Tag Archives: Exploitation

Slaves of the Candle [1975-1976]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty & Lindy 8 November 1975 – 24 January 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Roy Newby plus unknown filler artist

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none

Plot

It is the year 1830. Lyndy Lagtree works as a maidservant for the Duchess of Dowgate. Mrs Tallow, the best candlemaker in London and highly respected for it, arrives with a candle chandelier that she always provides for the grandest parties. Then the whole chandelier is extinguished when one candle proves faulty, which plunges the room into darkness. Afterwards they find a painting has disappeared. Lyndy overhears a guest talking about a similar incident at another grand house, at which a necklace vanished afterwards. She begins to suspect Mrs Tallow is using her chandeliers as a cover for a series of thefts and hides in Mrs Tallow’s wagon so she can do some investigating.

At Mrs Tallow’s shop Lyndy discovers the shop is a front that conceals a secret workshop where Mrs Tallow is using children as unpaid slave labour to make her candles. Later it is established that making them work around the clock with little chance to sleep seems to be a common occurrence, and food consists of cold gruel and the like. The slaves are totally cut off from the outside world in their underground cellar, except for a crack in the wall Mrs Tallow does not know about. It also means they have to work in very poor light. Instead of developing eye problems though, they develop the ability to see in near darkness.

Then Mrs Tallow catches Lyndy – and yes, Mrs Tallow hid the painting in one of her candles. To silence Lyndy, Mrs Tallow and her henchman Wick hold her captive in the workshop with the other slaves. They all learn from the Peelers that Lyndy has been blamed for the theft of the painting. Now there is a price on her head for 100 guineas and her “wanted” posters are plastered all over London. At this Mrs Tallow and Wick are now confident that Lyndy can never try to escape.

But they are wrong. Lyndy is determined to escape, prove her innocence, and bring down Mrs Tallow and her racket. Here Lyndy contrasts to the other slaves, who don’t even try to escape as they consider themselves just “rubbish” in society and have nowhere else to go. She is also the oldest and the strongest in spirit, which makes her a natural leader of the slaves. Lyndy is also lucky in to discover she is a natural for making candles once the slaves teach her. Mrs Tallow herself even calls Lyndy her best candle maker, even if she is trouble. If only circumstances were different, Lyndy could chuck skivvying in favour of a more lucrative living in the candle making business.

Lyndy explores the workshop chimney, feeling it is an escape route. A cowl at the top blocks her way, but Lyndy sees a clue down below. Mrs Tallow is giving the stolen painting to her dealer, who then gets into a coach with a coat of arms on it. Lyndy etches the coat of arms onto the candle she has brought.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has to act fast to stop Mrs Tallow seeing the coat of arms candle and rumbling what is going on. A diversion with a bottle of candle dye does the trick, and Lyndy also manages to retrieve the candle. But Mrs Tallow is furious at getting colour on her dark clothes and threatens to make Lyndy suffer for it. Lyndy finds this reaction very odd, and from this point on Mrs Tallow’s sanity is called into question.

Lyndy soon finds out what Mrs Tallow means by making her suffer. She is going to make Lyndy go into hives, and risk being badly stung, in order to get beeswax for beeswax candles. Lyndy tries to escape again along the way, but fails. And things get worse when they arrive: the bees are disturbed and extremely dangerous. But Mrs Tallow, still determined to punish Lyndy, forces her to go in. Lyndy succeeds in getting the beeswax without a sting with an improvised smoker she made out of a candle. Mrs Tallow admits she has to give Lyndy credit.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has the others rig up dummies made out of wax to fool anyone who comes to check. While they do this, she and her closest friend Lucy go up the chimney and break through the cowl with scissors. They escape into the street, but Lucy injures herself on landing. Then the coach comes, and Lyndy overhears Mrs Tallow and her mysterious coach accomplice plotting to pull the candle chandelier trick at Ballam House. But then the coachman spots Lucy and Lyndy, and the chase begins. Mrs Tallow has the Peelers join in, having led them to think the girls are thieves.

The girls make it to the heath, but Lucy’s injury is taking its toll and she passes out. Lyndy modifies the coat of arms candle to make it look like a Peeler’s torch, and manages to draw the Peelers off. But she’s lost the coat of arms etching on the candle.

When dawn comes, Lyndy comes across Ballam House, and Mrs Tallow is making her delivery. Lyndy and Lucy take jobs at the house to try to foil Mrs Tallow. But Mrs Tallow outwits Lyndy with a fake mask (made of wax) and then sets fire to the house to cover her tracks while she and her accomplice recapture Lyndy and Lucy, and make off with the valuables they were after. Later, Lyndy is shown a “wanted” poster that shows she has been blamed for Mrs Tallow’s crimes at Ballam House as well, and the price on her head is now £700. Wow!

A new cowl is fitted over the chimney. Just what extra security Mrs Tallow is making there is not clear, but she still does not know about the crack in the wall.

