Tag Archives: Dancing

Life’s a Ball for Nadine [1980-81]

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Published: Jinty 8 November 1980 – 21 March 1981

Episodes: 20

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

The B netball team at Greystreet School needs improvement. Their stuffy coach, Betty, is displeased with their standard and orders extra practice in the gym that evening. However, Sally Smith and Sue Sims realise that what they really need is another good player.

In the gym, the netball team is surprised to find new girl Nadine Nash arrive in disco gear and all ready to dance. She mistook the date of the school disco, but while she’s there they give her a demonstration of how to play netball. She has a go and everyone is surprised at how her disco reflexes are so transferable to netball and she scores a goal on her first attempt. She is a natural netball player. The trouble is, she is not interested in joining the team and cares far more for disco dancing. Undaunted, Sue and Sally set out to find a way to persuade Nadine to join the netball team. Eventually Nadine joins the team as Goal Attack, but is still more interested in disco dancing, which she is brilliant at.

For the most part of the story the episodes follow the format of lightweight exchange between disco and netball as skills and equipment from one helps the other. In one episode, the goalkeeper is in danger of being dropped because she has lost form. At the disco, she gets some unusual training to get her back into form when she, Nadine, Sue and Sally catch rubbish thrown by her unruly rock ‘n’ roll brothers who don’t like the acts in a talent show that aren’t rock ‘n’ roll – especially the disco act, of course. After that training Betty is astounded at how much the goalkeeper has improved.

In another episode Nadine is upstaged by gimmicky disco dancers who depend more on costumes and appearance than skill to clear the floor. But in the end it is the gimmicky dancers who are upstaged and the floor goes back to Nadine when Sue and Sally throw an old netball net to net the gimmicky dancers.

Sometimes netball helps Nadine at disco. In one episode netball helps Nadine to meet her favourite disc jockey, Disco Dave. In another episode the other netball players help rescue Nadine when she’s on the dance floor without a light, by getting a huge strobe lightbulb from one end of the crowded dance floor to the other – in record time – using their netball skills.

At times the disco/netball combination enables the girls to get one up on their stuffy coach, who does not see any value in Nadine’s disco dancing or her combining it with netball. For example, in one episode Betty challenges another stuffy coach of an old-fashioned boys’ school as to whether basketball or netball is better. Each team proves they are the best at their own particular sport but the coaches still argue as to which is best. While they aren’t looking, it’s disco that wins the day, when the girls discover the boys play disco secretly at their stuffy school, and they have a covert disco together.

The 101 uses for disco/netball continue for a long time in the serial and a lot of episodes run to the same format. However, the serial takes a different turn when it comes to its conclusion. The ending comes with a story arc spanning several episodes that not only bring the development of Nadine’s character full circle but also that of the stuffy Betty.

The story arc begins when Nadine discovers that two sisters, Syreeta and Selena, are out to cheat her on two fronts: a disco contest (Syreeta) and netball championship (Selena). They start by putting a lot of nasty bruises in her legs to make her unfit for both events. And that Selena is awfully clever in putting those bruises into Nadine’s legs during the netball events without the referee noticing those fouls.

When it comes to the night of both events Nadine gets a notice indicating that both start at the same time, so she has to choose one. It is at this point that the netball team says Nadine is selfish because all she thinks of is disco and has no team spirit, despite the journey of the 101 uses for disco/netball they have had together. This must have gone to Nadine’s heart because on the night in question she chooses netball over disco. She even spends the money for her new disco outfit on netball gear instead. Everyone is impressed. And Betty, who had unwittingly helped the two cheats earlier, shows a whole new human face and is willing to do everything she can to help Nadine. This includes buying Nadine-style wigs for the whole team to confuse Selena when she tries to nobble Nadine by bruising her bruises. After this, Nadine scores so many goals that her team wins. That’s that one cheat down, but there is still one to go.

Then Nadine discovers that the notice she received was a fake – another trick from those cheats – and the disco contest is yet to begin. The trouble is, the contest is miles away. Moreover, Nadine has no disco outfit, having spent her money on netball gear. Betty is undaunted. At Betty’s urging, they all run across town to enter Nadine in the contest. Betty will use the club money to buy Nadine the best disco outfit they can find.

