Tag Archives: Slave of Form 3B

How do you know who’s the hero (in British girls comics)?

I have been thinking about how you can tell who is the hero, or at least the main character, in British girls comics. I’m sure that as readers most of us can tell who’s the hero most of the time, but there are always some odd cases that test the boundaries. Perhaps we will learn something about some underlying rules of British comics storytelling if we have a deeper look?

Below I suggest five key tests to check who is the main character in a story. These tests aren’t anything to do with how nice or kind the person is – they would apply to an anti-hero as much as to the most perfect hero. Rather, they should tell us whether or not the story is about that person.

Reference in title

You would think the title of the story would be a dead giveaway as to who the story is about – but it’s not always as simple as that, of course. The main villain might be the one featured in the title (“Angela Angel-Face“, “Wanda Whiter Than White“) or, particularly in the case of Jinty, the title may be fairly allusive (“The Valley of Shining Mist“, “Waves of Fear” and many others).

For most stories, though, it’s true – the title does give away who the main character is. Often her name is right up front as the first element of the title along with the key struggle of the story: “Gwen’s Stolen Glory“, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“, “Glenda’s Glossy Pages“, “Cora Can’t Lose“. But is Amanda Blay the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled“? And in “The Slave of Form 3B“, is the main character weak-willed Tania or the villainous (and rather more interesting) Stacey?

Hearing their words

A more important test than the title of the story seems to me to be whether we know what the character thinks and says. Do we see the character’s words (spoken or thoughts) directly on the page or not?

  • The sample episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” has Amanda’s words showing (in speech or word balloons) in only 10 out of 28 panels in the episode. Her antagonists, Jane and Marty, have their words or speech reported in 22 of the 28 panels (including ones where Amanda also speaks).
  • The sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B” does not include any words or thoughts of Tania’s, but only those of Stacey (in the 26 panels shown, we hear Stacey’s thoughts or words in all bar 5).

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Seeing their face

Similarly to the test above of whether we hear their words directly, do we follow them on the page and see what they do, in each panel or the majority of the page?

  • You might think that it comes to a fairly similar outcome if you check how many panels the person appears in;  I would expect the main character in a British girls comic to be in most of the panels (and that, by some way). However, in the same episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, Jane and Marty are visible in 23 of the 28 panels while Amanda is in 18 of the 28 panels. Amanda is visible in quite a lot more panels (18 panels) than just the ones where she says or thinks something (10 panels): she is a focus of the reader’s attention without actually being the main person that you put yourself in the place of.
  • In the sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B”, Stacey appears in slightly more panels than she speaks in – there are only 3 panels that she does not appear in, compared to the 5 that she does not speak in.

 

Active doer, or passive done-to?

This can be a bit harder to determine, I think. Does the hero (or the person who might be the hero) kick off the actions and make things happen, or is she ‘done-to’ rather than actively ‘doing’? In girls comics there is a definite theme of the downtrodden underdog hero, whose heroism lies in her endurance and persistance rather than in solving the world’s woes, so this may be a less definitive way of singling out the hero of the story. What happens if we look at the two sample stories to check how active the characters are?

  • Jane and Marty ensure that Amanda gets back to the dorm without being spotted and expelled (foiling her intent), and even sneak back the gown and mortar board that Jane dressed up in, to remove all evidence of what they were up to. But Amanda is pretty active too, by the end of the episode: she takes a pair of scissors from the needlework room and sets out to pick herself a bouquet of the headmistress’s prized tulips, as a way to get herself expelled. Honours are relatively even, though I think that on the showing of this single episode, Jane and Marty feel like the initiators of more action than Amanda does.
  • In “The Slave of  Form 3B” Tania is unconscious throughout the whole sample episode and therefore as passive as she could possibly be. Stacey initiates the action throughout: she hides Tania out of sight of possible rescuers, and she makes it look as if Tania has run away. The teachers initiate a search of the grounds, but again Stacey’s action is the decisive one as she lies to the other searchers to decoy them away from where she has hidden Tania.

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Who has the emotional journey?

Pat Mills is currently writing a series of blog posts on storytelling, and one of the recent entries is on the Emotional Journey. Many thanks to him for this post, as it was something I nearly overlooked in this series of tests. We can sensibly ask, is there a shape to the story and if so, who does that story-shape belong to? There are a number of fairly well-worn story ‘shapes’ and these also help to identify the main character. ‘Spoilt girl redeems herself’ is one of them, and ‘brave girl beats her bullies by enduring’ is another – and by phrasing the story in this way you immediately understand who the hero is. But another way to think of it is, who undergoes the emotional journey – who is changed by the end of the story? Not all stories necessarily have change as part of their core structure, but many do, and it can provide an interesting contrast to the answers derived from the other tests.

  • To answer this question you need to think about the story as a whole, not just individual sample episodes, so it can be harder to determine unless you know the story reasonably well. I don’t know “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” very well but Mistyfan has provided a detailed synopsis. From this it does look very much to be the case that it is Amanda who has the emotional journey – going from desperately wanting to be expelled to being glad she never managed it, and from hating even being at school to being proud of it and wanting her team to win. Jane and Marty do not obviously seem to change throughout the story, their motives and psychology remain pretty consistent.
  • In “Slave of Form 3B” then again, when we look at the overall story, the sense of who is the hero is rather different from when we look at the details. Tania, who starts off the story weak-willed and very passive indeed, ends up still pretty ‘done-to’ rather than actively bringing about Stacey’s downfall. It is Tania who is acclaimed by her schoolfellows due to her persistence and survivorship, so at least she is changed from being a timid outcast to being someone that all her fellows know and think well of. Stacey, in contrast, has not changed her motivation or aims at all; if anything she has just become more fixed in her ambitions. The arc of Tania’s emotional journey is rather tacked-on in the final episode or two though, which dilutes the effect considerably.

 

Summary

I called the above ‘five key tests’ but of course most of the time it’s hardly necessary to apply a series of tests to determine who is the hero or main character in a story. For more unusual cases like the two stories chosen here, it can however shed some interesting light on aspects of the story.

  • Is Amanda the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, or are Jane and Marty the real heroes? If you just look at the sample episode then Jane and Marty are acting much more like the main characters – they are the ones that the reader sees and hears, and the ones who move the action forward more substantially. But taking the story as a whole, especially when you consider the intention signalled by the story title, it is Amanda who the story is most ‘about’, as the person who has the significant emotional journey.  Perhaps if we re-ran the tests on who we see and hear, and who initates the action, based on a later episode, she would be more obviously marked as the main character?
  • Is Timid Tania, who is the Slave in question, the hero of “The Slave of Form 3B”, or is it wicked Stacey? Stacey is by far the most active and most visible character throughout the story, though there may be other episodes where she does not dominate the action quite as fully as in this sample epsiode. The final part of Tania’s emotional journey feels very tacked on at the end, though there are earlier points in the story where she stands up for herself to some extent. Even taking the story as a whole it does not feel like Tania is ‘really’ the main character; possibly the writer intended her to be so, but had much more fun writing the frankly rather evil Stacey instead!

Creepy Crawley (1977)

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Published: 9 April 1977 – 2 July 1977

Episodes: 13

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Translations/ reprints: Katy 8–9; In de macht/ban van een broche [Under the Spell of a Brooch], Tina 1979 and Tina Topstrip 60 1984. Indonesian translation Dalam Cengkeraman Sebuah Bros [In the clutches of a brooch]

Plot

Jean Crawley is the star pupil of St Bridget’s. She always wins at everything and is very proud that nobody has ever beaten her. Then Jean meets her match in Mandy Collier, the team captain of the rival team at a hockey match, and is stunned to lose for the first time in her life. Then Mandy – horrors! – transfers to Jean’s school. So now Jean under serious threat from the girl who always seems to beat her, and she is not taking it well.

Then Jean stumbles across an antique shop and is drawn to an Egyptian scarab brooch. The owner tells her it belonged to an Egyptian princess named Neferitta, who lost her throne to a rival but used the power of the scarab to recover it. Jean disappears out of the shop with the brooch before she receives the book that accompanies it – or the owner’s warning that the brooch changed the princess’s personality for the worse while helping her regain her throne.

