Jinty: 6 October 1979-22 December 1979
Artist: Guy Peeters
Writer: Alison Christie
Reprint: Girl Picture Library #14 as “The Black Sheep”
Bev Barton looks on herself as the black sheep in her sheep farming family, both in appearance (the only one with black hair in a blond family) and in character. She is a rebel without a cause who chafes under her parents’ rules and regulations and is bored stiff with the sheep farm. But Bev has a big problem – she is selfish and can’t see beyond herself. She tends to get jealous of her sister Ruth, who seems to be more in favour with the parents. Bev does not understand that the parents trust Ruth because she earns it with obedience, hard work and consideration, while Bev does nothing of the kind.
Bev applies for and wins a scholarship in Elmsford Academy as she thinks boarding school will give her freedom from her parents and the farm and to do her own thing. But of course she soon finds that Elmsford has its own rules and regulations. It is not long before Bev’s rebelliousness gets her into trouble with the headmistress.
Then Bev discovers the judo club at Elmsford and finds she has a real passion and talent for the sport. She finally has something to work for. The trouble is, she gets so obsessed with judo that she neglects her schoolwork, exams, and breaks more rules and orders in order to get to her judo club. The only thing that stands between Bev and expulsion is that she used her judo to foil a burglar who was stealing school trophies. But eventually Bev defies the headmistress once too often and gets expelled. As a result, the parents thoroughly disapprove of Bev’s judo.
Being expelled has cut Bev off from the judo club and there is none in the village. She flouts her parents’ orders again in order to get to the judo club – only to find it has closed down. Worse, Dad catches her in the act of defying him and she’s in trouble again. Back home, Bev’s jealousy of her sister Ruth, whom she perceives as the parents’ favourite worsens, which heightens the bad situation with her parents. Bev does not appreciate how patient Ruth is with her – or realise that Ruth is ill with angina and needs extra care.
Things look up when Ted Nelson, Bev’s judo instructor, takes a job at her school as the new PE teacher. They start a judo club at the school. Dad won’t let Bev join after her expulsion, but Ruth talks him around. Bev soon earns her yellow belt, but is neglecting her schoolwork again. Ruth is staying up late doing Bev’s homework – which is not good for her state of health – and the parents are angry at Bev again. But Bev takes this as more favouritism and her response is to “disappear” for a bit to teach them a lesson. But this backfires dreadfully – Ruth sneaks off to look for Bev and this is extremely dangerous for her because she is so sick. When Bev finds out, she finally wakes up to how selfish she has been. She takes off to look for Ruth – against Dad’s orders, who is too angry to let her help search – and succeeds.
Following this, Bev makes a serious effort to become more considerate and helpful to her family. Mum is impressed, but Dad just says that Bev’s head is still full of that “confounded judo”. Hearing this, Bev decides that there is only one way to convince Dad of her good faith – give up judo – and tells Dad what she is doing. She rushes off in tears to give away her judo gear. But en route she encounters Alf Sutton. Dad has suspected Sutton of stealing his sheep and now Bev catches him red-handed. She uses her judo to bring him down. This now convinces Dad that judo is not a bad thing and he admits to Bev that he was just too proud to acknowlege her change for the better.
Bev is now getting along so much better with her parents. And to show it, Dad converts his barn into a judo club so the club can continue after the school gym burns down. Bev is still proud of being a black sheep but is now a more mature, thoughtful and happier girl.
This came hard on the heels of Guy Peeters’ previous story, “Pandora’s Box”, which was also about a selfish girl who learned to open her heart. Perhaps it was the same writer. But while Pandora’s Box had supernatural elements, Black Sheep is grounded firmly in realism. There is so much in the character of Bev Barton that we see in everyday life – rebel without a cause, inability to handle authority, generation gap, and problem children who have nowhere to vent their energy so they transmute it into difficult behaviour that exasperates their parents.
The problem with Bev is that she can’t see that she is the architect of her own misfortunes with her selfish, self-centred behaviour. She does not understand that her problems with her parents stem from her being selfish, disobedient, rebellious, doing nothing to earn their trust, and having no consideration for others. And her attitude not only gets her expelled but endangers Ruth several times – such as practising judo with her while not thinking that Ruth is untrained – but Bev does not stop to think. And the types of boyfriends she has – rough bikers – do not help matters.
Bev is not a totally bad character. For example, she stands up to a bully at school who blackmails other girls. There is also a dash of feminism when Bev has to demand to join the judo club as it is boys only. She’s full of spunk and balls, which would have appealed to readers. Bev is not your typical victim heroine who would take emotional and physical abuse lying down, and is no Cinderella.
It is obvious that the judo is the key to Bev’s salvation. After all, it has finally given our rebel without a cause something to channel her energy into. If only she would wake up to how selfish she is, she be a true heroine. But we know she will eventually. That’s the whole point of the story after all.
We have to enjoy this story for the judo itself. It came out at a time when martial arts were popular in Britain, which must have provided inspiration and popularity. And judo makes a change from stories about hockey, tennis or swimming, so readers must have enjoyed the story for this alone. Martial arts did not appear much in girls’ comics, which makes this story even more of a standout.