All posts by comixminx

The Darkening Journey

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Publication: 26 March 1977 – 6 August 1977 (20 episodes)

Reprint/translation: Translated into Dutch and published in Tina as “Samen door het duister” (1981)

Artist: José Casanovas

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Julie Burton’s eyesight is growing dimmer and dimmer, and her main support is her golden Labrador, Thumper, who almost acts as a guide dog. There are some bright spots in her future: her father has got a new job over in the west by the sea, and there is hope that an upcoming operation might give her good sight again. However, on the cusp of leaving to travel miles away to their new home, Julie and Thumper are separated and the dog suffers a blow to the head that leaves his own eyesight blurry. A friendly talking rook, Beaky, befriends Thumper and together they make their long difficult way west towards where Thumper remembers Julie’s new house to be located.

Their way is fraught with difficulties: it’s mostly humans who get in their way, either for positive or negative motives. First the talking rook is nearly recaptured by his former owners, only to be rescued by Thumper; then they both need to run away from a selfish rich lady who only wants to keep them while she’s able to show them both off to her snooty friends. (The rather more sympathetic chauffeur and secretary help them to escape in the end.) Sometimes Thumper and Beaky save the humans (foiling some lorry hijackers), sometimes they save each other (Beaky brings human help to save a trapped or injured Thumper more than once, though Thumper returns the favour when they are both trapped by floodwaters).

In the meantime, Julie is pining away thinking about Thumper, and he likewise seems to have an almost telepathic bond with her – her image is shown hovering over the setting sun more than once, as a beacon calling him to her, and she likewise often seems to be able to sense his misery. Increasing his woes, Thumper is suffering from more and more blind spells too. But there are many times when temporary blindness and separation anxiety are not the biggest evils they face – a few of the humans they meet have plans to put Thumper down; he is bullied by a pack of stronger dogs; and another time he is nearly eaten by rats.

Though by the end, Thumper in particular is moving more and more slowly, they eventually reach the westernmost limit of their travels: the final moorland, and the sea. The dramatic tension tightens right at the end as the dog, careless with happiness, hurts his foot badly and is trapped by the rising tide: but Beaky comes through again and brings Julie’s dad to the final rescue. All is well, once the two beloved friends each have operations to restore their eyesight.

Themes and commentary

It is an intrinsically pretty sentimental story, with the dog protagonist gifted with an implausibly good skill in navigating his way cross-country in the absence of a definite location to head for. (Not to mention the almost telepathic nature of the mental connection that he and Julie seem to share.) It must have been a popular story, at 20 episodes long and featuring on the cover twice, though at the same time not rivalling the most classic Jinty stories that were also running at this point. (Though they were shorter stories, both “Creepy Crawley” and “The Spell of the Spinning Wheel” featured on the cover four times in the same time period.) Journey stories in general seem to have been very popular at this time, and the addition of sympathetic animal characters will have given it a different angle from other journey stories.

José Casanovas is also always a talent to enjoy reading. His art style is much busier and ‘fuller’ than that of many other Jinty artists, who often like to include a lot more white space in their finished pages, but it makes a nice change of pace and feels very solid. This is a story that, while far from the first rank of stories running in this title at this time, is enjoyable on its own merits and will have a number of fans.

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Jinty 30 April 1977

  • Creepy Crawley (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Cassie and the Cat – Gypsy Rose story (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Mark of the Witch! — final episode (Phil Townsend)
  • Alley Cat
  • The Darkening Journey (artist José Casanovas)
  • The Robot Who Cried (artist Rodrigo Comos, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Kerry in the Clouds (artist Cándido Ruiz Pueyo, writer Alan Davidson)
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (artist Jim Baikie, writer Alison Christie)
  • Don’t Forget to Remember! (craft feature)

This issue is from a great period of Jinty’s run. It includes a number of real classic stories that have stood the test of time and memory (“Creepy Crawley”, “Spell of the Spinning Wheel”, and “The Robot Who Cried” being the obvious stand-outs) and all in all is a really solid read.

