Tag Archives: exploitation

Tina the Terrible

Plot

Tina Layne’s parents died and her brother Tommy was badly injured in a tragic accident. The Laynes were taken in by their mother’s half sister, Janice Kent and her husband Frank. When Tina made an impression as a rebel rock singer, Janice and Frank set out to exploit her.

Notes

  • Artist: Andrew Wilson

Appeared

  • Tina the Terrible – Tracy: #55 (18 October 1980) – #68 (17 January 1981)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Chosen One (1985)

the-chosen-one-cover

Published: Bunty Picture Library #263

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #394

Note: Not to be confused with “The Chosen One”, Bunty Picture Library #97, 1971

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); José Ariza (story)

Plot

At school, Claudia Green is a talented singer who enters the school’s Martha Blair Music Scholarship. There is a bust of Martha Blair at school. Claudia feels its eyes are watching everyone and it sends chills along her spine. When alive, Martha Blair chose the winner herself, and the winner would be known as “The Chosen One”. The school music teacher thinks it sounds romantic. But when you think about it, it could also sound creepy…

Claudia wins the scholarship, and the prize includes free music lessons and a mini-bust of Martha Blair. But something odd happens when Claudia is near the main bust afterwards. She can’t seem to move and the bust seems to say, “Remember, Claudia, that you are the Chosen One! You must prove yourself to be worthy of this award! You must not abuse your talents!”

Claudia is not sure if it is her imagination or what. Whatever it is, though, it has reckoned without Claudia’s mother.

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Mrs Green has changed for the worse since her husband died. Money worries have made her selfish and she always seems to be in a surly mood and not thinking about Claudia. She does not appreciate the small kindnesses Claudia tries to do for her in attempts to make her feel better. And as for when Mum hears Claudia won the scholarship, all she says is: “Free music lessons? Is that all they gave you for a prize? Free music lessons aren’t going to put food on our table, are they?” Sounds like a prime candidate for reckless greed if the opportunity arises.

Sure enough, Mrs Green starts abusing Claudia’s singing as a means to make money. At first this is by entering a talent contest, and then it is contract with a Mike Slade to turn Claudia into a pop star. Claudia does not want to be a pop star, but Mum has no regard for her wishes or feelings whatsoever and puts emotional blackmail on her: “How can you be so selfish, Claudia? All these years I’ve struggled to give you a decent chance in life and this is how you repay me!”

Claudia dislikes Mr Slade from the first. She thinks he is a horrible man, and soon realises he is a greedy man who is only interested in her for as long as she will make him money. Claudia does not like the vulgar way he addresses her and her mother either. Mrs Green does not seem to mind, though. Mr Slade is fanning the flames of her greed as he moulds Claudia into a famous pop star. The more Claudia learns about being a pop star the less she likes it, but all her mother cares about is the money it will make.

It seems Claudia is not the only one who is unhappy about it. From the moment the unwanted pop star career began that mini-bust of Martha Blair starts to warn Claudia, “You are the Chosen One! You must not abuse your talent!”

Not surprising, other weird things start happening. The mini-bust is put on the piano while a teacher is coaching Claudia in being a pop star. Then Claudia feels an odd shiver and the piano lid goes crashing down on the teacher’s fingers for no apparent reason. Unfortunately for Claudia the teacher has told Mr Slade that she has what it takes to be a pop star. Now there is no stopping Mr Slade or Mum in pushing her into being one.

They both show Claudia how ruthless they are when they force her to miss a solo she was set to do for her school concert in order to go for an audition for “Rising Stars”. Mr Slade threatens to wash his hands of Claudia while Mum says a school concert is nothing compared to the chance Claudia will get at the audition. Claudia obeys, but the school finds out about the let-down and Claudia is disgraced there. She is upset, but Mum would not even care.

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Meanwhile, another weird thing happens at the audition. Mum would insist on taking that mini-bust of Martha Blair everywhere and has brought it along. Claudia gets an odd shiver and an entrant who looks a cert to win finds his guitar strings snapping for no apparent reason. So Claudia wins the audition by default, but feels she was somehow responsible for what happened to that entrant.

Back home, when Claudia puts on a record the voice of Martha Blair blares out of the speakers: “You have been warned, Claudia! Stop this foolishness before it is too late!”

At Claudia’s first recording at “Rising Stars” she knows that if she is successful she will be stuck in an unwanted career. But her recording comes to an abrupt end when the lights all explode at once and start a fire. Claudia felt oddly cold again just before it happened. “Rising Stars” will be out of business for weeks, but Mr Slade says he will find another way to bring them money. Claudia realises that he really means get his cut of the money.

The same pattern recurs at an open-air pop concert, and this time a canopy falls down. Worse, the stories of those other accidents catch up and Claudia is turned into the press sensation “Claudia the Jinx”! Mum and Mr Slade are not pleased at Claudia’s new reputation as a jinx but are too greedy to give up on her. Realising Claudia will not get another job because of her jinx reputation, Mr Slade forces her adopt a disguise and a new persona, “Sunny Beamish”, and has her sing for TV commercials. But at a shooting on a boat, Claudia hears Martha Blair’s voice out of nowhere, and of course disaster strikes the boat. Claudia the Jinx is then uncovered and the press make even more sensation out of it.

