Category Archives: General

Site announcement – small reorganization

As I have been lucky enough to get a run of 69 issues of Sandie, and am now posting about each issue in consecutive order, it seemed sensible to tweak some of the elements of the blog to reflect the wider range of titles included.

The page that previously was just called ‘Issues’, which listed all the issues of Jinty which we’d posted about, is now called Indices of issues and annuals. The aim is to mention the key titles covered on this blog, with a link to the separate page where the index of each title is held.

Below this in the menu there are currently links to the following pages:

  • Index of Jinty issues and annuals (the same information as before, just re-titled)
  • Index of Sandie issues (links to my recent posts and a few earlier posts on Sandie)
  • Index of other titles (the same information as before but with the Sandie links moved onto that index)

I’ve also updated the posts on the first three Sandie issues to list a couple of additonal artist credits. I checked on Catawiki and I see that Sleuth on that site has credited “Wee Sue” to the artist Vicente Torregrosa Manrique, and “Bonnie’s Butler” to artist Julio Bosch. She also credited “Little Lady Nobody” to Desmond Walduck (artist on “Slaves of War Orphan Farm”) but I feel like the art is a better match to Roy Newby, per my original credit. Anyone have an opinion on this? I will post some scans later on to help with this identification, if need be.

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Portuguese Translations of Jinty Titles

Following on from Mistyfan’s post where she had a go at translating a number of Jinty story titles into Latin, I am going to do the same for a (smaller) number of titles. Latin is not one of my strengths though, so I will be using a modern language – namely, Brazilian Portuguese. (I was born in Brazil and speak Portuguese fluently, though it’s a long time since I have had to speak it day in and day out, so there are definite rusty patches in my vocabulary.)  won’t be doing as many as Mistyfan managed, but I will be putting a little commentary behind my thought processes so that will bring something different to the proceedings.

I started with “Combing Her Golden Hair“, turning it into “Pente de prata, cabelo de ouro” [literally, silver comb, golden hair]. I thought that it was important to stick to the allusive nature of the story title – it wouldn’t have been appropriate to call it something spoiler-y like “the mermaid’s daughter” or anything. Having said that, there is a song lyric which goes “Qual é o pente que te penteia” which might have possibly worked [literally, what is the comb that combs your hair?], but the song has specific references to Black Brazilian hair types so probably not a great match.

The Human Zoo” is another nicely allusive story title in Jinty. The Portuguese for ‘zoo’ is quite long – jardim zoologico – so instead I turned it into “Somos pessoas, não animais!” [literally, we are people, not animals!]. I wonder if it might have overtones of political or racial repression rather than the animal rights references that the original story had – not that I think the original writer would have been against that sort of extension as such, but it might be a shift in meaning.

It wouldn’t be a representative sample of girls’ story titles if it didn’t have an alliterative title or two somewhere in the mix. “Paula’s Puppets” and “The Disappearing Dolphin” seemed like good ones to try. If you are going to reference a girl’s name then you have to match it to the locality it’s going to be read in – Paula would be fine to use as a Brazilian girl’s name but it wouldn’t alliterate with the word for puppet [marionete] so that had to be changed. I’d initially thought of using the name Maria, which is a very normal name in Brazil, but it seemed a bit too ordinary and so I went with “As marionetes da Mônica”. Another option might perhaps have been “Mônica dos marionetes” [Monica of the puppets] but the first one might be more likely to also mean that other characters in the story are being played for puppets by Paula.

“O boto que desaparece” is a very straightforward translation of the original title – it just means ‘the dolphin which disappears’. I didn’t think that this story really called for something cleverer – it’s a straightforward thriller / action story at its heart. It’s a shame to miss out on the alliteration though – not always going to be possible to transfer everything to the target language, of course! Perhaps someone whose Portuguese was less rusty would make a neater job of it. Having said that, I well remember that the popular film “Airplane” was rendered into “Fasten your seatbelts, the pilot has disappeared!” on its cinema release in Brazil – so it’s not always about a faithful adaptation, to be fair.

On our pages about translations into other languages (the one on Dutch translations is the longest I think) you can see a similar range of translation choices – some are fairly literal / exact translations (Wenna the Witch / Wenna de heks), some are very similar but with choices to match the local market more closely (Kerry in the Clouds / Klaartje in de wolken), some are about as allusive as the original (The Human Zoo / Als beesten in een kooi [Like Animals in a Cage]; or another great example is Come into My Parlour (1977-78): Kom maar in mijn web [Just Come into My Web]).

