I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters, writer Alison Christie)
“Alice in a Strange Land: is the lead story at this point – Alice and her cousin Karen are told by the mysterious High Priestess that there is a prophecy that a “white-skinned goddess” will lead the tribe back to greatness. Will that goddess be Karen or Alice – and what test will decide between them?
Sea-Sister Helen and her friend Jane are stuck in the ocean – Helen was trying to return to the underwater village that she comes from, but with Jane also on board her sea-shell boat it was not able to return properly. An oil tanker that is stuck on the rocks threatens the two girls, and also a number of friendly birds – Helen tries to save them all but in then end a giant wave sweeps the two of them overboard and under the sea. That’s fine for Helen, who is finally home again – but what of Jane, who has ended up visiting the underwater kingdom without permission?
In “Prisoner of the Bell”, Susie Cathcart is afraid she’s lost her nerve and can’t face doing gymnastics any more. Loyal friend Lorraine thinks of a way to help her get back into the swing of it and even lends her twenty pounds for it – a residential course at a gym school. But the meddling gran finds the money and instructs Susie to “destroy that friendship forever!” The hypnotized Susie can only reply “Whatever your orders, Grandma, I will obey!”
We normally haven’t touched on the features and extraneous items in the pages of the comic. I include the page with the horoscope (and who better to present it than Gypsy Rose, of course – here drawn by Phil Townsend) and a crossword. The clues on the crossword seem surprisingly hard for the intended age range of 8-12, I’d think: but have a look at the tiny upside-down answers, if you can, and see what you think. You will need to click through, of course.
This is just the second episode of “Children of Edenford”. Patti has arrived at the clean and beautiful village of Edenford, but she knows that something’s not right about it. Well, the runaway terrified girl being pursued by grim blank-eyed schoolgirls, and the headmistress whose motto is “Others strive for perfection – we achieve it!” is a bit of a give-away, maybe.
Lisa Carstairs is still a snooty snob in “She Shall Have Music”. Her mother is ill and unable to cope: Lisa is told to stay on with her friend Tracey but instead runs off to stay with her London godmother. Will it work out? Not likely…
There is a two-page text article about a trapeze artist act, the Caravettas: three sisters and a brother. Very exciting!
Fran is playing at being the Fire Officer, which is great fun, so long as she doesn’t screw it up badly enough that she gets into the Headmistress’s bad books, cos that would mean that big bully Martha Stump would have a chance to get her own back.
Shy Ann has changed her hairstyle and other looks to match her dead twin’s – and the other girls on the school bus are understandably rather freaked out when they first see it. Being back at school after the traumatic holiday where her sister was drowned is difficult in many ways, however hard Ann tries.
Bev Barton looks on herself as the black sheep in her sheep farming family, both in appearance (the only one with black hair in a blond family) and in character. She is a rebel without a cause who chafes under her parents’ rules and regulations and is bored stiff with the sheep farm. But Bev has a big problem – she is selfish and can’t see beyond herself. She tends to get jealous of her sister Ruth, who seems to be more in favour with the parents. Bev does not understand that the parents trust Ruth because she earns it with obedience, hard work and consideration, while Bev does nothing of the kind.
Bev applies for and wins a scholarship in Elmsford Academy as she thinks boarding school will give her freedom from her parents and the farm and to do her own thing. But of course she soon finds that Elmsford has its own rules and regulations. It is not long before Bev’s rebelliousness gets her into trouble with the headmistress.
Then Bev discovers the judo club at Elmsford and finds she has a real passion and talent for the sport. She finally has something to work for. The trouble is, she gets so obsessed with judo that she neglects her schoolwork, exams, and breaks more rules and orders in order to get to her judo club. The only thing that stands between Bev and expulsion is that she used her judo to foil a burglar who was stealing school trophies. But eventually Bev defies the headmistress once too often and gets expelled. As a result, the parents thoroughly disapprove of Bev’s judo.
Being expelled has cut Bev off from the judo club and there is none in the village. She flouts her parents’ orders again in order to get to the judo club – only to find it has closed down. Worse, Dad catches her in the act of defying him and she’s in trouble again. Back home, Bev’s jealousy of her sister Ruth, whom she perceives as the parents’ favourite worsens, which heightens the bad situation with her parents. Bev does not appreciate how patient Ruth is with her – or realise that Ruth is ill with angina and needs extra care.
