Category Archives: Stories

Portrait of Doreen Gray (1983)

Sample images

Published: Tammy 21 May 1983 to 6 August 1983

Episodes: 12

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Charles Herring

Translations/reprints: None known

Continuing our possession/evil influence serial theme, we take a look at what can happen when possession/evil influence strikes a girl who wants to improve her lot or strengthen her character. Conversely, the possession/evil influence actually helps the girl to do just that – well, at least at first. But its nature being what it is, it is inevitable that the girl eventually senses the dark side of how she is changing. 

Plot

Doreen Gray is the butt of teasing at school because she is a very shy girl. The worst of the bullies is Jane Quarles. Jane secretly knows Doreen can be more than what she is in the school sports teams if her shyness didn’t get the way, but of course she doesn’t want Doreen to step out of the shadows.

One day, Jane and her gang tease Doreen about being too shy to have a birthday party, and the teasing culminates in their chasing Doreen across the school pool. It backfires when Doreen unwittingly swims so well to get away from them that swimming team captain, Ann offers her a trial for the swimming team, but it’s too much for Doreen’s shyness to take.

Doreen’s father is an antique dealer who could be richer than he is, except Mr Quarles (Jane’s father) is always picking his brains for free advice on the best antiques to buy, which is how he has grown so wealthy. Doreen can see how Mr Quarles is using Dad, shy though she is, but Dad is too good-natured to realise this or how Mr Quarles is cheating him out of antiques that could benefit him instead. 

One day Mr Gray brings home a Victorian portrait that has been painted over. He bought it for the value of the frame. Then the black paint begins to flake, showing another portrait underneath, and Dad removes the paint altogether. They are surprised to find the portrait is of a girl who is a dead ringer for Doreen. She also looks a girl who always got her own way and anything she wanted. As Doreen gazes at it, she suddenly surprises her father when she demands the portrait for her birthday – which she has now dubbed “The Portrait of Doreen Gray” – and a party to celebrate. 

Doreen notices odd things, such as a whisper in her ear saying “You can get what you want, too!”, and when Jane and Carole challenge Doreen at the swimming trial, she sees the portrait staring up at her from the water, which spurs her to win the trial and a place in the team. Oddest of all, the girl’s face in the portrait seems to be able to change expressions, which seems to have an effect on Doreen. She is growing more confident to the point of being demanding.

Dad notices unsettling changes in Doreen. One is pretending to the other girls that she sat for the portrait herself. He is disturbed, as he is suddenly reminded of a certain Oscar Wilde story and warns Doreen about it. Although he has misgivings about letting Doreen have the portrait, he eventually lets her have it. 

At the party Doreen continues to pretend the portrait is of her. Jane’s nose is put out of joint at this and she quickly leaves. Doreen noticed Jane had her eye on the frame and realised its value. Afterwards, Mr Quarles is after the frame and Dad is willing to sell it because he needs the money (something he’d have more of if he wised up to Mr Quarles). Realising Jane’s hand in this, Doreen hides the portrait in the attic where she can secretly visit it and feel its influence strengthening her. She pretends to Dad that it was stolen. The ladder to the loft is too unsafe to bear Dad’s weight, so she is confident he won’t find it. Any pricks of conscience (such as cheating Dad), second thoughts or worry when she finds her behaviour becoming arrogant (which it does as the story progresses) somehow get overridden every time she’s near the portrait and it seems to make a look at her. 

Doreen is still having problems with self-confidence at school. Although she is in the swimming team, she is struggling to find her feet at netball. Egged on more by Jane’s remarks than the portrait, Doreen not only makes her way into the team but pushes Jane out of it as well. Finding out Jane intends to make her the lame duck in a swimming match against a rival school, Doreen is spurred on to come first. But she is becoming arrogant and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ann drops Doreen from the team, saying she’s become too big-headed. But the influence of the portrait (this time in the form of tears and sympathetic looks) has Doreen thinking Ann is just being jealous. She challenges Ann to a swimming match, where she pushes Ann out of her position as captain and takes her place. Yet she persuades Ann to stay in the team – leaving no place for Jane. Jane’s nose is out of joint again.

To humiliate Doreen, Jane challenges her to a tennis match. Doreen is not experienced enough at tennis, but she is riding on such success she feels confident she can win without the portrait and tells it so. Doreen senses the portrait is laughing at this but presses on with her resolve. However, Jane slaughters her, and Doreen is left thinking she does need the portrait after all.

In revenge for her humiliation, Doreen pulls a long-overdue comeuppance on Mr Quarles, who is again taking advantage of Dad. Mr Gray identifies some candlesticks Mr Quarles has his eye on at an auction as fakes. Then Doreen sees the portrait winking at her from a mirror, and suddenly gets an idea. She tricks Mr Quarles into thinking they’re valuable and waste money on buying them. When Mr Quarles finds out, he and Dad exchange angry words, and it looks like Mr Quarles won’t be able to use him anymore.

Mr Quarles has to cancel the family holiday because of the money he lost through Doreen’s trick, so next day an angry Jane tackles Doreen. Doreen deals to her with a good shove. Realising the change in Doreen started with the portrait, Jane suspects it was not stolen and wangles her way into Doreen’s house to do some investigating. In the loft she discovers Doreen with the portrait, but is then scared by a rat sitting on top of it. Doreen won’t shoo the rat away until Jane agrees to stay silent, which she does. Realising the portrait helped her keep her cool when Jane discovered the truth, Doreen is now more drawn to it than ever before. 

At netball, Doreen’s growing big-headedness gets her dropped from the team. The netball captain, Clare, adds that Doreen isn’t going to take her place as she did with Ann. (Oh, dear, is Doreen starting to get a reputation at school because of that portrait?) When Doreen visits the portrait, she suddenly knows how to not only worm her way back into the netball team but steal Clare’s position as captain as well – and succeeds at both. 

Meanwhile, Mr Quarles is worming his way back into taking advantage of Mr Gray, this time by paying him fees (sops, more like) for his advice on antiques. This leads to an angry exchange between Doreen and Dad, and she takes refuge in the loft with the portrait. 

Then Doreen hears her father climbing up the ladder to apologise and on the verge of discovering the truth. But he has forgotten the ladder is dangerous for him to climb, and Doreen is shocked to find herself tempted to not warn him. Eventually she does, but too late – the ladder collapses and he is hanging on for dear life. Doreen is again shocked to find herself tempted to loosen her grip and let him fall. Fortunately she overcomes it and tries to save him, but only succeeds with the help of a man who has arrived in the shop. 

The man is the previous owner of the portrait, and Doreen now confesses to hiding it. The man explains the portrait is evil. It is of a Victorian girl who was always able to influence people although she was so young. She died in debtors’ prison when her family was ruined. The man’s grandfather bought it for his daughter, who also bore a resemblance to the portrait. Then grandfather discovered it was exerting an evil influence over her. He tried to destroy the portrait but couldn’t, so he ordered it painted over and hidden. It was kept that way until money troubles forced the man to sell the portrait. Then he grew concerned and tracked the portrait down. He says he will now take the portrait, but Doreen screams, “No! It’s mine!” and runs off with it. Dad and the man are relieved to find Doreen meant it was hers to destroy, which she does by pulling it out of the frame and throwing it in a vat of boiling tar in the road. Then she finally allows Dad to have the frame (but let’s hope Mr Quarles doesn’t get his hands on it!).

Thoughts

You don’t need to look far to see what inspired the story. However, it is more the title that draws on the Oscar Wilde story than the premise itself, which is firmly rooted in the evil object formula seen so many times in girls’ comics. Most often the evil object makes the girl do terrible things against her will or without her even realising, but this is not really the case here. Rather, the portrait acts more like the magic object that can help a shy girl become more confident, stand up to bullies who make her life miserable, and advise her on what to do when she wants to her own way or get out of sticky situations. But as it is an evil object, not a beneficial one, it is not helping her for the sake of it.

There are indeed positive sides to how Doreen changes (becoming more confident), but there is a dark shadow all the way. Doreen never turns totally to the dark side, but she does get disturbed by horrifying changes in herself: becoming arrogant and big-headed, going behind Dad’s back, finding insidious ways to get her own way in everything, even being tempted to let Dad fall to his death rather than him discovering where she hid the portrait. But until the end of the story it does not take much for one look at the portrait to smooth over any twitches of conscience or second thoughts. 

Portraits with an evil influence have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Stories with this theme include “The Painting” (Bunty), “The Portrait of Paula” (Suzy) and “Penny and the Portrait” (Mandy). Another, on a more comical note, is “The Happiest Days” (Tammy), where the frightful portrait of the school founder casts such a pall over the school it has to be gotten rid of, which our protagonist tries to do in all sorts of hilarious ways. After finally succeeding, she is surprised to find a more savoury version of the portrait. 

But this portrait is far more insidious for several reasons. First, unlike other spooky portrait stories we don’t even know who the girl in the portrait is, and right up to the end of the story her name remains unrevealed. This adds an extra note of mystery to the story and the portrait. Is she a witch (a common reason why a portrait is evil in girls’ comics), someone who died tragically, someone out for revenge, or someone just plain bad? 

The portrait does not speak as some evil portraits do, such as “The Painting” from Bunty. Instead, it exhibits its influence through facial expressions and, at times, through distance. Yet its influence is so subtle Doreen doesn’t even realise what it’s doing, which makes it all the more creepy.

Second, setting itself up as the magic friend/object who can help Doreen makes it all the harder to fight against because it seems a friend to her, one she can’t do without in becoming a success and beating the bullies. It always seems to offer a friendly listening ear when Doreen has a problem in getting her way or trouble with Jane. 

