Tag Archives: Rackets

Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” (1971)

Published: Tammy 6 February 1971 (first issue) to 17 July 1971 

Episodes: 29

Artist: Desmond Walduck

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

In World War II, Kate Dennison’s parents are killed in the Blitz and she is evacuated to a farm in the Lake District run by Ma Thatcher. Ma Thatcher is ostensibly a benefactor offering a good home to war orphans, but Kate soon discovers she is a monster. Together with Ned and Benskin, she operates a racket using war orphans and evacuees as slave labour. She also makes a profit out of the money the government sends for the children’s upkeep. The children are forced to sleep in a barn, all their belongings are taken for her use, and they are used as slave labour in Benskin’s quarry. Ma gets a nice sum for the slave labour she supplies him. Other farmers seem complicit in the racket, and even help to bring back escaped children. Their reasons are not clear. Perhaps it’s because they benefit from it too, as Ma hires the children out to work on their farms as well as slave in the quarry. 

Ma has terrible punishments for rebellious children, but her specialty is the animal cage. Children are locked in it overnight, regardless of weather or state of health, to be exposed to all the elements. There are beatings too, and as the story goes on, other unbelievable tortures and punishments are added that has you wondering why none of these children are maimed or dead. 

Kate is the only one willing to stand up to Ma and never waver from trying to escape and seek help, no matter how many times she fails – which is often. She prompts the other slaves to fight back and do something, something they weren’t doing before she arrived because they think nothing can be done. She also tries to get help for weak or sick children, and acts of rebellion and sabotage against the work. One ruse is rigging up a water flask as an unexploded bomb in a pool in the frequently flooded quarry. Of course the slavers discover the trick eventually, but it’s given the children a break from the quarry labour. 

Kate’s rebellion against Ma singles her out for extra-cruel treatment intended to break her will, such as being forced to stand still for hours with vicious guard dogs all around her, threatening to tear her apart if she moves. 

When Kate arrived, the number of slaves was small, but as time goes on it grows with more arrivals. Things get worse when one, Bonnie Sykes, becomes the flunky, collaborator and under-guard. In exchange for better treatment, which includes sleeping in the farm house instead of the barn, she helps Ma with the slavery, acts as watchdog over the other children, and joins in the cruelties. 

Sadly for them, the children are still prone to gullibility and have to learn the hard way about that. When, all of a sudden, Ma starts treating the kids nicely, they refuse to have anything to do with Emma, suggesting that she’s trying to spoil their now happy family. Of course it’s all a ruse. Evacuation inspectors are coming to the farm, so Ma needs to give the impression that all is well. Even Kate is largely fooled, though still suspicious. She tries to escape in the inspectors’ car, but finds Ma there, waiting for her in case of tricks like that. She’s kept tied up while the inspectors visit and see the happy, unsuspecting children. By the time the children discover they’ve been fooled, it’s too late and their rescue is gone. At least Kate, once untied, gives them the satisfaction of seeing her rip up the money their slavers have just received from the inspectors.  

In time, another character appears. She is Mad Emma, a woman who always conceals her face, and she’s the only person who scares Ma. Emma secretly helps the children, such as smuggling things in to help, throwing scares into the slave drivers and messing things up for them, and then moves up to helping some of the sicker children escape.

Kate and Emma progressively spirit three of these children away, and they are hidden in a nearby evacuated village. But after the third escape, Ma decides it’s time to get rid of Kate. So she forces Kate to work alone in the quarry, with Benskin to arrange a few ‘accidents’. Despite Kate watching him closely, he comes close to killing her until Emma sends him plunging, and he is knocked out. She then takes Kate to the evacuated village.

There is still the matter of how to free the remaining children, and now the mystery of Emma is revealed. It turns out she is the owner of the farm. When she wouldn’t sell to Ma, Ma stole the farm and started a fire to drive Emma off. Emma escaped, badly burned, and wandered in a state of shock until she stumbled across the abandoned village. She had lived there ever since, hiding her badly scarred face. She had taken a long time to start helping the children because she was living in seclusion, suspicious of strangers. Then one day she decided to take a look at her farm and discovered what was going on. 

Back at the farm, Ma learns Kate has escaped, but she has something more pressing to worry about. She has received a letter informing them that the bombing is easing up, so the children will now be sent home. Realising the children will tell people about their treatment, Ma decides to silence them by locking them in the barn and burning it down.

