Category Archives: Mandy

Share and Share Alike! [1988]

  • Share and Share Alike! – Mandy PSL: #121 [1988]
  • Reprinted – Mandy PSL: #269
  • Cover Art: Norman Lee
  • Inside Art: Tom Hurst

Plot

Sheila and Sharon Terry are twins that are constantly fighting, much to the exasperation of their parents. While they know their daughters do actually care for each other, they are  also fiercely competitive and jealous. They don’t like to see each other get what they think is favoritism. Whether it’s Dad cleaning Sharon’s bike, or Mom making Sheila her favourite sandwiches for lunch. Each perceives the other as having the jealousy problem and their parents have had enough. They tell them from now on everything will be shared and they will get treated exactly the same. The twins are delighted and finally agree that this is what they always wanted.

They are soon to realise it’s not as great a deal as they initially thought,  when at breakfast the next morning they do get exactly the same thing – but it’s something neither of them like. Mom’s logic being they can at least agree on that. Then on the way to school Sharon gets a puncture, and receives lines for being late. Dad’s not going to help her fix the bike because he’s tired of being accused of favourtism. But Mom makes Sheila help so they can share the burden and they even make her write out lines. This trend continues so when a dog causes Sharon to drop shopping breaking jars, they both have to pay. The girls are aware that their parents think they are clever, but they figure they can out smart them by upping the “share and share alike” mentality. They go for a boat trip and when dad comes looking for them they say they haven’t returned because they were using one oar, rowing in circles! When they do exactly same work at school, resulting in a letter from the headmistress, Mom thinks they should call it off but Dad is not broken so easily. He clears things up with the headmistress, and lets the wins know schoolwork is not to be shared.

Perhaps because they are working together to try and outsmart their parents, it ends up having the desired affect of them actually getting along. But then this is quickly undone when when Sheila waits for Sharon after school, and Sharon thinks she’s already gone home. The reason Sharon was delayed was Miss Brett called her over to tell her they have both been selected to cross country competition and Sharon had asked Sheila to wait for her. (This is a bit odd as they were both selected and Sheila was also right there, why didn’t Miss Brett talk to the both of them?!) Now they both intend to win and are more competitive than ever! Then during training, Sheila takes a risk trying to pass Sharon out and falls into the river. Sharon jumps after them and together they make it to shore but Sheila gets sick after. Luckily it’s not too serious but it does mean she is out of the race. On the day of the race Sharon is uncharacteristically quiet. Sharon has a tough race ahead of her and back home Sheila can picture the race and where Sharon would be. Sharon feels Sheila willing her on and is determined to win for both of them. She succeeds and at home the twins are delighted and they will share the cup. Their parents are optimistic that this is the end of their feud.

Thoughts

Favouritism can be a sensitive issue, whether it’s justified or not. There may be a slight issue here of a parent doing extra for a daughter at times but certainly not to any extreme and it’s clear the parents love both daughters. I am reminded of another picture story library book Unfair to Favourites although in that case there is a clear case of favouritism and the sisters get along fine, the resolution is also through a sport (gymnastics).  In this story what the twins perceive of favourtism is made worse by their jealousy. It is when the “share and share alike” rule is brought in, it shows how petty some of their complaints were. Such as arguing about who took the last of the marmalade or toast when they could both be given cereal they don’t like instead for breakfast.

It is a clever idea by the parents, although it seems Dad is much more willing to see it through no matter what! It is fun to see Sharon and Sheila try to outsmart their parents. It’s a pity their teamwork is in a fragile state that it breaks down after argument and they become competitive over race. Then when Sheila nearly drowns things change, perhaps they take mom’s talking to, to heart or it’s the realisation that they would not want to lose each other, but whatever the reason the twins grow closer. Sharon and Sheila feel connected during the race and Sheila knows Sharon has won even before they get the phone call. It’s hard to tell if the “share and share alike” rule did help overall or if this would have happened anyway when they were both picked for cross country. In any case at the end of the story Mom and Dad decide it’s best not to make a big deal out of dropping the rule, but I’d hope that even if they did bring it up that Sharon and Sheila’s relationship is stronger to survive that now.

