Tag Archives: Judy

Judy & Tracy 19 January 1985, #1306

Judy and Tracy cover.jpeg

Cover artist: Norman Lee. Judy is on the left. Tracy and her budgie Elton are on the right.

  • Big ‘n’ Bertha – cartoon
  • Sandra of the Secret Ballet (artist Paddy Brennan) – first episode of a reprint
  • Little Amy
  • Georgie and the Dragon (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Junior Nanny (artist Oliver Passingham) – first episode of a return appearance
  • Twin Trouble (artist Paddy Brennan) – first episode
  • Microgirl (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones) – first episode of a sequel
  • Hard Times for Helen (artist Bert Hill)
  • Debbie at the School for Horses (artist Oliver Passingham)
  • Find the Hidden Headphones Competition
  • Harvey – Go Home!

Here’s another dip into DCT. This time we are going to take a look at the issue where Tracy merged with Judy on 19 January 1985. Judy is also celebrating her 25th Jubilee, which makes the issue even more significant. Her competition is being run because of the Jubilee, not because of the merger. It is not surprising that Judy is also looking back on her past. This week she begins to repeat one of her very first stories, “Sandra of the Secret Ballet”. She also brings back another established Judy favourite: “Junior Nanny”.

The merger is unusual in that the merger issue came out the same week Tracy published her final issue. Well, at least Tracy readers didn’t need to wait a week to see their stories continue in the merger. Or rather, more than a week, considering that Tracy came out on Saturday and Judy on Thursday. Perhaps it was done out of consideration to the readers.

However, one odd and annoying thing about the last issue of Tracy is that she began a new story in it, “Little Amy”. Why the first episode of Amy couldn’t wait until the merger issue so all readers could read the serial in its entirety is something I don’t understand.

Other Tracy stories that came over were: “Harvey – Go Home!”, where a lost dog has adventures while trying to find his owner; “Georgie and the Dragon” a humour story about a baby dragon; and “Microgirl”, which is a sequel to an earlier Tracy story about an evil scientist who can shrink people. Tracy’s budgie, Elton, also came over, and he appeared on Judy’s covers for quite some time.

Judy also begins a completely new story, “Twin Trouble”. The trouble is about an accident girl who causes trouble for her twin sister because she blames the twin for the accident – quite wrongly, of course. Judy’s other stories are “Hard Times for Helen” and “Debbie at the School for Horses”. In the former, Helen Shaw suffers not only from the fallout of an over-busy mother but also from bully teachers who constantly compare her unfairly with the mother and make unjust accusations of bad behaviour against her. In the latter, Debbie Marsh is on a steep learning curve on how to look after horses at a riding school.

John Wagner: Interview

John Wagner is known to have worked on girls’ comics and written girls stories in the 1970s. I didn’t know of any previous interviews which had focused on this part of his career in particular: many thanks to him for answering the questions below in this brief interview.

1 I’d love to know how you got started in writing for girls’ comics, and what you did during that part of your comics career. What stories did you write? How did you balance writing comics alongside being an editor – or was that all part of what the editor was expected to do?

The girls’ comic side of my career started with Romeo, the DC Thomson romantic comic/mag, the poor sister of Jackie. Girls’ romance was just a step up from normal girls’ fare with the addition of boys. We never touched on lesbian love back then! Then when I left to go freelance with Pat Mills, girls’ stories was one of our target markets. We were given “School of No Escape” (was that in Sandie or Tammy? [that was in Sandie]) by the managing editor, John Purdie. The story had already been started, was running, but either the writer had quit, or been sacked. In any case editorial didn’t know quite how to handle it. It was quite a challenging first assignment but we made a pretty good fist of it. I helped Pat devise “School for Snobs” and write the first couple of episodes before we split up and I went to work in the IPC office in London. My only girls’ comic story after that was “Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie”.

2 We’re always on the lookout for information on other creators of girls comics from the  time. I have already asked you for any suggestions on the name of the artist on “Slave of the Trapeze” and “School of No Escape”, which sadly for us you weren’t able to recall. Are there stories by other people that you particularly remember from that time, which you would be able to help us to credit the creators on? For instance, anything written by any of Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring, Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon?

