Tag Archives: Battle

Pat Mills: Interview

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

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

Known stories (Jinty)

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

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

Tammy

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

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

Misty

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

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

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

Pat Mills: No, none of those are mine.

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

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

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

I wrote “Captives of Madam Karma” in Sandie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘The Mighty One’ by Steve MacManus (2016)

The Mighty One - cover

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

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

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

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

What did we already know that is corroborated here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights

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

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

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

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

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

The Slave Story Theme

Pat Mills has declared online that there were three lynchpins for a girls’ comic that he would have if he launched a girls’ title today: the Cinderella story, the friendship story and the slave story (personally, I would add the regular story, the spooky story and the funny story). Apparently when readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story.

This post will be taking a look at the slave story. But as samples from Jinty are too limited to cover the variations of the formula, serials under discussion will expand beyond Jinty to include serials from DCT, Tammy, Girl (series 2) and Battle.

What was the slave story? There were two types: the individual slave story and the group slave story. In the group slave story, a group of girls or people are being held captive and used as slaves. The setting could be a cruel institution or prison, such as an orphanage, workhouse, factory, reformatory, prison camp, mine, quarry, or a school that is run along the lines of Wackford Squeers types. Sometimes the setting takes a more unusual form, such as a circus, a restaurant, a totalitarian regime, or a dystopian world. Or the enslavement could be based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming. For example, in “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” (Tammy) a ballet class is abducted to Siberia and forced to dance for the last remnant of the tzars and their imperialist rule, right down to starving peasants who get massacred when they beg for the release of food supplies.

Slave 2.jpg

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Sometimes there is more to the slavery than mere exploitation; the slavers may have more ulterior motives such as an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its residents are being ensnared for sinister purposes, such as in “The Camp on Candy Island” (Tammy) or “Prisoners of Paradise Island” (Jinty).

Occasionally the slave story focused on individuals trapped in slavery, such as “Bound for Botany Bay”. This will be discussed later. Right now the discussion will look at the group slavery.

The protagonist of the group slavery story could be either:
1. The slave who refuses to be broken by the cruelty. She is determined to escape and bring everything down. In the meantime she is singled out for the harshest treatment and her jailers pile on one torture after another which frequently went way over the top. Tortures over the years have included being locked in pillories, drip cells, dungeons, rat-infested cellars, punishment boxes, cages, underground pits and iron masks; forced to work in blazing hot sun until sunstroke sets in, being forced to play hockey with damaged sight; standing for long hours in freezing weather; even be targeted for murder, which is often part of the story’s climax. Or the protagonist could be:

2. The secret helper i.e. the one who is secretly helping the slaves. Sometimes, as part of her ruse, she pretends to side with the villains, and in so doing, makes herself hated by the victims she is secretly helping. Stories where this occurs include “Detestable Della” (Bunty) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy). Or the helper may help via a disguise, such as Lady Sarah in “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy). Lady Sarah helps victims of a cruel orphanage by disguising herself as the legendary ghost of the orphanage. Sometimes the helper is just there and coming up with quick plans to help the victims, such as “Betty vs Bumble” (Judy). This variance on the formula can allow for the slave story being played for laughs and comical comeuppances for the villain every week, as in “Betty vs Bumble”.

Sometimes, but not always, there is a mystery attached to the slave story. Resolving it is the key to resolving the story and bringing down the villain. Some common mysteries are:

1. What secret scheme are the villains up to? Sometimes it is evident they are up to something crooked as well as abusing and exploiting people, but the protagonist has to figure out what it is eg “Slaves of the Candle” (Jinty).

2. Who is the secret helper? Sometimes the secret helper is the mystery, not the protagonist of the story – and also part of its resolution. A mysterious helper keeps popping up to help the girls, such as the mystery trainer in “Land of no Tears”, (Jinty) who turns up in a disguise of a wig and heavy makeup (can’t she disguise herself better in this world of the future?). When the protagonist finally discovers who the woman is, it is another twist on the secret helper who has to pretend to be a villain as part of her ruse to secretly help the slaves.

3. How exactly is the racket operating? Sometimes motives or identities of the villains are kept hidden and need to be unravelled. For example, in “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl, series 2), the slaves do not know exactly who is running the sewing factory that kidnaps girls and uses them as slave labour. Their supervisor keeps herself nameless and they have to address her as “M’am.” When Amanda, the protagonist in this story, discovers the man operating the racket is her own father, it makes for one slave story that does not have a totally happy ending.

