Monthly Archives: September 2015

Jinty 8 March 1980

JInty 8 March 1980

  • Pam of Pond Hill (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey)
  • Wildflower Wonderland (feature)
  • Spirit of the Lake (artist Phil Townsend, writer Benita Brown?)
  • Tearaway Trisha – first episode (artist Andrew Wilson)
  • The Venetian Looking Glass – first episode (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Toni on Trial (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Girl on a Chestnut Champion – feature
  • White Water – (artist Jim Baikie)
  • When Statues Walk… (artist Phil Gascoine)

This issue starts the only story that Andrew Wilson, best known for “The Happy Days”, drew for Jinty – “Tearaway Trisha”. Trisha is a good-natured girl, but no sense of safety or consideration when it comes to cycling. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? Yup, and it happens when her bike slips on a greasy patch in the road, which causes a girl named Fran to end up in hospital. Trisha is blamed, which I personally think is a bit unfair. Okay, so she might have noticed the patch if she had been cycling a bit more carefully, but it was there when it shouldn’t have been.

Gascoine has a history of overlapping stories in Jinty, and this one is no exception. He starts on “The Venetian Looking Glass” (following the Jinty tradition of evil images in mirrors) while still working on the penultimate episode of “When Statues Walk…”. Steve’s discovered the body switch the evil goddess Hel pulled with his sister Laura, and is shocked to find Laura trapped in the ageing body of Hel, which could give out any minute now. If it does, Laura will die while Hel continues to wreak havoc in Laura’s body!

In “Pam of Pond Hill”, health food takes over at the school canteen after it pushes Mrs Bounty out. But the kids don’t take to it and want their chips and Mrs Bounty back. And that means protest action!

“Toni on Trial” has lost her resolve because of the shadow from her mother’s disgrace has gotten too much. Sharon Peters is taking unusual action to get Toni back in the game. In “White Water” Bridie’s on a camping canoe holiday but things are not going smoothly – not least because of jealous Jocelyn. And can the “Spirit of the Lake” meet Karen at the ice-rink now the lake has thawed? Oh yes, and now Karen realises who she is!

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Jinty and Penny 19 April 1980

JInty 19 April 1980

  • Pam of Pond Hill (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Spirit of the Lake – final episode (artist Phil Townsend, writer Benita Brown?)
  • Seulah the Seal (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Snoopa (artist Joe Collins)
  • Tearaway Trisha (artist Andrew Wilson)
  • The Venetian Looking Glass (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Toni on Trial – final episode (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Sports Pages: meet Teenage Birdman Steve Collins
  • White Water (artist Jim Baikie)

This is the second issue after the Jinty and Penny merger. The cover gives British readers insight into what happened to the Jintys and Tammys that were sent overseas – not all free gifts that came with an issue could be included in the issues bound for overseas readers. I think this was due to trading restrictions on edible gifts, such as the Mummies sweets that came with the issue; I do recall a Tammy issue with a free gift of confectionery that was similarly excluded from reaching overseas readers. However, there were no problems with gifts like jewellery and novelties.

The issue is now clearing out several stories from Jinty that had been running for some time. Toni on Trial ends with this issue; she just had to, because the previous episode made it obvious as to what the truth is about the trophy Toni’s mother allegedly stole. “White Water”, the story that began in the same issue as Toni, will conclude in the next issue. Jealous Jocelyn is imperilling Bridie’s life by issuing a dangerous challenge that Bridie is not ready for. “Spirit of the Lake” also ends this issue, with Karen going in for a skating scholarship that her jealous cousin tried to block her from. The last panel of the story is turned into a beautiful full-sized panel for the cover.

In the other stories, Tearaway Trisha is humiliated when she is told to take a cycling proficiency course because she is not considered a safe cyclist. In the Venetian Looking Glass, revenge-driven Lucy Craven has caused Rosalind to have a bad accident. Seulah, the serial from Penny, is still going strong. Seulah looks set to be reunited with Bonnie, the girl he has been looking for. But the blurb for next week indicates it is not the end of the story yet. Mr Hunt is dubious about Pam of Pond Hill being the lead in the school play – especially after he hears her singing. But he is soon convinced she has a talent. And Goof discovers a talent as well – for the banjo.

Jinty 6 July 1974

Jinty cover 6 July 1974

Stories in this issue:

  • The Jinx From St Jonah’s (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • The Haunting of Form 2B (artist Rodrigo Comos)
  • Gwen’s Stolen Glory
  • Make-Believe Mandy (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Merry at Misery House (writer Terence Magee)
  • What’s Cooking? Muesli, Creme aus Rohen Apfeln (recipes)
  • Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
  • Gail’s Indian Necklace (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • A Dream for Yvonne (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot (artist Alf Saporito)
  • Desert Island Daisy (artist Robert MacGillivray) last episode
  • Jinty made it herself… so can you! (craft: papier-mâché elephant)
  • Angela’s Angels (artist Leo Davy)

Back to the early issues of Jinty, when the Katie Jinks stories had a serious undertone as well as lots of slapstick. The story arc that had champion swimmer Karen refusing to swim, in best tear-jerking style, ends happily as she rescues a drowning Katie and snaps out of the depression she’s been in since her best friend drowned. Unlike earlier episodes, the art all looks like pure Capaldi to me, rather than being finished off by a stand-in artist.

There is no “Pony Parade” this week and it’s also the last episode of “Desert Island Daisy”, signalling a change in the make-up of the title to focus primarily on the more serious stories. In “The Haunting of Form 2B”, matters are clearly moving to a climax, and protagonist Judy is not sure if she’s failed totally with no way of stopping the tragedy! There are still a couple of episodes left before the final denouement, though.

In “A Dream for Yvonne”, circus girl Yvonne has lost her memory and is being made to skivvy for an unscrupulous exploiter, Ma Crompton. By day she has to cook, clean, and tidy up, and by night she has to dance in a skeevy nightclub in skimpy clothes. Cor blimey! Things are about to get worse though as Ma locks her inside while going shopping, only for a fire to break out in the badly-maintained hovel… if it’s not one thing it’s another, eh.

Toni on Trial (1979-1980)

Sample Images

Toni 1

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Toni 2

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Toni 3

Publication: 1 December 1979-19 April 1980

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Toni Carr is a promising runner. When her parents are killed in a crash, she is sent to live with her maternal grandparents, the Halls, in Millcastle. Toni is surprised to learn about them, for her late mother never mentioned them before. She is told that her mother ran away from home when she was sixteen.

Sounds like a skeleton in Mum’s closet? Oh yes, and it starts rattling when Toni is even more surprised to find a photo of her mother wearing a sports medal in an album; she had never known her mother to be athletic too. She is further surprised – and in a most unpleasant manner – when Granddad rips up the photograph, saying he thought they’d got rid of Mum’s sports photos.

Toni discovers the sports club on the side of town that looks wealthier than where her grandparents live. There she shows promise at the trials for the junior team. But the sports coach, Miss Adela Rogers, is nasty to Toni once she realises she realises who her mother was. She tells Toni that her mother was a thief, and that was why she ran away.

