Tag Archives: Tony Coleman

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

Pre-Misty merger: Tammy 12 January 1980

tammy-cover-12-january-1980

Cover artist – John Richardson

Contents

  • Sister in the Shadows (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (artist Ana Rodriguez)
  • Daughter of the Desert (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Important News for All Readers! (merger announcement)
  • The New Girl – Strange Story
  • Edie the Ed’s Niece (Joe Collins)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Molly Mills and the Promotion – last episode (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Make the Headlines, Hannah! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Everything in the Garden – Strange Story (artist Tony Higham)
  • Edie’s Hobbyhorse – Tie ‘n’ Dye

tammy-and-misty-ad

This is the Tammy that came out the same week as the final issue of Misty. So what did the issue have to say about the Tammy & Misty merger and how did it prepare for it?

The first hint of it comes on the cover, with the Devil in a sandwich sign announcing “there’s exciting news in Tammy – on sale now!” I’ve always been struck at how that Devil character bears a striking resemblance to Pickering, the bully butler in Molly Mills. Is Tammy having a bit of an in-joke here?

As far as room goes, there is not much space to make room for a reasonable proportion of Misty stories. All the serials are still running and one, “Sister in the Shadows”, is only on its second episode. The announcement about the merger informs Tammy readers that not only will all their regular favourites be there but there will also be a new Bella story starting. In other words, Tammy isn’t reducing any of her own features to make room for more features from Misty, such as “Beasts”, “Nightmare!” and (we suspect) “Monster Tales”. There must have been great disappointment among former Misty readers that the proportion of Misty was miniscule compared to the Tammy one. I myself hoped that once the current Tammy stories finished more Misty stories would take their place, but I was disappointed there. Why couldn’t Tammy have done some double episodes of Hannah, the serial closest to finishing, so she would be finished off by the time of the merger and there would be more space for Misty stories in the merger issue?

In discussion of the stories, in part two of “Sister in the Shadows” Wendy continues to have what must rank as one of the worst first days at school in history. On top of the king-sized collywobbles she came with, she is encountering constant embarrassment and humiliation as teachers keep comparing her to her sister Stella, who was once the star pupil at the school, and Wendy can’t live up to their expectations. It’s not endearing her to her fellow classmates either and the stage is clearly set for some bullying.

“Daughter of the Desert” features a school that is strangely reverting to a desert pattern after an Arabian princess comes to the school. In an exciting but very odd episode, the two protagonists find themselves in a quicksand trap, which is supposed to be part of the strange desert pattern. Then the quicksand mysteriously disappears into a hard concrete road when the girls return with their headmistress to investigate.

Cindy decides to throw away her ballet career for the sake of her swans, who are being poisoned by chemical pollution. Despite the pollution the swans find the strength to persuade Cindy to continue, much to the chagrin of Cindy’s jealous rival Zoe. Now Zoe is now back to scheming against Cindy to become the star dancer of their village.

Molly Mills gets promoted but deliberately sets out to lose it once she decides she was happier with the status quo as a servant. Miss Bigger buys a sedan chair for charity – but trust her to lumber Wee Sue and her friend with the job of carrying it to her place! Then thieves steal the chair, and it’s up to Wee Sue’s big brain to sort them out. The promise of a hamper lures Bessie out for ice-skating practice, but of course there have to be hijinks.

Hannah’s latest attempt to hit the headlines fails again because her prop got vandalised. At first she suspects her sisters, who have been sabotaging her every effort so far, but now she isn’t so sure. Sounds like a mystery to tie up, and will it have any bearing on Hannah’s campaign to prove herself?

There is a double-up of Strange Stories this week. The first is about a new girl named Stella who is perfect at everything. But Tracey Roberts thinks there is something odd about it all, and about the star on the bracelet Stella always wears. Then, when the star falls off Stella’s bracelet she falls mysteriously ill and Tracey gets strange visions from her parents urging her to find the star. The second is a parable about how beauty can be found even in the most unexpected places. Once Chris Dale learns this lesson she agrees to have the eye surgery she had refused before.

Incidentally, the blurb announcing the new Bella story says she will have a crack at the Moscow Olympics (which of course will be a “struggle”). Older Bella readers would know that she had never succeeded in competing at the Olympics. Her 1976 Montreal bid only got her as far as performing in the opening ceremony. Will Bella succeed in competing at the Olympics this time?

