There are a lot of mirrors in girls’ comics. Lots and lots of them. A new mirror-related story seemed to pop up every few months back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yes, of course I’ve chosen these two panels to illustrate the point because they look very similar – especially appropriate as their subject is something that is expected to look identical but doesn’t. Perhaps the later story was influenced by the earlier one, perhaps the same writer penned both, perhaps both were inspired by a third source, perhaps there’s no link other than the broad subject and the artwork.
Which is rather a laboured way of pointing out something that I’m sure you all know already, which is that it’s not necessarily the case that a thing which resembles another thing is based on that thing. For example, a few years ago I wrote a Doctor Who book called ‘Winner Takes All’, in which people find themselves playing a video game for real. Now, while I’m not claiming it was the most original idea in the world, to read in reviews accusations of ‘ripping off’ either The Last Starfighter (never seen) or Only You Can Save Mankind (never read) was pretty galling, because as it happens, I don’t nick other people’s ideas. Plus where would be the fun in copying from someone else? Half the joy of being a writer is creating whole new worlds of your own!
Except… there was this one time. I was writing a comic strip. And as already discussed, comic strips and mirrors go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dingity ding da dong. For years I’d had a strong memory of a single panel from a comic strip – a girl inside a mirror, with old people around her and skeletons lying on the floor. She was trapped inside the mirror where she would age and die, and her reflection was outside, pretending to be her. I’d never managed to track down the strip, but that image haunted me. I didn’t use it in my own comic story, but I did use the idea of people being trapped inside mirrors while their reflections replaced them. Then a few years later, I finally found the strip itself! It was called The Evil Mirror (‘does exactly what it says on the tin’) and was in Girl & Dreamer in 1982. Sadly I only have two episodes, neither of which features my wonderfully scary skellington panel (although I’m 99.9% certain it’s the story the memory comes from), but I found something scarier – for me.
Below you will see a page of The Evil Mirror and a page from my comic strip. Please bear in mind that I’d read this story once, about 25 years before I wrote my story, and all I could remember was one panel and a vague premise. Please also bear in mind that the artist hadn’t – as far as I know – seen this story at all. Now tell me that the resemblance isn’t desperately spooky…
Talking of inspirations from childhood memories, my friend Tara Samms recently discovered the identity of a comic strip that had been in her mind when she wrote a pretty darn wonderful story called ‘Glass’ (Doctor Who: Short Trips). And as it happened to be from Jinty, and as I happen to have all of Jinty, I was going to photocopy it for her – except it turned out that a number of other people also wanted to see Tara’s inspiration. I haven’t previously put up whole stories as it is of course a breach of copyright (plus they’re a bugger to scan in), but here’s Part One (more to follow) so Tara and her friends can check it out. I will of course remove this at the request of any copyright holder.
Oh, and as my all-time favourite art panel from my all-time favourite comic story happens to feature a mirror, what better way could there be to end this blog post than with Worlds Apart showing what happens if you care too much about what you look like…?
When you write a blog on girls’ comics and then get asked to write an article on girls’ comics for the Guardian, it might seem a good idea to mention the article on your blog. But I didn’t. D’oh! So here, several months too late for you to go out and buy an actual physical copy of the paper, is a link to it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/18/jinty-misty-girls-comics-dandy
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.
Slaves of the Candle (Jinty and Lindy)
Twelve parts 8/11/75-24/1/76
My cunning plan was (and still is) to try to do at least one of all the standard girls’ comic genres near the beginning of this blog. Tragic Victorians have to be quite high up on the list. The girls’ comic view of the Victorian era is usually fairly Dickensian – not in the jolly Pickwick Papers sense, but in the tragic, mistreated orphan who gets a happy ending after an awful lot of suffering sense. This sort of thing is reassuring to young girls, who often think their lives are desperate tragedies (even if the tragedy is spots rather than starvation), but cherish the hope of a fairy-tale ending. Of course, in genuine Victorian times, the reality would probably be death in the workhouse, but hey, this is fiction.
The story I’ve chosen, Slaves of the Candle, also allows me to go off on one about a couple of strip-story bugbears. It passes one with flying colours and fails the other with its flag half-mast. So please excuse me while I run on for a bit.
