All posts by mistyfan

Twin Trouble [1985]

Published: Judy & Tracy:  #1306 (19 January 1985) – #1315 (23 March 1985)

Episodes: 10

Reprints: None known

Artist: Paddy Brennan

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Lucy and Lynne Linton are twins. Lynne has the edge when it comes to sports and, feeling jealous at this, Lucy demands a cycle race. However, Lucy is so determined to beat Lynne that she cycles too fast, which causes her to have an accident that leaves her confined to a wheelchair. Lucy secretly blames Lynne and sets out to make her life as miserable as possible by playing sneaky tricks to make it look like Lynne is acting spitefully towards her, such as letting the brakes off her wheelchair and leading Mum to think the tumble she takes was due to Lynne’s carelessness.

Then Lucy suddenly realises she can walk again. But when she hears how Lynne has earned a place in the school athletics team, her jealousy over Lynne for being the better one at sports resurfaces. She decides to pretend to be paralysed so as to play on her parents’ sympathy and get anything she wants, and continue secretly cause trouble for Lynne.

Lucy eventually makes a mistake that tips Lynne off as to what she is up to. However, by this time Lucy’s tricks have poisoned Mum, Dad and the schoolmates against Lynne, and they don’t listen when Lucy tries to tell them what is going on. Lucy makes things so bad for Lynne that eventually the parents put Lynne into care as a problem child. The staff don’t believe Lynne either when she tries to tell them the truth about Lucy.

Lucy now looks forward to having the run of the house and being thoroughly spoilt now there is no Lynne. However, she finds she has miscalculated because the parents are thinking more about Lynne than her. She tags along with her parents for a visit to Lynne. They think she is so brave to do so. But Lucy’s real motive is to check to see if Lynne has got through to anyone, and if so, put a stop to that.

At the home a fire breaks out because Lynne’s roommate Ros keeps smoking in violation of the rules. Both Lynne and Ros become trapped in the blaze. Seeing this, Lucy’s conscience is finally aroused over what she has done to Lynne. She leaps out of her wheelchair and goes to the rescue. She succeeds in helping to get them rescued. Of course this shows everyone that Lucy is not paralysed and she has to confess everything. Lynne considers Lucy has made up for everything with her heroic deed and is happy to reconcile with her. Lucy owns up to the classmates while Lynne graciously supports her so the classmates are more willing to bury the past. The parents are impressed at this and relieved there is no more twin trouble.

Thoughts

Spiteful girls who cause trouble for a foster sibling/relative to make them look like they’re the ones who are acting spitefully are nothing new in girls’ comics, especially at DCT. Girls who pretend to be disabled or conduct a vendetta against someone because they (wrongly) blame them for an accident aren’t new either.

But although the formula is far from new, having a girl causing trouble for her own sister to the point where she gets her poor, innocent sister sent away takes it to a particularly despicable level in this one. It could be that Lucy’s spite was the product of shock and facing the horror that she may not walk again. But Lucy loses sympathy there once she regains the use of her legs and is just pretending to be crippled. Once the story take this turn, Lucy’s conduct grows even more appalling because it’s clearly motivated by jealousy and greed as much as misguided revenge. Lucy does not feel any remorse when she gets her own sister sent away as a problem child either, which makes it even more contemptible.

So it would take something monumental to not only bring Lucy to her senses but to redeem herself as well and open the path to reconciliation and forgiveness with Lynne. Saving the lives of Lynne and Ros is just the thing. It is far better than Lucy just being glibly forgiven once she is found out and things carry on as if nothing had happened, which has happened in some stories such as “That Bad Bettina!” from Mandy.

It’s a nice and unexpected twist when Lucy finds out that getting rid of Lynne hasn’t given her the monopoly of the house and parents. The parents are thinking more about Lynne than her, and Lucy’s nose is put out of joint at how things have backfired a bit. Luckily for Lynne this happens in the final episode, so Lucy’s latest annoyance does not lead to more spiteful tricks.

The Secret of the Gipsy Doll (Dolwyn’s Dolls) [1984]

Published: as ‘The Secret of the Gipsy Doll and Two Other Stories about “Dolwyn’s Dolls”’. Bunty PSL #259, 1984.

Reprinted: as ‘3 Great Stories about Dolwyn’s Dolls’. Bunty PSL #378, 1994.

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

This Bunty PSL presents three stories from “Dolwyn’s Dolls”. On three occasions a visitor walks into Meg Dolwyn’s doll shop while she is mending a doll. She tells them the story of the respective doll she is mending.

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

In Victorian times a maidservant named Mary, who works at Lancing Manor, tries to run away. But she is caught by the eldest son of her employers, Vernon Vardon, and he looks a very nasty type. Mary’s sweetheart, a gipsy named Romany Smith, goes to Mary’s defence when Vardon threatens to attack her, and he lays quite a punch into Vardon. Vengeful Vardon makes insinuations that he is going to have Smith arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing silverware from Lancing Manor. Worse, Mary seems to believe the accusations against Smith and he pleads his innocence to her in vain.

That night Mary regrets not sticking up for Smith more. But she is shattered to see Smith burning his gipsy caravan, which is the gipsy way of saying he has gone forever. Mary dies of a broken heart over her sweetheart a year later.

On the day Mary dies, a package arrives for her. It is a gipsy doll with the words “look into my heart” embroidered on it. The doll is placed in Mary’s room in case her family come to collect her belongings. Nobody does, and no servant will sleep in there, so the room is left to gather dust.

In the next century Mary’s room is converted into a bedroom for Jenny Vardon. Jenny has strange dreams of the burning gipsy wagon and the gipsy doll, which is crying. Jenny still hears crying when she wakes up and finds it is coming from the cupboard. Inside, she finds the gipsy doll.

Jenny looks into its heart and finds money and a letter for Mary. It is from Smith, who went to Boston, bettered himself, and sent money for Mary to join him. He had also heard that Vardon himself was taking the silverware, and selling it to pay his debts. So the truth is out at last, but it’s come too late for Mary.

Thoughts

Many of the Dolwyn stories had supernatural elements. Some were kept ambiguous while others, such as this one, were more overt. It is not surprising that this story contains supernatural overtones. The room Jenny sleeps in would have a reason for being haunted as a girl died in it from a broken heart, and there are also the Romany elements, which hint at gypsy spells and curses.

This is the saddest, and spookiest, of the three Dolwyn stories in this PSL. The revelations come too late to reunite Mary and Romany Smith in life. Still, the fact that the gipsy doll seemed to lead Jenny to it and look into its heart suggests that it was to help the two lovers rest in peace, and they are now.

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

Carole’s mother has remarried and they move to a better house. Stepfather says it’s time for Carole to throw out her old doll, Lindy. Carole won’t hear of it, but stepfather does not respect this. As a result Carole runs away with Lindy and goes back to where she lived before. Her old friends can’t put her up, so they help her camp out in an old building and bring her supplies. They also lock the door at her request, but this proves to be a near-fatal mistake.

