Welcome to any new readers who are here via recent tweets / retweets by Great News For All Readers, Paul Harrison-Davies, and Sean Phillips! There’s lots on this blog for fans of Jinty of course, and also for those who may not yet know this title at all. The aim is to be a really comprehensive reference site for this specific girls’ comic, while helping to enlarge our collective knowledge about creators involved in producing girls comics generally. Where possible, I like to feature interviews with writers and artists but also with editors and others involved in the production of weekly comics in whatever capacity.
If you don’t yet know Jinty well, you might like to start with some posts about individual stories: “Children of Edenford” is one of my favourite stories, with its Stepford Schoolchildren (their headmistress feeds them a mystic drug to make them perfect!), while the much more realistic “Waves of Fear” is one of the strongest stories about bullying that is found anywhere in girls’ comics. There is an index page of all the stories that ran in Jinty, with brief summaries. Likewise there is an index of story themes: you probably already know that weekly girls’ comics of the 70s seemed to thrive on misery and cruelty, but were you aware of the myriad ways in which this was expressed, from the Cinderella story and the Slave story to the Exploited Amnesiac and the Guilt Complex? More upliftingly there are also stories themed around Adventure, Science Fiction, and Environmental Concerns.
As part of the posts about individual stories, artists, and writers we try to include a short excerpt from the comic: this is a sequential medium, after all. Hopefully this may lead you to find new-to-you artists that you are excited by – there were some amazing, strong talents printed in the pages of Jinty and other comics of the time. Some of them are well-known from their other work outside of this area – Jim Baikie and José Casanovas from their work in 2000AD, and Phil Gascoine from his work in Commando, for instance – but others such as Phil Townsend, Trini Tinturé, and Terry Aspin remain relatively unknown despite their beautiful work. The same applies to writers, but so much less is known about them.
Most recently, we have added sections on Translations and reprints – these stories had a long life and a wide geographical reach outside of their original publication! – and some galleries of favourite panels, covers, and story logos. There is considerably more to come on these areas in the future.
Finally, the bread-and-butter posts of the blog are posts about individual issues; a true index of each week in the comic. They are not necessarily posted in original publication order, but there is an index page here so it is possible to see at a glance the weeks that we have already covered and those that are still to do. Alongside these there are also more analytical or general articles, with discussion about how to measure the bonkersness of a story (via my invention of a WTFometer), or reviewing what we know about female writers in this girls’ genre, for instance.
In an future world (possibly alternate reality) of the 1980s, Britain has been in drought for seven years. It has now reached the point where people are desperate, starving and psychologically reverting to more savage levels. Refugees flock to the cities in search of food; when such people arrive at Fountain-le-Green, they are beaten off by armed parish council men led by Mr Danby, who don’t want outsiders getting their food. Jassy Hurst is more kind and gives the starving people what food she can spare, but this does not make her popular with the hard townsfolk who say she is throwing away food on “trash”.
Then Jassy accidentally finds she has a gift for water dowsing, apparently inherited from her grandfather, and is soon finding her own water sources. But people get suspicious when they see how lush her garden is and Jassy tells Danby her secret. But this puts her in great danger because psychic people have been the targets of witch-hunting martial law state persecution ever since a man with second sight prophesied that there would be no rain for many years.
Danby and his council blackmail Jassy into finding water for them. Unknown to her, they are also extorting payments from people in exchange for her services and making a profit. When Jassy finds out, she runs off and finds a power plant run by Sir Harmer Jeffreys. Sir Harmer takes her prisoner. He has heard stories of what Danby has been up to with Jassy and soon realises who she is. He explains that the drought is crippling his power plant and wants Jassy to find water for him. He assures Jassy that he will share whatever water she finds with the villagers and not take it all for himself. But his word is doubtful as he looks a real villain.
Sure enough, Sir Harmer is soon exploiting Jassy’s water dowsing powers as much as Danby did. It takes the form of a false religion, with Jassy blackmailed into being set up as a water goddess who can work miracles. Worse, it practises human sacrifice, with a blind boy named Mark being used as the sacrifice.
Jassy does not realise the real reason for the sacrifice: Mark has his own psychic powers that threaten Sir Harmer. While bouncing a ball he sings:
“Bouncing high, bouncing low, I’m the only one to know. Never, never shall it rain while the power plant shall remain.”
Jassy beats Sir Harmer at his own game by feigning the divine will of the goddess that Mark become a servant to her priestess. Sir Harmer is forced to agree to having Mark at the posh apartments he has set up for Jassy. But he is worried as he would be in serious trouble if people catch on to what Mark was singing.
