Tag Archives: fugitive story

Danger Dog [1982]

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982 to 17 April 1982

Episodes: 15

Artist: Julio Bosch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is slightly ahead in the future (from the time of writing). Beth Harris’ town has a cruel practice in regard to stray animals: rounding them up and taking them to High Fell Research Station for experimentation. Her dog Sammy falls foul of this practice when he got lost. His collar got lost as well, so he was taken for a stray and ended up at High Fell. Beth breaks into High Fell to rescue Sammy, and is confident she got him out before the scientists did anything to him.

However, Beth’s father insists Sammy be returned to High Fell in case he is carrying some sort of contamination from that place and is dangerous. Beth does not believe that, and she is not having Sammy returned to High Fell either. She ends up going on the run with Sammy on the moor, intending to come back once she’s proved Sammy’s not dangerous.

Unfortunately for Beth a huge manhunt is soon after her, with men in contamination suits and tracker dogs searching the moors, and the High Fell owner insisting on Sammy’s return. He refuses to disclose details about the experiments performed on Sammy or exactly what sort of contamination he could be carrying. Considering what a horrible-looking man he is, his reticence is very suspicious.

The manhunt is all over the press and big news in town. As the news gathers momentum, there are hints that people who disapproved of High Fell and its animal experiments are beginning to voice their outrage and express sympathy for Beth. On the moor, Beth finds some of these sympathisers helping her whenever she meets them, such as an old lady living on the moor named Old Meg.

Meanwhile, Beth increasingly begins to realise that weird things have been happening to her, and have been ever since she got Sammy back. She is having bizarre bouts of going deaf, going blind, voice going wrong, seeing in the dark, super-strength, super-healing, and the muscles in her body going completely kaput. These wear off, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity. They happen to other people she comes into contact with as well. These include the kindly Old Meg and scheming gypsies who hold Beth and Sammy prisoner, hoping to claim a reward for bringing them in.

At first Beth thinks these things are due to her getting contaminated with chemicals during her rescue mission and she is the one who is dangerous, not Sammy. But eventually she realises these weird things only happen when she is in close contact with Sammy. He is dangerous after all. Whatever was done to him causes peculiar things to happen to any human he comes into contact with. She believes the High Fell scientists must have known this and it is the real reason they want him back.

Beth, the human who stays close to Sammy the most, is feeling the worst of these effects. She soon finds they are getting both worse and weirder. So bad now in fact, that Beth discovers that distance from Sammy is no longer safe. There is no telling where they will lead, and her very life could be in danger. But she can’t bear the thought of Sammy being destroyed or returned to High Fell. She tries to drive Sammy off, but realises that is not the answer either, as he could still come into contact with humans.

After long thought Beth makes the decision to leave Sammy tied up in an old cottage and go back to town to get help from her parents. But by the time she arrives home the chemicals are having such a bad effect on her – despite her distance from Sammy – that she is confined to bed. By the time she recovers, Sammy has been in that cottage without food or water for whole three days.

They get to Sammy in time, and also discover the three-day nourishment deprivation has cured him of the chemical effects. He is safe to go home. It is never established just what High Fell did to Sammy and why. Beth thinks they were developing a weapon of some sort. High Fell is closed down and their experiments stopped because of the bad publicity Beth caused them. Beth hopes that if the research station reopens, it will be to more savoury experiments.

Thoughts

“Danger Dog” was one of the best stories to appear during the Tammy & Jinty merger. It’s strong, dark, subversive, freaky, and chilling stuff. It is possible the story was originally written for Misty as there is evidence (Monster Tales) that Misty was still an influence on Tammy during the merger despite her logo’s disappearance on the cover. The story looks like it was strongly influenced by “The Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams. “The Secret of NIMH” could be in the mix as well.

Danger Dog not only decries the cruelties of animal experimentation but also the dangers of science when it is used for unethical ends. Unlike most evil scientists in girls’ comics it is never established just what those scientists did to Sammy or why. Never knowing exactly what that experiment was about makes the story even more sinister and creepy. As we see those weird effects on Beth, watch them grow increasingly bizarre, and eventually learn it is because of Sammy, it’s even more frightening, because we don’t know just what is behind it. For one thing, is the experiment backfiring or going wrong for some reason? Or is it unfolding as the scientists intended, with perhaps even more results than they anticipated? Are they really developing a secret weapon? Or is it some other chemical experiment?

The effects themselves add to the horror of it all. It’s not just because they are frightening but also because they are just plain weird. Seeing in the dark, and then going blind? All the muscles in your body going flat? Now that is just weeiirrd! And what makes it even weirder is that some of these effects can be described as temporary super powers, such as the super-strength or seeing in the dark. But the final effect turns Beth’s face into an utter horror story, which shocks her parents when they see it. It must have shocked the doctors and authorities as well, and if it didn’t have them tearing White Fells apart to find out just what that research station was doing we would be very surprised. And we can just see the angry demonstrators outside the research station once word of Beth’s condition spread. It would have been no surprise if Beth’s final state had been the final straw that shut down White Fells.

It’s the irony of the story that if Sammy had turned out to be safe like Beth hoped, High Fell might not have been shut down. Having him turn out to be dangerous after all would have been the clincher in stopping the High Fell experiments.

