Tag Archives: redemption narrative

Story theme: Redemption narratives

I recently wrote summary posts about two stories that I called ‘redemption narratives’: “The Girl Who Never Was” and “She Shall Have Music“. That’s a kind of story theme that we can all recognize as being fairly common in girls comics generally: in Jinty there are a number of other examples.  But how does this sort of story work?

Take those two stories as an initial guide: the protagonist is a difficult or disagreeable, probably dislikeable, girl who has some personal failing or issue that drives the story. It’s because of that failing that the story progresses; it may not have been due to something that was her fault that the story started off in the first place, but it is because of her moral or social problem that it continues and develops the way it does. Tina Williams lands in the alternate universe where magic works because of her conceited and annoying ways; Lisa Carstairs’s father doesn’t lose his money because of her, but if she wasn’t so obsessed with continuing her piano playing exactly as before, then she wouldn’t find herself in the same difficulties. It’s not just what happens to the protagonist (or how she is challenged in the story) but how she reacts to it. She has to be ‘the architect of her own misfortunes’, as Mistyfan puts it in her post about another redemption story, “Black Sheep of the Bartons“.

Does the story have to feature some sort of disagreeableness, some sort of outright nastiness or callousness on the part of the protagonist? No: I’d say that you could certainly include ‘guilt’ stories such as “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary”. The protagonist here  suffers huge pangs of guilt and despair because of the loss of a loved one – a best friend or a sister in the case of these two stories, but in other cases it can be a parent – a very natural feeling, but the failing here is that she lets those emotions overwhelm her and distort her common sense. The guilty feelings of the protagonist drive the story forward, but this guilt is portrayed throughout as excessive, as an indulgence that the main character should resist. It’s the lengths that their grief drives them to that causes their difficulties in their separate stories.

Also, it’s not just about having an objectionable main character who is nicer by the end of the story. “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” are not what I would call redemption narratives, despite having protagonists who start off pretty disagreeable and end up much improved. (Likewise “Battle of the Wills” is not, nor I think “Pandora’s Box”, but sports story “Black Sheep of the Bartons” is one I would class as such: Bev Barton isn’t horrible so much as thoughtless and reckless, but her carelessness nearly brings tragedy to her family.) Why don’t “Curtain of Silence” and “Land of No Tears” count? Because when the girl main characters are swept into their initial circumstances – enslaved by a dictatorial coach, forced into third-class citizenship in a future world – their thoughts are not primarily about how they can continue to maintain their status quo ante but about how they can defeat their antagonist. Yvonne and Cassy aren’t just trying to get back to where they were at the beginning: their story is about a positive rebellion, not a futile rejection of the truth that the outside world is telling them. They end up much nicer than they started out being, but that’s not the whole reason for having the story in the first place – it’s because they have faced extraordinary circumstances which would change anyone by making them realise that some things are bigger than individual concerns.

Does the character who ends up being redeemed have to be the protagonist, or could they be the antagonist or villain? Overall I would say it has to be the protagonist, as the main character that you are supposed to sympathise with and want things to turn out well for, but maybe one counter-example is “Wanda Whiter Than White“. Wanda is not the main character of the story and she makes Susie Foster’s life a misery with her sanctimonious ways. At the end, it is revealed, as Mistyfan explains in her story post, that ‘Wanda’s own past is not as white as she would have us believe. In fact, she is on probation after being caught stealing.’ Rather than this reveal being painted as purely a victory for the main character, it ends up with Wanda being ‘truly redeemed when she tells a white lie to help Susie in return for Susie saving her life’. The reader wasn’t rooting for Wanda’s redemption all along, but it is a satisfying ending nevertheless.

What choices could the writer make that would move the story out of the category of being a redemption narrative? Let’s take Lisa Carstairs’ story as an example. As with the OuBaPo exercises, thinking about how a story could work differently will give us a view on how the stories actually do work.

  • Imagine Lisa’s parents still losing everything at the beginning of the story, and Lisa still losing her piano. The story could then have taken a different turn: rather than being about Lisa’s misguided piano obsession and selfishness, it could have been another kind of story entirely, for instance a mystery story where Lisa finds out that her father’s business partner was a crook who needs to be brought to justice. Perhaps Lisa’s piano playing could help her to find the clues she needs, and her obsession with it could be turned to a good cause in that way, so that she needs no redemption.
  • Or let’s say the story stays as being about Lisa’s obsession with playing piano but it’s portrayed as something not to be frowned on, rather as something acceptable or allowable. How would a story work where she can continue to be focused on playing piano to the exclusion of everything else, including her family? Perhaps her family would have to be a nasty, uncaring one, to make her disinterest acceptable.
  • Or perhaps the story could proceed more or less as it does, but with an unhappy ending where Lisa gets her comeuppance. This would make her into a more of an anti-heroine than normal but would not be unheard of.

