Tag Archives: John Armstrong

Bella at the Bar (1974) – first Bella Barlow story

Sample Images

bella-1bella-2bella-3

Published: Tammy 22 June 1974 – 7 September 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Jenny McDade

Translations/reprints: Bella’s Book of Gymnastics 1981 as Bella – the Beginning

Plot

Orphan Bella Barlow lives with her Uncle Jed and Aunt Gert, who abuse and exploit her. Their exploitation is motivated by laziness, tight-fistedness, greed, and squandering their money on gambling (bingo, dog racing), and in Jed’s case, drinking. Their background must come into it as well as they are low working class people who don’t look very far above the poverty line and they live in a very seedy house. They make Bella do all the housework, the cooking (while making her eat separate, substandard food and often starve her altogether), and make her a slave at Uncle Jed’s window cleaning business. They never pay her anything, making the excuse that her board and keep are the payment. They keep her away from school and are not above beating her. And if they see any way to make money out of Bella they will seize upon it.

Bella lives for gymnastics and has rigged up makeshift apparatus in the back yard (probably cobbled together from the scrap Jed collects). She uses every spare moment she can to work on it. Oddly, Jed and Gert do not interfere with her makeshift apparatus although they disapprove of her “wasting time” on it instead of working.

While working at the window cleaning, Bella comes across a gymnastics class at a school and immediately wants to be part of it. The teacher, Miss Mortimer, is happy to have Bella, especially after she helps a pupil in trouble.

However, there are two problems. First, grasping Uncle Jed won’t give permission because there is no money in it. Second, the school is an exclusive one and the snobby headmistress would not allow a “guttersnipe” like Bella into the classes. So although it would put her job at risk, Miss Mortimer decides to coach Bella in secret out of school hours because Bella is so talented. Meanwhile, Bella gets around Jed by tricking him into thinking she is getting money from the gymnastics by taking a secret car washing job (and the employer later exploits her too, with blackmail). When Jed and Gert hear that Bella could be good enough to compete internationally, they (mistakenly) think there could be big money in it for them. So they allow the classes and Bella to practise at home, and they start treating her kindly, with proper feeding and not lumbering her with so much work.

Soon Bella is making such progress that Miss Mortimer enters her in a competition for experience. Unfortunately at this moment the snobby headmistress finds out about Miss Mortimer secretly coaching Bella. Bella has to go or Miss Mortimer gets the sack, so it’s the end of Bella’s coaching with Miss Mortimer.

Bella keeps this secret from Jed and Gert, otherwise it will be back to the old drudgery with renewed vengeance. She lets them go on thinking things are just carrying on. She finds ways to keep up her exercises but has to go into the competition without proper coaching for it or even really knowing what she is supposed to be doing. Despite the difficulties and no win, Bella makes a respectable impression on officials, who say she could go far with more experience. Bella also makes some contacts among the other competitors, who go to the gym class run by Mr Benson, head of the sports centre. Mr Benson has also noticed Bella and offers her a place in his own gymnastics class. Jed declines as he still thinks Miss Mortimer is coaching Bella, and is not willing to pay the fee either. Bella has to put up money from her secret work (now a babysitting job) to pay the fee and join Mr Benson’s gym club.

Jed gets impatient about Bella’s gymnastics not bringing him money and means to see Miss Mortimer about getting Bella into winning competitions and being a money spinner. Bella tries to stop him seeing Miss Mortimer and find out everything, but fails. The Barlows are furious to discover their mistaken assumption that Bella’s gymnastics would make them money. It’s back to the old mistreatment. Worse, Bella’s confidence in her gymnastics has taken a knock because she is now under the impression she does not have what it takes to become a top gymnast.

While the Barlows are out the girls from Mr Benson’s class drop by and persuade Bella to come to class, which restores her confidence. She does so well that Mr Benson chooses her to take part in a gymnastics display for charity. Much to Bella’s surprise, Gert agrees to it. Bella realises there must be an underhand reason for it, but decides to concentrate on the show.

After the display Bella receives encouragement from Mr Benson that she could become good enough to compete for England. However, the Barlows do not allow her to continue with Mr Benson. They only allowed her to perform in the show in the hope that their friend, Murton Stone, the owner of “The Strolling Stones” seaside theatrical show, would take her on for gymnastics acts in his show. Stone agrees to it, and Bella reluctantly decides to go along with it because she thinks it would enable her to keep up gymnastics.

In terms of proper treatment, Bella soon finds she isn’t much better off at The Strolling Stones. The Stones are as stonyhearted as their names suggest. In fact, the Stones tell their spoiled daughter Amelia to make as much use of Bella as she likes. Amelia seizes upon with this with alacrity because she hates Bella. On top of the exploitation and bullying from Amelia, Bella finds that Stone himself exceeds even Uncle Jed for slave-driving her.

When it comes to the gymnastics acts Stone strips away all the dance elements in Bella’s floor routines when Amelia protests that she is the dancer of the show (which she doesn’t have much talent for). He tells Bella to stick exclusively to the acrobatic elements in her gymnastics performances, which are to be spiced up to the max and look as spectacular as possible. Before long Bella notices her body is acting up after the performances, but fails to realise it is a danger signal. She puts up with the Stones’ mistreatment because she thinks the show is the only way to keep up gymnastics and it is better than nothing at all.

