All posts by mistyfan

Minnie the Meanie [1989-1990]

We’re heading towards that time of year to be extra-generous to people while spending up large on gifts, holidays and other treats. But here’s a cautionary tale from Judy not to take either one to extremes. The consequences can be just as damaging as for the other extreme that we always hear about at Christmas – Scrooge. As the parents in this story found out, not even a pools win is a limitless amount of money for spending.

Published: Judy #1564 December 30 1989 to #1577 (31 March 1990)

Episodes: 14

Artist: Unknown artist – “Merry”

Writer: Unknown. Possibly the same writer as “Hard Times for Helen

Plot

Minnie Mill and her family live in a shabby house in Badger Street. Then they win £300,000 on the pools.

Unfortunately Mum and Dad let the whole new flush of money go to their heads and turn into super-spendthrifts. They go crazy on buying new things right, left and centre. They treat the money as if it will never cease to end and begin to lose the meaning of its value. For example, when Dad receives a letter saying there’s a back payment from his old company he scorns it because it seems like chickenfeed to what he has now and can’t be bothered collecting it. Minnie is horrified at his attitude, and she collects it herself because someone around here has to be sensible. They give no thought to investment or long-term planning at all, despite the offer – and warning – from the pools representative.

The worst of it is that Mum is a good-natured woman with a heart of gold, so it is an all-too-easy matter for the money to turn her generosity into over-generosity. Dad is just the same. And Minnie is quick to realise why the residents of Badger Street who previously took little notice of them are suddenly crowding around to be nice and friendly – they are out to take advantage of the money and the parents’ generosity. Dad soon has a well-earned reputation for spending and giving away huge handfuls of money as if it were nothing and people say he’ll give away his last penny.

Minnie is also finding that kids are taking advantage of her as well and pretending to be friendly while finding ways to cheat her out of huge sums of money. Several of these tactics are really despicable. For example, one girl, Gladdie, appears to be genuine, so Minnie trusts her with £600 to pay her mother’s rent with. When she discovers the money has in fact gone into Gladdie’s bank account, she orders her to pay the money to charity – or else. Another girl, Ida, cons Minnie out of money that was supposed to go on replenishing her grandmother’s empty coal cellar. When Minnie finds out, she helps to replenish the cellar secretly. Even a girl who is far richer than Minnie cheats her out of money.

Minnie reckons she has no friends anymore; the ones she had have joined the bullies who shout “Minnie the Meanie!” at her. Only one girl, Rosie, seems to be a friend. But by now Minnie has been so badly burned she just can’t trust anyone.

Because of all this cadging and cheating, Minnie becomes afraid to display her generosity openly and with the gay abandon that the parents do. She resorts to doing it in secret, and where she sees it is going to a genuine cause, such as replenishing the grandmother’s coal supply or getting treatment for a sick dog.

Minnie also starts saving any money she can get her hands on (including Dad’s unwanted back payment) into the account her parents gave her. This is because she realises their money will run out because of their careless spending, and a reserve will be required for when this happens.

This and not displaying her generosity openly give the impression that she is turning into a miser, a reputation she believes she must cultivate in order to protect her parents’ money as best she can. The people of Badger Street start to bully and jeer at her, calling her “Minnie the Meanie!” in the street. This causes misunderstandings with her parents, who think she is turning into a miser too. So they don’t listen when she tries to tell them that people are taking advantage of them. They just brush it off because they have lots of money anyway, so what’s the big deal?

At first the parents dismiss warning signs that they are spending too much. Dad laughs and says there’s still plenty left. They buy over a house next door (and make an overinflated offer for it!) so they can add it to their own and develop their residence in accordance with how they are rising up the social scale. Once the redevelopment is complete, Mum throws out the furnishings they only just bought when the money first arrived and buys whole new ones!

Ironically, the parents don’t even approve of Minnie saving money instead of spending it as they do and think it’s just more of her miserliness. This attitude gets really bizarre. For example, when they find out what Minnie did with the back payment, what angers them is that she saved the money instead of spending it! They are far less bothered about her taking the money herself.

Minnie’s saving causes other problems too. For example, she goes on a shopping spree, and then returns the gifts for money, which gets banked. Nasty Ella Stevens finds out and starts blackmailing her. To get Ella off her back, Minnie tells the folks herself. She then teaches Ella a lesson by compelling her to donate £20 to the Youth Club Roof Fund.

One day Dad comes in looking awfully worried. He does not say what is wrong, but Minnie guesses that Dad is paying more heed to warning signals that the money is running out. Indeed, he now becomes more wary about spending money. Strangely, Dad would still much rather have Minnie spending than saving, which she steps up of course. Meanwhile, Mum pays no attention and continues with heedless spending.

Dad getting worried about the spending prompts nasty gossip from the neighbours that the parents are getting as mean as Minnie. Despite Minnie’s protests not to give in to such bullying, Mum tries to stop the gossip by lavishing even more generosity on them.

