Tag Archives: Double life

Belinda Bookworm [1981]

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Published: Tammy 17 January 1981 to 18 April 1981

Episodes: 14

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Tina 1981-82 as “Belinda boekenwurm”

Plot

Belinda Binder has had a very bookish upbringing, by parents who think books and studying are everything and scorn non-bookish things – like sport. Even their jobs are bookish: accountant (Dad) and town hall clerk (Mum). Belinda has excelled at studying and teachers praise her for her academic work. But for some reason Belinda is finding the life of a swot and bookworm increasingly unsatisfying.

Unfortunately, in more modern parlance Belinda is a nerd, and this makes her a target for bullying. Her particular enemies are Janet Jones and Dawn Davis, who are the complete opposite of her. Sport is all they bother with at school and they don’t care about classwork at all. They are the school sports champions and have remained unbeaten. So while the form teacher is full of praises about Belinda’s work, which she contrasts with Janet and Dawn’s sloppy work that they rush so they can go out and train, the PE teacher Miss Jagger praises Janet and Dawn while looking down on Belinda. Belinda does not shine at sport, is always left out of it, and her classmates scorn her for it. Even Miss Jagger does: “Really, Belinda Binder – always sprawling all over the place!” she sneers as one of the bullies trips her up.

At this point the English teacher Miss Milton asks Miss Jagger if Belinda can be spared PE in order to help set up the new school library. While doing so, Belinda surprises herself in doing a perfect forward roll in order to avoid a nasty fall off a ladder. Following this, she begins to wonder if she really is as hopeless at sport as she thinks and maybe she will really show the PE class something next time.

So Belinda is shattered when Miss Milton tells her she is being withdrawn from PE at school because she and Miss Jagger have taken the view it is just a waste of time for her. Instead, Belinda will use those periods to assist in the library. Just when Belinda had decided she wasn’t going to be a bookworm anymore and wanted to be a sports champion instead.

Undaunted, Belinda starts using her time in the library to do secret sports training and copying the sports activities she sees out the window. Fortunately for her the new library overlooks the school sports facilities, so she can see all the PE classes that go on there. She sets up stacks up books as hurdles, uses the library desk for vaulting, the shelves to practise gymnastics, the “silence please” board to practise swimming strokes on, and so forth. She even acquires a false book that can be used to smuggle in sports gear.

At home, Belinda rigs up a dummy of herself with her dad’s reading lamp so she can sneak out and train in the streets. She has to do this as Janet and Dawn regularly pass by her window while doing their training and observe her studying.

Belinda seems to be making progress, but has no real yardsticks or overseer to gauge by how much. However, one night something happens that suggests that Belinda may be a more serious rival to Janet and Dawn than she thinks. She found her father left behind a couple of pages of a vital report and needs to be intercepted at the train station fast. As no taxis are available the only option is to run – in pouring rain – so this is the first full test of Belinda’s training. As she sets off, she does not realise she is being tested even more. Janet and Dawn, who have become suspicious of Belinda’s secret training, see her and run to catch up and verify who she is. Belinda does not realise they are following her, but she keeps ahead of them and they fail to catch up. After delivering the papers Belinda finally discovers this, while they say the mystery girl was not a bad runner and therefore couldn’t possibly have been the bookworm.

On another occasion, Belinda has been secretly practising netball throws. Afterwards Janet and Dawn grab Belinda’s false book and start throwing it around. They are astonished when Belinda manages to catch it. Another hint that Belinda is making serious progress.

But of course close calls and slip-ups are inevitable. Eventually Dawn and Janet get so suspicious that they plant themselves in the library (joining the library, ducking out of sports periods) in order to keep an eye on Belinda. So now Belinda can no longer secretly train there.

Then comes sports day. Belinda steals some time to secretly train in the library now that Janet and Dawn are out of the way. However, it is at this time that Belinda gets caught right out. Miss Milton had brought the Binder parents to the library to show them how well their daughter is working there – and they get a horrible shock to see what Belinda has been really using the library for! They take a very dim view of it all, and are not at all impressed at Belinda demonstrating how she has been progressing with sports training using her improvised sports equipment. In their view, Belinda is not an athlete and should stay with books, the way she has been raised.

Belinda goes into outright rebellion at this and decides to prove that she is not a mere bookworm anymore. She breaks away from her angry parents and teacher, runs to the sports field, and demands to enter every event. Miss Jagger is astonished, but allows it. Belinda’s parents are mortified; they think Belinda is about to make a fool of herself in front of everyone. They can do nothing but watch, ironically accepting the invite to sports day they had scorned, but not are not supporting Belinda at all. The whole school expects one big laugh out of the bookworm entering sports day.

However, Belinda’s unorthodox self-training begins to pay off. The pupils are astonished to see the bookworm do better than they expected at the hurdles:

“Hey, the bookworm’s not bad!”

“Not bad at all! She’s only just behind the leaders!”

