Tag Archives: evil influence

The Fairground of Fear [1976]

Sample Images

Fairground of Fear 1Fairground of Fear 2Fairground of Fear 3

Publication: Tammy 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976

Episodes: 11
Reprints/translations: Tammy annual 1983; Tina #24 as De wraak van een clown [The Wrath of the Clown]
Artist: Diane Gabbot
Writer: Unknown

Plot

Julie Whitland was adopted as a baby by Sir Edgar Whitland, landowner of Baychurch. But her home life is miserable because Sir Edgar is a dreadful snob who keeps himself aloof from the villagers (who call him the snob on the hill) and expects Julie to do the same. She feels a virtual prisoner in her own home where she is never allowed any freedom or mix with people that Sir Edgar considers too lowly for Whitlands. Whenever she tries, Sir Edgar always drags her off, so she does a lot of going behind his back. He is always telling her that she is a Whitland and must live up to her name by keeping aloof from common people. Also, Julie has always wondered who her natural parents were. But whenever she asks questions, she is always told to leave well alone.

Fraser’s Fairground arrives in Baychurch. It looks a golden opportunity for Julie to have some fun. The clown puts on a special display for her. A brief encounter with the fairgound owner’s daughter Carla looks like another chance for friendship. But as usual, Sir Edgar pulls Julie away. In addition to the usual admonishings about being expected to be a Whitland, Sir Edgar shows her a picture of his late daughter. He tells Julie that he adopted her when his own daughter, and a baby she had, both died. When Julie asks what happened to her husband, Sir Edgar snaps that he is dead and forgotten. Hmm, did Julie hit a nerve there?

That night Julie sneaks off to the fair. But this time it looks sinister. She goes into the House of Memories (“The past will come alive before your very eyes”) and the woman from the photo appears to her in a huge crystal ball. The woman warns Julie to leave well alone, and that the fairground is evil. Then the clown comes up from behind. But this time he looks evil and frightening – and he seems to hypnotise Julie. Julie blacks out, and when she recovers she has no memory of what happened.

The fairground is soon in full swing and the whole village seems to have gone crazy about it – even the adults. Julie sneaks off to enjoy it as well. But the fairground is soon showing a sinister side; for example some people on the ghost train seem to go crazy and start attacking each other and the clown seems to be enjoying it. Carla explains that the ride does not use props but technical gadgets that produce holographic ghosts. A malfunction must have caused the people to see each other as ghosts and monsters. Then the machine malfunctions again, causing Julie to have an accident. Sir Edgar is furious and is determined to shut the fairground down. He sends a magistrate to do the job. But the clown imprisons the magistrate in a weird holographic trap in the Hall of Mirrors. Sir Edgar is annoyed when the magistrate is reported missing, because this means he cannot close down the fairground.

Julie recovers enough from the accident to sneak off to the House of Memories for more clues about her past. There she remembers what happened before. The House of Memories tells her that the only people who know the truth are Sir Edgar, Dr Pearson the village doctor, and Miss Edna Grey, his former nurse. Then it gives her a message: “You must find the fairground’s secret to find yourself.” On the way back, Julie overhears Mr Fraser and the clown talking and it sounds like the clown has a hold over Mr Fraser. The clown says they have a busy day, “a grey day” tomorrow. She races back home, against the tigers the clown has ordered to be set loose as watchdogs.

Next day, Miss Grey is arrested for pickpocketing at the fair. After speaking with Miss Grey’s sister, Julie realises what the clown meant by a “grey day” – he used a hypnotist performance to hypnotise Miss Grey into stealing. When she tries to tell Carla what her father is helping the clown to do, Carla gets angry and throws Julie out. The clown takes advantage by luring Julie back into the fairground with a holographic image of Carla, and hypnotises her once more. While in a trance, she leads Sir Edgar to the unconscious magistrate and there is a note: “Don’t try to get rid of me again, Sir Edgar. We’ve a score to settle. There’s just you and the doctor left.” The signature is a clown’s head.

This note prompts a lengthy discussion between Sir Edgar and the doctor, but Julie cannot hear what they are saying. Afterwards the doctor tells Julie that Sir Edgar is a hard man who means to destroy the fairground. He gives her a key to his house and says that if anything happens to him she must retrieve a file from his desk and give it to the newspapers.

Sir Edgar tries a petition against the fairground; the clown responds by hypnotising the villagers into attacking his home, and Sir Edgar has extra security installed. The doctor is summoned to the fairground because Carla has fallen sick. When the doctor tries to leave, the clown strikes with more holograms and then terrors in the Crazy House. He causes the doctor to have an accident. Following the doctor’s instructions, Julie heads to his house to retrieve the file.

The file reveals that fourteen years earlier the doctor had sent the clown (whose name is now revealed as Alan Barker) to prison on a false charge. Sir Edgar arrives and tells Julie that the doctor was acting on his instructions. Barker was the man who married Sir Edgar’s daughter. The trouble was, the snobby Sir Edgar considered Barker too low for a fit son-in-law: “I couldn’t stand to have that nobody part of the great Whitland family.” So he set out to destroy the marriage by framing Barker, and now Barker has returned for revenge. Sir Edgar then burns the file to prevent Barker’s name being cleared – for if it is, the great name of Whitland will be destroyed and Sir Edgar is not having that. But an image of the clown appears in the flames. Julie realises that Barker knows what Sir Edgar just did and now things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Knowing the clown is planning something against the village, Julie bravely confronts him. For the first time, she catches him without his makeup, and is surprised to find that without it he does not frighten her. She tries to plead with him but fails. The clown says that Sir Edgar can stop it by clearing his name, but Julie knows Sir Edgar will never do that. On the way out she speaks with Carla and learns that the clown is the virtual owner of the fairground; Mr Fraser got into debt and the clown bought out his bills. The clown can take over the fairground at any time and Mr Fraser is powerless against him.

Next day, Miss Grey appears in court for pickpocketing, and Sir Edgar and Julie attend the trial. Julie now realises that Miss Grey knew about the clown’s frameup and this was his revenge on her. The charge is unexpectedly thrown out when the clown strikes again with one of his machines that causes the working age men to act like children. The judge and barristers start playing leap frog, bus drivers play football, the local police play cops and robbers, engineers play cowboys and Indians, and Sir Edgar’s cook reads comics. Of course, the men all end up on the rides at the fairground. The romping men have cut the outside phone wires, and when Sir Edgar drives out to seek help he is blocked by a force field. The clown has cut Baychurch off from the outside world.

The village is in chaos and cut off. Nonetheless, Sir Edgar is unmoved. “That clown can’t beat a Whitland!” And he still refuses to clear the clown’s name, because it would mean destroying the name of Whitland. He heads out the fairground to tell the clown that “nothing he can do to this village will make me give in!” Julie now realises that Sir Edgar is an utterly selfish, ruthless man, and there is nothing or nobody that he will not destroy in the name of Whitland.

Then the doctor arrives and tells Julie that she is the only one who can stop the clown. He explains that she is the baby from the ill-fated marriage and the clown is her true father. It had only been the mother who died. She was leaving home with her baby after a quarrel with Sir Edgar over Barker, only to be killed by a falling tree. Sir Edgar faked the baby’s death to prevent Barker from claiming her. Julie heads out to the fairground to tell the clown.

There she finds Sir Edgar confronting Barker, and telling him that nothing he will do will make him confess. Barker makes one last desperate attempt to make Whitland confess. He starts the merry-go-round at high speed while Julie is standing on it. He shouts to Whitland that the merry-go-round will go faster and faster, putting Julie in ever more danger, until Sir Edgar confesses. But Sir Edgar just says, “I can’t destroy the name of Whitland. I’ve nothing to say!” He stalks off, without lifting a finger to save Julie or waiting to see what happens to her. Barker, finding the machine has jammed, risks his life to save Julie.

Upon learning that Julie is the daughter he thought was dead, Barker becomes a changed man. He stops his revenge, uses his machines to make the villagers forget what happened (though how that is going to explain away all the damage he caused is not discussed), and returns the fairground to Mr Fraser. Julie decides to leave Sir Edgar forever – his conduct at the merry go round showed her just how much he really cares for her. She is going with her father and the fairground and start a new life with them, and refuses the chance to go back to Sir Edgar as they pass by his house when they depart. Barker promises Julie that he will now use his scientific expertise to help people.

Thoughts

Like Jinty, Tammy did not use the circus theme much in her serials. “The Fairground of Fear” is one of the exceptions, though it is more fairground than circus. It can also be regarded as one of Tammy’s best stories and worthy of reprint in a Tammy volume.

“The Fairground of Fear” has the distinction of being the first serial Diane Gabbot drew for Tammy. From then on Gabbot became a regular Tammy artist, ending her run with “Rosie at the Royalty” in 1981. Her other Tammy stories included “Circus of the Damned”, “Selena Sitting Pretty”, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey” and “Donna Ducks Out”.

“Creepy” was what one Doctor Who companion once said about clowns, and eventually he agrees with her that clowns can be creepy. So do we after the first episode of this story. After initially conveying the impression he is harmless and amusing, the clown is quick to demonstrate that clowns can be creepy and scares the living daylights out of the girl who was so thrilled with him the first time they met. It’s not so much his incredible powers but that makeup of his that makes him so frightening.

Fairground and circus stories also have a long history of demonstrating that they can be as sinister and frightening as much as they are entertaining, and this one is no exception. Even before the fairground demonstrates its strange powers, seeing it in the dead of night makes it so scary. From then on the story is filled with thrills, chills and drama that are delivered at a cracking pace. Everything that is supposed to entertain people in the fairground is instead used to scare, hypnotise, imprison or manipulate them, even from a distance. Sometimes it is in perversely amusing ways, such as when the courtroom staff play leap-frog. Other times it is frightening, such as inciting a mob to attack Sir Edgar’s home. The only beneficial element in the fairground is The House of Memories.

There are also plenty of mystery elements to keep readers engaged. Girls just love mystery, and in this case there are not one but three mysteries here: the mystery of the fairground, the mystery of Julie’s parents, and the mystery of how and why they are linked. Although everyone tells Julie to leave the mystery of her parents well alone, we know the fairground won’t allow that once the House of Memories tells Julie she must unlock its secret to find out who she really is. Julie’s true identity is going to come out, and readers are riveted to find out where it will lead and how it will help with the mystery of the fairground.

The story also has plot twists that take us by surprise as much as shock us. One is where the relationship between Julie and Sir Edgar ends up at the story’s conclusion. When we first see it, Sir Edgar appears to be just an overly strict, over-protective parent who does have his daughter’s interests at heart – in his snobbish way – but is totally misguided, blinded by snobbery, and does not understand how he is stifling his daughter’s freedom and growth. However, we expect the fairground will somehow help him to come around by the end of the story, he will be less snobby, and Julie will be on far happier terms with him. It’s been seen so many times in overprotective problem parent serials such as “The Four-Footed Friends”. However, in this case that does not happen at all. Sir Edgar is not the well meaning but misguided parent he seems to be. Little by little he reveals his true colours (snob, unpopular, arrogant, hard-hearted) until he is finally exposed as the monster he really is. He, not the clown, is the true villain of the story. He would rather his own granddaughter die than dishonour the name of Whitland, and does not lift a finger to save Julie. He is totally beyond redemption and will never change, no matter what. Julie has no hope of getting anywhere with him. In fact, she must get away from him altogether or he could destroy her the same way he destroyed her parents.