Misfit Margo [1979]

  • Misfit Margo –  Mandy: #625 (6 January 1979) – #634 (10 March 1979)
  • Artist: Dudley Wynne

Plot

Thirteen year old, Margo Ashley has everything a girl could ask for, as well as loving parents, a good home and friends. Then her parents are killed in a plane crash and despite their wealth they never prepared for such an event, spending as much as was earned so there is no money left. Then the shocks keep coming as she discovers she was actually adopted. Her biological parents, the Taylors, gave Margo up for private adoption after Mrs Taylor had an accident and Mr Taylor lost his job, they believed they couldn’t look after her. But now they want to give her a home along with their 3 children Linda, 11, Julie, 9 and  Gary, 8. It is a big adjustment for Margo to move into their small estate house and accept this new family. She senses their sincerity and is willing to try, but of course she’s still adapting to the tragedy of losing her parents and because of her nervousness and posh voice she comes off as stand offish to the others. It’s not helped by the Taylors knowing she is used to nicer things try to make her more at home but end up alienating her from the other children. Mrs Taylor is guilty of this in particular, such as wanting to use the good teacup for Margo and making up her bed in the mornings. Margo accidentally puts her foot in it when she mentions not knowing where she can keep all her things as the bedroom is smaller than she’s used to. This upsets Julie as her parents moved out of the bigger bedroom so Margo could have it.

Mr and Mrs Taylor try and get the others to give Margo a chance, so they are more polite but this just makes Margo feel like more of an outcast, they are sitting around like strangers. Linda being closest to her age and also being  hot headed means that her and Margo clash the most. Linda does have loyalty to her family so she does stick up for Margo when her friends make comments, but some misunderstandings lead to Linda being more against her. Firstly Margo wants to keep her “Ashley” name, Linda thinks it’s because Margo thinks Taylor sounds too common, but in fact Margo isn’t ready to let go of her parents name just yet, especially after all the changes. When some other girls make spiteful comments, Margo runs away in tears and bumps into Mr Taylor, she cries for her Dad but when Mr Taylor tries to comfort her, the strain of the day makes Margo yell that he is not her father. Linda who had gone to check on Margo, hears this and all her good intentions are gone again.

Things begin to get better after trip to cinema and going out for fish and chips. Margo takes a few days off school and buys her mother an expensive brooch as a birthday present, as she does feel grateful for her and Mr Taylor. But then Mr Taylor buys his wife a cheaper brooch, that he could afford and not wanting him to feel bad, Margo doesn’t give her gift, making the others think she is mean and ungrateful. Later the Taylors have a birthday party and Margo again feels out of place, so when old friends the Lathems show up she is pleased to see them. When they invite her out for dinner Margo thinks everyone will have better fun without her, though in fact Mrs. Taylor was hoping Margo would choose to stay at the party. Margo doesn’t have a great time at dinner either, because now the Lathems snobbery shows, saying how sorry they are that she has to live in such a small place with commoners. Margo sticks up for her family and she believes that will be the end of her friendship with the Lathems.

Feeling she will never fit in Margo decides to runaway but her parents stop her and after a talk, she feels even closer to them. Mother insists that Linda keep Margo company in school, Margo feels that is unfair for Linda to get lumbered with her so she tries to avoid her. When Linda finds out why she is doing this, they finally have a breakthrough and they grow closer. Bt then when they are both invited on holiday with old friends of Margos, their progress threatens to be undone because of the spiteful Paula. The Hartleys and their daughter are lovely people but their niece Paula who is staying with them is a snob and stirs up trouble for Linda. Linda gets to know how it feels to be a misfit, but that makes her lash out. Paula wrecks Lady Hartley’s flowerbed and puts Linda’s hankerchief near it in order to set it up. Margo finds it first and she doesn’t believe Linda would do such a thing so she hides the evidence and takes the blame. Paula accidentally slips up and after getting a full confession is sent home. Linda and the other Taylors are impressed at Margo’s loyalty to the family and Margo calls the Taylors Mom and Dad for the first time, finally she feels accepted and part of the family.

Thoughts

This is a good family drama story, with plenty of conflict and emotional pull to keep the reader invested.  It’s no surprise that Margo finds it hard to fit in after such upheaval and despite her new parents’ efforts, there are misunderstandings on both sides. While initially Margo has reservations about the people who gave her up, after meeting them and hearing their explanation, she quickly warms to them. Mr and Mrs Taylor are kind and welcoming, but their efforts to make Margo feel at home, (particularly Mrs Taylor) can actually make her stand out more from the others. Such as Mrs Taylor wanting to use the better cups, and at first thinking that fish and chips would be too common after the cinema. While the story centres on how Margo feels out of place in her new family, the biggest conflict is with herself and new sister, Linda. Margo is a nice girl, with no thoughts of grandeur, so she draws sympathy from the reader and while Linda may come across as antagonistic at times, you can certainly see her viewpoint too.

