Tag Archives: wtfometer

WTFometer VI – Group Slave Story

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

In the sixth volume of the WTFometer I am putting three group slave stories through the WFTometer. The stories are Merry at Misery House and Prisoners of Paradise Island from Jinty, and Slaves of the Nightmare Factory from Girl series 2. All of them have entries on this blog.

The group slave story is where a group of girls are being held captive, used as slaves and mistreated. Settings for the slavery have included state prisons, cruel schools, orphanages, factories, workhouses, mines, farms and secret workshops. More unusual settings have included ships, circuses, restaurants, holiday camps, totalitarian regimes and dystopian worlds. Sometimes the enslavement is based on an activity, such as hockey, ballet or swimming.

Sometimes the slavers have ulterior motives for exploiting girls, such as the establishment being used as a front for an underground crime ring or forced labour racket. And there are times when the slavery takes a form that is more insidious. On the surface it looks harmless, even enjoyable, but underneath it all, its victims are being ensnared for sinister purposes.

These three group slave stories are being put through the WFTometer to see how high the settings of the their forms of slavery, the cruelties the villains inflict, and how far they went would score on the WTFometer. As part of this purpose there are two lines for physical security: one for the protagonist and one for supporting characters. This is in case the physical security of the protagonist is any different from her fellow prisoners. For example, do any fellow prisoners actually die from all the cruelty?

First: Prisoners of Paradise Island

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Score: 19

This is one of the more insidious group slave stories. A hockey team is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. But instead of being subjected to all sorts of cruelties and being abused and exploited, the girls are treated to every kind of luxury and pampering their kidnapper, Miss Lush can offer. Only the hockey team captain, Sally Tuff, realises it’s a gilded cage. Miss Lush is deliberately spoiling the girls with too much luxury and pampering so as to make them too fat and unfit to win a hockey championship, and she is going to take punts against them. After many failed bids at escape or make the girls see reason, Sally calls in their sports teacher Miss Granley for help. But when Miss Lush finds out, she tries to kill them both.

On the WTFometer there is a difference between Sally’s physical security and those of the other hockey players. They are subjected to deceptively luxurious treatment that threatens to damage their health, but it does not put them in any physical danger. However, Sally is put in physical danger when Miss Lush tries to kill her. So her physical security scores higher. Taking the hockey players away from their locality and onto a tropical island also scores points. This story would score more if its cruelties were more severe, but as it is it scores 19.

Second: Merry at Misery House

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Score: 26

This was the longest-running group slave story in Jinty (and in girls’ comics). In the 1920s Merry Summers is wrongly sent to a reformatory called Sombre Manor. It is better known as Misery House, and for good reason. The reformatory staff are sadistic, hypocritical and corrupt, and inflict tortures that include beatings, starvation, drip dungeons and stocks. They are capable of leaving sick girls to die of neglect, and only Merry’s efforts to get medical attention for them one way or other saves their lives. Eventually it is revealed the Misery House staff are engaged in illegal dealings, and when Merry discovers this they try to kill her.

Physical security for both the protagonist and supporting characters is the same: big difference because of high risk of death or injury, but nobody actually dies. The setting of a juvenile prison and historical time period also help bring the scoring of the story to 26.

Third: Slaves of the Nightmare Factory

wtfometer-slaves-of-the-nightmare-factory

Score: 33

Natalie Jones and Amanda Harvey are kidnapped for slave labour in a secret dress factory located deep underground in London’s wasteland. Girls are sent to the dreaded Punishment Box if they fail to meet strenuous dress quotas. Food is terrible and monotonous. Basic necessities and medical facilities are totally absent because the kidnappers care nothing for the girls’ welfare.

Girls are showing more psychological effects of their ordeal, which means a “big difference” score on the mental security. The prison settings also raise scores in the free will/agency sections. The physical security for the protagonist scores “big difference”, and indeed co-protagonist Natalie almost dies from the ordeal. But what makes this story score the highest, with 33 points, is the “extreme” rating in the physical security for supporting characters. This is because one slave girl, Ellen Crawley, actually dies while trying to escape, in circumstances that suggest murder or at least culpable homicide.

Battle of the Wills (1977)

Sample Images

Battle of the Wills 1Battle of the Wills 2Battle of the Wills 3 1

Publication: 2/7/77-1/10/77

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown, but see “Thoughts”

 

Plot

Kate Wills is a selfish, unsavoury girl – but then, so is her grandmother, in the way she treats Kate. Grandmother keeps forcing Kate to follow in her footsteps and be a ballerina, but Kate wants to be a gymnast. The two are constantly at war over ballet vs. gymnastics. Grandmother just does not comprehend that Kate cannot realise her full potential as a top ballerina because having ballet constantly forced upon her has made her hate it. She believes (or deludes herself) that the gymnastics is just a passing craze and Kate will soon love ballet. She squelches every attempt Kate makes to pursue gymnastics, including cutting gymnastics articles out of newspapers and sacking servants who disobey her instructions (because Kate intimidated them) to keep Kate away from gymnastics. And what’s worse, grandmother always wins in the end.

