Tag Archives: wish fulfillment

Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as "Jackie's Two Lives"
Alan Davidson, author of various Jinty stories such as “Jackie’s Two Lives”

We have run a few posts about Alan Davidson before now on the blog, but not a complete summary post that serves as an appreciation of his work. Of course no summary post can be properly complete at this stage as we do not know all the stories he wrote for girls’ comics – his wife Pat Davidson has mentioned that he kept careful copies of his invoices and his scripts, but to go through those files is itself a lot of work. We can hope that we will hear more titles of stories in due course, and if so, I will certainly add them into this post. In any case, we now have story posts about all five of the Jinty stories that it is is known that Alan wrote, so the time seems right for an appreciation of him as a comics writer.

Known Jinty stories written by Alan Davidson:

Known stories in other titles:

  • Little Miss Nothing (Tammy, 1971)
  • Paint It Black (Misty, 1978)

Pat Davidson has also stated in a separate email that “[f]or older readers he contributed some excellent stories for Pink and often met up with Ridwan Aitken, the then editor. I don’t have any records of these to hand, although I remember a very original story about a hero who could predict earthquakes, which Alan much enjoyed writing. I can’t remember its title.”

Having set down these initial bibliographic details, what can we pull together in terms of an appreciation of his work, in girls comics and elsewhere?

Davidson’s work is not as strongly themed as Alison Christie‘s concentration on heart-tugging stories which forms the bulk of her comics writing. There is a clear focus on wish fulfillment in his Jinty stories: Gwen stumbles into a position where her schoolmates respect and appreciate her as she has always wanted, Jackie is swept up by a rich mother-figure who is prepared to take her away from her life of poverty, Debbie finds a mysterious valley and within it a sort of fairy godmother who will save her from her cruel family, and Kerry is likewise swept up by a rich mentor who looks like she is a route to the fame that Kerry has always wanted. The wish in question is almost always double-edged or positively treacherous: Debbie is the only one who ends up happy with getting what she has always wanted (and of course her fairy godmother figure is stern-but-kind rather than seemingly kind but morally dubious). However, Davidson plays the theme of wish fulfillment while ringing the changes: none of his stories are close repeats, even though they have this similar focus.

For Jinty‘s pages he also wrote the important science fiction story “Fran of the Floods” (1976) – perhaps not quite the first SF story that ran in this title (that is arguably 1975’s “The Green People”) but a hugely popular one that ran for some 9 months. Jinty‘s reputation as a title that ran lots of SF surely must owe plenty to the success of this key story. It is a strong story through to its end, though showing a few signs of padding in some parts of the long journey taken by the protagonist. (I note that Sandie ran a story called “Noelle’s Ark” a few years earlier which has a number of similarities without being as strong on characterization or drama: it would be interesting to know if this was something that Davidson was aware of, or perhaps even the author of.)

Davidson of course had also previously written a standout story that gave girls’ comics a key new theme: 1971’s “Little Miss Nothing” started the run of Cinderella stories which gave Tammy its reputation for cruelty and darkness. Pat Mills has lauded this as being written with a real lightness of touch and being written very much from the heart (note that he thought at the time that this was written by Alan’s wife Pat, which has since been corrected by Pat Davidson herself). We know less about what we wrote for titles other than Jinty: it seems he wrote little else for Tammy (unless Pat Davidson can correct that impression?), and only one story for Misty. “Paint It Black” was part of the opening line-up of that comic. While it was a compelling read it doesn’t seem to have struck the same chord with readers as some others from that title, and Davidson doesn’t seem to have written more for Misty (perhaps also due to the fact that he was finding success in children’s prose fiction from around that time).