Bonnie draws the line at murder and has a change of heart. She runs away and bumps into Kate and Emma, and explains things. She covers for them while they dig the tunnel into the barn and help all the children escape through it. Ma almost shoots Kate as she makes her escape, but Bonnie causes her to miss and follows Kate into the woods. Now Ma knows Bonnie has turned against her.

With all the children safe, Emma decides it is (long overdue!) time to get the police. But after several hours there’s still no sign of activity. Kate goes in search of her and again gets captured by Ma Thatcher, who has also captured Emma and Bonnie. She uses them as hostages to force Kate to flag the police away. 

Ma then locks Bonnie and Kate in the barn and sets fire to it, keeping Emma back to make her tell where the other children are. Emma breaks free and rushes into the barn to save Kate and Bonnie. Ma is forced to go after Emma, as she’s the only one who can tell her where the other children are. Ned panics at all this and makes a run for it. When Kate hears Ma crying for help, she goes back to rescue her. Her reward? Ma tries to kill her again, with the shotgun Ned dropped. 

However, the other children, who got worried at the delay, have brought in the police themselves. The police arrive in time to catch Ma in the act of trying to shoot Kate. Ned is soon rounded up, and joins Ma in custody. The farm is restored to Emma, and the children are very happy when the authorities allow them to stay with her. 

Thoughts

Well, here we go with Tammy’s most famous (or infamous) tale of all, and one of the most pivotal stories in girls’ comics. This is the one that really made Tammy’s mark from the first issue, and its impact lingers on today. If one serial were the jewel in Tammy’s crown, it would have to be this one. But what a dark jewel it is. It has been deemed the cruellest of Tammy’s tales, perhaps the cruellest of all in the history of girls’ comics. Of all the dark, misery-laden tales Tammy was known for, this one is the reigning queen. 

And the readers lapped it up. Its length alone – a staggering 29 episodes – shows how popular it was with readers. Its formula proved a guaranteed hit, copied countless times at IPC, and spawned what became known as the slave story. Or perhaps, more accurately, the slave group story (as distinct from the single slave story). The slave story was one of the lynchpins in the new trend of grittiness Tammy set. Said Pat Mills of the slave story: “slave stories were always very popular, and I think a psychologist might have a field day, not just with the people who wrote them, but with the readers! … We actually would sit down and say, when we were constructing a girls’ comic or revising an existing one, ‘Right, let’s have the slave story’, and the reason was because they were so popular with the readers!” (Interview with Jenni Scott, 26 September 2011, https://comiczine-fa.com/interviews/pat-mills).

“Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’” was the one that set the template for it all in Tammy and her sister comics. The template ran as follows: 

1: The protagonist falls foul of a racket, evil person or cruel institution where others are held captive for a sinister purpose or used as slaves. Settings have included workhouses, harsh boarding schools, factories, remote environments and prison camps. 

2: The protagonist is the only one to rebel against it (and in some cases, even realise what is going on, as the evil purpose is sometimes disguised) and try to break them all free from it.

3: Her rebellion singles her out for extra-harsh treatment or puts her in more danger than the others.

4: There is a flunky type (not always used) working with the antagonist against the protagonist.

5: A helper often, though not always, emerges to help. The helper can either work in secret and disguise, or come in to investigate and sense something’s wrong. Sometimes the protagonist herself is the secret helper, either donning a disguise or pretending to be the flunky to help the slaves. Examples of this are “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy).

Other Tammy stories to use the formula included “Slaves of the Hot Stove”, “Secret Ballet of the Steppes”, “The Chain Gang Champions”, “Waifs of the Wigmaker”, and “The Revenge of Edna Hack”. Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”, beginning with her first issue and going on to become her longest-running serial, owed its roots to “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’”.

It could not have been the formula alone that made the serial its mark. It would also have been the lengths it took with its cruelties, which have made it regarded as the cruellest of them all (with “Merry at Misery House” running a very strong second). The scale of violence and torture must have been unprecedented and shocking, and the levels it went to have been seldom seen since: Kate being constantly bludgeoned, dangerous labour in a flooded quarry, the animal cage, fox traps, even attempted shootings, and so much else. The story stops at showing blood, broken bones and other injuries (except for one child getting her leg caught in a fox trap) or outright death, but it’s always dancing on the edge of it, and the only reason it doesn’t happen is, well, this is girls’ comics. 

