Tag Archives: Racism

What sort of stories did Jinty not cover?

Any comic has to have a focus, a remit of what will be covered and therefore inevitably what will not be covered. The choices made, however, may be revealing in themselves, or may raise further questions as to why one thing was included and another skipped over.

Non-fiction

UK girls comics did not generally include non-fictional comics stories such as biographies. They did include some text items that were non-fictional in nature – snippets of information about sports, history, the origin of names, current pop stars – but not done as ongoing comics stories. Other classic British titles had done this – The Eagle included some biographical strips, for instance; and other children’s magazines had covered non-fiction rather more thoroughly (for instance Look and Learn’s whole raison d’etre was to be educational). Why not cover non-fiction? I imagine that the editors at the time wanted to very firmly steer away from the diactic, ‘good-for-you’ image of The Eagle and Look and Learn, both of which were the sorts of titles that tended to be bought for you by well-meaning parents. [Edited to add: Girl did print some non-fiction stories, such as one in 1959 about Marie Curie, subsequently reprinted in Princess Tina. See this comment on the UK Comics Forum for further details.]

In more recent years, The Phoenix’s “Corpse Talk” has gone back and mined this vein very effectively, showing that biographies can be done in comics form amusingly, interestingly, and well. (Creator Adam Murphy also does some strips about science using a similar format.) Even at the time, it would have been quite possible to do at least some non-fiction without it being boringly didactic, had the will or interest been there. I have just been reading some biographical material about Caroline Herschel, and her story would fit amazingly well in a ‘slave’ story: she was cabined, cribb’d, confined by her mother and her eldest brother, made to work long and hard hours on tasks as the equivalent of a maid, not allowed to stay in bed when ill, and so forth – to be subsequently rescued by her kindly older brother William Herschel, and eventually to triumph as William’s scientific assistant and indeed as a discoverer of comets in her own right! Similar tales could no doubt have been spun about the obvious eminent women such as Florence Nightingale and Boadicea, but also about the less obvious ones such as Aphra Behn and Mary Seacole (though as a black woman it would have been particularly unlikely for the latter to have been written about, sadly).

So, Jinty and similar comics weren’t ones that you read in order to learn; and nor were they ones where factual content was sneaked in under the radar, either. Sneaking it in could have happened: in boys’ war comics of the time, accuracy on details like uniforms, badges, battles, and weapons was prized by the readers and striven for by the creators. (More recently, my two young kids are getting a kick out of “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” on the telly: plenty of learning-through-fun there.) History, geography, science, maths, languages were prized in Jinty mainly as set-dressing when a story called for it, if at all; and the level of research and accuracy was not high, as has been noted previously.

There were some small, local exceptions to this – some areas that Jinty covered that it did care about getting right, and which you could have a reasonable expectation of learning from as a reader.

  • Sports: at one point there was a dedicated sport section, teaching you finer points of passing the ball in netball, using the parallel bars in gymnastics, and covering aspects of more exotic sports like water polo. Even aside from that dedicated sports section, there were a lot of stories featuring sporty protagonists who were given or gave tips on table tennis (“Ping-Pong Paula”), competitive cycling (“Curtain of Silence”), or netball (“Life’s A Ball For Nadine”).
  • Crafts and cookery: each issue had a page or two on how to make a little present from odds and ends, how to revitalise an old skirt, or how to prepare some easy recipe.
  • Trivia: origins of names, the story of mince pies, snippets of amusing anecdotes about, yes, Boadicea or Queen Anne.

Overt political and social issues

As a publication intended for an age range of around 8 – 12 years, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of political discussion unless there was a specific radical intention (as with the creation of Shocking Pink magazine slightly later). There is however in Jinty an utter absence not only of political comment or explanation, but even of reference: no cheeky images of the current prime minister or mention of recent or current events such as the Three Day Week or the IRA bombs. The monarchy does get a look-in with a patriotic celebration of the Jubilee and the Royal Wedding (but then, to do otherwise would be to make a republican statement in itself).