We strongly sympathise with Beth and Sammy, and we cheer Beth for wanting to save her dog from those experiments. We desperately want Beth to emerge triumphant at proving Sammy is not dangerous and not have to return to that research station. And we expect that to happen. After all, this is a girls’ serial. So it is gutting for us all when the story establishes that Beth was wrong all along and her dog really is dangerous like Dad said. It’s definitely not the way we expected the story to go.

After this, Beth is faced with a choice that no girl and her dog should ever face: the love of her dog or risk him being destroyed. And let’s face it: public safety and Beth’s own well-being are at stake, and they have to come first. But it’s an agonising, heart-wrenching decision for Beth, and here the story delivers its most powerful emotional impact.

Setting the story a little distance in an unspecified future year adds a dystopian element to the story. This makes the concept of a town sending strays to a research station for experimentation instead of animal shelters for rehoming a bit more credible. The unspeficied time setting also means the story will work anywhere, anytime, which will be handy if it comes up for reprint.

Bridey below the Breadline (1976)

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Artist: Ken Houghton
Writer: Unknown
Publication: 12 June 1976 – 28 August 1976

Summary

It is the year 1666. Bridey Brown and her father, a master baker, arrive in London in search of a job at the King’s Bakery. Unfortunately it is the night the Great Fire of London breaks out and Mr Brown gets the blame because the watchman saw him entering the bakery (to get back his certificate) when the fire broke out and the bakers make them scapegoats. Their accents mark them as strangers, which makes them all the easier to scapegoat in times when Londoners were xenophobic. So now there are prices on the heads of the Browns. Worse, Mr Brown was severely injured when he entered the bakery and is now crippled. So Bridey has to keep her injured father in hiding while turning to her own baking skills and wits to earn a living using the bakery they are hiding in, and somehow get medical attention for her father while dodging lynch mobs, the catchpoles (the Stuart equivalent of the police), and the dislocation, hysteria and upheaval in the aftermath of the Great Fire.

Eventually Bridey finds a doctor for her father, who knows nothing of their situation. Bridey also takes time out to help Samuel, a baker’s apprentice who is constantly beaten for incompetence and they become friends. But when his incompetence results in an oven catching fire, she takes the blame for him and ends up with a lynch mob on her tail. She takes refuge in the doctor’s house, but the mob follows. Among them is Bonnie Bates, the leader of an urchin gang Bridey had an unpleasant clash with earlier. The doctor manages to get rid of the mob and believes the Browns have been scapegoated over the Great Fire. He offers to use his influence to help clear them.

But then the urchin gang turn up to rob the place and the doctor’s snobby daughter Clara thinks Bridey is part of the gang. Bonnie throws a torch that sets the house ablaze. Everyone manages to escape, but now the doctor thinks the Browns tricked him. He has Mr Brown arrested and thrown into The Fleet (an old London prison) while thinking Bridey died in the fire.

Bonnie returns and tricks Bridey into smuggling a file into The Fleet in a loaf of bread – purportedly for Bridey’s father, but really to help three criminals escape. They were imprisoned for Puritan fanaticism and now they are out for revenge on London. This involves forcing Bridey to make a loaf in the shape of a crown for a bakers’ competition (part of Christopher Wren’s rebuild of London), which will be judged by Charles II himself. The plotters plan to poison the crown, which will kill the King when he tastes it. After the crown is finished, their leader, Master Oliver, takes it to the competition while the others attempt to drown Bonnie and Bridey in the Thames. The girls escape and set off to save the King.

Bridey does so by setting fire to the table laden with entries. She is recognised and everyone thinks she is fire-raising again – but the King realises the truth when he sees a dog drop dead after eating pieces of the crown.

But Master Oliver is up on the scaffolding, holding Bonnie at knife point. However, he steps on a plank that is not strong enough. It breaks and he falls to his death. Bonnie is in danger of meeting the same fate, but is saved by a mound of flour that was piled for her to fall into as a cushion.

The King is so impressed with Bridey’s actions that he now believes her father is innocent and pardons him. The other bakers invite Mr Brown to join the bakers’ guild, and Christopher Wren himself designs a bakery for them. Bonnie joins the Brown family in their bakery.

Thoughts

Fugitive stories are always popular, and the added frustration of the father being injured and incapable of running with Bridey certainly adds to the tension. The scapegoating of the Browns for the Great Fire of London because emotions are running high in the wake of the Great Fire, hysteria is on the rise, and the story being set in rough, brutal, xenophobic times in any case is well thought through. We really feel for the Browns as we know they could be lynched or thrown into one of the notoriously foul 17th century prisons, with little hope of justice at their trial. Whichever way this story will be resolved, we know it cannot be through the legal system of the period. And the Browns don’t stand much chance of proving their innocence, especially as Bridey’s name gets even blacker by covering for Samuel and then getting the blame for Bonnie’s torching of the doctor’s house, so how can they be cleared?

Less well thought through is the change of heart in Bonnie. She knew beforehand that the three criminals were “the three blackest gentlemen you ever met” and she was clearly frightened of Master Oliver, so why did she help them escape instead of leaving them there? Her overhearing them plotting to murder Bridey is plausible in her change of heart, but she already knew they were “the three blackest gentlemen”, so it should not have been much surprise. And Bonnie herself was not much better; she had committed robbery and arson earlier in the story. If she had been blackmailed into helping them escape it would have made more sense and her change of heart more convincing, but her motives for helping them are never explained, and something is not adding up about her change of heart.

