Tag Archives: magic

A Spell of Trouble [1980]

Sample Images

A Spell of Trouble 1A Spell of Trouble 2A Spell of Trouble 3

Published: Jinty 5 July 1980 – 30 September 1980

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Episodes: 12

Translations/reprints: translated into Dutch as Anne Tanne Toverheks [Anne Tanne Sorceress] in Tina 1984-85

Plot

For centuries, the Black family have been the richest and most successful family in Witcham. Nobody realises that this is due to their being a family of witches, and that is because they take great care to guard their secret.

Carrie, the youngest Black, urges her mother for a lesson on how to look into the future. But they get a shock when they do, because the sight that greets them is of a homely, stupid-looking girl. Even the two witches are revolted at how ugly she looks. Her name is Angela White and she is an orphan that Matron is desperate to get rid of because she’s a bungling, walking disaster area who can’t do anything right. Her stupidity and well-meaning ‘help’ in combination with her klutziness make her even more of a menace than “The Jinx from St Jonah’s”, who at least had a brain and could do some things right. Now Matron has finally traced Angela’s relatives, so it looks like she will be rid of Angela at last.

Consultation with Uncle Bertrand the family ghost confirms the worst: Angela is descended from the Whites, the ‘black sheep in reverse’ of the Black family, and she is on her way here to live with them. The Blacks grow even more repulsed at that thought when Uncle Bertrand foretells, “the Blacks shall fall by the hand of a White!”

But it’s too late for any spells to stop Angela, because she is already outside with Matron. Matron ‘persuades’ them to take Angela in by dropping hints of unpleasant PR for them in the neighbourhood by not doing so. So the Blacks take Angela in while concealing their dislike of her and being witches. After all, says Mrs Black, Angela is family, and instructs Carrie to be nice and use no magic on Angela.

Carrie pretends to be friendly but is finding Angela blithely aggravating. For example, Carrie’s cat Jasper gives Angela a wide berth after the klutzy girl accidentally steps on his tail. Uncle Bertrand walks out on the Blacks and refuses to return while Angela stays after she cleaned up his nice, dusty, cobwebby attic – and also ruined the broomstick that was the Blacks’ family heirloom. Carrie tries to scare Angela with her pet spiders, but the joke is on her when Angela compassionately sets them free in the garden. We have a sneaking sympathy towards Carrie when Angela tries to have her watch “Marmaduke Mouse” (bleech!) because she thinks Carrie’s pop programme is unhealthy; Carrie snaps and turns Angela into a mouse. But she didn’t bargain on Jasper trying to eat Angela while she is a mouse and the spell has to be removed – fast!

The Blacks try a spell to foist Angela off onto another couple. But it fails because soppy Angela thinks the Blacks will be heartbroken if she leaves.

A further complication then comes up: the witches’ coven has a rule that a non-witch cannot live with a witch family. So when the Witch Inspector finds out about Angela, she says that either Angela has to become a witch or the Blacks will have their powers removed.

Now Angela knows the truth about her relatives, and once she hears what the Witch Inspector wants her to become, she is repulsed: “I’m not a horrid witch like you and I never shall be either!” she tells Carrie. She won’t have a bar of becoming a witch. Carrie tries to find ways to make Angela change her mind, including an evil Egyptian ring to corrupt her personality and make her amendable to becoming a witch, but nothing works. The failures are due to Angela’s bungling as much as her resolve, and sometimes spells exploding in Carrie’s face as well, including the evil ring. The Blacks manage to stall the Witch Inspector with a spell to make Angela and Carrie switch bodies so Carrie, in Angela’s body, will impress the Witch Inspector with Angela’s ‘progress’.

But of course the witches eventually find out Angela has not become a witch and strip the Blacks of their powers, which fulfils Uncle Bertrand’s prophecy. No magic is very hard on the Blacks because they’ve never got by any other way and they depended on magic to be successful and rich. Mum can’t use magic to pay the bills, so she has to take a job, which she isn’t strong enough for. Carrie’s self-esteem plummets and her schoolwork deteriorates because she can’t do it magically (all right, perhaps cheat through it magically would be a fairer description).

Seeing this, soft-hearted Angela decides to become a witch after all so the witches will return the Blacks’ powers. Unfortunately she does this without consulting her Black relatives beforehand or getting their advice. They only find out once they find Angela’s note explaining what she’s done and has now gone off to the witches’ coven to show it – and also find themselves attacked by brooms that dopey Angela bewitched to clean up the place and then forgot to un-bewitch afterwards! Mrs Black tells Carrie to get after Angela, because anything could happen now that bungling idiot is a witch.

Sure enough, Angela is bungling witchcraft, just as she bungles everything else, and she hasn’t got the brains to use her powers wisely or discreetly. Realising her train is going in the opposite direction from the coven, Angela casts a spell that makes it go backwards, which leads to confusion and chaos for the angry passengers and the hapless stationmaster. Then she asks the stationmaster where the coven is – as if he would know – which makes him suspicious, and the witches’ secret is in danger.

The witches have seen it all in their crystal ball. They now realise Angela should not be a witch because she is too much of a bungler to do it right. So they agree to return the Blacks’ powers, but on strict condition that Angela is depowered and never allowed to become a witch again.

Now that the non-witch rule is no longer a problem, the road is clear for non-witch Angela to get along with her witchy Black relatives.

Thoughts

The Jinx from St Jonah’s meets Bewitched. Well, it sure has all the ingredients for a sitcom, having a family of witches meet their match in a bungling oaf of a relative who always goofs up, sometimes without even realising it. There are always loads of laughs for the reader in every episode, no matter whether it’s the Blacks or the White who get the upper hand. But it is always the non-magic bungling White who wins in the end, much to readers’ delight.

Trini Tinturé’s artwork is the perfect choice in bringing out both the witchiness of Carrie Black and the goofiness of Angela White, often in the same panels. Not to mention all the hijinks that ensue from Angela’s bungling and the sometimes-bungling magic as well. Tinturé was a very popular Jinty artist, and having her draw this story would have really added to its popularity. Indeed, “A Spell of Trouble” was one of my personal favourites when it first came out.

The Blacks themselves add to the humour too, most often when some things, including their own spells, go a bit wrong for them. They are not all that nice and can be mean, but they can’t really be described as evil or villains although they are witches. Anti-heroes, er, anti-heroines would be the best description. They’ve got their human touches and can come across as sympathetic, such as Carrie enjoying pop music programmes, and thinking the boarding school Angela tries to enrol at in one episode “belongs in a museum”.

When the pressure to make Angela a witch begins, the story becomes a battle of the wills, albeit still in a hilarious way. Angela may be a bungling idiot, but we have to give her full marks for resolve when she adamantly refuses to become a witch. We have to wonder where it will all end up. Perhaps Angela will end up as a toad, a transfiguration Carrie threatens her with several times. But considering Uncle Bertrand’s prophecy, we get the impression the Blacks will lose the battle. In fact, it all ends up where nobody foresaw, though the warning signs were there – that Angela is too much of a bungler to make a competent witch. The witches should have made an exception to the non-witch rule in her case, which they do in the end. It is fitting enough, and everything ends happily for both the Blacks and their White relative after all.

