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Misfit Margo [1979]

  • Misfit Margo –  Mandy: #625 (6 January 1979) – #634 (10 March 1979)
  • Artist: Dudley Wynne

Plot

Thirteen year old, Margo Ashley has everything a girl could ask for, as well as loving parents, a good home and friends. Then her parents are killed in a plane crash and despite their wealth they never prepared for such an event, spending as much as was earned so there is no money left. Then the shocks keep coming as she discovers she was actually adopted. Her biological parents, the Taylors, gave Margo up for private adoption after Mrs Taylor had an accident and Mr Taylor lost his job, they believed they couldn’t look after her. But now they want to give her a home along with their 3 children Linda, 11, Julie, 9 and  Gary, 8. It is a big adjustment for Margo to move into their small estate house and accept this new family. She senses their sincerity and is willing to try, but of course she’s still adapting to the tragedy of losing her parents and because of her nervousness and posh voice she comes off as stand offish to the others. It’s not helped by the Taylors knowing she is used to nicer things try to make her more at home but end up alienating her from the other children. Mrs Taylor is guilty of this in particular, such as wanting to use the good teacup for Margo and making up her bed in the mornings. Margo accidentally puts her foot in it when she mentions not knowing where she can keep all her things as the bedroom is smaller than she’s used to. This upsets Julie as her parents moved out of the bigger bedroom so Margo could have it.

Mr and Mrs Taylor try and get the others to give Margo a chance, so they are more polite but this just makes Margo feel like more of an outcast, they are sitting around like strangers. Linda being closest to her age and also being  hot headed means that her and Margo clash the most. Linda does have loyalty to her family so she does stick up for Margo when her friends make comments, but some misunderstandings lead to Linda being more against her. Firstly Margo wants to keep her “Ashley” name, Linda thinks it’s because Margo thinks Taylor sounds too common, but in fact Margo isn’t ready to let go of her parents name just yet, especially after all the changes. When some other girls make spiteful comments, Margo runs away in tears and bumps into Mr Taylor, she cries for her Dad but when Mr Taylor tries to comfort her, the strain of the day makes Margo yell that he is not her father. Linda who had gone to check on Margo, hears this and all her good intentions are gone again.

Things begin to get better after trip to cinema and going out for fish and chips. Margo takes a few days off school and buys her mother an expensive brooch as a birthday present, as she does feel grateful for her and Mr Taylor. But then Mr Taylor buys his wife a cheaper brooch, that he could afford and not wanting him to feel bad, Margo doesn’t give her gift, making the others think she is mean and ungrateful. Later the Taylors have a birthday party and Margo again feels out of place, so when old friends the Lathems show up she is pleased to see them. When they invite her out for dinner Margo thinks everyone will have better fun without her, though in fact Mrs. Taylor was hoping Margo would choose to stay at the party. Margo doesn’t have a great time at dinner either, because now the Lathems snobbery shows, saying how sorry they are that she has to live in such a small place with commoners. Margo sticks up for her family and she believes that will be the end of her friendship with the Lathems.

Feeling she will never fit in Margo decides to runaway but her parents stop her and after a talk, she feels even closer to them. Mother insists that Linda keep Margo company in school, Margo feels that is unfair for Linda to get lumbered with her so she tries to avoid her. When Linda finds out why she is doing this, they finally have a breakthrough and they grow closer. Bt then when they are both invited on holiday with old friends of Margos, their progress threatens to be undone because of the spiteful Paula. The Hartleys and their daughter are lovely people but their niece Paula who is staying with them is a snob and stirs up trouble for Linda. Linda gets to know how it feels to be a misfit, but that makes her lash out. Paula wrecks Lady Hartley’s flowerbed and puts Linda’s hankerchief near it in order to set it up. Margo finds it first and she doesn’t believe Linda would do such a thing so she hides the evidence and takes the blame. Paula accidentally slips up and after getting a full confession is sent home. Linda and the other Taylors are impressed at Margo’s loyalty to the family and Margo calls the Taylors Mom and Dad for the first time, finally she feels accepted and part of the family.

Thoughts

This is a good family drama story, with plenty of conflict and emotional pull to keep the reader invested.  It’s no surprise that Margo finds it hard to fit in after such upheaval and despite her new parents’ efforts, there are misunderstandings on both sides. While initially Margo has reservations about the people who gave her up, after meeting them and hearing their explanation, she quickly warms to them. Mr and Mrs Taylor are kind and welcoming, but their efforts to make Margo feel at home, (particularly Mrs Taylor) can actually make her stand out more from the others. Such as Mrs Taylor wanting to use the better cups, and at first thinking that fish and chips would be too common after the cinema. While the story centres on how Margo feels out of place in her new family, the biggest conflict is with herself and new sister, Linda. Margo is a nice girl, with no thoughts of grandeur, so she draws sympathy from the reader and while Linda may come across as antagonistic at times, you can certainly see her viewpoint too.

It seems initially Julie could have made a good ally,  as she is the one who thinks Margo would feel more part of family using same cups as everyone else, but mistakes, and a tendency to follow Linda’s lead means their good start is damaged. With Linda being closer in age and hot-tempered it makes more sense to see her and Margo clashing, so we actually don’t get a lot of time with Margo and her other siblings. It’s interesting to see a reversal of the situation, when Linda goes on holiday with Margo. Similarly she is sensitive about being a misfit, but their reactions are different, as Linda automatically gets defensive. It was good to see Linda and Margo were already getting closer, when Paula enters and nearly undoes everything. It could have easily had a villain undermining things all along but I’m glad she was used just as a climax, to further prove Margo would stand by her family. I was also glad it wasn’t just this one event that made Linda change her mind about Margo, that they had already made progress in their relationship. It makes the story flow better that way.

