The Four-Footed Friends (artist Peter Wilkes, writer Alison Christie)
Children of Edenford (artist Phil Townsend)
A Dashing Cravat – craft feature
“Alice in a Strange Land” enters prime H Rider Haggard territory – she finds that her rescuer is a Victorian explorer – complete with mutton-chop whiskers – who has been kept young by the spring of eternal youth. Sir Edward takes Alice to see the Incan carving that tells the tale of how the spring was blocked by an earlier earthquake – it must periodically be stopped and started by earth tremors. It is this that the High Priestess wants to prevent, by sacrificing Alice or her cousin to the Incan sun god!
Laika has found a hidden safe that is almost certainly where scheming blackmailer Gladvis keeps the negatives of the compromising photos she has taken over the years. (Ah, negatives – a blast from the past, in this science fiction story!) Gladvis inadvertently gives away the combination when she tips out a bunch of stuff from her drawer, for Laika to tidy up. Laika wastes no time in getting rid of the material in the safe, but Gladvis’ revenge is not long in coming. Laika’s dad gets the news that he has been downgraded to a Grade C manager – and the family have to move to an underground apartment in the Industrial Zone!
Gwenny Gulliver is getting used to having tiny guests – the last Lilliputians have come to stay with her. There are a few hitches – not least them setting fire to the doll’s house that they are living in!
Ann Ridley’s parents are putting a brave face on things and clearing out the bedroom of Mary’s things. Ann works hard to help, but giving stuff away to the jumble sale sparks painful memories that cause her to go off in anger at just the point when she is starting to feel she is doing a good job. Once again she feels “they only want Mary, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”
Laura’s posh mother is on stage in “The Four-Footed Friends” – she wants to beguile the audience into signing her petition against extending the council estate. But mongrel Riley and best friend Winston undo her efforts by putting up such a show of friendship that no one wants to sign the petition! Good for them.
Jilly and Patti are busy clearing up the school – headmistress Purity Goodfellow has turned all the parents and schoolchildren into perfect zombies in the wake of the riot that the two girls incited. Patti and Jilly must try and destroy the perfection drug as soon as possible, before Miss Goodfellow tries to feed it to the whole country – she has enough of it stored up to do so!
Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands) – first episode
The Forbidden Garden (artist Jim Baikie)
Boney is beautiful! (feature on pop group Boney M)
Prisoner of the Bell (artist Phil Gascoine)
I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters, writer Alison Christie)
You Wanna Be a Millionaire… or do you? (quiz)
Daughter of Dreams
Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)
The Four-Footed Friends (artist Peter Wilkes, writer Alison Christie)
Kate Bush (pin up)
Children of Edenford (artist Phil Townsend)
What price beauty? (feature)
Alice follows the sound of Chana’s voice and discovers that they have both been betrayed – Chana has been exiled from the city and will thereby surely die, and Alice’s cousin Karen has got the golden urn and declared herself sun goddess. The temple priestesses seize Alice on sight and she is forced to dress as a jester in order to appease her cousin, who is finding that power has gone to her head!
It is the first episode of “Bizzie Bet and the Easies”, a lightweight two page humour strip that has started running in the place of “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!”. Bet is an energetic girl but her friends the Easies are much keener on a quiet life with minimal effort. I like their style, personally!
Laika is starting to grow her forbidden garden, but she has to balance the needs of tending to it with the danger of getting caught in the Forbidden Zone. This time the police nearly catch her, and her weak little sister Valli is half-dead with anxiety.
Susie is no longer the prisoner of the bell – at least temporarily so, because her gran can’t get at her while she is on the residential gym course. A weight seems to have lifted from her, and Susie’s gym mojo returns – but the gran doesn’t give up as easily as that!
Ann tries to emulate her sister by demanding that the bullies who have pinched a precious photo album give it back – but instead they just rip up the photos! Ann is heartbroken but more importantly she can’t face telling the news to the old lady whose photo album it is. When the story comes out, more and more people are disappointed in Ann and she feels once again that she can never make up for her dead sister.
The “Daughter of Dreams” is Pauline Starr – she’s really just a figment of shy Sally Carter’s imagination, but such a strong imagination that she comes to life! Sally is the only person who can see her, but the fantastical creation can nevertheless have an effect on the world around her… and on Sally’s confidence, of course. The sequel to this story is drawn by the unknown artist who drew Merry, but this is done by the hand of a different artist (probably a Spanish person by the looks of the style).
