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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30 thoughts on “Female writers in a girls’ genre

  1. Congratulations on reaching your 100th post!

    Jenny McDade cut her comic story writing teeth on “Star Struck Sister”, a 1972 Tammy story. Someone else wrote the first episode but then “choked” (got stuck), so she was asked to take over. She had never written a comic strip before but the results were so impressive that she was commissioned to write the rest of the strip. McDade is known to have written the first Bella story, and her last Tammy story (and the only one credited) was “Come Back, Bindi”.

    Anne Digby was one of the top writers in girls’ comics. She wrote “Little Miss Nothing”, “A Horse Called September” (originally a text story in June, then later turned into a novel which was adapted as a picture story in Tammy), “Olympia Jones”, and several of her Trebizon books were adapted in Tammy. Pat Mills considers her loss one of the key factors in the decline in girls’ comics.

  2. Thank you for the information on Jenny McDade in particular, who I didn’t know much about. Where did this information come from, is there an interview with her available somewhere that I can link to?

  3. Very good article and all true – there’s much more to comics than you know. Many of us crossed over between girls and boys’ publications like those mentioned – Ian Mennell(son of Ken Mennell, excellent editor and writer for boys’ papers in the 1960s
    such as Lion and Tiger), Malcolm Shaw(real delicate touch for girls’ fiction), Roy
    Preston and Barry Clements(both subs for me when editing Battle Weekly).
    It’s not all true Pat Mills saying “killing ourselves laughing as we wrote this stuff”. Especially at Fleetway, the work was taken very seriously. The subversive attitude of Pat and the likes of Gerry Finley-Day and John Wagner came with them from D C Thomson(which is bizarre because D C Thomson was/is so old-fashioned). But hence the anti-establishment and great stories they produced for girls/boys’ comics. It influenced me and others because I also started writing subversively!

    1. Thanks for this comment, Terry! I suppose probably Pat, John Wagner, and the others were subversive by nature, and infected others with it 🙂

      1. I have some Girl comics (14 issues), giving a look through them, it seems that it was most common to see women writers for a text story, particularly complete text stories. Some of these writers include: Pamela Rogers, Esme Nolan and Olwen Reed. Patricia Williams wrote a serial text story “The Lair of the Golden Witch”.

        In picture stories; Ruth Adam like you noted was a long running writer for Susan of St. Brides, Betty Roland also wrote Vicky and the Crested Dragon, Diana Potter wrote Tessa of Television, Kathleen Peyton wrote A Pony for Cathy (and also some text stories)

        Interesting I only saw one female illustrator Eve Cranfield, credited for a text story “A Fair Exchange”

  4. Clearly Mavis Miller was a big creative influence on the title, whether or not she directly wrote or drew anything. I get the impression that she might have contributed or encouraged the large number of crafty items in the pages of Jinty, but that’s an impression rather than something I can point to a clear reference for.

  5. Did writer Betty Roland have any creative input to the early issues of School Friend? I’m just wondering because a girl with that name was, along with Joan Derwent and Peggy West, a member of The Silent Three, initially at St. Kit’s between issue 1 (May 20 1950) and issue 20 (Sep. 30 1950) but in other later serials as well.

    1. I don’t know, but the coicidence is striking. I could imagine that whether or not she had any direct input, she could have been personally known to the people who were working on School Friend?

  6. Maureen Hartley has commented over on Girls Comics of Yesterday to clarify that she wrote two very well-known stories for DCT – “Nothing Ever Goes Right” and “The Sad Spells Of Fay Martin/”. And many more, as she wrote for DCT over a 30 year period.

  7. Sorry, but I am quite annoyed to keep reading that The Button Box story is being attributed to other Tammy writers.The Button Box was MY idea. I submitted it to the editor. I then proceeded to write the story-lines and text. However, without asking my permission, Wilfred Prigmore, the editor, farmed out some of my story-lines to both Ian Mennel and Linda Stephenson- and I notice that both of these authors, while not claiming original authorship of The Button box, are referring to themselves as co-writers along with myself, which needs to be corrected. There would have been NO Button Box if I hadn’t produced the original idea and story-lines for it. Have also read that there are many ideas for the story unpublished. Not True. I finished the story-line myself with Bev, the cripple story-teller, reaching for a button, falling out of her wheel-chair, and being able to walk again. Just wanted to put the record straight. Alison Mary Fitt. (who wrote for Tammy as Alison Christie.)

