Tag Archives: evil influence

Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

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Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

Swimmer Slave of Mrs. Squall (1974)

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Published: Tammy & June 22 June 1974 to 31 August 1974

Episodes: 11

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Sue Briggs is a difficult, underachieving girl at school. Her parents and headmaster come down hard on her and their approach – constantly compare her unfavourably with her brother Barney (sporty) and sister Muriel (studious) – is counterproductive and only makes Sue angry. 

Sue’s anger drives her to snoop into Squall House. The Squalls were once big in the area; the housing estate (Squall Forest Housing Estate) was built on their land and Sue’s school is called Squall Forest School. Following bankruptcy and widowhood, there’s only Mrs Squall now, who lives as a recluse. 

When Sue sneaks in, she is surprised to discover a swimming pool on the Squall House property. When she attempts to rescue Mrs Squall’s dog Otto from drowning in the swimming pool, she realises she dived in while forgetting she can’t swim. Now both she and the dog need rescuing, which is what Mrs Squall does.  

Although Sue cannot swim, she did an impressive dive into the pool to save Otto. This leads to Mrs Squall and her domineering, forbidding companion, Miss Gort, giving Sue some basic swimming lessons. They become convinced Sue has the makings of a champion there, though Sue does not like swimming as much she does diving, and she is struggling with it. They offer her secret swimming and diving lessons to make her a swimming champion, give her a key for Squall House, and tell her she must not let anyone see her enter Squall House for her lessons. At first Sue is reluctant to proceed with this, but she changes her mind after another clash with her family. Now she’s going to show ‘em all by becoming a swimming champion. 

The lessons go pretty well, with Sue making more headway with diving than swimming, which is pretty much dog paddle. Still, Sue senses there is something odd about those ladies: Miss Gort is cold and relentless as a trainer, while Mrs Squall seems “so nice and kind” and totally under Miss Gort’s thumb. Mrs Squall also seems to be training in the pool, under the same relentless Miss Gort coaching. At home, Sue tries to secretly train but finds it too awkward to do so with the family around. And when she foolishly tries to train in the canal, she lands in serious trouble. As punishment, she is sent to work at her strict grandfather’s shop, and now she’s miles away from Squall House. 

However, Grandfather can tell Sue something interesting about Squall House. The Squalls went bankrupt when Mr Squall set his heart on his wife becoming a swimming champion and spent a fortune on the swimming pool and fittings, but then his business failed and he suicided. Grandfather does not know whether or not Mrs Squall became a swimming champion.

Back at Squall House, Sue is shown a film of the Commonwealth Diving Championships. Sue is surprised to see Mrs Squall competing there – and even more surprised when Mrs Squall grows upset and screams for it to stop, but Miss Gort shows her no mercy there. Sue takes fright, decides these ladies are loony and tries to make a run for it. But then she finds the ladies are even loonier than she thought. They now make her a prisoner of Squall House. The key’s gone, and the tree Sue used to climb it when she first entered has had its branches sawn off to prevent further climbing. And Otto, though ageing, is quite a guard dog. Miss Gort tells Sue she will remain at Squall House until “our purpose has been fulfilled”. They lock Sue up in a barred room with no food until she cooperates, which she eventually does until she can figure out an escape. 

The diving is still going better than the swimming, but the latter finally turns into proper swimming and Sue is enjoying it more. However, the swimming training grows more and more gruelling, with Sue being only allowed to dive as a reward for swimming well. Mrs Squall, a brilliant diver, is put through the same intense training as Sue. Soon after, Mrs Squall, who seems to be dominated by Miss Gort, offers to help Sue. She says that her nerve broke at that event, causing her to fail, but Sue has the something extra that could be their ticket to freedom.

The police come door-to-door knocking in search of Sue, and Sue is quickly locked away. She finds a secret chamber and a book full of swimming photos. She finds a photograph of what looks like a younger Miss Gort who won the 1936 freestyle championship. The name is Alice Bradshaw. Sue wonders if Alice Bradshaw is Miss Gort. (Hang on, it’s Miss Gort, not Mrs Gort – what’s going on here?) 

Miss Gort tears up the photo and tells Sue she will be entered in a competition on Saturday, which gives Sue hope of escape. However, at the competition Sue finds she has been entered under the name Alice Bradshaw to elude the police search. Sue agrees to the competition when Mrs Squall says not doing so will destroy hope of her being free. Sue wins second place, which boosts her confidence.  

Afterwards the ladies show Sue a faked newspaper report to trick Sue into thinking her parents think her disappearance is one of her tricks and they intend to send her away. This eliminates all thought of escape drives Sue further into their clutches in the mistaken belief they offer her a glorious future as a champion, whereas her family think she’s good for nothing.

Sue decides to sneak into the secret chamber for more clues but gets locked in. Then Miss Gort and Mrs Squall enter, with the latter appearing to be in a hypnotic state. Miss Gort opens up a cabinet full of swimming trophies, her past triumphs, but says Mrs Squall failed to continue the success, so they are carrying on with Sue Briggs. Sue manages to slip out, taking the album with her. It confirms Alice Bradshaw/Miss Gort was a former swimming champion. Sue realises something must have gone wrong afterwards, hence the reclusiveness. Miss Gort is trying to regain her triumphs through Mrs Squall, which failed. Now Miss Gort is doing it with Sue, through some hypnotic power she has. Sue now suspects Miss Gort has the same power over her when she trains her, and there is something inhuman about her, something Sue can’t put her finger on.

Sue is entered in another event, and with Miss Gort staring at her all the time with that weird power, she knows she can’t lose. Then a reporter distracts Miss Gort, and Sue suddenly loses form and begins to lose. Miss Gort realises this and puts full power on her gaze, and suddenly Sue feels the strength again, but does not recover enough to win. After a row between Miss Gort and Mrs Squall over the distraction, Sue is convinced Miss Gort has hypnotic powers. On the way back, Sue catches a glimpse of her house, and although still fooled by the fake newspaper report, realises she misses her family very badly.

Meanwhile, the reporter is still sniffing. He gathers details on the Squalls, which are pretty what Sue’s grandfather has already said, but now we learn Mr Squall was a wealthy inventor and suicided because his wife failed to become the champion he wanted her to be. And that reporter wants to know where Miss Gort fits in. At Sue’s next event, which she wins, the reporter follows to find where they keep her. 

The reporter manages to sneak into Squall House. Sue quickly tells him what’s going on and to alert her family, but then Otto drives him off. One night the reporter returns to help Sue escape, but Mrs Squall attempts to drown him in the swimming pool. Sue saves the reporter and goes after Mrs Squall. The trail leads Sue to the truth about Miss Gort and why she’s so inhuman. The fact is, she’s not human at all – she’s a robot! 

Mrs Squall then reveals herself to be the one behind the swimmer slave gig the whole time, through the robot. She was only acting the part of helpless hypnotised victim in Miss Gort’s power and being “fellow prisoner” to Sue. She explains that she failed as a swimming champion because she did not train hard enough, leading to ruin for the family and her husband’s suicide. Before he died, Mr Squall built the robot as a last hope, to help Mrs Squall find someone to train as a champion and succeed where she had failed. All that stuff Sue found in the secret room about Miss Gort/Alice Bradshaw was planted there to mislead her (but Mrs Squall never explains who Alice Bradshaw never was).  

The robot hypnotises Sue into becoming a brilliant swimmer for the final medley, with the starting gun acting as the trigger for the hypnotic suggestion. Sue knows it’s cheating but has no control over the phenomenal way she is swimming now. 

Then the reporter escapes, appears at the pool, and gets into a fight with Mrs Squall, who opens fire on him. This shot confuses Sue, causing the hypnotic power to break and Sue to lose the medley. The shot hits the robot, causing it to malfunction and turn on Mrs Squall; they both fall into the swimming pool and the robot short-circuits. Mrs Squall is taken into mental care. Sue is happily reunited with her family, but is still grateful for the start Mrs Squall gave her in becoming a swimming champion.

Thoughts

As with other problem girl serials (such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Jackie’s Two Lives” (Jinty) and “Queen Rider” (Tammy)), Sue is pretty much the orchestrator of her own problems with her family and school. After all, she does nothing to make her family proud of her. In such serials, the protagonist fails to realise her bad attitude and wrong way of thinking were at the root of her problems. Once she wakes up and changes her attitude, things become far happier for her and those around her. We can imagine the same happened with Sue and her family once she returned home with new confidence and hugging her new ambition to be a champion. 

But from the beginning, Sue is also a sympathetic character. We can see how hard her family is on her and they are taking the wrong approach in comparing her to her brother and sister all the time. They’re not trying to find out what the problem is, or maybe try a different approach. Sue thought she was good for nothing and could not be good at anything, and this was reflected in her conduct. The fact that they never trusted her with a key – Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were the first to do so – says a lot, and Sue really responds to someone showing trust in her for once. It’s also one reason why Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were so successful in trapping Sue – they were the reversal of her family in the way they treated her: trust, praise, and seeing the potential of a champion in her and offering to bring it out, while her family tells her she’s a “no-good”. 

Stories where creepy, reclusive ladies take advantage of girls dissatisfied with their home life to lure them away, make them captive through mind games and other means, and use them for their own purpose have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Examples include “Jackie’s Two Lives” and “The Gypsy Gymnast” (Tammy). As these examples illustrate, the lure can be built up over time until it’s ready to snare the girl, but in this case Sue is caught and trapped by episode three. From there, for the rest of the story, rather than focusing on escape it’s more about unravelling the mystery about what’s going on while doing what she’s told. 

Although the training is gruelling and even frightening, there are advantages that Sue thrives on (increasing strength, confidence and faith in herself), which gives her reasons to continue with it – and also to stay in the power of her captors. She is going from non-swimmer to the makings of a champion and has finally found something she is good at. She feels confidence she has never felt before and she finally feels she’s good for something. From what we glean, this is the reason why Sue was such a problem girl. She had no vocation in life until Mrs Squall and Miss Gort help her find it, in contrast to her family’s constant criticism and comparing her to her more successful siblings. Even while the ladies hold her captive they still give her what she never got from her family: boost her confidence, make her feel appreciated, and also make her feel like a somebody. 

Miss Gort’s training methods are not as over the top as in some stories. In “The Chain Gang Champions” (Tammy), for example, the Duchess’s notoriously extreme methods of training girls as athletes include forcing them to complete runs in ever-decreasing time limits while holding a man hostage to be fed to a hungry bear! All the same, it’s not only intense to the point of being inhuman; there’s something really weird about it that makes it frightening and creepy. It’s made even creepier by the fact that the hypnosis is not revealed all at once. Instead, it’s gradually revealed in stages, starting with those frightening eyes Miss Gort has that Sue suddenly notices. Eventually Sue begins to draw the right conclusions. 

Except that they turn out not to be the right conclusions at all. The truth is totally awry from what Sue and the reader have been led to believe. We’re all built up to think that Miss Gort is using her dominant personality and additional asset of hypnotic ability to make Mrs Squall every much her prisoner and puppet as Sue is. It’s a setup we’ve seen elsewhere in serials such as “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” and “Vision of Vanity Fayre” in Tammy. But in fact it’s in fact Miss Gort who is the puppet (a robot) and Mrs Squall is the real instigator. She had only been acting the part of a hapless victim in the grip of a tyrant, fooling Sue the whole time, and the clues Sue found the house were red herrings planted to mislead her. Woah, now that is a twist to take us totally by surprise! 

