Fran of the Floods (artist Phil Gascoine, writer Alan Davidson)
Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
Too Old To Cry! (artist Trini Tinturé)
Wanda Whiter Than White (artist Ana Rodriguez)
Bound For Botany Bay (artist Roy Newby)
Save Old Smokey! (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie) – first episode
I have some slightly random issues out at present which I dug out for other reasons but which haven’t yet been posted about, so I am seizing the day.
This run of Jinty is slightly middle-of-the-range: the fact that the covers have images from a variety of stories gives a diverse feel to them, but the square design layouts used are rather lifeless in comparison with the issues just a bit later on. Likewise, there are some good stories in this issue, but it is not as strong as subsequent issues, by a long chalk.
“Miss No-Name” has an amnesiac slave gymnast – nuff said, really. It is rather a mish-mash of tropes! Jim Baikie makes the slave-keepers look suitably evil but it is all rather over the top, and not in that good way. “Friends of the Forest” is beautifully drawn, though not outstanding in terms of story – at this point there is a mystery around the gypsy girl Maya, and some evil cousins to deal with.
“Fran of the Floods”, as in other issues, shines out as the strongest story – no wonder it ran for such a long time. This episode has the rain keeping on coming down, and life changing around everyone’s heads, even in staid suburban England. Fran is facing local flooding, stockpiling of food, and serious danger from the neighbours.
“Too Old To Cry!” is a story I have a soft spot for, perhaps due to the lovely Trini Tinturé artwork. Nell is trying to find her birth certificate, which she is sure has been hidden by Miss Grace, but inadvertently sets the place on fire!
“Wanda Whiter Than White” is also over the top, god love it. Wanda is high and mighty and dishing out black marks, and by twisting the situation nearly gets protagonist Susie expelled from the school (the punishment is commuted to a caning instead!). Luckily for Susie, the good relationship between her and her mother is strong enough to stand up to Wanda’s interfering ways when she tries to make trouble – though who knows what she will do in the next episode.
In “Bound for Botany Bay”, Betsy Tanner is almost looking forward to transportation to Australia, as it may mean she will see her father again. In the meantime she has been drawing portraits while she is in prison awaiting transportation – but will she be able to escape before she is tried?
This is the first episode of “Save Old Smokey!”. Drawn by Phil Townsend, it is mostly interesting to me nowadays for the social change it shows: the story is about a steam engine threatened with closure by local officials who are either heartless bureaucrats or out to make some money for themselves.
Save Old Smokey! (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
Covers from this period seemed to be very fond of showing off the athletic prowess of “Miss No-Name”. This one demonstrates how hurdling enables Lori to make a fast getaway. But she still can’t get away from those nasty Crabbes. She thinks she has found a safe haven but bumps into them again – hence the fast getaway on the cover.
Ironically, hurdling enables Katie the Jinx to make a fast getaway too in this issue – from an angry Mum – after she was daydreaming too much and flooded the kitchen. She had been daydreaming on how she would have fared in previous times. She decides she would have been just the same – except that she wouldn’t be able to get away so quickly in the clothes of the period and is thankful for modern skirt lengths.
The days of Penny Crayon and Do-It-Yourself Dot seem to be over. We are now in the era of Alley Cat.
“For Peter’s Sake” is fully established in this episode. Gran has died, leaving Corrie with a note to push Old Peg to Peter in the full confidence that the pram will cure her sick brother. But Corrie has to push Old Peg all the way from Scotland to London, so we’re in for a lengthy story full of adventures.
And the same still goes for “Fran of the Floods”. Fran and her friend Jill have now fallen foul of a cult movement that whips them into ploughing fields in the never-ending rain. They don’t see any way to escape, but we know they will.
Meanwhile, Miss Wortley has put the best tracker in the district on the trail of Betsy and Mary. But the tracker does not like the cruel Miss Wortley either and ends up helping the girls to fake their deaths and taking the heat off. But it looks like there is another cruel woman coming along to ill-treat Betsy and Mary….
Save Old Smokey is now on its penultimate episode. Gresby looked set to win, but now an emergency has forced him to seek the help of the very people he was trying to destroy!
Friends of the Forest ends with Maya revealed to be the offspring of an elopement in Colonel Weatherby’s family due to his snobbishness. He is now remorseful and this becomes instrumental in giving Sally and Maya the happy ending. Next week is “Then There were 3…”. This story is drawn by Phil Townsend, who is also drawing “Save Old Smokey”, so it’s going to be another overlap of artwork next issue.