One of the worst cases of this is when Mum takes the residents of Badger Street on an outing that includes a funfair and an expensive lunch. Dad joins in Minnie’s protests that they are spending far more than necessary on the trip, what with buying snacks for the residents on top of the lunch and giving them all spending money at the fair. Mum just tells him that he’s getting as bad as Minnie and he gives in to keep the peace. Minnie secretly cancels the lunch and temporarily hides Dad’s wallet so he can’t treat the residents elsewhere, hoping their reaction will make the parents see sense. Their reaction is to accuse the parents of pulling cheap tricks despite the other treats they provided, stalk off to find a cuppa without including the Mills, and they show they care more about a free lunch than Dad getting his wallet nicked. Dad is outraged and disgusted at this, while Mum does not open her eyes at all. However, Minnie has new hope that Dad is beginning to see things her way.

Indeed, Dad starts quarrelling with Mum over her overspending while she says he’s just a big meanie like Minnie. Minnie cannot reason with her either. Dad groans when the latest bank statement arrives, and Minnie can guess why.

Finally, the inevitable happens because of Mum’s overspending. But by the time she learns this, it’s too late – her latest spending spree has run up a total of £29,500 in bills to pay! So they are not only stony broke but also in huge debt, and there are angry creditors on the doorstep too.

Minnie managed to save enough to clear the debts, and there is even a bit left over. The parents now understand why Minnie was saving so hard. So the next time the bullies call Minnie a meanie, Mum gives them a real piece of her mind and tells them what Minnie did for them. After this they apologise to Minnie, admit they were just jealous and how horrible they were, and they also guess who the secret beneficiary was. Minnie gets her friends back and forgives their conduct. The other Badger Street residents rally around to help out once the word spreads (with a few gloating exceptions).

The parents have to find a new way to make ends meet. At Minnie’s suggestion, they use the two cars they have now and the remaining money to start a taxi business.

Thoughts

This story is so realistic because it draws on so many real-life stories that we hear about. People who go from rags to riches, only to end up in rags again. People who win vast fortunes – only to lose the lot within a few years because they handled the money badly, as the Mill parents did. People who come into a huge amount of money get taken advantage of by cadgers and false friends. Which is precisely the reason why some people who win the lotto prefer to stay quiet about it. Over-generous people losing huge amounts of money because they can’t stop giving – sometimes even when they can’t even afford to give – and cadgers taking advantage of them as well. People who found that huge wins turned sour for them and prove the old adage that money is not everything. All of it is revolving around in this story.

Through Minnie’s eyes, we see an exploration of greed and how it brings out the worst in people, even in people Minnie thought were her friends. Minnie always sees vultures swooping in on what the parents have to give away and cadgers dropping in to take advantage with sob stories and such. She also sees jealousy in people when they’re not grasping, such as nasty gossips. Jealousy is clearly behind all their nastiness towards Minnie as they were whispering she was turning into a miser well before she started on her so-called miserly conduct. At the party to celebrate the win they are gossiping that she is a miser just because she doesn’t look so happy; in fact it’s because she already suspects their cadging.

While the residents of Badger Street say Mrs Mill has a heart of gold, they do not reciprocate it in any way or show any gratitude for the things the Mill parents do for them. They don’t even give the Mill family a cup of flour when they ask for one or offer to help out when Dad loses his wallet. All they do is take, take, take from the Mill family now that they’re in the money, and they don’t give anything in return. They have a nerve calling Minnie a meanie when they are so mean themselves towards the Mill family and don’t show them any generosity. It’s not until the very end that they rediscover their kindness and give something back to the Mill family.

The story also comments on how a huge supply of money can get people to take things for granted. Dad laughs off the back payment because it looks nothing compared to his win. Mum throws out brand-new and expensive furnishings and thinks nothing of the expense of buying new ones. An expensive trolley goes when the vultures swoop on the old furnishings, but Mum dismisses it as no big deal (Dad is more horrified). Mum thinks little of a woman cadging off her because she’s got so much money anyway. The parents would never have thought that way in the days when they lived in shabby accommodation and Mum had to be a careful housekeeper because they did not have much money. Minnie never goes that way at all and is appalled at her parents’ attitude.

This story is no exception to girls’ serials where the protagonist has far more brains, common sense and perception than her parents. While the parents are so blithe to the cadging or shrug it off, Minnie can see right through it. Minnie gets victimised by the cadging too, but at least she rumbles the cadgers and does something about it wherever she can. Also, Minnie never catches the “buying disease” as her parents do and goes crazy on spending, so she is quick to realise where it is all going to lead. She is the only one to take active steps to prepare for that eventuality. Dad eventually heeds the warning signals about the impending doom, but he does not really do anything about it. He does worry and quarrels with his wife about overspending, but he does not actually tell the family what is going on or show them the bank statements. Nor did he put any remaining money into a reserve, as Minnie did.

Minnie is more assertive than many protagonists. So many of them, such as Helen Shaw from “Hard Times for Helen”, just suffer in silence and don’t speak out (until the end). But Minnie is not afraid to speak up. She constantly speaks parents about the cadging, even if they don’t listen. At times she even talks back at the cadgers and bullies.

