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The Strange Ones [1964]

  • The Strange Ones – Diana: #61 (18 April 1964) – #72 (04 July 1964)
  • Reprinted – Spellbound: #23 (26 February 1977) – #34 (14 May 1977)

Plot

The Harleminster Ballet School is located in a quiet, rural area of England and everything is peaceful until the sudden arrival of three mysterious girls. The girls surprise the headmistress by already being in school uniform, the school does happen to have three vacancies but it is a most unusual way of joining. Another surprise is, despite the looking identical, they say they are not related and introduce themselves as Jean Smith, Mary Jones and Ann Brown. The headmistress takes them to meet the other girls in their class. On questioning it seems they never danced before and say they wouldn’t know their previous school. The other girls find them weird and creepy. Ursula is to take them to their dorm and it is there the girls first show their unusual powers. Mary starts having fun with a plant, it suddenly grows and attacks Ursula.

Luckily she is stopped by the arrival of the headmistress and other girls. But when the headmistress confronts them, she is stopped in the middle of her speech and then collapses to the floor.  The Strange Ones have used their powers to make her blind. It is clear now that they are dangerous people. They will not say what they want with the school, but they can undo what they have done if they wish, but no one must attempt escape or try to contact anyone. The school is the carry on as normal per the Strange Ones commands and the girls despite no ballet experience make remarkable progress. The other girls in the school are naturally terrified of them. While talking with a teacher, Miss Lennox, they make a plan to contact the police, unfortunately not knowing that telepathy is another of the Strange Ones powers.

Miss Lennox tries to leave and contact the polices but the Strange Ones attack her with a plant. It completely envelops her and when the leaves fall away she looks like one of the Strange Ones. According to the Strange Ones is just in appearance and the unconscious Miss Lennox is taken to bed. The girls in the dance class are upset by these events, but they must continue to follow the Strange Ones demands that the class must go on. One girl wonders why ballet is so important to them. Later the Strange Ones are shown around the grounds. They come to a churchyard where famous ballerina Juliana Tanfield is buried there, using their powers again an apparition of Juliana appears and dances.

The Strange Ones are not pleased to see an arrival (a delivery man)  at the school, but they turn it to their advantage. They give the man super strength and command him to guard the school. Of course when the delivery man doesn’t return this attracts the attention of the police. When they come to the school to investigate, they are chased away by the man and they go to get reinforcements. The Strange Ones are confident in their powers, so they are not worried about this.  When the army arrive the Strange Ones have set rods around the school which the army cannot pass. Meanwhile the girls have come up with a plan, after talking to the Strange Ones partially in Latin, they discover dead languages mean nothing to them, therefore they can use it to shield their thoughts. But the Strange Ones won’t be defeated so easily, they force one of the girls, Maria Blake, to tell them what language they are using. They also allow Maria to escape as the figure they can use her to set a trap.

Four other girls have used an old tunnel to try and contact the army, not knowing that the Strange Ones have now learned Latin and are aware of their movements. When they emerge from the tunnels, they are shocked to find they look like The Strange Ones. The army are about to arrest them, despite their protests, until Maria Blake sticks up for them as there are four of  them they must be telling the truth. Unfortunately, once the army have let down their guard the Strange Ones take over the girls, making them attack. Then leaving the army unconscious they head for the town, to also attack them.

Maria  seeing everything, follows the girls into the town where they wreck havoc. She notices that the girls stick together and following that hunch, she manages to separate one from the others and all four collapse. She then goes back to the school with this knowledge. While dancing, Maria partners with a Strange One, while repeating a multiplication table in her head she maneuvers the girl out the door and locks her out. She tells the others to grab the other Strange Ones and with them now powerless they demand an explanation.Having no other choice they tell the class they come from the planet Talmar which is at war with another planet, Kotil over possession of a third planet, Gald. The opposing planets had agreed to fight a “war in the arts” the winner getting Gald. The Strange Ones had been sent to learn ballet for this war.  They agree to reverse what they have done and leave peacefully once the three are together again. They keep their promise but leave with the ominous words “someday our planet may need earth – then we will return”.