It’s clear that Davidson’s writing is strong all round, and at its height was really mould-breaking (not just once, at least twice). There are ways in which it follows the conventions of girls comics writing reasonably closely: the titles of his stories tend to follow the standard set up of focusing on the girl protagonists (Gwen, Jackie, Fran, Kerry) though veering away from that in some cases (“Valley of Shining Mist” and most particularly “Paint It Black”). I’m not sure whether this all-round strength is part of the reason for another aspect of his comics career which I was struck by when looking back – he has not been associated with one particular artist, but rather been illustrated by a wide range of artists with no repeats that I know of. This contrasts with the partnership between Alison Christie and Phil Townsend, who created some seven very popular stories together for Jinty.

From the mid to late 70s, Davidson started to concentrate on prose fiction for children. It’s a little hard to search for details of his work online as he doesn’t seem to have had his own web presence and there are a few other well-known figures with the same name (such as a food writer and a cricketer). This Goodreads author page is the clearest list I have found of his prose works, while it’s also worth looking at his Wikipedia page, which tells us that he started off as a subeditor on “Roy of the Rovers” for Tiger. Writing children’s prose fiction has clear advantages over continuing in the world of juvenile comics: better recognition by your public rather than having no printed credits in the pages of the comics titles, better rewards for success in the form of royalties and translation money. At the same time, his most successful prose work, “The Bewitching of Alison Allbright”, is an effective re-working of his popular comics story “Jackie’s Two Lives”. The influence of the earlier writing clearly informs the later work too: what comics loses, children’s fiction gains.

If Davidson had been writing a decade or so later, might he have been swept up in the popularity of 2000AD and the migration that various British creators made to the US market? That only seems to have drawn in the creators working on boys’ comics, so I assume not. It is pleasant to imagine the talented writers of juvenile comics being fêted and recognized by name in a way that British publishers spent many years fighting to prevent. Ultimately however it is a sad thought: Alan Davidson, who is amongst those who most deserve that name recognition, is only now getting a small fraction of that recognition after his death.

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Freda’s Fortune (1981)

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Publication: 26 September 1981-3 October 1981

Reprint: Tammy Holiday Special 1985

Artist: Trini Tinturé
Writer: Unknown

Summary

Freda Potter and her parents have just moved to Ashdown in the country and Dad has opened a supermarket. Freda is delighted with the move, but money is tight until Dad’s business takes off. Freda has always wanted a pony, but her family cannot afford it.

While out on a walk to meet some local girls, Freda has an unpleasant encounter with a girl rider who is “Ashdown’s prize snob, Susan Hamlin.” Freda then befriends Roz Hunt and they go to the gymkhana. Roz warns that Susan will show off there.

At the gymkhana there is a raffle going. Stung by Susan’s taunts, Freda buys a ticket although it will mean going broke. But Freda gets the last laugh when hers is the winning ticket. And the prize is – a pony! His name is Fortune.

Susan is furious and sees Freda as a potential rival, especially after seeing how well Freda is riding him for a beginner, and bare-backed too. She gets even more furious when she sees Fortune and Freda are soon showing a natural talent at show-jumping.

But then the problems of keeping Fortune arise, especially with the family’s tight budget. Freda soon discovers that Susan is out to undermine her in finding a grazing field and tack. Freda manages to find a field for Fortune with Roz’s help but it is only temporary, and Susan buys the tack Freda was after. Feeling beaten, she decides to return Fortune to Susan. Susan tells Freda that her father only donated Fortune because he was useless and unsuitable for their stables, and will be put down. Freda is not having that and takes Fortune away. As Freda goes, Susan is gleeful at sorting out a rival.

Freda decides on a broader search for a field. She helps save a farmer’s bull and in return he lets Fortune graze on his field. Another favour with an elderly lady gets Freda some tack and a hard hat. Freda is also finding that riding Fortune is great advertising for her dad’s business.

But then another trick from Susan has Freda and Fortune thrown off the field. And by the time the next gymkhana arrives, Freda thinks it will be her first and last event as she cannot find a place to keep him. Then she meets Mr Hamlin and tells him about his putting Fortune down because he thought he was not fit for his stables. Mr Hamlin is furious, saying he would not put a useless pony up for a raffle. They then realise the trick Susan has pulled.

