Tag Archives: Sports story

Belinda Bookworm [1981]

Sample images

Belinda Bookworm 1Belinda Bookworm 2Belinda Bookworm 3

Published: Tammy 17 January 1981 to 18 April 1981

Episodes: 14

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Tina 1981-82 as “Belinda boekenwurm”

Plot

Belinda Binder has had a very bookish upbringing, by parents who think books and studying are everything and scorn non-bookish things – like sport. Even their jobs are bookish: accountant (Dad) and town hall clerk (Mum). Belinda has excelled at studying and teachers praise her for her academic work. But for some reason Belinda is finding the life of a swot and bookworm increasingly unsatisfying.

Unfortunately, in more modern parlance Belinda is a nerd, and this makes her a target for bullying. Her particular enemies are Janet Jones and Dawn Davis, who are the complete opposite of her. Sport is all they bother with at school and they don’t care about classwork at all. They are the school sports champions and have remained unbeaten. So while the form teacher is full of praises about Belinda’s work, which she contrasts with Janet and Dawn’s sloppy work that they rush so they can go out and train, the PE teacher Miss Jagger praises Janet and Dawn while looking down on Belinda. Belinda does not shine at sport, is always left out of it, and her classmates scorn her for it. Even Miss Jagger does: “Really, Belinda Binder – always sprawling all over the place!” she sneers as one of the bullies trips her up.

At this point the English teacher Miss Milton asks Miss Jagger if Belinda can be spared PE in order to help set up the new school library. While doing so, Belinda surprises herself in doing a perfect forward roll in order to avoid a nasty fall off a ladder. Following this, she begins to wonder if she really is as hopeless at sport as she thinks and maybe she will really show the PE class something next time.

So Belinda is shattered when Miss Milton tells her she is being withdrawn from PE at school because she and Miss Jagger have taken the view it is just a waste of time for her. Instead, Belinda will use those periods to assist in the library. Just when Belinda had decided she wasn’t going to be a bookworm anymore and wanted to be a sports champion instead.

Undaunted, Belinda starts using her time in the library to do secret sports training and copying the sports activities she sees out the window. Fortunately for her the new library overlooks the school sports facilities, so she can see all the PE classes that go on there. She sets up stacks up books as hurdles, uses the library desk for vaulting, the shelves to practise gymnastics, the “silence please” board to practise swimming strokes on, and so forth. She even acquires a false book that can be used to smuggle in sports gear.

At home, Belinda rigs up a dummy of herself with her dad’s reading lamp so she can sneak out and train in the streets. She has to do this as Janet and Dawn regularly pass by her window while doing their training and observe her studying.

Belinda seems to be making progress, but has no real yardsticks or overseer to gauge by how much. However, one night something happens that suggests that Belinda may be a more serious rival to Janet and Dawn than she thinks. She found her father left behind a couple of pages of a vital report and needs to be intercepted at the train station fast. As no taxis are available the only option is to run – in pouring rain – so this is the first full test of Belinda’s training. As she sets off, she does not realise she is being tested even more. Janet and Dawn, who have become suspicious of Belinda’s secret training, see her and run to catch up and verify who she is. Belinda does not realise they are following her, but she keeps ahead of them and they fail to catch up. After delivering the papers Belinda finally discovers this, while they say the mystery girl was not a bad runner and therefore couldn’t possibly have been the bookworm.

On another occasion, Belinda has been secretly practising netball throws. Afterwards Janet and Dawn grab Belinda’s false book and start throwing it around. They are astonished when Belinda manages to catch it. Another hint that Belinda is making serious progress.

But of course close calls and slip-ups are inevitable. Eventually Dawn and Janet get so suspicious that they plant themselves in the library (joining the library, ducking out of sports periods) in order to keep an eye on Belinda. So now Belinda can no longer secretly train there.

Then comes sports day. Belinda steals some time to secretly train in the library now that Janet and Dawn are out of the way. However, it is at this time that Belinda gets caught right out. Miss Milton had brought the Binder parents to the library to show them how well their daughter is working there – and they get a horrible shock to see what Belinda has been really using the library for! They take a very dim view of it all, and are not at all impressed at Belinda demonstrating how she has been progressing with sports training using her improvised sports equipment. In their view, Belinda is not an athlete and should stay with books, the way she has been raised.

Belinda goes into outright rebellion at this and decides to prove that she is not a mere bookworm anymore. She breaks away from her angry parents and teacher, runs to the sports field, and demands to enter every event. Miss Jagger is astonished, but allows it. Belinda’s parents are mortified; they think Belinda is about to make a fool of herself in front of everyone. They can do nothing but watch, ironically accepting the invite to sports day they had scorned, but not are not supporting Belinda at all. The whole school expects one big laugh out of the bookworm entering sports day.

