Tag Archives: Anne Digby

Olympia Jones (1976-1977)

Sample Images

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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.

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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
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Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 3
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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
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Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty
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Douglas Perry, The Chase - originally printed in Misty
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Anne Digby – Interview

We are fortunate in being able to publish an interview with Anne Digby, children’s author Anne Digbyand writer of girls comics stories. The title she is particularly associated with is Tammy, of course, which saw publication of various text stories written by her, as well as comics adaptations of her already-published children’s books, also done by her. Below she gives some previously-unseen information on her past time in this comics world, which we are very grateful to have.

 

1 I was interested to see your interview with www.booksmonthly.co.uk this month as I know you rarely give interviews.  I would love to know more about your experiences of writing for comics and how you first started, and how this led on to writing children’s books.

Hello, Jenni. Well, like a lot of people, I’d always wanted to write books. The seed was sown in primary school  when I had a poem published  in a children’s magazine and the prize was a handsome hardback entitled, I think, “Sheila’s Glorious Holiday”. I thought how exciting it might be to write a whole book one day and see that in print, too.

At sixteen I became an editorial trainee at Fleetway House and then later become a freelance writer. My first published work of any substance was a full-length book entitled “Ella’s Big Sacrifice” (Schoolgirls Own Library, 1960). In those days the girls’ comics still carried text serials and stories alongside the picture-strips and the best of these were republished in book form under the Schoolgirls Own Library imprint, together with some new works. S.O.L. published two titles a month and, to keep them affordable, they were printed on poor paper and in tiny print. So my first book was hardly the handsome hardback I’d once dreamed about – but at least it was a start.

2  At what stage did you start writing stories in picture-strip format? When did you stop?

It’s difficult to date this exactly. My freelance career in the 1960s was quite varied, including straightforward journalism, which involved a certain amount of travel, and at one stage a staff job with Oxfam. But I always kept my hand in at writing stories for children and the market for picture-stories was becoming much larger than for straightforward text. I adapted to this quite happily – in fact back in my schooldays I’d written and drawn a picture-strip for an unofficial magazine we produced. (This was once confiscated, an episode that was to become the inspiration for one of the plot threads in First Term at Trebizon!) So, once I became a stay-at-home Mum, I dropped the journalism and just concentrated on children’s fiction – in either format – which could be written from the comfort of home.

And when, by the 1970s, the market for girls’ weekly comics with a strong fiction base was shrinking in favour of text-based mass-market paperbacks, it was a natural progression to move on to children’s books.

3 Your trajectory as a writer has involved the movement back and forth between prose fiction and picture-strip fiction. Can you tell us a little about  what differences you see between the two kinds of story-telling media – the things that work better or less well in each, the adaptations that you perhaps had to make when moving between one and the other?

What a fascinating question. Do you know, I think I found remarkably little difference. I think this might be because – once I’ve hit on the basic idea – I’ve always first visualised stories in a filmic way, certain key scenes/ images which appeal to me, around which I create the rest of the plot.

Another point is that writers and artists never worked in a collaborative way at Fleetway or Odhams Press – at  least, not to the best of my knowledge or in my own experience. When starting a script I had no idea who would be drawing the pictures.  I always had faith in an editor to marry the script with the right artist – and some of them were brilliant. One had a blank sheet of paper on which one drew up a grid, sketching in each scene for an instalment (like events in a book chapter), then one went on to describe each scene, frame by frame, for the artist’s guidance – together with the accompanying dialogue, to indicate the size/number of speech balloons required for each frame.  As these descriptions were not for publication, they would be less formal than if they’d been written for a prose work, but that was the only real difference.

For instance, I remember I was once invited to adapt two of my books into picture-strip serials for Tammy. I discovered that both of these scripts – for “A Horse Called September” (which I’d already published as a text serial) and for “First Term at Trebizon” –  in fact just about wrote themselves!

4 I’m sure every writer has their favourite creations.  As you look back on your time of writing for Tammy and other similar titles – are there any particular stories that you are still really pleased to have written, or maybe some you’d prefer to expunge from your memory?

Well, I’m sure there may be some of the latter, but if so they are safely expunged already.

First Term Front Cover
Illustration by Lucy Truman

Going even further back, I suspect that “Ella’s Big Sacrifice” might be one of them. As far as picture strips go, my favourites include “The Dance Dream”, “Olympia Jones” and “Tennis Star Tina” – (Trebizon readers might guess that  I’ve always loved that particular sport). All three stories were reprinted at least once, so hopefully the readers liked them too.

Once again, many thanks to Anne for providing the above interview. Her popular (or indeed, classic) Trebizon series is being reissued by Egmont on the 28 January.

Misty fan added scans from “The Dance Dream”, Girl annual 1982 reprint.

dance dream
Dance Dream
dance dream 2
Dance Dream
dance dream 3
Dance Dream

Edited to add: thanks to poster Peace355 on the Comics UK Forum, here are two pages from “Tennis Star Toni” in June (issue dated 10/06/1961; art by Giorgio Giorgetti).