Here are the examples I would identify as fitting most neatly into the category of ‘redemption narrative’ (core examples) and as being closely related to this category without necessarily definitely being classed as such (edge cases).

Core examples

  • “Dance Into Darkness” – Della just wants to live her life down at the disco with no regard for other people, but when her wish is granted she eventually discovers there is indeed more to life than her own self-interest.
  • There are a number of stories that are driven by a bereavement: the main character makes poor decisions as a result of her strong emotions of grief and anger because she is afraid of being hurt again. “The Ghost Dancer” is one of these, as is “Nothing to Sing About”, but of course “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” and “I’ll Make Up For Mary” are the strongest examples.
  • “The Girl Who Never Was” – discussed above
  • “She Shall Have Music” – discussed above
  • I said above that I thought that it needs to be the protagonist who is redeemed, not one of the other characters. In “Go On, Hate Me!” the antagonist is driven by grief into bullying the protagonist but in the end all is cleared and the antagonist is redeemed, so I would be tempted to class this alongside “Wanda Whiter Than White” as a clear example of this kind.
  • Jackie’s Two Lives” is more about the perils of wish-fulfilment, but Jackie’s snobbishness and the fact she is ashamed of her own family is definitely a character flaw that drives the story and she is cured of it at the end.
  • “Left-Out Linda” develops the redemption pretty well by recognizing that you can’t usually turn around your life by yourself: you have to have some help.
  • “Paula’s Puppets”: Paula has to learn to forgive her enemies rather than attacking them via the magical help she has been given.
  • “Tearaway Trisha”: Trisha’s recklessness has caused a serious accident; she tries to make amends but has to change her own character in order to do so.
  • “Valley of Shining Mist” has a clearly didactic message about the improving aspect of high culture: by playing the violin, Debbie will transcend the impact of her abusive family, who are low-class in their lack of culture and their morality.
  • In “Who’s That In My Mirror?” the protagonist’s selfish nature is made very literally visible and becomes more and more so until finally she is driven to renouncing it.
  • Worlds Apart” is the ultimate morality tale – one by one, six girls are shown the worst outcomes possible for each of their specific character flaws, and they have a chance to repent. The psychological development is minimal but the impact of the story was very dramatic.

Edge cases

  • “Fancy Free “- I know the main character is so independent that this may well be characterised as a fault, but I don’t really quite remember enough about the story to say whether it is the main thing that drives the whole plot.
  • The Four Footed Friends” – arguably another case where someone other than the protagonist ends up being redeemed, though it all feels a little sudden. “Hettie High-and-Mighty” likewise features a fairly sudden change of heart on the part of an antagonist who has mostly been about making  the protagonist’s life a misery until that point. I don’t think “The Kat And Mouse Game” quite counts, either: Kat may perhaps have realised the error of her ways at the end of the story, but will her change of heart actually stick?
  • I haven’t really made my mind up about “Gwen’s Stolen Glory” – it feels like it is mostly a story about deception, though clearly once Gwen owns up to the big lie this is a kind of redemption of her former deception.
  • In “Kerry In The Clouds”, Kerry is a day-dreamer imposed upon by a woman motivated by her own unfriendly concerns. Kerry’s day-dreaming nature is cured by the end of the story, but I don’t feel the main driver of the narrative was to improve her character.
  • The main character in “Mark of the Witch!” is hot-tempered and angry at all around her, and she comes to seek a more peaceful set of emotions by the end of the story. However, so much of her story is about the persecution and abuse that her neighbours visit on her that I don’t see her story being primarily about her renouncing her hot-headed ways.
  • I’m not sure about “Pandora’s Box” and whether it counts or not. Pandora’s witchy aunt does chide her at the beginning about being too cock-sure about her talents and says that she will need to use magic sooner or later, and this is all true: but I’m not sure what sort of morality story that adds up to – not a conventional one at any rate! The main nod in this story to more conventional morality is the fact that Pandora goes from disinterest in the pet she is stuck with (her black cat familiar, Scruffy) to loving him dearly and giving up her heart’s desire in order to save his life.

One last question struck me when thinking about this. What sort of things might the protagonist have done that means she needs to go through this process of redemption in the first place? Clearly it must be something negative: the story has a moral imperative of some sort, warning readers against some kinds of behaviour. But at the same time, some things would be beyond the pale of course, and would mean that any character doing that would be irredeemable. (There might therefore be some useful comparisons made with story villains: what does their villainy consist of?) If a character killed or seriously hurt someone on purpose then that would be beyond the pale: there are a number of villains who have gone this far, sometimes with a laugh on their cruel lips, but it would be hard to imagine that a girl protagonist could do this and still recover the moral high ground at the end of the story.

