Category Archives: Stories

Boss of Beadle Street [1973]

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Boss of Beadle Street 1Boss of Beadle Street 2Boss of Beadle Street 3

 

Published: June & Pixie 31 March to 14 July 1973

Episodes: 16

Artist: Audrey Fawley

Writer: Unknown

Reprints/translations: None known

Plot

Liz Green is a very bossy, pushy girl, especially when she gets bright ideas about helping someone. She barges right in with her “help” without a by-your-leave or do-you-mind and won’t stop until she gets her way – which she almost invariably does, she’s such a steamroller. In Beadle Street where she lives, she is notorious for it. She gets herself into constant trouble with the residents who chase her off for her unwarranted interference. But Liz never learns. As far as she is concerned, she is just trying to help and people just don’t listen because they don’t take take her seriously. Nora, Liz’s best friend, tells Liz her day will come. Nora will come to regret her words.

Before we go on, Nora is Liz’s voice of reason, but it’s a voice that constantly falls on deaf ears against the bulldozer Liz. Nora comes from the long tradition of the good friend in girls’ comics who sticks by the protagonist, no matter what crap the protagonist gives her and drives her to distraction. She takes in quite a bit already with her bossy friend and her bright ideas, but, as you might have guessed, it’s all about to amplify to levels Nora never expected.

It starts when Liz and Nora are researching for a history project and discover the long-forgotten bylaw 381, which says that anyone living on the site where the old beadle’s house once stood can claim the rights and responsibilities of the beadle. After Liz determines her house stands on that site, there is no stopping Miss Bossyboots from enacting that bylaw to style herself as the new beadle, and Boss of Beadle Street. Everyone will have to do what she says now, and doing everything her way will all be for their own good and they will thank her for it.

The residents of Beadle Street just about turn into a lynch mob when they see what bright idea Liz is hatching with them under the bylaw. But the mayor says it’s the law, Liz is within her rights, and they have to obey. He slyly adds that Liz also has the responsibility of solving everyone’s problems as beadle. He appears to be calculating that this will soon have Liz so fed up she will give up being a beadle.

But he has miscalculated. Liz solving residents’ problems goes surprisingly well and she begins to win them over to her side. She sorts out the street tearaway Tony Atkins, which his parents never tried to do and is good at solving neighbourhood disputes. These successes impress the council, the residents begin to take to their beadle, and her fame is growing as a celebrity.

However, as Liz is such a bossyboots, it’s all to easy for it all to go to her head – and it does. Liz is soon acting arrogantly towards Nora and even her own mother. She also neglects her friendship with Nora because the demands of sorting problems is making her too busy for that, and all she cares about is beading Beadle Street.

When Liz goes power mad, the good she does is soon outweighed by the bad. Liz acts like a dictator, imposing unfair rules on the residents, which she posts up for them to see, and fines those who don’t obey.

Among them:

1: Everyone must walk on the left in the street.

2: When meeting the Boss, doff your cap. If you don’t have one, bow or curtsey. When Nora protests against this rule, Liz forces her to sweep the street while wearing a sign that says: “I have disobeyed the boss. I must sweep this street in punishment. Let everyone learn from me!”

3: Every dog must be leashed. Every dog must have a weekly bath. Every dog must have a daily half-hour walk and brush-down afterwards. The Boss is conducting rigorous inspections to make sure this rule is kept, and fines people who fail to do so, regardless of excuse (now what does she do with the money from those fines, anyway?). The people hit back at this rule by lumbering Liz with a litter of eight puppies and say she must obey her own rules in looking after them.

Yes, revenge and backlash are striking back at Liz. On another occasion, it happens when  Liz unwisely makes Tony highwayman at an ambitious street costume party. Tony takes advantage to wreak havoc and Liz gets into big trouble.

But the backlash is too small and piecemeal to make a real dent in Liz’s power. And Liz’s swollen beadle head continues to grow. She actually starts dressing up as a beadle and patrols the street in her beadle costume. This makes her even more of a celebrity and curiosity, and tourists take photos of her. She uses the money from this for more beadle mania, and this time she really goes overboard. She buys beadle runner and beadle servant outfits for Nora and Mum and browbeats them in her usual manner, plus threats of fines, until they agree to wear them. Even worse, she bosses them into painting the house a gaudy gold, which she thinks befits the beadle’s house. Surely even Mr Bumble would be mortified! Liz treats Mum (now forced to do housework in the servant’s outfit) and Nora like slaves, giving them constant orders and having them at her beck and call all the time. What the hell is next – is the Beadle going to bring back the workhouse or something?

Before Liz gets the chance, the residents decide enough is enough and this time they really get together to make a stand. Everyone, including Mum and Nora, empties out of Beadle Street, leaving Liz on her own and nobody to boss around. And they won’t come back as long as Liz stays beadle.

This stance certainly has its effect. It isn’t long before Liz is feeling lonely, miserable, and scared at night. She is also hungry and cold because Mum turned off the gas. It has her ready to give in by the time Nora comes to check up on her, but she is too proud to publicly resign as beadle for that reason because it would mean loss of face.

Nora suggests re-checking the bylaw to see if there is an “out” clause that would enable Liz to quit the beadle job gracefully. They soon find there is one. In fact, if Liz’s enemies had checked the bylaw they could have used it themselves to stop her. A resident may put in an application for cancellation of the beadleship, but the council must hold a vote on it. As Liz can’t put in an application for the cancellation of her own beadleship, she dons a disguise to do so.

You would think the Beadle Street residents would be only too happy to vote to strike Liz down as beadle, but there is a most surprising U-turn from one of the residents, Mrs MacFish. Forgetting what drove her out of Beadle Street, Mrs MacFish starts a campaign to keep Liz as beadle. And Mrs MacFish is such an orator that she soon has the other residents forgetting the bad things and remembering the silver lining, such as Liz the Beadle generating extra custom for the store. So, to make sure everyone votes against her, Liz declares more of those unpopular rules she will impose on Beadle Street.

Liz is quite relieved to not be beadle anymore, just an ordinary girl again. She throws a party to celebrate and renews her friendship with Nora. She is still a big bossyboots though; it’s too much in her nature for her to change there, and she hasn’t really learned not to be such a bulldozer. So when Nora stumbles across “Ye Ancient Right of King of Beadle Street”, she doesn’t say a word to Liz, and hopes that law will stay hidden and forgotten about!

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories on the evils of “grownups know best”, with what they think they know best being imposed by methods that range from the just plain misguided and narrow to the subversive and even downright abusive. But the message is always that it is totally wrong and choice and free will must not be trampled on in the name of discipline, perfection or whatever. “Dracula’s Daughter“, “Children of Stepford” and “Slave of the Clock” are classic examples.

But here the premise is turned inside out with “kids know best”, which is quite a twist. Liz Green, a mere kid, is just as sincere and adamant that she knows as best as the grown-up meddlers in stories like the ones mentioned above. Yet she turns out to be no better than they are. Although she has her good qualities, most notably in sorting problems, her bossiness and narrow-mindedness in always believing she knows best makes her totally unfit for the job of beadle, especially when she becomes increasingly power mad and her rules and orders become increasingly outrageous and unbearable. Like her grown-up counterparts in “grownups know best” she started out with a degree of well meaning to her intentions, but her intentions became increasingly dark and corrupted as power went to her head. She either has to be brought down entirely or made to wake up in some way.

This time the adults are the ones made to suffer, right alongside the kids. Even Liz’s mother is made to suffer. Mum should give her daughter a jolly good spanking, but Liz always gets her way with Mum because she’s so forceful, and her father, being dead, is not there to have a say, or a belt with him.

It’s not too much of a surprise that Liz does not change all that much in the end; one has gotten the feeling she’s just plain bossy by nature and won’t ever change. Being on her own deflates her power and she finally wants to give up being beadle and go back to the way she was. But she has not really learned her lesson. Although she is pleased to be an ordinary girl again, she does not wake up to how horrible she’s been or really apologise to anyone, and clearly should not be trusted with power.

When reading this story, one is reminded of the words of another (in)famous fictional beadle: “The law is an ass!” Too right, especially if the law is antiquated, has no place in modern society. It should have been struck out years ago and could cause serious, even ridiculous problems if reenacted because the need for that law has long since disappeared.

 

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Room for Rosie [1983-1984]

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Room for Rosie 1aRoom for Rosie 1bRoom for Rosie 1c

Published: Tammy 13 August 1983 to 7 January 1984 (no episodes 12 November to 17 December 1983)

Episodes: 21

Artist: Santiago Hernandez

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: none known

It is the Christmas season. This story from Tammy has been chosen to honour the Christmas theme because its last three episodes were especially themed to tie in with Tammy’s (last, as it turned out) Christmas and New Year issues. Accordingly, the story was put on hiatus to return at Christmas.

As discussed below, this story is also related to Jinty history.

Plot

Everywhere Gran Wheeler goes, so does her beloved pram Rosie (from the roses painted on her sides). Rosie is a tough old boneshaker with a voluminous capacity, both of which have enabled her to work tirelessly at helping people in an assortment of ways as well as being perambulator to a few generations of Wheelers. Gran takes great pride at Rosie being such a toughie and made to last, and not at all like the flimsy contraptions that pass off as modern prams. Gran and Rosie have even won a community award for the work they have done in helping people.

On her deathbed, Gran has her granddaughter Pauline promise to find someone with “room for Rosie” and not let her end up on the scrap heap. Pauline, who cares as much about Rosie as Gran does, earnestly promises to do so.

But there is one big problem. The Wheeler house is too small for Rosie and she is taking up all the space in the hallway. This is a real nuisance for the rest of the family. They are always falling over Rosie (hitting shins, ruining pantyhose etc). They are putting up with it because Pauline was so insistent; she carted Rosie home in pouring rain to the house after they left her outside gran’s house for the dustmen. But there are limits to their patience. If that patience runs out, it’s the scrap yard for Rosie. And because of lack of space in the Wheeler house, there can be no future generations of Wheelers being taken for walks in Rosie. Rosie has to pass out of the family with this generation. So the quest to find someone with room for Rosie is pressing as she is on borrowed time in the Wheeler household.

