Pat Mills: Interview

Pat Mills is someone who has already contributed lots to our knowledge of girls comics of this era, but even so there are still some gaps in our knowledge of what he wrote, and always plenty more questions to be asked. With thanks to him for his contributions now and in the past, here is a brief email interview.

1) In previous discussions you’ve identified the following stories in girls’ comics as having been written by you. Are there any stories missing from that list that you can remember? Some other stories have been attributed to you – also listed below – which you’ve either specifically said you didn’t write, or which haven’t been included in those previous discussions. It would be great to clarify this once and for all, if we can.

Known stories (Jinty)

You have also said before that you wrote a horse story, without identifying which one it was. Might it be “Horse from the Sea”? Or perhaps “Wild Horse Summer“?

Pat Mills: No. Doesn’t ring a bell. It’s possible I did the horse story for Tammy, but it wasn’t very good.

Tammy

  • Ella on Easy Street?
  • Glenda’s Glossy Pages?

Pat Mills: Charles Herring wrote Ella which I hugely admire. I wrote Glenda. Also – Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, and Granny’s Town, but not all episodes.

Misty

  • Moonchild
  • Roots (Nightmare)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (Beasts)

Pat Mills: Think “Red Knee” was mine if it was the spider story. Also “Hush Hush Sweet Rachel” – art by Feito.

And some Jinty stories you didn’t write but which are often attributed to you: “Knight and Day” (now confirmed as not yours), “The Human Zoo” (I think this is thought to be Malcolm Shaw’s), “Wanda Whiter Than White“, “Guardian of White Horse Hill” (you’ve previously thought this is likely to be Malcolm’s too).

Pat Mills: No, none of those are mine.

2) I appreciate that it’s harder to remember which stories were written by other people, if you even knew these details at the time. If there are any stories that you know the writers of, we are always up for adding to our store of attributions! We know that co-workers of yours such as John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring wrote for girls comics, in case that helps to trigger any memories. Did you also perhaps know Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon? (Some of those names are listed in the era when Tammy printed creator credits between 1982 and 1984, meaning we do have some story credits already in hand for that time.)

Pat Mills: Charles Herring was great – Ella and similar stories.  Pat and Alan Davidson wrote stories like Little Miss Nothing – Sandie and the equivalent in Tammy. They were top writers and that style of ‘Cinderella” story was hugely popular, but I don’t think they ever worked for Mavis. [In fact we do know that Alan Davidson wrote for Jinty, though Pat Davidson did not.]

John Wagner created and wrote “Jeanie and her Uncle Meanie” for Sandie, I think.  John was an editor on Sandie, but Gerry was the founding editor.

I wrote “Captives of Madam Karma” in Sandie.

John Wagner and I wrote “School of No Escape” in Sandie. (That was not bad) And “The Incredible Miss Birch” for Sandie. (Not our finest hour!) And I must have written at least one other story of this kind for Sandie.

I also wrote “Sugar Jones” and other stories for Pink, and “9 to 4” for Girl.

3) In Steve MacManus’ new book on his time in IPC / Fleetway, he talks about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story: so for instance at one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. Is this something that you too remember from your time at IPC Fleetway? Did it happen at DCThomson too? I was interested in this because it seemed like a surprising way to think about comics, rather than in terms of page count.

Pat Mills: Yes. Steve is spot on. It’s a big subject. A thirty picture story in girls comics would theoretically deliver a lot of story. But it would be crammed and old fashioned. So I changed all that on 2000AD with less images on the page and started to apply it to Misty.

4) You’ve talked before about girls comics working differently from boys comics, and Steve MacManus recalls you saying that in a girls story the heroine would beat a bully, ride in a gymkhana, and still get back home in time to make her motherless family a hearty tea. Clearly girls comics were very full of plot! And you were a big part of rewriting a bunch of boys stories to make them fit the girls comics model more closely. Can you talk in a bit more detail about how this worked, in other words, what the mechanism was, more exactly? Is it a case of using fewer action sequences, more surprise reveals, lots of scene changes…?

Pat Mills: The big principle of girls comics that I applied to boys comics was “emotion”. Sometimes this worked well, but it needed applying in a different way. More “cool”, perhaps. Some girls principles didn’t adapt well:  jealousy for instance. Girls loved stories involving jealousy – boys didn’t. Hence “Green’s Grudge War” in Action wasn’t a hit.  Similarly, mystery stories work well in girls comics, boys didn’t give a damn about mystery. Hence my “Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain” in Battle, boys didn’t care what the terror was. It wasn’t a failure, but not the hit we hoped for.

