Tag Archives: Cinderella Theme

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.

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Jinty 26 August 1978

Jinty cover 26 August 1978

  • Dance into Darkness (artist Christine Ellingham unknown Concrete Surfer artist)
  • Wild Rose – (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Knight and Day – last episode
  • Merry-Go-Round Mobile part 3 (feature)
  • Clancy on Trial (artist Ron Lumsden)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • The Human Zoo – (artist Guy Peeters)
  • 7 Steps to the Sisterhood – (artist Ron Smith)
  • Alley Cat

“Dance into Darkness” featured on a lot of covers during its run, and this one is no exception. The ad for part three of the carousel mobile provides whites and yellows of light to contrast with the darker colours used to for “Dance into Darkness”. However, the cover does feel like it has too many red and magenta hues in it. It could have done with some more contrasting colours, such as some blues.

Meanwhile, Della is finding she is not having much luck in fobbing the curse off onto Winnie. However, she is beginning to find advantages to the curse, such as sharing the night with nocturnal animals.

In “The Human Zoo”, Shona finds herself in a zoo. But things may soon look up as Shona is set to become a pet to an alien girl Tamsha, who is an animal rights advocate in the making (what a contrast to her father, who owns the zoo). The trouble is, Tamsha still thinks Shona is an animal, not a sentient being like herself.

Rose sets off to Bencombe Fair with a gypsy family in her quest to find her mother. But she soon finds herself forced into a contortionist act as “The Amazing Snake Girl”, and realises too late what a snaky lot she is travelling with.

Shelley’s second test – baking a strawberry cake and leaving it in the stables seems harmless enough. But then comes her third challenge – ride a dangerous horse barebacked! What will Shelley decide over this one – go through with it, or tell the Sisterhood to sod off, because she is not risking her neck for a secret society?

Both Pat and Clancy find themselves in danger of drowning when they pass out in deep water. For Pat, it leads to the resolution of her story and a happy ending. For Clancy, it’s a narrow escape and Granddad wondering if he had demanded too much of her. But Clancy’s left in deep depression afterwards, so no resolution in sight for her just yet.

Max transcends his hatred of Germans when the fugitive German soldier saves his life. In turn, they teach him their maxim about happiness over the rainbow, which persuades him to stop hiding. But they themselves are still fugitives, trying to find rainbow’s end before the authorities catch up with them.

Next week “No Cheers for Cherry” starts. This is one of the last Jinty stories to have the Cinderella theme. The Cinderella theme had been present in Jinty since her first issue (though not as frequent as Tammy), but by the late 1970s it was being phased out of IPC girls’ titles.

Welcome to new readers!

Welcome to any new readers who are here via recent tweets / retweets by Great News For All ReadersPaul Harrison-Davies, and Sean Phillips! There’s lots on this blog for fans of Jinty of course, and also for those who may not yet know this title at all. The aim is to be a really comprehensive reference site for this specific girls’ comic, while helping to enlarge our collective knowledge about creators involved in producing girls comics generally. Where possible, I like to feature interviews with writers and artists but also with editors and others involved in the production of weekly comics in whatever capacity.

jintyfirstissuecover

If you don’t yet know Jinty well, you might like to start with some posts about individual stories: “Children of Edenford” is one of my favourite stories, with its Stepford Schoolchildren (their headmistress feeds them a mystic drug to make them perfect!), while the much more realistic “Waves of Fear” is one of the strongest stories about bullying that is found anywhere in girls’ comics. There is an index page of all the stories that ran in Jinty, with brief summaries. Likewise there is an index of story themes: you probably already know that weekly girls’ comics of the 70s seemed to thrive on misery and cruelty, but were you aware of the myriad ways in which this was expressed, from the Cinderella story and the Slave story to the Exploited Amnesiac and the Guilt Complex? More upliftingly there are also stories themed around Adventure, Science Fiction, and Environmental Concerns.