Malcolm Shaw was my sub on Sandie for a while, quite a good, reliable one. I’m afraid I don’t remember any particular stories any of the people you mention wrote, though Gerry would have done two or three for me. Never heard of Jay Over or Benita Brown and assume Maureen then went by another surname that I can’t remember.

3 Pat Mills has fond memories and a lot of respect for specific girls’ comics titles and the hard-hitting gritty stories that ran in them. What kind of comparisons would you draw between the world of girls’ comics and that of the boys’ titles you worked on?

They were pretty different, up until Pat and I started work on Battle Picture Weekly. I refer to the IPC boys’ stories, as DC Thomson boys’ comics had some excellent stories and were almost the equal of their girls’ titles. But IPC boys’ titles had stagnated, with stories that were formulaic, repetitive, barely credible and carried very little emotional power. They paled in comparison to the stories in Judy, Mandy and especially Bunty – clever, meaty, affecting.

4 You started your comics career working for DC Thomson before moving south to IPC/Fleetway. Were there things about creating comics that you learned at DC Thomson which you were keen to bring with you to IPC, or perhaps keen to move away from? Or other memories of differences between the two publishers?

I was keen to move away from poverty! The key lesson I learned there was self-criticism. Nothing you write can’t be better. Always question yourself – am I getting the best out of that scene, those characters, is there a better way of doing things?

5 Finally, anything you can tell us about your time at Sandie would be good to know. It was a fairly short-lived title, only lasting for 89 issues. What do you think that was down to? Did you leave it as it finished, or earlier? Who else worked on it that you can recall?

My memory is that they closed it down – or merged it – on a circulation of about 180,000 (though that figure may be inflated in my mind). In any case the low cover price meant that they had to sell enormous numbers. I was told the comic was going under and that they wanted me to move on to Princess Tina (which was also dying) and revamp it in an attempt to save it. Norman Worker (I think) was brought in to see Sandie laid to rest. In turn I made an awful hash of Tina, whereupon I quit journalism to become caretaker of an estate in Scotland, never to return (I thought!).

I’ve already mentioned [in email] some of the names of Sandie staff – subs Kyra Clegg, Rhoda Miller, Malcolm Shaw. Ally McKay was assistant art man for a while, and John…John…ah, I forget, but he was art editor.

Many thanks again to John Wagner for this interview. I have a small number of issues of Sandie, which I looked at in this post. Catawiki has details on a few Sandie issues also, and the Great News for All Readers blog has posted in detail about two issues in 2016. Mistyfan also wrote a post about the advert for Sandie’s launch, and another on issue 7 of Sandie in 1972.

She Shall Have Music (1978-79)

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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.

Carlos Freixas

Slave of the Mirror 1aSlave of the Mirror 1bSlave of the Mirror 1c

Carlos Freixas Baleito (31 October 1923 – 26 February 2003) was a Spanish artist. Freixas had a long career in girls’ comics in a wide range of titles. At IPC his artwork appeared in Valentina, Marilyn, June, Misty, Tammy and Jinty. At DCT, he drew for Bunty, Mandy, Tracy, Nikki, Judy, Emma, M&J and Spellbound. He had a fluid style that lent itself to a diverse range of stories, including supernatural, horror, period, adventure and school. An incomplete list of Carlos Freixas stories for DCT can be found at http://girlscomicsofyesterday.com/?s=carlos+freixas

Freixas started out as an illustrator at the age of 14, guided by his father Emilio Freixas. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and, as his father’s assistant, published his first work in Lecciondes. Freixas and his father then began an association with the publishing house Molino. This collaboration eventually resulted in the publishing project Mosquito, which they started with the aid of Angel Puigmiquel in 1944. At this time, Freixas created his first character, ‘Pistol Jim’, who appeared in Gran Chicos and later Plaza El Coyote.

