Mergers were often a disliked policy known as “hatch match and dispatch”. Pat Mills has talked on the topic before (in an interview with Jinty blogger – comixminx) and the policy did lead to the end of some good comics, that would soon fade into the background of the dominant title. I think there could have been alternative solutions but at the end of the day the publishers are a business and if a comic isn’t making money then it’s not very viable to continue it. So at least a merger may see popular stories continue on in another book. How successful that merger was handled could vary.
I’m just going to look at the 11 DCT girls comics and what they brought to the comics they merged with.
Merger Chart (click on image to see a larger image):
Diana (23/02/63 – 04/12/76) [720 issues]
Diana was the third girls comic launched by D.C. Thomson. It differed from it’s predecessors; Bunty and Judy straight away with it’s bigger, more colourful format. It was more expensive (by 1½d) and actually had less pages but it had a full colour pull out magazine, full of factual features and stories. Closer to the end of it’s run it became more feature heavy and seemed to be making the transition to a more teen magazine. Teen romance comic Romeo merged with it in 1974 (Romeo had already encompassed Cherie at this point). Diana merged with teen magazine Jackie (issue #674). I don’t have later issues of Diana but I did think it’s move towards teen mag and it’s eventual merge with Jackie was an odd choice. The last issue only had 3 picture stories and one text story, the rest of issue was dedicated to features such as pop gossip and personality quiz. Maybe because it was more pricy and other titles dominating the pre-teen market, it was thought it would be more profitable to aim the comic at teenagers instead.
The “Diana Jackie” banner title stayed for 7 issues before being dropped and Diana’s presence was soon forgotten in the title. Even the first merger issue Diana barely makes itself known, other than the name on the cover, a mention in the letter from the editor. and a Jackie Starscope offer to celebrate. Picture story “If Love had Wings” that started in the last Diana issues continued in Jackie. Oddly enough some of Diana‘s popular stories ended up in other comics. Debbie gained “Mary Brown’s Schooldays” and “Up to Date Kate”. The new Spellbound comic gained “Supercats” which had first appeared in Diana annuals under the name “The Fabulous Four”, also the spooky storyteller “Damian Darke” was quite similar to Diana‘s “Man in Black”, as well as serials like “Paula and the Wasps of Terror” being reprinted in the comic.
Spellbound (25/09/76 – 14/01/78) [69 issues]
The sixth DCT girls comic took an unusual approach compared to it’s predecessors. There was no girl’s name in the title and it’s stories had the specific theme of being spooky with mystery, thrills. While it is often considered a lighter version of the IPC Misty it actually finished a month before Misty arrived. I’m sure Misty would have gained some of the Spellbound fans when it launched, as the latter was unfortunately short lived. For the end of its run there seemed to be a bit of pressure to finish stories, with no new stories launching, some stories ran for 5 to 6 pages (rather than the average 3 pages).
The comic started not long before Diana ended and gained a lot from that title, looking at the comics in the 70s, it seemed to be a time when DCT were being more experimental with it’s publications. Despite being short-lived, it did produce some memorable stories and unlike Misty it did have a good number of regular characters. The spooky storyteller “Damian Darke”, “The Supercats” and “The Shop at Shudder Corner” were a strong presence throughout it’s run. So when it merged with Debbie (issue #258) the “Supercats” and “Damian Darke” became regular stories and “The Shop at Shudder Corner” briefly appeared in the comic and made appearances in annuals and picture story library books. “Damian Darke” even continued in Mandy. At first the Spellbound stories had their own section at the back of the book which also included Supercats Club and complete text stories.The Spellbound logo stayed on the cover for over a year (at least until #339), although it did get smaller over time. While Supercats didn’t last long, there was the appearance of more spooky stories that fitted the Spellbound theme like “Slaves of the Crimson Cat”.
Emma (25/02/78 – 08/09/79) [81 issues]
A month after Spellbound finished, a new comic Emma emerged, but it wasn’t much more successful than the former only lasting a year and a half. Back to the traditional girl name title, Emma had a different approach in that it’s namesake was a reporter who interviewed people for the comic, as well as having her own strip “The Emma Report”. When it merged with Judy (issue #1027) it brought two regular stories “Jodie and the Otter” and “Sue Spiker”. The first part of “Jodie and the Otter” actually started in the previous issue of Judy and at the same time the last issue of Emma, giving readers an extra incentive to pick up Judy (as well as that there was a 2nd part of a competition). Two other new stories start in the issue “The Frightening Fours” and “Run, Rabbit, Run!” while 4 Judy stories continued.
The merger also came with an increase of price by 1p. Another important aspect of the merger was Emma’s Mag, the 4 page centre magazine full of features came over from Emma (Judy features like Pony Clinic would also appear in the mag). The mag had the most lasting impact, continuing well after Emma was dropped from the banner, it was eventually renamed Mini Mag and lasted until Judy ended in 1991. When a “Judy & Co.” strip started it involved Judy and her 2 friends. These friends were Tracy and Emma obvious nods to the comics that had merged with it (although Emma was no longer a reporter instead she was a pupil).
