Category Archives: Mandy

The Double Life of Dana / The Secret Life of Dana

  • The Double Life of Dana– Mandy: #306 (25 Nov. 1972) – #317 (10 Feb. 1972)
  • Reprinted as The Secret Life of Dana – Emma: #49 (27 Jan. 1979) – #60 (14 Apr. 1979)
  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Plot

Dana Fenton, an orphan, has always dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Even now that she has left the orphanage she grew up in and has gotten a decent job and comfortable lodgings, it is not enough to satisfy her. So when she sees that there are auditions for a scholarship with a Ballet Company and a maid’s job in a prestigious ballet school, she takes the leap to follow her dream. She quits her job and applies for the in-house maid job, in the hopes that while she could never afford to go to school there, she may be able to learn by watching. Madame Rochelle proves to be a tough employer, meaning Dana will certainly be working hard to earn her place. At the same time she has to try and find time to go to Belmont Company audition. She arrives at the audition, but seeing Madame there with two pupils, she is afraid she will lose her job, so she dons a wig and makeup and gives the fake name ‘Ann Smith’ in order to keep her secret. The judges see potential in her and she gets in to the next round along with the two pupils from the ballet school, Janice and Ella.

secret life dana1Dana’s double life makes things difficult at time, such as Madame telling Dana to wait by the phone so she can tell everyone the results of the next audition. Of course as Dana is also meant to attend the audition she has to figure out how to do both things! She manages to attend the audition then rushes to pay phone outside and calls Madam pretending to have misunderstood the instructions. She then has to rush back to the school, and actually lets air out of Madame’s tyres so she will beat them back.

Also making life difficult for Dana, are her two rivals, Janice and Ella, who are snobbish and like to make more work for Dana. When Madame entrusts Dana to take the girls to next audition (which is a stroke of luck for Dana as she wondered how she was going to get to someplace so far away), the girls don’t listen to Dana and call her skivvy expecting her to be their personal maid. Luckily Miss Norris and old friend of Madame’s has also been sent to check on the girls and she helps Dana keep them in line. They still continue to cause more trouble,  back at the school making muddy prints over the floor Dana just cleans, they turn even more against Dana when Madame sticks up for her and make them re-clean the floor! Then later at an audition, they leave room a mess and carelessly leave clothes near an electric fire. Dana  in her ‘Ann Smith’ disguise finds the dressing room on fire and helps put it out, before having to run off before her identity is discovered. Janice and Ella blame Dana for the fire and their clothes getting destroyed. They decide to return the favour by destroying her clothes. So her ballet costume isn’t discovered, she has to chase them out of her room, which causes more trouble with Madame. While Madame doesn’t blame her for fire, she does think she should have been attending her duties more carefully, she also is suspicious of the girls being in Dana’s room but does tell Dana any more trouble and she’ll be dismissed.

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Due to the fire, the audition has been rescheduled and Madame offers the school as a new venue. Dana has to be extra careful not to be discovered and uses a traditional mask to hide her face completely. More questions are being asked about, who this mysterious Ann Smith is! While Madame doesn’t suspect Dana, Janice and Ella are beginning to wonder if she and Ann are the same person. Ella even opens a trapdoor at an audition in the hopes of not letting Ann slip away, she doesn’t seem concerned that she could have caused her some serious injury, if not for Dana/Ann’s quick reflexes allowing her to leap out of the way in time. Her secret is discovered by an unlikely person Myra Dean, a famous dancer, who is now blind. When she visits the school, Dana helps her twice, one time as ‘Ann’ and Miss Dean recognises her work-rough hands. Although she hints to Madame, that Ann and Dana maybe the same person, Madame dismisses the thought and Myra doesn’t try to persuade her, instead she becomes Dana’s ally.

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A  mistake signing a girl’s autograph book, leads Janice and Ella to also discover Dana’s secret.  At the last audition, using Dana’s friendship with Miss Dean against her, the girls send Dana to the wrong place. She only just makes it to the right place at the end, with no chance to change into Ann Smith. Myra Dean confirms her identity and Dana is allowed to dance, even though she doesn’t have time to even change into ballet clothes. Dana wins the scholarship and Madame Rochelle is shocked to find her own maid is Ann Smith. Seeing her dance she knows Dana deserves to win and she will also being having words with Janice and Ella about their involvement in the audition mix-up. Dana is delighted she can now pursue her dream and no longer lead a double life.

Thoughts

Dana while she certainly hasn’t the easiest time, it’s not as hard as other characters in similar positions, leading double life (such as “Ballerina on a String”). She is actually a very upbeat person and she is in charge of her own choices, as she is not forced to do the things she does. She left comfortable lodgings and a shop job, to work at the school, because she wants to follow her dream.

Madame Rochelle has a reputation as a slave-driver and none of  her other maids stayed very long. She certainly works Dana hard but she is not cruel and does treat her fairly. She even puts her trust in Dana to chaperone the other girls. When she knows of the tricks the girls play, she assesses situation and doesn’t automatically favour her students over her employee, as seen when she makes Janice and Ella clean the muddy prints and not taking their side when she finds Dana yelling at them as they were in Dana’s room.

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While she does treat her with some respect, at the same time she does not see Dana’s potential, viewing her only as maid. This bias blinds her to the clues in front of her, such as finding Ann Smith looks familiar, nearly catching a girl practicing late at night to audition music (and it not being Janice or Ella), she doesn’t even question that the mysterious Ann Smith gets a letter to the school and ignores the hint her old friend Myra Dean gives.

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So while the work is hard the main difficulties Dana has, is keeping her identity hidden while getting to auditions and the bigger problem of the spiteful girls. Of the two girls, Ella is more dangerous than Janice, she is the leader of the two and the most suspicious. She also opens the trapdoor on Dana and while she passes it off as an accident, she should really have more repercussions. She is not happy to be shown up by Ann Smith, and even less happy when she finds out that Ann is actually the ‘skivvy’ Dana. Even without Dana in the competition, Ella’s thoughts are shown to be quite big-headed, she expects to win over her supposed friend Janice too.

