Jinty’s New Year issue for 1977 was bang on New Year’s Day. Jinty says “make it a great New Year – with us!” Indeed, in my opinion 1977 was the year Jinty hit her stride. In 1977 she cast off the Lindy logo that had stayed with her throughout 1976. But what really defined 1977 as the year Jinty hit her stride was fully establishing her trademark science fiction and jauntiness with strips like the quirky “Fran’ll Fix It!” and her “smash hit” story of 1977, “Land of No Tears”. In the same year, Jinty added her resident spooky storyteller, Gypsy Rose. It was also in 1977 that Jinty added Guy Peeters and the unknown Concrete Surfer to her team, who would go on to draw some of her biggest classics.
Oddly, although Gypsy Rose did not appear in Jinty until 29 January 1977, there is a horoscope in this issue saying, “Gypsy Rose looks at the stars”. Readers must have been wondering, “Who the heck is Gypsy Rose?” The horoscope appears on the same page as the blurb for a new story, “Mark of the Witch!”, so perhaps it was meant as a foreshadowing for Gypsy Rose too. If so, it is an odd one, because it gives no hint of who Gypsy Rose is supposed to be. Is it the pen name of the astrologer who writes the horoscope or something?
The cover itself is a beautiful one, with its ingenious use of blues, yellows and reds. The white space lightens things up and does not make the cover too heavy. The seasons look a bit mixed. Mandy’s water-skiing panel hints at summer, while the holly the poor old druid is about to sit on implies winter. The rock Gertie puts the holly on makes it reminiscent of a Christmas pudding, which further adds to the winter theme. While Mandy and Gertie look happy on the cover, we get the opposite with Ruth and Ayesha, who are on the wrong end of a farmer’s gun.
Of course we have New Year features. There is a page where pop stars like Paul McCartney and Paul Nicholas list their resolutions for 1977. In “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!” Henrietta mishears the word “resolution” as “revolution” and enchants everyone at school into a revolution instead of making resolutions. Alley Cat starts off New Year doing what he does best – annoying the Muchloots. In this case it’s raiding their larder for a New Year feast. Gertie triggers a series of events that establishes Stonehenge – its purpose being a tourist attraction – and its opening has New Year celebrations included.
Now, on to the other stories:
“Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” is the first of Jinty’s stories to end in 1977, with the mixed-up identities of the skivvy and the high-class girl being sorted out once they finally find each other. This also marks the end of Jinty’s serials with 19th century settings, which had been introduced when Lindy merged into Jinty way back in November 1975. Its replacement next week is Phil Townsend’s first 1977 story, “Mark of the Witch!”
So far there is no end for Hetty King’s ordeal. Hetty is lumbered with looking after Jo, but Jo hates Hetty because she wrongly blames Hetty for her sister’s death. Hetty manages to secure a job as a temporary PE teacher at her new locality after Jo’s hatred forced her out of her old one, but she faces an uphill battle to win respect from the pupils. And how long before Jo’s hatred interferes with everything?
Mandy applies makeup to adopt a new persona, “Bubbles”, and goes water-skiing. But really – wearing a wig while water-skiing? No wonder the episode ends with Mandy’s secret in danger.
Martine’s odd behaviour is getting worse and worse. Tessa can’t figure out what the hell is going on, except that Martine seems to be acting like the crazed woman she plays onstage.
As already mentioned on the cover, Ruth and Ayesha have a scary moment with a farmer. Fortunately he turns friendly after Ayesha saves his life. But then a shoplifter makes Ruth the scapegoat for her crimes, taking advantage of the prejudice against gypsies.
In “Is This Your Story?”, Lynn Carter feels her family don’t appreciate her and she envies her friend Mary for being an only child. But when both girls end up in hospital, right next to each other, Lynn learns that some people may not be as enviable as she thinks and she draws closer to her family.
In “Sceptre of the Toltecs”, both Clare and a class bully begin to suspect that Malincha, the mystery girl from Mexico, has strange powers. The blurb for next week says there will be more evidence of this.
I recently wrote summary posts about two stories that I called ‘redemption narratives’: “The Girl Who Never Was” and “She Shall Have Music“. That’s a kind of story theme that we can all recognize as being fairly common in girls comics generally: in Jinty there are a number of other examples. But how does this sort of story work?
Take those two stories as an initial guide: the protagonist is a difficult or disagreeable, probably dislikeable, girl who has some personal failing or issue that drives the story. It’s because of that failing that the story progresses; it may not have been due to something that was her fault that the story started off in the first place, but it is because of her moral or social problem that it continues and develops the way it does. Tina Williams lands in the alternate universe where magic works because of her conceited and annoying ways; Lisa Carstairs’s father doesn’t lose his money because of her, but if she wasn’t so obsessed with continuing her piano playing exactly as before, then she wouldn’t find herself in the same difficulties. It’s not just what happens to the protagonist (or how she is challenged in the story) but how she reacts to it. She has to be ‘the architect of her own misfortunes’, as Mistyfan puts it in her post about another redemption story, “Black Sheep of the Bartons“.
Does the story have to feature some sort of disagreeableness, some sort of outright nastiness or callousness on the part of the protagonist? No: I’d say that you could certainly include ‘guilt’ stories such as “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary”. The protagonist here suffers huge pangs of guilt and despair because of the loss of a loved one – a best friend or a sister in the case of these two stories, but in other cases it can be a parent – a very natural feeling, but the failing here is that she lets those emotions overwhelm her and distort her common sense. The guilty feelings of the protagonist drive the story forward, but this guilt is portrayed throughout as excessive, as an indulgence that the main character should resist. It’s the lengths that their grief drives them to that causes their difficulties in their separate stories.
Also, it’s not just about having an objectionable main character who is nicer by the end of the story. “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” are not what I would call redemption narratives, despite having protagonists who start off pretty disagreeable and end up much improved. (Likewise “Battle of the Wills” is not, nor I think “Pandora’s Box”, but sports story “Black Sheep of the Bartons” is one I would class as such: Bev Barton isn’t horrible so much as thoughtless and reckless, but her carelessness nearly brings tragedy to her family.) Why don’t “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” count? Because when the girl main characters are swept into their initial circumstances – enslaved by a dictatorial coach, forced into third-class citizenship in a future world – their thoughts are not primarily about how they can continue to maintain their status quo ante but about how they can defeat their antagonist. Yvonne and Cassy aren’t just trying to get back to where they were at the beginning: their story is about a positive rebellion, not a futile rejection of the truth that the outside world is telling them. They end up much nicer than they started out being, but that’s not the whole reason for having the story in the first place – it’s because they have faced extraordinary circumstances which would change anyone by making them realise that some things are bigger than individual concerns.
