Tag Archives: science fiction

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

The Human Zoo (1978-9)

Sample Images

the-human-zoo-1athe-human-zoo-1bthe-human-zoo-1c

Published: 12 August 1978 – 13 January 1979 (20 episodes)

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Malcolm Shaw?

Reprint/translation: Tammy and Jinty 20 March 1982 to 10 July 1982; Tina as Als beesten en een kooi (like animals in a cage)

Plot

Alien bounty hunters from a distant galaxy come to Earth to collect specimens to take to their home planet. They make no exception for humans, which they think are just animals like any other. Among the people who are kidnapped by the aliens are twins Shona and Jenny Lewis. (It is implied that suchlike kidnappings are responsible for the Mary Celeste mystery.)

The aliens soon make it obvious that they do not care for animal welfare. They lock animals (and humans) into obedience collars that give intense pain when activated. Once the spaceship arrives on the aliens’ home planet, all the Earth specimens are sold at a cattle market. Shona and Jenny are sold to different owners, which means they are forcibly separated. The story then follows the fate of Shona, who becomes an exhibit in a zoo along with other people, and her quest to find Jenny.

Shona also realises the only way to freedom is to make the aliens realise that humans are sentient beings like themselves and not mere animals. However, there is a huge communication barrier between humans and the aliens: the aliens communicate by telepathy and do not speak; humans are not telepathic and communicate verbally. A bridge between the different forms of communication needs to be found.

Fortunately the zoo owner’s daughter Tamsha cares more for animal welfare than most of her people, including her father. She notices Shona and develops a soft spot for her.  Although she also thinks Shona is just an animal she makes Shona her pet. Shona tries to convince Tamsha of human sentience by doing some writing. Tamsha understands it is writing but fails to grasp it is proof that humans are sentient. During this time Shona also befriends Tamsha’s other pet, a two-headed goat, which will prove a key plot development.

Then Shona goes to the rescue of her fellow prisoners at the zoo, who are being forced into a cruel “chimps tea party” sideshow. This incident gives Tamsha’s father the impression she is a rogue animal and has to be destroyed. So he sells Shona to a slaughterhouse to be turned into food. Fortunately another alien spots Shona and buys her off the slaughterhouse in the nick of time.

However, saving Shona from the slaughterhouse is the only good thing he does for her. He wants to incorporate Shona in a circus act that involves a huge tub of water. This is a thrilling thing for the aliens, who are terrified of water. When he tries to work the act out Shona almost drowns because she can’t swim. Tamsha’s two-headed goat saves Shona in time. The circus boss is so impressed with it all that he buys the goat in order to recreate it all as his big circus act. When the cruel act of near-drowning is performed, the aliens go crazy over it and give a huge ovation afterwards. Tamsha is the only one who is appalled. With the help of some fellow aliens who are animal rights activists, Tamsha rescues Shona and the goat from the circus and releases them into the wilderness (she thinks she is putting Shona back into the wild).

The two-headed goat reunites with his own kind, and they take Shona to the Outlanders, a primitive Stone Age people who suffer dreadfully at the hands of the aliens, whom they call “The Silent Death”. She becomes very close to an Outlander girl named Likuda. The aliens remove the males, which they use as beasts of burden for farming and mining. They hunt the females for blood sport. The Outlanders are resigned to this and are also weakened by insufficient food to fight back.

All of a sudden, Shona gets strange pains in her head. Then she starts having visions of Jenny, who shows her a secret valley, which is full of luscious fruit trees. Then Shona discovers the valley is real and leads the Outlanders there. Now the Outlanders worship Shona as a saviour.

The pain returns and this time the visions of Jenny are horrifying. They show her being taken to a laboratory where the aliens perform experiments on her. There is also a male Outlander being used as a lab rat; he is identified as Likuda’s father, Lik. Shona and Likuda set off to rescue them.

To get back to the city, they hide in one of the vehicles used by the bloodsporting aliens. En route to the city they pass a farm where they see how male Outlanders are being used as beasts of burden. It is not only cruel but also surprisingly crude and primitive for such a technologically advanced race. The Outlanders use hand ploughs and tools, while the robots that force them to work until they collapse from exhaustion use whips. Shona marvels at why the aliens don’t use machines instead; Likuda says it simpler than machines, which can break down.

In the city Likuda and Shona meet up with Tamsha again. Tamsha has grown more vociferous in her animal rights activism and is part of an animal rights demonstration at the scientific establishment that is performing experiments on Jenny and Lik. The activists show they have been collecting evidence of animal cruelty, including a recording of Shona and the others arriving on the planet. The activists also remove Shona’s obedience collar. Note: this scene is deleted from the Tammy and Jinty reprint. In the reprint, when Shona and Likuda arrive in the city they just go straight into the laboratory. This deletion creates two plot holes in the reprint. First, what happened to Shona’s obedience collar? It has suddenly disappeared without explanation. Second, how come the alien scientists had Tamsha to throw into the cage with the humans?

Shona and Likuda find Jenny in a bad state. Lik explains that the aliens deprived her of sleep for their experiment, which is designed to make humans telepathic so they can communicate with them. Shona realises Jenny used her new telepathic powers to tell her where she was. They are about to escape when the aliens capture them. Jenny realises too late that she had unwittingly lured them all into a trap set by the aliens. The aliens are triumphant at finally making contact with a member of the animal kingdom (yes, they still have not realised humans are sentient beings despite their experiment). They throw them all back into their cages and throw Tamsha in after them. Looks like the demonstration collapsed.

Then the aliens’ weather control goes on the blink, which causes a violent thunderstorm. This is a shock for the aliens, not just because they are terrified of water but also because they have never known such weather. A lightning bolt hits the building and frees the prisoners. They make their way through the city, which is now flooding badly (looks like the aliens have no rainwater drainage systems), and sending off all the aliens into a panic. Shona spares a moment to rescue a drowning alien child. They make a boat out of a floating cupboard and sail their way out of the city.

They soon find that the flooding also destroyed the robots guards at the farm and freed the Outlanders who were slaving there. When the Outlanders see Tamsha and the alien child they are all set to tear them to pieces until Shona intervenes. She tells them that the flooding has only brought momentary freedom. Once it passes the aliens will go back to their old treatment of the Outlanders. Hiding in the secret valley is no good because the aliens will find it sooner or later. She persuades them all to go and help the flood-stricken aliens, because it is the only way to be free of them permanently and live in peace.

The Outlanders decide they have nothing to lose, so they put their hatred aside to begin a mission of mercy. The aliens, who have no skills in swimming, water navigation or flood control because they are so terrified of water, have been more badly stricken by the flood than Earth people would. Humans, on the other hand, have learned to swim, developed boating skills, and are more accustomed to water.

The humans have a lot of success in helping the aliens, and the water is receding too. Then they find a panic-stricken engineer. Using her telepathic powers, Jenny learns that the dam at the reservoir is about to burst. If it does, the whole city will be submerged and kill everyone. The aliens are trying to redirect the water, but the crucial valve is twenty feet below water. Of course the aliens have no skills in underwater swimming. However, Likuda and Jenny do, and they succeed in turning the valve. Sadly, Likuda gets her foot caught underwater. By the time she is rescued, it is too late. Likuda has sacrificed her life for the aliens.

Now, will the aliens appreciate everything the humans have done and realise humans are sentient beings, not animals? Or was it all for nothing and things will go back to what they were before?

It looks like the latter when security guards round up all the humans and throw them back in a cage. Then the city’s ruler frees all the humans and brings them all to a celebratory feast. The aliens got the message after all (perhaps it took a little while to sink in). Furthermore, it turns out the alien girl Shona rescued was the ruler’s daughter, so he is grateful for that as well as their saving the city. The aliens will now leave the Outlanders in peace and send the Earth humans back to Earth. The aliens will use a time machine to put them back on Earth the day before they disappeared so they will not have to face awkward questions about their disappearances. It also means they will lose all memory of what happened. All the same, when they arrive on the day in question, Shona finds she seems to know how a caged gorilla at the zoo feels…

Thoughts

This story is one of Jinty’s classics. It is one of her most popular and enduring stories, and is right up there with “Worlds Apart” and “Land of No Tears” as one of her best science fiction stories. Due to popular demand “The Human Zoo” was reprinted during the Tammy & Jinty merger. No doubt a lot of the votes would have come from “Pam’s Poll” in 1980. Indeed, a panel from “The Human Zoo” featured in the poll itself.

