Tag Archives: Sentinels

Misty Vol. 2: The Sentinels & End of the Line [2017]

Misty Volume 2

Contents

  • The Sentinels (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • End of the Line (artist John Richardson, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Your Face is Your Fortune (feature)
  • Brief Biography of Creative Teams

In 2016 Rebellion brought us the first of their Misty reprint volumes. It was generally well received although there were a few quibbles. Of course this could only mean the first volume left scope for even better volumes to follow.

The second volume certainly delivers on that front, right from the front cover. Rebellion have definitely put far more thought and design into the cover than they did for the first volume. The cover really conveys the spookiness of Misty with The Sentinels silhouetted against the night sky and Misty with her trademark, the bats flying across the full moon. The return of the original logo complements the urban sprawl that the Sentinels hint at.  Having the problem Sentinel itself in full colour further enhances the creepiness of the cover because we can see just how rundown and mouldy it looks.

Reprint quality is an improvement on the first volume. The powerful black-and-white inking on glossy paper rather than the old newsprint of the original really intensifies many scenes, such as the infamous Gestapo torture cell scene in The Sentinels. On the other hand, of the finer details of white outlines against black fill do look a bit lost and hard to distinguish because of the intensity of the black inking.

The reprint of The Sentinels was the drawing card for this volume, so it is little wonder that it was used for the cover. It feels like the other reprint, End of the Line, hardly gets a look-in, which seems a bit sad. But then, The Sentinels has always been one of Misty’s serials that sticks with people, while End of the Line is less remembered.

It is not surprising that The Sentinels is one of Misty’s most popular and well-remembered stories considering the topic it tackled was extremely daring and controversial for girls’ comic: what if Hitler had won World War II? To this day, The Sentinels is the only serial in girls’ comics to use that theme. Further adding to its publicity is the recent follow-up in the Scream & Misty Halloween Special, Return of the Sentinels. However, readers are strongly advised to read The Sentinels first or at least be familiar with it before reading the sequel. Otherwise they will be just as confused as the heroine at what she encounters when she ventures into the Sentinel.

In End of the Line we go from a creepy apartment block with an entrance into a nightmare world to a creepy railway line that has something similar, but in a different manner. Unlike the Sentinel, there is genuine evil at work out to take people away, plus there are glimpses of what happens to them once they are snatched – which are of course not pleasant to see.

End of the Line is one of Misty’s more underrated serials, but hopefully its reprint alongside The Sentinels will give it more attention. It has the distinction of being the only serial in girls’ comics (at least, the only one I have seen) to be drawn by John Richardson. Richardson was more often seen drawing complete stories, the Tammy Cover Girls from Tammy, and plenty of Wee Sue.

It is annoying that Richardson only got a couple of lines’ worth in the biographical section of the volume. Surely there must be far more information available on him somewhere?

This volume could be regarded as a tribute to Malcolm Shaw, as he wrote both these serials. As we read the biographies at the end of the volume, it is sad to read that his life and career were cut short just the day before his 38th birthday.

Towards the end is a reprint of “Your Face is Your Fortune”, which is a compilation of what various types of facial features (eye colour, face shape etc) say about your personality. It would have been all right for the original readership of 8+ year-olds, but might come across as condescending for adult people who are more likely to be reading the volume. How about a reprint or two of Misty’s text stories to break up the flow of the picture stories instead? It would be more to the point, and there are plenty of well-remembered classic Misty text stories, such as “The Doorway to Evil!” and “The Little White Dot”, that could be dusted off and given a whole new lease of life in the reprint volumes.

On the whole, Misty Volume 2 delivers on being a proud step up in the Misty reprint series. It definitely makes us even more excited about Misty Volume 3 and what it will bring us.

Misty Vol. 2 Featuring: The Sentinels & End of the Line. Rebellion Publishing 2017. ISBN 978-1-78108-600-1

 

 

 

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Launch of Misty Advert

I was doing some trawling through Tammy and came across the advertisement for the launch of Misty in Tammy 4 February 1978. Blurbs for “The Sentinels”, “The Cult of the Cat”, and “Moonchild” are used in the advert, though their titles are not mentioned. Oddly, the ad says Misty #1 goes on sale 30 January, but the actual issue went on sale 4 February. Perhaps Misty was originally scheduled for 30th January but was delayed until 4th February for some reason?

