Category Archives: General

2016: the Jinty blog in review

It’s not quite the end of 2016 yet of course, and this is probably not quite the last post before the beginning of 2017. Nevertheless, it feels like a good moment to take stock of what 2016 has been like here on the Jinty blog. What have we been posting about, and what has caused the most excitement and interest? What new ground have we broken, and what core material have we been filling in the gaps on?

The main focus of this blog is to be a resource, as it says – so the key elements are always the posts on issues, stories, and creators. We now have around 100 posts about individual stories, and nearly 50 posts either about individual creators, or interviews with people involved in comics creation or publishing. It’s a bit harder to count the posts on individual issues directly, due to some overlaps in categorisation, but certainly these posts have kept on coming throughout the year. Often they are posted either at the time we write a story post covering that time span (so you might get a few related issues being written about at the same time), or as and when missing copies reach us and we fill in gaps that we weren’t able to post about previously. Overall, we have posted around 95 times this year (Mistyfan being a considerably more frequent poster than I have managed to be).

The year hasn’t only seen posts on those core areas though: I have spent time looking at whether there were computer-based ways to identify writers who are otherwise not recorded, as well as at a structured way to assess how rounded the representation of characters in girls comics – something to take us beyond a Bechdel test, if you like. Mistyfan has also gone beyond the main focus of the blog by creating lots of OuBaPo experiments with Jinty and girls’ comics content. And in the latter end of the year, lots of excitement was generated across the community of UK comics fans and experts, when Rebellion announced their acquisition of a very substantial number of classic comics copyrights. Their September publication of two Misty stories was scrutinised carefully for what it might mean for the newly-acquired IPC copyrights. Not that this was all we saw about IPC in the last few months of the year, as I also reviewed Steve MacManus’s memoirs and Hibernia’s publication about IPC’s short-lived horror comic, Scream.

Finally there has also been a little bit of re-jigging of the site’s structure: I split the Articles page to create new pages on Analysis and Analytic MethodsBook Reviews, and Interviews. Mistyfan has particularly focused on adding and enhancing a number of panel galleries including highlights of art by individual artists, as well as adding in galleries of OuBaPo work. Most recently I have also added a page to list that issues  I or Mistyfan have for sale / trade, and issues on our respective Wants lists. Finally, I have also just added a page for posts about Stories in other titles and about Issues of other titles, both of which give valuable context for discussions of Jinty.

Particular high points of the year have included:

  • In January we wrote 23 posts between us, 9 of which were posts on individual creators (Ron Smith, José Casanovas, Hugh Thornton-Jones, Anne Digby, Peter Wilkes, Hugo D’Adderio, Miguel Quesada, Unknown Artist ‘Concrete Surfer’, and Robert MacGillivray). This started off a bit of a theme for the year as there have been quite significant additions made to the resources about individual creators.
  • In February I started to look at whether there were computer-based ways to identify writers who are otherwise not recorded. In the end this was inconclusive but as a part of this we also looked at stories and creators in Tammy to give a wider context. This continued in subsequent months as both Mistyfan and I looked at Sandie and Misty, and at earlier stories in June & Schoolfriend, as well as stories in Girl, Dreamer, Princess, and Sally. As a result, we now have much more context on other titles published before and around the time of Jinty‘s span.
  • In April, the talk that Mel Gibson, David Roach, and I gave in London galvanized some posts both about the talk itself and about artists covered in that talk – Ana Rodriguez and Emilia Prieto / Cándido Ruiz Pueyo in particular.
  • In August and September there was a lot of discussion about the IPC copyrights news along with the review of the Misty reprint, followed in October by an interview with Pat Mills, the review of the MacManus book, and then in November an interview with John Wagner.
  • November was another bumper month overall, with 22 separate posts, including story posts on older narratives “No-One Cheers for Norah” and “They Call Me A Coward!“, giving us context on other girls comics titles.

Phew! You can see that it has been a productive and interesting year on the comics blogging front. All that remains for this post is to wish all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, with all best wishes for 2017.

Memories triggered

I have recently received a few 1975 issues of Jinty, which I will write individual issue posts about in due course as usual. Before that, I wanted to write a little bit about the memories triggered by seeing these issues again for the first time in many years.

I’ve seen the cover images on Catawiki or similar, and they didn’t particularly lead me to feel that I remembered what the contents were going to cover. Indeed, when starting to read issues 42 and 51, practically none of it triggered any memories from when I was little – “Tricia’s Tragedy”, “The Kat and Mouse Game”, and the end of “Bird-Girl Brenda” rang no bells at all. But looking inside the issue dated 26 July 1975 was a different matter: of course the  front cover with Katie Jinks’ antics was familiar, but so was the inside story of her circus exploits – I wouldn’t have been able to remember it in advance but looking at it again I felt I knew it well. The next story was “Blind Ballerina”, much more familiar to me than “Tricia’s Tragedy” – as I read each page it felt as if it was flooding back to me, not just the plot (which I could have got from Mistyfan’s post on this issue) but the individual panels and the dialogue boxes themselves, too.

Likewise with “The Valley of Shining Mist” – the very first panel of it gave me a shock of recognition, as ‘Dumbie Debbie’ stumbles tearfully away from the poetry reading competition she has been asked to take part in. It is like when Mistyfan sent me a scan of the episode of “Golden Dolly, Death Dust!” from the issue dated 1 November 1975, which I have also just received recently – but until she sent me that scan some months ago now, I hadn’t seen the episode since I was perhaps ten years old or so, and yet the snippet of dialogue where evil witch Miss Marvell poisons the buddleia in the school grounds has lived in my mind ever since then.

