Susan of Studio ‘B’ [1978]

Mandy Picture Story Library No.2 – Susan of Studio ‘B’.

Cover Art: Ian Kennedy, Art: J. Badesa

Plot:

Susan is working as a production assistant at “ICT” Studios. She’s already known as a bit of a klutz, and she has terrible luck – the very first thing she does in this comic is trip over a cable and spill coffee on the handsome young pop star who’s being filmed. His name is Tony Sunshine (later on, he’s referred to as Tony Scott, so it’s probably a stage name). Tony is all set to be the star of the new series ICT is launching. (The programme seems to be some kind of music and variety show, though this is never explained in any great detail.) The production has been plagued by bad luck and minor accidents; so Tony isn’t even mad at Susan – he’s just that used to things going wrong. Still – when Susan accidentally knocks Tony over while she’s trying to wipe the coffee from his shirt, he narrowly avoids being hit by one of the floodlights as it comes crashing down from the ceiling!

Susan spots a black-clad man hurrying off the set but thinks nothing of it; she just assumes he’s one of the lighting engineers.

As the director is telling everyone to go home for the day, since the set has basically been ruined, another TV star shows up. His name is Chas Harding; and he’s been in the business a lot longer than Tony has. The two men first met when Tony guest-starred on Harding’s show. After that, Tony became so popular that he’s now been given his own show to star in. Tony confides in the older man that, with all the accidents and breakages they’ve had, shooting is so far behind that the whole project is on the verge of being shut down. He and the crew have been given just one week to finish shooting.

Harding assures Tony that everything’s going to work out – “You’ll get the series finished, it’ll be a success, then the doors of show-business will be thrown wide open.” That’s when Susan walks in, opening the door right into Harding’s back!

Accidents just keep on happening at Studio B. The next day, as Tony is about to start singing a duet with a pretty young starlet called Cathy, Susan almost knocks Cathy off the stool she’s sitting on. When Tony tries to grab Cathy, they both overbalance on their tall stools and fall off – right out of the path of the heavy camera that’s suddenly rolling towards them! “There are times,” the director says, “When Susan’s clumsiness is a blessing.”

Meanwhile, Susan again spots a dark-clad figure running away. Convinced that this is the same man she saw yesterday after the lighting rig fell, Susan decides to follow him. But, she falls right into the soundstage’s trap door, which the man has left open behind him. By the time Susan has managed to climb out, the mysterious stranger is long gone. That’s when she smells smoke. It’s burning inside one of the store rooms, and as the smoke gets thicker, Susan tries to pull a fire extinguisher off the wall. It appears to be stuck, so she’s got no choice but to run back out on the soundstage for help. Members of the crew finally manage to put the fire out. The director wonders how a fire could have started in there, since the room was only used to store old script copies. Susan counters that she thinks someone set the fire deliberately. She tells him and the crew all about her theory that someone is sabotaging them, but the director doesn’t believe her. He says it’s too hard for anyone to just walk in off the street – you need a special pass to be let inside the studio – and orders them all to get back to work.

When Susan and the rest of the film crew return to the soundstage, however, they see that the set has been smashed up. Susan realizes that the fire was intended as a distraction, a way to clear the studio floor so that the mysterious man in black could smash up the set.  Susan tries the fire extinguisher again, but this time it comes away too easily. She falls backwards and drops the fire extinguisher, spraying the already ruined set with foam.

The crew is forced to reshuffle the filming order, and while Susan is wiping up all the foam they bring in a fog machine to use during Tony and Cathy’s duet. As soon as she’s done, Susan slips away up to what looks like a side gallery for a quick break, only for the man in black to appear behind her and push her off! Susan goes over the railing, bouncing off a large drum, which breaks her fall. She tries to explain that she was pushed, but the director isn’t in the mood to listen. Meanwhile, the smoke machine is producing a lot of smoke, and Susan is starting to feel dizzy. As Tony and Cathy begin to falter in their song before they collapse on the floor, she realizes that something’s up with the fog machine. Then Susan spots him again – the man in black – and, covering her face, she tries to follow him. But, the fog is too thick, and Susan trips over Tony’s lifeless body, knocking over a lever mounted in the floor. This happens to be the lever that opens the main transport doors, so now the toxic smoke quickly evaporates – but the man in black has made his escape.