Mark’s ball has been confiscated and he can only sing his psychic songs when he has the ball. It is found and Mark sings his song again. Jassy realises what it means – the chemicals from the new process at Sir Harmer’s plant are causing the drought. They must escape and warn the government. They do so by distracting the guards with a fire and with the guidance of Mark’s powers.
They are taken in by a kindly couple, Mr and Mrs Blake who know all about how villainous Sir Harmer is. They say he is also one of the richest men in England who will be building more of his power stations across the world – which will mean a world-wide drought. Jassy tells them that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought and what they are trying to do. Jassy also decides to track down other dowsers in hiding and rally them into a force for the government to take notice of, and this is soon getting results. But of course Sir Harmer is trying to hunt them down.
Soon the children experience another danger – a wandering lion. But it turns out the lion belongs to one Lord Merrow, who used to have a safari park before the drought. Lord Merrow takes them in. Upon hearing their story, he uses what petrol he has to get them on their way, and then faces up to Sir Harmer’s men who are in hot pursuit. They end up shooting Lord Merrow and his lion.
The children are captured by a bounty hunter who is after Sir Harmer’s reward. A policeman spots them and tries to stop what looks like an attempted kidnapping. But upon hearing the children have psychic powers, the policeman has the children brought to the Tower of London where other psychics are imprisoned. The bounty hunter informs Sir Harmer that the children have been taken care of.
Jassy continuously makes warnings that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought, and people begin to take notice. Sir Harmer hears of this and orders that the children be brought to him. But the rumours about Jassy and the plant have spread far enough for an angry mob to attack Downing Street, demanding water and that the Prime Minister release the children. The Prime Minister agrees to Jassy being brought to him.
In the Tower, Mark sings another song that hints that courage will win through. So when the guards come, Jassy insists that Mark come too. When they arrive, Sir Harmer tries to shoot Jassy while she tries to tell the mob outside the truth. Mark stops Sir Harmer and he is taken into custody. Jassy tells the crowd that she has found water dowsers all over the country who can help them find water, including the people imprisoned in the Tower. The Prime Minister has the psychics released from the Tower and shuts the plant down. The water dowsers help find water until rain finally falls, which it does three months after the closure of the plant. Jassy can now put away her wand of power.
In 1976 Jinty ran “Fran of the Floods“, a story on environmental extremes; in that case, extreme flooding. In this story, in the same year, the pendulum swings to the other extreme with drought. Is it coincidence or did Jinty really intend to explore two diametrically opposed forms of environmental extremes? At any rate, this story could be considered as anticipatory as “Fran of the Floods”, which anticipated global warming. In a world where droughts are an increasing problem because of climate change and water supplies are beginning to deplete, Jassy could be considered another Jinty story ahead of its time.
But while Fran of the Floods dealt with natural environmental disaster, this is a man-made one in the form of Sir Harmer’s power plant releasing chemicals that are causing drought. Echoes of the same theme can be seen in Jinty’s 1978 story “The Birds“, where chemicals released from a new plant cause birds to go crazy and attack people.
It is a bit confusing as to how or why Sir Harmer was causing the very same drought that was also crippling his power plant through lack of water. Did he not realise what his chemicals were doing, or did he ignore or disbelieve warnings as to what the chemicals would do? Or did he know it all along and was just using it to jack up prices for his electricity and make even more money? Any of these are possible and would accommodate what would be a plot hole. What is less accommodating is why everyone was saying it was a “new” process that was causing the drought when the drought had been in effect for seven years – hardly a “new” thing. Did the plant perhaps exacerbate what was already an existing drought?
However it started, we can sure see the effects the drought is having on society. People are not only getting desperate, even savage in the face of food and water shortages, but those fascist-style uniforms the state police wear indicate that the drought has swung Britain in the direction of a totalitarian state. A state with hints of the old Nazi Germany, which is even more disturbing. Exactly how far it goes is not clear, but it is psychic people who are taking the brunt; a twist on the witch-hunting theme that appears in many serials such as “Mark of the Witch!” But instead of being persecuted by witch-hunting mobs and burned at the stake they are taken away Gestapo-style. And it’s all just because one psychic predicted the drought. A take on the old scapegoating trick? Or, if this is an alternate universe, is it an indication of superstitious attitudes that this society has? The false religion that Sir Harmer tries to set up with Jassy does point to this. People are so willing to fall for her being a miracle goddess. Has desperation driven people to extra gullibility and vulnerability, or is it also because they live in a more superstitious Britain than ours?