Does the character who ends up being redeemed have to be the protagonist, or could they be the antagonist or villain? Overall I would say it has to be the protagonist, as the main character that you are supposed to sympathise with and want things to turn out well for, but maybe one counter-example is “Wanda Whiter Than White“. Wanda is not the main character of the story and she makes Susie Foster’s life a misery with her sanctimonious ways. At the end, it is revealed, as Mistyfan explains in her story post, that ‘Wanda’s own past is not as white as she would have us believe. In fact, she is on probation after being caught stealing.’ Rather than this reveal being painted as purely a victory for the main character, it ends up with Wanda being ‘truly redeemed when she tells a white lie to help Susie in return for Susie saving her life’. The reader wasn’t rooting for Wanda’s redemption all along, but it is a satisfying ending nevertheless.
What choices could the writer make that would move the story out of the category of being a redemption narrative? Let’s take Lisa Carstairs’ story as an example. As with the OuBaPo exercises, thinking about how a story could work differently will give us a view on how the stories actually do work.
Imagine Lisa’s parents still losing everything at the beginning of the story, and Lisa still losing her piano. The story could then have taken a different turn: rather than being about Lisa’s misguided piano obsession and selfishness, it could have been another kind of story entirely, for instance a mystery story where Lisa finds out that her father’s business partner was a crook who needs to be brought to justice. Perhaps Lisa’s piano playing could help her to find the clues she needs, and her obsession with it could be turned to a good cause in that way, so that she needs no redemption.
Or let’s say the story stays as being about Lisa’s obsession with playing piano but it’s portrayed as something not to be frowned on, rather as something acceptable or allowable. How would a story work where she can continue to be focused on playing piano to the exclusion of everything else, including her family? Perhaps her family would have to be a nasty, uncaring one, to make her disinterest acceptable.
Or perhaps the story could proceed more or less as it does, but with an unhappy ending where Lisa gets her comeuppance. This would make her into a more of an anti-heroine than normal but would not be unheard of.
Here are the examples I would identify as fitting most neatly into the category of ‘redemption narrative’ (core examples) and as being closely related to this category without necessarily definitely being classed as such (edge cases).
“Dance Into Darkness” – Della just wants to live her life down at the disco with no regard for other people, but when her wish is granted she eventually discovers there is indeed more to life than her own self-interest.
There are a number of stories that are driven by a bereavement: the main character makes poor decisions as a result of her strong emotions of grief and anger because she is afraid of being hurt again. “The Ghost Dancer” is one of these, as is “Nothing to Sing About”, but of course “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary” are the strongest examples.
“The Girl Who Never Was” – discussed above
“She Shall Have Music” – discussed above
I said above that I thought that it needs to be the protagonist who is redeemed, not one of the other characters. In “Go On, Hate Me!” the antagonist is driven by grief into bullying the protagonist but in the end all is cleared and the antagonist is redeemed, so I would be tempted to class this alongside “Wanda Whiter Than White” as a clear example of this kind.
“Jackie’s Two Lives” is more about the perils of wish-fulfilment, but Jackie’s snobbishness and the fact she is ashamed of her own family is definitely a character flaw that drives the story and she is cured of it at the end.
“Left-Out Linda” develops the redemption pretty well by recognizing that you can’t usually turn around your life by yourself: you have to have some help.
“Paula’s Puppets”: Paula has to learn to forgive her enemies rather than attacking them via the magical help she has been given.
“Tearaway Trisha”: Trisha’s recklessness has caused a serious accident; she tries to make amends but has to change her own character in order to do so.
“Valley of Shining Mist” has a clearly didactic message about the improving aspect of high culture: by playing the violin, Debbie will transcend the impact of her abusive family, who are low-class in their lack of culture and their morality.
In “Who’s That In My Mirror?” the protagonist’s selfish nature is made very literally visible and becomes more and more so until finally she is driven to renouncing it.
“Worlds Apart” is the ultimate morality tale – one by one, six girls are shown the worst outcomes possible for each of their specific character flaws, and they have a chance to repent. The psychological development is minimal but the impact of the story was very dramatic.
“Fancy Free “- I know the main character is so independent that this may well be characterised as a fault, but I don’t really quite remember enough about the story to say whether it is the main thing that drives the whole plot.
“The Four Footed Friends” – arguably another case where someone other than the protagonist ends up being redeemed, though it all feels a little sudden. “Hettie High-and-Mighty” likewise features a fairly sudden change of heart on the part of an antagonist who has mostly been about making the protagonist’s life a misery until that point. I don’t think “The Kat And Mouse Game” quite counts, either: Kat may perhaps have realised the error of her ways at the end of the story, but will her change of heart actually stick?
I haven’t really made my mind up about “Gwen’s Stolen Glory” – it feels like it is mostly a story about deception, though clearly once Gwen owns up to the big lie this is a kind of redemption of her former deception.
In “Kerry In The Clouds”, Kerry is a day-dreamer imposed upon by a woman motivated by her own unfriendly concerns. Kerry’s day-dreaming nature is cured by the end of the story, but I don’t feel the main driver of the narrative was to improve her character.
The main character in “Mark of the Witch!” is hot-tempered and angry at all around her, and she comes to seek a more peaceful set of emotions by the end of the story. However, so much of her story is about the persecution and abuse that her neighbours visit on her that I don’t see her story being primarily about her renouncing her hot-headed ways.
I’m not sure about “Pandora’s Box” and whether it counts or not. Pandora’s witchy aunt does chide her at the beginning about being too cock-sure about her talents and says that she will need to use magic sooner or later, and this is all true: but I’m not sure what sort of morality story that adds up to – not a conventional one at any rate! The main nod in this story to more conventional morality is the fact that Pandora goes from disinterest in the pet she is stuck with (her black cat familiar, Scruffy) to loving him dearly and giving up her heart’s desire in order to save his life.
One last question struck me when thinking about this. What sort of things might the protagonist have done that means she needs to go through this process of redemption in the first place? Clearly it must be something negative: the story has a moral imperative of some sort, warning readers against some kinds of behaviour. But at the same time, some things would be beyond the pale of course, and would mean that any character doing that would be irredeemable. (There might therefore be some useful comparisons made with story villains: what does their villainy consist of?) If a character killed or seriously hurt someone on purpose then that would be beyond the pale: there are a number of villains who have gone this far, sometimes with a laugh on their cruel lips, but it would be hard to imagine that a girl protagonist could do this and still recover the moral high ground at the end of the story.
