Tag Archives: historical story

Little Lady Nobody (1972)

Sample Images

(from Sandie 18 March 1972)

Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 – 1 April 1972

Episodes: 8

Artist: Desmond Walduck?

Writer: Unknown

Plot summary

Elaine Moresby is the daughter of a rich Yorkshire businessman. While her father is away on business she is sent to Miss Pettifor’s Academy for Young Ladies, where she soon shows how spoilt and selfish she is. Even her fellow rich young ladies are fed up of Elaine’s complaints and meanness towards the servants. But before the first episode is up, Elaine has been told by her uncle that her father has been drowned, leaving her an impoverished orphan; and Miss Pettifor takes the opportunity to ask for the payment of 150 guineas for the last six months’ fees (even though Elaine knows that it was paid at the time). The final indignity – Elaine is forced to work as a servant to pay off the debt that wasn’t really incurred  – and all the other servants are cruel to her apart from Mary, who is kind. (This is partly because Elaine caught Mary looking at a posh dress of hers and was going to denounce her to the headmistress, but was stopped from doing so by the arrival of her uncle – so it’s only by luck that she has even one friend on her side.)

It is difficult for Elaine to adjust to the life of a servant, but her main challenge is that Miss Pettifor and the head servants are clearly out to get her. Mary helps her to get used to the tasks but Elaine is firstly nearly suffocated when Mrs Rutherford lights a fire underneath her after sending her up the chimney, and then is thrown down the well by a mystery assailant. Mary helps Elaine to climb out but of course Mrs Rutherford comes out almost immediately and sees that her ploy has failed. She tells Elaine to climb back down the well to find the bucket, and of course she is terrified at the thought – and says that Mary was the one who knocked it in, and Mary has to climb down instead. Mary understands that it was fear that drove Elaine to say that, but that forgiveness means little when Mary gets very ill as a result of her ducking. Elaine sticks up for Mary and helps to nurse her during her illness, so the other servants think better of her after all.

Miss Pettifor is still out to kill her if possible, though – her next attempt is to run her over with a horse and cart. Some of her fellow servants stick up for her, but in retaliation Mary is once more driven to illness by Miss Pettifor and Mrs Rutherford. When Elaine spots her uncle coming to visit, she thinks that he will be her way out, and escapes to find him. However, a panel set back at Miss Pettifor’s Academy has the uncle explaining that it was he who set up the series of murderous attacks, because ‘with her out of the way, I am the sole heir to her dead father’s fortune’.

Elaine has escaped from the Academy, along with Mary, but her erstwhile friends don’t believe that the tattered escapee is really Lady Elaine Moresby, who they have been told has ‘been dead these past three weeks!” And when she reaches her old home of Moresby Hall, her uncle shoots at them, sets the servants on them claiming they are ‘gipsy thieves’, and makes Miss Pettifor and Mrs Rutherford go after them to fetch them back to the academy. Not content with that, her uncle has the school set on fire, with the two girls trapped inside! So it is all a real giveaway that they have serious enemies who will stop at nothing.

They manage to make it back to Moresby Hall, where Elaine finds some papers written by her father’s lawyer, Mr Murchison. Her father wasn’t penniless at all, and her uncle is claiming the estate as his. They try to see Murchison to plead Elaine’s case, but he is ill and they aren’t allowed in – and when they are taken up by the Bow Street Runners, Uncle Ned tells the magistrates that Elaine ‘suffers from the delusion that she is my niece Elaine’. He also threatens her friend Mary. Defeated, Elaine can only plead guilty to imposture – and Uncle Ned, now clearly revealed as a black-hearted villain, sends her to a dreadful quarry where kids are made to work until they drop. However, a death from overwork isn’t going to be quick enough for Uncle Ned – firstly because Mary is making a nuisance of herself, asking questions (so off to the quarry she goes, too), and then because the father’s ship turns out to have survivors after all. So the head man in charge of the quarry is enticed into locking the two girls in a burning shed full of gunpowder… Miraculously, they escape once again, and this time are taken in by a shepherd who recognises Lady Elaine for who she is.