The brooch begins to push back Jean’s rival at school, but there are warning signs that it is dangerous and evil. For example, mysterious swarms of insects start hanging around Jean. Jean asks the scarab to help her against Mandy when Mandy starts to suspect her of underhandedness, whereupon bees attack Mandy and leave her badly stung while Jean is unharmed while going to the rescue. Jean’s misgivings – and guilty conscience – grow worse when she goes back to the shop to get the book about the brooch. Unfortunately most of the pages are tantalisingly missing. What remains warns that the power of the scarab gives its wearer power over all insects, which Neferitta used to defeat her rival. But the scarab also brought a curse to the land and not even the defeat of the rival stopped it. Terrified, Jean stops wearing the brooch.

However, when Jean is reminded of the threat Mandy poses to her, her jealousy resurfaces and she goes back to using the brooch. And after Jean saves Mandy from the bees, Mandy is fooled into thinking Jean is her friend, which makes it easier to work against her. Mandy is even more fooled when Jean is the only one who seems to be friendly to her when the other prefects send her to Coventry because they think Mr Collier bribed the headmistress with a grant to make Mandy a prefect. Which is precisely what Jean led them to think, of course.

Mysterious help from insects keeps cropping up to destroy Mandy whenever she threatens to score one over Jean. Termites destroy her wooden sculpture in an art competition, so Jean wins. Gnats attack Mandy while the class is on a pony trekking weekend.

However the latter backfires on Jean when it unwittingly puts Sheila in danger. Jean has to move fast to save her. Jean has a pang of conscience, telling the scarab it has changed her for the worse and now nearly killed Sheila, and wishing she’d never summoned its powers. Jean does not realise Sheila overheard what she was saying – and believes it.

But the power of the scarab is getting too strong for any twinge of conscience, as both Jean and Sheila discover when Sheila tries to hide the brooch. Another swarm of insects mysteriously appears and Jean finds herself compelled to open the window for them and they direct her to the brooch’s hiding place. Jean realises someone is on to her, but does not know who.

The pony trekking turned into a fiasco because of the insects, and the girls blame Mandy for it. As a result Mandy loses her prefect’s badge while still thinking Jean is her friend. The rival is being defeated, but now Jean suspects the scarab will not stop there.

Jean discovers it was Sheila who had rumbled her. After another incident with the scarab Jean decides she cannot destroy the brooch without destroying herself. So she now plots to get Mandy expelled in the hope this will break its power (obviously, she did not remember what the book said about nobody being safe from the scarab even after the defeat of the rival). And she scares and tricks timid Sheila into helping her do it, with blackmail. Jean’s plan is to wreck the costumes for the play and frame Mandy for it, with Sheila’s unsuspecting help.

Sheila caves in, wishing she had the confidence to stand up to Jean. Then she finds Jean’s incomplete book on the scarab brooch and recalls another copy somewhere. Next day, Jean’s plan succeeds in getting Mandy suspended. Worse, Jean engineered her plan so cleverly that Mandy thinks it was Sheila who framed her, and was behind all the trouble she has had. Too late Sheila realised what Jean’s plan was, but of course nobody, including Mandy, believes her when she tries to explain about the scarab.

However, Jean soon finds out she has miscalculated. Even with Mandy gone, she cannot break free of the scarab. Its power over her is getting stronger as it makes her ever more evil and turning her into a tyrant (like it had done with Neferitta, as it turns out). Jean is forcing all pupils to wear blazers at all times, even when the weather is boiling hot. When one pupil swats a fly Jean assaults her, because all insects are sacred to the scarab. Everyone, including the headmistress, now have second thoughts about Jean because of her strange conduct.

Sheila, now having read the other copy of the book, which was in her father’s library, knows Jean is going the same way as Neferitta after she deposed her rival, and every evil action she makes is strengthening the power of the scarab. But the worst is yet to come: the scarab has designs of power and conquest. It had Neferitta lead an invasion of insects, which means it intends to do the same with Jean. Sure enough, the scarab has Jean go to the insect house at the zoo to let all the insects loose for the invasion.

The scarab’s power over Neferitta was broken by her rival forgiving her, which means Mandy must do the same with Jean. But how can Mandy even forgive Jean when she does not even realise what Jean has done and thinks Sheila is responsible for her expulsion? Sheila goes to Mandy’s house to try to explain, but Mandy still does not listen. All Sheila can do is leave the book with her and hope. Eventually Mandy reads it, but she is not convinced.

Meanwhile Mandy’s parents have gone to a garden party at school to speak to the headmistress about getting Mandy reinstated, but are not successful (yet). Then the insect invasion strikes the school, and it’s got real nasties in it. There are locusts that make short work of the school garden and drive everyone into the school building, and bees and wasps that keep them trapped there, with Jean laughing at them. They all realise Jean is in the power of the evil scarab brooch.

Realising her parents are overdue, Mandy goes to the school to check things out. She sees the insect invasion and is finally convinced. She gets past the insects by way of an old air raid tunnel. When Mandy confronts Jean, Jean brags how she got rid of her. This clears Mandy’s name, but it does not make her conducive towards forgiveness. However, she does so when Mrs Crawley points out that the scarab brooch was responsible for Jean’s conduct.

Mandy’s forgiveness frees Jean, but it is only for the time being. Jean has been so weakened by the scarab that it could possess her again, and the insect invasion is still out there. The only way to stop the scarab altogether is to put it in a pyramid.

Fortunately Sheila checked out for a pyramid, and there is a pyramid-shaped summerhouse in the neighbourhood that was built by a Victorian eccentric. So Sheila, Jean and Mandy race to get to the pyramid, but find the insects have blocked the air raid tunnel. Jean uses the power of the brooch to command the insects to step aside.

As the pyramid comes into sight, Jean has grown so weak that she faints, and Mandy hurts her ankle. So it’s up to Sheila to bravely make the last lap of the journey while running the gauntlet with the insects. With the aid of a lucky accident, Sheila gets the scarab into the pyramid and its power is broken. The insects disperse and Sheila crushes the scarab underfoot to make sure nobody uses it again.

The school takes the view the scarab was responsible for everything, so no action is taken against Jean. However, Jean voluntarily steps down from her position as head girl – and announces that Sheila is her replacement. Sheila is surprised at this because she sees herself as a coward and timid person. Jean and Mandy say she is far more courageous than she thinks, and she proved it with her heroic deed.

Thoughts

Evil objects that take possession of girls and force them to do terrible things have a long tradition in girls’ comics. But this evil object has a far bigger agenda than simply making the protagonist its slave and forcing her to act nasty, or to enact revenge as some evil objects do, such as in “Slave of the Mirror”. This evil object is out for world conquest, and it is doing it by controlling all insects. When you think about it, that’s a really scary thought; there are millions more insects on the planet than there are people, and there are thousands of species of insects that can do untold damage to humans, from disease-spreading mosquitos and fleas to stinging bees and wasps. During the story we see the damage that even small groups of insects can do, such as Mandy’s wood carving being devoured by termites. If that is what the scarab could do with insects in small numbers, what could it do if it grows strong enough to control all the insects on the planet?

The scarab clearly could not do it unless the person who fell into its power had negative feelings that could be fed upon, nurtured, twisted, and intensified to turn that person into an evil personality who could be controlled while believing the scarab was helping her (or him) to get whatever she wanted, crush the person she hated, and raise her to power beyond imagining. It is unlikely that the scarab could have possessed either Jean or Neferitta if they had lost gracefully to their rivals. They needed to have feelings of hatred, anger and jealousy to begin with if the scarab was able to take control of them at all. As we watch how Jean’s personality worsens under the power we have to wonder if what the scarab is really doing is bringing to the surface what had always lurked there.

If the scarab was sentient (and perhaps it is) we see how extremely crafty it is in ensnaring Jean and gradually entrapping her as its slave. Jean surprises herself at how brilliant her schemes in defeating Mandy are getting and puts it down to the brooch. She thinks it is doing her tremendous favour. Even when Jean has surges of conscience or terror at the power of the scarab, it does not take much for them to be overcome. Jean senses the power of the scarab is growing, but at this stage it is getting too strong for her, and it is corrupting her with temptations of power. She does not realise that the scarab is just using her as a tool and playing upon her jealousy and increasing corruption to feed its strength and carry out its own agenda. One suspects that the scarab’s power would reach the stage where it would not even need Jean anymore.

