Tag Archives: Bullying

The Boy Next Door [1989]

  • The Boy Next Door –  Judy: #1528 (22 April 1989) – #1537 (24 June 1989)
  • Artist: John Armstrong

Plot

Charlene Hodge is thrilled when the boy she has a crush on,  Marcus Dolby, asks her out, but then he goes away to France on an exchange school visit, and Charlene is left waiting anxiously for his return. Meanwhile, Dave Webb, the class wimp,  moves into the house next door to Charlene. She isn’t too happy about this, but when she hears Dave’s older brother mocking him, she invites Dave to her party, in order to shut him up. Afterwards she worries what she will do if Dave actually shows up and how it will look to her friends. Luckily Dave doesn’t appear, as he knows she only invited him to make him look better in front of his brother. He also says he knows no girl would be interested in him, Charlene says he shouldn’t be so wet and actually try to ask a girl out. He invites her to go bird watching with him and after some hesitation Charlene agrees, figuring no one will see them that early in the morning. She is surprised to find she enjoys herself spending time with Dave. So she realises he is not so bad and she decides to try and find him a girlfriend.

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This doesn’t prove to be an easy task, especially as at first she still doesn’t want to appear too friendly with Dave in case she gets teased. Also she’s worried in case Marcus finds out and gets the wrong idea. After deciding to help Dave it seems she becomes more aware of how unfair people treat Dave. While it doesn’t seem like she was maliciously involved with teasing before hand, it didn’t seem to occur to her before how much Dave is bullied. Mr Dimchurch, one of the teachers is particularly harsh on him and certainly these days no teacher would get away with what he says and putting Dave down in front of the whole class. Charlene at first thinks if she can get Dimchurch to treat Dave with more respect, others will follow suit. Her efforts don’t go well as Dave’s clumsiness just make things worse. Hearing the rest of the class teasing him, Charlene thinks she is no better than the others, as even though she is not taking part in the teasing, she is ashamed to be seen with Dave. It is after this she becomes more active and open in her friendship with Dave

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Charlene talks to her friend, Jane,  about why no-one gives Dave a chance, saying it’s what’s inside that matters not appearances. Jane points out that Charlene wouldn’t have taken a second look at Marcus if he wasn’t so good looking, so Charlene tries to smarten Dave.  She encourages him to buy new clothes but then feels terrible when she finds out he sold his computer games cheaply in order to get a new shirt (that gets messed up when he trips while bird watching). Clearly Charlene’s opinion of him matters to Dave and he makes conscious effort to return her friendship. When some boys snatches Charlene’s postcard from Marcus, Dave actually steps in to try and get it back for her, while he doesn’t stand up for himself, he clearly likes Charlene, so he doesn’t want to see her bullied. This is an important step for him as it may lead him to talk up against his own bullies too.

All the while, Charlene is on the look out for a girlfriend for Dave, she thinks she finds a good match with Hayley who is also a bird lover, but again a boat ride ends in disaster. She also returns home and finds out Marcus rang, but her dad said she was out with the boy next door. She again worries what Marcus must think, but she decides that as long as Dave has a girlfriend by time Marcus is back, then Marcus will see there’s nothing to worry about. So her next plan to find Dave a girlfriend is to get Dave to join the choir, as there is a shortage. While Dave’s not a singer, he does have a talent for whistling, so she convinces Dimchurch to add in his whistling for a song. She also sees this as an opportunity to build bridges between him and his family. But on the night of the concert  it is another disaster – because of time restraints the song is cut and Dave trips getting off the stage.

Boy next door4Again after this incident, Charlene is the only one that cares about how Dave is afterwards. Later she enlists Dave’s help to rescue a girl’s pet bird and it appears she has finally found a potential girlfriend for him as the grateful girl likes him, but she hasn’t taken into consideration that Dave only fancies one girl now…

Dave then buys her tickets for open air concert she was interested in, even though it’s not really his scene. Before Charlene can answer  Marcus arrives, home earlier than expected. While Dave admits his feelings for her, he wants her to be happy and gives her and Marcus the tickets. At the concert Charlene tries to put Dave out of her mind and enjoy her time with Marcus. Then when he asks her to get her a burger, she returns to hear him saying how Dave was no competition and she is like all the other girls that will come running when he snaps his fingers. Charlene wonders what she saw in such a big head and let’s him know what she thinks of him by pushing his burger into his face. She then goes to apologise to Dave and see if he will give her a chance as she now knows who she would like to be her boyfriend.

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Thoughts

As a romance story this is well done as we see Charlene and Dave build up a friendship before they begin dating. What makes it more interesting is the theme of bullying throughout. While the story is told from Charlene’s point of view, it is interesting to see t Dave undergoes the trials that are usually reserved for the main protagonist. He deals with bullies and bully teachers, a lack of confidence and clumsiness. While Charlene gets a little teasing for hanging around with Dave and trying to help him – it is nowhere near the amount of bullying that Dave has to face daily. It’s no wonder he has little confidence, as not only do his peers tease him, his whole family are down on him too, until Charlene comes along there seems to be no one that believes in his potential. Charlene also realises while she isn’t active in the bullying, she also doesn’t do anything to help Dave. After this realisation, she makes a conscious effort to help him and openly be his friend and try to get others to respect him too. Having an ally also helps Dave try new things too and stand up to bullies (even if it’s on Charlene’s behalf rather than his own).

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It is easy to see why Dave falls for Charlene, as she is the only person that has tried to help him and is actually nice to him. He does seem to appreciate her for herself as well and while he has hopes that they might start dating,  he is smart enough to figure out she is trying to get him a different girlfriend.  As for Charlene early on she sees Dave’s  good qualities, when she actually spends time with him. While at first she is still nervous about being seen with him, around other people, she does become more active in helping him. While her plan is to get Dave a girlfriend, she does suspect that it is her she likes, but she figures he’ll forget about her once he has a new girlfriend. Although she does make an attempt to “improve” Dave getting him to buy better clothes, etc she doesn’t disparage his actual interests and does try to find him a girlfriend with similar interests. Equally Dave makes an effort with what he knows Charlene enjoys by buying her concert tickets when it’s not really his thing.