Mrs Tallow has a new job for the slaves: make a candle that is a replica of the Tower of London, which her mysterious coach accomplice takes. It is a gift for Queen Victoria, who is so impressed she wants Mrs Tallow to provide the lighting for her upcoming Lumiere Celebrations. Lyndy wonders why Mrs Tallow wants to win favour with the Queen. (Don’t you think it sounds like it’s going to be the candle chandelier ruse on an even grander scale, Lyndy?) Meanwhile, Lucy manages to make a wax impression of Mrs Tallow’s key.

Later, from the crack in the wall, Lyndy sees the coach accomplice assault a blind pedlar who is selling candles. His candles are ruined, but Lyndy makes a friend of him by giving him their own candles. When he returns, they slip him the wax impression so he can get a key made and slip it to them. He gets arrested while doing so, because the Peelers do not approve of him selling cheaper candles in the vicinity of a quality candle shop.

Mrs Tallow wants the girls to make candles for a special night at the Tower of London. When Lyndy uses the key to escape the workshop and poke around the place, she discovers why Mrs Tallow is so interested in the Tower of London: she is plotting to steal the Crown Jewels. Lyndy slips back to the workshop before she’s missed.

Mrs Tallow has Wick stand guard over the workshop. Another clever plan from Lyndy puts him out of action long enough for the girls to escape, but he recovers and soon he and Mrs Tallow are after the girls. They give their pursuers the slip, but Lyndy goes to the Tower of London in the hope she will be believed. She speaks to the governor, and then sees a ring on his desk with the same coat of arms. She realises the accomplice is in the Tower, but does not connect it with the governor – and she should have! By the time she does, she has unwittingly led him and Mrs Tallow to the girls. Lyndy and Lucy escape into the river, but the other girls are recaptured. Lucy seems to have drowned, but Lyndy makes it onto another boat. Mrs Tallow then informs Lyndy what will happen if she goes telling tales: she burns a candle that is a replica of the House of Candles in a symbolic threat that she means to burn down the House of Candles with the girls inside.

Rivermen fish Lucy out of the river. Before she passes out she tells Lyndy they said “candles an inch past midnight.” The royal barge passes by and the rivermen explain it is the time the Queen goes to the Tower to examine her treasures, and it will be at midnight – the time when Mrs Tallow will strike. Lyndy slips aboard the royal barge with the help of the rivermen and back to the Tower. There Mrs Tallow’s candles are set up to light the Tower at midnight, when the treasures will be opened.

Then Lyndy finds out what “an inch past midnight” means. The wicks are only one inch long, which means the candles are rigged to burn for a brief time and then go out all at once to plunge the Tower into darkness. And under cover of darkness, Mrs Tallow and the governor steal the Crown Jewels. Yes, definitely the old chandelier candle trick, but on a royal scale.

But Mrs Tallow also pulls a double cross on the governor, which makes it clear to him that she never had any intention of helping him get out heavy gambling debts in return for his services. As will be seen, this causes him to have a change of heart.

Meanwhile, Mrs Tallow heads back to the House of Candles with the Crown Jewels, which she gloats over and calls herself “The Queen of the Candles”. Lyndy follows, as Mrs Tallow threatened to burn the other girls alive in it. Mrs Tallow has it all rigged up with wood shavings and candles to set them alight once they burn down. Once she recaptures Lyndy she has Lyndy tied up so she will burn too. Lyndy screams at Mrs Tallow that she is mad.

But then the governor appears, agrees Mrs Tallow is mad, and comes to Lyndy’s rescue. He knocks out Wick and puts out the candles with his sword. Oddly, Mrs Tallow just sits there, so the governor ties her up while she screams that she wants the jewels because she’s the Queen of the Candles.

Lyndy and the other children get out, and take the Crown Jewels with them. The governor tells them to go for the Peelers. But then Mrs Tallow screams for help. The governor missed one candle, and now it’s threatening to make her scheme to burn down the House of Candles backfire on her. Lyndy tries to stop the candle but fails. The House of Candles goes up in flames, and Mrs Tallow with it. Wick recovers enough to stagger out behind Lyndy, and the Peelers are waiting.

In gratitude, Queen Victoria gives all the girls royal patronage and protection, and promises them assured futures. The false charges against Lyndy are presumably sorted out too. The fate of the governor is not recorded.

Then, from the royal coach window, Lyndy spots a beggar woman selling candles. Lyndy is not 100% sure as she cannot see the woman’s face, but it looks like a much altered and punished Mrs Tallow. She wonders if Mrs Tallow’s flame is still burning after all, albeit in a harmless manner…

Thoughts

“Slaves of the Candle” was one of the new stories to commemorate the Jinty and Lindy merger and the first group slave story in Jinty since “Merry at Misery House”. It was also the first serial in Jinty with a Victorian setting. What a pity it contains such a glaring historical error: the story is set in 1830 and Victoria did not come to the throne until 1837, yet Queen Victoria appears in the story. In fairness, the 1830 reference disappears in later episodes and the time period is just referred to as Victorian. Perhaps they spotted the error.

