Tag Archives: slave story

Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” (1971)

Published: Tammy 6 February 1971 (first issue) to 17 July 1971 

Episodes: 29

Artist: Desmond Walduck

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

In World War II, Kate Dennison’s parents are killed in the Blitz and she is evacuated to a farm in the Lake District run by Ma Thatcher. Ma Thatcher is ostensibly a benefactor offering a good home to war orphans, but Kate soon discovers she is a monster. Together with Ned and Benskin, she operates a racket using war orphans and evacuees as slave labour. She also makes a profit out of the money the government sends for the children’s upkeep. The children are forced to sleep in a barn, all their belongings are taken for her use, and they are used as slave labour in Benskin’s quarry. Ma gets a nice sum for the slave labour she supplies him. Other farmers seem complicit in the racket, and even help to bring back escaped children. Their reasons are not clear. Perhaps it’s because they benefit from it too, as Ma hires the children out to work on their farms as well as slave in the quarry. 

Ma has terrible punishments for rebellious children, but her specialty is the animal cage. Children are locked in it overnight, regardless of weather or state of health, to be exposed to all the elements. There are beatings too, and as the story goes on, other unbelievable tortures and punishments are added that has you wondering why none of these children are maimed or dead. 

Kate is the only one willing to stand up to Ma and never waver from trying to escape and seek help, no matter how many times she fails – which is often. She prompts the other slaves to fight back and do something, something they weren’t doing before she arrived because they think nothing can be done. She also tries to get help for weak or sick children, and acts of rebellion and sabotage against the work. One ruse is rigging up a water flask as an unexploded bomb in a pool in the frequently flooded quarry. Of course the slavers discover the trick eventually, but it’s given the children a break from the quarry labour. 

Kate’s rebellion against Ma singles her out for extra-cruel treatment intended to break her will, such as being forced to stand still for hours with vicious guard dogs all around her, threatening to tear her apart if she moves. 

When Kate arrived, the number of slaves was small, but as time goes on it grows with more arrivals. Things get worse when one, Bonnie Sykes, becomes the flunky, collaborator and under-guard. In exchange for better treatment, which includes sleeping in the farm house instead of the barn, she helps Ma with the slavery, acts as watchdog over the other children, and joins in the cruelties. 

Sadly for them, the children are still prone to gullibility and have to learn the hard way about that. When, all of a sudden, Ma starts treating the kids nicely, they refuse to have anything to do with Emma, suggesting that she’s trying to spoil their now happy family. Of course it’s all a ruse. Evacuation inspectors are coming to the farm, so Ma needs to give the impression that all is well. Even Kate is largely fooled, though still suspicious. She tries to escape in the inspectors’ car, but finds Ma there, waiting for her in case of tricks like that. She’s kept tied up while the inspectors visit and see the happy, unsuspecting children. By the time the children discover they’ve been fooled, it’s too late and their rescue is gone. At least Kate, once untied, gives them the satisfaction of seeing her rip up the money their slavers have just received from the inspectors.  

In time, another character appears. She is Mad Emma, a woman who always conceals her face, and she’s the only person who scares Ma. Emma secretly helps the children, such as smuggling things in to help, throwing scares into the slave drivers and messing things up for them, and then moves up to helping some of the sicker children escape.

Kate and Emma progressively spirit three of these children away, and they are hidden in a nearby evacuated village. But after the third escape, Ma decides it’s time to get rid of Kate. So she forces Kate to work alone in the quarry, with Benskin to arrange a few ‘accidents’. Despite Kate watching him closely, he comes close to killing her until Emma sends him plunging, and he is knocked out. She then takes Kate to the evacuated village.

There is still the matter of how to free the remaining children, and now the mystery of Emma is revealed. It turns out she is the owner of the farm. When she wouldn’t sell to Ma, Ma stole the farm and started a fire to drive Emma off. Emma escaped, badly burned, and wandered in a state of shock until she stumbled across the abandoned village. She had lived there ever since, hiding her badly scarred face. She had taken a long time to start helping the children because she was living in seclusion, suspicious of strangers. Then one day she decided to take a look at her farm and discovered what was going on. 

Back at the farm, Ma learns Kate has escaped, but she has something more pressing to worry about. She has received a letter informing them that the bombing is easing up, so the children will now be sent home. Realising the children will tell people about their treatment, Ma decides to silence them by locking them in the barn and burning it down.

Bonnie draws the line at murder and has a change of heart. She runs away and bumps into Kate and Emma, and explains things. She covers for them while they dig the tunnel into the barn and help all the children escape through it. Ma almost shoots Kate as she makes her escape, but Bonnie causes her to miss and follows Kate into the woods. Now Ma knows Bonnie has turned against her.

With all the children safe, Emma decides it is (long overdue!) time to get the police. But after several hours there’s still no sign of activity. Kate goes in search of her and again gets captured by Ma Thatcher, who has also captured Emma and Bonnie. She uses them as hostages to force Kate to flag the police away. 

Ma then locks Bonnie and Kate in the barn and sets fire to it, keeping Emma back to make her tell where the other children are. Emma breaks free and rushes into the barn to save Kate and Bonnie. Ma is forced to go after Emma, as she’s the only one who can tell her where the other children are. Ned panics at all this and makes a run for it. When Kate hears Ma crying for help, she goes back to rescue her. Her reward? Ma tries to kill her again, with the shotgun Ned dropped. 

However, the other children, who got worried at the delay, have brought in the police themselves. The police arrive in time to catch Ma in the act of trying to shoot Kate. Ned is soon rounded up, and joins Ma in custody. The farm is restored to Emma, and the children are very happy when the authorities allow them to stay with her. 

Thoughts

Well, here we go with Tammy’s most famous (or infamous) tale of all, and one of the most pivotal stories in girls’ comics. This is the one that really made Tammy’s mark from the first issue, and its impact lingers on today. If one serial were the jewel in Tammy’s crown, it would have to be this one. But what a dark jewel it is. It has been deemed the cruellest of Tammy’s tales, perhaps the cruellest of all in the history of girls’ comics. Of all the dark, misery-laden tales Tammy was known for, this one is the reigning queen. 

And the readers lapped it up. Its length alone – a staggering 29 episodes – shows how popular it was with readers. Its formula proved a guaranteed hit, copied countless times at IPC, and spawned what became known as the slave story. Or perhaps, more accurately, the slave group story (as distinct from the single slave story). The slave story was one of the lynchpins in the new trend of grittiness Tammy set. Said Pat Mills of the slave story: “slave stories were always very popular, and I think a psychologist might have a field day, not just with the people who wrote them, but with the readers! … We actually would sit down and say, when we were constructing a girls’ comic or revising an existing one, ‘Right, let’s have the slave story’, and the reason was because they were so popular with the readers!” (Interview with Jenni Scott, 26 September 2011, https://comiczine-fa.com/interviews/pat-mills).

“Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’” was the one that set the template for it all in Tammy and her sister comics. The template ran as follows: 

1: The protagonist falls foul of a racket, evil person or cruel institution where others are held captive for a sinister purpose or used as slaves. Settings have included workhouses, harsh boarding schools, factories, remote environments and prison camps. 

2: The protagonist is the only one to rebel against it (and in some cases, even realise what is going on, as the evil purpose is sometimes disguised) and try to break them all free from it.

3: Her rebellion singles her out for extra-harsh treatment or puts her in more danger than the others.

4: There is a flunky type (not always used) working with the antagonist against the protagonist.

5: A helper often, though not always, emerges to help. The helper can either work in secret and disguise, or come in to investigate and sense something’s wrong. Sometimes the protagonist herself is the secret helper, either donning a disguise or pretending to be the flunky to help the slaves. Examples of this are “Lady Sarah’s Secret” (Judy) and “Hateful Hattie” (Mandy).

Other Tammy stories to use the formula included “Slaves of the Hot Stove”, “Secret Ballet of the Steppes”, “The Chain Gang Champions”, “Waifs of the Wigmaker”, and “The Revenge of Edna Hack”. Jinty’s “Merry at Misery House”, beginning with her first issue and going on to become her longest-running serial, owed its roots to “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’”.

It could not have been the formula alone that made the serial its mark. It would also have been the lengths it took with its cruelties, which have made it regarded as the cruellest of them all (with “Merry at Misery House” running a very strong second). The scale of violence and torture must have been unprecedented and shocking, and the levels it went to have been seldom seen since: Kate being constantly bludgeoned, dangerous labour in a flooded quarry, the animal cage, fox traps, even attempted shootings, and so much else. The story stops at showing blood, broken bones and other injuries (except for one child getting her leg caught in a fox trap) or outright death, but it’s always dancing on the edge of it, and the only reason it doesn’t happen is, well, this is girls’ comics. 

Also adding to its impact was Tammy clearly naming the villainess after an unpopular figure: Margaret Thatcher, then known as “Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher” for her cuts on free milk given to children when she was Secretary of Education. And Ma Thatcher is a villainess with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and one of the evil baddies ever created in girls’ comics. Nowhere is this shown more where Kate saves Ma’s life – twice – in the story. But there’s no gratitude from Ma, only more of the same from her, even trying to kill Kate in return for having her life saved. She ought to be running a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, what with the tortures she inflicts (vicious dogs, fox traps, the animal cage, beatings, atrocious working conditions, etc.). She’d feel right at home with those brutal SS guards.

As well as no redeeming qualities, Ma Thatcher has no nuances to her character. There’s no dashes of humour, backstory, redeeming qualities, or even sprinkles of the human touch to her. The only thing that gives her a little roundness is how brilliant she is at pretending to be the kind grandmotherly benefactor when the authorities come calling. But essentially, Ma Thatcher is just cruel, evil and unredeemable. 

The hatching and crosshatching in the Desmond Walduck artwork give it ruggedness against a softer edge of linework, which makes it not only a perfect fit for the harshness of the story but for the country setting and the time period as well. Not surprisingly, Walduck has been a popular choice for other period stories with a hard edge to them, such as “The Shadow in Shona’s Life” from Tammy and “The Worst School in the World” from Judy.  

“Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm” was not strictly the first in the line of (group) slave stories. The aforementioned Worst School in the World from Judy was one also, and predated it by two years. There were probably others at DCT that also predated “Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm”. But at IPC, “Slaves of ‘War Orphan’ Farm” was more than enough to be the first to matter. 

Miss No-Name (1976)

Sample Images

Published: Jinty 24 January 1976 – 29 May 1976 

Episodes: 19 

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Lori Mills is a brilliant athlete at Fleetwood Athletic Club, her specialty being the pole vault, and she is selected for the county trials. A jealous rival, Rachel, sabotages Lori’s pole vault during training to put her out of the trials. The ensuing accident causes Lori to lose her memory. Rachel is swift to seize upon this to get Lori to leave the club. The amnesic Lori wanders the streets, trying to get help, but gets mistaken for a shoplifter. Thinking she is now a wanted fugitive, Lori runs like hell from the town and ends up taking shelter in a junkyard.

Unfortunately for Lori, the junkyard is run by the evil Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella. They are cruel and abusive, and they also work as fences for a criminal known as Fingers. When the Crabbs find Lori and see she has lost her memory, they promptly take advantage to make Lori an unpaid slave – and worse. Begging acts and criminal acts are all part of what they want out of Lori as well as making her a drudge. Ma Crabb tells Lori she’s her niece Polly, dresses her in rags, and crops her hair to make her unrecognisable from Lori’s “missing” photos. Lori is not convinced she is Polly Crabb but can’t remember the truth. Lori’s only friend is the Crabbs’ donkey Neddy, which they abuse as much as they abuse her. The Crabbs use Neddy for blackmail purposes over Lori – do what they say, or the donkey suffers. Other times they use the whip, chain her up, starve her, make her slog, and other forms of abuse. 

Fingers also helps to keep Lori enslaved. For example, when Lori makes a run for it, Ma Crabb has Fingers tail her. But he’s not to bring her back – Ma Crabb’s plan is for him to make so much trouble for her that her will breaks and she will come crawling back. This works just as Ma Crabb planned, beginning with Fingers stealing a vase and putting the blame on Lori. But when Lori discovers the vase at Ma Crabb’s, she sees through the whole charade and breaks the vase over Fingers’ noggin. From then on, Lori declares war on the Crabbs and Fingers, such as foiling Fingers’ pickpocketing at a market when he tries to drag her into it though she knows she will suffer for it later. 

Lori is quick to find her athletics and that she has a desire to keep in training. Her athletics becomes her weapon against the Crabbs, whether it’s to try to escape or just annoy them, particularly when they try to punish her for her defiance or break her will. In the course of the story we see Stella taking a number of hilarious falls whenever she makes a lunge for Lori but Lori is so fast and nimble she dodges them every time. 

When Ma Crabb sends Lori out to sell logs, Lori meets people could be her tickets to freedom. She tells a kindly old lady about her problems, but the old lady doesn’t offer anything but sympathy. She sees a boy in training and gives him some tips, which makes her realise she must be trained. The boy belongs to a posh school, and at the school Lori is challenged to compete in a hurdling event, which she wins hands down. The headmaster is interested in her to help with coaching. But Ma Crabb does not want that headmaster sniffing around. She has Lori put the headmaster off, threatening to beat Neddy if she doesn’t.  

Next, Ma Crabb forces Lori, under threat of more donkey abuse, to climb a dangerous tower as practice for a job. Lori soon finds this means being forced to help Fingers’ gang rob a jewellery store. Lori manages to snatch the jewellery back and return it to the store. Then she just runs until she collapses, and is surprised to wake up in a proper bed. It’s the lady who was kind to Lori earlier. But the Crabbs aren’t far away and hatch a cunning plan. Ma Crabb feeds the old lady lies about Lori being a thief and Fingers plants of the old lady’s jewellery on her. The old lady falls for it, and Lori is forced to leave. She soon guesses who was behind it, but she has no choice but to go back to Ma. 

Lori finds Ma’s latest punishment is to sell Neddy to a knacker’s yard. To save him, she has to raise money in record time to buy him back. She succeeds, but again the Crabbs have been tailing her, guessing what she was up to. But Lori isn’t having them take Neddy back – and neither is Neddy, who knocks Stella into the canal. Lori hunts around to find him another home and finds a good one at an orphanage. Neddy is now safely out of Ma’s clutches and she has lost her source of blackmail over Lori. That’s that problem solved, but Lori soon finds she is not yet rid of the Crabbs.

As Lori returns from the orphanage, she passes a shop that seems familiar. Realising it must be linked to her past she goes in, but the shopkeeper does not recognise her. Lori realises it is because of her shorn hair and now understands why the Crabbs cut her hair off. This confirms her suspicions she is not Polly Crabb. 

Lori confronts Ma over this, and says she knows what to do. She would have been wiser to have kept her mouth shut, for she has alerted the Crabbs. And if she had done some investigating in Ma’s caravan she would have found the answer – a newspaper report of the missing Lori Mills, which Ma had the whole time. Instead, Lori goes in search of a wig resembling her old hairstyle so someone might recognise her, but the Crabbs are onto her immediately. What’s more, Lori has no money to buy a wig. 

Then Lori spots a silver trophy as a prize for an open athletics event. Her plan is to win the cup, sell it, and buy a wig with it. But again the Crabbs are onto it and block her from entering. Undaunted, Lori enters the competition under a blackface identity (perhaps not very PC today, but the disguise works well enough to get past Stella). She wins the event, but as the reporters take her photos, they spot the blackface starting to run from sweat. Lori she has to make a fast exit with the trophy. She manages to hide it when she gets back to the junkyard, but her disguise is still there for the Crabbs to see through. When they read the newspaper report about Lori’s win, they want to know where that cup is. They fail to find it, but Fingers later snatches it when Lori tries to sell it. 

Lori follows up on her only hunch – if she was trained, she must belong to an athletics club, and the only one around is Fleetwood. She goes to Fleetwood, but the two girls she meets don’t know her. She wanders around town, which does seem familiar, and asks if anyone knows her. Nobody recognises her as Lori, a policeman nabs her for obstruction, and then Ma Crabb shows up to take her back. 

But in a dream, Lori recalls the accident at Fleetwood that caused her to lose her memory. She realises the two girls may not have known her because they were new to the club. So she heads back to Fleetwood. To make herself recognisable she needs the wig. There’s no money to buy it, but a wig shop owner agrees to let her borrow one. 

This time, Lori is recognised at Fleetwood, but jealous Rachel snatches the wig, exposing her cropped hair, and tries to have them believe it’s not Lori. The club coach gives Lori a chance to prove her identity – do the pole vault in the way only Lori Mills can do. Lori succeeds, and they are convinced of her identity. At this, Rachel makes herself scarce.

But Lori still does not have her memory back. Then the Crabbs catch up again with those phony claims she’s Polly Crabb, and try to drag her back. But not this time. During a struggle with the Crabbs, Lori takes a crack on the head, which restores her memory. Now the game is up and Lori is threatening to tell the police how she was treated, the Crabbs follow Rachel’s example, saying they won’t go near Lori again. 

Thoughts

Whenever a girl loses her memory in girls’ comics, a villain out to take advantage of this is never far behind. In some cases the true identity of the amnesic girl and how she lost her memory is kept a mystery to the readers e.g. “The Double Life of Dolly Brown” aka “The Double Life of Coppelia Brown” from Mandy or “Sadie in the Sticks” from Tammy. In such cases, unravelling the mystery is part of regaining her memory and freeing herself from her abusers. However, this isn’t always the case, and it’s not the case here. We know from the outset who Lori is and how she lost her memory. And regaining her memory is the key to freeing herself from her oppressors. No matter how many times Lori tries to escape from the Crabbs, they always catch up one way or other with their false claims she’s Polly Crab, they’ve come to claim her, and she’s an out-of-control girl who is best left to them. 

The only way for Lori to beat the Crabbs for good is to discover her true identity. Unlike some amnesic heroines, such as Katrina Vale from “Slave of the Swan” (Jinty), Lori has the advantage of not really falling for her abusers’ lies. From the outset, she is not convinced she is Polly Crabb, and she grows increasingly sure she isn’t. After all, Ma Crabb is not treating Lori as if she were her own niece. Ma Crabb also made the mistake of not operating in a more insidious manner to enslave Lori psychologically as well as physically, as in “Slave of the Swan” or “No Cheers for Cherry” (Jinty), and fool her so well she may not even realise what’s going on. No, it’s straight out abuse from the beginning. The harsh treatment Lori gets from the woman who is supposed to be her aunt makes her increasingly suspicious that Ma Crabb is no relation of hers. For this reason, the Crabbs can’t enslave Lori fully and have her swallowing all the lies she’s told until she doesn’t know which way to turn except to her captors. 

However, though Ma Crabb doesn’t fully enslave Lori, she still has crafty ways to keep Lori under her thumb. Her secret weapon is Fingers, whom she instructs to shadow Lori when she first escapes but to play tricks on her to break her will and make her come crawling back. And it all goes like clockwork for Ma – until she slips up and leaves the vase where Lori can find it and rumble the trick. But if Lori hadn’t discovered the trick and turned into a rebel against Ma because of it, it could have enslaved her altogether. And no matter how often Lori tries to escape, the Crabbs always catch up. They already have a pretty good idea where to look from what they know about Lori, and Fingers is a very capable shadow. Their biggest weapon is using Neddy to blackmail Lori into doing what they want. For this reason, selling Neddy is ultimately a mistake for them. It not only frees Lori from the blackmail and gives her more scope to escape but eventually frees Neddy from the animal abuse as well. 

Eventually, Lori’s suspicions she is not Polly Crabb are fully confirmed. But being convinced of it is one thing – proving it is another. There are many stories where protagonists have their identities stolen and are trapped in a false one, such as “The Stranger in My Shoes” from Tammy and “The Imposter!” from Bunty. It’s bad enough for these girls to prove their identities while fully knowing who they are. How the heck can Lori prove her identity when she can’t even remember it herself and Ma Crabb doing such a good job of disguising her that nobody recognises her as the missing girl, Lori Mills? Her only clues are her original hairstyle, indications she’s a trained athlete, gradual memories that begin to resurface, and everything progressively pointing to Fleetwood Athletic Club. 