While Dana has joined the school to learn of ballet, we don’t really see much time focused on seeing how she benefits from this and how she improves. Instead most episodes are dedicated to her trying to attend an audition and keep her secret. Although as she keeps getting through to the next stage her “unpolished potential” must be getting better. The competition for the scholarship isn’t very clear, there’s seems to be a lot of auditions happening but it’s not clear how many stages there are and how many people auditioning. In the first stage the 3 girls get through, but as we never really get to see other competitors this leads to the impression that there are only three in the running all the time! In the last audition there appears to be five competing but again wonder how many auditioned initially in the first stage and how wide an area did the competitors come from? Still other than the questions of how the competition is ran, the story keeps a nice pace and the main characters are each distinctive both in personality and design. The art throughout is very nice and expressive. Berridge seems to be quite a varied artist, doing many different type of stories, I’m not aware of any other ballet story that he’s done, but he does a good job here.

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Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

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Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

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The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

Where are the Children 3

Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

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Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

The Girl in the Mask / The Mask

Plot

After Dorinda Lacey’s parents die, she is taken in by her wealthy Aunt Clara. Aunt Clara tells Dorinda she is frightfully ugly. So Dorinda has to wear a mask at all times and every mirror in the house save the one in Aunt Clara’s room is removed.

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Notes

  • Artist: Claude Berridge

Appeared

  • The Girl in the Mask:  Mandy: #875 (10 October 1983) – #890 (4 February 1984)
  • Reprinted as The Mask – M&J: #58 (20 June 1992) – #73 (3 October 1992)

 

Tara’s Terrible Twin / RoseMary

  • Tara’s Terrible Twin – Mandy: #824 (30 October 1982)  – #843 (12 March 1983)
  • Artist: Dudley Wynne
  • RoseMary – Nikki: #52 (15 February 1986) – #72 (5 July 1986)
  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell

Plot

Both of these stories involve a troublesome girl moving to a new town and pretending to be good and nice, while inventing a twin to do all the bad things she wants. Tara (in Tara’s Terrible Twin) pretends to be Terry to get back at people she thinks has done her wrong, while Rose (in RoseMary)invents Mary when she wants to cause trouble. They tell people their other twin goes to other school, because their parents want to keep them separated. They also take advantage of being the “nice twin”  and gain sympathy from classmates about having to deal with such a terrible sister. Even the way they change their looks are similar – both wear school uniforms usually, but change to casual clothes and spike up their hair as the bad twin. Although the main plot is the same, the weekly events and different endings make them distinct.

terry       mary

Tara’s Terrible Twin

Tara Young enjoys a lot of aspects of pretending to be nice, with her parents also believing she has changed, they are more lenient with her, such as allowing her to stay out late. It’s not always to her advantage though, as sometimes she ends up in situations where she has to help out, as she is supposed to be sweet and nice. Of course she gets back at the person she helped by venting as Terry, but she still gets annoyed at having to pretend to be nice at times.

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In one instance, Tara has found out a classmate, Sally,  is secretly working at a fish shop. The school does not approve of pupils taking part time jobs, so when a teacher asks Sally to help with the library after school she asks Tara to cover for her. Tara not able to say no, in case she blows her cover, spends her evening working and planning her revenge on Sally.  She later visits the shop as Terry before it closes and orders loads of fish then says she doesn’t want them and thrashes the place

Tara continues to terrorize people she believes have done her wrong even when that person isn’t directly involved, such as the time a prefect scolds Tara and she gets back at her younger sister. But not everyone buys into Tara’s act and one girl, Rosemary, begins to get suspicious; if Terry doesn’t get along with Tara then why is she going after people that may have upset Tara? Rosemary gets solid evidence when she catches Terry changing back to Tara, but before she can act on it her family move suddenly when her father has to start a new job. Even after this Tara’s not in the clear as Rosemary sends a letter to her classmates to tell them what she found out but Tara manages to gets to it first and destroy it.

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This is not the only time Tara nearly gets caught.  She is again annoyed that she has to help with teas/coffees because her classmate, Fiona, has to help with her visiting cousin. She catches up with Fiona as Terry, but when she changes back into Tara she finds the cousin staring at her. She expects a big blowup at school but is surprised when everyone is still acting friendly. Then Fiona introduces Tara to her cousin, who is blind, so Tara has yet another lucky escape! Another classmate Barbara gets suspicious and tries to set up Tara, by telling her about a party and waiting to see if Terry shows up to spoil it. Tara having heard the plan knows she can’t have Terry ruin things but she does get back at Barbara later.

When it comes to class elections, Tara thinks she’s actually in with a chance as she has friends and people like her. She is jealous when Sylvia wins instead, she is so distracted by this jealousy that she ends up burning her self in cooking class. Of course she doesn’t take any responsibility for this and blames Sylvia for her accident. She thinks it is time for Sylvia to meet Terry! She is surprised that Sylvia isn’t scared of Terry and actually tries to befriend and help her. Then Sylvia sees the burn mark on Terry’s arm and knows she is Tara. She tells her to clear off, and goes home trying to think of a story to make up to explain it, it turns out her parents have news for her though – her dad has been offered a new job. Again Tara thinks she has escaped and pleased that her family have to move quickly due to the job transfer(her parents actually think she’ll be sad to leave all her friends – little do they know!).

Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t recognize the name of the town they move to – Tinsford. She immediately sets up her scheme again when meeting her new classmates telling them about her awful twin Terry. When one girl annoys her, she decides she needs to be visited by Terry, she gets a shock when the girl is surrounded by friends and they all laugh at her. Then Rosemary appears, she has told everyone about what Tara did at their last school and she is not going to get away with it here. So Tara ends up friendless and alone – a deserving punishment!