While Charlene is worried that Marcus will get the wrong idea about her and Dave, it doesn’t occur to her that he thinks so little of Dave, that he believes there’s no competition. This again shows Charlene’s good character and that she values Dave as a person. Although she initially was attracted to Marcus because of his looks, finding out what he is really like brings home the truth to  her that appearances don’t matter and also liking Dave as a person she also sees him as more attractive on the outside by the end.  John Armstrong does good job with the distinguished characters from Marcus’s smug looks and Dave’s clumsiness (without Dave becoming cartoonish). The story is well paced, both Charlene and Dave are likeable characters and it has some good lessons about bullying and perceived attractiveness.

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

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Lucky Charm: #25

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

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

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

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Plot (long)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

List of Appearances:

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

Other Appearances:

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

 

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

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

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

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Bad Luck Barbara

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

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Witch!

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

Artist: Edmond Ripoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Luck Barbara 3

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!

I’ll Get Rid of Rona! (1980)

I'll Get Rid of Rona logo

Published: Tracy: #43 (26 July 1980) to #53 (04 October 1980)

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Two years previously Orphan Rona Parrish had been very happy at Sunnyhills Children’s Home until she was wrongly convicted of theft (the exact circumstances of which are not discussed). Since then, she had been forced to move from children’s home to children’s home and from school to school as the stigma follows her around and people provoke her into “rebellious behaviour” when they bully her over her record. Currently these are the girls at her latest school. They call her a borstal brat, accuse her of stealing their belongings and such, and provoke her into lashing out at them. The lashing out keeps getting Rona  into trouble with the school authorities. The matron of Rona’s current home knows what is going on, but her advice to try to ignore the teasing is not very helpful.

Rona 1

When the girls’ bullying gets Rona suspended, Matron and a social worker named Miss Gregory come up with the idea of fostering Rona out to the Marchant family, in the hope that a fresh start in a locality where nobody knows her past will help. Rona jumps at it. The Marchant parents are very understanding about Rona’s past and agree not to tell their daughter Gwen or even the staff at the new school about it. When Rona arrives, she gets the immediate impression she will be happy at the Marchants’ home.

But already forces are working against Rona. Gwen seems friendly enough to Rona, but in secret she resents having a “strange brat” for a sister. And when she snoops into a confidential letter from Miss Gregory and discovers Rona’s secret, she decides it’s the limit. She sets out to get rid of Rona, figuring that Rona’s record will make it easier.

At home Gwen pulls discreet but dirty tricks to give her parents the impression that Rona is careless, untrustworthy and things always seem to get lost or stolen around her. She also gets Rona into trouble in public incidents, such as hooliganism and stealing on a paper round. At school, where Gwen has to say that Rona is her cousin from Canada, Gwen pilfers items from classmates with the intention of putting the blame on Rona when she is ready. This soon has everyone on the alert for a thief at school. Gwen is pleased to hear the other girls whispering that they suspect Rona is the thief and not Gwen’s cousin from Canada either. When Mrs Marchant hears about the thieving at school she also begins to suspect Rona, much to Gwen’s delight.

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Things get worse for Rona when Peggy Malone joins the school. She is a delinquent and a troublemaker, and everyone soon realises she is a girl to avoid. Peggy also knows Rona’s secret because they were at the same remand home together while Rona was awaiting trial. Peggy starts blackmailing Rona, forcing her to do her homework, buy her cigarettes, do after-school work for her and be her “friend”, which makes Rona unpopular with the other girls. Gwen discovers that Peggy has a hold over Rona and decides to enlist Peggy’s help in getting rid of her.

So through Peggy, Gwen tricks Rona into selling Peggy’s aunt’s jewels and make it look like she stole them. Peggy had agreed to Gwen’s plan in anticipation that she would get money from the sale. But the jeweller gets suspicious and calls the police. The police and Miss Gregory are called in. Rona realises too late that Peggy tricked her while the police think that Rona and Peggy are in it together. However, Gwen’s plan has misfired a bit as she thought the jeweller would call her parents instead of the police, and as there has been no sale she has no money to pay Peggy with. So Gwen gives Peggy her Post Office savings instead, on condition that Peggy disappears without telling on her. The police find out about Peggy running off, which does make her look guilty, and Peggy can’t be questioned over the matter. Things now look even blacker for Rona.

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Gwen has been keeping the items she stole from school in her Box of Secrets. She gloats over them, thinking she won’t have a foster sister much longer. But the police start a search for the stolen items at the Marchants’ home before Gwen realised what they were looking for. This means she did not get the chance to plant them on Rona; they are still in the Box of Secrets. The police find the box and insist on taking a look inside. Gwen tries to stop them by throwing the key out the window, but Dad gets his toolbox to force it open (can’t the police pick the lock?). They find not only the stolen items but also Gwen’s diary – which has all the details of her scheming against Rona and consorting with Peggy.

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The subsequent fates of Peggy and Gwen are not recorded. Presumably they include expulsion and criminal charges.

The Marchants hope Rona will still stay with them, but she declines because she would never be able to forget what Gwen did. So Gwen does succeed in getting rid of Rona, who goes to stay with Miss Gregory while a new start is worked out. Then a letter arrives from Sunnyhills, which says Rona’s name has been cleared as another girl has confessed to the crime she was convicted of (rather belated, as it is two years after the event). Rona is free to return to Sunnyhills, and is thrilled to do so. When she arrives she gets a huge welcome from all the other children in the home.

Thoughts

Stories of spiteful girls who play dirty tricks to get rid of a foster girl/cousin because they are jealous, resentful or don’t want to share have been churned out in quantity at DCT. Examples include “The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina/The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee” (Mandy), “What Lila Wants…” (M&J) and “Sharing with Sonia” (Bunty).

It is unusual, though, to combine the “spiteful foster sister/cousin” premise with the blackmailer premise. Rona has not just one but two enemies working against her – one to get rid of her and one to blackmail her. And then they combine forces against her! Having both a schemer and a blackmailer against Rona puts her through far more than what a protagonist would usually go through with either premise. Added to that, Rona has had a hard time for two years, what with being wrongly convicted and then being bullied over it, which nearly gets her unfairly expelled at her old school – more injustice! Throwing the wrongful conviction premise into the mix as well certainly makes the story a far more gripping one than it would be if it was just a routine “spiteful stepsister/cousin” story.