Dudley Wynne, often drew emotional stories, and he captures the family dynamics and Margo’s loneliness well here. There are some very heart-rending scenes such as when Margo breaks down, crying for her Dad, and Mr Taylor comforts her, you can certainly see his hurt when she rebuffs him, but understand that it wasn’t intentional on her part. All the family are very relatable and as a reader you just want them to speak to each other and clear up the misunderstandings, but you are never frustrated with the characters, because you can understand how they’ve got to this point. Paula is a typical devious, snobbish character, which is fine, but as I mentioned I’m glad she was only in the last few episodes. The other snobs, the Lathems, are interesting as when we first meet them they look after Margo after her parents death and seem like nice people, so it’s surprising to see their prejudices when outside of their own environment. It is a well written character focused story.

 

 

Peter Kay (Bruno Kleinzeller)

Even when an artist is credited for their work, it doesn’t necessarily mean we know a lot about them. Such is the case for Peter Kay, whose work people may recognise from the 1950s Girl comic. Girl was initially published by Hulton Press as a sister paper to the Eagle, and it was one of the few publications that actually credited those that worked on the stories, which helps us identify what else an artist may have worked on. Peter Kay worked on many of Girl‘s prominent stories including Susan at St Bride’s, Wendy and Jinx, and Lindy Love. He also did cover work for Princess, and Schoolgirls picture libraries, as well as work on Mandy covers.

        

Thanks to a relative of Peter’s getting in contact we now have some background information on the artist, who led quite an interesting life. Born Bruno Kleinzeller circa 1906 in Ostrava, Czechslkovakia, he and his older brother Erich started  their careers as commercial artists. As well as work on magazines and advertisements, Bruno worked on movies posters. One example of these posters is from the 1938 Czech film “Svět kde se žebrá” (The World Where She’s Married). Bruno moved to Prague and then to England, escaping the rise of the Nazi party and before the German annexation of the Sudetenland. His brother Erich and sister-in-law, were not so lucky and unfortunately were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers. Bruno meanwhile changed his professional name to the more British sounding “Peter Kay” and worked for magazines in London. It was there that he met his future wife, Mary “Tommy” Thom, who was from Aberdeen originally.  Bruno/Peter continued to work on various publications, doing illustrations for The Scotsman, as well as numerous girl comics and the occasional film poster. He often signed his work off as “Kay”.

Bruno and Tommy lived in London during the Blitz and later had a son, David, who tragically died young, during the polio epidemic in the late 1950s. On a more happy note he was able to reconnect with his older sister Steffi in the late 1960s, they had lost track of each other when they had left their home country for different parts of the world. It is Steffi’s granddaughter who was able to provide information and photos of Bruno. Bruno died in the early 1980s after some health problems, Tommy died in the 2000s. Bruno/Peter was a talented illustrator with a large body of work and I am happy to be able to bring some of his work and life into the spotlight.

(Tommy and Bruno – 1944)  

(Susan at St Bride’s – Girl)

(Wendy and Jinx – Girl)

         

Diana 1969

Comic Annuals were a very popular present at Christmas, which is why I like to take look at an annual around this time of year. Usually the books would have some Christmas reference, but not always, as I assume it would appeal better for re-reading if it wasn’t just set all about the holiday. This annual has 2 stories that are set at Christmas time, Mandy the Thirteenth and Life with Miss Peake – Ugh!

Diana is one of the comics that I only have a few issues of, but it’s influence carried on in other comics, particularly Spellbound and Debbie. This annual is full of stories and features that would appeal to many. I like that the Diana covers for the annuals consistently (bar one) used a black background, which makes it distinctive from other annuals. After 1975, the covers depicted a photo girl but before that it was always a hand-drawn blonde girl which contrasted well with the dark background. (For just a list of contents go to the next page)

Picture Stories

The Girls from N.O.O.D.L.E.S  (Pages: 6-11)

Gail Price and Nicola Main are agents for N.O.O.D.L.E.S. (National Orgainisation for Order Discipline and Law Enforcement in Schools). At their secret headquarters, Miss Z, informs them about top athletes who have disappeared from their schools and tells of a lead about where they might be. One of the missing girls was found wandering around near Ben Vornich, Scotland, talking of gold. Gail and Nicola, parachute in to investigate Firtree College. On their way they see some of the missing girls  being led into a cave by armed men, but when they go to get a closer look, the cave entrance seems to have vanished.

They continue their investigation at Firtree College, but the schoolgirls there, appear happy and healthy. Then a bedraggled girl runs towards them trying to escape guards, they help her escape and she shows them where the other missing girls are hidden. Gail and Nicole are carrying super vitamins, that will help the girls recover their strength and together they overpower the guards and confront the person behind the scheme. It seems the respected headmistress, is actually Karl Minden, top criminal and an expert at disguise. He was using Firtree as a cover and recruited strong girls to mine gold for him in a hidden cave. After showing the girls the secret panel to the cave he tries to escape, but Nicola shoots down an icicle onto his head.  The real headmistress is recovered (off-panel) and the girls can be returned to their proper schools.

Mary Brown’s Schooldays (Pages: 12-17)

Mary Brown a scholarship girl at St Winifred’s, is surprised when Miss Cragg , an old teacher returns to the school. She had earned the nickname, Craggy Monster by treating the class like they were army recruits, but now is acting very friendly. Unfortunately she has gone to other extreme, now treating them like young primary kids. This annoys the girls so much that they make plans to make the “monster” come back, including bringing toys to classroom, flying Cragg’s  flag on the chimney and ambushing her while she’s out on a walk. Only the last plan works, but not in the way they expected! Unfortunately for them the army is doing exercises in the moor at same time, and there are tanks heading straight for the girls, until Cragg yells out orders to divert the tanks. Afterwards, Miss Cragg leaves the school again, and Mary and the others feel guilty. A few weeks later Mary’s happy to see Miss Cragg, lecturing about the Army at a careers lecture, and she hopes she has now found the ideal job.

