Category Archives: story structure

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls Comics – and Non-Girls Comics

We have all noticed certain things in comics. Things about plot, character and setting that always seem to crop up and we comment on them a lot. Then again, there are other things about plot, character and setting that always crop up as well, but we hardly even notice them. At least, not until someone else points them out. We have already presented three volumes on this subject that focused exclusively on girls’ comics, but for this new edition we expand the repertoire to include material from non-girls’ comics. 

Now, to give you the idea of what we mean, we present:

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls Comics – and Non-Girls Comics

1: Some parents expect you to just selflessly help them all the time, regardless of workload or inconvenience, because that’s what they do for others.

2: But you’re the one person they never help.

3: No matter how good a schemer you are, you always make the slip that trips you up. 

4: Evil scientists have a really bad habit of falling at the hands of their own creation.

5: Even if you’re the villain who’s the world’s worst dictator, you can still meet your match in a kid.

6: Someone always seems to have just what you need – even if they seem to have conjured it out of thin air, without any explanation. 

7: When a teacher makes a teacher’s pet out of a pupil, it’s not because they like them.

8: Parents who don’t want to listen never hear you properly.

9: When it suits them, all of a sudden they hear you perfectly.

10: But it’s not to listen to you – it’s to spout utter bulls**t at you.

11: Bombers use alarm clocks as jury-rigged bomb timers, which just look plain silly.

12: When they must know there are much better bomb timers available.

13: Villains always seem to pick the wrong person as the latest recruit into their gang.

14: But for some reason they don’t realise it until it’s too late.

15: Never underestimate good guys with glasses.

16: Never underestimate bad guys with glasses.

17: Never underestimate a nerd, whether good or bad.

18: Antagonists are not admired for good looks – except when the plot requires them to be. 

19: Bad guys who feed on fear strike it into the hearts of everyone in every panel they appear in.

20: Until they come to the panel where they’re up against the wall. 

21: Victims don’t seem to recognise the mysterious shadowy figure that’s about to strike at them – even if the reveal shows it should have struck them as familiar in some way.

22: No matter how many enemies are set against you, not keeping your end of the bargain is what will be your downfall by the end of the story.

23: Bullied girls get no support from classmates if the plot does not require it.

24: But they do if the plot does require it.

25: Some outfits (or names) have an amazing power to change completely between panels without explanation.

Image credits

Black Beth – Scream Holiday Special 1988

Commandos vs Zombies – Commando #5277, 2019

Concrete Surfer – Jinty 1978

Hard Times for Helen – Judy 1984–85

Heartbreaker – Nikki 1989

The Nightmare – Battle 1985

No Haven for Hayley – Tammy 1981

Pam of Pond Hill – Tammy & Jinty 1982

Revenge! – Commando #1268, 1978

Teacher’s Pet – Judy 1990

Tears of a Clown – Jinty 1980 

Traitor’s War – Commando #2472, 1991, #4085, 2008

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics: Volume 3

We’ve had two instalments of “25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics”. You know, the ones that start with:

“We have all noticed certain things in girls’ serials. Things about plot, character and setting that always seem to crop up and we comment on them a lot. Then again, there are other things about plot, character and setting that always crop up as well, but we hardly even notice them. At least, not until someone else points them out.”

Well, here we are again, with:

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics: Volume 3


1: We get plenty of serials with spooky moggies…

Image credit: “Cat!”, M&J, 1991.


2: … but not many with spooky doggies.

Whistle and I'll Come..
Image credit: “Whistle and I’ll Come…” Misty 1978-79.


3: Antagonists who trick protagonists into signing contracts don’t make sure they are legally valid.

The Stables Slave

Image credit: “The Stables Slave”, Tammy 1972-73.


4: When you count on something, there’s always something you didn’t count on…

Bad Luck Barbara
Image credit: “Bad Luck Barbara”, Mandy 1985.


5: We all laud the one true friend who stands by the unfortunate protagonist through thick and thin…

Move Over, Maria
Image credit: “Move Over, Maria”, Bunty 1994.


6: … yet we all wonder why the hell the true friend sticks by the protagonist when she’s a pain in the butt and nobody else likes her!

Snobby Shirl the Shoeshine Girl!
Image credit: “Snobby Shirl the Shoeshine Girl!”, Jinty 1976.


7: The main villain suddenly reforms if they cross an even bigger villain.

Sadie in the Sticks
Image credit: “Sadie in the Sticks”, Tammy & June 1974.


