Tag Archives: Misty

Winner Loses All! (1979)

Sample Images

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Published: Misty 4 August 1979 to 24 November 1979

Episodes: 17

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Sandy Morton’s father is the despair of her. Once he had been an equestrian champion, including an Olympic champion. But he has never been the same since his wife died in a crash five years back because he keeps irrationally blaming himself for her death. As a result he has sunk into chronic alcoholism. He is now on the verge of being fired from his stable hand’s job at Hornby Riding School for being constantly drunk. This would also get them turned out of the house (even if it isn’t much of one) that goes with his job.

Sandy is desperate to find a way to stop Dad drinking and restore him to his old self. She also has dreams of following in his footsteps and become an equestrian champion, but that looks hopeless now because of the downward spiral her father has fallen into. The snobby rich girl Jocasta Forsyth-Major at the riding school really loves to rub her nose in that, and that Sandy can’t be part of the Worthing Cup competition the school is training for.

When Sandy finds the old sign of the now-ruined Black Horse Inn with the black horse on it, she wishes aloud the horse was real and she could have one like him.

Bookie Mr Dayville from the betting shop has overheard her. Dayville says he can give her everything her heart desires: her father restored to what he was, a decent home, the Worthing Cup, a horse of her own, become an equestrian champion. There is just one small price to pay for it all – Sandy’s soul!

Oh no, it’s no joke, dear Sandy. Moments later, Dayville is proving his true identity as the Devil himself. Sandy will come to suspect Dayville uses his position at the betting shop to tempt more people into his pacts, and she will wonder just how normal the village really is with all these secret Devil pacts that must be going on. As the story progresses, she will find out more about just how right she is.

In due course Dayville says almost everyone ends up in Hell anyway, so why not get some benefits out of it? He also reveals that the population of Hell is divided into two categories. The first are people who were truly evil in life and so are blessed with demonic form in Hell and the Devil treats them like pampered pets. The second are good, noble souls like Sandy who just make up the numbers and the Devil probably treats them like second class citizens. Gee, what does it take to get to Heaven then? But the story never goes into religion, the Bible or Jesus Christ.

Winner Loses All fave panel
Some facts about Hell, from the Devil himself. From “Winner Loses All!”, part 6, Misty 1979.

Right now Sandy won’t have any dealings with the Devil, but he isn’t taking “no” for an answer. He’s going to tempt her with a free trial. So when Sandy arrives home she finds her father transformed to his old self, Dayville offering to sell him a black stallion (named Satan, of course) for Sandy, and the black horse has vanished from the inn sign. But next morning it’s all back to normal, with Sandy’s drunken father lying on the floor. Sandy has to hide him behind the sofa before Mrs Hornby sees him drunk again and gives him the sack.

Temptation is not the only weapon in Dayville’s armoury. He turns the screw with emotional blackmail, telling Sandy how the booze is going to slowly kill Dad until he dies, and she could have saved him. Finally, when Jocasta threatens to tell on Mr Morton for drunkenness, Sandy panics so much that she caves in and accepts Dayville’s bargain. All signed with her own blood in the Devil’s book of contracts, of course.

So now Dad is transformed, no longer drinking and eager to turn their lives around, and Mrs Hornby is impressed. But with the Devil being behind it, there has to be a sting in the tail. Sure enough, we see it when we learn that the transformed Dad still blames himself for his wife’s death, which was the real root of his alcoholism.

The deal also includes an upcoming Olympic gold for Sandy and the black horse on the inn sign come to life (though as a living painting, not a real flesh-and-blood horse) for her to ride under the name of Satan. Dayville will claim her soul after she wins her Olympic gold – which will be in one year’s time at the 1980 Games! It also means Sandy and Satan have to be up to Olympic standard in a year, and they are still only novices.

There are some surprises. For example, Jocasta tries to spite Sandy by having her father buy Hornby Riding School, with the dismissal of Mr Morton as part of the deal. But Jocasta’s father also has a pact with Dayville (so that’s why Jocasta’s family is so rich!), so it’s an easy matter for him to persuade Forsyth-Major to withdraw his offer.

Though alive, Satan is not a real horse, and his fate is still bound to the old inn sign. So when the sign gets run over and snapped, Dad sees Satan’s legs break. Sandy finds the damaged sign and holding it together makes Satan whole again. The vet is bemused at this and rumours start that Dad imagined the broken legs out of drunkenness. When Dayville hears, he threatens to kill Satan to prevent discovery of Satan’s secret. To save Satan, Sandy is forced into another bargain with Dayville: if anyone finds out the truth about Satan, Dayville will claim Sandy’s soul instantly.

