Tag Archives: 2000AD

Guest post: John Richardson

Comics UK Forum poster Goof has kindly contributed the following appreciation of artist John Richardson, along with a detailed comics bibliography. Many thanks indeed, Goof!

John Richardson, who died earlier this year, was not a Jinty artist. He drew no serial stories for Jinty – in fact, he did few full serials of any kind – and is represented only by a few reprints. Yet for other girls’ comics, especially Tammy and Misty, he produced a body of brilliant and original work across a wide range of stories from the darkest horror to the craziest knockabout comedy.

Like nearly all artists who worked for girls’ comics, he was largely anonymous to his many readers, and information about his life isn’t easy to find. Born in 1943 in the North Yorkshire mining town of Eston, he started working as a commercial artist after studying at Art College. Before this, he once assured an interviewer, he had tried his hand at farm work and professional wrestling.

His earliest work includes what seems to have been his first foray into girls’ comics, the 1964 Bunty serial “Phantom of the Fells”. During the 1970’s, he worked on several IPC girls’ comics such as June and Princess Tina, and did a serial and some smaller items for D C Thomson’s Mandy. He also did a couple of series for Cheeky Weekly comic, and the cartoon strip “Amanda” for the Sun newspaper.

Around this time he also began his long run of work for Tammy, which over the years made a significant contribution to the character of the comic, especially his series of “Cover Girl” covers which did so much to define to look of the comic between 1973 and 1980, and his period as the main artist for the “Wee Sue” series. He continued to produce stories and covers for Tammy until the end of 1983.

He contributed short complete stories to Misty throughout its two year run, as well as the serial “End of the Line“, and took full advantage of the extra space which Misty offered to artists to create some of his most spectacular work.

During the 1980’s, he drew for 2000AD, especially “The Mean Arena”, a science fiction serial that he also wrote, and contributed to the serials “Ro-Jaws’ Robo Tales” and “The V.C.s”. He also drew two serials and a short story for Scream! He drew and wrote the cartoon strip “Flatmates” for the Sunday People newspaper, and strips for specialist car and bike magazines. Most memorably perhaps out of his cartoon work, he created the Goonish comedy science fiction strip “Jetman” for a computer magazine called Crash.

Unlike a number of artists who worked on IPC’s girls’ comics, it seems that he didn’t move over to D C Thomson after the last IPC picture story girls’ comics ceased publication in the mid-1980s, although he did produce two Judy Picture Story Libraries in 1983 and 1984. I have not been able to find any further girls’ comic work after the demise of Tammy, and it looks as if he may have stopped working for comics altogether around this time. The latest comics work that I have been able to trace was in two issues of the Enid Blyton’s Adventure Magazine, published in July and December 1986.

It’s not clear why he did comparatively few full serials during his 20 years drawing for comics. I have seen it suggested that he had no great liking for drawing stories written by other people, and this may have discouraged him from working on long serials, where the artist would normally work more or less under instructions from the writer. It may be no accident that some of his best and most inventive comedy is in the Tammy series of Cover Girl covers, where he was free to interpret the joke in his own way because the jokes were purely visual. Many brilliant examples of this series are illustrated in Mistyfan’s History of Tammy Covers on this website.

He had the kind of style which once seen, was instantly recognisable, and yet this didn’t seem to limit his ability to adapt to almost any kind of story. He once said in interview that his work as a last-minute substitute for other artists had helped him to “learn from other people and gradually evolve something unique”. It’s an interesting thought that imitating the styles of other people can help you develop an original style of your own, but certainly his frequent work as a filler artist didn’t stop him developing a highly individual and spontaneous style, with a good feel for human anatomy and convincingly realistic facial expression.

Although he could turn his hand to almost any type of story, his best work in girls’ comic stories was in horror and farcical comedy. He had a tremendous flair for the grotesque, and he was able to turn this to account equally in horror and comedy. There’s nothing unusual about extravagantly hideous creatures in horror tales, but John Richardson’s had an exuberance which was all his own, like this example from “The Uglies” (Misty 14 April 1978):

John Richardson artwork from Misty

He could handle bizarre comedy with the same panache, even when the subject was something as humdrum as a parking meter (“Stella Starr – Policewoman from Outer Space” from Mandy Annual 1975):
John Richardson artwork from Mandy

But the impact of his work didn’t depend solely on his command of the grotesque and fantastic. He could convey the same chill in a horror story by the power of suggestion, through his flair for facial expression, and ability to compose a powerful page layout. From “Black Sunday” (Misty Summer Special 1978) and “Old Ethna’s House” (Misty Holiday Special 1979):

John Richardson artwork from MistyBlack Sunday

John Richardson artwork from MistyOld Ethna

He was also able to draw on his cartooning experience to enliven slapstick comedy stories, as in the Judy Picture Story Library “Dora’s Dragon”, where a dragon costume brought to life by a witch becomes a boisterous mini-Godzilla enthusiastically devouring anything that moves:

John Richardson artwork from Judy PSLDora’s Dragon

Although his style was so distinctive, he was well able to adapt it when taking over an established series from another artist. The Tammy series “Wee Sue” is an interesting example of this. He succeeded to the original Tammy series artist Mario Capaldi in the issue of 14 September 1974, but unusually, he did so in mid-episode. Here are the first two pages of the episode:

Mario Capaldi/John Richardson artwork from Tammy

John Richardson artwork from Tammy
Page one is clearly in Capaldi’s style, and I would say that the end of page two is clearly by
Richardson, although he has toned down the normal character of his work to harmonise with Capaldi’s. But at what point did he take over? I personally think that Capaldi drew the first three panels of the second page, and Richardson did the rest. The point is debatable, but it certainly shows how well Richardson was able to adapt his style to conform to the very different style of another artist. By way of contrast, here’s a later episode where he has remodelled Sue’s enemy Miss Bigger from the severe and tight-lipped martinet created by Capaldi into a crazed hobgoblin in his own distinctive style (issue of 26 February 1977):

John Richardson artwork from Tammy

I strongly feel that this art should be known and celebrated far more than it is, but as so often with girls’ comics, the first stumbling-block to recognition is simply a lack of reliable information about what work the artist did. Contributors to the Comics UK Forum have compiled a list of the work he is known to have done for girls’ comics, and this will be posted next. Inevitably, it’s not complete, and we would be grateful to hear from anybody who can offer further additions, or spot any mistakes. If you can give us any help with this, please let us know.

