Category Archives: Interviews

Rhoda Miller – Interview

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!

John Wagner: Interview

John Wagner is known to have worked on girls’ comics and written girls stories in the 1970s. I didn’t know of any previous interviews which had focused on this part of his career in particular: many thanks to him for answering the questions below in this brief interview.

1 I’d love to know how you got started in writing for girls’ comics, and what you did during that part of your comics career. What stories did you write? How did you balance writing comics alongside being an editor – or was that all part of what the editor was expected to do?

The girls’ comic side of my career started with Romeo, the DC Thomson romantic comic/mag, the poor sister of Jackie. Girls’ romance was just a step up from normal girls’ fare with the addition of boys. We never touched on lesbian love back then! Then when I left to go freelance with Pat Mills, girls’ stories was one of our target markets. We were given “School of No Escape” (was that in Sandie or Tammy? [that was in Sandie]) by the managing editor, John Purdie. The story had already been started, was running, but either the writer had quit, or been sacked. In any case editorial didn’t know quite how to handle it. It was quite a challenging first assignment but we made a pretty good fist of it. I helped Pat devise “School for Snobs” and write the first couple of episodes before we split up and I went to work in the IPC office in London. My only girls’ comic story after that was “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie”.

2 We’re always on the lookout for information on other creators of girls comics from the  time. I have already asked you for any suggestions on the name of the artist on “Slave of the Trapeze” and “School of No Escape”, which sadly for us you weren’t able to recall. Are there stories by other people that you particularly remember from that time, which you would be able to help us to credit the creators on? For instance, anything written by any of Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring, Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon?

Malcolm Shaw was my sub on Sandie for a while, quite a good, reliable one. I’m afraid I don’t remember any particular stories any of the people you mention wrote, though Gerry would have done two or three for me. Never heard of Jay Over or Benita Brown and assume Maureen then went by another surname that I can’t remember.

3 Pat Mills has fond memories and a lot of respect for specific girls’ comics titles and the hard-hitting gritty stories that ran in them. What kind of comparisons would you draw between the world of girls’ comics and that of the boys’ titles you worked on?

They were pretty different, up until Pat and I started work on Battle Picture Weekly. I refer to the IPC boys’ stories, as DC Thomson boys’ comics had some excellent stories and were almost the equal of their girls’ titles. But IPC boys’ titles had stagnated, with stories that were formulaic, repetitive, barely credible and carried very little emotional power. They paled in comparison to the stories in Judy, Mandy and especially Bunty – clever, meaty, affecting.

4 You started your comics career working for DC Thomson before moving south to IPC/Fleetway. Were there things about creating comics that you learned at DC Thomson which you were keen to bring with you to IPC, or perhaps keen to move away from? Or other memories of differences between the two publishers?

I was keen to move away from poverty! The key lesson I learned there was self-criticism. Nothing you write can’t be better. Always question yourself – am I getting the best out of that scene, those characters, is there a better way of doing things?

5 Finally, anything you can tell us about your time at Sandie would be good to know. It was a fairly short-lived title, only lasting for 89 issues. What do you think that was down to? Did you leave it as it finished, or earlier? Who else worked on it that you can recall?

My memory is that they closed it down – or merged it – on a circulation of about 180,000 (though that figure may be inflated in my mind). In any case the low cover price meant that they had to sell enormous numbers. I was told the comic was going under and that they wanted me to move on to Princess Tina (which was also dying) and revamp it in an attempt to save it. Norman Worker (I think) was brought in to see Sandie laid to rest. In turn I made an awful hash of Tina, whereupon I quit journalism to become caretaker of an estate in Scotland, never to return (I thought!).

I’ve already mentioned [in email] some of the names of Sandie staff – subs Kyra Clegg, Rhoda Miller, Malcolm Shaw. Ally McKay was assistant art man for a while, and John…John…ah, I forget, but he was art editor.

Many thanks again to John Wagner for this interview. I have a small number of issues of Sandie, which I looked at in this post. Catawiki has details on a few Sandie issues also, and the Great News for All Readers blog has posted in detail about two issues in 2016. Mistyfan also wrote a post about the advert for Sandie’s launch, and another on issue 7 of Sandie in 1972.