Things look up when Ted Nelson, Bev’s judo instructor, takes a job at her school as the new PE teacher. They start a judo club at the school. Dad won’t let Bev join after her expulsion, but Ruth talks him around. Bev soon earns her yellow belt, but is neglecting her schoolwork again. Ruth is staying up late doing Bev’s homework – which is not good for her state of health – and the parents are angry at Bev again. But Bev takes this as more favouritism and her response is to “disappear” for a bit to teach them a lesson. But this backfires dreadfully – Ruth sneaks off to look for Bev and this is extremely dangerous for her because she is so sick. When Bev finds out, she finally wakes up to how selfish she has been. She takes off to look for Ruth – against Dad’s orders, who is too angry to let her help search – and succeeds.
Following this, Bev makes a serious effort to become more considerate and helpful to her family. Mum is impressed, but Dad just says that Bev’s head is still full of that “confounded judo”. Hearing this, Bev decides that there is only one way to convince Dad of her good faith – give up judo – and tells Dad what she is doing. She rushes off in tears to give away her judo gear. But en route she encounters Alf Sutton. Dad has suspected Sutton of stealing his sheep and now Bev catches him red-handed. She uses her judo to bring him down. This now convinces Dad that judo is not a bad thing and he admits to Bev that he was just too proud to acknowlege her change for the better.
Bev is now getting along so much better with her parents. And to show it, Dad converts his barn into a judo club so the club can continue after the school gym burns down. Bev is still proud of being a black sheep but is now a more mature, thoughtful and happier girl.
This came hard on the heels of Guy Peeters’ previous story, “Pandora’s Box”, which was also about a selfish girl who learned to open her heart. Perhaps it was the same writer. But while Pandora’s Box had supernatural elements, Black Sheep is grounded firmly in realism. There is so much in the character of Bev Barton that we see in everyday life – rebel without a cause, inability to handle authority, generation gap, and problem children who have nowhere to vent their energy so they transmute it into difficult behaviour that exasperates their parents.
The problem with Bev is that she can’t see that she is the architect of her own misfortunes with her selfish, self-centred behaviour. She does not understand that her problems with her parents stem from her being selfish, disobedient, rebellious, doing nothing to earn their trust, and having no consideration for others. And her attitude not only gets her expelled but endangers Ruth several times – such as practising judo with her while not thinking that Ruth is untrained – but Bev does not stop to think. And the types of boyfriends she has – rough bikers – do not help matters.
Bev is not a totally bad character. For example, she stands up to a bully at school who blackmails other girls. There is also a dash of feminism when Bev has to demand to join the judo club as it is boys only. She’s full of spunk and balls, which would have appealed to readers. Bev is not your typical victim heroine who would take emotional and physical abuse lying down, and is no Cinderella.
It is obvious that the judo is the key to Bev’s salvation. After all, it has finally given our rebel without a cause something to channel her energy into. If only she would wake up to how selfish she is, she be a true heroine. But we know she will eventually. That’s the whole point of the story after all.
We have to enjoy this story for the judo itself. It came out at a time when martial arts were popular in Britain, which must have provided inspiration and popularity. And judo makes a change from stories about hockey, tennis or swimming, so readers must have enjoyed the story for this alone. Martial arts did not appear much in girls’ comics, which makes this story even more of a standout.
This is the first annual we’ve yet looked at on this blog that is a proper solid Jinty publication, with a number of stories which look like they were produced specifically for this title alongside reprints that go well with the feel of the weekly paper.
The first story as you open up the annual features good old “Fran’ll Fix It”, one of my favourite humorous characters. The words ‘zany’ and ‘madcap’ were coined for her, and her adventures always bring a smile to my face. Here she is trying to solve some of her school’s financial woes by making her own laundry powder (and not telling anyone so they can have a lovely surprise!), baking cakes (unfortunately with the flour swopped for Plaster of Paris), and running a jumble sale stall (helped out by a crafty bit of ventriloquism that has her selling her goods in a very unorthodox fashion). Jim Baikie is at his best and silliest in this strip, and I would always recommend it heartily to anyone, so it’s a great one to start with.