Third, the portrait is very cunning in the way it influences Doreen through its expressions. It seems to smile in delight when Doreen tells her how she dealt to Mr Quarles. It turns on the waterworks when Doreen thinks it is making her big-headed and then sympathetic looks to convince Doreen that Ann is just being jealous. In other words, it really sets itself up to appear a genuine friend. But we can sense the portrait is only manipulating Doreen to strengthen its hold over her. One example is the episode where Doreen loses against Jane after telling the portrait she doesn’t need it to win against her, then she reverts back to dependency on the portrait after losing. We’re left thinking the portrait planned the whole thing. Another example is the rat in the loft that frightens Jane. We have a strong feeling the rat was not sitting on top of the portrait by accident!  

Fourth is the way these bad ideas just seem to pop into Doreen’s head and she surprises herself with them. There’s never an evil voice in her head telling her to do these things, though she does get one whisper in her ear: “You can get what you want, too!” Yet we know it’s the portrait all the same. 

Fifth, for an evil object story, it’s unusual in that the evil object does not force the protagonist to do terrible things as other “evil object” stories often do. It is more like the serials where the protagonist gets into bad company with a false friend who is a bad influence on her and taking advantage of her. The protagonist can’t see her for what she is (or ignores it) because the sneaky girl is so slick and manipulative in the way she keeps the protagonist close to her. “The Kat and Mouse Game” (Jinty) is one example of this, and “Lessons from Lindy” (Bunty) is another. This must have been what the girl in the portrait was like when she was alive, except that unlike Kat or Lindy, not even death stops her. There can be no doubt she was a girl who always got her own way in everything (except debtors’ prison), and not even death stops her there either. Through her portrait she gets her own way through others by leading them to think she is helping them get their own way in everything.

Finally, it must be said there is good coming out of the portrait influencing Doreen. It helps Doreen to overcome her shyness, give Mr Quarles a long-overdue comeuppance, stand up to Jane, and step out of the shadows at school to take prominence in school teams. Setting itself up as a good thing makes it all the harder to realise it is evil and fight against it. For this reason, for all the new confidence Doreen shows, it is not until she finds the power within her to destroy the portrait that she shows her whole new strength of character. 

What’s Wrong with Rhona? (1977)

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Published: Tammy 7 May 1977 to 23 July 1977

Episodes: 12

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl annual 1983 (some material cut); Tina Sterstrip 5 in 1983 as ‘Zomaar een pop…?’ (Just any doll…?).

We continue our exploration of “possession” serials with one of Tammys’ forays into science fiction. Incidentally, the SF serial was something Tammy did not delve into frequently, probably because she placed more emphasis on dark serials laden with emotion, cruelty and exploitation. It was seen more often in Jinty.

Plot

Rhona French is the star athlete of her school. While on a training run on Salisbury Plain, Rhona and her friends are surprised by a strange scorching smell. Then Rhona finds a doll. Its eyes are closed. She takes it for safe-keeping, hoping to find its owner. But before long, everyone who sees the doll is creeped out by it, including Rhona’s brother Tim and best friend Helen. They say it’s weird and feels like it’s made of flesh. 

Just before the second half of a crucial hockey match, Rhona is surprised to find the doll’s eyes open. During the match she gets a splitting headache and then starts playing badly because her body doesn’t seem to have its usual agility. She is benched, her team loses, and Rhona finds herself in Coventry. She is surprised by it all because she has absolutely no memory of what happened. The doll’s eyes are closed again.

And so the pattern is set for the story: When Rhona is near the doll, the doll’s eyes open. Rhona gets a splitting headache and everything goes blank. Then she acts totally out of character, moving clumsily and awkwardly while her behaviour is cold, aloof and chilling and her eyes give off an alarming stare that makes everyone shiver. She walks in a manner that mows down everyone in her path. She also thinks and talks in a manner that is not herself, suggesting something or someone else is in control. Then there’s another splitting headache, Rhona returns to normal with no memory of what happened, and the doll’s eyes are closed again. And of course how she behaves in between those headaches gets her into a whole heap of trouble that she can’t explain. Mum thinks Rhona is ill or something, but Dad keeps reacting angrily and thinks a good thrashing is in order. Rhona also begins to experience visions of strange technology. 

A weakness is suggested early on: when Mum sprays air freshener in the kitchen, the strange possession reacts badly to it: it coughs badly, feels like it’s choking, and flings the air freshener out the window. This suggests it has a reaction to aerosols.

Another weakness is revealed when Rhona’s poor coordination while under the possession causes her to have a road accident. Still under the possession, she walks out of the hospital, yelling to the doctors that if she does not get home within the hour, both of them will die. This suggests a time limit. She is forced back to the hospital and nearly dies before the doll is brought in (in the nick of time, maybe?).

The possession takes over in class. Under it, Rhona treats the teacher arrogantly, saying what she is teaching is far too elementary and childish and should be capable of a higher standard of teaching. When the teacher lays a hand on her, the reaction is very angry: she shoves the teacher aside: “How dare you touch me, you horrid woman!” The headmistress sends Rhona home with a note about her conduct.

On the way home, the possessed Rhona also reacts angrily to a market stall man and upsets his apple cart when he slights her. But that’s not the worst of it. It also has her steal a calculator from a store because it wants to work on vital calculations. The police are called in. By this time Rhona has returned to normal, she not only can’t explain her conduct in class but the theft either, because she has no memory of them. Dad manages to get her off the hook with the police but is furious with her and has no time for Mum’s pleas that Rhona has been ill.

Mum is among those who have noticed how oddly Rhona has been behaving since she picked up the strange doll and decides to send it to a cousin in Scotland. Overhearing this while under the possession, Rhona hides the doll in a box of Christmas decorations. When she returns to normal, the doll seems to have disappeared and Rhona thinks her problems are over. For a brief time they seem that way.

Then something pulls Rhona to the box of decorations, and there’s the doll with its eyes open again. Under the possession she goes out. Helen sees this, and realising the trouble has resurfaced, follows her. The trail leads to Stonehenge. Using the stolen calculator, it calculates the approach angle for a rescue shuttle craft, which is set to come at sunrise next day. Through its speech and thought bubbles, it becomes apparent that an alien is taking over Rhona’s body, and when it does, its conduct is cold and arrogant. It considers its own race as superior to Earthlings in terms of intellect. But manoeuvring Rhona’s body is difficult because it’s too large for the alien (not surprising, considering Rhona’s body is a giant compared to the doll-sized body of the alien!). Its own body cannot cope with Earth’s atmosphere and it was placed into a state of suspension until its spaceship returned. It is using Rhona to “regain [its] freedom” i.e. “leave this disgusting planet!”, but it can only stay in Rhona’s body for 12 hours, after which both it and “that stupid Rhona” die if it does not return to its own body in time. 

Meanwhile, Mum and Tim find the doll/alien and, seeing how creepy it is, dispatch it to the cousin in Scotland. Discovering this, the possessed Rhona sets off after it. She ends up jumping a train to retrieve it, pulling the emergency cord, and then jumping off, taking a fall down a slope. It is very surprised to experience pain, something unknown to its race, and retreats, letting Rhona return to normal. Not remembering what happened, Rhona stumbles home with the parcel. Only once she arrives home does she check the parcel, discover she brought that weird doll home again, and realise her mother was trying to get rid of it.

Helen comes over to discuss things with Rhona about the doll. After writing everything down they see the pattern of the doll’s eyes opening and closing, Rhona being near it at the time, and then the blank spells. Recalling the incident with the air freshener, Rhona tries it out on the doll. Sure enough, the air freshener forces the doll’s eyes closed again when they open. However, Rhona loses the air freshener next time the doll’s eyes open, and it takes her over again. It sets off for the rendezvous at Stonehenge, with Tim and Helen in pursuit once they find Rhona and the doll gone again.

At dawn, Rhona is very surprised to find herself at Stonehenge. A ray of light hits the alien/doll and it comes out of suspended animation. It introduces itself as Srewana of the starship Opsilon. Srewana explains she was left behind when her starship took off for emergency repairs, but now it is returning. She has using Rhona’s body for survival reasons, as she can’t use her own in Earth’s atmosphere. Her people, who look like doll-sized humans, built Stonehenge for a spaceport, with the altar stone as the landing platform. In some parts of the world they became worshipped as gods because their superior technology looked like magic. Then a comet collided with Earth and changed the atmosphere, which proved detrimental to the aliens (and explains the weakness to aerosols).

The spaceship arrives and lands on the altar stone. Srewana forces Rhona into the spaceship as a specimen for her race. However, when the captain hears what Srewana has been doing to Rhona, he is furious because Srewana broke their laws about non-interference with inhabitants on the planets they visit (sounds like times have changed since Srewana’s race interfered with human development) and tells Srewana she will be punished. He apologises to Rhona for the trouble Srewana caused her, lets her go, and asks her to stay silent about her alien encounter. So when Tim and Helen catch up, Rhona merely says “the weird doll” is gone forever and the trouble’s all over. Helen notices a strange burning smell, the same as the one when they first found the doll.

Thoughts

Here we have the possession serial story done with a stranded E.T. that is not friendly or endearing like the Spielberg version. Srewana justifies what she does, including breaking the laws of her own people, in the name of survival. We should be thankful that the alien was only doing it for self-preservation purposes when she could easily have had more sinister reasons for taking over a human body. Still, we don’t have much sympathy with Srewana, even though she is doing it for survival, because of the way she behaves when she is in Rhona’s body. We might feel more sorry for Srewana if she had proved much nicer or feeling like a fish out of water during the periods when she was in Rhona’s body. Instead, her conduct shows she is a “little horror” as Rhona calls her when she finally confronts her.

