Tag Archives: David Matysiak

The Search for Kitty’s Cat [1984]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #71

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

Rosie at Thorndale Hall [1983]

Thorndale Hall cover

Published: Judy Picture Library #240 [1983]

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #400 [1993]

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorndale Hall 2

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

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

Thorndale Hall 4

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

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

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

Thorndale Hall 3

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

Thorndale Hall 4

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

Thorndale Hall 5

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

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

Thorndale Hall 7

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

 

Katie Bright Keeping Mum Right! (1987)

katie-bright-cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #286

Artists: David Matysiak (cover); Jaume (Jaime) Rumeu (story)

Plot
In the Bright household Dad is working overtime to save up for a washing machine. Mum decides to set about raising money to buy the family extras. The trouble is, she goes about it the wrong way. Instead of finding something she’s good at and developing it, she embarks on whatever scheme takes her fancy without proper research, thinking it through or considering if it is right for her. As a result Mum lands herself in a lot of scrapes and it’s up to her more sensible daughter Katie to sort them out.

First Mum sets up the garden shed for a mushroom farm. Katie is dubious because Mum has no experience in raising plants, but Mum expects such an abundance of mushrooms that she takes orders from greengrocers in advance. Talk about counting your chickens before they’re hatched: Mum’s mushroom crop is a complete failure, so Katie has to cover the orders with farm-bought mushrooms.

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Soon after, the washing machine finally arrives. Mum seems to be doing more washing than usual. Oh dear, is she taking in laundry for another money-making scheme? That’s what people come to think. Katie and Dad are a bit surprised when people offer them loans because they think the Brights are hard up. No, it turns out Mum was doing the extra laundry as a favour for some neighbours when their laundrette was unavailable.

However, Mum still hasn’t learned her lesson from the mushroom failure. She is now inspired to make and sell machine-knitted woollies, despite Katie’s warnings that such things are made by full-time professionals. She does not heed Katie’s advice to develop dressmaking (which she is brilliant at) as a money-making venture either. Katie can only hope Mum knew what she was doing with the machine-knitting. But of course she didn’t. She ends up giving refunds and gives up the machine knitting promptly.

A luxury lampshade company advertises for at-home people to make up lampshades they are outsourcing. Katie and Dad flash it under Mum’s nose, figuring it is foolproof. However, it is too simple and Mum grows bored with it. When she asks for more interesting work, the company’s response is teddy bear patterned lampshades – and the teddies have been printed upside-down! The Brights are not sorry when the company decides to give up its outsourcing and keep things onsite.

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Next, Mum turns to weeding gardens although she is so clueless about gardening Dad won’t let her work in the garden unsupervised. She figures anyone can weed. She does not understand you have to know the difference between a weed and a plant. So when Katie goes to check on the gardens she finds Mum has pulled out some plants by mistake. She replants them, but it turns out she planted them in the wrong garden because Mum threw them on the wrong compost pile. Fortunately the clients see the funny side, but they will be getting others to do their gardens. Still, one of the clients agrees to let Mum walk her dog instead.

So now it’s dog walking to make money. It seems straightforward this time, but Mum’s big ideas overcomplicate it. She bites off more than she can chew when she takes on other dogs as well and has to walk six at once! Not surprisingly, it’s wearing her out. Then she gets locked in the park because of all those dogs. Katie manages to find her and rouse the Parkie to let her out.

On the way back from this latest scrap they find the school drama club store on fire. Thanks to them the fire is put out in good time, but the costumes for the upcoming school play are ruined. Mums are called upon to make up replacements. Katie thinks this should suit Mum well as she is so good at dressmaking. After some persuasion Mum agrees, if Katie will take over walking the dogs. Then Katie is asked to replace one of the actresses in the play, and soon finds walking six dogs while learning her lines is too much.

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Fortunately Katie finds help in Ted Dawson, the brother of one of her classmates. Ted has no job, so he agrees to take over the dogs and receive the money while Katie learns her lines. Mum has no objections to the arrangement while she works on the costumes, but she will be taking the dogs over again eventually.

Then, just as the play is about to go on, the costumes get stolen. Mum put so much hard work into making them that the theft has her realise how much dressmaking means to her. Fortunately one of the new dogs Ted is walking is an ex-police dog. Ted uses him to sniff out the costumes, which got dumped in the old cottage at the back of the school. The costumes and play are saved.