4. Hidden secret regarding protagonist. Sometimes there is a secret regarding the protagonist that she does not know herself. The jailers may know it and the torture is part of it, as in “Poor Law Polly” (Lindy), or it becomes part of resolving the story “Nina Nimble Fingers” (Lindy).

Lastly, there may be a toady character. A member of the group or more senior girl who helps the villains and participates in the torture of the girls. Sometimes it is the toady character who is the key to the resolution of the story. Essentially, the villain goes too far to the toady’s liking. Shocked, the toady has a change of heart and starts helping the victims. One example is Adolfa in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Right up until the last episode Adolfa has been the reformatory inmate who helped to torture them, especially Merry. But when Adolfa discovers the warden is out to kill Merry, she has an instant change of heart; she saves Merry and takes a hard crack on the head for doing so. But in some slave stories this was not the case with the toady, eg “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy) or “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”. And at times no such character is used, or not used much.

Slave 3.jpg

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Perhaps the most famous – or infamous – slave story was “Slaves of War Orphan Farm”. It was launched in the first issue of Tammy, and it made Tammy‘s name for the darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines that she pioneered at IPC. Ma Thatcher (yes, named after a milk snatcher and future prime minister) running a racket where she uses war orphans she was supposed to be taking care of as slave labour in a rock quarry. She also locks them in cages as a punishment, even in cold weather, sets vicious dogs and gin traps on them, and even tries to burn them alive in the barn at the climax of the story. But the mysterious helper, in this case a woman called Mad Emma, has been steadily helping some kids to escape. Now they combine forces for the great escape with the help of Bonnie, a toady who does have a change of heart.

Other slave stories followed thick and fast in the early years of Tammy. They included The Revenge of Edna Hack, Secret Ballet of the Steppes, Dara into Danger, The Camp on Candy Island, Swim for Your Life, Sari, Slaves of the Hot Stove, Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall and Waifs of the Wigmaker.

It is not surprising that Battle, which drew much inspiration from the dark trend that pioneered in Tammy, attempted the slave story in its first issue. This was “The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain”. Sadly, Bamboo Curtain proved that the slave story was one trend in girls’ comics that did not work so well with the boys and it folded after twelve episodes. But the attempt shows a world of difference when the slave story is played in the man’s world that is worth discussing here.

The evil Sado runs a Japanese POW camp. He revels in punishing prisoners by sending them into the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest rigged with deadly booby traps. Alarmed at how the Bamboo Curtain is intimidating his fellow prisoners, Jim Blake gets himself sent there in the hope of overcoming it and stopping it turning his friends into “cringing coolies.” Blake does survive the Bamboo Curtain but is surprised to stumble across a nest of brainwashed British soldiers in the power of Sado. They mysteriously disappear before he can probe too much.

Determined to help the soldiers, Blake returns to the camp as the answer to the mystery must be there, although he risks even more savage punishment and perhaps death from Sado. The extra tortures include being locked in a metal hut in blazing heat, forced to fight a masked man to the death (Blake is shocked afterwards to find it is one of the brainwashed soldiers), being trapped in a minefield, and being tied to Sado’s jeep and being dragged behind. War-based tortures that soldiers are more likely to encounter than girls. Nor would you expect the girls to punch their jailers in the face and take up guns in their escape.

The story also made daring breaks with clichés, such as when Blake fails to save his friend Jensen from the quicksand trap in the Bamboo Curtain. And, when Blake and Sado face off in the final episode – no spoilers, so let us say we do not get the typical clichéd honourable conduct we would normally expect from the hero.  Unlikely that even Tammy would have done the same.

So how did the slave story play out in Jinty? As the early Jinty was cast in the same mould as the early Tammy, there was of course a slave story in the first lineup. This was “Merry at Misery House”. Wrongly sent to a reformatory nicknamed Misery House because of its harshness, Merry Summers is cast in the mould of the protagonist who refuses to let the cruelty break her spirit. This singles her out for one torture after another to break her down and turns the story into the longest running slave story ever. It ran for over a year before the misery finally ended with the warden and head guard being arrested for racketeering, Misery House burning down and Merry getting her name cleared.

Maybe the sheer length of this slave story is the reason Jinty had fewer slave stories than Tammy. But the ones she did have were:

Slave 4.jpg

(Click thru)

Merry at Misery House (1974-75): Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft and sent to a reformatory where sadistic treatment is the rule.

Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974-75): a hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. In a twist that turns the slave story on its head, they are given every luxury instead of being tortured, abused and exploited. But the purpose is just as evil – their captors want to make them fat, unfit and lazy so they cannot win a hockey championship. Then the crooks will take punts against them and make a fortune.

