It is now December, and Jinty is starting off the countdown to the festive season with a feature on how to make your own Christmas cards. Sadly, the rest of her Christmas countdown got cut off by a strike, causing her to miss three issues that December. In the New Year, Jinty belatedly printed the episode of Fran’s Christmas party, which must have been intended for the Christmas issue. Strangely, Tammy was not affected and had all her issues that month. Perhaps the IPC strikes did not affect their titles all the same way.
As we see on the cover, things are getting stormy in “Sea Sister”, and she’s not the only serial with it this week. Storms and floods are turning the tide in both “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Human Zoo” and helping our heroes to escape their respective confinements. In the former, it’s a cruel children’s home. In the latter, it’s an alien lab, which is also demonstrating that the aliens, so advanced compared to Earth, are light-years behind Earth when it comes to a flood crisis. Their technology is not made for water except in avoiding it. There’s no water drainage, no boating vessels, no flood control, no rain gear or umbrellas. They can’t even swim although they have seen it from humans. All because they are afraid of water, presumably because of their evolution.
The Girl Who Never Was is given some magic spells to help her survive in the magic world, but there are drawbacks. The biggest one is a limit on the number of spells, so Tina has to really use her head in how she uses them – or avoid wasting them. Will it help the selfish Tina acquire the good sense she badly needs?
In “She Shall Have Music”, good sense is still very far from Lisa’s thinking. Her parents have given her an electronic piano so at least she has something for piano practice, but the arrogant Lisa considers it way beneath her and angrily kicks it to pieces like the spoiled brat she is. Her parents are deeply hurt, but all she can think about is piano, piano, piano. Then she tracks down her original piano, which is going up for auction. Knowing how obsessive she is about getting that piano back, this can only mean more trouble.
Sue and her fun-bag are annoyed at how Aunt Thora goes on and on at how you should spread a little happiness wherever you go and keep a smile on your face at all times…with Henrietta around, that is asking for it!
In Alley Cat, Spotty Muchloot thinks he’s foiled Alley Cat at last when he bells the cat, but it backfires on him because of unforeseen consequences.
Fran plays Dick Turpin and “ghost” to keep a horse safe from crooks, but they track her and the horse down all the same. Better come up with something fast to fix them, Fran!
Cherry’s luck finally seems to have changed, with a big chance that could finally break her free of the relatives that she doesn’t even realise are exploiting her. But we’re not counting our chickens with her still in the clutches of those sneaky relatives.
Fran sure deserves the cover spot this week because of her latest potty antic – landing a horse she’s trying to protect in the school swimming pool! She’s really excelled herself this time.
Spotty Muchloot pulls another trick on Alley Cat, this time to keep him tracked and stop him pinching his food. But of course Alley Cat’s fast to detect it and turn the tables on Spotty.
Tina (The Girl Who Never Was) and Lisa (She Shall Have Music) continue to make their difficult situations even more difficult for themselves because of their selfish attitudes, because of which they can’t see beyond themselves or realise there could be different ways to handle their situations. At the end of it, it looks like Lisa’s in trouble in front of the whole school, but there’s a strange development for Tina.
This week, our space aliens in “The Human Zoo” demonstrate that in some ways, they are not as advanced as we first thought, and Earth has the upper hand over them in some areas. Shona and her friend Laika glimpse the aliens’ farming methods – which is done by hand ploughs and tools, and captured humans as (cruelly treated) beasts of burden – while Earth, far less advanced, has long since gone over to mechanised farming in developed nations. These aliens have the flying saucer, food replicator robots, a time machine and the flying skateboard, but they don’t have the frikkin’ tractor?! The logic to it is that farming machines would need repair and maintenance, whereas slave humans can be quickly replaced. Oh? For how much longer? The aliens are driving native humans to extinction, and it is getting too expensive to take ones from Earth. Considering how efficient and cost-effective Earth’s mechanised agriculture is by comparison, these aliens would do well to take a leaf or two out of our book. Well, on to the alien city, where things take a surprising but weird twist in Shona’s search for her lost sister Jenny.