But Bella soon finds out otherwise when Mr Benson catches up with her at the seaside show. When he sees the souped-up acrobatics in Bella’s act he tells her to stop immediately, because they are both improper gymnastics and damaging to her body. When Bella tries to tell him why she can’t stop, he misunderstands and does not give her a chance to fully explain. He thinks she is putting money over her wellbeing and leaves in disgust.

By now Bella’s body is well and truly telling her how right Mr Benson is. She realises she must get out fast. But if she simply leaves, Jed and Gert will just send her back. So she tries to get the sack by putting on bad performances. Unfortunately it backfires, and as a result Bella finds herself forced into humiliating burlesque gymnastics acts and being an abused clown sidekick in Amelia’s dancing routine.

In the end Bella simply runs away from the Stones and heads home. When she arrives she finds Jed and Gert have gone away on a two-week holiday (no doubt by using the money they made from the Stones’ exploitation of her). This proves fortunate because it gives Bella freedom to pursue gymnastics and make her own money without hindrance.

Unfortunately her misunderstandings with Mr Benson are making him think she is unreliable and irresponsible. He allows her to return, but Bella gets the impression he will expel her if she does not overcome her difficulties in getting to classes. Moreover, her gymnastics have deteriorated because of the seaside show abuse and she has to make extra efforts to get back into shape.

Then child welfare discover Bella is living on her own and insist on putting her in a children’s home. Bella does not like the prison-like home, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the unpleasant staff. Moreover, she is desperately worried that their interference will make her miss her next gym class.

So Bella just runs off to get there. But on the way she helps out at a road accident, which leaves her badly injured and she is hospitalised. She missed her gym class and now fears she is out of Mr Benson’s class for good. However, it turns out the men she helped at the accident were big Russian officials. They reward her with a place at a top Russian gymnastics school.

Thoughts

This is one of the most pivotal girls’ serials ever because it changed the course of girls’ comics history. Bella, who started out as just another serial in her first story here, proved so popular that she went on to become a regular in Tammy who held a joint record with Molly Mills for Tammy’s longest-running character (10 years each). Bella Barlow remains one of the most beloved and best-remembered characters ever in girls’ comics. She also changed the course of the career of her artist, John Armstrong, and he himself modelled her on his own niece.

However, the subsequent history of Bella and her sequels will be excluded from this discussion. It will concentrate on the first story itself.

One thing that would have made the first Bella story so popular is that it is firmly rooted in the Cinderella formula that had been in Tammy from issue one. It would remain frequent in Tammy until the late 1970s. It is atypical in that there is no wicked stepsister figure, but then it is difficult to imagine the wicked stepsister figure fitting into the Barlow household. After all, the Barlows squander so much money on what they do raise that they could hardly afford to spoil a wicked stepsister. The nearest we get to the wicked stepsister is Amelia Stone, but she is not part of the Barlow household.

Bella is set in the Tammy tradition of abused heroines who endure countless trials, torments and setbacks of all sorts before the happy ending. From the start she encounters obstacles and people that not only hinder her ambition to be a gymnast but also mistreat her at every turn. Bella has problems even with the people who do help her (Miss Mortimer, Mr Benson) until she meets the Russian officials. And readers would have lapped it up. They just loved the stories of ill-used heroines being forced through tribulations and tortures of all descriptions.

The abuse and hindrance Bella suffers at the hands of the Barlows stems from both their personalities and their working class background. They don’t live well and Jed is unlikely to make much money from his window cleaning business. All the same, they would be living better than they do if they used their money more sensibly and did not squander it on gambling and booze. They would also do a whole lot better if they worked more, but they are too lazy and selfish to do so. The only thing they work hard at is finding ways to make money any way they can, especially by wringing it out of Bella.

Bella’s move to the seaside show is no escape from exploitation and abuse either. The hindrance it gives to Bella’s gymnastics is even more of a threat than the Barlows because Bella is incapable of recognising it as such. She thinks that it at least is enabling her to do gymnastics. She does not realise the stunts Stone is forcing her to do are actually detrimental to both her gymnastics and her body until Mr Benson informs her.

When we first meet Bella we are impressed at what a perky figure she is despite all the abuse she suffers at home. We have to wonder how she does it. And from the first, her determination to pursue gymnastics despite all her difficulties really shines through. She has an unusual companion in the form of her bucket, which is a rather cute element. However, the bucket does not last long as a helper and not referred to as such again.

As is the case with so many of Tammy’s Cinderella stories, Bella has only one thing that makes her miserable life worthwhile and could be her ticket out of her misery if she keeps it up despite everything. In this case it is gymnastics.

The gymnastics themselves would have helped to popularise the story. The serial came out at a time when Olga Korbut was creating huge publicity for the sport. Tammy had run one other gymnastics story, “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” in 1972, but it was Bella who caused gymnastics to really take off in Tammy and made gymnastics one of the most central features in Tammy right to the end of her life. Moreover, the gymnastics are all brought to life through the brilliant rendering of John Armstrong. Nobody in girls’ comics has ever matched Armstrong for drawing gymnastics. He drew the gymnastics in a realistic, fluid, anatomical style that would have had readers crying out for more. There can be no doubt that the choice of artist was one of the biggest factors in making the first Bella story so popular.