What makes the story so powerful is the allegories of animal abuse that humans themselves commit. By turn we see alien equivalents of bounty hunting, pain-induced discipline, cattle markets, zoos, slaughterhouses, circuses, bloodsports, beasts of burden, vivisection and even a hint of animal sacrifice. For this reason we cannot totally condemn the aliens for their treatment of humans, for humans themselves are guilty of the same things. The callous attitudes many of the aliens have towards animals are echoed in humans too. Just look at the attitude of Tamsha’s father, for example: “Don’t forget, they’re just animals, for us to use as we like.”

You would think such an advanced race would have more enlightened attitudes. However, it would be a mistake to assume any race that is technically advanced would be advanced in other ways as well. Moreover, it is easier to understand their coldness when we see this is a race that does not approve of soft emotions or tenderness. Sentimentality is considered as a primitive emotion and shedding tears a primitive action. After the Outlanders are freed, Tamsha is no longer ashamed to cry and tells the humans that her people have a lot to learn from them about showing emotions.

Fortunately there are kinder aliens among this cold-hearted race who stand up for animal rights. The aliens clearly are light-years behind Earth in regard to animal welfare, although they are far more technologically advanced than Earth. There are evidently no laws against animal abuse and exploitation. Hopefully this will change after the humans proved themselves to the aliens and the ruler himself proposed a toast to better understanding among all species. But then, animal rights are only a comparatively recent innovation on Earth itself, and in many places on Earth they have yet to take a serious hold. Still, at least it does exist on this alien world, and without it Shona and her fellow humans would never have escaped the animal abuse they suffered at the hands of the aliens. It is ironic that an experiment meant to make contact with animals becomes the bridge of the huge communication gap between humans and aliens and helps convince the aliens that humans are sentient beings and not animals. The alien scientists did not mean it that way; they were just out to score another scientific triumph with animals.

The emotional aspects of the story make it even more compelling. Shona goes through the pain of being torn away from Earth and her parents, and then from her own sister, whom she resolves to find. She is subjected to the horrors of being treated just like an animal, including a cruel circus act that takes advantage of her not having learned to swim. Even when Shona is finally freed from the abuse and joins the Outlanders she is still not safe from the aliens. Plus there is still the matter of finding her sister and maybe even returning to Earth. The story delivers quite a wallop when Likuda dies, and her death leaves an ominous question dangling over it: was Likuda’s sacrifice in vain or not?

The story is a bit vague about the aliens themselves. The name of their planet is never revealed; it’s just “the planet with two suns” (binary star system). The Earth humans just call them “the aliens” and the Outlanders “The Silent Death”. What the aliens call themselves is not known.

The aliens come across as rather arrogant and obtuse in assuming humans are animals and not realising they are sentient. Clearly they have not bothered with much study of the planet they have been taking specimens from. And it is implied that they have been doing so for centuries, as there is a hint they are responsible for the Mary Celeste mystery. Still, the concept is not entirely new. For example, in Star Trek: The Animated Series, there is an episode called “The Eye of the Beholder”, where Spock and Kirk are captured by the Lactrans, who think they are animals because they are primitive by their standards. (Perhaps this is the reason why the aliens think humans are animals?) The Lactrans put them in a zoo. Spock convinces the Lactrans of their sentience by mind melding with one of them and they are set free. That episode always reminds me of this story.

There are some aspects of this story that don’t look like they have been all that well thought out. For example, if the aliens segregate the sexes of the Outlanders by removing the men for forced labour, then how is it the Outlander women have children? How are they able to reproduce with the men removed?

Another more head-splitting example is the aliens using the time machine to restore the Earth humans to Earth the day before they disappeared. What happens when they approach the original time when the alien bounty hunters abducted them in the first place? Do they go through the whole ordeal again, come back once more with the time machine and their memories wiped, and then the whole thing starts all over again?

It also seems inexplicable that the aliens even need the Outlanders to be beasts of burden in the first place. With their advanced technology they could surely come up with something more efficient for farming and mining. And this advanced race still puts out hand ploughs and hand tools for them to use? Oh, really!

Overall though, this is a very solid, powerful story that strikes a lot of chords and would leave a lasting impression on readers long after they have read it. A lot of readers would emerge from it thinking more carefully about how animals are treated. One reader wrote in to thank everyone involved for such commentary on animal cruelty and said she wouldn’t laugh at chimps’ tea parties anymore after reading the story. Some may even have considered vegetarianism after reading “The Human Zoo”.

José Casanovas

Catalan artist José Casanovas (1934 – 2009) was well-known and well-loved by lots of readers, appearing as he did in many British comics over a number of decades. His detailed, stylish, and above all fun art was distinctive and he was credited in various publications, so it is easy to pull together quite a long list of his work (though no doubt still incomplete). Many British readers think of him as a 2000AD artist – that is how I first came across his name myself – and therefore perhaps as an SF artist primarily. If you count up the stories he drew and the titles he appeared in, though, by far the majority of his work seems to be for the girls’ comics market.

The list below has been pulled together with much reference to the Catawiki database in order to fill out the non-Jinty stories, so many thanks to the contributors to that site. (I have included the numbers of episodes listed for each story as per Catawiki, to emphasize how prolific he was. I am fairly sure the records on that site are not complete but it gives a good impression of his work. Of course, please do send in further information if you have it!)

  • Tammy
    • Cinderella Spiteful (1971-72) – 20 episodes
    • Two-Faced Teesha (1973-74) – 10 episodes
    • Ella on Easy Street (1974) – 8 episodes
    • The Town Without Telly (1974) – 12 episodes
    • Wars of the Roses (1975-76) – 11 episodes
    • Babe at St Woods (1976-77) – 39 episodes (you can see some sample pages here)
    • Down To Earth Blairs (1977-78) – 25 episodes
    • Running Rosie Lee (1980) – 10 episodes
    • Tomorrow Town (1982) – 10 episodes
  • Sandie
    • The Nine Lives of Nat the Cat (1972-73) – 38 episodes
  • Princess Tina & Penelope
    • Have-A-Go Jo (1970) – 25 episodes
  • Jinty
  • Lindy
    • Sophie’s Secret Squeezy (1975) – 7 episodes
  • Penny
    • Pickle, Where Are You? (1979) – 10 episodes

Mistyfan has recently done a post about “Sue’s Daily Dozen” in which she made the point that Casanovas is known for science fiction. There is one science fiction story done by him in a girls’ comic, namely Tammy‘s “Tomorrow Town”, which I take the opportunity to reprint here as being a piece of art that would otherwise not be likely to get a showing on this Jinty-specific blog.

Tomorrow Town pg 1

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Following Casanovas’ death in 2009, Steve Holland wrote an obituary Bear Alley post here, drawing also on the Spanish-language blog Tebeosfera’s post here. (Do follow this last link to see some lovely artwork from an adaptation of Pollyanna done for the local market.) There was also an interesting comment on 2000AD fan blog the Prog Slog about Casanovas’ work in the boys’ science fiction comics market. He drew well-liked characters Max Normal (some Max Normal art by Casanovas can be seen here) and Sam Slade Robo-Hunter (after Ian Gibson had stopped drawing this latter character). He also drew a number of one-off stories in 2000AD, and a story in Starlord, and people characterise him as a 2000AD artist therefore. The Prog Slog comment here clarifies that: “Casanovas early work for 2000AD, Starlord etc. was sporadic. First appearance was a ‘Future Shock’ in Prog 70 (24 June 1978) a 1.5 pager called ‘Many Hands’. “Good morning Sheldon, I love you” was his next, a six page future shock style one-off written by John Wagner in Starlord 11 (22 July 1978). He drew another one-off Wagner [story] in Starlord 16. There’s a gap then until Progs 148 & 149 (January 1980) where he does a 2-part Ro-Jaws Robo-Tale. He then draws the 11 page Mugger’s Mile by Alan Grant, the first ever Max Normal strip (“The Pinstripe Freak (He’s Dredd’s informer)”) in the first Judge Dredd annual (1981). He goes on to draw more Future Shocks in Prog 220, 241 and 245, another Max Normal in the 1982 JD annual, and again in JD 1983 annual. In the 1982 Sci-Fi Special he draws his first Dredd proper, a 10 pager by Wagner – The Tower of Babel. His first Dredd in the weekly is the excellent “Game Show Show” 2 parter in 278/279, August 1982, Wagner again. He did the second ever ‘Time Twister’ in Prog 295, a 4 pager called Ultimate Video. And that’s as far as my data goes for now, by Prog 300 he’d done 77.5 pages: 32.5 in the weeklies, 10 in specials, 23 in annuals and 12 in Starlord. According to ‘Barney’ online (http://www.2000ad.org) his last work was in Prog 822 (Feb 1993), Robo-Hunter”. The tally of his pages for 2000AD and the like must therefore surely be far outnumbered by the 90+ episodes of his run on Dora Dogsbody in Jinty alone!