The twist would work better if we are told just who Alice Bradshaw really was and how she fits into the whole thing, but that’s never explained. The only conclusion is that Alice Bradshaw was the mother of either Mr or Mrs Squall and Mr Squall built the robot in her likeness. It would also explain why Mr Squall was so set on his wife becoming a swimming champion. 

Sadly, it was Mr Squall being determined his wife should become a swimming champion that led to the whole mess. Such obsession always spells trouble in girls’ comics, but in this case it’s even worse. It went tragically wrong, drove Mr Squall to suicide (now that’s a strong thing to have in a girls’ comic!), and turned Mrs Squall’s mind. She must have also felt guilty over her husband’s death, blaming herself for his suicide because she failed as a champion swimmer. As she’s led away by police, Sue feels sorry for her, and so do we. If Sue does become a swimming/diving champion, and we sincerely hope she does, it would go a long way towards peace for Mrs Squall. 

Sit It Out, Sheri (1976)

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Published: 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976                      

Episodes: 11

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

We now complete our look at “possession” stories with this 1976 story from Tammy. 

Plot

Sheri Soames is a shy, scruffy girl. She has no confidence and no idea how to stand up for herself, and always sits things out because of it. She is bullied at home by her stepmother, who steals all the money Sheri earns for bingo, takes advantage of her father’s absence to treat her as a drudge, and never bothers with the rent; at school she is bullied by Kay Thorpe (later spelled Thorp in the story); and also by Mr Dobbs at the second-hand shop where she works. Her only friend at school is Mary. Sheri auditions for the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play but fails because of her lack of confidence. 

At Mr Dobbs’ shop, Sheri is allowed to have a chair said to be a Louis XIV chair once owned by Marie Antoinette herself but a dealer, Mr Crispin, said was fake. It has a strange effect on her. After periods of sitting in it she feels wonderfully refreshed and confident. She takes more pride in her appearance and sheds her ghastly specs. She starts standing up for herself, albeit in an oddly pompous, old-fashioned manner that leads to arrogance at times, which sometimes leads to trouble, and has no problems re-auditioning Marie Antoinette for the school play (to Kay’s chagrin). But the effects don’t seem to last, causing Sheri to fall back to her old self just as she makes strides with her new confidence and going back to the specs and being bullied by Kay and her stepmother. 

Sheri also begins to have strange visions of voices out for her blood and people out to kill her. As the visions get stronger, they take the form of ghoulish-faced, bloodthirsty French revolutionary lynch mobs and even the guillotine. These visions always seem to appear as Sheri’s confidence fades, as if they were an after-effect. 

As the confidence-building does not seem to last, Sheri sits in the chair more and more to get more of that confidence, and gives her bully stepmother a lot of shocks with it, which leave stepmother frightened and sweating. Her schoolwork improves, particularly in regard to the French Revolution. But her arrogance is growing too; she acts like a haughty queen who thinks everyone and everything is beneath her, such as flinging her lines away: “Pah! What does a person of my consequence want with such piffling trifles!” She does not seem to get into any trouble over not doing the lines; instead, the teacher praises her for her improved classwork. 

Sheri discovers her stepmother has sold her chair to Mr Crispin. At this, she now realises the chair is genuine and the old twister is trying to get his hands on it for a fraction of its value. Her brimming confidence from the pickup enables her to foil the pickup and retain the chair, but is warned Mr Crispin will be back. After an evening of forced drudgery from stepmother as her confidence ebbs again, then giving her money-grabbing stepmother the shock of her life after sitting all night in the chair – “You are a thieving knave who steals money and sells things that do not belong to you” – she sends Mr Crispin packing, with his money returned. However, Mr Crispin isn’t giving up on the chair that easily.

At school, Sheri’s haughtiness grows worse. She demands to know where Mary’s curtsey is, and when she is outraged to find her name not on the list for the hockey team, Kay challenges her to a hockey test. Kay is stunned when Sheri does brilliantly, and when Kay tries to nobble her, she attacks with Kay her stick. Then the nightmares return. This time, Mary appears as a friend who tries to pull her to safety from the mob, but they throw her into prison. When she comes to, she is in the team and is expected to perform as she did, but she is back to her scared, useless self. After this, Mary, who had been sceptical about Sheri’s story about the chair, becomes more convinced and wants to help.

Sheri finds herself again under threat of losing her chair, this time from bailiffs who confiscate all the furniture to cover stepmother’s non-payment of rent. Sheri is homeless after this and is now staying at Mary’s. They learn the chair is in the distraint pound. Mary manages to sneak the keys for the distraint pound from her father, but it’s the wrong set and they have to break in to take back the chair. Inside they are caught by a policeman, who places Sheri in the chair, which has Sheri soon behaving in the haughty manner towards the surprised policeman and she demands the return of her chair. She even has the policeman carry it out for her. They run for it with the chair and hide it in a barn. The visions return, this time showing Sheri crying out from behind bars: “Let me out, I am your queen!”, but her cries fall on deaf ears with the French revolutionaries, who remain out for her blood.

At the hockey match, Sheri’s haughty behaviour reaches heights like never before. She gets so angry at the “insolence” that she lashes out at the captain of the opposing team. The opposing team turns ugly at this, which triggers more nightmares of the French revolutionaries. Sheri locks herself in the pavilion, suffering nightmares of them coming into her cell, tying her hands behind her and leading her out while screaming “Death! Death!” The sports mistress is not impressed and sends Sheri home in disgrace, to face the headmistress on Monday. Mary suggests Sheri tell the headmistress what’s going on, but they have to collect some evidence about the chair. Which means asking Messrs Dobbs and Crispin some questions. 

On the way, they discover stepmother convincing the policeman from the distraint pound that Sheri is out of control and wants her taken into care. And after what happened at school, Sheri is terrified she will be locked up as a delinquent or something. Her only hope is the chair again and get the confidence to talk her way out of things as usual. They head back to the barn but find the chair gone. Moreover, they don’t realise Kay is eavesdropping and now she is tailing them.

They go to question Mr Dobbs. He says he lost the records of the chair’s purchase in the Blitz, but he did buy it on a trip to France. At Mr Crispin’s they find a matching chair and learn Sheri’s chair and this one are a valuable pair of chairs that belonged to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who used them the day before the wrathful Paris mob struck. The chairs need to be together to be of value, which explains why Mr Crispin is so determined to get Sheri’s chair. They then discover Mr Crispin has called the police but manage to give the police the slip.

Back at the farm they discover the chair in a field with a scarecrow in it. Sheri gets a fright when the scarecrow’s head falls off – she is reminded of the ultimate fate of Marie Antoinette. Then the police catch up and lead the girls away. Kay tries to take the chair, but the police bring the chair to the station with the girls. 

At the police station they are surprised to find Mr Soames, Sheri’s father, there too. He retired from the sea, lost track of Sheri, but has now caught up and heard about stepmother (and now we’re wondering why the heck he married her in the first place). He says he now works at a detective agency and a very strange client had him track down the chair, which he says genuinely belonged to Marie Antoinette. He believes there is something spooky about the chair and it is giving Sheri terrible nightmares. He has her sit in the chair again, saying it is the only way to see the nightmares through. Sheri now realises she becomes Marie Antoinette in the visions, and of course the latest vision is Sheri/Antoinette meeting her appointment with Madame La Guillotine. Everyone gets a fright when Sheri’s head drops back as the blade falls in the vision, but it’s just a faint.

The nightmare is not finished. A soothsayer appears and leads Sheri/Antoinette away from the guillotine, saying it happened again and none of it would have if she had listened to him. The soothsayer tried to warn Marie Antoinette that the way she treated her subjects would cost her her head if she did not change her ways and treat them differently. When she refused to listen he put a spell on her chair in the (vain) hope the visions she would see would make her see sense before it was too late. The spell was not supposed to affect anyone but Antoinette, but it did affect Sheri because of her desire to have the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play. 

Things are sorted out at school, Sheri gets the role of Marie Antoinette, and tells a rather confused Kay about her new confidence and no more pushing around from her. The chair is restored, cleaned up and put on display in a case where it can’t affect anyone else. Sheri is now sure of permanent confidence and no more sitting out for her. The client – whom Sheri recognises as the soothsayer – rewards Sheri and her father with money to start a happy new life. 

Thoughts

In more recent times, historians (e.g. Alison Weir) have seriously revised the image of Marie Antoinette who said “let them eat cake” (which never comes up in the story) and single-handedly started the French Revolution with the haughty, callous way in which she treated her subjects. She was in fact a much kinder person than that. However, this story was written before that revisionism, and the image of Marie Antoinette paying the price for her arrogance with her throne and life was how she tended to appear in girls’ comics (Misty’s “One Last Wish” for example). 

Girls’ comics were never good at historical accuracy either, but things go a bit far when Mr Soames says, “[Marie Antoinette] was just a girl, nor much older than you. What did she know about being a queen?” Come on, Antoinette was 47 when she died, a grown woman with children! It’s also funny we never see Antoinette’s husband in these visions although the chair was one of a pair that belonged to both of them. It’s a girls’ world in girls’ comics all right, regardless of setting, whether it’s alien planets, lost civilisations, visions or whatever.

Now these quibbles have been said, we move on to how the story handles the “possession” theme. It certainly is stranger than possession/evil influence stories usually are because the force is not inherently evil. It is just the personality of an unsavoury person that, unlike other “evil influence” serials such as “Portrait of Doreen Gray”, probably does not even intend to be a bad influence on the protagonist. It is not quite clear whether Sheri is being possessed by the spirit of Marie Antoinette or if her personality is just influencing Sheri’s. It is also unusual for the actual power behind it all not to be evil either. Instead, it was intended to change Marie Antoinette for the better before it was too late for her. Sheri just got caught up in it when she wasn’t supposed to be. In a different serial it would be a redemption story, only in Antoinette’s case it failed. 

As with Doreen Gray, Sheri’s confidence turns to dangerous arrogance, which gets her into trouble. But that is not the main concern that should put her off using the chair. It is the terrible price she pays afterwards – the ever-increasing nightmares, which were meant to be the warnings for Antoinette to change her ways but are now scaring the living daylights out of Sheri. This makes the story even more frightening than the more usual ominous warnings that the object the protagonist is using to increase her confidence is dangerous. Because of these nightmares, Sheri develops a love/hate relationship with the chair, fearing it as much as she feels she needs it. 

There is also great humour in the way Sheri stands up for herself Antoinette-style when she’s under the influence. Readers must have been laughing out loud when the horrible stepmother received lines such as: “Out, peasant! How dare you enter my private room without permission! Back to your pots and pans!” and “How dare you burst in here! Get out and knock if you want to see me! Do it again and you’ll lose your head!” Or when the policeman was told: “Insolence! Am I not above the law?” and “You are getting above your station!”

It is so distressing for Sheri that the confidence just does not seem to last and she is back to her old self. In the end, what made Sheri’s own confidence stick was realising she could be confident if she wanted to, and if you want things to be different you have to work at it, not sit back and just hope they will be different. “It’s all a case of mental attitude,” she tells Kay. And this was the lesson she learned from the chair. 

