Category Archives: Debbie

The Book of Shocks and Shivers [1982]

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

 

Just One Leading Lady! [1982]

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

Episodes: 5

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and Phoenix for scans

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

The Search for Kitty’s Cat [1984]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #71

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

Wendy at War [1976]

Wendy at War logo

Published: Debbie #186 (4 September 1976) – #198 (27 November 1976)

Episodes: 13

Artist: Terry Aspin

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: none known

Plot

In 1940, the Channel Islands become the only German-occupied British territory of World War II and the Germans put it under martial law. Wendy Lee’s father is away fighting. The Germans turn Wendy and her mother (and their cat Snuggles) out of their home because they want the place for their Army Staff Quarters. They send the Lees to a “more suitable” place – a rundown house that is almost a ruin. Appalled at such treatment, Wendy declares to her mother’s face that she is going to fight the Germans every which way she can until the Channel Islands are liberated from them.

Wendy at War 1

As the occupation takes its grip, life becomes harder for the villagers because of blockades and rationing, food, fuel and medical shortages, and repressive measures against any form of resistance. Among them is a total ban on outside photography except for the German armed forces – because they use the photographs for propagandistic purposes in Germany that they have conquered the whole of Britain instead of small British islands. Another is taking 60% of the fishing catches while having all island shipping vessels registered, numbered instead of named, and being painted in army camouflage.

The Germans suffer too, such as having to resort to horse-drawn power because of the fuel shortages. The Germans also have the islanders help them win the war, such as handing over spare rubber for their war effort. Some of the islanders comply willingly, much to Wendy’s disgust. Worse still are the informers and collaborators she encounters.

But Wendy has not forgotten her vow to fight the Germans. Her first case comes incidentally when she sets lobster pots in defiance of the German oppression with the aid of her father’s boat, Dancing Dolphin, which she has hidden from the measures imposed on fishing vessels described above. But it’s not lobsters she finds but a left-behind British Commando. They almost get caught because of an informer, who is also responsible for the arrest of a farmer who tried to help the Commando as well. Wendy manages to get the Commando away before the German forces arrest them too.

Next Wendy acquires some tissue paper to make sketches of the occupation to help the Allies, and then send them off in bottles in the hope someone on the mainland will find them. She starts with sketches of slave labourers who have been captured from other occupied territories and being forced to build shore defences. She gets discovered by a German soldier, Helmut Silbernagel. However, Helmut is a friendly German who does not agree with Nazism or the treatment the labourers are receiving. Wendy is surprised to learn from Helmut’s example that some Germans are good, and she continues her secret sketches with his connivance. Helmut is able to help Wendy even more when he is billeted at her house.

Wendy at War 3

A friend of Wendy’s, Henry Green, is arrested and deported to a labour camp for composing an anti-German dance tune, The Victory Waltz. Wendy wants to save him and turns to Helmut for help, but there is nothing either can do for Henry. All Wendy can do is watch Henry put up a brave show as he is taken aboard, along with several other people being deported for even the slightest act of resistance.

Later, Wendy steals the opportunity to do some sabotage against the slave labour, but the Germans go after the saboteur. Henry’s brother Ben helps her, but then Wendy goes into hiding because she thinks Ben is going to betray her. She camps out at an old market garden with the help of her mother, Helmut, and a poacher named Bill Parton. Mind you, Parton charges fees for his services in aiding people. It is also revealed Parton is aiding German soldiers who have deserted and gone into hiding because their superiors’ rules are too harsh.

Eventually Ben convinces Wendy that she got things wrong and he did not betray her. In fact, the Germans take advantage of his newspaper reporting to report their amazing progress in building sea defences. Moreover, Ben also received a letter from Henry saying that if he wants help in speeding up the defeat of the Germans, turn to “W.L.” for help. Henry can be referring to only one person.

Wendy at War 5

It’s not until several months later that Ben does turn to Wendy for help. Two Frenchmen trying to escape occupied France got shipwrecked on the islands. They need a boat, but the Germans have them all under close guard. Wendy points Ben in the direction of Dancing Dolphin. As one of the Frenchmen can’t row because of an injury, Ben has to do it. He will take the men back to France because he does not think Dancing Dolphin can make it to Britain, and the men will try again. It will turn out to be a one-way trip for Ben and Dancing Dolphin, because Ben stays on in France.

To help Ben and the Frenchmen get away without interference from German troops, Wendy starts a huge bonfire as a diversion. It backfires when she gets trapped in it, and then the Germans discover her while they are fighting the blaze. Wendy tries a cover story that she was trying to rescue a cat, but the Germans are not convinced. They lock her in the cells. Eventually they let Wendy go after receiving her character references, but warn her that they will be keeping a close eye on her.

This means Wendy’s secret resistance is under threat, and more so when Helmut is sent to the Russian Front. The German they billet now, one Sergeant Sturm, is your typical bully Nazi hulk, and Wendy suspects he has been planted to keep an eye on her. Then Helmut suddenly returns, and when he sees Sturm’s bullying he sends him packing – at gunpoint. However, this and another act of rebellion against the German military (disillusionment from the horrors Helmut had seen at the Russian Front) get Helmut arrested. Sturm goes back to billeting with the Lees.

Wendy at War 4

Helmut had dropped hints that the Germans are losing. The hints turn into open news bulletins. Street celebrations erupt at the news that Hitler is dead, and Sturm is floored at this because the source for this news is reliable. Reports of more Allied victories come, and Mum and her Red Cross workers use it to persuade the German authorities not to execute Helmut, lest the Allies hear of it when they come. When liberation comes in May 1945, the German forces surrender to the returning Allied troops. And Dad is among the returning soldiers.

Over thirty years later, an adult Wendy wraps things up for us. The Channel Islands recovered from the occupation, though it took a while. Helmut was not executed, but he did have a spell in a British POW camp. He now runs a successful vineyard in the Rhineland and still keeps in touch with Wendy. Ben Green became a reporter for a French newspaper and married a “glamorous Parissienne”. Henry Green returned, married Wendy in 1952 (awww) and still plays The Victory Waltz.

Thoughts

This story is an overlooked gem from Debbie that is now receiving attention through forums on girls’ comics and becoming highly regarded. It certainly deserves to be. It is an impressively strong story, very well written, thought provoking, and shows so much realism in its portrayal of the Channel Islands occupation. Either the writer did a lot of research to make this story as realistic as possible or they had some personal connection to the Channel Islands, perhaps even growing up there during the occupation years.

Wendy at War 6

It is one serial that features one aspect of World War II that does not get much attention in girls’ comics: the occupation of the Channel Islands and reminding us that the Nazis did occupy some British territory, even if they never succeeded in conquering Britain itself. Seeing British people being oppressed by Nazis is even more disturbing than stories that use settings of occupied continental countries. It is a microcosm of what Britain could have become had Hitler succeeded in invading it. There may be more serials that feature the occupation of the Channel Islands, but currently this is the only one mentioned on the Internet.

