Tag Archives: Eagle

‘Remembered Reading’ – further thoughts

On reading and reviewing Mel Gibson’s new book “Remembered Reading”, I found it triggered lots of thoughts and fruitful avenues for future exploration. The pages of my copy are considerably marked with green highlighter now, so there are too many discussion jumping-off points for me to sensibly cover in the scope of this blog, but I did want to pick up on one or two specific key ones. Apologies for the delay in completing this post – I had wanted to do it much closer to the time of the original review.

The main point I wanted to cover was about the divided emotions that grown-up readers of girls’ comics might typically feel, along with the impact I see that as having on the longer-term validation and appreciation of those comics. Gibson’s interviews show readers of girls comics as having enjoyed comics at the time but then feeling that they need to put them away as they grow up; or, having grown up, realising how some aspects of those comics are more uncomfortable than they’d noticed at the time. (For instance a grown-up feminist might be uncomfortable about the female roles in the girls comics that they loved at the original time of reading.) Even if one-time readers of girls comics continue to read comics as adults, they typically read different comics, or in a different way – maybe they rejected girls comics in favour of 2000AD, or continued to read children’s comics because they were ‘allowed’ to as parents of children who were getting comics in their turn. What they didn’t do is continue to read girls’ comics as part of a fandom – a group of interested peers discussing artists, writers, stories, and themes – sharing knowledge and critical thought. There is no significant fandom for girls comics, or historically at least there hasn’t been. And why is this important? Because fandom and its activities validates the material under discussion as being worth discussion – within the group of fans, at any rate, regardless of whether the outside world agrees.

Take my case as an example. I loved Jinty. Once I stopped reading it I moved wholeheartedly onto Marvel comics, first as British reprints and then as the imported issues. I kept an eye out at school for other girls’ comics and read the odd issue as I came across them but have little memory of that reading. Marvel had a lot of fan activity associated with it – letters pages discussing the story lines and the creators, printed credits that name the artists and writers so that you can follow a particular favourite creator as well as favourite characters or stories – and of course they were available in comics shops too, so once I found one of those that I could visit I could absorb more discussion going on around me even though there was no specific group of fans I was associating with. When I was 17, I saw an advert for the UKCAC convention in London and went to it, mind boggled. None of that activity touched on girls comics at all; in essence, they might as well not have existed. Likewise, when I went to university and found a group of comics-reading friends, there was no discussion within that group about girls’ comics: not many of those friends were women in any case, but also we were all very focused on Marvel, DC, and the new wave of British comics influence in the form of V for Vendetta and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. If even your comics-loving peers don’t think girls comics are worth knowing stuff about and discussing in a fannish way, then they really must be beneath contempt! Or at the least, it means that we, as fans of comics, thought about girls comics as forming a very separate stream of comics material.

All in all this means that despite being a comics fan from an early age, I never saw girls’ comics in a fannish way until very recently (until starting this blog, and discovering similar blogs, and joining the UK Comics Forum). I think that had a number of direct impacts. The key one in my mind is that I have been associating with comics professionals since the early 90s, including people who did work on girls’ comics or who could have had contacts from those times. I could have been asking Phil Gascoine about his background in girls’ comics, on those evenings when I went to the SSI  (Society for Strip Illustration). As it was, I asked him about it precisely once, in a crowded convention bar, shortly before he died. What a waste of historical knowledge! This will have been repeated time and again, of course.

I also had a lot invested mentally (it turns out) in seeing Jinty, ‘my’ comic, as exceptional. An easy way to counter the slight sense of shame that grown up readers might feel about their attachment to a piece of ‘trash from the past’ is to rubbish the rest and elevate your own particular love object. Like others had done before and after me, I ‘flattened out’ my memories of girls’ comics and reduced them in my mind to being all about ballet, pony-riding, and school stories – or at least I did this to the ones that weren’t Jinty! I had no good way to put Jinty into the correct historical context of other publications or to relate the artists and writers on this one title to other titles published before, during, and after it. In a fannish environment there would have been much more encouragement to branch out and learn more about related comics created by the same people or in the same genre. Again, what a waste – this time of the reading enjoyment I could potentially have had.

