Tag Archives: troublemaker

Hettie High and Mighty! (1975)

Sample Images

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Published: Lindy #14, 20 September 1975 to #20, 1 November 1975; continued in Jinty and Lindy merger 8 November 1975 to 13 December 1975

Episodes: 13

Artist: Unknown artist “Merry”

Writer: Terence Magee (concept, synopsis, first episode); remaining episodes unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Dock End School is a bit run down, but it’s a happy and peaceful place – until Hettie King arrives, that is. Hettie’s previous school, Firdale Academy, was a posh academy that has turned her into a haughty high-and-mighty snob. Her dad is now sending her to Dock End, saying it will do her good and knock that snobbishness out of her.

Now that is a most unwise thing to say to Hettie’s face, because the obvious result is that she will react against it, which sets the stage for what follows. From the first, “Hettie High and Mighty” looks down on her new school and the girls who attend it, including the hockey team captain, Janie Downs. But Janie soon finds out that Hettie has far worse qualities than snobbishness. She is also a nasty troublemaker who is extremely cunning at getting her own way, worming out of trouble, and even ingratiating herself with the girls she had upset before.

On the other hand, Hettie is a brilliant hockey player and would be a valuable asset on the hockey team. However, the girls quite naturally don’t want her on the team because of her bad behaviour, and Janie isn’t going to grovel to her to get her to play either.

Then Janie overhears the headmistress saying that the council means to pull down the school and relocate the girls to a new school that is miles away. However, if the school wins the hockey championship, the prize money would enable them to spruce up the school to council standard. Realising the school must win, Janie decides she must grovel to Hettie after all. But she cannot reveal the reason why, because if Hettie finds out, there’d be nothing she’d like better than to see Dock End close down.

Hettie agrees to be in the team – in exchange for Janie doing her homework – but of course she isn’t showing any team spirit although she plays brilliantly. In fact she gets up to all sorts of tricks, the mildest of which is hogging the ball, the worst of which is playing deliberately foul play and giving Janie concussion in front of reporters – but she is so slick that poor Janie cops the trouble and the unpopularity. Eventually Hettie’s tricks make Janie so unpopular with her team mates that they are demanding her resignation and Hettie nearly steals the captainship from her. Later we learn that Hettie was just as bad with the Firdale hockey team and they were glad to see the back of her. Well, well, well! At least they can see her for what she is.

Then Hettie moves into Janie’s home where she starts ingratiating herself with Mrs Downs with lots of expensive presents (colour television, automatic tea maker, electric blanket). Unfortunately Mum gets so cosy with all the gifts that she’s late for work and gets the sack. Janie blames Hettie and although it’s hard to say if Hettie actually planned it that way, she doesn’t give a hoot about Mrs Downs losing her job. Yet her “nice” act has her father completely fooled when he returns suddenly and he thinks she’s changed her “high and mighty ways”. Ah, so that explains why she acted nice in the first place!

Back on the hockey pitch, Hettie is lording over the girls so much that they finally see through her. But all Hettie has to do is threaten not to play in the championship and Janie has to let her stay, no matter how badly she behaves. All the same, Janie is coming to the end of her rope with Hettie and is counting down to the days of the championship, when she’ll not have to put up with Hettie any longer.

But Janie finds she has miscalculated: Mr King and Mrs Downs fall in love and get married. So now Janie is stuck with high-and-mighty Hettie for a stepsister! Hettie is lording it all over Janie at home now, having her to do all the housework and wait on her hand and foot while she lounges around. Mum is making a big fuss over Hettie, so Hettie really appreciates having two people wait on her hand and foot. However, she has not accepted Mrs Downs as a stepmother (she still addresses Mrs Downs by her Christian name) or shows her any respect.

Then Hettie finds out why Janie wants her in the team and Dock End is facing closure if they lose the championship. As Janie feared, Hettie quits the team and leaves them in the lurch to lose the championship, just so the school she despises so much will close down. Not content with that, Hettie deliberately gets Janie on the wrong bus so Janie will miss the championship too, and is crowing all over her. Janie tells Hettie that what she needs is a jolly good hiding.

Which is precisely what Hettie soon gets. Mum had followed once she realised they were on the wrong bus, overheard everything, and gives Hettie a jolly good hiding! Moreover, Mum is thrashing her in a public café. This means her punishment has an audience, which would add humiliation to it. After Mum is through, she demands proper respect from Hettie and good behaviour. Hettie complies, and Janie is satisfied Hettie has finally gotten what she needed: discipline and humbling.

Mum then directs them to a short cut across the common she had known from childhood to reach the match. But Mum doesn’t realise a private property has been built there since her time, so Hettie and Janie unwittingly trespass into it and fall foul of guard dogs. For the first time Hettie shows unselfish behaviour when she offers to draw off the dogs, but in the process she gets bitten.

By the time they arrive at the match Hettie is limping badly and in a lot of pain. To add to their problems, the rival team are known as “The Amazons” because they play tough, brutal and dirty (a bit like Hettie once!). The Amazons pick up on Hettie’s injury and start to play upon it. The nurse says Hettie should withdraw for treatment, and Dock End is losing. Janie peps up the girls for a fight by telling them just what is stake, and Hettie courageously stays on to teach those Amazons a lesson for trying to cripple her. Dock End’s comeback, particularly from Hettie, takes the Amazons by surprise. They lose their grip and start making mistakes, which gives Dock End the edge to win. The school is saved, and Janie now considers Hettie as the best sister she could ever have.

Thoughts

This story is one of two Lindy stories to have the distinction of making the transition into the Jinty and Lindy merger. The other is “Finleg the Fox”, which coincidentally started in the same Lindy issue as Hettie. Hettie also brought a hockey story (well, part of one) into Jinty. Hockey stories were rare in Jinty, despite her emphasis on sports stories.

The story is not a memorable or distinguished one. Still, it holds its own because it is a combination of several proven formulas that have stood as serials in their own right. The first is the protagonist being forced to tolerate an odious girl because something is at stake. The second is a school bully who becomes a stepsister and makes the protagonist’s home life as unbearable as school. Third is a courageous battle to win a competition to save a school, but of course it’s filled with sabotage and obstacles along the way. Fourth is a nasty troublemaker who revels in causing misery for everyone. The last is turning an unsavoury girl into a reformed character.

Reforming a nasty troublemaker is not something that always happens in “troublemaker” stories (it did not happen in Judy’s “Be Nice to Nancy!”, for example). However, once Hettie becomes Janie’s stepsister she just has to be reformed, not just for the sake of winning the championship and saving the school but also to stop the marriage between their parents from being torn apart from the bad blood between the girls. Hettie also has to be reformed for her own sake as well, because she will never realise her full potential as a top hockey player if she persists in her bad behaviour, because hockey is a team sport and demands team spirit.

Until then, Hettie is a brilliantly conceived snob and troublemaker that you just love to hate. Like Nancy Norden in “Be Nice to Nancy!” she is a dreadful snob who despises her new school because it’s not good enough for her, and she is also a nasty troublemaker who loves to cause trouble and misery for everyone. Even the posh school that turned her into a snob found her unbearable. She was probably on the verge of being expelled before her father yanked her out and transferred her to Dock End in the hope it would change her haughty ways. Sorry Mr King, but you need to take a much firmer hand with Hettie than that! Mrs Downs is living proof of this when she cured Hettie’s bad behaviour with just one good thrashing. Hettie is also a lot more slick and cunning than Nancy in getting her way and pulling the wool over people’s eyes with phoney “nice” routines.