After we see the more likeable and less arrogant starship captain, we realise Srewana’s arrogance, coldness, and aggressiveness when she is crossed in any way have more to do with her personality than any superiority complex that her race might have because they are far more advanced than Earth. After comparing the captain with the “horror” Srewana, Rhona muses, “I suppose there are good and bad among all people.” It was just her rotten luck to encounter a bad example of that race.

The story is unusual in being very quick to establish the red flags that there is an evil object afoot. The moment Helen and Rhona’s mother and brother see the doll they find it creepy and chilling; they are quick to realise Rhona’s strange behaviour started when she found it; and they are not surprised by any theories that there is a link. Usually it takes a while before anyone catches on, and in the meantime the protagonist gets into a ton of trouble she can’t explain because she was doing it under the power of the evil object. Not everyone is convinced of course. Rhona’s father certainly isn’t, nor does he believe it’s because Rhona’s ill. However, he is unusual in being more the exception than the rule in an “evil object” story in not believing something weird is responsible for the goings-on.

There is an amusing side to the aliens being doll-sized. We also giggle when the flying saucer arrives because Rhona thinks “it’s like a toy”, and it’s so small it can fit on the altar platform of Stonehenge. We wouldn’t be surprised if these aliens gave rise to fairy and leprechaun legends as well as being worshipped as gods. And when Rhona confronts Srewana, angrily calling her a little horror for what she’s done, Srewana actually cowers in fear and begs Rhona not to hurt her. Rhona replies, “Oh, stop whining! I can’t thrash a tiny thing like you, much though you deserve it!”. Really, after demonstrating her power to take over Rhona’s body and considering herself the superior intellect, we expect Srewana to have far more defiance and arrogance than that! Perhaps it’s the difference in size between them rather than the difference in advancement. Still, small size should not be underestimated. As Srewana has demonstrated, being small does not mean you’re harmless. 

Secret of the Skulls (1976)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 1 May 1976 to 17 July 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Annual 1986; Translated as ‘Het geheim van de schedels’ (The Secret of the Skulls) in Groot Tina Winterboek 1983.

Ghosts, the hauntings, the graveyards, the witches, the possessions, the evil spells, the terror and the macabre, and this Tammy story from 1976 has got the lot. And they don’t come more macabre than this one with human skulls as the gruesome stars of the show. Normally stories like these would be reserved for Halloween time, but of late there has been discussion about the possession serial in girls’ comics at Comics UK, and its close relatives, the evil influence serial and the doppelgänger serial (the latter of which neither Tammy nor Jinty used, but it was seen frequently at DCT). So we are going to look at a few, beginning with this one.

Plot

In the year 1666 Parson Sylvester and his daughter Prue run a parish at St Leofric’s, London. A lightning bolt opens up a secret crypt under the church, and the one-eyed (watch this) gravedigger Israel Quist is shocked to find it is full of human skulls. Everyone is screaming that the skull crypt is full of evil, and their advice ranges from re-sealing the crypt to destroying the skulls, but Parson Sylvester hesitates because of his religious convictions and is not sure what to do about the skulls. Even when he discovers that the skulls inexplicably give off heat and blister the skin when touched, he doesn’t take action. While he hesitates, he leaves the crypt open, which is an open invitation for weird things. 

Sure enough, weird things start to happen. It starts with the parson’s housekeeper Mrs March bringing one of the skulls into the house. Prue soon notices that Mrs March is acting strangely. She denies taking the skull, but Prue can see the tell-tale blisters on her hands, and then Mrs March falls ill and then acts totally out of character, becoming domineering, bullying and abusive. In the middle of the night Prue hears the church organ playing by itself and the door slamming on its own. On another night she sees the organ playing by itself – and images of horrible glowing skulls as well! The coffins in the crypt belonging to Sir Clive Collyngwood, a man with an evil reputation and the son of a previous parson, move around. There are rumours Sir Clive haunts the graveyard. Some of the skulls are stolen from the crypt by the roguish Rufus Doggett, who runs a novelty shop – of the macabre kind by the looks of the live skull and crossbones set on his shop sign. Prue and her father are shocked to find Doggett painting up the skulls and selling them as ornaments and candle holders to the gentry. Doggett offers one to the parson, who of course won’t touch it.

The parson goes to the Bishop of Canterbury for advice, leaving Prue on her own with Mrs March. That night Prudence hears screaming and in the church she finds strange mystical signs drawn on the floor of the church. The Collyngwood crypt seems to go up in flames, and then looks unscathed. But inside, Prue and Quist find signs of charring and Sir Clive’s coffin reduced to ash, and there is a skull from the crypt on the floor. Quist, who had been urging the crypt be sealed up again from the moment it opened, does precisely that. Prue begins to wonder if there is some connection with the evil reputation of Sir Clive, and Quist informs her that there was a book written about it somewhere. 

Meanwhile, the parson’s carriage is nearing Canterbury when the horses rear, causing a bad accident. And what do you know – there’s a skull! Added to that, he is attacked and robbed as well. Later, Mrs March gloats to Prue that her father will be delayed indefinitely. Parson Sylvester arrives at the bishop’s residence in such a ragged state that he is taken for a vagrant and roughly sent off. 

Prue looks for the skull Mrs March took, but there is no sign of it. When she tackles Mrs March over it, Mrs March attacks her and locks her in. Prue hears hammering noises from the crypt and fears it is the skulls wanting to bust out. A strange girl, Lucy Wendover, wanders in, and Mrs March says they are to be friends. But Lucy soon acts like a sadist, enjoying hurting things and cruelly mocking Prue, and taking over the place.

Prue finds the crypt ripped open and more skulls gone. Suspecting Doggett, she goes off to see him. He tells her all the skulls are gone and paid for (except for the one he reserved for the parson), but he does have information about Sir Clive. Sir Clive and an accomplice were evil witch hunters who “terrorised London” and sent hundreds of women to the stake for witchcraft until plague struck them down. He raises a hint that witches could be responsible for the weird goings-on. Later, Prue suspects Dogged knows more than he’s letting on. But as we shall see, she does not get the chance to question him further.

Back home, Prue finds Quist has no knowledge of Lucy Wendover. He shows her a grave showing that Lucy Wendover died over 50 years before and the Wendover line died with her. But in her own room Prue finds Lucy, with yet more blistering skulls, which she uses to torture Prue. Prue notes the skulls burn her but not Lucy. When Prue demands Mrs March remove the skulls, Mrs March says they will all be going all right, “and then the fun will really begin, as Rufus Doggett’s finding out…” Prue heads back to Doggett’s shop and finds it ablaze, with the unfortunate Doggett unable to escape.

The parson arrives back home in such a bad state he has to be confined to bed. Mrs March gloats over him that “it is our revenge”. She takes him to the church and shows him the organ playing by itself and skulls on the altar. She has the parish shut to worshippers. Prue finds a gravestone with her own name on it and next day’s date, but when she tries to point it out to Quist later on, the gravestone is gone and in its place is a freshly dug grave. The parson is now gravely ill, rambling about the skulls coming for him. The doctor says a witch’s curse has been put on him. 

Prue heads off to see Lord Farleigh about things. There she discovers Lord Farleigh has bought some of Doggetts’ skull ornaments and Lucy is his adopted daughter. In Lord Farleigh’s library Prue finds a book: “Stories of English Witchfinders”. It informs her that Sir Clive and his apprentice Jacob Stave were the most feared witchfinders in England who burned the innocent and the guilty alike in the name of bounty. They collected the skulls of their victims from the executions – hence the origin of the skulls. Then the plague killed Sir Clive and struck down Stave, who was also shot in the eye by a victim’s husband. After reading this, Prue realises their one-eyed gravedigger is really Jacob Stave under an assumed name. Then she is attacked by Lucy, who rips up the book and trashes Lord Farleigh’s library. When Lord Farleigh intervenes, he tells Prue the girl is indeed strange but his wife is besotted by her – as if she were under a spell. 

Prue still has a torn page from the book. It tells her that there were only one or two genuine witches among Sir Clive’s victims out of the hundreds he burned. One (Martha Rackshaw) swore vengeance on London, saying it would burn just as she had. 

Back home, Quist shows Prue that the crypt of skulls is now completely empty. All the skulls have gone. When Prue confronts him about being Jacob Stave he doesn’t deny it. He regrets his witch-hunting days and placed the skulls in the crypt as an act of remorse. He believes Mrs March has been possessed by Martha Rackshaw, who is out for revenge on London. Of course it’s to be the Great Fire of London, with the skulls themselves as the firestarters; they can grow so hot they can burst into flames when needed. 

It’s already started at Lord Farleigh’s mansion where Lucy has set the ornamental skulls ablaze to burn the mansion down. She hears her mistress calling (the possessed Mrs March) and comes to the parsonage. Quist and Prue overhear Mrs March telling Lucy the skulls have been planted at Pudding Lane and they will have their revenge. Prue finds her father under a spell and has been turned into a zombie who serves the witch. Under Mrs March’s power he planted the skulls at Pudding Lane. Mrs March tries to hypnotise Prue too, but Quist intervenes. The witch finds him familiar, but she does realise he is Jacob Stave. Quist and Prue break away. 