The abuse from the Crabbs does tend go over the top at times, such as keeping Lori dressed in that ragged dress, making her sleep on sacks, and even chaining her up. Moreover, their grotesque faces and dark, coarse appearance, which makes them so reminiscent of fairy tale witches, not only adds to the excessiveness but should also alert anyone to the sort they are straight away. You would think the Crabbs have a reputation around the town, and the police would already be suspicious of their activities and watching them closely. Yet Ma Crabb finds it so easy to fool anyone who gets too close with her lies about her “niece”. 

When Lori threatens the Crabbs with the police over the way they treated her, they beg her not to, promising they’ll leave her alone, and beat a fast exit. Yes, but aside from their treatment of Lori and Neddy – which they go unpunished for – there’s still the matter of their criminal activities, and that should be reported to the police. We’re left feeling the Crabbs are yet another bunch of villains who got off too easily, and Fingers is still at large.  

It is touching to read the blurb at the end of the story. Instead of telling us what’s coming next week, it closes with a final word about Lori: “Lori had courage and talent – but it was her courage that helped her in the end!” Yes, it was the courage to not only remain steadfast and determined but defiant as well, and fight back any way she could. On many occasions, the way Lori strikes back has us laugh and cheer, such as sending Stella into dirty puddles. So Lori Mills must stand as one of Jinty’s most feisty heroines.

Lights Out for Lucinda (1975-76)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 6 December 1975 to 7 February 1976

Episodes: 10 single episodes, 1 double episode

Artist: Ken Houghton

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Rich girl Lucinda Prior is a spoiled brat, and she guzzles a lot too (not to the proportions of Bessie Bunter but still telling). She has her chauffeur drive out to where her father is having a meeting, which is oddly in the middle of nowhere on the moor. She is surprised to find soldiers on the moor, who tell her they guard a site of a ghost town called Blackmarket, which has been sealed off because WW2 top secret gas manufacturing made it toxic.

Lucinda then finds her chauffeur has stranded her on the moor. He did so because he got fed up with her bratty behaviour. He didn’t give a thought that this could put her in danger, which it does when a mist rises and she gets lost, and then she falls into a river. She washes up in Blackmarket.

Lucinda is astonished to find Blackmarket inhabited by people who are still living in World War II, right down to thinking they’re living in the Blitz. Blackmarket is surrounded by guards who ensure nobody ever leaves, even to the point of opening fire on them. The Blackmarket people say nobody is allowed to leave because the work they do is top secret. They don’t listen when Lucinda tries to tell them the war has long since ended. Soon Lucinda finds she’s in a virtual madhouse with nothing but 12-hour shifts in a WW2 factory, with constant blackouts, no street lighting, stuffy rooms from the blackouts, lack of decent food, and sections of the place that do look bombed-out. It’s all women and girls around her; all the men apparently off to war. Any men present are the army guards, seen only at a distance, and the sneaky spivs (black marketeers).

Certainly a shock to the system for anyone, but Lucinda’s spoiled behaviour is making it even harder for her to handle it. She is expected to pitch in and help the war effort with factory work, and is mortified to work alongside the unwashed and dirtying her hands. But the factory forewoman, Mrs Drew, isn’t the sort to take no for an answer. Moreover, Miss Guzzler is now faced with wartime rations, which lack nutrition and taste. Her spoiled conduct has them calling her “Her Ladyship”. 

Lucinda quickly switches to playing along as best she can, saying she’s confused and suffering memory loss after London bombing, which serves well as a cover for her not having the ID card they keep demanding or ration books. But she still hasn’t broken the pattern of her old behaviour, and is also taking advantage of good-natured people who try to help her, such as her new friend Annie. When Lucinda is told to clean a factory machine and slapped for not doing it, she foists it onto another worker, Gert, but is reported for shirking. To make Mrs Drew even angrier, Gert collapsed because of it. Lucinda’s punishment is to clean the canteen grease trap. 

At this, Lucinda makes a run for it, only to find the way she came has now been sealed, which not only cuts off this means of escape but also cuts Blackmarket even further off from the outside world. Lucinda is now convinced the gas is no longer a danger, so why is the army keeping Blackmarket sealed off? 

Lucinda then encounters a spiv who offers her chocolate flogged from the army, but the chocolate’s even worse than the war rations. She takes other foodstuffs the spiv offers in exchange for her watch. She offers it to Annie and her mother for making up for eating their cheese ration. But the WPC, who have called in about Lucinda’s shirking, confiscate it, and now Lucinda’s in trouble for black marketing as well as being work shy. 

Next day, Lucinda has to clean the canteen grease trap for shirking, which is a vile job. But this time she feels guilty when Annie and her friends pitch in to help her, as she knows this cuts into their 12-hour shifts and they will have to work even longer at the factory. She also begins to sympathise with the women and girls for the life they have to lead in Blackmarket. So much so that she begins to develop the wartime spirit and starts sharing food instead of scoffing it. Lucinda’s also impressed these people can find ways to cheer themselves up despite their hardships. It makes her realise how materialistic and hedonistic her old life was, and she’s making friends for the first time in her life. As time goes on, she begins to like her new way of life because of the friends she’s making, and is surprises herself at how selfless she is becoming. For example, she takes a box of chocolates she obtained earlier from the spivs to Gert to atone for the way she treated her. Along the way she gives a lot of the chocolates to kids who are so thin from wartime rations. Only two are left for Gert, who doesn’t mind when she hears why, and Lucinda did not scoff any of them.

As time goes on, Lucinda finds herself growing confused about whether it is the seventies or WW2. She’s hearing radio newsbroadcasts about how the war’s going, and now she’s even finding herself even thinking like she’s in WW2. Is the place getting to her and having a brainwashing effect, or is something else at work? She has to keep a grip on herself. 

Lucinda is finally introduced to the person in charge of Blackmarket: Commander Hobbs. The Commander issues Lucinda with an ID card and ration cards, but also strips her of her modern clothes and puts her in factory clothes to work in the factory. The Commandant later burns Lucinda’s clothes, destroying the one proof Lucinda belatedly realised she had to show WW2 has long since ended – made in Germany clothes. Lucinda also discovers the Commander deliberately removed the label saying so, who destroys it right in front of Lucinda. 

An air raid strikes, and even the spivs help to cheer people up in the air raid shelter. But Lucinda’s the only one to notice there is no evidence of bombing afterwards and says this out loud. The Commander’s reaction to this makes Lucinda suspect the Commander faked it, but Lucinda realises she’s made the mistake of alerting the Commander to her suspicions. 

Another thing that’s odd is that Lucinda has been at the factory for some time now, but it’s not been established just what they are manufacturing. And since it can’t be for the war effort as they believe, than what or who is it for? They also have to take pills with their rations – ostensibly, vitamin pills. When Lucinda resists taking hers because she hates tablets, Mrs Drew forces her to take it. 

Hearing the spivs are smuggling their goods in from over the wire, Lucinda tries to enlist a spiv to get a message out for help, but he accuses her of being a spy. Lucinda’s resistance against this strange setup has earned her a reputation as a troublemaker and possible Hitler sympathiser. 

Suspicious, Annie takes Lucinda to the Commander, where they overhear an odd remark between the Commander and the spiv about the vitamin pills making Lucinda “safe”. Following this and a strange spell of confusion where she finds herself thinking it is WW2, Lucinda suspects the vitamin tablets are really some sort of mind-bending drug. She decides to test her theory by not taking her pill, but the Commander and Mrs Drew force her to. Lucinda soon feels the effect of the drug, and is forced to stab her hand to break its power. She finds the pain sorely needed to keep a grip on her identity, as the effects of the pill are still lingering. 

There’s another air raid alarm. Now convinced it’s all a fake, Lucinda just walks out of the air raid shelter. Sure enough, there’s no air raid out there, and she suspects the sounds are coming from a door marked “Top Secret No Admittance”. But on the other side of the door the Commander has Lucinda on CCTV and, seeing the threat she poses, presses the red button. This causes an explosion to simulate a house being bombed, and Lucinda is caught in the debris. She is rescued from the rubble and now wondering if there really was a bomb raid. But Mrs Drew makes a slip of the tongue that has her realise the truth. 

Lucinda decides to play along, pretending she has succumbed, until she figures out what to do. Despite what happened before, she again tries to get the spivs to help her. Their reaction to refusing even bribery to help her makes her realise they must be in league with the Commander. The spivs chase Lucinda to the factory, where the workers rally around Lucinda and duff up the spivs for cheating them all the time. 

The fight distracts the Commander long enough for Lucinda to slip into into her top secret room. There she discovers the elaborate and definitely not 1940s technology that’s behind the whole charade. She’s also interested in what’s in an open filing cabinet, but then the Commander and Mrs Drew return. Lucinda manages to slip out, knocking out Mrs Drew in the process, and head back to the factory. At the factory it’s payday, at WW2 rates of £2/14/6, and what the spivs have reported to the Commander about Lucinda has aroused her suspicions. 

Lucinda turns to telling the workers there is no more WW2, they’re being brainwashed by those tablets, and they should take a look behind the locked door. She persuades them to stop taking the tablets, and they are also suspicious by the Commander and Mrs Drew’s reactions. The Commander threatens to blow up the factory at this sudden insurgence and takes Lucinda away to her office. 

In her office the Commander admits to the charade. She recruited WW2 Blitz widows as it was easier to bend their minds, and threw some kids into the mix for more authenticity. The spivs (and presumably the phoney army guards) are escaped convicts. She was using the women as cheap labour, using the WW2 simulation to pay them at 1940s rates instead of modern ones (and with predecimal currency in an era that has dispensed with £sd?!). The goods the workers make are sold at modern prices, making the huge difference between the cost of production and cost of retail a huge profit. The Commander then reveals Blackmarket’s biggest customer is…Lucinda’s father, and all the wealth Lucinda used to enjoy came from the Blackmarket operation. 

