Tag Archives: slave story

Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

Prisoner

Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

Prisoner 2

So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

Prisoner 3

Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

Prisoner 4

They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

Prisoner 5

The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

Prisoner 6

When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.

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Slaves of the Candle [1975-1976]

Sample Images

Slaves of the Candle 1Slaves of the Candle 2Slaves of the Candle 3

Published: Jinty & Lindy 8 November 1975 – 24 January 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Roy Newby plus unknown filler artist

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none

Plot

It is the year 1830. Lyndy Lagtree works as a maidservant for the Duchess of Dowgate. Mrs Tallow, the best candlemaker in London and highly respected for it, arrives with a candle chandelier that she always provides for the grandest parties. Then the whole chandelier is extinguished when one candle proves faulty, which plunges the room into darkness. Afterwards they find a painting has disappeared. Lyndy overhears a guest talking about a similar incident at another grand house, at which a necklace vanished afterwards. She begins to suspect Mrs Tallow is using her chandeliers as a cover for a series of thefts and hides in Mrs Tallow’s wagon so she can do some investigating.

At Mrs Tallow’s shop Lyndy discovers the shop is a front that conceals a secret workshop where Mrs Tallow is using children as unpaid slave labour to make her candles. Later it is established that making them work around the clock with little chance to sleep seems to be a common occurrence, and food consists of cold gruel and the like. The slaves are totally cut off from the outside world in their underground cellar, except for a crack in the wall Mrs Tallow does not know about. It also means they have to work in very poor light. Instead of developing eye problems though, they develop the ability to see in near darkness.

Then Mrs Tallow catches Lyndy – and yes, Mrs Tallow hid the painting in one of her candles. To silence Lyndy, Mrs Tallow and her henchman Wick hold her captive in the workshop with the other slaves. They all learn from the Peelers that Lyndy has been blamed for the theft of the painting. Now there is a price on her head for 100 guineas and her “wanted” posters are plastered all over London. At this Mrs Tallow and Wick are now confident that Lyndy can never try to escape.

But they are wrong. Lyndy is determined to escape, prove her innocence, and bring down Mrs Tallow and her racket. Here Lyndy contrasts to the other slaves, who don’t even try to escape as they consider themselves just “rubbish” in society and have nowhere else to go. She is also the oldest and the strongest in spirit, which makes her a natural leader of the slaves. Lyndy is also lucky in to discover she is a natural for making candles once the slaves teach her. Mrs Tallow herself even calls Lyndy her best candle maker, even if she is trouble. If only circumstances were different, Lyndy could chuck skivvying in favour of a more lucrative living in the candle making business.

Lyndy explores the workshop chimney, feeling it is an escape route. A cowl at the top blocks her way, but Lyndy sees a clue down below. Mrs Tallow is giving the stolen painting to her dealer, who then gets into a coach with a coat of arms on it. Lyndy etches the coat of arms onto the candle she has brought.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has to act fast to stop Mrs Tallow seeing the coat of arms candle and rumbling what is going on. A diversion with a bottle of candle dye does the trick, and Lyndy also manages to retrieve the candle. But Mrs Tallow is furious at getting colour on her dark clothes and threatens to make Lyndy suffer for it. Lyndy finds this reaction very odd, and from this point on Mrs Tallow’s sanity is called into question.

Lyndy soon finds out what Mrs Tallow means by making her suffer. She is going to make Lyndy go into hives, and risk being badly stung, in order to get beeswax for beeswax candles. Lyndy tries to escape again along the way, but fails. And things get worse when they arrive: the bees are disturbed and extremely dangerous. But Mrs Tallow, still determined to punish Lyndy, forces her to go in. Lyndy succeeds in getting the beeswax without a sting with an improvised smoker she made out of a candle. Mrs Tallow admits she has to give Lyndy credit.

Back in the workshop Lyndy has the others rig up dummies made out of wax to fool anyone who comes to check. While they do this, she and her closest friend Lucy go up the chimney and break through the cowl with scissors. They escape into the street, but Lucy injures herself on landing. Then the coach comes, and Lyndy overhears Mrs Tallow and her mysterious coach accomplice plotting to pull the candle chandelier trick at Ballam House. But then the coachman spots Lucy and Lyndy, and the chase begins. Mrs Tallow has the Peelers join in, having led them to think the girls are thieves.

The girls make it to the heath, but Lucy’s injury is taking its toll and she passes out. Lyndy modifies the coat of arms candle to make it look like a Peeler’s torch, and manages to draw the Peelers off. But she’s lost the coat of arms etching on the candle.

When dawn comes, Lyndy comes across Ballam House, and Mrs Tallow is making her delivery. Lyndy and Lucy take jobs at the house to try to foil Mrs Tallow. But Mrs Tallow outwits Lyndy with a fake mask (made of wax) and then sets fire to the house to cover her tracks while she and her accomplice recapture Lyndy and Lucy, and make off with the valuables they were after. Later, Lyndy is shown a “wanted” poster that shows she has been blamed for Mrs Tallow’s crimes at Ballam House as well, and the price on her head is now £700. Wow!

A new cowl is fitted over the chimney. Just what extra security Mrs Tallow is making there is not clear, but she still does not know about the crack in the wall.

Mrs Tallow has a new job for the slaves: make a candle that is a replica of the Tower of London, which her mysterious coach accomplice takes. It is a gift for Queen Victoria, who is so impressed she wants Mrs Tallow to provide the lighting for her upcoming Lumiere Celebrations. Lyndy wonders why Mrs Tallow wants to win favour with the Queen. (Don’t you think it sounds like it’s going to be the candle chandelier ruse on an even grander scale, Lyndy?) Meanwhile, Lucy manages to make a wax impression of Mrs Tallow’s key.

Later, from the crack in the wall, Lyndy sees the coach accomplice assault a blind pedlar who is selling candles. His candles are ruined, but Lyndy makes a friend of him by giving him their own candles. When he returns, they slip him the wax impression so he can get a key made and slip it to them. He gets arrested while doing so, because the Peelers do not approve of him selling cheaper candles in the vicinity of a quality candle shop.

Mrs Tallow wants the girls to make candles for a special night at the Tower of London. When Lyndy uses the key to escape the workshop and poke around the place, she discovers why Mrs Tallow is so interested in the Tower of London: she is plotting to steal the Crown Jewels. Lyndy slips back to the workshop before she’s missed.

Mrs Tallow has Wick stand guard over the workshop. Another clever plan from Lyndy puts him out of action long enough for the girls to escape, but he recovers and soon he and Mrs Tallow are after the girls. They give their pursuers the slip, but Lyndy goes to the Tower of London in the hope she will be believed. She speaks to the governor, and then sees a ring on his desk with the same coat of arms. She realises the accomplice is in the Tower, but does not connect it with the governor – and she should have! By the time she does, she has unwittingly led him and Mrs Tallow to the girls. Lyndy and Lucy escape into the river, but the other girls are recaptured. Lucy seems to have drowned, but Lyndy makes it onto another boat. Mrs Tallow then informs Lyndy what will happen if she goes telling tales: she burns a candle that is a replica of the House of Candles in a symbolic threat that she means to burn down the House of Candles with the girls inside.

Rivermen fish Lucy out of the river. Before she passes out she tells Lyndy they said “candles an inch past midnight.” The royal barge passes by and the rivermen explain it is the time the Queen goes to the Tower to examine her treasures, and it will be at midnight – the time when Mrs Tallow will strike. Lyndy slips aboard the royal barge with the help of the rivermen and back to the Tower. There Mrs Tallow’s candles are set up to light the Tower at midnight, when the treasures will be opened.

Then Lyndy finds out what “an inch past midnight” means. The wicks are only one inch long, which means the candles are rigged to burn for a brief time and then go out all at once to plunge the Tower into darkness. And under cover of darkness, Mrs Tallow and the governor steal the Crown Jewels. Yes, definitely the old chandelier candle trick, but on a royal scale.

But Mrs Tallow also pulls a double cross on the governor, which makes it clear to him that she never had any intention of helping him get out heavy gambling debts in return for his services. As will be seen, this causes him to have a change of heart.

Meanwhile, Mrs Tallow heads back to the House of Candles with the Crown Jewels, which she gloats over and calls herself “The Queen of the Candles”. Lyndy follows, as Mrs Tallow threatened to burn the other girls alive in it. Mrs Tallow has it all rigged up with wood shavings and candles to set them alight once they burn down. Once she recaptures Lyndy she has Lyndy tied up so she will burn too. Lyndy screams at Mrs Tallow that she is mad.

