Tag Archives: Tragedy

Stefa’s Heart of Stone (1976)

Sample Images

Stefa 1.jpg

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Stefa 2.jpg

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Stefa 3.jpg

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)

Publication: 7 August 1976 to 11 December 1976

Reprint: Princess (series 2) 28 January 1984 and concluded in Tammy & Princess 2 June 1984

Summary

Stefa Giles and Joy Brett have been the closest of friends since they were toddlers. Mr Giles worries that they may be a little too inseparable, and Stefa tends to love too much, which can leave her open to being badly hurt. His concerns prove justified when Joy falls ill and dies.

The shock, pain and grief at losing Joy, are so traumatising for Stefa that she cannot bear the thought of experiencing it again. Taking a cue from a statue in her garden which seems impervious to everything because it is made of stone, Stefa resolves to turn her heart into stone so she will never again experience such pain. So Stefa, who had hitherto been a loving girl, refuses to love people anymore. She snubs her classmates, freezes off all friendships, and swallows down any emotion because “statues don’t!” She even strives to stop loving her parents, believing she must so that she will not grieve if she loses them.

The Giles parents put Stefa’s conduct down to the trauma of losing Joy, but they are deeply upset by how Stefa seems to be deliberately hurting them. At the advice of a doctor, they transfer to a new location. Stefa insists on bringing the statue, which she calls Stonyface. She ends up carrying Stonyface on her lap in the car as there is no room in the boot! Her parents are worried and upset that Stefa seems to be care more about the statue than them. They do not realise that Stefa identifies Stonyface as her only friend now that she is turning her heart into stone. Stefa’s pathological relationship with Stonyface leads to some hilarious situations, such as Stefa running away from home with Stonyface on a wheelbarrow – which gets her caught of course. On another occasion she sleeps on the lawn with Stonyface, only to wake up shivering from all the dew.

At her new school, Stefa snubs her classmates, who dub her “The Ice Maiden”. But Stefa is in for a shock – one of them, Ruth Graham, is a near double of Joy! Ruth also has the same sunny, caring personality as Joy and makes every effort she can to be friends with Stefa, regardless of every rebuff Stefa gives her. Ruth’s efforts intensify once she discovers Stefa’s problem. And as Ruth looks like Joy, Stefa finds it extremely difficult to fight her off; emotionally, she wants to embrace her. The presence of Ruth also brings out the grief that Stefa has not resolved and Stefa is embarrassed and humiliated when her grief keeps slipping through her stony behaviour. She becomes desperate to get away from Ruth, but her ploys to do so result in Dad losing his job and having to take a less paid one. The reduced income forces them to move into a council house.

Stonyface becomes a target for stone-throwing kids, but Stefa is not worried; the stones cannot hurt Stonyface, just as nothing else can. But her mother gets hit by a stone and is put in hospital. Although Stefa softens and cries over her injured mother, she soon hardens up again, believing she failed with her stony heart. “I should have been hard and uncaring like you!” she says to Stonyface and redoubles her efforts to turn into stone. So Mum, who was raising hopes that Stefa is her old self again, is in for a shock when she returns home.

After this Dad has had enough and decides it’s time to teach Stefa a lesson. He tells Stefa she must buy and cook her own food. Stefa welcomes it as it will widen the rift between her and her parents. But it becomes another test of her stoniness because Stefa is such a bad cook (although she is fifteen) that she suffers chronic indigestion. But in this case, the way to a person’s heart is not through their stomach, and she remains hard.

Stefa is still determined to avoid Ruth. But Dad will not have Stefa changing schools or ducking out of school to avoid Ruth. So Stefa tries to get expelled, but Ruth keeps foiling her. And Stefa soon finds she cannot avoid Ruth at home either because her parents start inviting her over. One sleepover has Stefa camping out on the lawn with Stonyface because she cannot share a room with Ruth. Stefa wakes up shivering from dew and her father is not impressed. She feels jealous of the attention her parents give Ruth, but swallows it down: “statues don’t!”

Stefa also finds that Ruth has suffered loss even greater than hers – her parents and brother. Stefa is briefly ashamed at Ruth having more courage than her. But she soon hardens her heart again, as she is confident that this will ensure she never suffers grief again while Ruth will.

Then another of Stefa’s tactics to avoid Ruth ends up with her having an accident, and Ruth insisting on going to her aid. In hospital, Stefa finally welcomes Ruth – but then finds the accident has caused her to turn into real stone. She has become a robot, incapable of any feelings or shedding tears. “She might as well be a tailor’s dummy,” says her mother, who is heartbroken to see Stefa worse than ever. It is such a horrible experience for Stefa that she does not want a stony heart anymore. But she cannot break free of the stony heart that now imprisons her. And now Stefa resents Stonyface, whom she believes has the key to her stony cell.

But then the cell unlocks when Stonyface is struck by a bolt of lightning and is smashed to pieces. When Stefa sees this, her stony heart shatters too and she returns to her loving self. Stefa’s parents are overjoyed to see this. Stefa apologises to Ruth and now asks her to be her friend. But there is more – Stefa’s parents want to adopt Ruth, so now Stefa and Ruth will be sisters as well.

