Tag Archives: Bewitching of Alison Allbright

Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

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Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75)

Sample images

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Jackie’s Two Lives, Jinty 1975
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Jackie’s Two Lives, Jinty 1975
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Jackie’s Two Lives, Jinty 1975

 

 

 

 

Publication: 7/9/74-8/2/75

Artist: Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Alan Davidson

Note: writer Alan Davidson used a similar plot for his book The Bewitching of Alison Allbright

Synopsis

Jackie Lester is discontented and fed up at missing out because her family is poor. She can’t afford school trips and outings and does not invite anyone over because she is too ashamed to let them see her shabby house. As a result, her classmates get the impression she is standoffish and don’t invite her over. This does not do much for her popularity at school – or her self-confidence. And Jackie cannot afford a pony like most of the other girls although she is good with horses. This leads to constant rows with her family; the parents are distressed and say they do their best while Jackie’s sister Wendy tries to reason with her, to no avail.

One day, another row with her family has Jackie running off, and she nearly gets run over. It is the rich Mrs Mandell, who has just moved into the district. Mrs Mandell looks like she has seen a ghost when she sees Jackie and orders her chauffeur, Dowling, to track Jackie and then find out all he can about her. Dowling soon gives a full report on Jackie’s discontent.

Under pretext of making amends for the near-accident, Mrs Mandell offers to take Jackie on a school outing. Jackie is outraged when her parents decline the offer as they do not approve of gifts from strangers. She has no idea how right her parents are; Mrs Mandell hopes that the offer will be the lure to get to work on her.

And Mrs Mandell does get to work on Jackie. Being a rich lady, Mrs Mandell can offer Jackie the riches she wishes for. It starts with weekends at Mrs Mandell’s, with Jackie being groomed to be a lady. Her family comment on what a snob she is turning into because of this, which widens the rift between them. Then Mrs Mandell gives Jackie a secret name – Isabella, and during her special lessons, Jackie has to wear a wig to adopt the persona of Isabella. Jackie finds it strange, but soon likes it because it gives her confidence she never felt before. She is like an ugly duckling turning into a swan. And even better, there are riding lessons.

There seems to be a dark, insidious side to becoming Isabella. It starts when Jackie finds that Mrs Mandell starts entering her in gymkhanas under the name of Isabella Mandell – and starts telling everyone that she is her daughter! Now Jackie is living a lie as Mrs Mandell’s daughter, but she seems to be caught in a web of deceit she can’t get out of. Besides, it still gives her everything she could wish for, including trips to Paris.

Jackie is becoming confused about her own identity – is she Jackie or Isabella? Her confusion grows when Mrs Mandell starts insisting that Jackie call her Mummy. Mrs Mandell even blackmails Jackie with it – accept being her daughter without question or lose everything Mrs Mandell has given her. It looks more and more like Mrs Mandell is trying to lure Jackie away from her family and turn her into her own daughter.

Mrs Mandell’s hold over Jackie is causing more and more upsets in the Lester household. Jackie neglects Mum’s birthday and even goes off with Mrs Mandell instead of going on the birthday outing, which ruins the occasion. But the birthday is well and truly ruined when Mum sees through Jackie’s disguise at the restaurant, so Jackie has them all thrown out of the restaurant, just to silence her. The family are upset that Jackie is not appreciating the small treats they are contriving to give her to assuage her discontent. Jackie grows even more dissatisfied with her home and she calls her family “common”. Wendy tells Jackie that Mrs Mandell is breaking up the family. It reaches the point where Jackie actually slaps Wendy!

But there is a dark side to being Mrs Mandell’s daughter. Mrs Mandell has been training Jackie for gymkhanas, but when Jackie does not do well at her first event, Mrs Mandell goes completely fanatical and starts training Jackie to the point of exhaustion and beyond her limits. And it gets more frightening when Jackie discovers a portrait of Isabella. It seems there had been a real Isabella Mandell. But the riches still tempt Jackie to stay. And Jackie still wants to be Isabella, but Mrs Mandell says that in order to do so, she must turn her back on her family altogether and become Isabella on a full-time basis. Eventually Jackie does so, by faking her death.

The classmates’ mourning of Jackie has an upside – they finally see Jackie’s home, and once they do, they realise the real reason for Jackie’s seemingly standoffish conduct and regret their misjudgement.

Meanwhile, Mrs Mandell’s demands on Jackie get even worse. She becomes obsessed with Jackie winning the Princedale Trophy. This is an extremely tough event, and the training becomes even more demanding, gruelling, and merciless. Jackie grows even more terrified because she knows she does not have what it takes to win the trophy. It culminates in a nightmare that seems to be a premonition of what will happen at the Princedale event.

But Wendy suspects that Jackie is not dead and starts investigating Mrs Mandell’s past. She discovers that the daughter Isabella is dead – so the current Isabella cannot be her and therefore must be Jackie in disguise, just as she suspected. Wendy learns that Isabella was driven to her death by her mother’s obsession with her winning the Princedale Trophy. She was so terrified at the thought of failing her mother that she just rode off blindly and was killed in a road accident. Mrs Mandell was blamed and forced out of her old district. Wendy now sees how Mrs Mandell contrived to recreate Isabella in Jackie because Jackie resembled Isabella (the only difference being their hairstyles, hence the wig Jackie has to wear as Isabella) and have her make another bid at the trophy. She realises that Jackie is in terrible danger, from the same obsession that killed Isabella. She tries to talk sense into Jackie, but Jackie has her removed. Wendy finds help and they go after Jackie.