There is also very little overt coverage of wider social issues, such as feminism, racism, colonialism. Without wishing to say that we are now in some paradise, the Britain of that time was clearly a more discriminatory society; Jinty was not in the business of providing substantive challenges to this. Very overt acts of racism would no doubt have been opposed, if they had ever come up – but for instance the paki-bashing that some readers’ families might well have condoned was invisible in these pages and hence never in fact challenged. Related issues do get the occasional airing, though: for instance “Bound For Botany Bay” has some statements about the evils of slavery in a setting that is comfortably far-off in time.

It is not exactly surprising that Jinty was not proactively anti-racist or anti-colonialist; it would have taken a radical mindset to challenge these social issues, and this was a mainstream publication. What about feminism – as a comic published with girls in mind, did any women’s rights issues sneak in under the radar? Not very overtly, I’d say; there were some stories that touched on girls not being treated fairly or being laughed at by boys as incapable of X or Y, but these were mostly treated as individual problems rather than systemic ones. In “Two Mothers For Maggie”, the protagonist complains of being expected to do housework and baby-sitting when she has her homework to do and the stepfather has finished his work for the day; but the issue there is framed as one of poverty not primarily of sexism. In “Black Sheep of the Bartons”, protagonist Bev wants to do boyish sports like judo, but this again is painted as a personality quirk, especially in contrast with her gentle and delicate younger sister who is far more ‘girly’. It might also be played for laughs: there was an early “Jinx of St Jonah’s” story where Katie Jinks  and her friends had a bet on with the nearby boys’ school where they each had three gender-swapped stereotypical tasks to do (making shelves for the girls, making dresses for the boys); they all failed fairly equally and we are supposed to laugh at them for stepping out of the gender roles.

The aspect of Jinty which leads most clearly to a real feminist point is, paradoxically, the fact it was part of such a separate publication stream from boys’ comics. So many of the characters are girls you could almost imagine it is set in one of the parallel worlds devoid of men, favoured by a certain strand of feminist science fiction. The outcome is that there is a great multiplicity of female roles available as models for readers: villains who are misguided, evil, powerful, petty, misunderstood, or plain off their head; protagonists who are vain, strong, smart, brave, clumsy, deft, sporty, bullied, powerless, and sometimes even clever (the latter not so often, sad to say); friends who are loyal, fickle, blind, shallow, and sometimes smarter than they seem. This is in stark contrast to today’s media world in which girls are assumed to read stories with male protagonists but not vice-versa, women are expected to watch films with male characters but not vice-versa, and the story-telling that we’re supposed to accept as progressive is one where the female character is ‘strong’ or ‘kick-ass’ but still far from actually being rounded and fully-developed.

There are some other social issues that sneak in slightly surprisingly. Environmentalism gets a look-in in various stories: there are a couple of anti-motorway or anti-car stories (“The Green People” and “Guardian of White Horse Hill” feature local protests against the building of motorways through sensitive areas, “Save Old Smokey” is anti-car). More drastically, “The Forbidden Garden” is set in a dystopia where the earth is poisoned and nothing can grow naturally. Animal Rights, too, get a look-in: “The Human Zoo” and “Worlds Apart” both feature sections where animal rights protestors are seen as rightly protesting terrible treatment of animals (even if the protesters are also shown as causing as much harm to the animals as they cause good).

However, the big social issue covered that might be surprising to modern readers is inequality. Lots and lots of stories had fat-cat villains, wealthy uncaring capitalists, rich  family members who were greedy or miserly, cruel and heartless. Stories like “Bound for Botany Bay” made much greater play of the evils of class distinctions than they did of the evils of racism and slavery; and stories like “Ping-Pong Paula” and Tammy’s “Ella on Easy Street” were pretty clear that it was better to be poor with a loving family than rich with a distant one. Maybe this is part of a ‘poor little rich girl’ trope prevalent in children’s stories? Maybe it resulted from the core market of readers who were less well-off than was the case for some of the earlier, more middle-class comics? But also, the Britain of that time was actually a less unequal society than it is nowadays. WWII didn’t feel that long ago, which had also driven some reduction in inequalities. Did this mean that it was more possible to have villains who were fat-cats, capitalists, because inequality itself was less acceptable?

