Tag Archives: bullying

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

Wenna the Witch (1974)

Sample Images

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Published:  10 August 1974 – 2 November 1974

Episodes: 13

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Wenna de heks [Wenna the Witch] in Tina 1976, Tina Topstrip 34, 1981; Greek translation in Manina; Indonesian translation Wenna, Si Penyihir [Wenna, the Witch] Tina TopStrip 34.

Plot

Wenna Evans (formerly Lomax) is the foster-daughter of the Evanses, who live in the Welsh village of Llarygg. It is a village where the locals still believe in witches. Still, that has never been a problem for Wenna. She has always seen herself as a girl like any other, and so do the villagers.

But all that changes when a stranger named Mr Burr arrives. He declares in public, right in front of the villagers, that he is looking for Wenna Evans because his research has uncovered that women in her Lomax ancestry were burned at the stake for witchcraft. (More likely they were victims of ignorance, superstition and persecution, probably because they possessed psychic powers of some sort.) Mr Burr thinks Wenna may have inherited the powers and asks her, right in front of everyone, whether she has ever noticed anything unusual about herself, particularly any “dark stirrings” or even visions? Now either this man has absolutely no tact or common sense, or he’s as ignorant and superstitious as the villagers themselves. Of course Wenna is absolutely outraged and yells at him to go away and not come back. As Mr Burr leaves he has a bad accident, and the villagers think Wenna put a curse on him.

So now the villagers think Wenna is a witch and the persecution begins. Her worst enemy is Blodwen Hughes, an expelled schoolgirl who has always been jealous of her. Blodwen’s job in a village shop is the perfect vantage point for her to spread the gossip about Wenna and fan the flames as much as she can. They get inflamed even more when Blodwen is taken ill and says Wenna put the evil eye on her.

Bad things happen one way or other and they are blamed on Wenna. Unfortunately some of them look a bit uncanny, such as when Wenna is surrounded by an angry mob while at the water pump and wishes for them to be swept away – and then jets of water shoot out of the pump, which drives them off. They all blame Wenna’s witchcraft, notwithstanding that their stone-throwing ruptured the pump in the first place.

There are actions Wenna takes that do not help matters. She borrows a book on witches to help her better understand what she is faced with. But when word leaks out it fuels the rumours against her. Wenna goes to the Gallows Hill, which is shunned and feared because it is said to have druid powers. She calls upon the ancient druids to grant her wish to make the villagers stop persecuting her. Unfortunately the villagers see her and accuse her of casting a spell that causes an accident.

At times Wenna herself wonders if she has powers, and there is evidence of it too. Mr Evans tells her that her ancestors were a strange lot and her mother was said to have second sight. Just before the encounter with Mr Burr Wenna had a vision of herself looking absolutely terrified. During the night she had a vision of Mr Burr’s operation and wished for his recovery – and next day she hears he had a miraculous recovery at the time when she wished for it. There are moments of anger where she wishes the villagers would be swept away or suffer in some other way. Then either something happens or she has visions of something happening, and she’s full of doubt about herself and wondering if the villagers are right after all.

Wenna has some friends, in the form of Myfanwy “Fan”, her dog Taffy (thank goodness Taffy isn’t a cat, or the villagers would persecute him as much as Wenna!), her foster parents, and Dr Glynn the village doctor who sticks up for her and chastises the villagers for their stupidity. As the persecution intensifies Wenna gets banned from school because parents won’t allow their children to attend while she’s there, and she gets shunned in the street, with doors slamming on her everywhere. Angry villagers tell Wenna’s foster parents to throw her out or suffer themselves, which forces Wenna to run off at one point. It escalates into a stone-throwing mob trying to drive her out of the village.

Meanwhile, there has been heavy rain that is showing no sign of abating.

The violence drives Wenna back to Gallows Hill, where she thinks she will be safe because the villagers are too scared of the place. She falls asleep and has an ominous dream of villagers being drowned in floodwaters from the heavy rain. Next day Fan comes to warn her that the villagers have guessed where she is and are coming after her, despite their dread of Gallows Hill. Wenna escapes by taking a tumble down a ravine called Devil’s Gullet, where she stows away aboard a truck. The villagers are baffled by her disappearance (for the time being).

The truck is going to the dam, which is in danger of bursting. Wenna overhears the engineers saying that if the dam breaks the water will flood Devil’s Gullet. They think the dam is holding – just – but when Wenna tries to cross the dam to get away from her enemies she discovers it is beginning to burst. She has more visions of the village flooding and villagers drowning in the floodwaters.

Wenna informs the engineers that the dam is bursting, and she decides to put aside all the things the villagers have done to her in order to help them. They all head to the village to warn the villagers. They pass by the witch-hunting villagers at Gallows Hill, who have now realised Wenna went down into Devil’s Gullet. The mob goes down after her, too crazed with witch-hunting fervour to heed the engineers’ warnings that the ravine is going to flood. Wenna goes down after them and, pretending to be a witch, scares them into going back up the hill and away from the floodwaters. Unfortunately she does not make it herself and the floodwaters carry her away.

Back on the hillside, the engineers tell the mob Wenna actually saved their lives by scaring them out of Devil’s Gullet, and it was Wenna who raised the alarm about the damburst. The engineers then do what they can to mitigate the flood damage to the village.

The villagers change their minds about Wenna when they learn how she helped save the village. They are stricken with remorse and think they have driven her to her death when they find her washed up in front of the village cross. However, Wenna is still alive and Fan says it is a miracle. When Wenna recovers, the villagers greet her with apologies, smiles and flowers. Even arch-enemy Blodwen has come around and says Wenna has powers to work small miracles. Wenna comes to accept that she may have inherited genuine powers from her Lomax ancestors, but everyone knows she will use them for good.

Thoughts

Lingering witch-beliefs in some rural areas of Britain have formed the basis for a number of girls’ serials where the protagonists are persecuted by villagers who still believe in witches. The formula was not used much, but some stories that had it include Mandy’s “Bad Luck Barbara” and Bunty’s “Witch!” Jinty ran two serials with the formula, the first being Wenna and the second being “Mark of the Witch!”.

Wenna is in line with the typical formula of the villagers believing the protagonist is a witch because of her alleged ancestry. How it starts is so astonishing as to be unbelievable. Nobody ever thought Wenna was a witch until Mr Burr comes barging into the village, tells people he has discovered she is descended from these executed Lomax witches, and then starts questioning Wenna right in front of everyone about what powers she has. What the hell was this man thinking? At best he’s incredibly stupid and tactless, not to mention rude, and deserves to get his face slapped. At worst he too is a witch believer who deliberately stirred things up against the girl he believed to be a witch. Whatever his motivation, the damage was done.

It is a common thread in the formula for odd things to happen to the protagonist (nightmares, visions, voices in the head, shouting at persecutors and then things happen to them) that have her wondering if she does indeed have strange powers. However, in Wenna it is more overt, such as her visions of villagers drowning. In similar serials, such as “Witch!”, these weird occurrences are usually kept more ambiguous in order to leave scope for readers to make up their own minds.

Wenna has more support than most of her counterparts do. Usually there is only one person who sticks by them, but they don’t always do so for the duration of the story as Fan does. Sometimes they abandon the protagonist and go over to the other side, as in the case of “Witch!”. However, in this case Fan not only sticks by Wenna but so do the foster parents, Taffy the dog, and the doctor.

The resolution of the story – the villagers change their minds about Wenna because of her heroism in the flood – ensures a happy ending, if not a realistic one. When witch-believers brand someone a witch the label sticks, if not extremely hard to remove, and casts a long shadow. For this reason the endings to “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!”, are more realistic, where the protagonist leaves the village with the villagers still hating her.

Wenna is notable for two things. First, it was the first Jinty story drawn by Carlos Freixas. Two more Freixas stories followed: “Slave of the Mirror”, which replaced Wenna, and the best-remembered one, “The Valley of Shining Mist”. Second, it was the first Jinty story to have the protagonist narrate the story herself. The only other Jinty strip to do so was “Pam of Pond Hill”.

The Valley of Shining Mist (1975)

Sample Images

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Published: 31 May 1975 – 1 November 1975 (23 episodes)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Writer: Alan Davidson

Translations / reprints: Het dal van de glanzende nevel (The Valley of the Shining Mist) in Tina 1977)

Plot

At the Cornish village of Armfield, Debbie Lane has lived with her aunt, uncle and cousin Elaine ever since her parents died. The upbringing she has received from them has been a terrible one. They are cruel relatives who abuse Debbie while teaching her to steal. Debbie also has a stammer and never spoken a full sentence in her life. As a result, everyone at school bullies her and calls her “Dumbie Debbie” and “stupid”. As she can’t talk back to the bullies because of her stammer, all she can do is lash out at them. Nobody cares for her at all or steps in against the bullies or the abusive relatives, although the teachers do notice it. Everyone compares her to a wild animal, and that’s just about what her behaviour has been reduced to because of the terrible life she leads.

On the upside, when Debbie passes the village antique shop she takes a moment to play a violin there, and the dealer says she has a genius for it. But what’s the use when she can’t get the violin or lessons? She also takes solace by finding solitude in the nearby valley, though it is dangerous from old mine workings.

One day Debbie lashes out at the Lanes and runs off when they are about to punish her for stealing food from a grocer. That’s pretty hypocritical of them, since they are the ones who teach her to steal. Moreover, they also drove her to steal the food in the first place by not leaving her anything to eat.

For the first time, Debbie heads for the valley while it is full of mist. She figures she will be safe there because everyone is scared to approach the valley when it is full of mist. When Debbie enters the mist, she is astonished to find an idyllic, shining fantasy world under it. And the valley farmhouse, which was in ruins before, is now intact and there is a woman there. Her name is Mrs Maynard, and there is something familiar about her that Debbie can’t place (clearly, a thread to be tied up later). She is the first to treat Debbie kindly and her home is everything Debbie has dreamed of: love, comfort, lots of food, and a violin she plays. Debbie is astonished to find that she is speaking proper sentences now and realises it is because she feels so relaxed in this loving, heavenly atmosphere and nobody is cruel to her. Mrs Maynard encourages Debbie’s gift for the violin, but when Debbie asks if Mrs Maynard can teach her, Mrs Maynard says that’s up to Debbie.