Hip hip hooray! Jinty (would have been) 43 today!

This is a post covering more than one celebration. It is the 600th post on this blog, posted on the 11th May, the day that Jinty was first published 43 years ago. And while we normally don’t make much of the anniversary of the blog itself, it has been a little over three years since it first started, back on 15 April 2014.

Jinty likewise also didn’t make much of its anniversaries. There is a celebration cover for its 200th issue but that mostly consists of an Easter picture and some text stating that it is a celebration issue. And while the cover of its 5th anniversary, above, is at least specially-drawn for the occasion, there is nothing much more inside to remind readers of the exciting times from the previous years. We can do more than that, in this blog post!

Well of course on this blog you can go back and read posts on individual issues, either in the order in which they were originally posted or (rather more conveniently) as an index, in date order. This also shows you how far we’ve got through the list of all 383 issues of Jinty ever published. For much of the run, we have now got long unbroken streaks of consecutive issues. There are gaps here and there of two or three issues together where we still have to fill in issues not-yet-blogged, but these are much fewer than used to be the case. (To give you context of the publishing of the time, there is also a much shorter list of issues of other titles which we have written about. It’s an area we focus on less, of course, but we will continue to add to nevertheless.)

We are still plugging gaps in the list of stories, too, but there again the gaps are narrowing. If you look at the list of Stories by Publication Date you can easily see which stories are yet to be posted about. Most of the key stories have already been covered, but there are still some crackers to come. Mistyfan is promising us “Tears of a Clown”, and on my own list I need to get to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the popular and extremely long wartime tear-jerker from Alison Christie and Phil Townsend.

In terms of other sorts of blog achievements, of course 600 posts is itself a really good number to have got to, in as little as three years. I would have been happy to manage about one post a week, but thanks to Mistyfan’s energy and our combined bright ideas on new things to tackle over that time, we have managed three or four times that rate. (I must give due credit to Mistyfan, who writes about one and half as many posts as I do!) The readers of this blog will be glad to know that even though we are closing the gaps on individual issues to write about, we still have many creators to cover as well as the story gaps mentioned. And although issues of other titles have featured previously as context for Jinty‘s family tree, I can see that we might need to cover more of these so as to continue to trace the path of different creators, story types, and themes throughout the years.

Jinty never had a chance to continue even as far as its 8th birthday issue, alas. I wonder what it would have been like if it had lasted longer? There would certainly have been a lot more great stories and excellent art to read and enjoy, but would it have stayed as inventive and energetic as 2000AD has done in its 40th year? Bunty lasted from 1958 to 2001 and had strong stories even to the end, but I think it would be hard to class the latter-day content of the title as ranking with its heyday. A longer-lasting Jinty would have had to reinvent itself more widely: I’m not sure how that would be possible in the constraints of the British comics market, especially with comics marked out as being more and more ‘for boys’. Esther, the Spanish “Patty’s World”, managed it, with stories being written specifically for the Spanish market and grown-up readers still seeking out the title of their childhood and sharing it with the next generation. Perhaps not a coincidence that it succeeded so well: Esther was always down-to-earth and realistic, compared to stories about boarding schools or ballet, so it stood more of a chance to tap into the mainstream urge for everyday stories that lies behind the popularity of soap operas. Not that soaps are the only way to produce popular entertainment, of course: Jinty and the like could perhaps have tapped into the science fiction or fantastical elements that worked so well in their pages. For sure, something  different would have been needed. Wouldn’t it have been great to have seen the publishers give it a go!

Pat Mills: Interview

Pat Mills is someone who has already contributed lots to our knowledge of girls comics of this era, but even so there are still some gaps in our knowledge of what he wrote, and always plenty more questions to be asked. With thanks to him for his contributions now and in the past, here is a brief email interview.

1) In previous discussions you’ve identified the following stories in girls’ comics as having been written by you. Are there any stories missing from that list that you can remember? Some other stories have been attributed to you – also listed below – which you’ve either specifically said you didn’t write, or which haven’t been included in those previous discussions. It would be great to clarify this once and for all, if we can.

Known stories (Jinty)

You have also said before that you wrote a horse story, without identifying which one it was. Might it be “Horse from the Sea”? Or perhaps “Wild Horse Summer“?

Pat Mills: No. Doesn’t ring a bell. It’s possible I did the horse story for Tammy, but it wasn’t very good.

Tammy

  • Ella on Easy Street?
  • Glenda’s Glossy Pages?

Pat Mills: Charles Herring wrote Ella which I hugely admire. I wrote Glenda. Also – Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, and Granny’s Town, but not all episodes.

Misty

  • Moonchild
  • Roots (Nightmare)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (Beasts)

Pat Mills: Think “Red Knee” was mine if it was the spider story. Also “Hush Hush Sweet Rachel” – art by Feito.

And some Jinty stories you didn’t write but which are often attributed to you: “Knight and Day” (now confirmed as not yours), “The Human Zoo” (I think this is thought to be Malcolm Shaw’s), “Wanda Whiter Than White“, “Guardian of White Horse Hill” (you’ve previously thought this is likely to be Malcolm’s too).

Pat Mills: No, none of those are mine.

2) I appreciate that it’s harder to remember which stories were written by other people, if you even knew these details at the time. If there are any stories that you know the writers of, we are always up for adding to our store of attributions! We know that co-workers of yours such as John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring wrote for girls comics, in case that helps to trigger any memories. Did you also perhaps know Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon? (Some of those names are listed in the era when Tammy printed creator credits between 1982 and 1984, meaning we do have some story credits already in hand for that time.)

Pat Mills: Charles Herring was great – Ella and similar stories.  Pat and Alan Davidson wrote stories like Little Miss Nothing – Sandie and the equivalent in Tammy. They were top writers and that style of ‘Cinderella” story was hugely popular, but I don’t think they ever worked for Mavis. [In fact we do know that Alan Davidson wrote for Jinty, though Pat Davidson did not.]

