Tag Archives: Family problems

Left-Out Linda [1974]

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Published: 10 August 1974 – 9 November 1974

Episodes: 14

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Translated into Dutch as “Linda” in Tina 1975/76; Translated into Greek in Manina.

Plot

Linda Lake’s father had died when she could barely remember him. Consequently she and her mother have always been close. Unfortunately Mum also developed the tendency to spoil Linda too much, and as we shall see, this has bred selfishness in Linda (though not as badly as some Jinty heroines, such as Lisa Carstairs in “She Shall Have Music“).

Mum sends Linda to boarding school, but Linda can’t bear the separation because she and her mother have always been close. Moreover, she is not willing to adapt to school rules or respect that there are reasons for them, because she does not like being ordered around. As a result, she isn’t taking to the school, and it shows in difficult, selfish behaviour that does not endear her to her classmates. Only Linda’s roommate Joan shows her any friendliness and does her best to reach out to Linda.

As if difficulties in settling into the school weren’t bad enough, Linda is shocked to hear that her mother is now entering a second marriage with a Mr Grant! On top of that, Linda is not even invited to the wedding because they did not want to disrupt her schooling. Then one of the girls says that sending Linda to boarding school was probably to get her out of the way, as Mum must have been as fed up with her as they are.

That comment is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and Linda’s difficult behaviour is pushed over the edge altogether. She wants to go home, and starts trying to get herself expelled. However, the staff take the view that her difficult behaviour is due to her emotional problems and give her more lenient punishments than expulsion. Linda’s classmates are more outraged though, and turn even more against her.

To make things worse, Linda’s difficult behaviour unwittingly causes Joan to get injured twice, the second of which puts her in hospital altogether. At this, the other girls get so angry with Linda they throw her in the swimming pool. However, they did not think that Linda was wearing a heavy dressing gown at the time, which drags her down. So she almost drowns by the time the headmistress finds her. Not willing to sneak on the girls, Linda says she was trying to get herself expelled because she wants to go home. However, the headmistress guesses what really happened and has Mum remove Linda from the school.

Before Linda goes, she goes to hospital to apologise to Joan. Joan accepts her apology but says she’s been a “silly chump”. She did not give the school a chance or tried to be friends with anyone, and she does not understand that if she wants her mother’s love she has to earn it. However, Joan will keep the door open for Linda in case there is a second chance.

Linda is so happy to be coming home, but there is one thing she has not considered: it’s no longer just her and her mother. There’s now a stepfather and a stepsister, Lorette, and household arrangements have changed to accommodate them. Linda had been accustomed to having her own bedroom, but now she has to share it with Lorette. She did not like sharing her study with Joan because she was not used to such things, and she does not like sharing her bedroom now. She is not willing to call Mr Grant “Dad” (but we will for this discussion) and when she finds she is the only one in the household who does not have the surname “Grant”, she feels the odd one out. She does not even try to reach out to them although they try to reach out to her. She starts wallowing in self-pity that she is the unwanted one, just like she was at school.

Not once does she think that she is not even making herself wanted, or that her selfish attitudes are making things even worse for herself. She is not friendly to Lorette, although Lorette tries to reach out to Linda and is just as kind as Joan. Linda is annoyed that Lorette is willing to call her mother “Mum” and wants things to be the way they used to be – just her and Mum. But it’s no longer the same, what with Mum having to share in Dad’s business for one thing. Linda feels left out again.

Dad’s business is a boutique, which is named “Lorette” as well. We learn Lorette is following in Dad’s footsteps as a trainee dress designer and also helps out at the shop. Linda looks down on it, calling it a “rotten, poky little place”, so she is really put out to find it is hugely popular. Linda’s only friend now is a girl she meets in a coffee shop, an out-of-work fashion girl called Honey. Linda keeps Honey a secret from her family as she feels they would not approve (as it turns out, they would have good reason to if they had known).

Some things are not really Linda’s fault. On one occasion she is ordered to make tea for the family. She does try, but everything turns to custard. This reinforces Dad’s view that Linda has been spoiled and needs sorting out. And now Mum has seen the helpful, sensible Lorette, she agrees Linda is a bit selfish and thoughtless by comparison. So they look into sending her another boarding school. Naturally, Linda does not want another boarding school coming between her and her mother.

A turnaround comes in an odd way. Linda unwittingly burns an order Dad received while burning prospectuses that have arrived from boarding schools. To make up for her mistake (without owning up), she helps to make up the order. But she does not listen to Lorette’s advice on how to cut out the patterns, and as a result she messes things up. Lorette saves the situation, but instead of appreciating it, Linda is narked that Lorette ends up looking the clever one and she not. Meanwhile, Dad is still angry with Linda for the near-disaster.

More trouble arises when Linda shoots off her mouth about the boutique to Honey, and gets invited to a party. Lorette offers to help Linda with a dress from the boutique to wear, but Linda uses a dress that she has been explicitly told not to touch. She does not realise it is Lorette’s entry for a national dress competition. Nor does she realise a photographer taking a photo of her with pop star Gary Glance while wearing the dress at the party is for the newspaper. The party turns progressively sour for Linda when she realises Honey has just taking advantage of her and her connection with the boutique, and does not really care for her. To add to Linda’s miseries, she also put a tear in the dress, which she graciously mends when she gets home.

But when the family see the photo of Linda wearing Lorette’s entry in the newspaper, they are furious beyond words because Linda has gotten Lorette’s entry disqualified from the competition. To add to Dad’s rage, he has realised that Linda was responsible for the lost order along with the missing boarding school prospectuses, and thinks she did it out of spite. He is so angry with Linda that he slaps her and calls her spoilt, selfish, and hateful, and then walks right out of the house. Mum is in tears at her new husband walking out and her marriage on the verge of collapsing because of Linda, and agrees that Linda is spoiled and selfish. Linda is appalled to see how heartbroken Lorette is and crying her eyes out.

Linda is struck with guilt and shame and realising that she has indeed been spoiled and selfish. So she decides to run away and not trouble them anymore, and heads to the shop to take some money to fund herself for running away. Then she finds another of Lorette’s designs that has been overlooked. Linda decides to make up for things and have the family think better of her by making up the design for Lorette and enter it for her. Once the dress is done, she parcels it up to post for Lorette later on. But in what will have serious consequences for her, she also makes a teapot for a cuppa.

Ironically, Linda’s attempt to be unselfish only gets her into deeper trouble. When her family find her, they are furious at her for staying out so long and worrying the whole family, who’ve had the police out looking for her. To cap it all, it’s caused Lorette to have an asthma attack.

The family decide on a clean break with a holiday in Paris – minus Linda, who is to stay behind as a punishment. Dad has arranged for his mother to mind Linda, and warns her that Gran is a crabby woman who will make Linda toe the line. Sure enough, that is what Gran comes across as when Linda first meets her.

Gran tells Linda to go and open the shop. But Linda finds she has unwittingly flooded the place and ruined the clothes because she left a tap dripping and the tea leaves from the teapot clogged the sink. Linda is in hysterics because her family will think she did it on purpose and she will never convince them otherwise.

But Gran soon shows she has a heart of gold under that crabby exterior. She takes the situation firmly in hand and helps Linda to not only clean up the mess but redecorate the place as well. Finally, Linda has found a friend. And when Gran is confined to bed because of her exertion, Linda devotes time to taking care of her while running the shop by herself. Linda really enjoys running the shop herself and handling the accounting. In so doing she is gaining confidence and taking the lesson of responsibility seriously.

Then disaster strikes when Gran mistakenly puts Linda’s name on Lorette’s entry form for the competition. Linda is alarmed, because Lorette is surely going to think Linda stole her design. They need to head down to the organisers to sort it out. But first, they have to clear everything out of the shop by Saturday so they will be free to see the organisers on that day. Linda discovers whole new lessons in resourcefulness as she comes up with all sorts of advertising gimmicks to make sure everything gets sold out.