Now, you’d think Pauline would put advertise for a home for Rosie in the paper, put Rosie in a garage sale, or sell her to a second hand shop or something. But this being a girls’ serial that has to be spun out, Pauline never does any of those things. Instead, it’s a story of the week format where each week Rosie continues to be put to 101 uses as a tireless workhorse with heaps of space and helping people in an assortment of ways. By turns we see Rosie being used as the Princess’ cot in the school Sleeping Beauty panto, being taken on the run by a girl who can’t stand her parents arguing anymore, and catching loot that a crook throws from a window. As shown above, she is even Santa’s helper at one point. Santa with a pram sure makes a change from his sleigh, doesn’t it? Rosie is accumulating quite a fan club out of the people she helps.

However, not everyone appreciates how useful or durable Rosie is. In several episodes Rosie draws a lot a teasing and snide remarks as to what a piece of scrap she is and is fit for the junk heap. In one episode Rosie is pitted against modern prams in a pram race where Pauline is dressed as a baby. The boy pushing her has been deploring Rosie as he thinks she’s just a piece of scrap that wouldn’t last five minutes in the race. But Rosie is soon proving what stern stuff she is made of compared to modern prams, which are soon dropping out like flies. They win hands down thanks to Rosie and Pauline’s partner is taking back what he said about her.

Pauline hopes to find a home for her out of all the people Rosie helps, but they can’t or won’t for some reason or other. Or sometimes fate intervenes to block Rosie from a new home.

When Christmas approaches, finding a home for Rosie becomes even more pressing because Dad says they’re giving Pauline’s brother Ben a bike for Christmas, and the only place to keep it is the hallway. But there is no room for both the bike and a pram the size of Rosie in that hallway. She really has to go now, even if it is to the scrapyard.

Come New Year’s Day, there is still no new home for Rosie. Happy New Year indeed for Pauline; she’s so upset that she’s failed Gran and can’t bear the thought of Rosie at the scrapyard. And that’s where Rosie will go after the family’s trip to the funfair. But it’s no fun at all at the fair for Pauline, of course.

Then Pauline realises that the fair could have room for Rosie – on their carousel. The fairground people are only too happy to take Rosie on board for it and say she will be extremely popular. Sure enough, there is a queue lining up for a ride in Rosie the moment she is put into place on the carousel. So it’s a Happy New Year’s Day after all for Pauline and Rosie.

Thoughts

This is not the first time Alison Christie wrote a heartwarming story about a pram that’s a tough old boneshaker and can be put to 101 uses. There was a predecessor, Old Peg, which appeared in Christie’s 1976 Jinty story, “For Peter’s Sake!” We strongly suspect Rosie and Old Peg were inspired by a real pram somewhere in Christie’s childhood.

As with Rosie, Old Peg is a real workhorse and famous in the locality for community work. Both prams are owned by grandmothers. They bequeath them to their granddaughters upon their deathbeds and charge them with a special mission for it. In Pauline’s case it is find a home for the pram. In the Jinty story it is take the pram to a sick baby brother, Peter, who needs it for his recovery. Towards the end it looks as if the granddaughters have failed in those missions despite all their efforts, and they are heartbroken. But an unexpected turn of events at the last minute changes everything and ensures a happy ending.

Old Peg differs from Rosie in that people believe her to have supernatural powers. Any sick baby that is rocked in her will be cured. Rosie has no claim to have any supernatural powers, though at times she gives the impression she is alive somehow. Curiously, a lot of people call her a “magic pram” for no apparent reason. Maybe she does have a power somewhere after all?

Room for Rosie also follows a similar pattern to “The Button Box”, in using a “story of the week” format. As with the buttons in the box, this accumulates a great deal of stories behind Rosie. This is not surprising as Christie wrote both of them and both were running at the same time. But in the case of Rosie there is always that underlying urgency in finding a home for Rosie and disappointment in how each time a new lead fails to pan out. It’s not a mere “story of the week” as The Button Box is. The urgency is carried right even through Pauline’s Christmas for a luck last-minute turnaround to keep up the suspense and drama right up to the last page of the final episode.

Walking the Line [2018]

Walking the Line cover

Published: Commando #5147

Art: Morhain & Rezzonico (story), Neil Roberts (cover)

Story: Andrew Knighton

Here is another recently published Commando in its new trend of featuring a female protagonist.

Plot

In July 1943 Flight Lieutenant Alan Freeman leads a bombing squadron against Germany. Unfortunately Freeman has an obsession about winning back his ex, Sarah, whose photograph he carries on every mission, by impressing her with a huge scorecard of daring, heroic war deeds. Freeman does not realise that his drive to make his missions as daring as possible to impress Sarah is clouding his judgement and causing him to take ever-increasing risks with his squadron.

One night the inevitable happens – Freeman takes one risk too many to impress Sarah. This has the Luftwaffe bearing down on the plane fast and Freeman and his comrades get shot down. Knowing the situation is partly his fault, Freeman tries to rectify it by flying his plane for as long as possible and be the last to bail out. He takes care to retain Sarah’s photograph as he jumps. As he watches his burning plane go down, he tells Sarah it’s all been for her.

Walking the Line 1

Right – so putting your squadron in a position to get shot down, losing planes and possibly lives that way, and bailing out over occupied territory, which could mean capture, have all been for impressing Sarah, Alan Freeman? You tell that to your superiors when you get home.

Well, back to the story now.

Freeman parachutes into occupied France, which is of course very dangerous for him. Moreover, the crash his plane made was heard for miles, so the Germans are bound to come running. At least Freeman paid attention in French class and also had training in evading capture. As per training, Freeman hides all trace of his parachute and military uniform. Well, nearly all – he forgets his boots, which are clearly military issue. Fortunately the Frenchman (Henri Chaput) who spots this oversight is friendly and hides him from the searching Germans.

Walking the Line 2

Henri’s daughter, Juliette, runs an underground escape line for Allied soldiers, which runs through the Pyrenees and Spain. However, Juliette warns Freeman there is a risk in taking it: she suspects the Gestapo have compromised it somehow because some of their people have gone missing recently. Freeman gladly accepts that risk, just because it will be another thing for him to impress Sarah. That night he takes a moment to think of Sarah and how going through an underground route will impress her.

Escapee reports are vital to the war effort. So next evening they radio London to inform them of what Freeman had seen during the bombing run. Unfortunately the Germans trace the signal of the illegal radio (the Achilles heel of the Resistance) and soon have the place surrounded. Freeman and Juliette are the only ones to escape when the Germans open fire – and kill Henri.

They make it to a town in search of a safe house. There they spot a Gestapo agent, and he is looking at them in a way that indicates he has realised Juliette is on their wanted list. They take advantage of this to lure him into a trap and capture him. At the safe house Juliette interrogates the agent to find out what happened to their missing numbers and why they have gone missing. The agent sneers that those missing people are all dead of course. And in reply to her other question, one of their number is a traitor but he does not know which one. Juliette now gags him and leaves him for the local Resistance to pick up.

Freeman comes up with an idea to flush the traitor out: use him as bait by taking him down the escape line and spread the word through it that he carries vital British intelligence. And for the first time, Freeman is not taking a risk to impress Sarah. He’s taking it to help Juliette and the war effort.

Two days later Juliette and Freeman are at a café waiting for their contact, Claude the forger. Juliette suspects Claude is the traitor because he is in the perfect position to be. But Claude is soon eliminated as a suspect when another contact, Celine arrives, and tells them the Germans have arrested Claude, along with several more members of the Narbonne cell. Freeman and Juliette head for Narbonne and the remaining cell members.

On the way Juliette tells Freeman that the Germans killed her sister, Lucile, who was not even a Resistance member, along with nine others, in revenge for a Resistance attack. Lucile is the reason why Juliette fights the Germans. Now that sure is a far more worthy reason to fight than trying to win back an ex who keeps trying to tell you she’s moved on.

In Narbonne they meet Louis, leader of the Narbonne cell, and Julio, the guide through the Pyrenees. A fight breaks out when Louis says that before they helped Juliette’s escape line they lost nobody and now the Germans are picking them off, and Juliette angrily accuses him of being the traitor. Freeman breaks up the fight and is not convinced Louis is the traitor.

Walking the Line 3

Whoever the traitor is, he soon strikes again; that night the Germans arrive and arrest Freeman and Juliette, who had no chance to flee or fight. They are taken to an Abwehr (Army) run prison, and are soon joined by other Resistance fighters. Louis joins Freeman and Juliette in their cell. This convinces Freeman that Louis is not the traitor, but not Juliette.

Freeman is first to be interrogated. His interrogator, Colonel Weber, makes a remark that will be of major plot significance later: “Some of your predecessors may have got away, but you would not like to end up like Lieutenant Davies, would you?”

A Gestapo agent interrupts the interrogation. An argument erupts between him and Weber, and this makes them careless in how they are guarding Freeman. Freeman takes advantage to seize Weber’s gun and shoots both Germans dead. He makes a dash for it, taking the cell keys that were attached to Weber’s belt. He frees the others and a mass prison breakout ensues, but the Germans are gathering forces with gunfire. Louis bravely covers for them while they make their escape until he is finally mown down. To Freeman, this is the ultimate proof that Louis is not the traitor and he convinces Juliette of it.

They head for Julio’s hideout and persuade him to take them over the Pyrenees. It’s a hard journey, made all the harder by having to avoid border guards on both sides, and no short cuts or easy routes. As they go on, Freeman realises he has no further taste for daring adventures to impress his ex and will just be glad when it is all over. And it’s only the first day of their escape through the Pyrenees.

