Tag Archives: disability

The Ghost Dancer [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty 3 January 1981 – 28 March 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Dansen in het maanlicht [Dancing in the Moonlight] (in: Tina 1983)

Plot

Ferne Ashley’s mother, Martina Kerr, is a famous ballerina and her father a famous composer. Unfortunately Dad is a short-tempered man who flies off the handle easily, especially when his work isn’t going well, and he picks constant fights with his wife. This has tragic consequences that shape the course of the entire story.

Ferne passes the audition to her mother’s old ballet school with Madame Naninska. But instead of being thrilled for her, Dad starts an argument with Mum that Ferne only got in because Mum was Madame’s ex-prize pupil (frustration over his latest composition not going well). Worse, he’s doing it while driving instead of watching the road, and fails to avoid a tractor that’s driving on the wrong side of the road for some reason. Mum gets killed in the ensuing crash. Ferne blames Dad for Mum’s death, and decides to punish him by pretending to be crippled so he can’t see the joy of her dancing.

The doctors can’t find any medical reason for Ferne’s paralysis of course, but assume it is a mental block that’s come from the shock of Mum’s death. The decision is made to send Ferne to the ballet school anyway, in the hope it will help to unfreeze the block.

What this really does is make it increasingly difficult for Ferne to keep up the pretence. There is temptation on all sides, including urging from Madame to dance again, to just give in and start dancing. Although Ferne still blames Dad for Mum’s death, the reality of what she is doing and the consequences it has wrought are now sinking in – including denying herself the dancing she loves so much. She is beginning to feel shame and guilt. However, Ferne is too afraid of what everyone will say, especially her bad-tempered father, to confess what she has done.

So Ferne tries pretending that she is gradually regaining the use of her legs and quietly rejoin the ballet class. Madame notices that Ferne seems to be moving her toes in time to the ballet music and joyfully tells Dad. However, when Dad hears about it, he guesses the truth. He comes up to the school, confronts Ferne over it, and leaves her out in the woods, telling her to walk straight back to school. Ferne refuses to do so and her wheelchair is stuck, so she’s trapped herself, and then a downpour starts. By the time anyone finds her she is suffering from hypothermia and Dad is in big trouble for leaving a crippled girl like that. After this, Ferne is finding it even harder to own up.

One night Ferne yearns to dance so much that she slips out to some Roman ruins to secretly dance in them, as her, as her mother used to do. Unfortunately one of the pupils, Jolie, spots her, and blabs it around. At first the girls think it’s imagination, but later it adds to a rumour that the ghost Ferne’s mother is haunting the school.

Ferne is also secretly wandering around the school, and one night Madame catches her in her mother’s Firebird costume. This sends Madame into a faint, and after this the ghost rumour well and truly starts, with even staff members believing it. Ferne is appalled at what she has started and knows that owning up would stop it, but she is still too scared to do so.

The rumour just grows and grows; Ferne actually finds the girls trying to contact the ghost with a Ouija board and breaks it up. Jolie even goes to the ruins to call upon the ghost for help, because she is having trouble with her dancing and lost confidence. She is trying to distract the teacher from it by goofing off in class and playing the fool, but knows that in the end it won’t stop her being told to leave because she is not progressing. She does not realise Ferne is listening in.

Ferne soon realises what Jolie’s dancing problem is, having experienced it herself several years earlier, and wants to help. Deciding that openly helping Jolie won’t work out, Ferne decides to play the ghost. Dressing up in the Firebird costume and pretending to be her mother’s ghost, Ferne appears before Jolie in the ruins and walk her through the problem. This overcomes Jolie’s problem, but of course the big gossip can’t resist telling everyone about her encounter with the ghost of Martina Kerr.

At this, the girls crawl all over the ruins in search of the ghost. The caretaker angrily chases them off and, following this, the headmistress abruptly puts the ruins out of bounds. Despite the ban, the girls trick Jolie into coming to the ruins for another supposed rendezvous with the ghost, where they intend to have some sport with her.

Ferne overhears what they are plotting but does nothing about it, figuring Jolie had it coming for being such a blabbermouth. Then she overhears the headmistress saying she put the ruins out of bounds because the caretaker’s lawn mower badly cracked one of the pillars, and it could fall at any time. At this, Ferne abandons her pretence once and for all – she’s off and running to stop a potential accident – right in front of an astonished Madame, Matron and every pupil who sees her.

At the ruins, Ferne warns the girls and gets Jolie out of the danger the girls unwittingly put her in. But Jolie, realising the trick Ferne pulled on her, angrily shoves her away, and Ferne hits a pillar. Unfortunately this is the dangerous pillar, and Jolie’s action sends it toppling. Ferne manages to push Jolie clear of the pillar, but does not make it herself. The pillar lands on top of her.

