It’s the last episode of “Land of No Tears”. The Gamma Girls’ win has sparked off more than they intended and it’s symbolised by the spectators knocking the Hive Inspector into the pool. The Gamma Girls have made people realise how fed up they were with the system that oppressed even their emotions. The letters page prints a letter from one reader thanking Jinty for reprinting the story, especially as she had lost her original copy.
“Land of No Tears” was reprinted because of “Pam’s Poll”, and in this issue another story starts repeating because of the poll. Many readers voted for a nursing story, so “Angela’s Angels” returns. Jinty made a strong point in the announcement that this was one of Jinty’s first stories, so newer readers must have been delighted to be reading a story from Jinty’s first days.
Pam has a bad falling out with Goofy because she laughed at his submission for the upcoming school magazine without realising who wrote it. On the day of the launch all the magazines are found ripped to shreds! Pam can only think of one person who had the motive, and is praying it wasn’t him.
Sir Roger’s sad to find that he’s badly affecting the Stony Hall business of guided tour by scaring people off. He tries to boost the business.
It’s Tansy and June vs Peter and Simon in a bike contest. When the contest is tied it’s up to the bike scrambling to break it. Tansy does scrambling in more ways than one – she accidentally causes Mrs Spikle’s eggs to go for a scramble. Despite this her bike scrambling nails a victory for her and June.
Fancy’s encounter with Ben and his wild bird hospital has brought on some improvement in her character: she begins to have second thoughts about bullying. Just as well, because she’s being taken to the headmistress.
Betty uses some pretty strong-arm tactics to get Belle diving again. At least it works.
Another Strange Story from June is recycled for Gypsy Rose. A Spanish orphan named Maria makes a living entertaining people with her puppet Chica. She wishes she could be rich and buy Chica a puppet theatre. Events starting with Chica somehow appearing in a rich man’s garden make this dream come true. But the mystery of how Chica got into the garden remains unsolved.
In this week’s text story, a leisure centre appeal is going badly. It is also up against competition from an appeal to save a loco named Emily, which does better but also fails. Then inspiration strikes: convert Emily into the leisure centre!
This is Jinty’s Easter issue for 1981. Tansy and Gaye both have stories where they enter Easter parades. And Jinty has a feature on how to make things for Easter.
The letter column prints one letter that yields interesting information on Pam’s Poll. The reader and her sister want Jinty to reprint “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”. The editor replied that Stefa was one of their most popular stories and in Pam’s Poll lots of readers voted for it to be repeated. Yet the editor still asks if other readers would like to see it reprinted and please write in if they do. Now why does the editor need to ask this? Surely there has been demand enough already.
In this issue is the first episode of the serial that was Jinty’s jewel in the crown for 1981: “Worlds Apart”. Greed, sports mania, vanity, delinquency, intellectualism and fearfulness are exemplified in six girls who get knocked out by gas from a tanker that crashes into their school. When they wake up they are in hospital, but there is something odd about it – everyone in sight is grotesquely fat, and by their standards the girls are emaciated. The hospital treatment they are about to get is designed to forcibly turn them into fatties!
This week’s text story is a bit improbable. Violet is a dreadful singer (but tell her that!). When she starts singing in the street, people give old stuff just to get rid of her. It’s put to good use for a jumble sale – but come on, would people really give old stuff to get rid of horrible singing? Throw it, yes – but give it?
Pam reveals her two big dislikes about Pond Hill: school sago pud and Jill Cook. Now she dislikes Jill more than ever as Jill has become a bad influence for her boyfriend Goofy Boyle.
In “Fancy Free!”, Fancy’s in a huff when Ben tries to press his own rules on her. It culminates in a row at home, where Mum says she had the same trouble with Fancy’s mysteriously absent father.
Angela’s Angels are having a hard time learning the ins and outs of nursing. And Sister Angela looks a nervous wreck herself after a day of instructing them. Student Nurse Helen is put on night duty – but falls asleep on the job and now she’s in trouble!
