Category Archives: Bunty

Lona the Wonder Girl

  • Lona the Wonder Girl–  Bunty: #926 (11 October 1975) – #951 (03 April 1976)
  • Reprinted as Wonder Girl – Lucky Charm: #18 (1982)
  • Artist: Robert MacGillivray

Plot

Lona Neal was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a group of scientists. They think she will be perfect test subject as even as a baby her endurance and intelligence is evident. The scientists keep her secluded and raise her to be the perfect human specimen.  There experiments can be harsh, such as when she can draw with her right hand, they make a pen that won’t work unless she uses her left hand and when she cries that she is hungry, they don’t respond in order for her  her to learn independence by finding her own food from the fruit trees outside. Only one of the scientist, Dr Hilda, appears to see her more than an experiment, praising her and showing concern at some of the harsher lessons. When Lona’s guardians feel they have taught her all they can, they send her off to an exclusive boarding school to see how she does in the outside world and prove their experiment a success.

Charlton College is a competitive school for the best and brightest. While Lona is smart in many ways, her guardians did not teach her about people and ways of the world.  Therefore the other girls actually think she’s a bit thick, strange and often interpret her special abilities wrongly. Like when she takes part in a swimming competition, she decides to swim under water as it is the clearer path. But the games mistress jumps in to rescue her,  as she thinks Lona must be drowning because no-one could hold their breath that long and the girls all think she lied about being able to swim. Another teacher also thinks she must have cheat on test, because she couldn’t finish it so quickly. The girls in her class wonder how she doesn’t understand slang like “bighead” and “to stick up for yourself”. When Lona gets in bully Mildred’s bad books, the girls are irked that Lona lets Mildred push her around. When things go wrong Lona remembers the lessons her guardians taught her.She always prefers to try peaceful method and thinks if confrontation is needed it should be done privately.

Lona would like a chance to play on the tennis team for an upcoming tournament but is denied because again she is not understood when she says she’s never played against a human (as she had learned to play against a robot, Bertie). She does get her chance though when several of the players come down with the flu. At first she finds people can be harder to play against than a robot, as they are more “deceptive”. When she learns her opponents moves she does end up winning. Finally her classmates are impressed and want her to accept the challenge of bighead school champion Celia. Lona does eventually accept, but thinks when Celia sets time for a match she means 12 midnight rather than 12 noon. She thinks it is not right to brag and therefore midnight is good time as they will be able to play in private. She goes to wake Celia up as she thinks she has forgotten. Celia wakes everyone else up, not interested in a private match. But then Celia gets nervous and doesn’t want to take the chance of losing, so she asks friends to distract Lona. Tricks like shining light in her eyes, don’t work and its clear that Lona will win, until the principal interrupts. While the whole school were behind Lona to win, seeing her not stand up for herself against Celia and call her out on the tricks she pulled, makes them exasperated with Lona again.

Lona has heightened hearing, so when the girls say things about her, they don’t realise she will be hurt by the comments. Feeling very dejected, Lona decides to runaway back home, but is surprised her guardians have abandoned the house. Deciding there are some things she must solve alone, like her guardians taught her, she goes back to the school. Tired from all her walking, she actually sleeps in and is grumpy in the morning. The girls think maybe she is normal after all, but she quickly reverts to her old ways. Mildred is still especially annoyed with Lona, even after she saves the class from lightning. Mildred does notice Lona is desperate for a friend and uses this to play tricks on her, making her do a ton of prep. Lona does start making progress with making friends, firstly a girl with allergies, Fiona, takes Lona’s advise about getting rid of chemicals. This turns out to be a good thing, because it turns out she was having a bad reaction to a nasal spray. She also makes friends with Mary, who encourages her to have more fun. Even the teachers are coming around and she gets a place on the gymnastics team.

Mildred isn’t happy that she is made reserve on the gymnastics team, but also doesn’t take well to Lona offering her place. Mary says Lona needs to be more human and stop always trying to be perfect; she should tell a lie, have fun!Lona begins to doubt herself and her guardians and loses some of her poise She tries to loosen up going to concert with Mary, and it seems Mary was right as more girls are being friendlier to her now. But because of Lona’s heightened senses, the noise and smoke is too much and she runs off. Mildred notices and makes a note of this weakness. She use this to her advantage at the gymnastics display, getting her father to blow smoke at Lona. Lona is also disconcerted as she thinks one of the professors is there but she is mistaken and the the loudspeaker announcing her makes her sensitive. All these things cause Lona to lose her concentration and fall. Then her coach tells her to push everything from her mind, she relies on her lessons and she makes a great recovery.