Pat Mills: Interview

Pat Mills is someone who has already contributed lots to our knowledge of girls comics of this era, but even so there are still some gaps in our knowledge of what he wrote, and always plenty more questions to be asked. With thanks to him for his contributions now and in the past, here is a brief email interview.

1) In previous discussions you’ve identified the following stories in girls’ comics as having been written by you. Are there any stories missing from that list that you can remember? Some other stories have been attributed to you – also listed below – which you’ve either specifically said you didn’t write, or which haven’t been included in those previous discussions. It would be great to clarify this once and for all, if we can.

Known stories (Jinty)

You have also said before that you wrote a horse story, without identifying which one it was. Might it be “Horse from the Sea”? Or perhaps “Wild Horse Summer“?

Pat Mills: No. Doesn’t ring a bell. It’s possible I did the horse story for Tammy, but it wasn’t very good.

Tammy

  • Ella on Easy Street?
  • Glenda’s Glossy Pages?

Pat Mills: Charles Herring wrote Ella which I hugely admire. I wrote Glenda. Also – Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, and Granny’s Town, but not all episodes.

Misty

  • Moonchild
  • Roots (Nightmare)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (Beasts)

Pat Mills: Think “Red Knee” was mine if it was the spider story. Also “Hush Hush Sweet Rachel” – art by Feito.

And some Jinty stories you didn’t write but which are often attributed to you: “Knight and Day” (now confirmed as not yours), “The Human Zoo” (I think this is thought to be Malcolm Shaw’s), “Wanda Whiter Than White“, “Guardian of White Horse Hill” (you’ve previously thought this is likely to be Malcolm’s too).

Pat Mills: No, none of those are mine.

2) I appreciate that it’s harder to remember which stories were written by other people, if you even knew these details at the time. If there are any stories that you know the writers of, we are always up for adding to our store of attributions! We know that co-workers of yours such as John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring wrote for girls comics, in case that helps to trigger any memories. Did you also perhaps know Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon? (Some of those names are listed in the era when Tammy printed creator credits between 1982 and 1984, meaning we do have some story credits already in hand for that time.)

Pat Mills: Charles Herring was great – Ella and similar stories.  Pat and Alan Davidson wrote stories like Little Miss Nothing – Sandie and the equivalent in Tammy. They were top writers and that style of ‘Cinderella” story was hugely popular, but I don’t think they ever worked for Mavis. [In fact we do know that Alan Davidson wrote for Jinty, though Pat Davidson did not.]

John Wagner created and wrote “Jeanie and her Uncle Meanie” for Sandie, I think.  John was an editor on Sandie, but Gerry was the founding editor.

I wrote “Captives of Madam Karma” in Sandie.

John Wagner and I wrote “School of No Escape” in Sandie. (That was not bad) And “The Incredible Miss Birch” for Sandie. (Not our finest hour!) And I must have written at least one other story of this kind for Sandie.

I also wrote “Sugar Jones” and other stories for Pink, and “9 to 4” for Girl.

3) In Steve MacManus’ new book on his time in IPC / Fleetway, he talks about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story: so for instance at one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. Is this something that you too remember from your time at IPC Fleetway? Did it happen at DCThomson too? I was interested in this because it seemed like a surprising way to think about comics, rather than in terms of page count.

Pat Mills: Yes. Steve is spot on. It’s a big subject. A thirty picture story in girls comics would theoretically deliver a lot of story. But it would be crammed and old fashioned. So I changed all that on 2000AD with less images on the page and started to apply it to Misty.

4) You’ve talked before about girls comics working differently from boys comics, and Steve MacManus recalls you saying that in a girls story the heroine would beat a bully, ride in a gymkhana, and still get back home in time to make her motherless family a hearty tea. Clearly girls comics were very full of plot! And you were a big part of rewriting a bunch of boys stories to make them fit the girls comics model more closely. Can you talk in a bit more detail about how this worked, in other words, what the mechanism was, more exactly? Is it a case of using fewer action sequences, more surprise reveals, lots of scene changes…?

Pat Mills: The big principle of girls comics that I applied to boys comics was “emotion”. Sometimes this worked well, but it needed applying in a different way. More “cool”, perhaps. Some girls principles didn’t adapt well:  jealousy for instance. Girls loved stories involving jealousy – boys didn’t. Hence “Green’s Grudge War” in Action wasn’t a hit.  Similarly, mystery stories work well in girls comics, boys didn’t give a damn about mystery. Hence my “Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain” in Battle, boys didn’t care what the terror was. It wasn’t a failure, but not the hit we hoped for.