On a less heart-felt note, I identified a few titles referred to in Remembered Reading that I want to get hold of myself – though I suspect that some of the sources that Gibson used may perhaps be infuriating or dry reading (there was a Royal Commission on the Press published in 1977 that might be interesting, and a later report on children’s reading published by the Roehampton Institute in 1996). One must-buy is going to be the Mum’s Own Annual published by Fleetway – Gibson is not entirely sure whether this is intended as a parody or not, but it sounds like it might have some insider views that are worth a look at. For instance, the following quote comes from the Mum’s Own Annual: “The girls involved in the market research for Tammy generally confirmed the editors’ assumptions about preferred content, but the readers’ enjoyment of stories that made them cry came as a surprise”.

Finally, I did also have an area of fruitful possible further investigation that Remembering Reading brought up for me – namely, on some of the differences and similarities between girls comics and boys comics. Of course this is something covered by Gibson. She explains how traditional girls’ comics had rules on how to write girl protagonists – Marcus Morris, the editor of Eagle and Girl, felt that while you could have action stories with female leads, the “motivation should be personal” to keep her marked as properly feminine (pg 81), “unlike male protagonists in the Eagle who would be depicted as responding to more abstract motivations, like national pride, for instance.” (pg 45) There is further good analysis of the differences between Eagle and Girl content-wise – girls had active roles but were either schoolgirl investigators or at the beginning of their working life, not grown policeman or pilots. As with boys’ comics, the publishers of girls comics still needed to produce interesting, involving stories – and while the outside world might reject them as racist, sexist, and poorly written (pg 79), creators and editors saw their work differently, knowing that you couldn’t get away with a ‘wet’ lead character, girl or boy (pg 80). But how does a publisher of stories for boys, and a publisher of stories for girls, approach the overall aim of making interesting and readable stories – are there real, notable differences between the resulting stories, or prejudices and assumptions about them that vanish under further analysis?

For instance, if girls’ comics are a way for girls to choose to either conform (by accepting the version of girlhood presented) or to rebel (by rejecting it), then that presumably means that writers and editors have to juggle the aims of attracting readers versus not pushing away parents and other gatekeepers. Do they have to do this more so than the people who are making boy’s comics, or to a similar degree? Boy readers play with conformity in a different way from girl readers – reading a comic already is a ‘boy thing’, unless it’s a strongly gender-marked girls comics – but then if it is made into too ‘girly’ a thing even the staunch girl readers may desert it. What does this mean for the content of the titles?  Gibson says that “the publications present adult, and especially the editors’, perceptions of what is appropriate to girlhood in terms of both entertainment and education. However, this does not mean that the titles were ideological monoliths” (pg 38) and points to the emotional turmoil, wit and resilience of central characters. Often in girls’ comics these are lone, misunderstood heroines – perhaps with a lot of cruelty and victimhood, but a secret heroine who puts things right, one who is active not passive. I think there is a lot that can be looked at to compare how stories work in boys’ comics and girls’ comics – similarity and differences of themes, or of what kinds of stories work or not, or about what kind of shape they have as stories (happy endings or sad, character development or no character development, story ending back where it started or not, long narrative arcs or not). Why, I don’t actually even know for sure that the Cinderella or Slave theme might not have featured in boys’ comics, perhaps a little less obviously than in the girls’ ones! Certainly the trope focusing on a group of friends (“The Four Marys” and so on) is easily transferable to boys’ comics.

There is considerably more that I could pull out and highlight as further thoughts for future developments. Please do read the book yourself if you are able, and comment with your own further thoughts!

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‘Remembered Reading’ by Mel Gibson; book review

Remembered Reading: Memory, Comics and Post-War Constructions of British Girlhood“, by Dr Mel Gibson; ISBN 9789462700307, published by Leuven University Press, June 2015. Reviewed by Jenni Scott.