The story takes the unconventional step of ending on a bittersweet note. Barker does get his daughter back and can start a new life with her. He also changes into a much nicer man who is not so consumed with hate and revenge that he is capable of terrorism, blackmail, and even physically hurting people. But unlike other wrongly convicted people in girls’ stories, he does not get his name cleared because Sir Edgar just won’t budge on that, no matter what. At least Julie and the fairground people know the truth and the skeleton is out of the closet. But if there is any exoneration for Barker, it will have to wait until after Sir Edgar dies, and the doctor and Miss Grey will be free to tell the truth.

For all the powers the clown has unleashed through the fairground, none of them really bring about comeuppance for Sir Edgar. Sir Edgar returns home to uphold the name of Whitland, the only thing he really cares about. And it’s all he has now. He has no heirs and unless that changes fast, the name of Whitland will die with him, and good riddance to it. Clearly, nobody will miss “the snob on the hill” when he dies.

Perhaps comeuppance will come in another form. After all, being the man he is, Sir Edgar must have made a lot of enemies and likely to have destroyed others. It would not be surprising if his life ends with him being murdered in his bed or something similar.

 

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The Black Widow [1978]

Sample Images

Black Widow 1Black Widow 2Black Widow 3Black Widow 4

Publication: Misty 17 June 1978 – 16 September 1978

Episodes: 14

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Anita 1980 as De Zwarte weduwe [The Black Widow]

Sequel: Spider-Woman, Tammy & Misty, 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980

Plot 

In “her silken lair, hidden from the eyes of the world” is Mrs Webb, who is to become known to the world as The Black Widow. She calls out to her spiders, “Tonight is the time…the time of the spiders!”

Not far away is Corey End School, where we meet our two protagonists. The first is Sadie Lincoln, who wants to be a scientist. But Sadie has phobia about creepy crawlies, especially (you guessed it) spiders. The science teacher, Miss Dexter, tells Sadie she must overcome this if she is to handle biological specimens and make her way as a scientist. The second is Freda Lawrence, a rather unlikeable girl who thinks Sadie is always sucking up to teachers.

Sadie prefers astronomy as a science, and is spending the night with her telescope. She is surprised to see a type of meteor, which bursts into fragments. She goes out to investigate and finds a capsule containing a spider. She takes it to Miss Dexter, who cannot identify the species, but puts it in an aquarium for study. They are astonished to find it has doubled in size 24 hours later. And it continues to grow. They don’t realise they have captured the spider that should be at the centre of Webb’s new web. Webb goes in search of the spider and says there will be “no mercy for anyone keeping him!”

Webb turns up at the school, suspecting it is the place to start looking for the spider. Telling everyone she is on a mission to save spiders from the cruelty of man, she promises a £5 reward for anyone who brings a spider to her. Figuring she will get more than that if she brings Webb the super-growing spider, Freda steals it from the science lab. Sadie catches Freda and suspects what she is doing. She tags along with Freda to Webb’s house in the hope of grabbing it back.

They are both surprised to find the house is derelict. Inside, they are caught in a mechanical web manned by a giant mechanical spider. But this is actually the mechanism that brings them to Webb’s lair. Webb scares them into handing over the spider.

Webb explains that she and her husband were biological chemists. Her husband was forced to participate in a military biological experiment that killed him when it went wrong. Now she is out for revenge on Britain with the aid of her specially engineered spiders – and with Sadie and Freda, who are going to be her instruments. Freda says if there’s a few bob in it, she will be happy to do it. This disgusts Sadie, who also expresses her fear of spiders. At this, Webb hypnotises Sadie into liking spiders. She then gives Freda a hypnotic prompt “you creep!” This will have Sadie doing whatever Freda commands when she says it. She also imprisons the girls in slave pendants that give them electric shocks whenever they try to remove them. The pendants label Freda as Tara and Sadie as Tula. Finally, Webb gives Freda a bag of spiders for their first test. She then sends them out, with Sadie having no recollection of what happened.

What Webb does not realise is that Freda is not loyal to her because she was too shocked at the sight of the hypnotism done to Sadie. Freda is only playing along with Webb because she does not want to be hypnotised as well.

Using the “you creep!” prompt, Freda has Sadie unleash the spiders at school, which causes a panic. Afterwards, Webb says the spiders have been installed with transmitters, so she can track them on her electronic map.

Sadie has no memory of what happens when the hypnotic power wears off, so she cannot explain her action to her headmistress – or her absenteeism the next day. This is, of course, because they have been directed to their of next target – one Major-General Oliver Bullivant. Webb blames Bullivant for her husband’s death. The girls plant Webb’s spider on Bullivant’s dog. When the spider bites Bullivant, he falls into a paralysis that leaves him incapable of speaking and doctors baffled. However, the investigation, led by Inspector Bird, is soon drawing the right conclusions. Bird is now searching for the spider and the two girls.

Freda wants to call it quits, but when she tries to tell Webb, Webb demands to know the fate of the Bullivant spider. Webb realises the spider is still with Sadie and uses the pendant to summon her – only to find that Sadie has let the spider go. Later, the spider turns up in the papers that a despatch rider is taking to Bullivant’s. The spider bites and paralyses the dispatch rider, causing him to have a crash. Bird realises what happened and is now searching the scene of the accident for the spider. Then Carfax of SI9 turns up and tells Bird that someone stole a batch of spiders that the Ministry had been testing in the stratosphere. The purpose had been to create super-spiders, but the results are unknown because of the theft. Carfax has a pretty good idea who the thief is (guess who?), but is having trouble locating her. The stratosphere theft also explains the “meteor” that Sadie observed earlier.

Meanwhile, the next target is Professor Lawton, who devised the experiment that killed the husband. This time the girls are to plant the spider on Lawton’s baby. But as they leave, they are attacked by rough girls. Freda tells the leader, “Go an’ jump in the lake, you creep!”

Oops – Freda unwittingly used the hypnotic prompt, which has Sadie jumping in the lake and losing the spider. When Webb finds out the spider’s fate, she is hysterical and furious as she regards her spiders as her children. She decides to go out and do the job herself. However, Mrs Lawton intercepts the spider and crushes it, which means another upset for Webb. Also, Lawton compares notes with Bird and they see the connection.

When Webb returns to her base, she gets another shock – Freda has used the hypnotic prompt to get Sadie to smash her tank of beloved spiders. Webb uses her spider powers to turn the spiders on them. Freda pretends that they have learned their lesson and Webb calls the spiders off.

Sadie now understands what is going on and she quietly teams up with Freda. But Webb hypnotises her into delivering a spider to the Prime Minister. Webb plans to use this attack to blackmail Britain into capitulating to her. However, Freda uses the “you creep!” command to bring Sadie back to Webb’s lair to do a more thorough job of smashing the place.

The police arrive. The girls try to explain – and the police are forced to take them seriously when they find millions of spiders crawling all over their car! Soon, the girls are explaining everything to Bird himself.

Meanwhile, there has been a series of blocked drains in London. Investigation reveals an enormous web and equally enormous spider in the drains. It is the spider Sadie captured earlier. It was engineered to be a super-growing spider. It has now grown to giant proportions, feeding on sewer rats – and is still growing! What’s more, it is moving on from rats to people as prey and causing panic in the underground railway station. The giant spider, complete with its web, emerges in Trafalgar Square, which causes even more panic and makes the news. Webb sees the broadcast and gloats, “The day of the spiders is here at last!”

Back at her lair, Webb has less to gloat about when she discovers what the girls have done. But when the authorities arrive, there is no sign of Webb. Then they hear her over a loudspeaker, where she finally delivers her ultimatum: if they want to stop the spider – which is now moving on from Trafalgar Square and travelling across the country via the power lines – they must do what she says. The first of her demands is to bring the girls to a rendezvous point, where the spider is waiting to devour them.

The authorities bring the girls, and Webb orders them to climb up to the spider. But the authorities have prepared a trap. The national grid is down, but the power station is waiting for their signal to turn on the power. Ironically, it is accidentally turned on when an employee is scared by a spider. As planned, the giant spider gets fried. Webb falls to the ground, though not to her death. At the same time, the slave pendants fall off Freda and Sadie. Webb is taken to hospital, but they are surprised when she seems to disappear into thin air from the ambulance. A spider scuttles away from the ambulance unnoticed, and there is a question mark after “The End”.

Thoughts

Misty was huge on scary spider stories and playing on the common fear of arachnophobia. In her very first issue she had “Red Knee – White Terror!” where a girl has many close calls with a poisonous spider without realising it but in the final panel it looks like her luck may have finally run out. Other spider-themed stories included “Web of Lies”, “Dressed to Kill!” and “Spider Woman” (no connection to Mrs Webb) in the 1984 Misty annual. But the Black Widow tops them all. What is not to love – or scare the living daylights out of you – with how she uses spiders as deadly weapons? Poisonous spiders, flesh-eating spiders, and spiders growing to monstrous proportions and emerging from the sewers of London to strike terror into everyone who sees it.

Mrs Webb comes from a long line of mad, evil scientists. However, she is more rounded than most of them as there is a sympathetic element to her. Her insanity stems from the grief of losing her husband, and she believes the military was responsible for it. There may even be some truth to Webb’s suspicions because Bullivant is such a pompous, overbearing, unlikeable git. He forces his unfortunate batman to do jobs that are not supposed to be part of a batman’s job. At any rate, readers must have felt a sneaking sympathy for Webb when she shuts Bullivant up with her spider and felt that she had given Bullivant what was coming to him.

But sympathies for Webb don’t last. After all, she is not just doing it for revenge – she’s doing it for power as well and is out for conquest. In the sequel she will take this a stage further and be out for world conquest. But it’s not just for herself – it’s for the spiders, and she seems to see herself as a champion of them. There are no limits to what she won’t do or the types of spiders she will devise as weapons.

This story gives the military a chance to shine, something it seldom does in girls’ comics. Usually when the military does feature it is in a humorous sense (Annie’s Army in June) or female soldiers (Kitty Hawke in Girl I). But here the military is portrayed more realistically, given plenty of screen time in the story, and more time is devoted to developing the Army characters. This is all for a very credible reason – Webb’s attack is directly against the Army, and it’s personal. Whoever wrote this story must have been one of the Battle writers.

