Tag Archives: injustice

Darling Clementine [1977-78]

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Published: Jinty 24 December 1977 to 1 April 1978

Episodes: 15

Artist: Richard Neillands

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Fifteen-year-old Ella Peters is an intensely shy girl who used to cling to her mother, but the mother is now dead. She has been in a children’s home since her mother’s death, but then her cousin Clementine Bradley (Clem for short) and Uncle Dave give her a home.

Ella and Clem hit it off immediately. Ella is impressed at how Clem is the darling of everyone. She has a charm that works on everyone, and she is full of confidence, which sets an example to Ella that will influence how she grows in confidence during the story. Everything looks so rosy for Ella now; she is too shy to make friends but she can do it through the popular Clem, and she is so happy.

But storm clouds just have to gather around. Uncle Dave, a miner, develops a lung disease from years of coal dust exposure, and the polluted smoky mining town is making it worse. A move to the country is badly needed, but Uncle Dave hasn’t the money for a country cottage. Then Clem sees a way to raise the money when she sees a water-skiing contest advertised, with £1,000 as the top prize.

Clem can’t waterski, but her mind is set. She dashes off to join the water-skiing club at Ladenford Lake, and never mind that it is an extremely exclusive and ultra-snobby club. Her charm persuades the snobby manager to let her join the club despite her lack of pedigree background, and he is so entranced he even gives her waterskis and a spare wetsuit. Clem gets Uncle Bill to provide a speedboat so she can start practising, and Ella is backing her all the way. Clem is soon making good progress in waterskiing.

Then disaster strikes. While Clem gets ready for another practice, an arrogant girl cyclist comes bowling along and deliberately knocks Clem clean over. Clem ends up hitting her head on a tree and falling into the river. When Clem is plucked from the water, she is in a deep coma. But that isn’t all. Uncle Bill was nearby and mistakenly thinks he saw Ella push Clem into the river deliberately when in fact Ella was trying to push Clem clear of the cyclist. Uncle Bill could not see the cyclist because the trees cut off his view of her. He has Uncle Dave believe it too, and Ella’s protests of innocence with Uncle Dave just lead to rows. Uncle Dave even bans Ella from visiting Clem in hospital. When word gets around, poor Ella finds herself an outcast at school and in the community, and she is estranged at home as well.

And there is still the matter of how to win the much-needed prize money. As Clem is out of action, Ella bravely decides to train for it herself. It’s a tall order as Ella is not only shy but also scared of water and she has force herself to swim more confidently. Uncle Bill won’t help with the speedboat, but Ella manages to get help from Jim, the son of the waterskiing club caretaker, after she helps him against some bullies. Ella gradually improves and even overcomes her fear of water. But girls from the posh club overhear Ella saying she is winning the prize money instead of Clem and spitefully take back the gear that was borrowed from the club. They say she can’t enter the contest anyway because only club members can enter.

When Ella sees her uncle’s condition is worsening, it renews her determination. She takes on two jobs so she can raise the money for waterskiing gear and subs to join the club. She finds courage in approaching the club, but gets turned down because she is not upper class. She encounters more nastiness from the snobs, who throw the last leaflet about the contest out the window so Ella can’t verify if it really is for members only. Fortunately Jim rescues the leaflet, and Ella discovers that the snobs had lied and it is open to any entrant. Well, well, well!

Ella resumes her waterskiing training with Jim’s help, but the snobs find out. They spitefully try to get the caretaker sacked and tell Ella they’ll keep on doing it until either Ella gives up waterskiing or Jim’s father gets the sack. However, Jim’s father suddenly gets another job, so that’s the end of that blackmail.

While Ella does her training, another waterskiier passes by – and Ella recognises her as the cyclist who knocked Clem into the river. She tackles the girl, a Val Lester, who eventually says she might confess if Ella will do some “little jobs” for her. After a whole week of skivvying and slaving for Val, there is still no confession, but Ella still doesn’t realise Val is just taking advantage of her and has no intention of confessing.