In 1947, Molino asked Freixas to join the Argentine division of their publishing house, so Freixas moved to Buenos Aires, where he established himself as a well-known and respected artist. His first Argentine work was for Patoruzito, where he created the boxing ‘Tucho, de Canilla a Campeón’ and several detective (‘Elmer King’) and motor comics (‘Juan Manuel Fangio’). He often collaborated with Alberto Ongaro, who wrote ‘Drake el Aventurero’ for him and with whom he illustrated Hector German Oesterheld’s scripts for ‘El Indio Suarez’. Freixas was also the author of ‘Darío Malbrán Psicoanalista’ for Aventuras.

In 1956, Freixas returned to Spain because of homesickness, and resumed his collaboration with his father and cooperated on most of his father’s illustration work. He also took on agency work for the British market through Creaciones Editoriales, where he broke into IPC and DCT titles.

Back in Spain, Freixas contributed to Juan Martí Pavón’s magazine Chito in 1975, made a comics adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Gaspar Ruiz’, and some horror stories for Bruguera. In the last years of his career, Freixas worked for US comics, which included Marvel’s Monsters Unleashed. He also worked for Swedish comics (‘Joe Dakota’ stories for Semic’s Colt) and Dutch comics, where he was a regular artist on stories like ‘Marleen’ for the Dutch girls’ magazine Tina.

Source: https://www.lambiek.net/artists/f/freixas_carlos.htm

Carlos Freixas stories in Jinty

Ana Rodriguez

One of the artists mentioned in the recent talk about girls comics was Ana Rodriguez. David Roach has a set of portfolio samples used to showcase her drawing abilities (see below) which credits her as such. Initially I had little luck in finding any internet trace of her but eventually I found an entry for her on Spain’s comic artist database, Tebeosfera, as Anita Rodriguez Ruiz . This also links to an entry on Lambiek’s Comiclopedia.

Ana Rodrigues art sample
Art from “Cindy of Swan Lake”, published in Tammy

Stories in Jinty:

Stories in Tammy:

  • Mandy and the House of Models (1973)
  • Trina Drop-Out (1973)
  • Last Song at Sunset (1974)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (1979-80)

(The latter list is taken from Catawiki, with many thanks to that site.)

She also drew a large number of stories in DC Thomson titles such as Debbie, Judy, Tracy. See the Girls Comics of Yesterday site for posts tagged with her name.

Her particular focus is clearly on girls comics, though there is little solid information on the Tebeosfera and Comiclopedia sites about other work done by her. Here are some pages from “Blind Ballerina”, where Ana Rodriguez’s showcasing of the girl protagonist’s faces is very evident.

Ana Rodriguez 27 September 1975

Ana Rodriguez 27 September 1975
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Ana Rodriguez 27 September 1975
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Hugh Thornton-Jones

gayes-gloomy-ghost-1gayes-gloomy-ghost-2Sample Images

Hugh Thornton-Jones has been a long-serving artist in girls’ comics. His work spans all across the DCT titles Bunty, Mandy, Judy, Tracy and Debbie. An (incomplete) list of his stories there can be found here:

http://girlscomicsofyesterday.com/?s=hugh+thornton-jones

In regard to IPC, no information is currently available on what work Thornton-Jones did for June or School Friend. He drew “The Incredible Shrinking Girl” for the short-lived Princess (series 2). For Tammy, Thornton-Jones drew one serial “Claire’s Airs and Graces”, a few Strange Stories (“The Lollipop Man’s Promise”, reprinted as a Gypsy Rose story), but was seen most often as one of the Wee Sue artists. During Tammy’s credits period, Thornton-Jones was credited with just one story, “Postcards from the Past”. This sole credit is what establishes the name of what might otherwise be another unknown Jinty artist.

Thornton-Jones started on Jinty as a filler artist for “The Jinx from St Jonah’s” and “Champion in Hiding”, but it was not long before he drew his own stories for Jinty. These were “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!” and “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”. Both of them were humour strips that starred a fantasy character who created paranormal hijinks every week. They kept Thornton-Jones busy because they both ran for a long time; the former lasted three years and the latter two years, right up until the last issue of Jinty.