During the break between events, Mary invites Lona out with her family, Lona is upset when Mary asks her to share the secret of her strength as she thinks now Mary only wants her friendship because of that. Before the next event some girls mock her preparation and again Lona loses her concentration. She has to take some time to dismiss her emotions to recover. Mildred is mad and jealous because despite her mistakes, Lona gets a loud applause.  Her jealously goes so far that she pushes a flower pot on Lona. Lona refuses doctor but soon finds her vision blurring. Still she manages the next event through feel only. The selectors for the British team in the audience are impressed with her talent and recovery, so put her on short list. Mildred is disappointment though her father reassures her she’s the greatest to him. Hearing this Lona feels lonely wishing she had parents that cared for her. Then she spots Dr Hilda but she runs away before Lona gets a chance to talk to her. Mary is blunt, telling her that her guardians have caused nothing but heartache. Marys family propose adopting her, but Lona’s head injury acts up and she is diagnosed with a concussion. At this stage she is tired of being strong and is getting more ill, only the arrival of Dr Hilda encourages her to fight again. Dr Hilda says the other scientists blame her for the failure of the experiment as she was too sentimental with Lona. Lona is determined to prove them wrong, and now with renewed strength, begins to excel at everything, including becoming a swimming and gymnastic champion. While playing violin solo at parents day, Lona is delighted her guardians have come. Her guardians are to take her home but no more experiments, she can come back to the school as a normal girl.

Thoughts

With the Wonder Woman film release, I thought it would be good to look at a British Wonder Girl. [Note: There have been several Wonder Girls in  of the American DC comics the first appearance of the DC Wonder Girl was actually the adventures of a teenage Wonder Woman, another writer thought Wonder Girl was separate person and added her onto the Teen Titans team, so she had to have a new backstory developed, that Wonder Girl became Donna Troy]. I assume DCT  were able to get away with stories called Wonder Girl (and Supergirl) because the characters themselves were different from their American namesakes. Lona does show some similarities to Wonder Woman (film version), she has compassion, wanting to make peace, and shows some naivety of outside world, they are even both unfamiliar with ice cream! But she has more in common with another British Wonder Girl Jay Smith from Mandy. Both Lona and Jay are raised by scientists to be a peak of their abilities. They have heightened senses, endurance, excel at sports and academia. Jay has a good relationship with her guardian Harriet Dene and is happy to put her abilities to the test against others. Though her abilities set her apart she doesn’t feel lonely. Lona on the other hand longs for friendship and though she should be top of everything, her actions are often misinterpreted.

Throughout the story there are flashbacks, which show how she interacted with her guardians, lessons she learned and they also show, even when younger, she was in search for friendship and connections. Dr Hilda is certainly shown to be the most emotionally attached of the guardians, Lona as a younger child even asks her to pretend to be her mummy. Lona is a very sympathetic character, you can certainly see her loneliness (well demonstrated by the expressive art of Robert MacGillivray) and also the conflict of trying to do her best all the time like her guardians taught her. The problem with this, is it isolates her from the other students, they don’t understand her strange ways. The scientists don’t put much stock in teaching Lona social skills or humour, this ends up being her downfall. While they think emotions make her soft and she won’t be able to excel, it is not possible for Lona to completely push aside her emotions and this is her downfall. When finally she knows that Dr Hilda cares, that is what pushes her to do her best, proving the other scientists wrong.

The ending seemed a bit quick, the scientists decide no more experiments as Lona has proven successful across the board, but we never see any reactions from them. Some plot points seem to be dropped too, like Mary’s want to find out the “secret” to Lona’s strength, while Lona suspects her friendship isn’t so genuine, next Mary’s parents are offering to adopt her! These plots are never developed. Also Fiona is never mentioned again, possibly she was still in hospital? As I only have the Lucky Charm version, it is possible that there have been parts edited out of the original which may have developed these plots more. A more satisfying supporting character is Mildred, we see her annoyance then jealousy of Lona build up to the point where she causes injury to Lona. While she never apologizes,  she does look guilty after injuring Lona. While she may want Lona’s skill, she doesn’t appreciate she has something Lona longs for – a loving parent.  The ending is satisfying with Lona now happy, she has a caring family that are proud of her and she has the chance to return to school as a normal girl with friends.

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

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

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

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

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

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

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

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

Thoughts

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

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

Dolwyn’s Dolls [1983]

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #246

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Servant: A Four Marys Story [1993]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #365

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

The Four Marys in Four Great Stories! [1994]

Published: Bunty Picture Library #372

Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Writer: Unknown

Story 1: The Sad Schoolgirl

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

Story 2: Boys at St Elmo’s!

