Tag Archives: Phobia

To Kill a Rat… [1976]

1066_to_kill_a_rat

Published: Commando #1066

Artist: Cortiella (cover); Cecil T Rigby (story)

Writer: Bernard Gregg

Reprints: None, but the story has been reused. The difference is that the uncle lied about killing the soldiers after the nephew talked.

Special thanks to Colcool007 for the information

Plot

Doug Watson is subjected to bullying and psychological abuse at the hands of his cruel, bullying pro-Nazi Uncle Hermann Braugen during his six-month stays with his German relatives (the other six with an English aunt). During one stay Braugen develops his favourite torture of Doug: lock him in the rat-infested cellar to be terrorised by the rats. As a result, Doug develops an extreme fear of rats (musophobia, also known as murophobia and suriphobia), which Braugen just loves to play upon.

Rat 1

After this particular stay, Doug vows never to go back to his German relatives again, though Uncle Braugen and the rat torture continue to give him nightmares. Fortunately the trauma fades in time, and Doug grows strong enough to join the army when World War II breaks out. He rises fast to corporal rank. He is among the British forces that try in vain to stem the Nazi invasion of France and end up being evacuated from Dunkirk. Doug then moves up to second lieutenant, and he leads his men to a sweep forward against the German forces in North Africa.

But what Doug does not realise is that the man in charge of the German forces against him is none other than his Uncle Braugen, now a colonel. Doug’s forces are successful in driving Braugen’s back. They get cut off and soon Braugen is the last man standing, but he isn’t giving up that easily.

Braugen pretends to surrender when Doug’s forces arrive. Doug is shocked to recognise his Uncle, but Uncle Braugen does not recognise his nephew because Doug has changed quite a bit over the years. Braugen is quite surprised to realise it is Doug when Doug speaks to him alone. Braugen pretends to have reformed, repents the past and asks to bury it. Doug falls for it and foolishly allows Braugen to escape.

Rat 2

Doug then continues to press against Rommel in North Africa and eventually the front into Sicily and then Italy, by which time he is a lieutenant. Then they plan to assault the German forces in Italy. But Doug does not realise Uncle Braugen is up ahead with the German forces in the German-held Castle of Monte Lucia. They consider their position impregnable, but they do not have the much-needed information about the strength of the Allied forces.

The carelessness of one of the British soldiers (lighting up a cigarette) betrays the position of Doug’s forces to the German forces, who surround them and force them to surrender. They are taken to Monte Lucia, but none of them yields the information the Germans want.

Then Braugen walks in, and Doug instantly realises how Braugen had tricked him in North Africa. Braugen takes Doug over for interrogation. Beating him up doesn’t work, but then Braugen recalls the musophobia he had instilled into Doug. He locks Doug into a rat-infested cellar where the sewers are, and tells Doug he will not release him until he is ready to talk. In the cellar the phobia is doing its work. Doug can see there is a sewer in the cellar that could be an escape route, but he is too terrified to use it because of the rats. Eventually the phobia makes Doug tell Braugen everything he needs to know.

Braugen shoots all the other Allied prisoners as he has no further need for them. Doug, having recovered sufficiently from the rat ordeal, manages to break free from Braugen’s goons and escape from Monte Lucia. Braugen does not search for him because he thinks Doug is not worth bothering about.

Rat 3Doug makes it back to his lines, where he reports everything in shame at H.Q. The colonel is not at all understanding about Doug talking under torture and has him arrested for court-martial. However, en route to face the court-martial, Doug just snaps, seizes a gun from his guards, and makes a run for it.

He returns to Monte Lucia to avenge his soldiers, get even with Braugen, and make amends for talking under torture. However, the only way in is through the rat-infested sewer pipe Doug saw earlier. He forces his way into it and the rats. This time hatred helps Doug to overcome his fear when it makes him lash out at the biting rats. By the time Doug is back in the cellar, his musophobia has dissipated and he hardly notices the rats now.

Fortunately the trap door into the cellar is not locked, so Doug is free to make his way into the castle. He finds Braugen’s ammunition stores and uses them to rig the castle to blow from petrol trails and improvised rope fuses, which are to dangle through the sewer pipe. When everything is ready, Doug ignites the petrol with his gun and the Germans’ impregnable fortress goes up in flames.