Rona

The matron and the headmistress at Rona’s old locality must take some of the blame Rona’s “rebellious” behaviour for handling the situation badly and not taking action to stop the bullying that provokes it. Matron knows about it, but just gives Rona unhelpful advice. She does not speak up for Rona at the school and tell the headmistress to sort out the bullies. But at least the decision to get Rona away from it all in foster care was an inspired one, and would have worked out brilliantly if it hadn’t been for Gwen and Peggy. It is a bit strange that Rona stands up to the bullies at school (albeit in an aggressive manner that gets her into constant trouble) but does not stand up to Peggy at all. When Rona is caught with the jewels, she does not even try to explain about the blackmail to Miss Gregory, who knows what Peggy is like because she is on her case files.

The Marchant parents must take some of the blame for Gwen’s resentment of Rona. The fact that Gwen felt they foisted Rona onto her does suggest they did not consult Gwen or consider her feelings as much as they could have. And having Gwen tell everyone at school that Rona is her cousin from Canada is totally unfair, because that is asking both her and Rona to live a lie. And how long would it be before someone sees through that lie anyway? Surely it would have been quite sufficient and honest enough to just say that Rona is a foster sister.

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But the fact remains that Gwen was not only spiteful but hypocritical too. She secretly riles against having a “thief” for a foster sister, yet she becomes a thief herself in her scheming against Rona, consorts with a criminal, and has no compunction or guilt about it. When she is caught out, she merely looks furious. There are no tears or shame at all. So it is not surprising and completely realistic that Rona chooses not to stay after she discovers Gwen’s plotting. So many “spiteful stepsister/cousin” stories have ended with the troublemaker being glibly forgiven and becoming best friends with the girl she tried to get rid of (e.g. Mandy’s “That Bad Bettina!”). Still, those were cases where the troublemaker did repent, whereas Gwen did not.

The sudden confession from the true thief at the end comes across as a bit contrived and too convenient. It has been two years since the crime and the thief did nothing to clear Rona in all that time – but now, all of a sudden, she does. Still, we must have a happy ending all round.

 

“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.

I'll Take Care of Tina panel 1

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.

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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.

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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.

Misty Short Stories II

In a follow-up to Lorrsadmin’s discussion of 15 of her favourite Misty short stories, I am going to discuss 10 of the Misty stories that have really stuck with me. Some of my favourite short stories, “Mr Walenski’s Secret”, “Don’t Look Now!”, “Room for One More”, “Fancy Another Jelly Baby?”, “Prisoner in the Attic” and “The Evil Djinn”, have been omitted here as Lorrsadmin has already discussed them. For this reason, I am not going to discuss the following stories in order of preference.

1: The Girl Who Walked on Water

Misty: #35

Artist: José Canovas

Writer: Barry Clements (?)

Plot

Nancy Pierce has caused her parents so much trouble that they have disowned her and dumped her on Social Services. Social Services are making no headway with Nancy, so they send her to Mrs West, who has an “astonishing” success rate at reforming delinquents. Mrs West keeps photographs of Nancy’s predecessors on the mantelpiece; Nancy attacks photographs when she hears those girls have all reformed. But this does not affect the calm, unruffled Mrs West in the slightest, nor do any other attempts to annoy her.

While walking on the beach, Nancy is amazed to see a girl walking on the water. When Nancy tackles her about how she does it, the girl says to leave her alone. Mrs West denies any knowledge about the girl walking on water.

Nancy keeps an eye out for the girl. When she reappears, Nancy rows up to her, and recognises her as one of Mrs West’s girls from the photographs. The girl warns Nancy not to pursue the question of how she can walk on water, for it is not the good thing it appears to be. But Nancy persists and resorts to force to get what she wants out of her. The girl says it is the shoes, which she forced off another Mrs West girl in the same manner that Nancy is doing now. Still not listening to the girl’s warnings that she will regret it, Nancy makes her remove the shoes.

When Nancy puts on the shoes, she is thrilled to be walking on water. But then she discovers the catch – the shoes do make her walk on water, but they also make her sink on land. And now the shoes will not come off, which means Nancy is now trapped on the water. She will remain so until the next Mrs West girl comes along and, in turn, force her to remove the shoes. When that happens, Nancy will be free and add to Mrs West’s astonishing success rate. As the girl goes up to Mrs West’s house, the lady takes down her photograph and replaces it with Nancy’s.

Girl Who Walked on Water panel copy

Thoughts

The story falls into the category of what I call “The Greed Trap”. An unsavoury person is lured by greed to an object, place or power. Too late they discover it is a trap. They become its prisoner until the next unsavoury person arrives (if they ever do) and replaces them by falling into the same trap. The concept has been used in several Misty stories, such as “Full Circle” and “The Final Piece”. But what makes this story so striking is how it turns the whole concept of walking on water inside out. We all know the story of Jesus walking on water, and how the feat has been hailed as a miracle. So it is a real twist here to see the concept walking on water being turned on its head to become a punishment instead of a miracle.

It’s also slightly different from the usual greed trap stories, where the trap catches the person completely unawares. Here Nancy had plenty of warning – from the girl. We also suspect she had a chance to change at Mrs West’s house (everything free and easy, nice place in a beach setting, the lady being kind and not getting wound up by Nancy’s misbehaviour). But Nancy did not heed any of it and so she went on to suffer Mrs West’s special treatment. Still, at least Nancy will one day regain her freedom and start a new life as a reformed girl. This is not the case with the delinquent girl in our next story…

2: The Treatment

Misty: #75

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

Glenda Barton is a problem girl and her parents have sent her to Country Park Corrective School. It is not a bad place; many of the other inmates seem to like it and respond to its therapy. But the school’s methods make no headway with Glenda and she wants to escape. She gets no help from the other girls, but the cook agrees to help her in exchange for money. But in fact Cook let her out on orders on the staff, who have decided she needs “The Treatment”, which the school reserves for incorrigible cases like her. When Glenda enters a wooded area Cook directed her to, The Treatment begins: She undergoes a terrifying transformation into a tree. A strange plant then releases a duplicate of Glenda to the staff. This Glenda is completely different in personality, and she will be the ‘reformed’ Glenda for her parents to take home. The Treatment is the bargain they have made with the plant: send in hopeless cases to be “adopted by the woods” in exchange for good-natured doubles.