Battle of the Wills (1977)

Sample Images

Battle of the Wills 1Battle of the Wills 2Battle of the Wills 3 1

Publication: 2/7/77-1/10/77

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown, but see “Thoughts”

 

Plot

Kate Wills is a selfish, unsavoury girl – but then, so is her grandmother, in the way she treats Kate. Grandmother keeps forcing Kate to follow in her footsteps and be a ballerina, but Kate wants to be a gymnast. The two are constantly at war over ballet vs. gymnastics. Grandmother just does not comprehend that Kate cannot realise her full potential as a top ballerina because having ballet constantly forced upon her has made her hate it. She believes (or deludes herself) that the gymnastics is just a passing craze and Kate will soon love ballet. She squelches every attempt Kate makes to pursue gymnastics, including cutting gymnastics articles out of newspapers and sacking servants who disobey her instructions (because Kate intimidated them) to keep Kate away from gymnastics. And what’s worse, grandmother always wins in the end.

 

Then, grandmother says she is going away on a year-long world trip to visit her old ballet haunts. Kate sees the advantages immediately, especially when told she will receive an allowance of £50 a week. She goes off to enrol at the gymnastics college under the name of Kate Holmes, and the allowance will cover her fees. Sounds too easy? It is – the family lawyer, Perkins, tells Kate that the allowance will stop if her ballet training does, and he is going to monitor her to make sure she keeps up her ballet. It looks like grandmother has won again.

 

Then Kate is reminded of an article she saw earlier about a Dr Morrison who claimed to have invented a machine that can duplicate living beings. It was dismissed as a hoax, but Kate seizes upon it as the means to be in two places at once, which would solve her problem. So she heads off to Morrison (a female scientist) and demands that a clone be made of her. Morrison agrees when Kate points out that a clone of a human being rather than animals would be far more convincing proof that her machine is genuine.

 

The cloning works – but too well. The clone believes she is the real Kate, and hates ballet and wants gymnastics as much as Kate does. Morrison says she cannot tell them apart and the machine to reverse the process will not be ready for months. In the meantime, she sorts the matter with a coin toss – the winner goes to the gymnastics college and changes her hairstyle to differentiate her from the loser, who is forced to go home and the hated ballet, under Perkins’ constant guard (something that threatens to turn him into a nervous wreck because Kate is such a handful). But she isn’t having that, so now the battle of ballet vs. gymnastics is being fought between the two Kates, with ballet Kate playing tricks on gymnast Kate to get the gymnastics she wants, while gymnast Kate fights her every inch of the way to hold on to them.

 

Further complications arise when gymnast Kate’s selfish nature makes her extremely unpopular at the college. Only one girl, Pauline, has tried to be friends at first, but Kate alienates her when she blackmails her way into taking Pauline’s place in a gymnastics display. It gets even more complicated when gymnast Kate finds out that Perkins is Pauline’s father, which creates hijinks in preventing him or Pauline from seeing the wrong Kate or even both of them when their paths meet over various gymnastics events where ballet Kate is always causing trouble for gymnast Kate. Added to that is a constant cloud hanging over gymnast Kate – is she really the clone, and if so, are her days as a gymnast numbered by how soon Morrison perfects the reversal machine?

 

Then gymnast Kate discovers Morrison has the reversal machine already, not months away as she said before. Morrison says it was just not ready to test on humans at the time and has a further bombshell – she tells gymnast Kate that she is the clone. This gives gymnast Kate such a shock that she goes into a state of catatonia and amnesia and wanders about in a daze. She ends up in hospital, but runs off when a news item about the Tynchurch gymnastics display she was meant to participate in jogs her memory just enough for her to go there. She arrives there still in her daze, but somehow able to perform.

 

Meanwhile, grandmother sends ballet Kate a new ballet instructor from Russia, Alicia, who takes the right approach with her. Instead of forcing Kate to dance, Alicia encourages her with praise and taking her to a ballet performance to inspire her. It works; ballet Kate is soon surprising herself at enjoying ballet for the first time in her life. She now feels quite happy to leave gymnast Kate to her own devices at the college.

 

But before ballet Kate changes her mind about ballet, she tries to pull one last trick on gymnast Kate at the Tynchurch display. However, she gets caught up with the doctors who are looking for gymnast Kate and then finds out about the state she is in. So she decides to help gymnast Kate instead.

 

Meanwhile, Pauline finally rumbles there are two Kates, and ballet Kate explains everything to her. But gymnast Kate has taken off in a daze once again, and ballet Kate finds out from Morrison what is wrong. Morrison also wants the two Kates to come to a science convention, where she will demonstrate her reversal machine in public by merging them back into one. Ballet Kate tracks down gymnast Kate and explains. They head off to the convention, with gymnast Kate now resigned to her fate. Pauline comes along and so does Alicia, who has been informed of the situation.

 

At the convention, there are protests on all sides that the experiment is cruel and inhuman and should be stopped immediately. This raises hopes that the clone will be spared. However, the scientists’ opposition has Morrison take matters into her own hands and turn the reversal machine straight on the Kates. However, it is ballet Kate who disappears, not gymnast Kate. This is because Morrison lied about which one was the clone to protect her work until she was ready to prove it to the convention. But the scientists are so horrified that they ban her duplicating machine and have her arrested. Morrison expresses no remorse; only anger that the scientists do not appreciate her genius.

 

Kate returns home, full of grief over her clone. However, the experiences she went through have turned her into a more considerate girl who has now realised how selfish she has been. So when Kate hears that the real reason her grandmother went away was to seek medical treatment in Russia for a serious heart condition, but her post-treatment prognosis is uncertain, she decides to give up her gymnastics and humour her still-infirm grandmother about pursuing ballet.

 

Alicia and Pauline feel the sacrifice Kate is making will be too much for her. So Alicia comes up with a plan. She persuades Kate to go for the national gymnastics championship she was training for, while, unknown to Kate, she puts grandmother in the audience – under protest. The hope is that once grandmother actually sees Kate’s gymnastics, she will come around. But grandmother has severe prejudices about the gymnastics she has never even watched properly as well as being opposed to Kate pursuing them, and her reaction to Kate performing is inscrutable.

 

By the end, it looks like the plan has failed and Kate has left in tears, without even checking the results of the competition. She thinks it is the end of her gymnastics and does not even know her grandmother was there until Alicia owns up. However, grandmother eventually proves she has come around, by not only in accepting the trophy Kate has won on her behalf but also in the acceptance speech she gives. She is proud to support Kate’s dream of going to the Olympics, and her prognosis is now good.

 

Thoughts

 

This story is one that crops up frequently in Jinty discussions and seems to have endured with readers. It certainly is a cut above your average story about the protagonist fighting difficult parents who keep pushing her in the direction they want and have no respect for what she wants, which drives her to go behind their backs all the time. Here the protagonist resorts to what could be the most unique solution to the problem in the history of girls’ comics – having a clone created so she can be in two places at the same time. But the solution brings its own problems that act as the obstacles the protagonist so often faces when going behind her parents’ backs to pursue her path: keeping the secret, hijinks when things go a bit wrong, thinking fast when faced with the threat of discovery, and jealous rivals who are so often thrown into the mix. And the difficulties facing gymnast Kate are all compounded by a constant, niggling thought that surely none of her counterparts in other comics have ever faced – which Kate is the real one and which is just the clone whose life will end when the reversal machine is ready? And when the truth is revealed, which will win out – ballet or gymnastics? Of course we are all rooting for the gymnastics, but what is grandmother going to say about it when she comes back? It will be back to square one for Kate – unless grandmother is persuaded to change her mind.

 

What further adds to the appeal of the story is that the protagonist herself starts out as an unlikeable character and not a fully sympathetic one. This is quite unusual for this type of story; usually a protagonist fighting a difficult parent to pursue her dreams is a sympathetic character, such as Glenda Noble in “The Goose Girl”. However, although we sympathise with Kate’s situation, we do not sympathise with her character. She is pushy, even bullying, selfish, and does not see beyond herself. She is not above blackmailing Pauline and does not care about the servants who get sacked because of the constant war between her and her grandmother. So there is far more character development in this story; we know that Kate will change somehow, and we all the more interested in following her story to find out just how she will change and where it will lead in the battle over ballet vs. gymnastics.

