Tag Archives: Alan Moore

Scream! No. 1, 24 March 1984

Scream 1 cover

  • The Dracula File – first episode (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Gerry Finley-Day)
  • Monster – first episode (artist Heinzl, later Jesus Redondo, writer Alan Moore)
  • The Thirteenth Floor – first episode (artist Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: “The Undertaker” – first episode (artist Jim Watson, writer Tom Tully, later John Wagner)
  • A Ghastly Tale! (complete story)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – humour cartoon reprinted from Cor!! (artist Graham Allen)
  • Library of Death: At Death’s Door… – complete story (artist Cam Kennedy, writer Barrie Tomlinson)
  • Terror of the Cats – first episode (artist Gonzales, later John Richardson, writer John Agee)

Our Halloween theme continues with Scream! This was a short-lived publication, lasting only 15 issues before it disappeared during the same strike that brought down Tammy (though opinions from former IPC staff differ as to just what killed it off). Nevertheless, Scream achieved a cult status that has made its issues collectors’ items, spawned fanzines and websites, and now it is enjoying a revival with the Misty & Scream Halloween specials and volume reprints of its strips.

The gift that came with the first issue of Scream was a set of Dracula fangs, approved by the famous vampire himself, who leads off with his very own strip inside, “The Dracula File”. A Rumanian defector has escaped to the West. However, his Eastern bloc pursuers have realised that he is a vampire and decide the West can have him: “He is their problem now!” The poor RAF pilots flying the defector into Britain don’t realise the horror they are about to unleash…

Hang on, how come this Rumanian defector who’s a vampire looks like Dracula? Since when was Dracula a defector from the Iron Curtain? Either some vampire’s stolen the patent on Dracula or…the KGB’s got things a bit wrong here and it’s not the defector who’s the vampire – it’s King of Vampires himself! Put the bite on the defector and taken his place eh, Drac?

Scream 1 Dracula

Before the strips begin, however, the host of the comic, Ghastly McNasty, sets things up with the letters page and the special features it offers. There is “The Dracula Spectacular”, where Ghastly has fun turning someone into something hideous. To make it even more fun for readers, he wants them to provide the victims (teachers, family members, themselves, etc) and the reason why. Ghastly also invites readers to nominate someone for appearing in “The London Dungeon” for the week and the reason for this punishment, and the comeuppances would be drawn accordingly. Who would you like to see in the London Dungeon for the week? How about the Tammy editor for leaving us dangling on the final episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”? Or how about Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin?

Scream 1 letters page

Of course a new comic would not be complete without a competition, and this is one that really tests deductive, artistic and maybe even clairvoyant skills. The challenge is to draw Ghastly McNasty’s face absolutely right. This is no easy task as the face is hidden in complete darkness under his hood with only lights shining where his eyes are. Clues include him being extremely ugly, too much tree root in the beauty treatment he tried that backfired, and other clues that would be dropped as the competition progressed. An actual likeness of Ghastly had been drawn and was being kept secure. The best but still-failed attempts would be printed, comments were made about any clues the pictures had hit upon, and the winner would get £5. The one to hit the absolute mark would win £50. The top prize was still unclaimed when Scream abruptly disappeared.

Scream 1 Monster

“Monster” is one of the Scream stories that would continue and finish in Eagle. It is the “something monstrous hidden in the attic” story. It’s so secret that Kenneth Corman’s abusive father gives him yet another walloping for even saying he heard something up there in the locked attic room. The father goes up to the attic to get rid of it, only to get horribly murdered, with deep claw marks on his body. Kenneth opts for secretly burying his father in the garden instead of calling in the police, and now he’s heading for the attic himself to deal with whatever is up there.

Scream 1 13th Floor

“The Thirteenth Floor” was another Scream strip to continue in Eagle, and now it has its own reprint volume and return appearances in the Scream & Misty Halloween special. Max is the computerised superintendent of council-run Maxwell Towers. Max takes his duty of looking after his tenants very seriously. In fact, it’s so seriously that anyone who threatens the safety and well-being of Max’s tenants is sent on a trip to his secret Thirteenth Floor through the lift, where Max wreaks a computerised, holographic punishment upon them that he deems the most fit for their crime. The first transgressor to pay a trip to the Thirteenth Floor is a merciless debt collector. On the Thirteenth Floor he meets the Grim Reaper, who says, “Welcome…to your death.” Erk! Is Max really going to go as far as murder? We find out next week.