As Debbie leaves Mrs Maynard she steals a silver hairbrush with which to buy the violin she saw at the antique shop. But there is a strange, sad look on Mrs Maynard’s face as she watches Debbie go, and the text says it is as if Mrs Maynard knows what Debbie has done. Once Debbie is out of the valley, it returns to its normal state, with no trace of Mrs Maynard or the mist.

Debbie uses the hairbrush to obtain the violin, but can’t get far with it without proper lessons. When the violin attracts the attention of her cruel uncle, she tries to flee to the Valley of Shining Mist. But the mist rejects her, and she knows it is because of her theft. So she returns the violin to the shop, confesses the theft, and gets the hairbrush back. However, spiteful Elaine throws the hairbrush into the dangerous mine workings. This means Debbie has to risk her life to get the hairbrush out. However, she finds she does not mind the danger, even though she gets hurt, because she feels it is purging her of her sin in stealing the hairbrush.

This time the Valley of Shining Mist opens up for Debbie. She returns the brush, apologises, and promises Mrs Maynard that she will stop stealing. Mrs Maynard then gives Debbie her own violin. Later, when Debbie asks Mrs Maynard about her origins, she is vague, saying that perhaps she does not exist except in Debbie’s imagination, and only when Debbie wants it. As for why she seems so familiar to Debbie for some reason, she says that one day she will understand, but only if Debbie does everything she asks and becomes the great violinist she wants her to be.

Over time Debbie’s cruel family increasingly suspect she is up to something because of the objects she brings back from the Valley of Shining Mist, such as the hairbrush and the violin. Elaine soon realises it has something to do with the valley, but she just gets sucked down in bog when she tries to follow Debbie into the mist. Eventually the family force it out of Debbie, but of course they don’t believe a crazy story like that.

Debbie finds that if she is to continue to return to the Valley of Shining Mist and receive more violin lessons she must pass a series of tests Mrs Maynard sets for her. As the tests unfold, it becomes apparent that they are designed to bring out Debbie’s inner strengths, build her confidence, and shed the negative traits Debbie has developed from her abusive upbringing.

The first is to obtain a mug, which turns out to be the prize in a poetry reading competition – so Debbie is challenged to overcome her stuttering. The village is buzzing with astonishment and scorn when word spreads about “Dumbie Debbie” entering the poetry competition, and everyone turns up just to see how “Dumbie Debbie” fares. With the help of a strange vision from Mrs Maynard, Debbie manages to recite two lines of her poem without a stutter, but she is too overwrought to continue. The winner is so impressed that she insists Debbie receive the mug instead for her courage. Debbie also has to run the gauntlet with Elaine, who tries to take the mug from her, before she brings it to Mrs Maynard. In the Valley of Shining Mist, she makes tremendous strides with her violin under Mrs Maynard’s tuition. Mrs Maynard also suggests a shed where Debbie can practise in secret from her cruel family.

The next test is to obtain a brooch from Tracey Stocks – but that’s the girl who bullies Debbie the most at school! Then Tracey herself catches Debbie while she’s practising in the shed and starts bullying her over it. When Tracey snatches the violin, Debbie is pushed too far. She lunges at Tracey and during the fight the brooch comes off. Debbie takes the brooch while Tracey is in tears over losing it. Later, Debbie realises that taking the brooch like that had broken her promise to Mrs Maynard never to steal again. So she goes to the Stocks’s house to return it and is in for a surprise – Tracey’s home is as bad and abusive as hers! So they are two of a kind. Tracey is so impressed with Debbie’s kindness after all that bullying that she lets her keep the brooch to make things up to her. Tracey says she will be Debbie’s friend from now on, make sure the bullying stops (next day, Debbie finds it has), and Debbie can use her gang hut to practise.

Tracey is also very surprised to hear Debbie suddenly speaking almost proper sentences. The Lane family are noticing this and other changes in Debbie. Elaine begins to wonder if there is something in her story about “the valley of shining mist”, and wants to crush it.

Debbie’s third test is to enter a talent contest to demonstrate her violin ability in public, with a £100 prize for the winner. Mrs Maynard trains her up for it and gives her an envelope containing instructions. But Elaine has entered the contest too, so her spite towards Debbie is worse than usual. She throws Debbie’s violin down a hillside. By the time Debbie has retrieved it, her best dress has been ripped by brambles and her hands stung and blistered by nettles. This gets her off to a bad start when she finally arrives at the talent contest, but the miraculous strength she gets from visions of Mrs Maynard gets her through to victory.

Debbie treats herself to a spending spree with the prize money. Her family suddenly go all nice to her. She is completely taken in by their phoney kindness, and she does not realise they are just conning her into spending some of the money on them. But she forgot the sealed envelope, and by the time she opens it, she realised she should have taken the money to Mrs Maynard instead of spending it. Elaine sees the note and says Mrs Maynard is conning and exploiting her, which plants seeds of doubt about Mrs Maynard in Debbie’s mind.

Debbie returns the things she bought to recoup the money she spent. The Lanes continue to string her along because they are hoping to make money out of her talent, and they recruit a sleazy agent, Arthur Swain, for the job. Debbie is tempted by the money and fame Swain promises her and almost signs his contract. But in the nick of time she thinks the right things about Mrs Maynard and realises Swain is a nasty man. She leaves the contract unsigned and heads to Mrs Maynard with the money. Mrs Maynard said it was a test to see if Debbie could resist the temptation of money, and she shows what she thinks of those ideas of taking advantage of Debbie by burning the money.

Mrs Maynard then gives Debbie the last payment: bring Swain’s contract to her, all torn up, to show she will never sign it. However, the Lanes trick Debbie into signing it by having Elaine fake illness and saying they need Swain’s money for Elaine’s treatment. Debbie realises too late they have been fooling her and are as bad as ever. She runs off and her uncle gives chase. He forces her to retreat into the misty valley. Debbie is surprised to find herself in the Valley of Shining Mist after failing the last test. But no – she had passed it by signing the contract. It was really a test of selflessness and self-sacrifice. And the contract cannot be enforced against Debbie because she is a minor.

Mrs Maynard now says goodbye. She and the Valley of Shining Mist all dissolve in front of Debbie’s eyes and the valley goes back to its normal state. But in the village, Debbie is surprised to see Mrs Maynard get out of a car!

Er, it’s not quite Mrs Maynard. It’s Mrs Maynell, Debbie’s aunt, whom she had only seen once as a small child. She missed out on claiming Debbie when her parents died because she was out of the country at the time. She came to look for Debbie after getting a lead from a newspaper report about Debbie winning the talent contest. She shows Debbie a photograph of her house, and Debbie realises it looks exactly like Mrs Maynard’s home in the Valley of Shining Mist. Mrs Maynell has a stronger claim on Debbie than the Lanes do, and Debbie is only too happy to leave them and go with her. Mrs Maynell is a concert violinist and will encourage Debbie’s talent. When Debbie talks to Mrs Maynell, there is no trace of a stammer.

The Lanes just say “good riddance to her!” As Debbie and Mrs Maynell leave Armfield, Debbie requests one last stop at the valley. She deduces the Valley of Shining Mist was created out of her own imagination and subconscious memories of her one stay at her aunt’s. All those tests from Mrs Maynard were created by Debbie herself to rise above her abusive upbringing and the “wild animal” traits she had developed from it. She now says goodbye to the valley, but will always remember it when she plays her violin.

Thoughts

“The Valley of Shining Mist” was one of Jinty’s most popular and enduring stories and is fondly remembered in Jinty discussions. It has its roots in the “Cinderella” story, but it certainly is not your average Cinderella story. It is a Cinderella story that features one of the most intense, extraordinary, and emotional journeys in character development ever seen in girls’ comics.

Here the heroine is so emotionally and psychologically damaged by the abuse that she is likened to a wild animal. Mrs Maynard herself says a wild animal was what Debbie pretty much was when she first came to the Valley of Shining Mist. Nowhere is Debbie’s lack of self-esteem more evident than in her stammer. This must have struck a chord with readers who had stammers themselves. One even wrote in to Jinty’s problem page saying that she had a stammer just like Debbie.

So our heroine is set to not only rise above the abuse at home and bullying at school but also to overcome the psychological problems from it and find her true self: the violin genius. But Debbie is so damaged that she needs to do a whole lot more than develop her musical genius if she is to rise above the terrible life she leads.

This is precisely what Debbie gets in the Valley of Shining Mist (the fairy-tale land) and Mrs Maynard (the fairy godmother), both of which tie in appropriately with the Cinderella theme. But the fairy godmother does not help simply by giving Debbie gifts. She also helps Debbie to find her true self with a series of trials. Several of which seem unreasonable, bizarre and even impossible, but there always turns out to be a reason for them that does Debbie’s character development tremendous good. As Debbie progresses through the tests we see her strengths developing and her bad traits disappearing. The “wild animal” traits are being progressively shed and a more confident, compassionate and talented girl is developing. As Debbie’s character develops and strengthens everyone notices it, Debbie herself feels it, and it is reflected in her stammer, which gradually disappears after the first test. It is far more realistic to have the stammer disappear in stages, through each trial, rather than all at once.

One of the finest moments in the story is when Debbie discovers why Tracey Stocks is such a bully. It’s because she has an unhappy home life; in fact, she even has to sleep in the shed because there’s no room in the house. There’s no love for Tracey either; the only one who was ever nice to her was her late Aunt Betty, who gave her the brooch. The brooch meant everything to Tracey for that reason, so we realise it is a tremendous leap in Tracey’s own character development and redemption when she gives Debbie her beloved brooch because Debbie was the second person to be nice to her. Tracey Stocks would be worthy of a serial in her own right, and we wish she could find the Valley of Shining Mist too.

The explanation on how the Valley of Shining Mist worked at the end is the weakest part of the story. If Debbie had created the valley and tests out of her own imagination and subconscious memories of her aunt’s home, then where did the hairbrush, violin and envelope with the talent contest instructions come from? How did Mrs Maynard manage to give Debbie violin lessons? What happened to Tracey’s brooch and the £100 that Debbie took to Mrs Maynard? It would have been more convincing to have a more supernatural explanation, and preferably one that ties in with why the locals get so scared of the valley when it is full of mist – something that was never explained. Still, we can’t be certain that Debbie’s deductions about the Valley of Shining Mist were entirely correct. There may have been some supernatural force in the valley that she was not aware of. It certainly would tie in with the Cinderella theme beautifully.