This almost happens when Dad and the vet take Satan to run secret tests because Dad wants vindication from the rumour that the booze made him imagine those broken legs. Sandy manages to stop them, but Dad gets the wrong impression that Sandy does not care about him (what a cruel irony!) and is deeply hurt. Dayville is ecstatic because he feeds on such negative emotions and misery.

By now Sandy realises that it’s going to be nothing but torment, torment, torment all the way from Dayville from now on, long before she reaches Hell. And she soon finds out she is not the only one he means to torment.

Cheating just has to be part of the Devil’s design to make her an equestrian champion: he’s got all his demons nobbling the competition by scaring and tormenting their horses, and she is the only one who can see them. Well, he never specified how he was going to make you a champion when he drew up the contract, did he, Sandy? As a result of this, Sandy wins the Worthing Cup by default and gets no joy out of winning it. Dayville also pulls the strings on another contracted person, Sir Geoffrey Ricketts, to get Sandy entered in an international event.

The vet takes the sign away for cleaning, which causes Satan’s legs to break again when the weak piece comes off. Sandy has to run the gauntlet with the demons, who don’t want her to get the sign back before the vet gets too close to Satan and find out his secret. Surprisingly, Dayville lends a hand by mending the sign, so Satan gallops away “from a very perplexed vet” and virtually apologises for his demons, saying they got a bit over-enthusiastic. However, the vet is still suspicious of Satan and the sign, and arranges for a test to be done on Satan when he performs at Ricketts’ show.

At the Ricketts show Dayville has the demons get up to their usual tricks to spook the competition out of Sandy’s running. Sandy tries to plead with Dayville to stop this, but it’s no use; after all, he is the Devil. And there is a bonus that has Dayville laughing even more – Dad has overheard them!

Soon Dad is informed about Sandy’s pact with the Devil (but not the reason for it) and shown the demons that are tormenting the horses. Thinking Sandy did it for her own Olympic ambitions, he is outraged and says she’s no daughter of his. Sandy nobly chooses the estrangement with Dad over having him know the real reason for the pact and blame himself. However, Dad works it out for himself when he goes for a drink but finds something is stopping him getting a single drop of alcohol past his lips.

Once Dad realises the full truth, he does something that takes even Dayville by surprise: he offers to let Dayville take his soul instead of Sandy’s. As Dad is willing to give up his soul immediately, Dayville considers it a better deal and happily accepts. As part of the deal, Dayville makes Satan a real horse – which puts paid to the test the vet arranged for him, and in the nick of time – and Sandy his legal owner. Moments later, Dad suddenly dies of a heart attack.

Sandy braves her grief in order to go into a spectacular and clear round (while bowling Dayville clean over!). Jocasta is so impressed with Sandy’s courage that she repents her unsavoury attitude towards her. The demons have stopped interfering with the other horses, so Sandy wins fair and square. She changes Satan’s name to “Phoenix” as she quite understandably can’t stand his old name. At Dad’s grave, Sandy vows that she and Phoenix will win the gold at the 1980 Olympics in his memory.

Winner Loses All fave panel
That’s the Devil she’s bowling over! Yes, THE Devil! From “Winner Loses All!”, final episode, Misty 1979.

Thoughts

This story is regarded as Misty’s jewel in the crown and one of the best-ever serials in the history of girls’ comics. It deserves such recognition, for it is bold enough to use the Devil himself as the heavy and pushes the boundaries like no other serial ever has in terms of scares, torture, misery and courage, not to mention Satanism and demons that would scare the living daylights out of kids. It doesn’t even end happily although Sandy was saved from Hell. Even by Misty standards it’s extremely strong stuff. It’s a wonder this story didn’t have parents up in arms in Parliament, especially ones who were Christian fundamentalists.

Sandy Morton must be the most tortured heroine in the history of girls’ comics. Even before Dayville gets to work on her, she’s in the pits of misery with her alcoholic father dragging her down into a despairing downward spiral along with him. She sees no future at all, much less any hope of becoming an equestrian champion like the Dad she used to know.

The story then takes the “wish fulfilment with strings attached” route, with the Devil himself offering to grant Sandy’s wishes in exchange for his usual fee. But you can’t expect the wishes to bring happiness when the Devil is granting them. And that is precisely the Devil’s design, as Sandy soon discovers. While granting her wishes, he uses them as a means to torture her emotionally and psychologically every step of the way to The Pit. He uses loopholes in the contract to torment her even further. For example, his idea of making Sandy an equestrian champion is to cheat her through to victory by using his demons to nobble the competition by scaring and torturing their horses. He makes her watch in horror as his demons torment the horses. He knows she does not want to win this way and will not enjoy it when she does win. That’s the whole idea, and he’s loving every minute of it!