However, where girls comics scored ENORMOUSLY was in having realistic stories that didn’t talk down to the reader. My “Charley’s War” is really a girls comic in disguise. Its popularity lies in it applying girls comic principles NOT boys comic principles – e.g. emotion is allowable in the context of World War One.

I was never that sold on “girls adventure” where there wasn’t a strong “kitchen sink”/Grange Hill factor. I think when Jinty went in for science fiction adventure it led the field, but not so sure about regular adventure which could seem “old school” – to me, at least. This was a factor everyone battled with on girls and boys comics, avoiding “old school” and creating stories that were “cool”.  Thus I would describe “Cat Girl” in Sally as uncool and old fashioned. Some of the Misty stories fell into that category – historical stories, for example.

Many thanks again to Pat Mills for his time, and for his memories and thoughts on this.

Storytelling in Girls’ Comics: Cliffhanger vs Non-cliffhanger Episodes

In this post I will discuss two opposing points of view in regard to how the endings of episodes in serials were structured. I will also discuss the effects these had on story structure and resolutions.

Pat Mills advises that each episode of a serial should end on a cliffhanger or dramatic high point (personal email). So his stories, such as “Land of No Tears”, have episodes that end on cliffhangers or dramatic high points. For example, in part two of “Land of No Tears”, Perfecta hauls Cassy off for punishment at the end of the episode. The cliffhanger leaves readers particularly anxious because the episode had built up to Cassy expecting a cruel and merciless punishment. But they do not see what it is until part three. A multitude of stories at IPC were structured this way, with each episode ending either on a cliffhanger or being a self-contained episode that ends on a high dramatic point.

There were some IPC stories, such as Jinty’s “Bound for Botany Bay” and Tammy’s “No Haven for Hayley”, that had a blend of cliffhanger and non-cliffhanger episodes. For example, in Botany Bay, Betsy’s story has episodes that end mostly on cliffhangers, but some, such as the ones that depict her transportation voyage, are self-contained ones.

However, the Mandy editors took a completely different view to Mills in this respect. In an interview with former DCT writer Maureen Hartley, she reveals that their rule was “no cliffhangers”:

“I learned that in every instalment the heroine must take some form of executive action. That may seem highly obvious, but it is easy to be distracted from the heroine by other facets of the plot or more interesting characters. Also there must be no cliffhangers. The editors felt strongly that the readers should get value for the money they had paid for the comic and should be given a full self-contained story in each instalment, interesting enough to make them want to read more but not blackmailing them with a cliffhanging ending into buying the next issue”.

http://girlscomicsofyesterday.com/2016/06/maureen-hartley-writing-for-dct-girls-comics/

So in Mandy stories, each episode is a self-contained one, containing action that advances the story in some way. But with some exceptions, such as Mandy’s “The Posy Princess”, there are no cliffhanger endings for the episodes in the development of the story. The only real exception to this rule would be the penultimate episode, which often ended on a cliffhanger. This would be a signal to the readers that it is the penultimate episode, because its cliffhanger ending breaks the pattern of how the episodes are structured. The cliffhanger would be part of resolving the story in the final episode.

A good example is “The Truth About Wendy” from Mandy. In each episode we have a protagonist who tells us, in flashback, how they found out the hard way that Wendy Ware is a scheming girl who plays dirty to get whatever she wants and destroys anyone who stands in her way. They all think at the end of the episode that only they know the truth about Wendy; everyone else thinks she is a sweet girl. But in the penultimate episode, Wendy’s latest victim does not think this way. Instead, she resolves to expose Wendy and get back the friend that Wendy stole off her. This tells us that this is the penultimate episode and not a regular one. So we are all extra eager to buy next week’s Mandy to find out how the truth about Wendy will be revealed at last.

Bad Luck Barbara 5
Non-cliffhanger ending to penultimate episode of “Bad Luck Barbara”, Mandy #985, 30 November 1985.

Not all penultimate episodes in Mandy serials were structured this way. One example is “Bad Luck Barbara”. The penultimate episode is a regular one, with no cliffhanger ending at all. The next episode could also have been a regular one. But instead it is the final episode, and it is entirely self-contained instead of resolving a cliffhanger from the penultimate episode.