“Creepy Crawley” shows the how mean the main character Jean Crawley can be: she goes to see her rival Mandy who is recovering from the bee stings that the scarab brooch caused to happen. But even when not under the control of the scarab badge Jean allows her jealousy to control her, enough so that she voluntarily goes back to wearing the scarab and letting it give her ideas on how to get the better of Mandy. And it’s not just limited to ideas – the scarab’s control over insects means that Mandy’s beautiful wooden sculpture is eaten by termites before it can beat Jean’s pretty painting in the school art competition.

In the Gypsy Rose story “Cassie and the Cat”,  Cassie rescues a cat from some bullies, but the cat is far from what it seems. Enjoy the creepy story, atmospherically drawn by Terry Aspin, at the end of the post.

It is the final episode of “Mark of the Witch!”, and outcast Emma Fielding redeems herself by saving rich girl Alice Durant, the girl who she’s persecuted in revenge for the persecution that Emma herself has suffered at the hands of the local villagers. As they keep each other afloat in the raging river, Emma takes a moment to think “It’s funny.. I could die, but I feel sort of happy! Happy to be fighting and struggling with Alice instead of against her!”

“The Robot Who Cried” is an invention of the bushily-moustached Professor Targett – codenamed KT5, she escapes from the laboratory and discovers that she can pass for a real girl – assuming she can sort out how human emotions like friendliness or loneliness work in real life, of course.

In “Kerry In The Clouds”, Kerry Langland is taken under the wing of famous actress Gail Terson, but Ms Terson clearly has an agenda of her own. There are echoes of the story “Jackie’s Two Lives”, also written by Alan Davidson – both feature a poor girl with ambitions beyond her station, manipulated in sinister ways by an older woman. Spanish artist Cándido Ruiz Pueyo provides some very stylish hairstyles and clothing.

Spell of the Spinning Wheel” is a rare foray of Alison Christie’s into a spooky mystery story – I wish she had done more of it, it was very memorable. Rowan Lindsay is sporadically struck down by a mystery tiredness – she’s worked out that it is related to hearing humming sounds but she hasn’t persuaded anyone other than her dad to believe her yet, and the doctors have now forbidden her from running again.

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Jinty 26 September 1981

schoolgirls passing a collection box with the words Mayors Appeal on it

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

  • Freda’s Fortune – first episode (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • All over a farthing… – text story (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Child’s Play – Gypsy Rose story (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Holiday Hideaway (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Winning Ways – sports tips
  • The Sweet and Sour Rivals – last episode (artist Carlos Cruz)
  • Worlds Apart (artist Guy Peeters)
  • Snoopa (artist Joe Collins)

This is one of the last few issues of Jinty before the merger with Tammy. As a result it is full of penultimate episodes (Holiday Hideaway, Worlds Apart), a final episode (The Sweet and Sour Rivals) and complete or nearly complete stories (the Gypsy Rose story, and the first half of the two-parter Freda’s Fortune).

Freda wins a pony in a raffle – a stroke of luck for her, as she has longed for one since she was a toddler, but also some bad luck because not only does she have to find somewhere to keep it and food to feed it, she also earns the envy of snobbish Susan who will stop at little to throw a spoke in her wheel.

The text story “All over a farthing” has a struggling girl give away a lucky farthing to the school charity appeal, only to find that it brings luck back to her and her unemployed father in an unexpected way.

The Gypsy Rose story, “Child’s Play”, is a new one this week, drawn by Phil Townsend (though the subsequent week’s issue will have a reprint of a story by Trini Tinturé from 1977). I reprint it below.

“Holiday Hideaway” is coming to an end – the family in hiding prepare to ‘return from holiday’ which will mean they have to continue to lie to their friends by pretending they have been away on a cruise ship holiday all along. But the episode ends by a reveal that they can’t possibly have been on the ship – the liner never left England in the first place! How will Hattie Jones and her family keep their heads up now?