Ted creates his own business walking dogs and Mum lets him keep walking her dogs. Word gets around about Mum’s work on the costumes and she soon finds herself with orders for more dresses. Now that Mum has finally settled upon a money-making scheme she can do right, Katie no longer needs to keep her right.

Thoughts

We now live in an age where work-from-home businesses have proliferated and work-from-home schemes are all over the Internet. So the concept of work from home in this story feels even more relevant now than it did when it was first published. Its message of exercising caution, proper research and good judgement in whatever you pursue to raise extra money is more acute now too, especially as there are so many scams out there and schemes where you earn very little money for a lot of hard work.

Fortunately Mum does not come up against any scams or underpaid work in this story. It’s just as well, because she is not exercising any serious research or thought into the various money-making schemes she tries out. Indeed, she does not give the impression she is showing much brains at all. It’s Katie who is showing the brains here. She can see the pitfalls Mum is creating for herself with her various schemes (for example, choosing ventures that she has no talent or experience for), which cause embarrassment and make her lose money instead of raising it. Katie can also see where Mum can really make money: dressmaking. It’s not just because Mum has the talent for it but also because there will be a niche for it as there are not many dressmakers in town. Yet Mum just won’t pursue dressmaking as a money-making business as she does not seem to have the interest.

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The story is not all about Mum’s money-making schemes. For example, the extra laundry Mum takes on is a favour, not a money-making scheme. And the focus of the story shifts more to Katie as she tries to walk the dogs while learning her lines. It makes the pace of the story more even, which is good. It also gives more leeway to developing other characters more, such as Ted Dawson.

Some good things do come out of Mum’s disasters. For example, if Mum and the dogs had not got locked in the park, she and Katie would not have seen the fire at school and raised the alarm in time. The damage would have been so much worse. Mum’s dog-walking also leads to the unemployed Ted Dawson to develop his own employment in walking dogs.

All the same, the consequences of Mum’s ill-conceived money-making schemes could have been worse if not for Katie helping to make everything right. It’s a relief all around when Katie no longer needs to keep her Mum right all the time.

 

 

“Ma Budge’s Drudge!” (1987)

Ma Budges Drudge cover

Judy Picture Library: #286

Published: 1987

Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

In World War II, Jill Durrell has just completed training in the Land Army, which consists of girls who work on farms in the place of men who have gone to fight. Now it is time for the girls to be sent on their various farming assignments.

The girls are expected to go where they are sent, but the instructor does not want to give anyone the assignment from Mrs Budge: “Mrs Budge works single-handed on a smallholding with neither electricity nor running water, situated at the back of beyond. She’s a cantankerous, demanding, slave-driver, and no girl has ever stayed there more than a week!” He cannot believe his ears when Jill insists on volunteering for Mrs Budge’s assignment.

Jill arrives exhausted and hungry because Mrs Budge could not be there to meet her at the station at Geronwy Junction. Mrs Budge is not impressed to see the replacement for her farmhand Owen (who is in the catering corps) because Jill looks too small and not strong enough. Jill begs to be given a chance, so Mrs Budge has her prove it by preparing the stall for a newborn calf. Jill is tired and hungry, but completes the job because she is a stubborn girl. Later, she tells Mrs Budge that she won’t leave on the next train leaving Geronwy Junction.

Drudge 1

And Jill doesn’t, despite how tough it is working for Mrs Budge. Mrs Budge is not only the cantankerous slave driver the instructor warned her about, but also insists on doing everything the hard, traditional, old-fashioned way: hand scythes and sickles, hand water pumps, doing laundry in copper boilers, oil lamps, candles etc. “They were good enough for my great grandfather when he bought this farm, and they’re good enough for me, now!” She won’t have a bar of modernisation, modern farming methods, or any other labour saving devices. She won’t even have electricity or running water. She throws a fit when she sees Jill borrowing a combine harvester from a neighbour, Mr Wheldon, and only agrees to let Jill keep her job on condition she complete the haying her way – the old-fashioned way. The same obstinacy also extends to medicine; she doles out her own homemade potions and she won’t call in doctors or vets. On Mr Wheldon’s farm, Mrs Budge has a reputation for running her farm in the “dark ages” because she is too mean and tight-fisted to modernise. Mr Wheldon has his own team of land girls, who call Jill “Ma Budge’s drudge” (hence the title of the story), but they are friendly with her.

