Tag Archives: supernatural

Hangman’s Alley [1979]

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Published: Misty #86, 29 September 1979 – #90, 27 October 1979

Episodes: 5

Artist: Jesus Redondo

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Best of Misty #5

Plot

Mel and Jacey Coombs and their mother move into an apartment above an old alley. It used to be called Hangman’s Alley because condemned criminals were taken through this alleyway from the gaol on the marsh to execution on Gallows Hill. Mum tries to hide this grim past from her daughters, but it’s no use. Their arrival has stirred up the ghosts – literally. The ghost of a servant girl who was wrongly executed returns from beyond the grave when the family move in, and she is full of bitterness and hatred. She is taking out her hatred on Mel, for no other reason than Mel is a dead ringer for her. She almost attacks Mel in the bedroom, and later she lures Mel onto a bridge in a trance and tries to throw her off.

Jacey, the only one who can sense or see the ghost, discovers what the ghost is trying to do, and confronts the ghost in a bid to save Mel. The ghost informs Jacey, through a series of visions, that she was wrongly executed for stealing a pearl necklace from her mistress. The evidence against her was extremely flimsy. She was cleaning her mistress’s jewellery and another servant saw her admiring the pearl necklace while doing so. On this alone, everyone just assumed she stole the necklace when the mistress found it missing later on. She was dragged to the gallows protesting her innocence, but in vain; angry people were yelling for her execution on all sides. Jacey strikes a deal with the ghost: she will clear the ghost’s name if the ghost will leave Mel alone.

Having read up the history of Hangman’s Alley, Jacey knows where to find the old gaol. At the gaol the ghost directs her to her name, which she gouged into the wall: Melinda Walpole. At least Jacey now knows the ghost’s name. However, Jacey is caught for trespass and gets into big trouble with Mum, especially as she skipped school to go there in the first place.

Unfortunately Jacey’s investigation is making slow progress. The ghost is getting impatient and her impatience is making her increasingly dangerous. The investigation is being further impeded by distractions the family unwittingly put up. The family host a housewarming party, but Jacey sees Melinda the ghost while doing preparations and realises Mel has gone. She finds Mel collapsed in the alley and a warning from Melinda written in cherryade on the wall, which Jacey realises is a warning it could be blood next time. The message reads, “Remember the promise or next time…”

Thinking Jacey is off colour, Mum sends her to the doctor, and the wait in reception is interminable. It’s another holdup on the investigation and more strain on Melinda’s patience. But at least Jacey gets another clue while waiting, in a magazine. It is an article on an old house, and one of the photos shows Melinda’s signature etched on the wall. So now Jacey has located the house Melinda worked in. It is now facing development while others want to preserve it.

Jacey goes to the house and heads for the old servants’ quarters to find the etching. Mel follows, and Jacey tells her she’s playing grand lady to cover up what she is really doing. Hearing this, Melinda thinks she has been mucked around long enough. Her patience snaps, and she locks them in the old servants’ quarters and sets the house on fire. While fighting their way out, a wall partition gives way and Jacey finds an old box hidden in there. They make their way out safely and a huge crowd gathers. Among them is a reporter hoping for a story that will help save the house.

He gets it when Jacey opens the box. It contains the stolen necklace and a written confession from the thief (whose identity is not revealed). She had contracted smallpox from the crowd while watching Melinda being executed. She was left to die in the attic, but before she did she wrote the confession. She then put the necklace and confession in the box and hid it in the wall.

The publicity the confession creates in the press saves the house and it is converted into a museum. Jacey is given the necklace as a reward. Melinda, speaking for the very first time to Jacey, puts the necklace on Jacey herself, and says she can rest in peace now her name has been cleared.

Thoughts

Serials about servants being wrongly accused are commonplace in girls’ comics, and serials about wrongly accused servants coming back as ghosts are not unusual either. “Shivery Shirley” from Bunty and “The Sad Ghost” from June are examples of such ghosts. But this one is particularly morbid for several reasons.

First, the wrongly accused servant is actually executed instead of simply dying in miserable circumstances as her counterparts mentioned above do. And she was not merely dismissed, imprisoned or transported – she was executed.

Second, the ghost, while having a sympathetic backstory and situation, is not very sympathetic as a character. Instead of crying out for help she is extremely malevolent and the atmosphere her presence creates is described as “evil”. Her maliciousness may be the product of the bitterness over the injustice, but there is no apparent reason for why she is attacking Mel or why she is taking it all out on Mel. And she simply has no excuse for attacking Mel either, as Mel had nothing to do with the injustice. So why the hell is she doing it? At least with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”, another malevolent ghost in Tammy, there was a psychology to her behaviour that we could understand and it made her haunting more realistic. In the case of Melinda Walpole there is none and we just don’t get it – why is she acting in that way to Mel?

Finally, the depiction of Hangman’s Alley and the executions are gruesome and atmospheric. The hatching, linework and inking of Jesus Redondo renders it all brilliantly. We hear references to criminals being taken to the “gibbet” and there “die horribly”. And the flashback of Melinda being dragged to execution gives the impression her execution was little more than a lynching.

The story is not long at five episodes. Considering Melinda’s conduct and the slowness of Jacey’s investigation, this probably is just as well, and it does make the plotting very tight. The danger of the ghost gives a sense of urgency to get things done fast but things are just moving too slowly, which makes it even more worrying for Jacey and more dramatic for us readers. However, the ending feels like it came a bit too soon, and the menace of Melinda was too short-lived.

At the end of the story it is not revealed who the thief really was when her confession is found. Was it the servant who saw Melinda admire the necklace or was it someone else? Not being told whodunit is infuriating. The ending would have been better if the identity of the thief had been revealed.

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The Shadow of Sherry Brown [1981-82]

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 28 November 1981 – 13 February 1982

Episodes: 11

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Katy Bishop is taken in by new guardians, Mr and Mrs Brown, in agreement with her gran, who is no longer capable of minding her. Katy is not impressed to find that the Browns’ interest in her was prompted by her being a dead ringer for their daughter Sherry, who had died eighteen months before. She is upset and angry at the unfairness of being in the shadow of their daughter and being given her room and things, as if Sherry were still alive, and making them feel she is alive again too. But Katy soon finds that is the least of her problems.

The daughter Sherry may be dead, but she is far from gone. Her ghost haunts the place, appearing as a shadow. The ghost is spiteful, jealous and vicious towards Katy whenever Katy acquires something – or someone – that was once hers. There are no limits to what Sherry is capable of to protect her former possessions from Katy, even if it comes close to murder. Even Sherry’s former friends and horse get attacked by the ghost if Katy gets too close to them.

Katy hears that Sherry had an extremely severe jealousy streak when she was alive. If anyone intruded on her friendship with Joan, her best friend, she would fly into a fury, and even attack Joan. She always apologised afterward and “all was all sweetness and light again”, but her jealousy always remained her biggest failing. The source of this information (above) is questionable as the girl who tells Katy this is the only one who did not like Sherry. And Sherry did have loads of friends, including Joan. All the same, it fits the pattern of the ghost’s conduct.

As Katy can’t really leave the Browns, Sherry can’t really get rid of her, short of actually killing her or something. Katy just tries to avoid anything that was once Sherry’s. But no matter how hard she tries she always seems to bump into one of Sherry’s former possessions, and the jealous ghost attacks her yet again. Moreover, the ghost can strike from anywhere; she’s not just confined to the home. The ghost is a shadow in more ways than one. She can stick to Katy like a shadow and be ready to strike the moment Katy finds anything of hers. Katy is forced to give up on things and people once she finds out they were once Sherry’s, including Sherry’s best friend Joan and her horse Snowball – and she liked them both so much.

Of course Katy can’t really settle down with the Browns because of Sherry or be happy living there. She always has the feeling of being threatened and lives in a constant state of fear. She can’t explain what’s going on. When she tries, nobody listens. Nobody else seems to see that shadow or sense the threatening, hostile atmosphere it projects towards her. She daren’t even refer to the Browns as “Mum” and “Dad”, much to their bewilderment and disappointment. But with the Browns now her guardians, she can’t leave the house and be free of Sherry forever.

Matters come to a head when the Browns’ wedding anniversary comes up. Having learned they like collecting miniature houses, Katy sets out to buy one at a gift shop. But then the shadow appears, and smashes all the goods and wrecks the shop. Outside Joan sees what is going on – and this time she does see the shadow, and it’s the shadow that’s causing the damage.