Keith Robson’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing out the harshness, desperation and primal instincts that are coming out of people in the face of the droughts with the visceral quality to his heavy lines, inking and cross-hatching. His depiction of the hard, ruthless Danby men, for example gives them a near-grotesque appearance in their swarthy, thuggish looks. And Sir Harmer looks like he has fangs when he gets angry!
Jassy herself starts as an oasis of kindness (not unusual in girls’ strips) in a world where most people in her village are losing their humanity and despise her for giving food to refugees. And is that peace badge she wears on her right knee a coincidence or a symbol of how much she sets herself apart with her kindness? This alone has set her apart from her harsh society, but she becomes well and truly a victim when she discovers her special power. Worse, it makes her vulnerable not only to state oppression but to exploitation by money-grabbing men like Danby and Sir Harmer who see her power for what it is worth in this drought-stricken society.
It is no surprise that Jassy becomes a crusader and rebel out to change things in her oppressive society either. It takes the revelation of Mark, another psychic, that the plant is causing the drought, to turn her into one. But once it starts, she is quite revolutionary about it, in her campaign to rouse other psychics in hiding into rebellion. Perhaps this could have done with more development and treatment; it feels that the ending comes a bit too soon and was rushed. The psychic rebellion was an aspect that could easily have been developed more and taken an even bigger hand with the conclusion.
Although Jassy’s Wand of Power is not one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, it is still an intriguing story that is filled with elements that would disturb readers more than usual. Armed thugs ready to drive off people who are desperate for food? A false religion that practises human sacrifice? Fascist-style state police in Britain rounding people up? A man shot in cold blood for trying to save the children? It would certainly give readers the shudders. Its strongest point of all is the environmental aspect and the damage mankind is doing to the Earth. And considering the global-warming world we live in, that point would be felt even more strongly than when it came out in 1976.
The sun sends out an extra glimmer of heat, which melts ice caps and evaporates oceans, and this triggers worldwide torrents of rain that never seem to stop. The freak weather is causing worldwide flooding and catastrophe as well as bizarre environmental changes, such as lush green growth in the Sahara Desert. In Britain, the rain is causing widespread flooding that gets worse and worse because the rain never stops.
In Hazelford, Fran Scott is watching the developments on the news and treats the whole thing as a joke while her parents get a sense of impending apocalypse. The seriousness soon sets in for Fran as dams break down, people on lower levels start to flee as their towns vanish under the ever-rising waters, parts of the coast return to the sea, and then there are power cuts, food shortages, stockpiling, panic buying and looting, fuel shortages and stoppages, and higher levels are being swamped with refugees. Even London is disappearing.
Hazelford, being on the hills, is still reasonably safe. But during a school concert, the waters overcome the reservoir and come rolling in. In the ensuing chaos, Fran is separated from her parents and best friend Jill, and thinks they have died. She herself nearly drowns and is saved by the school bully Rosie Stevens, who sadly does not make it herself. As Fran rows off, a radio informs her that everything has now ended – government, law enforcement, electricity, telephones and other services – and then the radio itself goes because there are no more radio broadcasts. Britain itself is now barely sticking out of flood waters that just go on rising.
Fran, now on her own, sets out on a dangerous journey north to Scotland to be reunited with her sister June, who had left for Scotland earlier after a quarrel with Fran. Along the way, Fran meets a young girl called Sarah and her pet rabbit Fluffy. They too have been isolated by the flooding. Fran finds herself reunited with Jill along the way, giving them fresh hope that their parents did make it.
It’s a journey of survival and courage against the never-ending rain and dangerous floodwaters (without rain gear, but they never seem to catch colds or pneumonia). Fran nearly drowns more than once in the course of this story. And of course there is an array of more human and animal dangers that have arisen from the catastrophe. These include starving and savage birds, rats and other animals driven aggressive and dangerous. Other dangers include spread of disease, chemical pollution, and marauding gangs of thugs calling themselves The Black Circle who have themselves up as tin-pot dictators in the power vacuum left by the breakdown in law and society. They use people as slave labour, forcing them to work ploughs in drenching rain under threat of the lash. The floods claim the Black Circle while their prisoners escape, but are there other disparate groups like them? Afterwards, the girls find a home for Sarah and carry on by themselves.
Fran and Jill also help other people in need, such as finding an injured girl aboard a ship and seeking medical help, and coming up with a cure for a disease-stricken village.