But then the governor appears, agrees Mrs Tallow is mad, and comes to Lyndy’s rescue. He knocks out Wick and puts out the candles with his sword. Oddly, Mrs Tallow just sits there, so the governor ties her up while she screams that she wants the jewels because she’s the Queen of the Candles.

Lyndy and the other children get out, and take the Crown Jewels with them. The governor tells them to go for the Peelers. But then Mrs Tallow screams for help. The governor missed one candle, and now it’s threatening to make her scheme to burn down the House of Candles backfire on her. Lyndy tries to stop the candle but fails. The House of Candles goes up in flames, and Mrs Tallow with it. Wick recovers enough to stagger out behind Lyndy, and the Peelers are waiting.

In gratitude, Queen Victoria gives all the girls royal patronage and protection, and promises them assured futures. The false charges against Lyndy are presumably sorted out too. The fate of the governor is not recorded.

Then, from the royal coach window, Lyndy spots a beggar woman selling candles. Lyndy is not 100% sure as she cannot see the woman’s face, but it looks like a much altered and punished Mrs Tallow. She wonders if Mrs Tallow’s flame is still burning after all, albeit in a harmless manner…

Thoughts

“Slaves of the Candle” was one of the new stories to commemorate the Jinty and Lindy merger and the first group slave story in Jinty since “Merry at Misery House”. It was also the first serial in Jinty with a Victorian setting. What a pity it contains such a glaring historical error: the story is set in 1830 and Victoria did not come to the throne until 1837, yet Queen Victoria appears in the story. In fairness, the 1830 reference disappears in later episodes and the time period is just referred to as Victorian. Perhaps they spotted the error.

“Slaves of the Candle” brought Lindy artist Ron Newby to Jinty. There is a strong indication that the story itself was originally written for Lindy but appeared in the merger instead. For one thing, the protagonist’s name is Lyndy. Just change the first “y” to an “i” and it’s the same name as the comic merging into Jinty. Second, Newby had already drawn period stories for Lindy that feature girls being exploited as child labour (“Nina Nimble Fingers” and “Poor Law Polly”). Indeed this story brought Newby to Jinty. Lastly, Lindy had a stronger emphasis on such stories than Jinty did. In fact, Jinty ran just two more serials with 19th centuries settings while the Lindy logo was on the cover, and then them dropped for good. Only some of the Gypsy Rose stories used the 19th century setting afterwards. Tammy, on the other hand, used the 19th century setting far more frequently. This is another major difference between Jinty and Tammy, and it’s an odd one.

The Victorian age, being notorious for exploitative child labour, was a popular and natural setting for group slave stories. This one is no exception and the grittiness of the Victorian age is the perfect ambience to this insidious racket that takes advantage of both light and dark to fulfil evil schemes.

Making candles isn’t the cruellest of slave labour. Girls have been put to far worse and more dangerous labour than that in group slave stories, such as working in mines, quarries or prisons. But Mrs Tallow is no mere cruel employer who just takes advantage of cheap child labour. She is a criminal who uses the candles from the slavery for evil purposes: first it was just robbery, but then she moved up to treason by stealing the Crown Jewels. Her criminal dealings must be why she keeps the child labourers as prisoners and slaves in a secret workshop. After all, she would not want any of them getting loose and reporting her to the Peelers. And when it’s hinted she’s insane as well, it adds another sinister dimension to this creepy woman. In fact, you have to wonder if her motive to steal the Crown Jewels was greed, as it had been with the other thefts, or her Queen of the Candles delusion. Being Queen of the Candles is no mere fantasy; it is all part of her insanity, as is made clear when she refuses to get off her throne because she’s the Queen of the Candles, despite the danger around her.

Like any other racketeer of a group slave story, the main villain has to meet her/his match in the main protagonist and rue the day she/he ever enslaved her. And that is the case here. It’s not just that Lyndy is a very sharp-witted, resourceful girl who refuses to be broken by whatever the racketeers throw at her. It’s also adding insult to injury to be enslaved by the very woman who framed her and is leaving her to carry the can over the crimes. Lyndy is very determined to prove her innocence instead of never daring to escape as the racketeer thought. It also helps that she’s the oldest of the slaves, which makes her a natural for a leadership/maternal role, and also helps to rouse these slaves, who were so resigned that they hadn’t even tried to escape.

The story gets a bit tedious with Lyndy going through so many failed escape bids and being recaptured each time. Of course she does make progress even with her failures. But we do have to wonder why Mrs Tallow does not punish Lyndy far more severely for being constant trouble or try to get rid of her altogether, even if she is the best candle maker. Maybe it’s more of Mrs Tallow’s weirdness.

The weirdness extends even to the names of the villains, which reflect the very business they operate in: candle making. Perhaps Mrs Tallow changed her name and that of Wick to tie in with their business and her fantasy with being Queen of the Candles. The candles and everything associated with them (wax, flint, fire, wick) permeate throughout the story. Even the governor’s coat of arms looks like flames. The candles and their associated properties are not just for the candle trade. By turns we see the candles used as tools for crime, escape, disguise, bee repellents, communication, and even weapons. And it’s both sides that are doing it, which means Mrs Tallow’s candles are being used against her as much she puts them to her own use. There’s an amusing poetic justice and irony here. Of course it carries right through to the downfall of Mrs Tallow. Her own candles become the instrument of her final retribution, while her former slaves enjoy a happy new employment with the very Queen Mrs Tallow tried to rob. We never see what sort of employment the Queen offers them, but we would not be surprised (though we may groan) if it has something to do with candles.

The final hint that Mrs Tallow may not be as dead as they thought has the story end on a stronger note than a simple happy ending. But it’s not on a note that she will rise again, which makes it less cliched. It is also more poetic justice, having Mrs Tallow (if it is her) reduced to the same level as the candle-selling pedlar.

WTFometer VI – Group Slave Story

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 the sixth volume of the WTFometer I am putting three group slave stories through the WFTometer. The stories are Merry at Misery House and Prisoners of Paradise Island from Jinty, and Slaves of the Nightmare Factory from Girl series 2. All of them have entries on this blog.

The group slave story is where a group of girls are being held captive, used as slaves and mistreated. Settings for the slavery have included state prisons, cruel schools, orphanages, factories, workhouses, mines, farms and secret workshops. More unusual settings have included ships, circuses, restaurants, holiday camps, totalitarian regimes and dystopian worlds. Sometimes the enslavement is based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming.

Sometimes the slavers have ulterior motives for exploiting girls, such as the establishment being used as a front for an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its victims are being ensnared for sinister purposes.

These three group slave stories are being put through the WFTometer to see how high the settings of the their forms of slavery, the cruelties the villains inflict, and how far they went would score on the WTFometer. As part of this purpose there are two lines for physical security: one for the protagonist and one for supporting characters. This is in case the physical security of the protagonist is any different from her fellow prisoners. For example, do any fellow prisoners actually die from all the cruelty?

First: Prisoners of Paradise Island

wtfometer-prisoners-of-paradise-island

Score: 19

This is one of the more insidious group slave stories. A hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. But instead of being subjected to all sorts of cruelties and being abused and exploited, the girls are treated to every kind of luxury and pampering their kidnapper, Miss Lush can offer. Only the hockey team captain, Sally Tuff, realises it’s a gilded cage. Miss Lush is deliberately spoiling the girls with too much luxury and pampering so as to make them too fat and unfit to win a hockey championship, and she is going to take punts against them. After many failed bids at escape or make the girls see reason, Sally calls in their sports teacher Miss Granley for help. But when Miss Lush finds out, she tries to kill them both.

On the WTFometer there is a difference between Sally’s physical security and those of the other hockey players. They are subjected to deceptively luxurious treatment that threatens to damage their health, but it does not put them in any physical danger. However, Sally is put in physical danger when Miss Lush tries to kill her. So her physical security scores higher. Taking the hockey players away from their locality and onto a tropical island also scores points. This story would score more if its cruelties were more severe, but as it is it scores 19.

Second: Merry at Misery House

wtfometer-merry-at-misery-house

Score: 26

This was the longest-running group slave story in Jinty (and in girls’ comics). In the 1920s Merry Summers is wrongly sent to a reformatory called Sombre Manor. It is better known as Misery House, and for good reason. The reformatory staff are sadistic, hypocritical and corrupt, and inflict tortures that include beatings, starvation, drip dungeons and stocks. They are capable of leaving sick girls to die of neglect, and only Merry’s efforts to get medical attention for them one way or other saves their lives. Eventually it is revealed the Misery House staff are engaged in illegal dealings, and when Merry discovers this they try to kill her.

