Tag Archives: Misty

Monster Tales [1982]

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982 to 10 July 1982

Artists: Hugo D’Adderio, Phil Townsend, Mario Capaldi, Ken Houghton, Jaume Rumeu, John Richardson, Peter Wilkes, Manuel Benet, Tony Coleman

Writers: Roy Preston? Others unknown

Monster Tales was a very unconventional feature that started during the Tammy & Jinty merger. As the name suggests, it was a series where a monster of some sort was central to the tale. The monsters included gargoyles, sea monsters, man-eating plants, possessed objects or elements, dolls, demons, werewolves, freaks, and even the innocuous proving it could be monstrous.

Some of the monsters were just plain evil e.g. “Hearts of Oak”, and the forces of good did not always win against them. Others, such as “The Gargoyle” (below), were used for comeuppance purposes and punishing/reforming unpleasant characters, in the spirit of Misty. Some were even friendly monsters, or at least not as bad as originally thought, that saved the day. One example of this was “The Fire Monsters”, (below) which turned the cruel punishment of burning at the stake right around. Another was “Curse of the Werewolf”, where girls are left wondering if a feared werewolf from the Middle Ages was all that bad after vandals get captured in a manner that nobody can explain – except that the werewolf lent a hand.

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Being a monster was also used as a punishment. For example, in “The Devil’s Mark”, a man is transformed into a demon dog as a punishment for his cruelty to dogs. The curse could only be lifted by making up for his cruelty, which he does by getting help for the dogs he neglected.

Monster Tales worked in rotation with the Strange Stories, which now alternated between the Storyteller and Gypsy Rose. In fact, at least two of the Monster Tales (“Stones of Light” and “The Fool on the Hill”) were recycled Strange Stories, so other recycled Strange Stories must have made their way into the Monster Tales too.

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As neither Tammy nor Jinty were likely to have conceived such an idea, I wonder if it was a carryover from Misty, which had merged with Tammy earlier. Perhaps Monster Tales was originally drafted for Misty, but no room emerged in the merger until Wee Sue, Molly and Bessie had stopped their individual strips and the characters were being rotated with Tansy of Jubilee Street in the “Old Friends” slot. Some of the Monster Tales were indeed so dark that they could be straight out of Misty herself. The cruellest of them all was arguably “Freak Tide” (above), where cruel owners of a Victorian freak show are abducted and taken to a sea-monster world. There they become the freaks in a cruel freak show, and unlike the freaks they once mistreated, they have no chance of escape. What’s more, they have nothing to wear but their nightshirts.

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When the new-look Tammy was launched on 17 July 1982, Monster Tales stopped running. However, there were still monster-themed stories appearing for a while such as “Black Teddy” and “Bird of Fear”. I suspect these were unpublished scripts from Monster Tales being used up. These stories credited Roy Preston as the writer, so it is reasonable to assume Preston wrote a good deal of the Monster Tales too.

Moonchild [1978]

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Moonchild 1Moonchild 2Moonchild 3Moonchild 4

Published: Misty 4 February 1978 – 29 April 1978

Episodes: 13

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1983; Misty Vol. 1 2016, published by Rebellion

Plot

All Rosemary Black wants is to lead a normal life and have friends, but she does not get much chance at home or at school. Her mother (no father is present) is severe and abusive, and she shows Rosemary no love or affection at all. She is always beating Rosemary black and blue with a cane because she thinks there is a “dark wickedness” in Rosemary that must be beaten out. What dark wickedness? Rosemary is clearly not a bad lot.

At one point Mrs Black is hauled up before the magistrate because of her treatment of Rosemary. But the magistrate dismisses the case without even a slap on the wrist. He believes parents should use more discipline, and just tells Mrs Black not to overdo it in future.

Mrs Black is not only abusive but strange as well. She does not allow gas or electricity at her house (Rosemary has to do her homework by candlelight). She does not allow Rosemary any freedom or dress fashionably like other girls, and she clamps down on any bids for these with more abuse, and bigotry to rival any fundamentalist. She doesn’t even allow Rosemary to have birthday parties (something that will have dire consequences later). Strangest of all, Mrs Black sometimes looks at Rosemary as if she’s afraid of her – now what could be the reason for that? Mrs Black’s dress sense is just as bizarre; she always goes out wearing a black cloak. This makes her look like a witch, which is precisely what everyone whispers whenever they see her.

