Tag Archives: schemer

7 Steps to the Sisterhood (1978)

7 Steps 17 Steps 27 Steps 3

Publication: 12 August 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Ron Smith

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Kim Mason and Shelley Vernon are both on their way to Lansdale, a boarding school that specialises in foreign languages. Shelley is a bit nervous because she is a clumsy, accident-prone girl and is worried it will go against her at her new school.

Meanwhile, on the train, Kim overhears two staff members, Miss Tweed and Miss Frost, talking about them. Both of them are candidates for a special opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. But only one will be picked, so both will be watched carefully during the term. Kim is keeping this piece of information to herself…hmm, sounds like something for the reader to note as well.

When the girls arrive, Shelley is delighted that her room is next to Kim’s. She looks on Kim as a friend, even if Kim is acting a bit aloof. Meanwhile, Miss Tweed is unpacking priceless Thai costumes as background for an upcoming lecture.

Later, Shelley is surprised to see a note on her bed, from “The Sisterhood of Lansdale”. It claims to be a secret society that is considering her as a new member, but she must pass seven tests to qualify. She must not try to investigate the Sisterhood, ask help from anyone, or talk to anyone about the Sisterhood. If she agrees, she must tie a hanky to her bedroom door handle. Shelley jumps at it and ties the hanky to her door handle.

Someone takes the hanky, and next morning Shelley receives instructions for her first challenge: obtain a colour photograph of herself in one of the Thai costumes and leave it outside her door that night.

So Shelley borrows one of the costumes and sneaks out of school to use a photo kiosk to take the photograph. She does not know someone is watching her, and that person realises that Shelley is not solving the problem in the way she anticipated. When Shelley returns, someone throws water at her from a window, narrowly soaking her and the priceless costume. She has made it, but has to iron the costume to get rid of some damp spots. Miss Tweed catches her but thinks Shelley is just trying to help, and even allows Shelley to wear the costume at the display!

The second challenge is to bake a strawberry cake and leave it on the tack shelf in the stables on Friday night. Seems straightforward and harmless enough. Shelley even lets Major, a terror of a horse that only the headmistress can ride, have a few strawberries from the cake. But the third challenge is to ride Major bareback at dawn tomorrow!

Hoping that Major will return the strawberry favour, Shelley takes him out for the bareback ride. She sees a light flash back at the school and suspects the Sisterhood is watching her. Shelley gets caught by the headmistress and stable-hand. The head is astonished at what Shelley is trying to do – and bareback. But remembering daft things she did in her own youth, she decides to go along with it and help Shelley ride Major bareback. But Shelley does not get away with it altogether – she has to write a 500-word essay on horse riding in Spanish, which takes days! Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is watching. She thinks how lucky Shelley was that time, and if she’d had her way, things would have turned out differently. Now what can this mean?

The fourth challenge wants Shelley to take the new gold earrings belonging to an Indian student, Nirhani. She is to keep them until told what to do next. Shelley does not like the idea of stealing or risking trouble and is now having second thoughts about the Sisterhood itself. Shelley compromises by taking the jewel box, but not the earrings.

Then Nirhani comes up and says she found Shelley’s hanky (the one Shelley tied to her door handle) in her drawer. Shelley is now so thoroughly frightened by everything that she tells Nirhani (disregarding the conditions she agreed to). Nirhani, a long-standing student, says she has never heard of “The Sisterhood”. She also surmises that if Shelley really had taken the earrings, the theft reported, and then Shelley’s hanky found in the drawer – she would have been expelled. In other words, it was a set-up. Nirhani, who has second sight, gets psychic impressions that there is no “Sisterhood” at all – rather, Shelley has an enemy.

They start planning to catch the culprit. Shelley will pretend to steal the earrings, and Nirhani writes her a cover letter to say she lent them. They gamble that when Nirhani does not report the theft as the enemy expects, she will come into the open.

Another student, Fran, has a birthday and has been permitted to have a midnight BBQ. This brings in the fifth challenge – arrange a fireworks display as an extra surprise for the party. Fireworks are not available at that time of year, but then a book arrives with instructions on how to make your own. Shelley and Nirhani see the dangers at once, and realise the enemy must have as well. However, Shelley has to give the impression she is going along with it, so they use the instructions to make dummy fireworks filled with talcum powder. At the party they hide the fireworks in some bushes and take turns to keep an eye on it discreetly.

