Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 to 20 May 1972
Tammy 27 October 1973 to 21 November 1981
Tammy & Jinty merger in “Old Friends”, 26 December 1981 to 10 July 1982
Artists: (Sandie) Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. (Tammy) Mario Capaldi, John Richardson, Robert MacGillivray, Richard Neillands, Mike White, Hugh Thornton-Jones, John Johnston, Jim Eldridge
Writers (known): Terry Magee, Maureen Spurgeon, Iain MacDonald; Gerry Finley-Day also involved
We are now going to take a look at Sue Strong, better known as Wee Sue, and her development from her debut in Sandie to her final years in Tammy.
Wee Sue was one of the first stories to appear in Sandie. Sandie was launched on 12 February 1972 and ran until 20 May 1972, and was drawn by Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. Tammy readers would have been surprised to see how Wee Sue looked back then, as it was radically different to the Tammy version. It was a serial, not a regular weekly feature, and it was played for drama, not light relief. There was no “story of the week” format where Sue’s famous big brains would come up with ways to get out of various scrapes, being the bane of the bullying Miss Bigger, or sorting out someone’s problem. In fact, there is no Milltown, no Milltown Comprehensive, and no Miss Bigger. The logo was different too.
Instead, Sue is a scholarship girl at exclusive Backhurst Academy, which has emphasis on sport. But it is facing closure, so Sue is trying to come up with a way to save it. Sue has other problems too, such as facing prejudice because she is a scholarship girl. Sue’s appearance is also different from the one Tammy readers are more familiar with. She is still a midget, but she has freckles and a more rigid bob style than the tousled one she would acquire in her later stories.
Still, the elements Sue became known for in Tammy were there from the beginning. She is always proving you should not estimate her because she is small. Indeed, her size often comes in handy. She has that reputation for brilliant ideas, particularly when she had to pull something out of her hat to save the day. Sometimes she moves in mysterious ways to do so, but she always knows what she is doing. She is always willing to help others, even more unsavoury types. She even sacrifices herself for them, often at the price of taking a dent in her popularity. She is not afraid to stand up to bullies and sort out nasty types. She is always kind, brave, thoughtful and generous.
The first Wee Sue story ended in Sandie on 20 May 1972. More than a year later Sandie merged with Tammy on 27 October 1973. Wee Sue and “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie” were the only Sandie stories to cross over into the merger. Considering that the first Wee Sue story had ended in Sandie over a year before with no known sequels, the choice of reviving her for the merger is a surprising one. Were there plans for a Wee Sue sequel in Sandie that didn’t get off the ground but made their way into the merger? Or did the editor trawl through the issues of Sandie until he found something he thought had potential for the merger besides Uncle Meanie?
On the Jinty site Iain MacDonald has commented “…The other character I wrote and helped create was Wee Sue. Gerry Finlay Day suggested the character. I wrote most of the early ones.” It is not clear if MacDonald is referring to the original Sue from Sandie or the reboot in Tammy, but the reference to Finley-Day does suggest the latter.
Whatever was behind bringing Sue into the merger, it was an inspired choice. Sue became one of the most popular and enduring characters in Tammy. But for this, a sweeping overhaul of Wee Sue was undertaken. Former Sandie readers must have been taken aback to see it.
In her debut episode in Tammy (below), Sue began to take on the form familiar to Tammy readers. She is now a regular strip with self-contained episodes (in later years she occasionally had two-parters and even mini-story arcs). She now has the logo familiar to Tammy readers, and she would retain it for the rest of her run. She has moved to Milltown, a poor industrial town. Instead of the posh academy she attends Milltown Comprehensive. There is more emphasis on her living in poverty, such as her patched uniform. The poverty angle disappears later in the strip, though her parents clearly remain working-class people. Sue still has her freckles from her original story, but her bob has a spiky look. The bob would later take on a softer style and the freckles disappeared.