The shop owner thinks Katy caused the damage, of course. Joan backs up Katy’s protests of innocence. As the shop owner would not believe about the shadow, Joan tries to convince her it was vibration from passing lorries. The shop owner agrees not to call the police, but bans them both from her premises, as she is not fully convinced.

Realising Joan also saw the shadow, Katy tells her everything. And yes, Joan can feel the sense of being threatened too. But why did Sherry attack the shop?

Joan explains that it was because of how Sherry died (of which it is now the anniversary). Exactly two years ago now, she bought a wedding anniversary gift for her parents from the shop, but got so excited about it when she saw Joan across the road that she forgot to watch the traffic and got hit by a lorry. With her dying breath she told Joan she was disappointed that her parents would not receive her gift, which got smashed in the accident. By rotten luck it was identical to the one Katy was about to buy, and this must have really pushed the shadow over the edge.

They realise this disappointment is why Sherry couldn’t rest in the first place. So they figure that if the parents do get the gift her ghost will be laid to rest. Fortunately Joan still has the pieces. So they repair it and give it to the parents on Sherry’s behalf. Sure enough, they soon find they no longer feel threatened or have the shadow hanging over them.

Thoughts

This was one of the new stories to be launched when the Tammy & Jinty merger started. The merger gives the impression it was still using unpublished scripts from Misty, and this serial looks like it was one of them. Neither Tammy nor Jinty would have come up with such a malicious, spiteful ghost, but it is something Misty would definitely have gone for. Besides, the story is drawn by a former Misty artist who had not been a regular in either Tammy or Jinty before.

Tammy didn’t have all that many ghost stories (perhaps it was the long-standing Storyteller providing so much spooky material), but there is no doubt that “The Shadow of Sherry Brown” is the most frightening and disturbing one that Tammy ever published. In fact, Sherry Brown is one of the most terrifying ghosts ever to appear in girls’ comics. It’s not just because the ghost’s jealousy is making her so dangerous to Katy. It’s also because she acts so viciously even to those she once liked (Joan, Snowball) if they get to close to Katy or her heart. It’s not just terrifying; it’s repugnant as well. The ghost would be even more despicable if she had attacked her parents in the same way. And what makes the haunting even more miserable for the victim is that there is no escaping it wherever she goes, short of leaving the Browns for good. No matter where Katy turns, she comes up against it one way or other.

It is fortunate for Katy that what caused the haunting in the first place has nothing to do with Sherry’s jealousy. It’s disappointment over a failure (and a pretty minor failure at that). It is something that can easily be fixed once it is explained. In fact, Sherry could have explained it to Katy herself and asked for her help in solving her problem, if only she had thought of it. After all, getting rid of Katy would not get the gift to her parents, which is what she really wants if she is to rest in peace. But it seems Sherry was just too consumed with jealousy and possessiveness to think clearly on that point, and was cutting off her nose to spite her face there.

Glenda’s Glossy Pages [1975]

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Glenda 3

Published: Tammy 13 September 1975 – 15 November 1975

Episodes: 11

Artists: Mario Capaldi, plus Tony Highmore as a filler artist in one episode

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Tammy 1 October 1983 – 10 December 1983; De geheimzinnige catalogus [The Mysterious Catalogue] in Tina Boelboek 4, 1984

Plot

Glenda Slade lives with her widowed mother. Mrs Slade works in a low-paid job, so they live a poor existence. They are so poor that the only thing Glenda has to wear is her school uniform (which Mum had to scrape for). At school, spoiled and snobby rich girl Hilary loves to bully Glenda over her poor background.

Then one day a woman knocks at the door and shows Glenda a beautiful catalogue that is packed full of gorgeous items to order. Glenda is blown away and wants to order from the catalogue immediately. Her mother reminds her that they cannot afford it. Glenda decides to keep the catalogue in secret so she can at least dream about the items. The woman agrees and gives Glenda a strange, ominous smile as she leaves.

Glenda is surprised when the items she circles start appearing at her front door for real and there is no apparent bill to pay. Thrilled at having nice things for the first time in her life, she starts circling more and more items, which continue to appear with no apparent price to pay. At school, the items make her the centre of attention and she is pleased to get one up on Hilary, who is being pushed out as the one to admire because the girls now swarm around Glenda and the things she is getting. Even Glenda’s face is beginning to change, and she is amazed that she is beginning to look like the model in the catalogue. Hilary is jealous and then suspicious about these items of Glenda’s.

But odd, worrying things start happening to Glenda. Among them, Hilary calls the police in to investigate the items (more of her spite towards Glenda). Of course they do not believe Glenda’s story about the catalogue. But when they try to take the items they get a strange electric shock, which frightens Glenda.

Then, at the swimming pool, Glenda discovers a shocking, inexplicable change in her personality and behaviour. Hilary is having an attack of cramp in the pool, but Glenda, who is the nearest, just leaves her to drown and makes no attempt to save her at all. Glenda herself cannot understand why she acted in this way. When she realises there can only be one answer, the catalogue begins to well and truly scare her. The girls save Hilary, and in the wake of this incident, Hilary rises again as the centre of the girls’ attention while Glenda is sent to Coventry. Hilary is delighted at Glenda’s downfall. In fact, when Glenda tries to apologise to Hilary, Hilary just pulls a false act of Glenda bullying her in order to get her into even deeper trouble with the girls.

Finally, the police arrest Mrs Slade over the mystery items. They have no evidence against her, but she has a criminal record, and that is enough for them. They don’t know or believe she has reformed to the point where she has raised Glenda to be extremely strict about honesty.

Glenda is appalled at how everything is getting just worse and worse for her. And worst of all, she has a feeling the catalogue is not even through yet.

The woman appears again. Glenda confronts her and urges her to tell the police how she got the items from her catalogue for free. The woman tells Glenda that nothing in the world is free and she has to pay. Glenda then realises that she has paid after all – with all the misery and trouble she has gone through because of the catalogue. She now understands that the woman and her catalogue are evil, and they were all out to play on her greed to get her into trouble. The woman tells Glenda that she will go on paying. But Glenda is determined to beat the woman. When Glenda finds she cannot destroy or dispose of the catalogue, she tries to break its power by getting rid of the all the lovely items it brought her and sending them to a charity shop. It’s a wrench for poverty-stricken Glenda, turning her back on those beautiful things, but it does the trick. She is now able to throw the catalogue out and leaves it for the dustmen.

But Mrs Slade, who is released for lack of evidence (or maybe because of the temporary break in the catalogue’s power?) finds the catalogue and now she is the one who is tempted. Ignoring Glenda’s warnings, she orders as many items as possible so as to win the mystery prize the catalogue is offering. When the prize arrives, it is a lighter in the shape of a skull. Later, Glenda realises that a skull stands for death, and gets a horrible thought as to the price Mum is to pay. She manages to get out of school (thanks to nasty Hilary ripping her one and only skirt for a ‘joke’), rushes home to check up on her mother, and finds the skull lighter has started a fire.

The fire is spreading fast, and the skull itself seems to be fanning the flames. All the same, Mum is reluctant to evacuate and leave her lovely things behind, so Glenda has to do some persuading to make her agree to do so. However, they discover all the glossy pages’ furniture has suddenly moved to block all the exits and won’t budge. Clearly, the price the catalogue intends them to pay is for them both to perish in the fire. However, Glenda manages to create an exit by throwing the catalogue itself out the window, which makes the flames at the window die down enough for them to escape through the window. Across the street, Glenda sees the evil woman is watching, and the woman is looking absolutely furious that she and her glossy pages have failed. However, the emergency services whisk Glenda and her mother away before Glenda gets a chance to retrieve the book and stop someone else from falling into its power.

A few days later, Glenda and her mother are discharged from hospital. Their old house got destroyed, so they are given a new one. Glenda’s mother is relieved that at least their new start will be an honest one, even if it is from scratch. Glenda went back for the catalogue, but failed to find it. Glenda does not know that Hilary picked up the book while dropping by to gloat over the destruction of her home, and recognised those mystery items of Glenda’s in it. And rich girl though she is, Hilary is tempted by the catalogue and sets out to make herself the envy of all the girls with it…

Thoughts

This particular “wish-fulfilment with the inevitable catch in it somewhere” story has been an enduring one in Tammy. On the Internet it still attracts positive comment and is clearly well remembered. One reason has to be that Pat Mills wrote it. Pat Mills has established himself as one of the best writers in British comics, such as in 2000AD, Battle and Misty. He has written many classics in girls’ comics, including ones from Jinty herself, such as “Land of No Tears” and “Concrete Surfer”.

