Category Archives: Bunty

When Harry Dumped Sally [1995]

When Harry Dumped Sally 1

Published: Bunty #1950 (27 May 1995) to #1966 (16 September 1995)

Episodes: 17

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Sally Cartwright is going out with Harry Dennis. She’s really enjoying it, but then Harry starts acting as if he’s losing enthusiasm. Eventually he tells Sally he does not want to go out with her anymore. When Sally presses him over it, he snaps at her and tells her to leave him alone, he never wants to see her again. Sally is heartbroken. Her friends, who saw what happened, are sympathetic and tell her to “forget all about the creep!” To all appearances Sally is doing so and her friends admire her for taking it so well. Secretly though, it’s the opposite. Sally has turned extremely nasty over it all. She is thirsting for revenge and out to make Harry rue the day he dumped her.

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So Sally starts taking every single opportunity to play dirty tricks on Harry at every turn. The trouble is, Sally just doesn’t know where to stop and has no limits at all. Soon Harry’s life is not just an utter misery because things are suddenly going wrong for him and he can’t understand why. He is also getting into trouble with the school authorities and developing an unjustified bad reputation as a troublemaker with the teachers, all because of Sally’s tricks. Many of the classmates also begin to think Harry is turning into a troublemaker and can’t put a foot right, and they become unfriendly towards him. But Sally never pauses to think about this, much less have any pang of conscience. On the contrary, Sally loves every minute of Harry’s nightmare. And whenever she sees signs that Harry is getting in good with his friends again, she makes moves to crush it and make him unpopular again, and does the same with another new girlfriend Harry tries to acquire.

Sally doesn’t even stop when the rumour goes around that Harry has an enemy. Some of the classmates believe it while most don’t and just think Harry’s trying to blame someone else for his own trouble. At any rate, Sally never thinks to quit while she’s ahead. She just tells herself to go more carefully whenever she has the inevitable narrow escape now and then.

Harry realises he must have an enemy but seems to be at a loss as to who it is. In fact, he thinks Sally is still friendly with him despite the breakup and even asks to date her again at one point. Of course Sally is just pretending to be friendly in order to make more trouble for him.

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Eventually, when it is brought to Sally’s attention that she is the only girl in the class without a boyfriend, she finally decides it’s time to forget Harry and revenge and look for a new boyfriend. But at the Saturday market she can’t resist playing one more trick on Harry because she still gets full of anger every time she sees him. When she accidentally knocks over a handbag display, she foists the blame onto Harry. Poor, innocent, hapless Harry gets a telling off from the stall owner right in front of everyone while Sally watches with glee.

Later, Sally spots another boy in the market and takes a fancy to him, but he does not respond to her attempts to attract him. She assumes the boy is just shy – but at school on Monday she discovers it is because she has played one trick too many on Harry! The boy is Darren Walker, who is a new pupil and also Harry’s new friend and neighbour. Darren saw what Sally did in the market and reported it to Harry, so now Harry has figured everything out. Harry tells Sally she won’t have a friend left in the school when he and Darren spread the word, and he is right. Sally finds Harry’s revenge is sweeter than hers.

Thoughts

There is no doubt the title is a take on the movie title “When Harry Met Sally”, but the story has no bearing whatsoever on the movie. It’s a morality lesson on what can happen when revenge is taken too far. The story is also structured to present us with a question: are we still sympathetic with Sally by the end of the story?

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The breakup at the beginning is set up to make us sympathetic towards Sally, along with the classmates who witnessed it. But does Sally retain our sympathies by the end of the story? Or do we feel she has gone too far and she’s gotten way too spiteful? Or do we feel she’s just carried it along for far too long, it’s getting out of hand, and it’s time for it to end? Do our sympathies switch to Harry and we wish he would catch her out? These are the questions we face as the story develops.

We must say that Harry was asking for some sort of revenge when he dumped Sally. It’s not just that he dumped her; it’s also because he handled it badly, even aggressively. The girls who witness it say he’s a creep and a pig. All right, so maybe he did not really know how to handle it and found it a very difficult thing to do, so he bungled it. As it is, our sympathies lie with Sally and we all cheer when she starts her revenge.

The question is, do we continue cheering for Sally? As Sally’s revenge continues, she does things that go way too far. Making Harry unpopular with the other classmates and even destroying his friendships are too much. But what really goes beyond the pale is getting Harry into trouble with the teachers and blackening his school record, which would in turn get him into big trouble with his parents for things that are totally unjustified. What’s even more disturbing is that Sally has absolutely no conscience about that whatsoever. There are no twinges of remorse that bite some girls in “revenge” stories. On the contrary, Sally loves it every time she hurts Harry, and has no regrets about anything she has done to him. She is glad she has made his life so miserable ever since he dumped her. Her revenge just goes on and on, and becomes protracted and spinning out the story’s length.

When Sally finally decides to stop, it’s not out of remorse or just getting tired of it – it’s the realisation that she needs to move on if she wants to find a new boyfriend. But even after she decides to stop, she can’t resist passing up another chance to strike at Harry because she can’t let go of her anger. And there is little doubt Sally would have seized more opportunities to hurt Harry if Darren had not caught her out.

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So do our sympathies remain with Sally after this? Or have our sympathies switched to Harry? Does Harry become the sympathetic character in the story and we wish Sally would get caught out? How do we feel when Harry tells Sally he has found her out and calls her a nasty piece of work? It’s all up to the reader. That’s the whole purpose of the story and the way it was structured, including its long length of 17 episodes. The length must have been designed to protract Sally’s revenge and further test our sympathies and feelings towards Sally and Harry.

Whatever our feelings, we know there will be no problems with Sally being dumped in future – because no boy in the class will go out with her. After this, Sally is going to have a reputation among the boys as a spiteful bitch and they should steer well clear of her.

Bunty 2001

bunty 2001The 2001 annual, would be the last Bunty book to come out when the weekly comic was still running.  The cover is nice in its simplicity (even though I do prefer the hand drawn covers more) and I like the coloured flowers that brightens up the background. Inside there is a nice variety of stories, features and it is all in colour. There are 12 picture stories  with regular characters, such as The Comp, The Four Marys and Girls Talking appearing.  There is also 2 text stories and 4 photo stories. Due to getting in contact with some creators through this site, I’m actually able to credit a lot of stories in this annual which is a very nice bonus.(For just a list of contents click here)

Picture Stories

The Comp   (Pages: 13-17 & 83-87 )

  • Artist: Peter Wilkes

Roz has a crush on a new sixth former, Greg, who is handsome and drives a flashy car. Amy’s not impressed with him though, he’s moved in near her and has a new girlfriend every week and drives recklessly. That doesn’t put Roz off though and she is happy to accept a date with him. She knows her father won’t approve so she gets her friends to cover for her. They agree at first but soon get annoyed at having to lie to the Cummings, especially when Roz hasn’t even warned them when she’s using them as cover. Roz finally wises up when Greg is speeding and won’t slow down. She demands to be let out of the car. Meanwhile a little bit away Claire is crossing the street and is knocked down by a familiar looking speeding car…

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This is where the story splits, to build up some suspense the next part is later in the book. Roz comes across Claire being taken away in the ambulance and Nikki explains what happen. Roz is upset as she suspects Greg may be responsible. She doesn’t want to tell anyone her suspicions in case she is wrong and everyone else assumes Roz was with Greg at the time, so it couldn’t be him. When Roz hears Greg’s car is in the garage for some repairs, she breaks down and tells Laura, Hayley and Becky about her suspicions. With their support, she goes to police station, but it turns out the hit and run driver has turned himself in and it’s not Greg! Although Roz feels a bit bad about jumping to conclusions, she doesn’t regret breaking up with him, he wasn’t nice and she thinks if he continues the way he does one day he will have an accident. It ends with the girls visiting Claire in hospital.

Lonely This Christmas (Pages: 21-25)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Tessa Jones is feeling she will have a lonely holiday, as her family have just moved house. Then the old owners cat, Sheba, keeps showing up at the door. Although they return her, she comes back and then Tessa discovers she has had kittens. The families agree to keep Sheba until the kittens are big enough and  not only that Tessa will be allowed to keep two of the kittens. They advertise homes for the other kittens and she meets some girls who invite her to Youth Club party, so it turns out not to be such a lonely Christmas after all. It’s a nice, simple story with some good art.

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Girl Zone  – Bunty- a Girl Like You (Pages: 26-27 & 88-89)

  • Artist: Andy Tew

Strangely, this is just called Girl Zone but it is a Bunty strip, I don’t know if this is just an occurrence in this annual or is the strip had also been renamed in the weekly comics. It is the usual fun for a Bunty strip anyway,  in the first story it’s time for a new tree, Bunty convinces her mom to buy a real one, but then she can’t bear to see it cut down so they end up buying another artificial one instead.

In the second story Bunty decides to make her own crackers they are successful but she discovers they are not so fun when you know what all the gifts and jokes are!

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The Four Marys (Pages: 31-35)

  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell

No Bunty annual would be the same without at least one Four Marys story, in this book there are two stories. In this first story on their way to Elmbury, the four Marys see puppies for sale and they see a man refuse to sell a puppy to a woman who he doesn’t believe will look after it. The woman is not too happy and pays Mabel to buy it instead. Mabel hides the puppy in St Elmos and the Marys find out about it and who she intends to give it to. They raise money to pay Mabel off and give the puppy to deserving girl whose dog had died.

Penny’s Place (Pages: 37-43)

  • Artist: Guy Peeters

An old friend of Penny’s is staying with her during the holidays. Lucy soon starts causing problems with Penny’s other friends. Donna is a little put out by being ignored and this gets worse when her dog gets blamed for Lucys dog taking steak. Lucy continues to isolate friends by using Pete and trying to start a fight between Gemma and Sita. Penny begins to realise what a troublemaker she is. After Mrs Jordan says Lucy’s dog can’t stay anymore, Lucy decides to stay with her aunt. Which makes for a happier Christmas for everyone.

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Bugsy (Pages: 52-53)

Bugsy takes his niece Bugella to see Santa Bug, but Santa doesn’t arrive. After investigation Bugsy finds Santa Bug’s sleigh is stuck. Using his plane he is able to deliver Santa Bug to the department store.

Girls Talking (Pages: 56 & 79)

Twp short strips, consisting of 1 small picture and a a big picture that takes up the full page, I like this layout and they were fun quick jokes. In the first strip Liz emails Lucy with news and it is revealed they are sitting right next to each other. In the second strip Lucy wraps present and then realises the box doesn’t contain the present.