After Susan has given her statement to the police, everyone is once again sent home for the day. Tony, however, decides to go have a lie-down in his dressing room first. Chas Harding stops by again, saying he’s heard about what happened. He suggests that, since it’s now clear that Tony’s show is being deliberately sabotaged, the safest thing might be for Tony to pull out. But Tony vehemently disagrees; he’s now more determined than ever to see the filming through. Harding praises Tony for his perseverance, but as he’s about to walk out, he turns to say, “I just hope you don’t regret it.”

Meanwhile, Susan is carrying an armful of scripts – she’s going to file them away before she heads home. She drops them just as Harding leaves Tony’s dressing room, causing him to trip over her while she’s picking them up. After being yelled at by Harding; Susan goes to tidy up backstage, and sees that the light is on in the empty costume department – and someone’s left a window open. She runs out when she hears loud noises, which turn out to be coming from Tony’s dressing room. The door is locked, so she runs to the props department and “borrows” their tractor. (Presumably, they use it to move set-pieces around, though this is never explained.)

Susan aims the tractor at the dressing room door, but ends up going through the wall instead. Inside, she finds a menacing figure standing over an unconscious Tony – and whoever this man is; he’s wearing a costume she recognizes, taken from their own costume department. Susan runs out, the mysterious stranger hurries after her, and what follows is a slapstick chase sequence where Susan pushes a tea-trolley at him, smacks him in the head with a door, and throws a microphone boom at him. Her luck appears to run out when Susan’s legs get tangled in some cables on the floor, causing her to trip. However, she lands right next to a lever that controls the backdrop curtain that her pursuer just happens to be standing in front of. That buys Susan just enough time to scramble back on her feet and run up the stairs to the control room. The door is locked, though, and Susan’s idea to blind her pursuer by shining the floodlights mounted outside it right at his eyes backfires, because she pushes the wrong button.

Finally, the man catches up to Susan, and as they struggle up there above the soundstage, she manages to pull the mask off his face. The mysterious stranger turns out to be Chas Harding, who promptly topples over the same railing he pushed Susan over earlier.

Tony shows up, worried about Susan, who assures him that she’s fine, but Harding isn’t. He’s still alive though, and paramedics swiftly arrive to take him away. The director also shows up, to offer an explanation for Harding’s actions: Not only had Tony become too popular, his show had been chosen to replace a series that had been planned for Harding himself. Tony concedes that, “If it hadn’t been for Susan, there wouldn’t have been any series.” The director agrees, saying, that “It sort of makes up for her clumsiness”, right before Susan causes the set-piece she’s leaning against to snap in half.

“Well,” Tony amends, “Almost!”

Thoughts:

The story may be named after her, but Susan barely gets the chance to star in her own comic. For instance, there are two long scenes between Tony and Harding (clearly put there to establish how evil Harding is) where Susan doesn’t appear at all. In fact, other than how clumsy she is, we don’t learn that much about Susan herself either. We get no insight into what she’s thinking except for mundane things intended to set the scene, such as “I’d better go file these scripts away.” She also gets a few thought bubbles during the protracted chase scene; but that’s all reactions to the situation she’s in – “Here he comes,” “I’d better duck”, etc.

The scripting isn’t always consistent; for instance the writer seems to have forgotten that Tony’s surname is “Sunshine” and refers to him as “Tony Scott” a few pages in. Also, the nature of the show they are filming is kept rather nebulous, nor do they ever explain whether Chas Harding is an actor or a singer like Tony, or even both. Also, let’s be honest – the art really isn’t fantastic. Susan’s wide-eyed expression often looks more crazed than innocent, her hair is sometimes different lengths on either side of her face, and the flared jeans Susan wears kind of take on a life of their own sometimes. This artist seems to have had the most trouble with drawing all the slapstick scenes.

This almost balletic moment below has more in common with modern dance than physical comedy!

What could have been a fun, breezy detective story is let down both by the art, and by some rather sloppy writing. Rather unusually for a girls’ comic, Susan is the only female character – aside, of course, from Cathy the starlet. You spend more time getting to know Tony; and there’s a sense that he was intended to be there as Susan’s love interest. She may have spilled coffee on him and knocked him off his stool, but Susan also saved Tony’s life. In other words, this is a perfect setup for Tony to begrudgingly fall in love with Susan, who would most likely remain completely unaware of his affections. In fact, this one-off story almost reads like a tester issue for what ways maybe intended to be a series; maybe in the weekly Mandy comic. Not quite terrible, but not fantastic either.

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