Tag Archives: skateboarding

Story theme: Sports

Many apologies for the long break in between posts. Life has got hectic and the run-up to Christmas didn’t help!

Jinty and Penny cover 7 February 1981

Stories featuring sports are very prevalent across the range of girls’ comics titles. This clearly taps into both the day-to-day experiences of many or most schoolgirls (playing on their hockey or netball teams) and into aspirational ideals (winning regional or national contests, going on to have a career in their chosen sport, excelling at unusual sports). At one end of this theme, many many stories will have some element of sports included, simply as a part of the protagonist’s daily life; I don’t count these as “sports stories” per se. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories that are clearly mostly about the pursuit of excellence in the protagonist’s chosen sport, with a sprinkling of some complicating factor to spice the story up, such as peer rivalry. And in between there are stories where the sports element are strongly included but given a reasonably equal weighting with other elements.

To me, therefore, a “sports story” needs to feature the sport in question as the main story element, or with equal weight with the other elements. Often the story positively teaches us various details of that sport in a didactic way, as if part of the expectation is that readers might have their interest sparked by that story and go on to take it up themselves. The protagonist is someone who takes seriously the idea of practice, learning, improvement in their chosen area: they are not just naturally gifted without trying at all, and part of the drive of the story is about their drive to improve or to excel.

It seems obvious, but it also needs to be a sport not an art: as you would expect, there are plenty of ballet stories, and these are excluded from my categorisation. Ballet has its rivalries but it is not a competition with winners and losers, except in artificial ways that the writer might set up (for instance in “The Kat and Mouse Game”, the ‘winner’ gains a contract with an influential ballet impresario).

Finally, it is worth remembering Jinty also had a strong focus on sports in ways that lay outside of the stories themselves: for a period of time there was a specific sports section in the comic, with articles about specific sports, improvement hints and tips (such as how to win at a bully-off in hockey), and interviews with sports women and men. Over and above this, there was a lengthy period where Mario Capaldi drew cover images illustrating a very wide range of sports – netball and rounders, yes, but also archery, bob-sledding, ski-jumping… These are not sports stories, but form part of the context in which the sports-themed stories need to be read.

Core examples

There are so many strong sports stories that it is hard to choose a single one as a core example. A wide range of sports are represented: ones that a schoolgirl might well have direct experience of such as hockey, gymnastics, running; and more unusual ones like judo, water-skiing, and figure skating.

“White Water” (1979-80), drawn by Jim Baikie and included in the sports section that Jinty ran for a year or so from late 1979, is a classic example of a story that includes teachable elements as well as dramatic ones. Bridie is in a sailing accident with her father, who is killed: her grieving mother moves them away from the sea and into an industrial city that depresses Bridie mightily. As well as grieving for her father, she also has a gammy leg that was badly hurt in the accident, so Bridie is pretty fed up; but she then finds out about a local canoe club. She is determined to learn canoeing, especially once she is told about sea or white-water canoeing. Along the way there are rivalries and misunderstandings – her mother hates the idea of Bridie doing anything at all like sailing, and the existing star of the canoe club doesn’t like the challenge represented by this bright (and sometimes tetchy) new member. But the story includes lots of information about canoeing techniques, certainly enough to either help interest a reader in the sport, or even to help someone already learning it.

You can see below the wide range of sports represented in Jinty.

  • Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974) – hockey
  • Hettie High and Mighty (1975) – hockey
  • Ping-Pong Paula (1975) – table tennis
  • Tricia’s Tragedy (1975) – swimming
  • Miss No-Name (1976) – athletics
  • Go On, Hate Me! (1976-77) – athletics, particularly running
  • Battle of the Wills (1977) – gymnastics and ballet.
  • Concrete Surfer (1977) – skateboarding
  • Cursed to be a Coward! (1977) – swimming
  • Curtain of Silence (1977) – cycling
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977) – cross-country running
  • Darling Clementine (1978) – water-skiing
  • Wild Rose (1978) – gymnastics
  • Black Sheep of the Bartons (1979) – judo
  • Prisoner of the Bell (1979) – gymnastics
  • Waves of Fear (1979) – swimming/hockey/orienteering
  • Toni on Trial (1979-80) – athletics
  • White Water (1979-80) – sailing/canoeing (see above for details)
  • Blind Faith (1980) – showjumping
  • Tears of a Clown (1980) – long-distance running
  • Child of the Rain (1980) – tennis
  • Minnow (1980) – swimming
  • Spirit of the Lake (1980) – figure-skating
  • Tearaway Trisha (1980) – cycling
  • The Bow Street Runner (1981) – long-distance running
  • Diving Belle (1981) – high-diving
  • Life’s A Ball for Nadine (1981) – netball (and disco dancing, competitively)