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

Thoughts

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

Story 3: Teacher Trouble

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

Story 4: Mystery Girl

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

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

Thoughts

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

Dream Boy [1997]

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

Episodes: 8

Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Hot Gossip! [1997]

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

Episodes: 6

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rosie at Thorndale Hall [1983]

Thorndale Hall cover

Published: Judy Picture Library #240 [1983]

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #400 [1993]

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Rosie Cooper is not a popular girl at Meadowdale Hall School. She is an extremely gifted girl who excels at everything, but she is spoiled and selfish and never helps anyone or shares her skills. Even the staff find her unbearable, but don’t speak out because her father is the chairman of the board of governors and her family have old ties with the school. For this reason the staff give her favourable treatment and bend a lot of rules for her.

Thorndale Hall 1

Then prefect Kay Easton decides enough is enough. She orders Rosie to clean out a lumber room and won’t have any of Rosie’s threats of what she could do because her father’s position. Rosie realises she has met her match in Kay and grudgingly starts cleaning.

While cleaning the room, Rosie stumbles across a picture of what looks like the school in its early days, but under a different name: Thorndale Hall. Rosie gets a strange feeling the picture means something to her, and it’s creepy.

It’s creepy all right: next moment the picture vanishes, and everything starts spinning and dissolving. When it stops, Rosie finds the school has changed and so have her clothes: “what coarse old rubbish”. A fearsome-looking Victorian woman named Mrs Grimm (the Thorndale headmistress) appears and demands to know why Rosie hasn’t scrubbed the floor. Rosie’s arrogance resurfaces, making her usual threats about her father being the chairman of the governors. Thinking Rosie has lost her mind or something, Grimm and her assistant, Trimlett, inform her that she is an orphan who is boarding at Thorndale Hall, all paid by her “scapegrace [wayward] guardian”. Grimm and Trimlett make it very clear that they are capable of handling Rosie with extreme cruelty; Trimlett has already broken one girl’s arm. Later we learn Trimlett’s punishments killed another girl. Cowed and bewildered, Rosie is forced to scrub the floor, realising she has somehow gone back in time to Thorndale Hall, which is clearly run on the lines of Wackford Squeers.

Thorndale Hall 6

In the dining hall Rosie is introduced to another cruel assistant, Mr Bludge, who wants her to help with very substandard and meagre portions for the pupils. It is here that Rosie begins to find that she is no longer quite so good at everything. She clumsily breaks the jar of dripping and in punishment is given just dry bread. One girl, Lucy Dawlish, takes pity on her, and Rosie makes a friend for the first time in this story.

That night Rosie tries to run away, but finds there is a guard dog, which raises the alarm. Bludge almost catches her, but Lucy creates a diversion by screaming and feigning night horrors. This enables Rosie to slip back without being caught, but the cruel staff say Lucy’s nightmares are due to too much food and don’t let her have any breakfast. (Any excuse to make them go short, obviously.) Rosie tries to slip Lucy her own food, but Trimlett catches her.

Pupils are forced to do all the work around the school. There are lessons, but Rosie is in for a shocking surprise in class – she is no longer able to read! Grimm calls her a “useless slut”, but instead of teaching Rosie to read she puts Rosie back to more menial work, saying that’s all she’s good for. (Another excuse for more slave labour, obviously.)

Rosie still wants to escape, and realises the first step is to make friends with the guard dog. So she takes scraps from the larder to feed to the dog. Lucy envies the dog for getting more food than they do, but it does the trick: in a matter of days the dog no longer barks at Rosie.

Thorndale Hall 2

However, when Rosie gets too close to a room with blacked-out windows while window cleaning, Bludge acts like this has spooked him and he rants at her. This arouses Rosie’s suspicions. She gets even more suspicious when she finds the door to the grimy window room is always locked. Grimm and Trimlett also go into a rant when they catch Rosie at the door, which makes her even more suspicious. The cruel staff are getting suspicious of Rosie and are watching her closely.

Rosie and Lucy now try their escape. As they do so, they are surprised to see a horse trap arrive with two men, who carry a box into the school. The dog does not bark at them, so it must know them. The girls take advantage of the men leaving the gate unlocked to make their escape.

Thorndale Hall 4

They find a Peeler, but he does not believe their story and brings them back to Thorndale Hall. He tells the staff that he will call back to check in a week or so, which makes the staff too scared to punish the girls. Instead they tread a cautious line of better treatment for the girls (such as more food for the pupils) until they are sure things are safe again. But Rosie senses they are in danger because the staff suspect they saw the men and there are signs the staff are wary, such as the dog being moved closer to the grimy windowed room. Rosie keeps watch for the men and sees them creeping around the room with the box, and then somehow reappear without it. She realises there must be a secret entrance that is concealed by greenery.