 

Then, grandmother says she is going away on a year-long world trip to visit her old ballet haunts. Kate sees the advantages immediately, especially when told she will receive an allowance of £50 a week. She goes off to enrol at the gymnastics college under the name of Kate Holmes, and the allowance will cover her fees. Sounds too easy? It is – the family lawyer, Perkins, tells Kate that the allowance will stop if her ballet training does, and he is going to monitor her to make sure she keeps up her ballet. It looks like grandmother has won again.

 

Then Kate is reminded of an article she saw earlier about a Dr Morrison who claimed to have invented a machine that can duplicate living beings. It was dismissed as a hoax, but Kate seizes upon it as the means to be in two places at once, which would solve her problem. So she heads off to Morrison (a female scientist) and demands that a clone be made of her. Morrison agrees when Kate points out that a clone of a human being rather than animals would be far more convincing proof that her machine is genuine.

 

The cloning works – but too well. The clone believes she is the real Kate, and hates ballet and wants gymnastics as much as Kate does. Morrison says she cannot tell them apart and the machine to reverse the process will not be ready for months. In the meantime, she sorts the matter with a coin toss – the winner goes to the gymnastics college and changes her hairstyle to differentiate her from the loser, who is forced to go home and the hated ballet, under Perkins’ constant guard (something that threatens to turn him into a nervous wreck because Kate is such a handful). But she isn’t having that, so now the battle of ballet vs. gymnastics is being fought between the two Kates, with ballet Kate playing tricks on gymnast Kate to get the gymnastics she wants, while gymnast Kate fights her every inch of the way to hold on to them.

 

Further complications arise when gymnast Kate’s selfish nature makes her extremely unpopular at the college. Only one girl, Pauline, has tried to be friends at first, but Kate alienates her when she blackmails her way into taking Pauline’s place in a gymnastics display. It gets even more complicated when gymnast Kate finds out that Perkins is Pauline’s father, which creates hijinks in preventing him or Pauline from seeing the wrong Kate or even both of them when their paths meet over various gymnastics events where ballet Kate is always causing trouble for gymnast Kate. Added to that is a constant cloud hanging over gymnast Kate – is she really the clone, and if so, are her days as a gymnast numbered by how soon Morrison perfects the reversal machine?

 

Then gymnast Kate discovers Morrison has the reversal machine already, not months away as she said before. Morrison says it was just not ready to test on humans at the time and has a further bombshell – she tells gymnast Kate that she is the clone. This gives gymnast Kate such a shock that she goes into a state of catatonia and amnesia and wanders about in a daze. She ends up in hospital, but runs off when a news item about the Tynchurch gymnastics display she was meant to participate in jogs her memory just enough for her to go there. She arrives there still in her daze, but somehow able to perform.

 

Meanwhile, grandmother sends ballet Kate a new ballet instructor from Russia, Alicia, who takes the right approach with her. Instead of forcing Kate to dance, Alicia encourages her with praise and taking her to a ballet performance to inspire her. It works; ballet Kate is soon surprising herself at enjoying ballet for the first time in her life. She now feels quite happy to leave gymnast Kate to her own devices at the college.

 

But before ballet Kate changes her mind about ballet, she tries to pull one last trick on gymnast Kate at the Tynchurch display. However, she gets caught up with the doctors who are looking for gymnast Kate and then finds out about the state she is in. So she decides to help gymnast Kate instead.

 

Meanwhile, Pauline finally rumbles there are two Kates, and ballet Kate explains everything to her. But gymnast Kate has taken off in a daze once again, and ballet Kate finds out from Morrison what is wrong. Morrison also wants the two Kates to come to a science convention, where she will demonstrate her reversal machine in public by merging them back into one. Ballet Kate tracks down gymnast Kate and explains. They head off to the convention, with gymnast Kate now resigned to her fate. Pauline comes along and so does Alicia, who has been informed of the situation.

 

At the convention, there are protests on all sides that the experiment is cruel and inhuman and should be stopped immediately. This raises hopes that the clone will be spared. However, the scientists’ opposition has Morrison take matters into her own hands and turn the reversal machine straight on the Kates. However, it is ballet Kate who disappears, not gymnast Kate. This is because Morrison lied about which one was the clone to protect her work until she was ready to prove it to the convention. But the scientists are so horrified that they ban her duplicating machine and have her arrested. Morrison expresses no remorse; only anger that the scientists do not appreciate her genius.

 

Kate returns home, full of grief over her clone. However, the experiences she went through have turned her into a more considerate girl who has now realised how selfish she has been. So when Kate hears that the real reason her grandmother went away was to seek medical treatment in Russia for a serious heart condition, but her post-treatment prognosis is uncertain, she decides to give up her gymnastics and humour her still-infirm grandmother about pursuing ballet.

 

Alicia and Pauline feel the sacrifice Kate is making will be too much for her. So Alicia comes up with a plan. She persuades Kate to go for the national gymnastics championship she was training for, while, unknown to Kate, she puts grandmother in the audience – under protest. The hope is that once grandmother actually sees Kate’s gymnastics, she will come around. But grandmother has severe prejudices about the gymnastics she has never even watched properly as well as being opposed to Kate pursuing them, and her reaction to Kate performing is inscrutable.

 

By the end, it looks like the plan has failed and Kate has left in tears, without even checking the results of the competition. She thinks it is the end of her gymnastics and does not even know her grandmother was there until Alicia owns up. However, grandmother eventually proves she has come around, by not only in accepting the trophy Kate has won on her behalf but also in the acceptance speech she gives. She is proud to support Kate’s dream of going to the Olympics, and her prognosis is now good.