At her training, Ella unwittingly gets too close to one of the snobs and knocks her off balance. The snobs accuse Ella and Jim of doing it on purpose and say they will go to the police. Fortunately a Councillor Dickens witnesses the incident and informs the police it was an accident.

Ella now has a whole new confidence now she has Councillor Dickens on her side. She tells those snobs that she is not scared of them anymore. Moreover, she has finally woken up to how Val is just stringing her along and tells her to do her own dirty work.

Uncle Dave suspects Ella is up to something and thinks it has something to do with thefts at a hotel near the lake. He kicks Ella right out of the house, but allows her back once Jim informs him about Ella’s waterskiing. What’s more, there is good news about Clem – she is beginning to wake up and calling for Ella. Unfortunately Uncle Dave misconstrues what Clem says in her half-conscious state as evidence that Ella pushed her. Ella snaps and tells Uncle Dave that she is winning the prize money for his sake. After some investigating Uncle Dave believes it is true, but will not accept the money. Ella continues with her training regardless, and also visits Clem in hospital, who has lapsed back into her coma, in defiance of Uncle Dave’s ban.

Then Uncle Dave finds out about the secret hospital visits after Ella sprains her ankle on the hospital steps. The injury also impairs her waterskiing. Ella bravely goes into the waterskiing heats while she still has this injury, but of course it’s no good. She passes out because of her injury and is out of the contest.

Ella now turns to getting Clem out of her coma, as Clem is the only one who can clear her name. She brings in a tape of speedboat engine noise to bring Clem out of the coma, but Val discovers what Ella is up to and switches it for one of her own tapes. She does not want Clem coming out of her coma and telling the truth about the accident. Ella discovers who pulled the switch when she finds the initials “V.L.” on the tape, and Val doesn’t deny it when Ella confronts her either. Ella gets another recording of speedboat noise, after initially overcoming a bout of shyness over approaching the club secretary for help there. Uncle Dave has banned Ella from seeing Clem, so she has to get a nurse to play the tape to her. Later, Ella finds spiteful Val has told tales on her secret visits to Clem to Uncle Dave.

The tape brings Clem out of her coma. Unfortunately, Ella gets over-excited about pressing Clem to tell Uncle Dave the truth and clear her name. She did not think that it was too soon after Clem woke up, or that Clem’s memory would be clouded. And Clem can’t remember what happened, so when she comes home, Ella has to do something to help her remember.

So Ella takes Clem back to the very spot where it happened – and who should show up but Val Lester herself! This brings back Clem’s memory, and Val brags that she did it too. Val tries to bluff her way out of it, saying people will just think Clem is trying to shift the blame from Ella if she tries to tell them the truth, and there is no way she is going to confess. But Uncle Dave has followed and heard everything – and so has a passing policeman! The policeman takes charge of Val. What happens to her is not revealed, but she is not seen again in the story. Val’s exposure cuts no ice with the snobby girls at the waterski club, who remain just as nasty to Clem and Ella. Ella readily forgives a very apologetic Uncle Dave.

Despite her long illness and missing the heats, Clem is determined to enter the competition and win the money for her father. Ella asks Councillor Dickens to pull some strings so Clem can enter the finals despite missing the heats. Clem realises what Ella did for her and comments on how her shy cousin has become so spunky. Ella says it was due to necessity from what followed in the wake of the accident.

Unfortunately Clem just isn’t up to scratch to win the contest and is placed third. However, a reporter learns why it was so important for Clem to win the money and publishes a newspaper article on “The Dashed Dreams of Darling Clem”. It touches the heartstrings of everyone in town – not to mention their guilty consciences over the way they wrongly blamed Ella for Clem’s accident – and cash donations begin to pour in.

Soon there is plenty of money for a cottage and Uncle Dave’s health improves once they move in. There is no room for three, but Ella says that does not matter. She is now so confident about standing on her own two feet that she moves into the new girls’ hostel. She won’t forget her relatives though, and will visit them often.