The plotting is well structured and the pace strong and tight, with no meandering or padding just to spin it out. One puzzling thing comes right at the end, when the Russian officials say they have found out about Bella’s miserable home life. How did they manage to find that out, especially as the Barlows must still be away? It sounds a bit pat and contrived there.

It is not hard to see why the first Bella story was so popular. It was a strong, well-written story that was based on established formulas that had long guaranteed popularity in Tammy, and it was filled with lots of emotion and drama and strong, convincing characters. Rather than the more hackneyed ballet or horse riding the story used a sport that had only recently been spotlighted and popularised, which would have been quite refreshing. And the choice of artist to bring the gymnastics to life could not have been bettered and would have left readers hankering to see more of it.

But just what was it that made the first Bella story so popular that readers were writing in demanding a sequel as soon as her first story finished? What made Bella so different to the other Cinderella stories that had gone before and after her that enabled her to spawn a sequel and then more sequels? Finding the answers would probably spin a thread of speculation a mile long. Certainly the final panel helped. It had a slightly open ending, which left scope and even a hint for a possible sequel. Perhaps Tammy planned it that way. The editor would have seen the popularity of Bella and did not want to close the door on her altogether, just in case. Well, if that was the editor’s intention, the rest is history.

Tammy’s 5th Birthday Issue 7 February 1976

tammy-cover-7-february-1976

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Sarah in the Shadows – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Return of the Silver Mare – Strange Story (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Lights Out for Lucinda – last episode (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and the Aviator – first episode (artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • A Monumental Detective – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
  • Wee Sue (artist John Richardson)
  • A Lead Through Twilight – first episode (artist Douglas Perry)

It is now 46 years since Tammy was first launched, on 6 February 1971. The first Tammy and Tammy’s 10th birthday issue have already been covered on this blog, so we will commemorate the anniversary with Tammy’s 5th birthday issue.

The Cover Girls are the first to honour the occasion, in their usual humorous style. Let’s hope they managed to sort out that little glitch with the birthday cake. Or maybe the Tammy team saw the funny side, just as the readers did.

As soon as we open the cover we see the first of Tammy’s “birthday gifts” to us, which is the first episode of “Sarah in the Shadows”. Tammy is celebrating her 5th with five new stories, two of which start this week, two next week, and the fifth the week after that. In Victorian times Sarah is thrown out into the street after her unfortunate uncle is thrown into debtor’s prison. All she has to survive on is her gift for paper cutouts and shadow play. The other birthday gift story, “A Lead Through Twilight”, is the last story in the issue (talk about bookends!). Carol Trent is losing her sight but won’t speak up about it or seek treatment because she is terrified her sourpuss uncle will send her away. But can she seriously expect to get away with hiding the fact that she’s going blind? And if the uncle finds out, will he do what Carol fears? Carol befriends a dog, Twilight, who could be her guide dog, but there is a definite mystery about him.

The birthday gift stories starting in the next issue are “The Fairground of Fear” (Diane Gabbot’s first serial for Tammy) and “Sit It Out, Sheri” (which will give John Armstrong a change from Bella). To make way for them, “Lights Out for Lucinda” is being finished off with a double episode. Lucinda has discovered the reason for the bizarre town of Blackmarket where everyone is being drugged into thinking it is still World War II and being forced to live that way. This peculiar ruse is all so the commander can provide a cheap workforce that are being paid 1940s rates instead of modern ones – to none other than Lucinda’s father! Fortunately for Lucinda it turns out he was a dupe and then a victim of blackmail before he finally manages to help put things right.

The last “birthday gift” story, starting 21 February, is a Hugh Thornton-Jones story, “Claire’s Airs and Graces”. Claire pretends to come from a posh background because of the snobby girls at her new school. This was the only Thornton-Jones serial in Tammy; his artwork was otherwise confined to Wee Sue episodes and Strange Stories.

It looks like the Storyteller is celebrating too because he is presenting two Strange Stories this week. Molly apparently is celebrating with a new story, but the title really should say “aviatrix”, not “aviator”. Although Bessie’s caption says “Bessie celebrates our birthday in her own special way”, her story has no bearing whatsoever on the celebrations or even on birthdays. She’s trying to help catch bank robbers but has forgotten the licence plate number of their vehicle. The police are trying to jog her memory but of course she is more interested in eating. Wee Sue’s story also has nothing to do with the celebrations. It’s all hijinks when Miss Bigger gets herself locked in a ball-and-chain because she disregarded a “do not touch” sign: “I’m a teacher. It doesn’t apply to teachers.” Silly woman!

Of course there is a competition to mark the occasion too, but this won’t be until next week.

No-One Cheers for Norah (1972)

Sample Images

noone-cheers-for-norah-2anoone-cheers-for-norah-2bno-one-cheers-for-norah-2-002

“No-One Cheers for Norah” was one of Sandie’s very first stories. It is going to be discussed here because it has been mentioned in several Jinty blog entries as sharing parallels with Jinty’s “Toni on Trial”. There has been speculation it was the same writer. A promising athlete (or swimmer in Norah’s case) finds her career under threat from an old theft charge that was levelled at her mother/father.

When examining this story I also noticed it shares parallels with “Tricia’s Tragedy”, so it could be the same writer here too.

