they are if anything more likely to be working for multiple titles.

To try to get a view on the historical context, we can note that there are a couple of titles that ran credits for at least some of their time. Girl was the first title to be dedicated to a readership of girls: it ran from 1951-64 and included creator credits (I don’t know whether the credits continued throughout the whole run though). Towards the other end of the main period of publication of girls’ comics, Tammy also ran creator credits for a little while from the middle of 1982. I haven’t got access to any very complete information about the stories and creators in Girl, but looking at the Wikipedia page for it I found a couple of names I’m unfamiliar with – Ruth Adam and Betty Roland, who wrote a number of stories between them. These included the nursing strip “Susan of St Bride’s” and the adventure strip “Angela Air Hostess” respectively, both of which were popular stories featuring resourceful, independent female characters. Looking at Catawiki’s entries on Girl would take more time to do properly than I currently have available, but I note that a sample issue from 1955 picked randomly includes these two female writers plus two others (Valerie Hastings and Mollie Black).

Of more immediate applicability to the subject of this blog, the women who wrote for Tammy may well have done so for Jinty too; luckily for me, there is more information available to me on who did what there, as co-writer Mistyfan has kindly sent me an index of Tammy stories. We can therefore look in some detail at the comics stories running in Tammy during the second half of 1982, where we find:

  • “Bella” written by both Malcolm Shaw and by Primrose Cumming
  • “The Button Box”: created by Alison Christie, specific individual episodes written by Ian Mennell or Linda Stephenson
  • “Nanny Young” written by Tom Newland and Maureen Spurgeon
  • “Rae Rules OK”written by Gerry Finley-Day
  • “Come Back Bindi” written by Jenny McDade
  • “Saving Grace” written by Ian Mennell
  • “A Gran for the Gregorys” written by Alison Christie
  • “Slave of the Clock” written by Jay Over
  • “Tomorrow Town” written by Benita Brown
  • “Cross on Court” written by Gerry Findley-Day
  • “Cuckoo In the Nest” written by Ian Mennell
  • “Romy’s Return” written by Charles Herring
  • Out of the 12 complete stories on the Tammy index I am referring to, two seem to be uncredited while three were written by Roy Preston, four by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Chris Harris, one by Ray Austin and one by Barry Clements

That’s fairly evenly spread; there are more male writers than female overall but not by that much. A count by number of pages printed might show a different picture, but then I also haven’t included the writers of text stories (in particular Anne Digby). We can also have a quick look at the Catawiki entry for an individual issue from the time (I chose issue 600) which lists stories by Benita Brown, Anne Digby, and Maureen Spurgeon – I assume that the Anne Digby is an illustrated text story rather than a comic. Another issue, 609, has more stories by female writers: two stories by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Alison Christie, and one by Primrose Cumming. In the absence of a concerted effort to count the number of pages written by women over a few representative issues (any volunteers?) I’d estimate that some 15% – 40% of the comic at a time might have been written by women: under half of the content for sure, but a substantial section.

Clearly we only have two very solid data points here – Girl in the 50s and 60s, and Tammy in the early 80s – but the fact they corroborate each other is strongly suggestive that yes, over the decades of comics published for a readership of girls, female writers have always been present, and in reasonable numbers rather than as the odd exceptional talent. They have written popular stories both in their own right and as jobbing writers taking on someone else’s initial creation. Can we say anything else about that, for instance about what sort of stories they wrote? Now that is rather more difficult, because we have to factor in individual preferences of writers. Alison Christie is clearly a writer of heart-tugging stories, so we can attribute a female writer to a number of stories in that style. That doesn’t mean that other female writers have the same preferences: Benita Brown is credited as the writer of a science fiction story, and Veronica Weir’s one known outing as writer was on a story with spooky overtones but mostly concerned with loneliness and survival. I don’t know the Tammy stories list above well enough to say what themes they represent, but in the list of Jinty stories we just don’t know enough about who wrote what to say anything much more concrete.

Likewise, can we say anything much to compare how well the stories worked with the gender of the author – could we say that the stories made by young men killing themselves laughing were better or more effective than those by women or indeed by older men such as Len Wenn? One difficulty is that in judging effectiveness or memorability, individual reader preferences will come strongly into play – my own list of top stories is skewed to the spooky, mystical, and science fictional and away from the heart-tuggers. Mostly though I think we just don’t know enough about who wrote what, in Jinty at least, to be able to say whether the the most popular, longest-running, most memorable, or otherwise most effective stories tended overall to be written by one group of writers versus another. We have examples written by women (“Stefa’s Heart of Stone”) and by young men (“Land of No Tears”, “The Robot Who Cried”), but the vast majority still lie in the camp of ‘unknown writer’.

Writing this post has sparked off other thoughts that felt a bit tangential to the main point of this piece; I will follow up with more on ‘What makes a story work’ (and indeed how can we tell that it does work).

Edited in Aug 2015 to add: subsequent discussion on the Comics UK Forum leads me to add another known female writer to the list of names acquired to date: Jenny Butterworth, writer of the long-running series “The Happy Days” in Princess Tina (amongst other stories).