In the stories above it looks like the sort of wrong-doing that needs castigating but is still redeemable is often about emotional warmth and consideration for others – it’s not about ambition (by itself) or cleverness (by itself) for instance. An arrogant protagonist can still be the heroine, but if she is cold, selfish, or inconsiderate then that’s a good signal that this is a character marked down for improvement – by whatever means necessary. Preferably it will be a Shakespearean denouement, whereby her own moral failing brings about such a huge disaster that she has no option but to change her ways! And being too afraid to risk emotional commitment comes in for a bit of a kicking too, via the guilt / grief stories. The obvious next question: is this moral imperative specific to British girls comics? Do UK boys comics have redemption narratives too? Or those in other countries? My pal Lee Brimmicombe-Wood reckons that Japan’s flourishing manga industry has many stories about mavericks who insist on going their own ways – but in that industry’s story constraints, the mavericks are always right and never forced to realise that actually, there was a reason why everyone was telling them they were going about things the wrong way…

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She Shall Have Music (1978-79)

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She Shall Have Music pg 1

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Publication: 28 October 1978 – 17 March 1979 (18 episodes)
Artist: Ron Smith
Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Synopsis

Lisa Carstairs is a talented pianist and a selfish, self-obsessed girl who cares nothing for anyone or anything except her piano. We see a glimpse of her life as a rich girl who can spend as much time as she wants just practicing her piano, waited on by maids and fawned on at school. Her father works hard at keeping his business together but to no avail: it comes to an end with a crash, when his business partner flees the country and leaves Mr Carstairs with the associated debts. Everything has to be sold to pay for it, including Lisa’s beloved piano – and her sympathy is kept all for her own losses, with none left for her parents’ difficulties.

For much of the rest of the story, all Lisa can think of is how to get access to a piano, preferably her own. She goes to the auction house and threatens to have the law on anyone who touches ‘her’ piano or dares to buy it, but of course she is onto a loser there. The family move into a little terraced house and she is sent to the local school rather than her posh private school. Her posh private school, for all their glib words about admiring her talent, want nothing to do with ‘the daughter of a bankrupt’ so there is no chance of playing their piano! There is a piano at the new school but she has already set everyone against her there by failing to listen to anyone, failing to adapt to her changed circumstances, and failing to understand that people aren’t going to fawn over her talent any more. She only barely gets to play the school piano, which she is only allowed to do once she has apologized to a teacher that she was rude to (and even then she gives one of those rubbish ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ type apologies – actually she says ‘The Head wishes me to apologise to you’ which should have been something they would have seen through but still).

Playing the school piano isn’t enough, mostly because she is not treated with the amount of adulation she still expects (without in any way having earned it of course). The assembly music she’s given to play is not what she wants to play, so she summarily sweeps it aside in favour of some technically challenging classical music – not surprisingly this approach fails to go down well. The kids are unimpressed, Lisa is angry at them for not fawning over her (er, I mean appreciating her obvious talent when she condescends to play for them), and she calls them loud-mouthed, ignorant and stupid. So it’s war between Lisa and the whole school from now on.

Well, not quite the whole school. Tracey is a girl who likes classical music and has some sympathy for Lisa. She stands up for her even when everyone else is sick of the sight of her. Including the Carstairs parents, probably: Lisa was nearly starting to be sympathetic to their difficulties when she heard them say they’d try to make it up to her by getting a replacement musical instrument. She immediately imagines a beautiful piano taking up most of the space in their shabby small terrace – but of course all they are able to buy is a tiny electric chord organ, which from Lisa’s point of view is nothing better than a toy. Not that anything excuses her reaction, which is to kick it to pieces in a tantrum!

Another try at getting access to a piano is when she finds out that her piano was sold to the Mayor, for his spoiled daughter to plink-plonk on. Rosalind, the mayor’s daughter, takes the opportunity to bully Lisa by playing on her desperation: she has Lisa steal and beg for a chance to play. It doesn’t take Lisa that long to realise that Rosalind has no intention of actually helping, but it does take a little longer before she can bring herself to swallow her longing and walk away from her old piano.

Lisa’s quest for a piano to play nearly breaks up the family when she finds that a piano showroom is advertising for a cleaner. Lisa herself is too young to take the job but she cajoles her mother into it, despite her father’s opposition – he was made redundant just previous to that point, and his pride is injured at the idea of his wife working to bring the money in. It works well for a time, and Lisa even shows some signs of empathy – when her father strides into the house announcing he is going away, she thinks it is because of her doing, and she realises she would much rather have her father around than access to a piano to play. It turns out not to be as bad as she had feared – Mr Carstairs is not leaving his wife because of the argument about her working, phew! In fact he has been offered another job, but it is far away and he will have to travel there and be located elsewhere. Mrs Carstairs is relieved to think that she can give up the cleaning job, but an also-relieved Lisa is a newly-selfish Lisa, who pressures her mother to continue with the job for the sake of her music.