A police cell? That’s the latest shelter for our runaway orphans in search of the home “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, as the police haven’t anywhere else to put them. Don’t worry, the door’s not locked. The police have to do their duty and send them back where they started, but our orphans are working – well, singing – their way to the policemen’s hearts.
Cherry gets an audition, but whether by accident or design, her mercenary relatives have dolled her up to such ridiculous levels that Cherry’s not on form for it. Can she recover and turn things around, or will there be no cheers for her again?
“Sea Sister” finds the stone she came for. The trouble is, it’s been set into a wall to fix a hole. And she’s growing attached to her new friend, Jane Bush, but she can only stay until she retrieves the stone. Things are definitely getting problematic.
As the cover and letter page state, Jinty has returned after a 3-week absence due to one of those strike actions that always bedevilled IPC. The strikes contributed to the downfall of several IPC titles, including Tammy in 1984.
Magic is still causing problems for “The Girl Who Never Was”, not least of which is because she has a limited number of them to use. This problem leads to her getting grounded – magically – and she has a vital swimming contest to go to.
Sue should really watch her words when she asks for something from Henrietta. She has a job in a sweet job but asks Henrietta for a spell to prevent her from touching them so she is not tempted to eat them while selling them. But as Sue soon discovers, the word is “touch”.
The boot camp children’s home gets flooded while Dorothy and Max are shut up alone in the place. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise because it enables them to float away to freedom on an airbed, and the flooding will be a richly deserved comeuppance for that horrible drill sergeant matron upon her return. It might even be the end of the institution, thank goodness. But fresh trouble just has to be around the corner. Dorothy hurts her ankle, so their journey to rainbow’s end is put on hold while she rests it – in the wreckage of a German fighter.
Flooding is also putting an end to the slavery the aliens have put the humans under. And it’s all because the aliens are so terrified of water that they have never developed the skills to handle it. They can’t swim, and they have no water drainage systems, no watercraft, and no methods for coping with flooding – all of which humans have developed because they clearly evolved differently from the aliens. So the humans are free – for the moment.
In “Fran’ll Fix It!”, Fran is trying her hand at being a drill sergeant with the army of schoolgirls she has raised to protect a racehorse. However, the school gardener soon shows Fran how army drill should be done; he used to be a sergeant major.
Cherry finally gets her big break in stardom with her uncle, which gives her a break from the slaving her relatives have her do without her even realising. Later, Cherry sees another opportunity for an even bigger break. But cousin Michelle’s jealous and she wants a piece of the action.
Helen calls for a storm to bring down the cottage so the Ullapond stone can be returned home. But it fails to do so, and her secret is in danger too. If she is found out, she can never return home.
Lisa still can’t forget her piano. She finds it at an auction and gets thrown out when she conducts her usual naff behaviour to get it back. When Lisa discovers its new owner – the Mayor’s spoiled daughter – she resorts to breaking and entering to play it. Then the window slams shut on her precious hands. Will they become so damaged she can no longer play any piano?
This week’s episode of The Human Zoo was deleted from the Tammy & Jinty reprint except for the last panel. What got lost in the reprint? Shona and Likuda meet up with Tamsha’s new action group and the evidence they have collected of their people’s cruelty to animals, including humans. They remove Shona’s obedience collar (which looks like it has disappeared without explanation in the reprint because it has not got this bit), and Tamsha and her action group help Shona and Likuda reach the laboratory to find Likuda’s father and Shona’s lost sister.
Meanwhile, in the magic world, Tina’s still having problems getting to grips with magic. A further handicap is that she can only do one type of spell once. And her alt-parents have now received a letter from school that she isn’t doing too well magic wise. It must be a real affront for a girl who’s used to being top girl to get a letter about, in effect, poor schoolwork.