Edited in December 2015 to add: we now know that “Fran of the Floods” was not written by a female writer; it can be attributed to Alan Davidson per his wife’s recent comments. At the time of writing, Davidson was a family man who also did not fall in the category of “23 year old guy killing himself laughing” at what he was writing.

Edited in January 2016 to add: Anne Digby has sent in an interview with information about writing comic stories for titles such as Tammy. It is noteworthy that she did not only produce text stories for this title, but also comics adaptations of her previously-published novels.

Edited in March 2016 to add: Phoenix on the Comics UK forum scanned and uploaded a snippet from the Guardian of a letter from one Mary Hooper, writer for Jackie in particular, but perhaps also for other titles?

Edited in January 2017 to add: clarification that Alison Christie (Fitt) created “The Button Box” and was the main writer on the story, though some individual stories were farmed out by editor Wilf Prigmore to Ian Mennell and to Linda Stephenson.

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Willa on Wheels (1976)

Sample Images

Willa 1

(click thru)

Willa 2

(click thru)

Willa 3

Publication: 12 June 1976 – 28 August 1976

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Willa Keen is a student nurse at Larkhill Cottage Hospital who is determined to become a fully-qualified nurse. But when a timber lorry crashes and she goes to the aid of a trapped passenger, the timber falls on top of her and damages her spine. Now she is confined to a wheelchair, and her dream to qualify as a nurse depends on whether she will walk again.

When Willa saves and revives a drowning girl during physiotherapy, it fires her with a whole new determination to walk again and become a nurse. The trouble is, the same determination leads to her making single-minded and stupid decisions to prove herself, and that wheelchair not only limits her access to the wards but leads to some accidents as well. The crunch comes when a patient with angina has an attack. Instead of calling the night nurse, Willa resolves to tackle it herself in order to prove she is still a nurse. And then she finds she can’t access the patient because of her wheelchair and her legs are useless. She falls and knocks herself out, and this puts the patient in even more danger and valuable time is lost. The patient is saved in the end, but Willa is in big trouble for not taking the proper course of action in calling the nurse. However, the board goes too far; they tell Willa she is just not capable of helping right now because of her condition and she must face the fact that she is not a nurse anymore. This shatters Willa and sends her into deep depression.

Then Mr Leggett, the truck driver from the accident and his son Teddy step in and offer to take Willa on a holiday away from it all. Willa goes, but is in a state of deep depression and shows it by flinging her nurse’s uniform out the window. She is just as bitter and bad-tempered at the Leggett household and tries everyone’s patience. When asked to cook dinner, she grumpily refuses. So Teddy tries to cook dinner himself, and the result is fire in the kitchen. Another accident because of Willa’s attitude, and she herself realises it. But when she has put out the fire, she finds herself standing on her own two feet! It looks like she has made the breakthrough, and it is the end of her bitter attitude. She now has fresh hope and is more cheerful.

Things are looking up. Willa is given a puppy, Benje, and asked to help out at the play-school. There she exhibits her nursing skills with first aid. But she is still wheelchair-bound and her legs give way under her. Then Willa gets a letter inviting her back to the hospital and there is a job waiting. Willa goes, eagerly anticipating a return to nursing.

But she gets a nasty shock when she finds it is a clerking job! She gets all depressed and the staff realise they have made a mistake. Willa gets off to a bad start in her new job because her heart is not in it, but she soon picks up when the manager tells her it is not all just bits and pieces of paper – patients’ problems are in there too. She also meets Jim Cooper, a man disabled like herself but is being trained as a masseur. Despite his blindness, Jim soon finds he can play football with his other senses. This inspires Willa to sit the nurses’ exam, although she is not supposed to. This comes to a head when Willa is asked to come up and help with the blackboard. It means Willa has to walk up there – but can she?

Her friend Gay manages to cover for her by taking her place. Willa comes top in the exam, but Matron says she still has to be able to walk if she is to be a nurse, and she is not likely too. This has Willa working far too hard in physiotherapy and collapsing. Eventually she manages to walk a bit, but then she overhears a surgeon badly needing a nurse for an emergency operation and none is available. Ever determined to prove herself a nurse, she steps in, determined to stay on her feet no matter what. She manages it and the patient pulls through, but then she collapses.

This time it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Staying on her feet throughout the operation has damaged her spine again – to the point where it is beyond repair and there is no hope of ever walking again. Willa is utterly depressed, and none of the people who helped her before seem to get through. Her depression results in yet another near-accident, this time to Jim, and she steps in to save him. It snaps her out of her depression. Then she meets a new patient, Pamela Sutton who is wheelchair-bound like herself and seeing a specialist. The specialist’s verdict is that Pamela is now capable of walking and just needs motivation. Willa starts using what she learned in her own physiotherapy to help Pamela, figuring it will be the next best thing to walking again herself. This sets Willa on a whole new career as a physiotherapist.

Thoughts

For some reason, nursing stories was one theme that Jinty was very short on. Throughout her entire run she ran only two nursing serials – this one and Angela’s Angels. When readers in the 1980 Pam’s Poll asked for a nursing story, Jinty’s response was to repeat Angela’s Angels rather than publish a new nursing story.