There have been plenty of serials about girls conducting one-girl wars against the Nazis. But unlike Catch the Cat or The White Mouse, Wendy does not adopt a costumed identity to become a symbol of resistance and a constant bane to the town Commandant. Nor is she part of any resistance organisation. She is just an ordinary girl who uses determination, quick wits, and whatever resources she has to hand to fight the Germans any way she can. Unlike The Cat or the White Mouse, who invariably win with whatever they do, Wendy does not always succeed. For example, she wants to help free Henry Green, but finds that there are some things that are beyond her power, or even that of the friendly German soldier. And so Wendy’s resistance is more realistic and believable than that of The Cat, because it is more like how it would have been with real-life resisters against Nazi occupation.

The story takes time out to explore the impacts of the occupation on people and how it is bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. We see people who comply with the Germans for one reason or other. For example, Wendy encounters boys who give the soldiers rubber for the war effort because their father says the sooner the war is over the better, no matter which side wins. Next panel Wendy looks on in horror at the slave labour on the beach and marvels at how anyone can think “no matter which side wins”. There are downright traitors and collaborators, who are epitomised in the informer who betrays Wendy and the Commando to the Germans and gets a farmer arrested. Some people are turning the war to their own advantage, such as Mr Begley who takes advantage of the shoe shortage to charge exorbitant prices for resoling. And while there are people who resist the Germans, not all of them are doing it gratis as Wendy does. Bill Parton charges fees for his services in helping people. But as he is also a poacher, his principles may not be the highest to begin with.

Wendy at War 2

Having Wendy being aided and abetted by a friendly German soldier is quite a surprise and twist. It reminds us that not all Germans were bad. There were Germans who did not approve of Hitler or Nazism, and some even formed resistance groups such as The White Rose. Good German soldiers (always in the Army, never in the SS or Gestapo) appeared quite regularly in the Commando war libraries, but they did not feature so much in girls’ serials. Helmut’s disapproval stems from him not forgetting his humanity and is horrified by the sight of slave labourers being treated so cruelty by bullying German soldiers. Later it is compounded by the horrors of war. We also see glimpses of other German soldiers who have become disillusioned by the oppression of Nazism and harsh superiors and have deserted and now live in hiding, depending on covert resisters like Wendy for survival. Perhaps the soldiers became resisters themselves. A stark contrast to the more stereotyped bully German soldiers like Sergeant Sturm who conduct the typical Nazi oppression, not only on their prisoners but also the locals of the islands they have invaded.

Beyond a Strange Door…

  • Beyond a Strange Door… – Debbie PSL: #150 [1990]

Plot

beyond-a-strange-doorDamian Darke introduces us to four short stories, each involving a strange happenings with mysterious houses.

In the first story a Maddy Thomas moves to a new house in the country with her family. On the first day she sees a shadowy figure in the woods beside the house but then it dissappears. When they settle into the house her father says that now they have a big backyard, Bobby, the dog, can now sleep outside in his new kennel. But Bobby seems to be scared of sleeping outside.He  refuses to eat and even when they take him back inside he seems to be wasting away. At night a boy appears to Maddy demanding she give him back his dog. Her parent’s wake her up from her nightmare, but Maddy’s still sick with worry, s the call a doctor. Maddy overhears the doctor telling her parents, that the dream she had was very strange considering there is a story about the house being haunted by a boy who drowned while looking for his dog. Later, when Mr Thomas is clearing some old furniture they find a diary of Tomas’s father – he tells off  how he had to put downThoamas’ dog, but was afraid to tell his son. That night Maddy goes to the woods to confront Thomas and show him where his dog is buried. Thomas doesn’t believe her at first but then he is reunited with his dog. Maddy wakes up in bed and thinks its all a dream, but Bobby has somehow made a miraculous recovery, so Damian Darke questions how much of it was a dream…

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In the next story siblings Alan and Jean aren’t too happy to have to spend Christmas with their aunt Clarissa, while their parents work. Even though rhey are stuck being with their miserable aunt , who won’t even buy a Christmas tree,  they try to make the best of it. Their laughter and energy seems to awaken two ghost children Edward and Charlotte. They comment on how the house should have more decorations for Christmas, making them appear and not realising that Clarissa can see the things they do. They make it dissappear again, but Clarissa blames Alan and Jean. Clarissa doesn’t lighten up, when Alan and Jean make friends with neighbour children, she gets rid of them quickly, showing her snobbery as she tells Jean and Alan that those children were poor and probably thieves. Edward thinks its time for her to have a few shocks, and plays tricks such as putting pepper all her her dinner. Of course this only makes things worse for the children, which Charlotte had warned him about. After this Charlotte has a better idea, showing Clarissa a happy childhood memory of Christmas and then taking it away. Clarissa is upset and wonders how she has become so hard over the years. Jean and Alan find and comfort her, she makes things up to them, buying christmas tree and inviting neighbours for Christmas.

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In the third story Vicky and her family are holidaying in an old boarding house. Vicky meets a young girl, Margaret, who seems nice but something seems off about her, she says Vicky has the same name as the queen and talks about things that aren’t there. She wonders if the house is haunted, she asks landlady, Mrs Lane, about Margaret saying and is relieved to know she exists. Vicky gets Margeret a doll for her birthday, when she gives it to her, Margaret seems confused saying her birthday was ages ago, but she is delighted with the gift. Later she is confused when Margaret appears calling her a lier, saying that she hasn’t seen her in ages and her mother says she doesn’t exist. Vicky tries t follow her, but finds the room has gone cold and creepy. Vicky is worried about Margaret’s confusion and when she goes to talk to Mrs Lane, she shocked to overhear her  talk so callously about Margaret dying. She tells her parents and they decide they should leave, Mrs Lane is surprised but even more surprised when Vicky says she doesn’t care that her daughter is dying. She tells them she doesn’t have a daughter and introduces her to an old woman Margaret who grew up in the house and had agreed that she could live the rest of her life out in the house. Margaret recognises Vicky and shows her she still has the doll Vicky gave her, it is all old now. It turns out Vicky was the ghost all along!

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In the last story Julia Mason makes friends with her neighbour, Penny when her Mom and her move to new house. Penny seems to be a lonely girl, and Julia says she will help her with her tennis but they will have to do it in secret. Under Julia’s guidance, Penny wins the school tournament. Watching her, Julia doesn’t think Penny will need her any more and she also thinks her Mom will be fine. After the match Penny’s  father introduces her to Ms Mason.  Penny asks her where Julia is, and tells her that Julia has been coaching her. This shocks Ms Mason, because her daughter, a promising tennis player passed away two years ago not long after her father. Seeing that Penny isn’t joking Ms Mason tells her she always felt Julia presence with her too, she invites Penny and her father back to her house. Penny thinks Julia has helped her many ways and may even have found a new mother for her.