The Girl Who Never Was (1978 – 1979)

Sample images

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
click thru
From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
click thru

Publication: 7 October 1978 – 17 February 1979 (17 episodes)
Artist: Terry Aspin
Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Translated into Dutch as ‘De verbanning van Irma IJsinga’ [Irma IJsinga’s Banishment] (in: Tina 1981).

Synopsis

Tina Williams is ever so good at what she does – school sports and academic achievements both – but she is a big-headed arrogant girl who none of her peers like, apart from one pair who toady up to her all the time. More tellingly, her parents seem to have lost control of her long ago too, and she neither respects them nor is even polite to them. She sounds a pain to be around – in the first episode her school goes on a theatre outing to see Salina the Sorceress, and Tina spoils all the magic tricks by explaining them. But she can’t explain away the Disappearing Gateway that Salina asks her to enter, warning that “you may not return… not to this world, anyway.” The bright light of the gateway, once dimmed, shows that she is in a suddenly-empty, indeed abandoned, theatre, and once she has managed to walk home, she finds that her parents don’t even recognize her. A spooky start!

She quickly finds that she is in a parallel world in which she was never born, which is enough of a shock – her parents call her Gina by mistake, and she has to sleep in the spare room (which should by rights be her own bedroom, full of trophies and clothes and things). Her parents are at least willing to take her in, but that’s only once she mentions the name ‘Salina’. It turns out that there are more shocks in store – Salina is Professor of Advanced Sorcery and an accomplished magic worker – which is proved to Tina as she disappears in front of their very eyes! Not before showing Tina a few home truths about how unpleasant, ‘conceited and self-centred’ she is, and making it quite clear that if she’s not prepared to recognize that, then she can jolly well stay here in this world. And of course at this point, Tina doesn’t recognize it – her reaction is to deny it with “I can’t help it if everyone is more stupid than me!”

For someone so clever, Tina is a bit slow on the uptake as to the implications of this new world she has been landed in – I think she is understandably a bit afraid of what she might find and perhaps not trying to think it through. She tells herself rather optimistically that perhaps only Salina has strange magic powers (but if so, how would the university have a department of sorcery?) and tries to behave in her usual way (throwing her weight around with her parents). When she gets to school, she very much wants it to be business as usual  with her beating the pants off fellow schoolgirl Lindy; but all the other schoolgirls wonder why she hasn’t bothered using magic in their swimming contest, if she’s meant to be so good at swimming. Tina quickly finds out that as magic a part of everyday life on this world, to be a success you therefore need to be able to do magic well! Simply swimming well doesn’t mean anything, if you can’t also counter a spell to drain the pool too. Not that she takes this change of the rules of life graciously, of course.

Rival Lindy is consistently nice to Tina, trying to show her around and console her when she is visibly upset at losing. But she can’t shield Tina from other surprises, such as finding out that the science class is covering alchemy today! Tina thinks she’s clever by making an excuse to be let off – saying she hit her head when Lindy drained the pool too quickly – and skips to the local library to start boning up on magic now that she recognizes she will never be a success without mastering it. Humiliatingly, the only ‘teach yourself’ book that she stands any chance of understanding is targeted at four to five year olds, but at least she is able to master the simple spell of moving an object by magic. When she uses it in her hockey game she still finds further surprises  – it works quite well the first time, but the second time she tries it she is sent off, because you’re only allowed to use one spell per girl per game. She moans to herself “How can I know all the rules when I don’t belong to this world?” but she hasn’t really tried to find them out, say by confiding in the rather nice Lindy.

Instead, she consistently tries to land Lindy in the soup – but this world has an underlying fairness in much of the way it works. One of her attempts to land Lindy in trouble means that they are both subjected to a trial by magic – whereby both the girls jump into the pool with weights on! “If you sink, you’re innocent… if you float, you’re guilty!” Tina is relieved to think that of course she will sink, with the heavy weight that she’s attached to – but the trial by magic is cleverer than that, and she is revealed to be a liar in front of the whole school.

Presumably to save her from continual humiliation, the story now takes a slight twist. Tina demands to see Salina so that she can be sent back to her own world, but she is still away on a trip. Instead, Salina’s younger twin sisters give her an unexpected gift – 9 spells that she can cast whenever she wants, to do pretty much whatever she needs. But – she can’t use any one of them more than once, and she won’t know in advance what exactly the spell will do, except that it will be appropriate to the occasion… The first one, cast before she even knew the detail of what had happened, was when Tina cast a flying spell onto a car that was about to crash into Lindy – and it worked very well, even making Tina into a local heroine at school. But of course some of the other schoolgirls want her to cast the same flying spell on them, and they jump from a high window as a result! Tina’s next spell is more amusing than astounding – they have a bouncing spell put on them, which the girls in question aren’t best pleased by, but the rest of the class thinks was rather funny.

We can see that the pattern of the next few episodes will be shaped by the remaining 7 spells, and how Tina can best use them – or avoid wasting them. The two girls who had the bouncing spell cast on them are still pretty cross about it, and they cast a dancing-feet spell on Tina as she is on her way home that night – as a result she can’t stop dancing, and by the time the spell wears off she is miles from home and very tired. She doesn’t want to use up one of her precious spells to counter it, so she only gets home very late indeed. Her parallel earth parents have been worried sick, but Tina can’t be bothered to explain. Her cavalier attitude gets her grounded – her parents tell her to stay in the next day, regardless of her other commitments (which in this case is her decision to enter yet another swimming contest against Lindy). And they back it up with a spell, that makes it impossible to leave the house. Of course faced with this, she does use up one of her spells – but again it works in a way she hadn’t expected – this time by making the whole house disappear!

The swimming contest goes her way, but the next round will be tougher (for one thing, spells will be allowed in the next round). Tina is happy to have got through but as a result, slips back into the old self she has started to cast off at earlier points – she boasts and sounds conceited, and the other girls give her the cold shoulder as a result. Apart from the rather saintly Lindy, who tries to get through to her, and manages enough of a breakthrough that Tina does start to think that maybe having friends would be nicer than being the top girl with no friends. In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, she hurries home to try to get back before her parents return – only to find that they’re back already, and stunned to find their house vanished and the nosy neighbour ready to accuse Tina of the evil spell that must have done it!

The police are ready to haul her off to the station for interviewing, when the house suddenly re-appears, and news comes in that it wasn’t her, after all – it was Salina who did it, and so she could be set free. Very puzzling to Tina, of course, who knows jolly well that she did do it! But it gives her a new hope, because if Salina has returned, then she can ask her to send her back to her own world. Full of this optimism, Tina spends a couple of her spells to actually make other people happy – a spell to make her parents’ garden flourish as it never had done before, and one for her school peers, to cheer them up. And it’s a lovely treat for Tina, too, who is enjoying making other people happy – not only because it’s gratifying in itself, but because she is discovering that it can yield unexpected ways for her to enjoy herself too. She’d never have known about magic skateboarding otherwise!