This is the last episode of “The Sweet and Sour Rivals”: at the school fair Mandy and her friend Suzie Choo face off against Abigail Beaton whose family run the town’s snootiest restaurant. As often happens with schoolgirl rivalries, the envious antagonist overreaches herself and the good girl(s) have to save the day, including the antagonist herself. This time the jealous rival entices a horde of hungry dogs to all the food stalls, risking her own parents’ food stall as well as the Choo’s one; and Suzie saves the day by building a wall of plates to keep the dogs away. Yes, it’s a Great Wall of China (groan).

In “Worlds Apart” the six schoolgirls are transported from brainy Clare’s world into scaredy-cat Jilly’s world – one inhabited by horror monsters. Read all about it in the summary of that story, linked to above.

Page 1, “Child’s Play” – Gypsy Rose story
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Jinty 15 October 1977

  • Destiny Brown (artist Rodrigo Comos)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Guardian of White Horse Hill (artist Julian Vivas)
  • Alley Cat
  • The Goose Girl (artist Keith Robson; writer Alison Christie)
  • So What’s New with David Essex? (feature)
  • Rinty ‘n’ Jinty
  • Stage Fright! (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Lilies for the Bride – Gypsy Rose story (artist Christine Ellingham)
  • Fran’ll Fix It! (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Cursed to be a Coward! (artist Mario Capaldi; writer Alison Christie)
  • Autumn Treasures! (craft feature)

If you’ve read Mistyfan’s superb, thorough rundown of the cover styles that Jinty had over the years, you may remember this issue being noted as the last one which had a separate blue background behind the logo. (Following issues had the logo incorporated into the body of the cover design itself.) However, we had not yet posted about the issue itself, which I am remedying here.

Destiny Brown is trapped in a number of ways – having run away to find her father, her purse was stolen and she had to sleep rough. Not surprisingly she was quickly set up to be exploited by some rough types, especially once they realize they may have struck gold, if she really can predict the future with her second sight. Poor old Destiny – dragged away by these dodgy geezers, just as she has bumped into her father, who is likewise being dragged away by – who is *he* trapped by? It looks like the police, but is it really so? The art, by Rodrigo Comos, is clear and classy, if perhaps slightly old-fashioned looking for the time.

The letters page includes a list of the winners of a recent competition: the first ten correct entries won a KODAK Instamatic camera, while the 60 runners up won a giant full-colour poster of Starsky and Hutch. Looking at the names of the winners carefully, most of them are, unsurprisingly, traditional English, Irish, or Scottish girls names; but there are one or two less usual entrants hidden in the mix, indicating some small diversity of the readership. Pushpa Hallan is one of the ten winners of the main prize, and C. Thiyagalingam is one of the 60 winners of the runner-up prize. Perhaps even less expectedly, there is also one boy’s name included: Adrian King.

Orphan Janey is adapting to being fostered by the Carters – but when she sees a beautiful white horse, they think she is making up stories to impress them. What Janey doesn’t yet realize is that no-one else can see the horse apart from her – and nor will any photos of the horse show it, either! It’s all tied up with the local beauty spot, White Horse Hill, which is threatened by the destructive plans to build a motorway.

Brenda Noble is a bird-lover who is campaigning against the local sport of goose shooting in the village she lives in with her mother. Her mother hates birds as she blames them for her husband’s death – and soon she enacts her plans to take the two of them to Edinburgh away from the wee ‘backwater’ village.

“Stage Fright” is an odd mystery story: stylishly drawn by Phil Townsend, the protagonist Linda is being made by Lord Banbury to train as an actor in order to win an acting trophy that has been in his family for generations. But who is locking her into places, stealing her costume, and watching her from afar?

The Gypsy Rose story this week is drawn by Christine Ellingham, who until recently we were only able to list as the ‘unknown artist of Concrete Surfer’. What a pleasure to be able to correctly credit this lovely art! Delphine is a lively girl who works in a florist’s shop. She has an irrational fear of lilies, but the rich customer who falls for her wants a centrepiece of those same flowers, to be put together with her very own hands. Not only that – once he proposes to her, Delphine finds out that his mother’s name is Lily, and she is due to sleep in the lily room. All omens that tell her that soon she will meet the spirit of the lily – in death.