It seems initially Julie could have made a good ally,  as she is the one who thinks Margo would feel more part of family using same cups as everyone else, but mistakes, and a tendency to follow Linda’s lead means their good start is damaged. With Linda being closer in age and hot-tempered it makes more sense to see her and Margo clashing, so we actually don’t get a lot of time with Margo and her other siblings. It’s interesting to see a reversal of the situation, when Linda goes on holiday with Margo. Similarly she is sensitive about being a misfit, but their reactions are different, as Linda automatically gets defensive. It was good to see Linda and Margo were already getting closer, when Paula enters and nearly undoes everything. It could have easily had a villain undermining things all along but I’m glad she was used just as a climax, to further prove Margo would stand by her family. I was also glad it wasn’t just this one event that made Linda change her mind about Margo, that they had already made progress in their relationship. It makes the story flow better that way.

Dudley Wynne, often drew emotional stories, and he captures the family dynamics and Margo’s loneliness well here. There are some very heart-rending scenes such as when Margo breaks down, crying for her Dad, and Mr Taylor comforts her, you can certainly see his hurt when she rebuffs him, but understand that it wasn’t intentional on her part. All the family are very relatable and as a reader you just want them to speak to each other and clear up the misunderstandings, but you are never frustrated with the characters, because you can understand how they’ve got to this point. Paula is a typical devious, snobbish character, which is fine, but as I mentioned I’m glad she was only in the last few episodes. The other snobs, the Lathems, are interesting as when we first meet them they look after Margo after her parents death and seem like nice people, so it’s surprising to see their prejudices when outside of their own environment. It is a well written character focused story.

 

 

 

The Secret Skater of St. Kit’s [1987]

 

Christmas and the winter season are coming. So here is a Mandy picture story library with a winter setting and plenty of snow, skating, toboggans, skiing and snowmen (but regrettably, no Christmas).

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #116

Artist: cover – unknown; story – Ana Rodriguez

Writer: Unknown

Plot

A heavy spell of snow has brought out the winter sports at St Catherine’s (boarding) School for Girls (St Kit’s for short) of Harbury. Among the winter sports players is Kerry Richards, a promising skater whose mother was an amateur champion. Kerry’s talent is spotted and she is advised to enter the skating contest at the Winter Garden in town.

Unfortunately, the headmistress puts the town out of bounds to all junior school after the unpleasant Hilda Stark and her gang go there without permission, which is the latest in a series of abusing town privileges. There will be no exceptions, she says, so it looks like Kerry is out of the contest. However, Kerry’s friend Maureen Tait comes up with the idea of Kerry donning a disguise and using a false name, Sonia Dalton, in order to enter the contest in secret. Under the guise of Sonia Dalton, Kerry is soon soaring high in the contest heats. But if she is discovered she will be expelled for breaking bounds.

Moreover, they have to constantly find dodges to get past Hilda as much as the school authorities in order to get to the contest and back. From the beginning Hilda suspects something is going on here, and as she is jealous of Kerry she is determined to get to the bottom of it. There are some hijinks as they strive to stay one head of her, such as Kerry skiing while disguised as a snowman. However, Hilda is too sharp and soon suspects a link between Kerry and Sonia. This mysterious skater, Sonia Dalton is also raising intrigue and suspicion from others, including the press. They comment on how secretive she seems to be, which draws even more attention to Kerry that jeopardises her secret.

By the time Kerry has made it to the semi-final, Hilda has completely discovered her secret. But she has to prove it. She lets Kerry and Maureen think she has given up the ghost while she tries to decide what to do next. On the day of the semi-final, Hilda sees Kerry sneak off to the contest. While Kerry skates so brilliantly she makes it to the finals, Hilda goes to the headmistress about it. The headmistress is unavailable, so she reports the matter to a prefect, Deacon.

Deacon sets off on skis to check the matter out, but when she tries to catch up with Kerry she has a bad accident. Kerry cannot leave her, and the school has brought out search parties for them as they have both been reported missing. Eventually an injured Deacon is brought in on a toboggan with Kerry’s help.

Kerry and Maureen have now been found out, of course. They are on tenterhooks while the school decides what to do with them. Complicating things is that the press have gotten hold of Kerry’s secret as well, and it’s made a news sensation. Fortunately the school governors take it all in good part and are quite pleased with the publicity for the school too. Going back for Deacon also counts in Kerry’s favour. So in the end they let Kerry and Maureen off the hook. But the headmistress says that Kerry better win the contest or she might reconsider.

Kerry is still wearing the disguise as she skates in the finals. Nobody says anything about her entering under false pretences (maybe they decided to overlook it considering the circumstances?). The whole school is allowed to come and cheer her on. Even Hilda applauds when Kerry wins the contest, as she has admitted defeat.