The girls certainly learn some hard lessons about people, for better and worse. Some people have responded for the better. The girls encounter a self-sufficient community which has set up in caverns. There is a strong community spirit and a touch of hippiness. Then the floods come rolling in, destroying everything. Everyone takes refuge on a hilltop, the last piece of land for miles. You can’t help but get a hint of Mt Ararat here. Their leader responds by having everyone pray for a miracle.
And wouldn’t you know it – at this point the rain finally does stop! The sun, the cause of it all, appears for the first time in months. Then it is prayers of gratitude.
Others have turned for the worse, such as the Black Circle. And in Glasgow, the girls encounter King David, the self-styled king of Glasgow (complete with crown, robe and a throne room full of treasures) who is the only inhabitant and hell bent on keeping it that way, even if it means blowing up the refugees who are now returning from the floods. Yes, a man driven mad by it all, but not mad enough for Fran to succeed in appealing to his better nature. At one point Fran herself almost succumbs to bestiality when hunger and desperation almost drive her to kill Fluffy the rabbit for food.
Even after the rains stop, the problems are not over. The freak weather patterns continue, such as Scotland turning tropical and growing flora to match, and getting hurricanes. There are other bizarre changes in nature such as the girls encountering a huge wall of seaweed and dolphins swimming around Glasgow and London. And of course there is the slow rebuild with returning refugees, official attempts to establish law and order among the chaos and salvaging what can be salvaged. In a bookend to the radio that cut out to mark the end of society as Fran knows it, repaired radios now report the progress of the rebuild.
Fran does find June, and is very surprised to find her parents as well. They too survived and also trekked to Scotland to find June. They go back to Hazelford, where they start rebuilding their homes and lives with a new-found appreciation for it all. In Hazelford Jill makes a surprise reunion with her own family.
The Hazelford survivors also take pause to remember the people of Hazelford who did not make it, including the people in the early episodes who personally helped Fran or showed extreme courage when the floods came to Hazelford. The last panel of the story is of a memorial that Hazelford built for these people so they will not be forgotten.
When you look at this story today, you are immediately struck as to how far ahead of its time it was. It anticipated global warming and devastating changes in weather patterns that cause real-life flooding, hurricanes and other catastrophes. It’s hard not to look at this story and see in it a foreshadowing of what our world could become.
The story is extremely realistic and intelligently crafted in its portrayal of the encroaching disaster and the struggle to survive. And all the while the story of the Biblical Flood is in the back of our minds as we read this. But we read it with a sense of the apocalypse and end of the world and wonder if that is how it ends up. Even if the rain stops, which it doesn’t seem to be doing, we know the devastation it would leave behind cannot make for a totally happy ending. So where is it going to end?
The first few episodes, with Fran’s initial reaction of treating it as a joke while it is still relatively distanced on the news reports, and then progressively realising it is no joke as the floods and the ensuing crises (refugees, power cuts, shortages, looters etc) mount in her own back yard are very much like real life. And then, when her own house is attacked by looters and saved by Rod Pearson, it brings it all home for her. Finally, when everything collapses and it’s every person for themselves, it is a grim, shocking picture filled with desperate life and death struggles.
The story does not hesitate to show us that some people, such as Rosie, do not survive the struggle. And in the final panel we are not allowed to forget them. The memorial stands as a sobering reminder that there were some people who did not make it: “Lest We Forget.” Among them are Rod Pearson and his family. And the Stevenses survive, but are left to mourn Rosie, the bully who had redeemed herself in the last moments of her life. The ending may be happy, full of joyous reunions and rebuilding of society, but is not allowed to be overtly so; few readers will come away from the last panel without tears in their eyes. The emotional impact of this story carries through right to the end, making it arguably Jinty’s best emotional story.
In the Jinty Top Ten it was noted that this serial was running at the same time as the apocalyptic drama series “Survivors”. In fact, many of the perils Fran and Jill face are uplifted from the series, including the slave gang they are consigned to in the Black Circle segment. And both “Survivors” and “Fran” climax in the Scottish Highlands. It cannot be said whether readers thought “Fran” was a blatant ripoff of “Survivors” or if they looked on it all as a double dose that was so much the better for them to enjoy. But there can be no doubt that “Fran” was hugely popular and must have prompted some readers to watch “Survivors”. Her story ran for seven months, making her second to “Merry at Misery House” as Jinty’s longest running serial.