A number of the stories included are clearly reprints, originally drawn for a publication of different proportions – a band has been added across the top and bottom of the page to fill in what would otherwise be blank space. This is pretty successful and passes unnoticed (certainly it is only on this re-read that it struck me).
Even harder to notice is the fact that one story, “Trudy on Trial!” has been reprinted from an earlier weekly format. This means that where the title was originally printed (as we see in the first page above) required the top panel of each new week’s episode to be lightly altered. This has mostly been done reasonably well, but there is one rather egregious example shown below… (look at the right hand side of the panel!) Again, it clearly worked overall, because it is only on this close re-read that I spotted it.
“Trudy On Trial!” is a light, amusing story that is still substantial enough to carry the centre part of the annual (it is reprinted in one continuous block as a good long chunk). Trudy is invited to her rich uncle’s house mostly because she is refreshingly outspoken and doesn’t suck up to get dosh out of him, but she is clearly kind-hearted and practical, and a real bond grows between them. The art is by Manuel Cuyàs who we have spoken of recently; it is memorable, having stuck in my head all these years, so that when I saw other examples of his work I could immediately link them. The artist signs a couple of the panels: here’s one:
There are also a number of Jinty-type strips drawn specially for the annual. The “Fran” story mentioned at the start is a good example – something that could easily have been in the regular weekly (though on closer look it has been drawn to the different proportions of this annual, which is nearer to A4 than to the weekly comic). “Can You Beat Sharp-Eyed Sharon?” reminds me of those few stories that address the reader directly, whether to moralise or to challenge: “Is This Your Story?” or “Jenny – Good or Bad Friend?“. It is a puzzle writ large: sharp-eyed Sharon notices some suspicious circumstances and resolves them, and the reader is challenges to spot the same give-away as she did. The art is by Keith Robson: not the most frequent Jinty artist but a familiar face bolstering the very Jinty-feel of this annual.
One of the other specifically-created stories is drawn by Phil Townsend – “Come Fly with Me”. It is about Joanna, a girl who lacks confidence and is bullied by her school mates and talked down to by everyone including her family. The only friend she has is old tramp Mr Andrews, who used to be the school janitor before his family died and his life fell apart. Mr Andrews believes in Joanna and encourages her in her artistic endeavours; he even ends up sending in her drawings for a contest, which she wins. This rather obvious story is done memorably enough that I have gone looking for it elsewhere in Jinty (though I had forgotten it was in this annual).
There are no fewer than four Gypsy Rose stories, one of which was drawn specifically for this annual’s proportions and hence is presumably not a reprint. It also features Gypsy Rose directly in the story itself; Mistyfan has pointed out before that the Strange Tales reprints cover lands far away and times long ago, whereas ones written specifically for the Gypsy Rose character feature her in the body of the story.
Two other reprints are single pages entitled “True Stories of Girls of the Wild Frontier”. The art is beautiful and makes me think it might be by J M Burns, but I don’t know his style well enough to be sure. They are not very PC for nowadays, unsurprisingly, with tales of derring-do fighting savage Indians…
I could keep going for a long time, as there is so much in this annual (for the princely sum of £1.25 when new!). The text stories are very readable – I like them in an annual though I don’t in a weekly, where I think they interrupt the flow too much. A couple of the stories feature lovely Terry Aspin artwork, which also endears them to me. The features are quite fun though something I normally skipped over and certainly never tried – making a bottle garden, for instance.
This is the issue after the one that Mistyfan posted about recently with one of her favourite Jinty covers of all. This one is also a beautiful cover, to my mind, though not quite reaching the heights of the one with Tamsin and the mirror. It’s celebrating a new development for Jinty: the sports pages and sports section it is well-known for too. This issue has an article on swimmer Sharron Davies, who was then only about 16, in addition to two new sports-based stories.
“Combing Her Golden Hair” is coming to a climactic end, as Tamsin’s gran discharges herself from hospital: “It’s no good just telling the police – they could never understand the nature of the peril that awaits you there, Tamsin! I am the only one who can fight it – and I must, even to my last breath!” Perhaps the gran has good reasons for her harsh and stern ways, after all? And the last panel is a good cliffhanger: her mother is still alive after all, and trying to get her to come – under the sea to live as a mermaid too!