Portrait of Doreen Gray (1983)

Sample images

Published: Tammy 21 May 1983 to 6 August 1983

Episodes: 12

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Charles Herring

Translations/reprints: None known

Continuing our possession/evil influence serial theme, we take a look at what can happen when possession/evil influence strikes a girl who wants to improve her lot or strengthen her character. Conversely, the possession/evil influence actually helps the girl to do just that – well, at least at first. But its nature being what it is, it is inevitable that the girl eventually senses the dark side of how she is changing. 

Plot

Doreen Gray is the butt of teasing at school because she is a very shy girl. The worst of the bullies is Jane Quarles. Jane secretly knows Doreen can be more than what she is in the school sports teams if her shyness didn’t get the way, but of course she doesn’t want Doreen to step out of the shadows.

One day, Jane and her gang tease Doreen about being too shy to have a birthday party, and the teasing culminates in their chasing Doreen across the school pool. It backfires when Doreen unwittingly swims so well to get away from them that swimming team captain, Ann offers her a trial for the swimming team, but it’s too much for Doreen’s shyness to take.

Doreen’s father is an antique dealer who could be richer than he is, except Mr Quarles (Jane’s father) is always picking his brains for free advice on the best antiques to buy, which is how he has grown so wealthy. Doreen can see how Mr Quarles is using Dad, shy though she is, but Dad is too good-natured to realise this or how Mr Quarles is cheating him out of antiques that could benefit him instead. 

One day Mr Gray brings home a Victorian portrait that has been painted over. He bought it for the value of the frame. Then the black paint begins to flake, showing another portrait underneath, and Dad removes the paint altogether. They are surprised to find the portrait is of a girl who is a dead ringer for Doreen. She also looks a girl who always got her own way and anything she wanted. As Doreen gazes at it, she suddenly surprises her father when she demands the portrait for her birthday – which she has now dubbed “The Portrait of Doreen Gray” – and a party to celebrate. 

Doreen notices odd things, such as a whisper in her ear saying “You can get what you want, too!”, and when Jane and Carole challenge Doreen at the swimming trial, she sees the portrait staring up at her from the water, which spurs her to win the trial and a place in the team. Oddest of all, the girl’s face in the portrait seems to be able to change expressions, which seems to have an effect on Doreen. She is growing more confident to the point of being demanding.

Dad notices unsettling changes in Doreen. One is pretending to the other girls that she sat for the portrait herself. He is disturbed, as he is suddenly reminded of a certain Oscar Wilde story and warns Doreen about it. Although he has misgivings about letting Doreen have the portrait, he eventually lets her have it. 

At the party Doreen continues to pretend the portrait is of her. Jane’s nose is put out of joint at this and she quickly leaves. Doreen noticed Jane had her eye on the frame and realised its value. Afterwards, Mr Quarles is after the frame and Dad is willing to sell it because he needs the money (something he’d have more of if he wised up to Mr Quarles). Realising Jane’s hand in this, Doreen hides the portrait in the attic where she can secretly visit it and feel its influence strengthening her. She pretends to Dad that it was stolen. The ladder to the loft is too unsafe to bear Dad’s weight, so she is confident he won’t find it. Any pricks of conscience (such as cheating Dad), second thoughts or worry when she finds her behaviour becoming arrogant (which it does as the story progresses) somehow get overridden every time she’s near the portrait and it seems to make a look at her. 

Doreen is still having problems with self-confidence at school. Although she is in the swimming team, she is struggling to find her feet at netball. Egged on more by Jane’s remarks than the portrait, Doreen not only makes her way into the team but pushes Jane out of it as well. Finding out Jane intends to make her the lame duck in a swimming match against a rival school, Doreen is spurred on to come first. But she is becoming arrogant and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ann drops Doreen from the team, saying she’s become too big-headed. But the influence of the portrait (this time in the form of tears and sympathetic looks) has Doreen thinking Ann is just being jealous. She challenges Ann to a swimming match, where she pushes Ann out of her position as captain and takes her place. Yet she persuades Ann to stay in the team – leaving no place for Jane. Jane’s nose is out of joint again.

To humiliate Doreen, Jane challenges her to a tennis match. Doreen is not experienced enough at tennis, but she is riding on such success she feels confident she can win without the portrait and tells it so. Doreen senses the portrait is laughing at this but presses on with her resolve. However, Jane slaughters her, and Doreen is left thinking she does need the portrait after all.

In revenge for her humiliation, Doreen pulls a long-overdue comeuppance on Mr Quarles, who is again taking advantage of Dad. Mr Gray identifies some candlesticks Mr Quarles has his eye on at an auction as fakes. Then Doreen sees the portrait winking at her from a mirror, and suddenly gets an idea. She tricks Mr Quarles into thinking they’re valuable and waste money on buying them. When Mr Quarles finds out, he and Dad exchange angry words, and it looks like Mr Quarles won’t be able to use him anymore.

Mr Quarles has to cancel the family holiday because of the money he lost through Doreen’s trick, so next day an angry Jane tackles Doreen. Doreen deals to her with a good shove. Realising the change in Doreen started with the portrait, Jane suspects it was not stolen and wangles her way into Doreen’s house to do some investigating. In the loft she discovers Doreen with the portrait, but is then scared by a rat sitting on top of it. Doreen won’t shoo the rat away until Jane agrees to stay silent, which she does. Realising the portrait helped her keep her cool when Jane discovered the truth, Doreen is now more drawn to it than ever before. 

At netball, Doreen’s growing big-headedness gets her dropped from the team. The netball captain, Clare, adds that Doreen isn’t going to take her place as she did with Ann. (Oh, dear, is Doreen starting to get a reputation at school because of that portrait?) When Doreen visits the portrait, she suddenly knows how to not only worm her way back into the netball team but steal Clare’s position as captain as well – and succeeds at both. 

Meanwhile, Mr Quarles is worming his way back into taking advantage of Mr Gray, this time by paying him fees (sops, more like) for his advice on antiques. This leads to an angry exchange between Doreen and Dad, and she takes refuge in the loft with the portrait. 

Then Doreen hears her father climbing up the ladder to apologise and on the verge of discovering the truth. But he has forgotten the ladder is dangerous for him to climb, and Doreen is shocked to find herself tempted to not warn him. Eventually she does, but too late – the ladder collapses and he is hanging on for dear life. Doreen is again shocked to find herself tempted to loosen her grip and let him fall. Fortunately she overcomes it and tries to save him, but only succeeds with the help of a man who has arrived in the shop. 

The man is the previous owner of the portrait, and Doreen now confesses to hiding it. The man explains the portrait is evil. It is of a Victorian girl who was always able to influence people although she was so young. She died in debtors’ prison when her family was ruined. The man’s grandfather bought it for his daughter, who also bore a resemblance to the portrait. Then grandfather discovered it was exerting an evil influence over her. He tried to destroy the portrait but couldn’t, so he ordered it painted over and hidden. It was kept that way until money troubles forced the man to sell the portrait. Then he grew concerned and tracked the portrait down. He says he will now take the portrait, but Doreen screams, “No! It’s mine!” and runs off with it. Dad and the man are relieved to find Doreen meant it was hers to destroy, which she does by pulling it out of the frame and throwing it in a vat of boiling tar in the road. Then she finally allows Dad to have the frame (but let’s hope Mr Quarles doesn’t get his hands on it!).

Thoughts

You don’t need to look far to see what inspired the story. However, it is more the title that draws on the Oscar Wilde story than the premise itself, which is firmly rooted in the evil object formula seen so many times in girls’ comics. Most often the evil object makes the girl do terrible things against her will or without her even realising, but this is not really the case here. Rather, the portrait acts more like the magic object that can help a shy girl become more confident, stand up to bullies who make her life miserable, and advise her on what to do when she wants to her own way or get out of sticky situations. But as it is an evil object, not a beneficial one, it is not helping her for the sake of it.

There are indeed positive sides to how Doreen changes (becoming more confident), but there is a dark shadow all the way. Doreen never turns totally to the dark side, but she does get disturbed by horrifying changes in herself: becoming arrogant and big-headed, going behind Dad’s back, finding insidious ways to get her own way in everything, even being tempted to let Dad fall to his death rather than him discovering where she hid the portrait. But until the end of the story it does not take much for one look at the portrait to smooth over any twitches of conscience or second thoughts. 

Portraits with an evil influence have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Stories with this theme include “The Painting” (Bunty), “The Portrait of Paula” (Suzy) and “Penny and the Portrait” (Mandy). Another, on a more comical note, is “The Happiest Days” (Tammy), where the frightful portrait of the school founder casts such a pall over the school it has to be gotten rid of, which our protagonist tries to do in all sorts of hilarious ways. After finally succeeding, she is surprised to find a more savoury version of the portrait. 

But this portrait is far more insidious for several reasons. First, unlike other spooky portrait stories we don’t even know who the girl in the portrait is, and right up to the end of the story her name remains unrevealed. This adds an extra note of mystery to the story and the portrait. Is she a witch (a common reason why a portrait is evil in girls’ comics), someone who died tragically, someone out for revenge, or someone just plain bad? 

The portrait does not speak as some evil portraits do, such as “The Painting” from Bunty. Instead, it exhibits its influence through facial expressions and, at times, through distance. Yet its influence is so subtle Doreen doesn’t even realise what it’s doing, which makes it all the more creepy.

Second, setting itself up as the magic friend/object who can help Doreen makes it all the harder to fight against because it seems a friend to her, one she can’t do without in becoming a success and beating the bullies. It always seems to offer a friendly listening ear when Doreen has a problem in getting her way or trouble with Jane. 

Third, the portrait is very cunning in the way it influences Doreen through its expressions. It seems to smile in delight when Doreen tells her how she dealt to Mr Quarles. It turns on the waterworks when Doreen thinks it is making her big-headed and then sympathetic looks to convince Doreen that Ann is just being jealous. In other words, it really sets itself up to appear a genuine friend. But we can sense the portrait is only manipulating Doreen to strengthen its hold over her. One example is the episode where Doreen loses against Jane after telling the portrait she doesn’t need it to win against her, then she reverts back to dependency on the portrait after losing. We’re left thinking the portrait planned the whole thing. Another example is the rat in the loft that frightens Jane. We have a strong feeling the rat was not sitting on top of the portrait by accident!  

Fourth is the way these bad ideas just seem to pop into Doreen’s head and she surprises herself with them. There’s never an evil voice in her head telling her to do these things, though she does get one whisper in her ear: “You can get what you want, too!” Yet we know it’s the portrait all the same. 

Fifth, for an evil object story, it’s unusual in that the evil object does not force the protagonist to do terrible things as other “evil object” stories often do. It is more like the serials where the protagonist gets into bad company with a false friend who is a bad influence on her and taking advantage of her. The protagonist can’t see her for what she is (or ignores it) because the sneaky girl is so slick and manipulative in the way she keeps the protagonist close to her. “The Kat and Mouse Game” (Jinty) is one example of this, and “Lessons from Lindy” (Bunty) is another. This must have been what the girl in the portrait was like when she was alive, except that unlike Kat or Lindy, not even death stops her. There can be no doubt she was a girl who always got her own way in everything (except debtors’ prison), and not even death stops her there either. Through her portrait she gets her own way through others by leading them to think she is helping them get their own way in everything.

