Tag Archives: deception

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

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

 

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Curtain of Silence (1977)

Sample images

Curtain 1

(Click thru)

Curtain 2

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Curtain 3

Publication: 8/5/77-20/8/77

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprint: Tina Topstrip #52 as Achter het stille gordijn (Behind the Silent Curtain)

Plot
Yvonne Berridge lives for cycling and is a promising champion in the sport. But she is a selfish girl who thinks only of winning. When Yvonne is offered the chance of being reserve on the British team to a cycling tour in Mavronia, an Iron Curtain country, all she thinks about is getting there and winning medals, and does not care about the financial difficulties the trip is causing her family. As Yvonne takes off for Mavronia, her mother gets an awful feeling – which of course proves prophetic.

Meanwhile, the Mavronian cycling star, Olga Marcek, is despairing. Her trainer, Madam Kapelski, is a slave driver who pushes her too hard and gives her no rest, relaxation or fun. And Olga bears a striking resemblance to Yvonne; just a couple of small differences can tell them apart.

There is more prophetic warning when Yvonne arrives in Mavronia. A gypsy woman keeps approaching her with warnings of danger and she must leave quickly. Yvonne is shaken, but her selfishness soon resurfaces.

Yvonne’s arrogance and selfishness do not make her popular with her team-mates. She soon wins successes, but this makes her more arrogant and unpopular. Her arrogance also upsets her trainer, Mr Foster, and it does not go unnoticed by Madam Kapelski either. And she is so caught up in herself that she does not bother to write to her family.

When Yvonne and Olga meet, they are stunned by their near-resemblance to each other, but soon strike up a friendship. Yvonne does not realise that Madam Kapelski instructed Olga to do this; she is taking advantage of Yvonne’s arrogance as she realises Yvonne is the only one who could beat Olga. But Olga has an agenda of her own; she is taking advantage of Yvonne and their resemblance to each other to hatch a plan to escape from Mavronia. But Olga’s plan goes dreadfully wrong when a ship crashes into their boat while they are swapping identity papers.

The accident kills Olga while the shock renders Yvonne mute. So Madam Kapelski takes advantage of Yvonne’s inability to speak and resemblance to Olga. She alters Yvonne’s appearance to look exactly like Olga and forces her to pose as Olga and cycle for Mavronia. Olga’s body is buried in England in Yvonne’s name. Yvonne resists at first, but eventually complies when Madam Kapelski threatens her and Olga’s cousin Tanya (who has discovered the deception) with the dreaded State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya warns her not to tell even Olga’s cousin Igor what is going on because people ‘disappear’ in this country – and Madam Kapelski’s brother is in the secret police.

Nevertheless, Yvonne does not give up hope of escape. She refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her will, but Madam Kapelski realises it and becomes equally determined to break Yvonne. This is on top of her regular severity as a trainer that drove Olga too hard. So it is a constant battle of wills between them. Yvonne’s spirit refuses to break, but of course the ordeal is knocking the selfishness and arrogance out of her. She finds that cycling glory, which was all she cared about before, is now leaving her cold because she is getting it the wrong way. And the rebellion keeps fermenting with Igor wanting to rise up and Tanya warning him not to.

Tanya tells Yvonne Olga’s story. The Marcek parents were journalists who participated in a rebellion against the Party and went on the run when it failed. They were betrayed by an informer and then shot and left for dead by soldiers. Olga learned that her mother was rescued, nursed back to health and smuggled out of Mavronia. But by this time Olga was in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya’s own parents were executed for participating in the rebellion.

Yvonne spots the gypsy woman who tried to warn her before. She and Tanya contrive a plan for escape with the gypsies’ help. But it fails because Madam Kapelski’s police spy, Elsa, gets suspicious.

Then Madam Kapelski takes Yvonne and Tanya to England to participate in a cycling match against the British team. But she has an ulterior motive – use the sight of England and no hope of escape there to break Yvonne entirely. However, people who knew either Yvonne or Olga get suspicious, and this includes Igor. A strange woman in black starts shadowing Yvonne. Then Yvonne’s little brother Andy recognises her.

Tanya and Yvonne tell Andy the truth, but don’t know the room is bugged. So Madam Kapelski kidnaps Andy and holds him at the Mavronian embassy to blackmail Yvonne into winning an event. But the woman in black sees the kidnapping and rescues Andy.