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Jill, however, is under the impression that Mrs Budge sticks to the old ways out of pride rather than miserliness – that and just plain stubbornness. Throughout the story, Jill is appalled and exasperated at how stubborn Mrs Budge is, and Jill is pig-headed herself. For example, when Mrs Budge sprains her ankle, she won’t listen to Jill’s urgings to call in a doctor: “Why waste money when a swollen ankle will heal in its own good time?” Nor does she take it easy because of her swollen ankle; she turns to jobs that she can do while sitting down. When fully able-bodied, Mrs Budge works even harder than Jill, and she works Jill far harder than necessary because of her insistence on old-fashioned ways. And Jill notes Mrs Budge never has a word of praise for her; she treats Jill in a grumpy fashion, especially when Jill doesn’t quite come up to the mark at times.

But Jill refuses to leave Mrs Budge, and nobody can understand why. The neighbouring farmer thinks she is a “rum ‘un” for declining his offer to leave the drudgery of Mrs Budge and join his own team. At times, Jill herself is tempted to walk out on Mrs Budge – except for… but she doesn’t reveal what. Even Mrs Budge asks why, and Jill replies: “Some day, I’ll tell you. I-I’m afraid the time hasn’t come yet, though.”

The time comes when two letters arrive. The first, for Mrs Budge, says her old farmhand Owen is being invalidated out of the catering corps. He will now be returning to the farm, so there is no further need for Jill. Jill is dismayed that she is leaving, but the second letter, for her, puts her mind at rest. It says that her father has been released from a Japanese POW camp. Jill then explains to Mrs Budge that when her father was captured, she made a bargain with herself to find the toughest job she could find as a land girl. She believed that if she did not quit, her father would keep fighting to survive as well. “Dad and I are two of a kind, you see. Not very big or very strong, but plenty pig-headed!”

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Mrs Budge finds it a bit of a cheek that Jill used her farm for a substitute prison camp. But she decides to take it in good part because she realises she got the best of the bargain. They hold a celebratory toast together.

Thoughts

It is refreshing to see a World War II story tackle the subject of Land Girls, something that doesn’t get much attention in girls’ comics. More often, their WW2 stories deal with female soldiers, resistance fighters, fugitives, evacuees and war orphans.

The moment we see the cover, we expect to be geared up for a story where a cruel slave driver works a poor hapless Land Girl to the bone. So, along with everyone else, we are taken aback when Jill volunteers for the Budge assignment while already knowing what she is getting into (unlike a lot of unsuspecting heroines who discover too late that they have ended up with an abusive slave driver). And we also have to wonder why Jill won’t quit her job as she learns just how tough and gruelling it is. When we find out why – to parallel with her father’s suffering and struggle for survival in a Japanese prison camp – we have to applaud, but do we laugh or cry about it as well?

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When we see Mrs Budge on the cover, we expect her to be a cruel, slave driving abuser, like countless other villains that have appeared in girls comics, such as Gert and Jed Barlow from Tammy’s “Bella”. So it is a surprise and delight to see that once we (and Jill) get to know Mrs Budge better, we find she is a more complex, layered character who is difficult but not totally unlikeable, and she is not a cardboard villain. There is no denying that she is cantankerous, demanding and slave driving, and she makes it all the harder by clinging to old-fashioned methods and eschewing modernisation. It is easy to see why no Land Girl had stayed with her more than a week until Jill volunteered. We also have to wonder why Owen the farmhand stayed on with her until the catering corps called him up. But she only demands of them the same thing that she does herself, and Jill admits that Mrs Budge works even harder than herself. Mrs Budge makes no allowances for herself either; when she sprains her ankle, she insists on carrying on. And when the accident happens, she insists that Jill do the milking than tend to her: “Leave me be! The milking’s more important than I am!”

