Category Archives: Stories

Lady Death [2019]

Lady Death cover

Published: Commando #5217

Artist: Manuel Benet

Writer: Andrew Knighton

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dream House [1977]

Sample Images

 

The Dream House 1a

The Dream House 1b

The Dream House 1c

Published: Tammy 12 March 1977 to 23 April 1977

Episodes: 7

Artist: Mike White

Writer: Unknown

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Katie on Thin Ice [1977]

Sample Images

Katie on Thin Ice 1

Katie on Thin Ice 2

Katie on Thin Ice 3

Published: Tammy 8 January 1977 – 9 April 1977

Episodes: 14

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is winter 1815 and it’s so cold the Thames has frozen. Katie Williams comes to the Port of London to greet her father, who is returning from the Napoleonic Wars. But bad news awaits her: Dad perished in the wars and now she’s an orphan. He has left a couple of things for Katie: a pair of ice skates and a bag of money.

The money bag is promptly snatched by a thief named Annie. Katie manages to catch up to Annie and demand her bag back. Then a cold-looking woman named Mrs Winter appears, saying she is a benefactor for Napoleonic war orphans and apologises for Annie. She offers to take Annie into her home for war orphans. The home looks respectable enough, but Katie senses something is strange about it.

Next day Katie tries out her skates on the frozen Thames and sees an angry mob chasing Susie, a girl from the orphanage. Katie helps Susie by leading them off, but then finds out too late why they were chasing her: she had stolen a necklace. Mrs Winter is now revealed to be a female Fagin type and she runs her orphanage as a den of thieves and pickpockets. As nobody will believe Katie was duped into helping Susie, Mrs Winter has snared Katie, blackmails her into crime, and says those skates and the frozen Thames will be the perfect getaway every time Katie steals.

Annie, Katie soon learns, is the most vicious of the thieves. She is also jealous of Katie because Katie has usurped her position as favourite after saving Mrs Winter’s life. Katie suspects Annie tried to kill her when a lamp warning of a hole in the ice got moved and she spots candle grease on Annie’s hand later on.

Katie is forced to go along with the racket; for the most part just watch helplessly and provide diversions on the ice while the thieves make their getaway. But she does not downright steal anything and is determined to find a way to stop it. In one attempted thieving she is pleased to mess up and go back empty handed, even though it means a beating. In another attempted raid she saves a girl’s life when Annie attempts to send her sliding to her doom over the edge. The girl is Claire Stern, ironically the daughter of a magistrate. The magistrate wants Katie to give Claire ice-skating lessons. Anxious to keep up her façade of respectability, Mrs Winter agrees.

The lessons start well, but Katie can see Annie following and out to rob the Sterns. She pulls a fast one on Annie when she tries it, which gets Annie a beating, but now Annie’s really out to get her.

Mrs Winter has the gang attempt to raid the ships, but it goes wrong and Susie is arrested. Katie manages to rescue Susie, but now Susie is seriously ill. And Mrs Winter says Katie must steal the money needed for Susie’s treatment – and stealing had been something Katie had been trying to avoid with Mrs Winter. Eventually Katie smashes an apothecary’s window to grab some medicine, but leaves money to pay it. When Miss Winter finds out, she beats Katie for not stealing.

By this time Katie has become known to the police as “the ice thief” and they are on the lookout for her. They almost nab her with a net as she makes her way back from the apothecary, but an amazing leap to grab an ice shard to rip her way through the net saves her.

But Inspector Hawkfinch, who has seen Katie skate as both the ice thief and Claire’s skating teacher, suspects her, and Katie knows it. At Claire’s next lesson he tries to trick Katie into replicating the leap, but she is too sore from the beating to do it. So it looks like suspicion is allayed. But now Katie has another problem: Claire says she is going to use her skating lessons to help the police catch the ice thief!

Claire is getting ready to set her trap on the Thames, but her speed skating is still not up to the ice thief’s and needs more coaching there. That night Mrs Winter forces Katie to go help stealing at a warehouse, saying they will kill Susie if she doesn’t. Katie warns them the police are on the lookout, and they say they will provide the decoys while Katie gets away on the ice. But Claire spots her and, as Katie is still weakened from the beating, Claire could well catch her. Katie uses a stolen tapestry like a sail to make her getaway.

But when Claire tells Mrs Winter she almost caught the ice thief, it puts Claire in danger from Mrs Winter. Katie tries to protect Claire by offering to steal Claire’s skates. But she fails, and she soon discovers Mrs Winter has set Annie onto Claire. Annie tries to set a coach toppling on top of Claire, and Katie saves her. Next, Annie tries to burn down Claire’s house, with her and Katie in it. Again, Katie’s quick action saves the day. Her own skates get damaged, though.

London is going to have an ice fair on the Thames, which means more pickings for Mrs Winter. At the fair they meet up with Claire, who says her skates got destroyed in the fire. It looks like Claire is now safe from Mrs Winter. But Susie is still sick and they are using her as a hold over Katie. Katie decides it’s time to make a break for it, with Susie. After tying up Annie, Katie tries to get away Susie away on a sledge on the Thames, but Claire catches her, revealing she managed to get her skates fixed. And Katie’s damaged skates left a trail from her house to Mrs Winter’s.

Claire now realises Katie is the ice thief, but thinks it’s Katie’s own operation. Katie tries to tell Claire it is Mrs Winter who is behind everything, but Claire does not listen. People think she’s a respectable woman and benefactor of war orphans. Katie and Susie are turned over to Mrs Winter, who locks them in the icehouse. Katie manages to get them out of the icehouse – and lock Mrs Winter’s crony Ena in the icehouse.

Katie discovers that Mrs Winter is planning to send the whole ice fair under the river by spreading salt on the ice. This is because there are people there, including Claire, her father, and her own pickpockets, who know or suspect too much. Katie meets up with Claire and her father and tries to tell them about Mrs Winter, and that she was forced into crime. They still don’t listen – until they see Mrs Winter’s charges at work for themselves and they finally suspect her. Then the salt takes effect, breaking up the ice. Katie and Claire go the rescue of many trapped people, including the pickpockets, on the ice. Everyone is pulled clear of the ice, and Katie and Claire have to sacrifice their own skates so they will be saved too.

Across the ice, Mrs Winter fumes at failing to kill them. Annie overhears her and, realising she was also intended to be a victim, takes revenge by throwing her cutpurse knife at the bag of salt at Mrs Winter’s feet. This breaks up the ice under Mrs Winter and sends her to her death in the icy waters of the Thames. Annie then clears out to find warmer and greener pastures for her pickpocketing.

Claire’s father promises the orphans he will arrange a better life for them.

