Category Archives: Story themes

WTFometer VI – Group Slave Story

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

In the sixth volume of the WTFometer I am putting three group slave stories through the WFTometer. The stories are Merry at Misery House and Prisoners of Paradise Island from Jinty, and Slaves of the Nightmare Factory from Girl series 2. All of them have entries on this blog.

The group slave story is where a group of girls are being held captive, used as slaves and mistreated. Settings for the slavery have included state prisons, cruel schools, orphanages, factories, workhouses, mines, farms and secret workshops. More unusual settings have included ships, circuses, restaurants, holiday camps, totalitarian regimes and dystopian worlds. Sometimes the enslavement is based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming.

Sometimes the slavers have ulterior motives for exploiting girls, such as the establishment being used as a front for an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its victims are being ensnared for sinister purposes.

These three group slave stories are being put through the WFTometer to see how high the settings of the their forms of slavery, the cruelties the villains inflict, and how far they went would score on the WTFometer. As part of this purpose there are two lines for physical security: one for the protagonist and one for supporting characters. This is in case the physical security of the protagonist is any different from her fellow prisoners. For example, do any fellow prisoners actually die from all the cruelty?

First: Prisoners of Paradise Island

wtfometer-prisoners-of-paradise-island

Score: 19

This is one of the more insidious group slave stories. A hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. But instead of being subjected to all sorts of cruelties and being abused and exploited, the girls are treated to every kind of luxury and pampering their kidnapper, Miss Lush can offer. Only the hockey team captain, Sally Tuff, realises it’s a gilded cage. Miss Lush is deliberately spoiling the girls with too much luxury and pampering so as to make them too fat and unfit to win a hockey championship, and she is going to take punts against them. After many failed bids at escape or make the girls see reason, Sally calls in their sports teacher Miss Granley for help. But when Miss Lush finds out, she tries to kill them both.

On the WTFometer there is a difference between Sally’s physical security and those of the other hockey players. They are subjected to deceptively luxurious treatment that threatens to damage their health, but it does not put them in any physical danger. However, Sally is put in physical danger when Miss Lush tries to kill her. So her physical security scores higher. Taking the hockey players away from their locality and onto a tropical island also scores points. This story would score more if its cruelties were more severe, but as it is it scores 19.

Second: Merry at Misery House

wtfometer-merry-at-misery-house

Score: 26

This was the longest-running group slave story in Jinty (and in girls’ comics). In the 1920s Merry Summers is wrongly sent to a reformatory called Sombre Manor. It is better known as Misery House, and for good reason. The reformatory staff are sadistic, hypocritical and corrupt, and inflict tortures that include beatings, starvation, drip dungeons and stocks. They are capable of leaving sick girls to die of neglect, and only Merry’s efforts to get medical attention for them one way or other saves their lives. Eventually it is revealed the Misery House staff are engaged in illegal dealings, and when Merry discovers this they try to kill her.

Physical security for both the protagonist and supporting characters is the same: big difference because of high risk of death or injury, but nobody actually dies. The setting of a juvenile prison and historical time period also help bring the scoring of the story to 26.

Third: Slaves of the Nightmare Factory

wtfometer-slaves-of-the-nightmare-factory

Score: 33

Natalie Jones and Amanda Harvey are kidnapped for slave labour in a secret dress factory located deep underground in London’s wasteland. Girls are sent to the dreaded Punishment Box if they fail to meet strenuous dress quotas. Food is terrible and monotonous. Basic necessities and medical facilities are totally absent because the kidnappers care nothing for the girls’ welfare.

Girls are showing more psychological effects of their ordeal, which means a “big difference” score on the mental security. The prison settings also raise scores in the free will/agency sections. The physical security for the protagonist scores “big difference”, and indeed co-protagonist Natalie almost dies from the ordeal. But what makes this story score the highest, with 33 points, is the “extreme” rating in the physical security for supporting characters. This is because one slave girl, Ellen Crawley, actually dies while trying to escape, in circumstances that suggest murder or at least culpable homicide.

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Story theme: Redemption narratives

I recently wrote summary posts about two stories that I called ‘redemption narratives’: “The Girl Who Never Was” and “She Shall Have Music“. That’s a kind of story theme that we can all recognize as being fairly common in girls comics generally: in Jinty there are a number of other examples.  But how does this sort of story work?

Take those two stories as an initial guide: the protagonist is a difficult or disagreeable, probably dislikeable, girl who has some personal failing or issue that drives the story. It’s because of that failing that the story progresses; it may not have been due to something that was her fault that the story started off in the first place, but it is because of her moral or social problem that it continues and develops the way it does. Tina Williams lands in the alternate universe where magic works because of her conceited and annoying ways; Lisa Carstairs’s father doesn’t lose his money because of her, but if she wasn’t so obsessed with continuing her piano playing exactly as before, then she wouldn’t find herself in the same difficulties. It’s not just what happens to the protagonist (or how she is challenged in the story) but how she reacts to it. She has to be ‘the architect of her own misfortunes’, as Mistyfan puts it in her post about another redemption story, “Black Sheep of the Bartons“.

Does the story have to feature some sort of disagreeableness, some sort of outright nastiness or callousness on the part of the protagonist? No: I’d say that you could certainly include ‘guilt’ stories such as “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary”. The protagonist here  suffers huge pangs of guilt and despair because of the loss of a loved one – a best friend or a sister in the case of these two stories, but in other cases it can be a parent – a very natural feeling, but the failing here is that she lets those emotions overwhelm her and distort her common sense. The guilty feelings of the protagonist drive the story forward, but this guilt is portrayed throughout as excessive, as an indulgence that the main character should resist. It’s the lengths that their grief drives them to that causes their difficulties in their separate stories.

Also, it’s not just about having an objectionable main character who is nicer by the end of the story. “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” are not what I would call redemption narratives, despite having protagonists who start off pretty disagreeable and end up much improved. (Likewise “Battle of the Wills” is not, nor I think “Pandora’s Box”, but sports story “Black Sheep of the Bartons” is one I would class as such: Bev Barton isn’t horrible so much as thoughtless and reckless, but her carelessness nearly brings tragedy to her family.) Why don’t “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” count? Because when the girl main characters are swept into their initial circumstances – enslaved by a dictatorial coach, forced into third-class citizenship in a future world – their thoughts are not primarily about how they can continue to maintain their status quo ante but about how they can defeat their antagonist. Yvonne and Cassy aren’t just trying to get back to where they were at the beginning: their story is about a positive rebellion, not a futile rejection of the truth that the outside world is telling them. They end up much nicer than they started out being, but that’s not the whole reason for having the story in the first place – it’s because they have faced extraordinary circumstances which would change anyone by making them realise that some things are bigger than individual concerns.

Does the character who ends up being redeemed have to be the protagonist, or could they be the antagonist or villain? Overall I would say it has to be the protagonist, as the main character that you are supposed to sympathise with and want things to turn out well for, but maybe one counter-example is “Wanda Whiter Than White“. Wanda is not the main character of the story and she makes Susie Foster’s life a misery with her sanctimonious ways. At the end, it is revealed, as Mistyfan explains in her story post, that ‘Wanda’s own past is not as white as she would have us believe. In fact, she is on probation after being caught stealing.’ Rather than this reveal being painted as purely a victory for the main character, it ends up with Wanda being ‘truly redeemed when she tells a white lie to help Susie in return for Susie saving her life’. The reader wasn’t rooting for Wanda’s redemption all along, but it is a satisfying ending nevertheless.

What choices could the writer make that would move the story out of the category of being a redemption narrative? Let’s take Lisa Carstairs’ story as an example. As with the OuBaPo exercises, thinking about how a story could work differently will give us a view on how the stories actually do work.

  • Imagine Lisa’s parents still losing everything at the beginning of the story, and Lisa still losing her piano. The story could then have taken a different turn: rather than being about Lisa’s misguided piano obsession and selfishness, it could have been another kind of story entirely, for instance a mystery story where Lisa finds out that her father’s business partner was a crook who needs to be brought to justice. Perhaps Lisa’s piano playing could help her to find the clues she needs, and her obsession with it could be turned to a good cause in that way, so that she needs no redemption.
  • Or let’s say the story stays as being about Lisa’s obsession with playing piano but it’s portrayed as something not to be frowned on, rather as something acceptable or allowable. How would a story work where she can continue to be focused on playing piano to the exclusion of everything else, including her family? Perhaps her family would have to be a nasty, uncaring one, to make her disinterest acceptable.
  • Or perhaps the story could proceed more or less as it does, but with an unhappy ending where Lisa gets her comeuppance. This would make her into a more of an anti-heroine than normal but would not be unheard of.

Here are the examples I would identify as fitting most neatly into the category of ‘redemption narrative’ (core examples) and as being closely related to this category without necessarily definitely being classed as such (edge cases).

