Tag Archives: Anne Digby

Panel Borders (internet radio show): Girls’ Comics Autumn Special

On a happier note than the last post, I have received notification of two recorded talks that are due to be broadcast on Panel Borders, the UK internet radio show about comics (hosted by Alex Fitch).

Panel Borders: Girls’ Comics Autumn Special

Cartoonist and Graphic Novels editor Corinne Pearlman introduces a pair of interviews about “Girls Comics”:

  • Comics scholar Mel Gibson interviews Anne Digby, the author of the Trebizon novels, who was also the writer of a variety of strips for Tammy.
  • Also, Jenni Scott talks to a pair of female graphic novelists – Hannah Eaton and Hannah Berry – about how girls comics influenced their work, and relaunch of Misty as an annual Halloween comic…

This is due to be broadcast at 5.30pm on Wednesday 5th September 2018, with a repeat broadcast at a time TBC. You can find it on Resonance 104.4 FM and DAB (London), or:

Advertisements

IGNCC18, Bournemouth: David Roach

One of the other keynote talks that will be of particular interest to readers of this blog was the one by David Roach. If you have read his most recent book, “Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art“, then you would have found a lot of familiar material in his presentation, but we had the opportunity to hear him give the material in a lively talkative format and with the invaluable aid of some gorgeous pages of art and painting that David brought along. As with the Anne Digby talk, this has been recorded by Alex Fitch and hopefully will be broadcast on his internet radio show in due course. For now though, some notes, impressions, and key points I took away from it. (I am not, however, going to go into individual comics artists,: you need to look at the book or attend another of David’s talks in order to do that, I can’t do them justice here.)

David took us through the period from the 1950s to the  1970s, explaining how there came to be such a large number of Spanish artists working outside of their own country (in the UK but also in the US and in other European countries). He explained that after paper rationing came to an end in Britain, there was a tremendous demand for comics, magazines, and story papers. (We’d already heard in the Anne Digby talk the fact that School Friend in its heyday was selling 1 million copies a week, and David repeated this figure in his talk too.) There were just not enough British artists to keep up with the demand – the pre-war artists were getting older and literally dying out, the younger generation had gone off to the war and been injured or killed, and when the Amalgamated Press advertised for artists to join their stable, they only got two responses! So when European agencies started to knock at the doors of British publishers, they were very welcome. Not all of the agencies were Spanish – the Belgian agency A.L.I in 1954 started the flood, and Italian agencies Cosmopolitan  and D’Ami were likewise two of the early strong contenders.

However, the Spanish agencies  such as Selecciones Illustradas (S.I.) run by Josép Toutain, and Bardon (co-run by Barry Coker), and the Bruguera studio associated with the A.L.I. mentioned above, ended by dominating the scene to such an extent that it it is thought that at least 385 Spanish artists worked in the UK – more than there were British artists working in the same market during that time period!

David Roach at IGNCC18, talking about Spanish artists in British and worldwide publications

In addition to touching on more well-known grounds (showing how much fantastic work the Spanish artists did, by displaying beautiful work in a range of styles, and explaining how editors conceived of certain groups of artists as matching certain kinds of work (Argentinian artists = muscular war artists, Spanish artists = romantic dreamers suited to girls and romance comics)), David also highlighted some unexpected aspects of the Spanish comics boom that I hadn’t previously been aware of. One of these was that the Spanish artists experienced this work not only as financially rewarding (the pay rate was hugely much better than they were getting in Spain, and the exchange rate was in their favour too) but also politically and socially rewarding too. These were young men whose work meant they got the chance to travel outside of Francoist Spain, and who additionally got sent reference material from the UK, so that they heard about the Beatles and suchlike popular culture icons before anyone else in Spain did. Indeed, they were some number of years ahead of the curve! Lest you think it was all one-way though, David was at pains to point out that images like the Serenade cover above is pop art avant la lettre – it was drawn some years before the Swinging 60s that you would assume it was representing, and so you can only think of it as more in the nature of an inspiration for the look of that time then a representation of what was already happening. Spanish-drawn romance comics as an inspiration for pop art and the Carnaby Street look? Stranger things have happened…

The other surprising aspect that David mentioned was that there was much more awareness of, and renegotiating of, copyright than I’d supposed. The British comics normally didn’t print credits, and although in the Spanish market it was usual to sign the artwork this might be done using a pseudonym or a variant of the artist’s legal name, and this might vary over the years of an artist’s career. It was not unusual for a proper identification of the original creator to be far from easy to establish (especially if they did most of their work in the British market and hence were not credited). In the British market, also, it was vanishingly unusual for creators to own their own material – the standard procedure for Fleetway, and I believe for D C Thomson too, was to cast the payment cheque in the form of a contract which assigned all rights to the publisher in perpetuity, so that in order to get paid there was no other option than signing away your rights. But David brought out some examples of painted artwork that was painted ‘on spec’ by artists – both war scenes and pensive domestic scenes – which were sold on a ‘first print rights’ basis, so that the publisher was only granted the rights to to use that material once. They were then able to re-sell the material if they could find a market. David had one example, a painting of a woman in a bedroom, which was sold to several places: women’s magazines in different countries, a romance comic, and to be the cover of a mass market paperback. No wonder the Spanish artists had a tradition of tending to go into fine art after some 10 – 15 years as a comics artist – it feels like a natural move, given the above.