Thornton-Jones’s style was not quite as strong as some artists, such as Mario Capaldi. But it is a genial, pleasing style that can fit in with a lot of general stories (school, ponies, emotional). Thornton-Jones could draw period stories, such as The Guardian Tree (Mandy) and Catch the Cat! (Bunty), though his art was seen more often in contemporary settings. Thornton-Jones also had a flair for humour and caricature, especially for drawing people with long, thin, pointed noses. So his style was also used in more zany, offbeat stories, such “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!”, “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” and “Microgirl” (Tracy).

Stories Hugh Thornton-Jones drew for Jinty:

  • The Jinx from St. Jonah’s (filler artist)
  • Champion in Hiding (second artist)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost

Ron Smith

Ron Smith (1924 – ) 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.)

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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‘Remembered Reading’ by Mel Gibson; book review

Remembered Reading: Memory, Comics and Post-War Constructions of British Girlhood“, by Dr Mel Gibson; ISBN 9789462700307, published by Leuven University Press, June 2015. Reviewed by Jenni Scott.

Remembered_reading

British girls’ comics are not much written-about, either within academia or within comics fandom. Even the people who read these comics as children tend to move away from then in their teenage years and forget about them as adults, until a deep well of memory is probed and an undercurrent of (often very strong) emotion is released. In looking at how people talked and thought about girls comics in the past, and how people talk and think about them still, this book is a great review both of the memories of the former girl readers, and of the criticism – often ill-informed or inadequate – made of these comics.

To be clear up front, this is an academic work based on Dr Gibson’s research for her doctoral thesis, and published by an academic press within a series of ‘Studies in European Comics and Graphic Novels’. Some of the writing includes some specialized vocabulary or concepts (in fact this is generally not too bad but it could put some people off). Perhaps more importantly for a work on comics, only a very few illustrations are used: this sort of book typically has definite budget constraints and it is hard to obtain permission to use this sort of old material (especially for free). It is not a lavish reference book for a general audience! Having said that, Dr Gibson has chosen wisely in including a four-page “Belle of the Ballet” story and an absolutely corking two page photo story from “Shocking Pink”. It also includes a very solid chapter on ‘The Rise and Fall of the British Girls’ Comic’, which provides an outline of publication history and of the development of this market. Its real strength, though, lies in the number of questions, thoughts, and avenues for investigation that it has provoked in me during my reading. (And what better thing can you say of an academic book than that it is fruitful?)

So, what is the book all about, in more detail?

Coverage

In the Introduction, Dr Gibson sets out her stall. This book aims to look at how the genre of comics aimed at British girls developed and why they disappeared, while also looking at other comics that were read by girls (such as American superhero comics) and to a lesser extent also at the phenomenon of boys reading girls’ comics too. This is in order to challenge the received idea in our Anglo-Saxon culture of comics as being by and for boys and for men: a prejudice that forgets and belittles the history of girls comics. Because it proved hard and expensive to get hold of issues of girls comics themselves, or at least in the range and quantity you’d need to do a good overview, Gibson ended up not looking at the titles directly, or the stories in them, but rather at people’s memories and what was important enough in those memories to stick with them until she interviewed them years and decades later. (These were interviews done at a range of events typically held in libraries, schools, and other organizations, thus not targeting a body of already-identified comics fans.) At the same time, Gibson is clear about needing to look at the history of British writing on comics too: a history that comprises a strand that considers comics functionally as an educational tool, a strand that reflects enthusiasm and positive interest in the medium, and a larger third, critical, strand that starts from the premise that comics are bad for readers. (Even in the Introduction, it’s obvious that Gibson is writing from the point of view of a keen and positive reader of comics herself, so that while she outlines and discusses the critical strand there’s no fear she is likely to endorse it.)

Chapter One starts off talking in more detail about why it was so hard for Gibson to find copies of the girls’ comics she would have liked to work on: you might not have thought this was a particularly interesting aspect to lead off with, but it actually reveals some interesting attitudes on the part of the comics dealers she was in contact with. The dealers themselves had prejudices and misconceptions about girl comics readers: they argued that girls only got given comics out of duty and “did not really like them”, while at the same paradoxically still keeping them – meaning that dealers ended up with stashes of girls comics that they didn’t value either, and typically destroyed rather than sell! So a perceived lack of interest in girls comics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mass media writing about girls comics, too, ‘flattens’ and reduces the diversity of comics actually produced and read, and paints the comics that girls read as being all about boarding schools and middle-class respectability.