Biddy, Elaine’s old nurse, also knows who she is, but the real test is whether Lawyer Murchison will do so or not. He is nearly convinced, until Uncle Ned shows him Elaine’s hands, coarsened by weeks of work. It was all for nothing, and Elaine is tried and sentences to be transported for life. Mary proves her worth once again as a true friend, though- she forces her way into the place where Uncle Ned and Miss Pettifor are bamboozling the father with spurious stories of Elaine’s last days before succumbing to pneumonia. All’s well that ends well as her father turns up at the transportation ship to rescue Elaine just as she is trying one last escape – this time by plunging into the water to swim away. The last half page shows the faithful companion Mary and the reformed character Elaine drinking tea at Moresby Hall, and planning to enrich the lives of these who have less than she does.

Further thoughts

“Little Lady Nobody” is a slave story with strong redemption narrative elements. It is as over-the-top as most slave stories tend to be – of course the protagonist faces hard work, lack of food, and lack of sleep, but matters quickly escalate from the hard life of a normal skivvy to multiple threats of violent death. This cruelty is the main focus of the story, though Lady Elaine’s transformation from spoiled uncaring rich girl to compassionate champion of the poor is also a thread running through the first few episodes or so.

Elaine is quite a sympathetic character as she is very determined and tries very hard not to be beaten. Of course she is not perfect – as well as having to learn how hard a servant’s life is, she is also understandably affected by the various frights she’s had, and it leads her to some disgraceful actions that she is ashamed of later. For instance in an early episode she lies and says that it was Mary who dropped the bucket down the well, though of course it was Elaine herself who did so, because she was being pushed down the well by an unseen hand. But her lie is because she is so scared, she can’t face climbing down the well to retrieve the bucket as the cruel slavedrivers demand, so although it is wrong of her, we understand that this is not a real relapse into being an uncaring rich girl.

Even after asking David Roach and others on Facebook, it is not clear to me who the artist is. Catawiki credits this story to Desmond Walduck. who drew “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm'”, and there is certainly a lot of similarities. However, the later Sandie story “Sisters in Sorrow”, drawn by the same artist and with a very similar theme, was previously identified by David Roach as being by a female artist called Broderick. And when I looked at this story, my immediate feeling was that it looked like the work of Roy Newby, who is credited with drawing “Slaves of the Candle” and “Bound for Botany Bay” in Jinty, and “Nina Nimble Fingers” in Lindy. All three of these were historical stories set in the 18th and 19th centuries, featuring slavery, severe injustice, hard times, and danger of death – so again very thematically similar to the current story under discussion. However, on further consideration, I think I will withdraw that identification. Roy Newby’s work is much smoother than the rather scratchy line used by the artist on “Little Lady Nobody” and the figure drawing and the faces are not quite the same either, though there are a lot of similarities in elements like noses and chins. Roy Newby’s children also do not think that this is by their father, though they again can see the similarities. Perhaps we will find that there are three artists with very similar styles – Newby, Walduck, and Broderick.

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WFTometer V

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “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”. In WFTometer V, three historical stories from Jinty are put through the WFTometer. They are Bridey Below the Breadline, Slaves of the Candle and Bound for Botany Bay. The three stories also have a common thread of the heroines being victims of injustice. In the first, Bridey Brown and her father are wrongly accused of starting the Great Fire of London. In the second, Lyndy Lagtree is framed for the crime that her captor, Mrs Tallow committed. In the third, Betsy Tanner and her father fall foul of the harsh 19th century law that gets them transported. In this case they are actually guilty of the crimes that got them transported, but their crimes were of desperation and circumstance, not the black-hearted villainy that the judiciary calls it. The ratings for all three stories are very similar as the current times category has been rated “extreme”; all three heroines are in danger of physical death, so emotional, mental and physical security all have the same ratings; and current time period has been rated “big diff”. Their agencies are also very similar because of their backgrounds (class status etc). The differences in ratings mainly lie in family structure, school structure, talents, and in one case, physical location. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.45.59 pm In Bridey Below the Breadline, Bridey still has her father but no immediate family or school. She and her father came to London in search of bakery work but ended up being accused of starting the Great Fire of London. As a result, Bridey has to hide her father, who was injured in the fire, while keeping ahead of the authorities, lynch mobs and using her own talent at baking to survive. And she also falls foul of unscrupulous people who take advantage of her “wanted” status to force her to work for them in a plot to assassinate Charles II. It scores a 38 on the WFTometer. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 3.24.46 pm Slaves of the Candle scores slightly higher at 40. The main difference here is that while Bridey still has her father, Lyndy has no family or parents in sight, so it can be safely assumed she is an orphan with no family. Lyndy starts off as a maidservant who witnesses a crime committed by Mrs Tallow. To silence her, Mrs Tallow kidnaps her and brings her to her candle-making slave racket, where she holds girls prisoner in a basement and forces them to make candles. To make doubly sure of neutralising Lyndy, Mrs Tallow frames her for the crime, confident that the substantial price that is now on Lyndy’s head will deter her from escaping. However, Lyndy is determined to escape, shut down the racket and prove her innocence, but spends a lot of time being constantly recaptured from failed escape attempts. The escape attempt that does succeed leads Lyndy to discover that Mrs Tallow is out to steal the Crown Jewels. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.47.51 pm Bound for Botany Bay scores the highest at 48. Family-wise, Botany Bay scores lower than Slaves of the Candle because Betsy still has her father while Lyndy appears to be an orphan. And unlike the first two girls, Betsy goes to school – at least, before she is transported. The main difference is the shift in location from England to Australia when Betsy and her father are transported. This scores a “big diff”. A small difference also comes in agency in local laws. While the first two heroines had standard ratings there (despite their being on the run), Betsy’s is rated “small diff” because she not only speaks out against the harshness of the penal system during her trial but her case becomes a focal point for prison reformers. But it is not rated “big diff” because in normal circumstances Betsy is an honest girl and law-abiding citizen who would never have dreamed of the things she did to get arrested.