Dad comes along, and it looks like he is indeed the man behind Blackmarket and the Commander is his accomplice. He offers to take Lucinda home, nobody the wiser, but Lucinda repulses him. She’s going to help her Blackmarket friends, and runs back to them, despite Dad yelling she could get him thrown in prison. 

Back at the factory, Lucinda finds the workers have recovered their true memories after a break from the pills. Now everyone rises up against the Commander. The Commander and the spivs threaten to quell the revolt with guns, but Dad soon has them rounded up with a real army. 

Dad says he was forced to act the way he did. He genuinely did not know how the Commander was providing the goods so cheaply but was growing suspicous. When the Commander found out Lucinda’s true identity, she tried to blackmail him into keeping quiet, and also get more money out of him, in exchange for Lucinda’s freedom. Dad promises he will build a proper factory on the Blackmarket site and pay the workers modern rates. But first he’s going to throw a VE-Day celebration for them all.

Thoughts

As with Jinty, it was rare for Tammy to have a World War II serial. The theme was seen more frequently in Tammy’s complete stories, such as her Strange Stories. 

It’s one of Tammy’s many slave stories, but with a difference: we’re not sure what to make of it or what’s behind it, so there’s a mystery just begging to be solved. The setup being what it is, could it be people who got left behind in World War II when the town got cut off? Could Lucinda have even gone back in time to the real World War II? Is someone pulling some weird experiment? Is it someone’s crazy idea of boosting television ratings (a la Mr Grand from “Village of Fame” or “The Revenge of Edna Hack” from Tammy)? It’s certainly a very elaborate way to conduct a racket, but that’s precisely what it turns out to be. 

The racket is far more imaginative than many slave rackets we’ve seen in girls’ comics: slaves trapped in a simulation of a historical period where they can’t realise what’s going on because they’ve been drugged and everything looks like the era, and they think they’re working in a good cause. They’re totally isolated from anyone or anything able to tell them otherwise until Lucinda arrives. It certainly makes a change from seeing girls kidnapped, pulled off the streets, recruited from workhouses or pressganged in other ways to work as slave labour in factories, business operations, or rackets of various kinds. It also makes a change from punishment after punishment being piled upon the protagonist for constant resistance and failed escape attempts. Instead, the Commander tries to subdue Lucinda as she has the others – through the mind-bending drug. When that faces failure, she tries to dispose of Lucinda, and then, once she discovers Lucinda’s true identity, uses her to make herself even more of a Mrs Big of the operation. 

Having Lucinda start as an unlikeable person rather than a nice person gives her a more rounded personality and have her undergo far more character development. It must be said the panels with the bratty Lucinda are more attention-grabbing than ones of a good-natured protagonist, and this arouses our interest in the story even more. We all know Lucinda will change for the better at Blackmarket, but we are all eager to see just how the change unfolds, so we happily follow the story for this as well as unravelling the mystery of Blackmarket.

Lucinda’s initial bratty reactions to these unwashed people, being expected to dirty her hands alongside them and wartime rations are not surprising. Some problem girls are tough nuts to crack and take a while to reform. But Lucinda’s smart move to switch to playing along enables her to change fairly quickly, with little in the way of relapse, and her change for the better is realistically handled. Although Mrs Drew is clearly a villain and a hard case forewoman, we have to cheer her for ordering Lucinda the brat to clean the machinery and then the grease trap. 

Lucinda’s initial snobbishness changes to sympathy and admiration for how these people can bear up under the severe demands of wartime privations. Guilt also kicks in when she sees how others are suffering because she’s not doing her share of the work at the factory. Shock at seeing how thin the kids are from wartime diet has her change from guzzling food to sharing it. But the biggest lesson is learning the value of friendship and having friends for the first time in her life. So much so that she is willing to sacrifice the chance to go home with her father because she refuses to abandon her friends to their fate. Also adding to the change in Lucinda is the growing disorientation over where she is and keeping a grip on her identity. She knows it’s the seventies, but even before she starts the mind-bending tablets the place is getting to her and she’s beginning to think it really is World War II. It’s hard to keep up bratty behaviour against such stress. 

Lucinda is surprising even herself in the way she is changing. And the old Lucinda would be astonished at how she is now. Sharing food, willing to get her hands dirty, learning to appreciate what she took for granted, discovering the value of friendship, even stabbing herself to break the power of a mind-bending drug. The bratty Lucinda would never have dreamed of such things and only cared about luxury and the city lights. 

Subtle changes in the art reflect the changes in Lucinda’s body as well. She’s losing the weight gain from guzzling and going from being too chubby to fit into the clothes she’s ordered to slimming down to wartime proportions. Facing true hunger and restrictions on food has her learning to appreciate food, even the stodgy wartime rations. 

It’s an enormous shock to Lucinda when her own father is revealed to be the man profiting from Blackmarket. It’s the ultimate test for Lucinda’s new character: do what is right, although she’ll send her own father to prison, or take the easy way out with Dad? When Lucinda gallantly chooses the former because she won’t abandon her friends, for a moment it looks like she will go the way of Amanda Harvey, who discovers the man behind the sewing slavery racket of “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory” (Girl 2) is her own father and now has to turn him in. It is a relief when Dad says he was forced into behaving the way he did and had no idea what was going on. 

Mind you, that’s assuming he was telling the truth and not covering up for himself. There was that meeting he was having way back in the first episode – right in the middle of nowhere on the moor, right where the Blackmarket racket is operating. That sure is suspicious. And it is never explained. There might be a reasonable explanation, but are we willing to give him benefit of the doubt? 

The wartime hardships these women endure arouse not only Lucinda’s sympathies but ours as well. The creative team are giving us a serious lesson on how hard life was for British people in World War II from blackouts, bombings, slaving for the war effort, food rations that are in uncertain supply, the mental stress and breakdowns from it all (“bomb happy” as they call it), and hoping against hope that VE-Day will come. The effect is telling not only on their minds but also their bodies. They’re going unwashed because washing’s difficult. It’s not even Auschwitz, yet children are thin and stunted from short food supplies and the rotten wartime diet. Yet their spirits remain unbroken, they appreciate cheeriness and sparks of luxury wherever they find it, and they find courage and strength in the wartime spirit. The story shows us that even decades after World War II ended, the wartime spirit can still resonate and its message ring for modern generations.

Swimmer Slave of Mrs. Squall (1974)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy & June 22 June 1974 to 31 August 1974

Episodes: 11

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Sue Briggs is a difficult, underachieving girl at school. Her parents and headmaster come down hard on her and their approach – constantly compare her unfavourably with her brother Barney (sporty) and sister Muriel (studious) – is counterproductive and only makes Sue angry. 

Sue’s anger drives her to snoop into Squall House. The Squalls were once big in the area; the housing estate (Squall Forest Housing Estate) was built on their land and Sue’s school is called Squall Forest School. Following bankruptcy and widowhood, there’s only Mrs Squall now, who lives as a recluse. 

When Sue sneaks in, she is surprised to discover a swimming pool on the Squall House property. When she attempts to rescue Mrs Squall’s dog Otto from drowning in the swimming pool, she realises she dived in while forgetting she can’t swim. Now both she and the dog need rescuing, which is what Mrs Squall does.  

Although Sue cannot swim, she did an impressive dive into the pool to save Otto. This leads to Mrs Squall and her domineering, forbidding companion, Miss Gort, giving Sue some basic swimming lessons. They become convinced Sue has the makings of a champion there, though Sue does not like swimming as much she does diving, and she is struggling with it. They offer her secret swimming and diving lessons to make her a swimming champion, give her a key for Squall House, and tell her she must not let anyone see her enter Squall House for her lessons. At first Sue is reluctant to proceed with this, but she changes her mind after another clash with her family. Now she’s going to show ‘em all by becoming a swimming champion. 

The lessons go pretty well, with Sue making more headway with diving than swimming, which is pretty much dog paddle. Still, Sue senses there is something odd about those ladies: Miss Gort is cold and relentless as a trainer, while Mrs Squall seems “so nice and kind” and totally under Miss Gort’s thumb. Mrs Squall also seems to be training in the pool, under the same relentless Miss Gort coaching. At home, Sue tries to secretly train but finds it too awkward to do so with the family around. And when she foolishly tries to train in the canal, she lands in serious trouble. As punishment, she is sent to work at her strict grandfather’s shop, and now she’s miles away from Squall House. 

However, Grandfather can tell Sue something interesting about Squall House. The Squalls went bankrupt when Mr Squall set his heart on his wife becoming a swimming champion and spent a fortune on the swimming pool and fittings, but then his business failed and he suicided. Grandfather does not know whether or not Mrs Squall became a swimming champion.

Back at Squall House, Sue is shown a film of the Commonwealth Diving Championships. Sue is surprised to see Mrs Squall competing there – and even more surprised when Mrs Squall grows upset and screams for it to stop, but Miss Gort shows her no mercy there. Sue takes fright, decides these ladies are loony and tries to make a run for it. But then she finds the ladies are even loonier than she thought. They now make her a prisoner of Squall House. The key’s gone, and the tree Sue used to climb it when she first entered has had its branches sawn off to prevent further climbing. And Otto, though ageing, is quite a guard dog. Miss Gort tells Sue she will remain at Squall House until “our purpose has been fulfilled”. They lock Sue up in a barred room with no food until she cooperates, which she eventually does until she can figure out an escape. 

The diving is still going better than the swimming, but the latter finally turns into proper swimming and Sue is enjoying it more. However, the swimming training grows more and more gruelling, with Sue being only allowed to dive as a reward for swimming well. Mrs Squall, a brilliant diver, is put through the same intense training as Sue. Soon after, Mrs Squall, who seems to be dominated by Miss Gort, offers to help Sue. She says that her nerve broke at that event, causing her to fail, but Sue has the something extra that could be their ticket to freedom.

The police come door-to-door knocking in search of Sue, and Sue is quickly locked away. She finds a secret chamber and a book full of swimming photos. She finds a photograph of what looks like a younger Miss Gort who won the 1936 freestyle championship. The name is Alice Bradshaw. Sue wonders if Alice Bradshaw is Miss Gort. (Hang on, it’s Miss Gort, not Mrs Gort – what’s going on here?) 