Walking the Line 4

After the first day, Julio goes ahead to check the trail while Juliette and Freeman settle down by the fire. Recalling what Weber said about Lieutenant Davies, Freeman asks Juliette if she knew him. Juliette says Davies was the first pilot she helped, before she had even started her escape line. She took him to Julio and Julio got him to Spain – Julio said so himself! But that’s not what Weber said…unless…

All of a sudden, everything falls into place.

When Julio returns, Juliette and Freeman have an ambush prepared for him. He puts up a terrific fight, but once he is overpowered he does not deny being the traitor at all. His motive was self-preservation by making himself useful to the Germans, but no doubt the rewards must have been an additional motive.

The problem is, what to do with Julio? Where they are right now, they can’t leave him for the Resistance to pick up as they did the Gestapo agent. But Juliette can’t kill a man in cold blood and Julio takes advantage to plead for his life. Juliette agrees to hand him over for trial and execution but Julio is not having that. He lunges at Juliette, and in the ensuing struggle Juliette is forced to make her first kill. Juliette is deeply upset at this, and realises it has not given her the satisfaction of vengeance that she thought it would.

But Juliette can’t dwell on that – they still have to get across the Pyrenees. This is now even harder because they have lost their guide. Juliette has a fair knowledge of the Pyrenees, but it is not as extensive as Julio’s. The further they go, the less Juliette knows the terrain, until Freeman remembers he has a compass hidden in his boots. And there are still those pesky border patrols they have to dodge all the time.

Eventually they reach Juliette’s contacts in Spain. From there, the British embassy smuggles Freeman to Gibraltar and a waiting ship to Britain. Juliette will go back to continue her work. It would not be surprising if Juliette takes Julio’s place at the Pyrenees end of her escape line as there has been a strong buildup towards it. Besides, there is nobody else on her escape line with enough knowledge of the Pyrenees to navigate that route. In any case, Juliette can’t go back to her hometown with her family gone and the Gestapo looking for her.

Before Freeman boards his ship he discards Sarah’s photograph, saying she’s not worth it. He now realises that he has long since stopped thinking about Sarah and fighting just to impress her. As he sails home he thinks about more important things and far better reasons to fight. Among them is the inspiration Juliette has given him.

Thoughts

This story is another in a growing trend in female protagonists in Commando. They have ranged from partners to the male protagonist to the star of the show. The cover of this issue indicates that the male and female protagonist will be pretty much equal in how they are developed.

The thrust of the story is still on the male protagonist, Alan Freeman, as he battles to escape from occupied France through an escape line. It’s not only a struggle for survival and escape through the underground and past the difficulties of Pyrenees and enemy patrols. There is also the added worry of an unknown traitor compromising the escape route, whose treachery could get them captured and killed if they don’t get to him first. So there is a mystery to this story as well that needs to be unravelled. But until they do, paranoia and suspicion run through the escape line and are setting the cell members against each other, as shown in the near-fight between Louis and Juliette.

It could have been a pure adventure/mystery story for Alan Freeman. Instead, it develops his character by taking him on an emotional journey where he has to stop dwelling on his ex and trying to win her back with heroics because it’s affecting his performance. It’s causing him to take thoughtless risks that are putting missions, his comrades’ lives and his own in jeopardy, and he does not even seem to care. And his reasons for it are not only selfish but also pathetic, and they may not even succeed in getting her back. After all, will Sarah even be there to impress when he returns – if he returns – with all his tales of heroics? For all he knows, she could now be married to a medal-laden war general or died aboard a ship sunk by some U-boat. He’s just got to move on, as Sarah has done.

Walking the Line 5

As Freeman’s journey through the Underground progresses, we see him changing from taking risks to win back his ex to taking risks for the war effort and the Underground. After his first night in Juliette’s house he stops thinking about Sarah pretty quickly, because once the Germans strike he has more pressing things to think about. He stops looking at Sarah’s photo all the time. The next risk he takes is for unselfish reasons that have nothing to do with impressing Sarah. Furthermore, as Freeman hears the horrors Juliette and the French people are going through under Nazism and sees some of them first hand, he begins to discover the real reasons why he should fight. By the time Freeman is finally reminded of Sarah, he has grown mature enough to let her go and realise there are more important things than getting back your ex when you’re in the middle of a war.

Freeman also goes from cavalierly going through adventures to impress Sarah to understanding it’s not a bravo adventure of risk and daring. He has to learn things like keeping cool when he’s in disguise when Germans are prowling close by, and persistence when he has to go through the Pyrenees the hard way to avoid capture. All the while he is fighting for his life and his freedom.

Although we never see Juliette’s thought bubbles, she’s clearly going through an intense emotional journey too. It shows through her words and her actions. As we learn more about Juliette’s escape line, we realise that while she is brave and competent, it sounds like she is still pretty new to this game and there are some hard lessons she still has to learn. One is learning to kill when she has to, because this is war. And when it’s war, sometimes you have to kill or be killed. This lesson Juliette is forced to learn when at first she tries to avoid killing Julio but eventually she has to make her first kill with him.

Another lesson Juliette has to learn is not get emotions cloud her judgement, as her handling of Louis proved. She had no real reason to suspect Louis is the traitor and there was no proof. All he did was make a very pointed observation that suggests the traitor is connected to her escape line, but she went too much on the defensive over it. For his part, Louis acted with too much emotion in handling his suspicions about Juliette’s line. In so doing, Louis and Juliette both missed a vital clue to the identity of the traitor – he was someone linked to both Juliette’s escape line and the Narbonne cell.

Walking the Line 6

Juliette’s reason to fight – to avenge the sister the Nazis killed – is better than Freeman’s selfish reason to fight. But it sounds like Juliette is dwelling on it too much as her reason to fight. Like Freeman, she has to get beyond it and realise that there are other reasons why she should fight. And Juliette does when she realises that when she finally gets her revenge for the death of her sister, she gets no satisfaction over it. But she has to go on and get Freeman to safety. In so doing, Juliette has to grow as she develops her own experience and knowledge of the Pyrenees.

At the end of it, Juliette has a whole new reason to continue with her work – keeping downed pilots like Alan Freeman out of Gestapo clutches. Moreover, she will do it even better, and it’s not just because she has removed the traitor who had been sabotaging her escape line before it had even started. Rooting him out has also helped to develop her experience, competence, and also shown her that you really can’t afford squeamishness in a job like this. After all, enemies like the Gestapo agent or the dirty rat Julio won’t have any compunction in killing you.

How do you know who’s the hero (in British girls comics)?

I have been thinking about how you can tell who is the hero, or at least the main character, in British girls comics. I’m sure that as readers most of us can tell who’s the hero most of the time, but there are always some odd cases that test the boundaries. Perhaps we will learn something about some underlying rules of British comics storytelling if we have a deeper look?

Below I suggest five key tests to check who is the main character in a story. These tests aren’t anything to do with how nice or kind the person is – they would apply to an anti-hero as much as to the most perfect hero. Rather, they should tell us whether or not the story is about that person.

Reference in title

You would think the title of the story would be a dead giveaway as to who the story is about – but it’s not always as simple as that, of course. The main villain might be the one featured in the title (“Angela Angel-Face“, “Wanda Whiter Than White“) or, particularly in the case of Jinty, the title may be fairly allusive (“The Valley of Shining Mist“, “Waves of Fear” and many others).

For most stories, though, it’s true – the title does give away who the main character is. Often her name is right up front as the first element of the title along with the key struggle of the story: “Gwen’s Stolen Glory“, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“, “Glenda’s Glossy Pages“, “Cora Can’t Lose“. But is Amanda Blay the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled“? And in “The Slave of Form 3B“, is the main character weak-willed Tania or the villainous (and rather more interesting) Stacey?

Hearing their words

A more important test than the title of the story seems to me to be whether we know what the character thinks and says. Do we see the character’s words (spoken or thoughts) directly on the page or not?

  • The sample episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” has Amanda’s words showing (in speech or word balloons) in only 10 out of 28 panels in the episode. Her antagonists, Jane and Marty, have their words or speech reported in 22 of the 28 panels (including ones where Amanda also speaks).
  • The sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B” does not include any words or thoughts of Tania’s, but only those of Stacey (in the 26 panels shown, we hear Stacey’s thoughts or words in all bar 5).

amanda must not be expelled crop

Seeing their face

Similarly to the test above of whether we hear their words directly, do we follow them on the page and see what they do, in each panel or the majority of the page?

  • You might think that it comes to a fairly similar outcome if you check how many panels the person appears in;  I would expect the main character in a British girls comic to be in most of the panels (and that, by some way). However, in the same episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, Jane and Marty are visible in 23 of the 28 panels while Amanda is in 18 of the 28 panels. Amanda is visible in quite a lot more panels (18 panels) than just the ones where she says or thinks something (10 panels): she is a focus of the reader’s attention without actually being the main person that you put yourself in the place of.
  • In the sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B”, Stacey appears in slightly more panels than she speaks in – there are only 3 panels that she does not appear in, compared to the 5 that she does not speak in.

 

Active doer, or passive done-to?

This can be a bit harder to determine, I think. Does the hero (or the person who might be the hero) kick off the actions and make things happen, or is she ‘done-to’ rather than actively ‘doing’? In girls comics there is a definite theme of the downtrodden underdog hero, whose heroism lies in her endurance and persistance rather than in solving the world’s woes, so this may be a less definitive way of singling out the hero of the story. What happens if we look at the two sample stories to check how active the characters are?