Stories where heroines are determined to make their own miracles with comebacks after an accident are well established in girls’ comics. But this story seems to be making a statement about what can happen when determination is not combined with common sense and crosses the line to pig-headedness and stupidity. Willa is so fixated on proving herself a nurse and gets so depressed when she can’t that she puts herself and others in danger several times. She realises her mistakes afterwards, but continues to make them because she is so hell-bent on proving herself a nurse. She doesn’t understand that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is very weak after the accident, and she should concentrate on recuperation before looking at nursing again. And in the end, it is that same reckless determination that destroys her chances of recover altogether, when she takes on the job in the operating theatre when her body was just not ready for it.

It is not all Willa’s fault; some of it the way the medical staff handle her psychologically; at the board hearing they go too far and crush Willa’s confidence completely, just as she is feeling very bad over the angina patient (but will continue to make the same mistake). There is no counselling or psychological treatment for her depression and the mental impact the accident has had on her.

The ending is a surprise; instead of the clichéd one where the heroine beats all odds and makes her comeback, Willa becomes permanently crippled but discovers a whole new vocation in the field of medicine. The skills she had learned in her own road to recovery are now being applied to others. But Willa is applying them in a more sensible manner than when she did with herself and, through the patients she helps, makes her own comeback. So Willa can be said to be a “comeback” story that is a very refreshing and even surprising take on the formula of “comeback” serials. It breaks all the clichés and gives us a heroine who is very human.

Jinty & Penny 8 November 1980

JInty Cover 2

  • Pam of Pond Hill (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and writer Veronica Weir)
  • Life’s a Ball for Nadine – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Behind the Screen: Battlestar Galactica (feature)
  • The Face of Greed – Gypsy Rose story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Sue’s Daily Dozen (artist José Casanovas)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend)

Another sports cover by Mario Capaldi. The use of colour really brings it out in the way the yellow contrasts with the blue and purple backgrounds. It is one issue that does not feature Phil Gascoine’s artwork; his last story, “Tears of a Clown“, finished in the previous issue.

Replacing “Tears of a Clown” is  “Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, a story that is very unusual for featuring a black girl as its heroine. The Greystreet School netball team needs another good player, and they find that new girl Nadine Nash has a natural talent for netball. The trouble is, Nadine is more interested in disco. Sally and Sue are determined to bring Nadine over to the team. Can they succeed, or will it be a story of disco vs netball?

Disco dancing is also big in “Sue’s Daily Dozen”; the magic of the Daily Dozen has a couple dancing like frogs in a disco contest and they win hands down!

“Child of the Rain” approaches its climax. Ever since Jemma West hurt her leg in the Amazon, she has been filled with a strange energy whenever it rains. This has caused a lot of problems and now there is another – Jemma’s leg is suddenly hurting where the old wound used to be. Jemma won’t tell anyone in case she is pulled out of the tennis championship. But it looks serious, so how long can she hide it?

The Gypsy Rose story, “The Face of Greed”, is a reprint of one of the more frightening Strange Stories. Tina Daly, a greedy, unpleasant girl, suddenly finds herself encountering a hideous, terrifying face in the attic. She is convinced it is an evil spirit come to punish her for stealing and hiding Mum’s jewellery. However, the title and opening blurb suggest it is a reflection of Tina’s own personality!

In “Tansy of Jubilee Street“, Tansy is out metal-detecting, which provides a golden opportunity for a practical joke from Simon and Peter. It takes the form of a fake World War II mine set to detonation, but they did not think through the consequences – their prank has a bomb alert going out! And in “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”, Sir Roger tries painting while Gaye has a panic when she thinks she has turned into a ghost.

Girl the World Forgot” has another missed opportunity at rescue; a plane swoops over her but the pilot can’t see her because it’s bad weather. And to make it worse (though Shona doesn’t know it) her own father was on board as well. The incident inspires Shona to set up a beacon, but will it be her ticket to rescue?

“Pam of Pond Hill” is into her classic story of her school trip to France. It looks like it is taking unexpected twists, what with a mysterious boy stealing Fred’s shirt and their food. One suspects he is a runaway, and whatever the circumstances are, they are sure to cause problems for Pam & Co.

 

 

Jinty & Penny 3 May 1980

Jinty cover 10

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Tearaway Trisha (artist Andrew Wilson)
  • Face Up to Spring! (feature)
  • Snoopa (artist Joe Collins)
  • Seulah the Seal (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Colour Game Part 2 (feature)
  • The Venetian Looking Glass (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Minnow – first episode (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • Sue Cogswell (feature)
  • Blind Faith (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Alley Cat

I have just acquired this issue, a welcome addition that fills a gap in my collection. So it seems appropriate to do an entry on it as well.

This issue begins “Minnow”, another serial about a difficult mother who is dead set against her daughter pursuing an activity and refuses to say why, so the daughter ends up pursuing it in secret, as usual. And while doing so, all sorts of clues as to the reasons for the mother’s attitude surface for our heroine and the readers to piece together. In this case it’s swimming, which Minna desperately wants to try at school, but her mother won’t let her because she says it’s wrong for her. Now why would that be? Our first clue seems to come at the end of the episode; Minna goes into a strange panic when the wave-making machine is turned on.