Of course Ferne’s deception is now out, but everyone forgives her because of her heroism – no wait, there’s a far more serious reason why nobody can be angry with Ferne. The pillar damaged her spine and now she really is confined to a wheelchair. Her deception has turned into dreadful reality.

Ferne’s accident makes Dad lose heart for composing music, including completing the ballet, “Sea Maiden’s Dream”, that he was composing for Mum before she died. Ferne is informed that stress is the reason for Dad’s constant temper problems. At this she is really ashamed at blaming him, and she resolves to dance again for his sake. After weeks of secret work, she manages to dance a few steps before him, which restores his heart for composing. At Ferne’s request, he resumes work on the ballet. Some years later Ferne has fully recovered and dancing the lead in the premiere of “Sea Maiden’s Dream”.

Thoughts

This story has the rather sad distinction of being Jinty’s last ballet story before the merger. Ballet-wise, it does show that Phil Townsend can draw beautiful ballet. It’s a shame he did not draw ballet more frequently. It is also the last Jinty serial to use the theme of ghosts (unless you count the ghost that appeared briefly in “Worlds Apart“), even if there is no actual ghost in the story. Finally, it is also the last Jinty story to use the theme of bad reactions to grief without thinking of the consequences (a la “Nothing to Sing About” and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”). So it is quite surprising that Alison Christie did not write it.

There have been scores of girls’ serials about girls (and adults) pretending to be disabled, either by their own free will or by circumstance, such as being forced. Sometimes it’s linked to tragedy and grief, as it is with Ferne, but more often it’s due to scheming. The theme cropped up frequently at DCT, but appeared less often at IPC; neither Tammy nor Jinty used it much.

Unlike most girls who willingly pretend to be disabled, Ferne never uses her deception to play upon people’s sympathy or take advantage of them. It’s a kneejerk reaction to grief and blaming her father for her mother’s death, which is quickly regretted once Ferne realises the consequences. While most girls in girls’ serials keep up the pretence for as long as possible, Ferne changes her mind about it fairly quickly, but can’t see how to end it without getting into trouble. Every time she decides to confess, something happens to scare her into staying silent and continue the deception. And in the meantime, everything just continues to get more and more out of hand.

Ferne’s heroism in giving up her deception to save Jolie would have been the perfect way  for Ferne to end the deception gracefully and be forgiven. Indeed, the story could have ended with that. Instead, there is one final twist – Ferne’s deception turning into reality  and the final episode of her story being dedicated to comeback. It seems a harsh way to go before the final happy ending, especially for a girl who deserved it far less than other schemers who pretend to be disabled in girls’ comics. After all, her deception was prompted by grief, shock and anger, which hardly made her conducive to thinking straight.  it is far less trite than the alternate ending the story could have taken, as described above.

There is no doubt the father’s bad temper started the trouble, whether or not he was actually to blame for his wife’s death. Things would have been so different if the father had done what he should have done: been overjoyed that Ferne passed the audition, congratulated her wholeheartedly and took the family out to celebrate. Instead, he uses it as a vehicle to vent his frustration and pick a fight with his wife. Moreover, he was doing it while driving, which would have made his driving dangerous. It was asking for an accident.

It is never officially established just who was responsible for the accident or why the tractor was on the wrong side of the road. Dad knows Ferne blames him for her mother’s death, but he does not blame himself. The mother might still have died, but at least Ferne wouldn’t have blamed Dad if he hadn’t started that fight in the first place. His bad temper may be due to strain and work stress, but that really is no excuse for it. He admits in the end that he does have a temper problem, but it’s something he should address with stress and anger management therapy instead of making everyone in the household suffer for it.

Discussion should also be made of Jolie. Jolie is one of the standout supporting characters in the story. She could even be a more rounded character than Ferne, and is certainly more humorous. She’s a bit of a butt of jokes at the school. For one thing, English is her second language (she is French), so she doesn’t always get things right. For example, she comes up to the girls to say she heard the gardener say a motorway is going to be built through the school grounds, when in fact the driveway is just going to be enlarged. She has the unfortunate reputation for big imagination and tall tales as well, which go hand in hand with her being a big gossip and blabbermouth by nature. But really, the pranks she plays in class (blowing down a girl’s neck for example) do not endear her much to the girls, so she is asking for a big revenge prank from them at some point. And it comes with fateful results at the climax. Jolie becomes more sympathetic there when we learn the reason for her goofing off: covering up loss of confidence in her dancing because she can’t get the hang of certain steps, and she is terrified she will leave the school. She is so human, and has potential for her own story. We can just see this one being retold from Jolie’s point of view. It would be interesting to see how it looks.