Tammy and Princess merger: 7 April 1984

Tammy and Princess cover

  • Bella – new story (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • Rusty Remember Me – from Princess (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Day and Knight – from Princess (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Diana – A Queen’s Dream – complete story (artist Hugo D’Adderio, writer Maureen Spurgeon) Adapted from Maureen Spurgeon’s “For Love of Elizabeth” in her book “Romantic Stories of Young Love”
  • Cassie’s Coach (writer Alison Christie, artist Tony Coleman)
  • What Kind of Fool Are You? – Quiz (writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Stefa’s Heart of Stone – from Princess (writer Alison Christie, artist Phil Townsend)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • Sadie in Waiting (artist Joe Collins)

Princess (series II), no connection to Princess/Princess Tina, was the last comic to merge with Tammy. It had been another short-lived title, lasting 28 issues. In terms of Jinty history, Princess is significant for reprinting some serials from her and Tammy. One, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, carries over into the merger here. It is known from Jinty’s letter page in 1981 that there had been a huge demand in the 1980 Pam’s Poll to reprint the story. But the Editor was still asking readers if they wanted Stefa to be repeated – as if he was hesitating to do it for some reason.

Other stories carrying on from Princess are “Day and Knight” and “Rusty Remember Me”. After some flashbacks filling Tammy readers in on how Dad’s remarriage has brought bully Carrie Knight into Sharon Day’s home, the story moves to its climax with Sharon being driven out of her own home because of the bully. There are also quick flashbacks to fill new readers in on “Rusty Remember Me” as well. But the story looks like it has more to go. Mum now knows the children are hiding a fox, but her fur allergy is complicating things. Dad left home to find work, but when the children see him, he is in a bad way. “Cassie’s Coach” is the only Tammy story to continue in the merger. It does so without any flashbacks for new readers’ benefit, and it’s taken a nasty turn – Cassie has suddenly collapsed from overwork.

The merger does away with “The Crayzees”. Instead, Tammy is taking over Princess’s Joe Collins cartoon, “Sadie in Waiting”. In so doing, it brings us Grovel, the first villainous butler since Pickering from “Molly Mills”, to Tammy. But while Pickering was a cruel, bullying slave driver, Grovel is more of a nuisance, in the way he sucks up to his employer, Princess Bee. Most often this leaves Princess Bee annoyed and Grovel in trouble. But like Pickering, Grovel is capable of scheming to get his own way.

Bella and Pam start afresh in the merger. There is a brief introduction to Bella and her back story that enables new readers to get to grips with her immediately, before her new story starts in earnest. Bella the wanderer decides it’s time to make another move, but it doesn’t look like a good one. Bella’s new location has no gymnastics club, so Bella is trying her hand at sports acrobatics instead. The trouble is, the coach is not very pleasant to her. And she’s not welcome in the home she is boarding in – someone has wrecked her room and left a message telling her to get out!

The Pam story is an introductory one, in which Pam introduces new readers to her school and friends through back issues of “The Pond Hill Printout”. This is a clever way to familiarise the new readers with Pam. Pam’s proper story starts next week.

The story “Diana – A Queen’s Dream” is a curious one. It is adapted from “For Love of Elizabeth” in Maureen Spurgeon’s book “Romantic Stories of Young Love”. In the story, Queen Elizabeth I takes a hand in a forbidden romance in the Spencer family. At the end, she dreams of a Lady Diana Spencer – who is realised as Princess Diana in the 20th century.

 

Last issue of Jinty merger: Tammy & Jinty 10 July 1982

Tammy and Jinty cover 10 July 1982

  • Bella – final episode (artist John Armstrong, writer Primrose Cumming)
  • The Destiny Dolls – final episode (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Molly Mills and the Ghosts – complete story (artist Douglas Perry) – last appearance
  • Bessie Bunter – last appearance
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • The Human Zoo – final episode (artist Guy Peeters, writer Pat Mills)
  • Can You Spread a Little Sunshine? – Quiz (writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Punchinello’s Dance – The Strange Story (artist Mario Capaldi) – last appearance
  • Di and the Dolphins – final episode (artist Eduardo Feito)

This is the last issue of the Tammy and Jinty merger. Next issue will be a clean break that is most notable for starting credits in Tammy! (Thank you, Wilf Prigmore, for starting them!) Of course the centre pages are full of the “great news” and the stories and gifts that will be present next week.

So this issue is filled with a lot of endings, including the end of features that have been in Tammy for years. This is the last time the Jinty logo appears. Curiously, there is a small ampersand beside it instead of the usual “and”. Molly and Bessie make their last-ever appearances in Tammy. They both end on regular stories, which in the case of Molly is a complete story. There is nothing to say they have ended. There is no Wee Sue either. This is the last issue to feature a Strange Story. But it is only labelled a Strange Story; the Storyteller himself is nowhere to be seen. And there is no Monster Tale. But there will be several monster-themed stories running for a while yet, so there must have been some scripts left over from the series.

All of Tammy’s running serials, including the current Bella story, end in this issue to make way for the clean break next issue. The reprint of “The Human Zoo” from Jinty had an episode or two cut out so it could end in this issue. It was announced last issue that Pam would take a break in this issue, no doubt to make some room for clearing out more material here.