The story is also a clash of wills between two people who are both pig-headed; Mrs Budge in her obstinacy about clinging to traditional ways and Jill in her obstinacy to stay, despite how tough it is. It is hard to say who was a match for the other in stubbornness, but we are all rooting for Jill’s stubbornness to win out against Mrs Budge. And it does, because Jill’s tenacity was motivated by love for her father while Mrs Budge’s stubbornness was motivated by pride and extreme conservatism (and perhaps fear of change and new technology).

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There is a dash of eccentricity about Mrs Budge’s obstinacy and stick-in-the mud ways that gives her a touch of humour. For example, she always wears the same raincoat, regardless of the weather. And while she always seems to be a grouch, signs of her having a heart do slip through. One of the most touching is when Mrs Budge tends to Jill when she burns her arm on the steam thresher: “Girl, girl – I wouldn’t have had you hurt, not for all the world.” Jill is really astonished at this tender remark after having endured Mrs Budge’s grumpiness with never a single word of praise. And when Mrs Budge find out why Jill stuck out at her job, she really does show that she is a human being: “Fancy using my farm as a substitute prison camp. There’s cheek for you! Still, I reckon we ought to celebrate – because to my way of thinking, I was the one who got the best of the bargain!” We see that Mrs Budge has come a long way from first dismissing Jill as “a tiddler” and setting her extra-tough tests to drive her off to liking and respecting her, and appreciating Jill’s work on the farm after all. We get the impression that Mrs Budge is really going to miss Jill when she goes.

Callous Cassie

Plot:

Cassie Brown is a teacher at Morley Grange School, which is run by the cruel and hated Miss Pike. Cassie is just as much hated by the pupils and nicknamed “Callous Cassie”. They do not know Cassie is only pretending to be cruel in order to secretly help them against Miss Pike.

Cassie

Notes:

  • Artist: David Matysiak

Appeared:

  • Callous Cassie Nikki:  #14 (25 May 1985) – #27 (24 August 1985).

Flower Story

Plot

Complete stories from the Flower Story Series. Including:

The Lady of the Daisies

Flower: Daisy

The Queen of Belrovia is a harsh ruler and banishes a girl called Delza for making a daisy chain, which the Queen deems a form of idleness. A witch punishes the Queen with a curse that causes nothing but daisies to grow in summer, but even this does not move the Queen to change her mind about Delza. But then the daisies come in useful when enemies invade. They mistake the daisies for snow in summer and retreat, fearing the land is bewitched.  The Queen finally relents and gives Delza the title of Lady of the Daisies.

Daisy 2

Five Flowers for Fleur

Flower: Dandelion. The pansy, rose, orchid (imitation) and unknown tropical flower (possibly stinking corpse lily) that gives off a terrible stench when it opens also feature.

Four princes claim the hand of Princess Fleur. To decide her groom, she tells them to bring a flower they think is worthy of her and she will cherish. All four fail the test because their choices reflect how unsuitable they are. But then there is a surprise fifth gift of flowers for Fleur, from Hugo-of-the-Great-City. Not realising she is a princess, he offers her a bouquet of dandelions, which he says matches her hair. Fleur realises that it is not so much the flower but the thought behind it and comes to cherish the “humble dandelion as a symbol of love and compassion, and virtues of a true and noble prince and worthy lord for his princess.” Hugo and Fleur are married, much to the consternation of the four failed princes.

Fleur

The Legend of the Water Lily

Flower: Water lily

In ancient China, Lily-Blossom and her family are devoted to gardening. Lily’s brother Lin is called up for war. Lily is distraught as she has no idea if Lin will return. She consults a fortune-teller, who says that if her brother will live, she will receive a sign. The sign will be a strange lily, unlike any other, that will bloom in the garden Lin made for her. As time goes by, there is no sign of the strange lily, and the family begins to doubt it will appear. Lily keeps weeping by the pool Lin constructed in the garden. But then she is surprised when something starts growing in the pool. It is the water lily, and it is the strange lily in question. Lily’s parents say the lily is an enchanted flower that grew from the tears Lily shed into the pool. Lin returns a year later and gets married beside a pool full of water lilies.

