Jinty 5th Nov 1977 – 11th Feb 1978. Reprinted Jinty and Penny 1980/1.
“Disabled Cassy Shaw was used to getting her way by playing on people’s sympathy. But she was in for the biggest shock of her life when she found herself in a world where emotion was outlawed. See how she makes out in the LAND OF NO TEARS.”
Wow. So we start off in a Daily Mail world where ‘Hop-along’ Cassy sees disability as a route to the soft life. There’s no doubt she’s genuinely disabled – it would be hard to fake having one leg shorter than the other – but she plays on it for all its worth. Free sweets – getting out of punishment at school – gaining the sympathy of friends and strangers. The scrounger! She loves being the centre of attention, and is horrified to hear that she’s due to have an operation to sort things out. “I don’t want this operation, cos I won’t be able to take life easy any more,” she thinks to herself, with an angry, scrounging expression on her face.
Wow. This was first published in 1977. Could it really be that back then disabled people got sympathy? Did shopkeepers actually give them free sweets? Ooh, little bit of politics. This is seriously politically incorrect – but you know what? Wouldn’t it be nice to know everyone had the intelligence to understand that you can be disabled/sick/black/gay etc. and still be a bit of a git, to understand that one example in the media is not representative of everyone, any more than every single fox in the world is a smooth-talking joke-teller who says ‘BOOM BOOM!’ a lot. Of course, lots and lots of people do understand that. But we’re living in a world where it’s getting dangerous to reinforce negative stereotypes cos that reality/fantasy line is being easily missed. I wonder if publishers would have to think twice before printing that unsympathetic first part of Land of No Tears today, and I suspect the answer is yes.
But I digress. This is, incidentally, my second favourite comic strip ever. Nothing will ever beat Worlds Apart, but I think it just edges out The Human Zoo. Dystopian futures a go-go in girls’ comics.
Anyway. During the operation, Cassy is somehow transported to the future (it could happen). Here she discovers that there are no more hospitals – not even private ones! – and that anyone with a ‘deformity’ is treated like a criminal. Shows of affection are considered disgusting.
Cassy discovers the dates of death of her parents: Mr & Mrs Shaw died June 7th 1985 and January 14th 1998. It’s a truly horrifying moment that’s passed over quickly and seems to have little impact – but it’s a horror that time-travel stories don’t usually touch on at all and you wonder how those dates will affect Cassy if she ever gets home again…
You know what? These horrific future stories are much harder to deal with when you’re grown up. See the scene of weeping four-year-olds being taken away from their (indifferent) mothers to be inducted into the hive, the place where all children are brought up under the care of a ‘hive mother’, the place where a crying child is shut in a cupboard to learn inner calm and get rid of emotions. As the mother of two five-year-olds, I was screaming inside my head.
Cassy is classed ‘Gamma’ due to her grade-one deformity. The other Gamma girls – the glasses-wearer, the overweight girl etc. – mock and tease her. “Why are you being so cruel?” asks Cassy. “Because you’re worse than we are, and it makes us feel better,” she’s told. Kick-the-cat syndrome. We’re seeing that a lot these days too. We’re suffering, so we’re going to take it out on someone weaker than us. What’s even more scary is that these Gamma girls just accept that they’re inferior to the Alpha girls, accept that they should be the Alpha girls’ slaves and only eat the leftovers from the Alpha girls’ plates. And it’s now, of course, that Cassy begins to metamorphose into a hero. Not only does she plan to show that the Alpha girls – represented by the sneeringly superior Perfecta – aren’t perfect, she’s going to prove that the Gamma girls can beat the Alpha girls at sport.
Now, as someone who was uniformly dreadful at all sports, this alienated me more than the ‘pretend to cry to get out of trouble’ thing. If she’d said ‘Right, we’re going to prove we’re as good as them by beating them in a Maths test or at spelling,’ I’d’ve been right with her. This sport thing, on the other hand - hmm. It turns out – as it usually does – that some of the underdogs have previously unsuspected sporting talent. Having read many, many girls’ comics, I too am sure I will one day discover my previously unsuspected sporting talent. Yes, I’m nearly 40 and I can’t walk 100 feet without falling over, but this will undoubtedly happen, and probably just in time for the Olympics. Why not save everyone the trouble and just stick that gold medal in the post right now, huh?
‘Disgraceful… allowing all those misfits to be seen in public,’ calls a man in the audience (but we have the last laugh, as he will clearly soon be banished to the reject class for men with oddly curled moustaches and peculiar tufted hairstyles. Actually, that’s not so much of a joke. We’re shown that acquired problems are just as taboo as those from birth. Miranda, the nicest of the Gamma girls, should have been an Alpha, but has a hairless patch on her head from where a malfuntioning robot nanny left her cot too close to a radiator. She’s not bitter, though).
It’s not hard to see where the story will end up, but of course things don’t go smoothly. Cassy has to make a decision between betraying Miranda to the inspectors (“We’ll be taken away, that’s all. No one knows where to, but you never return!”) and winning the Golden Girl competition that the Gamma girls hope will be their way out of misery. Thankfully for all concerned she’s freed from the moral dilemma at the last moment when arch-rival Perfecta is injured (“She’s damaged her spine in her crazy determination to win. She could be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life now” – ah, the schadenfreude) and Cassy is able to win the race. And the crowd cheers! The people of the world realise they’ve had enough of being bullied. The Gamma girls are no longer treated as slaves! Having saved the future, Cassy does a Quantum Leap back to the operating table where she wakes up happier and wiser.
So there we go. “Girl wins race, proves disabled are people too. Not “Girl wins race – paid for by YOUR taxes! If she can swim, she can get a job.” Somehow these dystopian futures aren’t so amusing when you’re living in one.