However, where girls comics scored ENORMOUSLY was in having realistic stories that didn’t talk down to the reader. My “Charley’s War” is really a girls comic in disguise. Its popularity lies in it applying girls comic principles NOT boys comic principles – e.g. emotion is allowable in the context of World War One.

I was never that sold on “girls adventure” where there wasn’t a strong “kitchen sink”/Grange Hill factor. I think when Jinty went in for science fiction adventure it led the field, but not so sure about regular adventure which could seem “old school” – to me, at least. This was a factor everyone battled with on girls and boys comics, avoiding “old school” and creating stories that were “cool”.  Thus I would describe “Cat Girl” in Sally as uncool and old fashioned. Some of the Misty stories fell into that category – historical stories, for example.

Many thanks again to Pat Mills for his time, and for his memories and thoughts on this.

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23 thoughts on “Pat Mills: Interview

  1. Pat doesn’t like it very much, but I love ‘The amazing miss Birch’ from Sandie. It’s so funny! But without the art of A.E. Allen it would definitely have been less funny. Like some episodes of Wee Sue by, for instance, Hugh Thornton-Jones are less funny than the ones by Robert MacGillivray.

    1. Yes, the job MacGillivray does of tartar teacher Miss Bigger’s nose is just hysterical! It’s amazing how the artwork makes all the difference in how well a story is conveyed.

      Robert MacGillivray, John Richardson and John Johnston are my favourite Wee Sue artists.

      1. I was going to suggest watching the following fascinating program from nine years ago, for whatever answers might be gleaned – but you can’t hear the thing. FWIW here you are:

  2. I find it a bit odd that boys don’t care about mystery. Boys like Sherlock Holmes, don’t they? Maybe Bamboo Curtain was the wrong type of mystery.

    1. Maybe the wrong type of mystery, or maybe the market that the title was aimed at wasn’t mystery-focused – maybe it’s also that people wanting to read a war story didn’t want it ‘muddled’ with other elements. Perhaps it would have gone better in a more general comic?

  3. “Song of the Fir Tree” could be called an adventure story, but I don’t think it was “uncool”. Or Bunty’s “Catch the Cat”, which could be defined as adventure, particularly the second Cat story in 1980.

    1. I suspect ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ are probably quite difficult to define precisely 🙂 and there might well be disagreement about what is or isn’t… I think Pat would probably say Fir Tree is primarily a fugitive story. I wonder what else would count as an adventure story? Surely Barracuda Bay.

    1. Well, that’s certainly true! It’s important to think about the context that these stories were published in. After all, even ballet stories were originally revolutionary – they showed girls being active, creative, dedicated to a passion that wasn’t only about family and marriage…

    2. Which begs the question of how we judge a story to be ‘cool’, or to work well, or to be interesting at this point, long after the original context. So much of it is down to our personal taste (and to a bit of the nostalgia factor). Some stories are clearly very well executed (I think Concrete Surfer hardly puts a foot wrong in its pacing and storytelling) but is that why they work or don’t work, even now? Or is it down to the more mysterious factors of taste and fashion?

    3. Like Bunty’s 1967 story “Sister of the Bride”. Jane keeps sabotaging her sister Shona’s career because she believes Shona should get married instead – and Shona does end up married, much to Jane’s delight. The story may have been cool in its own time but would spark outrage today. And what girl today would think the way Jane did?

      However, “Waves of Fear”, “Concrete Surfer”, “The Four-Footed Friends”, “Face the Music, Flo!”, “Fancy Free!”, “Black Sheep of the Bartons”, and “Tears of a Clown” are some Jinty stories I can think of that would still be cool today because the themes they explore (bullying, pop music, parental problems, family dysfunction, mental illness, sports, martial arts) are so universal and remain as relevant now as they were then.

  4. “The Sentinels” from Misty is still cool because the theme of alternate reality where Hitler won WWII fascinates people as much as ever. Plus it doesn’t hesitate to show dark stuff such as Gestapo torture and even a hint of the Holocaust. Faust is always popular, so Misty’s “Winner Loses All!” remains one of the coolest stories ever in girls’s comics.

  5. Lots of things can make a story work and stick with you, but others can seem dated. On the topic of ballet stories, I recently saw trailer for new animated film “Ballerina” that would seem to fit right in with old ballet stories of the past, poor girl that aspires to become a ballerina, and even has a more privileged girl with pushy mother as rival!

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