Tag Archives: Iain MacDonald

Wee Sue (1972-1982)

Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 to 20 May 1972

Tammy 27 October 1973 to 21 November 1981

Tammy & Jinty merger in “Old Friends”, 26 December 1981 to 10 July 1982

Artists: (Sandie) Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. (Tammy) Mario Capaldi, John Richardson, Robert MacGillivray, Richard Neillands, Mike White, Hugh Thornton-Jones, John Johnston, Jim Eldridge

Writers (known): Terry Magee, Maureen Spurgeon, Iain MacDonald; Gerry Finley-Day also involved

We are now going to take a look at Sue Strong, better known as Wee Sue, and her development from her debut in Sandie to her final years in Tammy.

Wee Sue was one of the first stories to appear in Sandie. Sandie was launched on 12 February 1972 and ran until 20 May 1972, and was drawn by Vicente Torregrosa Manrique. Tammy readers would have been surprised to see how Wee Sue looked back then, as it was radically different to the Tammy version. It was a serial, not a regular weekly feature, and it was played for drama, not light relief. There was no “story of the week” format where Sue’s famous big brains would come up with ways to get out of various scrapes, being the bane of the bullying Miss Bigger, or sorting out someone’s problem. In fact, there is no Milltown, no Milltown Comprehensive, and no Miss Bigger. The logo was different too.

Wee Sue as she appeared in Sandie
Wee Sue as she appeared in Sandie
Wee Sue as she appeared in Sandie

Instead, Sue is a scholarship girl at exclusive Backhurst Academy, which has emphasis on sport. But it is facing closure, so Sue is trying to come up with a way to save it. Sue has other problems too, such as facing prejudice because she is a scholarship girl. Sue’s appearance is also different from the one Tammy readers are more familiar with. She is still a midget, but she has freckles and a more rigid bob style than the tousled one she would acquire in her later stories.

Still, the elements Sue became known for in Tammy were there from the beginning. She is always proving you should not estimate her because she is small. Indeed, her size often comes in handy. She has that reputation for brilliant ideas, particularly when she had to pull something out of her hat to save the day. Sometimes she moves in mysterious ways to do so, but she always knows what she is doing. She is always willing to help others, even more unsavoury types. She even sacrifices herself for them, often at the price of taking a dent in her popularity. She is not afraid to stand up to bullies and sort out nasty types. She is always kind, brave, thoughtful and generous.

The first Wee Sue story ended in Sandie on 20 May 1972. More than a year later Sandie merged with Tammy on 27 October 1973. Wee Sue and “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie” were the only Sandie stories to cross over into the merger. Considering that the first Wee Sue story had ended in Sandie over a year before with no known sequels, the choice of reviving her for the merger is a surprising one. Were there plans for a Wee Sue sequel in Sandie that didn’t get off the ground but made their way into the merger? Or did the editor trawl through the issues of Sandie until he found something he thought had potential for the merger besides Uncle Meanie?

On the Jinty site Iain MacDonald has commented “…The other character I wrote and helped create was Wee Sue. Gerry Finlay Day suggested the character. I wrote most of the early ones.” It is not clear if MacDonald is referring to the original Sue from Sandie or the reboot in Tammy, but the reference to Finley-Day does suggest the latter.

Whatever was behind bringing Sue into the merger, it was an inspired choice. Sue became one of the most popular and enduring characters in Tammy. But for this, a sweeping overhaul of Wee Sue was undertaken. Former Sandie readers must have been taken aback to see it. 

In her debut episode in Tammy (below), Sue began to take on the form familiar to Tammy readers. She is now a regular strip with self-contained episodes (in later years she occasionally had two-parters and even mini-story arcs). She now has the logo familiar to Tammy readers, and she would retain it for the rest of her run. She has moved to Milltown, a poor industrial town. Instead of the posh academy she attends Milltown Comprehensive. There is more emphasis on her living in poverty, such as her patched uniform. The poverty angle disappears later in the strip, though her parents clearly remain working-class people. Sue still has her freckles from her original story, but her bob has a spiky look. The bob would later take on a softer style and the freckles disappeared. 

First Wee Sue episode in Tammy, 27 October 1973
First appearance of Wee Sue in Tammy, 27 October 1973
First episode of Wee Sue in Tammy, 27 October 1973

It is also the episode where Miss Bigger makes her first appearance. She, along with Miss Tuft the games mistress, are new to the comprehensive, and they make it clear they are both bully teachers. This is definitely the Tammy influence (dark stories laden with misery and cruelty) on Sue. Both of these teachers hate Sue from the moment they meet her. In the first episodes there is a harder edge to their nastiness. For example, in one episode Miss Tuft is determined to get Sue into trouble for theft although she knows Sue is innocent. The teachers also bully an autistic girl, who gets diagnosed thanks to Sue (very advanced for 1973!). Miss Tuft soon disappeared, leaving Miss Bigger to carry on as the arch-nemesis of Wee Sue. Well, there is room for only one arch-nemesis in a regular strip after all. 

