Tag Archives: bullying

The Black and White World of Shirley Grey [1981]

Sample Images

shirley 1shirley 2shirley 3

Published: Tammy 7 February 1981 to 23 May 1981

Episodes: 16

Artist: Diane Gabbot

Writer: Jake Adams?

Translations/reprints: Tammy annual 1986

Plot

Shirley Grey’s best friend, Trisha Morris, has an accident and ends up in a coma because she defied orders and warnings in practising her diving at a dangerous cove, which tempted fate once too often. Although she was acting on Trisha’s instructions, Shirley blames herself because she had covered up about Trisha’s whereabouts to Mrs Morris. Mrs Morris also blames Shirley for the same reason (she does not know Shirley was only obeying Trisha) and lashes out at her whenever their paths cross.

In the wake of the accident Shirley swears never to lie again, but is taking it the extreme of not telling even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. So what happens? A whole raft of circumstances where this gets Shirley gets into ever-increasing trouble as either a tattletale or a very rude girl. They are summarised as follows:

  1. Shirley twice insults the boss’s wife by giving a too-honest opinion on her clothes (hideous and don’t fit her properly because she’s too fat). As a result, Shirley’s father loses his promotion and his job is on the line, and Shirley’s parents are up in arms against her. Mum is having hysterics because they needed money from the promotion to buy a place away from the estate, which has been terrible ever since a gang of troublemakers moved in.
  2. Shirley begs a nurse to go against the Morris parents’ instructions (no visitors for Trisha except immediate family) and let her see Trisha. When Shirley is caught and the matron demands to know if the nurse let Shirley in, she says the nurse did. The nurse throws Shirley out, raging at how Shirley has repaid her – by getting her into trouble.
  3. Shirley falls foul of the school bully Evie Moore when she tells on Evie for stealing from a teacher because she can’t lie. Evie ruins Shirley’s blazer and demands menaces money of £1 a day, which Shirley can’t possibly pay, of course. When Shirley fails on her first payment Evie and her gang threaten to do something terrible to her. Shirley’s friends find their courage and rise up against the bullies, but Evie gets hurt. When the teacher asks Shirley who did it, Shirley says who it was without explaining why. Furious at how Shirley got them into trouble when they were trying to help her, the girls have everyone at school send her to Coventry. Even the teachers feel the effects of this.
  4. Evie’s final revenge against Shirley is to frame her for shoplifting. Shirley is convicted and the court is awaiting a social worker’s report before passing sentence.

All the while everyone is trying to tell Shirley she is being ridiculous, both in the way she is blaming herself and in thinking she can go through life without telling a lie because everyone has to one way or other. “You’ve got to pack it in,” says Shirley’s friend Hannah. “You can’t go through life without telling a lie – it’s not possible!” Even Evie tells Shirley she is mad about never lying, and around the district Shirley is soon derogatorily dubbed the girl who never tells lies. But Shirley says she can’t help not lying and won’t stop blaming herself. As things get progressively worse, Shirley comes to think it is all a punishment for Trisha’s accident. She fails to realise the trouble all stems from her blaming herself.

The final straw comes when Shirley overhears Mum having yet more hysterics that she can’t take any more of this and is going to have a nervous breakdown. Mum has been having nothing but these hysterics ever since Dad has lost his promotion. But when the false shoplifting charge came up Mum has been extremely selfish about it. Although she and Dad believe Shirley innocent, neither of them show her any sympathy, support or concern about it and treat her harshly. All Mum can think of is the shame of it all, that she’ll be struck on this dreadful estate, what everyone will think and how she won’t be able to hold her head up, etc, etc.

At any rate, Mum’s hysterics have Shirley decide that the only answer is to run away, which she does blindly. Shirley’s disappearance has the parents finally showing concern about her and they call the police.

Shirley finds herself back at the cove where it all started and the very cliff edge where the accident occurred. This gets very dangerous for Shirley when she falls asleep there and then the parents and police shine a blinding light in her eyes. She falls off the cliff, nearly drowns in the sea below, and takes a head injury that fractures her skull. She is rushed to hospital, and when Mum hears that it was her hysterics that made Shirley run off, she realises how selfish she has been.

Shirley finds herself in the next bed to Trisha, and still blaming herself for Trisha’s accident. The medical staff suggest Shirley talk to Trisha about their times together in the hope this will bring Trisha out of the coma. But Mrs Morris, who still blames Shirley for the accident, won’t allow Shirley near Trisha. However the same nurse from before helps Shirley to talk to Trisha secretly, and forgives what happened last time. After two weeks this brings Trisha out of the coma. Shirley finally stops blaming herself and the grateful Mrs. Morris apologises for her conduct. Shirley discontinues her vow never to tell even a white lie because she now understands “that things aren’t all black-and-white”.

But there is still the little matter of the problems Shirley created for herself with that guilt complex, and there is now a wrongful conviction hanging over her head as well. What about those?

Shirley finds most of these problems are now sorting themselves out, albeit in a somewhat contrived manner. Shirley’s remarks shocked the boss’s wife into slimming and a complete makeover. She is so grateful to Shirley that Dad gets his promotion after all. There is new hope that Shirley will be cleared of the shoplifting once the social worker get the courts to reconsider Shirley’s side of things because she was going to such extremes about not lying. What Shirley started about standing up to Evie has continued, despite her “dropping [the girls] in it”. As a result, Evie has lost her power as a bully and is no longer her “cocky, obnoxious self”. However, the girls have not forgiven Shirley. Trisha and the more forgiving Hannah try to persuade them, but they remain unmoved until they see Shirley covering up for them and telling the teacher the Coventry thing was just a misunderstanding that’s been sorted out. They go along with it and are reconciled with Shirley.

Thoughts

Essentially, Shirley has the same problem as Wanda White in Jinty’s Wanda Whiter Than White—she is taking truth-telling to extremes that causes problems both for her and for everyone around her, and it all stems from a huge guilt complex. In the end, Shirley, like Wanda, realises things aren’t all black and white and uses a white lie to help redeem herself. Unlike Wanda though, Shirley knows she is hurting people with all this extreme truth telling and feels terrible about it. But to her mind she can’t help it and she’s got to tell the truth at all times.

Again unlike Wanda, Shirley is a totally sympathetic character. She is tortured by guilt, keeps getting herself and others into constant trouble over her extreme truth-telling, becomes a victim of vicious bullying, a frame-up that gets her wrongly convicted, and nearly gets herself killed.

Like so many protagonists in girls’ comics who are suffering from a massive guilt complex, Shirley is blaming herself over something that is utterly ridiculous. If anyone is to blame, it is Trisha herself. That’s what everyone tells her, but they’re not getting through. This girl needs serious counselling and psychiatric help. But despite initial concerns about how badly Shirley has reacted to the accident and some talk of getting a doctor involved to help sort Shirley out, her parents never do so. Instead they degenerate into the common theme of parents handling things badly in girls’ serials. This is because they’re thinking too much about how the effects of it all are having on themselves. They’re not thinking about Shirley at all until her disappearance shocks them out of their selfishness.

The story also makes a serious statement about bullying and harassment, and ineptness in handling it effectively. It’s not just the vicious bullies at school that Shirley falls foul of. There is also a gang of delinquent girls who have been causing nothing but trouble ever since they moved in and turned a once-great estate into a nightmare for everyone. For example, they set fire to a lady’s washing. But nobody seems to do anything about them and by they end of the story they go unpunished. That’s pretty much how Evie Moore went too with her bullying until Shirley’s extreme truth-telling got her reported for the very first time. However, unlike Evie, they don’t add much to the story. The only time they really do so is when they chase Shirley while she is running off because she shoved one of them over. But she is too fast for them – hurrah! For the most part though, they are just distracting. Perhaps their purpose in the plot is to explain why Mrs Grey is so desperate to get away from the estate and keeps having hysterics that she’s going to be stuck there once Dad loses his chance of promotion.

Evie gets some punishment in that she loses her power and her bullying days are over at that school. But it feels she got off too lightly considering what she’s done, particularly to Shirley. She is not even expelled for stealing from the teacher. The headmaster just gives her a final warning and will expel her next time. “He’s too soft,” says one girl. “He should’ve expelled her now!” We certainly agree, and we feel the story is making a comment about schools not cracking down on bullying hard enough.

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Dulcie Wears the Dunce’s Hat [1980]

Sample Images

Dulcie 1Dulcie 2Dulcie 3

Published: Tammy 23 August 1980 to 25 October 1980

Episodes: 11

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

In the first decade of the 20th century Dulcie (short for Dulcima) Dobbs, a country girl, has to transfer to a town school because of changes in the school system. Being a country girl makes Dulcie a target for prejudice and potential bullying from rich girl Annie Archer (her father’s cotton mill makes him a big cheese in town) and her gang. Once Annie realises Dulcie is so naïve and lacking in perception, and hearing that teacher Miss Brittle applies the dunce’s hat, she and her gang start pulling dirty tricks to sabotage Dulcie’s schoolwork and make her look the class dunce, just so they can get a great big kick out of seeing her wear the dunce’s hat. The whole class is in on it; after all, nobody could miss tricks like diverting the teacher’s attention so Annie can sneak up and mess up Dulcie’s answers on the blackboard. But nobody seems to have any conscience.

Dulcie is so naïve that she can’t pick up on what’s going on, not even when it’s staring at her right in the face. Whenever she does think someone might be causing trouble, she dismisses it because nobody can be that wicked, surely?

Miss Brittle’s application of the dunce’s hat is so harsh that it’s not confined to the classroom. Dulcie has to wear it all the way home and when walking from home to school, so the whole town sees her humiliation. She has to let her father see her wearing the hat but say nothing about it – just let him see for himself. Fortunately for Dulcie, something always seems to happen one way or other that prevents Dad from even seeing the dunce’s hat. Right up to the end of the story he remains thankfully unaware of her shame. Presumably Miss Brittle does not issue school reports to parents either.

The only thing that makes things bearable for Dulcie is finding the hat has all sorts of uses because of its cone shape. When Dulcie finds dogs chasing a rabbit, she saves the rabbit by blocking the dogs’ entrance to its burrow with the hat. When the vicar’s upset because the tip of his steeple got blown away by a storm and a church VIP is coming, Dulcie climbs the steeple and puts the hat there as an interim tip. The vicar is quite surprised to find his steeple suddenly looking miraculously undamaged, but never gets the chance to find out why. A sick boy wants to see a unicorn. Dulcie puts the dunce’s hat on Dad’s horse so it will look like a unicorn from a distance, which sets the boy on the road to recovery. These and other uses for the hat cause a curious love/hate relationship to develop between Dulcie and her hat.

All the same, Dulcie wants to get rid of her hat. But she has no chance while Annie’s campaign continues to interfere with her schoolwork and she seems to half-believe she really is stupid.

Then Dulcie meets a tramp called Gentleman George after saving his cat. George can’t believe Dulcie is stupid. After testing her out, he says her answers were correct, so she is not a dunce. So when Annie next sabotages Dulcie, she is finally forced to suspect that someone is causing trouble for her. And her first suspect is Annie Archer.

Unfortunately Annie realises Dulcie suspects her. To put her off the scent (which works), she suddenly comes over all friendly to Dulcie and invites her to her party. Also, Annie has another reason to invite Dulcie: to pull even more dirty tricks on Dulcie at the party, which includes tricking her into wearing her dunce hat at the party.

However, the dunce hat at the party eventually has Annie laughing on the other side of her face when the 101 uses for it come into effect again. This time it’s a fluke rather than quick thinking on Dulcie’s part, but it does Mr Archer such a good turn that he’s full of praises and gratitude for Dulcie.

This makes Annie so furious that she’s no longer content with getting kicks out of Dulcie in the dunce’s hat. Now she wants to destroy Dulcie completely. To this end she has her maid make a fake dunce’s hat and (unwisely?) tells her why: “I’ll have my own dunce’s hat and get Dulcie Dobbs into her deepest trouble yet!”

Then Miss Brittle announces that there will be an end-of-term test on all subjects the following day (which gives the girls only one night for revision!). Most unwisely, she leaves the test papers out overnight instead of keeping them locked away. Isn’t she at all worried about exam cheats?