8: Parents with a problem child seem to think a schoolgirl and change of scene will be the instant magic cure.

Be Nice To Nancy!
Image credit: “Be Nice To Nancy!”, Judy 1989-1990.


9: We don’t get many girls’ serials where the main antagonist is a boy.


Image credit: “Bullied!”, M&J 1996.

10: So often is a magic object more trouble than it’s worth, even if it does have its uses.

Topsy Turvey
Image credit: “Topsy Turvey”, Mandy 1985.


11: Aliens with advanced science often have poor scientific methods.

The Human Zoo
Image credit: “The Human Zoo”, Jinty 1978-79.


12: About 99% of the time, protagonists/antagonists out for revenge find out they were mistaken.

Down with St Desmonds
Image credit: “Down with St Desmond’s!”, Bunty 1977-78.


13: The plot always sets you up to beware of girls who look so sweet and angelic you could use them for artificial sweeteners.

Angela Angel-Face
Image credit: “Angela Angel-Face”, Jinty 1980.


14: The problem in a dystopian world of the future is nothing the 20th century can’t fix.

Trixie of 2087
Image credit: “Trixie of 2087”, Debbie PSL #107, 1987.


15: Nobody but the protagonist seems to act if an animal is being mistreated until the final episode.

Olympia Jones
Image credit: “Olympia Jones”, Tammy 1976-1977.


16: An award, prize or big win always turns out to be a jinx – unless it’s won at the end of the story.

The £100,000 headache
Image credit: “The £100,000 Headache”, Debbie PSL #33, 1980.


17: They never let you get away with deception, even if your reasons for it are sympathetic/noble.

Image credit: “Ashamed of Her Mum”, Debbie PSL #100, 1986.


18: There are plenty of girls’ serials with bully teachers…

Image credit: “Hard Times for Helen”, Judy 1984-85.


19: … but not many with bullied teachers.

Patsy on the Warpath
Image credit: “Patsy on the Warpath”, June 1969.


20: So often everyone seems to conveniently lose all memory of something weird happening except the protagonist and all trace of it disappears at the end of the story – even when there is no reason for it.

Who is Astra?
Image credit: “Who is Astra?”, Mandy PSL #62 (and #211), 1983.


21: Loads of girls’ serials are set in World War II…


Image credit: “Catch the Cat!”, Bunty 1976.


22: … but few set in World War I.

For the Love of Lucy
Image credit: “For the Love of Lucy”, Diana 1978.


23: Beware of sweet-talking ladies who offer to take poor homeless orphans under their wing.

Slaves of the Teasets
Image credit: “Slaves of the Teasets”, Bunty PSL #292 (and #438), 1987.


24: Somebody does not listen to warnings when they should have…

Image credit: “Minnie the Meanie”, Judy 1982.


25: … with predictable results to shape the rest of the story.

Image credit: “Minnie the Meanie”, Judy 1982.

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics: Volume 2

In our previous blog entry we listed 25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics. You know, the one that went:

“We have all noticed certain things in girls’ serials. Things about plot, character and setting that always seem to crop up and we comment on them a lot. Then again, there are other things about plot, character and setting that always crop up as well, but we hardly even notice them. At least, not until someone else points them out.”

But it doesn’t end at 25. Oh no, you wouldn’t expect that, would you? No, of course not! Now we present:

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics: Volume 2

1: Parents fail to stand up for themselves at the worst moments… and with the worst consequences.

Down with St Desmonds 1
Image credit: “Down with St Desmond’s!”, Bunty 1977-78.

2: The lengths overprotective parents go to to protect their offspring are so ridiculous they’re laughable – yet the consequences are not.

Namby Pamby
Image credit: “Namby Pamby”, Tammy 1983.

3: If all else fails, bring in a deus ex machina to redeem the mess the protagonist is in.

Down with St Desmonds 2
Image credit: “Down with St Desmond’s”, Bunty 1977-78.

4: Protagonists making claims of harassment often turn out to be faking the whole thing…

Pam of Pond Hill 3
Image credit: “Pam of Pond Hill”, Tammy & Princess 1984.

5: … yet real harassment/ bullying often seems to go unnoticed by those in authority.

Tears of a Clown 1
Image credit: “Tears of a Clown”, Jinty 1980.

6: We are surprised if the school tries to sort out a bullying situation before the end of the story…

They Call Me a Coward
Image credit: “They Call Me a Coward!”, June 1971.