While Carole is asleep an old tramp accidentally sets the building on fire. By the time Carole is awake, the room is ablaze and she can’t get out because the door is locked. The firemen have arrived but don’t know she is up there. Carole throws Lindy from the window to alert them to her presence. Her dolly SOS works, and she is rescued. After this, stepfather has a new respect for Lindy and arranges a new dress and repairs at Meg’s shop for her.

Thoughts

This “love me, love my doll” story shows you should never underestimate the love for a doll or tell a child that it’s time for them to say goodbye to their dolls. They should be allowed to decide for themselves.

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

Another visitor, Millie, comments on how the doll Meg is repairing looks so old and ragged. Meg replies that the doll, Daisy, was in fact bought only recently. It sounds like Daisy really has been through the wars then. Sure enough, that’s what her story is about.

Daisy was a birthday present for June, but then June’s dog Rex snatches Daisy and runs off with her. And that’s just the start of really rough adventures that have Daisy ending up at Meg’s shop for repair.

Rex loses interest in Daisy and leaves her to lie on waste ground. Billy Watson and his gang find her and, being a rough lot, use her as target practice for kicks. Billy’s sister Josie comes along and tells him to desist, but what really draws off the boys is that there has just been a road accident. Josie hides Daisy in a makeshift shelter. But she does not come back for some reason, and rain starts.

Another girl, Moira, comes along and finds Daisy. Moira’s home is dysfunctional, with her parents always arguing, and she is particularly anxious to stay out of Dad’s way. When she gets home he is in a really foul mood because he was involved in the road accident. He insists the accident was not his fault: the accident girl just came out in front of him and he had no time to stop. But he is terrified that he will lose his new van driver’s job because of it. When he sees Daisy he gets into such a rage that he throws her out in the street.

Another gang of yobs find Daisy and set about using her as a goal for footy practice. But the female member of the gang proves more kindly. She stops the boys cold and takes Daisy to the hospital for the children’s ward.

As luck would have it, Daisy ends up in the accident girl’s ward, and she is none other than June. June and Daisy are reunited and the sight of Daisy jogs June’s memory about the accident. She makes a statement that clears Moira’s father: the accident happened because she couldn’t find the brakes on her new birthday bike.

Meg finishes the repairs on Daisy. As she does so, she tells Millie that you can’t always tell by appearances, whether it’s dolls or people.

Thoughts

As Meg states, this story is a lesson in how you can’t always judge by appearances. This is best shown with the yobs who find Daisy in the street. The male punks are as rough as they look when they try to use Daisy for footy practice. But the girl, although she has a punk look, shows she has a kind heart. And as with Lindy, this is a “doll saves the day” story, in this case helping to clear the very driver who threw her out into the street.

We do have to wonder how Meg was able to relate all of Daisy’s misadventures from the moment she is snatched from the dog to ending up in June’s ward. How could anyone have been able to find all the people who encountered Daisy in the interim and piece the whole story together?

Just One Leading Lady! [1982]

Published: Debbie #501 (September 18 1982) – #505 (16 October 1982)

Episodes: 5

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and Phoenix for scans

Plot

Cathy Collins wants to play the lead in Dormy Drama Club’s next production. Two other girls, Sonya and Gail, are her rivals for it. Cathy’s friend, backstage girl Connie, keeps telling Cathy stories about a ghost haunting the theatre. The ghost is said to be of an actress who was so jealous of her rivals that she killed them. Cathy rubbishes such stories, but it’s not long before she sees the ghost in her nightmares. It does not help that the production they are putting on is a spooky one either.

It becomes apparent that someone is out to eliminate the rivals for the leading role, but it’s clearly no ghost. It’s a flesh-and-blood person whose maxim is that there’s only room for “just one leading lady!”, hence the title of the story.

Strike one comes when Sonya falls off the stage and claims she was pushed. The others accuse Cathy of pushing Sonya to get the leading role. Connie is the only one to stay friendly with her.

After accusing Cathy too, Gail storms off into a dressing room. The troublemaker strikes again by locking Gail in the dressing room overnight to make her ill from the freezing temperatures in there.

When this trick is discovered, everyone believes Cathy did it to get rid of both rivals. Mrs Shaw the drama club teacher tells Cathy to leave the club, pending investigation. Cathy’s protests of innocence are futile.

However, Cathy loves the theatre too much to just walk away, so she quietly watches the production from a distance. Mrs Shaw tries out various girls for the lead, none of whom are suitable. Cathy is surprised to see Connie try out for it too; she always thought Connie was happy being the backstage girl. Mrs Shaw gives Connie a minor role, saying she does not have enough experience for the lead. Cathy secretly sympathises, recalling her own experience of having to build up for a long time in the club before being allowed any major roles.

Afterwards Cathy overhears Connie practising all the lines for the lead. Connie sees her and asks her what she thought. When Cathy tries to say, in a very tactful manner, that it was wooden, Connie goes off into a big brag that she is a better actress than Cathy and the other rivals. Moreover, she gloats, she was the one who hurt Sonya and Gail and she was trying to wind Cathy up with phony stories about the ghost. She was out to get rid of all three rivals so she could grab the lead from backstage. Connie says it’s no use Cathy telling anyone because they won’t believe her. But Connie has miscalculated: Graham the SFX guy has not only overheard but also recorded everything!

A few days later, Connie has left the club permanently, everything is patched up, and Mrs Shaw is trying to work out who will play the lead. It’s not shown who gets it in the end, but Cathy doesn’t mind. She knows she will be a leading lady someday.

Thoughts

This is clearly a whodunit story, despite all the attempts of the antagonist to turn it into a ghost story. We can see that is no ghostly hand locking the dressing room door on Gail; it’s someone who is trying to take advantage of that rumour. And it is obvious from Cathy’s thought balloons that she is not guilty. Readers must have concluded that it is a third party in the group who is out for the role, and some may even have suspected it was Connie.

When Connie reveals her guilt to Cathy, readers were probably shaking their heads and thinking “poor fool”. Connie was so naïve and deluded that she could just leap into a starring role from backstage, and by playing dirty tricks instead of speaking out that she wanted to act too. The reality, which Cathy knew all too well, was that one had to build up experience on smaller roles before attempting a big one. Connie got a taste of that when Mrs Shaw said she did not have enough experience for the lead and gave her a minor role. So Connie hurt two girls and discredited a third for nothing. Yet she still has the delusion that she can play the lead far better than the other three girls.