It is debatable as to the way in which Hettie is turned around (a good hiding in public) is all that convincing because it seems a bit too instant and pat. Still, you just have to love Hettie getting that jolly good hiding, and you wish so many other unsavoury girls in girls’ comics could get one too – Nancy Norden, for example.

Afterwards the hockey championship becomes Hettie’s redemption and helps convince Janie and the other girls that she really has reformed and they can make a fresh start with her. She didn’t just play to help them win the championship; she also braved a great deal of pain and dirty tricks (not unlike the ones she herself played once) in order to pull it off. You could say Hettie even got a taste of her own medicine through the Amazons; they were playing dirty on her, just as she used to play dirty, even on her own team mates. It is a pity the Firdale girls didn’t see it too and realise how much the badly behaved girl they despised so much has changed.

The Kat and Mouse Game (1974-75)

Sample Images

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Published: 16 November 1974 – 5 April 1975 (18 episodes)

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Dutch translation “Als kat en muis” [Like cat and mouse] in Tina 1985; translated into Greek in Manina.

Plot

Everyone avoids Kat Morgan at Barton Grange Ballet School because they all know she is a selfish, bullying girl who grabs all the best chances there are in the school, along with everything else she wants. What makes it even more distasteful is that Kat’s dancing is not as good as she thinks.

Meanwhile, new girl Letitia (her last name is not established) arrives. She was not keen on coming because she is a shy girl and happy to be the only ballet pupil in her village because of it. She only agreed to enrol at Barton Grange at the urging of her ballet teacher, who says the school can provide far better tuition for her talent than she can.

Shyness also makes Letitia gullible and naïve, so she proves easy prey for Kat’s false show of friendship. Kat has quickly realised what a sap Letitia is, and so she is taking advantage of Letitia to turn her into her personal handmaid. She also nicknames Letitia “Mouse”, and it sticks. But not even the humiliation of dubbing Letitia “Mouse” in front of everyone makes Letitia wake up; she meekly says she does not mind. Mouse does not listen to the girls’ later warnings that Kat is a creep who is making a mug out of her. Kat also poisons Mouse against Miss Randall the headmistress to make sure Miss Randall is not able to warn Mouse either. Eventually Mouse is left to stew in her own juice.

However, Kat soon discovers there is one snag to having Mouse as her skivvy once she sees her dance – Mouse is a far better dancer than she is. Jealousy unleashes the Kat’s claws, for she is not going to be upstaged by that Mouse. So Kat now plays a double game of stringing Mouse along as her skivvy while sabotaging Mouse to keep her in the background. To make sure of both, she wangles things for Mouse to come and live in her house, where she really enjoys having Mouse wait on her hand and foot and fetching and carrying everything for her. It is the same at school. The girls notice how Kat is turning Mouse into her slave. But when they try to speak to Mouse about it she just thinks they are being mean.

The double game has its drawbacks, though, due to Kat not thinking through the consequences of playing such a tricky double game. For example, Kat tricks Mouse into dancing badly at a test to make sure Mouse does not outshine her. But when Kat realises that this could get Mouse thrown out and she will lose her little skivvy, she quickly talks the teachers into letting Mouse stay, saying it was nerves.

Then Kat’s mother finds out how Kat is turning Mouse into her slave. In punishment, she stops Kat’s pocket money for two months. This comes at a time when Kat wants money to see a new ballet, as they will perform it later at their school and there are two places at stake in a ballet company. Of course Kat wants one of them. As there is no pocket money, Kat steals the money Mouse asked home for.

When Kat sees the ballet, she immediately sets her eyes on dancing the Tiger role in it. But Kat’s in for a surprise (and so are we) when she describes the Tiger performance to Mouse. Mouse visualises the Tiger so vividly that she puts up a stunning impromptu that has even Kat impressed. Realising Mouse could beat her to the Tiger role, Kat pulls more tricks to stop Mouse – and others – auditioning for it. But one trick backfires and gets Kat stuck in the lift. So she could be the one who misses out on the part. Sappy but kind Mouse isn’t having Kat miss out on her audition, so she dons the Tiger costume and pretends to be Kat. So thanks to Mouse, Kat gets the role. Now Kat has a new use for Mouse – have her stand in for her in the Tiger role, because she knows she could never top Mouse’s interpretation of the Tiger.

Then Kat starts getting worried that it’s getting too dangerous and the school might find her out. So, although she has enjoyed having Mouse as her mug, she now plots to get Mouse expelled. However, one of the tricks rebounds when it causes Kat to get her leg badly bruised in an accident. Moreover, Kat won’t seek treatment because that would mean the end of her Tiger role. However, she can’t dance properly because of her leg and she has to perform in front of the Mayor, so she cons Mouse into dancing it for her. Moreover, she is making sure Mouse, who blames herself for the accident, is waiting on her even more. Kat is really enjoying it, but is now treating Mouse in a bad tempered way. Mouse puts it down to the pain in Kat’s leg. Yes, there is that, but of course the real reason is that Kat is taking advantage to bully Mouse into the bargain.

Kat’s temper gets worse when she sees Mouse dancing the Tiger in the show. She realises that Mouse is getting even better in the role and her jealousy grows. Suspicion also grows when the girls comment on how well Kat danced with that badly bruised leg while Mouse looked like she had been dancing hard but she was not even in the performance.

Kat gets so jealous of Mouse that she sabotages a special platform that Mouse will leap onto so it will collapse under her. However, it backfires when Miss Randall tells Kat to leap onto the platform instead. Kat tries to avoid the weakened parts, but fails because of her bad leg, and the platform collapses under her.

Mouse saves Kat from serious injury – but oh, what a surprise! Mouse has picked up on clues that have made her suspicious of Kat. She now realises what Kat did and shouts at her over it: Kat spiked the platform, Kat betrayed their friendship, Kat hated her all along, they’re finished and she never wants to see Kat again. So now Mouse has finally seen through Kat and it’s the end of the story!

Oh rats, it’s not. Kat isn’t finished yet. She is now even more anxious to get Mouse expelled before everything comes out, and now plots to frame her for stealing. And Mouse is still living with Kat, which makes it easier. One night Kat goes to steal money from the head’s safe and blame it on Mouse. Realising Mouse has followed her, Kat pretends to be sleepwalking while taking the money. Mouse takes the money back to the safe, but is caught doing so. Mouse can’t fully explain because as she feels it would be sneaking and foolishly thinks Kat didn’t mean it. She even thinks Kat did it subconsciously for her because she is poor! So she takes the blame and is expelled.

The school has to wait for Mouse’s parents to come to remove her. So Mouse is put in isolation, but still around for Kat to take advantage of. Kat can’t dance properly because of her leg, and now the time has come to impress the ballet company director and get one of the two places. So again Kat wheedles Mouse into dancing the Tiger for her. However, the director is so overexcited by the performance that he rips off the Tiger mask on the stage, and everyone sees who was really doing the dancing.