When Toni confronts her grandmother, she is shown a newspaper article that says her mother stole a sports trophy out of spite because she lost it to another girl (later revealed to be Adela Rogers) in a race. The ensuing scandal was so bad that Mum ran away and gave up the athletics she had shown so much promise at. The grandparents were also forced to move to the poorer part of town where they still live today after Granddad lost his job defending his daughter. But even they doubt her innocence. Toni refuses to believe her mother was a thief and resolves to get to the truth.

Toni has shown so much promise at her trials that Olympic champion Sharon Peters wants her in the team. But Toni is finding that her mother’s disgrace is now threatening her own career. Granddad is opposed to Toni pursuing sports because of the trophy scandal and only agrees begrudgingly. But neither he nor grandma will give Toni any support or encouragement. And Miss Rogers only agrees to put Toni on trial until she proves her character, but is always out to bully her because of her mother. This does not make Toni popular with the other athletes, and Toni ends up banned from the club and having to train on the old track her mother once used.

Worse still, Toni makes an enemy on the team in the form of Julie. Julie and her crony Patti start playing tricks on Toni. Toni makes some headway in the trials despite the dirty tricks, hostility from her mother’s shame, and Miss Rogers banning her from the club because of it all. Toni eventually realises an enemy is sabotaging her, but thinks it is Miss Rogers.

Eventually the misery from her mother’s disgrace gets too much for Toni and she runs off in tears. This leads to her saving a child and she becomes a local heroine, which should ease the trouble from her mother’s disgrace. But Toni is so badly affected by it and her unknown enemy that she gives up athletics. Sharon arranges a special event with handicapped athletes to change Toni’s mind.

Toni does, but is dismayed to find her club is about to compete for the very same trophy her mother was accused of stealing. And when she does win it, her grandparents ban her from the presentation party because that was when her mother was branded a thief after the trophy was found in her bag. Toni goes anyway, but the old trouble is hanging over the party. However, Toni meets Sharon’s sister, Mrs Collins, who was her mother’s best friend. Mrs Collins says she does not believe the mother stole the trophy either. She would have helped the mother prove her innocence and knows something that might help.

But Mrs Collins is interrupted when a real thief steals the trophies. Toni manages to stop him. However, her only reward in the paper is the headline “Brave Athlete Saves Cup Her Mother Stole!”

Toni meets Mrs Collins again, who explains that Miss Rogers hated her mother because she was jealous. After she beat Toni’s mother, Mrs Collins overheard a row between them. The quarrel was over a rule Adela broke when she won the trophy; Toni’s mother told her to own up but Adela refused, saying it was a silly rule. Mrs Collins is sure the quarrel is connected with the trophy theft, but her mother never explained what it was about.

Later, Miss Rogers bans Patti from an event because she broke the no-drugs rule for taking hay fever medication. Recalling that Miss Rogers also gets hay fever, Toni sees parallels with the quarrel Mrs Collins overheard. She now suspects that Miss Rogers is behind everything, but has no proof.

Things come to a head when Miss Rogers steals some belongings and plants them in Toni’s bag. But Patti sees this and backs Toni up when she accuses Miss Rogers of it. At this, Julie makes an angry outburst at Patti that gives her away as Toni’s enemy.

Cornered, Miss Rogers confesses that she planted the trophy on Toni’s mother because she thought she was going to report her for the same thing as Patti. Later she discovered she had been mistaken, but by then things had gone too far and she was too scared to confess. She is compelled to resign as club coach and leaves in tears. Afterwards, Julie is told to mend her ways if she is to stay in the club.

Toni’s trial period is now over and she becomes a lifelong member of the club. Now the mother has been cleared, the grandparents back Toni’s athletics all the way. Toni is soon on her way to London for the English team try-outs.

Jinty 1 December 1979

Thoughts

This story is something of a milestone for three reasons. First, it is the last story Terry Aspin drew for Jinty. After a run of Jinty serials that began with “Curtain of Silence” and included the classics “Alice in a Strange Land”, “Almost Human” and “Cathy’s Casebook”, Aspin ends his Jinty run with Toni.

The same goes for Jim Baikie, who ends his own Jinty run with the other sports story to start in the same issue, “White Water”. Is this a coincidence, or does it say something about what is going behind the scenes of Jinty? It is known that Mavis Miller left about this period and things were not quite the same again with Jinty under the new editor.

Second, “Toni on Trial” and “White Water” begin Jinty’s sports pages section and banner to match. Although sports stories had been strong in Jinty since 1977, the sports pages section marks a whole new emphasis on sport in Jinty that would be further underlined by Mario Capaldi’s sports covers starting in mid 1980 and Benita Brown’s “Winning Ways” tips for winning sports.

Third, Toni on Trial is the last Jinty story to feature the theme of injustice from a wrongful charge. The topic had been in Jinty from her first issue with her longest-running serial, “Merry at Misery House”, where Merry Summers is sent to a cruel reformatory after being wrongly convicted of theft (the exact details of which were never explained). After Merry ended, Jinty didn’t use the theme much. Stories that did feature it were infrequent (“Paula’s Puppets”, “Slaves of the Candle” and “Waves of Fear” were ones that did) and after Toni, the theme disappeared altogether.

Toni on Trial is not quite one of Jinty’s classics. The formula – quest to prove someone’s innocence, frame ups, jealous rivals, difficult guardians interfering with a girl’s dream – is a bit standard and does not have the innovation that made a lot of the Jinty classics that Aspin drew what they are.

However, while the formula may be an oldie it is still a goodie, and makes the story a solid one and far from average. It’s also a mystery story, which is always popular in girls’ comics. The fact that it’s not just the whole town believing Toni’s mother is a thief but even her own parents doubt her gives the story an extra edge. This has some parallels with “Waves of Fear”, where even the parents turn against their own daughter after she is branded (a coward in her case), becomes the outcast of the town, and is eventually driven to running away before it is established that she was wrongly accused. And both stories appeared at the same time, so there may be some overlap in the writing.

What’s even more angst is that for the most part, Toni has to battle alone to prove her mother’s innocence. Although Anne and Sharon refuse to tar Toni with the ‘sins of the mother’ that everyone else in town does, they are not part of Toni’s drive to clear her mother. There are no allies to help Toni, and nobody to talk it over with. It’s not until near the end of the story that the person who can really help Toni finally turns up. This is not unusual in stories where the heroine sets out to clear somebody’s name. But the fact that even your own relatives won’t help because they don’t really believe it’s an injustice makes it more disturbing than the more usual case where the relatives do believe it, but can’t or won’t do anything to help. Maybe it’s to do with the town itself and the way it has reacted to the whole affair. It is still green in everyone’s mind, even after all these years, and people are so ready to attack Toni because of it, just because of who her mother was. Nowhere is this more apparent – and cruel – than the headline “Brave Athlete Saves Cup Her Mother Stole!” All right, so maybe Miss Rogers had a hand in it, but what a way for the press to treat a girl who should be honoured for her bravery! You have to wonder what kind of people the people of Millcastle are if they publish headlines like that. One should jolly well hope the town came out with some jolly good apologising to Toni and her grandparents once Miss Rogers had confessed.