As part of the posts about individual stories, artists, and writers we try to include a short excerpt from the comic: this is a sequential medium, after all. Hopefully this may lead you to find new-to-you artists that you are excited by – there were some amazing, strong talents printed in the pages of Jinty and other comics of the time. Some of them are well-known from their other work outside of this area – Jim Baikie and José Casanovas from their work in 2000AD, and Phil Gascoine from his work in Commando, for instance – but others such as Phil Townsend, Trini Tinturé, and Terry Aspin remain relatively unknown despite their beautiful work. The same applies to writers, but so much less is known about them.

Most recently, we have added sections on Translations and reprints – these stories had a long life and a wide geographical reach outside of their original publication! – and some galleries of favourite panels, covers, and story logos. There is considerably more to come on these areas in the future.

Logo from
Logo from “Village of Fame”.

Finally, the bread-and-butter posts of the blog are posts about individual issues; a true index of each week in the comic. They are not necessarily posted in original publication order, but there is an index page here so it is possible to see at a glance the weeks that we have already covered and those that are still to do. Alongside these there are also more analytical or general articles, with discussion about how to measure the bonkersness of a story (via my invention of a WTFometer), or reviewing what we know about female writers in this girls’ genre, for instance.

The Cinderella Theme

Pat Mills has said on online that the Cinderella theme was one of the lynchpins in girls’ comics. This feature will examine the Cinderella theme and how it played out in Jinty.

As the name suggests, the Cinderella theme refers to stories where girls are treated like Cinderella. Their parents, step parents or other types of guardians abuse them, use them as cheap labour, exploit them and take advantage of any talent they may have. There may be a wicked stepsister type (cousin, sister, stepsister or whatever) who is the nasty spoilt one and the exploitation is often geared towards investing in the spoilt one’s advancement, such as in Knight and Day and Make Believe Mandy from Jinty.

Cinderella 1.jpg

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Sometimes there is no wicked stepsister type at all, such as in the most famous example of the Cinderella story in girls’ comics, Bella Barlow from Tammy. Starting as another Cinderella serial, Bella proved so popular that she lasted for ten years, and was stopped only by Tammy’s cancellation.

And there are times when the Cinderella is the eldest of a group of siblings. They are all being abused by a nasty guardian, but it is the eldest who takes the brunt but also retains the determination to protect her siblings in any way she can and win through. Examples of this type of Cinderella story are more readily found in DCT titles, such as Slaves of the Singing Kettle from Tracy.

Some Cinderella themed strips are played for laughs, with the wicked stepmother or sisters getting a comical comeuppance every week. The best known example is Cinderella Jones from Judy. But for the most part it is serious, emotional abusive fare, and that was how it was played in Jinty.

The abuse occurs mostly because the abusers are nasty bullies or neglectful/lazy types who don’t care for the girl, or it is a combination of the two. But sometimes they have deeper motives. In Sadie and the Sticks (Tammy) and Champion in Hiding (Jinty), for example, it is revealed that the abusers are in the pay of an even bigger criminal. In Make Believe Mandy the abusers are motivated by a deep hatred and the reason for it forms the mystery of the story. It starts to unravel once Mandy realises she is not related to them by blood, which is a common reason for it all in Cinderella stories.

Cinderella 3.jpg

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As per the original, rescue may come in a supernatural form, such as Whistle and I’ll Come and Moonchild (Misty), Girl with the Power (Tracy), The Clothes Make Carol (Tammy), and The Valley of Shining Mist (Jinty). But in most cases the girl has to look to her own salvation. This usually takes the form of a hobby or talent that the girl is determined to pursue (gymnastics, ballet, music, a sport, art, a craft, sewing and herbology are just of the things that have been used). Or it may be a special secret, such as an injured animal. Whatever it is, it is not her only consolation in her unhappy home life but her ticket to freedom and happiness. Of course the road is not smooth; the abusers throw up obstacles along the way, and even take advantage of her ability. Running away often happens, which either leads to the resolution of the story or turns it into a fugitive story. But it is the fairy godmother type who usually resolves it, either by discovering the abuse or stumbling across the girl’s talent. Cinderella stories typically end up with the girl being adopted by a loving family, being reconciled with her former abusers who had a change of heart, or her talent/secret finally gives her an escape to happiness.