Perversely, although Connie’s acting of the role was wooden, Cathy realises that in “a horrible way” Connie is indeed a much better actress – in the way she had fooled everyone into thinking she was content being a backstage girl when in fact she was using it as a springboard to grab the lead. To say nothing of fooling Cathy into thinking that she was her one and only friend. So did Connie have a talent for acting after all, which could have led her into starring roles with proper training and experience? Maybe it would have if she’d gone about things the right way, but she ruined whatever chance she had with nasty tricks.

Dolwyn’s Dolls [1983]

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #246

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Meg Dolwyn runs a doll shop and many of her dolls have tales to tell.

One day a man calls in and asks about a doll, which he notes has been repaired. Meg says the doll’s name is Tina and she belonged to a girl named Trudy Talbot. Trudy had moved to a South American country with her parents because of her father’s job. They live in a very luxurious house and servants tend to their every need.

There has never been any need for Trudy to be unhappy or cry. So she is a bit surprised when Dad presents her with Tina, who is a crying doll. He tells her to leave all the crying to Tina, because she’s a big girl now. Trudy takes this a bit too literally and from then on does not cry; she has Tina do all the crying. Trudy is reserving this for when there is a real need to cry, but does not think there will ever be one.

But all that changes the day after Dad gives Tina to Trudy. Revolution sweeps across the country and it is taken over by revolutionaries who rule by terror and the gun. Those who stand against them are arrested as “enemies of the revolution” (political prisoners), and among them is Mr Talbot. As a result, Castro-type soldiers tear the Talbot home apart while they search it, and Trudy and her mother become prisoners in their own home, with their servants for jailors. The Talbots’ food worsens too because Cook is taken into the army and the replacement is the gardener’s boy. The Talbots have no idea exactly why all this is happening because they are only being told the vaguest of details. Trudy comments on how her mother is crying while she does not because she promised Dad. Instead, she has Tina do the crying.

The servants agree to help Mum and Trudy escape – in exchange for all of Mum’s jewellery, mind you. The servants drive them as close to the border as they can. Mum and Trudy have to make the rest of the way on foot through dire, dangerous jungle conditions. Fortunately they bump into some kindly tourists, who help them to get to Britain.

Mrs Talbot comes to rent the flat above Meg’s shop. Meg deplores that it’s bit pokey for two, but Mrs Talbot says it is all she can afford. Trudy is a bit surprised to see Tina looking like she is crying of her own accord, but accepts it. Then Mrs Talbot is taken ill and dies. Trudy still has Tina do all the crying for her and says Tina is all she has left.

Then one evening the revolutionaries catch up. They burst into the flat, rip Tina open (hence the mending she had), and find what they have been looking for all this time: a cassette that Dad had hidden inside Tina. As the men leave with the cassette, they tell Trudy to blame her father for everything that has happened to her because he is “an enemy of the revolution”.

Trudy does not accept that. Instead, she blames Tina and turns against her. As she does so, she starts crying for the very first time. And now that Trudy’s tears have started, there is no stopping them. Eventually Trudy follows her mother to the grave, from a broken heart.

It turns out the man Meg is telling the story to is none other than Mr Talbot. He had escaped prison and the despotic regime, made his way to Britain and was trying to find his family. The cassette was evidence against the terror regime. Dad had been hoping to spread the word with it. He leaves, heartbroken that he has come too late and that his cassette destroyed his family instead of helping bring justice to the downtrodden country. As he goes, a strange thing happens: Tina starts crying.

A few days later, Jill the girl from next door, makes one of her frequent visits to Meg’s shop. Meg is mending a doll and Jill remarks that a broken doll must be the saddest thing there is. This has Meg spinning another doll yarn, and we get a hint of a moral that Jill needs to put what she just said into perspective. Meg heard the story from a customer named Sally, who dropped in the other day.

Sally accidentally broke her grandmother’s “lucky doll” when she got startled by a thunderstorm. She panics about this, because her grandmother told her stories about how much the doll meant to her, that it is her lucky doll, and great-grandmother made it, “every stitch” (Sally thought this meant the doll, not the doll clothes).

So Sally runs away, in the violent stormy weather, to find a way to get the doll mended, but has no luck. She sees an ambulance outside her house and assumes the grandmother has been taken to hospital because she was heartbroken about the doll, and bad luck has started because she broke grandmother’s lucky doll. Sally runs away in panic, thinking people are searching for her because they blame her for what happened to grandmother.

Her panic drives her into the countryside, where she has scary encounters with a tramp, a farmer and cows. Then Sally comes across Meg’s shop and sees an identical doll the window, at a price she can afford. Sally sneaks home to get the money, but grandmother catches her. They have noticed she was missing and have been worried sick about her.

When the story comes out, Sally finds she had been worried over nothing and misunderstood a lot of things. Among them was finding out that the doll was a recent one, bought to replace an older one that got worn out. This doll in turn can be replaced. Grandmother hadn’t even noticed the doll was gone and the ambulance had been for Jimmy next door. What does upset grandmother is that Sally would think she would love an old doll even more than she would love her. And so Sally learns that there are much sadder (and more important) things than a broken doll.

Thoughts

Dolwyn’s Dolls appeared as a Bunty serial in 1982. Dolwyn proved popular and she spawned two appearances in Bunty annuals and two picture story libraries. Dolwyn belonged in the tradition of the storyteller who had collected an assortment of items that all had tales to tell and each week she would tell the story of one such items. Other stories in this tradition included The Button Box (Tammy) and Jade Jenkins Stall (M&J).

The Dolwyn stories would entertain, a number of them would teach morals, and there were spooky, creepy ones – not surprising as the strip is dealing with dolls and toys, which have often been associated with hauntings and the supernatural. One story, “Major’s Revenge”, was about a cruel boy named Toby and his rocking horse, Major. Toby has a strange accident that breaks his leg. Toby claims Major came to life and took him on a wild, nightmare ride as a punishment for his cruelty. Perhaps it was just a hallucination brought on by the accident as Toby father says. All the same, nobody is willing to ride Major anymore and Meg does not put him in display in her shop although he is in much better condition than the one in the shop. At least the accident makes Toby more considerate although he limps for the rest of his life.

Unlike the regular strip or the other Dolwyn picture story library, the two doll stories in this picture story library are not individually titled. They are told to customers as Meg goes abut her business in the shop.

Both stories are tear-jerkers with sympathetic heroines who, one way or other, are plunged into turmoil, terror, tears and confusion. The second story ends on a happier note than the first one. We are so relieved when everything is sorted out for Sally after all the horrors her imagination puts her through when she runs away. We are even relieved that grandmother wasn’t even angry over the broken doll. The first story, on the other hand, is nothing but tragedy and tears, and ends on a note that is creepy as well as sad.

Trudy’s story is by far the more powerful of the two stories because it has far greater emotional wallop. It’s even more heart-breaking to see Trudy bottling up her emotions and having Tina as the only outlet for the tears she keeps inside her while she has so much to cry about as the revolution tightens its noose and destroys her happiness, her home, and her family. Trudy has to stop depending on Tina if she is to express her emotions properly. Eventually she does so, but the way in which she does it is even more heartrending because it is so unfair. Tina is no more to blame for Trudy’s unhappiness than Trudy herself is. The blame rests with the political events that overtook the country.