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My Strange Sister [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Dreamer #1 (19 September 1981) – 10 (21 November 1981)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Monthly #25, June 1988

Dreamer is a little-known photo story comic. Like many other new IPC titles of the 1980s it did not last long, and it became the first title to merge into Girl 2. It looks like Dreamer liked to have cute little animals decorating her bottom margins too. “My Strange Sister” was one of the stories in Dreamer’s very first lineup. Another of her first stories, “Who Stole Samantha?”, was written by Alison Christie.

Plot

Joanne Baxter tells her own story. She had once been an aspiring gymnast. But she has been confined to a wheelchair ever since a car knocked her down when she came out from her last gymnastics display. Joanne’s older sister Eve has been a tremendous help to her since the accident. Joanne is making attempts to walk again, but her legs won’t obey her.

Joanne can’t avoid reminders of her old life, such as a window display of sports gear or music from her last gymnastics display playing. She finds them painful reminders of course, but they are having even more bizarre effects on Eve. Eve seems to go off into a sort of trance, disappears and leaves the wheelchair-bound Joanne deserted, and then reappears with no apparent memory of what she did. Incidents like this are becoming ever more frequent. Joanne is baffled and concerned at Eve’s strange behaviour and can’t understand the reason for it at all. Eve’s behaviour is also putting a real strain on their relationship; they begin to quarrel and Joanne feels they are becoming like strangers.

Eve’s strange behaviour grows even more bizarre when her best friend Candy tries to take her out to the disco. Eve becomes inexplicably terrified and hides herself from Candy. Eve takes Joanne out to the disco instead, but another odd incident occurs along the way. They see a cat walking along a wall, which makes Eve inexplicably upset and she shoos it away. She says she does not want to be reminded, she wants to forget how it was…

At the disco, Eve’s strange behaviour acts up again when the music from Joanne’s last gymnastics display is played. This time she phones up Candy and arranges to see her outside. Joanne is watching them, but can’t hear the conversation. When Eve sees Joanne is watching them, she carts her off home in a bad temper, and accuses Joanne of spying on her.

On the way home, a police siren makes Eve’s strange behaviour act up again, and this time it is a real performance: Eve screams “Aagh, no!”, and then she runs off. When Joanne finds Eve, she is trying to hide. When Joanne asks her who she is hiding from, Eve snaps at her. She says Joanne knows that and she wouldn’t be surprised if Joanne had sent them after her. Eve’s outbursts prompt Joanne to attempt to walk, but she fails. Eve gets her back into her wheelchair and home, and again acts like she does not remember what happened.

The fact that it was a police siren has Joanne thinking that Eve is acting this way because she has done something wrong and is feeling guilty. Realising it must have something to do with Candy, Joanne phones Candy for an explanation. But Candy acts just as strangely. She says to stop pestering. More tellingly, she says: “Just because she feels guilty, that’s no reason why I should…even if I was with her that night.” When Joanne asks what Candy is talking about, Candy tells her that she jolly well knows and “Eve’s just being stupid about it”. She then hangs up, saying she isn’t saying anymore and wants to be left alone.

Eve realises Joanne was phoning Candy and accuses her of spying again. When Joanne says phoning Candy is not a crime, Eve’s odd behaviour acts up again at the word “crime”. She starts rambling about where she can go, where she can hide, and she must get away… Joanne realises that Eve seems to be hearing some weird voice in her head when she has these strange bouts of behaviour.

Next morning, Eve runs away. Joanne finds a note saying: “I don’t want your hatred as I couldn’t face that and I just can’t forget that night. It haunts me more and more so I’ve got to leave home for a while. Tell Mum not to worry.”

Joanne has not been telling her mother what is going on because she did not want her to worry, and she does not tell Mum about Eve’s disappearance either. But when Candy comes around to apologise for that phone call, Joanne shows her the note. Candy says she was afraid something like this might happen. Candy takes Joanne out to look for Eve while she explains what is wrong: Eve is blaming herself for Joanne’s accident. On the night of the gymnastics display, she and Candy slipped out to the car park. They found an unlocked car and played around inside for a bit with the steering wheel. This happened to be the car that knocked Joanne down as she came out from the gymnastics display. Eve thinks their fooling around in the car did something to it that caused the brakes to fail.