In the stories above it looks like the sort of wrong-doing that needs castigating but is still redeemable is often about emotional warmth and consideration for others – it’s not about ambition (by itself) or cleverness (by itself) for instance. An arrogant protagonist can still be the heroine, but if she is cold, selfish, or inconsiderate then that’s a good signal that this is a character marked down for improvement – by whatever means necessary. Preferably it will be a Shakespearean denouement, whereby her own moral failing brings about such a huge disaster that she has no option but to change her ways! And being too afraid to risk emotional commitment comes in for a bit of a kicking too, via the guilt / grief stories. The obvious next question: is this moral imperative specific to British girls comics? Do UK boys comics have redemption narratives too? Or those in other countries? My pal Lee Brimmicombe-Wood reckons that Japan’s flourishing manga industry has many stories about mavericks who insist on going their own ways – but in that industry’s story constraints, the mavericks are always right and never forced to realise that actually, there was a reason why everyone was telling them they were going about things the wrong way…
I have just acquired this issue. The pages are loose, so it is possible something is missing in the middle, though I see nothing noticeably missing in the issue. If anyone sees anything missing in the list above, please let me know.
In “Go On, Hate Me!”, Hetty gets Jo out of two big scrapes, but the little hatemonger does not appreciate it one bit. She still hates Hetty as much as ever and now she’s turned other girls against her. However, we are told that all the hatred is going to bring an act of love next week. It sounds the end of the story then, and things are finally going to change for Hetty, thank goodness.
“Is This YOUR Story?” changes its title to “Could This Be YOU?” for some reason. The story is about a girl who is picked on because she is tall. When the teasing finally gets too much for her, a teacher comes up with a clever plan to help her use her height to her advantage and beat the bullies.
“Made-Up Mandy” also comes up with a plan to beat the bullies at her old school, who have bullied a friend out of the lead in the school play. She plays “ghost” to teach the bullies a lesson – but now she is in danger of being found out.
However, there is no respite from the bullying for poor Emma in “Mark of the Witch!”, despite Alice’s help to get her accepted at the riding club. No matter what she does, Emma is always “Black Emma” the bad lot in the eyes of the other kids.
There are no bullies in this week’s episode of “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!”. However, there is a vain girl in serious need of a lesson, and Henrietta is always ready to oblige.
“The Big Cat” is in big trouble – she got trapped in a warehouse that was being demolished. Ruth manages to get her out, but she’s injured.
“The Mystery of “Martine” is deepening, with Martine’s inexplicable behaviour growing even more troubling for her sister Tessa.
In “Sceptre of the Toltecs”, Malincha is giving guarded explanations for why her evil uncle is after her; she says she can’t reveal everything without consulting her father. That’s a bit annoying, especially as it looks like the evil uncle has now arrived.
Gertie Grit lands in the future this week instead of a period in Earth’s history. She helps out a dog that doesn’t want to be part of a space programme.
If you’re a relatively recent reader of this blog you may not have seen a couple of linked posts I did back in June last year, explaining an analytical concept I came up with and named the WTFometer. The idea of this was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly-different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways.
At that point I only posted 3 complete WTFometers – for “Song of the Fir Tree“, “The Children of Edenford“, and “Worlds Apart“. “Song of the Fir Tree” was surprisingly more extreme than I would have expected it to have come out as: with a boy and girl protagonist, serious threat of death, and a long journey across lands quite foreign to the assumed readership of Jinty, the story scored reasonably high on the WTFometer at 39 points. “The Children of Edenford”, likewise, had some surprises in store – the analysis highlighted the fact that a great deal of the setup was quite similar to that of the expected readership – it takes place in England, doesn’t move far from its initial geographical setup, and the protagonist herself is not very different from the typical reader. What marks it out and gives it an eventual score of 24 is the lack of agency of the characters – this is a story about free will – and the strange school setup, as well as the serious threat of death towards the end.
There was little surprise in the very high score of 87 for “Worlds Apart”, a strong contender for the most bonkers girls comics story of all. The WTFometer may not surprise us in this case, but the story’s very extremeness can more easily quantified by this method that gives us a comparison across stories.
There’s little sense in developing the concept and then not using it for more than a few stories, but of course there’s always plenty to write about on this blog between me and Mistyfan, and the WTFometer has lain unused since that time. However, a couple of months ago I created a few more WTFometers; I didn’t post them at the time as they turned out not to fit the main theme of the posts I was writing. I am now therefore including them in a post of their own, re-opening discussion about these stories but also about the WTFometer generally.
Firstly, I wanted to compare two tear-jerking stories. They are not quite the same; the first story involves emotional cruelty, and the second is about grief and its effects. Both were very popular, both were written by female writers. The first one is “Little Miss Nothing”, and the second is “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“.
“Little Miss Nothing” is one of the originators of the cruelty/suffering theme that became so popular in girls’ comics of the 70s. As such it is perhaps not surprising to see a relatively low score of WTFness overall at 23 points; the character is taken out of a normal school environment but much of the setting of the story remains close to an ordinary readers’ life: the key focus is on the removal of much of her agency as she is bossed around by others, and on the emotional abuse she suffers.
“Stefa’s Heart of Stone” was published a few years later. Again, much of the setting of the story will be very familiar to the readers. As it is a very focused story of grief and severe emotional withdrawal, only some of the categories score highly and overall the WTFometer score is not very high at 22.
“Go On, Hate Me!” is here partly because it is another emotional cruelty / tear-jerker story, but one known to be written by a man. It would only be a small sample which wouldn’t prove anything, but could it indicate anything about possible differences in writing between the genders? If anything the extremeness of the scenario explored in this story is lesser than in the two stories above – the protagonist is a young woman rather than a girl, not living in a two-parent household, not surrounded by a small group of close friends; but the one key element that stands out on the WTFometer analysis is the exploration of the emotional abuse. Remember that the WTFometer is not a tool for looking at neatness of dialogue or tightness of plot – it is purely one element of a general analysis, and says nothing about how well overall a story works or doesn’t. On this analysis, “Go On, Hate Me!” has just one striking angle of attack rather than being generally over-the-top.
“Land of No Tears” is of course also known to be written by a man, but one who has categorised himself as being one of the young men ‘killing themselves laughing’ (Pat Mills, of course). Does this mean the story ends up looking particularly over-the-top in a way that Len Wenn’s story above does not? Yes, indeed – though of course this is a science fiction story anyway which by its nature will involve a lot of moving away from the expected context of the assumed Jinty reader. At 45 it is one of the highest scoring stories on the WTFometer so far, second only to “Worlds Apart”. It is also noticeable for having a spread of differences compared to the ‘expected reader’ – it portrays a world different to that girl reader’s in many and varied ways, not just one or two. If we did a WTFometer for a non-science fiction Pat Mills story, “Concrete Surfer”, I’m sure the score would be much lower.
“Fran of the Floods” is another science fiction story, this time known to be written by a woman. It actually beats LONT on its WTFometer score with a total of 51 – though the story protagonists share a lot of initial similarities with the readers, the journey they are taken through, and the world they end up in, is radically different from what the readers live through.