 

Thoughts

 

This story is one that crops up frequently in Jinty discussions and seems to have endured with readers. It certainly is a cut above your average story about the protagonist fighting difficult parents who keep pushing her in the direction they want and have no respect for what she wants, which drives her to go behind their backs all the time. Here the protagonist resorts to what could be the most unique solution to the problem in the history of girls’ comics – having a clone created so she can be in two places at the same time. But the solution brings its own problems that act as the obstacles the protagonist so often faces when going behind her parents’ backs to pursue her path: keeping the secret, hijinks when things go a bit wrong, thinking fast when faced with the threat of discovery, and jealous rivals who are so often thrown into the mix. And the difficulties facing gymnast Kate are all compounded by a constant, niggling thought that surely none of her counterparts in other comics have ever faced – which Kate is the real one and which is just the clone whose life will end when the reversal machine is ready? And when the truth is revealed, which will win out – ballet or gymnastics? Of course we are all rooting for the gymnastics, but what is grandmother going to say about it when she comes back? It will be back to square one for Kate – unless grandmother is persuaded to change her mind.

 

What further adds to the appeal of the story is that the protagonist herself starts out as an unlikeable character and not a fully sympathetic one. This is quite unusual for this type of story; usually a protagonist fighting a difficult parent to pursue her dreams is a sympathetic character, such as Glenda Noble in “The Goose Girl”. However, although we sympathise with Kate’s situation, we do not sympathise with her character. She is pushy, even bullying, selfish, and does not see beyond herself. She is not above blackmailing Pauline and does not care about the servants who get sacked because of the constant war between her and her grandmother. So there is far more character development in this story; we know that Kate will change somehow, and we all the more interested in following her story to find out just how she will change and where it will lead in the battle over ballet vs. gymnastics.

 

It is not too much of a surprise that it is shock treatment that turns Kate around, though more extreme because she is threatened with a (false) near-death experience as well. It could hardly be anything else. What is a surprise is that what turns the clone around is the very last thing she expected – beginning to like ballet. And it is all because her new ballet teacher goes about things the right way – being likeable, encouraging and inspiring to induce Kate to pursue ballet out of her own interest – not forcing ballet upon Kate as grandmother does because it is what she wants, and not listening to what Kate wants. It is a rare lesson that any difficult parent/teacher learns in girls’ comics – learning to go about things the right way instead of the wrong way of forcing things upon people. If ballet Kate had been the real Kate after all, the story could have ended in quite an unconventional manner for this type of genre – the protagonist now doing what the parent wants because it is now what she wants instead of gaining the freedom to pursue what she wants.

 

This story is also pretty unconventional for Jinty in another manner. Although Jinty was known for her SF stories, the mad/eccentric scientist was one SF theme that seldom featured. But in this case it does, and what’s more, Dr Morrison is not your average mad scientist. Most mad scientists in girls’ comics are out for world domination or whatever. They often a dash of campiness about them and behave like maniacs. But this doctor is a completely cold fish, and what makes her even more chilling is that her true colours are not apparent at first. When we first meet Morrison, she seems a sympathetic character. She has been wronged because the science establishment rejected her machine as a hoax, lives in a dingy residence, and when the two Kates are created, she seems to be in a real dilemma. At one point she even comes to the rescue of gymnast Kate in fooling Perkins. But once her lies begin to unravel, her cold, ruthless nature begins to appear. Ballet Kate realises how heartless Morrison really is and that neither of them are much real to her; she just sees them as an “interesting experiment”. And the climax of the story, where Morrison wipes ballet Kate from existence without a flicker of remorse, just to prove herself to the convention, despite all their protests, has to be one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded scenes ever depicted in girls’ comics. This must have been a moment where the Jinty team really wanted to kick some butt; none of the clichéd last minute saves, as was what the Kates hoped for when the scientists protested that the experiment be stopped.

 

Jinty was also known for her sports stories, and “Battle of the Wills” was the first Jinty story to feature gymnastics. The other Jinty stories that did were “Land of No Tears”, “Wild Rose” and “Prisoner of the Bell”. Unfortunately, the gymnastics in all these stories were marred by one glaring error – having girls perform gymnastics on parallel bars, rings and Pommel horse. This is incorrect because they are used in men’s gymnastics. Some more accurate research into gymnastics could have been done there.

 

“Battle of the Wills” shares roots with several other stories that have me wondering that if at least some of them had the same writer. Kate’s ambitious but selfish nature that softens into a more considerate one sounds similar to how another selfish Jinty girl, Pandora, develops in “Pandora’s Box”. In “Prisoner of the Bell” Susie Cathcart also wants to pursue gymnastics, but her grandmother keeps forcing her to be an academic (and Susie is a confirmed underachiever) and thinks gymnastics are nonsense, just as Kate’s grandmother does. In this case, the grandmother uses hypnotism to compel her. The same goes for Alison Thorne in Tammy’s “Slave of the Clock” in 1982. Alison is another talented but reluctant ballerina. Unlike Kate, Alison does not hate ballet; she is just not passionate enough to make it her career. Then Alison meets a ballet teacher who goes about things the wrong way in the extreme – she hypnotises reluctant ballet students into doing ballet whenever they hear the ticking of a clock. The last was written by Jay Over, a known Jinty writer. It raises the possibility that Over wrote “Battle of the Wills” and “Prisoner of the Bell” because of various similarities they have with “Slave of the Clock”.