Tammy’s 10th Birthday Issue

Tammy 7 February 1981

Cover artist: Robert MacGillivray

Characters/serials on the cover: Sandy Rawlings; Molly Mills; Belinda Bookworm; Wee Sue; Bella Barlow; undetermined; Push-along, Patti; Bessie Bunter; Miss Bigger

  •  Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • The Black and White World of Shirley Grey – first episode (artist Diane Gabbot)
  • Push-along, Patti (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Help Yourself to a Holiday – competition
  • Molly Mills and the Echoes from the Past – new story (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Edie and Miss T (artist Joe Collins)
  • Tune-In (feature)
  • Belinda Bookworm (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Imaginary Abbie – Strange Story from the Mists (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • Rita My Robot Friend (artist Tony Coleman)

While it is out of the garage, I am going to discuss the issue where Tammy celebrated her 10th birthday (sadly, this is something Jinty never reached). Tammy certainly pulls out the stops to celebrate: her commemorative cover; Edie and Miss T redecorating their rooms with 10 years’ worth of Tammy; Miss Bigger taking Wee Sue and her friends on a special tour to the Tammy office; and Molly reflecting on her 10 years at Stanton Hall (once Pickering points out she had been there that long). And of course it wouldn’t be complete without celebratory competitions.

When revisiting past Tammy characters, we see that the focus is on ones who are currently running (Belinda Bookworm), have appeared in comparatively recent years (Thursday’s Child, Cindy of Swan Lake), or whose memory still lingers on (Olympia Jones, Babe of St Wood’s). The only really early Tammy character to reappear is Cat Girl. There are no Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’, Aunt Aggie, School for Snobs, Beattie or any of the characters from the first years.

(click thru)

However, the Molly story does reflect back on the early days and hints at how different the tone of Tammy was back then. Molly not only remembers the time she arrived at Stanton Hall but also how much more cruel Pickering was back in the early days.  Indeed, the Molly strip has become tamer now in comparison to what it was in Tammy’s early years. It has clearly been toned down. Pickering is still a bully who picks on Molly, but the stocks, beatings, dungeons and cold duckings in the lake are now a thing of Tammy’s past, thank goodness. Even the catty Betty and Kitty, who played a dirty trick that nearly got Molly sacked on her first day, have lost their cattiness and are more friendly with Molly.

(click thru)

Tammy herself has been toned down as well. When she was first launched, she revelled in stories filled with darkness, cruelty, torture and suffering. But readers loved it and her sales rocketed. Stories with the Cinderella theme or slave theme (girls used as slaves in one form or another) abounded, and a number of them, such as “Slaves of ‘War Orphan Farm’” and “The Four Friends at Spartan School” really pushed the envelope with the tortures their heroines went through. But by the late 1970s these had all faded. All that remained of them was Bella Barlow, who is still badly treated by Jed and Gert Barlow, although she has just rescued them from hard times.

But Tammy had not gone all light and soppy. Her current stories, “Belinda Bookworm”, “Push-along, Patti” and “Rita My Robot Friend” all feature heroines who are being bullied/ostracised at school and trying to rise above it. Tammy’s new story, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”, will also feature some extremely vicious and horrifying bullying in the weeks ahead.

It has been just over a year since Misty merged with Tammy. The Misty logo is smaller now and there have been fewer spooky stories than when Misty joined. But the Strange Stories from the Mist continue, as do Edie and Miss T and the Misty horoscope.

Edie and Miss T 1

Tammy and Misty 19 January 1980

Tammy and Misty cover 19 January 1980

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Bella – new story (artist John Armstrong)
  • Daughter of the Desert (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Sister in the Shadows (artist Giorgio Giorgetti)
  • Spider Woman – first episode (artist Jaume Rumeu aka Homero Romeu)
  • Edie and Miss T (artist Joe Collins)
  • Put Yourself in the Picture! – Quiz (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Friend Pepi – Strange Story from the Mists (artist José Ariza?)
  • Make the Headlines, Hannah! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Cindy of Swan Lake (artist Ana Rodriguez)

Sometimes we deviate from the main topic to bring attention to topics that are related to Jinty. So this entry goes off-topic to discuss the issue where Misty merged with Tammy.

The merger still resonates years later – mostly because a number of Misty readers were not happy with it and wanted the original back. The short-lived Best of Misty Monthly that appeared some years after the merger was a response to the demand for the return of Misty. A “Best of” monthly was something neither Tammy nor Jinty ever had, though Girl (series 2) did get one as well. Even today, there are efforts to bring Misty back in one form or other.

At the time, the merger itself must have been something of a disappointment for a number of Misty readers because there was not much Misty in it (it was for me, and I was a Tammy reader). Things did not improve much once Tammy’s current serials finished, which would have made more room for overt Misty material. “The Loneliest Girl in the World”, “The Sea Witches”, (possibly) “A Girl Called Midnight”, “Danger Dog” and “The Shadow of Sherry Brown” look like they may have come from Misty. Some of them, such as “The Loneliest Girl in the World”, were undoubtedly Misty. But in other cases it can be hard to say if the spooky story was Misty or Tammy; after all, Tammy ran spooky stories too. Later on, Misty’s text stories returned; they must have taken the advice of one reader who suggested it. Mini-serial spooky stories, such as “The House Mouse”, also appeared occasionally, just as they did in the original Misty.

