Tag Archives: Judge Dredd

She Shall Have Music (1978-79)

Sample images

She Shall Have Music pg 1

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Publication: 28 October 1978 – 17 March 1979 (18 episodes)
Artist: Ron Smith
Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Synopsis

Lisa Carstairs is a talented pianist and a selfish, self-obsessed girl who cares nothing for anyone or anything except her piano. We see a glimpse of her life as a rich girl who can spend as much time as she wants just practicing her piano, waited on by maids and fawned on at school. Her father works hard at keeping his business together but to no avail: it comes to an end with a crash, when his business partner flees the country and leaves Mr Carstairs with the associated debts. Everything has to be sold to pay for it, including Lisa’s beloved piano – and her sympathy is kept all for her own losses, with none left for her parents’ difficulties.

For much of the rest of the story, all Lisa can think of is how to get access to a piano, preferably her own. She goes to the auction house and threatens to have the law on anyone who touches ‘her’ piano or dares to buy it, but of course she is onto a loser there. The family move into a little terraced house and she is sent to the local school rather than her posh private school. Her posh private school, for all their glib words about admiring her talent, want nothing to do with ‘the daughter of a bankrupt’ so there is no chance of playing their piano! There is a piano at the new school but she has already set everyone against her there by failing to listen to anyone, failing to adapt to her changed circumstances, and failing to understand that people aren’t going to fawn over her talent any more. She only barely gets to play the school piano, which she is only allowed to do once she has apologized to a teacher that she was rude to (and even then she gives one of those rubbish ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ type apologies – actually she says ‘The Head wishes me to apologise to you’ which should have been something they would have seen through but still).

Playing the school piano isn’t enough, mostly because she is not treated with the amount of adulation she still expects (without in any way having earned it of course). The assembly music she’s given to play is not what she wants to play, so she summarily sweeps it aside in favour of some technically challenging classical music – not surprisingly this approach fails to go down well. The kids are unimpressed, Lisa is angry at them for not fawning over her (er, I mean appreciating her obvious talent when she condescends to play for them), and she calls them loud-mouthed, ignorant and stupid. So it’s war between Lisa and the whole school from now on.

Well, not quite the whole school. Tracey is a girl who likes classical music and has some sympathy for Lisa. She stands up for her even when everyone else is sick of the sight of her. Including the Carstairs parents, probably: Lisa was nearly starting to be sympathetic to their difficulties when she heard them say they’d try to make it up to her by getting a replacement musical instrument. She immediately imagines a beautiful piano taking up most of the space in their shabby small terrace – but of course all they are able to buy is a tiny electric chord organ, which from Lisa’s point of view is nothing better than a toy. Not that anything excuses her reaction, which is to kick it to pieces in a tantrum!

Another try at getting access to a piano is when she finds out that her piano was sold to the Mayor, for his spoiled daughter to plink-plonk on. Rosalind, the mayor’s daughter, takes the opportunity to bully Lisa by playing on her desperation: she has Lisa steal and beg for a chance to play. It doesn’t take Lisa that long to realise that Rosalind has no intention of actually helping, but it does take a little longer before she can bring herself to swallow her longing and walk away from her old piano.

Lisa’s quest for a piano to play nearly breaks up the family when she finds that a piano showroom is advertising for a cleaner. Lisa herself is too young to take the job but she cajoles her mother into it, despite her father’s opposition – he was made redundant just previous to that point, and his pride is injured at the idea of his wife working to bring the money in. It works well for a time, and Lisa even shows some signs of empathy – when her father strides into the house announcing he is going away, she thinks it is because of her doing, and she realises she would much rather have her father around than access to a piano to play. It turns out not to be as bad as she had feared – Mr Carstairs is not leaving his wife because of the argument about her working, phew! In fact he has been offered another job, but it is far away and he will have to travel there and be located elsewhere. Mrs Carstairs is relieved to think that she can give up the cleaning job, but an also-relieved Lisa is a newly-selfish Lisa, who pressures her mother to continue with the job for the sake of her music.