How Kathy Tricked a Ghost   (Pages: 33-36)

This is a story from Diana’s resident spooky storyteller, The Man in Black. Kathy Martin arrives at Hogarth Hall for a holiday with her foster parents. Hogarth Hall is maintained by her great aunt Agatha and there is one room Agatha tells Kathy not to go near. But her curiosity piqued she does visit it and sees a picture of a sad girl beside a creepy woman. That night Kathy is visited by the ghost of the girl. She asks her to play with her the next day, but when she goes to where she says, the door leads nowhere and she nearly falls to her death. Agatha explains the spirit of the girl will roam until she finds someone to take her place. Once again the ghost tries to get Kathy to meet her at a dangerous place. Kathy gives her another chance not believing she could be evil, but after another attempt on her life, she comes up with a plan to defeat the ghost. She agrees to meet the ghost by the cliff the next day. After she seemingly falls off the cliff, it is revealed that the ghost is actually the cruel governess seeking revenge on the Martins after her dismissal. Now her spirit is free and she will no longer haunt the hall. She will never know that it was actually just a dummy that fell off the cliff, not Kathy, and the portrait now holds only a smiling girl.

Mandy the Thirteenth (Pages: 39-43, 46)

Mandy Martin is the 13th child of a large family and always seems to have bad luck. Her horoscope for the day tells her “Her lucky number is 3, lucky colour is orange, a good day for money matters and watch out for an unexpected trip”. Her lucky number 3 doesn’t seem to work out as she gets injured helping a mother with triplets, and takes a dip in the pond trying to rescue a 3rd duckling. Things seem to brighten up as she asked to model an orange dress and gets 10 shilling note as payment. But then it gets blown away. Someone does pick it up at Santa’s grotto and in her rush to claim it she trips over some oranges and pulls down Santa’s beard. She recognises  him as a pickpocket and gets rewarded from the store for unmasking him.

Emergency Nurse Gwen   (Pages: 49-54)

In this bizarre story, Gwen gets a mysterious call, and when she goes to answer it, she is taken on a helicopter, (voluntarily) drugged and dropped in a strange place. She is then attacked by a metal monster but is relieved to find some airman, though their aircraft looks more like a spaceship. When one of the men starts freaking out, Gwen sedates him, averting a crisis. She finally gets an explanation, with the advancement of space travel and hopes to colonise planets,  it was all a test to see how a medical professional would act on a space colony, it seems Gwen would be an ideal candidate whenever such a thing happens.

Mascot of the Ballet (Pages: 62-67)

This story is narrated by Pelly the cat. His owner is Anice who is part of a ballet company and they have made him their mascot. Lucky for them, as Pelly raises the alarm when the hotel they are staying  at goes on fire. The Laird of Strathbey offers to put the company up in his ancestral home for the meantime, but Pelly gets a bad feeling about the Laird. Strange things do happen as valuable items go missing, one of which is found in Anice’s bag! The police are informed and Anice is under suspicion. Then Pelly follows the Laird and finds out he is an imposter when he sees the real Laird tied up in a cave. With the help of wildcat and gamekeeper, Pelly manages to get the real Laird free. It seems the Laird’s twin brother was setting things up to pay off his debts by stealing from the house and have ballet company take the fall. He also set the fire in the hotel so he could have the ballet company stay. Quite the elaborate plot!

The Mermaids   (Pages: 76-80)

The Mermaids, a team of synchronized swimmers, taught by Dot Cameron, are chosen to be the carnival queen’s attendants. Then the carnival queen Joyce goes missing. Their search for her is of no avail until Joyce’s dog shows up. Leading the team to an old wreck, they find Joyce unconscious after she had tripped while exploring. The Mermaids rouse her and are able to swim her to safety on a makeshift raft. The publicity ensures the festival is a great success.

Wedding Belle  (Pages: 81-86)

Belle Richards enjoys going to weddings, which is lucky for a disorganized couple. She sorts out their problems – acting as an usher, finding a last minute organist and even fetching the groom who was sitting at the wrong church! The Mother of the Bride is surprised she is not family or friend, she just came to watch. She invites Belle to the reception as a thank you for her help (and just in case other problems arise!).

Ingrid at Push-Button Academy (Pages: 89-94)

Ingrid Bergan attends the progressive school Push Button Academy built by her father, a professor.  The Professor enters the school  into a competition for the most attractive school. Ironically when showing off a replica of the magnetic pole, it seems it is too attractive as the magnetism pulls the belongings of the inspectors to the pole. The inspectors leave not happy with these events. While trying to readjust it so the magnetism isn’t so strong, Ingrid becomes temporarily magnetized in the process. So now all metal things fly to her. This works to her advantage, when it helps her stop a thief in the hotel the inspectors are staying at. So the inspectors give the school another chance.

Jane Model Miss (Pages: 98-103)

Business is slow for Jane Morgan, so she accepts a sudden offer by an American, Mr Glanville, to design and model swimsuits from his fabrics and as part of the deal she must teach is daughter April to be a model. But it seems April is awkward and clumsy. Mr Glanville still wants her to model but even he;s not keen for her to model his swimsuits and asks Jane to keep her away. Jane does this by locking her in a cupboard but April breaks out and slips into the pool. Luckily she is elegant in the water, impressing the potential clients and so she becomes their action model.

Starr of Wonderland (Pages: 105-110)

While auditioning for a new King Arthur for Wonderland, Diana Starr has her work cut out or her when two feuding fathers try out. Their daughters, Wendy and Sue, are good friends and are tired of their dad’s fighting. They are both are up to tricks to undermine each other’s audition such as Mr Marshall loosening Excalibur so Mr Booth falls over when he gives it a big tug. Then Mr Marshall accidentally sets a fire in a tower putting their daughters at risk. They have to work together to save them, after which they put their feud behind them. As for the part of King Arthur, Diana says they can each take the part every other day while the other plays Sir Lancelot.

Sadie Macbeth (Pages: 114-119)

Sadie Macbeth’s class are visiting the McPorridge castle on a school trip, but are disappointed when the grouchy Hamish McPorridge says the castle is closed for the afternoon. Sadie summons her three witch friends, Prue, Vinny and Cassie to help. Unfortunately while casting a spell, Vinny thoughts wander to the famous Macbeth, who stayed in the castle, which brings forth him and Lady Macbeth. The two Macbeths chase Hamish from the castle and the witches have a hard time getting rid of them as their spells  don’t work out as they want them too. Finally after turning some bagpipes into a giant octopus then into a balloon, they are whisked away and the grateful Hamish gives the class a tour.