Stacey thinks she has got everything sewn up with her hypnotic powers over Tania, including planting suggestions to cut her off from avenues of help. But the blurb for next week tells us that Stacey has overlooked something. Unfortunately, it does not sound like it is going to provide the rescue.
Ma Siddons has been commissioned to improve the IQ of a dimwitted bulldog. Dora Dogsbody is of course lumbered with the hard draft. There is an unexpected twist at the end that saves the day. We can’t help wondering if it was fixed as it is a bit hard to swallow. But it does put Ma Siddons well and truly in her place – until the next issue anyway.
Fran is in danger of drowning while diving for food in a submerged village – and all for nothing because the food has already been taken. And as the cover says, Miss No-Name’s only friend is a donkey, but Ma Crabb is using it to ensnare Lori even more by threatening the donkey with nasty things if Lori does not do as she says – which includes a dangerous climb on a ruinous tower!
Miss Wortley goes too far with her cruelty to Betsy and Betsy collapses from sunstroke. And now Miss Wortley has turned on Mary with a terrible punishment that could cause Mary to die from fright. Next week Betsy resorts to desperate measures to save her, and we have a strong suspicion this will mean doing a runner together. It had to happen.
It’s part 2 of the Slave of Form 3B. Stacey is still at the testing stage of her hypnotic powers over Tania. But now she’s satisfied and is out for bigger things with her new power.
Nobody is signing the petition to save old Smokey – until they see Gresby bullying Billie! Next moment they’re flocking to sign, so that’s one mean trick that’s backfired on Gresby. But he’s back with another trick – setting Old Smokey on fire!
Carrie Lomax is on her way to Scotland to stay with gran, because Mum has too many problems over poor sick Peter to give her the attention she needs.
Katie the Jinx and her friends are taking the bus to see a horror movie. But their attempts to get in the mood for it end up jinxing the driver. He is full of dread when he hears them talking about how they are going to get into the mood for the cowboy movie next week.
The nasty Walkers and their ally Miss Knight are finding that the Friends of the Forest are very adept at hiding and can’t flush them out.
It’s high fashion in Dora Dogsbody as Ma Siddons has them dressing up in smart clothes for a fashion parade. She says it’s all for charity, but when Dora finds that Ma Siddons’ charity is herself (surprise, surprise!), it’s all hilarity as Dora puts things right.
Save Old Smokey! (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
This issue is high on people being wrongly accused of stealing. Lori, aka Miss No-Name thinks she has outsmarted Ma Crabb this time, including walking upside-down on a plank with her feet tied! But she soon finds everything was a setup and she has been branded a thief. Ma Crabb thinks she has finally broken Lori, but instead it just makes Lori more determined.
In “Bound for Botany Bay”, Betsy and then Judy have also been branded thieves. The real thief turns out to be a maid, but it’s Judy who’s left carrying the can and throws herself overboard rather than be hanged. The callous Captain leaves Judy for dead, but the second ship sailing not far behind the convict ship has us wonder….
In “Wanda Whiter than White” Susie and her mother have been wrongly accused of shoplifting thanks to telltale Wanda jumping to conclusions. But it is because of this that Susie discovers what has made Wanda what she is – and it is also connected to stealing!
It’s the penultimate episode of “Too Old to Cry!” Nell and Sara want to rescue Mr Flicker the horse from Mrs Arbuthnott, but they have to do it without being caught by her incredible talent for lying her way out of anything.
The radio says the floods have caused the country to break down completely, and then underlines the point by going dead. But the panel for Fran of the Floods on the cover is jumping ahead a bit – it does not appear in the story until next week!
The Friends of the Forest are getting stronger with their friendship, but the danger is mounting. The Walkers’ latest ploy to get to the deer is to pretend to be nice to Sally. Sally soon finds what they’re up to, but not before they have a posse set against her friend Maya.
Grandad’s plan to save old Smokey has Gresby going as far as to pay off children to bully Billie. And then he bribes villagers with treats to stop them signing her petition.
Alison Christie is credited with writing a number of stories in Tammy. She recently contacted this blog and clarified that she also wrote a number of stories for Jinty and other IPC titles, as well as for a number of DC Thompson titles. She continues to write for children, using her married name, so do look for Alison Mary Fitt when searching her out! She kindly agreed to do an email interview for this blog, for which many thanks are due.
Questions for her:
1 I saw a little on the Scottish Book Trust site that you started writing for DC Thomson on leaving school. Can you tell me a bit more about writing for girls’ comics and how long that career lasted? For instance, what titles did you write for, and on what basis (in house, freelance)? You said on the Scottish Book Trust site that you were “at one point turning out an episode a week for six picture story serials” – when would this have been, and how did you even manage it?!