Edie and Miss T

Misty arguably made her mark more in the Strange Stories, which became “Strange Stories from the Mist”, with Misty herself being rotated with the Storyteller. Miss T and Edie merged into one cartoon, which is a simple matter, because Joe Collins drew them both. They are a bit of an odd couple (ordinary girl and witch), which perhaps made the cartoon even better. Once Snoopa joined in the Jinty merger, they became “The Crayzees”.

Misty also brought a darker tone into Tammy, which was still felt even during the Tammy and Jinty merger, when “Monster Tales” started. There was no way either Tammy or Jinty would run anything like that – it had to be Misty. Perhaps “Monster Tales” was originally conceived for Misty, but there was no room until Bessie, Wee Sue and Molly Mills were amalgamated into one feature “Old Friends”, which they shared in rotation.

Some letters from Tammy readers indicate that the incorporation of Misty must have been a shock to them. Several commented that they found her spooky theme not only unsettling but unrealistic as well. Indeed, “Spider Woman” (a sequel to “The Black Widow” from Misty) must have given them all nightmares full of spiders. Spider Woman is an insane scientist who could well have been the first villain in Tammy to be out for world domination. Even more frightening, the story plays on the common fear of spiders to heights that Tammy readers had never seen before. We see spiders capable of eating people alive and leaving only the bones, giant spiders, poisonous spiders, and even a serum that can turn a human being into a spider!

Spider Woman 1

 

Spider Woman 2

The merger issue also has a very interesting quiz that shows that Tammy and Misty made serious efforts to accustom readers to the tone of the two different comics. Here readers are not only invited to imagine themselves in the places of the heroines in the story, but are also informed about the stories that will replace the currently running “Cindy of Swan Lake”, “Sister in the Shadows”, “Daughter of the Desert” and “Make the Headlines, Hannah!” This is the only case where I have seen upcoming stories being revealed in this way. Normally we are not informed about any new stories until the week before they start. The quiz also informs us that Bessie Bunter has been demoted from a regular weekly strip to a character “who you’ll meet from time to time”.

(Click thru)

In later weeks, Tammy and Misty ran another feature to get readers further acquainted with Tammy regulars (two of whom, Bessie and Molly, were not even appearing at the time). This was “Misty’s House of Mystery”, a game where Tammy regulars Sue, Bella, Bessie and Molly are caught in Misty’s House of Mystery, which is full of horrors such as blood showers and man-eating plants! The game is reproduced below. Imagine Jinty regulars going through a thing like that….

(Click thru)

And in this issue, Bella starts her bid for the Moscow Olympics by entering the world qualifier in Texas, with the help of her coach and her wealthy guardians, the Courtney-Pikes. Sounds like Bella’s hopes for the Olympics are better than in her 1976 Montreal Olympics story, where she had to make her way alone without even a passport, but only got as far as participating in the opening ceremony. But unexpected expenses that cause money shortages, unhelpful Texan coaches, and the sudden withdrawal of the Courtney-Pikes without explanation are already leaving her up the proverbial creek without a paddle before the event even begins.

Tammy 11 February 1984

Tammy 11 February 1984

  • Foul Play (artist John Armstrong, writer Ian Mennell)
  • Cassie’s Coach – first episode (artist Tony Coleman but credited as George Anthony, writer Alison Christie)
  • Julie’s Jinx (artist Julian Vivas, writer Nick Allen)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Ian Mennell)
  • Event of the Year – complete story (artist Raymond, writer Roy Preston)
  • Queen Rider – final episode (artist Eduardo Feito, adapted from book by A.D. Langholm)
  • My Terrible Twin (artist Juliana Buch)
  • Spring a Foot! – Feature (by Mari L’Anson)

The first Tammy to feature credits has recently had an entry on this blog. Now the last Tammy to have credits will be profiled as well.

Since the credits started, they have evolved and changed, sometimes in odd ways. Some of the credits were pseudonyms. For example, Tony Coleman was credited under his own name at first, but he was subsequently credited as George Anthony, as he is here. Some writers and artists did not appear under their full name. For example, the DCT artist who draws “Event of the Year” is only credited as “Raymond” (is that his first or his last name?).  Julian Vivas, who draws “Julie’s Jinx”, is just credited as “Vivas”, but his full name appears in other Tammy credits. Reprints were not credited, as was the case with “My Terrible Twin” here. Even the artist, Juliana Buch, is not credited, as she was for her new stories in Tammy. Features, such as the one about footwear on the back cover, also received credits. But it is not clear whether Mari L’Anson is the writer, the artist or both for it, because the credit just says “by: Mari L’Anson”.