As it turns out, not securing the test papers gives Miss Brittle a far bigger problem than exam cheats. Annie sneaks into the school and pours ink all over the papers. She is wearing the fake dunce hat while doing so and making sure the caretaker sees this. The idea, of course, is to frame Dulcie for ruining the papers and get her expelled.

Sure enough, Miss Brittle and the caretaker are waiting for Dulcie next morning and all set to expel her for ruining the papers. Protests of innocence are unavailing. Miss Brittle sends the girls to fetch Mr Dobbs from the market. In the most ironic remark of the story, Miss Brittle tells Dulcie that she is a dunce, will always be one, and be “useless – like that hat!” But it won’t be long before Miss Brittle will be eating those particular words.

All of a sudden the furnaces set the school on fire. Miss Brittle and the caretaker get trapped when part of the roof collapses and Miss Brittle yells at Dulcie to fetch water. But the roof fall has crushed the buckets, so Dulcie uses her hat instead. Still think the hat is useless, Miss Brittle?

Mr Dobbs, Gentleman George and others soon see the school’s on fire, and know Dulcie’s in there. The fire brigade will take time to arrive, so they rally around with bucket chains. Dulcie continues to do her bit with the hat, but it’s not enough. Then the end gets burned, so now she can’t fetch water anymore. Then more of the roof collapses and Miss Brittle and the caretaker need air. So Dulcie applies one final use for the hat – use it as a breathing tube for them. Then the fire destroys the hat altogether; it’s a real inferno now.

Fortunately the fire brigade has finally arrived. The firemen rescue the trapped people and Dad pulls Dulcie out. The girls that had helped Annie make Dulcie’s life such a misery with the hat now cheer her for the two lives she saved. But not Annie herself – she’s off to destroy the fake dunce hat and incriminating evidence against her. However, when Annie arrives home she finds her father with the hat and the maid. The maid must have informed him what she knows because he tells Annie: “I think I know it all now. You’ve done enough damage. That fire could have reached my mill!”

Okay, so maybe Mr Archer hasn’t got things quite right. But that’s how Miss Brittle gets put straight about everything. In hospital a more human Miss Brittle informs Dulcie of this, and that Annie has been sent to a private school. Miss Brittle says that when school resumes she has a feeling she will see a very different Dulcie Dobbs. We also get the feeling Dulcie will be seeing a very different Miss Brittle who won’t be using the dunce’s hat on any more pupils.

There is one last echo of the dunce’s hat when Dulcie is surprised to receive another pointed hat. But it’s a more savoury one this time – a pointed princess hat. Everyone wants Dulcie to be the town carnival princess in honour of her heroism.

Thoughts

DCT ran hundreds of serials about a girl secretly causing trouble for another, whether it’s out of jealousy, personal gain, selfishness, revenge, or just for kicks as Annie does. However, it was less common for IPC to use this formula. So this IPC story is unusual for being an exception to the rule.

Annie taking her spite to a whole new level to destroy Dulcie is not unusual for this type of formula. It’s often what takes the story to its climax and ultimate resolution. The troublemaker gets bored of the game, or gets scared she’ll be found out, or gets her nose put out of joint like Annie does, so that’s when she tries to get rid of her victim altogether. But it leads to her undoing, as is the case with Annie. This is a most effective way of catching Annie out. There was no chance of Dulcie doing so, and Annie was way too spiteful to become remorseful.

However, the story is even more unusual for a whole class to be in on the game. Usually – and more credibly – it’s just one sole troublemaker working secretly. It really is stretching credibility for a whole class to help Annie play those dirty tricks on Dulcie and nobody speak up about it or try to help Dulcie. Isn’t there one person in the whole class who is kind and won’t have any of it? We never see one at all, but you’d think there would be someone. Or do they all get in behind Annie because her father is so important in town?

The situation is not helped by Dulcie’s personality. Like Cherry Campbell in “No Cheers for Cherry”, Dulcie is just too naïve and good-natured to realise what’s going on, not even when it stares at her right in the face. It’s so infuriating. But as with Cherry, Dulcie is sharp in other ways, which helps her to survive. Unlike Cherry though, Dulcie does realise that it is doing so. Dulcie’s true intelligence is best seen in the ways she can think fast in finding ways to put her hat to good use and helping others. This helps to make her situation more bearable and make the hat as much a friend as a badge of shame that she wants to be rid of. The test Gentleman George gives Dulcie also indicates she would be top of the class if not for Annie and her dirty tricks.

There are a lot of contrivances in this story, such as Mr Dobbs remaining totally in the dark about the hat because something always happens to prevent him from seeing it. Some of the 101 uses for the dunce hat come across as a bit silly, such as Gentleman George using it as a megaphone. And as already stated, it is hard to believe a whole class would play those dirty tricks on Dulcie without anyone going against it. Yet we still follow the story for the same reason we always follow this type of “troublemaker” story – we want to know how the troublemaker will be caught out.

Perhaps we should spare a moment for the dunce’s hat itself. Miss Brittle deemed it useless, fit only to shame a slow pupil into doing better. Nowadays we regard the dunce’s hat as a product of less enlightened times that is thankfully no more. So it is a really delightful twist that the dunce hat turns out to have so many uses in the story that are far more savoury than what it was invented for. If the dunce hat could speak about that, what would it say to Miss Brittle who called it useless – “don’t underestimate me!”, perhaps? All the same, we still say “good riddance” when the dunce’s hat gets destroyed at the end of the story. Dulcie’s dunce hat may have had its uses, but it is still a hated object.

 

 

Belinda Bookworm [1981]

Sample images

Belinda Bookworm 1Belinda Bookworm 2Belinda Bookworm 3

Published: Tammy 17 January 1981 to 18 April 1981

Episodes: 14

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Tina 1981-82 as “Belinda boekenwurm”

Plot

Belinda Binder has had a very bookish upbringing, by parents who think books and studying are everything and scorn non-bookish things – like sport. Even their jobs are bookish: accountant (Dad) and town hall clerk (Mum). Belinda has excelled at studying and teachers praise her for her academic work. But for some reason Belinda is finding the life of a swot and bookworm increasingly unsatisfying.

Unfortunately, in more modern parlance Belinda is a nerd, and this makes her a target for bullying. Her particular enemies are Janet Jones and Dawn Davis, who are the complete opposite of her. Sport is all they bother with at school and they don’t care about classwork at all. They are the school sports champions and have remained unbeaten. So while the form teacher is full of praises about Belinda’s work, which she contrasts with Janet and Dawn’s sloppy work that they rush so they can go out and train, the PE teacher Miss Jagger praises Janet and Dawn while looking down on Belinda. Belinda does not shine at sport, is always left out of it, and her classmates scorn her for it. Even Miss Jagger does: “Really, Belinda Binder – always sprawling all over the place!” she sneers as one of the bullies trips her up.

At this point the English teacher Miss Milton asks Miss Jagger if Belinda can be spared PE in order to help set up the new school library. While doing so, Belinda surprises herself in doing a perfect forward roll in order to avoid a nasty fall off a ladder. Following this, she begins to wonder if she really is as hopeless at sport as she thinks and maybe she will really show the PE class something next time.

So Belinda is shattered when Miss Milton tells her she is being withdrawn from PE at school because she and Miss Jagger have taken the view it is just a waste of time for her. Instead, Belinda will use those periods to assist in the library. Just when Belinda had decided she wasn’t going to be a bookworm anymore and wanted to be a sports champion instead.

Undaunted, Belinda starts using her time in the library to do secret sports training and copying the sports activities she sees out the window. Fortunately for her the new library overlooks the school sports facilities, so she can see all the PE classes that go on there. She sets up stacks up books as hurdles, uses the library desk for vaulting, the shelves to practise gymnastics, the “silence please” board to practise swimming strokes on, and so forth. She even acquires a false book that can be used to smuggle in sports gear.

At home, Belinda rigs up a dummy of herself with her dad’s reading lamp so she can sneak out and train in the streets. She has to do this as Janet and Dawn regularly pass by her window while doing their training and observe her studying.

Belinda seems to be making progress, but has no real yardsticks or overseer to gauge by how much. However, one night something happens that suggests that Belinda may be a more serious rival to Janet and Dawn than she thinks. She found her father left behind a couple of pages of a vital report and needs to be intercepted at the train station fast. As no taxis are available the only option is to run – in pouring rain – so this is the first full test of Belinda’s training. As she sets off, she does not realise she is being tested even more. Janet and Dawn, who have become suspicious of Belinda’s secret training, see her and run to catch up and verify who she is. Belinda does not realise they are following her, but she keeps ahead of them and they fail to catch up. After delivering the papers Belinda finally discovers this, while they say the mystery girl was not a bad runner and therefore couldn’t possibly have been the bookworm.

On another occasion, Belinda has been secretly practising netball throws. Afterwards Janet and Dawn grab Belinda’s false book and start throwing it around. They are astonished when Belinda manages to catch it. Another hint that Belinda is making serious progress.

But of course close calls and slip-ups are inevitable. Eventually Dawn and Janet get so suspicious that they plant themselves in the library (joining the library, ducking out of sports periods) in order to keep an eye on Belinda. So now Belinda can no longer secretly train there.

Then comes sports day. Belinda steals some time to secretly train in the library now that Janet and Dawn are out of the way. However, it is at this time that Belinda gets caught right out. Miss Milton had brought the Binder parents to the library to show them how well their daughter is working there – and they get a horrible shock to see what Belinda has been really using the library for! They take a very dim view of it all, and are not at all impressed at Belinda demonstrating how she has been progressing with sports training using her improvised sports equipment. In their view, Belinda is not an athlete and should stay with books, the way she has been raised.

Belinda goes into outright rebellion at this and decides to prove that she is not a mere bookworm anymore. She breaks away from her angry parents and teacher, runs to the sports field, and demands to enter every event. Miss Jagger is astonished, but allows it. Belinda’s parents are mortified; they think Belinda is about to make a fool of herself in front of everyone. They can do nothing but watch, ironically accepting the invite to sports day they had scorned, but not are not supporting Belinda at all. The whole school expects one big laugh out of the bookworm entering sports day.

However, Belinda’s unorthodox self-training begins to pay off. The pupils are astonished to see the bookworm do better than they expected at the hurdles:

“Hey, the bookworm’s not bad!”

“Not bad at all! She’s only just behind the leaders!”

Belinda comes fourth at the hurdling. She is placed third in gymnastics, and is beginning to earn respect from Miss Jagger. However, the Binder parents remain unmoved.

Ironically, Janet and Dawn are now so worried at Belinda proving more serious competition than expected that they begin to resort to dirty tricks and cheating to stop her rather than their skills and greater experience. At swimming, Janet flashes a mirror in Belinda’s eyes to stop her seeing the turn and enable Dawn to win. However, something makes the reflection flash back into Janet’s eyes, enabling Belinda to see the turn and finish second. Later, Belinda realises it was her mum cleaning her glasses that flashed the light back at Janet.

Finally, there is the 800-metre race, and Belinda is running against Janet. Dawn tries to nobble Belinda by dropping her book under her feet, but is caught red-handed by Miss Milton and the Binder parents. Seeing the dirty trick Dawn tried to play on Belinda, the Binder parents are finally won over and start cheering Belinda on. Encouraged by this, Belinda beats Janet – the first ever to do so – and comes first in the race. Miss Jagger is well and truly astonished at this.

The Binder parents tell Belinda she has taught them a whole new respect for sport and they now see that sports and studies complement each other. Everyone cheers Belinda as she receives her trophy – except for the seething Janet and Dawn.

Thoughts

I have often wondered if this story was the Tammy version of Jinty’s “Tears of a Clown”, which is one reason why I have posted the entry. There are some similarities between Belinda Bookworm and Kathy Clowne: they both wear glasses; they are underrated and friendless at school, which makes them the targets of bullying; they turn to sports training to gain confidence and win respect; they both have indifferent parents and teachers who don’t help them at all until near the end of the story; and they both hope entering school sports day events will get them the respect they want. Bookworm started in Tammy only two months after Clown ended, and Jinty and Tammy shared some writers. So it is possible that Clown was an inspiration for Bookworm.