However, although the military is given more spotlight than girls’ serials usually give it, the centre stage is still given to girl protagonists and the true resolution of the story depends on them. Pairing a principled girl with an unsavoury one is not an unusual one in girls’ comics; Fairy Tale in Princess II was one to use it. What is unusual is that it is the unsavoury girl who is proactive against Webb and is key to resolving the story. By contrast, the more moralistic girl is far less proactive and more prone to succumbing to Webb’s brainwashing. The key is in their strength of character. Freda may be the more unpleasant girl, but she is the much stronger and more resourceful of the two girls. She may be greedy, willing to do it for money, but she has her limits. These stop her from turning into Webb’s willing flunky. These also help to redeem Freda as a character. Sadie, by contrast, may be more principled, but she has a weaker personality and is more prone to succumbing to Webb’s power. However, the brainwashing of Sadie enables Freda to turn Webb’s power against her on several occasions.

Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain who was brought back for a sequel. She was not killed off as many of Misty’s villains were, such as Dr Bracken from “The Body Snatchers”. Misty had several of her villains plunging to their deaths, as in “House of Horror”, but Mrs Webb not only survives her fall but escapes as well, with a hint she might be back. Perhaps Misty decided she was too good a villain to kill off. Or maybe it was all those spider menaces that she loved to use time and time again.

 

Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

Paulas Puppets 2aPaulas Puppets 2bPaulas Puppets 2c

Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

Glenda’s Glossy Pages [1975]

Sample Images

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Glenda 2

Glenda 3

Published: Tammy 13 September 1975 – 15 November 1975

Episodes: 11

Artists: Mario Capaldi, plus Tony Highmore as a filler artist in one episode

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Tammy 1 October 1983 – 10 December 1983; De geheimzinnige catalogus [The Mysterious Catalogue] in Tina Boelboek 4, 1984

Plot

Glenda Slade lives with her widowed mother. Mrs Slade works in a low-paid job, so they live a poor existence. They are so poor that the only thing Glenda has to wear is her school uniform (which Mum had to scrape for). At school, spoiled and snobby rich girl Hilary loves to bully Glenda over her poor background.

Then one day a woman knocks at the door and shows Glenda a beautiful catalogue that is packed full of gorgeous items to order. Glenda is blown away and wants to order from the catalogue immediately. Her mother reminds her that they cannot afford it. Glenda decides to keep the catalogue in secret so she can at least dream about the items. The woman agrees and gives Glenda a strange, ominous smile as she leaves.

Glenda is surprised when the items she circles start appearing at her front door for real and there is no apparent bill to pay. Thrilled at having nice things for the first time in her life, she starts circling more and more items, which continue to appear with no apparent price to pay. At school, the items make her the centre of attention and she is pleased to get one up on Hilary, who is being pushed out as the one to admire because the girls now swarm around Glenda and the things she is getting. Even Glenda’s face is beginning to change, and she is amazed that she is beginning to look like the model in the catalogue. Hilary is jealous and then suspicious about these items of Glenda’s.

But odd, worrying things start happening to Glenda. Among them, Hilary calls the police in to investigate the items (more of her spite towards Glenda). Of course they do not believe Glenda’s story about the catalogue. But when they try to take the items they get a strange electric shock, which frightens Glenda.

Then, at the swimming pool, Glenda discovers a shocking, inexplicable change in her personality and behaviour. Hilary is having an attack of cramp in the pool, but Glenda, who is the nearest, just leaves her to drown and makes no attempt to save her at all. Glenda herself cannot understand why she acted in this way. When she realises there can only be one answer, the catalogue begins to well and truly scare her. The girls save Hilary, and in the wake of this incident, Hilary rises again as the centre of the girls’ attention while Glenda is sent to Coventry. Hilary is delighted at Glenda’s downfall. In fact, when Glenda tries to apologise to Hilary, Hilary just pulls a false act of Glenda bullying her in order to get her into even deeper trouble with the girls.

Finally, the police arrest Mrs Slade over the mystery items. They have no evidence against her, but she has a criminal record, and that is enough for them. They don’t know or believe she has reformed to the point where she has raised Glenda to be extremely strict about honesty.

Glenda is appalled at how everything is getting just worse and worse for her. And worst of all, she has a feeling the catalogue is not even through yet.

The woman appears again. Glenda confronts her and urges her to tell the police how she got the items from her catalogue for free. The woman tells Glenda that nothing in the world is free and she has to pay. Glenda then realises that she has paid after all – with all the misery and trouble she has gone through because of the catalogue. She now understands that the woman and her catalogue are evil, and they were all out to play on her greed to get her into trouble. The woman tells Glenda that she will go on paying. But Glenda is determined to beat the woman. When Glenda finds she cannot destroy or dispose of the catalogue, she tries to break its power by getting rid of the all the lovely items it brought her and sending them to a charity shop. It’s a wrench for poverty-stricken Glenda, turning her back on those beautiful things, but it does the trick. She is now able to throw the catalogue out and leaves it for the dustmen.

But Mrs Slade, who is released for lack of evidence (or maybe because of the temporary break in the catalogue’s power?) finds the catalogue and now she is the one who is tempted. Ignoring Glenda’s warnings, she orders as many items as possible so as to win the mystery prize the catalogue is offering. When the prize arrives, it is a lighter in the shape of a skull. Later, Glenda realises that a skull stands for death, and gets a horrible thought as to the price Mum is to pay. She manages to get out of school (thanks to nasty Hilary ripping her one and only skirt for a ‘joke’), rushes home to check up on her mother, and finds the skull lighter has started a fire.

The fire is spreading fast, and the skull itself seems to be fanning the flames. All the same, Mum is reluctant to evacuate and leave her lovely things behind, so Glenda has to do some persuading to make her agree to do so. However, they discover all the glossy pages’ furniture has suddenly moved to block all the exits and won’t budge. Clearly, the price the catalogue intends them to pay is for them both to perish in the fire. However, Glenda manages to create an exit by throwing the catalogue itself out the window, which makes the flames at the window die down enough for them to escape through the window. Across the street, Glenda sees the evil woman is watching, and the woman is looking absolutely furious that she and her glossy pages have failed. However, the emergency services whisk Glenda and her mother away before Glenda gets a chance to retrieve the book and stop someone else from falling into its power.

A few days later, Glenda and her mother are discharged from hospital. Their old house got destroyed, so they are given a new one. Glenda’s mother is relieved that at least their new start will be an honest one, even if it is from scratch. Glenda went back for the catalogue, but failed to find it. Glenda does not know that Hilary picked up the book while dropping by to gloat over the destruction of her home, and recognised those mystery items of Glenda’s in it. And rich girl though she is, Hilary is tempted by the catalogue and sets out to make herself the envy of all the girls with it…

Thoughts

This particular “wish-fulfilment with the inevitable catch in it somewhere” story has been an enduring one in Tammy. On the Internet it still attracts positive comment and is clearly well remembered. One reason has to be that Pat Mills wrote it. Pat Mills has established himself as one of the best writers in British comics, such as in 2000AD, Battle and Misty. He has written many classics in girls’ comics, including ones from Jinty herself, such as “Land of No Tears” and “Concrete Surfer”.

The themes the story explores also help to make it an enduring one: greed, fantasy, temptation, rags-to-riches, bullying, jealousy, the supernatural, the macabre, and the threat of the Grim Reaper. The protagonists themselves are ones who remain sympathetic, even when the power of the catalogue leads them so much that their personalities begin to harden, they lose common sense and sight of themselves, and become increasingly consumed by the temptations the catalogue is offering. Glenda at least has enough sense and virtue to notice the warnings. It takes a while for her to heed the warnings enough to stop using the catalogue, not least because it is so hard to break away from having nice things for the first time in her life. But as the nightmare intensifies and the evil increasingly obvious, she finally finds the strength to do so.

Mrs Slade becomes even more consumed by greed than her daughter. This would be partly because she has not received increasing danger signals as Glenda had. But it could also be rooted in her once being a criminal. Glenda’s birth made her go straight and she clearly resolved to bring Glenda up so strictly about honesty that she would not follow that deviant path. Mum was successful there until the catalogue came along. The catalogue did not make Glenda an outright criminal, but it did corrupt her and make her stray off the honest path her mother set her on. Mum, meanwhile, is tempted because although she had stayed honest, she felt that going straight had not lifted her out of the poverty she and Glenda had always lived in and it never seemed to do her any real good. It was these feelings that made it so easy for the catalogue to tempt her.

The only truly good thing to come out of the catalogue was Glenda and her mother being given a new home and a new start. We hope it will be the start of a better life for them. In any case, we know Mum has returned to the straight path when she says that at least they will start honestly. And after they have been through with the catalogue, we imagine they will stick to the honest path even more assiduously.

At the end of the story, Hilary also falls into the grip of the catalogue. Unlike the Slades, however, we do not sympathise with her when she does so. In fact, we feel like hoping the catalogue will give Hilary her comeuppance. She already has plenty of things of her own, and unlike the Slades she can afford them because she is so rich. She has no real need for the catalogue, yet she is tempted all the same. The catalogue is clearly playing on Hilary having far less moral fibre than Glenda Slade and being a more nasty character. Throughout the story Hilary has been portrayed as nothing but a spoiled, bullying snob who is always out to stick her knife into Glenda, just because she is poor. Hilary does not even have an ounce of sympathy at Glenda losing her home: “What a shame the scruff’s house was burnt down – I don’t think.” If there were a sequel to this story, which there isn’t, we would like to see how the trouble Hilary gets into with the catalogue improves her personality and makes her nicer to Glenda by the end of the story.

The ending itself is a skilful one that makes the storytelling even more powerful. Instead of the catalogue being destroyed and never able to tempt anyone again, the story ends on a grim, ominous reminder that evil is continuous. In fact, we would not be at all surprised if this woman distributes these evil catalogues all over the place, targeting the people she thinks would be the easiest to tempt, like the poverty-stricken Slades.

Creepy Crawley (1977)

Sample Images

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Published: 9 April 1977 – 2 July 1977

Episodes: 13

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/ reprints: Katy 8–9; In de macht/ban van een broche [Under the Spell of a Brooch], Tina 1979 and Tina Topstrip 60 1984. Indonesian translation Dalam Cengkeraman Sebuah Bros [In the clutches of a brooch]

Plot

Jean Crawley is the star pupil of St Bridget’s. She always wins at everything and is very proud that nobody has ever beaten her. Then Jean meets her match in Mandy Collier, the team captain of the rival team at a hockey match, and is stunned to lose for the first time in her life. Then Mandy – horrors! – transfers to Jean’s school. So now Jean under serious threat from the girl who always seems to beat her, and she is not taking it well.

Then Jean stumbles across an antique shop and is drawn to an Egyptian scarab brooch. The owner tells her it belonged to an Egyptian princess named Neferitta, who lost her throne to a rival but used the power of the scarab to recover it. Jean disappears out of the shop with the brooch before she receives the book that accompanies it – or the owner’s warning that the brooch changed the princess’s personality for the worse while helping her regain her throne.