“Waves of Fear” is also coming towards an end. Spiteful Jean has wrecked the orienteering club that is one of Clare’s only places to be happy, and left an incriminating token behind in the form of Clare’s hankie. The only option left seems to be to run away. In the meantime, though, her friend Rachel is managing to weasel out of Jean the story behind Clare’s expulsion.
The first of the two new sports stories is “Toni on Trial”. Toni is a talented runner who has very recently been orphaned; she moves town to live with her mother’s parents, who she didn’t know at all because her mother ran away at 16. The first evening at her new home seems to go smoothly, until she notices and comments on a photo of her mother winning a running race – at which point her grandfather gets suddenly and unwontedly angry… not a good sign of what’s ahead!
Likewise in “White Water” tragedy is part of the story start-up. Bridie Mason and her father spent every spare moment on board their boat “White Water”, until the accident that killed her father and lamed Bridie. Her widowed mother moves them far inland, away from the sea that her daughter still loves but which she blames bitterly.
The last story in the issue is also a sports story, but as it started before the new section it is not branded as such. Bev, “The Black Sheep of the Bartons”, has been expelled from her school and is back home, corralled and trammeled. Of course that’s going to lead her into doing rebellious, unwise things: in this case, putting her timid young sister on a rough boy’s scrambler bike, to shake up her ‘dull little life’. Not very kind, and we get a hint that next week likewise Bev’s lack of empathy is going to cause more harm.
Stories in this issue:
Combing Her Golden Hair (artist Phil Townsend)
Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands)
“Nothing To Sing About” in this issue is not one of artist Phil Townsend’s best-remembered stories nor one of his most heart-wrenching, but it deals with grief at losing a loved one to an early death a bit more effectively than the rather silly “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” did. Linette Davis’ erratic behaviour is rightly set down to the shock of her dad’s early death, and she has not yet worn out her mother’s (or the readers’!) sympathy.
“The Four-Footed Friends” finishes in this issue: Laura’s mother’s attitude is changed once Riley the mongrel heroically pushes Laura away from a falling brick wall. She explains finally that it was her own grief at losing her baby boy many years ago that made her snobbishly push away Riley and his owner Josie.
Stories in this issue:
Casey, Come Back! (unknown artist ‘Merry’)
Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands)
Another beautiful Phil Townsend cover, from one of my favourite stories: “Combing Her Golden Hair”. There were a number of striking covers from this story, in fact. Tamsin lives with her strict gran, who is so strict we are led to think in terms of a slave story or emotional abuse as in “Mark of the Witch!“. However, spookier and stranger things are going on; the controlling or slave element is seen not just in the relations with the adult in the story but also with the silver comb that Tamsin has found.
In “Almost Human“, Xenia is enjoying being able to integrate with human society but is getting weaker physically, so the end of the story is heading towards us…
A story forgotten from the story-list is “My Heart Belongs to Buttons”, a realistic story of training a puppy to be a guide dog. Julie is heart-broken when her old dog Buttons died; her parents suggest that they become puppy-walkers for the Guide Dogs For the Blind Association. Julie finds it very hard to see another dog, even an engaging puppy, in her beloved Buttons’ place. Of course in the end her heart will be melted – but this puppy isn’t to stay with them, she has to go on to her new blind owner…
Another couple of realistic stories in this issue are “Waves of Fear” (bullying and claustrophobia handled sensitively by the writer and pretty badly by all the adults in the story) and “Black Sheep of the Bartons”. The latter is a sports story featuring the unusual sport of judo. Not totally realistic, of course: it also has the trope of hair colour enforcing outcome, in that Bev is the only family member who has black hair and both feels and is treated differently accordingly. I mean what, do they think she’s an illegitimate child or something?
Stories in this issue:
Almost Human (artist Terry Aspin)
Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands)
Waves of Fear (artist Phil Gasoine) – first episode
Combing Her Golden Hair (artist Phil Townsend)
Miss Make-Believe (unknown artist ‘Merry’)
Pandora’s Box (artist Guy Peeters)
This is an exciting issue! In “Almost Human“, alien Xenia gets hit by lightning and discovers that far from harming her, it enables her to touch earth creatures without killing them – or at least she thinks it hasn’t harmed her… In “Village of Fame“, we start to see how much further Mr Grand and hypnotist Marvo are prepared to go for a televisual spectacle – when the villains stoop to mind-control things are only going to escalate! Detective story “Mike and Terry” is more down to earth, with a redeeming touch of silliness to compensate for it just being a bit more ordinary than the other stories.