It seems a bit ominous that the villain is called Oliver. It keeps having us thinking of Oliver Cromwell, who was responsible for the execution of Charles I and paid the price, even in death (his corpse exhumed and put through the traitor’s death) upon the restoration of Charles II. This Oliver was also out for regicide and, like Cromwell, he was a fanatical Puritan. Cromwell made his own Puritanism clear during the Interregnum, even to the point of banning Christmas celebrations. But both Olivers lose in the end and the monarchy wins. Clearly, Jinty is out to make some inference here.

Personally, I quite like the story for its historical settings and the bread-making theme that permeates the whole story from start to finish. Sometimes the bread-making helps and even saves the day; other times it unwittingly causes harm, including the Great Fire itself that the Browns are wrongly blamed for. Jinty must have had a marvellous time with the irony of the bakery theme – where the Great Fire started – becoming the running thread of the whole story that eventually becomes part of the rebuild of London.

It is pretty intriguing that Ken Houghton drew three Jinty stories in succession in 1976, and all three were on historical periods. The predecessor of this story, House of the Past, dealt with the 1930s. This story is set in Stuart times, and the story  that follows, Daisy  Drudge and Milady Maud, is set in Victorian times. Afterwards, Houghton never drew for Jinty again (though his artwork reappeared in Gypsy Rose as reworked reprints from old Strange Stories). What was behind it here – the same artist and writer team for all three stories, or was Houghton specifically engaged for some jag on historical stories that Jinty was having?

The Changeling (1978)

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Publication: 22 July 1978-5 August 1978
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Katy Palmer lives a miserable life with her brutal uncle and his shabby flat. Uncle puts Katy out to work in the stables, little realising that this is the only time she gets some joy. This is when Katy indulges in the only thing that makes her life bearable – riding. Lately she has been putting in extra riding with Midnight because her employer, Miss Peers, is training him up for an event at Ryechurch. Unfortunately the stables job and riding are cutting into homework time, and Katy is constantly in trouble at school because of it.

Then Uncle yanks Katy out of the stables job to work as a dishwasher, which robs Katy of her only joy. At this, Katy reaches her limit and just runs off. Before she knows what she is doing, she is on a train to Ryechurch. On the train she meets another Katy, Katy Blair. Katy Blair is on her way to Ryechurch to meet her uncle and aunt, whom her lawyer has only just traced.

Then the train suddenly crashes. The accident leaves Katy Blair apparently dead. Desperation drives Katy to steal her suitcase and take her place at Ryechurch so she can finally have a happy life with loving parents. And they have everything Katy could wish for – love, a comfortable life and even stables and horses, where Katy can continue to indulge her passion with horses. She gives her new horse the same name as Midnight.

But Katy soon finds she cannot have real happiness because she is living a lie. All the while there are twinges of conscience. And then the past catches up. First Katy spots Miss Peers and the other Midnight at the Ryechurch event (forgot that bit, didn’t you, Katy?) and has to do a fast sick act so Miss Peers does not see her.

And then – horror – Katy spots Katy Blair! Is she seeing ghosts?

No. It turns out that Katy Blair is not dead after all; she was just in a coma. She has amnesia though, and is trying to recover her memory. At last conscience gets the better of Katy. She confesses the truth to Katy Blair and then her aunt and uncle.

They take Katy to see her uncle. After they see for themselves what an unfit guardian he is, they pull Katy away and tell him they are going to apply to the courts for legal custody of her. The application is successful; the two girls are now sisters and share their riding together. (Mind you, we’re not told how the parents differentiate between two girls named Katy.)

Thoughts
This story is very odd in being so short lived. It only lasted for three episodes when there was potential to spin it out more. For example, we could have had some more development on the villainy of the nasty uncle and, in particular, what he does when he realises Katy has run off. And we could have had more on Katy’s conflicted conscience, the mounting fear of being found out and dragged back to her uncle, and what situations this leads her into. Moreover, having more episodes before Katy Blair returns would have made more sense, because Katy Blair seems to have made an all-too-quick recovery from her coma.

So why did this story only have three episodes? The fact that the episodes have an extra page (or half a page, as in the first episode) suggests it was meant as a filler story and was not intended to be spun out or be a serious length serial. It is a bit disappointing, because this story was crying out for more length and development and could have been a popular Jinty serial.

For Peter’s Sake! (1976)

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Publication: 13 March 1976 – 31 July 1976

Artist: Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Unknown – but see “Thoughts”.

Update: My “thoughts” were correct – Alison Christie (now Fitt) wrote this story.

Summary

In pre-WWII Britain, Corrie and Dawn Lomax are delighted when they are presented with a baby brother, Peter. But then disaster strikes. First, Mr Lomax dies in a work accident. Then Peter falls ill. Peter’s illness is resisting effective diagnosis or cure, and he has to be treated as an outpatient because the hospital is short of beds. To add to the Lomax household stresses, money is tight (bread and dripping for tea every night now), and Mrs Lomax has no time for Corrie and Dawn. So Mrs Lomax accepts an invitation to send Corrie to Granny Mackie in Drumloan, Scotland, where Corrie can receive motherly attention.

Granny has a pram called Old Peg. She uses Old Peg for community work (carting soup, delivering mail, laundry and other uses). But what is really strange is that Old Peg also has a reputation in the community for possessing curative powers for infants. Any sick infant rocked in Old Peg seems to recover immediately. Corrie’s mother has always been sceptical about this, but Corrie and Granny believe Old Peg will do the same for Peter if only they can get the two together.