Miss Gort tears up the photo and tells Sue she will be entered in a competition on Saturday, which gives Sue hope of escape. However, at the competition Sue finds she has been entered under the name Alice Bradshaw to elude the police search. Sue agrees to the competition when Mrs Squall says not doing so will destroy hope of her being free. Sue wins second place, which boosts her confidence.  

Afterwards the ladies show Sue a faked newspaper report to trick Sue into thinking her parents think her disappearance is one of her tricks and they intend to send her away. This eliminates all thought of escape drives Sue further into their clutches in the mistaken belief they offer her a glorious future as a champion, whereas her family think she’s good for nothing.

Sue decides to sneak into the secret chamber for more clues but gets locked in. Then Miss Gort and Mrs Squall enter, with the latter appearing to be in a hypnotic state. Miss Gort opens up a cabinet full of swimming trophies, her past triumphs, but says Mrs Squall failed to continue the success, so they are carrying on with Sue Briggs. Sue manages to slip out, taking the album with her. It confirms Alice Bradshaw/Miss Gort was a former swimming champion. Sue realises something must have gone wrong afterwards, hence the reclusiveness. Miss Gort is trying to regain her triumphs through Mrs Squall, which failed. Now Miss Gort is doing it with Sue, through some hypnotic power she has. Sue now suspects Miss Gort has the same power over her when she trains her, and there is something inhuman about her, something Sue can’t put her finger on.

Sue is entered in another event, and with Miss Gort staring at her all the time with that weird power, she knows she can’t lose. Then a reporter distracts Miss Gort, and Sue suddenly loses form and begins to lose. Miss Gort realises this and puts full power on her gaze, and suddenly Sue feels the strength again, but does not recover enough to win. After a row between Miss Gort and Mrs Squall over the distraction, Sue is convinced Miss Gort has hypnotic powers. On the way back, Sue catches a glimpse of her house, and although still fooled by the fake newspaper report, realises she misses her family very badly.

Meanwhile, the reporter is still sniffing. He gathers details on the Squalls, which are pretty what Sue’s grandfather has already said, but now we learn Mr Squall was a wealthy inventor and suicided because his wife failed to become the champion he wanted her to be. And that reporter wants to know where Miss Gort fits in. At Sue’s next event, which she wins, the reporter follows to find where they keep her. 

The reporter manages to sneak into Squall House. Sue quickly tells him what’s going on and to alert her family, but then Otto drives him off. One night the reporter returns to help Sue escape, but Mrs Squall attempts to drown him in the swimming pool. Sue saves the reporter and goes after Mrs Squall. The trail leads Sue to the truth about Miss Gort and why she’s so inhuman. The fact is, she’s not human at all – she’s a robot! 

Mrs Squall then reveals herself to be the one behind the swimmer slave gig the whole time, through the robot. She was only acting the part of helpless hypnotised victim in Miss Gort’s power and being “fellow prisoner” to Sue. She explains that she failed as a swimming champion because she did not train hard enough, leading to ruin for the family and her husband’s suicide. Before he died, Mr Squall built the robot as a last hope, to help Mrs Squall find someone to train as a champion and succeed where she had failed. All that stuff Sue found in the secret room about Miss Gort/Alice Bradshaw was planted there to mislead her (but Mrs Squall never explains who Alice Bradshaw never was).  

The robot hypnotises Sue into becoming a brilliant swimmer for the final medley, with the starting gun acting as the trigger for the hypnotic suggestion. Sue knows it’s cheating but has no control over the phenomenal way she is swimming now. 

Then the reporter escapes, appears at the pool, and gets into a fight with Mrs Squall, who opens fire on him. This shot confuses Sue, causing the hypnotic power to break and Sue to lose the medley. The shot hits the robot, causing it to malfunction and turn on Mrs Squall; they both fall into the swimming pool and the robot short-circuits. Mrs Squall is taken into mental care. Sue is happily reunited with her family, but is still grateful for the start Mrs Squall gave her in becoming a swimming champion.

Thoughts

As with other problem girl serials (such as “Black Sheep of the Bartons” and “Jackie’s Two Lives” (Jinty) and “Queen Rider” (Tammy)), Sue is pretty much the orchestrator of her own problems with her family and school. After all, she does nothing to make her family proud of her. In such serials, the protagonist fails to realise her bad attitude and wrong way of thinking were at the root of her problems. Once she wakes up and changes her attitude, things become far happier for her and those around her. We can imagine the same happened with Sue and her family once she returned home with new confidence and hugging her new ambition to be a champion. 

But from the beginning, Sue is also a sympathetic character. We can see how hard her family is on her and they are taking the wrong approach in comparing her to her brother and sister all the time. They’re not trying to find out what the problem is, or maybe try a different approach. Sue thought she was good for nothing and could not be good at anything, and this was reflected in her conduct. The fact that they never trusted her with a key – Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were the first to do so – says a lot, and Sue really responds to someone showing trust in her for once. It’s also one reason why Miss Gort and Mrs Squall were so successful in trapping Sue – they were the reversal of her family in the way they treated her: trust, praise, and seeing the potential of a champion in her and offering to bring it out, while her family tells her she’s a “no-good”. 

Stories where creepy, reclusive ladies take advantage of girls dissatisfied with their home life to lure them away, make them captive through mind games and other means, and use them for their own purpose have been seen elsewhere in girls’ comics. Examples include “Jackie’s Two Lives” and “The Gypsy Gymnast” (Tammy). As these examples illustrate, the lure can be built up over time until it’s ready to snare the girl, but in this case Sue is caught and trapped by episode three. From there, for the rest of the story, rather than focusing on escape it’s more about unravelling the mystery about what’s going on while doing what she’s told. 

Although the training is gruelling and even frightening, there are advantages that Sue thrives on (increasing strength, confidence and faith in herself), which gives her reasons to continue with it – and also to stay in the power of her captors. She is going from non-swimmer to the makings of a champion and has finally found something she is good at. She feels confidence she has never felt before and she finally feels she’s good for something. From what we glean, this is the reason why Sue was such a problem girl. She had no vocation in life until Mrs Squall and Miss Gort help her find it, in contrast to her family’s constant criticism and comparing her to her more successful siblings. Even while the ladies hold her captive they still give her what she never got from her family: boost her confidence, make her feel appreciated, and also make her feel like a somebody. 

Miss Gort’s training methods are not as over the top as in some stories. In “The Chain Gang Champions” (Tammy), for example, the Duchess’s notoriously extreme methods of training girls as athletes include forcing them to complete runs in ever-decreasing time limits while holding a man hostage to be fed to a hungry bear! All the same, it’s not only intense to the point of being inhuman; there’s something really weird about it that makes it frightening and creepy. It’s made even creepier by the fact that the hypnosis is not revealed all at once. Instead, it’s gradually revealed in stages, starting with those frightening eyes Miss Gort has that Sue suddenly notices. Eventually Sue begins to draw the right conclusions. 

Except that they turn out not to be the right conclusions at all. The truth is totally awry from what Sue and the reader have been led to believe. We’re all built up to think that Miss Gort is using her dominant personality and additional asset of hypnotic ability to make Mrs Squall every much her prisoner and puppet as Sue is. It’s a setup we’ve seen elsewhere in serials such as “Secret Ballet of the Steppes” and “Vision of Vanity Fayre” in Tammy. But in fact it’s in fact Miss Gort who is the puppet (a robot) and Mrs Squall is the real instigator. She had only been acting the part of a hapless victim in the grip of a tyrant, fooling Sue the whole time, and the clues Sue found the house were red herrings planted to mislead her. Woah, now that is a twist to take us totally by surprise! 

The twist would work better if we are told just who Alice Bradshaw really was and how she fits into the whole thing, but that’s never explained. The only conclusion is that Alice Bradshaw was the mother of either Mr or Mrs Squall and Mr Squall built the robot in her likeness. It would also explain why Mr Squall was so set on his wife becoming a swimming champion. 

Sadly, it was Mr Squall being determined his wife should become a swimming champion that led to the whole mess. Such obsession always spells trouble in girls’ comics, but in this case it’s even worse. It went tragically wrong, drove Mr Squall to suicide (now that’s a strong thing to have in a girls’ comic!), and turned Mrs Squall’s mind. She must have also felt guilty over her husband’s death, blaming herself for his suicide because she failed as a champion swimmer. As she’s led away by police, Sue feels sorry for her, and so do we. If Sue does become a swimming/diving champion, and we sincerely hope she does, it would go a long way towards peace for Mrs Squall. 

Slaves of the Hot Stove (1975)

Sample Images

Slaves of the Hot Stove 1aSlaves of the Hot Stove 1b

Published: Tammy 22 March to 14 June 1975

Episodes: 13

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/Reprints: None known

Plot

Madam Mange runs “The Hot Stove”, a brand-new and most exclusive restaurant in town. But the cooking is not done in the kitchens the customers see – it’s done in a secret kitchen below, which runs on slave labour. Madam Mange has been kidnapping top cooks (their disappearances have made big news) and makes them slave in the secret kitchen. The slaves also have to do all the cleaning in the restaurant. Madam goes as far as to make them dress in dirty rags (how hygienic) while they work and keeps them chained to the stove – literally. The food is sent up by dumb waiter shaft and Madam communicates with the slaves via stovepipe. When she appears in person, it is through the ventilator shaft. The guards are dumb waiters. In fact, they’re so dumb they don’t speak a word, and they don’t appear to be all that high on the brains department either. But they are frightening because they have the hulks and faces of gorillas – and at times, the temperament of gorillas.

The slaves are all resigned to their fate and believe it is hopeless to escape. Madam is also very cunning at playing head games with them. One is to play on their snobbish pride at being top cooks, such as putting them to such lowly work as floor cleaners that they are only too happy to be in the kitchen. On another occasion she saddles them with a cooking task she sells as “exciting news that offers a challenge to your skills”.