Growing up, sex, and romance

Again not surprising as an omission given the age range, but boyfriends are pretty much completely missing in Jinty. Older girls or young women may have boyfriends or even fiancés – sisters, young teachers – but the protagonist herself does not. In one near-exception, “Pam of Pond Hill”, Pam’s friend Goofy is someone she is teased about, and the word boyfriend is used in that teasing, but there is no kissing or cuddling involved in that relationship. So although the protagonists are depicted looking as if they are some years older than most of the readers, the concerns addressed are much more focused on intense friendships and rivalries than on romantic or sexual relationships.

The characters are often drawn with enough of a developing body to require a bikini top or bra and pants rather than the more demure vest and slip of more traditional times, but this is not addressed explicitly in the story. No Judy Blumes to be found in these pages! The letters pages sporadically included an agony aunt element, but even then this focused more on interpersonal relationships with other girls than it did puberty, periods, bodily hair, and boyfriends. Girls moved onto older magazines such as Jackie and Just Seventeen (these may or may not have had a comics element) and it was in those pages that they learned some of the subjects now taught in British schools under acronyms such as PSHE.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976)

Sample images

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Publication: 31 January 1976-5 June 1976
Artist: Roy Newby
Writer: Unknown

Summary
In the early 19th century, Betsy Tanner is the daughter of a farm labourer, but has dreams of being a famous artist. In a school inspection, this draws the scorn of Lady de Mortimer, who says Betsy is too old for school, although Betsy is a star pupil and clearly an artistic genius, and should work in her kitchens. Later, Betsy’s father forbids her to take the job: “No! She treats her servants worse than slaves.” Lady de Mortimer is a cruel, spiteful woman and, as we shall see, it runs in her family. And Betsy will soon discover that the classroom encounter is just the beginning of Lady de Mortimer’s persecution of her that will go all the way to the other side of the globe and the end of the story.

Fallout from the Napoleonic wars has led to economic hardship for England, and this leads to Mr Tanner being laid off. The threat of starvation has him unwisely turning to poaching from Lord de Mortimer and he gets seven years’ transportation in Botany Bay. Betsy promises him she will join him.

Lady de Mortimer has Betsy evicted because she is the daughter of a convict. Nobody will employ Betsy for the same reason and hunger drives her to steal a loaf of bread. She gets caught, but part of her welcomes it because transportation means she has a chance of finding her father. But she is sentenced to death instead for helping another prisoner, a gypsy called Liz escape, and a beadle gets assaulted in the process.

Fortunately for Betsy, Liz’s gypsy tribe knows Philip Cartwright, the editor of a powerful newspaper. Mr Cartwright uses his editorial power to start a petition, which has the sentence commuted to transportation (it also has Lady de Mortimer encountering some very angry people who pelt her!). Before Betsy departs, Mr Cartwright gives her some art materials as a parting gift.

However, Betsy is warned “you’ll be lucky if you get to Botany Bay alive!” And Lady de Mortimer is making certain of this by giving special orders to the captain to be extremely harsh with Betsy, whom she deems a troublemaker and a desperate case. She also gives orders for special letters to be delivered to her Australian cousin, the Honourable Adeline Wortley. Betsy survives the voyage through courage, wits, kindness and, and resourcefulness with her artwork, such as doing people’s sketches in exchange for things, and her determination to find her father.

During the voyage, another convict, Judy, throws herself overboard when she is wrongly accused of stealing a necklace from paying passenger Miss Braithwaite (the real thief was her maid). Betsy throws her a barrel in the hope of it being a life-preserver. The captain does not bother to rescue Judy. But in the panel (below) where Judy throws herself overboard, there is another ship sailing not far behind. Hmmm….

