All posts by comixminx

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!
Advertisements

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.

IGNCC18, Bournemouth: David Roach

One of the other keynote talks that will be of particular interest to readers of this blog was the one by David Roach. If you have read his most recent book, “Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art“, then you would have found a lot of familiar material in his presentation, but we had the opportunity to hear him give the material in a lively talkative format and with the invaluable aid of some gorgeous pages of art and painting that David brought along. As with the Anne Digby talk, this has been recorded by Alex Fitch and hopefully will be broadcast on his internet radio show in due course. For now though, some notes, impressions, and key points I took away from it. (I am not, however, going to go into individual comics artists,: you need to look at the book or attend another of David’s talks in order to do that, I can’t do them justice here.)

David took us through the period from the 1950s to the  1970s, explaining how there came to be such a large number of Spanish artists working outside of their own country (in the UK but also in the US and in other European countries). He explained that after paper rationing came to an end in Britain, there was a tremendous demand for comics, magazines, and story papers. (We’d already heard in the Anne Digby talk the fact that School Friend in its heyday was selling 1 million copies a week, and David repeated this figure in his talk too.) There were just not enough British artists to keep up with the demand – the pre-war artists were getting older and literally dying out, the younger generation had gone off to the war and been injured or killed, and when the Amalgamated Press advertised for artists to join their stable, they only got two responses! So when European agencies started to knock at the doors of British publishers, they were very welcome. Not all of the agencies were Spanish – the Belgian agency A.L.I in 1954 started the flood, and Italian agencies Cosmopolitan  and D’Ami were likewise two of the early strong contenders.

However, the Spanish agencies  such as Selecciones Illustradas (S.I.) run by Josép Toutain, and Bardon (co-run by Barry Coker), and the Bruguera studio associated with the A.L.I. mentioned above, ended by dominating the scene to such an extent that it it is thought that at least 385 Spanish artists worked in the UK – more than there were British artists working in the same market during that time period!

David Roach at IGNCC18, talking about Spanish artists in British and worldwide publications

In addition to touching on more well-known grounds (showing how much fantastic work the Spanish artists did, by displaying beautiful work in a range of styles, and explaining how editors conceived of certain groups of artists as matching certain kinds of work (Argentinian artists = muscular war artists, Spanish artists = romantic dreamers suited to girls and romance comics)), David also highlighted some unexpected aspects of the Spanish comics boom that I hadn’t previously been aware of. One of these was that the Spanish artists experienced this work not only as financially rewarding (the pay rate was hugely much better than they were getting in Spain, and the exchange rate was in their favour too) but also politically and socially rewarding too. These were young men whose work meant they got the chance to travel outside of Francoist Spain, and who additionally got sent reference material from the UK, so that they heard about the Beatles and suchlike popular culture icons before anyone else in Spain did. Indeed, they were some number of years ahead of the curve! Lest you think it was all one-way though, David was at pains to point out that images like the Serenade cover above is pop art avant la lettre – it was drawn some years before the Swinging 60s that you would assume it was representing, and so you can only think of it as more in the nature of an inspiration for the look of that time then a representation of what was already happening. Spanish-drawn romance comics as an inspiration for pop art and the Carnaby Street look? Stranger things have happened…

The other surprising aspect that David mentioned was that there was much more awareness of, and renegotiating of, copyright than I’d supposed. The British comics normally didn’t print credits, and although in the Spanish market it was usual to sign the artwork this might be done using a pseudonym or a variant of the artist’s legal name, and this might vary over the years of an artist’s career. It was not unusual for a proper identification of the original creator to be far from easy to establish (especially if they did most of their work in the British market and hence were not credited). In the British market, also, it was vanishingly unusual for creators to own their own material – the standard procedure for Fleetway, and I believe for D C Thomson too, was to cast the payment cheque in the form of a contract which assigned all rights to the publisher in perpetuity, so that in order to get paid there was no other option than signing away your rights. But David brought out some examples of painted artwork that was painted ‘on spec’ by artists – both war scenes and pensive domestic scenes – which were sold on a ‘first print rights’ basis, so that the publisher was only granted the rights to to use that material once. They were then able to re-sell the material if they could find a market. David had one example, a painting of a woman in a bedroom, which was sold to several places: women’s magazines in different countries, a romance comic, and to be the cover of a mass market paperback. No wonder the Spanish artists had a tradition of tending to go into fine art after some 10 – 15 years as a comics artist – it feels like a natural move, given the above.