Sadly for Tina, she is soon down to earth with a bump again. Salina wasn’t back yet, after all – it was the twins who had sent the message about Salina. Tina is furious, but the twins show her in their crystal ball how happy the spells she cast (once she thought she was going) made others. But Tina is not a redeemed person yet – she pinches the crystal ball when it is left unguarded. She doesn’t like what she sees when she tries it next – her losing to Lindy – and in a temper, she sweeps the ball onto the floor, where it cracks into pieces. It turns out that in this world, breaking a crystal ball is much worse than breaking a mirror – something awful is guaranteed to happen to the one who broke it. In Tina’s case, she loses the swimming race and in a rage, uses a black magic spell against Lindy (though the twins try to stop her, saying it is the curse of the ball that is making her do it). Lindy is turned into a toad, in front of everyone! And though Tina turns her back again right away, this sort of black magic is totally beyond the pale, and everyone turns against her – including her parents and school friends. And she only has two spells left now…

The twins spirit her away, but the only real solution is for Tina to reach Salina, who is on a retreat at the top of a tall mountain. The only catch is that Salina has put a spell on the mountain – “anyone thinking mean or nasty thoughts will be stopped from getting to the top.” That means that Tina must control herself much more than she has been able to do in the past! First she is dumped back down to the bottom, where they all started; then she must face a dragon and a giant. Luckily for her, she has a counteracting nice thought “Oh, if only I’d listened to the twins! They’ve been so good to me. I wish I could take back everything nasty that I thought!” And that does the trick – the last spell kicks in and wipes out the giant and the dragon, and she finally gets to see Salina. Or does she? All she can see is the twins – but it turns out that they were Salina, all along! She knew Tina needed someone to keep an eye out for her. The mountain was just a last test, to see if she was ready to return to her own world. Salina sends her back, with one spell still to spare.

In her own world, it turns out that she has been in a coma for two months, and everyone had nearly given up hope that she would recover. Salina had been coming in to see her every day, consumed with guilt over the accident that put her in a coma when the magic act made her hit her head. But where are her parents and friends, why aren’t they coming to see her? Tina can only think it is because she has been so nasty in the past, they don’t care about her. And even the reformed Tina can perhaps be forgiven for lashing out a little, upset that no one has come to visit her apart from Salina, and her parents very briefly. But Salina has come to pick her up on her discharge, and in her neat roadster, Tina finds herself telling the whole story. Including the bit about the left-over spell, which Salina urges her to try out – and so Tina does, asking for a spell that would make people like her. Behold – the door to her house opens onto a welcome-back party, done as a surprise by her parents and schoolfriends, who kept it a secret until she got back home. Tina, the reformed character, vows she won’t need spells to make herself liked in the future!

Thoughts

This is a favourite story of mine, though not quite making it into my top ten. The parallel universe where magic works is a great draw and a very fun read. We enjoy seeing Tina’s discomfiture with things not going as she expected! It was clearly pretty successful: it is the lead story throughout its run (though it only makes it onto the cover once), and was translated into Dutch.

Of course it needs to have a bigger aim or structure, and in this case it’s a redemption story: Tina is a pretty unpleasant girl, who is redeemed through her tribulations. Her unpleasantness is shown to be simply selfishness and big-headedness rather than anything outright villainous, so it does not stretch credulity too much to have her end the story as a rather nicer girl than she was at the start of it (whereas the black-hearted Stacey in “Slave of Form 3B” would be much less believable as a reformed character). This is just as well, as the story rushes a little quickly towards her change of heart at the end, despite it being a relatively long story at 17 episodes.

It makes quite an interesting comparison with two other stories from around the same time: 1977-78’s story “Land of No Tears” is also a redemption narrative of sorts, as is “She Shall Have Music” (which actually ran in many of the same issues as “The Girl Who Never Was”). LONT has a different feel and different ending – once Cassie Shaw lands in the world of the future she is out to beat her hated rival and (eventually) to defeat the whole premise of the unfair society that she is placed in. The fact that she improves in character is incidental, in a way, though the Cassie at the end of the story certainy is a great improvement on the one that starts the story.

Tina’s story is all about her redemption: the world she is placed in is also unfair in many ways (there would be no appeal from the punishment she was due to get for turning Lindy into a toad) but the thrust of the story isn’t about the greater good, it’s all about Tina learning to appreciate her own mistakes and becoming less self-centred. In this story, Salina (or the twins, whichever way you want to see it) is clearly guiding and testing her, rather like a fairy godmother. When the twins leave Tina alone with the crystal ball, they are obviously tempting her (and she fails); later on when she has to climb the magic mountain then again she is being tested, very explicitly so, and this time she passes.

In SSHM, Lisa Carstairs also has to learn to be less self-centred and conceited, but she has no kindly fairy-godmother equivalent. The trials she goes through are considerably harsher, and with nothing that lets her out easily. It’s a much harder read; Lisa herself is considerably more unpleasant than Tina too. I think the harshness of the story with its realistic tribulations (poverty and deprivation, tiredness, hunger, relationship difficulties caused by changed circumstances), ties into the unpleasantness of the main character: Lisa is so horrible throughout much of the story that she needs that realism of ‘no easy get-out’, otherwise the final redemption wouldn’t work. Will Tina’s change of heart last once she is back in her own world, without a magical companion looking over her shoulder? I am not so sure that it will, whereas Lisa’s and Cassie’s new leaf will stay turned over, I think.

 

Shadow on the Fen (1978)

Sample images

Fen 1

(Click thru)

Fen 2

(Click thru)

Fen 3

Publication: 18 February 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Unknown (but see thoughts)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #25 as “The Witchfinder”

Plot

Linden James and her family have just moved to the village of Wychley Green, but things aren’t off to a good start for her. She misses her old home and isn’t making friends because they think she’s standoffish. At the Wishing Tree she wishes for a friend, without much hope of getting one.

But then a girl from the 17th century appears. Her name is Rebecca Neville and her evil cousin, Matthew Hobley “The Witchfinder”, has accused her of witchcraft. Part of it is Rebecca having her grandmother’s ‘healing hands’ and treating sick people and animals with them. But the real reason is that Hobley is after her inheritance. Hobley was leading a witch-hunting mob against her all the way up to the Wishing Tree, and she suddenly found herself in Linden’s time. Linden draws the conclusion that it was the Wishing Tree. She tells Rebecca that she is quite safe here because people here don’t believe in witches anymore. Rebecca is upset to find her home in ruins and her grandmother’s grave (which does not give the date of her death). However, she moves in with Linden, swapping her 17th century clothes for modern ones and school uniform happily enough.

But soon there are warning signs that Hobley has followed Rebecca into the 20th century. During a thunderstorm, they are terrified when a frightening silhouette that looks like a Puritan appears in a mirror. Soon the same shadow is following them about. And Linden, who is confident that Hobley can’t stir up people against Rebecca in this period because people no longer believe in witches, is soon to learn otherwise.

It begins when the school visits an archaeological dig, which Rebecca realises is unearthing an apothecary’s shop. The Witchfinder attacks with a pile of bricks, which narrowly misses Rebecca and the Professor in charge of the dig. The classmates blame Rebecca and start to whisper she is a witch. She gets particular trouble from the wayward Smith boys. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a ring on a trap door that could lead to something.