There was a comic brought out a few years ago called the DFC. I was jolly excited. A new fortnightly ‘story paper’! It was mail-order subscription only, and I signed up straight away in the hope it would lead to a huge comic revival. Now, I’ve heard anecdotally about children who loved it. But for me – no. It didn’t work. I desperately wanted to love it, but I couldn’t. One of the problems for me – and this doesn’t mean it is The Truth, just my feelings – was that the stories were written by novelists, not comic writers. (Although of course it’s possible to be both.) Talking about Dickens back up the page there reminds me that his books were written as serials – but they can also be enjoyed as full novels. Not so in the case of many of the DFC strips. Each episode felt like an illustrated bit out of a novel. Sometimes not a lot happened. Sometimes you’d be expected to remember something that happened weeks ago. It made me realise how much craft there is in creating something that stands up on its own for three pages but also forms part of an ongoing storyline.
Slaves of the Candle works very well as a serial. Possibly not quite so brilliant if read in one go, because heroine Lyndy does escape and get captured an awful lot. But each episode is complete with hope, tragedy, incident and either a cliffhanger or a ‘she’s been defeated for now – but she will rise again!’ vibe, plus perhaps a hint towards a final mystery that must be solved. A great example of the comic-strip craft.
Right, that’s the good bit. The bad bit is admittedly my own personal prejudices, but this is my blog so ha. The story is set in early winter 1830 (Robert Peel is still Home Secretary, so November or earlier). Victoria is Queen. Unfortunately these things are mutually exclusive and the history teacher in me is shouting Noooooooooo! I feel quite strongly about historical accuracy in children’s fiction. Yes, of course there’s dramatic licence and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I know how much of my everyday general knowledge was picked up from comics and books when I was young and I don’t want wrong answers burned into my brain. I mean, I am absolutely hopeless at Geography – really astonishingly ignorant – but I was always able to remember that Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia thanks to a strip in Whoopee! (When Yugoslavia stopped existing and my one piece of geographical general knowledge vanished with it, I took it very personally.)
In the strip’s defence, the note about it being set in 1830 does vanish when it’s specifically referred to as Victorian. Perhaps it was only decided partway through publication to include Queen Victoria, and they hoped no one would notice the change. Or, just possibly, seven or more years went passed in between episodes and no one commented on the fact. Or grew older.
Hang on, we haven’t actually talked about the story yet. It concerns 15-year old maidservant Lyndy Lagtree, who realises Mrs Tallow the candlemaker is actually a thief and tracks her to her lair. There she discovers that Mrs Tallow is using child labour to make her prized candles. Unfortunately, not only is Lyndy captured and put to work, her disappearance means she is believed to be the one who stole from her employers. She can’t escape, and even if she could she’d be arrested. The other children tell her they’ve never even tried to escape – where would they go? In the House of Candles at least there’s food and warmth. Bit of social history there. If only the people knew Mrs Tallow used child slaves! Lyndy thinks. Well, I would imagine they’d probably shrug and keep on buying the candles, so maybe slightly less social history in that bit.
Lyndy is in many ways the unluckiest child going. Every single time she manages to escape, the person she confides in turns out to be one of the villains. Why Mrs Tallow is bothering with her elaborate candle/theft schemes when she can make wax masks that fool everyone and could therefore get in pretty much anywhere, I’m not sure. It’s revealed in the last episode that she’s mad, so there’s not much point in scrutinising her motives. Incidentally, the comic gives away the big revelation from episode six – that Lyndy’s confidante is really Mrs Tallow in a mask! – on the front cover.
Mad Mrs Tallow belongs to the Happy Families brand of villain who is named for their job (see also her thuggish assistant, Wick). She also refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of parents of small children, or Tom Baker. The other evil figure is Mrs Tallow’s unknown accomplice, who eventually turns out to be the Governor of the Tower of London. Yes, Mrs Tallow’s plan is to steal the Crown Jewels. She succeeds, but in the process double-crosses the Governor, who turns on her and rescues the girls as Mrs Tallow’s about to burn down the House of Candles with them all in it. The Governor might or might not die on the last page, it’s sadly unclear. Anyway, Queen Victoria is very grateful to the girls and makes sure they’ll have a happy future.
It’s a good, engaging story, with a go-getting heroine and a happy ending. A triumph over tragedy. But talking of tragedy – ‘Starting in your next issue: Bound for Botany Bay’ it says at the end of the last part. That would be the tale of the young girl transported for stealing a loaf of bread. Oh yes, tragedy is never far away in girls’ comic land.
