Tag Archives: sinister scheme

Girl in a Bubble (1976)

Sample Images

Bubble 6.jpg

Bubble 1

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Bubble 2

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Bubble 3

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Bubble 4

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.

 

 

 

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Children of Edenford (1979)

Sample images

Children of Edenford page 1
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Children of Edenford pg 2
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Children of Edenford pg 3
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Publication: 24 February 1979 – 2 June 1979

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Patti Anderson’s family are moving away from the grimy big city to the idyllic village of Edenford. All her friends and family are enchanted with this move, but Patti goes from first being cynical about it, to shortly being outright disturbed and scared. The village children are all super well-behaved in a very overt fashion (washing down public monuments and helping little old ladies across the road) and the headmistress of the local school is clearly somewhat obsessed with perfection. In addition, almost immediately there are strong hints that all is not what it seems: a runaway girl advises Patti to leave before it is too late, before subsequently reappearing with a glassy smile and no hint that anything has ever been amiss. Yes, this is the village of the Stepford Schoolgirls.

The headmistress, Purity Goodfellow by name, is fairly clearly the driving force: she reacts to Patti’s rebelliousness with an amused “…never fear, you shall be one of us soon! Very soon!” Initially Patti teams up with the one other normal girl in the school – Jilly (or rather, Perseverance, as all the girls given “school names” of the virtues they most need to strive to acquire) – but quickly it becomes apparent that Miss Goodfellow’s threat is not an empty one. First Jilly and then Patti become perfect schoolgirls from one minute to the next, with glassy stares and wide grins as they announce their intention to do extra homework before an early night, so that they can get up early and make cordon bleu packed lunches for their papas or ballgowns for their mamas. As with any scheme of this nature, however, there is a fatal flaw in the mechanism that turns people perfect – it is washed out of the body with tears and sneezes, meaning that anyone with a cold or with hay fever – as Patti has – will get better in short order. That is, unless the prefects find them and drag them off to the infirmary first!

Having turned normal again, Patti wastes no time giving Jilly a cold to free her from the malign influence; as it works well for her, they decide to give the whole school colds to see if they can break the spell. This time it works a little too well – the schoolgirls go from normal to exuberant to positively destructive, in a backlash from being freed from their mental restraints. The parents are called in, and it is evident that they knew all along about Purity Goodfellow’s methods and aims: they are calling her out not for drugging their children, but for the failure to produce the promised perfect progeny. Patti and Jilly watch, horrified, from hiding as this betrayal is made clear; but the tables are turned on the parents when Miss Goodfellow takes the opportunity to turn them, too, into pliant paragons who believe mindlessly in everything she says. Patti and Jilly are powerless to do anything but pretend that they are still perfect while searching for the hiding place of the drug that they now know is administered in the food (carrying onions as a tear-inducing way of washing the drug out of their systems any time they feel themselves getting too brain-washed).

The game can’t last long and soon Patti is imprisoned in the school to be force-fed the mystic drug, as Miss Edenford proclaims “In the infirmary you shall eat your way to perfection!” Jilly escapes to try to bring help, but even the police are in Miss Goodfellow’s pocket; meanwhile in the infirmary the attempts to forcibly turn Patti perfect again are thwarted by the high pollen count and the beautiful flowers liberally strewn around, as her hay fever kicks in again. Losing patience (surely a vice!), Miss Goodellow proclaims that “the fire of righteousness … shall burn out your imperfections!” and has Patti dragged off to the massive temple she’s had built somewhere on the school grounds… where she is to be burned on a very literal altar. Yikes! Of course the obsessive headmistress doesn’t win; Patti doesn’t go meekly to the slaughter, and in the struggle Miss Goodfellow is knocked into her own sacrificial flames and perishes, refusing Patti’s help: “I shall not take succour from the hands of darkness!”. Patti nearly dies too in the ensuing fire, but the brooding massive statue of Perfection (looking rather a lot like Purity Goodfellow, of course) comes crashing down and breaks the door to freedom. The drug is destroyed by fire and the tears induced by the smoke will wash the remains of it from people’s systems; “In a few days we’ll be like every other village… a mixture of good and bad. Edenford will be just human again!”

Themes and commentary

This is one of the key stories I tell people about when on a roll about how girls’ comics in general, and Jinty in particular, was great. In a kids’ medium, it’s a story against moral perfection, against parents’ judgements of what’s “best for you”, against society’s expectations. It’s the Stepford Schoolgirls with a big streak of A Clockwork Orange and more than a hint of Bodysnatchers too. All that, and it’s (ironically) pretty much pitch-perfect in art and writing.