Remembered_reading

British girls’ comics are not much written-about, either within academia or within comics fandom. Even the people who read these comics as children tend to move away from then in their teenage years and forget about them as adults, until a deep well of memory is probed and an undercurrent of (often very strong) emotion is released. In looking at how people talked and thought about girls comics in the past, and how people talk and think about them still, this book is a great review both of the memories of the former girl readers, and of the criticism – often ill-informed or inadequate – made of these comics.

To be clear up front, this is an academic work based on Dr Gibson’s research for her doctoral thesis, and published by an academic press within a series of ‘Studies in European Comics and Graphic Novels’. Some of the writing includes some specialized vocabulary or concepts (in fact this is generally not too bad but it could put some people off). Perhaps more importantly for a work on comics, only a very few illustrations are used: this sort of book typically has definite budget constraints and it is hard to obtain permission to use this sort of old material (especially for free). It is not a lavish reference book for a general audience! Having said that, Dr Gibson has chosen wisely in including a four-page “Belle of the Ballet” story and an absolutely corking two page photo story from “Shocking Pink”. It also includes a very solid chapter on ‘The Rise and Fall of the British Girls’ Comic’, which provides an outline of publication history and of the development of this market. Its real strength, though, lies in the number of questions, thoughts, and avenues for investigation that it has provoked in me during my reading. (And what better thing can you say of an academic book than that it is fruitful?)

So, what is the book all about, in more detail?

Coverage

In the Introduction, Dr Gibson sets out her stall. This book aims to look at how the genre of comics aimed at British girls developed and why they disappeared, while also looking at other comics that were read by girls (such as American superhero comics) and to a lesser extent also at the phenomenon of boys reading girls’ comics too. This is in order to challenge the received idea in our Anglo-Saxon culture of comics as being by and for boys and for men: a prejudice that forgets and belittles the history of girls comics. Because it proved hard and expensive to get hold of issues of girls comics themselves, or at least in the range and quantity you’d need to do a good overview, Gibson ended up not looking at the titles directly, or the stories in them, but rather at people’s memories and what was important enough in those memories to stick with them until she interviewed them years and decades later. (These were interviews done at a range of events typically held in libraries, schools, and other organizations, thus not targeting a body of already-identified comics fans.) At the same time, Gibson is clear about needing to look at the history of British writing on comics too: a history that comprises a strand that considers comics functionally as an educational tool, a strand that reflects enthusiasm and positive interest in the medium, and a larger third, critical, strand that starts from the premise that comics are bad for readers. (Even in the Introduction, it’s obvious that Gibson is writing from the point of view of a keen and positive reader of comics herself, so that while she outlines and discusses the critical strand there’s no fear she is likely to endorse it.)

Chapter One starts off talking in more detail about why it was so hard for Gibson to find copies of the girls’ comics she would have liked to work on: you might not have thought this was a particularly interesting aspect to lead off with, but it actually reveals some interesting attitudes on the part of the comics dealers she was in contact with. The dealers themselves had prejudices and misconceptions about girl comics readers: they argued that girls only got given comics out of duty and “did not really like them”, while at the same paradoxically still keeping them – meaning that dealers ended up with stashes of girls comics that they didn’t value either, and typically destroyed rather than sell! So a perceived lack of interest in girls comics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mass media writing about girls comics, too, ‘flattens’ and reduces the diversity of comics actually produced and read, and paints the comics that girls read as being all about boarding schools and middle-class respectability.

Between her own experience, the interviews with readers, and even some interviews with women involved in the creation of comics, Gibson promises us a much more nuanced view not only of the value and interpretations that girls do place on comics, but of the range of publications actually on offer at different times, and the relevant differences between them, particularly including perceived differences of class. This nuanced view is used not only to challenge the views of the dealers but also those of the few academics or educationalists who have written about this area. The analysis is even turned inwards too: Gibson confesses that “[a]s a younger reader I dismissed comics for girls as less significant, showing my own entanglement with value judgements and ideology” – a point she develops further in the rest of book that had a lot of resonance for me, too. Nevertheless, when discussing their memories with readers who came forward, she found that “these publications had been an important part of childhood reading”, used to construct the reader’s sense of what it was to be a girl in Britain at the time. (Not that everyone wanted to become a girl if that was what it meant to be one – some readers rebelled in various ways – but it clearly helped to shape them, either way.)