At a distance, Doug waits for Braugen – the biggest rat of them all in his opinion – to show up among the fleeing Germans. When Braugen does, he is scared for the first time his life, and his shots at Doug are wide. By contrast, Doug is calm and quick to shoot his uncle dead.

The British forces have been approaching Monte Lucia with speed. They are surprised to find its impregnable defences broken and burning, and it is deserted except for one British soldier sitting beside a dead German. Doug goes back to H.Q., confident that everything will be cleared up in view of his heroic action in blowing up the impregnable Monte Lucia single-handled.

Thoughts

Historically, the climax at Monte Lucia is based on the Battle of Monte Cassino. Very loosely, mind you, and it has little bearing on the actual battle.

The issue of child abuse in the story feels ahead of its time (1976) when read today. Abusive guardians were a common feature in girls’ comics, but the abusers were, in essence, doing it to exploit and take advantage of the protagonist one way or other. Uncle Braugen, on the other hand, is not bullying his nephew in order to exploit him. This is deliberate, intentional torture inflicted for sadistic purposes. For this reason, Uncle Braugen could well be the most evil child abuser ever to appear in comics. In any case, he deserves to appear near or even at the top of a list of the top ten child abusers in British comics.

Rat 4

It’s a wonder Uncle Braugen didn’t go into the Gestapo or SS. He has everything it takes to rise quickly there and he would love every minute on the job. He likes nothing better than cruelty, bullying, torture, and showing off his arrogance and huge muscles whenever he gets the chance. He torments his nephew because he is British and he also regards his nephew as a weakling because he is not physically strong. There are no redeeming qualities about Braugen whatsoever, unlike his wife Meg. Aunt Meg is kind and tries to protect her nephew, but there is little she can do against her hefty, bullying husband. Thank goodness the Braugens don’t have children of their own. Why the heck did Meg marry Hermann in the first place? Talk about a mismatch.

There is some stereotyping of Uncle Braugen’s nationality with the line: “The German, like many of his kind, was a bully”. Uncle Braugen is a bully because of his nationality rather than his personality and Nazi sympathies? That comes across as a bit offensive. To add to the stereotyping, Uncle Berman has a scar on his right cheek, presumably from World War I, and is also portrayed as your typical arrogant German, with extra-nasty qualities that make him the ideal Nazi.

Rat 5

It is surprising that Doug Watson makes it into the army, much less rise to the status of lieutenant, considering what a physically weak and emotionally abused boy he was in his childhood. But it is a delightful surprise, an ultimate triumph for the abused boy, and it would be one in the eye for Uncle Braugen. Indeed it takes Uncle Braugen himself by surprise when he first meets his nephew as an adult. By the time Uncle Braugen is actually holding Doug prisoner, Doug himself declares that he is not the frightened little boy anymore. Now he has become a man who can stand up to his uncle and the physical torture Uncle Braugen inflicts on him. He does not even call Braugen “Uncle” anymore; it’s just “Braugen”. But all it takes is the rat phobia to undo all that and turn Doug Watson back into the frightened little boy again, for all the confidence, courage and strength he has gained through the army.

It is fortunate that Doug gets a chance to redeem himself and overcome his rat phobia into the bargain. However, it takes more than determination to succeed and shame over breaking down and talking to overcome the phobia. Although Doug tries, it takes another extremely strong emotion – hatred – to counter the extreme terror because it was the stronger of the two. And the rat torture ultimately backfired on Uncle Braugen because it unwittingly exposed the chink in the armour of the supposedly impenetrable fortress.

When Uncle Braugen initially tortured and terrorised his nephew, he never in his wildest dreams ever thought that the boy he considered a weakling would be the one to cause his death. And on the battlefield too! But that is indeed the case, and it is a most fitting and ironic twist. Mind you, what Aunt Meg would say about her own nephew killing her husband in action we can’t imagine.