I find the cases where the translator has gone in quite a different direction to be almost more intriguing – did they think the original title wasn’t exciting enough? was there a risk of giving away plot twists ahead of time? – but then it was also in keeping with some of the other off-piste titles seen in some of the girls’ comics publishing. Of this last group, I think my top pick might be the choice to turn “Gail’s Indian Necklace” into the name of the Indian deity on the necklace, Anak-Har-Li – not a very obvious choice, and one which makes the rather run-of-the-mill original title into something rather more unexpected I think.

Scream! and Misty: Review

Hooray! Another fruit of the IPC copyright purchase has hit the shops – now alongside the reprinting of classic stories from the IPC years, we are also seeing new stories written and drawn by current creators, inspired by those glory days and revisiting old setups and characters. “Scream! and Misty” (also available in a variant cover entitled “Misty and Scream!”) is out now. What’s in it? And – the bigger question – is it any good?

  • Cover: Henry Flint
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artists John Stokes / Frazer Irving, writer Guy Adams)
  • The Dracula File (artist Tristan Jones, writer Grainne McEntee)
  • Death-Man: The Gathering (artist Henry Flint, writer Feek)
  • Return of Black Max: Blood Moon (artist Simon Coleby, writer Kek-W)
  • The Return of the Sentinels (artist Ben Willsher, writer Hannah Berry)
  • Fate of the Fairy Hunter (artist Dani, writer Alec Worley)

First of all, rightly or wrongly, this is more 2000AD than it is Misty (or Scream!, as far as I can tell, though I am not an expert on that title). The art and the story telling is generally much more focused on current styles than traditional ones – and when you flick through this 52-page special it’s noticeable what a variety of styles is included within, much more so than in the 32 pages of Misty. There are traditional elements: John Stokes starts off the issue in the story revisiting “The Thirteenth Floor”: Max the psychotic computer who runs the decrepit building gets us off to a great start, though the ending to the first story is a little clumsily handled. This story is split between the black and white traditional art that Stokes provides and a colourful interlude drawn by Fraser Irving, which is very definitely 2000AD. The combination works well it itself, but I’m left slightly unsure as to what Rebellion are trying to do here – attract an audience for the reprint titles (blurbed as a whole-page advert on the following page), pull their 2000AD audience over to a new title with a different sort of inspiration, or what?

“The Dracula Files”, likewise, is more 2000AD than anything else – and is the most scrappily-drawn of the offerings to boot, I think. It’s quite well-written but some of the visual story-telling is hard to follow, and below in the last panel you can see an example of a very awkwardly-drawn hand, which looks like the artist changed their mind about part-way through.

“Deathman: The Gathering” makes it clear that this is a remix and reworking of the traditional characters. Characters from all sorts of IPC titles, not just Scream!, make it into this one – even alien shape-shifter Paddy McGinty’s Goat does! It’s readable and fun – how often do you get to see the Leopard of Lime Street mixing it up with Blake Edmonds from Death Wish? This is very far from a complete story though, and again I am not quite sure where Rebellion are planning on taking this from here on in. Are Rebellion going to launch a separate line or something? This feels somewhat similar to some of the Vertigo comics from back in the day, when that is what DC did to free themselves from the constraints of their mainstream universe.

“Return of Black Max: Blood Moon” is one of the most successful combinations of tradition and modern styles, it feels to me. The art is bang up to date but the panel sizing, story telling, and even the story themes are just like what you would get in the old girls comics at least. It leads off with a disturbing dream that Maxine Newland is recounting to her schoolfriends the next day – and continues with detention, an absent parent, a spooky item from the past, and an inadvertent trip to another dimension. Maxine even ends the story asking herself, troubled: “He said I wasn’t a girl. That I was a…thing. W-what if he was right?” That self-doubt could have come straight out of a girls weekly comic!

There are only two Misty-inspired stories. The second one (“Fate of the Fairy Hunter”) is a short, complete story that has a lot of similarities to the horror shorts included in that title; less gore though. There’s a twist in the tale but I have to say that the Misty versions would have ended a lot less happily for the female lead – a bit of a shame to have missed out that disinhibited proper horror element.