What sort of stories did Jinty not cover?

Any comic has to have a focus, a remit of what will be covered and therefore inevitably what will not be covered. The choices made, however, may be revealing in themselves, or may raise further questions as to why one thing was included and another skipped over.

Non-fiction

UK girls comics did not generally include non-fictional comics stories such as biographies. They did include some text items that were non-fictional in nature – snippets of information about sports, history, the origin of names, current pop stars – but not done as ongoing comics stories. Other classic British titles had done this – The Eagle included some biographical strips, for instance; and other children’s magazines had covered non-fiction rather more thoroughly (for instance Look and Learn’s whole raison d’etre was to be educational). Why not cover non-fiction? I imagine that the editors at the time wanted to very firmly steer away from the diactic, ‘good-for-you’ image of The Eagle and Look and Learn, both of which were the sorts of titles that tended to be bought for you by well-meaning parents. [Edited to add: Girl did print some non-fiction stories, such as one in 1959 about Marie Curie, subsequently reprinted in Princess Tina. See this comment on the UK Comics Forum for further details.]

In more recent years, The Phoenix’s “Corpse Talk” has gone back and mined this vein very effectively, showing that biographies can be done in comics form amusingly, interestingly, and well. (Creator Adam Murphy also does some strips about science using a similar format.) Even at the time, it would have been quite possible to do at least some non-fiction without it being boringly didactic, had the will or interest been there. I have just been reading some biographical material about Caroline Herschel, and her story would fit amazingly well in a ‘slave’ story: she was cabined, cribb’d, confined by her mother and her eldest brother, made to work long and hard hours on tasks as the equivalent of a maid, not allowed to stay in bed when ill, and so forth – to be subsequently rescued by her kindly older brother William Herschel, and eventually to triumph as William’s scientific assistant and indeed as a discoverer of comets in her own right! Similar tales could no doubt have been spun about the obvious eminent women such as Florence Nightingale and Boadicea, but also about the less obvious ones such as Aphra Behn and Mary Seacole (though as a black woman it would have been particularly unlikely for the latter to have been written about, sadly).

So, Jinty and similar comics weren’t ones that you read in order to learn; and nor were they ones where factual content was sneaked in under the radar, either. Sneaking it in could have happened: in boys’ war comics of the time, accuracy on details like uniforms, badges, battles, and weapons was prized by the readers and striven for by the creators. (More recently, my two young kids are getting a kick out of “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” on the telly: plenty of learning-through-fun there.) History, geography, science, maths, languages were prized in Jinty mainly as set-dressing when a story called for it, if at all; and the level of research and accuracy was not high, as has been noted previously.

There were some small, local exceptions to this – some areas that Jinty covered that it did care about getting right, and which you could have a reasonable expectation of learning from as a reader.