The evil fortune teller who is the villain of “Cursed To Be A Coward!” manages to get Marnie Miles thrown into a rickety old boat in the middle of a pond – luckily she gets fished out but the fortune teller’s determination to make sure that blue water will get her yet is pretty sinister.

The craft suggested for this week is to collect up ‘autumn treasures’ such as the heads of cow parsley, twigs with berries, or pretty leaves, and to make dried arrangements of them in vases, or pictures, or perhaps even jewellery of the tougher seedpods of ash keys or beech nut cases. The pictures accompanying the feature make it all look rather pretty, but I would assume that beech nut cases in particular would be rather scratchy to turn into jewellery!

Jinty & Lindy 3 January 1976

cover jinty 19760103

  • Slaves of the Candle (artist Roy Newby)
  • The Jinx from St Jonah’s (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Friends of the Forest (unknown artist – Merry – “B Jackson”)
  • Golden Dolly, Death Dust! (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Ping-Pong Paula (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Too Old to Cry! (artist Trini Tinturé unknown)
  • Wanda Whiter than White (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • The Haunting of Hazel (artist Santiago Hernandez unknown)
  • Song of the Fir Tree (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot

This post is inspired by a number of creator attribution discussions from recent months, not all of which have made it onto the blog yet (and some of which are hot off the press!). Yesterday I had a lovely, fun meetup with the daughter of Trini Tinturé, who is very delightfully based in the same city as me for at least some of her working time. I dug out some old issues to show Maris Tinturé some of her mother’s Jinty stories in situ, and this was the first one where I spotted a story attributed to Trini.

Maris leafed through it once, twice, and couldn’t find any art of her mother’s. Was it just too much of a skim-read to spot it after all this time? No – I pointed out the specific story I had in mind, “Too Old to Cry!”, and the immediate reaction was, ‘but that’s not hers!’ – and a quick cameraphone piccy and email confirmed it. This story looks enough like Trini’s art for me to never have questioned the attribution that came handed down to me, probably from David Roach originally, but to the most familiar of eyes it is as unlike her art as one face is like another. Below is the episode of the story from this issue – compare it to a piece of definite Trini artwork like the sample pages of Creepy Crawley. (But I think that you will be likely to have to look very closely to be sure, unless you are very familiar with her artwork.) [Edited to add – Trini now says that this story is hers after all! This is upon reflection and, especially, her review of the second and third pages of the story. Here are her own words about it (translated by her daughter Maris): “I would much rather say that this bad work is not mine, and it would be easier for me to do so. But, unfortunately, I have to admit it is. Shame, shame! It looks like the main character had to have a ‘special’ feel, and special indeed I made her! She looks horribly tuberculose. I don’t remember the story or the characters at all. (And at the bottom of the last page the texts points to the continuation in the following week, meaning it’s a serial: no clue at all.) But there are traits in the other characters that give me away mercilessly. Nobody can copy certain kinds of folding and line… The way of drawing stones, the backgrounds… the older people… (Or maybe it was a cooperation between me and Dracula, who knows!)

But the date 1976 certainly does not fit. It is quite possible that they originally put aside the story and only published it years later, who knows why. There was a lot of entanglement [with] publishers. These bad pages smack of my earliest works for Scotland’s schoolgirl series, for example. Fortunately my style changed very soon.

There’s nothing more I can add. It is bad work, but it is mine.”]

 

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This issue also includes an episode of “The Haunting of Hazel” which we have likewise previously attributed to Santiago Hernandez. However, on looking at the 2017 post on “Santiago Hernandez or José Ariza” Trini has this to say: “Barracuda Bay” is definitely Hernandez. “Golden Shark” possibly, but much earlier work perhaps. “The Haunting of Hazel” is unlikely to be Hernandez.” So I have likewise changed the attribution of that story on this post, in order not to confidently show it as being by Santiago Hernandez.