As the cover suggests, Tansy takes a big fall. It’s all because a trip to a safari park has gone wrong; Tansy takes a terrified refuge in a tree, but the bough breaks on her! And Sir Roger the gloomy ghost gets hiccups and he needs a big scare to cure them.

“The Venetian Looking Glass” returns to the theme of a malevolent spirit haunting a mirror and forcing a girl to do terrible acts, a theme that Jinty first used in “Slave of the Mirror”. In this episode the evil spirit, Lucy Craven, gives flashbacks as to why she is out for revenge on her Craven descendants. And we can see that Lucy pretty much brought the trouble on herself with her very bad-tempered disposition that nearly caused her cousin Rosalind to have a bad accident. This turned her fiancé Roger off her – can we blame him? Well, Lucy does, and this set her on the path of vengeance that she is taking out on hapless innocents centuries later. Her slave keeps telling her over and over that it was a long time ago and nothing to do with the present Craven family, but it just doesn’t get through.

“Blind Faith” is a story about a blind horse being taught to show-jump. There has been comment that it is a ludicrous concept although there was such a horse in real life. The horse Cromwell has been blinded and Dad blames Clare. He doesn’t heed Mum’s protests that he is being too harsh. By the time he repents his words, they have Clare blaming herself and running away from home with Cromwell when Dad tries to have him put down.

“Tearaway Trisha” is another girl who blames herself for an accident and trying to make amends with sponsored bike stunts, but always seems to get in trouble. This time it’s no fault of her own – it’s some nasty boys who play tricks on her and as a result she ends up in big trouble with the newspaper editor who is sponsoring her.

You have heard of guard dogs, but Seulah becomes a guard seal in this episode. His bellowing scares off some yobs who are out to smash up a boat. Unfortunately for them they pick the boat Seulah is taking refuge in.

And in “Pam of Pond Hill” the story of how Pam got together with Goofy is underway. Gossip has it that they are boyfriend and girlfriend, just because Pam is trying to help Goofy. Pam is not pleased, but there are hints that things could change as she begins to know Goofy better.

Jinty Annual 1976

Jinty Annual 1976

In this annual:

  • Cove of Secrets (same unknown artist as “Concrete Surfer”)
  • Make a Shoulder Bag (crafts)
  • My Giddy Aunt! (text story)
  • The Changing Picture (possibly a reprint of a Strange Story?)
  • The Little Helper (poem)
  • The Courage of a Coward (Carlos Freixas)
  • The Haunted Horse (text story)
  • Just Joking!
  • Who’ll Buy? Who’ll Buy? (article)
  • Dora Dogsbody (Jim Baikie)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot
  • Jinty Made It Herself… so can you! (crafts)
  • Holidays At Home (feature)
  • Minna From Mars
  • Her Ugly Duckling (José Casanovas)
  • The China Shepherdess (text story credited to Linda O’Byrne)
  • Fallow’s End
  • The Time of Your Life? (feature)
  • Minna From Mars
  • Dot’s Do-It-Yourself Dafties
  • Desert Island Daisy (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Good News For The Birthday Girl! (horoscope)
  • Captured By Pirates! (text, non-fiction)
  • Oddities of Nature (article)
  • Gypsy Festival (photos, non-fiction)
  • The Great Picture Puzzle! (text story, illustrated by Terry Aspin)
  • Desert Island Daisy (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Fun With Fruit! (recipes, sponsored by McDougalls’s Pastry)
  • Bike Hike Through Britain (board game)
  • Care Of Your Cat (article)
  • Katie Makes a Splash (artist Audrey Fawley)
  • Lesson From The Past (text story)
  • The Little Demon! (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot
  • What’s It All About? (personality quiz)
  • Minna From Mars
  • Eggs-travaganza! (article)
  • The Black Pearl (possibly a reprint of a Strange Story?)
  • By Bike To India (text, non-fiction)
  • Whiz-Kid or Stick In The Mud? (personality quiz)

This is a good solid read even now! There are lots of articles and non-fiction items that are still interesting today (for instance Gypsy Festival, about a Romany gathering in Provence), solid text stories, and spooky comics (two short ones that look like they could be Strange Stories reprints, with the Storyteller panels replaced with descriptive text instead, and one longer one with malevolent ghosts and an annoying girl – “Fallow’s End”, very nicely drawn). If you like the short humour strips, the selection is quite good: three “Minna From Mars” reprints, two “Desert Island Daisy” stories that I expect are specific to this annual, and some two page Do-It-Yourself-Dot strips (in the weekly comic she normally only got one page).

Fallow's End
(Fallow’s End – click thru)

In the “Angela’s Angels” post, Mistyfan mentions the story included in this annual: “The Little Demon!”. The story only features two of the group, Sharon and Jo, who travel (with the little tearaway who is nicknamed a little demon, and his mum) to a remote Scottish island. We now know that Phil Townsend worked with original “Angela’s Angels” artist, Leo Davy, on another nursing strip, so it makes sense that he might have taken up the reins in this case too. I’m interested to see some other outings of artists who are not normally associated with the long-running characters they draw here: Jim Baikie making a good fist of doing “Dora Dogsbody” – Ma Siddons looks as mean as ever, though Dora ends up looking more sweet than cheeky – and Audrey Fawley drawing Katie Jinks.