The brooch begins to push back Jean’s rival at school, but there are warning signs that it is dangerous and evil. For example, mysterious swarms of insects start hanging around Jean. Jean asks the scarab to help her against Mandy when Mandy starts to suspect her of underhandedness, whereupon bees attack Mandy and leave her badly stung while Jean is unharmed while going to the rescue. Jean’s misgivings – and guilty conscience – grow worse when she goes back to the shop to get the book about the brooch. Unfortunately most of the pages are tantalisingly missing. What remains warns that the power of the scarab gives its wearer power over all insects, which Neferitta used to defeat her rival. But the scarab also brought a curse to the land and not even the defeat of the rival stopped it. Terrified, Jean stops wearing the brooch.

However, when Jean is reminded of the threat Mandy poses to her, her jealousy resurfaces and she goes back to using the brooch. And after Jean saves Mandy from the bees, Mandy is fooled into thinking Jean is her friend, which makes it easier to work against her. Mandy is even more fooled when Jean is the only one who seems to be friendly to her when the other prefects send her to Coventry because they think Mr Collier bribed the headmistress with a grant to make Mandy a prefect. Which is precisely what Jean led them to think, of course.

Mysterious help from insects keeps cropping up to destroy Mandy whenever she threatens to score one over Jean. Termites destroy her wooden sculpture in an art competition, so Jean wins. Gnats attack Mandy while the class is on a pony trekking weekend.

However the latter backfires on Jean when it unwittingly puts Sheila in danger. Jean has to move fast to save her. Jean has a pang of conscience, telling the scarab it has changed her for the worse and now nearly killed Sheila, and wishing she’d never summoned its powers. Jean does not realise Sheila overheard what she was saying – and believes it.

But the power of the scarab is getting too strong for any twinge of conscience, as both Jean and Sheila discover when Sheila tries to hide the brooch. Another swarm of insects mysteriously appears and Jean finds herself compelled to open the window for them and they direct her to the brooch’s hiding place. Jean realises someone is on to her, but does not know who.

The pony trekking turned into a fiasco because of the insects, and the girls blame Mandy for it. As a result Mandy loses her prefect’s badge while still thinking Jean is her friend. The rival is being defeated, but now Jean suspects the scarab will not stop there.

Jean discovers it was Sheila who had rumbled her. After another incident with the scarab Jean decides she cannot destroy the brooch without destroying herself. So she now plots to get Mandy expelled in the hope this will break its power (obviously, she did not remember what the book said about nobody being safe from the scarab even after the defeat of the rival). And she scares and tricks timid Sheila into helping her do it, with blackmail. Jean’s plan is to wreck the costumes for the play and frame Mandy for it, with Sheila’s unsuspecting help.

Sheila caves in, wishing she had the confidence to stand up to Jean. Then she finds Jean’s incomplete book on the scarab brooch and recalls another copy somewhere. Next day, Jean’s plan succeeds in getting Mandy suspended. Worse, Jean engineered her plan so cleverly that Mandy thinks it was Sheila who framed her, and was behind all the trouble she has had. Too late Sheila realised what Jean’s plan was, but of course nobody, including Mandy, believes her when she tries to explain about the scarab.

However, Jean soon finds out she has miscalculated. Even with Mandy gone, she cannot break free of the scarab. Its power over her is getting stronger as it makes her ever more evil and turning her into a tyrant (like it had done with Neferitta, as it turns out). Jean is forcing all pupils to wear blazers at all times, even when the weather is boiling hot. When one pupil swats a fly Jean assaults her, because all insects are sacred to the scarab. Everyone, including the headmistress, now have second thoughts about Jean because of her strange conduct.

Sheila, now having read the other copy of the book, which was in her father’s library, knows Jean is going the same way as Neferitta after she deposed her rival, and every evil action she makes is strengthening the power of the scarab. But the worst is yet to come: the scarab has designs of power and conquest. It had Neferitta lead an invasion of insects, which means it intends to do the same with Jean. Sure enough, the scarab has Jean go to the insect house at the zoo to let all the insects loose for the invasion.

The scarab’s power over Neferitta was broken by her rival forgiving her, which means Mandy must do the same with Jean. But how can Mandy even forgive Jean when she does not even realise what Jean has done and thinks Sheila is responsible for her expulsion? Sheila goes to Mandy’s house to try to explain, but Mandy still does not listen. All Sheila can do is leave the book with her and hope. Eventually Mandy reads it, but she is not convinced.

Meanwhile Mandy’s parents have gone to a garden party at school to speak to the headmistress about getting Mandy reinstated, but are not successful (yet). Then the insect invasion strikes the school, and it’s got real nasties in it. There are locusts that make short work of the school garden and drive everyone into the school building, and bees and wasps that keep them trapped there, with Jean laughing at them. They all realise Jean is in the power of the evil scarab brooch.

Realising her parents are overdue, Mandy goes to the school to check things out. She sees the insect invasion and is finally convinced. She gets past the insects by way of an old air raid tunnel. When Mandy confronts Jean, Jean brags how she got rid of her. This clears Mandy’s name, but it does not make her conducive towards forgiveness. However, she does so when Mrs Crawley points out that the scarab brooch was responsible for Jean’s conduct.

Mandy’s forgiveness frees Jean, but it is only for the time being. Jean has been so weakened by the scarab that it could possess her again, and the insect invasion is still out there. The only way to stop the scarab altogether is to put it in a pyramid.

Fortunately Sheila checked out for a pyramid, and there is a pyramid-shaped summerhouse in the neighbourhood that was built by a Victorian eccentric. So Sheila, Jean and Mandy race to get to the pyramid, but find the insects have blocked the air raid tunnel. Jean uses the power of the brooch to command the insects to step aside.

As the pyramid comes into sight, Jean has grown so weak that she faints, and Mandy hurts her ankle. So it’s up to Sheila to bravely make the last lap of the journey while running the gauntlet with the insects. With the aid of a lucky accident, Sheila gets the scarab into the pyramid and its power is broken. The insects disperse and Sheila crushes the scarab underfoot to make sure nobody uses it again.

The school takes the view the scarab was responsible for everything, so no action is taken against Jean. However, Jean voluntarily steps down from her position as head girl – and announces that Sheila is her replacement. Sheila is surprised at this because she sees herself as a coward and timid person. Jean and Mandy say she is far more courageous than she thinks, and she proved it with her heroic deed.

Thoughts

Evil objects that take possession of girls and force them to do terrible things have a long tradition in girls’ comics. But this evil object has a far bigger agenda than simply making the protagonist its slave and forcing her to act nasty, or to enact revenge as some evil objects do, such as in “Slave of the Mirror”. This evil object is out for world conquest, and it is doing it by controlling all insects. When you think about it, that’s a really scary thought; there are millions more insects on the planet than there are people, and there are thousands of species of insects that can do untold damage to humans, from disease-spreading mosquitos and fleas to stinging bees and wasps. During the story we see the damage that even small groups of insects can do, such as Mandy’s wood carving being devoured by termites. If that is what the scarab could do with insects in small numbers, what could it do if it grows strong enough to control all the insects on the planet?

The scarab clearly could not do it unless the person who fell into its power had negative feelings that could be fed upon, nurtured, twisted, and intensified to turn that person into an evil personality who could be controlled while believing the scarab was helping her (or him) to get whatever she wanted, crush the person she hated, and raise her to power beyond imagining. It is unlikely that the scarab could have possessed either Jean or Neferitta if they had lost gracefully to their rivals. They needed to have feelings of hatred, anger and jealousy to begin with if the scarab was able to take control of them at all. As we watch how Jean’s personality worsens under the power we have to wonder if what the scarab is really doing is bringing to the surface what had always lurked there.

If the scarab was sentient (and perhaps it is) we see how extremely crafty it is in ensnaring Jean and gradually entrapping her as its slave. Jean surprises herself at how brilliant her schemes in defeating Mandy are getting and puts it down to the brooch. She thinks it is doing her tremendous favour. Even when Jean has surges of conscience or terror at the power of the scarab, it does not take much for them to be overcome. Jean senses the power of the scarab is growing, but at this stage it is getting too strong for her, and it is corrupting her with temptations of power. She does not realise that the scarab is just using her as a tool and playing upon her jealousy and increasing corruption to feed its strength and carry out its own agenda. One suspects that the scarab’s power would reach the stage where it would not even need Jean anymore.

Jean’s dominance over Sheila is not unlike how Stacey dominates Tania in The Slave of Form 3B. There is no mind control (though the scarab displays some powers of hypnotism, such as making the zoo keeper forget Jean’s break-in at the insect house), but it is still the power of an intimidating personality over a weaker one. Much of it stems from Sheila’s timidity and lack of self-confidence. She looks upon herself as a coward and has no backbone. Even after her heroism she still looks upon herself as a coward. It takes pep talk from Mandy and Jean afterwards to make her see the light. Sheila replacing Jean as head girl is akin to Tania replacing Stacey in the same position at the end of Slave of Form 3B, except that unlike Tania, Sheila has actually earned it. And it’s not just because of her heroism in getting the scarab to the pyramid. Though timid like Tania, she is more proactive than Tania and she is the one who is crucial to the resolution of the story by tracking down the full history of the brooch and (eventually) informing the others what they need to know. Though she knows Mandy will most likely slam the door in her face she bravely tries to talk to Mandy about the brooch and failing that, leaves the book with her.

The artwork of Trini Tinturé is always popular in Jinty, and it does a brilliant job in illustrating the evil that is growing in Jean as the brooch increasingly corrupts her. Tinturé has a long tradition of drawing evil flint-eyed brunettes in Jinty who have insanity or evil exuding from their very eyes and facial expressions, and this one is no exception. Tinturé would have done an amazing job of drawing the corrupted Princess Neferitta herself if she had been allowed some flashbacks instead of being just briefly discussed in the book. One does feel that there is an untold story in the case of Neferitta and it could make quite a story to see the story of the scarab-enslaved Neferitta and her rival told in full. Prequel, anyone?

Slave of the Mirror (1974-5)

Sample Images

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Slave of the Mirror

Published: 9 November 1974 – 12 April 1975 (20 episodes)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Translations/ reprints: De spiegel met de slangen [The Snakes Mirror] (in Tina 1976); translated into Greek in Manina.

Plot

In Cornwall, Mia Blake’s sister Janet has bought a run-down old 18th century house built by one Captain Scully and transformed part of it into a boarding house, “Scully House Private Hotel” (other parts are still shut up). There is a portrait of Scully on the wall, and he does not look very nice. Oh dear, could Mia and Janet be asking for trouble there?

Mia is expected to help out, but she is discontented and disgruntled at doing so. She feels Janet treats her like a dogsbody and does not even pay her, though she has the grace to understand that Janet would not mean it. She does not appreciate that the guesthouse is understaffed and Janet can’t afford more help until business takes off. Too bad Mia has those feelings, because they could have made her susceptible to what follows.

When Janet sends Mia up to the attic on an errand, she makes a discovery that proves fateful – an old mirror. The face that appears in it is not Mia’s reflection but the face of a young, beautiful woman. The woman’s identity and origins are as yet unknown, but she soon makes it clear she has powers to hypnotise Mia into playing dirty tricks that are aimed at driving off guests and giving the hotel a bad name. And the mirror also forces Mia to do things that are far worse than that, such as attempting to drown a dog in a well, drown a couple by scuttling their boat, stealing money from a guest, and ruining the Major’s reputation by forging a letter from him saying he cheated in a boat race. There are times when Mia does break free of the mirror’s control. For example, she stops herself killing the dog in time. The same goes for stealing the money, but Mia gets caught anyway, and so it’s another angry guest and another black mark on Scully Hotel. Mia scuttles the boat, but rescues the couple later.