Joanne says that’s ridiculous. Candy agrees, so she does not blame herself in the way Eve does, but Eve evidently can’t stop blaming herself. The reason she was so helpful after the accident was to help her forget what happened. But now her guilt is resurfacing and intensifying, particularly at any reminder of the accident, such as the music, the cat on the wall (like Joanne on the beam), and emergency sirens.

After a long search they decide to check out the scene of the accident. Sure enough, there is Eve in one of her trance-like states. A car is approaching, but Eve is not moving or listening to Joanne’s warnings about the car. Joanne realises Eve thinks the only way to pay her debt is to get herself run over too. Desperation to save Eve prompts Joanne’s legs to move and she manages to push Eve to safety. Joanne can use her legs again, and tells Eve the accident had nothing to do with her; the car just skidded on a patch of oil. Joanne is very grateful to Eve for curing her, and Eve is relieved to be free of her guilt.

Thoughts

There have been many stories in girls’ comics where the protagonist is the architect of her own misfortunes because she keeps blaming herself for an accident. Usually it’s for some ridiculous reason or something that was not entirely her fault e.g. “The Black-and-White World of Shirley Grey” (Tammy), “Tearaway Trisha” (Jinty), and to some extent, “Tricia’s Tragedy” (Jinty).

But in this case the guilt complex formula is turned right on its head because it’s being told from another person’s point of view. This gives it a whole new take that’s completely different. In this case it’s the sister, Joanne, who’s also the accident girl. In so doing, the guilt complex story is turned into a mystery story because Joanne does not know Eve is blaming herself for the accident. She can’t understand what the reason is for Eve’s strange conduct and clearly unravelling mentality. Eve’s strange conduct and the mystery of it all are also putting severe strain on the sisters’ relationship and causing a rift between them, which compounds the situation. Having Joanne telling the story herself gives the reader further insight into Joanne’s emotional and mental reactions to the situation as well as seeing things from her point of view. This heightens the drama and tension of the story.

Adding to Joanne’s distress over her oddly behaving sister is that she is pretty much on her own, and she’s further impaired by being confined to a wheelchair. Joanne just won’t tell her mother what is going on, not even when Eve runs off. If the mother had known, she would certainly have screamed at Joanne for not telling her sooner.

It is fortunate that Candy knew the reason, but it would have made things simpler if she had spoken up, especially if she was worried that Eve might do something really stupid like running away. Her rudeness to Joanne on the phone could have come from growing exasperation at Eve blaming herself for such a ridiculous reason. We can just hear her saying, “Oh, come on, Eve, what could you have possibly done to the car to make the brakes fail? For God’s sake, will you please stop going on about it? It’s ridiculous!” All the same, why she says what she says to Joanne is a bit hard to fathom. But of course the mystery has to be kept up for as long as possible.

It is odd and rather unbelievable that Eve did not know the car just skidded on some oil while Joanne knew it. It would have been more convincing for it simply to have been bad luck or something. The way in which Joanne suddenly regains the use of her legs is a bit clichéd, but the story wisely gave hints that Joanne might regain the use of her legs if some blockage could be overcome. Desperation to save a loved one would be a most effective way of shifting it, and we are not really surprised to see Joanne lose the need for her wheelchair in the end. It would also help Eve to shed her guilt, something she may not have done even if Joanna had simply told her to stop blaming herself.

 

Willa on Wheels (1976)

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Publication: 12 June 1976 – 28 August 1976

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Willa Keen is a student nurse at Larkhill Cottage Hospital who is determined to become a fully-qualified nurse. But when a timber lorry crashes and she goes to the aid of a trapped passenger, the timber falls on top of her and damages her spine. Now she is confined to a wheelchair, and her dream to qualify as a nurse depends on whether she will walk again.

When Willa saves and revives a drowning girl during physiotherapy, it fires her with a whole new determination to walk again and become a nurse. The trouble is, the same determination leads to her making single-minded and stupid decisions to prove herself, and that wheelchair not only limits her access to the wards but leads to some accidents as well. The crunch comes when a patient with angina has an attack. Instead of calling the night nurse, Willa resolves to tackle it herself in order to prove she is still a nurse. And then she finds she can’t access the patient because of her wheelchair and her legs are useless. She falls and knocks herself out, and this puts the patient in even more danger and valuable time is lost. The patient is saved in the end, but Willa is in big trouble for not taking the proper course of action in calling the nurse. However, the board goes too far; they tell Willa she is just not capable of helping right now because of her condition and she must face the fact that she is not a nurse anymore. This shatters Willa and sends her into deep depression.