Published: Sandie #1, 12 February 1972 – #12, 29 April 1972

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Norah Day is a keen swimmer, but her widowed father is so poor they are driven to training her in the canal. Nonetheless she has managed to win one trophy.

Dad falls ill and Norah is sent to stay at rich Uncle Phillip’s while he’s in hospital. Straight off the mark though, her relatives treat her like a piece of dirt. They call her a “slum kid”, a disgrace to the family, and they don’t let the neighbours even see her. Cousin Lorna says she doesn’t want her friends to know Norah is her cousin. They make her sleep in a shabby attic when they could easily give her a nice room. At mealtimes they won’t let her share the table with them and she has to eat separately. They see her as being more useful as a servant. In fact, that is what they lead Mrs Maddox, the president of the Dolphins Swimming Club that Lorna is a member of, to believe – that Norah is their new help. Lorna even throws Norah’s newly won trophy out the car window!

When Norah tries to join the Dolphins Swimming Club too, Lorna rips up Norah’s swimsuit and tells her to get out of the club. The relatives are making it loud and clear that they are not going to let Norah keep up her swimming, especially as it could pose a threat to Lorna’s swimming career. Swimming club President Mrs Maddox says she wants Lorna to win the club championship again and she thinks Lorna is now ready for bigger things. Besides, there are the swimming club fees Norah can’t afford and of course her horrible relatives won’t cover them.

Determined to keep up her swimming, Norah turns to swimming in the park lake. Eventually Mrs Maddox notices Norah and offers her a free place, but she has to go through a trial, which Norah wins despite a number of faults in her swimming. They decide the faults can be corrected with proper training, and on the whole Norah has potential as a swimmer. They agree to let Norah compete in the championship finals. Lorna realises how big a danger her cousin is. She still lets Mrs Maddox think Norah’s the family servant and enrols her at the club under a false name. The other club members are snobby and look down on Norah too, and the committee is quite snobby towards her as well. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox senses that Norah reminds her of someone, but can’t quite place it.

When the news gets back home, the family predictably treat Norah worse than ever. However, Mrs Maddox eventually discovers how badly they are treating Norah, and how they have led people to believe she is their servant because they were too snobby to let them know the truth. Mrs Maddox is the most important person in town, so being shown up in front of her is extra-humiliating for the nasty relatives.

Poor Norah still has to wait upon her snooty relatives, though. And they still pose a threat to her swimming: Uncle Phillip says he has to tell Mrs Maddox who Norah really is because of the difficult position Norah has put them in. Meanwhile, Mrs Maddox begins coaching to correct Norah’s swimming faults and she begins to improve.

But then Uncle Phillip tells Mrs Maddox what he had been planning to tell her, and making the excuse it was the reason they had put up the story Norah was their servant. Whatever it is, it has Mrs Maddox deeply shocked and telling Norah it is best they don’t meet again. Norah has no idea what it is about. When she confronts Lorna, Lorna says her father was a crook who served jail time. Norah thinks Uncle has been telling Mrs Maddox a pack of lies. Lorna picks a fight with Norah, which Uncle and Aunt blame Norah for. He says he’s not keeping Norah in the house any longer and sends her to his clothing factory in Claydon, where he instructs his manager to give her all the worst jobs.

Norah goes to see Mrs Maddox, who says the story is true. Norah’s father was once the secretary of the club, but was sent to jail for stealing a sum of £480 from the club twenty years ago. Realising Norah is not like her father (as Uncle said), Mrs Maddox resumes Norah’s training. She is going to put Norah in the Dolphins team and get the English selectors to take a look at her. This is something Norah’s father always wanted as his imprisonment robbed him of that chance, but he can now fulfil it through Norah.

Norah goes to see her father. Dad’s condition has worsened, and the only thing keeping him going is the hope Norah will be selected for England. His thought bubbles reveal he is innocent of the charge that sent him to prison. So who is guilty?

After visiting her father Norah can’t go back to her uncle’s, so she sleeps in her dad’s house. But then new tenants move in. Norah has no choice but to go back to her uncle’s – only to be thrown right out of the house. They figure a night of roughing it in bad weather will make Norah unfit for the selections. Norah sneaks into her uncle’s factory to spend the night there.

While looking for food Norah comes across an old document, which reveals Uncle Phillip set up his business with a down payment of £480. This is the exact amount Norah’s father was accused of stealing, and the date of the down payment corresponds with the time the money was stolen. Norah recalls that Uncle Phillip used to bear a physical resemblance to Dad. Then she puts two and two together.

Uncle Phillip now catches her in the act and she confronts him over what she has deduced: he stole the money and left Dad to carry the can over it when (presumably) they mistook Uncle Phillip for Dad because of the physical resemblance. When she tries to run for it he knocks her out and locks her in the cellar (at least with some food and water). Norah escapes through a drain, but has to swim for her life against a torrent of dye waste being released from the factory. By the time she arrives at the baths she is bright purple!

Norah tells Mrs Maddox what happened and what she has discovered about Uncle Phillip, flourishing the document she still has (and has somehow survived the dye bath). She also begs to be allowed to compete for her father’s sake. Mrs Maddox says they will sort out the theft business later, and tells Norah she can compete. Everyone knows this is going to be tough because they know Norah is exhausted from that dye bath swim and Lorna won’t give an inch. And the Dolphins club girls are still unfriendly to Norah. As the race unfolds, however, cheers are heard for Norah as people see how well she is swimming despite everything. Norah’s determination, lust for revenge, and amended swimming faults are outweighing her tiredness. She wins against Lorna and is selected for England.