When the credits first began, Roy Preston was credited with a lot of stories that had dark, supernatural themes such as “The Evil One” and “Sign of the Times”. These were probably leftover scripts from “Monster Tales” in the Tammy and Jinty merger. Preston continued to be credited with several complete stories that had a supernatural theme, such as “The Lady of Ranoch Water” and “The Moon Maiden”. But here Preston is credited with a lighter story that has no supernatural theme whatsoever: “Event of the Year”. Throughout the credit run, Preston wrote only complete stories; there is not a single serial attributed to him during this period.

Ian Mennell is credited with several mystery stories, such as “Foul Play” and “Saving Grace”, but the credits also show he was not solely confined to that genre. Mennell wrote the unorthodox male cross-dressing story “Cuckoo in the Nest” and a lot of Button Box stories, such as the one in this issue. Alison Christie, who first started Button Box, did not write all of its stories; Mennell and Linda Stephenson are also credited with Button Box stories. This is unlike the case of “Pam of Pond Hill”, where Jay Over is credited as the writer throughout.

Alison Christie remains credited with emotional stories such as “A Gran for the Gregorys” and “It’s a Dog’s Life!” throughout Tammy’s credit run. There were no stories with a more supernatural or sporty theme attributed to Christie, though her interviews revealed that she sometimes delved into those genres in Jinty. And here Christie begins her last credited Tammy story “Cassie’s Coach”. This is a Victorian-set struggle for survival after the mother is wrongly imprisoned. Her children take up the most unusual accommodation after they are thrown out of their old home – a discarded coach! Cassie is not quite as intense or disturbing as some of Christie’s emotional stories. This is probably why Tony Coleman was the choice of artist for a period story, something he does not normally draw.

 

 

Tammy Annual 1986

Tammy annual 1986

  • Cover artist: Mario Capaldi
  • Pam of Pond Hill (writer Jay Over, artist Bob Harvey)
  • Animal Magic (feature)
  • The Bell – Strange Story (artist Jaume Rumeu aka Homero Romeu)
  • Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Wish Upon a Star (feature)
  • The Black and White World of Shirley Grey (artist Diane Gabbot)
  • Party Pieces (feature)
  • Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Yule Tide – text story (artist Tony Coleman, writer Ian D. Mennell)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Snow – poem (writer Deborah Pfeiffer)
  • What’s Your Resolution? (quiz)
  • Sally’s Secret – Strange Story (artist Veronica Weir)
  • Animal Magic
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Second Sight – Button Box story in text (artist John Johnston, writer Ian D. Mennell)
  • Animal Magic
  • ‘Make It’ a Great Year! (feature)
  • Flutter by, Butterfly! (feature)
  • Sweet Eats (feature)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Snowy, the Christmas Snowman (feature)
  • The Crayzees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Molly Mills and the Sporting Life (artist Douglas Perry)

This was the last Tammy annual, with a gorgeous cover from Mario Capaldi. Capaldi had illustrated several covers for the Jinty annual and one for the Misty annual, but this was his first – and last – cover for the Tammy annual. Could it well be the last cover Capaldi ever produced for any girls’ annual as well? By this time the IPC girls’ titles had faded and DCT had taken more of a centre stage.

Pam of Pond Hill leads off the annual with her last Christmas story. Pam and Goof are sent to collect the Christmas tree for the school. Sounds simple and foolproof? Pam and Goof find out it’s anything but.

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The two text stories, “Yule Tide” and “Second Sight” take the unusual step of crediting the writer, Ian D. Mennell. “Second Sight” is unique for being the only Button Box story ever published as a text story, and it is a story that I have always enjoyed. Carmal, an Oriental girl, starts out as a selfish rich girl. Not surprising, considering that her uncle is a rogue. She mistreats a blind busker by putting buttons in his bowl instead of coins. But karma strikes when the uncle’s victims take a revenge attack that leaves Carmal blind and alone, and she is taken in by the very same busker she had mistreated. She learns his trade, and also learns what it is like to have mean people throw worthless rubbish in your busking bowl instead of money. In the process she becomes a more considerate and kind person – and so has the uncle, once he has tracked her down.

Meanwhile, Capaldi’s picture Button Box story is about a housemaid who hates her job because she is an outdoor type. When she foils a robber (realising he left a loose button from his jacket at the scene of the crime), it opens up a new career for her as a policewoman and enjoying the great outdoors on the beat.

Talking of housemaids, the last Molly Mills annual story reprints “The Sporting Life”, an annual sports event between the villagers and the Stanton Hall staff. Normally the villagers get on well with Stanton Hall, but when it comes to sports day it is far from a friendly match. It’s a needle event, and the needles are sharper than usual because the villagers have Olympic hopefuls on their team, and then spoilsport Pickering bans the staff from training after he gets caught up in mishaps from it.

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The poem “Snow” is also given a credit. The writer is Deborah Pfeiffer. This is the only work in Tammy credited to Pfeiffer.