Also adding to its impact was Tammy clearly naming the villainess after an unpopular figure: Margaret Thatcher, then known as “Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher” for her cuts on free milk given to children when she was Secretary of Education. And Ma Thatcher is a villainess with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and one of the evil baddies ever created in girls’ comics. Nowhere is this shown more where Kate saves Ma’s life – twice – in the story. But there’s no gratitude from Ma, only more of the same from her, even trying to kill Kate in return for having her life saved. She ought to be running a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, what with the tortures she inflicts (vicious dogs, fox traps, the animal cage, beatings, atrocious working conditions, etc.). She’d feel right at home with those brutal SS guards.

As well as no redeeming qualities, Ma Thatcher has no nuances to her character. There’s no dashes of humour, backstory, redeeming qualities, or even sprinkles of the human touch to her. The only thing that gives her a little roundness is how brilliant she is at pretending to be the kind grandmotherly benefactor when the authorities come calling. But essentially, Ma Thatcher is just cruel, evil and unredeemable. 

The hatching and crosshatching in the Desmond Walduck artwork give it ruggedness against a softer edge of linework, which makes it not only a perfect fit for the harshness of the story but for the country setting and the time period as well. Not surprisingly, Walduck has been a popular choice for other period stories with a hard edge to them, such as “The Shadow in Shona’s Life” from Tammy and “The Worst School in the World” from Judy.  

“Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm” was not strictly the first in the line of (group) slave stories. The aforementioned Worst School in the World from Judy was one also, and predated it by two years. There were probably others at DCT that also predated “Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm”. But at IPC, “Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm” was more than enough to be the first to matter. 

Slaves of the Candle [1975-1976]

Sample Images

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Published: Jinty & Lindy 8 November 1975 – 24 January 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Roy Newby plus unknown filler artist

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none

Plot

It is the year 1830. Lyndy Lagtree works as a maidservant for the Duchess of Dowgate. Mrs Tallow, the best candlemaker in London and highly respected for it, arrives with a candle chandelier that she always provides for the grandest parties. Then the whole chandelier is extinguished when one candle proves faulty, which plunges the room into darkness. Afterwards they find a painting has disappeared. Lyndy overhears a guest talking about a similar incident at another grand house, at which a necklace vanished afterwards. She begins to suspect Mrs Tallow is using her chandeliers as a cover for a series of thefts and hides in Mrs Tallow’s wagon so she can do some investigating.

At Mrs Tallow’s shop Lyndy discovers the shop is a front that conceals a secret workshop where Mrs Tallow is using children as unpaid slave labour to make her candles. Later it is established that making them work around the clock with little chance to sleep seems to be a common occurrence, and food consists of cold gruel and the like. The slaves are totally cut off from the outside world in their underground cellar, except for a crack in the wall Mrs Tallow does not know about. It also means they have to work in very poor light. Instead of developing eye problems though, they develop the ability to see in near darkness.

Then Mrs Tallow catches Lyndy – and yes, Mrs Tallow hid the painting in one of her candles. To silence Lyndy, Mrs Tallow and her henchman Wick hold her captive in the workshop with the other slaves. They all learn from the Peelers that Lyndy has been blamed for the theft of the painting. Now there is a price on her head for 100 guineas and her “wanted” posters are plastered all over London. At this Mrs Tallow and Wick are now confident that Lyndy can never try to escape.

But they are wrong. Lyndy is determined to escape, prove her innocence, and bring down Mrs Tallow and her racket. Here Lyndy contrasts to the other slaves, who don’t even try to escape as they consider themselves just “rubbish” in society and have nowhere else to go. She is also the oldest and the strongest in spirit, which makes her a natural leader of the slaves. Lyndy is also lucky in to discover she is a natural for making candles once the slaves teach her. Mrs Tallow herself even calls Lyndy her best candle maker, even if she is trouble. If only circumstances were different, Lyndy could chuck skivvying in favour of a more lucrative living in the candle making business.