Despite the harder edge, there are elements of humour. For example, in Sue’s first Tammy episode, she gets the better of Miss Bigger with the help of an onion johnny. As time passed, the cruelty, though still present in the form of Miss Bigger, would be reduced as the comedy took more of a front seat. Wee Sue evolved into a lightweight strip as she became more cheeky, wise-cracking, even mischievous, and often getting into slapstick scrapes. 

Miss Bigger remained as mean and pompous as she had been in her first episode, but she soon took on a more comic presence as well. As she did so, her features evolved from the rather flat, slim look in her first episode to becoming more wryly grotesque and tartar-looking. Mario Capaldi, Miss Bigger’s first artist, eventually gave her the distinctive jagged choppers that would gnash furiously whenever she shouted – which was often. Her nose changed too, becoming more distinctive, in a comical way. Under Robert MacGillivray it became an overgrown bulbous nose, similar to the one he eventually gave Uncle Meanie when he came over to Tammy. 

One reason why Miss Bigger’s appearance became more caricaturised was that Wee Sue passed into the hands of several artists who were strong on slapstick, caricature and humour. John Richardson, who took over from Mario Capaldi, was the first to take Wee Sue into this area, and his run on Sue was a long one. In fact, he took over in the same episode of Sue as Capaldi, on 14 September 1974, giving the readers the best of both worlds (or a lot of confusion, with the same episode switching from one artist to another). When Richardson took over, Sue took on a sharper, more clever look.

Deep dark secrets from Miss Bigger’s schooldays. Tammy 12 June 1976, art John Richardson.
Deep dark secrets from Miss Bigger’s schooldays. Tammy 12 June 1976, art John Richardson.
Deep dark secrets from Miss Bigger’s schooldays. Tammy 12 June 1976, art John Richardson.

Over time other artists continued the humour, though some brought it off better than others. Other artists to draw Wee Sue were John Johnston, Hugh Thornton-Jones, Richard Neillands, Jim Eldridge, Mike White and Robert MacGillivray.

Despite the grotesque comic looks she acquires, Miss Bigger is so vain beyond imagining that she actually believes she is beautiful. Her vanity extends to her abilities as well; she believes she is capable of any feat that borders on superhuman, including being a better ballerina than Margot Fonteyn or winning World War II single-handed. In one episode we see this vanity runs in the Bigger family: Miss Bigger shows Sue her illustrious family album of Bigger women, who all look like her and come up with grand schemes that make no sense and don’t look at all successful (below). We frequently see Sue take advantage of Miss Bigger’s vanity, either to get what she wants out of her or to fix Miss Bigger’s sneaky schemes or mountains of homework. 

The history of the Bigger family

There is also confusion about Miss Bigger’s first name. It was first established as Lillian, but later in the run it was Amelia.

From the first episode Miss Bigger gives the impression she is not a very good teacher; the onion johnny, for example, makes it clear that Sue’s French is better than hers. In another episode, Miss Bigger gives a German lesson, but her accent is terrible. Some episodes on Miss Bigger’s own days at school imply she has a dark past there: bullying and lousy school reports. 

Unfortunately Miss Bigger is also notorious for giving out such great big piles of homework that we suspect she does it to deliberately torture her class. She is also known for making the girls’ lives a misery if she’s in a filthy mood. For example, in a Valentine-themed episode she lumbers the girls with extra homework when they’re set to go to a Valentines Day party because she’s upset she didn’t get a Valentine. Frequently Sue has to come up with schemes to keep Miss Bigger in a good mood or placate her when she’s in a bad one; otherwise the class suffers.

How the Allies won WW2 according to Miss Bigger

In the earliest episodes Miss Bigger wore a formal outfit. But later in the Capaldi run she acquired the more casual outfit that would stay with her for the rest of the strip: skirt and sweater (later a cardigan or jacket) and black blouse. This outfit became her trademark. In fact, in one episode Miss Bigger’s trademark outfit inadvertently starts a new fashion in Milltown called “the old frump look” after a rack full of her outfits (all the same outfit!) gets mixed up with a clothes rack bound for a fashion show.