This week’s Gypsy Rose story is another recycled Strange Story. Stacy Fletcher’s hobby in making jewellery leads to a strange time travel story where she drops a piece of jewellery in the past after unwittingly foiling a crime. This gives rise to a legend that a ghost left it.
In “Diving Belle” Betty’s coming up with all sorts of inventive ways to get Belle diving again. This week it it’s breaking into school to use the pool. When the caretaker finds them, it’s an improvised diving board on the cliffs. And Betty says time is pressing as there is only a day or two left. Day or two left before what?
I wanted to write a post looking at what makes a story work, but first it seems sensible to consider how we can tell that a story has worked at all – or not, of course. It seems to me that there are some general principles we can reasonably consider when thinking about stories in the titles under discussion – Jinty/Misty/Tammy in particular. (I should add a caveat that here I am particularly considering stories which have a beginning, middle, and end, rather than gag strips or humour stories that tend to consist of indivudal self-contained episodes.)
What evidence do we have that it worked at the time?
Looking at evidence from the past, we can clearly say that people at the time judged some stories to have worked better than others.
Some stories are known to have been particularly popular; we may have information from editors (we know that “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” was very popular). The publishers certainly canvassed readers for indicators of the most and the least popular stories, either through the invitation to specify your faves when writing a letter to the editor, or more rarely through initiatives such as “Pam’s Poll“.
Reprinting of stories is likely to indicate a positive judgement on how well they worked – why waste space on a story you didn’t think was worth it? At the same time, some reprints are hard to see as being particularly strong – “Angela Angel-Face” being a case in point. Sometimes, therefore, the fact that a story has been reprinted might just be a recognition of its ready availability as a cheap space-filler.
Translation of stories is surely a stronger indication of success; a third party has selected the story (in some way – it would be good to know more about how this happened), paid for it, and put work into producing a translated edition, possibly with new cover artwork or more colouring.
And then sometimes we have seen the translation go on to further usage – collection in an album format (the DutchTina Topstrips), and then perhaps further translations derived from those earlier selections (the IndonesianNina reprints that drew heavily on the Tina Topstrip editions). “The Spell of the Spinning Wheel” is an example of a story that scores particularly highly, having been translated into Dutch and Indonesian in just this way.
Story length may be another indicator. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” ran for 36 episodes and “Fran of the Floods” ran for 35 episodes, where a story was more usually some 15 episodes long. The obvious reason for this extraordinary length is that as the story was popular, the writer will have been asked to make it carry on for longer, or at any rate not stopped from continuing. (This may have turned out as a double-edged sword: we understand that for instance Dutch Tina didn’t reprint stories past a certain length because of format constraints, so a very long story of this sort was actually less likely to be translated and reprinted elsewhere.)
(edited to add) Promotional and editorial decisions may also give some pointers. The editorial office decides about which story to feature on the cover, and to what extent – for instance when dramatically using a panel from the interior art to create a striking cover. They also decide which stories to feature in prime positions in the publication: the first and last stories are key positions, but the centre pages can also be an important focus for the reader. Some pages are in colour and again this will reflect a specific editorial decision to add something extra (requiring more work) to that story compared to others. Finally, some titles will be highlighted in adverts published in other titles.
As you can see, though, none of these indicators are foolproof. The most reliable indicator would be evidence direct from the editorial office to confirm that a story was popular, and even then of course you can quibble about whether popularity necessarily relies on the story being strong… though what you could certainly say in that case is that the most important critics, the readers, had voted in favour to say that it had worked for them.
What can we say about whether it works now?
And coming to stories that we read now, what tools can we use to think about whether a story works? (For instance we may come across a new story that we didn’t read at the time, or re-read a story in a new light.)