Mr Hamlin is all for banning Susan from participating in the event as a punishment. Susan is tears. Freda begins to think, and wonders if Susan acted as she did because she thought she would let her father, the owner of the poshest stables in the district, down if she allowed a newcomer to become her rival. So she persuades Mr Hamlin to let Susan stay so they can settle their rivalry in a fair competition. Mr Hamlin agrees, and tells Freda that she can keep Fortune at his stables. So that problem is solved.

Susan apologises to Freda as she makes her way to the event. But she must have been affected by the upsets, because she does not do as well as usual. Freda does not win either, but it is her first event. Afterwards, Susan says she is no longer bothered about losing, and she no longer acts snobbishly either. She and Freda become friendly rivals and train together.

Thoughts

This was Trini Tinturé’s last story for Jinty. And it is clearly one of the filler stories that Jinty put in to fill her last seven issues. It is a two-parter that is run at six-page spreads. Six page spreads are often hailed as a special treat for readers, and indeed readers would have loved six-pagers. But was the story run at this pace as a special treat or because there was pressure to finish it faster than usual? Under normal circumstances it would have been a four-parter with the usual number of pages. Or it could even have been spun out into more episodes, and it does have the potential for that. There are clear characters and situations that could have had more development. Why was this story not given more weeks to run to help fill the closing issues of Jinty? Was there no room for it, as the editor had to find spaces for “Pam of Pond Hill”, “The Bow Street Runner” and “Badgered Belinda”? Or was there some other reason the editor did not take Freda further?

Horse rival stories (or two riders feuding over the same horse) are an old favourite in girls’ comics. Often there is spite and dirty tricks from a jealous rival, who may end up changing for the better, as Susan did, or getting their comeuppance. And of course readers always love pony stories, which must have made “Blind Faith” (a show-jumping horse who is blind to boot!) and “Horse from the Sea” popular. Sadly, Freda is really not up there with Jinty’s better-remembered stories. The story is not as developed as it could have been because of its extremely short run. It reflects the situation with the other serials that Jinty ran in her final issues – okay stories that served their purpose and would keep readers entertained, but they were meant as fillers or bridges to the merger. There is a feel about the last seven issues that there was a drop in energy and quality – understandable with a comic whose cancellation was fast approaching. But it is hardly the sort of atmosphere to produce classics.

While Freda lasted, readers would have enjoyed her story because it pushed a lot of buttons to make a serial popular: ponies and riding, jealous rivals, determination and courage to beat the odds which always seem to stack up, and a competition to see how it resolves. Freda suddenly feeling sorry for Susan and gaining psychological insight into her bad behaviour feels a bit quick and slick, and is somewhat irritating and unconvincing. But the outcome of the gymkhana is impressive. Neither girl wins it, which is a refreshing change from trite endings where the heroine wins the match because she was determined and in the right. Readers must have been a bit sad that Freda did not last longer and were wishing they could have seen more of her.

 

 

Worlds Apart (1981)

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Publication: 25 April 1981 to 3 October 1981

Artist: Guy Peeters
Writer: Unknown (this story has been incorrectly credited to Pat Mills in other publications)

Summary

“Imagine the dream worlds inside your head becoming real! That’s what happened to six girls from Crawley Comprehensive after an accident with a road tanker carrying dangerous chemicals from a secret government research establishment”.

Each world is governed by the respective girl’s characteristic – making it an ideal world for her, but a nightmare for the other girls: “It seems that given a free rein, the worst comes out in us.” The only release from these worlds is for its respective creator to die – and this happens when each creator meets her downfall through the very same characteristic that shaped her world. The respective adventures and nightmares in each world develop as follows:

Sarah (greedy): Sarah’s world is ruled by fat, greed and gluttony. The people only think about food and being as fat as they can possibly be; 20 stone is “such a trim figure”. Even the animals are fat, including the sparrows. Exercise is considered “disgusting”. The girls are emaciated by the standards of this world, even fat Sarah. So the girls are force-fed in hospital until they are so grotesquely obese that they can hardly walk. Sarah is the only one to enjoy this world because she can stuff herself with as much food as she likes and nobody calls her “fatty”. Then Sarah gets a horrible shock when sporty Ann dies from running half a mile because she is too fat. Now Sarah sees the fatty world in a whole new light. Afterwards she falls into a river and drowns because she can’t swim.