Barracuda Bay (1975): More of a twist on the slave story than a pure slave story. The slaves are a bunch of kidnapped scientists in this James Bond style story.

Too Old to Cry! (1975-76): a cruel orphanage run by a matron who can lie her way out of anything. In a break with the usual pattern, Nell, the protagonist, escapes from the orphanage in the early stages of the story. Many episodes pass before the matron catches up to Nell.

Slaves of the Candle (1975-76): Lydia Lagtree falls foul of Mrs Tallow, who is running a candle making slave racket. But she is also committing thefts that she often has Lydia carrying the can for. Mrs Tallow believes the price that keeps rising on Lydia’s head will keep her under control, but Lydia remains determined to escape and stop the racket. As the story progresses, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Mrs Tallow is planning something even bigger, and it involves the Tower of London. Hmm, could there be treason here?

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): it is more individual slavery than group slavery in this story about the horrors of transportation in the 19th century. But Betsy Tanner is arriving with a group of convicts and they will be slaves all but in name, and later encounters a group of slaves in an opal mine.

Land of No Tears (1977-78): The slave story set in dystopia, which makes a nice change from the more common settings of factories, schools etc. Lame Cassy Shaw is transported to a future world where perfection is everything. People who are not perfect are classed as Gamma and regarded as inferior. In the hive (children’s home) where Cassy ends up, the Gamma girls are slaves who do the cleaning, wear shabby clothes, and eat nothing but scraps left by the perfect Alpha girls. The Alphas bully them and live in luxurious rooms while the Gammas share a cold, grim dormitory. This story is regarded as one of Jinty’s classics, so while Merry was the longest slave story in Jinty, this one has to be the best.

The Human Zoo (1978): not strictly a slave story but contains some elements of it. Sisters Jenny and Shona Owens and some other people are kidnapped by aliens and taken to their planet. The aliens think humans are animals and treat them as beasts of burden.

Children of Edenford (1979): hints of the slave story can be seen in this story too, though it is not a slave story as such. Bamboo Curtain is one example that brainwashing techniques are sometimes used in the slave story, but this one takes it to frightening levels that threaten the whole world. Insane headmistress Purity Goodfellow is obsessed with perfection. To this end she turns her pupils into glazed-eyed docile zombies by feeding them drugged food. But she isn’t stopping there – soon it is the whole district and eventually it is revealed she has her eyes on the whole world.

Now we turn to the individual slavery story. This centres on one individual who is enslaved by legal slavery or exploitation of some sort or, more often, by criminals and other nasty types. In the case of the latter, the girl often has amnesia, lost her voice or has some other disability that has made it easier for the villain to enslave her. Overcoming her disability or regaining her voice/memory is the only way to escape. At other times straight out blackmail is used, though blackmail themes did not seem to occur much in Jinty. And finally, there are villains who use hypnotism or other brainwashing techniques to enslave the girl.

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Notable Jinty stories with this theme were:

Tricia’s Tragedy (1975): Tricia Hunt becomes a slave to her cousin Diana Lloyd because she blames herself for an accident that left Diana blind. But Mr Hunt thinks something is fishy, especially when it becomes apparent that the Lloyds are trying to stop Tricia winning a vital swimming trophy.

Miss No-Name (1976): Lori Mills loses her memory and becomes ensnared by Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella, who abuse her and force her into crime. For good measure, Ma Crabb cuts off Lori’s hair so nobody recognises her as the missing girl in the papers.

The Slave of Form 3B (1976): bully Stacey discovers she can hynotise new girl Tania. She uses it to force Tania into theft, sabotage, cheating, bad conduct and eventually an accident that nearly kills Tania.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): Betsy Tanner and her father are enslaved by convict transportation.

Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud (1976-77): Lady Daisy de Vere is mistaken for a servant, Maud, and ends up in a cruel household where even the other servants mistreat her.

Made-up Mandy (1976-77): Mandy Mason is not a slave per se, but the employer at the beauty salon where Mandy works as a caretaker does not treat her well.

Curtain of Silence (1977): Yvonne Berridge is kidnapped in an Iron Curtain country and forced to pose as their cycling star. Yvonne has lost her voice, which makes it hard for her to get help.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell joins her aunt’s theatre boat in the hope of drama training and stardom. But she finds herself being used as an unpaid servant. This story has some overlap with the Cinderella theme.