The talk attendees were, I think, blown away by the range of art shown, but they also had pertinent questions to follow up with. Some of them were a bit unanswerable – how did the Spanish artists manage to produce so much output, and how did they come to be so very good at such a young age? Others touched on the political situation and drew out further aspects of what David had said about the political freedom that working for a foreign publisher gave – many of the artists became or already were Marxists, radical leftists, and subversives of one sort or another (at least one of whom had to flee the country at short notice). Finally, I know that there was a real rush at the end of the talk to come and look at the artifacts that he had brought along – a number of original pages of art (above) painted images, and even one of the portfolio samples that the agencies carried from publisher to publisher to entice them to sign up a new artist.

There was of course much more in the talk that is beyond what I can go into in a blog post here. Do seek out David’s book (linked to above), listen to Alex Fitch’s broadcast of the talk as and when it comes out, or take the opportunity to see him talk on this subject if you ever get a chance.

IGNCC18, Bournemouth: Anne Digby

As promised, a few notes so far on the comics conference I am attending here in Bournemouth. Julia Round is one of the key organisers and as such it was always likely to have interest for girls comics readers as her own research interest at the moment is on Misty and the gothic. Also attending, speaking, and helping to organise the event are Joan Ormrod (who is interested in British weekly publications such as Mirabelle and Roxy) and Dr Mel Gibson whose “Remembered Reading” was discussed on this blog.

The key event on the first day of the conference was an interview session at the end of the day between Mel Gibson and Anne Digby. This was recorded by Alex Fitch (of internet radio channel Resonance FM) with the aim of transmitting it at a future date. Anne Digby talked about her start in working life, getting her first job at 16 as an editorial trainee or apprentice at Amalgamated Press in London, working on School Friend. This matched her early desire, from the age of 8 or so, to be a writer. Learning on the job and being paid to do so was right up her street. She had been a reader of comics and of School Friend itself as a child, so she was particularly thrilled from that perspective.

There was one other trainee when she joined the team, another young woman; they worked with an older lady, Isobel Winchester (corrected following confirmation with AD) who was an old hand and trained them in sub-editing tasks. In the talk, Anne didn’t go into lots of detail of what those tasks consisted of, but she did say that it included editing texts sent in by freelancers and other writers by tidying them up. Afterwards in separate conversation she also explained that it included the commissioning of work too, including the matching of artists to writers. It was very much a journalistic job, pulling together the finished creation that the reader consumes.

In case the above misleads on the prevalence of women in the comics business, Mel did ask about whether there were many other women writers or artists that worked at the time that Anne Digby was associated with the Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC as it became over the years. Evelyn “Polly” Flinders, artist on the long-running girls school story “The Silent Three”, was an obvious example for her to mention; Anne had memories of her as a lovely person who didn’t look stereotypically ‘artistic’ (she wore tweeds and had her hair in a schoolma’arm bun). One interesting snippet was that Flinders was unusual in not having an agent to represent her, as the other artists generally did. (Writers did not have agent representation, but artists did.) She would turn up to deliver her art in person, carrying it in a large portfolio, so she was a regular figure to Digby. However, the number of women creative contributors engaged in producing the comics seems otherwise to have been relatively minimal.

The expectation in that job was that people would take the opportunity to do extra writing jobs on a freelance basis, and eventually transition to going completely freelance. Anne did indeed do this. She wrote text stories and comics for A.P. / Fleetway for some years, and children’s novels from the mid- to late 70s onwards. Indeed, her own take on why the comics market declined is precisely because of the rise of children’s novels at ‘pocket money’ prices – the Armada Lions and the like of the times expanded the market beyond what Puffin had done when they stood alone as the big name in children’s books.