The talk attendees were, I think, blown away by the range of art shown, but they also had pertinent questions to follow up with. Some of them were a bit unanswerable – how did the Spanish artists manage to produce so much output, and how did they come to be so very good at such a young age? Others touched on the political situation and drew out further aspects of what David had said about the political freedom that working for a foreign publisher gave – many of the artists became or already were Marxists, radical leftists, and subversives of one sort or another (at least one of whom had to flee the country at short notice). Finally, I know that there was a real rush at the end of the talk to come and look at the artifacts that he had brought along – a number of original pages of art (above) painted images, and even one of the portfolio samples that the agencies carried from publisher to publisher to entice them to sign up a new artist.

There was of course much more in the talk that is beyond what I can go into in a blog post here. Do seek out David’s book (linked to above), listen to Alex Fitch’s broadcast of the talk as and when it comes out, or take the opportunity to see him talk on this subject if you ever get a chance.

IGNCC18, Bournemouth: Anne Digby

As promised, a few notes so far on the comics conference I am attending here in Bournemouth. Julia Round is one of the key organisers and as such it was always likely to have interest for girls comics readers as her own research interest at the moment is on Misty and the gothic. Also attending, speaking, and helping to organise the event are Joan Ormrod (who is interested in British weekly publications such as Mirabelle and Roxy) and Dr Mel Gibson whose “Remembered Reading” was discussed on this blog.

The key event on the first day of the conference was an interview session at the end of the day between Mel Gibson and Anne Digby. This was recorded by Alex Fitch (of internet radio channel Resonance FM) with the aim of transmitting it at a future date. Anne Digby talked about her start in working life, getting her first job at 16 as an editorial trainee or apprentice at Amalgamated Press in London, working on School Friend. This matched her early desire, from the age of 8 or so, to be a writer. Learning on the job and being paid to do so was right up her street. She had been a reader of comics and of School Friend itself as a child, so she was particularly thrilled from that perspective.

There was one other trainee when she joined the team, another young woman; they worked with an older lady, Isobel Winchester (corrected following confirmation with AD) who was an old hand and trained them in sub-editing tasks. In the talk, Anne didn’t go into lots of detail of what those tasks consisted of, but she did say that it included editing texts sent in by freelancers and other writers by tidying them up. Afterwards in separate conversation she also explained that it included the commissioning of work too, including the matching of artists to writers. It was very much a journalistic job, pulling together the finished creation that the reader consumes.

In case the above misleads on the prevalence of women in the comics business, Mel did ask about whether there were many other women writers or artists that worked at the time that Anne Digby was associated with the Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC as it became over the years. Evelyn “Polly” Flinders, artist on the long-running girls school story “The Silent Three”, was an obvious example for her to mention; Anne had memories of her as a lovely person who didn’t look stereotypically ‘artistic’ (she wore tweeds and had her hair in a schoolma’arm bun). One interesting snippet was that Flinders was unusual in not having an agent to represent her, as the other artists generally did. (Writers did not have agent representation, but artists did.) She would turn up to deliver her art in person, carrying it in a large portfolio, so she was a regular figure to Digby. However, the number of women creative contributors engaged in producing the comics seems otherwise to have been relatively minimal.

The expectation in that job was that people would take the opportunity to do extra writing jobs on a freelance basis, and eventually transition to going completely freelance. Anne did indeed do this. She wrote text stories and comics for A.P. / Fleetway for some years, and children’s novels from the mid- to late 70s onwards. Indeed, her own take on why the comics market declined is precisely because of the rise of children’s novels at ‘pocket money’ prices – the Armada Lions and the like of the times expanded the market beyond what Puffin had done when they stood alone as the big name in children’s books.

Digby is clearly pleased with and proud of her work even at this distance in time; she has favorites that she happily cites (such as semi-supernatural story “The Dance Dream” and horse story “Olympia Jones”. This is as it should be, of course – her work was read by masses of children and stayed with those readers for a long time, and it stands up to the test of time on re-read. I hope that her wish to see “Olympia Jones” and other work re-issued will come to pass.

Further posts will follow, covering the David Roach talk in particular. However one thing I can quickly share is a photo of the script that Anne Digby brought along to the event: for a Strange Story called “The Cat”. The script was around 5 pages long but I didn’t photograph the rest of it. How lovely to see physical artifacts still around from that time, and still legible too!

IGNCC (International Graphic Novel & Comics Conference) 2018: Bournemouth

Over the next three days I shall be attending IGNCC at Bournemouth: an academic comics conference on the theme of “Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia”. I have had a paper accepted with the title “Lost In Time: The Problem Of Crediting The Creator In Girls Comics” – drawing on lots of the discoveries and discussions from this blog, of course! Other people are talking about girls comics too – for instance in the same panel session Selina Lock will be talking on “Behind The Panels: The Hidden Histories Of Women In British Comics”.