Thoughts

Tammy’s choice of artist must have caught her readers by surprise. John Armstrong didn’t usually draw a period serial (though he did plenty of period stories for the Strange Stories). Or a skating serial for that matter, despite his aptitude for sports stories. By this time Armstrong was known more in Tammy for his Bella stories and only older readers would remember he once drew Tammy stories that had nothing to do with Bella. But when we view this story, we wonder why the hell he wasn’t given more of a chance to do more of such stories.

The story formula itself is one we see more often in the DCT titles, such as “The Courage of Honor Bright” (Mandy). An orphaned girl discovers too late she has fallen foul of a racket in the Fagin vein, but she refuses to become part of it. She is the one oasis of honesty and courage against a racket that has destroyed honest principles in the other waifs, whether by offerings of a good home, intimidation, abuse, or taking advantage of worse-natured children. She fights all the pressures to turn her into one of the criminal gang and desperately tries to find a way to escape and bring down the racket. The Fagin villain rues the day he or she ever ensnared this girl in the operation. It is unusual to see the formula in Tammy though, which makes the story even more of a surprise.

Mrs Winter comes from a long tradition of sinister villainesses who pass themselves off as respectable benefactors in girls’ comics. In reality, it’s a front for their criminal operation and maintaining a façade of respectability to the outside world. In this case, it’s entrapping orphans from the Napoleonic Wars and turning them into pickpockets to line her pockets. At first glance the home looks fine and the orphans well cared for. There are no hints of the child abuse that helps to maintain Mrs Winter’s hold over the orphans or the punishments (beatings, the ice house, threatening to expose a sick girl to the cold until she dies) for those who refuse to steal. Yet even before the protagonist realises the façade there are warning signs about Mrs Winter. She does look like a creepy, cold crone. Even her name is a warning and ties in with the running theme of cold and ice.

The ice-skating itself is also unusual in that it’s not being done for competitions or battling to keep up the skating against obstacles, as in most skating serials. Instead, the skating is the vehicle that both entraps the protagonist and provides her means of hope and escape against the nightmare she has fallen into. It’s beautifully drawn against the backdrop of the frozen Thames and the life and culture that used to develop on the Thames when it froze over. Those days must be bygone ones now in an age of global warming.

The theme of Katie running on thin ice runs throughout the story. The ice grows increasingly thinner in a metaphoric sense as Katie struggles to keep ahead of the tightening grip of the law before she can prove herself and find a way to escape the racket she has fallen into. The skating is both entrapping and assisting Katie, and we have to wonder which will get her first. When Claire wants to use her skating lessons to help catch the ice thief, Katie well and truly is caught in her forced double life and the thin ice is reaching breaking point.

Finally, the ice breaks up altogether – literally. It was only a matter of time. After all, spring will come and melt the ice on the Thames, which would put an end to the “ice thief”. But it’s Katie’s nemesis Mrs Winter who falls under it, not Katie. The only reasons Katie herself does not fall under any ice despite all the close calls are quick wits, quick reflexes, and smart moves on the ice.

The demise of Mrs Winter, cold-hearted and frosty in every sense of the word, is a shocking yet fitting one. It’s poetic justice – dying by the very means she used to try to kill everyone at the ice fair and it ties in with the thin ice thread. “You’re the one on thin ice now!” Annie mocks. We just love it. It gives us more satisfaction than Mrs Winter simply being arrested. But who would know the wanted Mrs Winter has died except Annie? Perhaps her body will be fished out of the river and they will assume she fell foul of her own scheme.

We still hope the long arm of the law will catch up to Annie eventually. After all, she is a very vicious criminal and a dangerous person, and she has a lot to answer for. Despite the period setting she belongs to the John Armstrong tradition of evil tough girls drawn like Norma Sykes from Misty’s “Moonchild“.

The Dance Dream [1977]

Sample Images

The Dance Dream 1

The Dance Dream 2

The Dance Dream 3

Published: Tammy 16 April 1977 – 4 June 1977

Episodes: 8

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Anne Digby

Translations/reprints: Girl annual 1982; Tina in 1980 as ‘Dans, Diana, Dans!’ and in 1984 reprinted in Tina Dubbeldik Superalbum 14.

Plot

In 1938, orphan Diana Watts dreams of becoming a ballerina and she idolises famous ballerina Diana Oberon. She has moved to London to get close to Oberon and whenever she sees Oberon it always seems like Oberon has always known her, though the two have never met. Oberon just seems to act like some spiritual guide and mentor to Watts, offering encouragement and help, no matter how hard things get. It certainly is hard: no money to pay for lessons or proper ballet gear; cribbing all she can from books; no space to practise except in the attic room she rents; no music; and scrimping to buy a gramophone.

Oberon lends her mysterious hand to help Watts get the gramophone, and some music to go with it. (Once the music is introduced the story keeps making a glaring error: it repeatedly says The Dance of the Dying Swan is in Swan Lake; it isn’t.) However, practising to music gets Watts evicted for being too noisy. Watts manages to find other accommodation, but it’s not very nice (basement room, rats). It’s more expensive – so less money for ballet lessons – and less room to practise. But after meeting Oberon, who says good things are going to happen to her, Watts feels encouraged again.

Soon after, Watts’ dingy new room looks better and she realises the basement area outside makes a ready stage for her to practise on once cleaned up. This gets her noticed by Mr and Mrs Hartley who own a ballet school. Upon seeing her talent they offer her private lessons, and don’t worry about fees. After this, Watts is convinced Oberon has strange powers and she arranged all this.

Watts strikes another problem at dance class: no ballet gear of her own and her ballet shoes are too tatty. But not for long: Oberon turns up in her mysterious manner with a bag full of everything Watts needs. Soon Watts’ ballet lessons are going so brilliantly that she is accepted by the London Company.

Suddenly Watts is shocked to find Oberon not appearing because she is indisposed. Then she has a horrible vision of horrible black hands reaching out for Oberon and realises it is a premonition. While rushing to Oberon’s house to warn her, Watts gets knocked down by a car.

Watts regains consciousness at a Swiss clinic and seems to hear her gramophone playing. Her legs are paralysed. Oberon appears, and tells Watts she has a destiny to fulfil, but is not specific on what that destiny is. Oberon puts Watts through a series of tests to get her to walk and eventually to dance again. Watts’ final test is to dance before an audience while every muscle in her body still gives pain. Oberon tells Watts to forget the pain and just dance for her audience. She does so, finding the music just seems to drive the pain away. The applause is thunderous and Watts tells Oberon she is cured.

Oberon tells Watts her destiny is to take her place as “Britain’s foremost ballerina”. She then says goodbye to Watts forever.