 

When comparing “Battle of the Wills” to “Prisoner of the Bell” or “Slave of the Clock”, it emerges as more superior in terms of character development. Once Alison and Susie are freed from the hypnotism they pretty much go back to what they were, as if nothing had happened. But Kate has grown, and become more considerate and mature. And if ballet Kate had indeed been the original, she would have really surprised herself. “Battle of the Wills” is also more superior in terms of lessons learned. The other two show what can happen when you go about things the wrong way and try to force them on other people. Seldom do you get the lesson about the results you can get when you go about things the right way. But this is what happens when Alicia appears in the place of the grandmother. Kate sees how different Alicia is and responds accordingly. However, there is no Alicia for Susie (to help her appreciate education more) or Alison (to encourage her to pursue her ballet talent to the full).

Edited to add: I have produced and added in a WTFometer. This story scores quite highly at 33.

Battle of the Wills WTFometer

Welcome to new readers!

Welcome to any new readers who are here via recent tweets / retweets by Great News For All ReadersPaul Harrison-Davies, and Sean Phillips! There’s lots on this blog for fans of Jinty of course, and also for those who may not yet know this title at all. The aim is to be a really comprehensive reference site for this specific girls’ comic, while helping to enlarge our collective knowledge about creators involved in producing girls comics generally. Where possible, I like to feature interviews with writers and artists but also with editors and others involved in the production of weekly comics in whatever capacity.

jintyfirstissuecover

If you don’t yet know Jinty well, you might like to start with some posts about individual stories: “Children of Edenford” is one of my favourite stories, with its Stepford Schoolchildren (their headmistress feeds them a mystic drug to make them perfect!), while the much more realistic “Waves of Fear” is one of the strongest stories about bullying that is found anywhere in girls’ comics. There is an index page of all the stories that ran in Jinty, with brief summaries. Likewise there is an index of story themes: you probably already know that weekly girls’ comics of the 70s seemed to thrive on misery and cruelty, but were you aware of the myriad ways in which this was expressed, from the Cinderella story and the Slave story to the Exploited Amnesiac and the Guilt Complex? More upliftingly there are also stories themed around Adventure, Science Fiction, and Environmental Concerns.

As part of the posts about individual stories, artists, and writers we try to include a short excerpt from the comic: this is a sequential medium, after all. Hopefully this may lead you to find new-to-you artists that you are excited by – there were some amazing, strong talents printed in the pages of Jinty and other comics of the time. Some of them are well-known from their other work outside of this area – Jim Baikie and José Casanovas from their work in 2000AD, and Phil Gascoine from his work in Commando, for instance – but others such as Phil Townsend, Trini Tinturé, and Terry Aspin remain relatively unknown despite their beautiful work. The same applies to writers, but so much less is known about them.

Most recently, we have added sections on Translations and reprints – these stories had a long life and a wide geographical reach outside of their original publication! – and some galleries of favourite panels, covers, and story logos. There is considerably more to come on these areas in the future.

Logo from
Logo from “Village of Fame”.

Finally, the bread-and-butter posts of the blog are posts about individual issues; a true index of each week in the comic. They are not necessarily posted in original publication order, but there is an index page here so it is possible to see at a glance the weeks that we have already covered and those that are still to do. Alongside these there are also more analytical or general articles, with discussion about how to measure the bonkersness of a story (via my invention of a WTFometer), or reviewing what we know about female writers in this girls’ genre, for instance.

300th post!

Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, we are continuing to move on with posting to and extending this blog. Since the 200th entry in November 2014, we have very nearly completed the posts on Jinty Annuals and Holiday Specials, including looking at an annual from precursor title June too. More stories have been covered, such as popular story “The Forbidden Garden“; Mistyfan has been doing the bulk of this work, which is much appreciated. She has also forged ahead with writing numerous posts on individual issues too, helping to fill in many gaps. This includes curiosities like the advert for the very first Jinty! However, there are still further gaps for us to get to; for instance back around the 200th post a comment asked for a post on “Battle of the Wills”, and no doubt there are many other favorites people are looking forward to. The story theme posts were added to with the entry on Sports stories, but again these story theme posts could well be added to.

I would always like to do more Creator posts. It was particularly gratifying to be able to do an interview with writer Alison Christie and with artist Keith Robson; getting people to talk about their memories of how things worked and how they did them is really important. As with so many creators, writer Len Wenn is not able to be interviewed but Keith Robson was able to give us some first-hand information that helped to fill out more details on his work. Likewise, Terry Magee wrote in to give us more background on script conferences, which are often mentioned in people’s information about how the editorial process worked. It was also good to be able to correct the attribution of “Angela’s Angels” and do a post on artist Leo Davy, who it is now credited to. There are plenty of creators that could be posted about right away, but if anyone ever has a lead for a creator who is happy to be interviewed for this blog, that would be absolutely excellent. We’re particularly looking for any information on Mavis Miller, who would be able to shed so much light on the names and details behind so much of this comic and others.