Then Mr Leggett, the truck driver from the accident and his son Teddy step in and offer to take Willa on a holiday away from it all. Willa goes, but is in a state of deep depression and shows it by flinging her nurse’s uniform out the window. She is just as bitter and bad-tempered at the Leggett household and tries everyone’s patience. When asked to cook dinner, she grumpily refuses. So Teddy tries to cook dinner himself, and the result is fire in the kitchen. Another accident because of Willa’s attitude, and she herself realises it. But when she has put out the fire, she finds herself standing on her own two feet! It looks like she has made the breakthrough, and it is the end of her bitter attitude. She now has fresh hope and is more cheerful.

Things are looking up. Willa is given a puppy, Benje, and asked to help out at the play-school. There she exhibits her nursing skills with first aid. But she is still wheelchair-bound and her legs give way under her. Then Willa gets a letter inviting her back to the hospital and there is a job waiting. Willa goes, eagerly anticipating a return to nursing.

But she gets a nasty shock when she finds it is a clerking job! She gets all depressed and the staff realise they have made a mistake. Willa gets off to a bad start in her new job because her heart is not in it, but she soon picks up when the manager tells her it is not all just bits and pieces of paper – patients’ problems are in there too. She also meets Jim Cooper, a man disabled like herself but is being trained as a masseur. Despite his blindness, Jim soon finds he can play football with his other senses. This inspires Willa to sit the nurses’ exam, although she is not supposed to. This comes to a head when Willa is asked to come up and help with the blackboard. It means Willa has to walk up there – but can she?

Her friend Gay manages to cover for her by taking her place. Willa comes top in the exam, but Matron says she still has to be able to walk if she is to be a nurse, and she is not likely too. This has Willa working far too hard in physiotherapy and collapsing. Eventually she manages to walk a bit, but then she overhears a surgeon badly needing a nurse for an emergency operation and none is available. Ever determined to prove herself a nurse, she steps in, determined to stay on her feet no matter what. She manages it and the patient pulls through, but then she collapses.

This time it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Staying on her feet throughout the operation has damaged her spine again – to the point where it is beyond repair and there is no hope of ever walking again. Willa is utterly depressed, and none of the people who helped her before seem to get through. Her depression results in yet another near-accident, this time to Jim, and she steps in to save him. It snaps her out of her depression. Then she meets a new patient, Pamela Sutton who is wheelchair-bound like herself and seeing a specialist. The specialist’s verdict is that Pamela is now capable of walking and just needs motivation. Willa starts using what she learned in her own physiotherapy to help Pamela, figuring it will be the next best thing to walking again herself. This sets Willa on a whole new career as a physiotherapist.

Thoughts

For some reason, nursing stories was one theme that Jinty was very short on. Throughout her entire run she ran only two nursing serials – this one and Angela’s Angels. When readers in the 1980 Pam’s Poll asked for a nursing story, Jinty’s response was to repeat Angela’s Angels rather than publish a new nursing story.

Stories where heroines are determined to make their own miracles with comebacks after an accident are well established in girls’ comics. But this story seems to be making a statement about what can happen when determination is not combined with common sense and crosses the line to pig-headedness and stupidity. Willa is so fixated on proving herself a nurse and gets so depressed when she can’t that she puts herself and others in danger several times. She realises her mistakes afterwards, but continues to make them because she is so hell-bent on proving herself a nurse. She doesn’t understand that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is very weak after the accident, and she should concentrate on recuperation before looking at nursing again. And in the end, it is that same reckless determination that destroys her chances of recover altogether, when she takes on the job in the operating theatre when her body was just not ready for it.

It is not all Willa’s fault; some of it the way the medical staff handle her psychologically; at the board hearing they go too far and crush Willa’s confidence completely, just as she is feeling very bad over the angina patient (but will continue to make the same mistake). There is no counselling or psychological treatment for her depression and the mental impact the accident has had on her.

The ending is a surprise; instead of the clichéd one where the heroine beats all odds and makes her comeback, Willa becomes permanently crippled but discovers a whole new vocation in the field of medicine. The skills she had learned in her own road to recovery are now being applied to others. But Willa is applying them in a more sensible manner than when she did with herself and, through the patients she helps, makes her own comeback. So Willa can be said to be a “comeback” story that is a very refreshing and even surprising take on the formula of “comeback” serials. It breaks all the clichés and gives us a heroine who is very human.

Land of No Tears (1977-78)

Sample images

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Publication: 5 November 1977 – 11 February 1978; reprinted 3 January 1981 – 11 April 1981 as a result of Pam’s Poll.