launch-of-misty-ad-jpg

First Misty Ever Published – 4 February 1978

Misty cover

  • Cover – (artist Maria Barrera)
  • Message from Misty – (artist Shirley Bellwood)
  • The Cult of the Cat – first episode (artist H. Romeu)
  • The Sentinels – first episode (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Malcolm Shaw)
  • Paint It Black – first episode (artist Brian Delany, writer Alan Davidson)
  • Moodstone – complete story – (artist Ken Houghton)
  • Roots (“Nightmare!” story) – (artist Maria Barrera, writer Pat Mills)
  • Moonchild – first episode (artist John Armstrong, writer Pat Mills)
  • Miss T – (artist Joe Collins)
  • Red Knee – White Terror! (“Beasts” story) – (artist John Richardson, writer Pat Mills)

In previous posts we have covered the first Jinty and last Jinty, and the first Tammy and last Tammy. Now we cover the third of the trio – the first Misty and the last Misty. We begin with the first Misty.

Pat Mills conceived Misty as the girls’ answer to 2000AD. Like Tammy, it would be intended to be revolutionary and go against the grain of ballet, pony and school stories. But Misty would do it with spooky stories and horror that were meant to frighten readers, yet fascinate them at the same time. Misty followed hard on the heels of the demise of Spellbound, a kindred comic in DCT that was a similar brave experiment, but had only lasted 69 issues.

Roots ending
Shock panel from “Roots”, Misty #1.

Although Misty was meant to kick ass with her spooky stories, there were still instances of editorial interference in some of the storytelling to tone things down and “not to scare the readers too much”. Two instances occurred in the first issue alone. In “Roots”, if Pat Mills have had his way, the story would have ended on the panel above. But the editor included another panel to dilute the shock, which Mills deletes from the reproduction of “Roots” in his discussion of Misty. In “Red Knee – White Terror!”, also written by Mills, the climactic attack of the spider on the girl in the bath is similarly amended to become a practical joke from her brother (below). But she still isn’t safe from the alert about a poisonous spider that has crept into the country in an import of bananas, some of which she bought earlier…

Red Knee White Terror
Climax to “Red Knee – White Terror!” from Misty #1.

Misty would go for several complete stories in each issue, some labelled “Nightmare!” and others “Beasts” (featuring an animal of some sort, ranging from spiders to dogs) to break up the comic a bit. They often featured unpleasant girls who came to a sticky end of some sort. The first of these is “Moodstone”, about a bad-tempered girl. “Moodstone” also showed readers that from the first, Misty would feature some full-colour pages in each issue, which is something neither Tammy nor Jinty ever did.

Moodstone
First full colour page from Misty #1.

I remember the cover of the first issue being advertised on television. I had never seen that before – or since – and for this reason that cover has stuck in my mind. As Misty goes, the cover is unusual because it was drawn specifically for cover purposes. It does not feature Misty (not even as a small head beside the logo) and has no bearing on the contents inside. Future covers would go for showing Misty herself or a full-blown cover version of a panel inside the comic. We do not meet Misty herself until we come to the inside page, where she delivers her first message to her readers.

The first story starts Misty off in style with the rendering of the Egyptian Temple. Sumptuous is the word for it. The moment you see that page, you just want to read “The Cult of the Cat”. This is the only story in Misty to spawn a sequel (not counting the sequel to “The Black Widow” that appeared in the merger later). It also inspires the free gift that will come in the next issue – a cat ring just like the one the protagonist in this story wakes up to find on her finger all of a sudden.

Cult of the Cat
Opening to “The Cult of the Cat”.

The splash panel that introduces us to “The Sentinels” (a pair of apartment blocks, one normal and one avoided because of strange disappearances) is no less impressive. Mr Richards defies both the reputation of the Sentinel – “it’s just superstitious nonsense, all that talk about the Sentinels” and warnings from his daughter and other relatives – and takes his family to squat there because they are homeless. Now why do we get the feeling that whatever’s going on with the Sentinel, it’s Mr Richards who is going to cop the worst of it?

The Sentinels
Meet “The Sentinels”!

The writers of Misty would draw heavily from popular books and movies. They start off with the Carrie-inspired serial, “Moonchild”, which proved hugely popular with readers. Rosemary Black is beaten and abused by her mother, who calls her “evil” and “wicked” for no apparent reason. But the mother is very eccentric in any case; she isn’t a religious fanatic like her counterpart in Carrie, but she does not allow electricity in her house, and wears a cloak when she goes out that makes her look like a witch, as does that frightening look on her face. At school, Rosemary is bullied by Norma Sykes, but unlike Carrie, Rosemary does have a friend as well. Then, when Rosemary discovers a strange moon mark on her forehead, things begin to happen that may have some bearing on her mother’s bizarre attitude and teach Norma a lesson to boot…

Miss T
The first appearance of Miss T. From Misty #1.