And of course it’s all thanks to the protagonist that things do not turn out so badly for the parents in the end. If it had not been for Minnie, their stupidity, lack of foresight and heedless spending would have ruined them entirely and they would ended up even worse off than when they were to begin with. As it is, Minnie’s money and brains and Mum’s not-too-bad idea of buying a second car enable them to begin on a new business venture that keeps them from going right back to square one or even worse.

It’s a relief all around when the money goes, because it brought only trouble. But then, much of that was due to the parents handling the money badly and not heeding the advice of the pools representative. If the Mill parents get another chance at the pools, they will no doubt try to use the money more wisely.

Tug of Love Toni / Toni’s Troubles

Plot

Toni Cole’s mother walked out on the family two years before because she was mixed up. She returns for a second chance, but Toni has not forgiven her and tries to drive her away with nastiness. However, when Toni finally succeeds in getting rid of her mother, she suddenly realises how wrong she was.

Notes

  • Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Appeared

  • Tug of Love Toni – Judy: #1548 (9 September 1989) – #1559 (25 November 1989)
  • Reprinted as Toni’s Troubles – M&J:  #240 (16 December 1995) – #251 (2 March 1996)

 

The Barn [1995]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #226

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

We continue commemorating the Halloween season with “The Barn”, as it’s got owls and a haunted barn.

Plot

Beth Braden and her parents move to the countryside when Dad gets a job on an estate with Mr Horden. Beth is soon settling into the country life, though Horden rapidly makes it clear he is not the nicest of bosses to work for. Beth soon discovers that Horden has big plans for developing the estate. Moreover, he does not care how he goes about it, or who or what gets in the way.

Beth comes across an old barn and immediately likes it for its character and historical feel. She also finds a love heart carving that says BB loves LD, and is struck at how she shares the same initials as BB. She is dismayed to hear Horden is planning to develop the area for a luxury villa, which would look awful in that area. It would also demolish Beth’s beloved barn, which looks like it has heritage values too. Unfortunately she can’t do anything to put Dad’s job in jeopardy. Later she learns she has BB’s old room in their new cottage when she stumbles across BB’s box hidden under the floorboards. The box contains a pressed flower and a silver owl brooch.

At the village disco Beth meets a boy who has the same initials as LD – Luke Daniels. Beth learns that Luke’s father lost his job on the estate when Horden took it over, and for this reason he gets frigid with her once he hears who her father works for. But they soon come together again when they find an injured barn owl. Luke has been taught a few things in how to nurse the owl. They decide to keep her in the old barn where they can continue to nurse her. There is an owl window in the barn too, which suggests it has been used for owl watching before.

Then Beth and Luke overhear a conversation between Horden and Councillor Roberts. They realise Roberts is helping Horden to get council permission for the development plans as part of an illegal deal.

Beth’s father also tells her that Horden is trying to get permission to pull down an oak tree despite it having a protection order because it houses rare bats. Learning that buildings that house rare creatures could get them protected too, Beth realises that if they can get the barn owl to settle in the barn, they could get it protected. But it’s not just because of the owls; it’s also for BB and LD because Beth senses it means a lot to them. Beth also feels there is a presence in the barn that does not want the barn to go.

The owl begins to settle into the barn, and her mate turns up to feed her. But Horden’s application for council consent to convert the barn is now moving, so they have to come up with a way to stop it, and without Horden knowing Beth is part of it. They hit on the idea of entering a photo of the owls in a junior wildlife photo competition in the newspaper, with a note to say where the owls live, in accordance with the rules. But it will be entered under Luke’s name only to protect Beth.

There is something spooky about what happens when Luke takes the photo of the owl feeding its mate. Beth could swear she heard someone gasp as it was being taken. Luke thinks there was something odd about it too – he is not much good at photography, yet he seemed to know when to take the photo. Beth now really begins to suspect something in the barn wants it to be left intact. It’s no surprise that the photograph wins the competition.

The owls have settled into the barn so well that they have started nesting. A reporter who runs the nature column in the newspaper comes to do an article on the owls and hears about Horden’s application for planning approval. He gets the application blocked, much to Horden’s fury and Luke and Beth’s delight.

However, Beth and Luke soon learn that Horden is not going to take it lying down. He poisons the two nesting owls and all that is left are their new chicks. The kids now raise the chicks themselves, and it is not long before the chicks are learning to fly.

Then BB’s diary turns up from under the floorboards. It dates from 1913 and also contains a record of owl watching, which BB used to conduct with a boyfriend called Len. Their chicks are almost ready to fly by the time Len goes into the army. The silver owl brooch was his parting gift to BB, and she says the owls would help to keep them close. Sadly, Len was KIA. The diary ends with BB reporting hearing strange noises in the barn and thinks it is a tramp. Luke and Beth then find evidence that there was a fire in the barn once. BB does not mention this in her diary, which suggests that the fire was after her time.

All of a sudden, fire strikes again in the barn, courtesy of an arsonist. The smoke nearly claims the lives of Beth and the owls, but Mr Daniels puts the fire out in time. He then explains that BB – full name Beth Baxter – perished in the other fire, which was accidentally started by the tramp. Sure enough, she used to live in the cottage and she was owl watching too.