Core examples

  • “Dance Into Darkness” – Della just wants to live her life down at the disco with no regard for other people, but when her wish is granted she eventually discovers there is indeed more to life than her own self-interest.
  • There are a number of stories that are driven by a bereavement: the main character makes poor decisions as a result of her strong emotions of grief and anger because she is afraid of being hurt again. “The Ghost Dancer” is one of these, as is “Nothing to Sing About”, but of course “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary” are the strongest examples.
  • “The Girl Who Never Was” – discussed above
  • “She Shall Have Music” – discussed above
  • I said above that I thought that it needs to be the protagonist who is redeemed, not one of the other characters. In “Go On, Hate Me!” the antagonist is driven by grief into bullying the protagonist but in the end all is cleared and the antagonist is redeemed, so I would be tempted to class this alongside “Wanda Whiter Than White” as a clear example of this kind.
  • Jackie’s Two Lives” is more about the perils of wish-fulfilment, but Jackie’s snobbishness and the fact she is ashamed of her own family is definitely a character flaw that drives the story and she is cured of it at the end.
  • “Left-Out Linda” develops the redemption pretty well by recognizing that you can’t usually turn around your life by yourself: you have to have some help.
  • “Paula’s Puppets”: Paula has to learn to forgive her enemies rather than attacking them via the magical help she has been given.
  • “Tearaway Trisha”: Trisha’s recklessness has caused a serious accident; she tries to make amends but has to change her own character in order to do so.
  • “Valley of Shining Mist” has a clearly didactic message about the improving aspect of high culture: by playing the violin, Debbie will transcend the impact of her abusive family, who are low-class in their lack of culture and their morality.
  • In “Who’s That In My Mirror?” the protagonist’s selfish nature is made very literally visible and becomes more and more so until finally she is driven to renouncing it.
  • Worlds Apart” is the ultimate morality tale – one by one, six girls are shown the worst outcomes possible for each of their specific character flaws, and they have a chance to repent. The psychological development is minimal but the impact of the story was very dramatic.

Edge cases

  • “Fancy Free “- I know the main character is so independent that this may well be characterised as a fault, but I don’t really quite remember enough about the story to say whether it is the main thing that drives the whole plot.
  • The Four Footed Friends” – arguably another case where someone other than the protagonist ends up being redeemed, though it all feels a little sudden. “Hettie High-and-Mighty” likewise features a fairly sudden change of heart on the part of an antagonist who has mostly been about making  the protagonist’s life a misery until that point. I don’t think “The Kat And Mouse Game” quite counts, either: Kat may perhaps have realised the error of her ways at the end of the story, but will her change of heart actually stick?
  • I haven’t really made my mind up about “Gwen’s Stolen Glory” – it feels like it is mostly a story about deception, though clearly once Gwen owns up to the big lie this is a kind of redemption of her former deception.
  • In “Kerry In The Clouds”, Kerry is a day-dreamer imposed upon by a woman motivated by her own unfriendly concerns. Kerry’s day-dreaming nature is cured by the end of the story, but I don’t feel the main driver of the narrative was to improve her character.
  • The main character in “Mark of the Witch!” is hot-tempered and angry at all around her, and she comes to seek a more peaceful set of emotions by the end of the story. However, so much of her story is about the persecution and abuse that her neighbours visit on her that I don’t see her story being primarily about her renouncing her hot-headed ways.
  • I’m not sure about “Pandora’s Box” and whether it counts or not. Pandora’s witchy aunt does chide her at the beginning about being too cock-sure about her talents and says that she will need to use magic sooner or later, and this is all true: but I’m not sure what sort of morality story that adds up to – not a conventional one at any rate! The main nod in this story to more conventional morality is the fact that Pandora goes from disinterest in the pet she is stuck with (her black cat familiar, Scruffy) to loving him dearly and giving up her heart’s desire in order to save his life.

One last question struck me when thinking about this. What sort of things might the protagonist have done that means she needs to go through this process of redemption in the first place? Clearly it must be something negative: the story has a moral imperative of some sort, warning readers against some kinds of behaviour. But at the same time, some things would be beyond the pale of course, and would mean that any character doing that would be irredeemable. (There might therefore be some useful comparisons made with story villains: what does their villainy consist of?) If a character killed or seriously hurt someone on purpose then that would be beyond the pale: there are a number of villains who have gone this far, sometimes with a laugh on their cruel lips, but it would be hard to imagine that a girl protagonist could do this and still recover the moral high ground at the end of the story.

In the stories above it looks like the sort of wrong-doing that needs castigating but is still redeemable is often about emotional warmth and consideration for others – it’s not about ambition (by itself) or cleverness (by itself) for instance. An arrogant protagonist can still be the heroine, but if she is cold, selfish, or inconsiderate then that’s a good signal that this is a character marked down for improvement – by whatever means necessary. Preferably it will be a Shakespearean denouement, whereby her own moral failing brings about such a huge disaster that she has no option but to change her ways! And being too afraid to risk emotional commitment comes in for a bit of a kicking too, via the guilt / grief stories. The obvious next question: is this moral imperative specific to British girls comics? Do UK boys comics have redemption narratives too? Or those in other countries? My pal Lee Brimmicombe-Wood reckons that Japan’s flourishing manga industry has many stories about mavericks who insist on going their own ways – but in that industry’s story constraints, the mavericks are always right and never forced to realise that actually, there was a reason why everyone was telling them they were going about things the wrong way…

Misery Loves Company, or, the sadomasochism of readers?

Attendees at talks like the Comix Creatrix event have a tendency to marvel at the prevalence of stories about misery, cruelty, and slavery in girls comics. It’s particularly the case that, if the attendee is someone who isn’t steeped in reading stories in this genre, they may well bring out loaded words or phrases referring to the ‘sadomasochism’ in the stories, or they may indicate that something is a bit ‘dodgy’ or ‘ooh-er’ (at the end of the talk this came in with discussions of “War Orphan Farm” and “Slave of Form 3B“). I’m not immune to this effect either – in earlier days I have certainly referred to slave stories with wink-wink innuendo, for instance. But it’s not true to the material being referred to, and what’s more I think that it plays into the wrong hands, as I will explain below.

Girls comics feature a lot of cruelty, misery, and slavery, it’s true. Mistyfan’s post on the Slave Story theme gives a relevant run-down of how a large subsection of girls’ stories worked, including a range of examples. We haven’t even given misery and cruelty any specific categories of their own in our list of themes, but they are clearly part of the more discrete story themes of Affliction, Bullying, Cinderella, Guilt Complex, and Troublemaker, to name only a few. Stories frequently feature mental domination, abuse, and physical brutality; may include handcuffs and ropes; and occasionally allow the death of the main character. And these are not incidental aspects of the stories – they are the main reason for them, the thing that makes them popular and memorable. A story may continue for half a year or more with the protagonist growing more and more hard-done-by, and the resolution typically only comes in the last episode or even the last few panels. It’s hardly surprising that this is so much a feature of discussions of girls comics when it comes up outside the confines of a blog like this.

But does this mean either that the stories are full of sadomasochism, or that the readers were secret sadists or masochists to enjoy them in such numbers? I’d say no, to both.

If you look at the stories themselves, and the experiences of the protagonists within then, they are just not stories of sadomasochism. For a start, they’re not overtly sexual (no publisher of the time in the UK would have countenanced that, of course, though as has been pointed out by Paul Gravett, the Shojo manga publishing phenomenon in Japan at around the same time was able to go down this route). They’re not covertly sexual either (not that I think girls of that age and in that era particularly went for hidden innuendo – we passed around Lace and The Thorn Birds, and of course we all devoured the Flowers In The Attic series). Fundamentally the stories of cruelty/slavery , even though they can spark associations of BDSM to the adult reader, weren’t about submission. The protagonists didn’t learn to enjoy being humiliated or dominated by their rivals: it was just that they were not strong enough to win against the villain or the society they were in. It’s a trope about powerlessness and fighting back even when it’s hopeless: eventually, even though it seems terribly unlikely, you may win. That’s a message of strength to young girls, collectively one of the least powerful groups in all society.

Slave stories end with the slave being freed and reinstated, and the villain reformed or defeated. (See the Tammy blog’s post about Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” where all eventually ends happily.) There are some stories where the slave accepts the brainwashing of the antagonist at points, and believes she deserves her punishment (Jinty‘s “Slave of the Swan” includes this plot element), but clearer eyes than the deluded protagonist see through this deception and it is not seriously proposed as something that the protagonist should believe. These are not stories with hidden subtexts of the delights of submission to loving authority in the way that Marston’s Wonder Woman stories were.