On leaving school I worked in DC Thomson as a junior sub editor on Bunty, and was soon subbing scripts that came in from freelance writers. However, at that time, some of the serials were written in-house, so I got my first chance to write a serial, called “Queen of the Gypsies”. Later, I was moved to their new nursery comics which came out by the name of Bimbo, then Little Star, then Twinkle for girls. I wrote lots of text- and picture-stories for these, in house – though freelancers were used as well. After I got married, I still worked in-house at DCs… but then had 3 children in quick succession – so left and went freelance, submitting scripts for Twinkle, which had replaced the other two titles. I also freelanced for the various DC’s girls magazines, Judy, Debbie, Mandy, Nikki, Tracy etc…writing picture stories for them, though oddly enough, didn’t ever submit any story-line to Bunty, the mag I started on.
Then I thought I’d branch out and give IPC a go, and submitted a story-line to Mavis Miller of Jinty [at that point still editor of June & Schoolfriend] . She accepted it right away, and there began my freelance work for IPC, with June, Jinty, then Tammy, some stories for Misty – and, later, when the magazine Dreamer (for younger girls) started, and included photo stories, I wrote a serial called “Who Stole Samantha?” about a missing doll. Dreamer was short-lived, however, as was Penny, another IPC mag for younger girls. I wrote a serial for that entitled “Waifs of the Waterfall”. I have to say DC Thomson was a great training-ground as far as writing picture stories was concerned.
Sadly, Jinty/Tammy bit the dust around 1985, and suddenly vanished without any notification of this to their writers or artists. I continued writing for the DC Thomson stable of girls’ papers, but they all gradually gave up the ghost.
I have never stopped writing, though – and am now writing children’s books.
Six serials a week? Yes, at one point I was doing this, despite having 3 young children, working mostly at night when they were in bed. One of the freelance writers for one of the DC girl’s papers had died, and I was asked to finish his serials – so, along with 3 other serials for DC girl’s mags, plus a couple for Tammy and Jinty, that made six stories at that particular time.
2 What stories did you write in your comics career? Are there specific ones that stand out to you at this distance in time (for good or for ill)?
Alison reviewed her files and supplied the following list of stories that she wrote, with her own summaries
“The Grays Fight Back” (First story submitted to Mavis Miller, who was then editor of June & Schoolfriend, about a troubled family.)
War-time stories written for Mavis Miller / Jinty
“My Name is Nobody” (orphaned child in London Blitz who couldn’t remember her name) written for June & Schoolfriend when MM was the editor of that title [identified on the Comics UK Forum as “Nobody Knows My Name”, starting in the 20 November 1971 edition of June. It was illustrated by Carlos Freixas.]
Gypsy Rose stories incl ‘The Eternal Flame’ (22 Oct 1977)
[No Medals for Marie]
Jinty & Lindy serial
“For Peter’s Sake!” (Girl pushing her Gran’s old pram from Scotland to England for her baby brother Peter)
Tammy & Jinty serial
“Lara the Loner” (girl who hated crowds)
“A Gran for the Gregorys”
“The Button Box” (series)
“Cassie’s Coach” (Three children living in an old coach in London in Victorian times)
See also the list on Catawiki of titles credited to her – from issue 590 to 684 (last issue of Tammy was 691). NB number 590 was the first one to regularly credit creators and it stopped doing that a bit before 684 by the looks of it. Titles in [square brackets] below are credited to Alison Christie on that source.
[It’s A Dog’s Life Tammy 1983 623 – 629]
[Room for Rosie Tammy 1983 646 – 667]
Tammy complete stories
Olwyn’s Elm A storyteller story, may have been published in another title?
Bethlehem’s Come to Us (Christmas 1983 issue)
Message of a Flower
[Dreams Can Wait]
Serials for other titles
“Second Fiddle to Sorcha” (musical story) published in one of the DCT titles [identified on the Comics UK Forum: “Second Fiddle To Sorcha} ran in Mandy 880 (26 November 1983) – 887 (14 January 1984)]
I wrote more stories for Jinty than Tammy for, having firstly written for June & Schoolfriend (edited by Mavis Miller), I then wrote for Jinty when she became editress of that. When I finally took a trip down to King’s Reach Tower to meet her in person, I was then introduced to Wilfred Prigmore of Tammy, and began writing for Tammy as well. I was writing for Mavis in 1971. I know this because that’s when the youngest of my 3 children was born, and being hospitalised and hooked up on a drip, I was still writing my current serial for her, and I remember she commented, ‘That’s devotion to duty!’