Dora Dogsbody as drawn by Jim Baikie
(click thru)

“Her Ugly Duckling” is a different artistic twist – it is a Casanovas strip, but one which I think might be reprinted from an earlier time (the characters are wearing very 60s styles). He has gone for a dreamy, romantic art style and the story is likewise one with a hint at the end that a boyfriend may be in the offing, though the main theme is about rivalries and a ladette-to-lady story.

Her Ugly Duckling, José Casanovas art
(click thru)

A personality quiz was a popular item in all sorts of the publications a young girl might read – here you can see if you are a Whiz Kid or a Stick In The Mud, or find out your secret self. These are light-hearted silly items with some undertone of a moral imperative – if your secret self is a mixed-up jumble of all the other types, you are not praised for your moderation but exhorted to choose one type and suppress the less pleasant sides of your personality deliberately.

Lindy # 2, 28 June 1975

Lindy cover

  • Pavement Patsy (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • The Tin-Mine Ponies (artist Manuel Cuyàs)
  • Nina Nimble Fingers (artist Roy Newby)
  • Jane’s Jeannie
  • David Essex pinup (missing from my copy)
  • Sophie’s Secret Squeezy (artist José Casanovas)
  • The Last Green Valley
  • Penny Crayon
  • The House of Fear (artist Tom Hurst)
  • Hard Days for Hilda (artist Dudley Wynne; writer Terence Magee)
  • Pop Spot (feature)

Lindy was the first comic to merge with Jinty. But how did she start off originally? What was in her first lineup? I do not have the first issue, but I do have the second, which came with a bottle of perfume as its free gift. Lindy’s favourite perfume, apparently. I wonder what scent that was?

I suspect my copy is lacking a couple of pages (at the “Jane’s Jeannie” section), most likely because someone took out the David Essex pinup, so it is possible that the lineup I have listed here is not quite complete. If someone could clarify this with a complete copy, please leave a comment below.

New IPC titles of the 70’s started off with a Cinderella story and a  slave story in their first lineups, and Lindy is no exception. The Cinderella story is “Pavement Patsy”, where Patsy Logan puts up with her horrible aunt and uncle so she can stay together with her little sister Jenny. She is their drudge and obliged to go on on her uncle’s coal round. The aunt and uncle are as mean as Scrooge too; in this episode Patsy asks her aunt for money to buy a new pair of shoes for Jenny, but all the aunt will cough up for it is five pence for something at a jumble sale, which results in shoes that don’t fit properly. There is usually some hobby or passion that provides solace; in Patsy’s case it is pavement art, and words of praise from a tramp encourage her to believe that her art is going to be more than just a hobby. But you can be sure the horrible guardians are going to get in the way.

The slave story is “Nina Nimble Fingers” (reprinted in Jinty Holiday Special 1981). The slaving is set in a Victorian dress shop, where Nina Sinclair and her sickly younger sister Clare have ended up as apprentices after their mother’s death. We are into part two, and Madam Estelle, the owner of the shop, has now established to the Sinclair sisters just what a hard, cruel woman she is to work for. She even takes off money that Nina has earned for herself and badly needs in order to get medical treatment for her sister. But it also establishes the to-be-expected determination of the heroine not to give in to such cruelty and ultimately rise above it. Supernatural stories are part of the parcel as well, of course.  In this case they are “Sophie’s Secret Squeezy” and “Jane’s Jeannie”. Jeannie is the more lightweight one, played for humour. Jane makes friends with a genie called Jeannie. But instead of a bottle, Jeannie pops out of a tennis racquet! That sure makes a change. Sophie has been down on her luck until she acquires a squeezy bottle and now feels different about herself. Every time she makes bubbles, she sees visions in them that help her immensely. In this episode she is framed for stealing, but the squeezy bottle shows her who and why; it was a girl who was embittered because her mother will not allow her to join the hockey team. How will the squeezy help her to sort out the problem, and in a way that helps the girl? Presumably the story lasted until the squeezy bottle ran out.

A scary story is always popular, and so Lindy has “The House of Fear”. Harriet has gone to stay at her aunt’s and the only residents are the servants who are trying to scare her off with claims of hauntings. As if they need to fake ghosts – the butler looks like Frankenstein’s monster or Lurch from the Addams Family. And by the end of the episode, Harriet suspects they are holding her aunt prisoner in the cellar. But I wonder if Lindy is tipping her hand way too soon with this one – it’s only the second episode and already Harriet is convinced the servants are trying to scare her off. Shouldn’t the story be allowed to develop more before she begins to suspect them of that?

“Hard Days for Hilda” is a maidservant story, but set in the 1930s rather than the more usual Victorian times. Hilda Hobbs takes the lowest maidservant job at The Grand Hotel (makes a change from aristocratic residences like Molly Mills’ Stanton Hall) though she doesn’t let it get her down and remains chirpy. But in the second episode she finds her days getting harder when she finds the other maidservants are spiteful and play tricks to get her into trouble, and there is the typical bullying from senior staff. But there is always one servant who is friendly and Hilda finds him in this episode as well – Willie the Buttons Boy. I have found on UK Comics Wiki that it was written by Terence Magee, a stalwart at writing stories about tortured heroines at all sorts of cruel institutions ranging from schools to reformatories, including Jinty’s own “Merry at Misery House“.