Thoughts

It is obvious from the start that we are going to have a story about an intensely shy girl who is embarking on a journey to discover her self-confidence. But the twists and turns that the journey takes are ones that could have totally destroyed the shy girl instead of helping her to grow and learn to believe in herself. After all, the ordeal Ella goes through is hardly one to boost self-confidence – being wrongly accused of deliberately putting her own cousin in hospital and people turning against her unjustly. Moreover, it’s Ella’s own relatives that have wrongly accused her, so not even her home life brings her any respite against the cloud she’s under. The only things that stop it from destroying her are the determination to win the prize money for the ailing Uncle Dave and the example Clem had set to Ella about having courage and self-confidence. Several times in this story Ella has lapses of nerve and shyness in her quest to win the competition, but all she has to do is remember Clem’s example and show “some spunk” like her.

Though she probably does not realise it, the shy Ella further develops her courage by constantly standing up to Uncle Dave in protesting her innocence. Ella also develops backbone in learning to stand up to Val. Once she sees through Val’s blackmail, she has no hesitation in telling her to get off and shoves that dirty laundry Val wanted her to clean right in her face. Oh, there are so many blackmail victims in girls’ comics that we so wish would stand up to their blackmailers like that!

Learning to water-ski also helps Ella to develop her self-confidence even further. To begin with, it motivates her to overcome a fear of water. As her water-skiing improves, it boosts her self-confidence as well. But this is the only good thing that really comes out of it for Ella. It is sad, but very realistic, that no matter how hard Ella tries, she could not get up to the standard that would enable her to win the competition. Even without her injury, Ella could never have won the competition because she was not a natural at it like Clem, much less have what it takes to be a champion that would wow the judges.

If not for Val Lester, Clem could have reached the standard that would win the championship and the prize money for Uncle Dave. But the story avoids the cliché of the protagonist rising out of her wheelchair and beating all odds to win the prize money. Instead, it has Clem more realistically lose with a noble but doomed effort because she had insufficient time to get up to the standard required. However, it leads to events that do help to raise the money, so it was not in vain after all.

Val Lester certainly is one of the slickest schemers to appear in Jinty. Whenever Clem or Ella thinks they’ve got her where they want her, Val is extremely crafty at bluffing or conning her way out of it. Even when Uncle Dave finds her out, she keeps her cool and arrogantly tries to bluff him too, saying nobody will believe even him. But even Val can’t get past the policeman (though his presence feels contrived as there is no explanation or credible reason for it). There seems to be no other reason for Val’s attack on Clem than sheer snobbery. She just does not want Clem in the club. It’s not because she’s jealous or looks on Clem as a serious rival in the competition. One can imagine the reputation the waterski club would have gotten in the wake of all their nastiness to “common scum” in their club and Val’s campaign against Clem and Ella. Perhaps someone (Jim maybe?) will take a hand in forming another waterski club in town that welcomes anyone.

Jinty was big on sports stories, and many of her sports stories had more uncommonly used sports (judo, netball, skateboarding) as well as stories on more traditional sports such as hockey, ice-skating and swimming. This story uses water-skiing, which was an extremely unusual sport to use, and examples must be rare in girls’ comics. Although “Darling Clementine” does not seem to be as well rememembered as some of Jinty’s sports stories (“Life’s a Ball for Nadine”, “Concrete Surfer”), using waterskiing as the sport does make it quite novel, as do the breaks from common cliches in girls’ comics in favour of more realism.

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Olympia Jones (1976-1977)

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Publication: Tammy 2 October 1976 to 1 January 1977

Episodes: 14

Reprint / translations: Tammy & Misty 25 April 1981 to 25 July 1981; Een paard voor Olympia [A Horse for Olympia], Tina Topstrip #31

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Anne Digby

Here we take some time out from Jinty to discuss one of Tammy’s classic and best-remembered stories, Olympia Jones. 