I may well have written more serials than these, but foolishly did not keep files of them all.
I loved writing them all – but liked the heart-tuggers best, of which there were plenty! I think “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was one of my favourites. I had the 3 children spending Christmas in a concrete pill-box. On mentioning this to my driving instructor at the time, who was a retired army major, he said, “Must have been bloody cold!” I liked “Always Together” too – and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”.
3 You have mentioned separately that Keith Robson asked you in later years whether you were the writer on “The Goose Girl”, so clearly artists didn’t (always?) know who wrote the stories they worked on. Was this the usual way of doing things? It looks like many of your stories were illustrated by Phil Townsend; how aware of this in advance were you, and did it mean that for instance you had the chance to write to his strengths, or anything like that?
No, artists would not likely know who wrote the stories they worked on, unless the name of the writer was somewhere on the script. I had no say at all in who illustrated my stories, just sent them in, and the Editors farmed them out to an artist. Which is why I had no idea it was Keith Robson illustrating the Goose-girl, not that at the point I’d have known who he was. Only when Tammy started to put the author and illustrator’s names in, did I know who the illustrators were, mostly Phil Townsend and Mario Capaldi, both talented artists. I never met or communicated with either of them.
4 On the blog, we’d love to fill in more names of people associated with Jinty and related titles. Do you remember any other writers or artists that you worked with or knew of? Do you have any memories of working with them, directly or indirectly?
Sorry, but I don’t know of any artists, writers, who wrote for Tammy, Jinty, at that time – being freelance and working from home meant I didn’t meet any. I did meet Mavis Miller , the Jinty editor – but then she left to get married and I did not hear any more about her, though I did try to find out for a while. Also met Wilfred Prigmore.
I know of Pat Mills (who at one time had the temerity to write on a blog that females were no use writing for girl’s magazines such as Jinty -men were better at it! He worked in DCTs then down at IPC himself, and wrote for Tammy and possibly Jinty.)
But I have never actually met him. I did know the in-house artists at DCTs, but mostly freelance artists were used from outside, and I didn’t know them either.
5 Clearly there were similarities in your stories for Jinty: they were often tear-jerkers (Stefa, Bow Street Runner, Somewhere Over The Rainbow) and many of them illustrated by the same artist. Perhaps because they were drawn by different artists, I would identify a slightly different vibe about some other stories: The Goose Girl about independence, and Darling Clementine, a sports story with a ‘misunderstood’ angle. Were you ever asked to write to specified themes, formulas, or ideas given by the editorial department, or were you left to your own devices and inspiration?
Yes, I was asked to write to a specific theme, but only once. Mavis Miller asked me to write a serial based on Catherine Cookson’s The Dwelling Place. Which resulted in “Always Together”.
Many thanks again to Alison for sending in all this information – and of course for writing so many of these excellent and well-loved stories in the first place! Many thanks also to the folk on the Comics UK Forum for the detective work in finding some original titles and dates of publications noted above.
Edited to add a couple of follow-up questions and points of information:
6 You mention DCTs as a great training ground for writing comics serials. Can you tell us anything of the tips or techniques you either were specifically taught, or learned by osmosis? For instance, the style of these comics is to plunge straight into the story headlong – in The Spell of the Spinning Wheel, the father is lamed in the first couple of pages – and the protagonists are very central to every page and indeed almost every panel of the story, so that very little is told without reference to that main character. And perhaps there are also differences between boys’ comics of the time, with lots of action and less mystery, and girls’ comics?
Re training in DCT, nobody actually ‘trained’ me – but subbing other freelancers’ scripts as they came in was very informative. Can’t think why as a seventeen year old, (I was only sixteen when I started on the Bunty) I was allowed to do this – but after all this subbing I had a fair idea how to write scripts myself. The main point was to keep the story flowing from picture to picture – thus the captions at the top or sometimes bottom were important connectors to the following picture. Also, the last picture was always a cliff-hanger – so the reader would want to buy the comic the next week! The stories always had a main character, who did feature in all or most of the pictures, either prominently or in the background, which was fair enough, as the story was all about them.
Re boy’s comics at the time – yes, they were action-based, fighting, war stories, and adventures as you would expect, not full of emotional stories like the girl’s comics were.
7 Did you keep any copies of the original scripts? Have you ever (did you at the time ever) compare the script you wrote with the resulting printed version, and notice differences, big or small, for better or for worse?