John Wagner created and wrote “Jeanie and her Uncle Meanie” for Sandie, I think.  John was an editor on Sandie, but Gerry was the founding editor.

I wrote “Captives of Madam Karma” in Sandie.

John Wagner and I wrote “School of No Escape” in Sandie. (That was not bad) And “The Incredible Miss Birch” for Sandie. (Not our finest hour!) And I must have written at least one other story of this kind for Sandie.

I also wrote “Sugar Jones” and other stories for Pink, and “9 to 4” for Girl.

3) In Steve MacManus’ new book on his time in IPC / Fleetway, he talks about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story: so for instance at one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. Is this something that you too remember from your time at IPC Fleetway? Did it happen at DCThomson too? I was interested in this because it seemed like a surprising way to think about comics, rather than in terms of page count.

Pat Mills: Yes. Steve is spot on. It’s a big subject. A thirty picture story in girls comics would theoretically deliver a lot of story. But it would be crammed and old fashioned. So I changed all that on 2000AD with less images on the page and started to apply it to Misty.

4) You’ve talked before about girls comics working differently from boys comics, and Steve MacManus recalls you saying that in a girls story the heroine would beat a bully, ride in a gymkhana, and still get back home in time to make her motherless family a hearty tea. Clearly girls comics were very full of plot! And you were a big part of rewriting a bunch of boys stories to make them fit the girls comics model more closely. Can you talk in a bit more detail about how this worked, in other words, what the mechanism was, more exactly? Is it a case of using fewer action sequences, more surprise reveals, lots of scene changes…?

Pat Mills: The big principle of girls comics that I applied to boys comics was “emotion”. Sometimes this worked well, but it needed applying in a different way. More “cool”, perhaps. Some girls principles didn’t adapt well:  jealousy for instance. Girls loved stories involving jealousy – boys didn’t. Hence “Green’s Grudge War” in Action wasn’t a hit.  Similarly, mystery stories work well in girls comics, boys didn’t give a damn about mystery. Hence my “Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain” in Battle, boys didn’t care what the terror was. It wasn’t a failure, but not the hit we hoped for.

However, where girls comics scored ENORMOUSLY was in having realistic stories that didn’t talk down to the reader. My “Charley’s War” is really a girls comic in disguise. Its popularity lies in it applying girls comic principles NOT boys comic principles – e.g. emotion is allowable in the context of World War One.

I was never that sold on “girls adventure” where there wasn’t a strong “kitchen sink”/Grange Hill factor. I think when Jinty went in for science fiction adventure it led the field, but not so sure about regular adventure which could seem “old school” – to me, at least. This was a factor everyone battled with on girls and boys comics, avoiding “old school” and creating stories that were “cool”.  Thus I would describe “Cat Girl” in Sally as uncool and old fashioned. Some of the Misty stories fell into that category – historical stories, for example.

Many thanks again to Pat Mills for his time, and for his memories and thoughts on this.

‘The Mighty One’ by Steve MacManus (2016)

The Mighty One - cover

This is a review (of sorts) of Steve MacManus’s autobiography “The Mighty One”, in which he covers his time working at Fleetway / IPC between 1973 and 1991. It’s not your usual review though, as it is also intended as a way to highlight some material mentioned in the book that either gives us new information on how the comics publishing of the time actually worked, or re-confirms information we already knew (but which it’s always good to have from more than one source.) (Some write-ups that are more ‘review’-y can be found here: GNFAR, Colin Noble at Down The Tubes, Lew Stringer.)

MacManus started work at Fleetway Publications in 1973, as a sub-editor on Valiant, which was part of the Juvenile Group of comics and magazines aimed at young people. He was part of a team of four people: an editor and a sub-editor, an art editor and an art assistant (often referred to as a bodger). He subsequently worked on Battle Picture Weekly, and although he wasn’t part of the core team working on Action he got involved in some elements of that title too. Starlord was his next step and when that merged with 2000AD he went to that title, eventually becoming Editor in 1979. In 1986 he moved sideways and relinquished the editorship to stay involved with the Judge Dredd universe, with the creation of titles for a more mature audience – Crisis (in 1988), the short-lived but beautiful Revolver, and the much longer-lasting Judge Dredd the Megazine. The book ends in 1991 with the collapse of the Maxwell Communication Corporation (which had bought IPC’s remaining comics line in 1987) and the subsequent sale of the titles to Gutenbergus (later Egmont), though the last chapter of the book, effectively an epilogue, races through the aftermath of the subsequent years through to 2011.

During this book he talks about working with key staff contacts such as art editor Doug Church, editor Dave Hunt, art editor Jan Shepheard; and with well-known freelancers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant, John Wagner, Tom Tully. The names we are familiar with from girls comics publishing – Mavis Miller, Wilf Prigmore, Terence Magee – mostly don’t get a look-in but there are certainly some folks mentioned who crossed over that significant divide as we will see – Gerry Finley-Day, Jim Baikie, and of course Pat Mills again (who seems to get everywhere). If you want to read anecdotes of those days, or find out how a boys’ comic of the time was conceived, written, drawn, put together, printed, and marketed then you couldn’t ask for a better book than this, and a fun read to boot. I’m sure it will get people digging out their old issues of the comics mentioned, or looking out for reprints of stories they missed (it’s certainly had that effect on me!).

My interest in getting the book in the first place, however, was to see what light it might shed on the creation and publishing of Fleetway / IPC’s girls comics. It did not disappoint. As mentioned above, some of the information in the book is material that we already know or had a good idea was the case, but it’s good to have it corroborated in a printed source that can be referenced in the future. Some of the information, however, is stuff I’d never dreamed of, and which has got me thinking of new things to look at and analyse in Jinty and other comics.

What did we already know that is corroborated here?