The themes the story explores also help to make it an enduring one: greed, fantasy, temptation, rags-to-riches, bullying, jealousy, the supernatural, the macabre, and the threat of the Grim Reaper. The protagonists themselves are ones who remain sympathetic, even when the power of the catalogue leads them so much that their personalities begin to harden, they lose common sense and sight of themselves, and become increasingly consumed by the temptations the catalogue is offering. Glenda at least has enough sense and virtue to notice the warnings. It takes a while for her to heed the warnings enough to stop using the catalogue, not least because it is so hard to break away from having nice things for the first time in her life. But as the nightmare intensifies and the evil increasingly obvious, she finally finds the strength to do so.

Mrs Slade becomes even more consumed by greed than her daughter. This would be partly because she has not received increasing danger signals as Glenda had. But it could also be rooted in her once being a criminal. Glenda’s birth made her go straight and she clearly resolved to bring Glenda up so strictly about honesty that she would not follow that deviant path. Mum was successful there until the catalogue came along. The catalogue did not make Glenda an outright criminal, but it did corrupt her and make her stray off the honest path her mother set her on. Mum, meanwhile, is tempted because although she had stayed honest, she felt that going straight had not lifted her out of the poverty she and Glenda had always lived in and it never seemed to do her any real good. It was these feelings that made it so easy for the catalogue to tempt her.

The only truly good thing to come out of the catalogue was Glenda and her mother being given a new home and a new start. We hope it will be the start of a better life for them. In any case, we know Mum has returned to the straight path when she says that at least they will start honestly. And after they have been through with the catalogue, we imagine they will stick to the honest path even more assiduously.

At the end of the story, Hilary also falls into the grip of the catalogue. Unlike the Slades, however, we do not sympathise with her when she does so. In fact, we feel like hoping the catalogue will give Hilary her comeuppance. She already has plenty of things of her own, and unlike the Slades she can afford them because she is so rich. She has no real need for the catalogue, yet she is tempted all the same. The catalogue is clearly playing on Hilary having far less moral fibre than Glenda Slade and being a more nasty character. Throughout the story Hilary has been portrayed as nothing but a spoiled, bullying snob who is always out to stick her knife into Glenda, just because she is poor. Hilary does not even have an ounce of sympathy at Glenda losing her home: “What a shame the scruff’s house was burnt down – I don’t think.” If there were a sequel to this story, which there isn’t, we would like to see how the trouble Hilary gets into with the catalogue improves her personality and makes her nicer to Glenda by the end of the story.

The ending itself is a skilful one that makes the storytelling even more powerful. Instead of the catalogue being destroyed and never able to tempt anyone again, the story ends on a grim, ominous reminder that evil is continuous. In fact, we would not be at all surprised if this woman distributes these evil catalogues all over the place, targeting the people she thinks would be the easiest to tempt, like the poverty-stricken Slades.

The Haunting of Hazel [1975-1976]

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Published: 11 October 1975 – 24 January 1976

Episodes: 16

Artist: thought to be Santiago Hernandez, but now disputed

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Hazel en haar berggeest [Hazel and her Mountain Ghost] in Tina 1976/77, Tina Topstrip 27 (1981)

Plot

A group of girls are heading towards Black Crag Mountain for a course in mountaincraft and are looking towards a national championship. The group leader, Hazel Grenilda Williams, is being haunted by nightmares and feelings of foreboding. Rightly so, for the locals tell the girls that Black Crag has always had a reputation for being evil. Black Crag is said to be at its worst when it’s shrouded in mist, because that is when the evil really brews. Lately Black Crag has gotten worse, and is killing and maiming people. The locals live in dread of Black Crag and many have even been driven away. Hazel gets the same impression of the mountain when she sees it and is full of more foreboding and shivers. She feels Black Crag is like a great big beast waiting for prey. Yet she also has a fascination for Black Crag and feels drawn to it.

More mystery follows when Hazel finds a section of the guesthouse they are staying in, which is converted from an old school, has been sealed off and she is warned not to go beyond the locked door. A cleaner at the guesthouse, Annie, reacts strangely when she hears Hazel’s full name. Annie gets in a panic when a flock of crows mysteriously follow Hazel and her friend Gwen home, because the crows are Black Crag’s evil spirits and bring bad luck to the village. A letter from Hazel’s family arrives warning her not to go to Black Crag, but it’s come too late; Hazel’s already there.

Hazel has been having horrible feelings about Black Crag and now thinks they must be connected to psychic powers, which her family has a history of. She decides to investigate the locked door while having an odd feeling that she knows the place. Beyond the locked door Hazel and her group find a musty old library. In a book of old school records she finds a reference to another Grenilda. She is surprised as she thought nobody outside her family used the name. A page has been torn out just as it was about to record the details of Grenilda.

The group instructor, Miss Price, is injured when she falls through rotten floorboards in the library. She can’t join in the mountaincraft, which the girls start practising. However, rumblings are growing in the group that Hazel is not fit to lead. She has been acting out of character ever since they arrived, is letting that superstitious nonsense get to her, and is becoming irresponsible. The rumblings grow even more when Hazel goes off track during compass reading practice, which prompts a search.

Hazel went off track because her powers draw her to a new ally, Old Marnie the Witch. Old Marnie has psychic powers too and the locals call her a witch because of it. She tells Hazel Black Crag respects courage, so when she defied it, it left her alone. Hazel tells Old Marnie how Black Crag both terrifies and fascinates her and Old Marnie says it’s because they both have similar powers. Later Old Marnie tells Hazel that Black Crag acts the way it does because it has many enemies who misuse it. But if they befriend Black Crag, it can bring good instead of evil. Old Marnie had tried and failed and hopes Hazel will succeed.

A crow shows up again and it causes Hazel to stumble into a graveyard. One of the tombstones reads “Grenilda Williams”. And the tombstone is a new one! Hazel faints at the sight and Annie’s father, Albert Mann, sees her and carries her to the guesthouse. While she regains consciousness, she speaks in a strange manner. Mann is very surprised at this, because it is the old mountain dialect, which is supposed to be extinct. Miss Price informs Hazel that a trust was set up to renew that tombstone each year, which is why it was new. Grenilda is a local girl who died over 100 years ago in strange circumstances.

Hazel is also in further trouble because she left the girls on the mountain while going off after the tombstone. She and Mann go in search of the girls, and find them with the mysterious aid of the crows. After this, there is serious talk of cutting the mountaincraft course short because of Hazel.

Eventually Hazel is given another chance and they go climb Black Crag. No sinister happenings are occurring so far, but Hazel comes across evidence that someone is planting dynamite on Black Crag and it is causing explosions. If that is the case, Black Crag will surely cause even more trouble.

A violent thunderstorm forces the party to shelter in a hut. Hazel finds the name Grenilda Williams again. She senses Grenilda is haunting the place and Grenilda wants her to do something. Grenilda leads Hazel to a cupboard, where Hazel finds what looks like a Bible, a string of beads and a lock of hair. Later, Hazel finds writing at the front of the Bible that could be a clue, but it is very faded.

The party arrive back successfully and even save Old Charlie’s sheep, which they rounded up on the mountain. Charlie is grateful for this, but when he learns what Hazel has found in the hut, he warns her not to meddle. Mann seems oddly angry at Hazel saving the sheep. He then gives Hazel a telegram for Miss Price, which informs her that she must leave for a few days and leave Hazel on charge on her own.

Grenilda then summons Hazel back to the library, where Hazel finds Grenilda’s old diary. In it, Grenilda criticises the dangerous use of child labour in a silver mine on Black Crag. She speaks to the mine owner about it, but he just throws her out, saying they are the only ones small enough to go through the narrow shaft in the heart of Black Crag. Black Crag tells her such exploitation will end in disaster. Sure enough, a violent thunderstorm causes a cave-in, and Grenilda says it is the mountain’s curse on the exploitation. Children are still trapped down there; Grenilda is the only one thin enough to go down the shaft, and she feels Black Crag wants her to do it. A newspaper clipping says she rescued them, but she died doing so. The remorseful mine owner set up the trust to renew her tombstone each year.

Just then Steffie from the mountaincraft party decides Hazel deserves a little scare. But Hazel is such a bag of nerves from the haunting that the fright makes her go absolutely crazy with fright and she runs off. She finds herself back at Grenilda’s grave, and the ghost warns her that there is danger for her under the school roof and she is not to go back.

At this, Hazel drags the girls right out of the place and into camping in terrible weather on Black Crag. On the way they pass Annie, who says it’s the dark of the moon, when Black Crag is at its most dangerous, and she’s got a charm from Old Marnie to protect her. One of the girls breaks her leg and Hazel braves the mountain and terrible weather to get the doctor, with the aid of Grenilda. She succeeds, but the girls have had enough of her bizarre behaviour and send her to Coventry. The course continues without Hazel, but at least it gives her more time to pursue the mystery.