However, Belinda’s unorthodox self-training begins to pay off. The pupils are astonished to see the bookworm do better than they expected at the hurdles:

“Hey, the bookworm’s not bad!”

“Not bad at all! She’s only just behind the leaders!”

Belinda comes fourth at the hurdling. She is placed third in gymnastics, and is beginning to earn respect from Miss Jagger. However, the Binder parents remain unmoved.

Ironically, Janet and Dawn are now so worried at Belinda proving more serious competition than expected that they begin to resort to dirty tricks and cheating to stop her rather than their skills and greater experience. At swimming, Janet flashes a mirror in Belinda’s eyes to stop her seeing the turn and enable Dawn to win. However, something makes the reflection flash back into Janet’s eyes, enabling Belinda to see the turn and finish second. Later, Belinda realises it was her mum cleaning her glasses that flashed the light back at Janet.

Finally, there is the 800-metre race, and Belinda is running against Janet. Dawn tries to nobble Belinda by dropping her book under her feet, but is caught red-handed by Miss Milton and the Binder parents. Seeing the dirty trick Dawn tried to play on Belinda, the Binder parents are finally won over and start cheering Belinda on. Encouraged by this, Belinda beats Janet – the first ever to do so – and comes first in the race. Miss Jagger is well and truly astonished at this.

The Binder parents tell Belinda she has taught them a whole new respect for sport and they now see that sports and studies complement each other. Everyone cheers Belinda as she receives her trophy – except for the seething Janet and Dawn.

Thoughts

I have often wondered if this story was the Tammy version of Jinty’s “Tears of a Clown”, which is one reason why I have posted the entry. There are some similarities between Belinda Bookworm and Kathy Clowne: they both wear glasses; they are underrated and friendless at school, which makes them the targets of bullying; they turn to sports training to gain confidence and win respect; they both have indifferent parents and teachers who don’t help them at all until near the end of the story; and they both hope entering school sports day events will get them the respect they want. Bookworm started in Tammy only two months after Clown ended, and Jinty and Tammy shared some writers. So it is possible that Clown was an inspiration for Bookworm.

Whether it was or not, there are huge differences between Bookworm and Clown that make it worthwhile to compare the two stories. While both Belinda and Kathy embark on their respective sports training in order to beat the bullies, Belinda does hers in secret while Kathy keeps striving to prove her talent, but the chief bully (or fate) keeps getting in the way. Belinda is also a more proactive heroine than Kathy, in that her secret sports training is a form of revenge against the bullies a la Revenge of the Nerds. It’s also a rebellion against her bookish upbringing and being labelled a bookworm. There is also an ironic edge to Belinda’s rebellion in that she is using the very thing she has turned her back on – books and libraries. Instead of using them to read she is using them to train, and is showing readers that there is more than one way to use a book.

In regard to the bullying, Belinda does not have it nearly as bad as Kathy. At least the teachers praise Belinda for her academic work. Kathy is bottom of everything at school, because the bullying erodes her confidence and nobody steps in to help her. But when it comes to sport, both Kathy and Belinda want to prove themselves there because that’s where they will earn respect from the people who disparage them. However, it comes in different ways for Kathy and Belinda. Kathy hoped sports day would enable her to prove her talent and win respect. Instead, it is the final humiliation that drives Kathy into running away and setting off a chain of events that redeem the people who bullied or failed her. But for Belinda, sports day is precisely where she proves herself and puts an end to the bullying – by giving the bullies their first-ever defeat at sport and thoroughly humiliating them. The unhelpful parents and school staff redeem themselves in different ways. In the case of Kathy, it’s their realising they have let her down and try to find her after she runs away. In Belinda’s case, it’s foiling the dirty tricks that the bullies start pulling on her, which makes Belinda’s parents more redeeming than Kathy’s.

There are some glaring plot holes that really stretch the story’s credibility. For one thing, no school would withdraw a pupil from PE just because they’re not good at it; only medical grounds would excuse a pupil from PE. Second, when Janet and Dawn get suspicious, they take a rather cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face approach by sitting in the library with Belinda to stop her suspected training. After all, they must loathe sitting in the library when they want to be out there doing sport with Miss Jagger. And how many times can they get away with coming up with excuses to dodge PE in order to sit in the library watching Belinda? And it’s all on mere suspicion – they have no proof. If they had any real sense they would come up with a plan to catch Belinda red-handed in the library. Most glaring of all, how is Belinda able to swim at competition standard on sports day? She is a complete non-swimmer and the only training she has had is practising strokes on the library’s “silence” notice board. The only swimming we see her do in actual water is a few strokes. So how is she able to do competitive swimming against Dawn – hidden power or something? Or did Tammy have Belinda do some actual swimming lessons off panel without telling us?