Chapter Two covers the publishing history of girls’ comics in Britain: this is a really good solid chapter which covers the gamut of work and of publishers. It starts with 19th and early 20th century text-based periodicals for girls, which were aimed at and read by a wide range of classes and ages. Girls’ comics themselves appeared rather later, in the 1950s; the key story is “The Silent Three” but the key title that comes under most discussion here is Girl. One particular point of interest in this chronological approach is that Gibson is able to highlight the treatment in Girl of ballet as “acceptable”, “although it had not been long since ballet had been seen as a problematic profession” – that is, although later generations of readers treated ballet themes as boring and conservative, we should remember there was a time when this was far from being the case! Gibson also highlights that titles with a mixture of content – features, fashion, pin-ups as well as comic strips – “came to be predominantly associated with British girls’ comics” (despite also being seen in boys’ titles such as Eagle and Look & Learn). Later titles such as Jackie in particular took this further, of course, and indeed led to the magazine format dominating the teenage and adult markets. At this point there’s a visible split in the market, with the titles for pre-teens (starting with Bunty, Judy, and Princess) being produced primarily in comics form rather than using more of the mixed format. “The comic medium, in not continuing through to periodicals for adults, was reinforced as an indicator of childhood.”

The section on Bunty and the subsequent section on Tammy and the new wave of comics will probably be of particular interest to readers of this blog, and won’t disappoint. There are some quotes from Benita Brown, who talks about writing the stories “Blind Bettina” (publication not traced),  “Hateful Heather”, and “Cathy’s Friend From Yesterday” (both in Mandy). Brown also wrote the sports tips that appeared in Jinty, “Winning Ways”, and it is implied though not stated clearly that she wrote “Spirit of the Lake” too. The final section is also interesting, covering the advent of photo-stories (illustrated by a parody one from feminist title Shocking Pink) and horror themes, before the death of the girls’ comic as a separate medium. Unfortunately for my personal interests, this chapter doesn’t go down to the level of detail I would ideally want to see about ‘production’ points such as sales data, who wrote what, who drew what, or editorial decisions and aims. Nevertheless it is a really good chapter that will give solid reference for anyone reading or researching in this area in the future.

Chapter Three is about how librarians, academics, teachers, and others have thought and talked about comics reading in Britain. It looks at moral panics and the fears that adults who are gatekeepers for children have had about comics: that comics are dangerous unless vetted for appropriate content, poorly-made, and will incite their readers to violent, criminal, or otherwise undesirable outcomes. These fears applied to boys and girls but particularly vehemently to girls; there was also a class element to the fears, with working-class readers felt to be more at risk than others. These worries came from various sides of the political spectrum as there were also plenty of feminist critiques made: that girls’ comics were unnecessarily twee and limiting, that they had too many stereotypes, that they were created almost exclusively by men, that they encouraged a victim mentality (especially the Cinderella and Slave story themes, as you can imagine).

On the positive side, Gibson counters these fears much more thoroughly than I’ve seen elsewhere. She cites Benita Brown as seeing her work in comics deliberately stretching the boundaries of the girls’ comics traditions; Brown also apparently “said that during her period of writing the majority of writers that she found out about, in both IPC and DC Thomson, were women”. (No further details were given on this statement – I’d love to hear more! – I also note that Mavis Miller, who also shaped girls comics publications at the time, wasn’t mentioned.) Gibson also points out the contradictions in the ‘moral panic’ reactions to comics – that commentators are scared comics will make readers ‘lazy’ and unwilling to move on to ‘proper’ books while at the same time noting that high volumes of comics being read tends to go hand in hand with high volumes of other materials being read by the same people. Gibson also points out changes over time in what is shocking and deplorable – at one point ballet is risqué, then Jackie becomes worrying because of its content about boyfriends and fashion, and subsequently titles like Just Seventeen and Mizz seem just as problematic. Each generation sees “a shift in defining what girlhood is and what the concerns of girlhood are.” Furthermore, once you start talking to the readers of the stories about them in more detail, you get a lot more about how they are interpreted or understood by those readers: girls discussed and argued about what they were reading, they interpreted them in different ways, it wasn’t just a mechanical equation or imposition of stereotypes onto vulnerable readers. It is precisely that area of reader response that is so valuable in the subsequent couple of chapters.