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RoseMary

Rose Bolder also  takes enjoyment of using her “twin” Mary to wreck havoc, while she puts on the innocent act. She also plays up a lot on people’s sympathies with how hard it is dealing with her twin, this way she can get them to do things for her. In one episode she tears up her workbook and tells the others that Mary did it, so a sympathetic classmate allows her to copy her homework. While Rose does like scaring people, she isn’t out to intentionally hurt anyone. When one girl hurts herself running away from Mary, she thinks she didn’t mean for that to happen, but that is the only glimmer of decency we see in Rose, she is soon delighted that it means she gets a place on the hockey team instead.  Sometimes her scheme backfires on her, like her classmates deciding not to tell Rose about party or a picnic in case Mary shows up. Rose is of course very angry when she overhears the plans and makes sure Mary gets revenge, while continuing to pretend to know nothing about it herself!

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Like Tara, Rose also has some close calls with people nearly catching her lies. One girl is not going to tolerate being bullied without doing anything and tells Mary she will be informing her parents. Rose has to convince her parents to go out that evening so she can be there to answer the phone. She disguises her voice and reassures the girls parents that Mary will be punished. Another time all the girls decide to confront Mary, Rose tells them Mary found out about their plan and pushed her into a rockery and her parents have sent Mary away for few days. This also deters the girls from confronting Mary again as they don’t want Rose to get hurt. One girl Helen gets suspicious when Rose and Mary coincidentally get injured in same place, but Rose is too crafty and manages to turns the others against her and Helen ends up transferring schools to get away. Rose does so well at deceiving people that even on a school trip, when they run into her old classmates the others don’t believe the bad things they say about Rose and stick up for her. Another person gets suspicious, Amanda, she does not doesn’t take kindly to bullies and stands up to Mary. She also thinks Rose is very crafty so she wants to make sure she has proof to her theory before she challenges her.

Amanda finds an ally and together they trick Rose into confessing. Rose believe’s Amanda is trying to take a photo of her changing into Mary and tells her she is too smart for that, but in fact it’s a bluff by Amanda as she knew Rose would be looking for camera, she actually records their conversation. Amanda and others, go to confront Rose at  her house, she is dressed up pretending to be Mary when her mother comes home and hears everything. Mrs Bolder is upset that Rose’s attitude change has all been faked. Her parents decide the must send her to special school, where she won’t be able to pull her tricks. A few days later, the girls look on as the family move away, Rose shows no remorse, the girls feel sorry for the Bolders and Amanda also feels sorry for Rose because people like her can never really be happy.

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Thoughts

Certainly there were many stories with two faced girls, pretending to be nice, while really being nasty, but I don’t think there is many that actually went so far to invent a whole other person to do their dirty work! It’s not that uncommon to have similar stories but for this very specific plot to be used twice in 3 years seems a little unusual, although as they were in two different publications this could be justified! From memory, I did at first confuse the two and thought that RoseMary was a reprint of Tara’s Terrible Twin with a different artist, but it was on rereading I saw the different situations.

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The title’s are interesting, “Tara’s Terrible Twin” keeps up the traditional use of alliteration, and I like the “RoseMary” title particularly for it’s clever title card, that distinguishes the two names. Both stories are quite episodic throughout the run, (probably due t their long length 20 and 21 episodes respectively) but have good strong endings. Overall I think Tara’s Terrible Twin has the slight edge,  the use of Rosemary suspecting Tara over several issues is quite effective, especially as she ends up being her downfall in the end, after making the reader think that she was no longer a problem for Tara. Meanwhile Rose has some close calls but the ongoing suspicion from Amanda is only at the end, you get the feeling that Rose’s downfall is close, though there was a nice build up so it wasn’t just wrapped up in the last episode.

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I also like how Tara ends up having to give up her time to help people  because of her nice act. She is a very selfish person and any problems she blames on others, such as being “forced” to help. She shows ambition too and seems to think she is deserving more than she gets, such as when she wants to win student council. She is jealous of Sylvia and doesn’t see why she should win over her. It’s clear to the reader why Sylvia would win as she is a genuine and considerate person, which is proven when she actually tries to reach out to Terry and support her. It could have been interesting if  Tara had accepted her help, even after her secret was revealed. Instead she is happy to escape to a new town, where she ends up alone and the one chance that someone could have taken the time and help redeem her is gone.

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In RoseMary, throughout the story – Rose, while she does get back at people she believes wronged her, she doesn’t seem to be as vindictive as Tara and let her anger fester, she really just seems to get most enjoyment from causing trouble. Like Tara she does show some ambition as she enjoys sport and does want to get onto the hockey team. Not only does she not show any regard for her classmates, she has no sympathy for her parents either. Again she only thinks about what she can get from them and doesn’t care that they are upset and disappointed in her when her lies are revealed.

Both girls get the ending deserving to them, they’ve caused so much trouble the reader must be happy to see the girls get what’s coming to them. Still there can’t be a complete feeling of satisfaction by the endings, as the last panels show reasons the readers should sympathize. In Tara’s Terrible Twin the last panel (along with the closing caption) shows Tara looking dejected and alone, leading us to think she may not be as tough and uncaring as she likes to portray. In contrast, Rose still has an uncaring attitude at the end she believes even in a new school she’s clever enough to outsmart the teachers, the readers must feel bad for her parents at least, but even Amanda expresses that girls like Rose are also deserving of our pity.

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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) – (?)
  • 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.

green-door

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.

day-of-vengeance

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.
horror-in-haunted-woods

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 / Reprinted – Mandy #841]

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.

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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 had 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.

 

I Wish…

  • I Wish…. – Mandy PSL:  #194  (1994)

Plot

I wish 1Helen West is an optimistic kind girl who likes to help people. She is well known around her village as she helps out at youth club and does a paper round. At the end of her paper round she reads to an old lady Mrs Stone, as well as doing small jobs for her. When Mrs Stone asks her if she could have anything in the world what would she want, Helen again shows how appreciative she is of her life, she wants for nothing – she has loving parents, a good home and friends.  The one thing she does say is that she would like to make people’s wishes come true but she knows that’s a silly dream. Not long after this conversation Mrs Stone dies and surprises Helen by leaving her nearly half million pounds that will be distributed to those of Helen’s choosing anonymously through a solicitor, Mr Benson. She wanted to make Helen’s dream of being a fairy godmother come true.