The difficulties in keeping her secrets from her father adds to the torment and the Devil’s delight when it causes misunderstandings with her father and they become estranged. Even Satan, Sandy’s only comfort and friend against all her misery, is being used to add to the torment when Dayville forces her into the clause that he can claim her soul instantly if anyone finds out the truth about him.

Even when Sandy’s soul is saved from Dayville he still torments her. As she looks down at her father’s grave, she knows he is now down in Hell in her place, swelling the ranks of noble souls who are just there to make up the numbers. And on top of everything else, she’s now an orphan, and only has Phoenix to accompany her in the world. All she has left to live for is win the Olympic gold in her father’s memory.

The depiction of the Devil in human form as Dayville is brilliant. It makes a change from the usual horn-headed, goat-footed figure with the red cape and trident (except when he gives Sandy glimpses of his real form). His position as bookie is a most crafty and insidious way to tempt people. Maybe Misty is making a statement about the evils of gambling? It is also quite funny to think of the Devil having a day job in the human world.

There are also dashes of humour about Dayville that make him oddly endearing at times. For example, when Sandy turns him down initially he says he’ll give her a free trial, for he has to move with the times. (Nice to know the Devil isn’t a stick in the mud!) When Sandy signs Dayville’s book of contracts he says he is so pleased she is able to sign her own name instead of making thumbprints as people used to do in more illiterate times, and he appreciates the value of education. And while Dayville is always finding ways to use his contract to torment Sandy, he never actually lies to her or goes back on his word. He always remains within the boundaries of honesty. Yes, the Devil isn’t called cunning for nothing, is he?

Dayville’s comment about the two divisions of souls in Hell is disturbing. If the idea of Hell is to punish wrongdoing, what are noble souls doing there? He never says why or how they ended up there. Did they foolishly enter contracts with the Devil too, or was it for something they failed to do – like not believing in Christ, maybe? Yikes, that’s beginning to sound like something out of a Jack Chick tract. But as stated above, the story never even mentions Christianity, much less reveal what role it could play against the Devil’s contract with Sandy. There isn’t a priest, Bible or prayer in sight.

Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

Santiago Hernandez or José Ariza?

I mentioned in my recent post about Jinty 4 October 1975 that the story “Barracuda Bay” is one that we’ve understood to be attributable to Santiago Hernandez, while saying that it was an attribution I didn’t necessarily ‘get’ until I read the issues of Sandie that included “The Golden Shark”. The two stories both showcase a lot of scuba diving, so there are obvious elements to compare directly. There are also drawings of the two protagonists looking quite similar across both stories.  Finally, in “The Golden Shark” in particular, there are other characters who look very similar to ones in “The Haunting of Hazel”, which is confidently attributed to Hernandez.

“Barracuda Bay”:

Barracuda Bay pg 1

Barracuda Bay pg 2

“The Golden Shark”:

The Golden Shark pg 1 The Golden Shark pg 2 The Golden Shark pg 3

And finally, “The Haunting of Hazel”:

The Haunting of Hazel pg 1

The Haunting of Hazel pg 2 The Haunting of Hazel pg 3

Mistyfan draws my attention to another possible artist that could be a contender for the creator of “Barracuda Bay”: José Ariza, who you may know from his work in Misty or in DC Thomson’s Emma (he drew wartime thriller “The White Mouse”).

The White Mouse page 1The White Mouse page 2

The White Mouse page 3

There are quite a lot of similarities, though I would tend to associate Ariza more closely with Trini Tinturé, who I could more readily imagine confusing his art with. The face of the White Mouse in the last panel immediately above, for instance, is very close to Trini’s style, I would say. Here is some more art from José Ariza, this time from Misty:

Vengeange is Green pg 1 Vengeange is Green pg 2 Vengeange is Green pg 3 Vengeange is Green pg 4

What elements of the artwork can help to decide between two artists? There are lots of small things to look at: noses, eyes, hands. To me, there are many similarities between the at on “Barracuda Bay” (henceforth BB) and on “The Golden Shark” (henceforth GS). The eyes and mouth on the character in the logo on panel one of BB looks very similar to the scuba-diving character (for instance in the bottom middle panel of of the first page of GS). And generally, the scuba diving art in the two stories matches very well, so I have no real doubt that these two stories are drawn by the same artist.