Thoughts

The enchanting winter setting and the beautiful skating rendered by Ana Rodriguez add to the charm of the picture library. The story itself follows the common format of a girl trying to compete in a contest against obstacles of some sort (cruel guardians, jealous rivals etc). In this case it is being forced to break bounds after the school issues the harsh ban on town visits, and she risks expulsion if discovered. Added to that, Kerry is up against the jealous Hilda who is responsible for that ban in the first place and is now out to destroy her with it. We are not sure if Kerry is going to get away with it, especially as she does not even realise how close Hilda is on her the whole time. Hilda is way too clever to be thrown off the scent and Kerry and Maureen’s efforts to fool her only serve to reinforce her suspicions. Hilda’s motive for destroying Kerry is that she is simply jealous of her talent. Hilda does not have any of her own and therefore can hardly a serious skating rival, which must add to her jealousy. It is to Hilda’s credit, though, that she accepts defeat gracefully: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

In the end it comes down to the old format of extenuating circumstances (rescuing the prefect). Plus the school would not want egg on their faces once the press get hold of the story. After all, it would look very bad for them if they did expel Kerry. We really laud the school governors for taking it in good part and looking on it all as pluck and good publicity for the school. One gets the suspicion that the governors are taking it better than the headmistress is.

Ironically, the double life and the publicity generated once it is discovered would really catapult Kerry’s career as a skater far more than if she had simply competed in the contest and won. There is nothing like a huge sensation to jump-start your career.

 

The Barn [1995]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #226

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

Selfish Susan [1991]

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

Episodes: 9

Artist: Dudley Wynne

Writer: Unknown

Reprints: None known

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie [1974]

  • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy:  #378 (13 April 1974) – #395 (10 Aug. 1974)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #681(2 February 1980)  – #699 (7 June 1980) [First 2 episodes, title is Hateful Hattie!]
  • Reprinted as Hateful Hattie! – Mandy:  #1060 (09 May 1987) – #1077 (05 Sep. 1987)
  • Other Appearances:
    • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy Annual 1976

Plot

In 1905, the girls of Birch House Orphanage are treated cruelly, except for Hattie Taylor, who gets privileges by toadying up to the staff. This particularly maddens Tilly Tucker, an outspoken girl, who leads the chant of “Hateful Hattie” at the dinner table. When they are  overheard by Matron’s second in command, Miss Winters, Tilly takes the full blame and also hits Hattie as she knows she is to be punished anyway and wants to make it worthwhile. Tilly is beaten and locked in the cellar with no food, but a hooded figure leaves her some food and ointment for her bruises. Telling the other girls about this, she nicknames her helper as the “Angel Ghost”. Nobody would suspect that their secret helper is actually Hattie. The only reason Hattie is the staff’s pet is so she can help the other girls, while the staff think she is on their side. Unfortunately because the girls don’t know this, they give “Hateful Hattie” a hard time both by name calling and physical attacks. Hattie won’t tell on them as she doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but of course they think its because she is scared of them.

Life can be difficult for Hattie, she dislikes having to pretend to be nice to the staff and endure the girls’ hateful looks, so she is glad when she is sent on an errand. She goes to the Willoughbys home, who want to arrange to visit Birch House in the hopes of finding an under-nursery maid. Away from Birch House, Hattie can be her genuine pleasant self and after meeting her, the cook recommends Hattie for the job. Having seen the house, Hattie is excited by the prospect as everyone seems happy and well looked after. But being selfless she feels she is needed at Birch House more and turns the job down. She looks for a good candidate herself, knowing the Willoughbys want a cheery girl, she considers Polly at first. She would fit in at Willoughbys but Hattie also realises she has strong spirit and has the ability to last at Birch House. Meanwhile, Florence is more sensitive so Hattie concludes she needs job more and sets out to make sure she gets it. She manage to get money from the matron, and uses it to buy Florence a brooch, then Florence looks naturally happy when Mrs Willoughby comes and succeeds in getting the job.

Hattie continues to help the girls in her role as “Angel Ghost” and also manipulating things in their favour as “Hateful Hattie”. She gets a sick girl Lizzie sent to cellar by claiming she beat her even though it was Tilly. The cellar isn’t much warmer than their dormitory and by providing her with blankets and food, it gives her time to rest and recover from her cough. She helps a girl Mary to get glasses by appealing to the Matron’s greed, telling her Mary could sew good embroidery that they could sell on. She gets Grace new boots that fit, by selling her own. Things don’t always work out, when she tries to manipulate the Matron to not send Alice to the “nightmare house” for spilling coal, she gets a slap herself. She later discovers Matron  she has toothache and is restless, which explained her particular moodiness but it means Hattie is unable to slip in and get the keys from her room. There is nothing she can do to help Alice the night she is locked in the cramped, dark, dog kennel and Alice comes back nearly catatonic. None of the Angel Ghost’s gift seem to help bring her out of this state, until she gets the idea to get her a mouse as a pet she can hide. More problems arise, when a new young girl, Victoria, arrives, Hattie not being able to stand her tears, comforts her but this means Victoria thinks she is friend, Hattie knows this will make her an enemy of others so she needs to turn Victoria against her. This proves difficult as Victoria is loyal to Hattie. The Angel Ghost pays Victoria a visit, saying it was her that made Hattie kind to her, then later Hattie herself  tells Victoria she is stupid and a liar for making up stories about the Angel Ghost, this has the desired effect of ending Victoria’s friendship.