Because Sue was the bane of Miss Bigger she was sometimes branded a troublemaker by school authorities. But what Sue was really known for was her big ideas to save the day. She could always be counted on to come up with a brainwave to fix any situation, such as helping her classmates and parents, coming to the rescue of people in trouble, foiling tricksters, bullies, criminals, and Miss Bigger’s mean schemes, raising school funds, and sometimes helping Miss Bigger. 

However, sometimes Sue really was naughty. In one episode, she takes a satchel to school that is so full of sweets it’s a wonder she doesn’t give herself diabetes, and she eats them in class. The sweets land her in so many sticky situations (including her toffee bar ripping Miss Bigger’s skirt and exposing her undies!) that she is right off sugar by the end of the day. It was in episodes like these that Miss Bigger was allowed to triumph against Wee Sue, so the bully teacher did win on occasion. But for the most part, Sue is a nice girl.

Miss Bigger frequently steals the credit for Sue’s big ideas whenever she sees the way to take advantage of it. This is something she gets away with a lot, but at least there is always a consolation for Sue, such as money, and in one instance, a trip to Spain.

Wee Sue remained a popular regular in Tammy, even having a special story to commemorate Tammy’s 10th birthday (below). Miss Bigger, for once having an inspired idea, takes the class on a tour at King’s Reach Tower for a behind-the-scenes look at Tammy. Sue falls asleep over the Tammys in the copy room, where she dreams of past and present Tammy characters. They all come together for a big birthday party, including Miss Bigger.

Wee Sue celebrates Tammy’s 10th birthday 7 February 1981
Wee Sue celebrates Tammy’s 10th birthday 7 February 1981
Wee Sue celebrates Tammy’s 10th birthday 7 February 1981
Wee Sue celebrates Tammy’s 10th birthday 7 February 1981

Then Jinty merged with Tammy on 28 November 1981. This was the beginning of the end for Sue. After a few weeks of not appearing in the merger, she reappeared as part of an “Old Friends” feature, which she shared in rotation with Bessie Bunter, Molly Mills and Tansy of Jubilee Street (the last of which being a surprise revival, having officially ended in the last issue of Jinty). In fact, Sue was the old friend to lead off the feature on 26 December 1981. Except for her first Old Friends episode, the Wee Sue appearances were entirely new material, as were the appearances of Tansy and Molly. This made them more refreshing to see. Only Bessie was on repeats. But it was clear that all four were on their very last legs. Sure enough, Old Friends disappeared with a revamped Tammy launched 17 July 1982, so Wee Sue was buried in the same grave as Tansy, Bessie and Molly. However, Sue continued to make appearances in the Tammy annual to the very end, though it was with repeats. 

Sue lasted in Tammy for a proud nine years, including her Old Friends appearances. But if you include the Sandie year, Sue ran for 10 years, which means she holds a joint record with Bella for longevity and one year behind Molly at 11 years.

Christine Ellingham – Interview

With many thanks to Christine Ellingham for sending through such detailed and interesting answers to the interview questions below – and of course also thanks to her for getting in contact in the first place!

Question 1 – Can you please give a bit of background context to your time in comics – when did you start doing work for picture strips / comics titles, and what got you into them in the first place? You say that your time as a strip artist was short – what led you to cut it short, if there was anything specific?

As with a lot of the jobs I have done over the years, I arrived at IPC, then Fleetway Publications, purely by accident and good luck.

I had been a staff layout artist plus fashion illustrator on a girls’ teenage magazine called, Go Girl! (This is where I first met Malcolm Shaw.) Go Girl! was part of City Magazines, the magazine division of The News of the World. This was in 1968.

Unfortunately, Go Girl! folded after a very short life and it was suggested that I approach Leonard Matthews, the then Director of Juvenile Publications, not sure of his correct title, at Fleetway. I did, and was offered a job there. In those days it was relatively easy to move around from one job to another.

Initially, I was placed in a department with several other people, not a specific title, where we did odd jobs for different papers, i.e. illustration, lettering, pasteup and, in the case of Alf Saporito, cartoons. I remember John Fernley being one of us, possibly Tony Hunt, though I’m not sure.

After a short period I was moved to the Nursery group, under the managing editor, Stuart Pride, and there I worked on a new publication called Bobo Bunny. This had come from Holland and needed adjusting size wise and certain content adaptation making it suitable for the UK market.

By now John Sanders was the overall editor of the juveniles. I have a feeling I wasn’t the first to be offered the position of art editor of a new girls’ paper called Tammy but I accepted it nevertheless and moved from juvenile to teenage. John Purdie was the editor and Gerry Finley-Day and Iain MacDonald made up the editorial team.