There has also been quite a few other general and analytical pieces, such as my post about readers’ memories of the stories they read a long time ago, and one on Female writers in a Girls’ Genre. I also enjoyed writing a series on What Makes a Story Work? Most recently, we have gone back to the WTFometer idea and there are now five posts on this, analyzing some 14 stories so far. Even within a themed group you can get a wide range of story arcs, going from relatively mundane to extreme with serious danger of death or loss of autonomy.

One unexpected direction that this blog has taken is the extension of our knowledge to cover the area of translations and foreign editions. This followed the publication of the Alison Christie interview; comments on this highlighted the fact that a number of her stories had been the subject of European Translations. I had already seen some Dutch translations of Jinty stories, but I would never have predicted the range of the translations we now know about, including into Greek and Indonesian! This work could not have happened without the input of people reading the blog – particularly Marc, Peggy, Sleuth, Yulia, Ruth B. I’m really grateful for this widening of the network that we’re building together. Here’s to the next few hundred posts – I am sure there will be many more to come.

WFTometer V

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”. In WFTometer V, three historical stories from Jinty are put through the WFTometer. They are Bridey Below the Breadline, Slaves of the Candle and Bound for Botany Bay. The three stories also have a common thread of the heroines being victims of injustice. In the first, Bridey Brown and her father are wrongly accused of starting the Great Fire of London. In the second, Lyndy Lagtree is framed for the crime that her captor, Mrs Tallow committed. In the third, Betsy Tanner and her father fall foul of the harsh 19th century law that gets them transported. In this case they are actually guilty of the crimes that got them transported, but their crimes were of desperation and circumstance, not the black-hearted villainy that the judiciary calls it. The ratings for all three stories are very similar as the current times category has been rated “extreme”; all three heroines are in danger of physical death, so emotional, mental and physical security all have the same ratings; and current time period has been rated “big diff”. Their agencies are also very similar because of their backgrounds (class status etc). The differences in ratings mainly lie in family structure, school structure, talents, and in one case, physical location. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.45.59 pm In Bridey Below the Breadline, Bridey still has her father but no immediate family or school. She and her father came to London in search of bakery work but ended up being accused of starting the Great Fire of London. As a result, Bridey has to hide her father, who was injured in the fire, while keeping ahead of the authorities, lynch mobs and using her own talent at baking to survive. And she also falls foul of unscrupulous people who take advantage of her “wanted” status to force her to work for them in a plot to assassinate Charles II. It scores a 38 on the WFTometer. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 3.24.46 pm Slaves of the Candle scores slightly higher at 40. The main difference here is that while Bridey still has her father, Lyndy has no family or parents in sight, so it can be safely assumed she is an orphan with no family. Lyndy starts off as a maidservant who witnesses a crime committed by Mrs Tallow. To silence her, Mrs Tallow kidnaps her and brings her to her candle-making slave racket, where she holds girls prisoner in a basement and forces them to make candles. To make doubly sure of neutralising Lyndy, Mrs Tallow frames her for the crime, confident that the substantial price that is now on Lyndy’s head will deter her from escaping. However, Lyndy is determined to escape, shut down the racket and prove her innocence, but spends a lot of time being constantly recaptured from failed escape attempts. The escape attempt that does succeed leads Lyndy to discover that Mrs Tallow is out to steal the Crown Jewels. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.47.51 pm Bound for Botany Bay scores the highest at 48. Family-wise, Botany Bay scores lower than Slaves of the Candle because Betsy still has her father while Lyndy appears to be an orphan. And unlike the first two girls, Betsy goes to school – at least, before she is transported. The main difference is the shift in location from England to Australia when Betsy and her father are transported. This scores a “big diff”. A small difference also comes in agency in local laws. While the first two heroines had standard ratings there (despite their being on the run), Betsy’s is rated “small diff” because she not only speaks out against the harshness of the penal system during her trial but her case becomes a focal point for prison reformers. But it is not rated “big diff” because in normal circumstances Betsy is an honest girl and law-abiding citizen who would never have dreamed of the things she did to get arrested.

WTFometer IV

Comixminx has devised the WFTometer, the idea of which “was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways”.

In this WFTometer post I take three well-remembered stories from Jinty that all deal with bullying. They are Tears of a Clown, Waves of Fear and The Slave of Form 3B. The purpose of selecting the bullying theme is to see how the seriousness and effects of the bullying situations in the stories fare on the WFTometer. WTFometer Tears of a Clown In the first, “Tears of a Clown”, Kathy Clowne is subject to teasing, cruel tricks and bullying because of her name and she is clumsy, slow to learn and considered hopeless at everything. The effects of the bullying wear her further down, causing her schoolwork to deteriorate even more. Neither her parents nor school authorities step in to investigate the problem or help Kathy. They also consider Kathy hopeless at everything, fit only to be laughed at, and also a troublemaker because her lashing out at the bullies is misconstrued as violence. Worst of all, the ringleader (or sometimes fate) keeps sabotaging her attempts to prove her talent for running – until Kathy is pushed too far and uses her talent to run away. The psychological effects of the bullying, lack of friends, the outstanding talent for running, and the unusual dog who becomes Kathy’s pet scores “Tears of a Clown” a 20 on the WFTometer. Physical security remains standard as the bullying is not physically abusive or a physical risk, nor does Kathy face any physical danger during her time on the run. WTFometer Waves of Fear

