- The Comp– Nikki: #01 (23 February 1985) – #237 (02 September 1989)
- Nikki – Bunty: #1650 (26 August 1989) – #1651 (02 September 1989)
- The Comp– Bunty : #1652 (09 September 1989) – #2243 (06 January 2001)
- Writers: Rhoda Miller
- Main Artists: Ron Lumsden , Peter Wilkes
- Occassional Artists: Guy Peeters
The Comp was a soap story that followed the lives of a group of friends in the 3rd Form at Redvale Comp. The Comp dealt primarily with friendships, romances, family drama and school. There was a large cast of characters, including the pupils, their families, and teachers. It took some risks too, as main characters actually left and were replaced throughout it’s run. Initially the story was introduced (in Nikki) with Sam Greene starting her first day at the Comp. Her family had just moved back from Germany, and she soon made close friends with Julie, Lisa, Megan and Marilyn. Although most stories revolved around those five, there were many other characters that also got the spotlight at times, such as punk Sharon, jokster Sprot and studious Tina. There was also a variety of teachers at the Comp, some loved and some feared, with nicknames like Grim Gertie, Mad Maureen and Sooty.
In issue #102 of Nikki, Sam and her friends moved up to 4th form and a new cast of characters were introduced as the 3B form. These were Laura Brady and her friends Becky, Hayley and Nadina. The other various characters in the class included Freddy, Hodge, Jayne the Pain, Claire and Amy. When Nadina moved away, a new character Roz was introduced. She was an American that had moved with her Dad to Redvale. Although Sam and her friends had moved on they still occasionally made appearances, although they became less frequent in later years.
When Nikki was merged with Bunty, The Comp came to Bunty. For two issues before the merger, in Bunty, there was a story called Nikki, this introduced the character of Nikki, and bullies Pippa and Morag. Due to a factory shutting down, the girls’ families had to relocate and they all start at the Comp. While Bunty showed things from Nikki’s perspective, in Nikki (the comic) continued with its own story and showed some of the same events from the regular characters perspectives. After Bunty and Nikki merged, the story was called “Nikki at the Comp” for an issue before changing back to just “The Comp”. While some minor characters came and went, the core four (Laura, Hayley, Becky and Roz) stayed the same until the end, and didn’t move up in the school.
The stories were very character focused, sometimes there was a campaign or event that everyone came together on but mostly it just concentrated on a couple of characters at a time. Typically as a soap story there was many varied plots and they would overlap starting and finishing at different time. The last issue ends when Redvale has to close for safety reasons. It is unknown when and if the school will reopen. The pupils are to go to different schools. At first it looks like the Laura, Becky, Hayley and Roz will be split up, but then luckily they are able to work things out and go to same school. Of course Bunty ended a few issues later, so The Comp didn’t return.
The Comp had an impressive run of 830 episodes (between both Nikki and Bunty), as well as regular annual appearances and picture story library books. Being a soap story, there were more continuous stories and story arcs overlapped, rather than something like The Four Marys or Bobby Dazzler which had separate story arcs – that for the most part reset to the status quo at the end. There were also a lot more characters and while it mostly focused on a core four, there were others that had the spotlight over the years.
What’s most interesting is that Nikki decided to change all the established main characters and have a new cast. I wonder what led to this decision. Did they want to just freshen things up, maybe there was a plan to always move characters on after a while, and introduce new people every few years? If that was the original plan did the Bunty merger put a stop to that or were Laura & Co. so popular they decided to keep them? The original cast were popular enough that they printed a special page of reactions to departure, while there were some sad to see them go, it seemed most were willing to give the new cast a chance.
The second cast do have an advantage of being around longer but in someways their development stalled. While things changed around them, they were stuck in the same class. One clear example of this is the twins stepsister Angie. She starts off as a prefect in the Comp, then later she gets engaged, married, has her own twins who become toddlers while Becky and Hayley never move up the school! So it is a strange mix of some things evolving and a sense of the passage of time but the class never age! I also found some storylines seemed to repeat with different characters, such as the Nikki and Jacki dynamic, being similar to Sam and Sharon or that Laura fancies a neighbour and is upset when he likes Becky, which also happened to Julie and Sam.
Still these things are only obvious when reading the stories in a large block, and most likely wouldn’t be noticed by readers at the time. Another thing I did notice by reading these stories chronologically, is that there is some good continuity. While the odd time a name or appearance may change (like Amy’s surname being Rodgers, Linton and Lister at different times) there was good use of old characters and storylines. When the twins get an inheritance from their Great Aunt Freda, it is actually 43 issues later that the money comes to them. Lorraine Grover an old bully from issue 1 of Nikki, who had been expelled, pops up 10 years later. Some of the original class are named in passing or pop up briefly, such as Mike Morris winning a dance competition 6 years after he had moved into 4th year, or Kath Watkins getting expelled for stealing. Selena Smith who left the school, reappears bumping into Laura & co. and letting them know why her sister “Mad Maureen”, a teacher at the school, is so grumpy. It’s instances like this that makes me think that it must have been the one writer for a long time.
