Published: Princess II, #1 (24 September 1983) to #12 (10 December 1983)
Translations/reprints: ‘Hokus pokus, ik ben een konijn!’ [Hocus pocus, I’m a rabbit!]. Dutch Tina, 1984.
In keeping with the Easter season, we present this rabbit-themed story from Princess II.
Jenny Andrews’ father is a children’s entertainer, but ever since his wife died his heart has not been in it. It gives him too many reminders of his late wife, plus he has also grown cynical about child audiences. As he can’t work properly no money is coming in for the rent, and eviction is imminent.
Dad does manage to perform at a children’s party at the Mortimers’ house. Jenny goes out into the garden to set up the puppet show. She is surprised to find a rabbit in a garden pen talking to her. At first she thinks it is her father’s ventriloquism, but the rabbit says he is in fact Arthur Evans, owner of the local joke/magic shop, who has been missing for weeks. He unwisely tried out a book of spells he found in the market and unwittingly turned himself into a rabbit. He retained the ability to talk, which he hides because he fears people will exploit him. He opened up to Jenny because he feels he can trust her, and he begs for her help to get him back to normal.
When Mr Evans does talk he is very disagreeable and ill-mannered. As a human he was an old grouch and even his wife calls him a “miserable old so-and-so”. As a rabbit he is not much better, but he does have more reason to be irritable considering his ordeal, especially after being imprisoned in the pen. It does not sound like the Mortimer children have treated him well either. When Mrs Mortimer pulls the rabbit’s ears, he protests in a justified but very offensive manner: “Let go, you stupid old bag!” Mrs Mortimer thinks it’s Jenny’s ventriloquism and sends Mr Andrews packing without payment (now we know where the bratty Mortimer kids get it from). So no money for the rent from that job, which means they’re even closer to eviction.
Mr Evans escapes and hitches a ride to the Andrews’ place. There Mr Andrews is so desperate for food and no money for it that he wants to eat the rabbit. The rabbit objects to that of course: “You’ve got to get me out of here before I end up sharing a plate with potatoes and two veg!” He tells Jenny. Mr Andrews assumes it’s Jenny’s much-improved ventriloquism.
Jenny and Mr Evans go to the joke shop for the book, but Mrs Evans has sold it and has no clue as to who bought it. She is not missing her husband much because he was such a misery boots. Mr Evans takes money from the till (hiding it in his mouth) to pay for groceries to keep the Andrews household fed. He does not regard it as stealing. “It’s my shop, my till, and my money! I can’t steal from myself, can I?” he tells Jenny. Yes, but tell the police that. When Mrs Evans discovers the missing money she assumes Jenny trained up the rabbit to steal it, and it’s in the newspaper: “Rabbit Steals Cash!”
The Mortimers come looking for the rabbit, which they correctly suspect got away with Mr Andrews. Mr Andrews pulls a magic hat trick to confuse them and keep the rabbit safe from them. “Squashed me a bit though,” says Mr Evans. “My back’s aching.”
Then grief overtakes Mr Andrews again. He is in no mental state to do a booked show, and they badly need the money from it. So Jenny decides to do the show herself, with the help of Mr Evans. At first he is reluctant because of the child audience: “…I loathe children – smelly, sticky, noisy little brats the lot of them. Always poking and breaking things. Definitely no!” However, Jenny persuades him otherwise. The show is such a success that Jenny is paid a bonus.
Mr Evans can smell other rabbits in the house, and says they are terrified. No wonder – they are being kept in a pen, waiting to be taken to the father’s research station for experimentation. Mr Evans goes into the pen to help them while the pen is not properly secured: “Hey, chaps – now’s your chance to make a break!” This only has Mr Evans get muddled up with them and Jenny takes the wrong rabbit. Later, Mr Evans manages to escape himself, but then he gets caught in a trap.
It doesn’t take Jenny long to realise she has the wrong rabbit, and when she goes back she discovers Mr Evans’ escape and does not know where to find him. Meanwhile, Jenny’s father gets a TV talent entrepreneur to come and listen to Jenny’s ventriloquism act, but her pathetic efforts make him look an idiot. He does not realise the talking rabbit was not her ventriloquism and the rabbit she has is not Mr Evans.
Eventually Jenny finds Mr Evans and frees him from the trap, but he becomes really ill. The vet says the rabbit has a heart condition, and if he were human he would receive hospital treatment, but as he is a rabbit he will have to be put to sleep. Of course this is not an option for Mr Evans. They need the book of spells more than ever now, so they start advertising for it.