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Thoughts

Continuing with more Damian Darke stories for Halloween, this is a good collection of stories. While all stories deal with the supernatural, there is a nice mix of spooky, with some lighter stories too. None of the ghosts are vengeful or vicious, Thomas in the first story comes the closest, as he seems to be a danger to Bobby, but in the end it is not maliciousness but a misunderstanding. The placing of the stories are well done, both the first and third are the creepiest, so there is a nice balance. Some psl books that have a collection of stories (like Scream) use different artists for each story. This book only has one artist, which I guess makes sense as Damian Darke is tying all the stories together and the artist does a good job here. My favourite of the stories is the third story, in a short space it establishes something mysterious with Margaret, then lulls the reader into false security as Mrs Lane knows of Margaret’s existence, so she can’t be a ghost. Then of course the twist at the end that Vicky was the ghost haunting the house.

The book does well in telling satisfying stories in such a short space. Taking into consideration a recent post about Steve MacManus book on the jinty resource site, and that stories were measured by panel numbers, I looked at how these stories measured up.

  • First story – 39 panels
  • Second story – 40 panels
  • Third story – 40 panels
  • Fourth story -21 panels

The first three stories have a pretty even spread. While they are quite short, I was surprised that they do have a lot of panels. Looking at some Damian Darke stories from the weekly Spellbound, those stories had a lot less panels (less than 20 panels for at least 4 stories that I counted). Of course a disadvantage of the psl is what they can do with the panels is more limited, usually pages are split in two rectangular panels or sometimes three panels, there is less space to use more imaginative layout. The first page of this psl is given to Damian Darke’s introduction which is quite effective.

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Damian Darke

  • Damian Darke– Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #68 (07 Jan. 1978) [not in every issue]
  • Damian Darke– Debbie: #258 (21 Jan. 1978) –  (?)
  • Damian Darke– Mandy: #841 (26 Feb. 1983) – (?)
  • Edited reprints as Midnight Mystery – Nikki: #165 (16 April 1988) – #220 (6 May 1989)
  • Artists: Various

Plot

damian darkeDamian Darke is a storyteller of  strange and spooky stories. We don’t get  background on where he came from or how he knows such stories, but they seem to be documented in a large book that he keeps with him. He has a very distinctive look, dressed in old fashioned clothes and always accompanied by a raven. While Damian Darke introduces each story and usually had a closing statement about it, each story had it’s own individual title. The  stories were varied from cursed objects, ghost stories, timeslips and other strange occurrences. A List of stories  can be found  here.

I’m going to discuss ten of my own favourite Damian Darke stories here (listed alphabetically rather than a particular ranking).

1.  A Spoonful of Evil…. [Spellbound: #43] 

Carol loves going to auctions, one of her latest purchases is some old cutlery and her flatmate Sue chides for buying such junk. The next day, Carol and Sue are enjoying soup together when suddenly Sue takes ill. It seems to be some sort of food poisoning but Carol has not been effected. Once Sue has recovered she brushes it off as a bug and even is happy to try some soup again, but then Carol falls ill. The doctor is called again, and surprises the girls by asking if he can bring back a friend of his, an expert on local history. The girls can’t see how that could help but agree. The historian asks to exam their cutlery, his suspicions are confirmed when he finds a spoon with the devil’s head stamped on it.

spoonful-of-evil He then tells Sue the story of a Silversmith who claimed to have seen the devil and made a bargain with him, 12 innocent souls in exchange for his. He made a dozen spoons with the devil head mark and into the silver he mixed a deadly poison so that if the spoons were used twice, it was fatal. After 12 people had died from the poisoning he tried to recover the spoons but only found three. Now that the fourth has been found, Damian Darke ends with a warning that eight of the deadly spoons are still out there and asks the reader have they examined the spoons in their kitchen recently…

I like this story, the girls are lucky to have shared the spoon, although one could say they were unlucky to find it in the first place! It is one of those stories where it is not a person that needs a learn a lesson, but an unfortunate happenstance, which is scarier in a way! I like also in the story of the silversmith, it is left vague to whether he did actually see the Devil – the doctor in telling the story says he “imagined” seeing him. We don’t know whether there was some supernatural instance, and what the Silversmith may have done originally to get the attention of the devil, although it seems he was certainly capable of murder. It could have easily have been just a delusion by the man, with deadly consequences.  That we are still left wondering where the other eight spoons are, is also a troubling and compelling ending. (Although in a Nikki reprint they make it the twelfth spoon, taking away some of the fear)

2. Another Pair of Hands…  [Spellbound: #54]

Abigail Barton and her Aunt Ruth move to a remote cottage which was a long walk to the nearby village. Still they are happy with the cottage, but for some reason they are unable to find a housemaid willing to work at the cottage. When Ruth falls sick, it is up to Abigail to keep things running as she doesn’t want to worry her aunt. The work is taking it’s toll on Abigail though and exhausted she falls asleep in the kitchen. She is woken surprised by a young woman, who introduces herself as Biddy Breen and is there to offer her services. Abigail is delighted by the work Biddy does although she is puzzled by why she is always gone in the morning before she gets up.

When the doctor comes to visit Ruth he is happy to see her recovered and rested. Abigail tells him they have got help from a girl Biddy Breen, which shocks him. He tells them Biddy Breen used to work in the cottage but one dark night wandered off the road and was drowned. Finding out the place is haunted, Ruth immediatly wants to pack up and leave, but Abigail persuades her to stay , she tells her Biddy has been a good friend to them and she believes she can get her to leave. That night she stays up until Biddy appears, she thanks her for her help but tells her she can rest now.  Damian tells us Biddy’s  ghost was never seen again and in time the village people stopped fearing the cottage and the Barton’s lived there happily.

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Not all the stories had to have some evil presence, here Biddy is not a ghost to be feared as she is kind spirit who wants to help. Although people still fear the unknown, the village people don’t want to come near the cottage because of the rumors of it being haunted and even Aunt Ruth knowing the help Biddy has given her first instinct is still to run away. It is only Abigail that acknowledges that Biddy has been a friend to them and she also returns the favor by releasing Biddy so she can rest in peace.

3. Behind the Green Door  [Spellbound:  #15]

In 1850, siblings Grace and John were sent out to sell matchboxes every day by their brutish stepfather, who kept all the money they made for himself. In extra money they do make Grace makes sure to hide it away so they can save up to run away from their stepfather. One day when they are out, John can’t resist taking a look behind  a green door that’s ajar. It opens up to a beautiful garden, even more surprising several well dressed people welcome them to join them for tea. They also seem to know their names and give the children money as they leave and invite them back the next day.