But “Fran” has far greater significance in Jinty history than being her second-longest serial. If there was a serial that established the SF element that Jinty became famous for, it was this one. Aside from “The Green People” (no, not little green men) in 1975, there had been no SF in Jinty. She was still pretty much following the Tammy template of cruelty and tortured heroines. But after “Fran of the Floods”, more SF stories, especially ones with environmental elements, appeared in Jinty. Later in 1976, Jinty ran “Jassy’s Wand of Power”, and the environmental disaster under the spotlight swings from flooding to drought. In 1979 there was “The Forbidden Garden” where humanity has poisoned the environment and nothing can grow, and “Almost Human”, about an alien girl whose race is facing extinction from environmental catastrophe. But in terms of intelligent and thoughtful plotting, emotional intensity and breadth of scope, and exploration of the human psyche, “Fran of the Floods” must reign supreme. And in today’s climate of global warming, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and alarming changes in weather patterns, it seems even more relevant now than it was in 1976.
Orphan Belinda Gibson is a trust-paid pupil at Brockhill Boarding School. She is badgered (bullied) by the other girls, especially Frances and Katie. We get the impression Belinda is a target of bullying because she is shy and has no pedigree or friends. The bullying makes Belinda so miserable that one night she decides to run away.
Belinda is making her way up a slope when she comes across a badger, which soon dies. Belinda suspects it was poisoned. Then Belinda finds the badger’s new-born litter. One of them is pure white and she soon calls him Whitey. She lingers to feed them, but unwittingly caves in the tunnel, leaving them vulnerable to predators. So she ends up a surrogate mother to the sett, guarding them all night. This upsets her plans for running away. Eventually she decides to quietly return to the school so she can continue to secretly look after the sett, and voluntarily endure the bullying for the sake of her badgers.
Upon Belinda’s quiet return, Frances and Katie bully her again. But the bullying backfires when one ruins her silk gown and the other her tennis racquet. Later, Belinda uses the items to help the badgers, and has a good feeling at how her wonderful secret is helping her confidence. Back at school she starts swotting up on badgers. Frances and Katie notice Belinda’s apparent early rising for this and get suspicious. But in fact Belinda has been sneaking out at night for the badgers and loss of sleep starts showing in her lessons and getting her into trouble.
Belinda begins to feel that she should inform the headmistress about the sett. But then, Squire Blackmore, who owns the land next to the school, speaks at assembly. The squire announces that he will be lending his stables and horses to the school for riding lessons. He is also a big fan of hunting and endorses it to get rid of vermin. Fearful that badgers will be classed as vermin, Belinda decides to say nothing about the sett.
The girls have a free afternoon. The others use it for the riding lessons while Belinda goes into town to buy supplies for the cubs. But Whitey follows, and the bus with the girls on it is coming. Belinda hides Whitey in her bag, but his scent causes problems with other animals when she arrives in town. Belinda then bumps into Miss Green the biology teacher and discovers that she has been buying poison for vermin traps. Remembering the fate of the mother badger, Belinda gets even more scared. Back at school, she finds the squire has gifted prints of hunting scenes to the school and they are proudly displayed on the wall. Belinda is revolted to see that one print shows badger digging.
The secret tending of the badgers continues. But Belinda still suffers from lack of sleep and this causes problems, including more bullying from Frances and Katie who set out to disrupt Belinda’s attempts to catch up. There are other close shaves that almost expose Belinda’s secret as well, including the bullies poking around. And the squire seems to be going out of his way to become a fixture at the school, with constant visits, his prints and offers of free riding lessons. Belinda is now forced to go on one. She can’t ride, so she is relegated to mucking out. But then a pack of the squire’s hunting dogs gets loose and Belinda fears for her badgers. She manages to draw the dogs off with some aniseed balls until the squire’s hunting horn calls them off. But when she attends to the badgers that night, there is a man about with a spade, and he looks suspiciously like the squire. And there is evidence he was digging for something. Belinda begins to suspect the squire let the dogs loose on purpose and wonders if there is another secret about.
At the squire’s stables the next day, Belinda overhears the squire on the phone. It was indeed him she saw last night, and he knows there was a schoolgirl out there. He then says “I’ll leave the problem to you to deal with.” And when Belinda prepares to leave the dorm that night, someone comes in. She manages to evade the intruder but cannot see who it is. Later, she suspects it was one of the staff and now feels she cannot turn to anybody because there is nobody she can trust.
When Belinda goes to the sett again, she finds the squire and another man digging and frightens them off with her torch. Next day, the squire announces he will be holding a ball the following night to celebrate 200 years of hunting and the school is invited. However, a day history trip has Belinda drawing the conclusion that the squire is digging for buried treasure, which means the badgers must be safe.