Cover story “Waves of Of Fear” has some similarities to “Tears of a Clown” in being a fairly realistic story about an ‘issue’, drawn by Phil Gascoine. Clare Harvey feels like she is becoming a coward, and is shunned by her schoolmates accordingly when she runs away from the dangerous situation a friend gets into, leaving the friend to drown. However, as the story unfolds it turns out that Clare has developed claustrophobia – simply, she has an illness and it is framed as such. When you consider that even now our society is not good at recognizing mental illness as an illness, it was pretty advanced for the time.
“Combing Her Golden Hair” has Tamsin’s gran being stern as ever, but Tamsin (bolstered by the whisperings of the silver comb) is preparing to defy her and go swimming. The story has an out-there premise, but it is handled deftly and actually feels rather tense and sad. Likewise, the last story in the issue, “Pandora’s Box”, is normally not sad but as Pandora becomes less selfish and more soft-hearted the mood changes.
I said that “Miss Make-Believe” was drawn by the unknown ‘Merry’ artist, didn’t I? Look at the page below and see for yourself – the bottom left panel, in particular, has got hairstyles and hands that are very typical of this artist.
We’ve covered excellent stories “Almost Human” and “Village of Fame” in previous posts; a science fiction and a Big Brother surveillance-story respectively. Bizzie Bet is the lead character in a humour strip that lasts less well than some of her peers did, but which is ephemeral fun nevertheless; “A Girl Called Gulliver” straddled the borderline between being a humour strip and being a standard strip with humorous aspects and enough narrative energy to it to say it has a proper arc.
“The Disappearing Dolphin” reaches its last episode in this issue; it’s an adventure story with archaeology, diving, and a villain who is only unmasked in these last few pages. Beautifully drawn, if not that strong a story overall; the ending is rushed. “Mike and Terry” is an interesting and unusual type of strip – a “career” themed story, where the career in question is – being a detective! Also unusually, one of the title characters is a boy, or rather a young man – private eye Mike Temple has a sidekick, blonde Terry, who is sometimes cleverer and quicker than he is – and sometimes too clever for her own good.
If a lot of the stories are going in similar pairs in this issue, then the last pair needs to be “Pandora’s Box” and “Combing Her Golden Hair”. The former is a story of witchcraft combined with a lead character’s determination to follow her path despite family resistance: Pandora Carr discovers her aunt is a witch who uses magic to get where she wants in life, and who expects Pandora to do the same. However, the stubborn girl thinks she has enough talent to get through her time at stage school without magic, at which her aunt only laughs and says she’s welcome to try. The family resistance is benign rather than constraining – a sort of ‘told-you-so’ – but still forms the spine of the narrative.
However, it is “Combing Her Golden Hair”, here in its first episode, which to me is the stand-out story. In these first four pages we meet lonely schoolgirl Tamsin, who lives with her dragon of a grandmother who forbids her from doing many things she might want to do, such as swimming; a mysterious silver comb entrances her and leads her to start to dream of many impossible things.
Stories in this issue:
Almost Human (artist Terry Aspin)
Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands)
Both “Alice in a Strange Land” and “Sea-Sister” give this issue of Jinty a strong fantastical flavour. Of the two my favourite, as previously indicated, is “Alice in a Strange Land”; “Sea-Sister” has got some good scenes of the drowned village that mysterious Helen comes from, but overall it doesn’t convince as much.
“Prisoner of the Bell” shows that Susie Cathcart’s grandmother’s hypnotic hold is still strong on her; friend Lorraine is prepared to do quite a lot to show Susie that she is under this hypnotic spell, and to break her from it. I’ve previously written about how “Children of Edenford” (also in this issue) has an underlying theme of parents prepared to control their children in service of what they think is best; well, with “Bell” the same is shown to be true of grandparents too, on occasion.