 

 

 

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Cursed to be a Coward! (1977)

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Cursed 3

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Publication: 13/8/77-29/10/77

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #21 as “The Fortune Teller”; Tina Topstrip #49 as Zoals de waarzegster voorspelde (As the fortune teller predicted)

Plot
Ever since infancy Marnie Miles has shown promise as a brilliant swimmer like her late father, and Mum encourages her. At her new school, Marnie becomes one of the best swimmers at “The Mermaids”, the school swimming club, and can’t get enough of water.

That is, until she meets Madame Leo, a sinister-looking fortune-teller. Madame Leo makes a prophecy for Marnie’s cousin Babs: “I see falling, falling…there is much danger.” A year later it comes true when a plank falls on Babs and leaves her crippled. Then Madame Leo turns up again and seems to be shadowing Marnie, warning her that they will meet again in a week. And a week later, at the school fete, Madame Leo shows up and scares Marnie with another prophecy: “You are going to end up in blue water!” Marnie flees the tent in terror. She also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

Marnie takes the prophecy to mean that she is going to drown in blue water. As a result, she develops hydrophobia (fear of water). When she fails a drowning child because of it and people call her a coward, she believes she is now “cursed to be a coward” by that fortune-teller.

The hydrophobia just gets worse and worse. Marnie won’t cross a puddle because she is too terrified of water. She begs the bus driver to let her out once she sees it is about to cross a river of blue water. At a high-diving event she asks for a rubber ring! As Marnie’s hydrophobia intensifies, so do the problems it creates. She failed to help that drowning child because she is too terrified of water. As the word spreads, the girls at school gang up on her, calling her a coward. Their bullying intensifies along with Marnie’s hydrophobia. Not even the presence of Marnie’s mother makes the bullies back off, and Marnie finds “COWARD” daubed on her house. Miss Frame, the swimming coach, is surprised at Marnie’s behaviour she seems to be losing her nerve or something. At home, Mum can’t understand why Marnie is suddenly turning against water and giving up on swimming. Marnie won’t tell Mum because she doesn’t want Mum to worry.

Marnie tries to fight back against the curse that seems to be turning her into a coward, but her hydrophobia is too strong. She turns to Babs for help, and Babs agrees to a cover story for Marnie giving up on swimming.

But the problem is still there, so Marnie decides to go back to Madame Leo to see if Madame Leo is willing to redress the problem. Marnie just finds the crystal ball, which shows a rather vague image of her waving her arms around. Marnie thinks it shows her drowning and takes off in a fright, not realising Madame Leo has seen her.

When Marnie participates in a high-diving event, Madame Leo turns up in the gallery and terrorises her with reminders of the prophecy. Marnie faints and falls right off the diving board! She is rescued, and now tells her mother the truth. Mum tries to track down Madame Leo but fails, and loses her job as a result.

Then Mum gets a housekeeper’s job with Mr Rennie. He has a swimming pool. The water there is green, not blue, so Marnie decides the water is safe for her to swim in and get back in training. Mr Rennie encourages Marnie.

Marnie now tells Miss Frame the truth. Mum allows Miss Frame to resume coaching of Marnie, but on strict condition that she is not to leave Marnie for a moment. However, Madame Leo disguises herself as a cleaner and diverts Miss Frame by knocking a photograph of one Lorna Gray, one of the former school swimming champions, off the wall and into the water. While Miss Frame is busy with the photograph, Madame Leo tries to drown Marnie and would have succeeded but for some fast resuscitation from Miss Frame. The police are called in but do not take the complaint seriously and Madame Leo denies it all. However, when Madame Leo was trying to drown Marnie, she reveals why she hates her. It is because Marnie bears a striking resemblance to Lorna, a girl Madame Leo has hated for 30 years. She does not say why she hates Lorna.

Babs and Marnie go to the fete to confront Madame Leo. Babs urges Marnie to try and break her crystal ball. But this just gets them into trouble with the police and another triumph for Madame Leo, who is now terrorising Marnie with threats of the prophecy and attempts at drowning her at every turn.

Then Mr Rennie dies, and he leaves Marnie and her mother a legacy – a houseboat called Blue Water. Marnie realises that this is what the prophecy means by “blue water” and has nothing to do with drowning. She starts dancing for joy (revealing what she was actually doing in the crystal ball) and is now cured of her hydrophobia.

