Tag Archives: obsession

Land of No Tears (1977-78)

Sample images

Land of No Tears episode 7 pg 1
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Land of No Tears episode 7 pg 2
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Land No Tears ep 7 - 3

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Publication: 5 November 1977 – 11 February 1978; reprinted 3 January 1981 – 11 April 1981 as a result of Pam’s Poll.

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Cassy Shaw was born with one leg shorter than the other and a consequent bad limp, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself; what’s more, she is quite happy to play on the sympathies of those who do. Her parents have different ideas: they arrange for her to have an operation that will correct her disability. In the operation, something very unusual happens: Cassy is whirled away through time into the future, a cruel future in which girls who are less than utterly perfect are treated as second-class citizens. She is greeted (with something very different from the sympathy she is used to) by Alpha girl Perfecta, who takes her to the nearest communal home or hive, run by a ‘hive mother’, who takes in children from the age of four and turns them into emotionless, physically perfect “superior girls”.

Cassy quickly revolts against this harsh treatment, where the Gamma girls are dressed in shabby clothes, treated like skivvies, and given literal scraps from the Alpha girls’ tables while the latter hone their mental and physical perfection and live in luxurious surroundings. She urges the Gamma girls to train at sports in order to beat the Alphas and win the Golden Girl award, proving that ‘rejects’ like them can’t safely be despised and humiliated. At first the Gamma girls are understandably sceptical, but Cassy finds allies first in her fellow Gamma, Miranda, who would have been an Alpha if her robo-nurse hadn’t left her too near a radiator which caused her to have a bald patch; and subsequently in Miranda’s mysterious mother, who wears heavy make-up and is clearly hiding a secret, but who is a fantastic trainer. Cassy herself has always been good at swimming and finds that the hive pool has a pace-setter – film of Perfecta swimming. “Racing against Perfecta is just what I need to spur me on. I’ll do anything to beat that stuck-up snob!”

Things initially look sticky in the first round of the Golden Girl trials, but Cassy wins her swimming heat, causing Perfecta to sweat as she realises “She’s better than me! She’s better than me! Those wretched Gamma girls could get through to the final… Could even win the Golden Girl award. I feel sick!” Not so fast – an announcement comes over the tannoy saying that Cassy has been disqualified – there are no records for her, and so the authorities think she must be competing under an assumed name. A reprieve happens when the computer fails to match her up with anyone else – as indeed how could it, as Cassy’s voiceprint and fingerprints never got recorded in this future time. However, this has brought suspicion on the hive generally and further investigations are promised.

Miranda’s mother appears in time to watch her gymnastics performance, which starts off lacklustre but is spurred on by her mother’s presence. This gives the Golden Girls another win, but the mother is furious – with Cassy. “Thanks to you, the Hive Inspector is coming down to investigate. He’ll ask questions about everyone. He’s certain to find out I’ve been meeting my daughter in secret. And then they’ll take her away from me, for ever!” (Yes, that was her secret – or at least, part of it…) Because of this, Miranda feels she can’t be friends with Cassy any longer; and Perfecta, desperate to train as hard as possible, breaks off with her best friend too, setting things up for a head-to-head between the perfect girl and the 20th century “reject’.

It’s a head-to-head that seems doomed to failure for Cassy, not because she is slower than Perfecta, but because Perfecta is about to spill the beans to the visiting Hive Inspector about having seen Miranda’s mother where she wasn’t supposed to be. “When I tell him, he’ll have Miranda and her mother put into a special prison… and serve them right, too!” Cassy can prevent this – but only by promising to lose to Perfecta in the Golden Girl finals. Miranda’s mother comes, sobbing and grateful, to thank Cassy for this sacrifice; the heavy make-up comes off with her tears and reveals … Miss Norm, the Hive Mother! That’s how she has managed to appear and disappear so unexpectedly at times.

Miss Norm tells the story of how the robo-nurse was left to look after Miranda when she was a baby, because Miss Norm wanted to enjoy herself without the responsibilities of motherhood; but as the nurse’s heat sensors were faulty she put the cot too close to the radiator and Miranda’s head got scorched. “If it hadn’t been for the accident, Miranda would have been an Alpha girl. She was perfect…” – Miss Norm doesn’t regret the cruel system of Alphas and Gammas, she just regrets the accident that placed her daughter on the wrong side of the divide. “I had to make things up by protecting her now… When the time came for her to be taken away to the Hive, I changed my name and got the job of Hive Mother.”