Horden is jailed for attempted bribery of the council. So he has been forced to sell up. The new owner is a much nicer man who is happy to employ both Mr Braden and Mr Daniels. He also agrees to leave the barn and its owls as they are.

Thoughts

 This is a story you have to love for the wildlife caring, the dash of the supernatural and the hints of romance. Though there is no sign of romance between Beth and Luke and they seem little more than close friends, we will not be surprised if it goes that way at some point. That was the way it went between the two predecessors who parallel with them so much, right down to the initials. Even before we learn the full story and names of BB and LD, we get the impression that their story ended tragically. After all, how else could the haunting have started? We get the feeling the story is going to go in the direction of a haunting once Beth sees the love heart in the barn, even before the supernatural is introduced. The supernatural touches are very deftly and cleverly done. Instead of apparitions, objects moving and spectral warnings, the haunting is kept indistinct and gives little more than subtle nudges here and there to influence events in saving the owls and the barn.

Many could regard Mr Horden as just a ruthless, greedy man who stops at nothing and nobody to get what he wants. Yet he can also be seen as an allegory of the destructive forces of greed and profit at the expense of the environment and driving our fellow species into extinction (as exemplified in bowling over the rare owls and bats), and not giving a damn about it. Councillor Roberts could be regarded as even more distasteful because he’s corrupt. He’s breaking council rules and the law in order to help Horden because he stands to have his share of money out of Horden’s venture. Just how these two are caught out is not revealed, evidently because there were not enough pages to go into those details. Perhaps the arsonist was caught and made a confession.

The artwork does a brilliant job of bringing the story to life. It has a rugged, even heavy feel at times that blends in perfectly with the rural setting and depicting the owls and the barn, especially when the supernatural elements are introduced.

Was My Mother a Witch? [1979]

 

Published: Judy Picture Story Library #190

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

Halloween is in the offing, which makes it fitting to focus on some more of the spooky publications from DCT.

Plot

The year is 1656. Anne is the adopted daughter of Pastor Septimus Bartholomew. Anne has always been happy there, but then small disquieting things begin to happen. Her father gets oddly upset when Anne jokingly calls one of her siblings “my little imp”, and also when she speaks endearments to a kitten.

These seem such trivial things, but they foreshadow something more worrying when Anne pays a visit to Pendleton, the village of her birth. An old woman (who looks like a witch herself!) tells Anne that her mother was a witch. As she is approaching thirteen, her own powers of witchcraft will soon awaken too, and she would have a Devil’s mark on her body. Following this, Anne begins to doubt herself. She wonders if she has inherited witchcraft from her mother, and whether a mark on her arm is the Devil’s mark like the old woman said.

Mary, the servant woman, tells Anne it’s all superstitious nonsense, and that mark on her arm is not a devil’s mark but a scar from a rose thorn. All the same, Anne has horrible nightmares of being a witch’s child that night and is still full of self-doubts.

Soon after, Anne is given a place as a seamstress to a grand lady, Mistress Latimer at Pendleton Hall – which is in the very village where her alleged witch mother lived. The sewing goes very well, but Anne is still troubled by the story about her mother and the doubts about herself. She grows even more fearful she is a witch when the household dog, Toby, reacts very badly to her for no apparent reason.

Unwisely, Anne tells people in the household that she wonders if she is a witch because of the allegations against her mother. Though Emmie the housekeeper is sensible about it, she does tell Anne that her grandmother was feared because was said to have powers to foretell the future. She also says plague killed the mother and her family, and Anne was the only survivor. However, the ensuing gossip spread by others has Lady Latimer telling Anne to leave the hall the next day.

That night Anne slips out to the ruins of the cottage where her mother once lived. She examines an old cauldron Emmie said was there, but there is nothing untoward or sinister about it.

On the way back Anne rescues the dog Toby from a trap set by the manservant of the hall. Emmie tells Anne that her act of kindness is proof she is not a witch, and gives logical explanations for Toby’s initial hostility towards her. Anne’s mind is now put to rest, but she is so glad when her family summon her home.

Thoughts

The story definitely means well in its message that the old belief in witchcraft was a product of ignorance and superstition. From the sound of it, Anne’s mother was a victim of it rather than being any practitioner of black magic, presumably because her own mother had what would now be called psychic powers. Anne was very fortunate that she experienced little more than self-doubt and some gossip. There have been so many other girls in girls’ comics who suffered full persecution that started with such rumours, such as Ellie Ross in Bunty’s “Witch!” Nor did Anne have any weird experiences that could suggest genuine powers of some sort as her counterparts in stories like “Witch!” did.

As this is a story set in the age of witchcraft persecution itself, it feels so pat and unrealistic that Anne got through it so unscathed and with such little trouble. The 17th century people in the story are not reacting to these rumours of witchcraft with the fear and hysteria that they should have. It is acknowledged that even the 17th century would have had its share of sceptics, who come across so exemplary in the forms of Mary and Emmie. But the others in the story who believe it more are not really reacting as dangerously as they should have been. In those days, once that sort of rumour got going, Anne would have found herself persecuted on all sides from witch-hunting mobs and such. Nor would she have been able to cast off the accusation of witchcraft as glibly as she did. Once the label of witchcraft stuck in those times, it was there to stay. Even if anyone was acquitted of witchcraft in those times, the accusation still cast a long shadow over their lives.