Watts regains consciousness in the hospital. She has been in a coma all the time and the Hartleys were playing the gramophone music in the hope it would wake her. The doctors are baffled as to how Watts, who was completely paralysed, has recovered, and is now dancing even better than before. It turns out that Oberon, who was taken ill, died at the precise moment Watts woke up from her coma. Watts vows to fulfil her destiny to carry on from Oberon as Britain’s leading ballerina, starting with the London Company.

Thoughts

This is quite a charming story. It is likeable and enjoyable to read. Nobody would call it average or boring. The writer remembers it fondly. We like the period setting, the hot chestnut job, the supernatural elements, struggling to dance in lousy accommodation, and Watts’ ultimate battle to overcome her paralysis and learn to dance again. We even like the touch of the mean landlady who offers Watts the basement area, which we suspect the landlady is overcharging for.

However, we feel that Watts does have it a bit too easy compared with other dancers in girls’ serials. Her story is not given enough episodes to really flesh things out or put more tribulations in her path. For example, we never see how Watts gets on at the London Company. And the obstacles Watts faces do not feel all that much of a threat. We get the impression they are only superficial and fleeting because they will be overcome the moment Oberon appears, which she always does.

Oberon acts too much like a deus ex machina who is always bailing Watts out of every fix she gets into. Yet it’s never in person. It’s always in a vision or appearing with dark glasses and a hood, like some fairy godmother. This also creates a bit of overdependence on Oberon. We are left wondering how Watts is going to cope now Oberon is dead and said her goodbyes. Is it here that her real tests of character will begin?

There is a real mystery as to how the power of Oberon over Watts actually works and it’s one of the most baffling in girls’ comics. Unlike the “Spirit of the Lake” she is not a ghost and is not dead (until the end of the story). There is no evidence of Oberon having actual powers. The two women are not related, nor are they twins. The only things they have in common are their love of ballet and having the same Christian name. Yet both women sense there is some sort of link between them and one is destined to follow on from the other. Perhaps everything can only be left to the readers’ imagination.

Journey stories: how do they work?

I would not normally write at such length about a story theme, but there was an academic conference held the week before last, for which I submitted a paper. The subject was Travel and Comics, and I chose to look at Jinty‘s journey stories in some detail, meaning that I now have quite a lot to say on it… Last week’s earlier post about the Journey theme formed the first half of the paper, showing how the theme was prevalent and popular, particularly at certain points during Jinty‘s run. (I wonder exactly why this happened, but I suspect the answer is just ‘why not’!) Today’s post will look at some specific example stories in Jinty in more detail, asking the following questions:

  • How does the journey start – what is the triggering thing that means the main character heads off on a journey in the first place?
  • What keeps them going – why don’t they just stop and do something else? What is it that happens that means they can stop travelling at the end of the story?

(These points tell us quite a lot about what makes the story into a ‘journey’ story specifically: it is the distinction between a story that has some bits where some travelling happens, and a story that is more clearly about the journey.)

  • While they are travelling, do we see the characters shown on the page as actively travelling, or do we see them ‘having travelled’, perhaps at the end of the day?

I think that looking at this sort of question about how a story works, in more detail, will help uncover some things about the journey theme beyond the obvious fact that it involves a journey.

How does the journey start?

If you look at some example journey stories, one thing that leaps out fairly soon is that it’s not a free choice on the part of the protagonist to go on a journey. Fran sets out  into a flooded Britain once her town has been overwhelmed by the rising waters and she is separated from her parents. Thumper suffers an accident at the precise moment which means he is unable to travel with Julie at the point she is moving house. Solveig and Per are looking forward to going home to Norway in the official convoy, but they have to go on the run when they see that Grendelsen has come to collect them as part of that official convoy: they know he is their deadly enemy. And even happy-go-lucky Katie McNab only sets off from London to Yuckiemuckle in order to fulfil the terms of Great-Uncle Ebeneezer’s will: because her family is poor, the chance to win a fortune is a strong incentive.

This  constraint or forced situation underlying the journey might be because the reader is expected to be a youngish girl (perhaps somewhere between 8 and 12 years old), not herself at an independent stage in life. Would it feel unrealistic if the protagonist was able to set off on a journey of her own choice, in the way that that a reader would be unable to do? Maybe, but I think that perhaps looking at Bella Barlow’s wanderings might shed a different light on it. Bella travels to many countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, and Russia among others. She doesn’t go on a journey, with a beginning and an end: she goes travelling, with no particular reason to come to a stop. (All right, if she made it to the Olympics she would be able to stop, but she’s Bella Barlow – part of the point of her story is exactly that she will never get a truly happy ending!)

In mainstream publishing likewise there are plenty of examples where the main character sets off of their own accord. Laurie Lee famously wrote “As I Set Off One Midsummer’s Morning” – he goes to seek his fortune wherever he might find himself. There is no clear driver right from the start that means he needs to go in a certain direction or to do a certain thing. The power of his story isn’t about the drama of leaving home and what made him go, nor about whether he will get to his destination safely. Reading his story we are interested in the landscapes he walks through, the people he meets, the food he eats, the foreign languages he shows us.

So I think that part of the point of a journey story, certainly in girls comics, is precisely that the protagonist is made to set out on her journey, by forces that are somewhat out of her control. (Lack of control or choice is quite common in girls comics in general, of course.)

What keeps the journey going? What happens that means that the protagonist can finally stop?

For it to be a real journey story, the travelling needs to be a significant part of it, and so it has to keep going for a while. If you look at the examples in Jinty, there are temptations along the way for the main character to stop: Fran Scott finds some occasional comfortable places to stay for a while on her tortuous journey up to Scotland, and Thumper could have made a new home with various of the friendly humans he met along his travels westward. These possibilities are properly tempting in their own right, because there are significant dangers on the way too: with a serial story comes a lot of cliff-hangers, and quite a few of those relate to physical dangers such as illnesses (fevers in “For Peter’s Sake!” and “Song of the Fir Tree”, plague in “Fran of the Floods”), or murderous humans (marauding bands in some particularly spectacular episodes of “Fran of the Floods”).

So, keeping going on the journey is typically dangerous (though in humour story “Race for a Fortune” any sense of physical danger is only minimally present). The reason to keep going in the face of this needs to be pretty strong in itself, otherwise why wouldn’t the protagonist just stop, and bring the story to an end (or turn it into a different sort of story). The reason to keep going is indeed a strong one – it is typically related to love, family, or some sort of stronger loyalty than self-preservation.