Afterwards, Mrs Maddox tells Norah her uncle just slunk off and the guilty look on his face told her all she needed to know. Mrs Maddox then tells Lorna to pack up and leave the Dolphins Club: “there’s not very much to be said for you either!” Lorna is roundly booed as she goes, for word has been around. Soon after, Lorna and her parents move away in shame.

Mr Day recovers and is eager to start a new life now that his name has been cleared. This includes marrying Mrs Maddox, and Norah welcomes her as a stepmother. Six weeks later, Norah wins her first race for England.

Thoughts

These will be discussed in context of the parallels with “Toni on Trial” and “Tricia’s Tragedy”. There certainly is a parallel with Toni in that a wrongful charge of stealing from a sports club was levelled at the protagonist’s parent years before and is threatening her own sports career. However, the wrongful charge is a much more powerful plot driver in Toni than in Norah. In Toni it’s established by part three and casts a cloud over the protagonist that just won’t go away because the townsfolk just won’t forget and the real culprit keeps fuelling it. So Toni is anxious to get to the bottom of it all for her own sake as well as clearing her mother’s name. In Norah the wrongful charge is not even revealed until nearly two thirds of the way through the story, and it’s only done so because Uncle Phillip believes it’s the only way to neutralise the threat Norah poses to Lorna. Even after it’s established, clearing the parent is not a priority. It only happens by sheer luck in Norah finding the document, drawing the right conclusions, and Mrs Maddox believing her. The wrongful charge and exoneration serve more as part of the plot resolution and punishing the unpleasant relatives than driving the plot as they do in Toni. The story format is more like a Cinderella story than an “exoneration” story, as was the case with Toni.

The parallels with Tricia are much stronger. First, both stories feature swimming. Second, a rogue uncle is responsible for a wrongful accusation against the protagonist’s father, which has driven him and his family deep into poverty while the rogue uncle’s family have grown richer and cruel to them because of it. Third, in both Norah and Tricia the protagonists can’t afford to train at the baths so they have to resort to a quarry pool (Tricia) or a canal or lake (Norah). Fourth, divisions between rich and poor have created further rifts between the poor protagonist and her unpleasant rich relations, who just rubbish her and her family. But the nasty relatives are not content with this and try to ruin the protagonist even more to stop her triumphing over their daughter at an important swimming match. In the case of Tricia it’s to stop her inheriting money from her grandfather. In Norah, it’s because they’re so snobby they don’t even want people to know she is family. Fifth, in both Norah and Tricia the unpleasant relatives take advantage to bully the protagonist, turn her into a slave, and pull all sorts of nasty tricks to stop her beating the cousin in the swimming match. Finally, in Norah and Tricia it all culminates in the swimming match where everything is at stake and it’s a battle for revenge. And once the truth is established, both the unpleasant cousins in Norah and Tricia are roundly booed off and soon move away in shame with their parents.

Jinty and Penny 6 September 1980

cover-19800906

Stories in this issue:

(Cover artist: Mario Capaldi)

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist and Veronica Weir) – first episode
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • The Swim For Life: A Jinty and Penny Special Story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Unscheduled Stop – Gypsy Rose story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Mork ‘n’ Mindy: Behind The Screen (Feature)
  • A Spell Of Trouble (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend) – first episode

Many thanks to Derek Marsden for the copy of this issue, which he kindly sent on to me.

Pam is on a roll – her ‘witch ball’ brings her luck or so she thinks, and indeed it seems to be the case. By returning it to its rightful owner, her school benefits from help to go on a school trip to France (which leads us on to a whole other set of stories).

“Girl The World Forgot” starts this issue. Initially it looks like an adventure story with a castaway plot, but later on it turns spooky. It is beautifully drawn by Veronica Weir, and through a comment on this blog we found out that it was also written by her too – one of only a very few cases where we know the artist and writer were the same person.

Kathy Clowne is bullied by Sandra Simkins, as so often in her time at school. This time Sandra paints Kathy’s face in greasepaint to make her up in clownface. Not realizing that this has happened, Kathy snaps when a teacher comments ‘What have you done to your face?’ and of course a punishment now looms – even though really it is all Sandra’s fault.

“The Swim For Life” is referred to as a ‘special story’ – it’s a complete two-page story that is presumably reprinted from an earlier title, but unusually it doesn’t fit into the mold of a Strange Story which was normally changed into a Gypsy Rose one. This one is a straightforward adventure story with a brave dog saving the brother and sister who went out in a speedboat and got into difficulties. There are no supernatural elements though, unlike in the Gypsy Rose story “The Unscheduled Stop” – which is likewise by John Armstrong. In this latter story, Jenny Shaw’s parents are arguing non-stop, until an unscheduled train stop shows her the reason in their earlier history for their bitterness, and a way to fix their future.

The letters page this week includes a letter from Sophie Jackson, a science fiction fan, who loved “Land of No Tears” and asked for more SF like that story and “The Human Zoo”. She also specifically said how much she liked the artist who drew both stories and also others such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Pandora’s Box”, and wanted more by that artist. Perhaps this was part of the reason why the Jinty editors commissioned “Worlds Apart”, also drawn by Guy Peeters?