Lorna at Court  (Pages: 122-125)

Lorna Butterwick has won a trip to Paris by entering a historical essay contest. After eating some cheese sandwiches her mother gave her, she falls asleep. She finds herself in the Palace of Tuileries in 1791, witnessing Marie Antoinette’s attempts to escape with her family, Lorna admires her brave actions, though she ends up back in her own time before she sees the royals final fate. Still she is able to write an article about Marie Antoinette’s heroic attempts to save her family, for her school magazine

Text Stories

Life With Miss Peake – Ugh!  (Pages: 37-38)

A girl dreads her new assignment from her horrible sewing mistress, Miss Peake. The class are to make their own fancy dress costume for a Christmas party.  She puts it off until the last minute and then finds out that her mom has given away her material! With little options left, she rents a costume, but is found out when she wears the top inside out ad the shop’s tag is clear for everyone to see. As she is sorry and it is Christmas she gets off with a light punishment.

Nothing But the Best- for Cousin Gertrude (Pages: 47-48)

Elizabeth and her friend Felicity prepare for the arrival of Cousin Gertrude, how they assume as well travelleved person will be used to the best. Everything’s a disaster, but when Gertude arrives she soon puts things right and proves not to be as uptight as they were expecting.

The Loneliness of Being Sandra  (Pages: 87-88)

Sandra joins her aunt at a skiing holiday but finds it lonely as the others people her age don’t seem too friendly. When her aunt suggest she might have been showing off too much with her skiing skills,  Sandra begins to pretends to not be as great a skier as she actually is. This works but then has to reveal her secret when the weather turns on a trip and she has to go get help, luckily her new friends have already accepted her at this stage, and are impressed by her heroics.

The Girl With the Magic Touch   (Pages: 95-96)

Rosemary isn’t too happy when her family move into an old Victorian house so they have space for her Gran to live with them. This is made worse when her friend Betty gets her room turned into a modern den, while Rosemary is still stuck sharing a room with her sister. She also finds Gran critical but does take her suggestion of checking out the attic as potential room of her her own. After finding old chest, with diary she decides to decorate in Victorian style and does most of the work herself. She ends up bonding with Gran when she helps with the curtains and understands the importance of having a place of your own doesn’t change when older.

Features

Diana was a book that was known for it’s informative features, the early issues of the weekly comic had a “Getting-to-Know” section, that told facts in an interesting and often story-like manner. There are many interesting features, some more simply straightforward facts, others told in a a more story-like manner, as well as popular creative and quiz features.

There are two story – type features in this annual, The Village That Died  (Page: 55),  which tells the story of Eyam village where in the 17th century most people died of the plague after receiving parcel from London. The other story feature I go into more detail below –

On Holiday With – Claudia/ Eleanor/  Anne/ Lucy  (Pages: 18-23)

Four different girls, from different time periods share what their holidays were like. This was good way to relate to the readers of the same age.  Firstly there is Claudia a Roman girl of the 2nd century tells of a holiday to her uncle’s in Roman Briton, where she had family feasts (though the children were expected to stay quiet), played ball games with her cousins, watched chariot races, shopped in the Forum and relaxed in the public baths.

Eleanor, from the 14th century, along with her hooded hawk, Visits the shrine of St Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. She travels with a group of pilgrims, along the way seeing entertainment of jugglers and dancing bears. At Canterbury, she is blessed by bishop and buys a puppet from a toymaker.

Anne, from the 16th century, visits her uncle in London, which is quite a change from her country life. She gets to see one of Shakespeare’s new plays, ride on a boat in the river Thames and see Queen Elizabeth as she leaves London for the Summer.

Lucy, from the days of Queen Anne of the 18th century, visits friends in the country, accompanied by her maid. Outside they played battledore and shuttlecock, if it rained they played the spinet and at night looked at the stars. A travelling artist does her portrait which will be a keepsake for the holiday.

 

Other Features:

Informative Pieces:

  • Festivals and Fun  (Pages: 25-31)
    • Information about different festivals/ carnivals, including; St Lucia’s Day – Sweden, Battle of Flowers – Jersey, Carnival of Nice – France  and many others
  • Tales of the Trees  (Pages: 56-61)
    • The Elder – The Fairy Tale Tree
    • The Hawthorn – The Omen Tree
    • The Apple – The Tree of Good Health
    • The Peach – The Tree of Eastern Legend
    • The Oak – Samson of the Forest
    • The Birch – The Witching Tree
  • Dances of the World  (Pages: 72-75)
    • Different dances from Golden Greece, Merrie England and France
  • The Wonderland of Dolls  (Pages: 111-113)
    • Split into the subheadings of; The Toys that Saved a Village, Dance Little Doll, and Dolls at War
  • Fairies in Ballet  (Pages: 120-121)
    • Photos and captions of fairy characters in the Ballet such as Titania, Lilac Fairy and Carabosse

There also two poems with accompanying photos

  • Join the Crew  (Page: 24)
  • Hooray for Holidays  (Page: 32)

Finally  there are the more participatory/ creative activities

  • Secrets of the Palm  (Pages: 44-45) [A guide to reading palms]
  • Ballet Quiz  (Pages: 68-71)
  • Knit this Super Smarty Top/ Hairstyles for the Modern Miss  (Page: 97)
  • A Sweater and Hat to Knit for Snow Time  (Page: 104)

 

Final Thoughts

As this isn’t a book I grow up with, but got later, it doesn’t evoke the same nostalgia as other books, so it’s somewhat of a mixed bag for me. Majority of the artwork is impressive as is the colouring (Jane Model Miss is a stand out for me), there are some good stories, but others I found had convoluted plots or were just unappealing to me. Although I would say at least none of the stories are boring!