Triangulating with “The Haunting of Hazel” (henceforth HH), again there are matching elements: the hairstyles in GS and in HH share a lot of traits, such as the styling of the characters with the black bobs, who all seem to have fierce, floating hair. GS is less tightly drawn than either HH or GS, though.

But what about Ariza? Mistyfan draws attention to the detail of the eye of the White Mouse on the second page of that story: I would also highlight the pose of the nurse’s body in the first panel of the first page, along with the mouth of the nurse in this story. There’s no exact match of them with the Barracuda Bay art, but they feel similar in style nevertheless, as if you could imagine them belonging on the same page. I don’t feel at all the same about “Vengeance is Green”, though – the hairstyles in particular are much curvier and bouncier than those in HH and GS. Barracuda Bay has fewer visible hairstyles apart from in the logo picture, but there again I would call that wispy in a way that matches HH much more than the very ‘full’ hairdos in “Vengeance is Green”.

What do you think? On the basis of this comparison, I am happy with the assignment of “Barracuda Bay” to Santiago Hernandez, though I will certainly grant the similarities when set next to “The White Mouse”. But if “Vengeance Is Green” is more typical of Ariza’s art then I would see rather more differences than similarities between his work and “Barracuda Bay”. What details would you concentrate on? Or, what larger features would you look at to decide this sort of question – whole-body poses, page composition perhaps? None of it is an exact science – let’s have your views.

Pre-Misty merger: Tammy 12 January 1980

tammy-cover-12-january-1980

Cover artist – John Richardson

Contents

  • Sister in the Shadows (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Daughter of the Desert (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Important News for All Readers! (merger announcement)
  • The New Girl – Strange Story
  • Edie the Ed’s Niece (Joe Collins)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and the Promotion – last episode (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Make the Headlines, Hannah! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Everything in the Garden – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
  • Edie’s Hobbyhorse – Tie ‘n’ Dye

tammy-and-misty-ad

This is the Tammy that came out the same week as the final issue of Misty. So what did the issue have to say about the Tammy & Misty merger and how did it prepare for it?

The first hint of it comes on the cover, with the Devil in a sandwich sign announcing “there’s exciting news in Tammy – on sale now!” I’ve always been struck at how that Devil character bears a striking resemblance to Pickering, the bully butler in Molly Mills. Is Tammy having a bit of an in-joke here?

As far as room goes, there is not much space to make room for a reasonable proportion of Misty stories. All the serials are still running and one, “Sister in the Shadows”, is only on its second episode. The announcement about the merger informs Tammy readers that not only will all their regular favourites be there but there will also be a new Bella story starting. In other words, Tammy isn’t reducing any of her own features to make room for more features from Misty, such as “Beasts”, “Nightmare!” and (we suspect) “Monster Tales”. There must have been great disappointment among former Misty readers that the proportion of Misty was miniscule compared to the Tammy one. I myself hoped that once the current Tammy stories finished more Misty stories would take their place, but I was disappointed there. Why couldn’t Tammy have done some double episodes of Hannah, the serial closest to finishing, so she would be finished off by the time of the merger and there would be more space for Misty stories in the merger issue?

In discussion of the stories, in part two of “Sister in the Shadows” Wendy continues to have what must rank as one of the worst first days at school in history. On top of the king-sized collywobbles she came with, she is encountering constant embarrassment and humiliation as teachers keep comparing her to her sister Stella, who was once the star pupil at the school, and Wendy can’t live up to their expectations. It’s not endearing her to her fellow classmates either and the stage is clearly set for some bullying.

“Daughter of the Desert” features a school that is strangely reverting to a desert pattern after an Arabian princess comes to the school. In an exciting but very odd episode, the two protagonists find themselves in a quicksand trap, which is supposed to be part of the strange desert pattern. Then the quicksand mysteriously disappears into a hard concrete road when the girls return with their headmistress to investigate.

Cindy decides to throw away her ballet career for the sake of her swans, who are being poisoned by chemical pollution. Despite the pollution the swans find the strength to persuade Cindy to continue, much to the chagrin of Cindy’s jealous rival Zoe. Now Zoe is now back to scheming against Cindy to become the star dancer of their village.

Molly Mills gets promoted but deliberately sets out to lose it once she decides she was happier with the status quo as a servant. Miss Bigger buys a sedan chair for charity – but trust her to lumber Wee Sue and her friend with the job of carrying it to her place! Then thieves steal the chair, and it’s up to Wee Sue’s big brain to sort them out. The promise of a hamper lures Bessie out for ice-skating practice, but of course there have to be hijinks.