Although the story is well meaning in its intentions and the artwork works well, particularly in the spooky night scenes, the plot feels weak and unconvincing. Also, there is little drama or excitement in the story, while the potential was there to use the 17th century fear of witchcraft and its life-threatening ramifications for Anne to make it a far more intense and thrilling story.

Selfish Susan [1991]

Published: Mandy: #1261 (16 March 1991) – #1269 (11 May 1991) (final issue)

Episodes: 9

Artist: Dudley Wynne

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: None known

Plot

Susan Smith is a selfish girl. Not surprisingly, she is not popular at school. Then Susan contracts an illness that leaves her temporarily deaf. All of a sudden, Susan enjoys a swell in popularity because the girls are sympathetic and make a big fuss over her and give her treats. The school staff also give Susan special privileges and allowances because of her deafness, and her parents spoil her too. Susan loves every minute of it, so when her hearing returns she keeps it a secret so she can continue with the gains she’s made and take advantage of everyone.

Being able to hear in secret also enables Susan to pull tricks to get extras she wants, and she does not care if it hurts someone. For example, she wants a tape recorder (easier to switch off her music quickly with when someone approaches), but not just any tape recorder. She wants the most expensive one in the catalogue. When her parents say they can’t afford it, Susan pulls at their heartstrings and sympathy until they give in and buy it for her. She has no thought whatsoever about how hard financially it must have been on them. In another episode Susan wants to go on a school trip, but all the places are filled. So she gets the girl on the list ahead of her into trouble with a teacher so the girl gets crossed off the list. The poor girl’s in tears, but all Susan cares about is being on the trip after all.

Susan’s thinking resembles that of a spoiled brat. When it looks like she is not going to get her own way she thinks, “Oh, it’s not fair!” She thinks this so much it could be her tagline.

Then new girl Sonia arrives. Sonia has had the same illness, which diverts some of the big fuss over Susan away from her. Susan feels threatened by Sonia, especially where Sonia’s suggestions threaten to cramp her privileges at school, such as being excused note-taking in class and copying the notes off the girls later. However, Sonia suggests something she did when she did when she was deaf: tape-record the lessons and have her parents recite them to her later so she can lip-read from them. Susan, who never got the hang of lip-reading like Sonia and prefers to crib notes off the girls, has the tape-recorder cause such a nuisance in class that Sonia gets into trouble because of it. And so it becomes one of the dirty tricks Susan has been pulling on Sonia to make her unpopular and neutralise the threat she poses.

However, Susan’s lack of ability with lip-reading becomes the beginning of the end for her. During another lesson Sonia realises Susan can’t lip-read at all. Therefore she can’t be reading her classmates’ lips, so how come she understands them? It is then that Sonia begins to suspect the truth. But when she tackles Susan, Susan deals with her by feigning the waterworks. As planned, this turns the other girls against Sonia.

Sonia has her suspicions about Susan, though. While they are working in the school stockroom, Sonia pulls a trick to test her suspicions. Susan manages to wriggle her way out of that trick. But then there is a fire in the school and Sonia realises Susan can hear what’s going on all right. However, proving that Susan can hear is not that easy. Once they pupils evacuate from the school and get sent home because of the fire, Susan really pulls at the girls’ sympathy to forestall any attempt Sonia makes to convince them of her discovery. It works, and Susan is confident that Sonia will now give up.

But Susan is wrong. When the girls go to the park, Sonia makes one more attempt to catch Susan out, with a phoney “wet paint” warning. This time, she succeeds. Susan’s initial reaction is to arrogantly say what fools she’s made of them, how it’s been great fun, and she’s come out the winner. This just fuels the girls’ indignation at how Susan took advantage of them and they stalk off, saying they won’t have anything to do with her again. This has Susan realising she is not such a winner because there are going to be no more of the friendships, special privileges etc that she had enjoyed so much; “Oh, it’s not fair!” And she soon finds she is definitely not the winner because nobody ever trusts her again.

Thoughts

This was one of Mandy’s very last stories. It has the distinction of being the last-ever story Dudley Wynne drew for Mandy before she was cancelled. It is a somewhat cruel irony that this story was running cheek-by-jowl with a reprint of another Dudley Wynne Mandy story, “Angel”, because Angel is everything that the scheming Susan is not. It was also the last in Mandy’s long line of stories where a schemer fakes disability.

Stories where girls fake disability were a common staple in girls’ comics. Usually this was to take advantage of people as Susan did, but there have been other motives such as revenge, being blackmailed, or misguided bids to keep the family together. It was more frequent for them to fake blindness, lameness or paralysis rather than deafness, but feigned deafness has appeared elsewhere too, such as Tracy’s “Sheila the Sham”.

Deafness must have been a more difficult disability to fake, though. Imagine if there was a sudden, unbearable noise right in your ear! Faking deafness also means Susan has to miss out on some things such as not being able to laugh at a hilarious television show and the gossip she used to enjoy so much while she could hear. It also leads to difficulties such as Susan having to play her pop music in secret.