It turns out to be the final straw of stress on Mrs Carstairs though – she collapses, and it is revealed she has been in pain for a long time previously without mentioning it. Lisa needs to go and stay with her one school friend, Tracey, in her busy house: and of course the ungrateful Lisa only thinks of the bad side, in particular the fact she has to do chores which she fears could damage her artistic hands. To top it all, Mr Carstairs is not able to come to be at his wife’s hospital bedside – because he has vanished! It seems he never appeared at the new job workplace at all.

Lisa’s last fling of selfishness is to refuse to go back to Tracey’s house when her mother tells her she must – she uses the housekeeping money that her mother gives her, and goes to see her godmother in London. Little does she know that said godmother has departed for a long international voyage! So there is no home for her there, and none back at Tracey’s house – because her worn-out mother has finally snapped, and told the authorities that Lisa must be looked after in a Home. So it is welfare for her…

This final, very nasty, surprise is the making of the girl – she is quiet and not boastful in her new location, and she doesn’t go all out to find a piano to play, as she had before. She spends her time helping with the younger children and mucking in, even roughening her hands or running the risk of injury if it seems like a worthwhile activity needs her help. And when finally she does play the piano again, after a long time of refusing to even try, it is only at the earnest request of a little boy she is helping to entertain – she is doing it for his sake, not her own. The reward comes at last – her parents return, both together – Mr Carstairs has been found! He had been injured and had lost his memory and his luggage, so his identity took a long time to be established. And Lisa has come to realise that the most important thing for her right now is to be together, as a family – and that is more important even than music for her.

Thoughts

Lisa Carstairs is one of the more unpleasant, selfish, hard-hearted protagonists that there is in Jinty. She’s not outright evil, as is the case with Stacey in “The Slave of Form 3B“, but because she is such a hard case it takes a long road, and a lot of knocks, to redeem her. You might think that the opening episode, where she loses her family home and all their worldly wealth, would be enough to do it, but in girls comics there is definitely further to fall. In her case, she needs to plumb the absolute depths before she can come back up again – and here that means losing her whole family, and knowing it is her own fault and no-one else’s. In other stories the sense of guilt can be an illusion built up in the protagonist’s mind – for instance in the case of Ann Ridley in “I’ll Make Up For Mary”, where it drives the whole plot – but here it is not over-done and it is effective as a wake-up call.

The passage of time in this story is done quite well. For instance, the last episode (which is 4 pages long) covers the timespan from Lisa’s arrival in the Home to her final happy moments of realization. It isn’t supposed to take place in only a day or two – the text explicitly refers to several weeks having passed. Likewise, earlier on, the passage of time is made rather more visible to the reader than in most stories. This all makes the main driver of the story – Lisa’s redemption – more realistic.

This is Ron Smith‘s second and final story done for Jinty – after around this time he was found doing the bulk of his work for 2000AD, so he is often thought of as primarily an artist for that title, and on Judge Dredd specifically. His work on that is indeed fantastic, but it means that it’s easy to overlook the fact he had a long career as a girls comics artist before then, working for DC Thomson’s Bunty and Judy in particular.

Jinty 28 October 1978

Cover 28 October 1978

Stories in this issue:

  • The Girl Who Never Was (artist Terry Aspin)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
  • No Cheers for Cherry (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Wild Rose (artist Jim Baikie) – last episode
  • She Shall Have Music (artist Ron Smith) – first episode
  • Fran’ll Fix It! (artist Jim Baikie)
  • The Human Zoo (artist Guy Peeters)

The cover image is drawn by Audrey Fawley – nice to see her in Jinty once again.

Tina is finding out how different the world she’s in, compared to the world she comes from. She loses a swimming match because magic is used to drain the pool; and in science class she is expected to learn how to turn base metal into gold! She realises that she is going to have to learn how to work some magic, pronto – but all the library books aimed at her age are far too advanced for her. She has to start learning magic from a book for 4-5 year olds…

Siblings Dorrie and Max are hiding out in an air raid shelter but have no food, and no ration books to get more. By the end of the episode, she has fainted with hunger and is lying in the snow!

“No Cheers for Cherry” is pretty depressing. She is being dreadfully exploited by her cousins and aunt; her uncle is a little better but again is basically out for what he can get – cheap labour and a talented actress in their drama troupe.