Thoughts

This is possibly influenced by the 1957 novel “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham. It’s popular film adaption “Village of the Damned” came out just a few years prior to this story and I can see some similarities. Both take place in an isolated British town, feature strange children, who look alike with their platinum blonde hair and have incredible mental powers and an unknown agenda. The Cuckoos/Strange Ones, always stay in a group, act in a very cold, matter of fact way showing little emotion and unnerve those around them.  It is not the only time The Midwich Cuckoos would influence a comic book, in Grant Morrison’s X-Men run he introduced “The Stepford Cuckoos” a group of five telepathic girls. Perhaps, Morrison was even familiar with “The Strange Ones”.

      (Village of the Damned – Image Source)                    (Stepford Cuckoos in New X-Men #137)

Although the story had 12 episodes it is actually quite short as there was only 1 page per episode. As the events are meant to take place over a short period of time this works to it’s advantage. Things move along quickly, after the first episode the Strange Ones pretense of being “normal” students is dropped. Once they reveal their powers, they are not referred to by their “names” just as the Strange Ones. While we see reactions of the schoolgirls and them trying to come up with plans, there isn’t really a protagonist against the girls until Maria, who isn’t named until over half ways through the story. This works fine as it keeps the focus on the Strange Ones. There is great imagery throughout, capturing the eeriness and formidable powers of the girls.  There is also good use of colour such as the yellow in the panel below, I particularly like the panels where the girls use their powers from a distance. I only have the Spellbound version but I would guess the original in Diana would have been even more impressive with it’s glossy paper. It is understandable why the school girls find them creepy and are frightened.

 

The ending leaves a lot of questions, I am curious about these warring planets and is the prize, Gald, an occupied planet that they will overthrow?  I would also like to see how this “war of the arts” went, who won, wheter the winning planet would want to expand the number of planets they own and is Earth in danger? Especially with the Strange Ones parting words, which could be seen as a warning or possibly they may need help against a bigger threat! The Strange Ones are true to their word reversing what they have done so maybe Kotil is that bigger threat! I think the mysterious ending  works in keeping in tone with story.

 

The Mascot

Plot

Alison Johnson was delighted when she was given a toy panda as a gift, but she had begun to feel that there was something odd about it. It was having strange effect on people. Now a strange woman who called herself  “The Spirit of Revenge” was making Alison attack her sister, Stephanie, at home.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Mascot – Suzy: #171 (14 December 1985) – #178 (1 February 1986)

Behind Closed Doors

  • Behind Closed Doors – Suzy:  #174 (4 January 1986) – #176 (18 January 1986)

Plot

When her parents had to go away on business, Becky Smart was sent to stay with her aunt and uncle at Hawthorn Hall. When she arrives, her aunt and uncle’s foster daughter, Sara, tells Becky she can’t see them as they are ill and confined to bed. Becky suspects Sara is lying and tries to investigate. Sara tries to put Becky off, she tells her although Aunt Margaret can’t have visitors, she is well enough to look out the window. Becky watches the window of her Aunt’s window and does see a figure in it, but by staying and watching Becky notices the figure doesn’t move. She is now convinced Sara has been lying to her and set up a model of her aunt to stop her digging further.

She goes to find Sara and catches her in tears, talking to herself, Sara says she wishes she could tell Becky the truth but she would get in so much trouble. Becky locks her in the room so she can investigate unhampered. Becky gets in to her relatives locked bedroom, her suspicions are confirmed that the figure was just a dummy, but she doesn’t find her aunt and uncle and sees their bed has not been slept in. She goes back to confront Sara and get the truth. Sara confesses that Becky’s relatives had to go away on a science expedition and they had got Mrs Peebles to look after her while they were gone, but Mrs Peebles never arrived because she was in a car accident. Sara was afraid to tell anyone in case she was taken back to the children’s home. She had hopes that she would be adopted and was worried the welfare people would object if they found out she was left alone.

Becky is sympathetic after hearing Sara’s story and wants to help. She arranges it so her cousin Jan will stay with them at Becky’s house until her parents return. Although there wasn’t anything sinister happening at Hawthorn Hall, Becky is glad to be leaving it and can’t help but still be unnerved by the place.