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Cassy Shaw was born with one leg shorter than the other and a consequent bad limp, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself; what’s more, she is quite happy to play on the sympathies of those who do. Her parents have different ideas: they arrange for her to have an operation that will correct her disability. In the operation, something very unusual happens: Cassy is whirled away through time into the future, a cruel future in which girls who are less than utterly perfect are treated as second-class citizens. She is greeted (with something very different from the sympathy she is used to) by Alpha girl Perfecta, who takes her to the nearest communal home or hive, run by a ‘hive mother’, who takes in children from the age of four and turns them into emotionless, physically perfect “superior girls”.

Cassy quickly revolts against this harsh treatment, where the Gamma girls are dressed in shabby clothes, treated like skivvies, and given literal scraps from the Alpha girls’ tables while the latter hone their mental and physical perfection and live in luxurious surroundings. She urges the Gamma girls to train at sports in order to beat the Alphas and win the Golden Girl award, proving that ‘rejects’ like them can’t safely be despised and humiliated. At first the Gamma girls are understandably sceptical, but Cassy finds allies first in her fellow Gamma, Miranda, who would have been an Alpha if her robo-nurse hadn’t left her too near a radiator which caused her to have a bald patch; and subsequently in Miranda’s mysterious mother, who wears heavy make-up and is clearly hiding a secret, but who is a fantastic trainer. Cassy herself has always been good at swimming and finds that the hive pool has a pace-setter – film of Perfecta swimming. “Racing against Perfecta is just what I need to spur me on. I’ll do anything to beat that stuck-up snob!”

Things initially look sticky in the first round of the Golden Girl trials, but Cassy wins her swimming heat, causing Perfecta to sweat as she realises “She’s better than me! She’s better than me! Those wretched Gamma girls could get through to the final… Could even win the Golden Girl award. I feel sick!” Not so fast – an announcement comes over the tannoy saying that Cassy has been disqualified – there are no records for her, and so the authorities think she must be competing under an assumed name. A reprieve happens when the computer fails to match her up with anyone else – as indeed how could it, as Cassy’s voiceprint and fingerprints never got recorded in this future time. However, this has brought suspicion on the hive generally and further investigations are promised.

Miranda’s mother appears in time to watch her gymnastics performance, which starts off lacklustre but is spurred on by her mother’s presence. This gives the Golden Girls another win, but the mother is furious – with Cassy. “Thanks to you, the Hive Inspector is coming down to investigate. He’ll ask questions about everyone. He’s certain to find out I’ve been meeting my daughter in secret. And then they’ll take her away from me, for ever!” (Yes, that was her secret – or at least, part of it…) Because of this, Miranda feels she can’t be friends with Cassy any longer; and Perfecta, desperate to train as hard as possible, breaks off with her best friend too, setting things up for a head-to-head between the perfect girl and the 20th century “reject’.

It’s a head-to-head that seems doomed to failure for Cassy, not because she is slower than Perfecta, but because Perfecta is about to spill the beans to the visiting Hive Inspector about having seen Miranda’s mother where she wasn’t supposed to be. “When I tell him, he’ll have Miranda and her mother put into a special prison… and serve them right, too!” Cassy can prevent this – but only by promising to lose to Perfecta in the Golden Girl finals. Miranda’s mother comes, sobbing and grateful, to thank Cassy for this sacrifice; the heavy make-up comes off with her tears and reveals … Miss Norm, the Hive Mother! That’s how she has managed to appear and disappear so unexpectedly at times.

Miss Norm tells the story of how the robo-nurse was left to look after Miranda when she was a baby, because Miss Norm wanted to enjoy herself without the responsibilities of motherhood; but as the nurse’s heat sensors were faulty she put the cot too close to the radiator and Miranda’s head got scorched. “If it hadn’t been for the accident, Miranda would have been an Alpha girl. She was perfect…” – Miss Norm doesn’t regret the cruel system of Alphas and Gammas, she just regrets the accident that placed her daughter on the wrong side of the divide. “I had to make things up by protecting her now… When the time came for her to be taken away to the Hive, I changed my name and got the job of Hive Mother.”

Cassy is out of the running because of her promise, but she hasn’t told any of the other Gamma girls, who do well in the final heats. Perfecta draws inexorably ahead as Cassy lets her win, but suddenly Perfecta screams in pain – she has done something to her spine by pushing herself faster and further! She is out of the race, and Cassy speeds up to try to make up for lost time. Even the crowd are on her side, now, despite the Hive Inspector urging them to “Remember your conditioning… “Feelings – bad! Bad! Self-control… Good! Good!” In a final surge, Cassy pips the other racers and ensures that the Gamma girls win the award – to the cheers of the crowd, who push the protesting Hive Inspector out of the way and into the pool.