Grenilda is helping Hazel out while they do more investigating at the old school. She does not realise Mann is watching and does not like what she is doing. She learns Grenilda saved her brother from the mine, and he is Hazel’s ancestor. Now she realises why her parents wanted her to stay away from Black Crag and why the name Grenilda runs in her family.

Miss Price returns, and when she hears what has been going on she sends Hazel packing. Hazel isn’t having that, so she jumps off the train at the next stop and walks back, but finds the terrain unfamiliar and tough going. Grenilda brings help in the form of Old Marnie. They head for Grenilda’s old home on Black Crag. Old Marnie warns Black Crag is extremely disturbed and angry, and then Grenilda warns Hazel that something evil is approaching.

That evil turns out to be Mann and an accomplice. Hazel overhears Mann saying that he has been trying to scare those girls out of the school, presumably by having Annie winding them all up with scary stories about Black Crag. Once they are gone he does he will move on to the final part of the plan. But it isn’t just the girls he has been scaring; he has also been scaring the villagers into selling their land for a pittance because he wants to reopen the old silver mine. The men have been dynamiting their way through the blocked workings to reach the silver. Hazel now realises why Black Crag is angry. She heads off to tell Old Marnie and spread the word about Mann. On the way Hazel hears a terrible wailing, and Old Marnie tells her it is the Crying Stone, which only wails when something terrible is about to happen to the village.

Hazel then realises the girls are on Black Crag and in danger from a growing thunderstorm, so she must get to them. She makes a most dangerous short cut up a sheer rock face to do it, with Grenilda’s help. Hazel proceeds to get the girls off the mountain in the face of the bad weather. This is followed by dangerous landslides, which Hazel believes are the result of the angry mountain speaking out. Miss Price is so impressed with Hazel’s heroism she overlooks the previous trouble.

The landslides destroy Mann’s shop, and an inspector says the area can never be used for mining again because it is now too unstable. So Mann is now punished and his scheming foiled. Grenilda and Black Crag are now at peace, which means Hazel is too. Now Hazel is no longer haunted she can lead the mountaincraft group properly, and they intend to soar to greater heights in the mountaincraft national championship.

Thoughts

This is the only story Santiago Hernandez drew for Jinty (“Barracuda Bay” is now believed to be Hernandez artwork too, but the story is reprinted from June). Hernandez’s artwork is brilliant at bringing off the foreboding atmosphere of Black Crag, the horrors that constantly haunt Hazel, and the terrifying environments in which they erupt, whether it is the spooky old library or dreadful weather on Black Crag. Further adding to the creepy atmosphere is the rugged, rural environment of Black Crag and the peril that always accompanies mountain climbing, even on a normal mountain.

The real twist of the story is that the things that constantly terrify Hazel turn out not to be the true threat. They are not evil, just angry and disturbed, and it is eventually revealed they have good reason to be. Black Crag, which was initially portrayed as the evil of the story, turns out to be a helper. The real evil comes from Albert Mann, who is trying to scare off people (and is presumably responsible for all the killings and maimings that have been blamed on Black Crag) for his own profit. In so doing he is not only cheating people but also stirring up genuine supernatural forces that start affecting Hazel.

Hazel is the most susceptible to the supernatural forces because she has inherited the family’s psychic powers. But Hazel’s powers have awakened in a most disturbed manner and she cannot fully understand them. Fortunately she has guidance from Old Marnie, who is more experienced with such powers and can inform her about the correct way to handle Black Crag. Unfortunately, but understandably, the members of the mountain group Hazel leads think she’s just losing her marbles and shouldn’t be listening to such superstitious rubbish. In a sense they are right, because it turns out Mann is trying to scare them off and presumably put Annie up to winding them up with crazy, embroidered stories about Black Crag. Yet Hazel is right too, and being unable to find anyone to listen except Old Marnie and Grenilda almost wrecks her career.

One thing is puzzling: when the girls go mountain climbing, they never wear safety helmets. Were safety helmets not worn so much at the time, or is this an error in the story?

Sue’s Daily Dozen (1980-1)

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Publication: 4 October 1980 to 3 January 1981

Artist: José Casanovas

Writer: Unknown

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #18 and #19 as “Spellbound!” and “Bewitched!”

 Plot

Sue Barker has just moved to the village of Hillcroft. Things do not go off to a good start because she is shy and finds it difficult to make friends, and her efforts to help always seem to go wrong. However, Sue finds out the cottage she is living in once belonged to Granny Hayden, a witch who was revered in the community for her “Daily Dozen”, which worked magic in helping people. Sue finds the Daily Dozen (book, spoon and cauldron) hidden in the chimney. The opening pages of the book bear the inscription: “The wondrous DAILY DOZEN within these pages, seek inside, and trace the secrets that I hide for things may not be what they seem, but help I give to all who dream”.

Sue has been challenged to produce an entry for the school cookery contest. She had not been confident about it, but now selects a recipe, “totties treats”, from the Daily Dozen book, and is surprised to see her cooking go off without a hitch. She is even more surprised to find the headmistress and severe cookery teacher, who are judging the contest, suddenly playing like toddlers after eating the totties treats! Sue wins the contest of course, and suddenly feels more confident about making friends now she has found the Daily Dozen.

Nonetheless, Sue is still a bit wary about the Daily Dozen (it is, after all, associated with witchcraft, which does not have a good press). But every recipe the family uses from the book seems to work miracles. Just one dab of the home-made cleaner from the book on the brickwork on the house, and every speck of dirt just melts off the wall, leaving it sparkling. Moreover, the cleanup reveals drawings of the Daily Dozen book, complete with black cats and broomsticks. Sue even acquires a “familiar” – albeit a Siamese cat named Ling-Su instead of the traditional black cat, after she treats him with a tonic from the Daily Dozen. Then a broomstick, cape and witch’s hat drop down from the chimney. Sue is a bit wary about wearing them in public while pedalling the wares of the Daily Dozen, though everyone else is pleased at the revival of Granny Hayden and more remedies, including one that cures a sick man. At one point, the Daily Dozen has to flex its muscles quite severely at Sue for still doubting it, although its remedies do nothing but good, even if they do look like…magic. Eventually Sue fully accepts the Daily Dozen when it helps her to foil two criminals – who very unwisely tried to steal the Daily Dozen.

George Smith the blacksmith is due to marry Anne the florist, and the vicar tells Sue that the Daily Dozen is part of an old custom that must be performed. Sue has no idea what this means, and nothing in the book sheds light on it. But after the attempted theft, the Daily Dozen gives out some clues. First, a note appears to say:

“Forge and anvil – tools of trade

Fair and flowery must be made

And when church bells are gladly rung

The Daily Dozen’s work is done.”

Then the Daily Dozen shows Sue visions. First are visions of the things the Daily Dozen and Sue have accomplished together, followed by a vision of George and Anne happily married. Then there is a vision around the weather vane of an anvil decorated with flowers – which then appears for real in Anne’s flower shop. The cauldron is there too, with more flowers spilling out of it. There is no explanation, except that it must be the work of the Daily Dozen.

Meanwhile, Sue’s friend Alison has been doing research on old blacksmith customs. She learns that in olden times, blacksmiths were so important that they had to be protected from evil spirits with rituals such as firing up the anvil to produce a bang, and the ringing of church bells. The pieces are now coming together, but there is one piece still to discover, which Sue does when she sees the cauldron wobbling. She looks underneath and sees there is a piece that fits perfectly into the anvil.

So on the wedding day, church bells are rung and the Daily Dozen cauldron is placed on the flower-festooned anvil, which is then fired up to produce the bang. Suddenly, the cauldron shoots up, along with the spoon and book that go with it. They all arrive back at the cottage, and their work is now done. So now they disintegrate into soot and fall down the chimney into the fireplace. But their legacy lives on, in a much happier community and Sue finding confidence and friends.

 Thoughts

“Sue’s Daily Dozen” was the last story José Casanovas drew for Jinty. And as Casanovas stories go, this is unconventional for two reasons. First, it is unusual for Casanovas to draw a supernatural-themed story, because his style is more suited for animal stories (“Dora Dogsbody”) or science fiction (“Tomorrow Town” from Tammy), so you are more likely to see him in stories with those themes. But here he is drawing a story with a supernatural theme. He was probably chosen because he brings off humour and the bizarre so well, and would therefore fit “Sue’s Daily Dozen”, which is a lightweight supernatural story. Even so, it is a surprise (for me) to see him bringing the supernatural to life here. The only other Casanovas story I have seen with a fantasy theme is “Sophie’s Secret Squeezy” from Lindy. There must be more Casanovas supernatural stories, but I wonder how frequently they appeared.