When Madam Kapelski hears this, she panics. She has her goons try to kill Yvonne at the cycling event, but instead the shock of the attack restores Yvonne’s voice. She can now tell everyone what happened, only to find the police have been onto it already – with the help of the woman in black, who is Olga’s mother! Mrs Marcek had suspected Yvonne was not Olga, and her suspicions were confirmed once she talked to Igor.

Madam Kapelski is arrested, and also faces big trouble from the Mavronian government, who did not know about her passing Yvonne off as Olga. Yvonne is reunited with her family, Tanya stays in England with her aunt, and Igor returns to Mavronia to carry on the fight for freedom. The British team hold a party to celebrate Yvonne’s return. Yvonne declares that the returned Yvonne is a better team-mate than the one who went away.

Thoughts

From the moment we read the first episode, we know where this story is going to lead when we see that Yvonne is a selfish girl and the unfortunate Olga Marcek is almost a dead ringer for her. Yes, Yvonne is going to swap places with Olga, and it has something to do with her emerging a changed and better person by the end of the story. It’s just a matter of how the details unfold as the story develops.

There have been plenty of stories about unpleasant girls changing for the better. Sometimes they make poor stories because the change is not handled in a realistic manner. But in this case it is, and the beauty is that it does not come all at once in the story. In the early episodes her selfishness is given free rein and grows as it feeds off her successes while making her increasingly unpopular and causing trouble with her coach. But at the same time both Madam Kapelski and Olga notice it and are taking advantage of it in their different ways. It is the “pride before a fall” approach, with the pride going on an extra high.

Then comes the fall. When it strikes, the ordeal Yvonne goes through is more than a shock to the system. She has a terrible accident, then is kidnapped, held prisoner, forced to cycle in a deception, and frustrated by the loss of her voice and unable to call for help. But there is more; she also becomes victim to state oppression and has to learn to tread carefully if she is to survive. She now thinks of her family, fears she will never see them again, and regrets how she was so thoughtless about them before. And while she cycles as Olga, she now gets what she came to Mavronia – winning medals and receiving cycling glory. But instead of revelling in it as she did before, it leaves her cold. She has what she wanted, but in a manner that makes it undesirable. She finds she has lost her lust for glory and even has to fake it to fool Madam Kapelski. Ironically, the unruliness that was annoying before now becomes true courage as Yvonne refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her and commits acts of defiance.

A slave story where the captor takes advantage of a girl’s inability to speak (or remember her past) to blackmail her into fraud, crime or other subterfuge is a very well-established formula in girls’ comics. But here it is taken even further because it’s not just the usual matter of getting away from the villain and regaining your voice or memory. It’s a matter of getting away from the whole country, which is a repressive, Iron Curtain country where people ‘disappear’, and they get executed or thrown into oppressive institutions designed to provoke fear, as represented in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. It’s a far cry from what Yvonne is used to in the country where she comes from, and Tanya says as much. And there is no respite from the eyes of the state; once Yvonne is forced to impersonate Olga, she finds herself under constant, insidious guard of the state police and learns what it is like to be under Big Brother. And she is now like the people who live in that oppressive state and dream of escape to the West. Except that Yvonne’s case, the West is home.

At the time the story was published, the politics in it were very topical. The Cold War was still strong, the threat of nuclear war was ever-present, the Berlin Wall was still up, and people from the East were constantly trying to find ways to escape to the West. It looks more dated now that the Cold War has ended and the Berlin Wall long since demolished – or is it? The rise of Putin warns that the Cold War could resurface. The Soviet Union may be gone, but cases like Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace 30 show that Russia is still just as intolerant to political dissent as much as it was when this story came out. And there are still oppressive, totalitarian states in the world. So politics may change, but oppression and totalitarianism always persist one way or another.

And people who live under totalitarianism are made to suffer because the state cares little for their welfare. For example, women grumble at the expense paid on the place of sport where Yvonne is to compete, “yet how many of us ever taste meat?” We get to see a bit more of how oppressive this country is once Yvonne herself falls victim to it and finds out what happens to people who rise against it, such as the fate of Olga’s parents, or the children who are put in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. The Home, which seems to be a combination of harsh school and outright prison, would be worthy of a slave story in its own right.