Jinty and Penny 25 October 1980

JInty october 1980

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and writer Veronica Weir)
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Behind the Screen – Dallas
  • Dawn of a New Era – Gypsy Rose Story (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Sue’s Daily Dozen (artist José Casanovas)
  • Winning Ways 30 (writer Benita Brown)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Bake a Sunshine Cake! (feature)

This is another of my favourite covers from Mario Capaldi. What does it for me is the use of the reds, oranges and yellows serving as complementary colours to the blues and greens.

Pam starts out on her trip to France, and things are not exactly going without a hitch. Diana’s jealous sister Alison nearly wrecks their departure by locking Miss Larks in a storeroom and throwing the key down the drain. While crossing the Channel, the class larrikins Fred and Terry heave over the side of the ferry because they made pigs of themselves (and we later learn they were never allowed to forget it!). And now a strange boy is shadowing their camping trip in France. And that’s just their first episode of their trip to France.

The girl the world forgot tries to escape, but killer whales drive her back to the island. Once back at the croft, she gets the impression someone is trying to drive her out – all her gear has been thrown out, the croft rearranged to how it originally was, but there is nobody else to be seen.

It’s the penultimate episode of “Tears of a Clown”. Kathy’s time on the run comes to an end, and she thinks she is going back to the misery and bullying that drove her to run off. She does not yet know how much attitudes have changed in her absence.

In “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”, Sir Roger feigns amnesia to sort out bossy-boots Gaye. Once Gaye finds out, it’s hijinks as she starts playing Sir Roger at his own game. And there are more hijinks in Jubilee Street when Tansy tries overhauling an old bike to raise the money to overhaul her own one – only to find the overhauls on the old bike eating up her profit.

Sue still isn’t convinced the Daily Dozen isn’t evil, and now it looks like the Daily Dozen is about to teach Sue a lesson for doubting it.

“Child of the Rain” now has a new problem – a jealous rival named Sharon. And Sharon is out to spoil things for her next week.

Jinty 8 December 1979

Jinty 8 december 1979 1

Here we have a competition with “40 gay Gypsy dolls” to win (hmm, how times have changed over the use of the word ‘gay’). And it is an issue big on stories finishing or approaching their conclusions, so the decks are being cleared for the Christmas/New Year lineup.

The ending to “Combing Her Golden Hair” takes you completely by surprise because it’s not what you expect from stories about abusive guardians and salvation from magical objects. Next week Jinty’s most enduring regular, “Pam of Pond Hill” starts.

In the penultimate episode of “Waves of Fear”, Clare is now on the brink of suicide (strong stuff for a girls’ comic to hint at!), unaware that her luck is finally beginning to change. Once Rachel weasels the truth about Clare’s expulsion from that horrible Jean, people in authority finally begin to realise that Clare’s uncharacteristic behaviour is due to a mental illness, not cowardice or delinquency. But by the time they finally catch up to Clare, the search for her has led to Rachel facing another accident in the very same cave where the trouble started. So it’s all going to end where it began next week.

“My Heart Belongs to Buttons” is also on its penultimate episode, and it’s ironic. Julie, who has rejected Buttons II for so long, now can’t bear the thought of letting him go!

Black Sheep of the Bartons” is at its climax too, with Bev finally realising how selfish she has been when her thoughtless conduct leads to her sister Ruth going off in search of her, and now Ruth’s life is in danger.

Jinty starts her Christmas story “Tale of the Panto Cat”. Daisy Green Youth Club is planning their Christmas special, but bossy-boots Verna is spoiling everything, including Christmas, by taking over everything, from what they are to do for their special to the (dreadful) lines they are given. And everything Verna does is geared towards putting herself in the spotlight as the star of the show.

In “Toni on Trial”, Toni finally finds out what the mystery is about her late mother – she was accused of stealing a sports trophy. Now Toni is being tarred with the same brush by everyone in town, and it’s interfering with her running career. And the person wielding the biggest brush seems to be the sports coach, Miss Rogers. She tells Toni her mother was “nothing but a common thief” – and right in front of all the other athletes!

Bridie has vowed “White Water” will ride again, but runs into her first obstacle –her embittered mother, who is burning Dad’s sailing books.

The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain (1975)

Sample Images

bamboo curtain 1

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bamboo curtain 2

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bamboo curtain 3

Writers: Charles Herring, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Tom Tully (?). But only Charles Herring appears in the writing credits.

Artist: Giancarlo Alessandrini

Publication: Battle 8 March 1975 to 24 May 1975

Reprint: Tornado Annual 1980

Plot Summary

In World War II, “Big Jim” Blake is a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp in Burma where prisoners are forced to build a bridge on the Benwaddy River. Sado, the cruel commandant, takes great delight in punishing his prisoners by having them run the gauntlet in the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest on one side of the camp that is laden with deadly booby traps. Concerned at the intimidating effect the Bamboo Curtain is having on his comrades, Blake deliberately gets himself sent to the Bamboo Curtain, in the hope that if he can somehow beat it, it will break Sado’s hold over them.

Sado declares Blake dead after seeing him fall into one of the booby traps and forces the prisoners to cheer at this. However, Blake escapes. He is then surprised to stumble across a band of British soldiers in Japanese uniform who are acting as if they are brainwashed/hypnotised and don’t even feel pain when branded. One of them he recognises as “Handlebars” Lewis from his old unit. He soon finds out Sado is behind it, but the men disappear into a ruined pagoda before he can investigate further. He decides that for the soldiers’ sakes he will return to the camp to find out what is going on, although he is risking big trouble from Sado.

Everyone at the camp is surprised to see Blake has not only survived the Bamboo Curtain but returned as well. Blake’s purpose in going into the Bamboo Curtain is fulfilled; the prisoners now see it is not so unbeatable and become more rebellious and rallying around Blake as a hero. Jensen, Blake’s best friend, is sceptical when he hears the reason for Blake’s return, because Handlebars had been sent to the Bamboo Curtain several months previously.

Sado starts inflicting heavy punishments (actually, tests) on Blake. He starts with the sweat hut, but loses face when he realises Blake is too strong to break that way. Next, Sado forces Blake to fight a masked man to the death, and Blake is shocked to discover it was Handlebars. The next punishment (Sado’s final test) – forcing Blake to find a way to escape from a minefield – backfires when Blake escapes into the Bamboo Curtain and back to the pagoda. There he discovers another soldier undergoing the brainwashing process. The process takes effect, and it causes the prisoner to go wild and nearly kill Blake. Then Sado recaptures Blake and takes him back to camp – by shackling him to the back of his jeep and dragging him along until he blacks out.

Sado now brings Blake to his hut for a surprise spread of food. Suspecting his food is drugged, Blake contrives to switch it for Sado’s plate. His suspicions are confirmed when Sado’s cat Suki goes crazy from eating the food and attacks Sado. Judging by what he saw with the brainwashed soldier, Blake guesses the drug in the food must be part of the brainwashing process and this was what Sado intended for him. He also notices the door to Sado’s office is heavily padlocked and suspects the reason is that the key to the mystery is in there.

Jensen has the men start a riot at the bridge as a diversion so Blake can go back to investigate the office. Breaking in through the roof, he rips open a desk, where he finds a paper listing the men who have been sent through the Bamboo Curtain – and his own name is at the top of the list. The rest is in Japanese, but Jensen can translate it.

