Category Archives: Stories

Their Darling Daughter (1983)

Sample Images

Their Darling Daughter 1Their Darling Daughter 2Their Darling Daughter 3

Published: Princess (second series), #1, 24 September 1983 to #6, 29 October 1983

Episodes: 6

Artist: Bert Hill

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: ‘Dat kind hoort hier niet!’ [That child does not belong here!] Tina 42, 1984. https://www.catawiki.nl/catalogus/strips/series-helden/dat-kind-hoort-hier-niet/77184-1984-nummer-42

Plot

Lord and Lady Towne lost their daughter Rachel a year ago and still mourn her intensely. While they are still in mourning, they foster Sylvie from a children’s home. There is something puzzling as to how they came across Sylvie in the first place or why they are so interested in her. It’s not shown or explained at the beginning.

Sylvie feels out of sorts at her new home as it’s such a big jump from a children’s home to an aristocratic mansion and all the rules of deportment that go with it. She thinks she can’t live up to the pedigree or to Rachel who, from the sound of it, was brilliant at everything, and everyone still grieves for her. Nowhere is this reflected more than in Rachel’s room: everything is laid out as if she had just popped out for five minutes, and is obviously intended to be a shrine. Clearly, it is not going to be easy to fit into her new home. At least Rachel’s dog Ben takes an instant liking to Sylvie and becomes her friend, so there’s solace in that.

But Sylvie soon finds her real problem in her new home is Mrs Crooks, the housekeeper. Mrs Crooks took the loss of Rachel very hard as she worshipped the girl. On Sylvie’s first night in the mansion, Mrs Crooks scares Sylvie by saying she’s not going to take Rachel’s place and makes it plain she wants Sylvie out.

However, next day, Mrs Crooks is all sweetness and light and apologises to Sylvie. She didn’t mean it; it was just the grief, and she is willing to be friends. Sylvie accepts this explanation and offer of friendship, and even buys a present for Mrs Crooks.

But it soon becomes obvious that Mrs Crooks is just pretending to be nice to Sylvie in order to play tricks to get rid of her. She tricks Sylvie into selling porcelain dogs at a bric-a-brac shop to raise money for Lady Towne’s birthday present; when Lady Towne notices they are missing she is upset because they were a birthday present from Rachel. At the birthday party, Mrs Crooks tricks Sylvie into wearing the dress Rachel wore when she died. When Lady Towne sees this, she faints in shock. The party is ruined and Sylvie is sent packing from the party.

Of course this has Sylvie realise Mrs Crooks’ game. But she can’t convince her foster parents because Mrs Crooks is now poisoning them against her and leading them to think she is a dishonest, disturbed problem child. They become even more convinced of this when they find the porcelain dogs in the shop and think Sylvie stole them for the birthday present.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting hints that Mrs Crooks’ husband (the chauffeur) knows what his wife is up to and does not approve. However, every time he protests or wants to speak out she shuts him up. In one exchange, she says they will go to prison if the Townes find out the truth. Prison? Come on, the punishment for this wouldn’t be worse than the sack, would it? What’s the old bat on about? As it is, Sylvie’s only friend and helper right now is the dog Ben.

Sylvie tries to escape the situation by packing her bags and going back to the home, but the Townes have none of it. So Mrs Crooks tries again by making it look like Sylvie wrecked Rachel’s room. However, Sylvie and Ben manage to foil that that one by tidying it up in time, which has Mrs Crooks looking a fool in front of her employers.

However, Mrs Crooks is so angry at this that she brings out her big guns and makes threats that have Sylvie really scared. What’s more, the Townes are going to leave Sylvie alone with Mrs Crooks for the weekend. This has Sylvie well and truly terrified, especially when Mrs Crooks whispers that this weekend will be her last. Sylvie suspects Mrs Crooks is crazy and capable of doing anything to her. But the Townes won’t listen to her pleas not to leave her alone with Mrs Crooks.

Then Ben leads Sylvie to Rachel’s grave, where she overhears Mrs Crooks reveal something extraordinary: Rachel was actually Mrs Crooks’ daughter and the Townes’ “real daughter [Sylvie] is here”, and Mrs Crooks vows she won’t let Sylvie take Rachel’s place.

Mrs Crooks detects Sylvie’s presence, realises she overheard, and catches her. She drags Sylvie to the house and ties her up while explaining that she switched Sylvie and Rachel in the hospital when they were born so her daughter would grow up privileged. She put Sylvie in the orphanage and became housekeeper to the Townes so she could watch Rachel grow up while being near her. Now she’s going to kill Sylvie to be rid of her and make it look like an accident. Sylvie’s worst fears about Mrs Crooks are confirmed.

Meanwhile, Ben runs for help. Fortunately the Townes’ car has not got far because Mr Crooks was stalling while trying to work up the courage to tell the truth. When Ben arrives, they realise something is wrong and head back. Mr Crooks tells them what’s going on, adding that he was behind their meeting Sylvie (with an anonymous letter about her while not revealing her true identity). He had never endorsed what his wife did and was trying to put it right discreetly. Lord Towne comments that this was why he felt an immediate bond with Sylvie when he met her.

When Mrs Crooks sees them return she realises her husband has spilled the beans. There have been hints throughout the story that her sanity was questionable, and being discovered pushes her over the edge. She heads to Rachel’s room, intending to burn down the house with herself and Sylvie in it.

The Townes and Mr Crooks rescue Sylvie. They drag Mrs Crooks – whom they find cradling Rachel’s doll in the burning room and singing “rock-a-bye baby” – kicking and screaming from the house. The fire is brought under control and the authorities take charge of the Crookses. Mrs Crooks is placed in psychiatric care and Mr Crooks will probably get a short jail sentence (suspended, we hope).

Sylvie takes her rightful place with the Townes and calls them Mum and Dad for the first time. But Rachel’s memory will always be cherished.

Thoughts

Stories about spiteful antagonists playing tricks to get rid of a cousin/foster child were very commonplace at DCT; seldom did a few weeks go by without a DCT title starting one. However, for some reason the theme was far less common at IPC, which makes this story unusual for having it.

The story also breaks with the formula in several ways, which makes it even more unusual. First, the schemer is a creepy housekeeper; more often it’s a stepsister, foster sister or cousin. Second, the victim is warned right from the beginning that she’s got an enemy because the enemy tells her so herself. More often, the schemer works secretly so the protagonist doesn’t realise what’s going on and can’t understand why things keep going wrong for her and she gets in so much trouble. Third, the protagonist has a helper and even someone who knows what is going on but is having difficulty speaking out. More usually the protagonist is pretty much on her own, and if she does gets help it’s someone who has somehow become suspicious.

From the beginning we’ve been led to believe it’s misguided loyalty and grief for Rachel that’s driving Mrs Crooks to scheme against Sylvie. This could give us a measure of sympathy and understanding for her. If so, that fast evaporates once the baby switch and the real reason for Mrs Crooks’ hatred are revealed.

Having it turn out everything’s because Sylvie threatens Mrs Crooks’ deception in switching her and Rachel at birth is a flabbergasting surprise and twist to the story. However, the baby switch sounds a bit too Dickensian. The story would have gotten away with this more if it had a period setting. And so would have Mrs Crooks. We are finding it hard to believe Mrs Crooks managed to pull off the switch in modern times, especially when she herself says she and Lady Towne were in different parts of the hospital and Lady Towne was in a private suite. And what about the name tags on the babies? It is highly unlikely Mrs Crooks could have made the switch before the tags were put on.

The twist also has us question the wisdom of Mr Crooks in sending the Townes the letter. Sure, we can understand his desire to put things right somehow. But he must have known what his wife’s reaction would be, which would have exposed Sylvie to serious trouble. What was he planning to do about that? He doesn’t do anything more than make token protests at his wife, clearly because she dominates him. We don’t see him trying to stop her or help Sylvie until the end of the story.