Kat has to do some fast thinking on why an expelled girl is dancing in her place. So she dashes off, ties herself up, and spins a story that Mouse tied her up and stole the costume. Even the unbelievably gullible Mouse has to well and truly realise what a toad Kat is after this, but she can’t prove it.

Meanwhile, Kat is forced to go on stage in the tiger costume. But she can’t dance properly with her bad leg, and that mad dash to tie herself up has aggravated the damage. Her leg injury and its lack of treatment are soon discovered. Although by his own admission he is not a doctor, the director tells Kat that the injury will leave a permanent weakness in her leg, which means she can never become a professional dancer. Shocked to realise she has destroyed herself by her own dirty tricks against Mouse, Kat decides she might as well make a clean breast of everything and does so. At Mouse’s request, Miss Randall spares Kat the disgrace of expulsion and just lets her quietly leave because of her leg. Mouse gets into the ballet company and goes on to have a brilliant ballet career.

Thoughts

There has been a common feeling about this story that it’s difficult to be fully sympathetic for the protagonist because she’s so wet and unbelievably naïve and gullible that she believes anything Kat tells her. Even when Mouse does see through Kat after the platform incident, it does not last long. Before long, Mouse goes back to falling for Kat’s tricks and thinking Kat’s her friend. Any respect we gained for Mouse in that outburst is instantly lost. And any hope we have of Mouse finding a whole new backbone that sets her on the road to more confidence is dashed as well.

Mouse cuts off her own avenues of help by not listening to warnings, although this is partly because she has foolishly believed the lies that Kat has told her. Even when Kat’s mother finds out how Kat is treating Mouse and stops her pocket money in punishment, Mouse doesn’t open her eyes to it as well. She goes on thinking Kat is her friend whom she is only too happy to do everything for. All anyone can really do is watch and notice suspicious things that filter through, but they don’t have enough evidence to act on them.

The scheming follows a fairly common pattern in girls’ comics, where the schemer starts off just playing tricks on the protagonist because she is taking advantage her or thinks it’s just a huge joke. But later the scheming takes a more spiteful turn, with the schemer deciding to get rid of her victim altogether. This is because she’s gotten bored with it, or it’s gotten too complicated, or the victim has done something that’s really put the schemer’s nose out of joint and she’s out for revenge. And it’s here that things begin to unravel for the schemer. Other stories that follow this pattern include Tammy’s “Dulcie Wears the Dunce’s Hat” and M&J’s “What Lila Wants…”.

It is bad enough that Kat is playing a double game with Mouse, what with sabotaging her while taking advantage of her at the same time. But when it turns to scheming to get Mouse expelled, her conduct becomes really galling. Although she succeeds in getting Mouse expelled, she has the nerve to still take advantage of her because she wants Mouse to stand in for her in the Tiger role and be her unpaid servant. She isn’t even grateful to Mouse for saving her from the collapsing platform. Yes, she does say “thanks”, but nothing in her conduct or thoughts afterwards indicates true gratitude. Kat’s only redeeming quality is how she breaks down in the end and confesses everything, which saves Mouse. Could those tears be the start of a new improved Kat? We cannot say for sure, but we can be confident that Kat will never be the same again.

It is a real twist that the Kat ends up destroying herself through her own subterfuge on Mouse. Kat won’t seek treatment for an injury that was caused by one of her own tricks, just because she does not want to lose the Tiger role. Yet she can’t even dance the Tiger because of her own injury, so she still has to use the very girl she is trying to expel. Moreover, Kat let her leg go untreated and worsened it with her final trick on Mouse, so it deteriorated to the point where she would never be able to dance again. In any case, she never had enough talent to really get to the top to begin with, so no amount of trickery would get her there.

 

 

Misery Loves Company, or, the sadomasochism of readers?

Attendees at talks like the Comix Creatrix event have a tendency to marvel at the prevalence of stories about misery, cruelty, and slavery in girls comics. It’s particularly the case that, if the attendee is someone who isn’t steeped in reading stories in this genre, they may well bring out loaded words or phrases referring to the ‘sadomasochism’ in the stories, or they may indicate that something is a bit ‘dodgy’ or ‘ooh-er’ (at the end of the talk this came in with discussions of “War Orphan Farm” and “Slave of Form 3B“). I’m not immune to this effect either – in earlier days I have certainly referred to slave stories with wink-wink innuendo, for instance. But it’s not true to the material being referred to, and what’s more I think that it plays into the wrong hands, as I will explain below.

Girls comics feature a lot of cruelty, misery, and slavery, it’s true. Mistyfan’s post on the Slave Story theme gives a relevant run-down of how a large subsection of girls’ stories worked, including a range of examples. We haven’t even given misery and cruelty any specific categories of their own in our list of themes, but they are clearly part of the more discrete story themes of Affliction, Bullying, Cinderella, Guilt Complex, and Troublemaker, to name only a few. Stories frequently feature mental domination, abuse, and physical brutality; may include handcuffs and ropes; and occasionally allow the death of the main character. And these are not incidental aspects of the stories – they are the main reason for them, the thing that makes them popular and memorable. A story may continue for half a year or more with the protagonist growing more and more hard-done-by, and the resolution typically only comes in the last episode or even the last few panels. It’s hardly surprising that this is so much a feature of discussions of girls comics when it comes up outside the confines of a blog like this.

But does this mean either that the stories are full of sadomasochism, or that the readers were secret sadists or masochists to enjoy them in such numbers? I’d say no, to both.

If you look at the stories themselves, and the experiences of the protagonists within then, they are just not stories of sadomasochism. For a start, they’re not overtly sexual (no publisher of the time in the UK would have countenanced that, of course, though as has been pointed out by Paul Gravett, the Shojo manga publishing phenomenon in Japan at around the same time was able to go down this route). They’re not covertly sexual either (not that I think girls of that age and in that era particularly went for hidden innuendo – we passed around Lace and The Thorn Birds, and of course we all devoured the Flowers In The Attic series). Fundamentally the stories of cruelty/slavery , even though they can spark associations of BDSM to the adult reader, weren’t about submission. The protagonists didn’t learn to enjoy being humiliated or dominated by their rivals: it was just that they were not strong enough to win against the villain or the society they were in. It’s a trope about powerlessness and fighting back even when it’s hopeless: eventually, even though it seems terribly unlikely, you may win. That’s a message of strength to young girls, collectively one of the least powerful groups in all society.

Slave stories end with the slave being freed and reinstated, and the villain reformed or defeated. (See the Tammy blog’s post about Slaves of “War Orphan Farm” where all eventually ends happily.) There are some stories where the slave accepts the brainwashing of the antagonist at points, and believes she deserves her punishment (Jinty‘s “Slave of the Swan” includes this plot element), but clearer eyes than the deluded protagonist see through this deception and it is not seriously proposed as something that the protagonist should believe. These are not stories with hidden subtexts of the delights of submission to loving authority in the way that Marston’s Wonder Woman stories were.