The Treatment panel copy

Thoughts

Glenda had her chance to reform at the corrective school, as many of the other girls have done, without resorting to “The Treatment”. Indeed, many of Misty’s unpleasant characters are given a chance to change (warnings for example). But like most of them, Glenda persists with her unpleasant ways. So it’s comeuppance Misty style, and there is no mercy or release for the girl this time.

Perhaps the strongest point of this story is its most frightening moment at the climax and the artwork that renders it – Glenda’s transformation into the tree. It begins with her hand, spreads across her body, and she screams for help until she is fully transformed and then there is only silence until the staff come for her double. But the most disturbing part of all is the terrified face that remains on the trunk, in wooden form. We even see what could be beads of sweat on it in the final panel of the story. We are left wondering if that face in the final panel was her last expression before she was fully transformed, or if it is actually looking on in horror and helplessness as her double takes her place. We are never told what happens to her mind after her transformation, and we are left to ponder whether or not it is still functioning, trapped in the tree form. If her mind is still working, could she be finally thinking about changing her ways, but too late? At any rate, there is no release from this trap for problem girls.

3: The Chase

Misty: #40

Artist: Douglas Perry

Plot

Two pet fish, Sammy and Joey, always seem to be chasing each other around the tank as if they are playing tag. One day Sammy is found floating, with a gash in his side. The protagonist (no name is given) feeds Joey while saying she can’t play with him as Sammy could and he must miss Sammy a lot. Then Joey stares at her in an odd, hypnotic manner. She goes all dizzy and then finds herself in the fish tank with Joey. She agrees to play tag, and she will be “he”. But when she suggests they swap, Joey chases her in a killer-fish manner and puts a gash in her leg. The protagonist now realises it isn’t a game of tag; Joey is out to kill her and this was how Sammy went. When Joey corners the protagonist, she throws a stone at him. This stuns Joey and frees the protagonist from his spell. She finds herself back in the living room in a badly shaken state. Her mother thinks she just had a nightmare and she goes out for fresh air to recover. Then she finds the gash in her leg and realises it really happened. Then the protagonist hears her mother making a comment that has her realise that Joey is now staring at her mother in the same hypnotic manner, and she starts screaming after her…

The Chase panel copy

Thoughts

Misty had several stories showing that even animals considered small and harmless (rabbits, snails, tadpoles) can strike horror, terror or revulsion if handled the right way. And here it is the turn of goldfish. Goldfish are supposed to be harmless fish for you admire every time you see a tank full of them. You would never consider them to be dangerous or killers. But this is precisely what happens in this story and shows that a fish does not need to be a shark or piranha to be a killer fish rivalling “Jaws”. Once Joey has the protagonist in the tank, he sure looks like Jaws in the way he bares his teeth when he chases her around the tank and puts the gash in her leg.

4: Sticks and Stones

Artist: John Richardson

Misty: #9

Plot

Joan Cook is a nasty poison pen gossip columnist. All she cares about is making a name for herself with her poison pen and she really enjoys hurting people with the names she calls them. The editor knows this and is concerned, but does not really deal with her despite the trouble her poison pen has caused for him. Meanwhile, Joan’s shelves are groaning with files on all the dirt on people she has collected over the years. Her assistant Carol warns her that the shelves are dangerously overloaded from the files and could collapse at any time. But Joan won’t hear of pruning the collection, saying they are her life’s blood and will make a name for her. They will only go when she does.

A crossed wire enables Joan to overhear a conversation that Dr Garrett, a top scientist, is making with his assistant. The assistant asks how things are coming along with Gert, but Garrett makes a guarded answer. Based on this conversation, Joan writes a smear piece on Garrett, saying he is having an affair with a woman called Gert while his wife is sick in hospital. This makes life hell for Garrett’s daughter Marilyn, who gets targeted by nasty gossips and bullies at school and on the street. Marilyn tries to fall on the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. But as the bullying continues, she finds it is far from the truth – names can and do hurt. Marilyn’s friend Anne sticks by her, saying there must be a logical explanation. And there is – G.E.R.T. is the acronym for the machine her father has developed for treating her mother, and it proves successful too.

Meanwhile, the adage “names will never hurt me” bites Joan as well. Her groaning shelves finally collapse – right on top of her – and she gets crushed to death under all the files of the names of people she has collected dirt on.

Sticks and Stones panel copy

Thoughts

Does this one remind you of the popular cartoon joke where someone defiantly says to a heckler “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – and then they get hit by a dictionary? The joke has cropped up in Garfield and Wizard of Id among others. The old adage is a fallacy – words not only hurt as much as sticks and stones but they can also destroy your own name and even your life.

Other word-related adages are played on as well. One is “famous last words”, where Joan says she is staking her life that she got her facts straight on Garrett. She didn’t (as usual) and does lose her life. Another is “eating your words”, where Joan says she will go when her files do – and that is precisely what happens.

Using a gossip columnist for the comeuppance makes a nice change from the usual bullies, problem children, abusers and thieves. And who wouldn’t want a poison pen columnist to get it? The beauty is that Misty shows she can give someone a comeuppance without any supernatural or SF elements at all. Instead, Joan brings about her own destruction by her lack of common sense as much as her nastiness.

5: The Purple Emperor

Misty: #12

Artist: Isidro Mones

Plot

Betty regards butterflies as nothing more than specimens for her butterfly collection and the more rare they are, the greater her triumph. Betty’s kinder sister Sharon is horrified at how cruel she is to butterflies. Betty becomes obsessed at catching a Purple Emperor for her collection. When Sharon saves one from her, Betty further demonstrates her cruelty by slapping Sharon’s face and threatening to tear wings off a Purple Emperor just to spite her. Betty sets out on another attempt to catch a Purple Emperor, but has an accident and hits her head. She then has a terrifying experience (or dream from the blow on her head?) of a giant who is a Purple Emperor. He captures her with a butterfly net and throws her into a killing jar to suffocate and be added to his collection. She starts screaming that she must be imagining it and begs to wake up soon…

Purple Emperor panel copy

Thoughts

The story of the horrible butterfly-collecting girl who becomes a specimen herself and suffocates in a killing jar is one that has struck a cord in fandom. It is still mentioned in many Misty discussions. The artwork certainly helps to bring it off. The splash panel of Betty gloating evilly over a butterfly as she is about to stick a pin in it, and speaking her triumph in a jagged speech balloon rather than a regular one tells it all – the horror, the cruelty, the disregard for the life or beauty of nature, and what sort of comeuppance is in store. This panel takes the cover spot, which must have helped the story to endure in readers’ memory. Printing the story in full colour further enhances it. We can see the beauty of the butterflies in full colour, and the Purple Emperor giant in all his purple glory. He would have been far less effective if it had been in the usual black-and-white pages.