It turns out to be the final straw of stress on Mrs Carstairs though – she collapses, and it is revealed she has been in pain for a long time previously without mentioning it. Lisa needs to go and stay with her one school friend, Tracey, in her busy house: and of course the ungrateful Lisa only thinks of the bad side, in particular the fact she has to do chores which she fears could damage her artistic hands. To top it all, Mr Carstairs is not able to come to be at his wife’s hospital bedside – because he has vanished! It seems he never appeared at the new job workplace at all.

Lisa’s last fling of selfishness is to refuse to go back to Tracey’s house when her mother tells her she must – she uses the housekeeping money that her mother gives her, and goes to see her godmother in London. Little does she know that said godmother has departed for a long international voyage! So there is no home for her there, and none back at Tracey’s house – because her worn-out mother has finally snapped, and told the authorities that Lisa must be looked after in a Home. So it is welfare for her…

This final, very nasty, surprise is the making of the girl – she is quiet and not boastful in her new location, and she doesn’t go all out to find a piano to play, as she had before. She spends her time helping with the younger children and mucking in, even roughening her hands or running the risk of injury if it seems like a worthwhile activity needs her help. And when finally she does play the piano again, after a long time of refusing to even try, it is only at the earnest request of a little boy she is helping to entertain – she is doing it for his sake, not her own. The reward comes at last – her parents return, both together – Mr Carstairs has been found! He had been injured and had lost his memory and his luggage, so his identity took a long time to be established. And Lisa has come to realise that the most important thing for her right now is to be together, as a family – and that is more important even than music for her.

Thoughts

Lisa Carstairs is one of the more unpleasant, selfish, hard-hearted protagonists that there is in Jinty. She’s not outright evil, as is the case with Stacey in “The Slave of Form 3B“, but because she is such a hard case it takes a long road, and a lot of knocks, to redeem her. You might think that the opening episode, where she loses her family home and all their worldly wealth, would be enough to do it, but in girls comics there is definitely further to fall. In her case, she needs to plumb the absolute depths before she can come back up again – and here that means losing her whole family, and knowing it is her own fault and no-one else’s. In other stories the sense of guilt can be an illusion built up in the protagonist’s mind – for instance in the case of Ann Ridley in “I’ll Make Up For Mary”, where it drives the whole plot – but here it is not over-done and it is effective as a wake-up call.

The passage of time in this story is done quite well. For instance, the last episode (which is 4 pages long) covers the timespan from Lisa’s arrival in the Home to her final happy moments of realization. It isn’t supposed to take place in only a day or two – the text explicitly refers to several weeks having passed. Likewise, earlier on, the passage of time is made rather more visible to the reader than in most stories. This all makes the main driver of the story – Lisa’s redemption – more realistic.

This is Ron Smith‘s second and final story done for Jinty – after around this time he was found doing the bulk of his work for 2000AD, so he is often thought of as primarily an artist for that title, and on Judge Dredd specifically. His work on that is indeed fantastic, but it means that it’s easy to overlook the fact he had a long career as a girls comics artist before then, working for DC Thomson’s Bunty and Judy in particular.

Ron Smith

Ron Smith (1924 -2019) is best-known as a Judge Dredd artist, which is how I initially came across his work. Or should I say, that is how I first came across his credited work, because Smith drew two stories for Jinty, which I read well before I even read my first 2000AD.

His reputation as a Dredd artist overshadows the huge body of work that he has done elsewhere. The Down the Tubes comics site is currently publishing a retrospective of Smith’s work: so far three posts have gone up here, here, and here, with more to follow from writer Colin Noble. They show the vast number of titles and stories that Smith has contributed to British comics over the years. Many of the stories he illustrated were boys adventures in titles such as The Hotspur, but he also drew for  DC Thomson’s girls titles Judy and Bunty. (The UK Comics Wiki also has a comprehensive entry on this important artist.) [Edited to add: Down The Tubes has also just published Ron Smith’s obituary and an appreciation by fan and expert Colin Noble.]