The story only lasts six episodes, which was common for Princess II stories. But frankly, it could have done with more episodes, which would have been the case if it had appeared in, say, Mandy. For example, the first episode could have been used to fully develop the anonymous letter and how it leads to the Townes meeting Sylvie. Moreover, the anonymous letter would have added a mystery element to the story that would have piqued readers’ interest. Instead, it’s all mentioned in the final episode and readers are left thinking, “what anonymous letter?” The letter was never mentioned or shown in the story before, so the belated mention of it comes across as annoying.

The choice of villain for the schemer gives the story an edge of creepiness and terror that you don’t normally get in schemer stories, and this makes the story even more exciting. Usually the schemer is despicable and nasty but not frightening. And the warning signs that Mrs Crooks is going insane add an extra element of dread for Sylvie because what comes next could be anything – even murder.

We get some nice Bert Hill artwork in this story. Hill was a regular artist at DCT, working for many years on all three of its biggest girls’ titles. However, it is unusual to see his artwork at IPC. The only other known sample of Bert Hill IPC artwork is “Porridge Pulls His Weight” (Tammy, 3 September 1983), which, incidentally, was his only known credited piece of work.

 

The Ghostly Ballerina (1983-4)

Sample Images

Ghostly Ballerina 1Ghostly Ballerina 2Ghostly Ballerina 3

 

Published: Princess (second series) #13, 17 December 1983 to #18, 21 January 1984.

Episodes: 6, but a double episode in #18

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: ‘Het spook van de balletschool’ [The ghost of the ballet school], Tina #14, 6 April 1984. https://www.catawiki.nl/catalogus/strips/series-helden/doebidoes-de/77156-1984-nummer-14

Plot

At the National Ballet School, Clare Thomas lives for ballet. So she is devastated when she is told she has to leave the school because her dancing isn’t up standard and she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Then a mysterious ballerina, Arabella Hood, appears to her. Arabella demonstrates she is a superb dancer and says she has the power to make Clare dance equally so. But she says the price is high, and it includes total obedience to her. Clare accepts and is stunned to suddenly find herself dancing brilliantly. Later, Arabella also seems to be able to just disappear into thin air, and she’s already beginning to frighten Clare. It does not take long for Clare to realise that Arabella is dancing through her, and nobody can see Arabella except her. Yes, Arabella’s a ghost.

The director and Dame Anna see Clare’s incredible dancing and can’t understand why they never saw Clare dance so well before; they think it must be hidden talent or something. They give her the principal role in the upcoming gala and plan a huge publicity campaign for it. But this upsets Clare’s best friend Sonja, who had the role originally, and she and Clare fall out. This is the first sign of something Arabella hinted at earlier: “There is no room for friends in the future I have planned for you!” Clare asks the director and Dame Anna to give Sonja the role, but they decline, and can’t understand why Clare is so upset when she’s on the rise to stardom.

Meanwhile, a famous dancer named Anita Stanton says she suddenly wants to quit ballet. The director and Dame Anna can’t understand why she’s doing so when she’s still at the top. They comment on how history seems to be repeating itself: Anita used to be a poor dancer but one day, bang, she was brilliant.

Clare discovers that Anita can see Arabella too. Anita says the same thing happened to her, and to another famous dancer, Stepnova. She explains that Arabella was a Victorian ballerina who died in a fire when she was on the verge of success. She seeks the success that was denied her by targeting mediocre dancers and dancing through them. But the price you pay for dancing brilliantly through Arabella is too high: no friends, no self-respect, and no true success because Arabella is the one who is really doing the dancing. All you do is provide the body. The applause and accolades you receive are not truly yours because you are a fraud, and the fame that comes your way through Arabella brings you nothing but misery. But none of that matters to Arabella: she is ruthless and doesn’t care about how you feel. You are just her puppet who has to do as she says. Anita advises Clare to get out fast.

At first, Clare is too tempted by the ghost’s promises to make her a great dancer who would stay in the world of ballet. But it isn’t long before Clare realises what Anita means. At home, Clare’s parents congratulate her on her victory and can’t understand why she isn’t feeling happy about it. That night, Clare has horrible nightmares of Arabella. Worse is to come when Arabella demonstrates even more frightening powers: she can read your mind and inflict pain on you if you don’t obey her. And she threatens to do even worse to Sonja if Clare doesn’t do as she says.

Terrified for Sonja, Clare pretends to snub her and says it’s best if they are not friends anymore. However, this has Sonja wondering if something strange is going on. Her suspicions grow when she overhears Clare shouting at Arabella after the gala performance. Clare yells about how she used to love ballet even if she wasn’t much good at it, but now Arabella’s ideas of turning her into a famous ballerina are destroying her love of ballet.

Anita has been watching Clare’s brilliant performance at the gala and knows exactly how Clare feels: the ghost is controlling her and all that applause is nothing because you haven’t really earned it. Nobody else understands why Clare is in tears when she should have been happy at such a magnificent performance at the gala. Anita repeats her advice to get out before it is too late, but Clare explains that Arabella has threatened Sonja if she does not obey.

Arabella sees Clare talking to Anita and thinks they are plotting against her. In retaliation, she carries out her threat against Sonja, who gets hurt in an accident. It is only a sprain, but Sonja tells Clare she felt as if someone was controlling her. When she recounts the other strange things she has noticed, Clare decides to tell her everything (despite Arabella warning her not to).

They discuss what to do and realise the reason Arabella haunts is bitterness over being denied fame because she died prematurely. Therefore, the solution must be to give Arabella fame, so they look at a ballet about Arabella’s life story. Arabella not only jumps at it but also says she will choreograph the ballet, which will be called “Arabella”, through Clare.

When the ballet is performed it reveals the full tragic details of Arabella’s story for the first time. She started out as a street urchin in Victorian London, stealing food to survive. Then she went through years of imprisonment in a workhouse with only her love of dancing to keep her going. One day a rich woman spotted her, adopted her, and sent her to ballet school. On the night of Arabella’s debut, fire broke out, and both she and her dreams went up in flames. However, her ghost lives on, dancing through others. The director and Dame Anna particularly like that last bit. (If only they knew!) Clare dances the lead, but the reason the ballet is so successful and convincing is because it was all done through Arabella’s power. At the end, Arabella takes the bow she has been long waiting for and says she can rest in peace now.

Clare is relieved to be free of Arabella but knows she can’t dance that way without her. So, with Anita’s help she convinces Dame Anna that it really was the power of Arabella that made her so exceptional. Sonja takes the lead for the remaining performances of “Arabella”. Clare asks to just be a corps ballerina, and is happy with it because she will still enjoy ballet and remain at the ballet school.

Thoughts

This was the only ballet story to appear in Princess II’s short-lived run. It was also her only ghost story and “evil influence” (girl falls under an evil power) story.

Many of Princess’s stories weren’t particularly distinguished, but this is one of her better offerings. It is pretty dark stuff, and it’s not just because we have an evil ruthless ghost who makes terrifying demands, threats, and can control every muscle in your body. It also has a strong message about how fame brings you nothing but misery if the price you pay is too high. And that can happen even without this ruthless ghost pulling your strings and bringing you fame that isn’t really yours. This is such a contrast to the true Clare, who wants to dance because she loves it, even if she is not strongly talented. She does not care about fame – it’s happiness she wants.

Come to think of it, the haunting isn’t bringing Arabella happiness either. Seeing as she keeps doing it over and over, she’s clearly not getting any satisfaction out of trying to acquire fame through others. This is because it’s not bringing her the fame that was denied her, but does she realise this? Apparently not. And so she can’t rest in peace until Clare and Sonja come up with a way to bring her true fame.

When we see Arabella’s life story in the ballet she becomes a more sympathetic character, so it’s sad to see what an evil ghost she has become. But we can understand it was the tragedy of her story that turned her into a twisted spectre. Her life story definitely is the stuff that deserves to be a full girls’ serial, or even a real-life ballet.

The photo story format has one downside: photo stories have never been a strong format for a ghost story because the models used for ghosts were not convincing, and for some reason they didn’t use SFX to make the models look more ghostly. The ghost of Arabella is no exception. Having the photo story in colour makes the model less convincing as a ghost because you can still see she is flesh and blood. Having the strip in black and white and adding more white makeup might have made the model more convincing.