Rosie does not realise the men saw her spying. When the staff hear about it, they decide to advance their plans to do away with Rosie and Lucy. Rosie is listening at the door (and narrowly escapes being caught doing so) and realises they must escape. But in view of what happened before, they must go with some form of evidence so the Peelers will listen this time.

So Rosie heads to the secret room for some. When she pulls back the greenery she finds a small hidden door and a silver medallion. Hearing footsteps, Rosie hides with the medallion in time – but not in time to put the greenery back. Bludge sees it has been moved and is now alerted, which means Rosie and Lucy have to make an instant escape. They do so, but Grimm sends Bludge and Trimlett out to find and silence them, or it will be Newgate Prison for all of them.

Thorndale Hall 3

Trimlett and Bludge do catch up with the girls, but the Peelers catch them red-handed and arrest them. The Peelers explain they half-believed the girls because it tied in with other things they had observed, such as the two men, but they had to wait until they had checked things out.

At the school, the Peelers force Grimm to open the door to the secret room, which reveals a counterfeiting operation that forges coins with stolen silver. Grimm feigns innocence, but she goes wild when Rosie furiously counters with the truth. Grimm locks the Peelers in the room and then goes after Rosie with a poker. She is almost upon Rosie, but then everything starts spinning and dissolving again…

Rosie now finds herself back in her own time, and in her own clothes. Kay gives Rosie full marks for her excellent cleanup of the lumber room (how did it get cleaned up?). Rosie wonders if it was a dream, but when she checks the school records it corroborates everything she experienced at Thorndale Hall. The school was exposed, Grimm was imprisoned for theft and forgery, and her school closed down. Thorndale was exposed by…Rosie Cooper.

Rosie is at a loss to explain it. Was it a dream or what? But everyone is surprised and delighted at how Rosie has suddenly become a kind, friendly and helpful girl at the school. Rosie is now making friends and becoming popular.

Thoughts

This story could still stand on its own if it was just a straight out period piece of Rosie being a 19th century girl being put through the experiences of Thorndale Hall, bringing it down, and going on to become one of the founders of its more savoury successor, Meadowdale. After all, there must be some connection between Rosie Cooper exposing Thorndale Hall and the Coopers having long-standing connections with Meadowdale. However, that aspect is never explained. Instead we’ve got the added dimensions of a spoiled 20th century girl who needs a lesson and gets it at 19th century Thorndale, and a time travel element that nobody can understand or explain. This makes the story even more exciting, intriguing and mysterious than if it was just a group slave story set in a cruel and secretly criminal 19th century school.

Thorndale Hall 4

We have to wonder if the time travel creates some sort of paradox. Is 20th century Rosie the same Rosie who exposed Thorndale Hall in the past and (presumably) established her own ancestral connections to Meadowdale? Or is it some weird combination between 20th century Rosie and 19th century Rosie (as implied by retaining her 20th century memories yet becoming unable to read)? Or was 20th century Rosie somehow reliving the experiences of 19th century Rosie while still retaining a portion of her own consciousness? Or was it some supernatural power reaching out to punish Rosie for her arrogance? It is stretching credibility to say the whole thing was in Rosie’s imagination.

Thorndale Hall 5

The villains are predictably cruel Victorian people who run their school in a Squeersian style manner. But it’s not just to take advantage of girls for profit. The villains also using the school as a front for a secret counterfeiting ring. It would be interesting to know if they set up the school that way in the first place and they were criminals to begin with. We get a hint that this may be so when Grimm’s lessons suggest she does not care all that much about educating the girls. One-eyed Bludge does not give the impression he is the teaching sort either.

Matysiak’s artwork makes the villains really terrifying and the stuff of nightmares. For example, the close-up of the two mystery men (above) still keeps their faces indistinct. Their faces are rendered in an impressionist manner that makes them even more frightening than if their faces were shown clearly. In another panel (below), Grimm is made even more alarming by a stripe of dark highlighting that goes right down from her forehead to her collarbone.

Thorndale Hall 7

The artwork is a perfect fit for rendering this intriguing and powerful story. Matysiak’s artwork is brilliantly atmospheric in conveying the grimness of the school and its Victorian setting, the evil of the school staff, the covert operations at the school that provide the mystery that must be unravelled, and the supernatural time travel elements of the story. It’s done through ingenious applications of inking rather than linework or hatching. It produces real beauties, such as in the two panels mentioned above.

 

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.

When Harry Dumped Sally 2

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.

When Harry Dumped Sally 3

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?

When Harry Dumped Sally 4

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.

When Harry Dumped Sally 5

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…

bunty-2001_comp

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!

bunty-2001_squeakie

Space Cadet (Pages: 67-74)

  • Artist: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

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.

selfish-sarah

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