My six-year old daughter has taken to reading my old Jintys now (and Sandies, and anything else I leave lying around). She’s enjoying them greatly and can hardly be torn away from them for suppertime and the like. I hope for her sake that when she is my age, she will not just have vague fond memories of this childhood reading, but ingrained snapshots in her mind that are subtly longer-lasting than you could ever have expected – unless of course you hadn’t already had it happen to you.

It’s Ghastly! – review

its-ghastly-cover

I have just received a copy of “It’s Ghastly” – Hibernia Comics’ latest addition to their Comic Archive. This 64-page publication spells out the reasons for the demise of IPC’s short-lived horror title Scream! and exhumes lost material intended for the abandoned weekly issues.

It’s a handsome glossy publication, mostly in black and white but with a handful of colour pages in the middle. My particular interest wasn’t so much in the information about Scream! itself (as I never read that title) as about what it might reveal about comics publishing of the time, or any as-yet-unknown information about who did what.

It features a lot of interviews and information from people involved in creating the title: Barrie Tomlinson (Group Editor at the time), Gil Page (Managing Editor of the title), Ian Rimmer (editor), Simon Furman (sub-editor). Some of them are reprints of interviews originally published some years previously, but bringing them together in one magazine is a definite service to fans of the title and those interested in this slice of history.

I was interested to note how the various memories of what happened at that time were all slightly different: David McDonald was clearly trying to get an answer to the key question of why Scream! folded so quickly. Barrie Tomlinson had a number of possible answers – the strike, the content, the sales figures… while Gil Page put the blame fairly squarely on the overall sales figures. Ian Rimmer puts it down to a staffing problem and to management interference and second-guessing, which put a real crimp in the process of just getting on with creating as good a title as possible. He ultimately blames management timidity. So even from people who were there at the time, it’s possible to get as many answers as there are people answering – at least for the tricky questions. Something for any of us interviewers or comics historians to be aware of in terms of the dangers of drawing firm conclusions!

As with MacManus’ “The Mighty One”, I was struck once again by the sheer amount of writing that was done in house. There is also a lot of interesting discussion about artwork: not so much the process of creating it or how much was done by the art editor, but about how it was reused in subsequent publications, even if that meant cutting up a page of art or reusing some cover artwork by José Casanovas in a Holiday Special – but removing the central human character which was part of the whole point of the original story.

There’s lots of solid material in here – interviews, re-creations of three unused covers that could have been printed in issues 16, 17, and 18 (the title stopped at 15), scripts, and a whole unpublished story of “The Nightcomers”! The artwork is the original from the time, but as it was unlettered and only half the script could be found, the other half was rescripted by Simon Furman, who was the original writer. Those of us who are fans of other titles can only feel a mixture of jealousy that David was able to come across this treasure trove, and hopefulness that maybe such a miracle could happen to our own favourite title some day.

“It’s Ghastly”; Hibernia, 2016: available on Comicsy for £7.50 plus postage

‘The Mighty One’ by Steve MacManus (2016)

The Mighty One - cover

This is a review (of sorts) of Steve MacManus’s autobiography “The Mighty One”, in which he covers his time working at Fleetway / IPC between 1973 and 1991. It’s not your usual review though, as it is also intended as a way to highlight some material mentioned in the book that either gives us new information on how the comics publishing of the time actually worked, or re-confirms information we already knew (but which it’s always good to have from more than one source.) (Some write-ups that are more ‘review’-y can be found here: GNFAR, Colin Noble at Down The Tubes, Lew Stringer.)

MacManus started work at Fleetway Publications in 1973, as a sub-editor on Valiant, which was part of the Juvenile Group of comics and magazines aimed at young people. He was part of a team of four people: an editor and a sub-editor, an art editor and an art assistant (often referred to as a bodger). He subsequently worked on Battle Picture Weekly, and although he wasn’t part of the core team working on Action he got involved in some elements of that title too. Starlord was his next step and when that merged with 2000AD he went to that title, eventually becoming Editor in 1979. In 1986 he moved sideways and relinquished the editorship to stay involved with the Judge Dredd universe, with the creation of titles for a more mature audience – Crisis (in 1988), the short-lived but beautiful Revolver, and the much longer-lasting Judge Dredd the Megazine. The book ends in 1991 with the collapse of the Maxwell Communication Corporation (which had bought IPC’s remaining comics line in 1987) and the subsequent sale of the titles to Gutenbergus (later Egmont), though the last chapter of the book, effectively an epilogue, races through the aftermath of the subsequent years through to 2011.

During this book he talks about working with key staff contacts such as art editor Doug Church, editor Dave Hunt, art editor Jan Shepheard; and with well-known freelancers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant, John Wagner, Tom Tully. The names we are familiar with from girls comics publishing – Mavis Miller, Wilf Prigmore, Terence Magee – mostly don’t get a look-in but there are certainly some folks mentioned who crossed over that significant divide as we will see – Gerry Finley-Day, Jim Baikie, and of course Pat Mills again (who seems to get everywhere). If you want to read anecdotes of those days, or find out how a boys’ comic of the time was conceived, written, drawn, put together, printed, and marketed then you couldn’t ask for a better book than this, and a fun read to boot. I’m sure it will get people digging out their old issues of the comics mentioned, or looking out for reprints of stories they missed (it’s certainly had that effect on me!).

My interest in getting the book in the first place, however, was to see what light it might shed on the creation and publishing of Fleetway / IPC’s girls comics. It did not disappoint. As mentioned above, some of the information in the book is material that we already know or had a good idea was the case, but it’s good to have it corroborated in a printed source that can be referenced in the future. Some of the information, however, is stuff I’d never dreamed of, and which has got me thinking of new things to look at and analyse in Jinty and other comics.