On the other hand, using the photo story format guarantees accurate, realistic ballet in this ballet story because they would have had to use trained ballerinas for the models. You don’t always get well-drawn ballet in a picture story.

Princess II, 25 February 1984

Princess II cover 25 February 1984

 

  • Flight from the Romanys (artist Maria Dembilio)
  • The Dream House (artist Mike White) – first episode
  • Laura in the Lyon’s Den! (artist Bob Harvey)
  • Rowena of the Doves (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • The Runaway Clown (artist José Canovas)
  • Stefa’s Heart of Stone (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
  • Sheena and the Treetoppers (artist Rodrigo Comos)
  • Sadie in Waiting (artist Joe Collins)
  • Horse from the Sea… (artist Rodrigo Comos)
  • The Saddest Dog in Town (artist Eduardo Feito)

 

We are now well and truly into the run of Princess II where she is falling back on reprints from Tammy and Jinty. From Jinty we have “Horse from the Sea” and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”. Many former Jinty readers would have envied Princess readers for getting a reprint of Stefa. Jinty’s letter page indicated there was a popular demand for this serial to be repeated, but for some reason neither Jinty nor the Tammy & Jinty merger obliged. From Tammy we get “Rowena of the Doves” and now “The Dream House”.

Nonetheless, Princess is still producing her own stories. One is the cover story, “Flight from the Romanys”. Lydia Parks is kidnapped by nasty gypsies, for no other reason than to make a slave out of her and profit from the chattels she had on her (rich clothes, a horse). Considering her father is a wealthy lord, they could have shown more imagination than that! This episode is dedicated to establishing just how cruel Lydia’s kidnappers intend to be to her, and Lydia showing us her resolve to escape despite her tears or the gypsies’ attempts to discourage her.

A more savoury gypsy gives “The Runaway Clown” both hope (her father will find her and no going back to the home she ran away from) and fear (danger from an elephant) when she looks into her crystal ball. Of course the fortune teller means Princess, the vicious elephant trainer who has been gunning for Cindy. This time Princess gets caught out and sacked, but has Cindy really seen the last of that nasty piece of work? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the weather presents its own dangers, and it leads to the death of the fortune teller.

Spoiled Laura is showing improvement in the “Lyon’s Den”. But is it genuine, or is it because she hopes to get a shopping trip in Paris out of it? Mrs Lyon suspects the latter, but readers are left wondering if the former is coming into it. Later, Mrs Lyon is surprised to see Laura on television donating her prize pony to the children of the blind home and promptly phones Laura’s aunt as she smells a rat. Is she right?

Two Princess stories, “Sheena and the Treetoppers” and “The Saddest Dog in Town”, reach their penultimate episodes. The Treetoppers are trying to find a missing will that would save their treehouse, but no luck. And now the demolition men are asking the councillor whether or not they have the green light to demolish the old house and the treehouse with it.

Lucy and Martin Denton are not having much luck tracing the owner of the “Saddest Dog in Town” either and turn to the local newspaper for help. Then a lorry passes by and the dog runs after it because he has recognised the engine sound. His rightful owner at last?

Sadie, Cook and Grovel all jump on the table in fright when they see mice on the bench, not realising they are only sugar mice intended as a gift for them. They not only end up feeling very silly but lose their treat as well, because the cat ate the mice.

Princess II, 24 December 1983

Princess cover 24 December 1983

  • The Last Christmas Carol (artist Purita Campos) – complete story
  • The Grovel Game – feature (artist Joe Collins)
  • The Ghostly Ballerina (photo story)
  • Fairy Tale (artist Julio Bosch)
  • Best of Friends… (photo story) – first episode
  • Cinders on Ice (artist unknown) – final episode
  • Sadie-in-Waiting (artist Joe Collins)

 

More Princess II’s have been added to my collection. Christmas may have been a couple of months ago, but here is Princess II’s one and only Christmas issue anyway.

Leading off the cover is a complete Christmas story from Purita Campos. Sue and Jill Crawley are new to the neighbourhood and feel lonely. They go out carol singing for charity, which turns into a spooky time travel trip to the Blitz. They give an old lady her final Christmas carol and return with souvenirs of the 1940s.

Christmas carolling does wonders on Grovel too. He’s pressganged into being Santa Claus but is more like the Grinch until Christmas carols work some Christmas magic on him and he starts enjoying himself. We can also play “The Grovel Game”, where the objective is to be the first to give Princess Bee her presents, but Grovel is trying to stop you.

There is also a Christmas dinner in “Cinders on Ice” to celebrate the fairytale ending we all expected. Yep, that story was definitely written to tie up with the Christmas issue.

The Ghostly Ballerina gives Clare Thomas the power to dance brilliantly, and everyone is surprised at the sudden improvement. But it is obvious that the power comes at an unpleasant price, which starts with it turning Clare’s friend Sonja against her.

Fairy tales get screwed up and turned on their heads in “Fairy Tale”. This week it’s a dotty old genie who is hard of hearing and can’t hear wishes properly – or even hear if what people say really is a wish. As a result, our protagonists get unwanted hair length and now they look like Rapunzels.

In the new photo story, Lizzie and Katie are “Best of Friends”. Then the old “three’s a crowd” comes in between them when new girl Linda comes along, and Katie’s in tears.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978-79)

Sample Images

No Cheers for Cherry 1No Cheers for Cherry 2No Cheers for Cherry 3

Published: Jinty 2 September 1978 – 13 January 1979

Episodes: 17

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Geen applaus voor Sandra [No Applause for Sandra] in: Groot Tina Zomerboek 1983-4)

Plot

In Inverglay, Scotland, Cherry Campbell dreams of going on stage and has already taught herself several song-and-dance numbers. One day Cherry’s Aunt Margot from England comes to visit. She’s a cunning, manipulative woman out to bamboozle her naïve sister out of priceless family heirlooms. But there’s worse. She also gets her hands on Cherry, saying she will develop Cherry’s talent at their theatre business, Theatre Rose.

The reality is, Aunt Margot only wants Cherry as unpaid help, a slave to the whole family on the barge, as her son (Marvin) and daughter (Michelle) are too selfish and lazy to help out. Uncle Bernard treats Cherry slightly better. He seems to have a soft spot for her, but he sure knows how to act sweet and kind when it comes to fooling her, and for the most part he exploits her as much as the rest of the family.

Cherry is shocked to see the reality of Theatre Rose. It’s a barge and the stage is one the family set up and take down wherever they stop. It’s not what she expected and she wonders if it really will help her dreams of making it on stage. Moreover, it is soon obvious that Cherry’s relatives are far better actors when it comes to swindling than the stage. Theatre Rose is not making much money and audiences are not impressed with the performances. In one episode a bunch of schoolkids give Aunt and Uncle a well-deserved pelting (and we don’t just mean the ham acting). From the sound of it, it happens to them all the time. In another episode, Michelle and Marvin send the audience to sleep with their wooden acting, which is because they don’t care about the family business anymore; they want to break away from Theatre Rose and make their own way as performers.

What keeps Cherry in their power is that she is just as naïve and good-natured as her mother. For this reason, she just can’t see she is being taken advantage of, not even when it is staring at her right in the face. For example, she notices that she has done nothing but housework since she arrived instead of learning how to perform but thinks nothing of it. In another episode, she is forced to work in cold, wet clothes after nasty Marvin sends her flying into freezing water until she becomes ill. But not even this makes her wake up to the way she is being treated.

What’s more, her relatives are very cunning at pulling the wool over her eyes, to the extent of convincing her that all the slaving she is doing is all for the benefit of her training as an actress. And as long as Cherry doesn’t realise she is being abused, she is making no moves to escape or seek help. There’s no schooling either where she might get help or welfare taking a hand; her uncle and aunt keep her off school so she can continue slaving for them, and Cherry is only too happy to be off school to realise why.