Henrietta is not keen on window-shopping. Her spells to get out of it end up with the surprise result of Sue getting extra pocket money, which she uses to take Henrietta on some real shopping.
The saga of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” continues. One of these days we will get onto this story, which is second only to “Merry at Misery House” for longevity. In this week’s episode our runaways end up at a children’s home that is definitely not the end of the rainbow. Wicked Witch of the West more like. The matron is a harsh ex-army officer who runs the place like a drill camp and makes poor Max run laps while carrying a heavy pack on his back. She doesn’t listen to Dorothy’s protests that Max is still weak from pneumonia. Now he’s on the verge of collapse.
Cherry’s audition is a disaster and even her uncle, who has been taking advantage of her without her realising, is disappointed for her. Then Cherry bumps into some old friends from home. Will they help free her from her sneaky relatives?
Things are looking up for Lisa’s father because his new job’s doing well. But not for Lisa, whose difficult attitude has made things so difficult for her at school that she is being bullied.
“Sea Sister” finds the lost stone from Ullapond, but can’t shift it because it is cemented into the Bush house. And Jane is finding there are odd things about this visitor of hers – such as her objecting strongly to Jane eating fish and collecting shells from the very depths of the ocean.
Fran is now in charge of minding a racehorse (his owner is the nephew of the headmistress). Among other things, she has to exercise him. And she’s dressed up like Dick Turpin in order to do it because she can’t find anything else! Didn’t this nephew have the sense to provide her with riding gear? No, from what we’ve seen of him, he doesn’t seem to have much sense.
She Shall Have Music (artist Ron Smith) – last episode
The Four-Footed Friends (artist Peter Wilkes) – first episode
I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters)
Spice Up Your Ideas! (cooking feature)
Alice visits Chana in her wee slave cell, to find out how on earth she can pass the test that will prove she is the Sun Goddess so that she can save Chana’s life. The clues she gets are all very well, but the test requires true bravery as well. Will Alice be able to climb to the top of the wall of the maze, so that she can see the temple she has to get to?
“Sea-Sister” ends this issue. Helen is put on trial by the great Sea-Judge for the crime of telling her friend Jane about the existence of the drowned village of Ullapond. Jane has to plead for Helen and give up something very dear to her heart in order to prove how much it means to her that her friend should not be banished; the plea works and Jane is even rewarded for her tenacity, though her memory is wiped of all that has happened.
Susie Cathcart is still the prisoner of her grandmother, who wields a hypnotic power over her via the tinkling of a handbell. Susie’s dreams of a career in gymnastics have been ruined by her grandmother’s interference, and her nerves are shot. The high-flown gym course that Susie would previously have killed to go on, now feels like a scary ordeal. Will her friend Lorraine manage to pull her out of it? Not if the gran can help it, of course…
It’s not that often that you get a single-page advert for an upcoming story in the same comic. Here is one for “The Forbidden Garden“, which of course proved very popular and successful. The editors must have been very excited for it – regular gag strip Alley Cat did not appear in this issue so presumably was dropped in favour of this teaser for the following week. “Daughter of Dreams”, which also starts the same week, is briefly mentioned, but it comes across as rather an afterthought.
“Children of Edenford” shows Patti and Jilly eating a superb lunch in the posh refectory at Edenford school – but there are sinister signs that very soon both of the girls may be turned into perfect schoolgirls, just like their classmates. Certainly that’s what Miss Goodfellow, the headmistress, promises: “You shall be one of us soon! Very soon!”
“She Shall Have Music” comes to a heart-wrenching end in this issue, with a four-page episode in which Lisa’s redemption becomes complete. “The Four-Footed Friends” starts – another Peter Wilkes story to fill the gap left by “Sea-Sister”. Laura is rather a “poor little rich girl” whose mother wraps her in cotton wool – she doesn’t know why, but the cheeky little pekinese who they are about to buy ends up giving all the answers.