However, Madame Leo is lurking nearby. She knew the truth about Blue Water all along, and now sees the game is up. She makes a last-ditch, desperate effort to drown Marnie. But it backfires when Madame Leo misses Marnie, goes into the water, and Marnie ends up saving her from drowning! A policeman was watching, so Madame Leo is finally arrested.

Afterwards it is established that the reason Madame Leo hated Lorna Gray and took it out on Marnie is that she (wrongly) blamed Lorna for her sister’s drowning at the seaside 30 years ago. It is not revealed as to why Madame Leo blamed Lorna or why she was wrong to do so. Madame Leo’s reaction to being rescued by Marnie and her ultimate fate are not recorded. But for Marnie, there is no looking back. Her classmates apologise for calling her a coward once they hear about her rescuing Madame Leo and hail her as a heroine for it. Marnie is back with the Mermaids. She is soon winning championships for the school and is looking forward to a swimming career with the help of Blue Water.

Thoughts

Alison Christie is better known for writing emotional, tear-jerker stories in girls’ comics. So it was a surprise to learn that she wrote this thriller story featuring a psychotic would-be killer, a tormented, persecuted girl turning into a nervous wreck from hydrophobia and being constantly harassed, and elements of the supernatural abounding with the prophecy, crystal balls, psychic powers and premonitions. And it’s all brought off brilliantly with the artwork of Mario Capaldi, whose artwork really brings off insanity and pathological hatred that is consuming Madame Leo, and what a creepy, sinister crone she is, even before she has started harassing Marnie. Madame Leo is the only villainous fortune-teller to appear in Jinty, and in her we see the antithesis of Gypsy Rose, the resident gypsy clairvoyant in Jinty. Imagine if we got the two together.

Christie’s handling of the prophecy was spot on. It was exactly how the prophecy should work – a riddle filled with double meanings. The recipient of the prophecy takes what appears to be the obvious meaning, so it comes as a twist and surprise to the recipient (and the readers) when the prophecy turns out to mean something entirely different. Macbeth is a classic example of this. But unlike Macbeth, the twist was good for Marnie. And it looked like there were some unexpected twists for Madame Leo as well; she had long since foreseen what “blue water” truly meant, but she did not foresee her life being saved by the girl she was trying to kill, or that she would fail in her hate campaign.

One of the best conceptions of this story is Marnie’s personality, how it makes her so vulnerable to Madame Leo’s curse, and how this is structured in the buildup in the first episode. When Marnie and Babs first visit Madame Leo at the fair, we immediately see how impressionable and suggestible Marnie is. In the first place, she is not even keen to visit the fortune-teller because that sort of thing scares her, but Babs insists. And Madame Leo strikes Marnie as a sinister-looking woman even before Madame Leo starts terrorising her. Marnie is far more terrified at Babs’s prophecy than Babs is, and when it is fulfilled, Marnie is in no doubt about Madame Leo’s powers. When Madame Leo shows up and tells Marnie they will meet in a week, Marnie gets even more scared – not least because of the way Madame Leo looks at her. Even before Marnie meets Madame Leo at the school fete, she suddenly finds herself shaking for no reason. And Madame Leo does not just tell Marnie the prophecy – she seizes her and forces her to listen when Marnie wants to get the hell out of there without any fortunes told, thank you very much. When Marnie gets out, she is not just scared – she also feels odd, as if she had been cursed.

And is she cursed? In the end it is revealed that this is not the case because Marnie misconstrued the prophecy. So it was Marnie’s imagination and suggestibility, being so easy to scare, getting all wound up by that creepy fortune-teller and her prophecy, and getting odd feelings of foreboding that could be anything from real sixth sense to superstitious imagination. But until then, we readers are left to wonder if she really is cursed, and whether that fortune-teller is right and Marnie is going to go the same way as Babs. Even without Madame Leo’s harassment it is terrifying enough. But when Madame Leo starts terrorising Marnie directly and tries to kill her, we get what must be some of the most terrifying scenes in girls’ comics. Fainting on a high-diving board? Being attacked in the swimming pool and nearly murdered? Wow! And all the while, Madame Leo preys upon and amplifies Marnie’s false fears about “blue water” to make her all the more terrified. Years of fortune-telling must have given Madame Leo experience in the human psyche because she is a master of fear and manipulation in the way she plays upon Marnie’s fears; she is extremely crafty in how she steadily builds up to scare Marnie with the prophecy in the first episode. We have to wonder if she has done similar tricks with other people; she looks sinister enough for that.

