Tag Archives: Runaway story

What makes a story work, pt 2?

Following on from my earlier post on how we can sensibly say that a story works (or doesn’t), I want to look at the elements that can add to, or detract from, how well a story works. These are elements that are mostly down to decisions made by the writer or the artist (or both), though editorial decisions can also be relevant. For each of the elements, therefore, I will consider what the balance of responsibilities tends to be, as well as discussing the nature of each of them.

  • Plot. What actually happens? How well tied-together are the events of the story, and how naturally or consistently do they flow from earlier ones? Is it a very run-of-the-mill plot or does it have innovative elements? Is the plot simple or convoluted, full of sidelines or straightforward? In particular, does the ending follow well from the main part of the action or does it undercut the earlier events, for instance through by use of a deus ex machina to wrap everything up neatly and too-quickly?
    • This lies mostly in the writer’s corner, though the editorial department may make suggestions.
    • Stronger: “Concrete Surfer” is a tightly-plotted story where everything that happens drives the action forwards to the skate-off between rivals and the subsequent denouement. Not a moment of action is wasted and it all hangs together.
    • Weaker: in “Fran of the Floods” lots of things happen, but in a quite meandering structure with sub-plots that you can get lost in. The later happenings are not very tightly tied into the earlier events, though there is a wrap-up at the end of the story. This is a danger for road-trip sort of stories.
  • Title. Is the title overly-explanatory or does it promise without revealing too much? Is it ho-hum or unusual?
    • As far as we know, coming up with the story’s title seems to have been part of the writer’s tasks. Sometimes it might have been changed by the editorial department either before publication or on reprint / translation.
    • Stronger: There are lots of really evocative story titles in Jinty. Examples like “Girl The World Forgot” or “Golden Dolly, Death Dust!” are suggestive without giving the whole game away.
    • Weaker: the formula girl’s name + descriptive reference was over-used in girls’ comics generally and feels hackneyed as a result. “Badgered Belinda”, “Angela Angel-Face”, “Diving Belle” are examples in Jinty, but looking at a single issue of Lindy the ratio of such titles seemed considerably higher so things could have been much worse!
  • Theme. Is the theme a well-trodden one such as the Slave or Cinderella themes? Is it an intrinsically unlikely one such as the Exploited Amnesiac? In either case it probably needs something extra to make it stand out.
    • Again as far as we know the story theme was mostly under the control of the writer, though the editorial office would, according to Pat Mills, aim to have specific themes represented such as the two mentioned above. Some writers would focus preferentially on certain themes, so we know that Alison Christie wrote a number of heart-tugging stories with Runaways or Guilt Complexes. The art style (discussed in the next post) was probably chosen to match the theme as far as possible, though of course it is entirely possible that the availability of an artist was used to inspire a writer on occasion.
    • Stronger: I wouldn’t say it is that clear that one theme is stronger than another but there is a lot of personal preference that will govern whether a story works for an individual reader or not.
    • Weaker: as mentioned above, some themes such as the Exploited Amnesiac are so intrinsically unlikely and indeed rather melodramatic and silly that it means that the story is battling against something of a headwind.
  • Pacing. Girls (and boys) comics of this era typically feature fast-paced stories, with cliff-hangers at the end of each episode. The conventions of this sort of story are rather different from Japanese manga, where the action tends to take place over a far greater number of pages. If a story is compressed more than usual for this genre it would feel confusing, or if it was too slow-paced likewise it could throw readers off.
    • This lies solidly in the remit of the writer, though the page layout and composition could have some effect too.
    • Stronger: “Concrete Surfer” has some of the best pacing I can immediately think of: it builds evenly and the momentum never stops. Every panel and page builds on the last.
    • Weaker: the pacing on “Freda’s Fortune” makes it an odd read, with much of the plot line of a normal horse & rival story compressed into two 6-page episodes.
  • Tone. Is the story light and frothy, silly, adventurous, realistic, tear-jerking, hard, gritty, subversive, or even sadistic? The dialogue is a big part of what sets the tone so I am including it in this element, though others might prefer to separate it out.
    • The style set by the comic overall is very linked to the tone of the individual stories inside; whether this is mostly to do with editorial choices as to which stories to publish or writers to commission, clearly the editorial focus has a part to play. Pat Mills reckons that there is a big divide between working class comics (Tammy, Misty, Jinty, Pink, and most of Bunty) and middle-class, ‘safe’ comics, and that this divide was purposeful, to try to move past the ‘old hat’ style of the past. The individual writer is the prime mover of the tone of the story but the artist also has an important role to play as the writing and art must of course match. Additionally, the artist is in a position to add a lot of background detail in their art, to really bring things to life (John Armstrong draws graffiti in the background of “Moonchild”, and Jim Baikie draws details from the London Underground of the 70s or earlier in his recreation of the futuristic world of “The Forbidden Garden”.)
    • Stronger: Of course one tone is not in itself ‘better’ than another, but some are more unusual or more consistently applied throughout. “Knight and Day” is the epitome of a gritty and realistic story of physical and emotional abuse within a family, played seriously and with enough emotional effect to convince the reader.
    • Weaker: In the link above, Pat Mills says that light and frothy stories are ‘safe’ and boring to the reader. This is arguable, but certainly a light and frothy story such as “The Perfect Princess” is by its nature one that is easier to dismiss the more emotional or tear-jerking tales. Perhaps more fatal to a story is a sudden shift in tone, such as Lorrbot mentions having happened in “Balloon of Doom” in her comment on the last post.
  • Resonance. I’m stretching a bit things here in using this term in this way. What I mean is whether the story has a certain mythic resonance, a re-use (in a purposeful way) of cultural material. Mermaids, spinning wheels, magic mirrors, wicked and cruel women: these all have resonance as they have been used in countless stories to tell us how to behave or what to be careful of. Re-use of a current successful story from a different medium also gives the comics narrative a chance to grab some resonance from elsewhere.
    • I am assuming this is mostly in the care of the writer, though of course the artist will be able to add in many visual elements that will strengthen the references.
    • Stronger: “Who’s That In My Mirror?” combines ideas of vanity, moral peril, and the idea that a mirror can hold a reflection of a kind of truth. It has echoes of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and of the Andersen tale “The Shadow” – and its denouement is as spooky as anything in comics.
    • Weaker: There are so damned many stories of haunted mirrors that it’s very easy for the shine to wear off! For me, “The Venetian Looking-Glass” was just another one of many: the element of resonance had become repetition.
  • Audacity. This is sort of the flip side of Resonance, and again I am stretching things a bit in using this term in this way. By this I mean the ‘WTF’ element where you can’t quite believe that anyone dared to put that on the page! It is the element of surprise and of novelty, but it is quite a delicate balancing act.
    • The written story bears a lot of the responsibility for this element but the art is key in making sure that the reader’s suspension of disbelief doesn’t flag. The editorial and publishing teams are the ones who would be on the bosses’ carpet if it all goes horribly wrong (as it did for boys’ comic Action after questions were asked in parliament), so they are part of the mix too.
    • Stronger: “Worlds Apart” is one of the most audacious stories in girls’ comics, with each protagonist having to die in grotesque and excessive ways in order for them to progress to the next scenario. “Children of Edenford” is also outrageous but a bit more quietly so as it criticises the shibboleth of social mobility ahead of the tide of Thatcherism and yuppiedom to come.
    • Weaker: When audacity tips the scales of suspension of disbelief, the wheels come off. For me, the cruelties at the end of “Slave of the Swan” and “The Slave of Form 3B” push it a step too far.