Of particular interest to the readers of this blog, though, are probably the following two keynote sessions, which I will try to take notes on and write a post or two about.

  • Anne Digby (writer for School Friend, Girl, Tammy, Jinty and the Trebizon series of
    children’s books) in conversation with Mel Gibson (Remembered Reading) on British
    Girls’ Comics.
  • David Roach (2000AD, Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art) – The Spanish Masters

More to come as I get it, over the following days…

Tammy turns 12: 5 February 1983

Tammy 5 February 1983

Cover artist: John Armstrong

  • Romy’s Return (artist Juliana Buch, writer Charles Herring)
  • ET Estate (artist Guy Peeters, writer Jake Adams)
  • Bella (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • Bridge of Heart’s Desire (artist Trini Tinturé) – complete story
  • In the Fourth at Trebizon (artist Diane Gabbot, writer Anne Digby) – first episode
  • The Witch Wind (artist Hugo D’Adderio) – complete story
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Nanny Young (artist Phil Gascoine, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Cuckoo in the Nest (artist Tony Coleman, writer Ian Mennell)
  • Step Lively! (feature)

Tammy turns 12 this issue, and Bella is flying high on the cover to celebrate. Only the cover celebrates Tammy’s 12th birthday though; there isn’t so much as a competition inside to commemorate. This was Tammy’s last birthday issue. She did turn 13 (which was indeed an unlucky year for her, what with her untimely disappearance from a strike), but did not celebrate it.

What is perhaps given even more commemoration is the start of a new Trebizon adaptation. Anne Digby was one of Tammy’s best writers; her best-remembered story was “Olympia Jones”. So it is not surprising that Tammy ran several adaptations of Digby’s books.

Tammy reprints two Strange Stories as complete stories, replacing the Storyteller with less appealing text boxes. “Bridge of Heart’s Desire” appeared in June and was reprinted in Jinty as a Gypsy Rose story. A Jinty reader wrote in to say her school adapted the story for a play and the teacher was very impressed. Now it appears in Tammy, but not as a Strange Story per se. Liu is upset because the Mandarin won’t let her marry her betrothed. She is told to make a wish to marry her betrothed while crossing the Bridge of Heart’s Desire, but must not speak until she is across or there will be no wish. Does the wish get granted? In a very convoluted and surprising way it is, due to Liu indeed not speaking while on the bridge.

The other story, “The Witch Wind” has an infuriating mixed message about the persecution of suspected witches. It starts out with Widow Dorrity being accused of raising storms to wreck ships, using a magical device known as a witch rope. A lynch mob goes to Dorrity’s house while Sal, who has been raised to scorn such superstitions, tries to warn her. However, Dorrity says she’s too old to run and passes on her witch rope to Sal for safekeeping. So it seems Dorrity really does have the power the mob accused her of, yet Tammy still calls her an “unfortunate old woman” for being burned alive in her own house by the mob. As for the witch rope, it eventually destroys the Spanish Armada in 1588 – something Dorrity herself seemed to prophesise to Sal.

Bella’s in a Muslim country teaching gymnastics to royal princesses. Not surprisingly, this is offending conservative Muslims, the Queen among them. The Queen does not realise her brother Suliemen is taking advantage her opposition to Westernisation to overthrow her husband and make himself the Shah. As part of his plan he has framed Bella for stealing the sacred “Tears of the Prophet”, and this week Bella nearly walks into his trap to plant them directly on her.

The formula where a girl plays dirty tricks on a friend to keep her in the background and herself in the limelight has been used less often at IPC than DCT, but “Romy’s Return” is one of the cases where it has been. This is the penultimate episode of it all, where it looks like Linda’s tricks to sabotage Romy have pushed Romy to breaking point. She snaps and starts doing things she shouldn’t have and gets into terrible trouble at school. Then Linda hears a bombshell from Romy’s father that has her realise that her sabotage may have been far more damaging than she thought.

In “E.T. Estate”, the aliens try to silence Jenny when she tries to tell everyone that there are alien doubles taking over the estate. They needn’t have bothered; nobody’s listening and they just think Jenny’s crazy. As it is, the aliens’ attack puts Jenny in hospital.

Tess just won’t stop boasting about her synchro swimming. It’s not only getting on everyone’s nerves; it also costs her the allies who had helped her to get into the swim baths after the manager wrongly banned Pond Hill pupils for vandalism.

In Nanny’s latest job, her employer, the Honourable Lady Louise Fanshawe, could lose the estate she means to pass on to her great-niece, Matilda, because of mounting debts. She managed to stave off her creditors with a “poor old dying woman” act, but by the end of the episode it looks like they are still in danger of losing the estate.