Then Granny dies. Corrie finds a note in Old Peg saying “Push it to Peter”, and the pram is equipped for a long journey. So Corrie begins a long journey of pushing Old Peg all the way from Scotland to Peter in London, sleeping in her at night, and having all sorts of adventures, mishaps and dangers on the way. She also has to keep ahead of the law, as she has been reported missing in Drumloan.

Corrie’s first misadventure is falling foul of tinkers. They pretend to hide her from the police, but then blackmail her into slaving for them. She escapes by pretending to have a game with Peg and their children, and then shooting off down a slope.

Unfortunately Corrie lost her tin opener to the tinkers and she is hungry. She finds some escaped chickens. She rounds them up and a girl at the farm gratefully gives her a meal. But the girl’s father, who is a bully, takes a dimmer view of her and throws her out.

Another problem arises when Peg loses a wheel. Corrie takes her for repairs, but the man recognises her as the missing girl and calls the police. Corrie makes a fast exit, with Peg still unrepaired. She rescues a boy from drowning and his grateful family repair Peg. And they do not turn her in when a policeman knocks.

Corrie is off again, but she has run out of food and money. She tries to find work at a village, but people turn her away and one woman cheats her because they think she is a tinker. Eventually Corrie and Peg stumble into a circus where the folk are far kinder. They pay Corrie well, and Corrie and Peg are even part of a circus act. But the circus is going north and Corrie needs to go south. It’s back to pushing Peg again.

While sleeping in Old Peg, Corrie takes a drenching in the rain. As a result, she develops pneumonia. She makes it to a house before she collapses. She is taken to hospital, where she is recognised as the runaway girl. Once she recovers, the doctor is going to take her back to Drumloan. But then he discovers what she is trying to do. He takes pity on her and gives her a train ticket to London. Unfortunately, Corrie discovers that Peg is not allowed to travel free and she has no money to cover the extra cost. She discards the ticket, but it is picked up by a woman who does need it, and she pays Corrie half fare.

But Corrie is now back to pushing Peg, and she has not recovered enough from the pneumonia. She takes a rest in the park and is feeling depressed. A Salvation Army officer gives her one of their news sheets. There is an item about Peter, which says he is still sick and Mum is taking him to the seaside in the hope of a cure. This renews Corrie’s strength to get Peg to London.

Another thing is worrying Corrie – how to write to Mum, who thinks she is still in Drumloan and will be surprised to see a different postmark. Then she bumps into an old woman, Jessie, who happens to be an old friend of Gran’s. Corrie confides in Jessie, who helps her with a cover story for writing to Mum. Jessie also gives Corrie new supplies, including the beeswax polish that is always used for Peg.

However, a new problem strikes – blistered feet because Corrie’s boots have worn through and need repair. While Corrie bathes her feet, a gypsy woman comes along with a sick baby. Her medicine does not work, but Old Peg’s magic touch soon has the baby better. The grateful gypsies help Corrie out in a number of ways, including repairing her boots and hooking Old Peg to their wagon so Corrie can ride in her for a while and rest her feet.

Soon it is back to pushing Peg. Corrie takes a rest in a park when some schoolgirls take an interest in Peg and start sketching her. But one gets suspicious that Corrie is not in school and calls social welfare. When a social welfare officer finds Corrie sleeping in Old Peg, he wheels her to a children’s home. It has the feel of a prison, with locked gates, uniforms and a detention room with a barred window. Corrie tells them her story in the hope of help, but they do not believe her. Corrie finds herself falling foul of the strict matron and a blackmailer while boisterous children bounce in Peg (and keep getting tipped out every time they do it). Corrie manages to escape the home with Peg, but the police are alerted immediately. She manages to evade them with the aid of old clothes someone throws into her pram, but now the police search for her intensifies.

At the next town, Corrie calls in at a house to get water for her hot water bottle. The people are kind to Corrie, but she soon finds it is pretence. They are antique collectors who are after Peg. Corrie has to do a bit of breaking and entering to get Peg back.

Corrie and Peg do another family a good turn, and as a reward they give them a lift to London. But when Corrie arrives in London, she finds her family has shifted to a place nearer the hospital. While trying to find them, she comes across a headstone which looks like Peter’s. It turns out to be coincidence, but the shock has her running out into a road and being hit by a car. Mrs Lomax then finds Corrie. Corrie only has minor injuries and is soon discharged to her new address and reunited with her family.

Now it is time to rock Peter in Old Peg. But Corrie is surprised and disappointed when it does not have the curative effect that it had on other babies; Peter remains as sick as ever. Mrs Lomax explains that Peter is dying. His only chance is an American clinic, but she does not have the money for it.

Feeling Old Peg has let her down, Corrie shoves her down the road in a fit of pique. The crash rips the mattress in Old Peg, revealing that Granny had sewn her life savings into it. There is over £300, so now the Lomaxes can afford Peter’s treatment in America. Soon Corrie and Dawn, together with Peg, see Mum and Peter off on the plane. Then Corrie finds herself surrounded by reporters who want the full story of her trek from Scotland with Peg. She tells them that Peg will be giving Peter a victory rock when he comes home cured. And of course he does.