When Nikki merged with Bunty in 1989, I liked the way the merger was handled for The Comp. Bunty originally had its own school drama School’s Out that ended a few issues before the merger, this gave the comic a chance to introduce a story named Nikki which follows Nicola as she moves to Redvale and joins The Comp. I liked how they had the story was told from 2 different perspectives and the character of Nikki was a good way to introduce the story to readers to those people who hadn’t read Nikki comic. Also the name of the new character was a nice nod to the old comic.
(Above: The Comp – Nikki #237)
(Above: Nikki – Bunty#1651)
The stories themselves were entertaining and they had the opportunity to be varied and change things. They could have light moments such as Hodge and Freddy playing tricks, Hayley’s self tan going wrong and often it could be amusing when the girls got the wrong end of the stick by listening to part of conversations of teachers, like when they think Tosh is pregnant! There was also quite a lot of drama, such as dealing with parent’s divorce, a new baby in the house, and even death. While Laura & Co, did not grow up like Sam & Co. there were more permanent changes in their lives that were ongoing and did not reverse back to the status quo. Such as Roz’s father getting remarried and she gains a new stepsister Stancee or Laura’s family deciding to foster.
As stories focused on different characters, it was more likely a reader could find someone they identified with or maybe just found interesting! My favourite characters when I was growing up, were Roz and Laura. Roz looked quite distinctive from the other characters and being American also made her different and interesting for me. I also liked Laura as she was a tomboy, artistic and didn’t stand for the boys putting girls down. Rereading I also appreciate how well rounded a character Jacki was, she had a rougher background, which sometimes led to her looser definitions of right or wrong, like she didn’t see anything wrong with shoplifting, but hated bullies and even saved the caretakers life by performing CPR. Of the original class I quite like Lisa, who was very like Laura but maybe more flawed, I also liked Marilyn because she had one of the most interesting story arcs for me…
Marilyn starts dating Tim, and like a realistic young romance, they believe they will get married after school and be together forever. They break up and get back together a lot, due to Tim moving further away and him cheating on her. Even when “Grim Gertie” tries to advise her that her studies are more important than boys, in typical teenager fashion, Marilyn thinks what would Gertie know about such things. They do split up for good when Tim cheats on her again. Though she has tried to move on she is devastated when he is killed in a motorcycle accident. Lisa also feels bad about this due to a comment she had made about a boy like him being no loss, after he cheated on Marilyn. Their whole relationship lasts about 50 issues, it was not always the main focus but I think it was well written and his death was quite shocking.
Another storyline that I thought was well done was when Laura’s family foster a teenager, Rachel. Only Laura knows that she isn’t as sweet as she pretends to be and that she seems to have it in for Laura. Although this is the type of story we’ve seen before, the differences here is that this is happening to a well-established character and we also get to see the aftermath. Laura’s mom takes it particularly hard when the truth comes out, feeling she’s failed as a foster mom and it takes some time for the family to decide if they want to foster again.
Along with the well written stories, I like the art and think it did well making characters distinctive and capturing the different environments, as they weren’t always just focused around the school. Although I do have a preference for the earlier stuff, the designs seemed to get more simpler as time went on. Some characters look quite different from their first appearance such as Jayne Saunders or Mad Maureen who looks a lot older in some issues. While Ron Lumsden and Peter Wilkies were the main artists, there were some artists that took over for short periods of time like Guy Peeters (who would go on to draw another long running soap story “Penny’s Place”). When Bunty changed format The Comp became coloured, the colouring style was as varied but usually enhanced the art.
Despite such a large cast there is a lack of diversity. The second class start off well with Nadina but she doesn’t last very long. It’s not until Kiko joins that we get a main character of a different ethnicity again. Even with the teachers, there is only one black student teacher of note that appeared (although I do have some gaps in my collection). It does appear by the late 90s more non-white background characters appeare, but certainly most speaking characters were white, which was actually the norm across these comics, but still interesting to note.
The Comp was a big selling point for both Nikki and Bunty. They even expanded it so that in Nikki, additional to the picture story, Sam Greene also had a diary, this was 1 text page placed after the story and filled readers in on extra events. When the new class came Laura took over this slot with her letters to a friend for a for a while. In Bunty The Comp also spawned a spin off “Carly’s Crowd”, which followed Roz’s younger sister and her friends and their lives in California. This was a text story, in a time when it was quite unusual to see text stories! Of course The Comp was also popular subject for the Picture Story Library Books. For Nikki’s 100th issue there was a competition to win a part in The Comp by answering questions about previous things that had happened in The Comp. Not surprisingly The Comp often took top place in reader polls, they even gave readers a chance to vote on their favourite teacher, while in the story the class were also voting!
Over the next few pages I’ve done short character profiles on the main cast, of course it would be far too long to list all events and I have some gaps in my collection, particularly in the later years, but it should show some highlights of the characters.