While Birch House is a miserable place, there is something the girls can look forward to as every summer they go hop picking in Kent. Of course Matron and Miss Winters still try to take the joy out of the trip. Firstly, Matron decides Lucy, a new girl is too small and weak to come, luckily Hattie persuades her that she could earn money by gaining the sympathies of other pickers. When they arrive in Kent, Farmer Frost, is as bad as the Birch staff. He gives them huts away from everyone else, therefore any beating won’t be heard. They are also to be locked in at night, the window is stiff and rusted and Hattie is put in charge to make sure no-one tries to open it. By purposely burning herself on stove, she gets some oil and figures Tilly will be smart enough to sneak it from her and use it on the window, so they are able to sneak out and have fun. She also makes sure they get to the summer fair, which works out better than she expected with the arrival of Lady Gilchrist (who is friends with a patron of the orphanage), who treats them to rides at the fair.

Meanwhile, Lucy has gotten the attention of another picker, Mrs Brown, who wants to give her a home. Matron refuses as she wants to keep making money off her. Hattie’s facade drops as can’t hide her hate for Matron’s greed and denying Lucy a loving home. She luckily manages to pass it off as pins and needles, as she knows, if she is to help Lucy, she must keep her temper. It’s a difficult case and she gets a scolding when she tries to push things too quickly. Slipping a note to  Lady Gilchrist’s granddaughter, Caroline inviting her to the dance on the last day of hop picking, she hopes she would be able to help. Matron is not pleased to hear she is coming to dance as she will have to let girls go too, otherwise it might raise questions. By good fortune, Lady Gilchrist comes with Caroline and after hearing the Browns story, she talks to Matron about letting them adopt Lucy, a request she can hardly refuse if she wants to stay on the right side of the gentry.

Returning to Birch House, Matron continues to show how heartless she is, in a particular cruel punishment, after slipping on some polish, that Amy, had left out while scrubbing the floor, she burns the last mementos Amy has of her family. Nothing the Angel Ghost does can get her back to her cheery herself, she even tries to rouse her spirits, as Hateful Hattie by making her angry, but that fails too. She has one other idea, as Angel Ghost she asks Alice, to give Amy her mouse to cheer her up. This idea works as planned, Amy doesn’t want to take Alice’s mouse but says she will borrow him until she feels better. By pretending to be cheerful for Amy, she will get into the habit and also start to treat Alice as a little sister, bringing comfort to them both.

A problem arises when Hateful Hattie gets some competition with the arrival of Creeping Clara. But while Hattie’s behaviour is just an act, Clara really is sly and enjoys telling tales, getting the others  punished. She also tries to get Hattie in trouble as she wants to usurp her place as staff pet. As luck would have it a visit by a patron, Lady Tarrington, provides a solution. She is a tough employer and is looking for a scullery maid, Hattie tricks Clara into fawning over her, so she is taken on for the job. Hattie gets a small reprise from Birch House, when her and Maggie are taken on as extra help for two weeks at the Fitzpatrick house. While she still has to be Hateful Hattie around Maggie, with the help of a lost kitten, she helps Maggie get a permanent job there. When she returns she helps out two sisters Ruby and Ellen, by getting Ruby to be a good influence on Ellen, so she has to control her temper.

With such poor living conditions, it’s no surprise when a number of girls develop colds. Vicky gets it the worse and she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, Hattie knows she won’t be able to slip out for medicine until that night. As punishment for dropping her bowl at breakfast, Vicky is made clear the drive of snow and sent to the cellar at night. Hattie manages to get her hot drink while she’s outside and later gets her medicine but her sickness is getting worse. When Matron and Miss Winters go to check on her, in her fever Vicky talks of the Angel Ghost. Not knowing that the Matron is ready to catch the Angel Ghost, Hattie arrives that evening to check on Vicky. The Matron and Miss Winters are shocked to find the Angel Ghost is Hattie, and not Tilly like they suspected. This makes them even more mad, for she has made fools of them. They give her a severe beating and plan to return to beat her, until her spirit is broken, then they will farm her out to hard task mistress. When Miss Winters comes back to give Hattie her second beating of the night, Hattie is ready and  she slips out with Vicky. Getting to police station, she tells her story before collapsing. They are taken to hospital and a week later a policeman along with the girls comes to visit.  Matron and Miss Winters have been arrested and Birch House has new staff. Hattie can now return to a happy house with the friendships of the girls, no longer will she need to be “Hateful Hattie”.