There are also a large number of tear-jerker stories which get mentioned as part of this idea of the sadomasochism of girls comics. I think here the feeling is that because such stories are so focused on misery, it is sadistic, or possibly masochistic, of the girl reader to enjoy them so much. Some of the obvious key contenders from the massively popular misery / tear-jerker trope are:

  • “No Time for Pat” in Jinty Annual 1980. Originally printed in June (1972)
  • Stefa’s Heart of StoneJinty (1976), reprinted in Princess / Tammy & Princess (1984)
  • DC Thomson’s “AngelMandy (1977) reprinted three times, with two subsequent sequels One of the few misery stories that takes the story through to the death of the protagonist, but as she was suffering from a terminal disease this feels like a naturalistic and almost uplifting ending – you could say she ‘wins’
  • Nothing Ever Goes RightJudy (1981) Reprinted (1989-90) Another exception of a misery story in which the protagonist dies in the end. (Edited to add: written by Maureen Hartley – see comments on Girls Comics of Yesterday)

These stories don’t really have a specific villain, though some other similar ones may do. The cause of the misery is often simply cruel fate. Possibly because cruel fate is much less personal, it is sometimes carried through to the logical conclusion whereby the protagonist dies in end: something that you can’t really do with a slave story because then the villain would win. (Unless anyone knows of a counter-example?)

Clearly girl readers loved a good cry! But why label the readers so strongly, bandying around terms like masochist? Didn’t the Victorians also love sentimental sob stories? What about classical tragedy, which far more often ends in unswerving death? Or indeed devotees of East Enders or the Archers? Consumers of these stories don’t get the same labels. I can only see it coming down to the policing of girls’ reading – it falls outside our expectations of what girls should read, and so we boggle at it more than at Victorian sob stories. If we fall in with this policing of ‘appropriate’ reading we play into the hands of authority’s disapproval of comics. Sometimes that manifests itself relatively mildly, as when Mary Cadogan complained about lurid death scenes in girls comics, citing “No Time For Pat” as an example (incorrectly, in fact) and using that as a lever to indicate that all girls comics were of low worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Frederick Wertham used his assertions of inappropriate themes and images to press for wide-ranging ‘reform’ of comic book publishing and the implementation of the US Comic Book Code.

7 Steps to the Sisterhood (1978)

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Publication: 12 August 1978 – 30 September 1978

Artist: Ron Smith

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Kim Mason and Shelley Vernon are both on their way to Lansdale, a boarding school that specialises in foreign languages. Shelley is a bit nervous because she is a clumsy, accident-prone girl and is worried it will go against her at her new school.

Meanwhile, on the train, Kim overhears two staff members, Miss Tweed and Miss Frost, talking about them. Both of them are candidates for a special opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. But only one will be picked, so both will be watched carefully during the term. Kim is keeping this piece of information to herself…hmm, sounds like something for the reader to note as well.

When the girls arrive, Shelley is delighted that her room is next to Kim’s. She looks on Kim as a friend, even if Kim is acting a bit aloof. Meanwhile, Miss Tweed is unpacking priceless Thai costumes as background for an upcoming lecture.

Later, Shelley is surprised to see a note on her bed, from “The Sisterhood of Lansdale”. It claims to be a secret society that is considering her as a new member, but she must pass seven tests to qualify. She must not try to investigate the Sisterhood, ask help from anyone, or talk to anyone about the Sisterhood. If she agrees, she must tie a hanky to her bedroom door handle. Shelley jumps at it and ties the hanky to her door handle.

Someone takes the hanky, and next morning Shelley receives instructions for her first challenge: obtain a colour photograph of herself in one of the Thai costumes and leave it outside her door that night.

So Shelley borrows one of the costumes and sneaks out of school to use a photo kiosk to take the photograph. She does not know someone is watching her, and that person realises that Shelley is not solving the problem in the way she anticipated. When Shelley returns, someone throws water at her from a window, narrowly soaking her and the priceless costume. She has made it, but has to iron the costume to get rid of some damp spots. Miss Tweed catches her but thinks Shelley is just trying to help, and even allows Shelley to wear the costume at the display!

The second challenge is to bake a strawberry cake and leave it on the tack shelf in the stables on Friday night. Seems straightforward and harmless enough. Shelley even lets Major, a terror of a horse that only the headmistress can ride, have a few strawberries from the cake. But the third challenge is to ride Major bareback at dawn tomorrow!

Hoping that Major will return the strawberry favour, Shelley takes him out for the bareback ride. She sees a light flash back at the school and suspects the Sisterhood is watching her. Shelley gets caught by the headmistress and stable-hand. The head is astonished at what Shelley is trying to do – and bareback. But remembering daft things she did in her own youth, she decides to go along with it and help Shelley ride Major bareback. But Shelley does not get away with it altogether – she has to write a 500-word essay on horse riding in Spanish, which takes days! Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is watching. She thinks how lucky Shelley was that time, and if she’d had her way, things would have turned out differently. Now what can this mean?

The fourth challenge wants Shelley to take the new gold earrings belonging to an Indian student, Nirhani. She is to keep them until told what to do next. Shelley does not like the idea of stealing or risking trouble and is now having second thoughts about the Sisterhood itself. Shelley compromises by taking the jewel box, but not the earrings.

Then Nirhani comes up and says she found Shelley’s hanky (the one Shelley tied to her door handle) in her drawer. Shelley is now so thoroughly frightened by everything that she tells Nirhani (disregarding the conditions she agreed to). Nirhani, a long-standing student, says she has never heard of “The Sisterhood”. She also surmises that if Shelley really had taken the earrings, the theft reported, and then Shelley’s hanky found in the drawer – she would have been expelled. In other words, it was a set-up. Nirhani, who has second sight, gets psychic impressions that there is no “Sisterhood” at all – rather, Shelley has an enemy.

They start planning to catch the culprit. Shelley will pretend to steal the earrings, and Nirhani writes her a cover letter to say she lent them. They gamble that when Nirhani does not report the theft as the enemy expects, she will come into the open.

Another student, Fran, has a birthday and has been permitted to have a midnight BBQ. This brings in the fifth challenge – arrange a fireworks display as an extra surprise for the party. Fireworks are not available at that time of year, but then a book arrives with instructions on how to make your own. Shelley and Nirhani see the dangers at once, and realise the enemy must have as well. However, Shelley has to give the impression she is going along with it, so they use the instructions to make dummy fireworks filled with talcum powder. At the party they hide the fireworks in some bushes and take turns to keep an eye on it discreetly.

Before long, Nirhani sees someone try to light the fake fireworks – but then there are real ones as the BBQ suddenly goes up in flames. In the confusion and firefighting, Nirhani fails to get a look at the enemy. They are horrified when they realise what the enemy tried to do and get Shelley blamed for.

A note arrives from “The Sisterhood” telling Shelley to stay behind after the party – alone. She does, hoping to catch her enemy. A hooded figure appears, her voice disguised, and not allowing Shelley to get close. She tells Shelley she failed the fifth task (the fireworks did not go off as she planned) but Shelley manages to wriggle out of it with a cover story. Shelley tries to get closer as the girl begins to outline the sixth task: tomorrow she is to kidnap Nirhani and lock her in the hayloft in the stables. But just as Shelley is about to unmask the girl, Miss Tweed interrupts and the girl gets away.