Hannah’s latest attempt to hit the headlines fails again because her prop got vandalised. At first she suspects her sisters, who have been sabotaging her every effort so far, but now she isn’t so sure. Sounds like a mystery to tie up, and will it have any bearing on Hannah’s campaign to prove herself?

There is a double-up of Strange Stories this week. The first is about a new girl named Stella who is perfect at everything. But Tracey Roberts thinks there is something odd about it all, and about the star on the bracelet Stella always wears. Then, when the star falls off Stella’s bracelet she falls mysteriously ill and Tracey gets strange visions from her parents urging her to find the star. The second is a parable about how beauty can be found even in the most unexpected places. Once Chris Dale learns this lesson she agrees to have the eye surgery she had refused before.

Incidentally, the blurb announcing the new Bella story says she will have a crack at the Moscow Olympics (which of course will be a “struggle”). Older Bella readers would know that she had never succeeded in competing at the Olympics. Her 1976 Montreal bid only got her as far as performing in the opening ceremony. Will Bella succeed in competing at the Olympics this time?

Launch of Misty Advert

I was doing some trawling through Tammy and came across the advertisement for the launch of Misty in Tammy 4 February 1978. Blurbs for “The Sentinels”, “The Cult of the Cat”, and “Moonchild” are used in the advert, though their titles are not mentioned. Oddly, the ad says Misty #1 goes on sale 30 January, but the actual issue went on sale 4 February. Perhaps Misty was originally scheduled for 30th January but was delayed until 4th February for some reason?

launch-of-misty-ad-jpg

Pat Mills: Interview

Pat Mills is someone who has already contributed lots to our knowledge of girls comics of this era, but even so there are still some gaps in our knowledge of what he wrote, and always plenty more questions to be asked. With thanks to him for his contributions now and in the past, here is a brief email interview.

1) In previous discussions you’ve identified the following stories in girls’ comics as having been written by you. Are there any stories missing from that list that you can remember? Some other stories have been attributed to you – also listed below – which you’ve either specifically said you didn’t write, or which haven’t been included in those previous discussions. It would be great to clarify this once and for all, if we can.

Known stories (Jinty)

You have also said before that you wrote a horse story, without identifying which one it was. Might it be “Horse from the Sea”? Or perhaps “Wild Horse Summer“?

Pat Mills: No. Doesn’t ring a bell. It’s possible I did the horse story for Tammy, but it wasn’t very good.

Tammy

  • Ella on Easy Street?
  • Glenda’s Glossy Pages?

Pat Mills: Charles Herring wrote Ella which I hugely admire. I wrote Glenda. Also – Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, and Granny’s Town, but not all episodes.

Misty

  • Moonchild
  • Roots (Nightmare)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (Beasts)

Pat Mills: Think “Red Knee” was mine if it was the spider story. Also “Hush Hush Sweet Rachel” – art by Feito.

And some Jinty stories you didn’t write but which are often attributed to you: “Knight and Day” (now confirmed as not yours), “The Human Zoo” (I think this is thought to be Malcolm Shaw’s), “Wanda Whiter Than White“, “Guardian of White Horse Hill” (you’ve previously thought this is likely to be Malcolm’s too).

Pat Mills: No, none of those are mine.

2) I appreciate that it’s harder to remember which stories were written by other people, if you even knew these details at the time. If there are any stories that you know the writers of, we are always up for adding to our store of attributions! We know that co-workers of yours such as John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Malcolm Shaw, Charles Herring wrote for girls comics, in case that helps to trigger any memories. Did you also perhaps know Jay Over, Ian Mennell, Benita Brown, Maureen Spurgeon? (Some of those names are listed in the era when Tammy printed creator credits between 1982 and 1984, meaning we do have some story credits already in hand for that time.)

Pat Mills: Charles Herring was great – Ella and similar stories.  Pat and Alan Davidson wrote stories like Little Miss Nothing – Sandie and the equivalent in Tammy. They were top writers and that style of ‘Cinderella” story was hugely popular, but I don’t think they ever worked for Mavis. [In fact we do know that Alan Davidson wrote for Jinty, though Pat Davidson did not.]

John Wagner created and wrote “Jeanie and her Uncle Meanie” for Sandie, I think.  John was an editor on Sandie, but Gerry was the founding editor.

I wrote “Captives of Madam Karma” in Sandie.

John Wagner and I wrote “School of No Escape” in Sandie. (That was not bad) And “The Incredible Miss Birch” for Sandie. (Not our finest hour!) And I must have written at least one other story of this kind for Sandie.