Thoughts

The writer is not known, but there are clues as to who it may be. “For Peter’s Sake!” bears some strong similarities to a 1983 Tammy story, “Room for Rosie”. Both stories feature an old boneshaker of a pram that is a real workhorse and famous in the locality for community work. Both are owned by grandmothers who bequeath them to their granddaughters upon their deathbeds and charge them with a special mission for it. Towards the end it looks as if the granddaughters have failed in those missions despite all their efforts, and they are heartbroken. But an unexpected turn of events at the last minute changes everything and ensures a happy ending.

As Tammy was running credits at this stage, we know that Alison Christie wrote Rosie. Did Christie write “For Peter’s Sake!” as well? The stories Christie was credited with indicate she specialised in emotional, heart-warming, tear-jerking stories, and this story certainly is one. Analysis of Christie’s other credited serials in Tammy (“A Gran for the Gregorys”, “Cassie’s Coach” and “It’s a Dog’s Life!”) also imply that Christie liked to end her serials with a surprise last-minute turn of events that turns a moment of black despair into a happy ending. And this is precisely how Peter’s story turns out happily…hmm. We cannot credit this story to Alison Christie without confirmation, but we would not put it past her.

Update: Alison Christie (now Fitt) has now confirmed that she wrote this story.

Stories about missions of mercy were always popular in girls’ comics. And when it’s a baby that needs saving, you can’t miss with winning the hearts of readers. We’ve also got fugitive elements, right down to a prison escape with the children’s home segment, adventure and adversity, life-threatening situations, people and situations in all shapes and sizes on Corrie’s long journey, and even a hint of the supernatural with Peg’s supposed curative powers for babies. There’s something for everyone in this story.

The conclusion has a surprise twist that does give us our happy ending – but it does not come in the way we expected and leaves things to our imaginations. We are left wondering as to why Peg’s curative power not work on Peter when it seemed to work on every other baby that was rocked in her. Was there something to Mrs Lomax’s scepticism about Peg’s curative powers after all? Was Peter’s illness beyond even the power of Peg to cure? Or was the cure withheld because something better (the money) was planned? The money not only saves Peter but helps ease the Lomaxes’ financial burdens following the death of Mr Lomax. Whatever the answer, it is a brilliant piece of plotting that gives the happy ending while avoiding trite clichés and schmaltz, and it leaves the readers wondering what statement the writer was trying to make with it.

 

 

Bound for Botany Bay (1976)

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Publication: 31 January 1976-5 June 1976
Artist: Roy Newby
Writer: Unknown

Summary
In the early 19th century, Betsy Tanner is the daughter of a farm labourer, but has dreams of being a famous artist. In a school inspection, this draws the scorn of Lady de Mortimer, who says Betsy is too old for school, although Betsy is a star pupil and clearly an artistic genius, and should work in her kitchens. Later, Betsy’s father forbids her to take the job: “No! She treats her servants worse than slaves.” Lady de Mortimer is a cruel, spiteful woman and, as we shall see, it runs in her family. And Betsy will soon discover that the classroom encounter is just the beginning of Lady de Mortimer’s persecution of her that will go all the way to the other side of the globe and the end of the story.

Fallout from the Napoleonic wars has led to economic hardship for England, and this leads to Mr Tanner being laid off. The threat of starvation has him unwisely turning to poaching from Lord de Mortimer and he gets seven years’ transportation in Botany Bay. Betsy promises him she will join him.

Lady de Mortimer has Betsy evicted because she is the daughter of a convict. Nobody will employ Betsy for the same reason and hunger drives her to steal a loaf of bread. She gets caught, but part of her welcomes it because transportation means she has a chance of finding her father. But she is sentenced to death instead for helping another prisoner, a gypsy called Liz escape, and a beadle gets assaulted in the process.

Fortunately for Betsy, Liz’s gypsy tribe knows Philip Cartwright, the editor of a powerful newspaper. Mr Cartwright uses his editorial power to start a petition, which has the sentence commuted to transportation (it also has Lady de Mortimer encountering some very angry people who pelt her!). Before Betsy departs, Mr Cartwright gives her some art materials as a parting gift.

However, Betsy is warned “you’ll be lucky if you get to Botany Bay alive!” And Lady de Mortimer is making certain of this by giving special orders to the captain to be extremely harsh with Betsy, whom she deems a troublemaker and a desperate case. She also gives orders for special letters to be delivered to her Australian cousin, the Honourable Adeline Wortley. Betsy survives the voyage through courage, wits, kindness and, and resourcefulness with her artwork, such as doing people’s sketches in exchange for things, and her determination to find her father.

During the voyage, another convict, Judy, throws herself overboard when she is wrongly accused of stealing a necklace from paying passenger Miss Braithwaite (the real thief was her maid). Betsy throws her a barrel in the hope of it being a life-preserver. The captain does not bother to rescue Judy. But in the panel (below) where Judy throws herself overboard, there is another ship sailing not far behind. Hmmm….

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Upon arrival, Betsy becomes bonded to Lady de Mortimer’s equally cruel cousin, Miss Wortley (as per instructions in the aforementioned letters). Miss Wortley takes great pleasure in inflicting harsh punishments on Betsy to break the “wickedness” of the girl who she labels a dangerous convict and a desperate case. These include confiscating her art supplies, forcing her to work in the hot sun until she collapses from sunstroke, and locking her in a dark cupboard. Miss Wortley treats her other servants, Miss O’Flaherty, and an Aborigine girl named Mary (a slave who was bought by Miss Wortley) just as badly. Eventually Betsy and Mary run off, along with the art supplies. As Betsy makes ready to escape, she learns that a Judge Denver is married to Miss Wortley’s sister (who is another nasty piece of work). Miss Wortley hates Judge Denver because he is a humanitarian and also, he recently rescued Betsy from one of her tortures.