It is the power of the totalitarian state that makes Madam Kapelski such a powerful villain. Girls’ comics have abounded with harsh, demanding coaches who drive their charges too hard and care little for their welfare (“Sheilagh’s Shadow”, June) or villains who kidnap girls and enslave them with sport (“Swim for Your Life, Sari”, Tammy). But few have been backed by the power of a totalitarian state – or at least the threat of it – to force their charges to do what they want. And no doubt it has played a huge role in shaping Madam Kapelski into a brilliant but ruthless coach who demands way too much and permits no rest, relaxation or fun. It is possible that this is how Mavronia itself treats its children. We see echoes of Madam Kapelski’s demanding attitudes in the teaching methods at the State Home for Children of Dissidents; they do not tolerate “slackness” and poor schoolwork means a night in the punishment room. And like the state itself, Madam Kapelski is intolerant; in England, when she hears The Who on the radio, she snarls, “these pop musicians would never be tolerated in Mavronia!” Inwardly, Yvonne retorts, “Don’t tolerate very much at all there, do you, Madam Kapelski?”

Although escape looks hopeless with the constant guard they are under, we know it has to happen. But there are so many threads and possibilities floating around in the strip we don’t know which one it will be. Will it be the gypsies who tried to warn Yvonne? Will it be the people who start to get suspicious when Yvonne is taken back to England? Will it be Yvonne’s mother, who never quite believed her daughter was dead and had premonitions that something awful was going to happen to her in the first place? And what about Olga’s mother, who escaped Mavronia? And how come nobody seems to try the British embassy in Mavronia? Oh, well.

It’s realistic that escape does not happen at once and hopes of escape are constantly dashed. Yvonne falls into despair and tears as each attempt fails, and Madam Kapelski is delighted. Her plan to break Yvonne seems to be working perfectly, and taking her back to England itself would be in her view a masterstroke. A return to England would raise Yvonne’s hopes to their fullest, so they would hit their crushing lowest as they are constantly dashed. But there were things that Madam Kapelski did not count on when she took Yvonne back to England, and this turned her masterstroke into her undoing.

Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75)

Sample images

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

 

 

 

 

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

Artist: Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Alan Davidson

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

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Changeling (1978)

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Publication: 22 July 1978-5 August 1978
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Katy Palmer lives a miserable life with her brutal uncle and his shabby flat. Uncle puts Katy out to work in the stables, little realising that this is the only time she gets some joy. This is when Katy indulges in the only thing that makes her life bearable – riding. Lately she has been putting in extra riding with Midnight because her employer, Miss Peers, is training him up for an event at Ryechurch. Unfortunately the stables job and riding are cutting into homework time, and Katy is constantly in trouble at school because of it.

Then Uncle yanks Katy out of the stables job to work as a dishwasher, which robs Katy of her only joy. At this, Katy reaches her limit and just runs off. Before she knows what she is doing, she is on a train to Ryechurch. On the train she meets another Katy, Katy Blair. Katy Blair is on her way to Ryechurch to meet her uncle and aunt, whom her lawyer has only just traced.

Then the train suddenly crashes. The accident leaves Katy Blair apparently dead. Desperation drives Katy to steal her suitcase and take her place at Ryechurch so she can finally have a happy life with loving parents. And they have everything Katy could wish for – love, a comfortable life and even stables and horses, where Katy can continue to indulge her passion with horses. She gives her new horse the same name as Midnight.

But Katy soon finds she cannot have real happiness because she is living a lie. All the while there are twinges of conscience. And then the past catches up. First Katy spots Miss Peers and the other Midnight at the Ryechurch event (forgot that bit, didn’t you, Katy?) and has to do a fast sick act so Miss Peers does not see her.

And then – horror – Katy spots Katy Blair! Is she seeing ghosts?

No. It turns out that Katy Blair is not dead after all; she was just in a coma. She has amnesia though, and is trying to recover her memory. At last conscience gets the better of Katy. She confesses the truth to Katy Blair and then her aunt and uncle.

They take Katy to see her uncle. After they see for themselves what an unfit guardian he is, they pull Katy away and tell him they are going to apply to the courts for legal custody of her. The application is successful; the two girls are now sisters and share their riding together. (Mind you, we’re not told how the parents differentiate between two girls named Katy.)

Thoughts
This story is very odd in being so short lived. It only lasted for three episodes when there was potential to spin it out more. For example, we could have had some more development on the villainy of the nasty uncle and, in particular, what he does when he realises Katy has run off. And we could have had more on Katy’s conflicted conscience, the mounting fear of being found out and dragged back to her uncle, and what situations this leads her into. Moreover, having more episodes before Katy Blair returns would have made more sense, because Katy Blair seems to have made an all-too-quick recovery from her coma.