  • Sports: at one point there was a dedicated sport section, teaching you finer points of passing the ball in netball, using the parallel bars in gymnastics, and covering aspects of more exotic sports like water polo. Even aside from that dedicated sports section, there were a lot of stories featuring sporty protagonists who were given or gave tips on table tennis (“Ping-Pong Paula”), competitive cycling (“Curtain of Silence”), or netball (“Life’s A Ball For Nadine”).
  • Crafts and cookery: each issue had a page or two on how to make a little present from odds and ends, how to revitalise an old skirt, or how to prepare some easy recipe.
  • Trivia: origins of names, the story of mince pies, snippets of amusing anecdotes about, yes, Boadicea or Queen Anne.

Overt political and social issues

As a publication intended for an age range of around 8 – 12 years, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of political discussion unless there was a specific radical intention (as with the creation of Shocking Pink magazine slightly later). There is however in Jinty an utter absence not only of political comment or explanation, but even of reference: no cheeky images of the current prime minister or mention of recent or current events such as the Three Day Week or the IRA bombs. The monarchy does get a look-in with a patriotic celebration of the Jubilee and the Royal Wedding (but then, to do otherwise would be to make a republican statement in itself).

There is also very little overt coverage of wider social issues, such as feminism, racism, colonialism. Without wishing to say that we are now in some paradise, the Britain of that time was clearly a more discriminatory society; Jinty was not in the business of providing substantive challenges to this. Very overt acts of racism would no doubt have been opposed, if they had ever come up – but for instance the paki-bashing that some readers’ families might well have condoned was invisible in these pages and hence never in fact challenged. Related issues do get the occasional airing, though: for instance “Bound For Botany Bay” has some statements about the evils of slavery in a setting that is comfortably far-off in time.

It is not exactly surprising that Jinty was not proactively anti-racist or anti-colonialist; it would have taken a radical mindset to challenge these social issues, and this was a mainstream publication. What about feminism – as a comic published with girls in mind, did any women’s rights issues sneak in under the radar? Not very overtly, I’d say; there were some stories that touched on girls not being treated fairly or being laughed at by boys as incapable of X or Y, but these were mostly treated as individual problems rather than systemic ones. In “Two Mothers For Maggie”, the protagonist complains of being expected to do housework and baby-sitting when she has her homework to do and the stepfather has finished his work for the day; but the issue there is framed as one of poverty not primarily of sexism. In “Black Sheep of the Bartons”, protagonist Bev wants to do boyish sports like judo, but this again is painted as a personality quirk, especially in contrast with her gentle and delicate younger sister who is far more ‘girly’. It might also be played for laughs: there was an early “Jinx of St Jonah’s” story where Katie Jinks  and her friends had a bet on with the nearby boys’ school where they each had three gender-swapped stereotypical tasks to do (making shelves for the girls, making dresses for the boys); they all failed fairly equally and we are supposed to laugh at them for stepping out of the gender roles.

The aspect of Jinty which leads most clearly to a real feminist point is, paradoxically, the fact it was part of such a separate publication stream from boys’ comics. So many of the characters are girls you could almost imagine it is set in one of the parallel worlds devoid of men, favoured by a certain strand of feminist science fiction. The outcome is that there is a great multiplicity of female roles available as models for readers: villains who are misguided, evil, powerful, petty, misunderstood, or plain off their head; protagonists who are vain, strong, smart, brave, clumsy, deft, sporty, bullied, powerless, and sometimes even clever (the latter not so often, sad to say); friends who are loyal, fickle, blind, shallow, and sometimes smarter than they seem. This is in stark contrast to today’s media world in which girls are assumed to read stories with male protagonists but not vice-versa, women are expected to watch films with male characters but not vice-versa, and the story-telling that we’re supposed to accept as progressive is one where the female character is ‘strong’ or ‘kick-ass’ but still far from actually being rounded and fully-developed.

There are some other social issues that sneak in slightly surprisingly. Environmentalism gets a look-in in various stories: there are a couple of anti-motorway or anti-car stories (“The Green People” and “Guardian of White Horse Hill” feature local protests against the building of motorways through sensitive areas, “Save Old Smokey” is anti-car). More drastically, “The Forbidden Garden” is set in a dystopia where the earth is poisoned and nothing can grow naturally. Animal Rights, too, get a look-in: “The Human Zoo” and “Worlds Apart” both feature sections where animal rights protestors are seen as rightly protesting terrible treatment of animals (even if the protesters are also shown as causing as much harm to the animals as they cause good).