“Wild Rose” comes to an end – Rose finds out that the gypsy woman who had abandoned her all those years ago is really her mother, but to say so would be to cause unhappiness to the other baby in the switcheroo. Rose realises that her real happiness lies in going back to the family who brought her up – the circus family – and all ends well, because they have been scouring the area looking for her, too.

“She Shall Have Music” starts in this issue. It’s another redemption narrative, but of a considerably more unpleasant protagonist than Tina in “The Girl Who Never Was”. Lisa Carstairs is rich and a talented pianist – everyone in her life makes allowances for her because of those things, but she is also extremely spoilt and self-centred. In this first episode, her father loses all his money and everything is to be sold. Her reaction? “You’ve wrecked everything! Well, I’ll get my piano back somehow… and meanwhile I’ll make you pay for this day of misery!”

Shona is free from the alien circus ill-treatment, but has to find humans who she can live with. Even out here in the wilderness, they are hunted down by the Silent Death, as these humans call the telepathic aliens.

The Girl Who Never Was (1978 – 1979)

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From Jinty 13 Jan 1979

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
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From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
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Publication: 7 October 1978 – 17 February 1979 (17 episodes)
Artist: Terry Aspin
Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Translated into Dutch as ‘De verbanning van Irma IJsinga’ [Irma IJsinga’s Banishment] (in: Tina 1981).

Synopsis

Tina Williams is ever so good at what she does – school sports and academic achievements both – but she is a big-headed arrogant girl who none of her peers like, apart from one pair who toady up to her all the time. More tellingly, her parents seem to have lost control of her long ago too, and she neither respects them nor is even polite to them. She sounds a pain to be around – in the first episode her school goes on a theatre outing to see Salina the Sorceress, and Tina spoils all the magic tricks by explaining them. But she can’t explain away the Disappearing Gateway that Salina asks her to enter, warning that “you may not return… not to this world, anyway.” The bright light of the gateway, once dimmed, shows that she is in a suddenly-empty, indeed abandoned, theatre, and once she has managed to walk home, she finds that her parents don’t even recognize her. A spooky start!

She quickly finds that she is in a parallel world in which she was never born, which is enough of a shock – her parents call her Gina by mistake, and she has to sleep in the spare room (which should by rights be her own bedroom, full of trophies and clothes and things). Her parents are at least willing to take her in, but that’s only once she mentions the name ‘Salina’. It turns out that there are more shocks in store – Salina is Professor of Advanced Sorcery and an accomplished magic worker – which is proved to Tina as she disappears in front of their very eyes! Not before showing Tina a few home truths about how unpleasant, ‘conceited and self-centred’ she is, and making it quite clear that if she’s not prepared to recognize that, then she can jolly well stay here in this world. And of course at this point, Tina doesn’t recognize it – her reaction is to deny it with “I can’t help it if everyone is more stupid than me!”

For someone so clever, Tina is a bit slow on the uptake as to the implications of this new world she has been landed in – I think she is understandably a bit afraid of what she might find and perhaps not trying to think it through. She tells herself rather optimistically that perhaps only Salina has strange magic powers (but if so, how would the university have a department of sorcery?) and tries to behave in her usual way (throwing her weight around with her parents). When she gets to school, she very much wants it to be business as usual  with her beating the pants off fellow schoolgirl Lindy; but all the other schoolgirls wonder why she hasn’t bothered using magic in their swimming contest, if she’s meant to be so good at swimming. Tina quickly finds out that as magic a part of everyday life on this world, to be a success you therefore need to be able to do magic well! Simply swimming well doesn’t mean anything, if you can’t also counter a spell to drain the pool too. Not that she takes this change of the rules of life graciously, of course.

Rival Lindy is consistently nice to Tina, trying to show her around and console her when she is visibly upset at losing. But she can’t shield Tina from other surprises, such as finding out that the science class is covering alchemy today! Tina thinks she’s clever by making an excuse to be let off – saying she hit her head when Lindy drained the pool too quickly – and skips to the local library to start boning up on magic now that she recognizes she will never be a success without mastering it. Humiliatingly, the only ‘teach yourself’ book that she stands any chance of understanding is targeted at four to five year olds, but at least she is able to master the simple spell of moving an object by magic. When she uses it in her hockey game she still finds further surprises  – it works quite well the first time, but the second time she tries it she is sent off, because you’re only allowed to use one spell per girl per game. She moans to herself “How can I know all the rules when I don’t belong to this world?” but she hasn’t really tried to find them out, say by confiding in the rather nice Lindy.