“They Call Me a Coward!” (1971)

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Published: June and School Friend 3 July – 28 August 1971

Artist: Leslie Otway

Writer: Unknown

Sometimes we discuss non-Jinty serials, provided the entry is discussed within the confines of Jinty context. Such is the case here. Recently I came across this story from June and School Friend, and was immediately struck with the parallels it shares with “Waves of Fear”: a girl is bullied at school after being accused of cowardice in the wake of an accident; her enemies gang up to get her expelled; she is pushed too far and runs off in pouring rain; then comes a turn of events that puts things right. It could well be it was the same writer.

Plot

Cathy Price has a terrible fear of heights (acrophobia). So when Sue Dawson is clinging to a cliff top and in need of rescue, Cathy is too overcome by her phobia to help. Sue falls and is soon having life-or-death surgery. Following this, the girls at school call Cathy a coward and start bullying her. Leading them are Brenda Smith and her crony Marion, who are always causing trouble for somebody one way or other in any case.  Cathy’s best friend Lynn Greenway is shunning her as well – at first.

The bullies’ taunts drive Cathy back to the cliff, where she tries to prove herself by trying to climb the cliff this time. But again her fear overwhelms her. The bullies dangle her over the cliff and then leave her on the grass. When Cathy returns to school the bullies throw her in the shower with the water set to hottest because they think she is sneaking on them. Lynn rescues Cathy and almost picks a fight with the bullies until a teacher intervenes. Following this, Lynn becomes Cathy’s defender against the bullies. Lynn also cops some of the bullying as well. On a school trip Brenda and Marion push into her into the pool at the aquarium, which puts Lynn in danger from a killer whale and she can’t swim. Mr Withers rescues her, and she tells Cathy not to beat herself up for not being able to do something herself, commenting that those two bullies didn’t do any heroics either.

Cathy’s parents do not know what is going on. Cathy does not tell them because she is too ashamed, and also because they become stressed when Dad is suddenly made redundant and money gets tight. Cathy’s paper round helps make ends meet, but she loses the job because she is too upset about the trouble at school to do the job right. So Cathy takes an evening job in a café, but the extra work is soon taking its toll and interfering with homework. She loses sleep and is getting exhausted at school. Mum finds out about Cathy’s evening job and tells her to stop it because it is affecting her schoolwork. Cathy continues regardless because the family needs the money, but gets her wages docked when she accidentally breaks a stack of plates.

At school Brenda picks another fight with Cathy and they are hauled up before the headmistress. Brenda refuses to shake hands as ordered; she calls Cathy a coward and a disgrace to the school. The headmistress, who does not know what happened either, eventually gets the whole story out of Cathy. She handles it compassionately, telling Cathy that you don’t always succeed at being a hero, and how many people would be heroes when it comes to the crunch? The headmistress then has a word with Brenda, but it only makes the situation worse because afterwards Brenda tells Cathy that they are now out to really fix her.

Next day, Cathy finds out what Brenda means: the girls are now trying to get her expelled with a protest demonstration and threats of strike action. Worse, the press have gotten wind of it. The headmistress sends Cathy home while they try to sort it out. Form teacher Mr Withers assures Cathy that everything will be all right in the end.

Cathy is too ashamed to tell her parents or pass over the note from the headmistress. Then, when Cathy hears a newsflash reporting the trouble at school, she is so terrified that she runs away – in pouring rain. Her dog Spot follows and gets injured. The vet is closed, so Cathy takes Spot to the hospital. She discovers Sue has pulled through surgery and is on the mend. She goes in to see Sue and finds Sue wants to be friends with her. However, Cathy knows she will continue to be branded a coward and runs off again.

Then Cathy sees a young girl about to be attacked by a vicious guard dog. Without thinking, she jumps in to save the girl, but takes a bad mauling in the process. Now Cathy is quite the heroine and considered as having redeemed herself. The headmistress says it is safe for Cathy to return and there will be no more trouble. Indeed, all the girls cheer Cathy when she returns, including Brenda. The girl’s father is so grateful for the rescue that he gives Cathy’s father a job.

Thoughts

As stated before, this story shares a number of parallels with Jinty’s “Waves of Fear”. There are differences, of course. First, it is a phobia that stops Cathy from rescuing Sue and consequently being branded a coward, not an outright medical condition as it was in “Waves of Fear”. It is akin to how Marnie’s hydrophobia prevented her from going to the rescue of a drowning child in part one of “Cursed to be a Coward!”. This means Cathy has to redeem herself for her initial failure a whole lot more than Clare does if she is to shake off the “coward” label and the bullying is to stop. Not to mention assuaging the dreadful feelings of shame and guilt she is suffering in the wake of the accident.

Second is the focus of the bullying. It is confined exclusively to the classmates, which seems a bit unbelievable. One would think the story would filter through to other quarters of the town, as it does in “Waves of Fear”. And it is a bit strange that Cathy’s parents remain ignorant of the whole affair, even if Cathy is too ashamed to tell them. One would expect them to hear rumours or gossip of some sort.

The vendettas to get the protagonists expelled is motivated by revenge, but it differs in whose idea it is. In “Waves of Fear” the accident girl’s aggrieved parents demand the expulsion, which the headmistress refuses. Word leaks out and the chief bully takes up the task because of a personal grudge. In Cathy’s case the drive to get her expelled is motivated by pure spite from the ringleaders Brenda and Marion. Sue’s parents don’t compound the trouble at all.

Third is how the school tries to deal with the bullying. In “Waves of Fear” the school staff know about Clare being bullied. But they don’t do a thing about it and show no regard for Clare’s welfare or the bullying getting out of hand. In Cathy’s case the headmistress and teachers show deep concern for Cathy. They are extremely worried about the trouble and  what could happen if it does not blow over, though they could have taken much sterner action against it. The headmistress actually takes a non-judgemental approach with Cathy over the matter that is most impressive. The headmistress in “Waves of Fear” does not sound that wise or kind; in fact we hear it is unlike her to even pay compliments! And Lynn must be praised for her courage and empathy coming over to defending Cathy because she feels the bullying is going too far. Clare never had anyone like that at school to help her against the bullies.

Fourth is the trouble at home that both Clare and Cathy have to contend with on top of the trauma and guilt over the accidents and the bullying they are suffering at school. In Clare’s case it is because her parents have become a pair of ogres and turned against her because they also think she’s a coward. In Cathy’s case the parents don’t even know about the matter. It is the emotional and financial stress over the father’s redundancy and Cathy exhausting herself to help make ends meet that creates the domestic problems on top of her bullying problem. At least Cathy has someone to support her at home – her dog Spot. Clare doesn’t even have a pet to lean on during her troubled time.

Fifth is the ways in which the protagonists confront their fears. They both return to the scene of the accident to try to do so – only to be attacked by the bullies. This particular parallel does suggest the same writer for both stories. However, the ways in which they finally handle their fears is quite different. In Clare’s case she has to fight her fear (claustrophobia, which has intensified into a mental illness) all the way to rescuing her friend from the cave she is trapped in. This is regarded as the first step in recovering from her illness. In the case of Cathy, saving a child from a dangerous dog has nothing to do with her acrophobia. It was a matter of not giving in to fear itself. In fact, Cathy didn’t think about fear – she just jumped in without thinking. There is no indication of Cathy overcoming her fear of heights. The story goes for something less clichéd; Cathy just accepts that she’ll always be scared of some things. After all, she is only human.

There is a nice touch in having Cathy tell the story herself. This gives the story a more personal perspective, for it is told in the protagonist’s own words and gives insights into how the protagonist is thinking and feeling throughout the story. Having a serial being told in the first person is not unknown in girls’ comics though it was not used much. The only two Jinty stories that had the protagonist narrate her own story were “Wenna the Witch” and “Pam of Pond Hill“.

The Kat and Mouse Game (1974-75)

Sample Images

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Published: 16 November 1974 – 5 April 1975 (18 episodes)

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Dutch translation “Als kat en muis” [Like cat and mouse] in Tina 1985; translated into Greek in Manina.

Plot

Everyone avoids Kat Morgan at Barton Grange Ballet School because they all know she is a selfish, bullying girl who grabs all the best chances there are in the school, along with everything else she wants. What makes it even more distasteful is that Kat’s dancing is not as good as she thinks.

Meanwhile, new girl Letitia (her last name is not established) arrives. She was not keen on coming because she is a shy girl and happy to be the only ballet pupil in her village because of it. She only agreed to enrol at Barton Grange at the urging of her ballet teacher, who says the school can provide far better tuition for her talent than she can.

Shyness also makes Letitia gullible and naïve, so she proves easy prey for Kat’s false show of friendship. Kat has quickly realised what a sap Letitia is, and so she is taking advantage of Letitia to turn her into her personal handmaid. She also nicknames Letitia “Mouse”, and it sticks. But not even the humiliation of dubbing Letitia “Mouse” in front of everyone makes Letitia wake up; she meekly says she does not mind. Mouse does not listen to the girls’ later warnings that Kat is a creep who is making a mug out of her. Kat also poisons Mouse against Miss Randall the headmistress to make sure Miss Randall is not able to warn Mouse either. Eventually Mouse is left to stew in her own juice.

However, Kat soon discovers there is one snag to having Mouse as her skivvy once she sees her dance – Mouse is a far better dancer than she is. Jealousy unleashes the Kat’s claws, for she is not going to be upstaged by that Mouse. So Kat now plays a double game of stringing Mouse along as her skivvy while sabotaging Mouse to keep her in the background. To make sure of both, she wangles things for Mouse to come and live in her house, where she really enjoys having Mouse wait on her hand and foot and fetching and carrying everything for her. It is the same at school. The girls notice how Kat is turning Mouse into her slave. But when they try to speak to Mouse about it she just thinks they are being mean.

The double game has its drawbacks, though, due to Kat not thinking through the consequences of playing such a tricky double game. For example, Kat tricks Mouse into dancing badly at a test to make sure Mouse does not outshine her. But when Kat realises that this could get Mouse thrown out and she will lose her little skivvy, she quickly talks the teachers into letting Mouse stay, saying it was nerves.