(I also take this opportunity to comment on the fact that the form that you were supposed to send in with your letters, saying which your favourite stories were, has an issue number printed on it which is otherwise not shown elsewhere. This issue is number 320.)

Finally, it’s also the first episode of spooky-mysterious tennis story, “Child of the Rain”. Drawn by Phil Townsend, this story is flavoured with elements of the South American rainforest, which lends it particular interest in my eyes as I was living in South America at precisely this time. Despite this attraction, I have to admit it’s not the strongest story ever. Jemma West is a keen tennis player and hates the rain because it stops her playing – that is, until an accident in the rain forest, after which she starts to love the rain and to find it gives her extra strength and energy. It shares some similarities with “Spirit of the Lake” (mystery / supernatural elements, and sporting details) which we think is likely to have been written by Benita Brown – I wonder therefore if this story also might have been penned by the same writer.

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve (2016)

This is a review of the Rebellion reprint of two stories from Misty: “Moonchild” and “The Four Faces of Eve”. Many thanks to Rebellion for supplying this review copy.

The announcement last year that Rebellion were to reprint two classic stories from Misty was met with great excitement. How does the reality match to our heightened expectations? What might we like to see Rebellion do more of in any future reprints of IPC material, and what might we want them to avoid if possible?

Rebellion Publishing 2016

The two stories themselves are likely to be familiar to many readers of this blog and I won’t cover the content of the stories at all in this review. (Other reviews, such as this one on FA Comiczine, cover this territory.) “Moonchild” is a definite classic and would spring to most people’s minds when thinking of key stories from Misty. It also has the name recognition factor of Pat Mills; John Armstrong is probably less well known to those who are not already fans of UK girls comics, but is also familiar from Tammy‘s “Bella at the Bar”. “The Four Faces of Eve” isn’t one of the stories I would necessarily immediately think of when coming up with classics from Misty, but Malcolm Shaw can certainly make a tale speed along and the Brian Delaney art is stylish and beautiful. I don’t think any knowledgeable reader of UK girls comics would have a problem with these two stories having been chosen to represent Misty in the first modern reprint edition, though depending on individual preferences we might have made slightly different choices.

The book itself felt a bit thin when I took it from the (large) packaging, but that was slightly illusory: it’s a good size book, and the fact it combines two stories of a decent length means that you feel that it gives you enough to get your teeth into. However at 114 pages it still feels like a relatively quick read; fellow Rebellion title “Monster”, reprinted from Scream & the Eagle, clocks in at 192 pages so I think there is room to push the boat out and include more pages next time. The print and production qualities are high (much higher than the original newsprint of course), though there are some aesthetic choices that will succeed with some readers and maybe not with all. Specifically, the cover features beautiful Shirley Bellwood art, but the pink (on Misty’s skin and dress) has come out with the half-tone screen dots very visible: surely done on purpose as this is not anything constrained by current production processes. The title logo has also been re-designed, using a rather wiggly and wavy font: I don’t know why anyone would use anything other than the classic logo, unless the rights to that logo had not been acquired at the time? It’s not a bad choice in itself – I like the little crescent moon that tops the letter ‘i’ in the title – but it feels like a bit of an unnecessary change.

There’s a good amount of extra material inside. Pat Mills has written a foreword about the historical context of girls comics publishing of the time, and how the title Misty was originally created; generous credit given to fellow creator Malcolm Shaw in particular and many readers of this blog will be glad to see Mavis Miller get a namecheck too. At the back of the book, Dr Julia Round has written a lovely tribute to Shirley Bellwood, and there are brief biographies of all four creators (Brian Delaney’s is particularly brief but I suspect there may be limited biographical information available about him). Finally, there are one or two craft items included – how to make a witch’s hat, and how to make a tree-devil mask. I think these are a great touch: I suspect they were added for kitsch value but they bring something extra of their own to the reprint. More of this sort of thing in any reprint please!

Of course the key component to any such reprint is the treatment of the comic pages themselves. The printing is nice and crisp and you wouldn’t particularly guess it had been scanned from a published edition. Will Morgan makes the observation (in his review on FA) that John Armstrong’s art suffers because it includes so many thin lines, which are lost in the production: that’s true, but I think most readers wouldn’t notice, as they will be dragged along by the story. The faces and the other details in the story remain compelling – there are large standout images throughout, that arrest the reader’s attention regardless of individual fine detail elements that are lost.

I am also sure that hardly anyone would notice the fact that the Moonchild pages have been edited to fit a larger page size*: an extra two centimetres of art was drawn on the bottom of each page, to make it longer! It sounds absurd and obvious but in fact I have read exactly this edition (which was the version printed in the 1983 Misty Annual) more than once and have only noticed it now, when looking quite carefully. (This is just like what happened in the 1979 Jinty Annual, in the story “Trudy On Trial”.) Having said that, in some places this editing is pretty clumsily done: another time it would be far preferable to follow the model used in “The Four Faces of Eve”, where you can see the original logo from each weekly episode, and the original art dimensions are respected. (In the case of “Eve”, in particular, the story title logo and accompanying art is really beautifully done and is different in almost every episode, so it would be a real loss to miss this out.)