Linden buys a witchball (an old charm against witches) for her mother’s birthday. On the way back from the shop the shadow of the Witchfinder appears. Linden threatens him with the witchball and he retreats. They now have a protection against the Witchfinder, but odd attacks start at Linden’s home and seem to be targeting the witchball.

The whispering against Rebecca gets worse when she offers to help Mrs Perks look for her cat while the Smith boys tease Mrs Perks over it. Mrs Perks is also rumoured to be a witch because she is psychic. They help Mrs Perks find her cat and in return Mrs Perks reads Rebecca’s palms. She says Rebecca has healing hands and warns her that there is an evil shadow pursuing her.

The dig uncovers a box that contains items from the apothecary. Among them is a gold locket belonging to the apothecary’s granddaughter Catherine. Catherine was a friend of Rebecca’s, and she and the apothecary stood up to Hobley for her. Then the Professor uncovers a document listing the names of people brought to trial for witchcraft – and Rebecca’s name is on the list! This renews the rumours that Rebecca is a witch. Linden covers up by saying the other Rebecca must be an ancestress, which calms things down. But they wonder how the list got there.

That question is answered when the Witchfinder turns up in person at school, posing as Professor Hopkin who has joined the dig. Linden and Rebecca learn that Catherine searched Hobley’s room for false evidence against Rebecca and stole the list. But she was discovered, so she, the apothecary and their cat were hanged as friends of a witch. However, Catherine is not quite finished – her ghost appears when the Witchfinder traps them at the fen and gets help for them.

They now realise the Witchfinder must be a wizard in his own right and turn to Mrs Perks for help. The Witchfinder tries to scare them with ghosts, but the ghosts fade when they approach Grandmother Neville’s grave, and they figure it must offer protection against the Witchfinder. Mrs Perks helps them figure out the secret of the Witchfinder’s power – a box containing a black wand, a black book and a book bound in black leather. If they destroy those items, they destroy the Witchfinder.

They discover that the Witchfinder/Hopkin has gone into hiding. Mrs Perks suggests he may be at Deepdene Cottage and gives Rebecca a cross and rowan flowers for protection. She says the cross was carved by an ancestor, whose wife became one of Hobley victim’s – so she has her own score to settle with Hobley.

They find the box at the cottage but are attacked by the Witchfinder’s minions – ravens and vicious dogs. They manage to retrieve the wand and destroy it. But the Witchfinder still has the book and knife.

Mrs Perks tracks down the box again, but the Witchfinder attacks in person – and right in front of the Smith boys. Linden repels him with the cross, and they destroy his book. But he gets away with the knife.

Mrs Perks ends up in hospital. The Witchfinder gave the Smith boys such a fright that they have reformed and are looking after Mrs Perks’ garden. Mrs Perks warns the girls that the Witchfinder will be even more dangerous now because he is frightened, and they still have to destroy the knife. Their search for him goes nowhere, and now he sends a mist that cuts off the village from the rest of the world.

Rebecca heads back to the Wishing Tree on her own, figuring that is where she will find Hobley and the knife. She finds the knife, but has forgotten her cross. So she is unprotected when he emerges, ready to drag her back to their own time and burn her at the stake.

However, Linden discovers the oversight, heads to the Wishing Tree with the cross, and arrives in the nick of time. As she flourishes the cross, lightning strikes. The Wishing Tree is destroyed and Hobley is reduced to bones, which crumble within the hour, leaving only his hat. But there is no sign of Rebecca.

Then Linden finds a book Rebecca left for her. It contains a reference to a statue in the churchyard that is a tribute to Rebecca. It reveals she survived Hobley’s persecution, became Rebecca Bartlett, and died a noble old lady at 77. Linden is relieved to know Rebecca got back safely and goes to put flowers on her grave. She finds the epitaph reflects their whole adventure: “Time and Death are illusions – but Friendship survives forever”.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a cut above the formula about evil sorcerers/witches who use their evil magic to wreak havoc while the protagonists try to stop them, and it almost invariably ends with the sorcerer/witch being destroyed. But there is always a lot of dark, spooky, scary stuff along the way, and this can leave panels that resonate with the reader years after she reads the story.

Shadow on the Fen is using the formula to make a serious statement about witch-hunting and where the evil really lies – with the accused or the accuser? Its strongest underscoring in this regard is in the hypocrisy of it all – the Witchfinder accusing people of being evil witches while he is the one who is an evil wizard. There is humour in the irony in that the Witchfinder is the one who is allergic to the things that are supposed to repel witches – witchballs, rowan and crucifixes. It further underlines the hypocrisy. While real witch-finders could hardly have been evil wizards, they were certainly evil people who would go to any lengths, such as heinous torture, to make a bounty and a fortune.

The story also touches on human psychology and how much we have actually outgrown the thinking that sent people to the stake for witches in olden times. And how far has Wychley Green itself outgrown it? For example, are the rumours against Mrs Perks the product of stupid, ignorant people, or could there still be traces of witch-beliefs in Wychley Green? Lingering witch-beliefs in modern villages have formed the basis of several ‘persecution’ serials such as Wenna the Witch and Mark of the Witch!

The story should be appreciated for taking a few moments to depict witches as they really were – wise women who helped people with charms, folk magic and herbal remedies. They were not agents of the Devil – a myth invented by the Inquisition – but their healing practices made them ready targets for accusations of witchcraft. When Rebecca first meets Linden, she recounts how several people in her time went this way, and her own healing abilities have made her vulnerable to the same accusation.

The name of Matthew Hobley and his alias, Professor Hopkin, are clearly references to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. The fact that Hobley turned out to really be a dark wizard may be a reference to the (probably apocryphal) legend that Hopkins was declared a wizard by his own witch-hunting methods and executed.

Several years later the theme of the Witchfinder General resurfaced in Tammy, with Spell of Fog, 29 October 1983 – 17 December 1983. This time, though, it is Hopkins himself. A film crew want to make a film about one of his victims, Alice Compton. Sally Groves, who has been deeply affected by the Compton case, protests when the director announces he is making a sensationalised version that depicts Alice as an actual agent of the Devil, not a hapless victim of superstition and hysteria.

Then a strange fog appears where Alice’s remains have been scattered. Its power cuts the village off from the outside world and has the village progressively reverting to a 17th century pattern in technology, dress and people’s thinking. Hysteria erupts in the village as the fog takes hold and people think it’s Alice’s revenge. Sally is the obvious scapegoat because she alone has remained unaffected, so she becomes a target of mob attacks and people calling her a witch. Eventually the fog takes over completely and the persecution of Alice Compton is re-enacted, with Sally as Alice and the film director as Hopkins.

But it turns out the power behind the fog is neither Alice nor Hopkins – it’s the villagers who burned Alice at the stake. They acted out shame and guilt over what they did, but also to remind the modern villagers that witch-hunting is not something that belongs in the past. It can erupt in any day and age because the psychology behind it (unreason, prejudice and fear of what you do not understand) is in every human. (Yes, you only have to look at things like the Red Scares and Satanic Ritual Abuse Scares to know what they mean.) They leave the villagers with a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of their fears.