6: The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Misty: #78

Artist: John Armstrong

Plot

In an earlier period, Katey Malden is being bullied because her father is the local gravedigger. The bullying gets so bad that Katey runs off. By the time she is found she has contracted pneumonia, for which there was then no cure. Before she dies, she whispers something to her father.

The whole town turns out for the funeral, with people expressing regret that they did not take action against the bullying. The bullies themselves are remorseful except for the ringleader, Mary Douglas. The other bullies tell Mary go to Katey’s grave, lay down some flowers they give her and beg forgiveness, or they will never speak to her again. Mary goes to the grave and puts the flowers on it, but only to please the other girls. She has no intention of asking forgiveness and that is what she says at the grave. Then a hand shoots out of the grave Carrie-style and strangles Mary. Her body is found the next day. People think she died of fright, but Mr Malden guesses the truth, because the last thing Katey said to him was: “I shall never, never forgive!”

Gravediggers Daughter panel copy

Thoughts

Misty ran a lot of complete stories on the seriousness of bullying, but even she seldom went as far as to touch on the most extreme consequence of bullying – when it leads to the victim’s death. But that is the case here. The victim dies because of the bullying. We hear of it so often in the news, but seldom did it appear in the comics. So this sets the story apart more from Misty’s other stories about bullying.

Misty certainly is not going to allow the chief bully to get away with causing someone’s death, especially as the bully does not feel in the least bit guilty about it. And can the mere laying of flowers on the grave really right the wrong done to the victim or earn forgiveness for the bully? It does not sound likely. On the other hand, would a genuine show of contrition have brought forgiveness, since Katey had vowed with her dying breath never to forgive the bullies? Or would Katey have killed Mary anyway, regardless of her attitude at the grave? With this possibility in mind, it makes a better story to keep the chief bully an unsympathetic character that has no remorse for the death her bullying caused. The arm shooting out of the grave is a bit clichéd, but the artwork of John Armstrong really brings it off in the expression on Mary’s face as the hand throttles her.

7: Vengeance is Green…

Misty: #15

Artist: José Ariza

Plot

Nobody cares for Nina Parker. Girls bully her at school, the teachers don’t listen or intervene, and there is no help from her callous gran either. One day during the bullying, Nina finds an ivy plant that also got damaged from the bullies. She takes it home, pots it up, and starts caring for it as her only friend. Her gran is scornful, but the ivy begins to thrive. Nina finds that talking to the plant makes it grow faster and she pours out her bullied heart to it. One day the bullies overhear her and pounce. Then the ivy attacks the ringleader, Marion, and threatens to choke her. To save Marion, Nina is forced to destroy the ivy, her only friend.

Vengeance is Green panel copy

Thoughts

The comeuppance of the ivy attacking the bully is no surprise because of the buildup (talking to the plant, telling it all about the bullying, caring for it, looking for sympathy from it, and the plant thriving under it all). What is a surprise, and also a heart-breaking twist, is that Nina is forced to destroy her only friend with her own hands to save the bully, who would have been killed otherwise. One sure hopes the bully appreciated it and left Nina alone after that.

8: Monster of Greenacres

Misty: #85

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Greenacres is being terrorised by a strange madman who kills people and police are completely baffled as to his identity. He seemed to start by merely making a nuisance of himself, but once people got more used to it, he stepped up to murder after murder. Nobody is more scared of him than Polly. When she has a narrow escape from him, it drives her and her family out of Greenacres. This starts a stampede where everybody flees Greenacres to get away from the madman and it turns into a ghost town. There is nothing and nobody left in Greenacres but the killer himself – who is the scarecrow on the farm where Polly and her parents lived. The scarecrow did what he did because he just likes to scare and doesn’t know where to stop. But now there is nobody and nothing left for him to scare.

Monster of Greenacres panel copy

Thoughts

Here Misty portrays an evil that never gets destroyed. How can the police possibly figure out that the murderer is a scarecrow? There is no supernatural force of any sort that comes in and destroys him either. And the irony is that it is the scarecrow on the property where Polly lives – the one who fears him most. And it was his attempt to scare Polly that triggered the stampede that leaves the scarecrow with nobody left to scare. He has become a victim of his own success and presumably stands on the old farm bored stiff because he has left himself with nothing to scare. He has created his own punishment. It is not on the same level as him being destroyed and Greenacres becoming safe to live in again. But in some girls’ stories you can’t always win against evil or score a total victory against it. This is the case here, and it has the story end on a grim, sad note that makes it a better story.

9: The Monkey

Misty: #80

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

Kitty is a bully, and her worst vitriol is reserved for Benny, the organ grinder’s monkey. Every time she passes Benny she teases him, though she is disturbed by the way he looks at her. She does not heed admonishing from her parents or classmates to leave the monkey alone. One day Kitty pushes Benny too far and he bites her; the organ grinder says it is the great law giving her what she deserves. Soon after, Kitty starts acting very strangely. She acts like a monkey and seems to hear the organ grinder’s music out of nowhere. Every time she hears the music she behaves like a monkey. Deciding it must have something to do with the monkey bite, she goes to the organ grinder’s house to sort it out. There she finds Benny, who stares at her with burning eyes that seem “strangely human”. She goes into a strange trance that is full of more organ-grinding music. When she comes out of it, she finds that Benny has somehow switched bodies with her. He escapes in her body. She is condemned to spend the rest of her life in Benny’s body and forced to dance to the hated organ-grinding music while Benny gloats from inside her body.