Finally, it must be said there is good coming out of the portrait influencing Doreen. It helps Doreen to overcome her shyness, give Mr Quarles a long-overdue comeuppance, stand up to Jane, and step out of the shadows at school to take prominence in school teams. Setting itself up as a good thing makes it all the harder to realise it is evil and fight against it. For this reason, for all the new confidence Doreen shows, it is not until she finds the power within her to destroy the portrait that she shows her whole new strength of character. 

What’s Wrong with Rhona? (1977)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 7 May 1977 to 23 July 1977

Episodes: 12

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl annual 1983 (some material cut); Tina Sterstrip 5 in 1983 as ‘Zomaar een pop…?’ (Just any doll…?).

We continue our exploration of “possession” serials with one of Tammys’ forays into science fiction. Incidentally, the SF serial was something Tammy did not delve into frequently, probably because she placed more emphasis on dark serials laden with emotion, cruelty and exploitation. It was seen more often in Jinty.

Plot

Rhona French is the star athlete of her school. While on a training run on Salisbury Plain, Rhona and her friends are surprised by a strange scorching smell. Then Rhona finds a doll. Its eyes are closed. She takes it for safe-keeping, hoping to find its owner. But before long, everyone who sees the doll is creeped out by it, including Rhona’s brother Tim and best friend Helen. They say it’s weird and feels like it’s made of flesh. 

Just before the second half of a crucial hockey match, Rhona is surprised to find the doll’s eyes open. During the match she gets a splitting headache and then starts playing badly because her body doesn’t seem to have its usual agility. She is benched, her team loses, and Rhona finds herself in Coventry. She is surprised by it all because she has absolutely no memory of what happened. The doll’s eyes are closed again.

And so the pattern is set for the story: When Rhona is near the doll, the doll’s eyes open. Rhona gets a splitting headache and everything goes blank. Then she acts totally out of character, moving clumsily and awkwardly while her behaviour is cold, aloof and chilling and her eyes give off an alarming stare that makes everyone shiver. She walks in a manner that mows down everyone in her path. She also thinks and talks in a manner that is not herself, suggesting something or someone else is in control. Then there’s another splitting headache, Rhona returns to normal with no memory of what happened, and the doll’s eyes are closed again. And of course how she behaves in between those headaches gets her into a whole heap of trouble that she can’t explain. Mum thinks Rhona is ill or something, but Dad keeps reacting angrily and thinks a good thrashing is in order. Rhona also begins to experience visions of strange technology. 

A weakness is suggested early on: when Mum sprays air freshener in the kitchen, the strange possession reacts badly to it: it coughs badly, feels like it’s choking, and flings the air freshener out the window. This suggests it has a reaction to aerosols.

Another weakness is revealed when Rhona’s poor coordination while under the possession causes her to have a road accident. Still under the possession, she walks out of the hospital, yelling to the doctors that if she does not get home within the hour, both of them will die. This suggests a time limit. She is forced back to the hospital and nearly dies before the doll is brought in (in the nick of time, maybe?).

The possession takes over in class. Under it, Rhona treats the teacher arrogantly, saying what she is teaching is far too elementary and childish and should be capable of a higher standard of teaching. When the teacher lays a hand on her, the reaction is very angry: she shoves the teacher aside: “How dare you touch me, you horrid woman!” The headmistress sends Rhona home with a note about her conduct.

On the way home, the possessed Rhona also reacts angrily to a market stall man and upsets his apple cart when he slights her. But that’s not the worst of it. It also has her steal a calculator from a store because it wants to work on vital calculations. The police are called in. By this time Rhona has returned to normal, she not only can’t explain her conduct in class but the theft either, because she has no memory of them. Dad manages to get her off the hook with the police but is furious with her and has no time for Mum’s pleas that Rhona has been ill.

Mum is among those who have noticed how oddly Rhona has been behaving since she picked up the strange doll and decides to send it to a cousin in Scotland. Overhearing this while under the possession, Rhona hides the doll in a box of Christmas decorations. When she returns to normal, the doll seems to have disappeared and Rhona thinks her problems are over. For a brief time they seem that way.

Then something pulls Rhona to the box of decorations, and there’s the doll with its eyes open again. Under the possession she goes out. Helen sees this, and realising the trouble has resurfaced, follows her. The trail leads to Stonehenge. Using the stolen calculator, it calculates the approach angle for a rescue shuttle craft, which is set to come at sunrise next day. Through its speech and thought bubbles, it becomes apparent that an alien is taking over Rhona’s body, and when it does, its conduct is cold and arrogant. It considers its own race as superior to Earthlings in terms of intellect. But manoeuvring Rhona’s body is difficult because it’s too large for the alien (not surprising, considering Rhona’s body is a giant compared to the doll-sized body of the alien!). Its own body cannot cope with Earth’s atmosphere and it was placed into a state of suspension until its spaceship returned. It is using Rhona to “regain [its] freedom” i.e. “leave this disgusting planet!”, but it can only stay in Rhona’s body for 12 hours, after which both it and “that stupid Rhona” die if it does not return to its own body in time. 

Meanwhile, Mum and Tim find the doll/alien and, seeing how creepy it is, dispatch it to the cousin in Scotland. Discovering this, the possessed Rhona sets off after it. She ends up jumping a train to retrieve it, pulling the emergency cord, and then jumping off, taking a fall down a slope. It is very surprised to experience pain, something unknown to its race, and retreats, letting Rhona return to normal. Not remembering what happened, Rhona stumbles home with the parcel. Only once she arrives home does she check the parcel, discover she brought that weird doll home again, and realise her mother was trying to get rid of it.

Helen comes over to discuss things with Rhona about the doll. After writing everything down they see the pattern of the doll’s eyes opening and closing, Rhona being near it at the time, and then the blank spells. Recalling the incident with the air freshener, Rhona tries it out on the doll. Sure enough, the air freshener forces the doll’s eyes closed again when they open. However, Rhona loses the air freshener next time the doll’s eyes open, and it takes her over again. It sets off for the rendezvous at Stonehenge, with Tim and Helen in pursuit once they find Rhona and the doll gone again.

At dawn, Rhona is very surprised to find herself at Stonehenge. A ray of light hits the alien/doll and it comes out of suspended animation. It introduces itself as Srewana of the starship Opsilon. Srewana explains she was left behind when her starship took off for emergency repairs, but now it is returning. She has using Rhona’s body for survival reasons, as she can’t use her own in Earth’s atmosphere. Her people, who look like doll-sized humans, built Stonehenge for a spaceport, with the altar stone as the landing platform. In some parts of the world they became worshipped as gods because their superior technology looked like magic. Then a comet collided with Earth and changed the atmosphere, which proved detrimental to the aliens (and explains the weakness to aerosols).

The spaceship arrives and lands on the altar stone. Srewana forces Rhona into the spaceship as a specimen for her race. However, when the captain hears what Srewana has been doing to Rhona, he is furious because Srewana broke their laws about non-interference with inhabitants on the planets they visit (sounds like times have changed since Srewana’s race interfered with human development) and tells Srewana she will be punished. He apologises to Rhona for the trouble Srewana caused her, lets her go, and asks her to stay silent about her alien encounter. So when Tim and Helen catch up, Rhona merely says “the weird doll” is gone forever and the trouble’s all over. Helen notices a strange burning smell, the same as the one when they first found the doll.

Thoughts

Here we have the possession serial story done with a stranded E.T. that is not friendly or endearing like the Spielberg version. Srewana justifies what she does, including breaking the laws of her own people, in the name of survival. We should be thankful that the alien was only doing it for self-preservation purposes when she could easily have had more sinister reasons for taking over a human body. Still, we don’t have much sympathy with Srewana, even though she is doing it for survival, because of the way she behaves when she is in Rhona’s body. We might feel more sorry for Srewana if she had proved much nicer or feeling like a fish out of water during the periods when she was in Rhona’s body. Instead, her conduct shows she is a “little horror” as Rhona calls her when she finally confronts her.

After we see the more likeable and less arrogant starship captain, we realise Srewana’s arrogance, coldness, and aggressiveness when she is crossed in any way have more to do with her personality than any superiority complex that her race might have because they are far more advanced than Earth. After comparing the captain with the “horror” Srewana, Rhona muses, “I suppose there are good and bad among all people.” It was just her rotten luck to encounter a bad example of that race.

The story is unusual in being very quick to establish the red flags that there is an evil object afoot. The moment Helen and Rhona’s mother and brother see the doll they find it creepy and chilling; they are quick to realise Rhona’s strange behaviour started when she found it; and they are not surprised by any theories that there is a link. Usually it takes a while before anyone catches on, and in the meantime the protagonist gets into a ton of trouble she can’t explain because she was doing it under the power of the evil object. Not everyone is convinced of course. Rhona’s father certainly isn’t, nor does he believe it’s because Rhona’s ill. However, he is unusual in being more the exception than the rule in an “evil object” story in not believing something weird is responsible for the goings-on.

There is an amusing side to the aliens being doll-sized. We also giggle when the flying saucer arrives because Rhona thinks “it’s like a toy”, and it’s so small it can fit on the altar platform of Stonehenge. We wouldn’t be surprised if these aliens gave rise to fairy and leprechaun legends as well as being worshipped as gods. And when Rhona confronts Srewana, angrily calling her a little horror for what she’s done, Srewana actually cowers in fear and begs Rhona not to hurt her. Rhona replies, “Oh, stop whining! I can’t thrash a tiny thing like you, much though you deserve it!”. Really, after demonstrating her power to take over Rhona’s body and considering herself the superior intellect, we expect Srewana to have far more defiance and arrogance than that! Perhaps it’s the difference in size between them rather than the difference in advancement. Still, small size should not be underestimated. As Srewana has demonstrated, being small does not mean you’re harmless. 

Secret of the Skulls (1976)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 1 May 1976 to 17 July 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Annual 1986; Translated as ‘Het geheim van de schedels’ (The Secret of the Skulls) in Groot Tina Winterboek 1983.

Ghosts, the hauntings, the graveyards, the witches, the possessions, the evil spells, the terror and the macabre, and this Tammy story from 1976 has got the lot. And they don’t come more macabre than this one with human skulls as the gruesome stars of the show. Normally stories like these would be reserved for Halloween time, but of late there has been discussion about the possession serial in girls’ comics at Comics UK, and its close relatives, the evil influence serial and the doppelgänger serial (the latter of which neither Tammy nor Jinty used, but it was seen frequently at DCT). So we are going to look at a few, beginning with this one.

Plot

In the year 1666 Parson Sylvester and his daughter Prue run a parish at St Leofric’s, London. A lightning bolt opens up a secret crypt under the church, and the one-eyed (watch this) gravedigger Israel Quist is shocked to find it is full of human skulls. Everyone is screaming that the skull crypt is full of evil, and their advice ranges from re-sealing the crypt to destroying the skulls, but Parson Sylvester hesitates because of his religious convictions and is not sure what to do about the skulls. Even when he discovers that the skulls inexplicably give off heat and blister the skin when touched, he doesn’t take action. While he hesitates, he leaves the crypt open, which is an open invitation for weird things. 