Physical security for both the protagonist and supporting characters is the same: big difference because of high risk of death or injury, but nobody actually dies. The setting of a juvenile prison and historical time period also help bring the scoring of the story to 26.

Third: Slaves of the Nightmare Factory

wtfometer-slaves-of-the-nightmare-factory

Score: 33

Natalie Jones and Amanda Harvey are kidnapped for slave labour in a secret dress factory located deep underground in London’s wasteland. Girls are sent to the dreaded Punishment Box if they fail to meet strenuous dress quotas. Food is terrible and monotonous. Basic necessities and medical facilities are totally absent because the kidnappers care nothing for the girls’ welfare.

Girls are showing more psychological effects of their ordeal, which means a “big difference” score on the mental security. The prison settings also raise scores in the free will/agency sections. The physical security for the protagonist scores “big difference”, and indeed co-protagonist Natalie almost dies from the ordeal. But what makes this story score the highest, with 33 points, is the “extreme” rating in the physical security for supporting characters. This is because one slave girl, Ellen Crawley, actually dies while trying to escape, in circumstances that suggest murder or at least culpable homicide.

Slaves of the Nightmare Factory (1983-84)

Sample Images

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Published: Girl (second series) 10 December #148 – 14 January 1984 #153

Episodes: 6 (with four-page spreads)

Reprint: Girl Monthly (issue number unavailable)

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to David Roach for scans

This is the only group slave story (girls become slaves in a cruel institution/business/racket/regime) run by Girl II from IPC. Its publication is unusual as it came at a time when the group slave story had long since faded at IPC. Tammy, which used to pioneer in slave stories and Cinderella stories, had stopped running them by the late 1970s. Jinty had her share too in her early days, particularly Merry at Misery House, but had given them away by the late 1970s as well. Lighter fare had taken over from dark stories filled with tortured heroines that had made Tammy so pioneering and made her the blueprint for the early Jinty and the short-lived Sandie and Lindy to follow.

It is most unusual for a group slave story to be published in photo story format, so Slaves of the Nightmare Factory may even be one of a kind.

Plot

Amanda Harvey and Natalie Jones (whose mother works for the wealthy Harveys as a cleaner) are best friends despite their differing backgrounds and Natalie secretly envying Amanda’s wealth. But one day some thugs kidnap them and bring them to a dress factory, which abducts girls for slave labour.

The racket is so secretive the girls do not even know the name of the factory manager; she just tells them to address her as “Ma’am”. The factory itself is located deep underground somewhere near the London dockland and disguised as some sort of wasteland above. Later we discover the goons themselves do not know the identity of the man who owns the factory. There will be more on the factory owner later.

The racket has been going on for a long time; one girl, Sandy, has been there for three years. Another girl, named Ellen Crawley, has been there for two, and is clearly cracking up because she is having constant hysterics. Nobody has ever successfully escaped from the factory, and the racketeers like to constantly reinforce this point to demoralise the girls.

Ma’am is under strict orders to kidnap only runaway girls. However, recent slave shortages have driven her to break the rules; hence the abduction of Natalie and Amanda, and probably other non-runaways too.

Amanda and Natalie soon discover that getting the dresses churned out is like a monomania with Ma’am. Much of her cruelty towards the girls is driven by her single-minded obsession about producing the dresses and making sure the girls meet strenuous quotas. Girls who fail to meet their quotas go to the dreaded Punishment Box, which means spending the night, or even 24 hours, in a crate where the victim can neither stand up nor stretch out.

The racketeers provide no necessities of life for the girls, including medical facilities: “They don’t even have ‘band-aids’! They don’t care what happens to us!” The food is dreadful; it’s nothing but bread and a foul-tasting slop (delivered in a bucket!) that the girls just have to get used to. In return for better food, one slave girl named Sarah has turned Ma’am’s toady and works as an overseer and guard (and bully) in the workshop where Amanda and Natalie work.

Conversely, Ma’am allows the girls to have a television set. This is the only way the girls can see anything of the outside world, which they are completely cut off from because the factory is so deep underground. The television set enables Amanda and Natalie to see that their abduction has hit the news. Ironically, Natalie’s mother is making her appeal while wearing one of the factory dresses.

During this time Natalie confesses her envy of Amanda, who says her envy’s no good now. Natalie also starts applying her notebook and journalistic ambitions to keeping a secret record of their slavery.

Then Ellen manages to escape, and hopes rise that help is coming. However, Ma’am directs the girls to a news broadcast, which informs them that Ellen died during her escape and her body was found in a reservoir.

In punishment for Ellen’s escape Ma’am increases the girls’ arduous dress quotas even more. Sarah does not emerge unscathed either: Ma’am withdraws her special rations for failing to stop Ellen and she must now eat the same substandard food as the other girls. But the girls realise Sarah will try to regain favour with Ma’am, so they must be even more careful around her.

Eventually the slavery takes its toll on Natalie and she falls ill at her sewing machine. As Natalie cannot meet her quota, Amanda tries to cover for her. However, Sarah reports them and in return is given back her special rations. Amanda and Natalie are sent to the Punishment Boxes.

While Amanda is in the Punishment Box the owner of the factory passes by and she overhears the conversations that are made. It is at this point the goons say that even they do not know who the owner is. But Amanda identifies him from his voice – it’s her own father! So the racket is the source of the wealth Natalie had so envied.

Amanda reports her discovery to the other girls, but is not sure what to do about it. For his part, Dad has clearly somehow begun to suspect who kidnapped his daughter because he orders polaroids to be taken of the girls kidnapped over the past month for him to check through the following night. Amanda had overheard him giving that order and guesses the reason for it.

Natalie’s condition is now so bad that Amanda persuades all the girls to join her in a mass breakout in a desperate bid to get help. After tying up Sarah they all set off, with Amanda dragging the sick Natalie (and her notebook) along. Amanda’s father unknowingly passes by them while returning for the polaroids, which also helps them to find the exit to the factory.

When Dad discovers the escape – and Amanda’s photograph among the polaroids – he orders his henchmen to discreetly let Amanda and Natalie go while rounding up the others. He does not realise Amanda and Natalie have hidden themselves in his car. Ma’am is astonished at Amanda and Natalie being allowed to go. Dad just tells her that her disobedience in kidnapping those two girls who were not runaways has caused him a lot of problems. He then orders her to clear out the factory and move the girls to the other workshops because the police will be coming soon, which suggests there is more than one factory.

As Dad approaches his car Amanda is surprised to hear him whistling, because he only whistles when he’s happy. She does not realise he thinks he has managed to get her back while keeping his operation relatively intact. But there are a couple of things he does not know either…

Dad drives straight home. Mum and a policeman assigned to the kidnapping case are there too. They are quite surprised when Amanda suddenly walks in. After a brief reunion with Mum and a call for an ambulance, Amanda gives them Natalie’s notebook, saying it contains a complete record of everything. She has not explained things yet, but gives them the impression her father is suspect and Dad realises she has found him out. Dad crumples in his chair, Mum looks at him with suspicion, and Amanda says he’s not her father anymore. Amanda goes back to Natalie and tells her that soon the whole world will know their story.

Thoughts

As Nightmare Factory is a photo story, the setting has to be in modern times (period settings would have been too expensive and difficult), which makes the slave racket all the more horrifying. You expect this sort of thing to belong to the past or Third World countries, not 20th century Britain. Seeing the cruelties inflicted on pictures of actual flesh-and-blood girls as opposed to artistically drawn girls may add to the horror even more. And the black-and white photographs perfectly complement the grimness of the situation.

Nightmare Factory certainly is a very dark story, but it doesn’t go over the top with its cruelties or descend into absurdity as some group slave stories do. Its cruelty remains rooted in dark, gritty realism and delivers some real shockers, such as the death of Ellen from what looks like culpable homicide if not first-degree murder. There is an insidious overtone to the whole racket and so many unanswered questions about it (like Ma’am’s real name never being revealed), which makes the story even more disturbing and creepy. Insinuating that there are other Nightmare Factories makes it even more frightening; most of the cruel outfits in slave stories are stand-alone operations.

Perhaps because Nightmare Factory is a photo story, it is not a long story in comparison to other slave stories. There are only six episodes, although each has four pages rather than the usual three. So the plotting is extremely tight while the pacing is well handled and it does not feel rushed. Unlike so many group slave stories, it is not padded out with a lot of middle (constant failed escape attempts, tortures being laid on ever more thickly, schemes to score one over the villains, getting medical aid for fellow victims), which can get tedious and meandering before the story finally reaches its climax.