“I’ll Make Up for Mary” and “She Shall Have Music” are opposing sorts of morality story; the former is like the successful “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and shows unsuccessful ways to deal with early death, while the latter is a warning about overindulgent selfishness. Neither are the sort of story I like very much, but popular with many other readers. I’d much rather read about the very silly “Fran’ll Fix It”, here trying to make fire practices more realistic… by adding smoke canisters. Which will in no way go wrong, at all, er…….
Patti Anderson’s family are moving away from the grimy big city to the idyllic village of Edenford. All her friends and family are enchanted with this move, but Patti goes from first being cynical about it, to shortly being outright disturbed and scared. The village children are all super well-behaved in a very overt fashion (washing down public monuments and helping little old ladies across the road) and the headmistress of the local school is clearly somewhat obsessed with perfection. In addition, almost immediately there are strong hints that all is not what it seems: a runaway girl advises Patti to leave before it is too late, before subsequently reappearing with a glassy smile and no hint that anything has ever been amiss. Yes, this is the village of the Stepford Schoolgirls.
The headmistress, Purity Goodfellow by name, is fairly clearly the driving force: she reacts to Patti’s rebelliousness with an amused “…never fear, you shall be one of us soon! Very soon!” Initially Patti teams up with the one other normal girl in the school – Jilly (or rather, Perseverance, as all the girls given “school names” of the virtues they most need to strive to acquire) – but quickly it becomes apparent that Miss Goodfellow’s threat is not an empty one. First Jilly and then Patti become perfect schoolgirls from one minute to the next, with glassy stares and wide grins as they announce their intention to do extra homework before an early night, so that they can get up early and make cordon bleu packed lunches for their papas or ballgowns for their mamas. As with any scheme of this nature, however, there is a fatal flaw in the mechanism that turns people perfect – it is washed out of the body with tears and sneezes, meaning that anyone with a cold or with hay fever – as Patti has – will get better in short order. That is, unless the prefects find them and drag them off to the infirmary first!
Having turned normal again, Patti wastes no time giving Jilly a cold to free her from the malign influence; as it works well for her, they decide to give the whole school colds to see if they can break the spell. This time it works a little too well – the schoolgirls go from normal to exuberant to positively destructive, in a backlash from being freed from their mental restraints. The parents are called in, and it is evident that they knew all along about Purity Goodfellow’s methods and aims: they are calling her out not for drugging their children, but for the failure to produce the promised perfect progeny. Patti and Jilly watch, horrified, from hiding as this betrayal is made clear; but the tables are turned on the parents when Miss Goodfellow takes the opportunity to turn them, too, into pliant paragons who believe mindlessly in everything she says. Patti and Jilly are powerless to do anything but pretend that they are still perfect while searching for the hiding place of the drug that they now know is administered in the food (carrying onions as a tear-inducing way of washing the drug out of their systems any time they feel themselves getting too brain-washed).
The game can’t last long and soon Patti is imprisoned in the school to be force-fed the mystic drug, as Miss Goodfellow proclaims “In the infirmary you shall eat your way to perfection!” Jilly escapes to try to bring help, but even the police are in Miss Goodfellow’s pocket; meanwhile in the infirmary the attempts to forcibly turn Patti perfect again are thwarted by the high pollen count and the beautiful flowers liberally strewn around, as her hay fever kicks in again. Losing patience (surely a vice!), Miss Goodellow proclaims that “the fire of righteousness … shall burn out your imperfections!” and has Patti dragged off to the massive temple she’s had built somewhere on the school grounds… where she is to be burned on a very literal altar. Yikes! Of course the obsessive headmistress doesn’t win; Patti doesn’t go meekly to the slaughter, and in the struggle Miss Goodfellow is knocked into her own sacrificial flames and perishes, refusing Patti’s help: “I shall not take succour from the hands of darkness!”. Patti nearly dies too in the ensuing fire, but the brooding massive statue of Perfection (looking rather a lot like Purity Goodfellow, of course) comes crashing down and breaks the door to freedom. The drug is destroyed by fire and the tears induced by the smoke will wash the remains of it from people’s systems; “In a few days we’ll be like every other village… a mixture of good and bad. Edenford will be just human again!”
Themes and commentary
This is one of the key stories I tell people about when on a roll about how girls’ comics in general, and Jinty in particular, was great. In a kids’ medium, it’s a story against moral perfection, against parents’ judgements of what’s “best for you”, against society’s expectations. It’s the Stepford Schoolgirls with a big streak of A Clockwork Orange and more than a hint of Bodysnatchers too. All that, and it’s (ironically) pretty much pitch-perfect in art and writing.