However, the big social issue covered that might be surprising to modern readers is inequality. Lots and lots of stories had fat-cat villains, wealthy uncaring capitalists, rich  family members who were greedy or miserly, cruel and heartless. Stories like “Bound for Botany Bay” made much greater play of the evils of class distinctions than they did of the evils of racism and slavery; and stories like “Ping-Pong Paula” and Tammy’s “Ella on Easy Street” were pretty clear that it was better to be poor with a loving family than rich with a distant one. Maybe this is part of a ‘poor little rich girl’ trope prevalent in children’s stories? Maybe it resulted from the core market of readers who were less well-off than was the case for some of the earlier, more middle-class comics? But also, the Britain of that time was actually a less unequal society than it is nowadays. WWII didn’t feel that long ago, which had also driven some reduction in inequalities. Did this mean that it was more possible to have villains who were fat-cats, capitalists, because inequality itself was less acceptable?

Growing up, sex, and romance

Again not surprising as an omission given the age range, but boyfriends are pretty much completely missing in Jinty. Older girls or young women may have boyfriends or even fiancés – sisters, young teachers – but the protagonist herself does not. In one near-exception, “Pam of Pond Hill”, Pam’s friend Goofy is someone she is teased about, and the word boyfriend is used in that teasing, but there is no kissing or cuddling involved in that relationship. So although the protagonists are depicted looking as if they are some years older than most of the readers, the concerns addressed are much more focused on intense friendships and rivalries than on romantic or sexual relationships.

The characters are often drawn with enough of a developing body to require a bikini top or bra and pants rather than the more demure vest and slip of more traditional times, but this is not addressed explicitly in the story. No Judy Blumes to be found in these pages! The letters pages sporadically included an agony aunt element, but even then this focused more on interpersonal relationships with other girls than it did puberty, periods, bodily hair, and boyfriends. Girls moved onto older magazines such as Jackie and Just Seventeen (these may or may not have had a comics element) and it was in those pages that they learned some of the subjects now taught in British schools under acronyms such as PSHE.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976)

Sample images

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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!

Desert Island Daisy (1974)

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Desert Island Daisy 1Desert Island Daisy 2

Publication: 11/5/1974-6/7/1974
Artist: Robert MacGillivray
Writer: Unknown

Here we go with another of Jinty’s first stories. It was the most short-lived of the lineup, yet it made its way into the early Jinty annuals. Perhaps the annuals used unpublished episodes from the strip. It was drawn by popular artist Robert MacGillivray but was the only Jinty strip illustrated by this artist.

In Victorian times Sir Richard Carstairs, his wife, and their spoilt daughters Agnes and Letitia are on a voyage to visit their relatives in Australia. In their cabin, their maidservant Daisy Bates has to clean up the mess the girls have left behind, which shows how spoilt and selfish they are, but it’s the servant’s job (sigh). Then a storm wrecks the ship and the Carstairs escape in a lifeboat, with Daisy doing all the rowing until her hands are sore.

They end up on a desert island and become castaways. But even on a desert island the Carstairs uphold class distinction. This means Daisy does all the work while the Carstairs indulge themselves as high class Victorians. Daisy’s only friend is a lizard called Cuthbert. But the Carstairs’ indulgence also leads to the hijinks that give Daisy the last laugh every week. For example, Daisy makes grass skirts for the girls and applies mud pack. Then they get angry and start chasing her. As a result, Sir Richard thinks Daisy is being attacked by cannibals and thwacks his own daughters by mistake. Daisy takes advantage to finally get the shade and rest she has been desperate for in this episode. In another, Daisy finds a secret hoard of turtle eggs, which the girls mistake for buried treasure. When they go for them, they meet the angry mother who keeps them trapped the sea for hours Daisy seizes the opportunity to eat the eggs herself. In the last episode, the family accuses Daisy of getting lazy and sends her off to wash the clothes. Cuthbert dresses himself up in Lady Carstairs’ cap and petticoat. The girls laugh uproariously when they see this. But their mother is not amused and thwacks them. Daisy starts laughing at how funny life on a desert island can be, and not so bad after all.