Stories that had some of the more ridiculous plots, in the case of complicated villain plans we have The Girls from NOODLES and Mascot of the Ballet.  I’m more forgiving of NOODLES as it’s more in keeping with the spy antics and I have a soft spot for stories that take inspiration from The Man from U.NC.L.E. / James Bond, so I do actually like that story. Mascot on the other hand the villains plan to to burn down hotel so he can get a ballet troop to stay in the house, frame them for stealing  and presumably kill his brother, so he can pay off debts in London, seems extreme! Of course having such elaborate schemes is nothing new for these books, but sometimes it works better than others.

The story I had the most problems with was Emergency Nurse Gwen. While it may have had a more “grounded” explanation, for  the “alien monster” the whole set up seems surreal. I feel this may work with a different type of story but is not suited for this character.  For example there have been stories where nurse is put in a bizarre situation like “Pam on the Purple Planet” which is fine because that is the set up of the story, but Emergency Nurse Gwen I’d expect a story more in keeping with the problem solving character who may have have found herself in some unusual situations but more down to earth. The biggest issue I have is her reaction to the situation first the people won’t tell her where they are taking her   and then she is persuaded to be drugged! That would trigger so many warnings these days and the entire experiment is unethical, the dumped her in this situation video taped her reactions without any explanation. Then she is perfectly fine with that when they finally do explain, I really think this story wouldn’t pass today!

It’s not all negative though, there are many stories I liked. I thought Life with Miss Peake -Ugh! was amusingly written and I liked Wedding Belle, it is simple premise yet moved along quickly as Belle diverts one disaster or another at the wedding. Mandy the Thirteenth is also a fun read, and while it’s not the focus of the plot it’s nice to have the festive setting. One odd thing about that story is the last page of the story is preceded by a feature about palm reading. While longer stories are sometimes split up in annuals, it’s quite unusual to just separate one page.

Throughout the book the art, and colours when used are top quality. The feature On Holiday with…  has lovely art making every time period distinctive. Jane Model Miss has my favourite art in the book, I enjoyed the story, though the characters can come off a bit mean-spirited for not giving April a chance because she  is clumsy, as she seems perfectly nice otherwise. I’m glad that things work out for her! I also enjoyed Starr of Wonderland but because it only shows Mr Marshall’s tricks (coupled with him starting the fire)and just tells us of Booth’s tricks, it makes things uneven and Marshall comes off less sympathetic. How Kathy Tricked a Ghost is a fine addition to the spooky stories, which usually work well in annuals as they add variety and often work best in the short form. Again there are some questionable plot points, but it is fine.

So despite some criticism still enjoyable read, I would think if I had read this when I was younger I’d be less critical, with the nostalgia goggles on! Still I always find to read any comic annual at this time of year does get me in festive mood!

 

Teacher’s Pet [1990]

  • Teacher’s Pet  – Judy: #1574 (10 March 1990) – #1583 (12 May 1990)
  • Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Plot

Anna Norman gets on well in school until the arrival of a new teacher Miss Johnstone. Her new form teacher, starts favouring her immediately, earning Anna the name of “Teacher’s Pet” from her classmates. Even when Anna tries to get in trouble it makes things worse, such as when she is late to class she expects to be punished, like her other classmates were, but “Stoney” Johnstone just lets her away with it, and everyone else just thinks Anna’s taking advantage. When it comes time to elect a form captain Johnstone makes it clear that she thinks Anna has the right qualities for the job and commiserates with her when she lose out to Lucy. No amount of objections from Anna can convince her friends that she never wanted to be captain. It continues to get worse, on a museum trip, Johnstone implies that Anna told tales on Lucy and Anna rues the day the teacher took a liking to her. One good thing comes out of the trip is that her old friend Ros has gotten suspicious of Johnstone’s motives and points out to Anna that everything she does gets her in trouble and perhaps Johnstone doesn’t favour her at all!

Anna puts this theory test by speaking in slang to Johnstone when no one else is around, and gets a more typical “Stoney” response, but in class when she does it, Johnstone suggests she’d be perfect for reading the lead Pygmalion. She enlists Ros’s help to find out why Johnstone is doing this, Ros agrees to help but doesn’t want to get too involved for fear of losing friends. So in secret Ros and Anna start investigating Miss Johnstone, they find out where she lives and theorize that Anna may look like a sister that she dislikes. That theory is soon disproved as Johnstone is an only child. While Stoney is away for the weekend they do more snooping where she lives and gets talking to a neighbour of hers. Seeing a letter in a book she lent the neghbour, they think they have a new clue. It involves the local dramatics society and they think Stoney is upset because she lost out to a younger actress similar to Anna that also has the same name. Again this theory quickly goes nowhere, as the letter actually was Mrs Greys’, the neighbour.

Johnstone assigns Anna to the school disco committee, despite Lucy volunteering, not winning Anna any favours from the others. The theme is to be the 60s, so Anna asks to borrow some of her Dad’s records, but he won’t let his precious collection out of the house, her mom says he had them even before they met (some foreshadowing here!). Then while setting up for the disco, Anna gets in Stoney’s bad books temporarily for playing “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. Stoney ends up scratching the record in her hurry to turn it off. Wayne, the owner of the record, blames Anna for putting it on. Ros thinks they finally have a clue to Stoney’s past and they must find out why she hates that song so much.

Things look up for Anna, when Ros introduces her to her cousin Tom and they hit it off, but of course Stoney tries to cause problems. Anna then tells her mom that she she is having problems with Miss Johnstone praising her all the time, so her mom says she will have a word with her on parents night. But on the night Johnstone leaves suddenly with a headache before meeting the Normans. Ros who has smoothed things with Tom, reckons that Stoney had a broken romance, and wanted to break Anna and Tom up, though it doesn’t explain why she’s targeting Anna specifically. She soon finds out the reason why, when they get a chance to look in Johnstone’s flat while Mrs Grey is looking after her cat. Anna finds a picture of young Johnstone with a man whose face is crossed out, but she recognises the car in the background. A visit to her grandmother and looking through old photo albums, confirms her suspicions, the man in the photo was her dad! Mr Norman had never made the connection with the name but he was once engaged to Jean Johnstone but broke it off because of her jealousy and moodiness. They contact the headmistress and Johnstone doesn’t even deny it when confronted, she is happy she took her revenge. Learning the truth her classmates are sorry for how they treated Anna, she forgives them easily as she doesn’t want to end up like Stoney holding a grudge for years.