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Squeakie (Pages: 57-63)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley

Alice Scott is delighted to get a Squeakie toy for Christmas (This toy appears to be based on Furby, which was first released in 1998 and even today still a popular toy). Squeakie can repeat back what Alice ays, but then trouble starts, as it begins to say back private thoughts she had too, such as spoiling her gran’s surprise party and insulting her friend’s taste in music. At first Alice thinks that she may have accidentally said those things aloud but when it keeps happening she gets creeped out and decides to get rid of it. She takes it to a shop and gets an exchange after been told that it was a prototype that shouldn’t have been sold. Alice is relieved but is still going to be cautious about her new Squeakie and not teach it to talk. After Alice leaves the room, the last panel shows the new Squeakie is even worse as he declares he will make her last Squeakie look like a pussycat! I’ve seen similar stories, often with ventriloquist dummy, using the furby like toy is a nice update and of course the foreboding creepy ending works well, just when the protagonist thinks she’s solved her problem!

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Space Cadet (Pages: 67-74)

  • Artist: Julio Bosch

Fiona Miller is annoyed by her younger sister Debbie, who is a sci-fi enthusiast. Debbie is particularly obsessed by a video game Space Cadet. But when Debbie starts acting nice and considerate, Fiona begins to suspect something is wrong. Then she sees Debbie with a green face talking to an alien n the tv screen, she tries to tell her parents but of course they don’t believe her. She figures out that this new “Debbie” has just replaced her sister and the real Debbie must be held someplace. It’s up to Fiona to rescue her sister, so she follows the alien to it’s ship. With the help  of her hockey stick Fiona is able to free her sister and they both escape the ship.

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This is my favourite art/colouring in the book. It is very vibrant colours but fits nicely not overpowering the details of the art. There is also some more interesting layout of the panels. The story is fun too, I am always a sucker for sci-fi stories anyway!

Selfish Sarah (Pages: 99-103)

  • Writer: Anne Bulcraig
  • Artist: Eduardo Feito

There’s already been discussion on this story as it first appeared under the name Green Fingers in the Mandy Picture Story Library Scream! The story has been redrawn here by Eduardo Feito (rather than original artist Carlos Freixas) this may be so it would fit better with the annual format more than the smaller sized picture library. There is some slight changes to the dialogue too but this is less noticeable.

The story is about a girl Sarah Peters, who is very selfish and never helps anyone if  it won’t benefit her. When she learns a Green Issue project for school has a cash prize, she becomes interested in a plant that has leaves shaped like hearts and cute animals, as she believes that it will help her win. After the owner spends some time with Sarah, she decides she can’t give her a cutting as she isn’t suitable. Sarah later sneaks over and takes a cutting anyway. Soon after the cutting begins to change shapes, into toads and witches, reflecting the kind of person Sarah is. The plant’s owner knows she took a cutting and warns her to bring it back before it’s too late. But of course Sarah doesn’t listen, and when she goes home she finds the plant has grown rapidly taking over her bedroom and it grabs her, leaving her screaming for help.

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I do prefer the original art, but it is interesting to see another interpretation. I like Eduardo Feito’s  art in general and the end panel with the hand like plants reaching for Sarah is very effective. I think the bigger problem is the colouring swallows up some details, like the leave shapes, that would be more clearer in black and white. The story is still a solid, scary story with the bad girl getting fitting punishment, so I can see why it would be chosen for reprint.

The Four Marys (Pages: 107-111)

  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell (unconfirmed)

The second Four Marys story also has a plot revolving around animals. This time Josie another student at St. Elmos tends to pick up animals that need helping. First she is hiding a hedgehog and nursing it back to health after it was hit by a car and  later an owl. With the Marys help they get permission to set up an animal hospital in the basement. Mabel and Veronica aren’t happy of course, as they think the basement would make a great den where they could play loud music. The snobs try to sabotage the project bu sending a letter to the school governor that animals were being kept in poor conditions and then messing up the hospital. Luckily the Marys overhear and catch them in the act. They make them clean up the mess they made and the visit by the governor goes well.

I usually find it hard to say much about the Four Marys, as a lot of times the stories are fairly standard for them. Not bad, just a bit repetitive. It is nice to see some more diversity in this story with Josie.

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Lost in the Snow (Pages: 115-120)

  • Writer: Maureen Hartley
  • Artist: Peter Wilkes

Jade is disappointed that because of heavy snow, it looks like her grandparents won’t make it for Christmas. Later Jade is disturbed by a dog barking, he seems to want her to follow him. Jade and her father go to investigate and the dog leads them to a car stuck in the snowdrift. They find a family nearby looking for help, but then the dog disappears and they say that they don’t own a dog.  They end up having a good Christmas with their unexpected guests, but Jade still wonders where the dog came from. After inquiring to some neighbours, they say there are many black and white collies around the nearby farms. One boy jokes it could have been Bruce, a local tale of a dog who saved his master from a fire and died years ago but always turns up to help people in trouble. Later Jade sees a dog up on the hill, but when she goes to look he is gone and the are no paw-prints in the snow…

A nice little ghost mystery with some good art. I like the contrast of the bright, warm colours when they are inside and the colder colours out in the snow.

Lost in the Snow

Katie Bright Keeping Mum Right! (1987)

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Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #286

Artists: David Matysiak (cover); Jaume (Jaime) Rumeu (story)

Plot
In the Bright household Dad is working overtime to save up for a washing machine. Mum decides to set about raising money to buy the family extras. The trouble is, she goes about it the wrong way. Instead of finding something she’s good at and developing it, she embarks on whatever scheme takes her fancy without proper research, thinking it through or considering if it is right for her. As a result Mum lands herself in a lot of scrapes and it’s up to her more sensible daughter Katie to sort them out.

First Mum sets up the garden shed for a mushroom farm. Katie is dubious because Mum has no experience in raising plants, but Mum expects such an abundance of mushrooms that she takes orders from greengrocers in advance. Talk about counting your chickens before they’re hatched: Mum’s mushroom crop is a complete failure, so Katie has to cover the orders with farm-bought mushrooms.

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Soon after, the washing machine finally arrives. Mum seems to be doing more washing than usual. Oh dear, is she taking in laundry for another money-making scheme? That’s what people come to think. Katie and Dad are a bit surprised when people offer them loans because they think the Brights are hard up. No, it turns out Mum was doing the extra laundry as a favour for some neighbours when their laundrette was unavailable.

However, Mum still hasn’t learned her lesson from the mushroom failure. She is now inspired to make and sell machine-knitted woollies, despite Katie’s warnings that such things are made by full-time professionals. She does not heed Katie’s advice to develop dressmaking (which she is brilliant at) as a money-making venture either. Katie can only hope Mum knew what she was doing with the machine-knitting. But of course she didn’t. She ends up giving refunds and gives up the machine knitting promptly.

A luxury lampshade company advertises for at-home people to make up lampshades they are outsourcing. Katie and Dad flash it under Mum’s nose, figuring it is foolproof. However, it is too simple and Mum grows bored with it. When she asks for more interesting work, the company’s response is teddy bear patterned lampshades – and the teddies have been printed upside-down! The Brights are not sorry when the company decides to give up its outsourcing and keep things onsite.

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Next, Mum turns to weeding gardens although she is so clueless about gardening Dad won’t let her work in the garden unsupervised. She figures anyone can weed. She does not understand you have to know the difference between a weed and a plant. So when Katie goes to check on the gardens she finds Mum has pulled out some plants by mistake. She replants them, but it turns out she planted them in the wrong garden because Mum threw them on the wrong compost pile. Fortunately the clients see the funny side, but they will be getting others to do their gardens. Still, one of the clients agrees to let Mum walk her dog instead.

So now it’s dog walking to make money. It seems straightforward this time, but Mum’s big ideas overcomplicate it. She bites off more than she can chew when she takes on other dogs as well and has to walk six at once! Not surprisingly, it’s wearing her out. Then she gets locked in the park because of all those dogs. Katie manages to find her and rouse the Parkie to let her out.

On the way back from this latest scrap they find the school drama club store on fire. Thanks to them the fire is put out in good time, but the costumes for the upcoming school play are ruined. Mums are called upon to make up replacements. Katie thinks this should suit Mum well as she is so good at dressmaking. After some persuasion Mum agrees, if Katie will take over walking the dogs. Then Katie is asked to replace one of the actresses in the play, and soon finds walking six dogs while learning her lines is too much.

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Fortunately Katie finds help in Ted Dawson, the brother of one of her classmates. Ted has no job, so he agrees to take over the dogs and receive the money while Katie learns her lines. Mum has no objections to the arrangement while she works on the costumes, but she will be taking the dogs over again eventually.

Then, just as the play is about to go on, the costumes get stolen. Mum put so much hard work into making them that the theft has her realise how much dressmaking means to her. Fortunately one of the new dogs Ted is walking is an ex-police dog. Ted uses him to sniff out the costumes, which got dumped in the old cottage at the back of the school. The costumes and play are saved.

Ted creates his own business walking dogs and Mum lets him keep walking her dogs. Word gets around about Mum’s work on the costumes and she soon finds herself with orders for more dresses. Now that Mum has finally settled upon a money-making scheme she can do right, Katie no longer needs to keep her right.

Thoughts

We now live in an age where work-from-home businesses have proliferated and work-from-home schemes are all over the Internet. So the concept of work from home in this story feels even more relevant now than it did when it was first published. Its message of exercising caution, proper research and good judgement in whatever you pursue to raise extra money is more acute now too, especially as there are so many scams out there and schemes where you earn very little money for a lot of hard work.

Fortunately Mum does not come up against any scams or underpaid work in this story. It’s just as well, because she is not exercising any serious research or thought into the various money-making schemes she tries out. Indeed, she does not give the impression she is showing much brains at all. It’s Katie who is showing the brains here. She can see the pitfalls Mum is creating for herself with her various schemes (for example, choosing ventures that she has no talent or experience for), which cause embarrassment and make her lose money instead of raising it. Katie can also see where Mum can really make money: dressmaking. It’s not just because Mum has the talent for it but also because there will be a niche for it as there are not many dressmakers in town. Yet Mum just won’t pursue dressmaking as a money-making business as she does not seem to have the interest.

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The story is not all about Mum’s money-making schemes. For example, the extra laundry Mum takes on is a favour, not a money-making scheme. And the focus of the story shifts more to Katie as she tries to walk the dogs while learning her lines. It makes the pace of the story more even, which is good. It also gives more leeway to developing other characters more, such as Ted Dawson.

Some good things do come out of Mum’s disasters. For example, if Mum and the dogs had not got locked in the park, she and Katie would not have seen the fire at school and raised the alarm in time. The damage would have been so much worse. Mum’s dog-walking also leads to the unemployed Ted Dawson to develop his own employment in walking dogs.

All the same, the consequences of Mum’s ill-conceived money-making schemes could have been worse if not for Katie helping to make everything right. It’s a relief all around when Katie no longer needs to keep her Mum right all the time.