Tragic car crash: 4
Mysterious cursed object: 2 (Subsection ‘Mirror’: 1)
Girl in a wheelchair: 2
Orphan: 6 (I’m counting both Lyndy and new friend Lucy as orphans. It’s never stated that they are, but no parents are in evidence. It’s also probable that all the other Slaves of the Candle are orphans too, but I decided not to push my luck.)
Time travel: 1
Thought that I really ought to do a photostory at some point. Unfortunately due to some comic-box-access issues, this seemed unlikely to happen in the near future. But a cunning solution presented itself, to wit, grabbing one of the ‘Monthly’ comics that occasionally happened after a comic had ceased publication in its original form and generally reprinted full (although usually short run) stories. This story was picked at random, and I’m not claiming it to be particularly representative of anything apart from accessibility in my office. I also can’t give you the original run dates just at the moment. There, have I sold it well enough?
I don’t actually like photostories. They were OK for yer Jackies and so on, the ‘romance’ comics – sorry, ‘magazines’ – concerned with boys above all, because their readers probably liked looking at pictures of cute boys and fashion-conscious girls and comparing numbers of spots with them and so forth. They were bearable in later Bunty for modern day school type stories. But for almost every other type, they were a bit embarrassing. Last C20th girls dressed as Victorians or pretending to be scared of ghosts – oh, no no no.
(I make an exception for a fondly-remembered-by-me Girl strip, Look Out, Angie Goodbody!, in which the eponymous heroine was tempted to do evil by a girl called Dee who had the best flicked fringe in the world. However as I’ve not managed to track down the issues featuring that story yet, it may be possible that The Memory Cheats. I hope not.)
Anyway, compared with the absolute glory that the best illustrators could achieve photostrips were generally bleurgh – how could anyone ever choose some bored girls pulling faces above a stunningly crafted panel by the late Jose Casanovas Sr, for example? Well, here’s the thing. They chose them because they were cheap. When technology advanced to the stage where printing photos you’d taken of a couple of girls in a room could be done at a relatively low cost, why bother hiring all those expensive artists, inkers, letterers…? So, although it’s not the photostories’ fault, they killed the art strips I loved. So I’m not going to like them. And ya boo sucks.
Ooh, hang on, I was actually going to look at a specific strip, wasn’t I. Here we go. Randomly plucked off the pile, I find The Haunting of Uncle Gideon, from Girl Monthly 11, April 1987.
Young Jacinth Wilde – WITH BOTH PARENTS RECENTLY DEAD IN A CAR CRASH OF COURSE – is taken to the huge house of her Uncle Gideon, whom she has never met. There she meets servant girl Lucy, evil cane-wielding governess Miss Verreker (who seems in her early twenties and wears a lot of eye makeup), possible invalid bullied ward Lester and bizarre, bearded Uncle Gideon himself. Uncle Gideon doesn’t like electricity, so they use candles for light.
And here’s the weird thing. Look at that list: candles, young maid servants, huge rambling mansions, governesses with their hair in buns – oh, and ghosts, although I’ve not come to that yet – doesn’t that all sound a wee bit Victorian? Edwardian, at least. And yet it’s clearly set in contemporary times. That’s fine. A household out of touch with the modern world can be an excellent basis for a story. But this… doesn’t use it. It’s never mentioned. It’s never dwelled upon in the presentation. Jacinth doesn’t so much as think ‘hmm, bit odd all this’. So apart from someone presumably thinking it was the sort of atmosphere needed for a ghost story, it appears senseless.
Uncle Gideon seems mad/threatening/wronged/terrified as the story requires it. Lucy the maid is a nonentity who nevertheless has a thought bubble of her own at one point that completely throws you out from the Jacinth-POV. Lester was, I thought, going to be some sort of The Secret Garden-type redeemed character, but is just a bit wet. He is apparently the son of Lester’s late wife Carlotta by her first marriage. Miss Verreker is cruel and evil, obviously addicted to eyeliner, but so stupid that she fails to spot people talking in an obviously coded way in front of her, and such a rubbish villain (sorry to spoil it before I’ve even got to the ghost, but she’s behind it all), that she confesses all in the last episode when accused instead of just denying it, which probably would have fooled everyone.