 

It is not too much of a surprise that it is shock treatment that turns Kate around, though more extreme because she is threatened with a (false) near-death experience as well. It could hardly be anything else. What is a surprise is that what turns the clone around is the very last thing she expected – beginning to like ballet. And it is all because her new ballet teacher goes about things the right way – being likeable, encouraging and inspiring to induce Kate to pursue ballet out of her own interest – not forcing ballet upon Kate as grandmother does because it is what she wants, and not listening to what Kate wants. It is a rare lesson that any difficult parent/teacher learns in girls’ comics – learning to go about things the right way instead of the wrong way of forcing things upon people. If ballet Kate had been the real Kate after all, the story could have ended in quite an unconventional manner for this type of genre – the protagonist now doing what the parent wants because it is now what she wants instead of gaining the freedom to pursue what she wants.

 

This story is also pretty unconventional for Jinty in another manner. Although Jinty was known for her SF stories, the mad/eccentric scientist was one SF theme that seldom featured. But in this case it does, and what’s more, Dr Morrison is not your average mad scientist. Most mad scientists in girls’ comics are out for world domination or whatever. They often a dash of campiness about them and behave like maniacs. But this doctor is a completely cold fish, and what makes her even more chilling is that her true colours are not apparent at first. When we first meet Morrison, she seems a sympathetic character. She has been wronged because the science establishment rejected her machine as a hoax, lives in a dingy residence, and when the two Kates are created, she seems to be in a real dilemma. At one point she even comes to the rescue of gymnast Kate in fooling Perkins. But once her lies begin to unravel, her cold, ruthless nature begins to appear. Ballet Kate realises how heartless Morrison really is and that neither of them are much real to her; she just sees them as an “interesting experiment”. And the climax of the story, where Morrison wipes ballet Kate from existence without a flicker of remorse, just to prove herself to the convention, despite all their protests, has to be one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded scenes ever depicted in girls’ comics. This must have been a moment where the Jinty team really wanted to kick some butt; none of the clichéd last minute saves, as was what the Kates hoped for when the scientists protested that the experiment be stopped.

 

Jinty was also known for her sports stories, and “Battle of the Wills” was the first Jinty story to feature gymnastics. The other Jinty stories that did were “Land of No Tears”, “Wild Rose” and “Prisoner of the Bell”. Unfortunately, the gymnastics in all these stories were marred by one glaring error – having girls perform gymnastics on parallel bars, rings and Pommel horse. This is incorrect because they are used in men’s gymnastics. Some more accurate research into gymnastics could have been done there.

 

“Battle of the Wills” shares roots with several other stories that have me wondering that if at least some of them had the same writer. Kate’s ambitious but selfish nature that softens into a more considerate one sounds similar to how another selfish Jinty girl, Pandora, develops in “Pandora’s Box”. In “Prisoner of the Bell” Susie Cathcart also wants to pursue gymnastics, but her grandmother keeps forcing her to be an academic (and Susie is a confirmed underachiever) and thinks gymnastics are nonsense, just as Kate’s grandmother does. In this case, the grandmother uses hypnotism to compel her. The same goes for Alison Thorne in Tammy’s “Slave of the Clock” in 1982. Alison is another talented but reluctant ballerina. Unlike Kate, Alison does not hate ballet; she is just not passionate enough to make it her career. Then Alison meets a ballet teacher who goes about things the wrong way in the extreme – she hypnotises reluctant ballet students into doing ballet whenever they hear the ticking of a clock. The last was written by Jay Over, a known Jinty writer. It raises the possibility that Over wrote “Battle of the Wills” and “Prisoner of the Bell” because of various similarities they have with “Slave of the Clock”.

 

When comparing “Battle of the Wills” to “Prisoner of the Bell” or “Slave of the Clock”, it emerges as more superior in terms of character development. Once Alison and Susie are freed from the hypnotism they pretty much go back to what they were, as if nothing had happened. But Kate has grown, and become more considerate and mature. And if ballet Kate had indeed been the original, she would have really surprised herself. “Battle of the Wills” is also more superior in terms of lessons learned. The other two show what can happen when you go about things the wrong way and try to force them on other people. Seldom do you get the lesson about the results you can get when you go about things the right way. But this is what happens when Alicia appears in the place of the grandmother. Kate sees how different Alicia is and responds accordingly. However, there is no Alicia for Susie (to help her appreciate education more) or Alison (to encourage her to pursue her ballet talent to the full).

Edited to add: I have produced and added in a WTFometer. This story scores quite highly at 33.

Battle of the Wills WTFometer

Welcome to new readers!

Welcome to any new readers who are here via recent tweets / retweets by Great News For All ReadersPaul Harrison-Davies, and Sean Phillips! There’s lots on this blog for fans of Jinty of course, and also for those who may not yet know this title at all. The aim is to be a really comprehensive reference site for this specific girls’ comic, while helping to enlarge our collective knowledge about creators involved in producing girls comics generally. Where possible, I like to feature interviews with writers and artists but also with editors and others involved in the production of weekly comics in whatever capacity.

jintyfirstissuecover

If you don’t yet know Jinty well, you might like to start with some posts about individual stories: “Children of Edenford” is one of my favourite stories, with its Stepford Schoolchildren (their headmistress feeds them a mystic drug to make them perfect!), while the much more realistic “Waves of Fear” is one of the strongest stories about bullying that is found anywhere in girls’ comics. There is an index page of all the stories that ran in Jinty, with brief summaries. Likewise there is an index of story themes: you probably already know that weekly girls’ comics of the 70s seemed to thrive on misery and cruelty, but were you aware of the myriad ways in which this was expressed, from the Cinderella story and the Slave story to the Exploited Amnesiac and the Guilt Complex? More upliftingly there are also stories themed around Adventure, Science Fiction, and Environmental Concerns.

As part of the posts about individual stories, artists, and writers we try to include a short excerpt from the comic: this is a sequential medium, after all. Hopefully this may lead you to find new-to-you artists that you are excited by – there were some amazing, strong talents printed in the pages of Jinty and other comics of the time. Some of them are well-known from their other work outside of this area – Jim Baikie and José Casanovas from their work in 2000AD, and Phil Gascoine from his work in Commando, for instance – but others such as Phil Townsend, Trini Tinturé, and Terry Aspin remain relatively unknown despite their beautiful work. The same applies to writers, but so much less is known about them.

Most recently, we have added sections on Translations and reprints – these stories had a long life and a wide geographical reach outside of their original publication! – and some galleries of favourite panels, covers, and story logos. There is considerably more to come on these areas in the future.

Logo from
Logo from “Village of Fame”.

Finally, the bread-and-butter posts of the blog are posts about individual issues; a true index of each week in the comic. They are not necessarily posted in original publication order, but there is an index page here so it is possible to see at a glance the weeks that we have already covered and those that are still to do. Alongside these there are also more analytical or general articles, with discussion about how to measure the bonkersness of a story (via my invention of a WTFometer), or reviewing what we know about female writers in this girls’ genre, for instance.

The Forbidden Garden (1979)

Sample images

Garden 1

Garden 2

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Garden 3

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Publication: 24/3/79-28/7/79

Repeat: Tammy 1984 – unfinished due to Tammy’s cancellation

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot: Mankind has polluted the atmosphere, causing plants to become extinct and soils incapable of growing any. The plants that do survive are protected in laboratories while public places are filled with plastic substitutes. The pollution and lack of plants also means water and food are strictly rationed, and punishments for transgressors are harsh, such as imprisonment for water stealing. Other harsh measures are taken as well, such as imprisonment for breaking curfew and destroying pets because they are a strain on food supplies. People start dumping them in the Forbidden Zone (a ruined part of old London) instead.

Laika Severn’s sister Valli is extremely ill, but her parents cannot afford hospital care, which is for rich people only. Valli wishes to see a real flower, but where to get one? Then, one day Laika trespasses into the Forbidden Zone. To her astonishment, she finds a patch of earth with grass growing in it. As she explores further, she discovers evidence that the patch once belonged to a gardener. She finds seed packets and immediately sees her chance to grow a flower for Valli.

But the seeds need water, and that poses a problem in this water-rationed society. Eventually Laika is driven to the imprisonable offence of stealing water from school. Her transgression is photographed by “the meanest prefect in the school”, Gladvis Clampp. But instead of reporting Laika, Gladvis starts blackmailing her into doing dirty, exhausting work at her Uncle Maxwell’s food processing factory in the industrial zone, in exchange for more water. He is only too pleased to have cheap labour that he can pay just with water and does not care that it is illegal because Laika is underage. And in return, he gives Gladvis off-ration food.