The second story, “Waves of Fear”, scores a 37. The scoring is much higher, mainly because the emotional and mental security of the heroine, Clare Harvey is rated “extreme” for two reasons. First, she is actually mentally ill, which is something extremely unusual for the heroine to be. Second, her illness  (extreme claustrophobia) has been misconstrued as cowardice (and then violent behaviour as it deteriorates further) because it caused her to panic and flee while her friend was drowning in a cave. As a result, Clare not only suffers ostracism and abuse at school and in the community but also from her own parents. They treat her extremely harshly, abuse her emotionally, and neither they nor the headmistress take any action against the bullying Clare is experiencing at school, although they are fully aware of it and it almost got Clare killed when it went too far at one point. Instead, the parents drag Clare straight back to the bullying environment, regardless of how terrified she is of it. The scoring is high on physical danger as well, because Clare’s life is not only put in danger twice but she is driven to the brink of suicide when she also runs away because of the bullying, emotional abuse and her worsening mental state. WTFometer Slave of Form 3B The last story, “The Slave of Form 3B”, is considered the most over-the-top bullying story in Jinty because of the form the bullying takes. Instead of the more usual teasing, blackmail, or emotional and physical abuse the bully, Stacey, uses mind control techniques (hypnotism and telepathy) on her victim, Tania, in order to cheat, steal and sabotage her way to the Girl of the Year Award while cunningly planting suggestions to cut Tania off from avenues of help. Stacey’s manipulation escalates to near death for Tania because of Stacey’s ruthless disregard for her victim, even when Tania gets seriously injured because of Stacey, yet Stacey will not seek help because she just wants to protect herself. Instead, Stacey tries to hide the injured Tania and then cover up with more hypnotism, despite Tania’s worsening condition. It scores a 37 on the WFTometer, tying it with “Waves of Fear”. It might score higher if more information was given about Tania’s background (family structure, parents, pets etc), but we have to go by what we are given in the story.

WTFometer III

If you’re a relatively recent reader of this blog you may not have seen a couple of linked posts I did back in June last year, explaining an analytical concept I came up with and named the WTFometer. The idea of this was to give a framework for looking at how bonkers (or not) a story’s plot was, by comparing the story to an assumed ‘average reader’s situation’. This gives a structured way of comparing stories, including the possibility of finding patterns of oddity in seemingly-different stories which are perhaps odd in similar ways.

At that point I only posted 3 complete WTFometers – for “Song of the Fir Tree“, “The Children of Edenford“, and “Worlds Apart“. “Song of the Fir Tree” was surprisingly more extreme than I would have expected it to have come out as: with a boy and girl protagonist, serious threat of death, and a long journey across lands quite foreign to the assumed readership of Jinty, the story scored reasonably high on the WTFometer at 39 points. “The Children of Edenford”, likewise, had some surprises in store – the analysis highlighted the fact that a great deal of the setup was quite similar to that of the expected readership – it takes place in England, doesn’t move far from its initial geographical setup, and the protagonist herself is not very different from the typical reader. What marks it out and gives it an eventual score of 24 is the lack of agency of the characters – this is a story about free will – and the strange school setup, as well as the serious threat of death towards the end.

There was little surprise in the very high score of 87 for “Worlds Apart”, a strong contender for the most bonkers girls comics story of all. The WTFometer may not surprise us in this case, but the story’s very extremeness can more easily quantified by this method that gives us a comparison across stories.

There’s little sense in developing the concept and then not using it for more than a few stories, but of course there’s always plenty to write about on this blog between me and Mistyfan, and the WTFometer has lain unused since that time. However, a couple of months ago I created a few more WTFometers; I didn’t post them at the time as they turned out not to fit the main theme of the posts I was writing. I am now therefore including them in a post of their own, re-opening discussion about these stories but also about the WTFometer generally.

Firstly, I wanted to compare two tear-jerking stories. They are not quite the same; the first story involves emotional cruelty, and the second is about grief and its effects. Both were very popular, both were written by female writers. The first one is “Little Miss Nothing”, and the second is “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“.

Little Miss Nothing” is one of the originators of the cruelty/suffering theme that became so popular in girls’ comics of the 70s. As such it is perhaps not surprising to see a relatively low score of WTFness overall at 23 points; the character is taken out of a normal school environment but much of the setting of the story remains close to an ordinary readers’ life: the key focus is on the removal of much of her agency as she is bossed around by others, and on the emotional abuse she suffers.

WTFometer Little Miss Nothing

“Stefa’s Heart of Stone” was published a few years later. Again, much of the setting of the story will be very familiar to the readers. As it is a very focused story of grief and severe emotional withdrawal, only some of the categories score highly and overall the WTFometer score is not very high at 22.

WTFometer Stefa HOS

Go On, Hate Me!” is here partly because it is another emotional cruelty / tear-jerker story, but one known to be written by a man. It would only be a small sample which wouldn’t prove anything, but could it indicate anything about possible differences in writing between the genders? If anything the extremeness of the scenario explored in this story is lesser than in the two stories above – the protagonist is a young woman rather than a girl, not living in a two-parent household, not surrounded by a small group of close friends; but the one key element that stands out on the WTFometer analysis is the exploration of the emotional abuse. Remember that the WTFometer is not a tool for looking at neatness of dialogue or tightness of plot – it is purely one element of a general analysis, and says nothing about how well overall a story works or doesn’t. On this analysis, “Go On, Hate Me!” has just one striking angle of attack rather than being generally over-the-top.