Plot

Olympia Jones is the daughter of an equestrian Olympic gold medallist, Captain Rupert Jones. She has been reared to follow in his footsteps and win an Olympic gold too; hence her name. Jones was reduced to animal trainer at Rott’s Circus after a riding accident disabled him and ended his show-jumping career. Jones makes such a profit for the circus because of his fame that Rott is anxious to keep him pleased. For this reason he tells his spoiled daughter Linda that he cannot exclude Olympia from her circus horse act, much to Linda’s chagrin. Linda is jealous of Olympia always being the crowd favourite in the act; this is because she has far better rapport with the horses (and animals) than Linda does.

But things change when Olympia is orphaned in a crash. Rott wastes no time in removing Olympia from Linda’s act and reducing her to animal trainer. All the same, it is Olympia’s training of the horses that makes Linda’s act so sensational and elevates Linda to star status, not any real talent on Linda’s part. A far more crippling blow for Olympia is that she is no longer able to compete in gymkhanas, so her Olympic dream seems to be over.

Then Rott buys a new horse for Linda’s act. His name is Prince and he needs special care and attention because he has been cruelly treated. Animal-loving Olympia is only too happy to provide it. Unfortunately Prince gets off to a bad start with Linda because she looks like his cruel owner, so from then on she regards him as “a bad tempered brute” and does not give him a chance. When Prince doesn’t perform for Linda the way he does for Olympia she starts beating him. And when he shows her up in front of the crowds on opening night she is so furious she gives him an extremely ferocious beating. This leaves him extremely subdued and miserable when he performs on the second night.

In the audience is Horace Phipps, an inspector from the League of Love for Animals (LOLA) who is paying a routine visit. Phipps notices how miserable Prince is, and immediately suspects what is happening. Before long he has photographed the evidence of Linda’s cruelty and confronts Rott over it. Rott covers up for Linda and saves himself from prosecution by putting the blame on Olympia, dismissing her without references, and ordering her to leave the circus.

Olympia realises Rott made a scapegoat of her to get out of trouble with LOLA, but she can do nothing to prove her innocence. However, she is not going to leave Prince with Linda Rott, so she does a midnight flit with him, leaving her antique gypsy caravan home in exchange. This exchange satisfies the Rotts (for the time being) and they think they are well rid of her and Prince. But what Rott did will come back to bite, because there is one thing he overlooked when he sacked Olympia…

Next morning Olympia secures a job as a pony trek leader at Summerlees Adventure Centre by impressing the staff so much when she saves a rider after his horse bolts. Olympia and Prince are much happier at Summerlees than they were at the circus. But Olympia strikes problems with a difficult pupil, Amanda Fry, who makes liberal use of a crop on her pony. (Ironically, Amanda’s father turns out to be the LOLA President.) Naturally, Olympia clamps down very hard on this and does her best to educate Amanda in handling her pony better. It doesn’t really sink in until Amanda’s use of the crop makes her pony bolt and she almost gets killed. After this, Amanda reforms. While galloping to Amanda’s rescue Olympia discovers Prince is a born show-jumper and has what it takes to become a champion. All of a sudden, her Olympic hopes are rising again.

With the help of the senior trek leader, Miss Carson (Carsie) Olympia begins to train Prince as a show jumper and they are soon winning some very classy events. This draws the attention of the Olympic Team Selection Committee. They ask Olympia to enter a list of qualifying events to get into the British team. Unfortunately Olympia has to enter them without Carsie’s help because Carsie suddenly has to go and nurse her ailing mother in Malta. When Summerlees closes for winter Olympia gets a farming job with one Farmer Bry, who agrees to provide transport to her events.

Olympia makes such progress that she is now making big news, which unfortunately catches the attention of the Rotts. Their circus is now suffering because Linda’s formerly sensational horse act and the animal training have deteriorated without Olympia – the thing Rott had overlooked when he sacked her. They realise Prince is now worth a fortune as an Olympic prospect and hatch a plan to make it all theirs, with LOLA doing all the dirty work for them.