Cinderella 2.jpg

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Strangely, Tammy, the pioneer in darkness and cruelty, did not have a Cinderella sto in her first lineup. Her first Cinderella story, which came later, was Little Miss Nothing, and it set the template in Tammy, though the theme must have been much older than that in girls’ comics. Once discovered, there was no stopping the Cinderella story in Tammy until it, like the slave story, faded from Tammy by the late seventies. Only Bella remained from former times. Until then, Cinderella stories in byTammy included Jumble Sale Jilly, Tess on Tap, Sadie in the Sticks, Nell Nobody, Common Cathy, Sally in a Shell and, of course, Bella.

However, Jinty did have a Cinderella story in her first lineup as she was following the early Tammy. Notable Cinderella stories in Jinty were:

Make Believe Mandy (1974): the first one, starting in the first issue. Mandy Miller is abused her family who seem to hate her and compare her unfavourably with her sister Dinah.

Cinderella Smith (1975): The abuse of Cindy Smith under her cousins is so extreme that she is forced to wear shackles on her legs when she is working.

The Valley of Shining Mist (1975): Debbie Lane has been so psychologically damaged by the abuse from her adoptive family that she has become wild and thieving and has no confidence, which is reflected in a stammer. Then Debbie discovers confidence and can talk properly when she discovers the magical Valley of Shining Mist. But she soon finds that she has to learn to function that way outside the valley as well.

Finleg the Fox (1975): this story started in Lindy and concluded in the Jinty & Lindy merger. Lame Una Price is sent to the Dray family at Blindwall Farm in the hope of a country cure for her poor health. But the Drays are not very welcoming, nor do they welcome Finleg, the fox Una befriends.

Champion in Hiding (1976): Mitzi Morris is forced to live with her horrible Aunt Shirley, who does not treat her well. Mitzi has to hide her dog Firefly from Aunt Shirley as she is determined to train him as a sheepdog champion, but Aunt Shirley is being paid to prevent this.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell’s aunt brings her to her family theatre houseboat with the promise of drama training for the fame that Cherry wants. In reality, the family just want Cherry as an unpaid servant.

The Changeling (1978): Katy Palmer runs away and then steals another girl’s identity to escape her cruel uncle. In an unusual break with the theme, the uncle appears in only the first and last episodes. And he does not seem to launch much pursuit, if any, of his runaway niece, which is what the abusive guardian usually does when the girl runs off. But then he doesn’t get much chance as this story only ran for three episodes.

Knight and Day (1978): Pat Day is removed from her foster family because her natural mother, Mrs Knight, suddenly wants her back after years of ignoring her. But Pat soon finds that Mum only wants her so they can get a council flat and stepsister Janet is spiteful. This story is unusual in having the natural parent being cast in the wicked stepmother role while the foster parent is the good parent.

Spirit of the Lake (1979-80): Sometimes Mum shares the Cinderella role with the heroine, as is the case in this story. Karen Carstairs and her mother find themselves unpaid help when they come to stay with their relatives, the Grahams. And snooty cousin Cynthia sneers at Karen for not being able to skate while she is the best skater in the county. But then a fairy godmother appears in the form of the mysterious woman on the lake who starts teaching Karen to skate.

Cinderella 4.jpg

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Evidently the Cinderella theme was less frequent in Jinty than in Tammy, and eventually it faded from Jinty altogether. This may be due to the SF and sports emphasis that took hold in Jinty. Or it may be because stories of darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines faded at IPC because of changes in editorship. By the late seventies the Cinderella stories had faded altogether from Tammy, except for Bella. The same went for the slave story that Tammy had revelled in. Yet the Cinderella story remained popular at DCT, and titles like Bunty and Mandy continued to crank them out in quantity. Yet by the 1990s the Cinderella theme had waned at DCT too, except for reprints. Now what changes in editorship could have taken place here? Another question for comic book researchers to ponder.