Between her own experience, the interviews with readers, and even some interviews with women involved in the creation of comics, Gibson promises us a much more nuanced view not only of the value and interpretations that girls do place on comics, but of the range of publications actually on offer at different times, and the relevant differences between them, particularly including perceived differences of class. This nuanced view is used not only to challenge the views of the dealers but also those of the few academics or educationalists who have written about this area. The analysis is even turned inwards too: Gibson confesses that “[a]s a younger reader I dismissed comics for girls as less significant, showing my own entanglement with value judgements and ideology” – a point she develops further in the rest of book that had a lot of resonance for me, too. Nevertheless, when discussing their memories with readers who came forward, she found that “these publications had been an important part of childhood reading”, used to construct the reader’s sense of what it was to be a girl in Britain at the time. (Not that everyone wanted to become a girl if that was what it meant to be one – some readers rebelled in various ways – but it clearly helped to shape them, either way.)

Chapter Two covers the publishing history of girls’ comics in Britain: this is a really good solid chapter which covers the gamut of work and of publishers. It starts with 19th and early 20th century text-based periodicals for girls, which were aimed at and read by a wide range of classes and ages. Girls’ comics themselves appeared rather later, in the 1950s; the key story is “The Silent Three” but the key title that comes under most discussion here is Girl. One particular point of interest in this chronological approach is that Gibson is able to highlight the treatment in Girl of ballet as “acceptable”, “although it had not been long since ballet had been seen as a problematic profession” – that is, although later generations of readers treated ballet themes as boring and conservative, we should remember there was a time when this was far from being the case! Gibson also highlights that titles with a mixture of content – features, fashion, pin-ups as well as comic strips – “came to be predominantly associated with British girls’ comics” (despite also being seen in boys’ titles such as Eagle and Look & Learn). Later titles such as Jackie in particular took this further, of course, and indeed led to the magazine format dominating the teenage and adult markets. At this point there’s a visible split in the market, with the titles for pre-teens (starting with Bunty, Judy, and Princess) being produced primarily in comics form rather than using more of the mixed format. “The comic medium, in not continuing through to periodicals for adults, was reinforced as an indicator of childhood.”

The section on Bunty and the subsequent section on Tammy and the new wave of comics will probably be of particular interest to readers of this blog, and won’t disappoint. There are some quotes from Benita Brown, who talks about writing the stories “Blind Bettina” (publication not traced),  “Hateful Heather”, and “Cathy’s Friend From Yesterday” (both in Mandy). Brown also wrote the sports tips that appeared in Jinty, “Winning Ways”, and it is implied though not stated clearly that she wrote “Spirit of the Lake” too. The final section is also interesting, covering the advent of photo-stories (illustrated by a parody one from feminist title Shocking Pink) and horror themes, before the death of the girls’ comic as a separate medium. Unfortunately for my personal interests, this chapter doesn’t go down to the level of detail I would ideally want to see about ‘production’ points such as sales data, who wrote what, who drew what, or editorial decisions and aims. Nevertheless it is a really good chapter that will give solid reference for anyone reading or researching in this area in the future.

Chapter Three is about how librarians, academics, teachers, and others have thought and talked about comics reading in Britain. It looks at moral panics and the fears that adults who are gatekeepers for children have had about comics: that comics are dangerous unless vetted for appropriate content, poorly-made, and will incite their readers to violent, criminal, or otherwise undesirable outcomes. These fears applied to boys and girls but particularly vehemently to girls; there was also a class element to the fears, with working-class readers felt to be more at risk than others. These worries came from various sides of the political spectrum as there were also plenty of feminist critiques made: that girls’ comics were unnecessarily twee and limiting, that they had too many stereotypes, that they were created almost exclusively by men, that they encouraged a victim mentality (especially the Cinderella and Slave story themes, as you can imagine).