Susan isn’t as evil or despicable as some schemers such as Bettina / Linda from “The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina” aka “The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee”. Still, Susan is not a sympathetic character, even when she is genuinely deaf, and she remains unsympathetic throughout. The parents and schoolmates all sympathise with her, but we don’t when we see how opportunistic Susan is being about the big fuss over her. The deafness has done nothing to humble Susan or help cure her of her selfish nature. Instead, it’s made her even more selfish once she realises the advantages she is gaining from it, which far outweigh the disadvantages. She has no remorse or compunction about how she takes advantage of everyone and is not at all grateful for the extra-nice things they do for her. There are no second thoughts or twinges of guilt when she hurts others just to get what she wants. There is no quitting while she’s ahead, but these schemers in girls’ comics never do. She isn’t at all remorseful either when she is finally caught out. It’s just bitterness, horror, and thinking “Oh, it’s not fair!” The final page does not say whether the ensuing ostracism and distrust once Susan is caught out did change her for the better or just reinforced her “Oh, it’s not fair!” thinking. It’s all left to our imaginations. As it is, Susan remaining totally selfish throughout the story is realistic and believable, if regrettable.

It is fitting that the one to catch Susan out is one who had the same illness, which gave her the insight to see through Susan. Sonia is also a contrast to Susan in how she dealt with her illness. While Susan used it to take advantage of people, Sonia took the opportunity to learn and grow from it, such as learning to lip-read.

Some endings to serials can be rushed and crammed at times. So it is good to see the ending built up over a three-episode story arc instead of one episode. The final episodes of “Selfish Susan” do give the impression that Mandy was finishing off the story quickly because of the merger; the penultimate episode is a six-pager and the final one a four-pager, while Mandy’s usual format was three-page episodes. Still, readers always loved extra story spreads.

The Girl with the Power [1980]

Published: Tracy #31 (May 3 1980) – #41 (July 12 1980)

Episodes: 11

Artist: Carmona

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: None known

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for help with some episodes

Plot

Karen Chandler’s father has been jailed for buying stolen goods and attempted murder of an accomplice, the lorry driver, who is now in a coma. The only real evidence against him was the police finding him standing over the driver with an iron bar in his hand. Since then, Dad’s partners in a restaurant, Sam and Nadine Lee, have been turning Karen into a drudge at the restaurant. They lumber her with so much work she doesn’t even get proper sleep.  In addition to the drudgery, there is also bullying at school where the girls constantly tease Karen over her father’s imprisonment. It is no wonder that Karen’s schoolwork is suffering as well.

Karen’s fortunes change on the day the biology teacher sends her class out to collect specimens for a list of plants. Karen unwittingly trespasses into the Energy Research Unit when she fails to see a “Keep Out” sign. There is an explosion at the laboratory, which has Karen’s head spinning. But she doesn’t realise how much the accident has affected her until that evening when Mrs Lee orders her to bring up a heavy sack of potatoes from the cellar. When Karen wishes she didn’t have to lug that heavy sack up the stairs, the sack suddenly moves all the way up there all by itself! Karen realises the accident at the laboratory has somehow given her telekinesis, the power to move objects by thought.

All of a sudden, life has gotten a whole lot easier. It has to be kept secret though, because Karen does not want those slave-driving Lees to exploit her power if they find out about it. Instead, Karen uses her telekinesis for the purpose of secret survival, revenge, and help.

It all begins later that evening, when Mr Lee orders Karen to clean up the restaurant. He is astonished to find the restaurant looks like it has been cleaned up with super-speed or something (with Karen’s telekinesis of course). This enables Karen to get a proper night’s sleep for a change. From then on, the telekinesis helps Karen to get her work done in record time, much to the bafflement of the Lees. For example, when Karen wants to go to the circus, the Lees give her permission and even pay for her ticket – but on condition she gets all her work done first. Of course they deliberately lay even more work her to stop her going, but Karen gets it all done with her telekinesis. So the Lees have to let her go to the circus.

On another occasion Mr Lees lumbers Karen with the job of stripping off the wallpaper for redecorating – and late at night when Karen needs to be in bed – to save him the expense of having the decorator do it. He doesn’t care about Karen staying up half the night doing it, but of course her telekinesis spares her that. Next day, the decorator collapses because he has been working too hard, so Karen does the job for him telekinetically as he needs the money to take his sick wife on holiday. Mr Lee can’t understand why Karen receives a postcard from the decorator expressing gratitude for her help and saying his wife is getting better.

Naturally, Karen starts using her power to secretly strike back at the girls who have been bullying her about her father’s imprisonment. School bully Lydia Welch eggs them on to start baiting Karen, at which she uses her power to turn the window cleaner’s bucket toppling over them and giving them a soaking. Later Karen rescues a younger pupil from Lydia. After a few days, a teacher tells Karen that her schoolwork has improved tremendously. On a school outing to an open zoo, Lydia keeps making snide remarks about Karen’s father. Karen snaps and tips a drink in Lydia’s lap telekinetically.