Yes, Mrs Black has clearly got quite a reputation around the town for weirdness if not witchiness. It seems Rosemary does too; there is graffiti on a wall that says: “Rosemary Black is a weirdo”. It looks like someone else wrote “true” underneath that.

We get a pretty good idea on who wrote that graffiti when we get to Rosemary’s school. Girls pick on Rosemary because there’s something strange about her that nobody can really pinpoint. The worst bully is Norma Sykes, who’s a bad lot and got ‘delinquent’ written all over her (and where does she get those fags of hers when she must be underage, like Rosemary?). Her reason (or excuse) for tormenting Rosemary is that in her view Rosemary deserves it for being so weird, and her daily fix is getting Rosemary to cry. Norma has two cronies, Freda and Dawn, and she constantly holds them to their oath of loyalty to her.

Anne is Rosemary’s only friend at school. Anne gives Rosemary a more fashionable hairdo, which exposes a crescent moon-shaped mark on her forehead. After Rosemary finds the moon mark, strange things do begin to happen to her in earnest. It’s like there’s some sort of power growing inside her; small objects move and a television set goes on the blink for no apparent reason when Rosemary is around. The power gets stronger when the moon is full, and the school nurse finds the mark is burning red hot although Rosemary has no temperature. But the first really spectacular event occurs when one of Norma’s tricks (match in a piece of chalk) sets Rosemary’s hair on fire. Rosemary seems to subconsciously lash out at Norma – and then a bookcase starts toppling towards the bully. Norma narrowly avoids being flattened.

Rosemary is sent to the school nurse, who refers her to the school doctor, Dr Armstrong, about the moon mark. Afterwards, Rosemary and Anne discuss this strange power that seems to be growing. It grows even more when it enables Rosemary to save Anne from a nasty accident and they realise strong emotion is key. That night, a full moon prompts Rosemary to practise with the power, and she gains more control over it.

When Mrs Black sees what Rosemary is doing, she really goes berserk. She yells that she knew it would happen and it was the evil she had been trying to beat out of Rosemary all along. She really brings the cane on this time to teach Rosemary not to use her “wicked gift”. However, Rosemary snatches the cane away with her powers: “No! You will not hit me…ever again!” And wouldn’t you know it – Mrs Black never beats Rosemary again!

Meanwhile, Norma wants revenge on Rosemary because of the punishment she got for the match trick (although her cronies did the lines for her) and brings out her big guns. Norma’s plan, called “Operation Rosemary”, is intended to hurt Rosemary where it hurts most by crushing the thing that Rosemary desires the most. In order to find out what this desire is, Norma directs Dawn to become ‘friendly’ with Rosemary. Anne is to be pushed out of the way in order to help this along. Dawn is to gain enough of Rosemary’s trust for her to say what the desire is. Then they will concoct the way to ruin it.

Next day, Rosemary is surprised at Dawn suddenly coming all over friendly and helpful to her. Even Norma is leaving her alone. Rosemary wonders if the other girls are starting to accept her. Anne is suspicious at this sudden friendliness from Dawn and warns Rosemary to be the same. Anne’s suspicions make things too difficult for Dawn to break them up. Norma decides hard measures are required to get rid of Anne, so she fouls Anne at a hockey match to put her in hospital.

Meanwhile, Dr Armstrong is intrigued at Rosemary’s moon mark. He becomes even more intrigued when the needle bends inexplicably when he tries to give Rosemary an injection. He wants to refer her for further testing. For this he gives Rosemary a consent form for her mother to sign. Mrs Black throws the form away, saying the gift is evil and she does not want that sort of interference.