The art, by the very British Phil Townsend, is extremely grounded and solid: he puts in little details such as a bootscraper inset by the front door of a grimy terrace house on the first page, or an old headscarf and shopping basket on one of Patti’s ex-neighbours in the high-rise she is leaving. Headmistress Purity Goodfellow is initially simply severe, austere in clothing and facial features; her manic looks at the climax of the story are therefore all the more striking. Little things help tell the story: the forces of Miss Goodfellows’ Edenford always dressed in pure spotless white, while Patti and the other “imperfect” characters are variously in darker or grimy clothes.

It would be naive to deny that part of the enjoyment, for myself and other adult readers, is in the sheer over-the-top writing that lends itself to a high camp reading. I’ve quoted some dialogue above, and when preparing this article I was hard-pressed to keep it to just a short list of further examples: Miss Goodfellow has determined that “pop music is a waste of time. It neither enriches the soul nor challenges the intellect.” The perfect Patti packs her father a lunch of “just some asparagus tips, oriental salad, Camembert cheese, fruit and a bottle of french spring water”; and at the climax of the story “Is it mad to want to see a perfect world?” “It is the way you’re doing it!” Purity Goodfellow’s statements and worldview are so extreme that when Patti needs to pretend to be perfect, all she needs to do is to think of the most off-the-wall things and go for them wholeheartedly.

The anti-perfection theme is also very attractive to the adult reader; a daring strike away from the mainstream of children’s fiction, which normally pushes an ideal of at least moderate conformity and of achievement. In Jinty there is one other anti-perfection story (“Land of No Tears”, by Pat Mills and Guy Peeters), though with a different take, as it focuses on physical perfection more than the social and moral perfection that Purity Goodfellow is looking to establish. Generally, striving to achieve better results in the exercise of your talent is laudable in girls’ comics stories. In “Children of Edenford” even this expectation is undermined: Patti is good at swimming and so Miss Goodfellow determines she will have two and a half hours daily extra training(!) to turn her into a champion, despite Patti stating she doesn’t want to do that, but rather to continue just enjoying it as a pastime. Partly this is because coercion and obsession are always bad and wrong, to be punished at the conclusion of the story or repented of, but partly I think also to highlight the rightness of society as “a mixture of good and bad”, of natural achievement and natural mediocrity too.

A darker element of the story’s themes is the nasty surprise that parents are not guaranteed to have your best interests at heart. The parents of the village knew of Miss Goodfellow’s perfection drug all along and while they didn’t want their children to be turned into zombies, Miss Goodfellow’s accusation that they were all “quite happy for your children to do everything you asked them, to wait on you hand and foot” is unpalatably true. A stark message in a children’s comic, one perhaps more expected in a punk lyric such as Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized“.

I would really like to know a lot more about the authorial and editorial thinking behind this story. It has a commanding position in the comic as it appears in the final pages almost every time, but it is never granted a cover slot, though other stories by the same artist are given plenty. Its message is a challenging one, disrespectful to society as it is generally framed (the sort of perfection that Miss Goodfellow espouses is a very “U” kind, focused as it is on a classical education and on cordon bleu cookery). Could it have been de-emphasised because of that message?

Edited 22.05.2014

I have just read the Tammy story ‘The Four Friends at Spartan School‘, written by Terence Magee. This story has some interesting commonalities with ‘Children of Edenford’: in it, the schoolgirls are also specifically sent there by their parents, with the intention of them being made over into obedience and compliance, as matches their parents’ desires and expectations. However, ‘Spartan School’ is obviously cruel right from the start; it is more like Magee’s long-running story ‘Merry at Misery House‘. Also, while we are told that the parents want their children to be obedient, it isn’t clear to the reader whether the parents really know the methods that the headmistress uses; the school is so far away that it is entirely possible that the parents are neglectful in finding out the real situation, rather than positively complicit. When an escapee pupil manages to contact her family, they head instantly to her rescue rather than disbelieving her, which lends weight to this interpretation. ‘Edenford’ is therefore an extreme example of a story theme that exists in other girls’ comics; so extreme, however, as to feel quite subversive.