Second, Casanovas’ heroines are usually gutsy and proactive, and some are even unsavoury (such as the spiteful “Two-Faced Teesha” in Tammy). But here the Casanovas heroine starts off quiet and shy, and tending to stick her foot in it when she tries to help. Of course we know Sue is going to change into a more confident girl during the course of the story.

This story is also unconventional, for its portrayal of witches. It depicts witches more closely to what they really were – wise women who helped people in the community with herbal remedies – though it is unlikely they would have the powers of the Daily Dozen. Moreover, the villagers understand this completely, and appreciate and adore Granny Hayden for this, instead of lashing out at it in fear, ignorance, or at all the things they see that defy all explanation. In a village like Kettleby (“Mark of the Witch!”), Granny Hayden or Sue would be more likely to become targets of persecution, just like Emma Fielding. But here the locals are not frightened of it at all and see it as miraculous and helpful. Even the vicar accepts it, instead of labelling it Satanic, unchristian, or rubbish. It is only Sue who is worried about the Daily Dozen possibly having an evil side.

This portrayal of witchcraft (or Wicca) being a business run by wise women, not agents of the Devil, was touched on once before in Jinty, in Shadow on the Fen. But in Fen it was a dark and grim picture, with practitioners falling victim to witch hunters and superstitious, ignorant folk. But here it is such a relief to see the practitioner is not only understood but also embraced and loved instead of being hated and persecuted. And the Casanovas artwork is perfect, for not only bringing it all to life but also adding humour that enhances the message the story is wants to convey about witches – for no persecution would ever be allowed in a story drawn by Casanovas.

When Statues Walk… (1979-1980)

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Publication: 22 December 1979 to 15 March 1980

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?; idea by Terence Magee (see comments)

Plot

Laura Ashbourne, her older brother Steve and their dog Scratch live in a high-rise flat at Craigmuir Estate. Steve is working on a building site in North Street, a street with a reputation for hauntings. The workings uncover some broken pottery. The pottery strikes Laura as unusual and she takes the pieces home. Later, Laura’s art teacher Miss Carter informs her about some unusual activity (bangs, screams, objects being thrown about) in North Street 50 years previously, and broken pottery was also found afterwards. The events drove her mother out.

In her room, Laura reassembles the pieces, which form a Viking’s head. Then the head starts screaming and shatters again.

At the site, a workman is attacked with no explanation. Laura finds more broken pottery, along with a pendant. When assembled, the pottery forms a hand holding a dagger, while the image of a crying Viking princess appears in the pendant, but only Laura can see her.

The hand holding the dagger comes to life and tries to attack the pendant, but Scratch smashes it. Then a Viking statue, minus its right arm, follows Laura all the way home and makes a grab for the pendant. But Scratch trips it up, and it smashes.

The princess in the pendant, later calling herself Leh, starts appealing to Laura for help in saving her from the warriors. She is growing weaker, and the warriors’ revenge will be complete.

Laura has a terrible nightmare of a cavern where Leh calls to her, but then she has frightening encounters with a serpent goddess, a wolf, and the clay Vikings statues who have fun with her. At the site the next morning, Laura sees the wolf from her nightmares, lying dead amid more broken pottery. It crumbles into dust.

A teacher confiscates the pendant, which has another clay warrior break into the school in search of it. It also gets smashed when Scratch attacks it, but the police blame Laura for the damage it causes. The pendant causes time to reverse, enabling Laura to get away. But then Miss Carter wants to reassemble the clay pieces, which would restore the warrior. Laura allows it, and then puts the pendant in the warrior’s hand to see what it does. It goes into a secret cavern.

Later, Laura makes her own way into the cave, recognising it as the cavern from her nightmare. She comes to a Viking longship, where she finds Leh tied to the mast. She releases Leh, but then Leh suddenly transforms into a hideous crone. Leh is really Hel, the demon goddess of the Underworld, and she has tricked Laura into unleashing her. (Leh is Hel spelt backwards.)

Hel ties Laura to the mast and explains that Thor sentenced her and her wolf, Fenrin (the wolf seen earlier) to death for the misery she inflicted on mankind. But being a goddess of the Underworld, the only way to kill her was to hold her captive for 1000 years, after which she would crumble into dust. Thor used animated clay warriors as her guards because they would be immune to her powers, which only affect mortals. They tied her to the mast and brought her to the cave that they built themselves, where they kept her under guard and repelled anyone who came near. The roadworks in North Street threatened Hel’s prison, and that is why they have been attacking it. They were trying to grab the pendant because they realised Hel was using it to try to escape. Most of the warriors got smashed over the years, like the ones Laura has seen, and only two remain. Now the 1000 years are nearly up and Hel is about to die. So she switches bodies with Laura, leaving Laura to perish in her place while she wreaks havoc in Laura’s body.

The clay warriors do not believe Laura when she explains what happened, but they eventually do so once they realise her demeanour is not the same. They untie her and go to her flat to retrieve Hel. But Steve takes them to be evil and smashes them.

Then Scratch, who has realised it is not Laura, attacks her. Hel uses her powers to repel Scratch and then Steve. This reveals herself, so she tells Steve who she is and that Laura is trapped in her dying body. After Hel leaves, Miss Carter arrives, and says analysis of the pottery revealed that it looked like human cells, but made of clay. So she believes Steve when he says what happened. A battered Scratch leads them to the cave and the dying Laura. Laura tells them to piece the warriors back together to restore them.

Tracking down Hel is easy because she could not resist causing havoc. Recapturing her is also easy, because Laura’s body could not take the strain of her powers and she is weakening. But Laura, trapped in Hel’s body, now looks dead.

They switch the bodies of Laura and Hel back in the barest nick of time – only milliseconds before Hel’s body crumbles into dust. Their task done, the warriors burn Hel’s remains, the longship, and themselves on it. But before they do, they give Laura the pendant, which now has their images on it.

Afterwards, Laura expresses a whole new respect for old people and the ravages of ageing.

Thoughts

This story is one of Jinty’s best-remembered spooky stories, and it’s no wonder –this has to be one of the scariest she has ever produced. Clay figures that come to life, scream, move around, follow you all the way home, and attack you? Whoa, that alone is the stuff of nightmares, and that’s even without the nightmare that Laura has, which is filled with nightmare caverns, frightening figures from Norse myth and a damsel in distress. The fact that it’s clay make it even more scary because clay is supposed to be inert. It’s a story worthy of Misty herself.

The use of Norse mythology adds to the atmosphere because there is a rugged brutishness and unearthliness about it that, say, Greek mythology, cannot reproduce, and readers can really sink their teeth into it. The artwork of Phil Gascoine is the perfect fit for the Viking theme, which enhances the story even more. And Vikings themselves are associated with brutality, which makes the story even more scary as you expect the Viking warriors might start burning and pillaging or something.

This is the only Jinty story that uses a goddess as a villain, though Hel can be put into the same class as the hag villains in other Jinty stories such as “Golden Dolly – Death Dust!”, because she pretty much is one by the time Laura meets her. And Hel is not a hag who bides her time gathering spells together or forcing some hapless girl to do her bidding. Nope, once she’s out, she’s off causing straight out mayhem and destruction that sends the whole town crazy. And this makes it even more exciting.

The twist that the story takes makes it even more effective because it completely takes us by surprise. We’re all set up for a damsel-in-distress who needs to be rescued from evil. It looks like it’s going to be the stuff of fairy tales. But then it all gets turned on its head when it is revealed that the princess is really the villain in disguise while the clay warriors, who had appeared to be the threat, were in fact the good guys. A salutary lesson that things are not always what they seem.

And then there is the anxiety when Laura is trapped in Hel’s ageing body and on the brink of death. She’s full of distress and tears, trapped in a 1000-year old body that could give out any time now. She’s lying in Steve’s arms, and he too is filled with torment at his sister’s plight and imminent death. It’s filled with anguish that takes us right up to the very edge of our seats, for by the time the warriors return with Hel in Laura’s body, Laura looks so far gone that it seems too late already. Nobody’s even sure that the reverse-body transfer is able to take place at all once the warriors start it. Incidentally, this is the first Jinty story that uses the theme of switching bodies (the second was “A Spell of Trouble”).