Finally, one other story in this issue is from an artist that we have long referred to as unknown – the unknown artist who drew “Merry at Misery House”. A sighting by “Goof” on the UK Comics Forum gave us a valuable reference to the name “B Jackson” as the artist credit accompanying the illustration for a text story in the ‘Daily Mirror Book for Girls” 1971. Further detective work by David Slinn (a contact of David Roach’s) and by David Roach has given a long list of stories and titles that “B Jackson” seems to have worked on. This will follow as a blog post on this site, with apologies for the delay in getting to this denouement.

But will the attribution of B Jackson prove long lasting, or could it be falsified or proved inaccurate in some way? All that I’ve seen on the blog so far goes to show that there is no 100% guarantee of anything – the word of an expert is very valuable but there’s nothing to compare with a direct line from the creator themselves, if at all possible.

How do you know who’s the hero (in British girls comics)?

I have been thinking about how you can tell who is the hero, or at least the main character, in British girls comics. I’m sure that as readers most of us can tell who’s the hero most of the time, but there are always some odd cases that test the boundaries. Perhaps we will learn something about some underlying rules of British comics storytelling if we have a deeper look?

Below I suggest five key tests to check who is the main character in a story. These tests aren’t anything to do with how nice or kind the person is – they would apply to an anti-hero as much as to the most perfect hero. Rather, they should tell us whether or not the story is about that person.

Reference in title

You would think the title of the story would be a dead giveaway as to who the story is about – but it’s not always as simple as that, of course. The main villain might be the one featured in the title (“Angela Angel-Face“, “Wanda Whiter Than White“) or, particularly in the case of Jinty, the title may be fairly allusive (“The Valley of Shining Mist“, “Waves of Fear” and many others).

For most stories, though, it’s true – the title does give away who the main character is. Often her name is right up front as the first element of the title along with the key struggle of the story: “Gwen’s Stolen Glory“, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“, “Glenda’s Glossy Pages“, “Cora Can’t Lose“. But is Amanda Blay the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled“? And in “The Slave of Form 3B“, is the main character weak-willed Tania or the villainous (and rather more interesting) Stacey?

Hearing their words

A more important test than the title of the story seems to me to be whether we know what the character thinks and says. Do we see the character’s words (spoken or thoughts) directly on the page or not?

  • The sample episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” has Amanda’s words showing (in speech or word balloons) in only 10 out of 28 panels in the episode. Her antagonists, Jane and Marty, have their words or speech reported in 22 of the 28 panels (including ones where Amanda also speaks).
  • The sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B” does not include any words or thoughts of Tania’s, but only those of Stacey (in the 26 panels shown, we hear Stacey’s thoughts or words in all bar 5).

amanda must not be expelled crop

Seeing their face

Similarly to the test above of whether we hear their words directly, do we follow them on the page and see what they do, in each panel or the majority of the page?

  • You might think that it comes to a fairly similar outcome if you check how many panels the person appears in;  I would expect the main character in a British girls comic to be in most of the panels (and that, by some way). However, in the same episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, Jane and Marty are visible in 23 of the 28 panels while Amanda is in 18 of the 28 panels. Amanda is visible in quite a lot more panels (18 panels) than just the ones where she says or thinks something (10 panels): she is a focus of the reader’s attention without actually being the main person that you put yourself in the place of.
  • In the sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B”, Stacey appears in slightly more panels than she speaks in – there are only 3 panels that she does not appear in, compared to the 5 that she does not speak in.

 

Active doer, or passive done-to?

This can be a bit harder to determine, I think. Does the hero (or the person who might be the hero) kick off the actions and make things happen, or is she ‘done-to’ rather than actively ‘doing’? In girls comics there is a definite theme of the downtrodden underdog hero, whose heroism lies in her endurance and persistance rather than in solving the world’s woes, so this may be a less definitive way of singling out the hero of the story. What happens if we look at the two sample stories to check how active the characters are?