Tennis Star Tina 1

Tennis Star Tina 2

Here also are the pages from the first episode of “First Term at Trebizon”, with associated factfile, from Tammy 19 November 1983. It ended in Tammy 4 February 1984. Thanks to Peace for this, too.

First Term at Trebizon pg 1

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Edited to add: the following stories written by Anne Digby and printed in Girl have been catalogued by Phoenix on the UK Comics Forum. Many thanks to him for this extra information!

  • 21 Newlands Park (May 20 1961 – Feb. 10 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in The Spring Term Mystery (Feb. 17 1962 – Mar. 17 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in Island Adventure” (Mar. 24 1962 – Jun. 2 1962)
  • Jill Of 21 Newlands Park in The New Girl (Jun. 9 1962 – Sep. 1 1962)
  • The Missing Masterpiece (Sep. 8 1962 – Nov. 17 1962)
  • The Emergency [complete] (Nov. 24 1962)
  • Jill And Gino (Dec. 1 1962 – Feb. 2 1963)
  • Lindy Goes Pop! (Feb. 9 1963 – Jun. 1 1963)
  • A Present For Haven (Jun. 8 1963 – Sep. 7 1963)

Female writers in a girls’ genre

This is my 100th post! To celebrate, a thinky piece of the sort I particularly enjoy having the space to do here on this blog. Comments and further information very welcome indeed, as ever, but especially useful for this sort of wider coverage article.

For a genre based around a female readership, you could be forgiven for thinking there were hardly any women involved in producing British girls comics. In 1998 I first started writing about Jinty, and looking back at that article (published in feminist ‘by women for people’ zine GirlFrenzy), the few names mentioned were of men: Jim Baikie, Casanovas, Pat Mills. These were the only creators I recognized from having seen them, their work, or their commentary in the fairly male world of British mainstream comics.

Some years later I met Pat Mills in person, and he subsequently attended the Oxford-based comics festival CAPTION2004, during which I interviewed him about his editorial and authorial role in Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. Some more creator names were added to the pot, but really only two female names stood out – those of Mavis Miller and of Pat Davidson, of which Pat Davidson was the only name of a writer. (I was by then aware of Trini Tinture’s work, too.) Additionally, I’d also managed to ask Phil Gascoine who wrote “Fran of the Floods”, but he could remember no names, just that it was a female writer.

As recently as early last year, therefore, there was so little information readily available that it was still possible for Adi Tantimedh’s post on Bleeding Cool to attribute the authorship of the vast majority of stories in girls comics to Pat Mills or to ‘the creators of Judge Dredd and 2000AD’. (He subsequently corrected the article text to read ‘his fair share of the series in Jinty were written by Pat Mills.’) This isn’t helped by the fact that when in that interview Pat M did give us Pat Davidson’s name, it was linked to a fairly sweeping assessment of women writers: “Generally, it was male writers in this field. I think Pat Davidson is the only woman I can think of who genuinely had a better touch in the way she did this, she wrote far more from the heart, the rest of us were 23-year-old guys killing ourselves laughing as we wrote this stuff, but she wrote from the heart, and it was quite genuine.”

We’re now in a position where we can bring together more information so that we can bring a more nuanced analysis to bear. Alison Christie is now known to have written not only a great swathe of Jinty stories, but also to have written many stories for other titles before, afterwards, and simultaneously (very literally!). We also have heard that Veronica Weir wrote at least one story for Jinty. (We also know that one of the writers was Len Wenn, then only a few years away from his retirement age and hence also quite far from the demographic highlighted by Mills.) Generally we now know what could have been guessed before, which is that creating comics was quite a good profession for women at the time: drawing or writing comics is something that a young mother can do from home! We also know that the same people worked for a range of comics; we could have guessed that from the artists, but a writer can be working on more than one script at the same time more easily than an artist can, so they are if anything more likely to be working for multiple titles.

To try to get a view on the historical context, we can note that there are a couple of titles that ran credits for at least some of their time. Girl was the first title to be dedicated to a readership of girls: it ran from 1951-64 and included creator credits (I don’t know whether the credits continued throughout the whole run though). Towards the other end of the main period of publication of girls’ comics, Tammy also ran creator credits for a little while from the middle of 1982. I haven’t got access to any very complete information about the stories and creators in Girl, but looking at the Wikipedia page for it I found a couple of names I’m unfamiliar with – Ruth Adam and Betty Roland, who wrote a number of stories between them. These included the nursing strip “Susan of St Bride’s” and the adventure strip “Angela Air Hostess” respectively, both of which were popular stories featuring resourceful, independent female characters. Looking at Catawiki’s entries on Girl would take more time to do properly than I currently have available, but I note that a sample issue from 1955 picked randomly includes these two female writers plus two others (Valerie Hastings and Mollie Black).