Yes, I have copies of some of the original DCT stories I wrote for their girl’s comics. Re comparing my original script to what it ended up as on a printed page – I guess there might have been some minor changes to the text, as they likely had people subbing freelance stories that came in down in IPC too. I really can’t remember. But I was always happy with the artwork on all my stories.
Alison also clarified that she wrote both “I’ll Make Up For Mary” in Jinty, and in 1986 the similarly-titled “I Must Fall Out With Mary”, published in Mandy. She also wrote “Tina’s Telly Mum” in Tammy, and “No Medals for Marie” in Jinty. Less certainly, she wrote ‘a short story … for Tammy, about a girl leaving school, junior school it was, a kind of whimsical tale about a girl who, on her leaving day, is very glad to escape all the horrible things she’s had to put up with there… but, at the very end, is hanging her school tie on the railing, and thinking, So why am I so sad at leaving then?… I think it was called Goodbye school, or Leaving Day, or something. ‘ And ‘”My Shining Sister”, a Tammy story, also rang a bell. I did write a story about Marnie, the daughter of an astrologer, who found a girl in a field, who is dazed as she’s had some kind of fall. Marnie’s family take her in, and she becomes the sister that only child Marnie has ever wanted. However, the girl, Sorcha, turns out to be one of the Seven sister stars… and has somehow fallen to earth…. Sorcha keeps being drawn to the number six – aka she has six sisters – Marnie tries to stop her seeing or being with groups of six girls, or going on a number six bus… in case she remembers where she has come from. If I remember right, Marnie has already worked out Sorcha is a fallen star. Anyway, story ends I think with Marnie helping her to return to her sisters, realising this is where she really belongs – but happily still sees her ‘sister’ through her dad’s telescope. I don’t know if you have a Tammy issue with “My Shining Sister” in it… but, unless some other writer has written a similar story, ie at the time when credits were being given to writers and artists… I have a feeling this is my story also?’
This issue has a filled-in (but not cut-out and sent) version of the form you were supposed to send in with your letters. It gives the reader’s name as Lillian Coates, age 12, living in Leytonstone. Her favourite stories were “Wanda, Whiter than White”, “Fran of the Floods”, and “Save Old Smokey”.
In “Miss No-Name”, the wicked Ma Crabb cuts Lori’s hair so that no-one will recognize her as the missing young athlete: meaning that the Crabbs can keep her as their unwilling wee slave. This sort of petty humilation is not untypical of a slave story, of course.
In “Fran of the Floods”, Fran has not yet started out on her voyage to find her sister; things are getting progressively more and more savage near to home, as climate change is making more of an impact locally as well as globally.
Phil Townsend is not an artist whose life and career I know much about. It seems from Bear Alley that he was a contributor to the sixties title Boys’ World and probably also illustrated some children’s books (but the thorough Steve Holland had not at the time of writing that post found any more information). He was a regular Jinty artist from very early on: while not in the very first issue, his beautiful clean style appeared in the title within the first couple of months of publication. After Jinty, he became a regular in Tammy, but from then on my information runs out. I would be very grateful if anyone were able to supply more information, as even his Comiclopedia entry is exceedingly brief.
Rivalling Phil Gascoine for productivity with 20 stories drawn for the title, his impact on Jinty is amongst the strongest of any artist: many beautiful and striking covers were derived from his internal artwork, and he has a number of memorable stories to his credit too. Many of the stories have a ‘type’; we’re informed by Mistyfan that in Tammy he regularly drew stories written by Alison Christie, and from what we now know it seems a similar circumstance applied in Jinty too. Many of the stories he drew were tear-jerkers: “Always Together…”, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, “Nothing to Sing About”, and of course in particular the well-loved classics “Song of the Fir Tree” and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” had children dealing with grief, lost homes, lost parents. Others were more mystery-focused: “Then There Were 3…”, “Stage Fright!”, and “Waking Nightmare” were earth-bound mysteries resolved through non-supernatural means, while “Spirit of the Lake” had a real ghost (unlike “The Ghost Dancer”).
For me his top story would clearly be the previously written about “Children of Edenford“, but the mermaid-child tale “Combing Her Golden Hair” comes close behind, and I have soft spots for both the slightly-spooky “Child of the Rain” (tennis player is mysteriously affected for good or ill by the rain forest she visits) and the strong near-thriller “Stage Fright!”. Likewise, Mistyfan has expressed her admiration for the persecution story “Mark of the Witch!” I think that most Jinty fans would be likely to count at least one Phil Townsend story amongst their favourites. Of course the writer drives the story forward as much or more, but the immediate and lasting impression of the comic is so strongly shaped by the art; it is hard not to look at a Phil Townsend-illustrated story and to love it, be the story stronger or weaker.