Lyndy explores the workshop chimney, feeling it is an escape route. A cowl at the top blocks her way, but Lyndy sees a clue down below. Mrs Tallow is giving the stolen painting to her dealer, who then gets into a coach with a coat of arms on it. Lyndy etches the coat of arms onto the candle she has brought.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has to act fast to stop Mrs Tallow seeing the coat of arms candle and rumbling what is going on. A diversion with a bottle of candle dye does the trick, and Lyndy also manages to retrieve the candle. But Mrs Tallow is furious at getting colour on her dark clothes and threatens to make Lyndy suffer for it. Lyndy finds this reaction very odd, and from this point on Mrs Tallow’s sanity is called into question.

Lyndy soon finds out what Mrs Tallow means by making her suffer. She is going to make Lyndy go into hives, and risk being badly stung, in order to get beeswax for beeswax candles. Lyndy tries to escape again along the way, but fails. And things get worse when they arrive: the bees are disturbed and extremely dangerous. But Mrs Tallow, still determined to punish Lyndy, forces her to go in. Lyndy succeeds in getting the beeswax without a sting with an improvised smoker she made out of a candle. Mrs Tallow admits she has to give Lyndy credit.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has the others rig up dummies made out of wax to fool anyone who comes to check. While they do this, she and her closest friend Lucy go up the chimney and break through the cowl with scissors. They escape into the street, but Lucy injures herself on landing. Then the coach comes, and Lyndy overhears Mrs Tallow and her mysterious coach accomplice plotting to pull the candle chandelier trick at Ballam House. But then the coachman spots Lucy and Lyndy, and the chase begins. Mrs Tallow has the Peelers join in, having led them to think the girls are thieves.

The girls make it to the heath, but Lucy’s injury is taking its toll and she passes out. Lyndy modifies the coat of arms candle to make it look like a Peeler’s torch, and manages to draw the Peelers off. But she’s lost the coat of arms etching on the candle.

When dawn comes, Lyndy comes across Ballam House, and Mrs Tallow is making her delivery. Lyndy and Lucy take jobs at the house to try to foil Mrs Tallow. But Mrs Tallow outwits Lyndy with a fake mask (made of wax) and then sets fire to the house to cover her tracks while she and her accomplice recapture Lyndy and Lucy, and make off with the valuables they were after. Later, Lyndy is shown a “wanted” poster that shows she has been blamed for Mrs Tallow’s crimes at Ballam House as well, and the price on her head is now £700. Wow!

A new cowl is fitted over the chimney. Just what extra security Mrs Tallow is making there is not clear, but she still does not know about the crack in the wall.

Mrs Tallow has a new job for the slaves: make a candle that is a replica of the Tower of London, which her mysterious coach accomplice takes. It is a gift for Queen Victoria, who is so impressed she wants Mrs Tallow to provide the lighting for her upcoming Lumiere Celebrations. Lyndy wonders why Mrs Tallow wants to win favour with the Queen. (Don’t you think it sounds like it’s going to be the candle chandelier ruse on an even grander scale, Lyndy?) Meanwhile, Lucy manages to make a wax impression of Mrs Tallow’s key.

Later, from the crack in the wall, Lyndy sees the coach accomplice assault a blind pedlar who is selling candles. His candles are ruined, but Lyndy makes a friend of him by giving him their own candles. When he returns, they slip him the wax impression so he can get a key made and slip it to them. He gets arrested while doing so, because the Peelers do not approve of him selling cheaper candles in the vicinity of a quality candle shop.

Mrs Tallow wants the girls to make candles for a special night at the Tower of London. When Lyndy uses the key to escape the workshop and poke around the place, she discovers why Mrs Tallow is so interested in the Tower of London: she is plotting to steal the Crown Jewels. Lyndy slips back to the workshop before she’s missed.

Mrs Tallow has Wick stand guard over the workshop. Another clever plan from Lyndy puts him out of action long enough for the girls to escape, but he recovers and soon he and Mrs Tallow are after the girls. They give their pursuers the slip, but Lyndy goes to the Tower of London in the hope she will be believed. She speaks to the governor, and then sees a ring on his desk with the same coat of arms. She realises the accomplice is in the Tower, but does not connect it with the governor – and she should have! By the time she does, she has unwittingly led him and Mrs Tallow to the girls. Lyndy and Lucy escape into the river, but the other girls are recaptured. Lucy seems to have drowned, but Lyndy makes it onto another boat. Mrs Tallow then informs Lyndy what will happen if she goes telling tales: she burns a candle that is a replica of the House of Candles in a symbolic threat that she means to burn down the House of Candles with the girls inside.