Their stepfather, Sykes, is suspicious of what they have been up to as they seem happy, so he follows them the next day. He catches them at the green door and shoves them aside to enter. He is in for a shock though, as unlike the children he doesn’t come across a garden instead he finds himself in the path of a carriage. Grace and John have no means to follow him as the Green door disappeared as Sykes went through. When they go home, they find out that Sykes was killed after he stepped out in front of a runaway dray horse. They are puzzled and they never find the green door again but they live a happier life with Sykes gone.

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There’s some lovely artwork here (it’s the same artist as recent post Little Dolly Demon). When Grace and John find the garden it is quite exquisite with fountains and peacocks. There is a nice contrast of what the people see as they go through the door, and certainly Sykes, terrified look as the carriage come from the fog is very effective. The mysterious door is not explained but it does seem to judge those that go through it – Grace and John are rewarded, while Sykes meets only death.

4. Day of Vengeance  [Spellbound:  #17]

Many years ago, Old Hannah a clothes cleaner, was an irritable and sharp-tongued woman, only one girl; Margot, befriended her. One day while washing clothes, Old Hannah staring into the water suddenly told Margot to run to the men working in the filed near the mountains and to warn them to run as they were in danger. At first the men don’t listen to Margot but when Old Hannah appears something in her voice makes them listen. They are saved before the a giant rockfall comes crashing down. One man Herr Bauer takes special interest in Old Hannah’s premonition an visits her trying to persuade her that working together they could make a profit with her talents. Hannah tells home she rarely gets visions and only talks of them if there is danger and she has no interest in his greed.

Herr Bauer doesn’t take this well, he soon turns the village against Hannah, saying that having a witch in their midst is the cause of disasters such as crops failing. The villagers riled up and went to attack Hannah and burn her cottage down. Despite Margot’s efforts to save her Hannah is stoned and left on the mountain to die. Even then the villagers aren’t sated, seeing how upset Margot is, they begin to question if she was too close to the witch and should be banished. The elders decide to meet to discuss the matter. That night Margot is surprised to hear Hannah out beating clothes, she rushes to see her but then realises she is a ghost, beating 12 bloody clothes and singing a terrifying song. At the elder’s meeting a few days later, the building collapses killing the 12 men, so Old Hannah has her revenge and protects Margot.

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The greed of one man who was quite willing to use Hannah’s supernatural powers for his own means, quickly turns to a righteousness when he is rejected. That he is able to turn the villagers against a woman who saved their lives, shows who quickly fear and superstition can be aroused particularly in the time period the story it is set. Bad enough the fate of Old Hannah but that they then turn their attentions to Margot for trying to help Hannah is unforgivable. Which Old Hannah obviously thinks too and the very creepy image of her beating the clothes, lets us know that she should never have been crossed.

5. Horror in Haunted Woods  [Debbie: #324]

Sue, Karen and Christy are doing a school project about  local legends and get help from knowledgeable Mrs Rivett. She tells them the legend of how the local wood got the name Dog Wood. In the 17th century, the ashes of a witch who’d been burned at the stake were buried under the tallest tree in the wood along with ashes of her two pet dogs. People believed if anyone was to touch the Witch’s Firtree, the Dog-People, half men and half beasts,would rise from their graves to destroy them. On the way home Karen and Christy make Sue touch the tree. She is not worried, she believes what Mrs Rivett told her superstitious people got hurt because they frightened themselves so much.
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A few nights later Sue sees dogs at the window, she tries to  to shoo them but then sees they only have the head of a dog, she is terrified that the dog-people have come to destroy her. Her parents don’t believe her telling it was a dream. But the next day cycling home she sees them again she falls from her bike and is chased, she ends up at the Witch Fir where she sees a figure beneath the tree. Sue thinks her days are numbered and that it is the witch returned, but then it is revealed to be Mrs Rivett. She calls out to the dog people telling them they should be ashamed of scaring the girl, it is then revealed that it is Karen and Christy in masks. They only meant it as a joke, but Mrs Rivett harshly reprimands them. She helps Sue back to her bike and she reassures her, that she needn’t worry about old wive’s tales and if there were such things as ghosts, she believes they would just be ordinary people who would come back to help anyone in trouble. Sue is comforted by this, she tells her parents when she gets home, but they inform her it couldn’t have been Mrs Rivett that helped her as she died from a heart-attack that morning!

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There is some very frightening imagery with the dog people, even though it turns out to be a prank, it’s easy to see how Sue could be so terrified. Mrs Rivett helping her and telling her that maybe ghost just come back to help people is a bittersweet ending as clearly Sue had great admiration for the woman is upset by her death, very well captured with her expression and the tear in the last panel.

6. Mystery at Howlen Hall  [Spellbound:  #21]

Prudence Vane goes to visit her cousin Marella who had wrote to invite her to spooky house she had bought. Marella a flighty young lady was quite excited at the prospect of a ghost hunt. When Prudence arrives at Howlen Hall, she is told Marella has gone travelling and the housekeeper Dorcas does not seem keen for her to stay. When Prudence mentions the ghost, Dorcas seems surprised, then denies that there is a ghost and says Marella was just having a joke. That night Prudence is woken from her sleep by a moaning noise. She goes to investigate, she finds what appears to be Marella’s room and sees all her jewels are there, she begins to worry something is terribly wrong  as Marella wouldn’t travel without her jewels.

mystery-at-howlen-hall

Prudence investigates the house further and is startled by the sudden appearance of an old white haired woman. Dorcas arrives and tells her the woman is just  an old family dependent and Prudence should go back to bed. Prudence is not happy with whatever is going on, Dorcas swears Marcella is safe and gives her word that the truth will be revealed the next day. The following morning, Prudence confronts Dorcas and asks her if the old woman was a ghost. She was no instead she is revealed to be Marcella. It seems that one night Marcella decided she wanted to raise the ghost of Howlen Hall, when the servants returned they found her looking like an old woman and her mind gone. Being so wealthy Dorcas wanted to make sure Prudence was a real friend before revealing the truth. Damian Darke ends telling us Marella never recovered and serves as a warning to those who would delve into unknown forces.

I like the mystery of this story, the twist at the end was unexpected and although we never see how Marcella came to be the way she is, the warning is clear!

7.  Mystery on the Moors  [Debbie #258]

Sally and Pat were spending time hiking in the Yorkshire moors. On their way back to town, they decide to wait for the last bus so they get back before dark. While their waiting, Pat runs down to the nearby stream to freshen up, meanwhile a hearse pulls up to the bus stop and the driver offers her a lift. Sally goes to fetch Pat, but he is gone by the time they get back, Pat thinks he must have got tired of waiting. Soon the bus comes along and Pat is shocked the driver is the same as the man she saw before. She shoves Sally off the bus and tells him they were mistaken they don’t want that bus. Sally is mad at her telling her she has taken the joke  too far. They set off walking towards town, Sally grumbling along the way when they are passed by police cars and ambulances. They come across the scene of the accident, it seems the bus’s brakes failed coming down the hill. The girls had a lucky escape due to the unusual warning!