  • Fran keeps going in order to find her sister – the urge to find someone from her family, so that she doesn’t feel all alone in the world, is what drives her on, even though she doesn’t know for sure if her sister is alive in Scotland. When she is faced with a substitute possible family, it is not sufficient and she moves on regardless.
  • Thumper keeps going, despite increasingly sore feet and failing eyesight, in order to be reunited with his beloved owner, Julie. Other substitute possible owners, even though it is clear to him that they are loving and kind, are not enough for him to stay and he finds a way to move on regardless.
  • Corrie keeps pushing her pram southwards to London “For Peter’s Sake” as the story title has it – she is convinced that the pram is the only way that her ailing baby brother will be cured.
  • Although Katie McNab’s motive to keep going is less of a life-and-death situation than in the other stories, it is still an important one: a sense of family, in that she constantly muses on how the money she might inherit from great-uncle Ebeneezer would transform their impoverished lives.

The story does come to an end eventually, of course; generally with the protagonist reaching the end of their journey. The main character doesn’t just decide to stop travelling, though, as we saw above. The story end is tied up with the beginning of the story and the reason why she set off in the first place. Thumper finds Julie; Fran finds her sister; Corrie reaches London and her pram helps to cure Peter; Solveig and Per reach their home village in Norway and Grendelsen is defeated once and for all so he is no longer a threat. Some stories in Jinty have surprising endings that defy their beginnings; not so the journey story, which ends in a way consistent with the constant motivation.

How does this help us to understand what a journey story is or might be?

It seems to me that the above give us some important characteristics about what a journey story is and how it works, at least in British girls comics. The main character is forced by some sort of external circumstance to embark on the journey; she does not choose freely to set out. She keeps going on the journey for a serious reason, not lightly undertaken (and this is true even for humorous takes on the theme). She doesn’t just stop travelling because she feels like it, she has to complete the journey in a way consistent with the circumstance that forced her to set out in the first place.

You can easily enough imagine different versions of the stories, where one or more of these elements have been disregarded. Would they still count as journey stories, just ones that didn’t happen to have been written?

  • What sort of story might there be, if the protagonist had set out on a long journey of her own free choice?
    • You can certainly imagine a travel diary or a tourism story, perhaps like Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. It would probably focus on something different rather than being a quest: perhaps it would be a didactic story, teaching the reader how to set up camp and survive under tough conditions, or perhaps it would be about the people and landscapes she found on her travels.
    • I can imagine a girls comic covering this as a historical story, say retelling the life of a great explorer such as Lady Hester Stanhope, or perhaps framing it as a moral tale of a missionary.
  • What if the main character could stop any time she felt like it?
    • Perhaps this might work if she had set out of her own choice in the first place as above. It does however feels to me as if this would take away from the journey aspect of the story: I am not sure if such a story would count as a journey story.
    • Can anyone think of a journey story where this happens?
  • What if the main character never stopped, or never found what she was looking for?
    • There are stories that work in something like this way, as far as I understand: Valda travels the world competing with athletes and always beating them (would she stop if she found someone who could beat her, is that stated in the story?). Boys’ comics character Wilson similarly travels around, though as I understand it, he trains other athletes rather than focusing on beating them.
    • To readers of these stories – do they feel like journey stories to you?

And Finally

For the conference, I also briefly looked at a question which I think would repay more attention than I was able to spend on it at the time. This was about the depiction of the process of journeying itself. While the characters in the story are travelling, do we see the characters shown on the page as actively travelling, or do we see them ‘having travelled’, perhaps at the end of the day? How much of the process of travelling is shown on the page?

It seemed to me that the stories I looked at often didn’t show that much travelling on the page itself, though it did vary as some stories did more than others.

  • Thumper and Beaky are typically shown arriving somewhere new at the very beginning of the episode, and leaving again in the last panel or two. The bulk of the episode is spent with them overcoming the challenge posed that week: chasing off robbers, avoiding deadly rats and packs of dogs, avoiding being penned in by would-be owners. This only really changes in the second to last episode (see sample images on the story post) where we see a lot more active travelling depicted on the page itself. Other than that, it is the narration that does a lot of the work: we are told that they have travelled for days, that he is footsore, that he has little strength left.
  • Although as with “The Darkening Journey”, many episodes are focused on the challenge of the week, in “Fran of the Floods” Fran is shown on the page travelling by row-boat, on foot, by raft, and even by cruise ship. Not every panel shows her travelling onwards, but it is quite a feature of the story.
  • Corrie Lomax pushes her gran’s pram over a considerable distance and it is again quite a feature of the comics art itself: in the sample images on the story post she is shown doing so in many of the week’s story panels.
  • “Race for a Fortune” works similarly to “The Darkening Journey”, with Katie shown arriving and leaving again on her trusty roller skates, but otherwise mostly dealing with the week’s challenges as the key focus of each episode.

You would think there might be more use made visually of the fact of travelling, but as I mentioned above, it seems that the narration plays more of a role in telling the reader about the journey than the art does. We don’t see lots of use of maps, for instance – showing how far the protagonist has travelled or still has to travel. We don’t typically see a lot of ‘local colour’ either, which is also a bit surprising – when Katie is in the Scottish Highlands she sees some people wearing tam o shanters and pretending there is a local lake monster as in Loch Ness, but this sort of ‘tourism touch’ is not done as often as I might have expected. (Would a Welsh reader feel a surge of local pride, say, if something was set in Snowdonia, or would that mostly tend to put off the larger group of readers who wouldn’t immediately identify with the local touch in question?)

As I said above, I think this could repay more attention across a wider range of comics. Do most other journey stories stick to the episodic ‘challenge of the week’ format with minimal travelling shown? Do artists who I haven’t looked at use more, or less, in the way of visual shortcuts to indicate the character’s travelling, or is it generally down to the writer to tell us readers about the journey? I hope you may have comments and thoughts on this, and the rest of my long post: so please share!

Story Theme: Journey Story or Quest

The Journey Story or Quest was a popular story theme at certain points in Jinty and in other titles. Indeed, at some points in 1976, it would have been possible to be reading an issue of Jinty which included three or even arguably four journey stories in the same week’s comic (see 24 April 1976 for an example). It’s a story framework which allows the creators to vary the setting and characters as much as they like, and to experiment with a range of local touches if desired (Scottish kilts, Welsh mountains, or European stereotypes could be brought in depending on the story). Within a Quest theme the dramatic tension is kept up, too – the protagonist is always thinking of the thing that keeps them on the journey – the danger they are avoiding or the goal they are trying to reach.

The journey story is of course focused around a lengthy journey, but it is also something of a quest, as the protagonist has someone she needs to find or something she needs to do before she can stop journeying. She does not just head out for the fun of it or to see the sights; there is some motivating reason for her to keep moving. Apart from the journey element, the other themes of the story can be fairly varied: there are journey stories in Jinty which are rooted in science fiction, humour, love of aninals, and more.