Ann (sporty): Ann’s world is ruled by sport. Education, clothes, foodstuffs, food consumption, architecture, city planning, transport, politics, war, and even the death penalty are all linked to sport. In fact, everything revolves around sport and keeping fit at all costs, even if you are old and infirm. Ann simply loves her world because she can indulge in sport at every waking moment. But like the others, Ann’s indulgence becomes her undoing. It begins when the Soviet Union declares war on Britain. War is played with a sports match; the losing team is executed and the invading country just walks in if its team wins. Ann is honoured to be in the British team, but doesn’t know that the Russians are cheating by taking drugs. When Britain loses, Ann meets her downfall by the very thing she loves – sport. The method used to execute her is to be tied to an exercise bicycle until she dies from exhaustion.

Samantha (vain): Samantha’s world is ruled by vanity. It is a fairy tale world and she is Sleeping Beauty – who rules this world more than her royal parents. But Samantha is no fairytale princess. She is cruel, tyrannical, power mad, and indulges in admiring her beauty at every waking moment. Her castle is known as the Castle of Mirrors because there are mirrors everywhere for Samantha to admire her beautiful face. As for the other girls, they are her downtrodden servants and threatened with torture if they displease her. Mo, whom Samantha dislikes, suffers the most in this world – partly because she refuses to be downtrodden.

Then, when Samantha dumps Prince Charming for the Frog Prince, he gets revenge by hiring the witch (Mo’s mother!) who originally put Samantha to sleep. So the witch turns Samantha’s vanity against her with a spell that causes Samantha’s face to appear as a pig when reflected in the mirrors. Samantha becomes hysterical when she realises that she can never see her beautiful face again. “How can I live without admiring myself? I can’t stand it!” Samantha shrieks like a maniac, shattering all the mirrors and herself in the process. Talk about narcissism.

Mo (delinquent): Mo’s world is ruled by crime, where crime, violence and anarchy are the rule. Everyone has prison numbers, and if they are stripped of them they become non-persons and fall prey to lynch mobs. Education at reform schools (which in the girls’ case is modelled on Alcatraz and patrolled by guards with live bullets in their guns) teaches crime (safe-cracking, forgery, framing, pickpocketing etc). The only crime in this world is to do a good deed, which is punishable by lynching – and nearly happens to the other girls. It seems the perfect world for the delinquent Mo to flourish – until she is kidnapped by gangsters and given a pair of concrete shoes. This has Mo anxious to turn over a new leaf if she returns to the real world before she is even thrown into the river to drown.

Clare (intellectual): Clare’s world is ruled intellectualism, and the size of your IQ determines your standing in society. At the top of society are the “swots” and at the bottom are the “dullards” – a dimwitted subhuman species who are classed as animals and are treated as such (experimentation, slaughter houses, etc). The other girls are dullards because Clare always considered them stupid, “so in her world, we are stupid.” Clare is an arrogant, clinical scientist ready to perform experiments on her “dullard” classmates. But she doesn’t get the chance because dullard liberationists break them out of the laboratory and turn them loose into the wild.

Clare comes after them, but she quarrels bitterly with her co-worker who wants to make a dullard wildlife film. Clare protests that this is cruel to the dullards because they cannot survive in the wild. The man retorts that she was cruel herself, for experimenting on them and what’s more, the law states that his word overrules hers because his IQ is higher than hers. Well, these were the rules Clare made for this world. Then the helicopter crashes. Clare is unhurt and is saved by her dullard friends. But she cannot survive in the wild herself; she runs away and dies in an unshown accident.