Quist urges Prue to head to Pudding Lane to warn them. But it’s too late – blazing skulls in the oven have started the Great Fire of London. More of them have been planted like bombs all over the city, and now they’re going off and spreading more flames. While panicking people evacuate, Parson Sylvester wanders through the flames, still in his zombie state. Lucy gloats at the sight of London burning, and Prue realises she is possessed too.

Back home, Quist informs her that Mrs March is burning down the church as well. Recalling that everything started when Mrs March took a skull from the crypt, they head back to the crypt in search of it. Sure enough, they find it there, and realise it is the true source of all the evil (Martha Rackshaw’s skull). They throw it into the flames that are burning up the church. There is a tremendous explosion, and the fire goes out. The parson, Mrs March and Lucy return to normal, and they are bewildered, as they don’t remember what happened to them. After the Great Fire of London burns out, Lord Farleigh promises Parson Sylvester that his church will be among the first to be rebuilt.

There is just one thing that worries Prue. It is not clear if there was one witch or two. What if there were two and they only destroyed one? Quist assures her there was just one and the evil is gone forever. But in the 20th century, on the old Pudding Lane site, workmen find a skull that is red-hot to the touch…

Thoughts

Phew … is your head whirling from reading all that? It ought to be. Once the weird things start happening, they come on thick and fast and just pile up, one after the after, at breath-taking speed, to send your head into a spin and confusion. So many things to confuse you as much as terrify you. The organ playing by itself, doors slamming, illusions, skulls that can burn your skin, screams in the night, the housekeeper acting crazy, a demented girl let loose in your house … the list goes on and on. Prue herself feels her head spinning about all the things that started happening when the skull crypt was opened, as there were so many of them happening.

The pervading thread through it all is those creepy death heads that just keep popping up as much as they mysteriously disappear. Wherever they go, we know something terrible will happen. Human skulls have a long association with hauntings. There are plenty of stories and legends to bear witness to that, such as Owd Nance, the Screaming Skulls of Calgarth, and the skull of William Corder the Red Barn murderer. These particular skulls have the added terror of always associated with heat and fire, from burning when touched to being used as candle holders, so it’s no real surprise to see they can burst into flames and act as firestarters. We aren’t surprised to see the story build up to the Great Fire of London either; we knew it from the period the story was set in.

Witches and victims of witch hunts wanting revenge for their burning/persecution and laying curses that are activated years later are not an uncommon thing in girls’ comics. We have seen it in stories like “The Painting” and “Sharon’s Stone” from Bunty and “Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy. But seldom has it been done on this scale – laying waste to an entire city. Centuries before the IRA, we had Martha Rackshaw and her skulls launching a terrorist attack on London with skulls that can explode, burn and destroy. We can see the cunning behind it all, having Mrs March take Martha Rackshaw’s skull and thus possessing her. Allowing (or even influencing) Rufus Doggett to take the skulls and start selling them all around as painted up ornaments was a crafty way to distribute time bombs all set to go off when the time was right. Hypnotising Parson Sylvester into planting the rest all over London and using an oven to light the fuse were also inspired. The combined heat from the skulls and the oven was the perfect combustion. 

The motives for possessing Lucy are not so clear, and it’s never established how she became possessed. It’s a bit hard to understand what Rackshaw was trying to gain by it other than tormenting Prue and setting fire to Lord Farleigh’s house. We presume she was somehow possessed by the second witch as she was not hypnotised into being a servant like Parson Sylvester. Perhaps the possession was so Rackshaw could have a willing accomplice and one with handy access to the gentry. Whatever it is, the possessed Lucy is a riot in all the scenes she appears and she ramps up the excitement and horror even more.

Although Martha Rackshaw is evil, we might have some sneaking degree of sympathy for her, and more so for the other victims. After all, they were innocent people executed in the name of profit and superstition. The real blame lies in the evil, profiteering Sir Clive and his witch hunting. Or we might not be so sympathetic to Rackshaw, as she is inflicting revenge on innocent people, not the ones responsible for her burning. Anyway, she is evil and has to be destroyed. 

Sir Clive is also to blame for the catastrophe by collecting those skulls in the first place as much as for his witch-hunting. In so doing he unwittingly created the weapons the witches used for their revenge. What the hell was he thinking there, collecting the skulls? Was he some sort of ghoul or trophy hunter? The purpose of burning witches is to destroy their evil, so no trace of them must remain. Anyway, how was he able to collect those skulls from the burnings when they should have been burned in the fires? Did he (ulp) behead his victims before burning them? And the irony is, Jacob Stave/Israel Quist unwittingly facilitated the witches’ revenge through his act of remorse as much as his acts of witch-hunting by secretly placing the skulls in the crypt. In so doing he created a ticking time bomb waiting to be discovered. 

The story has a strong but curious message about the evils of witch hunting. Although the people believe in witches, the condemnation of Sir Clive for his witch hunting is strong and he is regarded as evil for this reason. Rufus Doggett says “may his name be forever cursed”, “stands to reason [Sir Clive’s victims] couldn’t all be witches but those two creatures made ‘em confess nevertheless” and their downfall was “the good God at work”. The book on witch hunters does not praise Sir Clive and Stave either; it says they burned the innocent and guilty alike because of the profit they made from it. We even get sceptics who don’t believe in witches. For example, Parson Sylvester always regarded such things as “foolish” and Prue believed the same until the skulls persuaded her otherwise. However, considering that this is also a witch’s revenge story with genuine witches, the message feels rather mixed.

When I first came across the story in the Girl annual reprint I thought it must be reprinted from Misty, what with all these creepy skulls being allowed to feature in gay abandon and freak out any girl to read the story. It was a surprise to learn it originally appeared in Tammy and two years before IPC’s famous queen of the screams title was launched. A story laden with skulls was certainly a bold, audacious move, and ahead of its time in being two years before Misty. It just goes to show the older IPC girls titles could rival Misty for scares when they needed to. The story is worthy of Misty herself, and the artwork of Mario Capaldi really brings off both the macabre elements, the historical setting, and the grim, dark atmosphere of the story. This story is guaranteed to both frighten and thrill any girl to read it and have any parent up in arms (the latter of which would delight the Misty team, as it was a sign they had done things right). It is a story Misty would be proud of. 

Lara the Loner (1981)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 10 October 1981 to 5 December 1981

Episodes: 9

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Ever since she can remember, orphan Lara Wolfe has had a fear of crowds (ochlophobia) and panics like nobody’s business whenever she gets caught in one. Lara has no idea why she has this phobia. Gran says she will explain why when she feels Lara is old enough to understand. But when Gran finally decides the time has come, she dies of a heart attack before she can explain. Well timed, Gran.

Living in the country, where things are less crowded, has made it easier for Lara to cope with ochlophobia. But after Gran’s death, social welfare moves her to the city. In the city, things are even more crowded, both at school and at the children’s home Lara now lives in. This makes Lara’s phobia even worse. Then, after a bully at the home publicly humiliates Lara over her phobia, she vows she won’t tell anyone else about it. And she has the added frustration of still not knowing the reason for it all. 

So now the stage is set for the setup that follows until the end of the story: Lara’s phobia, which drives her to either avoid crowds or flee from them in a blind panic, combined with her refusal to explain the problem, gets her into a whole heap of trouble. It leads to misunderstandings and spoiled opportunities and friendships that make her increasingly unpopular, both at the children’s home and at school. The girls all think Lara shuns them and doesn’t mix in anything (because of her fear) because she’s an antisocial, stuck-up loner. So they call her “Lara the Loner”. Lara can’t make or keep friends or do activities she would love to do because her fear keeps messing everything up. 

The misunderstandings reach the point where the girls, both at the home and at school, turn right against Lara. A wonderful opportunity to be adopted is also spoiled by her phobia – and nearly gets her wrongly charged with shoplifting as well. Lara’s phobia even puts her in hospital – twice. But not even these hospitalisations or running off because she’s so miserable do anything to improve her popularity. Neither does nearly dying of pneumonia, which Lara contracts because of her phobia (forced to take a long walk in pouring rain because the bus is crowded). Matron has to force the girls at the home to make the “welcome home” banner for Lara.

Lara has only one friend at the home, a little girl named Susie. But Susie gets adopted – by the same couple who rejected Lara after the false impression she was a shoplifter. Now Lara has nobody and crying at how her phobia is ruining her whole life.

Another couple, the Maxwells, take an interest in adopting Lara. This time, when Lara gets into a panic in front of them, she tells them about her phobia before rushing off. Lara is astonished to find them very understanding because Mrs Maxwell has ochlophobia too. Now Lara and Mrs Maxwell have found they are kindred spirits, they draw even closer together.

Then Lara stumbles across a newspaper cutting at the Maxwells’. It informs her that when she was a baby, she, her parents, and the Maxwells’ daughter Susie got caught in an accident where a bus mounted a crowded pavement. She was thrown clear, but her parents and Susie were killed. So Lara and Mrs Maxwell have ochlophobia for the same reason!

Moments after Lara discovers the reason for her phobia, the accident is re-enacted when a van mounts a crowded pavement. Fearful that Mrs Maxwell has been caught up in it, Lara dashes out and, forgetting her fear, pushes her way into the crowd in search of her. Seeing Lara push her way into the crowd, a concerned Mrs Maxwell does the same. After this, they are overjoyed to find they are not scared of crowds anymore. 

Now ochlophobia is no longer a barrier and there are no more panics from it, there is nothing to stop Lara mixing at school. She is now the biggest mixer of them all there, she has friends at last, and her popularity is on the rise. 

Naturally, the Maxwells adopt Lara and she becomes Lara Maxwell. 