Whether it was or not, there are huge differences between Bookworm and Clown that make it worthwhile to compare the two stories. While both Belinda and Kathy embark on their respective sports training in order to beat the bullies, Belinda does hers in secret while Kathy keeps striving to prove her talent, but the chief bully (or fate) keeps getting in the way. Belinda is also a more proactive heroine than Kathy, in that her secret sports training is a form of revenge against the bullies a la Revenge of the Nerds. It’s also a rebellion against her bookish upbringing and being labelled a bookworm. There is also an ironic edge to Belinda’s rebellion in that she is using the very thing she has turned her back on – books and libraries. Instead of using them to read she is using them to train, and is showing readers that there is more than one way to use a book.

In regard to the bullying, Belinda does not have it nearly as bad as Kathy. At least the teachers praise Belinda for her academic work. Kathy is bottom of everything at school, because the bullying erodes her confidence and nobody steps in to help her. But when it comes to sport, both Kathy and Belinda want to prove themselves there because that’s where they will earn respect from the people who disparage them. However, it comes in different ways for Kathy and Belinda. Kathy hoped sports day would enable her to prove her talent and win respect. Instead, it is the final humiliation that drives Kathy into running away and setting off a chain of events that redeem the people who bullied or failed her. But for Belinda, sports day is precisely where she proves herself and puts an end to the bullying – by giving the bullies their first-ever defeat at sport and thoroughly humiliating them. The unhelpful parents and school staff redeem themselves in different ways. In the case of Kathy, it’s their realising they have let her down and try to find her after she runs away. In Belinda’s case, it’s foiling the dirty tricks that the bullies start pulling on her, which makes Belinda’s parents more redeeming than Kathy’s.

There are some glaring plot holes that really stretch the story’s credibility. For one thing, no school would withdraw a pupil from PE just because they’re not good at it; only medical grounds would excuse a pupil from PE. Second, when Janet and Dawn get suspicious, they take a rather cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face approach by sitting in the library with Belinda to stop her suspected training. After all, they must loathe sitting in the library when they want to be out there doing sport with Miss Jagger. And how many times can they get away with coming up with excuses to dodge PE in order to sit in the library watching Belinda? And it’s all on mere suspicion – they have no proof. If they had any real sense they would come up with a plan to catch Belinda red-handed in the library. Most glaring of all, how is Belinda able to swim at competition standard on sports day? She is a complete non-swimmer and the only training she has had is practising strokes on the library’s “silence” notice board. The only swimming we see her do in actual water is a few strokes. So how is she able to do competitive swimming against Dawn – hidden power or something? Or did Tammy have Belinda do some actual swimming lessons off panel without telling us?

Plot weaknesses are offset somewhat by Georgetti’s caricatured, cartoony artwork, which provides the humour and helps make the story engaging. In the hands of a straight artist the story would far worked less well. But in the hands of an artist like Giorgetti, improbabilities like using torn-up books to practise long jump and high jump, and shelves to practise gymnastics are more forgiving. This is because they have a dash of humour and give the sense that they are not to be taken too seriously.

Linda’s Fox [1981]

Sample Images

Lindas Fox 1Lindas Fox 2Lindas Fox 3

 

Published: Tammy 30 May 1981 to 1 August 1981

Episodes: 10

Artist: Ron Tiner

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None.  Groot Tina Winterboek in 1982 as “Linda’s vos” [Linda’s Fox].

Plot

Linda Barnes’ policeman father, Charlie Barnes, is wrongly imprisoned for stealing the money some criminals left behind. He was convicted solely on the (perjured) testimony of “Splinter” Mallory. More likely it was Mallory himself who stole the money or is covering up for whoever did; as Linda is about to discover, he is a criminal who commits regular crime sprees in the Exchester area where he lives.

Linda and her mother lose the house that came with Dad’s job. They have to move to a rundown house with little income to live on…in Exchester. Linda finds this so depressing, but she cheers up when she finds what is in the derelict house next door: a mother fox and her cubs. She starts making friends with the foxes, and she names her favourite fox cub Ross. Mrs Barnes does not approve of Linda’s visits to the foxes because the house is derelict and dangerous. But Linda continues to feed the foxes and make friends with them.

At school Linda makes a good friend with Julie, who is constantly annoyed by the school troublemaker, Kevin Mallory. Mallory? Yes, you guessed it – Splinter Mallory’s son! Kevin is a bully and delinquent, and he leads a gang who are always causing trouble for everyone. He likes to pick on Linda and Julie in particular. Pugnacious Julie says if she were Kevin’s mother she would give him a good hiding every day to mend his ways. If only Julie knew that Kevin’s bad behaviour is because this is the way Splinter and his wife have brought him up – to be a good criminal and do a “job” (crime) right.

When Kevin and his gang try to block the staff exit to a cinema after being banned for causing trouble there once too often, the girls spot them and call the police in. The police march Kevin straight home to his parents, where the only telling off they give is that Kevin needs to be more clever so as not to get caught. It is at this point that Splinter learns that the Barnes family are in the neighbourhood and tells Kevin to stay away from them. Too bad for Splinter that Kevin couldn’t tell him where the Barneses actually lived, though…but more on that later.

Meanwhile, the cubs are growing. As they do, they naturally start to venture into the world outside, where they encounter clashes with city life, and bigger, unfriendly animals – including Kevin and his gang. These adventures and misadventures progressively break up the litter until Ross is the only fox left in the derelict house.

It is at this point that Ross begins to cross paths with Splinter himself, which will prove to be Splinter’s undoing. It begins one night when Splinter tries to steal takings from the zoo. But he is foiled when Ross disturbs a lion, which rouses the zookeeper and he spots Splinter. Splinter has to run for it.

Then Splinter sees a house with an open window and proceeds to burgle it. Too bad for him he does not know it is the Barneses’ house. Or that Ross breaks the Barneses’ milk bottle, which wakes Mrs Barnes and alerts her to the burglary. Moreover, while Splinter makes his getaway, he cuts his feet on the broken milk bottle, and Mrs Barnes catches his licence plate number as well.

When the police trace the number back to Splinter, he goes into hiding – in the derelict house next door to the Barneses. He chases Ross off, who digs his own lair under the house. As Splinter is now next door to the Barneses, he soon finds out the joke fate played on him that night: “Damn bad luck I picked their house to burgle out of all the houses in town!”

Linda learns from Kevin that it was Splinter who burgled them. But Mum says that even if he were caught it would not help Dad. A confession to the frameup is the only thing that would. Linda has also guessed the hand, um, paw that Ross played in foiling the burglary.

A heavy downpour sets in; this, combined with the foundations that were weakened by Ross’s digging, causes the derelict house to collapse. It takes Linda’s bedroom wall with it, so that house is no longer fit to live in. Linda and her mother safely evacuate from the house. Linda is anxious about Ross, but Ross managed to escape as well. However, Splinter is not so lucky; they find him trapped, injured and calling for help under the debris of the collapsed house. Linda says she will only do so if he makes the confession to clear her father. Desperate and terrified, Splinter agrees to do so.

Dad is freed by Mallory’s confession, reinstated to the police force, and given a huge amount of compensation. They use the money to buy a house in the country. Linda, still wondering what happened to Ross, says Ross would feel quite at home here too. Little does she know Ross has in fact made his own way to the same place and is settling in very happily.

Thoughts

There have been hundreds of girls’ serials dealing with frameups. But it’s a very nasty twist to make a policeman the victim of a frameup. And it’s all on the word of one man against a police officer who clearly has an unblemished record and a sound reputation. In fact, one policeman expresses disbelief that Charlie Barnes is guilty because he does not seem the type to him. And PO Barnes is that while Mallory is…what? A police informer? A jailhouse snitch? An accomplice turning Queen’s evidence? What? It is presumably something to do with his nickname, but we are never told why he’s called “Splinter”.

And from the sound of it, there is not one shred of corroboratory evidence; PO Barnes goes down solely on Mallory’s evidence and nothing else. It sounds outrageous, but in fact that is how it really is in the English legal system and in many other Western legal systems (Scotland is one exception) that are modelled on it: a person can be charged, tried, and even convicted on the testimony of a single witness, without any corroboration whatsoever. Even a questionable witness, such as a jailhouse informer, can bring a person to trial. Not surprisingly, there have been many cases that illustrate how dangerous it can be for a criminal case to depend on a single witness without corroboration. The writer may or may not have been aware of this flaw in the English legal system, but either way they deserve a pat on the back for such realism.

When the foxes and Julie are first introduced, they are set up as pillars of support and comfort for Linda as she goes through her ordeal of her father’s false imprisonment and the downturn of her home life in the wake of it. Julie is a real standout. It’s not only because she’s strident, pugnacious, does not hesitate to stand up to Kevin and his gang, and is a really good friend who helps Linda cope with her ordeal. It’s also because she’s one of the few black protagonists we see in girls’ comics, and this makes the story stand out even more. The foxes add light relief and emotional appeal against the angst. They even dashes of humour to the story. For example, Ross accidentally gets into one of the boxes Kevin’s gang are using to block the cinema exit. They get a surprise when Ross bursts out of the box and helps to foil their trick!

Once it’s established that the Barneses have moved into the same neighbourhood as Mallory and that he’s committing regular crime sprees there, the stage is clearly set for exposing Mallory and clearing Dad. The question is how it is all going to fit together. Maybe Linda will expose Mallory, perhaps with Julie’s help?

It’s a real surprise twist when Mallory is the one to destroy himself, with some unknowing help from Ross: first by picking the wrong house to burgle, and then picking the wrong place to hide. In addition, he injures his feet on the Barneses’ broken milk bottle during his botched burglary. Wow, the karma is really biting there! We can imagine the police must have turned up something in the Mallory house with their search warrant that would link Mallory to other crimes as well.

It must have been both a surprise and a shock to readers when Linda tells Mallory that she will not get help for him unless he makes the confession to clear her father (below). Readers are more used to heroines being too nice to be downright mean to the villain, regardless of what the villain has done to them. But then, it was pressure that was required to make Mallory confess, and Linda was seizing upon what looked like her only chance to get that confession. After all, she could not depend on Mallory to make the confession out of gratitude for saving him (trite) or remorse (not bloody likely!). Besides, we know Linda wouldn’t really have refused to get help for Mallory.

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It’s another delightful twist when Ross ends up in the same place as the Barneses in the country and it rounds off the story completely. Readers smile at the last panel where Linda wishes Ross was there, not knowing that he is and sharing the same panel with her. Let us hope they find each other again in their new home.

Day and Knight [1984]

Sample Images

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Published: Princess II #25, 10 March 1984, continued in Tammy & Princess, 7 April 1984, finished in Tammy & Princess, 28 April 1984

Episodes: 8

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown. Possibly the same writer as “Cuckoo in the Nest” from Girl annual 1982, which has a similar plot

Translations/reprints: None

Plot

Ever since Sharon Day’s mother died when she was young, it has just been her, Dad, and her cat Monk. That’s just the way Sharon likes it. Sharon knows her father is now in a relationship with a woman named Sally, but has no problems with that – yet.

While dropping off Gran’s birthday present on the way to school, Sharon sees Carrie Knight and her gang pass by. She tells Gran they bully everyone at school, taking money off the first years and such, and for this reason she can’t stand Carrie. Gran is relieved to hear that at least Carrie leaves Sharon alone.

But when Sharon gets to school that suddenly changes. Carrie now starts on her, and is bullying her big time. Carrie even steals and sells Sharon’s guitar, which breaks Sharon’s heart because it was her mother’s.

The reason why Carrie has started picking on Sharon becomes clear that evening: Carrie’s mother is Sally, the woman Dad is now engaged to and wants to marry. So Sharon is now faced with the prospect of having this bully for a stepsister!