However, Sado has guessed the reason for the now-quelled riot and returns to his office to check. He discovers the theft, but Blake manages to escape with the paper. Upon translation, it reveals that the true purpose of the Bamboo Curtain is a survival of the fittest test. Soldiers who survive the Curtain are incorporated into Sado’s private army. They undergo a brainwashing process to turn them into crazed killers who obey Sado robotically. The paper also reveals there is a secret entrance under one of the flagstones in the pagoda.

Determined to get his paper back, Sado has turned extra-nasty towards the prisoners. He is forcing them to work under even worse conditions (extra hours, reduced rations and sleep, drinking from a malaria-ridden source) until someone comes forward about the theft. This has Jensen and Blake escape before someone breaks and lets on, and they flee into the Bamboo Curtain. But Jensen gets caught in a quicksand trap and Blake fails to save him in time. Jensen’s death hardens Blake’s resolve to stop Sado.

Blake heads for the pagoda, where he disguises himself as one of the brainwashed soldiers. He learns that Sado is sending his army against the approaching British forces, and sets up an ambush for them at Hsenwo Valley. Blake slips away to warn the British forces, but the commander does not believe him and locks him up. Blake escapes, but bumps into some of Sado’s goons. He manages to fight them off, but then hears Sado’s signal to the brainwashed soldiers to attack the British forces. Blake stops the attack by taking Sado hostage.

Now the British forces have seen the brainwashed soldiers for themselves, they finally believe Blake. Sado is taken into custody and the brainwashed soldiers are sent to an army hospital in England for deprogramming. Soon Blake and the British are on their way to liberate Sado’s camp.

Then a report arrives to say that Sado has escaped. Blake insists on going after Sado personally and heads for the Bamboo Curtain, figuring Sado has gone there. But Sado corners Blake and is on the verge of killing him. Then Suki trips Sado up and he falls into the same quicksand that claimed Jensen. Sado begs Blake for help and mercy, but Blake rebuffs him, saying he never showed mercy to anyone. Blake leaves Sado to the quicksand while Suki looks on, and departs to rejoin the war that still needs to be won.

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Thoughts and Discussion

Although this story is from a boys’ comic, it has come up in many discussions of girls’ comics, with particular reference to discussing the slave story theme and transposing the themes of emotion, suffering, and cruelty used to revive girls’ comics in the early 1970s with Tammy to revive the boys’ titles with Battle and Action. It has also come up in several websites where former creators reminisce on what went on behind the scenes of IPC comics and the writing and editing processes of both boys’ and girls’ comics. And it has been mentioned several times on this blog. So now it is going to have its own entry here as it is related to the context of girls’ comics.

Tammy had led the field in the revival of girls’ comics in the 1970s with its emphasis on cruelty, suffering and deep emotion as opposed to stories on boarding schools, ballet and ponies. Girls were frequently abused and subjected to over-the-top tortures in schools, quarries, factories, abusive homes and other settings. The early Jinty followed in similar vein, but eventually developed her own character with science fiction, sports and fantasy stories. And finally there was Misty, who dared to be a horror comic for girls. Parents hated it, which meant their daughters loved it, and sales for the early Tammy soared.

The same elements of cruelty, emotion and suffering in Tammy were applied to Battle to make it the spearhead in reviving boys’ comics, which had fallen into a similar slump as the girls’. As Pat Mills explains: “…When we did Battle and so on, we followed the girls’ comic role model, and my boys’ comics were, and I take great pleasure in saying this, disguised girls’ comics!” http://www.comixminx.net/comixminx/articles/Entries/2008/5/31_Pat_Mills_at_CAPTION2004.html

Although this approach did make Battle a success, the creators soon discovered that there were differences between the sexes that made some formulas less successful than others. And Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain is one example where a girls’ comics formula (the slave story) proved less successful in the boys’ because of the differences between the sexes. So much so, in fact, that they never tried it again, which makes Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain a one-off stand-alone story in Battle. For this reason it is now undergoing reappraisals, with collectors appreciating what a unique story it was in boys’ comics.

The formula that Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain followed was the slave story theme, which is one of the lynchpins for a girls’ comic. The story had a group of girls (or one girl) who were being used as slaves or prisoners in an extremely harsh institution (reformatories, islands, quarries, factories, boarding schools and workhouses are frequent settings, while more unusual ones have included ships, restaurants, despotic regimes and dystopian worlds). The protagonist refuses to break under the torture, so her tormentors subject her to extra-harsh torture to break her down. Sometimes there is a mystery element involved, such as who is the mysterious masked helper who turns up to secretly help the girls, and solving the mystery is critical to the resolution of the story. This certainly was the case with Bamboo Curtain.

But Pat Mills believes it was the mystery element in Bamboo Curtain that made it unpopular and short lived in Battle:

“Mystery stories – girls, female readers, love mystery stories, say a school where there’s a mysterious headmistress, and girls are disappearing, and other girls are turning up in the dormitory – this gets them going! And the explanation can be complete crap, and it usually was, and it doesn’t matter!

“We tried this with male readers, we only did it once, and they hated it! That was Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain… You could see the thinking; we had the sadistic Japanese commander of the prisoner-of-war camp, and prisoners are disappearing, and strange things are going on, and the readers DID NOT CARE! They weren’t bothered about the mystery, they just wanted to see the action! What was the Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain? Who cares, bring on the violence! A female readership, even if you’ve got a mystery as simple as “What’s inside that box?”, that’ll keep them going for weeks! It’s a fundamental difference between the sexes”.

http://www.comixminx.net/comixminx/articles/Entries/2008/5/31_Pat_Mills_at_CAPTION2004.html

But co-writer John Wagner has a different opinion on what made Bamboo Curtain less than successful:

“… It wasn’t that popular a story, I think because they were prisoners and they weren’t proactive. They were having it done to them, rather than doing it themselves”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Less-than-proactive prisoners are a typical element of the slave story, even with the protagonist who refuses to be broken and is a constant rebel against her tormentors. And although Bamboo Curtain has its share of Blake striking back against his Japanese jailers (slugging guards and Sado, shooting out watch towers, fighting the masked man), he does fall into the same vein as his female counterparts when he throws away his escape from the Bamboo Curtain and returns voluntarily to the camp to solve the mystery, although he knows he is risking death at the hands of Sado. Boys must have been outraged because they had expected a more proactive approach, such Blake turning jungle commando or something to bring down Sado once he had escaped. And the cowering prisoners in the first episode must have left them less than impressed either. And they must have been used to oppressed men rising up against their oppressors and bringing on the ass-kicking action that boys wanted to see.