Debbie (17/02/73 – 15/01/83) [518 issues]
Debbie didn’t gain as much momentum as it’s predecessor’s but it still had some gems of stories like “Wendy at War” and “Trixie’s Treasure Chest” (Trixie finished in the last issue of Debbie and surprisingly wasn’t carried over to Mandy). Unfortunately it seems to be more remembered for it’s increase of low quality photo stories towards the end of it’s run. It merged with Mandy (issue #836). Two stories came over to Mandy for the initial merger. The photo story “The Randell Road Girls” was a school soap story but didn’t last too long. The other story was “No Rest for Rosie”.
The spooky storyteller “Damian Darke” was popular enough to survive a second merger, although it didn’t appear until a few issues after the merger (#841). The Debbie logo stayed on the masthead for 24 issues and was dropped in issue #860. Overall Debbie didn’t have a lasting impact on Mandy.
Tracy (6/10/79 – 19/01/85) [277 issues]
Tracy launched after the poorly received Spellbound and Emma and stuck more to the successful formula of Bunty, Judy and Mandy. It ran for a respectable 277 issues before merging with Judy (issue #1306). The Judy and Tracy banner stayed for over 2 years and both characters, Judy and Tracy (along with pet kits and budgie, Elton) appeared on the cover. Previous to this the cover depicted a story in the comic. Tracy brought four stories with the merger; “Microgirl”, “Georgie and the Dragon”, “Harvey -Go Home!” and “Little Amy”. Beside each of these stories a caption “a Tracy Story” ran beside the titles for a while. “Little Amy” started in the last issue of Tracy, again this encouraged Tracy readers to make the switch over to Judy. “Harvey” was the longest lasting story, still going in 1987.
As with many of these mergers, there was also a competition to entice people to give the “new” comic a go. The other impact Tracy had was in Judy’s Mini Mag Elton (the budgie) sometimes had a feature: Elton’s Bird Talk. Also as mentioned before, Tracy stayed around in the comic strip Judy & Co. until the end of Judy’s run.
Suzy (11/09/82 – 13/06/87) [249 issues]
Suzy launched after Tracy and was more glossy, colourful and it was more feature heavy and had a lot more photo stories (the first issue has 4 photo stories and 2 picture stories). It seemed to fit somewhere between a teen mag and a girl’s comic. The photo stories were more suited to the glossy paper rather than Debbie’s newspaper quality (which may be one of the reasons Debbie didn’t last too long after Suzy’s launch). While Suzy started off with the standard 6-7 stories, later this decreased to 4 stories per issue. Before the end of it’s run the number of stories per issue, actually increased again. I suspect, like Diana, this was to make it fit better with the publication it was to be merged with. When they increased the number of stories in issue #236, it also came with a free picture story library book. Again a competition appears for the merger. Suzy brings two stories “Broken Hearts” a series of short stories with the connecting theme of character having the heart broken (often due to a romantic situation). Due to it’s short story format this would appear sporadically for a while. The other story was the soap like “Suzy’s Scene”. On the cover Bunty gained a friend Suzy for a while but she soon faded away like the Suzy logo which only lasted 8 issues before disappearing.
Other serials from Suzy did turn up in other DCT publications later, most notably “The Jordans of Jedworth”, a story about triplet girls in a boarding school, appeared in Judy.
Nikki (23/02/85 – 02/09/89) [237 issues]
Nikki had a strong school theme running throughout the comic. It had features such as messages on the Bike School Wall, and What Every Girl Should Know About….(teachers/ boys etc). A lot of it’s stories were based around schools, most famously of course was it’s long running soap story “The Comp”.
The merger with Bunty was well handled I think. The main pull of Nikki was fan favourite “The Comp”, the story had lots of characters and ongoing story-lines, so two weeks before the merger Bunty published “Nikki at the Comp” where new character Nikki (named as homage to the comic) moves to Redvale and joins the Comp, it is through her eyes we are first introduced to the regular characters. Meanwhile the Nikki comic continued it’s own story lines of the regular characters, with the new Nikki character only in the background. So when Nikki actually merged with Bunty (issue #1652) “The Comp” was already established and the story proved to be as popular as it had been in Nikki lasting nearly up to the last issue of Bunty.
Other stories that came over was “Short Story” which is basically what you would think it would be; one issue complete stories. It lasted for a while and would often pop up later, usually convenient to fill space before a new serial started, or for around the holidays. Also Nikki’s cover girls Lucy and Liz of “Girls Talk” came over. They ended up extremely reduced in size but did stay present a long time, changing their name to “Girl’s Talking” and having a 2 panel strip in the corner of Bunty’s letters/features page. A new serial started in the issue as well, “I’ll Never Forgive You”.