So Rott goes to Phipps with his old (but not officially invalidated) ownership papers of Prince and a concocted story that Olympia stole Prince in revenge for her dismissal. He wants LOLA to get Prince back for him because he is afraid of the ‘cruel methods’ Olympia must be using to turn Prince into a champion, but does not want the police involved. Phipps promises Rott that he will intercept Olympia at her next event and get Prince back off her.

But Olympia and Prince slip through Phipps’ fingers and go on the run, which forces Phipps and the Rotts to call the police. Olympia has one last event to win to secure her place in the Olympic team. She manages it by disguising Prince, but finds the police waiting for her afterwards. She is arrested and Prince is returned to the circus (after a terrible struggle).

When the news breaks, it causes a national sensation. Amanda cannot believe it when she hears about the cruelty allegations against Olympia. Still owing Olympia for saving her life, Amanda mounts a secret vigil on Rott’s Circus, armed with a camera. So when Phipps presents his evidence of Olympia’s ‘cruelty’ at the trial, the defence counters with Amanda’s photographs of Linda Rott ill treating Prince in that manner. Linda flies into such a tantrum at being caught out that she has to be restrained by policemen, and her guilt is exposed to the court. The reactions of LOLA and the fate of the Rotts are not recorded, but of course the jury acquits Olympia – and after an extremely short deliberation, lasting barely twenty minutes.

Three days later Olympia is reunited with Prince and now has official proof of ownership. The same month (and one panel later) Olympia wins her Olympic gold. When she returns to Britain, Carsie is waiting for her. Carsie’s mother had passed over but left a house in Malta that she invites Olympia and Prince to share.

Thoughts

When Olympia Jones was first published there could be no doubt it was inspired by the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Montreal was extremely topical in Tammy’s 1976 year, probably because Bella was making a bid for it in her 1976 story. Olympia certainly had more luck at the Olympics than Bella, who had to settle for participating in the opening ceremony after being denied the chance to compete. Olympia Jones does not specifically refer to Montreal or any other particular Olympic Games, so it does not become dated as the 1976 Bella story would.

In terms of plotting Olympia is far superior to the 1976 Bella story, which turned into a rather silly plot line of Bella getting lost on the Continent while striving to reach the Games she can’t even compete in – and all without her passport! In contrast, Olympia has a strong, tightly plotted and well-paced storyline (except for the final episode, which feels a bit crammed), and strong characters whose ambitions, faults and personalities drive the plot in an exciting, dramatic manner.

Olympia was so popular that she was brought back by popular demand in 1981. Olympia also makes some humorous cameo appearances in Wee Sue’s special story commemorating Tammy’s 10th birthday issue, which is further proof of what a classic she had become.

The story has so much to make it so popular. First, it is a horse story, and horse stories are always a huge draw for readers. While not a Cinderella story as such, fairy tale elements are evident. Although there is no family relationship between Olympia and Linda, the relationship they share reads like the formula of “The Two Stepsisters” (one good, exploited stepsister, one bad, spoilt stepsister). The wicked stepmother (replaced by Mr Rott) ill-treats the good stepdaughter (Olympia) and spoils her bad daughter (Linda). But as in the fairy tale, it is the spoilt ways of the bad stepdaughter that are her undoing and that of her over-indulgent parent. The good stepdaughter is rewarded with gold (the medal?) and a royal.

The contrast between Olympia and Linda, particularly in their attitudes to animals, is what really sets up the foundation for the story to follow. Much of Linda’s bad character is rooted in her upbringing. Her mother is absent and her father has spoiled her. And he is definitely not a savoury role model for his daughter. He is forced to tolerate Olympia in Linda’s act while Mr Jones is present, but has no compunction in dropping her once Mr Jones is dead, just to indulge his daughter. Although cruelty has not erupted in his circus before and he does not seem to mistreat his animals, he does not reprimand Linda for her cruelty to Prince. His anger towards her is over nearly getting him into trouble with LOLA. And he is virtually the cackling, twirling-moustached villain as he drives to LOLA to put their conspiracy against Olympia into operation.