The first wish to grant is clear to Helen, when the struggling youth club’s roof collapses. Helen not only pays for repairs but also buys new equipment for the club. But she is a bit worried that the “mystery benefactor”  catches the attention of local reporter Danny Lions. She continues doing her good work getting young Kevin Jones a mountain bike for his birthday, pensioners food parcels and paying for a girl Jenny  to go for life saving operation in America.  Then one of her wishes backfires as Kevin is knocked down by a car. Mrs Jones is upset, she knew he was too young for bike, and Helen feels terrible as she never thought that Mrs Jones had safety reasons for not getting Kevin a bike, it wasn’t just about money.

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Meanwhile Danny is  still persistent with his investigation. Due to his meddling the newspaper, hints that Major Vincent may be benefactor, as his granddaughter is a youth club member. This causes more drama as undeserving people try to wheedle money off the Major.  At this point Helen hears of genuine case when she gets talking to Tom Grayson’s mother. Tom had an accident and lost his job but when she sends a cheque his pride won’t allow him to take the money, and he is ashamed to think that his mother went begging even though she denies it. His refusal to accept help also upsets his wife and Helen is upset that another one of her “wishes” has caused more problems.

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Even when things go right like when Helen replaces a wedding dress that was burnt in a fire,  there are still others that aren’t happy as they  think it’s a frivolous expense.   Danny begins to get suspicious of Helen, after reporting on a 100 year old woman wanting to fly, and seeing Helen waving the woman off after the mystery benefactor has paid for flights. Yet another donation doesn’t go as planned when helping church repairs fund reach its target, the vicar is disappointed because the point was to bring community together. By now she is having doubts about whether to continue her work Mr Benson convinces her to give it another shot. Helen brings a family home from Australia for parents anniversary, only the other siblings are not so happy to see people they perceive to have abandoned their family turn up out of the blue. This is final straw for Helen and she decides to donate the rest of the money to set up a talking books library. Danny Lions is there to hear this reveal and unmasks her but other than some surprised people this doesn’t have a negative impact on Helen and she is relieved to no longer be “fairy godmother”.

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Thoughts

With the best of intentions, Helen sets out to help people, but unfortunately she doesn’t always put thought into the consequences. It is understandable as a 15 year old girl would not have the experience of an adult, so she wouldn’t think of safety concerns for a child on a bike or that a proud man may find charity insulting. Although somethings do go wrong, it’s not to diminish the things that go right, and all in all i think she does more good than bad.

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The biggest difficult for Helen is having such responsibility put upon her with little support.  She only has Mr Benson to confide in and at the same time she has added pressure of trying to keep her donations secret from a nosy reporter. Surprising that there isn’t much consequences for being revealed as the benefactor, perhaps because at that stage, Helen doesn’t have more money to give away, so won’t be pestered by people. Other than the youth club, we don’t see the reaction of people she helped, once the secret’s out. It would be safe to assume most would be grateful, or understanding if things didn’t turn out great.

There’s a nice build up to the story, it’s established what kind of person Helen is, it shows donations working out for the better before some turn out bad. We also have Danny snooping around and Helen trying to keep her secret to add more tension to the plot. It’s interesting that at the start of the story Mrs Stone tells Helen “Your kindness is worth all the money in the world”. This does prove to be the case, Helen is a good person, she doesn’t need money herself to make her happy and she discovers money may help  others but doesn’t solve all problems either.

The Posy Princess [1975]

 Posy Princess logo

Published: Mandy:  #454 (27 September 1975) – #460 (8 November 1975)

Reprinted: #970 (17 August 1985) – #976 (28 September 1985)

Artist: Unknown

Plot

When Jill Bailey is orphaned, she goes to live with her Uncle Jack, Aunt Betty and cousin Marilyn, who run “The Weeping Willow” Hotel. Jill’s parents did not talk about them and she soon finds out why: they are callous, selfish people who care nothing for her. They tell her that if she is to stay, she will have to work for her keep – which is of course their excuse to use her as unpaid slave labour at the hotel. Jill soon finds her cousin Marilyn is no better. She is a lazy, selfish girl who just uses Jill to wait on her and do all the work.

Jill does have a kind relative, her Aunt Kate. Aunt Kate could take Jill in. The trouble is, Aunt Kate lives in New Zealand.

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At least Jill finds friends in Mrs Smith the Cook and Barbara the part-time chambermaid, who are not treated well at the Weeping Willow either. Cook tells Jill about the Posy Princess competition, where contestants win posies at various tests, and the girl who wins the most posies wins. As this year’s Posy Princess competition is the centenary one, there is a special prize of a month’s holiday anywhere in the world.

This prize would enable Jill to get to New Zealand and track down Aunt Kate. However, Jill is initially nervous at such a challenge and does not think she is up to it. Eventually Cook’s encouragement and the chance to escape her horrible relatives spur her on.

However, Marilyn is entering the Posy Princess competition as well. And of course she is doing everything she can to sabotage Jill. But Jill often gets help from Cook and Barbara, who do everything they can to help foil Marilyn’s schemes and make sure Jill wins the heats.

And there are times when Marilyn’s dirty tricks backfire and unwittingly end up helping Jill. For example, in the first test she tries to ruin Jill’s outfit by sending her out in drenching rain to do shopping. But it’s Cook to the rescue with a new outfit and Jill has to do an impromptu speech as she lost the other one with her ruined outfit. But the judges like her appearance and speech so much that they give her more posies than Marilyn. So thanks to Marilyn’s trick, Jill ended up doing better than she anticipated in the first test.

Marilyn’s next trick, in a first aid test, causes Jill to lose a posy for lateness. But Jill passes the test itself with flying colours, so remains equal with Marilyn.

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In the third test, for cookery, Marilyn thinks she has been more successful with her dirty tricks. She ruins the sponge cake Jill has made for it and its replacement is not as good as the first. But the sponge cake is only one half of the test, and by the end of the second half (making a difficult trifle with the sponge), Jill remains equal with Marilyn.

The next test is to make a dress. Marilyn tries to sabotage Jill by locking up the sewing machine. When Jill finishes the dress on another machine with Barbara’s help, Marilyn tries to make her miss the event by sending her out on an errand. But Barbara, posing as Jill, foils Marilyn again, and now Jill is one posy ahead of her.