Monkey panel copy

Thoughts

This story has something that was rare in Misty – humour. It sure is funny, the way Kitty behaves like a monkey: walking like one, climbing trees, eating peanuts. But it’s black comedy of course, and we know the girl is going to be punished for bullying and animal cruelty. And when Kitty becomes trapped in the monkey’s body, she finds that being an organ grinder’s monkey is cruel too. Though the organ grinder is not a cruel person and loves Benny, Misty shows the monkey leads an unpleasant life, dressing up in tutus and other costumes and dance for people’s money and entertainment. We also see the monkey is kept in a cage at home, which is a far cry from his natural habitat and no other monkeys for company. And this story was written in the 1970s, when it was less un-PC than it is now to use organ grinder monkeys or when fewer people gave thought to how unnatural it for exotic animals to be used for entertainment. It was a bit ahead of its time on that score.

10: Danse Macabre

Misty: #52

Artist: Maria Barrera

Plot

It is nearing the end-of-term production by Madame Krepskaya’s dancing academy. She has to choose between Nadia Nerona and Lois Hills for the star role. Nadia manages to cheat her way into the role. After all-day practice for the show the next day, Nadia asks to borrow the ballet shoes Madame wore at the height of her success for luck at the show. Madame refuses, saying luck is immaterial for a professional dancer, and furthermore, the shoes brought her success, but someone like Nadia has no idea of the price.

Scheming Nadia steals the shoes and takes them to the academy stage to try out. She is astonished to find ballet music coming out of nowhere and the shoes have a life of their own and can dance anything beautifully. She realises that the shoes were the secret of Madame’s success. But then comes the snag Madame hinted at – Nadia finds the shoes just won’t stop. They go on dancing and dancing, regardless of how exhausted Nadia is getting or the injuries her feet are taking from the non-stop dancing. Things get even more terrifying when Nadia discovers that the music is coming from the orchestra pit and the musicians are all skeletons! The same goes for the corps de ballet and the danseur who now partners her. And when the ballet turns to “Giselle”, Nadia really panics – the protagonist in that ballet dies and is carried off by the spirits of death (actually, the part about the spirits of death is not correct, which shows lack of proper research there). The ballet dancing with the skeletons gets more and more wild until Nadia finally blacks out on the stage and everything goes quiet. Nadia is found next morning and taken to hospital with badly damaged feet. Lois gets the role after all, and is a “towering success”. Lois also asked Madame if she could borrow the shoes for luck. Madame said an artist like her does not need shoes like that, and in any case, the shoes have been danced to pieces.

 Danse Macabre panel copy

Thoughts

When reading this story, one is reminded of the fairy tale of “The Red Shoes” where a vain girl is put through a merciless punishment of being locked into red shoes that will not stop dancing. She has to get her feet amputated by a headsman to break free of the spell. Though the story doesn’t go that far, it is excruciating and more than terrifying enough for the ballerina. Those skeletons would strike terror and nightmares into anyone. But they should not be a surprise to the readers with a title like “Danse Macabre”. For a moment we have to wonder if Nadia was meant to dance until she was a skeleton herself – there was a hint of it when the ballet turned to “Giselle” (which also has spirits forcing people to dance until they die) – but some editorial censorship stepped in. Or maybe it was the coming of dawn, though this is not mentioned. After all, daybreak stops the evil spirits in “Giselle” and the skeleton dance in the orchestral “Danse Macabre”.

The Cat on the Trail of the German Flying Bomb (1976)

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Bunty Picture Library: #161

Artist: Mike White

Published: 1976

 Plot:

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, Marie Bonnet is despised for appearing to be over-friendly with the Germans, particularly the Commandant. Josee and Burnetta are two bullies who are always picking on Marie over it. Nobody suspects that the apparent collaboration is all part of Marie’s cover for her secret life as a costumed resister known as “The Cat”!

The story opens with The Cat robbing the Commandant’s safe. The silly old boy thought hiding the key in the flower vase (clichéd!) would make the money “as safe as it would be in the bank in Berlin”. Plus, he never thinks to make his window more secure though he knows how The Cat can climb.

The Cat gives the loot to the town bank manager to redistribute among the poor. The Commandant is furious of course, but his retributive measures against The Cat (searches everywhere and new “wanted” posters that double the reward money) are futile.

Cat 1

Then fellow resister Henri puts out the signal for The Cat to call. When The Cat arrives, Henri says there has been a message from London to investigate happenings at the Chateau Villai. The chateau is heavily guarded, but The Cat infiltrates it (swimming the moat and then climbing the bell tower). She discovers a huge laboratory and fuel stores.

London orders a second infiltration, this time with a special camera they have sent, because they want photographs. The Cat gets the photographs (the laboratory, documents, scientists and the stores), but then a guard spots her and gives the alarm. She gets away on the top of a truck and slips into the woods. However, the Germans have now been alerted, which makes a third infiltration too risky.

Cat 3

When the photographs are developed, they reveal that the scientists are developing V.1 rockets. The resisters believe that these rockets are to be used on London and send the photographs there immediately. When Marie tries to pump information out of the Commandant later with her ‘friendliness’, she gets confirmation of what they suspect, but little else.

In London, the military realise they need time to build defences against the V.1, but bombing the weapons sites are ineffectual because they are too well protected. So they decide to enlist the aid of The Cat once more, to sabotage the rocket and cause the Nazis a setback that would buy them time to build their defences. They also dispatch one of their own men and explosives to help The Cat.

The man arrives safely, but then the Germans detect the plane. It is forced to take off with the explosives still on board. So The Cat raids the Germans’ stores for some replacement explosives.

Cat 5

However, at the chateau the Germans have built the launching site underground, which poses a problem in how to plant the explosives. Then the air-raid siren sounds and there is a bomb strike on the site. The bombing is accurate, but cannot destroy the launching site because it is underground. It is up to the resisters to do the rest, and the air raid gives The Cat an idea – trigger the air-raid siren to draw the Germans out.

So next night, they rig the siren to go off. The Germans are drawn out and into the air-raid shelter, and the resisters barricade them in there. They proceed to plant the explosives. But the Germans rumble the trick and manage to force their way out. They catch the resisters just as they are about to detonate the explosives. The explosives are set off, but there are still enough Germans ready to fire on the resisters. The Cat resorts to launching the V.1 that was meant for London – they have destroyed its guidance system, which turns it into a runaway rocket. It ends up landing on the chateau, where it ignites the fuel stores and creates a huge explosion that is a definite setback for the Germans and helps the resisters to escape.