“Slaves of the Candle” brought Lindy artist Ron Newby to Jinty. There is a strong indication that the story itself was originally written for Lindy but appeared in the merger instead. For one thing, the protagonist’s name is Lyndy. Just change the first “y” to an “i” and it’s the same name as the comic merging into Jinty. Second, Newby had already drawn period stories for Lindy that feature girls being exploited as child labour (“Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly”). Indeed this story brought Newby to Jinty. Lastly, Lindy had a stronger emphasis on such stories than Jinty did. In fact, Jinty ran just two more serials with 19th centuries settings while the Lindy logo was on the cover, and then them dropped for good. Only some of the Gypsy Rose stories used the 19th century setting afterwards. Tammy, on the other hand, used the 19th century setting far more frequently. This is another major difference between Jinty and Tammy, and it’s an odd one.

The Victorian age, being notorious for exploitative child labour, was a popular and natural setting for group slave stories. This one is no exception and the grittiness of the Victorian age is the perfect ambience to this insidious racket that takes advantage of both light and dark to fulfil evil schemes.

Making candles isn’t the cruellest of slave labour. Girls have been put to far worse and more dangerous labour than that in group slave stories, such as working in mines, quarries or prisons. But Mrs Tallow is no mere cruel employer who just takes advantage of cheap child labour. She is a criminal who uses the candles from the slavery for evil purposes: first it was just robbery, but then she moved up to treason by stealing the Crown Jewels. Her criminal dealings must be why she keeps the child labourers as prisoners and slaves in a secret workshop. After all, she would not want any of them getting loose and reporting her to the Peelers. And when it’s hinted she’s insane as well, it adds another sinister dimension to this creepy woman. In fact, you have to wonder if her motive to steal the Crown Jewels was greed, as it had been with the other thefts, or her Queen of the Candles delusion. Being Queen of the Candles is no mere fantasy; it is all part of her insanity, as is made clear when she refuses to get off her throne because she’s the Queen of the Candles, despite the danger around her.

Like any other racketeer of a group slave story, the main villain has to meet her/his match in the main protagonist and rue the day she/he ever enslaved her. And that is the case here. It’s not just that Lyndy is a very sharp-witted, resourceful girl who refuses to be broken by whatever the racketeers throw at her. It’s also adding insult to injury to be enslaved by the very woman who framed her and is leaving her to carry the can over the crimes. Lyndy is very determined to prove her innocence instead of never daring to escape as the racketeer thought. It also helps that she’s the oldest of the slaves, which makes her a natural for a leadership/maternal role, and also helps to rouse these slaves, who were so resigned that they hadn’t even tried to escape.

The story gets a bit tedious with Lyndy going through so many failed escape bids and being recaptured each time. Of course she does make progress even with her failures. But we do have to wonder why Mrs Tallow does not punish Lyndy far more severely for being constant trouble or try to get rid of her altogether, even if she is the best candle maker. Maybe it’s more of Mrs Tallow’s weirdness.

The weirdness extends even to the names of the villains, which reflect the very business they operate in: candle making. Perhaps Mrs Tallow changed her name and that of Wick to tie in with their business and her fantasy with being Queen of the Candles. The candles and everything associated with them (wax, flint, fire, wick) permeate throughout the story. Even the governor’s coat of arms looks like flames. The candles and their associated properties are not just for the candle trade. By turns we see the candles used as tools for crime, escape, disguise, bee repellents, communication, and even weapons. And it’s both sides that are doing it, which means Mrs Tallow’s candles are being used against her as much she puts them to her own use. There’s an amusing poetic justice and irony here. Of course it carries right through to the downfall of Mrs Tallow. Her own candles become the instrument of her final retribution, while her former slaves enjoy a happy new employment with the very Queen Mrs Tallow tried to rob. We never see what sort of employment the Queen offers them, but we would not be surprised (though we may groan) if it has something to do with candles.

The final hint that Mrs Tallow may not be as dead as they thought has the story end on a stronger note than a simple happy ending. But it’s not on a note that she will rise again, which makes it less cliched. It is also more poetic justice, having Mrs Tallow (if it is her) reduced to the same level as the candle-selling pedlar.

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Bella at the Bar (1974) – first Bella Barlow story

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

Translations/reprints: Bella’s Book of Gymnastics 1981 as Bella – the Beginning

Plot

Orphan Bella Barlow lives with her Uncle Jed and Aunt Gert, who abuse and exploit her. Their exploitation is motivated by laziness, tight-fistedness, greed, and squandering their money on gambling (bingo, dog racing), and in Jed’s case, drinking. Their background must come into it as well as they are low working class people who don’t look very far above the poverty line and they live in a very seedy house. They make Bella do all the housework, the cooking (while making her eat separate, substandard food and often starve her altogether), and make her a slave at Uncle Jed’s window cleaning business. They never pay her anything, making the excuse that her board and keep are the payment. They keep her away from school and are not above beating her. And if they see any way to make money out of Bella they will seize upon it.