[*Edited to add: I should clarify here that Rebellion themselves haven’t edited the art to fit a larger page size, but they have chosen a source to scan from where this had been done, that is, when the story was reprinted in the 1983 Misty Annual.]

I know this review is a little odd in focusing so strongly on the editorial and publishing choices made when creating this reprint, rather than on the stories themselves. As you will understand, I am keen to understand what any future reprints from other girls comics could look like! Of course, the quality of the stories themselves is not anything I have any concerns about, but lacklustre publishing decisions can damn the best content. This first reprint from Rebellion isn’t perfect but it hits the right high notes. New readers will find plenty to love, while those who already know the content will be very happy to see a professional, competently-executed edition produced by people who perhaps are still figuring out some of the details of what will work best, but who are very much moving in a welcome direction. Here’s hoping it is the success it deserves to be!

Misty: Featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve. Rebellion Publishing, 2016. ISBN 9781781084526

Sandie 25 March 1972

Sandie 25 March 1972.png

  • No-one Cheers for Norah (artist John Armstrong)
  • Odd Mann Out (artist A.E. Allen)
  • Brenda’s Brownies – cartoon strip (artist unknown)
  • Anna’s Forbidden Friend (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • The School of No Escape (unknown artist – Merry)
  • Our Big Secret (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Not So Lady-like Lucy (artist unknown)
  • Wee Sue (artist unknown)
  • Wendy the Witch – cartoon strip (artist unknown)
  • Sandra Must Dance (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Bonnie’s Butler (artist Richard Neillands)
  • Silver is a Star (artist Eduardo Feito)

Sandie ran from 12th February 1972 to 10th October 1973 and was edited by John Wagner. She then merged with Tammy, bringing “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie” and, more importantly, “Wee Sue”, who would last in Tammy until 1982.

I do not have the first issue of Sandie, so the seventh is presented to represent some Sandie context in Jinty’s family tree. The content of Sandie feels closer to that of the early Jinty than the early Tammy, which was more into dark tales of cruelty, abuse, exploitation and slavery. Sandie did have her share of such tales, but there was more of a blend with other types of serials. She did not have the heavy emphasis on science fiction and fantasy that Sally had either.

Tammy readers would be surprised to see how Wee Sue looked when she first began in Sandie, for her strip bears little resemblance to its premise in Tammy. Here it was not played for light relief and did not use a “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 sort out someone’s problem. She does not attend Milltown Comprehensive and there is no Miss Bigger at all. Instead, her strip looks more like a serial, and she 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.

“No-one Cheers for Norah” has such a similar premise to Jinty’s “Toni on Trial” that there has been speculation that it was the same writer. Similar to Toni, Norah Day’s father was accused of theft at a sports event years ago; the scandal just refuses to go away and the stigma is now threatening Norah’s own career in the same sport. And both girls have to contend with a scheming, jealous rival as well. But Norah’s story has a tighter plotting than Toni’s; it is resolved in 12 episodes as compared to Toni’s 21, and the resolution is far more action-packed. It may also be the same writer as Jinty’s “Tricia’s Tragedy” as both serials climax with a do-or-die swimming race against a spiteful cousin, who gets roundly booed off for her conduct afterwards.

In “Odd Mann Out”, Susie Mann leads the resistance against the tyrannical administration at her school. The tyranny is not as over the top as in some stories with a dictatorial school (say “The Four Friends at Spartan School” from Tammy), which is quite refreshing. “The School of No Escape” has a school falling under a more mysterious form of oppressive administration – pupils mysteriously disappearing and then turning up in hooded robes and looking like they’ve been brainwashed or hypnotised.

“Anna’s Forbidden Friend” is a poor girl befriends rich girl story. But the threat is not so much from the rich father but his manager, who is conducting unscrupulous evictions. In “Our Big Secret”, the threat to a friendship comes from a Mum who won’t allow dogs, so Poppy Mason has to keep her new dog Pedro secret. This leads to hijinks, such as Pedro unwittingly starting a ghost hunt in this issue.

Aristocracy also features in a few strips. In “Not So Lady-like Lucy” it’s hijinks My Fair Lady style. In “Little Lady Nobody” it’s an evil squire out to cheat his niece out of her inheritance and even – shades of “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’” – make her work in a quarry! It’s even the same artist. Is that coincidence or what? And in “Bonnie’s Butler”, life gets more interesting for Bonnie Belthorp when she inherits a butler called Greston.

There just has to be a ballet story, and in this case it is “Sandra Must Dance”. Sandra can only dance through a psychic bond with her twin sister. Not the best way to be assured of a secure career, as the twins begin to discover in this episode. And now a jealous rival has worked out the secret too.

Eduardo Feito was a popular choice for drawing horse stories, especially ones that feature show jumping. “Silver is a Star” here is no exception.

And of course there are regular cartoon strips. In the case of Sandie it’s “Brenda’s Brownies” and “Wendy the Witch”.

Combining Tammy serials and regulars in Tammy’s Christmas Issue 1977

Art: John Armstrong

Bella Game 1Bella Game 2

Art: Robert MacGillivray

Tammy Christmas feature
Tammy 1977 Christmas celebrations

I was perusing through the Tammys and came across these features that appeared in the issue for 24 December 1977. I put them up to show how Tammy sometimes brought characters from her serials and regulars together in special features and how fascinating it was to see so many characters and features from Tammy combined together. Recent or running serials team up with the Tammy regulars for these special features in the 1977 Christmas issue. This never happened with Jinty.