  • Jane and Marty ensure that Amanda gets back to the dorm without being spotted and expelled (foiling her intent), and even sneak back the gown and mortar board that Jane dressed up in, to remove all evidence of what they were up to. But Amanda is pretty active too, by the end of the episode: she takes a pair of scissors from the needlework room and sets out to pick herself a bouquet of the headmistress’s prized tulips, as a way to get herself expelled. Honours are relatively even, though I think that on the showing of this single episode, Jane and Marty feel like the initiators of more action than Amanda does.
  • In “The Slave of  Form 3B” Tania is unconscious throughout the whole sample episode and therefore as passive as she could possibly be. Stacey initiates the action throughout: she hides Tania out of sight of possible rescuers, and she makes it look as if Tania has run away. The teachers initiate a search of the grounds, but again Stacey’s action is the decisive one as she lies to the other searchers to decoy them away from where she has hidden Tania.

Slave of Form 3B pg 1 crop

Who has the emotional journey?

Pat Mills is currently writing a series of blog posts on storytelling, and one of the recent entries is on the Emotional Journey. Many thanks to him for this post, as it was something I nearly overlooked in this series of tests. We can sensibly ask, is there a shape to the story and if so, who does that story-shape belong to? There are a number of fairly well-worn story ‘shapes’ and these also help to identify the main character. ‘Spoilt girl redeems herself’ is one of them, and ‘brave girl beats her bullies by enduring’ is another – and by phrasing the story in this way you immediately understand who the hero is. But another way to think of it is, who undergoes the emotional journey – who is changed by the end of the story? Not all stories necessarily have change as part of their core structure, but many do, and it can provide an interesting contrast to the answers derived from the other tests.

  • To answer this question you need to think about the story as a whole, not just individual sample episodes, so it can be harder to determine unless you know the story reasonably well. I don’t know “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” very well but Mistyfan has provided a detailed synopsis. From this it does look very much to be the case that it is Amanda who has the emotional journey – going from desperately wanting to be expelled to being glad she never managed it, and from hating even being at school to being proud of it and wanting her team to win. Jane and Marty do not obviously seem to change throughout the story, their motives and psychology remain pretty consistent.
  • In “Slave of Form 3B” then again, when we look at the overall story, the sense of who is the hero is rather different from when we look at the details. Tania, who starts off the story weak-willed and very passive indeed, ends up still pretty ‘done-to’ rather than actively bringing about Stacey’s downfall. It is Tania who is acclaimed by her schoolfellows due to her persistence and survivorship, so at least she is changed from being a timid outcast to being someone that all her fellows know and think well of. Stacey, in contrast, has not changed her motivation or aims at all; if anything she has just become more fixed in her ambitions. The arc of Tania’s emotional journey is rather tacked-on in the final episode or two though, which dilutes the effect considerably.

 

Summary

I called the above ‘five key tests’ but of course most of the time it’s hardly necessary to apply a series of tests to determine who is the hero or main character in a story. For more unusual cases like the two stories chosen here, it can however shed some interesting light on aspects of the story.

  • Is Amanda the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, or are Jane and Marty the real heroes? If you just look at the sample episode then Jane and Marty are acting much more like the main characters – they are the ones that the reader sees and hears, and the ones who move the action forward more substantially. But taking the story as a whole, especially when you consider the intention signalled by the story title, it is Amanda who the story is most ‘about’, as the person who has the significant emotional journey.  Perhaps if we re-ran the tests on who we see and hear, and who initates the action, based on a later episode, she would be more obviously marked as the main character?
  • Is Timid Tania, who is the Slave in question, the hero of “The Slave of Form 3B”, or is it wicked Stacey? Stacey is by far the most active and most visible character throughout the story, though there may be other episodes where she does not dominate the action quite as fully as in this sample epsiode. The final part of Tania’s emotional journey feels very tacked on at the end, though there are earlier points in the story where she stands up for herself to some extent. Even taking the story as a whole it does not feel like Tania is ‘really’ the main character; possibly the writer intended her to be so, but had much more fun writing the frankly rather evil Stacey instead!

Spell of Fog [1983]

Sample Images

Fog 1

Fog 2

Fog 3

 

Published: Tammy 29 October 1983 to 17 December 1983

Episodes: 8

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Jake Adams

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

A film crew arrives in the village of Wolfen to make a film about Alice Compton, a victim of witch persecution by none other than Mathew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. Her so-called crimes included bewitching cattle and an artistic style that was ahead of its time and dubbed “the Devil’s likeness”. Nobody spoke up for her because they were too scared of Hopkins. Hopkins applied the usual junk witch tests of the day, which were sometimes augmented by fraud, to ‘prove’ Alice was a witch. After Alice’s burning at the stake her ashes were scattered on the marsh. Predictably, her ghost is said to haunt the spot.

Sally Groves, who feels very strongly about Alice’s fate, is shocked to hear the film director is going to depict Alice as the “devil’s handmaiden” with a “dark, malignant force beneath her almost angelic appearance” who brought evil to the village instead of “the innocent victim of ignorance and superstition” she really was. When Sally protests against this portrayal, the film director has her thrown out. Several people, including the film director, are saying Sally is stupid to get worked up over something that happened centuries ago. Nobody else speaks out against the way the film portrays Alice.

Alice’s self-portrait in the vicarage shows that Sally bears a striking resemblance to her – oh dear! That never bodes well for the protagonist in a serial that features witch-hunting. It is never established as to whether the resemblance is due to Sally being a descendant of some sort, which is the usual assumption in other witch-hunting stories. The self-portrait is the only one of Alice’s pictures to survive; the rest were burned with her. It shows her looking really sad, but that’s all there is. No sign of any malice or evil is present in the portrait.

A mist arises on the marsh where Alice’s remains lie. Sally and her friend Jenny immediately notice it is coming towards them when the wind should be blowing it away. Believing this is Alice’s angry reaction to how the film depicts her, Sally tries to spread the warning, but the director does not listen and continues with his version of Alice Compton. However, the mist comes into the village, stops the filming cold, and has a lot of people running scared.

The mist soon has the film crew trapped in the inn run by the Groves family – and then breaks a window and makes its way in. And they’re not the only ones – the mist has everyone trapped in their homes and nothing keeps it out; it is even breaking down doors to get in.

That’s only the beginning, of course. Next, the mist cuts Wolfen off from the outside world and forces it to revert to a 17th century pattern. All modern technology, including running water, stops working. All modern clothes rot while the 17th century costumes from the film remain intact so people have no choice but to wear them, and they have to cook, clean, fetch water etc the way they did in the 17th century.

But the fog is making one conspicuous exception – Sally Groves. Her modern clothes are the only ones to stay intact. This not only makes her stick out like a sore thumb but also makes her a target of the hysteria, panic, confusion and terror the fog has aroused. These are bringing out the primeval instincts that can turn even civilised people into hysterical idiots and witch-hunting mobs. Gradually, people mutter and then scream that Sally has something to do with the fog, she summoned it, that she’s a witch, she’s Alice Compton returned for revenge etc. Sally becomes the target of persecution, with kids throwing things at her and such. Jenny defends Sally at first, but then goes as nutty as the rest of the villagers when the fog shows up at the attack on Sally. Sally herself has an awful nightmare of the villagers taking her for Alice Compton because of the resemblance they share and burning her at the stake, and is terrified it will become reality.

Sally believes Alice must be behind the fog and what’s happening but can’t understand why Alice is doing this to her when she was speaking up for her. Was she wrong and Alice was a real witch after all who is out for revenge? The portrait betrays no clues and just continues to show Alice looking sad.

There is no doubt in Sally’s mind that the film production is what started it all. When she tells villagers this they try to remove the film crew and equipment in a most violent manner, much to Sally’s horror; she did not mean that. In any case, when the villagers try to throw the film crew out of the village, actual figures appear in the fog and block them, saying there is no escape. The figures look like Puritans from Alice’s time, but Alice herself is not present at all. However, nobody grasps the significance of this clue (that maybe it is not Alice who is behind the fog?).

Then the fog touches everyone in the village, causing intense pain as it does so. Again, Sally is the exception. After this, the villagers think they are the actual 17th century villagers from Alice’s time. They talk, think and act like 17th century people. They can’t even see the now-useless 20th century technology whereas Sally can. These Puritan-thinking people react with horror and outrage at her 20th century clothes. They also believe she is Alice Compton the witch, and Sally’s efforts to convince them that this is the 20th century are misconstrued as further proof of witchcraft. Sally’s parents, which are likewise affected, change her “godless apparel” for 17th century dress, and again try to help her escape, but are blocked again. This time, it is by the possessed villagers and the film director, who now thinks he is Mathew Hopkins the Witchfinder General (it sure is perfect casting!).

The stage is set for the re-enactment of the persecution of Alice Compton and so it ensues (above): sham trial; crazed, ignorant hysterical people on all sides providing testimony; Witchfinder General twisting everything Sally says about this being the 20th century to prove she’s a witch and taking advantage of the villagers’ hysteria; the junk tests/fraud to prove witchcraft; and only sporadic, token protests (from Jenny). The Witchfinder General declares Sally a witch and she is tied to the stake to be burnt.

At this moment the fog reappears, extinguishes the fire, and returns the villagers and film director to normal. The villagers are shocked and ashamed at what they almost did to Sally.

The figures in the fog reappear. They are the original persecutors of Alice Compton. In death they came to realise what they did to Alice and how Hopkins took advantage of them. They cannot rest because they are so ashamed of their crime. And when the film production started it was too much for them and brought them back. With apologies to Sally, they had the villagers re-enact the Alice Compton persecution, right down to the thinking behind it. This was so they too would emerge from it feeling the same way and understand that witch-hunting is not just something ignorant, superstitious people did in times past. All humans, in any age, are capable of it because they all carry the same primeval instincts that fuel it: unreason, prejudice and fear of what they do not understand. The ghosts also did it because they want to entrust with the villagers with two things: first, consecrate Alice’s remains on the marsh so both she and they will find rest; second, a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of them too.