The four-footed friends are posh Peke Winston and scruffy mongrel Riley – their owners are also fast friends, but Laura’s mum is having none of it. Riley ends up shut in a shed, with a threat to turn him over to the police, as a vermin spreader.
Patti is still a normal teenager in “Children of Edenford” but not so the girls next door – Mandy and Debbie used to be lazy messy little horrors who never helped out, but now they make posh suppers for dinner parties and listen to poetry records for fun. Patti escapes to visit her friend Jilly – only to find that Jilly too, is proposing to do some maths homework for a bit of fun, and has taken down all her Travolta posters! “Pop music is a waste of time. It neither enriches the soul nor challenges the intellect.” Yikes!
She Shall Have Music (artist Ron Smith) – last episode
The Four-Footed Friends (artist Peter Wilkes) – first episode
I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters)
Spice Up Your Ideas! (cooking feature)
Alice visits Chana in her wee slave cell, to find out how on earth she can pass the test that will prove she is the Sun Goddess so that she can save Chana’s life. The clues she gets are all very well, but the test requires true bravery as well. Will Alice be able to climb to the top of the wall of the maze, so that she can see the temple she has to get to?
“Sea-Sister” ends this issue. Helen is put on trial by the great Sea-Judge for the crime of telling her friend Jane about the existence of the drowned village of Ullapond. Jane has to plead for Helen and give up something very dear to her heart in order to prove how much it means to her that her friend should not be banished; the plea works and Jane is even rewarded for her tenacity, though her memory is wiped of all that has happened.
Susie Cathcart is still the prisoner of her grandmother, who wields a hypnotic power over her via the tinkling of a handbell. Susie’s dreams of a career in gymnastics have been ruined by her grandmother’s interference, and her nerves are shot. The high-flown gym course that Susie would previously have killed to go on, now feels like a scary ordeal. Will her friend Lorraine manage to pull her out of it? Not if the gran can help it, of course…
It’s not that often that you get a single-page advert for an upcoming story in the same comic. Here is one for “The Forbidden Garden“, which of course proved very popular and successful. The editors must have been very excited for it – regular gag strip Alley Cat did not appear in this issue so presumably was dropped in favour of this teaser for the following week. “Daughter of Dreams”, which also starts the same week, is briefly mentioned, but it comes across as rather an afterthought.
“Children of Edenford” shows Patti and Jilly eating a superb lunch in the posh refectory at Edenford school – but there are sinister signs that very soon both of the girls may be turned into perfect schoolgirls, just like their classmates. Certainly that’s what Miss Goodfellow, the headmistress, promises: “You shall be one of us soon! Very soon!”
“She Shall Have Music” comes to a heart-wrenching end in this issue, with a four-page episode in which Lisa’s redemption becomes complete. “The Four-Footed Friends” starts – another Peter Wilkes story to fill the gap left by “Sea-Sister”. Laura is rather a “poor little rich girl” whose mother wraps her in cotton wool – she doesn’t know why, but the cheeky little pekinese who they are about to buy ends up giving all the answers.
Ann Ridley’s schoolmates are giving her the cold shoulder because they think she ratted on them to the teachers. She will continue to be misunderstood and unhappy for the rest of “I’ll Make Up for Mary”, of course.
The back page ‘crafts’ feature is food-based this week: it suggests using your spice cupboard to create some tasty treats such as Gingered Pears, Cinnamon Toast, Curried Butter, and Spiced Chocolate.
I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters, writer Alison Christie)
“Alice in a Strange Land: is the lead story at this point – Alice and her cousin Karen are told by the mysterious High Priestess that there is a prophecy that a “white-skinned goddess” will lead the tribe back to greatness. Will that goddess be Karen or Alice – and what test will decide between them?
Sea-Sister Helen and her friend Jane are stuck in the ocean – Helen was trying to return to the underwater village that she comes from, but with Jane also on board her sea-shell boat it was not able to return properly. An oil tanker that is stuck on the rocks threatens the two girls, and also a number of friendly birds – Helen tries to save them all but in then end a giant wave sweeps the two of them overboard and under the sea. That’s fine for Helen, who is finally home again – but what of Jane, who has ended up visiting the underwater kingdom without permission?