Thoughts

Thanks to Derek for clarification on the title, the 1987 reprint was just called Hateful Hattie!. Oddly enough the 1980 reprint was also called Hateful Hattie! but only for the first two episodes, perhaps it was used to make the reveal of Hattie’s true intentions more surprising.

There are plenty of stories set around Victorian times, where the heroine would don a  disguise to help poor children,  such as The Seeker, Lady Sarah’s Secret, The Hooded Angel and Shadow of the Backstreets, but they were often in a position of privilege unlike Hattie who is in the same position as those she helps. There has also been protagonists that have acted like they are on the side of the antagonists in order to be in a better position to defeat them, which earns them animosity of those they are secretly helping, such as Callous Cassie and Detestable Della. But again Hattie has it worst, because not only does she get verbal abuse, the girls also physically abuse her, something that she has to hide from the staff as she doesn’t want them to get into trouble. Of course the girls aren’t to know that she is actually an ally, and when we meet “Creeping Clara” we see someone who is actually deserving of such treatment.

A good contrast to Hattie’s methods is Tilly. She is the leader and open protector of the girls but her upfront manner doesn’t help as it only riles the staff more. While her heart is in the right place, usually speaking out just earns herself a beating as well as the other girl.  Hattie tries to counteract this at times, like knowing when Tilly offers to do Lizzie’s work, they would get caught, Hattie plays her hateful self saying she will tell on them unless the both do their share. Hattie does also use Tilly to her advantage, knowing she is smart, she sets thing up so that Tilly can help others. For example, when she gets the oil for the window and when she pretends she doesn’t want food, she knows Tilly will share it out. When it is revealed Hattie is Angel Ghost, Tilly is the first to say they’ll be friends now and as two warmhearted girls, I suspect they become close friends.

While none of the staff at Birch House are very pleasant, it is Matron and Miss Winters that are the worst. As antagonists, they are vile with no redeeming qualities. The Matron is greedy, wanting to make sure she can get as much from the orphans as she can, she has no concern for their well being, she doesn’t care if Vicky dies and has shown even with her “favourite” Hattie, she can hit her too, just because she is in a bad mood. Miss Winters follows suit and has no objection to dishing out punishments. The punishments such as beatings, locking girls in cellar without food is bad enough, but they go even further than that. The small cramped dog kennel,  nicknamed the “nightmare house” is even worse than the cellar, and traumatizing for the girls as evidenced by how Alice is, when she returns from a night in it. Anyone who shows any bit of cheerfulness is quickly beaten down and they show how heartless and maliciousness they can be, by burning Amy’s last photos of her family. Above all they do not like to be outsmarted or made fun of and if Hattie had not escaped, she would have suffered a terrible fate. After their discovery of Hatty, the plan is to send her to a hard taskmaster, but I’m unsure if Hattie would have made it that far, as Miss Winters returned to give her a second  beating of the night, who knows if she would have survived that. It is a relief that Hattie does escape and Matron and Miss Winters get what they deserve.

 

Rosetta and the House of Fear

  • Rosetta and the House of Fear – Mandy: #358 (24 November 1973) – #362 (22 December 1973)
  • Artist: Guy Peeters

Plot

Fourteen year old Rosetta was brought up by gypsies and had found work as a maid at the big house, owned by invalid, Mrs Trevelyan. The house was known as ‘The Towers’ and Rosetta felt drawn to it, but also cautious as she also sensed a mystery surrounding the house and it’s occupants. Joe and Emily Briggs and their daughter Molly, were the only other staff that Mrs Trevelyan had and Rosetta suspected they were trying to swindle the woman after hearing them arguing about money.

Rosetta finding a dress laid out for her tries it on, but is distressed when Mrs Trevelyan is taken ill after seeing her in the dress that had belonged to her dead daughter. When she wants to go apologise to her, Mrs Briggs forbids her. Later when she goes to try and talk to her anyway, she sees Emily Briggs coming out of Mrs Trevelyan’s room and locking the door, she assumes this to keep her out. She wonders what she can do about this, as who would believe the word of a gipsy girl. She decides to go to nursery to think, but then wonders how she knew the room was nursery, and inside the nursery more strange occurrences as she seems to know what a doll is named too.

