Monthly Archives: July 2018

Betta to Lose [1978]

Sample Images

Betta to Lose 1aBetta to Lose 1bBetta to Lose 1c

Published: Tammy 13 May 1978 – 15 July 1978

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Library #24 as “Wonder Girl” (abridged)

Plot

Betta James is subjected to a harsh regime to make her the top athlete of St Mary’s School: endless training, and the sports mistress Miss Pearce has no hesitation to lay on extra training sessions where she sees fit; a diet that is so strict that Bella is not even allowed a piece of her own celebratory cake; and no social life whatsoever,  with films, disco dances and even parties all banned. And the other girls are assigned as her watchdogs to see she sticks to it all. It’s nothing but sleep, eat and breathe constant sports practice to beat Deepdale all the time. Added to that, Bella’s education is suffering and she is way behind classwork because she is excused too many lessons for sports practice. But the headmistress does not care about that. All she cares about is beating Deepdale and crowing over her old school rival, who is the headmistress there. And they can’t beat Deepdale without Betta. Betta’s parents are no help either; they are just as win-crazy and beating Deepdale as Miss Pearce and the headmistress.

Betta gets fed up with this life and wants out. She tries going on strike and expressing her feelings to Miss Pearce, but Miss Pearce blackmails her out of it with a threat of extra-hard school exams, which Betta has little chance of passing because she is so behind on schoolwork. So Betta tries another tactic: deliberately losing sports matches against Deepdale in the hope she will be released from the “sports trap” as she calls it.

However, Betta soon finds that losing is not that easy when you are by nature a winner. Plus, her training has made her reflexes too strong to simply louse up. So Betta resorts to sabotage: greasing up a baton exchange; slicing studs off her shoes to lose balance; weighting her swimsuit with lead; and playing with a useless hockey stick.

With tricks like that, it is not long before beady-eyed Miss Pearce gets suspicious. But it is the ironically jealous Leonie Mather who catches Betta out when she mistakenly thinks one of Betta’s tricks was aimed at her and Betta is forced to explain the truth. She does not realise Miss Pearce and the headmistress have overheard her.

The headmistress decides to grant Betta’s wish. She drops Betta from all the teams and Leonie takes her place. However, she is furious over what she perceives as disloyalty to the school (not being able to crow over her Deepdale rival, she means!) and is out to make Betta pay for it. And when the school starts suffering extremely humiliating losses against Deepdale because they are hopeless without Betta, the headmistress’s anger towards Betta turns into downright spite.

And remember that hint Miss Pearce made to Betta about the school exams? That is precisely what the headmistress does – she makes them extra-extra-hard just to spite Betta, who has been slaving hard to catch up on her schoolwork (and because of this, has not found time for the social life she hoped for without her sports life). The headmistress even supervises the exams herself so she can gloat over Betta in person. The headmistress spites Betta even further when she tells her that she failed the maths exam, although she hasn’t even marked the paper. She just assumed Betta failed because Betta handed it in after one hour. On this basis alone the headmistress withdraws Betta from the exams and schoolwork and puts her back into sport. Hmph, more likely that’s just their excuse to start beating Deepdale again with Betta. In any case, the headmistress and Miss Pearce express delight that they are about to beat Deepdale again.

However, Betta’s form teacher Miss Johnson intervenes. She had marked Betta’s paper and says Betta scored 100%. She has always disapproved of how Betta has been made to miss so much classwork because of sport and hints that the education officer won’t approve either. She also says that Betta has exhibited near-genius in how she has caught up on schoolwork to the point where she could pass those exams.

Unfortunately this puts the idea into the headmistress’s head of beating Deepdale with brain matches instead of sports matches, and she goes “overboard” with them – “just as she did with sport”. And guess who she puts in charge of these brain matches? Yep, you guessed it. Before long, poor old Betta is right back at square one: a strict, slave-driving, nonstop training regime to beat Deepdale with no allowances for a life of her own. The only difference is that it’s “the brain drain” instead of the sports trap and with the equally bad Miss Johnson instead of Miss Pearce. This time Betta does not see any way out of it.

Thoughts

This was the first serial Tony Coleman drew for Tammy. From then on Coleman became a regular Tammy artist. His Tammy serials included “Maggie’s Menagerie”, “Nurse Grudge”, “Stella Stirrer”, “The Destiny Dolls” and “Spell of Fog”. Coleman’s run in Tammy ended with “Cassie’s Coach” in 1984.