When Alice’s remains are consecrated her own foggy figure finally appears in the story. Alice tells Sally she knows about her sharing the same pain of persecution and hopes they will now share the same joy. She says farewell and departs for the next world.

Within days Wolfen returns to normal and everything modern is back and functioning. The film director (who must have realised the ghosts also did it to teach some people a lesson) scraps the film and makes one about the recent events so as to spread the warning. Sally approves of this film and is sure Alice will too. The vicar finds Alice’s portrait has gone from looking sad to all smiles, but reckons Alice will be even happier if the portrait was gifted to Sally.

Thoughts

Tammy started this story in her last Halloween issue because it is a spooky one. It sure is; it’s got themes about ghosts, witches, the Devil, possession, a grip of terror and hysteria, persecution, a historical setting, and above all, that mist. No villager from Wolfen would look at mist the same way again after this experience.

As the mist takes hold, it gets creepier and creepier. It is clear that this is no ordinary mist. It is intensifying in thickness and intenseness, and it is taking over the whole village. It can even break down windows and doors. It is forcing people back into the 17thcentury, but its reasons for this are hard to discern. Is it Alice returning for revenge? If so, she seems to be taking a very odd approach, including making the girl defending her a target of persecution. When those figures in the fog appear, it suggests it may not be Alice after all. Or are these figures trying to protect the villagers from the mist? And where is Alice? Nothing has been seen or heard from her at all during all the time the mist is taking over the village. It’s all very confusing; we don’t know what to think (or have we guessed?). All we know is, it’s a time bomb that has been ticking ever since Alice was burned, and the film production has detonated it. The question is: where will the fallout from the blast end up?

This story has been mentioned before on this blog, in the Shadow on the Fen entry, as there are echoes of Fen (Witchfinder General references, girl threatened with burning for witchcraft, modern villagers turning into witch-hunting idiots, strong message against the evils of witch hunting and a fog that cuts a village off from the outside world) in this story that has me wondering if it was the same writer.

There have been plenty of stories of murdered witches, both innocent and guilty, returning from beyond the grave or leaving a curse behind them. Examples are “Secret of the Skulls” (Tammy), “Sharon’s Stone”, (Bunty) “The Painting” (Bunty), “Witch!” (Bunty), and “Bad Luck Barbara” (Mandy). There have also been stories that condemn superstitious people for persecuting people in this manner and ones portraying witch hunters as the true evil, including “Shadow on the Fen”. Misty took delight in complete stories about witch hunters and witch-hunting mobs meeting their downfall at the hands of a protagonist with genuine powers.

But this is the only serial I have seen where former witch persecutors return from the grave because they are remorseful and want to make amends and find peace. Their repentance is far more believable than the repentance of witch-persecuting villagers in stories like Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!”. The villagers in these stories just change their minds when they see the girl they persecute perform a heroic act, while the ghost villagers learned it in the afterlife where, we presume, were condemned until they had made amends for their act.

It certainly is a twist to have the former persecutors to be the ones behind it all. From the outset we expect Alice to be behind any creepy stuff that ensues in the story, especially when we hear how the film is going to depict her. To our mind it’s not who’s behind it but what she intends to do and where it’s all going to lead. But then, making it Alice is a bit too obvious and clichéd, isn’t it?

The way the ghost villagers go about their redemption certainly takes you aback. Forcing modern people to re-enact the witch persecution of long ago? Putting an innocent girl through a terrifying ordeal of being persecuted for witchcraft? Inflicting terror on an entire village and forcing it to revert to the 17th century? Wow! But anyone going through that would emerge never assuming witch hunting is just a thing of the past ever again. It can occur anywhere, anytime, because the mechanisms behind it (hysteria, fear, prejudice, hatred of the other) are part of human nature, regardless of the day and age. When the atmosphere is right (such as the terror the fog induces or fear of the growing threat of Communism) all that is needed is the spark to strip away all common sense and sanity and turn apparently reasonable, civilised people into hysterical, witch-hunting idiots and for someone to rise and take advantage of it. Just look at the examples of the Communist witch-hunts and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scares. Or look at the hysterical villagers. It didn’t take much for their common sense, sanity and belief that Alice was just a victim of superstition to be stripped away and for them to become witch-hunting idiots, even before the fog had turned them into complete persecutors.

Nightmare Academy [1979]

Sample Images

Nightmare Academy 1Nightmare Academy 2Nightmare Academy 3Nightmare Academy 4

Published: Misty 5 May 1979 – 29 July 1979

Episodes: 12

Artist: Jaume Raumeu

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Sharon Watts is sent to Knightstair Boarding School when her father gets an oil job in UAE. She is not thrilled at the idea of boarding school, and as the story unfolds she will be even less so. There is no school bus to meet her at the station as arranged, and the station master says the school never has a telephone. So she walks there and finds it is a Transylvanian-style castle, which strikes her as creepy. The place is deserted except for angry dogs, which look as if they were from hell or something, and are kept securely behind a section of the castle that is out of bounds. The dogs, she later learns, are called Belial, Baal and Mordred, which the headmistress Miss Nocturne keeps under control with a whip. Miss Nocturne tells Sharon that obedience is the first thing the girls must learn here, and the dogs too. Miss Nocturne confiscates Sharon’s mirrors, saying she will not need them, and says she was not met at the station because she arrived too early for them. Then she asks Sharon if she is anaemic. After an answer in the negative, she hands Sharon over to head girl, Rowena Marre.

Sharon soon learns the pupils sleep by day and have classes at night, and they are forbidden to look out the windows while having their lessons: “At this school, girls only see what they are told to see!” (In case they see something they shouldn’t, perhaps?) Sharon finds it hard to stay awake in this ‘night school’. She falls asleep, has horrible nightmares of Miss Nocturne being a vampire, and is sent to bed. She wakes up at midday and goes looking for food, but there isn’t much of it in the kitchen.

Exploring the grounds, Sharon finds the gates are always locked. Then she spots a gravestone with the name Rowena Marre on it, and the girl died in 1895. Sharon assumes the current Rowena must be a descendant. Then Sharon meets the caretaker’s daughter Fiona, who tells her Miss Nocturne only lets him come at night. After playing ball with Sharon she mysteriously disappears. Later, Sharon follows Miss Nocturne to an old chapel, but all she finds are bats. The bats fly away and Miss Nocturne appears on the roof. Furious at how Sharon has disobeyed her by exploring the grounds instead of resting during the day, she orders Sharon to scrub the kitchen to teach her obedience and posts a guard dog over her. Despite this bizarre form of discipline, Sharon thinks Miss Nocturne seems perfectly reasonable, even if she seems a bit eccentric “…but sort of creepy, too!” By now, Sharon should be getting hints of what sort of creepiness. Her subconscious sure is, with those nightmares of hers.

Another girl, Yvonne, smuggles Sharon food to cheer her up. Sharon sneaks out of the kitchen. She is astonished to see Miss Nocturne go off in an old-fashioned carriage, and even more astonished to see it has no driver. Rowena catches her with an oddly strong grip and cold hands. She tells Sharon the place may be haunted by vengeful spirits and takes her to the vault where the dogs are kept, but aren’t there this time. Rowena tells Sharon this section is out of bounds because it is a family vault. On the staircase a knight defended the lord of the castle, hence its name of Knightstair. Sharon thinks, “nightmare’s more like it!” (Now we know where the story title comes from.) At the bottom of the steps are coffins, and Sharon sees the name “Rowena Marre” on one of them. Her nerve snaps and she runs back up the stairs.

Then Rowena takes Sharon to dinner, and Sharon is surprised that they eat off gold plates. Yvonne tells her the staff and prefects eat elsewhere and sometimes pupils are “sent for” to join them. When that happens, the pupils never see them again, but it is regarded as a high honour. Miss Nocturne then enters with a list of names of pupils who have been “sent for”.

At this, Sharon finally decides something is definitely wrong at this school and writes a letter to her father, but it is intercepted and taken to Miss Nocturne. Privately, Miss Nocturne realises Sharon is a threat to her. But when Sharon confronts her with her suspicions, Miss Nocturne blames Sharon’s troubles and suspicions on anaemia and should have paid more attention to the biology lessons on blood (what?). She then makes Sharon drink a tonic. Sharon feels like she is falling and sees Miss Nocturne turn into a bat. She then sees the coffins again – and one has her own name on it! Miss Nocturne appears with fangs, tells her they are the Undead and Sharon must join them by way of blood. Sharon wakes to find herself locked in a dungeon and gets Fiona to take a note to her father to help her escape, but it is Miss Nocturne who comes to let her out.

Sharon wonders if Miss Nocturne is just eccentric and not a vampire. But then she hears Yvonne has been “sent for” and resolves to find out what happened to her. She also hears Miss Nocturne say that her potion is working and she will be one of them soon.

While looking for Yvonne Sharon finds Fiona, who teaches her how to operate the castle portcullis (sounds like something that will come in handy when the time is right in the plot). Sharon then meets Yvonne, who is acting as if she has been hypnotised and has super-strength. Fiona tells Sharon she has become a “watcher”, the girls who guard the place in daylight. Sharon realises Yvonne has been dispatched to “watch” her. Sharon gives Fiona another desperate letter for her dad to post. In the meantime she is stuck with this “watcher” Yvonne.

Sharon explores the stables and finds the carriage, but Miss Nocturne catches her. As punishment, Miss Nocturne takes her for a breakneck ride in the carriage (which Sharon finds icy cold, like a tomb), and drives the coach herself. She drives the coach so crazily that a wheel smashes against the rocks. The force flings Sharon out and she cuts her head. Miss Nocturne bathes it in the river, saying, “You must not bleed. Not yet.”