So why did this story only have three episodes? The fact that the episodes have an extra page (or half a page, as in the first episode) suggests it was meant as a filler story and was not intended to be spun out or be a serious length serial. It is a bit disappointing, because this story was crying out for more length and development and could have been a popular Jinty serial.

Angela Angel-Face (1980)

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Publication: 29 November 1980-27 December 1980
Original print: Sandie (publication dates unavailable)
Reprint: Tammy 10 March 1984-31 March 1984
Artist: Rodrigo Comos
Writer: Unknown

Angela Angel-Face was another short filler story which Jinty typically used over the Christmas period. It also marks the last appearance of Rodrigo Comos’ artwork in Jinty.

What is noteworthy – and perhaps unsettling about this story – is that it is not Jinty at all. It is reprinted from Sandie. Angela-Angel Face used to be a regular in Sandie. The premise was that Angela Palmer, a pupil at Charleton School, is taken for a sweet-natured girl because of her angelic face. But in fact she comes from the long ‘sweet-faced schemer’ formula – a selfish schemer who uses her sweet, pretty, angelic face to take advantage of people, and lie, cheat and connive to get whatever she wants. The only people who (ever) know the truth about Angela are Mary Coates and her friend Brenda. Mary is the chief watchdog over Angela, watching out for her nasty schemes and working out how to foil them. But regardless of how her schemes turn out, Angela always gets away with it because of her angelic face and it’s on to the next story. And so Angela belongs to the formula of the ‘regular’ schemer – the schemers who are regulars in the comic. Each week (or story) they hatch yet another plot that the protagonist has to figure out and foil. The protagonist succeeds, but the schemer is never defeated for good. Next episode (or story) it is business as usual. This is how a ‘regular’ sweet-faced schemer differs from one in a serial – there, the schemer always gets exposed in the end.

The plot, briefly: The Ambassador of Meringaria is thinking of sending his daughter Flavia to Charleton. Angela fools him into thinking she is a native of his country (with some phrases, flowers and the Angela Palmer charm). She wangles a trip to Meringaria for a quiz match, but is rather dismayed at the choice of girls to be on her team – guess who? And the teacher accompanying them, Miss Ryder, is not one who is so easily fooled by Angela.

Mary notices a lot of strange, suspicious things happening and eventually Angela tells Mary that she is involved in a plot to kidnap Flavia. She claims she was forced and now the plotters are after her because Mary foiled the attempt. Soon after, Angela disappears, with a note saying that she has been kidnapped. Mary begins to suspect Angela was a willing participant but double-crossed the plotters, and she then faked her own kidnapping. Mary goes in search of Angela and finds her at a funfair. Angela makes claims that she was kidnapped and escaped. Mary does not believe it, but everyone else does and Angela ends up a heroine. She has got away with it (whatever it was exactly) again.

Um, yes. Quite. The plot makes this serial widely regarded in Jinty discussions as one of Jinty’s low points. Readers were probably very ready to forget it as they absorbed themselves in its replacement, “Land of No Tears”, the following week. This story must have been one of the weaker ones in Angela’s run to boot.

But I prefer to ponder on why Jinty would bother with a reprint from an older comic. Jinty certainly was beginning to fall on reprints at this stage. This is most notable in Gypsy Rose, where the bulk of the stories fell back on reprints. Some were Rose’s own, but most were recycling old Strange Stories. The year 1981 would see two reprints of Jinty stories. But why the reprint from an older comic? Was it a quick way to fill a spot and save money at the same time? Or could Jinty not come up with a short story of her own and fell back on a fast, cheap reprint? Or was it a symptom of a comic that was beginning to flounder? Whatever the reason, it gives you a disconcerting indication of what economics and policies were going behind Jinty at this time.

Even more strange, the story was reprinted only four years later, in Tammy. Four years seems an unusually short interval between reprints. What could have been the reason for reprinting it comparatively quickly?

Gwen’s Stolen Glory (1974)

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Publication: 11/5/74-4/8/74

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Alan Davidson

The living a lie story – the story where the heroine is living a lie for one reason or other. But she gets increasingly caught up in her own lies, resorting to ever more desperate and even shocking measures to keep her secret, and living in constant fear of being discovered. And if she gets discovered, where is it going to end, and what is going to happen to her? Or will she be able to extricate herself from her sticky situation without getting into too much trouble – that is, if she even deserves to?

Such makes the suspense and thrills in another of Jinty’s first stories, “Gwen’s Stolen Glory”.