  • There are some basic facts that are repeated here about things like the target age of the readership (8-12 years), and the sales figures of the time (around 80,000 copies per week normally, with 2000AD achieving noticeably strong sales of 100,000 copies per week, but still being out-sold by Tammy which was selling 200,000 copies a week).
  • The expectation was that any given child would be reading the comic for a maximum of four years before going on to other things (it states in the book that a boy might give up his weekly comic in order to save up for something bigger and more grown up). So the rule of thumb, as we’ve heard before from Mistyfan, was that stories from a specific title could be reprinted in that title after some 5 years had passed.
  • The normal format of a comic was 32 pages, which included 3 pages of editorial material or features (intro page, letters page, back cover) and the front cover – so 28 pages of comics, normally divided up into 8 stories of three or four pages each. The book doesn’t say specifically, but presumably as with Jinty there would normally be a couple of single-page strips to make up the 28 pages of comics.
  • It was pretty clear beforehand that comics at the time were fairly blokey. Of course MacManus was talking about working on boys comics, but almost all the names he mentions were of men, apart from Jan Shepheard. The office staff, the colleagues he socialised with, the management – just about everyone he mentions was male. The magazine publishing side was more mixed, with columnists such as Julie Burchill coming in for a mention alongside female editorial staff on titles.

There were some points mentioned that weren’t totally new to me, or to other readers of this blog, but which have had new light shed on them:

  • The Juvenile Group had separate departments for boys’ comics, girls’ comics, nursery comics, and humour comics. It’s clear from this book that these departments were a lot more separate from each other in terms of culture and networking than we might have imagined. The girls comics and the boys comics were very much separated from each other – they were located on separate floors, for instance – and there is little evidence in MacManus’ book of much fraternization between the two. (Gerry Finley-Day was one of the exceptions – he was the deputy managing editor of the girls’ comics line at the same time as he was writing stories for the initial line up of Battle.) So much so that when talking about Jim Baikie coming aboard to 2000AD wagon (for “Skizz” in 1982), MacManus was seemingly totally unaware of Baikie’s background in drawing girls comics, knowing him only as a Look-In artist! I asked MacManus via Facebook whether he really had been entirely unaware of the crossing-over from girls comics to boys comics that Baikie, Ron Smith, and Phil Gascoine had done, and he confirmed that he didn’t think he knew it then and was surprised to hear it now. At the same time, there must have been some awareness of what was happening in the other area, as MacManus appreciated the notable successes that were happening with Tammy and Jinty.
  • The running order of the stories in each 32 page issue was closely tied to the popularity of the stories in question. In Valiant, the most popular story appeared at the front of the comic, and the second most popular one at the back, which makes sense. But MacManus also says that the least-liked heroes would be marked for the chop in ‘an end-of-term edition in which all the current serials concluded’, which surprised me! I don’t remember noticing that lots of stories normally came to an end at the same time, in Jinty at least – but I will certainly look at the story list by date to see if there are patterns for when stories tend to end or start.
  • Not really known beforehand but not surprising as such: MacManus gives us a little bit of detail about the taglines at the top of each cover – ‘the pithy phrases known as toplines’. These were apparently produced ahead of time – ‘several of these to last us the next few issues’.
  • I knew that there was quite a lot of active creative work required of those working as in-house staff at IPC (no doubt the same was true of DC Thomson too): we hear of Gerry Finley-Day writing umpteen stories at the same time as being a staffer, and we know about the script conferences held in the editorial offices of the comics. I was surprised, though, to understand quite how hands-on those creative processes were at all levels of the publishing process. MacManus was required to do quite a lot of writing as a normal part of his job, and he talks about the specific encouragement to write scripts and features. Art duties likewise were an important part of the in-house staff work: the bodger or art assistant would redraw elements that had been perhaps misunderstood by the main artist, or which needed amending for other reasons (such as to tone down a shocking scene, or to touch up old artwork that was to be reprinted in a different format). The art editor was responsible for the overall look and feel of the comic; we’ve heard elsewhere about how much of an effect Jan Shepheard had on early 2000AD for instance. A high level of creative endeavour was expected and required: MacManus’ interview with IPC turned at least partly on his ability to spell, and everyone on staff knew that there were a lot of parental and media eyes focused on the comics, ready to spot any errors or grammatical flaws. But at a basic level of comics publishing, too, the editorial role included the creative element of subbing the dialogue written by the author so that it fitted into the space left by the artist, while continuing to respect ‘the dramatic “beat” of the pictures so that the story flowed seamlessly for the reader’.
  • We’ve heard before from Pat Mills that women were generally uninterested in working on the comics because they wanted to work on the women’s titles, as proper journalists. I’m sure that was a real thing, but what Pat’s narrative doesn’t include is the fact that other people working on the comics also wanted to be ‘proper journalists’ too – MacManus recounts the attraction of the idea of working on a magazine and holding your head up in the queue for the staff lunch! It was also an area of the business with a lot more budget to play around with. Between this relatively greater respect accorded to journalists working on consumer magazines, and the blokey background of many parts of the publishing company, it’s perhaps not that surprising that many women may have been a bit uninterested in working on the comics.
  • It’s clear from MacManus that Scottish rival DC Thomson were immensely important not only in providing a competitor to race against, but also in the transfer of knowledge and methods to the better-paying London publisher. MacManus attended an in-house training course on scripting picture strips for girls, run by John Purdie, the managing editor of the girls’ department and an import from DCT. Writers Pat Mills and John Wagner, were similarly trained in the DCT writing style – but with particular expertise in writing girls comics, which was described by Pat Mills as being particularly plot-driven, with four sizeable things happening in the space of a single 22-panel episode. This brought in a professionalism and strength into IPC’s boys’ comics writing by explicitly teaching staffers how to write and edit tightly. MacManus contrasts this with the common technique of starting an episode with last week’s cliffhanger, resolving it, doling out a smidgen of plot development, before ending on another, often spurious, cliffhanger.
  • MacManus talks about the dummy issue of Battle being produced six weeks ahead of the first issue going on sale, and this six-week lead time crops up at other points in this book. (Amongst other things it means that ‘For a new weekly title the soonest you could end a strip was around issue twelve’.) Of course there would have to be some sort of publication lead time but it’s nice to have it nailed down fairly specifically. I’d like to have heard exactly how far in advance the advance copies were printed – we’ve heard elsewhere that there are around 30 ultra-rare copies of the issue of Action printed just before the order came to stop the presses and re-jig the level of violence in the title. Does that mean that an advance copy of Tammy‘s last issue, with the final episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”, might have been produced or even printed? You’d think someone would have mentioned it by now, but who knows… Or if not a printed copy of the issue, could there be any remaining scrap of the ‘make-up book,which listed the status of scripts and artwork for each issue going forward’?