Meanwhile, the teachers begin to notice the bullying. Frances and Katie are eventually caught red-handed and are punished with detention instead of going to the ball. Belinda tries to sneak away from the ball with food for the badgers, but gets caught by a teacher, Miss Harper. She is forced to explain everything to Miss Harper and show her the sett.
Miss Harper then tells Belinda something that only she knows about. Many years ago a rich lady took an interest in the sett. When the school fell into debt in 1881, she gave a grant that still keeps the school solvent, but on condition that the sett remains unharmed. And now that Belinda has shown her where the sett is, the squire can get rid of them once and for all. So Miss Harper is the squire’s accomplice! The whole plot has been to find and destroy the sett so the grant will end and the school forced to sell. The squire will then buy the grounds for development. And at this very moment the squire and his men are setting about badger digging on the slope. That badger-digging print had been a clue, but Belinda missed it entirely!
Belinda tries to escape Miss Harper, and is ironically saved by Katie and Frances. They like badgers too and are repulsed at the badger-hunt, and at Miss Harper for calling badgers vermin to be got rid of. They lock Miss Harper in a store room. Once Belinda tells them the story, they set off to rescue the badgers. On the slope, a race begins between the squire and the girls to get to the sett.
Evidently the squire was so confident of victory that he did not linger to see the outcome. He goes back to the ball and brags to his guests that their school is closing and it is their fault for not knowing about their school history (he may have a point there). But the grin is wiped off his face when the girls come into the hall with the badgers. They got to the badgers first!
It is the squire who is forced to sell out while Miss Harper resigns. Belinda is now best friends with Katie and Frances. There is only one type of badgering for her now, and it is out there on the slope. The whole school is now devoted to looking after the badgers.
“Badgered Belinda” was one of the filler stories for the last seven issues of Jinty. It has four page spreads throughout its run rather than the usual three. It is very unusual for a Jinty serial to have four-pagers for the entire duration of its run; usually four-pagers appear when a story is winding down, but there is pressure to finish it quickly. This happened with “Worlds Apart” and “The Human Zoo”. But Belinda was a four pager from start to finish. What could be the reason? Was it to pack as much story as possible into the seven episodes that the story was allowed? Or was it so that Belinda would help fill out the last seven issues more?
In any case, Belinda was the last Jinty story drawn by Phil Gascoine, and it literally bookends Gascoine’s run in Jinty; his artwork appeared in the first issue with “Gail’s Indian Necklace” and in the final issue with Belinda. In between, Gascoine’s artwork has been continuous in Jinty. There were very few instances where his artwork did not appear and several where it appeared in two stories in the same issue.
Story wise, Belinda is not one of Jinty’s classics, but she can be regarded as one of the stronger filler serials to appear in the final issues of Jinty. Belinda may even be the best serial in the line up that Jinty selected for her last seven issues.
Bullying stories are always guaranteed to be popular, and this one takes the twist in which the victim decides to endure the bullying, for the sake of the badgers, rather than trying to free herself from it as most victims in bully stories do (a la “Tears of a Clown”). The bullying is serious; we see Belinda shoved around on the sports field, constantly being pushed out of bed as her wake-up call and being forced under a cold shower among other nasty incidents. It is ironic that Belinda’s secret mission to take care of the badgers and keep them safe from the hunters helps her with confidence that she did not know she had. For example, desperation for the aniseed balls to draw off the hounds has her barrelling her way to the counter to buy them. This takes the girls by surprise as they always considered her “a weed” (although this does not stop them from punishing her with the cold shower).
Animals (especially orphaned animals) are always a hit as well, and Jinty makes a very strong stance against hunting. Girls’ comics have always come out strong against blood sports. But it is unusual to use badgers for this; foxes and deer are more commonly used when girls’ comics commented on the issue. The hunting has a very insidious side to it as well as a cruel one; when the squire has his hunting prints plastered on the school walls, offers the girls free riding lessons and invites them to his ball to celebrate hunting, it’s almost as if he is indoctrinating them into the sport. Belinda alone seems to stand against it. So it is a surprise when it turns out that the bullies take such a strong stance against the badger hunt that they lock the teacher in the store-room and join forces with Belinda. Mind you, how many pupils would really dare to lock up a teacher? That would be an expelling matter, wouldn’t it? Fortunately for them, it was justified. And the bullying problem reaches its final resolution. It goes from punishment, with the bullies being caught out in the penultimate episode, to redemption in the final episode.