Talk Shop (a letter’s page) also came over from Nikki and lasted a while, unlike the Bike Shed Wall (messages page) which only featured for a short period. The Nikki logo didn’t last pass Bunty’s revamped look in issue #1658. Other consequences of the merge was Bunty’s long running school story “School’s Out!” ended to make way for “The Comp” which may have disappointed some fans but like I said “The Comp” soon became a firm favourite.
Judy (16/01/60 – 11/05/91) [1635 issues]
Judy launched as companion paper to Bunty. It had a lot of career driven stories and long running humorous stories. Unlike the other mergers Mandy & Judy was launched as a new comic with an issue #1, because of this most of the stories were new. The exception was the M&J classic section which featured reprints of old Mandy and Judy favourites. The first reprint was the Judy story “The Honourable S.J.”, later issues would feature “Wee Slavey” and “Junior Nanny” among others. Judy also brought it’s humour strip “Pepper the Pony”. “Skeleton Corner” while not in the first issue, it did turn up later and had a very long run. A later story “Nurses” seems like it may have been influenced by a Judy story “Nightingales”. The characters Mandy and Judy also gained their own strip “M&J – Neighbours and Friends”. After that finished for a while “The Diaries of M&J” took it’s place.
A free pen was given away with the first issue to entice readers to pick up the new comic and for a few issues after that, other gifts were offered. It had the advantage being an issue #1, so it could entice new readers to buy it, as well as try to bring over old Judy and Mandy readers. Although on the downside it was 5p more expensive (35p) than Judy or Mandy had been.
Mandy (21/01/67 – 11/05/91) [1269 issues]
Along with Bunty and Judy, Mandy was one of the longest running comics and well remembered particularly for long running stories “Angel” and “Valda”. It had a lot of drama stories and also had a lot of text stories even after text stories became infrequent in its counterparts.
As stated above Mandy and Judy merged together to make a new comic, with lots of new stories. The first issue featured a new story with the Mandy classic “The Diary of Angel”, also it brought it’s own humour strip to rival “Pepper the Pony”; “Glenda the Guide”, it seems Pepper won that battle as Glenda did not last too long. Over the years the classic section featured such Mandy stories as “Valda” and “Little Stranger”. Other than the classic section M&J was keen to develop it’s own stories with such long running stories as “Penny’s Place”, “Nurses” and “Stage School”.
M&J (18/05/91 – 24/05/97) [315 issues]
When M&J merged with Bunty (issue #2055) it really showed how much the publications were struggling. The only thing Bunty gained was the long running soap “Penny’s Place” It didn’t really encourage M&J readers to stay on. They didn’t even keep up the classic section. Oddly enough 3 issues before M&J finished a new story “Four in the Saddle” started, it didn’t appear in the last issue of M&J and did not continue in Bunty either. The last issue of M&J had 2 stories doubled up in order to complete them, so it may indicate the merger happened sooner than originally planned. The M&J logo appeared only briefly and was very small compared to the rest of the masthead. I’ve already talked about M&J here and clearly there was lots to like about it so it was a pity that Bunty didn’t gain more from its merger.
Bunty (18/01/58 – 17/02/01) [2249 issues]
Of course when Bunty ended there was no comic for it to merge into. Over the years it had taken in many other comics and it evolved over time, so it was quite different from it’s early years. It’s only mainstay was “The Four Marys” who changed along with the comic although they still had chances to solve a mystery or two. By the end the comic was becoming more reliant on reprints. So it made sense that when the Bunty Monthly comic launched the next month (March 2001) it was all reprints.
Bunty Monthly was 64 pages and cost £1.50 (compared to the 80p the last issue of the weekly Bunty cost) and had love hearts sweets as a free gift in the first issue. The format seemed to be to reprint one serial in full and have 2 other serials along with the occasional “Toots”. It’s first issue had reprints of “The Four Marys”, “Jenny the Gymnast” (the entire serial) and “Wendy’s Wishing Well”. There seemed to be a move by the 3rd issue to entice some nostalgic fans, it was renamed The Best of Bunty and the masthead changed to the classic Bunty logo. Also added was the slogan of “classic stories from the 50s, 60s, 70s” along with pictures of old covers. This didn’t work out though and after just 5 issues, Bunty Monthly ended in July 2001.
While it may seem that some titles got lost in the dominant comic, even if the comic kept going it would have still evolved over time. Long running comics like Bunty and Judy had a different focus in the 80s or 90s compared to the 60s. I think mergers like Bunty and Nikki, Judy and Tracy, Mandy & Judy were quite well handled, others not so much. Of course it would have been nice to see our favourite comics continue on and I think the drop off of readers wasn’t all about new distractions like TV and computers, there was a variety of reasons, including a decline in quality. It is a shame that it’s been 13 years since the last of the classic girls comic was published (excluding annuals). But rumours that Misty stories are going to be reprinted and even comics such as the American Ms Marvel doing so well, makes me hope that this won’t be the end of girls comics and wish that there may be a revival!