Ann Ridley’s schoolmates are giving her the cold shoulder because they think she ratted on them to the teachers. She will continue to be misunderstood and unhappy for the rest of “I’ll Make Up for Mary”, of course.
The back page ‘crafts’ feature is food-based this week: it suggests using your spice cupboard to create some tasty treats such as Gingered Pears, Cinnamon Toast, Curried Butter, and Spiced Chocolate.
I’ll Make Up for Mary (artist Guy Peeters, writer Alison Christie)
“Alice in a Strange Land: is the lead story at this point – Alice and her cousin Karen are told by the mysterious High Priestess that there is a prophecy that a “white-skinned goddess” will lead the tribe back to greatness. Will that goddess be Karen or Alice – and what test will decide between them?
Sea-Sister Helen and her friend Jane are stuck in the ocean – Helen was trying to return to the underwater village that she comes from, but with Jane also on board her sea-shell boat it was not able to return properly. An oil tanker that is stuck on the rocks threatens the two girls, and also a number of friendly birds – Helen tries to save them all but in then end a giant wave sweeps the two of them overboard and under the sea. That’s fine for Helen, who is finally home again – but what of Jane, who has ended up visiting the underwater kingdom without permission?
In “Prisoner of the Bell”, Susie Cathcart is afraid she’s lost her nerve and can’t face doing gymnastics any more. Loyal friend Lorraine thinks of a way to help her get back into the swing of it and even lends her twenty pounds for it – a residential course at a gym school. But the meddling gran finds the money and instructs Susie to “destroy that friendship forever!” The hypnotized Susie can only reply “Whatever your orders, Grandma, I will obey!”
We normally haven’t touched on the features and extraneous items in the pages of the comic. I include the page with the horoscope (and who better to present it than Gypsy Rose, of course – here drawn by Phil Townsend) and a crossword. The clues on the crossword seem surprisingly hard for the intended age range of 8-12, I’d think: but have a look at the tiny upside-down answers, if you can, and see what you think. You will need to click through, of course.
This is just the second episode of “Children of Edenford”. Patti has arrived at the clean and beautiful village of Edenford, but she knows that something’s not right about it. Well, the runaway terrified girl being pursued by grim blank-eyed schoolgirls, and the headmistress whose motto is “Others strive for perfection – we achieve it!” is a bit of a give-away, maybe.
Lisa Carstairs is still a snooty snob in “She Shall Have Music”. Her mother is ill and unable to cope: Lisa is told to stay on with her friend Tracey but instead runs off to stay with her London godmother. Will it work out? Not likely…
There is a two-page text article about a trapeze artist act, the Caravettas: three sisters and a brother. Very exciting!
Fran is playing at being the Fire Officer, which is great fun, so long as she doesn’t screw it up badly enough that she gets into the Headmistress’s bad books, cos that would mean that big bully Martha Stump would have a chance to get her own back.
Shy Ann has changed her hairstyle and other looks to match her dead twin’s – and the other girls on the school bus are understandably rather freaked out when they first see it. Being back at school after the traumatic holiday where her sister was drowned is difficult in many ways, however hard Ann tries.
Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
No Cheers for Cherry (artist Phil Gascoine)
Jinty’s “Fireside Book”
She Shall Have Music (artist Ron Smith)
Sea-Sister (artist Peter Wilkes)
Fran’ll Fix It! (artist Jim Baikie)
The Human Zoo (artist Guy Peeters)
The exciting special issue mentioned on the topline and cover image is alerting readers to the Fireside Book four-page pullout. I generally read these pullouts while leaving them in the comic itself: did other readers pull them out? They mostly felt like just a part of the comic to me.
In “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” Dorrie and Max have been staying with an army pal of their father’s. He has sorted out a lift up north for them, with a lorry-driving friend of his – luckily for the lorry driver, really, because an accident happens on their journey and the lorry plunges into icy water! Dorrie pushes Max out of the window and urges him to go for help, while she stays in the cab to hold Fred’s head above the water. Will Max return in time?