Belinda comes fourth at the hurdling. She is placed third in gymnastics, and is beginning to earn respect from Miss Jagger. However, the Binder parents remain unmoved.

Ironically, Janet and Dawn are now so worried at Belinda proving more serious competition than expected that they begin to resort to dirty tricks and cheating to stop her rather than their skills and greater experience. At swimming, Janet flashes a mirror in Belinda’s eyes to stop her seeing the turn and enable Dawn to win. However, something makes the reflection flash back into Janet’s eyes, enabling Belinda to see the turn and finish second. Later, Belinda realises it was her mum cleaning her glasses that flashed the light back at Janet.

Finally, there is the 800-metre race, and Belinda is running against Janet. Dawn tries to nobble Belinda by dropping her book under her feet, but is caught red-handed by Miss Milton and the Binder parents. Seeing the dirty trick Dawn tried to play on Belinda, the Binder parents are finally won over and start cheering Belinda on. Encouraged by this, Belinda beats Janet – the first ever to do so – and comes first in the race. Miss Jagger is well and truly astonished at this.

The Binder parents tell Belinda she has taught them a whole new respect for sport and they now see that sports and studies complement each other. Everyone cheers Belinda as she receives her trophy – except for the seething Janet and Dawn.

Thoughts

I have often wondered if this story was the Tammy version of Jinty’s “Tears of a Clown”, which is one reason why I have posted the entry. There are some similarities between Belinda Bookworm and Kathy Clowne: they both wear glasses; they are underrated and friendless at school, which makes them the targets of bullying; they turn to sports training to gain confidence and win respect; they both have indifferent parents and teachers who don’t help them at all until near the end of the story; and they both hope entering school sports day events will get them the respect they want. Bookworm started in Tammy only two months after Clown ended, and Jinty and Tammy shared some writers. So it is possible that Clown was an inspiration for Bookworm.

Whether it was or not, there are huge differences between Bookworm and Clown that make it worthwhile to compare the two stories. While both Belinda and Kathy embark on their respective sports training in order to beat the bullies, Belinda does hers in secret while Kathy keeps striving to prove her talent, but the chief bully (or fate) keeps getting in the way. Belinda is also a more proactive heroine than Kathy, in that her secret sports training is a form of revenge against the bullies a la Revenge of the Nerds. It’s also a rebellion against her bookish upbringing and being labelled a bookworm. There is also an ironic edge to Belinda’s rebellion in that she is using the very thing she has turned her back on – books and libraries. Instead of using them to read she is using them to train, and is showing readers that there is more than one way to use a book.

In regard to the bullying, Belinda does not have it nearly as bad as Kathy. At least the teachers praise Belinda for her academic work. Kathy is bottom of everything at school, because the bullying erodes her confidence and nobody steps in to help her. But when it comes to sport, both Kathy and Belinda want to prove themselves there because that’s where they will earn respect from the people who disparage them. However, it comes in different ways for Kathy and Belinda. Kathy hoped sports day would enable her to prove her talent and win respect. Instead, it is the final humiliation that drives Kathy into running away and setting off a chain of events that redeem the people who bullied or failed her. But for Belinda, sports day is precisely where she proves herself and puts an end to the bullying – by giving the bullies their first-ever defeat at sport and thoroughly humiliating them. The unhelpful parents and school staff redeem themselves in different ways. In the case of Kathy, it’s their realising they have let her down and try to find her after she runs away. In Belinda’s case, it’s foiling the dirty tricks that the bullies start pulling on her, which makes Belinda’s parents more redeeming than Kathy’s.

There are some glaring plot holes that really stretch the story’s credibility. For one thing, no school would withdraw a pupil from PE just because they’re not good at it; only medical grounds would excuse a pupil from PE. Second, when Janet and Dawn get suspicious, they take a rather cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face approach by sitting in the library with Belinda to stop her suspected training. After all, they must loathe sitting in the library when they want to be out there doing sport with Miss Jagger. And how many times can they get away with coming up with excuses to dodge PE in order to sit in the library watching Belinda? And it’s all on mere suspicion – they have no proof. If they had any real sense they would come up with a plan to catch Belinda red-handed in the library. Most glaring of all, how is Belinda able to swim at competition standard on sports day? She is a complete non-swimmer and the only training she has had is practising strokes on the library’s “silence” notice board. The only swimming we see her do in actual water is a few strokes. So how is she able to do competitive swimming against Dawn – hidden power or something? Or did Tammy have Belinda do some actual swimming lessons off panel without telling us?

Plot weaknesses are offset somewhat by Georgetti’s caricatured, cartoony artwork, which provides the humour and helps make the story engaging. In the hands of a straight artist the story would far worked less well. But in the hands of an artist like Giorgetti, improbabilities like using torn-up books to practise long jump and high jump, and shelves to practise gymnastics are more forgiving. This is because they have a dash of humour and give the sense that they are not to be taken too seriously.

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Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75)

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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.