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