And this type of story structuring can be seen in plenty of serials in other DCT titles as well. For example, Bunty’s “Witch!” has self-contained episodes until the penultimate episode while the similarly-themed “Mark of the Witch!” in Jinty has a lot of episodes ending on cliffhangers. And some Bunty stories, such as “Captain Carol”, have self-contained episodes all the way through.

This non-cliffhanger episode structure at DCT meant that their serials tended to be episodic. This did have the advantage of spinning the story out for as long as needed – or cutting it short if necessary. When the editor gave the word, the writer could just end the story in an episode or two because the episodic structure made it easy to end without tying up a lot of plot threads that had been spun along the way. There were some exceptions, where DCT serials were tied up in several episodes that were structured as a story arc. One example is Bunty’s “The Guilt of Glendora”, which is tied up in a span of three episodes.

One disadvantage of stories with non-cliffhanger episodes is that the structure could get boring, annoying and tedious. Sometimes the ending of each episode would end up pretty much the same, such as episodes that invariably end up with the protagonist being disgraced through no fault of her own. Using some variety with episodes ending on cliffhangers would make it more interesting. In this respect “The Posy Princess” was less boring because it often had cliffhangers.

The cliffhanger episodes favoured by Mills enabled the development of story arcs; for example, a conclusion that needed several episodes for it to develop properly. If the story was popular, more threads could be developed to spin it out more rather than just putting in more episodes for padding. But in some cases there could also be more tying-off that would have to be done before the story could end. And if the editor gave a sudden order to end the story, this could result in an unsatisfactory ending. One example is Jinty’s “Worlds Apart”. One gets the impression that towards the end, the story was meant to run for more episodes to really develop the final dream world and the lessons its protagonist learns from it. But instead the ending gives the impression that the story was cut short because of Jinty’s upcoming merger into Tammy. So the conclusion came too soon and left the final dream world nowhere near as developed as it should have been. It all cries out to be reworked.

Witch 7
Cliffhanger ending to penultimate episode of “Witch!”, Bunty #1754, 24 August 1991.

Mandy’s rule non-cliffhanger endings for episodes apparently did not stop readers from buying the next issue. The editors counted on making the self-contained episodes interesting enough to encourage readers to keep buying. And it did work – readers kept buying Mandy and she became one of the longest-running titles at DCT. But the cliffhanger structure at IPC also worked well. And stories that combined cliffhangers and non-cliffhangers certainly added variety to the storytelling structure. They must also have been easier on the writers, who must have found it difficult at times to keep episodes self-contained or end them on cliffhangers.

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo - photograph from ID card

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo (1931 – 1982) has given us a few puzzles on this blog. First of all, I was puzzled by the attribution of this name to a couple of stories which clearly were signed ‘Prieto’. When David Roach showed me a portfolio sample labelled “Emilia Prieto” then the signature matched up with the name we were able to attribute, but the very close resemblance of art styles between Cándido Ruiz Pueyo and Emilia Prieto was still a puzzle, as I wrote about recently. The mysteries are now cleared up, with the following information from his daughter, Elisabet Ruiz Prieto – as you can imagine this was very gratefully received!

Here are her own words, followed by my further questions and her replies.

“Indeed, my father was Cándido Ruiz Pueyo. He died in 1982, when I was two years old, because of a serious illness. I still have his original drawings and I would be happy to help you with everything you need. Emilia Prieto is the name of my mother. She is retired and lives in Menorca but she isn’t an artist.

Due to the political situation in Spain in 70’s he had to use a pseudonym for some of his publications. I know that he worked for a German magazine called Bunty [this refers to the well-known British title] as well as Jinty. He drew a series of Buffalo Bill, Fix and Foxy and when he died he was working on a commission for Walt Disney.”

In reply I asked:

“I would love to know more about your father, and to publish it in the blog so that others who also are interested in your father’s work can know more about it and about him. I was wondering in particular if he used the pseudonym ‘Emilia Prieto’ only for the stories published in girls comics, or perhaps only for some girls comics and not for others?
Bunty is a British girls comic published by D C Thomson in Scotland – there is a blog dedicated to that publisher, called Girls Comics of Yesterday, and it has some stories that are tagged Cándido Ruiz Pueyo and others tagged Emilia Prieto. I would love to know more about his life and any scans of original drawings!”