I also wrote “Sugar Jones” and other stories for Pink, and “9 to 4” for Girl.

3) In Steve MacManus’ new book on his time in IPC / Fleetway, he talks about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story: so for instance at one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. Is this something that you too remember from your time at IPC Fleetway? Did it happen at DCThomson too? I was interested in this because it seemed like a surprising way to think about comics, rather than in terms of page count.

Pat Mills: Yes. Steve is spot on. It’s a big subject. A thirty picture story in girls comics would theoretically deliver a lot of story. But it would be crammed and old fashioned. So I changed all that on 2000AD with less images on the page and started to apply it to Misty.

4) You’ve talked before about girls comics working differently from boys comics, and Steve MacManus recalls you saying that in a girls story the heroine would beat a bully, ride in a gymkhana, and still get back home in time to make her motherless family a hearty tea. Clearly girls comics were very full of plot! And you were a big part of rewriting a bunch of boys stories to make them fit the girls comics model more closely. Can you talk in a bit more detail about how this worked, in other words, what the mechanism was, more exactly? Is it a case of using fewer action sequences, more surprise reveals, lots of scene changes…?

Pat Mills: The big principle of girls comics that I applied to boys comics was “emotion”. Sometimes this worked well, but it needed applying in a different way. More “cool”, perhaps. Some girls principles didn’t adapt well:  jealousy for instance. Girls loved stories involving jealousy – boys didn’t. Hence “Green’s Grudge War” in Action wasn’t a hit.  Similarly, mystery stories work well in girls comics, boys didn’t give a damn about mystery. Hence my “Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain” in Battle, boys didn’t care what the terror was. It wasn’t a failure, but not the hit we hoped for.

However, where girls comics scored ENORMOUSLY was in having realistic stories that didn’t talk down to the reader. My “Charley’s War” is really a girls comic in disguise. Its popularity lies in it applying girls comic principles NOT boys comic principles – e.g. emotion is allowable in the context of World War One.

I was never that sold on “girls adventure” where there wasn’t a strong “kitchen sink”/Grange Hill factor. I think when Jinty went in for science fiction adventure it led the field, but not so sure about regular adventure which could seem “old school” – to me, at least. This was a factor everyone battled with on girls and boys comics, avoiding “old school” and creating stories that were “cool”.  Thus I would describe “Cat Girl” in Sally as uncool and old fashioned. Some of the Misty stories fell into that category – historical stories, for example.

Many thanks again to Pat Mills for his time, and for his memories and thoughts on this.

Jinty 8 July 1978

Jinty 8 July 1978

Stories in this issue:

  • Dance into Darkness (unknown artist Concrete Surfer)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
  • Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)
  • Knight and Day
  • The Zodiac Prince (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Clancy on Trial (artist Ron Lumsden)
  • Slave of the Swan (artist Guy Peeters)
  • Cathy’s Casebook (artist Terry Aspin)

The cover image isn’t taken from an image inside this week’s episode of “Dance Into Darkness” – I am not sure without checking whether it is actually from next week’s episode, though I think it must be. It makes a fine spooky, gothic cover, and I love the little black cats winding their way around Della’s ankles.

Della Benson is starting to find out where her mysterious dancing skills have come from – along with her love of the dark and of the creatures of the night, such as the cats. What secret does the strange lady and her daughter hold?

Dorrie and Max run away from the grim chidren’s homes they have been placed in – they have found out that there is a place called “Rainbow’s End”, in Scotland, and they think it must be a sign that they will find their happiness there. It’s a rainy start, but they feel sure they can manage the long trek north.

“Knight and Day” is one of the grimmest, most realistic stories ever printed in Jinty. Pat Day was fostered to a loving couple but when her mother tried to get her back then she had to go – even though it all turned out to be a scam. Her mother and stepfather are abusive and uncaring, and Pat’s new stepsister is a bully and a thief.

“The Zodiac Prince” is a rare strip featuring a male lead character – though you could argue that his friend and sidekick Shrimp is the real lead, in some ways. It’s a light-hearted romp but it is coming to an end – this is the penultimate episode and Shrimp is nearly due to find out who the Prince really is and where he comes from.

In “Clancy on Trial”, Clancy has enrolled herself in the local comprehensive school, to force her grandfather to see that she can live as independent a life as possible without relying on him and his money. The schoolkids are not that friendly though.

“Slave of the Swan” is a pretty nasty slave story – Katrina Vale has lost her memory and is being very badly treated by Miss Kachinsky, who hated Katrina’s mother with great passion. Katrina is now in great danger as Miss Kachinsky tries to cover her tracks!