Instead, she consistently tries to land Lindy in the soup – but this world has an underlying fairness in much of the way it works. One of her attempts to land Lindy in trouble means that they are both subjected to a trial by magic – whereby both the girls jump into the pool with weights on! “If you sink, you’re innocent… if you float, you’re guilty!” Tina is relieved to think that of course she will sink, with the heavy weight that she’s attached to – but the trial by magic is cleverer than that, and she is revealed to be a liar in front of the whole school.

Presumably to save her from continual humiliation, the story now takes a slight twist. Tina demands to see Salina so that she can be sent back to her own world, but she is still away on a trip. Instead, Salina’s younger twin sisters give her an unexpected gift – 9 spells that she can cast whenever she wants, to do pretty much whatever she needs. But – she can’t use any one of them more than once, and she won’t know in advance what exactly the spell will do, except that it will be appropriate to the occasion… The first one, cast before she even knew the detail of what had happened, was when Tina cast a flying spell onto a car that was about to crash into Lindy – and it worked very well, even making Tina into a local heroine at school. But of course some of the other schoolgirls want her to cast the same flying spell on them, and they jump from a high window as a result! Tina’s next spell is more amusing than astounding – they have a bouncing spell put on them, which the girls in question aren’t best pleased by, but the rest of the class thinks was rather funny.

We can see that the pattern of the next few episodes will be shaped by the remaining 7 spells, and how Tina can best use them – or avoid wasting them. The two girls who had the bouncing spell cast on them are still pretty cross about it, and they cast a dancing-feet spell on Tina as she is on her way home that night – as a result she can’t stop dancing, and by the time the spell wears off she is miles from home and very tired. She doesn’t want to use up one of her precious spells to counter it, so she only gets home very late indeed. Her parallel earth parents have been worried sick, but Tina can’t be bothered to explain. Her cavalier attitude gets her grounded – her parents tell her to stay in the next day, regardless of her other commitments (which in this case is her decision to enter yet another swimming contest against Lindy). And they back it up with a spell, that makes it impossible to leave the house. Of course faced with this, she does use up one of her spells – but again it works in a way she hadn’t expected – this time by making the whole house disappear!

The swimming contest goes her way, but the next round will be tougher (for one thing, spells will be allowed in the next round). Tina is happy to have got through but as a result, slips back into the old self she has started to cast off at earlier points – she boasts and sounds conceited, and the other girls give her the cold shoulder as a result. Apart from the rather saintly Lindy, who tries to get through to her, and manages enough of a breakthrough that Tina does start to think that maybe having friends would be nicer than being the top girl with no friends. In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, she hurries home to try to get back before her parents return – only to find that they’re back already, and stunned to find their house vanished and the nosy neighbour ready to accuse Tina of the evil spell that must have done it!

The police are ready to haul her off to the station for interviewing, when the house suddenly re-appears, and news comes in that it wasn’t her, after all – it was Salina who did it, and so she could be set free. Very puzzling to Tina, of course, who knows jolly well that she did do it! But it gives her a new hope, because if Salina has returned, then she can ask her to send her back to her own world. Full of this optimism, Tina spends a couple of her spells to actually make other people happy – a spell to make her parents’ garden flourish as it never had done before, and one for her school peers, to cheer them up. And it’s a lovely treat for Tina, too, who is enjoying making other people happy – not only because it’s gratifying in itself, but because she is discovering that it can yield unexpected ways for her to enjoy herself too. She’d never have known about magic skateboarding otherwise!

Sadly for Tina, she is soon down to earth with a bump again. Salina wasn’t back yet, after all – it was the twins who had sent the message about Salina. Tina is furious, but the twins show her in their crystal ball how happy the spells she cast (once she thought she was going) made others. But Tina is not a redeemed person yet – she pinches the crystal ball when it is left unguarded. She doesn’t like what she sees when she tries it next – her losing to Lindy – and in a temper, she sweeps the ball onto the floor, where it cracks into pieces. It turns out that in this world, breaking a crystal ball is much worse than breaking a mirror – something awful is guaranteed to happen to the one who broke it. In Tina’s case, she loses the swimming race and in a rage, uses a black magic spell against Lindy (though the twins try to stop her, saying it is the curse of the ball that is making her do it). Lindy is turned into a toad, in front of everyone! And though Tina turns her back again right away, this sort of black magic is totally beyond the pale, and everyone turns against her – including her parents and school friends. And she only has two spells left now…

The twins spirit her away, but the only real solution is for Tina to reach Salina, who is on a retreat at the top of a tall mountain. The only catch is that Salina has put a spell on the mountain – “anyone thinking mean or nasty thoughts will be stopped from getting to the top.” That means that Tina must control herself much more than she has been able to do in the past! First she is dumped back down to the bottom, where they all started; then she must face a dragon and a giant. Luckily for her, she has a counteracting nice thought “Oh, if only I’d listened to the twins! They’ve been so good to me. I wish I could take back everything nasty that I thought!” And that does the trick – the last spell kicks in and wipes out the giant and the dragon, and she finally gets to see Salina. Or does she? All she can see is the twins – but it turns out that they were Salina, all along! She knew Tina needed someone to keep an eye out for her. The mountain was just a last test, to see if she was ready to return to her own world. Salina sends her back, with one spell still to spare.