It looks like the fifth test – a beauty contest – has Jill beat because the hotel drudgery is ruining her appearance. But Cook has some remedies (lemon juice to whiten the red hands and oil to soften them). Marilyn lends an unwitting hand in trying to ruin Jill’s hairstyle and dress, which in fact results in Jill going in for replacement styles that are more becoming. So Jill ends up with more posies than Marilyn.

In the next test, Marilyn tries another trick to put Jill out of the way, and this time it is more successful. Jill ends up stranded at Drayford Market with no hope of getting to her test – high tea with the Mayor and Mayoress – on time. She gets a lift back, but the ride is too slow and the driver won’t stop giving her lectures on the history of the area. But it all comes in useful when the mayor gives her a second chance to take the test, which demands good knowledge of the district. Jill, being new to the district, would not have been able to pull that off if it hadn’t been for the driver and Marilyn’s trick. So although Marilyn’s subterfuge did cost Jill a posy, it backfired in the end (again) by helping her pass the test.

So Jill is still in the lead, but only by one posy, and there is just one test to go. This means the last test is going to be tight.

The test is one for “personality, tact and general helpfulness”. A secret judge will be watching the five remaining contestants for this. Marilyn assumes the secret judge is the latest guest at the hotel, and goes out of her way to impress him with out-of-character hard work and good service. Along the way she tries to sabotage Jill again by tripping her up while she is lugging a trolley in order to create a bad impression on the man. She then brags to Jill that she did that to make sure Jill does not win the final round. To make doubly sure, Marilyn tries to make Jill miss the last contest by forcing her to slave in the kitchen all week.

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Neither Jill nor Marilyn realise the window cleaner has seen and heard everything. But when Jill makes it to the contest with Cook’s help, she discovers the window cleaner was the secret judge, not the guest. And of course he declares Jill the winner of the Posy Princess competition. Marilyn, who came second, is appointed Jill’s attendant. Marilyn has unwittingly helped Jill to win again, and this time it is the top prize itself!

A month later, Jill is heading for New Zealand to find Aunt Kate. Her horrible relatives can only watch in seething silence as Jill departs. On the plane there is a nice surprise for Jill. Cook is coming too, both as Jill’s chaperone and to escape the hotel as well.

Thoughts

There is no doubt this is a Cinderella story. The emphasis is more on the wicked stepsister than the wicked step-parents – er, uncle and aunt, whom we don’t see much of in the story. But then the main conflict of the story is meant to focus on Marilyn and Jill as they both compete for the Posy Princess competition.

In our brief glimpses of Uncle Jack, we immediately sense that the conflict between Marilyn and Jill mirrors the conflict between Uncle Jack and his late brother Bill (Jill’s father). Jill’s father never spoke of his brother, and Jill soon finds Uncle Jack does not speak of his brother kindly either. When he meets Jill he is not in the least bit overjoyed to see her and says, “You look like [my brother], I must say – good for nothing!” Clearly a case of good brother vs. bad brother, and now the same good vs. bad passes to the next generation in the Posy Princess competition.

Posy Princess 3

Our Cinderella protagonist shows she is human and at first is less proactive than most of her counterparts. Jill only enters the contest out of desperation and Cook’s encouragement. But at the beginning she lacks confidence: “I can’t enter, though. I’m hopeless at tests”. Jill finds the first challenge – speaking in public and being “judged on poise and praise” so daunting. But thanks to Marilyn’s unwitting help and Cook’s genuine help, Jill not only passes the first test but also discovers a whole new skill – thinking on her feet. Her confidence is growing, and along the way she develops in courage, such as where she plucks up enough courage to go apologise to the mayor after she misses his appointment. Jill almost sits out the final judging because she thinks Marilyn has cast her in a bad light with the secret judge, so Cook helps her once again by insisting on taking her there herself. It was just as well because Jill would have missed the grand prize otherwise. Ultimately the newfound strengths in Jill’s character impress the secret judge: “she managed to stay polite and cheerful under the most difficult and trying circumstances”.

During the story Jill always needs support and advice from Cook and Barbara. In so many Cinderella-type stories the protagonist has only herself to depend on because there is nobody else to turn to except a fairy godmother figure who is sympathetic but either does not realise what is going on or is powerless to intervene. But in this case it is different in that the fairy godmother helps throughout. It is also different in that Jill is less proactive than most Cinderella-type protagonists. She is less capable of getting herself out of the scrapes and obstacles that her nasty relatives put in her path. If not for Cook and Barbara she would never have made it through the competition. But it makes a delightful change to see the Cinderella protagonist have help throughout the story for once instead of having to battle on alone. There is no doubt Cook is the Fairy Godmother figure of the serial. The artwork even gives her the semblance of a fairy godmother in her kind, grandmotherly appearance.

Marilyn, the wicked stepsister figure, unwittingly helps Jill to win as well. So many of her tricks end up backfiring and give Jill a helping hand where Jill would have failed. If Marilyn had left things alone, Jill would have fallen behind her without her needing to do anything really dirty. But although Marilyn’s tricks do get Jill docked a couple of posies, Jill never falls behind Marilyn and even gets ahead of her because of so many misfired tricks. It is poetic justice that Marilyn unwittingly helped Jill to win the contest itself as well.

Posy Princess 4

The Posy Princess competition itself lends to the fairy tale elements of the story. In fairy tales heroes and heroines face so many trials before they win through and live happily ever after, and this is paralleled in the tests the contestants face. The parallel is reinforced even more if you count up the tests. There are seven of them, and seven is a magical number that is often found in fairy tales. Seven tests also structures the length of the story, so it is not too long or drawn out. The grand prize turns Jill into a princess, which is what happens to Cinderella herself in the end. The secret judge is clearly the Prince Charming figure. He is even more charming in that he says nothing about Marilyn’s dirty play; instead he says he has chosen Jill because she impressed him the most. Perhaps he felt it would be a more fitting punishment for the cheat to be appointed attendant to the girl she tried to sabotage.