WTFometer Go On Hate Me

“Land of No Tears” is of course also known to be written by a man, but one who has categorised himself as being one of the young men ‘killing themselves laughing’ (Pat Mills, of course). Does this mean the story ends up looking particularly over-the-top in a way that Len Wenn’s story above does not? Yes, indeed – though of course this is a science fiction story anyway which by its nature will involve a lot of moving away from the expected context of the assumed Jinty reader. At 45 it is one of the highest scoring stories on the WTFometer so far, second only to “Worlds Apart”. It is also noticeable for having a spread of differences compared to the ‘expected reader’ – it portrays a world different to that girl reader’s in many and varied ways, not just one or two. If we did a WTFometer for a non-science fiction Pat Mills story,  “Concrete Surfer”, I’m sure the score would be much lower.

WTFometer Land of no Tears

Fran of the Floods” is another science fiction story, this time known to be written by a woman. It actually beats LONT on its WTFometer score with a total of 51 – though the story protagonists share a lot of initial similarities with the readers, the journey they are taken through, and the world they end up in, is radically different from what the readers live through.

WTFometer Fran of the Floods

WTFometer II

Continuing from the previous WTFometer post, here are some worked-through examples.

WTFometer Song of the Fir Tree

Song of the Fir Tree” is not a fantastical story, but it is one that takes the reader quite far away from their usual context. There’s not just one girl protagonist but two, of mixed gender (the major focus is on Solveig, but her brother Per gets a lot of lines, action, and attention too). The story is set in Continental Europe, not very long beforehand but in a definite historical period compared to the readers of the time; and the children are more than poverty-stricken: they are in serious danger of starvation and of death by murder or by accident. In the absence of family, they have to make their own decisions and way all across many countries; this is all without special abilities like that used by “The Robot Who Cried” or Xenia in “Almost Human” when they also trek far distances.

I am experimenting with giving the stories scores on the WTFometer – a small score on a measure means that the difference (positive or negative) compared to the default is likewise small – a boy rather than a girl, but not an animal or an alien. A score in this column counts as 1 point. A big score on the measure means that the difference (whichever way it goes) is larger – their basic physical security is not just compromised to the extent of a broken leg or a hospital stay, but seriously enough to endanger their lives.  I am scoring these as 5 points, to give extra weighting accordingly. And an ‘Extreme’ score? That scores 10 points, and represents a protagonist death, or a school structure so different from the default to seem unrecognizable, or physical laws so warped to allow for just about anything.

Children of Edenford” is surprisingly tamer than I might have expected. Well, no, not tamer, but… more concentrated in its focus?

WTFometer Children of Edenford

Much of the set-up in “Children” is going to be very familiar to the readers. Patti is a girl much like the expected average reader: white, English, with parents who both work either to earn a living or to keep the house. The school, however, is very definitely out of the ordinary, and the contrast is the sharper for it; the same goes for the coercion and mind-control, so strong that it borders onto magic. (Perhaps I should have scored ‘agency in small things’ in the Extreme column to show this?) This is a case where I would really like to do a comparison of the early episodes with the later ones, to show how the departures from the average become more marked as the story develops.

There is no lack of Extreme columns for the last story: if you’ve read Mistyfan’s summary of “Worlds Apart” you will know it is going to be possibly the highest-scoring story in all of girls’ comics. The protagonists are no big deviation from the standard, apart from the fact that in each story they seem to gain considerable status and power; but boy are the schools that they go to in each world not half odd! Their agency is taken away, their mental capacity affected as they each take turn to lose their memories and, most striking of all, they die painful deaths – not just one death happening in front of the reader, but over and over again.

WTFometer Worlds Apart

Physical laws and real-life historical facts are overturned without compunction, the girls are given physical attributes both greater and lesser than the norm, their emotional and mental security is played with almost as much as their physical security; but still it all happens within a brief timespan in our own present time, and in a reasonably circumscribed location. Yes, it’s bonkers – but it’s not all bonkers.


 

I doubt I will be working through all the Jinty stories giving them WTFometer scores, but I’m sure I will come back to this another time. I would be very glad if others wanted to try it themselves; I have the grids available as spreadsheets that I will happily send out on request.

WTFometer; or, a measure of a story’s bonkersness

I wanted to come up with a good way of looking at some of the stories we’ve been describing, in a more structured fashion – something that would help me compare one story with another, or the early part of a story with the later part, or even the stories in one comic with those in another. Specifically, I wanted to be able to pinpoint the ‘WTF’ feeling that is so prevalent in reading these stories nowadays as an adult – is there a way I could sensibly talk about one story being more bonkers than another, and about the way that it is sublimely ridiculous?

(It’s not just about analysing the feeling of the adult reader – I’m sure that the WTF reaction in 2014 does map onto something that the writers and editors of Jinty wanted to foster in their original readers – an agog desire to read on and find out what will happen next, what will the writers dare give us. Jinty (and other girls’ comics) is a literature of excess not of minimalism, and from what we hear from editors of the time, that was always part of their strategy.)