Under John, we gathered writers and artists and the aim was to compete with D.C. Thomson’s Bunty and maybe other titles of that type. I remember John and I made a trip to Rome to talk to the Giorgetti stable of artists and we were wined and dined by Giorgio Giorgetti and his American wife. We also attracted all the relevant artist’s agents, Danny Kelleher and his son Pat of Temple Arts, Linden Artists and Bardon Art for example, and collected together a group of strip artists, writers and balloon letterers.

Eventually, Tammy was launched and did very well. I was able to contribute a small amount of artwork, the back cover of the first edition is mine, but really my job was to get it all together, see the agents and in one case, the artists themselves (I remember Roy Newby used to deliver his own work) but usually the agents would deliver the artwork.

I have to admit, I was not entirely happy in the role of art editor. I had studied illustration at Hornsey College of Art and that was what I wanted to do. I left Fleetway 1971/72. Barry Coker and Keith Davis of Bardon Art represented mainly Spanish strip artists. I thought that maybe I could ‘have a go’ at doing this as a freelance and doing it from Spain. Barry and Keith took me on and my then partner and I moved to Spain. Just like that! This was 1972. Amazing really.

Christine Ellingham, 1973/74
Christine Ellingham, 1973/74

First of all my work was for D.C. Thomson; they waited for a whole series to be complete before publishing so as I was a novice and slow, this suited me. Fleetway needed an episode completed in a week, too much for me then. I am hazy about the titles, there may have been something called, “Warning Wind Bells” and another with an Egyptian theme with a character or a cat called Nofret, or these could have been later for IPC. I have a few old diaries of that time and one story I worked on I have only the initials of the title, S.O.S. I wonder what that stood for! 1972. There was “Topsy of the Pops”, “Vet on the Hill” and “Lindy Under the Lake”, all for Thomson’s circa 1973. (This is the date that I drew them, not necessarily of publication.)

As agents, Barry and Keith were superb. They made sure I was never without work, one story followed immediately after another, that I was paid promptly and they gave me such good advice regarding page layout, technique and story interpretation.

While I was still working on Tammy I started to have problems with my right hand (I am right handed), it not functioning properly. This continued to get worse when we were in Spain and instead of speeding up and refining my style the opposite was happening, my work deteriorated. Bardon Art kept me going but eventually we had to return to England in 1974, where I continued to struggle depressingly.

During the Spanish time I illustrated at least two Annual covers, Tammy 1972, including the front endpapers depicting National Costumes and Sandie Annual 1973, plus various spot illustrations. I still have these annuals. Or I could have done these before Spain.

After inconclusive tests that found nothing terribly wrong with my hand or me generally, the GP at the time suggested I learn to use my left hand. After thinking initially, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I realised this was my only option. I remember one ten-part story for Thomson’s started with me using my right hand and gradually with training, ended using my left hand. I can’t remember which story that was.

From then on things got better. I speeded up and developed my style. Bardon got me the first IPC job.  I’m not one hundred percent sure but it could have been, Cove of Secrets or Secret Cove, something like that, for the Jinty Annual possibly 1974. Also The Whittington’s Cat Princess, DCT, around the same time. To this day, I draw, paint and write using my left hand.

“Concrete Surfer” came later. That particular story stands out for me because it was such fun to do. It was all action with hardly any background, it was very modern and I love doing figure work. I remember we bought a skate board so that I could see what it looked like from all angles, a helmet too, still got them!

I cannot remember how many strip stories I worked on after “Concrete Surfer” but at some point I felt the need to move on, that I wasn’t being stretched any more. Bardon Art were no longer able to represent me, as strip was their speciality, and sadly, we parted company. I started contributing illustrations to Oh Boy, Loving and other IPC papers for older teens.

After a few years I moved on again and, as an illustrator, contributed to national newspapers, women’s magazines, house magazines, mail order publications, coin design, greetings cards and so on.

The work was still there after my retirement but the need to move on again got the better of me and now I paint, back in Spain.

 

Question 2 – On the blog we are always very keen to try to establish any creator credits for artists and writers, as these are otherwise very likely to get lost in the mists of time. As far as we can tell from the art style, it looks like you drew three stories for Jinty (“Race for a Fortune” (1977-78), “Concrete Surfer” (1978), and “Dance Into Darkness” (1978) plus some covers and spot illustrations, as well as a story in the Lindy Summer Special (1975) and in the Jinty Annual 1978. It may be asking too much at this distance in time, but what other work do you recall doing and in which publications?