Plot weaknesses are offset somewhat by Georgetti’s caricatured, cartoony artwork, which provides the humour and helps make the story engaging. In the hands of a straight artist the story would far worked less well. But in the hands of an artist like Giorgetti, improbabilities like using torn-up books to practise long jump and high jump, and shelves to practise gymnastics are more forgiving. This is because they have a dash of humour and give the sense that they are not to be taken too seriously.

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Minnow [1980]

Sample Images

Minnow 1

Minnow 2

Minnow 3

Published: Jinty 3 May 1980 – 30 August 1980

Episodes: 12 (skipped one issue)

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Minna Purves’ class starts swimming lessons. For some reason Mum is totally against Minna going to the swimming class. She says it’s wrong for Minna, but won’t explain why. However, nobody is excused from swim class without a note, so Minna’s off to it anyway – behind Mum’s back.

Minna has no swimsuit, so she has to make do with an unflattering swimming costume from lost property (no wonder nobody claimed it!) that makes her a butt for teasing, especially from Sharon. They call her “tadpole”, but the swim coach, Miss Garrett, more kindly calls her a “minnow”, and so her nickname is born. Emma is Minna’s only friend in the class.

Surprisingly, Minna soon finds she is a natural in the water and Miss Garrett even thinks she will become a very good swimmer. But when the waves machine comes on, Minna has a strange panic attack that she can’t explain (hmm, could this be what Mum was on about?). Following this, it becomes obvious Miss Garrett will have to give Minna some special attention if she is to regain confidence and carry on swimming.

Mum finally tells Minna that her father was drowned at sea, which gave her a phobia about water and losing Minna to it (but is that all there is to it?). In Minna’s view, this is all the more reason to improve her swimming. The coach for the local swimming club, Mr Byrnes, comes scouting out the class for new members, and Minna wants to join. They do trial laps to get into the club, but the noise from the cheering has Minna going off into another panic attack. This time there is a flashback too, of clouds and seagulls. Minna is pulled out and despite the mishap, Mr Byrnes wants her to join. But there are two problems: first, Minna has to pay fees, and second, she needs the signature of a parent/guardian. Minna addresses the first with her savings, which is easy enough. As for the second, well, she has little choice but to forge Mum’s signature.

While looking for something to copy Mum’s signature from, Minna finds other surprises that deepen the mystery: old letters in a foreign language, and a photograph of her mother and father holding swimming trophies. Later, when Minna wonders why her mother never lets her handbag out of sight, not even indoors, she can’t resist opening it – and finds an Olympic gold swimming medal with her father’s name on it. When Minna tackles Mum about it, Mum says it’s best for Minna not to know why.

That evening Minna goes to the swim club. To her consternation, bully Sharon is there too, but at least Emma is there also. When trying to dive off the diving board, the faces in the water and their voices yelling for Minna to jump set off another panic and she runs off, screaming that she has got to get away or she will drown like her father. As Minna runs off she unwittingly knocks Sharon into the pool, which makes Sharon hate her even more. Minna is encouraged to return to the water later, when there are no voices or faces, and her love of water returns.

Miss Garrett gives Minna a better swimsuit so Sharon will stop teasing her over the old one. But Miss Garrett also wants to question Mum about the strange panic attacks, not realising Minna is swimming behind her mother’s back. Minna does some quick thinking and says Mum is not in – which turns out to be true, as she’s late home from work.

At the next swim session, Sharon has the girls all teasing Minna by splashing water at her – which triggers off another panic attack. Sharon is stricken with remorse when she sees she nearly caused Minna to drown and she has to be pulled out. From then on she gives Minna no more trouble. Minna remembers more from the strange flashback: this time she saw mist over the water. But it all fades again. Miss Garrett says she seems to remember a bit more each time, and Minna finally tells her not to approach Mum about the matter because of the upset it could cause.

Newspaper reporters come in to do a feature on the swim club – and they would take a photo of Minna jumping off the diving board, which makes the front page the next day! Minna tries to hide it from Mum, but of course she finds out eventually. After the initial shock and anger, Mum agrees to let Minna continue with swimming, but she says something odd: “I think the damage may already be done…” Now what can she mean by that? Mum also says that she couldn’t save Minna’s father from drowning, but then Minna wonders how this could be if Mum and Dad were champion swimmers. She realises Mum is not telling her the full story and there is more to it. Mum also seems to be getting more overprotective in her behaviour when she suddenly starts collecting Minna from the swim club. While she does so, Mr Byrnes seems to think he knows her from somewhere.