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Upon arrival, Betsy becomes bonded to Lady de Mortimer’s equally cruel cousin, Miss Wortley (as per instructions in the aforementioned letters). Miss Wortley takes great pleasure in inflicting harsh punishments on Betsy to break the “wickedness” of the girl who she labels a dangerous convict and a desperate case. These include confiscating her art supplies, forcing her to work in the hot sun until she collapses from sunstroke, and locking her in a dark cupboard. Miss Wortley treats her other servants, Miss O’Flaherty, and an Aborigine girl named Mary (a slave who was bought by Miss Wortley) just as badly. Eventually Betsy and Mary run off, along with the art supplies. As Betsy makes ready to escape, she learns that a Judge Denver is married to Miss Wortley’s sister (who is another nasty piece of work). Miss Wortley hates Judge Denver because he is a humanitarian and also, he recently rescued Betsy from one of her tortures.

When Miss Wortley discovers the escape, she is furious and means to drag the girls back in chains. And so the hunt for Mary and Betsy begins. The pursuit includes redcoats and an Aborigine tracker, Kangaroo Joe. Joe finds the girls but decides to help them by faking their deaths. The ruse works and the search is called off.

Betsy has also been making enquiries about her father and gets some leads. From the sound of them, he has also escaped and on the run. Unfortunately the trail has them falling foul of another nasty rich lady, Mrs Mallaquin. Mrs Mallaquin kidnaps escaped convicts and makes them slave in an opal mine. Betsy discovers her father fell foul of Mrs Mallaquin too, but escaped the mine. When Mrs Mallaquin discovers Betsy is his daughter, she takes revenge by trying to kill Betsy and Mary in the mine with an explosion. But they not only escape but finish the racket by sealing the entrance to the mine and removing the guards’ weapons to ensure the other prisoners can now escape.

They then find Mr Tanner. Mr Tanner tells them he has found gold, and Mary has some opals from the mine to add to the savings. Mr Tanner uses it to buy a farm, under the assumed name of Johnny Flynn. Everything goes well until Miss Wortley catches up with Betsy and drags her back. Mr Tanner and Mary go to the rescue.

Miss Wortley stops at an inn, and Betsy is bound and locked in the attic. But when she looks out the window, she is surprised to see Judy! It turns out that the barrel did save Judy after all. It kept her afloat until she was picked up by a trading schooner (aha!), married the skipper, and is now doing well. Once Betsy alerts Judy to her situation, Judy helps her escape.

Betsy makes her way back home, but then finds her father and Mary have gone after her. So she goes after them, and meets up with Mary. They head off to Miss Wortley’s to find Mr Tanner. Meanwhile, Mr Tanner gets a job at Miss Wortley’s under an assumed name – but is then shocked to see Lady de Mortimer arrive! Lady de Mortimer recognises him and gives chase. Mary and Betsy save him and they head off on horseback. They meet up with an Aborigine tribe who disguise Betsy and her father as Aborigines. But Mr Tanner realises that they cannot keep running forever, and they cannot lead normal lives because they are escaped convicts.

Then a bush fire starts. The people of Port Jackson (where Miss Wortley lives), will be caught napping, so Betsy and her father head back to warn them, although they will be risking recapture. Judge Denver listens to their warnings, and the Tanners lead a fire brigade to put out the fire.

Afterwards, Miss Wortley has the Tanners arrested as escaped convicts. She tells the authorities that Judge Denver ordered them (he did not) to receive the sentence for escaped convicts and slaves – fifty lashes. Lady de Mortimer herself is eager to watch: “villains must never get the upper hand.”

But Judge Denver rescues them in the nick of time. He has just been elected governor, so he has the power to grant the Tanners free pardons, and he does so for saving the town from the fire. He then frees Mary by buying her off Miss Wortley: “Take [the money] or I’ll make life in Port Jackson most uncomfortable for you, sister-in-law!” Miss Wortley has no choice: “Even that old dragon won’t cross swords with the new governor,” Denver gleefully tells the Tanners.

The Tanners can now return to their farm as free people and they legally adopt Mary. Betsy is now free to pursue her art career as well, and Judge Denver gives her a good start – painting for his official residence.