“Cuckoo in the Nest” is one of the most bonkers stories ever to appear in girls’ comics. The protagonist is a boy! Moreover, Leslie (that’s his name) is a boy who has to disguise himself as a girl (how many times have you seen that in girls’ comics?). It’s for the sake of his uncle, who is trying to cover up that he used funds an aunt sent for boarding school fees to treat Leslie instead. To make things even more complicated, the aunt had the mistaken belief that her nephew was a niece and the school was for girls. Hence the (not very good) girl’s disguise, which the nosy Sarah Mullins discovered when the school broke up for holidays. Fortunately a measles quarantine has delayed Sarah’s return to school where she is just dying to tell everyone about their having a boy disguised as a girl. But of course the quarantine won’t last forever.

Olympia Jones (1976-1977)

Sample Images

olympia-4aolympia-4bolympia-4c

Publication: Tammy 2 October 1976 to 1 January 1977

Episodes: 14

Reprint / translations: Tammy & Misty 25 April 1981 to 25 July 1981; Een paard voor Olympia [A Horse for Olympia], Tina Topstrip #31

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Anne Digby

Here we take some time out from Jinty to discuss one of Tammy’s classic and best-remembered stories, Olympia Jones. 

Plot

Olympia Jones is the daughter of an equestrian Olympic gold medallist, Captain Rupert Jones. She has been reared to follow in his footsteps and win an Olympic gold too; hence her name. Jones was reduced to animal trainer at Rott’s Circus after a riding accident disabled him and ended his show-jumping career. Jones makes such a profit for the circus because of his fame that Rott is anxious to keep him pleased. For this reason he tells his spoiled daughter Linda that he cannot exclude Olympia from her circus horse act, much to Linda’s chagrin. Linda is jealous of Olympia always being the crowd favourite in the act; this is because she has far better rapport with the horses (and animals) than Linda does.

But things change when Olympia is orphaned in a crash. Rott wastes no time in removing Olympia from Linda’s act and reducing her to animal trainer. All the same, it is Olympia’s training of the horses that makes Linda’s act so sensational and elevates Linda to star status, not any real talent on Linda’s part. A far more crippling blow for Olympia is that she is no longer able to compete in gymkhanas, so her Olympic dream seems to be over.

Then Rott buys a new horse for Linda’s act. His name is Prince and he needs special care and attention because he has been cruelly treated. Animal-loving Olympia is only too happy to provide it. Unfortunately Prince gets off to a bad start with Linda because she looks like his cruel owner, so from then on she regards him as “a bad tempered brute” and does not give him a chance. When Prince doesn’t perform for Linda the way he does for Olympia she starts beating him. And when he shows her up in front of the crowds on opening night she is so furious she gives him an extremely ferocious beating. This leaves him extremely subdued and miserable when he performs on the second night.

In the audience is Horace Phipps, an inspector from the League of Love for Animals (LOLA) who is paying a routine visit. Phipps notices how miserable Prince is, and immediately suspects what is happening. Before long he has photographed the evidence of Linda’s cruelty and confronts Rott over it. Rott covers up for Linda and saves himself from prosecution by putting the blame on Olympia, dismissing her without references, and ordering her to leave the circus.

Olympia realises Rott made a scapegoat of her to get out of trouble with LOLA, but she can do nothing to prove her innocence. However, she is not going to leave Prince with Linda Rott, so she does a midnight flit with him, leaving her antique gypsy caravan home in exchange. This exchange satisfies the Rotts (for the time being) and they think they are well rid of her and Prince. But what Rott did will come back to bite, because there is one thing he overlooked when he sacked Olympia…

Next morning Olympia secures a job as a pony trek leader at Summerlees Adventure Centre by impressing the staff so much when she saves a rider after his horse bolts. Olympia and Prince are much happier at Summerlees than they were at the circus. But Olympia strikes problems with a difficult pupil, Amanda Fry, who makes liberal use of a crop on her pony. (Ironically, Amanda’s father turns out to be the LOLA President.) Naturally, Olympia clamps down very hard on this and does her best to educate Amanda in handling her pony better. It doesn’t really sink in until Amanda’s use of the crop makes her pony bolt and she almost gets killed. After this, Amanda reforms. While galloping to Amanda’s rescue Olympia discovers Prince is a born show-jumper and has what it takes to become a champion. All of a sudden, her Olympic hopes are rising again.

With the help of the senior trek leader, Miss Carson (Carsie) Olympia begins to train Prince as a show jumper and they are soon winning some very classy events. This draws the attention of the Olympic Team Selection Committee. They ask Olympia to enter a list of qualifying events to get into the British team. Unfortunately Olympia has to enter them without Carsie’s help because Carsie suddenly has to go and nurse her ailing mother in Malta. When Summerlees closes for winter Olympia gets a farming job with one Farmer Bry, who agrees to provide transport to her events.

Olympia makes such progress that she is now making big news, which unfortunately catches the attention of the Rotts. Their circus is now suffering because Linda’s formerly sensational horse act and the animal training have deteriorated without Olympia – the thing Rott had overlooked when he sacked her. They realise Prince is now worth a fortune as an Olympic prospect and hatch a plan to make it all theirs, with LOLA doing all the dirty work for them.