In “Prisoner of the Bell”, Susie Cathcart is afraid she’s lost her nerve and can’t face doing gymnastics any more. Loyal friend Lorraine thinks of a way to help her get back into the swing of it and even lends her twenty pounds for it – a residential course at a gym school. But the meddling gran finds the money and instructs Susie to “destroy that friendship forever!” The hypnotized Susie can only reply “Whatever your orders, Grandma, I will obey!”
We normally haven’t touched on the features and extraneous items in the pages of the comic. I include the page with the horoscope (and who better to present it than Gypsy Rose, of course – here drawn by Phil Townsend) and a crossword. The clues on the crossword seem surprisingly hard for the intended age range of 8-12, I’d think: but have a look at the tiny upside-down answers, if you can, and see what you think. You will need to click through, of course.
This is just the second episode of “Children of Edenford”. Patti has arrived at the clean and beautiful village of Edenford, but she knows that something’s not right about it. Well, the runaway terrified girl being pursued by grim blank-eyed schoolgirls, and the headmistress whose motto is “Others strive for perfection – we achieve it!” is a bit of a give-away, maybe.
Lisa Carstairs is still a snooty snob in “She Shall Have Music”. Her mother is ill and unable to cope: Lisa is told to stay on with her friend Tracey but instead runs off to stay with her London godmother. Will it work out? Not likely…
There is a two-page text article about a trapeze artist act, the Caravettas: three sisters and a brother. Very exciting!
Fran is playing at being the Fire Officer, which is great fun, so long as she doesn’t screw it up badly enough that she gets into the Headmistress’s bad books, cos that would mean that big bully Martha Stump would have a chance to get her own back.
Shy Ann has changed her hairstyle and other looks to match her dead twin’s – and the other girls on the school bus are understandably rather freaked out when they first see it. Being back at school after the traumatic holiday where her sister was drowned is difficult in many ways, however hard Ann tries.
Alice Jones is a timid orphan who lives with her uncle, aunt, and cousin Karen. Karen is much more confident and outgoing than her cousin, and overshadows Alice at everything. Some people have faith in the shy girl – for instance one of her teachers at school says that if she had confidence in herself she could do so much better, because she is very clever at most subjects. Her family are pretty dismissive of her, in ways bordering on abuse – the two girls share a birthday, but while Karen is bought a pretty party dress and made much of, Alice is simply bought a pair of socks as a present and told to be grateful that they have looked after her for all those years.
We don’t see much of this miserable home life, though. The initial four page episode sees both Karen and Alice apply for a school exchange holiday in Texas – exciting! – which they are both chosen for (much to her family’s disgust), and the small group of seven schoolgirls sets out in an equally small twin-prop plane. The plane is too small to survive a huge storm that blows up, and it goes way off course – instead of heading to Texas, the girls find they are flying over South America! The final straw is when the pilot’s eyes are dazzled by the shining golden roofs of a mysterious lost city, which the stewardess only has time to exclaim must be “El Dorado, the lost golden city of the Incans!” before the plane crashes. The two grown-ups are killed and the seven schoolgirls are left alone in an exotic jungle. Alice wants them to head towards the golden city, but Karen, who has appointed herself the natural leader of the group, calls the idea absurd – because Alice was the only one of the schoolgirls to see the golden roofs.
Karen takes charge and leads the girls onwards – luckily in the direction that Alice thinks they should be going in anyway (they’re following the path that the plane made as it crash-landed). In the forest a bird appears – again, Alice is the one that sees it first, but Karen notices that its beak and claws have been painted gold, and that it is a tame bird. It leads them all to the lost city after all! Karen is furious at being proved wrong and drags Alice along with her to the temple that the bird is leading them to. In the middle of the temple is the image of the sun, and it starts to glow mysteriously, as the two girls are surrounded by robed priestesses who hail them as ‘great ones’ and bow down to worship them!