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8. Swamp of Evil  [Spellbound:  #7]

Wicked  money-lender Jethro Stern, is delighted to get an invitation to Lady Gladwell’s house. Having heard rumors of her falling on hard times since her her husbands death, he plots to get her house. While dining with Lady Gladwell he also mentally makes inventory of the fine things around him, one painting draws his eye – in it three men drown in a swamp, it makes Jethro’s blood run cold. He tries to concentrate on Lady Gladwell’s conversation as she asks about a possibility of a loan. Noticing his interest in the painting, she invites him to look at the rest of her collection of paintings. He brings him to a room of many strange paintings of Jethro’s victims such as Sammy who was crippled and couldn’t work and Mrs Watson who died in a workhouse.

swamp-of-evil

Jethro is disturbed by the paintings and Lady Gladwell tells him she is not having money problems but brought him here to ask him to release his hold on the poor town folk and leave forever. But Jethro will not tear up his arrangements, she tells him it’s a pity he has made that choice and leads him to the door. Jethro is eager to get away from Gladwell, but he soon finds himself lost in a fog and slowly realizes he seems to be in the Swamp of Evil painting. The next day a servant Mary is cleaning when she notices that the painting now has four figures one of which looks suspiciously like Jethro Stern.

Again the art is very well done here capturing the creepy atmosphere. Jethro Stern certainly seems to be deserving of his punishment. He also gets more of a chance at mercy than others, but he rejects his chance of redemption.

9. The Cavalier’s Cloak  [Spellbound: #37]

Judy and her family were spending Christmas at an old Quaker Cottage. While exploring Judy finds a portrait, with a man wearing a cavalier cloak which is surprising since they are in a Roundhead area. That night Judy is woken by knocking at the door and someone asking to be let in. She goes out to investigate but can’t see anyone, the door slams behind her and she is left out in the cold. An old man approaches her and offers his cloak to shield her from the cold.  She asks if it was him calling out, he says no but tells her a story of the family that lived in the house.

One evening Prudence and her father hear knocking at the door, they find what they think is a royalist, Prudence wants to help but her father does not. Then it turns out to be his son John who had gone fighting for Cromwell, his father is even more repelled at the thought of his son being a turncoat and shuts the door on him without listening to explanation. Prudence can’t sleep listening to John’s continued feeble knocking. She goes out to John, he explains that  a young Royalist soldier fatally wounded gave him the cloak to protect him from the cold. Prudence says she knew he wasn’t a traitor but when they go to return to the house the door has locked behind them. They knock at the door but their father remains stubborn, ignoring the knocking thinking John must learn the error of his ways. He is horrified the next morning to find both his children dead from the cold.

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The man tells Judy that since that night the cottage has been haunted, he reveals himself to be Issac Bunyan the father (and man from the painting) and he has worn the cavalier’s cloak everyday since as penance for his cruelty. He then disappears as Judy’s father comes to the door wondering what Judy is doing outside wearing a tattered rug.

10. Whisper, Whisper… [Spellbound:  #11]

In 1931, Marcia Walton finds a charming cottage for sale cheaply  due to it’s dreadful history. Marcia is not superstitious and is happy to buy it. She starts redecorating and when she finds a mirror in the attic she cleans it up and hangs it above the fireplace. A few weeks a young squire, Mr Martin, is worried when no-one has seen Marcia in some time. He investigates and finds her on the floor thin and drawn and muttering about voices. It turns out the mirror was made by a poor craftsman for a wicked duke who killed him rather than pay him a fair price. Since then the owners of the mirror had been tormented by endless hateful whispering. Not only that but whoever destroy the mirror will never be free of the curse. Marcia also notes it would be evil to give the mirror to anyone else but Mr Martin thinks he has a solution.

Marcia is upset when she sees Mr Martin give the mirror to an old woman, she tries to take it back as she’d rather live with the curse than let a sweet old woman suffer. But then the woman stops her and asks her to write an explanation as she is completely deaf. Then Marcia understands the squire wasn’t being cruel it is in fact the perfect solution as the old woman would never hear the whispers. Damian Darke does muse that it happened many years ago and the mirror must be out there somewhere maybe in an attic waiting to be found.

whisper-whisper

It’s interesting that the cursed object can’t be gotten rid of. Most stories with cursed objects involved some way to break the curse or at least destroying the object would end it. How they solve this problem is a very clever and unexpected.

Final Thoughts

Continuing with the eerie stories for the Halloween season, Damian Darke certainly delivers on the spooky, dark and twisting stories. As discussed before the spooky storyteller was certainly common used to tell short stories. Damian Darke is particularly similar to Diana‘s The Man in Black, which isn’t surprising as Spellbound seemed to be influenced a lot by that comic. Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then with Mandy (although the Mandy stories seem to be mostly repeats). Some stories were also reprinted in Nikki, but Damian Darke was edited out and they came under the name Midnight Mystery. Damian Darke also appeared in several Debbie Picture Story Library books. It’s easy to see why it lasted Storytellers were quite a favored story device and the series produced many engaging stories as well as having some terrific artwork.

 

The Green Lady (1986)

the-green-lady-cover

 

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #102

Artists: Cover – uncertain; story – Terry Aspin

Plot

Lucy Lang seems all set to spend her summer holiday at Sheringdale, her boarding school, when a letter arrives from rich Great Aunt Alicia inviting her to spend the holiday at her place, Random House. Great-Aunt is also inviting Lucy’s cousin Cheryl, whose mother (Aunt Jean) is ill in hospital.

When Lucy meets Cheryl at the railway station, Cheryl is rude and cold towards her. Lucy is also surprised to find Cheryl has dark hair instead of blonde, which she thought Cheryl had. Cheryl says she had a change of hair colour, but is soon behaving in other ways that are not so easily explained. She tells Lucy she does not care for her. Even more strangely, Cheryl says she has the perfect way to make sure Lucy stays quiet if she finds out things. And right from the start, Cheryl pulls nasty tricks on Lucy and tells lies about her to completely discredit and blacken Lucy in the eyes of Great-Aunt. One trick is telling Great-Aunt completely false story that Lucy deliberately tried to pull her under when they swim in a lake. Cheryl acts in other odd ways too: she does not recognise her mother’s Christian name; she behaves as if she is a non-swimmer and afraid of water when Aunt Jean said she was a keen swimmer; and she tells Great-Aunt that Lucy has a teacher called Miss Dean, but Lucy has never had a teacher by that name.