Girls love mystery stories too. So as the mystery element creeps its way into the story with the introduction of the squire and his strange generosity, and then the strange goings-on on the slope, it would certainly have jacked up the drama and thrills and kept the readers engaged. It is a bit jarring that it turns out to be Miss Harper, though, because there have been no hints beforehand to suggest it might be her. In fact, she hadn’t even been named until then. Perhaps there was not enough scope in the seven episodes the story was allowed for sufficient clues and red herrings to be dropped for the readers to ponder on in solving the mystery.
Lastly, there is an environmental element in this story too. Jinty had been strong on environmental stories such as “The Forbidden Garden” and “Fran of the Floods”. We see it again in Belinda, with the indiscriminate use of poisons that are meant to kill pests but can also kill innocent wildlife. This is how the mother badger dies. If Belinda had not been there, the cubs would have died too. A whole family of badgers killed through the thoughtless of humanity. But the badgers are saved by a kind girl who not only finds courage and confidence in the face of bullying but ends up saving her school and finding friends at last.
Lucy Farmer and her French penfriend Yvette have no inkling of what lies ahead of them when a parcel arrives from Lucy’s great-aunt Hepzibah. The parcel contains a golden corn dolly and the ominous message that “they may need its help soon”. Very soon they are plunged into a good versus evil struggle: the Corn Dolly comes to life to help them against Miss Marvell, the richest woman in town, who also turns out to be an evil witch using the blackest of magic to kill all good green growing things.
Right from the first episode the girls are in danger from Miss Marvell, initially simply because they have gone somewhere they weren’t supposed to and seen something they weren’t supposed to – a great patch of bare grey earth in Miss Marvell’s garden, and plants that have crumbled to dust. The patch of grey earth is so strongly poisoned that the residue on the girls’ shoes poisons Lucy’s father’s garden too (and continues to do so in subsequent episodes even after he has patched it with new turf). Soon they are courting her anger more deliberately, once Corn Dolly has told them they must investigate Miss Marvell’s plans further. They are found and nearly caught in a secret room at the top of the witch’s house – her spooky henchthing, a scary mask, can communicate with Miss Marvell at a distance and do her bidding. Corn Dolly is their saviour this time, defending the girls with her strength from the sun and telling them to run to the trees, where the strength of living things will defeat Miss Marvell. However, this sortie has revealed jars and jars of death dust; there is only so much that Corn Dolly will be able to do to fight this black magic. The one thing she can suggest is a charm from ancient times, made with certain flowers, that can defeat witches.
There follows a back-and-forth cycle that oscillates with bigger and bigger swings. Miss Marvell destroys some plants; the girls must gather flowers for the charm; Miss Marvell wreaks more destruction to prevent them from finding the next flower on their list; against great odds the girls manage to get the next flower; people round about get more and more nervous and worried and downright frightened. Miss Marvell tries more and more tactics to beat the girls: she kidnaps Corn Dolly right out of Lucy’s school bag despite the protective rowan berries that Lucy put in (in her guise as benign school governor, Marvell asks an unsuspecting girl to remove them), she brainwashes Yvette and later on turns Lucy’s mother against her French visitor. The girls have Corn Dolly to help them, but she is neither omnipotent nor always totally patient: more than once she tells them they have to work things out for themselves as she cannot always be with them.
And indeed they are pretty resourceful: when the straw form of Corn Dolly is thrown on a fire by the vengeful Miss Marvell, they ask for sun and rain to douse the fire and strengthen her foe. They manage to ask in roundabout ways for important information like the location of a specific kind of rose for their charm, and enlist mundane help to deal with obstacles like an enraged bull or the antagonised mother.
It’s a pretty long series of episodes, though, with these power struggles that seem to each end quite similarly, if growing in violence. The last five episodes take on a different tempo: the ministry of agriculture forbids any entry to or exit from their town of Haylton until they find out what killed all the plants at the zoo (and the authorities are never going to figure out that the answer is black magic, of course). This means that the girls have to find out a way to escape from the town to get the last few flowers for the spell; it becomes a race against the forces of evil to get to another source of help – Great-Aunt Hepzibah in Cornwall – gathering the final ingredients on the way. Of course Miss Marvell is not far behind, inciting whoever shelters them to know “black, cold fear!” She too has allies – three evil witch ghosts in a haunted village, but once again Corn Dolly and the forces of the sunlight – or in this case, a timely lightning strike – defeat them.