Of course everything gets sorted out with the organiser, a Lady Dunwoody. Lorette wins first prize too. Gran also sees Lady Dunwoody about something else, which she keeps secret from Linda.

When the family come back, they are in a changed mood. The break had been just what they needed. Now Dad’s anger has cooled, he has repented not letting Linda come on the trip. But they have brought back loads of presents for her. He also finds Linda is calling him “Father” now, and they are all set for a fresh start. They are really impressed with Linda’s handling of the shop. Lorette is surprised and thrilled to win first prize at the competition. Gran then unveils her special surprise for Linda: Lady Dunwoody has awarded her a special fashion prize for how well she handled the shop. It is a grant for studying fashion at college so Linda can open her own boutique when she is older.

Realising the O and A levels she will need for college, Linda is all of a sudden repenting her conduct at boarding school. However, the headmistress agrees to take Linda back. Joan is waiting for Linda with open arms and says how pleased she is to see what a changed person Linda is.

Thoughts

This story has the distinction of being the first story Jim Baikie drew for Jinty, and it was the beginning of a regular Jim Baikie run that lasted until 1980 with “White Water”. It was also the first Jinty story to use the fashion theme, which must have helped to make it popular. Girls’ stories with the theme of fashion/modelling are always sure-fire winners.

Although Linda is set up as a selfish, spoilt and thoughtless girl, she starts off more sympathetic than most of these types of girls usually do. We can understand her being so close to her mother that it is painful for her to be separated from Mum at boarding school and she would naturally have trouble adjusting to boarding school. Plus there is the brutal shock of Mum suddenly getting married again without Linda actually getting to know the new stepfamily first, or even being invited to the wedding. A girl who is so used to it just being her and her mother and then suddenly being flung into a situation of sharing Mum with a stepfather and stepsister who are virtual strangers would indeed be emotionally traumatised. Even if Linda is spoilt and selfish, when we consider the upheavals and traumas Linda is suddenly subjected to without warning, we can hardly blame her for being emotionally difficult.

Yet Linda is as much the architect of her own misfortunes as she is a victim of them. She imagines herself as being unwanted and left out, but she does not realise that she is not making herself wanted in the first place. She does not understand that Joan and then Lorette are trying to reach out to her because they care about her and they are not trying to make her feel unwanted. If she reciprocated their efforts and reached out to them, she would realise that she is wanted.

Her own thoughtlessness also adds to her woes, such as when she tries to get herself expelled from boarding school but almost gets Joan killed in the process. If she had tried to settle into the school and made friends, she would have avoided that. Likewise, if Linda had respected Lorette’s wishes about not using that particular dress, she would have avoided that terrible trouble with her family.

Linda is more prone to guilt than other selfish girls in Jinty when her actions lead to trouble that she did not intend. For example, her first impulse after that miserable party at Honey’s is to go home and own up to her parents. But she changes her mind when she hears Dad voicing his suspicions about her deliberately hiding the mail. Linda also thinks she did deserve the ducking in the swimming pool (though not the near-drowning, surely!) because her actions to get herself expelled almost got Joan killed. And when she finds Lorette’s overlooked dress design, she turns it into a conscientious effort to make things up to her stepsister. It is a cruel irony that this act of atonement has the family even more furious with her and thinking she is an even worse character than ever. And just when she was seriously trying to change and make up for things.

It is another irony that another act of Linda’s thoughtlessness (not turning the tap off properly) sets in motion a series of events that turn Linda into a more mature, confident, responsible and happier person, and she is rewarded accordingly. If she had turned the tap off, it is less likely she would have developed the warm relationship with Gran, who would have continued to come across as crabby. And it would have been less likely that the muddle over the entry form would have occurred, which had the bonus of Linda receiving her own prize that sets the stage for her future career.

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Sister in the Shadows [1980]

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Published: Tammy 5 January 1980 to 22 March 1980

Episodes: 12

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Stella Weekes is a girl born with the golden touch. She comes out top at everything she does, she is always a winner, and she has never lost at anything. At her old school Gatecombe Comprehensive, Stella was the star pupil and even the headmistress virtually hero-worships her; there are displays of Stella’s school achievements everywhere. Now Stella is the star of a TV sports series, Goldengirl. Stella’s parents just never stop bragging about her and they “kill the fattened calf” for her whenever she shows up.

This causes huge problems for Stella’s younger sister Wendy when she starts at Gatecombe. Wendy has grown up in the shadow of Stella’s success, and at Gatecombe she becomes overshadowed even more. Everyone, including the school staff and Wendy’s parents, expect Wendy to be another Stella and keep comparing her with Stella. On Wendy’s first day alone, she is constantly embarrassed and humiliated because the school staff make a huge fuss over her, push her to the front at everything, and give her all the plum roles and expect her to be just as brilliant at doing them as Stella. The headmistress even compares Wendy’s appearance with Stella’s – and it’s not a favourable comparison either. They only see Wendy as “Stella’s sister” instead an individual, and they expect her to be just like Stella. At home, Wendy’s parents, who are just too full of pride about Stella, are just as bad at expecting Wendy to be just like Stella. At least they do it in a somewhat more light-hearted manner. But they are too consumed with pride over Stella to even take in interest in what Wendy tries to do or lend her any support. For the parents, Wendy always takes second place to Stella. Nobody will respect Wendy for herself.

But Wendy does not have a golden touch like Stella. She suffers from poor self-esteem because she is being constantly expected to follow in Stella’s footsteps when she considers herself the opposite of Stella. Worse, it does not take long for the other girls to pick up on how Wendy pales in comparison to her sister. They understandably resent how the big fuss over Wendy is not giving them a chance, while not understanding that Wendy does not like it any more than they do.

As a result, Wendy becomes a target of bullying, with the girls constantly teasing her because she isn’t living up to Stella’s reputation while all adults around her keep expecting her to do so. Wendy’s worst enemies are Angela and Honey, who also like to play dirty tricks on Wendy whenever she tries to prove herself, so as to make her the laughingstock again. Furthermore, they have the whole class send Wendy to Coventry and they call her “weak sister Wendy”. Even their families get in on the act; Angela’s brother Adam helps them play a trick on Wendy to get her into trouble with the headmistress. There seems to be no limit to their bullying; at one point they cause Wendy to take a fall during a bar exercise and land on top of the gym teacher, and then they have the nerve to blame Wendy when the teacher has an attack. Fortunately for Wendy, the doctor sorts them out. At least there is one person who is sticking up for Wendy, but nobody else is there to talk to the parents or help sort out the bullies.

Following a misunderstanding, Angela and Honey think Wendy tricked them out of their chance to meet their heartthrob Gregg Vanderley, who is Stella’s co-star. After this, their spite grows even worse. They try to frame Wendy for stealing exam papers. When this fails, they trick Wendy into an old tower and intend her to have a nasty accident. Wendy breaks her wrist because of this. The doctor has her stay off school until further notice.

But even while laid up in bed with a broken wrist, poor Wendy gets no respite from being constantly compared to her sister. Instead of offering sympathy, Wendy’s mother scolds her for missing out on the end-of-term school exams because of her injury while Stella always came out top in them. All the same, it is just as well the bullies’ trick had Wendy miss the exams, because the constant comparison with Stella and the bullying had inevitably impeded her progress during the term. From the sound of things, the parents have been getting reports that Wendy is not doing well at school.

While in bed, Wendy ponders over another thing she has noticed: Stella has not contacted her family of late, not even when she was in the neighbourhood recently with Vanderley. Also, the TV network is running repeats of Goldengirl instead of the new season, which Wendy finds suspicious. So Wendy takes advantage of her remaining time off school to go to London and do some investigating.

Wendy’s suspicions are confirmed when she discovers Stella has lost the Goldengirl job and been evicted from her exclusive flat because she could no longer afford the rent. At the TV studio Wendy learns Stella lost the job because she became a victim of her own success: viewers got bored of her and lost sympathy with her because she kept winning all the time. It looks like Stella’s replacement is having similar confidence problems to Wendy, which explains why the new season has not screened.