Bella lives for gymnastics and has rigged up makeshift apparatus in the back yard (probably cobbled together from the scrap Jed collects). She uses every spare moment she can to work on it. Oddly, Jed and Gert do not interfere with her makeshift apparatus although they disapprove of her “wasting time” on it instead of working.

While working at the window cleaning, Bella comes across a gymnastics class at a school and immediately wants to be part of it. The teacher, Miss Mortimer, is happy to have Bella, especially after she helps a pupil in trouble.

However, there are two problems. First, grasping Uncle Jed won’t give permission because there is no money in it. Second, the school is an exclusive one and the snobby headmistress would not allow a “guttersnipe” like Bella into the classes. So although it would put her job at risk, Miss Mortimer decides to coach Bella in secret out of school hours because Bella is so talented. Meanwhile, Bella gets around Jed by tricking him into thinking she is getting money from the gymnastics by taking a secret car washing job (and the employer later exploits her too, with blackmail). When Jed and Gert hear that Bella could be good enough to compete internationally, they (mistakenly) think there could be big money in it for them. So they allow the classes and Bella to practise at home, and they start treating her kindly, with proper feeding and not lumbering her with so much work.

Soon Bella is making such progress that Miss Mortimer enters her in a competition for experience. Unfortunately at this moment the snobby headmistress finds out about Miss Mortimer secretly coaching Bella. Bella has to go or Miss Mortimer gets the sack, so it’s the end of Bella’s coaching with Miss Mortimer.

Bella keeps this secret from Jed and Gert, otherwise it will be back to the old drudgery with renewed vengeance. She lets them go on thinking things are just carrying on. She finds ways to keep up her exercises but has to go into the competition without proper coaching for it or even really knowing what she is supposed to be doing. Despite the difficulties and no win, Bella makes a respectable impression on officials, who say she could go far with more experience. Bella also makes some contacts among the other competitors, who go to the gym class run by Mr Benson, head of the sports centre. Mr Benson has also noticed Bella and offers her a place in his own gymnastics class. Jed declines as he still thinks Miss Mortimer is coaching Bella, and is not willing to pay the fee either. Bella has to put up money from her secret work (now a babysitting job) to pay the fee and join Mr Benson’s gym club.

Jed gets impatient about Bella’s gymnastics not bringing him money and means to see Miss Mortimer about getting Bella into winning competitions and being a money spinner. Bella tries to stop him seeing Miss Mortimer and find out everything, but fails. The Barlows are furious to discover their mistaken assumption that Bella’s gymnastics would make them money. It’s back to the old mistreatment. Worse, Bella’s confidence in her gymnastics has taken a knock because she is now under the impression she does not have what it takes to become a top gymnast.

While the Barlows are out the girls from Mr Benson’s class drop by and persuade Bella to come to class, which restores her confidence. She does so well that Mr Benson chooses her to take part in a gymnastics display for charity. Much to Bella’s surprise, Gert agrees to it. Bella realises there must be an underhand reason for it, but decides to concentrate on the show.

After the display Bella receives encouragement from Mr Benson that she could become good enough to compete for England. However, the Barlows do not allow her to continue with Mr Benson. They only allowed her to perform in the show in the hope that their friend, Murton Stone, the owner of “The Strolling Stones” seaside theatrical show, would take her on for gymnastics acts in his show. Stone agrees to it, and Bella reluctantly decides to go along with it because she thinks it would enable her to keep up gymnastics.

In terms of proper treatment, Bella soon finds she isn’t much better off at The Strolling Stones. The Stones are as stonyhearted as their names suggest. In fact, the Stones tell their spoiled daughter Amelia to make as much use of Bella as she likes. Amelia seizes upon with this with alacrity because she hates Bella. On top of the exploitation and bullying from Amelia, Bella finds that Stone himself exceeds even Uncle Jed for slave-driving her.

When it comes to the gymnastics acts Stone strips away all the dance elements in Bella’s floor routines when Amelia protests that she is the dancer of the show (which she doesn’t have much talent for). He tells Bella to stick exclusively to the acrobatic elements in her gymnastics performances, which are to be spiced up to the max and look as spectacular as possible. Before long Bella notices her body is acting up after the performances, but fails to realise it is a danger signal. She puts up with the Stones’ mistreatment because she thinks the show is the only way to keep up gymnastics and it is better than nothing at all.

But Bella soon finds out otherwise when Mr Benson catches up with her at the seaside show. When he sees the souped-up acrobatics in Bella’s act he tells her to stop immediately, because they are both improper gymnastics and damaging to her body. When Bella tries to tell him why she can’t stop, he misunderstands and does not give her a chance to fully explain. He thinks she is putting money over her wellbeing and leaves in disgust.

By now Bella’s body is well and truly telling her how right Mr Benson is. She realises she must get out fast. But if she simply leaves, Jed and Gert will just send her back. So she tries to get the sack by putting on bad performances. Unfortunately it backfires, and as a result Bella finds herself forced into humiliating burlesque gymnastics acts and being an abused clown sidekick in Amelia’s dancing routine.