As the serial uses photo story format and live models, the villains look less stereotyped than they would be in picture-story slave stories. Ma’am is quite a change from the sinister crones and old dragons that so often serve as the main slave drivers in slave stories. The model does a brilliant job with the facial expressions in conveying Ma’am as a cold, ruthless bitch. It is also quite surprising to see a couple of non-whites among the henchmen (if none among the girls in the workshop).

From the beginning, Amanda is the strong-willed protagonist who is determined not to break and resolves to escape and bring down the racket. She is a rich girl, but is neither spoiled nor bratty. Sometimes rich girl protagonists in slave stories are that way, in which case the slavery knocks the arrogance out of them, turns them into more sober girls and brings out their strengths. But not in this case. The rich girl is established as a sympathetic character right from the first, when just before the kidnapping she tries to persuade her father to give Mrs Jones a raise because she is so concerned at how the Joneses have so little while they have so much. However, the father insists Mrs Jones’ wage is fair although it does not let them afford much. This gives a hint of the sort of man he really is, although Amanda always regarded him as a kind man before she discovered his secret. Amanda remains the one to bring down the racket. But the way in which she does it is most unexpected and awry from how the protagonist usually brings it down, and it’s a perverse twist of fate that causes the whole racket to backfire on Mr Big himself.

However, there is no redemption for Amanda’s father. He loves Amanda enough to let her escape, but we doubt he would have done that if he had known she had discovered his secret. The twist of Amanda’s own father being behind it all puts a sting into the tail that means the story will not end on a trite happy ending. Amanda does regain her freedom, saves Natalie, and is reunited with her mother. But she can never really be happy again now she knows what her father has done, and it will blight her life forever.

The ending is a bit unsatisfying because it leaves us dangling on the fate of the Nightmare Factory. Knowing the factory is being cleaned out and its operations shifted elsewhere makes it all the more troubling. There isn’t so much as a text box to wrap things up and tell us what happened to the girls and racketeers in the end. We only have Amanda’s final word to reassure us that justice will be done.

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.

Welcome to new readers!

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

jintyfirstissuecover

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

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

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

Logo from
Logo from “Village of Fame”.

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

The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain (1975)

Sample Images

bamboo curtain 1

(Click thru)

bamboo curtain 2

(Click thru)

bamboo curtain 3

Writers: Charles Herring, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Tom Tully (?). But only Charles Herring appears in the writing credits.

Artist: Giancarlo Alessandrini

Publication: Battle 8 March 1975 to 24 May 1975

Reprint: Tornado Annual 1980

Plot Summary

In World War II, “Big Jim” Blake is a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp in Burma where prisoners are forced to build a bridge on the Benwaddy River. Sado, the cruel commandant, takes great delight in punishing his prisoners by having them run the gauntlet in the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest on one side of the camp that is laden with deadly booby traps. Concerned at the intimidating effect the Bamboo Curtain is having on his comrades, Blake deliberately gets himself sent to the Bamboo Curtain, in the hope that if he can somehow beat it, it will break Sado’s hold over them.

Sado declares Blake dead after seeing him fall into one of the booby traps and forces the prisoners to cheer at this. However, Blake escapes. He is then surprised to stumble across a band of British soldiers in Japanese uniform who are acting as if they are brainwashed/hypnotised and don’t even feel pain when branded. One of them he recognises as “Handlebars” Lewis from his old unit. He soon finds out Sado is behind it, but the men disappear into a ruined pagoda before he can investigate further. He decides that for the soldiers’ sakes he will return to the camp to find out what is going on, although he is risking big trouble from Sado.

Everyone at the camp is surprised to see Blake has not only survived the Bamboo Curtain but returned as well. Blake’s purpose in going into the Bamboo Curtain is fulfilled; the prisoners now see it is not so unbeatable and become more rebellious and rallying around Blake as a hero. Jensen, Blake’s best friend, is sceptical when he hears the reason for Blake’s return, because Handlebars had been sent to the Bamboo Curtain several months previously.

Sado starts inflicting heavy punishments (actually, tests) on Blake. He starts with the sweat hut, but loses face when he realises Blake is too strong to break that way. Next, Sado forces Blake to fight a masked man to the death, and Blake is shocked to discover it was Handlebars. The next punishment (Sado’s final test) – forcing Blake to find a way to escape from a minefield – backfires when Blake escapes into the Bamboo Curtain and back to the pagoda. There he discovers another soldier undergoing the brainwashing process. The process takes effect, and it causes the prisoner to go wild and nearly kill Blake. Then Sado recaptures Blake and takes him back to camp – by shackling him to the back of his jeep and dragging him along until he blacks out.

Sado now brings Blake to his hut for a surprise spread of food. Suspecting his food is drugged, Blake contrives to switch it for Sado’s plate. His suspicions are confirmed when Sado’s cat Suki goes crazy from eating the food and attacks Sado. Judging by what he saw with the brainwashed soldier, Blake guesses the drug in the food must be part of the brainwashing process and this was what Sado intended for him. He also notices the door to Sado’s office is heavily padlocked and suspects the reason is that the key to the mystery is in there.

Jensen has the men start a riot at the bridge as a diversion so Blake can go back to investigate the office. Breaking in through the roof, he rips open a desk, where he finds a paper listing the men who have been sent through the Bamboo Curtain – and his own name is at the top of the list. The rest is in Japanese, but Jensen can translate it.

However, Sado has guessed the reason for the now-quelled riot and returns to his office to check. He discovers the theft, but Blake manages to escape with the paper. Upon translation, it reveals that the true purpose of the Bamboo Curtain is a survival of the fittest test. Soldiers who survive the Curtain are incorporated into Sado’s private army. They undergo a brainwashing process to turn them into crazed killers who obey Sado robotically. The paper also reveals there is a secret entrance under one of the flagstones in the pagoda.

Determined to get his paper back, Sado has turned extra-nasty towards the prisoners. He is forcing them to work under even worse conditions (extra hours, reduced rations and sleep, drinking from a malaria-ridden source) until someone comes forward about the theft. This has Jensen and Blake escape before someone breaks and lets on, and they flee into the Bamboo Curtain. But Jensen gets caught in a quicksand trap and Blake fails to save him in time. Jensen’s death hardens Blake’s resolve to stop Sado.

Blake heads for the pagoda, where he disguises himself as one of the brainwashed soldiers. He learns that Sado is sending his army against the approaching British forces, and sets up an ambush for them at Hsenwo Valley. Blake slips away to warn the British forces, but the commander does not believe him and locks him up. Blake escapes, but bumps into some of Sado’s goons. He manages to fight them off, but then hears Sado’s signal to the brainwashed soldiers to attack the British forces. Blake stops the attack by taking Sado hostage.

Now the British forces have seen the brainwashed soldiers for themselves, they finally believe Blake. Sado is taken into custody and the brainwashed soldiers are sent to an army hospital in England for deprogramming. Soon Blake and the British are on their way to liberate Sado’s camp.

Then a report arrives to say that Sado has escaped. Blake insists on going after Sado personally and heads for the Bamboo Curtain, figuring Sado has gone there. But Sado corners Blake and is on the verge of killing him. Then Suki trips Sado up and he falls into the same quicksand that claimed Jensen. Sado begs Blake for help and mercy, but Blake rebuffs him, saying he never showed mercy to anyone. Blake leaves Sado to the quicksand while Suki looks on, and departs to rejoin the war that still needs to be won.

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Thoughts and Discussion

Although this story is from a boys’ comic, it has come up in many discussions of girls’ comics, with particular reference to discussing the slave story theme and transposing the themes of emotion, suffering, and cruelty used to revive girls’ comics in the early 1970s with Tammy to revive the boys’ titles with Battle and Action. It has also come up in several websites where former creators reminisce on what went on behind the scenes of IPC comics and the writing and editing processes of both boys’ and girls’ comics. And it has been mentioned several times on this blog. So now it is going to have its own entry here as it is related to the context of girls’ comics.

Tammy had led the field in the revival of girls’ comics in the 1970s with its emphasis on cruelty, suffering and deep emotion as opposed to stories on boarding schools, ballet and ponies. Girls were frequently abused and subjected to over-the-top tortures in schools, quarries, factories, abusive homes and other settings. The early Jinty followed in similar vein, but eventually developed her own character with science fiction, sports and fantasy stories. And finally there was Misty, who dared to be a horror comic for girls. Parents hated it, which meant their daughters loved it, and sales for the early Tammy soared.