One evening Cherry puts on an impromptu song-and-dance number for her relatives and Uncle Bernard instantly sees her star quality – and the money it will make for them. But they don’t say that to her. However, they don’t want her getting downhearted and going home because they will lose their skivvy. So Uncle Bernard suckers her even more by promising to coach her and have her think that it will be his doing that makes her a star when her big break comes. But he’s not offering her real coaching at all; it’s all part of keeping her as the barge skivvy. What coaching Cherry gets comes from herself. Unknown to them, she learns the scripts of their plays as a secret understudy so she can step in when one of the relatives can’t perform, and prove herself that way.

Her chance comes when Marvin skips off to play guitar at a club instead of performing at the family play. Aunt and Uncle grudgingly allow Cherry to replace Marvin as she knows the lines: “Anyhow, most of the old ducks in the audience were asleep last night. They probably wouldn’t notice if a performing seal went on in Marvin’s place!”

But Cherry has to turn things around into a Charlie Chaplin-esque comedy performance because that’s the only way her costume will allow it. As a result, the performance is a smashing success (for once) and everyone loves her. Cheers for Cherry at last. It’s her first debut, and Cherry even discovers a press cutting about it later. Will it lead to better things with her relatives?

Not really. They are just as bad as ever, and next night they hustle her away when she’s about to do a repeat performance because a social welfare officer is sniffing around and getting too close to Cherry’s situation.

Then Cherry gets spotted by famous actress Eena Blair, who offers her an audition. Her relatives are out to take advantage, to the point of snatching the bracelet Eena gave her and selling it, which breaks Cherry’s heart. But they doll her up in such a ridiculous way that she fails the audition because she feels wrong. Even her scheming uncle is sincerely disappointed for her and gives her genuine advice: keep going and keep faith in herself.

Later, Cherry bumps into her classmates from Inverglay. They offer her a chance to go home, but Uncle cons her into staying with crocodile tears about how she’s breaking his heart at leaving. Another chance to escape gone, without Cherry even realising it.

Another break comes when Cherry joins a street busker in a performance and gets noticed again. This time it’s Doris Keene of “The Keene Kids”, an agency that provides young actors for commercials. Aunt and Uncle are all for it (because of the money of course) and put on a free show so Doris will see her in action. But Michelle gets jealous at Cherry getting all the breaks and steals the audition for herself. She gets a job in commercials and is happy to break away from Theatre Rose.

What finally frees Cherry from her sly relatives is news that her mother has been involved in an accident, and this time she insists on returning home. The problem is money, which Cherry still doesn’t realise her aunt and uncle are pocketing at her expense. They have even spent the money Cherry just earned at another performance on a whole new wardrobe for Michelle at her new job.

Then an audience, remembering Cherry’s one-night Charlie Chaplin-esque performance, turn up in droves to see her again. Cherry puts on her self-taught song and dance numbers and raises a huge sum of money. Aunt Margot is all set to pocket it and spend it on home comforts, but Uncle Bernard’s kinder half towards Cherry prevails (or maybe he doesn’t want to risk Cherry finally realising the truth). He lets her have all the money and gives her permission to go home, saying her talent outclasses the Theatre Rose and there is nothing more they can do for her.

Aunt Margot is furious: “What about your grand plans for her? She was going to keep us in clover, you old fool!”

This is said right in front of Cherry, but she still doesn’t grasp the significance. Instead, she is full of tears and gratitude towards her uncle, and to the very end she fails to realise they’ve being exploiting and cheating her from the very beginning.

Cherry returns home and is relieved to see her mother has recovered. But she suffers from people gossiping about her failure as an actress. Plus her schoolwork is lousy because her Aunt and Uncle kept her off school. She has also lost heart in pursuing the stage.

Then Cherry is asked to participate in a variety show for charity, which she intends to be her swansong. However, her performance is televised and gets her noticed, and she receives an offer to star in a children’s show.

Thoughts

This story is in the vein of the Cinderella theme, which was prevalent in Jinty and Tammy during the 1970s. It’s also one of the last at IPC because the theme was phasing out by the late 1970s at IPC (though it remained popular at DCT). The difference is that this Cinderella just doesn’t realise that she is a Cinderella and is being taken advantage of by grasping, manipulative relatives. So, unlike Cinderella Smith, Make-Believe Mandy and other Cinderella types in girls’ comics she is not trying to escape the abuse or fight against it, because she just can’t see it for what it is. And others can’t see it either because it is itinerant (travelling with the barge) and Cherry is not going to school where someone might realise what is going on and help her. Nor can Cherry use her talent to console herself against the abuse and use it as a means of escape as so many of her counterparts have done.

So how the heck can this Cinderella escape from this situation? It clearly lies in either Cherry wising up or something freeing her from the exploitation, or even both. One possibility is that Cherry might win respect from her guardians as her talent develops and they treat her better. But we soon see that’s no good either. Like so many other abusive relatives they either get jealous of it (Michelle) or take advantage of it and pocket the profits (Aunt and Uncle). Maybe Uncle Bernard’s soft side for Cherry will somehow help; his attitude seems to improve a bit, such as when he is genuinely disappointed she failed her audition. Or maybe the people who take an interest in her might make her an offer that frees her without realising. But nothing seems to work, and it gets increasingly frustrating to watch as Cherry remains in the clutches of her mean relatives without her even realising what is going on.

In the end, Cherry does become a star and gets a lot of big breaks during her time with Theatre Rose. But did Theatre Rose actually help her to do it – in spite of itself? Would Cherry would have gotten those breaks without Theatre Rose? Did Uncle Bernard really help develop her talent after all, albeit in an underhand, roundabout way? After all, her mother can’t afford acting school, so she was less likely to get a break if she had stayed in Inverglay. Guess Jinty leaves it up to her readers to decide.

Still, the fact remains that Cherry’s relatives got away with exploiting her without any consequences whatsoever. Michelle even got a plum job out of it, which she wouldn’t even have got without Cherry. We are left wishing Theatre Rose gets struck by lightning and sinks to the bottom of the river or something.

Blind Faith (1980)

Sample Images

Blind Faith pg 1 (26 April 1980)
From Jinty 26 April 1980. Art by Philip Townsend
Blind Faith pg 2 (26 April 1980)
From Jinty 26 April 1980. Art by Philip Townsend
Blind Faith pg 3 (26 April 1980)
From Jinty 26 April 1980. Art by Philip Townsend
Blind Faith pg 4 (26 April 1980)
From Jinty 26 April 1980. Art by Philip Townsend

Published: Jinty 26 April 1980 – 30 August 1980

Episodes: 14

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Clare Hollings loves Dad’s horse Cromwell. Dad is training him up for the Hampton Cup, which the family want to win to bring more publicity to their riding stables. She is annoyed Dad is not allowing her to ride Cromwell for the trophy, although she is the only one Cromwell really responds to, and it’s only with her riding him that he can tackle the water jump, which is a real sticking point for him as he has a fear of water. Despite her successful demonstration of this, Dad still won’t allow her to ride Cromwell in the competition as his mind is set on an experienced rider, not a novice.

Then Cromwell is blinded in an accident. Although it was dog Caesar’s fault for chasing a rabbit right under Cromwell’s hooves, putting him off his stride and causing him to fall over the jump, Dad blames Clare, saying it happened because she was showing off, and now Cromwell will have to be destroyed.

Mum protests at how unfair Dad is towards Clare. He eventually repents his harshness, saying it was an emotional reaction to his ruined hopes of saving his business. But the damage is done. He’s got Clare blaming herself and she goes on the run with Cromwell. She’s not going to have Cromwell destroyed, and she’s going to show Dad that Cromwell can win the cup, whether he’s blind or not.

This means somehow working out how to train a blind horse to jump, staying a fugitive and ahead of all attempts to find her and Cromwell, and keeping Cromwell safe from being destroyed. And all the while, Clare’s blaming herself for what happened and is having horrible nightmares over it. But soon they are joined by Caesar, who insists on sharing their life on the run and making himself useful.

Other dangers arise in addition to living wild. In one instance, Cromwell gets stolen and sold to the knacker’s yard. Clare breaks into the knackers to rescue him, Caesar lets all the other ponies loose as a cover, and somebody yells that Clare is stealing all the ponies. Which means the police could be after her on criminal charges as well as running away from home.