There have been plenty of stories were brilliant girls start deliberately failing at things, but it’s either because they are being blackmailed into it or have been intimidated by bullies. This time the protagonist does it of her own free will because she is desperate to escape her life of sports slavery. We can see the misery that Betta is suffering because of her harsh sports regime and we worry for her future because she is missing out on too much classwork. But the people who subject her to it don’t, and Betta’s parents are just as bad. All they care about is winning, and all the headmistress cares about is beating Deepdale and lording it over her old school rival. The headmistress and sports mistress have no thought for Betta, her feelings, or her future. The headmistress has the nerve to call Betta selfish when it is she who is the selfish one in the way she treats Betta, just to constantly get one over her old rival all the time. And her conduct with the exams just to spite Betta is just inexcusable.

The headmistress is asking for a serious lesson. Unfortunately, it does not happen. And because of it, Betta ends up back where she started, only in a different form. So this is one of the less common serials that do not end happily for the protagonist. The only way to give it a really happy ending is for the adults in the story to wake up to how miserable they have made Betta in the name of winning and beating Deepdale. That, or have fate intervene and put Betta out of sports events altogether without the headmistress holding a grudge against her.

The story is certainly making a serious statement on how many real-life schools make their sports stars suffer academically and socially the way Betta does by ruling their lives with too much sports practice in the name of winning. We sympathise with Betta all the more because there are so many school sports stars like her.

What makes Betta even more sympathetic is her dialogue, which has a more witty way of expressing things, even in her miserable moments, than protagonists usually do. For example: “Bang goes my freedom bid! Now I’ll probably get ten years of sport without remission!”, “Ignore [Leonie]! Stay losing, kid! Stay losing!” and “Missing swimming’s no punishment for me! I spent so much in that darned pool I started to grow gills!” In so doing, Betta provides the only streaks of humour in the story. We also admire Betta for her ironic determination to win – in terms of beating the sports trap and not giving the headmistress the satisfaction of seeing her fail the extra-hard exams. The same determination must have also applied to her sports once before the harsh training made her lose all enjoyment with sport and winning at it.

So many girls’ serials carry the moral that winning is not everything. The moral comes from Betta herself, who constantly thinks, “Would the world have ended if we’d lost?” or something similar while everyone else at St Mary’s is ecstatic about beating Deepdale yet again. For Betta there is no satisfaction in winning against Deepdale anymore because of the price she is forced to pay for it. Sadly, nobody else in the serial learns that lesson and they remain as bad as ever.

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IGNCC18, Bournemouth: Thoughts on re-reading and ephemera

I attended a number of other talks and events at the IGNCC in Bournemouth. It was very full of great content – over the three days, there were three streams of talks generally happening at any one time, so you had to pick and choose quite carefully as to what stream or track of talks you wanted to go to. Generally there were a number of 90 minute sessions consisting of three 20 minute talks grouped together by theme and arranged into three streams; there were also a number of 1 hour sessions with two 20 minute talks grouped together, again arranged into three streams; and then there were hour-long ‘keynote’ talks without anything scheduled against them, so that the expectation was that all attendees could / would attend those longer talks. (The Anne Digby interview and David Roach’s paper were both keynote sessions.)

Many of the sessions were not specifically relevant to girls comics and the other subjects covered in this blog, so I won’t go into them here. They did however trigger some thoughts that I am still musing on, which are more relevant to this audience, I think and hope.

One of the first talks I went to was called “How Do We Know What Time It Is In Comics?”, by Paul Fisher Davies.  He talked about the idea that as comics readers, we assume that the action happening in front of us is necessarily happening ‘now’, unless it is specifically indicated otherwise. One of the examples he showed us of different times being depicted on a page was in “Watchmen”, where Dr Manhattan is on Mars, musing about times past and time in the future (as he is a time-traveler that makes sense for him to do). It’s a complicated page, which may require a reader to re-read it quite a bit to understand it; and on a second or subsequent re-read, you may draw different conclusions from on your first reading. Likewise in a couple of other sessions (keynotes by Ian Gordon and by Woodrow Phoenix) there was mention made of re-reading of comics and the way you may understand them better, or as saying something different, on re-read.