There are also a large number of tear-jerker stories which get mentioned as part of this idea of the sadomasochism of girls comics. I think here the feeling is that because such stories are so focused on misery, it is sadistic, or possibly masochistic, of the girl reader to enjoy them so much. Some of the obvious key contenders from the massively popular misery / tear-jerker trope are:

  • “No Time for Pat” in Jinty Annual 1980. Originally printed in June (1972)
  • Stefa’s Heart of StoneJinty (1976), reprinted in Princess / Tammy & Princess (1984)
  • DC Thomson’s “AngelMandy (1977) reprinted three times, with two subsequent sequels One of the few misery stories that takes the story through to the death of the protagonist, but as she was suffering from a terminal disease this feels like a naturalistic and almost uplifting ending – you could say she ‘wins’
  • Nothing Ever Goes RightJudy (1981) Reprinted (1989-90) Another exception of a misery story in which the protagonist dies in the end. (Edited to add: written by Maureen Hartley – see comments on Girls Comics of Yesterday)

These stories don’t really have a specific villain, though some other similar ones may do. The cause of the misery is often simply cruel fate. Possibly because cruel fate is much less personal, it is sometimes carried through to the logical conclusion whereby the protagonist dies in end: something that you can’t really do with a slave story because then the villain would win. (Unless anyone knows of a counter-example?)

Clearly girl readers loved a good cry! But why label the readers so strongly, bandying around terms like masochist? Didn’t the Victorians also love sentimental sob stories? What about classical tragedy, which far more often ends in unswerving death? Or indeed devotees of East Enders or the Archers? Consumers of these stories don’t get the same labels. I can only see it coming down to the policing of girls’ reading – it falls outside our expectations of what girls should read, and so we boggle at it more than at Victorian sob stories. If we fall in with this policing of ‘appropriate’ reading we play into the hands of authority’s disapproval of comics. Sometimes that manifests itself relatively mildly, as when Mary Cadogan complained about lurid death scenes in girls comics, citing “No Time For Pat” as an example (incorrectly, in fact) and using that as a lever to indicate that all girls comics were of low worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Frederick Wertham used his assertions of inappropriate themes and images to press for wide-ranging ‘reform’ of comic book publishing and the implementation of the US Comic Book Code.

Story theme: Sports

Many apologies for the long break in between posts. Life has got hectic and the run-up to Christmas didn’t help!

Jinty and Penny cover 7 February 1981

Stories featuring sports are very prevalent across the range of girls’ comics titles. This clearly taps into both the day-to-day experiences of many or most schoolgirls (playing on their hockey or netball teams) and into aspirational ideals (winning regional or national contests, going on to have a career in their chosen sport, excelling at unusual sports). At one end of this theme, many many stories will have some element of sports included, simply as a part of the protagonist’s daily life; I don’t count these as “sports stories” per se. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories that are clearly mostly about the pursuit of excellence in the protagonist’s chosen sport, with a sprinkling of some complicating factor to spice the story up, such as peer rivalry. And in between there are stories where the sports element are strongly included but given a reasonably equal weighting with other elements.

To me, therefore, a “sports story” needs to feature the sport in question as the main story element, or with equal weight with the other elements. Often the story positively teaches us various details of that sport in a didactic way, as if part of the expectation is that readers might have their interest sparked by that story and go on to take it up themselves. The protagonist is someone who takes seriously the idea of practice, learning, improvement in their chosen area: they are not just naturally gifted without trying at all, and part of the drive of the story is about their drive to improve or to excel.

It seems obvious, but it also needs to be a sport not an art: as you would expect, there are plenty of ballet stories, and these are excluded from my categorisation. Ballet has its rivalries but it is not a competition with winners and losers, except in artificial ways that the writer might set up (for instance in “The Kat and Mouse Game”, the ‘winner’ gains a contract with an influential ballet impresario).

Finally, it is worth remembering Jinty also had a strong focus on sports in ways that lay outside of the stories themselves: for a period of time there was a specific sports section in the comic, with articles about specific sports, improvement hints and tips (such as how to win at a bully-off in hockey), and interviews with sports women and men. Over and above this, there was a lengthy period where Mario Capaldi drew cover images illustrating a very wide range of sports – netball and rounders, yes, but also archery, bob-sledding, ski-jumping… These are not sports stories, but form part of the context in which the sports-themed stories need to be read.

Core examples

There are so many strong sports stories that it is hard to choose a single one as a core example. A wide range of sports are represented: ones that a schoolgirl might well have direct experience of such as hockey, gymnastics, running; and more unusual ones like judo, water-skiing, and figure skating.

“White Water” (1979-80), drawn by Jim Baikie and included in the sports section that Jinty ran for a year or so from late 1979, is a classic example of a story that includes teachable elements as well as dramatic ones. Bridie is in a sailing accident with her father, who is killed: her grieving mother moves them away from the sea and into an industrial city that depresses Bridie mightily. As well as grieving for her father, she also has a gammy leg that was badly hurt in the accident, so Bridie is pretty fed up; but she then finds out about a local canoe club. She is determined to learn canoeing, especially once she is told about sea or white-water canoeing. Along the way there are rivalries and misunderstandings – her mother hates the idea of Bridie doing anything at all like sailing, and the existing star of the canoe club doesn’t like the challenge represented by this bright (and sometimes tetchy) new member. But the story includes lots of information about canoeing techniques, certainly enough to either help interest a reader in the sport, or even to help someone already learning it.

You can see below the wide range of sports represented in Jinty.

  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974) – hockey
  • Hettie High and Mighty (1975) – hockey
  • Ping-Pong Paula (1975) – table tennis
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (1975) – swimming
  • Miss No-Name (1976) – athletics
  • Go On, Hate Me! (1976-77) – athletics, particularly running
  • Battle of the Wills (1977) – gymnastics and ballet.
  • Concrete Surfer (1977) – skateboarding
  • Cursed to be a Coward! (1977) – swimming
  • Curtain of Silence (1977) – cycling
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977) – cross-country running
  • Darling Clementine (1978) – water-skiing
  • Wild Rose (1978) – gymnastics
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979) – judo
  • Prisoner of the Bell (1979) – gymnastics
  • Waves of Fear (1979) – swimming/hockey/orienteering
  • Toni on Trial (1979-80) – athletics
  • White Water (1979-80) – sailing/canoeing (see above for details)
  • Blind Faith (1980) – showjumping
  • Tears of a Clown (1980) – long-distance running
  • Child of the Rain (1980) – tennis
  • Minnow (1980) – swimming
  • Spirit of the Lake (1980) – figure-skating
  • Tearaway Trisha (1980) – cycling
  • The Bow Street Runner (1981) – long-distance running
  • Diving Belle (1981) – high-diving
  • Life’s A Ball for Nadine (1981) – netball (and disco dancing, competitively)

 

Edge cases

As ever, there are clearly-related stories that don’t quite fit in the main theme. Sports are such a pervasive trope in the life of Jinty and other girls’ comics precisely because they were an important part of many girls’ school lives. Of course they also made up a big part of other popular fiction read by girls; it becomes a reinforcing theme that is always available for use.

  • Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75) – features a mentally disturbed woman grieving over her late daughter and trying to recreate her in another girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Wanda Whiter than White (1975-6) – the main story theme is constant trouble with an interfering, tale-telling girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Champion In Hiding (1976) – the champion in question is a sheepdog, trained to win at dog trials
  • Rose Among the Thornes (1976) – the main story theme is family rivalry, but there are sections where Rose is involved in running races in her local village
  • Stage Fright! (1977) – includes some realistic elements of sailing
  • Land of No Tears (1977-78) – gymnastics and swimming as part of the futuristic competition to find the most perfect schoolgirl
  • The Changeling (1978) – main character loves horseriding and this is used as part of the abusive family/wishfulfilment story
  • Knight and Day (1978) – really a story about an abusive family but includes a family rivalry based around swimming and competitive diving
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978) – a story of magical objects and group strife, but includes elements of athletics (running)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (1979) – a strange comb has the protagonist rebelling against her strict grandmother, whose rules include a ban on swimming
  • Freda’s Fortune (1981) – mostly wish-fulfilment gone wrong, with horseriding
  • Holiday Hideaway (1981) – protagonist has gymnastic skills
  • Worlds Apart (1981) – each dream-like parallel world featured a society built around an individual’s interests, and this included a sporty girl’s world

 

Other thoughts

This is probably one of the most pervasive themes you could possibly have in a girls’ comic; no doubt those who are expert in other comics titles will be able to mention many more examples of stories and of unusual sports featured in them. Reviewing the list above, I am surprised not so much by the number of stories as of the range of sports included. Of course the sports that girls played on a regular basis at school – hockey, swimming, athletics, netball, running – would feature in the girls’ comics. Even then, the weighting of specific sports doesn’t seem entirely even, mind you – in Jinty there was only one netball story compared to two or three hockey stories, and a few athletics stories. There is a noticeable absence of lacrosse stories despite the fact they are a staple of girls school prose fiction (I am sure they must be included in some other comics titles). I also don’t recall any rounders stories, which was a very typical summer sport for girls to play.