Village of Fame (1979)

Sample Images

Fame 1

Fame 2

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Fame 3

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Publication: 4/8/79-24/11/79
Artist: Jim Baikie
Writer: Unknown

You know the story of the little boy who cried wolf. Sue Parker finds herself in the same position, and pays the price for her over-active imagination that is fuelled by too much television. She just spins tall tales for a little excitement in her dreary village, despite its name – Fame. But of course Sue gets more excitement than she bargained for in her story. And when Sue finds it is turning into something even more evil than mere excitement, it escalates even further because nobody listens to Sue, as she is known for her crazy imagination.

It all seems to start innocently enough, with promises of real fame for the village of Fame. Major Grenfield rents out the old manor to Mr Grand of IBC TV studios. Grand wants to film a festival in Fame, with snobby Angela Grenfield as festival princess. But Sue overhears his employees saying that Grand has something far more exciting planned. Sue’s imagination goes into overdrive as to what this means, and starts getting ideas about spies. In a way it does turn out to be spying – Grand wants to start filming day-to-day lives of the villagers. So there is going to be real fame for the village of Fame, with the villagers all thrilled at being TV stars. But Sue is not keen on cameras being installed everywhere in Fame, and she does not trust Grand.

And of course, Sue’s suspicions prove justified when she discovers the lengths that Grand will go to with his publicity stunts to increase ratings. He starts by provoking Sue’s family to quarrelling in front of the cameras, but is soon moving to more devious tactics when Sue declares war on him. Among them, Grand plants his niece, Mandy Walters in Sue’s school, who at first pretends to be sympathetic to Sue. But Mandy turns on her uncle when he does not keep his end of the bargain. So Mandy tells Sue the truth, and they become reluctant allies, with Sue not fully trusting Mandy and Mandy still having an unsavoury disposition. But Mandy has a conscience too. She discovers it when she gets scared by what her uncle does next, and she and Sue become true allies.

And what does Grand do next that frightens Mandy? He hires a sinister hypnotist named Marvo to help him jack up publicity even more. One look at Marvo, and you can see why anybody would be frightened.  Marvo becomes Sue’s teacher (after Grand contrives to get the previous teacher sacked) and hypnotises the class into doing things, such as make them disappear on a picnic and blame it on flying saucers. But nobody listens to Sue’s warnings about Marvo and Grand because of her reputation for too much imagination. Mandy, the only person who can help Sue, has been sent out of the way.

So far we have spy cameras, publicity stunts, frame-ups, attempted kidnappings and a hypnotist, all in the name of higher ratings and money – what’s next? Blackmail, as it turns out. Grand had been blackmailing Major Grenfield into renting out his manor for the TV serial. And thanks to a secret passage, Sue, Mandy (now returned) and Angela overhear Marvo and Grand talking about another plan that will make his serial unstoppable (it has taken a dent because the Major is now speaking out against it). This turns out to be mass hypnotism of the entire village – brainwashing everyone into saying, “This serial is good for Fame.” Sue foils the brainwashing, and everyone now realises that Sue had been right all along. Soon it is cancellation time for the TV serial and jail for its creator. But not before Angela, Mandy and even Marvo almost die because of it.

It is not difficult to see why this is one of Jinty’s most well-remembered serials – it pushes so many buttons in the human psyche. Dreams of fame, imagination, fantasy, greed, money, conspiracy theories, paranoia, manipulation, brainwashing, publicity stunts, and intrusiveness of technology are just some of them.

And there is the television theme. Television stories are very popular in girls’ comics. Who doesn’t want to be part of a TV serial and dream of fame on television? But television is also known as the one-eyed monster, and there is a definite take on this and the evils of television in this story. First we have the television cameras everywhere, watching every move that everyone makes. But the spy cameras are not just intruding on people’s lives; they are also manipulating them and passing on information about them to the master control. An insidious presence that is creepy because you cannot see who is behind that camera, but they can see you, and heaven knows what they are going to do about it. And you cannot escape it because it is everywhere, all over the entire district. Big Brother is watching you! This theme will be seen again in Tammy’s “Tomorrow Town”.

The year of 1979 seemed to be a big Jinty year for stories on hypnotism and brainwashing, and not just with this story. There was “Prisoner of the Bell”, where an underachiever is hypnotised into doing her homework. But the most remembered of these must surely be “Children of Edenford”, where an insane headmistress uses drugs to turn her entire school into glazed-eyed zombies. But she doesn’t stop there – like Marvo and Grand, she moves to bigger things by using her power to bring the entire district under her control. And that is only the beginning for her, and, presumably, with Marvo and Grand as well. After all, what is to stop them using their hypnotism to brainwash every single viewer in Britain? Our heroines, of course!