In “Paint It Black”, Maggie has never been good for anything much, much less being good at art. But then she finds a box of paints in a derelict house and suddenly finds herself able to paint a picture of a mysterious girl. The picture frightens Maggie for some reason – and the girl has a pretty frightened expression on her face, too. Now what can be the reason for that?

Although Misty was a horror comic, she did not leave out the humour, mainly in the form of a Joe Collins cartoon character, Miss T. Miss T would attract huge controversy on the letters page, with readers divided over whether she was a ridiculous feature in a horror comic that should be removed, or if she was needed to help balance the comic. One reader even proposed a Miss T fan club “S.O.W.” (Save Our Witch) to help keep her in the comic. We have no information on what became of S.O.W., but Miss T would not only remain but would also carry over into the merge with Tammy, where she became a companion to Edie. During the Tammy & Jinty merger they would join forces with Snoopa to become “The Crayzees”.

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 4

Right now I am sorry to say that I haven’t had great success with the computer program that I was hoping would help us to identify unknown writers. I’m by no means declaring it to be impossible or unrealistic, but I think I will need to ask for help from the experts who wrote the program and/or who do more of this sort of analysis on a day to day basis.

My initial trials were to see if I could test a Jay Over script known to be by him against another one known to be by him, so as to see if the program could pick out a ‘known good’ example. It did do that pretty well, but it may be that I calibrated the program options too closely against Jay Over. I haven’t got to the stage of being able to say that this series of tests, done in this way, gives you a good chance of identifying this text by a known author. (Unless that known author is Jay Over, she says slightly bitterly.) And if I can’t do this reasonably reliably, there is no point (as yet, at least) in moving on to trying out unknown author texts.

In my last post about this computer program, I ran a series of 10 tests against a Jay Over text, and the program reliably picked out Jay Over as the most likely author of that text out of a supplied set of 4 test authors. It was much less reliable in picking out a test Malcolm Shaw text out of the same set of test authors: only 5 of the 10 tests suggested that Malcolm Shaw was the best fit. I have now tried the same 10 tests with an Alan Davidson text (“Jackie’s Two Lives”), and with a Pat Mills text (“Girl In A Bubble”). This means that all four of the test authors have been tested against a text that is known to be by them.

  • Unfortunately, in the test using an Alan Davidson text the program was even worse at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result: it only did so in 2 of the 10 tests, and in 4 of the tests it placed him in last, or least likely to have written that test text.
  • In the test using a Pat Mills text, the program was rather better at picking him out as the ‘best fit’ result, though still not great: it did so in 4 out of 10 tests, and in 3 of the remaining tests he was listed second; and he was only listed as ‘least likely/worst fit’ in one of the tests.

The obvious next step was to try with a larger group of authors. I tried the test texts of Jay Over (“Slave of the Clock”) and of Malcolm Shaw (“Bella” and “Four Faces of Eve”) against a larger group of 6 authors (Primrose Cumming, Anne Digby, Polly Harris, Louise Jordan, Jay Over, Malcolm Shaw).

  • With the Jay Over text, only 7 of the 10 tests chose him as the ‘best fit’, so the attribution of him as the author is showing as less definite in this set of tests.
  • With the Malcolm Shaw texts, only 1 and 3 tests (for “Bella” and for “Eve” respectively identified him as the ‘best fit’ – not enough for us to have identified him as the author if we hadn’t already known him to be so. (He also came last, or second to last, in 4 of the first set of tests, and the same in the second set of tests.)

I should also try with more texts by each author. However I think that right now I will take a break from this, in favour of trying to contact the creators of the program. I hope they may be able to give me better leads of the right direction to take this in. Do we need to have much longer texts for each author, for instance? (We have generally been typing up just one episode for each author – I thought might be too much of an imposition to ask people to do any more than that, especially as it seemed sensible to try to get a reasonably-sized group of authors represented.) Are there some tests I have overlooked, or some analytical methods that are more likely to be applicable to this situation? Hopefully I will be able to come back with some extra info that means I can take this further – but probably not on any very immediate timescale.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following list of texts that people have kindly helped out with. You may find (as I have) that just looking at the texts themselves is quite interesting and revealing. I am more than happy to send on any of the texts if they would be of interest to others. There are also various scans of single episodes sent on by Mistyfan in particular, to whom many thanks are due.