Digby is clearly pleased with and proud of her work even at this distance in time; she has favorites that she happily cites (such as semi-supernatural story “The Dance Dream” and horse story “Olympia Jones”. This is as it should be, of course – her work was read by masses of children and stayed with those readers for a long time, and it stands up to the test of time on re-read. I hope that her wish to see “Olympia Jones” and other work re-issued will come to pass.

Further posts will follow, covering the David Roach talk in particular. However one thing I can quickly share is a photo of the script that Anne Digby brought along to the event: for a Strange Story called “The Cat”. The script was around 5 pages long but I didn’t photograph the rest of it. How lovely to see physical artifacts still around from that time, and still legible too!

IGNCC (International Graphic Novel & Comics Conference) 2018: Bournemouth

Over the next three days I shall be attending IGNCC at Bournemouth: an academic comics conference on the theme of “Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia”. I have had a paper accepted with the title “Lost In Time: The Problem Of Crediting The Creator In Girls Comics” – drawing on lots of the discoveries and discussions from this blog, of course! Other people are talking about girls comics too – for instance in the same panel session Selina Lock will be talking on “Behind The Panels: The Hidden Histories Of Women In British Comics”.

Of particular interest to the readers of this blog, though, are probably the following two keynote sessions, which I will try to take notes on and write a post or two about.

  • Anne Digby (writer for School Friend, Girl, Tammy, Jinty and the Trebizon series of
    children’s books) in conversation with Mel Gibson (Remembered Reading) on British
    Girls’ Comics.
  • David Roach (2000AD, Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art) – The Spanish Masters

More to come as I get it, over the following days…

Our Big BIG Secret (1972)

Sample Images

(from Sandie 15 April 1972)

Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 – 15 April 1972

Episodes: 10

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot summary

Poppy and Daisy are sisters who are both mad-keen on having a dog, but their parents are too poor to consider it. Even giving the sisters (and their rather less keen brother Ted) 10p each to go to the local fete is a bit of a stretch for poor old Mum. But at the fete, Poppy and Daisy put their money into the prize raffle – and (of course) end up winning the mystery prize. It’s… a pedigree Pyrennean Mountain puppy! Not only is it a dog but a huge one, bound to be hungry all the time. A bystander tries to buy it off the girls and they turn him down, but that’s a decision that will certainly cause them difficulties.

As soon as they get the puppy, now named Pedro, back home, they have to decide where to keep him. The shed won’t do for long, as Pedro clearly knows pretty well what a nice comfy indoor bed looks like and he is determined to get inside to the girls – who have to trick their parents while Poppy nips downstairs to let Pedro in. A kindly lady looks like she can help out by keeping Pedro during the day, but it doesn’t take long for him to escape. A white lie saves them – “Isn’t he the puppy you met in the park, Poppy? With that old lady, Mrs Jenkins?”

In any case the family are about to move house to a much bigger place (though with the reputation of being haunted) and perhaps this will give the girls the answer they need – Pedro can sleep in the cellar! Well, maybe so – and in the meantime there’s the problem of how to pay for his food. Poppy already has a baby-sitting job (or, well, she does until she turns up with Pedro in tow – and he takes the little kids for a ride on his back!) and tries to get a paper-round. Again it isn’t long before Pedro jinxes it. But a turn up for the books – Pedro also stages a heroic rescue of an old man from a house on fire! Great! Though, yes, you guessed it… the evening papers carries the whole story, plus a photo, and so the girls have to try to keep this secret safe too. A hard job, made harder when the son of the man whose life was saved comes round to say thanks and to pay a reward!

Again the problem situation is averted (though not in a very convincingly-explained way) and the action moves on to the new house – a possible place to hide Pedro. And not before time – the grumpy old neighbour of the nice old lady who was trying to help them has made a complaint, and she isn’t able to put Pedro up overnight any more. Why’s the grumpy guy also showing up round at the new place, though? Could it be related to the sighting that young Ted makes – of a while ghostly shape in the very house they are moving into?

