Emma was a short-lived D.C. Thomson comic running for only 81 issues, published from 25 February 1978 to 8 September 1979. It was the second shortest run of the 11 DCT girls comic titles (Spellbound was the shortest at 69 issues, ending just before Emma launched). It is interesting that both Emma and Spellbound, didn’t last very long as these two titles were more experimental than DCT’s usual format. A month after Emma ended, a new title arrived, Tracy, which was more similar to Bunty, Judy etc. and that lasted 277 issues. So could it have been that people liked to stick with the familiar, or was there another reason this comic didn’t last?
A note on what other DC Thomson girls comics were running at this time. Long running Bunty, Judy and Mandy comics were still going strong and Debbie seemed to be doing well since launching a few years prior in 1973. So that was 4 other DCT comics that children could choose from and they most likely had their loyal long term readers, added to that you had popular IPC comics like Tammy, Jinty and Misty also competing, making it that much harder to get a piece of the market. By the late 70s the “golden age” of comics was over and there was starting to be a decline in readerships, one theory being there was so much other entertainment to also compete with. Although to contradict that theory, one just has to look at something like 2000AD which also launched in the late 1970s and is still going strong celebrating 40 years of publishing, which goes to show if the quality, the right marketing and commitment is there, it is possible to last in the comic market.
While Emma had a variety of stories, it also leaned more on magazine elements, such as interviews, fact files, pop news etc. Perhaps it was conceived to be a stepping stone for those girls who were beginning to show more interest in magazines like Jackie, but still liked more picture stories too. If this was the case, maybe the paper quality was a factor in it not being as successful as other more glossy story/magazine publications like Diana and Suzy. The set up of Emma was that the title character was a reporter, so every issue she would interview someone (these included the Muppets, Abba and more) and throughout the issue she would also have other features such as reports on popular trends (like the majorettes in issue 1), or “What’s in a Name?” (looking at names meanings and famous people with that name). The character of Emma also had her own story, where she usually ended up solving a problem while filming a report for her TV show. More notable was the Emma’s Mag which took up the 4 middle pages of the comic and again had a variety of features, focusing on famous people, hair tips, Kid Jenson’s LP section and more. This mag is one of the things that survived the merger with Judy and became a prominent feature of it.
In the first issue we are told Emma has another meaning too. Emma is an acronym for Excitement, Mystery, Marvelous Free Gifts, Action. Looking at the first issue, we’ll see how much that holds true! Of course the obligatory free gift is there, the first gift is an Initial Brooch, gifts from other issues include a bag, bangles and supercomb. There are 7 stories in the first issue. The Emma Report in which Emma goes diving for sunken treasure for a report and nearly gets lost (one of the weaker serials in my opinion and maybe a downfall for the comic as Emma was really being pushed as the representative of the comic). Sue Spiker a tough foster home child with a talent for volleyball, Sue was one of the comics long running characters, she returned in 2 sequels, one of which was in Judy after the comics merged. Similarly Jodie and the Otter about a swimming champion who makes friends with an otter after she has to bail out of a plane over the Canadian Wilderness, also had 2 sequels. Angie which I’ve already talked about here, is about a nurse who gets kidnapped by bank robbers along with her young sister, with art by Ian Kennedy. Lynne Against Lareno, art by Norman Lee, where Lynne travels to a small town on the Mexican border to visit a friend, only to be told her friend died, but Lynne suspects something else is going on. Disco Talk a one page text story that shows conversations between two friends, Jill and Carol, at a disco. Blue Eyes, where Belinda’s earnings for acting goes to her apparently sick cousin, but then she begins to have sight problems. There are also two short humour strips; TV Mad about a girl Madeline who is obsessed with television and Tessa a girl who won’t get off the phone. The majority of the stories are 3 pages, exceptions being The Emma Report and Lynne Against Lareno which are 4 pages. There is a good variety in the stories, both in plot and locations. I do think the stories cover the excitement, mystery, action, the art is good throughout, as is the layout, title headings and lettering, so it was quite a strong start to the comic.
While there are some familiar concepts with the stories in Emma there was also less common things, such as volleyball as the sport in Sue Spiker (rather than the more common sports like athletics or hockey) and the use of varied locations. This trend continued in new stories too. Skate-Cat Kate a girl with a talent with skateboarding who has to contend with her brother’s jealousy. Viva Marisa! a young girl who becomes part of Revolution to overthrow a dictator in South America, with art by Jesús Redondo. Yang Ling a historical story where a young Chinese girl wants to be taught the ancient art of self-defence and is eventually chosen to escort a girl from China to America. Molly and her Millettes, a young teacher tries to encourage a class that everyone thinks is hopeless by forming them into a Majorette troupe.
When the comics gets into its #20s is it weakest point in my opinion. Jodie and the Otter and Sue Spiker both finish in issue #19 and Viva Marisa! in issue #21. For a while there is only 5 stories, (except for the sporadic appearance of Kay Rules…Ok?). The line up during this time is The Emma Report, The Rebel, Yang Ling, Make Me a Champion! and Janie Jungle Nurse. This line up doesn’t last too long as issue #30 has all new stronger set of stories; Holly of Hazard Unit, Little Nipper, Wynne Against the School, Teech n’ Me, Nola Girl from Nowhere and the return of Jodie and the Otter. In issue #32 Beware of Beryl also joins the line-up. This is the only time there is a big change of line-up with all new stories, it also becomes standard to have at least 7 stories running at a time.