In the end Bella simply runs away from the Stones and heads home. When she arrives she finds Jed and Gert have gone away on a two-week holiday (no doubt by using the money they made from the Stones’ exploitation of her). This proves fortunate because it gives Bella freedom to pursue gymnastics and make her own money without hindrance.

Unfortunately her misunderstandings with Mr Benson are making him think she is unreliable and irresponsible. He allows her to return, but Bella gets the impression he will expel her if she does not overcome her difficulties in getting to classes. Moreover, her gymnastics have deteriorated because of the seaside show abuse and she has to make extra efforts to get back into shape.

Then child welfare discover Bella is living on her own and insist on putting her in a children’s home. Bella does not like the prison-like home, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the unpleasant staff. Moreover, she is desperately worried that their interference will make her miss her next gym class.

So Bella just runs off to get there. But on the way she helps out at a road accident, which leaves her badly injured and she is hospitalised. She missed her gym class and now fears she is out of Mr Benson’s class for good. However, it turns out the men she helped at the accident were big Russian officials. They reward her with a place at a top Russian gymnastics school.

Thoughts

This is one of the most pivotal girls’ serials ever because it changed the course of girls’ comics history. Bella, who started out as just another serial in her first story here, proved so popular that she went on to become a regular in Tammy who held a joint record with Molly Mills for Tammy’s longest-running character (10 years each). Bella Barlow remains one of the most beloved and best-remembered characters ever in girls’ comics. She also changed the course of the career of her artist, John Armstrong, and he himself modelled her on his own niece.

However, the subsequent history of Bella and her sequels will be excluded from this discussion. It will concentrate on the first story itself.

One thing that would have made the first Bella story so popular is that it is firmly rooted in the Cinderella formula that had been in Tammy from issue one. It would remain frequent in Tammy until the late 1970s. It is atypical in that there is no wicked stepsister figure, but then it is difficult to imagine the wicked stepsister figure fitting into the Barlow household. After all, the Barlows squander so much money on what they do raise that they could hardly afford to spoil a wicked stepsister. The nearest we get to the wicked stepsister is Amelia Stone, but she is not part of the Barlow household.

Bella is set in the Tammy tradition of abused heroines who endure countless trials, torments and setbacks of all sorts before the happy ending. From the start she encounters obstacles and people that not only hinder her ambition to be a gymnast but also mistreat her at every turn. Bella has problems even with the people who do help her (Miss Mortimer, Mr Benson) until she meets the Russian officials. And readers would have lapped it up. They just loved the stories of ill-used heroines being forced through tribulations and tortures of all descriptions.

The abuse and hindrance Bella suffers at the hands of the Barlows stems from both their personalities and their working class background. They don’t live well and Jed is unlikely to make much money from his window cleaning business. All the same, they would be living better than they do if they used their money more sensibly and did not squander it on gambling and booze. They would also do a whole lot better if they worked more, but they are too lazy and selfish to do so. The only thing they work hard at is finding ways to make money any way they can, especially by wringing it out of Bella.

Bella’s move to the seaside show is no escape from exploitation and abuse either. The hindrance it gives to Bella’s gymnastics is even more of a threat than the Barlows because Bella is incapable of recognising it as such. She thinks that it at least is enabling her to do gymnastics. She does not realise the stunts Stone is forcing her to do are actually detrimental to both her gymnastics and her body until Mr Benson informs her.

When we first meet Bella we are impressed at what a perky figure she is despite all the abuse she suffers at home. We have to wonder how she does it. And from the first, her determination to pursue gymnastics despite all her difficulties really shines through. She has an unusual companion in the form of her bucket, which is a rather cute element. However, the bucket does not last long as a helper and not referred to as such again.

As is the case with so many of Tammy’s Cinderella stories, Bella has only one thing that makes her miserable life worthwhile and could be her ticket out of her misery if she keeps it up despite everything. In this case it is gymnastics.

The gymnastics themselves would have helped to popularise the story. The serial came out at a time when Olga Korbut was creating huge publicity for the sport. Tammy had run one other gymnastics story, “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” in 1972, but it was Bella who caused gymnastics to really take off in Tammy and made gymnastics one of the most central features in Tammy right to the end of her life. Moreover, the gymnastics are all brought to life through the brilliant rendering of John Armstrong. Nobody in girls’ comics has ever matched Armstrong for drawing gymnastics. He drew the gymnastics in a realistic, fluid, anatomical style that would have had readers crying out for more. There can be no doubt that the choice of artist was one of the biggest factors in making the first Bella story so popular.

The plotting is well structured and the pace strong and tight, with no meandering or padding just to spin it out. One puzzling thing comes right at the end, when the Russian officials say they have found out about Bella’s miserable home life. How did they manage to find that out, especially as the Barlows must still be away? It sounds a bit pat and contrived there.