That night Rosemary has a strange nightmare of a raging fire where Norma, Freda, Dawn, and even Anne are laughing hysterically at her. Then she falls into the fire. Upon awakening, Rosemary checks on her mother, and is surprised to find a photograph of a beautiful woman who also has the moon mark. Mrs Black explains that it is Rosemary’s grandmother. Grandmother also had the “evil” gift and something terrible happened to her because of it. Mrs Black tells Rosemary not to use that gift or something similar will happen to her. Rosemary can’t really believe it because Grandmother looks a nice woman to her and she is soon feeling a bond with her. Mrs Black goes crazy and tries to burn the photograph, but Rosemary rescues the photograph with her powers. At this, Mrs Black washes her hands of Rosemary entirely, though just what she means by that is not clear. To help decide things, Rosemary retrieves the consent form and forges her mother’s signature on it so she can have the tests.

Dr Armstrong watches Rosemary’s powers in action at the tests. This includes her powers going berserk and smashing up the laboratory when she gets distressed at the sight of Anne being carried away on a stretcher. Dr Armstrong tells her that her power is called telekinesis. Rosemary tells him about her grandmother having the power and the mother’s attitude about it. So Dr Armstrong now wants to interview Mrs Black. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, Dr Armstrong is getting greedy and wants to use his discovery to catapult him to the heights of fame in science.

Dawn finally convinces Anne and Rosemary of her friendliness with a get-well present (flowers raided from the park flowerbed) in hospital. However, Dawn is still having problems obtaining the information Norma wants. And Rosemary is also getting the impression that they are being shadowed. At Dawn’s house, Rosemary uses her powers to distract Dawn’s kid brother from a tantrum by moving his toys telekinetically. He is thrilled with these fascinating antics with his toys. Then Rosemary is very surprised when another power, which is even stronger than hers, takes control of one of the toys and throws a scare into Dawn. Now where could that power have come from? Well, there is one other person with the power who’s been mentioned in the story…could that be a clue?

Mrs Black is called up to the school. She tells the doctor and the nurse that the power and accompanying moon mark had run in the family for generations. Apparently she is the black sheep in reverse because she is the only one in the family without it. She says she was lucky in escaping the “curse” (pull the other one, as we see later!). As a child, Julia (Mrs Black’s first name) did not really mind her mother’s power and just thought it was strange.

Then one night the power caused a terrible tragedy in the family. Grandmother was surprised by an intruder in the house, panicked, and used her telekinesis to hit him with an iron, which unwittingly caused his death. Too late she discovered that it was her own husband, who had gone AWOL from the army and was sneaking back to see them. Julia saw how her mother’s telekinesis had unwittingly killed her own father. From that moment on, Julia went against her mother, who was imprisoned because the police did not accept it was an accident (probably because they did not believe how it happened). Mrs Black had not seen her mother since then (she was raised in child welfare after that) and believes she died in prison. She blames the power for her father’s death, and calls both it and her mother evil. When she had Rosemary, she was horrified to discover her baby had the power too. Her harshness (which she begins to regret a bit) was meant to crush it and stop another terrible thing happening.

The doctor and nurse try to reason with Mrs Black, saying the tragedy was not really her grandmother’s fault. The power itself is not evil; such thinking does not belong in this day and age. She does not listen and tells the doctor she will not have any more of his tests on Rosemary.

Rosemary’s 13th birthday is coming up. This finally prompts her to tell Dawn what she would really like – a birthday party, which is something her strict mother has never allowed. So now the next phase of Operation Rosemary is planned. Norma says she will be Rosemary’s fairy godmother (a very evil fairy, of course) and give Rosemary “a very special birthday party” where they “give her da woiks!” Soon after, Dawn tells Rosemary they are organising a birthday party for her, and her house will be used for it. Dawn has arranged for her parents and kid brother to be absent from the house (to get them out of the way, of course).

Mrs Black now tells Rosemary the story about the grandmother and just what she means when she says something terrible will happen if she keeps using the power. Rosemary gives in and promises not to use the power.

But that night, Rosemary is surprised when that other power returns, and it is trying to enter the house. Being stronger than Rosemary’s, it wins the fight. The door opens to reveal…Grandmother (died in prison, huh?).