Thoughts

This is an interesting hate campaign story, there are several things that make it stand out from similar stories. Firstly that it is an adult campaigning against the protagonist rather than a peer. Miss Johnstone is in a position of power, she abuses this terribly and has no regrets that she punishes an innocent girl for the perceived wrong doings of her father. She also doesn’t regret ruining her own career because of this. Even without her revenge plan, Miss Johnstone isn’t a nice person, she soon earns her nickname “Stoney” with her tough discipline and hard attitude. We later learn it is not just being dumped that has turned her into this bitter person (although it certainly doesn’t help!) as even as a younger woman Johnstone was prone to jealousy and moodiness. Seems Mr Norman had a lucky escape!

Another thing that makes it stand out, is that it is not clear that there is a hate campaign against Anna to begin with. Other stories have had the “friend” of the protagonist turn out to be their secret enemy, but here because of Miss Johnstone’s strategy it’s not clear there is a hate campaign. Certainly it is a devious scheme, by praising and acting like she thinks Anna is great, she causes trouble without suspicion. It is nearly half ways through the story before her motives are actually questioned. Some of the girls thoughts on why Johnstone is after Anna are a stretch (such as looking like a hated sister) but they don’t have a lot to go on, so they have to think of some reason. Anna was lucky to find the photo and recognise the car and end Johnstone’s revenge. I like that Anna’s parents are supportive too, because often adults in these stories can be dismissive, especially considering Anna’s complaints are “Johnstone’s too nice to her”! While her mother doesn’t think it can be that bad, she does say she will talk to Johnstone and when they find out who she really is, they go straight to the Headmistress.

Anna’s friends are a bit quick to judge her, even Ros at first when she agrees to help, she doesn’t stand up for her in public. This might be excused if she didn’t want to put Johnstone onto their investigation but she also says she doesn’t want to get involved and lose her friends. Although as Ros becomes more convinced of Johnstone’s motives, she does become more active in supporting Anna, even introducing her to Tom, her cousin. I’m sure Anna, as a nice person, would have forgiven all her friends anyway, but it’s good to see it tie in with Johnstone, as she doesn’t want to become a bitter, unforgiving person like her. It brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

The Runaway Rogers

Plot

The four Rogers children, whose parents  disappeared on a trip abroad, ran away from a children’s home to their Aunt Margedd’s cottage in North Wales —only to find the place empty and deserted. Ben and Danny Rogers followed a shepherd boy into the mountains at night and were led to Aunt Margedd, living in a ruined chapel. But when Ben and Twm, the shepherd, boy, returned to the cottage for Agnes and Connie, they found it burning fiercely.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Runaway Rogers – Judy: #565 (7 November 1970) – #573 (2 January 1971)

Flower-Power Fay

Plot

Fay Bell discovered that she had a strange effect on plants, so that they grew stronger and more beautiful for her than for anyone else in her town. With news of her gardening talent getting around, the Bells’ jealous neighbours, the Braggs, couldn’t resist a chance of trying to score over Fay.

Notes

Appeared

  • Flower-Power Fay – Judy: #563 (24 October 1970) – #572 (26 December 1970)

Sally the Survivor

Plot

Thirteen year old Sally Hall, was forced to flee during the surprise German invasion of neutral Holland, during the Second  World War. On her way to freedom, Sally collected two young companions – Tommy, a young baby, and Bobby Gordon. The three were trying to make for Belgium.

Notes

Appeared

  • Sally the Survivor– Judy: #564 (31 October 1970) – #571 (19 December 1970)

The Book of Shocks and Shivers [1982]

  • The Book of Shocks and Shivers – Debbie PSL: #49 [1982]

Plot

Patsy Wood has talented siblings, so at times she feels quite ordinary beside them and wishes that she was good at something too. Despite her siblings or classmates winning prizes, she is not jealous and shows her good nature by genuinely being pleased for them and she shows her thoughtfulness when she finds a spectacles case and returns them to it’s owner. It is this act of helpfulness that actually leads to a lot of trouble for Patsy! The owner is a strange woman and Patsy finds the cottage she lives in quite creepy. Still not wanting to be rude, when the woman says she will grant her wishes, she does make a wish – that she could be different. The old woman woman sends Patsy on her way with a children’s picture book.

Patsy soon forgets all about the encounter and doesn’t notice when she knocks the book off her shelf, before going to school the next morning. At school, Patsy begins bragging about her sister and her dad’s new car. Her friends are also not happy with Patsy, when they miss their bus, waiting for Patsy to finish tidying her appearance. Then later at youth club netball game Patsy makes nasty comments about the other team’s appearance. At home Patsy wonders what made her act in such a way. She then notices the picture book on the floor, open on a page with a picture of a peacock. She finds it strange that she was acting proud and vain like a peacock, but thinks it’s silly to think there’s a connection. The next day, Patsy’s sister, Lorna, is looking through the book and leaves it open on an owl page. Meanwhile Patsy surprises herself by remembering all the answers for a history test, unfortunately it surprises her teacher too, who thinks she cheated! As she’s never been in trouble before the headmistress takes her word, but expects  this better standard of work across all her subjects if this is the result of her making an effort. Later on a charity walk, the mist starts coming down and Patsy thinks they should turn back. She can’t persuade anyone else to come with her and while she is safe, she later finds out she missed out on a lot of fun. The others sheltered at farmers house, helped the police find missing children and completed their charity goal. It is after this that Patsy finds the book opened on the owl. So the next day she decides to try opening up to a page herself.