In the aftermath, Miranda and Cassy are chatting about the changes that have happened since their win: “it seems people were pretty fed-up with things. When a bunch of “reject” girls won a top sports award, they realised they’d had enough of being bullied.”  But Cassy is still stuck in this future world – until their walk takes them near to the ruins of the hospital, the place where Cassy first emerged and met Perfecta. She falls down a crumbly part of the ruined site and… wakes up in her own time, with the leg operation having been successful. Was it just a dream? No, because she is still clutching her Golden Girl medallion. “Then everything did happen… the Hive, the Gamma girls, Miss Norm, Miranda! I’ll always have this to remember them by… and the time I spent in the land of no tears.”

Themes and further comment

I keep on comparing Jinty stories with other media items: Children of Edenford with The Stepford Wives, Almost Human with Superman. Not without reason – this revisioning of  stories from elsewhere was an acknowledged policy of girls’ comics, as Pat Mills explained to me back in 2005. Well, this story is nothing so much as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s sf classic, done schoolgirl-style. The future is cold, regimented, divested of family feeling, inhuman; the people in it are divided into superior types and inferior “rejects” (even the Alpha and Gamma terminology is taken from Brave New World).

However, the main point of the story is picked up in the word “elitism” that Mills mentions in that interview. Like “Children of Edenford”, the newcomer is faced with a group that creates and values a certain set of élite qualities, though the specific qualities are different in this story, focusing as they do more on physical perfection. Protagonist Cassy is fired up by the injustice of this; her response to this society is not just selfishly wanting the sympathetic response she was used to in her previous world, but to tear down the whole evil structure – a true class warrior response. (In fact, although her normal world is much more comfortable for her, it also did her few favours by not making her challenge herself in the way that she is clearly capable of, not that she would necessarily have seen it that way.) Cassy’s journey from selfish manipulator to crusader is quick: in the first episode she is shown cannily and coldly getting her own way, but as early as the second episode she is already thinking of the wider picture (she comforts one of the crying four-year-old new Hive entrants by giving her a doll).

Again as with “Edenford” and other stories of this kind, some of the interest is in the sheer outrageousness of how far the writer is prepared to ladle it on. The future girls are called ‘Perfecta’ and ‘Divina’; they take showers in icy-cold water; the girls wear big As or Gs on their clothes to denote their status. This verve moves the story on quickly, still including touches of realism, such as the bitchy relations between the lower-class Gamma girls, who have no-one but each other to pick at. If you are picky, there are indeed plot holes to poke at. How did we get from our current soft-hearted society to the future hard-nosed one? Does the setup apply across the world, and if so what will happen given the collapse of the hive society at the end of the story? (And if it wasn’t world-wide then what happened in terms of collaboration between different types of society?) And most of all, how can it be that positive human emotions such as the love shown between Miranda and her mother is at all sustainable, even in hiding, in this repressive set-up? These are however side-issues that don’t occur as you avidly read through this exciting story.

Unlike almost all other Jinty stories, in this case we know both the artist and the writer. Pat Mills is well-known for writing science fiction and anti-establishment stories, so it comes as little surprise to assign his name to this story. Artist Guy Peeters has a distinctive style that makes it easy to link his uncredited art to the stories he did later on when credits were published. I would say that this is one of Peeters’ best works, with varied layouts, expressive features on the characters, and a solid depiction of the uncaring future society. It is little surprise to me that this story was shortlisted in Pam’s Poll for readers to vote on a reprint of, nor that it should have emerged a winner.

Tricia’s Tragedy (1975)

Sample images

Tricia 1

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Tricia 2 001

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Tricia 3

Publication: 1/3/75-31/5/75

Reprints/translations: Girl Annual 1982; Tineke – Strijd om de Lankman-trofee [Tineke – Fighting for the Lankman Trophy] (in: Tina 1975/76, Tina Topstrip 18 (1980)).

Artist: Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Tricia Hunt is a promising swimmer, but her family is so poor (Dad has a bad leg and cannot work) that she can only train in the quarry pool as she cannot afford the local one. But Dad keeps training her hard to win the Lloyd trophy, which was founded by her grandfather. Then the quarry pool gets whipped from under them because it has been bought over by their rich and highly respected relatives, the Lloyds. This is a double blow because there is bad blood between the Lloyds and the Hunts, and Tricia cannot understand why.

Things take a surprising turn when the Lloyds invite Tricia to come and train in their private pool to make up for the loss of the quarry pool. Dad gets a horrible sense of foreboding that something terrible will happen if they accept the offer, but Tricia decides to do so. Not surprisingly, this is a decision she will regret. You should always listen to gut feelings!