  • Jane and Marty ensure that Amanda gets back to the dorm without being spotted and expelled (foiling her intent), and even sneak back the gown and mortar board that Jane dressed up in, to remove all evidence of what they were up to. But Amanda is pretty active too, by the end of the episode: she takes a pair of scissors from the needlework room and sets out to pick herself a bouquet of the headmistress’s prized tulips, as a way to get herself expelled. Honours are relatively even, though I think that on the showing of this single episode, Jane and Marty feel like the initiators of more action than Amanda does.
  • In “The Slave of  Form 3B” Tania is unconscious throughout the whole sample episode and therefore as passive as she could possibly be. Stacey initiates the action throughout: she hides Tania out of sight of possible rescuers, and she makes it look as if Tania has run away. The teachers initiate a search of the grounds, but again Stacey’s action is the decisive one as she lies to the other searchers to decoy them away from where she has hidden Tania.

Slave of Form 3B pg 1 crop

Who has the emotional journey?

Pat Mills is currently writing a series of blog posts on storytelling, and one of the recent entries is on the Emotional Journey. Many thanks to him for this post, as it was something I nearly overlooked in this series of tests. We can sensibly ask, is there a shape to the story and if so, who does that story-shape belong to? There are a number of fairly well-worn story ‘shapes’ and these also help to identify the main character. ‘Spoilt girl redeems herself’ is one of them, and ‘brave girl beats her bullies by enduring’ is another – and by phrasing the story in this way you immediately understand who the hero is. But another way to think of it is, who undergoes the emotional journey – who is changed by the end of the story? Not all stories necessarily have change as part of their core structure, but many do, and it can provide an interesting contrast to the answers derived from the other tests.

  • To answer this question you need to think about the story as a whole, not just individual sample episodes, so it can be harder to determine unless you know the story reasonably well. I don’t know “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” very well but Mistyfan has provided a detailed synopsis. From this it does look very much to be the case that it is Amanda who has the emotional journey – going from desperately wanting to be expelled to being glad she never managed it, and from hating even being at school to being proud of it and wanting her team to win. Jane and Marty do not obviously seem to change throughout the story, their motives and psychology remain pretty consistent.
  • In “Slave of Form 3B” then again, when we look at the overall story, the sense of who is the hero is rather different from when we look at the details. Tania, who starts off the story weak-willed and very passive indeed, ends up still pretty ‘done-to’ rather than actively bringing about Stacey’s downfall. It is Tania who is acclaimed by her schoolfellows due to her persistence and survivorship, so at least she is changed from being a timid outcast to being someone that all her fellows know and think well of. Stacey, in contrast, has not changed her motivation or aims at all; if anything she has just become more fixed in her ambitions. The arc of Tania’s emotional journey is rather tacked-on in the final episode or two though, which dilutes the effect considerably.

 

Summary

I called the above ‘five key tests’ but of course most of the time it’s hardly necessary to apply a series of tests to determine who is the hero or main character in a story. For more unusual cases like the two stories chosen here, it can however shed some interesting light on aspects of the story.

  • Is Amanda the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, or are Jane and Marty the real heroes? If you just look at the sample episode then Jane and Marty are acting much more like the main characters – they are the ones that the reader sees and hears, and the ones who move the action forward more substantially. But taking the story as a whole, especially when you consider the intention signalled by the story title, it is Amanda who the story is most ‘about’, as the person who has the significant emotional journey.  Perhaps if we re-ran the tests on who we see and hear, and who initates the action, based on a later episode, she would be more obviously marked as the main character?
  • Is Timid Tania, who is the Slave in question, the hero of “The Slave of Form 3B”, or is it wicked Stacey? Stacey is by far the most active and most visible character throughout the story, though there may be other episodes where she does not dominate the action quite as fully as in this sample epsiode. The final part of Tania’s emotional journey feels very tacked on at the end, though there are earlier points in the story where she stands up for herself to some extent. Even taking the story as a whole it does not feel like Tania is ‘really’ the main character; possibly the writer intended her to be so, but had much more fun writing the frankly rather evil Stacey instead!