Stella disappeared instead of going home, because she was too afraid and ashamed of what the parents will say because they’re so full of themselves about her. Also, Stella has not experienced disaster before, so Wendy realises she must be taking it extremely badly. Furthermore, Stella is completely broke; Wendy later learns Stella frittered away her salary on the high life instead of investing it, except for a trust fund.

At Vanderley’s suggestion, Wendy investigates a derelict house that other out-of-work actors are using to squat in. When Wendy sees the house, she cannot believe her sister would even set foot in such a smelly, run-down, graffiti-smeared place that is falling to pieces. But Wendy soon finds that this is indeed where Stella is shacking up now. Moreover, Stella, who once earned a top salary as Goldengirl, is now working at a grotty café for an obviously very low pay. Wendy finds Stella working there, and she looks absolutely miserable.

Despite the depths she has sunk to, Stella cannot bear the thought of going home and facing her parents, or what people are going to say behind her back. But it is here that Wendy finds a whole new confidence when she persuades Stella to do so. She gets very bold and assertive in not taking “no” for an answer and insisting on taking Stella home. And screw what people are going to say; Wendy loudly describes what she has been through at school to illustrate that if she can put up with that sort of treatment, Stella can too. Stella listens, and begs Wendy to go on helping her. Wendy does more in that regard when their prideful parents start whining about what the neighbours will say when they hear what happened. Wendy retorts, “Bother the neighbours!” She describes the situation she found Stella in and says, “Would you rather I’d left Stella where she was, Mum?” The parents are humbled at this and offer comfort to Stella. Once Stella recovers, she becomes determined to work her way out of her bad patch.

Then Stella expresses concern about the bullying Wendy is experiencing at school and how it is bound to get worse once the bullies hear about her losing the Goldengirl job. Wendy, emboldened by her new assertiveness, says she has the confidence to deal with them now.

Sure enough, Angela and Honey get a real surprise when Wendy returns to school. When they try to bully Wendy over Stella’s dismissal, she comes right back at their teasing. She also threatens to go to self-defence classes if there is any more of their bullying (a bluff). To reinforce her point, Wendy pulls an arm lock on Angela that Stella had taught her, who in turn had learned it from Angela’s idol Vanderley. Wendy tells the girls she is going to try out for the school choir (she hopes that will help her become respected in her own right) and she jolly well hopes she will have more fun next term than she has had so far. Angela and Honey are humiliated, especially when the other girls begin to laugh at Angela’s humbling.

Thoughts

This is a Tammy story I have come to appreciate more upon revisiting it. It’s not that I disliked the story initially; it’s just that I was more taken with other stories in Tammy at the time.

Girls’ comics have frequently run stories where a girl suffers because she is compared unfairly and unfavourably with a more successful sibling, or, in some cases, a parent. This one is a bit different than most. The more common formula is for the protagonist to constantly strive to prove herself and win some respect, which she eventually does with some talent she discovers or an act of heroism (e.g. “Make the Headlines, Hannah!”, also from Tammy). Of course things don’t go smoothly and she frequently comes up against an enemy who is always trying to sabotage her.

This serial has that theme, but runs it to a slightly lesser extent than most. And the ending breaks the formula completely. The heroine does not prove herself at long last with some talent/heroic act, winning respect and everything ends happily. Instead, Wendy gains confidence by learning to stand up for herself. This starts with standing up to the sister who has always overshadowed her, and using everything she has short of physical force to stop hiding in that miserable run-down hovel, come home, get back on her feet again, face up to those parents of theirs, and deal with what people are going to say about her. Wendy’s new assertion continues with the parents when they start to whine about what others will say, and it gives her a whole new confidence in standing up to the bullies. And instead of school changing overnight for the protagonist, which is the more common ending, the story ends on the hope that school will improve for Wendy, but whether it does so remains to be seen. This is a more realistic ending that avoids the clichéd “new improved school ending”, which makes a very nice change.

It is easy to understand why Tammy went with this ending when we examine Wendy’s home life. Having Wendy prove herself somehow just would not have been enough, because the parents were just too consumed with pride over Stella to even notice what Wendy does. They need to have that pride of theirs deflated before they start taking Wendy more seriously. And they get it when they find out about Stella’s job loss and Wendy tells them off for thinking about what people will say about Stella’s downfall instead of thinking about Stella and what she is going through. We sense that they will become better parents to Wendy after this.

Stella, too, needed a lesson, and she gets it from the story’s resolution. There is no evidence in the story that Stella’s success turned her into an insufferable big head, which has happened in other stories e.g. “Last Chance for Laura” from Bunty. It is possible that Stella had become a big head, but there is no evidence of it. But even if Stella was not big headed, it sounds like she was in serious need of a fall if she was squandering her salary on high living instead of using it wisely. Further, she had never developed the emotional and psychological tools to deal with failure because she had not encountered failure until she loses the Goldengirl job. Wendy’s whole new assertiveness not only saves her from the miserable squatting but also helps her find the courage and inner strengths to rise above her bad patch. In so doing, we sense Stella will emerge an even bigger success than ever because she gained strength, new coping skills and lessons from that bad time.

Stella had also neglected Wendy because she was always too busy. So Wendy rescuing Stella and helping her to get through her trouble would definitely get Stella finally paying more attention to Wendy. Stella in turn becomes the one to help Wendy stand up to the bullies, by teaching her self-defence techniques, and being a more thoughtful sister towards her.

I’ll Make Up for Mary (1979)

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Published: 20 January 1979 – 2 June 1979

Episodes: 20

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Ann and Mary Ridley are identical twins but a contrast in personality. Mary is an outgoing, confident extrovert and has lots of friends while Ann is a quiet, shy introvert and doesn’t find it easy to make friends. At a seaside holiday at Westsea Mary tries to bolster Ann’s confidence by improving her swimming to the point where she can swim in the sea. But it all goes tragically wrong when the sea gets choppy. Ann panics and unwittingly pushes Mary under, and she gets hit against a huge rock. Dad manages to save Ann, but Mary dies.

On the night of the funeral Ann overhears her grief-stricken parents lamenting. She gets the wrong impression that her parents wish Mary had been spared instead of her because Mary had been the confident one and Ann the ‘dull’ one. Ann also blames herself for Mary’s death, and feeling guilty that she survived while Mary did not when Mary was the more ‘deserving’ one. Now Ann thinks she must make things up to her parents by being like Mary, as if she were still alive.

So Ann starts resurrecting Mary by adopting her hairstyle, clothes and activities. But of course it just creates trouble for herself. When Ann changes her appearance to look like Mary she thinks it’ll please her parents so much to see this. Instead she has her grief-stricken parents thinking they’re seeing ghosts and they are utterly shocked. And Ann thinks the shock is to her being dull old Ann instead of the real Mary, not that she’s reopening the wounds of their grief. The parents don’t find it easy to get used to Ann looking like Mary, and they can’t understand it at all.

Meanwhile, Ann doesn’t understand that she is trying to be someone who was total opposite of what she herself is. Moreover, she still lacks confidence in herself and does not have the skills that Mary had, including how to handle bullies. As a result, Ann starts falling foul of Mary’s old enemy, the spiteful Beryl. Beryl keeps causing trouble for Ann at every turn, such as wrecking a party Ann holds at home. On another occasion she ruins things for children at a play centre, puts the blame on Ann and gets her banned from the Youth Club. Beryl is sorted out eventually and gives no more trouble.

But it’s not just Beryl that’s the problem. Ann’s every attempt to be like Mary just seems to end in failure and she keeps landing in one scrape after another. Sometimes it’s not even her fault, such as when classmate Laura rigs the voting so Ann will become class captain as Mary had been. When Ann tries to stop this, she ends up being accused of cheating. Misunderstandings erupt as well, such the class wrongly accusing her of sneaking during a field study course when in fact she was trying to warn them, but it went wrong. On the same course Ann freezes up while Laura is drowning because it’s brought back the memory of Mary drowning. In the end Ann is removed from the course in shame, and thinking she has failed in what her parents want out of her.