But the two cheats aren’t beaten yet. Overhearing the team, Selena phones Syreeta to alert her that Nadine is coming. So Syreeta has her cronies block the team’s entry into the venue. To get Nadine past them, Betty and the team wrap her into a huge ball made out of an old billboard poster, and toss it over the heads of the cronies and onto the disco floor. Nadine bursts out of the ball, and the DJ says, “Wow, what an entrance!” That’s extra points for Nadine’s unstoppable, unforgettable performance that wins her the disco contest, hands down.

Before Nadine collects her trophy, she asks Sue and Sally to come up on stage with the netball trophy so they will share their double victory that pays homage to both netball and disco.

Thoughts

The first thought goes to the in-joke in the sample images above. Artist Mario Capaldi seems to be making a reference to himself with “Mario”, and also to his family’s ice-cream business. Mario himself helped out with the ice-cream business when he was younger. Is the in-joke Capaldi just couldn’t resist or was it something arranged between him and the editor? Either way, it is another in-joke in girls’ serials to be noted.

The first thing you notice about this story, though, is that the titular protagonist is black. Blacks and other non-white people did not have a frequent presence in girls’ comics. This was not intentionally racist, but it was a glaring absence that needed to be addressed a whole lot more. Sadly, Jinty was no exception. The only other black protagonists  in Jinty were Jo in “Angela’s Angels“, but she’s just one protagonist among six in that serial, and Mary the Aborigine girl in “Bound for Botany Bay”, who has more presence as a protagonist but she is not the main one. Pam of Pond Hill had a black pupil, Mac, but he didn’t appear much and was not by any means a regular in the strip. By contrast, Nadine is the star of her own serial and she definitely has a far more commanding presence as a black protagonist than Jo. It is a real delight to have a story starring a strong black protagonist, and this alone makes this story one of Jinty’s most noteworthy serials.

Nadine is not the only black presence in this serial either. The two antagonists, Syreeta and Selena, are also black, which makes the black presence even stronger. A few other black people also appear, such as Nadine’s mother and the cleaning lady who alerts Nadine to the trick with the appointment time.

Netball is a sport that was infrequently used in girls’ serials. This is one of the few serials that does feature netball (“Romy’s Return” from Tammy was another), which makes the story even more eye-catching. The way it is used has an amusing side while it is being used to complement Nadine’s disco. You would have never thought disco and netball could have so many uses or give so many people a comeuppance. For a long time this is the way the story runs, which makes it engaging and fun to read.

Recently Comixminx expressed in the entry “How do you know who’s the hero?” that knowing who the hero is in a girls’ serial is not always cut-and-dried. There are some odd stories that have you wonder whether the real star of the show is the titular protagonist or another main character – the antagonist, even. This story certainly can be added to that list. Nadine is the titular protagonist. She is a strong, endearing character throughout the story. Hers is the emotional journey as she learns that disco is not everything and there are other things that matter too. But for the most part it is Sue and Sally who come up with the ideas on how to apply disco to a netball situation and vice-versa, and it is their quick thinking that saves the day. Of course a lot of these situations and solutions arise through Nadine, but coming up with these clever ideas makes Sue and Sally more proactive characters than Nadine and they are serious plot drivers. True, there are times when Nadine is the one to come up with the brilliant save; for example, using goalkeeping to foil the garbage-throwing rock ‘n’ rollers is her idea. But by and large it is Sue and Sally, and, eventually, Betty.

 

Slave of the Clock (1982)

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Slave of the Clock

Publication 17 July 1982 – 30 October 1982 (skipped an episode in Tammy 25 September 1982)

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: this Tammy story is credited to Jay Over, who also wrote Jinty‘s long-running school soap opera, “Pam of Pond Hill”. As we will see, there are also a few thematic similarities between this story and others in Jinty, raising intriguing questions about what else Jay Over may have written in this comic.

Plot: Alison Thorne is a talented dancer, but that’s not the main focus of her interest; she’s a very active girl who enjoys all sorts of things, such as art and socialising with her friends. Dancing is great fun – the first thing we hear from Alison is “Dancing makes me feel good from top to toe!” – but we also hear her think straight afterwards “I’ll have to get a move on if I’m to make it to the Youth Club on time!” In short, she’s a happy-go-lucky girl who isn’t driven by ambition or focused on talent. This isn’t a problem to her, or to her parents either, and it wouldn’t be an issue for most people. Her ballet teacher Miss Dempster, though, has ambitions on Alison’s behalf (and some ambitions for her own fame as a teacher too). Dempster takes her pupil along to creepy Miss Margolia, who promptly hypnotises Alison so that the ticking of a clock will make her think of dancing… and only of dancing… as immediately shown when some friends come round to Alison’s house the next morning and put a clock to her ear to wake her up.