OK, so there’s a ghost. It is apparently the ghost of Carlotta, she occasionally goes wooo and walks about in the garden in a white frock. It’s not very threatening. Apparently she died IN A CAR CRASH on her wedding day, with Gideon at the wheel. Jacinth’s investigations (ie finding a handily torn bit of the ghost’s dress and the not-particularly-hidden speakers that her voice is coming from), show that Miss Verreker has been masquerading as the ghost for – well, it’s not clear, let’s say ‘some time’ – because she’s Carlotta’s sister (did Gideon never meet her, then?) and wanted revenge.
But luckily she storms off at the end and everyone lives happily ever after.
Oh, I’ve been mean. I quite enjoyed the story. But compared to what’s out there, it felt rather shallow.
Tragic car crash: 4
Mysterious cursed object: 2 (Subsection ‘Mirror’: 1)
Girl in a wheelchair: 2
Time travel: 1
Slave of the Mirror (Jinty)
20 parts, 9/11/74- 12/4/75 (Issues 27-46) – you may spot that these figures don’t add up. That’s because there was a three-issue break due to ‘Production Troubles’ and so no issues on 28/12/74, 4/1/75 or 11/1/75.
I was so tempted to do Worlds Apart today. It is my favourite story ever. But I’m hanging on to my faves cos I want to do them justice. Anyway, talking to a friend yesterday made me think I just have to do a mirror story.
Mirror stories. Now I haven’t counted (although maybe I will one day), but I wouldn’t be surprised if mirrors were only beaten by ballet, ponies and tragic Victorians in number of girls’ comic appearances. (Here’s a confession: when I was asked to write a comic strip for Doctor Who Adventures comic back when it started, I did mirrors. It was pretty much a mix of a dozen girls’ comic stories squeezed into a couple of pages. Because, to me, comic strips and mirrors go together like apples and pie or Fry and Laurie – they’re fine on their own, but it always feels right when they’re together. Also, I didn’t think the mainly male readership of DWA would want a story in which the Doctor does ballet on a pony, or similar.)
Ahem. A mirror story. We’re going right back to the beginning of Jinty, to its very first year (1974), for Slave of the Mirror. Let’s assume the main characters in this story are orphans – their father has died, and although a mother is never mentioned it’s a girls’ comic so orphan status is practically obligatory. Mia Blake is now helping her elder sister Janet to run a Cornish boarding house. But (NO NO NO!) – the house was built 200 years ago and some of it is still shut up. Girls! You poor fools. You even have a portrait of the original owner on your wall, don’t you think that’s just asking for trouble?
Anyway, Mia finds an old mirror in the attic, and sees a strange girl’s face in it. The strange girl then hypnotises her into doing awful things! Interesting that she manages to break free of the control when ordered to drown a dog in a well because that is beyond the pale, but seems to have no such scruples when it comes to drowning a young couple by scuttling their boat. (They survive, she rescues them a bit later. Didn’t want you to worry.)
The mirror can’t be destroyed! It makes Mia do more bad stuff! She tells her sister she sees a face in her mirror and is sent to hospital! The medical authorities seem willing to admit Mia indefinitely because she seems a bit worried. (Now if that was a criterion for hospital admission, I’d probably have been locked up with the key thrown away ages ago.) But poor Mia can’t escape the mirror. ‘I don’t understand it! Why have I got to go to the admin office, dressed as a nurse? What am I being hypnotised into doing?’ she wonders as the sinister influence exerts itself once more…
Oh yes, and it’s while Mia’s in hospital that she’s spotted by two men who want her to become a top model. They later start stalking her, because they really really want her to become a top model. But it turns out that they want her to pay large fees to attend their ‘model school’. Now these days, girls, that would be called a scam. In fact, it might be called something worse. Just a little piece of advice: if strange men keep turning up telling you how pretty you are and please would you go to their model school, DON’T GO. Yes, OK, Mia turns out to be a top model at the end of the story, but I think we have to conclude that she was just very, very lucky.