Sharon tries to tell Dad that Carrie is bullying her, but he does not believe it. Moreover, Carrie is very good at fooling him into thinking she is a sweet girl and the perfect stepdaughter who absolutely adores her new stepfather. She has no compunction in lying to her parents and swearing that she did not do any of the things Sharon accuses her of. Carrie just loves to tease Sharon with her phoney acts towards Dad and telling him how much she likes him.

Although Sharon protests that Carrie is just fooling him and she’s a horrible bully who makes her life a misery, and she’s in constant tears over the whole business, Dad just won’t listen. He thinks Sharon just can’t handle the changes and is being resentful of his new marriage.

Aside from the bullying, Sharon finds herself being pushed into changes that are too fast and difficult for her when Carrie and Mum move in. Sharon and her Dad are vegetarians, but Carrie and her mother are not, so Sharon is shocked at the sight and smell of meat in the fridge. Worse, Sharon has to rehome Monk at Gran’s house because of Carrie’s asthma. And Sharon, who once had her bedroom to herself, now has to share a bunk bed with that bully until the parents get a bigger house.

And now, of course, Carrie is making Sharon’s life a nightmare at home as well as at school, and she’s very slick at covering up afterwards. For example, she and her gang trash Sharon’s belongings. Then she tells Dad she accidentally broke Sharon’s old doll and will pay for it.

Gran is the only one who believes Sharon and understands what is going on. Oddly though, she is not doing much to convince Dad. Maybe Dad is not listening to her either? Dad certainly does not listen to Sharon’s friend Jenny when she tries to back Sharon up about Carrie’s bullying. What Gran does do, though, is attempt to instil optimism in Sharon that things will work out in the end and Carrie will change. Right now, though, there’s no hope of that.

Although Dad knows there is a big problem with the girls, he still goes ahead with the wedding. Sharon has to swallow down tears throughout the ceremony. Mum and Dad think Sharon will just come around, but of course they have another think coming.

Now Carrie pulls her worst trick yet – spiking Sharon’s vegetarian school lunch with meat! When Sharon discovers this she snaps and starts a punch-up with Carrie in the dinner hall. However, the teacher can’t find any trace of the meat afterwards. Later Sharon realises Carrie’s gang pulled a trick there, but when she tries to tell Dad this he still won’t listen and tells her to stop it. Sharon’s response to that is run away from home and take refuge at Gran’s. Dad is anguished at this while Carrie just laughs at it all behind her parents’ backs.

However, next day events take a turn that changes everything. Dad spots Sharon’s guitar at a second hand shop and discovers it was indeed Carrie who sold it there. When he confronts Carrie with this, her last-ditch effort to deny everything falls apart very quickly. The game is up:

Mum: “You’ve lied enough!”

Dad: “Your daughter’s driven mine out of her own home!”

Dad, who resolves to make Sharon happy to come back, makes the decision to split up with Carrie’s mum. At this, Mum really turns on Carrie for what she’s done, and how it will destroy her marriage if the girls don’t reconcile. She shoves Carrie out of the house to make it up with Sharon.

Carrie is shocked and upset at what she has done, and now realises she genuinely likes her new stepfather. She makes an earnest, desperate attempt to reconcile with Sharon, promising she’ll be different. But Sharon rebuffs her because her wounds are too raw. Moreover, she is not impressed with Carrie’s claims of contrition (unlike Gran), the idea of living with Carrie is still too repugnant, and she wants things the way they were. So Carrie and her heartbroken mother clear out of the house so Sharon can come home.

Sharon expects things to go back to the way they were, although Gran has warned her that they can’t and won’t. Of course Sharon soon finds out how right Gran is. Dad might have sacrificed his marriage for her happiness, but he cannot hide his feelings about it (snapping at her, up all night crying, too upset to go to work). Sharon realises their relationship will become embittered because of this. She can’t let him suffer either, but still can’t stand the idea of living with Carrie.

Next morning Carrie turns on her bully gang when she discovers, in typical bully fashion, how uncaring they are about her situation. “I must’ve been crazy to hang around with you morons!” They just about have a fight.

Sharon can see Carrie is genuinely upset, but just says, “Good! I’m glad to see her suffering for a change!” However, she is more concerned to hear that Carrie’s mother was up all night crying too. She does like her stepmother.

In the end, Sharon grudgingly gives Carrie a second chance for the sake of their suffering parents. Soon the family are back together, the parents are overjoyed, and there are already signs that Carrie and Sharon are on the road to becoming the best of sisters. After all, says Sharon, she had always wanted one.

Thoughts

There have been so many serials where parents just don’t listen when their daughter tries to tell them she’s being bullied. And this is one of those serials where just not listening has far more serious results than most – a marriage almost being destroyed and a family torn apart. It’s not just because the bully is very crafty at convincing them she’s a sweet angel. It’s also because they are blinded by love and desperately want to marry each other. So they push headlong into it despite the clear danger signals.

Even without Carrie’s bullying, we can feel how Sharon’s world is being ripped apart by the changes her father’s new marriage is bringing into her life. Sharon was so happy with things the way they were and the changes are all, in their various ways, just too hard on her and unfair. We can hardly blame Sharon for wanting things back the way they were and it would have been understandable if she had been genuinely resentful of the marriage. But the real problem is that her stepsister is bullying her, and because the bullying goes on behind the parents’ backs, they won’t listen when Sharon tries to tell them. They really pay the price for that when Carrie’s bullying almost destroys their marriage.

As with Lindy/Jinty’s “Hettie High and Mighty”, redeeming and reforming the bully is absolutely essential if everything is to be sorted out and end happily, because that bully is now the stepsister of the girl she’s bullying. Otherwise the family can never live together in harmony. However, the road to it is realistically done and avoids the triteness and clichés that have appeared in similar stories, including “Hettie High and Mighty”.

Unlike Hettie, it’s not all that clear just what has made Carrie such a bully. We know nothing of her home life prior to her mother’s new marriage; however, her absent father could have some bearing on her conduct. She does carry out her bullying in a very cocky, obnoxious manner, which suggests she’s out of control. She’s also in with a bully gang, rather than being a sole bully/troublemaker like Hettie. So it could be a case of getting into a bad crowd, wanting to act big and feeling like she’s ten feet tall with all the power she gets out of bullying. Moreover, the school isn’t doing anything to stop the bullies. All the pupils know about them but nobody does anything about them. If nobody is cracking down on the bullying, then of course Carrie’s bullying has just gotten so bad. Finally, Carrie sees Sharon as a big wet, which is probably why she chose to bully her instead of trying to get along with her in the first place.

It is a nice change from the usual cliché, where the abused stepsister just forgives her bully stepsister once changes as her counterpart in “Hettie” does. Instead, reconciliation does not come all at once because Sharon’s hurt feelings are too strong. It takes time before Sharon agrees to attempt reconciliation. Even then it’s not because she becomes convinced of Carrie’s remorse or Carrie redeems herself in front of her, which is another common cliché in girls’ serials. Sharon does it for her suffering parents.

There is no doubt Carrie is genuinely remorseful when it comes, and it’s realistically done. Carrie is not only remorseful; she also wakes up to what a good thing she was onto with her new stepfamily and how she ruined it with her bullying. However, while her remorse is essential to the resolution of the story, she cannot convince Sharon or her parents that it is for real. Sharon does not listen and wants her gone. Mum tells Carrie that if she really had loved her new stepfather, “you wouldn’t have done anything to spoil my happiness. I’ll never forgive you for this!” Dad says to Sharon, “A pity Carrie was such a monster. I-thought she loved me…”. However, the story does not go down yet another common cliché in which Carrie finds a way to convince them she has changed and gets them back together. Nor does it have the family coming together when a big accident occurs because of what happened, which is another cliché.

This is definitely one of Princess II’s best stories because of its realism and breaking with clichés that girls’ serials dealing with similar themes often use. The artwork of Juliana Buch has always been popular and it blends in nicely with the school and family settings. This was Buch’s only story for Princess II, and her artwork would have helped this story to bridge the merger with Tammy because Buch was one of Tammy’s regular artists.

 

Fatherland [2017]

Fatherland cover

Published: Commando #5053

Art: Ian Kennedy (cover); Rodriguez and Morhain (story)

Writer: Iain McLaughlin

In the previous Commando entry on this blog we profiled Operation Nachthexen, the first Commando to have a female protagonist after over 50 years of exclusively male protagonists. All the same, the main protagonist was still male and the female protagonist was more in a supporting if major role.

This Commando is the first to have a female protagonist who is the star of the show in her own right. It is also the first Commando to have a female antagonist.

Plot

In March 1933 Hitler and his Nazi Party gain absolute control over Germany (and absolute is the word). For Hans Fischer, a German diplomat and Nazi living in London, this means benefits and promotion, but his Nazism is tearing his family apart. Hans’ wife Elizabeth is British born and therefore does not support “that funny little man Hitler” (say what?). She is appalled at how her husband has changed for the worse ever since he embraced Nazism, and with fanatical zeal. When Hans says they are all moving to Berlin so their children, Kurt and Lisa, can be brought up as proper Germans (Nazis, he means!), Elizabeth tries to do a runner with the children. Unfortunately she only succeeds in getting Lisa away. Kurt remains in the clutches of his fanatical Nazi father, which does not bode well for him.

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Ten years later World War II is on, and Lisa (now Fisher) joins the fight against Hitler. As Lisa can speak German, she is chosen for a special assignment. After two months of intense special training, she is sent to the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands, where she goes undercover as Greta Kruger, a German auxiliary the Resistance intercepted. Her task is to work at one Colonel Schaudi’s office to gather information on the shipping. The German supply shipping has the infuriating habit of arriving at different times, which makes it difficult for the Allies to know when to intercept and destroy them. So they need information on the times those ships are coming.

As per training, Lisa also spends a great deal of time observing the routines of the German guards and patrols – with particular attention to the gaps and blind spots that she can take advantage of in order to move around without being caught.

Lisa also has to tread carefully around her roommate, Hannah Muller, who is a committed Nazi and a callous cold fish. Hannah looks upon the islanders as scum who are beneath the superior Germans and badly need German discipline to turn them around. She does not approve of Lisa saving a local boy from being run over by a German motorcyclist (and taking some injury herself) or Lisa going to church.

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Hannah has no idea that the real reason for Lisa going to church is that the minister, Reverend Letts, is Lisa’s contact. Lisa gets the E.T.A. of one German supply ship, the HSK Wagner. However Lisa nearly gets unstuck at the rendezvous on a cliff to pass the information to Rev. Letts when a sentry catches her. She ends up slugging him and he falls to his death at the bottom of the cliff. As predicted, Schaudi puts the sentry’s death down to an accident (and orders it to be hushed up because he does not want the islanders to hear about such embarrassments). But Lisa and Rev. Letts are not going to use that cliff for a rendezvous again.

Lisa’s information enables the Allies to succeed in intercepting and destroying the Wagner. But when word reaches Berlin they (correctly) suspect their security has been compromised and send in one of their leading and most ruthless SS Oberfuehrers to investigate the matter. And guess who it is? Yep – Lisa’s father! What’s more, Lisa’s brother Kurt is in tow too, as an SS Hauptsturmfuehrer on Dad’s staff.

Lisa is unaware of this complication as she gathers evidence that the Germans are going to use the Channel Islands as a stockpile for German weapons. Rev. Letts tells Lisa the RAF is going to bomb the munitions store that night and she is required to light flares for them to see by.

Finding pretexts to get away from Hannah for night missions has been another problem for Lisa. The first time, Lisa said she was laid up because she was injured from the motorcycle incident, which worked. But the second trick – giving Hannah drugged coffee – does not. By the time Lisa is at the rendezvous lighting the flares, she finds Hannah has followed her; obviously she smelt a rat and has now discovered everything. A fight breaks out, and Hannah ends up out cold due to Lisa’s superior fighting training. The ensuing bomb raid does the rest in finishing off Hannah. Lisa then proceeds to frame Hannah for everything in order to cover her tracks.

The frame-up of Hannah works, but Lisa is in for a shock at the debriefing over Hannah – her SS father and brother. Fortunately they do not see through her disguise, but she realises their presence is now making things too risky for her. Things get even more risky when Schaudi wants to plant Lisa on the church as a choir member because he suspects it is linked to the Resistance.