    1. Hi Alison, I am quite happy to amend the post above to say that The Button Box was created by you and that you were the primary writer – I will do this now. But before getting this input from you, all we have had to go on up till now is the fact that the printed credits in Tammy indicate that some stories were written by other people. I don’t know that Ian Mennell or Linda Stephenson are referring to themselves as co-writers anywhere – the text above was written by me not by them – but if you have any links that can be sent to me to show where they have done so, I am happy to help put the record straight. Likewise I don’t immediately know of anywhere where it’s been said that there are many unpublished ideas for this title, but again I would be happy to help correct things if you can indicate who has said so, or where.

      1. There must be Button Box stories that were prepared but not published because of Tammy’s sudden disappearance. The Button Box story that would have appeared in the 30th June 1984 issue for instance.

        But it’s nice to know how The Button Box would have ended. So Bev regains the use of her legs! Cool!

      2. Thanks for that. I just read earlier tonight on a link- not sure who wrote it- which said that there must be lots of The Button box stories as yet unpublished, … will look this up and get back to you. It’s not that Ian or Linda said they were co-writers,but anyone reading about The Button box on a blog, sees their names as the writers -I knew Ian Mennell had been asked by Wilfred at the time to write some of my ideas, and wasn’t too happy about it then. Then, just today, I spotted on Linda Stephensons blog that she mentions SHE wrote the Button-box! I guess it’s water under the bridge, now. But still… will get back to you! Cheers
        Alison Fitt

  8. Thanks for that again. Happy you’ve amended the authorship of The Button box to me. Thanks for doing that too. I’ve been reading comments on the last published Tammy, and , thinking about it, with the paper ending so abruptly, serials would be left unfinished, leaving readers not knowing what happened in the end of them. Every instalment of my Button Box, however, was a complete- so readers weren’t left hanging in this series. However, I can see in my mind’s eye, the actual artwork of the final end to the Button Box-which is puzzling me as it would appear not to have ever been published? Bev Jackson reaches for an ordinary button on the floor, falls out of her wheel-chair, and starts walking again.That was the end, or end to be.
    Incidentally, a family member presented me with an unusual Christmas present this year- a big box full of old annuals, including some from Tammy and Jinty. In the Tammy Annual,1986,there are two Button Box features. One a picture story, and one a written story- by Ian Mennell. Obviously he’d been asked to write these-I certainly wasn’t!
    Not that I’ve a problem with either Ian Mennell, or Linda Stephenson!If offered work like me they wouldn’t have turned it down. It’s possible they thought the Button Box idea came from Wilf himself originally- who knows!
    Thanks again for your help in this.
    Now I’m going to keep following up the news that Pat Mills and co have bought the copyright to all IPCs comics and mags! Should be interesting…..

    1. About the copyright on the IPC comics – it’s not Pat Mills who has bought it, it’s publishing company Rebellion (who publish 2000AD). There are various articles about it on this site, if you search for Rebellion. It should indeed be interesting!

      1. Thanks, I will keep tabls on Rebellion then. Just wondering, are you the lovely Jenny Scott I’ve been replying to? I didn’t realise at first I was putting comments on Comix Minx..or was I?

        1. Yes, that’s me, I am Jenni Scott / Comixminx! I use that as a username in various places including here. Nice of you to think of me so! 🙂

          1. Oh right, Jenny. I didn’t want to assume it was you on the other end of my ramblings! Comix minx is a great site, and a great fund of information. Was just reading that some of the jinty/tammy stories were reprinted as picture story booklets,also reprinted in other iPC girls mags, on top of being sold for translation in other countries. IPC didn’t half make money out of us writers, artist’s work! I wish I’d kept a payment slip or two- but my guess is it was like those of DCT which stated, All the copyright for all purposes,so no come-back there.Wouldn’t happen nowadays. On the whole though- IPC were good to work for.

            1. You may well have figured this out by now, Alison, but if you haven’t can I point out that comixminx is Jenni’s username on ‘ComicsUK’, not the name of her excellent ‘Resource On Jinty’ blog.

                  1. It’s true that this site isn’t called Comixminx and it does seem Alison may be thinking it is so called. But also she is replying to a user called Comixminx, on this site.

  9. Hi Derek- sorry- i see now that I should have replying specifically to Comixminx. I’ve just noticed the separate boxes for it on your Comics UK website. Will know in future! But your site is interesting to me too- as I wrote prolifically for DCTs girls mags also after working in-house there for some years.

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