The advertising gets no response until Dad gives Jenny the book of spells for a birthday present. So it was in the house all the time!
Dad comes over to believing Mr Evans the talking rabbit is for real and lends a hand with the counter spell. Unfortunately something goes wrong. Mr Evans starts growing into a monstrous giant rabbit, which sends the landlady into faint.
Jenny and her father finally get the magic right and Mr Evans returns to human form. The landlady assumes the giant rabbit must have been one of her dizzy turns. Mr Evans now hopes to make money out of the book, but it has been conveniently reduced to ashes. “Blast!”
Mr Evans can now receive the hospital treatment he needs. He even gets his wife to believe what happened and how the money really got taken from the shop till, so Jenny is cleared. As Mr Andrews is no longer up to entertaining, Mr Evans offers him a job as manager of his joke shop because he is going to retire and take his wife on a world cruise. Mind you, Mr Evans is still a grouchy man, and he is not pleased to be given a salad lunch in hospital: “Oh no – not more lettuce!” Just when he thought he was free of rabbit greens.
Few photo stories in girls’ comics are remembered today, but there seems to be some lingering memory for this one, even if it is a bit bonkers. This has to be due to Mr Evans himself. There is no doubt he is the star of the show. Every time he speaks in his rude, tetchy, sourpuss manner it makes you laugh out loud because it’s so funny. You just have to love it, and for this reason I’ve put up examples throughout the entry.
The story would be far less effective if Mr Evans talked in a more nondescript or formal manner. And for all his cranky ways, he is simply loveable – at least when he is a rabbit – because he’s a rabbit, and rabbits are so cute. “You were impossible as a rabbit,” says Jenny. “I can’t begin to think what you’d be like as a donkey or an elephant!” But that’s what makes it so funny. The juxtaposition of a cute rabbit talking in such a crabby uncivil manner is simply hilarious. His grouchiness makes him less likeable when he is a human, yet endearing as a rabbit. It’s ironic that an old sourpuss like him runs a joke shop.
We can just see the laughs the grouchy talking rabbit would raise if the story were televised, and it would make a delightful children’s programme.
Mr Evans’ surly disposition does not improve much as a rabbit. He is rude even to Jenny when he reaches out to her for help. In some ways he does have reason to be snappy: “You’d be a grouch too, if you’d been turned into a rabbit, lived in a hutch outside in all weathers, been thought of as a tasty meal, and then cuddled like some revolting pet!” Yes, he sure has been through quite an ordeal since he became a rabbit, and being turned into a rabbit must have been very traumatic. It certainly is not very comfortable: “It’s hot, wearing a fur coat all the time!” Added to that is his growing heart condition, which would hardly help his disposition. He becomes even more sympathetic when his illness is diagnosed, so now his very life depends on finding the book of spells and reversing the spell.
Mr Evans’ experiences as a rabbit do open his heart more to other animals. For example, when he encounters the research lab rabbits he thinks “Never thought I’d feel sorry for a bunch of rabbits!”, which shows how much he had thought about animal welfare before. That’s not to say he is a heartless man; his offering Mr Andrews a job shows he’s not such a bad old stick, even if he is a grump. He does not even mind (well at least he doesn’t object) when Jenny tells him how impossible he is, even when he becomes human again.
Mr Evans’ disposition would be projected far better if the story had been drawn. We could really see his surliness brought to life with say, lines and storm clouds around his head indicating anger. This would also bring in even more humour to the story. And his growth to giant rabbit proportions would be brought off far more effectively. Indeed, the story itself would be far better off being a picture story rather than a photo story.
It’s not surprising that Mr Evans’ adventures as a rabbit are a vehicle into the exploration of animal abuse and animal welfare. It begins with Mr Evans being abused by the Mortimer family, and comes up again with the caged rabbits bound for the research lab. Mr Evans even tries to encourage those rabbits into a jailbreak, but they don’t understand him.
When heroines in girls’ comics work in the entertainment business, they are as a rule quite proactive heroines and Jenny is no exception. She may not have enough experience or talent to follow her father, but she is not afraid to speak her mind. Mr Andrews’ occupation (conjuror, clown, ventriloquist, puppeteer) also lends liveliness to the story; the best scene is where he uses the hat trick to hide Mr Evans. This shows what a good entertainer he is, and it’s a real shame he has lost his passion for it. We really hope he would regain it. He does not, but it’s a relief that he is going to get a job where his conjuring skills will be transferable. He will most certainly be a more pleasant man for customers to meet in the joke shop than Mr Evans.