 

 

Catch the Cat! [1980]

Published: #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)

Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and “Phoenix” for scans

Plot (long)

In Nazi-occupied France in World War II, Marie Bonnet is despised by her classmates, particularly her ex-friends Josee and Burnetta, for being friendly with the enemy. They do not realise it is part of Marie’s cover for her secret double life as the town’s resident Resistance fighter, a costumed heroine (or hero, as they always think) known as “The Cat”. The origin of “The Cat” can be found here at a discussion of her original 1975-1976 story. This story is the first sequel, and a second followed in 1986.

The story opens with an act of defiance that hearkens back to The Cat’s debut, where she switches the swastika flag with the French flag on the tallest building in town. Now, at German headquarters, The Cat switches the swastika flag with a flag that bears her signature – and tricks the Nazis into unfurling it – and daubs a message on the wall: “France Will Be Free”. The townsfolk laugh with glee while the Commandant fumes. However, he has no inkling that he is going to be spared The Cat for a while.

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It all starts when Henri, another Resistance fighter, leaves out the signal for The Cat to call. He tells her to warn Raphael Slane that the Nazis are going to raid his artshop, as Slane must escape with all twelve of his paintings. (Considering that Slane is a scientist as well as an artist, one suspects there is more to the paintings than meets the eye.) Unfortunately The Cat arrives too late to warn Slane; he and his paintings are captured and sent to Berlin. At a Resistance meeting, it is revealed that (sure enough) there are technical drawings on the backs of the paintings. Together they make up a blueprint for a German secret weapon, a flying bomb. The Resisters are trying to get the blueprint to the Allies. The Nazis are not aware of the secret, but the paintings are to be distributed among high-ranking Nazi officials. It’s up to The Cat to track down the paintings one by one and bring back the segments for the blueprint. Fortunately it’s school holidays for Marie, so she can devote the time to her quest in Germany while telling her parents she’s staying with her aunt.

The Cat’s adventures in retrieving the paintings are as follows:

Painting One

A General Vandienst of Berlin has acquired it. The Cat has to break into his house to retrieve the painting, and it’s not easy as the house is heavily guarded. The Cat manages to get the painting, but runs into trouble when a bombing raid sets the house on fire, and Vandienst has discovered the theft and raised the alarm. Both exits are blocked, so she heads for the roof. Unfortunately the Germans see her climb and realise she is The Cat. Now they have the building surrounded and The Cat is trapped on the roof, which is heating up fast from fire. She manages to find a bridge to the next building but is spotted by a guard. Fortunately he neglects to keep an eye on her while getting reinforcements, so she hides under the bridge. She then slips into the building and changes back to Marie so she can just walk past the guards.

Painting Two

Baron Willie Von Kutch has acquired it and he lives in Blurst, Bavaria. Marie gets a bicycle to travel there (cycling all the way from Berlin to Bavaria?). When she arrives, she is dismayed to encounter another heavily guarded fortress. Nonetheless, she succeeds in breaking in. On the way she helps herself to a piece of cake as she’s hungry. Oops – the cake was meant for an honoured guest! At least the theft only arouses embarrassment, not suspicion. The Cat locates the picture and (unwisely, as it turns out) leaves her signature after she steals it. Then she discovers the painting had been tripped with an alarm, which now goes off and the guards are alerted. A German cuts the rope The Cat is using to make her escape, which sends her diving into the river. Changing back into Marie, she manages to cycle away – though she ends up doing some dangerous cycling to get away from a roadblock – and then jump a train to the next person on the list.

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Painting Three

It has been acquired by Admiral Dantz, who lives on a huge battleship in Kiel harbour. Again The Cat has to dodge some stiff patrols at the harbour. The Cat is spotted as she gets aboard and the alarm is raised. Despite this she manages to steal the painting and again leaves her signature (is that wise?). On the getaway she is spotted again and it’s another chase from trigger-happy German guards. Afterwards Marie posts the first three paintings to Henri, who receives them safely.

Unfortunately Marie does not realise the Nazis have now caught on to the common denominator of The Cat stealing Raphael Slane paintings and leaving her signature at each theft. The Gestapo now realise The Cat is after the Raphael Slane paintings and assign a Colonel Ratzt and his aide Herman to the case. Fortunately Ratzt does not check out the paintings more closely for clues as to why The Cat is targeting them, so at least the secret is still safe. Instead, he goes for setting traps around the remaining paintings to catch The Cat.

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Paintings Four and Five

Both have been acquired by a Judge Hessler, who lives in Bonn. The Cat breaks in while Hessler is out horse riding. The Cat manages to uplift the paintings and leave her signature. Unfortunately she does not realise Ratzt and Herman are calling on everyone who owns a Raphael Slane painting – and they have just arrived at Hessler’s. Ratzt discovers the theft and orders reinforcements to surround the place. After a chase in which Hessler joins in, The Cat eventually escapes by hiding in the boot of Ratzt’s car.

Painting Six

Ratzt now heads for Brokenheim, where Mayor Krinter has one of the paintings. Ratzt plans to set a trap there for The Cat, but he does not know The Cat is listening in from inside the car boot. In Brokenheim The Cat sneaks out of the boot. A woman sees this, but mistakes The Cat for an animal Ratzt locked in the boot and tells him off. (Wow, she must be one gutsy lady as it is extremely dangerous to criticise a Gestapo officer!) Now Ratzt knows how The Cat evaded him at Hessler’s and rouses the authorities in town for a man, er, Cat hunt.

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Worse, Ratzt has Krinter’s house completely surrounded, which will not make it easy for The Cat to steal the painting. Ratzt demands to know where the painting is, and does not believe Krinter when he says it is not at his house. The Cat overhears and realises Krinter means it is at the town hall. She makes her way there, steals the painting and leaves her signature, but knows Ratzt won’t be far behind. So at a department store she changes into some ordinary clothes from a rack and takes a new bag for holding the painting. Then some of the staff arrive, which forces her to hide. When she tries to slip away they spot her and think she is a shoplifter, so she has to push a trolley at them and then slide down an escalator to get away from them. She has the advantage of everyone assuming The Cat is a man, but the security Ratzt has roused is too tight. So it’s back to the suction pads to get out of the department store.

Painting Seven

Painting seven is not far away, and it is in the ownership of Major Staffle of the SS at the Kruse army barracks. However, Major Staffle – along with everyone else who still has a Raphael Slane painting – has received warning from Ratzt about The Cat. Staffle takes his warning seriously: 20 men guarding his barracks around the clock, two guards staying in his quarters, nobody is to leave or enter his room, and anyone who tries is to be shot.

The Cat breaks into the army barracks using a trapeze trick. She manages to get past Staffle’s security, take the painting and leave her signature, but the guards are battering at the door she locked. They burst in, but see no sign of The Cat; she misdirected them into looking the wrong way while slipping out behind their backs. Several more tricks from The Cat cause one very trigger-happy, jumping-the-gun goon to shoot up a lot of Major Staffle’s property! When Staffle sees the damage the goon has done he orders him to be locked up. However, The Cat is still stuck on the roof and there are guards swarming all around.

The Cat manages to hide in a storage sack that is being bundled aboard a truck. However, she gets a horrible shock when a goon starts bayoneting all the sacks in the truck! She narrowly escapes being skewered, but when she gets off the truck later she has a nasty cut on her hand. Luckily, she is picked up by a French girl named Eve, who is being forced to work on a German farm. Eve treats The Cat’s injury and provides her with new clothes. These are male clothes as Eve assumes The Cat is male like everyone else, even though she does see The Cat’s face.

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The latest consignment of paintings is soon dispatched to Henri. However, he has discovered something that he can’t warn The Cat about – Ratzt has ordered the last four Raphael Slane paintings to be secured in the vault of a Berlin bank.

Writing/editing error: there are twelve paintings and The Cat has stolen seven, so there should be five paintings remaining, not four.

The Last Four (Should be Five) Paintings

The Cat discovers the transfer to the Berlin bank vault when she tries to steal one of the paintings from one Field Marshall Von Borrel. So it’s back to Berlin where she started. The Cat is no stranger to breaking into banks, but after sussing out the security she decides it is too strong for her Cat tricks. So she goes in posing as a civilian and manages to slip into the vault, where she uplifts the paintings. When she gets locked in the vault she starts a fire to bring the fire brigade to open it. While they do so, she slips out under cover of the smoke.

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The Cat has already changed into her costume and now proceeds to climb up the wall outside. Ratzt spots her and uses a fireman’s ladder to chase her. He catches up and holds her at gunpoint. To save herself, The Cat throws one of the paintings at Ratzt, which causes him to lose his footing on the ladder. What happens to him because of this is not recorded.

Afterwards

The whole of Berlin is now looking for The Cat. She changes back into Marie, knowing the guards will not be looking for a girl because they always assume The Cat is a man. As her task is done anyway, she now heads back to France on the train. At Henri’s, The Cat brings the final paintings she has and explains how she lost one. The Resistance assemble the pieces they have and keep their fingers crossed the loss is not serious. Fortunately it isn’t as the lost painting was a corner piece, and what they have provides all the essentials.

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School holidays are now over, so it’s back to business as usual for Marie Bonnet aka The Cat. The final panel leaves Marie feeling so sad at the usual taunts from Josee and Burnetta, and she can only take solace in the thought that one day they will understand why she is so ‘friendly’ to the enemy.

Thoughts

The story structure deviates from the first Cat story, in which The Cat stumbled into or created assorted escapades and attacks on the Nazis. It was also a story where The Cat was new and becoming established in the field of resistance work. This sequel, however, resembles the story structure followed in the Bunty PSL The Cat on the Trail of the Flying Bomb: it opens with The Cat committing an individual act of rebellion that is specifically aimed at annoying the Commandant, but the rest of the story is devoted to helping the Resistance in a mission against the Nazis. Strangely, both the PSL and this sequel both have The Cat and the Resistance trying to foil the development of a German flying bomb. Is it coincidence or the same writer?

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Making the sequel a mission story gives it a specific focus and more structure. Instead of The Cat going off on all sorts of escapades, attacks and narrow escapes with the Nazis, she has just one task: track down and retrieve the paintings before the Nazis discover their secret. Making her mission even more dangerous and exciting is that she’s plunged straight into the heart of enemy territory – Nazi Germany itself. She has to depend on her wits, gymnastics skills and suction pads even more than before because there is nobody to help her. There are no French sympathisers or Resistance fighters available, except one she stumbles across. Everyone has to be regarded as a real or potential enemy this time. The Cat is completely on her own for this one.

The unfamiliar territory also makes The Cat’s M.O. even harder than usual. For example, The Cat finds it harder to get out of the window of the room she renting than her bedroom window. The Berlin houses are further apart than the ones in her hometown, so she can’t just leap from building as she could back home.