In “The Last Green Valley”, Lindy seemed to anticipate Jinty in featuring environmental stories. The environmental issue in this case is Britain being plunged into an ice age, and our band of survivors are making their way to “the green valley”, an oasis that is supposed to have escaped the ice age.

Finally, there are “The Tin-Mine Ponies”, where the snobby Mrs Gore-Bradley threatens the rehoming of ponies at a pony trek centre because she wants to keep the countryside to herself. She is outsmarted in this episode but is still determined to get rid of “those ghastly ponies”, and it won’t be for lack of trying. Hilda and Patsy were the longest-running stories from the first Lindy lineup; Patsy finished in #18 and Hilda in #19. This indicates they were popular while they lasted, perhaps among the most popular.

In summary, it can be said that Lindy got off to a promising start, with Norman Worker at the editor’s helm. Lindy’s stories were filled with the ingredients (hardship, cruelty, humour, supernatural, friendship) that made the early Tammy and Jinty popular. There were even some surprising takes on established formulas, such as the genie who popped out of a tennis racquet. However, her lineup lacked humorous regular characters (a la Tansy of Jubilee Street or The Jinx from St Jonah’s); the only character in that area was the Penny Crayon cartoon, which made her the only Lindy character to carry on in the merger. She also lacked regular characters in general, a deficiency that is always means a girls’ comic fades fast once it goes into a merger, because it is the regulars and cartoon strips that carry on in a merger. So although Lindy’s first lineup showed potential, it exhibited deficiencies that would be telling once she merged with Jinty. Had she lasted longer, the deficiencies could have been addressed, more regular characters introduced, more serials that could still be well-remembered, and Lindy herself remembered more. Instead, she was short-lived (only 20 issues), even by the standards of short-lived girls’ comics, and is largely forgotten.

Jinty 3 December 1977

Jinty 3 December 1977

Stories in this issue:

  • Come Into My Parlour (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Two Mothers for Maggie (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Guardian of White Horse Hill (artist Julian Vivas)
  • Stage Fright! (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Gypsy Rose: A Picture of the Past (artist and writer Keith Robson)
  • Alley Cat
  • Land of No Tears (artist Guy Peeters, writer Pat Mills)
  • Race for a Fortune

I got this issue out to scan the Gypsy Rose story for the Keith Robson interview, as it is the first script he wrote as well as being drawn by him. It’s a cool time-travel story with a twist, and one that I found memorable; it came to mind many years later when I visited Lacock Abbey where the inventor of photography, Fox Talbot, lived.

“Come Into My Parlour” is spooky: I find Douglas Perry’s artwork very atmospheric for this sort of thing. Evil old Mother Heggerty is proper creepy! She forces Jodie Marsh to be her slave, her literal cat’s-paw, to get revenge on a family called Saxton – and when Jodie tries to rebel, she is reminded of how under the spell she is as she can’t even take off the cat’s-paw necklace that binds her to the old witch…

“Two Mothers for Maggie” contrasts Maggie Jones’ glamorous role in a tv soap opera with her humdrum life in a house full of poverty and hard work: she tries to do her homework and instead has to help the kids with breakfast while her slobby stepfather gobbles down his full English. The whole story is Maggie being tugged between her family – especially her mother, who she dearly loves – and her exciting life in tv and the luxury of her telly mother’s home.

“Guardian of White Horse Hill” has runaway Janey finding out that her mysterious white horse is actually Epona, the Celtic horse goddess! No wonder when she gets on the horse’s back she is invisible – an easy task for a goddess presumably. Powerful beings like that have a habit of wanting something in return, and Janey starts to find out more as she is dragged back into Celtic times…

“Stage Fright!” is a thriller mystery based around a girl with amnesia and another girl who is being made to win an acting trophy, otherwise her father will lose his job. (Of course this sort of blackmail is hardly unusual in girls’ comics, as you have gathered by now!) Protagonist Linda has taken her new friend Melanie to be hypotised, hoping it will bring back her memory and even the voice that she lost in the same accident that made her amnesiac. It works, but reveals a greater threat at the house they both live in: Melanie’s aunt is a scheming murderess who caused the death of Melanie’s father and mother in a boating accident – yes, it’s rather melodramatic as a plot item but the scene is drawn beautifully by Phil Townsend. Can the two girls secretly work against the aunt?

Land of No Tears” is still at an early stage at this point, but Cassie already has a plan to get back at the bitchy Alpha girls in the dystopian world she has landed in: she will lead her pack of Gamma girls to win the Golden Girl trophy! It would be a hopeless task except that one of them turns out to be superb at gymnastics. Hmm, now what secret is Miranda hiding?

“Race for a Fortune” is a light-weight amusing comedy story with a scruffs-vs-snobs theme: Katie is up against her two posh cousins in a race to get to the Scottish ancestral land of their late grandfather, starting off with nothing in their pockets. Katie is clearly far more resourceful than the two poshos; it doesn’t always work out for her but this week she manages to get her cousins stuck in a medical research facility, being well-paid to help science by trying to catch a cold! And of course in the meantime Katie gets a few days’ head start, grinning as she goes… This is drawn by the same unknown artist who drew one of my favourite stories, “Concrete Surfer“.