Grandmother says she has been watching Dawn, figured out her game (that toy terror was an attempt to scare Dawn off) and come to warn Rosemary. Mrs Black finds Grandmother in the house and is not making her welcome. Grandmother rebukes Mrs Black for the way she treated Rosemary. When Rosemary says it was meant for her own good, Grandmother says that’s not the real reason. The truth is that Mrs Black is jealous because she was the only one in the family without the power, and she took it out on Rosemary. One look at Mrs Black’s face confirms this, as do her comments that if she had inherited the power she would have used it for evil: “Oh, what I could have done with the power!” Rosemary goes upstairs all confused and just wanting to be ordinary. After Grandmother’s visit, the relationship between Rosemary and her mother becomes so bad that they are hardly speaking to each other.

Unfortunately, Rosemary does not heed Grandmother’s warning about Dawn. In her view she can trust Dawn because Anne does now (haven’t you heard of misplaced trust, Rosemary?). So the party/final stage of Operation Rosemary goes ahead at Dawn’s house.

At the party, Norma and her gang lock Anne up so she cannot interfere with Operation Rosemary. It is a birthday party where everything is designed to be horrible and reduce Rosemary to tears. The birthday ‘surprises’ include presents filled with nasty things such as worms, and a birthday cake laden with the most vile ingredients Norma could find: fag butts, cat meat, fish bones, rotten eggs and the like. The bullies ruin Rosemary’s newly made party dress by spraying all over it, and all over her as well. Upstairs they bully Rosemary further with ‘party games’. But they didn’t mean the balustrade to break and Rosemary fall off the staircase.

Then the bullies are really surprised to see Rosemary floating in mid air! (We learn later that Grandmother was holding her telekinetically.) Rosemary says it’s her turn now, so Operation Rosemary now meets Rosemary’s revenge as Rosemary’s real party begins. Rosemary starts using her telekinesis to attack the bullies. One of the best moments is where she telekinetically throws the vile ‘birthday cake’ right into Norma’s face. Talk about a taste of your own medicine! As she goes, Rosemary shouts that she is now figuring out their whole plan, and she also finds and releases Anne. The bullies are terrified, terrorised and trying to run. Norma exposes herself as the coward she really is with ludicrous excuses for what she did and attempts to sacrifice her cronies to save herself (and she has the nerve to expect them to swear perpetual loyalty to her!).

But the worst is yet to come. Norma lights a fag to calm herself, which starts a fire that spreads fast. The girls begin to laugh hysterically as they become trapped in the fire, which fulfils what Rosemary saw in her dream. Rosemary tries to extinguish the fire telekinetically – but finds that she can’t! She has over-extended the power and now it has burned out, rendering her powerless.

Then Grandmother appears, and extinguishes the fire with her own powers. However, the strain on her powers has been too much, and she dies in hospital. Grandmother dies content, as she feels she has made amends for that other tragedy, which blighted her life with guilt. Rosemary regrets not listening to her grandmother’s warnings, and also that she did not get the chance to spend longer with her.

The police collect enough evidence on the nightmare party to send Norma to approved school. The fates of Dawn and Freda are not recorded, but no doubt these will include the reactions of Dawn’s parents to the state of the house and trouble with the police.

Mrs Black disappears, leaving Rosemary on her own. Anne’s family gladly take her in. So Rosemary finally has the normal life she wanted, but is saddened at the price she has paid for it.

Thoughts

This was one of the stories in Misty’s first lineup. Like Misty’s other first serials (“The Sentinels” and “The Cult of the Cat”), “Moonchild” still endures and is well remembered. There are strong indications that it was very popular, and writer Pat Mills attributes much of this to the artist, John Armstrong.

Many of Misty’s stories drew on popular literature and films. This one is definitely based on Stephen King’s Carrie. There is no mistaking the parallels. The protagonist is a bullied girl who possesses the power of telekinesis. The telekinetic is the product of a broken home, family tragedy, and an abusive, bigoted mother and absent father. The telekinetic uses her telekinesis to wreak a terrifying revenge on tormentors who tried to destroy her big night with cruel tricks. There are also some Rosemary’s Baby references thrown into the mix (the name of the protagonist and the Mia Farrow hairstyle she gets). And is Dr Armstrong named after the artist, John Armstrong?