The same elements of cruelty, emotion and suffering in Tammy were applied to Battle to make it the spearhead in reviving boys’ comics, which had fallen into a similar slump as the girls’. As Pat Mills explains: “…When we did Battle and so on, we followed the girls’ comic role model, and my boys’ comics were, and I take great pleasure in saying this, disguised girls’ comics!” http://www.comixminx.net/comixminx/articles/Entries/2008/5/31_Pat_Mills_at_CAPTION2004.html

Although this approach did make Battle a success, the creators soon discovered that there were differences between the sexes that made some formulas less successful than others. And Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain is one example where a girls’ comics formula (the slave story) proved less successful in the boys’ because of the differences between the sexes. So much so, in fact, that they never tried it again, which makes Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain a one-off stand-alone story in Battle. For this reason it is now undergoing reappraisals, with collectors appreciating what a unique story it was in boys’ comics.

The formula that Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain followed was the slave story theme, which is one of the lynchpins for a girls’ comic. The story had a group of girls (or one girl) who were being used as slaves or prisoners in an extremely harsh institution (reformatories, islands, quarries, factories, boarding schools and workhouses are frequent settings, while more unusual ones have included ships, restaurants, despotic regimes and dystopian worlds). The protagonist refuses to break under the torture, so her tormentors subject her to extra-harsh torture to break her down. Sometimes there is a mystery element involved, such as who is the mysterious masked helper who turns up to secretly help the girls, and solving the mystery is critical to the resolution of the story. This certainly was the case with Bamboo Curtain.

But Pat Mills believes it was the mystery element in Bamboo Curtain that made it unpopular and short lived in Battle:

“Mystery stories – girls, female readers, love mystery stories, say a school where there’s a mysterious headmistress, and girls are disappearing, and other girls are turning up in the dormitory – this gets them going! And the explanation can be complete crap, and it usually was, and it doesn’t matter!

“We tried this with male readers, we only did it once, and they hated it! That was Terror Beyond the Bamboo Curtain… You could see the thinking; we had the sadistic Japanese commander of the prisoner-of-war camp, and prisoners are disappearing, and strange things are going on, and the readers DID NOT CARE! They weren’t bothered about the mystery, they just wanted to see the action! What was the Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain? Who cares, bring on the violence! A female readership, even if you’ve got a mystery as simple as “What’s inside that box?”, that’ll keep them going for weeks! It’s a fundamental difference between the sexes”.

http://www.comixminx.net/comixminx/articles/Entries/2008/5/31_Pat_Mills_at_CAPTION2004.html

But co-writer John Wagner has a different opinion on what made Bamboo Curtain less than successful:

“… It wasn’t that popular a story, I think because they were prisoners and they weren’t proactive. They were having it done to them, rather than doing it themselves”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Less-than-proactive prisoners are a typical element of the slave story, even with the protagonist who refuses to be broken and is a constant rebel against her tormentors. And although Bamboo Curtain has its share of Blake striking back against his Japanese jailers (slugging guards and Sado, shooting out watch towers, fighting the masked man), he does fall into the same vein as his female counterparts when he throws away his escape from the Bamboo Curtain and returns voluntarily to the camp to solve the mystery, although he knows he is risking death at the hands of Sado. Boys must have been outraged because they had expected a more proactive approach, such Blake turning jungle commando or something to bring down Sado once he had escaped. And the cowering prisoners in the first episode must have left them less than impressed either. And they must have been used to oppressed men rising up against their oppressors and bringing on the ass-kicking action that boys wanted to see.

But now Bamboo Curtain is attracting comment and reappraisal online for daring to be different. And it is not just because it was a brave, if unpopular, attempt at transposing the slave story formula into a boys’ comic. The story also dared to break clichés:

“[Comics] had been too safe, samey, sanitised. Characters never died, nothing ever changed, nothing progressed. Like Captain Hurricane went on episode after episode, the same formula, he’d throw a raging fury and rip tanks apart, and in his raging fury always win the day. It was so unreal and we were fed up with it. We wanted to kick some butt”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

The biggest kick in the butt has to be where Jim Blake actually fails to save Jensen from the quicksand trap. As Pat Mills explains:

“My favourite [great moment in the story] – Blake trying to rescue his buddy who is sinking into a swamp. “Will Big Jim save his friend? Find out next week!” Next week Blake fails to save his friend, who sinks and dies. I took such pleasure in writing that scene, because it raises truths we all have to deal with, that heroes don’t always arrive in time. And it mocks the cliché ending! Even today, in comics, we don’t challenge the clichés enough – although I do my best in Marshal Law”.

https://patmills.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/misty-the-female-2000ad/

The cliché gets mocked again right at the end when Sado falls into the same quicksand. You expect the hero to do the noble thing and extend a hand to save his/her enemy, as Patti does in “Children of Edenford”. But Blake does not. Instead, he leaves Sado to die, saying he never showed mercy to anyone. This is a most shocking and unexpected thing to see a hero do in comics and readers must have been wondering about Blake after reading the ending.

While the story turned some clichés on their heads, other clichés were hammed up. This is the case with Sado. He is cast in the model of the stereotyped Japanese, and he certainly is evil, sadistic and loves inflicting torture. Yet he is so campy that he is such an engaging and colourful villain, and he is the source of all the humour in the story, with lines like:

  • “See Fearnly run! He think he okey dokey, but he no get far – you see!”
  • “Englishman sing! He too tough for sweat box. Sado lose much face!”
  • “See – Suki like. Big boy like, too! Please to eat.”
  • “Sado have way of making prisoners talk. Work them double chop chop. Soon someone break – talk turkey with Sado.”

“Bouncie, bouncie! Big boy bounce along path like rubber ball!”

With lines like those you just have to laugh, even at the lines that show just how evil Sado is. Pat Mills says “It was even funnier when John and I were acting these lines out to each other”. It is small wonder that “Sado was popular in the company while we were writing it. One guy made and wore a ‘SAVE SADO’ badge”.

https://patmills.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/misty-the-female-2000ad/

But it seems that either the writers or editor did not agree, because Sado is not saved in the end.

The glasses Sado wears serve to heighten his role as a humorous villain and help dilute his evil to less extreme levels (it seems to be something about comic book characters who wear glasses). His cat Suki does fall into the cliché of the villain having a soft spot. Yet the Siamese does add a subtle sinister note to the story. For example, it knows all the safe routes in the Bamboo Curtain, and it gives the impression that it is deliberately luring Blake into a trap when he follows it. Blake knows the cat will lead him to Sado without falling into any booby traps, but what he does not know is that Sado is planning another trap for him – leaving a gun for him to find that is rigged to fire backwards.

The campiness of Sado was deliberate because: “This story didn’t work until we hyped up Sado. It was sitting there. We kept going over it and over it and couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Decided to hype up Sado”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Even with Sado hyped up, writing the story proved extremely problematic:

“I’m sure we wrote the first episode of this one [Bamboo Curtain – Herring, Wagner/Mills, Tully?]. Anything you see with Charles Herring on it, it was rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. He had lots of good ideas. You had to take one of Charles’ scripts and pick out those good ideas. This story didn’t work until we hyped up Sado. It was sitting there. We kept going over it and over it and couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Decided to hype up Sado. But it wasn’t that popular a story, I think because they were prisoners and they weren’t proactive. They were having it done to them, rather than doing it themselves”.

Here’s what Battle staff editor Dave Hunt had to say about how Mills & Wagner worked…

“Pat and John wrote the initial episodes and then farmed them out to other writers. GFD was the author of D-Day Dawson. Lofty’s One-Man Luftwaffe – that was John and Pat. Their brief was not only create a new title but bring in new talent into the industry. We’d worked with a bed-rock of people. When you launched a new title, you rang up Tom Tully, he would do four of the new strips, Ted Cowan – people of that era – Ken Mennall. A lot of the people in Battle #1 were new to me.