Or perhaps it is because the mirror may have relented sometimes? There is a surprise when Mia realises what she did to the Major and confronts the mirror over it. The face in the mirror starts crying and helps her find a way to clear the Major. Could it be that the spirit is not as evil as it seemed? Whatever brought on the crying, though, it does not last. Soon the mirror is back to its usual tricks.

As only Mia can see the face in the mirror, she cannot convince Janet of what’s going on. Janet thinks her sister is turning delinquent or going crazy or something. Trying to dispose of the mirror or destroying it does not work either – the mirror always comes back. Janet’s losing guests and money because of all the trouble, and she is coming to the end of her tether with Mia. In the end, Mia is put in hospital because of her odd behaviour. Strangely, while Mia is in hospital two men spot her and they say she has what it takes to become a model. Afterwards they have her enter a beauty contest.

Mia’s on the verge of winning the contest when Janet comes up in a huff and yanks her out: “how dare you flaunt yourself in public like this!” Is Janet a prude or something? As Mia says, what’s the harm in a beauty contest? Janet won’t hear of Mia becoming a model either, saying she’s needed at the hotel. This time, Mia has more justification for feeling resentment towards Janet and slogging at the hotel for nothing in return – and that’s bound to increase the mirror’s hold over her.

Sure enough, Mia’s rage has her stealing money from another guest to enrol at modelling school because Janet won’t allow her the money for it. Fortunately she gets a free enrolment as a consolation prize from the contest, which means she can quietly return the money.

The mirror seems to be feeding and amplifying Mia’s own feelings of resentment. She perceives everybody being against her and Janet still treating her like a servant. Mia feels the mirror is sympathising with her there. Now Mia calls upon the mirror to help her with her own revenge against all the people she resents. She grows more violent and starts lashing out. When this happens in her modelling class, Mia is told that if it happens again she will be expelled.

Mia goes home still under the influence, which puts her in a black rage. This culminates in her slashing the portrait of Scully and screaming how much she hates him “you slave driver!” Hmm, could there be a clue there?

Meanwhile, Janet has hired a Spanish student named Inez to help with the guesthouse and take some of the pressure off Mia. Perhaps she thinks Mia has snapped under too much pressure and that’s why she’s acting out of character.

As it turns out, Inez is just the person to help Mia. Inez notices Mia’s odd behaviour when she stares into the mirror and begins to suspect the truth. Inez checks out the mirror with an antique dealer and they discover a note hidden inside it. It reveals that the mirror belonged to Isabella, an ancestress of Inez. In 1770 Isabella worked as a servant for Captain Scully. Sure enough, Scully was a horrible man. He treated Isabella very badly and when she fell ill, she was left to die of fever and neglect in her attic room. Before Isabella died, she wrote the note describing her treatment, how full of hate she is for the house and everyone who lives there, and made an oath to return from beyond the grave to have her revenge.

Now Mia knows the truth, she sympathises with Isabella and tries to tell Janet what’s been going on. But of course Janet doesn’t believe it. She sends Mia to her room. Instead, Mia goes to the attic where Isabella died, and the mirror and note are on her lap. Mia falls asleep where she starts reliving how Isabella suffered at the hands of Scully and was left to die from his neglect. She is full of rage and pity for Isabella. It is small wonder that when Mia wakes up, Isabella’s power is so strong that she has Mia set fire to the attic!

Inez finds Mia in her hypnotic state, which Mia snaps out of. Janet does not believe Mia’s story about being hypnotised and throws her out of the house. While Janet and Inez tackle the fire, Inez draws Janet’s attention to the mirror. Previously only Mia could see Isabella’s face in the mirror – but now both Inez and Janet can see it! And Isabella is crying. It seems Isabella has now repented to the point where she is showing herself to clear Mia’s name.

Meanwhile, Mia is guided towards Isabella’s grave. It just says “Isabella 1752–1770”. Inez follows Mia to the grave and suggests they pray for Isabella. Their prayers include pleas for Isabella to leave Mia alone and find peace. A ray of sun breaks through pouring rain and shines on Isabella’s grave. They take it as a sign that Isabella is happy now she has people who care for her at last.

Mia and Inez return to the house, where Janet says she now understands and asks Mia’s forgiveness. The face of Isabella in the mirror gives a loving smile, and then disappears from the mirror forever.

After the haunting stops, life becomes so good for everyone. Mia’s modelling career is now in full swing. She still works at the hotel, but now finds it enjoyable and works very happily with Inez and Janet. Isabella’s grave gets regular fresh flowers. The mirror is still around, but Mia is so happy that the only face she sees in it now is her own. The hotel is still called Scully House though – shouldn’t they change the name in light of what happened?

Thoughts

This serial has drawn comments that the acts Mia commits under the mirror’s influence are veiled excuses for delinquent behaviour. Still, the same could be said for any protagonist who falls under the power of an evil (or angry) force and is forced to do nasty things. One such victim, in Suzy’s “The Curse of Carmina” is actually sent away to a home for problem children because of the terrible things the evil object (in this case a puppet) is forcing her to do. Janet does not go this far, fortunately; the nearest is putting Mia in hospital.

There are strong similarities between this story and another malignant mirror story that appeared in Jinty several years later, “The Venetian Looking Glass”. It could well be the same writer. The protagonist, Lucy Craven finds a mirror that is haunted by an angry, vengeful spirit also named Lucy Craven, and Lucy Craven Snr hypnotises her into unleashing that revenge. Both stories climax with the protagonist being hypnotised into nearly burning the place down.

However, there are differences between how the two mirrors carry out their mayhem. The key one is that the Lucy Craven spirit can talk through her mirror but Isabella can’t speak through hers at all. As the Lucy Craven mirror can speak, it rapidly becomes established what the spirit wants and why. Lucy keeps trying to plead with her that she is hurting innocent people who have nothing to do with the ancient wrong. By contrast, Isabella can’t talk to Mia at all, so her identity and motives remain a mystery until near the end of the story. Furthermore, Mia can’t reason with Isabella that the people she is hurting have nothing to do with what Captain Scully did. All she can do is try to plead with the spirit not to force her to do things against her will. But most of the time they fall on deaf ears until near the end. Perhaps part of it was Janet bringing out the portrait of Captain Scully and calling the hotel Scully House. In Isabella’s eyes, this must have looked like a tribute to the very man who treated her so badly.

When the motives of the two respective spirits are established, one emerges as a far more sympathetic character than the other. Lucy Craven Snr brought the trouble on herself by being – to put it very bluntly – a bad-tempered bitch. By contrast, Isabella arouses sympathy because she was treated so badly by Captain Scully and her desire for revenge was understandable. Anyone decent would feel sorry for Isabella there. It is this sympathy that finally has Isabella resting in peace. Once she sees there are now people who care for her, something finally gets through to her.

Once Isabella’s motives are revealed it is also easier to understand the odd fluctuations of the spirit looking evil most times and then looking like it is having second thoughts now and then. The same thing has been seen over and over in “revenge” serials. In these serials there are moments when things go too far and innocents get hurt. These moments have the protagonist stop and think and maybe feel some remorse. Sometimes this is what turns her around. Other times the pause doesn’t last because the thirst for revenge resurfaces. Often the desire for revenge clouds their judgement and they do thoughtless, reckless and even dangerous things in the name of revenge. They do not stop think about the damage they are doing or the rights and wrongs of it all. Eventually, though, they learn their lesson.

Mia undergoes a whole new appreciation of life after the ordeal ends. In the beginning she’s completely negative in her outlook, discontented at working at the hotel and feels she’s being used as a servant. These negative attitudes could be why the mirror opened up to her in the first place and why she succumbed to its power. No doubt it is one reason why the mirror’s influence gets so powerful. It amplifies Mia’s bad feelings to the point of insanity; it has similar feelings, so it would empathise with Mia. At the end Mia has a positive attitude and really enjoys working in the hotel with Inez to help out. Being a successful model almost seems redundant. Even without the modelling job we feel Mia would be much happier at the hotel after the haunting ceases. After all, now she’s seen a real dogsbody at the hotel who was treated like a real slave, she would appreciate how lucky she is. She also comes away looking far smarter and more beautiful now that she is a full-fledged model.

Slave of the Clock (1982)

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Slave of the Clock

Publication 17 July 1982 – 30 October 1982 (skipped an episode in Tammy 25 September 1982)

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: this Tammy story is credited to Jay Over, who also wrote Jinty‘s long-running school soap opera, “Pam of Pond Hill”. As we will see, there are also a few thematic similarities between this story and others in Jinty, raising intriguing questions about what else Jay Over may have written in this comic.

Plot: Alison Thorne is a talented dancer, but that’s not the main focus of her interest; she’s a very active girl who enjoys all sorts of things, such as art and socialising with her friends. Dancing is great fun – the first thing we hear from Alison is “Dancing makes me feel good from top to toe!” – but we also hear her think straight afterwards “I’ll have to get a move on if I’m to make it to the Youth Club on time!” In short, she’s a happy-go-lucky girl who isn’t driven by ambition or focused on talent. This isn’t a problem to her, or to her parents either, and it wouldn’t be an issue for most people. Her ballet teacher Miss Dempster, though, has ambitions on Alison’s behalf (and some ambitions for her own fame as a teacher too). Dempster takes her pupil along to creepy Miss Margolia, who promptly hypnotises Alison so that the ticking of a clock will make her think of dancing… and only of dancing… as immediately shown when some friends come round to Alison’s house the next morning and put a clock to her ear to wake her up.

Thereafter, any ticking clock will not only force Alison to dance, but also to lose awareness of her surroundings. That first time, her friends leave her dancing, because she pays no attention to them, and she doesn’t even realise they have been and gone. At the next dance class, Miss Dempster is annoyed and disappointed to see that Alison is still not giving her whole-hearted attention to the class, but then she doesn’t know yet what the real key to Alison’s slavery is – the ticking clock. Another player is about to join the story, though – a girl called Kathy, who has sadly been injured and cannot herself dance any more. Alison, fairly nobly to be honest, thinks to herself that she should be careful to take Kathy’s mind off dancing by focusing on other activities. Once again, a ticking clock – this time a wristwatch – makes Alison dance at an inopportune moment – this time, when Kathy arrives. Not surprisingly, all present think Alison is just showing off in front of Kathy, very cruelly.