The reprints are taken from 1981, including Diane Gabbot’s second-to-last Tammy story, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey”. The original run had the honour of starting in Tammy’s 10th birthday issue. Shirley Grey refuses to tell lies in the wake of an accident she irrationally blames herself for. But Shirley is taking it to such extremes that she refuses to tell even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. You can imagine what that leads to, and it starts with the boss’s wife asking Shirley what she thinks of her dress (which is hideous!).

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The annual is the one that stops the Bessie Bunter appearances. I find this a bit sad as I have always been a big fan of Bessie. Maybe there was no room for Bessie, or the editors decided she had had her day? If they did, it may reflect what happened in the regular comic. Bessie’s days became numbered in 1980 after Tammy swallowed Misty. During the merger Bessie was demoted from regular appearances to “from time to time” appearances while Wee Sue and Molly were still going strong.

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The Bella story is more intriguing in that Tammy is taking a serious attempt to giving the colouring more of a 3-D look in the use of the hues and tones. In the previous annuals this was only applied to skin toning, but now it is being applied to everything. The story has Bella losing her confidence because she is under a cloud that she won a medal by default when her rival withdrew. Bella’s coach is handling her badly, which only makes matters worse. But of course things turn around and it ends with Bella all set to make the coach eat his words. And it’s nice to see Bella’s last annual story focus on her gymnastics and not the machinations of Jed and Gert, which were the most frequent basis of Bella’s annual stories.

In the last Wee Sue story in the annual, Sue’s final word is “’bye!.” I wonder if this is meant to be a double meaning as this is the last-ever Tammy annual, and this particular reprint chosen for this reason.

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Tammy Annual 1985

Tammy annual 1985

  • The Button Box (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Animal Magic
  • The Town Crier – Strange Story (artist John Johnston)
  • Fun Time
  • Animal Magic
  • Molly Mills and the Festive Season (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Are You Really Nice to Know? (quiz)
  • Animal Magic
  • Bella (artist John Armstrong)
  • The Indian Blanket – Strange Story (artist Maria Dembilio)
  • The Price of Fame – text story (artist Tony Coleman)
  • The Crazyees (artist Joe Collins)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Stick with Us! (feature)
  • Fun Time
  • A Girl Called Steve (artist Diane Gabbot)
  • Be a “Wise Owl” and Decorate a Plant Pot (feature)
  • Christmas Exchange – text story (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Lend a Helping Hand (feature)
  • Choose Chocolate (feature)
  • Who’s a Pretty Boy, Then? (feature)
  • Odds and Ends (feature)
  • Polar Bears and Arctic Hares – feature (artist John Johnston)
  • Fun Time
  • Animal Magic
  • Bessie Bunter
  • Be a Cover Girl! (feature)
  • Hidden Melody – Strange Story (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Wee Sue (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Pam of Pond Hill (artist Bob Harvey, writer Jay Over)

Continuing the theme of Pam’s appearances in the Tammy annual, this Pam story takes a break from the Christmas theme where everything’s gearing up for a Christmas celebration but fate threatens to throw a Grinch into the works. Instead, the story focuses on exam nerves. It’s the history exam that’s the biggest worry of all for Pam, and considering that she has never been strong academically, what will the results be?

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Pam 1Pam 2Pam 3Pam 4

This annual is the last Tammy annual to have Bessie Bunter. One story has a guest appearance from Billy Bunter (below), so at least Bessie ends on a high. Meanwhile, this is the first annual to have The Button Box, and the button Bev selects tells an anti-fox hunting story and a harsh squire who is shocked into changing his ways after his fox traps nearly kill his own niece.

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The serial reprinted for the 1985 annual is the 1979 story, “A Girl Called Steve” (short for Stephanie). It’s a mystery story, but is unusual in that Steve gets two mysteries to solve, one after the other. The first comes when Steve joins her father’s archaeological dig in the caves at Clambourne Bay. Even on the journey up there, it becomes blatantly obvious that there are some very sinister types out to scare her away. Things get even worse when the superstitious locals tell Steve that the Acum (a monster said to haunt the cave) has cursed the village in retaliation for the archaeological dig, and they join the campaign to get rid of Steve and her father. But is there really a monster behind it all, or is whatever in the caves more to do with human greed? Once the Clambourne mystery is solved and Steve returns home, she soon embarks on mystery number two when the council wants to bulldoze the old tram lines and weird things start happening there.

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In the Bella story, Jed and Gert embark on one of their most idiotic dodges to make money – Gert running aerobics classes, despite the fact that she is overweight, out of condition, has no training or qualifications, and is no spring chicken. But it’s poor Bella who ends up carrying the can and fleeing the angry aerobics class once they realise they’ve been conned. However, this is Christmas, so the Bella story has to resolve that way.