Jean’s dominance over Sheila is not unlike how Stacey dominates Tania in The Slave of Form 3B. There is no mind control (though the scarab displays some powers of hypnotism, such as making the zoo keeper forget Jean’s break-in at the insect house), but it is still the power of an intimidating personality over a weaker one. Much of it stems from Sheila’s timidity and lack of self-confidence. She looks upon herself as a coward and has no backbone. Even after her heroism she still looks upon herself as a coward. It takes pep talk from Mandy and Jean afterwards to make her see the light. Sheila replacing Jean as head girl is akin to Tania replacing Stacey in the same position at the end of Slave of Form 3B, except that unlike Tania, Sheila has actually earned it. And it’s not just because of her heroism in getting the scarab to the pyramid. Though timid like Tania, she is more proactive than Tania and she is the one who is crucial to the resolution of the story by tracking down the full history of the brooch and (eventually) informing the others what they need to know. Though she knows Mandy will most likely slam the door in her face she bravely tries to talk to Mandy about the brooch and failing that, leaves the book with her.

The artwork of Trini Tinturé is always popular in Jinty, and it does a brilliant job in illustrating the evil that is growing in Jean as the brooch increasingly corrupts her. Tinturé has a long tradition of drawing evil flint-eyed brunettes in Jinty who have insanity or evil exuding from their very eyes and facial expressions, and this one is no exception. Tinturé would have done an amazing job of drawing the corrupted Princess Neferitta herself if she had been allowed some flashbacks instead of being just briefly discussed in the book. One does feel that there is an untold story in the case of Neferitta and it could make quite a story to see the story of the scarab-enslaved Neferitta and her rival told in full. Prequel, anyone?

She Shall Have Music (1978-79)

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Publication: 28 October 1978 – 17 March 1979 (18 episodes)
Artist: Ron Smith
Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Synopsis

Lisa Carstairs is a talented pianist and a selfish, self-obsessed girl who cares nothing for anyone or anything except her piano. We see a glimpse of her life as a rich girl who can spend as much time as she wants just practicing her piano, waited on by maids and fawned on at school. Her father works hard at keeping his business together but to no avail: it comes to an end with a crash, when his business partner flees the country and leaves Mr Carstairs with the associated debts. Everything has to be sold to pay for it, including Lisa’s beloved piano – and her sympathy is kept all for her own losses, with none left for her parents’ difficulties.

For much of the rest of the story, all Lisa can think of is how to get access to a piano, preferably her own. She goes to the auction house and threatens to have the law on anyone who touches ‘her’ piano or dares to buy it, but of course she is onto a loser there. The family move into a little terraced house and she is sent to the local school rather than her posh private school. Her posh private school, for all their glib words about admiring her talent, want nothing to do with ‘the daughter of a bankrupt’ so there is no chance of playing their piano! There is a piano at the new school but she has already set everyone against her there by failing to listen to anyone, failing to adapt to her changed circumstances, and failing to understand that people aren’t going to fawn over her talent any more. She only barely gets to play the school piano, which she is only allowed to do once she has apologized to a teacher that she was rude to (and even then she gives one of those rubbish ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ type apologies – actually she says ‘The Head wishes me to apologise to you’ which should have been something they would have seen through but still).

Playing the school piano isn’t enough, mostly because she is not treated with the amount of adulation she still expects (without in any way having earned it of course). The assembly music she’s given to play is not what she wants to play, so she summarily sweeps it aside in favour of some technically challenging classical music – not surprisingly this approach fails to go down well. The kids are unimpressed, Lisa is angry at them for not fawning over her (er, I mean appreciating her obvious talent when she condescends to play for them), and she calls them loud-mouthed, ignorant and stupid. So it’s war between Lisa and the whole school from now on.

Well, not quite the whole school. Tracey is a girl who likes classical music and has some sympathy for Lisa. She stands up for her even when everyone else is sick of the sight of her. Including the Carstairs parents, probably: Lisa was nearly starting to be sympathetic to their difficulties when she heard them say they’d try to make it up to her by getting a replacement musical instrument. She immediately imagines a beautiful piano taking up most of the space in their shabby small terrace – but of course all they are able to buy is a tiny electric chord organ, which from Lisa’s point of view is nothing better than a toy. Not that anything excuses her reaction, which is to kick it to pieces in a tantrum!

Another try at getting access to a piano is when she finds out that her piano was sold to the Mayor, for his spoiled daughter to plink-plonk on. Rosalind, the mayor’s daughter, takes the opportunity to bully Lisa by playing on her desperation: she has Lisa steal and beg for a chance to play. It doesn’t take Lisa that long to realise that Rosalind has no intention of actually helping, but it does take a little longer before she can bring herself to swallow her longing and walk away from her old piano.

Lisa’s quest for a piano to play nearly breaks up the family when she finds that a piano showroom is advertising for a cleaner. Lisa herself is too young to take the job but she cajoles her mother into it, despite her father’s opposition – he was made redundant just previous to that point, and his pride is injured at the idea of his wife working to bring the money in. It works well for a time, and Lisa even shows some signs of empathy – when her father strides into the house announcing he is going away, she thinks it is because of her doing, and she realises she would much rather have her father around than access to a piano to play. It turns out not to be as bad as she had feared – Mr Carstairs is not leaving his wife because of the argument about her working, phew! In fact he has been offered another job, but it is far away and he will have to travel there and be located elsewhere. Mrs Carstairs is relieved to think that she can give up the cleaning job, but an also-relieved Lisa is a newly-selfish Lisa, who pressures her mother to continue with the job for the sake of her music.

It turns out to be the final straw of stress on Mrs Carstairs though – she collapses, and it is revealed she has been in pain for a long time previously without mentioning it. Lisa needs to go and stay with her one school friend, Tracey, in her busy house: and of course the ungrateful Lisa only thinks of the bad side, in particular the fact she has to do chores which she fears could damage her artistic hands. To top it all, Mr Carstairs is not able to come to be at his wife’s hospital bedside – because he has vanished! It seems he never appeared at the new job workplace at all.

Lisa’s last fling of selfishness is to refuse to go back to Tracey’s house when her mother tells her she must – she uses the housekeeping money that her mother gives her, and goes to see her godmother in London. Little does she know that said godmother has departed for a long international voyage! So there is no home for her there, and none back at Tracey’s house – because her worn-out mother has finally snapped, and told the authorities that Lisa must be looked after in a Home. So it is welfare for her…

This final, very nasty, surprise is the making of the girl – she is quiet and not boastful in her new location, and she doesn’t go all out to find a piano to play, as she had before. She spends her time helping with the younger children and mucking in, even roughening her hands or running the risk of injury if it seems like a worthwhile activity needs her help. And when finally she does play the piano again, after a long time of refusing to even try, it is only at the earnest request of a little boy she is helping to entertain – she is doing it for his sake, not her own. The reward comes at last – her parents return, both together – Mr Carstairs has been found! He had been injured and had lost his memory and his luggage, so his identity took a long time to be established. And Lisa has come to realise that the most important thing for her right now is to be together, as a family – and that is more important even than music for her.

Thoughts

Lisa Carstairs is one of the more unpleasant, selfish, hard-hearted protagonists that there is in Jinty. She’s not outright evil, as is the case with Stacey in “The Slave of Form 3B“, but because she is such a hard case it takes a long road, and a lot of knocks, to redeem her. You might think that the opening episode, where she loses her family home and all their worldly wealth, would be enough to do it, but in girls comics there is definitely further to fall. In her case, she needs to plumb the absolute depths before she can come back up again – and here that means losing her whole family, and knowing it is her own fault and no-one else’s. In other stories the sense of guilt can be an illusion built up in the protagonist’s mind – for instance in the case of Ann Ridley in “I’ll Make Up For Mary”, where it drives the whole plot – but here it is not over-done and it is effective as a wake-up call.