Trudy’s story also has the hints of the supernatural that permeated many Dolwyn stories. Twice it is insinuated that Tina is taking on a life of her own and crying of her own accord. There was some buildup of a supernatural element in the second story too, when Sally’s imagination runs riot at the bad luck she must have brought on her family by breaking the lucky doll. But it turns out it was just a replacement doll and Sally was freaking out over nothing. The supernatural had nothing to do with it.

The Search for Kitty’s Cat [1984]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #71

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

After nearly two years of saving, Jane Bright finally buys her new bike. Then her younger sister Kitty is involved in a road accident, which causes her beloved cat Cleo to disappear. When Kitty comes home, she reacts badly to Cleo’s disappearance and begins to pine, which makes her fragile condition worsen. This makes it all the more urgent to find Cleo.

The family can’t find Cleo anywhere in the neighbourhood. Inspired by an ad about a lost pet and reward for its return, Jane puts up her own ads for Cleo. As Jane has no money for the reward and does not want to bother her parents about it, she decides to sacrifice her new bike as the reward. This creates an additional difficulty as Kitty is looking forward to riding the new bike when she recovers. Now it has looks like Cleo or the bike.

The ad brings some people over with cats, but not one is Cleo. Among them are two kids who will try an even sneakier trick to get the bike later on. Door-to-door inquiries turn up nothing. Jane finds the police search only for lost dogs, not cats, so no luck at the police station.

The family see a cat food ad with a cat that looks like Cleo, and Kitty says they must have stolen her to make the ad. Inquiries reveal the ad was made three months previously (er, doesn’t that rule out Cleo as the cat?). When Jane checks out the ad agency they scare her off with their snake, a handy method they use to get rid of unwanted guests.

They try a newspaper ad. A reporter turns it into a human issue story of Jane having saved so hard for her new bike and then willing to give it up to find Cleo. It goes out in the newspaper and on the radio to tug at people’s heartstrings.

But while searching for Cleo, Jane’s bike gets stolen. Now she has no reward at all. While the bike is missing, the two aforementioned kids try to con Jane out of the bike by giving her a cat they’ve painted up to look like Cleo. Too bad for them they forgot to let the paint dry first!

Then Jane spots a man she spoke to just before her bike was stolen. She follows him to a scrap yard and finds him with a bike that looks like hers, and he’s about to respray it. Jane calls the police, and they find not only the stolen bike but also other stolen items, including stolen pedigree cats (no Cleo, though). The man is taken into custody and Jane gets her bike back.

When Jane gets home, she discovers Cleo had been under her nose – well, in the airing cupboard – the whole time. Cleo had just gone off to have kittens. Kitty is thrilled and is now on the mend.

Thoughts

This is a solid story that a lot of us who have had to look for lost pets (including me) can relate to. The sense of urgency – that a girl’s life depends on finding the pet – has appeared elsewhere in girls’ comics and has created popular animal stories. It’s also got some dashes of humour, such as the ad agent with the snake and Jane landing in the garden pond while calling Cleo. It also has a pathos that tugs at our heart strings as we read that Jane had slogged and saved for nearly two years to buy her bicycle, yet she’s prepared to give it up because she has nothing else to reward the person who finds Cleo with. We sincerely hope that Jane won’t have to give up the bike and Cleo will just walk in the door or something.

Jane’s self-sacrifice is an emotional contrast to the unscrupulous people who turn up in the story, namely the cheating kids and the thief. Although we see many people moved by the radio broadcast nobody comes forward with real help. Eventually we learn that is because Cleo is still at home, keeping herself in a quiet place while she has her kittens. So it all turns out happily, with the added bonus of joy of the kittens.

It is a bit unbelievable that nobody realised Cleo was pregnant, although she must have been about ready to give birth when she disappeared. It might have been better plotting to just have the cat come back.

The Secret Servant: A Four Marys Story [1993]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #365

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Simpy’s father opens a supermarket, Simco’s Supermarket, and its business is soon booming to soaring levels. But he only took a lease on the building. The freehold has been taken over by Lentham Holdings, which is run by – yes, Mabel Lentham’s father. Now Lentham is applying for planning permission to turn the building into flats. If this goes ahead Mr Simpson will be forced to close. This would bankrupt him as he has sunk everything into the supermarket.

Foolishly, Simpy hopes that if she sucks up to Mabel, such as buying her the birthday present she wanted and allowing her and Veronica on the gymnastics team although they aren’t much good at gymnastics but not yelling at Mabel when she makes a mess of things, Mabel will save her father. But once Mabel finds out the reason why Simpy is suddenly crawling to her (by prying into Simpy’s mail), she sets out to take full advantage of Simpy. She and Veronica have Simpy wait on them hand and foot and do all their dirty work, including prep. They waste no opportunities in bullying Simpy, such as making her do chores twice, in revenge for all the times the Four Marys have scored over them. Of course Mabel has no intention of saving Mr Simpson and is stringing Simpy along with false promises that she will speak to her father about it, but always seems to forget. Although Simpy does not trust Mabel, she still continues to slave for the snobs and hope Mabel will keep her end of the deal.

Of course the other Marys soon notice what’s going on between Simpy and the snobs. They get suspicious and start to investigate. Fieldy spies on the snobs’ study and sees how Simpy is waiting on the snobs while they bully her. They realise the snobs must have some kind of hold on Simpy. But they hit a dead end as to what it could be, and they decide against tackling Simpy outright.

Then, during a parents’ visiting day, Cotty accidentally overhears Simpy’s parents talking about their supermarket being in trouble. The Marys wonder if there is some connection with Simpy slaving for the snobs. On a free afternoon they head down to Simco’s Supermarket to investigate this angle.

Simco’s Supermarket is located in an arcade, which the Marys discover has been recently taken over by Mabel’s father. They soon learn that Lentham is forcing all the shops in the arcade out of business with exorbitant rents while terminating their leases. He is applying for planning permission to turn the arcade into flats so as to make a profit. It is later revealed that the flats project is intended to pay off loans. Lentham also plans to use the money for a world cruise family holiday, which Mabel is really looking forward to. The Marys draw all the right conclusions, including the one that Mabel will not really help Simpy save her father.

Then, a remark from Cotty about it being “such a lovely old arcade” gives Raddy an idea on how to solve the problem. She contacts her father, who works on a heritage committee that saves old buildings with historical value. The committee manages to get Lentham’s application for planning permission blocked. Now the flats plan is stymied, Lentham cannot afford to hold on to the arcade and is forced to sell at a rock bottom price. Mr Simpson is doing so well from the supermarket, he can afford to buy the freehold, become his own landlord, and save his business.