In another instance Cromwell is facing down an angry bull, but Caesar succeeds in chasing the bull off. Unfortunately, Farmer Monkton, who owns the bull, shoots Caesar dead (he has the grace to provide a grave for Caesar). He realises who Clare is and says he’s calling her parents.

We then find out Monkton has a daughter named Angie. Like Cromwell, Angie was blinded in a riding accident. It hasn’t put her off horses though. All sympathetic, Angie helps Clare to escape. But then there’s another problem – Cromwell has broken loose and heading for a cliff he can’t see. Angie uses her guide dog, Sabre, to turn Cromwell back from the cliff. Angie then helps Clare and Cromwell into hiding.

However, it doesn’t take Monkton long to realise this. He tails Angie and soon finds the fugitives. But then he sees how happy Angie looks in helping them, and she hasn’t looked happy since she went blind. He becomes torn between what he should do and what his heart says. For the moment his heart seems to rule as he does not turn Clare and Cromwell in this time.

Clare begins to make progress in teaching Cromwell to jump blind. Angie gets them an entry form for the Hampton Cup, which they have to enter under assumed names. But there is one big problem: entry fee is £20. Where can they get money like that? Overhearing this, Monkton gives Angie the money. Angie soon realises why and is so grateful.

Cromwell is making further progress. That water jump is still a sticking point with him, but Clare persists with it until Cromwell doesn’t seem to have a problem with it anymore. But at the Hampton Cup itself – what a time for Cromwell to refuse the water jump!

However, Clare’s parents are watching, realise it’s her in disguise, and cheer her on. Encouraged by this, Clare completes the round. Clare and Cromwell succeed in winning the Hampton Cup. However, Amelia, Clare’s old nemesis who was originally considered for riding Cromwell in the cup, discovers Clare’s disguise and gets her disqualified for entering under false pretences. But Clare has made her point to Dad, and he agrees to let Cromwell live. Moreover, she’s created huge publicity for the riding school in the press, so the riding school gets saved after all.

Thoughts

This story is still remembered – not as a Jinty classic mind you, but for the criticism that it is too unbelievable. A blind show-jumping horse is what the critics seem to find implausible, though there have been counter-claims that there have been a few blind show-jumping horses in real life. One such is Wren Blae Zimmerman. Perhaps it’s a matter of opinion. Still, girls’ comics are well-known for stretching credibility anyway, and I’ve seen far more incredulous stuff in girls’ comics than a blind show-jumping horse. So now we’re moving on.

Though not one of Jinty’s classics, the story certainly delivers on emotion and drama. Clare is not only faced with saving her beloved horse from the scrap heap (a common enough dilemma in girls’ serials) but also with a guilt complex and trauma over blaming herself for Cromwell’s condition. Like many girls’ serials dealing with guilt complexes, it is unfair and unreasonable, and this one is the result of Dad handling things badly. Although Dad repents this pretty quickly, it comes too late to help Clare. Moreover, even if they did sort out the guilt complex, there is still the matter of Clare wanting to save Cromwell and Dad insisting he be destroyed. Added to that, Clare later sees the horror of Caesar being shot dead. Now that is a shocking moment to have in a girls’ serial, and one reader wrote in to express how moved she was at that scene.

Unlike some emotional stories such as “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, the emotional side is not drawn out, nor does the situation just go on and on with no end in sight. Clare, though she has her moments on the run, does not spend a lot of time endlessly stumbling from one scrape to another until she finally gets a break as some protagonists in girls’ stories do. This helps to keep the pacing credible and the story does not start to drag or get tedious. Unlike “Over the Rainbow” or “For Peter’s Sake!”, Clare does not spend a vast number of episodes on the run making one narrow escape after another. In fact, it does not take her many episodes to find the help she needs, in the form of the Monktons.

The Monktons are well-conceived, rounded characters who get their own development. Angie, though blinded from riding, still loves horses and would love to get back into the saddle. No, she hasn’t become embittered or lost her nerve in any way over riding. And she does make a comeback in a way, through Clare. Mr Monkton is initially crusty and unsympathetic towards Clare’s situation, and we can see it stems from bitterness over his daughter being blinded in a riding accident. He scorns the idea of his daughter wanting to ride again although she is blind. If only he had access to the Internet; it lists a number of stories about blind horse riders, including show-jumpers. Maybe Angie will go that way in the end anyway. After all, this is girls’ comics. And frankly, Angie’s crying out for her own serial, a serial about a blind show-jumping girl (say, is there such a serial somewhere?). As it is, we are impressed with Mr Monkton turning into a softer character and becoming more human once he sees it is doing Angie a world of good. He goes from nearly unseating Clare’s mission to helping her achieve it.

Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (1979-1981)

Sample Images

Gayes Gloomy Ghost 1 1
The Arthurian legend according to “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”. Jinty 5 July 1980.
Gayes Gloomy Ghost 2 1
The Arthurian legend according to “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”. Jinty 5 July 1980.

Published: Jinty 22 December 1979 – 21 November 1981 (final issue)

Episodes: 96

Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

In the vein of “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!” and “The Jinx from St. Jonah’s” is this regular humour strip, which lasted from 1979 right up until Jinty’s final issue. At 96 episodes, Gloomy Ghost had a respectable innings, though not as long as Fun-Bag or Katie Jinx.

Jinty was not high on ghost stories, so there is some irony that her last regular humour strip is one to star a ghost, and also use ghosts and hauntings to raise loads of laughs with readers.

Our story begins at Stoney Hall, and initially there are three ghosts. They hate how Stoney Hall has become commercialised and they can’t scare anyone because the tourists are all unbelievers and don’t show ghosts any respect. They consider the caretaker’s daughter Gaye the worst of the worst. Two of them pack their bags and leave, never to be seen again. The remaining ghost, a knight called Sir Roger de Grohan, wishes he could materialise so he could really throw a scare into those tourists. The Amalgamated Association of Resident Ghosts and Haunters (A.A.R.G.H.) gives Sir Roger the ability. But when Sir Roger tries it out on Gaye, things don’t exactly go scaringly. Far from being terrified, Gaye is delighted at the ghost, and the two end up striking a friendship.

And so the premise is established for the rest of the strip. Sir Roger and Gaye become firm friends…well, most of the time. Much of the humour derives from their differences and character flaws. Sir Roger is gluttonous and always after food. He can be boastful too; for example, his iceskating ability (below) is nowhere near as brilliant as he claims it is. On the other hand, it helps to get rid of a bully and Gaye gives him the reward she knows he will love: food. He is also a coward at heart. Despite his being a ghost, people scare him more often than the other way around.

(Click thru)

Gaye’s flaw is that she has bit of a mean, bullying streak at times. Indeed, several other supernatural forces, including Henry VIII, meet their match in her. She calls Henry an “over-stuffed spectre!” and chases him off with a broom. Henry offers Sir Roger his commiserations about having Gaye for a companion: “Verily, thou has a right one there! And I thought I wast hag-ridden!”

Sir Roger, who prides himself on being cunning, often has to engage in a battle of tricks with Gaye to see who can outsmart the other. Often he proves himself crafty and also makes the right observation, such as Elizabethan gear suiting Gaye far more than a hideous disco outfit. Other times it is Gaye who wins in the end. And when it comes to getting out of scrapes they constantly land in (supernatural or otherwise), Gaye has the edge on brains.

How exactly Sir Roger became a ghost is not established and he is never given an origin. We can safely assume he died from decapitation as his head becomes separated from his body on several occasions. In one episode his head gets accidentally switched with that of Anne Boleyn! It is a pity this was not turned into a full episode. It would have been hilarious to see how Sir Roger goes with Anne’s head and Henry VIII getting the shock of his life to see Sir Roger’s head on Anne.

As Sir Roger is a ghost, a lot of gags derive from the other supernatural forces he brings in with him, such as his mother and father, both of whom wreak havoc on the hall with their demands. The mother is outraged Stoney Hall is sparkling instead of cobwebby, dusty and dull, and Sir Roger is not putting scares into humans. She is a match even for the bossy Gaye, who has to resort to a bit of cunning (a fake telegram from hubby) to get her to leave. But no sooner have they got rid of her when hubby himself descends on the scene. “Crumbs! Here we go again!”