Thoughts

Serials about a whole string of misunderstandings and unfair unpopularity caused by a phobia were more commonly found at DCT than at IPC. One example is “A Dog’s Life for Debbie” from Tracy. A fear of dogs keeps messing things up for Debbie Bruce and, like Lara, makes her increasingly unpopular because of all the misunderstandings her phobia causes.

A story with this format in an IPC title makes it more refreshing, as it appeared less often at IPC than DCT. Also of interest is that the story format deviates from DCT where a misunderstanding caused by Lara’s phobia always ends on a cliffhanger. It is not until the next episode that we see how it turns out. And until the final episode it is not in Lara’s favour! Had this story run at DCT, each misunderstanding would have been shown in a self-contained episode until the penultimate episode. 

Lara’s phobia sure is one that can make life really difficult, for unless you live in serious isolation crowds are virtually unavoidable. And it is a serious barrier to socialising or even doing everyday things in public areas. Lara panicking in a crowd is also dangerous, not only for her but for others as well. This is shown on several occasions in the story. For example, in one episode Lara accidentally hits a girl with her hockey stick while she panics to get out of a crowd. In another, she causes a pile-up at the school disco – with her at the bottom.

These misunderstandings could have been sorted out and Lara not so unpopular if she had simply explained. But she has sworn not to tell anyone about her phobia after the bullying incident. So people continue to jump to the wrong conclusions about Lara and she becomes even more unpopular and miserable. It is fortunate for Lara that for once she forgot that vow and told the Maxwells. If not, it would have been another miserable misunderstanding for her. The message is clear: if you have a problem with a phobia, tell someone about it and try to get help for it. 

Getting help with the phobia is something Lara never does. Gran does not help Lara overcome the problem either, although she is sympathetic and knows the reason for it. But help for phobias is available if you care to look.

Added to Lara’s misery is her not knowing why she is scared of crowds. In most other phobia serials the girl at least knows why she has the phobia, but not in this case. It also gives the element of mystery to the story to unravel, and girls just love mystery. So the mystery would have made them eager to follow the story even more. And when the reveal comes, we suspect it will hold the key to solving Lara’s problem. It’s no surprise to find it’s linked with how Lara got orphaned. The cure is also associated with the original incident: a re-enactment of it, which has both Lara and Mrs Maxwell face their ochlophobia. And they did it without even thinking about it because other thoughts overrode their fear.  

Thursday’s Child (1979)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 20 January 1979 – 31 March 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Juan Solé

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/Reprints: Girl (second series) Picture Library #29 (abridged); Tina 1986 as “Merel, het meisje van morgen” [Merel, the girl from tomorrow]. 

We continue our Halloween season with one of Tammy’s very best spooky stories, “Thursday’s Child”.

Plot

Life has always been good to Thursday Brown, at home and at school. Hmm, do we sense an “until” coming? Oh yes, and it starts when Mum tells Thursday to put the family Union Jack flag away in the loft until it is needed for the millennium celebrations in 2000. While doing so, Thursday ponders where she will be in 2000, and the thought crosses her mind that she might have a daughter.

Then Thursday decides to use the flag for a bedspread instead. Her mother reluctantly agrees, hinting there is something about that flag when she says there was a story grandfather told her about it. Thursday gets her first taste of this when she washes the flag: red liquid comes out in the wash, and Thursday is creeped out to find it feels more like blood to the touch than dye.

That night, the weirdness really begins. Thursday can’t sleep because she feels awful for some reason. She leaves the bed momentarily and recovers, but when she comes back there is a strange girl in her bed. The girl is crying and makes strange ramblings about her mother and how she’s suffering, and if only things had been different. Thursday also notices that the girl bears a resemblance to her. The girl introduces herself as Julie Kemp and really insists on staying, claiming it is her home after all. She wheedles Thursday into helping her stay on with a cover story to her parents. 

At school, Julie plays nasty tricks on Thursday. Moreover, Thursday used to be popular, but now her friends just seem to go off her and make a big fuss over Julie instead. Thursday is out in the cold and nobody seems to care about her anymore. Most telling of all, Julie draws a picture of Thursday in a wheelchair in art class. This upsets Thursday, but nobody sympathises with her. 

Thursday gets the feeling Julie is getting her own back on her for something, but for what? She has never done anything to Julie. But Julie is definitely giving Thursday evil, vindictive looks full of utter hate. When Julie is finally given thought bubbles, we see she is thinking Thursday deserves everything that’s coming to her. 

Julie then claims to be Thursday’s own daughter from the future, and she has travelled back in time to the present. All the hints Julie has dropped now have Thursday thinking something horrible awaits her in the future and she will become wheelchair-bound. Thursday is also getting terrifying manifestations of blood on her face and hands (and it’s not stigmata), and experiences an inexplicable bout of paralysis in her legs. Julie just gloats over this. 

During a fight with Julie, Thursday is consumed by a hatred she never felt before, and it shocks her when she realises. Then she sees the flag glowing. She shows this to Julie, who is disturbed by it too. Thursday tells Julie the flag is making them hate each other. Julie doesn’t argue. Is she having second thoughts about whatever it is she has against Thursday? She does become nicer to Thursday after this and even prompts Thursday’s friends to be nice to her again. But is Julie’s friendliness for real? She has put on false shows of niceness to Thursday before.

Remembering what Mum said about the flag, Thursday asks her for the story about it. But Mum can’t remember what it was. Thanks a lot, Mum.

Thursday decides to follow her mother’s advice and put the flag in the loft. But while doing so she has a fall, which both the flag and Julie (influenced by the flag) cause. The accident leaves Thursday’s legs paralysed for real, with no apparent explanation except shock (or the power of the flag?). Julie really is rubbing it in and Thursday is learning the hard way what it means to be disabled.

Despite her paralysis, Thursday manages to get the flag into the loft, hoping this will stop the trouble. But as soon as she turns the tap on, more blood-like water comes out. The parents put this down to dye running out because the flag was put near the water tank – but Thursday put it in the trunk! The flag is making it clear that being in the loft won’t stop it. 

Julie has persistently refused to explain why she hates Thursday or just what happened in the future, but now she gives way. She is indeed Thursdays’ daughter from the future. In fact, the house Thursday living in now is where she will raise Julie once she’s married and the room that is currently Thursday’s will become Julie’s. In Julie’s time, Thursday’s careless driving (nagging at Julie over her untidy appearance instead of watching the road) caused an accident that left Julie’s legs paralysed. This embittered Julie and turned her against her mother. Then Thursday brought the flag out as a bedspread for Julie (oh, dear, where have we seen that before?) and gave her a library book about the Westshires, a British regiment that one of their ancestors served in. When Julie read it, it told her something about the flag. She then used the flag’s power to go back in time to regain the use of her legs, get her revenge on Thursday, and have Thursday know what it’s like to be paralysed. And she is determined to stay in Thursday’s time although she’s not supposed to be there and her presence is messing up continuity.

Thursday tracks down the library book. She learns a South Sea island chief, Battanga, ran a cult of the Undead, which ran amok. The Westshires were dispatched to crush the cult and Thursday’s great-grandfather killed Battanga. As Battanga lay dying, he cursed great-grandfather’s family, saying his blood is upon them and their descendants, and he will return for revenge someday. His bloodied hands grasped the flag as he made his curse (which would explain the blood manifestations). Since then, Thursday’s family have regarded the flag as “a token of ill-fortune” (but they just have to keep the ruddy thing, don’t they?).

Thursday now realises the flag has to be destroyed utterly. Julie won’t agree, as this would mean sending her back to the future where she will be paralysed. Thursday points out the future will be altered, as the flag, if destroyed in this time, won’t exist in Julie’s time as it did before, which may change the future and prevent the accident. Julie still won’t budge.

Then the flag has a workman take a hacksaw to his own hand (urrghh!) when he is told to remove everything in the loft. This has Julie realise things have gone too far and how horrible she’s been. She agrees to help Thursday take the flag to the dump to be burned, and take her chances on what happens when she returns to her own time.

But of course the flag puts up a fight – and how silly of them to drape it over Thursday’s wheelchair! The flag seizes its chance to race Thursday’s wheelchair over to the canal, wrap itself around her, and try to drown her while Battanga himself appears and gloats over Thursday’s impending doom. Fortunately Julie manages to save Thursday in time. After the rescue, Thursday suddenly finds she can walk again. 

The flag washes up just where they want it to be – the dump – and it is thrown into a fire. Once the flag is destroyed, Julie vanishes. Thursday feels the timeline has been altered sufficiently to prevent Julie’s accident but “won’t know for sure until today catches up with tomorrow…”. Yeah, assuming it is the same tomorrow. What else will be altered because of Julie and the flag’s meddling with the timeline? 

Thoughts

“Thursday’s Child” is a Tammy classic and it was hugely popular, attracting comment in the letters section and even Tammy’s 10th birthday issue. It sure was one of my favourites and I was dying to read the next episode each week. 

The artwork of Juan Solé must have been a delightful novelty for Tammy readers. Solé’s artwork appeared more frequently in June, but this is his only Tammy serial. It is a shame he did not draw more for Tammy (apart from a couple of Strange Stories). I really enjoyed the artwork as much as the story, and the artwork must have added to its popularity.