It is entirely legitimate to consider our own uncritical reaction as readers: “I love this sort of thing”, or “it’s not my cup of tea”, or “I know it’s very generic but I have a soft spot for this story”. Perhaps when you read the story initially, you hadn’t ever come across that particular cliché, and even though you recognize how hackneyed it is you still like it. Or perhaps there is some detail of script or art that just gives it something extra in your eyes. We can say “this story works for me”, acknowledging that others may read it and judge it more harshly; we may need to be aware of the limitations of our judgment, while at the same time still seeing those judgments as valid in themselves.
Likewise if we re-read a fondly remembered story now as adult readers, we may find that it is just as exciting as those memories had it as; or we may find that since then we have brought a lot more experience (and perhaps cynicism) to bear as readers, and the story just doesn’t work any more. Maybe events have overtaken it entirely (a story featuring casual racism or a now-known sex predator would be seen quite differently now than at the time). So the story might not work for us as individuals, or more generally, and we can make judgements accordingly.
Finally, there are a whole range of elements we can analyse to see what can make a story work, coming from the contribution of the artist and of the writer and even of the editorial office. Looking through these elements, as I want to do in my next post, we may find that we see more in the story than at first glance, and that it works more effectively than we’d given it credit for initially. I am finding this can happen for me when reading Mistyfan’s posts on stories, as we (naturally) have some differences in reading taste – for instance, reading her post on “Go On, Hate Me!” gave me a different view on how and why the story worked, although this is a story I might otherwise have dismissed as only moderately interesting. Using more analytical tools we are therefore able to say that a story works well or less well as a narrative of its kind, on its own merits, regardless of its reception at the time or by us as individuals.
Translations/reprints:Princess (series 2) 28 January 1984 and concluded in Tammy & Princess 2 June 1984; Translated into Dutch as “Steffie’s hart van steen” and printed in Dutch Tina #19/1984-42/1984.
Stefa Giles and Joy Brett have been the closest of friends since they were toddlers. Mr Giles worries that they may be a little too inseparable, and Stefa tends to love too much, which can leave her open to being badly hurt. His concerns prove all too right when Joy falls ill and dies.
It’s too traumatising for Stefa, and she cannot bear the thought of experiencing it again. Taking a cue from a statue in her garden, which seems impervious to everything because it is made of stone, Stefa starts to turn her heart into stone so she will never again experience such pain. So Stefa, who had hitherto been a loving girl, refuses to love people anymore. She snubs her classmates, freezes off all friendships, and swallows down any emotion because “statues don’t!” She even strives to stop loving her parents, believing she must so that she will not grieve if she loses them.
The Giles parents put Stefa’s conduct down to the trauma of losing Joy, but they are deeply upset by how Stefa seems to be deliberately hurting them. At the advice of a doctor, they transfer to a new location. Stefa insists on bringing the statue, which she calls Stonyface. She ends up carrying Stonyface on her lap in the car as there is no room in the boot! Her parents are worried and upset that Stefa seems to be care more about the statue than them. They do not realise that Stefa identifies Stonyface as her only friend now that she is turning her heart into stone. Stefa’s pathological relationship with Stonyface leads to some hilarious situations, such as Stefa running away from home with Stonyface on a wheelbarrow – which gets her caught of course. On another occasion she sleeps on the lawn with Stonyface, only to wake up shivering from all the dew.
At her new school, Stefa snubs her classmates, who dub her “The Ice Maiden”. But Stefa is in for a shock – one of them, Ruth Graham, is a near double of Joy! Ruth also has the same sunny, caring personality as Joy and makes every effort she can to be friends with Stefa, regardless of every rebuff Stefa gives her. Ruth’s efforts intensify once she discovers Stefa’s problem. And as Ruth looks like Joy, Stefa finds it extremely difficult to fight her off; emotionally, she wants to embrace her. The presence of Ruth also brings out the grief that Stefa has not resolved and Stefa is embarrassed and humiliated when her grief keeps slipping through her stony behaviour. She becomes desperate to get away from Ruth, but her ploys to do so result in Dad losing his job and having to take a less paid one. The reduced income forces them to move into a council house.