Elisabet’s reply:

“My mother told me that when they first met, he was only working for Spanish publishers, especially for Editorial Bruguera. He draw series for them like Buffalo Bill, and Ivanhoe in the series “Colección novelas históricas” [Collection of historical novels], and some terror and motorist stories. He also published a comic book called Tarzan’s Son.

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Buffalo Bill Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Swedish comic 'Tarzan's Son' Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Swedish comic 'Tarzan's Son'

But my father really liked to draw love stories. My mother encouraged him to submit his romantic drawings on foreign publishers ( she even served as a model for some of his female characters) because in Spain it was almost impossible. My father sent his drawings to several girl-magazines but all rejected him. At that time it was not normal for a man to draw romantic stories, so he re-sent them with my mother’s name, Emilia Prieto, and several publishers accepted.

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Dutch comic 'Lucky'

My mother said me that he was published in a German magazine called Lucky, another Swedish magazine called Starlet, and Bunty. When he got sick, he was preparing a story about Donald Duck to work with the Walt Disney company because one of his dreams was to work there.”

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / try-outs for Donald Duck

I was very grateful to hear back from Elisabet about her father’s work, and also to be sent so many images too. It was particularly interesting to me to see so much of his work for Bunty and girls comics, including artwork from the Picture Library series – I hadn’t realised that it was often drawn as an original story, rather than featuring re-used material. Here is “Trixie’s Taxi” from Bunty, along with an interior image from the published book. There is also another sketch of a page that is clearly intended for another Picture Library, by its size and layout.

'Por Prieto' / by Prieto
‘Por Prieto’ / by Prieto

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Trixie' Taxi interior

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / art from a Picture Library?

Finally, I also include some published artwork from three British girls titles – the first one is from Bunty but I am not yet sure of the others.

Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Destiny Calls Rosita Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / Phantom of the Ice Rink Cándido Ruiz Pueyo / The Blue Flower of Truth

Further updates: his Tebeosfera entry has now been updated to reflect the above information. Also, Colin Noble has posted some pictures on Facebook of Commando artwork thought to be by Pueyo.

Further updates from Pat Davidson

(comment sent by email)

I have found another of Alan’s stories for your computer tests – and this one is actually noted and dated as being for Jinty. “Kerry in the Clouds” ran from April 1977. Copy of the script’s p. 1 of Instalment 1 is attached for interest. This may not have been one of his best as by this time he was focusing more on writing books. It’s perfectly true, as correspondents have recently pointed out, that a writer had to be very prolific to make a good living in the comics market.

I’ve located a few more of Alan’s scripts but I’m unable to identify the publications, as he wrote for so many different ones, including Tina in Holland and Editions Aventures et Voyages in France. I do remember, as mentioned previously, that he particularly enjoyed writing “Fran of the Floods” and “Valley of Shining Mist” and these were both for Jinty. As for any others, it will be interesting to see what the computer comes up with.

Alan Davidson Kerry In The Clouds script

Kerry In The Clouds pg 1
Art by Emilia Prieto

[editorial comment] Pat, I’m sure that if you are able to supply titles of stories, the combined knowledge of readers of this blog and other related internet sites will help to identify the publications!

“Kerry In The Clouds” is not one of the best-remembered of all Jinty stories and I think it is probably true to say that it is not on the same level as “Fran of the Floods” or “Jackie’s Two Lives”. I do have a soft spot for it though.

Pat Davidson writes

(comment sent by email)
I was interested to read about your computer programme designed to identify authors. If you need another story to test, Alan was the author of the brilliant “Paint It Black” – although this was for Misty, not Jinty [faint carbon copy of one of his invoices attached]. I have carbon copies of some of his actual scripts for various publications, when I can find them, although I know these will be equally faint.

Paint It Black invoice ADavidson

[editorial comment] Of course I need hardly say that any scripts or further information on Alan Davidson and what he wrote will be extremely welcome! The words ‘eager anticipation’ come to mind.

Anne Digby – Interview

We are fortunate in being able to publish an interview with Anne Digby, children’s author Anne Digbyand writer of girls comics stories. The title she is particularly associated with is Tammy, of course, which saw publication of various text stories written by her, as well as comics adaptations of her already-published children’s books, also done by her. Below she gives some previously-unseen information on her past time in this comics world, which we are very grateful to have.