Nonetheless, the seeds start sprouting, and they start with the tears Laika sheds. Then Laika finds a water source in an old washroom because the authorities forgot to turn off the pipes. Now Laika has no need for her water wages from Gladvis’ uncle, but she is still being blackmailed. Then, when Gladvis orders Laika to clean up to her room, Laika manages to break into Gladvis’s safe for the blackmail evidence. She discovers she is in good company – the safe is full of evidence that Gladvis has been using to blackmail people. Laika destroys everything to free her fellow victims as well as herself. Her act also sets off sprinkler systems and sends Gladvis running!

Later that evening, Laika finds that her plants seem to be growing at an unusually fast rate that seems abnormal for plant life. Another problem are the animals that have been dumped in the zone – they have grown ferocious and dangerous, and could kill people. The authorities are taking drastic measures to cull them.

Laika knows Gladvis will take revenge, but she does not anticipate how far Gladvis goes. Gladvis contrives to have her father (Mr Severn’s manager) demote Mr Severn to “C” Worker, which forces the family to relocate to the dreaded industrial zone. However, before she leaves for the industrial zone, Laika tells her friend Kara Stayn about Gladvis and urges her to pass the word around. In earshot is Miss Karvell, a teacher with a reputation for favouring Gladvis.

The industrial zone is a depressing, dreadful place to live in. It is so seriously polluted that people have to live in “horrid” shabby flats located underground. School is a dump with no lessons at all and filled with rough kids who are pale from never seeing the sun. Mr Severn is even more depressed at his new job because Grade C workers get “all the awful jobs” (something Laika herself experienced during her brief stint at the food processing plant in the industrial zone). And there is no way out of the industrial zone; once you are there, you are there for life. Not surprisingly, Mrs Severn is overwhelmed with depression and despair. Only Valli remains cheerful and hopeful because Laika promised her a flower. But Laika cannot even wangle a pass to get to her plants.

Then, Laika is surprised when the Child Protection Force arrives. They take her away and put her in with Kara’s family. They have received information that she is brilliant; brilliant children are placed in the care of the force and given privileges. This means a forced, heart-breaking separation from her family. On the other hand, it also means a return to her old school, a chance to bone up on horticulture in the library for the sake of her plants, and to see them again. When she does, she finds they are growing at a phenomenal rate and wonders if there is something odd about them. She is also puzzled as to how she got into the protection of the force; she is intelligent but not brilliant. She begins to wonder if she has a secret friend.

The rainfall (programmed so water can be collected) is advanced, and Laika goes into the Forbidden Zone as she fears her plants will be damaged. But Kara follows and suffers a head injury in a flooded underground passage, while Laika lets it slip about her garden. When they get out, they are caught by the police for curfew-breaking (also an imprisonable offence). But Miss Karvell comes and, to Laika’s surprise, gets them off the hook. However, Kara’s parents are furious with Laika over what happened.

Next day, Laika finds out that Miss Karvell is her secret friend. It turns out that Miss Karvell and other staff members were among the victims that Laika freed from Gladvis (but Gladvis looks like she is still in business and finding new victims to blackmail). In return, Miss Karvell falsified Laika’s school records to get her out of the industrial zone and into the Child Protection Force. She asks Laika to confide in her as she suspects a problem; Laika asks to keep things secret a little longer. Miss Karvell also says that Valli has worsened and nearing death. This prompts Laika to go to her garden to see if her plants have bloomed in time for Valli.

They have, but they are hideous mutants. Shocked, Laika smashes them, then tears up the seed packets and throws the seed around in a fit of pique. She heads back to Kara’s, where another shock awaits. In a state of delirium, Kara rambles about “Laika’s garden”. Fearing the police will soon arrest her for trespass in the Forbidden Zone, Laika heads back to it, collecting food rations on the way. But the rats eat her rations and the wild animals force her to barricade herself into the washroom. Hunger drives her out in search of more rations, but she gets lost in dense fog. Meanwhile, the police force things out of the weakened Kara and head to the zone to look for Laika.

Back in the Forbidden Zone, Laika suddenly smells a heady perfume. It is so powerful she can follow it, even in the fog. It leads straight back to her garden. Laika is astonished to find her garden is now suddenly a tropical paradise!

Laika realises the plants must have grown from the seed she threw about when she had her tantrum, but cannot understand why they have grown so fast or huge. Then she discovers an old notebook left by the gardener. He was conducting experiments to reverse the environmental damage to his garden. At the time his efforts failed, but now they are paying off. However, the garden is producing mutant flowers, hence the abnormalities Laika has noticed.

Laika then gets a most daring idea – trade the notebook with the scientific community in exchange for the best hospital care for her sister. She enlists the help of Miss Karvell for this, while running the gauntlet with the police and turning the heads of the townsfolk with armfuls of real flowers in the process. Laika’s plan works and help arrives in the nick of time for the dying Valli. By the time Valli has recovered enough, her flower is waiting for her. And there is a butterfly to go with it. Nobody has seen a butterfly for ages, and they take it for a sign that Earth’s ecology will be restored.

Thoughts

Jinty was known for her environmental stories, and The Forbidden Garden is another of her most endearing classics on this theme. Its message of what we can do to our environment through pollution and other careless acts seems even more real now in an era of increasing mass extinctions and even bees under threat. Even if we survive, the society we could create for ourselves may be even grimmer than the one depicted in the story, which was grim enough. The drive to preserve the existing food and water has produced harsh measures, which can be seen in every inch of society, and not just in laws governing water-stealing and killing pets because they are a drain on food supplies. And the Forbidden Zone, which gives Laika indications of how life used to be, contrasts so wistfully with the life she has to lead because there are no plants. For example, Laika sees old advertisements for sweets and vegetable seeds, and reflects ruefully on how she cannot have either; sweets are banned and nobody can grow fresh vegetables except in laboratories.

We also see the bleakness in the uncle’s food processing factory, where work is done by hand because machines are a drain on the country’s dwindling power supply. The monotonous, repetitive, boring work makes the factory a grim place to work in; “the workers look like robots” and “bored stiff”. The work Laika is forced to do is even worse – the gruelling job of cleaning out vats with cleaning chemicals that choke her. It exemplifies what is meant by the “awful jobs” that the Grade C workers are lumbered with in the industrial zone, and what Mr Severn must go through at work when he is demoted to C Grade. And the uncle makes it even grimmer for the factory because he is a mean man who is capable of underhand tactics such as exploiting underage workers and giving his niece off-ration food in exchange for providing him with Laika’s cheap labour. It would not be surprising if he and Gladvis make a regular habit out of exploiting her blackmail victims in this way.

The caste system that Laika seems to live under makes it even grimmer. From what we gather, the worker system is graded A, B and C. A is the top, where the Clampp family is, B is the middle, where Laika’s family are, and C is the very bottom, where the worst jobs are reserved for people, and no way out of the depressing, polluted and clearly underfunded and uncared-for industrial zone. And the pollution of the industrial zone, which forces its people to live in dilapidated underground flats, shows just how many lessons have been learned about the dangers of pollution after the mass plant extinction it has caused. Even brilliance (presumably driven by a desperate need to preserve the best) causes more oppression, with authorities granting special privileges to brilliant children, but also forcing their removal from their families and into the protection of the child protection force. And money, as always, defines the class distinctions even further; hospital care, for example, is for the rich only.

Nobody seems to speak out against the severity of this society, nor do we see what happens to anyone who does. Demotion to the industrial zone seems a punishment in itself, and its use against the Severns indicates that it can be used – and abused – to get rid of people. It would not be surprising if the industrial zone is used in this manner regularly.

The heroine herself is not quite a rebel against the system either. Unlike Cassy Shaw of Land of No Tears, who rebels outright to change the oppressive Alpha-Gamma system, Laika is no crusader who wants to change the inequities and harsh measures of her society. Sure, she hates the destruction of the planet’s ecology, defies the law to break into the Forbidden Zone and in obtaining water, and fumes at how her sister is dying because they cannot afford hospital care. But the liberties she takes are driven by her love for her sister, and to fulfil her sister’s dying wish to have a real flower. Nonetheless she too ends up changing her society – not through rebellion and overthrowing the system, but by taking the first step to reverse the ecological damage that led to its creation.

Some things do stretch a point. It is never explained how mankind actually survived the extinction of the plants or the atmospheric pollution, or how they manage to survive without plants – except in a very oppressive manner. For that matter, it is not explained how Earth itself manages to keep going without plants. And even if the flowers in Laika’s garden are mutants, it is stretching credibility that they can start growing from Laika’s tears or grow so fast and huge after a deluge of water. They could have not had more than a week to do so.