Slave of the Swan (1978): Again an amnesiac girl, Katrina Vale, is taken advantage of, this time by a ballet mistress who wants revenge on her mother rather than simply exploiting the girl.

As the 1970s wore on, slave stories (and the accompanying lynchpin, the Cinderella story) faded from Tammy. The same happened with Jinty. This was particularly the case with the group slave story. Counterrevolution and changes in editorship had set in against the revolution of cruelty and tortured heroines that Tammy pioneered and the early Jinty followed. Yet the slave story remained popular at DCT, and it played over and over in Bunty, Mandy and Judy long after it faded at IPC.

 

Merry at Misery House (1974-1975)

Sample images

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Publication: 11 May 1975 to 30 August 1975

Episodes: 62
Artist: Unknown artist ‘Merry’
Writer: Terence (Terry) Magee

Tammy may have been the first in a new breed of girls’ comics that revelled in dark stories that tortured their heroines. But from the first, Jinty proved she could torture hers just as cruelly. And not even Tammy tortured a heroine as long as Merry Summers here. Merry at Misery House was Jinty’s longest running serial – starting in the very first issue and running for over 60 episodes! Despite this, Merry never appeared in the Jinty annuals, which seems strange.

Merry was borne from one of the most popular formulas in girls’ comics – the slave story. The slave story was so popular that if readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story. The slave story was frequent in the IPC titles in the 1960s and 1970s but had faded by the 1980s. However, it carried on in the DCT titles.

In a slave story, a group of girls are being used as slaves or held prisoner in an establishment with harsh and cruel conditions. It may be a factory, a workhouse, a school, an underground racket, a quarry, an island, or other settings. The protagonist is the one who rebels against the conditions and out for escape, and so is in for the harshest treatment from the gaolers. Often there is a “toady” character, a prisoner who curries favour with the gaolers and helps to administer the cruelty on her fellow inmates. Sometimes the toady has a change of heart, which is crucial for the resolution of the story, and sometimes not. Frequently, though not always, there is a mystery tied in as well, such as what are the gaolers up to in the secret room or who is the mystery person that keeps popping up to help the girls? Yes, sometimes there is a mystery helper, such as Emma in Tammy’s most infamous slave story, “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’”. Whenever there is a mystery of any sort in the slave story, unravelling it is the key to freedom for the prisoners.

Jinty seemed to have fewer slave stories than Tammy. But then she hardly needed to when she had a resident slave story in the form of Merry.

In the year 1920, Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft (circumstances of which are never explained – we are not even told what Merry was accused of stealing) and sentenced to two years in a reformatory. The reformatory is called Sombre Manor, but it is better known as Misery House for its harshness and sadistic staff. Everything about Misery House is designed to break and torture the spirits of its inmates, right down to intimidating signs everywhere with messages such as “Behave Or Be Sorry”, “No Smiling” and “Nothing Is So Bad It Can’t Get Worse”. The Warden, Miss Ball the guard, and Adolfa, the resident toady of the story, reserve their worst treatment for Merry because she refuses to let the cruelties of Misery House break her spirit, change her chirpy ways, or stop her smiling – not to mention her plans to escape and expose the cruelties of Misery House. The cruelties include being shackled in drip dungeons, pillories, enforced ostracising from other inmates, working a sick girl to the point of death, being farmed out as slave labour, beatings, lousy food, bedding removed in freezing conditions, and a zoo-like enclosure where prisoners are abandoned in wretched conditions to run savage and ragged.

One of the greatest strengths of the story is that the Warden and Miss Ball must rate as two of the most brilliantly-conceived villains ever in girls’ comics. Sure, they are cruel, heartless, hypocritical, corrupt and brutal – yet at the same time they are subtle caricatures, a parody of prison brutality, which stops their cruelty from going to utter excess. They are not set out as implicitly evil sadists who are just there to torture and exploit their victims, though of course that is what they do all the time.

Of course, there are friends to help Merry along. The most notable of them is Carla Flax, Merry’s best friend. Carla is on her second sentence at Misery House. We have to wonder why she has ever been in a reformatory at all because she does not come across as the delinquent type. Others include girls who have been inspired by Merry’s courageous cheerfulness. Some of them, such as Violet, have been won over from causing Merry trouble to becoming friends with her. The reader of course, is inspired too, and must take great heart from the girl who refuses to stop being merry despite everything that is thrown at her.