Tammy and Princess merger: 7 April 1984

Tammy and Princess cover

  • Bella – new story (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • Rusty Remember Me – from Princess (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Day and Knight – from Princess (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Diana – A Queen’s Dream – complete story (artist Hugo D’Adderio, writer Maureen Spurgeon) Adapted from Maureen Spurgeon’s “For Love of Elizabeth” in her book “Romantic Stories of Young Love”
  • Cassie’s Coach (writer Alison Christie, artist Tony Coleman)
  • What Kind of Fool Are You? – Quiz (writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Stefa’s Heart of Stone – from Princess (writer Alison Christie, artist Phil Townsend)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Sadie in Waiting (artist Joe Collins)

Princess (series II), no connection to Princess/Princess Tina, was the last comic to merge with Tammy. It had been another short-lived title, lasting 28 issues. In terms of Jinty history, Princess is significant for reprinting some serials from her and Tammy. One, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, carries over into the merger here. It is known from Jinty’s letter page in 1981 that there had been a huge demand in the 1980 Pam’s Poll to reprint the story. But the Editor was still asking readers if they wanted Stefa to be repeated – as if he was hesitating to do it for some reason.

Other stories carrying on from Princess are “Day and Knight” and “Rusty Remember Me”. After some flashbacks filling Tammy readers in on how Dad’s remarriage has brought bully Carrie Knight into Sharon Day’s home, the story moves to its climax with Sharon being driven out of her own home because of the bully. There are also quick flashbacks to fill new readers in on “Rusty Remember Me” as well. But the story looks like it has more to go. Mum now knows the children are hiding a fox, but her fur allergy is complicating things. Dad left home to find work, but when the children see him, he is in a bad way. “Cassie’s Coach” is the only Tammy story to continue in the merger. It does so without any flashbacks for new readers’ benefit, and it’s taken a nasty turn – Cassie has suddenly collapsed from overwork.

The merger does away with “The Crayzees”. Instead, Tammy is taking over Princess’s Joe Collins cartoon, “Sadie in Waiting”. In so doing, it brings us Grovel, the first villainous butler since Pickering from “Molly Mills”, to Tammy. But while Pickering was a cruel, bullying slave driver, Grovel is more of a nuisance, in the way he sucks up to his employer, Princess Bee. Most often this leaves Princess Bee annoyed and Grovel in trouble. But like Pickering, Grovel is capable of scheming to get his own way.

Bella and Pam start afresh in the merger. There is a brief introduction to Bella and her back story that enables new readers to get to grips with her immediately, before her new story starts in earnest. Bella the wanderer decides it’s time to make another move, but it doesn’t look like a good one. Bella’s new location has no gymnastics club, so Bella is trying her hand at sports acrobatics instead. The trouble is, the coach is not very pleasant to her. And she’s not welcome in the home she is boarding in – someone has wrecked her room and left a message telling her to get out!

The Pam story is an introductory one, in which Pam introduces new readers to her school and friends through back issues of “The Pond Hill Printout”. This is a clever way to familiarise the new readers with Pam. Pam’s proper story starts next week.

The story “Diana – A Queen’s Dream” is a curious one. It is adapted from “For Love of Elizabeth” in Maureen Spurgeon’s book “Romantic Stories of Young Love”. In the story, Queen Elizabeth I takes a hand in a forbidden romance in the Spencer family. At the end, she dreams of a Lady Diana Spencer – who is realised as Princess Diana in the 20th century.

 

Last issue of Jinty merger: Tammy & Jinty 10 July 1982

Tammy and Jinty cover 10 July 1982

  • Bella – final episode (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • The Destiny Dolls – final episode (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Molly Mills and the Ghosts – complete story (artist Douglas Perry) – last appearance
  • Bessie Bunter – last appearance
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • The Human Zoo – final episode (artist Guy Peeters, writer Pat Mills)
  • Can You Spread a Little Sunshine? – Quiz (writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Punchinello’s Dance – The Strange Story (artist Mario Capaldi) – last appearance
  • Di and the Dolphins – final episode (artist Eduardo Feito)

This is the last issue of the Tammy and Jinty merger. Next issue will be a clean break that is most notable for starting credits in Tammy! (Thank you, Wilf Prigmore, for starting them!) Of course the centre pages are full of the “great news” and the stories and gifts that will be present next week.

So this issue is filled with a lot of endings, including the end of features that have been in Tammy for years. This is the last time the Jinty logo appears. Curiously, there is a small ampersand beside it instead of the usual “and”. Molly and Bessie make their last-ever appearances in Tammy. They both end on regular stories, which in the case of Molly is a complete story. There is nothing to say they have ended. There is no Wee Sue either. This is the last issue to feature a Strange Story. But it is only labelled a Strange Story; the Storyteller himself is nowhere to be seen. And there is no Monster Tale. But there will be several monster-themed stories running for a while yet, so there must have been some scripts left over from the series.

All of Tammy’s running serials, including the current Bella story, end in this issue to make way for the clean break next issue. The reprint of “The Human Zoo” from Jinty had an episode or two cut out so it could end in this issue. It was announced last issue that Pam would take a break in this issue, no doubt to make some room for clearing out more material here.