What did we already know that is corroborated here?

  • There are some basic facts that are repeated here about things like the target age of the readership (8-12 years), and the sales figures of the time (around 80,000 copies per week normally, with 2000AD achieving noticeably strong sales of 100,000 copies per week, but still being out-sold by Tammy which was selling 200,000 copies a week).
  • The expectation was that any given child would be reading the comic for a maximum of four years before going on to other things (it states in the book that a boy might give up his weekly comic in order to save up for something bigger and more grown up). So the rule of thumb, as we’ve heard before from Mistyfan, was that stories from a specific title could be reprinted in that title after some 5 years had passed.
  • The normal format of a comic was 32 pages, which included 3 pages of editorial material or features (intro page, letters page, back cover) and the front cover – so 28 pages of comics, normally divided up into 8 stories of three or four pages each. The book doesn’t say specifically, but presumably as with Jinty there would normally be a couple of single-page strips to make up the 28 pages of comics.
  • It was pretty clear beforehand that comics at the time were fairly blokey. Of course MacManus was talking about working on boys comics, but almost all the names he mentions were of men, apart from Jan Shepheard. The office staff, the colleagues he socialised with, the management – just about everyone he mentions was male. The magazine publishing side was more mixed, with columnists such as Julie Burchill coming in for a mention alongside female editorial staff on titles.

There were some points mentioned that weren’t totally new to me, or to other readers of this blog, but which have had new light shed on them:

  • The Juvenile Group had separate departments for boys’ comics, girls’ comics, nursery comics, and humour comics. It’s clear from this book that these departments were a lot more separate from each other in terms of culture and networking than we might have imagined. The girls comics and the boys comics were very much separated from each other – they were located on separate floors, for instance – and there is little evidence in MacManus’ book of much fraternization between the two. (Gerry Finley-Day was one of the exceptions – he was the deputy managing editor of the girls’ comics line at the same time as he was writing stories for the initial line up of Battle.) So much so that when talking about Jim Baikie coming aboard to 2000AD wagon (for “Skizz” in 1982), MacManus was seemingly totally unaware of Baikie’s background in drawing girls comics, knowing him only as a Look-In artist! I asked MacManus via Facebook whether he really had been entirely unaware of the crossing-over from girls comics to boys comics that Baikie, Ron Smith, and Phil Gascoine had done, and he confirmed that he didn’t think he knew it then and was surprised to hear it now. At the same time, there must have been some awareness of what was happening in the other area, as MacManus appreciated the notable successes that were happening with Tammy and Jinty.
  • The running order of the stories in each 32 page issue was closely tied to the popularity of the stories in question. In Valiant, the most popular story appeared at the front of the comic, and the second most popular one at the back, which makes sense. But MacManus also says that the least-liked heroes would be marked for the chop in ‘an end-of-term edition in which all the current serials concluded’, which surprised me! I don’t remember noticing that lots of stories normally came to an end at the same time, in Jinty at least – but I will certainly look at the story list by date to see if there are patterns for when stories tend to end or start.
  • Not really known beforehand but not surprising as such: MacManus gives us a little bit of detail about the taglines at the top of each cover – ‘the pithy phrases known as toplines’. These were apparently produced ahead of time – ‘several of these to last us the next few issues’.
  • I knew that there was quite a lot of active creative work required of those working as in-house staff at IPC (no doubt the same was true of DC Thomson too): we hear of Gerry Finley-Day writing umpteen stories at the same time as being a staffer, and we know about the script conferences held in the editorial offices of the comics. I was surprised, though, to understand quite how hands-on those creative processes were at all levels of the publishing process. MacManus was required to do quite a lot of writing as a normal part of his job, and he talks about the specific encouragement to write scripts and features. Art duties likewise were an important part of the in-house staff work: the bodger or art assistant would redraw elements that had been perhaps misunderstood by the main artist, or which needed amending for other reasons (such as to tone down a shocking scene, or to touch up old artwork that was to be reprinted in a different format). The art editor was responsible for the overall look and feel of the comic; we’ve heard elsewhere about how much of an effect Jan Shepheard had on early 2000AD for instance. A high level of creative endeavour was expected and required: MacManus’ interview with IPC turned at least partly on his ability to spell, and everyone on staff knew that there were a lot of parental and media eyes focused on the comics, ready to spot any errors or grammatical flaws. But at a basic level of comics publishing, too, the editorial role included the creative element of subbing the dialogue written by the author so that it fitted into the space left by the artist, while continuing to respect ‘the dramatic “beat” of the pictures so that the story flowed seamlessly for the reader’.
  • We’ve heard before from Pat Mills that women were generally uninterested in working on the comics because they wanted to work on the women’s titles, as proper journalists. I’m sure that was a real thing, but what Pat’s narrative doesn’t include is the fact that other people working on the comics also wanted to be ‘proper journalists’ too – MacManus recounts the attraction of the idea of working on a magazine and holding your head up in the queue for the staff lunch! It was also an area of the business with a lot more budget to play around with. Between this relatively greater respect accorded to journalists working on consumer magazines, and the blokey background of many parts of the publishing company, it’s perhaps not that surprising that many women may have been a bit uninterested in working on the comics.
  • It’s clear from MacManus that Scottish rival DC Thomson were immensely important not only in providing a competitor to race against, but also in the transfer of knowledge and methods to the better-paying London publisher. MacManus attended an in-house training course on scripting picture strips for girls, run by John Purdie, the managing editor of the girls’ department and an import from DCT. Writers Pat Mills and John Wagner, were similarly trained in the DCT writing style – but with particular expertise in writing girls comics, which was described by Pat Mills as being particularly plot-driven, with four sizeable things happening in the space of a single 22-panel episode. This brought in a professionalism and strength into IPC’s boys’ comics writing by explicitly teaching staffers how to write and edit tightly. MacManus contrasts this with the common technique of starting an episode with last week’s cliffhanger, resolving it, doling out a smidgen of plot development, before ending on another, often spurious, cliffhanger.
  • MacManus talks about the dummy issue of Battle being produced six weeks ahead of the first issue going on sale, and this six-week lead time crops up at other points in this book. (Amongst other things it means that ‘For a new weekly title the soonest you could end a strip was around issue twelve’.) Of course there would have to be some sort of publication lead time but it’s nice to have it nailed down fairly specifically. I’d like to have heard exactly how far in advance the advance copies were printed – we’ve heard elsewhere that there are around 30 ultra-rare copies of the issue of Action printed just before the order came to stop the presses and re-jig the level of violence in the title. Does that mean that an advance copy of Tammy‘s last issue, with the final episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”, might have been produced or even printed? You’d think someone would have mentioned it by now, but who knows… Or if not a printed copy of the issue, could there be any remaining scrap of the ‘make-up book,which listed the status of scripts and artwork for each issue going forward’?