When Miss Wortley discovers the escape, she is furious and means to drag the girls back in chains. And so the hunt for Mary and Betsy begins. The pursuit includes redcoats and an Aborigine tracker, Kangaroo Joe. Joe finds the girls but decides to help them by faking their deaths. The ruse works and the search is called off.

Betsy has also been making enquiries about her father and gets some leads. From the sound of them, he has also escaped and on the run. Unfortunately the trail has them falling foul of another nasty rich lady, Mrs Mallaquin. Mrs Mallaquin kidnaps escaped convicts and makes them slave in an opal mine. Betsy discovers her father fell foul of Mrs Mallaquin too, but escaped the mine. When Mrs Mallaquin discovers Betsy is his daughter, she takes revenge by trying to kill Betsy and Mary in the mine with an explosion. But they not only escape but finish the racket by sealing the entrance to the mine and removing the guards’ weapons to ensure the other prisoners can now escape.

They then find Mr Tanner. Mr Tanner tells them he has found gold, and Mary has some opals from the mine to add to the savings. Mr Tanner uses it to buy a farm, under the assumed name of Johnny Flynn. Everything goes well until Miss Wortley catches up with Betsy and drags her back. Mr Tanner and Mary go to the rescue.

Miss Wortley stops at an inn, and Betsy is bound and locked in the attic. But when she looks out the window, she is surprised to see Judy! It turns out that the barrel did save Judy after all. It kept her afloat until she was picked up by a trading schooner (aha!), married the skipper, and is now doing well. Once Betsy alerts Judy to her situation, Judy helps her escape.

Betsy makes her way back home, but then finds her father and Mary have gone after her. So she goes after them, and meets up with Mary. They head off to Miss Wortley’s to find Mr Tanner. Meanwhile, Mr Tanner gets a job at Miss Wortley’s under an assumed name – but is then shocked to see Lady de Mortimer arrive! Lady de Mortimer recognises him and gives chase. Mary and Betsy save him and they head off on horseback. They meet up with an Aborigine tribe who disguise Betsy and her father as Aborigines. But Mr Tanner realises that they cannot keep running forever, and they cannot lead normal lives because they are escaped convicts.

Then a bush fire starts. The people of Port Jackson (where Miss Wortley lives), will be caught napping, so Betsy and her father head back to warn them, although they will be risking recapture. Judge Denver listens to their warnings, and the Tanners lead a fire brigade to put out the fire.

Afterwards, Miss Wortley has the Tanners arrested as escaped convicts. She tells the authorities that Judge Denver ordered them (he did not) to receive the sentence for escaped convicts and slaves – fifty lashes. Lady de Mortimer herself is eager to watch: “villains must never get the upper hand.”

But Judge Denver rescues them in the nick of time. He has just been elected governor, so he has the power to grant the Tanners free pardons, and he does so for saving the town from the fire. He then frees Mary by buying her off Miss Wortley: “Take [the money] or I’ll make life in Port Jackson most uncomfortable for you, sister-in-law!” Miss Wortley has no choice: “Even that old dragon won’t cross swords with the new governor,” Denver gleefully tells the Tanners.

The Tanners can now return to their farm as free people and they legally adopt Mary. Betsy is now free to pursue her art career as well, and Judge Denver gives her a good start – painting for his official residence.

Thoughts
The Jinty & Lindy merger seemed to be big on period stories that commented on the harshness, cruelties, and exploitations of previous centuries. This story follows straight on the heels of another Roy Newby story, “Slaves of the Candle”, which deals with a Victorian racket where girls are kept locked in a basement room to make candles. Others included “Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” (cruelties of Victorian domestic service) and “Bridey below the Breadline” (aftermath of the Great Fire of London). This may have been a carryover of Lindy, which seemed to have an emphasis on such stories. Two examples were “Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly” – both of which were drawn by Newby.

Convicts. Now, normally when strips discuss convicts, they are either escaped criminals or wrongly convicted people. But here the people did commit the crimes they were convicted of. Yet they were not bad people, black hearted villains or dangerous criminals that the judiciary and gentry label them. They were victims of circumstance, poverty, discrimination, working class oppression, and 19th century law which inflicted harsh punishments for even minor offences and had little tolerance for mitigating circumstances. The Tanners are driven to crime by the threat of starvation inflicted by harsh people and economic times. Liz is driven to stealing the watch that landed her in gaol because nobody would give her a job because she was a gypsy. Judy was convicted of robbery, has a more violent streak, and her tendency to bully and lash out at the other convicts does not make her popular with them. To be fair, though, she would be traumatised by the loss of her sister (to the gallows) and now transportation. And she mellows when Betsy shows her kindness (getting medical aid when Judy is flogged) and then throwing her the barrel that saves her from drowning. When we see Judy again, she is barely recognisable as the snappy sourpuss she was on the convict ship. She is wearing fine clothes, happily married, and has a far more cheerful disposition.