Thoughts

Readers of girls’ comics love powerful emotional stories that tug at their heartstrings and reduce them to tears. No doubt this was one reason why Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories. We know Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories because in 1981 the editor said so in response to a letter asking for the story to be reprinted. The editor’s response also reveals that there was a huge demand in Pam’s Poll to repeat Stefa. Yet he still asked if there were others who wanted Stefa too. Hmm, was he hesitant about bringing Stefa back for some reason or did he want to test the waters a bit more? In any case, Jinty did not repeat Stefa, nor did the Tammy & Jinty merger. Eventually Stefa was reprinted in Princess (series 2) in 1984 and concluded in the Tammy & Princess merger. In fact, Princess repeated several old serials from Tammy and Jinty towards the end of her run – not a good sign for a new comic to be recycling old strips and it was an indication that Princess was in trouble.

Stefa was not the only serial to feature a girl who freezes her heart to avoid feeling grief again; Mandy’s “Little Miss Icicle” tried the same thing as Stefa, as did Tough Nut Tara in one Button Box story (Tammy). Jinty’s “Nothing to Sing About” had a similar theme, where the protagonist refuses to sing after her father, a famous singer, dies. Other Jinty stories that feature a protagonist who reacts badly to a loss include “The Ghost Dancer”, “I’ll Make Up for Mary” and “My Heart Belongs to Buttons”.

In most cases the grieving protagonist retains a measure of our sympathy as we watch and wait for the breakthrough that will bring them to their senses. But in this case it gets extremely difficult to sympathise with Stefa because she becomes an increasingly unsympathetic person in the way she treats her parents, classmates and Ruth in her efforts to stop loving. She does not seem to care that she is causing her parents a lot of heartache, anguish and trouble. The family is forced through two shifts; Mum has a near breakdown and then gets hospitalised; Stefa costs Dad his job and he is forced to take a lower-paid job that he finds a real comedown. The Giles family, who used to live well, are now reduced to living in a shabby council house. All because of Stefa’s conduct, but none of it shifts her stony heart. Nor do other things that we expect to make some impression, such as Stefa’s indigestion or discovering Ruth had a greater loss than hers. Even where it looks like something has got through at last, it is only temporary; Stefa soon hardens again.

Stefa is not only utterly selfish with her conduct but stupid too. She does not realise that she is ruining her life and making herself even more miserable than ever. One extremely sad example is Stefa’s birthday (above). It could have been a happy event, with Stefa enjoying her presents, new friends, a party, and her new guitar. But her stoniness turns her birthday into an unhappy one. She does not show the least pleasure in her birthday or gratitude for her presents; in fact, she throws them in the faces of the people who have given them. Stefa is determined to keep up her heart of stone, even on her birthday. What she would have done on Christmas Day we dread to think. Fortunately, it did not come to that.

It is so exasperating that nothing seems to get through to Stefa at all. For a moment something does seem to work, but it does not last and Stefa is back to her stony self. Is there anything that will work, or, as Ruth fears, Stefa has become too hard to melt? In any case, our sympathies turn more to Stefa’s parents and Ruth, and we marvel at Ruth for continuing to care about a girl who goes out of her way not to care about anything.

Ironically, the thing that does get through is what Stefa wanted – a stony heart. Once she has it, she finds she does not like it. Ah, the monkey paw experience does it again. And then, when Stonyface is smashed by lightning, Stefa realises that she has been mistaken about stone being impervious to everything. There are things that can affect stone and it can get damaged too. Clearly, the lightning did what should have been done all along.

One reason why Stefa must have been so popular was that it pushes so many buttons. In the real world, there are real-life Stefas who react against grief by becoming bitter and refuse to love again for fear of experiencing grief again. But like Stefa, all they do is make their lives even more miserable. And there the Ruths who work through their loss, refuse to let it ruin their lives, and come out of it even stronger. There are also warnings about loving too intensely as this can lead to tragedy. It is a warning shared by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which the lovers do not heed either. Finally, the story is a stern warning against bottling up emotions, especially grief. Express, acknowledge and accept them, or they will lead to emotional and psychological problems. Or get a good counsellor!

Go On, Hate Me! (1976-1977)

Sample images

Jinty cover 8

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Hetty 1.jpg

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Publication: 2 November 1976-22 January 1977
Artist: Keith Robson
Writer: Len Wenn

Summary
Hetty Blake loves athletics, especially running. She and her friend Carol are picked for a 400m relay at their athletics club. Hetty starts training hard and pushes Carol to do the same. She does not listen to Carol’s pleas that she is feeling unwell. Too bad for Hetty – if she had listened, she might have saved herself the nightmare that is to follow.

Carol ends up collapsing and is rushed to hospital. Hetty blames herself, but Carol tells her not to; she collapsed because she had a heart condition that she had not told Hetty about and did not have long to live anyway. Before Carol dies, she makes Hetty promise to win the relay and to look after her younger sister, Jo.