She chooses a bee as she thinks being “busy as a bee” can’t cause much trouble. But she is wrong as she insults a friend by not stopping to chat and a big tidy spree means she misses out on a picnic, she also gets in trouble with her mom for not helping her sister. She decides to return the book, but the cottage has disappeared! She wonders if the old woman was a witch, because she can’t think of any other explanation. Not able to return the book, she hides it under her bed instead. Things are going better now that she’s back to normal, she’s even nominated for class service award because of her cheerfulness and helpfulness. But at home Mom is tidying Patsy’s room and comes across the book, she puts it back on the shelf, but it falls open on a picture of a mule. Straight away Patsy refuses to help a new girl out and stubbornly takes her time in changing room after a prefect tells her to hurry up, causing her to miss her bus. She gets the next bus but her English teacher sees her refuse to give up her seat for an old lady. Her teacher will no longer recommend her for the award, meaning she will lose out because of the book again.

Patsy tries to get rid of the book throwing it in the bin, but it falls out when the bin collectors come around, opening on a picture of a fox. Patsy soon finds herself slyly getting out of class by feigning sickness and getting a girl in trouble for making a joke about her. She finds the book by the house and once again tries to get rid of it by throwing it in the river, while out with her family but her Lorna, finds it. Her brother teases her about it looking at a page of two crossed stick, this makes her bad tempered, she even insists she will walk home. She throws the book in a bin on the way home. Again the book returns to her as it has magically got her name and address written inside it. She tries to hide it in the wardrobe, but of course it doesn’t stay hidden long. This does work out better than some of the previous pages, as she becomes as courageous as a lion. She speaks up to tough teacher and rescues a cat from a tree. She goes on to rescue a girl from a mine shaft, she gets unwanted attention from reporters because of this. Even if it did good, Patsy doesn’t want to be turned into something she’s not. Looking through the book she comes up with the idea to stick her own picture on a blank page. That day Patsy is happy to be herself and she returns home to find the book has disappeared, the spell has been broken.

Thoughts

Another supernatural story to finish out this Halloween month. While I like the title, it doesn’t seem to fit with the actual content, I can maybe see the shocks but not too sure where the shivers come into it. To me “shocks and shivers” implies more creepiness/ spookiness, but it is an interesting title, maybe one they didn’t want to pass up. While the book causes problems, both it and the witch aren’t evil and malicious, it is Patsy’s own wish that is the start of the problem. We don’t find much out about the mysterious witch, or why her cottage disappeared, did she really want to grant Patsy’s wish or did she want to teach her a lesson? In any case it does teach Patsy to be happy with herself as the book only disappears after she accepts that. While most pages cause trouble, we can see how others may work out if one was inclined to be different, such as the lion. So it is good that Patsy sees she has good qualities herself and doesn’t need to be top of the class or a hero.

The way the book works is interesting using common idioms to model her behavior. Most of the time the reader sees the picture first and can guess how Patsy will act i.e the fox means she will be “sly as a fox”.  A similar story “The Many Faces of Moppet” has a girl rescue a doll and finds herself acting accordingly to whatever expression the doll makes. In that case it is not something she wished for, and there doesn’t appear to be magic involved, but it does cause just as much problems as Patsy’s book. Patsy makes for a likeable protagonist, even when she wishes she could be as good at something like others, there is never jealousy of the people. Ironically her chance to win something due to her own good qualities is lost because of the book, Patsy hadn’t considered that being helpful and nice were special qualities themselves. I like the resolution of the story with Patsy using her own picture, like many cursed objects, the book cannot simply be gotten rid off to break the spell.

 

Alison Christie – DCT Writer

Alison Christie (now Alison Fitt) got her start in comics as a junior sub editor on Bunty at the age of 16. She went on to write for DCT comics Mandy, Tracy and others including nursery titles, Pepper Street, Bimbo and Twinkle and she also worked on Hi! Magazine as well as IPC titles, Tammy and Jinty. She already did an interview on the Jinty resources site which you can find here, but she also kindly gave me more details about her time at DCT as well as the stories she wrote for it.  A list of stories she wrote can be found on the next page.

Quick Link: Story list 

Memories of working in DC Thomsons:

All the comics were dreamed up and written on the second floor of that big red building in Meadowside, Dundee. There was a long corridor with offices on both sides, marked Dandy Room, or  Beezer  Room, etc- or the one I was placed in, The Bunty Room. DCT was male orientated. All men worked on these comics, including the girls’ ones! So I was one of the first females to  be given a job on Bunty.

My first task was opening the bundles of mail from readers. Many contained photos of school badges, as Bunty had a weekly feature of them on the back page. I also got to sub scripts that came in from free-lance writers. Imagine!( I thought in later years when I was sending scripts down to IPC that there might be some junior journalist subbing mine.)  I was also sent on errands- often to the Art department, with artwork needing attention. I hated going there. The artists sat in long rows facing the door, and ogled any female that ventured in. For a young girl like me, it was highly embarrassing.  Finally, having come up the best idea for a new serial, I was given the chance to write my first picture story, Queen of the Gypsies.

(Bunty: Queen of the Gypsies)

They were good times, though. The Bunty room looked out on the Howff, Dundee’s ancient grave yard. On hot summer days, us girls would scoff our sandwiches there while sunbathing amongst the grave-stones. On Fridays we received our pay-contained in secretive brown packets brought round on a tray and dished out by Jimmy from the general office below. No being paid through the bank in those days.

I was eventually moved from Bunty onto a new nursery comic called Bimbo, which ran for a while then was replaced by Little Star and Twinkle. Little Star soon folded, but Twinkle kept going.  By that time, we had moved to the eighth floor of the new courier building. I wrote Nurse Nancy storylines, and Baby Crocket, plus other features.

I left DCThomsons in 1968 and went free-lance. Still wrote for Twinkle, then started writing picture stories for DCs girls comics – Mandy, later Tracy, a few for Debbie and Nikki. At the same time I began writing picture story serials for IPC down in London. It was a great way to make a living from home, as I had three young children. It was the hey-day of British girls comics, so there were plenty of them to contribute to. But over the years, many of them folded and there weren’t so many left to write for. Though in the early nineties, DC   Thomson brought out Pepper Street a bright comic for little ones – followed by HI! a really good magazine for slightly older girls, with photo stories and fashion, etc. Neither ran for very long, but I wrote for both of them while they lasted.