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The text stories are new, but the reprints increase. The Christmas-themed Molly story is a repeat. It looks like nowhere for the Stantons to have Christmas because Pickering wrecked the hall by lighting a match in a kitchen full of gas. Claire suggests London’s East End where Molly’s family are, but are the Stantons too posh for a Cockney party? The Wee Sue stories and Strange Stories are more repeats. And it could be the cover is a reprint as well, possibly taken from Princess Tina, as the Katy covers were. Still, the annual and its content are solid and can be read again and again.

Shadow on the Fen (1978)

Sample images

Fen 1

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Publication: 18 February 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Unknown (but see thoughts)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #25 as “The Witchfinder”

Plot

Linden James and her family have just moved to the village of Wychley Green, but things aren’t off to a good start for her. She misses her old home and isn’t making friends because they think she’s standoffish. At the Wishing Tree she wishes for a friend, without much hope of getting one.

But then a girl from the 17th century appears. Her name is Rebecca Neville and her evil cousin, Matthew Hobley “The Witchfinder”, has accused her of witchcraft. Part of it is Rebecca having her grandmother’s ‘healing hands’ and treating sick people and animals with them. But the real reason is that Hobley is after her inheritance. Hobley was leading a witch-hunting mob against her all the way up to the Wishing Tree, and she suddenly found herself in Linden’s time. Linden draws the conclusion that it was the Wishing Tree. She tells Rebecca that she is quite safe here because people here don’t believe in witches anymore. Rebecca is upset to find her home in ruins and her grandmother’s grave (which does not give the date of her death). However, she moves in with Linden, swapping her 17th century clothes for modern ones and school uniform happily enough.

But soon there are warning signs that Hobley has followed Rebecca into the 20th century. During a thunderstorm, they are terrified when a frightening silhouette that looks like a Puritan appears in a mirror. Soon the same shadow is following them about. And Linden, who is confident that Hobley can’t stir up people against Rebecca in this period because people no longer believe in witches, is soon to learn otherwise.

It begins when the school visits an archaeological dig, which Rebecca realises is unearthing an apothecary’s shop. The Witchfinder attacks with a pile of bricks, which narrowly misses Rebecca and the Professor in charge of the dig. The classmates blame Rebecca and start to whisper she is a witch. She gets particular trouble from the wayward Smith boys. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a ring on a trap door that could lead to something.

Linden buys a witchball (an old charm against witches) for her mother’s birthday. On the way back from the shop the shadow of the Witchfinder appears. Linden threatens him with the witchball and he retreats. They now have a protection against the Witchfinder, but odd attacks start at Linden’s home and seem to be targeting the witchball.

The whispering against Rebecca gets worse when she offers to help Mrs Perks look for her cat while the Smith boys tease Mrs Perks over it. Mrs Perks is also rumoured to be a witch because she is psychic. They help Mrs Perks find her cat and in return Mrs Perks reads Rebecca’s palms. She says Rebecca has healing hands and warns her that there is an evil shadow pursuing her.

The dig uncovers a box that contains items from the apothecary. Among them is a gold locket belonging to the apothecary’s granddaughter Catherine. Catherine was a friend of Rebecca’s, and she and the apothecary stood up to Hobley for her. Then the Professor uncovers a document listing the names of people brought to trial for witchcraft – and Rebecca’s name is on the list! This renews the rumours that Rebecca is a witch. Linden covers up by saying the other Rebecca must be an ancestress, which calms things down. But they wonder how the list got there.

That question is answered when the Witchfinder turns up in person at school, posing as Professor Hopkin who has joined the dig. Linden and Rebecca learn that Catherine searched Hobley’s room for false evidence against Rebecca and stole the list. But she was discovered, so she, the apothecary and their cat were hanged as friends of a witch. However, Catherine is not quite finished – her ghost appears when the Witchfinder traps them at the fen and gets help for them.

They now realise the Witchfinder must be a wizard in his own right and turn to Mrs Perks for help. The Witchfinder tries to scare them with ghosts, but the ghosts fade when they approach Grandmother Neville’s grave, and they figure it must offer protection against the Witchfinder. Mrs Perks helps them figure out the secret of the Witchfinder’s power – a box containing a black wand, a black book and a book bound in black leather. If they destroy those items, they destroy the Witchfinder.

They discover that the Witchfinder/Hopkin has gone into hiding. Mrs Perks suggests he may be at Deepdene Cottage and gives Rebecca a cross and rowan flowers for protection. She says the cross was carved by an ancestor, whose wife became one of Hobley victim’s – so she has her own score to settle with Hobley.

They find the box at the cottage but are attacked by the Witchfinder’s minions – ravens and vicious dogs. They manage to retrieve the wand and destroy it. But the Witchfinder still has the book and knife.

Mrs Perks tracks down the box again, but the Witchfinder attacks in person – and right in front of the Smith boys. Linden repels him with the cross, and they destroy his book. But he gets away with the knife.