Then Kat’s mother finds out how Kat is turning Mouse into her slave. In punishment, she stops Kat’s pocket money for two months. This comes at a time when Kat wants money to see a new ballet, as they will perform it later at their school and there are two places at stake in a ballet company. Of course Kat wants one of them. As there is no pocket money, Kat steals the money Mouse asked home for.

When Kat sees the ballet, she immediately sets her eyes on dancing the Tiger role in it. But Kat’s in for a surprise (and so are we) when she describes the Tiger performance to Mouse. Mouse visualises the Tiger so vividly that she puts up a stunning impromptu that has even Kat impressed. Realising Mouse could beat her to the Tiger role, Kat pulls more tricks to stop Mouse – and others – auditioning for it. But one trick backfires and gets Kat stuck in the lift. So she could be the one who misses out on the part. Sappy but kind Mouse isn’t having Kat miss out on her audition, so she dons the Tiger costume and pretends to be Kat. So thanks to Mouse, Kat gets the role. Now Kat has a new use for Mouse – have her stand in for her in the Tiger role, because she knows she could never top Mouse’s interpretation of the Tiger.

Then Kat starts getting worried that it’s getting too dangerous and the school might find her out. So, although she has enjoyed having Mouse as her mug, she now plots to get Mouse expelled. However, one of the tricks rebounds when it causes Kat to get her leg badly bruised in an accident. Moreover, Kat won’t seek treatment because that would mean the end of her Tiger role. However, she can’t dance properly because of her leg and she has to perform in front of the Mayor, so she cons Mouse into dancing it for her. Moreover, she is making sure Mouse, who blames herself for the accident, is waiting on her even more. Kat is really enjoying it, but is now treating Mouse in a bad tempered way. Mouse puts it down to the pain in Kat’s leg. Yes, there is that, but of course the real reason is that Kat is taking advantage to bully Mouse into the bargain.

Kat’s temper gets worse when she sees Mouse dancing the Tiger in the show. She realises that Mouse is getting even better in the role and her jealousy grows. Suspicion also grows when the girls comment on how well Kat danced with that badly bruised leg while Mouse looked like she had been dancing hard but she was not even in the performance.

Kat gets so jealous of Mouse that she sabotages a special platform that Mouse will leap onto so it will collapse under her. However, it backfires when Miss Randall tells Kat to leap onto the platform instead. Kat tries to avoid the weakened parts, but fails because of her bad leg, and the platform collapses under her.

Mouse saves Kat from serious injury – but oh, what a surprise! Mouse has picked up on clues that have made her suspicious of Kat. She now realises what Kat did and shouts at her over it: Kat spiked the platform, Kat betrayed their friendship, Kat hated her all along, they’re finished and she never wants to see Kat again. So now Mouse has finally seen through Kat and it’s the end of the story!

Oh rats, it’s not. Kat isn’t finished yet. She is now even more anxious to get Mouse expelled before everything comes out, and now plots to frame her for stealing. And Mouse is still living with Kat, which makes it easier. One night Kat goes to steal money from the head’s safe and blame it on Mouse. Realising Mouse has followed her, Kat pretends to be sleepwalking while taking the money. Mouse takes the money back to the safe, but is caught doing so. Mouse can’t fully explain because as she feels it would be sneaking and foolishly thinks Kat didn’t mean it. She even thinks Kat did it subconsciously for her because she is poor! So she takes the blame and is expelled.

The school has to wait for Mouse’s parents to come to remove her. So Mouse is put in isolation, but still around for Kat to take advantage of. Kat can’t dance properly because of her leg, and now the time has come to impress the ballet company director and get one of the two places. So again Kat wheedles Mouse into dancing the Tiger for her. However, the director is so overexcited by the performance that he rips off the Tiger mask on the stage, and everyone sees who was really doing the dancing.

Kat has to do some fast thinking on why an expelled girl is dancing in her place. So she dashes off, ties herself up, and spins a story that Mouse tied her up and stole the costume. Even the unbelievably gullible Mouse has to well and truly realise what a toad Kat is after this, but she can’t prove it.

Meanwhile, Kat is forced to go on stage in the tiger costume. But she can’t dance properly with her bad leg, and that mad dash to tie herself up has aggravated the damage. Her leg injury and its lack of treatment are soon discovered. Although by his own admission he is not a doctor, the director tells Kat that the injury will leave a permanent weakness in her leg, which means she can never become a professional dancer. Shocked to realise she has destroyed herself by her own dirty tricks against Mouse, Kat decides she might as well make a clean breast of everything and does so. At Mouse’s request, Miss Randall spares Kat the disgrace of expulsion and just lets her quietly leave because of her leg. Mouse gets into the ballet company and goes on to have a brilliant ballet career.

Thoughts

There has been a common feeling about this story that it’s difficult to be fully sympathetic for the protagonist because she’s so wet and unbelievably naïve and gullible that she believes anything Kat tells her. Even when Mouse does see through Kat after the platform incident, it does not last long. Before long, Mouse goes back to falling for Kat’s tricks and thinking Kat’s her friend. Any respect we gained for Mouse in that outburst is instantly lost. And any hope we have of Mouse finding a whole new backbone that sets her on the road to more confidence is dashed as well.

Mouse cuts off her own avenues of help by not listening to warnings, although this is partly because she has foolishly believed the lies that Kat has told her. Even when Kat’s mother finds out how Kat is treating Mouse and stops her pocket money in punishment, Mouse doesn’t open her eyes to it as well. She goes on thinking Kat is her friend whom she is only too happy to do everything for. All anyone can really do is watch and notice suspicious things that filter through, but they don’t have enough evidence to act on them.

The scheming follows a fairly common pattern in girls’ comics, where the schemer starts off just playing tricks on the protagonist because she is taking advantage her or thinks it’s just a huge joke. But later the scheming takes a more spiteful turn, with the schemer deciding to get rid of her victim altogether. This is because she’s gotten bored with it, or it’s gotten too complicated, or the victim has done something that’s really put the schemer’s nose out of joint and she’s out for revenge. And it’s here that things begin to unravel for the schemer. Other stories that follow this pattern include Tammy’s “Dulcie Wears the Dunce’s Hat” and M&J’s “What Lila Wants…”.

It is bad enough that Kat is playing a double game with Mouse, what with sabotaging her while taking advantage of her at the same time. But when it turns to scheming to get Mouse expelled, her conduct becomes really galling. Although she succeeds in getting Mouse expelled, she has the nerve to still take advantage of her because she wants Mouse to stand in for her in the Tiger role and be her unpaid servant. She isn’t even grateful to Mouse for saving her from the collapsing platform. Yes, she does say “thanks”, but nothing in her conduct or thoughts afterwards indicates true gratitude. Kat’s only redeeming quality is how she breaks down in the end and confesses everything, which saves Mouse. Could those tears be the start of a new improved Kat? We cannot say for sure, but we can be confident that Kat will never be the same again.

It is a real twist that the Kat ends up destroying herself through her own subterfuge on Mouse. Kat won’t seek treatment for an injury that was caused by one of her own tricks, just because she does not want to lose the Tiger role. Yet she can’t even dance the Tiger because of her own injury, so she still has to use the very girl she is trying to expel. Moreover, Kat let her leg go untreated and worsened it with her final trick on Mouse, so it deteriorated to the point where she would never be able to dance again. In any case, she never had enough talent to really get to the top to begin with, so no amount of trickery would get her there.

 

 

Misery Loves Company, or, the sadomasochism of readers?

Attendees at talks like the Comix Creatrix event have a tendency to marvel at the prevalence of stories about misery, cruelty, and slavery in girls comics. It’s particularly the case that, if the attendee is someone who isn’t steeped in reading stories in this genre, they may well bring out loaded words or phrases referring to the ‘sadomasochism’ in the stories, or they may indicate that something is a bit ‘dodgy’ or ‘ooh-er’ (at the end of the talk this came in with discussions of “War Orphan Farm” and “Slave of Form 3B“). I’m not immune to this effect either – in earlier days I have certainly referred to slave stories with wink-wink innuendo, for instance. But it’s not true to the material being referred to, and what’s more I think that it plays into the wrong hands, as I will explain below.

Girls comics feature a lot of cruelty, misery, and slavery, it’s true. Mistyfan’s post on the Slave Story theme gives a relevant run-down of how a large subsection of girls’ stories worked, including a range of examples. We haven’t even given misery and cruelty any specific categories of their own in our list of themes, but they are clearly part of the more discrete story themes of Affliction, Bullying, Cinderella, Guilt Complex, and Troublemaker, to name only a few. Stories frequently feature mental domination, abuse, and physical brutality; may include handcuffs and ropes; and occasionally allow the death of the main character. And these are not incidental aspects of the stories – they are the main reason for them, the thing that makes them popular and memorable. A story may continue for half a year or more with the protagonist growing more and more hard-done-by, and the resolution typically only comes in the last episode or even the last few panels. It’s hardly surprising that this is so much a feature of discussions of girls comics when it comes up outside the confines of a blog like this.

But does this mean either that the stories are full of sadomasochism, or that the readers were secret sadists or masochists to enjoy them in such numbers? I’d say no, to both.

If you look at the stories themselves, and the experiences of the protagonists within then, they are just not stories of sadomasochism. For a start, they’re not overtly sexual (no publisher of the time in the UK would have countenanced that, of course, though as has been pointed out by Paul Gravett, the Shojo manga publishing phenomenon in Japan at around the same time was able to go down this route). They’re not covertly sexual either (not that I think girls of that age and in that era particularly went for hidden innuendo – we passed around Lace and The Thorn Birds, and of course we all devoured the Flowers In The Attic series). Fundamentally the stories of cruelty/slavery , even though they can spark associations of BDSM to the adult reader, weren’t about submission. The protagonists didn’t learn to enjoy being humiliated or dominated by their rivals: it was just that they were not strong enough to win against the villain or the society they were in. It’s a trope about powerlessness and fighting back even when it’s hopeless: eventually, even though it seems terribly unlikely, you may win. That’s a message of strength to young girls, collectively one of the least powerful groups in all society.