The story was written by Pat Mills. This was at the height of the Misty era, so it’s not surprising it goes into a lot of themes that are strong, scary and dark: a cursed flag that can move on its own, exert influence evil influence over people and even glow in the dark when it’s aroused; a hate-crazed daughter out for revenge on her own mother; terrifying visions; inexplicable bouts of paralysis; threats of a terrible future ahead; a voodoo chief; the Undead (briefly); a man nearly sawing his hand off; and lots of blood. And ye Editor allowed it. The story would not be out of place in Misty. Could there be any other dark stuff Mills wrote into the story that ye Editor censored or diluted, which he did with a couple of completes Mills wrote for Misty?

The story certainly has a moral to be careful what you put on your bed, especially if you are warned there might be a history attached. The same thing happens in the Gypsy Rose story “Zebras of Zendobo“, where weird, terrifying things start to happen in a girl’s bedroom when she uses zebra skins as bedspreads despite warnings they come from sacred zebras her grandfather shot.

The way in which the flag carries out its curse certainly breaks the pattern we usually see in serials about cursed objects. Usually they force the protagonist to act nasty or commit acts she gets the blame for. Though both things happen in the story, the curse takes the unusual course of using time travel to bring in a hate-crazed girl from the future with an axe to grind against her own mother.

Julie’s hatred is arguably the most disturbing aspect of this story. Hate campaigns we have seen before in girls’ comics – but against your own mother? Or rather, the girl who will become your mother but for the moment is totally innocent of causing the accident. After all, it hasn’t happened yet in this time period. And just look at the things Julie does to Thursday and the hate-filled, gloating looks on her face. Even allowing for the flag having a hand in it…well, we know Thursday’s child has far to go, but in this case Thursday’s child goes too far!

The hate campaign goes against the usual pattern of the protagonist not realising the antagonist is campaigning against her. No, Julie makes no secret of the fact that she hates Thursday and is out to make her life a nightmare. It’s the reason why she’s doing that is part of the mystery that has to be solved, and girls just love mystery.

It’s also unusual in that Julie does turn out to have a reason to hate Thursday instead of being mistaken and getting things wrong, which is more usually the case. However, she has failed to consider that the accident caused by her mother’s carelessness has nothing to do with the 1979 Thursday. Therefore, like so many hate campaigners in girls’ serials, Julie is persecuting the wrong person, but in a different sense.

Moreover, Julie is so blinded by hate that she can’t see the flag is just using her for its own agenda. Sure, it’s helping her get revenge on Thursday, but what happens when it’s done with that? After all, Battanga said his curse would be on all descendants of the great-grandfather, and that includes Julie. We would not be surprised if the flag moved on to the rest of the family and Julie herself, and Julie finally realising what a Pandora’s Box she’s unleashed.

Despite herself, Julie adds odd bits of humour to the story, most of which stem from her landing in a time period years before her own. For example, when she sees Thursday’s Star Wars poster, she snorts at how out of date it is. She is also a bit put out to find she can only find BBC1 and BBC2 on television and asks whether they’ve invented BBC3 yet. But she’s not developed as a fish out of water.

The story also touches on the ramifications of the Butterfly Effect: change one thing and you change everything. It doesn’t delve into the Butterfly Effect except try to prevent Julie’s accident in the future and Thursday try to tell Julie that her presence is interfering with continuity. But what else has been altered by destroying the flag in 1979 instead of letting it hang around until it is used for Julie’s bedspread? Not to mention letting Thursday know the events of the future: a daughter named Julie; her married name is going to be Kemp; she will carry on living in the same house as now and raise her own family there; and the accident she will try to prevent. We are left wondering and worrying what’s going to happen because Thursday knows all this when she shouldn’t have and could easily do other things to change the timeline (like not name a daughter Julie), but the story doesn’t go into it. Anyway, knowing girls’ comics, Thursday will go home to find everything as if Julie had never existed and nobody knowing who the hell Julie is. She will begin to think she probably dreamed it all or something…until she discovers something that suggests it did happen (like the flag missing) and now she doesn’t know what to think.

The Butterfly Effect stems from one event at the beginning of the story: Thursday deciding to use the flag as a bedspread instead of putting it away until 2000 as her mother directed. Now, what if Thursday had obeyed her mother and put the flag away until 2000? Apart from us not having a story that is. Was it the first step on the timeline that led to Julie’s accident because the flag still existed in her time? Yet in this timeline Thursday puts the flag on her bed, which sets in motion the events in the story and the destruction of the flag in 1979, and therefore it will no longer exist in the time period Julie came from. This has us wondering if the flag sent Julie on the wrong timeline and she ended up in (to her) a parallel universe, with a parallel world Thursday instead of the Thursday that will become her mother. If so, the irony is it led to the flag’s own destruction in 1979 and Julie persecuted the wrong Thursday altogether. Perhaps the flag confused things because in both timelines it was used for a bedspread, and in the same bedroom.

We also wonder how Julie will fare once she returns to the future. Knowing comic books, the timeline that led to her accident has been erased and she can still use her legs – but what timeline has taken its place? Julie is bound to return to an altered timeline, one where she could be a castaway in an alternate timeline she can’t change and is left reaping the consequences of her blind hatred. It might even be a timeline where she was never born. We have only Thursday’s feeling that everything will work out for them both to reassure us that the time meddling won’t mess things too much (like in Back to the Future). But if it’s been said once, it’s been said at least a thousand times: don’t meddle with the past.

As with another Pat Mills story, “Land of No Tears“, “Thursday’s Child” makes a point about disability and treatment of the disabled. But instead of decrying harsh attitudes towards disability as in “Land of No Tears” the story takes a few moments to comment on how patronising attitudes and treating disabled people as objects of sympathy do not help disabled people that much. This is one reason why Julie wants to show Thursday what being disabled is like. Curiously, both stories use time travel elements to make their respective statements about disability, yet they have disabled girls going in opposite directions: one travels from the 1970s travels to the future, the other travels from the future to the 1970s.

Commandos vs Zombies (2019)

Commando #5277

Published: Commando #5277

Artists: (cover) Ian Kennedy; (story) Vicente Alcazar

Writer: Georgia Standen Battle 

Plot

In Norway, 1943, a heavy water plant is located on a high cliff above a dark forest where nobody goes in because something evil is said to lurk there. In the opening scenes of the story, the evil in the forest claims the life of one German soldier. The odd thing is, the evil that attacked him was in German uniform too…

A Commando team is dispatched to destroy the plant. Its members are Sergeant Manktelow, the team leader; Corporal Lionel Stone, who cracks unfunny jokes; Erik and Harald, who come from the Norwegian area in question and have a brother, Knut, in the Resistance; Private Joe Burn, a Cockney; and Leo (last name and rank not given). They parachute in, and the Resistance fighter meeting them is Anna Bang, who takes them to Knut.

The Commandos are informed of the difficulties. The plant is up a large cliff with a steep drop, and there’s a minefield. The plant is surrounded by a dense forest that nobody goes into after dark because of something evil in there. Apparently it’s the draugr (Norse word for the Undead) that the Nazis are creating from the corpses of German soldiers. Trucks come in bringing those corpses to the plant. The draugr are the reason why they must destroy the plant. The Commandos are sceptical about the draugr bit and think Anna’s been eating too much snow or something. For this reason, they do not fully trust her. Still, their mission is to destroy the plant. 

They intercept one of the trucks (which contains barrels of heavy water, not corpses) to get into the plant. Unfortunately they get tripped up by Joe’s garbled German. They still manage to get in, but Joe is now relegated to lookout. He gets grabbed by some very sinister-looking hands.

Inside the plant, the team is shocked to find heavy water chambers containing corpses. Then they get caught by German soldiers and a Nazi scientist, Adolf Wuest (because they lost their lookout). Wuest explains that he is indeed reanimating the corpses of Nazi soldiers as Undead (zombies) so they can serve the Reich in death as well as life. But there is one drawback: to replenish themselves and stay Undead they must consume the living. So the Commandos are taken to the feeding chamber along with one bungling German soldier to be fed to the Undead. Anna is taken for interrogation.

The German is first to be thrown into the Undead feeding chamber. The Commandos put up a fight, but Harald falls victim to the zombies. Anna breaks loose, joins the fight, and provides the Commandos with weapons. They apologise for doubting her. Fortunately bullets work against the zombies and they are soon overcome. The Commandos then set explosives to blow up the plant. They are rejoined by Joe, who managed to escape from the zombies.

Unfortunately the explosion does not destroy the plant all at once. Worse, it releases the zombies from their cages and they are coming out in swarms. The Commandos open fire, but there are too many zombies and they just keep coming. Wuest meets his end at the hands of his own creations (below).

The Commandos flee to the forest but forget the minefield. Lionel steps on a mine and gets a leg blown off, but he bravely continues to fire on the zombies and give the others a chance to escape. In the forest, the Commandos mow down the remaining zombies who have followed them. The plant is going up in flames, and they are satisfied the evil has been destroyed and it’s all over.

They don’t realise Lionel has now become a one-legged zombie…

Thoughts

It was extremely rare for Commando to use supernatural elements in a story. This one does so in ghoulish, visceral style with zombies, so I’ve been saving it for Halloween month. 

We also get a dash of Frankenstein, what with it being an evil Nazi scientist rather than a voodooist who’s behind the zombies. Wuest never explains exactly how he creates the zombies, but judging from the wee glimpses provided, it is some kind of science that needs heavy water. And like Dr Frankenstein, Wuest meets his downfall at the very hands of the monsters he created.

A heavy water plant being used to create zombies makes it an even more exciting story than if the Commandos had simply had to stop the plant from the usual (nuclear bombs). We are sure the plant was being used for that as well, but the zombies make it far more interesting. In the words of the Commandos: “Well, the zombies are a surprise.” And they are even more surprising because they are real and not some ruse to scare people off or a figment of superstitious minds affected by eating too much snow. 