But now Bamboo Curtain is attracting comment and reappraisal online for daring to be different. And it is not just because it was a brave, if unpopular, attempt at transposing the slave story formula into a boys’ comic. The story also dared to break clichés:

“[Comics] had been too safe, samey, sanitised. Characters never died, nothing ever changed, nothing progressed. Like Captain Hurricane went on episode after episode, the same formula, he’d throw a raging fury and rip tanks apart, and in his raging fury always win the day. It was so unreal and we were fed up with it. We wanted to kick some butt”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

The biggest kick in the butt has to be where Jim Blake actually fails to save Jensen from the quicksand trap. As Pat Mills explains:

“My favourite [great moment in the story] – Blake trying to rescue his buddy who is sinking into a swamp. “Will Big Jim save his friend? Find out next week!” Next week Blake fails to save his friend, who sinks and dies. I took such pleasure in writing that scene, because it raises truths we all have to deal with, that heroes don’t always arrive in time. And it mocks the cliché ending! Even today, in comics, we don’t challenge the clichés enough – although I do my best in Marshal Law”.

https://patmills.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/misty-the-female-2000ad/

The cliché gets mocked again right at the end when Sado falls into the same quicksand. You expect the hero to do the noble thing and extend a hand to save his/her enemy, as Patti does in “Children of Edenford”. But Blake does not. Instead, he leaves Sado to die, saying he never showed mercy to anyone. This is a most shocking and unexpected thing to see a hero do in comics and readers must have been wondering about Blake after reading the ending.

While the story turned some clichés on their heads, other clichés were hammed up. This is the case with Sado. He is cast in the model of the stereotyped Japanese, and he certainly is evil, sadistic and loves inflicting torture. Yet he is so campy that he is such an engaging and colourful villain, and he is the source of all the humour in the story, with lines like:

  • “See Fearnly run! He think he okey dokey, but he no get far – you see!”
  • “Englishman sing! He too tough for sweat box. Sado lose much face!”
  • “See – Suki like. Big boy like, too! Please to eat.”
  • “Sado have way of making prisoners talk. Work them double chop chop. Soon someone break – talk turkey with Sado.”

“Bouncie, bouncie! Big boy bounce along path like rubber ball!”

With lines like those you just have to laugh, even at the lines that show just how evil Sado is. Pat Mills says “It was even funnier when John and I were acting these lines out to each other”. It is small wonder that “Sado was popular in the company while we were writing it. One guy made and wore a ‘SAVE SADO’ badge”.

https://patmills.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/misty-the-female-2000ad/

But it seems that either the writers or editor did not agree, because Sado is not saved in the end.

The glasses Sado wears serve to heighten his role as a humorous villain and help dilute his evil to less extreme levels (it seems to be something about comic book characters who wear glasses). His cat Suki does fall into the cliché of the villain having a soft spot. Yet the Siamese does add a subtle sinister note to the story. For example, it knows all the safe routes in the Bamboo Curtain, and it gives the impression that it is deliberately luring Blake into a trap when he follows it. Blake knows the cat will lead him to Sado without falling into any booby traps, but what he does not know is that Sado is planning another trap for him – leaving a gun for him to find that is rigged to fire backwards.

The campiness of Sado was deliberate because: “This story didn’t work until we hyped up Sado. It was sitting there. We kept going over it and over it and couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Decided to hype up Sado”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Even with Sado hyped up, writing the story proved extremely problematic:

“I’m sure we wrote the first episode of this one [Bamboo Curtain – Herring, Wagner/Mills, Tully?]. Anything you see with Charles Herring on it, it was rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. He had lots of good ideas. You had to take one of Charles’ scripts and pick out those good ideas. This story didn’t work until we hyped up Sado. It was sitting there. We kept going over it and over it and couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Decided to hype up Sado. But it wasn’t that popular a story, I think because they were prisoners and they weren’t proactive. They were having it done to them, rather than doing it themselves”.

Here’s what Battle staff editor Dave Hunt had to say about how Mills & Wagner worked…

“Pat and John wrote the initial episodes and then farmed them out to other writers. GFD was the author of D-Day Dawson. Lofty’s One-Man Luftwaffe – that was John and Pat. Their brief was not only create a new title but bring in new talent into the industry. We’d worked with a bed-rock of people. When you launched a new title, you rang up Tom Tully, he would do four of the new strips, Ted Cowan – people of that era – Ken Mennall. A lot of the people in Battle #1 were new to me.

“John and Pat always listened and got what they wanted from you. They would see a glimmer of an idea in a script and the writer would get paid for it. John and Pat would shape that glimmer. You’d re-read it 14 attempts later and the idea would still be there but developed. I was full of admiration for them. Being freelance themselves, they always felt they shouldn’t destroy a contributor, they felt that was the last thing they should do. They wanted to train them more into their way of thinking. Often it didn’t work…I had absolutely no idea where the story was going. I’m sure we hadn’t thought past the first episode. We knew it was something pretty awful, believe me! [Sadism, violence and black humour?] That’s what happens when you put a couple of freelancers in a room together! They just egg each other on. Part of it all was a reaction to the way comics had been up until then. They had been too safe, samey, sanitised. Characters never died, nothing ever changed, nothing progressed. Like Captain Hurricane went on episode after episode, the same formula, he’d throw a raging fury and rip tanks apart, and in his raging fury always win the day. It was so unreal and we were fed up with it. We wanted to kick some butt”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Despite these problems, the end result is a story that is gripping and filled with themes (brainwashing, struggle for survival, fighting adversity, war, black humour) that are guaranteed to grab the reader. The structure is well paced and the plot holds together extremely well. There is a discrepancy or two (such as Blake losing his boots in the minefield, but suddenly wearing boots again when he leaves the pagoda). But the overall product is strong, with its greatest strength perhaps lying in the characterisation, particularly of the villain. Nobody reading it would have guessed the problems the writers had in drafting it. Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain deserves to have more appreciation than it received when it was first published. But the attention it is getting on the Internet indicates that it is getting that appreciation now.

‘Remembered Reading’ – further thoughts

On reading and reviewing Mel Gibson’s new book “Remembered Reading”, I found it triggered lots of thoughts and fruitful avenues for future exploration. The pages of my copy are considerably marked with green highlighter now, so there are too many discussion jumping-off points for me to sensibly cover in the scope of this blog, but I did want to pick up on one or two specific key ones. Apologies for the delay in completing this post – I had wanted to do it much closer to the time of the original review.

The main point I wanted to cover was about the divided emotions that grown-up readers of girls’ comics might typically feel, along with the impact I see that as having on the longer-term validation and appreciation of those comics. Gibson’s interviews show readers of girls comics as having enjoyed comics at the time but then feeling that they need to put them away as they grow up; or, having grown up, realising how some aspects of those comics are more uncomfortable than they’d noticed at the time. (For instance a grown-up feminist might be uncomfortable about the female roles in the girls comics that they loved at the original time of reading.) Even if one-time readers of girls comics continue to read comics as adults, they typically read different comics, or in a different way – maybe they rejected girls comics in favour of 2000AD, or continued to read children’s comics because they were ‘allowed’ to as parents of children who were getting comics in their turn. What they didn’t do is continue to read girls’ comics as part of a fandom – a group of interested peers discussing artists, writers, stories, and themes – sharing knowledge and critical thought. There is no significant fandom for girls comics, or historically at least there hasn’t been. And why is this important? Because fandom and its activities validates the material under discussion as being worth discussion – within the group of fans, at any rate, regardless of whether the outside world agrees.