On the other hand, the change of scene is quite refreshing and makes a change from all the familiar scenes of Marie’s hometown. It must be good for Marie to have a break from the bullying of her classmates too. Still, it does look a bit difficult writing to her parents regularly as they asked her to. Even if she squeezed in some letters, how will she be able to explain the German postmarks – her aunt took her on a tour of Germany or something?

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As the mission gets underway, The Cat does not seem to realise that the mission she’s on requires extreme stealth and discretion – which means no blatant evidence like leaving her signature. It’s fine when she commits acts of rebellion against the Nazis, but this is a mission where she must de-emphasise who is doing the work as much as possible. Otherwise there will be patterns that would eventually have the Nazis figure out what’s going on. The Cat must take the blame for the difficulties Ratzt creates for her in the story by tipping the Nazis off to what’s going on by leaving her signature at each theft all the time. The Cat should thank her lucky stars Ratzt did not think to investigate why she was stealing the paintings. If he had, he would certainly have discovered the blueprints.

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Colonel Ratzt is a more interesting villain than the colourless, flat Commandant of Marie’s hometown. For one thing, he has a given name while the Commandant is just “The Commandant”. Second, he is Gestapo, which would arouse far more repugnance than the Commandant would. So readers would be really rooting for this Nazi’s downfall and cheer Marie far more lustily. Third, there is always something endearing about a guy who wears glasses, particular in the hands of an artist like Hugh Thornton-Jones. And when it’s combined with a character that is both a Nazi and Gestapo, it really raises a smile. Fourth is Ratzt actually catching up to The Cat and pulling a gun on her – something the Commandant has not had much luck in doing. The Cat can only escape by making a sacrifice – one of the paintings – which could unseat the whole point of her entire mission. It is a brilliant piece of storytelling that delivers far more punch and dramatic tension than if The Cat had succeeded in bringing all the paintings to Henri. And fifth is the disturbing final panel of Ratzt. He has lost his footing on the ladder and yelling and screaming in panic – but Bunty leaves the final fate of Ratzt up to the readers’ imagination. Did he go kersplat on the pavement, in which case The Cat is responsible for a man’s death? It is an unsettling thought with which to leave readers pondering on.

Lucky Charm #25: Catch the Cat! [1976]

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Lucky Charm: #25

Reprinted from Bunty serial: Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)

Artists: Hugh Thornton-Jones (cover); Unknown (story)

Special thanks to “Phoenix” for making this entry possible with photocopies

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Plot (long)

In World War II, the Nazis have just defeated France. Marie Bonnet’s father is mayor of a small French town. Marie’s friends Josee and Burnetta believe the town should do something to resist the Nazis and expect Marie’s mayor father to do something in that regard. However, he believes the Nazis are too strong for that, and submission and obeisance are the only answer if people know what’s good for them. Mum agrees while Marie secretly wants to fight the Nazis, but she has no idea how to go about it.

A scientist friend comes to say goodbye as he has to flee from the Nazis because of his occupation. His daughter Jacqueline leaves Marie a box of her childhood things for safekeeping. Its contents include a prize-winning fancy-dress cat costume and, surprisingly, suction pads. It does not take long for Marie to become really adept with the suction pads.

The Nazis arrive and replace the French flag with the swastika flag on the highest building in town. Dad and Marie greet the new Commandant with a tremendous show of obeisance and servility – much to the disgust of Josee and Burnetta. From then on they call Marie a traitor and are her worst enemies out of all the girls who soon ostracise her at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not realise that Marie has now cemented her plan to resist the Nazis, and those suction pads, cat costume and show of servility are just the thing for it.

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Next day, the Nazis discover that someone has restored the French flag to the flagpole. The only clue is a card the culprit left behind, which is of a black cat. The Commandant realises there is a new resistance fighter on the block who calls himself “The Cat”. Apart from the gender, the Commandant is absolutely right. Marie’s career as The Cat has been born. And although The Cat’s debut deed of defiance can only last until the Commandant puts the swastika flag back, it has caught the attention of the entire town.

The Cat soon shines as the beacon of hope, pride and fighting spirit of the townsfolk against the Nazis. Marie’s show of servility and friendliness to the Nazis, endorsed by her father, is now the perfect cover for throwing off suspicion and to worm information out of the Nazis. But there is a high price to pay for it – Marie becomes shunned and friendless at school for her apparent collaboration. They do not listen to Marie’s excuses that it is foolish to defy the Nazis and they call her a coward while they try to be defiant. Marie can only take solace at the thought that one day the girls will know the truth about her. For now, though, nobody must know for their own protection.

The Nazis lose no time in printing “Wanted” posters of The Cat (how odd that they include a pretty accurate picture when they do not even know what The Cat looks like at this stage) – and ironically give Marie the job of putting them up! But what’s really despicable and so typical of Nazis is that they take a hostage to force The Cat to surrender; the hostage will be executed if The Cat does not surrender by a certain deadline. The Cat rescues the hostage en route to execution and leaves another calling card.

From then on it is a long, extraordinary career of single-handed resistance work in rescuing Allied soldiers and other prisoners, sabotage, foiling Nazi plots to capture her, recovering items the Nazis have stolen, stealing Nazi top secrets, Robin Hood-style thefts of stealing from the Nazis and giving to the townsfolk, constantly dodging bullets, and all with nothing more than a costume, suction pads, incredible gymnastics skills and amazingly sharp wits that always seem to get her out of every scrape. Where possible, The Cat always leaves her calling card so the Commandant knows who to blame. In the first story it is cards with a cat or cat’s paw, sometimes carrying the words “Vive La France!”. In subsequent stories the signature will change to a scrawl of a cat’s face, sometimes accompanied by “Vive La France!” on whatever surface is to hand. This is probably because it is easier to leave a scrawl than print a business card.

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The subsequent escapades of The Cat in the Lucky Charm volume are listed below. (Note that I do not have the original run available for comparison, so there is currently no way to determine if the reprint edited or deleted anything in order to fit into the issue.)

1: The Nazis are forcing the local men to build a factory in the woods, and the location is too deep for Allied bombers to penetrate effectively. The Cat helps the Allies destroy the factory by bringing in some flares stolen from the Nazis’ ammunition stores. She uses them to lighten things up on the tallest tower in the complex so the Allied can see where to hit.

2: Marie has to hide a downed Allied airman and then steals a German truck to drive him to the coast (isn’t she a bit young to be able to drive?) where the Resistance can take him to safety. This causes an awkward moment afterwards when Marie has to explain to the Commandant as to how she came into be in possession of a stolen German truck. The Commandant swallows her cover story (she was bringing back a stolen German truck). But his new aide, Colonel Krantz, is suspicious of her, and Marie realises it when she sees Krantz keeping a close watch on her.

2: The Nazis are forcing the townsfolk to pay exorbitant taxes they cannot afford. The Cat breaks into the bank to get the tax money back for the people and offsets it against the market produce so it can be given away free. She then eliminates the Krantz threat by framing him for the bank robbery. Krantz is arrested while the Commandant cannot understand why the townsfolk are looking so happy.

3: A supply train is due to arrive and the Commandant is press-ganging all the people in town to unload it (except Marie, who is excused to work in his office). The Cat hijacks the train before it arrives (she can drive a train too?) and wrecks it. The Gestapo are called, and they send in a Herr Kranzten (later called Herr Kranz), who immediately seizes on a fatal flaw in The Cat’s costume – it does not cover the hands. So The Cat would have left fingerprints all over the controls. Kranzten then starts fingerprinting everyone in town and makes no exception for Marie. The Cat breaks into the office later and destroys all the fingerprint files taken – and also manages to dump a truckload of sand all over Krantzen while she’s at it!

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Realising The Cat must be a young person, Krantzen has everyone aged 14–30 rounded up, and Marie is among them. They will be fingerprinted again, and the Nazis will take another set of The Cat’s fingerprints from the train to compare with. Marie uses her servility to the Commandant to wangle a release and then heads back to the train to destroy the evidence. Marie decides The Cat will wear gloves from now on – but never does add gloves to her costume. So she continues to leave fingerprints around, which the Nazis never seem to follow up on again.

Krantzen tries another tactic. Recalling The Cat’s recent mission to get a British airman to safety, he rigs up a Gestapo agent, von Gelber, as a phony downed British airman to lead The Cat into a trap. The Cat finds it odd that the airman said he was from a bombing crew while a friendly bargeman, Antoine, says there have been no Allied bombing raids for weeks. However, The Cat unwisely thinks she misunderstood the airman and does not really follow her instincts that something is wrong. So she nearly falls into the trap when Von Gelber pulls a gun on her, but she manages to overpower him and sends them both toppling into the river (a soldier who can’t swim?). She brings him to Antoine for safekeeping. She then leaves a letter for the Commandant that Von Gelber will be returned in exchange for the town having double rations. Both sides of the bargain are met, but The Cat has a hard time getting away after returning Von Gelber (in a rather undignified and terrifying manner) when she slips on the roof tiles and nearly falls to her death.

Krantzen now takes his leave, but before he does he takes the paintings the town is famous for. However, with the help of a loyal Frenchman The Cat intercepts the truck and the paintings are secretly returned to the townsfolk, who hide them until after the war. When the Nazis discover The Cat has foiled their art plundering, Krantzen is stripped of all rank, reduced to Private, and wishes he had never heard of The Cat.

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5: The Cat is returning home after sabotaging a Nazi supply store by leaving a hose to run and flood the place. She sees a man making queries with Josee and Burnetta about The Cat. They tell him to shove off in case he is a spy, but Marie decides to check it out in case the man is genuine. It looks like word about The Cat has reached British intelligence, because Josee and Burnetta tell Marie that the man has a message for The Cat: London will broadcast a secret message for The Cat at 5 o’clock that evening (funny how they despise Marie as a traitor yet they give her top secret information!). The message is coded, but Marie understands enough to realise she must meet “The Bulldog” – who is the man, of course. The Cat arranges a rendezvous, but when she gets there, she sees the Nazis capture The Bulldog, who also shoot him in the arm. The Cat manages to rescue The Bulldog and they escape on a motorcycle (so The Cat can ride a motorcycle too!).

Unfortunately the Nazis took The Bulldog’s plans of a local Resistance group – and all the names of the resisters are on it! The Bulldog goes to the resisters get his arm seen to while The Cat goes to get the papers back. She succeeds and flees on a horse, but the Nazis telephone for reinforcements. By the time The Cat catches up with The Bulldog, she, The Bulldog and the Resistance group are in danger from enclosing Nazis. The Resistance group do not trust The Cat and The Bulldog can’t vouch for her as he is unconscious. The resisters almost unmask The Cat when the Nazis open fire. This sends the resisters scattering into the woods. The Nazis try to flush them out by setting fire to the wood, but they get away by river barge. En route, The Bulldog regains consciousness and tells The Cat to stockpile as many weapons as she can for the upcoming Allied invasion of France (which indicates about four years have passed since Marie’s career began). The Cat then takes her leave of the resisters and dives into the river.