Core examples

Song of the Fir Tree” (1975-76). This story has siblings Solveig and Per traveling across Europe after they are released from the concentration camp they were held in during WWII. They travel from Germany to Norway under their own steam, constantly having to keep one step ahead of their enemy Grendelsen (though at the same time, unknown to them, their father is chasing after them also).

This was the first journey story printed in Jinty. Clear precursors outside of British girls comics are “I Am David” and “The Silver Sword”, both of which feature long journeys and have child protagonists dealing with the aftermath of WWII.

Fran of the Floods” (1976). After her home town is overwhelmed in flooding, Fran Scott travels the length of an apocalyptic Britain to see if her sister is alive and well in Scotland. This popular and well-remembered journey story is one of survival against the odds and courage in the face of barbaric behaviour on the part of other survivors.

Bound for Botany Bay” (1976). Betsy Tanner is transported to Australia; in addition to the lengthy sea journey, once she gets to Botany Bay she runs off and travels across dangerous countryside, eventually finding her father who was sentenced to transportation earlier on.

For Peter’s Sake!” (1976). Set in the 1930s, Carrie Lomax has a brother who is seriously ill. Her grandmother’s pram has rocked many babies back to good health in a seemingly miraculous way and she hopes that it will do the same for little Peter. However, Carrie and the pram are in Scotland and the rest of her family is in London, and she needs to push the pram all the way back to him on foot.

The Darkening Journey” (1977). Thumper has been separated from his owner Julie, who is moving house with her family, across Britain to the west country. To add to the pathos, both of them are going slowly blind: Julie because she needs an operation to cure her, and Thumper because of an accident at the time they were separated. Together with his friend Beaky, a clever talking rook, he travels towards the setting sun to see if he can be reunited with his beloved owner.

Race For A Fortune” (1977-78). This is a humourous take on the journey story: Katie McNabb must race her snobby cousins in a journey to inherit her skinflint great-uncle Ebeneezer’s money. The one who reaches Ebeneezer’s home village of Yuckiemuckle first, starting out from the south of England with no money to help them, will win the race and the terms of the will. Katie and her cousins battle it out, each overtaking the other at various points on their travels.

“Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (1978-79). This is the longest, most epic of all the journey stories in Jinty (indeed so long is it, at 36 episodes, that to date I have quailed before the mighty task of writing a story post for it!). Dorothy and Max are an orphaned brother-sister pair who run away from the state care they are put into when their mother is killed. Inspired by the Wizard of Oz song, they travel from the south of England all the way to Scotland, hoping to find happiness at a care home called Rainbow’s End.

Edge cases and uncertainties

The core stories listed above all feature epic, dangerous, and long journeys as a central aspect of the story. There are other stories in Jinty which feature travelling on the part of the protagonists, but without it being such a central part of the plot.

Then There Were 3…” (1976). This is more of a mystery story: ten girls hire a narrowboat and travel on the water for some time, but the plot primarily focuses on the mystery of what is behind the occurrences that spook the girls. Is it something supernatural in origin, or is it down to a purely human villainy?

“The Big Cat” (1976-77) When her grandmother dies and she is evicted from the gypsy camp she lives in, Ruth travels with the big cat Ayesha that the story is named after. We do not currently have a story post about this to confirm if this is more of a journey story, or a fugitive story where the protagonist runs away and spends time in hiding rather than in travelling towards a clear goal.

Not to be confused with…

There are plenty of stories that include an element of journeying or travelling, such as those ones where the main character runs away: for instance Jinty‘s first issue includes the story “A Dream for Yvonne“, where Yvonne runs away from the circus to become a ballerina. She does not travel throughout the story unceasingly until she reaches her goal, though: she runs away multiple times, loses her memory, is threatened by jealous rivals, and is eventually accepted by both her family and the ballet school. The journeying is not the main point of the story, but rather her challenge lies in how to be accepted by family and friends.

Likewise in many stories there is a dramatic finale where the protagonist runs away either to elicit sympathy or to enact some specific deed: Gail in “Gail’s Indian Necklace” and Lee in “Daddy’s Darling” are two such examples from Jinty‘s early days. I am not counting these either, as the main focus of the story is again not on the journey itself, which is pretty limited in the span of story time that it takes up.

Fugitive stories may overlap considerably with the journey story, but again the key question in my mind is whether the fugitive keeps running, or mostly hides away somewhere. “Always Together…” (1974-75) has an orphaned family (well, almost – read the story summary for more detail) who run away from the welfare state mechanisms which are threatening to split them up. They do not keep running continuously, but instead camp out in a few locations and fend for themselves throughout the bulk of the story.

There are a few stories with castaways (“Desert Island Daisy“, “Girl The World Forgot“): if you are going to be cast away on a desert island you can hardly avoid having travelled, somewhere along the lines! But the focus is then on the predicament of the main character, not on a prolonged journey. The same goes for “Alice In A Strange Land” which has a transatlantic plane journey at beginning and end of the story, and a dramatic crash landing in an early episode, but which does not focus on those elements in the core plot.

Elsewhere…

Journey-themed stories were of course not confined to the pages of Jinty, though the April 1976 spike in popularity of these stories is perhaps only seen in this title. The following stories are not meant to be a complete list of journey stories, but just to give a flavour of the prevalence and the variety of them across both IPC and DC Thomson. (Many thanks to Mistyfan for providing scans of the below and other stories, and also to Lorrbot and the Girls Comics of Yesterday site, which I checked for mention of journey stories.)

  • Glen, A Dog on a Lonely Quest (Tammy, 1971)
  • Janet and her Travellin’ Javelin (Debbie, 1974)
  • Towne in the Country (Tammy, 1976-77)
  • The Ride-Away Randalls (Debbie, 1978)
  • The Wandering Starrs (Bunty, 1978-79)
  • One Girl and Her Dog (Tammy, 1978-79)
  • Jumbo and Jet (Tracy, 1981)
  • Jet’s Incredible Journey (Suzy, 1986)

Other thoughts

This post is already rather long, but I have more thoughts about the theme. Another post will follow, discussing aspects of how journey stories actually worked in more detail, looking at some of the stories mentioned above.

The Darkening Journey

Sample images

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Publication: 26 March 1977 – 6 August 1977 (20 episodes)

Reprint/translation: Translated into Dutch and published in Tina as “Samen door het duister” (1981)

Artist: José Casanovas

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Julie Burton’s eyesight is growing dimmer and dimmer, and her main support is her golden Labrador, Thumper, who almost acts as a guide dog. There are some bright spots in her future: her father has got a new job over in the west by the sea, and there is hope that an upcoming operation might give her good sight again. However, on the cusp of leaving to travel miles away to their new home, Julie and Thumper are separated and the dog suffers a blow to the head that leaves his own eyesight blurry. A friendly talking rook, Beaky, befriends Thumper and together they make their long difficult way west towards where Thumper remembers Julie’s new house to be located.