“John and Pat always listened and got what they wanted from you. They would see a glimmer of an idea in a script and the writer would get paid for it. John and Pat would shape that glimmer. You’d re-read it 14 attempts later and the idea would still be there but developed. I was full of admiration for them. Being freelance themselves, they always felt they shouldn’t destroy a contributor, they felt that was the last thing they should do. They wanted to train them more into their way of thinking. Often it didn’t work…I had absolutely no idea where the story was going. I’m sure we hadn’t thought past the first episode. We knew it was something pretty awful, believe me! [Sadism, violence and black humour?] That’s what happens when you put a couple of freelancers in a room together! They just egg each other on. Part of it all was a reaction to the way comics had been up until then. They had been too safe, samey, sanitised. Characters never died, nothing ever changed, nothing progressed. Like Captain Hurricane went on episode after episode, the same formula, he’d throw a raging fury and rip tanks apart, and in his raging fury always win the day. It was so unreal and we were fed up with it. We wanted to kick some butt”.

http://viciousimagery.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/john-wagner-talks-about-battle-picture.html

Despite these problems, the end result is a story that is gripping and filled with themes (brainwashing, struggle for survival, fighting adversity, war, black humour) that are guaranteed to grab the reader. The structure is well paced and the plot holds together extremely well. There is a discrepancy or two (such as Blake losing his boots in the minefield, but suddenly wearing boots again when he leaves the pagoda). But the overall product is strong, with its greatest strength perhaps lying in the characterisation, particularly of the villain. Nobody reading it would have guessed the problems the writers had in drafting it. Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain deserves to have more appreciation than it received when it was first published. But the attention it is getting on the Internet indicates that it is getting that appreciation now.

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

Curtain of Silence (1977)

Sample images

Curtain 1

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Curtain 2

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Curtain 3

Publication: 8/5/77-20/8/77

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprint: Tina Topstrip #52 as Achter het stille gordijn (Behind the Silent Curtain)

Plot
Yvonne Berridge lives for cycling and is a promising champion in the sport. But she is a selfish girl who thinks only of winning. When Yvonne is offered the chance of being reserve on the British team to a cycling tour in Mavronia, an Iron Curtain country, all she thinks about is getting there and winning medals, and does not care about the financial difficulties the trip is causing her family. As Yvonne takes off for Mavronia, her mother gets an awful feeling – which of course proves prophetic.

Meanwhile, the Mavronian cycling star, Olga Marcek, is despairing. Her trainer, Madam Kapelski, is a slave driver who pushes her too hard and gives her no rest, relaxation or fun. And Olga bears a striking resemblance to Yvonne; just a couple of small differences can tell them apart.

There is more prophetic warning when Yvonne arrives in Mavronia. A gypsy woman keeps approaching her with warnings of danger and she must leave quickly. Yvonne is shaken, but her selfishness soon resurfaces.

Yvonne’s arrogance and selfishness do not make her popular with her team-mates. She soon wins successes, but this makes her more arrogant and unpopular. Her arrogance also upsets her trainer, Mr Foster, and it does not go unnoticed by Madam Kapelski either. And she is so caught up in herself that she does not bother to write to her family.

When Yvonne and Olga meet, they are stunned by their near-resemblance to each other, but soon strike up a friendship. Yvonne does not realise that Madam Kapelski instructed Olga to do this; she is taking advantage of Yvonne’s arrogance as she realises Yvonne is the only one who could beat Olga. But Olga has an agenda of her own; she is taking advantage of Yvonne and their resemblance to each other to hatch a plan to escape from Mavronia. But Olga’s plan goes dreadfully wrong when a ship crashes into their boat while they are swapping identity papers.

The accident kills Olga while the shock renders Yvonne mute. So Madam Kapelski takes advantage of Yvonne’s inability to speak and resemblance to Olga. She alters Yvonne’s appearance to look exactly like Olga and forces her to pose as Olga and cycle for Mavronia. Olga’s body is buried in England in Yvonne’s name. Yvonne resists at first, but eventually complies when Madam Kapelski threatens her and Olga’s cousin Tanya (who has discovered the deception) with the dreaded State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya warns her not to tell even Olga’s cousin Igor what is going on because people ‘disappear’ in this country – and Madam Kapelski’s brother is in the secret police.

Nevertheless, Yvonne does not give up hope of escape. She refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her will, but Madam Kapelski realises it and becomes equally determined to break Yvonne. This is on top of her regular severity as a trainer that drove Olga too hard. So it is a constant battle of wills between them. Yvonne’s spirit refuses to break, but of course the ordeal is knocking the selfishness and arrogance out of her. She finds that cycling glory, which was all she cared about before, is now leaving her cold because she is getting it the wrong way. And the rebellion keeps fermenting with Igor wanting to rise up and Tanya warning him not to.

Tanya tells Yvonne Olga’s story. The Marcek parents were journalists who participated in a rebellion against the Party and went on the run when it failed. They were betrayed by an informer and then shot and left for dead by soldiers. Olga learned that her mother was rescued, nursed back to health and smuggled out of Mavronia. But by this time Olga was in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. Tanya’s own parents were executed for participating in the rebellion.

Yvonne spots the gypsy woman who tried to warn her before. She and Tanya contrive a plan for escape with the gypsies’ help. But it fails because Madam Kapelski’s police spy, Elsa, gets suspicious.

Then Madam Kapelski takes Yvonne and Tanya to England to participate in a cycling match against the British team. But she has an ulterior motive – use the sight of England and no hope of escape there to break Yvonne entirely. However, people who knew either Yvonne or Olga get suspicious, and this includes Igor. A strange woman in black starts shadowing Yvonne. Then Yvonne’s little brother Andy recognises her.

Tanya and Yvonne tell Andy the truth, but don’t know the room is bugged. So Madam Kapelski kidnaps Andy and holds him at the Mavronian embassy to blackmail Yvonne into winning an event. But the woman in black sees the kidnapping and rescues Andy.

When Madam Kapelski hears this, she panics. She has her goons try to kill Yvonne at the cycling event, but instead the shock of the attack restores Yvonne’s voice. She can now tell everyone what happened, only to find the police have been onto it already – with the help of the woman in black, who is Olga’s mother! Mrs Marcek had suspected Yvonne was not Olga, and her suspicions were confirmed once she talked to Igor.

Madam Kapelski is arrested, and also faces big trouble from the Mavronian government, who did not know about her passing Yvonne off as Olga. Yvonne is reunited with her family, Tanya stays in England with her aunt, and Igor returns to Mavronia to carry on the fight for freedom. The British team hold a party to celebrate Yvonne’s return. Yvonne declares that the returned Yvonne is a better team-mate than the one who went away.

Thoughts

From the moment we read the first episode, we know where this story is going to lead when we see that Yvonne is a selfish girl and the unfortunate Olga Marcek is almost a dead ringer for her. Yes, Yvonne is going to swap places with Olga, and it has something to do with her emerging a changed and better person by the end of the story. It’s just a matter of how the details unfold as the story develops.

There have been plenty of stories about unpleasant girls changing for the better. Sometimes they make poor stories because the change is not handled in a realistic manner. But in this case it is, and the beauty is that it does not come all at once in the story. In the early episodes her selfishness is given free rein and grows as it feeds off her successes while making her increasingly unpopular and causing trouble with her coach. But at the same time both Madam Kapelski and Olga notice it and are taking advantage of it in their different ways. It is the “pride before a fall” approach, with the pride going on an extra high.

Then comes the fall. When it strikes, the ordeal Yvonne goes through is more than a shock to the system. She has a terrible accident, then is kidnapped, held prisoner, forced to cycle in a deception, and frustrated by the loss of her voice and unable to call for help. But there is more; she also becomes victim to state oppression and has to learn to tread carefully if she is to survive. She now thinks of her family, fears she will never see them again, and regrets how she was so thoughtless about them before. And while she cycles as Olga, she now gets what she came to Mavronia – winning medals and receiving cycling glory. But instead of revelling in it as she did before, it leaves her cold. She has what she wanted, but in a manner that makes it undesirable. She finds she has lost her lust for glory and even has to fake it to fool Madam Kapelski. Ironically, the unruliness that was annoying before now becomes true courage as Yvonne refuses to let Madam Kapelski break her and commits acts of defiance.

A slave story where the captor takes advantage of a girl’s inability to speak (or remember her past) to blackmail her into fraud, crime or other subterfuge is a very well-established formula in girls’ comics. But here it is taken even further because it’s not just the usual matter of getting away from the villain and regaining your voice or memory. It’s a matter of getting away from the whole country, which is a repressive, Iron Curtain country where people ‘disappear’, and they get executed or thrown into oppressive institutions designed to provoke fear, as represented in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. It’s a far cry from what Yvonne is used to in the country where she comes from, and Tanya says as much. And there is no respite from the eyes of the state; once Yvonne is forced to impersonate Olga, she finds herself under constant, insidious guard of the state police and learns what it is like to be under Big Brother. And she is now like the people who live in that oppressive state and dream of escape to the West. Except that Yvonne’s case, the West is home.