Slave stories end with the slave being freed and reinstated, and the villain reformed or defeated. (See the Tammy blog’s post about Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” where all eventually ends happily.) There are some stories where the slave accepts the brainwashing of the antagonist at points, and believes she deserves her punishment (Jinty‘s “Slave of the Swan” includes this plot element), but clearer eyes than the deluded protagonist see through this deception and it is not seriously proposed as something that the protagonist should believe. These are not stories with hidden subtexts of the delights of submission to loving authority in the way that Marston’s Wonder Woman stories were.

There are also a large number of tear-jerker stories which get mentioned as part of this idea of the sadomasochism of girls comics. I think here the feeling is that because such stories are so focused on misery, it is sadistic, or possibly masochistic, of the girl reader to enjoy them so much. Some of the obvious key contenders from the massively popular misery / tear-jerker trope are:

  • “No Time for Pat” in Jinty Annual 1980. Originally printed in June (1972)
  • Stefa’s Heart of StoneJinty (1976), reprinted in Princess / Tammy & Princess (1984)
  • DC Thomson’s “AngelMandy (1977) reprinted three times, with two subsequent sequels One of the few misery stories that takes the story through to the death of the protagonist, but as she was suffering from a terminal disease this feels like a naturalistic and almost uplifting ending – you could say she ‘wins’
  • Nothing Ever Goes RightJudy (1981) Reprinted (1989-90) Another exception of a misery story in which the protagonist dies in the end. (Edited to add: written by Maureen Hartley – see comments on Girls Comics of Yesterday)

These stories don’t really have a specific villain, though some other similar ones may do. The cause of the misery is often simply cruel fate. Possibly because cruel fate is much less personal, it is sometimes carried through to the logical conclusion whereby the protagonist dies in end: something that you can’t really do with a slave story because then the villain would win. (Unless anyone knows of a counter-example?)

Clearly girl readers loved a good cry! But why label the readers so strongly, bandying around terms like masochist? Didn’t the Victorians also love sentimental sob stories? What about classical tragedy, which far more often ends in unswerving death? Or indeed devotees of East Enders or the Archers? Consumers of these stories don’t get the same labels. I can only see it coming down to the policing of girls’ reading – it falls outside our expectations of what girls should read, and so we boggle at it more than at Victorian sob stories. If we fall in with this policing of ‘appropriate’ reading we play into the hands of authority’s disapproval of comics. Sometimes that manifests itself relatively mildly, as when Mary Cadogan complained about lurid death scenes in girls comics, citing “No Time For Pat” as an example (incorrectly, in fact) and using that as a lever to indicate that all girls comics were of low worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Frederick Wertham used his assertions of inappropriate themes and images to press for wide-ranging ‘reform’ of comic book publishing and the implementation of the US Comic Book Code.

Cursed to be a Coward! (1977)

Sample images

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Publication: 13/8/77-29/10/77

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #21 as “The Fortune Teller”; Tina Topstrip #49 as Zoals de waarzegster voorspelde (As the fortune teller predicted)

Plot
Ever since infancy Marnie Miles has shown promise as a brilliant swimmer like her late father, and Mum encourages her. At her new school, Marnie becomes one of the best swimmers at “The Mermaids”, the school swimming club, and can’t get enough of water.

That is, until she meets Madame Leo, a sinister-looking fortune-teller. Madame Leo makes a prophecy for Marnie’s cousin Babs: “I see falling, falling…there is much danger.” A year later it comes true when a plank falls on Babs and leaves her crippled. Then Madame Leo turns up again and seems to be shadowing Marnie, warning her that they will meet again in a week. And a week later, at the school fete, Madame Leo shows up and scares Marnie with another prophecy: “You are going to end up in blue water!” Marnie flees the tent in terror. She also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

Marnie takes the prophecy to mean that she is going to drown in blue water. As a result, she develops hydrophobia (fear of water). When she fails a drowning child because of it and people call her a coward, she believes she is now “cursed to be a coward” by that fortune-teller.

The hydrophobia just gets worse and worse. Marnie won’t cross a puddle because she is too terrified of water. She begs the bus driver to let her out once she sees it is about to cross a river of blue water. At a high-diving event she asks for a rubber ring! As Marnie’s hydrophobia intensifies, so do the problems it creates. She failed to help that drowning child because she is too terrified of water. As the word spreads, the girls at school gang up on her, calling her a coward. Their bullying intensifies along with Marnie’s hydrophobia. Not even the presence of Marnie’s mother makes the bullies back off, and Marnie finds “COWARD” daubed on her house. Miss Frame, the swimming coach, is surprised at Marnie’s behaviour she seems to be losing her nerve or something. At home, Mum can’t understand why Marnie is suddenly turning against water and giving up on swimming. Marnie won’t tell Mum because she doesn’t want Mum to worry.

Marnie tries to fight back against the curse that seems to be turning her into a coward, but her hydrophobia is too strong. She turns to Babs for help, and Babs agrees to a cover story for Marnie giving up on swimming.

But the problem is still there, so Marnie decides to go back to Madame Leo to see if Madame Leo is willing to redress the problem. Marnie just finds the crystal ball, which shows a rather vague image of her waving her arms around. Marnie thinks it shows her drowning and takes off in a fright, not realising Madame Leo has seen her.

When Marnie participates in a high-diving event, Madame Leo turns up in the gallery and terrorises her with reminders of the prophecy. Marnie faints and falls right off the diving board! She is rescued, and now tells her mother the truth. Mum tries to track down Madame Leo but fails, and loses her job as a result.

Then Mum gets a housekeeper’s job with Mr Rennie. He has a swimming pool. The water there is green, not blue, so Marnie decides the water is safe for her to swim in and get back in training. Mr Rennie encourages Marnie.

Marnie now tells Miss Frame the truth. Mum allows Miss Frame to resume coaching of Marnie, but on strict condition that she is not to leave Marnie for a moment. However, Madame Leo disguises herself as a cleaner and diverts Miss Frame by knocking a photograph of one Lorna Gray, one of the former school swimming champions, off the wall and into the water. While Miss Frame is busy with the photograph, Madame Leo tries to drown Marnie and would have succeeded but for some fast resuscitation from Miss Frame. The police are called in but do not take the complaint seriously and Madame Leo denies it all. However, when Madame Leo was trying to drown Marnie, she reveals why she hates her. It is because Marnie bears a striking resemblance to Lorna, a girl Madame Leo has hated for 30 years. She does not say why she hates Lorna.

Babs and Marnie go to the fete to confront Madame Leo. Babs urges Marnie to try and break her crystal ball. But this just gets them into trouble with the police and another triumph for Madame Leo, who is now terrorising Marnie with threats of the prophecy and attempts at drowning her at every turn.

Then Mr Rennie dies, and he leaves Marnie and her mother a legacy – a houseboat called Blue Water. Marnie realises that this is what the prophecy means by “blue water” and has nothing to do with drowning. She starts dancing for joy (revealing what she was actually doing in the crystal ball) and is now cured of her hydrophobia.

However, Madame Leo is lurking nearby. She knew the truth about Blue Water all along, and now sees the game is up. She makes a last-ditch, desperate effort to drown Marnie. But it backfires when Madame Leo misses Marnie, goes into the water, and Marnie ends up saving her from drowning! A policeman was watching, so Madame Leo is finally arrested.

Afterwards it is established that the reason Madame Leo hated Lorna Gray and took it out on Marnie is that she (wrongly) blamed Lorna for her sister’s drowning at the seaside 30 years ago. It is not revealed as to why Madame Leo blamed Lorna or why she was wrong to do so. Madame Leo’s reaction to being rescued by Marnie and her ultimate fate are not recorded. But for Marnie, there is no looking back. Her classmates apologise for calling her a coward once they hear about her rescuing Madame Leo and hail her as a heroine for it. Marnie is back with the Mermaids. She is soon winning championships for the school and is looking forward to a swimming career with the help of Blue Water.

Thoughts

Alison Christie is better known for writing emotional, tear-jerker stories in girls’ comics. So it was a surprise to learn that she wrote this thriller story featuring a psychotic would-be killer, a tormented, persecuted girl turning into a nervous wreck from hydrophobia and being constantly harassed, and elements of the supernatural abounding with the prophecy, crystal balls, psychic powers and premonitions. And it’s all brought off brilliantly with the artwork of Mario Capaldi, whose artwork really brings off insanity and pathological hatred that is consuming Madame Leo, and what a creepy, sinister crone she is, even before she has started harassing Marnie. Madame Leo is the only villainous fortune-teller to appear in Jinty, and in her we see the antithesis of Gypsy Rose, the resident gypsy clairvoyant in Jinty. Imagine if we got the two together.

Christie’s handling of the prophecy was spot on. It was exactly how the prophecy should work – a riddle filled with double meanings. The recipient of the prophecy takes what appears to be the obvious meaning, so it comes as a twist and surprise to the recipient (and the readers) when the prophecy turns out to mean something entirely different. Macbeth is a classic example of this. But unlike Macbeth, the twist was good for Marnie. And it looked like there were some unexpected twists for Madame Leo as well; she had long since foreseen what “blue water” truly meant, but she did not foresee her life being saved by the girl she was trying to kill, or that she would fail in her hate campaign.