I would have to look at these stories that you mention to verify that I actually drew them! As I have said, Concrete Surfer stands out because for me it was a joy to do. The others, some I have managed to see on line and they do look vaguely familiar. At the time I used my partner as a model. I found men more difficult to draw than women and girls and I have noticed him in certain frames even though I tried hard to make them not look like him! When I see him I know that I did that one!

Cover 19780708
Jinty 8 July 1978: cover shows “Dance Into Darkness”

Question 3 – At the time it was very usual for artists and writers to work quite separately from each other, particularly freelance creators. Was this the case with you, or did you know others working in the same area? I ask partly in case there are any interesting stories or anecdotes that you can relate at this distance in time, but also in case you remember any names of people on the creative or publishing side that can feed in to our information of who did what.

Yes, this was the case for me. Artists do lead a solitary life and being freelance meant I would be at my desk not wanting to be interrupted. The deadlines, especially for IPC, were pretty tight. In my case the work would be delivered to Bardon Art and they would take it to the publication in the case of Fleetway, a few minutes walk away. Though in Spain I posted it directly to DCT. Nevertheless, Barry and Keith were very much involved and would add their comments sometimes.

While we were in Spain the work was rolled into a tube and posted. The tubes had to be open at both ends, some string threaded through and tied and a description of the contents had to be stuck to the outside, or left with an official at the post office.

I did meet one artist in Spain, Miguel Quesada. It was he who told me how to send artwork to England. He and some of his very large family, (a lot of mouths to feed), visited us unexpectedly. He was one of Bardon’s and a contributor to Tammy. I never met any of the other artists apart from Roy Newby, but that was before I was a contributor myself.

I did meet John Jackson when he was the art editor of Jinty and of course, Mavis Miller.

Question 4 – I am keen to understand more about the creative and publishing processes of the time. Presumably the writer supplied a script, and the editor chose the artist, but I don’t know how everything interacted. Did you get any guidance (say as part of the written script) or conversely any interference from the editor or art editor, or was the published page pretty much under your design control including the composition of the page?

Yes, the editor would choose the artist, art editors didn’t have much say in the matter, (Though this is just from my experience of working on Tammy.) And I think the editorial team would have suggested an idea for a story to the writer, again, this is how it happened on Tammy.

The artists were given a lot of guidance. Before even starting, we would be briefed on the content and theme of the story, to get to know the main characters. In the case of IPC the scripts would come one at a time, having only just been written, probably. The artist would receive a document containing the dialogue for each balloon and the positioning of the balloons had to be in that same order in the frame, also, there would be instructions on the action and mood in the frame, i.e. the heroine to look sad, the bad girl to look vindictive; a closeup and so on. The composition of each frame would be influenced by the order and size of the balloons and the overall design of the page would have had input from the editor. Quite a lot to work out, now I come to think of it! [An example of a script has been previously sent in by Pat Davidson, wife of Jinty story writer Alan Davidson: see link here.]

I always had to submit pencil roughs that would be shown to the editor for his/her comments. In Spain there were many visits to the post office, pencils going off to Stan Stamper in Dundee, coming back with comments, a finished, inked episode flying off, the two passing each other on the way. Also, we artists had to work ‘half up’ so there was a lot of ground to cover. [‘Half up’ means using a larger piece of art paper – half as much again as the finished size, so that for instance if the finished publication is 10 inches by 12 inches, half up would be 15 inches by 18 inches – with the artwork being photographically reduced in size during the production process.]

 

Question 5 – A slightly self-indulgent question but with a point to it – how did you come across the Jinty blog? Was it a case of happening to suddenly remember something you worked on years ago and searching for it, or being sent to it? (I ask because I would love to hear from other creators from the time, and if there is anything I can do to increase the chances of someone posting a comment saying that they wrote or drew a story from the time, I will certainly consider it.)

I’m trying to think. How did I find it? I get carried away on the internet sometimes. I think  I was looking up an old friend of my now husband’s, the two of them used to work together on Eagle, Swift, Robin and Girl papers, as balloon letterers and layout artists. I started looking at Girl artwork as I do have a couple of Girl Annuals, No.3 and No.5. I noticed that the writers and artists all got a credit; one name I recognised was the artist Dudley Pout, I wonder if he contributed to any of the Jinty stories? Though he was probably of another generation.

The friend of my husband had died but in reading his obituary I found links to other sites and by then I was interested to see if any of my work was featured anywhere, the only title I could think of was, “Concrete Surfer”!

First episode of the 1978 story “Concrete Surfer”