There have been zillions of stories about bullying, but the drawing card of this one is – what if the bullied girl has the power? Yes, wouldn’t we love to have a power like that to strike down a bully! We want to follow this story as soon as we read the blurb on the splash page because it is just something we would love to do ourselves.

The exact origins of the power are not defined and the grandmother herself does not know where it came from. All she knows is, the power has been in the family for generations. The telekinesis is clearly hereditary, but it is not just some genetic mutation as in Carrie. It is linked to the moon mark and the moon itself, which the telekinesis draws its power from. This suggests some sort of supernatural or SF origin, and the undefined but clear connection with the powers of the moon makes the story even spookier. The insinuation of a supernatural origin also suggests that the power passing over Rosemary’s mother is not simply a genetic mutation skipping a generation. The grandmother tells her daughter she was probably not given it because she would have used it badly, and she could just well be right.

Mrs Black is at least saner than her counterpart in Carrie, who may have a borderline personality disorder as well as being a religious fanatic who should feel right at home at Westboro Baptist Church. When we learn the reason for Mrs Black’s attitudes about the power Rosemary has, she even becomes more sympathetic and her conduct more understandable, although not excusable. It is easy to understand how the shock and grief of losing her father, her mother becoming his killer, her happy family life shattered forever, and spending the rest of her childhood in orphanages could affect her mind and cause her to become so twisted and irrational. Thereafter, she became terrified of the power, regarding it as an evil thing, and fearing that it could cause another terrible thing to happen in her life. Regarding the power as an evil thing that had to be crushed in Rosemary is not unlike the Dursleys’ attitude towards magic and why they treated Harry Potter so cruelly because of it. Mrs Black could also share the same roots as Tamsin’s grandmother in “Combing Her Golden Hair”. The grandmother outwardly treated Tamsin in harsh, unfair and even absurd ways. However, it turned out that the grandmother in fact meant well. She was just not going about things in the best way. Moreover, she did not realise that she was fighting a losing battle against a supernatural heritage.

Unlike Tamsin’s grandmother though, Mrs Black loses that sympathy she ultimately gains when we learn that the real reason for her treatment of Rosemary is jealousy because she was denied the power. And after saying that the power is evil, we learn that Mrs Black would have used it for evil herself if she had been born with it (what a nerve!). Neither Rosemary nor her grandmother use the power that way. No, the power itself is not evil; it is the way that it is used.

Those eccentricities Mrs Black has are more difficult to understand. Her attitude towards Rosemary’s power does not explain why she bans gas and electricity at her house and keeps the place in the dark ages with candlelight. Does she have some weird thing about modernity? Or is it to save money by not having to pay power bills? And why does she wear that weird, sinister cloak when she goes out instead of a simple coat, which makes her such a magnet for gossip that she’s a witch or weirdo? And if Mrs Black hates her mother so much because of the telekinetic accident that killed her father, why does she keep a photo of her around the house? And why does she just disappear at the end of the story? It certainly is a very quick way to get rid of her (and good riddance!), which would open up a new life for Rosemary where she can live happily and normally. And given the way things were going between her and Rosemary it is probably not too surprising. But it is not really explained at all. Doesn’t she even leave a note? We have to wonder just how much Mrs Black really loved Rosemary in the first place – if she ever loved Rosemary at all.

The evil in the story does not come from the power but from people’s cruelty. This comes in the forms of the abusive mother, and the bullies at school, though we see some other abusive people around, such as a kid who taunts Rosemary and calls her a witch. Norma is always saying to her cronies that Rosemary deserves to be hurt because she’s so weird, but that’s just her excuse of course. She just does it because she is a bully, a bad sort, and looks like she is on her way to delinquency. She comes from a line of John Armstrong bad girls with short black hair, leather jacket and knee high boots. June Roberts, who was the bane of Bella Barlow in her 1979 story, is perhaps the best example. Unlike Norma, June changes her ways in the end.