The story is a pretty simple, straightforward one, and takes no detours with twists or turns. Perhaps this is why we get so many large, expanded page layouts and very little cramming. It’s because the simplicity of the story allows enough time for it. For example, the opening scene of the zombies attacking the German soldier takes five pages with almost no dialogue, and no text or SFX, only closeups of the German’s terrified eyes, his running feet, and shadowy attackers progressively closing in. Similarly, when the zombies attack the Commandos, we get plenty of page spreads on this, including one complete image that covers two pages. Other key scenes are also given expansion with large panels. For example, the scene where Lionel loses his leg is given a single panel on one page. What is even more unusual is that a number of scenes showing the zombies, explosions or action scenes are done without any dialogue, text or SFX; the scene is left to speak for itself.

The inking has a charcoal effect that lends well to the horror scenes. Unfortunately it loses detail when showing scenes of more distant figures in the background, such as the Germans (Undead and living) chasing the Commandos into the forest. The artwork and inking in this story are more suited to closeups, large panels and action scenes than fine detail. 

The story is another addition to the growing list of Commandos to feature female protagonists. Anna Bang is another proud addition as well. She is not the main protagonist but shows plenty of courage and is everything you’d expect from a Resistance fighter. For example, when Wuest takes her for interrogation, her response is “Nazi pigs!” She is the one to save the day when the Commandos try to fight the zombies without weapons by breaking through and supplying them with much-needed weapons. Her patriotism makes her a fearsome foe for Nazis; when she helps gun down the final wave of zombies, she yells, “This is for Norway!” But perhaps her greatest show of courage is staying resolute in the face of those Commandos who laugh at her for saying the Nazis are creating draugr. When they hint they don’t trust her, she doesn’t plead with them to do so or go off in a huff. She just gets on with the job and helps them anyway.

On the female protagonist front, what’s even more noteworthy is that the story has a female writer, Georgia Standen Battle. Are female writers now making their way into a title where male creative teams have predominated since issue 1? It’s hard to say, as Commando does not always give full names in its credits.

Of all the characters, Corporal Lionel Stone is the one to get the best character development, and ironically it’s because of his unfunny jokes. Weak though they are, they still provide light relief against a very dark tale and make him more distinct and rounded. And he can still crack those jokes while staring in the face of danger, even in the face of terrifying zombies. In so doing, his lousy jokes become an act of courage. It even seems to rub off on the others a little; for example we hear a bit of jokiness from the Sergeant: “The only good Jerry is a dead one – a really, really dead one!” the Sergeant says as he shoots the zombies. Lionel shows the best show of courage of the entire story when he stays behind to shoot more zombies even when he has just lost a leg. We can just see him receiving a posthumous medal. Sadly, the final pages have us shedding a tear when we see the soldier who had showed such courage even with his rotten jokes is now a hop-a-long zombie.

Jinty 17 October 1981

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)

Haunted Ballerina (artist Christine Ellingham) – Gypsy Rose story

Donkey Work (artist Mario Capaldi) – text story

Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (arist Hugh Thornton-Jones)

Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Peter Wilkes)

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace… (artist Jim Baikie)

Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)

Winning Ways – Badminton (writer Benita Brown)

Badgered Belinda (artist Phil Gascoine)

Man’s Best Friend: Herding Dogs (feature)

The Bow Street Runner (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)

Find Out About Where You Live – feature 

We continue the October theme by filling in a few remaining gaps in the Jinty October issues. This is the sixth-to-last issue of Jinty and she’s in her countdown to the merger.

Pam of Pond Hill has returned by popular demand and will continue in the merger. Her latest story features the debut of Tessie Bradshaw, “Ten Ton Tessie”, a girl who would go on to appear regularly and be known for her heftiness and love of food. In Tessie’s first story, where she is a new pupil at Pond Hill, she doesn’t get off to a good start because she is bullying. Her bullying goes too far and drives off her victim, Sue, in tears. Tess runs away in search of Sue (who showed up later) – and she is headed to the canal, a most dangerous area.

Tansy holds a rag week to raise funds for her youth club. But things go wrong, and Simon & Co deal to Tansy with something else from rag weeks. Tansy is left, shall we say, feeling a bit wet afterwards. Cindy Briggs of the text story “Donkey Work” is more successful in raising funds with her contribution to the autumn fayre – donkey rides in the school playground – despite things going mad-cap (just like her).

This week’s episode of “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” sets up the story arc to end the strip in the final issue of Jinty. Sir Roger deliberately failed his exam for the House of Ghosts because he thought Gaye would miss him too much. Gaye, who doesn’t know, is wracking her brains on why Sir Roger failed at floating in the exam when he does it very brilliantly. In fact, it’s how he gets away from her a few times in this episode.

Jinty is now using reprints to help fill the pages of her last six issues. So Alley Cat returns, and we are having a repeat of the 7-part strip on the old rhyme, “Monday’s Child is fair of face” etc. This week it’s Tuesday’s Child and how she teaches her selfish siblings to have more grace. The Gypsy Rose story is another repeat, “Haunted Ballerina”, about the ghost of a jealous ballerina who is out to stop others from doing the dancing she can’t do after an accident. You could also say the story’s a caution about picking up second-hand items – you never know what might come with them from previous owners, especially ones who’ve passed on. 

“The Bow Street Runner” and “Badgered Belinda” are the only serials left. In the former, Beth Speede sets out to become a champion runner so she can beat a prophecy that she has interpreted as her father’s life being put in danger. But she has a jealous rival, Louise Dunn, out to make trouble for her. In the latter, Belinda Gibson tolerates constant bullying while she secretly helps a badger sett. She gets worried when the local squire says he’s hunting vermin – could this include the badgers?

Leaves in the Wind (1977-78)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 31 December 1977 to 28 January 1978

Episodes: 5

Artist: Veronica Weir

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Dutch Tina 1982 as “Bladeren in de wind” [Leaves in the wind]; Indonesian translation in Komik Nina #98 as “Daun Daun Berguguran” [Falling Leaves]

Plot

It is autumn at Laurel and Hester’s school, and those falling autumn leaves make them a bit sad. The headmistress decides to cut down the trees in the school drive to make things more tidy, and as she can be a stubborn, determined sort, it will take a lot to change her mind. Laurel and Hester are upset at this and a lot of other people are too, but none more so than a strange woman who is obsessed with her love of the trees, to the point of monomania. 

The woman senses the girls are friends of the trees and invites them to her house. The girls find the interior lovely but really weird. The room is decorated with trees and leaves and even the furniture is carved in leaf shapes. The girls get a dreadful fright when Hester accidentally pulls a leaf off one of the arrangements; the woman goes absolutely berserk and looks as if she’ll tear Hester apart. The girls make a fast exit after that. The woman apologises for losing her temper, saying that all day she had a strange feeling that “my trees were in danger”. 

After the headmistress gives a television interview on why she wants to fell the trees, the woman picks a real fight with her. She calls her a “murderess”, a “tree-killer” and warns the headmistress her friends will stop her, so she better be careful. The headmistress is unmoved, but Laurel and Hester are uneasy. They also find it odd that the woman knew what the headmistress intended to do when there was no television set in her home.

That afternoon, a wind blows the falling autumn leaves towards the head’s office and Laurel and Hester hear her screaming. Inside, they find her smothered with leaves and absolutely terrified, saying the leaves seemed to be alive. But she recovers her equilibrium and won’t let this change her mind. 

The woman tells the girls it was a pity they interfered just then, and hints that the headmistress had better really watch out when dusk comes. The girls decide they need to watch the headmistress after this. They are also getting really spooked; leaves and trees appear to come alive and even seem to look like people. And by now Laurel and Hester are really scared of the strange woman.

At dusk, the headmistress has a car crash, and mumbles the accident happened because she tried to miss some people. Laurel investigates the drive and finds leaves in the shape of a head. Then a blast of wind blows the evidence to bits. The woman reappears, accuses Laurel of siding with the tree killer, and says she will soon see what the headmistress saw. She hints it will be that very night. In hospital, the headmistress looks scared, but Laurel can’t tell if it was the shock of the accident or whatever made her crash.

The police put the accident down to skidding on leaves, but then Laurel hears two buses met the same fate, in the same spot, and for the same reason. She heads to the spot to investigate. There, the woman sets three people, made entirely of leaves, upon her. Laurel realises they drove the headmistress off the road and she lashes out at them with a branch. But then the leaf people just turn into three piles of leaves. Later, Laurel learns this coincided with the time the headmistress changed her mind about felling the trees because she had grown scared enough to do so.

Laurel heads to the woman’s house with the news and questions. But inside everything is very different and there is no trace of the leaf-decorated room. The old lady who lives there knows nothing at all about the woman. The lady then tells Laurel the legend about the guardian of the trees. The story goes that the trees used to be a sacred grove for druids. When the Romans drove the druids away, they left a guardian behind. 

Laurel leaves the house, hoping nobody else tries to fell the trees. However, the old lady thinks the tree guardian story’s just a load of rubbish and will fell the trees herself if the headmistress does not…

Thoughts

I haven’t seen many girls’ serials with an autumn theme, but this one has such a setting, which ties in nicely with the October theme this month. It is also a spooky, scary story, which ties in with the Halloween season too. It’s a bit surprising they didn’t publish it during the period in question. It is a short story, at five episodes, which suggests it was probably a filler. 