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Orders come for Lisa to be withdrawn because of the increased risk. A plane will come for her in two days and the Germans will discover her ‘fall over a cliff’ later. During those two days, Lisa is appalled to see what a pair of vicious bullies her father and brother have become, as shown in the way they treat the islanders.

Lisa has one final task on the night she is to go: steal detailed orders of naval schedules from Schaudi’s office. Unfortunately Kurt has picked that night to start changing the guard routines, which impedes Lisa’s progress in getting away to meet the plane after stealing the papers. At one point she has no choice but to slug a guard, and she barely makes it in time for her plane. Unfortunately, Hans and Kurt discovered the guard, which alerted them, and now they arrive on the scene.

Still thinking she is Greta Kruger, Hans confronts her about her treason to the Fatherland. A moment later, Hans is quite taken aback and confused when she suddenly starts calling him “[Daddy]” and confronts him on the way he ripped his own family apart in the name of Nazism. Kurt, however, immediately understands what it’s about.

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As the family squabble unfolds, it becomes clear that years of abuse and bullying from Dad are responsible for Kurt being a bully himself. However, unlike the merciless Nazi fanatic father, there is still good in Kurt, and now it comes to the surface. He cannot bring himself to send his own sister to the firing squad and finds the courage to say this to his bully father. Dad’s response is more bullying of Kurt: he lashes out at his son and knocks him to the ground. He then points his gun at Lisa, telling her that she’ll be interrogated until she talks and all the rest of it. Moments pass as they just stare down each other. However, those moments give Kurt time to recover and he shoots his father dead to save Lisa: “Your cruelty and obsession has hurt me on many occasions. You will not do this to my sister.”

Kurt helps Lisa to escape and cover it up afterwards. He declines to go with her as he is still loyal to Germany, but promises to find her after the war ends. As Lisa flies to safety, Kurt silently wishes her luck.

Thoughts

It is not surprising that the first Commando to have a female lead as the main protagonist puts her into undercover work and espionage rather than into combat as the male protagonists most often are in Commando. It also makes a change from making her a Resistance fighter, as girls’ comics so often did. Lisa is working with the Resistance, but she is in the role of the specially trained operative sent in by Intelligence, so we get insights into how the British Intelligence and special operatives worked from that meticulous military Commando research. We also see several of the techniques and tips Lisa provides from her special training, such as familiarising herself with the guards’ routines in order to get around them and how to handle interrogation. And the scene where she beats up that callous Hannah is absolutely priceless! Though Hannah does not get the chance to do anything that’s actually horrible as the Fischer men do, her unfeeling, arrogant remarks and her Nazi devotion make us all yearn for her to get her comeuppance.

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Lisa’s mother Elizabeth is of course the other female protagonist in the story. We really feel for the mother as we have seen so many similar situations in stories of domestic violence and parental abductions. She is faced with an increasing shadow of domestic violence from a husband who is turning bad, and then it’s compounded by the threat of being dragged off to a grim life under the jackboot of Nazi Germany. She attempts a desperate flight from that life and tries to save her children, but it’s heartbreaking to see she is only half successful. She failed to save Kurt because of his childlike naivety in hopping out of the car and asking Dad where they are going. This of course tipped Dad off at once and he threatened to take the kids away to Nazi Germany without her and she would never see them again. Mums and Dads who have lost their children to international custody disputes and parental abductions would really feel for her there and applaud when she at least manages to save her daughter. But we can imagine her heart must have been bleeding at being forced to leave her son behind and imagining what his upbringing will be like in Nazi Germany under his increasingly tyrannical father and without any motherly love. When we see how Kurt turned out because of this, Mum had every right to be concerned and how Lisa had such a lucky escape in not being dragged off to Nazi Germany as well.

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Kurt Fischer is another first in Commando: he is the very first sympathetic SS Officer to appear in Commando. Up until this point, whenever Commando used stories with sympathetic German WW2 soldiers, it made a strong point of never, ever using sympathetic SS or Gestapo officers. The sympathetic German soldiers always came from the forces and were portrayed as fighting for their country rather than Nazism and disliking the SS and Gestapo for their brutality. Sergeant Oskar Dietrich in Entry Forbidden! is one such case. SS and Gestapo officers in Commando were always just like Hans Fischer: cruel, brutal fanatical Nazis with no mercy or redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are shown to be bad because they have always been bad, such as Max Rudel, also from Entry Forbidden!

But this is not the case with Kurt Fischer. When we first see him as a kid, he looks such a sweet kid (unlike Max Rudel in childhood), and we are really worried about him when he gets left behind with his fanatical Nazi father. Sure enough, he’s the mirror image of his bullying father years later, but that’s because he’s an abused child. After the separation he was dragged off to Nazi Germany where he suffered a miserable, terrifying life under his bullying father and without even his mother to give him love. If Dad had married again, we imagine it would have been someone like Hannah Muller.

Yet Dad had not destroyed all the good in Kurt with his bullying. And we imagine that deep down, long-standing resentment from years of abuse is yearning to break out and take revenge. Both come to the surface when he is confronted with his sister and the fate she will face if Dad arrests her. When Dad shows utter lack of mercy towards his daughter, it turns out to be the last straw for Kurt. For all the bullying Kurt did earlier, we really cheer for him when he strikes back at his bully father by shooting him, and he redeems himself.

Even Hans Fischer may be a tad more tragic than SS officers in Commando usually are. Usually they are just simply bad, irredeemable characters like Max Rudel. However, the line “Elizabeth was shocked by the changes in her husband since he became involved in Chancellor Hitler’s party” hints that Hans may have been once a better man. However, becoming a fanatical Nazi destroyed all that. His fanaticism led him to destroy the family he probably once loved very much, and ultimately that same family destroyed him.

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The ending was crafted in a manner that left scope for sequels. So we might see Lisa again in a future Commando. Or we might even see Kurt in the first-ever Commando to use a sympathetic SS officer as the main protagonist. Certainly there have been serious questions raised about the consequences of that night for Kurt, which could be developed further. It’s all very well for Kurt to say he can’t go against his country, but he will find it’s not going to be that simple and he can’t really carry on with the SS the way he did before. The good in him has awakened now, and he will have to work on it if he is to keep his promise to his sister to reunite with her. After all, she’s not going to be very impressed with him if he continues to shove the islanders around or run up a list of war crimes a mile long. Besides, he now has a terrible secret that could have him executed, blackmailed or going on the run if someone finds out, and that worry is going to be a huge shadow over him. And now that Dad’s bullying dominance is gone, Kurt is more of a free man to make his own decisions. We do have to wonder if the SS was Kurt’s choice of career in the first place or if bully Dad forced him into it. It would not be surprising to see a future Commando where Lisa goes to the rescue of her brother. We shall just have to wait and see.

Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

To Kill a Rat… [1976]

1066_to_kill_a_rat

Published: Commando #1066

Artist: Cortiella (cover); Cecil T Rigby (story)

Writer: Bernard Gregg

Reprints: None, but the story has been reused. The difference is that the uncle lied about killing the soldiers after the nephew talked.

Special thanks to Colcool007 for the information

Plot

Doug Watson is subjected to bullying and psychological abuse at the hands of his cruel, bullying pro-Nazi Uncle Hermann Braugen during his six-month stays with his German relatives (the other six with an English aunt). During one stay Braugen develops his favourite torture of Doug: lock him in the rat-infested cellar to be terrorised by the rats. As a result, Doug develops an extreme fear of rats (musophobia, also known as murophobia and suriphobia), which Braugen just loves to play upon.

Rat 1

After this particular stay, Doug vows never to go back to his German relatives again, though Uncle Braugen and the rat torture continue to give him nightmares. Fortunately the trauma fades in time, and Doug grows strong enough to join the army when World War II breaks out. He rises fast to corporal rank. He is among the British forces that try in vain to stem the Nazi invasion of France and end up being evacuated from Dunkirk. Doug then moves up to second lieutenant, and he leads his men to a sweep forward against the German forces in North Africa.

But what Doug does not realise is that the man in charge of the German forces against him is none other than his Uncle Braugen, now a colonel. Doug’s forces are successful in driving Braugen’s back. They get cut off and soon Braugen is the last man standing, but he isn’t giving up that easily.

Braugen pretends to surrender when Doug’s forces arrive. Doug is shocked to recognise his Uncle, but Uncle Braugen does not recognise his nephew because Doug has changed quite a bit over the years. Braugen is quite surprised to realise it is Doug when Doug speaks to him alone. Braugen pretends to have reformed, repents the past and asks to bury it. Doug falls for it and foolishly allows Braugen to escape.

Rat 2

Doug then continues to press against Rommel in North Africa and eventually the front into Sicily and then Italy, by which time he is a lieutenant. Then they plan to assault the German forces in Italy. But Doug does not realise Uncle Braugen is up ahead with the German forces in the German-held Castle of Monte Lucia. They consider their position impregnable, but they do not have the much-needed information about the strength of the Allied forces.

The carelessness of one of the British soldiers (lighting up a cigarette) betrays the position of Doug’s forces to the German forces, who surround them and force them to surrender. They are taken to Monte Lucia, but none of them yields the information the Germans want.

Then Braugen walks in, and Doug instantly realises how Braugen had tricked him in North Africa. Braugen takes Doug over for interrogation. Beating him up doesn’t work, but then Braugen recalls the musophobia he had instilled into Doug. He locks Doug into a rat-infested cellar where the sewers are, and tells Doug he will not release him until he is ready to talk. In the cellar the phobia is doing its work. Doug can see there is a sewer in the cellar that could be an escape route, but he is too terrified to use it because of the rats. Eventually the phobia makes Doug tell Braugen everything he needs to know.

Braugen shoots all the other Allied prisoners as he has no further need for them. Doug, having recovered sufficiently from the rat ordeal, manages to break free from Braugen’s goons and escape from Monte Lucia. Braugen does not search for him because he thinks Doug is not worth bothering about.

Rat 3Doug makes it back to his lines, where he reports everything in shame at H.Q. The colonel is not at all understanding about Doug talking under torture and has him arrested for court-martial. However, en route to face the court-martial, Doug just snaps, seizes a gun from his guards, and makes a run for it.

He returns to Monte Lucia to avenge his soldiers, get even with Braugen, and make amends for talking under torture. However, the only way in is through the rat-infested sewer pipe Doug saw earlier. He forces his way into it and the rats. This time hatred helps Doug to overcome his fear when it makes him lash out at the biting rats. By the time Doug is back in the cellar, his musophobia has dissipated and he hardly notices the rats now.

Fortunately the trap door into the cellar is not locked, so Doug is free to make his way into the castle. He finds Braugen’s ammunition stores and uses them to rig the castle to blow from petrol trails and improvised rope fuses, which are to dangle through the sewer pipe. When everything is ready, Doug ignites the petrol with his gun and the Germans’ impregnable fortress goes up in flames.

At a distance, Doug waits for Braugen – the biggest rat of them all in his opinion – to show up among the fleeing Germans. When Braugen does, he is scared for the first time his life, and his shots at Doug are wide. By contrast, Doug is calm and quick to shoot his uncle dead.

The British forces have been approaching Monte Lucia with speed. They are surprised to find its impregnable defences broken and burning, and it is deserted except for one British soldier sitting beside a dead German. Doug goes back to H.Q., confident that everything will be cleared up in view of his heroic action in blowing up the impregnable Monte Lucia single-handled.

Thoughts

Historically, the climax at Monte Lucia is based on the Battle of Monte Cassino. Very loosely, mind you, and it has little bearing on the actual battle.

The issue of child abuse in the story feels ahead of its time (1976) when read today. Abusive guardians were a common feature in girls’ comics, but the abusers were, in essence, doing it to exploit and take advantage of the protagonist one way or other. Uncle Braugen, on the other hand, is not bullying his nephew in order to exploit him. This is deliberate, intentional torture inflicted for sadistic purposes. For this reason, Uncle Braugen could well be the most evil child abuser ever to appear in comics. In any case, he deserves to appear near or even at the top of a list of the top ten child abusers in British comics.