It is also the episode where Miss Bigger makes her first appearance. She, along with Miss Tuft the games mistress, are new to the comprehensive, and they make it clear they are both bully teachers. This is definitely the Tammy influence (dark stories laden with misery and cruelty) on Sue. Both of these teachers hate Sue from the moment they meet her. In the first episodes there is a harder edge to their nastiness. For example, in one episode Miss Tuft is determined to get Sue into trouble for theft although she knows Sue is innocent. The teachers also bully an autistic girl, who gets diagnosed thanks to Sue (very advanced for 1973!). Miss Tuft soon disappeared, leaving Miss Bigger to carry on as the arch-nemesis of Wee Sue. Well, there is room for only one arch-nemesis in a regular strip after all.
Despite the harder edge, there are elements of humour. For example, in Sue’s first Tammy episode, she gets the better of Miss Bigger with the help of an onion johnny. As time passed, the cruelty, though still present in the form of Miss Bigger, would be reduced as the comedy took more of a front seat. Wee Sue evolved into a lightweight strip as she became more cheeky, wise-cracking, even mischievous, and often getting into slapstick scrapes.
Miss Bigger remained as mean and pompous as she had been in her first episode, but she soon took on a more comic presence as well. As she did so, her features evolved from the rather flat, slim look in her first episode to becoming more wryly grotesque and tartar-looking. Mario Capaldi, Miss Bigger’s first artist, eventually gave her the distinctive jagged choppers that would gnash furiously whenever she shouted – which was often. Her nose changed too, becoming more distinctive, in a comical way. Under Robert MacGillivray it became an overgrown bulbous nose, similar to the one he eventually gave Uncle Meanie when he came over to Tammy.
One reason why Miss Bigger’s appearance became more caricaturised was that Wee Sue passed into the hands of several artists who were strong on slapstick, caricature and humour. John Richardson, who took over from Mario Capaldi, was the first to take Wee Sue into this area, and his run on Sue was a long one. In fact, he took over in the same episode of Sue as Capaldi, on 14 September 1974, giving the readers the best of both worlds (or a lot of confusion, with the same episode switching from one artist to another). When Richardson took over, Sue took on a sharper, more clever look.
Over time other artists continued the humour, though some brought it off better than others. Other artists to draw Wee Sue were John Johnston, Hugh Thornton-Jones, Richard Neillands, Jim Eldridge, Mike White and Robert MacGillivray.
Despite the grotesque comic looks she acquires, Miss Bigger is so vain beyond imagining that she actually believes she is beautiful. Her vanity extends to her abilities as well; she believes she is capable of any feat that borders on superhuman, including being a better ballerina than Margot Fonteyn or winning World War II single-handed. In one episode we see this vanity runs in the Bigger family: Miss Bigger shows Sue her illustrious family album of Bigger women, who all look like her and come up with grand schemes that make no sense and don’t look at all successful (below). We frequently see Sue take advantage of Miss Bigger’s vanity, either to get what she wants out of her or to fix Miss Bigger’s sneaky schemes or mountains of homework.
There is also confusion about Miss Bigger’s first name. It was first established as Lillian, but later in the run it was Amelia.
From the first episode Miss Bigger gives the impression she is not a very good teacher; the onion johnny, for example, makes it clear that Sue’s French is better than hers. In another episode, Miss Bigger gives a German lesson, but her accent is terrible. Some episodes on Miss Bigger’s own days at school imply she has a dark past there: bullying and lousy school reports.
Unfortunately Miss Bigger is also notorious for giving out such great big piles of homework that we suspect she does it to deliberately torture her class. She is also known for making the girls’ lives a misery if she’s in a filthy mood. For example, in a Valentine-themed episode she lumbers the girls with extra homework when they’re set to go to a Valentines Day party because she’s upset she didn’t get a Valentine. Frequently Sue has to come up with schemes to keep Miss Bigger in a good mood or placate her when she’s in a bad one, or the class suffers.
In the earliest episodes Miss Bigger wore a formal outfit. But later in the Capaldi run she acquired the more casual outfit that would stay with her for the rest of the strip: skirt and sweater (later a cardigan or jacket) and black blouse. This outfit became her trademark. In fact, in one episode Miss Bigger’s trademark outfit inadvertently starts a new fashion in Milltown called “the old frump look” after a rack full of her outfits (all the same outfit!) gets mixed up with a clothes rack bound for a fashion show.