Chapters Four and Five are based on her interviews with readers of comics. It covers (of course) girls reading girls’ comics, looking at interview data to see how women talk about their girlhood reading and comparing this to academic writing that often makes incorrect assumptions about how that worked. Pleasingly, Gibson also covers boys reading girls’ comics, and girls reading comics that aren’t intended for girls (or not straightforwardly – she argues that even humour comics intended for a mixed audience are more firmly marked as being for boys than you might think).

Gibson showed through these interviews what readers of this blog will know from personal experience: girls don’t only read girls’ comics as might be assumed, they also read humour comics intended for a mixed-gender audience (The Beano) and titles intended for a male audience (Eagle, superhero comics). They read across class lines (there is often awareness of the idea of comics as a ‘lower class’ thing unless you read the ‘posh’ titles such as Girl). Most of all, readers read widely – borrowing other people’s comics, swapping, buying multiple titles per week – often communally, and with strong feelings about those comics even when remembering them as adults. Comics were fun to read and remembered fondly, but were also an important part of growing up: the transition from reading comics to reading magazines was often a marker of teenagerhood or early womanhood, and not infrequently this transition was forced on the reader to some extent by parents or by peer pressure. So on the one hand comics showed you ways of being a girl in British society (which you might reject by reading boys comics instead, or by interpreting the story differently from the way adults did), and on the other hand they were something you were expected or made to grow out of and put behind you – they belonged to childhood.

And girls comics stayed in one’s childhood, unlike the boys comics which have generated a collector base and fandom around them. Grown women are not, in our society, supposed to be still interested in those childish things for their own sake (though they are allowed to read comics if they have children who they are buying them for), and grown women do not as a rule, indulge themselves in re-buying their old comics and participating in ‘collecting’ activities. This is especially the case considering that comics are quite strongly marked culturally as being ‘for boys’ and ‘for men’, apart from the girls comics which are marked as being ‘of the past’. Some women will buck this trend, of course, but as exceptions to the rule.

The book ends with a good selection of end material, with an index and bibliography that has given me leads for further investigation in the future. One very welcome feature is a list of stories under discussion, which shows convincingly the wide range that Gibson covers. An index is also always useful, though a couple of quibbles – why not include Benita Brown in the index? (Pat Mills is also quoted but not included, so presumably no creators are listed in the index, but this still doesn’t make good sense to me.) Also, why is there no list of figures? There are only about 6 of them so it wouldn’t be a long list but it would be handy to refer back to and seems a striking omission for a book about comics.

I have a host of follow-up thoughts on this in terms of questions this book sparks, and further things to be looked at. This post is already very long though so those will continue separately.

What sort of stories did Jinty not cover?

Any comic has to have a focus, a remit of what will be covered and therefore inevitably what will not be covered. The choices made, however, may be revealing in themselves, or may raise further questions as to why one thing was included and another skipped over.

Non-fiction

UK girls comics did not generally include non-fictional comics stories such as biographies. They did include some text items that were non-fictional in nature – snippets of information about sports, history, the origin of names, current pop stars – but not done as ongoing comics stories. Other classic British titles had done this – The Eagle included some biographical strips, for instance; and other children’s magazines had covered non-fiction rather more thoroughly (for instance Look and Learn’s whole raison d’etre was to be educational). Why not cover non-fiction? I imagine that the editors at the time wanted to very firmly steer away from the diactic, ‘good-for-you’ image of The Eagle and Look and Learn, both of which were the sorts of titles that tended to be bought for you by well-meaning parents. [Edited to add: Girl did print some non-fiction stories, such as one in 1959 about Marie Curie, subsequently reprinted in Princess Tina. See this comment on the UK Comics Forum for further details.]