And then there were some points that surprised me quite a lot:

  • MacManus says right at the beginning that when he joined Valiant in 1973 he was surprised to see the same characters he’d followed a decade earlier, when he read it as a boy. Captain Hurricane, The Wild Wonders, The House of Dolmann, Raven on the Wing, Kelly’s Eye, Jason Hyde, The Steel Claw: that’s a lot of ongoing characters! I don’t know Valiant enough to have a feel for how many of those were really long-running but clearly a number of them were – many more than was the case in Jinty or even Tammy. Jinty only had one or at maximum two ongoing characters at a time, while Tammy had the long-running Bella and Molly Mills of course. But neither girls’ title was chock-full of long-running stories in the way that MacManus sees as the norm in boys’ comics.
  • MacManus talks a few times about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story. At one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. There are two things that surprise me about this. One is the terminology, using ‘pictures’ or ‘frames’ instead of panels (likewise he uses ‘speech bubbles’ instead of ‘word balloons’). it’s subtly different from the terminology I’m used to – I suppose my vocabulary for this has been influenced by US comics, and I’d never noticed the small differences. It makes sense of the many references to ‘picture-stories’ instead of ‘comics’ though, I guess.
  • But the thing that surprises me most about this is the idea of measuring stories in pictures or frames, rather than in what I would never have questioned as the key unit of a story – the page. Of course, the page has to still be considered a very important unit – you have to fill up 32 pages in each issue, and the physical page is what the reader turns over to see something surprising that has been hidden from them until that page turn. The real lightbulb moment associated with this, for me, was when MacManus explained the thinking behind running only five stories in the early 2000AD – he credits Pat Mills with the notion of leaving out the most-unpopular two or three stories out of eight, and going straight to only printing five stories in each issue, with more pages allocated. MacManus specifically says ‘Each story still had the usual number of pictures, but the extra pages allowed the pictures to be drawn larger’. Wow! Yes, this is clearly what is happening, not only in 2000AD but also to a certain extent in Misty.

Available from Rebellion £9.99 for the print edition (ISBN 978-1-78108-475-5).

She Shall Have Music (1978-79)

Sample images

She Shall Have Music pg 1

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Publication: 28 October 1978 – 17 March 1979 (18 episodes)
Artist: Ron Smith
Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Synopsis

Lisa Carstairs is a talented pianist and a selfish, self-obsessed girl who cares nothing for anyone or anything except her piano. We see a glimpse of her life as a rich girl who can spend as much time as she wants just practicing her piano, waited on by maids and fawned on at school. Her father works hard at keeping his business together but to no avail: it comes to an end with a crash, when his business partner flees the country and leaves Mr Carstairs with the associated debts. Everything has to be sold to pay for it, including Lisa’s beloved piano – and her sympathy is kept all for her own losses, with none left for her parents’ difficulties.

For much of the rest of the story, all Lisa can think of is how to get access to a piano, preferably her own. She goes to the auction house and threatens to have the law on anyone who touches ‘her’ piano or dares to buy it, but of course she is onto a loser there. The family move into a little terraced house and she is sent to the local school rather than her posh private school. Her posh private school, for all their glib words about admiring her talent, want nothing to do with ‘the daughter of a bankrupt’ so there is no chance of playing their piano! There is a piano at the new school but she has already set everyone against her there by failing to listen to anyone, failing to adapt to her changed circumstances, and failing to understand that people aren’t going to fawn over her talent any more. She only barely gets to play the school piano, which she is only allowed to do once she has apologized to a teacher that she was rude to (and even then she gives one of those rubbish ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ type apologies – actually she says ‘The Head wishes me to apologise to you’ which should have been something they would have seen through but still).

Playing the school piano isn’t enough, mostly because she is not treated with the amount of adulation she still expects (without in any way having earned it of course). The assembly music she’s given to play is not what she wants to play, so she summarily sweeps it aside in favour of some technically challenging classical music – not surprisingly this approach fails to go down well. The kids are unimpressed, Lisa is angry at them for not fawning over her (er, I mean appreciating her obvious talent when she condescends to play for them), and she calls them loud-mouthed, ignorant and stupid. So it’s war between Lisa and the whole school from now on.

Well, not quite the whole school. Tracey is a girl who likes classical music and has some sympathy for Lisa. She stands up for her even when everyone else is sick of the sight of her. Including the Carstairs parents, probably: Lisa was nearly starting to be sympathetic to their difficulties when she heard them say they’d try to make it up to her by getting a replacement musical instrument. She immediately imagines a beautiful piano taking up most of the space in their shabby small terrace – but of course all they are able to buy is a tiny electric chord organ, which from Lisa’s point of view is nothing better than a toy. Not that anything excuses her reaction, which is to kick it to pieces in a tantrum!

Another try at getting access to a piano is when she finds out that her piano was sold to the Mayor, for his spoiled daughter to plink-plonk on. Rosalind, the mayor’s daughter, takes the opportunity to bully Lisa by playing on her desperation: she has Lisa steal and beg for a chance to play. It doesn’t take Lisa that long to realise that Rosalind has no intention of actually helping, but it does take a little longer before she can bring herself to swallow her longing and walk away from her old piano.

Lisa’s quest for a piano to play nearly breaks up the family when she finds that a piano showroom is advertising for a cleaner. Lisa herself is too young to take the job but she cajoles her mother into it, despite her father’s opposition – he was made redundant just previous to that point, and his pride is injured at the idea of his wife working to bring the money in. It works well for a time, and Lisa even shows some signs of empathy – when her father strides into the house announcing he is going away, she thinks it is because of her doing, and she realises she would much rather have her father around than access to a piano to play. It turns out not to be as bad as she had feared – Mr Carstairs is not leaving his wife because of the argument about her working, phew! In fact he has been offered another job, but it is far away and he will have to travel there and be located elsewhere. Mrs Carstairs is relieved to think that she can give up the cleaning job, but an also-relieved Lisa is a newly-selfish Lisa, who pressures her mother to continue with the job for the sake of her music.