The Four Marys inform the snobs of this and punish them by tipping rubbish all over their study for them to clean up. Mabel is punished even more when she receives a call from her father that the world cruise holiday is off because the flats plan has failed. The Marys are delighted to hear this and treat Simpy to a celebratory tea.

Thoughts

Using false promises to help a loved one in order to blackmail a mug into doing what you want has been used in many DCT stories, such as “Meg and the Magic Robot” (Tracy) and “April Fool” (Mandy). However, it’s unusual in that it is the victim, Simpy who instigated her very own blackmail by sucking up to the snobs in the first place in the foolish hope they would save her father. Blackmailing Simpy wasn’t the snobs’ idea; they just take advantage once they realise why Simpy is being ‘nice’ to them all of a sudden. If it had been the snobs who had concocted the blackmail we would have been more sympathetic to Simpy. But really, Simpy brought the whole thing on herself. Honestly, she should have known better after the long time she had known those snobs, and how much they despise her for being a scholarship girl. Even when Simpy finds she doesn’t trust Mabel because Mabel is ‘forgetting’ her promises, she still doesn’t suspect the snobs are just taking advantage of her. She carries on regardless, hoping it will be worth it if it saves her father. Perhaps Simpy wasn’t thinking clearly because she was so worried about her parents and desperation overrode her rationality.

Ironically, slaving to the snobs does help save Simpy’s father, but not in the way she expected. It’s because it prompted the other Marys to make their inquiry at the arcade itself and, once they saw it personally, realise the heritage value that could save it. It is less likely this would have occurred if Simpy had just confided in the Marys.

The Four Marys in Four Great Stories! [1994]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #372

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Story 1: The Sad Schoolgirl

It looks like the resident snobs, Mabel and Veronica, are bullying a new first year, Abigail. Fieldy finds it a bit hard to believe Mabel and Veronica would bully first years while Simpy says the snobs have been behaving worse than usual. The snobs themselves deny it, but the evidence mounts against them and they get detention.

Then Abigail’s music box is stolen and found in the snobs’ study, so they going to be expelled. The snobs protest their innocence, and Raddy can’t quite believe the snobs would steal, even if they are not very nice. The Four Marys find it a bit odd that Abigail’s parents are being sent for as well as the snobs’.

Fieldy forms a theory. She tells Abigail there’s been a change of plan: her parents are not coming and the snobs are getting another chance. She then has the Four Marys keep watch that night, and they catch Abigail planting her purse in the snobs’ study. Abigail admits she faked everything because she did not like the school and was trying to get her parents to remove her. The Four Marys have Abigail confess to Mrs Mitchell. Soon after, the Four Marys watch Abigail leave and comment that Abigail got what she wanted in leaving the school, but she is leaving in disgrace. The snobs don’t thank the Four Marys for saving them, but the Four Marys were expecting that.

Thoughts

A similar Four Marys story (a flashback set in Victorian times) ran in one of the Bunty annuals. Unlike this story it ended happily, with the girl deciding to give St Elmo’s a chance and finding she liked it after all. The girl also had the grace not to frame any girl in particular for the ‘bullying’, as Abigail tried to do with the snobs. Getting someone expelled for something they didn’t do is despicable, even if it is someone who isn’t particularly nice. And all just to get what you want is pathetic. Abigail must have walked away with deep regrets as to what she did.

It is stretching things a bit as to how Fieldy managed to figure out Abigail was faking things. Maybe it was due to seeing it before – such as in the aforementioned flashback, perhaps?

Story 2: Boys at St Elmo’s!

St Bartoph boys are temporarily housed at St Elmo’s when their teachers come down with food poisoning (much to Miss Creef’s annoyance). The Four Marys find the boys are becoming a distraction because their presence is turning girls’ heads. Simpy complains nobody is turning up for hockey practice because of it. The other Marys are surprised to find Simpy later talking to James, the junior football captain, and suspect she has a fancy for him. It turns out Simpy was making arrangements with James to have a boy team play the girls in hockey practice to get their minds back on the game. But afterwards the Four Marys find they were not far wrong in assuming Simpy did have a fancy for James…

Thoughts

Aww, you just have to love the sight of boys in a Four Marys story! The Four Marys don’t often get the chance to meet boys, so it’s nice to see Simpy get it.

Story 3: Teacher Trouble

Miss Creef goes away on a course. The substitute teacher, Miss Wilson, is popular because her lessons are more fun than Miss Creef’s, and she even uses drama to help teach the girls the Industrial Revolution. Too bad Miss Wilson also takes an inexplicable dislike to one girl, Jenny Martin, and starts bullying her. Miss Wilson always gives Jenny failed marks on homework although Jenny did not shirk on it, and Jenny scores A’s and B’s with Miss Creef. Miss Wilson does not give proper explanations for the marks; she just says the homework was so awful she felt like ripping it up – and she actually does so at one point. In class she puts questions to Jenny in a harsh manner that makes Jenny too scared to think. Jenny becomes depressed and miserable and wonders if she has the problem.

Miss Wilson scowls when a girl mentions what a brilliant actress Jenny’s mother is. Realising it is a clue, the Four Marys check through entertainment pages in old newspapers and discover that years ago, Miss Wilson was passed over in a starring role for a stage production in favour of Jenny’s mother and was deeply disappointed about it. The Four Marys realise Miss Wilson is taking her old hurt out on Jenny and decide the only thing to do is report the matter to Mrs Mitchell.

After Mrs Mitchell speaks to both Miss Wilson and Jenny, Jenny thanks the Four Marys for their help while Miss Wilson, um, leaves St Elmo’s early. Miss Wilson’s bullying gives the girls a whole new appreciation for the strict, stuffy Miss Creef, which surprises her when she returns.

Thoughts

This is not a particularly new idea. One of “The Comp” Picture Story Libraries had a similar storyline, with a substitute teacher picking on Laura Brady in a far more spiteful manner than Miss Wilson because she had a long-standing grudge against Laura’s aunt. But a story about a bully teacher is always guaranteed to attract the readers because it’s so rooted in realism. The story’s got well thought-out dashes of realism, such as Jenny’s doubts about herself and wondering if it’s her fault.

It is a crying shame that Miss Wilson did turn bully teacher towards Jenny, as she is such a splendid teacher otherwise. Now she will have a blot on her record that will make it difficult to get another teaching job. If only she remembered that missing out on the role had nothing to do with Jenny and she should put the past aside.

Story 4: Mystery Girl

A new girl, Tara Brook, does not seem to be taking to St Elmo’s. She keeps quiet, shows little interest in the school, and is not setting out to make friends. The Four Marys invite her to their study to listen to tapes in the hope she will open up. She does for a while, but she closes up again when a Jez tape is suggested.