Rivermen fish Lucy out of the river. Before she passes out she tells Lyndy they said “candles an inch past midnight.” The royal barge passes by and the rivermen explain it is the time the Queen goes to the Tower to examine her treasures, and it will be at midnight – the time when Mrs Tallow will strike. Lyndy slips aboard the royal barge with the help of the rivermen and back to the Tower. There Mrs Tallow’s candles are set up to light the Tower at midnight, when the treasures will be opened.

Then Lyndy finds out what “an inch past midnight” means. The wicks are only one inch long, which means the candles are rigged to burn for a brief time and then go out all at once to plunge the Tower into darkness. And under cover of darkness, Mrs Tallow and the governor steal the Crown Jewels. Yes, definitely the old chandelier candle trick, but on a royal scale.

But Mrs Tallow also pulls a double cross on the governor, which makes it clear to him that she never had any intention of helping him get out heavy gambling debts in return for his services. As will be seen, this causes him to have a change of heart.

Meanwhile, Mrs Tallow heads back to the House of Candles with the Crown Jewels, which she gloats over and calls herself “The Queen of the Candles”. Lyndy follows, as Mrs Tallow threatened to burn the other girls alive in it. Mrs Tallow has it all rigged up with wood shavings and candles to set them alight once they burn down. Once she recaptures Lyndy she has Lyndy tied up so she will burn too. Lyndy screams at Mrs Tallow that she is mad.

But then the governor appears, agrees Mrs Tallow is mad, and comes to Lyndy’s rescue. He knocks out Wick and puts out the candles with his sword. Oddly, Mrs Tallow just sits there, so the governor ties her up while she screams that she wants the jewels because she’s the Queen of the Candles.

Lyndy and the other children get out, and take the Crown Jewels with them. The governor tells them to go for the Peelers. But then Mrs Tallow screams for help. The governor missed one candle, and now it’s threatening to make her scheme to burn down the House of Candles backfire on her. Lyndy tries to stop the candle but fails. The House of Candles goes up in flames, and Mrs Tallow with it. Wick recovers enough to stagger out behind Lyndy, and the Peelers are waiting.

In gratitude, Queen Victoria gives all the girls royal patronage and protection, and promises them assured futures. The false charges against Lyndy are presumably sorted out too. The fate of the governor is not recorded.

Then, from the royal coach window, Lyndy spots a beggar woman selling candles. Lyndy is not 100% sure as she cannot see the woman’s face, but it looks like a much altered and punished Mrs Tallow. She wonders if Mrs Tallow’s flame is still burning after all, albeit in a harmless manner…

Thoughts

“Slaves of the Candle” was one of the new stories to commemorate the Jinty and Lindy merger and the first group slave story in Jinty since “Merry at Misery House”. It was also the first serial in Jinty with a Victorian setting. What a pity it contains such a glaring historical error: the story is set in 1830 and Victoria did not come to the throne until 1837, yet Queen Victoria appears in the story. In fairness, the 1830 reference disappears in later episodes and the time period is just referred to as Victorian. Perhaps they spotted the error.

“Slaves of the Candle” brought Lindy artist Ron Newby to Jinty. There is a strong indication that the story itself was originally written for Lindy but appeared in the merger instead. For one thing, the protagonist’s name is Lyndy. Just change the first “y” to an “i” and it’s the same name as the comic merging into Jinty. Second, Newby had already drawn period stories for Lindy that feature girls being exploited as child labour (“Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly”). Indeed this story brought Newby to Jinty. Lastly, Lindy had a stronger emphasis on such stories than Jinty did. In fact, Jinty ran just two more serials with 19th centuries settings while the Lindy logo was on the cover, and then dropped them for good. Only some of the Gypsy Rose stories used the 19th century setting afterwards. Tammy, on the other hand, used the 19th century setting far more frequently. This is another major difference between Jinty and Tammy, and it’s an odd one.

The Victorian age, being notorious for exploitative child labour, was a popular and natural setting for group slave stories. This one is no exception and the grittiness of the Victorian age is the perfect ambience to this insidious racket that takes advantage of both light and dark to fulfil evil schemes.