Water Lily

The Happiness Plant

Flower: unknown, but is dubbed “the Happiness Plant”

In the year 1900, Maggy Mayce becomes intrigued by the devotion Miss Bird gives to her plant, although she does not know its proper name. They strike a friendship, with Maggy calling in on her way to work to see Mrs Bird and her plant. But then Miss Bird’s nephew takes her away and Maggy has no address to follow up. Miss Bird has left Maggy the plant, which Maggy cherishes by the window, as Miss Bird had done. Then Maggy loses her job and cannot find another. She is just about at the end of the line when Miss Bird arrives. She had tracked Maggy down through the plant. Realising Maggy’s plight, Miss Bird offers her a job as a companion, and Maggy is happy to accept. She dubs the unknown plant “the Happiness Plant”.

Happiness Plant

Notes

  • Artist: David Matysiak (The Lady of the Daisies)
  • Artist: Jesus Redondo (Five Flowers for Fleur)
  • Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti (The Legend of the Water Lily)
  • Artist: Terry Aspin (The Flowers of Hope)
  • Artist: Maria Barrera (The Happiness Plant)

Appeared

  • The Lady of the Daisies –  Debbie: #155 (31 January 1975)
  • Five Flowers for Fleur –  Debbie: #156 (07 February 1976)
  • Flowers in the Rain – Debbie: #157 (14 February 1976)
  • Rosemary for Remembrance –  Debbie: #158 (21 February 1976)
  • The Tell-Tale Blossoms – Debbie: #159 (28 February 1976)
  • The Legend of the Water Lily –  Debbie: #161 (13 March 1976)
  • Angie and the Red Rose –  Debbie: #162 (20 March 1976)
  • The Flowers of Hope – Debbie: #163 (27 March 1976)
  • The Mystery of the Vanishing Flowers – Debbie: #166 (3 April 1976)
  • The Happiness Plant – Debbie: #166 (17 April 1976)
  • Who Says Flowers are Useless? – Debbie: #168 (1 May 1976)
  • Lily of the Valley –  Debbie: #183 (14 August 1976)

A Tale From the Toy Museum

Plot:

Tamsin Treco stayed with her grandmother who ran a toy museum in a Cornish fishing village. Tamsin loved to hear the stories behind many of the toys that were on show.

Tale From the Toy Museum

Notes:

  • Art: Douglas Perry
  • Art: David Matysiak (Bunty Annual 1988)
  • The stories had different titles ever week, accompanied by a sub heading “A Tale From the Toy Museum”
  • The first story was called “The Little Drummer Boy”

Appeared:

  • A Tale From the Toy Museum –  Bunty:   #1493 (23 August 1986) – ?

Other Appearances:

  •  The Forbidden Doll – A Tale from the Toy Museum – Bunty Annual 1988
  • A Model Family – A Tale from the Toy Museum – Bunty Annual 1989

Debbie 1984

debbie_1984Although Debbie ran for around 10 years, I believe it only had 5 annuals, this is the last one. I am not very familiar with the weekly Debbie issues but there are stories that I recognise, that were originally in Spellbound and Diana. Of course, even if I wasn’t familiar with the regular characters, annuals are very new-reader friendly, so there are no long on-going plots to make sense of.

There are 16 picture stories, 4 photo stories, 3 text stories and 13 features. A lot of the picture stories are humour based, and one of the photo stories is split into three parts, throughout the annual. For just the list of contents click here

Picture Stories

Mary Brown’s Schooldays    (Pages: 4-8)

Mary Brown first appeared in Diana, she won a scholarship to the exclusive St. Winifred’s School and had many adventures there. The stories of her life in the third form of the school continued in Debbie. In this story Mary and her friends are getting ready for Christmas. Mary has the idea to go carol singing to raise money for the Children’s Home. They have trouble finding places to practice at first and then decide on an old barn near the school. They see a girl skating nearby but she disappears. They see her a few times but she always runs away. One day the see her skating when the ice breaks  and they have to go rescue the girl. She tells them her name is Susan and that she is from the children’s home. She wants to be a skater but there are no facilities at the home and she’s not supposed to skate on her own. After the girls collect enough money for the home, the girl’s also tell the Matron about Susan.  After this Susan is allowed to attend the Winifred’s skating lessons.

I’ve only read a few Mary Brown stories and she isn’t a character that has captured my attention. Perhaps I’ve read too many similar stories, but I think other characters like the Four Marys are more interesting.  The art here is fine but not as eye-catching as the art in some of the Diana issues.

