Artist: Dudley Wynne
Reprints: None known
Susan Smith is a selfish girl. Not surprisingly, she is not popular at school. Then Susan contracts an illness that leaves her temporarily deaf. All of a sudden, Susan enjoys a swell in popularity because the girls are sympathetic and make a big fuss over her and give her treats. The school staff also give Susan special privileges and allowances because of her deafness, and her parents spoil her too. Susan loves every minute of it, so when her hearing returns she keeps it a secret so she can continue with the gains she’s made and take advantage of everyone.
Being able to hear in secret also enables Susan to pull tricks to get extras she wants, and she does not care if it hurts someone. For example, she wants a tape recorder (easier to switch off her music quickly with when someone approaches), but not just any tape recorder. She wants the most expensive one in the catalogue. When her parents say they can’t afford it, Susan pulls at their heartstrings and sympathy until they give in and buy it for her. She has no thought whatsoever about how hard financially it must have been on them. In another episode Susan wants to go on a school trip, but all the places are filled. So she gets the girl on the list ahead of her into trouble with a teacher so the girl gets crossed off the list. The poor girl’s in tears, but all Susan cares about is being on the trip after all.
Susan’s thinking resembles that of a spoiled brat. When it looks like she is not going to get her own way she thinks, “Oh, it’s not fair!” She thinks this so much it could be her tagline.
Then new girl Sonia arrives. Sonia has had the same illness, which diverts some of the big fuss over Susan away from her. Susan feels threatened by Sonia, especially where Sonia’s suggestions threaten to cramp her privileges at school, such as being excused note-taking in class and copying the notes off the girls later. However, Sonia suggests something she did when she did when she was deaf: tape-record the lessons and have her parents recite them to her later so she can lip-read from them. Susan, who never got the hang of lip-reading like Sonia and prefers to crib notes off the girls, has the tape-recorder cause such a nuisance in class that Sonia gets into trouble because of it. And so it becomes one of the dirty tricks Susan has been pulling on Sonia to make her unpopular and neutralise the threat she poses.
However, Susan’s lack of ability with lip-reading becomes the beginning of the end for her. During another lesson Sonia realises Susan can’t lip-read at all. Therefore she can’t be reading her classmates’ lips, so how come she understands them? It is then that Sonia begins to suspect the truth. But when she tackles Susan, Susan deals with her by feigning the waterworks. As planned, this turns the other girls against Sonia.
Sonia has her suspicions about Susan, though. While they are working in the school stockroom, Sonia pulls a trick to test her suspicions. Susan manages to wriggle her way out of that trick. But then there is a fire in the school and Sonia realises Susan can hear what’s going on all right. However, proving that Susan can hear is not that easy. Once they pupils evacuate from the school and get sent home because of the fire, Susan really pulls at the girls’ sympathy to forestall any attempt Sonia makes to convince them of her discovery. It works, and Susan is confident that Sonia will now give up.
But Susan is wrong. When the girls go to the park, Sonia makes one more attempt to catch Susan out, with a phoney “wet paint” warning. This time, she succeeds. Susan’s initial reaction is to arrogantly say what fools she’s made of them, how it’s been great fun, and she’s come out the winner. This just fuels the girls’ indignation at how Susan took advantage of them and they stalk off, saying they won’t have anything to do with her again. This has Susan realising she is not such a winner because there are going to be no more of the friendships, special privileges etc that she had enjoyed so much; “Oh, it’s not fair!” And she soon finds she is definitely not the winner because nobody ever trusts her again.
This was one of Mandy’s very last stories. It has the distinction of being the last-ever story Dudley Wynne drew for Mandy before she was cancelled. It is a somewhat cruel irony that this story was running cheek-by-jowl with a reprint of another Dudley Wynne Mandy story, “Angel”, because Angel is everything that the scheming Susan is not. It was also the last in Mandy’s long line of stories where a schemer fakes disability.
Stories where girls fake disability were a common staple in girls’ comics. Usually this was to take advantage of people as Susan did, but there have been other motives such as revenge, being blackmailed, or misguided bids to keep the family together. It was more frequent for them to fake blindness, lameness or paralysis rather than deafness, but feigned deafness has appeared elsewhere too, such as Tracy’s “Sheila the Sham”.
Deafness must have been a more difficult disability to fake, though. Imagine if there was a sudden, unbearable noise right in your ear! Faking deafness also means Susan has to miss out on some things such as not being able to laugh at a hilarious television show and the gossip she used to enjoy so much while she could hear. It also leads to difficulties such as Susan having to play her pop music in secret.
Susan isn’t as evil or despicable as some schemers such as Bettina / Linda from “The Dark Secret of Blind Bettina” aka “The Lying Eyes of Linda Lee”. Still, Susan is not a sympathetic character, even when she is genuinely deaf, and she remains unsympathetic throughout. The parents and schoolmates all sympathise with her, but we don’t when we see how opportunistic Susan is being about the big fuss over her. The deafness has done nothing to humble Susan or help cure her of her selfish nature. Instead, it’s made her even more selfish once she realises the advantages she is gaining from it, which far outweigh the disadvantages. She has no remorse or compunction about how she takes advantage of everyone and is not at all grateful for the extra-nice things they do for her. There are no second thoughts or twinges of guilt when she hurts others just to get what she wants. There is no quitting while she’s ahead, but these schemers in girls’ comics never do. She isn’t at all remorseful either when she is finally caught out. It’s just bitterness, horror, and thinking “Oh, it’s not fair!” The final page does not say whether the ensuing ostracism and distrust once Susan is caught out did change her for the better or just reinforced her “Oh, it’s not fair!” thinking. It’s all left to our imaginations. As it is, Susan remaining totally selfish throughout the story is realistic and believable, if regrettable.
It is fitting that the one to catch Susan out is one who had the same illness, which gave her the insight to see through Susan. Sonia is also a contrast to Susan in how she dealt with her illness. While Susan used it to take advantage of people, Sonia took the opportunity to learn and grow from it, such as learning to lip-read.
Some endings to serials can be rushed and crammed at times. So it is good to see the ending built up over a three-episode story arc instead of one episode. The final episodes of “Selfish Susan” do give the impression that Mandy was finishing off the story quickly because of the merger; the penultimate episode is a six-pager and the final one a four-pager, while Mandy’s usual format was three-page episodes. Still, readers always loved extra story spreads.