It turns out to be the final straw of stress on Mrs Carstairs though – she collapses, and it is revealed she has been in pain for a long time previously without mentioning it. Lisa needs to go and stay with her one school friend, Tracey, in her busy house: and of course the ungrateful Lisa only thinks of the bad side, in particular the fact she has to do chores which she fears could damage her artistic hands. To top it all, Mr Carstairs is not able to come to be at his wife’s hospital bedside – because he has vanished! It seems he never appeared at the new job workplace at all.

Lisa’s last fling of selfishness is to refuse to go back to Tracey’s house when her mother tells her she must – she uses the housekeeping money that her mother gives her, and goes to see her godmother in London. Little does she know that said godmother has departed for a long international voyage! So there is no home for her there, and none back at Tracey’s house – because her worn-out mother has finally snapped, and told the authorities that Lisa must be looked after in a Home. So it is welfare for her…

This final, very nasty, surprise is the making of the girl – she is quiet and not boastful in her new location, and she doesn’t go all out to find a piano to play, as she had before. She spends her time helping with the younger children and mucking in, even roughening her hands or running the risk of injury if it seems like a worthwhile activity needs her help. And when finally she does play the piano again, after a long time of refusing to even try, it is only at the earnest request of a little boy she is helping to entertain – she is doing it for his sake, not her own. The reward comes at last – her parents return, both together – Mr Carstairs has been found! He had been injured and had lost his memory and his luggage, so his identity took a long time to be established. And Lisa has come to realise that the most important thing for her right now is to be together, as a family – and that is more important even than music for her.

Thoughts

Lisa Carstairs is one of the more unpleasant, selfish, hard-hearted protagonists that there is in Jinty. She’s not outright evil, as is the case with Stacey in “The Slave of Form 3B“, but because she is such a hard case it takes a long road, and a lot of knocks, to redeem her. You might think that the opening episode, where she loses her family home and all their worldly wealth, would be enough to do it, but in girls comics there is definitely further to fall. In her case, she needs to plumb the absolute depths before she can come back up again – and here that means losing her whole family, and knowing it is her own fault and no-one else’s. In other stories the sense of guilt can be an illusion built up in the protagonist’s mind – for instance in the case of Ann Ridley in “I’ll Make Up For Mary”, where it drives the whole plot – but here it is not over-done and it is effective as a wake-up call.

The passage of time in this story is done quite well. For instance, the last episode (which is 4 pages long) covers the timespan from Lisa’s arrival in the Home to her final happy moments of realization. It isn’t supposed to take place in only a day or two – the text explicitly refers to several weeks having passed. Likewise, earlier on, the passage of time is made rather more visible to the reader than in most stories. This all makes the main driver of the story – Lisa’s redemption – more realistic.

This is Ron Smith‘s second and final story done for Jinty – after around this time he was found doing the bulk of his work for 2000AD, so he is often thought of as primarily an artist for that title, and on Judge Dredd specifically. His work on that is indeed fantastic, but it means that it’s easy to overlook the fact he had a long career as a girls comics artist before then, working for DC Thomson’s Bunty and Judy in particular.

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights, pt II

Around this time last week, I met up with Ben Smith from Rebellion, to discuss the acquisition of the IPC copyrights and to pitch some possible ideas. This is not an interview (I didn’t take detailed notes), but it is a way of recording some particularly exciting elements of what’s looking plausible or likely.

First of all, Ben and the company as a whole are as keen to make great use of this new material as you could wish them to be. This is a significant investment for them, so it needs to be approached in a way that means it makes good long-term sense. There’s a lot of obvious value to be got from this treasure trove. A line of well-chosen reprints is a no brainer when you consider that the company has already proved the worth of that model (their reprint of Monster from Scream & The Eagle is one of their very best sellers).

Monster has name recognition factor (Alan Moore and John Wagner), but how do you sell the stories that don’t have quite such attention-grabbing names? And will it only be the ‘usual suspects’ that sit fairly comfortably alongside 2000AD – stories from horror comics or hard-hitting war tales? One of the things I was particularly happy to hear was that they really are looking in detail across the range of boys, girls, and humour comic stories. Ben was enthusiastic about all sorts of girls comics, from sports stories (yes, “Bella at the Bar” is a strong contender) to stories of everyday life (he name checked Pam of Pond Hill), and of course the science fiction / fantasy / creepy stories that were such a big part of Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. (We talked less about humour comics as it’s not my main focus, but they won’t be ignored in the line-up.) At the same time he was realistic in acknowledging that there will also need to be energy spent in making new markets; the nostalgia market is a great start but it needs to be grown to incorporate a new readership. Parents whose kids are outgrowing the Phoenix, or teens who are excited by the Olympics? Rebellion will be casting the net more widely than just the nostalgia market, wherever it ends up landing.

It’s not just reprints, though. We didn’t talk about relaunching titles or creating new material using the old characters – if these possibilities come into view I suspect it will be some way along the line, once the new playing field has been staked out and surveyed better. But merchandising, oh yeah. Again it needs to be done right, to make it work long-term, but can you imagine the bull leap from “A Leap Through Time” on a t shirt, or the cover of “Concrete Surfer” on a bag? Maybe you won’t have to just imagine it, soon.

bull-leap

Of course as a fan historian and interested blogger, I also wanted to ask other questions about the acquisition. Ben was quick to reassure that fan sites such as this one were very much fine by him (so long as people don’t ‘take the piss’ by which I assume he means reprinting whole issues or stories, or of course selling material commercially). They help to keep the buzz going, and are an important information resource. (Certainly any artist and writer credits that the reprints publish is more likely to come from bloggers and historians than from any official records, I fear.) So there is no problem with this site continuing to feature scanned art, sample episodes, posts about stories, and analysis (even if this includes spoiler details of story endings). You needn’t worry about changes to the content of this site, therefore (though I will now be amending the copyright information to credit Rebellion correctly).