And there is the jealousy Linda has always harboured towards Olympia. The jealousy does not abate even after Olympia was removed from Linda’s act, and it must have been inflamed when Linda heard Olympia was becoming famous as an Olympic prospect while her circus act had deteriorated. Linda’s jealousy was what motivated her to hatch the conspiracy against Olympia. It must have also been a huge factor in why Linda hated Prince so much, as he was Olympia’s favourite horse, and why Linda did not listen to Olympia’s advice on how to handle him. If she had, things would have gone better between her and Prince. Compounding Linda’s jealousy is her arrogance; all she cares about is being a star and she just has to show off in the ring. As a result, Olympia and Prince put her nose so badly out of joint that they could never work well together.

Third is Olympia’s struggle to fulfil her father’s dream after fate seems to dash her hopes and reduce her to exploitation at the circus. Although her hopes rise again at Summerlees she still has to face difficulties, such as finding a job when Summerlees closes for the winter and ends up slogging under Farmer Bry. Although he does not exploit her he is a bit on the hard side and gets ideas about turning her into a money-spinner for him.

When the injustice angle is introduced it further adds to the development and interest of the story, because it has left plot threads that readers know will be taken up later. They would carry on reading to see how these threads get tied up. The way in which they do so creates the true drama of the story. Instead of some clichéd contrivance of Olympia being suddenly cleared at the end, the injustice thread is developed into the Rotts’ conspiracy against Olympia. The unfolding conspiracy, arrest and upcoming trial are even more riveting than Olympia battle against the odds to win the Olympic gold. The odds look even more stacked up against Olympia here because she has no case at all to prove in court. Everything weighs in favour of the Rotts and it all seems hopeless to Olympia. But readers might have got a clue as to what will save Olympia if they saw the sign outside Phipps’ office, which says Lord Fry is the president of LOLA…

Comparison between Linda and Amanda also adds interest to the story. Both girls are guilty of horse beating because they are spoiled and harbour unhealthy attitudes towards the treatment of animals. In Amanda’s case it is quite surprising as her father is the president of LOLA. Is he aware of how she treats her pony? However, unlike Linda, Amanda listens to Olympia. It is helpful that in this case Olympia is in a position of authority and there is no bad blood with Amanda, as there was with Linda. All the same, it takes the shock of the near-accident caused by her own cruelty to really turn Amanda around. Amanda ultimately redeems herself by bringing down the other horse-beater in the story, for whom there is no redemption. You have to love the irony.

One quibble is that so much is packed into the final episode that several things get short shrift. We don’t see LOLA’s reaction to the new evidence or what happens to the Rotts in the end. We can only assume the scandal destroyed their already-ailing circus, they faced criminal charges, and Rott would never forgive his spoilt daughter. Only one panel is devoted to winning the medal that Olympia had been striving for throughout her story. It would have been better pacing to spread the resolution over two episodes, or even just add an extra page in the final episode. But perhaps the editor would not have allowed it. Another quibble is that the courtroom dress in the trial scene is not drawn correctly; some more research could have been done there.

The artwork of Eduardo Feito also lends the popularity of Olympia Jones. Feito was brilliant at drawing horse stories, which made him a very popular choice in Tammy for illustrating them. The proportion of horse stories drawn by Feito in Tammy is very high, even higher than other regular artists in Tammy. Feito’s Tammy horse stories include “Halves in a Horse”, “Rona Rides Again”, “Those Jumps Ahead of Jaki”, “Odds on Patsy”, and “A Horse Called September”, the last of which reunites the Digby/Feito team. It would be very interesting to know if any of these other horse stories also used the same team. It would not be surprising.

Toni on Trial (1979-1980)

Sample Images

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Publication: 1 December 1979-19 April 1980

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Toni Carr is a promising runner. When her parents are killed in a crash, she is sent to live with her maternal grandparents, the Halls, in Millcastle. Toni is surprised to learn about them, for her late mother never mentioned them before. She is told that her mother ran away from home when she was sixteen.