The passage of time in this story is done quite well. For instance, the last episode (which is 4 pages long) covers the timespan from Lisa’s arrival in the Home to her final happy moments of realization. It isn’t supposed to take place in only a day or two – the text explicitly refers to several weeks having passed. Likewise, earlier on, the passage of time is made rather more visible to the reader than in most stories. This all makes the main driver of the story – Lisa’s redemption – more realistic.

This is Ron Smith‘s second and final story done for Jinty – after around this time he was found doing the bulk of his work for 2000AD, so he is often thought of as primarily an artist for that title, and on Judge Dredd specifically. His work on that is indeed fantastic, but it means that it’s easy to overlook the fact he had a long career as a girls comics artist before then, working for DC Thomson’s Bunty and Judy in particular.

The Girl Who Never Was (1978 – 1979)

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From Jinty 13 Jan 1979

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
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From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
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Publication: 7 October 1978 – 17 February 1979 (17 episodes)
Artist: Terry Aspin
Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Translated into Dutch as ‘De verbanning van Irma IJsinga’ [Irma IJsinga’s Banishment] (in: Tina 1981).

Synopsis

Tina Williams is ever so good at what she does – school sports and academic achievements both – but she is a big-headed arrogant girl who none of her peers like, apart from one pair who toady up to her all the time. More tellingly, her parents seem to have lost control of her long ago too, and she neither respects them nor is even polite to them. She sounds a pain to be around – in the first episode her school goes on a theatre outing to see Salina the Sorceress, and Tina spoils all the magic tricks by explaining them. But she can’t explain away the Disappearing Gateway that Salina asks her to enter, warning that “you may not return… not to this world, anyway.” The bright light of the gateway, once dimmed, shows that she is in a suddenly-empty, indeed abandoned, theatre, and once she has managed to walk home, she finds that her parents don’t even recognize her. A spooky start!

She quickly finds that she is in a parallel world in which she was never born, which is enough of a shock – her parents call her Gina by mistake, and she has to sleep in the spare room (which should by rights be her own bedroom, full of trophies and clothes and things). Her parents are at least willing to take her in, but that’s only once she mentions the name ‘Salina’. It turns out that there are more shocks in store – Salina is Professor of Advanced Sorcery and an accomplished magic worker – which is proved to Tina as she disappears in front of their very eyes! Not before showing Tina a few home truths about how unpleasant, ‘conceited and self-centred’ she is, and making it quite clear that if she’s not prepared to recognize that, then she can jolly well stay here in this world. And of course at this point, Tina doesn’t recognize it – her reaction is to deny it with “I can’t help it if everyone is more stupid than me!”

For someone so clever, Tina is a bit slow on the uptake as to the implications of this new world she has been landed in – I think she is understandably a bit afraid of what she might find and perhaps not trying to think it through. She tells herself rather optimistically that perhaps only Salina has strange magic powers (but if so, how would the university have a department of sorcery?) and tries to behave in her usual way (throwing her weight around with her parents). When she gets to school, she very much wants it to be business as usual  with her beating the pants off fellow schoolgirl Lindy; but all the other schoolgirls wonder why she hasn’t bothered using magic in their swimming contest, if she’s meant to be so good at swimming. Tina quickly finds out that as magic a part of everyday life on this world, to be a success you therefore need to be able to do magic well! Simply swimming well doesn’t mean anything, if you can’t also counter a spell to drain the pool too. Not that she takes this change of the rules of life graciously, of course.

Rival Lindy is consistently nice to Tina, trying to show her around and console her when she is visibly upset at losing. But she can’t shield Tina from other surprises, such as finding out that the science class is covering alchemy today! Tina thinks she’s clever by making an excuse to be let off – saying she hit her head when Lindy drained the pool too quickly – and skips to the local library to start boning up on magic now that she recognizes she will never be a success without mastering it. Humiliatingly, the only ‘teach yourself’ book that she stands any chance of understanding is targeted at four to five year olds, but at least she is able to master the simple spell of moving an object by magic. When she uses it in her hockey game she still finds further surprises  – it works quite well the first time, but the second time she tries it she is sent off, because you’re only allowed to use one spell per girl per game. She moans to herself “How can I know all the rules when I don’t belong to this world?” but she hasn’t really tried to find them out, say by confiding in the rather nice Lindy.

Instead, she consistently tries to land Lindy in the soup – but this world has an underlying fairness in much of the way it works. One of her attempts to land Lindy in trouble means that they are both subjected to a trial by magic – whereby both the girls jump into the pool with weights on! “If you sink, you’re innocent… if you float, you’re guilty!” Tina is relieved to think that of course she will sink, with the heavy weight that she’s attached to – but the trial by magic is cleverer than that, and she is revealed to be a liar in front of the whole school.

Presumably to save her from continual humiliation, the story now takes a slight twist. Tina demands to see Salina so that she can be sent back to her own world, but she is still away on a trip. Instead, Salina’s younger twin sisters give her an unexpected gift – 9 spells that she can cast whenever she wants, to do pretty much whatever she needs. But – she can’t use any one of them more than once, and she won’t know in advance what exactly the spell will do, except that it will be appropriate to the occasion… The first one, cast before she even knew the detail of what had happened, was when Tina cast a flying spell onto a car that was about to crash into Lindy – and it worked very well, even making Tina into a local heroine at school. But of course some of the other schoolgirls want her to cast the same flying spell on them, and they jump from a high window as a result! Tina’s next spell is more amusing than astounding – they have a bouncing spell put on them, which the girls in question aren’t best pleased by, but the rest of the class thinks was rather funny.

We can see that the pattern of the next few episodes will be shaped by the remaining 7 spells, and how Tina can best use them – or avoid wasting them. The two girls who had the bouncing spell cast on them are still pretty cross about it, and they cast a dancing-feet spell on Tina as she is on her way home that night – as a result she can’t stop dancing, and by the time the spell wears off she is miles from home and very tired. She doesn’t want to use up one of her precious spells to counter it, so she only gets home very late indeed. Her parallel earth parents have been worried sick, but Tina can’t be bothered to explain. Her cavalier attitude gets her grounded – her parents tell her to stay in the next day, regardless of her other commitments (which in this case is her decision to enter yet another swimming contest against Lindy). And they back it up with a spell, that makes it impossible to leave the house. Of course faced with this, she does use up one of her spells – but again it works in a way she hadn’t expected – this time by making the whole house disappear!

The swimming contest goes her way, but the next round will be tougher (for one thing, spells will be allowed in the next round). Tina is happy to have got through but as a result, slips back into the old self she has started to cast off at earlier points – she boasts and sounds conceited, and the other girls give her the cold shoulder as a result. Apart from the rather saintly Lindy, who tries to get through to her, and manages enough of a breakthrough that Tina does start to think that maybe having friends would be nicer than being the top girl with no friends. In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, she hurries home to try to get back before her parents return – only to find that they’re back already, and stunned to find their house vanished and the nosy neighbour ready to accuse Tina of the evil spell that must have done it!

The police are ready to haul her off to the station for interviewing, when the house suddenly re-appears, and news comes in that it wasn’t her, after all – it was Salina who did it, and so she could be set free. Very puzzling to Tina, of course, who knows jolly well that she did do it! But it gives her a new hope, because if Salina has returned, then she can ask her to send her back to her own world. Full of this optimism, Tina spends a couple of her spells to actually make other people happy – a spell to make her parents’ garden flourish as it never had done before, and one for her school peers, to cheer them up. And it’s a lovely treat for Tina, too, who is enjoying making other people happy – not only because it’s gratifying in itself, but because she is discovering that it can yield unexpected ways for her to enjoy herself too. She’d never have known about magic skateboarding otherwise!