In more recent years, The Phoenix’s “Corpse Talk” has gone back and mined this vein very effectively, showing that biographies can be done in comics form amusingly, interestingly, and well. (Creator Adam Murphy also does some strips about science using a similar format.) Even at the time, it would have been quite possible to do at least some non-fiction without it being boringly didactic, had the will or interest been there. I have just been reading some biographical material about Caroline Herschel, and her story would fit amazingly well in a ‘slave’ story: she was cabined, cribb’d, confined by her mother and her eldest brother, made to work long and hard hours on tasks as the equivalent of a maid, not allowed to stay in bed when ill, and so forth – to be subsequently rescued by her kindly older brother William Herschel, and eventually to triumph as William’s scientific assistant and indeed as a discoverer of comets in her own right! Similar tales could no doubt have been spun about the obvious eminent women such as Florence Nightingale and Boadicea, but also about the less obvious ones such as Aphra Behn and Mary Seacole (though as a black woman it would have been particularly unlikely for the latter to have been written about, sadly).

So, Jinty and similar comics weren’t ones that you read in order to learn; and nor were they ones where factual content was sneaked in under the radar, either. Sneaking it in could have happened: in boys’ war comics of the time, accuracy on details like uniforms, badges, battles, and weapons was prized by the readers and striven for by the creators. (More recently, my two young kids are getting a kick out of “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” on the telly: plenty of learning-through-fun there.) History, geography, science, maths, languages were prized in Jinty mainly as set-dressing when a story called for it, if at all; and the level of research and accuracy was not high, as has been noted previously.

There were some small, local exceptions to this – some areas that Jinty covered that it did care about getting right, and which you could have a reasonable expectation of learning from as a reader.

  • Sports: at one point there was a dedicated sport section, teaching you finer points of passing the ball in netball, using the parallel bars in gymnastics, and covering aspects of more exotic sports like water polo. Even aside from that dedicated sports section, there were a lot of stories featuring sporty protagonists who were given or gave tips on table tennis (“Ping-Pong Paula”), competitive cycling (“Curtain of Silence”), or netball (“Life’s A Ball For Nadine”).
  • Crafts and cookery: each issue had a page or two on how to make a little present from odds and ends, how to revitalise an old skirt, or how to prepare some easy recipe.
  • Trivia: origins of names, the story of mince pies, snippets of amusing anecdotes about, yes, Boadicea or Queen Anne.

Overt political and social issues

As a publication intended for an age range of around 8 – 12 years, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of political discussion unless there was a specific radical intention (as with the creation of Shocking Pink magazine slightly later). There is however in Jinty an utter absence not only of political comment or explanation, but even of reference: no cheeky images of the current prime minister or mention of recent or current events such as the Three Day Week or the IRA bombs. The monarchy does get a look-in with a patriotic celebration of the Jubilee and the Royal Wedding (but then, to do otherwise would be to make a republican statement in itself).

There is also very little overt coverage of wider social issues, such as feminism, racism, colonialism. Without wishing to say that we are now in some paradise, the Britain of that time was clearly a more discriminatory society; Jinty was not in the business of providing substantive challenges to this. Very overt acts of racism would no doubt have been opposed, if they had ever come up – but for instance the paki-bashing that some readers’ families might well have condoned was invisible in these pages and hence never in fact challenged. Related issues do get the occasional airing, though: for instance “Bound For Botany Bay” has some statements about the evils of slavery in a setting that is comfortably far-off in time.

It is not exactly surprising that Jinty was not proactively anti-racist or anti-colonialist; it would have taken a radical mindset to challenge these social issues, and this was a mainstream publication. What about feminism – as a comic published with girls in mind, did any women’s rights issues sneak in under the radar? Not very overtly, I’d say; there were some stories that touched on girls not being treated fairly or being laughed at by boys as incapable of X or Y, but these were mostly treated as individual problems rather than systemic ones. In “Two Mothers For Maggie”, the protagonist complains of being expected to do housework and baby-sitting when she has her homework to do and the stepfather has finished his work for the day; but the issue there is framed as one of poverty not primarily of sexism. In “Black Sheep of the Bartons”, protagonist Bev wants to do boyish sports like judo, but this again is painted as a personality quirk, especially in contrast with her gentle and delicate younger sister who is far more ‘girly’. It might also be played for laughs: there was an early “Jinx of St Jonah’s” story where Katie Jinks  and her friends had a bet on with the nearby boys’ school where they each had three gender-swapped stereotypical tasks to do (making shelves for the girls, making dresses for the boys); they all failed fairly equally and we are supposed to laugh at them for stepping out of the gender roles.