The showdown is at the site of a “giant’s circle” on the shortest night of the year, but one which feels very long to the girls, chased as they are by Miss Marvell and the trees in an evil wood. The stone circle is perhaps something else that the witch thinks will be helpful to her, but the girls use the charm along with the first sun of midsummer’s day – and Miss Marvell is literally vanished away, and her death dust with her.
Themes and thoughts
This is a powerful story, if one which on re-read can feel a little long in parts as the girls gather their various different ingredients. The sample story pages included above are ones that I know I have not read for over thirty years until Mistyfan sent me scans, but the image of Miss Marvell scattering death dust on the buddleia is one that has been with me all the time since then (though as an adult I have been in more sympathy with the death-dust wielder, as this is a nearly-unkillable weed). Miss Marvell’s (rather un-African though so-called) mask, along with her cackling gleeful face calling down a storm, was part of the cast in my childhood nightmares. Luckily for me, Corn Dolly stood beside my bed (with other symbols of good such as Epona from “Guardian of White Horse Hill”) to defend me.
There is a noticeable hippyish streak in this story: the environmental struggle to protect the trees and the wildlife, the fact that the dark witch’s alter ego is that of a rich and powerful establishment figure* who is able to do some of her wrong-doing purely because she knows the right people to ask favours of. (There is a counter-example lord who is on the side of the good guys, but he is seen in only one episode.) Perhaps the self-sufficiency of the protagonist girls, prompted on occasion by the odd pointed comment by Corn Dolly, is also a reflection of that countercultural angle?
* Interestingly enough, Miss Marvell is also depicted as something of a scientist, with a laboratory in which she tests her death dust for potency. In this she is a little reminiscent of the villain in subsequent story “Girl In A Bubble”, also drawn by Phil Gascoine.
It is however pretty much a quest story. The extra layers that draw you in are attributable, I think, to Phil Gascoine’s narrative skills as much as anything: the contrast between the peaceful countryside or small town and the dark, twisted woods in which Miss Marvell aims to trap our protagonists; or between the limpid beauty of Corn Dolly and Miss Marvell’s increasingly wicked cackling face.
Publication dates: 6 September 1975 – 10 January 1976 (19 episodes)
As with many other stories in girls’ comics, this science fiction story clearly shows influences from other media current at the time, modified for a young female readership. Xenia is the daughter of the king and queen of an alien planet; as with Superman and his fellow Kryptonians, these aliens look just like humans outwardly, but with some important differences once you get past the surface. The king and queen know about some of the differences, but not all of them, as we find out…
In parallel with the Superman story, the protagonist’s planet is doomed; her mother and father take her for a picnic on non-doomed Earth and then leave her there, with a communication pendant via which they tell her it’s ‘for her own good’ so to speak. They think she will do well on Earth because she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than humans are; but what they don’t know is that her alien life-force is too strong for earth life, and anything that she touches will be zapped stone dead!
Adi Tantimedh draws a parallel with another hot media trope of the time: The Incredible Hulk tv series and other similar series where the protagonist is ‘on the run and on the road’, a danger to others as well as being endangered themselves. As this is a girls’ comic story with a finite span, things end happily but not before the heroine is in quite severe danger of losing her own life: a lightning strike hits her and drains enough of her life force that she no longer kills Earth creatures with her lightest touch, but her vital energies ebb lower and lower until she is herself at death’s door. Luckily, some of the humans she has befriended find her communication pendant, which is conveniently trying to tell her that her home planet has reversed the problems it was facing. Her parents come to take her home, and all that remains is for a tearful farewell with her friends before her hand-held doctor unit revitalises her energies and she is beamed back up aboard the spaceship.
The main focus of the story is on Xenia’s very literal alienation and on her struggles to understand and adapt to the world that she thinks she will be living on for the rest of her life. Readers of girls’ comics seemed to delight in stories in which the girl protagonists were unhappy, in danger, having difficulties in making friends, or even enslaved by adults against whom they were powerless. (There were reader response forms in every issue, asking anyone who wrote in to rate their top 3 most-liked stories and the one they most disliked; the editors regularly got a lot of responses.) At the same time there are also environmental concerns aired: Xenia’s home planet is facing a catastrophic drought and Xenia’s delight in the lush green world in which she is set down gives the story a lighter element.
Creators: unknown. The same artist drew ‘Alice In A Strange Land’ and ‘Toni on Trial’ amongst other Jinty strips. If anyone is able to supply further details, please do send information! [Edited May 2014: artist has now been identified as Terry Aspin.]