“Cathy’s Casebook” has doctor’s daughter Cathy cure Diana of her nerves when riding a particular horse she’d started to get afraid of. Next on Cathy’s list is wild runaway Denis. Will she find out what ails him, too?

Following my recent post on “The Mighty One”, where Steve MacManus mentioned the fact that editors of the time often thought in terms of stories filling a certain number of panels / frames / pictures, I thought I would count up the number of panels in a sample issue of Misty and one of Jinty, for comparison. (If I can also do the same for a typical issue of 2000AD from the time then I will, but right now it’s hard for me to dig out my old copies of other titles.)

Of the stories in this issue, this is how the panel count breaks down:

  • Dance Into Darkness – pg 1 8 panels, pg 2 8 panels, pg 3 9 panels (25 panels)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! – pg 1 8 panels, pg 2 9 panels (17 panels)
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow – pg 1 7 panels, pg 2 10 panels, pg 3 7 panels (24 panels)
  • Alley Cat – pg 1 12 panels (12 panels)
  • Knight and Day – pg 1 8 panels, pg 2 9 panels, pg 3 8 panels (25 panels)
  • The Zodiac Prince – pg 1 8 panels, pg 2 9 panels, pg 3 9 panels (26 panels)
  • Clancy on Trial – pg 1 6 panels, pg 2 10 panels, pg 3 10 panels (26 panels)
  • Slave of the Swan – pg 1 7 panels, pg 2 9 panels, pg 3 9 panels (25 panels)
  • Cathy’s Casebook – pg 1 6 panels, pg 2 9 panels, pg 3 9 panels (24 panels)
  • = 24 pages of comics, 9 stories. Minimum number of panels = 6, max = 10 on a serial or 12 on a gag strip

I know this is not a huge sample to use, but I have compared to the issue of Misty with the same cover date of 8 July 1978

  • The Four Faces of Eve… – pg 1 3 panels, pg 2 6 panels, pg 3 7 panels, pg 4 10 panels (serial) (25 panels)
  • Nightmare – ‘Master-Stroke’ pg 1 3 panels, pg 2 8 panels, pg 3 7 panels, pg 4 2 panels (complete story) (20 panels)
  • Journey Into Fear – pg 1 4 panels, pg 2 7 panels, pg 3 8 panels, pg 4 6 panels (serial) (25 panels)
  • Wrong Station – pg 1 4 panels, pg 2 7 panels,  pg 3 7 panels, pg 4 7 panels (complete) (25 panels)
  • Beasts – ‘Where There’s a Will…’ – pg 1 4 panels, pg 2 8 panels, pg 3 7 panels, pg 4 7 panels (complete) (26 panels)
  • The Black Widow – pg 1 2 panels, pg 2 8 panels, pg 3 8 panels, pg 4 8 panels (serial) (26 panels)
  • = 24 pages of comics, 6 stories. Minimum number of panels = 2, max = 10

All the stories in Misty, whether they are serials or complete stories, are 4 pages long rather than just 3. There are fewer stories but it adds up to the same number of pages of comics. Each story has pretty much the same number of panels whether it is a 3 page Jinty story or a 4 page Misty one (though in Jinty the single page gag strip and the two page complete stories are certainly shorter in panel count). And the pattern in Misty is pretty striking and consistent, in this issue at least – the first page of each story has a considerably reduced panel count (so that the panels that are left can be large and visually striking) whereas subsequent pages are only very slightly shorter than a typical Jinty page in terms of the average number of panels used (and therefore the size of each one).

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

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

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

Rebellion Publishing 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights, pt II

Around this time last week, I met up with Ben Smith from Rebellion, to discuss the acquisition of the IPC copyrights and to pitch some possible ideas. This is not an interview (I didn’t take detailed notes), but it is a way of recording some particularly exciting elements of what’s looking plausible or likely.

First of all, Ben and the company as a whole are as keen to make great use of this new material as you could wish them to be. This is a significant investment for them, so it needs to be approached in a way that means it makes good long-term sense. There’s a lot of obvious value to be got from this treasure trove. A line of well-chosen reprints is a no brainer when you consider that the company has already proved the worth of that model (their reprint of Monster from Scream & The Eagle is one of their very best sellers).