So Rott goes to Phipps with his old (but not officially invalidated) ownership papers of Prince and a concocted story that Olympia stole Prince in revenge for her dismissal. He wants LOLA to get Prince back for him because he is afraid of the ‘cruel methods’ Olympia must be using to turn Prince into a champion, but does not want the police involved. Phipps promises Rott that he will intercept Olympia at her next event and get Prince back off her.

But Olympia and Prince slip through Phipps’ fingers and go on the run, which forces Phipps and the Rotts to call the police. Olympia has one last event to win to secure her place in the Olympic team. She manages it by disguising Prince, but finds the police waiting for her afterwards. She is arrested and Prince is returned to the circus (after a terrible struggle).

When the news breaks, it causes a national sensation. Amanda cannot believe it when she hears about the cruelty allegations against Olympia. Still owing Olympia for saving her life, Amanda mounts a secret vigil on Rott’s Circus, armed with a camera. So when Phipps presents his evidence of Olympia’s ‘cruelty’ at the trial, the defence counters with Amanda’s photographs of Linda Rott ill treating Prince in that manner. Linda flies into such a tantrum at being caught out that she has to be restrained by policemen, and her guilt is exposed to the court. The reactions of LOLA and the fate of the Rotts are not recorded, but of course the jury acquits Olympia – and after an extremely short deliberation, lasting barely twenty minutes.

Three days later Olympia is reunited with Prince and now has official proof of ownership. The same month (and one panel later) Olympia wins her Olympic gold. When she returns to Britain, Carsie is waiting for her. Carsie’s mother had passed over but left a house in Malta that she invites Olympia and Prince to share.

Thoughts

When Olympia Jones was first published there could be no doubt it was inspired by the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Montreal was extremely topical in Tammy’s 1976 year, probably because Bella was making a bid for it in her 1976 story. Olympia certainly had more luck at the Olympics than Bella, who had to settle for participating in the opening ceremony after being denied the chance to compete. Olympia Jones does not specifically refer to Montreal or any other particular Olympic Games, so it does not become dated as the 1976 Bella story would.

In terms of plotting Olympia is far superior to the 1976 Bella story, which turned into a rather silly plot line of Bella getting lost on the Continent while striving to reach the Games she can’t even compete in – and all without her passport! In contrast, Olympia has a strong, tightly plotted and well-paced storyline (except for the final episode, which feels a bit crammed), and strong characters whose ambitions, faults and personalities drive the plot in an exciting, dramatic manner.

Olympia was so popular that she was brought back by popular demand in 1981. Olympia also makes some humorous cameo appearances in Wee Sue’s special story commemorating Tammy’s 10th birthday issue, which is further proof of what a classic she had become.

The story has so much to make it so popular. First, it is a horse story, and horse stories are always a huge draw for readers. While not a Cinderella story as such, fairy tale elements are evident. Although there is no family relationship between Olympia and Linda, the relationship they share reads like the formula of “The Two Stepsisters” (one good, exploited stepsister, one bad, spoilt stepsister). The wicked stepmother (replaced by Mr Rott) ill-treats the good stepdaughter (Olympia) and spoils her bad daughter (Linda). But as in the fairy tale, it is the spoilt ways of the bad stepdaughter that are her undoing and that of her over-indulgent parent. The good stepdaughter is rewarded with gold (the medal?) and a royal.

The contrast between Olympia and Linda, particularly in their attitudes to animals, is what really sets up the foundation for the story to follow. Much of Linda’s bad character is rooted in her upbringing. Her mother is absent and her father has spoiled her. And he is definitely not a savoury role model for his daughter. He is forced to tolerate Olympia in Linda’s act while Mr Jones is present, but has no compunction in dropping her once Mr Jones is dead, just to indulge his daughter. Although cruelty has not erupted in his circus before and he does not seem to mistreat his animals, he does not reprimand Linda for her cruelty to Prince. His anger towards her is over nearly getting him into trouble with LOLA. And he is virtually the cackling, twirling-moustached villain as he drives to LOLA to put their conspiracy against Olympia into operation.

And there is the jealousy Linda has always harboured towards Olympia. The jealousy does not abate even after Olympia was removed from Linda’s act, and it must have been inflamed when Linda heard Olympia was becoming famous as an Olympic prospect while her circus act had deteriorated. Linda’s jealousy was what motivated her to hatch the conspiracy against Olympia. It must have also been a huge factor in why Linda hated Prince so much, as he was Olympia’s favourite horse, and why Linda did not listen to Olympia’s advice on how to handle him. If she had, things would have gone better between her and Prince. Compounding Linda’s jealousy is her arrogance; all she cares about is being a star and she just has to show off in the ring. As a result, Olympia and Prince put her nose so badly out of joint that they could never work well together.

Third is Olympia’s struggle to fulfil her father’s dream after fate seems to dash her hopes and reduce her to exploitation at the circus. Although her hopes rise again at Summerlees she still has to face difficulties, such as finding a job when Summerlees closes for the winter and ends up slogging under Farmer Bry. Although he does not exploit her he is a bit on the hard side and gets ideas about turning her into a money-spinner for him.