To follow in the next post, discussions on:

  • Art quality
  • Art style
  • Character design
  • Page layout / composition
  • Art incidental details
  • Design / font / lettering
  • Format / edition
Advertisements

The Changeling (1978)

Sample images

Cinderella 2.jpg

Changeling 1.jpg

(click thru)

Changeling 2.jpg

(click thru)

Changeling 3.jpg

(click thru)

Publication: 22 July 1978-5 August 1978
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Katy Palmer lives a miserable life with her brutal uncle and his shabby flat. Uncle puts Katy out to work in the stables, little realising that this is the only time she gets some joy. This is when Katy indulges in the only thing that makes her life bearable – riding. Lately she has been putting in extra riding with Midnight because her employer, Miss Peers, is training him up for an event at Ryechurch. Unfortunately the stables job and riding are cutting into homework time, and Katy is constantly in trouble at school because of it.

Then Uncle yanks Katy out of the stables job to work as a dishwasher, which robs Katy of her only joy. At this, Katy reaches her limit and just runs off. Before she knows what she is doing, she is on a train to Ryechurch. On the train she meets another Katy, Katy Blair. Katy Blair is on her way to Ryechurch to meet her uncle and aunt, whom her lawyer has only just traced.

Then the train suddenly crashes. The accident leaves Katy Blair apparently dead. Desperation drives Katy to steal her suitcase and take her place at Ryechurch so she can finally have a happy life with loving parents. And they have everything Katy could wish for – love, a comfortable life and even stables and horses, where Katy can continue to indulge her passion with horses. She gives her new horse the same name as Midnight.

But Katy soon finds she cannot have real happiness because she is living a lie. All the while there are twinges of conscience. And then the past catches up. First Katy spots Miss Peers and the other Midnight at the Ryechurch event (forgot that bit, didn’t you, Katy?) and has to do a fast sick act so Miss Peers does not see her.

And then – horror – Katy spots Katy Blair! Is she seeing ghosts?

No. It turns out that Katy Blair is not dead after all; she was just in a coma. She has amnesia though, and is trying to recover her memory. At last conscience gets the better of Katy. She confesses the truth to Katy Blair and then her aunt and uncle.

They take Katy to see her uncle. After they see for themselves what an unfit guardian he is, they pull Katy away and tell him they are going to apply to the courts for legal custody of her. The application is successful; the two girls are now sisters and share their riding together. (Mind you, we’re not told how the parents differentiate between two girls named Katy.)