When The Cat finds a place to strip off her wet cat suit, she hides the cat suit in a bag and piles firewood on top of it. This will lead straight to her next adventure, which starts on the way home.

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6: The Nazis are on high alert following The Cat’s latest adventure with the resisters and they are stopping and checking everyone. When they stop Marie, they confiscate the bag with the firewood put it in an army truck. Marie will be in dead trouble once the Nazis search the bag properly and discover her cat costume. She jumps into the truck, but there is a guard inside who pulls a gun on her. When the truck goes over a bump in the road it gives Marie the chance to jump out, but the Nazis still have the sack and take it to their barracks. Marie manages to break into the barracks and get her costume back, but deems it the narrowest escape The Cat has ever had.

Unfortunately Marie soon discovers it is not the end of the story. At school the Nazis order an identity parade of the girls to pick out the one who broke into the guardhouse. The Nazis misidentify a girl named Yvonne as the culprit and she is arrested for deportation to Germany. The Cat has to rescue Yvonne and, knowing Yvonne cannot return to her parents, get her to her grandmother. The Cat snoops in on the Commandant to get more information on Yvonne’s deportation. She overhears what she needs to know, but then finds there are new searchlights waiting for her and guards are surrounding the place. She has to take a very high dive into a swimming pool to avoid being caught. That narrow escape has The Cat realise the Commandant is getting smarter and she must be more careful with him.

In her civilian identity, The Cat slips aboard the train Yvonne is on. They fake Yvonne jumping off the train to draw the guards out, then The Cat disguises Yvonne and puts her on another carriage, telling her to get off at Lavere station where someone will be waiting for her. Yvonne is surprised to find that person is Marie, and Marie claims to know The Cat when everyone thinks she is a collaborator. Marie ‘fetches’ The Cat to smuggle Yvonne to a sympathiser who will take her to her grandmother’s. When The Cat gets back, she has another narrow escape when the railwayman finds her hidden shopping basket and then her. Being Italian, he is only too happy to turn her over. She manages to escape while the railwayman is distracted by a German guard and jumps a train that is going in the direction she wants. On the way home she discovers the train is carrying food parcels for the German garrison. She loosens the retaining pins so the parcels will tumble out for the French to retrieve, and they are most grateful to The Cat.

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7: From this latest escapade, the Nazis know The Cat has lost a shopping basket, so they put out the alert for anyone who tries to buy one. They soon hear that only one such purchase has been made – by the Bonnets. The Commandant orders a search of the Bonnet house despite their apparent collaboration as he believes nothing is too impossible for the French. When they arrive, Marie has to hide her Cat disguise, and it goes up in the loft. Unfortunately the Nazis begin to search that too! Marie pulls the rug out from under them and then directs them to a ladder downstairs. Foolishly, they both go downstairs, leaving Marie unguarded. She now shifts the costume to her bedroom as the Nazis have already searched there. The Nazis turn up empty and decide it was a false alarm. Boy, oh boy – that was the closest the Commandant has come yet to unmasking The Cat. He later apologises to Marie for the search and gives her chocolate to make amends. What a hoot!

8: That same evening, a friend named Madame Foulard is worried because her daughter Carrie is ill. She needs medicine, but the Nazis won’t release any from their stores. So it’s another mission for The Cat. She breaks into the town hospital, which is under German guard. She grabs as many medicines as she can as she does not know which one is the right one. During the getaway she cuts her hand on a grate, and the Nazis discover this when they see the blood left behind. The alert goes out to bring in anyone with a bandaged hand. The doctor picks out the correct medicine and Carrie is soon on the road to recovery. The doctor also treats The Cat’s hand. But the doctor realises the Nazis may be onto this, so he gives out the order for everyone in town to bandage their hands – too many people for the Nazis to check. Some days later the bandages are off, except for Marie’s. Josee and Burnetta scorn Marie for still having her hand bandaged like that, not realising that they bandaged their own hands for her.

Thoughts

The 1975–6 “Catch the Cat” story was one of the most popular and enduring serials ever to appear in Bunty. The Cat is still one of the best-remembered heroines in girls’ comics. The original Cat story spawned two follow-up serials, one Bunty PSL, Catch the Cat appearances in four Bunty annuals, and was of course reprinted in Lucky Charm #25.

All three Cat serials ended on open endings to leave scope for more sequels. This meant the day Marie dreamed of where she would reveal the truth and the bullies who called her a traitor would be silenced never came. Which is rather sad, really. It would have made for some very thrilling panels to see the town liberated, The Cat coming down to cheering crowds and pulling her mask off in front of them and the captured Commandant – and then watch everyone’s jaw hit the ground! The third Cat story had a slightly more definite ending, where Marie is forced to fake the death of The Cat when the Commandant executes a manhunt for The Cat that tears up the whole town. Marie swears The Cat will return. Unfortunately this would reveal to the Nazis that The Cat is not dead after all, which makes things a bit awkward. Maybe Marie should find a new costumed identity. In any case, that is where the regular story of The Cat ends in Bunty.

There are so many reasons why The Cat is so popular. The first is that she is one of the most proactive heroines ever in girls’ comics. That incredible gymnastics ability and suction pads that have her scaling buildings, leaping onto trucks, diving into rivers, getting over fences and so many other feats of agility seem to be almost superhuman. Plus there are those amazing wits of hers. She always comes up with a plan, and whenever she is cornered she always has something up her sleeve to get her out of trouble. Sometimes this stretches the boundaries of credibility, such as The Cat being able to operate trucks, motorbikes and trains at her age. But on the whole it is exciting and admirable. Even Josee and Burnetta say The Cat is too smart to be caught by the Nazis. Indeed, it would take a Nazi of extreme wit and cunning to match The Cat, and the Commandant definitely is not it. He is not stupid or incompetent, but he is not shrewd enough to ever get the better of The Cat and he has been completely duped by Marie’s servility to ever suspect her. Which is course one of the reasons why The Cat never gets caught.

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Furthermore, the things Marie gets up to against the Nazis are more typical of boys’ comics or Commandos: blowing things up, sabotage, breaking into military complexes, hijacking, robbery, kidnapping, framing enemies to dispose of them and other things that girls are not normally expected to do, especially in the pre-feminist 1940s. Girls must have loved to see action like that in Bunty, which made a change from the more typical stories about ill-used heroines. The writer must have had a lot of experience in writing war stories in the industry. There would be some appeal to boys here as well, what with the heroine being a girl of action and the story having a war setting. Mind you, it cannot be said how many boys actually read The Cat.

And who doesn’t love a good story where Nazis get their comeuppance? Though there never is a defining moment showing the Nazis being pushed out of France, readers smile and cheer again and again as The Cat strikes yet another one over Hitler yet. Readers love it when the Nazis are left looking sour and furious, and they often wind up in the most embarrassing and undignified situations because of The Cat.

Also, Marie is a sympathetic heroine because what she has to endure as part of her cover: being bullied and ostracised by girls who think she is a collaborator. Marie consoles herself with thoughts that one day they will know the truth, and it would be dangerous for them to know the truth now. But she can’t help but feel lonely and miserable and having no-one who understands. Except for us readers, of course.

For all their bullying, Josee and Burnetta play an odd role in helping The Cat. They despise Marie, yet they always supply her with information, such as telling her London is going to broadcast a coded message for The Cat. Oh really, girls – did nobody ever tell you that loose lips sink ships? And if you think Marie is a traitor, she is the last person you should tell!

It is very odd that everyone always addresses The Cat as a “he”. It may be 1940s sexism, but nobody ever seems to realise The Cat is female, not even people who are in close proximity to The Cat. Whatever the reason, it must also help Marie to preserve her secret. Nobody ever discovers the secret of The Cat and she never gets caught. Of course there are moments when the Nazis come close, but a cat has nine lives after all.

 

List of Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #926 (11 October 1975) – #955 (1 May 1976)
    • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #25
  • Catch the Cat!  – Bunty:   #1148 (12 January 1980) – #1164 (03 May 1980)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]
  • Catch the Cat! –  Bunty:   #1490 (02 August 1986) – #1501 (18 October 1986)
    • [Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones]

Other Appearances:

  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1979
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1980
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1981
  • Catch the Cat! – Bunty Annual 1982

 

The Chosen One (1985)

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Published: Bunty Picture Library #263

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #394

Note: Not to be confused with “The Chosen One”, Bunty Picture Library #97, 1971

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); José Ariza (story)

Plot

At school, Claudia Green is a talented singer who enters the school’s Martha Blair Music Scholarship. There is a bust of Martha Blair at school. Claudia feels its eyes are watching everyone and it sends chills along her spine. When alive, Martha Blair chose the winner herself, and the winner would be known as “The Chosen One”. The school music teacher thinks it sounds romantic. But when you think about it, it could also sound creepy…

Claudia wins the scholarship, and the prize includes free music lessons and a mini-bust of Martha Blair. But something odd happens when Claudia is near the main bust afterwards. She can’t seem to move and the bust seems to say, “Remember, Claudia, that you are the Chosen One! You must prove yourself to be worthy of this award! You must not abuse your talents!”

Claudia is not sure if it is her imagination or what. Whatever it is, though, it has reckoned without Claudia’s mother.

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Mrs Green has changed for the worse since her husband died. Money worries have made her selfish and she always seems to be in a surly mood and not thinking about Claudia. She does not appreciate the small kindnesses Claudia tries to do for her in attempts to make her feel better. And as for when Mum hears Claudia won the scholarship, all she says is: “Free music lessons? Is that all they gave you for a prize? Free music lessons aren’t going to put food on our table, are they?” Sounds like a prime candidate for reckless greed if the opportunity arises.

Sure enough, Mrs Green starts abusing Claudia’s singing as a means to make money. At first this is by entering a talent contest, and then it is contract with a Mike Slade to turn Claudia into a pop star. Claudia does not want to be a pop star, but Mum has no regard for her wishes or feelings whatsoever and puts emotional blackmail on her: “How can you be so selfish, Claudia? All these years I’ve struggled to give you a decent chance in life and this is how you repay me!”

Claudia dislikes Mr Slade from the first. She thinks he is a horrible man, and soon realises he is a greedy man who is only interested in her for as long as she will make him money. Claudia does not like the vulgar way he addresses her and her mother either. Mrs Green does not seem to mind, though. Mr Slade is fanning the flames of her greed as he moulds Claudia into a famous pop star. The more Claudia learns about being a pop star the less she likes it, but all her mother cares about is the money it will make.