Panel Borders (internet radio show): Girls’ Comics Autumn Special

On a happier note than the last post, I have received notification of two recorded talks that are due to be broadcast on Panel Borders, the UK internet radio show about comics (hosted by Alex Fitch).

Panel Borders: Girls’ Comics Autumn Special

Cartoonist and Graphic Novels editor Corinne Pearlman introduces a pair of interviews about “Girls Comics”:

  • Comics scholar Mel Gibson interviews Anne Digby, the author of the Trebizon novels, who was also the writer of a variety of strips for Tammy.
  • Also, Jenni Scott talks to a pair of female graphic novelists – Hannah Eaton and Hannah Berry – about how girls comics influenced their work, and relaunch of Misty as an annual Halloween comic…

This is due to be broadcast at 5.30pm on Wednesday 5th September 2018, with a repeat broadcast at a time TBC. You can find it on Resonance 104.4 FM and DAB (London), or:

John Armstrong (1923 – 2018)

I am very sorry to post the news that John Armstrong has just died. John Freeman from the DownTheTubes website has put together a tribute post, and additionally the site has got an interview “In His Own Words” detailing John’s comics career. Lew Stringer has also posted a tribute on his blog, with some great art samples included.

John Armstrong was a fantastic artist with an instantly recognizable style and great strengths in the key elements of girls comics. I am very glad that the Rebellion reprint of Bella came out in time for him to (hopefully) know that his work was being properly appreciated once again.

Jinty: Land of No Tears! and The Human Zoo review by Olivia Hicks

Guest post: many thanks to Olivia Hicks for reviewing the Rebellion reprint edition of Land of No Tears and The Human Zoo

I have a somewhat fond, nostalgic relationship with Jinty, considering how little of it I have read. I had never (prior to this volume) read a complete Jinty story, and the real reason that Jinty occupies such a place in my heart is because it was the favourite comic of my mum, back when she was buying comics. So I was excited to see Jinty back in print, even if, on paper, neither of the stories particularly appealed to me. Land of No Tears! Uhm, ok. The Human Zoo? If we must. This was not, on the surface, the bizarre cruel science fiction that Jinty, through word of mouth and internet blog culture, had been distilled into for me. I wanted a Worlds Apart reprinting!

I had read about half of Land of No Tears! in the British Library, and had found it semi-engaging. The Human Zoo I had deliberately avoided. From the brief blurbs I had read, I had no interest in the story. So I settled down with my copy of the new Rebellion reprint, with my expectations quite muted. Warning: major spoilers for both stories follow (although I assume most of you have either read the stories or are aware of the plot!).

Land of No Tears! is written by Pat Mills and has art by Guy Peeters, and is about Cassy Shaw. She was born with one leg shorter than the other, and she uses her disability to manipulate those around her.  One day, whilst undergoing an operation to lengthen her leg (which Cassy is dreading, because she will no longer be able to use her disability to get what she wants), the anaesthesia somehow sends her through time to a future where humanity has achieved physical perfection and a lack of emotion, and those like Cassy (with Grade One Deformities) are forced to work as slaves for the benefit of the Alphas.