One of the best conceptions of this story is Marnie’s personality, how it makes her so vulnerable to Madame Leo’s curse, and how this is structured in the buildup in the first episode. When Marnie and Babs first visit Madame Leo at the fair, we immediately see how impressionable and suggestible Marnie is. In the first place, she is not even keen to visit the fortune-teller because that sort of thing scares her, but Babs insists. And Madame Leo strikes Marnie as a sinister-looking woman even before Madame Leo starts terrorising her. Marnie is far more terrified at Babs’s prophecy than Babs is, and when it is fulfilled, Marnie is in no doubt about Madame Leo’s powers. When Madame Leo shows up and tells Marnie they will meet in a week, Marnie gets even more scared – not least because of the way Madame Leo looks at her. Even before Marnie meets Madame Leo at the school fete, she suddenly finds herself shaking for no reason. And Madame Leo does not just tell Marnie the prophecy – she seizes her and forces her to listen when Marnie wants to get the hell out of there without any fortunes told, thank you very much. When Marnie gets out, she is not just scared – she also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

And is she cursed? In the end it is revealed that this is not the case because Marnie misconstrued the prophecy. So it was Marnie’s imagination and suggestibility, being so easy to scare, getting all wound up by that creepy fortune-teller and her prophecy, and getting odd feelings of foreboding that could be anything from real sixth sense to superstitious imagination. But until then, we readers are left to wonder if she really is cursed, and whether that fortune-teller is right and Marnie is going to go the same way as Babs. Even without Madame Leo’s harassment it is terrifying enough. But when Madame Leo starts terrorising Marnie directly and tries to kill her, we get what must be some of the most terrifying scenes in girls’ comics. Fainting on a high-diving board? Being attacked in the swimming pool and nearly murdered? Wow! And all the while, Madame Leo preys upon and amplifies Marnie’s false fears about “blue water” to make her all the more terrified. Years of fortune-telling must have given Madame Leo experience in the human psyche because she is a master of fear and manipulation in the way she plays upon Marnie’s fears; she is extremely crafty in how she steadily builds up to scare Marnie with the prophecy in the first episode. We have to wonder if she has done similar tricks with other people; she looks sinister enough for that.

It is a bit frustrating that we never learn the fate of Madame Leo after her arrest. Presumably she was put into some sort of psychiatric care. But how did she react to being rescued by the girl she was trying to kill? Did it change her attitude in any way, or was her mind too far gone for that? Perhaps there was not enough room on the final page to address any of this, but couldn’t they have had a text box at least to tell us what happens to her? And we never learn why Madame Leo blamed Lorna for her sister’s death or why she was wrong to do so. Perhaps there was not enough room on the last page for that either. Or maybe Christie or the editor decided not to delve into it and preferred to focus on Marnie for the final panels.

When it is revealed that Madame Leo was persecuting Lorna (through Marnie) for nothing, it comes as no surprise if you know girls’ comics well. Serials featuring hate-filled people who persecute someone (or organisation) for revenge, only to find out that they were mistaken about them, have cropped up regularly in girls’ comics. “Down with St Desmond’s!” (Bunty) is a classic example, and the theme was a frequent one in DCT titles. The theme was less common in Jinty, but some Jinty stories with the theme or elements of it are “Go On, Hate Me!“,  “The Ghost Dancer”, “Slave of the Swan” and “Waves of Fear“.

 

Waves of Fear (1979)

Sample images

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Publication: 22 September 1979 – 15 December 1979

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown – but see addendum

Reprint: Girl Picture Library 11 as “Moments of Terror” (abridged); Tina 1983 as “In een golf van angst” [In a Wave of Fear]. Dutch translation.

Summary

Clare Harvey has everything to enjoy at school: success, popularity and friends. She and Rachel Mitchell are the best of friends, and now they are celebrating a special hockey victory. The only one put out is Jean Marlow, a nasty girl who has always hated Clare for some reason.

In the changing room, Clare suddenly takes a strange turn and has to get out in a hurry. Nobody realises it is a warning of what is to come.

Later, Rachel wants to take a swim in the pools in a coastal cave. Clare does not feel like it, but Rachel insists. In the cave pool, Rachel runs into trouble. Clare is about to go in after her when an inexplicable panic of walls closing in and waves of fear hit her. They are so terrifying that they force her out of the cave, leaving Rachel behind and still in danger of drowning.

Outside is Jean, and Clare tells her what is happening, but is too terrified to go back in. Jean rescues Rachel and, having always hated Clare, puts up the word that Clare is a coward who left her friend to drown. Clare, hitherto the most popular girl at school, now finds herself an outcast, with all the girls turning on her and calling her a coward. At home, Clare’s parents are just as condemnatory, and they will get increasingly harsh with her as the story progresses. Clare can’t understand why she panicked and wonders if she really is turning into a coward.

The morning assembly is honouring Jean’s heroism. This has Clare thinking of the cave, and as she does so, the same terror starts again. She feels walls closing in on her and she panics, desperate to get out. As she does so, she brings chaos to the assembly and injures a teacher and a prefect when they try to restrain her.

As the confused and distraught Clare wanders through town, she discovers word has spread about her (through Rachel’s mother, who works in the markets); people stare at her, whisper behind her back, and refuse to serve her. She tries to visit Rachel in hospital in the (mistaken, as it turns out) hope that if Rachel forgives her, the terrors will stop. But the waves of fear and images of that cave overwhelm her again and she has to get out fast. She decides to try writing to Rachel instead.

She heads home and finds her parents angry after the school phoned them about her conduct at assembly. They demand an explanation. Clare says she cannot give one, except  that she now seems to see that cave everywhere and gets terrified and runs away every time she does. They do not seem to be impressed or concerned at this. They also insist on her going to the hospital to apologise to Rachel, but Clare is too terrified after what happened there already. They don’t listen when she tries to explain this and go to the hospital themselves, saying they don’t have a daughter anymore.

Next, Clare heads back to the scene of the disaster and finds that even the waves seem to be calling her a coward. She forces her way into the cave to try to understand her panic, but it just starts up again. However, her attempt to get out is blocked by Jean and other girls. Egged on by Jean, they throw Clare into the pool in an act of bullying. Then the girls get a shock when Clare does not come up, and they discover there is a powerful current below. It looks like Clare is dead because of their bullying. Jean is all for covering up, but the others say she is the coward now and phone the police with the truth.

However, the current merely pulls Clare through into another cave. Once she emerges, the panic grips her again. It takes some fierce scrambling under the rocks for her to get out. As the terror-stricken Clare runs off, she is spotted by a woman who is concerned by the state of mind she is in. She is Priscilla Heath, secretary of the orienteering club. She takes an interest in Clare for the club.

At home the parents find Clare not dead as they all supposed. When the headmistress demands to know why Clare did not report her survival, the parents accuse her of doing it on purpose to spite the girls. They refuse to listen to Clare’s pleas that she had been just too frightened to think of it and the girls should not have thrown her in the pool anyway. Nor do they listen to her pleas not to go back to the school because of the bullying and they drag her back there. In the head’s office the bullies get a fierce dressing down from the headmistress and this has them turning on Jean. But this has Jean turning extra nasty and swearing revenge on Clare, who is still an outcast and a target of bullying. When Jean sees Clare getting the same panic when she gets stuck in the shower cubicle and raving about the cave, she immediately sees how she can get her revenge.

Meanwhile, Clare gets heavy detention for her conduct in assembly and is on a last chance basis before expulsion. But on a brighter note, she joins the orienteering club. Miss Heath knows about the unfortunate business but unlike the others she does not condemn Clare; instead she says there must have been a reason why she panicked. Clare gets the satisfaction of beating Jean in a race at the orienteering club, which nobody has ever done before. But of course this has Jean turning even nastier towards Clare.

Rachel is discharged from hospital and her parents turn up at school demanding Clare be expelled, just because they don’t want Rachel attending the same school as Clare. Outside the head’s office, Clare gives them her letter for Rachel, but unknown to Clare, Mrs Mitchell rips it up. Mrs Mitchell is furious when the headmistress refuses to expel Clare and says she will keep Rachel at home. When the girls hear of this, Jean uses what she saw in the shower cubicle to hatch a plan to get Clare expelled. Jean locks Clare in the classroom where she is doing detention and turns off the lights to simulate the cave. As Jean planned, this sets Clare off into the panic and, in her desperation to get out, she wrecks the classroom. The headmistress expels Clare. Jean then heads off to tell the Mitchells of Clare’s expulsion. Mrs Mitchell is delighted and will be sending Rachel back to school. Rachel wants more understanding of the whole business and wishes Clare had tried to contact her. She does not know Clare had tried twice and failed.

As Clare runs off, Miss Heath finds her in a dreadful state and Clare explains what happened. And she says she can’t come to the club because of Jean. Miss Heath insists that she does and she will deal with Jean. She tells Clare she needs help. But at home, Clare’s parents are furious about the expulsion. They tell Miss Heath to go away and ban Clare from the club, despite Clare’s protests that it is the only good thing she has right now. Dad then locks Clare in her room. This sets off another panic and Clare escapes through the window.

Now Clare is on the run and the police are after her, and her parents are under the impression they have an out-of-control daughter. She makes her way to the orienteering club, where Jean destroys her last joy by wrecking the orienteering club and putting the blame on her. Clare protests her innocence to Miss Heath, who is not sure what to make of Clare’s claims that it was Jean. But she begins to think Clare is sick. However, Clare has run off again. She heads back to the scene of the near-tragedy, where men have now started dynamiting. We now get hints that Clare is contemplating suicide, but at that point the men scare her into running again.

Meanwhile, Rachel returns to school. She learns of Clare’s failed bid to write to her, and then how Jean got Clare expelled. She calls Jean a monster and rushes off to tell Clare’s parents. Miss Heath is also there, and upon hearing Rachel’s story she now believes Jean wrecked the club. She also realises what the problem is: Clare has developed extreme claustrophobia (the fear of closed spaces). The guilt-stricken parents realise that they, along with nearly everyone else, got blinded by the thought that Clare was a coward who kept lashing out when in fact she was mentally ill. They notify the police and the school.

The sight of a police car forces Clare back into the cave. Rachel comes in and says to Clare that she forgives her and wants them to be friends again. But then the entrance to the cave collapses because of the dynamiting. Rachel pushes Clare outside but becomes trapped inside. Clare uses the other entrance she discovered from the bullying incident in the cave to rescue Rachel, braving her claustrophobia, the current and a collapsing cavern to do so. Rachel then tells Clare what is wrong with her. Clare is reconciled with her apologetic parents.

Clare is reinstated at school and welcomed as a heroine by remorse-stricken classmates. Jean is furious (but there is no mention of her being punished in any way). The rescue of Rachel is regarded as the first step to recovery. It is a long, hard struggle before Clare is well again, but she makes it. And she also makes county orienteering champion.

Thoughts

Phobias have a history of making plot material in girls’ strips. Lara the Loner (Tammy), A Dog’s Life for Debbie (Tracy) Cursed to be a Coward! (Jinty) and Slave of the Trapeze (Sandie) are some  examples. The first deals with ochlophobia (fear of crowds), the second cynophobia (fear of dogs), the third hydrophobia (fear of water) and the fourth acrophobia (fear of heights). Equinophobia (fear of horses) is one phobia that crops up frequently as well, with stories of girls who lose their nerve after riding accidents. Hettie Horse-Hater and Rona Rides Again (Tammy) are among them.