Sadly for Tina, she is soon down to earth with a bump again. Salina wasn’t back yet, after all – it was the twins who had sent the message about Salina. Tina is furious, but the twins show her in their crystal ball how happy the spells she cast (once she thought she was going) made others. But Tina is not a redeemed person yet – she pinches the crystal ball when it is left unguarded. She doesn’t like what she sees when she tries it next – her losing to Lindy – and in a temper, she sweeps the ball onto the floor, where it cracks into pieces. It turns out that in this world, breaking a crystal ball is much worse than breaking a mirror – something awful is guaranteed to happen to the one who broke it. In Tina’s case, she loses the swimming race and in a rage, uses a black magic spell against Lindy (though the twins try to stop her, saying it is the curse of the ball that is making her do it). Lindy is turned into a toad, in front of everyone! And though Tina turns her back again right away, this sort of black magic is totally beyond the pale, and everyone turns against her – including her parents and school friends. And she only has two spells left now…

The twins spirit her away, but the only real solution is for Tina to reach Salina, who is on a retreat at the top of a tall mountain. The only catch is that Salina has put a spell on the mountain – “anyone thinking mean or nasty thoughts will be stopped from getting to the top.” That means that Tina must control herself much more than she has been able to do in the past! First she is dumped back down to the bottom, where they all started; then she must face a dragon and a giant. Luckily for her, she has a counteracting nice thought “Oh, if only I’d listened to the twins! They’ve been so good to me. I wish I could take back everything nasty that I thought!” And that does the trick – the last spell kicks in and wipes out the giant and the dragon, and she finally gets to see Salina. Or does she? All she can see is the twins – but it turns out that they were Salina, all along! She knew Tina needed someone to keep an eye out for her. The mountain was just a last test, to see if she was ready to return to her own world. Salina sends her back, with one spell still to spare.

In her own world, it turns out that she has been in a coma for two months, and everyone had nearly given up hope that she would recover. Salina had been coming in to see her every day, consumed with guilt over the accident that put her in a coma when the magic act made her hit her head. But where are her parents and friends, why aren’t they coming to see her? Tina can only think it is because she has been so nasty in the past, they don’t care about her. And even the reformed Tina can perhaps be forgiven for lashing out a little, upset that no one has come to visit her apart from Salina, and her parents very briefly. But Salina has come to pick her up on her discharge, and in her neat roadster, Tina finds herself telling the whole story. Including the bit about the left-over spell, which Salina urges her to try out – and so Tina does, asking for a spell that would make people like her. Behold – the door to her house opens onto a welcome-back party, done as a surprise by her parents and schoolfriends, who kept it a secret until she got back home. Tina, the reformed character, vows she won’t need spells to make herself liked in the future!

Thoughts

This is a favourite story of mine, though not quite making it into my top ten. The parallel universe where magic works is a great draw and a very fun read. We enjoy seeing Tina’s discomfiture with things not going as she expected! It was clearly pretty successful: it is the lead story throughout its run (though it only makes it onto the cover once), and was translated into Dutch.

Of course it needs to have a bigger aim or structure, and in this case it’s a redemption story: Tina is a pretty unpleasant girl, who is redeemed through her tribulations. Her unpleasantness is shown to be simply selfishness and big-headedness rather than anything outright villainous, so it does not stretch credulity too much to have her end the story as a rather nicer girl than she was at the start of it (whereas the black-hearted Stacey in “Slave of Form 3B” would be much less believable as a reformed character). This is just as well, as the story rushes a little quickly towards her change of heart at the end, despite it being a relatively long story at 17 episodes.

It makes quite an interesting comparison with two other stories from around the same time: 1977-78’s story “Land of No Tears” is also a redemption narrative of sorts, as is “She Shall Have Music” (which actually ran in many of the same issues as “The Girl Who Never Was”). LONT has a different feel and different ending – once Cassie Shaw lands in the world of the future she is out to beat her hated rival and (eventually) to defeat the whole premise of the unfair society that she is placed in. The fact that she improves in character is incidental, in a way, though the Cassie at the end of the story certainy is a great improvement on the one that starts the story.

Tina’s story is all about her redemption: the world she is placed in is also unfair in many ways (there would be no appeal from the punishment she was due to get for turning Lindy into a toad) but the thrust of the story isn’t about the greater good, it’s all about Tina learning to appreciate her own mistakes and becoming less self-centred. In this story, Salina (or the twins, whichever way you want to see it) is clearly guiding and testing her, rather like a fairy godmother. When the twins leave Tina alone with the crystal ball, they are obviously tempting her (and she fails); later on when she has to climb the magic mountain then again she is being tested, very explicitly so, and this time she passes.

In SSHM, Lisa Carstairs also has to learn to be less self-centred and conceited, but she has no kindly fairy-godmother equivalent. The trials she goes through are considerably harsher, and with nothing that lets her out easily. It’s a much harder read; Lisa herself is considerably more unpleasant than Tina too. I think the harshness of the story with its realistic tribulations (poverty and deprivation, tiredness, hunger, relationship difficulties caused by changed circumstances), ties into the unpleasantness of the main character: Lisa is so horrible throughout much of the story that she needs that realism of ‘no easy get-out’, otherwise the final redemption wouldn’t work. Will Tina’s change of heart last once she is back in her own world, without a magical companion looking over her shoulder? I am not so sure that it will, whereas Lisa’s and Cassie’s new leaf will stay turned over, I think.

 

Wild Horse Summer (1974)

Sample images

Wild Horse Summer pg 1

Wild Horse Summer pg 2
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Wild Horse Summer pg 3
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Publication: 3 August 1974 – 30 November 1974 (18 episodes)
Artist: Unknown (same as Gwen’s Stolen Glory)
Writer: Unknown (but see Thoughts)

Translation/reprints: Translated into Dutch as ‘De zomer van het witte paard’ (in: Tina 1976, Tina Topstrip 15 (1980)). Translated into Indonesian as ‘Elvira misteri kuda putih’

Synopsis

We first meet Daphne in the orphanage that she has been consigned to since the death of her parents in the car crash that also left her unable to speak. She clearly loves all sorts of animals – she finds some field mice and her immediate thought is that they are really sweet and she wonders if she could tame them as pets. She herself is pretty wild though – when the cook finds the mice and is about to splifficate them, Daphne’s resort is to attack and bite the poor woman. Well, she can’t argue rationally with anyone, but additionally everyone in the orphanage seems to have written Daphne off as a daftie who has strange ideas and is not to be trusted.

Nor does anyone in the orphanage empathise with her in other ways. Even when she writes it down as a heartfelt plea, she is not allowed to miss the road journey to the farm that is proposed as a holiday trip – even though such a journey is bound to bring back memories of the day her parents were killed.

At the farm however she makes friends with a wild horse. Unfortunately this is a horse that everyone has been told to keep away from, as it’s ‘best left alone’ – rather like Daphne herself, I suppose. Again and again the misunderstanding by the authorities who are looking after this girl are clearly signalled – she is still shocked after the journey but the matron thinks she is avoiding doing her share, or mooning about. And the matron doesn’t really do her job properly in other ways – in telling the other girls not to go near the wild horse she doesn’t check that Daphne had heard or understood, which could have been a fatal error. She also asks her daughter Eileen, arrived to share the holiday, to befriend Daphne – and Eileen clearly shares her mother’s lack of tact, talking loudly to Daphne as if she was stupid rather than simply unable to speak.

The matron continues in this vein, taking Daphne into town by car despite her clear fear of this mode of travel; Daphne rebels and walks back by herself, but this backfires when she gets lost in the moorland with night coming on. The white horse that everyone else was warned about comes to comfort and help her, and she is charmed and delighted by the mare rather than being frightened (because she didn’t hear or listen to the earlier warning). Daphne is led back to the farm by the horse and manages to make more time to spend together after that – each lonely creature being the other’s only friend. Of course it doesn’t take long for the other kids to find out – they throw stones at the horse they believe to be dangerous, and of course Daphne can’t speak to tell them that she is friends with the mare.

The matron is fed up of Daphne sneaking off and assigns her daughter Eileen to make friends with the girl and to keep an eye on her – not that Daphne is fooled. Especially as Eileen thinks she is so clever, training to be a nurse and having an interesting case to study right in front of her! Daphne rebels, cheekily writing in Eileen’s set of notes that she needs to take ‘more care … over simple spelling.. very untidy writing…’. After initial crossness, Eileen laughs heartily and takes Daphne more seriously, opening up the possibility of real friendship between the two – but of course Daphne still has the secret of the horse to keep.