Madam Mange sets out to kidnap a schoolgirl, Carole Cook, who’s the most brilliant in her cookery class, and lures her in by special invitation. But the invitation mistakenly goes to another girl in the class who has almost the same name – Carol Cook. As a result, Madame unwittingly kidnaps the worst pupil in the cookery class. The nearest Carol can manage at serving restaurant-quality dishes is prepping chips in the family chippie. Carol decides not to tell either Madam or the slaves about the mistake, and just muddle through somehow while trying to figure out an escape before Madam finds out.

The police are sent to the restaurant to investigate Carol’s disappearance but don’t do much because Madam distracts them with delicious restaurant food. Carol hears all this through the stovepipe. Later, the slaves are sent out to buy food at the market but are kept attached to Madam with nylon strings. The policeman reappears and Carol recognises his voice. Madam gives him a special invitation to the restaurant. Carol manages to slip a secret message on it written in lemon juice. But nothing more is heard about it in the story, so it must have failed.

Carol can’t do more in the kitchen except chip spuds. She tries to hide it from Madam, but she can only get away with it for so long. Meanwhile, she gets to work on an escape through the ventilator shaft by removing one of the bars and uses a sausage to disguise it. But at the other end, the restaurant floor itself, she finds glass so thick she can’t break through or shout for help through it.

Another slave, Shirley Sands, collapses because she is a diabetic and needs sugar. Carol gives her the sugar she was planning to use for the escape. In return, Shirley covers for Carol’s lack of cookery skills. She also saves Carol’s life when Carol tries the old dustbin escape, not realising the bins were bound for the incinerator.

Now Carol and Shirley work together on the ventilator shaft escape. They break through the glass with an eggbeater and make a run for it. Carol is recaptured and Shirley gets away, but later Madam shows Carol a newspaper report saying Shirley has been found with amnesia. The amnesia was caused by drugged food Madam had sent to the slaves. This means Shirley can’t raise help.

Madam discovers the other slaves have eaten the same drugged food, which has turned them into glazed-eyed zombies who can’t remember a thing – and that includes how to cook. Carol, who is a hopeless cook, now has to cook a big lunch for a local business meeting single-handed, with only the dumb waiters to help her. Carol turns to the only thing she knows: fish and chips. Madam is mortified at this, but fortunately the businessmen are the type to enjoy it, so it’s a success. Later, Madam brings the other slaves back to normal with an antidote.

During the cooking, Carol saves a dumb waiter from being badly burned. Later, he slips something into her oven glove. He doesn’t even report her when he sees her in the ventilation shaft (which has not been sealed off although they replaced the glass at the other end). The note the waiter left informs Carol that a local health inspector is going to pay a visit. So her next plan is to make things look wrong health-wise at the restaurant and bring down a huge inspection that will surely find them.

On the night the inspector visits, Madam makes Carol work as waitress and has her teeth stuck together with special truffles so Carol can’t speak. The health inspector leaves satisfied, apart from the fake mouse Carol tried to pull. But the other slaves almost suffocate because the lift got blocked. Carol hopes that this will make them rally more with her in an escape.

One slave, Monique, helps Carol do just that when a wedding reception is held at The Hot Stove. She makes the wedding cake large enough to hide Carol in it and smuggle her out. This time, Carol succeeds in escaping.

Unfortunately, the police are finding Carol’s story hard to believe, and by the time she arrives back at The Hot Stove with them, the place is in flames. Carol believes Madam did it to destroy the evidence, and there is no trace of her or the slaves.

Carol goes back to her normal life, but nobody seems to believe her. She visits Shirley in hospital, who is still a glass-eyed zombie from the drug, and only Madam has the antidote.

Then Madam’s goons, disguised as onion johnnies, start tailing Carol. She tries to run, but Shirley’s father, Colonel Sands of Kentooky Chicken (yes, we can see what inspired that one) shows up. He believes Carol’s story and asks her to let herself be recaptured, as he has a plan to capture Madam Mange. So Carol lets the heavies take her.

Madam’s new hideout is “The Cooks Cauldron”. It’s in the back of beyond and the slaves are being held in a deep pothole. At least it’s not for long, as Madam soon returns to her old haunt. The secret kitchen was left unscathed by the fire (and not found by the police for some reason), so the slaves are back to the old slavery in a pop-up Hot Stove rising from the ashes of the old one.

Madam is all excited about an upcoming national cooking contest in the paper. However, one look at the paper and Carol realises the contest is Colonel Sands’ plot to trap Madam, and she informs the other slaves of this. They give Carol a crash course in cookery to make sure she is chosen for the contest, which finally has Carol turning out decent cookery. She is chosen. At the stadium, Carol smuggles a note to Colonel Sands that all the gang from The Hot Stove are here.

Then Carol discovers that Madam has smelt a rat. If anything happens, she will seal the place up and it will explode like a pressure cooker. And Carol can see the police closing in. She starts a pie fight as a distraction.

Madam whisks Carol and the trophy away (without winning it) to her new hot stove prison: a restaurant boat, with which she proceeds to make her getaway, slaves and all, to start all over again.

Carol uses the self-raising flour in the hold to create a giant Yorkshire pudding. It’s growing into the size of a house and will swamp the boat unless it’s burst. However, Carol has the only thing that can puncture it, and she’s not handing it over until Madam releases them and gives them the antidote for Shirley.

Madam gives in to Carol’s demands and leaves them ashore with the antidote. But she still gets away, along with her stolen trophy, and is already cooking up new schemes “to prove her greatness…the world would hear from Madam Mange again!” Or maybe not, as she never reappeared in Tammy. If a sequel with her was planned, it didn’t eventuate.

Thoughts

There have been many “slave stories” with bizarre concepts, but this one could well be the one to top them all. Nowhere is it more bizarre than the giant Yorkshire pudding escape at the conclusion. Many readers must have found this…well, let’s say…controversial. Or maybe they just burst out laughing. As it is, it’s something only the funnies can get away with, and we’re move on.

The story doesn’t go for sadistic tortures piled on thick and over the top as some slave stories do e.g. Tammy’s “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’”. Nor does Madam go for horrible punishments for Carol because of her constant escape attempts. She doesn’t do much more than throw Carol back into the kitchen. It’s probably because she thinks Carol is of value to her as a top cook, which is all the more reason for Carol to keep her from discovering the truth. All the same, the story is pushing things towards going over the top with keeping the slaves in actual rags and chains, and these great ape dumb waiters who don’t speak a word and look more like bouncers.

Madam’s motive for it all seems to be feeding her ego and making herself the biggest name in the culinary world. Even while she is forced to release the slaves she isn’t dwelling on it; as she makes her getaway, her mind’s already cooking up new ideas for proving her greatness. Not even the trophy (which she didn’t win by right) is enough for her. Her arrogance is so great she doesn’t even seem to be bothered by the long arm of the law catching up to her once her freed slaves get back to the police and Colonel Sands turns everything upside-down to find her. Plus, she gets the bonus of saving money with her racket, as she gets everything cheap by using slaves instead of proper staff, not just for the cooking but also all the cleaning of the restaurant and, at times, the waitressing. Only the dumb waiter goons are the hired help.

Madam Mange gets away with a lot because once Carol escapes, the police just don’t believe it, nor does anyone else except Colonel Sands. Furthermore, the police don’t really put their backs into finding Carol when they first show up at the restaurant to investigate. Nor do they do a proper search of the burned-out ruins, which would surely have turned up the secret kitchen, as the story later establishes it is still intact. Not even Carol’s parents seem to listen and don’t seriously ask Carol where she’s been once she returns. Where the heck do they think she’s been – Hell’s Kitchen or something? Ultimately, Madam gets away with it altogether as she sails off into the sunset on her boat. No arrest, prison term or public exposure for Madam Mange. We can only hope the law will ultimately catch up with her.

Like many protagonists in slave stories, Carol is the only one putting her back into trying to escape and not giving up. The other slaves are pretty much resigned to it, and Madam’s head games help to keep them that way. Carol is more immune because, ironically, she isn’t a brilliant chef like them. Ultimately, she progressively succeeds in getting them to help with escaping, but we never see any outright rebellion.

As with other slave stories, we get a string of failed escapes before the successful one occurs. However, the story is unusual in which it has the successful escape come earlier than the climax of the story – only to have it become a failure in its own way because people just don’t listen. Carol is not truly free because she still has the shadow of The Hot Stove hanging over her and knows that Madam is still out there somewhere with the slaves. The story takes a more unusual take in which the protagonist not only gets recaptured but has to agree to it as well because it’s part of a plan to catch Madam. It is here that we get to the climax of the story.

There is wackiness and curious humour in the way the whole thing revolves around food: the slavery; the methods used to keep the slaves in line; the trap for Madam Mange; and all the means used for escape. Maybe it’s one reason why the story is on the whole engaging and enjoyable, and it seemed to be popular. Or maybe it’s all that punning over “being a slave to your stove”, “slaving over a hot stove”, “kitchen slave”, and “chained your stove”. Perhaps someone on the Tammy team was feeling sympathetic about real-life people who felt that way or was inspired by them.

In any case, the story certainly made one such person feel differently. On 12 April 1975 a reader wrote in to thank Tammy for the story, saying, “My mum used to go on and on about how she’s chained to her stove and started to make me feel guilty every time she cooked something. When she read your story she changed her mind – now she can’t do enough cooking” – only to start nagging about where’s the next issue of Tammy so she can read what happens next.

Secret Ballet of the Steppes (1974)

Sample Images

Secret Ballet of the Steppes 1aSecret Ballet of the Steppes 1bSecret Ballet of the Steppes 1c

Published: Tammy 14 September 1974 to 30 November 1974

Episodes: 12

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?

Translations/Reprints: Tammy annual 1981

Plot

A last remnant of Tsarist Russia escaped the Russian Revolution and established itself as a Tsarism kingdom in the Steppes, where everything – including serfdom, salt mines and oppression – runs the way it was pre-1917. It has completely bypassed the Russian Revolution, Communism, Stalin, World War II, the KGB and modernity, and not even modern Russia is aware of its existence. It caters to the whims of Princess Petra, a sickly but tyrannical girl who lives only for ballet. Petra herself is in the grip of her adviser Berova, a female Rasputin type who preys on fear, oppression and superstition to keep everyone in line. Ever since Petra fell into Berova’s power, the peasants, who had enjoyed a more humane rule under Petra’s father, have suffered intolerable lives.