Stonyface becomes a target for stone-throwing kids, but Stefa is not worried; the stones cannot hurt Stonyface, just as nothing else can. But her mother gets hit by a stone and is put in hospital. Although Stefa softens and cries over her injured mother, she soon hardens up again, believing she failed with her stony heart. “I should have been hard and uncaring like you!” she says to Stonyface and redoubles her efforts to turn into stone. So Mum, who was raising hopes that Stefa is her old self again, is in for a shock when she returns home.
After this Dad has had enough and decides it’s time to teach Stefa a lesson. He tells Stefa she must buy and cook her own food. Stefa welcomes it as it will widen the rift between her and her parents. But it becomes another test of her stoniness because Stefa is such a bad cook (although she is fifteen) that she suffers chronic indigestion. But in this case, the way to a person’s heart is not through their stomach, and she remains hard.
Stefa is still determined to avoid Ruth. But Dad will not have Stefa changing schools or ducking out of school to avoid Ruth. So Stefa tries to get expelled, but Ruth keeps foiling her. And Stefa soon finds she cannot avoid Ruth at home either because her parents start inviting her over. One sleepover has Stefa camping out on the lawn with Stonyface because she cannot share a room with Ruth. Stefa wakes up shivering from dew and her father is not impressed. She feels jealous of the attention her parents give Ruth, but swallows it down: “statues don’t!”
Stefa also finds that Ruth has suffered loss even greater than hers – her parents and brother. Stefa is briefly ashamed at Ruth having more courage than her. But she soon hardens her heart again, as she is confident that this will ensure she never suffers grief again while Ruth will.
Then another of Stefa’s tactics to avoid Ruth ends up with her having an accident, and Ruth insisting on going to her aid. In hospital, Stefa finally welcomes Ruth – but then finds the accident has caused her to turn into real stone. She has become a robot, incapable of any feelings or shedding tears. “She might as well be a tailor’s dummy,” says her mother, who is heartbroken to see Stefa worse than ever. It is such a horrible experience for Stefa that she does not want a stony heart anymore. But she cannot break free of the stony heart that now imprisons her. And now Stefa resents Stonyface, whom she believes has the key to her stony cell.
But then the cell unlocks when Stonyface is struck by a bolt of lightning and is smashed to pieces. When Stefa sees this, her stony heart shatters too and she returns to her loving self. Stefa’s parents are overjoyed to see this. Stefa apologises to Ruth and now asks her to be her friend. But there is more – Stefa’s parents want to adopt Ruth, so now Stefa and Ruth will be sisters as well.
Readers of girls’ comics love powerful emotional stories that tug at their heartstrings and reduce them to tears. No doubt this was one reason why Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories. We know Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories because in 1981 the editor said so in response to a letter asking for the story to be reprinted. The editor’s response also reveals that there was a huge demand in Pam’s Poll to repeat Stefa. Yet he still asked if there were others who wanted Stefa too. Hmm, was he hesitant about bringing Stefa back for some reason or did he want to test the waters a bit more? In any case, Jinty did not repeat Stefa, nor did the Tammy & Jinty merger. Eventually Stefa was reprinted in Princess (series 2) in 1984 and concluded in the Tammy & Princess merger. In fact, Princess repeated several old serials from Tammy and Jinty towards the end of her run – not a good sign for a new comic to be recycling old strips and it was an indication that Princess was in trouble.
Stefa was not the only serial to feature a girl who freezes her heart to avoid feeling grief again; Mandy’s “Little Miss Icicle” tried the same thing as Stefa, as did Tough Nut Tara in one Button Box story (Tammy). Jinty’s “Nothing to Sing About” had a similar theme, where the protagonist refuses to sing after her father, a famous singer, dies. Other Jinty stories that feature a protagonist who reacts badly to a loss include “The Ghost Dancer”, “I’ll Make Up for Mary” and “My Heart Belongs to Buttons”.