It’s not a secret for ever – Eileen finds the bridle that Daphne has been using to ride the mare, and has a dilemma of her own. If she gives away the secret then she knows Daphne will never forgive her, and if she doesn’t, then she’s afraid the white mare may turn dangerous and even kill Daphne one day. What should she do? The secret is clearly not going to last for long. Eileen tells Daphne her fears, which is at least rather more grown-up than just telling the authorities – and the warning seems to be borne out when the mare throws Daphne for no very obvious reason. Is the horse turning wild and unsteady again?

The story of the horse and the girl are clear parallels – the reason the horse seemed wild and unreliable was because of the bad experiences she had that led her to grow wild in the first place. Daphne’s hair style had reminded the horse of that time, which is why she was thrown. But the two couldn’t stay away from each other for long. When they next met they rode together for joy – into dangerous bog! Daphne is saved by the mare’s actions and wants to save her in turn – which means revealing the secret. Unfortunately, it is to the last person in the area who will take it well – she has to tell Jem, the farmhand who bears the most of a grudge against the mare, from when she broke his arm in a frenzy. He thinks the mare is dangerous and vicious, and is more likely to kill her than save her!

Because Daphne is willing to go into the bog after the horse, and drown alongside the mare if need be, Jed is forced to save the horse – but takes his gun out later to kill her after all, now he knows where she is. Of course Daphne can’t leave it like that, so she sneaks out after midnight to save the mare, which she does by hiding her in an abandoned mine – little knowing that this is just another danger. This time it is a danger for Daphne herself, who falls down a hole and cannot even scream to let people know she is there. The mare knows, but how can she bring help? Only by exposing herself to danger, which she does – she brings the farmer and Eileen to rescue Daphne. Many people in the farm now realise the horse is not dangerous after all, and are willing to rehabilitate it – but not Jed (as can be seen in the penultimate episode above). He drives the horse away and shoots at it, to make it seem as if the horse went wild again and needed a mercy-killing – but Daphne gets in the way and is shot instead.

Of course this is the denouement that leads to great remorse on Jed’s part – he carries Daphne into the farmhouse where she is nursed back to health, and leaves the farm in disgrace thereafter. The shock of the injury gives Daphne her voice back (in that way that happens in comics) and everything else ends happily – the mare will be kept by the farmer, Daphne will be understood by the people surrounding her, Eileen nurses her back to health, and the mare is given a fitting new name (Hope). In the last two panels, similarly to the sort of vindication seen at the end of “Slave of Form 3B“, Eileen even offers Daphne a bright new future – “Being dumb has given you a lot of patience and understanding, Daphne. You’d make a wonderful nurse! Mum says when you’re old enough, you could train along with me!” “Oh Eileen! I’d love to!”

Thoughts

The unknown artist (who also worked on “Gwen’s Stolen Glory”) does a lovely job once again. These were the only two Jinty stories that s/he drew: if anyone knows of any stories by this artist in other story papers, please do let me know. Many of the episodes are very clear and open in feel, with a lot of white space used for hair and other details that might well be completed in darker textures by other artists. This artist reserves that for scenes like the one in the sample pages – taking place by night, and with potentially deadly outcomes. It makes for a story drawn with a lot of nuance and variety.

The writer is also unknown. We understand that often the same writer and artist were paired up repeatedly, and Alan Davidson is known to have written “Gwen’s Stolen Glory” – could he therefore have written this story too? Hopefully his wife Pat would be able to confirm or deny this at some point, but against this suggestion we should set the point that “Jackie’s Two Lives” ran at the same time as this story. It was not unknown for writers to have two or even more stories running at the same time, but nor was it that usual.

Pat Mills is also known to have written at least one horse story in Jinty, and he has declined to specify which one (giving the impression that he was a bit unimpressed in retrospect with that particular story). This is actually a rather good story – tight and dramatic, if more low-key than some other Jinty stories with supernatural goings-on or scenery-chewing villains. It’s not the sort of thing that I would expect Pat Mills to have any particular reason to disown – the protagonist is hard-done-by by the authorities and has to make her own way in life. She takes no guff, and this is not a particularly daft story or over-the-top in any way. It could still be the missing Mills horse story, but I take leave to doubt it.

Jinty 23 November 1974

Jinty cover 23 November 1974

Stories in this issue:

  • The Jinx from St. Jonah’s (artist Mike White)
  • Jackie’s Two Lives (artist Ana Rodriguez, writer Alan Davidson)
  • Merry at Misery House (writer Terry Magee)
  • The Kat and Mouse Game (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Wild Horse Summer (artist and writer unknown)
  • Always Together… (artist Phil Townsend, writer Alison Christie)
  • Bird-Girl Brenda (artist Phil Gascoine)
  • Dora Dogsbody (artist José Casanovas)
  • Slave of the Mirror (artist Carlos Freixas)
  • Do-It-Yourself Dot (artist Alf Saporito)

Katie Jinks is trying to help her dad with his interview for a new job, but of course jinxes it all over the place! The real problem though is that her dad’s reputation has been blackened by the way he lost his last job, leaving Katie furious and desperate to clear his name.

Jackie Lester is finding out more and more how Mrs Mandell will drive her cruelly and without regard for safety. In Misery House, stray dog Mr Nobody is looking out for Merry’s safety but will that work for long, or will he be destroyed, as per the Warden’s orders?

New girl Leticia is about as soppy as you can get, and a soft target for Kat’s mean-spirited domination over her. This story reminds me quite a lot of “Slave of Form 3B”, but without the hypnotism. Kat’s wangling gets Mouse moved out of the hostel where she’s supposed to stay (and where other people might find out about Kat’s emotional hold over the shyer girl) and into staying at Kat’s own home.

Revenge-crazed Jed sets it up to look like the Wild Horse has escaped from her barn, even though it’s the middle of a thunderstorm – but Daphne has seen what’s going on, and gone with her beloved white horse. In the darkness, Jed’s shot doesn’t hit the horse, but the girl! He is filled with remorse, but the mare doesn’t know that, and this may be the turning point that may turn her wild in earnest… We are promised the final episode next week.

The homeless family in “Always Together…” go from bad to worse luck. They are not dragged back to the children’s home, but Jilly’s hurt her arm badly and can’t earn money, and Beth goes too close to the fire and sets herself alight!

 

Misery Loves Company, or, the sadomasochism of readers?

Attendees at talks like the Comix Creatrix event have a tendency to marvel at the prevalence of stories about misery, cruelty, and slavery in girls comics. It’s particularly the case that, if the attendee is someone who isn’t steeped in reading stories in this genre, they may well bring out loaded words or phrases referring to the ‘sadomasochism’ in the stories, or they may indicate that something is a bit ‘dodgy’ or ‘ooh-er’ (at the end of the talk this came in with discussions of “War Orphan Farm” and “Slave of Form 3B“). I’m not immune to this effect either – in earlier days I have certainly referred to slave stories with wink-wink innuendo, for instance. But it’s not true to the material being referred to, and what’s more I think that it plays into the wrong hands, as I will explain below.

Girls comics feature a lot of cruelty, misery, and slavery, it’s true. Mistyfan’s post on the Slave Story theme gives a relevant run-down of how a large subsection of girls’ stories worked, including a range of examples. We haven’t even given misery and cruelty any specific categories of their own in our list of themes, but they are clearly part of the more discrete story themes of Affliction, Bullying, Cinderella, Guilt Complex, and Troublemaker, to name only a few. Stories frequently feature mental domination, abuse, and physical brutality; may include handcuffs and ropes; and occasionally allow the death of the main character. And these are not incidental aspects of the stories – they are the main reason for them, the thing that makes them popular and memorable. A story may continue for half a year or more with the protagonist growing more and more hard-done-by, and the resolution typically only comes in the last episode or even the last few panels. It’s hardly surprising that this is so much a feature of discussions of girls comics when it comes up outside the confines of a blog like this.

But does this mean either that the stories are full of sadomasochism, or that the readers were secret sadists or masochists to enjoy them in such numbers? I’d say no, to both.