 

Edge cases

As ever, there are clearly-related stories that don’t quite fit in the main theme. Sports are such a pervasive trope in the life of Jinty and other girls’ comics precisely because they were an important part of many girls’ school lives. Of course they also made up a big part of other popular fiction read by girls; it becomes a reinforcing theme that is always available for use.

  • Jackie’s Two Lives (1974-75) – features a mentally disturbed woman grieving over her late daughter and trying to recreate her in another girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Wanda Whiter than White (1975-6) – the main story theme is constant trouble with an interfering, tale-telling girl, but also features horse riding and show-jumping
  • Champion In Hiding (1976) – the champion in question is a sheepdog, trained to win at dog trials
  • Rose Among the Thornes (1976) – the main story theme is family rivalry, but there are sections where Rose is involved in running races in her local village
  • Stage Fright! (1977) – includes some realistic elements of sailing
  • Land of No Tears (1977-78) – gymnastics and swimming as part of the futuristic competition to find the most perfect schoolgirl
  • The Changeling (1978) – main character loves horseriding and this is used as part of the abusive family/wishfulfilment story
  • Knight and Day (1978) – really a story about an abusive family but includes a family rivalry based around swimming and competitive diving
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978) – a story of magical objects and group strife, but includes elements of athletics (running)
  • Combing Her Golden Hair (1979) – a strange comb has the protagonist rebelling against her strict grandmother, whose rules include a ban on swimming
  • Freda’s Fortune (1981) – mostly wish-fulfilment gone wrong, with horseriding
  • Holiday Hideaway (1981) – protagonist has gymnastic skills
  • Worlds Apart (1981) – each dream-like parallel world featured a society built around an individual’s interests, and this included a sporty girl’s world

 

Other thoughts

This is probably one of the most pervasive themes you could possibly have in a girls’ comic; no doubt those who are expert in other comics titles will be able to mention many more examples of stories and of unusual sports featured in them. Reviewing the list above, I am surprised not so much by the number of stories as of the range of sports included. Of course the sports that girls played on a regular basis at school – hockey, swimming, athletics, netball, running – would feature in the girls’ comics. Even then, the weighting of specific sports doesn’t seem entirely even, mind you – in Jinty there was only one netball story compared to two or three hockey stories, and a few athletics stories. There is a noticeable absence of lacrosse stories despite the fact they are a staple of girls school prose fiction (I am sure they must be included in some other comics titles). I also don’t recall any rounders stories, which was a very typical summer sport for girls to play.

I am sure that other titles included some aspirational sports such as figure-skating or show-jumping as Jinty did, and the inclusion of some ordinary if less usual sports such as orienteering doesn’t seem unlikely either. However, the fact that skate-boarding, table-tennis, and judo were included as part of the range of stories shows, I think, that Jinty wanted to push the boat out and include elements that were not just a bit unusual, but also modern, fresh, and popular in the wider world: elements that were not marked as ‘élite’ and expensive.

Concrete Surfer (1978)

Sample images

From Jinty 3 June 1978

From Jinty 3 JUne 1978
(click thru)
From Jinty 3 June 1978
(click thru)
From Jinty 3 June 1978
(click thru)

Publication: 28 January 1978 – 10 June 1978

Sequel: a follow-up story was published in the 1978 Jinty Summer Special

Artist: Christine Ellingham

Writer: Pat Mills

Summary

Jean Everidge migrated with her parents to Australia, as “Ten Pound Poms“. This isn’t a success story, though, much less one set in far-away lands: Jean has returned alone to be looked after by relatives, with her parents making their way back slowly in failure. By contrast her cousin, Carol, is a winner: popular, rich, top of the class at school. And she means to keep it that way too, or so Jean suspects. There is one thing that Jean can shine at: skateboarding, or surfing the concrete waves.