About half way through the story, we get an exciting change of pace when Merry finally escapes from Misery House. Her motive for escaping is to expose the cruelty of Misery House – nothing about proving her innocence, which is the usual case with serials about with wrongly convicted persons. But fate turns against Merry; she has an accident and gets amnesia, and then gets blackmailed by a criminal. During her time on the run she is almost adopted by a rich couple, but in the end she is returned to Misery House.

Back to square one then? Not quite – it is here that the mystery element creeps in, with signs that the Warden and Miss Ball are up to something. For example, the Warden and Miss Ball send the girls out to work for a cruel farmer and make a profit. This is illegal, but there’s worse. They try to blackmail the farmer’s stepson into signing over the farm to him by threatening to have him arrested on trumped up charges. They are foiled in the end but take off smartly with the girls before any authorities are onto them.

Eventually the girls discover that the Warden and Miss Ball have been illegally selling off the good food supplies that they should have been receiving and foisting substandard food onto them. This incites them into rebellion and they barricade themselves in. The Warden responds with a plot to kill Merry. When Adolfa finds out, she becomes one toady with a change of heart. She saves Merry – and takes a horrible crack on the head from Miss Ball for doing so – and joins the rebels. The Warden tries to smoke them out, but the fire rages out of control and the girls cannot escape because the gates are locked.

But wouldn’t you know it – here come the police in the nick of time. They’ve had their eye on Misery House for a while and arrest the Warden and Miss Ball. They also tell Merry that her name has been cleared (no details on how she has been cleared, just as there were no details on just how she came to be wrongly convicted), and her parents are here to collect her. As for Misery House, it is finished in more ways than one – the fire has destroyed it.

Merry is still worried about what will happen to her friends. The parents think their sentences will be remitted. Merry’s friends tell her they will never forget the example she showed them in how to handle oppression.

Addendum: included 23 May 2014

The Terry Magee story “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy 23/10/71-8/1/72) clearly foreshadows Merry. It even has the same unknown artist, though of course it is a much earlier example of his/her artwork.

Spartan School is a special school in Switzerland run by Miss Bramble. The school is designed to instil discipline and compliance into problem pupils. Unfortunately, Miss Bramble’s ideas of discipline go too far and turn into torture and abuse. They include beatings, feeding the pupils poor food, and locking them in dungeons, the pillory, and even iron masks. It is no wonder that the pupils either end up as scared, broken down zombies or joining in the cruelty. Like the Warden, Miss Bramble and her crony, Siddons the prefect, go as far as attempted murder when the girls they especially want to break are making a bid for freedom. But unlike Adolfa, Siddons does not have a change of heart. On the contrary, she is far more evil than Adolfa – in fact, she is the one who suggests the murder while Adolfa draws the line at Merry’s.

Judy Jenkins, the heroine of this story, could well be the predecessor of Merry. She likes to play jokes to liven things up a bit. Unfortunately she keeps doing it in class, which gets her into the trouble that sends her to Spartan School. But like Merry, Judy refuses to be broken and her courageous defiance singles her out for the worst treatment.

And as with Misery House, Spartan School is physically destroyed (by an avalanche) as well as being shut down by the authorities.

Spartan School was Magee’s first serial, and Merry certainly shows the advances he had made in his storytelling and characterisation since then. For example, while the villains in Spartan School are just plain cruel and nasty in the name of discipline, the villains in Merry show subtle nuances; Miss Ball, for example, displays a sardonic, cruel sense of humour.  There are Orwellian touches too, as shown in the omniscent signs plastered all over Misery House. There is also a fascist look about the Warden, who is is always clad in a dark uniform and glasses. The Warden never takes off those dark glasses, so we never see her full face. This has a dehumanising effect on her that makes her all the more frightening – except to Merry, it seems.

Sample images

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Addendum 2: 26 March 2018

Ten years after finishing Merry, Terry Magee was writing “The Nightmare” for Battle. The influence of “Merry at Misery House” can be seen in this long-running saga (January 19th 1985 to October 11th 1986). Ian Wilson is kidnapped by SS Hauptmann Grappner and imprisoned in a Hitler Youth camp (at least it’s not a concentration camp). Like Merry, Ian refuses to give in and resolves to escape. He does, and it turns into a far more fugitive story than Merry. But instead of fighting back with smiles and jokes as Merry does, Ian uses the survival and combat skills he has learned. Along the way Hitler himself joins the campaign against Ian after the indignity Ian inflicts on him (below). Congratulations, Ian! Not many protagonists in British comics can say they have Adolf Hitler for a personal enemy. Art by Jesus Redondo (the original artist of the strip was Mario Capaldi).

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