Because Sue was the bane of Miss Bigger she was sometimes branded a troublemaker by school authorities. But what Sue was really known for was her big ideas to save the day. She could always be counted on to come up with a brainwave to fix any situation, such as helping her classmates and parents, coming to the rescue of people in trouble, foiling tricksters, bullies, criminals, and Miss Bigger’s mean schemes, raising school funds, and sometimes helping Miss Bigger.
However, sometimes Sue really was naughty. In one episode, she takes a satchel to school that is so full of sweets it’s a wonder she doesn’t give herself diabetes, and she eats them in class. The sweets land her in so many sticky situations (including her toffee bar ripping Miss Bigger’s skirt and exposing her undies!) that she is right off sugar by the end of the day. It was in episodes like these that Miss Bigger was allowed to triumph against Wee Sue, so the bully teacher did win on occasion. But for the most part, Sue is a nice girl.
Miss Bigger frequently steals the credit for Sue’s big ideas whenever she sees the way to take advantage of it. This is something she gets away with a lot, but at least there is always a consolation for Sue, such as money, and in one instance, a trip to Spain.
Wee Sue remained a popular regular in Tammy, even having a special story to commemorate Tammy’s 10th birthday (below). Miss Bigger, for once having an inspired idea, takes the class on a tour at King’s Reach Tower for a behind-the-scenes look at Tammy. Sue falls asleep over the Tammys in the copy room, where she dreams of past and present Tammy characters. They all come together for a big birthday party, including Miss Bigger.
Then Jinty merged with Tammy on 28 November 1981. This was the beginning of the end for Sue. After a few weeks of not appearing in the merger, she reappeared as part of an “Old Friends” feature, which she shared in rotation with Bessie Bunter, Molly Mills and Tansy of Jubilee Street (the last of which being a surprise revival, having officially ended in the last issue of Jinty). In fact, Sue was the old friend to lead off the feature on 26 December 1981. Except for her first Old Friends episode, the Wee Sue appearances were entirely new material, as were the appearances of Tansy and Molly. This made them more refreshing to see. Only Bessie was on repeats. But it was clear that all four were on their very last legs. Sure enough, Old Friends disappeared with a revamped Tammy launched 17 July 1982, so Wee Sue was buried in the same grave as Tansy, Bessie and Molly. However, Sue continued to make appearances in the Tammy annual to the very end, though it was with repeats.
Sue lasted in Tammy for a proud nine years, including her Old Friends appearances. But if you include the Sandie year, Sue ran for 10 years, which means she holds a joint record with Bella for longevity and one year behind Molly at 11 years.
13 thoughts on “Wee Sue (1972-1982)”
Thank you for posting a comprehensive article on this series. Thanks especially, from my personal point of view, for including a scan of the last episode of the Sandie serial, which is about the only one I’m missing!
What strikes me most about the series is the quality of the early Tammy stories – an unusual example of a sequel which improves on the original. As you say, they are very Tammyish –quite dark and hard-edged, with Miss Bigger almost brutal at times. Also, a lot of the humour is distinctly quirky and downbeat – situations that look like they might develop as fairly conventional comedy seem to take a wrong turning into something murkier. I think you can see something of this even in the first episode above, where Sue’s rather surreal arrival with a string of onions round her neck is turned by Miss Bigger into a weird class exercise on how to confess to a theft in French.
For my money this is the best period of the series, but the later shift to a more light-hearted humour did benefit the comic as a whole. Although it produced a lot of good one-off comedy stories, Tammy never really matched Jinty’s flair for balancing its darker, more challenging material with stand-out brilliant comedy like The Jinx of St Jonah’s or Fran’ll Fix It. I think Wee Sue, along with John Richardson’s Cover Girls, provided the best of Tammy’s regular comedy for many years.
By the way, I think that another artist who contributed to the series was Jim Eldridge. In an interview posted on the Girls Comics of Yesterday site, the artist mentions that he did some Wee Sue stories. Could these be some or all of the stories otherwise attributed to Barrie Mitchell? One of these turns up as a rather odd reprint which is probably one of her last appearances; a filler item in Girl Picture Library #18 (“Spellbound!”), where Sue is repackaged as “Tiny Tina”.