Cherry Campbell is slaving in a hotel kitchen while feeling quite ill with a bad cold: but it all seems worth it when she sees recording star Eena Blair coming to the hotel for a meal. It is so exciting it makes her break into a song-and-dance routine, which leads to disaster and a sacking for Cherry! She is undeterred and does more singing and dancing next to her uncle and aunt’s barge – upon which she bumps into Eena Blair once more. It might be a lucky break for her…
Lisa Carstairs is still being obsessive in her pursuit of a piano for her to play. Maybe her old school will remember her talent and let her in? Not likely – “It would lower to the tone of the place, having a bankrupt‘s daughter here!”
New story “Sea-Sister” starts. Jane Bush has been travelling the world with her parents, who are artists, but now they have a settled home, finally. Unfortunately for them, the father uses a block of stone from a sunken village to mend a hole in the wall – and a girl rises from the deep to come and get it back! That girl is Helen, who has to get the stone from the wall before she can return to her ocean home – by whatever method, even if it means destroying the house that Jane has only just moved into.
Fran is stuck with looking after a race horse to save it from being nobbled by a couple of crooks – partly roped into it because owner of the horse is the darling nephew of Fran’s headmistress.
Finally in “The Human Zoo”, the Outlanders (humans living on the alien planet) have been led to a hidden paradise by a vision that Shona experienced. She sees some more visions, of her sister in a laboratory in the alien city. One of the other people in that laboratory is the father of Likuda, the Outlander who has befriended Shona. Dare they go in search of their captive loved ones?
This is a review (of sorts) of Steve MacManus’s autobiography “The Mighty One”, in which he covers his time working at Fleetway / IPC between 1973 and 1991. It’s not your usual review though, as it is also intended as a way to highlight some material mentioned in the book that either gives us new information on how the comics publishing of the time actually worked, or re-confirms information we already knew (but which it’s always good to have from more than one source.) (Some write-ups that are more ‘review’-y can be found here: GNFAR, Colin Noble at Down The Tubes, Lew Stringer.)
MacManus started work at Fleetway Publications in 1973, as a sub-editor on Valiant, which was part of the Juvenile Group of comics and magazines aimed at young people. He was part of a team of four people: an editor and a sub-editor, an art editor and an art assistant (often referred to as a bodger). He subsequently worked on Battle Picture Weekly, and although he wasn’t part of the core team working on Action he got involved in some elements of that title too. Starlord was his next step and when that merged with 2000AD he went to that title, eventually becoming Editor in 1979. In 1986 he moved sideways and relinquished the editorship to stay involved with the Judge Dredd universe, with the creation of titles for a more mature audience – Crisis (in 1988), the short-lived but beautiful Revolver, and the much longer-lasting Judge Dredd the Megazine. The book ends in 1991 with the collapse of the Maxwell Communication Corporation (which had bought IPC’s remaining comics line in 1987) and the subsequent sale of the titles to Gutenbergus (later Egmont), though the last chapter of the book, effectively an epilogue, races through the aftermath of the subsequent years through to 2011.
During this book he talks about working with key staff contacts such as art editor Doug Church, editor Dave Hunt, art editor Jan Shepheard; and with well-known freelancers like Pat Mills, Alan Grant, John Wagner, Tom Tully. The names we are familiar with from girls comics publishing – Mavis Miller, Wilf Prigmore, Terence Magee – mostly don’t get a look-in but there are certainly some folks mentioned who crossed over that significant divide as we will see – Gerry Finley-Day, Jim Baikie, and of course Pat Mills again (who seems to get everywhere). If you want to read anecdotes of those days, or find out how a boys’ comic of the time was conceived, written, drawn, put together, printed, and marketed then you couldn’t ask for a better book than this, and a fun read to boot. I’m sure it will get people digging out their old issues of the comics mentioned, or looking out for reprints of stories they missed (it’s certainly had that effect on me!).