At the time the story was published, the politics in it were very topical. The Cold War was still strong, the threat of nuclear war was ever-present, the Berlin Wall was still up, and people from the East were constantly trying to find ways to escape to the West. It looks more dated now that the Cold War has ended and the Berlin Wall long since demolished – or is it? The rise of Putin warns that the Cold War could resurface. The Soviet Union may be gone, but cases like Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace 30 show that Russia is still just as intolerant to political dissent as much as it was when this story came out. And there are still oppressive, totalitarian states in the world. So politics may change, but oppression and totalitarianism always persist one way or another.

And people who live under totalitarianism are made to suffer because the state cares little for their welfare. For example, women grumble at the expense paid on the place of sport where Yvonne is to compete, “yet how many of us ever taste meat?” We get to see a bit more of how oppressive this country is once Yvonne herself falls victim to it and finds out what happens to people who rise against it, such as the fate of Olga’s parents, or the children who are put in the State Home for Children of Dissidents. The Home, which seems to be a combination of harsh school and outright prison, would be worthy of a slave story in its own right.

It is the power of the totalitarian state that makes Madam Kapelski such a powerful villain. Girls’ comics have abounded with harsh, demanding coaches who drive their charges too hard and care little for their welfare (“Sheilagh’s Shadow”, June) or villains who kidnap girls and enslave them with sport (“Swim for Your Life, Sari”, Tammy). But few have been backed by the power of a totalitarian state – or at least the threat of it – to force their charges to do what they want. And no doubt it has played a huge role in shaping Madam Kapelski into a brilliant but ruthless coach who demands way too much and permits no rest, relaxation or fun. It is possible that this is how Mavronia itself treats its children. We see echoes of Madam Kapelski’s demanding attitudes in the teaching methods at the State Home for Children of Dissidents; they do not tolerate “slackness” and poor schoolwork means a night in the punishment room. And like the state itself, Madam Kapelski is intolerant; in England, when she hears The Who on the radio, she snarls, “these pop musicians would never be tolerated in Mavronia!” Inwardly, Yvonne retorts, “Don’t tolerate very much at all there, do you, Madam Kapelski?”

Although escape looks hopeless with the constant guard they are under, we know it has to happen. But there are so many threads and possibilities floating around in the strip we don’t know which one it will be. Will it be the gypsies who tried to warn Yvonne? Will it be the people who start to get suspicious when Yvonne is taken back to England? Will it be Yvonne’s mother, who never quite believed her daughter was dead and had premonitions that something awful was going to happen to her in the first place? And what about Olga’s mother, who escaped Mavronia? And how come nobody seems to try the British embassy in Mavronia? Oh, well.

It’s realistic that escape does not happen at once and hopes of escape are constantly dashed. Yvonne falls into despair and tears as each attempt fails, and Madam Kapelski is delighted. Her plan to break Yvonne seems to be working perfectly, and taking her back to England itself would be in her view a masterstroke. A return to England would raise Yvonne’s hopes to their fullest, so they would hit their crushing lowest as they are constantly dashed. But there were things that Madam Kapelski did not count on when she took Yvonne back to England, and this turned her masterstroke into her undoing.

The Slave Story Theme

Pat Mills has declared online that there were three lynchpins for a girls’ comic that he would have if he launched a girls’ title today: the Cinderella story, the friendship story and the slave story (personally, I would add the regular story, the spooky story and the funny story). Apparently when readership was taking a dip, they would bring out the slave story.

This post will be taking a look at the slave story. But as samples from Jinty are too limited to cover the variations of the formula, serials under discussion will expand beyond Jinty to include serials from DCT, Tammy, Girl (series 2) and Battle.

What was the slave story? There were two types: the individual slave story and the group slave story. In the group slave story, a group of girls or people are being held captive and used as slaves. The setting could be a cruel institution or prison, such as an orphanage, workhouse, factory, reformatory, prison camp, mine, quarry, or a school that is run along the lines of Wackford Squeers types. Sometimes the setting takes a more unusual form, such as a circus, a restaurant, a totalitarian regime, or a dystopian world. Or the enslavement could be based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming. For example, in “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” (Tammy) a ballet class is abducted to Siberia and forced to dance for the last remnant of the tzars and their imperialist rule, right down to starving peasants who get massacred when they beg for the release of food supplies.

Slave 2.jpg

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Sometimes there is more to the slavery than mere exploitation; the slavers may have more ulterior motives such as an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its residents are being ensnared for sinister purposes, such as in “The Camp on Candy Island” (Tammy) or “Prisoners of Paradise Island” (Jinty).

Occasionally the slave story focused on individuals trapped in slavery, such as “Bound for Botany Bay”. This will be discussed later. Right now the discussion will look at the group slavery.

The protagonist of the group slavery story could be either:
1. The slave who refuses to be broken by the cruelty. She is determined to escape and bring everything down. In the meantime she is singled out for the harshest treatment and her jailers pile on one torture after another which frequently went way over the top. Tortures over the years have included being locked in pillories, drip cells, dungeons, rat-infested cellars, punishment boxes, cages, underground pits and iron masks; forced to work in blazing hot sun until sunstroke sets in, being forced to play hockey with damaged sight; standing for long hours in freezing weather; even be targeted for murder, which is often part of the story’s climax. Or the protagonist could be:

2. The secret helper i.e. the one who is secretly helping the slaves. Sometimes, as part of her ruse, she pretends to side with the villains, and in so doing, makes herself hated by the victims she is secretly helping. Stories where this occurs include “Detestable Della” (Bunty) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy). Or the helper may help via a disguise, such as Lady Sarah in “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy). Lady Sarah helps victims of a cruel orphanage by disguising herself as the legendary ghost of the orphanage. Sometimes the helper is just there and coming up with quick plans to help the victims, such as “Betty vs Bumble” (Judy). This variance on the formula can allow for the slave story being played for laughs and comical comeuppances for the villain every week, as in “Betty vs Bumble”.

Sometimes, but not always, there is a mystery attached to the slave story. Resolving it is the key to resolving the story and bringing down the villain. Some common mysteries are:

1. What secret scheme are the villains up to? Sometimes it is evident they are up to something crooked as well as abusing and exploiting people, but the protagonist has to figure out what it is eg “Slaves of the Candle” (Jinty).

2. Who is the secret helper? Sometimes the secret helper is the mystery, not the protagonist of the story – and also part of its resolution. A mysterious helper keeps popping up to help the girls, such as the mystery trainer in “Land of no Tears”, (Jinty) who turns up in a disguise of a wig and heavy makeup (can’t she disguise herself better in this world of the future?). When the protagonist finally discovers who the woman is, it is another twist on the secret helper who has to pretend to be a villain as part of her ruse to secretly help the slaves.

3. How exactly is the racket operating? Sometimes motives or identities of the villains are kept hidden and need to be unravelled. For example, in “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl, series 2), the slaves do not know exactly who is running the sewing factory that kidnaps girls and uses them as slave labour. Their supervisor keeps herself nameless and they have to address her as “M’am.” When Amanda, the protagonist in this story, discovers the man operating the racket is her own father, it makes for one slave story that does not have a totally happy ending.

4. Hidden secret regarding protagonist. Sometimes there is a secret regarding the protagonist that she does not know herself. The jailers may know it and the torture is part of it, as in “Poor Law Polly” (Lindy), or it becomes part of resolving the story “Nina Nimble Fingers” (Lindy).

Lastly, there may be a toady character. A member of the group or more senior girl who helps the villains and participates in the torture of the girls. Sometimes it is the toady character who is the key to the resolution of the story. Essentially, the villain goes too far to the toady’s liking. Shocked, the toady has a change of heart and starts helping the victims. One example is Adolfa in Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”. Right up until the last episode Adolfa has been the reformatory inmate who helped to torture them, especially Merry. But when Adolfa discovers the warden is out to kill Merry, she has an instant change of heart; she saves Merry and takes a hard crack on the head for doing so. But in some slave stories this was not the case with the toady, eg “The Four Friends at Spartan School” (Tammy) or “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”. And at times no such character is used, or not used much.