Cassy is out of the running because of her promise, but she hasn’t told any of the other Gamma girls, who do well in the final heats. Perfecta draws inexorably ahead as Cassy lets her win, but suddenly Perfecta screams in pain – she has done something to her spine by pushing herself faster and further! She is out of the race, and Cassy speeds up to try to make up for lost time. Even the crowd are on her side, now, despite the Hive Inspector urging them to “Remember your conditioning… “Feelings – bad! Bad! Self-control… Good! Good!” In a final surge, Cassy pips the other racers and ensures that the Gamma girls win the award – to the cheers of the crowd, who push the protesting Hive Inspector out of the way and into the pool.

In the aftermath, Miranda and Cassy are chatting about the changes that have happened since their win: “it seems people were pretty fed-up with things. When a bunch of “reject” girls won a top sports award, they realised they’d had enough of being bullied.”  But Cassy is still stuck in this future world – until their walk takes them near to the ruins of the hospital, the place where Cassy first emerged and met Perfecta. She falls down a crumbly part of the ruined site and… wakes up in her own time, with the leg operation having been successful. Was it just a dream? No, because she is still clutching her Golden Girl medallion. “Then everything did happen… the Hive, the Gamma girls, Miss Norm, Miranda! I’ll always have this to remember them by… and the time I spent in the land of no tears.”

Themes and further comment

I keep on comparing Jinty stories with other media items: Children of Edenford with The Stepford Wives, Almost Human with Superman. Not without reason – this revisioning of  stories from elsewhere was an acknowledged policy of girls’ comics, as Pat Mills explained to me back in 2005. Well, this story is nothing so much as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s sf classic, done schoolgirl-style. The future is cold, regimented, divested of family feeling, inhuman; the people in it are divided into superior types and inferior “rejects” (even the Alpha and Gamma terminology is taken from Brave New World).

However, the main point of the story is picked up in the word “elitism” that Mills mentions in that interview. Like “Children of Edenford”, the newcomer is faced with a group that creates and values a certain set of élite qualities, though the specific qualities are different in this story, focusing as they do more on physical perfection. Protagonist Cassy is fired up by the injustice of this; her response to this society is not just selfishly wanting the sympathetic response she was used to in her previous world, but to tear down the whole evil structure – a true class warrior response. (In fact, although her normal world is much more comfortable for her, it also did her few favours by not making her challenge herself in the way that she is clearly capable of, not that she would necessarily have seen it that way.) Cassy’s journey from selfish manipulator to crusader is quick: in the first episode she is shown cannily and coldly getting her own way, but as early as the second episode she is already thinking of the wider picture (she comforts one of the crying four-year-old new Hive entrants by giving her a doll).

Again as with “Edenford” and other stories of this kind, some of the interest is in the sheer outrageousness of how far the writer is prepared to ladle it on. The future girls are called ‘Perfecta’ and ‘Divina’; they take showers in icy-cold water; the girls wear big As or Gs on their clothes to denote their status. This verve moves the story on quickly, still including touches of realism, such as the bitchy relations between the lower-class Gamma girls, who have no-one but each other to pick at. If you are picky, there are indeed plot holes to poke at. How did we get from our current soft-hearted society to the future hard-nosed one? Does the setup apply across the world, and if so what will happen given the collapse of the hive society at the end of the story? (And if it wasn’t world-wide then what happened in terms of collaboration between different types of society?) And most of all, how can it be that positive human emotions such as the love shown between Miranda and her mother is at all sustainable, even in hiding, in this repressive set-up? These are however side-issues that don’t occur as you avidly read through this exciting story.

Unlike almost all other Jinty stories, in this case we know both the artist and the writer. Pat Mills is well-known for writing science fiction and anti-establishment stories, so it comes as little surprise to assign his name to this story. Artist Guy Peeters has a distinctive style that makes it easy to link his uncredited art to the stories he did later on when credits were published. I would say that this is one of Peeters’ best works, with varied layouts, expressive features on the characters, and a solid depiction of the uncaring future society. It is little surprise to me that this story was shortlisted in Pam’s Poll for readers to vote on a reprint of, nor that it should have emerged a winner.

