Published: Bunty: #2062 (19 July 1997) – #2067 (23 August 1997)
Artist: Photo story
Everyone thinks the Mount Comp School Magazine is boring. Then the ALTERNATIVE School Mag appears, but its origins and producer are a complete mystery. It is not distributed; it just pops up stuck into lockers, on classroom desks and the like. It is definitely more exciting than the official school magazine, but for the wrong reasons. It is filled with salacious gossip and poison pen lies about school staff and pupils. Its venom is particularly directed at a pupil called Ali; it accuses her of stealing boyfriends and two-timing, and always promises even more about Ali in the next issue. It isn’t even a proper magazine either; it looks like someone has just been typing it up as a document on a computer and printing off multiple copies.
Ali is naturally upset by it all and becomes the focus of a lot of sympathy and attention. Her best friend Sonia is her main pillar of strength. Ali thinks the first issue ruined her chances of getting together with Ben because it accused her of stealing the boyfriend of a hospitalised girl.
The headmaster finds out about ALTERNATIVE and issues a stern warning to desist. But ALTERNATIVE continues to appear. Ali tells Sonia not to report its reappearance to the headmaster because some pupils like the ALTERNATIVE mag and she doesn’t want to spoil it for them.
One issue of ALTERNATIVE asked if Ali would even dare to go to the disco. Sonia encourages her to go and not let the nastiness get to her. But all eyes are on Ali when she arrives. Ben asks Ali to dance, and one girl, Mel, teases Ali about all the gossip this will provide for the next issue. Sonia tells Ali that Mel is just jealous because she fancied Ben too.
Sonia tells Ali it’s time they did some detective work to track down the miscreant. Ali’s brother Simon joins them, and so does Ben. Ali is upset because the last issue said they had conducted an interview with Ben who claimed everything ALTERNATIVE had printed about Ali is true. Ben rubbishes such claims and says Ali should know better than to believe them. Later, Sonia comments how closer Ben and Ali have become since ALTERNATIVE started.
Sonia’s suspicions fall on Emma, who is the biggest gossip in the school. Sonia watches Emma and finds she is going into a lot of shops asking about paper, and she is clearly holding a copy of ALTERNATIVE while doing so. As they continue to watch Emma, Sonia gets the impression that Emma is keeping a close eye on Ali. Emma overhears them and tells them that she is conducting her own investigation into ALTERNATIVE too, and is making inquiries to track down the paper supplier.
Simon finds the paper for ALTERNATIVE is being taken out of the paper supply for the official school magazine. Someone is using the computer that produces the official magazine to produce ALTERNATIVE too. But they have to run it off quickly, which means it is printed in the draft form that the official one has before it moves onto its final print. So the obvious course of action is to watch the computer room, particularly during lunchtimes, late afternoons and such, which are the most likely times when the culprit produces ALTERNATIVE.
Sonia still suspects Emma, so she is very suspicious during one lunch break to see Emma gulp down her lunch quickly and then take off. Sonia trails Emma and Ben joins her. Emma does head for the computer room, but tells Sonia and Ben that it’s not for the reason they think. Emma opens the door – and they catch Ali at the computer, typing up ALTERNATIVE.
Emma explains that she had begun to suspect Ali once she realised that Ali was the one who was getting something out of it – lots of attention. Ali shamefully admits it, saying it was to get Ben to notice her and she was fed up with everyone ignoring her. Ben says he fancied Ali well before ALTERNATIVE started and was thinking of asking her out. But after how she used them all, forget it. Sonia is also furious at being used this way and how Ali was capable of allowing her to make a fool of herself by wrongly accusing Emma.
Other pupils crowd around to find out what’s going on. When they hear, one girl sarcastically says it’s a pity there won’t be any more issues because this would have been the best story yet. Emma says Ali’s getting plenty of attention now, but Ben says it’s not the type she wanted.
There is nothing new in what Ali does. Girls’ comics have a long history of girls faking harassment and writing poison pen slander in order to get attention, friends, or just to be nasty. Bunty’s Letters of Hate is one example. But doing it through printing a magazine that’s an entire smear piece and distributing it around the school is taking it on a whole new level. Turning the poison pen against school staff as well as pupils is taking it on a whole new level as well. Surely no other poison pen writer in girls’ comics went as far as to attack school staff!
Ali’s poison penning also runs the serious risk of backfiring, as evidenced by some pupils enjoying it and even being nasty to Ali about it. The slanderous stuff about Ali being a two-timer and boyfriend stealer could have backfired as well and driven Ben off instead of drawing him to her. Did Ali never think that some people might actually believe the stuff she’s putting out and give her a hard time over it? Looks like not, just as she never thought how she is just taking advantage of her best friend Sonia and using the wrong means to catch Ben – until it’s too late, of course. Ben must be speaking what Ali has realised too late that she has gotten herself the wrong sort of attention.
Evidently Ali never thought of the old adage “quit while you’re ahead” either. She does not even stop when the headmaster issues his warning, probably because she thought nobody would ever suspect her. Ali does not even quit when the watch on the computer room starts, which would make it even more difficult to type up ALTERNATIVE.
Hindsight tells us what a clever manipulator Ali is in getting her own way. For example, her hurt remarks that Ben has been interviewed for ALTERNATIVE is evidently a cunning ploy to keep him close to her. So too is her way of talking Sonia into not to talking to the headmaster about the resurgence of ALTERNATIVE. Poor, duped Sonia even thinks Ali is doing it for selfless reasons and commends her for it!
It is quite surprising that the person who gets on the right track and solves the mystery is a most unlikely one – the biggest gossip in the school. We would think it more likely that a gossip like Emma would be among those who eat up ALTERNATIVE and its contents. Perhaps Emma started her detective work because someone else also accused her of putting out ALTERNATIVE and she was trying to clear her name. Or maybe even the school gossip had her limits. As it is, it is a real twist to have the school gossip in the role of the heroine rather than the more usual role of the one to cause trouble with gossip.