It is fitting that the final test is one for character integrity, because that is the most appropriate one for Marilyn to fail at and for Jill to pass with flying colours. And it reinforces the fairy tale retribution for the wicked stepsister figure and reward for the good stepsister figure.

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

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

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

Bad Luck Barbara logo

Bad Luck Barbara

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

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Witch logo

Witch!

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

Artist: Edmond Ripoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scream! (1997)

Scream cover

Mandy Picture Library #272

Published: 1997

Cover: Peter Wilkes?

Writer: Anne Bulcraig

“Scream!” takes a complete break from the usual pattern of girls’ picture libraries. Instead of being one complete story it is a collection of five shorter-length stories, and they are all spooky, creepy stories. Unsavoury girls get their comeuppances while other girls get caught in scary experiences that they may or may not emerge from unscathed. All stories are labelled as a “Scream!”. This take harkens back to the days of horror comics Misty and Spellbound two decades before. It was a trend that was seldom seen after both comics folded and is fondly remembered.

Scream 1: Framed! – artist Norman Lee

Katie Knight feels lonely after her best friend Joanna Bland emigrates, but soon becomes friends with new girl Lisa Jones. Lisa says she and her mother look after animals of all descriptions and invites Katie and her dog Soda around for the weekend.

When Katie arrives, she is surprised to find the walls of the house are lined with paintings of animals done by Mrs Jones, but no real animals are present. Meanwhile, Soda is acting strangely, and when the girls take a walk in the wood, he gets really terrified. Katie thinks the wood is weird too, and eventually realises it has no birds or animals. Later, Katie is baffled to find that a cat she saw in one of the paintings has changed position from when she last saw it.

Then Katie wakes up one night and discovers that Soda has somehow been turned into one of Mrs Jones’ paintings. Katie explains that they have had to turn to pets for their paintings because all the wildlife realised what was going on and fled. What happens next with Katie and the Joneses is not recorded. Some weeks later, a new girl brings a guinea pig with her to a weekend stay with the Joneses….

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Scream 2: Green Fingers – artist Carlos Freixas

Sarah Peters is a very selfish girl who grabs whatever she wants and never helps anyone, not even when it is an emergency. In class Sarah suddenly gets interested in a green issue project when she hears the prize money will pay for the top she has her eye on. On the way home she sees a plant in a window box that has leaves shaped like hearts and cute animals. It is so unusual it is guaranteed to win. She asks the owner if she can have a cutting. The owner says she needs to test Sarah to see if she is a suitable candidate. It turns out to be a test for kindness, and of course the selfish Sarah fails dismally. The owner refuses to give her the cutting, saying the plant has powers to reflect the nature of its owner. Only nice people are safe tending it and it would be dangerous for someone like Sarah. But Sarah is not having that; she sneaks out in the night and helps herself to a cutting.

After one night with Sarah the leaves start changing shape. They are going from hearts and cute animals to ghoulish faces and creepy animals. Sarah is bewildered and revolted at the new shapes, but does not get rid of the plant or reconsider what the lady said. The lady warns Sarah to return the cutting before it is too late, for even she does not fully understand the plant’s powers. Sarah does not listen and denies ever taking the cutting.

When Sarah returns home from school, her mother asks her to go and pick up an urgent prescription for a neighbour who is not well. But Sarah cares far more for watching her favourite television programme and goes into the house to watch. Then, as Sarah approaches her bedroom, she is astonished to find her cutting is now growing so much that it is coming out through the door. She goes into her room, where the plant starts crawling all over her. She screams for help – but the plant has learned its behaviour from the girl who never helps anyone.

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Scream 3: House Warning – artist unknown

Julie Wood and her family move into a large house in the country. Julie is bewildered when everyone at her new school avoids her for no apparent reason, and her mother gets the same treatment at the supermarket. A neighbour asks Julie if she is having problems with the house yet, and then things do start going strangely wrong for the family in the house. Eventually, a boy at school tells Julie the reason people avoid her is the house. It seems to be alive and won’t let anyone live in it ever since its owner died the previous year. Julie questions the neighbour again. The neighbour says the house is grieving for its late owner, “Old Kate” Murray. Old Kate loved the house and now it will not accept anyone else.

In the night, a strange lady wakes Julie up, which alerts Julie to a fire. Julie manages to extinguish the fire before it catches proper hold. Then Julie realises the woman was Old Kate and it had been her ghost that was driving people out. But this time Old Kate needed help to save her house from burning down, and got it from Julie. From then on, the Woods have no more trouble with the house.

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Scream 4: Skin Deep – artist Maria Dembilio

Nadine Andrews and her family are on holiday at a holiday camp. Nadine is a vain girl who infuriates everyone with her conceit, including her sister Emily. Nadine wants to enter the “Miss Happy Holidays” beauty contest. At the fair Nadine meets a fortune teller, and is surprised that the fortune teller somehow knows she wants to enter the contest. The fortune teller sells Nadine a beauty cream that will guarantee she wins. The effects on Nadine’s face seem like magic and she does win.

But the effect wears off next day. Nadine feels cheated and goes back to the fortune teller to get her money back. Nadine is extremely unreasonable when the fortune teller says she never said the effects were lasting, and becomes rude and insulting to her. Deciding Nadine needs a lesson, the fortune teller gives her an even stronger and longer-lasting cream that is guaranteed to make her really stand out. She says the price will be very high – but it isn’t money, which she refuses to accept. When Nadine puts on the cream, she is shocked to find her face has gone all distorted! The effects wear off eventually and Nadine stops being so vain.

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Scream 5: Time Slip – artist Claude Berridge

During half-term break, Trudi Clark accompanies her father on an archaeological excavation at a site where a medieval village is said to be. The dig yields an old box that looks at least three hundred years old and Dad asks Trudi to hold it. But when she does, the whole environment changes to a medieval appearance, with no sign of her family. A boy runs by and tells Trudi to misdirect a man who is chasing him, which she does. She makes friends with the boy, whose name is Carak. Carak comments on her strange clothes. Trudi begins to think she has been transported to the past, when the medieval village existed. But then Carak serves her hamburgers, which were not around in medieval times.