The art, by the very British Phil Townsend, is extremely grounded and solid: he puts in little details such as a bootscraper inset by the front door of a grimy terrace house on the first page, or an old headscarf and shopping basket on one of Patti’s ex-neighbours in the high-rise she is leaving. Headmistress Purity Goodfellow is initially simply severe, austere in clothing and facial features; her manic looks at the climax of the story are therefore all the more striking. Little things help tell the story: the forces of Miss Goodfellows’ Edenford always dressed in pure spotless white, while Patti and the other “imperfect” characters are variously in darker or grimy clothes.
It would be naive to deny that part of the enjoyment, for myself and other adult readers, is in the sheer over-the-top writing that lends itself to a high camp reading. I’ve quoted some dialogue above, and when preparing this article I was hard-pressed to keep it to just a short list of further examples: Miss Goodfellow has determined that “pop music is a waste of time. It neither enriches the soul nor challenges the intellect.” The perfect Patti packs her father a lunch of “just some asparagus tips, oriental salad, Camembert cheese, fruit and a bottle of french spring water”; and at the climax of the story “Is it mad to want to see a perfect world?” “It is the way you’re doing it!” Purity Goodfellow’s statements and worldview are so extreme that when Patti needs to pretend to be perfect, all she needs to do is to think of the most off-the-wall things and go for them wholeheartedly.
The anti-perfection theme is also very attractive to the adult reader; a daring strike away from the mainstream of children’s fiction, which normally pushes an ideal of at least moderate conformity and of achievement. In Jinty there is one other anti-perfection story (“Land of No Tears”, by Pat Mills and Guy Peeters), though with a different take, as it focuses on physical perfection more than the social and moral perfection that Purity Goodfellow is looking to establish. Generally, striving to achieve better results in the exercise of your talent is laudable in girls’ comics stories. In “Children of Edenford” even this expectation is undermined: Patti is good at swimming and so Miss Goodfellow determines she will have two and a half hours daily extra training(!) to turn her into a champion, despite Patti stating she doesn’t want to do that, but rather to continue just enjoying it as a pastime. Partly this is because coercion and obsession are always bad and wrong, to be punished at the conclusion of the story or repented of, but partly I think also to highlight the rightness of society as “a mixture of good and bad”, of natural achievement and natural mediocrity too.
A darker element of the story’s themes is the nasty surprise that parents are not guaranteed to have your best interests at heart. The parents of the village knew of Miss Goodfellow’s perfection drug all along and while they didn’t want their children to be turned into zombies, Miss Goodfellow’s accusation that they were all “quite happy for your children to do everything you asked them, to wait on you hand and foot” is unpalatably true. A stark message in a children’s comic, one perhaps more expected in a punk lyric such as Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized“.
I would really like to know a lot more about the authorial and editorial thinking behind this story. It has a commanding position in the comic as it appears in the final pages almost every time, but it is never granted a cover slot, though other stories by the same artist are given plenty. Its message is a challenging one, disrespectful to society as it is generally framed (the sort of perfection that Miss Goodfellow espouses is a very “U” kind, focused as it is on a classical education and on cordon bleu cookery). Could it have been de-emphasised because of that message?
I have just read the Tammy story ‘The Four Friends at Spartan School‘, written by Terence Magee. This story has some interesting commonalities with ‘Children of Edenford’: in it, the schoolgirls are also specifically sent there by their parents, with the intention of them being made over into obedience and compliance, as matches their parents’ desires and expectations. However, ‘Spartan School’ is obviously cruel right from the start; it is more like Magee’s long-running story ‘Merry at Misery House‘. Also, while we are told that the parents want their children to be obedient, it isn’t clear to the reader whether the parents really know the methods that the headmistress uses; the school is so far away that it is entirely possible that the parents are neglectful in finding out the real situation, rather than positively complicit. When an escapee pupil manages to contact her family, they head instantly to her rescue rather than disbelieving her, which lends weight to this interpretation. ‘Edenford’ is therefore an extreme example of a story theme that exists in other girls’ comics; so extreme, however, as to feel quite subversive.