Monster has name recognition factor (Alan Moore and John Wagner), but how do you sell the stories that don’t have quite such attention-grabbing names? And will it only be the ‘usual suspects’ that sit fairly comfortably alongside 2000AD – stories from horror comics or hard-hitting war tales? One of the things I was particularly happy to hear was that they really are looking in detail across the range of boys, girls, and humour comic stories. Ben was enthusiastic about all sorts of girls comics, from sports stories (yes, “Bella at the Bar” is a strong contender) to stories of everyday life (he name checked Pam of Pond Hill), and of course the science fiction / fantasy / creepy stories that were such a big part of Jinty, Misty, and Tammy. (We talked less about humour comics as it’s not my main focus, but they won’t be ignored in the line-up.) At the same time he was realistic in acknowledging that there will also need to be energy spent in making new markets; the nostalgia market is a great start but it needs to be grown to incorporate a new readership. Parents whose kids are outgrowing the Phoenix, or teens who are excited by the Olympics? Rebellion will be casting the net more widely than just the nostalgia market, wherever it ends up landing.

It’s not just reprints, though. We didn’t talk about relaunching titles or creating new material using the old characters – if these possibilities come into view I suspect it will be some way along the line, once the new playing field has been staked out and surveyed better. But merchandising, oh yeah. Again it needs to be done right, to make it work long-term, but can you imagine the bull leap from “A Leap Through Time” on a t shirt, or the cover of “Concrete Surfer” on a bag? Maybe you won’t have to just imagine it, soon.

bull-leap

Of course as a fan historian and interested blogger, I also wanted to ask other questions about the acquisition. Ben was quick to reassure that fan sites such as this one were very much fine by him (so long as people don’t ‘take the piss’ by which I assume he means reprinting whole issues or stories, or of course selling material commercially). They help to keep the buzz going, and are an important information resource. (Certainly any artist and writer credits that the reprints publish is more likely to come from bloggers and historians than from any official records, I fear.) So there is no problem with this site continuing to feature scanned art, sample episodes, posts about stories, and analysis (even if this includes spoiler details of story endings). You needn’t worry about changes to the content of this site, therefore (though I will now be amending the copyright information to credit Rebellion correctly).

I also asked about what sort of archives were included in the deal. Ben’s focus as the head of publishing is different from mine as a comics historian – he is thinking about the fact he will need to build around 80 metres of shelving to hold the bound file copies of the comics, and is looking forward to seeing if any of the new haul includes anything that could speed up the reproduction process (for instance, any usable film from the original printing – though he doesn’t hold out much hope). I am wondering if there might be any further material included in those archives – I don’t realistically expect there to be letters and editorial files, but you never know. Might there be a file copy of the issue of Tammy which never got distributed – the one which includes the last episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”? We know that there were 30 copies printed of the last pre-censorship Action, and maybe a similar situation could be the case here. I will be very keen to make a trip to the new archive location, once the dust has settled!

Exciting news about the IPC copyrights

The British comics internet was buzzing yesterday with news that Rebellion, who publish 2000AD, have bought the whole IPC list of comics from Egmont (covering all comics and characters first published after 1970 – the earlier material is owned by another company). The most detailed report is the Down The Tubes one, but it has also been announced on the BBC, Bleeding Cool, and even on Wired, so there are lots of excited people!

The quotes from Rebellion’s Ben Smith make it clear that both reprints and new stories are now possibilities – though of course with such a wide range of material having been bought, there’s no telling what will be the company’s main focus – or initial focus. The list that has been bought includes boys comics such as Roy of the Rovers, Action, and Battle, but also humour comics (which aren’t a big part of the announcement but have been part of the excited internet discussion, with calls to look at Oink and at the Ken Reid material in particular). And of course on this site our particular thoughts are on what it could mean for the girls comics – which were even specifically mentioned by Rebellion owner Jason Kingsley, very hearteningly.

If you had a say in the matter, what would you want to happen with the girls comics material in this haul? Clearly, reprinting specific stories would be an option – after all, Rebellion are already bringing out a reprint of “Moonchild” and “Four Faces of Eve” from Misty (published on 8 September). What stories would you choose to bring back as reprints, across the IPC list of girls titles? I think you’d have to make sure they weren’t chosen just for nostalgia reasons – they’d have to be really great stories that stand the test of time and don’t look dated, even though clearly there is a ‘bringing back classic comics’ element to this sort of publication. What would be your top five picks, and why?

What about other uses of the material? Merchandising, using some of the lovely design and images? Dare we think about re-worked stories, or characters extended in their life span? Would Bella, or Fran and her zany fixing, still work with new artists? Translations into other markets and languages? I would love to hear your ideas. Who knows, maybe they can happen!

[Edited to add: Down the Tubes have published a useful summary of the titles and characters that are now owned by Rebellion.]