The priestesses hail the two girls as part of a prophecy of a ‘white-skinned goddess to lead us back to greatness’, and seem to be treating all the group to luxurious accommodation. Alice is the only one who is suspicious – she believes they are being imprisoned under the guise of having servants waiting on them hand and foot. And something she overhears the head priestess talking about gives her a fright – the priestesses need to decide which out of Alice and Karen is the Sun Goddess and so they will be put to a test. Of course Alice wouldn’t usually stand in Karen’s way for such acclaim, but she does so in order to protect a slave girl, Chana, who is threatened with death simply for daring to look upon the group of schoolgirls.
In return for Alice’s support, Chana gives her some clues to help pass the test. Just as well The two girls are made to navigate a gigantic maze and to get past the guardian at the centre of it – a sleek black jaguar. Following the instructions to ‘go above the maze’ and to ‘call the black one by his name’, Alice succeeds: she climbs the walls (despite her great fear of heights) and soothes the jaguar by calling him Aquila as instructed. At the last minute however, she hears the echoing voice of Chana, calling to her: “Help me Sun Goddess, or I will die!” The treacherous high priestess has gone against her word and banished Chana from the city, which will mean death in short order if she is not allowed to return. But a nasty surprise meets Alice on her return to the centre of the temple: the urn that she had already reached, and which she needed to take to the high priestess to prove her claim, is gone! Of course Karen had taken it despite knowing that Alice was there first – and Alice is now branded the “false goddess”.
The only thing that is keeping Alice going is the thought of letting Chana down – Chana being the only person so far who has believed in Alice and not seen her as “some kind of bundling idiot”. Alice is also justifiably worried about the whole dangerous situation that they are in – a danger that none of the other girls realise. Not that she understands all the dangers – another slave girl tells her that if she wants to walk out of the temple into the city and nearer to Chana, all she has to do is to walk past the guards. Which she does – but it’s the act of entering the palace that the guards are there to prevent. Alice is left wandering in a deserted city which seems not to have been lived in for hundreds of years. Where is Chana and what is the fearful secret of this mysterious land?
The few locals who live in the city are not very helpful – on hearing that Alice has come from the temple, they lock her up overnight and then bring the leader of their people to see her. He is surprised to see that she has not visibly changed on her overnight stay: “everyone who belongs to that temple changes when they leave it”. And once he takes he to Chana, Alice understands why: Chana has turned into an aged woman, almost literally overnight! Inside the temple is a spring that grants eternal life – but if you fail to drink from it even once, then your true age returns to you and you will die. This is the fate that awaited Chana on being exiled from the temple – and in order to return to the temple, Alice herself will need to accept the slavery of the spring of eternal life! And return to the temple she must – moments after telling her tale to Alice, Chana is killed by an earthquake, and the temple is where Karen and the others are. The high priestess knows exactly what she is making Alice do, even though Karen impatiently says “What’s got into you? It’s only a little drink of water!”
Here is where Karen once again shows herself as being much less astute than her cousin (as well as much less kind and considerate, of course). Why on earth would the high priestess make it a condition that all new joiners to the city must drink the water from this specific spring, if not for some nefarious reason? It’s not done as part of some big joining ceremony, it’s just Alice, Karen, and the high priestess. Karen even impatiently says she will drink some of the water to prove it’s not poisoned, but Alice can’t accept that risk, and dashes the cup over the posh robes that her cousin is wearing, so that Karen leaves in a huff. That suits the high priestess all right, who knows jolly well who’s figured out what: “You, little one, are too clever. You have found out too many of my secrets!” And under the threat of death, Alice drinks – and finds that, as promised, her previous life becomes like a dream.
She works in the kitchen alongside other slaves, agog to even catch a glimpse of the fabled Sun Goddess and her servants. The sight of the magnificent goddess playing catch in the sun seems to ring a bell but the memory fades as soon as it has come – the reality of life is her work in the kitchen and the threat of recurrent earthquakes that the city suffers from. A fellow slave informs Alice that the Sun Goddess is to be sacrificed to save the city from the anger of the god that makes the earth shake – and even this does not rouse Alice from her dreamlike state. After all, a goddess cannot really die, just appear to do so – really she will just be returning to the sun. Nice explanation!
Even in this dire situation, Alice is not entirely without friends. No, not the group of school girls that she came with – the rotten lot are following Karen’s lead and ignoring her entirely, happy for her to end up as a mere slave. But one of Chana’s friends advises her that she must try to avoid drinking the water from the spring of life, and then she will remember who she is and what she is trying to do. And so she does – but only at a point when she is trapped below the kitchens and outside a locked door, menaced by the rising waters of an underground lake!