It seems Claudia is not the only one who is unhappy about it. From the moment the unwanted pop star career began that mini-bust of Martha Blair starts to warn Claudia, “You are the Chosen One! You must not abuse your talent!”

Not surprising, other weird things start happening. The mini-bust is put on the piano while a teacher is coaching Claudia in being a pop star. Then Claudia feels an odd shiver and the piano lid goes crashing down on the teacher’s fingers for no apparent reason. Unfortunately for Claudia the teacher has told Mr Slade that she has what it takes to be a pop star. Now there is no stopping Mr Slade or Mum in pushing her into being one.

They both show Claudia how ruthless they are when they force her to miss a solo she was set to do for her school concert in order to go for an audition for “Rising Stars”. Mr Slade threatens to wash his hands of Claudia while Mum says a school concert is nothing compared to the chance Claudia will get at the audition. Claudia obeys, but the school finds out about the let-down and Claudia is disgraced there. She is upset, but Mum would not even care.

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Meanwhile, another weird thing happens at the audition. Mum would insist on taking that mini-bust of Martha Blair everywhere and has brought it along. Claudia gets an odd shiver and an entrant who looks a cert to win finds his guitar strings snapping for no apparent reason. So Claudia wins the audition by default, but feels she was somehow responsible for what happened to that entrant.

Back home, when Claudia puts on a record the voice of Martha Blair blares out of the speakers: “You have been warned, Claudia! Stop this foolishness before it is too late!”

At Claudia’s first recording at “Rising Stars” she knows that if she is successful she will be stuck in an unwanted career. But her recording comes to an abrupt end when the lights all explode at once and start a fire. Claudia felt oddly cold again just before it happened. “Rising Stars” will be out of business for weeks, but Mr Slade says he will find another way to bring them money. Claudia realises that he really means get his cut of the money.

The same pattern recurs at an open-air pop concert, and this time a canopy falls down. Worse, the stories of those other accidents catch up and Claudia is turned into the press sensation “Claudia the Jinx”! Mum and Mr Slade are not pleased at Claudia’s new reputation as a jinx but are too greedy to give up on her. Realising Claudia will not get another job because of her jinx reputation, Mr Slade forces her adopt a disguise and a new persona, “Sunny Beamish”, and has her sing for TV commercials. But at a shooting on a boat, Claudia hears Martha Blair’s voice out of nowhere, and of course disaster strikes the boat. Claudia the Jinx is then uncovered and the press make even more sensation out of it.

That night the mini-bust gets worse. It seems to get bigger and bigger, it gives off a strange glow, and it tells Claudia that she has had enough warning. She must now develop her talent in the way expected of the Chosen One – “or perish!” After this, Claudia definitely does not want to go to a pop show Mr Slade has booked for her in Germany (to escape her jinx reputation), but despite her efforts to avoid the flight she ends up on the plane. The plane gets damaged by a storm and has to return to the airport. Compared to Claudia’s premonitions of what was going to happen, it seems she got off lightly there. She is relieved they did not make it to Germany too.

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Nonetheless, Mr Slade isn’t giving up. Now he has Claudia work in a backing group (under another name and disguise). This time the weird pattern strikes the star of the show, who is taken mysteriously ill. Claudia does marvellously as a stand-in. Mr Slade now thinks Claudia has lived down her jinx reputation and it is safe for her to work openly again.

But afterward the mini-bust gets angry again and tells Claudia that disaster will keep striking her for as long as she abuses her talent. This is too much for Claudia, who runs blindly out into the street and is hit by a car.

When Claudia regains consciousness two days later she finds her mother is a changed person and she apologises for her selfish conduct. Mr Slade disappeared after realising Claudia was no longer in a condition to be a money-spinner for him, and Mum is not sorry to see the back of him. So Claudia is now free of her unwanted pop career, but faces a long, difficult road to recovery.

Eventually, Claudia wins a scholarship at the Marston Grange School of Music. Mum gets a housekeeping job there, with a flat to go with the job, so everything is fine for them both now. Claudia goes back to her old school to make peace with the big bust of Martha Blair, though she is no longer sure if the haunting was real or in her imagination. The statue is not telling.

Thoughts

In honour of the upcoming Halloween season, we continue discussion of spooky serials with this entry. And the haunted bust certainly is frightening. It leads off with the face of Martha Blair herself. Even before the haunting starts, the face of that formidable-looking lady would make anyone feel intimidated and even frightened. One can imagine the sort of person Martha Blair was in life. It is understandable that someone’s imagination might run riot if that face made too strong an impression on them, but are we really convinced it was imagination…? It is stretching imagination a bit far to imagine a bust growing larger and giving off a glow, or making threats in an angry voice. To say nothing of a supernatural voice coming out of speakers or out of nowhere on the wind. That is hallucination, not imagination, and there is no evidence of Claudia hallucinating. It is a bit hard to dismiss those weird things as some sort of subconscious reaction to the forced pop music career either. Claudia had her first odd encounter with the bust before Mum had even got started on it.

If it were indeed a real haunting, Martha Blair’s anger would be far more justifiable if Claudia really was abusing her talent for selfish or unsuitable ends. But Claudia is not abusing her talent – her talent is being abused, in the name of profit, and one of those abusers is her own mother. So it is quite unfair for Martha Blair to be haunting, jinxing and threatening Claudia in this way on top of poor Claudia being emotionally blackmailed into a career she does not want, just to satisfy her mother’s greed. If anything, Martha Blair should be haunting that selfish mother.

We get our first glimpse of how selfish the mother has become when Claudia comes home late from school. Mum grouses at Claudia for being kept waiting for her supper, which she expects Claudia to do. Why can’t the mother do the supper herself? She is quite capable. Is she going through some sort of depression over her husband’s death and stress over money? Or is she lumbering Claudia with all the housework or something? When Claudia wins the scholarship, Mum snaps at how it won’t bring in any money instead of being delighted and congratulating Claudia. She moans about money all the time, but we don’t see her raising any by working until the end of the story.

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Mum’s selfishness and fixation with money worries makes her easy prey for a money-grubber like Mike Slade. There is no evidence that Mr Slade is downright crooked as some music managers are in girls’ serials, but greed is written all over him. He does not care about the person he makes a star out of, only the money he will make out of that person. Claudia can see it and what sort of man Mr Slade is, However, Mum is too blinded by her own greed to see it as well and does not realise that Mr Slade is playing on her greed in order to feed his own.

As Mum’s greed grows, she becomes increasingly callous to Claudia. She does not care about what Claudia wants or her feelings, and does not listen to Claudia’s pleadings about them. Whenever Claudia tries to reason with Mum, she uses emotional blackmail, gives Claudia a look she can’t say no to, or just slaps Claudia down to get what she wants out of her. She does not think about Claudia feels over being called “The Jinx Girl” in the press. She just keeps pushing Claudia on into making more money as a pop star and damn her jinx reputation.

The press who brand Claudia a jinx have no regard for her feelings either – or what they will do to her reputation and career. All they care about is making a sensational story out of her. They bulldoze all over her protests that they can’t take her photograph: “Too late, love!”. More greedy people abusing a hapless girl for profit.

Only shock treatment can bring Mum to her senses, and she gets it when Claudia has the accident. Then Mr Slade walks out after he realises Claudia could make no more money for him, which must have opened Mum’s eyes about him.

The artwork from José Ariza makes a superb job of expressing how growing greed is changing Mum for the worse. Her face is getting harder when she speaks to Claudia and there are truly callous expressions on her face in several panels, which are really disturbing.

The protagonist in this story has a hard time on more than one front. First are the greedy mother and manager who exploit Claudia’s talent and ride roughshod over her wishes and feelings. Second is being terrorised by an angry spirit who is persecuting her for a rather unfair reason. The spirit’s wrath causes disaster to strike at every turn, which turns our unfortunate heroine into a tabloid sensation as a jinx on top of everything else! Third is having a terrible road accident that leaves her unable to walk for a long time. By the time Claudia is going for her own audition, she is still using walking aids. One can only hope that by this time the “Claudia the Jinx” moniker has been forgotten, particularly as the cause of it all should be at peace now.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

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Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

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After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

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The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.

“I Must Find My Mum” / “I’ll Find My Mum”

  • “I Must Find My Mum” – Bunty Picture Story Library #237  (1983)
  • Reprinted as “I’ll Find My Mum” –   Bunty Picture Story Library #402  (1995)
  • Partial reworking of text story Cinderella of the Orphanage
  • Artist:  J. Badesa

Plot

I'll find my mumIn the text story “Cinderella of the Orphanage”  Cindy Winters (renamed Waters in the psl) has grown up in the Oldbank orphanage, she is a kind-hearted and helpful girl and has a close relationship with Mrs Blake the house mother and Harry Winters the handyman who found her on the orphanage doorstep. Cindy Winters is shown to be a problem solver and helper, it is the last episodes of the text series that revolve around Cindy looking for her mother which is the focus of the picture story library book.

Cindy Waters is upset to hear that Mrs Blake is retiring, but then Mrs Blake tells her she would like to legally adopt her. She says it is Cindy’s choice, but first she must be aware of new information has come to light, that may influence her decision.  The matron has a letter that was left with her as a baby, usually such things would be given  to the child they lave the home but they feel she should have all the information now. Back at the home Cindy is given the letter, Cindy’s mother writes that she can’t look after her now but Mary Blake was kind to her once and she knows she will look after her. She also says she will come back one day to claim her. She also enclosed a photo of four girls but they are in costumes with their faces mostly hidden.

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Cindy goes back to Mrs Blake to ask her what she remembers. Mrs Blake worked at a hostel The Footlight Club in London where young actresses would try and make a name for themselves. Unfortunately it was so long ago and so many girls came and went that she can’t remember any names. Cindy is not deterred though, she will be 16 in a month’s time when the summer holidays start and she wants to use that time to try and find her mother. Although Mrs Blake tells Cindy not to get her hopes up too much as the authorities had no luck in finding her mother. But knowing how determined Cindy is, Blake and Matron arrange for her to stay in Mrs Blake’s cousins guesthouse. At the guesthouse Cindy has a roommate Janet Draper, an art student, whom she soon makes friends with.