I am sure that other titles included some aspirational sports such as figure-skating or show-jumping as Jinty did, and the inclusion of some ordinary if less usual sports such as orienteering doesn’t seem unlikely either. However, the fact that skate-boarding, table-tennis, and judo were included as part of the range of stories shows, I think, that Jinty wanted to push the boat out and include elements that were not just a bit unusual, but also modern, fresh, and popular in the wider world: elements that were not marked as ‘élite’ and expensive.

Story theme: Science Fiction

If Misty was the girls’ comic with horror stories in it, then Jinty was the one remembered for its science fiction stories. Although Jinty didn’t include sf from the very start, and was far from being the only girls’ comic title with science fictional themes, this is a justified link:  the first science fiction-influenced story appeared within the first year of Jinty, and sf appeared throughout the bulk of the run of the comic, forming some of the very strongest and most memorable stories in the title.

Core examples

There are a number of really key examples of sf stories in Jinty, and I could choose any one of them to talk about in more detail: “Fran of the Floods“, “The Robot Who Cried“, “Land of No Tears“, “Almost Human“, and “The Forbidden Garden” are all indubitably sf and memorable stories to boot. This time I want to talk about “The Human Zoo”, which we have hardly focused on at all as yet.

In “The Human Zoo”, a coachload of schoolgirls is abducted by aliens, and taken in a flying saucer (along with other, grown-up, abductees) to another planet. This planet, light-years away (everyone is put into cold-sleep to get there) has two suns, and the dominant life-form consists of the aforementioned aliens, who are bald, dome-headed, and speak only telepathically. From the alien point of view, humans are mere animals; indeed, there are wild humans living outside the alien cities who are hunted down as food and for sport.

At the beginning of the story we’re introduced to twin sisters, one of whom is a soft-hearted vegetarian animal-lover; her twin is the one we follow throughout, as they are separated and taken through all the horrific things that sentient beings do to creatures that they don’t think are sentient: putting them in zoos (including forcing them to have a chimp’s tea party), keeping them as pets, killing them for food, and even doing scientific experiments on them. In the end, the aliens are reconciled to the idea that humans are intelligent, coming round to this partly because one of the twins can talk to them due to the scientific experiments she’s undergone, and partly because the wild humans save the alien city, and the alien king’s daughter, from drowning. (Their secret weakness is being unable to swim, whereas the humans have learned.)

This is a good, solid sf story, taking the opportunity to swipe at a few other targets on the way (it is clearly an animal rights story too). It perhaps would fit better in the pulp years of some decades previously than in the more sophisticated and experimental New Wave of science fiction of the 60s and 70s: for instance at the end of the story, everything is reset and no lasting impact is seen from the girls’ trip to a far planet, and the aliens are pretty stereotypical. But really, you couldn’t get a story that was much more solidly in the heartland of science fiction themes.

  • “The Green People” (1975): this is the first story I would identify in Jinty as being science fiction. I hesitated initially, as the titular green people live underground in idyllic locations that make you think more of elves than of aliens: but they have ray-guns and a special metal and an advanced civilization that has gone through war into peace. They also use that trope beloved of sf writers of a certain era: telepathy. Like “The Human Zoo”, this uses an sf theme (here, it’s a first contact story) to talk about an issue that affects our society more immediately: wanton destruction of the environment.
  • “Fran of the Floods” (1976): this is a John Wyndham type-story done for a schoolgirl audience, an apocalypse and post-apocalypse in comics form. it is a rather cosier catastrophe than even Wyndham was ever accused of, but with pretty grim moments nevertheless and a roll-call of the dead and missing, at the end. The clock is not reset in this story, even if civilization is not gone forever.
  • Jassy’s Wand of Power” (1976): at the same time as running “Fran”, about climate change leading to flooding, Jinty also ran a story about drought. This disaster was man-made rather than unlucky; there is a fair amount of indicting of powerful men in the story. It is set slightly in the future, with psychic powers having been found to work and a backlash set in against them.
  • “The Robot Who Cried” (1977): a robot is created, in the shape of a girl; she runs away from her creator and learns what it is to be human. The ‘science’ in it is daft and thin but there’s lots of good stuff about misunderstanding human motivations and society.
  • Battle of the Wills” (1977): the protagonist is offered the chance to have herself duplicated by an unscrupulous scientist: she jumps at it, hoping to be able to concentrate on her beloved gymnastics and getting out of having to do ballet. But which of the duplicates is the original and which the copy? And – what will happen once the experiment comes to an end?
  • Land of No Tears” (1977-78): Lame schoolgirl Cassie is whirled into a future world where she is classed as a ‘Gamma’, inferior girl; with her fellow Gamma girls and some other help, she overthrows this cruel order of things.
  • “The Human Zoo” (1978): see above.
  • Almost Human” (1979): a cross between the Superman story and the Bionic Man, with a more emotional edge: protagonist Xenia is an alien from a dying world.
  • “The Forbidden Garden” (1979): set in a dystopian future where pollution has killed off all plants and people live in over-crowded and oppressive cities. Laika discovers a patch of earth which is able to support life and tries to grow a flower for her dying little sister.
  • Worlds Apart” (1981): following a leak of a mysterious chemical, six schoolgirls are thrown together into alternate universe after alternate universe. Some of the universes are more magical than is compatible with scientific reality but the notion of alternate universes, and the mechanism for their travel between them, is in itself more science fictional than magical.

Edge cases

  • Girl In A Bubble” (1976): the very idea of a girl in a bubble, kept by a scientist in order to study the effects of isolation, has plenty of science fiction elements (not least the scientist’s name – ‘Miss Vaal’). It is done more as a slave story, however.
  • The Birds” (1978): there is a scientific (or at least not magical) answer behind the question of why the birds in a certain town started to attack everything, but it is more horror story than science fiction. Of course, it is a take on Hitchcock’s film.

Not to be confused with

  • Other time travel stories: time travel into the future is necessarily science fictional as it requires construction of that future world. Time travel into the past, or time travel of a past character into our present, would typically be a historical story or a spooky story (such as in “Shadow on the Fens”, where a girl from the past escapes persecution as a witch, and a modern girl gets a friend, by making a wish on the old Wishing Tree).

Further thoughts

Of course, there were many sf stories outside of Jinty, too. “Supercats” in Spellbound features four space-travellers with special powers and many adventures; “E.T. Estate” in Tammy was a version of ‘The Bodysnatchers’, done with schoolgirls; “Tomorrow Town”, also in Tammy, tackles technological development and social pressures (Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” done with schoolgirls? I but jest). Particular mention should go to “The Frightening Fours”, in Judy & Emma (1979): an alien invasion story where anybody over the age of fifteen or under three is put into a deep sleep, but four year olds are given great strength, intelligence way beyond their years, organisational abilities, and made into an army to serve the aliens’ plans.

Outside of girls’ comics, 2000AD was of course a comic more or less entirely dedicated to science fiction. Interestingly enough, the 2000AD story Skizz (1983) – written by Alan Moore, drawn by Jim Baikie – could perfectly well have appeared in a girls comic; it even had a female protagonist, as well as a down-to-earth feel.

The prevalence of science fiction stories in many comics means that we can’t only point to the same names over and again as being the initiators of this theme. Malcolm Shaw is known to have written a number of key stories in this area (“The Robot Who Cried”, “E.T. Estate”) and likewise Pat Mills wrote “Land of No Tears” and “Girl In a Bubble”; but “Tomorrow Town” was written by Benita Brown, “Fran of the Floods” was written by Alan Davidson, and who knows who had the bonkers ideas in “The Frightening Fours”! I think that if we knew the names of more writers, we’d find that many different writers in many different titles had a go at some sf story or other.

Story theme: the Magical Companion / Non-human companion

Stories of magic and the supernatural often include a companion who helps, guides, prods, or sometimes rather forcibly plonks the protagonist in the middle of adventure. The companion in question has his, her, or its own agenda and in that, it has some similarities to the evil object which takes over people’s lives: but unlike the evil object story, the magical guide does not coerce or remove free will. Generally speaking, the agenda of the companion is at least morally neutral, if not positively on the side of the protagonist’s best interests. The journey towards a happy ending, though, is not in itself happy all along: often the life of the main character is made decidedly more uncomfortable as the story unfolds.

Normally the companion is clearly magical, maybe right from the start: sometimes she (rarely he) or it seems outwardly normal at first but is found in the thick of things too often for it to be a coincidence. This perhaps is particularly the case where the companion is an animal, such as one of the three(!) examples of magnificent white horses that help protagonists in various ways.