Making candles isn’t the cruellest of slave labour. Girls have been put to far worse and more dangerous labour than that in group slave stories, such as working in mines, quarries or prisons. But Mrs Tallow is no mere cruel employer who just takes advantage of cheap child labour. She is a criminal who uses the candles from the slavery for evil purposes: first it was just robbery, but then she moved up to treason by stealing the Crown Jewels. Her criminal dealings must be why she keeps the child labourers as prisoners and slaves in a secret workshop. After all, she would not want any of them getting loose and reporting her to the Peelers. And when it’s hinted she’s insane as well, it adds another sinister dimension to this creepy woman. In fact, you have to wonder if her motive to steal the Crown Jewels was greed, as it had been with the other thefts, or her Queen of the Candles delusion. Being Queen of the Candles is no mere fantasy; it is all part of her insanity, as is made clear when she refuses to get off her throne because she’s the Queen of the Candles, despite the danger around her.

Like any other racketeer of a group slave story, the main villain has to meet her/his match in the main protagonist and rue the day she/he ever enslaved her. And that is the case here. It’s not just that Lyndy is a very sharp-witted, resourceful girl who refuses to be broken by whatever the racketeers throw at her. It’s also adding insult to injury to be enslaved by the very woman who framed her and is leaving her to carry the can over the crimes. Lyndy is very determined to prove her innocence instead of never daring to escape as the racketeer thought. It also helps that she’s the oldest of the slaves, which makes her a natural for a leadership/maternal role, and also helps to rouse these slaves, who were so resigned that they hadn’t even tried to escape.

The story gets a bit tedious with Lyndy going through so many failed escape bids and being recaptured each time. Of course she does make progress even with her failures. But we do have to wonder why Mrs Tallow does not punish Lyndy far more severely for being constant trouble or try to get rid of her altogether, even if she is the best candle maker. Maybe it’s more of Mrs Tallow’s weirdness.

The weirdness extends even to the names of the villains, which reflect the very business they operate in: candle making. Perhaps Mrs Tallow changed her name and that of Wick to tie in with their business and her fantasy with being Queen of the Candles. The candles and everything associated with them (wax, flint, fire, wick) permeate throughout the story. Even the governor’s coat of arms looks like flames. The candles and their associated properties are not just for the candle trade. By turns we see the candles used as tools for crime, escape, disguise, bee repellents, communication, and even weapons. And it’s both sides that are doing it, which means Mrs Tallow’s candles are being used against her as much she puts them to her own use. There’s an amusing poetic justice and irony here. Of course it carries right through to the downfall of Mrs Tallow. Her own candles become the instrument of her final retribution, while her former slaves enjoy a happy new employment with the very Queen Mrs Tallow tried to rob. We never see what sort of employment the Queen offers them, but we would not be surprised (though we may groan) if it has something to do with candles.

The final hint that Mrs Tallow may not be as dead as they thought has the story end on a stronger note than a simple happy ending. But it’s not on a note that she will rise again, which makes it less cliched. It is also more poetic justice, having Mrs Tallow (if it is her) reduced to the same level as the candle-selling pedlar.

Slaves of the Nightmare Factory (1983-84)

Sample Images

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Published: Girl (second series) 10 December #148 – 14 January 1984 #153

Episodes: 6 (with four-page spreads)

Reprint: Girl Monthly (issue number unavailable)

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to David Roach for scans

This is the only group slave story (girls become slaves in a cruel institution/business/racket/regime) run by Girl II from IPC. Its publication is unusual as it came at a time when the group slave story had long since faded at IPC. Tammy, which used to pioneer in slave stories and Cinderella stories, had stopped running them by the late 1970s. Jinty had her share too in her early days, particularly Merry at Misery House, but had given them away by the late 1970s as well. Lighter fare had taken over from dark stories filled with tortured heroines that had made Tammy so pioneering and made her the blueprint for the early Jinty and the short-lived Sandie and Lindy to follow.

It is most unusual for a group slave story to be published in photo story format, so Slaves of the Nightmare Factory may even be one of a kind.