To illustrate this post, I have chosen some pages from “Combing Her Golden Hair”, taken from the issue dated 6 October 1979. Tamsin has found a mysterious silver comb, which is altering her life dramatically, but not in ways that her stern grandmother approves of! The last panel leaves us with a striking cliff-hanger, of course, though it turns out that the grandmother has better reasons for her actions than we know at this point.
This issue marks the beginning of one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, “The Slave of Form 3B”. It is a bullying story, but with an extra dimension that makes it even more frightening. Bully Stacey discovers that she can actually hypnotise her victim, a timid, impressionable girl named Tania. And as Stacey extends her hypnotic hold over Tania, her character grows ever more dark, to the point where she just dumps a badly injured Tania in a shed while deciding her next move without being caught.
Another story to start in this issue is “For Peter’s Sake!” This is a tearful, emotional story about Corrie Lomax’s quest to save her baby brother Peter. And it comes hard on the heels of the death of Corrie’s father.
In the “Jinx from St Jonah’s”, Mrs Jinx discovers that she has a talent for jinxing herself. This comes in very useful for getting rid of a nasty little horror and his mother who have been causing constant trouble at a restaurant. The manager is so grateful that he gives Katie and her mother a free meal. Ah, one of the Jinx episodes where jinxing works out well for the Jinxes.
Billie Stephenson foils more of nasty Councillor Gresby’s schemes to get rid of Old Smokey. But what to make of his son, Simon? Is he on the Stephensons’ side or his father’s? And what has Simon done with the petition to save Old Smokey? We are promised that this will bring surprises for both the Stephensons and their nemesis next week.
In “Bound for Botany Bay”, Betsy is making impressions on Miss Wortley’s guests with her talent for art and even making some money from it. But nasty Miss Wortley is not impressed and locks Betsy in the cupboard. In “Miss No-Name”, Lori’s talent for athletics is also making contacts that could help her break away from the Crabbs. But will they? Lori’s amnesia is still tying her to them.
The floods have risen so high in “Fran of the Floods” that they are drowning townships and villages on lower levels. And desperation for food nearly has Fran killing Fluffy the pet rabbit.
Any comic has to have a focus, a remit of what will be covered and therefore inevitably what will not be covered. The choices made, however, may be revealing in themselves, or may raise further questions as to why one thing was included and another skipped over.
UK girls comics did not generally include non-fictional comics stories such as biographies. They did include some text items that were non-fictional in nature – snippets of information about sports, history, the origin of names, current pop stars – but not done as ongoing comics stories. Other classic British titles had done this – The Eagle included some biographical strips, for instance; and other children’s magazines had covered non-fiction rather more thoroughly (for instance Look and Learn’s whole raison d’etre was to be educational). Why not cover non-fiction? I imagine that the editors at the time wanted to very firmly steer away from the diactic, ‘good-for-you’ image of The Eagle and Look and Learn, both of which were the sorts of titles that tended to be bought for you by well-meaning parents. [Edited to add: Girl did print some non-fiction stories, such as one in 1959 about Marie Curie, subsequently reprinted in Princess Tina. See this comment on the UK Comics Forum for further details.]
In more recent years, The Phoenix’s “Corpse Talk” has gone back and mined this vein very effectively, showing that biographies can be done in comics form amusingly, interestingly, and well. (Creator Adam Murphy also does some strips about science using a similar format.) Even at the time, it would have been quite possible to do at least some non-fiction without it being boringly didactic, had the will or interest been there. I have just been reading some biographical material about Caroline Herschel, and her story would fit amazingly well in a ‘slave’ story: she was cabined, cribb’d, confined by her mother and her eldest brother, made to work long and hard hours on tasks as the equivalent of a maid, not allowed to stay in bed when ill, and so forth – to be subsequently rescued by her kindly older brother William Herschel, and eventually to triumph as William’s scientific assistant and indeed as a discoverer of comets in her own right! Similar tales could no doubt have been spun about the obvious eminent women such as Florence Nightingale and Boadicea, but also about the less obvious ones such as Aphra Behn and Mary Seacole (though as a black woman it would have been particularly unlikely for the latter to have been written about, sadly).
So, Jinty and similar comics weren’t ones that you read in order to learn; and nor were they ones where factual content was sneaked in under the radar, either. Sneaking it in could have happened: in boys’ war comics of the time, accuracy on details like uniforms, badges, battles, and weapons was prized by the readers and striven for by the creators. (More recently, my two young kids are getting a kick out of “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” on the telly: plenty of learning-through-fun there.) History, geography, science, maths, languages were prized in Jinty mainly as set-dressing when a story called for it, if at all; and the level of research and accuracy was not high, as has been noted previously.