While at the river Sharon sees Miss Nocturne has no reflection, and finally decides she really is a vampire. As she is finally outside the school grounds she tries to escape, but the dogs chase her. She takes refuge at Fiona’s cottage, and the caretaker tells her that the school used to be a real one. Then Miss Nocturne came and turned all the staff and prefects into vampires, and drugged the pupils into submission. Sharon is the first to break free of the school. But the caretaker sees no hope of destroying its evil, as the whole place is a vampire nest now. Besides, he says, can Sharon drive a stake through a vampire’s heart? He says he is forced to work for Miss Nocturne as she killed his wife and is threatening his daughter. So he just turns Sharon over to Miss Nocturne.

Miss Nocturne now reveals she really is a vampire. She shows her fangs and tries to give Sharon the bite, but gets distracted by the dogs fighting. Then the dogs just fall down dead and Miss Nocturne discovers that Fiona has poisoned them.

The caretaker, Fiona and Sharon make a dash for it in a waiting car. The caretaker takes them to a warehouse where the “sent for” girls are being held. The vampires keep them hypnotised and drugged into suspended animation, and dangling from the ceiling in vampire-made membranous sacs. They serve as a food larder for the vampires and their blood is drunk as needed. However, the caretaker says he has an antidote for the girls.

Miss Nocturne chases them, but gets pierced by the falling portcullis (oh, so that’s what its purpose was in the plot). Then daylight destroys her altogether. As it is daytime the other vampires will be sleeping, so the caretaker brings their coffins out to expose them to daylight and destroy them too. The caretaker will use his antidote to help Yvonne and the other pupils to recover, and they have no memory of what happened. The caretaker, being the school doctor as well, puts out the story that it was an epidemic that killed the headmistress and closed the school, and orders the pupils to rest for one term. Sharon is sent back to her parents, much to her great relief.

Thoughts

Misty was one girls’ comic that was huge on vampires whereas most other girls’ titles barely even mentioned them. As far as I know, Jinty was the only other girls’ title to have serials that touched on the vampire theme: Dracula’s Daughter and Worlds Apart. In Misty, vampires often cropped up in Misty’s complete stories. Dracula himself appeared up in a number of them, and in one case even met Jack the Ripper! But this is the only time Misty used vampires in a serial. There might have been more if Misty had run longer. Who knows?

The vampire story is combined with another common theme in girls’ comics: the evil headmistress. Some of these headmistresses are just sadists who turn discipline into downright child abuse. Others, like Miss Nocturne, are using the school and its pupils for sinister purposes. But the purpose itself is a mystery that the protagonist must unravel in order to put everything right and free her fellow pupils.

When we first meet Miss Nocturne we can guess she’s a vampire from the moment she confiscates Sharon’s mirror, though Sharon herself thinks (and maybe hopes) Miss Nocturne is probably just a weirdo. But the vampire herself has an unusual appearance as vampires go. Female vampires are usually depicted as looking like Vampirella, but this vampire has blond hair instead of dark. And it’s a surprise to see this vampire in a teacher’s gown and modern clothing. Little by little though, she appears in more gothic style clothing and a cloak, before finally donning an occult-style gown that has skulls on the neckline by the time she fully reveals herself as a vampire.

Whether vampire or weirdo, you definitely don’t want to stay in Miss Nocturne’s school once you see her ideas of discipline (whips and total obedience?), teaching pupils at night, and the things she likes to teach, especially in biology. None of the pupils seem to complain, or show any concern or fear at how the girls who are “sent for” are never seen again.

Sharon, like all protagonists in a “strange school” serial, is the only one to sense anything wrong, be immune to or rebel against its influence, and be determined to fight against whatever’s wrong. As with other protagonists like her she gets help along the way, but they don’t or can’t tell her fully what’s going on. The caretaker and his daughter do know what it is, but they haven’t got the courage to fully help the protagonist until the final episode. And wouldn’t you know it – they have everything that’s needed to destroy it, including antidotes for the drugged girls. They just couldn’t find the nerve until Sharon came along. And even then the caretaker took a little while to come around. Fortunately his daughter Fiona showed more pluck (poisoning the dogs), which finally prompted him into action.

In the meantime, we have a story that is drenched in chilling, gothic atmosphere, all rendered by the brilliant artwork of Jaume Raumeu. From the moment we first see Knightstair Castle on the hill against the night sky we get the shudders at the sight of this castle. It looks like it came straight out of Transylvania and Dracula would feel right at home there. And when we meet those guard dogs and hear what their names are, we sense the castle must be a place out of hell itself. Other things keep coming to chill and scare: the cobweb-laden coffins in the vault; the old-fashioned coach that has no driver; Sharon’s nightmares of Miss Nocturne as a vampire; Miss Nocturne punishing Sharon with a breakneck ride in the coach; the “sent for” girls who just disappear, and it doesn’t take a genius to guess what Miss Nocturne is doing with them; the hypnotised girls who serve as “watchers”…the list goes on and on.

The only plot point that doesn’t quite fit is the headstone declaring the death of Rowena Marre in 1895 and the Rowena Marre we see. This is never explained and the story implies Miss Nocturne took over the school more recently than 1895 because the caretaker can recall when it was a normal school. Perhaps the Rowena Marre who died in 1895 really is a descendant of the current Rowena Marre after all.

The panels that reveal the fate of the “sent for” girls must be one of the most perturbing Misty ever produced. When we see those girls trapped in those sacs and hanging from the ceiling like prey waiting for a spider to devour them, it is so macabre and sickening. We heave a sigh of relief to hear it is reversible and glad the girls will not remember it. But it does not make up for the horror of their plight.

Nightmare Academy larder

A number of evil headmistresses/teachers actually believe, in a perverse or misguided way, that what they are doing is for the pupils’ own benefit, whether it is harsh discipline, perfection induced by drugs, hypnotically induced dancing, or anything else. Curiously, Miss Nocturne’s may actually be one of them, what with her ideas of obedience and telling Sharon “one day you will thank me for it” when she has her scrubbing the kitchen to “learn obedience the hard way”. Is it all just about turning the pupils into mindless puppets and blood banks to keep her supplied with blood and minions? Or does she genuinely believe that what she is doing is for the pupils’ own benefit as well?

Using a portcullis is a pretty unorthodox way to bring down a vampire. Is it supposed to be some mechanised version of the stake or something? Still, as the caretaker said, could Sharon have seriously been able to drive a stake into a vampire’s heart? After all, she would hardly have the arm for it. Come to think of it, stakes were never used to destroy vampires in Misty. Such things were not appropriate for girls to do be seen doing, after all. It’s more in the line of Van Helsing. More often Misty used the light of day to destroy vampires, as in Miss Nocturne’s case, or in one case, a silver bullet.

The Body Snatchers [1979-1980]

Sample Images

Body Snatchers 1Body Snatchers 2Body Snatchers 3Body Snatchers 4

Published: Misty 10 November 1979 to 12 January 1980 (final issue)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/Reprints: The Best of Misty Monthly #4

Plot

Nancy Perkins is making a belated return to boarding school after an illness and immediately notices strange things happening. Her taxi is crossed by a teacher, who looks scared out of his wits and in a dreadful state before he disappears into a storm. Yet Nancy later sees him at school, looking perfectly normal and doesn’t know what she is talking about. Certain pupils and teachers act out of character – as if they were imposters. A pupil disappears without explanation. Nancy sees a procession of pupils and teachers heading off to Broughty Manor in the dead of night, although the headmistress has just put that place strictly out of bounds and has reminded the pupils about it twelve dozen times already. We soon learn that these people are the henchmen of “the master”, there is something non-human about their eyes, and they have some sort of affinity with plants. Realising Nancy is noticing too much, “the master” orders them to kidnap her and bring her to his lair at Broughty Manor.

The master, Dr Bracken, explains that the Government and scientific community refused to believe his claim that he could heal people by combining plant serum to human flesh to re-grow body parts. Desperate to prove his theory, Bracken tested it on himself. But the attempt was premature, or so Bracken believes anyway. As a result, the entire left-hand side of Bracken’s body is plant, and now he’s a freak. Bracken blames the Government for his condition, so he is seeking revenge by overthrowing the Government and establishing himself as Britain’s ruler. The first stage of his plan is replacing everyone in the community with special plants that are grown as human clones. The clones are equipped with the brain-patterns of their human counterparts. These include all the staff at Nancy’s school and a considerable number of the pupils. What happens to the real people? They get fed to his man-eating plant, of course.

Nancy makes a run for it, only to nearly fall foul of the man-eating plant when she stumbles into its layer. Bracken sees this on his monitor and laughingly leaves her to the plant. Fortunately Nancy realises in time that sudden movement attracts the man-eater, so slow movements will get her out. After that escape she stumbles into the greenhouse where Bracken grows his plant-people. She is revolted and sickened by this “people factory” and can’t get out fast enough. She did not notice that her own double was growing there too!

Nancy breaks into the school to call the police. However, the plant people detect her before she can complete the call. She tries to escape down the ivy, but the plant people control all plants, which enables them to capture her by commanding the ivy to fall down. They tie her up in the infirmary. Fortunately Nancy’s friend Laura saw everything and gets her out.

After Nancy explains what’s going on, the girls make a run for it together. As they do so, they discover that Bracken almost has the entire district under his control and realise the plant people have a power over other plants, including communicating with them. So it’s only a matter of time before they are caught and have to get right away. They see a plant man preparing truck to drive to London, which is where Nancy’s parents live. Nancy and Laura sneak aboard the lorry, and have to share a dreadful ride with incubating plant people. They can barely keep themselves from screaming.

Nancy and Laura make it to Nancy’s house, only to find Bracken got there before them. He has kidnapped the parents and replaced them with plant clones. While trying to flee the plant people Nancy throws weedkiller at them, which destroys them. Now they know what weapon to use against the plant people.