When Rosetta sees Mrs Briggs, slipping something into Mrs Trevelyan’s food, she decides to slip out and ask her gipsy friends for help. She is too late though as the gipsy camp has moved on and Joe Briggs catches her and brings her back to ‘The Towers’. Despite the Briggs keeping a closer eye on Rosetta, she does manage to switch out the sleeping powder that the Briggs are giving Mrs Trevelyan, with a harmless powder. More luck for Rosetta as she meets Mr Price who is buying old paintings from the house. He tells her how the house used to be a happy place but then Miss Selina, her husband and daughter drowned in an accident. The Briggs came to work for the family soon after, but Mr Trevelyan didn’t like them and then he met with a tragic accident too, killed while riding. After hearing this Rosetta wonders are the Briggs capable of murder and if the only thing stopping them killing Mrs Trevelyan too was in case the house was sold by whoever inherited it.

No longer being drugged Mrs Trevelyan is up and about and Joe Briggs is quick to steer  her away from Rosetta. Later Mrs Trevelyan collapses again and Rosetta finds a syringe nearby. The next day, Rosetta is waiting for the injection to wear off so she can talk with Mrs Trevelyan. Molly is hanging around mocking Rosetta’s gipsy heritage, she mentions that she could be a lady if her family could solve a riddle –  “I lie beneath the sun, yet am always in darkness. Time passes over me, yet I never grow old. Where am I?” Rosetta has heard that riddle before and spends the day pondering it. Still her priority is to talk with Mrs Trevelyan so when she sees an opportunity she goes for it, only to be caught by Joe Briggs and thrown in the cellar. In the celler she finds a chest with album in it. She is drawn to a photo of Selina and her family, feeling like she knows them…

The Briggs don’t keep her locked up in the cellar, they plan to work her hard with no food and lock her in her room at night. Rosetta thinks the only way to escape is to solve the riddle. Looking out of her window at night she figures out that the riddle refers to the sundial. She manages to slip away and finds a hidden compartment in the sundial containing Mrs Trevelyan’s will. Unfortunately this was all part of the Briggs plan, to get her to find the will, so they can change it and now having done what they needed from her they plan to get rid of her for good! Luckily her gipsy family arrives in time to stop them. Magda also shows her the pinafore they found her in which has the Trevelyan family symbol on it. Rosetta is Mrs Trevelyan’s granddaughter and now that the Briggs have been exposed, she and her grandmother can start making ‘The Towers’ a happy place to live again.

Thoughts

Here we have some common story elements; scheming characters trying to get inheritance and a girl finding out she is a long lost relative (such as in ‘The Secret of Hardwick Hall’). Considering the potential for playing with and expanding on these elements, the story seems  unusually short at only 5 episodes. For the most part this does help keep the pace quick and still covers all that we need to know. It’s quickly established that the Briggs are shady characters, and becomes apparent that they are keeping Mrs Trevelyan in a state of illness. Meanwhile Rosetta finding she somehow knows things about the house, coupled with the story of the family drowning, it is obvious that she will turn out to be the grandchild. There is a nice touch with the Briggs needing Rosetta to figure out the riddle (although it doesn’t seem they were aware of her connection to the house). It shows their cunning by getting Molly to mention the riddle, then watching Rosetta to see where she goes.

So while the story keeps things interesting and fast moving, the last episode could have been expanded on more, especially as Rosetta escapes the Briggs through a deus ex machina! The gipsies show up to help, not because Rosetta got message to them or some other set up, just Magda’s crystal ball suddenly telling them they needed to return. Then she explains about finding Rosetta half drowned as a child. We don’t get to see Rosetta react to this news or even the reunion with her grandmother as the last 2 panels just cut to a few days later with Rosetta and Mrs Trevelyan waving the gipsies off. While Rosetta showed concern for the old lady throughout the story, because the Briggs tried to keep them apart, we never see a relationship build between them. The ending could have taken the time to establish the connection and end on a more emotional note.

 

Gemma’s Jewels [1983]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #65

Artist: Rodney Sutton

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Gemma Gable helps out at the Yellowbridge Youth Club. She is dismayed when vicar puts her in charge of four rough-looking girls from a rundown area that has been demolished: Crystal, Ruby, Pearl and Opal. Oh, please don’t judge them by their appearances, says the vicar. Underneath that rough exterior they’ve got hearts of gold and are positive jewels.

In other words, the Jewels are diamonds in the rough.

Well, life sure isn’t dull with the Jewels around. Straight off the bat they demand the club put on disco music so they can have some action. At least everyone seems to be enjoying the dancing.

Afterwards the Jewels ask Gemma that they are broke and need money. They earn Gemma’s respect when they say they don’t want to bother their parents, who are financially taxed already. At their old home it was easy for them to get market jobs, but there is little call for that in Yellowbridge. Moreover, Yellowbridge shopkeepers don’t employ under-fifteens, not even for Saturday jobs. This means job hunting will be harder for them in their new locality.