  • Alison Christie, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone” (typed by Marckie)
  • Primrose Cumming, “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Alan Davidson, three texts
    • “Fran of the Floods” (typed by Marckie)
    • “Jackie’s Two Lives” (typed by me)
    • “Kerry In the Clouds” (typed by me, in progress)
  • Anne Digby, “Tennis Star Tina” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Gerry Finley-Day, “Slaves of War Orphan Farm” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Polly Harris, two texts
    • “Monkey Tricks” (typed by Mistyfan)
    • “Midsummer Tresses” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Louise Jordan, “The Hardest Ride” (typed by Mistyfan)
  • Jay Over, two texts
    • “Slave of the Clock” (typed by me)
    • “The Secret of Angel Smith” (typed by me)
  • Malcolm Shaw, five texts
    • “Lucky” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 1 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “The Sentinels” episode 2 (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Bella” (typed by Lorrbot)
    • “Four Faces of Eve” (typed by Lorrbot)
  • Pat Mills, two texts
    • “Concrete Surfer” (typed by me)
    • “Girl In A Bubble” (typed by me)
  • John Wagner, “Eva’s Evil Eye” (typed by Mistyfan)

 

 

Can a computer program help us identify unknown writers? 2

The jury’s still out at present, but I am very grateful for the kind offers of help of various sorts! I now have text versions of episodes of:

  • “Slave of the Clock” and “The Secret of Angel Smith” (Jay Over)
  • “The Sentinels” (Malcolm Shaw)
  • “Fran of the Floods” (Alan Davidson)
  • “Concrete Surfer (Pat Mills).

So I have enough to try to see if I can get the program to identify “Slave of the Clock” as being by Jay Over rather than any of the other writers. If anyone is able to send in any more texts, the following would be useful:

  • Some texts by female writers such as Anne Digby, Alison Christie, Benita Brown
  • Some more texts by the writers named above, so that I can offer the program a wider base of texts per each writer (rather than keeping on increasing the number of individual authors)

How far have I got so far? Not that far yet, I’m afraid to say. I have downloaded a copy of the program I chose (JGAAP) and I’ve got it to run (not bad in itself as this is not a commercial piece of software with the latest user-friendly features). I’ve loaded up the known authors and the test text (Slave of the Clock). However, the checks that the program gives you as options are very academic, and hard for me to understand as it’s not an area I’ve ever studied. (Binned naming times, analysed by Mahalanobis distance? What the what??) Frankly, I am stabbing at options like a monkey and seeing what I get.

I can however already see that some of the kinds of checks that the program offers are plausibly going to work, so I am optimistic that we may get something useful out of this experiment. These more successful tests involve breaking down the texts into various smaller elements like individual words, or small groups of words, or the initial words of each sentence, or by tagging the text to indicate what parts of speech are used. The idea is that this should give the program some patterns to use and match the ‘test’ text against, and this does seem to be bearing fruit so far.

So, an interim progress report – nothing very definite yet but some positive hints. I will continue working through the options that the program offers, to see if I can narrow down the various analytical checks to a subset that look like they are successfully identifying the author as Jay Over. I will then run another series of tests with a new Jay Over file – I’ll type up an episode of “The Lonely Ballerina” to do that, unless anyone else has kindly done it before me 🙂 – scans from an episode are shown below, just in case! That will be a good test to see if the chosen analytical checks do the job that I hope they will…

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 1

Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 2
click thru
Jay Over, Lonely Ballerina pg 3
click thru

The Bechdel Test and Beyond – Part III

So, in the last two posts on this blog I introduced a new Rounded Representation test that takes us beyond the starting point that is the Bechdel Test, and gave various examples of its use.

In the first post:

  • We saw that girls comics of the 1970s had very fully rounded representation of the female characters in their pages; even in a single issue of one girls comic (chosen primarily for easy accessibility) there was female representation of a wide range of emotions, abilities, challenges faced, ages, and roles.
  • In comparison, other groups of readers are not likely to be represented anything like as fully. The same test done for BME (Black / Minority Ethnic) characters results in a very much patchier picture of representation. Across the whole run of a single title, there are some significant gaps in representation, and in a single issue of a title, there is very little guarantee of representation of this group, despite the net being cast as widely as possible (by testing for any BME representation rather than specifically Asian or Black British representation, for instance).

In the second post:

  • We saw that recent stories targetted at girls (a My Little Pony feature film, a Barbie doll webcast, and the Tangled film from Disney) also generally showed a fairly fullly rounded representation of the female characters, though the representation of girls and women in the Barbie webclip was noticeably patchier than was the case for the other two.
  • Just because something is targetted at a female audience, it is not necessarily the case that the representation of female characters will be fully rounded.