When the injustice angle is introduced it further adds to the development and interest of the story, because it has left plot threads that readers know will be taken up later. They would carry on reading to see how these threads get tied up. The way in which they do so creates the true drama of the story. Instead of some clichéd contrivance of Olympia being suddenly cleared at the end, the injustice thread is developed into the Rotts’ conspiracy against Olympia. The unfolding conspiracy, arrest and upcoming trial are even more riveting than Olympia battle against the odds to win the Olympic gold. The odds look even more stacked up against Olympia here because she has no case at all to prove in court. Everything weighs in favour of the Rotts and it all seems hopeless to Olympia. But readers might have got a clue as to what will save Olympia if they saw the sign outside Phipps’ office, which says Lord Fry is the president of LOLA…

Comparison between Linda and Amanda also adds interest to the story. Both girls are guilty of horse beating because they are spoiled and harbour unhealthy attitudes towards the treatment of animals. In Amanda’s case it is quite surprising as her father is the president of LOLA. Is he aware of how she treats her pony? However, unlike Linda, Amanda listens to Olympia. It is helpful that in this case Olympia is in a position of authority and there is no bad blood with Amanda, as there was with Linda. All the same, it takes the shock of the near-accident caused by her own cruelty to really turn Amanda around. Amanda ultimately redeems herself by bringing down the other horse-beater in the story, for whom there is no redemption. You have to love the irony.

One quibble is that so much is packed into the final episode that several things get short shrift. We don’t see LOLA’s reaction to the new evidence or what happens to the Rotts in the end. We can only assume the scandal destroyed their already-ailing circus, they faced criminal charges, and Rott would never forgive his spoilt daughter. Only one panel is devoted to winning the medal that Olympia had been striving for throughout her story. It would have been better pacing to spread the resolution over two episodes, or even just add an extra page in the final episode. But perhaps the editor would not have allowed it. Another quibble is that the courtroom dress in the trial scene is not drawn correctly; some more research could have been done there.

The artwork of Eduardo Feito also lends the popularity of Olympia Jones. Feito was brilliant at drawing horse stories, which made him a very popular choice in Tammy for illustrating them. The proportion of horse stories drawn by Feito in Tammy is very high, even higher than other regular artists in Tammy. Feito’s Tammy horse stories include “Halves in a Horse”, “Rona Rides Again”, “Those Jumps Ahead of Jaki”, “Odds on Patsy”, and “A Horse Called September”, the last of which reunites the Digby/Feito team. It would be very interesting to know if any of these other horse stories also used the same team. It would not be surprising.

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 4

Right now I am sorry to say that I haven’t had great success with the computer program that I was hoping would help us to identify unknown writers. I’m by no means declaring it to be impossible or unrealistic, but I think I will need to ask for help from the experts who wrote the program and/or who do more of this sort of analysis on a day to day basis.

My initial trials were to see if I could test a Jay Over script known to be by him against another one known to be by him, so as to see if the program could pick out a ‘known good’ example. It did do that pretty well, but it may be that I calibrated the program options too closely against Jay Over. I haven’t got to the stage of being able to say that this series of tests, done in this way, gives you a good chance of identifying this text by a known author. (Unless that known author is Jay Over, she says slightly bitterly.) And if I can’t do this reasonably reliably, there is no point (as yet, at least) in moving on to trying out unknown author texts.

In my last post about this computer program, I ran a series of 10 tests against a Jay Over text, and the program reliably picked out Jay Over as the most likely author of that text out of a supplied set of 4 test authors. It was much less reliable in picking out a test Malcolm Shaw text out of the same set of test authors: only 5 of the 10 tests suggested that Malcolm Shaw was the best fit. I have now tried the same 10 tests with an Alan Davidson text (“Jackie’s Two Lives”), and with a Pat Mills text (“Girl In A Bubble”). This means that all four of the test authors have been tested against a text that is known to be by them.

  • Unfortunately, in the test using an Alan Davidson text the program was even worse at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result: it only did so in 2 of the 10 tests, and in 4 of the tests it placed him in last, or least likely to have written that test text.
  • In the test using a Pat Mills text, the program was rather better at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result, though still not great: it did so in 4 out of 10 tests, and in 3 of the remaining tests he was listed second; and he was only listed as ‘least likely/worst fit’ in one of the tests.

The obvious next step was to try with a larger group of authors. I tried the test texts of Jay Over (“Slave of the Clock”) and of Malcolm Shaw (“Bella” and “Four Faces of Eve”) against a larger group of 6 authors (Primrose Cumming, Anne Digby, Polly Harris, Louise Jordan, Jay Over, Malcolm Shaw).

  • With the Jay Over text, only 7 of the 10 tests chose him as the ‘best fit’, so the attribution of him as the author is showing as less definite in this set of tests.
  • With the Malcolm Shaw texts, only 1 and 3 tests (for “Bella” and for “Eve” respectively identified him as the ‘best fit’ – not enough for us to have identified him as the author if we hadn’t already known him to be so. (He also came last, or second to last, in 4 of the first set of tests, and the same in the second set of tests.)