None of the supernatural visitors are outright scary. They are more a nuisance. And of course much humour is derived from Sir Roger being a ghost and having ghostly abilities, including floating, walking through walls, and having the ability to materialise (which sometimes goes a bit wrong). There are also ghost rules to provide humour, such as keeping his sword and armour rusty, and be proud of it. In one episode Sir Roger gets magnetised and has to go through the indignity of a bath to become demagnetised, which comes at the price of losing the rust he is so proud of. He can only hope no other ghosts see him looking so clean and shiny or he will be the laughingstock of the ghost world.

Other gags come from Sir Roger being a real glutton who can eat you out of house and home. He could give Slimer from Ghostbusters a run for his money. For example, in one episode he steps in to make a plump teacher stick to a sponsored slim when she keeps taking naughty snacks. He says it’s all in a good cause – but his ‘help’ seems to include taking opportunities to grab the teacher’s food for himself. Still, he is so successful in slimming the teacher down that she makes a nice sum for charity. On the other hand, Gaye has noticed Sir Roger seems to be putting on a bit for some reason.

Much humour is derived from Sir Roger being from a different time period. Exactly what period Sir Roger is from is a bit inconsistent. Sir Roger’s outfit looks Elizabethan, but he demonstrates throwbacks to living in Tudor, medieval and even Arthurian periods when he was alive. Perhaps some of it should be taken with a pinch of salt, such as his version of King Arthur (above). The throwbacks to earlier times do have their own humour, such as clamping Gaye in the stocks, then she does the same on him to get her own back.

Sir Roger being from another time also lends to plenty of “man out of time” jokes where he has problems understanding the 20th century. For example, he does not understand fruit machines and gets frustrated when he keeps winning “groats” instead of the fruit. In the same amusement arcade he does not understand that the “shoot-a-spook” stall is not shooting real spooks and raises a complaint with the management.

Sometimes Sir Roger’s old-style views work out better than modern times. For example, we have to take Sir Roger’s side when he is shocked to see Gaye dress up in that hideous disco outfit, whereupon he exercises his cunning to see it’s destroyed. In his view, Elizabethan dress is far more becoming, and once Gaye puts it on she thinks it actually suits her very well.

Unlike “Fun-Bag”, which ended on a regular episode, the end of Gloomy Ghost is a definitive one. Sir Roger is offered the chance to join the Hall of Ghosts, but deliberately fails the exam because he mistakenly thinks Gaye will miss him too much. When Gaye finds out, she lends him a bit of…um…help, and this time he passes. Gaye knows she will miss him, but she wants him to pass on to the Hall of Ghosts. And when he does, his luggage goes with him, Stoney Hall loses its last remaining ghost, and there is no scope for appearances in the merger with Tammy. The Gloomy Ghost is well and truly laid to rest.

Tearaway Trisha (1980)

Sample Images

Trisha 1Trisha 2Trisha 3Trisha 4

Published: Jinty 8 March 1980 – 21/28 June 1980 (no episodes 17 May to 7 June due to strike)

Episodes: 12

Artist: Andrew Wilson

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Trisha is hot stuff on a bicycle. Though not a downright hooligan on wheels, she is a reckless, carefree daredevil with no sense of safety or responsibility. People say the little pest is headed for trouble, and it happens when Trisha is not paying full attention on the road because of her goofing off. She fails to notice a greasy patch on the road and goes into a skid, which causes a car to plough right into a lamp post. This puts a girl named Fran Hayward in hospital with serious facial injuries.

Everyone is blaming Fran for it and giving her a hard time, notwithstanding the oil patch, none of the passengers in the car wearing seat belts, the site of the accident having a reputation as a “black spot”, and Fran’s mother admitting it was partly her fault too. (The episode is posted above for your own judgement about the accident.)

Trisha feels guilty and responsible when she sees the state Fran is in. Mrs Hayward says money is needed for Fran to have plastic surgery but she does not have the money.

Meanwhile, Trisha wangles her way to see a stunt cycling act by helping the performers. Then, when one of the performers lets her fellow performers down, they ask Fran to take her place. This proves successful, though the manager is not impressed when he finds out. Ultimately, it is inspiration for Fran to put on three cycling shows to raise the money for Fran’s operation and the newspaper is taking up the story.

However, Trisha keeps having brushes with the law, and her latest one almost cancels the deal with the press. The editor only agrees to continue with Trisha if she will have cycling lessons and get a proficiency certificate. This is most demeaning for Trisha. It is even more so when they find her bicycle is not safe (damaged from the accident and Trish has to do self-repairs, which make for a banged-up bike). The editor has to loan her one. What’s more, she’s making mistakes with her cycling that need to be corrected. But she is forced to continue because it will keep the peace with Mrs Hayward and she’s got to convince people that she’s changed. To add to her problems, some toughs play tricks on her. As a result, she ends up in an icky river and the editor is not pleased to see the state of the bike he loaned her.

Trisha finally manages to stage her first show and it goes well. But Fran, who is having constant hysterics over the state of her face, people staring at her, and terrified of the operation, runs off. Trisha manages to find her, but the incident has Trisha so shaken up that she bungles the second show and it’s a failure.

When Fran reads about this in the paper, she snaps out of her selfishness as she realises what Trisha is going through to help her. A nurse informs Fran that she’s heard some toughs intend to come to the third show and throw rotten fruit at Trisha, and Fran alerts Trisha. Trisha turns this to her advantage by turning the whole thing into an Aunt Sally on Wheels show, with each hit raising £1 for the fund, and Trisha’s stunts ensuring some missiles miss. Everyone thinks the show’s a riot and it’s a financial success. There is now enough money for the operation, and Fran, inspired by Trisha’s courage, finds her own courage to go through with the operation.

The newspaper bike goes to raffle to raise money for Fran to go on holiday. When she comes back, she realises how silly her hysterics were – nobody is staring at her. She and Trisha become friends. Trisha is now more responsible about biking, but she is still keen on it and can’t wait for her bike to come back from the repair shop.

Thoughts

This is Jinty’s second (and last) story about cycling, the first being “Curtain of Silence”. Like Curtain of Silence, it is a redemption story about a thoughtless cyclist who needs to change her ways. But unlike Curtain of Silence, it is not about the sports side of cycling. Instead, it is the stunt and fun side of cycling.

This is definitely a strong story about responsibility, especially on the road. When you think you know it all, you find there are still some things you need to know to improve your road safety and there are road safety courses you can take a lot of things away from. Jinty readers must have emerged from this one thinking hard about how much more responsible they could be about cycling. In fact, the first episode adds this caption: “Don’t be like Trisha! Always cycle safely, with care and attention.”

Trisha is definitely one of the most ballsy, gutsy protagonists in Jinty. Although she gets depressed several times she never quits and she always bounces back. We all love her instantly because she’s no Pollyanna, and the artwork of Andrew Wilson (best remembered for “The Happy Days”) really brings off her irrepressible character.

Though not a bad person at heart, Trisha is clearly irresponsible and we know she is set for a long road to redemption about learning responsibility. However, she’s not wallowing in self-blame as many protagonists do in girls’ comics, which is refreshing. Initially she resists the idea that she is to blame as there were other factors involved in the accident as well, such as the oil patch. It takes the shock of seeing Fran to make Trisha realise she must take some of the blame and she becomes more sober. It really is to Mrs Hayward’s credit that she is taking some of the blame as well and is not holding any grudges against Trisha or turning vindictive towards her (unlike some counterparts in girls’ comics, such as Mrs Mitchell in Jinty’s “Waves of Fear”).

Trisha being an inspiration to Fran is a brilliant plot twist. At the hospital, Fran falls into the trap of self-pity, refusing to be helped, having hysterics etc, etc. We see this a lot in girls’ comics and can only wait and see what snaps the girl out of it. It is a delight to see it is the courage of the very girl who was partly to blame for her condition.