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Eventually, Lucy tells Cheryl she has had enough of her, the fraud! The girl replies she is not Cheryl at all. Some friends of hers have kidnapped the real Cheryl, and Lucy had better stay quiet or Cheryl will suffer. When Lucy discovers the imposter is interested in the valuables of the house, she concludes that theft is the motive for the kidnapping.

The imposter tells Great-Aunt she is going to send Aunt Jean a get-well card. Guessing the imposter is planning to relay a message to her accomplices, Lucy follows her and sees her slip a message into the collar of a dog, which then goes in response to someone’s signal. Lucy tries to follow the dog but loses it, and the search makes her late back. The imposter then returns in tears and gives Great-Aunt a phony line about Lucy deliberately losing her in the woods. As a punishment, Great-Aunt locks Lucy in her room.

Lucy creeps up the drainpipe to do some investigating. In the attic, she comes across information about the family’s most valuable heirloom, a miniature called “The Green Lady”. Lucy concludes this is what the imposter is after. But as she climbs back down, the imposter takes photographs of her, and tells Lucy that she is going to use it as “evidence” that Lucy stole the heirloom.

However, the imposter’s threat gives Lucy the idea of travelling to Cheryl’s house to find evidence that the girl is an imposter. Facilitated by a newly arrived gift of a bicycle from her father, she does so. Upon arrival, Lucy sees a woman who is ostensibly going in to clean the house. But when Lucy enters the house afterwards, she finds the house is a tip.

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Then Lucy finds the real Cheryl bound and gagged. As she unties Cheryl, Cheryl explains that a neighbour volunteered to help out with the housework when her mother took ill.  But when the neighbour found out how rich Great-Aunt was, she hatched the scheme of sending her daughter in, posing as Cheryl, to steal the heirloom. Helping the scheme along were big brother Len and his dog Bonzo to carry messages.

The neighbour and Len then corner the girls. The girls put up a fight and scream for help. While they do so, Great-Aunt arrives with the imposter, who tells her relatives that the game is up: Great-Aunt (who got suspicious of her) caught her red-handed and extracted a full confession. The plotters give up the fight and are handed over to the police. Great-Aunt tells Cheryl that her mother has recovered enough to have visitors, and she apologises to Lucy. When Lucy and Cheryl see the miniature, they marvel at how such a tiny thing could have caused so much trouble.

Thoughts

When we see the tricks Cheryl is playing on Lucy, the story seems set up to be another one about a scheming cousin who tries to push out another one. Only the cover saying that a girl’s life is in danger because of a miniature painting suggests it is something bigger than that. And there are odd things about Cheryl that hint she is not just out to cause trouble for Lucy. So it is not too much of a surprise when the imposter reveals herself to Lucy, though it makes a nice change from the spiteful cousin formula. The girl isn’t pulling these tricks because she’s spiteful – it’s all part of a bigger design to commit a crime.

Once it is revealed that a plot to commit a crime is at the centre of the trouble, the story gets really tense and exciting. Lucy knows a crime is planned but doesn’t know just what the criminals are after. She can’t speak out because Great-Aunt has been tricked into thinking badly of her, and the imposter has blackmailed her into staying quiet. She’s all on her own, and she has to figure out the crime while being under a cloud and then being confined to her room. And she is desperately worried about the real Cheryl, who has been kidnapped and being held somewhere, and it sounds like her life is in serious danger. When Lucy sets off on her own, the drama intensifies as we wait anxiously to see what Lucy will find at the other end, including what dangers that might await her. And what will happen when the imposter finds Lucy has gone? She is bound to guess where Lucy is headed and why. It will certainly scare the criminals into stepping up their game or worse, and the imposter making a grab for the miniature points to that.

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The criminals certainly are clever, even if their scheme depends too much on neither Great-Aunt nor Lucy not knowing Cheryl by sight. The imposter bears no resemblance to the real Cheryl and isn’t wearing a disguise, so the plotters must have put some interrogation on Cheryl in order to know they would get away with just planting a strange girl at Great-Aunt’s. The imposter does not put much effort into fooling Lucy – she goes for those nasty tricks instead to discredit her while working her way in with Great-Aunt to get close to the valuables. The tricks certainly look clever. Great-Aunt says afterwards that the girl was not that clever and it was gullibility on her part when she should have seen straight through the girl. Still, it is easy to say that in hindsight. And in the end, Great-Aunt shows perceptiveness in how she finally got suspicious of the girl: the girl refuses to go see her mother when news comes that the mother is well enough for visitors. Great-Aunt was expecting Cheryl to be eager to see her mother, so the refusal made her suspicious at last.

The artwork of the popular Terry Aspin (known for Bunty’s “Maisie Mercury” and “School’s Out!”) lends itself well to the story. However, we are a bit puzzled at the bejewelled hand making a grab for the miniature on the cover. Neither the imposter nor her mother would be wearing such expensive ladies’ jewellery, so whose hand is it? It’s probably just artistic licence for dramatic effect, and perhaps the jewels do make it more effective.

Willa Will Dance

  • Willa Will Dance –  Debbie: #72 (29 June 1974) – #85 (28 September 1974)

Plot

When the Taylors decide to adopt a child, their daughter Sue convinces them to choose Willa Wilkins. This is not because she likes Willa, it is because she sees Willa as clumsy and untalented and therefore no match for her parents admiration.  Sue is the ballet star of the family and is not pleased that Willa wants to become a dancer too. Sue makes nasty comments to Willa when they are by themselves, but her aim isn’t to  get rid of  Willa, as she believes she can always be the best daughter, when Willa’s her only competition.

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Sue pretends to be nice to Willa around other people, while still putting her down, such as asking others not to laugh at Willa because “My sister can’t help being big and ungainly”. While Willa has clumsy tendencies, these words reinforces Willa’s insecurities, making her self conscious and more clumsy. When people aren’t watching Willa dance, she relaxes more and lets the music take over. The ballet teacher sees her and thinks there is hope for she has good rhythm, she just is a late starter and with extra lessons she could become a dancer. Sue isn’t happy to hear this. When Willa wins an essay competition writing about her dream to become a ballerina, she is delighted that it is enough money to cover the extra lessons. She is surprised when Sue seems encouraging, getting her to read the essay in class. The girls have an image of Willa being clumsy, so they snicker at the idea of her being a dancer, which is exactly what Sue suspected would happen. Still it doesn’t stop Willa going for extra lessons. The ballet teacher mentions Mrs Taylor was a ballerina, and Sue uses this as another opportunity to discourage Willa with cruel comments. It does lead Willa to doubt herself, as Sue is slim and pretty like her mother, she wonders where she comes from and if there is any hope for her.