I wanted to write a post looking at what makes a story work, but first it seems sensible to consider how we can tell that a story has worked at all – or not, of course. It seems to me that there are some general principles we can reasonably consider when thinking about stories in the titles under discussion – Jinty/Misty/Tammy in particular. (I should add a caveat that here I am particularly considering stories which have a beginning, middle, and end, rather than gag strips or humour stories that tend to consist of indivudal self-contained episodes.)
What evidence do we have that it worked at the time?
Looking at evidence from the past, we can clearly say that people at the time judged some stories to have worked better than others.
Some stories are known to have been particularly popular; we may have information from editors (we know that “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” was very popular). The publishers certainly canvassed readers for indicators of the most and the least popular stories, either through the invitation to specify your faves when writing a letter to the editor, or more rarely through initiatives such as “Pam’s Poll“.
Reprinting of stories is likely to indicate a positive judgement on how well they worked – why waste space on a story you didn’t think was worth it? At the same time, some reprints are hard to see as being particularly strong – “Angela Angel-Face” being a case in point. Sometimes, therefore, the fact that a story has been reprinted might just be a recognition of its ready availability as a cheap space-filler.
Translation of stories is surely a stronger indication of success; a third party has selected the story (in some way – it would be good to know more about how this happened), paid for it, and put work into producing a translated edition, possibly with new cover artwork or more colouring.
And then sometimes we have seen the translation go on to further usage – collection in an album format (the DutchTina Topstrips), and then perhaps further translations derived from those earlier selections (the IndonesianNina reprints that drew heavily on the Tina Topstrip editions). “The Spell of the Spinning Wheel” is an example of a story that scores particularly highly, having been translated into Dutch and Indonesian in just this way.
Story length may be another indicator. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” ran for 36 episodes and “Fran of the Floods” ran for 35 episodes, where a story was more usually some 15 episodes long. The obvious reason for this extraordinary length is that as the story was popular, the writer will have been asked to make it carry on for longer, or at any rate not stopped from continuing. (This may have turned out as a double-edged sword: we understand that for instance Dutch Tina didn’t reprint stories past a certain length because of format constraints, so a very long story of this sort was actually less likely to be translated and reprinted elsewhere.)
(edited to add) Promotional and editorial decisions may also give some pointers. The editorial office decides about which story to feature on the cover, and to what extent – for instance when dramatically using a panel from the interior art to create a striking cover. They also decide which stories to feature in prime positions in the publication: the first and last stories are key positions, but the centre pages can also be an important focus for the reader. Some pages are in colour and again this will reflect a specific editorial decision to add something extra (requiring more work) to that story compared to others. Finally, some titles will be highlighted in adverts published in other titles.
As you can see, though, none of these indicators are foolproof. The most reliable indicator would be evidence direct from the editorial office to confirm that a story was popular, and even then of course you can quibble about whether popularity necessarily relies on the story being strong… though what you could certainly say in that case is that the most important critics, the readers, had voted in favour to say that it had worked for them.
What can we say about whether it works now?
And coming to stories that we read now, what tools can we use to think about whether a story works? (For instance we may come across a new story that we didn’t read at the time, or re-read a story in a new light.)
It is entirely legitimate to consider our own uncritical reaction as readers: “I love this sort of thing”, or “it’s not my cup of tea”, or “I know it’s very generic but I have a soft spot for this story”. Perhaps when you read the story initially, you hadn’t ever come across that particular cliché, and even though you recognize how hackneyed it is you still like it. Or perhaps there is some detail of script or art that just gives it something extra in your eyes. We can say “this story works for me”, acknowledging that others may read it and judge it more harshly; we may need to be aware of the limitations of our judgment, while at the same time still seeing those judgments as valid in themselves.
Likewise if we re-read a fondly remembered story now as adult readers, we may find that it is just as exciting as those memories had it as; or we may find that since then we have brought a lot more experience (and perhaps cynicism) to bear as readers, and the story just doesn’t work any more. Maybe events have overtaken it entirely (a story featuring casual racism or a now-known sex predator would be seen quite differently now than at the time). So the story might not work for us as individuals, or more generally, and we can make judgements accordingly.
Finally, there are a whole range of elements we can analyse to see what can make a story work, coming from the contribution of the artist and of the writer and even of the editorial office. Looking through these elements, as I want to do in my next post, we may find that we see more in the story than at first glance, and that it works more effectively than we’d given it credit for initially. I am finding this can happen for me when reading Mistyfan’s posts on stories, as we (naturally) have some differences in reading taste – for instance, reading her post on “Go On, Hate Me!” gave me a different view on how and why the story worked, although this is a story I might otherwise have dismissed as only moderately interesting. Using more analytical tools we are therefore able to say that a story works well or less well as a narrative of its kind, on its own merits, regardless of its reception at the time or by us as individuals.
One of the most colourful and striking Jinty covers in my opinion, and it’s another of my favourites. On the cover, Henrietta is making it plain to Sue that she does not like Sue putting an umbrella into her while Emma stops a runaway horse but gets no thanks. As far as the villagers are concerned, she is a “bad ‘un” and that’s that. Only Alice is friendly and in this issue she offers her hand of friendship again. Will Emma take it next week?
Two stories end in this issue. Hetty reaches breaking point and snaps from all the hatred she is receiving. But Jo sees the consequences of the hatred against Hetty that she fermented and learns the value of forgiveness – not to mention getting her facts straight. Druid Caractacus finally catches up with Gertie, but she is pleased to see him because she is in a spot of bother. Next week we will see the start of one of Jinty’s most enduring and popular features – “Gypsy Rose’s Tales of Mystery and Magic“. Also starting next issue is “Freda, False Friend”, Phil Gascoine’s first Jinty story for 1977.
The origin of the Sceptre of the Toltecs is revealed, so the story is heading for its climax now. Made-Up Mandy has played “ghost” to help a friend, but narrowly missed being caught. And now she’s set on going on safari, although her nasty employer Miss Agate won’t allow it. So we have a pretty good suspicion that Mandy will be headed back to the make-up kit for another disguise next week. Whatever has possessed Martine is still causing trouble and it’s all Tessa can do to concentrate on ballet so she can get into the City Ballet Company.
Len Wenn (1918 – 2003) wrote various stories for Jinty, as confirmed by Keith Robson in this comment. At present the list of his confirmed story titles is very minimal; if further information comes in we’d love to add to it in the future.
Len was the editor who launched the IPC girls’ comic Sally, which ran from 1969 to 1971; he subsequently edited the IPC boy’s humour comic Buster from 1971 to 1981. There are some references to Len, and to Keith Robson, in Dez Skinn’s article about his IPC Fleetway days here. Terry Magee also refers to Len Wenn and Mavis Miller holding script conferences in IPC during his time there (see subsequent additions to the Terry Magee interview): “Len and Mavis collaborated on scripts for June & School Friend and Sally. … Horace Boyten also used to join their script conferences before he retired in 1966. Horace was a very nice chap, quiet and modest, the writer behind “The Silent Three”. Len and Horace were very Amalgamated Press…easy-going kind of fellows. Probably too gentle for the challenging changes ahead.”