Summary

Gwen Terry longs to have friends, be popular and pursue a career as an actress. However, she has no confidence in herself and does not consider herself good at anything. The other girls consider her boring and useless and tease her. Her home life does not help; her dad is on an invalid’s benefit, so they can’t afford much or a decent home. She envies Judith Langham, who is everything she is not: popular, confident, good at everything, and just been accepted for drama school. Gwen does not realise Judith sympathises with her position and stands up for her.

In the school drama class, it’s Gwen’s turn to recite, but she dries up. Everyone laughs at her and she runs off in tears. Their taunts go too far when the distraught Gwen falls over the cliff and lands in a precarious position. Judith goes to the rescue, but the rescue goes through a series of unexpected turns which end up with everyone thinking that it was Gwen who saved Judith, who is now unconscious after a fall.

Gwen is now the heroine of the school, and seizes her opportunity for happiness. Indeed, she has everything she dreamed for now: glory, popularity, loads of admiring friends and showers of gifts. She even takes Judith’s place in the drama school, and the gratitude of the Langham parents ensures the Terrys a better home. When Judith comes to, she has lost her memory of what really happened, so it looks like Gwen’s glory is sealed and everything will be just dandy for her from now on.

But the glory has come at a price – Gwen’s conscience. She cannot forget that it was really Judith who saved her life. Her troubled conscience gives her no peace of mind and she is ashamed at the depths she has sunk to, so all her new-found gains cannot give her full happiness. And it filters through; her mother wonders why Gwen seems ashamed rather than proud. And in the cloakroom a guilt-stricken Gwen says, “Oh Judith, what have I done to you? What have I done to myself?”

Too bad for Gwen that Julie Waring was in earshot. Julie has been having niggling doubts about the whole affair, and after what she overhears, she becomes really suspicious. Soon Julie is drawing the right conclusions and makes no secret of what she suspects to Gwen. Now Gwen’s guilt is compounded by the fear of being found out, losing all her gains and becoming an outcast! Another consequence of living a lie.

Julie challenges Gwen to recreate her heroic climb on the cliff to save Judith – something Julie knows Gwen could not possibly have done. Gwen fails the test, but the girls still think she is a heroine, and accuse Julie of being jealous. But Gwen is taking no chances – she frames Julie and gets her expelled. It looks like her secret is safe, but now she has sunk even further.

Before Julie goes, she defiantly tells Gwen, “You’ll suffer for what you’ve done, Gwen, if you’ve got any conscience at all. It won’t do you any good in the end, I know it won’t!”

Julie’s words bear out when Gwen looks in her bedroom mirror. She is shocked to see her face has taken on a hard, selfish, cruel look. Gwen realises what a monster she has turned into and is now more ashamed than ever. But her greed and selfishness are getting too strong and Gwen starts turning into a Jeckyll and Hyde type character, with one half the deeply ashamed Gwen, and the greedy selfish one who will stop at nothing to keep what she has gained, even if it means Judith dies on the cliff and her secret is safe forever.

Yes, Judith is beginning to remember, but not fully. She goes to the cliff to jog her memory and Gwen has no choice but to go with her. Her conflicting personality traits surface again. The cruel half gets the better of her, but when she sees it reflected in a puddle, she is ashamed at what she has become and hates herself. Seeing only one way to get rid of that evil face, Gwen deliberately goes to the same perch on the cliff as before in the hope of restoring Judith’s memory – and it does.

Then things take another surprising turn when Gwen ends up saving Judith’s life for real. For the first time in her life, Gwen finds she has reason to respect herself. The grateful Judith even offers to keep Gwen’s secret. But Gwen refuses; she must get rid of that evil and find peace of mind. So she confesses to her parents and then the whole school. She runs off in tears, expecting dire consequences.

But Gwen is in for a surprise. The girls say it was their fault too; they treated her badly, so perhaps they drove her to it. Well, they did – literally – when their scorn had her running off and going over the cliff in the first place. They are also impressed with the way Gwen really saved Judith this time (something Gwen did not mention when she confessed) and declined the offer of the easy way out.

So it’s forgiveness from them, and from Julie, who is reinstated at the school. Judith goes to drama school, but it looks like Gwen might follow the next year.

Thoughts

Most living a lie stories, such as “Holiday Hideway“, generally focus on all the scrapes the heroine gets into to keep her secret. They may be played for humour, thrills, or to make us despise the character. But here the focus is on the character development of Gwen, and this is the real strength of the story. Gwen starts off as a character you can instantly sympathise with. She feels a nobody who is desperate to step out of the shadows, but lacks the self-confidence and is always the target of teasing. And she has an accident and nearly gets killed because of it as well!

