Short stories were a popular feature in girls comics, most likely because it was quicker to plot out a 2-4 page story, a variety of artists and writers could work on a series of short stories with no pressure on developing a big plot. Also it was a good way to fill up space, complete stories also could be used as stand in, before a new serial started or to acknowledge a special occasion, such as a special Christmas story (e.g. Stir It Up- M&J). If there was a long running series of short stories, there was usually a theme or storyteller to tie the stories together. Often the story would still have their own individual title but would have the logo or storyteller introducing the story so we can have more of a connection with it.
First looking at some of the regular short stories that were linked by a theme rather than a storyteller. The most loosely connected theme was in Nikki where the logo of Short Story is what linked the stories. This series continued in Bunty for a while after the comics merged. Although these stories didn’t have a particular theme they were usually set in present day and based on school girls and often involved boys. A story with a more definite theme was; Broken Hearts (Suzy/Bunty) not surprisingly these stories often involved romance but not always as hearts can be broken in many ways. Such as a girl’s jealousy of her sister goes too far when her sister ends up in hospital and she regrets her actions. More stories that related to heart issues but focused solely on romance were Judy’s It Must Be Luv and later in M&J was The Boy Zone, the latter reprinted a lot of Nikki’s Short Story. Also in Judy was Zodiac where each story represented a star sign, like the Gemini story about twins who can’t agree about anything. An Emma short series focused on dogs in The Dog Next Door. In Debbie the fabled origin stories of flowers were told in old time setting in Flower Story. Misty had lots of short stories some of which came under the heading of Beasts / Nightmares. More on the mystery and spooky side was A Turn of the Key in Spellbound, where hidden secrets were often uncovered. M&J reprinted some of these under the slightly revised heading The Key Turns.
As well as having a theme a Storyteller was a popular way to tie things together. While still telling a variety of stories there was also a character that you could identify with the stories making it more connected and maybe you could have your favourite storyteller. There was two frequent inspirations for storytellers either a special item, or those that were inspired by the mysterious and spooky.
Examples of the item Storytellers include Dolwyn’s Dolls (Bunty) A Tale from the Toy Museum (Bunty) Mother Goose (Judy), The Silver Saddle (Mandy), Madame Marlova Remembers (Debbie), The Button Box (Tammy) and Jade Jenkins Stall (M&J).
Dolwyn’s Dolls took place in a small doll shop, where the owner sold and repaired dolls and told her customers many stories about dolls, sometimes the stories had a magical element. Very similar was A Tale from the Toy Museum but it had a bit of wider scope with more toys rather than just dolls. Also the storyteller herself had more background development as she was a grandmother telling her bored granddaughter tales when she comes to stay with her over the holidays. Mother Goose from Judy had another shop owner specialising in nursery and fairytale items. Once Upon a Rhyme in Mandy also dealt with fairy tales but was more magical as the stories were told by a fairy godmother. A more updated version of this theme was Jade Jenkins Stall, although it was not actually titled as such as each story Jade told had it’s own title. Jade stories came from items she sold at her second hand charity stall and she introduced each story. Jade addressed the reader the directly and also interacted with the characters in her tales, often they would return the item they bought at the stall. It was a good modernisation of item storyteller also Jade’s second hand stall meant stories were very much in the present. The Button Box has a more family theme, as a family heirloom is a box filled with buttons from all across history and social classes. Unusually it is not a wise older person telling the tales but a young girl Bev who was confined to a wheelchair. In Mandy’s The Silver Saddle Janet’s aunt Helen, tells her the stories of the girl riders and their mounts who have done notable deeds and earned an inscription on the silver saddle. Another story where we learn more about the storyteller is Madame Marlova Remembers from Debbie. Marlova didn’t collect a particular item but had many stories about the ballerinas she taught over the years. She went onto have a prequel serial about how she became a ballerina.
(Left to Right: Dolwyn’s Dolls,Madame Marlova Remembers)
The spooky storyteller was a popular choice, the stories were not so tied to one particular storyteller so could be used again, for example Tammy’s Storyteller’s Strange Stories were reprinted with Jinty’s Gypsy Rose now telling the tale (read more about Gypsy Rose here). Two very similar looking character’s were The Man in Black, from Diana and Damian Darke from Spellbound. This is not surprising considering that Spellbound seemed to feature other stories that originated in Diana (i.e. Supercats, The Strange Ones). Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then Mandy (He also appeared in some Debbie Picture Story Library books). Spellbound also had Miss Hatherleigh a custodian of Cremond Hall, who told strange stories of the Cremond family that date from the 12th century. Judy had She of the Shadows a mysterious veiled woman telling stories, but more notable was the later character Bones, a skeleton in Skeleton Corner that also continued on in M&J. While other spooky storytellers may be mysterious a special otherworldly, having a skeleton truly passed it into supernatural.
(Left to Right: Damian Darke, She of the Shadows, Skeleton Corner [Bones])
Clearly with the amount of stories that fall under the heading these were popular themes. As well as regular writers and artists, I suspect similar to 2000AD’s Future Shocks it could be a good way to test out new talents. While I liked some of the complete stories that had a theme, I found those linked with a storytellers as well were better, probably because I can more easily associate a particular story with a character. Also in some cases like The Button Box and Madame Marlova we got more insight into the storyteller and their lives. In some cases particularly the spooky stories the length constraints can affect the story, and sometimes the endings become predictable and rely on familiar twists. Still clearly a big advantage of these complete stories was you get a great variety in one serial, so you were sure to find a story that works for you.