In fact the two stories we have confirmation that he wrote are not only solid, memorable Jinty stories, they have a lot of bite to them. “Go On, Hate Me!” is a powerful grudge/revenge story that wraps up well; the shorter, to-the-point “The Birds” has strong horror elements that make it genuinely scary at points. If he was too gentle for the changes in the working environment as Terry suggests, he certainly could write to the spec of the newer breed of comic that was represented by Jinty, Tammy, Misty, and the like.
The idea of multiple collaborators within the editorial office working on script conferences is intriguing. Alison Christie has confirmed in her interview that she had very little editorial direction, which I assume would be because she had already proved herself as a trusted steady hand, capable of delivering solid stories to schedule. Were the in-house script conferences to determine the suggestions that might be made to other less trusted writers, or to propose girls-story takes on big hits from books and tv, or just to write their own content? There were so many pages to fill alongside the comics stories, from ‘hints & tips’ features or non-fiction articles, plus text stories, that this must have kept the editorial team pretty busy in any case. The collaborative aspect of story writing in those conferences was a gift that must have been limited to only specific cases, given that most freelance creators never met each other.
It seems that Len worked for IPC primarily rather than moving from DC Thomsons as so many others did. Alison Christie recalled in an email relating to life in the IPC offices:
“I was always wondering when any of [the titles] would be merged or axed. I appreciated working for IPC, they paid so much more than DC Thomson’s did. I had to join the NUJ, though – which Thomsons, being non-union, abhorred. I could do that, of course, as I was freelance. But some employees of DCs were in the NUJ, and held clandestine meetings in Dundee, which I attended. I didn’t realise until I’d read Keith’s interview that while working in IPC, he was able to freelance for other papers, including DCT’s. No way could I have done that while working in DCTs, or Keith either. There was the sword of Damocles hanging over you if you were found out and possible sacking would ensue.” So IPC paid better and was unionised, but then of course it also suffered from strike action, and from the pernicious policy of hatch-match-dispatch, at which point the creators, and presumably the editorial staff, could suddenly find themselves in the suds. Ending up as editor of long-running title Buster, Len will have been reasonably safe from these dangers, though one assumes the feelings in the office could run pretty high at those times.
This is the 250th post on this blog! After a slow season in the run up to Christmas, we have been blazing away. How better to celebrate than with another creator interview?
Keith Robson contacted us via a comment on this site: “I drew ‘The Birds’ so can tell you that the writer was ‘Buster’ editor Len (Lennox) Wenn. Before going freelance in 1975 I was a staffer so Len and I were old friends. Len also wrote ‘Go On, Hate Me’ and many other Jinty serials.” He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for this blog, illuminating various aspects of the life of a freelancer and staffer at the time and subsequently.
Keith Robson stories in Jinty (see also the Catawiki list of his stories and the Lambiek Comiclopedia entry):
Can You Beat Sharp-eyed Sharon? – spot-the-clue feature in a Summer Special and the Jinty Annual 1979
1 Can you please outline your career in British comics? For instance, how did you start, which titles did you write for, how long did you draw comics for? I have read Dez Skinn’s article about IPC Fleetway when you both worked there, and of course in your original comment on this site you said that you started as a freelancer in 1975, but it would be great to know what led you to go freelance (it seems to have been a step taken by a lot of in house staff?).
I got my start in October 1968 in D.C.Thomson’s Meadowside art department in Dundee. This was a wonderful training ground where I learned far more than I ever did in Art College! There were over 50 artists, letterers and layout people at the disposal of all the Thomson publications so almost anything could land on your desk to be drawn, quickly and accurately. In those early days I drew lots of text story illustrations for the boys’ comics – Rover, Victor, Hotspur etc. Pat Mills and John Wagner were there at the time though I never got to know them, and they left before I did.
The Spanish and Italian artists used by the girls’ comics did beautiful work, but they could never get British things like policemen, buses, taxis, pillar boxes etc. right, so a typical job would be Anglicising pages for Jackie or Romeo. (I also appeared in Romeo, as did many young Thomson staffers, photographed to illustrate readers’ letters and problems!) More often though, 39 pages of an old girls’ serial would land on my desk to be updated- all the hairstyles updated, skirts shortened, blazer badges changed and so on. Thus acres of magnificent artwork passed through my hands, and once in a while there would be the opportunity to actually draw some pages. My first girls’ stories were for Diana starting with a serial on the back page (in full colour!) called ‘Little Donkey’. Assorted other Diana features and annual pages followed but the bread and butter work of the art department was repairs and alterations. In all, I spent two and a half happy years in Meadowside learning from some wonderful mentors, but really wanting to draw my own weekly pages and not seeing too much future for that in the Thomson Art Dept.
In the summer of 1971 I was down in London (hoping to find an agent) and found myself passing the offices of IPC Magazines with a folder of artwork under my arm and the number of an ex-Thomson staffer now in Look and Learn… An hour later after a hilarious interview with legendary managing editor Jack Le Grand I emerged back on Farringdon Street with a staff job (and some freelance work on Look and Learn)!
I returned to Dundee, packed my bags, bade a cordial farewell to D.C.Thomson, and a fortnight later joined Buster working with editor Lenn Wenn and sub editor Dez Skinn. (A week later we were all on strike!)
A daily visitor to the Buster office was Mavis Miller, and old friend of Lenn’s (they started at Fleetway together) and we often all went to lunch. I acquired an agent (Dan Kelleher of Temple/Rogers) and started doing freelance for assorted publishers, all kinds of work with a view to saving enough for a deposit on my own flat. Through the good offices of Dan and Pat Kelleher, (and since I had parted amicably from D.C.Thomson), I began drawing for the Sparky – a series called ‘Mr. Bubbles’.
Friends in Dundee alerted me to a suitable flat for sale in Newport-on-Tay (across the river from Dundee) I was able to get a mortgage, and a few months later took the plunge, moved back north and went freelance, working for both Thomsons and IPC.
2 Which stories did you draw, in Jinty and on other titles? On my list of Jinty stories that you drew, I have “Jassy’s Wand of Power”, “Go On, Hate Me!”, “The Goose Girl”, “The Birds”, and various Gypsy Rose stories. Of the stories you drew, do you have favourites or perhaps ones you now recall with a bit of a shudder? Did you know ever know who wrote “Jassy” for instance, or the Gypsy Rose stories you drew? We know from Veronica Weir that there was at least one case of an artist who wrote their own story; did you ever do that, or did you know of other cases where that happened at all?