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Willa tracks down an old woman, Mrs Larkston who knew her mother. She is disappointed when Mrs Larkston shows her a photo of her plump mother. Sue is pleased though and brings the photo home as a reminder for Willa, that she will never be slim and pretty. Looking at the photo, Willa thinks her mother has a kind smile and would understand who she feels. She accidentally drops the photo breaking the frame. She finds old faded diary pages and a newspaper clipping of a dancer named Lady Tara. She learns from the diary that her mother admired the mysterious Lady Tara and it encourages her to follow her dreams. Sue is there to bring her down whenever she can such as making sure a zipper in costume breaks, baking her a large chocolate cake when Willa’s dieting and pretending Willa needs to be rescued by her when swimming.

Willa is getting tired of being the fat ugly sister. She feels that there is a connection between her and Lady Tara and goes to a reporter to try and track her down. She finds Lady Tara but her dreams of her being a relative are dashed as Lady Tara informs her that her mother was her maid. Lady Tara now owns a dance school and gives Willa a chance to dance for her as she feels she owes it to her mother. Seeing Willa leap around to music Sue doesn’t think she has anything to worry about, but still starts dancing beside her to show Lady Tara that she is so much better than Willa. But Lady Tara doesn’t see it that way, she sees Willa dancing for the joy of it and Sue as mechanical and posed. She offers Willa a place at her school. Willa is delighted and while she will be away during term time, she will be home for holidays. Sue tells Willa she is not happy to see people fussing over her and while she is away at school, she is going to talk her parents out of finalizing the adoption.

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Willa is happy at the school as Lady Tara has some unusual ideas of dancing. She doesn’t believe in diets or rules and exercise – just free movement. Meanwhile Sue is not happy when parents consider taking in an intelligent  foster girl, while Willa’s at school. She tries to convince Willa to come back and tells her dancing needs discipline, she won’t become a dancer at a school like that. During a show, Sue brings friends along and they laugh at the display, and even Willa has to admit they look ridiculous. After this Sue convinces her to come home.

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Willa is happy to be back with family again, even believing Sue wants to be a sister to her. But Sue makes her vow if she wants to be part of the family, she must remain the ugly untalented sister and to never dance again. To keep her family Willa makes the promise, and all is well for a while, as Sue comes out on top of all things she does.  She  is picked as May Queen at the school and is not happy when Willa gets picked as her attendant and is given dance. She tells Willa that she will have to drop out but Willa refuses she stands up to Sue finally.  She thinks Sue’s threats are meaningless as she won’t ask her parents to stop adoption as that would only show the cruel selfish girl she is.  Sue upset runs onto street and is hit by traffic, leaving her potentially paralysed. The doctor’s say that she will recover but  she has lost all her confidence. Willa decides to be cruel and make Sue mad enough to walk. She takes Sue’s ballet shoes telling her she won’t need them now and dances in front of her, Sue corrects her. She thanks Willa for getting her to walk without her crutches and is ashamed of the things she’s said before.

It’s  not an easy recovery for Sue she still has no confidence in her dancing and she begs Willa to come with her. Willa helps going back to class with her practicing with her every day, she  even loses some weight. Then when the class have a ballet production,neither girl is up to that standard of the lead but they could get a smaller part. The teacher is tempted to give Willa part of Good Fairy over Sue, but Willa convinces her to give it to Sue as she knows otherwise Sue will never fully recover her confidence and quit dancing for good. This is just what she needs to get over er nerves, and Willa decides she doesn’t want to compete against Sue. A suggestion from her father encourages her to try a different style of dancing – ballroom dancing. She finds she is happy whatever dancing she is doing and after some work  wining a junior competition. She does worries that  the old jealousy will flare up with Sue, but Sue has changed for the better and Willa has found happiness.

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Thoughts

A jealous family member not happy with an addition to the household, a story that is told many times. Like Mistyfan’s recent post on “I’ll Get Rid of Rona!”  there are different ways of telling the story to keep it fresher. In this case it’s interesting that Sue doesn’t want to get rid of Willa, as she believes she can control the situation. She is nasty and cruel to Willa but only when she believes she is being outshone, she doesn’t have a problem with Willa as long as she stays plain, clumsy and doesn’t “steal” peoples attention.  She is also upfront about this from the start. While there are times she makes sure things go bad for Willa, such as forcing the zipper on her costume, mostly it is a psychological attack on Willa. She keeps putting her down, says cruel and nasty things to her and sometimes tries to make out she says these things so Willa won’t get her hopes crushed like she’s doing her a favour. This knocking of Willa’s confidence makes her more clumsy and self conscious and therefore easier (with a bit of manipulation)  for others to see Willa as a joke too.

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When Willa finds the old newspaper clipping of a dancer with her mother’s photo, she has hopes that the Lady Tara of the newspaper is a relative to her, she thinks she most have dancing in her blood somewhere. But Lady Tara is not a relative and her mother was not some slim beauty. This also makes a nice change from other stories, there is no genetic reason for Willa’s talent (that we know of). Also while she has raw talent, without practice and discipline it won’t make her a top dancer. While at the end she improves at ballet and maybe one day could have been at Sue’s level given the chance, she is still not ready to take the lead in the ballet production. Surprising as well is she gives up on her ballet dream so not to compete with Sue. While she does find she just wants to dance no matter what and shows talent at ballroom dancing, it is quite the change from all the work she put into ballet. I don’t know if Sue was so deserving of Willa’s kindness, though at least by the end she has put aside her jealousy and hadn’t forced Willa to give up ballet, it was Willa’s choice.

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Sue’s recovery takes some time, even when she is out of hospital she lashes out at Willa, although instantly regrets it. When she starts dancing again, finally working together with Willa they begin to build a real sisterly relationship. Willa loves dancing but she shows time and again that having a family is more important to her.  She chooses the chance of family over dancing and even when she has the chance to dance on stage she chooses her sister Sue’s happiness over her own. We don’t learn much about Willa’s mother,  but what we do learn is that she was very loyal and in a nice scene where we Willa looks at her mother’s photo she thinks that she would have been a good listener. While it doesn’t seem Willa gained her dancing talent from her mother, it does seem she gained those other good qualities from her.

 

 

In her Sister’s Shadow

Plot

The Marsh family are caught in a storm, in which their young daughter Rose is swept overboard. Ten years later Rose is found and comes to live with the family again. Her younger sister Anna was only a baby when Rose went missing and doesn’t remember her sister. She finds it hard to adjust when her sister seems to be top of everything, while she was an average student.

in sisters shadow

Notes

Appeared

  • In her Sister’s Shadow – Debbie: #98 (28 December 1974) – (?)

The Shop at Shudder Corner (1983)

Shudder Corner cover

Debbie Picture Library: #64

Published: 1983

Artist: Norman Lee

Plot

Jean Marsh and Sheila Hawkins are best friends. Sheila’s uncle runs an antique shop at Shudder Corner, and they earn extra pocket money from cleaning the antiques.