Then two suspicious-looking men take a photo of Minna and Mum outside the club and drive off in a hurry, and they are clearly not reporters. The strange men send Mum off into a real fright. She whisks Minna off home and locks the place tight. She says it’s something she’s been dreading all of Minna’s life but still won’t explain what the hell is going on.

That night, Minna has more nightmares of the strange flashbacks, and this time she dreams she is a drowning baby with yelling voices all around her. One voice yells, “Leave me. Save the baby!” But as always, it fades.

Next day, Mum goes out to withdraw all their savings and tells Minna not to let anyone in. But the sinister men return and, with the unwitting help of a neighbour, make their way in and kidnap Minna. They tie her up and take her to a ship, which has notices written in the same language as Mum’s letters. They won’t explain what the kidnapping is about because they assume Mum has done it already (which she hasn’t). And then the ship starts sailing.

However, Minna manages to break out when a man brings her food (stupid idiot left the door open while untying Minna’s hands!) and she dives off the ship. (You will find it all on the Peter Wilkes page in the panel gallery.) The swim back to shore in the cold water tests all her new swimming skills to the limit, but she makes it – just.

Minna arrives home, where Mum and Mr Byrnes are so relieved to see her. Mum says the men were using Minna as blackmail to force her to return home, which is an Iron Curtain Eastern European country. Mum met Minna’s father at the Olympic Games, where he won his gold medal (and Mr Byrnes a bronze, which is how he came to know her). When Mum’s home country would not allow her to go to England with her new husband and newborn Minna, he tried to help her escape by boat. But it all went horribly wrong when fog caused the boat to founder against some rocks. Mum managed to save baby Minna from the water, but Dad was killed. Minna realises that this disaster was what she had been recalling in her flashbacks, and now she can see it in its entirety for the first time.

Mum made it to England with Minna, but has always lived in dread of her Iron Curtain home country catching up with her and dragging her back. This was the real reason why she had been so opposed to swimming, and she even gave it up entirely. She also realised her home country would try to grab Minna once they realised what a good swimmer she was, because they never give up.

Sure enough, the men come back to try again. However, the police are waiting for them this time. The police say they will arrange for Mum to remain in England. Mr Byrnes says it would be easier if she married another Englishman (hint, hint!).

A few weeks later, Mum is back in the swim with her new husband (Mr Byrnes, of course). Minna’s panic attacks have disappeared, and she is learning more and more about swimming from her Olympic champion parents.

Thoughts

This story must have been popular, because it prompted one reader to write to Jinty on how she loved the mystery and leaving everything unexplained until the last episode so readers could keep having a go at solving it. She also asked Jinty to write more mystery stories, which was a suggestion Jinty didn’t seem to take up much for the remainder of her run.

Girls always loved mystery serials. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to guess that Minna’s strange flashbacks, Mum’s opposition to Minna learning to swim, and Dad’s death from drowning are all connected. The mystery is just how they are connected. It deepens when Minna finds evidence that both her parents were swimming champions, so what’s turned Mum off the swimming that made her a champion? It gets even more tantalising when it becomes more and more obvious that Mum is not telling the whole truth. Not even when the sinister men show up, which makes the situation cry out for her to tell Minna everything.

When the creepy men appear in the story, their introduction makes it evident that Mum is not just some problem parent who is unreasonably opposed to the swimming because she was traumatised by a tragedy associated with it, as other parents in similar stories are. It becomes even more so when Mum starts behaving that she is clearly in hiding and making preparations to run away. This not only deepens the mystery still more but also makes it even more exciting. And when Minna is kidnapped by the strange men who won’t tell her what’s going on either and have her bound for some unknown destination, it all comes to a very exciting and dramatic head.

This is the first Jinty story since “Curtain of Silence” to use the topic of the Iron Curtain. As with “Curtain of Silence”, it uses sport and kidnapping as part of the Iron Curtain oppression. Unlike “Curtain of Silence”, however, the Iron Curtain element is not revealed until the end of the story, and it’s all part of the mystery that permeates the story right up until the final episode. We don’t even know the name of the Iron Curtain country or exactly who the kidnappers are. It also raises the disturbing question of just how much people who manage to flee the Iron Curtain ever fully escaped from it. Even in a democratic country, did the shadow of the Iron Curtain continue to hang over them in one way or other?

Curtain of Silence (1977)

Sample images

Curtain 1

(Click thru)

Curtain 2

(Click thru)

Curtain 3

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

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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