There are similarities between Fen and Fog – witchfinders, evils of witch-hunting and mass hysteria, and supernatural forces and mists that cut off villages from the outside world and turn modern people into witch-hunting idiots of olden times – that have me wondering if it is the same writer. The mist in Fog sounds like a step up from the fog in Fen – going from what seems a belated last-ditch effort on the part of the Witchfinder to becoming the driving force of the entire plot. The credits for Fog list Jake Adams as the writer and George Anthony (actually, Tony Coleman) as the artist.

Fog 1Fog 2Fog 3

(Click thru)

Golden Dolly, Death Dust! (1975-76)

Sample images

Pg 1 Golden Dolly, Death Dust!
(click thru)
Golden Dolly, Death Dust! pg 2
(click thru)
Golden Dolly, Death Dust! pg 3
(click thru)

Summary

Lucy Farmer and her French penfriend Yvette have no inkling of what lies ahead of them when a parcel arrives from Lucy’s great-aunt Hepzibah. The parcel contains a golden corn dolly and the ominous message that “they may need its help soon”. Very soon they are plunged into a good versus evil struggle: the Corn Dolly comes to life to help them against Miss Marvell, the richest woman in town, who also turns out to be an evil witch using the blackest of magic to kill all good green growing things.

Right from the first episode the girls are in danger from Miss Marvell, initially simply because they have gone somewhere they weren’t supposed to and seen something they weren’t supposed to – a great patch of bare grey earth in Miss Marvell’s garden, and plants that have crumbled to dust. The patch of grey earth is so strongly poisoned that the residue on the girls’ shoes poisons Lucy’s father’s garden too (and continues to do so in subsequent episodes even after he has patched it with new turf). Soon they are courting her anger more deliberately, once Corn Dolly has told them they must investigate Miss Marvell’s plans further. They are found and nearly caught in a secret room at the top of the witch’s house – her spooky henchthing, a scary mask, can communicate with Miss Marvell at a distance and do her bidding. Corn Dolly is their saviour this time, defending the girls with her strength from the sun and telling them to run to the trees, where the strength of living things will defeat Miss Marvell. However, this sortie has revealed jars and jars of death dust; there is only so much that Corn Dolly will be able to do to fight this black magic. The one thing she can suggest is a charm from ancient times, made with certain flowers, that can defeat witches.

There follows a back-and-forth cycle that oscillates with bigger and bigger swings. Miss Marvell destroys some plants; the girls must gather flowers for the charm; Miss Marvell wreaks more destruction to prevent them from finding the next flower on their list; against great odds the girls manage to get the next flower; people round about get more and more nervous and worried and downright frightened. Miss Marvell tries more and more tactics to beat the girls: she kidnaps Corn Dolly right out of Lucy’s school bag despite the protective rowan berries that Lucy put in (in her guise as benign school governor, Marvell asks an unsuspecting girl to remove them), she brainwashes Yvette and later on turns Lucy’s mother against her French visitor. The girls have Corn Dolly to help them, but she is neither omnipotent nor always totally patient: more than once she tells them they have to work things out for themselves as she cannot always be with them.

And indeed they are pretty resourceful: when the straw form of Corn Dolly is thrown on a fire by the vengeful Miss Marvell, they ask for sun and rain to douse the fire and strengthen her foe. They manage to ask in roundabout ways for important information like the location of a specific kind of rose for their charm, and enlist mundane help to deal with obstacles like an enraged bull or the antagonised mother.

It’s a pretty long series of episodes, though, with these power struggles that seem to each end quite similarly, if growing in violence. The last five episodes take on a different tempo: the ministry of agriculture forbids any entry to or exit from their town of Haylton until they find out what killed all the plants at the zoo (and the authorities are never going to figure out that the answer is black magic, of course). This means that the girls have to find out a way to escape from the town to get the last few flowers for the spell; it becomes a race against the forces of evil to get to another source of help – Great-Aunt Hepzibah in Cornwall – gathering the final ingredients on the way. Of course Miss Marvell is not far behind, inciting whoever shelters them to know “black, cold fear!” She too has allies – three evil witch ghosts in a haunted village, but once again Corn Dolly and the forces of the sunlight – or in this case, a timely lightning strike – defeat them.

The showdown is at the site of a “giant’s circle” on the shortest night of the year, but one which feels very long to the girls, chased as they are by Miss Marvell and the trees in an evil wood. The stone circle is perhaps something else that the witch thinks will be helpful to her, but the girls use the charm along with the first sun of midsummer’s day – and Miss Marvell is literally vanished away, and her death dust with her.

Themes and thoughts

This is a powerful story, if one which on re-read can feel a little long in parts as the girls gather their various different ingredients. The sample story pages included above are ones that I know I have not read for over thirty years until Mistyfan sent me scans, but the image of Miss Marvell scattering death dust on the buddleia is one that has been with me all the time since then (though as an adult I have been in more sympathy with the death-dust wielder, as this is a nearly-unkillable weed). Miss Marvell’s (rather un-African though so-called) mask, along with her cackling gleeful face calling down a storm, was part of the cast in my childhood nightmares. Luckily for me, Corn Dolly stood beside my bed (with other symbols of good such as Epona from “Guardian of White Horse Hill”) to defend me.

There is a noticeable hippyish streak in this story: the environmental struggle to protect the trees and the wildlife, the fact that the dark witch’s alter ego is that of a rich and powerful establishment figure* who is able to do some of her wrong-doing purely because she knows the right people to ask favours of. (There is a counter-example lord who is on the side of the good guys, but he is seen in only one episode.) Perhaps the self-sufficiency of the protagonist girls, prompted on occasion by the odd pointed comment by Corn Dolly, is also a reflection of that countercultural angle?

* Interestingly enough, Miss Marvell is also depicted as something of a scientist, with a laboratory in which she tests her death dust for potency. In this she is a little reminiscent of the villain in subsequent story “Girl In A Bubble”, also drawn by Phil Gascoine.

It is however pretty much a quest story. The extra layers that draw you in are attributable, I think, to Phil Gascoine’s narrative skills as much as anything: the contrast between the peaceful countryside or small town and the dark, twisted woods in which Miss Marvell aims to trap our protagonists; or between the limpid beauty of Corn Dolly and Miss Marvell’s increasingly wicked cackling face.

Publication dates: 6 September 1975 – 10 January 1976 (19 episodes)

Writer: unknown

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Snoopa (1979-1984)

Publication: (Snoopa) 29 April 1979-21 November 1981; (Crayzees) 28 November 1981-31 March 1984

Artist: Joe Collins

Snoopa 1

(Snoopa’s third appearance in Penny. He comments on the free gift that came with her third issue.)

Snoopa was a regular cartoon in Penny. He was with Penny from her first issue and proved his durability by going not through one merger but two. Of course Snoopa had the advantage of being drawn by the popular Joe Collins, which enabled him to be absorbed into the other Joe Collins cartoon in Tammy. More on that in a moment.