“When Statues Walk…” was one of the Jinty stories profiled in Pam’s Poll in 1980, which is further indication of how popular it must have been. It would not have been surprising if this had prompted a popular demand to bring it back. For it is a brilliantly-crafted story, filled with atmosphere, emotion, scares, the power of the gods, and twists and turns that go up right to the end. And it’s all flavoured with the mythology of Norse legend.

[Edited to add: the body-switching episode is so well drawn that it is worth adding the scans for it into the post, too. – Comixminx]

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Combing Her Golden Hair (1979)

Sample images

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Colour reprint as “Comb of Mystery” in Katy

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Publication: 1/9/79-8/12/79
Reprint: Katy as “Comb of Mystery; Tina Topstrip as Dutch translation
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Unknown

Plot: Tamsin Tregorren lives with gran (her dad is often away at sea). Gran is a fearsome, iron-willed woman who is very old fashioned and strict with Tamsin. She always seems to keep Tamsin looking a frump in plaits, glasses, and buys her second hand clothes (okay, so they do have a limited budget, but that’s not the real reason). She does not even like Tamsin having long hair and only allows it because Dad likes it that way. Tamsin’s strict upbringing attracts sympathy from her classmates, who think gran is a dragon and don’t come to Tamsin’s house for that reason.

There is a mystery about Tamsin’s mother; whenever Tamsin asks questions about her, gran’s temper flares up. Tamsin is not sure she believes what gran says about her mother being dead, and wants to meet her mother. Tamsin also yearns to swim, but gran says she cannot because chlorine brings on her asthma, so she cannot join swimming classes at school. She always feels the odd one out.

One night Tamsin’s comb is ruined. She searches gran’s drawer for a spare and finds a silver fish-like comb. When she starts combing her hair, the comb seems to have a strange effect on her. She combs her hair all evening, and she seems to hear a sweet voice calling to her. She also has a strange, calming feeling, as if she is floating on water. This starts a habit of combing her hair continuously with the comb while feeling those strange effects. But gran is not impressed to find Tamsin combing her hair all evening. She calls it vanity and threatens to cut Tamsin’s hair off. But the comb starts inciting Tamsin to go against her gran. She starts wearing some fashionable clothes with the help of her friends. They also help her to have a go at swimming but gran stops her, screaming about her asthma problem, and drags her out in front of her friends.

Still, the attempt has Tamsin wondering if she really has a problem with chlorine. Then a new teacher insists on pupils producing doctor’s certificates if they are to be excused swimming. But gran will not even take Tamsin to the doctor to get one. Rather, she would keep Tamsin at home on swimming days, even though it is illegal and gran could get in trouble. But the comb encourages Tamsin to swim, and she starts doing so in secret at school with the help of her friend Ellen. And when she does, she finds she is a natural swimmer and there is no reaction to the chlorine.

There is another scene when gran catches Tamsin combing her hair. This time she almost cuts Tamsin’s hair off for real. But Dad, who has returned from the sea, intervenes. He says, “Oh Mother, I realise why you tried to do it, but cutting off her lovely hair is going too far!” But he will not tell Tamsin what he meant by knowing the reason for gran’s actions. This deepens the mystery that Tamsin is now more determined to solve.

An eye test (something gran had always kept Tamsin away from) reveals that there is nothing wrong with her eyes and Tamsin discovers the glasses her gran buys her are just plain glass. She now realises the glasses, plaits and everything else frumpy were intended to de-emphasise her looks because gran considers beauty a sin. Furious, she smashes her glasses and starts wearing her hair loose. When she confronts her father over the matter, he is oddly defensive about gran’s actions. Still, Gran is forced to agree to allow Tamsin to wear her hair loose. However, she confiscates all mirrors in the house to discourage any vanity in Tamsin, but Tamsin defies her with a broken mirror in the shed. This time, when she combs her hair, the comb says a name: Redruthan. Later, Tamsin discovers Redruthan is a place in Cornwall. When she mentions Redruthan, and more questions about Mum to Dad and gran, they both clam up oddly, saying that she and her mother originated in London. Now Tamsin is even more determined to find out about her mother.

Gran discovers Tamsin’s secret swimming. She really flips out, cutting up the swimming costume and towel and locks Tamsin in the broom cupboard. She also says something odd about lying being in Tamsin’s blood. Tamsin realises this can only mean her mother, as her father is honest. The comb comforts Tamsin again, saying happiness can begin in Redruthan. Then Tamsin discovers her birth certificate, which says she was born at Gull Cottage, Redruthan. So much for London origins.

Then gran falls sick and has a bad attack. Tamsin is also having second thoughts about the comb, realising it has brought problems for her in encouraging her to defy her gran. She turns to looking after her gran, but eventually gran is taken to hospital. The comb takes Tamsin over again and and urges her to head to Redruthan. This time, Tamsin cannot resist the call, although gran could be on the danger list and needs her badly. She goes Ellen’s house, as she and her parents are heading to Redruthan on holiday. She takes a replacement swimming costume Ellen left for her and sneaks a lift there in the back of their caravan. When she arrives in Redruthan, she feels she belongs there. People are astonished to see a girl running about in a swim costume in cold weather, but Tamsin does not feel cold in it; she feels alive.

Tamsin finds Gull Cottage, and learns that she, gran, Dad and Mum lived there when she was a baby, and locals think there was something funny about them. Her mother did not get on with gran and then disappeared. The comb then leads Tamsin to a mirror that matches it.

Meanwhile, gran discovers what Tamsin has done. Although she is still sick, she leaves hospital and comes to Redruthan, saying she is trying to save Tamsin. Ellen is in tow. Ellen is appalled at how sick gran looks, but gran is determined to save Tamsin. She always did have a will of iron.

Tamsin comes face to face with her mother – and discovers she is a mermaid! Her name is Nerina, and Nerina explains that when she first saw Tamsin’s father, she knew she must have him. Mermaids can swap their tails for legs when they want to marry humans, and this is what Nerina did to marry Tamsin’s father. Gran had opposed the marriage as she did not trust a woman whose past was a mystery, and she was right. The marriage soon fell apart due to Nerina’s selfish, vain cold mermaid nature; this made her a “vain, lazy wife” who spent all day preening in her mirror while leaving baby Tamsin crying in her cot. The irony of the whole situation is revealed in that it was left to strict gran to look after the neglected baby and give her love (see below), which by mermaid standards was “spoiling”. Eventually gran worked out the truth, so Nerina left, and she was missing the sea anyway. She left the comb, knowing it would bring Tamsin to her. Now she wants Tamsin to join her in her mermaid realm and starts pulling Tamsin down there. She does not seem to understand or care that Tamsin would drown because she is human.

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Gran and Ellen arrive, and Tamsin manages to get away from Nerina in order to say goodbye to gran. Gran explains that all her tactics were to ensure that Tamsin did not grow up like the vain Nerina and to keep her away from water. Tamsin now understands gran did not mean to be cruel, but says vanity and swimming are in her blood; she is a mermaid’s daughter after all. Gran begins pointing out what a cold fish Nerina is; she shows no love, no affection, and only sees Tamsin as a possession she must have and does not care that Tamsin would drown if taken down below. Indeed, Nerina told Tamsin not to call her ‘mother’, calling the term “an ugly, ageing title”. Ellen adds that gran has shown Tamsin love, in risking her life by discharging herself prematurely, in order to find Tamsin.

They get through to Tamsin. She realises her mother does not love her because a mermaid cannot feel love as humans can. She agrees to come home and look after gran.

Nerina isn’t giving up that easily though; she is determined to have what is hers. She retrieves the comb and throws it after Tamsin, trying to tempt her with all the comb has done for her and can do for her. But Tamsin has gone with gran and Ellen, and the comb gets lost forever in the waves.

Thoughts

“Combing Her Golden Hair” is regarded as another of Jinty’s classics and was one of her most popular and enduring stories. It can also be regarded as one of her most unconventional ones. It takes established formulas in girls’ comics and then turns them completely inside-out. And it does this with a conclusion that takes readers completely by surprise because it is not what they expected.

We have seen the formulas in this story used in so many serials: a strict guardian who never lets their charge have any fun or be herself; a guardian who imposes bizarre and unfair sanctions because they seem to have such an enormous chip on their shoulder for some reason; a shy girl who gets more confident when she acquires an object with strange powers, but it may come with a price; and a good old fashioned mystery that is just begging to be unravelled. The mystery here is the mystery of Tamsin’s mother. It is not hard to guess that the mother has something to do with the strict gran being the way she is. When the comb appears, the plot thickens even further. If it has a connection with the mystery mother, it drops a hint that there is something supernatural about the mother. And whatever it is, it is clearly connected with swimming, the sea, and all the other things that gran seems to go all out to squelch in Tamsin.

