Tag Archives: Almost Human

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.

Jinty 17 November 1979

Jinty cover.jpg

Another of my favourite Jinty covers, drawn by Jim Baikie. The creepiness of the theme is brilliantly induced by the use of complementary colours with the orange and yellow mesmeric circles around Marvo’s head and the blue background, and the cross-hatching on Sue’s face.

It is, of course from Village of Fame. The story now reaches its penultimate episode, with Marvo using mass hypnotism to mesmerise the whole village into believing that Mr Grand’s TV serial is good for them. Worst of all, Sue Parker, the girl who has opposed Grand all along, is falling under the spell as well. Something needs to happen fast in the next episode!

Almost Human is on its penultimate episode as well. Xenia’s mother has been trying to tell her something important but can’t get through. Then it happens with one of the moons of Xenia’s home planet suddenly exploding! Xenia is distraught, but is it all what it seems?

Combing Her Golden Hair is approaching its climax, with Tamsin running off to Redruthan, her birthplace. We know that soon Tamsin is going to discover what Gran has been keeping from her all these years. Waves of Fear is approaching its climax too, what with Clare’s latest bout of panic getting her expelled thanks to nasty Jean. Priscilla Heath, the only adult who has not been judgemental to Clare, now begins to realise Clare needs serious help. The trouble is, nobody else does. As usual, Clare’s parents react with anger and harshness because they are working on the assumption that she is a coward and delinquent. And in Black Sheep of the Bartons, Bev Barton is in more trouble with her parents as well – and on Christmas Day!

Jinty 24 November 1979

Jinty cover 2.jpg

  • Almost Human – final episode (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Alley Cat
  • Village of Fame – final episode (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Rinty ‘n’ Jinty
  • My Heart Belongs to Buttons (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • Combing her Golden Hair (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Miss Make-Believe – final episode (unknown artist – Merry)
  • Waves of Fear (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (artist Guy Peeters)

This is one of my favourite Jinty covers. It is so hard to take your eyes off it. Its composition is simple, but is the stuff of fairy tales. It is of course from Combing Her Golden Hair. Tamsin has reached Redruthan and is beginning to decipher the mystery surrounding her birth and the reasons for her gran’s strict ways that border on the bizarre and even abusive at times.  We are promised that next week Tamsin will discover the strangest secret of all. And judging by the way the story has been building up all along, we have a sneaky suspicion as to what – or rather, who – that will be.

In this issue we see the end of three stories: Almost Human, Village of Fame and Miss Make-Believe. Combing Her Golden Hair and Waves of Fear look like they are also approaching their conclusions because their climaxes are building up fast. That means we will see more new stories coming soon after the new lineup that starts next week. In Waves of Fear, Clare is finally pushed too far and runs away (it had to happen). And it’s still not enough for her enemies. Her parents still think they have an out-of-control daughter whom they just rant and rave at while arch-enemy Jean, who is responsible for Clare’s expulsion, is now trying to frame her for vandalism at the orienteering club. Meanwhile, Tamsin finds a mirror that matches her comb, so the mystery of the comb is about to unravel.

When several stories end at once, it is often a sign that the next issue is going to be big and exciting. And it is. Next issue (which I unfortunately do not have), Jinty starts her sports pages. And to kick her sports pages off, Jinty starts two sport-themed stories: White Water and Toni on Trial.

And what is a glumitt? It’s a cross between a glove and a mitt, and there are instructions on how to make one on the back cover. One of the things that Jinty teaches us how to make in the issues that lead up to Christmas. And it starts on the centre pages, where we are given tips for touching up our Christmas gifts.

Jinty 14 July 1979

Jinty cover 15.jpg

  • The Forbidden Garden (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Bizzie Bet and the Easies (artist Richard Neillands)
  • The Forbidden Garden (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Mike and Terry (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • The Disappearing Dolphin (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Nothing to Sing About (artist Phil Townsend)
  • A Girl Called Gulliver (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Pandora’s Box (Guy Peeters)

The panel of the repulsive mutant flowers from “The Forbidden Garden” has really made this Jinty cover stick in my memory. Mankind has poisoned the world and plants can’t grow. Laika finds a patch of soil that can support plant life. But the horrible flowers she has just produced are one hard lesson – you can’t go from poisoned, barren earth to plant paradise without a few snags and setbacks along the way.

Meanwhile, Pandora uses her box to produce bewitched ballet shoes to make her dance flawlessly. But the box can’t teach her manners, and Pandora’s self-centredness gets her into  serious trouble when it has her committing an act of sheer rudeness.

It’s part two of “Almost Human”. Xenia has just discovered she can’t touch any Earth creature without killing it. This is now causing problems with integrating with Earth people and plenty of misunderstandings.

In “Nothing to Sing About”, Linette is so desperate not to sing that she runs away – only to find herself in a situation where she is forced to sing or go hungry. But can she do it without breaking down?

Jinty 27 October 1979

Jinty 27 October 1979

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)
  • Village of Fame (artist Jim Baikie)
  • My Heart Belongs to Buttons (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • Waves of Fear (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Miss Make-Believe (unknown artist ‘Merry’)
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (artist Guy Peeters)

Jinty 22 September 1979

Jinty 22 September 1979

Stories in this issue:

  • Almost Human (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Alley Cat
  • Village of Fame (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Mike and Terry (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • 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.