It is a bit frustrating that we never learn the fate of Madame Leo after her arrest. Presumably she was put into some sort of psychiatric care. But how did she react to being rescued by the girl she was trying to kill? Did it change her attitude in any way, or was her mind too far gone for that? Perhaps there was not enough room on the final page to address any of this, but couldn’t they have had a text box at least to tell us what happens to her? And we never learn why Madame Leo blamed Lorna for her sister’s death or why she was wrong to do so. Perhaps there was not enough room on the last page for that either. Or maybe Christie or the editor decided not to delve into it and preferred to focus on Marnie for the final panels.

When it is revealed that Madame Leo was persecuting Lorna (through Marnie) for nothing, it comes as no surprise if you know girls’ comics well. Serials featuring hate-filled people who persecute someone (or organisation) for revenge, only to find out that they were mistaken about them, have cropped up regularly in girls’ comics. “Down with St Desmond’s!” (Bunty) is a classic example, and the theme was a frequent one in DCT titles. The theme was less common in Jinty, but some Jinty stories with the theme or elements of it are “Go On, Hate Me!“,  “The Ghost Dancer”, “Slave of the Swan” and “Waves of Fear“.

 

Waves of Fear (1979)

Sample images

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Publication: 22 September 1979 – 15 December 1979

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown – but see addendum

Reprint: Girl Picture Library 11 as “Moments of Terror” (abridged); Tina 1983 as “In een golf van angst” [In a Wave of Fear]. Dutch translation.

Summary

Clare Harvey has everything to enjoy at school: success, popularity and friends. She and Rachel Mitchell are the best of friends, and now they are celebrating a special hockey victory. The only one put out is Jean Marlow, a nasty girl who has always hated Clare for some reason.

In the changing room, Clare suddenly takes a strange turn and has to get out in a hurry. Nobody realises it is a warning of what is to come.

Later, Rachel wants to take a swim in the pools in a coastal cave. Clare does not feel like it, but Rachel insists. In the cave pool, Rachel runs into trouble. Clare is about to go in after her when an inexplicable panic of walls closing in and waves of fear hit her. They are so terrifying that they force her out of the cave, leaving Rachel behind and still in danger of drowning.

Outside is Jean, and Clare tells her what is happening, but is too terrified to go back in. Jean rescues Rachel and, having always hated Clare, puts up the word that Clare is a coward who left her friend to drown. Clare, hitherto the most popular girl at school, now finds herself an outcast, with all the girls turning on her and calling her a coward. At home, Clare’s parents are just as condemnatory, and they will get increasingly harsh with her as the story progresses. Clare can’t understand why she panicked and wonders if she really is turning into a coward.

The morning assembly is honouring Jean’s heroism. This has Clare thinking of the cave, and as she does so, the same terror starts again. She feels walls closing in on her and she panics, desperate to get out. As she does so, she brings chaos to the assembly and injures a teacher and a prefect when they try to restrain her.

As the confused and distraught Clare wanders through town, she discovers word has spread about her (through Rachel’s mother, who works in the markets); people stare at her, whisper behind her back, and refuse to serve her. She tries to visit Rachel in hospital in the (mistaken, as it turns out) hope that if Rachel forgives her, the terrors will stop. But the waves of fear and images of that cave overwhelm her again and she has to get out fast. She decides to try writing to Rachel instead.

She heads home and finds her parents angry after the school phoned them about her conduct at assembly. They demand an explanation. Clare says she cannot give one, except  that she now seems to see that cave everywhere and gets terrified and runs away every time she does. They do not seem to be impressed or concerned at this. They also insist on her going to the hospital to apologise to Rachel, but Clare is too terrified after what happened there already. They don’t listen when she tries to explain this and go to the hospital themselves, saying they don’t have a daughter anymore.