Alison manages to smooth over the awkwardness and persuade Kathy that she will have fun staying at their house. I expect she would do, to, but at the same time, Miss Dempster is on the phone to Madame Margolia asking what can have gone wrong with the hypnotism – and as a result, installing a damn great cuckoo clock into her dance studio… Alison nearly doesn’t hear the clock at all as she is keenly getting involved with the local youth club show for which she has firmly ruled out dancing as an option, but she has to go around town putting up posters, and Miss Dempster gets her into the studio on that basis. And of course as soon as she hears the clock, off she goes again…

This sets the pattern for the upcoming plot: Kathy gets crosser and more upset because she thinks she is being messed around, Alison gets more upset because she is mysteriously blacking out and finding herself aching the next day as if she has danced for hours, and Miss Dempster is gleeful because she is getting her way. There is a temporary moment of guilt on the ballet teacher’s part when she feels bad about making Alison dance to her command, but as soon as the prospect of a rich new pupil arises, she gets Alison to perform once again (with a ticking clock around her neck). Not that this works out the way Dempster expects – Alison is put in positive danger by her dancing unaware of her surroundings (Kathy has to rescue her from possibly falling into a swimming pool) and of course Kathy and Alison are thus enabled to band together and realise what must be happening, unlikely though it seems. (I don’t think the rich pupil was very impressed by the relentless and absorbed dancing either! so probably no win for la Dempster on that front either.)

Alison’s parents don’t believe the wild story that the two girls bring to them, of course, but the two friends go off to find and confront Madame Margolia. But Dempster meets them outside the house, and tells them that Madame Margolia has been taken ill – and died! Will Alison never escape the curse of the ticking clock? Seemingly not – even if she is not dancing all the time, her parents are now resorting to taking her to hospital for mental treatment – and a sticking wheel on a hospital trolley triggers her off dancing again, so perhaps the curse is even getting stronger. However, it is in the hospital that they find Madame Margolia – seriously ill, but not dead (what a surprise to find that Miss Dempster lied – not!). Not that they can do anything to contact her, because Alison is whisked off to see the (very unsympathetic) doctor, who says that all this forced dancing is purely in her mind, because she is scared of failing her dance exams – and therefore her parents make her take more dance lessons, with – guess who? Miss Dempster of course. Alison pleads to do her exams with any other teacher rather than her tormentor, but her father replies: “Considering the cruel accusations you’ve made against her, I think Miss Dempster’s a fine person to take you back and help you.” So not only has she to face the cause of her problems, she even has to be grateful to that person?! That’s a nasty twist.

In fact the lessons go surprisingly well, though of course at first Alison is trembling like a leaf and hardly fit to dance. Miss Dempster is feeling guilty again and forebearing to use the power of the clock, and Alison gradually relaxes more and enjoys dance again. Temptation falls in Miss Dempster’s path once again though – can she get Alison into the International Ballet School, where it’s been her dream to have a pupil? By now we know how weak la Dempster’s will is, of course. And yes, the climax of the story is that although Alison had started to happily believe she was cured of the dancing fits, instead she is once again made to dance, for her teacher’s benefit not her own. This time the International Ballet School judges clearly reject Alison’s mechanical, hypnotic dancing, making it very clear just how misguided Miss Dempster’s actions are on all fronts – and a surprise guest appears in the form of a wheel-chair bound Madame Margolia. Alison is finally cured, though Margolia and Dempster require the two friends’ silence as their part of the bargain. There is a last reward for faithful sidekick Kathy though – the limp she has had since her injury is psychosomatic, so Margolia is able to cure her of it with one last application of (benign) hypnotism.

Thoughts: There are some silly aspects to this story – hypnotism is intrinsically an over-the-top trope, and this has the hypnotic subject nearly dancing to her death, which can strike the reader as absurd. On closer read, though, it is a pretty disturbing story, not to say chilling.

The main feature of it is perhaps that it is a ‘grownups know best’ story: protagonist Alison is quite happy as she is, and there is objectively nothing wrong with her, but a grown-up has other ideas of what’s best, and rides rough-shod over the girl protagonist’s clearly-expressed desires and aims. Miss Dempster thinks that it is a waste that Alison doesn’t use her dancing talent; in just the same way, Susie Cathcart’s grandmother thinks that Susie should be using her intellect rather than her gymnastic skill, and so makes her into the “Prisoner of the Bell“.  Similarly, headmistress Purity Goodfellow uses her mystic drug to turn the schoolchildren of Edenford into a paradise along the lines that she deems best – even if the girls need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the infirmary where she will administer the drug. I could continue with more examples – for instance “Battle of the Wills” also has a determined grandmother who makes her granddaughter practice hated ballet rather than the gymnastics that she loves, though no mind-control is seen in that story. It is not the most frequent story theme in this comic, but you can see how it would strike a chord with the readers. It’s striking not only that the girl character expresses her desires clearly and unmistakably, but also that the grown-up simply dismisses them as foolish, worthless, clearly unacceptable – and other grown-ups are likely to be persuaded into this view too, even if they had started out on the side of the (actually perfectly nice and normal) protagonist.

Of course, the grown-up is pretty clearly shown not to have known best, in the end. As with Miss Dempster, their manipulations clearly fail on their own terms, and don’t produce the desired result even if they had seemed promising initially – free will does triumph over coercion, though it’s a long road in getting there. That’s pretty subversive to me, in a kids’ comic – it’s not just saying that grownups can get it wrong, but that they can positively be against you even when they’re not obviously evil. Dempster is very chilling – she is not as witchy-looking as Madame Margolia (a stately crone if ever I saw one), but she just doesn’t seem to care about Alison, except in flashes that are overcome all-too-easily. It’s a proper emotional abuse story, done quite strikingly. Dempster persuades herself that it’s for the right reasons, or that it will be worth it in the end, but not only does she ignore Alison’s stated wishes and aims, she disregards the pleas and the begging that the girl is driven to by the end. Lies and the use of her power for her own ends – Dempster does not look or act conventionally evil, never descending to cackling, but she is inhumanly self-absorbed nevertheless. Madame Margolia is far from innocent (quite apart from having applied the hypnotism in the first place, she also demands silence as her payment for taking it off, which is pretty much barefaced cheek on her part) but she can see the cost of the slavery much more clearly than her younger associate. If Dempster ever got the power to do hypnosis herself, I would be far more worried for the fictional world than with it staying in Margolia’s hands!

Shadow on the Fen (1978)

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Fen 1

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Publication: 18 February 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Unknown (but see thoughts)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #25 as “The Witchfinder”

Plot

Linden James and her family have just moved to the village of Wychley Green, but things aren’t off to a good start for her. She misses her old home and isn’t making friends because they think she’s standoffish. At the Wishing Tree she wishes for a friend, without much hope of getting one.

But then a girl from the 17th century appears. Her name is Rebecca Neville and her evil cousin, Matthew Hobley “The Witchfinder”, has accused her of witchcraft. Part of it is Rebecca having her grandmother’s ‘healing hands’ and treating sick people and animals with them. But the real reason is that Hobley is after her inheritance. Hobley was leading a witch-hunting mob against her all the way up to the Wishing Tree, and she suddenly found herself in Linden’s time. Linden draws the conclusion that it was the Wishing Tree. She tells Rebecca that she is quite safe here because people here don’t believe in witches anymore. Rebecca is upset to find her home in ruins and her grandmother’s grave (which does not give the date of her death). However, she moves in with Linden, swapping her 17th century clothes for modern ones and school uniform happily enough.

But soon there are warning signs that Hobley has followed Rebecca into the 20th century. During a thunderstorm, they are terrified when a frightening silhouette that looks like a Puritan appears in a mirror. Soon the same shadow is following them about. And Linden, who is confident that Hobley can’t stir up people against Rebecca in this period because people no longer believe in witches, is soon to learn otherwise.

It begins when the school visits an archaeological dig, which Rebecca realises is unearthing an apothecary’s shop. The Witchfinder attacks with a pile of bricks, which narrowly misses Rebecca and the Professor in charge of the dig. The classmates blame Rebecca and start to whisper she is a witch. She gets particular trouble from the wayward Smith boys. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a ring on a trap door that could lead to something.

Linden buys a witchball (an old charm against witches) for her mother’s birthday. On the way back from the shop the shadow of the Witchfinder appears. Linden threatens him with the witchball and he retreats. They now have a protection against the Witchfinder, but odd attacks start at Linden’s home and seem to be targeting the witchball.

The whispering against Rebecca gets worse when she offers to help Mrs Perks look for her cat while the Smith boys tease Mrs Perks over it. Mrs Perks is also rumoured to be a witch because she is psychic. They help Mrs Perks find her cat and in return Mrs Perks reads Rebecca’s palms. She says Rebecca has healing hands and warns her that there is an evil shadow pursuing her.

The dig uncovers a box that contains items from the apothecary. Among them is a gold locket belonging to the apothecary’s granddaughter Catherine. Catherine was a friend of Rebecca’s, and she and the apothecary stood up to Hobley for her. Then the Professor uncovers a document listing the names of people brought to trial for witchcraft – and Rebecca’s name is on the list! This renews the rumours that Rebecca is a witch. Linden covers up by saying the other Rebecca must be an ancestress, which calms things down. But they wonder how the list got there.

That question is answered when the Witchfinder turns up in person at school, posing as Professor Hopkin who has joined the dig. Linden and Rebecca learn that Catherine searched Hobley’s room for false evidence against Rebecca and stole the list. But she was discovered, so she, the apothecary and their cat were hanged as friends of a witch. However, Catherine is not quite finished – her ghost appears when the Witchfinder traps them at the fen and gets help for them.

They now realise the Witchfinder must be a wizard in his own right and turn to Mrs Perks for help. The Witchfinder tries to scare them with ghosts, but the ghosts fade when they approach Grandmother Neville’s grave, and they figure it must offer protection against the Witchfinder. Mrs Perks helps them figure out the secret of the Witchfinder’s power – a box containing a black wand, a black book and a book bound in black leather. If they destroy those items, they destroy the Witchfinder.

They discover that the Witchfinder/Hopkin has gone into hiding. Mrs Perks suggests he may be at Deepdene Cottage and gives Rebecca a cross and rowan flowers for protection. She says the cross was carved by an ancestor, whose wife became one of Hobley victim’s – so she has her own score to settle with Hobley.

They find the box at the cottage but are attacked by the Witchfinder’s minions – ravens and vicious dogs. They manage to retrieve the wand and destroy it. But the Witchfinder still has the book and knife.

Mrs Perks tracks down the box again, but the Witchfinder attacks in person – and right in front of the Smith boys. Linden repels him with the cross, and they destroy his book. But he gets away with the knife.

Mrs Perks ends up in hospital. The Witchfinder gave the Smith boys such a fright that they have reformed and are looking after Mrs Perks’ garden. Mrs Perks warns the girls that the Witchfinder will be even more dangerous now because he is frightened, and they still have to destroy the knife. Their search for him goes nowhere, and now he sends a mist that cuts off the village from the rest of the world.

Rebecca heads back to the Wishing Tree on her own, figuring that is where she will find Hobley and the knife. She finds the knife, but has forgotten her cross. So she is unprotected when he emerges, ready to drag her back to their own time and burn her at the stake.