The aspect of Jinty which leads most clearly to a real feminist point is, paradoxically, the fact it was part of such a separate publication stream from boys’ comics. So many of the characters are girls you could almost imagine it is set in one of the parallel worlds devoid of men, favoured by a certain strand of feminist science fiction. The outcome is that there is a great multiplicity of female roles available as models for readers: villains who are misguided, evil, powerful, petty, misunderstood, or plain off their head; protagonists who are vain, strong, smart, brave, clumsy, deft, sporty, bullied, powerless, and sometimes even clever (the latter not so often, sad to say); friends who are loyal, fickle, blind, shallow, and sometimes smarter than they seem. This is in stark contrast to today’s media world in which girls are assumed to read stories with male protagonists but not vice-versa, women are expected to watch films with male characters but not vice-versa, and the story-telling that we’re supposed to accept as progressive is one where the female character is ‘strong’ or ‘kick-ass’ but still far from actually being rounded and fully-developed.

There are some other social issues that sneak in slightly surprisingly. Environmentalism gets a look-in in various stories: there are a couple of anti-motorway or anti-car stories (“The Green People” and “Guardian of White Horse Hill” feature local protests against the building of motorways through sensitive areas, “Save Old Smokey” is anti-car). More drastically, “The Forbidden Garden” is set in a dystopia where the earth is poisoned and nothing can grow naturally. Animal Rights, too, get a look-in: “The Human Zoo” and “Worlds Apart” both feature sections where animal rights protestors are seen as rightly protesting terrible treatment of animals (even if the protesters are also shown as causing as much harm to the animals as they cause good).

However, the big social issue covered that might be surprising to modern readers is inequality. Lots and lots of stories had fat-cat villains, wealthy uncaring capitalists, rich  family members who were greedy or miserly, cruel and heartless. Stories like “Bound for Botany Bay” made much greater play of the evils of class distinctions than they did of the evils of racism and slavery; and stories like “Ping-Pong Paula” and Tammy’s “Ella on Easy Street” were pretty clear that it was better to be poor with a loving family than rich with a distant one. Maybe this is part of a ‘poor little rich girl’ trope prevalent in children’s stories? Maybe it resulted from the core market of readers who were less well-off than was the case for some of the earlier, more middle-class comics? But also, the Britain of that time was actually a less unequal society than it is nowadays. WWII didn’t feel that long ago, which had also driven some reduction in inequalities. Did this mean that it was more possible to have villains who were fat-cats, capitalists, because inequality itself was less acceptable?

Growing up, sex, and romance

Again not surprising as an omission given the age range, but boyfriends are pretty much completely missing in Jinty. Older girls or young women may have boyfriends or even fiancés – sisters, young teachers – but the protagonist herself does not. In one near-exception, “Pam of Pond Hill”, Pam’s friend Goofy is someone she is teased about, and the word boyfriend is used in that teasing, but there is no kissing or cuddling involved in that relationship. So although the protagonists are depicted looking as if they are some years older than most of the readers, the concerns addressed are much more focused on intense friendships and rivalries than on romantic or sexual relationships.

The characters are often drawn with enough of a developing body to require a bikini top or bra and pants rather than the more demure vest and slip of more traditional times, but this is not addressed explicitly in the story. No Judy Blumes to be found in these pages! The letters pages sporadically included an agony aunt element, but even then this focused more on interpersonal relationships with other girls than it did puberty, periods, bodily hair, and boyfriends. Girls moved onto older magazines such as Jackie and Just Seventeen (these may or may not have had a comics element) and it was in those pages that they learned some of the subjects now taught in British schools under acronyms such as PSHE.