Two months later the V.1s are launched against London, but the British now have defences against them. The military are pleased that more than half of the V.1s are failing to hit their targets, and are so grateful to Henri and The Cat for the time they bought them to prepare their defences. They wish they could give The Cat a medal. But until the war ends, it’s daily bullying for Marie as part of her secret war against the Nazis as The Cat.

Thoughts

This is the only Bunty Picture Library that was inspired by the Bunty classic serial “Catch the Cat”. It is a pity Bunty didn’t produce more Picture Libraries on The Cat, because they would have been extremely popular. The Cat is one of Bunty’s best-remembered characters and one of the most proactive heroines ever produced. She doesn’t hesitate to rob the Commandant in a Robin Hood style, commit acts of sabotage, help blow things up, or commit other acts of defiance that thumb her nose right at the Nazis, including leaving her trademark Cat signature. The costumed identity also adds to the appeal, as does the fact that there are no super-powers or gimmicky weapons. In fact, she isn’t armed at all. The only weapons she has are her suction pads, her incredible acrobatic abilities, and her amazing wits that can get her out of any scrape.

Cat 4

The Cat’s Clark Kent identity also arouses readers’ sympathies for her, because of the daily bullying she has to endure as part of pretending to be a collaborator in order to infiltrate the Germans. She always tells herself “One day they will know the truth”, “If only they knew” or other words of comfort, but she always looks sad and never holds her head very high against the jeers and ostracism from her fellow classmates. Living a secret life as The Cat does not do much for her schoolwork either, and we have to wonder at how much sleep she gets.

We also wonder why everyone, on both sides of the war, always thinks The Cat is a “he”. Why can’t anyone see that The Cat is a female? Not even Henri realises, and he is the one who is in the closest proximity to The Cat. Is it chauvinistic attitudes, or is there something about Marie that enables her to pass a male when it’s not so obvious that she’s a female? Whatever the reason, it must help Marie to keep her secret.

Cat 2

The picture library Cat story certainly is a strong, racy one. We see acts of war against the Nazis that are truly spectacular and go beyond sabotaging vehicles, sending Nazi commemorative statues to a watery fate, helping the Allies to bomb factories and such. Rather, we see The Cat helping to blow up rockets! How many heroines get to have such fun as that? And even before she starts on the rockets, she’s committing a heist on the Commandant. And it’s a heist that could have gotten her killed, because she has to haul a huge, heavy bag of loot across rooftops. We can just see that bag is so heavy that it could easily fall and send The Cat plunging to the ground with it. And how can The Cat lug anything so heavy across a rooftop? But she pulls it off, much to the gratitude of the townsfolk and the fury of the Commandant (next time, use safe combinations, Herr Commandant!).

And in her Cat identity, Marie even gets a bit of her own back on Josee and Burnetta in this story! They unwittingly get in her way during her second raid on the chateau, and she shoves them into a stream to get rid of them. They end up having to face very angry parents about their messed-up clothes. The sneaky girls twist it around to Marie later and brag that they helped The Cat. Little do they know!

But nobody must know until the war ends, which is what The Cat thinks to herself as she goes back on the prowl against the Nazis yet again in the last panel. How wonderful it would have been to see more of her prowling in the Picture Libraries.

Cat 6

Hard Times for Helen (1984-85)

Logo Hard Times for Helen

Artist: Bert Hill

Published: Judy: #1302 (24 December 1984) to #1312 (2 March 1985)

Plot

Helen Shaw’s widowed mother is awarded the Superworker Award for her charity work and becomes a local celebrity. But from the moment Mum wins the award, nothing seems to go right for Helen. Her life changes for the worse, both at home and at school.

First, being Superworker means increased workloads on Mrs Shaw, which leave her constantly overworked, exhausted, and having no time for other things, such as household chores or devoting time to Helen. Also, Helen finds herself constantly lumbered with the things her mother hasn’t time for (chores, housework, errands, meal preparation, shopping, favours etc), or can’t do because she has been called away to some other task. This begins to interfere with schoolwork, social life, friends, and even makes Helen frequently late for school. Mum takes it for granted that Helen will help out all the time, and never stops think that Helen has other commitments or may not be able to help. For example, she tries to force Helen to miss a rehearsal to help her out, although Helen is playing the lead. As a result, the teacher kicks Helen out of the production (and Helen arrives home too late to help her mother in any case).

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Helen is also feeling neglected because her mother is scarcely home, and even when she is, she has no time for Helen. Mum is frequently overtired, still encumbered with heavy workloads that she expects Helen to help out with, and dashing out yet again to help someone else. Worse, a lot of the work comes from people who take advantage of Mum’s kindness and never refusing anyone’s request (in other words, unable to say “no”).

Finances also suffer because Mum is becoming over-generous. But she does nothing to curb her over-generosity, although she is keeps saying that she is terribly short of money and she must know the reason for it. Sometimes Helen even goes hungry because Mum is too busy to remember to replenish the larder and doesn’t leave money for it.

And there is a jinx that seems to dog Helen at every turn. It lands her in constant trouble with Mum and giving other people false impressions that she is jealous, lazy, badly behaved, and “not at all like her mother”. Sometimes it’s not able to help because other things get in the way, like people popping in with more favours to dump on Helen when she has other work to do already. Or it’s not able to get other things done, such as homework, because Mum lumbers her with other things to do. Other times, things just seem to go wrong whenever Helen tries to help out her mother. Helen frequently thinks that everything has gone wrong since her mother won the award and wishes she had never won it. Meanwhile, the constant trouble has Mum thinking her daughter is being “awkward” and unhelpful, and their relationship deteriorates.

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To make things even worse for Helen, everyone, from strangers in the street to the next-door neighbour, always compares her unfavourably and unfairly with her mother with the relentless criticism, “You’re not at all like your mother!” or variations thereof. By far the worst culprits are the staff at Helen’s school, with headmistress Miss Pringle being the leader of the pack. Some of the criticisms arise from misunderstandings and affected schoolwork caused by Superworker (for example, Helen being frequently late for school because of the jobs she gets lumbered with in the mornings). But in other cases Miss Pringle and the teachers seem to pounce on even the slightest thing to attack Helen with the criticism. Often these are things that have little to do with Helen’s mother or Superworker. Their conduct becomes more and more like bullying. Examples include:

  • (Helen is eating in the street) “I don’t care much for finding one of my pupils in the street like this! Really, Helen, you’re a disgrace to your mother!”
  • (Helen fails to deliver a message in time) “You stupid girl. You’re not at all like your mother!”
  • (Helen is distracted with worry while teacher is setting homework) “You’re not making a note of the homework I’m setting! Perhaps you have no intention of doing it? Really, Helen! You’re not at all like your mother!”
  • (Helen says she was trying to help her mother) “Your mother couldn’t possibly need help from you! You’ll never be like her!”
  • (Helen asks to be excused from a swimming match to look after her mother) “Helen objecting to something again, is she? It’s all she does. She’s not hardworking like her mother.”
  • (Finally) “Your mother’s giving up this evening to help my dramatic society, Helen. I suppose it would be too much to expect you’d be helping?”