Then the Four Marys discover Jez’s real name is Gerard Brook, and they make the connection. Tara admits Jez is her brother, and he paid big money to send her to St Elmo’s. The trouble is, she misses her old school and friends and wants to return there. The Four Marys suggest Tara speak to her brother, but she says he’d be too upset. The Four Marys do it for Tara. Jez understands and allows Tara to transfer back to her old school. Jez gives the Four Marys some of his posters, tapes and records in gratitude for how good they were to Tara.

Thoughts

This picture story library begins and ends with new girls who can’t take to St Elmo’s and want to leave. At least Tara had more sense than Abigail and ended up leaving the right way – but telling someone how she felt – than by trying to do it by subterfuge. The Four Marys do well out of it too, meeting a pop star in person and getting presents from him!

Gemma’s Jewels [1983]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #65

Artist: Sutton?

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Gemma Gable helps out at the Yellowbridge Youth Club. She is dismayed when vicar puts her in charge of four rough-looking girls from a rundown area that has been demolished: Crystal, Ruby, Pearl and Opal. Oh, please don’t judge them by their appearances, says the vicar. Underneath that rough exterior they’ve got hearts of gold and are positive jewels.

In other words, the Jewels are diamonds in the rough.

Well, life sure isn’t dull with the Jewels around. Straight off the bat they demand the club put on disco music so they can have some action. At least everyone seems to be enjoying the dancing.

Afterwards the Jewels ask Gemma that they are broke and need money. They earn Gemma’s respect when they say they don’t want to bother their parents, who are financially taxed already. At their old home it was easy for them to get market jobs, but there is little call for that in Yellowbridge. Moreover, Yellowbridge shopkeepers don’t employ under-fifteens, not even for Saturday jobs. This means job hunting will be harder for them in their new locality.

Dad suggests fixing Crystal up with a job at Aunt Daphne’s guesthouse. However, Crystal proves too loud and rambunctious and keeps imposing her own ideas on how the guesthouse should be run. Although Crystal’s style is popular with the guests, Aunt Daphne lets Crystal go before she’s even finished the washing up.

Next, Gemma notices Ruby has a flair for design and fixes her up with a job as publicity assistant with Councillor Coombes for his road safety campaign. Ruby’s creativity lends tremendous weight to the campaign and Coombes is impressed. Unfortunately Ruby is also a walking disaster area, so she ends up creating a real mess that Councillor Coombes’ house-proud wife is furious to see. Ruby and Gemma end up quietly slipping out while a row erupts over it, though Coombes is still impressed with Ruby’s creativity.

Gemma’s old headmistress, Miss Cromarty, enquires about somebody to help her with a move. Gemma decides to try out Opal for the job, because she is the quiet one (that’s a bit of a surprise!) in the Jewels gang. Miss Cromarty sets Opal to sorting out her books in alphabetical order, and if she works out, take her on as research assistant for writing her memoirs. However, Opal is such a bookworm that she gets lost in reading the books instead of sorting them – and Miss Cromarty is just the same. Gemma realises that nothing will ever get done between them because they both get sidetracked with reading.

Now it’s Pearl’s turn. Gemma tries her out on a landscaping job, figuring that Pearl will be compatible with the employer, Jamie, as neither is too fussy about their clothes. Unfortunately it turns out Pearl is not compatible with the plants – they give her horrible allergies of all descriptions.

All for Jewels have proved totally unsuitable for the jobs they tried and Gemma does not know of any other jobs. After a discussion the same jobs are given another go, but with different Jewels. Opal will try the guesthouse job, Crystal the publicity assistant job, Pearl the Miss Cromarty memoir job, and Ruby the landscaping job.

The results:

Aunt Daphne is very impressed with Opal and her impressive manners with the guests. This is because Opal is drawing inspiration from a book she is reading about a Victorian maid.

Crystal adopts the costume and persona of “Roadie the Robot” to teach road safety in her own words while being as loud as she likes.

Thanks to Pearl, Miss Cromarty is making strides in writing her memoirs, which will be called “I Learned More than I Taught”.

Ruby is not only marvellous at the landscaping job but is also applying her creativity to developing her own talent for landscaping.

Gemma tells her father that now she has learned about not judging by appearances. When the vicar first brought the Jewels to her, she expected nothing but trouble (which she got, but not in the way she thought!). But Gemma’s so relieved the Jewels have been sorted out successfully and she can concentrate on the youth club barbeque. All four Jewels help out and give Gemma the best sausage to say “thanks”.

The vicar is very impressed with how successful Gemma was with the Jewels. In fact, he is so impressed that he brings her another set of rough-looking kids from the same area for her to help in the same way. Say hello to Mike, Gabriel (Gabe for short) and Luke (Lucifer) – the “Fallen Angels”!

Thoughts

Straight off the bat we are told how this story will go. It’s going to be an exploration of the morals in not being quick to judge. But just how this will pan out with these wild-looking girls remains to be seen during the course of the story.

As we get to know the Jewels, we can see the morals are going in a romp that’s full of hijinks, embarrassment, surprises and laughs. Crystal is loud and boisterous. She sweeps some fresh air into the stuffy guesthouse, but it’s too much for the stuffy aunt. Far from being rough, Ruby is a creative, helpful girl. The trouble is, she’s so clumsy and accident-prone, and everywhere she goes she causes disaster. In the case of Opal, we have to wonder why she looks so rough when she turns out to be a quiet girl who would spend hours with her nose in a book given half the chance. Maybe it’s the rundown locality the Jewels lived in before. Pearl just likes being scruffy and isn’t too bothered with her clothes.

The hijinks of the Jewels are brought off brilliantly with the artwork. It’s a sharp but fluid style that lends itself well to zaniness, humour and drama all at the same time.

The introduction of the Fallen Angels right at the end is a twist that has the reader laughing and ensures the story does not end on a trite “happily ever after” note. There’s just no peace for the wicked, is there, Gemma? One can only hope the vicar knows what he’s doing with the Fallen Angels too. As well as looking rough, they don’t look too friendly when they meet Gemma.

 

Dream Boy [1997]

Published: Bunty: #2065 (9 August 1997) – #2072 (27 September 1997)

Episodes: 8

Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Claire Thomas is extremely worried about her friend Kerry Simpson. Kerry is a huge fan of a new pop group called Dream Boyz, especially its lead singer, Rob. But it turns into an obsession that is getting out of hand and begins to hurt everyone around her.

The first sign of real trouble is when Kerry steals a video recording of Dream Boyz from her friend Julia. When Claire puts pressure on Kerry to quietly return it, Kerry does so – but then steals it again.

When Kerry has Claire around, she just ignores her because she’s miles away, daydreaming about Dream Boyz. When Kerry hears Rob likes women who are dressed in black, have short hair, and wear wild jewellery so they stand out in the street, she sets off to have a makeover in that style although she hates black and likes her long hair. She even dyes her hair black. Kerry’s boyfriend Dan is appalled because he liked Kerry the way she was. Now she’s almost unrecognisable.