Thoughts

This only has a brief summary as I don’t have all three episodes, but enough to cover the main plot and ending. Suzy had a lot of short serials, that were only 3 issues long. Sometimes this worked well, as it didn’t drag on the plot needlessly. Suzy also had quite a lot of photo stories, there were some that were more experimental mixing art and photos (such as “The Ninth Nightmare”), this story was more standard. Still it had a nice mystery and some nice angles and made the house look big and impressive.

The Search for Sister Sarah

Plot

Orphan Jane Ackroyd seemed destined to end up in a workhouse, until she discovered she had a sister, Sarah who had run off to join the circus many years before. Sarah had built up a reputation as a juggler and somehow Sarah’s old doll had the special ability of giving Jane glimpses of Sarah.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Search for Sister Sarah – Suzy: #214 (11 October 1986) – #222 (6 December 1986)

No Dogs Allowed [1986]

Plot

When Colonel Voler banned dogs from Britain in the 1990s, Meg Brown set out with her dog Floss and her three pups to join her father, a wanted resistance worker in Portsmouth. She was pursued by security officer Gritten who hoped to trace her father and destroy the dogs.

Notes

Appeared

  • No Dogs Allowed – Suzy: #213 (4 October 1986) – #222 (6 December 1986)

The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie

  • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy:  #378 (13 April 1974) – #395 (10 Aug. 1974)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #681(2 February 1980)  – #699 (7 June 1980) [First 2 episodes, title is Hateful Hattie!]
  • Reprinted as Hateful Hattie! – Mandy:  #1060 (09 May 1987) – #1077 (05 Sep. 1987)
  • Other Appearances:
    • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy Annual 1976

Plot

In 1905, the girls of Birch House Orphanage are treated cruelly, except for Hattie Taylor, who gets privileges by toadying up to the staff. This particularly maddens Tilly Tucker, an outspoken girl, who leads the chant of “Hateful Hattie” at the dinner table. When they are  overheard by Matron’s second in command, Miss Winters, Tilly takes the full blame and also hits Hattie as she knows she is to be punished anyway and wants to make it worthwhile. Tilly is beaten and locked in the cellar with no food, but a hooded figure leaves her some food and ointment for her bruises. Telling the other girls about this, she nicknames her helper as the “Angel Ghost”. Nobody would suspect that their secret helper is actually Hattie. The only reason Hattie is the staff’s pet is so she can help the other girls, while the staff think she is on their side. Unfortunately because the girls don’t know this, they give “Hateful Hattie” a hard time both by name calling and physical attacks. Hattie won’t tell on them as she doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but of course they think its because she is scared of them.

Life can be difficult for Hattie, she dislikes having to pretend to be nice to the staff and endure the girls’ hateful looks, so she is glad when she is sent on an errand. She goes to the Willoughbys home, who want to arrange to visit Birch House in the hopes of finding an under-nursery maid. Away from Birch House, Hattie can be her genuine pleasant self and after meeting her, the cook recommends Hattie for the job. Having seen the house, Hattie is excited by the prospect as everyone seems happy and well looked after. But being selfless she feels she is needed at Birch House more and turns the job down. She looks for a good candidate herself, knowing the Willoughbys want a cheery girl, she considers Polly at first. She would fit in at Willoughbys but Hattie also realises she has strong spirit and has the ability to last at Birch House. Meanwhile, Florence is more sensitive so Hattie concludes she needs job more and sets out to make sure she gets it. She manage to get money from the matron, and uses it to buy Florence a brooch, then Florence looks naturally happy when Mrs Willoughby comes and succeeds in getting the job.