Snoopa 2

(Snoopa, 1 December 1979. Joe Collins is clearly more comfortable with Snoopa, whose appearance looks more developed than in his early days in Penny. And here, Penny makes one of her appearances in Snoopa.)

Snoopa was a mouse who (presumably) is a resident of Pennys house. I do not have the first Snoopa to verify that he did in fact live in Penny’s house, but Penny herself is seen in several of his cartoons. Interestingly, Penny’s face is drawn in a style that aims at realism rather than the cartoony style that Collins uses in his typical drawings of people (see Crayzees below).

Update: I have now viewed the first Snoopa cartoon, in which Snoopa mistakes the plastic cheese gift that came with the first Penny for real cheese and breaks his teeth on it. Penny takes pity on him. It still does not fully confirm that Snoopa lived in Penny’s house, but it can be safely assumed that he did.

Many of Snoopa’s gags centre on food because Snoopa has a big appetite and is often pilfering food. This leads to another running gag – weight loss schemes that have varying degrees of success. Other gags focus on him running the gauntlet with the resident cat with his pilfered food or getting into other scrapes with it.

Snoopa 3

(Snoopa’s first appearance in the Jinty & Penny merger, 12 April 1980.)

And Snoopa continued with his gags in the Jinty and Penny merger. Together with Tansy of Jubilee Street, he was the longest-running Penny feature in Jinty.

On 28 November 1981 Jinty merged with Tammy, and Snoopa merged with the Joe Collins cartoon in Tammy. Originally “Edie the Ed’s Niece”, it became “Edie and Miss T” when Misty merged with Tammy, which brought Misty’s Joe Collins cartoon, Miss T the witch, to the merger. When Snoopa joined, the Joe Collins cartoon became “Crayzees”. In my opinion, “Crazyees” was an even better cartoon than when its respective characters had their own strips. The amalgamation of three gag strips into one meant more characters, and they were very diverse characters. This made scope for more variety, situations, interactions, and a more diverse range of gags that ranged from fantastical (with Miss T being a witch) to gags that centre more on the animals in the strip, such as Miss T’s cat’s birthday.

To celebrate their merger, Edie, Miss T and Snoopa moved into a new house in Crayzee Street – presumably to give the name to their combined strip. Snoopa brings the key to the new house and declares, “I’m Snoopa from Jinty!” This upset one former Penny reader who said Snoopa was properly from Penny. She also complained about Penny‘s gradual disappearance in the merger. But that, sadly, is the way mergers go, and Snoopa did come over to Tammy from Jinty after all. In any case, as Snoopa is moving into a new house, that means he is leaving behind the one he shared with Penny in his own strip – and with it, his Penny roots.

Edie took an instant dislike to Snoopa because he was a mouse, and she never seemed to overcome it. But Miss T’s cat falls head over heels in love with Snoopa – which is really ironic considering that Snoopa had a cat for an enemy in his old cartoon. Snoopa found it increasingly unbearable to have the cat mooning over him and took refuge in his mouse hole. The cat pined, so Miss T’s solution was to make Snoopa the size of a human. The size of a human?!? Oh, well, this is called “Crazyees” after all. Snoopa’s new size displeased Edie, but it made Snoopa and the cat happy.

Crayzees lasted until Princess (series 2) merged with Tammy in 1984 and was replaced with Princess’s Joe Collins cartoon, “Sadie in Waiting”. Personally, I missed “Crazyees” but I guess there was room for only one Joe Collins cartoon in a merger.

Crayzees

(Snoopa, Edie and Miss T come together to form Crayzees. Tammy & Jinty, 28 November 1981.)

Jinty & Penny 4 October 1980

 

 

Image

Cover artist: Mario Capaldi

  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Girl the World Forgot (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Tears of a Clown (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Tansy of Jubilee Street (artist Ken Houghton)
  • A Call for Help – Gypsy Rose (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Behind the Scenes – Return of the Saint (TV feature)
  • Sue’s Daily Dozen – first episode (artist José Casanovas)
  • Child of the Rain (artist Phil Townsend)

This is the 101th post on this blog, and I used it to bring one of my favourite Mario Capaldi Jinty covers. I find it to be one of Jinty‘s most uplifting Capaldi covers, with its use of colour, the symmetry of the sails, the ocean setting, and the slight humour of one rider having a mishap on the far right. The pennants trailing across the Jinty logo are a nice elegant touch as well.

Inside is the beginning of José Casanovas’s last Jinty story, “Sue’s Daily Dozen”. Newcomer Sue Baker is a shy girl who has just moved in and having trouble finding her feet. Then she finds her cottage holds a secret – it used to belong to a witch and her collection of spells known locally as the Daily Dozen. But no – there is nothing evil or Satanic about it. It is how witches really were – wise women who tried to help people with magic and herbal remedies. The locals realise this and they embrace the Daily Dozen instead of fearing it or persecuting Sue for it. That’s what I really like about this story.

In “Tears of a Clown“, Kathy has failed to prove her worth again. This time it is fate rather than bully Sandra who foils her. But you know the story is peaking and the resolution is coming, because in this episode Kathy is pushed too far when she is humiliated on Sports Day instead of getting the respect she worked so hard for. The blurb at the end tells you she will use her talent to run off next week. So readers are all eager to buy next week’s issue for that alone.

In “Girl the World Forgot“, Mrs Owen begins to wonder if Shona is alive after all. Pity Mr Owen dismisses it instead of following it up, because Shona is indeed alive and marooned on an island. Meanwhile, Shona continues with hard lessons about survival, such as how to make clothes out sacks. But she has some fun in this episode by taking dips in the sea and enjoying her new seal friends. And in “Child of the Rain”, Gemma is learning yoga to keep focused on tennis. But yoga is no match for the strange power that causes Gemma to be filled with strength when it rains, but wilt like a flower when rain is absent. This is interfering not only with her tennis but with her life in general.

Her Guardian Angel (1980-81)

Sample Images

Angel 1

(Click thru)

Angel 2

(Click thru)

Angel 3

Publication: 6 December 1980 – 3 January 1981

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Christmas is in the air, and people observe a shooting star streaking across the sky. It’s supposed to be lucky – but perhaps not so much in this case. The shooting star is really an angel, Gabbi (acronym for their motto “Guardian Angels Better Body Insurance”), sent out on practical experience. Gabbi has been put in charge of “Reckless” Roz Rogers, a girl who gets herself into lots of scrapes because she has a very irresponsible sense of danger. She laughs them off – but ironically, she does learn about danger with all the scrapes her supposed guardian angel gets her into.

But on with how Gabbi and Roz meet. Gabbi takes the form of a Christmas angel that Roz buys for the Christmas tree. She hopes it will soften her parents, who have been angry since her since she rode her Mum’s bike into the duck pond. No such luck – Roz leaves her roller skate on the front door, which causes Dad to have an accident. So they ban her from a Christmas party, but Roz sneaks out down the drainpipe – “Reckless Roz laughs at danger!” But even Reckless Roz has to stop laughing when her hands slip and she starts falling. And then she is surprised to find herself in the arms of Gabbi, the Christmas tree angel come to life! Gabbi then tells Roz what her mission is, and she is now Roz’s guardian angel – but only Roz can see and hear her.