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Children of Edenford (1979)

Sample images

Children of Edenford page 1
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Children of Edenford pg 2
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Children of Edenford pg 3
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Publication: 24 February 1979 – 2 June 1979

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Patti Anderson’s family are moving away from the grimy big city to the idyllic village of Edenford. All her friends and family are enchanted with this move, but Patti goes from first being cynical about it, to shortly being outright disturbed and scared. The village children are all super well-behaved in a very overt fashion (washing down public monuments and helping little old ladies across the road) and the headmistress of the local school is clearly somewhat obsessed with perfection. In addition, almost immediately there are strong hints that all is not what it seems: a runaway girl advises Patti to leave before it is too late, before subsequently reappearing with a glassy smile and no hint that anything has ever been amiss. Yes, this is the village of the Stepford Schoolgirls.

The headmistress, Purity Goodfellow by name, is fairly clearly the driving force: she reacts to Patti’s rebelliousness with an amused “…never fear, you shall be one of us soon! Very soon!” Initially Patti teams up with the one other normal girl in the school – Jilly (or rather, Perseverance, as all the girls given “school names” of the virtues they most need to strive to acquire) – but quickly it becomes apparent that Miss Goodfellow’s threat is not an empty one. First Jilly and then Patti become perfect schoolgirls from one minute to the next, with glassy stares and wide grins as they announce their intention to do extra homework before an early night, so that they can get up early and make cordon bleu packed lunches for their papas or ballgowns for their mamas. As with any scheme of this nature, however, there is a fatal flaw in the mechanism that turns people perfect – it is washed out of the body with tears and sneezes, meaning that anyone with a cold or with hay fever – as Patti has – will get better in short order. That is, unless the prefects find them and drag them off to the infirmary first!

Having turned normal again, Patti wastes no time giving Jilly a cold to free her from the malign influence; as it works well for her, they decide to give the whole school colds to see if they can break the spell. This time it works a little too well – the schoolgirls go from normal to exuberant to positively destructive, in a backlash from being freed from their mental restraints. The parents are called in, and it is evident that they knew all along about Purity Goodfellow’s methods and aims: they are calling her out not for drugging their children, but for the failure to produce the promised perfect progeny. Patti and Jilly watch, horrified, from hiding as this betrayal is made clear; but the tables are turned on the parents when Miss Goodfellow takes the opportunity to turn them, too, into pliant paragons who believe mindlessly in everything she says. Patti and Jilly are powerless to do anything but pretend that they are still perfect while searching for the hiding place of the drug that they now know is administered in the food (carrying onions as a tear-inducing way of washing the drug out of their systems any time they feel themselves getting too brain-washed).

The game can’t last long and soon Patti is imprisoned in the school to be force-fed the mystic drug, as Miss Edenford proclaims “In the infirmary you shall eat your way to perfection!” Jilly escapes to try to bring help, but even the police are in Miss Goodfellow’s pocket; meanwhile in the infirmary the attempts to forcibly turn Patti perfect again are thwarted by the high pollen count and the beautiful flowers liberally strewn around, as her hay fever kicks in again. Losing patience (surely a vice!), Miss Goodellow proclaims that “the fire of righteousness … shall burn out your imperfections!” and has Patti dragged off to the massive temple she’s had built somewhere on the school grounds… where she is to be burned on a very literal altar. Yikes! Of course the obsessive headmistress doesn’t win; Patti doesn’t go meekly to the slaughter, and in the struggle Miss Goodfellow is knocked into her own sacrificial flames and perishes, refusing Patti’s help: “I shall not take succour from the hands of darkness!”. Patti nearly dies too in the ensuing fire, but the brooding massive statue of Perfection (looking rather a lot like Purity Goodfellow, of course) comes crashing down and breaks the door to freedom. The drug is destroyed by fire and the tears induced by the smoke will wash the remains of it from people’s systems; “In a few days we’ll be like every other village… a mixture of good and bad. Edenford will be just human again!”

Themes and commentary

This is one of the key stories I tell people about when on a roll about how girls’ comics in general, and Jinty in particular, was great. In a kids’ medium, it’s a story against moral perfection, against parents’ judgements of what’s “best for you”, against society’s expectations. It’s the Stepford Schoolgirls with a big streak of A Clockwork Orange and more than a hint of Bodysnatchers too. All that, and it’s (ironically) pretty much pitch-perfect in art and writing.