On the positive side, Gibson counters these fears much more thoroughly than I’ve seen elsewhere. She cites Benita Brown as seeing her work in comics deliberately stretching the boundaries of the girls’ comics traditions; Brown also apparently “said that during her period of writing the majority of writers that she found out about, in both IPC and DC Thomson, were women”. (No further details were given on this statement – I’d love to hear more! – I also note that Mavis Miller, who also shaped girls comics publications at the time, wasn’t mentioned.) Gibson also points out the contradictions in the ‘moral panic’ reactions to comics – that commentators are scared comics will make readers ‘lazy’ and unwilling to move on to ‘proper’ books while at the same time noting that high volumes of comics being read tends to go hand in hand with high volumes of other materials being read by the same people. Gibson also points out changes over time in what is shocking and deplorable – at one point ballet is risqué, then Jackie becomes worrying because of its content about boyfriends and fashion, and subsequently titles like Just Seventeen and Mizz seem just as problematic. Each generation sees “a shift in defining what girlhood is and what the concerns of girlhood are.” Furthermore, once you start talking to the readers of the stories about them in more detail, you get a lot more about how they are interpreted or understood by those readers: girls discussed and argued about what they were reading, they interpreted them in different ways, it wasn’t just a mechanical equation or imposition of stereotypes onto vulnerable readers. It is precisely that area of reader response that is so valuable in the subsequent couple of chapters.

Chapters Four and Five are based on her interviews with readers of comics. It covers (of course) girls reading girls’ comics, looking at interview data to see how women talk about their girlhood reading and comparing this to academic writing that often makes incorrect assumptions about how that worked. Pleasingly, Gibson also covers boys reading girls’ comics, and girls reading comics that aren’t intended for girls (or not straightforwardly – she argues that even humour comics intended for a mixed audience are more firmly marked as being for boys than you might think).

Gibson showed through these interviews what readers of this blog will know from personal experience: girls don’t only read girls’ comics as might be assumed, they also read humour comics intended for a mixed-gender audience (The Beano) and titles intended for a male audience (Eagle, superhero comics). They read across class lines (there is often awareness of the idea of comics as a ‘lower class’ thing unless you read the ‘posh’ titles such as Girl). Most of all, readers read widely – borrowing other people’s comics, swapping, buying multiple titles per week – often communally, and with strong feelings about those comics even when remembering them as adults. Comics were fun to read and remembered fondly, but were also an important part of growing up: the transition from reading comics to reading magazines was often a marker of teenagerhood or early womanhood, and not infrequently this transition was forced on the reader to some extent by parents or by peer pressure. So on the one hand comics showed you ways of being a girl in British society (which you might reject by reading boys comics instead, or by interpreting the story differently from the way adults did), and on the other hand they were something you were expected or made to grow out of and put behind you – they belonged to childhood.

And girls comics stayed in one’s childhood, unlike the boys comics which have generated a collector base and fandom around them. Grown women are not, in our society, supposed to be still interested in those childish things for their own sake (though they are allowed to read comics if they have children who they are buying them for), and grown women do not as a rule, indulge themselves in re-buying their old comics and participating in ‘collecting’ activities. This is especially the case considering that comics are quite strongly marked culturally as being ‘for boys’ and ‘for men’, apart from the girls comics which are marked as being ‘of the past’. Some women will buck this trend, of course, but as exceptions to the rule.

The book ends with a good selection of end material, with an index and bibliography that has given me leads for further investigation in the future. One very welcome feature is a list of stories under discussion, which shows convincingly the wide range that Gibson covers. An index is also always useful, though a couple of quibbles – why not include Benita Brown in the index? (Pat Mills is also quoted but not included, so presumably no creators are listed in the index, but this still doesn’t make good sense to me.) Also, why is there no list of figures? There are only about 6 of them so it wouldn’t be a long list but it would be handy to refer back to and seems a striking omission for a book about comics.

I have a host of follow-up thoughts on this in terms of questions this book sparks, and further things to be looked at. This post is already very long though so those will continue separately.