To do this, I settled on looking at how far both the protagonist and the situation that she finds herself in during the story differ from a sort of assumed default average, or ‘platonic ideal’. I made up a structure of what that average reader of the time might look like: age, gender, family situation, social situation, and so on. This then gives a baseline that the comparison can be made from – we can ask, how far does the individual story (or story episode) take us from that baseline? And we can then compare the story that is set in something very like an average situation, with one or two key differences (the cruel stepmother, the emotional abuse) to the one that pushes the same themes further (torture and near-death), or to the one that pushes into weirder territory (mind-control, time-travel, alternate universes).

Of course, this ‘average’ is an artificial construction – there will have been many readers that were different from this default. Neither is it intended to elevate one option above others – certainly not to say that the white English average girl is more ideal than the non-white non-English counter-example. I also can’t say that I’ve got that assumed average correct, at this inital stage; I’d love to hear people suggest changes and fixes to my first  structure. I am however already finding it an interesting way to look at some specific stories, and to compare them on a much more like-with-like fashion than would otherwise be the case.

Finally, a word of warning – this analysis has nothing to do with psychological realism, or with quality of writing. Literary fiction shows us that writing about people like ourselves, living in situations like our own, can be written well or badly, making for exciting or for dull reading. I am definitely not saying that a story in which characters are more like the default average reader is necessarily going to be a boring story.

What, therefore, are the details of the structure? I have divided it up into 6 parts.


  • What is the background of the protagonist?

The default / average protagonist in Jinty (not necessarily in all UK girls’ comics) is:

    • a girl (a young human female – so a move away from this default could be to have a boy protagonist, or a grown woman, or a non-human such as Seulah the Seal)
    • white (so a move away from this default could be to have a Chinese, Indian, or Black British character)
    • English born and bred (in Jinty, even a Welsh or Scottish protagonist has a hint of the ‘other’, it seems to me)
    • Working or lower middle class (family needs to earn a living, but is able to do so; that is, the protagonist is neither rich nor poverty-stricken)
    • Modern in time (protagonist is a 1960s/1970s girl)
  • What is the underlying social/family/friends situation of the protagonist?

In the story, what is the setup of the main character’s friends and family, and of the society she lives in? The defaults I am using are that she:

    • lives in England (so a story set in Continental Europe, as per “Song of the Fir Tree”, is a move away from this default; a story set on another planet is a much bigger one)
    • two-parent household (a small difference would be a story featuring quarelling/divorcing parents, such as in “Ping-Pong Paula”; a larger one would be one with an orphan)
    • standard family structure (say one or two siblings, some extended family like aunts / uncles / cousins; counterexamples might be where the protagonist is alone in the whole world, or where she has lots and lots of siblings)
    • standard friends structure (say a small group of close friends, vs no friends or lots of friends)
    • standard pets (a single cat/dog/hamster, vs exotic animals or lots of ordinary animals)
    • standard school structure (comprehensive or day school vs boarding school; one with ordinary school policies)
  • What sort of free will or agency does the protagonist have?

Realistically, a girl in 70s Britain is going to have various constraints; no one has an entirely free will to do exactly as they like. At the same time, those girls will still have some normal, expected freedoms. In some stories in Jinty, these basic freedoms may be either massively reduced (in a slave story) or increased (perhaps if the girl is a loner or an orphan).

    • Laws and norms apply (she obeys the law of the land and the usual norms like wearing clothes and being polite to your elders)
    • Has agency in small things (she can decide how to spend her pocket money, probably can decide about things like clothes and hairstyles)
    • Lack of agency for large things (her parents or guardians make big decisions for her, so a story where she has to make all her decisions in the absence of such figures would be a difference from the default)
  • Is the protagonist reasonably safe and secure, or endangered?

Most girls in our default 1970s Britain will have an expectation of being normally fairly safe; they do not live in war zones or go about in danger of their lives. Individuals may suffer bullying or have mental health issues such as depression, but this is not part of the expected ‘default’.

    • Basic emotional security (love and friendship are normal and expected)
    • Basic physical security (may have the odd bump and bruise via sports or play)
    • Basic mental security (anxiety or claustrophobia would be counterexamples)
  • What abilities or talents does the protagonist have?

The ordinary reader isn’t a top cyclist, concert piano player, or even consistently head of her class.

    • Standard real-life talents (not a top class cyclist and so on)
    • Standard physical abilities (no special abilities like being super-strong or being able to fly; but likewise no disabilities either)
    • Standard mental abilities (no special mental powers like telepathy, second sight)
    • Standard intellectual abilities (no super-intelligence, but likewise no amnesia or learning disabilities either)
  •  Other story factors

Now we’re really entering the realm of the fantastical. Of course no real readers could be from the future or the past, or travelling outside their own time.

    • Current time period applies (story takes place in the ‘present time’ of the 1970s/80s, just like real life for the reader)
    • Current physical laws apply (magic doesn’t work in reality)
    • Action is within circumscribed locality (this is not actually fantastical, it just really reflects the fact that a 1970s girl was unlikely to be travelling much further than a British seaside on anything like a regular basis)
    • Current/actual historical facts apply (no made-up countries, robots, aliens, alternate universes, etc)

 

The above will be of little real use without examples, and it’s only the examples that will show whether this whole analysis is pointless or not. This post is already pretty long though, so the examples will follow next.