Once she becomes the centre of admiration, she laps up her new-found glory, happiness, friendships, and the acting opportunity she had dreamed of. Her life is looking up at last, and she starts gaining confidence. But the lie of it all means she still has no reason to love or respect herself, which is what she really needs if she is to be truly happy. The lows she sinks to in order to keep her secret bring out her dark side, which she never realised she had before. The revulsion of what she is turning into, and how this has led to her to destroy two people, has her discovering what a tormented soul truly means. And the changes in her face and personality are truly disturbing. On the other hand, it is this horrific change, rather than the guilty conscience, that sets Gwen on the path to redeeming her character, even though it will certainly mean ruining herself. But thanks to another turn of events, Gwen ends up on the path towards true self-respect and happiness as well as redemption.

Was Gwen forgiven a bit too readily and the ending a bit too pat? After all, she did get Julie expelled for something she did not do, and that would be an expelling matter for herself. Perhaps it is a matter of opinion. Certainly it is a frequent thing in girls’ comics for errant heroines to get off too easily, without any punishment. Forgiveness is a big thing in girls’ comics, but at times it comes too easily to be believable. On the other hand, the girls, and perhaps the staff, had reason to reflect on Gwen’s former miserable situation after she became a heroine. The gifts the girls shower her with could well be balms for guilty consciences as much as tokens of admiration. And now they have real reason to admire Gwen, for the courage in her honesty as well as heroism. It could well be that the headmistress was among those who was far too impressed with Gwen to think about punishing her.

Holiday Hideaway (1981)

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Publication: 25/7/81-3/10/81

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Some stories were run on the flimsiest of plots and utterly ludicrous premises. They could either have you laughing out loud and throw the comic at the wall, or have you laughing but you follow the story anyway because you do like it, in an odd, engaging sort of way. Such could well be the case with Holiday Hideway, where Mr Jones hides himself and his family in the house and pretend they all are on holiday – all because he does not want everyone to know that they cannot afford the real thing because his business has suddenly failed.

Yes, hide the entire family in the house, living on tinned food, suffer emotional and psychological stress from being constantly stuck inside in hiding, and still keep up the deception of the holiday with fake holiday shots, postcards and such – all for the entire duration of a supposed luxury cruise over the entire summer holiday. And all just to save Mr Jones’ pride.

Now how on earth can you pull that off? Most of it is due to Hattie, the daughter. She alone does not like the deception and thinks her parents are being silly. She does not like being stuck inside all the time either as she is an extroverted outdoor type who wants to be with her friends. But she goes along with it out of loyalty to her family. And it is thanks to Hattie’s quick wits and gymnastics skills that the secret stays safe during the inevitable sticky moments where they are in danger of being found out. Without Hattie, the Joneses would quickly have been found out, as her brother Nicky is too young, her sister Dora is too indulgent and does nothing but sit under the sunlamp, and the parents do need serious help to keep it all up. We see Hattie putting on camouflage gear, turning Red Indian, and even have her family pretend the house is haunted (when they are being burgled) and other amusing and thrilling tactics to keep the secret safe. This is perhaps why the story can be so engaging even though its premise seems extremely…improbable? Or perhaps we are just following it to see how Mr Jones gets what is coming to him. He is being dishonest, after all.

And of course Mr Jones gets it in the end. When the Joneses “come home” and their friends come for the welcome home reception, the parents are all bragging about their “holiday” while Hattie, who has never approved of the charade, is ashamed at the all the lies they are telling. Then along comes the paper to say their ship has been in dry dock the whole time! Well, you are never allowed to get away with deceit in girls’ comics.

But you might be forgiven if you redeem yourself, which is precisely what happens next. Sudden flash flooding traps everyone in the house (I think I see echoes of another Jinty serial, Fran of the Floods here). The Joneses’ house alone is equipped to deal with it because of all the stockpiles from the Joneses’ fake holiday. So by the time the flooding subsides, everything is forgiven and Mr Jones is now sorry for his deception. Then they find it was all for nothing (it would be) because Mr Jones’ business is fine now. They can afford a holiday after all – oh, no, says, Hattie, it’s time to get back to work and school! They’ve had their holiday! And after this so-called holiday, Hattie is actually quite relieved to go back to school.