Claire learns Kerry paid for her makeover with the money she was saving for a trip to Disneyland Paris with her parents and Dan. She tells Kerry that the folks will be furious after the arrangements they have made for Disneyland Paris, but all Kerry cares about is Dream Boyz.

Dan hears about how Kerry misused the money for Disneyland Paris, but that’s not the reason he is now thinking of dumping her. It’s because when she has him around, she neglects him too because she’s too wrapped up daydreaming about Dream Boyz.

Claire tries to talk sense into Kerry and informs her what Dan is thinking of. But Kerry isn’t listening and is far more interested in how to get to Dream Boyz concerts that are too far away to get to.

Kerry almost falls under the wheels of a truck because she’s too preoccupied with listening to Dream Boyz on her Walkman to pay attention to the road. Claire saves her, but not even this brings Kerry to her senses. Her head is still full of Dream Boyz.

Before long, Claire is the only friend Kerry has left. She breaks up with Dan, and she doesn’t even turn a hair, much less get jealous, when Dan starts dating another girl, because she’s too obsessed with Dream Boyz. She also falls out with her friends Julia and Lois, just because Lois doesn’t like Dream Boyz. Kerry misses out on Lois’ birthday party in consequence. And it isn’t long before Kerry’s obsession severely tries her friendship with Claire as well. Kerry gets a signed photograph and believes Rob personally signed it for her. Claire says it’s just a publicity photo, and gets one as well to prove her point. But instead of stopping to think as Claire hopes, Kerry gets the impression that Claire has become a fan too.

But the real strain on their friendship begins when Kerry plans to play truant in order to attend a Dream Boyz concert and wants Claire to come too. Against her better judgement Claire does so, in order to keep an eye on Kerry. Kerry has arranged her cover note and instructs Claire to have a boy named David tell teachers she’s unwell. As they set off for the station, they notice Julia and Lois driving by with their parents.

While waiting for the concert, Kerry meets another fan, Tanya (hmm, wonder if any of these fans played truant too?). Claire isn’t enjoying herself because she is not a Dream Boyz fan like the others. Moreover, she begins to worry that she has been found out when she phones home, but nobody answers.

Tanya wins a draw to see Rob after the concert and Kerry jumps at her invitation to come along. Claire is annoyed at this because it will make them miss their train. Claire is even more furious when it turns out to be for nothing: they are told the interview’s off as Rob is too ill – again. The message is delivered with a “yeah, riiight” hint that Claire picks up on. It turns out to be a foreshadowing of what happens in the final episode, but that will be discussed later. Right now the Dream Boyz crazy-girls dismiss it and want to stay on to see how Rob is. However, Claire insists on not missing another train and this time Kerry is obliged to come along. As they leave, Tanya gives Kerry a piece of paper.

Missing the earlier train has made Claire late home and now she is extremely worried about big trouble. Luckily for Claire, her parents haven’t even noticed because they were out at the new supermarket. Claire is relieved to get away with it.

But Kerry isn’t so lucky – the school has somehow found her out and she receives a summons to see the Head! Kerry is convinced Lois and Julia sneaked on her (Claire doesn’t believe it) because they saw her at the station and swears vengeance. Meanwhile, Claire decides to tell David the truth about what happened. When she is through, he is also concerned about Kerry’s obsession. Claire finds she has an attraction for David too.

Claire hopes the Head will knock some sense into Kerry, but no such luck. Kerry is as bad as ever. In fact, she gets even worse because her angry parents have told her to get rid of her Dream Boyz collection. Kerry wants Claire to mind it instead, but Claire puts her foot down because she had a bad fright from her narrow escape and doesn’t want any more involvement. Kerry gets into a real huff and won’t speak to Claire. Yet she has the nerve to dump the Dream Boyz collection at Claire’s house, with a note saying she will split about Claire’s role in the truancy business if she doesn’t look after the collection. In other words – Kerry is blackmailing Claire!

Claire is horrified at this, and so is David when he hears. He advises Claire to tell Kerry to get lost and accompanies her to Kerry’s house to help her do that. But when they arrive there is no sign of Kerry. The parents are worried. It looks like she has gone to another concert, and there is a connection to a girl named Tanya. Claire and David go to check through Kerry’s collection for a clue as to her whereabouts.

On the way they bump into Julia, and they learn her family’s car has been vandalised. This has caused a particular nuisance because they needed the car to go visit Julia’s brother Oliver in hospital. They have to use a taxi instead. Recalling Kerry’s threat against Julia and Lois, Claire gets a horrible suspicion as to who vandalised the car.

David and Claire discover the blackmail note has been written on the back of the piece of paper Tanya gave Kerry. It lists Tanya’s phone number and Rob’s home address. They head out to the address, and find Kerry there, along with Tanya and other fans, who have come to wish Rob “Happy Birthday”. At first Kerry denies the vandalism of the car, but then she admits it when she hears how it has interfered with the Oliver emergency.

Then Rob himself turns up – driving his car in such a reckless manner that he nearly runs over an old lady’s dog and is not in the least bit sorry about it. He continues to act in a rude, callous, arrogant manner right in front of his fans, including brushing Kerry aside when she tries to get his autograph for Oliver: “Clear off, kid!” Rob goes off into his home with a girl who is totally unconcerned about his conduct. And it is very suspicious that the girl, whose body language suggests she is Rob’s girlfriend, is not dressed in the manner Rob has led his fans to believe he likes in women…

Kerry’s illusions about Rob have been shattered and she’s in tears. But of course it is the definitive cure for her Dream Boyz mania. There is a slight hint in the panel that Tanya and the other fans have also become disillusioned with Rob. Kerry now realises how badly she has behaved and is deeply sorry. Claire is relieved that the Dream Boyz nightmare is finally over.

Thoughts

There have been plenty of girls’ serials that warn what can happen if something is taken to extremes, even if it is something considered beneficial, such as charity work. Becoming overly obsessed with a pop star is an all-too-common thing, and there must have been a lot of readers who winced a bit as they read this story, because they would have seen or even experienced something like it in their own lives. There are also plenty of parents exasperated with pop-crazy teenage daughters and sons who would relate to this story too.

Claire is a friend in a million. She is the only one who stands by Kerry while Kerry’s obsession with Dream Boyz drives off all her other friends and boyfriend, causes her to miss out on things, ruins the prospects of her Disneyland Paris, gets her into trouble with her parents and the Head, and even almost gets her run over. But none of it gets through to Kerry. In fact, Kerry begins to ruin her very last friendship with the way she treats Claire in dragging her down into truancy to attend a Dream Boyz concert, which could have gotten Claire into big trouble, and even stooping to blackmailing her own friend. Kerry was lucky she still had a friend in Claire after that.