However, Linden discovers the oversight, heads to the Wishing Tree with the cross, and arrives in the nick of time. As she flourishes the cross, lightning strikes. The Wishing Tree is destroyed and Hobley is reduced to bones, which crumble within the hour, leaving only his hat. But there is no sign of Rebecca.

Then Linden finds a book Rebecca left for her. It contains a reference to a statue in the churchyard that is a tribute to Rebecca. It reveals she survived Hobley’s persecution, became Rebecca Bartlett, and died a noble old lady at 77. Linden is relieved to know Rebecca got back safely and goes to put flowers on her grave. She finds the epitaph reflects their whole adventure: “Time and Death are illusions – but Friendship survives forever”.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a cut above the formula about evil sorcerers/witches who use their evil magic to wreak havoc while the protagonists try to stop them, and it almost invariably ends with the sorcerer/witch being destroyed. But there is always a lot of dark, spooky, scary stuff along the way, and this can leave panels that resonate with the reader years after she reads the story.

Shadow on the Fen is using the formula to make a serious statement about witch-hunting and where the evil really lies – with the accused or the accuser? Its strongest underscoring in this regard is in the hypocrisy of it all – the Witchfinder accusing people of being evil witches while he is the one who is an evil wizard. There is humour in the irony in that the Witchfinder is the one who is allergic to the things that are supposed to repel witches – witchballs, rowan and crucifixes. It further underlines the hypocrisy. While real witch-finders could hardly have been evil wizards, they were certainly evil people who would go to any lengths, such as heinous torture, to make a bounty and a fortune.

The story also touches on human psychology and how much we have actually outgrown the thinking that sent people to the stake for witches in olden times. And how far has Wychley Green itself outgrown it? For example, are the rumours against Mrs Perks the product of stupid, ignorant people, or could there still be traces of witch-beliefs in Wychley Green? Lingering witch-beliefs in modern villages have formed the basis of several ‘persecution’ serials such as Wenna the Witch and Mark of the Witch!

The story should be appreciated for taking a few moments to depict witches as they really were – wise women who helped people with charms, folk magic and herbal remedies. They were not agents of the Devil – a myth invented by the Inquisition – but their healing practices made them ready targets for accusations of witchcraft. When Rebecca first meets Linden, she recounts how several people in her time went this way, and her own healing abilities have made her vulnerable to the same accusation.

The name of Matthew Hobley and his alias, Professor Hopkin, are clearly references to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. The fact that Hobley turned out to really be a dark wizard may be a reference to the (probably apocryphal) legend that Hopkins was declared a wizard by his own witch-hunting methods and executed.

Several years later the theme of the Witchfinder General resurfaced in Tammy, with Spell of Fog, 29 October 1983 – 17 December 1983. This time, though, it is Hopkins himself. A film crew want to make a film about one of his victims, Alice Compton. Sally Groves, who has been deeply affected by the Compton case, protests when the director announces he is making a sensationalised version that depicts Alice as an actual agent of the Devil, not a hapless victim of superstition and hysteria.

Then a strange fog appears where Alice’s remains have been scattered. Its power cuts the village off from the outside world and has the village progressively reverting to a 17th century pattern in technology, dress and people’s thinking. Hysteria erupts in the village as the fog takes hold and people think it’s Alice’s revenge. Sally is the obvious scapegoat because she alone has remained unaffected, so she becomes a target of mob attacks and people calling her a witch. Eventually the fog takes over completely and the persecution of Alice Compton is re-enacted, with Sally as Alice and the film director as Hopkins.

But it turns out the power behind the fog is neither Alice nor Hopkins – it’s the villagers who burned Alice at the stake. They acted out shame and guilt over what they did, but also to remind the modern villagers that witch-hunting is not something that belongs in the past. It can erupt in any day and age because the psychology behind it (unreason, prejudice and fear of what you do not understand) is in every human. (Yes, you only have to look at things like the Red Scares and Satanic Ritual Abuse Scares to know what they mean.) They leave the villagers with a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of their fears.

There are similarities between Fen and Fog – witchfinders, evils of witch-hunting and mass hysteria, and supernatural forces and mists that cut off villages from the outside world and turn modern people into witch-hunting idiots of olden times – that have me wondering if it is the same writer. The mist in Fog sounds like a step up from the fog in Fen – going from what seems a belated last-ditch effort on the part of the Witchfinder to becoming the driving force of the entire plot. The credits for Fog list Jake Adams as the writer and George Anthony (actually, Tony Coleman) as the artist.

Fog 1Fog 2Fog 3

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Who’s That in My Mirror? (1977)

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Mirror 1

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Mirror 3

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Publication: 30/7/77-1/10/77 (also translated into Spanish twice, under the titles “The Ghost in the Mirror” and “The Other side of the Mirror”)

Artist: Tom Hurst

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Magda Morrice has the face of an angel but the heart of a devil. She schemes her way to anything she wants and her pretty face belies it all to everyone. She gets jealous when Janie Gray wins the third form prize for fashion design and deliberately puts a dent in it. She then quietly takes the trophy from Janie, under pretext of having it mended. Later, at the market, she tricks her way into acquiring a mirror she fancies.

But when Magda gets the mirror home, she is surprised to find that the mirror is reflecting two images of her! She does not realise that the second face is actually a reflection of the devil in her – not yet, anyway.

The reflection takes a hand in helping Magda with her schemes. These are designed to take advantage of Janie and pretend to be friends with her while stealing Janie’s work and passing it off as her own, while sabotaging Janie’s other work to make her look bad in the eyes of their fashion teacher, Miss Winn. She also pretends to Janie that her mother is ill (and even gives her mother a dose of food poisoning to complete the effect) in order to pull Janie’s heart-strings and cadge off her for things such as a sewing machine. And she is very slick at pulling the wool over the eyes of Miss Winn, who thinks she is improving marvellously while Janie seems to be losing it.

But while the face continues to help Magda, it also grows increasingly ugly, evil-looking and frightening.

Magda catches on to what is happening in the mirror and tells the reflection that she is going to change so the reflection will be pretty too. But the reflection just sneers at her – and it is right. Magda soon finds she cannot change the things she has started without getting into trouble. Besides, she has gained things out of them, such as receiving accolades from Marcus Greg, a famous theatrical designer. She is soon lapsing into her scheming ways.

Now Magda has had enough of the terrifying face and tries to get rid of the mirror. But it always finds its way back to her – more of its powers. So Magda smashes it instead. She is puzzled as to why the mirror does not resist her as she throws a rock down on it.

But she soon finds out! Far from ridding herself of the face, she finds the face is following her everywhere! Every time she looks a mirror, pane of glass or anything reflective, she sees that face. It is getting uglier by the minute, and bigger too. It is such a nightmare that Magda can’t sleep and isn’t brushing her hair because of that hideous reflection in the mirror. People notice what a state Magda is in but of course Magda can’t explain why. The only way out seems to be to confess, but she is too caught up in what she has started to change anything now, and not with accolades from Mr Greg in person. Morever, she can’t quite work up enough courage to confess.

And there are still traces of Magda’s selfish, scheming old ways left in her. Eventually she gets so afraid of discovery that she takes her latest work and Janie’s (some costumes) to school with the intent of destroying the evidence.

But it is then that the worst happens. The pile of costumes suddenly comes alive, and it has that hideous face for a head! The strange monster is now coming towards Magda and seems to be about to speak to her.

Magda is so terrified that she faints.

When she comes to, Miss Winn is standing over her. Magda is so terrified that she finally makes a full confession to Miss Winn, Janie and then her mother. Miss Winn is all for punishing Magda (if only she knew), but Janie is forgiving and still wants to be friends. Magda returns the trophy she tricked Janie out of. As it has to go back at the end of term, she decides to buy Janie a replica she can keep forever, as a way of making it up to her.

When Magda next looks in a mirror, she finds the hideous face has gone. Hers is the only reflection now. But she resolves to be as good as she looks from now on – in case it comes back.

Thoughts

Now this is one story that takes established formulas and does a take on them to give us something fresh and different.

The first is what I call “the sweet-faced schemer” formula. Cunning schemers who get away with murder because they look so pretty, angelic and innocent have abounded in girls’ comics. They cropped up regularly in DCT titles, such as “Move Over, Maria” (Bunty) and “The Truth about Wendy” (Mandy). Sometimes they have been regulars, such as “Angela Angel-Face” (Sandie). Perhaps the most cunning sweet-faced schemer of them all was Carol in Jinty’s “Concrete Surfer”. This schemer was so cunning that not even her victim, Jean was sure if she was a real schemer or victim of misunderstandings until the climax of the story where Carol finally slips up.

The general focus in these stories is to catch out the schemer, and it is not easy. They are so slick, manipulative and innocent-looking that they have everyone around their little fingers (or play tricks to put them out of the way). But here the focus is on reforming the scheming girl and making her as nice as she looks.

And here is the second thing that is unusual about this story. Stories dealing with turning unsavoury girls around usually deal with girls who are spoiled, selfish, snobby or arrogant. Seldom do they deal with a girl who is downright nasty or scheming. But this is the case here. And it is one of the rare serials I have seen where a sweet-faced schemer does change her ways. Usually they just get caught out at long last and are expelled or whatever.

The third is the evil influence formula. Instead of forcing a nice girl into doing terrible things, which is what normally happens in evil influence stories, the influence actually seems to be helping an already nasty girl with her machinations. In the early episodes, readers may have felt a sense of outrage at the mirror helping a scheming girl. Shouldn’t she be getting her comeuppance or something from this mirror? But as the face grows increasingly hideous, readers must have reconsidered and wondered if this story would go the comeuppance way after all.

Magda’s reactions to the image are realistic in that she doesn’t change all at once. One reason for this is that she doesn’t quite know how without getting herself into trouble. Another is that her old ways keep resurfacing. She tells herself that she will have to make up for things some other time, but of course that is just bandaid treatment for a rousing conscience and does not stop the evil image from haunting her. It continues right up to the end, where Magda decides to destroy the evidence – but it is then that the evil image threatens to do its worst. Magda realises she must act now, or goodness know what might happen.

The intentions of the evil image are a bit confusing. The evil reflection encourages and abets Magda’s own evil. Yet at the same time it seems to be scaring Magda into changing her ways with its deteriorating, frightening appearance. It is not like other evil mirror stories that have appeared over the years. Girls either see a reflection in the mirror that is not their own but means big trouble (such as in “The Venetian Looking Glass” and “Slave of the Mirror” from Jinty), or the mirror creates evil reflections that set about taking over (“The Evil Mirror”, Girl series 2). But here the reflection is a reflection of the girl’s own evil that seems to start off helping her and then progressively scares the living daylights out of her. Furthermore, other stories where an object reflects a girl’s evil tend to do so in a reproving manner. One example is Mandy’s “Portrait of Pauline”, where Pauline’s new portrait starts reflecting her selfish nature and then her progress and setbacks in changing her ways. But this is not the case here. Rather, the image reflects Magda’s evil in a manner that flourishes in Magda’s evil. Maybe the answer lies in what would have happened if the image had spoken to Magda in the end, or if Magda had not confessed. But we never find out because Magda finally does the right thing in the nick of time.