In her own world, it turns out that she has been in a coma for two months, and everyone had nearly given up hope that she would recover. Salina had been coming in to see her every day, consumed with guilt over the accident that put her in a coma when the magic act made her hit her head. But where are her parents and friends, why aren’t they coming to see her? Tina can only think it is because she has been so nasty in the past, they don’t care about her. And even the reformed Tina can perhaps be forgiven for lashing out a little, upset that no one has come to visit her apart from Salina, and her parents very briefly. But Salina has come to pick her up on her discharge, and in her neat roadster, Tina finds herself telling the whole story. Including the bit about the left-over spell, which Salina urges her to try out – and so Tina does, asking for a spell that would make people like her. Behold – the door to her house opens onto a welcome-back party, done as a surprise by her parents and schoolfriends, who kept it a secret until she got back home. Tina, the reformed character, vows she won’t need spells to make herself liked in the future!

Thoughts

This is a favourite story of mine, though not quite making it into my top ten. The parallel universe where magic works is a great draw and a very fun read. We enjoy seeing Tina’s discomfiture with things not going as she expected! It was clearly pretty successful: it is the lead story throughout its run (though it only makes it onto the cover once), and was translated into Dutch.

Of course it needs to have a bigger aim or structure, and in this case it’s a redemption story: Tina is a pretty unpleasant girl, who is redeemed through her tribulations. Her unpleasantness is shown to be simply selfishness and big-headedness rather than anything outright villainous, so it does not stretch credulity too much to have her end the story as a rather nicer girl than she was at the start of it (whereas the black-hearted Stacey in “Slave of Form 3B” would be much less believable as a reformed character). This is just as well, as the story rushes a little quickly towards her change of heart at the end, despite it being a relatively long story at 17 episodes.

It makes quite an interesting comparison with two other stories from around the same time: 1977-78’s story “Land of No Tears” is also a redemption narrative of sorts, as is “She Shall Have Music” (which actually ran in many of the same issues as “The Girl Who Never Was”). LONT has a different feel and different ending – once Cassie Shaw lands in the world of the future she is out to beat her hated rival and (eventually) to defeat the whole premise of the unfair society that she is placed in. The fact that she improves in character is incidental, in a way, though the Cassie at the end of the story certainy is a great improvement on the one that starts the story.

Tina’s story is all about her redemption: the world she is placed in is also unfair in many ways (there would be no appeal from the punishment she was due to get for turning Lindy into a toad) but the thrust of the story isn’t about the greater good, it’s all about Tina learning to appreciate her own mistakes and becoming less self-centred. In this story, Salina (or the twins, whichever way you want to see it) is clearly guiding and testing her, rather like a fairy godmother. When the twins leave Tina alone with the crystal ball, they are obviously tempting her (and she fails); later on when she has to climb the magic mountain then again she is being tested, very explicitly so, and this time she passes.

In SSHM, Lisa Carstairs also has to learn to be less self-centred and conceited, but she has no kindly fairy-godmother equivalent. The trials she goes through are considerably harsher, and with nothing that lets her out easily. It’s a much harder read; Lisa herself is considerably more unpleasant than Tina too. I think the harshness of the story with its realistic tribulations (poverty and deprivation, tiredness, hunger, relationship difficulties caused by changed circumstances), ties into the unpleasantness of the main character: Lisa is so horrible throughout much of the story that she needs that realism of ‘no easy get-out’, otherwise the final redemption wouldn’t work. Will Tina’s change of heart last once she is back in her own world, without a magical companion looking over her shoulder? I am not so sure that it will, whereas Lisa’s and Cassie’s new leaf will stay turned over, I think.

 

Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979)

Sample Images

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Jinty: 6 October 1979-22 December 1979

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Alison Christie

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #14 as “The Black Sheep”

Plot

Bev Barton looks on herself as the black sheep in her sheep farming family, both in appearance (the only one with black hair in a blond family) and in character. She is a rebel without a cause who chafes under her parents’ rules and regulations and is bored stiff with the sheep farm. But Bev has a big problem – she is selfish and can’t see beyond herself. She tends to get jealous of her sister Ruth, who seems to be more in favour with the parents. Bev does not understand that the parents trust Ruth because she earns it with obedience, hard work and consideration, while Bev does nothing of the kind.