There were some small, local exceptions to this – some areas that Jinty covered that it did care about getting right, and which you could have a reasonable expectation of learning from as a reader.
Sports: at one point there was a dedicated sport section, teaching you finer points of passing the ball in netball, using the parallel bars in gymnastics, and covering aspects of more exotic sports like water polo. Even aside from that dedicated sports section, there were a lot of stories featuring sporty protagonists who were given or gave tips on table tennis (“Ping-Pong Paula”), competitive cycling (“Curtain of Silence”), or netball (“Life’s A Ball For Nadine”).
Crafts and cookery: each issue had a page or two on how to make a little present from odds and ends, how to revitalise an old skirt, or how to prepare some easy recipe.
Trivia: origins of names, the story of mince pies, snippets of amusing anecdotes about, yes, Boadicea or Queen Anne.
Overt political and social issues
As a publication intended for an age range of around 8 – 12 years, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of political discussion unless there was a specific radical intention (as with the creation of Shocking Pink magazine slightly later). There is however in Jinty an utter absence not only of political comment or explanation, but even of reference: no cheeky images of the current prime minister or mention of recent or current events such as the Three Day Week or the IRA bombs. The monarchy does get a look-in with a patriotic celebration of the Jubilee and the Royal Wedding (but then, to do otherwise would be to make a republican statement in itself).
There is also very little overt coverage of wider social issues, such as feminism, racism, colonialism. Without wishing to say that we are now in some paradise, the Britain of that time was clearly a more discriminatory society; Jinty was not in the business of providing substantive challenges to this. Very overt acts of racism would no doubt have been opposed, if they had ever come up – but for instance the paki-bashing that some readers’ families might well have condoned was invisible in these pages and hence never in fact challenged. Related issues do get the occasional airing, though: for instance “Bound For Botany Bay” has some statements about the evils of slavery in a setting that is comfortably far-off in time.
It is not exactly surprising that Jinty was not proactively anti-racist or anti-colonialist; it would have taken a radical mindset to challenge these social issues, and this was a mainstream publication. What about feminism – as a comic published with girls in mind, did any women’s rights issues sneak in under the radar? Not very overtly, I’d say; there were some stories that touched on girls not being treated fairly or being laughed at by boys as incapable of X or Y, but these were mostly treated as individual problems rather than systemic ones. In “Two Mothers For Maggie”, the protagonist complains of being expected to do housework and baby-sitting when she has her homework to do and the stepfather has finished his work for the day; but the issue there is framed as one of poverty not primarily of sexism. In “Black Sheep of the Bartons”, protagonist Bev wants to do boyish sports like judo, but this again is painted as a personality quirk, especially in contrast with her gentle and delicate younger sister who is far more ‘girly’. It might also be played for laughs: there was an early “Jinx of St Jonah’s” story where Katie Jinks and her friends had a bet on with the nearby boys’ school where they each had three gender-swapped stereotypical tasks to do (making shelves for the girls, making dresses for the boys); they all failed fairly equally and we are supposed to laugh at them for stepping out of the gender roles.
The aspect of Jinty which leads most clearly to a real feminist point is, paradoxically, the fact it was part of such a separate publication stream from boys’ comics. So many of the characters are girls you could almost imagine it is set in one of the parallel worlds devoid of men, favoured by a certain strand of feminist science fiction. The outcome is that there is a great multiplicity of female roles available as models for readers: villains who are misguided, evil, powerful, petty, misunderstood, or plain off their head; protagonists who are vain, strong, smart, brave, clumsy, deft, sporty, bullied, powerless, and sometimes even clever (the latter not so often, sad to say); friends who are loyal, fickle, blind, shallow, and sometimes smarter than they seem. This is in stark contrast to today’s media world in which girls are assumed to read stories with male protagonists but not vice-versa, women are expected to watch films with male characters but not vice-versa, and the story-telling that we’re supposed to accept as progressive is one where the female character is ‘strong’ or ‘kick-ass’ but still far from actually being rounded and fully-developed.
There are some other social issues that sneak in slightly surprisingly. Environmentalism gets a look-in in various stories: there are a couple of anti-motorway or anti-car stories (“The Green People” and “Guardian of White Horse Hill” feature local protests against the building of motorways through sensitive areas, “Save Old Smokey” is anti-car). More drastically, “The Forbidden Garden” is set in a dystopia where the earth is poisoned and nothing can grow naturally. Animal Rights, too, get a look-in: “The Human Zoo” and “Worlds Apart” both feature sections where animal rights protestors are seen as rightly protesting terrible treatment of animals (even if the protesters are also shown as causing as much harm to the animals as they cause good).