Sure enough, weird things start to happen. It starts with the parson’s housekeeper Mrs March bringing one of the skulls into the house. Prue soon notices that Mrs March is acting strangely. She denies taking the skull, but Prue can see the tell-tale blisters on her hands, and then Mrs March falls ill and then acts totally out of character, becoming domineering, bullying and abusive. In the middle of the night Prue hears the church organ playing by itself and the door slamming on its own. On another night she sees the organ playing by itself – and images of horrible glowing skulls as well! The coffins in the crypt belonging to Sir Clive Collyngwood, a man with an evil reputation and the son of a previous parson, move around. There are rumours Sir Clive haunts the graveyard. Some of the skulls are stolen from the crypt by the roguish Rufus Doggett, who runs a novelty shop – of the macabre kind by the looks of the live skull and crossbones set on his shop sign. Prue and her father are shocked to find Doggett painting up the skulls and selling them as ornaments and candle holders to the gentry. Doggett offers one to the parson, who of course won’t touch it.

The parson goes to the Bishop of Canterbury for advice, leaving Prue on her own with Mrs March. That night Prudence hears screaming and in the church she finds strange mystical signs drawn on the floor of the church. The Collyngwood crypt seems to go up in flames, and then looks unscathed. But inside, Prue and Quist find signs of charring and Sir Clive’s coffin reduced to ash, and there is a skull from the crypt on the floor. Quist, who had been urging the crypt be sealed up again from the moment it opened, does precisely that. Prue begins to wonder if there is some connection with the evil reputation of Sir Clive, and Quist informs her that there was a book written about it somewhere. 

Meanwhile, the parson’s carriage is nearing Canterbury when the horses rear, causing a bad accident. And what do you know – there’s a skull! Added to that, he is attacked and robbed as well. Later, Mrs March gloats to Prue that her father will be delayed indefinitely. Parson Sylvester arrives at the bishop’s residence in such a ragged state that he is taken for a vagrant and roughly sent off. 

Prue looks for the skull Mrs March took, but there is no sign of it. When she tackles Mrs March over it, Mrs March attacks her and locks her in. Prue hears hammering noises from the crypt and fears it is the skulls wanting to bust out. A strange girl, Lucy Wendover, wanders in, and Mrs March says they are to be friends. But Lucy soon acts like a sadist, enjoying hurting things and cruelly mocking Prue, and taking over the place.

Prue finds the crypt ripped open and more skulls gone. Suspecting Doggett, she goes off to see him. He tells her all the skulls are gone and paid for (except for the one he reserved for the parson), but he does have information about Sir Clive. Sir Clive and an accomplice were evil witch hunters who “terrorised London” and sent hundreds of women to the stake for witchcraft until plague struck them down. He raises a hint that witches could be responsible for the weird goings-on. Later, Prue suspects Dogged knows more than he’s letting on. But as we shall see, she does not get the chance to question him further.

Back home, Prue finds Quist has no knowledge of Lucy Wendover. He shows her a grave showing that Lucy Wendover died over 50 years before and the Wendover line died with her. But in her own room Prue finds Lucy, with yet more blistering skulls, which she uses to torture Prue. Prue notes the skulls burn her but not Lucy. When Prue demands Mrs March remove the skulls, Mrs March says they will all be going all right, “and then the fun will really begin, as Rufus Doggett’s finding out…” Prue heads back to Doggett’s shop and finds it ablaze, with the unfortunate Doggett unable to escape.

The parson arrives back home in such a bad state he has to be confined to bed. Mrs March gloats over him that “it is our revenge”. She takes him to the church and shows him the organ playing by itself and skulls on the altar. She has the parish shut to worshippers. Prue finds a gravestone with her own name on it and next day’s date, but when she tries to point it out to Quist later on, the gravestone is gone and in its place is a freshly dug grave. The parson is now gravely ill, rambling about the skulls coming for him. The doctor says a witch’s curse has been put on him. 

Prue heads off to see Lord Farleigh about things. There she discovers Lord Farleigh has bought some of Doggetts’ skull ornaments and Lucy is his adopted daughter. In Lord Farleigh’s library Prue finds a book: “Stories of English Witchfinders”. It informs her that Sir Clive and his apprentice Jacob Stave were the most feared witchfinders in England who burned the innocent and the guilty alike in the name of bounty. They collected the skulls of their victims from the executions – hence the origin of the skulls. Then the plague killed Sir Clive and struck down Stave, who was also shot in the eye by a victim’s husband. After reading this, Prue realises their one-eyed gravedigger is really Jacob Stave under an assumed name. Then she is attacked by Lucy, who rips up the book and trashes Lord Farleigh’s library. When Lord Farleigh intervenes, he tells Prue the girl is indeed strange but his wife is besotted by her – as if she were under a spell. 

Prue still has a torn page from the book. It tells her that there were only one or two genuine witches among Sir Clive’s victims out of the hundreds he burned. One (Martha Rackshaw) swore vengeance on London, saying it would burn just as she had. 

Back home, Quist shows Prue that the crypt of skulls is now completely empty. All the skulls have gone. When Prue confronts him about being Jacob Stave he doesn’t deny it. He regrets his witch-hunting days and placed the skulls in the crypt as an act of remorse. He believes Mrs March has been possessed by Martha Rackshaw, who is out for revenge on London. Of course it’s to be the Great Fire of London, with the skulls themselves as the firestarters; they can grow so hot they can burst into flames when needed. 

It’s already started at Lord Farleigh’s mansion where Lucy has set the ornamental skulls ablaze to burn the mansion down. She hears her mistress calling (the possessed Mrs March) and comes to the parsonage. Quist and Prue overhear Mrs March telling Lucy the skulls have been planted at Pudding Lane and they will have their revenge. Prue finds her father under a spell and has been turned into a zombie who serves the witch. Under Mrs March’s power he planted the skulls at Pudding Lane. Mrs March tries to hypnotise Prue too, but Quist intervenes. The witch finds him familiar, but she does realise he is Jacob Stave. Quist and Prue break away. 

Quist urges Prue to head to Pudding Lane to warn them. But it’s too late – blazing skulls in the oven have started the Great Fire of London. More of them have been planted like bombs all over the city, and now they’re going off and spreading more flames. While panicking people evacuate, Parson Sylvester wanders through the flames, still in his zombie state. Lucy gloats at the sight of London burning, and Prue realises she is possessed too.

Back home, Quist informs her that Mrs March is burning down the church as well. Recalling that everything started when Mrs March took a skull from the crypt, they head back to the crypt in search of it. Sure enough, they find it there, and realise it is the true source of all the evil (Martha Rackshaw’s skull). They throw it into the flames that are burning up the church. There is a tremendous explosion, and the fire goes out. The parson, Mrs March and Lucy return to normal, and they are bewildered, as they don’t remember what happened to them. After the Great Fire of London burns out, Lord Farleigh promises Parson Sylvester that his church will be among the first to be rebuilt.

There is just one thing that worries Prue. It is not clear if there was one witch or two. What if there were two and they only destroyed one? Quist assures her there was just one and the evil is gone forever. But in the 20th century, on the old Pudding Lane site, workmen find a skull that is red-hot to the touch…

Thoughts

Phew … is your head whirling from reading all that? It ought to be. Once the weird things start happening, they come on thick and fast and just pile up, one after the after, at breath-taking speed, to send your head into a spin and confusion. So many things to confuse you as much as terrify you. The organ playing by itself, doors slamming, illusions, skulls that can burn your skin, screams in the night, the housekeeper acting crazy, a demented girl let loose in your house … the list goes on and on. Prue herself feels her head spinning about all the things that started happening when the skull crypt was opened, as there were so many of them happening.

The pervading thread through it all is those creepy death heads that just keep popping up as much as they mysteriously disappear. Wherever they go, we know something terrible will happen. Human skulls have a long association with hauntings. There are plenty of stories and legends to bear witness to that, such as Owd Nance, the Screaming Skulls of Calgarth, and the skull of William Corder the Red Barn murderer. These particular skulls have the added terror of always associated with heat and fire, from burning when touched to being used as candle holders, so it’s no real surprise to see they can burst into flames and act as firestarters. We aren’t surprised to see the story build up to the Great Fire of London either; we knew it from the period the story was set in.

Witches and victims of witch hunts wanting revenge for their burning/persecution and laying curses that are activated years later are not an uncommon thing in girls’ comics. We have seen it in stories like “The Painting” and “Sharon’s Stone” from Bunty and “Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy. But seldom has it been done on this scale – laying waste to an entire city. Centuries before the IRA, we had Martha Rackshaw and her skulls launching a terrorist attack on London with skulls that can explode, burn and destroy. We can see the cunning behind it all, having Mrs March take Martha Rackshaw’s skull and thus possessing her. Allowing (or even influencing) Rufus Doggett to take the skulls and start selling them all around as painted up ornaments was a crafty way to distribute time bombs all set to go off when the time was right. Hypnotising Parson Sylvester into planting the rest all over London and using an oven to light the fuse were also inspired. The combined heat from the skulls and the oven was the perfect combustion. 

The motives for possessing Lucy are not so clear, and it’s never established how she became possessed. It’s a bit hard to understand what Rackshaw was trying to gain by it other than tormenting Prue and setting fire to Lord Farleigh’s house. We presume she was somehow possessed by the second witch as she was not hypnotised into being a servant like Parson Sylvester. Perhaps the possession was so Rackshaw could have a willing accomplice and one with handy access to the gentry. Whatever it is, the possessed Lucy is a riot in all the scenes she appears and she ramps up the excitement and horror even more.

Although Martha Rackshaw is evil, we might have some sneaking degree of sympathy for her, and more so for the other victims. After all, they were innocent people executed in the name of profit and superstition. The real blame lies in the evil, profiteering Sir Clive and his witch hunting. Or we might not be so sympathetic to Rackshaw, as she is inflicting revenge on innocent people, not the ones responsible for her burning. Anyway, she is evil and has to be destroyed. 

Sir Clive is also to blame for the catastrophe by collecting those skulls in the first place as much as for his witch-hunting. In so doing he unwittingly created the weapons the witches used for their revenge. What the hell was he thinking there, collecting the skulls? Was he some sort of ghoul or trophy hunter? The purpose of burning witches is to destroy their evil, so no trace of them must remain. Anyway, how was he able to collect those skulls from the burnings when they should have been burned in the fires? Did he (ulp) behead his victims before burning them? And the irony is, Jacob Stave/Israel Quist unwittingly facilitated the witches’ revenge through his act of remorse as much as his acts of witch-hunting by secretly placing the skulls in the crypt. In so doing he created a ticking time bomb waiting to be discovered. 

The story has a strong but curious message about the evils of witch hunting. Although the people believe in witches, the condemnation of Sir Clive for his witch hunting is strong and he is regarded as evil for this reason. Rufus Doggett says “may his name be forever cursed”, “stands to reason [Sir Clive’s victims] couldn’t all be witches but those two creatures made ‘em confess nevertheless” and their downfall was “the good God at work”. The book on witch hunters does not praise Sir Clive and Stave either; it says they burned the innocent and guilty alike because of the profit they made from it. We even get sceptics who don’t believe in witches. For example, Parson Sylvester always regarded such things as “foolish” and Prue believed the same until the skulls persuaded her otherwise. However, considering that this is also a witch’s revenge story with genuine witches, the message feels rather mixed.