Thereafter, any ticking clock will not only force Alison to dance, but also to lose awareness of her surroundings. That first time, her friends leave her dancing, because she pays no attention to them, and she doesn’t even realise they have been and gone. At the next dance class, Miss Dempster is annoyed and disappointed to see that Alison is still not giving her whole-hearted attention to the class, but then she doesn’t know yet what the real key to Alison’s slavery is – the ticking clock. Another player is about to join the story, though – a girl called Kathy, who has sadly been injured and cannot herself dance any more. Alison, fairly nobly to be honest, thinks to herself that she should be careful to take Kathy’s mind off dancing by focusing on other activities. Once again, a ticking clock – this time a wristwatch – makes Alison dance at an inopportune moment – this time, when Kathy arrives. Not surprisingly, all present think Alison is just showing off in front of Kathy, very cruelly.

Alison manages to smooth over the awkwardness and persuade Kathy that she will have fun staying at their house. I expect she would do, to, but at the same time, Miss Dempster is on the phone to Madame Margolia asking what can have gone wrong with the hypnotism – and as a result, installing a damn great cuckoo clock into her dance studio… Alison nearly doesn’t hear the clock at all as she is keenly getting involved with the local youth club show for which she has firmly ruled out dancing as an option, but she has to go around town putting up posters, and Miss Dempster gets her into the studio on that basis. And of course as soon as she hears the clock, off she goes again…

This sets the pattern for the upcoming plot: Kathy gets crosser and more upset because she thinks she is being messed around, Alison gets more upset because she is mysteriously blacking out and finding herself aching the next day as if she has danced for hours, and Miss Dempster is gleeful because she is getting her way. There is a temporary moment of guilt on the ballet teacher’s part when she feels bad about making Alison dance to her command, but as soon as the prospect of a rich new pupil arises, she gets Alison to perform once again (with a ticking clock around her neck). Not that this works out the way Dempster expects – Alison is put in positive danger by her dancing unaware of her surroundings (Kathy has to rescue her from possibly falling into a swimming pool) and of course Kathy and Alison are thus enabled to band together and realise what must be happening, unlikely though it seems. (I don’t think the rich pupil was very impressed by the relentless and absorbed dancing either! so probably no win for la Dempster on that front either.)

Alison’s parents don’t believe the wild story that the two girls bring to them, of course, but the two friends go off to find and confront Madame Margolia. But Dempster meets them outside the house, and tells them that Madame Margolia has been taken ill – and died! Will Alison never escape the curse of the ticking clock? Seemingly not – even if she is not dancing all the time, her parents are now resorting to taking her to hospital for mental treatment – and a sticking wheel on a hospital trolley triggers her off dancing again, so perhaps the curse is even getting stronger. However, it is in the hospital that they find Madame Margolia – seriously ill, but not dead (what a surprise to find that Miss Dempster lied – not!). Not that they can do anything to contact her, because Alison is whisked off to see the (very unsympathetic) doctor, who says that all this forced dancing is purely in her mind, because she is scared of failing her dance exams – and therefore her parents make her take more dance lessons, with – guess who? Miss Dempster of course. Alison pleads to do her exams with any other teacher rather than her tormentor, but her father replies: “Considering the cruel accusations you’ve made against her, I think Miss Dempster’s a fine person to take you back and help you.” So not only has she to face the cause of her problems, she even has to be grateful to that person?! That’s a nasty twist.

In fact the lessons go surprisingly well, though of course at first Alison is trembling like a leaf and hardly fit to dance. Miss Dempster is feeling guilty again and forebearing to use the power of the clock, and Alison gradually relaxes more and enjoys dance again. Temptation falls in Miss Dempster’s path once again though – can she get Alison into the International Ballet School, where it’s been her dream to have a pupil? By now we know how weak la Dempster’s will is, of course. And yes, the climax of the story is that although Alison had started to happily believe she was cured of the dancing fits, instead she is once again made to dance, for her teacher’s benefit not her own. This time the International Ballet School judges clearly reject Alison’s mechanical, hypnotic dancing, making it very clear just how misguided Miss Dempster’s actions are on all fronts – and a surprise guest appears in the form of a wheel-chair bound Madame Margolia. Alison is finally cured, though Margolia and Dempster require the two friends’ silence as their part of the bargain. There is a last reward for faithful sidekick Kathy though – the limp she has had since her injury is psychosomatic, so Margolia is able to cure her of it with one last application of (benign) hypnotism.