None of the disasters shake Ann out of her misguided thinking. She thinks it’s because she’s still the same old boring Ann, she is failing to become like Mary, and is not pleasing her parents in the way she thinks they want to be pleased. Instead, it looks like she’s just letting them down in that regard and they’re getting even more heartbroken because of it. And it is not helping that a lot of people, including the parents and classmates, compare Ann unfavourably with Mary when she lands in trouble.

There are some positives to it. Ann starts making friends among Mary’s old friends, particularly Julie, Tim and Sharon at the Youth Club, and the vicar who runs the place, and Laura and Karen at school. She also develops confidence at things she had never tried before, such as becoming more proficient at cycling and disco dancing. Ann even finds herself as the lead in a theatre production – only to freeze up at the actual performance.

But on the whole it looks like one big colossal failure and disappointment. Eventually, Ann’s increasing frustration her constant failure to ‘make up for Mary’ reaches breaking point. She snaps at her classmates at how they all think the wrong twin was saved, that she’s tried so hard to be like the clever and popular Mary, but she’s failed. Then she runs home from school. Her friends, teachers and headmistress realise something is seriously wrong and that Ann is trying to be like Mary for some reason. They decided to go see her parents.

Meanwhile Ann overhears her parents considering a move and mistakenly thinks it’s because of her disasters. It’s the last straw in her failure to ‘make up for Mary’. She goes back to Westsea and the scene of the accident. Tim and Julie see her head out there and report this to the parents, who are in consultation with the others from school. Surmising that Ann is blaming herself for Mary’s death, they head after Ann in the car, and they arrive just as Ann dives into the sea and is on the verge of drowning as well because the sea is so rough. Ann is surprised when Dad saves her because she didn’t think she was worth that. They clear up what Ann misconstrued; they love her just as much as Mary and they wished Mary had been saved as well as her, not instead of her. They also insist Mary’s death was just an accident and Ann should not blame herself. Ann realises she has gained some things from trying to copy Mary, such as new friends, but she is going to be herself from now on.

Thoughts

Here we have another Alison Christie story where grief has consequences that go way beyond the tragedy itself when it causes the protagonist to develop a flawed attitude. In this case it’s motivated by love (pleasing the parents), not selfishness, anger or revenge. But there are feelings of guilt and inadequacy all tangled up in it as well. So Ann is a more sympathetic character than Stefa from “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, who closed her heart to love and didn’t care who she hurt in the process.

However, from the beginning we know Ann is as misguided as Stefa, both in what she is trying to do and what she thinks it will accomplish. It will not only lead to trouble but also make things even worse for herself and her parents because it will only serve to compound their grief over Mary. In fact, it almost leads to Ann meeting the same fate as Mary.

This is a story with “be yourself” and “don’t try to be something you’re not” morals too. Ann is trying to be something she simply is not, and no matter how hard she tries, she can never replace Mary. This is the real reason why Ann’s every bid to be like Mary ends in disaster, though the nasty Beryl and misguided interference from school mates are not helping either.

In some ways it is also a story where a shy girl begins to grow by developing skills, new experiences and bids to make friends that she had never tried before. But it’s a perverse route because she’s going about it the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. As a result her confidence keeps being knocked back and she thinks she’s still her dull old self who never amounted to much and can’t make up for her sister. But once Ann stops trying to be like Mary, she does realise the growth she has achieved. We sense Ann isn’t going to go back to her old wallflower stay-at-home self. It’s going to be a new Ann, the real Ann who has discovered the gains she has made.

 

Hettie High and Mighty! (1975)

Sample Images

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Published: Lindy #14, 20 September 1975 to #20, 1 November 1975; continued in Jinty and Lindy merger 8 November 1975 to 13 December 1975

Episodes: 13

Artist: Unknown artist “Merry”

Writer: Terence Magee (concept, synopsis, first episode); remaining episodes unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Dock End School is a bit run down, but it’s a happy and peaceful place – until Hettie King arrives, that is. Hettie’s previous school, Firdale Academy, was a posh academy that has turned her into a haughty high-and-mighty snob. Her dad is now sending her to Dock End, saying it will do her good and knock that snobbishness out of her.

Now that is a most unwise thing to say to Hettie’s face, because the obvious result is that she will react against it, which sets the stage for what follows. From the first, “Hettie High and Mighty” looks down on her new school and the girls who attend it, including the hockey team captain, Janie Downs. But Janie soon finds out that Hettie has far worse qualities than snobbishness. She is also a nasty troublemaker who is extremely cunning at getting her own way, worming out of trouble, and even ingratiating herself with the girls she had upset before.

On the other hand, Hettie is a brilliant hockey player and would be a valuable asset on the hockey team. However, the girls quite naturally don’t want her on the team because of her bad behaviour, and Janie isn’t going to grovel to her to get her to play either.

Then Janie overhears the headmistress saying that the council means to pull down the school and relocate the girls to a new school that is miles away. However, if the school wins the hockey championship, the prize money would enable them to spruce up the school to council standard. Realising the school must win, Janie decides she must grovel to Hettie after all. But she cannot reveal the reason why, because if Hettie finds out, there’d be nothing she’d like better than to see Dock End close down.

Hettie agrees to be in the team – in exchange for Janie doing her homework – but of course she isn’t showing any team spirit although she plays brilliantly. In fact she gets up to all sorts of tricks, the mildest of which is hogging the ball, the worst of which is playing deliberately foul play and giving Janie concussion in front of reporters – but she is so slick that poor Janie cops the trouble and the unpopularity. Eventually Hettie’s tricks make Janie so unpopular with her team mates that they are demanding her resignation and Hettie nearly steals the captainship from her. Later we learn that Hettie was just as bad with the Firdale hockey team and they were glad to see the back of her. Well, well, well! At least they can see her for what she is.

Then Hettie moves into Janie’s home where she starts ingratiating herself with Mrs Downs with lots of expensive presents (colour television, automatic tea maker, electric blanket). Unfortunately Mum gets so cosy with all the gifts that she’s late for work and gets the sack. Janie blames Hettie and although it’s hard to say if Hettie actually planned it that way, she doesn’t give a hoot about Mrs Downs losing her job. Yet her “nice” act has her father completely fooled when he returns suddenly and he thinks she’s changed her “high and mighty ways”. Ah, so that explains why she acted nice in the first place!

Back on the hockey pitch, Hettie is lording over the girls so much that they finally see through her. But all Hettie has to do is threaten not to play in the championship and Janie has to let her stay, no matter how badly she behaves. All the same, Janie is coming to the end of her rope with Hettie and is counting down to the days of the championship, when she’ll not have to put up with Hettie any longer.

But Janie finds she has miscalculated: Mr King and Mrs Downs fall in love and get married. So now Janie is stuck with high-and-mighty Hettie for a stepsister! Hettie is lording it all over Janie at home now, having her to do all the housework and wait on her hand and foot while she lounges around. Mum is making a big fuss over Hettie, so Hettie really appreciates having two people wait on her hand and foot. However, she has not accepted Mrs Downs as a stepmother (she still addresses Mrs Downs by her Christian name) or shows her any respect.

Then Hettie finds out why Janie wants her in the team and Dock End is facing closure if they lose the championship. As Janie feared, Hettie quits the team and leaves them in the lurch to lose the championship, just so the school she despises so much will close down. Not content with that, Hettie deliberately gets Janie on the wrong bus so Janie will miss the championship too, and is crowing all over her. Janie tells Hettie that what she needs is a jolly good hiding.

Which is precisely what Hettie soon gets. Mum had followed once she realised they were on the wrong bus, overheard everything, and gives Hettie a jolly good hiding! Moreover, Mum is thrashing her in a public café. This means her punishment has an audience, which would add humiliation to it. After Mum is through, she demands proper respect from Hettie and good behaviour. Hettie complies, and Janie is satisfied Hettie has finally gotten what she needed: discipline and humbling.