Then Carak notices the box, and says Trudi must have stolen it from the museum. Trudi wants to hold onto it as she hopes it will get her back to her own time. When Carak says it is five hundred years old – not three hundred – Trudi realises that she has been transported to the future, not the past. A replica of the medieval village has been built as a tourist attraction, and the museum has exhibits not only of medieval times but the 20th century as well. Carak is surprised when the cabinet the box is supposed to be in is still sealed. Then he sets off an alarm and the man, Mr Peters, starts chasing them both. They find a place to take refuge in.

Trudi decides to tell Carak what happened. Carak opens the box, which contains three rings. He explains they are time travel devices that can take someone into the past, present or future. The trouble is, nobody knows which ring is which. When Trudi held the box, she must have had her hand too close to the “future” ring. Mr Peters catches up, and Trudi takes a chance on one of the rings. But this ring transports them to the past and the real medieval village. A woman comes in and thinks they are robbers. As they flee, Trudi trips up and a man grabs one of her Wellington boots. They take another shot at the rings, and this time they come to Trudi’s own time period, and the clock time is just before the box was found. Carak takes the box and goes back to his own time.

This time, Dad’s find is the Wellington boot that Trudi lost in medieval times. Trudi hopes he does not look too closely at the boot and realise it has been buried at that spot for years – how will she be able to explain that to him?

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“I’ll Take Care of Tina!” (1978)

I'll Take Care of Tina logo

Published: Mandy: #605 (19 August 1978) – #616 (4 November 1978)

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Plot

Mr Marsden, an engineer, is promoted to a job that means he and his wife will be transferring to a post at the Middle East oilfields. The company will pay Tina’s school fees at Fairfield College, a top boarding school. Tina is not keen on leaving her old school but puts a brave face on it for her parents’ sakes.

When Tina arrives at Fairfield, junior school captain Elaine Warnock immediately takes her under her wing. But before long, things keep going wrong for Tina and she can’t explain why. Girls accuse her of hiding cupcakes in the dorm (as Elaine told her to) instead of sharing them around and they retaliate by shoving them down Tina’s throat. Tina is accused of stealing another girl’s soap when it turns up in her bag with no explanation and the girls throw her in a cold shower as punishment. The secretary accuses Tina of taking a confidential folder out of the cabinet when it is found near her in the office, and Tina has no explanation as to how it got there. These and other incidents soon put Tina under a cloud at Fairfield. None of the girls will have anything to do with her because she now has a reputation as a bad lot. They bully and ostracise Tina all the time and Elaine is the only one who stands up for her. Miss Barnett the headmistress and the teachers are getting dubious of Tina as well.

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Tina soon realises she has an enemy at school who is causing trouble for her. But at least she has one friend – Elaine. Or so she thinks. In truth, it is Elaine who is her enemy. She has been using her position as junior school captain and pretence at being Tina’s friend to secretly cause trouble for her ever since she arrived. There is no apparent motive for Elaine’s scheming against Tina. The only clue is when Elaine intercepts and destroys Tina’s letters to her parents because “we can’t have Tina’s parents getting worried, and taking her away from Fairfield.” Now what can she mean by that?

Around the middle of the story, Elaine’s motive is finally revealed. Mr Marsden was promoted ahead of Mr Warnock, who works at the same company, and Mr Warnock needs the promotion to keep Elaine on at Fairfield. So they are plotting to steal the promotion by causing trouble for Mr Marsden through getting Tina expelled, as the company is covering her school fees. Mr Warnock warns Elaine to be careful; he knows Mr Marsden is clever and surely Tina is the same. Elaine is confident Tina will never be able to figure her out.

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Once the motives and intentions for the scheming are revealed and the groundwork been laid down, Elaine starts the real campaign to get Tina expelled. Getting Tina blamed for a trick on a guest of honour. A stone pinged at a girl’s face during a hockey match and the catapult found in Tina’s pocket. Tricking Tina into going out of bounds and getting into a fight at a sleazy café. Wrecking Miss Barnett’s office. Trying to make it look like Tina stole from a pensioner. When the pensioner guesses the truth and tries to warn Tina, Elaine shuts the old lady up by starting a fire in a kitchen and puts her in hospital. It is a series of narrow escapes and Tina only escapes expulsion through Elaine’s pretend support, or others back Tina up by pure chance.

Tina cannot convince Miss Barnett that someone is working against her. Elaine also makes the clever move of pulling tricks on a girl named Ann to mislead Tina into thinking that Ann is the enemy. Ann is an easy target for this because she openly dislikes Tina as a ‘troublemaker’ and has played her own tricks on her.

When Elaine plants an exam paper on Tina, Miss Barnett decides to call Tina’s parents. Forewarned by Elaine, Mr Warnock intercepts the call, as they do not want the parents to remove Tina before she is expelled. Pretending to be Mr Marsden, he feigns callousness about the whole situation.

Eventually, it gets too much for Tina and she tries to run away. Elaine intercepts her and frames her for a fire in a classroom. Miss Barnett finally decides to expel Tina. Then Tina pretends to run away again while sneaking back to prove her innocence. Along the way she overhears a remark from Elaine that has her think she can no longer look to Elaine for help and is on her own (actually, it means Elaine is no at Tina’s side to sabotage her attempts to prove her innocence).

In the head’s office Tina tries to phone her father, but gets hold of Mr Warnock instead. Mistaking Tina for Elaine, he says he is expecting good news from her soon. Following this, Mr Warnock’s warning begins to bear out as Tina begins to suspect Elaine and her never mentioning that their fathers worked for the same company. She then sneaks out of the office.

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Meanwhile, Miss Barnett gets hold of the real Mr Marsden, who says he and his wife are flying back at once. During the course of the conversation Miss Barnett discovers she was speaking to a fake Mr Marsden earlier. This has her reconsider Tina’s claims that an enemy is working against her. Summoning Elaine, she informs Elaine of her suspicions. Alarmed to hear that the plot is in trouble, Elaine makes a hasty lie that she saw Tina start the fire in the classroom. But she does not know Tina is eavesdropping outside the door and overheard her. Now Tina knows who her enemy is, but she needs to prove it.