It was through Pat Kelleher and knowing Mavis Miller that I got my first Jinty serial – “Jassy’s Wand of Power’’ – which I really enjoyed. They never told me know who wrote anything, I only knew the stories written by Lenn Wenn, so I can’t tell you who did those Gypsy Rose stories – except for the one I wrote myself. This was one of the first scripts I ever had accepted. A girl encounters a photographer with a Victorian camera at a ruined castle. She later realises he must be a ghost and that she has taped his voice on her new cassette recorder! However when she plays it back there’s nothing. The twist comes when she does some research in the library and discovers a 100 year old photo – of herself! [This story is reprinted below]
I didn’t find out that Alison Fitt had written “The Goose Girl” until 2006 when we met at the launch of ‘Time Tram Dundee’, a ‘Horrible History’-type book I illustrated that was written by Alison’s son Matthew.
3 In your time doing these comics are there any kinds of stories that you would have liked to draw that you didn’t get the chance to?
I enjoyed all the stories I did for Jinty, and I always tried to put in as much background detail as I could. I would love the opportunity to redraw any of them again now (I cringe when I see some of the stuff I did in those days!). I especially liked stories with a distinctive setting and lots of atmosphere. I can remember “Save Old Smokey” the train story that Alison mentioned. I would have loved to have been asked to draw that one as I love steam trains! Deadlines were often a bit of a struggle, and in order to stay on schedule with “The Goose Girl” I had to take my pages with me on holiday, and it was while drawing an episode in a caravan in Anstruther that the news came that Elvis had died (16 August 1977).
4 We are always keen to know who worked on the various stories, as explicit creator credit was very rare. You have already helped muchly with your crediting of Len Wenn as writer on “Hate Me!” and “The Birds”, and via Alison Christie we now know that she was the writer on “The Goose Girl”. Do you know names of other people who worked on Jinty and related girls’ comics?
After Jinty, I also did a serial for Penny called ‘The Blue Island Mystery’; again I was never told who the writer was, also a ‘spot the clue’ type detective feature called “Sharp-eyed Sharon” for the Summer Special [there were also two examples of it in the 1979 Annual]. My final girls’ serial was for D.C.Thomson in Mandy, which had been taken over by former Sparky editor, Iain Chisholm (shortly before he died). This was “Diana’s Dark Secret” – Blind Diana unexpectedly regains her sight in episode one, but because she fears they’ll take away Goldie, her beloved guide dog she continues (riddled by guilt) to fake blindness. Only the dog knows…
After Mandy, Thomsons moved me onto Topper (drawing “The Whizzers from Oz”) and Starblazer doing science fantasy covers, then on to their final two boys’ papers, Spike and Champ. When they folded I worked on school textbooks for Oliver and Boyd in Edinburgh, then over ten years on the Dandy writing and drawing “Black Bob”, and “Jonah” and “General Jumbo” for Beano. There was a brief return to girls’ type stories in the Dandy with a short-lived parody written tongue-in-cheek by Thomson staffer Duncan Leith called “Wendy’s Wicked Stepladder”.
5 In his article, Dez attributes the decline of comics to a contempt for the reader (and maybe also the creator?) that was down to a purely commercial vision – printing using old-fashioned presses, resizing artwork in a destructive fashion, and so on. Pat Mills also thinks similarly, talking of the hatch-match-dispatch process angrily. Of course the rise of competing claims on kids’ time and pocket money (computer games, tv) could also be held to blame. Where do you stand on this? Do you think the decline of the British comics industry was an avoidable misfortune, or inevitable in a changing world?
I feel it was very short-sighted that the comics were allowed to slide into decline. For sure, the rise of other media certainly played its part, but the publishers were always reluctant to invest when sales dropped, especially IPC with its hatch, match, and despatch policy. They never had much respect for the amazing pool of talent that they had at their disposal, and certainly never gave anyone credit. Payments hardly increased in the latter years, and our work was never returned. There was a constant anxiety that the comic might fold (they never told you that the end was coming) and there might be no more work…
Letterpress printing never did justice to the artwork and maybe, just maybe if they had gone upmarket into full colour and printed on decent paper, giving creators a name check they might have got a bit more attention and survived. Of course there was always a snobbery towards comics in this country, devalued and disparaged at the time by teachers, librarians etc. who thought they were just throwaway rubbish that would rot children’s brains.
Nowadays teachers are delighted to see children reading comics (reading anything!) and appreciate the creativity that goes into them. Thanks largely to ‘Time Tram Dundee’, I decided to qualify as a teacher and now have a whole new career (which I love!) going into schools and working with children to create and draw their own comics.
It surprises me that no-one has considered publishing some of those serials as graphic novels (suitably updated and with colour). I’ve worked with Alison Fitt on several projects and we’ve recently collaborated on a 72 page graphic novel ‘Nora Thumberland, Heroine of Hadrian’s Wall’ (yet to find a publisher) which 30 years ago could well have have been a Jinty serial…
Many thanks again to Keith for this great interview!
“Gypsy Rose: A Picture From The Past” published Jinty 3 December 1977
Ever since infancy Marnie Miles has shown promise as a brilliant swimmer like her late father, and Mum encourages her. At her new school, Marnie becomes one of the best swimmers at “The Mermaids”, the school swimming club, and can’t get enough of water.
That is, until she meets Madame Leo, a sinister-looking fortune-teller. Madame Leo makes a prophecy for Marnie’s cousin Babs: “I see falling, falling…there is much danger.” A year later it comes true when a plank falls on Babs and leaves her crippled. Then Madame Leo turns up again and seems to be shadowing Marnie, warning her that they will meet again in a week. And a week later, at the school fete, Madame Leo shows up and scares Marnie with another prophecy: “You are going to end up in blue water!” Marnie flees the tent in terror. She also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.
Marnie takes the prophecy to mean that she is going to drown in blue water. As a result, she develops hydrophobia (fear of water). When she fails a drowning child because of it and people call her a coward, she believes she is now “cursed to be a coward” by that fortune-teller.
The hydrophobia just gets worse and worse. Marnie won’t cross a puddle because she is too terrified of water. She begs the bus driver to let her out once she sees it is about to cross a river of blue water. At a high-diving event she asks for a rubber ring! As Marnie’s hydrophobia intensifies, so do the problems it creates. She failed to help that drowning child because she is too terrified of water. As the word spreads, the girls at school gang up on her, calling her a coward. Their bullying intensifies along with Marnie’s hydrophobia. Not even the presence of Marnie’s mother makes the bullies back off, and Marnie finds “COWARD” daubed on her house. Miss Frame, the swimming coach, is surprised at Marnie’s behaviour she seems to be losing her nerve or something. At home, Mum can’t understand why Marnie is suddenly turning against water and giving up on swimming. Marnie won’t tell Mum because she doesn’t want Mum to worry.
Marnie tries to fight back against the curse that seems to be turning her into a coward, but her hydrophobia is too strong. She turns to Babs for help, and Babs agrees to a cover story for Marnie giving up on swimming.