That’s the point at which the episode in the sample above comes in. She is rescued, almost unbelievably, by an old Victorian gent out for a spot of fishing – “Sir Edward Carter, explorer to her Majesty Queen Victoria, at your service, my dear!” The old gent is a dab hand at rescuing her and making sure she’s warm, dry, and fed: but otherwise is a bit of a patronising old git when told about the danger of the high priestess: “Humbug!”. Not that this is surprising once we get to the end of the episode and realise that it is his own daughter, Lady Dorotea, who is the very same high priestess! Alice is in more danger than ever before, but she hopes that if she stays close to Sir Edward, his daughter will fear to tip her hand in a way that makes him see the double-game she has been playing. But the high priestess sends some henchmen (henchpriestesses?) in the middle of the night to kidnap Alice and bring her to where the other girls are being kept – now in a dungeon, awaiting Karen’s sacrifice the very next day!
The girls plot a desperate plan, under Alice’s lead (even Karen now acknowledges how brave and clever she has been). The sun goddess must go to her death willingly, otherwise the sun god will be angry – so the bribe for that to happen is that if she does, the other girls will be set free, and if not, they will all be killed. So someone must put herself up for sacrifice, and conveniently the costume has a golden mask, so someone else could take Karen’s place while the others go to Sir Edward for help… not that anyone is willing to risk death, apart from Alice of course. By the end of the episode she is bound to a sacrificial altar, hoping fervently that the ceremonial chanting will take long enough to give Sir Edward plenty of time to come and save her – until another earth tremor convinces the high priestess to move the schedule on a bit quicker!
The earth tremors only grow further in intensity, and the panicking Incas start to flee for their lives. When Alice manages to free her hand enough to remove her golden mask, the sight of their ‘false goddess’ causes the rest to flee – but not Lady Dorotea of course, who is all too willing to kill the stumbling block in her way. Finally the cavalry arrives, in the form of Sir Edward, who informs his daughter that the earthquake has stopped the spring from flowing, and so they are both doomed in any case. Of course the vengeful harridan would still like to have a final stab (very literally) at Alice, but a convenient chasm opens up beneath the two Victorians and swallows them up, leaving the girl as the sole survivor. She manages to escape the crumbling cavern and rejoins her happy (and, finally, grateful) cousin for a joint river escape with the rest of the schoolgirls. The girls are safe and are returned home, in a blaze of publicity!
Of course the uncle and aunt are a fly in the ointment – they are delighted to have their darling daughter back, but know that “it can’t be true'” that Alice was the heroine – it must have been Karen! Alice is understandably worried that she will find herself back in the same situation as she left some four months previously (the newspaper article gives the timeline) – downtrodden by her blood relatives. But no – Karen really has changed her tune, and says “I’m not going to let them bully you into being a mouse again, even if they are my mum and dad!” And all ends happily after all.
This is a fantastic story and one of my absolute favourites, though not without flaws (see below). The action moves on swiftly throughout and is full of excellent imagery – the mutton-chop wearing old gent, the deranged high priestess, the beautiful lost city. So much of that is down to artist Terry Aspin, of course, but he had a very strong base to work on and I hope he got a real kick out of it. The elements of the lost city and the spring of eternal youth are far from new, but seen through Alice’s eyes they still work as well as when H Rider Haggard was penning similar tales of “She” and of “King Solomon’s Mines”.
“Alice” was clearly the lead story throughout its run: it was positioned on the first double-page spread of each issue it was in (apart from the first issue, which had the last episode of “Girl Who Never Was“). It also was on the cover 6 times, though always sharing the billing with another story (unlike “Sea Sister”, “The Four Footed Friends“, and “The Forbidden Garden” which all had one or more covers dedicated to their protagonists during this time). This is despite the amazingly strong run of stories at this point – the same issues that this is in also include the stories above and the fantastic “Children of Edenford“, which never was granted cover status). This story was well-thought-of in the editorial office, and deservedly so. It is one of the stories that I never forgot from the time of first reading it, to when I regained copies of Jinty as an adult (and when I first watched Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, I knew the best way for the teen heroine to beat the maze well before she figured it out for herself). I am surprised that I can’t immediately note a translation or reprint version of this story – I am sure I have seen mention of one, so I hope it’s just that I have mislaid the relevant information on any European translation details.