Of more immediate applicability to the subject of this blog, the women who wrote for Tammy may well have done so for Jinty too; luckily for me, there is more information available to me on who did what there, as co-writer Mistyfan has kindly sent me an index of Tammy stories. We can therefore look in some detail at the comics stories running in Tammy during the second half of 1982, where we find:

  • “Bella” written by both Malcolm Shaw and by Primrose Cumming
  • “The Button Box”: created by Alison Christie, specific individual episodes written by Ian Mennell or Linda Stephenson
  • “Nanny Young” written by Tom Newland and Maureen Spurgeon
  • “Rae Rules OK”written by Gerry Finley-Day
  • “Come Back Bindi” written by Jenny McDade
  • “Saving Grace” written by Ian Mennell
  • “A Gran for the Gregorys” written by Alison Christie
  • “Slave of the Clock” written by Jay Over
  • “Tomorrow Town” written by Benita Brown
  • “Cross on Court” written by Gerry Findley-Day
  • “Cuckoo In the Nest” written by Ian Mennell
  • “Romy’s Return” written by Charles Herring
  • Out of the 12 complete stories on the Tammy index I am referring to, two seem to be uncredited while three were written by Roy Preston, four by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Chris Harris, one by Ray Austin and one by Barry Clements

That’s fairly evenly spread; there are more male writers than female overall but not by that much. A count by number of pages printed might show a different picture, but then I also haven’t included the writers of text stories (in particular Anne Digby). We can also have a quick look at the Catawiki entry for an individual issue from the time (I chose issue 600) which lists stories by Benita Brown, Anne Digby, and Maureen Spurgeon – I assume that the Anne Digby is an illustrated text story rather than a comic. Another issue, 609, has more stories by female writers: two stories by Maureen Spurgeon, one by Alison Christie, and one by Primrose Cumming. In the absence of a concerted effort to count the number of pages written by women over a few representative issues (any volunteers?) I’d estimate that some 15% – 40% of the comic at a time might have been written by women: under half of the content for sure, but a substantial section.

Clearly we only have two very solid data points here – Girl in the 50s and 60s, and Tammy in the early 80s – but the fact they corroborate each other is strongly suggestive that yes, over the decades of comics published for a readership of girls, female writers have always been present, and in reasonable numbers rather than as the odd exceptional talent. They have written popular stories both in their own right and as jobbing writers taking on someone else’s initial creation. Can we say anything else about that, for instance about what sort of stories they wrote? Now that is rather more difficult, because we have to factor in individual preferences of writers. Alison Christie is clearly a writer of heart-tugging stories, so we can attribute a female writer to a number of stories in that style. That doesn’t mean that other female writers have the same preferences: Benita Brown is credited as the writer of a science fiction story, and Veronica Weir’s one known outing as writer was on a story with spooky overtones but mostly concerned with loneliness and survival. I don’t know the Tammy stories list above well enough to say what themes they represent, but in the list of Jinty stories we just don’t know enough about who wrote what to say anything much more concrete.

Likewise, can we say anything much to compare how well the stories worked with the gender of the author – could we say that the stories made by young men killing themselves laughing were better or more effective than those by women or indeed by older men such as Len Wenn? One difficulty is that in judging effectiveness or memorability, individual reader preferences will come strongly into play – my own list of top stories is skewed to the spooky, mystical, and science fictional and away from the heart-tuggers. Mostly though I think we just don’t know enough about who wrote what, in Jinty at least, to be able to say whether the the most popular, longest-running, most memorable, or otherwise most effective stories tended overall to be written by one group of writers versus another. We have examples written by women (“Stefa’s Heart of Stone”) and by young men (“Land of No Tears”, “The Robot Who Cried”), but the vast majority still lie in the camp of ‘unknown writer’.

Writing this post has sparked off other thoughts that felt a bit tangential to the main point of this piece; I will follow up with more on ‘What makes a story work’ (and indeed how can we tell that it does work).

Edited in Aug 2015 to add: subsequent discussion on the Comics UK Forum leads me to add another known female writer to the list of names acquired to date: Jenny Butterworth, writer of the long-running series “The Happy Days” in Princess Tina (amongst other stories).

Edited in December 2015 to add: we now know that “Fran of the Floods” was not written by a female writer; it can be attributed to Alan Davidson per his wife’s recent comments. At the time of writing, Davidson was a family man who also did not fall in the category of “23 year old guy killing himself laughing” at what he was writing.

Edited in January 2016 to add: Anne Digby has sent in an interview with information about writing comic stories for titles such as Tammy. It is noteworthy that she did not only produce text stories for this title, but also comics adaptations of her previously-published novels.

Edited in March 2016 to add: Phoenix on the Comics UK forum scanned and uploaded a snippet from the Guardian of a letter from one Mary Hooper, writer for Jackie in particular, but perhaps also for other titles?

Edited in January 2017 to add: clarification that Alison Christie (Fitt) created “The Button Box” and was the main writer on the story, though some individual stories were farmed out by editor Wilf Prigmore to Ian Mennell and to Linda Stephenson.