Tina is then caught outside the door and brought in. She tries to tell Miss Barnett the truth. Then, recalling the earlier phone call with Mr Warnock, she asks to make a phone call to prove her innocence. Miss Barnett agrees, because her suspicions are not satisfied. Tina phones Mr Warnock and, pretending to be Elaine, says she has the good news he wanted. This tricks Mr Warnock into a gleeful admission of the entire plot for Miss Barnett to hear on the other end. Miss Barnett then reveals herself to Mr Warnock and tells him to remove his daughter from the school.

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By the time Tina’s parents arrive, everything has been sorted out. However, they decide it would be better to take Tina with them, and the company is starting a new school in the Middle East that she can go to. They are right: although Tina now has real friends at Fairfield, she is anxious to get away from the memories of the false one.

Thoughts

Serials about a girl plotting to get another expelled (out of misguided revenge, spite or personal gain) are not unusual; “Captain Carol” (Bunty) and “Rachel’s Revenge” (Judy) are but two. Neither are stories about a girl pretending to be friends with another while secretly causing trouble for her e.g. “False Friend” and “A Friend Like Freda” from Mandy.

However, there are several aspects about this story that are atypical for this theme. First, it is unusual for a parent to be behind the whole plot. Usually the troublemaker acts alone, or on occasion has an accomplice, as Gwen of “I’ll Get Rid of Rona!” from Tracy does. It would have been more standard for Elaine to plan the whole thing herself for the sake of her father, as is the case with Lucinda Gromley of Bunty’s “Tina at Tumble Towers”. But here father and daughter conspire the whole thing together.

The second is the buildup in the early episodes. Instead of starting with overt tricks to get Tina expelled, Elaine is playing a very clever game in pulling subtle tricks that are aimed at turning the other girls against Tina. The purpose is clear: isolate Tina, stop her from making real friends, cut her off from potential avenues of help, give her a bad name that will make it easier to get her expelled, and make her increasingly dependent on the only girl who seems friendly to her. It’s not intended to get Tina expelled straight away; it’s all groundwork on which Elaine can build her real campaign once she thinks the time is ripe.

Elaine’s early groundwork also reaps other benefits that play into her hands. The other girls bully Tina because they think she is a bad sort. Elaine uses these incidents to plant things that make it look like Tina is getting her own back in vicious ways, such as planting a glass shard in Ann’s sports shoe and a rat in her locker. Standing up for Tina during these bullying incidents also reinforces Elaine’s false show of friendship towards Tina. Ann’s overt dislike of Tina also enables Elaine to turn her into a red herring by playing tricks on Ann that have Tina suspect Ann is the enemy.

I'll Take Care of Tina panel 3

The third is keeping Elaine’s motives hidden in the early episodes while she lays down the groundwork (isolating Tina, giving her a bad reputation at Fairfield, turning others against her). It provides a mystery element that keeps the reader guessing and wondering what lies behind it all. Perhaps it will all be revealed in the final episode, as is what usually happens? No, here it is revealed around the middle, and after this the buildup to the climax begins with Elaine starting her campaign in earnest.

Tina herself is, like most victims of this sort of trickery, a good-natured innocent who makes easy prey for the schemer. She has been completely fooled by Elaine’s false show of friendship and is surrounded by red herrings – a whole school of girls who have been led to hate her.

She is not without courage; she puts a brave face on her transfer to Fairfield for the sake of her parents. And she does not turn a hair at finding a mouse in her desk (Ann’s joke). She likes the mouse, and we can see she would have been a popular, well-liked girl at Fairfield if things had been different. And towards the end, Tina shows even more courage when she risks life and limb in climbing ledges to get in and out of the head’s office.

It is ironic that Mr Warnock warned at what will eventually be their undoing – do not underestimate Tina’s brains. Indeed, Tina is sharp enough to figure out she has an enemy fairly early on in the piece (some victims don’t even realise, like Bettina in Mandy’s “That Bad Bettina!”). She is also clever enough to act on the mistakes Mr Warnock and Elaine make in the end and hit on a way to trap them. It is also unusual for this type of story to foreshadow how the schemer will be caught out. Usually the reader is left guessing as to how that will happen until it develops towards the end, or even coming in the final episode itself.

I'll Take Care of Tina panel 5

The only problem with the resolution is what Tina says to Elaine in their final confrontation: “It’s all over, Elaine. I’m sorry – I really mean that. I did so want us to be friends.” Now we know Mandy would not want to show her protagonists being bitter or bearing grudges – but is that what you would say to a person who had been plotting against you, or turned out to be your worst enemy when you thought they were your friend?

The villains’ motives are less clichéd than most. They are not driven so much by greed or spite but by circumstance. For some reason Mr Warnock can no longer afford Elaine’s school fees and needs the promotion for it. So he and Elaine hatch the plot to steal Mr Marsden’s promotion. But they do not come across as being driven by desperation, nor do they have any redeeming or sympathetic qualities. They show no qualms, remorse or conscience in what they are doing to Tina. Elaine has no limits in the lengths she will go to get Tina expelled; starting a fire, pinging a stone in a girl’s face, and putting an old lady in hospital for trying to help Tina are extremely vicious and dangerous stuff.

The story is very deftly constructed in how it builds up Elaine’s campaign and reveals her motives in stages rather than the more typical “scheme of the week” format that a lot of schemer stories such as “That Bad Bettina!” often follow. This story construct also illustrates what a clever schemer Elaine is in laying groundwork for her campaign before launching on it in earnest, rather than plunging straight into it as a lot of schemers do in girls’ comics.

The resolution brings out real strengths in Tina (except for some unconvincing final dialogue). The parents’ decision to take Tina away from Fairfield is less trite than her staying on for a fresh start at a new improved Fairfield, free of the schemer. The artwork of Peter Wilkes lends itself well to the school environment, and it really brings out the innocence and good nature of the hapless Tina.