Next, Clare heads back to the scene of the disaster and finds that even the waves seem to be calling her a coward. She forces her way into the cave to try to understand her panic, but it just starts up again. However, her attempt to get out is blocked by Jean and other girls. Egged on by Jean, they throw Clare into the pool in an act of bullying. Then the girls get a shock when Clare does not come up, and they discover there is a powerful current below. It looks like Clare is dead because of their bullying. Jean is all for covering up, but the others say she is the coward now and phone the police with the truth.

However, the current merely pulls Clare through into another cave. Once she emerges, the panic grips her again. It takes some fierce scrambling under the rocks for her to get out. As the terror-stricken Clare runs off, she is spotted by a woman who is concerned by the state of mind she is in. She is Priscilla Heath, secretary of the orienteering club. She takes an interest in Clare for the club.

At home the parents find Clare not dead as they all supposed. When the headmistress demands to know why Clare did not report her survival, the parents accuse her of doing it on purpose to spite the girls. They refuse to listen to Clare’s pleas that she had been just too frightened to think of it and the girls should not have thrown her in the pool anyway. Nor do they listen to her pleas not to go back to the school because of the bullying and they drag her back there. In the head’s office the bullies get a fierce dressing down from the headmistress and this has them turning on Jean. But this has Jean turning extra nasty and swearing revenge on Clare, who is still an outcast and a target of bullying. When Jean sees Clare getting the same panic when she gets stuck in the shower cubicle and raving about the cave, she immediately sees how she can get her revenge.

Meanwhile, Clare gets heavy detention for her conduct in assembly and is on a last chance basis before expulsion. But on a brighter note, she joins the orienteering club. Miss Heath knows about the unfortunate business but unlike the others she does not condemn Clare; instead she says there must have been a reason why she panicked. Clare gets the satisfaction of beating Jean in a race at the orienteering club, which nobody has ever done before. But of course this has Jean turning even nastier towards Clare.

Rachel is discharged from hospital and her parents turn up at school demanding Clare be expelled, just because they don’t want Rachel attending the same school as Clare. Outside the head’s office, Clare gives them her letter for Rachel, but unknown to Clare, Mrs Mitchell rips it up. Mrs Mitchell is furious when the headmistress refuses to expel Clare and says she will keep Rachel at home. When the girls hear of this, Jean uses what she saw in the shower cubicle to hatch a plan to get Clare expelled. Jean locks Clare in the classroom where she is doing detention and turns off the lights to simulate the cave. As Jean planned, this sets Clare off into the panic and, in her desperation to get out, she wrecks the classroom. The headmistress expels Clare. Jean then heads off to tell the Mitchells of Clare’s expulsion. Mrs Mitchell is delighted and will be sending Rachel back to school. Rachel wants more understanding of the whole business and wishes Clare had tried to contact her. She does not know Clare had tried twice and failed.

As Clare runs off, Miss Heath finds her in a dreadful state and Clare explains what happened. And she says she can’t come to the club because of Jean. Miss Heath insists that she does and she will deal with Jean. She tells Clare she needs help. But at home, Clare’s parents are furious about the expulsion. They tell Miss Heath to go away and ban Clare from the club, despite Clare’s protests that it is the only good thing she has right now. Dad then locks Clare in her room. This sets off another panic and Clare escapes through the window.

Now Clare is on the run and the police are after her, and her parents are under the impression they have an out-of-control daughter. She makes her way to the orienteering club, where Jean destroys her last joy by wrecking the orienteering club and putting the blame on her. Clare protests her innocence to Miss Heath, who is not sure what to make of Clare’s claims that it was Jean. But she begins to think Clare is sick. However, Clare has run off again. She heads back to the scene of the near-tragedy, where men have now started dynamiting. We now get hints that Clare is contemplating suicide, but at that point the men scare her into running again.

Meanwhile, Rachel returns to school. She learns of Clare’s failed bid to write to her, and then how Jean got Clare expelled. She calls Jean a monster and rushes off to tell Clare’s parents. Miss Heath is also there, and upon hearing Rachel’s story she now believes Jean wrecked the club. She also realises what the problem is: Clare has developed extreme claustrophobia (the fear of closed spaces). The guilt-stricken parents realise that they, along with nearly everyone else, got blinded by the thought that Clare was a coward who kept lashing out when in fact she was mentally ill. They notify the police and the school.