 

1 I was interested to see your interview with www.booksmonthly.co.uk this month as I know you rarely give interviews.  I would love to know more about your experiences of writing for comics and how you first started, and how this led on to writing children’s books.

Hello, Jenni. Well, like a lot of people, I’d always wanted to write books. The seed was sown in primary school  when I had a poem published  in a children’s magazine and the prize was a handsome hardback entitled, I think, “Sheila’s Glorious Holiday”. I thought how exciting it might be to write a whole book one day and see that in print, too.

At sixteen I became an editorial trainee at Fleetway House and then later become a freelance writer. My first published work of any substance was a full-length book entitled “Ella’s Big Sacrifice” (Schoolgirls Own Library, 1960). In those days the girls’ comics still carried text serials and stories alongside the picture-strips and the best of these were republished in book form under the Schoolgirls Own Library imprint, together with some new works. S.O.L. published two titles a month and, to keep them affordable, they were printed on poor paper and in tiny print. So my first book was hardly the handsome hardback I’d once dreamed about – but at least it was a start.

2  At what stage did you start writing stories in picture-strip format? When did you stop?

It’s difficult to date this exactly. My freelance career in the 1960s was quite varied, including straightforward journalism, which involved a certain amount of travel, and at one stage a staff job with Oxfam. But I always kept my hand in at writing stories for children and the market for picture-stories was becoming much larger than for straightforward text. I adapted to this quite happily – in fact back in my schooldays I’d written and drawn a picture-strip for an unofficial magazine we produced. (This was once confiscated, an episode that was to become the inspiration for one of the plot threads in First Term at Trebizon!) So, once I became a stay-at-home Mum, I dropped the journalism and just concentrated on children’s fiction – in either format – which could be written from the comfort of home.

And when, by the 1970s, the market for girls’ weekly comics with a strong fiction base was shrinking in favour of text-based mass-market paperbacks, it was a natural progression to move on to children’s books.

3 Your trajectory as a writer has involved the movement back and forth between prose fiction and picture-strip fiction. Can you tell us a little about  what differences you see between the two kinds of story-telling media – the things that work better or less well in each, the adaptations that you perhaps had to make when moving between one and the other?

What a fascinating question. Do you know, I think I found remarkably little difference. I think this might be because – once I’ve hit on the basic idea – I’ve always first visualised stories in a filmic way, certain key scenes/ images which appeal to me, around which I create the rest of the plot.

Another point is that writers and artists never worked in a collaborative way at Fleetway or Odhams Press – at  least, not to the best of my knowledge or in my own experience. When starting a script I had no idea who would be drawing the pictures.  I always had faith in an editor to marry the script with the right artist – and some of them were brilliant. One had a blank sheet of paper on which one drew up a grid, sketching in each scene for an instalment (like events in a book chapter), then one went on to describe each scene, frame by frame, for the artist’s guidance – together with the accompanying dialogue, to indicate the size/number of speech balloons required for each frame.  As these descriptions were not for publication, they would be less formal than if they’d been written for a prose work, but that was the only real difference.

For instance, I remember I was once invited to adapt two of my books into picture-strip serials for Tammy. I discovered that both of these scripts – for “A Horse Called September” (which I’d already published as a text serial) and for “First Term at Trebizon” –  in fact just about wrote themselves!

4 I’m sure every writer has their favourite creations.  As you look back on your time of writing for Tammy and other similar titles – are there any particular stories that you are still really pleased to have written, or maybe some you’d prefer to expunge from your memory?

Well, I’m sure there may be some of the latter, but if so they are safely expunged already.

First Term Front Cover
Illustration by Lucy Truman

Going even further back, I suspect that “Ella’s Big Sacrifice” might be one of them. As far as picture strips go, my favourites include “The Dance Dream”, “Olympia Jones” and “Tennis Star Tina” – (Trebizon readers might guess that  I’ve always loved that particular sport). All three stories were reprinted at least once, so hopefully the readers liked them too.

Once again, many thanks to Anne for providing the above interview. Her popular (or indeed, classic) Trebizon series is being reissued by Egmont on the 28 January.

Misty fan added scans from “The Dance Dream”, Girl annual 1982 reprint.

dance dream
Dance Dream
dance dream 2
Dance Dream
dance dream 3
Dance Dream

Edited to add: thanks to poster Peace355 on the Comics UK Forum, here are two pages from “Tennis Star Toni” in June (issue dated 10/06/1961; art by Giorgio Giorgetti).