The real villains are the people who keep labelling the Tanners and other convicts as such. Lady de Mortimer, Miss Wortley and her sister, the gaolers, the captain of the convict ship, the Beadle, Mrs Mallaquin and Miss Braithwaite – all of them are cruel, unfeeling, bullying people who get away with cruelty and exploitation because of their high positions in society. And they are all hypocrites; they label the Tanners and other convicts evil, black hearted villains, but they are the ones who are black hearted and evil, and take delight in inflicting their cruelty in the name of self-righteousness and morality on the people labelled convicts.

Jinty sure was making a big statement on the inequities that arise from class distinction as the harshness of 19th century law with this story. But it goes further; Jinty makes strong social commentary on humanitarianism and reformists and 19th century issues. In prison, Betsy does not just want hope of a reprieve – she wants improvements in the prison system and gives Mr Cartwright sketches of the prison conditions to help. It so happens that Mr Cartwright is a friend of 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, so Betsy’s pictures will indeed be a big bonus in the campaign for prison reform. We also see condemnation of slavery: Miss Wortley bought Mary, so she is a real slave; once the convicts arrive in Botany Bay, Betsy is informed that they will become slaves all but in name, and the way she is bonded to Miss Wortley is akin to slavery; Mr Tanner compares Lady de Mortimer’s treatment of her servants to slavery. And finally, there is comment on the evils of racism, which would have been more endemic for the times. Liz cannot get a job because she is a gypsy, and Mary becomes a slave because she is coloured.

But of course all these injustices are never allowed to triumph altogether in this story. Courage, resourcefulness and kindness always win through one way or another and the oppressed people in this story always seem to get laugh one way or another. Liz was sentenced to hang for being a gypsy as much as a thief – but she got away in the end. Judy threw herself overboard when Miss Braithwaite’s maid had her carry the can over the stolen necklace – but she triumphed by surviving long enough to be picked up and ending up in a good marriage. Betsy suffered torture after torture through the machinations of Lady de Mortimer and her various agents, but she never allowed Lady de Mortimer to break her spirit. She always survived and slipped through the net somehow, and in the end she won her freedom while Lady de Mortimer and Miss Worley walk away defeated and furious. And Judge Denver, the only one to show any kindness in the family he married into, gets the last laugh as well over them. He becomes governor, and in a position where he is in a position to teach his nasty sister-in-law and her cousin a lesson.

Like you said, Lady de Mortimer – villains must never get the upper hand!

Merry at Misery House (1974-1975)

Sample images

Merry at Misery House final 1

 

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Merry at Misery House final 2

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Merry at Misery House final 3

Publication: 11 May 1975 to 30 August 1975

Episodes: 62
Artist: Unknown artist ‘Merry’
Writer: Terence (Terry) Magee

Tammy may have been the first in a new breed of girls’ comics that revelled in dark stories that tortured their heroines. But from the first, Jinty proved she could torture hers just as cruelly. And not even Tammy tortured a heroine as long as Merry Summers here. Merry at Misery House was Jinty’s longest running serial – starting in the very first issue and running for over 60 episodes! Despite this, Merry never appeared in the Jinty annuals, which seems strange.

Merry was borne from one of the most popular formulas in girls’ comics – the slave story. The slave story was so popular that if readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story. The slave story was frequent in the IPC titles in the 1960s and 1970s but had faded by the 1980s. However, it carried on in the DCT titles.

In a slave story, a group of girls are being used as slaves or held prisoner in an establishment with harsh and cruel conditions. It may be a factory, a workhouse, a school, an underground racket, a quarry, an island, or other settings. The protagonist is the one who rebels against the conditions and out for escape, and so is in for the harshest treatment from the gaolers. Often there is a “toady” character, a prisoner who curries favour with the gaolers and helps to administer the cruelty on her fellow inmates. Sometimes the toady has a change of heart, which is crucial for the resolution of the story, and sometimes not. Frequently, though not always, there is a mystery tied in as well, such as what are the gaolers up to in the secret room or who is the mystery person that keeps popping up to help the girls? Yes, sometimes there is a mystery helper, such as Emma in Tammy’s most infamous slave story, “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’”. Whenever there is a mystery of any sort in the slave story, unravelling it is the key to freedom for the prisoners.

Jinty seemed to have fewer slave stories than Tammy. But then she hardly needed to when she had a resident slave story in the form of Merry.

In the year 1920, Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft (circumstances of which are never explained – we are not even told what Merry was accused of stealing) and sentenced to two years in a reformatory. The reformatory is called Sombre Manor, but it is better known as Misery House for its harshness and sadistic staff. Everything about Misery House is designed to break and torture the spirits of its inmates, right down to intimidating signs everywhere with messages such as “Behave Or Be Sorry”, “No Smiling” and “Nothing Is So Bad It Can’t Get Worse”. The Warden, Miss Ball the guard, and Adolfa, the resident toady of the story, reserve their worst treatment for Merry because she refuses to let the cruelties of Misery House break her spirit, change her chirpy ways, or stop her smiling – not to mention her plans to escape and expose the cruelties of Misery House. The cruelties include being shackled in drip dungeons, pillories, enforced ostracising from other inmates, working a sick girl to the point of death, being farmed out as slave labour, beatings, lousy food, bedding removed in freezing conditions, and a zoo-like enclosure where prisoners are abandoned in wretched conditions to run savage and ragged.

One of the greatest strengths of the story is that the Warden and Miss Ball must rate as two of the most brilliantly-conceived villains ever in girls’ comics. Sure, they are cruel, heartless, hypocritical, corrupt and brutal – yet at the same time they are subtle caricatures, a parody of prison brutality, which stops their cruelty from going to utter excess. They are not set out as implicitly evil sadists who are just there to torture and exploit their victims, though of course that is what they do all the time.