Perhaps Tricia should have been suspicious when she finds the Lloyd parents and spoiled cousin Diana a hard lot, and she does not like them much. So why should they make this invitation out of the kindness of their hearts, especially after all those years they’ve spent shunning the Hunts and then acting as if they never did? But Tricia is all eager to try out the pool and get training. She is also surprised to find Diana is training for the Lloyd trophy too, although Diana is more a diver than a swimmer.

But of course Dad’s premonition had been right on. In the pool, disaster strikes – Tricia does not hear warnings in time to get out of the way while Diana is diving, and the resulting accident has Diana go blind. The guilt-stricken Tricia agrees to become Diana’s helper, living with the Lloyds and helping Diana train for the Lloyd Trophy. But she still keeps her promise to her parents to go in for the trophy herself.

Dad tells Tricia that she is blaming herself too much. Diana should take at least some of the blame as well for not checking the pool and Tricia properly before making her dive. And he does not like the way Diana is having Tricia at her beck and call all the time and treating her like a slave. Tricia does not like it either and is now hating Diana – but is bound to Diana by guilt and a terrible debt. Dad tries to talk to his brother-in-law and pull Tricia away, but Mr Lloyd just throws him out.

Before he goes, Dad tells Tricia the reason for the feud. Years ago, he had won the Lloyd trophy, but Mr Lloyd accused him of cheating. Grandfather Lloyd believed the accusation and disinherited Dad, and so began their descent into poverty when they should have been wealthy like the Lloyds. Dad wants Tricia to win the trophy so the Hunts will regain what they should have.

It becomes increasingly apparent to Dad that the Lloyds are trying to stop Tricia winning the Lloyd trophy, especially when he finds the Lloyds are trying to deprive Tricia of sleep. With Tricia’s help he sneaks into Mr Lloyd’s study to investigate. They are surprised by Diana, but are not worried as she is blind and cannot see them. Dad finds a document signed by Grandfather Lloyd which mentions the Lloyd trophy. But before he can examine it properly, the police arrest him. In order have Mr Lloyd get her father released from custody, Tricia agrees to throw the Lloyd swimming match in Diana’s favour.

Dad sneaks back in and overhears what Tricia is planning to do. He also sees something else – Diana putting her hand over her face, as if to keep sun out of her eyes. This confirms what he has been suspecting about Diana ever since his arrest. Can you guess what it is? I beat Mr Hunt to it!

He has to do a mad dash to the pool – covering two miles with a bad leg – in order to alert Tricia that Diana has been faking and not blind at all. He manages it just as Tricia is about to go into her final lap. The lap turns into one angry lap of revenge against Diana, with Tricia reflecting on past events in the light of what she now realises about her scheming cousin. Tricia wins, although it looks an extremely narrow margin, and wins the trophy.

Furious, Diana drops her blind pretence as she leaves the pool. Seeing this, the crowd boos her – a much deserved dent in the high respectability of the Lloyds. You have to wonder who was really cheating at the Lloyd trophy all those years ago.

Of course money has been the motive for it all. The document was a revised will from Grandfather Lloyd. He had reconsidered his earlier decision about Mr Hunt and made the new will, which left most of his fortune to whichever granddaughter who would win the trophy. So now the Hunts finally have the money they were cheated out of years earlier, while the Lloyds quickly sell up and clear out. The Hunts are now so rich they can afford to buy the Lloyds’ old home, but Tricia does not want to buy the bad memories she has of that place, thank you very much.

Thoughts

This is not one of Jinty’s best remembered stories or one of her real classics. It is more of a pretty standard but still good story about scheming relatives, cheating rivals, determination to win through against all odds, making huge sacrifices for love, going from rags to riches, and finally getting justice. It also has an extremely thrilling climax of plotters thinking they’ve got everything sewn up – only to have their trick discovered at the very last minute, but they could still win if Tricia does not make up for lost ground fast and beat Diana. There is enough in the story to keep the reader interested.

However, it does get too obvious what is going on. After all, there were reasons to be suspicious of the Lloyds to begin with, and once they pull blatant tricks to deprive Tricia of sleep, it is a dead giveaway that they are up to something. Still, their first scheme to snare Tricia by playing on her guilt is extremely clever. They even have a doctor at the hospital to give a phony diagnosis that Diana is blind. They probably had backup plans – threatening to sue the Hunts or pressing charges, perhaps – if Tricia had not played right into their hands by becoming Diana’s slave. Fortunately Tricia was still determined to win the trophy despite her guilt, which forced them into the mistake of the more obvious tricks that fired Dad’s suspicions.