On the downside, once again in Jinty (and indeed in girls’ comics stories generally) the lack of serious research strikes (though I am much more inclined to forgive it in this story than in the lacklustre “The Sceptre of the Toltecs”). To many British people, them-there mysterious lost peoples of the Americas are all very similar – Incans, Mayans, Aztecs are much of a muchness. (The same imprecision extends to naming – the correct term is “Incas” or “Inca”, not “Incans” as the story has it.) The writer of this story got right the focus on gold and on the sun god, which were big elements in Inca society, but seems to have imported much of the rest of the flavour from Mexico (Aztec human sacrifice) or from the Yucatan peninsula that stretches down to Guatemala and Belize (Mayan temples lost in the overgrown jungle). The tame bird that is seen in the second episode is very similar to the beautiful Quetzal bird which is the symbol of Guatemala, but El Dorado is a legend that has its origins in Colombia and hence relates more closely to the Incas. And so on. Of course in some ways it would be wrong for this sort of fantastical story to link itself too closely to a specific real location or people – whynot cobble various elements together into one? – but then the fact it refers to the real Inca belies that. Never mind, it’s a great yarn – and as someone who visited some amazing Mayan ruins as a child, the scene setting worked very well for me nevertheless.
To the modern reader there are a number of glaring holes. The local people understand English? The tribe have a white saviour complex? The high priestess turns out to be a Victorian explorer’s daughter? The two Victorians and the rest of the temple staff don’t seem to have lost their memories with all the drinking of magic water every night? Yeah right. But the various implausibilities of the stories never detract from the solid and exciting story that rushes you along. It’s a long run – 17 episodes – but it never drags or repeats itself. I hope that it will be chosen as an example for Rebellion to reprint in short order – it would certainly very well repay any new attention to it.
We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.
Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”
Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?
Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.
For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandieran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)
Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).
It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.
From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.
If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.
Rhoda Miller was a subeditor at DC Thomson and at IPC, working on girls comics and magazines between 1966 and 2008. In answer to my questions, she wrote the biographical piece below, which I am very happy to be able to publish. Many thanks, Rhoda!
I began work in August 1966 on Diana magazine in Dundee. Editor was George Moonie, Chief sub Ken Gordon. There were two other men subs and about four girls. From day one I was expected to write features and was sent out, (untrained!) to interview people such as The Walker Brothers, Amen Corner, Davy Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Titch (?). Story ideas were discussed at “story sessions” and ideas sent out to script writers. The subs’ job was to prepare them for publication. Sometime, this meant a complete re-write! In 1970, I was in a one-way love affair and decided to move to London. A bit drastic, but there you go!
When I applied to IPC they had just paid off a lot of people and the unions wouldn’t let them take anyone new on. But John Purdie was keen to have someone from Thomsons, he took me on as a free lancer, but I was to work in the office full time, and if anyone asked, I was to tell them I was a “visiting free lancer”.
I was put in Desmond Pride’s old office with Annie Deam, who had recently been removed from her post of School Friend editor, and like me, was working on projects. Eventually I went onto Sandie and worked as a sub. My days of working there are very hazy, and I wasn’t there very long before personal circumstances propelled me back to Dundee. I do remember the art editor, though. His name was John Jackson, and he had come from Eagle, and I remember the artists agent, Jack Wall, and his best mate, an artist whose surname was MacGillivray (can’t recall his first name) [Robert MacGillivray] but MacGillivray’s nephew was the legendary Ali McKay who also worked for IPC for quite a few years.
Back in Dundee, I rejoined DC Thomsons, and went to The Bunty, where Harold Moon was editor, Ian Munro chief sub. These were amongst the happiest days of my working life. I was there for several years, writing scripts for “The Four Marys” among others. At this time, the company still employed several long-standing script writers. One of the most prolific was a lady called Olive K Griffiths. Her scripts needed a lot of re-writing, as I recall. In the weekly comic we didn’t have features, but we did in the annuals, and these the staff were required to write.
After that, it was Spellbound with Ken Gordon editing, and David Donaldson chief sub. By this time, some of the subs were writing more and more of the scripts, and the company was employing fewer outside script writers. Spellbound, a spooky magazine, only ran a few years before it ran out of steam. I remember we had a lot of interference from Norman Fowler, who was one of our managing editors. He was keen to have horse racing stories in all the magazines!