Their way is fraught with difficulties: it’s mostly humans who get in their way, either for positive or negative motives. First the talking rook is nearly recaptured by his former owners, only to be rescued by Thumper; then they both need to run away from a selfish rich lady who only wants to keep them while she’s able to show them both off to her snooty friends. (The rather more sympathetic chauffeur and secretary help them to escape in the end.) Sometimes Thumper and Beaky save the humans (foiling some lorry hijackers), sometimes they save each other (Beaky brings human help to save a trapped or injured Thumper more than once, though Thumper returns the favour when they are both trapped by floodwaters).

In the meantime, Julie is pining away thinking about Thumper, and he likewise seems to have an almost telepathic bond with her – her image is shown hovering over the setting sun more than once, as a beacon calling him to her, and she likewise often seems to be able to sense his misery. Increasing his woes, Thumper is suffering from more and more blind spells too. But there are many times when temporary blindness and separation anxiety are not the biggest evils they face – a few of the humans they meet have plans to put Thumper down; he is bullied by a pack of stronger dogs; and another time he is nearly eaten by rats.

Though by the end, Thumper in particular is moving more and more slowly, they eventually reach the westernmost limit of their travels: the final moorland, and the sea. The dramatic tension tightens right at the end as the dog, careless with happiness, hurts his foot badly and is trapped by the rising tide: but Beaky comes through again and brings Julie’s dad to the final rescue. All is well, once the two beloved friends each have operations to restore their eyesight.

Themes and commentary

It is an intrinsically pretty sentimental story, with the dog protagonist gifted with an implausibly good skill in navigating his way cross-country in the absence of a definite location to head for. (Not to mention the almost telepathic nature of the mental connection that he and Julie seem to share.) It must have been a popular story, at 20 episodes long and featuring on the cover twice, though at the same time not rivalling the most classic Jinty stories that were also running at this point. (Though they were shorter stories, both “Creepy Crawley” and “The Spell of the Spinning Wheel” featured on the cover four times in the same time period.) Journey stories in general seem to have been very popular at this time, and the addition of sympathetic animal characters will have given it a different angle from other journey stories.

José Casanovas is also always a talent to enjoy reading. His art style is much busier and ‘fuller’ than that of many other Jinty artists, who often like to include a lot more white space in their finished pages, but it makes a nice change of pace and feels very solid. This is a story that, while far from the first rank of stories running in this title at this time, is enjoyable on its own merits and will have a number of fans.

Hangman’s Alley [1979]

Sample Images

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Published: Misty #86, 29 September 1979 – #90, 27 October 1979

Episodes: 5

Artist: Jesus Redondo

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Best of Misty #5

Plot

Mel and Jacey Coombs and their mother move into an apartment above an old alley. It used to be called Hangman’s Alley because condemned criminals were taken through this alleyway from the gaol on the marsh to execution on Gallows Hill. Mum tries to hide this grim past from her daughters, but it’s no use. Their arrival has stirred up the ghosts – literally. The ghost of a servant girl who was wrongly executed returns from beyond the grave when the family move in, and she is full of bitterness and hatred. She is taking out her hatred on Mel, for no other reason than Mel is a dead ringer for her. She almost attacks Mel in the bedroom, and later she lures Mel onto a bridge in a trance and tries to throw her off.

Jacey, the only one who can sense or see the ghost, discovers what the ghost is trying to do, and confronts the ghost in a bid to save Mel. The ghost informs Jacey, through a series of visions, that she was wrongly executed for stealing a pearl necklace from her mistress. The evidence against her was extremely flimsy. She was cleaning her mistress’s jewellery and another servant saw her admiring the pearl necklace while doing so. On this alone, everyone just assumed she stole the necklace when the mistress found it missing later on. She was dragged to the gallows protesting her innocence, but in vain; angry people were yelling for her execution on all sides. Jacey strikes a deal with the ghost: she will clear the ghost’s name if the ghost will leave Mel alone.

Having read up the history of Hangman’s Alley, Jacey knows where to find the old gaol. At the gaol the ghost directs her to her name, which she gouged into the wall: Melinda Walpole. At least Jacey now knows the ghost’s name. However, Jacey is caught for trespass and gets into big trouble with Mum, especially as she skipped school to go there in the first place.

Unfortunately Jacey’s investigation is making slow progress. The ghost is getting impatient and her impatience is making her increasingly dangerous. The investigation is being further impeded by distractions the family unwittingly put up. The family host a housewarming party, but Jacey sees Melinda the ghost while doing preparations and realises Mel has gone. She finds Mel collapsed in the alley and a warning from Melinda written in cherryade on the wall, which Jacey realises is a warning it could be blood next time. The message reads, “Remember the promise or next time…”

Thinking Jacey is off colour, Mum sends her to the doctor, and the wait in reception is interminable. It’s another holdup on the investigation and more strain on Melinda’s patience. But at least Jacey gets another clue while waiting, in a magazine. It is an article on an old house, and one of the photos shows Melinda’s signature etched on the wall. So now Jacey has located the house Melinda worked in. It is now facing development while others want to preserve it.

Jacey goes to the house and heads for the old servants’ quarters to find the etching. Mel follows, and Jacey tells her she’s playing grand lady to cover up what she is really doing. Hearing this, Melinda thinks she has been mucked around long enough. Her patience snaps, and she locks them in the old servants’ quarters and sets the house on fire. While fighting their way out, a wall partition gives way and Jacey finds an old box hidden in there. They make their way out safely and a huge crowd gathers. Among them is a reporter hoping for a story that will help save the house.

He gets it when Jacey opens the box. It contains the stolen necklace and a written confession from the thief (whose identity is not revealed). She had contracted smallpox from the crowd while watching Melinda being executed. She was left to die in the attic, but before she did she wrote the confession. She then put the necklace and confession in the box and hid it in the wall.

The publicity the confession creates in the press saves the house and it is converted into a museum. Jacey is given the necklace as a reward. Melinda, speaking for the very first time to Jacey, puts the necklace on Jacey herself, and says she can rest in peace now her name has been cleared.

Thoughts

Serials about servants being wrongly accused are commonplace in girls’ comics, and serials about wrongly accused servants coming back as ghosts are not unusual either. “Shivery Shirley” from Bunty and “The Sad Ghost” from June are examples of such ghosts. But this one is particularly morbid for several reasons.

First, the wrongly accused servant is actually executed instead of simply dying in miserable circumstances as her counterparts mentioned above do. And she was not merely dismissed, imprisoned or transported – she was executed.