Jean has got the biggest chip ever on her shoulder, and knows it: but it’s fed by the fact that every ‘up’ she encounters has a ‘down’ (though likewise every ‘down’ has an ‘up’). On arrival back in the UK she is turned off by her cousin Carol’s very fan-clubby friends, and goes off by herself to practice her skateboarding by herself. Carol’s friends see her skating and admire her trick (up), and in showing off on the slalom Jean nearly cannons into a woman who turns out to be her new form teacher  (down). The next morning she is left to sleep in while Carol heads off to school (down). Furious, she skates as quick as she can to where she thinks the school is, and gets there just about in time (up) but it turns out that there are two similarly-named schools in the same town and of course she has gone to the wrong one first (down).

On accusation by Jean, Carol swears blind she left a note by the bedside telling her how to get to the school and pleads an early-morning gym class that meant she had to leave while Jean was still sleeping. Jean is mostly unconvinced, and this sets a pattern for their next few encounters: an unexpected triumph here (Jean writes a passionate essay that the formerly-hostile teacher loves, Jean is asked to demonstrate skating for a TV commercial that she will get paid for), a dubious incident there (Carol wants to send Jean upstairs so she can talk to her parents without the outsider girl hearing). An apology or a clarification by Carol makes it seem that everything is open and above-board, but the incidents keep piling up…

Jean starts to teach the other girls how to skate well, from simple tricks to more radical ones (artist and writer had clearly done their research in this area!). A gang of boys jeer and tease, only to be shown up by Jean’s skills; as they leave, one of the boys bumps into an old lady and they all run away. This puts the nascent teaching group into danger as they are forbidden to skate in the street again; but the new shopping area nearby is also going to be home to a skatepark! And in the meantime, the school is going to start a skate-club, which would be a joy to Jean except that – it wasn’t suggested by her, but by Carol, who looks like she is ready to take over the skating that is Jean’s only way to shine. Carol has been practicing in secret and sweet-talked her favourite teacher onside; between them they are making it a very rules-bound club, with no dangerous tricks and no fun.

Jean is ready to walk out and starts to do so, but this time it is the Head of the school who comes to the rescue. She asks to try some of the very tricks that teacher Miss Bainbridge has just been telling them off for doing, and has a good go, like the game old bird she is!

The showdown comes at the new skate park. To inaugurate it there will be a contest: both Jean and Carol are of course going to take part. The gleam in Carol’s eye shows that she thinks she will win, but Jean is determined not to let that happen. Carol clearly is angling to see Jean’s freestyle routine, and Jean is too wary to let that happen, but soon afterwards Jean’s skateboard goes missing from her bag! This is where the reveal happens – Carol commiserates and says how mean it is of someone to have taken it, whereupon Jean says that there is a serial number engraved on the board so the thief will soon be found by the police. Carol stumbles and says ‘Oh there isn’t, because I che-‘. Oops! It was a trap laid by Jean, and Carol went right into it. At this confession time, Carol says smugly and cheerfully that yes, it was her: it’s her right and duty to be top girl and Jean wouldn’t like it anyway because it’s hard work being at the top! And anyway she never really liked Jean anyway.

Open war is declared between them, which suits Jean fine. The smug Carol even gives Jean her board back when she thinks Jean has no chance of winning, but this spurs her on even further and of course she pips her cousin to the final post. Carol’s reaction? To fake an asthma attack – and to subtly blame Jean for her ill-health! Poor Jean is an outcast at school; her and her just-returned parents are pushed away by Carol’s parents and made to fend for themselves. Not that they do badly in fact: Jean is part of the skate park skating team, her dad gets a job in the associated repair shop, and her mum gets a job in the café. All is well, except that Carol is still feigning illness and blaming Jean for it. Jean goes over to see if Carol really is ill after all, and their frank chat (no, of course she’s not ill, she’s going to milk it for a bit longer yet) is overheard by Carol’s mum and dad. Following this revelation, aunt and uncle apologise handsomely (if patronisingly) to Jean, and the world carries on with a smile on Jean’s face.