I also asked about what sort of archives were included in the deal. Ben’s focus as the head of publishing is different from mine as a comics historian – he is thinking about the fact he will need to build around 80 metres of shelving to hold the bound file copies of the comics, and is looking forward to seeing if any of the new haul includes anything that could speed up the reproduction process (for instance, any usable film from the original printing – though he doesn’t hold out much hope). I am wondering if there might be any further material included in those archives – I don’t realistically expect there to be letters and editorial files, but you never know. Might there be a file copy of the issue of Tammy which never got distributed – the one which includes the last episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”? We know that there were 30 copies printed of the last pre-censorship Action, and maybe a similar situation could be the case here. I will be very keen to make a trip to the new archive location, once the dust has settled!

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights

The British comics internet was buzzing yesterday with news that Rebellion, who publish 2000AD, have bought the whole IPC list of comics from Egmont (covering all comics and characters first published after 1970 – the earlier material is owned by another company). The most detailed report is the Down The Tubes one, but it has also been announced on the BBC, Bleeding Cool, and even on Wired, so there are lots of excited people!

The quotes from Rebellion’s Ben Smith make it clear that both reprints and new stories are now possibilities – though of course with such a wide range of material having been bought, there’s no telling what will be the company’s main focus – or initial focus. The list that has been bought includes boys comics such as Roy of the Rovers, Action, and Battle, but also humour comics (which aren’t a big part of the announcement but have been part of the excited internet discussion, with calls to look at Oink and at the Ken Reid material in particular). And of course on this site our particular thoughts are on what it could mean for the girls comics – which were even specifically mentioned by Rebellion owner Jason Kingsley, very hearteningly.

If you had a say in the matter, what would you want to happen with the girls comics material in this haul? Clearly, reprinting specific stories would be an option – after all, Rebellion are already bringing out a reprint of “Moonchild” and “Four Faces of Eve” from Misty (published on 8 September). What stories would you choose to bring back as reprints, across the IPC list of girls titles? I think you’d have to make sure they weren’t chosen just for nostalgia reasons – they’d have to be really great stories that stand the test of time and don’t look dated, even though clearly there is a ‘bringing back classic comics’ element to this sort of publication. What would be your top five picks, and why?

What about other uses of the material? Merchandising, using some of the lovely design and images? Dare we think about re-worked stories, or characters extended in their life span? Would Bella, or Fran and her zany fixing, still work with new artists? Translations into other markets and languages? I would love to hear your ideas. Who knows, maybe they can happen!

[Edited to add: Down the Tubes have published a useful summary of the titles and characters that are now owned by Rebellion.]

José Casanovas

Catalan artist José Casanovas (1934 – 2009) was well-known and well-loved by lots of readers, appearing as he did in many British comics over a number of decades. His detailed, stylish, and above all fun art was distinctive and he was credited in various publications, so it is easy to pull together quite a long list of his work (though no doubt still incomplete). Many British readers think of him as a 2000AD artist – that is how I first came across his name myself – and therefore perhaps as an SF artist primarily. If you count up the stories he drew and the titles he appeared in, though, by far the majority of his work seems to be for the girls’ comics market.

The list below has been pulled together with much reference to the Catawiki database in order to fill out the non-Jinty stories, so many thanks to the contributors to that site. (I have included the numbers of episodes listed for each story as per Catawiki, to emphasize how prolific he was. I am fairly sure the records on that site are not complete but it gives a good impression of his work. Of course, please do send in further information if you have it!)

  • Tammy
    • Cinderella Spiteful (1971-72) – 20 episodes
    • Two-Faced Teesha (1973-74) – 10 episodes
    • Ella on Easy Street (1974) – 8 episodes
    • The Town Without Telly (1974) – 12 episodes
    • Wars of the Roses (1975-76) – 11 episodes
    • Babe at St Woods (1976-77) – 39 episodes (you can see some sample pages here)
    • Down To Earth Blairs (1977-78) – 25 episodes
    • Running Rosie Lee (1980) – 10 episodes
    • Tomorrow Town (1982) – 10 episodes
  • Sandie
    • The Nine Lives of Nat the Cat (1972-73) – 38 episodes
  • Princess Tina & Penelope
    • Have-A-Go Jo (1970) – 25 episodes
  • Jinty
  • Lindy
    • Sophie’s Secret Squeezy (1975) – 7 episodes
  • Penny
    • Pickle, Where Are You? (1979) – 10 episodes

Mistyfan has recently done a post about “Sue’s Daily Dozen” in which she made the point that Casanovas is known for science fiction. There is one science fiction story done by him in a girls’ comic, namely Tammy‘s “Tomorrow Town”, which I take the opportunity to reprint here as being a piece of art that would otherwise not be likely to get a showing on this Jinty-specific blog.