But at least in these stories the heroines know what their fears are. This is not the case with Clare Harvey, who has no idea what these waves of fear are that keep gripping her, and nobody seems to understand what explanations she can manage to give – that she just gets seems to get scared and sees that cave everywhere. But we can see that whatever it is that is overwhelming Clare, it is not cowardice or bad conduct. There can be no explanation for those swirls and flashes around Clare’s head and the inexplicable panic attacks but insanity of some sort. But neither Clare nor the reader knows or understands what it is (except maybe the readers who know about claustrophobia), which makes it all the more terrifying. And neither the parents nor school staff are picking up the clues; they are all being too judgemental and harsh because they are all acting on the assumption that Clare is a coward who is becoming badly behaved and violent. But nobody tries to find out why Clare is acting this way, although the headmistress is at a loss to explain why a model pupil with a good school record is suddenly acting so out of character. We wince at the increasing harshness of the parents towards Clare. They even go as far as to show more sympathy to the bullies than to Clare. They call them “poor girls” when it was their fault for bullying Clare and nearly killed her, and also say they cannot even blame all the girls at school for hating Clare. They don’t even consider taking her out of the school. But really, bullying is bullying. The parents’ attitude is made all the worse that these are supposed to be loving parents (unlike some parents we have met in other serials). Neither the parents nor the school authorities take any action on the bullying, though they know about it (unlike the parents and school staff in “Tears of a Clown“) and the father even foresaw it. The only adult to act with any sense is Miss Heath, who, unlike the others, has not reacted judgementally. It just goes to show that taking a step back and trying to look at things in perspective instead of reacting emotionally can make all the difference.

Such things happen so often in girls’ comics. All too often you see adults handling a girl badly in a serial because they act out of ignorance, stupidity, lack of empathy, or bad reactions. Often, though not always, it takes a wiser person like Miss Heath to help put things right. You have to wonder if the writers are trying to make a statement about what NOT to do and what you SHOULD do. “White Horse of Guardian Hill” and “Tears of a Clown” are two Jinty examples. Non-Jinty examples include “Hard Times for Helen” (Judy), “Rona Rides Again” (Tammy), “‘I’ll Never Forgive You!'” (Bunty), and “The Courage of Crippled Clara” (Bunty).

Seldom have girls’ comics explored the issue of mental illness, but this one does. And it is a complete reversal of the usual thing in girls’ comics, where a girl is labelled ‘ill’ when she is in fact under the influence of something or telling the truth about something but nobody will listen to her, such as in “Village of Fame“. But in this case, being ill is the correct assumption, yet nobody except Miss Heath can see it for what it is because their perceptions have been warped by the wrong assumptions. The issue of mental illness is handled in a sensitive, well-researched and written manner that delivers a disturbing warning on the damage authorities can do when they act on assumptions, emotion and quick judgements instead of trying to handle things in an investigative, non-judgemental manner.

This is one Jinty story that will linger with you (me anyway) long after reading it because of the issues it explores are issues that are still all-too-relevant, because even today people can make the same mistakes and errors of judgement as the parents and school staff do in this story.

This was not the first Jinty story to have a girl being wrongly branded and bullied as a coward because of a phobia. In 1977, Jinty ran “Cursed to be a Coward!”, where Marnie Miles, a brilliant swimmer, develops intense hydrophobia because a fortune teller frightened her with a prophecy that she will end up in blue water. Marnie thinks this means she will drown. And the fortune teller is out to oblige, by making several attempts to drown Marnie. But Marnie’s classmates don’t understand this and start calling her a coward on top of her other problems. Is it possible that Cursed to be a Coward and Waves of Fear had the same writer, or the former influenced the latter? There are similarities between the stories; two girls are wrongly branded cowards and become targets of bullying because of phobias, and the incidents that caused the phobias are both related to swimming. There is even an incident in the opening episode of Marnie’s story where she fails a drowning person because her phobia is too strong for her to go to the rescue. A foreshadowing of what happens in the cave?

(Update: Alison Christie has confirmed she wrote “Cursed to be a Coward” but not “Waves of Fear”. So it was not the same writer there.)

Waves of Fear also has similarities with Jinty‘s 1980 story “Tears of a Clown“. Both stories deal with bullying situations where the school and parents keep failing the girl because they are all making assumptions that she is the one at fault with bad behaviour instead of looking into the situation in an investigative manner and find out what is wrong. And in both stories, the bullies turn on the ringleader at one point, although she protests (with some justification) that they are to blame as well. Both stories climax with the heroine being pushed too far and running away. And running is a major plot point in both stories. So it is possible it was the same writer. It certainly was the same artist – Phil Gascoine drew both stories. Perhaps the reception to “Waves of Fear” was inspiration for the similarly-themed “Tears of a Clown”. But there is a difference in the way the ringleaders react when the other girls turn against them; the one in “Waves of Fear” becomes even more spiteful while the one in “Tears of a Clown” repents and eventually redeems herself.

Incidentally, “Waves of Fear” was reprinted in Girl Picture Library 11 as “Moments of Terror”. Plenty of old serials from Tammy and Jinty made their way into the Girl Picture Libraries, most of them under revised (and not very good) titles. As the story had to fit into a 64-page booklet, some material had to be deleted. When comparing the original with the reprint, one finds that the Miss Heath segments have been cut out entirely. This leaves only the revelation of how Jean got Clare expelled as the cue that tips the parents as to what is wrong with Clare. On the other hand, the cuts  also removed some of the harsh treatment Clare receives from her parents and all the ostracism from the townsfolk. Some of the bullying (such as Clare finding an egg in her desk and Jean being sent off for fouling), Jean’s vandalism at the orienteering club, and one of the claustrophobia attacks have also been removed.

Addendum Recently I have been struck by parallels with another story, a Button Box story that appeared on 27 August 1983. The story is an American Civil War story about Johnnie Dalton, who is dishonourably discharged from the Army for cowardice when he panics under fire. Back home, Johnnie is treated extremely harshly. He is branded a coward and an outcast, and even his own father turns against him, to the point of forcing him to wear buttons that read “COWARD”. Eventually Johnnie regains their respect when he saves a child’s life, but loses his own in the process. It may be coincidence, but the harshness of the community and Dalton Snr towards Johnnie seems to have echoes of the harsh treatment Clare receives, even from her own parents, because they have both been branded cowards. And credits say the Button Box story was written by Ian Mennell. Is it possible that Ian Mennell wrote “Waves of Fear”?

Or could it be the same person who wrote another Gascoine story for Jinty, “The Green People”, as Jean has the same surname as the heroine in this story?

The Slave of Form 3B (1976)

Sample images

Jinty 3 July 1976, "Slave of Form 3B" pg 1

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Jinty 3 July 1976, "Slave of Form 3B" pg 2

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Jinty 3 July 1976, "Slave of Form 3B" pg 3

Publication: 13 March 1976-17 July 1976
Artist: Trini Tinturé

Another discussion of this story can be found here.

Summary
Tania is a new pupil at Waverly Boarding School. Unfortunately for her she is a shy, weak willed, nervous girl. This, as it turns out, makes her very suggestible. She gets all the more nervous when she realises she is arriving at her new school on the thirteenth of the month. Her mother tells her not to be so silly, but Tania is not far wrong when she says the date feels like an omen.

At Waverly, Stacey is a bossy girl who wants to be on top and be someone at her school. But all she does is aggravate everyone with the way she tries to organise them all the time. The teachers realise it too and Stacey is annoyed to be constantly passed over for big positions such as games captain.

Tania arrives, and the headmistress puts Stacey in charge of her. She drops hints that handling the new girl kindly will put Stacey in the running for head girl. This is a ploy from the headmistress to keep Stacey’s interfering under control. But as it turns out, this is the worst thing the headmistress could have done – you should have heeded your own impression that Stacey is a bit of a bully, lady!

When Stacey tries her usual organising on Tania, she is very surprised to find she can do more than that – she can actually hypnotise Tania! And so begins Tania’s ordeal as the slave of 3B. Or rather, the slave of Stacey.

At first Stacey thinks it is a huge joke and uses the power to play cruel jokes on Tania, such as hypnotising her into putting her uniform on all wrong so Tania finds herself humiliated in front of everyone. Small stuff, which soon turns into bigger stuff that eventually hits a frightening and dangerous level of darkness. Once Stacey realises the real advantages of her power – that she can make Tania her slave – she is soon moving on to darker and more ambitious designs. She uses the power to hypnotise Tania into doing her assignments, cheat at tests and class work (Stacey had never pulled her weight there), steal things, and sabotage her rivals. Tania is bewildered by strange things happening, such as waking up to find she has copied the answers to a maths test half way through (car backfire broke her trance), but Stacey always plays slick manoeuvres to keep Tania in her grip. All the while, Tania is frightened as to be doing awful things and not understanding why.

Stacey also takes steps to systematically cut Tania off from other potential friends and all possible avenues of help. She hypnotises Tania into believing that Stacey is her only friend and can’t trust anyone else, so Tania starts snubbing other girls without understanding why, and other girls turn against her. She can’t confide in the staff either because she has been hypnotised into trusting nobody at school. She is an outcast and thinks only Stacey is her friend.

Tania makes a friend outside the school (something Stacey overlooked in her hypnotic command) and starts helping a play group. But Stacey sabotages that friendship by hypnotising her into stealing from them and then ruin the kids’ pictures.

The teachers begin to notice something is wrong and Tania looks ill. The head gives Tania a room of her own in a ploy to get her away from Stacey. Unwisely, she also hints to Stacey that she is increasing her chances for Girl of the Year with her chaperoning of Tania.

Stacey sneaks into Tania’s room to hypnotise her into sabotaging gym ropes. When Tania finds rope burns on her hands, she thinks she might be doing bad things in her sleep and starts locking her door. This foils Stacey’s next bid to hypnotise her (into stealing the answers to another test paper) and Stacey plans a nasty revenge. She hypnotises Tania into having an accident in the pool, where Stacey will then act the heroine and rescue her. It works, but suspicions among the staff grow. At matron’s suggestion, Tania keeps a tape recorder under her bed to record how she sleeps. As a result, the tape recorder records Stacey’s next hypnotic session. When Tania plays it back, she finds out the truth!