Glad to be of help with the last episode of the Sandie Wee Sue.
Yes, the early Tammy was weak on humour and had little of it to balance the dark stories she was known for. The humour strips she acquired later on (Bessie Bunter, Wee Sue, Uncle Meanie) came through mergers. You’re right in saying Jinty was stronger in her use of humour to balance the drama, particularly dark drama. Her early issues had far more humour strips than the early Tammy did to offset the darker ones like Merry at Misery House. Even Merry had her dash of humour, largely from Merry herself.
I’ve just noticed, buried elsewhere in the Jinty website (“About”, near the bottom of the page), a message from Iain Macdonald saying that he was a Wee Sue writer: “…The other character I wrote and helped create was Wee Sue. Gerry Finlay Day suggested the character. I wrote most of the early ones.” Not sure if this means that he wrote the Sandie serial; the reference to Gerry Finlay Day finding the character suggests that he may be referring to the early Tammy stories.
Thank you for finding this. I’ve put it in.
Thank you from me too! I did see it at the time that Iain posted it, but I have been out of (blog) action for a while with some other stuff going on at my end of things, so much appreciated you pointing it out.
Very interesting to see development of long running character, especially with such a tone change.
I wonder what other Sandie series could have been considered for the merger as you note quite odd to choose a character that hadn’t appeared for a year.
I think the problem was that by the time it ended, Sandie had no regular characters apart from Jeannie and her Uncle Meanie, which was duly transferred over. The rest of the comic was one-off serials, which were all wound up pre-merger. This may have prompted a hunt through Sandie’s back numbers looking for other candidates, and it looks as if Finley-Day then spotted Wee Sue’s potential as a regular comedy character.
It could be Sandie had plans to bring Sue back pre-merger, maybe similar to how she appeared in Tammy. Finley-Day found the script and adapted it. Something like that, maybe. I find it more credible than Finley-Day going through old Sandie issues to find something with merger potential anyway.
Sandie did produce some very interesting stories. Among them were No-one Cheers for Norah, The School of No Escape, The Captives of Madame Karma (written by Pat Mills), Cherry in Chains (about an escapologist), and Slave of the Trapeze (written by Terry Magee), about a girl forced into trapeze work – and she’s scared of heights. We’ve also got a wrongly convicted woman on the run and secretly helping her, which makes for a very exciting mix.
Yes, Sandie had quite a few good stories. Personally, I think the overall line-up was stronger in the first few months than it was in what I’ve seen of the later issues. School of No Escape and Madame Karma both benefit from a distinctive dark gothic tone which I guess is Pat Mills’ doing, and No-one Cheers for Norah is very well and economically written. I liked John Armstrong’s treatment of Lorna – terminally spoilt and petulant, rather than just the usual evil-looking vindictive cousin.
I was also very taken by Odd Mann Out. At first glance it looks like another twilit story of school enslavement (especially with one of A E Allen’s characteristic gargoyles in charge), but it soon turns into a more down-to-earth and realistic tale of rampant greed and blinkered snobbery. Of course, we’re not allowed to see Miss Denham carted off to jail at the end, but I thought that big sister Deborah’s comeuppance was ingenious, plausible and very appropriate. Like Susie, you can feel a certain sympathy for her even though the punishment is well-deserved.
I also have a soft spot for Bonnie’s Butler, and am sorry this didn’t have a longer run. But then, I’m part of a generation that was brought up on the Jeeves stories.
I think the jewel in Sandie’s crown was “Slave of the Trapeze”. What do you think?
I haven’t actually read it, as I don’t have any Sandies from late 1972. From what I’ve been able to read about it (mainly from an old discussion on Comics UK), it certainly sounds something out of the ordinary. I’ve not otherwise come across its main idea – a performer being blackmailed into risking her life doing impossible tricks – except in Tammy’s Circus of the Damned, which may have got the idea from this story. Also, it looks as if it may have been very popular with readers, as Sandie ran a spate of circus stories after this one, far more than was usual at the time.
Interesting also that Terry Magee seems to have remembered it as one of his best stories.