Mrs Mandell takes Jackie to the real Princedale course for a dry run. But Mrs Mandell’s demands finally get too much and Jackie “does an Isabella” – run off wildly on the horse. Wendy and help arrive in time to prevent Jackie from getting mangled by a car. But she does get knocked out, fulfilling the premonition in the dream. Mrs Mandell is horrified at the near-replay of Isabella’s death and belatedly opens her eyes to what she has done.

Mrs Mandell ends up in a nursing home. The doctors say she will recover one day. Jackie is happily reunited with her family. She now feels gratitude in her family life instead of discontent, has no shame in having friends over, and feels lucky compared to Isabella.

 

Thoughts

“Jackie’s Two Lives” was Ana Rodriguez’ second story for Jinty, starting straight after “Make-Believe Mandy”, the Rodriguez story in the very first Jinty lineup. After Jackie, Rodriguez would start straight on her third Jinty story, “Tricia’s Tragedy”. Another example of how Jinty liked to keep her artists in constant business.

Snobbery is something normally ascribed to spoiled rich girls in serials, but here Jinty turns the snob theme on its head. She shows us that snobbery can arise in the lower classes too, with a poor girl who is too ashamed to let her home be seen by her classmates because she has snobby attitudes that become even more manifest as riches come into her life and her head gets turned by the manipulations of Mrs Mandell. Her sister Wendy takes a more sensible attitude. Presumably Wendy has no problem with inviting mates over, but Jackie has clearly not learned from her example. The double life Jackie leads inflames her snobbery even more, even to the point where she hurts her family deeply. But in the end, Jackie, although still in a poor family, has changed her whole attitude towards it altogether and is much happier. She sees what she does have – a house full of love – which the unfortunate Isabella did not, for all her wealth, and Jackie is grateful for it. And once she is not ashamed to invite friends over, she finds she was making a big fuss over nothing. They don’t mind at all.

We know that Jackie is set for a sharp lesson at the beginning of the story with her disgruntled attitude. The twist is that it came through the thing Jackie wanted – riches. But it comes as little surprise to the readers. There have been so many stories on people finding that riches are not everything or bring happiness they expected, and Jackie finds this the hard way as she discovers what it means to be a poor little rich girl. She has everything she wants and then some as she becomes the new Isabella Mandell. Yet she does not have real happiness or freedom because she is sinking deeper and deeper into a web of lies and deceit while growing all the more terrified of Mrs Mandell and her relentless demands that Jackie knows she cannot meet. We can imagine it must have been the same for the real Isabella – a rich girl with everything but is miserable because she has an over-demanding mother. And for Isabella there was no escape while Jackie has a family she could go back to anytime. Yet Jackie is not pulling herself away despite all the warning signals. The temptation of riches keeps pulling her back and her mind is becoming increasingly confused in a form of brainwashing. She does not know whether she is Jackie or Isabella and then really begins to think she is Isabella who must please her mother, even though she is driving her far too hard in a way that is increasingly ruthless and terrifying. And Mrs Mandell herself is a very crafty and skilful manipulator in the tactics she uses to ensnare Jackie and deliberately drive wedges between Jackie and her family. It is all part of her plan to lure Jackie away altogether and make Jackie her own. It takes the shock of the accident to clear Jackie’s mind and restore not only her sense of identity but her sense as well.

From the moment Mrs Mandell orders her chauffeur to monitor Jackie, we know it bodes ill for Jackie. We also see Mrs Mandell in the role of the wicked witch who tries to lure a child away with treats and take advantage of her poor family situation. The thing is, we don’t yet know if Mrs Mandell is truly wicked and out to kidnap a child for some sinister purpose or if she is need of a psychiatrist. But as we begin to see it is all tied up around the mystery of Isabella, we are all eager to follow the clues and see if we can solve the mystery.

The ending may be a bit slick, with Mrs Mandell suddenly waking up after her one-tracked obsession with Isabella winning the trophy. On the other hand, the shock of seeing it happening all over again may have done what the first round did not. And there is some pity for Mrs Mandell when she ends up in the nursing home at the end and Jackie still feels Isabella haunts the place somehow (though she never actually lived there). It is understandable that Mrs Mandell was a grieving mother who wanted her daughter to live again. And she does redeem herself somewhat at the end when she finally realises what she has done. But it took a near-second time for her to do it. She did not learn from her mistake the first time.

We can see plenty of situations lessons that are all too much like real life in here. Tragedies resulting from obsessed parents driving their children too hard and making demands that are way too high. Grieving parents who want their children back in one form or another. Poor people wanting riches, but if they get them, do they get them the right way and does it really serve their best interests? And if you are poor, one thing you can do about it is your attitude towards it. Jackie should be a case story for The Secret, which says to look for the things you do have, not the things you don’t have. Every day look at the things to be grateful for, not brood on what you don’t have. Your situation will be so much better and you will be much happier. And finally, the old adage: be careful what you wish for – you might just get it.