My interest in getting the book in the first place, however, was to see what light it might shed on the creation and publishing of Fleetway / IPC’s girls comics. It did not disappoint. As mentioned above, some of the information in the book is material that we already know or had a good idea was the case, but it’s good to have it corroborated in a printed source that can be referenced in the future. Some of the information, however, is stuff I’d never dreamed of, and which has got me thinking of new things to look at and analyse in Jinty and other comics.
What did we already know that is corroborated here?
There are some basic facts that are repeated here about things like the target age of the readership (8-12 years), and the sales figures of the time (around 80,000 copies per week normally, with 2000AD achieving noticeably strong sales of 100,000 copies per week, but still being out-sold by Tammy which was selling 200,000 copies a week).
The expectation was that any given child would be reading the comic for a maximum of four years before going on to other things (it states in the book that a boy might give up his weekly comic in order to save up for something bigger and more grown up). So the rule of thumb, as we’ve heard before from Mistyfan, was that stories from a specific title could be reprinted in that title after some 5 years had passed.
The normal format of a comic was 32 pages, which included 3 pages of editorial material or features (intro page, letters page, back cover) and the front cover – so 28 pages of comics, normally divided up into 8 stories of three or four pages each. The book doesn’t say specifically, but presumably as with Jinty there would normally be a couple of single-page strips to make up the 28 pages of comics.
It was pretty clear beforehand that comics at the time were fairly blokey. Of course MacManus was talking about working on boys comics, but almost all the names he mentions were of men, apart from Jan Shepheard. The office staff, the colleagues he socialised with, the management – just about everyone he mentions was male. The magazine publishing side was more mixed, with columnists such as Julie Burchill coming in for a mention alongside female editorial staff on titles.
There were some points mentioned that weren’t totally new to me, or to other readers of this blog, but which have had new light shed on them:
The Juvenile Group had separate departments for boys’ comics, girls’ comics, nursery comics, and humour comics. It’s clear from this book that these departments were a lot more separate from each other in terms of culture and networking than we might have imagined. The girls comics and the boys comics were very much separated from each other – they were located on separate floors, for instance – and there is little evidence in MacManus’ book of much fraternization between the two. (Gerry Finley-Day was one of the exceptions – he was the deputy managing editor of the girls’ comics line at the same time as he was writing stories for the initial line up of Battle.) So much so that when talking about Jim Baikie coming aboard to 2000AD wagon (for “Skizz” in 1982), MacManus was seemingly totally unaware of Baikie’s background in drawing girls comics, knowing him only as a Look-In artist! I asked MacManus via Facebook whether he really had been entirely unaware of the crossing-over from girls comics to boys comics that Baikie, Ron Smith, and Phil Gascoine had done, and he confirmed that he didn’t think he knew it then and was surprised to hear it now. At the same time, there must have been some awareness of what was happening in the other area, as MacManus appreciated the notable successes that were happening with Tammy and Jinty.
The running order of the stories in each 32 page issue was closely tied to the popularity of the stories in question. In Valiant, the most popular story appeared at the front of the comic, and the second most popular one at the back, which makes sense. But MacManus also says that the least-liked heroes would be marked for the chop in ‘an end-of-term edition in which all the current serials concluded’, which surprised me! I don’t remember noticing that lots of stories normally came to an end at the same time, in Jinty at least – but I will certainly look at the story list by date to see if there are patterns for when stories tend to end or start.
Not really known beforehand but not surprising as such: MacManus gives us a little bit of detail about the taglines at the top of each cover – ‘the pithy phrases known as toplines’. These were apparently produced ahead of time – ‘several of these to last us the next few issues’.