The sight of a police car forces Clare back into the cave. Rachel comes in and says to Clare that she forgives her and wants them to be friends again. But then the entrance to the cave collapses because of the dynamiting. Rachel pushes Clare outside but becomes trapped inside. Clare uses the other entrance she discovered from the bullying incident in the cave to rescue Rachel, braving her claustrophobia, the current and a collapsing cavern to do so. Rachel then tells Clare what is wrong with her. Clare is reconciled with her apologetic parents.

Clare is reinstated at school and welcomed as a heroine by remorse-stricken classmates. Jean is furious (but there is no mention of her being punished in any way). The rescue of Rachel is regarded as the first step to recovery. It is a long, hard struggle before Clare is well again, but she makes it. And she also makes county orienteering champion.

Thoughts

Phobias have a history of making plot material in girls’ strips. Lara the Loner (Tammy), A Dog’s Life for Debbie (Tracy) Cursed to be a Coward! (Jinty) and Slave of the Trapeze (Sandie) are some  examples. The first deals with ochlophobia (fear of crowds), the second cynophobia (fear of dogs), the third hydrophobia (fear of water) and the fourth acrophobia (fear of heights). Equinophobia (fear of horses) is one phobia that crops up frequently as well, with stories of girls who lose their nerve after riding accidents. Hettie Horse-Hater and Rona Rides Again (Tammy) are among them.

But at least in these stories the heroines know what their fears are. This is not the case with Clare Harvey, who has no idea what these waves of fear are that keep gripping her, and nobody seems to understand what explanations she can manage to give – that she just gets seems to get scared and sees that cave everywhere. But we can see that whatever it is that is overwhelming Clare, it is not cowardice or bad conduct. There can be no explanation for those swirls and flashes around Clare’s head and the inexplicable panic attacks but insanity of some sort. But neither Clare nor the reader knows or understands what it is (except maybe the readers who know about claustrophobia), which makes it all the more terrifying. And neither the parents nor school staff are picking up the clues; they are all being too judgemental and harsh because they are all acting on the assumption that Clare is a coward who is becoming badly behaved and violent. But nobody tries to find out why Clare is acting this way, although the headmistress is at a loss to explain why a model pupil with a good school record is suddenly acting so out of character. We wince at the increasing harshness of the parents towards Clare. They even go as far as to show more sympathy to the bullies than to Clare. They call them “poor girls” when it was their fault for bullying Clare and nearly killed her, and also say they cannot even blame all the girls at school for hating Clare. They don’t even consider taking her out of the school. But really, bullying is bullying. The parents’ attitude is made all the worse that these are supposed to be loving parents (unlike some parents we have met in other serials). Neither the parents nor the school authorities take any action on the bullying, though they know about it (unlike the parents and school staff in “Tears of a Clown“) and the father even foresaw it. The only adult to act with any sense is Miss Heath, who, unlike the others, has not reacted judgementally. It just goes to show that taking a step back and trying to look at things in perspective instead of reacting emotionally can make all the difference.

Such things happen so often in girls’ comics. All too often you see adults handling a girl badly in a serial because they act out of ignorance, stupidity, lack of empathy, or bad reactions. Often, though not always, it takes a wiser person like Miss Heath to help put things right. You have to wonder if the writers are trying to make a statement about what NOT to do and what you SHOULD do. “White Horse of Guardian Hill” and “Tears of a Clown” are two Jinty examples. Non-Jinty examples include “Hard Times for Helen” (Judy), “Rona Rides Again” (Tammy), “‘I’ll Never Forgive You!'” (Bunty), and “The Courage of Crippled Clara” (Bunty).