His only two stories for Jinty are the following:

As we have not [or had not, at the time of posting!] yet written about either of them to link to, of course I need to include some of Smith’s stylish artwork from one of those stories in this post. Here, then, are three pages from the episode of “7 Steps To The Sisterhood” printed in the issue dated 23 September 1978.

7 Steps to the Sisterhood pg 1

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One-offs, series, returning characters, regulars

The Goods News for All Readers blog has recently done a Halloween post about Misty; in the comments on that post, and on a related post on the Comics UK forum, a few of us have had a brief discussion about one-off stories, series, and regular characters. Different titles create different balances between the various kinds of comics: Misty has always struck me as having a strong focus on one-off (complete) stories in a way that Jinty didn’t, so that is an obvious comparison between the two, but there are other groupings that could be usefully looked at too.

One-off stories / complete stories haven’t ever been a big focus in the pages of Jinty, except for in annuals or summer specials which are by their nature reliant on complete reads. Indeed, I wonder whether the two examples that come readily to mind – “Mimi Seeks A Mistress” and “Holly and the Ivy” – might have been originally written for publication in an annual and for whatever reason then been included in the weekly comic instead?

If you ask someone who was a reader of Misty at the time for specific stories they remember from the comic, they may well mention some key serials but they are perhaps even more likely to remember the spine-chilling stories. Clearly, one-off or complete stories have important strengths: this format allowed Misty to be tougher on the protagonists than an ongoing story would typically be. Indeed, many of the Misty stories featured character death – or even a worse fate! You can also have a huge amount of variety with complete stories, with the rapid turnover allowing creators potentially to experiment with a lot of different themes or plots. On the down side, they don’t allow enough narrative time for much character development, and I suspect that can lead to a focus on clever ‘twist in the tale’ story structures. (I personally felt like Misty placed too much reliance on this at certain points in its life.)

‘Storyteller’ / framed stories are stand-alone stories that still fit into some sort of structure or framing sequence. Gypsy Rose is Jinty‘s most obvious example, but I would also classify “Is This Your Story?” and “Thursday’s Child” within this as being complete stories that may not have a narrator but do have a constraining element to them that means you have a certain sense of knowing ‘what you’re getting’. In a Gypsy Rose story you know you’ll have a spooky element, but also a sense of safety; the protagonist won’t herself suffer an awful fate. In 2000AD‘s “Future Shocks” there was no such guarantee, but you did know it would generally be an SF story rather than a horror story or a morality tale (as “Is This Your Story?” was).

Both the entirely stand-alone and the framed stories have the advantage editorially of great flexibility – they can be run in any order so it doesn’t matter if one story is not ready for printing that week, you can try out new artists and writers, you can try out new directions and ideas. This flexibility can also lead to problems – the results can be uneven in quality or interest level, or overly repetitive. I would also say that to my mind they’re a bit too easy to put down and not feel that motivated to pick up again – even if you know that Gypsy Rose or Future Shock stories are generally really good, to me they don’t have the “must read” factor that a cliff-hanger ending to an earlier episode gives.

Serial stories are Jinty‘s bread-and-butter, but if you count up the number of series in a given issue it is not given over totally to them: 23 February 1980, for instance, has 5 serials out of 8 stories in comics format. I am here using the phrase ‘serial stories’ meaning stories that run over more than one week with a beginning/middle/end narrative structure. The way the ‘end’ element works is important because Katie Jinx or the Four Marys also have stories with endings, but they aren’t final – we know that next week they’ll be back with more, which is what makes them ‘regulars’.

A serial story has a lot of degrees of freedom: it can be a story about a ghost or a horse or a superheroine (or maybe a ghost horse or a horse superheroine). What it can’t easily do is change tack dramatically once the story starts; the start of the story sets it into certain tracks and certain expectations. The strength of the serial is the length of time that it has to develop a story and to really hammer it home, or to twist and turn surprisingly. It also has the freedom to change the situation of the characters in the story: it can end with them healed, or vindicated, or with the protagonist growing as a person. A complete one-off story doesn’t have enough length to develop that sense of change, and we often don’t know enough about the character to even care that much if they grow into a better person. A story with a regular character, contrariwise, has to ‘reset’ at the end of each episode or each multi-episode story, so that as the next story starts it can pick up more or less from the beginning again.