Before long, Nirhani sees someone try to light the fake fireworks – but then there are real ones as the BBQ suddenly goes up in flames. In the confusion and firefighting, Nirhani fails to get a look at the enemy. They are horrified when they realise what the enemy tried to do and get Shelley blamed for.

A note arrives from “The Sisterhood” telling Shelley to stay behind after the party – alone. She does, hoping to catch her enemy. A hooded figure appears, her voice disguised, and not allowing Shelley to get close. She tells Shelley she failed the fifth task (the fireworks did not go off as she planned) but Shelley manages to wriggle out of it with a cover story. Shelley tries to get closer as the girl begins to outline the sixth task: tomorrow she is to kidnap Nirhani and lock her in the hayloft in the stables. But just as Shelley is about to unmask the girl, Miss Tweed interrupts and the girl gets away.

Nirhani and Shelley realise what the enemy is up to: “find” Nirhani, be a big heroine, and get Shelley expelled. And Nirhani is getting premonitions of real danger if they go along with it in order to trap the enemy. This has them thinking of all the lucky escapes Shelley has had so far in avoiding serious accidents or being expelled because of all the traps the enemy has set for her.

In the end, Nirhani goes into the hayloft, with Shelley leaving a ladder outside for her to get out with. She then joins the others on a nature ramble. But the teacher drops a bombshell – the headmistress is getting the stable block fumigated! Shelley dashes off for the stables – and so is Kim. Seeing this, Shelley now realises that Kim is the enemy, not her friend. She also sees that the fumigators have moved the ladder, cutting off Nirhani’s escape, so she has to get the fumigators to rescue Nirhani.

Nirhani and Shelley confront Kim over her being the enemy. At first Kim almost gets out of it with a slick move – but then she makes the mistake of claiming that Shelley stole Nirhani’s earrings (she still thinks Shelley has retained them from the earlier challenge). Nirvana and Shelley then spring their long-waiting ace – Nirhani lent Shelley the earrings, and they have the note to prove it. Cornered, Kim confesses that she was trying to put Shelley out of the running for the opportunity of a lifetime that she learned about on the train.

Kim is expelled, of course. And it was all for nothing, because it turns out that Kim was not an ideal student for it after all. Moreover, there is now a chance for two students to win the opportunity, which is a world tour to publicise Lansdale’s methods. The head chooses Shelley and Nirhani because she has been so impressed over how they handled “The Secret Sisterhood”.

Thoughts

This is the first of only two stories that Ron Smith drew for Jinty. Smith was more frequent in Judge Dredd, so it is a delight to see him here.

A girl who causes trouble for another (motivated by revenge, personal gain, jealousy or just plain spite) is one of the oldest and most frequent formulas in girls’ comics. The DCT titles ran them so constantly that they must have run into the zillions. In Mandy alone, not many weeks went by without one such story, and Mandy’s cruellest example was probably The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina aka The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee. In Tammy and Jinty the formula appeared less frequently, which helped to keep it fresh.

In this version of the formula, we get a whole new take on the formula that is extremely rare, if not unique in its genre. Instead of pulling downright nasty tricks to sabotage the girl and get her into trouble, the troublemaker takes a far more insidious and convoluted approach – trying to get her into trouble with challenges from a non-existent secret society. This approach is extremely clever, not only on the part of the troublemaker but also the plotting. It is not so apparent straight away as to what is going on because the sabotage is being disguised as challenges, and it is more difficult for the reader to put the pieces together. Downright nasty tricks would have been a dead giveaway for the reader, and they would have known who it was and why immediately because it was all established in the first episode. Of course it all depends on Shelley rising to the bait in the first place – if she had decided against joining the society and not left her hanky on the door handle, the scheme would have been over for Kim immediately and she would have had to think of something else.

Girls’ comics have long made a strong comment on the dangers of secret societies, whether it is ones who issue challenges that are increasingly foolish and reckless, or are dark and bullying. This one is no exception – even if the society does turn out to be non-existent and it is all the work of one spiteful individual. Kim must be one of the most evil girls ever to appear in girls’ comics. Forget about trying to get Shelley expelled – Kim almost got Shelley (and others) hurt or even killed several times. She had no compunction about it whatsoever, though she must have been aware of what could happen with, say, letting off the boxful of fireworks near a crowd of people. Only at the end does she show any horror at her actions, when she realises that Nirhani could get killed because of her sixth challenge. And if that was the sixth challenge, what would the seventh have been like? The seventh step was never revealed, which must have had readers curious as to what it would have been.