Norma has no compunction about anything she does and will go to any lengths to get her own way. When Dawn and Freda sometimes get qualms about Operation Rosemary, Norma pushes them to continue with it. Norma is also extremely clever and a smooth talker who bluffs or talks her way out of fixes, though she does not always succeed. Her cronies say she would be top of the class if she tried, but the only thing that interests Norma about school is bullying Rosemary. Norma’s tag line to get out trouble is to bluff people with the threat that she will set her father on them as he is the [whatever]. She even tries it on the police when they say they will send her to approved school! As there is only one instance where this bluff actually succeeds, we get the impression it’s more cheek than anything else.

From the brief glimpse we see of Norma’s home life, her misconduct is clearly rooted in her parenting. Although Mrs Sykes suspects the truth about the horrible thing (the ‘birthday cake’) that Norma is making, she does not investigate further because she is heading off to bingo. She wonders if she should send Norma to the doctor to get her head examined, but Norma’s line “Don’t nick any of me fags on your way out” indicate what sort of example Mrs Sykes sets to her daughter.

At times, Norma can be witty and delivers very funny lines, mostly when she is being impudent or planning something. One of the best examples is where she styles herself as fairy godmother to bring Rosemary her birthday party: “Norma Sykes, fairy godmother – dreams come true a specialty. Magic wand no extra charge.” It must be said Norma delivers the only comic relief we see in this unsettling, grim story, even if she is also the main villain.

And now we come to Rosemary herself. All she wants is to lead a normal life where she is loved, accepted, and have lots of friends. But in order to get there, she has to unravel the mystery of why her mother keeps denying them to her, what this thing is that her mother has about ‘wickedness’, and just what the ‘weirdness’ is that nobody can really explain but makes her a magnet for bullying. It is not surprising that they are connected. It all comes from Rosemary’s telekinetic heritage and how it turned Mrs Black into a monster – and eccentric – from grief, hatred and jealousy. It is ironic that the very thing that lay at the root of all Rosemary’s troubles was the only way out of all the abuse and bullying she suffers because of it.

Rosemary does not kill anyone as Carrie does before she herself finally dies in the story. However, this story does not shy away from its own tragedy and deaths. We cry for the grandmother when she finds she unwittingly killed her own husband with her telekinesis. We cry even more so when we see that Julia does not understand that her mother didn’t mean to do it or how bad she feels about it. The grandmother too probably began to hate her own power after that, whereas it is not so much the power but panic that was the problem. A normal person could well do the same thing with a gun or poker if they were in the same situation. It is a relief to see Grandmother finally find peace over the tragedy on her deathbed.

Rosemary’s friend Anne is a real brick in that she not only stands by Rosemary all the way but also does not condemn her power as evil or witchcraft. Rosemary’s power does not frighten her either. Instead, she is one of the people with a more level-headed attitude about it and compares it to Uri Geller, which in her mind must give it scientific validity. She helps Rosemary to explore, develop and understand the power. Anne also tries to encourage Rosemary to stand up for herself more, which is something Rosemary begins to do as the power gives her more confidence. Anne has the sense to rightly suspect Dawn’s supposed friendliness is not all it seems, but eventually she gets duped by a bunch of get-well flowers and how much they must have cost. Didn’t it occur to them that the flowers might not have been bought at all?

Dr Armstrong would also be a real friend to Rosemary if he had a better attitude. He assures Rosemary that her power is not evil as her mother says; it is scientific and he gives her the scientific name for it. Dr Armstrong also tries to reason with the mother and get her to accept that the power is not evil. The trouble is, he starts getting too greedy and ambitious over Rosemary’s power. He wants to make his name with it and has no respect for Rosemary’s feelings over it. The nurse is far more sympathetic and tries to plead with the doctor that she has the right to lead a normal life.

Losing the power in the end is not unusual in girls’ comics. But in this case it really is the only way for Rosemary to start leading a normal life, though not before she is finally rid of all that domestic and school abuse of course. Still, we can’t help but hope that the power of the moon will restore Rosemary’s powers. Maybe they will consider it for a new Moonchild story in the new Misty material that is beginning to come out?