Hattie continues to help the girls in her role as “Angel Ghost” and also manipulating things in their favour as “Hateful Hattie”. She gets a sick girl Lizzie sent to cellar by claiming she beat her even though it was Tilly. The cellar isn’t much warmer than their dormitory and by providing her with blankets and food, it gives her time to rest and recover from her cough. She helps a girl Mary to get glasses by appealing to the Matron’s greed, telling her Mary could sew good embroidery that they could sell on. She gets Grace new boots that fit, by selling her own. Things don’t always work out, when she tries to manipulate the Matron to not send Alice to the “nightmare house” for spilling coal, she gets a slap herself. She later discovers Matron  she has toothache and is restless, which explained her particular moodiness but it means Hattie is unable to slip in and get the keys from her room. There is nothing she can do to help Alice the night she is locked in the cramped, dark, dog kennel and Alice comes back nearly catatonic. None of the Angel Ghost’s gift seem to help bring her out of this state, until she gets the idea to get her a mouse as a pet she can hide. More problems arise, when a new young girl, Victoria, arrives, Hattie not being able to stand her tears, comforts her but this means Victoria thinks she is friend, Hattie knows this will make her an enemy of others so she needs to turn Victoria against her. This proves difficult as Victoria is loyal to Hattie. The Angel Ghost pays Victoria a visit, saying it was her that made Hattie kind to her, then later Hattie herself  tells Victoria she is stupid and a liar for making up stories about the Angel Ghost, this has the desired effect of ending Victoria’s friendship.

While Birch House is a miserable place, there is something the girls can look forward to as every summer they go hop picking in Kent. Of course Matron and Miss Winters still try to take the joy out of the trip. Firstly, Matron decides Lucy, a new girl is too small and weak to come, luckily Hattie persuades her that she could earn money by gaining the sympathies of other pickers. When they arrive in Kent, Farmer Frost, is as bad as the Birch staff. He gives them huts away from everyone else, therefore any beating won’t be heard. They are also to be locked in at night, the window is stiff and rusted and Hattie is put in charge to make sure no-one tries to open it. By purposely burning herself on stove, she gets some oil and figures Tilly will be smart enough to sneak it from her and use it on the window, so they are able to sneak out and have fun. She also makes sure they get to the summer fair, which works out better than she expected with the arrival of Lady Gilchrist (who is friends with a patron of the orphanage), who treats them to rides at the fair.

Meanwhile, Lucy has gotten the attention of another picker, Mrs Brown, who wants to give her a home. Matron refuses as she wants to keep making money off her. Hattie’s facade drops as can’t hide her hate for Matron’s greed and denying Lucy a loving home. She luckily manages to pass it off as pins and needles, as she knows, if she is to help Lucy, she must keep her temper. It’s a difficult case and she gets a scolding when she tries to push things too quickly. Slipping a note to  Lady Gilchrist’s granddaughter, Caroline inviting her to the dance on the last day of hop picking, she hopes she would be able to help. Matron is not pleased to hear she is coming to dance as she will have to let girls go too, otherwise it might raise questions. By good fortune, Lady Gilchrist comes with Caroline and after hearing the Browns story, she talks to Matron about letting them adopt Lucy, a request she can hardly refuse if she wants to stay on the right side of the gentry.

Returning to Birch House, Matron continues to show how heartless she is, in a particular cruel punishment, after slipping on some polish, that Amy, had left out while scrubbing the floor, she burns the last mementos Amy has of her family. Nothing the Angel Ghost does can get her back to her cheery herself, she even tries to rouse her spirits, as Hateful Hattie by making her angry, but that fails too. She has one other idea, as Angel Ghost she asks Alice, to give Amy her mouse to cheer her up. This idea works as planned, Amy doesn’t want to take Alice’s mouse but says she will borrow him until she feels better. By pretending to be cheerful for Amy, she will get into the habit and also start to treat Alice as a little sister, bringing comfort to them both.

A problem arises when Hateful Hattie gets some competition with the arrival of Creeping Clara. But while Hattie’s behaviour is just an act, Clara really is sly and enjoys telling tales, getting the others  punished. She also tries to get Hattie in trouble as she wants to usurp her place as staff pet. As luck would have it a visit by a patron, Lady Tarrington, provides a solution. She is a tough employer and is looking for a scullery maid, Hattie tricks Clara into fawning over her, so she is taken on for the job. Hattie gets a small reprise from Birch House, when her and Maggie are taken on as extra help for two weeks at the Fitzpatrick house. While she still has to be Hateful Hattie around Maggie, with the help of a lost kitten, she helps Maggie get a permanent job there. When she returns she helps out two sisters Ruby and Ellen, by getting Ruby to be a good influence on Ellen, so she has to control her temper.