Desert Island Daisy is a castaway story played strictly for laughs, and MacGillivray’s style is perfect for the slapstick humour. The laughs centre on jibes at the Victorian class system and getting one up for downtrodden maidservants every time the family’s arrogance towards Daisy, or their follies and self-indulgences backfire on them, and give her the last laugh. There are no laughs centred on goofed-up bids to escape a lá Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, there is nothing at all about attempts to escape, and the strip ends with their not being rescued at all.

This early Jinty strip did not last long and was the first to be axed from the first lineup. Why? Was it not popular enough, or did the editor decide to nix it in favour of another strip? Whatever the reason, after Daisy ended, the castaway theme disappeared completely from Jinty until 1980, where it was revived with the more serious “Girl the World Forgot”.

Merry at Misery House (1974-1975)

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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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Gertie Grit, the Hateful Brit! (1976)

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Publication: 9/10/76-22/1/77

Artist: Paul White

Writer: unknown

Every girls’ comic has humour strips. Many of these centre around klutzy, bungling girls who get into scrapes of some sort or another, such as The Jinx from St Jonah’s. But Gertie Grit is one humour strip which is quite unique in Jinty, for it also has time travel, magic, historical periods, and an unlovely heroine with a bad temper but full of beans and character. And it is drawn by an artist whose style you are far more likely to see in a funny comic, and an artist who was not on the regular Jinty team. Guest artists are always guaranteed to make a story more of a standout, for it made a refreshing break from the regular team.

Gertie Grit hails from Brummagonia in Roman Britain, in the time of Queen Boadicea. She is a hefty, plain girl with freckles and scruffy black hair, with a bad temper and a talent for making – or getting into trouble. From the look of it, she is the black sheep of the family, to the extent of having black hair while her parents and sister are blond (this will be seen again in Jinty‘s “Black Sheep of the Bartons“).

However, Gertie may have a sour, grumpy disposition but, despite the title, you cannot really find her hateful. In fact, you do have to admire what a pugnacious kid she is, who knows how to put up a fight: “I don’t come from Boadicea’s tribe for nothin’!” During the course of her story, we see that Gertie is not as ghastly, gruesome or hateful as the story would have us believe. She has her good points, which she shows in the moments where she tries to be helpful or stand up to bullies. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn’t and she ends up making things worse.

But on with how it all unfolds. One day Gertie steals a pendant from Druid Caractacus, but she gets more than she bargained for when she finds the pendant is a time travel device.  Off she goes on time travel adventures, with a blond wig belonging to her sister Claudia in tow, and the wig becomes a running gag in many of her adventures. The pendant keeps dropping Gertie off in various time periods. With one exception, where Gertie visits a future period, these are all historical periods. And during her visit, Gertie changes the course of history through some bungling or interfering of one sort or another. For example, she unwittingly starts the Great Fire of London when using the oven at Pudding Lane to treat Claudia’s wig, but forgets to shut the oven door. At Pompeii she starts the Vesuvius eruption by using too much magic powder that a witch gave her. Her stops in history also cause the French Revolution, the Trojan War, the Battle of Hastings and an Ice Age among other time travel bungles.

Sometimes Gertie’s visit comes in genuinely helpful, such as teaching the people of Stonehenge how to make wheels, or saving a dog who does not want to be launched to Mars in a space programme. Sometimes she helps by accident, such as when she is rescued from the sea by the Spanish Armada, but ends up helping the English instead, or unwittingly foils the Gunpowder Plot. Indeed, there are moments when Gertie gets quite cozy with her latest time period and would love to stay a while longer. But this never happens because Caractacus is always in pursuit of her to get his pendant back. And the moment he appears, Gertie makes a hasty exit to yet another time period. Well, of course you can’t get away with stealing from a druid.

So you can guess how it will end – when Caractacus finally catches up with Gertie. When it comes, Gertie is actually pleased to see him because she needs rescue from another jam – Stone Age people want to sacrifice her to their gods (pity the poor gods!). On the way back home, Caractacus and Gertie hit a time warp which de-ages them by ten years. By the time they arrive, Caractacus’s hair has regained its youthful colour while Gertie is now a baby. Caractacus gives Gertie back to her parents, and Claudia is delighted to have her wig back. Caractacus tells the parents to make a better job of bringing Gertie up. Good luck to them – even as a baby, Gertie looks horrid. But for us readers, there were always loads of laughs out of Gertie Grit, the (however you saw her) Brit!