Tomorrow Town pg 1

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Following Casanovas’ death in 2009, Steve Holland wrote an obituary Bear Alley post here, drawing also on the Spanish-language blog Tebeosfera’s post here. (Do follow this last link to see some lovely artwork from an adaptation of Pollyanna done for the local market.) There was also an interesting comment on 2000AD fan blog the Prog Slog about Casanovas’ work in the boys’ science fiction comics market. He drew well-liked characters Max Normal (some Max Normal art by Casanovas can be seen here) and Sam Slade Robo-Hunter (after Ian Gibson had stopped drawing this latter character). He also drew a number of one-off stories in 2000AD, and a story in Starlord, and people characterise him as a 2000AD artist therefore. The Prog Slog comment here clarifies that: “Casanovas early work for 2000AD, Starlord etc. was sporadic. First appearance was a ‘Future Shock’ in Prog 70 (24 June 1978) a 1.5 pager called ‘Many Hands’. “Good morning Sheldon, I love you” was his next, a six page future shock style one-off written by John Wagner in Starlord 11 (22 July 1978). He drew another one-off Wagner [story] in Starlord 16. There’s a gap then until Progs 148 & 149 (January 1980) where he does a 2-part Ro-Jaws Robo-Tale. He then draws the 11 page Mugger’s Mile by Alan Grant, the first ever Max Normal strip (“The Pinstripe Freak (He’s Dredd’s informer)”) in the first Judge Dredd annual (1981). He goes on to draw more Future Shocks in Prog 220, 241 and 245, another Max Normal in the 1982 JD annual, and again in JD 1983 annual. In the 1982 Sci-Fi Special he draws his first Dredd proper, a 10 pager by Wagner – The Tower of Babel. His first Dredd in the weekly is the excellent “Game Show Show” 2 parter in 278/279, August 1982, Wagner again. He did the second ever ‘Time Twister’ in Prog 295, a 4 pager called Ultimate Video. And that’s as far as my data goes for now, by Prog 300 he’d done 77.5 pages: 32.5 in the weeklies, 10 in specials, 23 in annuals and 12 in Starlord. According to ‘Barney’ online (http://www.2000ad.org) his last work was in Prog 822 (Feb 1993), Robo-Hunter”. The tally of his pages for 2000AD and the like must therefore surely be far outnumbered by the 90+ episodes of his run on Dora Dogsbody in Jinty alone!

Ron Smith

Ron Smith (1924 -2019) is best-known as a Judge Dredd artist, which is how I initially came across his work. Or should I say, that is how I first came across his credited work, because Smith drew two stories for Jinty, which I read well before I even read my first 2000AD.

His reputation as a Dredd artist overshadows the huge body of work that he has done elsewhere. The Down the Tubes comics site is currently publishing a retrospective of Smith’s work: so far three posts have gone up here, here, and here, with more to follow from writer Colin Noble. They show the vast number of titles and stories that Smith has contributed to British comics over the years. Many of the stories he illustrated were boys adventures in titles such as The Hotspur, but he also drew for  DC Thomson’s girls titles Judy and Bunty. (The UK Comics Wiki also has a comprehensive entry on this important artist.) [Edited to add: Down The Tubes has also just published Ron Smith’s obituary and an appreciation by fan and expert Colin Noble.]

His only two stories for Jinty are the following:

As we have not [or had not, at the time of posting!] yet written about either of them to link to, of course I need to include some of Smith’s stylish artwork from one of those stories in this post. Here, then, are three pages from the episode of “7 Steps To The Sisterhood” printed in the issue dated 23 September 1978.

7 Steps to the Sisterhood pg 1

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Rebellion’s Ben Smith on the forthcoming new Misty collection

The recent news that Rebellion will be reprinting a volume of material from Misty has caused a lot of excitement. It’s not only fans of Misty that are excited about this news; as fans of the excellent, thrilling, and often subversive stories from girls’ comics of the time we are glad to know that fresh eyes are being cast over these publications. And as keenly interested readers, we are prone to asking ourselves how those stories would fare in today’s publishing market, if done properly (unlike the nostalgia-focused recent outings that a small selection of content has had). This republication promises a lot of interest therefore, in many ways!

I caught up with Ben Smith, Head of books and comic books for Rebellion Publishing, who kindly answered the below questions.

Can you tell us a little more about how you chose the two stories you did? ‘Moonchild’ and ‘The Four Faces of Eve’ are known to be favourites of Pat’s, of course, but coming to them as both a fresh pair of eyes and as an experienced publisher, what qualities would you highlight in particular?

In selecting the stories for this collection these two are the obvious big hitters; my understanding is that at the time the Four Faces of Eve and Moonchild would regularly to top the readers’ polls. Kids were encouraged to fill out a small form in the back of the comic and post it back to the publisher so that the editorial team know what was going down well with the readers.

This material was created for a very different publishing market and in different times. Do you see there being any/many adjustments needed, either in production terms (do today’s readers demand colour rather than black and white?), or in elements of the story itself?

As with all our collections of archive material, we aim to produce as stunning a book as possible. This year we have gone back to the same era as Misty with the Dan Dare strips from 2000 AD, producing the definitive volume of that material on high quality paper and after painstaking reprographics work on each individual page to ensure the arts looks at good as possible. We’re applying the same techniques here. Although this will be a paperback release, the quality of the book and the design work that goes into it will be set to our highest standards. Simply put, there’s no point putting something second rate into today’s busy marketplace. We won’t be introducing anything new, like colour or altered lettering, as we have found that presenting the work as it was originally conceived always delivers the strongest result and is what is expected by today’s readers.

The intriguing words ‘The first volume of Misty material’ are used in the press release. What results would you say could lead to this establishing itself as a publishing line – critical success, sales success, perhaps even current creators who are inspired to produce similar material?

We won’t know until this volume is out, but the response to the announcement has been great and if the book does perform well I’m sure we’ll be looking further into the archives. As for inspiring new creators, that’s down to the material itself, but I already know from chatting to Jonathan Ross at the San Diego Comic Con that Jane Goldman, one of the most successful screenwriters in the UK currently and Ross’s wife, that Misty was a big influence on her.

The first two stories chosen are ones where we know both writer and artist, which is not the case in many of the stories printed at the time in girls’ titles, whereas 2000AD has credited creators from the start. For any future stories chosen, would it be important to you as publishers to identify all the creators? Would certain editorial selections be discouraged if that information is not forthcoming?

We would certainly want to credit the creators, but sad to say it’s not always possible. 2000 AD’s editorial team led the way in the 1970s in getting creator credits into the comic but that was just nine months after 2000 AD launched, and even now we sometimes cannot find out who authored some of the very early material, simply because no records were kept and if there is no memory of it among the other creators we speak to then that information is, sadly, gone. If the stories are strong enough, not knowing the creator would certainly never prevent us from including the material, no.

Would you see any possible horizon stretching out ahead where you would look at the content in other titles beyond Misty, or would you consider the historic and thematic linkage of that title with 2000AD as a key reason to stick to Misty in particular?

I am happy to say there will be another announcement shortly about another non-2000 AD collection, so keep a look out for that. Naturally when we look at material and consider if we can publish successfully, existing links with 2000 AD makes that task easier.


Many thanks again to Ben Smith for this email interview.