Take my case as an example. I loved Jinty. Once I stopped reading it I moved wholeheartedly onto Marvel comics, first as British reprints and then as the imported issues. I kept an eye out at school for other girls’ comics and read the odd issue as I came across them but have little memory of that reading. Marvel had a lot of fan activity associated with it – letters pages discussing the story lines and the creators, printed credits that name the artists and writers so that you can follow a particular favourite creator as well as favourite characters or stories – and of course they were available in comics shops too, so once I found one of those that I could visit I could absorb more discussion going on around me even though there was no specific group of fans I was associating with. When I was 17, I saw an advert for the UKCAC convention in London and went to it, mind boggled. None of that activity touched on girls comics at all; in essence, they might as well not have existed. Likewise, when I went to university and found a group of comics-reading friends, there was no discussion within that group about girls’ comics: not many of those friends were women in any case, but also we were all very focused on Marvel, DC, and the new wave of British comics influence in the form of V for Vendetta and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. If even your comics-loving peers don’t think girls comics are worth knowing stuff about and discussing in a fannish way, then they really must be beneath contempt! Or at the least, it means that we, as fans of comics, thought about girls comics as forming a very separate stream of comics material.

All in all this means that despite being a comics fan from an early age, I never saw girls’ comics in a fannish way until very recently (until starting this blog, and discovering similar blogs, and joining the UK Comics Forum). I think that had a number of direct impacts. The key one in my mind is that I have been associating with comics professionals since the early 90s, including people who did work on girls’ comics or who could have had contacts from those times. I could have been asking Phil Gascoine about his background in girls’ comics, on those evenings when I went to the SSI  (Society for Strip Illustration). As it was, I asked him about it precisely once, in a crowded convention bar, shortly before he died. What a waste of historical knowledge! This will have been repeated time and again, of course.

I also had a lot invested mentally (it turns out) in seeing Jinty, ‘my’ comic, as exceptional. An easy way to counter the slight sense of shame that grown up readers might feel about their attachment to a piece of ‘trash from the past’ is to rubbish the rest and elevate your own particular love object. Like others had done before and after me, I ‘flattened out’ my memories of girls’ comics and reduced them in my mind to being all about ballet, pony-riding, and school stories – or at least I did this to the ones that weren’t Jinty! I had no good way to put Jinty into the correct historical context of other publications or to relate the artists and writers on this one title to other titles published before, during, and after it. In a fannish environment there would have been much more encouragement to branch out and learn more about related comics created by the same people or in the same genre. Again, what a waste – this time of the reading enjoyment I could potentially have had.

On a less heart-felt note, I identified a few titles referred to in Remembered Reading that I want to get hold of myself – though I suspect that some of the sources that Gibson used may perhaps be infuriating or dry reading (there was a Royal Commission on the Press published in 1977 that might be interesting, and a later report on children’s reading published by the Roehampton Institute in 1996). One must-buy is going to be the Mum’s Own Annual published by Fleetway – Gibson is not entirely sure whether this is intended as a parody or not, but it sounds like it might have some insider views that are worth a look at. For instance, the following quote comes from the Mum’s Own Annual: “The girls involved in the market research for Tammy generally confirmed the editors’ assumptions about preferred content, but the readers’ enjoyment of stories that made them cry came as a surprise”.

Finally, I did also have an area of fruitful possible further investigation that Remembering Reading brought up for me – namely, on some of the differences and similarities between girls comics and boys comics. Of course this is something covered by Gibson. She explains how traditional girls’ comics had rules on how to write girl protagonists – Marcus Morris, the editor of Eagle and Girl, felt that while you could have action stories with female leads, the “motivation should be personal” to keep her marked as properly feminine (pg 81), “unlike male protagonists in the Eagle who would be depicted as responding to more abstract motivations, like national pride, for instance.” (pg 45) There is further good analysis of the differences between Eagle and Girl content-wise – girls had active roles but were either schoolgirl investigators or at the beginning of their working life, not grown policeman or pilots. As with boys’ comics, the publishers of girls comics still needed to produce interesting, involving stories – and while the outside world might reject them as racist, sexist, and poorly written (pg 79), creators and editors saw their work differently, knowing that you couldn’t get away with a ‘wet’ lead character, girl or boy (pg 80). But how does a publisher of stories for boys, and a publisher of stories for girls, approach the overall aim of making interesting and readable stories – are there real, notable differences between the resulting stories, or prejudices and assumptions about them that vanish under further analysis?

For instance, if girls’ comics are a way for girls to choose to either conform (by accepting the version of girlhood presented) or to rebel (by rejecting it), then that presumably means that writers and editors have to juggle the aims of attracting readers versus not pushing away parents and other gatekeepers. Do they have to do this more so than the people who are making boy’s comics, or to a similar degree? Boy readers play with conformity in a different way from girl readers – reading a comic already is a ‘boy thing’, unless it’s a strongly gender-marked girls comics – but then if it is made into too ‘girly’ a thing even the staunch girl readers may desert it. What does this mean for the content of the titles?  Gibson says that “the publications present adult, and especially the editors’, perceptions of what is appropriate to girlhood in terms of both entertainment and education. However, this does not mean that the titles were ideological monoliths” (pg 38) and points to the emotional turmoil, wit and resilience of central characters. Often in girls’ comics these are lone, misunderstood heroines – perhaps with a lot of cruelty and victimhood, but a secret heroine who puts things right, one who is active not passive. I think there is a lot that can be looked at to compare how stories work in boys’ comics and girls’ comics – similarity and differences of themes, or of what kinds of stories work or not, or about what kind of shape they have as stories (happy endings or sad, character development or no character development, story ending back where it started or not, long narrative arcs or not). Why, I don’t actually even know for sure that the Cinderella or Slave theme might not have featured in boys’ comics, perhaps a little less obviously than in the girls’ ones! Certainly the trope focusing on a group of friends (“The Four Marys” and so on) is easily transferable to boys’ comics.

There is considerably more that I could pull out and highlight as further thoughts for future developments. Please do read the book yourself if you are able, and comment with your own further thoughts!

Tammy Annual 1986

Tammy annual 1986

  • Cover artist: Mario Capaldi
  • Pam of Pond Hill (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey)
  • Animal Magic (feature)
  • The Bell – Strange Story (artist Jaume Rumeu aka Homero Romeu)
  • Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Wish Upon a Star (feature)
  • The Black and White World of Shirley Grey (artist Diane Gabbot)
  • Party Pieces (feature)
  • Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Yule Tide – text story (artist Tony Coleman, writer Ian D. Mennell)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Snow – poem (writer Deborah Pfeiffer)
  • What’s Your Resolution? (quiz)
  • Sally’s Secret – Strange Story (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Animal Magic
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Second Sight – Button Box story in text (artist John Johnston, writer Ian D. Mennell)
  • Animal Magic
  • ‘Make It’ a Great Year! (feature)
  • Flutter by, Butterfly! (feature)
  • Sweet Eats (feature)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Snowy, the Christmas Snowman (feature)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Molly Mills and the Sporting Life (artist Douglas Perry)

This was the last Tammy annual, with a gorgeous cover from Mario Capaldi. Capaldi had illustrated several covers for the Jinty annual and one for the Misty annual, but this was his first – and last – cover for the Tammy annual. Could it well be the last cover Capaldi ever produced for any girls’ annual as well? By this time the IPC girls’ titles had faded and DCT had taken more of a centre stage.

Pam of Pond Hill leads off the annual with her last Christmas story. Pam and Goof are sent to collect the Christmas tree for the school. Sounds simple and foolproof? Pam and Goof find out it’s anything but.