This is one of the few stories in girls’ comics to have some ethnic characters. Though girls’ comics are not intentionally racist, there is a long-standing absenteeism of non-white girls in girls’ comics. Appearances of coloured or Asian girls are more the exception than the rule. But given that this is a language school, it is expected that there are girls of mixed races speaking diverse languages, and Jinty does deliver. Nirhani is Indian while Kim is part Chinese. It is interesting that both a heroine and the villain are of ethnic origin, and both are strong characters. Kim, the part Chinese, is a cold fish who is capable of just about anything to get rid of Shelley and seize the opportunity for herself. She is extremely clever and calculating, as shown in the way she is going about it – luring Shelley into trouble with a phoney secret society. Even the dress she always wears lends to her clinical nature, for it gives her an “evil scientist” look. By contrast, Nirhani the Indian girl is a warm and colourful character. Her second sight (which she handles with more success than 1977’s “Destiny Brown”) lends weight to the brains that figure out what is really going on. Nirhani is brilliant at working that part out, but we wonder if she really could have done it without her second sight.

“7 Steps to the Sisterhood” does seem to come across as a bit short-lived – only eight episodes. It could have been taken an episode or two more, if only to reveal the seventh challenge. Could it have been cut a bit short to make way for a new line-up of stories, and perhaps the seventh challenge cut off with it? Still, while it lasted, it was a whole new take on one of the most formulaic themes in girls’ comics.

 

Who’s That in My Mirror? (1977)

Sample images

Mirror 1

Mirror 2

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Mirror 3

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Publication: 30/7/77-1/10/77 (also translated into Spanish twice, under the titles “The Ghost in the Mirror” and “The Other side of the Mirror”)

Artist: Tom Hurst

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Magda Morrice has the face of an angel but the heart of a devil. She schemes her way to anything she wants and her pretty face belies it all to everyone. She gets jealous when Janie Gray wins the third form prize for fashion design and deliberately puts a dent in it. She then quietly takes the trophy from Janie, under pretext of having it mended. Later, at the market, she tricks her way into acquiring a mirror she fancies.

But when Magda gets the mirror home, she is surprised to find that the mirror is reflecting two images of her! She does not realise that the second face is actually a reflection of the devil in her – not yet, anyway.

The reflection takes a hand in helping Magda with her schemes. These are designed to take advantage of Janie and pretend to be friends with her while stealing Janie’s work and passing it off as her own, while sabotaging Janie’s other work to make her look bad in the eyes of their fashion teacher, Miss Winn. She also pretends to Janie that her mother is ill (and even gives her mother a dose of food poisoning to complete the effect) in order to pull Janie’s heart-strings and cadge off her for things such as a sewing machine. And she is very slick at pulling the wool over the eyes of Miss Winn, who thinks she is improving marvellously while Janie seems to be losing it.

But while the face continues to help Magda, it also grows increasingly ugly, evil-looking and frightening.

Magda catches on to what is happening in the mirror and tells the reflection that she is going to change so the reflection will be pretty too. But the reflection just sneers at her – and it is right. Magda soon finds she cannot change the things she has started without getting into trouble. Besides, she has gained things out of them, such as receiving accolades from Marcus Greg, a famous theatrical designer. She is soon lapsing into her scheming ways.

Now Magda has had enough of the terrifying face and tries to get rid of the mirror. But it always finds its way back to her – more of its powers. So Magda smashes it instead. She is puzzled as to why the mirror does not resist her as she throws a rock down on it.

But she soon finds out! Far from ridding herself of the face, she finds the face is following her everywhere! Every time she looks a mirror, pane of glass or anything reflective, she sees that face. It is getting uglier by the minute, and bigger too. It is such a nightmare that Magda can’t sleep and isn’t brushing her hair because of that hideous reflection in the mirror. People notice what a state Magda is in but of course Magda can’t explain why. The only way out seems to be to confess, but she is too caught up in what she has started to change anything now, and not with accolades from Mr Greg in person. Morever, she can’t quite work up enough courage to confess.

And there are still traces of Magda’s selfish, scheming old ways left in her. Eventually she gets so afraid of discovery that she takes her latest work and Janie’s (some costumes) to school with the intent of destroying the evidence.

But it is then that the worst happens. The pile of costumes suddenly comes alive, and it has that hideous face for a head! The strange monster is now coming towards Magda and seems to be about to speak to her.