Calculating Cathy    (Pages: 12-14)

Cathy Palmer owns a magical calculator which can help her out and cause lots of trouble. Deciding to take a short cut to her friend Susan’s house, Cathy uses her calculator to “divide” a wall. That allows Susan’s rabbit escape. Using the plus button she enlarges him so she won’t lose sight of him. Which of course causes more trouble. Cathy gets him back to Susan eventually, and she comments he always runs away because he’s lonely. Cathy multiplies him so he can have lots of friends.

calculating Cathy

The Shop at Shudder Corner    (Pages: 20-25)

Art: David Matysiak

This serial was originally from Spellbound. Sheila Hawkins helps out at her Uncle’s antique shop along with her friend Jean Marsh. Sheila has a mysterious lens in her torch that can take them to the past, when they shine it on an object with an unusual history. Shining the torch on an old broach takes them into 17th century London. They arrive in front of a man on a horse, which nearly knocks him off. He chases them and they hide in a shop. Soon Sir John the man who was chasing them enters but not for the girls he is there to meet with the alchemist. There is mention of devil’s work and he is given a key. The girls are found by the two men and they take them with them so they can unlock a door that may be dangerous.

When they get to the secret building, the girls notice the carving on the door matches the cameo. Sir John wants the girls to throw out the book inside the room to him. They sense the book is evil  and Sheila decides to burn it. The two men rush into stop her and the shadow guardian catches the men, the girls manage to escape back home just in time.

The art by Matysiak is great as always, particularly with the Shadow guardian panels. The story itself is good, both girls have distinct personalities, Jean being less eager to explore and more cautious than Sheila. The method of time travelling seems overly complicated; a special lens in a torch, that has to shine on particular object in a particular shop to allow them to travel… but even with that, it’s still an interesting story.

shop at shudder corner

Little Sis    (Pages: 26-27/ 87-88)

Maisie keeps wondering why her sister Debbie is late. Finally Debbie arrives and she gives her a birthday present. Debbie is delighted only to find the box empty. Maisie says it would have been full of chocolates if she arrived on time!

In the second story Maisie goes to the shop for some fizzy soda for Debbie, but she takes a rough route with her bike so when Debbie opens up the bottle the drink sprays all over her.

The Bionic Horse  (Pages: 30-32)

When Sue’s horse, Ben was injured he was  healed by space travelers and developed some amazing powers. During a snowy winter Ben is able to take a vet up to visit a sick dog. The vet is amazed that Ben can carry both him and Sue with no trouble.  When the vet says the dog will need surgery, Ben is able to ski them down the hill and melt any snowdrifts in his way to get the dog to surgery. Again it seems that describing a person or animal with super powers as bionic is very popular in these comics!

panel_of_the_month_14

Spring-Heeled Jill    (Pages: 36-41)

In Victorian London, Jillian Smith is a typist at a police station, but she also works as a secret crime fighter “Spring-heeled Jill” – a flying, leaping figure from the fog. On the way from buying a train ticket for a Sergeant,  Jill is robbed. She is puzzled as  it seems no one was near her at the time. Sergeant Drew is in a bad mood and thinks she has just been careless. When she goes to replace the ticket another woman says she’s just been robbed and again no one was around her at the time. Jill decides to investigate, she puts on her costume and stakes out the latest victim’s  house. There has been a number of burglaries recently and she thinks the two things may be connected, using stolen keys to break into the houses. Jill discovers that it is a monkey doing the thefts.  His owner is a fake postman who burgles places during the day rather than night.

spring heeled

A Victorian costumed hero, is an interesting idea, although I don’t think her costume seems fitting for the time period. The art is fine mostly, I think Jill looks better when she’s in her normal clothes rather than her costume. Jill doesn’t have a lot of action, instead she seems to concentrate on detective work. Her leaping out of the fog seems to inspire fear and she sticks to the shadows rather than physically tackle someone…at least in this story. This was an on going story in Debbie and I don’t know if there was an explanation given to where the costume comes from and how she can fly and leap. I presume the “Spring-Heeled” of the title means something in her shoes allow her to launch her self for great leaps, she seems to have some clawed gloves that must allow her to grip onto buildings and the such.  Also although her secret identity is said to be “Spring-Heeled Jill”  in the opening caption box, she is called the Fog Leaper by people in the story (which would make more sense than having your first name in your secret identity). Interestingly she is actually a female version of another D.C. Thomson character “Spring-Heeled Jackson” of Hornet and Hotspur. Jackson was a clerk rather than a typist at the police station and I think he had more physical action, but it could be  intriguing to compare the two. Even with her being a copy of another character, I think Jill is potentially an interesting character, especially being a female hero for that time period, but this particular story could have been better told (especially as this is my introduction to the serial).