Still, this story stands the test of time, and the issues it explored then are perhaps even more relevant today. It is a well-written story, filled with drama, emotion, and hope and love against desperate odds, a race against time, and an oppressive system. And the artwork of Jim Baikie lends itself brilliantly to the depiction of this harsh society with his cross hatching and powerful line work. A stalwart of science fiction stories in 2000AD, Baikie was right at home here with The Forbidden Garden. It is small wonder that The Forbidden Garden was one of Jinty’s most popular and best-remembered stories. It is a real shame that its reprint in Tammy (possibly prompted by Pam’s Poll in 1980) was cut off so abruptly by Tammy’s sudden disappearance.

Story theme: Science Fiction

If Misty was the girls’ comic with horror stories in it, then Jinty was the one remembered for its science fiction stories. Although Jinty didn’t include sf from the very start, and was far from being the only girls’ comic title with science fictional themes, this is a justified link:  the first science fiction-influenced story appeared within the first year of Jinty, and sf appeared throughout the bulk of the run of the comic, forming some of the very strongest and most memorable stories in the title.

Core examples

There are a number of really key examples of sf stories in Jinty, and I could choose any one of them to talk about in more detail: “Fran of the Floods“, “The Robot Who Cried“, “Land of No Tears“, “Almost Human“, and “The Forbidden Garden” are all indubitably sf and memorable stories to boot. This time I want to talk about “The Human Zoo”, which we have hardly focused on at all as yet.

In “The Human Zoo”, a coachload of schoolgirls is abducted by aliens, and taken in a flying saucer (along with other, grown-up, abductees) to another planet. This planet, light-years away (everyone is put into cold-sleep to get there) has two suns, and the dominant life-form consists of the aforementioned aliens, who are bald, dome-headed, and speak only telepathically. From the alien point of view, humans are mere animals; indeed, there are wild humans living outside the alien cities who are hunted down as food and for sport.

At the beginning of the story we’re introduced to twin sisters, one of whom is a soft-hearted vegetarian animal-lover; her twin is the one we follow throughout, as they are separated and taken through all the horrific things that sentient beings do to creatures that they don’t think are sentient: putting them in zoos (including forcing them to have a chimp’s tea party), keeping them as pets, killing them for food, and even doing scientific experiments on them. In the end, the aliens are reconciled to the idea that humans are intelligent, coming round to this partly because one of the twins can talk to them due to the scientific experiments she’s undergone, and partly because the wild humans save the alien city, and the alien king’s daughter, from drowning. (Their secret weakness is being unable to swim, whereas the humans have learned.)

This is a good, solid sf story, taking the opportunity to swipe at a few other targets on the way (it is clearly an animal rights story too). It perhaps would fit better in the pulp years of some decades previously than in the more sophisticated and experimental New Wave of science fiction of the 60s and 70s: for instance at the end of the story, everything is reset and no lasting impact is seen from the girls’ trip to a far planet, and the aliens are pretty stereotypical. But really, you couldn’t get a story that was much more solidly in the heartland of science fiction themes.

  • “The Green People” (1975): this is the first story I would identify in Jinty as being science fiction. I hesitated initially, as the titular green people live underground in idyllic locations that make you think more of elves than of aliens: but they have ray-guns and a special metal and an advanced civilization that has gone through war into peace. They also use that trope beloved of sf writers of a certain era: telepathy. Like “The Human Zoo”, this uses an sf theme (here, it’s a first contact story) to talk about an issue that affects our society more immediately: wanton destruction of the environment.
  • “Fran of the Floods” (1976): this is a John Wyndham type-story done for a schoolgirl audience, an apocalypse and post-apocalypse in comics form. it is a rather cosier catastrophe than even Wyndham was ever accused of, but with pretty grim moments nevertheless and a roll-call of the dead and missing, at the end. The clock is not reset in this story, even if civilization is not gone forever.
  • Jassy’s Wand of Power” (1976): at the same time as running “Fran”, about climate change leading to flooding, Jinty also ran a story about drought. This disaster was man-made rather than unlucky; there is a fair amount of indicting of powerful men in the story. It is set slightly in the future, with psychic powers having been found to work and a backlash set in against them.
  • “The Robot Who Cried” (1977): a robot is created, in the shape of a girl; she runs away from her creator and learns what it is to be human. The ‘science’ in it is daft and thin but there’s lots of good stuff about misunderstanding human motivations and society.
  • Battle of the Wills” (1977): the protagonist is offered the chance to have herself duplicated by an unscrupulous scientist: she jumps at it, hoping to be able to concentrate on her beloved gymnastics and getting out of having to do ballet. But which of the duplicates is the original and which the copy? And – what will happen once the experiment comes to an end?
  • Land of No Tears” (1977-78): Lame schoolgirl Cassie is whirled into a future world where she is classed as a ‘Gamma’, inferior girl; with her fellow Gamma girls and some other help, she overthrows this cruel order of things.
  • “The Human Zoo” (1978): see above.
  • Almost Human” (1979): a cross between the Superman story and the Bionic Man, with a more emotional edge: protagonist Xenia is an alien from a dying world.
  • “The Forbidden Garden” (1979): set in a dystopian future where pollution has killed off all plants and people live in over-crowded and oppressive cities. Laika discovers a patch of earth which is able to support life and tries to grow a flower for her dying little sister.
  • Worlds Apart” (1981): following a leak of a mysterious chemical, six schoolgirls are thrown together into alternate universe after alternate universe. Some of the universes are more magical than is compatible with scientific reality but the notion of alternate universes, and the mechanism for their travel between them, is in itself more science fictional than magical.

Edge cases

  • Girl In A Bubble” (1976): the very idea of a girl in a bubble, kept by a scientist in order to study the effects of isolation, has plenty of science fiction elements (not least the scientist’s name – ‘Miss Vaal’). It is done more as a slave story, however.
  • The Birds” (1978): there is a scientific (or at least not magical) answer behind the question of why the birds in a certain town started to attack everything, but it is more horror story than science fiction. Of course, it is a take on Hitchcock’s film.

Not to be confused with

  • Other time travel stories: time travel into the future is necessarily science fictional as it requires construction of that future world. Time travel into the past, or time travel of a past character into our present, would typically be a historical story or a spooky story (such as in “Shadow on the Fens”, where a girl from the past escapes persecution as a witch, and a modern girl gets a friend, by making a wish on the old Wishing Tree).

Further thoughts

Of course, there were many sf stories outside of Jinty, too. “Supercats” in Spellbound features four space-travellers with special powers and many adventures; “E.T. Estate” in Tammy was a version of ‘The Bodysnatchers’, done with schoolgirls; “Tomorrow Town”, also in Tammy, tackles technological development and social pressures (Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” done with schoolgirls? I but jest). Particular mention should go to “The Frightening Fours”, in Judy & Emma (1979): an alien invasion story where anybody over the age of fifteen or under three is put into a deep sleep, but four year olds are given great strength, intelligence way beyond their years, organisational abilities, and made into an army to serve the aliens’ plans.

Outside of girls’ comics, 2000AD was of course a comic more or less entirely dedicated to science fiction. Interestingly enough, the 2000AD story Skizz (1983) – written by Alan Moore, drawn by Jim Baikie – could perfectly well have appeared in a girls comic; it even had a female protagonist, as well as a down-to-earth feel.

The prevalence of science fiction stories in many comics means that we can’t only point to the same names over and again as being the initiators of this theme. Malcolm Shaw is known to have written a number of key stories in this area (“The Robot Who Cried”, “E.T. Estate”) and likewise Pat Mills wrote “Land of No Tears” and “Girl In a Bubble”; but “Tomorrow Town” was written by Benita Brown, “Fran of the Floods” was written by Alan Davidson, and who knows who had the bonkers ideas in “The Frightening Fours”! I think that if we knew the names of more writers, we’d find that many different writers in many different titles had a go at some sf story or other.

Fran of the Floods (1976)

Sample Images

Jinty 14 February 1976 "Fran of the Floods" pg 1
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Jinty 14 February 1976 "Fran of the Floods" pg 2
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Jinty 14 February 1976 "Fran of the Floods" pg 3
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Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Alan Davidson
Publication: 17 January 1976 to 11 September 1976

Summary

The sun sends out an extra glimmer of heat, which melts ice caps and evaporates oceans,  and this triggers worldwide torrents of rain that never seem to stop. The freak weather is causing worldwide flooding and catastrophe as well as bizarre environmental changes, such as lush green growth in the Sahara Desert. In Britain, the rain is causing widespread flooding that gets worse and worse because the rain never stops.