Laura is dispatched to alert the police while Nancy heads back to Broughty Manor to rescue her parents. The first thing Nancy encounters in the manor is her plant clone! Nancy smashes a pot plant into the clone’s lantern, which causes it to burst into flames. Nancy heads to the man-eater plant room where her parents are sure to be. Sure enough, Bracken himself is about to feed them to it when Nancy bursts in. Nancy shouts at her parents not to make sudden movements, a warning Bracken forgets when he draws a gun on her. Attracted by the sudden movement, the plant seizes Bracken and devours him.

The police arrive (after Laura finally convinced them she was not crazy), but there is little for them to do except mop up. Fire has spread from the destruction of Nancy’s plant clone and is now burning down Bracken’s lair. The plant people just wither and die without Bracken to control them. So Bracken’s operation is now falling apart “like leaves in the wind”.

Thoughts

Mad scientists who tamper with or abuse nature were a common staple in Misty. And this being Misty, they paid the price, usually in the form of nature striking back one way or other. Bracken is no different. First, he suffers grotesque but fitting damage to his body as a result of his own experiments and tampering with nature. Of course he never even considers it was his own fault for not heeding what must have been legitimate warnings. Second, he gets eaten alive by his own man-eating plant and meets the same end he had inflicted on so many innocents.

In terms of weapons or credible invasion plans, the plant people are not all that strong. All you have to do is bring out the weedkiller or flamethrowers and they’re finished. I doubt they would stand up to bullets either. Or if you bring down Bracken himself, the plant people just keel over. The plant people are not good imposters although they carry the brain patterns and memories of those they have replaced. Sure, Bracken’s plan to take over Britain may look credible when he takes over the village and school, but that’s comparatively small and nobody except Nancy has caught on to what he’s up to. Taking over a whole country is vastly different and far more people would realise something’s wrong, and it would not take the army long to figure out the weaknesses of the plant people.

The definite strength of this story is definitely the horror and repulsiveness of Bracken’s experiments, including what he’s done to himself. The incubation of the plant people is nauseating. The plant people themselves are frightening in their somewhat vacant, zombie-like stares, but their real strength is how they have all plants at their command. Imagine if you are at 10 Downing Street and suddenly all the plants outside turn hostile. Or you are a farmer and suddenly all your crop fields go crazy. Of course there is Bracken’s ultimate monstrosity – the monster-sized maneater plant he uses to dispose of people once he finishes with them. And let us not forget the horror of Bracken’s appearance. Half-man, half plant. Urrghh, what a bizarre, grotesque sight he is. One side of his body is perfectly normal, but the other side is wood, twigs, and leaves. You scream out the moment you see his appearance in full! The horror is all brilliantly rendered by the Maria Barrera art in such intricate detail and effective use of shadowing.

I wonder if the Dr Who story “The Seeds of Doom” was inspiration for this story. It was aired three years before Body Snatchers, so it is possible. The story is so reminiscent of the Krynoid menace in the Dr Who story. The Krynoid, for those who don’t know, was an alien plant that not only eats people but also has the power to control other plants and make them turn hostile towards people. Both stories have a mad botanist out for conquest. Both mad botanists use ecological ways to dispose of people; in Body Snatchers it’s a maneater plant and in the Dr Who story it’s a compost machine. And wouldn’t you know it – both of these mad botanists meet their own gruesome ends by those very methods, which backfire on them.

Of course “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” would be inspiration too. Curiously, the book the movie was based on was also called “The Body Snatchers”.

The Black and White World of Shirley Grey [1981]

Sample Images

shirley 1shirley 2shirley 3

Published: Tammy 7 February 1981 to 23 May 1981

Episodes: 16

Artist: Diane Gabbot

Writer: Jake Adams?

Translations/reprints: Tammy annual 1986

Plot

Shirley Grey’s best friend, Trisha Morris, has an accident and ends up in a coma because she defied orders and warnings in practising her diving at a dangerous cove, which tempted fate once too often. Although she was acting on Trisha’s instructions, Shirley blames herself because she had covered up about Trisha’s whereabouts to Mrs Morris. Mrs Morris also blames Shirley for the same reason (she does not know Shirley was only obeying Trisha) and lashes out at her whenever their paths cross.

In the wake of the accident Shirley swears never to lie again, but is taking it the extreme of not telling even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. So what happens? A whole raft of circumstances where this gets Shirley gets into ever-increasing trouble as either a tattletale or a very rude girl. They are summarised as follows:

  1. Shirley twice insults the boss’s wife by giving a too-honest opinion on her clothes (hideous and don’t fit her properly because she’s too fat). As a result, Shirley’s father loses his promotion and his job is on the line, and Shirley’s parents are up in arms against her. Mum is having hysterics because they needed money from the promotion to buy a place away from the estate, which has been terrible ever since a gang of troublemakers moved in.
  2. Shirley begs a nurse to go against the Morris parents’ instructions (no visitors for Trisha except immediate family) and let her see Trisha. When Shirley is caught and the matron demands to know if the nurse let Shirley in, she says the nurse did. The nurse throws Shirley out, raging at how Shirley has repaid her – by getting her into trouble.
  3. Shirley falls foul of the school bully Evie Moore when she tells on Evie for stealing from a teacher because she can’t lie. Evie ruins Shirley’s blazer and demands menaces money of £1 a day, which Shirley can’t possibly pay, of course. When Shirley fails on her first payment Evie and her gang threaten to do something terrible to her. Shirley’s friends find their courage and rise up against the bullies, but Evie gets hurt. When the teacher asks Shirley who did it, Shirley says who it was without explaining why. Furious at how Shirley got them into trouble when they were trying to help her, the girls have everyone at school send her to Coventry. Even the teachers feel the effects of this.
  4. Evie’s final revenge against Shirley is to frame her for shoplifting. Shirley is convicted and the court is awaiting a social worker’s report before passing sentence.

All the while everyone is trying to tell Shirley she is being ridiculous, both in the way she is blaming herself and in thinking she can go through life without telling a lie because everyone has to one way or other. “You’ve got to pack it in,” says Shirley’s friend Hannah. “You can’t go through life without telling a lie – it’s not possible!” Even Evie tells Shirley she is mad about never lying, and around the district Shirley is soon derogatorily dubbed the girl who never tells lies. But Shirley says she can’t help not lying and won’t stop blaming herself. As things get progressively worse, Shirley comes to think it is all a punishment for Trisha’s accident. She fails to realise the trouble all stems from her blaming herself.

The final straw comes when Shirley overhears Mum having yet more hysterics that she can’t take any more of this and is going to have a nervous breakdown. Mum has been having nothing but these hysterics ever since Dad has lost his promotion. But when the false shoplifting charge came up Mum has been extremely selfish about it. Although she and Dad believe Shirley innocent, neither of them show her any sympathy, support or concern about it and treat her harshly. All Mum can think of is the shame of it all, that she’ll be struck on this dreadful estate, what everyone will think and how she won’t be able to hold her head up, etc, etc.

At any rate, Mum’s hysterics have Shirley decide that the only answer is to run away, which she does blindly. Shirley’s disappearance has the parents finally showing concern about her and they call the police.

Shirley finds herself back at the cove where it all started and the very cliff edge where the accident occurred. This gets very dangerous for Shirley when she falls asleep there and then the parents and police shine a blinding light in her eyes. She falls off the cliff, nearly drowns in the sea below, and takes a head injury that fractures her skull. She is rushed to hospital, and when Mum hears that it was her hysterics that made Shirley run off, she realises how selfish she has been.

Shirley finds herself in the next bed to Trisha, and still blaming herself for Trisha’s accident. The medical staff suggest Shirley talk to Trisha about their times together in the hope this will bring Trisha out of the coma. But Mrs Morris, who still blames Shirley for the accident, won’t allow Shirley near Trisha. However the same nurse from before helps Shirley to talk to Trisha secretly, and forgives what happened last time. After two weeks this brings Trisha out of the coma. Shirley finally stops blaming herself and the grateful Mrs. Morris apologises for her conduct. Shirley discontinues her vow never to tell even a white lie because she now understands “that things aren’t all black-and-white”.

But there is still the little matter of the problems Shirley created for herself with that guilt complex, and there is now a wrongful conviction hanging over her head as well. What about those?

Shirley finds most of these problems are now sorting themselves out, albeit in a somewhat contrived manner. Shirley’s remarks shocked the boss’s wife into slimming and a complete makeover. She is so grateful to Shirley that Dad gets his promotion after all. There is new hope that Shirley will be cleared of the shoplifting once the social worker get the courts to reconsider Shirley’s side of things because she was going to such extremes about not lying. What Shirley started about standing up to Evie has continued, despite her “dropping [the girls] in it”. As a result, Evie has lost her power as a bully and is no longer her “cocky, obnoxious self”. However, the girls have not forgiven Shirley. Trisha and the more forgiving Hannah try to persuade them, but they remain unmoved until they see Shirley covering up for them and telling the teacher the Coventry thing was just a misunderstanding that’s been sorted out. They go along with it and are reconciled with Shirley.

Thoughts

Essentially, Shirley has the same problem as Wanda White in Jinty’s Wanda Whiter Than White—she is taking truth-telling to extremes that causes problems both for her and for everyone around her, and it all stems from a huge guilt complex. In the end, Shirley, like Wanda, realises things aren’t all black and white and uses a white lie to help redeem herself. Unlike Wanda though, Shirley knows she is hurting people with all this extreme truth telling and feels terrible about it. But to her mind she can’t help it and she’s got to tell the truth at all times.

Again unlike Wanda, Shirley is a totally sympathetic character. She is tortured by guilt, keeps getting herself and others into constant trouble over her extreme truth-telling, becomes a victim of vicious bullying, a frame-up that gets her wrongly convicted, and nearly gets herself killed.