Thoughts
The Jinty & Lindy merger seemed to be big on period stories that commented on the harshness, cruelties, and exploitations of previous centuries. This story follows straight on the heels of another Roy Newby story, “Slaves of the Candle”, which deals with a Victorian racket where girls are kept locked in a basement room to make candles. Others included “Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud” (cruelties of Victorian domestic service) and “Bridey below the Breadline” (aftermath of the Great Fire of London). This may have been a carryover of Lindy, which seemed to have an emphasis on such stories. Two examples were “Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly” – both of which were drawn by Newby.

Convicts. Now, normally when strips discuss convicts, they are either escaped criminals or wrongly convicted people. But here the people did commit the crimes they were convicted of. Yet they were not bad people, black hearted villains or dangerous criminals that the judiciary and gentry label them. They were victims of circumstance, poverty, discrimination, working class oppression, and 19th century law which inflicted harsh punishments for even minor offences and had little tolerance for mitigating circumstances. The Tanners are driven to crime by the threat of starvation inflicted by harsh people and economic times. Liz is driven to stealing the watch that landed her in gaol because nobody would give her a job because she was a gypsy. Judy was convicted of robbery, has a more violent streak, and her tendency to bully and lash out at the other convicts does not make her popular with them. To be fair, though, she would be traumatised by the loss of her sister (to the gallows) and now transportation. And she mellows when Betsy shows her kindness (getting medical aid when Judy is flogged) and then throwing her the barrel that saves her from drowning. When we see Judy again, she is barely recognisable as the snappy sourpuss she was on the convict ship. She is wearing fine clothes, happily married, and has a far more cheerful disposition.

The real villains are the people who keep labelling the Tanners and other convicts as such. Lady de Mortimer, Miss Wortley and her sister, the gaolers, the captain of the convict ship, the Beadle, Mrs Mallaquin and Miss Braithwaite – all of them are cruel, unfeeling, bullying people who get away with cruelty and exploitation because of their high positions in society. And they are all hypocrites; they label the Tanners and other convicts evil, black hearted villains, but they are the ones who are black hearted and evil, and take delight in inflicting their cruelty in the name of self-righteousness and morality on the people labelled convicts.

Jinty sure was making a big statement on the inequities that arise from class distinction as the harshness of 19th century law with this story. But it goes further; Jinty makes strong social commentary on humanitarianism and reformists and 19th century issues. In prison, Betsy does not just want hope of a reprieve – she wants improvements in the prison system and gives Mr Cartwright sketches of the prison conditions to help. It so happens that Mr Cartwright is a friend of 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, so Betsy’s pictures will indeed be a big bonus in the campaign for prison reform. We also see condemnation of slavery: Miss Wortley bought Mary, so she is a real slave; once the convicts arrive in Botany Bay, Betsy is informed that they will become slaves all but in name, and the way she is bonded to Miss Wortley is akin to slavery; Mr Tanner compares Lady de Mortimer’s treatment of her servants to slavery. And finally, there is comment on the evils of racism, which would have been more endemic for the times. Liz cannot get a job because she is a gypsy, and Mary becomes a slave because she is coloured.

But of course all these injustices are never allowed to triumph altogether in this story. Courage, resourcefulness and kindness always win through one way or another and the oppressed people in this story always seem to get laugh one way or another. Liz was sentenced to hang for being a gypsy as much as a thief – but she got away in the end. Judy threw herself overboard when Miss Braithwaite’s maid had her carry the can over the stolen necklace – but she triumphed by surviving long enough to be picked up and ending up in a good marriage. Betsy suffered torture after torture through the machinations of Lady de Mortimer and her various agents, but she never allowed Lady de Mortimer to break her spirit. She always survived and slipped through the net somehow, and in the end she won her freedom while Lady de Mortimer and Miss Worley walk away defeated and furious. And Judge Denver, the only one to show any kindness in the family he married into, gets the last laugh as well over them. He becomes governor, and in a position where he is in a position to teach his nasty sister-in-law and her cousin a lesson.

Like you said, Lady de Mortimer – villains must never get the upper hand!