Now, back near the beginning of the story, Janet – despite being unable to make ends meet and losing most of her guests thanks to Mia – hires Spanish student Inez to help them run the guesthouse. This turns out to be extremely lucky. By a staggering coincidence, Inez is a descendant of the girl in the mirror, one Isabella who had been a servant in that very house 200 years ago. And Inez easily discovers that Isabella was left to die in the attic by the heartless owner whose portrait still hangs on the wall (even more luckily, Isabella had left a letter detailing all of this hidden inside the mirror). The poor servant girl decided to return from the grave to get revenge and drive visitors away from the house she hated. She was dying of fever at the time, so possibly wasn’t thinking clearly, because I don’t quite get why not letting paying guests have their holidays there is really revenge. Maybe she just didn’t want to risk them dying in the attic like she did, she just went about it in a funny way by, you know, drowning them and stuff.
Mia sets the house on fire, but is rescued in the nick of time and shortly afterwards discovers Isabella’s grave in the churchyard. Having people feel sorry for her and visit her grave stops Isabella wanting vengeance and she vanishes from the mirror. Why she didn’t just hypnotise Mia into feeling sorry for her and visiting her grave in the first place, I’m not sure. But as we decided earlier, she probably wasn’t thinking straight when she did the whole curse thing.
Mind you, I’m not entirely convinced that any of this really happened. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was just an elaborate excuse in illustrated comic-strip form as told to Mia’s probation officer. ‘So, you caused a car crash, wrote poison-pen letters, stole money and set light to your house – oh the mirror made you do it. Well, that’s all right then. Although possibly you ought to go to hospital for a few months. Because you seem worried.’
Tragic car crash: 2
Mysterious cursed object: 2 (Subsection ‘Mirror’: 1)
Girl in a wheelchair: 2
Time travel: 1
Thursday’s Child (Tammy)
11 parts, 20/1/79 – 31/3/79
It wasn’t just Misty that had nasty things happening to nice people in the late Seventies, but elsewhere things were much more likely to turn out well. Thursday Brown in a case in point (and don’t you just love the ‘unusual first name/common surname’ combo so common to fiction? I do). Pretty Thursday was popular with everyone, until she decides to turn an ancient flag into a bedspread, reasoning it won’t be needed again until the streets are decorated for the year 2000. But what will the world be like by then? Why, Thursday might even have a daughter! (Dwelling on this means it’s going to be significant, we guess.) Her mum does hint that the flag has a mysterious past, but Thursday ignores that. Silly, silly girl!
That night she goes downstairs for a book, and upon her return discovers a strange girl in her bed who looks a bit like her! (This is a clue, although we have to wait a couple of weeks to find out that – gasp – it is her daughter who has mysteriously arrived from the future! Who could have guessed?) Mysterious Julie proceeds to turn all Thursday’s friends against her, and acts evilly triumphant when Thursday mysteriously loses the use of her legs, has strange visions of blood, and then has an accident where she really loses the use of her legs and ends up in a wheelchair. It turns out that in the future Thursday is responsible for a car crash in which Julie is crippled (NB Sorry, I’m aware that this is not an ideal term to use, but it’s very widely found in girls’ comic stories of this period as ‘girl who can’t walk’ is a common story feature). Now Julie wants her mother to know what it’s like to suffer – even though Thursday was a lovely mother who can’t forgive herself for the accident – and also is determined to stay in the past where for some reason she can walk again.
Thursday, however, discovers that the flag was cursed by a South Sea island chief whom her grandfather slaughtered. (Undead are mentioned here, but sadly are irrelevant to the rest of the story.) It’s also possible that Julie is only being nasty because of the flag’s influence; in any case she now agrees that it must be destroyed. The evil flag suddenly decides to drown Thursday so she can’t harm it, but luckily some farmers come along and burn it in quite a speedy conclusion. (This is a regular feature of girls’ comic strips: a hasty ending. Usually the problem was that the strip had to be wrapped up in a single episode with no room for detailed plans, long confrontations or epilogues where everything could be summed up. It could lead to enormous reader dissatisfaction after faithfully following a gripping story for months – just wait till we get to Worlds Apart.)
Julie disappears, and Thursday is left to hope that the future has been changed now (as the flag existed in Julie’s time). I’m guessing she’ll be pondering matters for a while to come yet. Considering the danger that can apparently be done by someone stepping on a butterfly, the destruction of a great big cursed flag might just cause some serious ripples in time. And will Thursday do any more to avoid that future? Will she name her daughter Julie if she has one? Will she refuse to drive a car? Is she condemning a thinking, feeling future human to non-existence? It all starts to feel a bit heavy, which is possibly why it’s not debated in the strip itself. It just LEAVES ITS IMPRESSIONABLE YOUNG AUDIENCE TO WORRY THEMSELVES TO SLEEP AT NIGHT WONDERING WHAT THEY’D DO IF IT HAPPENED TO THEM. Ahem.