It is not hard to see why the first Bella story was so popular. It was a strong, well-written story that was based on established formulas that had long guaranteed popularity in Tammy, and it was filled with lots of emotion and drama and strong, convincing characters. Rather than the more hackneyed ballet or horse riding the story used a sport that had only recently been spotlighted and popularised, which would have been quite refreshing. And the choice of artist to bring the gymnastics to life could not have been bettered and would have left readers hankering to see more of it.

But just what was it that made the first Bella story so popular that readers were writing in demanding a sequel as soon as her first story finished? What made Bella so different to the other Cinderella stories that had gone before and after her that enabled her to spawn a sequel and then more sequels? Finding the answers would probably spin a thread of speculation a mile long. Certainly the final panel helped. It had a slightly open ending, which left scope and even a hint for a possible sequel. Perhaps Tammy planned it that way. The editor would have seen the popularity of Bella and did not want to close the door on her altogether, just in case. Well, if that was the editor’s intention, the rest is history.

Slave of the Swan (1978)

Sample Images

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Published: 1 April 1978 to 29 July 1978 (18 episodes)

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De wraak van de Zwaan [Revenge of the Swan] (in: Tina 1980)

Plot

Katrina Vale is a talented ballerina. Her mother is a ballet teacher, but has to work as a cheap one. Therefore life’s so much on the poverty line that Mum collapses of malnutrition from having to cut meals, and she’s taken to hospital. Katrina has to find a relative to look after her or it’s welfare, but Mum has never talked about any relations or her past life. A search of Mum’s belongings reveals she used to be a famous ballerina, under the name of Katia Groves. This is quite a surprise to Katrina, who was never told any of this, and is puzzled as to why things changed so much for Mum (yes, why did they?). Another ballerina, Rosa Kachinksy aka “The Swan”, was Mum’s best friend. Katrina finds the address for the ballet school Kachinsky runs in London and decides to go to Kachinsky for help. But in London Katrina gets hit by a hit-and run driver and loses her memory. She makes it to Kachinsky’s school but now has no idea why she came or who she is.

Kachinsky catches on to who Katrina is, though. Unfortunately she’s gone from Mum’s best friend to her worst enemy because she blames Mum for being confined to a wheelchair. Now she intends to use Katrina to wreak her revenge. So she takes advantage of Katrina’s amnesia to feed her an orchestrated tissue of lies to make Katrina her slave and keep her away from her mother forever.

It starts with Kachinsky telling Katrina that her name is Mary Black, and she’s been taken from an orphanage to work as a servant. Soon she is turning Katrina into a drudge who is lumbered with all the worst jobs around the place, and loving every minute of watching Katrina slave away. And of course she isn’t paying Katrina a penny for all the work; she tells Katrina that she’s living off her charity. But that’s only the beginning.

Kachinsky gives Katrina a ragged hair cut while she’s in a drugged sleep to prevent anyone recognising her from newspaper reports of her being missing (and no doubt Kachinsky enjoyed giving the poor girl that dreadful haircut!). When Kachinsky sees Katrina stealing moments to dance she puts her feet into deliberately heavy boots, on pretext they are medical boots, to stop her dancing and anyone getting suspicious.

The ballet pupils begin to notice how Kachinsky is treating Katrina. They sympathise with Katrina and tell her she’d being exploited. Their sympathy grows when Katrina plays a piece of music she finds and Kachinsky is so upset that she slams the piano lid so hard on Katrina’s hands that her fingers are badly bruised. They tell her that she was playing “The Swan”, a title role that was created especially for Kachinsky, and it’s where her nickname comes from. It was Kachinsky’s final triumph, for soon after she had the accident that crippled her.

During this same incident Kachinsky made a slip that she knew Katrina’s parents. When Katrina confronts Kachinsky, she spins a line that the parents were thieves who died in prison. She takes advantage of Katrina reclaiming a piece of her mother’s jewellery to plant ideas in Katrina’s mind that she is a thief too. She also makes threats that if Katrina leaves she will get no references. After this, Kachinsky is confident Katrina won’t leave, no matter how badly she is treated.

Seeing that the ballet pupils are getting suspicious and sympathising with Katrina, Kachinsky decides her next move is to turn them against her. She begins working on Sarah by making it look like Katrina is stealing from her. When the ‘theft’ is discovered Kachinsky spins out more lies about Katrina’s ‘criminal’ past right in front of the whole school. The plan works. Now the girls think Katrina’s a thief and turn against her.

However, Sarah is still friendly and treats Katrina to a ballet performance. Katrina feels ballet is the key to her past and hopes for a clue there. There she hears people repeating a long-standing rumour that within an hour of performing “The Swan”, the woman who was Kachinsky’s best friend deliberately crippled her out of jealousy. That woman is Katrina’s mother. So now we know why Kachinsky is out for revenge. But from what we have seen of both Kachinsky and Mrs Vale, can we really believe the rumour is true? We need to get Mrs Vale’s side of things.