Sounds like a skeleton in Mum’s closet? Oh yes, and it starts rattling when Toni is even more surprised to find a photo of her mother wearing a sports medal in an album; she had never known her mother to be athletic too. She is further surprised – and in a most unpleasant manner – when Granddad rips up the photograph, saying he thought they’d got rid of Mum’s sports photos.

Toni discovers the sports club on the side of town that looks wealthier than where her grandparents live. There she shows promise at the trials for the junior team. But the sports coach, Miss Adela Rogers, is nasty to Toni once she realises she realises who her mother was. She tells Toni that her mother was a thief, and that was why she ran away.

When Toni confronts her grandmother, she is shown a newspaper article that says her mother stole a sports trophy out of spite because she lost it to another girl (later revealed to be Adela Rogers) in a race. The ensuing scandal was so bad that Mum ran away and gave up the athletics she had shown so much promise at. The grandparents were also forced to move to the poorer part of town where they still live today after Granddad lost his job defending his daughter. But even they doubt her innocence. Toni refuses to believe her mother was a thief and resolves to get to the truth.

Toni has shown so much promise at her trials that Olympic champion Sharon Peters wants her in the team. But Toni is finding that her mother’s disgrace is now threatening her own career. Granddad is opposed to Toni pursuing sports because of the trophy scandal and only agrees begrudgingly. But neither he nor grandma will give Toni any support or encouragement. And Miss Rogers only agrees to put Toni on trial until she proves her character, but is always out to bully her because of her mother. This does not make Toni popular with the other athletes, and Toni ends up banned from the club and having to train on the old track her mother once used.

Worse still, Toni makes an enemy on the team in the form of Julie. Julie and her crony Patti start playing tricks on Toni. Toni makes some headway in the trials despite the dirty tricks, hostility from her mother’s shame, and Miss Rogers banning her from the club because of it all. Toni eventually realises an enemy is sabotaging her, but thinks it is Miss Rogers.

Eventually the misery from her mother’s disgrace gets too much for Toni and she runs off in tears. This leads to her saving a child and she becomes a local heroine, which should ease the trouble from her mother’s disgrace. But Toni is so badly affected by it and her unknown enemy that she gives up athletics. Sharon arranges a special event with handicapped athletes to change Toni’s mind.

Toni does, but is dismayed to find her club is about to compete for the very same trophy her mother was accused of stealing. And when she does win it, her grandparents ban her from the presentation party because that was when her mother was branded a thief after the trophy was found in her bag. Toni goes anyway, but the old trouble is hanging over the party. However, Toni meets Sharon’s sister, Mrs Collins, who was her mother’s best friend. Mrs Collins says she does not believe the mother stole the trophy either. She would have helped the mother prove her innocence and knows something that might help.

But Mrs Collins is interrupted when a real thief steals the trophies. Toni manages to stop him. However, her only reward in the paper is the headline “Brave Athlete Saves Cup Her Mother Stole!”

Toni meets Mrs Collins again, who explains that Miss Rogers hated her mother because she was jealous. After she beat Toni’s mother, Mrs Collins overheard a row between them. The quarrel was over a rule Adela broke when she won the trophy; Toni’s mother told her to own up but Adela refused, saying it was a silly rule. Mrs Collins is sure the quarrel is connected with the trophy theft, but her mother never explained what it was about.

Later, Miss Rogers bans Patti from an event because she broke the no-drugs rule for taking hay fever medication. Recalling that Miss Rogers also gets hay fever, Toni sees parallels with the quarrel Mrs Collins overheard. She now suspects that Miss Rogers is behind everything, but has no proof.

Things come to a head when Miss Rogers steals some belongings and plants them in Toni’s bag. But Patti sees this and backs Toni up when she accuses Miss Rogers of it. At this, Julie makes an angry outburst at Patti that gives her away as Toni’s enemy.

Cornered, Miss Rogers confesses that she planted the trophy on Toni’s mother because she thought she was going to report her for the same thing as Patti. Later she discovered she had been mistaken, but by then things had gone too far and she was too scared to confess. She is compelled to resign as club coach and leaves in tears. Afterwards, Julie is told to mend her ways if she is to stay in the club.