Rat 4

It’s a wonder Uncle Braugen didn’t go into the Gestapo or SS. He has everything it takes to rise quickly there and he would love every minute on the job. He likes nothing better than cruelty, bullying, torture, and showing off his arrogance and huge muscles whenever he gets the chance. He torments his nephew because he is British and he also regards his nephew as a weakling because he is not physically strong. There are no redeeming qualities about Braugen whatsoever, unlike his wife Meg. Aunt Meg is kind and tries to protect her nephew, but there is little she can do against her hefty, bullying husband. Thank goodness the Braugens don’t have children of their own. Why the heck did Meg marry Hermann in the first place? Talk about a mismatch.

There is some stereotyping of Uncle Braugen’s nationality with the line: “The German, like many of his kind, was a bully”. Uncle Braugen is a bully because of his nationality rather than his personality and Nazi sympathies? That comes across as a bit offensive. To add to the stereotyping, Uncle Berman has a scar on his right cheek, presumably from World War I, and is also portrayed as your typical arrogant German, with extra-nasty qualities that make him the ideal Nazi.

Rat 5

It is surprising that Doug Watson makes it into the army, much less rise to the status of lieutenant, considering what a physically weak and emotionally abused boy he was in his childhood. But it is a delightful surprise, an ultimate triumph for the abused boy, and it would be one in the eye for Uncle Braugen. Indeed it takes Uncle Braugen himself by surprise when he first meets his nephew as an adult. By the time Uncle Braugen is actually holding Doug prisoner, Doug himself declares that he is not the frightened little boy anymore. Now he has become a man who can stand up to his uncle and the physical torture Uncle Braugen inflicts on him. He does not even call Braugen “Uncle” anymore; it’s just “Braugen”. But all it takes is the rat phobia to undo all that and turn Doug Watson back into the frightened little boy again, for all the confidence, courage and strength he has gained through the army.

It is fortunate that Doug gets a chance to redeem himself and overcome his rat phobia into the bargain. However, it takes more than determination to succeed and shame over breaking down and talking to overcome the phobia. Although Doug tries, it takes another extremely strong emotion – hatred – to counter the extreme terror because it was the stronger of the two. And the rat torture ultimately backfired on Uncle Braugen because it unwittingly exposed the chink in the armour of the supposedly impenetrable fortress.

When Uncle Braugen initially tortured and terrorised his nephew, he never in his wildest dreams ever thought that the boy he considered a weakling would be the one to cause his death. And on the battlefield too! But that is indeed the case, and it is a most fitting and ironic twist. Mind you, what Aunt Meg would say about her own nephew killing her husband in action we can’t imagine.

 

 

 

Darling Clementine [1977-78]

Sample Images

Darling Clementine 1Darling Clementine 2Darling Clementine 3

Published: Jinty 24 December 1977 to 1 April 1978

Episodes: 15

Artist: Richard Neillands

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Fifteen-year-old Ella Peters is an intensely shy girl who used to cling to her mother, but the mother is now dead. She has been in a children’s home since her mother’s death, but then her cousin Clementine Bradley (Clem for short) and Uncle Dave give her a home.

Ella and Clem hit it off immediately. Ella is impressed at how Clem is the darling of everyone. She has a charm that works on everyone, and she is full of confidence, which sets an example to Ella that will influence how she grows in confidence during the story. Everything looks so rosy for Ella now; she is too shy to make friends but she can do it through the popular Clem, and she is so happy.

But storm clouds just have to gather around. Uncle Dave, a miner, develops a lung disease from years of coal dust exposure, and the polluted smoky mining town is making it worse. A move to the country is badly needed, but Uncle Dave hasn’t the money for a country cottage. Then Clem sees a way to raise the money when she sees a water-skiing contest advertised, with £1,000 as the top prize.

Clem can’t waterski, but her mind is set. She dashes off to join the water-skiing club at Ladenford Lake, and never mind that it is an extremely exclusive and ultra-snobby club. Her charm persuades the snobby manager to let her join the club despite her lack of pedigree background, and he is so entranced he even gives her waterskis and a spare wetsuit. Clem gets Uncle Bill to provide a speedboat so she can start practising, and Ella is backing her all the way. Clem is soon making good progress in waterskiing.

Then disaster strikes. While Clem gets ready for another practice, an arrogant girl cyclist comes bowling along and deliberately knocks Clem clean over. Clem ends up hitting her head on a tree and falling into the river. When Clem is plucked from the water, she is in a deep coma. But that isn’t all. Uncle Bill was nearby and mistakenly thinks he saw Ella push Clem into the river deliberately when in fact Ella was trying to push Clem clear of the cyclist. Uncle Bill could not see the cyclist because the trees cut off his view of her. He has Uncle Dave believe it too, and Ella’s protests of innocence with Uncle Dave just lead to rows. Uncle Dave even bans Ella from visiting Clem in hospital. When word gets around, poor Ella finds herself an outcast at school and in the community, and she is estranged at home as well.

And there is still the matter of how to win the much-needed prize money. As Clem is out of action, Ella bravely decides to train for it herself. It’s a tall order as Ella is not only shy but also scared of water and she has force herself to swim more confidently. Uncle Bill won’t help with the speedboat, but Ella manages to get help from Jim, the son of the waterskiing club caretaker, after she helps him against some bullies. Ella gradually improves and even overcomes her fear of water. But girls from the posh club overhear Ella saying she is winning the prize money instead of Clem and spitefully take back the gear that was borrowed from the club. They say she can’t enter the contest anyway because only club members can enter.

When Ella sees her uncle’s condition is worsening, it renews her determination. She takes on two jobs so she can raise the money for waterskiing gear and subs to join the club. She finds courage in approaching the club, but gets turned down because she is not upper class. She encounters more nastiness from the snobs, who throw the last leaflet about the contest out the window so Ella can’t verify if it really is for members only. Fortunately Jim rescues the leaflet, and Ella discovers that the snobs had lied and it is open to any entrant. Well, well, well!

Ella resumes her waterskiing training with Jim’s help, but the snobs find out. They spitefully try to get the caretaker sacked and tell Ella they’ll keep on doing it until either Ella gives up waterskiing or Jim’s father gets the sack. However, Jim’s father suddenly gets another job, so that’s the end of that blackmail.

While Ella does her training, another waterskiier passes by – and Ella recognises her as the cyclist who knocked Clem into the river. She tackles the girl, a Val Lester, who eventually says she might confess if Ella will do some “little jobs” for her. After a whole week of skivvying and slaving for Val, there is still no confession, but Ella still doesn’t realise Val is just taking advantage of her and has no intention of confessing.

At her training, Ella unwittingly gets too close to one of the snobs and knocks her off balance. The snobs accuse Ella and Jim of doing it on purpose and say they will go to the police. Fortunately a Councillor Dickens witnesses the incident and informs the police it was an accident.

Ella now has a whole new confidence now she has Councillor Dickens on her side. She tells those snobs that she is not scared of them anymore. Moreover, she has finally woken up to how Val is just stringing her along and tells her to do her own dirty work.

Uncle Dave suspects Ella is up to something and thinks it has something to do with thefts at a hotel near the lake. He kicks Ella right out of the house, but allows her back once Jim informs him about Ella’s waterskiing. What’s more, there is good news about Clem – she is beginning to wake up and calling for Ella. Unfortunately Uncle Dave misconstrues what Clem says in her half-conscious state as evidence that Ella pushed her. Ella snaps and tells Uncle Dave that she is winning the prize money for his sake. After some investigating Uncle Dave believes it is true, but will not accept the money. Ella continues with her training regardless, and also visits Clem in hospital, who has lapsed back into her coma, in defiance of Uncle Dave’s ban.

Then Uncle Dave finds out about the secret hospital visits after Ella sprains her ankle on the hospital steps. The injury also impairs her waterskiing. Ella bravely goes into the waterskiing heats while she still has this injury, but of course it’s no good. She passes out because of her injury and is out of the contest.

Ella now turns to getting Clem out of her coma, as Clem is the only one who can clear her name. She brings in a tape of speedboat engine noise to bring Clem out of the coma, but Val discovers what Ella is up to and switches it for one of her own tapes. She does not want Clem coming out of her coma and telling the truth about the accident. Ella discovers who pulled the switch when she finds the initials “V.L.” on the tape, and Val doesn’t deny it when Ella confronts her either. Ella gets another recording of speedboat noise, after initially overcoming a bout of shyness over approaching the club secretary for help there. Uncle Dave has banned Ella from seeing Clem, so she has to get a nurse to play the tape to her. Later, Ella finds spiteful Val has told tales on her secret visits to Clem to Uncle Dave.

The tape brings Clem out of her coma. Unfortunately, Ella gets over-excited about pressing Clem to tell Uncle Dave the truth and clear her name. She did not think that it was too soon after Clem woke up, or that Clem’s memory would be clouded. And Clem can’t remember what happened, so when she comes home, Ella has to do something to help her remember.

So Ella takes Clem back to the very spot where it happened – and who should show up but Val Lester herself! This brings back Clem’s memory, and Val brags that she did it too. Val tries to bluff her way out of it, saying people will just think Clem is trying to shift the blame from Ella if she tries to tell them the truth, and there is no way she is going to confess. But Uncle Dave has followed and heard everything – and so has a passing policeman! The policeman takes charge of Val. What happens to her is not revealed, but she is not seen again in the story. Val’s exposure cuts no ice with the snobby girls at the waterski club, who remain just as nasty to Clem and Ella. Ella readily forgives a very apologetic Uncle Dave.

Despite her long illness and missing the heats, Clem is determined to enter the competition and win the money for her father. Ella asks Councillor Dickens to pull some strings so Clem can enter the finals despite missing the heats. Clem realises what Ella did for her and comments on how her shy cousin has become so spunky. Ella says it was due to necessity from what followed in the wake of the accident.

Unfortunately Clem just isn’t up to scratch to win the contest and is placed third. However, a reporter learns why it was so important for Clem to win the money and publishes a newspaper article on “The Dashed Dreams of Darling Clem”. It touches the heartstrings of everyone in town – not to mention their guilty consciences over the way they wrongly blamed Ella for Clem’s accident – and cash donations begin to pour in.

Soon there is plenty of money for a cottage and Uncle Dave’s health improves once they move in. There is no room for three, but Ella says that does not matter. She is now so confident about standing on her own two feet that she moves into the new girls’ hostel. She won’t forget her relatives though, and will visit them often.

Thoughts

It is obvious from the start that we are going to have a story about an intensely shy girl who is embarking on a journey to discover her self-confidence. But the twists and turns that the journey takes are ones that could have totally destroyed the shy girl instead of helping her to grow and learn to believe in herself. After all, the ordeal Ella goes through is hardly one to boost self-confidence – being wrongly accused of deliberately putting her own cousin in hospital and people turning against her unjustly. Moreover, it’s Ella’s own relatives that have wrongly accused her, so not even her home life brings her any respite against the cloud she’s under. The only things that stop it from destroying her are the determination to win the prize money for the ailing Uncle Dave and the example Clem had set to Ella about having courage and self-confidence. Several times in this story Ella has lapses of nerve and shyness in her quest to win the competition, but all she has to do is remember Clem’s example and show “some spunk” like her.

Though she probably does not realise it, the shy Ella further develops her courage by constantly standing up to Uncle Dave in protesting her innocence. Ella also develops backbone in learning to stand up to Val. Once she sees through Val’s blackmail, she has no hesitation in telling her to get off and shoves that dirty laundry Val wanted her to clean right in her face. Oh, there are so many blackmail victims in girls’ comics that we so wish would stand up to their blackmailers like that!

Learning to water-ski also helps Ella to develop her self-confidence even further. To begin with, it motivates her to overcome a fear of water. As her water-skiing improves, it boosts her self-confidence as well. But this is the only good thing that really comes out of it for Ella. It is sad, but very realistic, that no matter how hard Ella tries, she could not get up to the standard that would enable her to win the competition. Even without her injury, Ella could never have won the competition because she was not a natural at it like Clem, much less have what it takes to be a champion that would wow the judges.