Kerry’s obsession is also making her do things that she would not have otherwise done. By turns we see Kerry steal from Julia, squander money she was saving that would upset travel plans, play truant from school, destroy her friendships, resort to blackmail, and even commit vandalism. She doesn’t have the slightest twinge of guilt or common sense about it because her obsession with Dream Boyz has made her too single-minded. So there is no reasoning with her. The only thing that can get through is shock treatment. And Kerry gets it from Rob himself, who turns out to be a selfish git who cares nothing about his own fans. We have to wonder how long Dream Boyz will last once word gets out that its own lead singer has such an attitude towards his fans.

Meanwhile, Kerry will be answerable to the consequences of her conduct, including the damaged car. And it was all for nothing because Rob did not turn out to be the dreamboat Kerry imagined him to be. One can only hope this will be a factor in forgiveness for her.

Hot Gossip! [1997]

Published: Bunty: #2062 (19 July 1997) – #2067 (23 August 1997)

Episodes: 6

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Everyone thinks the Mount Comp School Magazine is boring. Then the ALTERNATIVE School Mag appears, but its origins and producer are a complete mystery. It is not distributed; it just pops up stuck into lockers, on classroom desks and the like. It is definitely more exciting than the official school magazine, but for the wrong reasons. It is filled with salacious gossip and poison pen lies about school staff and pupils. Its venom is particularly directed at a pupil called Ali; it accuses her of stealing boyfriends and two-timing, and always promises even more about Ali in the next issue. It isn’t even a proper magazine either; it looks like someone has just been typing it up as a document on a computer and printing off multiple copies.

Ali is naturally upset by it all and becomes the focus of a lot of sympathy and attention. Her best friend Sonia is her main pillar of strength. Ali thinks the first issue ruined her chances of getting together with Ben because it accused her of stealing the boyfriend of a hospitalised girl.

The headmaster finds out about ALTERNATIVE and issues a stern warning to desist. But ALTERNATIVE continues to appear. Ali tells Sonia not to report its reappearance to the headmaster because some pupils like the ALTERNATIVE mag and she doesn’t want to spoil it for them.

One issue of ALTERNATIVE asked if Ali would even dare to go to the disco. Sonia encourages her to go and not let the nastiness get to her. But all eyes are on Ali when she arrives. Ben asks Ali to dance, and one girl, Mel, teases Ali about all the gossip this will provide for the next issue. Sonia tells Ali that Mel is just jealous because she fancied Ben too.

Sonia tells Ali it’s time they did some detective work to track down the miscreant. Ali’s brother Simon joins them, and so does Ben. Ali is upset because the last issue said they had conducted an interview with Ben who claimed everything ALTERNATIVE had printed about Ali is true. Ben rubbishes such claims and says Ali should know better than to believe them. Later, Sonia comments how closer Ben and Ali have become since ALTERNATIVE started.

Sonia’s suspicions fall on Emma, who is the biggest gossip in the school. Sonia watches Emma and finds she is going into a lot of shops asking about paper, and she is clearly holding a copy of ALTERNATIVE while doing so. As they continue to watch Emma, Sonia gets the impression that Emma is keeping a close eye on Ali. Emma overhears them and tells them that she is conducting her own investigation into ALTERNATIVE too, and is making inquiries to track down the paper supplier.

Simon finds the paper for ALTERNATIVE is being taken out of the paper supply for the official school magazine. Someone is using the computer that produces the official magazine to produce ALTERNATIVE too. But they have to run it off quickly, which means it is printed in the draft form that the official one has before it moves onto its final print. So the obvious course of action is to watch the computer room, particularly during lunchtimes, late afternoons and such, which are the most likely times when the culprit produces ALTERNATIVE.

Sonia still suspects Emma, so she is very suspicious during one lunch break to see Emma gulp down her lunch quickly and then take off. Sonia trails Emma and Ben joins her. Emma does head for the computer room, but tells Sonia and Ben that it’s not for the reason they think. Emma opens the door – and they catch Ali at the computer, typing up ALTERNATIVE.

Emma explains that she had begun to suspect Ali once she realised that Ali was the one who was getting something out of it – lots of attention. Ali shamefully admits it, saying it was to get Ben to notice her and she was fed up with everyone ignoring her. Ben says he fancied Ali well before ALTERNATIVE started and was thinking of asking her out. But after how she used them all, forget it. Sonia is also furious at being used this way and how Ali was capable of allowing her to make a fool of herself by wrongly accusing Emma.

Other pupils crowd around to find out what’s going on. When they hear, one girl sarcastically says it’s a pity there won’t be any more issues because this would have been the best story yet. Emma says Ali’s getting plenty of attention now, but Ben says it’s not the type she wanted.

Thoughts

There is nothing new in what Ali does. Girls’ comics have a long history of girls faking harassment and writing poison pen slander in order to get attention, friends, or just to be nasty. Bunty’s Letters of Hate is one example. But doing it through printing a magazine that’s an entire smear piece and distributing it around the school is taking it on a whole new level. Turning the poison pen against school staff as well as pupils is taking it on a whole new level as well. Surely no other poison pen writer in girls’ comics went as far as to attack school staff!

Ali’s poison penning also runs the serious risk of backfiring, as evidenced by some pupils enjoying it and even being nasty to Ali about it. The slanderous stuff about Ali being a two-timer and boyfriend stealer could have backfired as well and driven Ben off instead of drawing him to her. Did Ali never think that some people might actually believe the stuff she’s putting out and give her a hard time over it? Looks like not, just as she never thought how she is just taking advantage of her best friend Sonia and using the wrong means to catch Ben – until it’s too late, of course. Ben must be speaking what Ali has realised too late that she has gotten herself the wrong sort of attention.

Evidently Ali never thought of the old adage “quit while you’re ahead” either. She does not even stop when the headmaster issues his warning, probably because she thought nobody would ever suspect her. Ali does not even quit when the watch on the computer room starts, which would make it even more difficult to type up ALTERNATIVE.

Hindsight tells us what a clever manipulator Ali is in getting her own way. For example, her hurt remarks that Ben has been interviewed for ALTERNATIVE is evidently a cunning ploy to keep him close to her. So too is her way of talking Sonia into not to talking to the headmaster about the resurgence of ALTERNATIVE. Poor, duped Sonia even thinks Ali is doing it for selfless reasons and commends her for it!

It is quite surprising that the person who gets on the right track and solves the mystery is a most unlikely one – the biggest gossip in the school. We would think it more likely that a gossip like Emma would be among those who eat up ALTERNATIVE and its contents. Perhaps Emma started her detective work because someone else also accused her of putting out ALTERNATIVE and she was trying to clear her name. Or maybe even the school gossip had her limits. As it is, it is a real twist to have the school gossip in the role of the heroine rather than the more usual role of the one to cause trouble with gossip.