In Hazelford, Fran Scott is watching the developments on the news and treats the whole thing as a joke while her parents get a sense of impending apocalypse. The seriousness soon sets in for Fran as dams break down, people on lower levels start to flee as their towns vanish under the ever-rising waters, parts of the coast return to the sea, and then there are power cuts, food shortages, stockpiling, panic buying and looting, fuel shortages and stoppages, and higher levels are being swamped with refugees. Even London is disappearing.

Hazelford, being on the hills, is still reasonably safe. But during a school concert, the waters overcome the reservoir and come rolling in. In the ensuing chaos, Fran is separated from her parents and best  friend Jill, and thinks they have died. She herself nearly drowns and is saved by the school bully Rosie Stevens, who sadly does not make it herself. As Fran rows off, a radio informs her that everything has now ended – government, law enforcement, electricity, telephones and other services – and then the radio itself goes because there are no more radio broadcasts. Britain itself is now barely sticking out of flood waters that just go on rising.

Fran, now on her own, sets out on a dangerous journey north to Scotland to be reunited with her sister June, who had left for Scotland earlier after a quarrel with Fran. Along the way, Fran meets a young girl called Sarah and her pet rabbit Fluffy. They too have been isolated by the flooding. Fran finds herself reunited with Jill along the way, giving them fresh hope that their parents did make it.

It’s a journey of survival and courage against the never-ending rain and dangerous floodwaters (without rain gear, but they never seem to catch colds or pneumonia). Fran nearly drowns more than once in the course of this story. And of course there is an array of more human and animal dangers that have arisen from the catastrophe. These include starving and savage birds, rats and other animals driven aggressive and dangerous. Other dangers include spread of disease, chemical pollution, and marauding gangs of thugs calling themselves The Black Circle who have themselves up as tin-pot dictators in the power vacuum left by the breakdown in law and society. They use people as slave labour, forcing them to work ploughs in drenching rain under threat of the lash. The floods claim the Black Circle while their prisoners escape, but are there other disparate groups like them? Afterwards, the girls find a home for Sarah and carry on by themselves.

Fran and Jill also help other people in need, such as finding an injured girl aboard a ship and seeking medical help, and coming up with a cure for a disease-stricken village.

The girls certainly learn some hard lessons about people, for better and worse. Some people have responded for the better. The girls encounter a self-sufficient community which has set up in caverns. There is a strong community spirit and a touch of hippiness. Then the floods come rolling in, destroying everything. Everyone takes refuge on a hilltop, the last piece of land for miles. You can’t help but get a hint of Mt Ararat here. Their leader responds by having everyone pray for a miracle.

And wouldn’t you know it – at this point the rain finally does stop! The sun, the cause of it all, appears for the first time in months. Then it is prayers of gratitude.

Others have turned for the worse, such as the Black Circle. And in Glasgow, the girls encounter King David, the self styled king of Glasgow (complete with crown, robe and a throne room full of treasures) who is the only inhabitant and hell bent on keeping it that way, even if it means blowing up the refugees who are now returning from the floods. Yes, a man driven mad by it all, but not mad enough for Fran to succeed in appealing to his better nature. At one point Fran herself almost succumbs to bestiality when hunger and desperation almost drive her to kill Fluffy the rabbit for food.

Even after the rains stop, the problems are not over. The freak weather patterns continue, such as Scotland turning tropical and growing flora to match, and getting hurricanes. There are other bizarre changes in nature such as the girls encountering a huge wall of seaweed and dolphins swimming around Glasgow and London. And of course there is the slow rebuild with returning refugees, official attempts to establish law and order among the chaos and salvaging what can be salvaged. In a bookend to the radio that cut out to mark the end of society as Fran knows it, repaired radios now report the progress of the rebuild.

Fran does find June, and is very surprised to find her parents as well. They too survived and also trekked to Scotland to find June. They go back to Hazelford, where they start rebuilding their homes and lives with a new-found appreciation for it all. In Hazelford Jill makes a surprise reunion with her own family.

The Hazelford survivors also take pause to remember the people of Hazelford who did not make it, including the people in the early episodes who personally helped Fran or showed extreme courage when the floods came to Hazelford. The last panel of the story is of a memorial that Hazelford built for these people so they will not be forgotten.

Thoughts
When you look at this story today, you are immediately struck as to how far ahead of its time it was. It anticipated global warming and devastating changes in weather patterns that cause real-life flooding, hurricanes and other catastrophes. It’s hard not to look at this story and see in it a foreshadowing of what our world could become.

The story is extremely realistic and intelligently crafted in its portrayal of the encroaching disaster and the struggle to survive. And all the while the story of the Biblical Flood is in the back of our minds as we read this. But we read it with a sense of the apocalypse and end of the world and wonder if that is how it ends up. Even if the rain stops, which it doesn’t seem to be doing, we know the devastation it would leave behind cannot make for a totally happy ending. So where is it going to end?

The first few episodes, with Fran’s initial reaction of treating it as a joke while it is still relatively distanced on the news reports, and then progressively realising it is no joke as the floods and the ensuing crises (refugees, power cuts, shortages, looters etc) mount in her own back yard are very much like real life. And then, when her own house is attacked by looters and saved by Rod Pearson, it brings it all home for her. Finally, when everything collapses and it’s every person for themselves, it is a grim, shocking picture filled with desperate life and death struggles.

The story does not hesitate to show us that some people, such as Rosie, do not survive the struggle. And in the final panel we are not allowed to forget them. The memorial stands as a sobering reminder that there were some people who did not make it: “Lest We Forget.” Among them are Rod Pearson and his family. And the Stevenses survive, but are left to mourn Rosie, the bully who had redeemed herself in the last moments of her life. The ending may be happy, full of joyous reunions and rebuilding of society, but is not allowed to be overtly so; few readers will come away from the last panel without tears in their eyes. The emotional impact of this story carries through right to the end, making it arguably Jinty’s best emotional story.

In the Jinty Top Ten it was noted that this serial was running at the same time as the apocalyptic drama series “Survivors”. In fact, many of the perils Fran and Jill face are uplifted from the series, including the slave gang they are consigned to in the Black Circle segment. And both “Survivors” and “Fran” climax in the Scottish Highlands. It cannot be said whether readers thought “Fran” was a blatant ripoff of “Survivors”, or whether they looked on it all as a double dose that was so much the better for them to enjoy. But there can be no doubt that “Fran” was hugely popular and must have prompted some readers to watch “Survivors”. Her story ran for seven months, making her second to “Merry at Misery House” as Jinty’s longest running serial.

But “Fran” has far greater significance in Jinty history than being her second-longest serial. If there was a serial that established the SF element that Jinty became famous for, it was this one. Aside from “The Green People” (no, not little green men) in 1975, there had been no SF in Jinty. She was still pretty much following the Tammy template of cruelty and tortured heroines. But after “Fran of the Floods”, more SF stories, especially ones with environmental elements, appeared in Jinty. Later in 1976, Jinty ran “Jassy’s Wand of Power”, and the environmental disaster under the spotlight swings from flooding to drought. In 1979 there was “The Forbidden Garden” where humanity has poisoned the environment and nothing can grow, and “Almost Human”, about an alien girl whose race is facing extinction from environmental catastrophe. But in terms of intelligent and thoughtful plotting, emotional intensity and breadth of scope, and exploration of the human psyche, “Fran of the Floods” must reign supreme. And in today’s climate of global warming, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels and alarming changes in weather patterns, it seems even more relevant now than it was in 1976.

Girl in a Bubble (1976)

Sample Images

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Bubble 1

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Bubble 3

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Publication: 18 September 1976-11 December 1976

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Four years ago Helen Ryan was diagnosed as having no resistance to germs. Since then, she has lived in a plastic bubble at Blackheath House under the care of Miss Vaal. Miss Vaal is always making notes in her black book and Helen wonders what is in that book. In all those four years, Helen’s parents have never visited, nor has Helen had any company except Miss Vaal and the nursing staff. Painting is one of the few things Helen is allowed to do, but Miss Vaal never shows Helen’s pictures to anyone either.

Helen feels fine now and longs to come out of the bubble or at least have some company. Miss Vaal brings in a group of girls to visit Helen, but they just tease and torment her. Unbeknown to Helen, Miss Vaal paid them to do so in the hope that Helen will become too frightened to seek company anymore. However, one of the girls, Linda Siggs, regrets what she did and sneaks back to Helen. She thinks it is daft for Helen to live in a bubble and encourages Helen to come out.