Jilly (timid): Jilly’s world is ruled by fear. It is a horror-movie Goth world where everything serves only one purpose – to terrify! There is a particular emphasis on vampires, and lessons in school are geared to turn pupils into vampires, with coffin building lessons, blood pudding (with real blood) in domestic science, and first aid class includes mouth-to-neck resuscitation i.e. be bitten on the neck and be turned into one of the Undead.

Clare realises that if Jilly becomes one of the Undead, she will never die – and the only way to escape this horror world is for Jilly to die. They will become trapped in this world if Jilly becomes one of the Undead and never dies, and in the penultimate episode it looks like this is going to happen. The girls do save Jilly from becoming one of the Undead, but she is a girl who is still scared of her own shadow. This too is taken to its extreme – Jilly is attacked and killed by her own shadow.

Afterwards
The girls now wake up in hospital in the real world. They discuss their adventure and ponder over why their worlds were so horrible: “We’re not terrible people, are we?” Clare decides it was because if you take things to extremes, it gets all twisted. The girls then reflect on the lessons they have learned, including becoming more tolerant and understanding, that greed, sport, cleverness and beauty are not everything, and crime does not pay.

Thoughts
“Worlds Apart” was Jinty’s last science fiction/fantasy story before her merge with Tammy in 1981. It was also the last serial that Guy Peeters drew for Jinty. In discussions of girls’ comics this story is widely regarded as Jinty’s ultimate classic in science fiction, not to mention being an incredible adventure story, perils-and-adversity story and a sobering, thought-provoking morality story. It touches all of us because we have all had a dream world at some point and wished they could come true. But if they did, would they live up to our expectations or would they turn out to be the stuff of nightmares?

Although “Worlds Apart” is considered one of the best, perhaps it could have been better. The ending suffers a bit because it looks like it was rushed to make way for the seven-issue ‘countdown’ to the merger. The last world is given short shrift (one and a half episodes while the others get four or five), so it is not as developed as much as the others and Jilly emerges as the only one not to learn anything from her world. Instead, the other girls end up feeling sorry for her for being so terrified. It feels a bit unsatisfying. All right, so maybe Jinty wanted to make a statement here that some people never learn. Or they cannot learn because they are too entrenched in what they are. This is what some of the others begin to think about Jilly: “If this is Jilly’s mind, she must be permanently scared, poor girl!” Then again, the last two episodes were given four pages instead of the usual three. I have observed that an increase in pages and even double episodes can be a sign of pressure to finish a story quickly to clear the decks fast for something big – such as a merger.

Nonetheless, “Worlds Apart” is far more hard hitting and bizarre than anything Jinty had produced before in moralism as it depicts the dangers of extremism (extremes of greed, sports-mania, vanity, crime, intellectualism and fear), and how terrible the consequences can be if extremism is allowed to carry to its logical conclusion. In fact, Clare decides that this is why the worlds were so horrible.

It also took the torture of its heroines to fantastical heights of grotesqueness and perversity that remain unmatched today. For example, in the fat world the girls are force-fed until they are grotesquely fat – probably the “trim figure” of 20 stone. In the sports world they are expected to exercise while they have their school dinners, take cold showers to toughen them up, and run across the town to their dormitories because the run will help keep them fit. And in the horror world, they have classes for building their own coffins for when they are turned into vampires. Talk about digging your own grave….

There is perverse and tongue-in-cheek humour and satire too, such as where the vain world turns the fairy tale on its head. Sleeping Beauty is a tyrant instead of an innocent princess, she jilts her prince, and you find yourself sympathising with the fairy-tale witch who punishes Samantha. There are some jokes even in the horror world – the train station, for example, is called Lugosi station, and Britain is called The United Kingdom of Transylvania. And in the sports world, we learn that Hitler fought World War II via a footy match. Yes, the class is shown a slide of Hitler – “German manager and chief coach” – in his footy gear!