The most exciting parts of the story have to be Trisha’s bike stunts themselves. They are thrilling to watch and the highlight is definitely the Aunt Sally on Wheels. There can be little doubt Trisha will follow in the footsteps of the cycling performers and have a career in her own cycling shows. They also help to keep the story more lightweight and humorous, so the story, though a redemption and guilt complex story, is not overly dark or emotional.

 

 

Lady Death [2019]

Lady Death cover

Published: Commando #5217

Artist: Manuel Benet

Writer: Andrew Knighton

I am always on the lookout for Commandos that follow the new Commando trend of having female protagonists. This is the first Commando I have read that not only has a female protagonist (a whole army unit of them in fact!) but is decidedly feminist in tone as well.

Plot

In 1941, schoolteacher Svetlana Korzh signs up for the army against the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The recruitment officer is sceptical about her doing so: “A woman’s place is at home…. Women can’t shoot.” However, Svetlana’s equally sceptical fiancé Vasily Zimyatov (now in the infantry) has given Svetlana plenty of backbone and shooting practice in dealing with such attitudes. She declares she can shoot better than any man around here, she will be an asset to the army, and to prove her point she seizes the officer’s own rifle and puts a bullet through a weathercock. Across the Soviet Union, other women have also had to persuasive to have the military let them fight, from fighter pilots to partisans.

Lady Death 1

Svetlana is assigned to an all-women sniper unit and is soon proving one the best. Svetlana is soon making friends who will impact the story. One is Galina Chaykavsky, a former secretary who proves courage comes in many forms by always looking calm and stylish no matter what their trainer Captain Leontev puts them through – and it’s just as tough as what he puts the boys through. Another is Zoya Tikhmirova; like Svetlana she’s a former teacher who suggests they use their teaching skills to help with training. However, Leontev just says stick to soldiering. Zoya is also distinctive for expressing hatred of Stalin (very dangerous!), but considers the German invasion (aided by Romanian allies) a worse evil and that’s why she’s fighting.

Soon Svetlana’s garrison are fighting at the Siege of Odessa, which goes badly for them. Svetlana saves an injured Lieutenant, Yuri Valeev, from death. Zoya is not happy about her saving “one of Stalin’s stooges”, but is promptly reminded of her own words: “better Stalin than the Germans”. Svetlana and Galina press on with Odessa as snipers. They pick off Romanian soldiers, including a vital captain, and press on to attempt sniping a Romanian colonial.

Lady Death 2

But a German sniper, Ludwig Weber, spots these “little ladies of death”, and picks off Galina. Svetlana goes after the German sniper, but he is gone; the only clue to his identity is a peppermint wrapper, and the distance he shot from indicates he is a brilliant shot. In fact, she eventually learns he is the best German sniper on the Russian front. Svetlana vows she will kill this sniper with a taste for peppermint and avenge Galina. But in the meantime, all she can do is continue her own sniping, and soon her count is almost as high as Weber’s.

Meanwhile, Zoya falls in love with a Russian soldier, Maxim, and soon marries him. Svetlana’s own romance, Vasily, returns as well. Determined to protect Vasily, she sets up a sniper nest near his patrols. She does her best with her sniping to help Vasily against a Romania offensive, but Vasily’s infantry is soon overwhelmed the far superior Panzerkampfenwagen IV tanks. Soon Vasily is one of the last men standing. He recklessly charges a tank with a grenade, but a sniper kills him instantly. Though there is no peppermint wrapper this time, Svetlana automatically knows who that sniper was. Now Svetlana has double the reason to take ol’ Peppermint down. And it’s double the grief, which she has no time to even address with all this constant fighting. But right now Svetlana is forced to flee, and she seeks refuge in an army truck, where Yuri finds her and gives the impression he is falling for her.

Lady Death 3

Svetlana returns to her sniper unit. But the newer female snipers are not as skilled as Svetlana, and the peppermint sniper, whose name is now known to her, is picking them off like flies. Svetlana has been giving them sniping tips, but now she demands a general give her permission to give them better training at sniping, and if he doesn’t she’ll do it anyway. Being too busy to seriously argue with a strong willed person, he just shrugs and lets her do it. “What harm can one woman do anyway?”

The all-female sniper squad is soon improving tremendously under Svetlana’s training and teaching skills. So is the Soviet counter-attack on Odessa, which has now entered the city itself, and it’s turning into rubble.

As Svetlana seeks out a sniper spot, an all-too-familiar peppermint wrapper falls down from above. She promptly takes a shot at Weber, but misses (not like you, Svetlana!). She heads to his sniper spot, but he is gone. Weber then shoots her from a new position and hits her in the arm. After bandaging her arm Svetlana makes her way into the catacombs, where a partisan fighter finds her and helps her get back to her lines. She has to be shipped out to an army hospital, where a visit from Yuri is the only bright moment in what she finds is a frustrating wait for recovery and getting back to her unit. And by this time, killing Weber is a real obsession.

At last Svetlana hears news of Weber, who is now an even bigger problem for the Soviets than ever. She heads out to pick him off, and this time she succeeds. But she is surprised to find that finally getting revenge did not bring her the peace she expected.

Lady Death 5

Removing Weber makes Svetlana famous and she becomes known as “Lady Death”. Strangely, that is what Weber himself calls her just before she kills him. Perhaps Svetlana was developing a similar reputation among the Germans to the one Weber had among the Soviets. Svetlana keeps on sniping and training new snipers right through the push into Germany.

On the last day of the war Yuri proposes to Svetlana but she declines; she still wants to feel the satisfaction of carving her own way through the war and isn’t ready to consider marriage again just yet. But now the war’s over the army has no place for women. Svetlana receives the Order of Glory and discharged. She heads to university to get a Masters in Education.

Thoughts

As said before, this story definitely has a strong feminist tone. We see it in how Svetlana not only has to prove she deserves her place in the army but has to fight chauvinist attitudes among her superiors as well. But the real reason she can get into the army is the necessities of war, which has driven many Allied countries to allow women into positions traditionally occupied by men. Once the war is over, not even the strong-willed Svetlana is allowed to stay in the army; like all other WWII working/fighting women she is expected to just go home to mother and be a homemaker.

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It’s not often we see feminism in the British titles. Even girls’ titles didn’t seem to touch on feminism much. Some stories did of course, such as Mandy PSL #105 “They’re Letting Girls into St. Justins!”, where an administrative error unwittingly admits girls to an exclusive boys’ school. But the girls are there now and they are determined to stay, even though they really have to fight against boys and even teachers who don’t want girls in their school. Another is Debbie’s “Janet and Her Travellin’ Javelin”, where Janet Malcolm has to defy her grandfather, who believes a woman’s place is in the home, in order to become a javelin champion.

Galina and Zoya are more fleeting, but they have their moments to give them what depth the 62 pages can allow. Before Weber cuts her time so short, Galina turns vanity into an act of courage by always keeping herself stylish, no matter how tough the army makes things. Zoya is distinctive for her brave hatred of Stalin, and she also provides light relief in marrying Maxim, whose ridiculous moustache invites a lot of teasing. The wedding, amid the hardships of war (wedding dress made out of a parachute, army rations for the wedding dinner), and Maxim and Zoya seizing the moment, knowing full well war could take either or both of them, is also an act of courage. And both make it to the end.

Weber illustrates why German snipers were so feared during World War II. However, he doesn’t get much chance for development and only his peppermint fondness gives him a bit of roundness. He seems a bit careless, leaving those peppermint wrappers lying around. One of those wrappers almost gets him killed because it gives him away.

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The main villain, Weber, is more fleeting than other Commando villains and takes up fewer panels. The story is not all focused on the pursuit of him either. It takes pauses to look at the characters more, whether it’s Zoya’s wedding or training new recruits as snipers. It doesn’t all dwell on the pursuit of Weber. But the threat of Weber is always there, an underlying current that pressures the story towards its resolution.