Core examples

The example I think is one of Jinty‘s best for this theme is “Guardian of White Horse Hill”. Janey Summers is an orphan, with foster parents who she is hoping will go on to adopt her. However, life with her new family is not easy, partly because of mean snobbish girls in the local area, partly because of trauma she hasn’t yet got over (badly handled by the adults in question, as usual), and partly because, well, she sees a white horse that no-one else can see. Obviously people start questioning her sanity as well as her temperament, but the horse in question turns out to be Celtic horse goddess Epona. Epona takes Janey back in time more than once, to the Celtic settlement originally located where the modern village is. In the historical time, Janey finds herself in the body of a young priestess facing the peril of a Roman invasion; in the modern time of the story, the village is threatened by a road which is to be built through the village itself. At the priestess’s behest, the Celtic villagers saved themselves by a non-violent path, namely digging a white horse on the hillside; the earth left over from all the digging is swept into the path of the invaders by torrential rain. In parallel in modern times, the path that the villagers were going to take – giving up and giving in – is derailed by Epona, who through Janey’s actions reveals the historical white horse carved on the hill. The villagers are able to declare this a site of special interest and hold off the road-building that way.

Even before Epona takes Janey back in time, she clearly reveals her magic to the reader: no-one else can see the horse apart from Janey, and when she gets on the back of the horse she is invisible to those around her. Ultimately Epona’s actions are in Janey’s interest too: by saving the village, the livelihoods of Janey’s foster parents are secured, but also Janey’s role in bringing that salvation helps to secure her wish to have real, loving parents again. There are uncomfortable moments for Janey along the way: for instance when Epona makes her dismount (so that she can then be seen by anyone who can spot her) just before a big village meeting. Even more so, you could point to the basic fact that making yourself visible to just one person is in itself asking to lead them into trouble – and Epona, magic though she is, is not a talking horse and does not explain herself.

Clear examples of this story theme in Jinty are:

  • “The Valley of Shining Mist” (1975) has a mysterious woman in a mysterious cottage in a mysterious valley – only when the mist fills the valley can the protagonist see the cottage as anything but an old ruin. Debbie is taught music by the woman in the cottage, but more than that, she also learns love and acceptance as Mrs Maynard helps her to change her life.
  • Corn Dolly in “Golden Dolly, Death Dust!” (1975-76), who guides and protects the protagonists in their battles against the evil witch Miss Marvell.
  • The eponymous horse in “Horse From The Sea” (1976) seems initially like a normal (magnificent, unbridled, appearing-out-of-the-blue) white horse, but a tale is recounted part-way through the story that makes it clear that this is the same mysterious horse that throughout centuries has defended the heir of the local estate from danger.
  • The mysterious Malincha in “Sceptre of the Toltecs” (1976-77) is golden-eyed, and inhumanly strong and smart. She needs the help of protagonist Jenny Marlow to fulfill her quest; you could perhaps consider Malincha to be the protagonist herself, but she is so characterless and mysterious that it is hard to see her in that role.
  • In “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag” (1976-79), the magical companion is another inanimate object: well, I say inanimate – the bag in question is given expression by the creases in the leather, giving her a cheeky look. This one is played for laughs too, and as an ongoing humour strip there is less of a clear agenda on the part of Henrietta the hand-bag as there is less of an overall story. Henrietta often helps Sue and gets her out of a pickle, but equally she often lands her in one too.
  • In “Daughter of Dreams” (1979), Sally Carter is a wall-flower until she makes up an imaginary friend, Pauline Starr. Her imagination is so strong she can see her new friend clearly – so clearly in fact that Pauline comes to life! Pauline helps to shake up Sally’s life, first of all by getting her to do more lively things so she can make more friends, and then in the sequel, “Miss Make-believe” (1979), defeating crooks in a stately house caper.
  • Karen finds a ghostly skating instructor in the “Spirit of the Lake” (1979-80): appearing to her as an elegant woman, the spirit is friendly and helpful to Karen in a situation where the girl is otherwise not shown much love or friendship. The skating spirit seems to have little agenda of her own other than to help Karen become a skating champion.
  • “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” (1979-81) has another ghostly companion but is an ongoing humour strip like “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag” (and indeed is drawn by the same artist too).
  • “Sue’s Daily Dozen” (1980) has an inanimate object as the magical companion, making it perhaps a slight stretch from the main theme of the category. Sue finds a book in the old cottage that she has moved into with her sister: the recipes in the book turn out to be more like magic spells, but very positive and homely ones intended to spread positive effects in the local community: sweets turn out to bring the childhood sense of fun back, and a love potion reconciles a quarreling couple. None of the spells are dramatically and clearly magic until the end of the story: the ambiguity of whether the odd effects are coincidental is maintained for quite a while, which is nice. In the end the book is reunited with the cauldron that Granny Hayden had also used, and both items disappear off to be found in the future by another lucky girl.
  • Gabbi is the magical companion in “Her Guardian Angel” (1980-81); literally a guardian angel, this played-for-laughs story has her defending her charge from all sorts of things that are not in fact dangerous. Gabbi has her own agenda: she has to pass a test to earn her wings, and earthbound Roz must therefore temper her normal way of being in order to help this angel who has become a friend.

Not in Jinty: Mistyfan has pointed out the Tracy story Rhoda’s Robot, in which the companion is not magical in origin, but a robot. (It’s a little arguable in my mind as to whether the robot really should be counted as non-magical as she doesn’t behave anything like a ‘realistic’ robot, but still.)

Edge cases

As with the other themes, you can see examples that don’t fit quite as clearly in the category but still have a lot of overlap with it.

  • “Wild Horse Summer” (1974) has (yet another) magnificent wild white horse which changes the protagonist’s life, but this horse really does seem to be a real-life horse who behaves reasonably realistically.
  • “The Zodiac Prince” (1978) in question is definitely magical; he is more protagonist than companion.
  • “Paula’s Puppets” (1978) is a little harder to categorise; I’d say it was a better match with the Evil Object / Supernatural Object theme as the puppets have a less clear agenda of their own, if any.
  • In “Pandora’s Box” (1979) Pandora has a little black magical cat, Scruffy, but he acts like a typical witch’s familiar, not as a magical guide.
  • “Sea-Sister” (1979) has a ghostly/magical character who again is more protagonist than guide or companion.

Related but different

  • There are other stories with animal friends or antagonists – cats, dogs, horses, birds and so forth in stories such as “The Big Cat”, “The Birds”, “Blind Faith”, “The Disappearing Dolphin”, “Finleg the Fox”, “Friends of the Forest”. As with “Wild Horse Summer”, these are animals that are given a generally realistic treatment.
  • Evil object / supernatural object, discussed separately.
  • Mysterious helper: a story type where someone is mysteriously helping the main character, but in a naturalistic way. The particular example in Jinty would be “Diving Belle”, where the protagonist gets training in diving by a female instructor who appears mysteriously and does seem to have more-than-natural knowledge of what is needed (what with being a gypsy, as obviously psychic powers come with that). Nevertheless she is a human and interacts with the main character in a human way.
  • Wish fulfilment: this can be magical/supernatural in nature (“Dance Into Darkness”) or through more naturalistic methods (“Jackie’s Two Lives”, “Kerry In The Clouds”). There is a trigger for the protagonist to have her wish fulfilled but that is not someone who accompanies her throughout the story guiding her.

Other thoughts

Bringing a magical companion into an otherwise ordinary girl’s life is always going to be a popular way to power a story; any reader could hold out a hope that just such a force could enter her own life and help her out with her difficulties. I guess it also makes sense that the writer can’t have the magical companion make things too straightforward for the protagonist as it’d be boring otherwise; the magical companion must therefore challenge or complicate the main character’s life as much as improving it.

The Cinderella Theme

Pat Mills has said on online that the Cinderella theme was one of the lynchpins in girls’ comics. This feature will examine the Cinderella theme and how it played out in Jinty.

As the name suggests, the Cinderella theme refers to stories where girls are treated like Cinderella. Their parents, step parents or other types of guardians abuse them, use them as cheap labour, exploit them and take advantage of any talent they may have. There may be a wicked stepsister type (cousin, sister, stepsister or whatever) who is the nasty spoilt one and the exploitation is often geared towards investing in the spoilt one’s advancement, such as in Knight and Day and Make Believe Mandy from Jinty.

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Sometimes there is no wicked stepsister type at all, such as in the most famous example of the Cinderella story in girls’ comics, Bella Barlow from Tammy. Starting as another Cinderella serial, Bella proved so popular that she lasted for ten years, and was stopped only by Tammy’s cancellation.

And there are times when the Cinderella is the eldest of a group of siblings. They are all being abused by a nasty guardian, but it is the eldest who takes the brunt but also retains the determination to protect her siblings in any way she can and win through. Examples of this type of Cinderella story are more readily found in DCT titles, such as Slaves of the Singing Kettle from Tracy.