I should also try with more texts by each author. However I think that right now I will take a break from this, in favour of trying to contact the creators of the program. I hope they may be able to give me better leads of the right direction to take this in. Do we need to have much longer texts for each author, for instance? (We have generally been typing up just one episode for each author – I thought might be too much of an imposition to ask people to do any more than that, especially as it seemed sensible to try to get a reasonably-sized group of authors represented.) Are there some tests I have overlooked, or some analytical methods that are more likely to be applicable to this situation? Hopefully I will be able to come back with some extra info that means I can take this further – but probably not on any very immediate timescale.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following list of texts that people have kindly helped out with. You may find (as I have) that just looking at the texts themselves is quite interesting and revealing. I am more than happy to send on any of the texts if they would be of interest to others. There are also various scans of single episodes sent on by Mistyfan in particular, to whom many thanks are due.

  • Alison Christie, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” (typed by Marckie)
  • Primrose Cumming, “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Alan Davidson, three texts
    • “Fran of the Floods” (typed by Marckie)
    • “Jackie’s Two Lives” (typed by me)
    • “Kerry In the Clouds” (typed by me, in progress)
  • Anne Digby, “Tennis Star Tina” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Gerry Finley-Day, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Polly Harris, two texts
    • “Monkey Tricks” (typed by Mistyfan)
    • “Midsummer Tresses” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Louise Jordan, “The Hardest Ride” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Jay Over, two texts
    • “Slave of the Clock” (typed by me)
    • “The Secret of Angel Smith” (typed by me)
  • Malcolm Shaw, five texts
    • “Lucky” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 1 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 2 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Four Faces of Eve” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Pat Mills, two texts
    • “Concrete Surfer” (typed by me)
    • “Girl In A Bubble” (typed by me)
  • John Wagner, “Eva’s Evil Eye” (typed by Mistyfan)

 

 

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 2

The jury’s still out at present, but I am very grateful for the kind offers of help of various sorts! I now have text versions of episodes of:

  • “Slave of the Clock” and “The Secret of Angel Smith” (Jay Over)
  • “The Sentinels” (Malcolm Shaw)
  • “Fran of the Floods” (Alan Davidson)
  • “Concrete Surfer (Pat Mills).

So I have enough to try to see if I can get the program to identify “Slave of the Clock” as being by Jay Over rather than any of the other writers. If anyone is able to send in any more texts, the following would be useful:

  • Some texts by female writers such as Anne Digby, Alison Christie, Benita Brown
  • Some more texts by the writers named above, so that I can offer the program a wider base of texts per each writer (rather than keeping on increasing the number of individual authors)

How far have I got so far? Not that far yet, I’m afraid to say. I have downloaded a copy of the program I chose (JGAAP) and I’ve got it to run (not bad in itself as this is not a commercial piece of software with the latest user-friendly features). I’ve loaded up the known authors and the test text (Slave of the Clock). However, the checks that the program gives you as options are very academic, and hard for me to understand as it’s not an area I’ve ever studied. (Binned naming times, analysed by Mahalanobis distance? What the what??) Frankly, I am stabbing at options like a monkey and seeing what I get.

I can however already see that some of the kinds of checks that the program offers are plausibly going to work, so I am optimistic that we may get something useful out of this experiment. These more successful tests involve breaking down the texts into various smaller elements like individual words, or small groups of words, or the initial words of each sentence, or by tagging the text to indicate what parts of speech are used. The idea is that this should give the program some patterns to use and match the ‘test’ text against, and this does seem to be bearing fruit so far.

So, an interim progress report – nothing very definite yet but some positive hints. I will continue working through the options that the program offers, to see if I can narrow down the various analytical checks to a subset that look like they are successfully identifying the author as Jay Over. I will then run another series of tests with a new Jay Over file – I’ll type up an episode of “The Lonely Ballerina” to do that, unless anyone else has kindly done it before me 🙂 – scans from an episode are shown below, just in case! That will be a good test to see if the chosen analytical checks do the job that I hope they will…

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 1

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 2
click thru
Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 3
click thru

Douglas Perry

Douglas Perry is an artist whose style will be recognized by most readers of girls comics as he has had a very prolific history of drawing for IPC/Fleetway and for DC Thomsons across many decades. I think of him as a Jinty artist because he drew two particularly striking serials for this title, and a number of Gypsy Rose stories too. In fact however the bulk of his artistic output was clearly done for other titles, particularly IPC’s Tammy and DCT’s Bunty.

As my particular memories of Douglas Perry are from his spooky stories in Jinty, I want to illustrate this post with some pages from 1978’s “Shadow on the Fen“; they show his distinctive style (loose but effective) well, and give a chance to shiver at the creepy atmosphere he brings to life.

Shadow On The Fen pg 1

Shadow On The Fen pg 2

Shadow On The Fen pg 3

You can see from the above that Perry’s art has a lot of movement and energy in it, with some lovely touches in the composition, like Rebecca’s hair breaking the boundaries of the panel in the last page.