If you look at the stories themselves, and the experiences of the protagonists within then, they are just not stories of sadomasochism. For a start, they’re not overtly sexual (no publisher of the time in the UK would have countenanced that, of course, though as has been pointed out by Paul Gravett, the Shojo manga publishing phenomenon in Japan at around the same time was able to go down this route). They’re not covertly sexual either (not that I think girls of that age and in that era particularly went for hidden innuendo – we passed around Lace and The Thorn Birds, and of course we all devoured the Flowers In The Attic series). Fundamentally the stories of cruelty/slavery , even though they can spark associations of BDSM to the adult reader, weren’t about submission. The protagonists didn’t learn to enjoy being humiliated or dominated by their rivals: it was just that they were not strong enough to win against the villain or the society they were in. It’s a trope about powerlessness and fighting back even when it’s hopeless: eventually, even though it seems terribly unlikely, you may win. That’s a message of strength to young girls, collectively one of the least powerful groups in all society.

Slave stories end with the slave being freed and reinstated, and the villain reformed or defeated. (See the Tammy blog’s post about Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” where all eventually ends happily.) There are some stories where the slave accepts the brainwashing of the antagonist at points, and believes she deserves her punishment (Jinty‘s “Slave of the Swan” includes this plot element), but clearer eyes than the deluded protagonist see through this deception and it is not seriously proposed as something that the protagonist should believe. These are not stories with hidden subtexts of the delights of submission to loving authority in the way that Marston’s Wonder Woman stories were.

There are also a large number of tear-jerker stories which get mentioned as part of this idea of the sadomasochism of girls comics. I think here the feeling is that because such stories are so focused on misery, it is sadistic, or possibly masochistic, of the girl reader to enjoy them so much. Some of the obvious key contenders from the massively popular misery / tear-jerker trope are:

  • “No Time for Pat” in Jinty Annual 1980. Originally printed in June (1972)
  • Stefa’s Heart of StoneJinty (1976), reprinted in Princess / Tammy & Princess (1984)
  • DC Thomson’s “AngelMandy (1977) reprinted three times, with two subsequent sequels One of the few misery stories that takes the story through to the death of the protagonist, but as she was suffering from a terminal disease this feels like a naturalistic and almost uplifting ending – you could say she ‘wins’
  • Nothing Ever Goes RightJudy (1981) Reprinted (1989-90) Another exception of a misery story in which the protagonist dies in the end. (Edited to add: written by Maureen Hartley – see comments on Girls Comics of Yesterday)

These stories don’t really have a specific villain, though some other similar ones may do. The cause of the misery is often simply cruel fate. Possibly because cruel fate is much less personal, it is sometimes carried through to the logical conclusion whereby the protagonist dies in end: something that you can’t really do with a slave story because then the villain would win. (Unless anyone knows of a counter-example?)

Clearly girl readers loved a good cry! But why label the readers so strongly, bandying around terms like masochist? Didn’t the Victorians also love sentimental sob stories? What about classical tragedy, which far more often ends in unswerving death? Or indeed devotees of East Enders or the Archers? Consumers of these stories don’t get the same labels. I can only see it coming down to the policing of girls’ reading – it falls outside our expectations of what girls should read, and so we boggle at it more than at Victorian sob stories. If we fall in with this policing of ‘appropriate’ reading we play into the hands of authority’s disapproval of comics. Sometimes that manifests itself relatively mildly, as when Mary Cadogan complained about lurid death scenes in girls comics, citing “No Time For Pat” as an example (incorrectly, in fact) and using that as a lever to indicate that all girls comics were of low worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Frederick Wertham used his assertions of inappropriate themes and images to press for wide-ranging ‘reform’ of comic book publishing and the implementation of the US Comic Book Code.

Jinty & Lindy 20 March 1976

Jinty 20 March 1976

Fran is in danger of drowning while diving for food in a submerged village – and all for nothing because the food has already been taken. And as the cover says, Miss No-Name’s only friend is a donkey, but Ma Crabb is using it to ensnare Lori even more by threatening the donkey with nasty things if Lori does not do as she says – which includes a dangerous climb on a ruinous tower!

Miss Wortley goes too far with her cruelty to Betsy and Betsy collapses from sunstroke. And now Miss Wortley has turned on Mary with a terrible punishment that could cause Mary to die from fright. Next week Betsy resorts to desperate measures to save her, and we have a strong suspicion this will mean doing a runner together. It had to happen.

It’s part 2 of the Slave of Form 3B. Stacey is still at the testing stage of her hypnotic powers over Tania. But now she’s satisfied and is out for bigger things with her new power.

Nobody is signing the petition to save old Smokey – until they see Gresby bullying Billie! Next moment they’re flocking to sign, so that’s one mean trick that’s backfired on Gresby. But he’s back with another trick – setting Old Smokey on fire!

Carrie Lomax is on her way to Scotland to stay with gran, because Mum has too many problems over poor sick Peter to give her the attention she needs.

Katie the Jinx and her friends are taking the bus to see a horror movie. But their attempts to get in the mood for it end up jinxing the driver. He is full of dread when he hears them talking about how they are going to get into the mood for the cowboy movie next week.

The nasty Walkers and their ally Miss Knight are finding that the Friends of the Forest are very adept at hiding and can’t flush them out.

It’s high fashion in Dora Dogsbody as Ma Siddons has them dressing up in smart clothes for a fashion parade. She says it’s all for charity, but when Dora finds that Ma Siddons’ charity is herself (surprise, surprise!), it’s all hilarity as Dora puts things right.

WTFometer IV

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

In this WFTometer post I take three well-remembered stories from Jinty that all deal with bullying. They are Tears of a Clown, Waves of Fear and The Slave of Form 3B. The purpose of selecting the bullying theme is to see how the seriousness and effects of the bullying situations in the stories fare on the WFTometer. WTFometer Tears of a Clown In the first, “Tears of a Clown”, Kathy Clowne is subject to teasing, cruel tricks and bullying because of her name and she is clumsy, slow to learn and considered hopeless at everything. The effects of the bullying wear her further down, causing her schoolwork to deteriorate even more. Neither her parents nor school authorities step in to investigate the problem or help Kathy. They also consider Kathy hopeless at everything, fit only to be laughed at, and also a troublemaker because her lashing out at the bullies is misconstrued as violence. Worst of all, the ringleader (or sometimes fate) keeps sabotaging her attempts to prove her talent for running – until Kathy is pushed too far and uses her talent to run away. The psychological effects of the bullying, lack of friends, the outstanding talent for running, and the unusual dog who becomes Kathy’s pet scores “Tears of a Clown” a 20 on the WFTometer. Physical security remains standard as the bullying is not physically abusive or a physical risk, nor does Kathy face any physical danger during her time on the run. WTFometer Waves of Fear

The second story, “Waves of Fear”, scores a 37. The scoring is much higher, mainly because the emotional and mental security of the heroine, Clare Harvey is rated “extreme” for two reasons. First, she is actually mentally ill, which is something extremely unusual for the heroine to be. Second, her illness  (extreme claustrophobia) has been misconstrued as cowardice (and then violent behaviour as it deteriorates further) because it caused her to panic and flee while her friend was drowning in a cave. As a result, Clare not only suffers ostracism and abuse at school and in the community but also from her own parents. They treat her extremely harshly, abuse her emotionally, and neither they nor the headmistress take any action against the bullying Clare is experiencing at school, although they are fully aware of it and it almost got Clare killed when it went too far at one point. Instead, the parents drag Clare straight back to the bullying environment, regardless of how terrified she is of it. The scoring is high on physical danger as well, because Clare’s life is not only put in danger twice but she is driven to the brink of suicide when she also runs away because of the bullying, emotional abuse and her worsening mental state. WTFometer Slave of Form 3B The last story, “The Slave of Form 3B”, is considered the most over-the-top bullying story in Jinty because of the form the bullying takes. Instead of the more usual teasing, blackmail, or emotional and physical abuse the bully, Stacey, uses mind control techniques (hypnotism and telepathy) on her victim, Tania, in order to cheat, steal and sabotage her way to the Girl of the Year Award while cunningly planting suggestions to cut Tania off from avenues of help. Stacey’s manipulation escalates to near death for Tania because of Stacey’s ruthless disregard for her victim, even when Tania gets seriously injured because of Stacey, yet Stacey will not seek help because she just wants to protect herself. Instead, Stacey tries to hide the injured Tania and then cover up with more hypnotism, despite Tania’s worsening condition. It scores a 37 on the WFTometer, tying it with “Waves of Fear”. It might score higher if more information was given about Tania’s background (family structure, parents, pets etc), but we have to go by what we are given in the story.