At any rate we laud the comb because its actions seem to be aimed at freeing Tamsin from the iron apron strings of her severe gran and her harsh, bizarre measures that really shock us at times, such as when gran goes so mad she nearly cuts Tamsin’s hair off or locks her in the cupboard. We all reckon that gran should be reported to child welfare, but we will settle for the ultimate liberation, which surely must come when the mystery of Tamsin’s mother is revealed. Once it is, Tamsin is going to be free of her horrible gran forever and go off arm in arm with her mother and she lives happily ever after. That’s how it always ends up in girls’ serials, right?

Nope, not in this case. It breaks all the clichés to give us a happy but completely unconventional ending that is full of surprises and irony. It turns out that the mother is the villain; not actually evil, but a possessive, selfish cold fish who wants Tamsin the same way she wanted her father – as possessions, and had no love for them. The mother used the comb to lure Tamsin to her while winning Tamsin’s confidence and trust by encouraging her to rebel against her grandmother and doing the things that gran was trying to keep her from. Gran had been set up as the villain of the piece, but she was actually a heroine – or anti-heroine? Once we learn all the facts, we can understand what made the gran the way she is and the thinking behind her actions. But she was not going about them the right way and it could easily be construed as child abuse. Trying to deny Tamsin what she is was not right either. As Tamsin herself told her gran, she is a mermaid’s daughter after all. We can only hope that in the aftermath, Tamsin and her gran will get along much better and gran will be more tolerant of Tamsin’s mermaid half. She will have to be, because Tamsin has a mermaid/human heritage she will be getting to grips with.

Perhaps the greatest irony and surprise of all is Nerina telling Tamsin that gran spoiled her rotten as a baby. Gran spoiling Tamsin? We have to laugh at that after seeing the way gran has brought Tamsin up. But the whole irony of it all is that it was the severe gran who gave Tamsin love while the cold-fish mother did not because it was not in her mermaid nature and gave baby Tamsin all the care she needed when the mother neglected her. And gran again showed Tamsin love by risking her own life to save Tamsin from what she sensed was going to happen once Tamsin met her mother. She was right, and she saved Tamsin’s life by showing she was the one who really loved Tasmin while the mother did not. So gran emerges as a proper heroine now and redeemed herself for her earlier harshness.

Readers are astonished when the reunion between mother and daughter is not liberation and happiness; instead, it is life threatening for Tamsin. But then, mermaids have been associated with sirens, who lured people to their doom with hypnotic singing. Mermaids have also been connected to things like shipwrecks, flooding, drownings and luring people to their doom. Other mermaid folklore portrays them as more benevolent and even tragic, depending on the region. But not in the case of Nerina, who was clearly inspired by the darker side of mermaid folklore.

Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977)

Sample images

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Publication: 5/3/77-25/6/77

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Reprint: Tina Topstrip #42 as “De betovering van het spinnewiel / The magic of the spinning wheel”

Plot

Rowan Lindsay’s shepherd father is an outstanding cross-country runner and is determined to “blaze the name of Lindsay beyond this humble dale!” But his ambition is dashed when he is rendered lame after a fall into a quarry. So it now falls to Rowan to blaze the name of Lindsay in cross-country running.

Dad cannot work because of his injury and money is tight. Mum sets up a craft shop, but it isn’t taking off. Then, on a visit to the next village, Rowan is inspired by a spinning wheel being sold at auction. She is surprised to find nobody bidding against her. The bidders even warn her against buying it; one woman says she would not touch it for all the tea in China while another tells Rowan she is buying a whole load of trouble. Rowan is puzzled, but she brushes it off and has the spinning wheel delivered to her house. Soon business is booming with Mum selling handspun wool.

But soon the warnings bear out when Rowan pricks her finger on the spinning wheel. A strange sensation goes through her, and then Rowan finds any humming noise is sending her to sleep. This starts interfering with Rowan’s cross-country running, and even puts her life in danger several times. Dad believes Rowan when she says the spinning wheel has put a Sleeping Beauty-type spell on her, but Mum just won’t and thinks it is rubbish. She keeps thinking Rowan is ill and having dizzy spells and wastes doctors’ time and Rowan’s by sending her to medical examinations. Doctors think it is exertion and bar Rowan from running. Dad, who believes in the spell, helps Rowan to train secretly, but there are ructions with Mum when she finds out.

To complicate matters, the Lindsays need the spinning wheel for their income, which makes it all the more difficult to get rid of it. And what with Mum spinning at it all the time to make wool and money, Rowan can’t escape the humming and the sleeping spells.

It gets worse when Rowan’s cross-country rival Della Barnes discovers Rowan’s weakness and starts taking advantage of it to send Rowan to sleep with the sound of hair dryers and such. But at one point she gets a nasty shock when she allows Rowan to fall asleep after hearing the hum of bees – only to find Rowan nearly drowned because she had her head in a stream. Later on she tries to put Rowan to sleep with her tranny while Rowan is running on an emergency, but Rowan manages to beat her.

Mum won’t listen and their efforts to convince her just lead to rows. So Rowan and Dad try other ways to deal with the spinning wheel. It becomes manifest that removing it from the house is not the answer, the only answer is to destroy it. Rowan tries having it replaced with a look-alike. But it feels like the evil spinning is striking back. Rowan nearly goes over a cliff and the replacement spinning wheel falls to the bottom.

However, the spinning wheel does have its weaknesses. One weakness is that the spell doesn’t work when the spinning wheel gets damaged and is out of action. But once the spinning wheel is repaired, it and its evil spell are back in business. Another weakness is that its power weakens over distance, as Rowan discovers when it goes to London with Mum. But then Mum gets a tummy bug (we wonder why?) and comes back with the spinning wheel. Back to square one.

Rowan reaches breaking point and just runs off – only to fall under the wheel of a car. When she wakes up in hospital, she feels the spinning wheel engineered that too. While she recovers at home, a hiker drops by. He seems to believe Rowan’s story and offers help. But they soon find he is student psychiatrist who thinks she is mentally ill. Dad throws him out, but not before his interfering gets Rowan so upset that she throws bricks at the spinning wheel and Dad and Mum have yet another row.

Nobody seems to pursue the history of the spinning wheel and what makes it tick, despite the warnings Rowan received about it having an evil reputation.

A doctor gives the green light for Rowan to resume cross-country running. And it is here that the old adage that “seeing is believing” comes to the rescue. The spinning wheel takes a step too far by spinning all by itself in order to put Rowan to sleep and put her out of a big cross-country event. But when Mum sees what the spinning wheel is doing, she is finally convinced and has it destroyed in “The Burnings”, a carryover from witch-hunting days.

Rowan is free to pursue her cross-country event without fear of falling asleep from humming noises. She wins of course, while jealous Della does her best to lose gracefully.  Mum agrees that Rowan is more important than money, and Dad promises her another spinning wheel. Rowan is going on to carry the Lindsay torch and let the spell of the spinning wheel fade into memory.

Thoughts

This is regarded as one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, and it is the only serial I have seen that features a spinning wheel. I am a spinner myself, and this is one reason I have always been drawn to this story.

The evil influence in this story is unusual in that we can’t actually see just what the evil is. In most evil influence stories there is an expression of evil (either from the object itself or the person wielding it) that not only makes it more frightening but also gives clues as to what motivates the influence (revenge, power, or general maliciousness). This is not the case here; there are no apparitions of evil faces, whispering voices, dreams or whatever to scare the living daylights out of the readers and the protagonist while at the same time providing hints as to what is happening. In the case of the spinning wheel, the evil itself cannot be seen, except in the final episode where it starts spinning by itself. For the most part the influence of the spinning wheel is felt rather than seen as its terror over Rowan increases.

The evil of the spinning wheel is perhaps all the more terrifying because we don’t know why it is evil. Rowan gets warnings that the spinning wheel has an evil history, but she does not go back to follow them up and learn all she can about the spinning wheel. This is something that heroines in evil influence stories normally do, and Rowan not doing it leaves a gap in the story that is rather frustrating. Readers must have been dying to know the truth about the spinning wheel, what with all the hints Rowan gets when she buys it, and they must have been annoyed that the reveal never comes. The fact that the spinning wheel was destroyed in a carryover from witch-hunting does suggest a connection to witchcraft. Did a previous owner have a reputation for it? Was it cursed by someone with a reputation for sorcery, such as a witch or gypsy? Was there material on it with a reputation for evil? Or was it something else – Sleeping Beauty herself, maybe? We never know because nobody goes to find out.