(Click thru)

Pam 1 Pam 2Pam 3Pam 4

The two text stories, “Yule Tide” and “Second Sight” take the unusual step of crediting the writer, Ian D. Mennell. “Second Sight” is unique for being the only Button Box story ever published as a text story, and it is a story that I have always enjoyed. Carmal, an Oriental girl, starts out as a selfish rich girl. Not surprising, considering that her uncle is a rogue. She mistreats a blind busker by putting buttons in his bowl instead of coins. But karma strikes when the uncle’s victims take a revenge attack that leaves Carmal blind and alone, and she is taken in by the very same busker she had mistreated. She learns his trade, and also learns what it is like to have mean people throw worthless rubbish in your busking bowl instead of money. In the process she becomes a more considerate and kind person – and so has the uncle, once he has tracked her down.

Meanwhile, Capaldi’s picture Button Box story is about a housemaid who hates her job because she is an outdoor type. When she foils a robber (realising he left a loose button from his jacket at the scene of the crime), it opens up a new career for her as a policewoman and enjoying the great outdoors on the beat.

Talking of housemaids, the last Molly Mills annual story reprints “The Sporting Life”, an annual sports event between the villagers and the Stanton Hall staff. Normally the villagers get on well with Stanton Hall, but when it comes to sports day it is far from a friendly match. It’s a needle event, and the needles are sharper than usual because the villagers have Olympic hopefuls on their team, and then spoilsport Pickering bans the staff from training after he gets caught up in mishaps from it.

(Click thru)

molly1molly2molly3

The poem “Snow” is also given a credit. The writer is Deborah Pfeiffer. This is the only work in Tammy credited to Pfeiffer.

The reprints are taken from 1981, including Diane Gabbot’s second-to-last Tammy story, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”. The original run had the honour of starting in Tammy’s 10th birthday issue. Shirley Grey refuses to tell lies in the wake of an accident she irrationally blames herself for. But Shirley is taking it to such extremes that she refuses to tell even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. You can imagine what that leads to, and it starts with the boss’s wife asking Shirley what she thinks of her dress (which is hideous!).

(Click thru)

shirley 1 shirley 2shirley 3

The annual is the one that stops the Bessie Bunter appearances. I find this a bit sad as I have always been a big fan of Bessie. Maybe there was no room for Bessie, or the editors decided she had had her day? If they did, it may reflect what happened in the regular comic. Bessie’s days became numbered in 1980 after Tammy swallowed Misty. During the merger Bessie was demoted from regular appearances to “from time to time” appearances while Wee Sue and Molly were still going strong.

(Click thru)

bella

The Bella story is more intriguing in that Tammy is taking a serious attempt to giving the colouring more of a 3-D look in the use of the hues and tones. In the previous annuals this was only applied to skin toning, but now it is being applied to everything. The story has Bella losing her confidence because she is under a cloud that she won a medal by default when her rival withdrew. Bella’s coach is handling her badly, which only makes matters worse. But of course things turn around and it ends with Bella all set to make the coach eat his words. And it’s nice to see Bella’s last annual story focus on her gymnastics and not the machinations of Jed and Gert, which were the most frequent basis of Bella’s annual stories.

In the last Wee Sue story in the annual, Sue’s final word is “’bye!.” I wonder if this is meant to be a double meaning as this is the last-ever Tammy annual, and this particular reprint chosen for this reason.

(Click thru)

sue 1sue 2sue 3a

IPC/Fleetway and the NUJ: interview with Pete Wrobel

In previous posts on this blog, I have managed to interview some of the original creators and editors working on Jinty and other comics titles of the time. Having heard from these and other sources various stories about the strikes and other industrial action that took place in IPC/Fleetway, I decided to write to the National Union of Journalists to see what, if anything, they might have that was of relevance in their archives. My original query was as follows:

I am an independent researcher interested in some data that might perhaps be available in the NUJ archives, and I’d like to know how I can best proceed with finding out more. My interest is in weekly girls’ comics published by IPC Fleetway in the 1970s. There were a number of strikes and other forms of industrial activities that caused some disruption to publication schedules during that time, so I am pretty sure that the editorial staff at any rate will have been union members, and I assume they would have been members of the NUJ. Can you advise me who I should talk to, or how I should proceed, in order to start to find out more?

I am particularly interested to know if there are any relevant records pertaining to the IPC / Fleetway staff or office in any way (perhaps from the time of the strikes in the 1970s – I can supply more precise dates as necessary), or other information about the publishing of these comics at the time which might have been recorded for Union purposes.

I received a very helpful reply from Pete Wrobel, contacted by the NUJ following my query. Below are quotes from the email exchanges on my original and follow-up points. Many thanks indeed to Pete for all his information! For clarity, as some of the quotes are rather long, Pete’s text is marked PW and mine is marked JS/comixminx.

Your email has been passed to me, though I’m not sure how I can help. I should say first of all that the NUJ has no records from this period, other than individual membership records.
I worked for IPC from 1977 to 1992, and was part of the Fleetway Chapel (office branch) of the NUJ… so called because its members worked on titles brought over from Fleetway House when they were relocated to King’s Reach Tower. I later (around 1978) became the union rep of what was then known as the Juveniles Chapel. I worked at the time on Look and Learn, and didn’t have too much to do with the weekly girls’ comics (which I remember as including Tammy, Pink, Mates, and Oh Boy) though I knew all the staff (at the time… memory fades!). PW

 

Sadly Pete had no information on what happened to Mavis Miller, which was one of my questions (a perennial one I will keep asking in every interview). He did suggest contacting Gaythorne Silvester, the editor of Oh Boy, who ‘might have set up My Guy before moving to Woman magazine in the 80s’ and who, ‘originally worked at DC Thomson in Dundee, and will have had a lot of relevant experience.’ One for a future interview request, but I mention his name here for reference in case anyone is reading who has a particular interest in those areas.

Regarding the industrial action itself, I would be very interested in your memories for a piece on my blog, as I would your memories about the union activities generally. As the union rep, is it correct to assume you had a wide-ranging contact with many members of the Juvenile Chapel? I would be interested for instance in knowing whether union membership was pretty wide-spread and normal, or limited to certain areas within the group (and if so, why); and generally your views on why it was that strikes seem to have been quite a feature of IPC in the 70s, whereas rival publisher DC Thomson had few or none. (I have plenty of assumptions about this but won’t mention them for fear of leading you!) I know the story is that at least one girls’ comics title was cancelled due to the negative impact of the earlier strikes – I believe this is supposed to be why June merged with Tammy in 1974 – so presumably strikes carried risk too in terms of the decisions that might have been made by management in their wake?