Magda is so terrified that she faints.

When she comes to, Miss Winn is standing over her. Magda is so terrified that she finally makes a full confession to Miss Winn, Janie and then her mother. Miss Winn is all for punishing Magda (if only she knew), but Janie is forgiving and still wants to be friends. Magda returns the trophy she tricked Janie out of. As it has to go back at the end of term, she decides to buy Janie a replica she can keep forever, as a way of making it up to her.

When Magda next looks in a mirror, she finds the hideous face has gone. Hers is the only reflection now. But she resolves to be as good as she looks from now on – in case it comes back.

Thoughts

Now this is one story that takes established formulas and does a take on them to give us something fresh and different.

The first is what I call “the sweet-faced schemer” formula. Cunning schemers who get away with murder because they look so pretty, angelic and innocent have abounded in girls’ comics. They cropped up regularly in DCT titles, such as “Move Over, Maria” (Bunty) and “The Truth about Wendy” (Mandy). Sometimes they have been regulars, such as “Angela Angel-Face” (Sandie). Perhaps the most cunning sweet-faced schemer of them all was Carol in Jinty’s “Concrete Surfer”. This schemer was so cunning that not even her victim, Jean was sure if she was a real schemer or victim of misunderstandings until the climax of the story where Carol finally slips up.

The general focus in these stories is to catch out the schemer, and it is not easy. They are so slick, manipulative and innocent-looking that they have everyone around their little fingers (or play tricks to put them out of the way). But here the focus is on reforming the scheming girl and making her as nice as she looks.

And here is the second thing that is unusual about this story. Stories dealing with turning unsavoury girls around usually deal with girls who are spoiled, selfish, snobby or arrogant. Seldom do they deal with a girl who is downright nasty or scheming. But this is the case here. And it is one of the rare serials I have seen where a sweet-faced schemer does change her ways. Usually they just get caught out at long last and are expelled or whatever.

The third is the evil influence formula. Instead of forcing a nice girl into doing terrible things, which is what normally happens in evil influence stories, the influence actually seems to be helping an already nasty girl with her machinations. In the early episodes, readers may have felt a sense of outrage at the mirror helping a scheming girl. Shouldn’t she be getting her comeuppance or something from this mirror? But as the face grows increasingly hideous, readers must have reconsidered and wondered if this story would go the comeuppance way after all.

Magda’s reactions to the image are realistic in that she doesn’t change all at once. One reason for this is that she doesn’t quite know how without getting herself into trouble. Another is that her old ways keep resurfacing. She tells herself that she will have to make up for things some other time, but of course that is just bandaid treatment for a rousing conscience and does not stop the evil image from haunting her. It continues right up to the end, where Magda decides to destroy the evidence – but it is then that the evil image threatens to do its worst. Magda realises she must act now, or goodness know what might happen.

The intentions of the evil image are a bit confusing. The evil reflection encourages and abets Magda’s own evil. Yet at the same time it seems to be scaring Magda into changing her ways with its deteriorating, frightening appearance. It is not like other evil mirror stories that have appeared over the years. Girls either see a reflection in the mirror that is not their own but means big trouble (such as in “The Venetian Looking Glass” and “Slave of the Mirror” from Jinty), or the mirror creates evil reflections that set about taking over (“The Evil Mirror”, Girl series 2). But here the reflection is a reflection of the girl’s own evil that seems to start off helping her and then progressively scares the living daylights out of her. Furthermore, other stories where an object reflects a girl’s evil tend to do so in a reproving manner. One example is Mandy’s “Portrait of Pauline”, where Pauline’s new portrait starts reflecting her selfish nature and then her progress and setbacks in changing her ways. But this is not the case here. Rather, the image reflects Magda’s evil in a manner that flourishes in Magda’s evil. Maybe the answer lies in what would have happened if the image had spoken to Magda in the end, or if Magda had not confessed. But we never find out because Magda finally does the right thing in the nick of time.

What was the purpose in a magic mirror that behaves like that? Is it an evil mirror that feeds off people’s evil? Is it a magic designed to punish evil people in a rather unorthodox manner? Was it the result of magic that went a bit wrong? Was it designed to be some “monkey’s paw” thing? Or was it something else? We never know because the origins of the mirror are left unexplained and the image never speaks to Magda – assuming that was its intention in the final episode.