The story is in many ways quite typical; there is, of course, a mystery to be solved (what is the secret of Cassy’s new friend Miranda, and her mother), a lesson to be learned (with hard work you can overcome), and a problem which can, conveniently, be solved with sports; in this case, winning a sports championship will result in the complete overhaul of an entire society’s social structure! Cassy is an interesting main character because she resists the ‘victim-heroine’ coding of many girls’ comics characters. In fact, at the beginning, Mills goes out of the way to make her cynical and quite unsympathetic. This is, of course, to make her character arc more striking; the selfish, cynical, bratty lone wolf has to become an inspirational team leader and motivator who works and trains hard, and thus redeems herself. I’ve read quite a few girls’ comics stories now where villainous characters are shown using disability as a cover for their actions, so there seems to be a thread of problematic treatment of disability running throughout these comics, which Land of No Tears! falls into. The idea of a society divided by physical and emotional ability is a solid science fiction trope, but I think it is telling that the only disabilities Mills shows are: wearing glasses, being overweight and having a bald patch. The comic really skirts over disability (apart from in the beginning, when we see Cassy monopolising it for her own benefit; something which Teresa May and her cronies in the Department of Work and Pensions already think is widespread). ‘But Olivia!’ you say, ‘It’s a comic from the 1970s, how in depth can it be?’ Well, when you consider what Malcom Shaw achieves with the topic of animals rights in the accompanying tale, I think it’s fair to critique Mills for not really engaging with how society demonises disability.

Upon rereading (and finishing) Land of No Tears! in this collection, my favourite bit was definitely the passage where we see how Miranda lost her hair. The image of the robot nurse singing to the screaming baby who is being burned was pretty affecting and grim, and definitely will stay with me. It was an excellent example of horror being utilised in girls’ comics.

I also enjoyed the character arc of Perfecta. Her battle with those dreaded emotions was quite well done. I felt the ending, where Perfecta damaged her spine was a bit too literal and on the nose as punishment for her actions within the text. I also felt that the central mystery of Miranda and her mother was quite an easy one to solve, but then I’m in my mid-twenties, so definitely not the target audience of a youngster reading it week to week!

Whilst I enjoyed both stories, I definitely preferred The Human Zoo to Land of No Tears! This one was a cracker! Written by Shaw, with art again by Peeters, The Human Zoo is about twins Shona and Jenny, who are abducted by aliens. Jenny is experimented on in an allegory of animal testing, and Shona is sent to a zoo with some other captives. There is more than a little ‘Planet of the Apes’ vibe in this comic, and the way Shaw explored human nature in this story was exceptional. At one point Shona becomes a pet for alien girl Tamsha, but is sent back to the zoo for being too rebellious. Tamsha then replaces her with a more ‘docile’ human, another school girl who is more than happy to ‘act the pet’ in order to secure a cushy life. Another excellent scene was when the aliens starve the humans in order have the equivalent of a Chimpanzee’s Tea Party. Shaw’s central message, that we ‘dehumanize’ animals in order to profit off them and entertain ourselves, was, yes, preachy, but he dramatized it so skilfully that it worked. He also showed tension well, by allowing us to understand both the aliens and the humans, but never letting them understand each other.

The Human Zoo crammed quite a lot into its sixty pages: animal testing, animals rights activists, the morality of having pets, the morality of zoos, religion, forgiveness; all this and more gets thrown into the blender, and some of the threads (such as when Shona inadvertently becomes a god to the humans who have escaped captivity) are a little underdeveloped. There’s also a suggestion that the aliens are responsible for such mysterious mass disappearances as the Mary Celeste, which was interesting but I would have liked worked out just a bit more.

Both stories end with a ‘was it a dream….?’ resolution. In Land of No Tears!, Cassy learns from her mistakes and takes her lessons forward into her old life. However, much more poignantly, Shaw has Shona and Jenny completely forget their adventures, erasing their character growth and dooming them to continue in their ways. I’m a bit of a Shaw fan, as this review evidences!

To conclude, I was sceptical at first about the two stories, but ended up thoroughly enjoying them: I think this tells us that girls’ comics are far more than the sum of their plot synopsises! Malcolm Shaw was a top tier talent; I’m glad that the Rebellion reprints are reintroducing people to his work. The volume itself is quite beautiful, and the use of blue and yellow spot colouring on the back cover is effective (although I wish they had kept the original trippy colours for the cover of Jinty #1). My minor gripe is that it towers over both my 2000 AD and Misty trade paper backs. The sight of a single Jinty volume peeking over all the others irritated me enough that I had to relocate Jinty and Misty to a new section of my bookshelf. Such is the price of bookshelf perfection.

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.