Ooh, now, two tragic car crash stories in a row inspires me to take a leaf out of the DWM Time Team book and start tabulating those common occurrences. So far we have:
Tragic car crash: 2 (inc. the one from Winner Loses All!)
Mysterious cursed object: 1
Girl in a wheelchair: 2
Time travel: 1
And these will not be the only categories, I’m sure. ‘Girl forbidden to do something she loves, usually ballet’ will definitely have to be one. Let’s see if I can find a suitable story for next time…
Winner Loses All! (Misty)
17 parts, 4/8/79-24/11/79
Artist: Mario Capaldi?
This is a comic-strip aimed at pre-teen girls about selling your soul to the Devil. Yes, it could only be from Misty. Misty is one of the most famous and fondly remembered girls’ comics, despite it lasting less than two years. It is also responsible for a considerable number of nightmares. (I was six/seven during its years of publication, and hid the copy that I was bought by a kindly relative underneath their mat so I wouldn’t have to take it home and read it again. I was pretty seriously traumatised…)
Winner Loses All! has all the elements for a classic girls’ comic story. Tragic background (Sandy Morton, our heroine, lost her mother in a car crash and her father is now a drunkard who’s in danger of losing his job and making them homeless); terrible secret that must be kept at all costs (no one must know she’s sold her soul), and even a nasty girl that we all want to see humiliated (rich rider Jocasta). It doesn’t even have a happy ending.
Sandy is led into temptation by bookie Mr Dayville who shows her how things could be if she sold him her soul – her father sober and offered a new job and better house. To make things slightly more shades of grey, the deal also includes an Olympic gold medal for Sandy herself and the horse he’s going to let her ride – a living inn-sign called Satan. He also tells her that as almost everyone ends up in hell anyway, she might as well get some benefits out of it (there you go, kids! We’re all doomed!).
Disasters pile up. Sandy discovers she’s to win the 1980 Olympics, so has less than a year until she’s dragged to hell. A further clause, accepted to save Satan, means that if anyone discovers that he’s not a real horse, she’ll be claimed by the Devil in that instant. She realises that she’s only going to win medals thanks to the Devil cheating, rather than fairly as she’d hoped. And as misunderstandings pile up, her secrecy leads to an estrangement with her father. Phew! Could anyone bear all of that? Well, she doesn’t have to for very long. But what happens next is arguably worse…
In most fiction, when a secret leads to misunderstandings, the truth is finally discovered and things arrange themselves happily. But this is no Wodehouse farce, this is a Misty strip. Sandy’s dad does discover her secret. But he trades his soul for hers – and then dies. Yes, this story ends with the heroine’s father going to hell to suffer for all eternity. She gets a horse out of it (Satan is made real as part of the bargain) and will probably become a champion rider – and let’s hope she’s now eventually heaven-bound – but she is now an orphan with the knowledge that her father is damned because of her. Happy, happy.
Boyfriend from Blupo (Bunty)
8 parts: 13/5/95-1/7/95
Lee is desperate for a boyfriend. Her wish is granted when hunky alien Morgan crashes his spaceship near her house and agrees to go to the disco with her. Morgan’s faux pas are considered cute by Lee’s pals, but her self-confidence is dented when she realises that on Blupo, cute is ugly and vice versa – and Morgan thinks she’s the prettiest girl he’s ever met! She also has to pretend to be a Zargon to meet his family, as Earthlings are considered primitive. Morgan disappears without saying goodbye but gets a message to Lee saying he’ll be back soon – and his secret mission is revealed: he was on Earth to record its TV programmes!
The ‘any boy is better than no boy’ and ‘only handsome boys are worth going out with’ messages may not be the best to give to young girls, but they’re pretty true to life – and Boyfriend from Blupo can be forgiven as it has such wonderful joie de vivre. ‘Seize the day’ has never been better illustrated than Lee asking the newly crash-landed alien ‘Er… I know this is short notice – but would you by any chance like to go to a disco tonight?’ The artwork is sketchy but attractive, and while the strip treads water for a little bit in the middle with some humorous Blupo/Earth misunderstandings, overall it’s pretty darn lovely.