Mum then directs them to a short cut across the common she had known from childhood to reach the match. But Mum doesn’t realise a private property has been built there since her time, so Hettie and Janie unwittingly trespass into it and fall foul of guard dogs. For the first time Hettie shows unselfish behaviour when she offers to draw off the dogs, but in the process she gets bitten.

By the time they arrive at the match Hettie is limping badly and in a lot of pain. To add to their problems, the rival team are known as “The Amazons” because they play tough, brutal and dirty (a bit like Hettie once!). The Amazons pick up on Hettie’s injury and start to play upon it. The nurse says Hettie should withdraw for treatment, and Dock End is losing. Janie peps up the girls for a fight by telling them just what is stake, and Hettie courageously stays on to teach those Amazons a lesson for trying to cripple her. Dock End’s comeback, particularly from Hettie, takes the Amazons by surprise. They lose their grip and start making mistakes, which gives Dock End the edge to win. The school is saved, and Janie now considers Hettie as the best sister she could ever have.

Thoughts

This story is one of two Lindy stories to have the distinction of making the transition into the Jinty and Lindy merger. The other is “Finleg the Fox”, which coincidentally started in the same Lindy issue as Hettie. Hettie also brought a hockey story (well, part of one) into Jinty. Hockey stories were rare in Jinty, despite her emphasis on sports stories.

The story is not a memorable or distinguished one. Still, it holds its own because it is a combination of several proven formulas that have stood as serials in their own right. The first is the protagonist being forced to tolerate an odious girl because something is at stake. The second is a school bully who becomes a stepsister and makes the protagonist’s home life as unbearable as school. Third is a courageous battle to win a competition to save a school, but of course it’s filled with sabotage and obstacles along the way. Fourth is a nasty troublemaker who revels in causing misery for everyone. The last is turning an unsavoury girl into a reformed character.

Reforming a nasty troublemaker is not something that always happens in “troublemaker” stories (it did not happen in Judy’s “Be Nice to Nancy!”, for example). However, once Hettie becomes Janie’s stepsister she just has to be reformed, not just for the sake of winning the championship and saving the school but also to stop the marriage between their parents from being torn apart from the bad blood between the girls. Hettie also has to be reformed for her own sake as well, because she will never realise her full potential as a top hockey player if she persists in her bad behaviour, because hockey is a team sport and demands team spirit.

Until then, Hettie is a brilliantly conceived snob and troublemaker that you just love to hate. Like Nancy Norden in “Be Nice to Nancy!” she is a dreadful snob who despises her new school because it’s not good enough for her, and she is also a nasty troublemaker who loves to cause trouble and misery for everyone. Even the posh school that turned her into a snob found her unbearable. She was probably on the verge of being expelled before her father yanked her out and transferred her to Dock End in the hope it would change her haughty ways. Sorry Mr King, but you need to take a much firmer hand with Hettie than that! Mrs Downs is living proof of this when she cured Hettie’s bad behaviour with just one good thrashing. Hettie is also a lot more slick and cunning than Nancy in getting her way and pulling the wool over people’s eyes with phoney “nice” routines.

It is debatable as to the way in which Hettie is turned around (a good hiding in public) is all that convincing because it seems a bit too instant and pat. Still, you just have to love Hettie getting that jolly good hiding, and you wish so many other unsavoury girls in girls’ comics could get one too – Nancy Norden, for example.

Afterwards the hockey championship becomes Hettie’s redemption and helps convince Janie and the other girls that she really has reformed and they can make a fresh start with her. She didn’t just play to help them win the championship; she also braved a great deal of pain and dirty tricks (not unlike the ones she herself played once) in order to pull it off. You could say Hettie even got a taste of her own medicine through the Amazons; they were playing dirty on her, just as she used to play dirty, even on her own team mates. It is a pity the Firdale girls didn’t see it too and realise how much the badly behaved girl they despised so much has changed.

Face the Music, Flo! (1975)

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Published: 19 April 1975 – 30 August 1975 (20 episodes)

Artist: Jim Baikie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Twins Greg and Flo Carroll have looked after each other since their parents died (from Dad’s reckless driving). Trouble is, Flo acts like Greg’s mother when it comes to running his life. She keeps telling him to carry on with his plumbing course at the technical college, as it will guarantee a job for life. But Greg clearly does not like plumbing (just whose idea was it to pursue it in the first place?). His heart is in showbiz and he wants to pursue a career in pop music. Flo doesn’t approve of this because their late father’s showbiz career was a disaster and drove the family into debt. So before Mum died, she made Flo promise to see to it that Greg pursued a career that guaranteed more job security than showbiz.

Nonetheless, pop music is what Greg begins to pursue, and he is soon on the rise as a pop star. Flo still does not approve and this begins to drive a wedge between the twins. Flo does not like this change in their relationship either, as she and Greg have always been close; but as Greg’s career develops, he begins to drift apart from Flo. He also neglects his plumbing studies and eventually leaves the course. This horrifies Flo as she believes Greg is throwing away a steady job for the sake of an uncertain dream. Moreover, Greg’s manager Vince Telfer has a very sleazy look about him. Telfer encourages Greg to pursue his music career and he takes an active hand in widening the gulf between Flo and Greg.

Still, as far as Greg is concerned, his career is everything his father’s was not – success, fame, loads of money, and gifts he proceeds to shower Flo with. So why can’t Flo get past the tragedy of her father’s failed showbiz career? He is living proof that just because Dad’s career was a flop, it doesn’t mean his own will be. He (rightly) warns Flo that if she carries on being so difficult about his new career they will end up hating each other. However, Flo still thinks it is not the right path for Greg and also feels she failed Mum and the promise she made to her. So the gulf widens even more. And wider still when Flo cleans Greg’s guitar. She accidentally messes up the controls, which turns Greg’s performance into a disaster. When Greg finds out what happened, he thinks Flo did it on purpose because of her attitude, and walks out on her altogether. Telfer keeps feeding this false assumption of Greg’s for all it’s worth: “She’ll do anything to wreck your career, Greg – you know that!” And Greg won’t listen to Flo when she says it was unintentional.

Flo decides the only way to get anywhere near Greg is to disguise herself as one of the fans who keep mobbing him at every turn. She wins a prize draw to an evening with Greg. Telfer sees through Flo’s disguise and causes more trouble for her right in front of the press. Greg really is poisoned against Flo after this, which is all part of Telfer’s ploy to stop Flo getting Greg out of his clutches. Flo soon finds out why Telfer wants to turn Greg against her – Telfer has been fleecing Greg (yes, we thought he looked sleazy!). Telfer is now out to pocket 80% of Greg’s fee on his upcoming provincial tour. However, Flo can’t convince Greg of this and he goes off on his tour.

However, Flo follows him secretly. This means renting a shabby flat and taking a job as a waitress at the gig Greg is playing at. But Flo gets discovered, which causes intense embarrassment for Greg and turns the audience against him. Telfer, of course, takes advantage to widen the rift between the twins and says Flo did that on purpose too. Flo gets sacked and also hurt her wrist during the incident. The only one who notices her injury is Pip, Greg’s kind-hearted drummer. Pip takes Flo to hospital for treatment, and the doctor asks if Greg could perform a charity concert in the children’s ward.

Unfortunately Flo thinks the answer will be no because she is under the impression success is making Greg hard and selfish. A misunderstanding where she thinks Greg has turned down the doctor’s request cements that view. So she impersonates Greg to throw a concert for the kids. However, the press find her and take photos for “Big-Hearted Pop Star Entertains Sick Kids” story. Flo dreads Greg’s reaction when he reads the story, but it has surprising ramifications: a television producer was so impressed that he wants to do a television programme with Greg. Flo and Greg also clear up their misunderstanding, but disaster strikes when the TV producer sees the shabby digs Flo is renting and thinks Greg is to blame.