And then there were some points that surprised me quite a lot:

  • MacManus says right at the beginning that when he joined Valiant in 1973 he was surprised to see the same characters he’d followed a decade earlier, when he read it as a boy. Captain Hurricane, The Wild Wonders, The House of Dolmann, Raven on the Wing, Kelly’s Eye, Jason Hyde, The Steel Claw: that’s a lot of ongoing characters! I don’t know Valiant enough to have a feel for how many of those were really long-running but clearly a number of them were – many more than was the case in Jinty or even Tammy. Jinty only had one or at maximum two ongoing characters at a time, while Tammy had the long-running Bella and Molly Mills of course. But neither girls’ title was chock-full of long-running stories in the way that MacManus sees as the norm in boys’ comics.
  • MacManus talks a few times about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story. At one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. There are two things that surprise me about this. One is the terminology, using ‘pictures’ or ‘frames’ instead of panels (likewise he uses ‘speech bubbles’ instead of ‘word balloons’). it’s subtly different from the terminology I’m used to – I suppose my vocabulary for this has been influenced by US comics, and I’d never noticed the small differences. It makes sense of the many references to ‘picture-stories’ instead of ‘comics’ though, I guess.
  • But the thing that surprises me most about this is the idea of measuring stories in pictures or frames, rather than in what I would never have questioned as the key unit of a story – the page. Of course, the page has to still be considered a very important unit – you have to fill up 32 pages in each issue, and the physical page is what the reader turns over to see something surprising that has been hidden from them until that page turn. The real lightbulb moment associated with this, for me, was when MacManus explained the thinking behind running only five stories in the early 2000AD – he credits Pat Mills with the notion of leaving out the most-unpopular two or three stories out of eight, and going straight to only printing five stories in each issue, with more pages allocated. MacManus specifically says ‘Each story still had the usual number of pictures, but the extra pages allowed the pictures to be drawn larger’. Wow! Yes, this is clearly what is happening, not only in 2000AD but also to a certain extent in Misty.

Available from Rebellion £9.99 for the print edition (ISBN 978-1-78108-475-5).

Esther Y Su Mundo, vols 1 & 15

I have recently been to Madrid and saw two relevant comics items when I was out there. One was a free item, sponsored by Telefonica, about Paralympic swimmer Teresa Perales. (Digital version available via this link.) It’s a very interesting and well-done comic overall, although as an anthology there are abrupt transitions in style from the serious to the humorous to the positively silly. The overall tone is pretty serious in that it recounts Perales’ achievements and tribulations as a Paralympic athlete, but it also has plenty of time for humorous and revelatory asides on on the difficulties as a wheelchair user of making one’s way through a world designed for able-bodied people.

The first story in the comic was by Purita Campos, the very popular artist on Patty’s World. This caught my attention and got me to look twice at the free comic in the first place, but it also meant that I had Campos and her popular creation in mind when I went into a bookshop a day or two later, at which point I asked if there was a collected edition of the Spanish edition of Patty’s World – “Esther Y Su Mundo”. Indeed there was – a handsome reissue of at least 15 volumes of the story, advertised as “One of the great classics of Spanish comics in a new re-coloured edition”. I bought volumes 1 and 15, so as to be able to get a sense of how the comic has developed over the years since its first pages were published in 1971. I am not sure what year of original publication Vol 15 relates to, ie how long a time-span is represented in my two selected volumes; certainly a number of years, but I suspect not the full original publication span of 1971 – 1988.

esther-y-su-mundo-vol-1 esther-y-su-mundo-vol-15

They are solid, substantial-feeling editions: 96 pages long, which is slightly less than the 114 pages of the Rebellion Misty reprint (and substantially less than the 192 page whopper reprint of Monster), but the hardback binding, handsome red cloth covering of the spine, and the full colour cover and insides, make for a very enticing package. The price is pretty comparable to the UK reprints I mention above – around £15 – £16, with fluctuations depending on the exchange rate with the Euro. The end papers are a greyscale montage of images from the various years covered in the volumes, and showcase Purita Campos’ beautiful art very nicely.

“Patty’s World” is not something I knew anything at all about until quite recently, and I hadn’t ever read any of it either in the original version or in translation. The first volume starts with Patty Lucas (or Esther Lucas as I will now think of her, having only read the Spanish version!) just turning thirteen. Lots happens to her in the pages of the comic – the pace is quite different from the 14 – 18 episodes of what I think of as a typical girls comic story. This story doesn’t build up and up to a dramatic finale – in this first volume, Esther fights with her family and her best friend and then makes up again, gets into trouble when someone thinks she is shoplifting, worries about her mother getting remarried, pines after a boy from her school, and has a mutual hate society going on with nasty Doreen. It’s all down to earth and (more or less) realistic, apart from the frenetic pace that it all goes at.