After Spellbound, it was Mandy under Alan Halley, but when I objected to him wanting to run a horrible story about a wealthy couple planning to kidnap a poor girl and use her as a blood donor for their ill daughter, we fell out and I went to Nikki, where I wrote “The Comp”. As I say, my memory is not great for dates, or how long I was on each magazine, but in 1997, I was chief sub editor on Animals and You. Frances O’Brien was editor.
“Luv, Lisa” was my idea, and was quite an innovative idea, as it was a “dear diary” photo story rather than an illustrated one. Richard Palmer was the photographer (he also worked for IPC). After Animals and You, Frances and I moved to work on a new project, of which nothing came, but we did come up with the concept of The Goodie Bag Mag, and I worked on that with her, until I took early voluntary severance in 2008.
The artists who worked for us (that I remember ) were Claude Berridge, George Martin, David Matysiak, and Norman Lee. Spellbound had an amazing Spanish artist drawing one of our stories, but again the name escapes me! [I assume this may have been Romero who drew Supercats; if Rhoda is able to confirm then I will update.]
[Edited to add the following further additions from Rhoda, below. I had asked why she felt that the publishing industry moved from story-heavy titles to ones that were more focused on features or freebies, and about credits for artists and writers.]
I really cannot explain why the comics became less content and more free gifts, except to suggest that research showed children were less inclined to read great screeds of type and preferred more pictorial and less copy. The free gift phenomenon was very much a case of “the opposition are doing it, so should we.”
As to naming the script writers/artists, it was certainly a DC Thomson policy not to allow anyone to be credited. But some of the Spanish artists sneaked their names on and a blind eye was turned. Mainly because they were indispensable. Indeed, it was only in the past twenty years that Thomson allowed their newspapers reporters and columnists to get bylines!
Prisoners of Paradise Island (artist Trini Tinturé)
The Hostess with the Mostest
Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
Bird-Girl Brenda (artist Phil Gascoine)
Always Together… (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie) – last episode
Slave of the Mirror (artist Carlos Freixas)
Katie fools a pony-napping gang in the cover story – there are some crooks who are stealing away the foals of some wild ponies and selling them to a nearby pony riding school. You’d think the school would soon spot that the ponies are wild, but the crooks tell them that ‘they’ll soon settle down’! Well, luckily Katie has hitched a couple of rides – first on one of the mother ponies trekking after her stolen baby, and then in the truck taking the ponies away. So she soon foils the plans, and is a hero to the neighbourhood.
Tricia’s tragedy takes place in this issue – cousin Diana dives too close to Tricia when she is in the pool, and the next thing Tricia knows, Diana seems stunned… unconscious! and when she wakes up, suddenly the cousin has been struck blind.
In Merry at Misery House, she is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the sinister figure – the joker who is turning the place upside down, but only at times when Merry is blamed for the pranks! But at last the prankster gets Miss Ball dismissed as deputy warden – and Merry finally gets a clue as to what is happening. We are promised that she will be unmasking the joker – next week.
“The Kat and Mouse Game” is nearing its climax. Mouse is still dancing Kat’s part and letting her take the credit, but is hurt because Kat doesn’t seem to be acting like a real friend and taking any interest in Mouse’s small dance solo. The scheming Kat plots to sabotage even this small triumph – but we can tell that it will rebound on her, one way or another. The sample page on the story post shows you what happens in the following week’s episode…
The Prisoners of Paradise Island aren’t yet seeing through the luxury trap that Miss Lush has set for the hockey team. Sally Tuff has managed to get out a radio message to Miss Granley, their sports mistress – will she be the saving grace?
It is the last episode of Always Together…. Little sister Beth is desperately ill but all is sorted out in the final few pages – even to the extent of restoring the lost mother and the family home!
Finally, in “Slave of the Mirror“, Mia is still being manipulated by the mirror at the times when she feels most resentful for her sister’s bossy ways. But nice old Major Rose has build Mia a beach hut that she can escape to when she feels stressed out. She does so, and prepares to go for a dip – unaware that she is being watched by two men. Are they sinister stalkers such as we would expect them to be nowadays, or far more benign?