Scream 1 Leper

The Leper (so named because of his medical condition, appearance and lack of social acceptance) is a 19thcentury gravedigger and host of “Tales from the Grave”. Not surprisingly, these tales are associated with death, the Victorian fascination with it (murders, executions, body snatching, Goth etc) and the stories behind the graves in the cemetery. The Leper’s first story is “The Undertaker”, about a Burke and Hare-type undertaker named Joshua Sleeth: “If you wanted someone buried, ole Sleeth was the man to do it, no questions asked […] Sleeth was an evil beggar all right. If yer needed a helpin’ hand into the next world, so to speak, he was always ready to give it…”. Sleeth’s reputation has reached the ears of Emily Carlisle, who wants a helping hand in getting her Uncle Henry into the next world so she can inherit.

Scream 1 Cats

The final serial is “The Terror of the Cats”. All the cats in the neighbourhood are going crazy and attacking people for no apparent reason. Reporter Allen Woodward is on the story and also that of Dr Kruhl (nicknamed “Cruel” because of his reputation), the Director of the Government Research Institute. It’s soon obvious to the readers that the two stories are linked somehow, though Woodward hasn’t clicked yet.

Scream 1 Library

As with Misty, Scream has complete stories, though less prolific. One format is uncredited one-page one-shot stories, some of which end with a dash of humour. The other format is the “Library of Death” (yes, more death tales), which has more pages. The first tale is about a boy who gets strange, frightening visitations in his bedroom after his parents deny him his request to go into the Ghost House at the fair.

For the resident funny cartoon, Scream is reprinting Fiends and Neighbours from Cor!! An ordinary couple are looking forward to meeting their new neighbours – only to get the shock of their lives when they find the newcomers are a regular Addams family.

‘Remembered Reading’ – further thoughts

On reading and reviewing Mel Gibson’s new book “Remembered Reading”, I found it triggered lots of thoughts and fruitful avenues for future exploration. The pages of my copy are considerably marked with green highlighter now, so there are too many discussion jumping-off points for me to sensibly cover in the scope of this blog, but I did want to pick up on one or two specific key ones. Apologies for the delay in completing this post – I had wanted to do it much closer to the time of the original review.

The main point I wanted to cover was about the divided emotions that grown-up readers of girls’ comics might typically feel, along with the impact I see that as having on the longer-term validation and appreciation of those comics. Gibson’s interviews show readers of girls comics as having enjoyed comics at the time but then feeling that they need to put them away as they grow up; or, having grown up, realising how some aspects of those comics are more uncomfortable than they’d noticed at the time. (For instance a grown-up feminist might be uncomfortable about the female roles in the girls comics that they loved at the original time of reading.) Even if one-time readers of girls comics continue to read comics as adults, they typically read different comics, or in a different way – maybe they rejected girls comics in favour of 2000AD, or continued to read children’s comics because they were ‘allowed’ to as parents of children who were getting comics in their turn. What they didn’t do is continue to read girls’ comics as part of a fandom – a group of interested peers discussing artists, writers, stories, and themes – sharing knowledge and critical thought. There is no significant fandom for girls comics, or historically at least there hasn’t been. And why is this important? Because fandom and its activities validates the material under discussion as being worth discussion – within the group of fans, at any rate, regardless of whether the outside world agrees.

Take my case as an example. I loved Jinty. Once I stopped reading it I moved wholeheartedly onto Marvel comics, first as British reprints and then as the imported issues. I kept an eye out at school for other girls’ comics and read the odd issue as I came across them but have little memory of that reading. Marvel had a lot of fan activity associated with it – letters pages discussing the story lines and the creators, printed credits that name the artists and writers so that you can follow a particular favourite creator as well as favourite characters or stories – and of course they were available in comics shops too, so once I found one of those that I could visit I could absorb more discussion going on around me even though there was no specific group of fans I was associating with. When I was 17, I saw an advert for the UKCAC convention in London and went to it, mind boggled. None of that activity touched on girls comics at all; in essence, they might as well not have existed. Likewise, when I went to university and found a group of comics-reading friends, there was no discussion within that group about girls’ comics: not many of those friends were women in any case, but also we were all very focused on Marvel, DC, and the new wave of British comics influence in the form of V for Vendetta and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. If even your comics-loving peers don’t think girls comics are worth knowing stuff about and discussing in a fannish way, then they really must be beneath contempt! Or at the least, it means that we, as fans of comics, thought about girls comics as forming a very separate stream of comics material.

All in all this means that despite being a comics fan from an early age, I never saw girls’ comics in a fannish way until very recently (until starting this blog, and discovering similar blogs, and joining the UK Comics Forum). I think that had a number of direct impacts. The key one in my mind is that I have been associating with comics professionals since the early 90s, including people who did work on girls’ comics or who could have had contacts from those times. I could have been asking Phil Gascoine about his background in girls’ comics, on those evenings when I went to the SSI  (Society for Strip Illustration). As it was, I asked him about it precisely once, in a crowded convention bar, shortly before he died. What a waste of historical knowledge! This will have been repeated time and again, of course.