Meanwhile, the police finally trace Katrina to Kachinsky’s ballet school. Kachinsky manages to mislead them, but then realises Katrina is missing because she’s still at the ballet. There Katrina has impressed performers with her own ballet talent. And while she was dancing, fragments of memory began to return, but they are not strong enough. When Kachinsky arrives she drags Katrina off and says she’s having delusions.

However, Katrina is finally beginning to doubt what Mrs Kachinsky is telling her. She and Sarah go in search of the orphanage. Kachinsky finds out and pulls another trick: she leads them to a burned-out orphanage and takes advantage of it having been deliberately burned down and someone dying in the fire to have Katrina believe she’s a fire bug and a murderer as well as a thief, and she’s wanted by the police for it. She found Katrina in a daze after the ‘incident’ and took her in and kept her safe from the police because she believed she deserved a second chance. After this, Katrina is now well and truly in the power of the Swan, for she now believes that Kachinsky is her only friend who did so much for her. She now does any job for Kachinsky, no matter how horrible, without complaint or payment, because she thinks this is the only way to repay her. Kachinsky realises Katrina’s completely in her power now too, and is crying for joy.

While Katrina spring-cleans Kachinsky’s room, she accidentally finds a secret room hidden behind the wardrobe. It is a shrine filled with Kachinsky memorabilia, and even includes the costume from “The Swan”.

Then Kachinsky’s chauffeur gossips about Katrina being an arsonist and hysteria spreads about her pulling the same thing at the school. Kachinsky takes advantage to keep Katrina locked in a disused coal cellar to sleep. There Katrina gets a frightening visitor – someone in the Swan costume! Next morning she checks the Swan costume and finds evidence it has been moved recently, and concludes someone took it and used it to frighten her.

The rumours about Katrina being an arsonist grow more intense. So when Sarah’s costume accidentally catches fire, tongues wag that Katrina caused it although she saved Sarah by putting out the flames. Sarah goes to hospital and now Katrina has lost her only friend.

Katrina’s such a bag of nerves now about her ‘arson’ and everyone turning against her that she takes off in a panic when a policeman calls. She also sees a strange woman lurking around and thinks she is a plain-clothed policewoman who is on her tail. When she tells Kachinsky this, Kachinsky tells her that the woman is just a new ballet student, Rita Hayes. All the same, Katrina remains convinced that she’s right when Rita seems to be watching her, snooping around in her room and asking her questions.

Meanwhile, the Swan costume is resurrected again. Katrina is surprised to find someone dancing in the costume in the ballet studio to “The Swan” music. She can’t see who it is because the headdress obscures the face. The mysterious dancer doesn’t seem able to dance properly. She throws a real hissy fit and smashes the ballet record.

When Katrina goes to Kachinsky to report the matter she finds Rita snooping around in Kachinsky’s office. Katrina doesn’t listen when Rita tries to explain, and that it’s for her own good. Katrina alerts Kachinsky, but they find Rita has cleared out. Kachinsky realises Rita’s snooping must be because she is onto her game with Katrina and gone to alert the police. Not wanting to be cheated of her revenge before it is complete, she decides to get rid of Katrina altogether before the police arrive.

On pretext she is helping to conceal Katrina from arrest, Kachinsky takes Katrina to a rusty old boat in the canal to hide, but in fact she means to kill Katrina there. When Katrina enters the boat she is surprised to hear somebody shut the hatch on her, which locks her in. For a while Katrina does nothing because she has been fooled by Kachinsky’s assurances that her chauffeur will come with supplies. Meanwhile, the police have arrived to question Kachinsky. The pupils are perturbed at how pleased Kachinsky seems to be at Katrina’s disappearance, which seems very odd considering what she had them believe about her taking care of Katrina before.

Back in the boat, Katrina finally realises nobody is coming, but assumes it is because something happened to Kachinsky. But when the tide causes water to rise in the rusty old tub (as Kachinsky planned) Katrina realises she has to get out fast or she will drown. After a desperate struggle she succeeds.

Katrina is in a dreadful state but, thinking Kachinsky did not return as promised because something happened to her, staggers back to the ballet school to check on her. There she collapses, in full sight of her mother, who recognises her at once. Mum has tracked Katrina down, with the aid of Sarah’s family and Rita Hayes. It turns out Rita Hayes was a private investigator Sarah’s family had hired to help Katrina; it was part gratitude for saving Sarah and part suspicion about Kachinsky’s treatment of Katrina.

However, Mum now fears Katrina is dead. Seeing this, Kachinsky crows – right in front of everyone, including the police – she has taken her revenge at last by robbing Mrs Vale of her daughter. At this, the police arrest Kachinsky.

But no – Katrina is still alive, and she regains her memory when her mother addresses her by her proper name. Mum explains to Katrina that she and Kachinsky used to be best friends at a ballet company, and she never minded that Kachinsky was the better dancer. However, following Kachinsky’s one and only (and unforgettable) performance as “The Swan”, she was crippled by a fall down a staircase and wrongly accused Mum of pushing her out of jealousy. The accusation was widely believed and Mum was forced to leave the stage. “The Swan” has never been performed since and the swan costume itself disappeared. At this, Katrina leads Mum and Sarah to the secret room full of Kachinsky memorabilia.