It’s not the sort of story that I normally go for very much; and for me the first volume was more of a curiosity item than something that hooked me. However, Volume 15 felt like it would do more for me – it develop story arcs a little more slowly and gives them more time to breathe. I think the stories are also actually better, too: the first arc in the book is genuinely amusing (Esther and her friend Rita swop lives for a day and it gets very silly). It also clearly has more of an edge, though this is really an extension of what we saw right at the beginning. One of the things going on in Esther’s life at thirteen is that her father died some years previously and her mother is considering remarrying, with all the adjustment that this brings. And in Volume 15 Rita’s mother is shown to have died in a previous volume, and her father has since remarried – the stepmother role is shown in a positive light even though tempers can flare. It’s all very human and warm. I think the focus on boy-chasing would put me off if I was embarking on a prolonged read, but overall I can certainly see how readers could end up living in this world and greatly enjoying the characters and the stories.

Of course for many people the draw will also be the art. Purita Campos is great at fluid, expressive characters of all ages, but her protagonists as they move from being girls to young women are her particular focus of course – and she imbues everyone with their own distinctive looks and ways of being, from flirty Rita and annoying Doreen to girl-next-door Esther. The girls are sassy and sexy without crossing a line, the boys are rather cute, and it’s all fun.

Will we ever see a UK reprint edition? The title that it originally appeared in, Princess Tina, started to be published before the 1971 cutoff date that places it outside of Rebellion’s ownership, but the story and the character was published after 1 January 1971. The fact that the Spanish edition has gone through numerous reprintings and new editions clearly indicates that those rights must be clearly established by someone, even if the UK rights have historically been somewhat tangled. The Spanish readership seem to have an ongoing love for this character: the back cover blurb acclaims the comic as a ‘great classic of Spanish comics’ which has been loved by ‘three generations of readers both male and female’. The UK doesn’t have anything like as strong a memory or feeling about this story, though there will certainly be many with fond memories of it in this country. But if this story and this character – which after all is actually set in the UK, with right-hand drive cars, British bobbies, and double-decker buses! – is so popular in Spain with a general audience, it has perhaps the strongest chance to break into that teen market than any of the other Rebellion content acquisition. That is, so long as this is even part of that purchase…

Esther Y Su Mundo volume 1 and volume 15. 96 pp, 17.95 EUR (around the £15 – £16 mark at current exchange rates). Story by Phillip Douglas, art by Purita Campos

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve (2016)

This is a review of the Rebellion reprint of two stories from Misty: “Moonchild” and “The Four Faces of Eve”. Many thanks to Rebellion for supplying this review copy.

The announcement last year that Rebellion were to reprint two classic stories from Misty was met with great excitement. How does the reality match to our heightened expectations? What might we like to see Rebellion do more of in any future reprints of IPC material, and what might we want them to avoid if possible?

Rebellion Publishing 2016

The two stories themselves are likely to be familiar to many readers of this blog and I won’t cover the content of the stories at all in this review. (Other reviews, such as this one on FA Comiczine, cover this territory.) “Moonchild” is a definite classic and would spring to most people’s minds when thinking of key stories from Misty. It also has the name recognition factor of Pat Mills; John Armstrong is probably less well known to those who are not already fans of UK girls comics, but is also familiar from Tammy‘s “Bella at the Bar”. “The Four Faces of Eve” isn’t one of the stories I would necessarily immediately think of when coming up with classics from Misty, but Malcolm Shaw can certainly make a tale speed along and the Brian Delaney art is stylish and beautiful. I don’t think any knowledgeable reader of UK girls comics would have a problem with these two stories having been chosen to represent Misty in the first modern reprint edition, though depending on individual preferences we might have made slightly different choices.

The book itself felt a bit thin when I took it from the (large) packaging, but that was slightly illusory: it’s a good size book, and the fact it combines two stories of a decent length means that you feel that it gives you enough to get your teeth into. However at 114 pages it still feels like a relatively quick read; fellow Rebellion title “Monster”, reprinted from Scream & the Eagle, clocks in at 192 pages so I think there is room to push the boat out and include more pages next time. The print and production qualities are high (much higher than the original newsprint of course), though there are some aesthetic choices that will succeed with some readers and maybe not with all. Specifically, the cover features beautiful Shirley Bellwood art, but the pink (on Misty’s skin and dress) has come out with the half-tone screen dots very visible: surely done on purpose as this is not anything constrained by current production processes. The title logo has also been re-designed, using a rather wiggly and wavy font: I don’t know why anyone would use anything other than the classic logo, unless the rights to that logo had not been acquired at the time? It’s not a bad choice in itself – I like the little crescent moon that tops the letter ‘i’ in the title – but it feels like a bit of an unnecessary change.

There’s a good amount of extra material inside. Pat Mills has written a foreword about the historical context of girls comics publishing of the time, and how the title Misty was originally created; generous credit given to fellow creator Malcolm Shaw in particular and many readers of this blog will be glad to see Mavis Miller get a namecheck too. At the back of the book, Dr Julia Round has written a lovely tribute to Shirley Bellwood, and there are brief biographies of all four creators (Brian Delaney’s is particularly brief but I suspect there may be limited biographical information available about him). Finally, there are one or two craft items included – how to make a witch’s hat, and how to make a tree-devil mask. I think these are a great touch: I suspect they were added for kitsch value but they bring something extra of their own to the reprint. More of this sort of thing in any reprint please!