I also had a lot invested mentally (it turns out) in seeing Jinty, ‘my’ comic, as exceptional. An easy way to counter the slight sense of shame that grown up readers might feel about their attachment to a piece of ‘trash from the past’ is to rubbish the rest and elevate your own particular love object. Like others had done before and after me, I ‘flattened out’ my memories of girls’ comics and reduced them in my mind to being all about ballet, pony-riding, and school stories – or at least I did this to the ones that weren’t Jinty! I had no good way to put Jinty into the correct historical context of other publications or to relate the artists and writers on this one title to other titles published before, during, and after it. In a fannish environment there would have been much more encouragement to branch out and learn more about related comics created by the same people or in the same genre. Again, what a waste – this time of the reading enjoyment I could potentially have had.

On a less heart-felt note, I identified a few titles referred to in Remembered Reading that I want to get hold of myself – though I suspect that some of the sources that Gibson used may perhaps be infuriating or dry reading (there was a Royal Commission on the Press published in 1977 that might be interesting, and a later report on children’s reading published by the Roehampton Institute in 1996). One must-buy is going to be the Mum’s Own Annual published by Fleetway – Gibson is not entirely sure whether this is intended as a parody or not, but it sounds like it might have some insider views that are worth a look at. For instance, the following quote comes from the Mum’s Own Annual: “The girls involved in the market research for Tammy generally confirmed the editors’ assumptions about preferred content, but the readers’ enjoyment of stories that made them cry came as a surprise”.

Finally, I did also have an area of fruitful possible further investigation that Remembering Reading brought up for me – namely, on some of the differences and similarities between girls comics and boys comics. Of course this is something covered by Gibson. She explains how traditional girls’ comics had rules on how to write girl protagonists – Marcus Morris, the editor of Eagle and Girl, felt that while you could have action stories with female leads, the “motivation should be personal” to keep her marked as properly feminine (pg 81), “unlike male protagonists in the Eagle who would be depicted as responding to more abstract motivations, like national pride, for instance.” (pg 45) There is further good analysis of the differences between Eagle and Girl content-wise – girls had active roles but were either schoolgirl investigators or at the beginning of their working life, not grown policeman or pilots. As with boys’ comics, the publishers of girls comics still needed to produce interesting, involving stories – and while the outside world might reject them as racist, sexist, and poorly written (pg 79), creators and editors saw their work differently, knowing that you couldn’t get away with a ‘wet’ lead character, girl or boy (pg 80). But how does a publisher of stories for boys, and a publisher of stories for girls, approach the overall aim of making interesting and readable stories – are there real, notable differences between the resulting stories, or prejudices and assumptions about them that vanish under further analysis?

For instance, if girls’ comics are a way for girls to choose to either conform (by accepting the version of girlhood presented) or to rebel (by rejecting it), then that presumably means that writers and editors have to juggle the aims of attracting readers versus not pushing away parents and other gatekeepers. Do they have to do this more so than the people who are making boy’s comics, or to a similar degree? Boy readers play with conformity in a different way from girl readers – reading a comic already is a ‘boy thing’, unless it’s a strongly gender-marked girls comics – but then if it is made into too ‘girly’ a thing even the staunch girl readers may desert it. What does this mean for the content of the titles?  Gibson says that “the publications present adult, and especially the editors’, perceptions of what is appropriate to girlhood in terms of both entertainment and education. However, this does not mean that the titles were ideological monoliths” (pg 38) and points to the emotional turmoil, wit and resilience of central characters. Often in girls’ comics these are lone, misunderstood heroines – perhaps with a lot of cruelty and victimhood, but a secret heroine who puts things right, one who is active not passive. I think there is a lot that can be looked at to compare how stories work in boys’ comics and girls’ comics – similarity and differences of themes, or of what kinds of stories work or not, or about what kind of shape they have as stories (happy endings or sad, character development or no character development, story ending back where it started or not, long narrative arcs or not). Why, I don’t actually even know for sure that the Cinderella or Slave theme might not have featured in boys’ comics, perhaps a little less obviously than in the girls’ ones! Certainly the trope focusing on a group of friends (“The Four Marys” and so on) is easily transferable to boys’ comics.

There is considerably more that I could pull out and highlight as further thoughts for future developments. Please do read the book yourself if you are able, and comment with your own further thoughts!

Story theme: Science Fiction

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

Core examples

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

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

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

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

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

Edge cases

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

Not to be confused with

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

Further thoughts

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

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

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