In most cases the grieving protagonist retains a measure of our sympathy as we watch and wait for the breakthrough that will bring them to their senses. But in this case it gets extremely difficult to sympathise with Stefa because she becomes an increasingly unsympathetic person in the way she treats her parents, classmates and Ruth in her efforts to stop loving. She does not seem to care that she is causing her parents a lot of heartache, anguish and trouble. The family is forced through two shifts; Mum has a near breakdown and then gets hospitalised; Stefa costs Dad his job and he is forced to take a lower-paid job that he finds a real comedown. The Giles family, who used to live well, are now reduced to living in a shabby council house. All because of Stefa’s conduct, but none of it shifts her stony heart. Nor do other things that we expect to make some impression, such as Stefa’s indigestion or discovering Ruth had a greater loss than hers. Even where it looks like something has got through at last, it is only temporary; Stefa soon hardens again.
Stefa is not only utterly selfish with her conduct but stupid too. She does not realise that she is ruining her life and making herself even more miserable than ever. One extremely sad example is Stefa’s birthday (above). It could have been a happy event, with Stefa enjoying her presents, new friends, a party, and her new guitar. But her stoniness turns her birthday into an unhappy one. She does not show the least pleasure in her birthday or gratitude for her presents; in fact, she throws them in the faces of the people who have given them. Stefa is determined to keep up her heart of stone, even on her birthday. What she would have done on Christmas Day we dread to think. Fortunately, it did not come to that.
It is so exasperating that nothing seems to get through to Stefa at all. For a moment something does seem to work, but it does not last and Stefa is back to her stony self. Is there anything that will work, or, as Ruth fears, Stefa has become too hard to melt? In any case, our sympathies turn more to Stefa’s parents and Ruth, and we marvel at Ruth for continuing to care about a girl who goes out of her way not to care about anything.
Ironically, the thing that does get through is what Stefa wanted – a stony heart. Once she has it, she finds she does not like it. Ah, the monkey paw experience does it again. And then, when Stonyface is smashed by lightning, Stefa realises that she has been mistaken about stone being impervious to everything. There are things that can affect stone and it can get damaged too. Clearly, the lightning did what should have been done all along.
One reason why Stefa must have been so popular was that it pushes so many buttons. In the real world, there are real-life Stefas who react against grief by becoming bitter and refuse to love again for fear of experiencing grief again. But like Stefa, all they do is make their lives even more miserable. And there the Ruths who work through their loss, refuse to let it ruin their lives, and come out of it even stronger. There are also warnings about loving too intensely as this can lead to tragedy. It is a warning shared by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which the lovers do not heed either. Finally, the story is a stern warning against bottling up emotions, especially grief. Express, acknowledge and accept them, or they will lead to emotional and psychological problems. Or get a good counsellor!
On 27 September 1980, Jinty & Penny ran what is perhaps the most innovative poll in girls’ comics history – Pam’s Poll. This poll took the form of Pam’s school project. Pam’s questions were designed to gauge and adjust the balance of stories, the biggest favourites from the past, and what stories would make popular reprints. It was the second competition Jinty ran asking readers their views on what stories they would like.
The poll resulted in the reprints of Land of No Tears and Angela’s Angels (the latter because readers wanted a nursing story) in 1981. Pam’s Poll must also have been instrumental in the repeat of The Human Zoo during the Tammy & Jinty merger. The letters page revealed that many respondents had wanted Stefa’s Heart of Stone (1976) to return as well. Eventually Stefa was reprinted, but in Princess (series 2) and concluded in the Tammy & Princess merger. It is also possible that Pam’s Poll prompted the reprint of The Forbidden Garden in Tammy in 1984, a reprint that was sadly cut off by Tammy’s cancellation.