The art, by the very British Phil Townsend, is extremely grounded and solid: he puts in little details such as a bootscraper inset by the front door of a grimy terrace house on the first page, or an old headscarf and shopping basket on one of Patti’s ex-neighbours in the high-rise she is leaving. Headmistress Purity Goodfellow is initially simply severe, austere in clothing and facial features; her manic looks at the climax of the story are therefore all the more striking. Little things help tell the story: the forces of Miss Goodfellows’ Edenford always dressed in pure spotless white, while Patti and the other “imperfect” characters are variously in darker or grimy clothes.

It would be naive to deny that part of the enjoyment, for myself and other adult readers, is in the sheer over-the-top writing that lends itself to a high camp reading. I’ve quoted some dialogue above, and when preparing this article I was hard-pressed to keep it to just a short list of further examples: Miss Goodfellow has determined that “pop music is a waste of time. It neither enriches the soul nor challenges the intellect.” The perfect Patti packs her father a lunch of “just some asparagus tips, oriental salad, Camembert cheese, fruit and a bottle of french spring water”; and at the climax of the story “Is it mad to want to see a perfect world?” “It is the way you’re doing it!” Purity Goodfellow’s statements and worldview are so extreme that when Patti needs to pretend to be perfect, all she needs to do is to think of the most off-the-wall things and go for them wholeheartedly.

The anti-perfection theme is also very attractive to the adult reader; a daring strike away from the mainstream of children’s fiction, which normally pushes an ideal of at least moderate conformity and of achievement. In Jinty there is one other anti-perfection story (“Land of No Tears”, by Pat Mills and Guy Peeters), though with a different take, as it focuses on physical perfection more than the social and moral perfection that Purity Goodfellow is looking to establish. Generally, striving to achieve better results in the exercise of your talent is laudable in girls’ comics stories. In “Children of Edenford” even this expectation is undermined: Patti is good at swimming and so Miss Goodfellow determines she will have two and a half hours daily extra training(!) to turn her into a champion, despite Patti stating she doesn’t want to do that, but rather to continue just enjoying it as a pastime. Partly this is because coercion and obsession are always bad and wrong, to be punished at the conclusion of the story or repented of, but partly I think also to highlight the rightness of society as “a mixture of good and bad”, of natural achievement and natural mediocrity too.

A darker element of the story’s themes is the nasty surprise that parents are not guaranteed to have your best interests at heart. The parents of the village knew of Miss Goodfellow’s perfection drug all along and while they didn’t want their children to be turned into zombies, Miss Goodfellow’s accusation that they were all “quite happy for your children to do everything you asked them, to wait on you hand and foot” is unpalatably true. A stark message in a children’s comic, one perhaps more expected in a punk lyric such as Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized“.

I would really like to know a lot more about the authorial and editorial thinking behind this story. It has a commanding position in the comic as it appears in the final pages almost every time, but it is never granted a cover slot, though other stories by the same artist are given plenty. Its message is a challenging one, disrespectful to society as it is generally framed (the sort of perfection that Miss Goodfellow espouses is a very “U” kind, focused as it is on a classical education and on cordon bleu cookery). Could it have been de-emphasised because of that message?

Edited 22.05.2014

I have just read the Tammy story ‘The Four Friends at Spartan School‘, written by Terence Magee. This story has some interesting commonalities with ‘Children of Edenford’: in it, the schoolgirls are also specifically sent there by their parents, with the intention of them being made over into obedience and compliance, as matches their parents’ desires and expectations. However, ‘Spartan School’ is obviously cruel right from the start; it is more like Magee’s long-running story ‘Merry at Misery House‘. Also, while we are told that the parents want their children to be obedient, it isn’t clear to the reader whether the parents really know the methods that the headmistress uses; the school is so far away that it is entirely possible that the parents are neglectful in finding out the real situation, rather than positively complicit. When an escapee pupil manages to contact her family, they head instantly to her rescue rather than disbelieving her, which lends weight to this interpretation. ‘Edenford’ is therefore an extreme example of a story theme that exists in other girls’ comics; so extreme, however, as to feel quite subversive.