Tennis Star Tina 1

Tennis Star Tina 2

Here also are the pages from the first episode of “First Term at Trebizon”, with associated factfile, from Tammy 19 November 1983. It ended in Tammy 4 February 1984. Thanks to Peace for this, too.

First Term at Trebizon pg 1

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Edited to add: the following stories written by Anne Digby and printed in Girl have been catalogued by Phoenix on the UK Comics Forum. Many thanks to him for this extra information!

  • 21 Newlands Park (May 20 1961 – Feb. 10 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in The Spring Term Mystery (Feb. 17 1962 – Mar. 17 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in Island Adventure” (Mar. 24 1962 – Jun. 2 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in The New Girl (Jun. 9 1962 – Sep. 1 1962)
  • The Missing Masterpiece (Sep. 8 1962 – Nov. 17 1962)
  • The Emergency [complete] (Nov. 24 1962)
  • Jill And Gino (Dec. 1 1962 – Feb. 2 1963)
  • Lindy Goes Pop! (Feb. 9 1963 – Jun. 1 1963)
  • A Present For Haven (Jun. 8 1963 – Sep. 7 1963)

Pat Davidson writes to the blog

I am very excited to say that Pat Davidson has written in to reply to the comments made by Malcolm Shaw’s wife, Brenda Ellis. She clarifies that, contrary to the information previously supplied by Pat Mills, Pat Davidson did not write for Jinty herself, and indeed did not write the classic “Little Miss Nothing” which she has been wrongly credited with. Here are her own words to explain:

How much I agree with Mrs Shaw that – like her late husband Malcolm –  some, at least, of the men who wrote for Jinty took their work seriously, writing stories of real quality.  And I know how hard they  worked. In the 1970s, when we too had a mortgage to pay – and four children under eight – my husband Alan Davidson wrote many wonderful stories for Jinty, including “The Valley of Shining Mist”, “Fran of the Floods“, “Gwen’s Stolen Glory” and – one of Jinty’s all-time favourites – “Jackie’s Two Lives“.  In earlier years, he had written the breakthrough “Little Miss Nothing” which was often reprinted and became the template for a stream of ‘Cinderella’ stories written (in my opinion) by lesser writers.

After Jinty, Alan wrote many successful books for children in various genres, including humour and no doubt Malcolm Shaw, had he lived, would have done likewise.  IPC’s policy not to credit writers or artists was a disgrace and I’m grateful that Alan kept careful records, including copies of all his scripts together with his invoice books (IPC tending to be rather late-payers)! Although I remember Alan mentioning Malcolm’s name as a fine writer, sadly I have no knowledge  of which stories he wrote. Perhaps someone else will remember for Mrs Shaw? I do hope so.

Pat Davidson also kindly sent in a photo of the young Alan Davidson.

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

I hope that this blog will be able to follow up this very interesting contact and to give further details on other stories written by Alan Davidson. On a personal note, I am particularly happy to know the authorship of “The Valley of Shining Mist”, which is a story that lived on in my memory from reading it as a child.

Further thoughts on script conferences

You may have seen that Terry Magee made a series of illuminating and interesting comments on the Len Wenn post: these described the processes and principles behind script conferences in more detail. To make them more visible and easier to find in the future, I repeat them here. Many thanks, therefore, to Terry for sending in these details!

Len had worked on Fleetway boys’ comics in the 1950’s – either The Sun or The Comet, knew artists like Geoff Campion and colleagues like the famous/infamous Sid Bicknell (Uncle Sid to some). Len was a very fair chap and encouraged me to write. He was a soldier in the North African desert in the Second World War, telling me some of his experiences such as having to dig trenches in the sand – with the danger of being buried alive, which he actually saw happen. He told me other things about the Fleetway crowd that I can’t repeat.

I lost track with Len after I went freelance, but I’m real glad he survived on Buster
and continued writing for Mavis on Jinty. They were a good team. As for their script conferences, they happened around every six weeks or so with just two writers on separate occasions – Frank Redpath (Lucky’s Livin Doll) and Jack Johnson (very talented writer and great bloke). I only ever was at one script conference, but didn’t contribute much as Mavis and Len were too good to keep up with!