Some Cinderella themed strips are played for laughs, with the wicked stepmother or sisters getting a comical comeuppance every week. The best known example is Cinderella Jones from Judy. But for the most part it is serious, emotional abusive fare, and that was how it was played in Jinty.

The abuse occurs mostly because the abusers are nasty bullies or neglectful/lazy types who don’t care for the girl, or it is a combination of the two. But sometimes they have deeper motives. In Sadie and the Sticks (Tammy) and Champion in Hiding (Jinty), for example, it is revealed that the abusers are in the pay of an even bigger criminal. In Make Believe Mandy the abusers are motivated by a deep hatred and the reason for it forms the mystery of the story. It starts to unravel once Mandy realises she is not related to them by blood, which is a common reason for it all in Cinderella stories.

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As per the original, rescue may come in a supernatural form, such as Whistle and I’ll Come and Moonchild (Misty), Girl with the Power (Tracy), The Clothes Make Carol (Tammy), and The Valley of Shining Mist (Jinty). But in most cases the girl has to look to her own salvation. This usually takes the form of a hobby or talent that the girl is determined to pursue (gymnastics, ballet, music, a sport, art, a craft, sewing and herbology are just of the things that have been used). Or it may be a special secret, such as an injured animal. Whatever it is, it is not her only consolation in her unhappy home life but her ticket to freedom and happiness. Of course the road is not smooth; the abusers throw up obstacles along the way, and even take advantage of her ability. Running away often happens, which either leads to the resolution of the story or turns it into a fugitive story. But it is the fairy godmother type who usually resolves it, either by discovering the abuse or stumbling across the girl’s talent. Cinderella stories typically end up with the girl being adopted by a loving family, being reconciled with her former abusers who had a change of heart, or her talent/secret finally gives her an escape to happiness.

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Strangely, Tammy, the pioneer in darkness and cruelty, did not have a Cinderella sto in her first lineup. Her first Cinderella story, which came later, was Little Miss Nothing, and it set the template in Tammy, though the theme must have been much older than that in girls’ comics. Once discovered, there was no stopping the Cinderella story in Tammy until it, like the slave story, faded from Tammy by the late seventies. Only Bella remained from former times. Until then, Cinderella stories in byTammy included Jumble Sale Jilly, Tess on Tap, Sadie in the Sticks, Nell Nobody, Common Cathy, Sally in a Shell and, of course, Bella.

However, Jinty did have a Cinderella story in her first lineup as she was following the early Tammy. Notable Cinderella stories in Jinty were:

Make Believe Mandy (1974): the first one, starting in the first issue. Mandy Miller is abused her family who seem to hate her and compare her unfavourably with her sister Dinah.

Cinderella Smith (1975): The abuse of Cindy Smith under her cousins is so extreme that she is forced to wear shackles on her legs when she is working.

The Valley of Shining Mist (1975): Debbie Lane has been so psychologically damaged by the abuse from her adoptive family that she has become wild and thieving and has no confidence, which is reflected in a stammer. Then Debbie discovers confidence and can talk properly when she discovers the magical Valley of Shining Mist. But she soon finds that she has to learn to function that way outside the valley as well.

Finleg the Fox (1975): this story started in Lindy and concluded in the Jinty & Lindy merger. Lame Una Price is sent to the Dray family at Blindwall Farm in the hope of a country cure for her poor health. But the Drays are not very welcoming, nor do they welcome Finleg, the fox Una befriends.

Champion in Hiding (1976): Mitzi Morris is forced to live with her horrible Aunt Shirley, who does not treat her well. Mitzi has to hide her dog Firefly from Aunt Shirley as she is determined to train him as a sheepdog champion, but Aunt Shirley is being paid to prevent this.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell’s aunt brings her to her family theatre houseboat with the promise of drama training for the fame that Cherry wants. In reality, the family just want Cherry as an unpaid servant.

The Changeling (1978): Katy Palmer runs away and then steals another girl’s identity to escape her cruel uncle. In an unusual break with the theme, the uncle appears in only the first and last episodes. And he does not seem to launch much pursuit, if any, of his runaway niece, which is what the abusive guardian usually does when the girl runs off. But then he doesn’t get much chance as this story only ran for three episodes.

Knight and Day (1978): Pat Day is removed from her foster family because her natural mother, Mrs Knight, suddenly wants her back after years of ignoring her. But Pat soon finds that Mum only wants her so they can get a council flat and stepsister Janet is spiteful. This story is unusual in having the natural parent being cast in the wicked stepmother role while the foster parent is the good parent.

Spirit of the Lake (1979-80): Sometimes Mum shares the Cinderella role with the heroine, as is the case in this story. Karen Carstairs and her mother find themselves unpaid help when they come to stay with their relatives, the Grahams. And snooty cousin Cynthia sneers at Karen for not being able to skate while she is the best skater in the county. But then a fairy godmother appears in the form of the mysterious woman on the lake who starts teaching Karen to skate.

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Evidently the Cinderella theme was less frequent in Jinty than in Tammy, and eventually it faded from Jinty altogether. This may be due to the SF and sports emphasis that took hold in Jinty. Or it may be because stories of darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines faded at IPC because of changes in editorship. By the late seventies the Cinderella stories had faded altogether from Tammy, except for Bella. The same went for the slave story that Tammy had revelled in. Yet the Cinderella story remained popular at DCT, and titles like Bunty and Mandy continued to crank them out in quantity. Yet by the 1990s the Cinderella theme had waned at DCT too, except for reprints. Now what changes in editorship could have taken place here? Another question for comic book researchers to ponder.

The Slave Story Theme

Pat Mills has declared online that there were three lynchpins for a girls’ comic that he would have if he launched a girls’ title today: the Cinderella story, the friendship story and the slave story (personally, I would add the regular story, the spooky story and the funny story). Apparently when readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story.

This post will be taking a look at the slave story. But as samples from Jinty are too limited to cover the variations of the formula, serials under discussion will expand beyond Jinty to include serials from DCT, Tammy, Girl (series 2) and Battle.

What was the slave story? There were two types: the individual slave story and the group slave story. In the group slave story, a group of girls or people are being held captive and used as slaves. The setting could be a cruel institution or prison, such as an orphanage, workhouse, factory, reformatory, prison camp, mine, quarry, or a school that is run along the lines of Wackford Squeers types. Sometimes the setting takes a more unusual form, such as a circus, a restaurant, a totalitarian regime, or a dystopian world. Or the enslavement could be based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming. For example, in “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” (Tammy) a ballet class is abducted to Siberia and forced to dance for the last remnant of the tzars and their imperialist rule, right down to starving peasants who get massacred when they beg for the release of food supplies.

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Sometimes there is more to the slavery than mere exploitation; the slavers may have more ulterior motives such as an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its residents are being ensnared for sinister purposes, such as in “The Camp on Candy Island” (Tammy) or “Prisoners of Paradise Island” (Jinty).

Occasionally the slave story focused on individuals trapped in slavery, such as “Bound for Botany Bay”. This will be discussed later. Right now the discussion will look at the group slavery.

The protagonist of the group slavery story could be either:
1. The slave who refuses to be broken by the cruelty. She is determined to escape and bring everything down. In the meantime she is singled out for the harshest treatment and her jailers pile on one torture after another which frequently went way over the top. Tortures over the years have included being locked in pillories, drip cells, dungeons, rat-infested cellars, punishment boxes, cages, underground pits and iron masks; forced to work in blazing hot sun until sunstroke sets in, being forced to play hockey with damaged sight; standing for long hours in freezing weather; even be targeted for murder, which is often part of the story’s climax. Or the protagonist could be:

2. The secret helper i.e. the one who is secretly helping the slaves. Sometimes, as part of her ruse, she pretends to side with the villains, and in so doing, makes herself hated by the victims she is secretly helping. Stories where this occurs include “Detestable Della” (Bunty) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy). Or the helper may help via a disguise, such as Lady Sarah in “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy). Lady Sarah helps victims of a cruel orphanage by disguising herself as the legendary ghost of the orphanage. Sometimes the helper is just there and coming up with quick plans to help the victims, such as “Betty vs Bumble” (Judy). This variance on the formula can allow for the slave story being played for laughs and comical comeuppances for the villain every week, as in “Betty vs Bumble”.

Sometimes, but not always, there is a mystery attached to the slave story. Resolving it is the key to resolving the story and bringing down the villain. Some common mysteries are:

1. What secret scheme are the villains up to? Sometimes it is evident they are up to something crooked as well as abusing and exploiting people, but the protagonist has to figure out what it is eg “Slaves of the Candle” (Jinty).