Bev applies for and wins a scholarship in Elmsford Academy as she thinks boarding school will give her freedom from her parents and the farm and to do her own thing. But of course she soon finds that Elmsford has its own rules and regulations. It is not long before Bev’s rebelliousness gets her into trouble with the headmistress.

Then Bev discovers the judo club at Elmsford and finds she has a real passion and talent for the sport. She finally has something to work for. The trouble is, she gets so obsessed with judo that she neglects her schoolwork, exams, and breaks more rules and orders in order to get to her judo club. The only thing that stands between Bev and expulsion is that she used her judo to foil a burglar who was stealing school trophies. But eventually Bev defies the headmistress once too often and gets expelled. As a result, the parents thoroughly disapprove of Bev’s judo.

Being expelled has cut Bev off from the judo club and there is none in the village. She flouts her parents’ orders again in order to get to the judo club – only to find it has closed down. Worse, Dad catches her in the act of defying him and she’s in trouble again. Back home, Bev’s jealousy of her sister Ruth, whom she perceives as the parents’ favourite worsens, which heightens the bad situation with her parents. Bev does not appreciate how patient Ruth is with her – or realise that Ruth is ill with angina and needs extra care.

Things look up when Ted Nelson, Bev’s judo instructor, takes a job at her school as the new PE teacher. They start a judo club at the school. Dad won’t let Bev join after her expulsion, but Ruth talks him around. Bev soon earns her yellow belt, but is neglecting her schoolwork again. Ruth is staying up late doing Bev’s homework – which is not good for her state of health – and the parents are angry at Bev again. But Bev takes this as more favouritism and her response is to “disappear” for a bit to teach them a lesson. But this backfires dreadfully – Ruth sneaks off to look for Bev and this is extremely dangerous for her because she is so sick. When Bev finds out, she finally wakes up to how selfish she has been. She takes off to look for Ruth – against Dad’s orders, who is too angry to let her help search – and succeeds.

Following this, Bev makes a serious effort to become more considerate and helpful to her family. Mum is impressed, but Dad just says that Bev’s head is still full of that “confounded judo”. Hearing this, Bev decides that there is only one way to convince Dad of her good faith – give up judo – and tells Dad what she is doing. She rushes off in tears to give away her judo gear. But en route she encounters Alf Sutton. Dad has suspected Sutton of stealing his sheep and now Bev catches him red-handed. She uses her judo to bring him down. This now convinces Dad that judo is not a bad thing and he admits to Bev that he was just too proud to acknowlege her change for the better.

Bev is now getting along so much better with her parents. And to show it, Dad converts his barn into a judo club so the club can continue after the school gym burns down. Bev is still proud of being a black sheep but is now a more mature, thoughtful and happier girl.

Thoughts

This came hard on the heels of Guy Peeters’ previous story, “Pandora’s Box”, which was also about a selfish girl who learned to open her heart. Perhaps it was the same writer. But while Pandora’s Box had supernatural elements, Black Sheep is grounded firmly in realism. There is so much in the character of Bev Barton that we see in everyday life – rebel without a cause, inability to handle authority, generation gap, and problem children who have nowhere to vent their energy so they transmute it into difficult behaviour that exasperates their parents.

The problem with Bev is that she can’t see that she is the architect of her own misfortunes with her selfish, self-centred behaviour. She does not understand that her problems with her parents stem from her being selfish, disobedient, rebellious, doing nothing to earn their trust, and having no consideration for others. And her attitude not only gets her expelled but endangers Ruth several times – such as practising judo with her while not thinking that Ruth is untrained – but Bev does not stop to think. And the types of boyfriends she has – rough bikers – do not help matters.

Bev is not a totally bad character. For example, she stands up to a bully at school who blackmails other girls. There is also a dash of feminism when Bev has to demand to join the judo club as it is boys only. She’s full of spunk and balls, which would have appealed to readers. Bev is not your typical victim heroine who would take emotional and physical abuse lying down, and is no Cinderella.

It is obvious that the judo is the key to Bev’s salvation. After all, it has finally given our rebel without a cause something to channel her energy into. If only she would wake up to how selfish she is, she be a true heroine. But we know she will eventually. That’s the whole point of the story after all.

We have to enjoy this story for the judo itself. It came out at a time when martial arts were popular in Britain, which must have provided inspiration and popularity. And judo makes a change from stories about hockey, tennis or swimming, so readers must have enjoyed the story for this alone. Martial arts did not appear much in girls’ comics, which makes this story even more of a standout.

Land of No Tears (1977-78)

Sample images

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

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

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themes and further comment

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

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

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

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