That led me off on a separate train of thought – I wonder if comics are a kind of item that historically has been re-read more than other kinds of things? I mean, obviously people do re-watch TV and film multiple times (though for TV that had to wait until video recording was invented for it to become a mass-market phenomenon). Many people re-read books multiple times (though in my experience there is a type of person that voraciously re-reads, and another type of person who may be a great reader but never re-reads). But perhaps comics are a slightly peculiar case where it was always very normal, or expected, to re-read them? In a talk that Joan Ormrod gave in Oxford earlier this year, she looked at weekly comics aimed at a teenage audience in the 50s (Roxy / Mirabelle and the like) and she highlighted the fact that when these came out, there was little in the reader’s life that was a permanent, accessible object that told them about the music of the time. The other ways they had of learning about what’s what in music was to listen to a program that was only broadcast once or twice a week – all the other ways they had of being a music fan, or a pop culture fan, were so ephemeral that most of the time you had nothing but your memories to go on. The comics, in contrast, were right there with you, ready to be re-read (and lent out to friends, and re-circulated). And as so many of the stories were serialised, did the readers make a normal practice (as I did) of going back and re-reading earlier episodes once the story came to an end, or of going back to the beginning of your whole pile and starting again with the satisfaction that you know what’s ahead of you?

I’m not trying to say that comics are either necessarily something that people re-read by definition, or that all comics are re-read (either would be wide of the mark). But I can think of a few reasons why comics might go hand-in-hand with regular re-reading of them. For one thing, comics have often been published as serials, in weekly episodes, which means that each weekly issue would have a fairly limited number of pages and stories included. As I say above I can see that in this situation the reader might read their new weekly issue and then either go back and re-read earlier issues, or perhaps say ‘aaargh! Too long to wait until next week!’ and turn to page 1 of the new issue and start re-reading there and then.

A comic is also ‘the right sort of thing’ to be re-read easily. It’s delivered in a tangible format, not hard to store, and you don’t need any extra steps or equipment to be able to come back to it another time (unlike needing to have some sort of recording equipment to capture a broadcast). Of course you could give away your week’s issue, or chuck it away, but if you didn’t do that then they would be ready to hand as an obvious easy thing to pick up again later (and with an inviting cover to boot).

Did readers typically throw comics away? Of course some people will have done, but even the horror stories you hear about ‘my mum threw away my comics!’ are talking about comics collections kept for some time, and not instantly disposed of. We also heard quite a few stories at the conference of how hard it often was to get hold of one’s comics: Mel Gibson spoke about the lengthy bike rides she took as a kid, to make sure she covered all the various newsagents that stocked different titles. If they were often hard to get hold of, that’s going to make them feel more valuable right away. It’s not a necessary conclusion that they would be re-read frequently as a result, but it certainly all adds up to lots of plausible reasons why readers could or would often re-read.

The above are fairly circumstantial and rooted in historical happenstance, and those are happenstances that will be subject to change. (For instance nowadays lots of people get their reading as digital comics or web comics, which are definitely not tangible or delivered in limited weekly doses, and not particularly hard to find and buy either.) There is one more aspect which is something potentially more directly linked to the nature of the medium: the fact that the words and the pictures can be read at different speeds and in different ways. You can read the words quickly, to find out ‘what happens next’ or to get the gag, but on re-read you have lots of extra enjoyment to dig out of the art. That’s two levels or two ways that you can read a comic on, right away: you don’t have to be an expert in textual analysis or Lacanian subtext to do that, it’s easily accessible, so to speak. So, built into what it is to be a comic, there is at least one reason that might drive people to re-read them as a matter of course.

It may seem like an inconsequential question, but it does seem worth it to me to ask whether re-reading was a normal thing, an expected thing, as well as being a frequent thing. Did editors, writers, artists expect the readers of the comics to routinely re-read things? If so, wouldn’t that mean that you could expect a certain sophistication to quickly develop across a community of comics readers? For instance a development in comics reading ability, to work out plot twists or potentially-confusing elements on the page. Wouldn’t it perhaps influence the creators and publishers if you knew or had a reasonable expectation of comics reading ‘competency’ so that you could challenge the readers with something new (fancier layouts, more stylized art)? Or perhaps it is a driver behind how extreme some of the plots of the comics became, with the Cinderella story ending up having shackled slaves, perhaps because the readership was very used to the mundaneities of less extreme stories…

It also challenges the idea that I think a lot of non-comics readers would have, of comics as ephemeral. Clearly for the readers of this blog, they haven’t been ephemeral – but I think that nor were they ephemeral for the usual reader of the time, whether or not they went on to be life-long devotees. Comics were certainly re-read a lot – most of us reading this can bear witness to that – but I can also think of a few different reasons, as above, why they might generally have been re-read *more* than other things you wouldn’t think of as ephemeral.