Further thoughts on script conferences

You may have seen that Terry Magee made a series of illuminating and interesting comments on the Len Wenn post: these described the processes and principles behind script conferences in more detail. To make them more visible and easier to find in the future, I repeat them here. Many thanks, therefore, to Terry for sending in these details!

Len had worked on Fleetway boys’ comics in the 1950’s – either The Sun or The Comet, knew artists like Geoff Campion and colleagues like the famous/infamous Sid Bicknell (Uncle Sid to some). Len was a very fair chap and encouraged me to write. He was a soldier in the North African desert in the Second World War, telling me some of his experiences such as having to dig trenches in the sand – with the danger of being buried alive, which he actually saw happen. He told me other things about the Fleetway crowd that I can’t repeat.

I lost track with Len after I went freelance, but I’m real glad he survived on Buster
and continued writing for Mavis on Jinty. They were a good team. As for their script conferences, they happened around every six weeks or so with just two writers on separate occasions – Frank Redpath (Lucky’s Livin Doll) and Jack Johnson (very talented writer and great bloke). I only ever was at one script conference, but didn’t contribute much as Mavis and Len were too good to keep up with!

Fleetway was a friendly company, the opposite to the dreadful DC Thomson. I never worked there, but heard tales from those who did, like John Wagner. DC Thomson was owned and run by two old brothers who were right control freaks – no staff allowed to use the phones unless with permission. The two brothers didn’t talk to each other for years, communicating notes slipped under doors and so on. They lived in a mansion outside Dundee, one in the east wing and the other in the west wing. A weird story itself! Shiver me timbers!, as Captain Hurricane would say!

(then a question from me)

Thanks for this, Terry! Can you tell any more details about the script conferences themselves – if writers weren’t normally present, then what was the aim of them – did Mavis and Len use them to write their own stories, or to decide general ideas that they would send on to freelance writers, or what?

My pleasure, shipmate (still talking as Captain Hurricane whose letter I used to write in Battle comic for some years)! I was only the one time in a script conference and that was In Mavis Miller’s office along with Len Wenn and the author Jack Johnson (might have been John Johnson). They discussed ideas and plots for Jack’s stories for June & School Friend. I think he wrote three of them every week. They were plans for something like next 6 weeks’ episodes. It was the same for Frank Redpath and Lucky’s Living Doll (the most popular number one in June & School Friend).

I used to hear them talking quite loudly and excitedly with lots of laughs through the wall of the office next-door. I was sub-editor sharing the office with Art Editor Colin Parker (we could see the Scales of Justice statue of the Old Bailey from our window). In the next office along was other sub-editor Jackie Davis, who was engaged to Colin (they eventually married) and art assistant Roger Prickett. Colin went on to become Art Editor on the Daily Express. His elder brother, Jack Parker, was Editor of Look & Learn. Very talented people.
Fleetway (basically still the former Amalgamated Press), was packed with gifted journalists, authors, artists, both staff and freelance. It was positive-thinking and forward-looking, which is why John Purdy was able to bring in new people like Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills with new ideas. Although it was done surreptitiously and that didn’t go down well at Fleetway. I was there and I saw it happen!

Other authors for June & School Friend were freelance and hardly ever came in to the editorial offices and sometimes never, as was the same for artists. Although Scott Goodall, freelance author, was often there, thumping away on a Bluebird typewriter at any spare desk going. They were referred to as authors in the Fleetway days, not writers, and the word ‘comic’ wasn’t used. They were girls’ papers or juvenile publications, sounding more adult and serious… Knockout and Buster were comics, due to their humorous strips.  Freelances were also paid in guineas, not plain pounds. We were paid salaries, not wages, with accounts in Coutts Bank of the Strand, the Queen’s bank and very posh… Fleetway could be snooty copared to D C Thomson, who seemed more down-to-earth although weird as I eventually discovered. Fleetway/IPC artists were better, more arty and often really fantastic.

Features on June & School Friend were written by Robin May, who also wrote a lot
for Look & Learn. There were no restrictions on freelancing for publications. I wrote Tarzan and The Saint for TV Tornado while subbing on June & School Friend. Fleetway and IPC were always trendy, being in the centre of London where it was all happening (or supposed to be happening!). There were lots of women’s magazines in the building like Woman, Woman’s Own, Options, Woman’s Weekly and others I can’t remember, plus cool mags like Rave and Fab 208, so we’d often see famous pop stars like Marianne Faithful, The Beatles, Adam Faith and so on. It was glamorous!

Mavis Miller didn’t write any stories or features, she concentrated on the editing. Len Wenn didn’t write anything for June & School Friend. Maybe he did for his new paper Sally. Just remembered: staff member Cecil Graveney used to write Bessie Bunter and Sindy (toy doll). Cecil was old Amalgamated Press, in his late 50s or early 60s then. Mavis in her 30s and Len in his 40s (I think – I’m terrible at telling ages). One artist who occasionally drew illustrations for features was in his 80s. A jolly chap with a big smile who reminded me of Father Christmas. I regret not remembering his name. When you think about it, he must have been drawing for Amalgamated Press in the 1920s and have known people who were at the very start of ‘comics’ in the 1890s. His artistic style was still very 1920s. A real link with the past and great to meet him.