With such poor living conditions, it’s no surprise when a number of girls develop colds. Vicky gets it the worse and she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, Hattie knows she won’t be able to slip out for medicine until that night. As punishment for dropping her bowl at breakfast, Vicky is made clear the drive of snow and sent to the cellar at night. Hattie manages to get her hot drink while she’s outside and later gets her medicine but her sickness is getting worse. When Matron and Miss Winters go to check on her, in her fever Vicky talks of the Angel Ghost. Not knowing that the Matron is ready to catch the Angel Ghost, Hattie arrives that evening to check on Vicky. The Matron and Miss Winters are shocked to find the Angel Ghost is Hattie, and not Tilly like they suspected. This makes them even more mad, for she has made fools of them. They give her a severe beating and plan to return to beat her, until her spirit is broken, then they will farm her out to hard task mistress. When Miss Winters comes back to give Hattie her second beating of the night, Hattie is ready and  she slips out with Vicky. Getting to police station, she tells her story before collapsing. They are taken to hospital and a week later a policeman along with the girls comes to visit.  Matron and Miss Winters have been arrested and Birch House has new staff. Hattie can now return to a happy house with the friendships of the girls, no longer will she need to be “Hateful Hattie”.

Thoughts

Thanks to Derek for clarification on the title, the 1987 reprint was just called Hateful Hattie!. Oddly enough the 1980 reprint was also called Hateful Hattie! but only for the first two episodes, perhaps it was used to make the reveal of Hattie’s true intentions more surprising.

There are plenty of stories set around Victorian times, where the heroine would don a  disguise to help poor children,  such as The Seeker, Lady Sarah’s Secret, The Hooded Angel and Shadow of the Backstreets, but they were often in a position of privilege unlike Hattie who is in the same position as those she helps. There has also been protagonists that have acted like they are on the side of the antagonists in order to be in a better position to defeat them, which earns them animosity of those they are secretly helping, such as Callous Cassie and Detestable Della. But again Hattie has it worst, because not only does she get verbal abuse, the girls also physically abuse her, something that she has to hide from the staff as she doesn’t want them to get into trouble. Of course the girls aren’t to know that she is actually an ally, and when we meet “Creeping Clara” we see someone who is actually deserving of such treatment.

A good contrast to Hattie’s methods is Tilly. She is the leader and open protector of the girls but her upfront manner doesn’t help as it only riles the staff more. While her heart is in the right place, usually speaking out just earns herself a beating as well as the other girl.  Hattie tries to counteract this at times, like knowing when Tilly offers to do Lizzie’s work, they would get caught, Hattie plays her hateful self saying she will tell on them unless the both do their share. Hattie does also use Tilly to her advantage, knowing she is smart, she sets thing up so that Tilly can help others. For example, when she gets the oil for the window and when she pretends she doesn’t want food, she knows Tilly will share it out. When it is revealed Hattie is Angel Ghost, Tilly is the first to say they’ll be friends now and as two warmhearted girls, I suspect they become close friends.

While none of the staff at Birch House are very pleasant, it is Matron and Miss Winters that are the worst. As antagonists, they are vile with no redeeming qualities. The Matron is greedy, wanting to make sure she can get as much from the orphans as she can, she has no concern for their well being, she doesn’t care if Vicky dies and has shown even with her “favourite” Hattie, she can hit her too, just because she is in a bad mood. Miss Winters follows suit and has no objection to dishing out punishments. The punishments such as beatings, locking girls in cellar without food is bad enough, but they go even further than that. The small cramped dog kennel,  nicknamed the “nightmare house” is even worse than the cellar, and traumatizing for the girls as evidenced by how Alice is, when she returns from a night in it. Anyone who shows any bit of cheerfulness is quickly beaten down and they show how heartless and maliciousness they can be, by burning Amy’s last photos of her family. Above all they do not like to be outsmarted or made fun of and if Hattie had not escaped, she would have suffered a terrible fate. After their discovery of Hatty, the plan is to send her to a hard taskmaster, but I’m unsure if Hattie would have made it that far, as Miss Winters returned to give her a second  beating of the night, who knows if she would have survived that. It is a relief that Hattie does escape and Matron and Miss Winters get what they deserve.