When I first came across the story in the Girl annual reprint I thought it must be reprinted from Misty, what with all these creepy skulls being allowed to feature in gay abandon and freak out any girl to read the story. It was a surprise to learn it originally appeared in Tammy and two years before IPC’s famous queen of the screams title was launched. A story laden with skulls was certainly a bold, audacious move, and ahead of its time in being two years before Misty. It just goes to show the older IPC girls titles could rival Misty for scares when they needed to. The story is worthy of Misty herself, and the artwork of Mario Capaldi really brings off both the macabre elements, the historical setting, and the grim, dark atmosphere of the story. This story is guaranteed to both frighten and thrill any girl to read it and have any parent up in arms (the latter of which would delight the Misty team, as it was a sign they had done things right). It is a story Misty would be proud of. 

Thursday’s Child (1979)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 20 January 1979 – 31 March 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Juan Solé

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/Reprints: Girl (second series) Picture Library #29 (abridged); Tina 1986 as “Merel, het meisje van morgen” [Merel, the girl from tomorrow]. 

We continue our Halloween season with one of Tammy’s very best spooky stories, “Thursday’s Child”.

Plot

Life has always been good to Thursday Brown, at home and at school. Hmm, do we sense an “until” coming? Oh yes, and it starts when Mum tells Thursday to put the family Union Jack flag away in the loft until it is needed for the millennium celebrations in 2000. While doing so, Thursday ponders where she will be in 2000, and the thought crosses her mind that she might have a daughter.

Then Thursday decides to use the flag for a bedspread instead. Her mother reluctantly agrees, hinting there is something about that flag when she says there was a story grandfather told her about it. Thursday gets her first taste of this when she washes the flag: red liquid comes out in the wash, and Thursday is creeped out to find it feels more like blood to the touch than dye.

That night, the weirdness really begins. Thursday can’t sleep because she feels awful for some reason. She leaves the bed momentarily and recovers, but when she comes back there is a strange girl in her bed. The girl is crying and makes strange ramblings about her mother and how she’s suffering, and if only things had been different. Thursday also notices that the girl bears a resemblance to her. The girl introduces herself as Julie Kemp and really insists on staying, claiming it is her home after all. She wheedles Thursday into helping her stay on with a cover story to her parents. 

At school, Julie plays nasty tricks on Thursday. Moreover, Thursday used to be popular, but now her friends just seem to go off her and make a big fuss over Julie instead. Thursday is out in the cold and nobody seems to care about her anymore. Most telling of all, Julie draws a picture of Thursday in a wheelchair in art class. This upsets Thursday, but nobody sympathises with her. 

Thursday gets the feeling Julie is getting her own back on her for something, but for what? She has never done anything to Julie. But Julie is definitely giving Thursday evil, vindictive looks full of utter hate. When Julie is finally given thought bubbles, we see she is thinking Thursday deserves everything that’s coming to her. 

Julie then claims to be Thursday’s own daughter from the future, and she has travelled back in time to the present. All the hints Julie has dropped now have Thursday thinking something horrible awaits her in the future and she will become wheelchair-bound. Thursday is also getting terrifying manifestations of blood on her face and hands (and it’s not stigmata), and experiences an inexplicable bout of paralysis in her legs. Julie just gloats over this. 

During a fight with Julie, Thursday is consumed by a hatred she never felt before, and it shocks her when she realises. Then she sees the flag glowing. She shows this to Julie, who is disturbed by it too. Thursday tells Julie the flag is making them hate each other. Julie doesn’t argue. Is she having second thoughts about whatever it is she has against Thursday? She does become nicer to Thursday after this and even prompts Thursday’s friends to be nice to her again. But is Julie’s friendliness for real? She has put on false shows of niceness to Thursday before.

Remembering what Mum said about the flag, Thursday asks her for the story about it. But Mum can’t remember what it was. Thanks a lot, Mum.

Thursday decides to follow her mother’s advice and put the flag in the loft. But while doing so she has a fall, which both the flag and Julie (influenced by the flag) cause. The accident leaves Thursday’s legs paralysed for real, with no apparent explanation except shock (or the power of the flag?). Julie really is rubbing it in and Thursday is learning the hard way what it means to be disabled.

Despite her paralysis, Thursday manages to get the flag into the loft, hoping this will stop the trouble. But as soon as she turns the tap on, more blood-like water comes out. The parents put this down to dye running out because the flag was put near the water tank – but Thursday put it in the trunk! The flag is making it clear that being in the loft won’t stop it. 

Julie has persistently refused to explain why she hates Thursday or just what happened in the future, but now she gives way. She is indeed Thursdays’ daughter from the future. In fact, the house Thursday living in now is where she will raise Julie once she’s married and the room that is currently Thursday’s will become Julie’s. In Julie’s time, Thursday’s careless driving (nagging at Julie over her untidy appearance instead of watching the road) caused an accident that left Julie’s legs paralysed. This embittered Julie and turned her against her mother. Then Thursday brought the flag out as a bedspread for Julie (oh, dear, where have we seen that before?) and gave her a library book about the Westshires, a British regiment that one of their ancestors served in. When Julie read it, it told her something about the flag. She then used the flag’s power to go back in time to regain the use of her legs, get her revenge on Thursday, and have Thursday know what it’s like to be paralysed. And she is determined to stay in Thursday’s time although she’s not supposed to be there and her presence is messing up continuity.

Thursday tracks down the library book. She learns a South Sea island chief, Battanga, ran a cult of the Undead, which ran amok. The Westshires were dispatched to crush the cult and Thursday’s great-grandfather killed Battanga. As Battanga lay dying, he cursed great-grandfather’s family, saying his blood is upon them and their descendants, and he will return for revenge someday. His bloodied hands grasped the flag as he made his curse (which would explain the blood manifestations). Since then, Thursday’s family have regarded the flag as “a token of ill-fortune” (but they just have to keep the ruddy thing, don’t they?).

Thursday now realises the flag has to be destroyed utterly. Julie won’t agree, as this would mean sending her back to the future where she will be paralysed. Thursday points out the future will be altered, as the flag, if destroyed in this time, won’t exist in Julie’s time as it did before, which may change the future and prevent the accident. Julie still won’t budge.

Then the flag has a workman take a hacksaw to his own hand (urrghh!) when he is told to remove everything in the loft. This has Julie realise things have gone too far and how horrible she’s been. She agrees to help Thursday take the flag to the dump to be burned, and take her chances on what happens when she returns to her own time.

But of course the flag puts up a fight – and how silly of them to drape it over Thursday’s wheelchair! The flag seizes its chance to race Thursday’s wheelchair over to the canal, wrap itself around her, and try to drown her while Battanga himself appears and gloats over Thursday’s impending doom. Fortunately Julie manages to save Thursday in time. After the rescue, Thursday suddenly finds she can walk again. 

The flag washes up just where they want it to be – the dump – and it is thrown into a fire. Once the flag is destroyed, Julie vanishes. Thursday feels the timeline has been altered sufficiently to prevent Julie’s accident but “won’t know for sure until today catches up with tomorrow…”. Yeah, assuming it is the same tomorrow. What else will be altered because of Julie and the flag’s meddling with the timeline? 

Thoughts

“Thursday’s Child” is a Tammy classic and it was hugely popular, attracting comment in the letters section and even Tammy’s 10th birthday issue. It sure was one of my favourites and I was dying to read the next episode each week. 

The artwork of Juan Solé must have been a delightful novelty for Tammy readers. Solé’s artwork appeared more frequently in June, but this is his only Tammy serial. It is a shame he did not draw more for Tammy (apart from a couple of Strange Stories). I really enjoyed the artwork as much as the story, and the artwork must have added to its popularity.

The story was written by Pat Mills. This was at the height of the Misty era, so it’s not surprising it goes into a lot of themes that are strong, scary and dark: a cursed flag that can move on its own, exert influence evil influence over people and even glow in the dark when it’s aroused; a hate-crazed daughter out for revenge on her own mother; terrifying visions; inexplicable bouts of paralysis; threats of a terrible future ahead; a voodoo chief; the Undead (briefly); a man nearly sawing his hand off; and lots of blood. And ye Editor allowed it. The story would not be out of place in Misty. Could there be any other dark stuff Mills wrote into the story that ye Editor censored or diluted, which he did with a couple of completes Mills wrote for Misty?

The story certainly has a moral to be careful what you put on your bed, especially if you are warned there might be a history attached. The same thing happens in the Gypsy Rose story “Zebras of Zendobo“, where weird, terrifying things start to happen in a girl’s bedroom when she uses zebra skins as bedspreads despite warnings they come from sacred zebras her grandfather shot.

The way in which the flag carries out its curse certainly breaks the pattern we usually see in serials about cursed objects. Usually they force the protagonist to act nasty or commit acts she gets the blame for. Though both things happen in the story, the curse takes the unusual course of using time travel to bring in a hate-crazed girl from the future with an axe to grind against her own mother.

Julie’s hatred is arguably the most disturbing aspect of this story. Hate campaigns we have seen before in girls’ comics – but against your own mother? Or rather, the girl who will become your mother but for the moment is totally innocent of causing the accident. After all, it hasn’t happened yet in this time period. And just look at the things Julie does to Thursday and the hate-filled, gloating looks on her face. Even allowing for the flag having a hand in it…well, we know Thursday’s child has far to go, but in this case Thursday’s child goes too far!

The hate campaign goes against the usual pattern of the protagonist not realising the antagonist is campaigning against her. No, Julie makes no secret of the fact that she hates Thursday and is out to make her life a nightmare. It’s the reason why she’s doing that is part of the mystery that has to be solved, and girls just love mystery.

It’s also unusual in that Julie does turn out to have a reason to hate Thursday instead of being mistaken and getting things wrong, which is more usually the case. However, she has failed to consider that the accident caused by her mother’s carelessness has nothing to do with the 1979 Thursday. Therefore, like so many hate campaigners in girls’ serials, Julie is persecuting the wrong person, but in a different sense.

Moreover, Julie is so blinded by hate that she can’t see the flag is just using her for its own agenda. Sure, it’s helping her get revenge on Thursday, but what happens when it’s done with that? After all, Battanga said his curse would be on all descendants of the great-grandfather, and that includes Julie. We would not be surprised if the flag moved on to the rest of the family and Julie herself, and Julie finally realising what a Pandora’s Box she’s unleashed.

Despite herself, Julie adds odd bits of humour to the story, most of which stem from her landing in a time period years before her own. For example, when she sees Thursday’s Star Wars poster, she snorts at how out of date it is. She is also a bit put out to find she can only find BBC1 and BBC2 on television and asks whether they’ve invented BBC3 yet. But she’s not developed as a fish out of water.

The story also touches on the ramifications of the Butterfly Effect: change one thing and you change everything. It doesn’t delve into the Butterfly Effect except try to prevent Julie’s accident in the future and Thursday try to tell Julie that her presence is interfering with continuity. But what else has been altered by destroying the flag in 1979 instead of letting it hang around until it is used for Julie’s bedspread? Not to mention letting Thursday know the events of the future: a daughter named Julie; her married name is going to be Kemp; she will carry on living in the same house as now and raise her own family there; and the accident she will try to prevent. We are left wondering and worrying what’s going to happen because Thursday knows all this when she shouldn’t have and could easily do other things to change the timeline (like not name a daughter Julie), but the story doesn’t go into it. Anyway, knowing girls’ comics, Thursday will go home to find everything as if Julie had never existed and nobody knowing who the hell Julie is. She will begin to think she probably dreamed it all or something…until she discovers something that suggests it did happen (like the flag missing) and now she doesn’t know what to think.