If not for Val Lester, Clem could have reached the standard that would win the championship and the prize money for Uncle Dave. But the story avoids the cliché of the protagonist rising out of her wheelchair and beating all odds to win the prize money. Instead, it has Clem more realistically lose with a noble but doomed effort because she had insufficient time to get up to the standard required. However, it leads to events that do help to raise the money, so it was not in vain after all.

Val Lester certainly is one of the slickest schemers to appear in Jinty. Whenever Clem or Ella thinks they’ve got her where they want her, Val is extremely crafty at bluffing or conning her way out of it. Even when Uncle Dave finds her out, she keeps her cool and arrogantly tries to bluff him too, saying nobody will believe even him. But even Val can’t get past the policeman (though his presence feels contrived as there is no explanation or credible reason for it). There seems to be no other reason for Val’s attack on Clem than sheer snobbery. She just does not want Clem in the club. It’s not because she’s jealous or looks on Clem as a serious rival in the competition. One can imagine the reputation the waterski club would have gotten in the wake of all their nastiness to “common scum” in their club and Val’s campaign against Clem and Ella. Perhaps someone (Jim maybe?) will take a hand in forming another waterski club in town that welcomes anyone.

Jinty was big on sports stories, and many of her sports stories had more uncommonly used sports (judo, netball, skateboarding) as well as stories on more traditional sports such as hockey, ice-skating and swimming. This story uses water-skiing, which was an extremely unusual sport to use, and examples must be rare in girls’ comics. Although “Darling Clementine” does not seem to be as well rememembered as some of Jinty’s sports stories (“Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, “Concrete Surfer”), using waterskiing as the sport does make it quite novel, as do the breaks from common cliches in girls’ comics in favour of more realism.

The Four Friends at Spartan School [1971-72]

Sample Images

Spartan School 7aSpartan School 7bSpartan School 7c

Published: Tammy 23 October 1971 to 8 January 1972

Episodes: 12

Artist: Unknown artist – Merry

Writer: Terence Magee

Translations/reprints: None known

Special thanks to Robert Gairey for scans

Plot

Judy Jenkins is a bit uncontrollable at school and likes to play pranks to liven things up and relieve the boredom of school. She isn’t a bad kid; it’s just that her home life is neglectful and unguided what with Mum being dead, Dad being away on business so much, and a housekeeper who looks like she’s pretty much in loco parentis. When Dad gets the latest note from school, he decides that what Judy needs is discipline (not a parent who gives her proper time and attention, saying he can’t do that because of his work). So he sends her to “Spartan School”, a Swiss school that is very strong on discipline, and says it’ll do Judy “a power of good”.

We aren’t so sure about that when Judy and three other new girls (Amanda Rogers, Liz Orton and Sarah Williams) meet school prefect Siddons. Siddons is a cold fish who treats them with such severity she would make a heckling army sergeant look lovable. She says that they are all to take orders from her, and her sharp tongue is nothing compared to what awaits them at Spartan School, which will be “much worse things”. Amanda, who is a weaker character physically and emotionally, is quickly subdued by Siddons’ conduct. But Judy stands up to Siddons and says she won’t be downtrodden by such bullying, and neither Siddons nor the school will frighten her. The foreshadowing of how things are going to go in this story, obviously.

When they arrive at the school, Judy sees some pupils who have just finished their term and are going home. Although they do look disciplined, Judy is disturbed at how frightened and lifeless they are. Siddons tells the new arrivals that they will be just the same by the time Spartan School has finished with them.

Next, Judy meets headmistress Miss Bramble, who has been warned by Siddons that Judy will be troublesome. Miss Bramble tells Judy that she is a disciplinarian who doesn’t hold with “modern soft teaching methods”. She goes on to say rebels do not last long at Spartan School, and Judy will emerge from it a very different person. Siddons has already made it clear this means Judy will emerge just like the broken girls she just saw. The story’s subsequent text boxes say Miss Bramble runs the school like one from the Victorian era, with harsh punishments. Now that has to be an understatement. As we shall see, not even Victorian schools went to the lengths that Miss Bramble does.

Siddons shows the girls their dormitory, and continuing her ruthless army-like grind to break them into the Spartan School discipline. Once alone, the new girls tell Judy disturbing rumours they have heard about Spartan School. Amanda relates a story about a friend who was sent to it. Previously a wild girl, she never laughed or smiled again once she returned from Spartan School.

And the parents? Apparently they have no idea of what the school is like (or don’t believe it). Later we learn that Miss Bramble censors all the girls’ correspondence to their parents regarding her methods. The girls are to write glowing letters saying how happy they are at the school and learning to behave better. And what happens when they go home and tell their parents? By that time, says Miss Bramble, they are completely different people: “obedient and with a respect for authority”. In other words, too frightened to tell anyone.

Judy still isn’t fazed by her first impressions of Spartan School, and neither is Liz, who starts larking around. Unfortunately she accidentally breaks a lightbulb. When Siddons returns, she assumes Judy broke it and Liz doesn’t own up. Judy realises this is because Liz is more scared of the school and Miss Bramble than she is admitting.

In punishment, Judy is forced to stand in the dinner hall with her hands on her head and get no food. The food isn’t bread and gruel as you might expect, but it is bad quality food all the same. From the way the other girls look at Judy while she undergoes this humiliation, she gets the impression that niceness and kindness are unknown qualities at the school. But Judy’s punishment doesn’t end there. When Miss Bramble enters the hall (all pupils have to stand when she does), she inflicts the icing on the cake: Judy has to share a table with Miss Bramble where she gets a meal of bread and water while Miss Bramble gets a gourmet dinner.

Afterwards, Judy says she has never been so humiliated. The other girls are angry with Liz for not owning up and being responsible for what Judy went through. Judy herself is more understanding about Liz being too frightened to own up. Liz feels so guilty about it all that she sneaks to the kitchen to smuggle some proper food to Judy. Liz is disgusted to see how Cook feeds Jason, Miss Bramble’s cat, better than she does the pupils (a plate of the best chicken). Jason’s a real tiger though, and Liz has to run the gauntlet with him in order to get the chicken.

Judy is thrilled with the food and Liz is forgiven. The girls decide to band together in a friendship for standing up against Miss Bramble and Spartan School, and not let it break them.

The first test comes immediately when Miss Bramble and Siddons arrive about the stolen cat’s supper. This time Liz does own up. The girls rally behind her, saying they are all involved, as they do not want Liz to face the punishment alone. Realising the friendship that has formed, Miss Bramble tells them that she does not allow close friendships because these are bad for discipline, and is going to turn them all against each other. To make things even worse, the whole school, teachers and all, have turned against Judy because Miss Bramble is taking her rage over Judy’s defiance out on all of them, even the teachers.

However, Judy is more concerned about Amanda, whose health and nerves aren’t strong. Amanda was sent to Spartan School because her parents thought it would toughen her up, but instead it is making her ill. But the teachers are as cruel as Miss Bramble and show her no compunction or medical attention at all.

In the courtyard, Miss Bramble’s plan to break up the friendship gets underway. She has the girls toss a heavy medicine ball, and the one to drop it will be the victim for the punishment. As the weakening Amanda is bound to be the one, Judy saves her by dropping the ball deliberately and taking the punishment herself. The punishment is putting Judy in the pillory, with the whole school throwing rotten fruit at her. They are only too happy to do so as they have turned against Judy. Siddons orders the three girls to do the same, or Judy will be put in solitary confinement. Their response is to throw the rotten fruit at Siddons. Surprisingly, this results in the whole school rioting against Siddons and the school discipline while the three friends release Judy. But when reinforcements arrive, the other girls go back to their subservient selves and put the blame on the four friends. The four friends are put in solitary confinement, which means being imprisoned in cramped, freezing, rat-infested cells. Amanda emerges even weaker but recovers after a rest, and the others are even more defiant, angry and determined to stick together. Seeing this, Miss Bramble is even more anxious to destroy the friendship because in her view it impedes discipline. This time Siddons offers to have a go at it.

Siddons takes the four friends out for a skiing lesson. There are only enough skis for three, so Judy is excluded. She is directed to go down the slope to check it is clear. She finds it is clear, but when Sarah skis down, a branch hidden on the slope causes Sarah to take a fall. She accuses accuses Judy of putting it there on purpose and turns on her. Judy soon realises Siddons is behind it, and spots the proof – a glove Siddons dropped while taking the branch from the tree – but needs to sneak out and retrieve it if she is to convince Sarah. She succeeds, although she narrowly escapes being caught by Siddons.

Siddons soon realises her trick has failed, but soon has another one brewing: tricking the other friends into distrusting Judy. She forces Amanda to clean windows, despite Amanda telling her that she cannot climb ladders on medical grounds, and her health is worsening. Amanda ends up falling off the ladder, with Judy breaking her fall. Judy covers for Amanda by cleaning the windows herself while the others take Amanda to the dormitory. But she does not realise Siddons is watching and had planned it that way all along. After Judy cleans the windows, Siddons dirties them up again so Amanda will think Judy lied to her. And when Judy sees the look on Amanda’s face when Amanda sees the dirty windows, it looks like Siddons’ trick is going to succeed!

Realising Siddons’ trick, Judy pulls a smokescreen (literally) to cover up the windows looking like they were not cleaned. This succeeds in foiling Siddons and regaining Amanda’s trust. Unfortunately this also earns Judy the punishment that “never fails” at Spartan School – the Iron Mask!

Yes, a real-life iron mask that is straight out of the Middle Ages. Judy is to be locked into this ghastly contraption for two days, with no respite whatsoever. Out of all the tortures that have been inflicted on her so far, this is the one that is the most telling on Judy’s strength. It also makes Judy a target for bullying and cruel tricks from all the other girls, who have grown as heartless and cruel as Siddons because Miss Bramble’s ‘discipline’ has destroyed all sense of humanity in them.

Later, the girls rescue a pigeon from being clubbed to death by Siddons. After they help it to recover, they use it to carry a message for help and hope the message makes its way to a school inspector.

Next day, Judy is almost collapsing under the weight of the iron mask. It makes her so faint that she breaks a flask in science class and sets poisonous fumes off. While the class evacuates, Judy makes her way into the laboratory storeroom in the hope of finding something that will help her get the mask off. She succeeds, and then throws the iron mask down the mountain so Miss Bramble can never use it again.

Terrible punishment for this is inevitable. Sadistic Siddons suggests that the girls be allowed to choose the punishment as they all think Judy set off the poisonous fumes on purpose so she could get rid of the iron mask. Of course Miss Bramble thinks it is a marvellous idea. The girls’ punishment is a hockey match where they all take turns in fouling and brutalising Judy.

But just as this punishment ends, a helicopter arrives. The carrier pigeon did get through and the helicopter has brought in a school inspector, Miss Craig. Miss Craig indeed suspects something is wrong with the school after witnessing the inhumane hockey match and sees Miss Bramble for explanations. Miss Bramble says Jenkins must have goaded them but they will all be punished, while Judy tells Miss Craig that Miss Bramble put them up to it and it’s all part of how she runs the school through terror. Miss Bramble tries to cover up with smooth talk in how her school prides in discipline that turns unruly girls around. Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that in view of the note she has received about brutal treatment at the school, she will make a thorough inspection of the school.

The four friends realise Miss Bramble will try to pull the wool over Miss Craig’s eyes – and eventually it looks like she could succeed. They are desperate to find a way to find a way to make her see the truth. They get their chance when Miss Bramble gives the school a film show of documentaries to impress Miss Craig. Judy plants a Charlie Chaplin film (gee, how did that get to Spartan School in the first place?). She shows Miss Craig how the girls are reacting to the film: not laughing or smiling at all. She tells Miss Craig the girls are too cowed and scared to laugh because that’s what Spartan School does to its girls. Miss Craig understands what Judy is driving at, and when Miss Bramble lashes out at Judy in anger, Miss Craig wises up to her at last. She tells Miss Bramble her school will be closed down by tomorrow and gets ready to take Judy away from it immediately.