Second, the ghost, while having a sympathetic backstory and situation, is not very sympathetic as a character. Instead of crying out for help she is extremely malevolent and the atmosphere her presence creates is described as “evil”. Her maliciousness may be the product of the bitterness over the injustice, but there is no apparent reason for why she is attacking Mel or why she is taking it all out on Mel. And she simply has no excuse for attacking Mel either, as Mel had nothing to do with the injustice. So why the hell is she doing it? At least with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”, another malevolent ghost in Tammy, there was a psychology to her behaviour that we could understand and it made her haunting more realistic. In the case of Melinda Walpole there is none and we just don’t get it – why is she acting in that way to Mel?

Finally, the depiction of Hangman’s Alley and the executions are gruesome and atmospheric. The hatching, linework and inking of Jesus Redondo renders it all brilliantly. We hear references to criminals being taken to the “gibbet” and there “die horribly”. And the flashback of Melinda being dragged to execution gives the impression her execution was little more than a lynching.

The story is not long at five episodes. Considering Melinda’s conduct and the slowness of Jacey’s investigation, this probably is just as well, and it does make the plotting very tight. The danger of the ghost gives a sense of urgency to get things done fast but things are just moving too slowly, which makes it even more worrying for Jacey and more dramatic for us readers. However, the ending feels like it came a bit too soon, and the menace of Melinda was too short-lived.

At the end of the story it is not revealed who the thief really was when her confession is found. Was it the servant who saw Melinda admire the necklace or was it someone else? Not being told whodunit is infuriating. The ending would have been better if the identity of the thief had been revealed.

The Shadow of Sherry Brown [1981-82]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 28 November 1981 – 13 February 1982

Episodes: 11

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Katy Bishop is taken in by new guardians, Mr and Mrs Brown, in agreement with her gran, who is no longer capable of minding her. Katy is not impressed to find that the Browns’ interest in her was prompted by her being a dead ringer for their daughter Sherry, who had died eighteen months before. She is upset and angry at the unfairness of being in the shadow of their daughter and being given her room and things, as if Sherry were still alive, and making them feel she is alive again too. But Katy soon finds that is the least of her problems.

The daughter Sherry may be dead, but she is far from gone. Her ghost haunts the place, appearing as a shadow. The ghost is spiteful, jealous and vicious towards Katy whenever Katy acquires something – or someone – that was once hers. There are no limits to what Sherry is capable of to protect her former possessions from Katy, even if it comes close to murder. Even Sherry’s former friends and horse get attacked by the ghost if Katy gets too close to them.

Katy hears that Sherry had an extremely severe jealousy streak when she was alive. If anyone intruded on her friendship with Joan, her best friend, she would fly into a fury, and even attack Joan. She always apologised afterward and “all was all sweetness and light again”, but her jealousy always remained her biggest failing. The source of this information (above) is questionable as the girl who tells Katy this is the only one who did not like Sherry. And Sherry did have loads of friends, including Joan. All the same, it fits the pattern of the ghost’s conduct.

As Katy can’t really leave the Browns, Sherry can’t really get rid of her, short of actually killing her or something. Katy just tries to avoid anything that was once Sherry’s. But no matter how hard she tries she always seems to bump into one of Sherry’s former possessions, and the jealous ghost attacks her yet again. Moreover, the ghost can strike from anywhere; she’s not just confined to the home. The ghost is a shadow in more ways than one. She can stick to Katy like a shadow and be ready to strike the moment Katy finds anything of hers. Katy is forced to give up on things and people once she finds out they were once Sherry’s, including Sherry’s best friend Joan and her horse Snowball – and she liked them both so much.

Of course Katy can’t really settle down with the Browns because of Sherry or be happy living there. She always has the feeling of being threatened and lives in a constant state of fear. She can’t explain what’s going on. When she tries, nobody listens. Nobody else seems to see that shadow or sense the threatening, hostile atmosphere it projects towards her. She daren’t even refer to the Browns as “Mum” and “Dad”, much to their bewilderment and disappointment. But with the Browns now her guardians, she can’t leave the house and be free of Sherry forever.

Matters come to a head when the Browns’ wedding anniversary comes up. Having learned they like collecting miniature houses, Katy sets out to buy one at a gift shop. But then the shadow appears, and smashes all the goods and wrecks the shop. Outside Joan sees what is going on – and this time she does see the shadow, and it’s the shadow that’s causing the damage.

The shop owner thinks Katy caused the damage, of course. Joan backs up Katy’s protests of innocence. As the shop owner would not believe about the shadow, Joan tries to convince her it was vibration from passing lorries. The shop owner agrees not to call the police, but bans them both from her premises, as she is not fully convinced.

Realising Joan also saw the shadow, Katy tells her everything. And yes, Joan can feel the sense of being threatened too. But why did Sherry attack the shop?

Joan explains that it was because of how Sherry died (of which it is now the anniversary). Exactly two years ago now, she bought a wedding anniversary gift for her parents from the shop, but got so excited about it when she saw Joan across the road that she forgot to watch the traffic and got hit by a lorry. With her dying breath she told Joan she was disappointed that her parents would not receive her gift, which got smashed in the accident. By rotten luck it was identical to the one Katy was about to buy, and this must have really pushed the shadow over the edge.

They realise this disappointment is why Sherry couldn’t rest in the first place. So they figure that if the parents do get the gift her ghost will be laid to rest. Fortunately Joan still has the pieces. So they repair it and give it to the parents on Sherry’s behalf. Sure enough, they soon find they no longer feel threatened or have the shadow hanging over them.

Thoughts

This was one of the new stories to be launched when the Tammy & Jinty merger started. The merger gives the impression it was still using unpublished scripts from Misty, and this serial looks like it was one of them. Neither Tammy nor Jinty would have come up with such a malicious, spiteful ghost, but it is something Misty would definitely have gone for. Besides, the story is drawn by a former Misty artist who had not been a regular in either Tammy or Jinty before.

Tammy didn’t have all that many ghost stories (perhaps it was the long-standing Storyteller providing so much spooky material), but there is no doubt that “The Shadow of Sherry Brown” is the most frightening and disturbing one that Tammy ever published. In fact, Sherry Brown is one of the most terrifying ghosts ever to appear in girls’ comics. It’s not just because the ghost’s jealousy is making her so dangerous to Katy. It’s also because she acts so viciously even to those she once liked (Joan, Snowball) if they get to close to Katy or her heart. It’s not just terrifying; it’s repugnant as well. The ghost would be even more despicable if she had attacked her parents in the same way. And what makes the haunting even more miserable for the victim is that there is no escaping it wherever she goes, short of leaving the Browns for good. No matter where Katy turns, she comes up against it one way or other.