Then in comes Kachinsky. She had given the police the slip – and she’s walking! She had secretly regained the use of her legs years ago. She kept it quiet because she could never dance properly again and couldn’t settle for anything less than perfection, and she enjoyed playing on people’s sympathy into the bargain. Katrina now realises Kachinsky was the one in the swan costume, and Kachinsky deliberately shut her in the rusty old tub – to die. Kachinsky gleefully admits both charges and tells Katrina “what a trusting little fool” she was to fall for those tricks and all the other lies. As the police take Kachinsky back into custody she raves that she still has more than Mrs Vale, who in her view has nothing. But Katrina does not agree – and neither do we.

Thoughts

There have been hundreds of stories about unscrupulous people taking advantage of amnesiac girls for their own ends, such as Jinty’s “Miss No-Name”. But this one could well be the most disturbing, even sickening, of them all. Usually the people who take advantage of an amnesiac protagonist are just doing it for profit and unpaid labour. Feeding them lies about having shady pasts and being on the run from the police to blackmail them into staying is a pretty common trick; Mandy’s “The Double Life of Dolly Brown” aka “The Double Life of Coppelia Brown” is one example. But the antagonist in this story isn’t doing it for money – she’s doing it for revenge. Of course it is useful to exploit someone for unpaid labour, but that isn’t her real motive; it’s just part of her campaign for revenge.

Having revenge as the motive for enslaving an amnesiac girl rather than the usual greed makes the story truly frightening. Revenge is extremely dangerous because it can drive the antagonist to the point where she has no limits. That certainly is the case with Kachinsky. She is capable of anything, including murder, to get revenge on the woman she hates. As Kachinsky’s revenge unfolds she reveals herself more and more as what a sick, cruel, twisted woman she is. She is not content with merely exploiting Katrina and keeping her away from her mother. She means to break Katrina entirely with endless psychological and emotional tortures at her ballet school, including using the swan costume to terrorise Katrina. When it comes to plotting murder, Kachinsky has no compunction or remorse about it either. When she tells Katrina to use a gangplank to go over to the boat she contemplates just pushing it away and knocking Katrina into the mud. But she decides against it because it’s too quick. She wants to watch and relish each minute of Katrina suffering slowly.

Kachinsky is also extremely clever in the ways she constantly manages to block Katrina’s attempts to remember her past and twist it around to reinforce her lies even more, cut Katrina off from avenues of help, and ensnare Katrina ever more tightly. Kachinsky pulls it off so well that Katrina ends up thoroughly convinced that Kachinsky is actually protecting her, that everything she does is for her own good, and that she actually deserves everything that she is going through because of her so-called arson, murder and thievery. Katrina is so taken in by Kachinsky’s lies that she does not even realise she is being exploited. This makes Katrina’s situation even worse than other amnesiac protagonists; at least they understand the antagonists are abusing and exploiting them. But Katrina can’t; she’s been so take in and brainwashed that she thinks the woman who is abusing her is actually her only friend. Readers would have been crying for Katrina every step of the way, not only because of the abuse she is going through but also because she can’t see it for what it is.

When it is revealed that Kachinsky had been faking paralysis all this time, it’s the last straw that puts her well beyond the pale. Her excuse for abusing Katrina is that it’s all revenge on the woman who confined her to the wheelchair. But when we discover Kachinsky isn’t really confined to the wheelchair at all – well, what a nerve she’s got there! The last possible reason for Kachinsky evoking any of our sympathy is gone.

It is only when we see Mrs Vale’s flashback of Kachinsky before the accident that we feel Kachinsky is in any way tragic. We can see she used to be a very nice woman who would never have even dreamed of doing all those things she did to Katrina. And she would still be a nice, happy woman if she hadn’t had the accident. But really, Kachinsky’s hatred destroyed her far more than the accident did.

It is no surprise to learn that Kachinsky wrongly accused Mrs Vale of causing her accident. This almost invariably is the case in revenge stories, and it makes everything all the worse for all concerned because we know it’s all been for nothing.

Is Kachinsky insane? Or is she just so full of hate it turned her into an evil, twisted monster? It is difficult to determine. Kachinsky does not come across as downright insane, just sick, cruel and perverted. Only a psychiatrist can judge on her state of mind, but we never find out what the courts decide to do with her. We can safely assume that she will lose her ballet school, her reputation, and all the sympathy and respect people have for her. When word spreads, people are certain to rethink Kachinsky’s accusations against Mrs Vale, and her reputation will be salvaged. Mrs Vale may even become a teacher at Kachinsky’s ballet school, or even take it over altogether. Who knows? Whatever the aftermath, we can be confident that the Vales’ revenge will be sweeter than Kachinsky’s.