Nirhani and Shelley realise what the enemy is up to: “find” Nirhani, be a big heroine, and get Shelley expelled. And Nirhani is getting premonitions of real danger if they go along with it in order to trap the enemy. This has them thinking of all the lucky escapes Shelley has had so far in avoiding serious accidents or being expelled because of all the traps the enemy has set for her.

In the end, Nirhani goes into the hayloft, with Shelley leaving a ladder outside for her to get out with. She then joins the others on a nature ramble. But the teacher drops a bombshell – the headmistress is getting the stable block fumigated! Shelley dashes off for the stables – and so is Kim. Seeing this, Shelley now realises that Kim is the enemy, not her friend. She also sees that the fumigators have moved the ladder, cutting off Nirhani’s escape, so she has to get the fumigators to rescue Nirhani.

Nirhani and Shelley confront Kim over her being the enemy. At first Kim almost gets out of it with a slick move – but then she makes the mistake of claiming that Shelley stole Nirhani’s earrings (she still thinks Shelley has retained them from the earlier challenge). Nirvana and Shelley then spring their long-waiting ace – Nirhani lent Shelley the earrings, and they have the note to prove it. Cornered, Kim confesses that she was trying to put Shelley out of the running for the opportunity of a lifetime that she learned about on the train.

Kim is expelled, of course. And it was all for nothing, because it turns out that Kim was not an ideal student for it after all. Moreover, there is now a chance for two students to win the opportunity, which is a world tour to publicise Lansdale’s methods. The head chooses Shelley and Nirhani because she has been so impressed over how they handled “The Secret Sisterhood”.

Thoughts

This is the first of only two stories that Ron Smith drew for Jinty. Smith was more frequent in Judge Dredd, so it is a delight to see him here.

A girl who causes trouble for another (motivated by revenge, personal gain, jealousy or just plain spite) is one of the oldest and most frequent formulas in girls’ comics. The DCT titles ran them so constantly that they must have run into the zillions. In Mandy alone, not many weeks went by without one such story, and Mandy’s cruellest example was probably The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina aka The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee. In Tammy and Jinty the formula appeared less frequently, which helped to keep it fresh.

In this version of the formula, we get a whole new take on the formula that is extremely rare, if not unique in its genre. Instead of pulling downright nasty tricks to sabotage the girl and get her into trouble, the troublemaker takes a far more insidious and convoluted approach – trying to get her into trouble with challenges from a non-existent secret society. This approach is extremely clever, not only on the part of the troublemaker but also the plotting. It is not so apparent straight away as to what is going on because the sabotage is being disguised as challenges, and it is more difficult for the reader to put the pieces together. Downright nasty tricks would have been a dead giveaway for the reader, and they would have known who it was and why immediately because it was all established in the first episode. Of course it all depends on Shelley rising to the bait in the first place – if she had decided against joining the society and not left her hanky on the door handle, the scheme would have been over for Kim immediately and she would have had to think of something else.

Girls’ comics have long made a strong comment on the dangers of secret societies, whether it is ones who issue challenges that are increasingly foolish and reckless, or are dark and bullying. This one is no exception – even if the society does turn out to be non-existent and it is all the work of one spiteful individual. Kim must be one of the most evil girls ever to appear in girls’ comics. Forget about trying to get Shelley expelled – Kim almost got Shelley (and others) hurt or even killed several times. She had no compunction about it whatsoever, though she must have been aware of what could happen with, say, letting off the boxful of fireworks near a crowd of people. Only at the end does she show any horror at her actions, when she realises that Nirhani could get killed because of her sixth challenge. And if that was the sixth challenge, what would the seventh have been like? The seventh step was never revealed, which must have had readers curious as to what it would have been.

This is one of the few stories in girls’ comics to have some ethnic characters. Though girls’ comics are not intentionally racist, there is a long-standing absenteeism of non-white girls in girls’ comics. Appearances of coloured or Asian girls are more the exception than the rule. But given that this is a language school, it is expected that there are girls of mixed races speaking diverse languages, and Jinty does deliver. Nirhani is Indian while Kim is part Chinese. It is interesting that both a heroine and the villain are of ethnic origin, and both are strong characters. Kim, the part Chinese, is a cold fish who is capable of just about anything to get rid of Shelley and seize the opportunity for herself. She is extremely clever and calculating, as shown in the way she is going about it – luring Shelley into trouble with a phoney secret society. Even the dress she always wears lends to her clinical nature, for it gives her an “evil scientist” look. By contrast, Nirhani the Indian girl is a warm and colourful character. Her second sight (which she handles with more success than 1977’s “Destiny Brown”) lends weight to the brains that figure out what is really going on. Nirhani is brilliant at working that part out, but we wonder if she really could have done it without her second sight.

“7 Steps to the Sisterhood” does seem to come across as a bit short-lived – only eight episodes. It could have been taken an episode or two more, if only to reveal the seventh challenge. Could it have been cut a bit short to make way for a new line-up of stories, and perhaps the seventh challenge cut off with it? Still, while it lasted, it was a whole new take on one of the most formulaic themes in girls’ comics.

 

The Perfect Princess (1980)

Sample Images

Princess 1

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Princess 2

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Princess 3

Publication: 5 January 1980 – 1 March 1980

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #13 as “Princess Wanted!”

Plot

Orphan Sally Smith has been brought up in a succession of foster homes, none of which are good enough for her. She dreams of being princess, and is so obsessed with it that her bedroom is filled with posters of princesses and fairy tale castles, and even her reading is nothing but fairy tales. Her obsession is also reflected in her snobby behaviour, as she believes she must stay aloof from common people – even the ones she serves in the café run by her latest foster parents, the Grubbs.

Meanwhile, in the tiny kingdom of Burmania (so tiny it only has one town and one royal castle), a real princess named Victoria is anything but Sally’s idea of a princess. Victoria is a horror who constantly misbehaves, shows no respect for her royal heritage, her room is filled with pop idols and disco music, and she is the despair of her parents. When Victoria brings her favourite pop group, The Baddies, to perform at the ceremony to appoint her heir to the throne, this is the last straw for them. The king disinherits her and advertises in Britain for an heir.

Sally sees the ad and naturally seizes the chance. But she has no pedigree, so she makes one up, stealing the name and portfolio of one Lady Sally Hunter-Smith. She is shortlisted with three other girls. But in Burmania, Victoria is not pleased about being disinherited, and is determined to get rid of them.

On the way to Burmania, Sally nearly comes unstuck when another candidate, Lucinda, realises she is an imposter. But Victoria pulls a trick that has the plane landing in the marshes and the candidates arrive looking like walking mud pies. Lucinda is so outraged at the indignation that she leaves in a huff, forgetting to report Sally.

Sally’s secret is safe, but Victoria decides to get rid of her next. So at a masked ball, Victoria has Sally tied up while she takes her place, planning to cause trouble that Sally will be blamed for. But Victoria comes unstuck thanks to a dirty trick pulled by another candidate – who is then eliminated when it ends up in a catfight – and Sally is discovered tied up. Victoria manages to pass it off as a joke, but Sally finds her out and is watching out for her now.