I knew that there was quite a lot of active creative work required of those working as in-house staff at IPC (no doubt the same was true of DC Thomson too): we hear of Gerry Finley-Day writing umpteen stories at the same time as being a staffer, and we know about the script conferences held in the editorial offices of the comics. I was surprised, though, to understand quite how hands-on those creative processes were at all levels of the publishing process. MacManus was required to do quite a lot of writing as a normal part of his job, and he talks about the specific encouragement to write scripts and features. Art duties likewise were an important part of the in-house staff work: the bodger or art assistant would redraw elements that had been perhaps misunderstood by the main artist, or which needed amending for other reasons (such as to tone down a shocking scene, or to touch up old artwork that was to be reprinted in a different format). The art editor was responsible for the overall look and feel of the comic; we’ve heard elsewhere about how much of an effect Jan Shepheard had on early 2000AD for instance. A high level of creative endeavour was expected and required: MacManus’ interview with IPC turned at least partly on his ability to spell, and everyone on staff knew that there were a lot of parental and media eyes focused on the comics, ready to spot any errors or grammatical flaws. But at a basic level of comics publishing, too, the editorial role included the creative element of subbing the dialogue written by the author so that it fitted into the space left by the artist, while continuing to respect ‘the dramatic “beat” of the pictures so that the story flowed seamlessly for the reader’.
We’ve heard before from Pat Mills that women were generally uninterested in working on the comics because they wanted to work on the women’s titles, as proper journalists. I’m sure that was a real thing, but what Pat’s narrative doesn’t include is the fact that other people working on the comics also wanted to be ‘proper journalists’ too – MacManus recounts the attraction of the idea of working on a magazine and holding your head up in the queue for the staff lunch! It was also an area of the business with a lot more budget to play around with. Between this relatively greater respect accorded to journalists working on consumer magazines, and the blokey background of many parts of the publishing company, it’s perhaps not that surprising that many women may have been a bit uninterested in working on the comics.
It’s clear from MacManus that Scottish rival DC Thomson were immensely important not only in providing a competitor to race against, but also in the transfer of knowledge and methods to the better-paying London publisher. MacManus attended an in-house training course on scripting picture strips for girls, run by John Purdie, the managing editor of the girls’ department and an import from DCT. Writers Pat Mills and John Wagner, were similarly trained in the DCT writing style – but with particular expertise in writing girls comics, which was described by Pat Mills as being particularly plot-driven, with four sizeable things happening in the space of a single 22-panel episode. This brought in a professionalism and strength into IPC’s boys’ comics writing by explicitly teaching staffers how to write and edit tightly. MacManus contrasts this with the common technique of starting an episode with last week’s cliffhanger, resolving it, doling out a smidgen of plot development, before ending on another, often spurious, cliffhanger.
MacManus talks about the dummy issue of Battle being produced six weeks ahead of the first issue going on sale, and this six-week lead time crops up at other points in this book. (Amongst other things it means that ‘For a new weekly title the soonest you could end a strip was around issue twelve’.) Of course there would have to be some sort of publication lead time but it’s nice to have it nailed down fairly specifically. I’d like to have heard exactly how far in advance the advance copies were printed – we’ve heard elsewhere that there are around 30 ultra-rare copies of the issue of Action printed just before the order came to stop the presses and re-jig the level of violence in the title. Does that mean that an advance copy of Tammy‘s last issue, with the final episode of “Cora Can’t Lose”, might have been produced or even printed? You’d think someone would have mentioned it by now, but who knows… Or if not a printed copy of the issue, could there be any remaining scrap of the ‘make-up book,which listed the status of scripts and artwork for each issue going forward’?
And then there were some points that surprised me quite a lot:
MacManus says right at the beginning that when he joined Valiant in 1973 he was surprised to see the same characters he’d followed a decade earlier, when he read it as a boy. Captain Hurricane, The Wild Wonders, The House of Dolmann, Raven on the Wing, Kelly’s Eye, Jason Hyde, The Steel Claw: that’s a lot of ongoing characters! I don’t know Valiant enough to have a feel for how many of those were really long-running but clearly a number of them were – many more than was the case in Jinty or even Tammy. Jinty only had one or at maximum two ongoing characters at a time, while Tammy had the long-running Bella and Molly Mills of course. But neither girls’ title was chock-full of long-running stories in the way that MacManus sees as the norm in boys’ comics.