In this post, we will look at the representation of male characters in comics aimed at girls, and in the next post we’ll look at the same in comics targetted at boys. Do girls’ comics only show us female characters – an almost absolute reversal of the way that mainstream media is dominated by male characters? Or do they give readers a rounded representation of both genders? Likewise in comics intended for a male market – how do they represent both the gender that they are targetting, and the other half of the world?

First of all, what happens when we do a ‘reverse Bechdel’ on girls’ comics – checking to see if there are at least two named male characters who interact with each other? There are a one or two stories in Tammy and in Jinty which have male protagonists, and if any stories pass this reverse Bechdel then they will. The Tammy story “Cuckoo In The Nest” is a particularly good example of such (see this Booksmonthly article for a synopsis halfway down the page). This story passes without many worries – although protagonist Leslie is forced to attend a girls’ boarding school in disguise as a girl and therefore mostly interacts with ‘other girls’, he also meets up with his friend from home, talks to his Uncle Fred, and even finds a local group of boys he can play football with when he escapes from his female disguise.

The story also covers most of the bases on the Rounded Representation test: the male characters are shown with a range of emotions (I didn’t have the whole story to hand and didn’t see much anger depicted, but I may have missed this through not looking at all the episodes). It’s a fairly realistic story, or at least not a story of magic or science fiction, so the male characters don’t show any superhuman abilities, but we see Leslie playing football and solving various problems (such as how to fool his schoolgirl chums into continuing to think he is a girl). The story is really based around the fairly individualistic challenge for him not to get caught out, though there are also some positive goals he is trying to achieve (such as continuing to enjoy himself by playing football well). We don’t see that wide a range of ages in the male characters shown – no little boys or old men in the episodes I looked at, but they may be included in later episodes so I have put question marks here. And of course Leslie in this case is clearly the protagonist, but the villains or antagonists are all female (his Great-Aunt, and a nosey schoolgirl who has to be prevented from finding out his secret). The sidekick in the story is a schoolgirl chum who has her own reasons for being on his side. We might perhaps count his Uncle Fred as a sidekick but I am more inclined to categorize him as a background character – happy to hear arguments on this though.

It’s also helpful to check an individual issue of a girls’ comic that wasn’t specially chosen as likely to pass, so let’s go back to the 1978 issue of Misty that was referred to in the first of these posts and do the same tests. This does pass the reverse Bechdel test, though only once you get over half way through the issue: in the complete story “The Love and the Laughter” the devil has a short conversation with two named male characters about a book, and in “The Sentinels” there are a few conversations between policemen.

As for the Rounded Representation test on this issue of Misty, it passes most of the hurdles relatively easily:

  • The male characters are shown with a wide variety of emotions (for instance the fathers in “Seal Song” and in “Paint It Black” are both happy, though not in ways that are likely to bode well for their respective daughters).
  • They show a range of abilities both physical and mental, realistic and supernatural (I’m not totally convinced that the devil in the Carnival story can be said to be using more than human mental powers, hence the question mark in that cell).
  • There are a range of challenges faced by the male characters, whether individual or more widespread (in “The Sentinels”, the father is part of a resistance group fighting the Nazis, which definitely counts). It’s not so clear as to whether any of the male characters in this issue have a positive goal they are trying to achieve, so much as threats they are aiming to survive; and of course this is a horror comic so most of the challenges that all the characters face are more supernatural than mundane. (The protagonist of “Moonchild” faces the mundane challenges of an abusive mother and some horrible bullies, but she is a female character and hence does not come into this specific test.)
  • We see a reasonable range of ages in the male characters depicted – no babies or toddlers at all whether girls or boys, but plenty of grown men, a boy of a simlar age to the protagonist in the background of the end of the seal story, one young adult in the Dragon story, and old men in the carnival story.
  • None of the male characters are given the role of protagonist in this issue but we do see men and boys as villains, background characters, and as ‘sidekicks’ – important characters who are not the main protagonist.

For completeness I have also scored the Rounded Representation test for Jinty as a whole; there are few male protagonists (but at least one) and none of the male characters I can immediately think of show superhuman physical abilities, though some of them can certainly do magic. I would also say that none of the male characters face widespread societal challenges, though again I am open to examples being sent in. (Perhaps little brother Per in “The Song of the Fir Tree”, as him and his sister escape Nazi persecution across the breadth of Europe.)

So we can see that in comics aimed at girls, the roles available to male characters were very nearly as wide as the roles available to female characters – there were very few male protagonists and perhaps some other gaps in what they were shown doing, but overall boys and men very much formed part of the world depicted in girls’ comics. Is the same the case in boys’ comics – did they show an equally wide range of female roles? Did they show a full range of male roles? The next post will tell more.