It is fortunate for Katy that what caused the haunting in the first place has nothing to do with Sherry’s jealousy. It’s disappointment over a failure (and a pretty minor failure at that). It is something that can easily be fixed once it is explained. In fact, Sherry could have explained it to Katy herself and asked for her help in solving her problem, if only she had thought of it. After all, getting rid of Katy would not get the gift to her parents, which is what she really wants if she is to rest in peace. But it seems Sherry was just too consumed with jealousy and possessiveness to think clearly on that point, and was cutting off her nose to spite her face there.

Danger Dog [1982]

Sample Images 

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982 to 17 April 1982

Episodes: 15

Artist: Julio Bosch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is slightly ahead in the future (from the time of writing). Beth Harris’ town has a cruel practice in regard to stray animals: rounding them up and taking them to High Fell Research Station for experimentation. Her dog Sammy falls foul of this practice when he got lost. His collar got lost as well, so he was taken for a stray and ended up at High Fell. Beth breaks into High Fell to rescue Sammy, and is confident she got him out before the scientists did anything to him.

However, Beth’s father insists Sammy be returned to High Fell in case he is carrying some sort of contamination from that place and is dangerous. Beth does not believe that, and she is not having Sammy returned to High Fell either. She ends up going on the run with Sammy on the moor, intending to come back once she’s proved Sammy’s not dangerous.

Unfortunately for Beth a huge manhunt is soon after her, with men in contamination suits and tracker dogs searching the moors, and the High Fell owner insisting on Sammy’s return. He refuses to disclose details about the experiments performed on Sammy or exactly what sort of contamination he could be carrying. Considering what a horrible-looking man he is, his reticence is very suspicious.

The manhunt is all over the press and big news in town. As the news gathers momentum, there are hints that people who disapproved of High Fell and its animal experiments are beginning to voice their outrage and express sympathy for Beth. On the moor, Beth finds some of these sympathisers helping her whenever she meets them, such as an old lady living on the moor named Old Meg.

Meanwhile, Beth increasingly begins to realise that weird things have been happening to her, and have been ever since she got Sammy back. She is having bizarre bouts of going deaf, going blind, voice going wrong, seeing in the dark, super-strength, super-healing, and the muscles in her body going completely kaput. These wear off, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity. They happen to other people she comes into contact with as well. These include the kindly Old Meg and scheming gypsies who hold Beth and Sammy prisoner, hoping to claim a reward for bringing them in.

At first Beth thinks these things are due to her getting contaminated with chemicals during her rescue mission and she is the one who is dangerous, not Sammy. But eventually she realises these weird things only happen when she is in close contact with Sammy. He is dangerous after all. Whatever was done to him causes peculiar things to happen to any human he comes into contact with. She believes the High Fell scientists must have known this and it is the real reason they want him back.

Beth, the human who stays close to Sammy the most, is feeling the worst of these effects. She soon finds they are getting both worse and weirder. So bad now in fact, that Beth discovers that distance from Sammy is no longer safe. There is no telling where they will lead, and her very life could be in danger. But she can’t bear the thought of Sammy being destroyed or returned to High Fell. She tries to drive Sammy off, but realises that is not the answer either, as he could still come into contact with humans.

After long thought Beth makes the decision to leave Sammy tied up in an old cottage and go back to town to get help from her parents. But by the time she arrives home the chemicals are having such a bad effect on her – despite her distance from Sammy – that she is confined to bed. By the time she recovers, Sammy has been in that cottage without food or water for whole three days.

They get to Sammy in time, and also discover the three-day nourishment deprivation has cured him of the chemical effects. He is safe to go home. It is never established just what High Fell did to Sammy and why. Beth thinks they were developing a weapon of some sort. High Fell is closed down and their experiments stopped because of the bad publicity Beth caused them. Beth hopes that if the research station reopens, it will be to more savoury experiments.

Thoughts

“Danger Dog” was one of the best stories to appear during the Tammy & Jinty merger. It’s strong, dark, subversive, freaky, and chilling stuff. It is possible the story was originally written for Misty as there is evidence (Monster Tales) that Misty was still an influence on Tammy during the merger despite her logo’s disappearance on the cover. The story looks like it was strongly influenced by “The Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams. “The Secret of NIMH” could be in the mix as well.

Danger Dog not only decries the cruelties of animal experimentation but also the dangers of science when it is used for unethical ends. Unlike most evil scientists in girls’ comics it is never established just what those scientists did to Sammy or why. Never knowing exactly what that experiment was about makes the story even more sinister and creepy. As we see those weird effects on Beth, watch them grow increasingly bizarre, and eventually learn it is because of Sammy, it’s even more frightening, because we don’t know just what is behind it. For one thing, is the experiment backfiring or going wrong for some reason? Or is it unfolding as the scientists intended, with perhaps even more results than they anticipated? Are they really developing a secret weapon? Or is it some other chemical experiment?

The effects themselves add to the horror of it all. It’s not just because they are frightening but also because they are just plain weird. Seeing in the dark, and then going blind? All the muscles in your body going flat? Now that is just weeiirrd! And what makes it even weirder is that some of these effects can be described as temporary super powers, such as the super-strength or seeing in the dark. But the final effect turns Beth’s face into an utter horror story, which shocks her parents when they see it. It must have shocked the doctors and authorities as well, and if it didn’t have them tearing White Fells apart to find out just what that research station was doing we would be very surprised. And we can just see the angry demonstrators outside the research station once word of Beth’s condition spread. It would have been no surprise if Beth’s final state had been the final straw that shut down White Fells.

It’s the irony of the story that if Sammy had turned out to be safe like Beth hoped, High Fell might not have been shut down. Having him turn out to be dangerous after all would have been the clincher in stopping the High Fell experiments.

We strongly sympathise with Beth and Sammy, and we cheer Beth for wanting to save her dog from those experiments. We desperately want Beth to emerge triumphant at proving Sammy is not dangerous and not have to return to that research station. And we expect that to happen. After all, this is a girls’ serial. So it is gutting for us all when the story establishes that Beth was wrong all along and her dog really is dangerous like Dad said. It’s definitely not the way we expected the story to go.

After this, Beth is faced with a choice that no girl and her dog should ever face: the love of her dog or risk him being destroyed. And let’s face it: public safety and Beth’s own well-being are at stake, and they have to come first. But it’s an agonising, heart-wrenching decision for Beth, and here the story delivers its most powerful emotional impact.

Setting the story a little distance in an unspecified future year adds a dystopian element to the story. This makes the concept of a town sending strays to a research station for experimentation instead of animal shelters for rehoming a bit more credible. The unspeficied time setting also means the story will work anywhere, anytime, which will be handy if it comes up for reprint.