When Helen emerges, she does not die immediately from germs as Miss Vaal said. There are no ill effects at all. Helen comes to Linda’s school, where she paints a picture, “The Bubble People” (her imaginary friends while she was in the bubble). The teacher, Miss Williams, is struck by how talented Helen is and invites Helen to an after-school art class. Helen accepts with alacrity. Helen then goes back to the bubble and asks Linda to let her out again the next day.

However, Helen has not noticed there is a flower stuck in her hair, which alerts Miss Vaal to what she has done. She punishes Helen by enclosing her in darkness for two days without food. This punishment is meant to break Helen’s spirit and discourage her from wanting to leave the bubble again. And Linda’s bid to release Helen again comes unstuck when she is waylaid by the police. So Helen lets herself out, something she never had the nerve to do, and goes off to her art class. Helen is alarmed when she finds Miss Williams has a cold, and she believes she has no germ resistance. This has the other girls teasing her, including a jealous girl called Nina, and Helen runs off. She bumps into Linda, who has been released by the police. Linda, who does not believe there is anything wrong with Helen, persuades her not to go back to the bubble. When Miss Vaal finds out Helen has gone, she says there will be terrible consequences, and will deal with Helen harshly.

Helen goes back to Miss Williams, but the other girls still cause trouble. When Helen leaves, she is caught by the police, whom Miss Vaal called in. Miss Williams tries to rescue Helen, but the head, prompted by nasty Nina, tells the police to take Helen. However, Helen escapes the police with Linda’s help.

They sneak to Blackheath House to get hold of the black book to find out why Miss Vaal keeps Helen in the bubble. In Miss Vaal’s office, Helen is shocked to discover Miss Vaal had been spying on her in the bubble via a two way mirror. They find the book, which reveals that Helen’s immune system recovered three years back (the doctor must have misdiagnosed Helen and she in fact only had weakened resistance). The reason Miss Vaal has kept Helen in the bubble since then was to compile evidence for a report on how being cut off from the outside world affects a human. They realise Miss Vaal is insane and quickly leave, taking the book with them as evidence. Then Miss Vaal catches Linda, and Helen volunteers to return so Miss Vaal will release Linda. Linda goes back to tell Miss Williams what is going on. Miss Williams makes arrangements with Miss Vaal to go and see Helen. But Miss Vaal injects Helen with a drug to make her pretend she is happy with Miss Vaal. Miss Williams is fooled.

When Helen recovers from the drug, she escapes from the bubble with the aid of the black book – and for once it is Miss Vaal who is shut in the bubble! But Helen had to leave the black book behind in the bubble. And Miss Vaal warns her that she will come crawling back to the bubble because there is nothing else for her. Hmm, now what can Miss Vaal mean by that?

However, Helen finds Miss Williams and this time she succeeds in convincing her. Miss Williams persuades Helen to go and see her parents about the matter, and Linda comes too. Helen also finds a book has been written that is based on her Bubble People picture; it just needs her parents’ signature to say it is unaided.

Once they arrive, Linda takes off, feeling she is no longer needed – big mistake, as it turns out Helen still needs help. Unknown to Helen, there is another girl at her parents’ house who looks like her and is called Helen too.

Helen sees her father and tries to tell him she has recovered. But he treats her like a stranger and slams the door in her face. Then she sees the other Helen and realises her parents got another girl (a foster girl) to take her place. Helen then recalls what Miss Vaal said when she escaped, and wonders if this is what she meant. Meanwhile, Dad phones Miss Vaal; he did not believe Helen’s claims that she has recovered and is angry at Miss Vaal for the escape. We learn that Mrs Ryan had a bad breakdown following Helen’s incarceration. The foster-Helen is meant to keep Mrs Ryan happy and Dad does not want the real Helen to spoil things.

The police get back on Helen’s tail, and then she is spotted by her mother and foster-Helen. Mrs Ryan recognises Helen and embraces her. Helen tells her mother she has recovered, but the police say that Helen is an escaped patient who has imagined it all. Then Dad catches up and has Helen returned to the bubble. Helen finds that Miss Vaal has put in extra security, including a lock on the bubble door, to stop her escaping again.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ryan confronts her husband about what he has done. He justifies his actions as a clean break his wife needed because of her breakdown. Mrs Ryan does not look impressed. Moreover, she and foster-Helen are more inclined to believe Helen’s claims of recovery, but Mr Ryan does not listen. Then Miss Williams turns up over Helen’s book and her failed appointment with the publisher. When she hears what happened, she tells Mr Ryan that she is surprised at his attitude. She then tells them that Miss Vaal is insane and means to keep Helen imprisoned. She points out that Helen has been out of the bubble with no ill effects, which does support her claims of recovery. She also challenges Mr Ryan if he finds it more convenient to forget about Helen. This gets through to Mr Ryan and they all race off to Blackheath House to rescue Helen.

At Blackheath House, Helen tries to scare Miss Vaal into releasing her, but it backfires. Instead, Miss Vaal turns off the air supply to suffocate Helen in the bubble. The bubble collapses, but Helen escapes with the aid of a knife she used for sharpening pencils. Miss Vaal finds Helen has escaped and is in the middle of angrily assaulting her when the family arrive and catch her in the act. Miss Vaal is arrested, and Mr Ryan apologises to his daughter. They are now a reunited family and Helen has a sister as well (also named Helen – well, they will have to sort that one out). Helen catches up with Linda and asks her to come on holiday with them. Helen’s book is published and is making her famous.

Thoughts

“Girl in a Bubble” is no doubt one of Jinty’s most insidious, disturbing and frightening stories. It is all the more frightening because we know it is based on real life. In the days before bone marrow transplants, people with no resistance to germs really were encased in sterile plastic bubbles like this. The most famous case was David Vetter, “The Bubble Boy”, who had been confined to a plastic bubble since birth. The emotional and psychological effects on him were painted in a far rosier light in the media than they actually were. David eventually died because a bone marrow transplant had not been screened properly.

The blurb says that this story is eerie, and the moment we see Helen in the plastic bubble, we know immediately that the story will deliver on that. We have seen girls imprisoned in dungeons, prison cells, workhouses etc often enough – but plastic bubbles? That is not something you see every day except in science fiction films or medical programmes. It is no wonder that the girls who see Helen in the bubble find it weird and freaky. Those plastic gloves attached to the bubble that are used to deliver things to Helen – ugh, that really creeps you out! And then, when Helen discovers the two-way mirror which enables Miss Vaal to spy on her from her office, that really makes your skin crawl.

Even where real life bubble people were loved, they would suffer psychologically as a result of their isolation. So we can imagine the effects on Helen, who is being kept in deliberately isolated conditions and then inflicted with harsh treatment to keep her under control once she demands freedom. Her only friends are the imaginary Bubble People (who are sadly underdeveloped and only seen once, in Helen’s painting). Once Helen escapes from the bubble, we can see the effects the isolation has had on her. For example, she cannot paint a picture while the other girls are crowding around because she is so used to doing it alone. She does not have the tools to stand up to the girls who tease her either, and she bursts into tears. On the other hand, her confidence begins to grow as well. She could have left the bubble at any time but was too scared too. Then, after she is encouraged to do so once, desperation is strong enough for her to find the courage to release herself. It is also fortunate that there must have been some lapses in Miss Vaal’s vigil; she failed to spot Helen escaping on either occasion, despite the two-way mirror. Maybe she was too busy poring over her black book to notice?

Once we find out why the parents have not visited Helen in four years, we are deeply shocked at Mr Ryan’s conduct. He virtually abandoned Helen to her fate in order to spare his wife’s feelings? All right, so he would not want his wife to have another breakdown. And he probably did feel guilty about Helen – after all, it was Miss Williams’ sting at his conscience that finally galvanised him into action. Besides, we would not put it past Miss Vaal to pull a few dirty tricks to stop the Ryan parents visiting. Even so, his irresponsible, neglectful conduct is appalling. Moreover, he virtually threw Helen right back into the bubble – was it because he was really concerned about her life or was it to protect the cosy shell he had built around his wife? Or was he feeling embarrassed over his guilty conscience? Whatever he was thinking, he unwittingly condemned Helen to near-death when Miss Vaal tries to kill her.

Bubble 5

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The scenes (above) where Helen struggles to breathe and escape the plastic walls which are now collapsing in on her are truly terrifying. Everyone knows that plastic can suffocate you, and Helen finds the very experience of the plastic clinging to her horrible. Fortunately, another lapse in Miss Vaal’s vigilance – not removing the sharpening knife – came to the rescue. But the true rescue must go to Linda and Miss Williams, the only two people to show real common sense and perspective in this entire story. Linda showed it most of all when she said the bubble was daft and Helen did not need it – but little did she know how right she was there, or in encouraging Helen to come out of the bubble.