Miss Make-Believe pg 1
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Jinty 1 September 1979

Jinty cover 1 September 1979

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)
  • Village of Fame (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Mike and Terry (artist Peter Wilkes)
  • The Disappearing Dolphin (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (artist Phil Townsend)
  • A Girl Called Gulliver (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Pandora’s Box (artist Guy Peeters)

Terry Aspin

From Wrexham in Wales, Terry Aspin (1916-2006) is an excellent example of the problem of creator attribution in Jinty and other girls’ comics. He is known as an artist who worked over a number of decades for British comics titles and stories including Davy Crockett, but it took until this year for him to be also identified as the artist on some of Jinty‘s best stories. (His granddaughter posted some archive material on Facebook, including sketches and page roughs, from which the definite identification was made.)

Here is a complete story beautifully drawn by Terry Aspin, from the Gypsy Rose ‘spooky storyteller’ series; this episode from 30 April 1977. The layouts are dynamic and the evil cat is positively demonic!

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List of Jinty stories attributable to Terry Aspin:

In addition to these Jinty stories, he also drew for other girls’ comics, including stories such as “Wendy at War” in Debbie; “My Secret Family”, “Night and Day”, and” The Portrait of Pauline” in Mandy; and “Vote For Smith” in Tracy.

Positive identification of artists is not always straightforward, as styles will vary as part of natural change over time, or for specific stylistic reasons. Details of how features such as eyes, mouths, and hair are drawn are good indicators, though not of course infallibly accurate. In the case of the illustration below, from the Jinty Summer Special 1978, the face of some of the background characters are a closer match to some of the faces in “Almost Human”, for instance, than the main characters of the respective stories necessarily are at first glance.

Terry Aspin
Terry Aspin

Jinty 8 April 1978

Jinty cover 8 April 1978

I am skipping ahead to 1978 because of some exciting news yesterday – the identification of an artist who is a favourite of mine and co-writer Mistyfan’s, but who had been languishing in the “unknown artist” group until now. The beautiful cover art above is by Terry Aspin, a Welsh artist based in Wrexham. His granddaughter, Josie Rayworth, indicated that Terry drew for Jinty amongst other titles and the rest of the detective work proceeded quickly. A specific blog post for Terry will follow in due course, covering his work on Jinty stories such as “Alice In A Strange Land”, “Toni on Trial”, “The Girl Who Never Was”, and “Almost Human”.

One of the aspects of the cover montage above that I particularly like is that it uses images from much of the story, rather than simply some images from inside that specific comic issue. You get a good impression of the whole story therefore. Clearly either the whole story must have been already in the hands of the editors so that they could do the montage, or Terry Aspin did the cover himself having drawn much of the story.

Stories in this issue:

  • Concrete Surfer (writer Pat Mills)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Slave of the Swan (artist Guy Peeters)
  • Alley Cat
  • Waking Nightmare (artist Phil Townsend)
  • The Zodiac Prince (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Paula’s Puppets (artist Julian Vivas)
  • Shadow on the Fen (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Cathy’s Casebook (artist Terry Aspin)

Almost Human (1979)

Sample images

Almost Human, 1979; page 1

Almost Human, 1979; page 2
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Almost Human, 1979; page 3
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Summary and themes

As with many other stories in girls’ comics, this science fiction story clearly shows influences from other media current at the time, modified for a young female readership. Xenia is the daughter of the king and queen of an alien planet; as with Superman and his fellow Kryptonians, these aliens look just like humans outwardly, but with some important differences once you get past the surface. The king and queen know about some of the differences, but not all of them, as we find out…

In parallel with the Superman story, the protagonist’s planet is doomed; her mother and father take her for a picnic on non-doomed Earth and then leave her there, with a communication pendant via which they tell her it’s ‘for her own good’ so to speak. They think she will do well on Earth because she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than humans are; but what they don’t know is that her alien life-force is too strong for earth life, and anything that she touches will be zapped stone dead!

Adi Tantimedh draws a parallel with another hot media trope of the time: The Incredible Hulk tv series and other similar series where the protagonist is ‘on the run and on the road’, a danger to others as well as being endangered themselves. As this is a girls’ comic story with a finite span, things end happily but not before the heroine is in quite severe danger of losing her own life: a lightning strike hits her and drains enough of her life force that she no longer kills Earth creatures with her lightest touch, but her vital energies ebb lower and lower until she is herself at death’s door. Luckily, some of the humans she has befriended find her communication pendant, which is conveniently trying to tell her that her home planet has reversed the problems it was facing. Her parents come to take her home, and all that remains is for a tearful farewell with her friends before her hand-held doctor unit revitalises her energies and she is beamed back up aboard the spaceship.

The main focus of the story is on Xenia’s very literal alienation and on her struggles to understand and adapt to the world that she thinks she will be living on for the rest of her life. Readers of girls’ comics seemed to delight in stories in which the girl protagonists were unhappy, in danger, having difficulties in making friends, or even enslaved by adults against whom they were powerless. (There were reader response forms in every issue, asking anyone who wrote in to rate their top 3 most-liked stories and the one they most disliked; the editors regularly got a lot of responses.) At the same time there are also environmental concerns aired: Xenia’s home planet is facing a catastrophic drought and Xenia’s delight in the lush green world in which she is set down gives the story a lighter element.


 

Further details

Creators: unknown. The same artist drew ‘Alice In A Strange Land’ and ‘Toni on Trial’ amongst other Jinty strips. If anyone is able to supply further details, please do send information! [Edited May 2014: artist has now been identified as Terry Aspin.]

Publication date: 7 July 1979 – 24 November 1979.