 

A Leap Through Time… [1978]

A Leap Through Time

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Published: Misty 26 August 1978 – 7 October 1978

Episodes: 7 (part 1 almost the length of a double episode spread)

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Een sprong in de tijd [A Leap through Time] Tina (weekly comic, 1985)

Plot

Elena Hare is on a school trip in Crete. The school party is not far from an old amphitheatre. As usual, Laura picks on Elena, calling her “rabbit”, a cruel twist on her surname, because Elena is no good at sport, has no confidence, and keeps herself buried in books.

Elena takes refuge in the old amphitheatre and begins to daydream. She then has a vision of herself in the amphitheatre in the days of ancient Crete. She is performing a sort of bull-baiting dance with a live bull (as explained in the text that describes life in ancient Crete) and wearing a crystal bull pendant. Elena’s final challenge is the bull leap, which means taking the bull by the horns in order to perform a somersault straight over the bull’s back. The leap is demonstrated in the story’s most striking panel below:

bull-leap

The crowd cheers her victory and someone throws her the crystal bull pendant, saying “wear it for me!”

The girls catch up and Elena tells them what she experienced. They all ridicule it, but the crystal bull is there. Elena is seized by a sudden impulse to shut up that sneering Laura once and for all. Still clutching the crystal bull, she performs amazing somersaults that take the girls by surprise.

It is time for the school trip to leave, but Elena does not want to go. She feels like she belongs there, and she has been having odd dreams about some Cretan girls pleading with her to stay.

Back at school, Elena takes everyone by surprise. Last term she was useless at gym. But now, with her new confidence – and crystal bull pendant – there is no stopping her from going to the gym and her new gymnastics skills are stunning. In fact, Elena feels she knows every trick in the book about gymnastics now and is a cert for the inter-schools gymnastics contest. But then she has more visions of the Cretan girls. This causes her to take a fall while performing on the parallel bars and she ends up in hospital.

In hospital, the doctors are puzzled as to why they can’t wrench the pendant away from Elena, who is in a coma. Elena’s visions grow even more terrifying. In them, she has taken a fall while showing the Cretan girls the bull leap. But she must recover in time to teach it to them, or they will all die on the day of the sacrifice. Crete is being plagued by quakes. The King of Crete thinks the quakes are due to the bull god being displeased and must be placated with sacrifice. So the girls (Iris, Hebe, Melina, Eyria and, of course, Elena) have been selected for sacrifice to the bull god.

The girls don’t understand Elena’s protests that she is a girl from England who doesn’t understand what the hell is going on; they tell her she is the most famous bull-dancer in Crete and will teach them how to face the bull. Elena soon finds there is no escape because the girls are too well guarded.

Elena finally understands she is on some sort of time trip to ancient Crete. The pendant was bequeathed to her from another Elena, an ancestress who wore the pendant before her and successfully leapt the bull. Elena decides she must help the girls.

Upon entering the hall of the bull, Elena realises the bull is a fake. It is just a man-operated wooden machine disguised as a bull, and it has been provided for practice. Treating it like the school gym vault, Elena begins to train the girls, but they don’t have much success with the vaulting. They too are lacking confidence. Moreover, they are being fattened up for sacrifice, which does not make them fit for athletics or somersaulting over bulls. Elena imposes serious training, with intense exercise, eating only wholesome foods, and says that she used to lack confidence as well. If she can overcome that, they can too!

A real bull is brought in, and Elena takes the girls down to practise on him. She is warned the bull is extra-dangerous because of an injury. But the warning comes too late – she’s already in the pit with him, and he’s coming too fast for her to do the bull leap! However, the other girls find their courage and distract the bull enough for Elena to get out.

Following this, the girls bond together as a team and overcome their fears. The bull handler planned it that way and continues to help them by bringing in another bull for them to practise with. Elena makes progress with the bull leap and coming up with strategies to defeat the bull on the day of the sacrifice.

However, the continuing quakes have the people so terrified that the King advances the date of the sacrifice. It will now be the following day, which cuts the time the girls needed to be properly prepared, and the four trainees have not learned the bull leap.