Seldom have girls’ comics explored the issue of mental illness, but this one does. And it is a complete reversal of the usual thing in girls’ comics, where a girl is labelled ‘ill’ when she is in fact under the influence of something or telling the truth about something but nobody will listen to her, such as in “Village of Fame“. But in this case, being ill is the correct assumption, yet nobody except Miss Heath can see it for what it is because their perceptions have been warped by the wrong assumptions. The issue of mental illness is handled in a sensitive, well-researched and written manner that delivers a disturbing warning on the damage authorities can do when they act on assumptions, emotion and quick judgements instead of trying to handle things in an investigative, non-judgemental manner.

This is one Jinty story that will linger with you (me anyway) long after reading it because of the issues it explores are issues that are still all-too-relevant, because even today people can make the same mistakes and errors of judgement as the parents and school staff do in this story.

This was not the first Jinty story to have a girl being wrongly branded and bullied as a coward because of a phobia. In 1977, Jinty ran “Cursed to be a Coward!”, where Marnie Miles, a brilliant swimmer, develops intense hydrophobia because a fortune teller frightened her with a prophecy that she will end up in blue water. Marnie thinks this means she will drown. And the fortune teller is out to oblige, by making several attempts to drown Marnie. But Marnie’s classmates don’t understand this and start calling her a coward on top of her other problems. Is it possible that Cursed to be a Coward and Waves of Fear had the same writer, or the former influenced the latter? There are similarities between the stories; two girls are wrongly branded cowards and become targets of bullying because of phobias, and the incidents that caused the phobias are both related to swimming. There is even an incident in the opening episode of Marnie’s story where she fails a drowning person because her phobia is too strong for her to go to the rescue. A foreshadowing of what happens in the cave?

(Update: Alison Christie has confirmed she wrote “Cursed to be a Coward” but not “Waves of Fear”. So it was not the same writer there.)

Waves of Fear also has similarities with Jinty‘s 1980 story “Tears of a Clown“. Both stories deal with bullying situations where the school and parents keep failing the girl because they are all making assumptions that she is the one at fault with bad behaviour instead of looking into the situation in an investigative manner and find out what is wrong. And in both stories, the bullies turn on the ringleader at one point, although she protests (with some justification) that they are to blame as well. Both stories climax with the heroine being pushed too far and running away. And running is a major plot point in both stories. So it is possible it was the same writer. It certainly was the same artist – Phil Gascoine drew both stories. Perhaps the reception to “Waves of Fear” was inspiration for the similarly-themed “Tears of a Clown”. But there is a difference in the way the ringleaders react when the other girls turn against them; the one in “Waves of Fear” becomes even more spiteful while the one in “Tears of a Clown” repents and eventually redeems herself.

Incidentally, “Waves of Fear” was reprinted in Girl Picture Library 11 as “Moments of Terror”. Plenty of old serials from Tammy and Jinty made their way into the Girl Picture Libraries, most of them under revised (and not very good) titles. As the story had to fit into a 64-page booklet, some material had to be deleted. When comparing the original with the reprint, one finds that the Miss Heath segments have been cut out entirely. This leaves only the revelation of how Jean got Clare expelled as the cue that tips the parents as to what is wrong with Clare. On the other hand, the cuts  also removed some of the harsh treatment Clare receives from her parents and all the ostracism from the townsfolk. Some of the bullying (such as Clare finding an egg in her desk and Jean being sent off for fouling), Jean’s vandalism at the orienteering club, and one of the claustrophobia attacks have also been removed.

Addendum Recently I have been struck by parallels with another story, a Button Box story that appeared on 27 August 1983. The story is an American Civil War story about Johnnie Dalton, who is dishonourably discharged from the Army for cowardice when he panics under fire. Back home, Johnnie is treated extremely harshly. He is branded a coward and an outcast, and even his own father turns against him, to the point of forcing him to wear buttons that read “COWARD”. Eventually Johnnie regains their respect when he saves a child’s life, but loses his own in the process. It may be coincidence, but the harshness of the community and Dalton Snr towards Johnnie seems to have echoes of the harsh treatment Clare receives, even from her own parents, because they have both been branded cowards. And credits say the Button Box story was written by Ian Mennell. Is it possible that Ian Mennell wrote “Waves of Fear”?

Or could it be the same person who wrote another Gascoine story for Jinty, “The Green People”, as Jean has the same surname as the heroine in this story?