2. Who is the secret helper? Sometimes the secret helper is the mystery, not the protagonist of the story – and also part of its resolution. A mysterious helper keeps popping up to help the girls, such as the mystery trainer in “Land of no Tears”, (Jinty) who turns up in a disguise of a wig and heavy makeup (can’t she disguise herself better in this world of the future?). When the protagonist finally discovers who the woman is, it is another twist on the secret helper who has to pretend to be a villain as part of her ruse to secretly help the slaves.

3. How exactly is the racket operating? Sometimes motives or identities of the villains are kept hidden and need to be unravelled. For example, in “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl, series 2), the slaves do not know exactly who is running the sewing factory that kidnaps girls and uses them as slave labour. Their supervisor keeps herself nameless and they have to address her as “M’am.” When Amanda, the protagonist in this story, discovers the man operating the racket is her own father, it makes for one slave story that does not have a totally happy ending.

4. Hidden secret regarding protagonist. Sometimes there is a secret regarding the protagonist that she does not know herself. The jailers may know it and the torture is part of it, as in “Poor Law Polly” (Lindy), or it becomes part of resolving the story “Nina Nimble Fingers” (Lindy).

Lastly, there may be a toady character. A member of the group or more senior girl who helps the villains and participates in the torture of the girls. Sometimes it is the toady character who is the key to the resolution of the story. Essentially, the villain goes too far to the toady’s liking. Shocked, the toady has a change of heart and starts helping the victims. One example is Adolfa in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Right up until the last episode Adolfa has been the reformatory inmate who helped to torture them, especially Merry. But when Adolfa discovers the warden is out to kill Merry, she has an instant change of heart; she saves Merry and takes a hard crack on the head for doing so. But in some slave stories this was not the case with the toady, eg “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy) or “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”. And at times no such character is used, or not used much.

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Perhaps the most famous – or infamous – slave story was “Slaves of War Orphan Farm”. It was launched in the first issue of Tammy, and it made Tammy‘s name for the darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines that she pioneered at IPC. Ma Thatcher (yes, named after a milk snatcher and future prime minister) running a racket where she uses war orphans she was supposed to be taking care of as slave labour in a rock quarry. She also locks them in cages as a punishment, even in cold weather, sets vicious dogs and gin traps on them, and even tries to burn them alive in the barn at the climax of the story. But the mysterious helper, in this case a woman called Mad Emma, has been steadily helping some kids to escape. Now they combine forces for the great escape with the help of Bonnie, a toady who does have a change of heart.

Other slave stories followed thick and fast in the early years of Tammy. They included The Revenge of Edna Hack, Secret Ballet of the Steppes, Dara into Danger, The Camp on Candy Island, Swim for Your Life, Sari, Slaves of the Hot Stove, Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall and Waifs of the Wigmaker.

It is not surprising that Battle, which drew much inspiration from the dark trend that pioneered in Tammy, attempted the slave story in its first issue. This was “The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain”. Sadly, Bamboo Curtain proved that the slave story was one trend in girls’ comics that did not work so well with the boys and it folded after twelve episodes. But the attempt shows a world of difference when the slave story is played in the man’s world that is worth discussing here.

The evil Sado runs a Japanese POW camp. He revels in punishing prisoners by sending them into the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest rigged with deadly booby traps. Alarmed at how the Bamboo Curtain is intimidating his fellow prisoners, Jim Blake gets himself sent there in the hope of overcoming it and stopping it turning his friends into “cringing coolies.” Blake does survive the Bamboo Curtain but is surprised to stumble across a nest of brainwashed British soldiers in the power of Sado. They mysteriously disappear before he can probe too much.

Determined to help the soldiers, Blake returns to the camp as the answer to the mystery must be there, although he risks even more savage punishment and perhaps death from Sado. The extra tortures include being locked in a metal hut in blazing heat, forced to fight a masked man to the death (Blake is shocked afterwards to find it is one of the brainwashed soldiers), being trapped in a minefield, and being tied to Sado’s jeep and being dragged behind. War-based tortures that soldiers are more likely to encounter than girls. Nor would you expect the girls to punch their jailers in the face and take up guns in their escape.

The story also made daring breaks with clichés, such as when Blake fails to save his friend Jensen from the quicksand trap in the Bamboo Curtain. And, when Blake and Sado face off in the final episode – no spoilers, so let us say we do not get the typical clichéd honourable conduct we would normally expect from the hero.  Unlikely that even Tammy would have done the same.

So how did the slave story play out in Jinty? As the early Jinty was cast in the same mould as the early Tammy, there was of course a slave story in the first lineup. This was “Merry at Misery House”. Wrongly sent to a reformatory nicknamed Misery House because of its harshness, Merry Summers is cast in the mould of the protagonist who refuses to let the cruelty break her spirit. This singles her out for one torture after another to break her down and turns the story into the longest running slave story ever. It ran for over a year before the misery finally ended with the warden and head guard being arrested for racketeering, Misery House burning down and Merry getting her name cleared.

Maybe the sheer length of this slave story is the reason Jinty had fewer slave stories than Tammy. But the ones she did have were:

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Merry at Misery House (1974-75): Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft and sent to a reformatory where sadistic treatment is the rule.

Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974-75): a hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. In a twist that turns the slave story on its head, they are given every luxury instead of being tortured, abused and exploited. But the purpose is just as evil – their captors want to make them fat, unfit and lazy so they cannot win a hockey championship. Then the crooks will take punts against them and make a fortune.

Barracuda Bay (1975): More of a twist on the slave story than a pure slave story. The slaves are a bunch of kidnapped scientists in this James Bond style story.

Too Old to Cry! (1975-76): a cruel orphanage run by a matron who can lie her way out of anything. In a break with the usual pattern, Nell, the protagonist, escapes from the orphanage in the early stages of the story. Many episodes pass before the matron catches up to Nell.

Slaves of the Candle (1975-76): Lydia Lagtree falls foul of Mrs Tallow, who is running a candle making slave racket. But she is also committing thefts that she often has Lydia carrying the can for. Mrs Tallow believes the price that keeps rising on Lydia’s head will keep her under control, but Lydia remains determined to escape and stop the racket. As the story progresses, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Mrs Tallow is planning something even bigger, and it involves the Tower of London. Hmm, could there be treason here?

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): it is more individual slavery than group slavery in this story about the horrors of transportation in the 19th century. But Betsy Tanner is arriving with a group of convicts and they will be slaves all but in name, and later encounters a group of slaves in an opal mine.

Land of No Tears (1977-78): The slave story set in dystopia, which makes a nice change from the more common settings of factories, schools etc. Lame Cassy Shaw is transported to a future world where perfection is everything. People who are not perfect are classed as Gamma and regarded as inferior. In the hive (children’s home) where Cassy ends up, the Gamma girls are slaves who do the cleaning, wear shabby clothes, and eat nothing but scraps left by the perfect Alpha girls. The Alphas bully them and live in luxurious rooms while the Gammas share a cold, grim dormitory. This story is regarded as one of Jinty’s classics, so while Merry was the longest slave story in Jinty, this one has to be the best.

The Human Zoo (1978): not strictly a slave story but contains some elements of it. Sisters Jenny and Shona Owens and some other people are kidnapped by aliens and taken to their planet. The aliens think humans are animals and treat them as beasts of burden.

Children of Edenford (1979): hints of the slave story can be seen in this story too, though it is not a slave story as such. Bamboo Curtain is one example that brainwashing techniques are sometimes used in the slave story, but this one takes it to frightening levels that threaten the whole world. Insane headmistress Purity Goodfellow is obsessed with perfection. To this end she turns her pupils into glazed-eyed docile zombies by feeding them drugged food. But she isn’t stopping there – soon it is the whole district and eventually it is revealed she has her eyes on the whole world.

Now we turn to the individual slavery story. This centres on one individual who is enslaved by legal slavery or exploitation of some sort or, more often, by criminals and other nasty types. In the case of the latter, the girl often has amnesia, lost her voice or has some other disability that has made it easier for the villain to enslave her. Overcoming her disability or regaining her voice/memory is the only way to escape. At other times straight out blackmail is used, though blackmail themes did not seem to occur much in Jinty. And finally, there are villains who use hypnotism or other brainwashing techniques to enslave the girl.

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Notable Jinty stories with this theme were:

Tricia’s Tragedy (1975): Tricia Hunt becomes a slave to her cousin Diana Lloyd because she blames herself for an accident that left Diana blind. But Mr Hunt thinks something is fishy, especially when it becomes apparent that the Lloyds are trying to stop Tricia winning a vital swimming trophy.

Miss No-Name (1976): Lori Mills loses her memory and becomes ensnared by Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella, who abuse her and force her into crime. For good measure, Ma Crabb cuts off Lori’s hair so nobody recognises her as the missing girl in the papers.

The Slave of Form 3B (1976): bully Stacey discovers she can hynotise new girl Tania. She uses it to force Tania into theft, sabotage, cheating, bad conduct and eventually an accident that nearly kills Tania.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): Betsy Tanner and her father are enslaved by convict transportation.

Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud (1976-77): Lady Daisy de Vere is mistaken for a servant, Maud, and ends up in a cruel household where even the other servants mistreat her.

Made-up Mandy (1976-77): Mandy Mason is not a slave per se, but the employer at the beauty salon where Mandy works as a caretaker does not treat her well.

Curtain of Silence (1977): Yvonne Berridge is kidnapped in an Iron Curtain country and forced to pose as their cycling star. Yvonne has lost her voice, which makes it hard for her to get help.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell joins her aunt’s theatre boat in the hope of drama training and stardom. But she finds herself being used as an unpaid servant. This story has some overlap with the Cinderella theme.

Slave of the Swan (1978): Again an amnesiac girl, Katrina Vale, is taken advantage of, this time by a ballet mistress who wants revenge on her mother rather than simply exploiting the girl.

As the 1970s wore on, slave stories (and the accompanying lynchpin, the Cinderella story) faded from Tammy. The same happened with Jinty. This was particularly the case with the group slave story. Counterrevolution and changes in editorship had set in against the revolution of cruelty and tortured heroines that Tammy pioneered and the early Jinty followed. Yet the slave story remained popular at DCT, and it played over and over in Bunty, Mandy and Judy long after it faded at IPC.

 

Story theme: Evil influence/supernatural influence

This is the first in a new category of post, covering the various story themes seen in Jinty in more detail. As we will see, the story themes are often not clear-cut; many themes overlap or become fuzzy at the edges when investigated further. Nevertheless, definite strands can be traced.

There is a long-running story theme in girls’ comics based around someone or something (normally an object) influencing the protagonist to do things she normally wouldn’t do, in a way that is supernatural or unnatural. The influencing object usually has its own agenda, and in service of this it often ends up taking away the protagonist’s free will, and perhaps even her memory, such are the extremes that are gone to. The object (or, sometimes, person) is often evil, though sometimes it can be just driven by its own underlying requirements, which the protagonist must serve in order to resolve the situation.

Core examples

Probably the purest form of this story theme in Jinty can be found in the spooky story “Spell of the Spinning Wheel” (1977). Rowan Lindsay pricks her finger on the spinning wheel that her mother has just bought and finds that she is made to fall fast asleep every time she hears a humming sound – like the sound of the wheel when it is being used, but also the hum of a hairdryer, a car, and so on. The spinning wheel is entirely malicious: its agenda seems simply to spoil Rowan’s running career and indeed her life. When Rowan tries to give it away or destroy it to save herself, it responds dramatically by trying to make her go over a cliff, drown in a river, or get knocked down by a car; certainly it’s not possible to just tamely pass it on. In the end it must be destroyed by cleansing fire, but this can only happen once the whole family is united in determination to remove its malign influence: the heroine does not have enough power to get rid of it by herself. (In this story this works partly through the wheel’s power and partly through the mother’s disbelief: although the father is soon persuaded of the spinning wheel’s malice, the mother is turned against her family and refuses to co-operate with them until finally the wheel goes a step too far and shows her its true colours.)

Clear examples of this story theme in Jinty are:

  • Gail’s Indian Necklace (1974): Gail acquires a mysterious necklace made of wooden beads in a jumble sale: it originally came from India. Initially it grants some desires that are unspoken, or socially wrong: she cannot afford a bicycle and so the necklace makes her steal one, or she wants her aunt out of the way and the aunt gets knocked over by a car. The necklace has a specific agenda, to be returned to its original location; once Gail complies she is free of its influence and is even rewarded by it.
  • Slave of the Mirror (1975): Mia Blake finds an old mirror in her house and it makes her turn against her sister. The mirror possesses her and makes her destroy things in the house, sabotaging her sister’s attempt to run a boarding house. It turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a Spanish serving-girl who was ill-treated by a previous owner of the house; her spirit is set to rest and the possession stops.
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977): see above.
  • Creepy Crawley (1977): Jean Crawley comes across an old scarab brooch in a shop; it comes with the promise that it can help her defeat her rival. She doesn’t stay around long enough to listen to the associated warning she would have been given: once it gives her her wish it will go on to further its own ends, up to and including a reign of insects! Very soon she is unable to give up the brooch or gainsay it in any way; the defeat of the evil object has to be done by a friend of Jean’s, and by the rival herself, who has to be persuaded into forgiveness to break the spell.
  • Come Into My Parlour (1978): Jody Sinclair is made to wear a cat’s-paw necklace by an evil witch, who uses it to get revenge on the descendents of a judge who hanged her wicked ancestor. At first she is made to do things against her will as if she were a puppet, but her inconvenient conscience is eventually eliminated by changing her personality entirely. In the end she is only freed when the house that the witch has been living in is burned down, with the witch inside.
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978): Paula finds some mysterious wax puppets and finds they act like voodoo dolls, and she can make things happen to whoever she makes the puppets resemble. At first the bitter Paula uses them to exact revenge, but eventually she realises she can use them to help her father. (Here, protagonist Paula is the active force behind the influencing object, which differs from usual in this story theme.)
  • The Venetian Looking Glass (1980): the protagonist finds a hand mirror which starts to control her life and wreak its revenge, ultimately being revealed as due to an angry ghost. As with other stories above, the spirit can only be laid to rest with the help of a wider group of people than just the enthralled protagonist, and forgiveness plays an important part too.
  • A number of Gypsy Rose stories also include this story theme, with a more diverse set of evil or haunted objects such as a handkerchief and a tambourine.

Edge cases

Of course, there are always fuzzy edges around definitions, with examples that don’t match the story theme quite as obviously. Looking at these less clear-cut cases can help to challenge our definitions.

  • The Haunting of Form 2B” (1974) has a whole class being haunted by a ghostly teacher. The schoolgirls are taken over mentally by objects given to them by the ghost, but it’s quite a number of varied objects that are influencing them rather than a specific one or two.
  • In “The Haunting of Hazel” (1975) the protagonist is strongly influenced by a ghostly ancestor, but it feels more like a standard ghost story than a case of possession.
  • In “The Mystery of Martine” (1976-77), the source of the possession is not very clearly delineated: is it the bangles that Martine clanks together, or is it the script written by the playwright, or is it all perhaps in Martine’s mind?
  • Sometimes the object is not that clearly evil, or has an influence without appearing almost anthropomorphic. Tamsin Tregorren finds a silver comb that belonged to her mother in “Combing Her Golden Hair” (1979) and the comb shows her visions and leads her to frolic in the water like a dolphin despite never having learned to swim. Eventually she is brought to the sea where she meets her mother, who is a mermaid, and who wants her to come and live in the sea too. The comb serves the agenda of the mother, who is not evil (and though she is portrayed as selfishly not caring whether or not Tamsin would be able to survive in the same environment, this is never actually proven one way or another).
  • In “Child of the Rain” (1980), Gemma West is strongly affected by the rain after a trip to the Amazon rainforest; it is found that some bark from a tree was left in her leg after an accident in the forest, and it is that that is affecting her, rather than any evil object or tennis-mad spirit .
  • In “Who’s That In My Mirror” (1977), the special mirror in question does not remove Magda’s free will, though it does seem to tempt her to worse and more selfish actions than she would have done alone. It’s also not entirely clear at the end whether perhaps the mirror might be intended as an ultimately moral force, to make her repent of her selfish deeds?

Related but different

Further away again from my core definition sit some related themes:

  • Hypnotism and brainwashing are the keys to “The Slave of Form 3B“, “Prisoner of the Bell”,  “Children of Edenford“, and “Jackie’s Two Lives”: the active agents are people, working in ways that aren’t actually strictly realistic but can’t be classed as supernatural.
  • Wish fulfillment: “Dance Into Darkness” has the protagonist forced to dance whenever music plays, with her free will eroded by the curse she takes on. It could be classed along the same double-edged gift that tempts Jean Crawley, but it feels more like irony than evil. And of course a wish fulfillment story can also be purely mundane, such as in “Food for Fagin” and “Freda’s Fortune”.
  • Not to be confused with: a magical companion, who persuades or helps rather than forcing or tempting. Stories with such a companion include “Guardian of White Horse Hill”, “Her Guardian Angel”, “Daughter of Dreams”. The companion may leave the protagonist in a sticky situation but she is not compelled or possessed.

Other thoughts

It’s an old-fashioned sort of story theme, in many ways. The magical objects in question are typically very gendered – mirrors, necklaces, a brooch, a spinning wheel. It feels like a trope from old stories or fairy tales, continued on in girls’ comics as a morality tale. The girl who is affected by the evil object often picks it up initially for the wrong reasons, or is in places she’s not supposed to be: the object promises revenge or oneupmanship, and the seeds of the main character’s undoing are sown because they are heading in the morally wrong direction from the start.