Petra wants to revive the ballets her court enjoyed pre-revolution, but there are no dancers. So Berova dispatches her agents to kidnap an entire British ballet company. But the agents goof up and grab a class of ballet pupils by mistake, who have never so much as danced a ballet. When the mistake is discovered, Berova is not letting the pupils go. Her mandate: perform the ballets and do them well enough to satisfy the princess, or become serfs for life.

Seeing little choice but to go along with it, pupil and main protagonist Judith Green encourages her class to start off with Carnival, as they know some of it. All the same, it is a difficult undertaking, especially as they have no proper instructors or training in organising a ballet. Moreover, they soon learn that the princess demands an exemplary performance in only a few days at the most, and has no regard as to whether they are ready or not. However, they are aided by pianist Nicolas Ikanovitch (who loses his beard very quickly for some reason) and the original choreography still on the scores.

Babs Sinclair and Clarissa Howes have no confidence in meeting the princess’ demands because they the worst dancers in the class. They try to escape but are recaptured. Judith seeks out Petra’s quarters in the hope of mercy. She discovers Petra’s passion for ballet, which Petra tries to do despite weak legs. In the hope of softening Petra she begins to teach her some ballet, which helps to strengthen her legs into the bargain. Berova discovers this and posts guards to keep Judith away from Petra.

Berova grudgingly releases Babs and Clarissa, as their imprisonment is adversely affecting the dancers. Even Babs and Clarissa perform well enough for the opening night of Carnival, which is a success. For now, the slave dancers are in favour with Petra and are safe, but one misstep could make things otherwise.

Judith finds a friend in Princess Petra’s companion, Countess Katrina. Katrina sneaks Judith into Petra’s apartments to teach her more ballet, and they hide her when Berova comes. While in hiding, Judith sees Berova has some sort of Rasputin-like hypnotic hold over Petra, and suspects the key to freedom might be breaking it.

Petra sends Judith a present in gratitude, but this makes Babs and Clarissa so jealous they demand to take the leading roles in the next performance of Carnival. This turns the performance into such a disaster that Petra faints and takes to her bed. The girls have to put on a special dance to restore her strength. Berova gives the girls only three days to prepare and present another ballet. If Petra is not happy with it, it’s the salt mines for them, the stage hands and musicians.

Nicolas advises Coppelia as the quickest to learn. It goes remarkably well all things considered, but Judith collapses from exhaustion at the end of it. Petra is persuaded to give the slave dancers a break and they are taken for a sleigh ride across the Steppes. Along the way the girls see the appalling living conditions of the oppressed serfs and how much they hate royal imperialism.

Meanwhile, there have been hints building up that Nicolas is up to something, and the girls now find out what it is: Nicolas leads them into a trap where they are captured by revolutionaries led by Igor Krof. The Russian Revolution is finally catching up to Petra.

The girls are hostages to force Petra to agree to Igor’s terms; the bargaining chip is not their lives but Petra’s obsession with ballet and Judith being her secret ballet teacher. As time passes, no news arrives and Igor and his revolutionaries vent their frustration by making slaves out of the girls.

Judith resolves to find a way to soften Igor before they are worked to death. Ironically, it’s the same as the princess: dancing. These people really love dancing. Judith conceives a ballet that incorporates the native peasant dances they are picking up and the revolutionaries’ ideals of overthrowing oppression. The revolutionaries love it and want a daily performance.

But then bad news arrives: Petra is sending the army in to crush them. The revolutionaries get ready to fight, which will mean slaughter if the two forces meet. Figuring the answer is to break Berova’s hold over Petra, Judith sets out to escape and make her way back to the palace, braving snow, blizzards and other perils of the Steppes. On the way a helicopter arrives, with a man called Joder in charge. Judith asks them for help but soon realises they are up to no good. They leave her to be torn apart by wolves, but Judith scares them off with her dancing.

Judith arrives at the Palace, and discovers Berova contacting Joder via a radio transmitter – modern technology in a place where progress stopped in 1917. She tries to warn Petra and get her to accede to the peasants’ requests, as Petra does not understand the oppression they live under. But all Petra can think of is dancing, and she orders the already-exhausted Judith to dance on and on until she collapses.

When Judith recovers she tries to speak to Petra again about the peasants, but when she speaks ill of Berova, Petra turns against her and faints in shock. Not even Katrina is listening. Judith tries again with a ballet peasant dress and uses a fusion of ballet and national dance she picked up while a hostage to get the message across to Petra that peasants are human beings too, they are being oppressed, and that is why they are rebelling. This time she makes headway.

But enter Berova, who is soon using her weird influence to frighten them all back into her power and convince them it’s all evil and Judith is “possessed by demons”. She has Judith taken away and locked up.

Back in Igor’s stronghold, the men are keyed up for a fight and getting toey and quarrelsome. Nicolas is informed about where Judith has gone and Igor thinks Judith has betrayed them. Everything is on the brink of civil war.

Judith escapes her cell and discovers Berova is planning to steal the palace treasures while everyone’s busy with the civil war. She uses Berova’s radio transmitter to call for help. A radio ham in England picks up the message – and for some reason he seems to know exactly what to do.

On the palace doorstep the soldiers are getting ready to march. Judith distracts them all with dancing. This time everyone is so impressed with Judith’s dancing that they aren’t fooled or intimidated by Berova. Now Berova’s power is finally broken, Petra sends envoys to the rebels, and civil war is averted in the nick of time. Berova tries to flee but is later picked up when help arrives from England; it seems the radio ham originated from the area. A more humane rule is established and Petra resolves to improve her country. A plane arrives to collect the ballet girls. Everyone agrees to let the Tsarist microcosm continue in secrecy from the outside world, with ballet bridging the gap between the two worlds.

Thoughts

Gerry Finley-Day, if it was indeed he who wrote this story, was certainly known for his bizarre slave story ideas. This one is no exception. A serial with slave dancers is hardly a new thing (check out The Bubble Ballerinas from Bunty for example) – but a pocket of Tsarist Russia that escaped the Russian Revolution and all the post-Revolution phases (Stalin, Communism, KGB) that should have destroyed it, and is running pre-1917 Russian oppression without the (then) Soviet Union even realising is mind-boggling.

Normally, girls’ serials, if they touched on Russian oppression, tended to focus more on Communist Russia, the Iron Curtain and the Cold War (e.g. Curtain of Silence from Jinty) than Imperialist Russia. Yet this is not Imperialist Russia; it’s a lost kingdom in Russia trapped in a microcosm that keeps it pre-1917, not only in terms of government and oppression but also in terms of development. This makes the story all the more disturbing than if it had been set in the real Imperialist Russia.

The story focuses heavily on the evils of the Tsarist oppression and the right of the peasants to rebel. For example, in one scene we see masses of starving peasants begging for food stores to be opened up to them, but the soldiers’ only answer is to open fire on them while the girls watch in horror and Berova like a vulture. A massacre in cold blood, and on hapless, starving women and children sure is disturbing, strong stuff to show in a girls’ comic. During the sleigh ride, the girls see the hovels the peasants have to live in while the princess lives in luxury.

Perhaps it is this focus on the cruelties of Berova’s regime on the peasants that keeps the story from going over the top in its cruelties to the girls. We don’t see sadistic tortures inflicted on them, particularly on the rebellious protagonist, as we see so often in other slave serials. The demands on the girls are huge and unfair e.g. being expected to piece together a ballet in five minutes flat or everyone suffers. However, it serves the purpose of the slavers to keep the girls in reasonably good nick if they are to dance for Petra. Moreover, Judith the main protagonist does not openly rebel against their situation and incur mean punishments on herself as other protagonists in similar serials have done. She sees that (for the time being) it is no use escaping because they are lost in the Steppes in the middle of deep winter. Their best bet is to do what they are told – for the time being. In so doing, they incur less harshness from their slavers than if they had openly rebelled. However, Judith is not giving up or resigning herself to her fate; she taking more of a “bide your time” sort of approach until she can figure something out – which of course she does.

Although the story does not hesitate to depict the evils of Tsarist Russia and sympathy for the revolutionaries, we don’t get a hint of Communism itself. And it’s not because the story can’t depict Communism in a sympathetic light. It’s because Communism is not the answer to ending oppression. After all, it didn’t end oppression in Russia or any other Communist country. It is not likely to have ended oppression in this Tsarist kingdom either, even if it had overthrown Berova and Petra. In fact, the story makes a strong point that rebellion and revolution are not guaranteed to free people from oppression.

If the civil war had proceeded, the rebels would most certainly have been wiped out by the army and things gotten worse than ever for the people. Simply getting rid of Berova would not help that much either. The answer is to both break Berova’s hold over Petra and for Petra to realise peasants are people too and understand it is oppression that is driving them into rebellion. It is Judith, not the rebels, who accomplishes these things. The rebels would never have done it without her. But Judith doesn’t do it through revolution. She does it by bridging the gap between Petra and the rebels with the one thing they have in common: they all love dancing one way or other. And in so doing, Judith averts a bloody civil war, frees people from oppression, and not only frees Petra from Berova’s control but also helps redeem her.

The redemption of Princess Petra is certainly atypical of many unpleasant characters in girls’ serials, but it is credible: using her love of dancing to get through to her. Although Petra is in the grip of Berova she does not come across as a weakling (despite her sickly constitution) or a puppet ruler. She is a tyrant in her own right, as evidenced when she forces a man to dance day and night because he got carried away with dance tunes. She is a haughty, cold, spoiled, self-absorbed girl who only thinks ballet and doesn’t even understand or care what’s going on in her own kingdom. In her view, people who dance for her are only there to feed her obsession with it.

Unlike most unsavoury characters in girls’ serials Petra does not change through shock treatment or hard experience. It is through using her love of ballet to teach her that other people are human beings too. By the end of the story Petra has changed into a more humane person who wants to accomplish things for her people. She still loves ballet, but we can see she will share her love of it in a more positive manner.

Of course there can be no redemption for Berova, the female Rasputin whose cruelties and power over superstitious minds almost plunge the kingdom into civil war for her own gain.