Victoria pulls more tricks, but they backfire and have the king choose another candidate, Isabella, as the princess. Then Victoria pulls an itching powder trick that gets Isabella sent packing. Victoria plants the itching powder box on Sally that almost gets her sent home. But the king gives her another chance once he is reminded what a horror Victoria is. He has Victoria put out of the way by locking her in a tower. But then Sally gets a telegram that the Grubbs are coming for a visit, which threatens her secret.

Meanwhile, Victoria uses a cannon to break out of the tower, but it goes wrong and the tower collapses. Now everyone thinks Victoria is dead.

At the feast in honour of the Grubbs, Sally is surprised to see them cover up for her. Afterwards they explain that they have realised what she is trying to do, but won’t get in her way. They pack up and get out of her life. The same feast exposes Victoria as very much alive. She gets a scolding from her parents, but butters them up by claiming she has changed. To prove it, she is arranging a gymkhana for Sally, as Lady Sally Hunter-Smith is a top rider.

But in fact Victoria has now discovered Sally’s secret and has called in the real Lady Sally Hunter-Smith. They plan to expose Sally at a gymkhana, guessing she is no rider like the girl she is impersonating. But it goes too far and Sally ends up in hospital, while Victoria is in trouble with her father again.

Still, Victoria thinks she has won and gets ready for her coronation – where she will wear shorts and roller skates. She gets word from the hospital that Sally has lost her memory and takes advantage to fob Sally off with a cruel couple, the Grimes, saying they are her true parents.

But Sally regains her memory and makes her way to the coronation to be crowned – notwithstanding that she is dirty and dishevelled from her stay with the Grimes. Victoria’s cronies lock Sally up, but she escapes and makes her way to the coronation through the sewer just as Victoria is about to be crowned. Sally and Victoria start fighting over the crown, causing it to snap in half. The king decides the answer is to crown both Victoria and Sally with the two halves of the crown, and they will both rule happily ever after – well, for a short period at least.

 

Thoughts

Occasionally I come across a serial where I don’t know whether it’s just plain stupid or if it’s meant to be a take on something that is conducted in an oddball manner.

Such is the case with “The Perfect Princess”. When I first came across it in its Girl Library reprint I thought it was ridiculous and agreed with other online comments that it was one of Jinty’s worst stories, right down there with “Angela Angel-Face”. But now I have studied the original print, I have wondered if it was meant to be one of those stories that is meant to be a take on something and should be treated as a satire or parody rather than a weak, silly story. I encountered two such stories in Tammy, “Town without Telly” and “Granny’s Town” where I thought the premise was stupid, but then I began to wonder if they were meant to be satires, parodying TV addiction in the former and ageism in the latter.

When examining “The Perfect Princess”, it does appear to turn the concept of the fairytale right on its head and inside out. It starts right off with a girl who dreams of being a princess – the dream of so many young girls – but the girl is more like the haughty princess than Princess Aurora. She’s a snob – nobody and nothing is good enough for her, because all she cares about is being a princess. It’s an obsession that has been plastered over every corner of her room, much to the derision of other girls who see it. Worse, she’s dishonest – she lies about her credentials to make her way into the shortlist. Yet she knows how a princess should behave, unlike the real princess in the story.

Although Victoria is a real princess, she is the complete opposite of Sally or how a princess should be, both in her behaviour and what she puts up on her bedroom walls. Victoria doesn’t even mind her cronies calling her “Vicky”. Disinheriting a badly-behaved princess is not unusual in a fairy tale, but Victoria is not going down the road of trials filled with suffering and humbling to turn her into a reformed character. No, she’s going down the road of dirty tricks to get rid of rivals. The road that has been so frequent trodden in so many serials, except that it’s got such a distasteful flavour with a royal who is behaving like a spoilt little horror instead of a proper princess.

Victoria being locked in a tower as a punishment also seems to be a dig at the classic fairytale; there are many stories about princesses being locked in towers. But rather than waiting for a handsome prince to rescue her, Victoria resorts to ingenuity and a cannon to make her own breakout. But she shows no disregard to her crony’s warning that this could be dangerous, further showing how thoughtless she is.

The ending also turns the fairy tale on its head – rather than happily ever after being really happily ever after, it’s for a short while, because neither Victoria nor Sally have improved, and they glare at each other as they sit on the throne they are obliged to share. One could say that they both end up punished, because in a sense they have both got what they wanted, but they don’t like it.

So is “The Perfect Princess” one of Jinty’s weakest stories or is it meant to be a satire? It’s all up to how you look at it. In any case, it is difficult to totally dislike a story that was drawn by the popular Trini Tinturé.

Who’s That in My Mirror? (1977)

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Mirror 1

Mirror 2

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Mirror 3

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Publication: 30/7/77-1/10/77 (also translated into Spanish twice, under the titles “The Ghost in the Mirror” and “The Other side of the Mirror”)

Artist: Tom Hurst

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Magda Morrice has the face of an angel but the heart of a devil. She schemes her way to anything she wants and her pretty face belies it all to everyone. She gets jealous when Janie Gray wins the third form prize for fashion design and deliberately puts a dent in it. She then quietly takes the trophy from Janie, under pretext of having it mended. Later, at the market, she tricks her way into acquiring a mirror she fancies.

But when Magda gets the mirror home, she is surprised to find that the mirror is reflecting two images of her! She does not realise that the second face is actually a reflection of the devil in her – not yet, anyway.

The reflection takes a hand in helping Magda with her schemes. These are designed to take advantage of Janie and pretend to be friends with her while stealing Janie’s work and passing it off as her own, while sabotaging Janie’s other work to make her look bad in the eyes of their fashion teacher, Miss Winn. She also pretends to Janie that her mother is ill (and even gives her mother a dose of food poisoning to complete the effect) in order to pull Janie’s heart-strings and cadge off her for things such as a sewing machine. And she is very slick at pulling the wool over the eyes of Miss Winn, who thinks she is improving marvellously while Janie seems to be losing it.

But while the face continues to help Magda, it also grows increasingly ugly, evil-looking and frightening.

Magda catches on to what is happening in the mirror and tells the reflection that she is going to change so the reflection will be pretty too. But the reflection just sneers at her – and it is right. Magda soon finds she cannot change the things she has started without getting into trouble. Besides, she has gained things out of them, such as receiving accolades from Marcus Greg, a famous theatrical designer. She is soon lapsing into her scheming ways.

Now Magda has had enough of the terrifying face and tries to get rid of the mirror. But it always finds its way back to her – more of its powers. So Magda smashes it instead. She is puzzled as to why the mirror does not resist her as she throws a rock down on it.

But she soon finds out! Far from ridding herself of the face, she finds the face is following her everywhere! Every time she looks a mirror, pane of glass or anything reflective, she sees that face. It is getting uglier by the minute, and bigger too. It is such a nightmare that Magda can’t sleep and isn’t brushing her hair because of that hideous reflection in the mirror. People notice what a state Magda is in but of course Magda can’t explain why. The only way out seems to be to confess, but she is too caught up in what she has started to change anything now, and not with accolades from Mr Greg in person. Morever, she can’t quite work up enough courage to confess.