MacManus talks a few times about stories being measured in terms of the number of panels in the story. At one point he refers to a ‘twenty-two picture episode’ and at other points to a ‘thirty-picture script’. There are two things that surprise me about this. One is the terminology, using ‘pictures’ or ‘frames’ instead of panels (likewise he uses ‘speech bubbles’ instead of ‘word balloons’). it’s subtly different from the terminology I’m used to – I suppose my vocabulary for this has been influenced by US comics, and I’d never noticed the small differences. It makes sense of the many references to ‘picture-stories’ instead of ‘comics’ though, I guess.
But the thing that surprises me most about this is the idea of measuring stories in pictures or frames, rather than in what I would never have questioned as the key unit of a story – the page. Of course, the page has to still be considered a very important unit – you have to fill up 32 pages in each issue, and the physical page is what the reader turns over to see something surprising that has been hidden from them until that page turn. The real lightbulb moment associated with this, for me, was when MacManus explained the thinking behind running only five stories in the early 2000AD – he credits Pat Mills with the notion of leaving out the most-unpopular two or three stories out of eight, and going straight to only printing five stories in each issue, with more pages allocated. MacManus specifically says ‘Each story still had the usual number of pictures, but the extra pages allowed the pictures to be drawn larger’. Wow! Yes, this is clearly what is happening, not only in 2000AD but also to a certain extent in Misty.
Publication: 28 October 1978 – 17 March 1979 (18 episodes) Artist: Ron Smith Writer: Unknown
Translations/reprints: None known
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.
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.
Somewhere over the Rainbow (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
No Cheers for Cherry (artist Phil Gascoine)
Gypsy Rose: Wicked Lady Melissa (artist Shirley Bellwood)
She Shall Have Music (artist Ron Smith)
Alley Cat (artist Rob Lee)
Fran’ll Fix It! (artist Jim Baikie)
The Human Zoo (artist Guy Peeters)
Tina starts learning how to do some magic in this parallel world – she learns how to float an object with her mind. She tries it out on the hockey pitch but the results aren’t entirely positive – she loses control of the ball and it heads straight towards the headmistress, at speed!
Dorrie and Max are helped out by a passing war veteran who turns out to have been in the same regiment as their dad. He is very kind and feeds them at his own expense, but he can tell they are runaways – will he let the authorities know they are there?
Cherry lands in the water, trying to rescue her first press clipping that she was aiming to send home to her mother. Her aunt and family are less than kind, leaving her in wet clothing and making her work in all weathers. No wonder she comes down ill after that.
The Gypsy Rose story this week is clearly a reprint from an earlier title – Gypsy Rose is drawn in by another artist, in the chair where the Storyteller presumably sat. The in house artist who did this sort of work was called a bodger; this example is pretty well done, though Gypsy Rose’s face on the final panel is not quite as nicely done as it might be. In this story, wicked Lady Melissa possesses young Anthea once she starts using an old whip in order to play the ‘Georgian belle’ for a pageant.
The Carstairs family move into a small terraced house and start to get used to their changed circumstances. Lisa starts at a new school, but refuses to change her selfish ways: she won’t help her mother clean the house, she squeals like a baby when she gets a splinter in her finger at school, and she leaves school in a temper when she is prevented from playing on the school piano.
Last week, Fran served dandelion tea to all the staff at her school – or so she thought! Actually it had fermented and she was serving them all dandelion wine instead… ooops. The school governor, Colonel Wellington, was due to arrive any minute. How can Fran avoid him seeing everyone squiffy? The front cover of the comic gives a clue…
Shona encourages all the humans in hiding – her sister sends her a telepathic message showing her the way to a beautiful fertile valley where all can live in peace and safety.