Cindy starts her investigation the next morning, first she goes to the photographers where the photo was taken, but finds it is now a coffee shop. Next she tries the Footlight Club, she has more luck there, as she is directed to Old Nellie who used to be the wardrobe mistress. Cindy shows Nellie the photo and is surprised to find Nellie has a copy of the photo herself. She was given it by one of the girls’,  Nancy Stevens, although she doesn’t remember the other three girls. Nancy went on to become quite famous and changed her name to Felicity Oldbank. Cindy thinks it can’t be a coincidence that the stage name she chose is the same as the Children’s home. Felicity is appearing in a musical nearby so Cindy has a chance to meet her. Felicity is moved by Cindy’s story but she is not her mother, she was in fact raised in the Oldbank home too, which is why she chose the name. Looking at the photo, she remembers it was taken after an audition. Two girls didn’t get the part but herself and another girl Connie did. Connie settled down and married soon after the play, so Cindy is disappointed that she is unlikely to be her mother. But Felicity tells her not to lose hope as Connie may remember the other two girls in the photo.

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When Cindy meets Connie she is able to give her the names of  the other girls, Clarice Hastings, and Diana Thorpe who sadly died in an aircrash years ago. She has not been in contact with Clarice but she remembers, the photographer was a family friend of Clarice. Before going back to London  Cindy promises to call into Janet’s father who lives close by. Connie knows the Drapers and tells Cindy, about how Janet’s mother was killed in a car crash that also left her father paralyzed. Janet was mostly raised by Miss Barnes, Mr Draper’s nurse. When she visits Mr Draper, Cindy is surprised that a sunny girl like Janet could come from such a miserable place. Mr Draper sounds like a spoilt child and Miss Barnes seems cold and clearly had been crying before she arrived. Just as she is leaving she is surprised as Miss Barnes kisses her on the cheek and says to pass it to Janet.

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The next day in London, Cindy goes to the coffee shop where the photographer studio once was. The owner contacts the lawyer who handled the sale and they are able to track down the Martins. This leads Cindy to Clarice where she explains her story again. She is disappointed that she is not her mother, which only leaves the deceased Diana, but then Clarice tells her that she had seen Diana a couple of years back, very much alive. Cindy tries to go back to Felicity in case Diana is still an actress and she might know her but Felicity has moved on. She seems to be momentarily at a dead end, then Janet receives a letter from Miss Barnes about her father undergoing an operation to help him walk again. Cindy is shocked that the writing is the same as her mother’s letter!

She goes to visit Miss Barnes who embraces Cindy and confesses that she is her mother but she was too afraid and ashamed to say anything last time in case Cindy rejected her. She tells her story; that she had not been on the ill fated flight because she had an accident on the way to the airport. Hurting her leg, she knew she wouldn’t be able to dance again so she decided to train as a nurse. It was then she met Cindy’s father, a medical student and married him. Tragedy struck, as just before Cindy was born he was killed in a car crash. In shock and with little money, Diana had decided to give up Cindy, just while she finished her nursing training, she planned to come back for her when she had more money. Miss Barnes took the job with Mr Draper because of the good money but she did not reckon on how demanding an possessive he was. She felt sorry for him and that she couldn’t leave him.

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Now things have changed with Mr Draper having a successful operation and Janet moving to an art studio back home she finally she feels she can leave. She gets a job at the Oldbank home and her and Cindy move in with Mrs Blake at her insistence.

 

Thoughts

Stories were often reprinted or updated, text stories turned to picture stories, and in a case like this sometimes they were shortened into one complete picture story library book.  Another time I can think of this happening is Bunty story Captain Shirley. In Cinderella of the Orphanage,  like I mentioned it starts with stories about Cindy’s time helping out in the orphanagethe plot of Cindy looking for her mother takes  place in Bunty #167-173 (this is only a small part of the story as Cinderella of the Orphanage started in #157). They do well taking the core mystery as the story  and the picture story library does not feel incomplete for missing out on the rest of the text story.

“I’ll Find My Mum” has an interesting mystery with only a photo as a clue to where her mother might be. Of course typically she ends up tracking the three other women before the final woman being revealed as her mother. It wouldn’t be quite so tense if the first woman she fond was her mother.  Also introducing the plot that Diana is supposedly dead means the readers put their hope on Clarice being the mother if Cindy is going to have a happy ending to her search. It’s a good way of keeping things more emotional and readers invested. Of course the reveal that Miss Barnes is actually Diana is a surprise and quite an unbelievable coincidence that Cindy would find her through room-mating with Janet! Also it’s hard to make Mr Draper sympathetic when he has been so demanding of Miss Barnes.

While most of story makes it in tact from the text, even little things such as Cindy being a nickname, she was actually baptized Angela Mary, there are some changes. A subplot was dropped about Cindy’s money going missing and she suspects Janet. Also when we are first introduced to Janet they have a longer conversation and a description of her includes: “Cindy felt rather as if a charming tornado had swept through the room“. After this Cindy makes a comment about it not going to dull with Janet around, this line is kept in the psl but it fails to fully represent the frenzied nature of the meeting, so that line now seems a bit out of place.

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Cindy is also a little younger in the text story but the major change comes from time period it is set in. The text story was published in 1961, while it doesn’t make a difference to the majority of the story, it does change the details of Diana Thorpe’s past. The ill-fated air-crash that she managed to avoid was actually a for a troupe going to entertain the soldiers. Seeing air raid victims is what influenced her to be a nurse and Cindy’s father actually died just after the war after catching typhus in the East. While it doesn’t change the core of the story it would give more insight to why Diana would have struggled more with a baby and how she could be more vulnerable after such events. Reading the text story adds this nice details but are not necessary to enjoy the picture story library.

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Bad Luck Barbara (1985) / Witch! (1991)

“Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy and “Witch!” from Bunty share the same premise, and also so many similarities and common threads that I am looking at them both together. In fact, I suspect it was the same writer. The two stories were published only six years apart, which makes it even more feasible.

Both stories revolve around a protagonist who is a newcomer to an English village that still believes in witches. In both cases the villagers persecute the new girl because they believe she is descended from the village witch, and the persecution becomes protracted because the parents do not realise what is going on. In the early episodes only one girl makes friends with the protagonist because she also originates outside the village and therefore does not share the villagers’ thinking. But then the friend turns on the protagonist and joins the campaign against her. Later the protagonist finds another friend, but again the witchcraft stigma drives them apart. In both stories there are incidents that have the protagonist herself wondering if she does in fact have powers that are working against the villagers. There are even strange occurrences that do suggest there is a genuine supernatural power at work from the alleged witch.

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Bad Luck Barbara

Published: Mandy #971 (24 August 1985) – #986 (7 December 1985)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

After a long period of unemployment, Barbara Petty’s father finds a job as a farm manager in the village of Wavertree. He expects the family to do their bit to help his job succeed. But when Barbara’s neighbour Mary Weston hears what her surname is, she warns Barbara not to spread it around.

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Soon Barbara finds out why when she hears the story of Old Mother Petty. In 1590 the villagers cruelly harassed Old Mother Petty because they believed she was a witch who was causing waves of constant bad luck to strike Wavertree. When a lynch mob tried to drag Old Mother Petty away, she was pushed too far. She inserted her ladle into an oak tree and uttered a curse: whoever pulled it out would be the one to take her place, and wreak her revenge on all the villagers for their cruelty by inflicting even worse bad luck on them. Then she disappeared with a flash of lightning.

Barbara realises the villagers may connect her with Old Mother Petty because she has the same surname. She tries to disprove it by showing she cannot pull the ladle out – but she does! The villagers instantly believe that Barbara is the one to unleash Mother Petty’s revenge. The man who told Barbara the legend suddenly collapses and shouts that he is her first victim. The rumour gets even worse when Dad finds the ladle on his doorstep and nails it to the front door to be used as a pot plant holder, and all the villagers can see it there.

From then on, the villagers blame Barbara for anything bad that happens to them. In a lot of cases these are things that were their own fault (such as a family getting poisoned because they kept on using an unsafe well) or can be put down to simple explanations or coincidence. Barbara becomes increasingly ostracised and harassed everywhere. People whisper behind her back and children run away from her in terror. She hopes school will bring some respite as it is outside the village. But Barbara discovers village girls go there too and they spread rumours around, which get reinforced by more seeming bad luck and witchcraft. Before long Barbara gets the same abuse at school as well. She also loses Mary’s friendship after a trick from one of the bullies casts Barbara in a very bad light with her.

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Barbara soon finds there is no escaping the stigma; everywhere she turns, she comes up against tales and relics of Old Mother Petty, which further fuels the hostility against her. For example, Barbara takes up riding lessons with friendly Dixie Carter, who does not believe the superstition. But Barbara comes up against the story of Old Mother Petty putting a curse on all horses and their riders, which in the villagers’ eyes comes true when Dixie has an accident.

Barbara tries to tell her parents about the villagers’ hatred, but they just don’t get it. Not even when it stares at them in the face, such as when Mum gets abusive treatment from the grocer once he hears who she is. When Barbara tries to tell them how serious it is they are so dismissive, telling her she is being over-sensitive, that the villagers are just teasing her and such. Moreover, Dad’s job is just too important to them for them to even consider leaving Wavertree. At other times, Barbara tries to hide the truth from them to spare their feelings.

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Eventually Barbara is getting so down that she herself begins to wonder if she does have powers. She even starts wishing she did have some to teach the villagers a lesson. Then, that night she has a vision of Old Mother Petty, who says that Barbara really is her chosen one to wreak her revenge! Nightmare or what? Barbara does not know what to think.

The day after the nightmare, Dad announces that his boss is transferring him to a new job in Wales. So the parents take Barbara away from Wavertree at last, while still not understanding the situation or how serious it was. Barbara resolves to put Wavertree behind her – but of course she never wants to see it again – and look forward to her new life in Wales.

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But unknown to Barbara, the new owner of their old house takes a shine to the ladle while not knowing about its notoriety. Moreover, she feels an odd sense of belonging to the area. She and her husband are going to look for ancestors in Wavertree – and her maiden name is Petty….

 

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Witch!

Bunty: 1744 (15 June 1991) – 1755 (31 August 1991)

Artist: Edmond Ripoll

Plot
Ellie Ross and her parents move to the village of Littledene, where Mr Ross’s ancestors originated. Ellie soon finds the villagers are a clannish lot who do not welcome strangers, and her only friend is Lynne Taylor, a newcomer who is likewise shunned. Ellie also befriends a cat that ran away from cruel owners, the Lawsons, and names him Lucas – the name just seemed to pop into her head. But Ellie finds the villagers are extraordinarily hostile towards her and cannot understand why.

Eventually Ellie and Lynne find out the reason: the villagers believe Ellie is descended from the village witch. Her name was Elizabeth Ross (Ellie’s full name), but the villagers call her Black Bess. Their belief that Ellie is descended from Black Bess is based on her having the same name, Lucas sharing the same name as Black Bess’s cat (oh dear, why did we see that coming?), Ellie’s resemblance to Black Bess (there are portraits available), and Ellie’s funky hairstyle is not helping matters either. And unfortunately, all evidence eventually does point to Black Bess being an ancestress of the Rosses.