 

Katie on Thin Ice (1977)

Sample Images

Katie on Thin Ice 1

Katie on Thin Ice 2

Katie on Thin Ice 3

Published: Tammy 8 January 1977 – 9 April 1977

Episodes: 14

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is winter 1815 and it’s so cold the Thames has frozen. Katie Williams comes to the Port of London to greet her father, who is returning from the Napoleonic Wars. But bad news awaits her: Dad perished in the wars and now she’s an orphan. He has left a couple of things for Katie: a pair of ice skates and a bag of money.

The money bag is promptly snatched by a thief named Annie. Katie manages to catch up to Annie and demand her bag back. Then a cold-looking woman named Mrs Winter appears, saying she is a benefactor for Napoleonic war orphans and apologises for Annie. She offers to take Annie into her home for war orphans. The home looks respectable enough, but Katie senses something is strange about it.

Next day Katie tries out her skates on the frozen Thames and sees an angry mob chasing Susie, a girl from the orphanage. Katie helps Susie by leading them off, but then finds out too late why they were chasing her: she had stolen a necklace. Mrs Winter is now revealed to be a female Fagin type and she runs her orphanage as a den of thieves and pickpockets. As nobody will believe Katie was duped into helping Susie, Mrs Winter has snared Katie, blackmails her into crime, and says those skates and the frozen Thames will be the perfect getaway every time Katie steals.

Annie, Katie soon learns, is the most vicious of the thieves. She is also jealous of Katie because Katie has usurped her position as favourite after saving Mrs Winter’s life. Katie suspects Annie tried to kill her when a lamp warning of a hole in the ice got moved and she spots candle grease on Annie’s hand later on.

Katie is forced to go along with the racket; for the most part just watch helplessly and provide diversions on the ice while the thieves make their getaway. But she does not downright steal anything and is determined to find a way to stop it. In one attempted thieving she is pleased to mess up and go back empty handed, even though it means a beating. In another attempted raid she saves a girl’s life when Annie attempts to send her sliding to her doom over the edge. The girl is Claire Stern, ironically the daughter of a magistrate. The magistrate wants Katie to give Claire ice-skating lessons. Anxious to keep up her façade of respectability, Mrs Winter agrees.

The lessons start well, but Katie can see Annie following and out to rob the Sterns. She pulls a fast one on Annie when she tries it, which gets Annie a beating, but now Annie’s really out to get her.

Mrs Winter has the gang attempt to raid the ships, but it goes wrong and Susie is arrested. Katie manages to rescue Susie, but now Susie is seriously ill. And Mrs Winter says Katie must steal the money needed for Susie’s treatment – and stealing had been something Katie had been trying to avoid with Mrs Winter. Eventually Katie smashes an apothecary’s window to grab some medicine, but leaves money to pay it. When Miss Winter finds out, she beats Katie for not stealing.

By this time Katie has become known to the police as “the ice thief” and they are on the lookout for her. They almost nab her with a net as she makes her way back from the apothecary, but an amazing leap to grab an ice shard to rip her way through the net saves her.

But Inspector Hawkfinch, who has seen Katie skate as both the ice thief and Claire’s skating teacher, suspects her, and Katie knows it. At Claire’s next lesson he tries to trick Katie into replicating the leap, but she is too sore from the beating to do it. So it looks like suspicion is allayed. But now Katie has another problem: Claire says she is going to use her skating lessons to help the police catch the ice thief!

Claire is getting ready to set her trap on the Thames, but her speed skating is still not up to the ice thief’s and needs more coaching there. That night Mrs Winter forces Katie to go help stealing at a warehouse, saying they will kill Susie if she doesn’t. Katie warns them the police are on the lookout, and they say they will provide the decoys while Katie gets away on the ice. But Claire spots her and, as Katie is still weakened from the beating, Claire could well catch her. Katie uses a stolen tapestry like a sail to make her getaway.

But when Claire tells Mrs Winter she almost caught the ice thief, it puts Claire in danger from Mrs Winter. Katie tries to protect Claire by offering to steal Claire’s skates. But she fails, and she soon discovers Mrs Winter has set Annie onto Claire. Annie tries to set a coach toppling on top of Claire, and Katie saves her. Next, Annie tries to burn down Claire’s house, with her and Katie in it. Again, Katie’s quick action saves the day. Her own skates get damaged, though.

London is going to have an ice fair on the Thames, which means more pickings for Mrs Winter. At the fair they meet up with Claire, who says her skates got destroyed in the fire. It looks like Claire is now safe from Mrs Winter. But Susie is still sick and they are using her as a hold over Katie. Katie decides it’s time to make a break for it, with Susie. After tying up Annie, Katie tries to get away Susie away on a sledge on the Thames, but Claire catches her, revealing she managed to get her skates fixed. And Katie’s damaged skates left a trail from her house to Mrs Winter’s.

Claire now realises Katie is the ice thief, but thinks it’s Katie’s own operation. Katie tries to tell Claire it is Mrs Winter who is behind everything, but Claire does not listen. People think she’s a respectable woman and benefactor of war orphans. Katie and Susie are turned over to Mrs Winter, who locks them in the icehouse. Katie manages to get them out of the icehouse – and lock Mrs Winter’s crony Ena in the icehouse.

Katie discovers that Mrs Winter is planning to send the whole ice fair under the river by spreading salt on the ice. This is because there are people there, including Claire, her father, and her own pickpockets, who know or suspect too much. Katie meets up with Claire and her father and tries to tell them about Mrs Winter, and that she was forced into crime. They still don’t listen – until they see Mrs Winter’s charges at work for themselves and they finally suspect her. Then the salt takes effect, breaking up the ice. Katie and Claire go the rescue of many trapped people, including the pickpockets, on the ice. Everyone is pulled clear of the ice, and Katie and Claire have to sacrifice their own skates so they will be saved too.

Across the ice, Mrs Winter fumes at failing to kill them. Annie overhears her and, realising she was also intended to be a victim, takes revenge by throwing her cutpurse knife at the bag of salt at Mrs Winter’s feet. This breaks up the ice under Mrs Winter and sends her to her death in the icy waters of the Thames. Annie then clears out to find warmer and greener pastures for her pickpocketing.

Claire’s father promises the orphans he will arrange a better life for them.

Thoughts

Tammy’s choice of artist must have caught her readers by surprise. John Armstrong didn’t usually draw a period serial (though he did plenty of period stories for the Strange Stories). Or a skating serial for that matter, despite his aptitude for sports stories. By this time Armstrong was known more in Tammy for his Bella stories and only older readers would remember he once drew Tammy stories that had nothing to do with Bella. But when we view this story, we wonder why the hell he wasn’t given more of a chance to do more of such stories.

The story formula itself is one we see more often in the DCT titles, such as “The Courage of Honor Bright” (Mandy). An orphaned girl discovers too late she has fallen foul of a racket in the Fagin vein, but she refuses to become part of it. She is the one oasis of honesty and courage against a racket that has destroyed honest principles in the other waifs, whether by offerings of a good home, intimidation, abuse, or taking advantage of worse-natured children. She fights all the pressures to turn her into one of the criminal gang and desperately tries to find a way to escape and bring down the racket. The Fagin villain rues the day he or she ever ensnared this girl in the operation. It is unusual to see the formula in Tammy though, which makes the story even more of a surprise.

Mrs Winter comes from a long tradition of sinister villainesses who pass themselves off as respectable benefactors in girls’ comics. In reality, it’s a front for their criminal operation and maintaining a façade of respectability to the outside world. In this case, it’s entrapping orphans from the Napoleonic Wars and turning them into pickpockets to line her pockets. At first glance the home looks fine and the orphans well cared for. There are no hints of the child abuse that helps to maintain Mrs Winter’s hold over the orphans or the punishments (beatings, the ice house, threatening to expose a sick girl to the cold until she dies) for those who refuse to steal. Yet even before the protagonist realises the façade there are warning signs about Mrs Winter. She does look like a creepy, cold crone. Even her name is a warning and ties in with the running theme of cold and ice.

The ice-skating itself is also unusual in that it’s not being done for competitions or battling to keep up the skating against obstacles, as in most skating serials. Instead, the skating is the vehicle that both entraps the protagonist and provides her means of hope and escape against the nightmare she has fallen into. It’s beautifully drawn against the backdrop of the frozen Thames and the life and culture that used to develop on the Thames when it froze over. Those days must be bygone ones now in an age of global warming.

The theme of Katie running on thin ice runs throughout the story. The ice grows increasingly thinner in a metaphoric sense as Katie struggles to keep ahead of the tightening grip of the law before she can prove herself and find a way to escape the racket she has fallen into. The skating is both entrapping and assisting Katie, and we have to wonder which will get her first. When Claire wants to use her skating lessons to help catch the ice thief, Katie well and truly is caught in her forced double life and the thin ice is reaching breaking point.

Finally, the ice breaks up altogether – literally. It was only a matter of time. After all, spring will come and melt the ice on the Thames, which would put an end to the “ice thief”. But it’s Katie’s nemesis Mrs Winter who falls under it (below), not Katie. The only reasons Katie herself does not fall under any ice despite all the close calls are quick wits, quick reflexes, and smart moves on the ice.

Katie on Thin Ice 1
Image credit: “Katie on Thin Ice”, Tammy 1977.

The demise of Mrs Winter, cold-hearted and frosty in every sense of the word, is a shocking yet fitting one. It’s poetic justice – dying by the very means she used to try to kill everyone at the ice fair and it ties in with the thin ice thread. “You’re the one on thin ice now!” Annie mocks. We just love it. It gives us more satisfaction than Mrs Winter simply being arrested. But who would know the wanted Mrs Winter has died except Annie? Perhaps her body will be fished out of the river and they will assume she fell foul of her own scheme.

We still hope the long arm of the law will catch up to Annie eventually. After all, she is a very vicious criminal and a dangerous person, and she has a lot to answer for. Despite the period setting she belongs to the John Armstrong tradition of evil tough girls drawn like Norma Sykes from Misty’s “Moonchild“.

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.

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 dropped them 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.