And on top of the constant criticism there is the notion that Helen is jealous of her mother. This starts as a nasty rumour among Helen’s classmates, but soon spreads and is taken on board by the harsh school staff. And when Miss Pringle misinforms Mum about it and Helen’s so-called bad behaviour, Mum thinks it is the reason for Helen being so “awkward” and their strained relationship is poisoned further.

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Finally, when Mum wrongly blames Helen for a disturbance that wrecks a public demonstration, Helen reaches her limit. She snaps at Mum that she is fed up of everyone saying “You’re not at all like your mother!”. It doesn’t do Helen any good though – Mum still thinks Helen is behaving badly and just says it’s her own fault. But Helen’s outburst indicates that this is the penultimate episode and the final episode will be next.

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Sure enough, in the next episode everything comes to a head. Mum has gone to help Miss Pringle at her drama society. But while Mum is out, the electricity is cut off because she had neglected the bill too. This leaves Helen in a quandary over how to complete her homework, and is so distracted that she stumbles into the road and gets hit by a car. While in a semi-conscious state, she starts rambling about all the problems Superworker has caused for her. The medical personnel are listening and then have a word with Mum. Mum apologises to Helen and promises that things will now be different. She also informs Helen that at the drama society meeting she wised up to Miss Pringle’s conduct.

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Thoughts

This story certainly belongs in the long-established formula of the “jinxed girl” – where events always seem to conspire against the protagonist and everything goes wrong in every episode for her. So at the end of each episode she always ends up in deep trouble and people think she’s jealous, spiteful or whatever, and she becomes more and more unpopular. The formula makes for a story that is more episodic in structure than having a single story arc and the advantage is that it can be spun out as long as necessary. The disadvantage is a risk of stretching credibility too far and readers may begin to think, “Oh come on, nobody can be that unlucky!”

However, Helen suffers a lot more than many protagonists who just have things that keep going wrong for them. She is suffering from bullying too, mostly from people who keep comparing her to her mother and putting her down with unfair and unwarranted criticisms. The conduct of Miss Pringle fits exactly into the bully who uses unreasonable criticism to bully someone: constant put-downs and sarcasms, often using a supposed kernel of truth to justify their comments; making big mountains out of molehills in criticizing even trivial things; blowing things all out of proportion; and there is no pleasing or reasoning with Miss Pringle, regardless of what Helen does. And it’s not just Miss Pringle but all the teachers. Helen can’t seem to be in class for five minutes without some teacher humiliating her in front of the classmates with the criticism, “You’re not at all like your mother!” Helen hears it so much that she feels like screaming.

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No doubt this conduct from the teachers would have fuelled the bullying from Helen’s own classmates, who started the rumour that she was jealous of her mother. It began with their misreading Helen’s unhappy expressions, but there must have been some schoolgirl cattiness as well. Perhaps they were the jealous ones and projecting their jealousy onto Helen.

Protagonists who suffer because their parents are too busy/famous to pay them serious attention is a well-established formula in girls’ comics too. But in this case it’s even more heart-breaking in that the misery comes from charity, of all things. This is because of Mrs. Shaw’s personality as much as the demands of Superworker itself. She is always ready to help and never refuses anyone – but the flip side of that is that she cannot say “no”. So in addition to all the increasing demands of Superworker, Mum gets more and more people who take advantage of her: food, money, free favours, or using her as a dumping ground. All too often we have seen this type of thing in real life: good-natured people who are too nice for their own good, get lumbered and taken advantage of, and don’t stand up for themselves and say “no”.

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Mum in turn starts taking Helen for granted. She uses Helen as a dumping ground for things she hasn’t time for, or expects her to help all the time and doesn’t stop to think that sometimes Helen may not be able to help. Never once does she say, “All right, I’ll get someone else to help”. To others, she never says things like “Sorry, I’ve got too much to do right now, please ask someone else” or “Sorry, I can’t loan you any money, I need my money for other things.” And so she leaves herself open for people to walk all over her. And there certainly never is “I’m giving up Superworker – it’s too much for me and I’m turning into a nervous wreck,” although it is so hectic that it constantly wears Mum out with exhaustion. More than once we see her collapsed in a chair or laid up in bed because of it.

This story certainly is a cut above an average “jinxed girl” story because it draws so much on real life: Bully teachers who constantly put pupils down with nasty, uncalled-for remarks. People who use criticism to bully others. People who can’t say “no” and get turned into doormats because they are not assertive enough. People who overwork themselves, causing their family to suffer as well as themselves. Nasty schoolkids who bully others, very likely because they are jealous. Parents who get so busy with new commitments that they lose sight of other things in life that matter too, including their family. People who take others for granted and make selfish demands on them – even ones who do not see themselves as selfish.

And it’s all brought to life with the artwork of Bert Hill. Hill has a very clean style that can produce a lot of panels on one page without it looking cluttered. His style has become linked with several Judy classics, including “The Fish Twins” and “The Girl with the Golden Smile”. Just one thing about the artwork – why does Mrs Shaw’s hair suddenly switch from blond to dark in the final episode, with no explanation possible?

For Sam’s Sake

Plot

Anna Thorpe and her brother Sam are being fostered out to the Sanders family while their mother is in hospital. Anna was not keen on living in the Sanders household because the daughter, Carla, is a spiteful, snobby, spoiled girl who always picks on her. But Anna decides to do so for the sake of Sam, who does want to stay. But Carla is trying to get rid of them, so Anna has to constantly watch out for her tricks.

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Notes

  • Photo story

Appeared

  • For Sam’s Sake –  Bunty: #2128 (24 October 1998) – #2137 (26 December 1998)