Thoughts: There are some silly aspects to this story – hypnotism is intrinsically an over-the-top trope, and this has the hypnotic subject nearly dancing to her death, which can strike the reader as absurd. On closer read, though, it is a pretty disturbing story, not to say chilling.

The main feature of it is perhaps that it is a ‘grownups know best’ story: protagonist Alison is quite happy as she is, and there is objectively nothing wrong with her, but a grown-up has other ideas of what’s best, and rides rough-shod over the girl protagonist’s clearly-expressed desires and aims. Miss Dempster thinks that it is a waste that Alison doesn’t use her dancing talent; in just the same way, Susie Cathcart’s grandmother thinks that Susie should be using her intellect rather than her gymnastic skill, and so makes her into the “Prisoner of the Bell“.  Similarly, headmistress Purity Goodfellow uses her mystic drug to turn the schoolchildren of Edenford into a paradise along the lines that she deems best – even if the girls need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the infirmary where she will administer the drug. I could continue with more examples – for instance “Battle of the Wills” also has a determined grandmother who makes her granddaughter practice hated ballet rather than the gymnastics that she loves, though no mind-control is seen in that story. It is not the most frequent story theme in this comic, but you can see how it would strike a chord with the readers. It’s striking not only that the girl character expresses her desires clearly and unmistakably, but also that the grown-up simply dismisses them as foolish, worthless, clearly unacceptable – and other grown-ups are likely to be persuaded into this view too, even if they had started out on the side of the (actually perfectly nice and normal) protagonist.

Of course, the grown-up is pretty clearly shown not to have known best, in the end. As with Miss Dempster, their manipulations clearly fail on their own terms, and don’t produce the desired result even if they had seemed promising initially – free will does triumph over coercion, though it’s a long road in getting there. That’s pretty subversive to me, in a kids’ comic – it’s not just saying that grownups can get it wrong, but that they can positively be against you even when they’re not obviously evil. Dempster is very chilling – she is not as witchy-looking as Madame Margolia (a stately crone if ever I saw one), but she just doesn’t seem to care about Alison, except in flashes that are overcome all-too-easily. It’s a proper emotional abuse story, done quite strikingly. Dempster persuades herself that it’s for the right reasons, or that it will be worth it in the end, but not only does she ignore Alison’s stated wishes and aims, she disregards the pleas and the begging that the girl is driven to by the end. Lies and the use of her power for her own ends – Dempster does not look or act conventionally evil, never descending to cackling, but she is inhumanly self-absorbed nevertheless. Madame Margolia is far from innocent (quite apart from having applied the hypnotism in the first place, she also demands silence as her payment for taking it off, which is pretty much barefaced cheek on her part) but she can see the cost of the slavery much more clearly than her younger associate. If Dempster ever got the power to do hypnosis herself, I would be far more worried for the fictional world than with it staying in Margolia’s hands!

Dance into Darkness (1978)

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Publication: 17 June 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Christine Ellingham

Writer: Unknown (but see below)

Marionette has done such an excellent summation and analysis on this serial over at her Tammy blog that I feel I can scarcely improve upon it. The link can be found here.

Essentially, Della Benson envies the disco dancing ability of Rozelle and wishes she could dance like that. Rozelle tells Della that she will be able to – if she is willing to pay the price. Della assumes this means dancing lessons, but we know it means something even more sinister.

No, it isn’t Della’s soul. The price is that Della must carry the curse that Rozelle’s family has suffered since Medieval times. It is a curse that turns the victim into a creature of darkness. They can only live in the dark. There are advantages, such as being able to see in the dark and attracting night creatures. But they cannot stand light, which blinds them, and they  cannot even function in the daytime without wearing dark glasses. For Della, there is an additional problem with the curse – whenever she hears disco music, she cannot stop dancing until it stops. This gets her into a lot of trouble, such as wrecking a record shop and getting suspended from school.

There is no cure for the curse (and no origin given either), but the curse can be passed on to another person – in exchange for something that person wants. But will Della be able to find such a person? More to the point, will she be able to bring herself to pass it on? Or will she be under the curse of darkness forever?

On a side note, I wonder if Jay Over wrote this story. Della not being able to stop dancing when she hears disco music has echoes in Slave of the Clock, a story that Over wrote for Tammy in 1982. Here, Allison Thorne cannot stop dancing (ballet dancing this time) whenever she hears the ticking of a clock after she meets a ballet mistress with hypnotic powers.