What makes a story work, pt 2?

Following on from my earlier post on how we can sensibly say that a story works (or doesn’t), I want to look at the elements that can add to, or detract from, how well a story works. These are elements that are mostly down to decisions made by the writer or the artist (or both), though editorial decisions can also be relevant. For each of the elements, therefore, I will consider what the balance of responsibilities tends to be, as well as discussing the nature of each of them.

  • Plot. What actually happens? How well tied-together are the events of the story, and how naturally or consistently do they flow from earlier ones? Is it a very run-of-the-mill plot or does it have innovative elements? Is the plot simple or convoluted, full of sidelines or straightforward? In particular, does the ending follow well from the main part of the action or does it undercut the earlier events, for instance through by use of a deus ex machina to wrap everything up neatly and too-quickly?
    • This lies mostly in the writer’s corner, though the editorial department may make suggestions.
    • Stronger: “Concrete Surfer” is a tightly-plotted story where everything that happens drives the action forwards to the skate-off between rivals and the subsequent denouement. Not a moment of action is wasted and it all hangs together.
    • Weaker: in “Fran of the Floods” lots of things happen, but in a quite meandering structure with sub-plots that you can get lost in. The later happenings are not very tightly tied into the earlier events, though there is a wrap-up at the end of the story. This is a danger for road-trip sort of stories.
  • Title. Is the title overly-explanatory or does it promise without revealing too much? Is it ho-hum or unusual?
    • As far as we know, coming up with the story’s title seems to have been part of the writer’s tasks. Sometimes it might have been changed by the editorial department either before publication or on reprint / translation.
    • Stronger: There are lots of really evocative story titles in Jinty. Examples like “Girl The World Forgot” or “Golden Dolly, Death Dust!” are suggestive without giving the whole game away.
    • Weaker: the formula girl’s name + descriptive reference was over-used in girls’ comics generally and feels hackneyed as a result. “Badgered Belinda”, “Angela Angel-Face”, “Diving Belle” are examples in Jinty, but looking at a single issue of Lindy the ratio of such titles seemed considerably higher so things could have been much worse!
  • Theme. Is the theme a well-trodden one such as the Slave or Cinderella themes? Is it an intrinsically unlikely one such as the Exploited Amnesiac? In either case it probably needs something extra to make it stand out.
    • Again as far as we know the story theme was mostly under the control of the writer, though the editorial office would, according to Pat Mills, aim to have specific themes represented such as the two mentioned above. Some writers would focus preferentially on certain themes, so we know that Alison Christie wrote a number of heart-tugging stories with Runaways or Guilt Complexes. The art style (discussed in the next post) was probably chosen to match the theme as far as possible, though of course it is entirely possible that the availability of an artist was used to inspire a writer on occasion.
    • Stronger: I wouldn’t say it is that clear that one theme is stronger than another but there is a lot of personal preference that will govern whether a story works for an individual reader or not.
    • Weaker: as mentioned above, some themes such as the Exploited Amnesiac are so intrinsically unlikely and indeed rather melodramatic and silly that it means that the story is battling against something of a headwind.
  • Pacing. Girls (and boys) comics of this era typically feature fast-paced stories, with cliff-hangers at the end of each episode. The conventions of this sort of story are rather different from Japanese manga, where the action tends to take place over a far greater number of pages. If a story is compressed more than usual for this genre it would feel confusing, or if it was too slow-paced likewise it could throw readers off.
    • This lies solidly in the remit of the writer, though the page layout and composition could have some effect too.
    • Stronger: “Concrete Surfer” has some of the best pacing I can immediately think of: it builds evenly and the momentum never stops. Every panel and page builds on the last.
    • Weaker: the pacing on “Freda’s Fortune” makes it an odd read, with much of the plot line of a normal horse & rival story compressed into two 6-page episodes.
  • Tone. Is the story light and frothy, silly, adventurous, realistic, tear-jerking, hard, gritty, subversive, or even sadistic? The dialogue is a big part of what sets the tone so I am including it in this element, though others might prefer to separate it out.
    • The style set by the comic overall is very linked to the tone of the individual stories inside; whether this is mostly to do with editorial choices as to which stories to publish or writers to commission, clearly the editorial focus has a part to play. Pat Mills reckons that there is a big divide between working class comics (Tammy, Misty, Jinty, Pink, and most of Bunty) and middle-class, ‘safe’ comics, and that this divide was purposeful, to try to move past the ‘old hat’ style of the past. The individual writer is the prime mover of the tone of the story but the artist also has an important role to play as the writing and art must of course match. Additionally, the artist is in a position to add a lot of background detail in their art, to really bring things to life (John Armstrong draws graffiti in the background of “Moonchild”, and Jim Baikie draws details from the London Underground of the 70s or earlier in his recreation of the futuristic world of “The Forbidden Garden”.)
    • Stronger: Of course one tone is not in itself ‘better’ than another, but some are more unusual or more consistently applied throughout. “Knight and Day” is the epitome of a gritty and realistic story of physical and emotional abuse within a family, played seriously and with enough emotional effect to convince the reader.
    • Weaker: In the link above, Pat Mills says that light and frothy stories are ‘safe’ and boring to the reader. This is arguable, but certainly a light and frothy story such as “The Perfect Princess” is by its nature one that is easier to dismiss the more emotional or tear-jerking tales. Perhaps more fatal to a story is a sudden shift in tone, such as Lorrbot mentions having happened in “Balloon of Doom” in her comment on the last post.
  • Resonance. I’m stretching a bit things here in using this term in this way. What I mean is whether the story has a certain mythic resonance, a re-use (in a purposeful way) of cultural material. Mermaids, spinning wheels, magic mirrors, wicked and cruel women: these all have resonance as they have been used in countless stories to tell us how to behave or what to be careful of. Re-use of a current successful story from a different medium also gives the comics narrative a chance to grab some resonance from elsewhere.
    • I am assuming this is mostly in the care of the writer, though of course the artist will be able to add in many visual elements that will strengthen the references.
    • Stronger: “Who’s That In My Mirror?” combines ideas of vanity, moral peril, and the idea that a mirror can hold a reflection of a kind of truth. It has echoes of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and of the Andersen tale “The Shadow” – and its denouement is as spooky as anything in comics.
    • Weaker: There are so damned many stories of haunted mirrors that it’s very easy for the shine to wear off! For me, “The Venetian Looking-Glass” was just another one of many: the element of resonance had become repetition.
  • Audacity. This is sort of the flip side of Resonance, and again I am stretching things a bit in using this term in this way. By this I mean the ‘WTF’ element where you can’t quite believe that anyone dared to put that on the page! It is the element of surprise and of novelty, but it is quite a delicate balancing act.
    • The written story bears a lot of the responsibility for this element but the art is key in making sure that the reader’s suspension of disbelief doesn’t flag. The editorial and publishing teams are the ones who would be on the bosses’ carpet if it all goes horribly wrong (as it did for boys’ comic Action after questions were asked in parliament), so they are part of the mix too.
    • Stronger: “Worlds Apart” is one of the most audacious stories in girls’ comics, with each protagonist having to die in grotesque and excessive ways in order for them to progress to the next scenario. “Children of Edenford” is also outrageous but a bit more quietly so as it criticises the shibboleth of social mobility ahead of the tide of Thatcherism and yuppiedom to come.
    • Weaker: When audacity tips the scales of suspension of disbelief, the wheels come off. For me, the cruelties at the end of “Slave of the Swan” and “The Slave of Form 3B” push it a step too far.

To follow in the next post, discussions on:

  • Art quality
  • Art style
  • Character design
  • Page layout / composition
  • Art incidental details
  • Design / font / lettering
  • Format / edition