The story also devotes panels to illustrating the horrors of war and some of the effects it is having. We see the city of Odessa being turned into rubble, horses having to learn to take the carnage in their stride, partisans luring soldiers into catacombs and ambushing them, and Vasily’s unit bravely fighting overwhelming odds against enemy tanks until only one man is left. For the soldiers there is no time for grieving or dwelling on the horrors – you have to press on and fight. The story does not go into war weariness and we don’t see anyone cracking up under it. But when Yuri proposes to Svetlana, she finds her heart has been lifted for the first time in the grim war years she was fighting and pursuing revenge.

It is a bit sad that Svetlana turns down Yuri’s proposal. But after what she had been through and what she had to do to prove herself, becoming the homemaker expected of her after the war would have felt a comedown. We are delighted that Svetlana is going to pursue a degree instead, and pursue it with as much determination as she did to get into the army. We also hope she will continue shooting and pass on her skills to others, as she did with the sniper unit.

The Dream House (1977)

Sample Images

 

The Dream House 1a

The Dream House 1b

The Dream House 1c

Published: Tammy 12 March 1977 to 23 April 1977

Episodes: 7

Artist: Mike White

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Princess (second series) 26 February 1984 – 31 March 1984 (one double episode); Tina #35 1984 as Het mysterie van het poppenhuis [The mystery of the dolls’ house]

Plot

Jan Dale has taken a temporary job as a nanny to a wealthy family. At first glance the house looks a “dream house”, the sort Jan would buy if she won the pools. Then she is informed Mr Glenn the owner disappeared two days ago; just vanished into thin air while gardening, it seems. His disappearance spooked the staff into leaving except the housekeeper, Miss Royd. Mrs Glenn is a bag of nerves, shrieking, “I won’t go in there! Please! Let me stay outside!” Now what can she mean by that? Elder daughter Diana Glenn is a rude, unpleasant type, and the younger children John and Becky are playing with a dolls’ house that is an exact replica of the house. Later Jan learns the busy parents neglected the younger children, so they turned to spending time with it.

Jan notes there are no dolls in the house, but later she and Diana see a doll outside it that looks just like Mr Glenn. Diana thinks it’s her siblings playing a cruel joke, but later Jan hears a voice calling for help from inside the dolls’ house. Becky says it’s “Silly old Dad!” and John aggressively tells her to shut up.

John and Becky show Jan doll’s clothes in the drawer, saying there will be more dolls in the house soon. Jan is shocked to realise the doll’s clothes are replicas of the clothes she brought with her – but how can that be when she only arrived a few hours ago? John says it’s because the dolls’ house knew she would be coming. Miss Royd tells Jan the dolls’ house is evil. Eventually John and Becky tell Jan they found the dolls’ house in a secret room in the house and show it to her.

Mrs Glenn just vanishes into thin air without explanation. Jan hears her voice calling from the dolls’ house and a hand waves from the window in the dolls’ house. Sure enough, it’s a doll-sized Mrs Glenn screaming for help. But when Jan rouses Diana the doll has disappeared. Diana wants Jan out, but the younger siblings insist she stay, and warn Diana she will be the next for the dolls’ house.

That night Jan has a dream of standing outside the dolls’ house, a voice calling her in, and don’t fight it. At first Jan resists but then calms down and welcomes it; it looks so peaceful in there. Then she wakes up, saying the sun woke her up in time from being snatched by the dolls’ house.

The dream is a forewarning of what happens to Diana. Jan sees her abruptly vanish from the grounds and heads to the dolls’ house, where she sees Diana about to open the house, urging it to let her in. Jan stops Diana in the nick of time, and even Diana is becoming convinced Jan is right. She flees the house in terror, but then she does disappear, as do the doll’s clothes that matched hers. Then Miss Royd and Jan see all three dolls in the house.

Realising she is next, Jan tries to destroy the dolls’ house with an axe, but Miss Royd stops her. Then Jan realises something: there are no doll clothes for Miss Royd, so the house was not planning to take her. Now why could that be?

Caught out, Miss Royd reveals she is behind the dolls’ house. She came with it and lived in it for centuries, and Jan and the Glenns are going to do the same. She was a squire’s wife who sought to discover the secret of eternal life. Frustrated with her constant failures she exclaimed, “Let the devil take anything of mine if I can succeed!” At this, a fire broke out, burning her house down, and the dolls’ house mysteriously appeared. Taking it as a sign, Mistress Royd ordered her new house (now the Glenns’) to be an exact replica. She also ordered a secret room to be built into the dolls’ house and the real one. She had the man who built them murdered, but he made a statement before he died, and the authorities came to arrest her. Mistress Royd and her niece Mary headed for the secret room, but soon realise the authorities had been informed about it. Working through Mary’s mind, Mistress Royd hid in the secret room in the dolls’ house. She stayed there until her mind reached out to John and Becky. Like Mary, they were young children, and her mind can only work through children.

Miss Royd says that it’s not just Jan who is going in there now; John and Becky are going in there too, and they are delighted about it: “It’s lovely being a doll!” She has them believe, and they’ll all be very happy in there. However, Jan manages to turn the power of the dolls’ house against Miss Royd: she persuades Becky and John to let Miss Royd go in first and let the family out, saying this will enable Miss Royd to find out how happy she is being a doll. This sends Miss Royd right back into the dolls’ house and frees the trapped people.

Jan soon finds nobody except her remembers what happened. The parents find they suddenly hate the dolls’ house for some reason and want it gotten rid of. So Jan puts the dolls’ house back in the secret room. She can only hope no other child finds it – Miss Royd is still in there, waiting and calling to be let out.

Thoughts

Surprisingly, Tammy didn’t often run serials on evil dolls, objects or influences, which makes the theme quite refreshing here. By contrast, DCT ran such stories with great abandon, which is another peculiar difference between IPC and DCT. Maybe one of these days we should have an analysis on how IPC and DCT had such differing emphases on serial themes and why this might have been.

The story establishes the theme and the mounting evil very quickly, which is not surprising as it has only seven episodes. So there is no padding or drawing out of the plot. The plotting is tight and well paced, and the evil is closing in fast like a tightening coil, which makes it even more gripping and scary. Unlike some evil doll/toy stories, it does not take long for Jan to realise the evil of the house and what’s progressively happening to the people who disappear. After all, it’s pretty obvious, what with the dolls’ clothes matching the people in the house, the dolls being replicas of the vanished people, the cries for help from the house, and what everyone else in the household is saying about the dolls’ house.

Unlike many protagonists in evil influence/object stories, Jan does not have a frustrating time trying to convince anyone what’s going on, only to find everyone thinks she’s nuts. Miss Royd already says the dolls’ house is evil (but of course she knew that all along). The young children know what’s going on but embrace it and even facilitate it. Mrs Glenn can already sense it coming and is scared out of her wits. Only Diana rubbishes it, but deep down she has her doubts, and it’s not long before her doubts turn into terror.

The family dysfunction (neglectful parents, unpleasant big sister) clearly made John and Becky easy targets for the dolls’ house and falling under the power of Miss Royd. It appeared to offer them happiness, comfort and peace, and would make them all one happy family once they were all inside, as dolls. From what we gather from Jan’s dream and how Diana almost got enticed in, this is how it lures them all in and gets the children into its power. Like its real-sized counterpart, it appeared to be the dream house. But once they were all inside, they would soon find it was really the nightmare house. Once released, Dad’s remark that he now hates the dolls’ house for some reason gives the impression that although they don’t remember anything, they will be wiser for the experience and work on being a better family unit.

Miss Royd is clearly a cautionary tale in the consequences of dabbling in the dark arts and tempting the Devil. Though the Devil does not seem to be after souls – after all, what he gives Miss Royd offers eternal life – any gifts from him will have strings attached. The dolls’ house is no exception. It grants eternal life – but from the look of it, it’s eternal life as a doll. Is that really the lovely and happy thing Miss Royd says it is? We don’t think so from the way the Glenns keep screaming once they are trapped in the house. Or Miss Royd herself once she is returned to the house. She screams at Jan to let her out, in the way Mrs Glenn did. Aww, poor diddums Royd – don’t you like it in the dolls’ house, even if it does give you the eternal life you wanted?