Elena manages to orchestrate a breakout through old sewers. But they get recaptured when they reach the harbour in search of a boat. Moreover, the harbour is high and dry because the water has receded drastically. The Cretans believe it is a sign that that the bull god is angry because the sacrifice girls tried to escape. But Elena recalls from geography lessons that the sea receding in this manner means a major earthquake is coming within 24 hours (uh, shouldn’t it mean that a tsunami is coming?).

But not even the girls listen to Elena’s warnings about this. They too believe the bull god will be appeased and the quakes stop once they are sacrificed, while Elena knows that no amount of sacrificial blood will stop what is coming. Even the birds are taking fright from the impending quake and fleeing.

In the arena, Elena faces the bull alone because the others are too frightened. Elena realises the bull is too big for the bull leap, so things look even more hopeless. Then fate steps in – a small earthquake strikes and opens a deep rift in the ground that cuts the bull off from Elena and makes it run away in terror.

The King takes this as a sign that the bull god does not want the girls to be sacrificed after all, and he orders them to be set free. But a few minutes later the huge earthquake strikes, killing everyone in the arena. Elena does not look much better off.

Elena now wakes up in hospital. She has been in her strange coma for 15 days. She finds her crystal bull is now smashed and is worried she will lose her newly discovered skills for gymnastics. But when she gets back to school she is relieved to find she still has them.

In another time and place, Iris, Hebe, Melina and Eyria watch Elena perform her gymnastics with the aid of a mystic. They are glad to see Elena so happy in her own world and thank the mystic for it.

Thoughts

This story certainly gets off to an unconventional start. Before we even start reading the first episode we are actually given a page of historical background on ancient Crete and the bull leap to give us some context and help us understand the story better. Seldom have girls’ comics had such foresight. The first episode itself is even longer than Misty’s usual four-page spreads.

At first it looks like the story will go off in the direction of a timid no-hoper girl who gains confidence and talent when she is given a magical object. The formula has been used over and over in girls’ comics, and is sometimes given an edge when the magic object turns out to have a dark side or causes awkward problems. But instead of having Elena and her crystal bull continuing to wow everyone at school while arousing jealousy in rivals, which is the more usual convention, the pendant takes Elena off on an abrupt time travel journey to ancient Crete to save four girls from death. It certainly is quite a departure from convention.

Elena, who is barely out of her own shell and only just acquired a talent for gymnastics, must now impart her new skills to these four girls who are pretty much like herself not long ago – lacking confidence and think themselves hopeless at such acrobatics. It’s a race against time against the date for the sacrifice, it’s a matter of saving the lives of four girls, and then it looks like a futile cause once Elena realises there is going to be a huge earthquake anyway, regardless of what happens in the arena. But Elena takes everything firmly in hand, even when it looks like it’s all pointless because of the impending earthquake. Surely no serial has made a more sterling message about having confidence in yourself and keeping the faith than this one.

The mechanics of the time travel and the crystal bull pendant are not really explained, which is not really surprising. At first it looks like Elena might be reliving some sort of past life or becoming possessed by the spirit of the other Elena. But at the end it is revealed that the four girls and a mystic are watching her from another time and place. So could the mystic have somehow engineered the whole thing? We are not told, and it probably best left to the imagination because it would give you a headache trying to figure it out.

Feito’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing off the story, such as those huge sweeping panels of the amphitheatre, the bull leap acrobatics, and the bulls themselves. Drawing animals was always one of Feito’s greatest strengths. The story also shows that Feito’s artwork lends itself well to period stories that use settings of ancient civilisations. Another Misty story, “When the Rain Falls…”, which uses a Roman setting, also demonstrates this. Though John Armstrong remains unmatched for drawing gymnastics, the Grecian-style panel demonstrating the mechanics of the bull leap is one of Feito’s best ever.

 

 

Winner Loses All! (1979)

Sample Images

winner-loses-all-2awinner-loses-all-2bwinner-loses-all-2cwinner-loses-all-2d

Published: Misty 4 August 1979 to 24 November 1979

Episodes: 17

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De winnaar verliest [The Winner Loses] Anita (weekly comic, 1983)

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).