And there are still traces of Magda’s selfish, scheming old ways left in her. Eventually she gets so afraid of discovery that she takes her latest work and Janie’s (some costumes) to school with the intent of destroying the evidence.

But it is then that the worst happens. The pile of costumes suddenly comes alive, and it has that hideous face for a head! The strange monster is now coming towards Magda and seems to be about to speak to her.

Magda is so terrified that she faints.

When she comes to, Miss Winn is standing over her. Magda is so terrified that she finally makes a full confession to Miss Winn, Janie and then her mother. Miss Winn is all for punishing Magda (if only she knew), but Janie is forgiving and still wants to be friends. Magda returns the trophy she tricked Janie out of. As it has to go back at the end of term, she decides to buy Janie a replica she can keep forever, as a way of making it up to her.

When Magda next looks in a mirror, she finds the hideous face has gone. Hers is the only reflection now. But she resolves to be as good as she looks from now on – in case it comes back.

Thoughts

Now this is one story that takes established formulas and does a take on them to give us something fresh and different.

The first is what I call “the sweet-faced schemer” formula. Cunning schemers who get away with murder because they look so pretty, angelic and innocent have abounded in girls’ comics. They cropped up regularly in DCT titles, such as “Move Over, Maria” (Bunty) and “The Truth about Wendy” (Mandy). Sometimes they have been regulars, such as “Angela Angel-Face” (Sandie). Perhaps the most cunning sweet-faced schemer of them all was Carol in Jinty’s “Concrete Surfer”. This schemer was so cunning that not even her victim, Jean was sure if she was a real schemer or victim of misunderstandings until the climax of the story where Carol finally slips up.

The general focus in these stories is to catch out the schemer, and it is not easy. They are so slick, manipulative and innocent-looking that they have everyone around their little fingers (or play tricks to put them out of the way). But here the focus is on reforming the scheming girl and making her as nice as she looks.

And here is the second thing that is unusual about this story. Stories dealing with turning unsavoury girls around usually deal with girls who are spoiled, selfish, snobby or arrogant. Seldom do they deal with a girl who is downright nasty or scheming. But this is the case here. And it is one of the rare serials I have seen where a sweet-faced schemer does change her ways. Usually they just get caught out at long last and are expelled or whatever.

The third is the evil influence formula. Instead of forcing a nice girl into doing terrible things, which is what normally happens in evil influence stories, the influence actually seems to be helping an already nasty girl with her machinations. In the early episodes, readers may have felt a sense of outrage at the mirror helping a scheming girl. Shouldn’t she be getting her comeuppance or something from this mirror? But as the face grows increasingly hideous, readers must have reconsidered and wondered if this story would go the comeuppance way after all.

Magda’s reactions to the image are realistic in that she doesn’t change all at once. One reason for this is that she doesn’t quite know how without getting herself into trouble. Another is that her old ways keep resurfacing. She tells herself that she will have to make up for things some other time, but of course that is just bandaid treatment for a rousing conscience and does not stop the evil image from haunting her. It continues right up to the end, where Magda decides to destroy the evidence – but it is then that the evil image threatens to do its worst. Magda realises she must act now, or goodness know what might happen.

The intentions of the evil image are a bit confusing. The evil reflection encourages and abets Magda’s own evil. Yet at the same time it seems to be scaring Magda into changing her ways with its deteriorating, frightening appearance. It is not like other evil mirror stories that have appeared over the years. Girls either see a reflection in the mirror that is not their own but means big trouble (such as in “The Venetian Looking Glass” and “Slave of the Mirror” from Jinty), or the mirror creates evil reflections that set about taking over (“The Evil Mirror”, Girl series 2). But here the reflection is a reflection of the girl’s own evil that seems to start off helping her and then progressively scares the living daylights out of her. Furthermore, other stories where an object reflects a girl’s evil tend to do so in a reproving manner. One example is Mandy’s “Portrait of Pauline”, where Pauline’s new portrait starts reflecting her selfish nature and then her progress and setbacks in changing her ways. But this is not the case here. Rather, the image reflects Magda’s evil in a manner that flourishes in Magda’s evil. Maybe the answer lies in what would have happened if the image had spoken to Magda in the end, or if Magda had not confessed. But we never find out because Magda finally does the right thing in the nick of time.

What was the purpose in a magic mirror that behaves like that? Is it an evil mirror that feeds off people’s evil? Is it a magic designed to punish evil people in a rather unorthodox manner? Was it the result of magic that went a bit wrong? Was it designed to be some “monkey’s paw” thing? Or was it something else? We never know because the origins of the mirror are left unexplained and the image never speaks to Magda – assuming that was its intention in the final episode.

Still, it’s a different take on the evil influence theme, and we like the serial for that.

The theme of an unpleasant girl being haunted by evil-looking faces that turn out to be distorted reflections of herself – or perhaps reflections of the evil inside her – has cropped up in the “Strangest Stories Ever Told”. “The Face of Greed” (Tammy 4 October 1975; reprinted as a Gypsy Rose tale in Jinty 8 November 1980) and “Marcia’s ‘Ghost’” (Tammy 22 March 1980) are two examples, and there are probably more elsewhere. But those were complete stories. This is one occasion where I have seen the idea explored in a serial.

The art has been credited to Tom Hurst following Ruth’s comment below.

Note: This is the only Jinty story drawn by Tom Hurst.

Tale of the Panto Cat (1979)

Sample Images

Panto Cat 1.jpg

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Panto Cat 2.jpg

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Panto Cat 3.jpg

Publication: 8 December 1979 – 29 December 1979

Artist: Unknown artist (Merry)

Writer: Unknown

Summary

In Daisy Green Youth Club, Verna is known as “the original panto cat”. She is conceited, bossy, domineering and self-centred. She walks over everyone to have everything her way.

The club members are discussing what to do for their Christmas special when Verna barrels in, tears up their suggestions and pushes ahead with her own – a pantomime for the kids who will be confined to Farley Hospital over the Christmas season. But Verna doesn’t stop there. She allows no discussion of what the pantomime will be – it must be Cinderella. Before the meeting is over, she casts everyone in the roles as she sees fit. And of course she casts herself as Cinderella. Gwen is feeling very indignant at the way Verna carries on.

But there is worse to come when Gwen finds Verna is writing the panto as well. She is astonished to find the script Verna gave her is only two pages long and the lines are awful. The same goes for everyone else, and they find out why at the next meeting – Verna’s part is three times as big as theirs! They reach their limit at this and shelve Verna’s script in favour of one in the club library. But they still give Verna a chance to be Cinderella if she is good. But of course the panto cat is anything but good, and in the end she finds herself without any role (not even as wicked stepmother, the only role that really suits her personality).

Gwen says they still have to let Verna be director, but that proves to be a bad mistake. Now the panto cat has lost the limelight she turns vicious. She gets her claws out and sets out to wreck the panto now she cannot be in it. As director, she tries to stir everything up, make everyone’s life a misery, and even smash the pumpkin. All this does is get her removed from the panto altogether.

Another club member, Minna, suggests they have Verna’s father make Cinderella’s coach. Gwen says they should keep Verna out, but Minna feels it is rotten to do so because it is Christmas. This is another bad mistake. Verna sabotages the coach so it will fall apart on the night. Instead it falls apart at a rehearsal, leaving Cinderella with a sprained ankle, Prince Charming with a black eye and the Fairy Godmother with an injured leg. It looks like the show is off and the panto cat has got the cream.