Karen starts practising in the woods to test the strength of her power. After a week her power gets strong enough to tear trees down. Unfortunately the tree lands on top of Lydia, so Karen has to go get help for her. Yes, Karen definitely has to be careful how she uses that power as it can backfire!

When Lydia comes out of hospital, she is not grateful for the rescue, and continues to plague Karen. When the Welches invite Karen over for tea in order to say thank you, Lydia does not want them to do so again. So she plants her new watch in Karen’s bag to frame her for stealing. Luckily, Karen finds the watch and uses her telekinesis to send the watch back to Lydia’s room upstairs. It’s a challenge as this is the first time Karen has to move something to a destination that is totally out of her sight and without being able to direct it visually, because she can’t move from her seat. Fortunately it pays off, and Lydia is very surprised to find the watch back in her jewellery box!

Karen’s power scores over Lydia again when a temporary pupil, Mandy Clark, makes a friend for Karen against all the bullying. When Lydia tries to put Mandy out of a talent contest, it’s Karen’s power to the rescue. Karen also confronts Lydia with the evidence she carelessly dropped, and Lydia goes off looking very sour-faced.

Karen’s telekinesis enables her to get secret revenge on other people. For example, she strikes back at two rude customers by removing the meat from their plates, and their argument over it nearly comes to blows.

The power also helps Karen on occasions when she gets into real danger. One night, thieves break in to rob the restaurant, and they tie Karen up when she tries to give the alarm. Karen calls 999 telekinetically, and then hits one thief with sauce and the other with flour, which starts a fight between them. As planned, this delays the thieves long enough for the police to arrive. On the aforementioned visit to the zoo, Karen nearly becomes lunch for an escaped lioness and uses her power to stop the lioness mid-air when she tries to pounce.

Of course circumstances arise for Karen to use her power to secretly help other people, such as the exhausted decorator. And at the aforementioned visit to the circus, naughty boys set fire to the Big Top, and it’s a real blaze. Karen uses her power to help a boy who got trapped in the fire. Unfortunately the child sees Karen’s telekinesis and nearly gives her secret away when the circus folk come to reward her. Fortunately they put it down to the boy’s imagination. Karen gets some reward money and her picture in the paper. The Lees ham it up to the reporter about how they treat Karen like their very own daughter (ha, ha!) as they are capitalising on the publicity this will bring for their restaurant.

Sometimes the Lees’ cruelty just explodes in their faces, and Karen does not even need her power for that. On such an occasion, Mr Lee is trying to impress Alex Egan from The Daily Globe, as a mention in Alex’s “Good Restaurant” column will mean more business (and more work for put-upon Karen). Unfortunately for him, he assumes Alex Egan is a man and therefore focuses all attention on the male diner that night. Moreover, the chef and Mrs Lee are laid up with flu, so service slows right down with only Karen in charge and Mr Lee clearly not bothering to get extra help. But it turns out Alex Egan is a woman. She tells them she did not enjoy her meal due to the slow service, though she understands the pressure the waitress was under. So she will not be mentioning them in her column!

Matters come to a head when the police arrive and say the Lees are to accompany them to the police station; the lorry driver has come out of his coma and provided them with vital information. Mr Lee tries a desperate getaway by taking Karen hostage and holding a knife to her throat. Karen uses her power to slam the car door on his arm so he drops the knife, and then she knocks him out with a heavy box. He is arrested.

Karen is suddenly overcome with dizziness and put to bed. The doctor says she is suffering from exhaustion. When she recovers, she finds her father has returned. It turns out Mr Lee committed the crimes Dad was convicted of. An argument erupted between Mr Lee and the lorry driver who had been supplying him with the stolen goods, which resulted in Mr Lee hitting him with the iron bar. Dad came along at the wrong moment and made the cardinal error of picking up the iron bar. This led the police and then the jury to assume he had committed the assault. However, the lorry driver has come out his coma and told the police the truth.

Karen tries to display her telekinetic power in front of her father, but finds she no longer has it. The power has vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as it came. But then, Karen has her father back and is free of the Lees, so she does not need it anymore.

Thoughts

Here we have a protagonist who has not one but three fronts against her at once. The first is the Cinderella theme, where Karen is made the drudge in the restaurant under the Lees who lumber her with all the work and don’t care about her wellbeing at all. They make the excuse of food and board to not pay Karen a penny, and we get plenty of evidence that they are mean, money-grasping sods before the reveal comes at the end that they are criminals as well, and are responsible for Dad’s wrongful conviction. So Karen has been slaving for the very people who caused all her troubles in the first place. Talk about adding insult to injury!

The second is the unjust conviction theme, where the father is wrongly convicted. This has led to her slaving under the Lees, and Karen has to bear the stigma of a jailbird father as well. She cannot believe her father is guilty, which is the only thing she has to help her bear the stigma. Unlike other stories about wrongly accused fathers, clearing him is not the main thrust of the story, although of course it is the only way to resolve it in the final episode.

The third is the bullying theme, where Karen is the target of bullying and ostracism at school because of her father’s disgrace. She has a particularly spiteful enemy in Lydia Welch, who has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Throughout the story, Lydia picks on Karen and just loves to rub it in about her unfortunate father.