Tree spirits rising in anger against tree fellers have been seen in Gypsy Rose and Strange Stories, but turning it into a mini-serial gives more room for development and scares. The development of the guardian is brilliantly handled. I like how she is dressed. She is in ordinary clothes rather than robes, hoods, gowns and such, which makes a nice change and her a bit different to most supernatural characters in girls’ serials. At first, to all appearances she is just an old woman and there is nothing really out of the ordinary about her. She just seems a bit eccentric and fanatical about her love of the trees. However, she soon starts to scare when Laurel and Hester see how one-tracked she is about her love of trees and taking things a bit far, as evidenced when Hester accidentally breaks a leaf off her leaf arrangement. The woman progressively reveals herself as something beyond ordinary, making comments about things she shouldn’t have known about, and issuing warnings of things to come. And when these strange things start happening with the leaves, that’s when the scares really begin and the woman becomes truly terrifying. To make her even more creepy, she never gives her name and she remains nameless throughout the story.

It it’s not just these spooky things that are terrifying; it’s the woman’s fanaticism as well. It’s so extreme it goes way too far and starts hurting innocents. Although Laurel doesn’t want to harm the trees, the woman views her as helping the “tree killer”, and that’s good enough reason to attack her with the tree people. And what was the idea with attacking the buses? They had nothing to do with the headmistress’ decision to fell the trees and were no threat to them. Whatever the woman was thinking of, she was going too far there. It was just as well the headmistress took only five episodes to change her mind about felling the trees. We dread to think what would have happened if she had taken more episodes to do so. But even when it’s all over, it’s a sure bet Laurel will never be able to look at those trees in the drive or autumn leaves in the same way again.

Jinty 12 September 1981

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

Dracula’s Daughter (artist Mario Capaldi)

Holiday Hideaway (artist Phil Gascoine)

Where the Heart Is (artist Mario Capaldi) – text story

Rosemary for Remembrance (artist Russ Nicholson?) – Gypsy Rose story

Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)

Man’s Best Friend – Terriers – feature 

Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Peter Wilkes)

Worlds Apart (artist Guy Peeters)

Winning Ways (writer Benita Brown)

The Sweet and Sour Rivals (artist Carlos Cruz)

Angela’s Angels (artist Leo Davy) – final episode

Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)

We continue our September theme with a couple of September Jinty issues from 1981.

In hindsight, one senses this issue marks the first signs of Jinty’s wind-down towards the merger. The reason for this is that this week’s penultimate episode of “Dracula’s Daughter” feels like the story’s being brought to a quick conclusion. Only with the previous episode did things take a surprise turn with ultra-disciplinarian Mr Graves deciding to bend his rigid views that fun belongs in the home and not at school, and allow a comedy show in gratitude to the girls. By contrast, Mrs Snape (no relation to Severus Snape but definitely the same breed of teacher) turned against Mr Graves’ daughter Lydia because she mucked up her hopes for deputy principal. Now she’s bullying Lydia big time. Both things had potential to be developed further with more episodes. Perhaps the writer had plans to do so, but the Editor told him/her to finish the story fast, we’ve got to start clearing the decks for the merger. As it is, we’ve barely got into this turn of events, and then things come to a fast head when the girls find a phone booth vandalised. Nasty Mrs Snape blames them for it and drags them to the police station.

In the letter column, one reader asked for “Pam of Pond Hill” and “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” to be retired, believing they’d worn thin, and suggested more SF stories. In response, Editor asked readers to share their views and whether they wanted Pam to return (she had ended some issues earlier, with readers invited to ask for her back). The answer must have been a resounding yes, as Pam did return before the merger and then carried on with the merger itself. The Editor had no comment about Gloomy Ghost (its end came in the last issue of Jinty), which incidentally has a metal-detecting theme this week. 

“Angela’s Angels” concludes. The Angels are celebrating because they’ve passed their exams. Of course they know there’s a long way to go yet before they’re qualified nurses, “but it’s so rewarding!”. 

“Holiday Hideaway” shows no sign of a fast conclusion. Or, for that matter, any conclusion to the charade the family goes through in the name of pride: hide in the house because Dad doesn’t want people to know they can’t afford their holiday. And poor Hattie is lumbered with the job of keeping the secret safe from close shaves. This week it’s helping the family avoid being caught while a girl guide does their windows and lawn.

“Worlds Apart” is on its fifth dream world come alive and there is one dream world to go. So there is no ending for this story just yet, but it’s definitely getting there. Brainy Clare seems to have forgotten her humanity in her dream world of intellectualism. She only sees her classmates, who are subhuman “dullards” in this world, as lab rats in her research laboratory. Dullard rights demonstrators have rescued the girls and turned them loose into the wild, but it’s full of dangers and predators. Added to that, Clare is catching up with the girls. But then Clare suddenly finds her heart again when her superiors want to capture the “dullards’” perils all on television and she protests that it’s cruel.

“Tansy of Jubilee Street” carries on as usual. In this week’s story, Tansy becomes a marshal for a cycling rally. But things backfire when she unwittingly starts a rally craze in Jubilee Street.

This week’s Gypsy Rose tale is another recycled Strange Story. Nobody in the family but Susan appreciates Gran’s enthusiasm for herbs. Rosemary is Susan’s favourite. Susan takes some herb cuttings for the family’s new flat, but they don’t seem to flourish as well as they did at Gran’s. Gran appears and gives Susan some advice on reviving them – and then Susan hears Gran just died. Spooky! Not surprisingly, the herbs flourish after that, especially the rosemary.

In “The Sweet and Sour Rivals”, a bullying motorcycle gang causes trouble at the Chinese restaurant. They keep barging in and forcing the establishment to give them free meals. Instead of the police, Suzie Choo brings in a giant panda to drive them off, courtesy of the zoo and her Chinese friend there.

The premise of the text story, “Where the Heart is”, would be used again in Tammy’s “Telling the Bees” in Tammy, 12 November 1983. A Puritan girl finds a wounded Cavalier soldier and hides him while nursing his wounds, and romance begins to bloom.

Alley Cat’s on the back cover, in blue print. Melvyn goofs and brings Alley Cat light bulbs instead of flower bulbs. But when Spotty Muchloot makes trouble, Alley Cat puts the bulbs to good use against him. Meanwhile, Snoopa visits a hall of mirrors – and finds the one showing his normal reflection the most horrible.

Tammy 17 September 1983

Namby Pamby (artist Eduardo Feito, writer Ian Mennell)

Bella (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)

Donkey’s Years (artist John Richardson, writer Ian Mennell) – Pony Tale

Take Your Place! (artist Joe Collins, writer Maureen Spurgeon) – Quiz 

Annie’s Cuttings (artist Phil Townsend, writer Jake Adams)

The Crazyees (artist Joe Collins)

Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)

Room for Rosie (artist Santiago Hernandez, writer Alison Christie)

Lonely Ballerina (artist Maria Barrera, writer Jay Over)

Back in Form! (Mari L’Anson) – Feature

We continue our September theme with this “back to school” issue from Tammy. Tammy steps in to cheer up Tammy readers who are trudging back to school after the summer holidays, and brings them a school quiz and (yay!) the return of Pam of Pond Hill.

A new pupil, Megan Morris, joins Pam’s class. Traditionally, new pupils in Pam’s class lead to trouble for her until the resolution of the plot thread. So far this doesn’t seem to be the case with Megan, who helps out when Pam’s gran takes a fall downstairs. However, the accident clinches Pam’s parents’ decision to move to the countryside, which leaves Pam shocked at the thought of being uprooted and leaving Pond Hill.

In “Namby Pamby”, Pam Beeton’s upbringing has been so over-protective that she is dubbed “namby pamby” at school. She is resorting to the old trick of going behind her mother’s back to get some freedom, which has gotten her in trouble. There’s trouble again when the class sneak off to a fair and Pam unwittingly lets it slip to a prefect. Now Pam’s class are out for her blood for sneaking. In the last panel we can see Pam has reached breaking point. Next week’s blurb says Pam’s going to run away (wow, her over-protective mum will probably have a heart attack at that!), which means only one thing: the end of the story is close.

“Lonely Ballerina” has discovered that the woman running the shambolic ballet school is not the ballet teacher but her sister. The teacher has been missing for months and the layabout pupils don’t care; they just take advantage to enjoy themselves. The lonely ballerina is the first to ask serious questions about what’s going on.

“The Button Box” is absent this week, but we get an emotional complete story, “Annie’s Cuttings”, about a ragged old woman named Annie Holmes living in a rundown house. She does nothing but collect old newspapers and has nobody in the world to love her except her cat Moonlight. Next door, Mum is rather intolerant of Annie, but her daughter Tina is more sympathetic and finds a way to help Annie once she discovers her problem: poor Annie was jilted at the altar and the trauma turned her into what she is. 

Bella enters a talent contest to raise funds for her gymnastics club. At her friend Jenny’s suggestion, they pair up to make it a burlesque gymnastics performance. The audience loves it, but is it enough to win? They didn’t bring a single supporter with them.

In the Pony Tale “Donkey’s Years”, Felicity Hewitson thinks the donkey man is mistreating his donkey Ned and steps in. However, it turns out she misconstrued what she saw. The man was being grouchy with Ned but not intentionally cruel, and he really does care for Ned. Incidentally, why is the story labelled a Pony Tale when a donkey is not a pony?

Pauline Wheeler gets an offer for Rosie. But instead of it falling through as usual, she actually turns it down once she realises the potential buyer wants Rosie as part of his antique collection when gran always used her as a workhorse. Rosie has to go to a home where she will make herself useful.