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One day Sheila loses a lens from her torch in the shop and quickly finds a replacement on the floor. She does not realise the lens has a strange, mystical design.

Edited to add: the origin of the lens is slightly different from the original. In the original version, the girls found the lens beside a lightning-struck bush.

But the girls soon find that the lens turns the torch into a time travel device. Whenever it shines on an object that has a strange history attached to it (and in an antique shop, they are surrounded by such objects), the torch transports them to that moment in the past, where they become part of that particular chain of events. They have to stay for the duration, because the torch will not allow them to return – by being switched on again – until the adventure runs its course. Afterwards, Jean’s uncle (who is unaware of the time travel adventures) provides them with context on the object and their adventure.

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Jean is always telling Sheila not to use the torch in the shop in case it shines on something with a history. But of course Sheila always ends up turning the torch on for some reason or other. And then they are off again…

In this story, the girls go on three time travel trips with the torch:

Trip 1: The Danson dog collar

In the 19th century, Sheila and Jean meet Bettina Danson. She is running away because her guardian, Sir Charles Danson, is out to kill her and claim her inheritance. There is a legend in the Danson family about a demon dog known as the Hound of the Dansons. Sir Charles capitalises on the legend to unleash a vicious dog (who is wearing the collar) on Bettina as a fake ghost dog to kill her. The dog and Sir Charles trap Bettina and the girls at the edge of a quarry, but then they find a ledge and start climbing down it. Sheila blinds the dog with the torch, and it gets such a fright that it knocks Sir Charles over and he falls to his death in the quarry.

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Back in the present, Uncle tells the girls that the dog collar belonged to the Danson family. There is some tale about a ghost hound and a wicked guardian who was out to inherit a fortune by killing the rightful heir. But “something went wrong” and he “came to a sticky end”. The girls know what went wrong but can’t tell him.

Trip 2: The rose goblet

Sheila shines the torch on a crystal goblet with a rose motif. They are transported to an 18th century manor called Rose Manor, and roses are everywhere: the garden, the hedges, and even the stonework. But then an unpleasant servant takes them for gypsies and seizes them. The master, Squire Allwood, is just as surly and thinks they are gypsy kids who belong to “Mad Meg”. He is about to lock them in the cellar and send for the magistrate when Mad Meg shows up. The squire had driven the gypsies off and Mad Meg takes revenge by cursing Rose Manor with – roses. Immediately the roses start growing and spreading at terrifying rates that threaten to overwhelm the manor. People start fleeing, but Sheila and Jean are trapped in the manor with the roses threatening to smother them. They escape via a secret passage, but outside the nasty squire is about to recapture them. However, the torch comes back on and they return to the present.

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Uncle tells them the goblet came from an 18th century manor that became overwhelmed with roses; it was the gypsies’ revenge when the squire upset them. Ironically, the site where the manor once stood is now part of a famous rose nursery.

Trip 3: The horse brass

Sheila and Jean are working in the antique shop while pondering over a challenging homework assignment on chimney sweep boys. Jean’s notes go under a chest of drawers, and when Sheila pulls out the torch for them, the light shines on an old horse brass that got lost there.

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The girls arrive at a canal at a time when horses pulled narrow boats. The women of the narrow boat are cordial and offer them some food. The girls offer to sell some pegs in return, and the women suggest the big houses. On the way they encounter a climbing boy and his cruel master. The girls overhear the sweep telling the boy to help him and a man named Hobbs steal from the big house, or else. The girls report back to the women, who say the crooks are taking advantage of the boy being small and nimble to break into the house. They hatch a plan to foil them.

So, when the crooks head to the house that night, the girls distract them, rescue the boy and bring him to the narrow boat. But then the crooks seize the girls and force them to help with the robbery in the boy’s place. The girls strike back by throwing the bags of loot downstairs to knock the crooks down, but it rouses the household. The crooks are captured, and claim the girls are their accomplices. The girls are climbing their way down the wall, but the owner sees them and says the magistrate will decide their fate. Fortunately the torch comes back on and everyone below is stunned to see them just disappear.

Back in the present, Uncle is very pleased that the girls have found his missing horse brass, and they will be rewarded. He tells them it comes from a narrow boat, whose master used to be a climbing boy. “By some miracle he bettered himself” and became “quite famous”. The girls realise that the climbing boy stayed with the narrow boat women and “made good”. And their encounter with a real climbing boy helps their homework assignment so much that the teacher is impressed with the end result.

Thoughts

“The Shop at Shudder Corner” was originally a serial in Spellbound. When Spellbound merged with Debbie, Shudder Corner only lasted a few episodes, which is a bit surprising. However, Shudder Corner later resurfaced in the Debbie Picture Libraries and also scored an appearance in the 1984 Debbie annual.

The picture library completely restarts Shudder Corner at the beginning. The origin of the time travel torch is shown to the reader, rather than its powers being briefly explained with a text box before girls plunge into their latest adventure. This is an excellent move that quickly brings readers up to speed with the concept, and those who are not familiar with the original can just enjoy the time travel adventures in the picture library without even knowing its Spellbound origins. The altered origin is also more effective than the original, because it is much simpler, straightforward, and tying the lens directly with the shop makes more sense.

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Storytelling about objects is not new. M&J’s “Jade Jenkins’ Stall” and “The Button Box” from Tammy both starred narrators who would tell the stories behind various objects, such as the items on Jade’s stall or the buttons in Bev’s box. But instead of narration, we see the story itself as the protagonists not only relive it but also become part of it, shaping the events themselves and the history of the object. This approach turns the concept into an adventure strip that makes it even more exciting. It also avoids the moralising and condescending tones that can permeate the narrative versions of “objects with a history” stories.

Time travelling to the moment in an object’s past is not a new concept. For example, Debbie had “Polly’s Patches”. Polly time travels to a period in the past in accordance with whichever patch she rubs on her trousers, which comes from that period. But while Polly is more of a lightweight story aimed at fun, Shudder Corner is a darker take on the concept, beginning with the shop itself. Its Tudor architecture makes it look creepy with the right atmosphere, and the name of the corner it stands on – Shudder Corner – makes it even more spine chilling.

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When you enter the shop, a lot of those objects – such as a stuffed raven in a cage or a necklace in a goblet – can make the ambiance even creepier, especially when you enter the shop while it is dark. This is not surprising for a story that began in Spellbound, and it also gives Shudder Corner a bit more of an edge as a time travel story. The artwork of Norman Lee also lends itself brilliantly to the spooky vibes and the period settings the girls end up in. Lee has long experience in drawing both supernatural and period stories, so he is a sensible choice to draw Shudder Corner.

The girls always end up in trouble and even risk their lives in whatever period they land in. The torch always rescues them when it’s time to go home – but not before then. Until then, they are in constant danger while they relive the history of the object. It is a shame that Shudder Corner was not carried much further in Debbie.