The Butterfly Effect stems from one event at the beginning of the story: Thursday deciding to use the flag as a bedspread instead of putting it away until 2000 as her mother directed. Now, what if Thursday had obeyed her mother and put the flag away until 2000? Apart from us not having a story that is. Was it the first step on the timeline that led to Julie’s accident because the flag still existed in her time? Yet in this timeline Thursday puts the flag on her bed, which sets in motion the events in the story and the destruction of the flag in 1979, and therefore it will no longer exist in the time period Julie came from. This has us wondering if the flag sent Julie on the wrong timeline and she ended up in (to her) a parallel universe, with a parallel world Thursday instead of the Thursday that will become her mother. If so, the irony is it led to the flag’s own destruction in 1979 and Julie persecuted the wrong Thursday altogether. Perhaps the flag confused things because in both timelines it was used for a bedspread, and in the same bedroom.

We also wonder how Julie will fare once she returns to the future. Knowing comic books, the timeline that led to her accident has been erased and she can still use her legs – but what timeline has taken its place? Julie is bound to return to an altered timeline, one where she could be a castaway in an alternate timeline she can’t change and is left reaping the consequences of her blind hatred. It might even be a timeline where she was never born. We have only Thursday’s feeling that everything will work out for them both to reassure us that the time meddling won’t mess things too much (like in Back to the Future). But if it’s been said once, it’s been said at least a thousand times: don’t meddle with the past.

As with another Pat Mills story, “Land of No Tears“, “Thursday’s Child” makes a point about disability and treatment of the disabled. But instead of decrying harsh attitudes towards disability as in “Land of No Tears” the story takes a few moments to comment on how patronising attitudes and treating disabled people as objects of sympathy do not help disabled people that much. This is one reason why Julie wants to show Thursday what being disabled is like. Curiously, both stories use time travel elements to make their respective statements about disability, yet they have disabled girls going in opposite directions: one travels from the 1970s travels to the future, the other travels from the future to the 1970s.

The Ghostly Ballerina (1983-4)

Sample Images

Ghostly Ballerina 1Ghostly Ballerina 2Ghostly Ballerina 3

 

Published: Princess (second series) #13, 17 December 1983 to #18, 21 January 1984.

Episodes: 6, but a double episode in #18

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: ‘Het spook van de balletschool’ [The ghost of the ballet school], Tina #14, 6 April 1984. https://www.catawiki.nl/catalogus/strips/series-helden/doebidoes-de/77156-1984-nummer-14

Plot

At the National Ballet School, Clare Thomas lives for ballet. So she is devastated when she is told she has to leave the school because her dancing isn’t up standard and she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Then a mysterious ballerina, Arabella Hood, appears to her. Arabella demonstrates she is a superb dancer and says she has the power to make Clare dance equally so. But she says the price is high, and it includes total obedience to her. Clare accepts and is stunned to suddenly find herself dancing brilliantly. Later, Arabella also seems to be able to just disappear into thin air, and she’s already beginning to frighten Clare. It does not take long for Clare to realise that Arabella is dancing through her, and nobody can see Arabella except her. Yes, Arabella’s a ghost.

The director and Dame Anna see Clare’s incredible dancing and can’t understand why they never saw Clare dance so well before; they think it must be hidden talent or something. They give her the principal role in the upcoming gala and plan a huge publicity campaign for it. But this upsets Clare’s best friend Sonja, who had the role originally, and she and Clare fall out. This is the first sign of something Arabella hinted at earlier: “There is no room for friends in the future I have planned for you!” Clare asks the director and Dame Anna to give Sonja the role, but they decline, and can’t understand why Clare is so upset when she’s on the rise to stardom.

Meanwhile, a famous dancer named Anita Stanton says she suddenly wants to quit ballet. The director and Dame Anna can’t understand why she’s doing so when she’s still at the top. They comment on how history seems to be repeating itself: Anita used to be a poor dancer but one day, bang, she was brilliant.

Clare discovers that Anita can see Arabella too. Anita says the same thing happened to her, and to another famous dancer, Stepnova. She explains that Arabella was a Victorian ballerina who died in a fire when she was on the verge of success. She seeks the success that was denied her by targeting mediocre dancers and dancing through them. But the price you pay for dancing brilliantly through Arabella is too high: no friends, no self-respect, and no true success because Arabella is the one who is really doing the dancing. All you do is provide the body. The applause and accolades you receive are not truly yours because you are a fraud, and the fame that comes your way through Arabella brings you nothing but misery. But none of that matters to Arabella: she is ruthless and doesn’t care about how you feel. You are just her puppet who has to do as she says. Anita advises Clare to get out fast.

At first, Clare is too tempted by the ghost’s promises to make her a great dancer who would stay in the world of ballet. But it isn’t long before Clare realises what Anita means. At home, Clare’s parents congratulate her on her victory and can’t understand why she isn’t feeling happy about it. That night, Clare has horrible nightmares of Arabella. Worse is to come when Arabella demonstrates even more frightening powers: she can read your mind and inflict pain on you if you don’t obey her. And she threatens to do even worse to Sonja if Clare doesn’t do as she says.

Terrified for Sonja, Clare pretends to snub her and says it’s best if they are not friends anymore. However, this has Sonja wondering if something strange is going on. Her suspicions grow when she overhears Clare shouting at Arabella after the gala performance. Clare yells about how she used to love ballet even if she wasn’t much good at it, but now Arabella’s ideas of turning her into a famous ballerina are destroying her love of ballet.

Anita has been watching Clare’s brilliant performance at the gala and knows exactly how Clare feels: the ghost is controlling her and all that applause is nothing because you haven’t really earned it. Nobody else understands why Clare is in tears when she should have been happy at such a magnificent performance at the gala. Anita repeats her advice to get out before it is too late, but Clare explains that Arabella has threatened Sonja if she does not obey.

Arabella sees Clare talking to Anita and thinks they are plotting against her. In retaliation, she carries out her threat against Sonja, who gets hurt in an accident. It is only a sprain, but Sonja tells Clare she felt as if someone was controlling her. When she recounts the other strange things she has noticed, Clare decides to tell her everything (despite Arabella warning her not to).

They discuss what to do and realise the reason Arabella haunts is bitterness over being denied fame because she died prematurely. Therefore, the solution must be to give Arabella fame, so they look at a ballet about Arabella’s life story. Arabella not only jumps at it but also says she will choreograph the ballet, which will be called “Arabella”, through Clare.

When the ballet is performed it reveals the full tragic details of Arabella’s story for the first time. She started out as a street urchin in Victorian London, stealing food to survive. Then she went through years of imprisonment in a workhouse with only her love of dancing to keep her going. One day a rich woman spotted her, adopted her, and sent her to ballet school. On the night of Arabella’s debut, fire broke out, and both she and her dreams went up in flames. However, her ghost lives on, dancing through others. The director and Dame Anna particularly like that last bit. (If only they knew!) Clare dances the lead, but the reason the ballet is so successful and convincing is because it was all done through Arabella’s power. At the end, Arabella takes the bow she has been long waiting for and says she can rest in peace now.

Clare is relieved to be free of Arabella but knows she can’t dance that way without her. So, with Anita’s help she convinces Dame Anna that it really was the power of Arabella that made her so exceptional. Sonja takes the lead for the remaining performances of “Arabella”. Clare asks to just be a corps ballerina, and is happy with it because she will still enjoy ballet and remain at the ballet school.

Thoughts

This was the only ballet story to appear in Princess II’s short-lived run. It was also her only ghost story and “evil influence” (girl falls under an evil power) story.

Many of Princess’s stories weren’t particularly distinguished, but this is one of her better offerings. It is pretty dark stuff, and it’s not just because we have an evil ruthless ghost who makes terrifying demands, threats, and can control every muscle in your body. It also has a strong message about how fame brings you nothing but misery if the price you pay is too high. And that can happen even without this ruthless ghost pulling your strings and bringing you fame that isn’t really yours. This is such a contrast to the true Clare, who wants to dance because she loves it, even if she is not strongly talented. She does not care about fame – it’s happiness she wants.

Come to think of it, the haunting isn’t bringing Arabella happiness either. Seeing as she keeps doing it over and over, she’s clearly not getting any satisfaction out of trying to acquire fame through others. This is because it’s not bringing her the fame that was denied her, but does she realise this? Apparently not. And so she can’t rest in peace until Clare and Sonja come up with a way to bring her true fame.

When we see Arabella’s life story in the ballet she becomes a more sympathetic character, so it’s sad to see what an evil ghost she has become. But we can understand it was the tragedy of her story that turned her into a twisted spectre. Her life story definitely is the stuff that deserves to be a full girls’ serial, or even a real-life ballet.

The photo story format has one downside: photo stories have never been a strong format for a ghost story because the models used for ghosts were not convincing, and for some reason they didn’t use SFX to make the models look more ghostly. The ghost of Arabella is no exception. Having the photo story in colour makes the model less convincing as a ghost because you can still see she is flesh and blood. Having the strip in black and white and adding more white makeup might have made the model more convincing.

On the other hand, using the photo story format guarantees accurate, realistic ballet in this ballet story because they would have had to use trained ballerinas for the models. You don’t always get well-drawn ballet in a picture story.

The Dream House (1977)

Sample Images

 

The Dream House 1a

The Dream House 1b

The Dream House 1c

Published: Tammy 12 March 1977 to 23 April 1977

Episodes: 7

Artist: Mike White

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Princess (second series) 26 February 1984 – 31 March 1984 (one double episode); Tina #35 1984 as Het mysterie van het poppenhuis [The mystery of the dolls’ house]

Plot

Jan Dale has taken a temporary job as a nanny to a wealthy family. At first glance the house looks a “dream house”, the sort Jan would buy if she won the pools. Then she is informed Mr Glenn the owner disappeared two days ago; just vanished into thin air while gardening, it seems. His disappearance spooked the staff into leaving except the housekeeper, Miss Royd. Mrs Glenn is a bag of nerves, shrieking, “I won’t go in there! Please! Let me stay outside!” Now what can she mean by that? Elder daughter Diana Glenn is a rude, unpleasant type, and the younger children John and Becky are playing with a dolls’ house that is an exact replica of the house. Later Jan learns the busy parents neglected the younger children, so they turned to spending time with it.

Jan notes there are no dolls in the house, but later she and Diana see a doll outside it that looks just like Mr Glenn. Diana thinks it’s her siblings playing a cruel joke, but later Jan hears a voice calling for help from inside the dolls’ house. Becky says it’s “Silly old Dad!” and John aggressively tells her to shut up.

John and Becky show Jan doll’s clothes in the drawer, saying there will be more dolls in the house soon. Jan is shocked to realise the doll’s clothes are replicas of the clothes she brought with her – but how can that be when she only arrived a few hours ago? John says it’s because the dolls’ house knew she would be coming. Miss Royd tells Jan the dolls’ house is evil. Eventually John and Becky tell Jan they found the dolls’ house in a secret room in the house and show it to her.