She confronts Stacey, who wipes the evidence on the tape, and bullies Tania into staying quiet. And the power still holds sway although Tania tries to fight it, and Stacey still hypnotises her into doing things. The mind control gets even more intense and frightening when Stacey suddenly develops telepathy and can read Tania’s very thoughts! She can even use her telepathy to hypnotise Tania from a distance. This gets Tania into even more trouble at school, to the point where she is forced to wear a sign saying “The School’s Shame”.

All the while, Stacey is determined to use Tania to score points for “Girl of the Year”, and so now she is doing really well thanks to her tricks. She is now the school heroine and centre of admiration, and it is riding on the things she has forced Tania to do. The girls hold a midnight feast for Stacey, where Stacey issues a dare to walk the school wall, with a dripping candle to leave waxy proof of the walk. Naturally, she hypnotises Tania into doing it and plans to take the credit. But the dare goes badly wrong and Tania falls off the wall. She is seriously hurt and unconscious.

When Stacey discovers the injured Tania, she isn’t calling for help. All she cares about is how this might affect her chances of becoming Girl of the Year. Stacey drags Tania to an old outbuilding, throws a sack over her, and leaves her there. When Tania is missed (and everyone has suspicions that make Stacey even more worried) and the search begins, Stacey goes back to the shed to make sure they don’t find Tania. She finds Tania’s condition has worsened. But she still doesn’t get help; she tries to revive Tania herself with smelling salts. She is just plain infuriated when the salts fail and tries to move Tania in the wheelbarrow. She gets even more alarmed when next door neighbour and school governor Colonel Bragg is called in and agrees to phone the police. While Stacey is listening, the salts finally work on Tania. But she is still in the trance and tries to walk the wall. Stacey finds her, breaks the trance, and orders her to pretend to run away.

Tania crawls into Colonel Bragg’s garden. He finds her and she mumbles claims about Stacey’s hypnotic powers over her, and begs him not to take her back to the school. He thinks she is deluded and takes her back to the school. However, he expresses his concerns to the headmistress about Tania being frightened of one of the girls and suspects bullying. Tania is confined to sick bay, still terrified of Stacey.

Meanwhile, Colonel Bragg begins to consider Tania’s story more and his conscience won’t stop niggling. He decides he must do something. Together with his daughter Cicely he sets a trap for Stacey. When Stacey comes into sick bay to hypnotise Tania into taking the blame, she walks straight into the trap. When Stacey finds herself caught out, she confesses – in a bragging, defiant manner, mind you! Stacey is expelled, with a warning on her record to any future school she goes to (presumably, a warning that she may try hypnotism on other girls like Tania).

The remorse-stricken girls who were fooled about Tania now vote her Girl of the Year. There is talk that Tania will be the next head girl, and it is Tania’s name that goes down in the school records as what Stacey was after – a somebody at Waverly School.

Thoughts
“The Slave of Form 3B” is one of Jinty’s best remembered and highly regarded stories. In fact, on the Jinty Top Ten list, it says of this story that “if Slaves of War Orphan Farm was Tammy’s most notorious story, there can only be one candidate for Jinty‘s!”

Indeed, bullying stories have seldom gone to the depths that this one does. And it is not just the various tortures and ordeals that Tania goes through over the span of 19 episodes but the extremes that the bully goes to as she spirals down an increasingly dark path of depravity. Stacey hits the nadir with the absolute lack of concern or remorse about finding Tania badly injured and she is responsible. All her moves to handle the injured Tania are to cover her own tracks and protect her Girl of the Year points. The sheer callousness of her conduct must have shocked readers to the core and ranks as one of the most appalling moments in girls’ comics. Stacey’s callousness goes through right to the end, with her lack of remorse when she confesses. She brags what great fun it was and she is cleverer than they are. Indeed, Stacey is a clever bully as well as as well as a callous one; for example, hypnotising Tania into distrusting everyone else at school is a masterstroke that instantly cuts Tania off from making friends, avenues of help and keeps her completely under Stacey’s thumb. And Tinturé, who is brilliant at drawing sharp eyed villainesses, captures the essence of Stacey’s hypnotic powers to perfection with those narrow, flinty, hypnotic eyes that exude the power, evil and cruelty that is growing inside her.

The episodes where Stacey demonstrates telepathic control over Tania are going too far and stretching credibility past believing. Such things belong in SF or supernatural stories and this story is neither. It would have been more convincing if Tania was imagining the telepathy or maybe Stacey hypnotising Tania into believing it. Perhaps the editor or writer realised it was a step too far as well, because the telepathy quickly disappeared from the story. The story returns to the more sensible move of following Stacey’s growing evil as a villainess through her appalling actions over Tania’s accident.

And at the end, while Tania is freed and emerges triumphant, Stacey is still streets ahead as the more powerful character and one of the best villains to ever appear in Jinty. She could easily return in a sequel as, say, a full grown woman with frightening hypnotic powers who snares some unsuspecting victim into a crime wave.

Tania, on the other hand, is voted Girl of the Year and may become Head Girl, but has she the strength of character for it? Throughout the story she has been a weak, timid person who is all too easy to dominate and bully, even without the hypnotism. Then again, perhaps Tania gained confidence with her new accolades and prestige at Waverly and became stronger. We would like to think so, anyway.

Tale of the Panto Cat (1979)

Sample Images

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Publication: 8 December 1979 – 29 December 1979

Artist: Unknown artist (Merry)

Writer: Unknown

Summary

In Daisy Green Youth Club, Verna is known as “the original panto cat”. She is conceited, bossy, domineering and self-centred. She walks over everyone to have everything her way.

The club members are discussing what to do for their Christmas special when Verna barrels in, tears up their suggestions and pushes ahead with her own – a pantomime for the kids who will be confined to Farley Hospital over the Christmas season. But Verna doesn’t stop there. She allows no discussion of what the pantomime will be – it must be Cinderella. Before the meeting is over, she casts everyone in the roles as she sees fit. And of course she casts herself as Cinderella. Gwen is feeling very indignant at the way Verna carries on.

But there is worse to come when Gwen finds Verna is writing the panto as well. She is astonished to find the script Verna gave her is only two pages long and the lines are awful. The same goes for everyone else, and they find out why at the next meeting – Verna’s part is three times as big as theirs! They reach their limit at this and shelve Verna’s script in favour of one in the club library. But they still give Verna a chance to be Cinderella if she is good. But of course the panto cat is anything but good, and in the end she finds herself without any role (not even as wicked stepmother, the only role that really suits her personality).

Gwen says they still have to let Verna be director, but that proves to be a bad mistake. Now the panto cat has lost the limelight she turns vicious. She gets her claws out and sets out to wreck the panto now she cannot be in it. As director, she tries to stir everything up, make everyone’s life a misery, and even smash the pumpkin. All this does is get her removed from the panto altogether.

Another club member, Minna, suggests they have Verna’s father make Cinderella’s coach. Gwen says they should keep Verna out, but Minna feels it is rotten to do so because it is Christmas. This is another bad mistake. Verna sabotages the coach so it will fall apart on the night. Instead it falls apart at a rehearsal, leaving Cinderella with a sprained ankle, Prince Charming with a black eye and the Fairy Godmother with an injured leg. It looks like the show is off and the panto cat has got the cream.

But then Gwen has a brainwave – convert a piece of the coach into a puppet theatre and have a puppet Cinderella show instead. Unfortunately, Minna tells Verna about how they have salvaged the disaster, thinking she is acting in the spirit of Christmas. So the cat gets ready to pounce again. On the night of the show, Verna tries to sabotage them at the club as they make preparations to set off. She fails, and her tricks put Gwen on her guard.

At the hospital, Gwen sends Verna on an errand to get her out of the way. Verna spots a jug of water in a ward and goes in for it, planning to spill it on the puppets and make them too wet to use. But she failed to spot a warning notice on the door saying there is a child with scarlet fever quarantined in the ward. Verna has got too close to the child, and the nurse tells Verna she now has to be quarantined as well. The cat’s last minute pounce to wreck things has backfired. Verna has to spend Christmas in quarantine (later the editor informs us in the letter page that she did not contract scarlet fever) and watch the show she tried to sabotage through the observation window.

The show is a huge success and everyone except Verna enjoys it. Afterwards, the girls have a Christmas party back at the club and Verna’s fate gives them all the more reason to celebrate. Minna says she enjoyed the panto despite all the problems and they must do it again.

Thoughts

“Tale of the Panto Cat” was one of the Christmas-themed filler stories that Jinty ran over her build up to Christmas. But what Christmas message does this tale of spite, sabotage and deliberate attempts to wreck a Christmas production have for readers? Well, every Christmas has a Grinch somewhere. If Jinty ever had a Grinch story, this has to be it. But unlike her Seuss counterpart, the heart of Verna does not swell to the right size when faced with the spirit of Christmas. Rather, she destroys herself in her efforts to wreck the show. It backfires on her and she ends up spending Christmas in quarantine.

Instead of a sentimental story about the true spirit of Christmas, we get a more typical story of an unpleasant type who causes trouble and getting her eventual comeuppance. Christmas is used more as the theme and setting for the story. This makes the story a nice, refreshing, atypical break from the more standard Christmas fare in girls’ comics. And Verna does not change into a nicer person in the light of Christmas, which makes it even more realistic.

Minna is the only one who strives for real Christmas spirit in the way she insists on keeping Verna in the loop over the panto. But in so doing she unwittingly helps Verna to cause more trouble. Perhaps the story is making a statement that the spirit of Christmas is lost on some people. In fact, although it was Verna’s idea to put on the show for the children in hospital, Verna clearly did not do it for the sake of the kids. All she cared about was being the star of the show and the centre of attention. When she could not have that, she turned just plain vindictive and set out to wreck things in any which way she could with no thought for the kids or anyone else. That is hardly the way to behave, much less at Christmas time. One can only hope Verna left the club for good after she came out of quarantine and was not around to interfere with the next Christmas special.