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Perhaps the most famous – or infamous – slave story was “Slaves of War Orphan Farm”. It was launched in the first issue of Tammy, and it made Tammy‘s name for the darkness, cruelty and tortured heroines that she pioneered at IPC. Ma Thatcher (yes, named after a milk snatcher and future prime minister) running a racket where she uses war orphans she was supposed to be taking care of as slave labour in a rock quarry. She also locks them in cages as a punishment, even in cold weather, sets vicious dogs and gin traps on them, and even tries to burn them alive in the barn at the climax of the story. But the mysterious helper, in this case a woman called Mad Emma, has been steadily helping some kids to escape. Now they combine forces for the great escape with the help of Bonnie, a toady who does have a change of heart.

Other slave stories followed thick and fast in the early years of Tammy. They included The Revenge of Edna Hack, Secret Ballet of the Steppes, Dara into Danger, The Camp on Candy Island, Swim for Your Life, Sari, Slaves of the Hot Stove, Swimmer Slave of Mrs Squall and Waifs of the Wigmaker.

It is not surprising that Battle, which drew much inspiration from the dark trend that pioneered in Tammy, attempted the slave story in its first issue. This was “The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain”. Sadly, Bamboo Curtain proved that the slave story was one trend in girls’ comics that did not work so well with the boys and it folded after twelve episodes. But the attempt shows a world of difference when the slave story is played in the man’s world that is worth discussing here.

The evil Sado runs a Japanese POW camp. He revels in punishing prisoners by sending them into the Bamboo Curtain, a bamboo forest rigged with deadly booby traps. Alarmed at how the Bamboo Curtain is intimidating his fellow prisoners, Jim Blake gets himself sent there in the hope of overcoming it and stopping it turning his friends into “cringing coolies.” Blake does survive the Bamboo Curtain but is surprised to stumble across a nest of brainwashed British soldiers in the power of Sado. They mysteriously disappear before he can probe too much.

Determined to help the soldiers, Blake returns to the camp as the answer to the mystery must be there, although he risks even more savage punishment and perhaps death from Sado. The extra tortures include being locked in a metal hut in blazing heat, forced to fight a masked man to the death (Blake is shocked afterwards to find it is one of the brainwashed soldiers), being trapped in a minefield, and being tied to Sado’s jeep and being dragged behind. War-based tortures that soldiers are more likely to encounter than girls. Nor would you expect the girls to punch their jailers in the face and take up guns in their escape.

The story also made daring breaks with clichés, such as when Blake fails to save his friend Jensen from the quicksand trap in the Bamboo Curtain. And, when Blake and Sado face off in the final episode – no spoilers, so let us say we do not get the typical clichéd honourable conduct we would normally expect from the hero.  Unlikely that even Tammy would have done the same.

So how did the slave story play out in Jinty? As the early Jinty was cast in the same mould as the early Tammy, there was of course a slave story in the first lineup. This was “Merry at Misery House”. Wrongly sent to a reformatory nicknamed Misery House because of its harshness, Merry Summers is cast in the mould of the protagonist who refuses to let the cruelty break her spirit. This singles her out for one torture after another to break her down and turns the story into the longest running slave story ever. It ran for over a year before the misery finally ended with the warden and head guard being arrested for racketeering, Misery House burning down and Merry getting her name cleared.

Maybe the sheer length of this slave story is the reason Jinty had fewer slave stories than Tammy. But the ones she did have were:

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Merry at Misery House (1974-75): Merry Summers is wrongly convicted of theft and sent to a reformatory where sadistic treatment is the rule.

Prisoners of Paradise Island (1974-75): a hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. In a twist that turns the slave story on its head, they are given every luxury instead of being tortured, abused and exploited. But the purpose is just as evil – their captors want to make them fat, unfit and lazy so they cannot win a hockey championship. Then the crooks will take punts against them and make a fortune.

Barracuda Bay (1975): More of a twist on the slave story than a pure slave story. The slaves are a bunch of kidnapped scientists in this James Bond style story.

Too Old to Cry! (1975-76): a cruel orphanage run by a matron who can lie her way out of anything. In a break with the usual pattern, Nell, the protagonist, escapes from the orphanage in the early stages of the story. Many episodes pass before the matron catches up to Nell.

Slaves of the Candle (1975-76): Lydia Lagtree falls foul of Mrs Tallow, who is running a candle making slave racket. But she is also committing thefts that she often has Lydia carrying the can for. Mrs Tallow believes the price that keeps rising on Lydia’s head will keep her under control, but Lydia remains determined to escape and stop the racket. As the story progresses, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Mrs Tallow is planning something even bigger, and it involves the Tower of London. Hmm, could there be treason here?

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): it is more individual slavery than group slavery in this story about the horrors of transportation in the 19th century. But Betsy Tanner is arriving with a group of convicts and they will be slaves all but in name, and later encounters a group of slaves in an opal mine.

Land of No Tears (1977-78): The slave story set in dystopia, which makes a nice change from the more common settings of factories, schools etc. Lame Cassy Shaw is transported to a future world where perfection is everything. People who are not perfect are classed as Gamma and regarded as inferior. In the hive (children’s home) where Cassy ends up, the Gamma girls are slaves who do the cleaning, wear shabby clothes, and eat nothing but scraps left by the perfect Alpha girls. The Alphas bully them and live in luxurious rooms while the Gammas share a cold, grim dormitory. This story is regarded as one of Jinty’s classics, so while Merry was the longest slave story in Jinty, this one has to be the best.

The Human Zoo (1978): not strictly a slave story but contains some elements of it. Sisters Jenny and Shona Owens and some other people are kidnapped by aliens and taken to their planet. The aliens think humans are animals and treat them as beasts of burden.

Children of Edenford (1979): hints of the slave story can be seen in this story too, though it is not a slave story as such. Bamboo Curtain is one example that brainwashing techniques are sometimes used in the slave story, but this one takes it to frightening levels that threaten the whole world. Insane headmistress Purity Goodfellow is obsessed with perfection. To this end she turns her pupils into glazed-eyed docile zombies by feeding them drugged food. But she isn’t stopping there – soon it is the whole district and eventually it is revealed she has her eyes on the whole world.

Now we turn to the individual slavery story. This centres on one individual who is enslaved by legal slavery or exploitation of some sort or, more often, by criminals and other nasty types. In the case of the latter, the girl often has amnesia, lost her voice or has some other disability that has made it easier for the villain to enslave her. Overcoming her disability or regaining her voice/memory is the only way to escape. At other times straight out blackmail is used, though blackmail themes did not seem to occur much in Jinty. And finally, there are villains who use hypnotism or other brainwashing techniques to enslave the girl.

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Notable Jinty stories with this theme were:

Tricia’s Tragedy (1975): Tricia Hunt becomes a slave to her cousin Diana Lloyd because she blames herself for an accident that left Diana blind. But Mr Hunt thinks something is fishy, especially when it becomes apparent that the Lloyds are trying to stop Tricia winning a vital swimming trophy.

Miss No-Name (1976): Lori Mills loses her memory and becomes ensnared by Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella, who abuse her and force her into crime. For good measure, Ma Crabb cuts off Lori’s hair so nobody recognises her as the missing girl in the papers.

The Slave of Form 3B (1976): bully Stacey discovers she can hynotise new girl Tania. She uses it to force Tania into theft, sabotage, cheating, bad conduct and eventually an accident that nearly kills Tania.

Bound for Botany Bay (1976): Betsy Tanner and her father are enslaved by convict transportation.

Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud (1976-77): Lady Daisy de Vere is mistaken for a servant, Maud, and ends up in a cruel household where even the other servants mistreat her.

Made-up Mandy (1976-77): Mandy Mason is not a slave per se, but the employer at the beauty salon where Mandy works as a caretaker does not treat her well.

Curtain of Silence (1977): Yvonne Berridge is kidnapped in an Iron Curtain country and forced to pose as their cycling star. Yvonne has lost her voice, which makes it hard for her to get help.

No Cheers for Cherry (1978): Cherry Campbell joins her aunt’s theatre boat in the hope of drama training and stardom. But she finds herself being used as an unpaid servant. This story has some overlap with the Cinderella theme.

Slave of the Swan (1978): Again an amnesiac girl, Katrina Vale, is taken advantage of, this time by a ballet mistress who wants revenge on her mother rather than simply exploiting the girl.

As the 1970s wore on, slave stories (and the accompanying lynchpin, the Cinderella story) faded from Tammy. The same happened with Jinty. This was particularly the case with the group slave story. Counterrevolution and changes in editorship had set in against the revolution of cruelty and tortured heroines that Tammy pioneered and the early Jinty followed. Yet the slave story remained popular at DCT, and it played over and over in Bunty, Mandy and Judy long after it faded at IPC.