Now Greg has seen how Flo is living he puts her in more posh accommodation. He also spruces her up in luxury, saying that as a sister of a pop star she must have the look for it. But Flo soon finds the high life isn’t as fulfilling as it first seemed and wants to go back to being useful. Unfortunately this leads to a series of mishaps that widen the gulf between her and Greg again. First, Flo finds a sick maid and she offers to finish her duties for her. When Greg and the TV producer find Flo at it, it’s another embarrassment. And then there’s another embarrassment when Greg acts as judge at a fete but Flo gets horribly messed up from cleaning up a dog. When Greg and his high-rise friends come to Flo’s suite with caviar and champagne, he is really shown up when he finds Flo enjoying kippers and cocoa with Uncle Eddie and Aunt Mabel: “Why can’t you be a credit to me, instead of slumming with a couple of old deadbeats you picked up off the street?”

Uncle Eddie and Aunt Mabel agree with Flo that success is changing Greg for the worse. Then Flo finds Greg has left flowers on their parents’ graves and the twins start hugging each other. She wonders if she has judged him too harshly, but then thinks it was all a publicity stunt when the press photograph them (it was, but Telfer arranged it behind Greg’s back). After this, Flo heads back to their old home in London. She bumps into Greg again at one his open-air concerts and they proceed to make up. But Telfer does his best to come between them again – and so do mobs of fans. Flo is also feeling neglected because Greg’s getting too busy with his pop career to devote any time to her and the only place she can see him these days is on television.

Then Flo realises Telfer is driving Greg too hard and he’s beginning to fall ill from exhaustion. When she and Pip try to speak to Telfer, he sacks Pip and throws them both out. Undaunted, they smuggle Greg out in a drum and take him on holiday. While on holiday, Greg takes delight in throwing concerts for the villager. Flo has come to realise that Greg has show business in his blood.

But then Telfer comes along with a bombshell – Greg’s holiday has caused him to miss an opportunity for an American tour! Following this, Flo decides to just let Greg pursue his pop career and goes back to her old life. Six months pass without even seeing Greg, but painful reminders of him are everywhere. Greg sends Flo regular cheques, which she puts into the bank. While at the bank, Pip and a bunch of would-be pop musicians put on a performance. They hope the bank manager will back them for their road musical, which he does not.

Now it’s Flo’s birthday and she hopes Greg will make the effort to come and celebrate it. But all he does is send her flowers, as he can’t make the time to come. Then Flo finds out Greg is off on an American tour, so now he will be even more distanced from her. She is so upset she stumbles into the road and gets hit by a truck.

Flo’s condition is critical and she needs Greg urgently. Greg has a horrible sense of foreboding and feels he should check on Flo. However, Telfer does not want Greg to find out about Flo’s accident as he wants him on the plane for his American tour. Pip rushes to the airport to inform Greg, but Telfer locks him up. By the time Pip gets out, the plane is flying. In hospital, Flo senses Greg departing and her condition worsens.

Then the plane suddenly returns to the airport because of mechanical problems. This time Pip manages to tell Greg about Flo’s accident and how Telfer tried to stop him finding out. Greg goes to the hospital, and tells Telfer to shove it when he tries to get him back on the plane or lose the American contract. Greg’s arrival turns Flo around, and Greg says the shock has opened his eyes to what his true priorities in life are. So when Telfer arrives, Greg angrily breaks contract with him (which has Telfer pocket all of Greg’s money) and ends his pop career. Greg turns to a new line in showbiz – getting Pip’s show on the road. They have no money because of Telfer, but Flo can finance them with the money Greg sent her before. The show is a huge success and makes Flo and Greg joint stars.

Thoughts

This story starts with a premise that is so familiar in girls’ comics, except that it is turned on its head and given a whole new take. The protagonist is frustrated in pursuing her (or in this case his) choice of career by interfering relatives because they got burned by some family tragedy associated with it. The protagonist gets pushed down a career path of the relative’s choice, and the relative cannot accept that the protagonist does not want it and may not have the aptitude for it either. Examples in Jinty include “The Goose Girl”, where Glenda Noble’s mother keeps pushing her into fashion design instead of the ornithology where Glenda’s heart really lies.

But instead of a parent/guardian pushing a daughter in this way it’s a sister pushing her brother. It’s a bit unclear as to just how Greg came to study plumbing, for it does not look like he would choose it himself. It is a bit hard to believe that Flo would be able to press him into taking up plumbing, though she could have. The parents have been dead for several years, so there could not have been any pressure from them either. Perhaps Greg just took the course to please his sister. However it happened, Flo carries on Greg’s mother in the way she keeps pushing him to be a plumber because in her view it would guarantee a good, steady job while showbiz is too uncertain for that. She does not stop to think whether it is something Greg really wants or would be happy doing. One has to applaud Greg when he decides, in effect “screw you – I’m going to pursue a career in showbiz, whether you like it or not!” – and follows his heart into showbiz.

Flo’s bad reaction to this and difficulty in accepting it means she must take at least some of the blame for the widening rift with her brother. If she had been more respectful of her brother’s feelings it would have made things far easier for them both. Eventually Flo does come to accept that showbiz, however much trouble it caused for the family in the past, is in her brother’s blood. But she can’t accept this at first and is too badly prejudiced by the bad legacy of their father’s failed showbiz career to agree with Greg pursuing it. It is ironic that Flo ends up going full circle from disapproving of a showbiz career to sharing it with Greg at the end of the story.

Flo’s doubts about whether the pop career will bring Greg true happiness prove to be more prophetic than her disapproval about him pursuing showbiz. This is particular so considering the type of manager Greg has ended up with. Vince Telfer is a greedy, crooked and ruthless man who clearly took advantage of Greg’s greenness in signing him up. Greg can’t see that Telfer is just using him as a means to line his own pockets by hook or by crook and he does not care about his wellbeing one bit. Even when Telfer starts driving Greg so hard that he is on the brink of collapse, Greg does not wake up. It takes a horrible shock to make Greg see Telfer for what he is. Sadly, it looks like Telfer gets away with all that fleecing he did on Greg. He even pockets all of Greg’s money after he breaks contract. Clearly, Greg overlooked some fine print that shifty Telfer inserted about breach of contract.

Even without Telfer’s cheating, Greg’s pop career soon takes a course that proves Flo right – it is not bringing him happiness. As Greg’s pop career progresses the story shifts towards “the price of fame” premise where fame, success and fortune come at the cost of family and personal life. Flo feels increasingly isolated and distanced from the twin brother she was once so close to and feels neglected. Greg also discovers the pitfalls of being a pop star, such as becoming public property, being constantly hounded by fans, and having no time for family (or himself, probably). Eventually he decides a career that makes him turn his back on his family is the wrong one, but he takes a long time to realise it and it takes a shock to do the trick. Greg is too blinded by his success and the bad influence of his dodgy manager, who pulls every trick he can to keep Greg under his thumb and line his pockets. Fame is clearly having a bad effect on Greg. It never goes completely to Greg’s head and he becomes conceited or unbearable. But he is showing signs of snobbery and selfishness and losing sight of the warm-heartedness he used to have. By contrast, once Flo has a taste of Greg’s high life she does not like it; she wants a down-to-earth life where she helps people.

The story is also unusual for giving male protagonists more attention. Usually, boys were kept on the periphery in girls’ comics during the 1960s–1970s. There is Greg, of course, but there is also Pip the drummer. Pip is a humble, kind, good-natured boy whose own pursuit of showbiz is an uplifting and delightful contrast to the glamour and glitz of Greg’s pop career that comes at the price of happiness. Pip is also a tremendous help to both Flo and Greg in getting through their difficulties with Telfer and Greg’s pop career until they break free of it and start working together on their own gig. Had this story appeared in the late 1980s we have a strong suspicion Pip and Flo would have started dating. However, this was still not allowed in girls’ comics at the time of publication.

Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979)

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Jinty: 6 October 1979-22 December 1979

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Alison Christie

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #14 as “The Black Sheep”

Plot

Bev Barton looks on herself as the black sheep in her sheep farming family, both in appearance (the only one with black hair in a blond family) and in character. She is a rebel without a cause who chafes under her parents’ rules and regulations and is bored stiff with the sheep farm. But Bev has a big problem – she is selfish and can’t see beyond herself. She tends to get jealous of her sister Ruth, who seems to be more in favour with the parents. Bev does not understand that the parents trust Ruth because she earns it with obedience, hard work and consideration, while Bev does nothing of the kind.

Bev applies for and wins a scholarship in Elmsford Academy as she thinks boarding school will give her freedom from her parents and the farm and to do her own thing. But of course she soon finds that Elmsford has its own rules and regulations. It is not long before Bev’s rebelliousness gets her into trouble with the headmistress.

Then Bev discovers the judo club at Elmsford and finds she has a real passion and talent for the sport. She finally has something to work for. The trouble is, she gets so obsessed with judo that she neglects her schoolwork, exams, and breaks more rules and orders in order to get to her judo club. The only thing that stands between Bev and expulsion is that she used her judo to foil a burglar who was stealing school trophies. But eventually Bev defies the headmistress once too often and gets expelled. As a result, the parents thoroughly disapprove of Bev’s judo.

Being expelled has cut Bev off from the judo club and there is none in the village. She flouts her parents’ orders again in order to get to the judo club – only to find it has closed down. Worse, Dad catches her in the act of defying him and she’s in trouble again. Back home, Bev’s jealousy of her sister Ruth, whom she perceives as the parents’ favourite worsens, which heightens the bad situation with her parents. Bev does not appreciate how patient Ruth is with her – or realise that Ruth is ill with angina and needs extra care.

Things look up when Ted Nelson, Bev’s judo instructor, takes a job at her school as the new PE teacher. They start a judo club at the school. Dad won’t let Bev join after her expulsion, but Ruth talks him around. Bev soon earns her yellow belt, but is neglecting her schoolwork again. Ruth is staying up late doing Bev’s homework – which is not good for her state of health – and the parents are angry at Bev again. But Bev takes this as more favouritism and her response is to “disappear” for a bit to teach them a lesson. But this backfires dreadfully – Ruth sneaks off to look for Bev and this is extremely dangerous for her because she is so sick. When Bev finds out, she finally wakes up to how selfish she has been. She takes off to look for Ruth – against Dad’s orders, who is too angry to let her help search – and succeeds.

Following this, Bev makes a serious effort to become more considerate and helpful to her family. Mum is impressed, but Dad just says that Bev’s head is still full of that “confounded judo”. Hearing this, Bev decides that there is only one way to convince Dad of her good faith – give up judo – and tells Dad what she is doing. She rushes off in tears to give away her judo gear. But en route she encounters Alf Sutton. Dad has suspected Sutton of stealing his sheep and now Bev catches him red-handed. She uses her judo to bring him down. This now convinces Dad that judo is not a bad thing and he admits to Bev that he was just too proud to acknowlege her change for the better.

Bev is now getting along so much better with her parents. And to show it, Dad converts his barn into a judo club so the club can continue after the school gym burns down. Bev is still proud of being a black sheep but is now a more mature, thoughtful and happier girl.

Thoughts

This came hard on the heels of Guy Peeters’ previous story, “Pandora’s Box”, which was also about a selfish girl who learned to open her heart. Perhaps it was the same writer. But while Pandora’s Box had supernatural elements, Black Sheep is grounded firmly in realism. There is so much in the character of Bev Barton that we see in everyday life – rebel without a cause, inability to handle authority, generation gap, and problem children who have nowhere to vent their energy so they transmute it into difficult behaviour that exasperates their parents.

The problem with Bev is that she can’t see that she is the architect of her own misfortunes with her selfish, self-centred behaviour. She does not understand that her problems with her parents stem from her being selfish, disobedient, rebellious, doing nothing to earn their trust, and having no consideration for others. And her attitude not only gets her expelled but endangers Ruth several times – such as practising judo with her while not thinking that Ruth is untrained – but Bev does not stop to think. And the types of boyfriends she has – rough bikers – do not help matters.

Bev is not a totally bad character. For example, she stands up to a bully at school who blackmails other girls. There is also a dash of feminism when Bev has to demand to join the judo club as it is boys only. She’s full of spunk and balls, which would have appealed to readers. Bev is not your typical victim heroine who would take emotional and physical abuse lying down, and is no Cinderella.

It is obvious that the judo is the key to Bev’s salvation. After all, it has finally given our rebel without a cause something to channel her energy into. If only she would wake up to how selfish she is, she be a true heroine. But we know she will eventually. That’s the whole point of the story after all.

We have to enjoy this story for the judo itself. It came out at a time when martial arts were popular in Britain, which must have provided inspiration and popularity. And judo makes a change from stories about hockey, tennis or swimming, so readers must have enjoyed the story for this alone. Martial arts did not appear much in girls’ comics, which makes this story even more of a standout.

Combing Her Golden Hair (1979)

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Colour reprint as “Comb of Mystery” in Katy

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Publication: 1/9/79-8/12/79
Reprint: Katy as “Comb of Mystery; Tina Topstrip as Dutch translation
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Unknown

Plot: Tamsin Tregorren lives with gran (her dad is often away at sea). Gran is a fearsome, iron-willed woman who is very old fashioned and strict with Tamsin. She always seems to keep Tamsin looking a frump in plaits, glasses, and buys her second hand clothes (okay, so they do have a limited budget, but that’s not the real reason). She does not even like Tamsin having long hair and only allows it because Dad likes it that way. Tamsin’s strict upbringing attracts sympathy from her classmates, who think gran is a dragon and don’t come to Tamsin’s house for that reason.

There is a mystery about Tamsin’s mother; whenever Tamsin asks questions about her, gran’s temper flares up. Tamsin is not sure she believes what gran says about her mother being dead, and wants to meet her mother. Tamsin also yearns to swim, but gran says she cannot because chlorine brings on her asthma, so she cannot join swimming classes at school. She always feels the odd one out.

One night Tamsin’s comb is ruined. She searches gran’s drawer for a spare and finds a silver fish-like comb. When she starts combing her hair, the comb seems to have a strange effect on her. She combs her hair all evening, and she seems to hear a sweet voice calling to her. She also has a strange, calming feeling, as if she is floating on water. This starts a habit of combing her hair continuously with the comb while feeling those strange effects. But gran is not impressed to find Tamsin combing her hair all evening. She calls it vanity and threatens to cut Tamsin’s hair off. But the comb starts inciting Tamsin to go against her gran. She starts wearing some fashionable clothes with the help of her friends. They also help her to have a go at swimming but gran stops her, screaming about her asthma problem, and drags her out in front of her friends.

Still, the attempt has Tamsin wondering if she really has a problem with chlorine. Then a new teacher insists on pupils producing doctor’s certificates if they are to be excused swimming. But gran will not even take Tamsin to the doctor to get one. Rather, she would keep Tamsin at home on swimming days, even though it is illegal and gran could get in trouble. But the comb encourages Tamsin to swim, and she starts doing so in secret at school with the help of her friend Ellen. And when she does, she finds she is a natural swimmer and there is no reaction to the chlorine.

There is another scene when gran catches Tamsin combing her hair. This time she almost cuts Tamsin’s hair off for real. But Dad, who has returned from the sea, intervenes. He says, “Oh Mother, I realise why you tried to do it, but cutting off her lovely hair is going too far!” But he will not tell Tamsin what he meant by knowing the reason for gran’s actions. This deepens the mystery that Tamsin is now more determined to solve.