“The Return of the Sentinels” is the big ticket item for many of the people reading this post, I suspect. It didn’t disappoint me – I loved it. It’s tightly written and the art is great. I can’t give away much about it because I know lots of people will want to read it unspoiled – suffice to say that it doesn’t explain anything about how the Sentinels work or what happened to the characters in the original story, but it compresses the spooky feeling of wandering into a parallel world that is very definitely not right into only a few pages. It’s not clear that there is a chance of writer Hannah Berry developing this modern-day story further, but if that was an option then I can tell you that I’d be there in a flash.

So, yes. Much of this is 2000AD-has-fun: almost a fanfiction reworking of those original characters and stories (and nothing wrong with that, let me clarify). “Black Max” and “Sentinels” feel like they could be the start of something new and great on their own terms, which I’d love to see. Some other bits miss the target to a greater or lesser extent: in addition to the scrappy drawing in the Dracula Files, Henry Flint’s front cover is great on the creepy ghouls (I love Ghastly McNasty holding a selfie stick!) but much less great when depicting Misty herself (who looks like a plastic doll with a blank expression rather than a mysterious one). Overall: a definite ‘yes’, especially as tastes inevitably vary and that is the particular strength of the anthology title.

Hip hip hooray! Jinty (would have been) 43 today!

This is a post covering more than one celebration. It is the 600th post on this blog, posted on the 11th May, the day that Jinty was first published 43 years ago. And while we normally don’t make much of the anniversary of the blog itself, it has been a little over three years since it first started, back on 15 April 2014.

Jinty likewise also didn’t make much of its anniversaries. There is a celebration cover for its 200th issue but that mostly consists of an Easter picture and some text stating that it is a celebration issue. And while the cover of its 5th anniversary, above, is at least specially-drawn for the occasion, there is nothing much more inside to remind readers of the exciting times from the previous years. We can do more than that, in this blog post!

Well of course on this blog you can go back and read posts on individual issues, either in the order in which they were originally posted or (rather more conveniently) as an index, in date order. This also shows you how far we’ve got through the list of all 383 issues of Jinty ever published. For much of the run, we have now got long unbroken streaks of consecutive issues. There are gaps here and there of two or three issues together where we still have to fill in issues not-yet-blogged, but these are much fewer than used to be the case. (To give you context of the publishing of the time, there is also a much shorter list of issues of other titles which we have written about. It’s an area we focus on less, of course, but we will continue to add to nevertheless.)

We are still plugging gaps in the list of stories, too, but there again the gaps are narrowing. If you look at the list of Stories by Publication Date you can easily see which stories are yet to be posted about. Most of the key stories have already been covered, but there are still some crackers to come. Mistyfan is promising us “Tears of a Clown”, and on my own list I need to get to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the popular and extremely long wartime tear-jerker from Alison Christie and Phil Townsend.

In terms of other sorts of blog achievements, of course 600 posts is itself a really good number to have got to, in as little as three years. I would have been happy to manage about one post a week, but thanks to Mistyfan’s energy and our combined bright ideas on new things to tackle over that time, we have managed three or four times that rate. (I must give due credit to Mistyfan, who writes about one and half as many posts as I do!) The readers of this blog will be glad to know that even though we are closing the gaps on individual issues to write about, we still have many creators to cover as well as the story gaps mentioned. And although issues of other titles have featured previously as context for Jinty‘s family tree, I can see that we might need to cover more of these so as to continue to trace the path of different creators, story types, and themes throughout the years.

Jinty never had a chance to continue even as far as its 8th birthday issue, alas. I wonder what it would have been like if it had lasted longer? There would certainly have been a lot more great stories and excellent art to read and enjoy, but would it have stayed as inventive and energetic as 2000AD has done in its 40th year? Bunty lasted from 1958 to 2001 and had strong stories even to the end, but I think it would be hard to class the latter-day content of the title as ranking with its heyday. A longer-lasting Jinty would have had to reinvent itself more widely: I’m not sure how that would be possible in the constraints of the British comics market, especially with comics marked out as being more and more ‘for boys’. Esther, the Spanish “Patty’s World”, managed it, with stories being written specifically for the Spanish market and grown-up readers still seeking out the title of their childhood and sharing it with the next generation. Perhaps not a coincidence that it succeeded so well: Esther was always down-to-earth and realistic, compared to stories about boarding schools or ballet, so it stood more of a chance to tap into the mainstream urge for everyday stories that lies behind the popularity of soap operas. Not that soaps are the only way to produce popular entertainment, of course: Jinty and the like could perhaps have tapped into the science fiction or fantastical elements that worked so well in their pages. For sure, something  different would have been needed. Wouldn’t it have been great to have seen the publishers give it a go!

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