Dad suggests fixing Crystal up with a job at Aunt Daphne’s guesthouse. However, Crystal proves too loud and rambunctious and keeps imposing her own ideas on how the guesthouse should be run. Although Crystal’s style is popular with the guests, Aunt Daphne lets Crystal go before she’s even finished the washing up.

Next, Gemma notices Ruby has a flair for design and fixes her up with a job as publicity assistant with Councillor Coombes for his road safety campaign. Ruby’s creativity lends tremendous weight to the campaign and Coombes is impressed. Unfortunately Ruby is also a walking disaster area, so she ends up creating a real mess that Councillor Coombes’ house-proud wife is furious to see. Ruby and Gemma end up quietly slipping out while a row erupts over it, though Coombes is still impressed with Ruby’s creativity.

Gemma’s old headmistress, Miss Cromarty, enquires about somebody to help her with a move. Gemma decides to try out Opal for the job, because she is the quiet one (that’s a bit of a surprise!) in the Jewels gang. Miss Cromarty sets Opal to sorting out her books in alphabetical order, and if she works out, take her on as research assistant for writing her memoirs. However, Opal is such a bookworm that she gets lost in reading the books instead of sorting them – and Miss Cromarty is just the same. Gemma realises that nothing will ever get done between them because they both get sidetracked with reading.

Now it’s Pearl’s turn. Gemma tries her out on a landscaping job, figuring that Pearl will be compatible with the employer, Jamie, as neither is too fussy about their clothes. Unfortunately it turns out Pearl is not compatible with the plants – they give her horrible allergies of all descriptions.

All for Jewels have proved totally unsuitable for the jobs they tried and Gemma does not know of any other jobs. After a discussion the same jobs are given another go, but with different Jewels. Opal will try the guesthouse job, Crystal the publicity assistant job, Pearl the Miss Cromarty memoir job, and Ruby the landscaping job.

The results:

Aunt Daphne is very impressed with Opal and her impressive manners with the guests. This is because Opal is drawing inspiration from a book she is reading about a Victorian maid.

Crystal adopts the costume and persona of “Roadie the Robot” to teach road safety in her own words while being as loud as she likes.

Thanks to Pearl, Miss Cromarty is making strides in writing her memoirs, which will be called “I Learned More than I Taught”.

Ruby is not only marvellous at the landscaping job but is also applying her creativity to developing her own talent for landscaping.

Gemma tells her father that now she has learned about not judging by appearances. When the vicar first brought the Jewels to her, she expected nothing but trouble (which she got, but not in the way she thought!). But Gemma’s so relieved the Jewels have been sorted out successfully and she can concentrate on the youth club barbeque. All four Jewels help out and give Gemma the best sausage to say “thanks”.

The vicar is very impressed with how successful Gemma was with the Jewels. In fact, he is so impressed that he brings her another set of rough-looking kids from the same area for her to help in the same way. Say hello to Mike, Gabriel (Gabe for short) and Luke (Lucifer) – the “Fallen Angels”!

Thoughts

Straight off the bat we are told how this story will go. It’s going to be an exploration of the morals in not being quick to judge. But just how this will pan out with these wild-looking girls remains to be seen during the course of the story.

As we get to know the Jewels, we can see the morals are going in a romp that’s full of hijinks, embarrassment, surprises and laughs. Crystal is loud and boisterous. She sweeps some fresh air into the stuffy guesthouse, but it’s too much for the stuffy aunt. Far from being rough, Ruby is a creative, helpful girl. The trouble is, she’s so clumsy and accident-prone, and everywhere she goes she causes disaster. In the case of Opal, we have to wonder why she looks so rough when she turns out to be a quiet girl who would spend hours with her nose in a book given half the chance. Maybe it’s the rundown locality the Jewels lived in before. Pearl just likes being scruffy and isn’t too bothered with her clothes.

The hijinks of the Jewels are brought off brilliantly with the artwork. It’s a sharp but fluid style that lends itself well to zaniness, humour and drama all at the same time.

The introduction of the Fallen Angels right at the end is a twist that has the reader laughing and ensures the story does not end on a trite “happily ever after” note. There’s just no peace for the wicked, is there, Gemma? One can only hope the vicar knows what he’s doing with the Fallen Angels too. As well as looking rough, they don’t look too friendly when they meet Gemma.

 

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.

secret life dana2

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.

secret life dana3

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.

secret life dana4

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.

secret life of dana

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.

secret life dana5

 

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.

Where are the Children 2

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.

Where are the Children 4

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.

Where are the Children 1

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.