Perhaps Rowan doesn’t chase up the history of the spinning wheel because she and her father are too fixated on how to break its power. Destroying it is the obvious answer, but they are frustrated by Mum refusing to believe the spinning wheel is evil, and she also needs it to make money.

It is a bit odd that the spinning wheel seems to strike back when Rowan tries to fight it, but it does nothing when Mum takes it to the Burnings. Maybe it thought the game was up once Mum saw it spinning by itself? Or maybe it realised too late what was happening? Or were all those accidents and Mum’s tummy bug just coincidences and all the spinning wheel could do was send Rowan to sleep?  The story is so skilfully crafted at keeping the evil more felt than seen that we cannot know for sure. Then again, perhaps the Lindsay parents disabled it to render it powerless before bringing it to the Burnings.

Dance into Darkness (1978)

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Publication: 17 June 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Christine Ellingham

Writer: Unknown (but see below)

Marionette has done such an excellent summation and analysis on this serial over at her Tammy blog that I feel I can scarcely improve upon it. The link can be found here.

Essentially, Della Benson envies the disco dancing ability of Rozelle and wishes she could dance like that. Rozelle tells Della that she will be able to – if she is willing to pay the price. Della assumes this means dancing lessons, but we know it means something even more sinister.

No, it isn’t Della’s soul. The price is that Della must carry the curse that Rozelle’s family has suffered since Medieval times. It is a curse that turns the victim into a creature of darkness. They can only live in the dark. There are advantages, such as being able to see in the dark and attracting night creatures. But they cannot stand light, which blinds them, and they  cannot even function in the daytime without wearing dark glasses. For Della, there is an additional problem with the curse – whenever she hears disco music, she cannot stop dancing until it stops. This gets her into a lot of trouble, such as wrecking a record shop and getting suspended from school.

There is no cure for the curse (and no origin given either), but the curse can be passed on to another person – in exchange for something that person wants. But will Della be able to find such a person? More to the point, will she be able to bring herself to pass it on? Or will she be under the curse of darkness forever?

On a side note, I wonder if Jay Over wrote this story. Della not being able to stop dancing when she hears disco music has echoes in Slave of the Clock, a story that Over wrote for Tammy in 1982. Here, Allison Thorne cannot stop dancing (ballet dancing this time) whenever she hears the ticking of a clock after she meets a ballet mistress with hypnotic powers.

Then There Were 3… (1976)

Sample images

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Publication: 17 April-3 July 1976
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: unknown

Summary
Ten school girls are to spend their holiday exploring a derelict canal on the old narrow boat. It starts with ten, but the opening blurb tells us the numbers will reduce on a trip that is to turn into a nightmare. It starts right away when Tina, who finds it ominous that the boat is called Water Witch, finds the gangplank break under her feet. She hurts her ankle and is off the trip. Gail replaces her, so the number stays at ten – for now. The other girls do not like Gail much as she is a bit pushy and does not like taking orders, but she soon blends in. And she is soon overtaking Sharon, the leader of the group, in terms of brains, courage and leadership qualities.

The supernatural element is further reinforced the moment they meet the boatman’s wife who is in charge of them. She is a creepy looking gypsy like woman and her name is Mrs Bogle. How subtle. She tells them they are heading off to Creeping Weed Pool. And once they reach it, they see a warning sign that says “Beware: Lucifer Canal”. Now this is getting spookier by the minute. And it gets worse when Pickles and Jill wake up in the night to find the creeping weed all over their boat. And then it grabs Jill. She is saved from being dragged under but is scared off the trip. Down to nine.

In order that their jobs are allotted fairly, Sharon has marked ten dolls with each girl’s name for the roster. But as you might have guessed, the dolls are soon marking something far more sinister. After Jill has her encounter with the weed, they find her doll smashed. The template of things to come. And others are getting rattled by the warning sign that sailing further on the canal is dangerous and getting ideas that it is haunted.

And so it goes on, with one spooky thing after another, with girls getting progressively scared off and their corresponding dolls getting mysteriously smashed. The stops they make give the impression of haunting – or do they? At one point they stop at a supposed derelict inn, but find a sumptuous banquet inside and everything cosy. But when they wake up next morning, the place is derelict and cobwebby and nobody could have lived there for years. And Gail finds a question mark etched on the table. But what really scares even her off are the bats. Afterwards, Gail finds tyre tracks and a can of soup that is the same brand as the one they consumed at the inn. Coincidence or clue? At another, they encounter a ghost in a mill, but Gail finds it is just a bunch of clothes tied to a rope.

From the outset, Gail has been level-headed about it all and says they are just accidents. But now she thinks someone is trying to scare them off. Gail suspects Mrs Bogle as she does seem to be trying to persuade them to leave, winding them up with stories that the canal is cursed. At one point she even tries to get the police to send them home. Gail’s suspicions are confirmed when she finds Mrs Bogle’s brooch beside yet another smashed doll.

By this time the ten is down to the titular three – Gail, Pickles and Sharon. Convinced that Mrs Bogle is trying to stop them reaching the end of the canal, the girls pull a ruse to make her think she has succeeded. They pretend to turn back and put on an act of being scared off for Mrs Bogle’s benefit. She buys it and believes it is safe to tell the others it is safe to carry out the final stages of their plan. Now what can that be? Well, we know now it can’t be hauntings.

The girls sneak to the end of the canal to investigate. They find an iron grille gate and – giant frogs the size of men?!? Sharon loses her nerve at this and goes back. Down to two. Pickles and Gail swim in and find a counterfeiting ring in operation. The giant frogs are men in frog suits (literally) which explains how they managed to rig things along the canal for the girls. Gail and Pickles are captured by the counterfeiters and are locked in. The counterfeiters are now ready to roll with their forgeries and proceed to make their getaway. But the  girls manage to escape. Gail knew it all along because she brought their dolls so they would not get mysteriously smashed like the others. Obviously, Mrs Bogle had been breaking them to throw a scare into each girl before arranging an accident for her.

They go on the trail of the counterfeiters, who find their getaway blocked by the Water Witch. In fact, they smash into it and are tipped into the water. Sharon had gone to the police, who had been hunting for the forgers for a while. The forgers fell into the trap set by the police and Sharon. They are soon rounded up, with Pickles and Gail personally catching Mrs Bogle.

Now the girls turn back along the canal, revisiting the various places where they got their various scares and discuss how the counterfeiters must have rigged them. This time, though, things are more peaceful. When they are back where they started the trip, the other girls who had been scared off return to cheer the three who had stuck it out until the end.

Thoughts
The title and opening blurb of the story make it clear what is going to happen. And when you meet Mrs Bogle (is that her real name?) you immediately share Gail’s suspicions about her. The question is, how does it all fit together? From the way the opening panel sets things up, you wonder if Mrs Bogle is going to spirit these girls away one by one or something. The girls are all winding themselves up for supernatural events. So do the people who have lived on the canal, judging by the names they have given these stops. Creeping Weed Pool? Lucifer Canal? Maybe that is why the canal is derelict. And with Mrs Bogle sharing the same theme of name, you may wonder if she is a real witch. And maybe the accidents are accidents, but why so many of them, and why does a doll smash around the same time an accident occurs? Could there really be supernatural forces closing in on them?

The scares the criminals set up for the girls are brilliant, and it would not be surprising if they had pulled similar tricks on other people. The scene where they pull the weed all over the barge is extremely creepy. And the haunted inn scene would have just about anyone believing they had been in some kind of time warp to the past and come back to the present. But afterwards the criminals start making mistakes. It had to happen. And the ghost of the mill that turns out to be a rigged up dummy is where Gail is really tipped off. The crooks must have been losing their touch there. It is not surprising that their game starts to unravel after this.

But until then, you can’t make out what is causing all these strange events at all. Are they unlucky coincidences, accidents and overactive imaginations? Or is there some supernatural force at work that is growing ever more dangerous the more the girls venture down the canal? It comes as a relief to discover that it is all sabotage and scares rigged by criminals. And they would have gotten away with it all if Gail had not joined the crew at the last minute. Her level-headedness, courage and quick wits, and determination to stay when others dropped out in fear is what carries the trip and the story through to the happy ending.

“Then There Were 3…” may not be one of Jinty’s classics, but it is an effective, well crafted story of fear and mystery that would give readers lots of creeps and scares before the girls start to turn the tables. And we have plenty of action, adventure, and and exciting ending when Sharon, the leader who supposedly chickens out turns up trumps with the police. But it would not have ended that way if not for Gail’s determination and, more importantly, her skepticism.