So it is only fair that Karen is given a particularly powerful weapon to deal with all three fronts. It’s a nice change for a Cinderella character to be given a secret power to help her cope with all the drudgery and misery instead of the more usual talent that she is determined to keep up amid all the abuse against her. Moreover, it is a power that makes life a whole lot easier for Karen. It helps her to get her monstrous workloads done in record time and enable her to get some space for treats, relaxation, and relief. It also helps her to strike back at the bullies at school and other unsavoury types she encounters, and even secretly help other people.

The means by which Karen gets the power in the first place is a bit unbelievable, as is her losing the power with no explanation whatsoever. It just seems to disappear at the most convenient moment – when it is no longer needed. The origin of the power could have been thought out better so it would be more credible to readers. For example, could some third party have given her the power, such as a stranded alien? Or could they have had Karen hit by, say, a bolt of electricity during the laboratory accident?

The power itself is one we all love – the power of telekinesis. We would all love to have telekinesis. It’s the perfect power for the situations Karen faces, including tackling heavy workloads, and does not get her into too many scrapes when things backfire a bit. It is understandable that Karen wants to keep her power a secret because she is afraid of the Lees exploiting it. She is not Carrie, who uses her power openly to strike back at all the abusers when they push her too far. Karen does use her power to strike back, but unlike Carrie she has to do it discreetly. It is also fortunate for Karen that the Lees never seemed to grow suspicious of how she seemed to get her work done so miraculously and keep a discreet eye on her while she worked.

The way in which the father is cleared comes a bit quick in the last episode, but it does not come across as contrived. The setup for the father’s vindication (the unconscious lorry driver recovering and making a statement) had been there from the beginning. It was just waiting for the go-ahead to be developed in the final episode. Until then, there is no pursuing the avenue of clearing him. Karen does no investigating into that line (too much on her plate as it is, even with the power) and there are no clues to make her or the readers suspect the Lees. It is pretty odd that the Lees did not try to kill the lorry driver in hospital; their attack on Karen at the end suggests they could be capable of it. Perhaps they feared it would arouse suspicion?

The House that Jackie Bought [1980]

Plot

Jackie Stanton wins £2,000 in an essay writing competition, which she uses to buy her family’s council house for them. However, this proves to be a very unwise move because it arouses hostility among the locals. Their antagonism reaches such a pitch that the Stantons become targets of bullying, harassment, physical attacks, and even frame-ups on false charges.

Then a gang of hoodlums start a crime wave of thefts from empty houses, and it looks like they are trying to shift the blame onto the Stantons.

Jackie realises graffiti against her on the school wall was written by a classmate, Steve Bristow. After reexamining all the attacks against her, she realises everything points to the Bristow family. This is further confirmed when Jackie recognises Steve’s writing from a note wrapped around a brick thrown through the Stantons’ window, and she threatens him with the police. He says he was only copying the big boys.

Suspecting her house will be targeted that night, Jackie throws a party for the neighbours that same night, and has a policeman as a special guest – and witness. As predicted, the burglars target the neighbours’ empty houses. Jackie helps the policeman and neighbours to catch the criminals in the act, and they are indeed the Bristows. After this, the antagonism towards the Stantons just disappears.

Notes

Appeared

  • The House that Jackie Bought – Tracy: (?) – #42 (19 July 1980)

 

The Flowers of Gipsy Petal [1980]

Plot

Gipsy Petal finds her grandmother’s box of magic flower essences, complete with a magic mirror that directs her on where to use them. However, applying the flower essences doesn’t seem to go smoothly, and hijinks ensue before something works out one way or other.

Notes

  • No episode in issue #36

Appeared

  • The Flowers of Gipsy Petal – Tracy : #32 (10 May 1980) – #39 (28 June 1980)

 

I’ll Only Walk Alone! [1980]

Plot

Jenny Brent is recovering the use of her legs after a car crash. Then she overhears her father making a phone call to an unknown woman named Daphne that he will join her once Jenny recovers. To keep her father at home, Jenny decides to pretend she is still disabled.

The family find Jenny out when a runaway pram rolls down into the sea and she has to get out of her wheelchair in order to rescue the baby. Dad demands to know how long Jenny has been deceiving her family and why. When Jenny says it was because of Daphne, Dad tells her she jumped to the wrong conclusion; the phone call was about a job offer and Daphne was his employer’s wife.

Notes

  • “The Living Lie of Linda” in Mandy annual 1981 had the same plot.

Appeared

  • I’ll Only Walk Alone! – Tracy: #24 (15 March 1980) – #34 (24 May 1980)

 

Molly Magpie [1980]

Plot

While in hospital, Sandra Dunne befriends a girl who lost her memory after being hit by falling masonry. The Dunnes take the amnesiac girl in and call her Molly. Unfortunately, Molly has a compulsion to steal that she is having difficulty in stopping, and covering up for Molly keeps getting Sandra into trouble.

Notes

  • Artist: Juan Solé

Appeared

  • Molly Magpie – Tracy: #26 (March 29 1980) – #36 (7 June 1980).