Unfortunately Gabbi is way too overprotective, takes her work far too seriously, and goes to absurd lengths to protect Roz from danger or what she imagines to be danger. And in so doing, gets Roz into tons of trouble. These include fusing the disco equipment because Gabbi considers the noise and lights unhealthy and dangerous for Roz – as a result, Roz gets chased by an angry mob, and Gabbi has to rescue her. Gabbi refuses to let Roz ride bicycles, use skateboards, or watch television (which she fuses) because she says television is bad for Roz’s eyesight. Gabbi disapproves of Roz’s presents (pogo stick, rollerskates, monster mask, radio, chocolates) because she considers them dangerous or unhealthy. On Twelfth Night Gabbi pulls the ladder out from under Roz, who is taking down the Christmas decorations because she thinks the ladder is dangerous – and of course it causes Roz to fall down. Defeating your own purpose, aren’t you, Gabbi? And those are just some of the things.

But sometimes Gabbi does things right (maybe despite herself). We do have to cheer Gabbi when she throws Roz’s school dinner off the table: “We’re not having your delicate digestion assaulted by that-that muck!” And we cheer Gabbi even more when she puts the dustbin over the head of an ‘acid-tongued’ teacher who is nagging Roz: “Don’t shout at my Roz!”

And Gabbi just about needs a guardian angel herself by the time her practical experience is over. She has become so battered and her gown so torn by all the scrapes she has landed herself into with her experience with Roz that she is ashamed of the state she is in when the time comes for her to go back “Up There”. Upon hearing Gabbi is leaving, Roz finds herself not wanting Gabbi to go because she has gotten used to her. But it is Gabbi’s time to go (and it is the end of Christmas, so this Christmas story must end). Roz patches up Gabbi’s gown as best she can. Soon Mum is surprised to see the Christmas tree angel (actually, Gabbi’s celestial transporter) vanish from the tree, people are surprised to see a shooting star going upwards, and Gabbi gives Roz a halo to remember her by.

Thoughts

In her later years, Jinty tended to run short filler stories around the Christmas period – or, in the case of 1981, in her last seven issues before the merger. These were evidently used to fill in the gaps while Jinty sorted out her New Year line up, and it is not surprising that a number of such stories had Christmas themes. Of these, “Her Guardian Angel” is the last.

It is quite surprising to use an angel as a comical magical companion, as angels tend to be regarded more as holy beings than comical ones. And there are religious implications which could be uncomfortable. This is probably why angels were not seen as much as fairies, leprechauns or other magical creatures in girls’ comics. The only other angel-themed serial I know of appeared in Mandy. But then, it is Christmas, so the angel theme does blend in.

Gabbi comes from the long tradition of magical companions to heroines. They mean well, but they often end up causing unintentional trouble. This can be because things backfire, or they get mischievous, or they don’t understand the ways of humans very well. Other times they do things right and it all smiles for them and their human friend. However it goes, the heroine always loves her magical companion. And for us readers, it always means loads of laughs.

In this story, the laughs come from Gabbi’s over-protectiveness, and to a lesser extent, Roz’s recklessness, and the scrapes they both end up in. Gabbi has a more human side, such as when she gets constantly worn out by all her efforts to look after Roz, or takes a moment of gluttony to indulge in Christmas dinner.

And there is one further thing that I really like about this story. We have had loads of stories about over-protective or obsessive parents and the ridiculous lengths they go to protect their children from danger. But an over-protective angel? That’s different!

Bird-Girl Brenda (1974-1975)

Sample images

Brenda 1

Brenda 2 001

 

Publication: 20/07/74-15/3/75
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Unknown

Bird-Girl Brenda was an early replacement in the Jinty lineup, probably taking over from the short-lived “Desert-Island Daisy“. Like Daisy, Brenda was a light strip to give us laughs, but there were also thrills and a means for us to indulge in the dream of flying. Brenda was drawn by Phil Gascoine, who was also still drawing “Gail’s Indian Necklace”. This meant a double workload for Gascoine (hope he did not mind too much) and an overlap of his artwork, appearing in two strips simultaneously. In fact, Brenda starts on the page after Gail in her debut issue.

It all starts when Brenda finds herself locked out of the house. She wishes she could fly so she can reach the window. And bingo, she finds herself flying! She flies up to the window, though her inexperience with this new power means it is not smooth sailing, er, flying. There is never any explanation of how her wish is granted, or how she is now able to fly whenever she wants to. “I can’t describe what it’s like. I just think about it, and one moment my feet are on the ground, and next they’re in the air!” And so the stage is set for loads of high-flying fun with Brenda. And the fun must have been popular with readers, because Brenda lasted seven months. Despite this, Brenda made no appearances in the 1974 annual; perhaps the annual had already gone to press?

Flying leads to all sorts of adventures, filled with laughs and thrills. Flying proves very handy if Brenda is pressed for time to get to a place, or if there is a task outside which requires scaling heights. And of course it is useful for emergencies. For example, in one episode Brenda is getting ready for her birthday party when she finds her mother overlooked the invitations. Flying is the only way to get them delivered in record time, and Brenda has to do so without her power being discovered. This leads to a few mishaps and scrapes, but Brenda gets them all done. At the party, Brenda’s guests marvel at how she must have trudged miles to deliver the invitations, yet she is so fresh that she looks as if she never made a step.

Brenda’s power also enables her to do people lots of good turns. For example, in the November issue, the kids next door look like they will miss out on Guy Fawkes because the fireworks got ruined. And Brenda has spent her money on other things, so she cannot provide some to share. So she makes improvised fireworks out of sparklers, cut-up glitter paper, and her power to fly. The kids are awed and think the fireworks must be really fancy and expensive ones. Sometimes it happens more by accident; for example, the wind sends Brenda flying into a museum, where she unwittingly sets off a series of mishaps that end up with her wishing she had stayed home. However, the mishaps have unexpected results that make the headlines, and the museum has even more visitors.

Naturally, the power is also used to punish wrongdoers at times. For example, in the Halloween issue, Brenda uses her power to put a Halloween scare into some yobs who were harassing her. Later, she discovers the yobs were planning to crash her friend’s Halloween party and ruin it. The friend is glad that the yobs did not show up, although she is puzzled as to why. Of course, Brenda cannot tell her. The power must be kept secret, and the efforts in doing so lead to some awkward situations and scrapes.

But of course all good things come to an end. In the final episode, Brenda’s mother prompts her to go out on a ramble with her friends. The excursion has Brenda realising that she has neglected her friends and been missing out on good times because she distanced herself in her efforts to keep her powers secret. Perhaps that is why the power to fly now vanishes as abruptly as it appeared. Brenda’s flying days are over, but after what she has learned, she does not even mind.

The Bow Street Runner (1981)

Sample images

Bow Street 1

 (Click thru)

Bow Street 2

 (Click thru)

Bow Street 3

Publication: 10/10/81 – concluded in Tammy & Jinty merger

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

The Bow Street Runner holds a particular place in Jinty history for being the only Jinty serial (besides Pam of Pond Hill and Gypsy Rose, which were regulars) to continue in Tammy & Jinty. It is also where long-running Jinty artist Phil Townsend crosses over from the Jinty team to the Tammy team.