7: … but we aren’t at all surprised if they sort it out at the end of the story.

Pam of Pond Hill 2
Image credit: “Pam of Pond Hill”, Tammy 1983.

8: Schemers plotting to get rid of someone keep failing to do so, no matter how much they discredit them (except when they are required to temporarily succeed before being found out).

That Bad Bettina
Image credit: “That Bad Bettina!”, Mandy 1985.

9: Parents never listen to warnings that something weird’s about to strike the family.

The Sentinels 1
Image credit: “The Sentinels”, Misty 1978.

10: Guess who cops the worst of it.

The Sentinels 2
Image credit: “The Sentinels” Misty 1978.

11: We get lots of serials about World War II and fighting the Nazis – but it’s rare to see Hitler in any size, shape or form.

Worlds Apart 3
Image credit: “Worlds Apart”, Jinty 1981.

12: Bodging could have some pretty funny results.

Sharon's Shadow
Image credit: “Sharon’s Shadow”, Tammy annual 1983.

13:  For some reason we always know when parents have put the wrong person in charge of their daughter while they are away – yet the parent never realises it themselves before they put that person in charge. 

Tina's Telly Mum 1
Image credit: “Tina’s Telly Mum”, Tammy & Misty 1980.

14: Witches with pointy hats and broomsticks often seem to be played sympathetically or for humour…

Worlds Apart 4
Image credit: “Worlds Apart”, Jinty 1981.

15: … while witches who look like crones or beautiful but sinister women  are played for the chills.

Image credit: “The Painting”, Bunty 1989-90.

16: Ordinary antagonists aren’t killed off much.

Katie on Thin Ice 1
Image credit: “Katie on Thin Ice”, Tammy 1977.

17: Supernatural/ SF ones are.

Image credit: “Electra of the Evil Eye”, Bunty 1980.

18: We are very surprised if a parent problem is resolved by the daughter making her parent(s) simply see sense.

Image credit: “I’ll Never Forgive You!”, Bunty 1989.

19: We are not surprised when the parent(s) see sense after the daughter runs off or gets run over.

B&W World of Shirley Grey 2
Image credit: “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”, Tammy 1981.

20: The only time the protagonist gets acquitted at trial is when her pal arrives at the very last minute with the evidence that will clear her.

Olympia Jones 1
Image credit: “Olympia Jones”, Tammy 1976-1977.

21: In regular strips, brothers are a pain in the ass.

Tansy of Jubilee Street
Image credit: “Tansy of Jubilee Street”, Tammy & Jinty, 1982.

22: It’s unusual to have a serial starring a plump/ plain protagonist outside of an “ugly duckling” serial…

Image credit: “Willa Will Dance”, Debbie 1974

23: … or a humour strip where the protagonist doesn’t give a s*** about the way she is!

Bessie Bunter
Image credit: “Bessie Bunter”, June.

24: People just say the protagonist is not right in the head when she tries to convince them of something…

End of the Line
Image credit: “End of the Line”, Misty 1978.

25: … but when she really is not right in the head they don’t realise it.

Waves of Fear 1
Image credit: “Waves of Fear”, Jinty 1979

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics

We have all noticed certain things in girls’ serials. Things about plot, character and setting that always seem to crop up and we comment on them a lot. Then again, there are other things about plot, character and setting that always crop up as well, but we hardly even notice them. At least, not until someone else points them out. To give you the idea of what we mean, we present:

25 Things You May (or May Not) Have Noticed in Girls’ Comics

1: The protagonist is always an only child, except when the plot requires her to have siblings.

Pam of Pond Hill 1
Image credit: “Pam of Pond Hill”, Tammy 1984

2: The protagonist endures even the worst abuse imaginable rather than upset dear old mummy and daddy by telling them what’s going on.

Image credit: “Witch!”, Bunty 1991.

3: Problem parents always make the wrong assumptions about their daughter until the end of the story.

Hard Times for Helen
Image credit: “Hard Times for Helen”, Judy 1984-85

4: If the daughter speaks out against it, it’s not until the climax.

Hard Times for Helen 1
Image credit: “Hard Times for Helen”, Judy 1984-85.

5: Parents sense they have a problem with their daughter – but don’t do anything about it except shout the house down.

Waves of Fear 1
Image credit: “Waves of Fear”, Jinty 1979.

6: And then they discover they handled it all wrong – but not before it’s led to something totally preventable.