However, the big social issue covered that might be surprising to modern readers is inequality. Lots and lots of stories had fat-cat villains, wealthy uncaring capitalists, rich family members who were greedy or miserly, cruel and heartless. Stories like “Bound for Botany Bay” made much greater play of the evils of class distinctions than they did of the evils of racism and slavery; and stories like “Ping-Pong Paula” and Tammy’s “Ella on Easy Street” were pretty clear that it was better to be poor with a loving family than rich with a distant one. Maybe this is part of a ‘poor little rich girl’ trope prevalent in children’s stories? Maybe it resulted from the core market of readers who were less well-off than was the case for some of the earlier, more middle-class comics? But also, the Britain of that time was actually a less unequal society than it is nowadays. WWII didn’t feel that long ago, which had also driven some reduction in inequalities. Did this mean that it was more possible to have villains who were fat-cats, capitalists, because inequality itself was less acceptable?
Growing up, sex, and romance
Again not surprising as an omission given the age range, but boyfriends are pretty much completely missing in Jinty. Older girls or young women may have boyfriends or even fiancés – sisters, young teachers – but the protagonist herself does not. In one near-exception, “Pam of Pond Hill”, Pam’s friend Goofy is someone she is teased about, and the word boyfriend is used in that teasing, but there is no kissing or cuddling involved in that relationship. So although the protagonists are depicted looking as if they are some years older than most of the readers, the concerns addressed are much more focused on intense friendships and rivalries than on romantic or sexual relationships.
The characters are often drawn with enough of a developing body to require a bikini top or bra and pants rather than the more demure vest and slip of more traditional times, but this is not addressed explicitly in the story. No Judy Blumes to be found in these pages! The letters pages sporadically included an agony aunt element, but even then this focused more on interpersonal relationships with other girls than it did puberty, periods, bodily hair, and boyfriends. Girls moved onto older magazines such as Jackie and Just Seventeen (these may or may not have had a comics element) and it was in those pages that they learned some of the subjects now taught in British schools under acronyms such as PSHE.
“Miss No-Name” has got her fighting spirit back in this issue. An athlete who has lost her memory and been enslaved by Ma Crabb, she is resisting: told to steal things from the market, she pinches an alarm clock all set to go off and plants it on one of the thieves; as a punishment she’s told to keep running round the yard but of course this is no hardship for her.
“Friends of the Forest”, by the same unknown artist who drew “Merry At Misery House” and “Hettie High-and-Mighty”, is particularly beautifully drawn this issue. “Merry” and other earlier stories were drawn with figures small and as part of a whole scene; in this episode the artist has drawn large, dramatic headshots and varied the composition more. (I will scan and post this soon as part of a feature on this artist.)
“Fran of the Floods” is poignant: Fran has escaped the destruction of her school but is wandering the flooded landscape unsure if she will ever find anyone else left alive. It’s quite reminiscent of John Wyndham; though like his ‘cosy catastrophes’ things never get too bad for the protagonist, the strong feelings of someone in such an apocalyptic situation are well-explored.
There are two stories finishing in this issue: “Too Old To Cry!” and “Wanda Whiter Than White“. In both there are reconciliations and friendships re-affirmed: in the former, orphan Nell finds a family despite the episode starting off pretty harshly, and in the latter there is an exciting horse race that ends in good news for the protagonist and her rival Wanda both. (This is not the only story where a horse race between rivals is used in the denouement: “Mark of the Witch!” features this element too.)
The story for which I picked this issue, not yet featured in earlier posts, is “Save Old Smokey!”. The protagonist here is trying to get the local townsfolk to continue using the trainline rather than driving in cars: not for environmental reasons but because she and her grandfather live in an old steam train and want the train station to continue to be viable so that they can stay there. The rival force in the town is a local councillor who wants to encourage car use because he owns a petrol station – naked greed at work. It’s a workaday story but quite nicely illustrates the move to car usage that was happening more and more at this time.
Stories in this issue:
Miss No-Name (artist Jim Baikie)
Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
Friends of the Forest
Fran of the Floods (artist Phil Gascoine)
The Jinx From St Jonah’s (artist Mario Capaldi)
Too Old To Cry! (artist Trini Tinturé)
Wanda Whiter Than White (artist Ana Rodriguez)
Bound for Botany Bay (artist Roy Newby)
Save Old Smokey! (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)