Mrs Glenn just vanishes into thin air without explanation. Jan hears her voice calling from the dolls’ house and a hand waves from the window in the dolls’ house. Sure enough, it’s a doll-sized Mrs Glenn screaming for help. But when Jan rouses Diana the doll has disappeared. Diana wants Jan out, but the younger siblings insist she stay, and warn Diana she will be the next for the dolls’ house.

That night Jan has a dream of standing outside the dolls’ house, a voice calling her in, and don’t fight it. At first Jan resists but then calms down and welcomes it; it looks so peaceful in there. Then she wakes up, saying the sun woke her up in time from being snatched by the dolls’ house.

The dream is a forewarning of what happens to Diana. Jan sees her abruptly vanish from the grounds and heads to the dolls’ house, where she sees Diana about to open the house, urging it to let her in. Jan stops Diana in the nick of time, and even Diana is becoming convinced Jan is right. She flees the house in terror, but then she does disappear, as do the doll’s clothes that matched hers. Then Miss Royd and Jan see all three dolls in the house.

Realising she is next, Jan tries to destroy the dolls’ house with an axe, but Miss Royd stops her. Then Jan realises something: there are no doll clothes for Miss Royd, so the house was not planning to take her. Now why could that be?

Caught out, Miss Royd reveals she is behind the dolls’ house. She came with it and lived in it for centuries, and Jan and the Glenns are going to do the same. She was a squire’s wife who sought to discover the secret of eternal life. Frustrated with her constant failures she exclaimed, “Let the devil take anything of mine if I can succeed!” At this, a fire broke out, burning her house down, and the dolls’ house mysteriously appeared. Taking it as a sign, Mistress Royd ordered her new house (now the Glenns’) to be an exact replica. She also ordered a secret room to be built into the dolls’ house and the real one. She had the man who built them murdered, but he made a statement before he died, and the authorities came to arrest her. Mistress Royd and her niece Mary headed for the secret room, but soon realise the authorities had been informed about it. Working through Mary’s mind, Mistress Royd hid in the secret room in the dolls’ house. She stayed there until her mind reached out to John and Becky. Like Mary, they were young children, and her mind can only work through children.

Miss Royd says that it’s not just Jan who is going in there now; John and Becky are going in there too, and they are delighted about it: “It’s lovely being a doll!” She has them believe, and they’ll all be very happy in there. However, Jan manages to turn the power of the dolls’ house against Miss Royd: she persuades Becky and John to let Miss Royd go in first and let the family out, saying this will enable Miss Royd to find out how happy she is being a doll. This sends Miss Royd right back into the dolls’ house and frees the trapped people.

Jan soon finds nobody except her remembers what happened. The parents find they suddenly hate the dolls’ house for some reason and want it gotten rid of. So Jan puts the dolls’ house back in the secret room. She can only hope no other child finds it – Miss Royd is still in there, waiting and calling to be let out.

Thoughts

Surprisingly, Tammy didn’t often run serials on evil dolls, objects or influences, which makes the theme quite refreshing here. By contrast, DCT ran such stories with great abandon, which is another peculiar difference between IPC and DCT. Maybe one of these days we should have an analysis on how IPC and DCT had such differing emphases on serial themes and why this might have been.

The story establishes the theme and the mounting evil very quickly, which is not surprising as it has only seven episodes. So there is no padding or drawing out of the plot. The plotting is tight and well paced, and the evil is closing in fast like a tightening coil, which makes it even more gripping and scary. Unlike some evil doll/toy stories, it does not take long for Jan to realise the evil of the house and what’s progressively happening to the people who disappear. After all, it’s pretty obvious, what with the dolls’ clothes matching the people in the house, the dolls being replicas of the vanished people, the cries for help from the house, and what everyone else in the household is saying about the dolls’ house.

Unlike many protagonists in evil influence/object stories, Jan does not have a frustrating time trying to convince anyone what’s going on, only to find everyone thinks she’s nuts. Miss Royd already says the dolls’ house is evil (but of course she knew that all along). The young children know what’s going on but embrace it and even facilitate it. Mrs Glenn can already sense it coming and is scared out of her wits. Only Diana rubbishes it, but deep down she has her doubts, and it’s not long before her doubts turn into terror.

The family dysfunction (neglectful parents, unpleasant big sister) clearly made John and Becky easy targets for the dolls’ house and falling under the power of Miss Royd. It appeared to offer them happiness, comfort and peace, and would make them all one happy family once they were all inside, as dolls. From what we gather from Jan’s dream and how Diana almost got enticed in, this is how it lures them all in and gets the children into its power. Like its real-sized counterpart, it appeared to be the dream house. But once they were all inside, they would soon find it was really the nightmare house. Once released, Dad’s remark that he now hates the dolls’ house for some reason gives the impression that although they don’t remember anything, they will be wiser for the experience and work on being a better family unit.

Miss Royd is clearly a cautionary tale in the consequences of dabbling in the dark arts and tempting the Devil. Though the Devil does not seem to be after souls – after all, what he gives Miss Royd offers eternal life – any gifts from him will have strings attached. The dolls’ house is no exception. It grants eternal life – but from the look of it, it’s eternal life as a doll. Is that really the lovely and happy thing Miss Royd says it is? We don’t think so from the way the Glenns keep screaming once they are trapped in the house. Or Miss Royd herself once she is returned to the house. She screams at Jan to let her out, in the way Mrs Glenn did. Aww, poor diddums Royd – don’t you like it in the dolls’ house, even if it does give you the eternal life you wanted?

Hangman’s Alley [1979]

Sample Images

Hangmans Alley 1Hangmans Alley 2Hangmans Alley 3Hangmans Alley 4

Published: Misty #86, 29 September 1979 – #90, 27 October 1979

Episodes: 5

Artist: Jesus Redondo

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Best of Misty #5

Plot

Mel and Jacey Coombs and their mother move into an apartment above an old alley. It used to be called Hangman’s Alley because condemned criminals were taken through this alleyway from the gaol on the marsh to execution on Gallows Hill. Mum tries to hide this grim past from her daughters, but it’s no use. Their arrival has stirred up the ghosts – literally. The ghost of a servant girl who was wrongly executed returns from beyond the grave when the family move in, and she is full of bitterness and hatred. She is taking out her hatred on Mel, for no other reason than Mel is a dead ringer for her. She almost attacks Mel in the bedroom, and later she lures Mel onto a bridge in a trance and tries to throw her off.

Jacey, the only one who can sense or see the ghost, discovers what the ghost is trying to do, and confronts the ghost in a bid to save Mel. The ghost informs Jacey, through a series of visions, that she was wrongly executed for stealing a pearl necklace from her mistress. The evidence against her was extremely flimsy. She was cleaning her mistress’s jewellery and another servant saw her admiring the pearl necklace while doing so. On this alone, everyone just assumed she stole the necklace when the mistress found it missing later on. She was dragged to the gallows protesting her innocence, but in vain; angry people were yelling for her execution on all sides. Jacey strikes a deal with the ghost: she will clear the ghost’s name if the ghost will leave Mel alone.

Having read up the history of Hangman’s Alley, Jacey knows where to find the old gaol. At the gaol the ghost directs her to her name, which she gouged into the wall: Melinda Walpole. At least Jacey now knows the ghost’s name. However, Jacey is caught for trespass and gets into big trouble with Mum, especially as she skipped school to go there in the first place.

Unfortunately Jacey’s investigation is making slow progress. The ghost is getting impatient and her impatience is making her increasingly dangerous. The investigation is being further impeded by distractions the family unwittingly put up. The family host a housewarming party, but Jacey sees Melinda the ghost while doing preparations and realises Mel has gone. She finds Mel collapsed in the alley and a warning from Melinda written in cherryade on the wall, which Jacey realises is a warning it could be blood next time. The message reads, “Remember the promise or next time…”

Thinking Jacey is off colour, Mum sends her to the doctor, and the wait in reception is interminable. It’s another holdup on the investigation and more strain on Melinda’s patience. But at least Jacey gets another clue while waiting, in a magazine. It is an article on an old house, and one of the photos shows Melinda’s signature etched on the wall. So now Jacey has located the house Melinda worked in. It is now facing development while others want to preserve it.

Jacey goes to the house and heads for the old servants’ quarters to find the etching. Mel follows, and Jacey tells her she’s playing grand lady to cover up what she is really doing. Hearing this, Melinda thinks she has been mucked around long enough. Her patience snaps, and she locks them in the old servants’ quarters and sets the house on fire. While fighting their way out, a wall partition gives way and Jacey finds an old box hidden in there. They make their way out safely and a huge crowd gathers. Among them is a reporter hoping for a story that will help save the house.

He gets it when Jacey opens the box. It contains the stolen necklace and a written confession from the thief (whose identity is not revealed). She had contracted smallpox from the crowd while watching Melinda being executed. She was left to die in the attic, but before she did she wrote the confession. She then put the necklace and confession in the box and hid it in the wall.

The publicity the confession creates in the press saves the house and it is converted into a museum. Jacey is given the necklace as a reward. Melinda, speaking for the very first time to Jacey, puts the necklace on Jacey herself, and says she can rest in peace now her name has been cleared.

Thoughts

Serials about servants being wrongly accused are commonplace in girls’ comics, and serials about wrongly accused servants coming back as ghosts are not unusual either. “Shivery Shirley” from Bunty and “The Sad Ghost” from June are examples of such ghosts. But this one is particularly morbid for several reasons.

First, the wrongly accused servant is actually executed instead of simply dying in miserable circumstances as her counterparts mentioned above do. And she was not merely dismissed, imprisoned or transported – she was executed.

Second, the ghost, while having a sympathetic backstory and situation, is not very sympathetic as a character. Instead of crying out for help she is extremely malevolent and the atmosphere her presence creates is described as “evil”. Her maliciousness may be the product of the bitterness over the injustice, but there is no apparent reason for why she is attacking Mel or why she is taking it all out on Mel. And she simply has no excuse for attacking Mel either, as Mel had nothing to do with the injustice. So why the hell is she doing it? At least with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”, another malevolent ghost in Tammy, there was a psychology to her behaviour that we could understand and it made her haunting more realistic. In the case of Melinda Walpole there is none and we just don’t get it – why is she acting in that way to Mel?

Finally, the depiction of Hangman’s Alley and the executions are gruesome and atmospheric. The hatching, linework and inking of Jesus Redondo renders it all brilliantly. We hear references to criminals being taken to the “gibbet” and there “die horribly”. And the flashback of Melinda being dragged to execution gives the impression her execution was little more than a lynching.

The story is not long at five episodes. Considering Melinda’s conduct and the slowness of Jacey’s investigation, this probably is just as well, and it does make the plotting very tight. The danger of the ghost gives a sense of urgency to get things done fast but things are just moving too slowly, which makes it even more worrying for Jacey and more dramatic for us readers. However, the ending feels like it came a bit too soon, and the menace of Melinda was too short-lived.

At the end of the story it is not revealed who the thief really was when her confession is found. Was it the servant who saw Melinda admire the necklace or was it someone else? Not being told whodunit is infuriating. The ending would have been better if the identity of the thief had been revealed.