Waves of Fear 2
Image credit: “Waves of Fear”, Jinty 1979.

7: The protagonist doesn’t write to a problem page for help although there are plenty of them in girls’ comics.

Write to Kim
Image credit: Problem page, Girl (second series), 1981.

8: The order and favourite story coupons they always tell you to fill out ruin the comic for future collectors because they leave holes in it.

Favourite story coupon
Favourite story coupon, Tammy 1981.

9: (Except when the plot allows it), child welfare’s never around when you really need ’em…

Bella at the Bar 1
Image credit: “Bella at the Bar”, Tammy 1974.

10: …but alway stick their noses in when you least want ’em.

Bella at the Bar 2
Image credit: “Bella at the Bar”, Tammy 1974.

11: No boys in girls’ adventures, though men are allowed…

The Human Zoo 3
Image credit: “The Human Zoo”, Jinty 1978-79.

12: …except very young boys, mostly kid brothers.

Somewhere over the Rainbow
Image credit: “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, Jinty 1978-79.

13: A lot of exonerations are contrived because we simply must have happy endings.

B&W World of Shirley Grey
Image credit: “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”, Tammy 1981

14: Advanced aliens never developed the know-how that could have saved them – but less advanced humans have.

Human Zoo 2
Image credit: “The Human Zoo”, Jinty, 1978-79.

15: Serials about girls sent to reform / special school are either sent unjustly or only need a little toning down…

Merry at Misery House
Image credit: “Merry at Misery House”, Jinty 1974-75.

16: …never because they’re utter toerags who really deserve it!

Be Nice to Nancy
Image credit: “Be Nice to Nancy!”, Judy 1989-1990

17: The weather’s always fine, except when the plot demands otherwise.

Human Zoo 1
Image credit: “The Human Zoo”, Jinty 1978-79.

18: Historical accuracy is not a strong point in girls’ comics.

Sit It Out, Sheri
Image credit: “Sit It Out, Sheri”, Tammy 1976.

19: Protagonists / antagonists don’t do their homework before they embark on an evil campaign – which would have told them it was a complete waste of time.

Witch 2
Image credit: “Witch!”, Bunty 1991.

20: No boys in sight, no matter what world you land in.

Worlds Apart 1
Image credit: “Worlds Apart”, Jinty, 1981.

21: Ye Editor does not pick up all the goofs – but we do.

The Sentinels
“The Sentinels”, Misty 1978.

22: We groan at how so many villains get off too lightly at the end of the story!

Spartan School
Image credit: “The Four Friends at Spartan School”, Tammy 1971-1972.

23: In serials about difficult mother-daughter relationships, there’s never a father who could intervene.

No Haven for Hayley
Image credit: “No Haven for Hayley”, Tammy 1981.

24: In serials about a shrinking parent, it’s always the mother.

Image credit: “Mary’s Mini Mum”, M&J, 1991.

25: Protagonists don’t realise the obvious until it’s pointed out to them.

Make Believe Mandy
Image credit: “Make-Believe Mandy”, Jinty 1974.

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.



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!

Storytelling in Girls’ Comics: Cliffhanger vs Non-cliffhanger Episodes

In this post I will discuss two opposing points of view in regard to how the endings of episodes in serials were structured. I will also discuss the effects these had on story structure and resolutions.

Pat Mills advises that each episode of a serial should end on a cliffhanger or dramatic high point (personal email). So his stories, such as “Land of No Tears”, have episodes that end on cliffhangers or dramatic high points. For example, in part two of “Land of No Tears”, Perfecta hauls Cassy off for punishment at the end of the episode. The cliffhanger leaves readers particularly anxious because the episode had built up to Cassy expecting a cruel and merciless punishment. But they do not see what it is until part three. A multitude of stories at IPC were structured this way, with each episode ending either on a cliffhanger or being a self-contained episode that ends on a high dramatic point.

There were some IPC stories, such as Jinty’s “Bound for Botany Bay” and Tammy’s “No Haven for Hayley”, that had a blend of cliffhanger and non-cliffhanger episodes. For example, in Botany Bay, Betsy’s story has episodes that end mostly on cliffhangers, but some, such as the ones that depict her transportation voyage, are self-contained ones.