But the problem is still there, so Marnie decides to go back to Madame Leo to see if Madame Leo is willing to redress the problem. Marnie just finds the crystal ball, which shows a rather vague image of her waving her arms around. Marnie thinks it shows her drowning and takes off in a fright, not realising Madame Leo has seen her.
When Marnie participates in a high-diving event, Madame Leo turns up in the gallery and terrorises her with reminders of the prophecy. Marnie faints and falls right off the diving board! She is rescued, and now tells her mother the truth. Mum tries to track down Madame Leo but fails, and loses her job as a result.
Then Mum gets a housekeeper’s job with Mr Rennie. He has a swimming pool. The water there is green, not blue, so Marnie decides the water is safe for her to swim in and get back in training. Mr Rennie encourages Marnie.
Marnie now tells Miss Frame the truth. Mum allows Miss Frame to resume coaching of Marnie, but on strict condition that she is not to leave Marnie for a moment. However, Madame Leo disguises herself as a cleaner and diverts Miss Frame by knocking a photograph of one Lorna Gray, one of the former school swimming champions, off the wall and into the water. While Miss Frame is busy with the photograph, Madame Leo tries to drown Marnie and would have succeeded but for some fast resuscitation from Miss Frame. The police are called in but do not take the complaint seriously and Madame Leo denies it all. However, when Madame Leo was trying to drown Marnie, she reveals why she hates her. It is because Marnie bears a striking resemblance to Lorna, a girl Madame Leo has hated for 30 years. She does not say why she hates Lorna.
Babs and Marnie go to the fete to confront Madame Leo. Babs urges Marnie to try and break her crystal ball. But this just gets them into trouble with the police and another triumph for Madame Leo, who is now terrorising Marnie with threats of the prophecy and attempts at drowning her at every turn.
Then Mr Rennie dies, and he leaves Marnie and her mother a legacy – a houseboat called Blue Water. Marnie realises that this is what the prophecy means by “blue water” and has nothing to do with drowning. She starts dancing for joy (revealing what she was actually doing in the crystal ball) and is now cured of her hydrophobia.
However, Madame Leo is lurking nearby. She knew the truth about Blue Water all along, and now sees the game is up. She makes a last-ditch, desperate effort to drown Marnie. But it backfires when Madame Leo misses Marnie, goes into the water, and Marnie ends up saving her from drowning! A policeman was watching, so Madame Leo is finally arrested.
Afterwards it is established that the reason Madame Leo hated Lorna Gray and took it out on Marnie is that she (wrongly) blamed Lorna for her sister’s drowning at the seaside 30 years ago. It is not revealed as to why Madame Leo blamed Lorna or why she was wrong to do so. Madame Leo’s reaction to being rescued by Marnie and her ultimate fate are not recorded. But for Marnie, there is no looking back. Her classmates apologise for calling her a coward once they hear about her rescuing Madame Leo and hail her as a heroine for it. Marnie is back with the Mermaids. She is soon winning championships for the school and is looking forward to a swimming career with the help of Blue Water.
Alison Christie is better known for writing emotional, tear-jerker stories in girls’ comics. So it was a surprise to learn that she wrote this thriller story featuring a psychotic would-be killer, a tormented, persecuted girl turning into a nervous wreck from hydrophobia and being constantly harassed, and elements of the supernatural abounding with the prophecy, crystal balls, psychic powers and premonitions. And it’s all brought off brilliantly with the artwork of Mario Capaldi, whose artwork really brings off insanity and pathological hatred that is consuming Madame Leo, and what a creepy, sinister crone she is, even before she has started harassing Marnie. Madame Leo is the only villainous fortune-teller to appear in Jinty, and in her we see the antithesis of Gypsy Rose, the resident gypsy clairvoyant in Jinty. Imagine if we got the two together.
Christie’s handling of the prophecy was spot on. It was exactly how the prophecy should work – a riddle filled with double meanings. The recipient of the prophecy takes what appears to be the obvious meaning, so it comes as a twist and surprise to the recipient (and the readers) when the prophecy turns out to mean something entirely different. Macbeth is a classic example of this. But unlike Macbeth, the twist was good for Marnie. And it looked like there were some unexpected twists for Madame Leo as well; she had long since foreseen what “blue water” truly meant, but she did not foresee her life being saved by the girl she was trying to kill, or that she would fail in her hate campaign.
One of the best conceptions of this story is Marnie’s personality, how it makes her so vulnerable to Madame Leo’s curse, and how this is structured in the buildup in the first episode. When Marnie and Babs first visit Madame Leo at the fair, we immediately see how impressionable and suggestible Marnie is. In the first place, she is not even keen to visit the fortune-teller because that sort of thing scares her, but Babs insists. And Madame Leo strikes Marnie as a sinister-looking woman even before Madame Leo starts terrorising her. Marnie is far more terrified at Babs’s prophecy than Babs is, and when it is fulfilled, Marnie is in no doubt about Madame Leo’s powers. When Madame Leo shows up and tells Marnie they will meet in a week, Marnie gets even more scared – not least because of the way Madame Leo looks at her. Even before Marnie meets Madame Leo at the school fete, she suddenly finds herself shaking for no reason. And Madame Leo does not just tell Marnie the prophecy – she seizes her and forces her to listen when Marnie wants to get the hell out of there without any fortunes told, thank you very much. When Marnie gets out, she is not just scared – she also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.
And is she cursed? In the end it is revealed that this is not the case because Marnie misconstrued the prophecy. So it was Marnie’s imagination and suggestibility, being so easy to scare, getting all wound up by that creepy fortune-teller and her prophecy, and getting odd feelings of foreboding that could be anything from real sixth sense to superstitious imagination. But until then, we readers are left to wonder if she really is cursed, and whether that fortune-teller is right and Marnie is going to go the same way as Babs. Even without Madame Leo’s harassment it is terrifying enough. But when Madame Leo starts terrorising Marnie directly and tries to kill her, we get what must be some of the most terrifying scenes in girls’ comics. Fainting on a high-diving board? Being attacked in the swimming pool and nearly murdered? Wow! And all the while, Madame Leo preys upon and amplifies Marnie’s false fears about “blue water” to make her all the more terrified. Years of fortune-telling must have given Madame Leo experience in the human psyche because she is a master of fear and manipulation in the way she plays upon Marnie’s fears; she is extremely crafty in how she steadily builds up to scare Marnie with the prophecy in the first episode. We have to wonder if she has done similar tricks with other people; she looks sinister enough for that.
It is a bit frustrating that we never learn the fate of Madame Leo after her arrest. Presumably she was put into some sort of psychiatric care. But how did she react to being rescued by the girl she was trying to kill? Did it change her attitude in any way, or was her mind too far gone for that? Perhaps there was not enough room on the final page to address any of this, but couldn’t they have had a text box at least to tell us what happens to her? And we never learn why Madame Leo blamed Lorna for her sister’s death or why she was wrong to do so. Perhaps there was not enough room on the last page for that either. Or maybe Christie or the editor decided not to delve into it and preferred to focus on Marnie for the final panels.