Thoughts
This story is very odd in being so short lived. It only lasted for three episodes when there was potential to spin it out more. For example, we could have had some more development on the villainy of the nasty uncle and, in particular, what he does when he realises Katy has run off. And we could have had more on Katy’s conflicted conscience, the mounting fear of being found out and dragged back to her uncle, and what situations this leads her into. Moreover, having more episodes before Katy Blair returns would have made more sense, because Katy Blair seems to have made an all-too-quick recovery from her coma.

So why did this story only have three episodes? The fact that the episodes have an extra page (or half a page, as in the first episode) suggests it was meant as a filler story and was not intended to be spun out or be a serious length serial. It is a bit disappointing, because this story was crying out for more length and development and could have been a popular Jinty serial.

A Dream For Yvonne (1974)

Sample images

Yvonne 1

 (Click thru)

Yvonne 2

 (Click thru)

Yvonne 3

Publication: 11/5/74-27/7/74
Artist: Miguel Quesada
Writer: Unknown

Summary
Yvonne Laroon comes from a long line of circus performers and her family takes it for granted she will follow in their footsteps. But ever since Yvonne saw Swan Lake on television, she has had other ideas – to become a ballerina. She certainly has talent for it, thanks to her acrobatic circus skills, but no formal ballet training and does not even know what a plié is. Even worse, her parents do not approve, saying she is born for the circus and that is that.

Yvonne comes across Alexia Company Ballet School and climbs up onto the roof to take a look at a lesson. She gets more than she bargained for and ends up crashing through the roof. She is mistaken for a new girl they were expecting. After a demonstration of what dancing she can do, she is accepted into the school. But as her parents still won’t hear of her becoming a ballerina, to the point of Dad threatening to belt her, she runs away from the circus to the school. She decides to keep her circus origins secret, fearing expulsion because of it.

Having had no ballet training, Yvonne has to pick it up fast, by watching how others move and swotting up ballet books. And of course there has to be a jealous rival out to make trouble. In this case it is Lisa Telemann, a star pupil from a rival company, Pavel. Lisa becomes suspicious of Yvonne’s origins and eventually finds out the truth. Lisa gets peeved when Yvonne becomes a cygnet in The Dance of the Little Swans. She tries a blackmail note and then a phony telegram to recall Yvonne to the circus. At the circus, Yvonne discovers the trick. But her father disowns her when she insists on continuing with ballet.

Worse, on the way back Yvonne has an accident and loses her memory. This causes her to fall into the power of the unscrupulous Ma Crompton, who takes advantage of her amnesia and dance talent to exploit her. Yvonne eventually escapes Ma Crompton and comes across a Swan Lake poster that stirs some memory. She heads to the theatre, not realising Lisa has spotted her, and Lisa arranges for the doorman to block Yvonne.

Yvonne ends up in a home, where the matron takes her for a bad sort and threatens her with the reformatory. Yvonne runs off, where she bumps into the circus and saves the horses from an accident. During the process Yvonne bumps her head, which restores her memory. She is reconciled with her parents, who stop interfering with her dream after they hear what she has been through. They take her back to the ballet school. Lisa’s trick with the telegram is discovered, and she is expelled. Yvonne can now study ballet without interference.

Thoughts
Ballet stories are bread-and-butter in girls’ comics, so Jinty’s first line-up would hardly have been complete without one. It was drawn by Miguel Quesada, a regular on the Tammy team during her first five years, but this was his only outing in Jinty. Quesada drew some ballet stories for Tammy as well, but it must be said that he could have done with more research on drawing ballet. The poses look angular and positions often not drawn correctly. And the title itself sounds a bit uninspired and perhaps could have done with more imagination.

Storywise, there are certainly plenty of well-tried elements in girls’ comics to keep the drama high and ensure readers stayed hooked on this one: circus theme, fugitive theme, jealous rivals, amnesia, exploitation, determination and courage, difficult parents, a nasty matron, reformatory, and even some laughs as Yvonne gives demonstrations of her circus tricks. Ballet theme combined with circus theme would certainly have been a powerful combination. The circus is always popular in girls’ comics (although the theme was oddly sporadic in Jinty).

Contracting amnesia and falling into the clutches of a crook because of it is an oldie but a goodie in girls’ comics, and would certainly have helped to make this story popular as well. There is also plenty of action and the story moves at a cracking pace. In summary, “A Dream for Yvonne” had plenty in it to make it a strong, thrilling, fast-paced story in the first line-up.

The episode where the father disowns Yvonne is a shock that must have taken readers by surprise. Parents who disapprove of their daughter’s dreams are common enough in girls’ comics, but seldom do they go that far. The father’s move is even more shocking as the parents do seem loving and caring – just lacking a little understanding. It must have been a relief to readers when the parents finally change their minds and start helping Yvonne.

Incidentally, the episode where Yvonne is threatened with the reformatory has echoes of a Quesada story in Tammy, “The Stranger in My Shoes”. Could it be the same writer?