Poppy shuts Pedro into the cellar anyway as she runs out of ideas and it’s getting very late – but in the meantime the grumpy neighbour has gone back to the family’s old place and told everyone that there is indeed a ghost in that there house! Mum in particular is sobbing her heart out to hear it – “Our new house! How can we go and live there now?” The neighbour leads everyone over to see the ghost for themselves, but in the meantime Daisy has run back, spirited Pedro out, and left the neighbour to look like a fool. Not so much because the house is free of ghosts, but because Poppy is in on the action too – she has dressed up as a ghost to pretend that it was all her doing all along!

It works, but finally Mum and Dad find out (they notice that both girls have ended up kipping in the new house snuggled up to Pedro). Mum is determined that Pedro MUST GO, but a final incursion by the nasty neighbour has her changing her mind after all when Pedro proves what a good guard dog he would be.

Further thoughts

The story starts promisingly, with hectic scenes at the fete, and bops along at quite a pace throughout. The plot itself feels fairly thin and it didn’t ‘grab’ me all that much on first read, but it’s quite solid on re-read. The best bit about it is the Jim Baikie cartoonish  artwork, with lots of characterful images. I particularly liked the way he does little signs on Pedro himself, such as in the last panel where Pedro is very pleased with himself! The art does get a bit scrappy in places and it doesn’t feel like it is Baikie’s best, but there is lots to like about it nevertheless.

Sandie 15 April 1972

Stories in this issue:

  • No-one Cheers for Norah (artist John Armstrong)
  • Slaves of the Sorcerer (artist Desmond Walduck?)
  • Wee Sue (artist Vicente Torregrosa Manrique)
  • Brenda’s Brownies (artist and writer Mike Brown)
  • Odd Mann Out (artist A E Allen)
  • Silver Is a Star (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • Not So Lady-like Lucy
  • Our Big BIG Secret (artist Jim Baikie) – last episode
  • The School of No Escape (artist unknown artist ‘Merry’)
  • Sandra Must Dance (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Bonnie’s Butler (artist Richard Neillands)
  • Anna’s Forbidden Friend (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • A Sandie Pop Portrait – Dave Cassidy (artist Bob Gifford)

The cover competition offers a chance to win a ‘fabulous electric sewing machine’, though I think that a battery-powered machine probably won’t get you very far through sewing anything other than the dolls clothes mentioned in the competition blurb.

Norah loses her home twice over in this episode – after an emotional visit to see her father, she stays overnight in her old house, but in the morning she is turfed out by a new family who have just rented the place. On returning to her cousin’s house she isn’t allowed back in there either! As is so often the way, though, the horrible relatives have played a mean trick too far – Norah has to stay in her uncle’s clothing factory overnight, and of course she finds a document that shows pretty clearly that the culprit who stole the money that her dad was blamed for – was probably her uncle all along!

Orphan Beth Williams is well and truly in the clutches of the evil sorcerer Caspar, along with three other hard-done-by girls. It seems that Caspar’s act is ‘so dangerous he’d never get anyone to volunteer. That’s why he has to have slaves.’ Beth is a spirited girl who is keen to run away at the first opportunity, but I suspect it won’t be as easy as that.

It’s the last episode of “Our Big BIG Secret” – a story post will be forthcoming.

At the end of the previous issue’s “The School of No Escape”, Dale was pushed over a cliff. Luckily she falls onto a ledge, which though small is enough to save her. The next morning, Miss Voor thinks that her last obstacle is out of the way and so she summons all her specially-chosen pupils to her side. They are all to write farewell letters to their parents and then to follow Miss Voor to Hangman’s Copse – which is where they meet up with the exhausted Dale, who has crawled up the cliff face to seek help.

This week’s episode of “Bonnie’s Butler” is drawn by Richard Neillands instead of regular artist Julio Bosch.