When it is revealed that Madame Leo was persecuting Lorna (through Marnie) for nothing, it comes as no surprise if you know girls’ comics well. Serials featuring hate-filled people who persecute someone (or organisation) for revenge, only to find out that they were mistaken about them, have cropped up regularly in girls’ comics. “Down with St Desmond’s!” (Bunty) is a classic example, and the theme was a frequent one in DCT titles. The theme was less common in Jinty, but some Jinty stories with the theme or elements of it are “Go On, Hate Me!“, “The Ghost Dancer”, “Slave of the Swan” and “Waves of Fear“.
Many apologies for the long break in between posts. Life has got hectic and the run-up to Christmas didn’t help!
Stories featuring sports are very prevalent across the range of girls’ comics titles. This clearly taps into both the day-to-day experiences of many or most schoolgirls (playing on their hockey or netball teams) and into aspirational ideals (winning regional or national contests, going on to have a career in their chosen sport, excelling at unusual sports). At one end of this theme, many many stories will have some element of sports included, simply as a part of the protagonist’s daily life; I don’t count these as “sports stories” per se. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories that are clearly mostly about the pursuit of excellence in the protagonist’s chosen sport, with a sprinkling of some complicating factor to spice the story up, such as peer rivalry. And in between there are stories where the sports element are strongly included but given a reasonably equal weighting with other elements.
To me, therefore, a “sports story” needs to feature the sport in question as the main story element, or with equal weight with the other elements. Often the story positively teaches us various details of that sport in a didactic way, as if part of the expectation is that readers might have their interest sparked by that story and go on to take it up themselves. The protagonist is someone who takes seriously the idea of practice, learning, improvement in their chosen area: they are not just naturally gifted without trying at all, and part of the drive of the story is about their drive to improve or to excel.
It seems obvious, but it also needs to be a sport not an art: as you would expect, there are plenty of ballet stories, and these are excluded from my categorisation. Ballet has its rivalries but it is not a competition with winners and losers, except in artificial ways that the writer might set up (for instance in “The Kat and Mouse Game”, the ‘winner’ gains a contract with an influential ballet impresario).
Finally, it is worth remembering Jinty also had a strong focus on sports in ways that lay outside of the stories themselves: for a period of time there was a specific sports section in the comic, with articles about specific sports, improvement hints and tips (such as how to win at a bully-off in hockey), and interviews with sports women and men. Over and above this, there was a lengthy period where Mario Capaldi drew cover images illustrating a very wide range of sports – netball and rounders, yes, but also archery, bob-sledding, ski-jumping… These are not sports stories, but form part of the context in which the sports-themed stories need to be read.
There are so many strong sports stories that it is hard to choose a single one as a core example. A wide range of sports are represented: ones that a schoolgirl might well have direct experience of such as hockey, gymnastics, running; and more unusual ones like judo, water-skiing, and figure skating.
“White Water” (1979-80), drawn by Jim Baikie and included in the sports section that Jinty ran for a year or so from late 1979, is a classic example of a story that includes teachable elements as well as dramatic ones. Bridie is in a sailing accident with her father, who is killed: her grieving mother moves them away from the sea and into an industrial city that depresses Bridie mightily. As well as grieving for her father, she also has a gammy leg that was badly hurt in the accident, so Bridie is pretty fed up; but she then finds out about a local canoe club. She is determined to learn canoeing, especially once she is told about sea or white-water canoeing. Along the way there are rivalries and misunderstandings – her mother hates the idea of Bridie doing anything at all like sailing, and the existing star of the canoe club doesn’t like the challenge represented by this bright (and sometimes tetchy) new member. But the story includes lots of information about canoeing techniques, certainly enough to either help interest a reader in the sport, or even to help someone already learning it.
You can see below the wide range of sports represented in Jinty.
Life’s A Ball for Nadine (1981) – netball (and disco dancing, competitively)
As ever, there are clearly-related stories that don’t quite fit in the main theme. Sports are such a pervasive trope in the life of Jinty and other girls’ comics precisely because they were an important part of many girls’ school lives. Of course they also made up a big part of other popular fiction read by girls; it becomes a reinforcing theme that is always available for use.
Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75) – features a mentally disturbed woman grieving over her late daughter and trying to recreate her in another girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
Wanda Whiter than White (1975-6) – the main story theme is constant trouble with an interfering, tale-telling girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
Champion In Hiding (1976) – the champion in question is a sheepdog, trained to win at dog trials
Rose Among the Thornes (1976) – the main story theme is family rivalry, but there are sections where Rose is involved in running races in her local village
Stage Fright! (1977) – includes some realistic elements of sailing
Land of No Tears (1977-78) – gymnastics and swimming as part of the futuristic competition to find the most perfect schoolgirl
The Changeling (1978) – main character loves horseriding and this is used as part of the abusive family/wishfulfilment story
Knight and Day (1978) – really a story about an abusive family but includes a family rivalry based around swimming and competitive diving
Paula’s Puppets (1978) – a story of magical objects and group strife, but includes elements of athletics (running)
Combing Her Golden Hair (1979) – a strange comb has the protagonist rebelling against her strict grandmother, whose rules include a ban on swimming
Freda’s Fortune (1981) – mostly wish-fulfilment gone wrong, with horseriding
Worlds Apart (1981) – each dream-like parallel world featured a society built around an individual’s interests, and this included a sporty girl’s world
This is probably one of the most pervasive themes you could possibly have in a girls’ comic; no doubt those who are expert in other comics titles will be able to mention many more examples of stories and of unusual sports featured in them. Reviewing the list above, I am surprised not so much by the number of stories as of the range of sports included. Of course the sports that girls played on a regular basis at school – hockey, swimming, athletics, netball, running – would feature in the girls’ comics. Even then, the weighting of specific sports doesn’t seem entirely even, mind you – in Jinty there was only one netball story compared to two or three hockey stories, and a few athletics stories. There is a noticeable absence of lacrosse stories despite the fact they are a staple of girls school prose fiction (I am sure they must be included in some other comics titles). I also don’t recall any rounders stories, which was a very typical summer sport for girls to play.
I am sure that other titles included some aspirational sports such as figure-skating or show-jumping as Jinty did, and the inclusion of some ordinary if less usual sports such as orienteering doesn’t seem unlikely either. However, the fact that skate-boarding, table-tennis, and judo were included as part of the range of stories shows, I think, that Jinty wanted to push the boat out and include elements that were not just a bit unusual, but also modern, fresh, and popular in the wider world: elements that were not marked as ‘élite’ and expensive.