Of course, there were dark sides to Fleetway/IPC. Not sure if I want to go into that!

Thanks again to Terry for sending in these memories and explanations.

Jinty & Lindy 31 July 1976

Jinty cover

The cover brings us promise that snobby Shirl will earn our respect for the first time since her story started. Shirley shoves her shoeshine brush into the face of a snobby classmate for insulting Alice. Such an unladylike but ballsy move raises our hopes that snobby Shirl is becoming more human. But when we learn that Shirley still looks on Alice as a servant, our hopes are dashed. This is one girl who should have lived in Victorian times. It’s the final episode of “For Peter’s Sake!” Peg the pram does not seem to have fulfilled her promise to cure Peter although she has cured every other baby rocked in her. But there is a last minute surprise to ensure a happy ending. Another Alison Christie story, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“, starts next week. Jinty must have liked to keep her writers as busy as her artists. Bridey finds a man with influence who believes her father is innocent. But fate, in the form of a mob and a gang of thieves, is soon to cut off that avenue of help. David, self appointed king (and loony) of Glasgow, is the latest problem in “Fran of the Floods”. He’s taken Fran and Jill prisoner. All the same, Fran finds herself liking him for some reason. Will this help to sort things out with him? In “Horse from the Sea”, Tracey gets injured when the staircase collapses. But she could have sworn it was sound earlier. And what about those shots somebody fired at her on the moor? Sue is causing more trouble for herself in “Sisters at War!”. And now it looks like she’s going to be blamed for something she hasn’t even done and get into trouble with the police on top of everything else. Mitzi is striking more difficulties in keeping her “Champion in Hiding” fed because of her horrible aunt. Could a paper round be the answer? Willa gets off her wheels to help a surgeon who needs a theatre nurse. Next week we will see if she does prove herself this way.

Len Wenn

Len Wenn (1918 – 2003) wrote various stories for Jinty, as confirmed by Keith Robson in this comment. At present the list of his confirmed story titles is very minimal; if further information comes in we’d love to add to it in the future.

Len Wenn, from around 1973
Len Wenn, from around 1973

(with thanks to Keith Robson for the photo)

Len was the editor who launched the IPC girls’ comic Sally, which ran from 1969 to 1971; he subsequently edited the IPC boy’s humour comic Buster from 1971 to 1981. There are some references to Len, and to Keith Robson, in Dez Skinn’s article about his IPC Fleetway days here. Terry Magee also refers to Len Wenn and Mavis Miller holding script conferences in IPC during his time there (see subsequent additions to the Terry Magee interview): “Len and Mavis collaborated on scripts for June & School Friend and Sally. … Horace Boyten also used to join their script conferences before he retired in 1966.  Horace was a very nice chap, quiet and modest, the writer behind “The Silent Three”.  Len and Horace were very Amalgamated Press…easy-going kind of fellows.  Probably too gentle for the challenging changes ahead.”

In fact the two stories we have confirmation that he wrote are not only solid, memorable Jinty stories, they have a lot of bite to them. “Go On, Hate Me!” is a powerful grudge/revenge story that wraps up well; the shorter, to-the-point “The Birds” has strong horror elements that make it genuinely scary at points. If he was too gentle for the changes in the working environment as Terry suggests, he certainly could write to the spec of the newer breed of comic that was represented by Jinty, Tammy, Misty, and the like.

The idea of multiple collaborators within the editorial office working on script conferences is intriguing. Alison Christie has confirmed in her interview that she had very little editorial direction, which I assume would be because she had already proved herself as a trusted steady hand, capable of delivering solid stories to schedule. Were the in-house script conferences to determine the suggestions that might be made to other less trusted writers, or to propose girls-story takes on big hits from books and tv, or just to write their own content? There were so many pages to fill alongside the comics stories, from ‘hints & tips’ features or non-fiction articles, plus text stories, that this must have kept the editorial team pretty busy in any case. The collaborative aspect of story writing in those conferences was a gift that must have been limited to only specific cases, given that most freelance creators never met each other.

It seems that Len worked for IPC primarily rather than moving from DC Thomsons as so many others did. Alison Christie recalled in an email relating to life in the IPC offices:
“I was always wondering when any of [the titles] would be merged or axed. I appreciated working for IPC, they paid so much more than DC Thomson’s did. I had to join the NUJ, though – which Thomsons, being non-union, abhorred. I could do that, of course, as I was freelance. But some employees of DCs were in the NUJ, and held clandestine meetings in Dundee, which I attended. I didn’t realise until I’d read Keith’s interview that while working in IPC, he was able to freelance for other papers, including DCT’s. No way could I have done that while working in DCTs, or Keith either. There was the sword of Damocles hanging over you if you were found out and possible sacking would ensue.” So IPC paid better and was unionised, but then of course it also suffered from strike action, and from the pernicious policy of hatch-match-dispatch, at which point the creators, and presumably the editorial staff, could suddenly find themselves in the suds. Ending up as editor of long-running title Buster, Len will have been reasonably safe from these dangers, though one assumes the feelings in the office could run pretty high at those times.
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