 

Jim Eldridge – Artist

Jim Eldridge is an artist who drew the long running serial “The Four Marys” in it’s final years (along with some other stories). He has kindly answered some questions on his timeworking for DCT and other comics.

Jim got his first work with DCT through LINK studios, under the agent Doris White. Another well known artist, Barrie Mitchell, also started his career in the same studio and both of them drew Roy of the Rovers strips at different times and have a similar style. This has led to some confusion of their work, but Barrie Mitchell did not draw The Four Marys, that was all Jim’s work. While Jim did draw other stories, it being so long ago, he can’t remember all the jobs he worked on then, and certainly none were as long as the time he spent on The Four Marys.

“When I joined LINK studios I had already has my first strip “Tarzan” printed for the TV Comic. I did various artwork jobs for DCT while with LINK studios but none for IPC. I wasn’t with them very long, I then moved to another agent “Roger & Co.” run by Jack  Wall and Kate Woolley, while there I did draw a few “Wee Sue” for Tammy and also got my first strip for the Bunty comic “The Three Imps” and  I also did “football libraries” for DCT.  That agency was taken over by Temple Art Agency run by Patrick Kelleher, it was while there I was offered “The Four Marys” for Bunty, and I also did Roy of the Rovers on a few occasions. I was with Temple for about 20 years. When Bunty ended I moved again to SGA agency for a few years and then to Linda Rogers agency for a while. I have been with my current agent Paul Beebee of Beehive Illustration for the last 16 years and illustrated many hundreds of Educational Books for most of the main publishers.” [You can see some of Jim Edridge’s more recent work here: www.beehiveillustration.co.uk]

       (The Three Imps – Bunty)

Jim got to know some other artists in the business; Barrie Mitchell, Mike White (Roy of the Rovers artist) and Mike Lacy, but there was no collaboration for Jim with the writers of the stories he drew for.  He was just given the script,  so he would just illustrate straight from script to final art. He only met with the Bunty editor Jim Davie, whom he got on very well with and he passed on the readers’ fan mail for The Four Marys to Jim. The Four Marys was a favourite with readers and many praised his artwork, the story was increased from 3 pages to 4 pages, keeping Jim busy as he had to produce this every week. He did have time for some other jobs but mostly The Four Marys kept him occupied enough, he had no idea it would run for 12 years and as a freelancer he was grateful for the steady work.

“With regard to The Four Marys. That was my favourite story to draw. I had no idea I would be drawing this story for 12 years [..]  I also did Four Marys picture library’s and summer specials as well as the Four Marys weekly pages and it was my artwork that modernised them and in colour.  It was an amazing long run to draw this story and I was thankful for the regular work. Being freelance. Looking back it was good to have drawn Bunty’s top story for 12 years.”

   

Of course sadly Bunty came to an end, but Jim has made his mark on the comic and is happily still working these days illustrating children’s books. “When Bunty finished it was a shock at the time, but I then moved on to Children’s book illustration”

List of Work:

  • Beehive Illustration
  • Football Picture Story Monthly
  • Mike’s Mini-Men (Roy of the Rovers)
  • Roy of the Rovers
  • Tarzan (TV Comic)
  • The Four Marys (Bunty)
  • The Three Imps (Bunty)
  • Wee Sue (Tammy)

The Strange Tale of Sara’s Snap Encounter

  • The Strange Tale of Sara’s Snap Encounter – Suzy: #179 (8 February 1986) – #181 (22 February 1986)
  • Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