We start to see some more reprints in later issues, The Secret Life of Dana, Plain Jane, The Rebel and Belinda Born to Skate all appeared previously in other comics. In the case of Belinda Born to Skate it first appeared in Judy as “Vicky on Skates” but here it has new art by Carlos Freixas. Of course the reverse is also true, where stories that appeared in Emma were later reprinted in other comics, such as No Joy for Jenny, Red Fur and Lady Sarah’s Secret. The stories in the last issue are Kitty and the Crooked Myles, The White Mouse, Carrie – and the Conroy Curse, Lucy and Lightning, Nobody’s Child and the first part of another Jodie and the Otter sequel which will continue in Judy after the merger. Stunt Girl and Belinda Born to Skate finished in the penultimate issue. So overall I think Emma had some good stories and some interesting features, but ultimately it didn’t seem to capture attention of readers. With a new comic Tracy also in the works at the time, the publishers must have decided it was best to end Emma before that launched, particularly with so many other competing comics. Also it could have been some of the initial contributors to Emma could now have been working on the new comic. Of course I can only speculate to the reasons why Emma finished up, I don’t have the sales figures for the comic or the knowledge of what was going on in the DCT at the time, but having read some stories about the end of other publications, I’d say a combination of the reasons I mentioned is likely. [I’ve looked briefly at the DCT mergers already in another post, it can be found here]
For some further analysis, focusing on the serials that appeared in Emma, I’ve done a breakdown of the type of stories. To keep it simple I’ve kept it to 10 broad categories (with a longer running publication, there would certainly be more categories) these are what I see to be the main element of the story and I’ve been subjective in where I’ve placed stories, as some could certainly fit into several categories and others aren’t necessarily an exact fit. So this isn’t a perfect method but should give a rough idea of what you could expect to read in Emma. The comic had 44 stories, (although 2 stories spawned sequels, so if those were included separately, the number would rise to 46). As for the length of the serials, the average and mode for story length is 12 episodes. The shortest story was Stunt Girl at 5 episodes, possibly cut short due to Emma’s looming merger with Judy. The longest was The Emma Report at 29 episodes (that’s a continuous run, not including returning one shots and such), which makes sense as she was the title character and the comic was pushing her as a selling point. The story/character that appears most, including sequels, is Sue Spiker with 39 episodes (and she would go on to have a further 12 episodes in Judy), she was an appealing character, with good artwork and it made sense that she also got a sequel in Judy after the merger.
Here are the categories I’ve chosen, listed by most popular. Go to next page to see which stories I put in each category
- Adventure [8 Stories – 18%]
- Sport & Dance [8 stories – 18%]
- Family [5 Stories – 11%]
- Animal [4 stories – 9%]
- Career [4 Stories – 9%]
- Science Fiction [4 stories – 9%]
- Friendships [3 stories – 7%] (this includes false friendships too)
- Historical [3 stories – 7%] (stories set before World War II)
- Mystery [3 stories – 7%]
- Supernatural [2 stories – 5%]
Adventure and Sport & Dance are on top at 8 stories each, but I have to point out that a lot of stories had adventure/action elements, such as stories I’ve categorized under career and historical often had the protagonist in risky situations. Interesting to note popular story elements like the Cinderella story or jealous rival are not common here, this may be another reason, the comic didn’t last. While the majority of the stories, as to be expected, are set in Britain with white protagonists there are stories that go against this standard. Other than Britain places where stories were set: Africa (1), America (5*), Belgium (1), Canada (1), China (1*), South America (3*) and Space/Off planet (2). The numbers with asterisks are to note a story may be counted twice due to it starting in one place but then spending a significant amount of time elsewhere, for example in A Girl Called Sam, Sam travels from America to South America, 9 issues into the story. Protagonists that were not British were: American (1), Belgian (1), Canadian (1), Chinese (1), Puerto Rican (1), (unspecified) South American (1). Most characters are either in school or appear to be school age, of the protagonists that do have jobs, being a nurse is the most popular with 5 main characters having that job. Having a job in the entertainment industry is also popular, with 4 characters being involved in that. Also while IPC is often acknowledged for it’s use of working class heroes, it doesn’t mean DCT was without them, Sue Spiker, the Millettes from Molly and the Millettes, Lucy of Lucy and Lightning are some examples here.
For a short lived comic it had many good qualities. The stories were varied, (though I would say adventure/action was a big element), there was also some quality art work, known artists included Norman Lee, Ian Kennedy, Jesús Redondo, Hugo D’Adderio and Carlos Freixas. The idea to have a character to do interviews tying in the features to story side of the magazine was a good idea, although like I mentioned I personally think The Emma Report was one of the weaker stories (although the art was lovely). The overall aesthetic was very pleasing, such as the lettering and title headings for the stories were nicely done. It may not have left as big an impression as other comics, but it is worth a look.