Of course, there are friends to help Merry along. The most notable of them is Carla Flax, Merry’s best friend. Carla is on her second sentence at Misery House. We have to wonder why she has ever been in a reformatory at all because she does not come across as the delinquent type. Others include girls who have been inspired by Merry’s courageous cheerfulness. Some of them, such as Violet, have been won over from causing Merry trouble to becoming friends with her. The reader of course, is inspired too, and must take great heart from the girl who refuses to stop being merry despite everything that is thrown at her.

About half way through the story, we get an exciting change of pace when Merry finally escapes from Misery House. Her motive for escaping is to expose the cruelty of Misery House – nothing about proving her innocence, which is the usual case with serials about with wrongly convicted persons. But fate turns against Merry; she has an accident and gets amnesia, and then gets blackmailed by a criminal. During her time on the run she is almost adopted by a rich couple, but in the end she is returned to Misery House.

Back to square one then? Not quite – it is here that the mystery element creeps in, with signs that the Warden and Miss Ball are up to something. For example, the Warden and Miss Ball send the girls out to work for a cruel farmer and make a profit. This is illegal, but there’s worse. They try to blackmail the farmer’s stepson into signing over the farm to him by threatening to have him arrested on trumped up charges. They are foiled in the end but take off smartly with the girls before any authorities are onto them.

Eventually the girls discover that the Warden and Miss Ball have been illegally selling off the good food supplies that they should have been receiving and foisting substandard food onto them. This incites them into rebellion and they barricade themselves in. The Warden responds with a plot to kill Merry. When Adolfa finds out, she becomes one toady with a change of heart. She saves Merry – and takes a horrible crack on the head from Miss Ball for doing so – and joins the rebels. The Warden tries to smoke them out, but the fire rages out of control and the girls cannot escape because the gates are locked.

But wouldn’t you know it – here come the police in the nick of time. They’ve had their eye on Misery House for a while and arrest the Warden and Miss Ball. They also tell Merry that her name has been cleared (no details on how she has been cleared, just as there were no details on just how she came to be wrongly convicted), and her parents are here to collect her. As for Misery House, it is finished in more ways than one – the fire has destroyed it.

Merry is still worried about what will happen to her friends. The parents think their sentences will be remitted. Merry’s friends tell her they will never forget the example she showed them in how to handle oppression.

Addendum: included 23 May 2014

The Terry Magee story “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy 23/10/71-8/1/72) clearly foreshadows Merry. It even has the same unknown artist, though of course it is a much earlier example of his/her artwork.

Spartan School is a special school in Switzerland run by Miss Bramble. The school is designed to instil discipline and compliance into problem pupils. Unfortunately, Miss Bramble’s ideas of discipline go too far and turn into torture and abuse. They include beatings, feeding the pupils poor food, and locking them in dungeons, the pillory, and even iron masks. It is no wonder that the pupils either end up as scared, broken down zombies or joining in the cruelty. Like the Warden, Miss Bramble and her crony, Siddons the prefect, go as far as attempted murder when the girls they especially want to break are making a bid for freedom. But unlike Adolfa, Siddons does not have a change of heart. On the contrary, she is far more evil than Adolfa – in fact, she is the one who suggests the murder while Adolfa draws the line at Merry’s.

Judy Jenkins, the heroine of this story, could well be the predecessor of Merry. She likes to play jokes to liven things up a bit. Unfortunately she keeps doing it in class, which gets her into the trouble that sends her to Spartan School. But like Merry, Judy refuses to be broken and her courageous defiance singles her out for the worst treatment.

And as with Misery House, Spartan School is physically destroyed (by an avalanche) as well as being shut down by the authorities.

Spartan School was Magee’s first serial, and Merry certainly shows the advances he had made in his storytelling and characterisation since then. For example, while the villains in Spartan School are just plain cruel and nasty in the name of discipline, the villains in Merry show subtle nuances; Miss Ball, for example, displays a sardonic, cruel sense of humour.  There are Orwellian touches too, as shown in the omniscent signs plastered all over Misery House. There is also a fascist look about the Warden, who is is always clad in a dark uniform and glasses. The Warden never takes off those dark glasses, so we never see her full face. This has a dehumanising effect on her that makes her all the more frightening – except to Merry, it seems.

Sample images

Spartan School 6a

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Spartan School 6b

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Spartan School 6c

Addendum 2: 26 March 2018

Ten years after finishing Merry, Terry Magee was writing “The Nightmare” for Battle. The influence of “Merry at Misery House” can be seen in this long-running saga (January 19th 1985 to October 11th 1986). Ian Wilson is kidnapped by SS Hauptmann Grappner and imprisoned in a Hitler Youth camp (at least it’s not a concentration camp). Like Merry, Ian refuses to give in and resolves to escape. He does, and it turns into a far more fugitive story than Merry. But instead of fighting back with smiles and jokes as Merry does, Ian uses the survival and combat skills he has learned. Along the way Hitler himself joins the campaign against Ian after the indignity Ian inflicts on him (below). Congratulations, Ian! Not many protagonists in British comics can say they have Adolf Hitler for a personal enemy. Art by Jesus Redondo (the original artist of the strip was Mario Capaldi).

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