Beth Speede, as her name suggests, has a talent for running. In Bow Street, where she lives, she is known as the Bow Street Runner because she uses her speed to run errands for the residents, most of whom are elderly and invalid. Among them is Beth’s own father, who suffers from a heart condition. This means he can’t get a good job. Mum can’t either because she is lame. So the Speedes, like everyone else in Bow Street, are a poor lot. Still, Bow Street may be a poor and rundown street – which gets it threatened with demolition at one point – but it is home to everyone who lives there. They are a close knit community bound together by Beth the Bow Street Runner. The street would fall down without her, and her invalid parents wouldn’t survive without her either. Quite literally, in fact – it is the Bow Street Runner herself who saves Bow Street from demolition. The street gets modernised instead.

But Beth is soon putting her talent to far more serious uses when she receives a prophecy from a fortune teller: “I see you running for help across green fields…I see the face of a girl crying.” Beth is completely terrified by this prophecy. She takes it to mean she is running to get help for her sick father, and the girl crying is herself – crying because she failed. So she takes up cross country running to increase her speed, in the hope that she will outrace the prophecy and save her father.

However, there is a cross country championship and trophy that is also at stake. So naturally, Beth, like any other heroine of a sports serial, finds herself up against an enemy who makes constant trouble for her. In Beth’s case it is Louise Dunn, a rich snobby girl (and nose to match) who has been promised a pony if she wins the championship. Louise’s tricks include tying knots in Beth’s shoelaces, getting her suspended from the sports club, and interfering with the markers. And it gets even worse when Louise finds out about the prophecy and starts using it against Beth.

Stories about poor girls who work to rise above (or work with) their poverty are always popular. And readers love stories about girls who find a talent but face all sorts of adversity – largely in the form of a spiteful enemy – in using it to prove themselves and triumph at the end of the story. “Tears of a Clown“, “Minnow”, “Concrete Surfer”, and “A Dream for Yvonne” are just some of the Jinty stories with this theme.

However, what should be the greatest strength that carries this story is instead the weakness that lets the whole story down – the prophecy. Sorry, but you can tell a mile off that Beth has got it wrong. The prophecy is just too vague, wide open to other interpretations, and Beth’s interpretation of it is just so stretched and forced that you can’t really understand how on earth she can come to that conclusion. For the prophecy to work, it should take the form of a riddle with double meanings. Beth (and the reader) takes what appears to be the most obvious meaning. Then Beth (and the reader) is taken by surprise when it turns out that the prophecy had an entirely different meaning. Jinty had the right effect in “Cursed to be a Coward!” Here the heroine receives a prophecy that says: “You will end in blue water.” The heroine takes this to mean she will drown, and becomes terrified of water. But it turns out the prophecy is referring to an actual name – Blue Water – the name of her new house boat. But in “The Bow Street Runner” the prophecy menace does not work, and it comes to absolutely nobody’s surprise when Beth finds she has got the prophecy wrong. The prophecy meant running for help for Louise, who had an accident during the championship run. And the girl crying is a deeply remorseful Louise. So it has to be said that this story is not as good as it should have been because the prophecy looks like it has been badly thought through.

Oh yes, Beth wins the championship and becomes the pride of Bow Street. But she is very happy to remain the Bow Street Runner.

Gertie Grit, the Hateful Brit! (1976)

Sample images Image Image

Publication: 9/10/76-22/1/77

Artist: Paul White

Writer: unknown

Every girls’ comic has humour strips. Many of these centre around klutzy, bungling girls who get into scrapes of some sort or another, such as The Jinx from St Jonah’s. But Gertie Grit is one humour strip which is quite unique in Jinty, for it also has time travel, magic, historical periods, and an unlovely heroine with a bad temper but full of beans and character. And it is drawn by an artist whose style you are far more likely to see in a funny comic, and an artist who was not on the regular Jinty team. Guest artists are always guaranteed to make a story more of a standout, for it made a refreshing break from the regular team.

Gertie Grit hails from Brummagonia in Roman Britain, in the time of Queen Boadicea. She is a hefty, plain girl with freckles and scruffy black hair, with a bad temper and a talent for making – or getting into trouble. From the look of it, she is the black sheep of the family, to the extent of having black hair while her parents and sister are blond (this will be seen again in Jinty‘s “Black Sheep of the Bartons“).

However, Gertie may have a sour, grumpy disposition but, despite the title, you cannot really find her hateful. In fact, you do have to admire what a pugnacious kid she is, who knows how to put up a fight: “I don’t come from Boadicea’s tribe for nothin’!” During the course of her story, we see that Gertie is not as ghastly, gruesome or hateful as the story would have us believe. She has her good points, which she shows in the moments where she tries to be helpful or stand up to bullies. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn’t and she ends up making things worse.

But on with how it all unfolds. One day Gertie steals a pendant from Druid Caractacus, but she gets more than she bargained for when she finds the pendant is a time travel device.  Off she goes on time travel adventures, with a blond wig belonging to her sister Claudia in tow, and the wig becomes a running gag in many of her adventures. The pendant keeps dropping Gertie off in various time periods. With one exception, where Gertie visits a future period, these are all historical periods. And during her visit, Gertie changes the course of history through some bungling or interfering of one sort or another. For example, she unwittingly starts the Great Fire of London when using the oven at Pudding Lane to treat Claudia’s wig, but forgets to shut the oven door. At Pompeii she starts the Vesuvius eruption by using too much magic powder that a witch gave her. Her stops in history also cause the French Revolution, the Trojan War, the Battle of Hastings and an Ice Age among other time travel bungles.

Sometimes Gertie’s visit comes in genuinely helpful, such as teaching the people of Stonehenge how to make wheels, or saving a dog who does not want to be launched to Mars in a space programme. Sometimes she helps by accident, such as when she is rescued from the sea by the Spanish Armada, but ends up helping the English instead, or unwittingly foils the Gunpowder Plot. Indeed, there are moments when Gertie gets quite cozy with her latest time period and would love to stay a while longer. But this never happens because Caractacus is always in pursuit of her to get his pendant back. And the moment he appears, Gertie makes a hasty exit to yet another time period. Well, of course you can’t get away with stealing from a druid.

So you can guess how it will end – when Caractacus finally catches up with Gertie. When it comes, Gertie is actually pleased to see him because she needs rescue from another jam – Stone Age people want to sacrifice her to their gods (pity the poor gods!). On the way back home, Caractacus and Gertie hit a time warp which de-ages them by ten years. By the time they arrive, Caractacus’s hair has regained its youthful colour while Gertie is now a baby. Caractacus gives Gertie back to her parents, and Claudia is delighted to have her wig back. Caractacus tells the parents to make a better job of bringing Gertie up. Good luck to them – even as a baby, Gertie looks horrid. But for us readers, there were always loads of laughs out of Gertie Grit, the (however you saw her) Brit!