However, the Mandy editors took a completely different view to Mills in this respect. In an interview with former DCT writer Maureen Hartley, she reveals that their rule was “no cliffhangers”:

“I learned that in every instalment the heroine must take some form of executive action. That may seem highly obvious, but it is easy to be distracted from the heroine by other facets of the plot or more interesting characters. Also there must be no cliffhangers. The editors felt strongly that the readers should get value for the money they had paid for the comic and should be given a full self-contained story in each instalment, interesting enough to make them want to read more but not blackmailing them with a cliffhanging ending into buying the next issue”.

So in Mandy stories, each episode is a self-contained one, containing action that advances the story in some way. But with some exceptions, such as Mandy’s “The Posy Princess”, there are no cliffhanger endings for the episodes in the development of the story. The only real exception to this rule would be the penultimate episode, which often ended on a cliffhanger. This would be a signal to the readers that it is the penultimate episode, because its cliffhanger ending breaks the pattern of how the episodes are structured. The cliffhanger would be part of resolving the story in the final episode.

A good example is “The Truth About Wendy” from Mandy. In each episode we have a protagonist who tells us, in flashback, how they found out the hard way that Wendy Ware is a scheming girl who plays dirty to get whatever she wants and destroys anyone who stands in her way. They all think at the end of the episode that only they know the truth about Wendy; everyone else thinks she is a sweet girl. But in the penultimate episode, Wendy’s latest victim does not think this way. Instead, she resolves to expose Wendy and get back the friend that Wendy stole off her. This tells us that this is the penultimate episode and not a regular one. So we are all extra eager to buy next week’s Mandy to find out how the truth about Wendy will be revealed at last.

Bad Luck Barbara 5
Non-cliffhanger ending to penultimate episode of “Bad Luck Barbara”, Mandy #985, 30 November 1985.

Not all penultimate episodes in Mandy serials were structured this way. One example is “Bad Luck Barbara”. The penultimate episode is a regular one, with no cliffhanger ending at all. The next episode could also have been a regular one. But instead it is the final episode, and it is entirely self-contained instead of resolving a cliffhanger from the penultimate episode.

And this type of story structuring can be seen in plenty of serials in other DCT titles as well. For example, Bunty’s “Witch!” has self-contained episodes until the penultimate episode while the similarly-themed “Mark of the Witch!” in Jinty has a lot of episodes ending on cliffhangers. And some Bunty stories, such as “Captain Carol”, have self-contained episodes all the way through.

This non-cliffhanger episode structure at DCT meant that their serials tended to be episodic. This did have the advantage of spinning the story out for as long as needed – or cutting it short if necessary. When the editor gave the word, the writer could just end the story in an episode or two because the episodic structure made it easy to end without tying up a lot of plot threads that had been spun along the way. There were some exceptions, where DCT serials were tied up in several episodes that were structured as a story arc. One example is Bunty’s “The Guilt of Glendora”, which is tied up in a span of three episodes.

One disadvantage of stories with non-cliffhanger episodes is that the structure could get boring, annoying and tedious. Sometimes the ending of each episode would end up pretty much the same, such as episodes that invariably end up with the protagonist being disgraced through no fault of her own. Using some variety with episodes ending on cliffhangers would make it more interesting. In this respect “The Posy Princess” was less boring because it often had cliffhangers.

The cliffhanger episodes favoured by Mills enabled the development of story arcs; for example, a conclusion that needed several episodes for it to develop properly. If the story was popular, more threads could be developed to spin it out more rather than just putting in more episodes for padding. But in some cases there could also be more tying-off that would have to be done before the story could end. And if the editor gave a sudden order to end the story, this could result in an unsatisfactory ending. One example is Jinty’s “Worlds Apart”. One gets the impression that towards the end, the story was meant to run for more episodes to really develop the final dream world and the lessons its protagonist learns from it. But instead the ending gives the impression that the story was cut short because of Jinty’s upcoming merger into Tammy. So the conclusion came too soon and left the final dream world nowhere near as developed as it should have been. It all cries out to be reworked.

Witch 7
Cliffhanger ending to penultimate episode of “Witch!”, Bunty #1754, 24 August 1991.

Mandy’s rule non-cliffhanger endings for episodes apparently did not stop readers from buying the next issue. The editors counted on making the self-contained episodes interesting enough to encourage readers to keep buying. And it did work – readers kept buying Mandy and she became one of the longest-running titles at DCT. But the cliffhanger structure at IPC also worked well. And stories that combined cliffhangers and non-cliffhangers certainly added variety to the storytelling structure. They must also have been easier on the writers, who must have found it difficult at times to keep episodes self-contained or end them on cliffhangers.