Plot

Amanda Harvey and Natalie Jones (whose mother works for the wealthy Harveys as a cleaner) are best friends despite their differing backgrounds and Natalie secretly envying Amanda’s wealth. But one day some thugs kidnap them and bring them to a dress factory, which abducts girls for slave labour.

The racket is so secretive the girls do not even know the name of the factory manager; she just tells them to address her as “Ma’am”. The factory itself is located deep underground somewhere near the London dockland and disguised as some sort of wasteland above. Later we discover the goons themselves do not know the identity of the man who owns the factory. There will be more on the factory owner later.

The racket has been going on for a long time; one girl, Sandy, has been there for three years. Another girl, named Ellen Crawley, has been there for two, and is clearly cracking up because she is having constant hysterics. Nobody has ever successfully escaped from the factory, and the racketeers like to constantly reinforce this point to demoralise the girls.

Ma’am is under strict orders to kidnap only runaway girls. However, recent slave shortages have driven her to break the rules; hence the abduction of Natalie and Amanda, and probably other non-runaways too.

Amanda and Natalie soon discover that getting the dresses churned out is like a monomania with Ma’am. Much of her cruelty towards the girls is driven by her single-minded obsession about producing the dresses and making sure the girls meet strenuous quotas. Girls who fail to meet their quotas go to the dreaded Punishment Box, which means spending the night, or even 24 hours, in a crate where the victim can neither stand up nor stretch out.

The racketeers provide no necessities of life for the girls, including medical facilities: “They don’t even have ‘band-aids’! They don’t care what happens to us!” The food is dreadful; it’s nothing but bread and a foul-tasting slop (delivered in a bucket!) that the girls just have to get used to. In return for better food, one slave girl named Sarah has turned Ma’am’s toady and works as an overseer and guard (and bully) in the workshop where Amanda and Natalie work.

Conversely, Ma’am allows the girls to have a television set. This is the only way the girls can see anything of the outside world, which they are completely cut off from because the factory is so deep underground. The television set enables Amanda and Natalie to see that their abduction has hit the news. Ironically, Natalie’s mother is making her appeal while wearing one of the factory dresses.

During this time Natalie confesses her envy of Amanda, who says her envy’s no good now. Natalie also starts applying her notebook and journalistic ambitions to keeping a secret record of their slavery.

Then Ellen manages to escape, and hopes rise that help is coming. However, Ma’am directs the girls to a news broadcast, which informs them that Ellen died during her escape and her body was found in a reservoir.

In punishment for Ellen’s escape Ma’am increases the girls’ arduous dress quotas even more. Sarah does not emerge unscathed either: Ma’am withdraws her special rations for failing to stop Ellen and she must now eat the same substandard food as the other girls. But the girls realise Sarah will try to regain favour with Ma’am, so they must be even more careful around her.

Eventually the slavery takes its toll on Natalie and she falls ill at her sewing machine. As Natalie cannot meet her quota, Amanda tries to cover for her. However, Sarah reports them and in return is given back her special rations. Amanda and Natalie are sent to the Punishment Boxes.

While Amanda is in the Punishment Box the owner of the factory passes by and she overhears the conversations that are made. It is at this point the goons say that even they do not know who the owner is. But Amanda identifies him from his voice – it’s her own father! So the racket is the source of the wealth Natalie had so envied.

Amanda reports her discovery to the other girls, but is not sure what to do about it. For his part, Dad has clearly somehow begun to suspect who kidnapped his daughter because he orders polaroids to be taken of the girls kidnapped over the past month for him to check through the following night. Amanda had overheard him giving that order and guesses the reason for it.

Natalie’s condition is now so bad that Amanda persuades all the girls to join her in a mass breakout in a desperate bid to get help. After tying up Sarah they all set off, with Amanda dragging the sick Natalie (and her notebook) along. Amanda’s father unknowingly passes by them while returning for the polaroids, which also helps them to find the exit to the factory.

When Dad discovers the escape – and Amanda’s photograph among the polaroids – he orders his henchmen to discreetly let Amanda and Natalie go while rounding up the others. He does not realise Amanda and Natalie have hidden themselves in his car. Ma’am is astonished at Amanda and Natalie being allowed to go. Dad just tells her that her disobedience in kidnapping those two girls who were not runaways has caused him a lot of problems. He then orders her to clear out the factory and move the girls to the other workshops because the police will be coming soon, which suggests there is more than one factory.