I mentioned in my recent post about Jinty4 October 1975 that the story “Barracuda Bay” is one that we’ve understood to be attributable to Santiago Hernandez, while saying that it was an attribution I didn’t necessarily ‘get’ until I read the issues of Sandie that included “The Golden Shark”. The two stories both showcase a lot of scuba diving, so there are obvious elements to compare directly. There are also drawings of the two protagonists looking quite similar across both stories. Finally, in “The Golden Shark” in particular, there are other characters who look very similar to ones in “The Haunting of Hazel”, which is confidently attributed to Hernandez.
“The Golden Shark”:
And finally, “The Haunting of Hazel”:
Mistyfan draws my attention to another possible artist that could be a contender for the creator of “Barracuda Bay”: José Ariza, who you may know from his work in Misty or in DC Thomson’s Emma (he drew wartime thriller “The White Mouse”).
There are quite a lot of similarities, though I would tend to associate Ariza more closely with Trini Tinturé, who I could more readily imagine confusing his art with. The face of the White Mouse in the last panel immediately above, for instance, is very close to Trini’s style, I would say. Here is some more art from José Ariza, this time from Misty:
What elements of the artwork can help to decide between two artists? There are lots of small things to look at: noses, eyes, hands. To me, there are many similarities between the at on “Barracuda Bay” (henceforth BB) and on “The Golden Shark” (henceforth GS). The eyes and mouth on the character in the logo on panel one of BB looks very similar to the scuba-diving character (for instance in the bottom middle panel of of the first page of GS). And generally, the scuba diving art in the two stories matches very well, so I have no real doubt that these two stories are drawn by the same artist.
Triangulating with “The Haunting of Hazel” (henceforth HH), again there are matching elements: the hairstyles in GS and in HH share a lot of traits, such as the styling of the characters with the black bobs, who all seem to have fierce, floating hair. GS is less tightly drawn than either HH or GS, though.
But what about Ariza? Mistyfan draws attention to the detail of the eye of the White Mouse on the second page of that story: I would also highlight the pose of the nurse’s body in the first panel of the first page, along with the mouth of the nurse in this story. There’s no exact match of them with the Barracuda Bay art, but they feel similar in style nevertheless, as if you could imagine them belonging on the same page. I don’t feel at all the same about “Vengeance is Green”, though – the hairstyles in particular are much curvier and bouncier than those in HH and GS. Barracuda Bay has fewer visible hairstyles apart from in the logo picture, but there again I would call that wispy in a way that matches HH much more than the very ‘full’ hairdos in “Vengeance is Green”.
What do you think? On the basis of this comparison, I am happy with the assignment of “Barracuda Bay” to Santiago Hernandez, though I will certainly grant the similarities when set next to “The White Mouse”. But if “Vengeance Is Green” is more typical of Ariza’s art then I would see rather more differences than similarities between his work and “Barracuda Bay”. What details would you concentrate on? Or, what larger features would you look at to decide this sort of question – whole-body poses, page composition perhaps? None of it is an exact science – let’s have your views.
This issue sees episode 2 of Jinty‘s last Christmas story, “Her Guardian Angel”: as Mistyfan pointed out in the post about the previous issue, by the following Christmas this title had merged with Tammy. And Pam is still struggling hard to make a cheerful Christmas party for the local orphans, despite many arguments between her friends and her supporters. But by the end of this week’s three pager, it looks very much like it may all be off…
“Girl The World Forgot” comes to a dramatic end this week as some reenactors dressed as Vikings from the mainland come to the island. They rescue Shona and explain to her local ghost Alice Drunnon has been haunting the castaway girl. Shona is reunited with her parents – on Christmas eve, of all days. What an emotional present for all concerned!
“Sue’s Daily Dozen” sounds like it is nearing its end – we even see an appearance by Granny Hayden, as a vision helping Sue to defeat some crooks. Just about the last thing for her to do seems to be to help George the blacksmith have a truly blessed wedding – blessed by the spirit of Granny H herself, mind you!
Nadine is still combining disco dancing with netball, much to the displeasure of stiff-necked captain Betty. This time the other netball players need to rescue Nadine on the dance floor, by getting a huge strobe lightbulb from one end of the crowded dance floor to the other – in record time – using their netball skills, natch.