An eye test (something gran had always kept Tamsin away from) reveals that there is nothing wrong with her eyes and Tamsin discovers the glasses her gran buys her are just plain glass. She now realises the glasses, plaits and everything else frumpy were intended to de-emphasise her looks because gran considers beauty a sin. Furious, she smashes her glasses and starts wearing her hair loose. When she confronts her father over the matter, he is oddly defensive about gran’s actions. Still, Gran is forced to agree to allow Tamsin to wear her hair loose. However, she confiscates all mirrors in the house to discourage any vanity in Tamsin, but Tamsin defies her with a broken mirror in the shed. This time, when she combs her hair, the comb says a name: Redruthan. Later, Tamsin discovers Redruthan is a place in Cornwall. When she mentions Redruthan, and more questions about Mum to Dad and gran, they both clam up oddly, saying that she and her mother originated in London. Now Tamsin is even more determined to find out about her mother.

Gran discovers Tamsin’s secret swimming. She really flips out, cutting up the swimming costume and towel and locks Tamsin in the broom cupboard. She also says something odd about lying being in Tamsin’s blood. Tamsin realises this can only mean her mother, as her father is honest. The comb comforts Tamsin again, saying happiness can begin in Redruthan. Then Tamsin discovers her birth certificate, which says she was born at Gull Cottage, Redruthan. So much for London origins.

Then gran falls sick and has a bad attack. Tamsin is also having second thoughts about the comb, realising it has brought problems for her in encouraging her to defy her gran. She turns to looking after her gran, but eventually gran is taken to hospital. The comb takes Tamsin over again and and urges her to head to Redruthan. This time, Tamsin cannot resist the call, although gran could be on the danger list and needs her badly. She goes Ellen’s house, as she and her parents are heading to Redruthan on holiday. She takes a replacement swimming costume Ellen left for her and sneaks a lift there in the back of their caravan. When she arrives in Redruthan, she feels she belongs there. People are astonished to see a girl running about in a swim costume in cold weather, but Tamsin does not feel cold in it; she feels alive.

Tamsin finds Gull Cottage, and learns that she, gran, Dad and Mum lived there when she was a baby, and locals think there was something funny about them. Her mother did not get on with gran and then disappeared. The comb then leads Tamsin to a mirror that matches it.

Meanwhile, gran discovers what Tamsin has done. Although she is still sick, she leaves hospital and comes to Redruthan, saying she is trying to save Tamsin. Ellen is in tow. Ellen is appalled at how sick gran looks, but gran is determined to save Tamsin. She always did have a will of iron.

Tamsin comes face to face with her mother – and discovers she is a mermaid! Her name is Nerina, and Nerina explains that when she first saw Tamsin’s father, she knew she must have him. Mermaids can swap their tails for legs when they want to marry humans, and this is what Nerina did to marry Tamsin’s father. Gran had opposed the marriage as she did not trust a woman whose past was a mystery, and she was right. The marriage soon fell apart due to Nerina’s selfish, vain cold mermaid nature; this made her a “vain, lazy wife” who spent all day preening in her mirror while leaving baby Tamsin crying in her cot. The irony of the whole situation is revealed in that it was left to strict gran to look after the neglected baby and give her love (see below), which by mermaid standards was “spoiling”. Eventually gran worked out the truth, so Nerina left, and she was missing the sea anyway. She left the comb, knowing it would bring Tamsin to her. Now she wants Tamsin to join her in her mermaid realm and starts pulling Tamsin down there. She does not seem to understand or care that Tamsin would drown because she is human.

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Gran and Ellen arrive, and Tamsin manages to get away from Nerina in order to say goodbye to gran. Gran explains that all her tactics were to ensure that Tamsin did not grow up like the vain Nerina and to keep her away from water. Tamsin now understands gran did not mean to be cruel, but says vanity and swimming are in her blood; she is a mermaid’s daughter after all. Gran begins pointing out what a cold fish Nerina is; she shows no love, no affection, and only sees Tamsin as a possession she must have and does not care that Tamsin would drown if taken down below. Indeed, Nerina told Tamsin not to call her ‘mother’, calling the term “an ugly, ageing title”. Ellen adds that gran has shown Tamsin love, in risking her life by discharging herself prematurely, in order to find Tamsin.

They get through to Tamsin. She realises her mother does not love her because a mermaid cannot feel love as humans can. She agrees to come home and look after gran.

Nerina isn’t giving up that easily though; she is determined to have what is hers. She retrieves the comb and throws it after Tamsin, trying to tempt her with all the comb has done for her and can do for her. But Tamsin has gone with gran and Ellen, and the comb gets lost forever in the waves.

Thoughts

“Combing Her Golden Hair” is regarded as another of Jinty’s classics and was one of her most popular and enduring stories. It can also be regarded as one of her most unconventional ones. It takes established formulas in girls’ comics and then turns them completely inside-out. And it does this with a conclusion that takes readers completely by surprise because it is not what they expected.

We have seen the formulas in this story used in so many serials: a strict guardian who never lets their charge have any fun or be herself; a guardian who imposes bizarre and unfair sanctions because they seem to have such an enormous chip on their shoulder for some reason; a shy girl who gets more confident when she acquires an object with strange powers, but it may come with a price; and a good old fashioned mystery that is just begging to be unravelled. The mystery here is the mystery of Tamsin’s mother. It is not hard to guess that the mother has something to do with the strict gran being the way she is. When the comb appears, the plot thickens even further. If it has a connection with the mystery mother, it drops a hint that there is something supernatural about the mother. And whatever it is, it is clearly connected with swimming, the sea, and all the other things that gran seems to go all out to squelch in Tamsin.

At any rate we laud the comb because its actions seem to be aimed at freeing Tamsin from the iron apron strings of her severe gran and her harsh, bizarre measures that really shock us at times, such as when gran goes so mad she nearly cuts Tamsin’s hair off or locks her in the cupboard. We all reckon that gran should be reported to child welfare, but we will settle for the ultimate liberation, which surely must come when the mystery of Tamsin’s mother is revealed. Once it is, Tamsin is going to be free of her horrible gran forever and go off arm in arm with her mother and she lives happily ever after. That’s how it always ends up in girls’ serials, right?

Nope, not in this case. It breaks all the clichés to give us a happy but completely unconventional ending that is full of surprises and irony. It turns out that the mother is the villain; not actually evil, but a possessive, selfish cold fish who wants Tamsin the same way she wanted her father – as possessions, and had no love for them. The mother used the comb to lure Tamsin to her while winning Tamsin’s confidence and trust by encouraging her to rebel against her grandmother and doing the things that gran was trying to keep her from. Gran had been set up as the villain of the piece, but she was actually a heroine – or anti-heroine? Once we learn all the facts, we can understand what made the gran the way she is and the thinking behind her actions. But she was not going about them the right way and it could easily be construed as child abuse. Trying to deny Tamsin what she is was not right either. As Tamsin herself told her gran, she is a mermaid’s daughter after all. We can only hope that in the aftermath, Tamsin and her gran will get along much better and gran will be more tolerant of Tamsin’s mermaid half. She will have to be, because Tamsin has a mermaid/human heritage she will be getting to grips with.

Perhaps the greatest irony and surprise of all is Nerina telling Tamsin that gran spoiled her rotten as a baby. Gran spoiling Tamsin? We have to laugh at that after seeing the way gran has brought Tamsin up. But the whole irony of it all is that it was the severe gran who gave Tamsin love while the cold-fish mother did not because it was not in her mermaid nature and gave baby Tamsin all the care she needed when the mother neglected her. And gran again showed Tamsin love by risking her own life to save Tamsin from what she sensed was going to happen once Tamsin met her mother. She was right, and she saved Tamsin’s life by showing she was the one who really loved Tasmin while the mother did not. So gran emerges as a proper heroine now and redeemed herself for her earlier harshness.

Readers are astonished when the reunion between mother and daughter is not liberation and happiness; instead, it is life threatening for Tamsin. But then, mermaids have been associated with sirens, who lured people to their doom with hypnotic singing. Mermaids have also been connected to things like shipwrecks, flooding, drownings and luring people to their doom. Other mermaid folklore portrays them as more benevolent and even tragic, depending on the region. But not in the case of Nerina, who was clearly inspired by the darker side of mermaid folklore.