Of course the key component to any such reprint is the treatment of the comic pages themselves. The printing is nice and crisp and you wouldn’t particularly guess it had been scanned from a published edition. Will Morgan makes the observation (in his review on FA) that John Armstrong’s art suffers because it includes so many thin lines, which are lost in the production: that’s true, but I think most readers wouldn’t notice, as they will be dragged along by the story. The faces and the other details in the story remain compelling – there are large standout images throughout, that arrest the reader’s attention regardless of individual fine detail elements that are lost.

I am also sure that hardly anyone would notice the fact that the Moonchild pages have been edited to fit a larger page size*: an extra two centimetres of art was drawn on the bottom of each page, to make it longer! It sounds absurd and obvious but in fact I have read exactly this edition (which was the version printed in the 1983 Misty Annual) more than once and have only noticed it now, when looking quite carefully. (This is just like what happened in the 1979 Jinty Annual, in the story “Trudy On Trial”.) Having said that, in some places this editing is pretty clumsily done: another time it would be far preferable to follow the model used in “The Four Faces of Eve”, where you can see the original logo from each weekly episode, and the original art dimensions are respected. (In the case of “Eve”, in particular, the story title logo and accompanying art is really beautifully done and is different in almost every episode, so it would be a real loss to miss this out.)

[*Edited to add: I should clarify here that Rebellion themselves haven’t edited the art to fit a larger page size, but they have chosen a source to scan from where this had been done, that is, when the story was reprinted in the 1983 Misty Annual.]

I know this review is a little odd in focusing so strongly on the editorial and publishing choices made when creating this reprint, rather than on the stories themselves. As you will understand, I am keen to understand what any future reprints from other girls comics could look like! Of course, the quality of the stories themselves is not anything I have any concerns about, but lacklustre publishing decisions can damn the best content. This first reprint from Rebellion isn’t perfect but it hits the right high notes. New readers will find plenty to love, while those who already know the content will be very happy to see a professional, competently-executed edition produced by people who perhaps are still figuring out some of the details of what will work best, but who are very much moving in a welcome direction. Here’s hoping it is the success it deserves to be!

Misty: Featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve. Rebellion Publishing, 2016. ISBN 9781781084526

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights, pt II

Around this time last week, I met up with Ben Smith from Rebellion, to discuss the acquisition of the IPC copyrights and to pitch some possible ideas. This is not an interview (I didn’t take detailed notes), but it is a way of recording some particularly exciting elements of what’s looking plausible or likely.

First of all, Ben and the company as a whole are as keen to make great use of this new material as you could wish them to be. This is a significant investment for them, so it needs to be approached in a way that means it makes good long-term sense. There’s a lot of obvious value to be got from this treasure trove. A line of well-chosen reprints is a no brainer when you consider that the company has already proved the worth of that model (their reprint of Monster from Scream & The Eagle is one of their very best sellers).

Monster has name recognition factor (Alan Moore and John Wagner), but how do you sell the stories that don’t have quite such attention-grabbing names? And will it only be the ‘usual suspects’ that sit fairly comfortably alongside 2000AD – stories from horror comics or hard-hitting war tales? One of the things I was particularly happy to hear was that they really are looking in detail across the range of boys, girls, and humour comic stories. Ben was enthusiastic about all sorts of girls comics, from sports stories (yes, “Bella at the Bar” is a strong contender) to stories of everyday life (he name checked Pam of Pond Hill), and of course the science fiction / fantasy / creepy stories that were such a big part of Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. (We talked less about humour comics as it’s not my main focus, but they won’t be ignored in the line-up.) At the same time he was realistic in acknowledging that there will also need to be energy spent in making new markets; the nostalgia market is a great start but it needs to be grown to incorporate a new readership. Parents whose kids are outgrowing the Phoenix, or teens who are excited by the Olympics? Rebellion will be casting the net more widely than just the nostalgia market, wherever it ends up landing.

It’s not just reprints, though. We didn’t talk about relaunching titles or creating new material using the old characters – if these possibilities come into view I suspect it will be some way along the line, once the new playing field has been staked out and surveyed better. But merchandising, oh yeah. Again it needs to be done right, to make it work long-term, but can you imagine the bull leap from “A Leap Through Time” on a t shirt, or the cover of “Concrete Surfer” on a bag? Maybe you won’t have to just imagine it, soon.

bull-leap

Of course as a fan historian and interested blogger, I also wanted to ask other questions about the acquisition. Ben was quick to reassure that fan sites such as this one were very much fine by him (so long as people don’t ‘take the piss’ by which I assume he means reprinting whole issues or stories, or of course selling material commercially). They help to keep the buzz going, and are an important information resource. (Certainly any artist and writer credits that the reprints publish is more likely to come from bloggers and historians than from any official records, I fear.) So there is no problem with this site continuing to feature scanned art, sample episodes, posts about stories, and analysis (even if this includes spoiler details of story endings). You needn’t worry about changes to the content of this site, therefore (though I will now be amending the copyright information to credit Rebellion correctly).

I also asked about what sort of archives were included in the deal. Ben’s focus as the head of publishing is different from mine as a comics historian – he is thinking about the fact he will need to build around 80 metres of shelving to hold the bound file copies of the comics, and is looking forward to seeing if any of the new haul includes anything that could speed up the reproduction process (for instance, any usable film from the original printing – though he doesn’t hold out much hope). I am wondering if there might be any further material included in those archives – I don’t realistically expect there to be letters and editorial files, but you never know. Might there be a file copy of the issue of Tammy which never got distributed – the one which includes the last episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”? We know that there were 30 copies printed of the last pre-censorship Action, and maybe a similar situation could be the case here. I will be very keen to make a trip to the new archive location, once the dust has settled!

