Tag Archives: Norman Worker

John Wagner: Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lindy # 2, 28 June 1975

Lindy cover

  • Pavement Patsy (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • The Tin-Mine Ponies (artist Manuel Cuyàs)
  • Nina Nimble Fingers (artist Roy Newby)
  • Jane’s Jeannie
  • David Essex pinup (missing from my copy)
  • Sophie’s Secret Squeezy (artist José Casanovas)
  • The Last Green Valley
  • Penny Crayon
  • The House of Fear (artist Tom Hurst)
  • Hard Days for Hilda (artist Dudley Wynne; writer Terence Magee)
  • Pop Spot (feature)

Lindy was the first comic to merge with Jinty. But how did she start off originally? What was in her first lineup? I do not have the first issue, but I do have the second, which came with a bottle of perfume as its free gift. Lindy’s favourite perfume, apparently. I wonder what scent that was?

I suspect my copy is lacking a couple of pages (at the “Jane’s Jeannie” section), most likely because someone took out the David Essex pinup, so it is possible that the lineup I have listed here is not quite complete. If someone could clarify this with a complete copy, please leave a comment below.

New IPC titles of the 70’s started off with a Cinderella story and a  slave story in their first lineups, and Lindy is no exception. The Cinderella story is “Pavement Patsy”, where Patsy Logan puts up with her horrible aunt and uncle so she can stay together with her little sister Jenny. She is their drudge and obliged to go on on her uncle’s coal round. The aunt and uncle are as mean as Scrooge too; in this episode Patsy asks her aunt for money to buy a new pair of shoes for Jenny, but all the aunt will cough up for it is five pence for something at a jumble sale, which results in shoes that don’t fit properly. There is usually some hobby or passion that provides solace; in Patsy’s case it is pavement art, and words of praise from a tramp encourage her to believe that her art is going to be more than just a hobby. But you can be sure the horrible guardians are going to get in the way.

The slave story is “Nina Nimble Fingers” (reprinted in Jinty Holiday Special 1981). The slaving is set in a Victorian dress shop, where Nina Sinclair and her sickly younger sister Clare have ended up as apprentices after their mother’s death. We are into part two, and Madam Estelle, the owner of the shop, has now established to the Sinclair sisters just what a hard, cruel woman she is to work for. She even takes off money that Nina has earned for herself and badly needs in order to get medical treatment for her sister. But it also establishes the to-be-expected determination of the heroine not to give in to such cruelty and ultimately rise above it. Supernatural stories are part of the parcel as well, of course.  In this case they are “Sophie’s Secret Squeezy” and “Jane’s Jeannie”. Jeannie is the more lightweight one, played for humour. Jane makes friends with a genie called Jeannie. But instead of a bottle, Jeannie pops out of a tennis racquet! That sure makes a change. Sophie has been down on her luck until she acquires a squeezy bottle and now feels different about herself. Every time she makes bubbles, she sees visions in them that help her immensely. In this episode she is framed for stealing, but the squeezy bottle shows her who and why; it was a girl who was embittered because her mother will not allow her to join the hockey team. How will the squeezy help her to sort out the problem, and in a way that helps the girl? Presumably the story lasted until the squeezy bottle ran out.

A scary story is always popular, and so Lindy has “The House of Fear”. Harriet has gone to stay at her aunt’s and the only residents are the servants who are trying to scare her off with claims of hauntings. As if they need to fake ghosts – the butler looks like Frankenstein’s monster or Lurch from the Addams Family. And by the end of the episode, Harriet suspects they are holding her aunt prisoner in the cellar. But I wonder if Lindy is tipping her hand way too soon with this one – it’s only the second episode and already Harriet is convinced the servants are trying to scare her off. Shouldn’t the story be allowed to develop more before she begins to suspect them of that?

“Hard Days for Hilda” is a maidservant story, but set in the 1930s rather than the more usual Victorian times. Hilda Hobbs takes the lowest maidservant job at The Grand Hotel (makes a change from aristocratic residences like Molly Mills’ Stanton Hall) though she doesn’t let it get her down and remains chirpy. But in the second episode she finds her days getting harder when she finds the other maidservants are spiteful and play tricks to get her into trouble, and there is the typical bullying from senior staff. But there is always one servant who is friendly and Hilda finds him in this episode as well – Willie the Buttons Boy. I have found on UK Comics Wiki that it was written by Terence Magee, a stalwart at writing stories about tortured heroines at all sorts of cruel institutions ranging from schools to reformatories, including Jinty’s own “Merry at Misery House“.

In “The Last Green Valley”, Lindy seemed to anticipate Jinty in featuring environmental stories. The environmental issue in this case is Britain being plunged into an ice age, and our band of survivors are making their way to “the green valley”, an oasis that is supposed to have escaped the ice age.

Finally, there are “The Tin-Mine Ponies”, where the snobby Mrs Gore-Bradley threatens the rehoming of ponies at a pony trek centre because she wants to keep the countryside to herself. She is outsmarted in this episode but is still determined to get rid of “those ghastly ponies”, and it won’t be for lack of trying. Hilda and Patsy were the longest-running stories from the first Lindy lineup; Patsy finished in #18 and Hilda in #19. This indicates they were popular while they lasted, perhaps among the most popular.

In summary, it can be said that Lindy got off to a promising start, with Norman Worker at the editor’s helm. Lindy’s stories were filled with the ingredients (hardship, cruelty, humour, supernatural, friendship) that made the early Tammy and Jinty popular. There were even some surprising takes on established formulas, such as the genie who popped out of a tennis racquet. However, her lineup lacked humorous regular characters (a la Tansy of Jubilee Street or The Jinx from St Jonah’s); the only character in that area was the Penny Crayon cartoon, which made her the only Lindy character to carry on in the merger. She also lacked regular characters in general, a deficiency that is always means a girls’ comic fades fast once it goes into a merger, because it is the regulars and cartoon strips that carry on in a merger. So although Lindy’s first lineup showed potential, it exhibited deficiencies that would be telling once she merged with Jinty. Had she lasted longer, the deficiencies could have been addressed, more regular characters introduced, more serials that could still be well-remembered, and Lindy herself remembered more. Instead, she was short-lived (only 20 issues), even by the standards of short-lived girls’ comics, and is largely forgotten.