Sally Supersneeze    (Pages: 44-45)

Sally Smith has super strong sneezes that can cause trouble, like when she sneezes and blows her netball uniform off the the clothes line into the mud. But they sometimes can be a  help. When she is tripped over by opposing team during a netball game, dust goes up her nose and she sneezes causing the ball to go in the net and win the game

Garden of Glass    (Pages: 53-57)

Art: David Matysiak

A Damian Darke story (i.e. a spooky storyteller story). Firstly I love the art and colours in Debbie 1984 glass gardenthis story and the panel layout (there is some nice use of long narrow panels).

Damian introduces the story talking about glass paperweights. We see two school girls are helping to tidy an old woman, Mrs Brownlee’s house for a community contribution project.  Sharon stops to admire a paperweight. Mrs Brownlee tells her each flower inside the glass has a beautiful face.  Sharon thinks she’s crazy but on a closer look she sees the faces. Afterwards on their way to school it is obvious that Sharon doesn’t share her friend’s enthusiasm with helping the neighbourhood. At the next visit, her  friend can’t come, so Sharon goes alone but she finds Mrs Brownlee’s supposedly house empty. Sharon takes the opportunity to steal the paperweight.  In bed that night she is admiring the paperweight when she finds herself surrounded by flowers. She finds it very beautiful at first, but then starts to panic when she finds it is not a dream. She is trapped inside the paperweight.

The next day Mrs Brownlee comes to visit and ask’s Sharon’s younger sister Beth for the paperweight. Before she leaves she admires Beth telling her she has a pretty face like a flower. Damian Drake concludes the story saying that he hopes Sharon’s little sister never goes to Mrs. Brownlee’s house.

While there are many stories where selfish girls get their comeuppance for being greedy etc. I like that Mrs. Brownlee is not some justice seeking old woman but actually seems to lack morals.  Beth seems perfectly nice but she wouldn’t have any doubts about adding her to her pretty collection of faces.

Trendy Wendy     (Pages: 60-61 / 90-91)

Another humour strip, Wendy is a girl concerned with keeping up to date with all current trends and often starts new trends herself. In the first story she has a problem that her new hairstyle will be ruined by the rain. So she tries to fond a suitable hat to cover it up.  She tries on such hats as her aunt Ethel’s old wedding hat and her granddad’s old bowler hat but it’s too big. Eventually with a bit of customising she uses the roof of an old doll’s house.

trendy wendy

In the second story Wendy decides to learn to ski after hearing its trendy sport now. She keeps embarrassing herself on the artificial slope and she thinks all she needs to do is practice on real snow. Of course that goes worse for her. In the end she invents a new way to ski by tying a chair to the skis and skiing while sitting down.

A Boy and his Dog!   (Pages: 76-78)

Julie Harris is training to become a qualified Animal Nursing auxiliary. One day a puppy that was ill treated by some boys is brought into the hospital.  His owner a young boy, Alan, also got roughed up rescuing him and wants to stay with the puppy.  They are able to help Billy but the puppy is nervous and jumpy after the incident.  Julie comes up with a plan so it looks like a fierce dog is attacking Alan and Billy can defend him. Of course the dog attacking is really anig softies but the plan works (altough I wouldn’t think that would be the best method in real life!).

The Lady Maria    (Pages: 92 -96)

Art: Norman Lee

In Rome, a young craftsman, Carlo,  is commissioned to make a cameo broach of a Count’s fiancée. He admires the photo of Lady Maria while he works and he falls in love with her beauty. Carlo longs to see Maria and her wedding day he hopes to catch a glimpse of her, but she has fallen ill and the wedding is off. She recovers from her illness but is left horribly scarred from it. When the Count sees her, he declares he could never marry her now. Maria gives him back the cameo brooch and Carlo sees him drop it. He picks it up and plans to return it to Maria but is drafted into the army before he gets the chance.