Sara Greaves usually gets her own way, so when staying at her Gran’s cottage, she doesn’t listen to her, when her gran tells her to stay out of the loft as it’s dusty and full of rubbish. As soon as her gran is preoccupied, Sara goes up to the attic to explore, she finds a stuffed parrot, doll house and a dusty box containing strange old snap cards. Suddenly she finds herself whisked away to the sinister land of the snap cards. She is greeted by the parrot from the attic, who introduces herself as Emily. She tells her she is a spoilt girl and forces her into playing a strange game of snap. The characters from the cards are now real people and Sara must find the matching pair if she is ever to return to her own world. Sara of course thinks this is ridiculous and wonders if it is some elaborate joke on her. She goes to a house to ask for help but is surprised when the person that answers is indeed one of the characters from the card. She then runs into the ‘beggar boy’ another snap character who tricks her into helping him steal, by getting her to distract a man. When the man attracts attention of constable, Sara doesn’t like her chances of her innocence in the crime being believed. So she makes a run for it.

She comes by a snake charmer, when she overhears him talking about “what a pair we make” she thinks she has found the pair she needs, but he was just talking to his snake and Sara startles them allowing snake to slip away. She still need to hide from the constables and ends up in a play when the actors assumes she is the actress they were looking for. The dress her up and put her on stage despite her protests. Of course she doesn’t know the lines, so the actors are not happy when their dramatic play turns into a comedy! Then a fire breaks out, the snake reappears when a fireman mistakes him for a hose and Sara manages to slip away from the madness. She sees Emily and chases after her,  when she tries to follow her into a castle she is stopped by a guard. Private Goodbody takes his job seriously, and won’t listen to why she wants to get into the castle, he even raises his rifle to her. Luckily he is stopped by Corporal McGlenn, who is nicer and keeps offering Sara sweets. He tells her he saw a bird fly down by the river. So she goes to try and find her there.

Sara is thoroughly fed up with the place and how no one listens to what she says. Another character, Sailor Sam, turns up and tells her maybe the characters are a bit like her doing their own thing and not taking notice of what people say. Sara admits that she has been awful at times but if she could get back home she could begin to change. Sam agrees to help her find Emily and the row down the river in his boat.  Suddenly the weather changes and everything starts freezing over. Sara notices a skater is about to skate into a part of the water that hasn’t frozen over yet. She manages to stop him just in time. Then his twin brother arrives, thanking Sara for saving his life. She has found the matching pair and Emily appears happy that she also thought of someone else’s welfare before her own. She is returned home a changed girl. Her gran find her in the attic and tells her that the cards belonged to her mother’s sister Emily, a sickly child who died when she was young. Sara apologises to her gran for disobeying her, telling her she won’t do it again.

Thoughts

Matysiak drew a number of short 3 episode stories for Suzy, usually with a fantasy or even creepy element, which certainly is suited to his style of art. It is an interesting world, it has a Wonderland vibe with strange, weird characters and little logic. Sara being the only one that is trying to be reasonable. While it is fun, there is a lot going on for such a short story, other Matysiak short stories like The Wrong Day or Brides of the Forest are more effective as their concepts are kept simpler. Here I feel it really could have used more episodes. Firstly to explore more this strange fantasy world. Secondly to show Sara’s selfishness and lesson learned, we are just told about how she is used to getting her own way but we don’t get to see it a lot. Thirdly it could have delved and hinted more on Emily’s past, earlier on, the revelation that Emily was her Gran’s aunt comes suddenly. I feel it was unnecessary, particularly as it hasn’t time to be developed, they could have left things simpler and left it one of those mysterious unexplained things, that someone wanted to teach Sara a lesson.

Emma Comic [1978-1979]

For something a bit different I thought it would interesting to look at a comic as a whole.

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 Beware of Beryl, 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

  1. Adventure [8 Stories – 18%]
  2. Sport & Dance [8 stories – 18%]
  3. Family [5 Stories – 11%]
  4. Animal [4 stories – 9%]
  5. Career [4 Stories – 9%]
  6. Science Fiction [4 stories – 9%]
  7. Friendships [3 stories – 7%] (this includes false friendships too)
  8. Historical [3 stories – 7%] (stories set before World War II)
  9. Mystery [3 stories – 7%]
  10. 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.