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Once Ellie fully understands the campaign against her, archenemies come out into the forefront. The ringleader is Fran Lister, a school bully whose father is a leading rich man in the community and has his eye on the Rosses’ property. The Lawson family are also frequent abusers. The campaign becomes protracted because Ellie cannot bring herself to tell her parents, who are so happy in Littledene.

Ellie starts some serious research into Black Bess. She learns that Black Bess was branded a witch because when she came to a place in Littledene called Manor House, animals and people started dying. But she finds out little more.

In addition to the campaign, strange things start happening to Ellie. She starts having inexplicable dreams and visions, often of stone-throwing mobs out to kill her. Other times she feels that someone else is speaking through her to threaten the villagers when they attack her – and then something happens to them, such as being attacked by seagulls and bees, falling down, or having accidents. At times Ellie feels she is hearing a voice and even multiple voices. Most often they are laughing or crying. Sometimes they sound sad and other times they egg her on to hurt her abusers when they torment. Because of this, Ellie begins to wonder if she does have genuine powers as strange things seem to happen when she is around. Lynne soon feels the same way and joins Fran in the campaign against Ellie.

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Ellie finds another friend, Miss Black. But it turns out that Miss Black was also a victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs because she treats animals with herbal remedies. The villagers drove her out of Littledene, and when the bullies discover Ellie’s friendship with her, it all threatens to start up again. Miss Black tells Ellie she must not come back and urges her to get her parents to take her away. Ellie realises Miss Black is right, but still cannot bring herself to tell her parents.

When Fran harasses Ellie at school, Ellie tries to scare her off by pretending to be a witch. Then Ellie is startled to hear the voices in her head, which urge her to hurt Fran. Fran trips over her bag, hits her head and is put in hospital.

Of course the villagers blame Ellie for Fran’s accident, and they retaliate by vandalising Mrs Ross’s pottery workshop. However, not even this induces Ellie to tell her parents what is going on. Instead, she runs off to a nearby town. There she comes across a bookshop where the owner has acquired Black Bess’s journal. Ellie discovers that Black Bess’s family were wiped out by plague and she fled to relatives at Manor House. But apparently she brought the plague with her, which caused the animals and people to die. This led to the villagers branding her a witch and they persecuted her cruelly. The owner then tells Ellie that a stone-throwing mob chased Black Bess into the sea, where she drowned. He says that he will publish a newspaper article telling the truth about Black Bess.

But when Ellie returns home, she nearly meets the same fate as Black Bess when a lynch mob chases her all the way to the beach and tries to stone her. Only her mother’s phone call to the police saves her life. After this, Ellie finally tells her parents and they agree to take her away from Littledene.

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Fran confesses to Ellie that her father put her up to leading the campaign because he wanted to get rid of the Rosses and turn their property into a petrol station. But now Mr Lister has discovered the house is listed, so “it was all for nothing – that’s the laugh”.

Unfortunately the newspaper article makes no difference to the villagers’ attitude. As Ellie and her parents depart, the villagers hurl abuse at her on all sides and make it plain that they hate her and Black Bess as much as ever. Ellie theorises that Bess was trying to clear her name through her, and hopes Bess does not try again with another newcomer.

Thoughts

Witch superstitions still linger in some parts of the English countryside, and this has formed the premise for a number of girls’ serials such as the two discussed above. In one variation of the theme, the girl has a genuine power or is in the grip of a malevolent force, which prompts the villagers into thinking she is a witch. One example of this is “The Revenge of Roxanne” from Suzy. In a less common variant, an animal is the victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs, such as the cat in Mandy’s “The Cat with 7 Toes”.

The premise did not appear much and I myself have not seen many serials that have it. But DCT must have had more. If anyone knows any examples besides the ones cited here, I would love to hear about them.

When comparing “Witch!” with “Bad-Luck Barbara”, the former seems to give the impression that it is a more advanced model on the latter. There are so many elements in “Bad Luck Barbara” that were confined to self-contained episodes, but in “Witch!” they are expanded to form parts of a story arc that carry through the entire serial. Three of these are discussed as follows.

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First is the ringleader of the witch-hunt. In “Bad Luck Barbara” there are no distinct ringleaders in the campaign. Some of the persecutors are named but none emerge as a definite ringleader or archenemy. For example, in one episode Barbara comes up against a girl called Wendy who pulls nasty tricks to stir up the villagers against her because she wanted to get rid of the Pettys so her father could take Mr Petty’s job. Wendy had potential to be expanded further over many more episodes and become a major villain. Instead, she only lasts one episode – and it is the penultimate episode too. In contrast, Fran Lister, who is Wendy’s counterpart in “Witch!”, is a rounded villain who plays a huge role in the development of the plot and the campaign against Ellie. And like Wendy, Fran is only in it for her father’s personal gain. Unlike Wendy or any of the other witch hunters, Fran is the only one with any redeeming qualities, which come out when she confesses and apologises to Ellie.

Second is the cat that befriends the protagonist. Lucas’ counterpart in “Bad Luck Barbara” is a cat called Sooty, which the villagers brand as Barbara’s familiar because he looks like a witch’s cat. Sooty only lasts one episode as well; Barbara has to quickly find another home for him after the villagers try to kill him. But while Sooty appears in just one episode, his counterpart in “Witch!” is expanded into a character that goes for the duration of the serial, and sharing the hatred and abuse Ellie suffers from the villagers.

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Third are the strange visions that both protagonists have. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the vision of Old Mother Petty does not appear until the final episode, when the protagonist finally begins to wonder if she does have strange powers. But in “Witch!” the odd visions and dreams start from the beginning. They begin on a pretty small scale but seem to get stronger as the persecution develops, while still remaining indistinct and their motives indiscernible. Are they trying to warn Ellie of the danger? A lot of the visions and nightmares do centre on stone-throwing mobs out for blood. Are they trying to protect Ellie from the villagers’ attacks or helping her inflict revenge for them? After all, Ellie only gets a strange voice speaking through her and then something happening when someone attacks her. The strange voices never direct any malevolence towards an innocent person. Or was Ellie’s conclusion about Black Bess trying to clear her name the correct one? And Ellie did feel oddly drawn to the bookshop where the owner had just acquired Black Bess’s journal. Was it gut feeling or was it guidance from the strange forces? Were the strange things that happened to Ellie some combination of the above? Or were there more simple explanations, such as a medical condition?

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Let us assume for the moment that Black Bess and Old Mother Petty were unleashing some genuine supernatural forces from beyond the grave. However, it is still hard to gauge as to whether Black Bess or Old Mother Petty were downright evil. After all, Old Mother Petty’s alleged curse of revenge was retaliation for the villagers constantly persecuting her. And she set her curse on horses for the same reason – because a horseman assaulted and bullied her. There is no way of telling whether Old Mother Petty was actually working some kind of black magic against the villagers or if she was just a scapegoat for bad things happening, the same way Barbara was, and shouted curses back at the villagers in anger.

Secretly, we do laud Old Mother Petty for striking back at the witch hunters and escaping their clutches. More often such victims end up like Black Bess. Incidentally, the circumstances of how Old Mother Petty was branded a witch are not unlike how real-life witchcraft accusations worked in the English countryside.

Black Bess is kept more mysterious and ambiguous than Old Mother Petty (no flashbacks or visions of her, as there are of Old Mother Petty), so it is more difficult to judge her motives. They could have been anything from protecting Ellie to wanting revenge. But it cannot be said with certainty that her motives were evil. A lot of this ambiguity is related to how Black Bess was established in the story. In “Bad Luck Barbara”, the story of Old Mother Petty, the villagers branding Barbara her successor, and Barbara understanding why the villagers hate her are all set up in the first episode. In “Witch!”, the establishment is built up over several episodes. Black Bess is not introduced until episode three, and until then Ellie cannot comprehend why the villagers seem to hate her. Throughout the story, the backstory of Black Bess is not revealed until the last episode. Until then, readers and Ellie are left with a mystery surrounding Black Bess. And even after the truth is revealed, Bess’s motives are still hard to discern.

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Both stories end realistically. In several other stories that follow the premise, the protagonist proves to the villagers she is not evil when she performs an act of heroism, and they welcome her with open arms, flowers and apologies. This is how “The Cat with 7 Toes” and Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!” are resolved. Unfortunately that is not how it really works with people who believe in witches. Once they brand someone a witch, the label sticks. Nothing can shift it and it lasts for generations. And both “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!” acknowledge this sad fact. “Bad Luck Barbara” makes this particularly clear in one episode, where Barbara does save a child’s life. But instead of the villagers realising she is a good person and accepting her, their witch-beliefs twist it all around to reinforce the notion that she is a witch. This incident proves once and for all to Barbara that she just can’t win with them and there is nothing she can do to change their attitude. Leaving the village is the only option, and even then the villagers make it clear that their hatred of the protagonist will persist long after she is dead. There are no ridiculous happy endings with the protagonist proving her goodness and the witch-believers accepting her at long last. In fact, both stories end on ominous hints that other unsuspecting newcomers may also fall victim to the same witch beliefs.

The stories do differ somewhat in their resolutions. Although both stories end with the parents taking their daughters away, their reasons for doing so are quite different. In “Witch!”, the parents eventually find out what is going on and remove Ellie accordingly. Still, in that instance the parents do have to find out because Ellie just won’t tell them. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the parents never find out, which is quite annoying and even distasteful. They only take Barbara away because Dad gets a job transfer to Wales. It would have redeemed the thoughtless parents considerably to finally get the message instead of belittling it all when Barbara tries to tell them.

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Maybe part of the Petty parents never finding out was that the Wavertree villagers never got quite as violent as their Littledene counterparts. Ellie is subject to several attacks that could have killed her before the stone-throwing mob in the final episode. Barbara is threatened with a lynch mob in one episode but manages to scare them off. When Ellie departs, the villagers hurl blatant abuse at her that horrifies her parents. If their Wavertree counterparts had done that when the Pettys departed, not even those thickheaded parents could have been so dismissive of it. Instead, the Wavertree villagers express their hatred in a more restrained way: silent glares, muttering, and throwing the odd stone. So while Barbara can see their hatred, the parents remain oblivious to it.

There have been several stories like these where the story leaves the reader to judge whether the protagonist does have strange powers or whether the things superstitious fools and bullies accuse her of are just accidents, fate, coincidence, Law of Attraction, autosuggestion or whatever. These are questions the protagonist herself begins to wonder as she discovers the brainwashing effect of the constant accusations of witchcraft. They can really get to her and she starts to think that she does in fact have strange powers. She may even wish for some so she can get real revenge on the cruel villagers. This happens to both Ellie and Barbara, and they have to fight hard to shake the idea out of their heads. Readers are left to draw their own conclusions. My own response is always the same: it does not matter because either way, you burn!