Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

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