Like so many protagonists in girls’ comics who are suffering from a massive guilt complex, Shirley is blaming herself over something that is utterly ridiculous. If anyone is to blame, it is Trisha herself. That’s what everyone tells her, but they’re not getting through. This girl needs serious counselling and psychiatric help. But despite initial concerns about how badly Shirley has reacted to the accident and some talk of getting a doctor involved to help sort Shirley out, her parents never do so. Instead they degenerate into the common theme of parents handling things badly in girls’ serials. This is because they’re thinking too much about how the effects of it all are having on themselves. They’re not thinking about Shirley at all until her disappearance shocks them out of their selfishness.

The story also makes a serious statement about bullying and harassment, and ineptness in handling it effectively. It’s not just the vicious bullies at school that Shirley falls foul of. There is also a gang of delinquent girls who have been causing nothing but trouble ever since they moved in and turned a once-great estate into a nightmare for everyone. For example, they set fire to a lady’s washing. But nobody seems to do anything about them and by they end of the story they go unpunished. That’s pretty much how Evie Moore went too with her bullying until Shirley’s extreme truth-telling got her reported for the very first time. However, unlike Evie, they don’t add much to the story. The only time they really do so is when they chase Shirley while she is running off because she shoved one of them over. But she is too fast for them – hurrah! For the most part though, they are just distracting. Perhaps their purpose in the plot is to explain why Mrs Grey is so desperate to get away from the estate and keeps having hysterics that she’s going to be stuck there once Dad loses his chance of promotion.

Evie gets some punishment in that she loses her power and her bullying days are over at that school. But it feels she got off too lightly considering what she’s done, particularly to Shirley. She is not even expelled for stealing from the teacher. The headmaster just gives her a final warning and will expel her next time. “He’s too soft,” says one girl. “He should’ve expelled her now!” We certainly agree, and we feel the story is making a comment about schools not cracking down on bullying hard enough.

Betta to Lose [1978]

Sample Images

Betta to Lose 1aBetta to Lose 1bBetta to Lose 1c

Published: Tammy 13 May 1978 – 15 July 1978

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Library #24 as “Wonder Girl” (abridged)

Plot

Betta James is subjected to a harsh regime to make her the top athlete of St Mary’s School: endless training, and the sports mistress Miss Pearce has no hesitation to lay on extra training sessions where she sees fit; a diet that is so strict that Bella is not even allowed a piece of her own celebratory cake; and no social life whatsoever,  with films, disco dances and even parties all banned. And the other girls are assigned as her watchdogs to see she sticks to it all. It’s nothing but sleep, eat and breathe constant sports practice to beat Deepdale all the time. Added to that, Bella’s education is suffering and she is way behind classwork because she is excused too many lessons for sports practice. But the headmistress does not care about that. All she cares about is beating Deepdale and crowing over her old school rival, who is the headmistress there. And they can’t beat Deepdale without Betta. Betta’s parents are no help either; they are just as win-crazy and beating Deepdale as Miss Pearce and the headmistress.

Betta gets fed up with this life and wants out. She tries going on strike and expressing her feelings to Miss Pearce, but Miss Pearce blackmails her out of it with a threat of extra-hard school exams, which Betta has little chance of passing because she is so behind on schoolwork. So Betta tries another tactic: deliberately losing sports matches against Deepdale in the hope she will be released from the “sports trap” as she calls it.

However, Betta soon finds that losing is not that easy when you are by nature a winner. Plus, her training has made her reflexes too strong to simply louse up. So Betta resorts to sabotage: greasing up a baton exchange; slicing studs off her shoes to lose balance; weighting her swimsuit with lead; and playing with a useless hockey stick.

With tricks like that, it is not long before beady-eyed Miss Pearce gets suspicious. But it is the ironically jealous Leonie Mather who catches Betta out when she mistakenly thinks one of Betta’s tricks was aimed at her and Betta is forced to explain the truth. She does not realise Miss Pearce and the headmistress have overheard her.

The headmistress decides to grant Betta’s wish. She drops Betta from all the teams and Leonie takes her place. However, she is furious over what she perceives as disloyalty to the school (not being able to crow over her Deepdale rival, she means!) and is out to make Betta pay for it. And when the school starts suffering extremely humiliating losses against Deepdale because they are hopeless without Betta, the headmistress’s anger towards Betta turns into downright spite.

And remember that hint Miss Pearce made to Betta about the school exams? That is precisely what the headmistress does – she makes them extra-extra-hard just to spite Betta, who has been slaving hard to catch up on her schoolwork (and because of this, has not found time for the social life she hoped for without her sports life). The headmistress even supervises the exams herself so she can gloat over Betta in person. The headmistress spites Betta even further when she tells her that she failed the maths exam, although she hasn’t even marked the paper. She just assumed Betta failed because Betta handed it in after one hour. On this basis alone the headmistress withdraws Betta from the exams and schoolwork and puts her back into sport. Hmph, more likely that’s just their excuse to start beating Deepdale again with Betta. In any case, the headmistress and Miss Pearce express delight that they are about to beat Deepdale again.

However, Betta’s form teacher Miss Johnson intervenes. She had marked Betta’s paper and says Betta scored 100%. She has always disapproved of how Betta has been made to miss so much classwork because of sport and hints that the education officer won’t approve either. She also says that Betta has exhibited near-genius in how she has caught up on schoolwork to the point where she could pass those exams.

Unfortunately this puts the idea into the headmistress’s head of beating Deepdale with brain matches instead of sports matches, and she goes “overboard” with them – “just as she did with sport”. And guess who she puts in charge of these brain matches? Yep, you guessed it. Before long, poor old Betta is right back at square one: a strict, slave-driving, nonstop training regime to beat Deepdale with no allowances for a life of her own. The only difference is that it’s “the brain drain” instead of the sports trap and with the equally bad Miss Johnson instead of Miss Pearce. This time Betta does not see any way out of it.

Thoughts

This was the first serial Tony Coleman drew for Tammy. From then on Coleman became a regular Tammy artist. His Tammy serials included “Maggie’s Menagerie”, “Nurse Grudge”, “Stella Stirrer”, “The Destiny Dolls” and “Spell of Fog”. Coleman’s run in Tammy ended with “Cassie’s Coach” in 1984.

There have been plenty of stories were brilliant girls start deliberately failing at things, but it’s either because they are being blackmailed into it or have been intimidated by bullies. This time the protagonist does it of her own free will because she is desperate to escape her life of sports slavery. We can see the misery that Betta is suffering because of her harsh sports regime and we worry for her future because she is missing out on too much classwork. But the people who subject her to it don’t, and Betta’s parents are just as bad. All they care about is winning, and all the headmistress cares about is beating Deepdale and lording it over her old school rival. The headmistress and sports mistress have no thought for Betta, her feelings, or her future. The headmistress has the nerve to call Betta selfish when it is she who is the selfish one in the way she treats Betta, just to constantly get one over her old rival all the time. And her conduct with the exams just to spite Betta is just inexcusable.

The headmistress is asking for a serious lesson. Unfortunately, it does not happen. And because of it, Betta ends up back where she started, only in a different form. So this is one of the less common serials that do not end happily for the protagonist. The only way to give it a really happy ending is for the adults in the story to wake up to how miserable they have made Betta in the name of winning and beating Deepdale. That, or have fate intervene and put Betta out of sports events altogether without the headmistress holding a grudge against her.

The story is certainly making a serious statement on how many real-life schools make their sports stars suffer academically and socially the way Betta does by ruling their lives with too much sports practice in the name of winning. We sympathise with Betta all the more because there are so many school sports stars like her.

What makes Betta even more sympathetic is her dialogue, which has a more witty way of expressing things, even in her miserable moments, than protagonists usually do. For example: “Bang goes my freedom bid! Now I’ll probably get ten years of sport without remission!”, “Ignore [Leonie]! Stay losing, kid! Stay losing!” and “Missing swimming’s no punishment for me! I spent so much in that darned pool I started to grow gills!” In so doing, Betta provides the only streaks of humour in the story. We also admire Betta for her ironic determination to win – in terms of beating the sports trap and not giving the headmistress the satisfaction of seeing her fail the extra-hard exams. The same determination must have also applied to her sports once before the harsh training made her lose all enjoyment with sport and winning at it.

So many girls’ serials carry the moral that winning is not everything. The moral comes from Betta herself, who constantly thinks, “Would the world have ended if we’d lost?” or something similar while everyone else at St Mary’s is ecstatic about beating Deepdale yet again. For Betta there is no satisfaction in winning against Deepdale anymore because of the price she is forced to pay for it. Sadly, nobody else in the serial learns that lesson and they remain as bad as ever.

The Proto-Bella Barlow?

A Leap Up for Lindy 1A Leap Up for Lindy 2A Leap Up for Lindy 3A Leap Up for Lindy 4A Leap up for Lindy ad

Once you have read through the images, you will see that this story bears a striking resemblance to Bella Barlow, right down to our ill-used heroine practising gymnastics on makeshift apparatus in the backyard. Mr Barr is even a dead ringer for Jed Barlow. At least the Barrs are nowhere near as abusive towards Lindy as the Barlows are towards Bella. All the same, we are so pleased to see how they are, um, persuaded to support Lindy’s gymnastics in the end.

A Leap Up for Lindy appeared in Girls’ Crystal 1976, yet a panel from it was used two years before in the merger issue of Tammy and June to advertise next week’s episode of Bella at the Bar (above). So A Leap Up for Lindy could actually be part of the history of Bella Barlow and could even be described as a proto-Bella.

But just what is Lindy’s place in Bella’s history? Is it a complete story or is it the first episode of a serial that never was? If it was meant to be a serial, did it get nixed for some reason and what was produced got recycled in the Girls’ Crystal? Was it a serial that was discarded in favour of Bella Barlow? Or was it an unused story from much earlier and elements of it were recycled into Bella Barlow?

Whatever the story was, Lindy looks like a most intriguing part of Bella history that has been sadly overlooked. It is a great pleasure to rescue this proto-Bella from obscurity and hopefully give her more speculation and discussion in Bella history.