There are still weaknesses in the serial story format, of course. It can get too long and lose its way; it can be too short to let itself develop properly while not benefiting from the punchiness of the self-contained story.

Jinty also has a couple of cases of returning characters, where the original series gets a second, follow-up story. There aren’t many of these – “Fran’ll Fix It!” gets a second run, and so does “Daughter of Dreams”. Each story is a complete serial in itself, but because the character or the story was popular, they returned for another go. One option would be to reprint the original story, which Jinty did a few times; but if the story structure allowed it then a whole new follow-up story might also a possibility. Some stories would be better suited to this than others – a sequel to “Land of No Tears” wouldn’t be impossible to imagine but would require quite a lot of changes (someone from the dystopian future travelling back to the past, perhaps?), while a sequel to “The Robot Who Cried” wouldn’t be that hard at all to do (her adventures at school as an acknowledged robot, and how other people reacted once she had no secrets left to hide?).

A regular character may have short complete stories like “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag” or individual longer story runs as in “No Tears for Molly“. Either way there is no real change in or development of the character over the time her story runs. “Merry at Misery House” was also basically a regular, with story arcs; you don’t really get a sense of a planned resolution that Merry was struggling to reach from the start of her story, it’s just… time to wrap up the story so her mum and dad announce that her name has been cleared, bang.

They can be great fun reads, with a real comfort factor – we can get to know the characters well, and look forward to seeing them again, like old friends. That is really the draw of regulars; like reading a beloved Chalet School book, we know what we are getting and that we will enjoy it. The characters can develop some strong external recognition, too – the interviewees in Mel Gibson’s “Remembered Reading” consistently mentioned long-running regulars “The Four Marys”, and “Bella” from Tammy.

On the down side? If the reader just isn’t that interested in the character in the first place, or doesn’t find their antics funny, it ain’t likely to change for the better… The main counter-example I can think of in this area is 2000AD and Judge Dredd in particular: he is a regular who has turned into a proper, fleshed-out character with a backstory, a life, and unpredictability. Through him now, all sorts of stories can be told. The Four Marys changed their uniforms and were updated to become more modern on the surface, but never changed their fundamental natures – and that is much more the usual case with regulars.

At the end of the day, a weekly publication needs a balance of different types of story, not just thematically, but also structurally. There are other types of story structure that I don’t know of within girls comics: is there an example anywhere of the Buffy tv story structure, where individual self-contained stories build up in an overall arc to a series finale? I’m sure there are other kinds of structure in girls’ comics and elsewhere: what can others think of?

Edited to add: I have thought of another kind of story structure – Worldbuilding, or Shared worlds. This is where the reader is shown an imagined world that is developed in story after story. Perhaps one set of creators are mostly responsible for writing and drawing that world, or maybe a number of different creators add their own influences to the world. In traditional British comics, I guess that Dan Dare inhabits this sort of built world, though I’m not that sure as to how much of the world we see outside of stories focused on Dare himself; it is at least a strong enough world in itself for Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes to develop their own take on it in Revolver’s “Dare“. 2000AD does a lot of this worldbuilding: what else is Judge Dredd’s universe of Megacities, isocubes, and the Cursed Earth? But in traditional girls’ comics I’m not sure I can think of any examples. This is a big shame I think as this would provide not only very fertile ground for telling stories but also a lot of ongoing reader loyalty in the way that 2000AD has seen over the years – eventually even moving into mainstream acceptance.

Edited further: Lorrbot points out in the comments that there are also examples of Spin offs, where the characters in the original story generate stories with further characters from that setup. It may not be the same case as Worldbuilding, if there is no very obvious effort to invent a whole new world different from ours, but it shares some characteristics with this.