Douglas Perry stories in various girls comics (incomplete bibliography)

  • Jinty
    • Come Into My Parlour (1977-78) ‘Kom maar in mijn web’ in Dutch Tina 1981
    • Shadow On The Fen (1978)
    • Various Gypsy Rose stories including “The Thirteenth Hour”, reprinted in the 1983 Annual
    • Miss Clever Thinker (1986 Annual)
  • June / June & School Friend

    • The Haunted Playroom (1965)
    • The Dream (1965)
    • Crash Point (1965)
    • The Missing Manuscript (1966)
    • The Wishing Well (1966)
    • The Gay Dolphin (1966)
    • Milly the Mindreader (1967)
  • Misty
    • The Chase (complete story)
    • A Voice from the Past (1979 Annual)
    • String of Seven Stones (1980 Annual)
  • Sandie
    • The Return of Rena (1972)
    • Sandra Must Dance (1972) ‘De pas-de-deux van Sandra en Jessie’ in Dutch Tina in 1972
    • The House of Toys (1973)
    • The Plan That Rocked the School (1973 Annual)
  • Tammy
    • Various Uncle Pete / Storyteller stories (his art was often used for the ‘talking head’ intro or outro on these)
    • Palomo (1971) reprinted in Penny Annual 1980 and Dutch Tina book 1980
    • Bernice and the Blue Pool (1971)
    • The School on Neville’s Island (1971)
    • The Dragon of St George’s (1972)
    • The Camp on Candy Island (1972-73)
    • Cherry’s Charter (complete story) (1973)
    • Sarah the Scapegoat (complete story) (1973)
    • Granny’s Town (1973)
    • The Revenge of Edna Hack (1973)
    • Leader of the Pack (1974)
    • Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall (1974)
    • Secret Ballet of the Steppes (1974)
    • Rona’s Rainstones (1974)
    • Crystal Who Came in from the Cold (1974)
    • Slaves of the Hot Stove (1975)
    • Carol in Camelot Street (1975)
    • Serfs of the Swamps (1975)
    • A Lead through Twilight (1976)
    • The Sungod’s Golden Curse (1976)
    • Curtains for Cathy (1976-77) ‘Applaus voor Kitty’ in 1978 in Dutch Tina
    • Dark Star Wish (1977)
    • The Dance Dream (1977) (writer Anne Digby – see the interview with her for a sample from this story)
    • Molly Mills (1977 – 82)
    • My Shining Sister (1980)
    • Black Teddy (complete story) (1982)
    • The Grand Finale (complete story) (1982)
    • Midsummer Tresses (complete story) (1983)
    • Listing supplied by Mistyfan in comments below – many thanks!
  • Bunty
    • “The Legend Of Lorraine” (1970) De geheimzinnige ballerina in the Dutch edition of Debbie 1984
    • The Little Shrimp (1971) ‘De kleine garnaal’ in the Dutch edition of Peggy 1984
    • “The Laughing Lady of Hamble Hall” (1972 Annual)
    •  Supergirl (1977-78) ‘Bionische Susie’ in Dutch edition of Debbie in 1985
    • Parker versus Parker (1981-82) ‘Parker tegen Parker’ in 1982-83 in Dutch Tina
    • The Fate of the Fairleys (1982-83) ‘Het geheim van Bella Vista’ in a Dutch edition of Debbie Parade Album from 1985 or 1986
    • “T for Trouble” (1985 Annual)
    • ‘Sally on Planet Serbos’ (1985)
    • ‘Trapped in time’ (1986)
    • “The Seven Sisters” (c1988)
    • “Little Miss Lonely” (c1988)
    • “The Trouble With Boys” (1989)
    • “I’ll Never Forgive You!” (1989)
    • “A New Life For Lily” (1994) ‘Lotje’s nieuwe leven’ in Dutch Tina 1994
    • “Lonely Lynn” (1994)
    • “Stop, Thief!” (1995)
    • “The Impostor!” (1995)
    • “The Seeker” (1996-97)
    • “Shivery Shirley” no date available
    • These items were taken from a discussion thread on the Comics UK Forum and added to by Marc in comments below
  • Mandy
    • “Go Girl Go” from the 1971 Mandy album
  • Dutch translations with original titles unknown
    • ‘Billy MacGuire, hoofd van de clan’ [‘Billy MacGuire, head of the clan’] (Dutch Tina book 1981), original unknown
    • Een hoofdrol vol gevaren! (1987, Dutch Tina)

See also this discussion thread about him on the Comics UK Forum, which includes some example art uploads. The Girls Comics of Yesterday site, which focuses on DC Thomson titles, also has a Douglas Perry tag. Here is a Catawiki tag list too.

I am sad and surprised to see how little information there is available about this fine artist on the internet. There is nothing on Bear Alley, or the UK Comics Wikia entry, nor even anything on Lambiek’s Comiclopedia. I suppose we must count ourselves lucky that Perry drew for Tammy during the years they were running credits.

As ever, further information (particularly in order to add to the Bibliography) would be extremely welcome.

Edited to add: Mistyfan has sent through scans of the Misty story that Perry drew: “The Chase”. It is a great spooky tale and I include it here to show more of his artwork.

Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty

Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty
click thru
Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty
click thru
Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty
click thru