Favourite age group to write for and favourite stories:

I much preferred writing for the girls comics as opposed to the nursery ones. I could get into the characters and think out what they would do or think and develop the storyline about them. Usually weepy emotional stories, though not all.

I liked all my stories  but  Room in your heart for two  and The Cloud on Sunshine cottage in Tracy and Patsy will take my place  and Emma’s Umbrella in Mandy, I particularly liked.

(Mandy – “Patsy Will Take My Place!”)

 

Rebellion – Scream! Misty Special … and More!

Just a little over a year there was great excitement when Rebellion acquired Egmont/IPC’s classic archives. There was speculation on potential reprints, possible new stories and products, many hoping that their favourite characters would get a revival. Has Rebellion lived up to that promise so far? I would say a definite yes.

On the girl’s comic side of things, soon after the acquirement, they released the first Misty book, reprinting Moonchild and The Four Faces of Eve. While there were some minor quibbles, like Moonchild being reprinted from an annual, rather than the original issues, and some were not keen on the new Misty logo (although everyone was happy to see Shirley Bellwood’s gorgeous artwork of Misty), overall it seemed to be well received. So it is no surprise to see that a second volume, reprinting popular story The Sentinels and End of the Line, is on it’s way. Showing that they are willing to listen to feedback, this cover has the original Misty logo back in it’s proper place. Another example of them listening to people’s views has been shown with the Scream! Misty cover controversy. Many people including Pat Mills, were not happy to see the Misty logo, reduced to the side and obscured by a selfie stick. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that they released a variant cover by Fabry, which reverses the logos. This is the comic that I got, and while the prominent Misty logo is a bonus, I just prefer the cover –  the style, the  trick or treaters, and the horrors behind Misty and Ghastly. That’s not to say the other cover is bad, in fact I was tempted to get both versions, and I think there will be other people who will do that, which should give the special an extra sales boost. The sales of this special should be interesting to follow, as this is new material and if it does well, it could open the door to a more regular thing. Although Keith Richardson (editor of the Treasury line) doubts there will ever be another weekly anthology comic like 2000AD, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for mini series, regular specials or perhaps if it does really well, maybe even a monthly series would be possible.

The Scream! Misty special has a lot of good content and should hopefully reach a new audience, who should then be interested in picking up related content, (i.e. The Dracula File, Monster and Misty books), something which of course they advertise in this comic. The thing I was most excited to see was the sequel to The Sentinels (no coincidence that this popular story was chosen to get a sequel, just before it’s reprint came out). It was strange to see a new art style  and the present day setting, with mobiles and such (reminding me that the original is nearly 40 years old now!) but it still captures the essence of the original and it is quite exciting to see new interpretations of characters and stories. It’s good at showing how these stories can be updated to appeal to a newer generation. The Return of the Sentinels (by Berry, Willsher and Parkhouse) follows a new character Jennifer, as she finds the portal to the Nazi world, and we see how things have changed and developed there too. We see the Nazi symbols and the world have evolved and their main targets for persecution are fitting for these times. It would be interesting to see this new version and new characters developed more, an ongoing or mini series, could even get a chance to tell us what happened to the Richards family (and their alternate counterparts). But for the limited space of 7 pages they make a compelling read, and it’s only flaw really is wanting to see more (and maybe have some questions answered). Willsher’s art is great too, things like Jennifer’s brother building tower blocks out of Lego, the abandoned Sentinel and updated parallel world are all visually interesting.

The other Misty story,  Fate of the Fairy Hunter, is fitting of the short stories Misty used to do and the rest of the issue is also solid stuff. I hadn’t read any of Scream! before, but I am certainly interested in checking out the reprints now (Volume 1 of “The 13th Floor” is promised in 2018). The 13th Floor was the most popular story of Scream! and it is easy to see why, it is an interesting concept, with sci-fi and fantastical elements and the unsettling Max at the centre of it. Again with all these stories, they have done good at modernising it, acknowledging time has passed and at the same time keeping it accessible to new readers. Another highlight is Death-Man: The Gathering in which many other familiar characters make an appearance. Nicely rounding out the comic are The Dracula File and The Return of Black Max: Blood Moon (originally a Thunder strip) which are also fun reads. The book is well produced and I appreciate additions such as the glossary of characters that appear in Death-Man and the welcome/contents page at the beginning. It should be a satisfying read for both new readers and fans of the original comics.

While I have a special interest in “girls” comics, I should note that of course girls can read any comics, even those not directly marketed at them. Rebellion have been good at releasing a variety of stuff for their Treasury line that has a wide appeal, including Hookjaw, Faceache, One-Eyed Jack, The Leopard from Lime Street and Marney the Fox. The latter two books I have already purchased.  I had read some of The Leopard from Lime Street in Buster years ago, but at that time I wasn’t familiar with Spiderman comics, so it wasn’t until I got the new book, that I realised how much the story draws on that. Still it somehow remains fresh and its differences help shape the character of Billy Farmer in another way (such as instead of having a supportive uncle to live up to like Peter Parker has, Billy has a thugish uncle to overcome) and the art is great throughout. Marney the Fox is a comic strip I hadn’t read before but it was a compelling read, that kept me turning the pages so I could find out what happens to Marney, helped also by the gorgeous art by Stokes. Stories centering on the trials of a wildlife protagonist are an enduring genre, such as books like Watership Down, Run with the Wind and Tarka the Otter, I think Marney the Fox would be a good addition to the collection of fans of those books. Again I feel Rebellion are being smart by not reprinting everything in the same model. While all the comics they’ve come out with are well produced, Marney the Fox is particularly attractive as it is presented in a lovely hardback. With it being a complete story and gorgeous art it is sure to appeal to people who may not be familiar with the comics.

It is quite an impressive collection that Rebellion has already built, in not that much time and there is still so much potential for more growth. I am happy with what we have gotten so far and I am looking forward to what the next few years brings.