Miss Bramble is not having that and orders Siddons to get the cine-camera. She then threatens to beat Judy, and Siddons films Miss Craig holding the cane after she snatches it from Miss Bramble to make it look like it was Miss Craig beating Judy. They use it to blackmail Miss Craig into dropping her threat to close down the school. Appalled at how this frame-up could destroy her career. Miss Craig leaves without a murmur. While she leaves, Miss Bramble says to her, “These girls need the treatment I give them. It’s the only thing they understand.”

Afterwards, Miss Bramble gives the four friends an ultimatum: sign a document promising they will never defy her again or face terrible punishment the following day. Naturally, Liz, Judy and Sarah refuse to sign. Unfortunately Amanda’s weak nerves have reached breaking point and she feels she doesn’t have the strength of the others in continuing to defy Miss Bramble. Next day she signs the document while the others get a hosing for refusing. Amanda regrets signing, but has been brought up to keep her word and refuses to go back on it, even if it was forced. Later, the girls notice how Amanda is becoming more and more like the browbeaten, terrified girls.

That night, Amanda runs away. She is in serious danger because a blizzard is looming, but hard-hearted Miss Bramble refuses to organise a search for her. She locks up the three girls in a shed for the night when they try to force her to do so. Later, Miss Bramble grows worried that the girls might report her for refusing to search for Amanda, and Siddons hatches a plan to deal with this.

Next morning, Siddons offers to help the girls escape, claiming that she has seen how wrong Miss Bramble is and sends them off down the mountain in the cable car. When the cable car is half way down the mountain, Siddons cuts through the cable to kill the girls. Miraculously, they survive, and soon discover what Siddons did with the cable.

They make their way to the police station to tell their story and get help for Amanda. But they soon discover that Miss Bramble and Siddons have arranged another nasty surprise for them: they told the police a concocted story about the girls having run away after stealing money, and Siddons had planted the money on them before they left. The police escort the girls to the cells, but Liz helps Sarah and Judy escape by distracting the police with a ‘fainting fit’. Sarah and Judy make a fast getaway on a sleigh and head across the country to shake off the police.

They check out a hotel in the hope the guests found Amanda on the slope. Instead, they find Amanda herself! She says she found a calf on the slopes and they helped keep each other warm in the shelter of some rocks. After the blizzard eased, a farmer found Amanda when he came looking for his calf. He brought Amanda to the hotel, where she has made a good recovery. She phoned her father about Spartan School, who in turn contacted Judy and Sarah’s parents, and Mr Rogers is on his way to collect Amanda.

Just then, the police catch up to the girls, and they have brought Liz as well. But before the police can do anything, there is a sudden alert that an avalanche is imminent and will sweep Spartan School away. They cannot warn the school because the school phone has been cut off. What’s more, another blizzard has started. The girls decide to head back to Spartan School to warn them, making their way through the blizzard.

They make it back to the school. Knowing Miss Bramble is unlikely to listen to them, they decide to sound the old fire bell instead. But Siddons has seen them return and alerts Miss Bramble. They lock the girls in the bell tower. Miss Bramble does not listen to the girls’ warnings about the avalanche. Fortunately, Siddons does.

The girls manage to break down the door by using the bell as a battering ram. The noise the bell makes while they do so rouses the school, which enables Siddons to warn them about the avalanche. The school evacuates, and on the way down the slope, they bump into the rescue party consisting of the police, Judy’s father – and Miss Craig, who found the courage to report Miss Bramble to the authorities. The schoolgirls say they don’t know where the four friends are.

Meanwhile, the four friends have found Miss Bramble knocked out and unconscious on the bell tower steps. They pull her away with a sledge and eventually meet up with the search party. While they do so, the avalanche gets underway and destroys Spartan School.

Miss Bramble regains consciousness and cannot understand how these “wicked girls” were capable of saving her life. The police tell Miss Bramble how Miss Craig has told them about her “strange ideas of discipline”. When Miss Bramble says she was certain discipline would be good for the girls, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that discipline is good, but her “harsh tyranny” is not. However, seeing as Spartan School is no more, Miss Craig has little doubt the authorities will take no further action in the matter (whaatt?!?). Nonetheless, Miss Craig tells Miss Bramble that her teaching days are over – “over for ever!” Meanwhile, Siddons slinks away and is not seen again.

The four friends return to England and stay together at a much better and happier school.

Thoughts

This was the first story Terence Magee wrote for girls’ comics. It was also the first to pair up Terence’s writing with the artwork of the unknown artist who is nicknamed “Merry”. This pairing would occur again and again, most prominently in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Other occasions included the extremely popular Sandie story, “Slave of the Trapeze”.

Girls’ comics often made comment on progressivism vs. authoritarianism in education, particularly on how evil authoritarianism could be if it was taken too far. In so doing, it was linked with the bully teacher/principal theme, which was frequently used to illustrate what not to do in the classroom (or for the creators to purge their own memories of bully teachers?). The theme of tyrannical headmistresses going to extremes with discipline and reacting against modern teaching methods was in Tammy from the first issue with “The Girls of Liberty Lodge”. Here Miss Steele runs her school with such bizarre and harsh discipline that she stages show trials for girls in the school hall in front of the whole school. However, Miss Steele’s nemesis is not a pupil but a teacher, Miss Valentine. When Miss Steele reprimands Miss Valentine for showing a pupil kindness (so kindness is not allowed at this school either) Miss Valentine responds by quitting and establishing a progressive school, Liberty Lodge, in reaction against Miss Steele. From then on, Miss Steele pulls every trick in the book to destroy Liberty Lodge.

Jinty also used the theme on occasion. In one of her holiday specials she ran “The Spoof of St. Elma’s”, where the “cold and unfeeling” Miss Reed takes great pride in making St Elma’s “the harshest and strictest school in the country” (grim teachers and appointing the hardest girls as prefects are among her methods) and has no tolerance whatsoever for modern progressive teaching methods. She vows not to retire until she can find someone who can run the same way, and eventually tries it with a computer named Miss Steele. But it all blows up in her face when the computer malfunctions. As a result, her harsh, unfeeling legacy is completely swept away and progressive, caring teaching comes in with the new headmistress.

A variant Jinty had on the theme was “Children of Edenford”. Headmistress Miss Purity Goodfellow uses drugs to turn her pupils into brainwashed paragons of virtue in the name of perfection – with the full blessing of the girls’ parents.

Jinty’s most striking, and best thought-out example of the theme was “Dracula’s Daughter”, where authoritarian Mr Graves is determined to turn free-and-easy Castlegate into an old-fashioned grammar school. He rams it down everyone’s throats, even the teachers’, saying that he’s the headmaster so everything he says goes, and the teachers are to shape up to it or ship out. Mr Graves also believes fun and play belong in the home and not the classroom, and imposes this on the school too. However, unlike Miss Bramble or Miss Reed, Mr Graves is not a cruel, unfeeling sadist who subjects pupils to mock trials or ladles over-the-top torture with a shovel in the name of discipline. He is a bigot, not sadistic or insane like the headmistresses mentioned here. Ironically, he does have a heart and he shows he can be human when he believes it is appropriate for him to do so. Moreover, Mr Graves ends up becoming less rigid in his beliefs about education and learns to respect progressive education more. Still, everyone at Castlegate is relieved when Mr Graves leaves and goes back to his old grammar after discovering its discipline has slipped to the point of the boys becoming delinquent.

Spartan School is no doubt the most intense and excessive example of progressivism vs. authoritarianism in girls’ comics. Nothing is beyond Miss Bramble in her crusade to turn ‘unruly’ girls into her models of obedient and disciplined girls. However, we suspect discipline is just her excuse and the real motive behind her methods is that she’s a sadist who likes to torture girls emotionally, physically and psychologically. We suspect this even more when Miss Bramble says she has to stop the girls reporting her to the authorities because they would not understand her methods.

The text boxes say that Miss Bramble runs the school as if it were Victorian, but surely not even Victorian schools went as far as Miss Bramble. The girls either emerge as emotionally and psychologically traumatised zombies or like Siddons – unfeeling, bullying monsters with no trace of kindness or humanity to be seen. It is not just unruliness that is beaten out of girls but all trace of kindness, humanity and friendship as well. This is clearly because Miss Bramble does not tolerate tender emotions as she does not have any, and she does not allow friendships because they are building blocks to conspiracy against her discipline. She wants all her girls to be turned into models that are based on her personality. It could well be that Siddons came to Spartan School as an ‘undisciplined’ girl herself, and Miss Bramble’s ideas of discipline turned her into the stone-hearted monster and flunky that she is. As a result, Siddons is capable of anything, even murder. Or maybe she was a genuine badass kid in serious need of straightening out, but just got a whole lot worse at Spartan School. In any case, the four friends are the only oasis of kindness and courage we see in the entire school. Nowhere else is it to be seen.

Miss Bramble seems to ride on the shoulders of neglectful / useless parents who don’t seem to pick up on what’s going on at Spartan School or what their girls have become after they return from the school. Some may even approve of it. Rumours about the school’s cruelty circulate, Amanda herself has seen a damaged girl returning from Spartan School, and girls go home from Spartan School looking broken and frightened, yet nobody seems to step up and look into things. Parents still send their girls to it, believing it will do their girls a world of good. It’s not until Amanda manages to bring an inspector in that the cruelty of the school finally begins to get out. At least the four friends’ parents redeem themselves somewhat when they come in person to form part of the rescue party.

It is a bit annoying that Miss Bramble seems to get off a bit too lightly at the end of the story. Miss Craig takes the view that the authorities will not do much because Spartan School has been destroyed. Oh, come on, this is a woman who’s not only committed physical and psychological abuse against girls but is guilty of attempted murder as well! Shouldn’t there be at least a full public inquiry before deciding what should be done with Miss Bramble? Don’t the parents and pupils get a say in the matter? A lot of readers must have wished Miss Bramble had died in the avalanche or broken her neck on the staircase after reading Miss Craig’s view on what will happen to her. As for Siddons not being seen again after she disappears…well, it does suggest she might have come to a sticky end off-panel. Readers must have hoped for that anyway.

When Judy arrives at Spartan School, it’s where Miss Bramble finally meets her match, much in the way that Misery House does with Merry Summers. Like Merry, Judy refuses to be broken by the cruelties of the institution, finds strength in the only friends she has, and uses her quick wits to get out of the scrapes and dirty tricks that Miss Bramble and Siddons pull on her. As with Merry, Judy’s defiance takes the form of something that flies in the face of Spartan School and defies all attempts to break it. In the case of Merry, it is keeping on smiling and joking, no matter what. In the case of Judy, it is maintaining the four-friend friendship against all of Miss Bramble’s attempts to destroy it. And like Merry, Judy is determined to get word out about the cruelties of Spartan School and get it shut down. Unlike Merry, Judy succeeds on her very first try, although it takes time for help to arrive because of the blackmail Miss Bramble pulls on Miss Craig.

On this blog, Spartan School has been regarded as a forerunner of “Merry at Misery House”. For one thing, it is the same creative team. Parallels between the two stories have been noted above. The cruel institutions are physically destroyed (fire in Misery House, avalanche in Spartan School) as well as being shut down by authorities that have been finally been alerted by unsettling reports. Misery House also resorts to beatings, pillories, unhealthy isolation cells, poor food and other cruelties (but no iron mask, thank goodness) in order to break the protagonist. As with Judy, they also pull blackmail and other dirty tricks in order to isolate the protagonist from her friends and turn them against her. Character-wise, Judy could well be a predecessor of Merry; she likes to play jokes to liven things up a bit, but unwisely does them during class time. Liz is a bit like Merry too; our first impressions of her are that she is a chirpy girl, just like Merry.

In some ways, Spartan School does Judy a lot of good, albeit in spite of itself. Her energies, which went into practical jokes at her previous schools, are rechanneled into bringing down Spartan School and foiling all the tricks that are pulled to destroy the friendship. At the beginning we see a stubborn streak in Judy; once she puts her mind to something, she does it. This would have helped Judy immensely once she became determined not to let anything at Spartan School crush her. We get the impression that Judy emerged as a more toned-down and mature girl. No doubt she emerged as a much stronger and courageous one.