Toni’s trial period is now over and she becomes a lifelong member of the club. Now the mother has been cleared, the grandparents back Toni’s athletics all the way. Toni is soon on her way to London for the English team try-outs.

Jinty 1 December 1979

Thoughts

This story is something of a milestone for three reasons. First, it is the last story Terry Aspin drew for Jinty. After a run of Jinty serials that began with “Curtain of Silence” and included the classics “Alice in a Strange Land”, “Almost Human” and “Cathy’s Casebook”, Aspin ends his Jinty run with Toni.

The same goes for Jim Baikie, who ends his own Jinty run with the other sports story to start in the same issue, “White Water”. Is this a coincidence, or does it say something about what is going behind the scenes of Jinty? It is known that Mavis Miller left about this period and things were not quite the same again with Jinty under the new editor.

Second, “Toni on Trial” and “White Water” begin Jinty’s sports pages section and banner to match. Although sports stories had been strong in Jinty since 1977, the sports pages section marks a whole new emphasis on sport in Jinty that would be further underlined by Mario Capaldi’s sports covers starting in mid 1980 and Benita Brown’s “Winning Ways” tips for winning sports.

Third, Toni on Trial is the last Jinty story to feature the theme of injustice from a wrongful charge. The topic had been in Jinty from her first issue with her longest-running serial, “Merry at Misery House”, where Merry Summers is sent to a cruel reformatory after being wrongly convicted of theft (the exact details of which were never explained). After Merry ended, Jinty didn’t use the theme much. Stories that did feature it were infrequent (“Paula’s Puppets”, “Slaves of the Candle” and “Waves of Fear” were ones that did) and after Toni, the theme disappeared altogether.

Toni on Trial is not quite one of Jinty’s classics. The formula – quest to prove someone’s innocence, frame ups, jealous rivals, difficult guardians interfering with a girl’s dream – is a bit standard and does not have the innovation that made a lot of the Jinty classics that Aspin drew what they are.

However, while the formula may be an oldie it is still a goodie, and makes the story a solid one and far from average. It’s also a mystery story, which is always popular in girls’ comics. The fact that it’s not just the whole town believing Toni’s mother is a thief but even her own parents doubt her gives the story an extra edge. This has some parallels with “Waves of Fear”, where even the parents turn against their own daughter after she is branded (a coward in her case), becomes the outcast of the town, and is eventually driven to running away before it is established that she was wrongly accused. And both stories appeared at the same time, so there may be some overlap in the writing.

What’s even more angst is that for the most part, Toni has to battle alone to prove her mother’s innocence. Although Anne and Sharon refuse to tar Toni with the ‘sins of the mother’ that everyone else in town does, they are not part of Toni’s drive to clear her mother. There are no allies to help Toni, and nobody to talk it over with. It’s not until near the end of the story that the person who can really help Toni finally turns up. This is not unusual in stories where the heroine sets out to clear somebody’s name. But the fact that even your own relatives won’t help because they don’t really believe it’s an injustice makes it more disturbing than the more usual case where the relatives do believe it, but can’t or won’t do anything to help. Maybe it’s to do with the town itself and the way it has reacted to the whole affair. It is still green in everyone’s mind, even after all these years, and people are so ready to attack Toni because of it, just because of who her mother was. Nowhere is this more apparent – and cruel – than the headline “Brave Athlete Saves Cup Her Mother Stole!” All right, so maybe Miss Rogers had a hand in it, but what a way for the press to treat a girl who should be honoured for her bravery! You have to wonder what kind of people the people of Millcastle are if they publish headlines like that. One should jolly well hope the town came out with some jolly good apologising to Toni and her grandparents once Miss Rogers had confessed.

Merry at Misery House (1974-1975)

Sample images

Merry at Misery House final 1

 

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Merry at Misery House final 2

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Merry at Misery House final 3

Publication: 11/5/74-30/8/75
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