Fleetway was a friendly company, the opposite to the dreadful DC Thomson. I never worked there, but heard tales from those who did, like John Wagner. DC Thomson was owned and run by two old brothers who were right control freaks – no staff allowed to use the phones unless with permission. The two brothers didn’t talk to each other for years, communicating notes slipped under doors and so on. They lived in a mansion outside Dundee, one in the east wing and the other in the west wing. A weird story itself! Shiver me timbers!, as Captain Hurricane would say!

(then a question from me)

Thanks for this, Terry! Can you tell any more details about the script conferences themselves – if writers weren’t normally present, then what was the aim of them – did Mavis and Len use them to write their own stories, or to decide general ideas that they would send on to freelance writers, or what?

My pleasure, shipmate (still talking as Captain Hurricane whose letter I used to write in Battle comic for some years)! I was only the one time in a script conference and that was In Mavis Miller’s office along with Len Wenn and the author Jack Johnson (might have been John Johnson). They discussed ideas and plots for Jack’s stories for June & School Friend. I think he wrote three of them every week. They were plans for something like next 6 weeks’ episodes. It was the same for Frank Redpath and Lucky’s Living Doll (the most popular number one in June & School Friend).

I used to hear them talking quite loudly and excitedly with lots of laughs through the wall of the office next-door. I was sub-editor sharing the office with Art Editor Colin Parker (we could see the Scales of Justice statue of the Old Bailey from our window). In the next office along was other sub-editor Jackie Davis, who was engaged to Colin (they eventually married) and art assistant Roger Prickett. Colin went on to become Art Editor on the Daily Express. His elder brother, Jack Parker, was Editor of Look & Learn. Very talented people.
Fleetway (basically still the former Amalgamated Press), was packed with gifted journalists, authors, artists, both staff and freelance. It was positive-thinking and forward-looking, which is why John Purdy was able to bring in new people like Gerry Finley-Day and Pat Mills with new ideas. Although it was done surreptitiously and that didn’t go down well at Fleetway. I was there and I saw it happen!

Other authors for June & School Friend were freelance and hardly ever came in to the editorial offices and sometimes never, as was the same for artists. Although Scott Goodall, freelance author, was often there, thumping away on a Bluebird typewriter at any spare desk going. They were referred to as authors in the Fleetway days, not writers, and the word ‘comic’ wasn’t used. They were girls’ papers or juvenile publications, sounding more adult and serious… Knockout and Buster were comics, due to their humorous strips.  Freelances were also paid in guineas, not plain pounds. We were paid salaries, not wages, with accounts in Coutts Bank of the Strand, the Queen’s bank and very posh… Fleetway could be snooty copared to D C Thomson, who seemed more down-to-earth although weird as I eventually discovered. Fleetway/IPC artists were better, more arty and often really fantastic.

Features on June & School Friend were written by Robin May, who also wrote a lot
for Look & Learn. There were no restrictions on freelancing for publications. I wrote Tarzan and The Saint for TV Tornado while subbing on June & School Friend. Fleetway and IPC were always trendy, being in the centre of London where it was all happening (or supposed to be happening!). There were lots of women’s magazines in the building like Woman, Woman’s Own, Options, Woman’s Weekly and others I can’t remember, plus cool mags like Rave and Fab 208, so we’d often see famous pop stars like Marianne Faithful, The Beatles, Adam Faith and so on. It was glamorous!

Mavis Miller didn’t write any stories or features, she concentrated on the editing. Len Wenn didn’t write anything for June & School Friend. Maybe he did for his new paper Sally. Just remembered: staff member Cecil Graveney used to write Bessie Bunter and Sindy (toy doll). Cecil was old Amalgamated Press, in his late 50s or early 60s then. Mavis in her 30s and Len in his 40s (I think – I’m terrible at telling ages). One artist who occasionally drew illustrations for features was in his 80s. A jolly chap with a big smile who reminded me of Father Christmas. I regret not remembering his name. When you think about it, he must have been drawing for Amalgamated Press in the 1920s and have known people who were at the very start of ‘comics’ in the 1890s. His artistic style was still very 1920s. A real link with the past and great to meet him.

Of course, there were dark sides to Fleetway/IPC. Not sure if I want to go into that!

Thanks again to Terry for sending in these memories and explanations.