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights

The British comics internet was buzzing yesterday with news that Rebellion, who publish 2000AD, have bought the whole IPC list of comics from Egmont (covering all comics and characters first published after 1970 – the earlier material is owned by another company). The most detailed report is the Down The Tubes one, but it has also been announced on the BBC, Bleeding Cool, and even on Wired, so there are lots of excited people!

The quotes from Rebellion’s Ben Smith make it clear that both reprints and new stories are now possibilities – though of course with such a wide range of material having been bought, there’s no telling what will be the company’s main focus – or initial focus. The list that has been bought includes boys comics such as Roy of the Rovers, Action, and Battle, but also humour comics (which aren’t a big part of the announcement but have been part of the excited internet discussion, with calls to look at Oink and at the Ken Reid material in particular). And of course on this site our particular thoughts are on what it could mean for the girls comics – which were even specifically mentioned by Rebellion owner Jason Kingsley, very hearteningly.

If you had a say in the matter, what would you want to happen with the girls comics material in this haul? Clearly, reprinting specific stories would be an option – after all, Rebellion are already bringing out a reprint of “Moonchild” and “Four Faces of Eve” from Misty (published on 8 September). What stories would you choose to bring back as reprints, across the IPC list of girls titles? I think you’d have to make sure they weren’t chosen just for nostalgia reasons – they’d have to be really great stories that stand the test of time and don’t look dated, even though clearly there is a ‘bringing back classic comics’ element to this sort of publication. What would be your top five picks, and why?

What about other uses of the material? Merchandising, using some of the lovely design and images? Dare we think about re-worked stories, or characters extended in their life span? Would Bella, or Fran and her zany fixing, still work with new artists? Translations into other markets and languages? I would love to hear your ideas. Who knows, maybe they can happen!

[Edited to add: Down the Tubes have published a useful summary of the titles and characters that are now owned by Rebellion.]

Misery Loves Company, or, the sadomasochism of readers?

Attendees at talks like the Comix Creatrix event have a tendency to marvel at the prevalence of stories about misery, cruelty, and slavery in girls comics. It’s particularly the case that, if the attendee is someone who isn’t steeped in reading stories in this genre, they may well bring out loaded words or phrases referring to the ‘sadomasochism’ in the stories, or they may indicate that something is a bit ‘dodgy’ or ‘ooh-er’ (at the end of the talk this came in with discussions of “War Orphan Farm” and “Slave of Form 3B“). I’m not immune to this effect either – in earlier days I have certainly referred to slave stories with wink-wink innuendo, for instance. But it’s not true to the material being referred to, and what’s more I think that it plays into the wrong hands, as I will explain below.

Girls comics feature a lot of cruelty, misery, and slavery, it’s true. Mistyfan’s post on the Slave Story theme gives a relevant run-down of how a large subsection of girls’ stories worked, including a range of examples. We haven’t even given misery and cruelty any specific categories of their own in our list of themes, but they are clearly part of the more discrete story themes of Affliction, Bullying, Cinderella, Guilt Complex, and Troublemaker, to name only a few. Stories frequently feature mental domination, abuse, and physical brutality; may include handcuffs and ropes; and occasionally allow the death of the main character. And these are not incidental aspects of the stories – they are the main reason for them, the thing that makes them popular and memorable. A story may continue for half a year or more with the protagonist growing more and more hard-done-by, and the resolution typically only comes in the last episode or even the last few panels. It’s hardly surprising that this is so much a feature of discussions of girls comics when it comes up outside the confines of a blog like this.

But does this mean either that the stories are full of sadomasochism, or that the readers were secret sadists or masochists to enjoy them in such numbers? I’d say no, to both.

If you look at the stories themselves, and the experiences of the protagonists within then, they are just not stories of sadomasochism. For a start, they’re not overtly sexual (no publisher of the time in the UK would have countenanced that, of course, though as has been pointed out by Paul Gravett, the Shojo manga publishing phenomenon in Japan at around the same time was able to go down this route). They’re not covertly sexual either (not that I think girls of that age and in that era particularly went for hidden innuendo – we passed around Lace and The Thorn Birds, and of course we all devoured the Flowers In The Attic series). Fundamentally the stories of cruelty/slavery , even though they can spark associations of BDSM to the adult reader, weren’t about submission. The protagonists didn’t learn to enjoy being humiliated or dominated by their rivals: it was just that they were not strong enough to win against the villain or the society they were in. It’s a trope about powerlessness and fighting back even when it’s hopeless: eventually, even though it seems terribly unlikely, you may win. That’s a message of strength to young girls, collectively one of the least powerful groups in all society.

Slave stories end with the slave being freed and reinstated, and the villain reformed or defeated. (See the Tammy blog’s post about Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” where all eventually ends happily.) There are some stories where the slave accepts the brainwashing of the antagonist at points, and believes she deserves her punishment (Jinty‘s “Slave of the Swan” includes this plot element), but clearer eyes than the deluded protagonist see through this deception and it is not seriously proposed as something that the protagonist should believe. These are not stories with hidden subtexts of the delights of submission to loving authority in the way that Marston’s Wonder Woman stories were.