Further thoughts

I really like the light touch in the writing of the relationship between Jean and Carol. It takes a long time before we are sure whether Carol is smarmy or sincere, scheming or innocent, and Jean herself is not sure for a long time. It’s only now that I realise that we never hear Carol complimenting Jean on her skateboarding in the open way that her friends do; this is a nicely subtle way to show that Carol is not actually best pleased at this interloper cousin of hers! Carol and Jean are the flipside of each other – we never see Carol’s thoughts, only her words, while Jean is often outwardly silent but thinking loud rebellious thoughts that we see as readers. Jean’s words often belie her thoughts: the same is true of Carol, even if we don’t know it for sure for a long time.

I say ‘light touch’: the class distinction element of the story is more heavy-handed. Jean’s unspoken reaction to Carol’s humblebragging about Daddy’s new S registration car, her lovely bedroom, and her position as top girl of the class is pure Pat Mills: ‘You make me sick, Carol!’. I can just imagine him chortling as he wrote that line and others. I like the story for it – for instance, having Jean realise she needs to smile for the TV camera even though she is in pain, because otherwise she doesn’t get paid, is a strong moment.

I don’t know who the artist is, but I would love to know his or her name. This is the same artist who drew “Race For A Fortune” and “Dance Into Darkness“, though to my mind this surpasses either. There are exciting and imaginatively-drawn skateboarding tricks in pretty much every episode, apart from perhaps not the final one which is focused on the emotional reveal (though even then there is a shot of Jean skating). The artist really goes to town in terms of the page composition – see the last two pages featured above as an example, but most episodes include this sort of ‘wow’ factor.

It suits the fact that this is definitely treated as the lead story in Jinty at the time – it is featured on the cover more often than not, and is run as the first story in the issue almost every time. (One exception that bumps it off first place is the starting episode of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.) Exceptionally, there is also a story featuring the same characters in that year’s Summer Special: it is clearly a story specifically written for the special issue, of a sub-story that takes place during the feud. (I assume this too was written by Pat Mills, but would love to have confirmation.) [Edited to add: he thinks he didn’t write it.] I don’t recall this happening with other Jinty tales and take it as further supporting the special status of this story.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this fits squarely in the category of ‘sports story’, but done in that Jinty way: like “White Water” or “Spirit of the Lake” it deals with an unusual sport outside of the usual school teams such as netball, hockey, swimming. This is a very egalitarian, literally ‘street’ sport though, and about as far as you can get from the snobbish heights of horse-riding!

Jinty 25 February 1978

Jinty 25 February 1978

This is the third consecutive issue I’ve posted in date order over the past few days: I wanted to get out an issue to show spooky story “Come Into My Parlour” but was so entranced by the covers of the issues after it that I then wanted to post them all. It’s a cover very of its time: I showed it to my brother yesterday and he said ‘is that from around 1978?’ without looking at the date itself. The skating gives it away of course, but yeah, he could identify it as precisely as that just from the cover.

“Concrete Surfer” is interesting in the way it’s written: protagonist Jean is actually pretty quiet in terms of how much she says out loud, but her inner monologue is sharp and rather bitter. Told by the advertising man to do some solo skating while smiling, she thinks to herself “I don’t feel like smiling at the moment, but I’ve got to, otherwise I don’t get paid…”. We don’t hear her accuse her cousin Carol of being the smarmy, spiteful girl that Jean thinks she really is, or not out loud, so for quite a long time it hangs in the balance as to whether Jean is right in her judgement of the world, because no crisis is caused by her blurting out something sudden.

Stories in this issue:

  • Concrete Surfer (writer Pat Mills, artist Christine Ellingham)
  • Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag! (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones)
  • Two Mothers For Maggie (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Alley Cat
  • Waking Nightmare! (artist Phil Townsend)
  • The Zodiac Prince(artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Paula’s Puppets (artist Julian Vivas)
  • Shadow on the Fen (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Darling Clementine (artist Richard Neillands, writer Alison Christie)