What was the purpose in a magic mirror that behaves like that? Is it an evil mirror that feeds off people’s evil? Is it a magic designed to punish evil people in a rather unorthodox manner? Was it the result of magic that went a bit wrong? Was it designed to be some “monkey’s paw” thing? Or was it something else? We never know because the origins of the mirror are left unexplained and the image never speaks to Magda – assuming that was its intention in the final episode.

Still, it’s a different take on the evil influence theme, and we like the serial for that.

The theme of an unpleasant girl being haunted by evil-looking faces that turn out to be distorted reflections of herself – or perhaps reflections of the evil inside her – has cropped up in the “Strangest Stories Ever Told”. “The Face of Greed” (Tammy 4 October 1975; reprinted as a Gypsy Rose tale in Jinty 8 November 1980) and “Marcia’s ‘Ghost’” (Tammy 22 March 1980) are two examples, and there are probably more elsewhere. But those were complete stories. This is one occasion where I have seen the idea explored in a serial.

The art has been credited to Tom Hurst following Ruth’s comment below.

Note: This is the only Jinty story drawn by Tom Hurst.

Cursed to be a Coward! (1977)

Sample images

Cursed 1

Cursed 2

(click thru)

Cursed 3

(click thru)

Publication: 13/8/77-29/10/77

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #21 as “The Fortune Teller”; Tina Topstrip #49 as Zoals de waarzegster voorspelde (As the fortune teller predicted)

Plot
Ever since infancy Marnie Miles has shown promise as a brilliant swimmer like her late father, and Mum encourages her. At her new school, Marnie becomes one of the best swimmers at “The Mermaids”, the school swimming club, and can’t get enough of water.

That is, until she meets Madame Leo, a sinister-looking fortune-teller. Madame Leo makes a prophecy for Marnie’s cousin Babs: “I see falling, falling…there is much danger.” A year later it comes true when a plank falls on Babs and leaves her crippled. Then Madame Leo turns up again and seems to be shadowing Marnie, warning her that they will meet again in a week. And a week later, at the school fete, Madame Leo shows up and scares Marnie with another prophecy: “You are going to end up in blue water!” Marnie flees the tent in terror. She also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

Marnie takes the prophecy to mean that she is going to drown in blue water. As a result, she develops hydrophobia (fear of water). When she fails a drowning child because of it and people call her a coward, she believes she is now “cursed to be a coward” by that fortune-teller.

The hydrophobia just gets worse and worse. Marnie won’t cross a puddle because she is too terrified of water. She begs the bus driver to let her out once she sees it is about to cross a river of blue water. At a high-diving event she asks for a rubber ring! As Marnie’s hydrophobia intensifies, so do the problems it creates. She failed to help that drowning child because she is too terrified of water. As the word spreads, the girls at school gang up on her, calling her a coward. Their bullying intensifies along with Marnie’s hydrophobia. Not even the presence of Marnie’s mother makes the bullies back off, and Marnie finds “COWARD” daubed on her house. Miss Frame, the swimming coach, is surprised at Marnie’s behaviour she seems to be losing her nerve or something. At home, Mum can’t understand why Marnie is suddenly turning against water and giving up on swimming. Marnie won’t tell Mum because she doesn’t want Mum to worry.

Marnie tries to fight back against the curse that seems to be turning her into a coward, but her hydrophobia is too strong. She turns to Babs for help, and Babs agrees to a cover story for Marnie giving up on swimming.

But the problem is still there, so Marnie decides to go back to Madame Leo to see if Madame Leo is willing to redress the problem. Marnie just finds the crystal ball, which shows a rather vague image of her waving her arms around. Marnie thinks it shows her drowning and takes off in a fright, not realising Madame Leo has seen her.

When Marnie participates in a high-diving event, Madame Leo turns up in the gallery and terrorises her with reminders of the prophecy. Marnie faints and falls right off the diving board! She is rescued, and now tells her mother the truth. Mum tries to track down Madame Leo but fails, and loses her job as a result.

Then Mum gets a housekeeper’s job with Mr Rennie. He has a swimming pool. The water there is green, not blue, so Marnie decides the water is safe for her to swim in and get back in training. Mr Rennie encourages Marnie.

Marnie now tells Miss Frame the truth. Mum allows Miss Frame to resume coaching of Marnie, but on strict condition that she is not to leave Marnie for a moment. However, Madame Leo disguises herself as a cleaner and diverts Miss Frame by knocking a photograph of one Lorna Gray, one of the former school swimming champions, off the wall and into the water. While Miss Frame is busy with the photograph, Madame Leo tries to drown Marnie and would have succeeded but for some fast resuscitation from Miss Frame. The police are called in but do not take the complaint seriously and Madame Leo denies it all. However, when Madame Leo was trying to drown Marnie, she reveals why she hates her. It is because Marnie bears a striking resemblance to Lorna, a girl Madame Leo has hated for 30 years. She does not say why she hates Lorna.

Babs and Marnie go to the fete to confront Madame Leo. Babs urges Marnie to try and break her crystal ball. But this just gets them into trouble with the police and another triumph for Madame Leo, who is now terrorising Marnie with threats of the prophecy and attempts at drowning her at every turn.

Then Mr Rennie dies, and he leaves Marnie and her mother a legacy – a houseboat called Blue Water. Marnie realises that this is what the prophecy means by “blue water” and has nothing to do with drowning. She starts dancing for joy (revealing what she was actually doing in the crystal ball) and is now cured of her hydrophobia.

However, Madame Leo is lurking nearby. She knew the truth about Blue Water all along, and now sees the game is up. She makes a last-ditch, desperate effort to drown Marnie. But it backfires when Madame Leo misses Marnie, goes into the water, and Marnie ends up saving her from drowning! A policeman was watching, so Madame Leo is finally arrested.

Afterwards it is established that the reason Madame Leo hated Lorna Gray and took it out on Marnie is that she (wrongly) blamed Lorna for her sister’s drowning at the seaside 30 years ago. It is not revealed as to why Madame Leo blamed Lorna or why she was wrong to do so. Madame Leo’s reaction to being rescued by Marnie and her ultimate fate are not recorded. But for Marnie, there is no looking back. Her classmates apologise for calling her a coward once they hear about her rescuing Madame Leo and hail her as a heroine for it. Marnie is back with the Mermaids. She is soon winning championships for the school and is looking forward to a swimming career with the help of Blue Water.

Thoughts

Alison Christie is better known for writing emotional, tear-jerker stories in girls’ comics. So it was a surprise to learn that she wrote this thriller story featuring a psychotic would-be killer, a tormented, persecuted girl turning into a nervous wreck from hydrophobia and being constantly harassed, and elements of the supernatural abounding with the prophecy, crystal balls, psychic powers and premonitions. And it’s all brought off brilliantly with the artwork of Mario Capaldi, whose artwork really brings off insanity and pathological hatred that is consuming Madame Leo, and what a creepy, sinister crone she is, even before she has started harassing Marnie. Madame Leo is the only villainous fortune-teller to appear in Jinty, and in her we see the antithesis of Gypsy Rose, the resident gypsy clairvoyant in Jinty. Imagine if we got the two together.

Christie’s handling of the prophecy was spot on. It was exactly how the prophecy should work – a riddle filled with double meanings. The recipient of the prophecy takes what appears to be the obvious meaning, so it comes as a twist and surprise to the recipient (and the readers) when the prophecy turns out to mean something entirely different. Macbeth is a classic example of this. But unlike Macbeth, the twist was good for Marnie. And it looked like there were some unexpected twists for Madame Leo as well; she had long since foreseen what “blue water” truly meant, but she did not foresee her life being saved by the girl she was trying to kill, or that she would fail in her hate campaign.

One of the best conceptions of this story is Marnie’s personality, how it makes her so vulnerable to Madame Leo’s curse, and how this is structured in the buildup in the first episode. When Marnie and Babs first visit Madame Leo at the fair, we immediately see how impressionable and suggestible Marnie is. In the first place, she is not even keen to visit the fortune-teller because that sort of thing scares her, but Babs insists. And Madame Leo strikes Marnie as a sinister-looking woman even before Madame Leo starts terrorising her. Marnie is far more terrified at Babs’s prophecy than Babs is, and when it is fulfilled, Marnie is in no doubt about Madame Leo’s powers. When Madame Leo shows up and tells Marnie they will meet in a week, Marnie gets even more scared – not least because of the way Madame Leo looks at her. Even before Marnie meets Madame Leo at the school fete, she suddenly finds herself shaking for no reason. And Madame Leo does not just tell Marnie the prophecy – she seizes her and forces her to listen when Marnie wants to get the hell out of there without any fortunes told, thank you very much. When Marnie gets out, she is not just scared – she also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

And is she cursed? In the end it is revealed that this is not the case because Marnie misconstrued the prophecy. So it was Marnie’s imagination and suggestibility, being so easy to scare, getting all wound up by that creepy fortune-teller and her prophecy, and getting odd feelings of foreboding that could be anything from real sixth sense to superstitious imagination. But until then, we readers are left to wonder if she really is cursed, and whether that fortune-teller is right and Marnie is going to go the same way as Babs. Even without Madame Leo’s harassment it is terrifying enough. But when Madame Leo starts terrorising Marnie directly and tries to kill her, we get what must be some of the most terrifying scenes in girls’ comics. Fainting on a high-diving board? Being attacked in the swimming pool and nearly murdered? Wow! And all the while, Madame Leo preys upon and amplifies Marnie’s false fears about “blue water” to make her all the more terrified. Years of fortune-telling must have given Madame Leo experience in the human psyche because she is a master of fear and manipulation in the way she plays upon Marnie’s fears; she is extremely crafty in how she steadily builds up to scare Marnie with the prophecy in the first episode. We have to wonder if she has done similar tricks with other people; she looks sinister enough for that.

It is a bit frustrating that we never learn the fate of Madame Leo after her arrest. Presumably she was put into some sort of psychiatric care. But how did she react to being rescued by the girl she was trying to kill? Did it change her attitude in any way, or was her mind too far gone for that? Perhaps there was not enough room on the final page to address any of this, but couldn’t they have had a text box at least to tell us what happens to her? And we never learn why Madame Leo blamed Lorna for her sister’s death or why she was wrong to do so. Perhaps there was not enough room on the last page for that either. Or maybe Christie or the editor decided not to delve into it and preferred to focus on Marnie for the final panels.

When it is revealed that Madame Leo was persecuting Lorna (through Marnie) for nothing, it comes as no surprise if you know girls’ comics well. Serials featuring hate-filled people who persecute someone (or organisation) for revenge, only to find out that they were mistaken about them, have cropped up regularly in girls’ comics. “Down with St Desmond’s!” (Bunty) is a classic example, and the theme was a frequent one in DCT titles. The theme was less common in Jinty, but some Jinty stories with the theme or elements of it are “Go On, Hate Me!“,  “The Ghost Dancer”, “Slave of the Swan” and “Waves of Fear“.