There are also a large number of tear-jerker stories which get mentioned as part of this idea of the sadomasochism of girls comics. I think here the feeling is that because such stories are so focused on misery, it is sadistic, or possibly masochistic, of the girl reader to enjoy them so much. Some of the obvious key contenders from the massively popular misery / tear-jerker trope are:

  • “No Time for Pat” in Jinty Annual 1980. Originally printed in June (1972)
  • Stefa’s Heart of StoneJinty (1976), reprinted in Princess / Tammy & Princess (1984)
  • DC Thomson’s “AngelMandy (1977) reprinted three times, with two subsequent sequels One of the few misery stories that takes the story through to the death of the protagonist, but as she was suffering from a terminal disease this feels like a naturalistic and almost uplifting ending – you could say she ‘wins’
  • Nothing Ever Goes RightJudy (1981) Reprinted (1989-90) Another exception of a misery story in which the protagonist dies in the end. (Edited to add: written by Maureen Hartley – see comments on Girls Comics of Yesterday)

These stories don’t really have a specific villain, though some other similar ones may do. The cause of the misery is often simply cruel fate. Possibly because cruel fate is much less personal, it is sometimes carried through to the logical conclusion whereby the protagonist dies in end: something that you can’t really do with a slave story because then the villain would win. (Unless anyone knows of a counter-example?)

Clearly girl readers loved a good cry! But why label the readers so strongly, bandying around terms like masochist? Didn’t the Victorians also love sentimental sob stories? What about classical tragedy, which far more often ends in unswerving death? Or indeed devotees of East Enders or the Archers? Consumers of these stories don’t get the same labels. I can only see it coming down to the policing of girls’ reading – it falls outside our expectations of what girls should read, and so we boggle at it more than at Victorian sob stories. If we fall in with this policing of ‘appropriate’ reading we play into the hands of authority’s disapproval of comics. Sometimes that manifests itself relatively mildly, as when Mary Cadogan complained about lurid death scenes in girls comics, citing “No Time For Pat” as an example (incorrectly, in fact) and using that as a lever to indicate that all girls comics were of low worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Frederick Wertham used his assertions of inappropriate themes and images to press for wide-ranging ‘reform’ of comic book publishing and the implementation of the US Comic Book Code.

Women Making Girls Comics – further thoughts arising

Talk at the House of Illustration: Paul Gravett, Mel Gibson, Jenni Scott, David Roach (thanks to Alice London for image)

The excitement of Saturday’s event is receding a bit; I have subsequently thought of further things that came up in the discussion that will be relevant to readers of this blog.

One important point is David’s repeated emphasis of how ‘cheap’ IPC were. For instance, to get stories reprinted or translated, they didn’t photocopy the art, send out the copy and keep the originals carefully for future reference: instead they sent the originals out to Spain or wherever, where the new text was physically pasted over the original words on the artwork itself. The original logo was torn away and pasted over or drawn over (and typically in IPC generally the artist signature was tippexed out, though people can’t have always been that rigorous over that because quite a lot of signatures survive).

A good example of this is shown in the Rodrigo Comos page below, which is from “Horse From The Sea”; it survives because it was reprinted in Princess (David is not aware of any other Jinty pages having survived). The logo itself was produced in house and was again not copied for re-use week by week: typically the same logo was removed from week 1 and re-pasted onto the space left for it on week 2’s artwork, from what David says.

Comos Horse From The Sea orig

The company didn’t want to spend money on storing old artwork; it simply didn’t value anything it wasn’t immediately using. David recounts horrific stories of mistreatment of artwork – used as cutting mats when working on newer art, or put on floors to soak up the rain. (Yes, really!) Apparently there was a huge bonfire (literally) of girls comics artwork once the company decided it didn’t need it any longer. When people say that none of the IPC girls’ comics artwork survives, this is the history that they are referring to – one in which a relatively recent reprint of Misty (as recounted by an audience member) was done from issues of the weekly comic, not from pristine art cleaned and tidied up. One feeble ray of hope might be that if the originals were sent to Spanish or Dutch publishers who had a better approach to keeping the artwork then perhaps some might be found in those countries, as David does not think that artwork sent for translation was typically returned to the original publishers.

I took the opportunity to ask David how it came to be that Tammy published credits in the later issues. His memory of Wilf Prigmore’s answer (the Tammy editor at the time) was that Wilf just decided to do it withouth asking anyone’s permisson, and no-one made him stop. David’s assumption was that the credits continued until the cancellation of Tammy but in recent posts on this blog we’ve seen that this wasn’t the case. Did a new editor take over Tammy in the final weeks after 11 February 1984? In any case, many heartfelt thanks are clearly due to Wilf and his unilateral decision!

I also thought to ask David something that there have been a lot of myths and rumours about, namely why were there so many Spanish artists in girls and boys comics of the time? He is the right person to ask about this (he has a book in the works about Spanish artists, which I shall be keenly interested to hear more about when any announcements are made). His understanding was that there was simply so many pages to be filled at the time that the British artists simply wouldn’t have been able to do it all! He specifically demystified the assumption / rumour that the Spanish artists were paid less and therefore undercut the rates of the British artists – they were paid the same. And of course there are a great number of extremely good Spanish artists, too, so the British publishers were very definitely getting their money’s worth.

I nearly forgot to mention one particular key point – in thinking about the pay ledgers that David saw, he was able to tell us that in the 50s, the absolute majority of names on the pay books were of female creators – perhaps 90%. Comparing that to the 70s and 80s, the number of female creators involved had obviously gone down subsequently. This was tentatively linked with the fact that the number of years that each female creator was visible on the pay books was not all that long, overall – perhaps a few years each, or some ten years of career visible on those ledgers at maximum per creator. Were they stopped from working once they became wives and mothers? Clearly not entirely so, by the anecdotes recorded from Alison Christie and Benita Brown, both of whom wrote at home while bringing up young families. But that was later, and times could well have changed by then.

There are many more snippets that I was very interested to hear at the talk, from audience members too. I will try to add key items to this post as they come to me, without making it hugely long.