But then Gwen has a brainwave – convert a piece of the coach into a puppet theatre and have a puppet Cinderella show instead. Unfortunately, Minna tells Verna about how they have salvaged the disaster, thinking she is acting in the spirit of Christmas. So the cat gets ready to pounce again. On the night of the show, Verna tries to sabotage them at the club as they make preparations to set off. She fails, and her tricks put Gwen on her guard.

At the hospital, Gwen sends Verna on an errand to get her out of the way. Verna spots a jug of water in a ward and goes in for it, planning to spill it on the puppets and make them too wet to use. But she failed to spot a warning notice on the door saying there is a child with scarlet fever quarantined in the ward. Verna has got too close to the child, and the nurse tells Verna she now has to be quarantined as well. The cat’s last minute pounce to wreck things has backfired. Verna has to spend Christmas in quarantine (later the editor informs us in the letter page that she did not contract scarlet fever) and watch the show she tried to sabotage through the observation window.

The show is a huge success and everyone except Verna enjoys it. Afterwards, the girls have a Christmas party back at the club and Verna’s fate gives them all the more reason to celebrate. Minna says she enjoyed the panto despite all the problems and they must do it again.

Thoughts

“Tale of the Panto Cat” was one of the Christmas-themed filler stories that Jinty ran over her build up to Christmas. But what Christmas message does this tale of spite, sabotage and deliberate attempts to wreck a Christmas production have for readers? Well, every Christmas has a Grinch somewhere. If Jinty ever had a Grinch story, this has to be it. But unlike her Seuss counterpart, the heart of Verna does not swell to the right size when faced with the spirit of Christmas. Rather, she destroys herself in her efforts to wreck the show. It backfires on her and she ends up spending Christmas in quarantine.

Instead of a sentimental story about the true spirit of Christmas, we get a more typical story of an unpleasant type who causes trouble and getting her eventual comeuppance. Christmas is used more as the theme and setting for the story. This makes the story a nice, refreshing, atypical break from the more standard Christmas fare in girls’ comics. And Verna does not change into a nicer person in the light of Christmas, which makes it even more realistic.

Minna is the only one who strives for real Christmas spirit in the way she insists on keeping Verna in the loop over the panto. But in so doing she unwittingly helps Verna to cause more trouble. Perhaps the story is making a statement that the spirit of Christmas is lost on some people. In fact, although it was Verna’s idea to put on the show for the children in hospital, Verna clearly did not do it for the sake of the kids. All she cared about was being the star of the show and the centre of attention. When she could not have that, she turned just plain vindictive and set out to wreck things in any which way she could with no thought for the kids or anyone else. That is hardly the way to behave, much less at Christmas time. One can only hope Verna left the club for good after she came out of quarantine and was not around to interfere with the next Christmas special.

Jenny – Good or Bad Friend? (1974)

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Publication: 6(?) July 1974 – 17 August 1974
Artist: Unknown
Writer: Unknown

Summary

“This is the story of a friendship between Jenny and Laura and how it broke up. Jenny tells the story while the editor questions her – and you, readers, must decide in the end who was to blame”.

Jenny tells us how she and Laura have been friends ever since they were little. It has been an exclusive friendship between the two, with no other friends. Then Laura befriends another girl, Carol. Jenny, who has been long used to having Laura to herself, is understandably upset and resents the third party. The trouble is how she reacts. She blames Carol, accusing her of stealing her friend with bribes. Jenny then starts playing nasty tricks on Carol, such as sabotaging her efforts to win a swimming race (afterwards justifying it to the querying editor that she did it so Laura would win) and even on Laura, such as hiding her tennis shoes, in her efforts to come between Carol and Laura. Accusations and counter-accusations lead to arguments between Carol and Laura and Laura and Jenny. But things always get patched up and no breakups either way. But Jenny gets ever more furious and sees no wrong in what she is doing: “Carol’s trying to pinch my best friend, so anything’s fair!”

It all comes to a head when Laura’s birthday comes up. Jenny is furious when Carol’s present (a real gold bracelet) outdoes hers and believes Carol did it on purpose. Not to be outdone, she hires a conjurer for Laura’s party. Carol realises this and confronts Jenny, who replies, “Laura’s my friend, so she does not need presents from you!” But it backfires when Jenny finds she did not understand that the £2 she paid the conjurer was meant to be a deposit, not the full fee, and another £3 is required. Carol graciously offers to pay the money. But Jenny is far from grateful – she accuses Carol of making her look a fool and hits her. It is then that Laura breaks up with Jenny, saying it is because she has changed.

A very tearful Jenny tells us that she just wanted her friend back and never wanted any other friend but Laura, because Laura was the best friend she had ever had. She asks if it was her fault and if so, where did she go wrong?

So now is the time for readers to decide? Strangely, the editor offers no facility for readers to express their opinions. Instead, the editor offers her own opinion, which reads:

“I can imagine how Jenny felt. For so long there had been just her and Laura; they had grown up together, been together since they were tots. Then along comes Carol – and Jenny resented her. Which, perhaps, was quite natural. But where Jenny went wrong was to allow Carol to spoil her own relationship with Laura. Laura was right, Jenny did change. She played mean tricks and she lied and cheated … and all because she wouldn’t share Laura with another girl.

“Poor Jenny! I think she was wrong, but I feel sorry for her … and I hope that, one day, she and Laura will make it up.”

Thoughts

Serials about friendships turning sour because of jealousy, or protagonists telling their own stories is nothing new in girls’ comics. But what is new, perhaps even unique, is the agony aunt take on it. Readers are invited to not only read and enjoy the story, but also participate in it, with assurances of their being the jury at the end of the story. So it must have been a let-down at the end when in the end there is nothing anywhere – not even an invite to the letters page – for readers to express their judgements on who is to blame. Instead, the editor presents her own opinion. But what still catches your attention is the constant breaking of the Fourth Wall as the editor keeps questioning Jenny (in black speech balloons) and Jenny giving her replies.

This is certainly a different take on the modes of storytelling in a girls’ serial. But this was the only time it ever appeared in Jinty. To the best of my knowledge it never appeared elsewhere. Perhaps it was an experiment that did not prove as successful as hoped? Maybe it was too moralising and preachy for readers’ tastes? Or was it just meant to be a one-page filler?

Even more to the point, why did this format appear at all? Perhaps the editor was experimenting. After all, Jinty was still new, and must have been open to innovative and fresh ideas. Or was it reprinted from elsewhere as a stop gap while Jinty was setting up other things in her line-up? Ah, the things we may never know without interviews.

Incidentally, Jinty‘s foray into the world of the agony aunt did not end with this story. Later she would run a problem page, and also a series called “Is This Your Story?“, where she would portray stories about problems and lessons that readers might relate to. In one story, a twelve-year-old thinks her parents are treating her like a baby, but eventually realises she was trying to grow up too fast. In another, a girl has developed a bad habit of telling lies. But inevitably she gets caught out in a lie and now fears expulsion.