Mrs Perks ends up in hospital. The Witchfinder gave the Smith boys such a fright that they have reformed and are looking after Mrs Perks’ garden. Mrs Perks warns the girls that the Witchfinder will be even more dangerous now because he is frightened, and they still have to destroy the knife. Their search for him goes nowhere, and now he sends a mist that cuts off the village from the rest of the world.

Rebecca heads back to the Wishing Tree on her own, figuring that is where she will find Hobley and the knife. She finds the knife, but has forgotten her cross. So she is unprotected when he emerges, ready to drag her back to their own time and burn her at the stake.

However, Linden discovers the oversight, heads to the Wishing Tree with the cross, and arrives in the nick of time. As she flourishes the cross, lightning strikes. The Wishing Tree is destroyed and Hobley is reduced to bones, which crumble within the hour, leaving only his hat. But there is no sign of Rebecca.

Then Linden finds a book Rebecca left for her. It contains a reference to a statue in the churchyard that is a tribute to Rebecca. It reveals she survived Hobley’s persecution, became Rebecca Bartlett, and died a noble old lady at 77. Linden is relieved to know Rebecca got back safely and goes to put flowers on her grave. She finds the epitaph reflects their whole adventure: “Time and Death are illusions – but Friendship survives forever”.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a cut above the formula about evil sorcerers/witches who use their evil magic to wreak havoc while the protagonists try to stop them, and it almost invariably ends with the sorcerer/witch being destroyed. But there is always a lot of dark, spooky, scary stuff along the way, and this can leave panels that resonate with the reader years after she reads the story.

Shadow on the Fen is using the formula to make a serious statement about witch-hunting and where the evil really lies – with the accused or the accuser? Its strongest underscoring in this regard is in the hypocrisy of it all – the Witchfinder accusing people of being evil witches while he is the one who is an evil wizard. There is humour in the irony in that the Witchfinder is the one who is allergic to the things that are supposed to repel witches – witchballs, rowan and crucifixes. It further underlines the hypocrisy. While real witch-finders could hardly have been evil wizards, they were certainly evil people who would go to any lengths, such as heinous torture, to make a bounty and a fortune.

The story also touches on human psychology and how much we have actually outgrown the thinking that sent people to the stake for witches in olden times. And how far has Wychley Green itself outgrown it? For example, are the rumours against Mrs Perks the product of stupid, ignorant people, or could there still be traces of witch-beliefs in Wychley Green? Lingering witch-beliefs in modern villages have formed the basis of several ‘persecution’ serials such as Wenna the Witch and Mark of the Witch!

The story should be appreciated for taking a few moments to depict witches as they really were – wise women who helped people with charms, folk magic and herbal remedies. They were not agents of the Devil – a myth invented by the Inquisition – but their healing practices made them ready targets for accusations of witchcraft. When Rebecca first meets Linden, she recounts how several people in her time went this way, and her own healing abilities have made her vulnerable to the same accusation.

The name of Matthew Hobley and his alias, Professor Hopkin, are clearly references to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. The fact that Hobley turned out to really be a dark wizard may be a reference to the (probably apocryphal) legend that Hopkins was declared a wizard by his own witch-hunting methods and executed.

Several years later the theme of the Witchfinder General resurfaced in Tammy, with Spell of Fog, 29 October 1983 – 17 December 1983. This time, though, it is Hopkins himself. A film crew want to make a film about one of his victims, Alice Compton. Sally Groves, who has been deeply affected by the Compton case, protests when the director announces he is making a sensationalised version that depicts Alice as an actual agent of the Devil, not a hapless victim of superstition and hysteria.

Then a strange fog appears where Alice’s remains have been scattered. Its power cuts the village off from the outside world and has the village progressively reverting to a 17th century pattern in technology, dress and people’s thinking. Hysteria erupts in the village as the fog takes hold and people think it’s Alice’s revenge. Sally is the obvious scapegoat because she alone has remained unaffected, so she becomes a target of mob attacks and people calling her a witch. Eventually the fog takes over completely and the persecution of Alice Compton is re-enacted, with Sally as Alice and the film director as Hopkins.

But it turns out the power behind the fog is neither Alice nor Hopkins – it’s the villagers who burned Alice at the stake. They acted out shame and guilt over what they did, but also to remind the modern villagers that witch-hunting is not something that belongs in the past. It can erupt in any day and age because the psychology behind it (unreason, prejudice and fear of what you do not understand) is in every human. (Yes, you only have to look at things like the Red Scares and Satanic Ritual Abuse Scares to know what they mean.) They leave the villagers with a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of their fears.

There are similarities between Fen and Fog – witchfinders, evils of witch-hunting and mass hysteria, and supernatural forces and mists that cut off villages from the outside world and turn modern people into witch-hunting idiots of olden times – that have me wondering if it is the same writer. The mist in Fog sounds like a step up from the fog in Fen – going from what seems a belated last-ditch effort on the part of the Witchfinder to becoming the driving force of the entire plot. The credits for Fog list Jake Adams as the writer and George Anthony (actually, Tony Coleman) as the artist.

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