Still, it’s a different take on the evil influence theme, and we like the serial for that.

The theme of an unpleasant girl being haunted by evil-looking faces that turn out to be distorted reflections of herself – or perhaps reflections of the evil inside her – has cropped up in the “Strangest Stories Ever Told”. “The Face of Greed” (Tammy 4 October 1975; reprinted as a Gypsy Rose tale in Jinty 8 November 1980) and “Marcia’s ‘Ghost’” (Tammy 22 March 1980) are two examples, and there are probably more elsewhere. But those were complete stories. This is one occasion where I have seen the idea explored in a serial.

The art has been credited to Tom Hurst following Ruth’s comment below.

Note: This is the only Jinty story drawn by Tom Hurst.

Angela Angel-Face (1980)

Sample Images

Angel Face 1

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Angel Face 2

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Angel Face 3

Publication: 29 November 1980-27 December 1980
Original print: Sandie (publication dates unavailable)
Reprint: Tammy 10 March 1984-31 March 1984
Artist: Rodrigo Comos
Writer: Unknown

Angela Angel-Face was another short filler story which Jinty typically used over the Christmas period. It also marks the last appearance of Rodrigo Comos’ artwork in Jinty.

What is noteworthy – and perhaps unsettling about this story – is that it is not Jinty at all. It is reprinted from Sandie. Angela-Angel Face used to be a regular in Sandie. The premise was that Angela Palmer, a pupil at Charleton School, is taken for a sweet-natured girl because of her angelic face. But in fact she comes from the long ‘sweet-faced schemer’ formula – a selfish schemer who uses her sweet, pretty, angelic face to take advantage of people, and lie, cheat and connive to get whatever she wants. The only people who (ever) know the truth about Angela are Mary Coates and her friend Brenda. Mary is the chief watchdog over Angela, watching out for her nasty schemes and working out how to foil them. But regardless of how her schemes turn out, Angela always gets away with it because of her angelic face and it’s on to the next story. And so Angela belongs to the formula of the ‘regular’ schemer – the schemers who are regulars in the comic. Each week (or story) they hatch yet another plot that the protagonist has to figure out and foil. The protagonist succeeds, but the schemer is never defeated for good. Next episode (or story) it is business as usual. This is how a ‘regular’ sweet-faced schemer differs from one in a serial – there, the schemer always gets exposed in the end.

The plot, briefly: The Ambassador of Meringaria is thinking of sending his daughter Flavia to Charleton. Angela fools him into thinking she is a native of his country (with some phrases, flowers and the Angela Palmer charm). She wangles a trip to Meringaria for a quiz match, but is rather dismayed at the choice of girls to be on her team – guess who? And the teacher accompanying them, Miss Ryder, is not one who is so easily fooled by Angela.

Mary notices a lot of strange, suspicious things happening and eventually Angela tells Mary that she is involved in a plot to kidnap Flavia. She claims she was forced and now the plotters are after her because Mary foiled the attempt. Soon after, Angela disappears, with a note saying that she has been kidnapped. Mary begins to suspect Angela was a willing participant but double-crossed the plotters, and she then faked her own kidnapping. Mary goes in search of Angela and finds her at a funfair. Angela makes claims that she was kidnapped and escaped. Mary does not believe it, but everyone else does and Angela ends up a heroine. She has got away with it (whatever it was exactly) again.

Um, yes. Quite. The plot makes this serial widely regarded in Jinty discussions as one of Jinty’s low points. Readers were probably very ready to forget it as they absorbed themselves in its replacement, “Land of No Tears”, the following week. This story must have been one of the weaker ones in Angela’s run to boot.

But I prefer to ponder on why Jinty would bother with a reprint from an older comic. Jinty certainly was beginning to fall on reprints at this stage. This is most notable in Gypsy Rose, where the bulk of the stories fell back on reprints. Some were Rose’s own, but most were recycling old Strange Stories. The year 1981 would see two reprints of Jinty stories. But why the reprint from an older comic? Was it a quick way to fill a spot and save money at the same time? Or could Jinty not come up with a short story of her own and fell back on a fast, cheap reprint? Or was it a symptom of a comic that was beginning to flounder? Whatever the reason, it gives you a disconcerting indication of what economics and policies were going behind Jinty at this time.

Even more strange, the story was reprinted only four years later, in Tammy. Four years seems an unusually short interval between reprints. What could have been the reason for reprinting it comparatively quickly?