As Dad approaches his car Amanda is surprised to hear him whistling, because he only whistles when he’s happy. She does not realise he thinks he has managed to get her back while keeping his operation relatively intact. But there are a couple of things he does not know either…

Dad drives straight home. Mum and a policeman assigned to the kidnapping case are there too. They are quite surprised when Amanda suddenly walks in. After a brief reunion with Mum and a call for an ambulance, Amanda gives them Natalie’s notebook, saying it contains a complete record of everything. She has not explained things yet, but gives them the impression her father is suspect and Dad realises she has found him out. Dad crumples in his chair, Mum looks at him with suspicion, and Amanda says he’s not her father anymore. Amanda goes back to Natalie and tells her that soon the whole world will know their story.

Thoughts

As Nightmare Factory is a photo story, the setting has to be in modern times (period settings would have been too expensive and difficult), which makes the slave racket all the more horrifying. You expect this sort of thing to belong to the past or Third World countries, not 20th century Britain. Seeing the cruelties inflicted on pictures of actual flesh-and-blood girls as opposed to artistically drawn girls may add to the horror even more. And the black-and white photographs perfectly complement the grimness of the situation.

Nightmare Factory certainly is a very dark story, but it doesn’t go over the top with its cruelties or descend into absurdity as some group slave stories do. Its cruelty remains rooted in dark, gritty realism and delivers some real shockers, such as the death of Ellen from what looks like culpable homicide if not first-degree murder. There is an insidious overtone to the whole racket and so many unanswered questions about it (like Ma’am’s real name never being revealed), which makes the story even more disturbing and creepy. Insinuating that there are other Nightmare Factories makes it even more frightening; most of the cruel outfits in slave stories are stand-alone operations.

Perhaps because Nightmare Factory is a photo story, it is not a long story in comparison to other slave stories. There are only six episodes, although each has four pages rather than the usual three. So the plotting is extremely tight while the pacing is well handled and it does not feel rushed. Unlike so many group slave stories, it is not padded out with a lot of middle (constant failed escape attempts, tortures being laid on ever more thickly, schemes to score one over the villains, getting medical aid for fellow victims), which can get tedious and meandering before the story finally reaches its climax.

As the serial uses photo story format and live models, the villains look less stereotyped than they would be in picture-story slave stories. Ma’am is quite a change from the sinister crones and old dragons that so often serve as the main slave drivers in slave stories. The model does a brilliant job with the facial expressions in conveying Ma’am as a cold, ruthless bitch. It is also quite surprising to see a couple of non-whites among the henchmen (if none among the girls in the workshop).

From the beginning, Amanda is the strong-willed protagonist who is determined not to break and resolves to escape and bring down the racket. She is a rich girl, but is neither spoiled nor bratty. Sometimes rich girl protagonists in slave stories are that way, in which case the slavery knocks the arrogance out of them, turns them into more sober girls and brings out their strengths. But not in this case. The rich girl is established as a sympathetic character right from the first, when just before the kidnapping she tries to persuade her father to give Mrs Jones a raise because she is so concerned at how the Joneses have so little while they have so much. However, the father insists Mrs Jones’ wage is fair although it does not let them afford much. This gives a hint of the sort of man he really is, although Amanda always regarded him as a kind man before she discovered his secret. Amanda remains the one to bring down the racket. But the way in which she does it is most unexpected and awry from how the protagonist usually brings it down, and it’s a perverse twist of fate that causes the whole racket to backfire on Mr Big himself.

However, there is no redemption for Amanda’s father. He loves Amanda enough to let her escape, but we doubt he would have done that if he had known she had discovered his secret. The twist of Amanda’s own father being behind it all puts a sting into the tail that means the story will not end on a trite happy ending. Amanda does regain her freedom, saves Natalie, and is reunited with her mother. But she can never really be happy again now she knows what her father has done, and it will blight her life forever.

The ending is a bit unsatisfying because it leaves us dangling on the fate of the Nightmare Factory. Knowing the factory is being cleaned out and its operations shifted elsewhere makes it all the more troubling. There isn’t so much as a text box to wrap things up and tell us what happened to the girls and racketeers in the end. We only have Amanda’s final word to reassure us that justice will be done.