Finally, from your own memories of working on Look and Learn and any memories you might have of conversations with colleagues who worked on Tammy/Misty/Jinty, I’d be very interested in any recollections you have of editorial directions and principles that might have been in play, again for a blog post. Look and Learn was obviously a title that was seen as educational so it had a certain remit. Was it important to people working on that title to be ‘respectable’ or were there times when it was seen as useful or viable to push the envelope and rebel in some ways – for instance by covering topics that were seen as a little risqué or daring? In Tammy/Misty/Jinty there is that sense, and I wonder how much or how far that might be accepted within the company, and/or how far that might be down to individuals who wanted to push the boundaries (John Wagner and Pat Mills are the names that come up in this sort of story). (JS/comixminx)

Pete’s reply:

Union membership was indeed widespread. When it was a separate chapel, Fleetway had what we in the NUJ would think of as a very good agreement. It included a post-entry closed shop – ie, you didn’t need to belong to the union before you got a job there, but you had to join if you got a job (and join the pension scheme too, and very good it was/is). When Fleetway moved to King’s Reach everyone came under one agreement, and by then the closed shop was illegal (following the Heath government’s Industrial Relations Act); however, almost everyone was a member. I recall that when I was Father of the (Fleetway) Chapel there were 146 members out an “eligible” 147 – and that included the editorial management up to and including John Purdie and John Sanders (though he was by no means enthusiastic). The one non-member worked on one of the comics, I think. Hours of work were impressive (to my eyes!): 10 to 5.30, with 1.25 hours for lunch! And indeed, most people left at 5.30 most of the time, because that was when the printer’s messengers came and collected the day’s work, and there was no point in staying late, so people went home or to the pub. Holidays were good for the time: 5 weeks plus bank holidays etc.
I know nothing about industrial action prior to 1977.
During my time as a union rep at IPC (in various guises, from 1978 to 1992) there was no industrial action specific to the Juveniles chapel. There were issues, of course, but mainly relating to staffing and the employment of freelancers, and they were dealt with without any industrial action. There was a major dispute in 1977/1978 affecting the whole of IPC Magazines, over what we called the “house agreement”. Basically, the union agreement at IPC was part of a huge one covering IPC Magazines, IPC Business Press, Hamlyns and Butterworths. In the late 1970s, there was a lot of frustration over the level of pay (it was a time of high inflation), but restrictions via the Social Contract with the TUC/Labour government about what unions could negotiate. So as part of the 1976 IPC agreement, it was agreed that there could be “local” agreements at each of the four constituent parts which “might not exclude money-related matters”. The IPC Magazines Group Chapel (like the others) duly put in a claim, but management dragged their feet, and by the middle of 1977 things came to a head and the group chapel registered a formal dispute (I remember this well: my first day at work involved a huge chapel meeting – so large we had to walk across the river to Conway Hall – which rejected the company’s position). We then began a campaign of guerrilla-type action, stopping all work outside contractual hours, taking our full lunch breaks, taking accumulated time-off-in-lieu, and taking any new time off in lieu (for example, after attending a lunch-hour press conference) immediately. Work dragged, deadlines slipped, and then we said we would not alter the set deadlines, so that most publications – just about all in Juveniles – simply stopped publishing as we would only press an issue on the scheduled press day. Eventually the company caved in, and we got our agreement, including an allowance for a late meal if working more than 1.5 hours after 5.30, and a “reading allowance” that allowed us to claim (explicitly without receipt!) for one daily paper, two weeklies and one monthly. Naturally, everyone looked up the most expensive they could claim – many claimed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, or National Geographic, or – and hundreds claimed this – a photographic magazine called Zoom (which was actually a bimonthly, but no one noticed that), so that the allowance could reach £10 to £20 a month… a lot of money then.
Lest anyone criticise the members then for “greed”, note this: at the time, there was a huge strike affecting provincial newspapers, with thousands of NUJ members out; the Magazines Group Chapel voted to donate the first two months’ reading allowance to the provincial journalist members. At the time, all expenses were reimbursed in cash from the petty cash office (oh, those days!), and I remember going round from desk to desk in the Juveniles chapel – in the comics and elsewhere – collecting the first reading allowance from members. I then went round to the old HQ of the NUJ, Acorn House, with £1800 in cash – more than £9000 in today’s money.
DC Thomson had no strikes because it was actively anti-union. In 1952 it had sacked 74 printers for their union membership, and was boycotted by the TUC from 1953 on. As to how it managed to maintain that stance, I am not the person to answer. But the fear of getting sacked was quite a disincentive to joining a union. Certainly many of those who came from Dundee to IPC to work on our titles were enthusiastic union members!
As to magazine closures, IPC would close titles if they ceased to be profitable, and industrial action really didn’t play a huge part in that.
I’m afraid I can’t be of much (or, indeed, any) help on editorial policies. I have no memories at all of discussing them with people on the comics. I think that on Look and Learn we were not trying to push the envelope. We were only risqué or daring by accident. Or sometimes not. I remember a wonderful piece of artwork imagining the Colossus of Rhodes by Roger Payne (a brilliant illustrator), where we had to airbrush out the highlight on his penis. And there was the odd double-entendre in a headline (“Bionic man is coming” was one of them). I do remember though that 2000AD consistently pushed any envelopes it could lay its hands on. PW
I wanted to follow up this detail by seeking an answer to a point that I saw raised on the Comics UK Forum. Apparently in David Bishop’s Thrillpower Overload history of 2000AD, he quoted John Sanders thus regarding strike action at IPC in May 1980: “These strikes were very common and they were almost always about money. I would say the most militant union officials at IPC were in the Youth Group. I decided to make a point. We would have to concentrate our resources on fewer titles once the strike was over. The one I wanted to close was 2000AD.” – Bishop goes on to say “Sanders instead shut a girls’ comic with very high circulation, whose editor was one of the NUJ militants within the Youth Group. ‘The staff lost their jobs, the whole thing was tragic’.” My question to Pete was therefore whether he could shed any further light on this story, to confirm it and in particular to confirm the girls’ comic in question. He replied by re-sending the text he wrote previously on the Thrillpower Overload blog:
I came across this while looking for something else about IPC, but just for the record (I was a union official at IPC at that time): there was no five-week strike in 1980. The union voted to start an overtime ban in protest against a below-inflation pay offer, and the company said that unless union pledged not to implement the ban it would sack everyone. Indeed, that’s what it did, before any action had even started, saying we had “dismissed ourselves”. Naturally, we were disinclined to believe that we had sacked ourselves, and turned up for work the next day. We carried on trying to work for six weeks, during which the company refused to let anything be published (lest that prove that we were working). Six weeks later it saw sense, reinstated us and paid us lost salary (and expenses). If anyone was “obliging” staff to stop work, it was the company. Strange times. I remember Steve, and he’s a great guy, but memories fade into legend, etc: in fact there was no strike over free coffee; there was a work to rule over a number of issues wrapped up in IPC Magazine’s refusal to honour a pledge to negotiate a “local” (i.e., IPC Magazines-wide rather than also IPC Business Press etc) agreement that included late working allowances, reading allowances and also, yes, free tea and coffee. No one in their right mind would have a strike about free tea and coffee on their own! As for what John Sanders said, well, virtually none of it is credible. He never liked 2000AD because its staff were not under his thumb. The magazine closed during the 1980 dispute was not high selling nor recently launched. It was Pink, I think, which was old (by girls’ magazines standards) and ailing, and would have been closed anyway. Sanders’ comments about NUJ militants there and at 200AD are ridiculous. I don’t remember any particular hotbeds of militancy. Most of us were pretty much sickened by IPC’s attitudes towards its journalists. PW
PW adds: IPC never closed down magazines with “very high circulation”.
Once again, many thanks to Pete Wrobel for his kind replies and input!