Eventually he returns from the war and tracks down Maria, who’s wealth has diminished since her father’s death. When Carlo approaches her she dismisses him at first but is surprised when he returns the next day, as usually one look at her face is enough for most people. He continues to visit her and he explains how when he carved the broach he saw her true nature and he fell in love with her inner beauty. Even with her scarred face he still sees that beauty and Maria agrees to marry him.

Polly’s Patches     (Pages: 104-106)

Polly has a special pair of jeans with various patches on it. By rubbing a patch she is brought back in time to where the material originated from. In this story while cleaning off water that was splashed onto her, she accidentally rubs a patch and ends up on a Roman ship. The ship is being rowed by Celts that were taken as slaves by the Romans. Polly decides she must free them she manages to knock out a guard and goes to look for something to cut their chains. The rest of the Romans are Busy engaged in battle with a Carthigian ship. Finding some animal fat, Polly greases the slaves wrist so they can slip from their manacles. Then use a mallet to smash their ankle chains. Once freed, the slaves manage to overpower the Romans and Cartigians. Polly notices a Welsh flag with one of the prisoners and realises that’s where her patch came from. The Carthigian’s also have Welsh slaves, Polly tells them she’ll soon have them free they tell her to take the keys from the guard, she realises she could have also done that on the Roman ship!

pollys patches

Like Shudder Corner this is another time-travelling story involving unusual methods. It is a fun story and has a more fun, adventure tone than Shudder Corner’s creepy and somewhat darker tone.

A Girl Like Betsy…    (Pages: 114 -118)

Madame Marlova a famous ballet teacher is inspired by her class and a clumsy girl Sally to tell the story of another plump girl Betsy. Betsy really wanted to be in the annual show as her parents say they won’t waste any more money on lessons if she doesn’t make it into the show. Marlova has the idea that she can play the part of a cat as she won’t have to dance on point. During rehearsal Betsy keeps knocking over the other dancers, so Marlova decides to have a sung chorus in the ballet, so Betsy can sit on the fence and miaow with the violins. At the show Betsy does great with her miaowing until she falls off the fence, she gets up and finishes the chorus but is quite upset about it afterwords.  Two critics come back stage to meet the “ham-footed, fat little cat”  and Betsy tired of being mocked all the time runs away and trips on the stairs, hurting her ankle.

betsy

In the present time, Sally thinks that it’s a miserable ending for Betsy and that she will also stay a clumsy nobody like Betsy. But Marlova shows her the cover of a magazine with Betsy now Bettina Bracken a famous opera singer. It turns out one of the critics thought Betsy could be a good contralto and he got her a musical scholarship. Sally tries to sing and the girls comment that her singing is worse than her dancing. Madame Marlova speaks to the reader saying Sally may not become a singer or a dancer but she may become a comedian or actress.

In some ways this story seems to have some mixed messages, it is nice that just because a student doesn’t excel in ballet that doesn’t mean they have other talents. But on the other hand none of the other students and Marlova herself have no problem in calling Betsy and Sally fat and awkward, which isn’t going to build up their confidences! Also while Marlova comes across as helpful and wise, a cynical side of me thinks encouraging girls to stay in her class that will never have dancing talent is a bit wrong, especially as I’m sure the classes aren’t cheap! Of course maybe she believes that there is other things that the students will gain from the class even if they don’t become ballerinas. The art is quite good, I like that the older and younger Marlova are still recognisable as the same person.

Trixie’s Treasure Chest     (Pages: 123-125)

Art: Robert MacGillivray

Trixie Robbins has an old chest that used to belong to her grandfather and is full of magical objects . This was a long running and popular Debbie story. It’s a lot of fun and MacGillivray’s art suits it perfectly. In this story she finds an umbrella that rains when you open it. After getting soaked on this discovery she thinks it is a useless object. She changes her mind when she finds it very helpful during the day. Including getting rid of an annoying visitor, stopping a boy scaring a cat, putting out an fire and using it for an unusual side show for the fete.

trixie's treasure chest