Afterwards, Hetty still blames herself and a doctor reassures her it was all due to Carol’s weak heart. Jo overhears what was said but believes the former, not the latter, and shouts hatred at Hetty. Soon Jo starts spreading the word around that Hetty caused Carol’s death by driving Carol too hard. Nobody listens to Hetty’s pleas that Carol just died of a weak heart; Jo says Carol would have told her if that was the case. Worse, Hetty is stuck with looking after Jo because she promised Carol. And Jo is adamant about staying so she can make Hetty’s life miserable.

Hetty’s athletics club has turned against her, but Hetty is adamant about staying and winning the relay as she had promised this to Carol. And she is determined to run, despite the hatred and secret tricks from Jo – one of which damages her feet. She does win, but gets no applause or thanks.

Jo proceeds to turn the whole town against Hetty. Hetty loses her job and cannot get another because nobody will dare to hire her. Now Hetty cannot afford the rent, and lack of income raises problems in looking after Jo. So Jo is now faced with the prospect of ending up in welfare. Hetty has been advised to leave town and does so, still lumbered with Jo. They end up roughing it and even getting a brush with the law. Jo does not understand that these are the consequences of her own malice towards Hetty and goes on blaming her.

In another town, Hetty finds a school where she gets a job as a fill-in PE teacher and Jo becomes a pupil there. Hetty starts an athletics team. But Jo starts spreading the word about Hetty, and this causes many of the girls to drop out. Hetty is worried that she may be forced out of yet another district. However, enough of the girls remain in the team for Hetty to train.

Hetty gets a shock when she finds they will be competing against St Viner’s – Jo’s old school! The Viners girls recognise Hetty and are waiting for her with a nasty surprise – a hate-filled demonstration. This is the last straw for Hetty and she runs off in tears. However, Jo’s attitude towards Hetty has softened towards forgiveness and she runs after Hetty. This has Jo almost getting knocked down by a motorcyclist; Hetty pushes her out the way but takes the brunt.

In hospital, Jo tells Hetty that she found an entry in Carol’s diary that she had not noticed before because the page got stuck down. The entry proves that Hetty had been telling the truth about Carol. Jo explains that she ran after Hetty because she had forgiven her, but now she knows she had been wrong all along and apologises. She wants them to be friends and stay together, and Hetty is very happy.

The reaction of the hatemongers is not recorded.

Thoughts
Stories where girls conduct a hate campaign against someone (or sometimes an institution, such as a school or hospital) because they wrongly blame them for something were common in girls’ comics, and could be told from the POV of either the persecutor or the victim. Sometimes there is a mystery involved, such as the victim trying to unravel why the person is persecuting them, as in Jinty’s “Cursed to be a Coward!”. But one thing remains constant – it always turns out that the victim was wrongly persecuted and the persecutor made a ghastly mistake. Usually, though, this comes to light at the end of the story, often with the victim not realising who and/or why until the end approaches. But here it is at the beginning. Jo did hear the doctor tell Hetty that Carol died of a weak heart and she should not blame herself. And presumably he did try to reason with Jo during the few days he kept her in hospital following her angry outburst at Hetty. But apparently none of it made any impression on Jo, who continues to blame Hetty until the final episode.

Another unusual feature of this story is that it is told from the POV of both the victim and the persecutor. Usually it is one or the other. It is even more unusual that it is not just one person doing the persecuting but whole groups of people. This makes the story even more disturbing, and it must make one strongest statements about how hideous hate can be when you see it in the face. The hatred Hetty encounters is truly frightening, ugly and even dangerous, with people going as far as to pelt her. And in the final episode, it puts Hetty’s life in danger as well. Keith Robson does a brilliant job in illustrating the hatred on people’s faces with his heavy line work, especially on their eyes and twisted expressions. And it is hatred that Hetty cannot escape from because she is bound by a promise to look after the girl who hates her.

The only thing that can counteract hate is love, and this is the statement that the story makes as well. The penultimate episode tells us that next week an act of hate will produce an act of love at last. And love is the key that makes the ending so powerful. It could have ended with Hetty just having the accident because the bully girls drove her out into the road, and then Jo finding the diary entry and just apologising to Hetty. But instead the story makes a powerful point about love and forgiveness, with Jo finally seeing past her hate and forgiving Hetty, and then running after her to try to put it right. And once she had forgiven, Jo must have felt an enormous difference as the hatred left her and learned a lesson about the value of forgiveness. Not to mention getting her facts straight before accusing people and the consequences of spreading nasty rumours!

It seems a bit odd that there seem to be no parents or relatives for either Hetty or Jo. Moreover, Hetty looks hardly old enough to have her own flat or job; she does not look much older than fourteen. The same goes for Carol. All right, so it was not uncommon for girls to be drawn younger than they actually were to be in girls’ serials. For example, Greta Jones in Tammy’s “Nurse Grudge” was eventually revealed to be twenty years old, but she looks like she is still in her mid teens. But it is stretching credibility a bit that both girls are apparent orphans with no grown relatives and looking hardly old enough to be independent. Ah, one of the things we are probably best not to think about too much in girls’ comics.