That night the mini-bust gets worse. It seems to get bigger and bigger, it gives off a strange glow, and it tells Claudia that she has had enough warning. She must now develop her talent in the way expected of the Chosen One – “or perish!” After this, Claudia definitely does not want to go to a pop show Mr Slade has booked for her in Germany (to escape her jinx reputation), but despite her efforts to avoid the flight she ends up on the plane. The plane gets damaged by a storm and has to return to the airport. Compared to Claudia’s premonitions of what was going to happen, it seems she got off lightly there. She is relieved they did not make it to Germany too.

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Nonetheless, Mr Slade isn’t giving up. Now he has Claudia work in a backing group (under another name and disguise). This time the weird pattern strikes the star of the show, who is taken mysteriously ill. Claudia does marvellously as a stand-in. Mr Slade now thinks Claudia has lived down her jinx reputation and it is safe for her to work openly again.

But afterward the mini-bust gets angry again and tells Claudia that disaster will keep striking her for as long as she abuses her talent. This is too much for Claudia, who runs blindly out into the street and is hit by a car.

When Claudia regains consciousness two days later she finds her mother is a changed person and she apologises for her selfish conduct. Mr Slade disappeared after realising Claudia was no longer in a condition to be a money-spinner for him, and Mum is not sorry to see the back of him. So Claudia is now free of her unwanted pop career, but faces a long, difficult road to recovery.

Eventually, Claudia wins a scholarship at the Marston Grange School of Music. Mum gets a housekeeping job there, with a flat to go with the job, so everything is fine for them both now. Claudia goes back to her old school to make peace with the big bust of Martha Blair, though she is no longer sure if the haunting was real or in her imagination. The statue is not telling.

Thoughts

In honour of the upcoming Halloween season, we continue discussion of spooky serials with this entry. And the haunted bust certainly is frightening. It leads off with the face of Martha Blair herself. Even before the haunting starts, the face of that formidable-looking lady would make anyone feel intimidated and even frightened. One can imagine the sort of person Martha Blair was in life. It is understandable that someone’s imagination might run riot if that face made too strong an impression on them, but are we really convinced it was imagination…? It is stretching imagination a bit far to imagine a bust growing larger and giving off a glow, or making threats in an angry voice. To say nothing of a supernatural voice coming out of speakers or out of nowhere on the wind. That is hallucination, not imagination, and there is no evidence of Claudia hallucinating. It is a bit hard to dismiss those weird things as some sort of subconscious reaction to the forced pop music career either. Claudia had her first odd encounter with the bust before Mum had even got started on it.

If it were indeed a real haunting, Martha Blair’s anger would be far more justifiable if Claudia really was abusing her talent for selfish or unsuitable ends. But Claudia is not abusing her talent – her talent is being abused, in the name of profit, and one of those abusers is her own mother. So it is quite unfair for Martha Blair to be haunting, jinxing and threatening Claudia in this way on top of poor Claudia being emotionally blackmailed into a career she does not want, just to satisfy her mother’s greed. If anything, Martha Blair should be haunting that selfish mother.

We get our first glimpse of how selfish the mother has become when Claudia comes home late from school. Mum grouses at Claudia for being kept waiting for her supper, which she expects Claudia to do. Why can’t the mother do the supper herself? She is quite capable. Is she going through some sort of depression over her husband’s death and stress over money? Or is she lumbering Claudia with all the housework or something? When Claudia wins the scholarship, Mum snaps at how it won’t bring in any money instead of being delighted and congratulating Claudia. She moans about money all the time, but we don’t see her raising any by working until the end of the story.

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Mum’s selfishness and fixation with money worries makes her easy prey for a money-grubber like Mike Slade. There is no evidence that Mr Slade is downright crooked as some music managers are in girls’ serials, but greed is written all over him. He does not care about the person he makes a star out of, only the money he will make out of that person. Claudia can see it and what sort of man Mr Slade is, However, Mum is too blinded by her own greed to see it as well and does not realise that Mr Slade is playing on her greed in order to feed his own.

As Mum’s greed grows, she becomes increasingly callous to Claudia. She does not care about what Claudia wants or her feelings, and does not listen to Claudia’s pleadings about them. Whenever Claudia tries to reason with Mum, she uses emotional blackmail, gives Claudia a look she can’t say no to, or just slaps Claudia down to get what she wants out of her. She does not think about Claudia feels over being called “The Jinx Girl” in the press. She just keeps pushing Claudia on into making more money as a pop star and damn her jinx reputation.

The press who brand Claudia a jinx have no regard for her feelings either – or what they will do to her reputation and career. All they care about is making a sensational story out of her. They bulldoze all over her protests that they can’t take her photograph: “Too late, love!”. More greedy people abusing a hapless girl for profit.

Only shock treatment can bring Mum to her senses, and she gets it when Claudia has the accident. Then Mr Slade walks out after he realises Claudia could make no more money for him, which must have opened Mum’s eyes about him.

The artwork from José Ariza makes a superb job of expressing how growing greed is changing Mum for the worse. Her face is getting harder when she speaks to Claudia and there are truly callous expressions on her face in several panels, which are really disturbing.

The protagonist in this story has a hard time on more than one front. First are the greedy mother and manager who exploit Claudia’s talent and ride roughshod over her wishes and feelings. Second is being terrorised by an angry spirit who is persecuting her for a rather unfair reason. The spirit’s wrath causes disaster to strike at every turn, which turns our unfortunate heroine into a tabloid sensation as a jinx on top of everything else! Third is having a terrible road accident that leaves her unable to walk for a long time. By the time Claudia is going for her own audition, she is still using walking aids. One can only hope that by this time the “Claudia the Jinx” moniker has been forgotten, particularly as the cause of it all should be at peace now.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

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Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

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After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

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The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.

Puppet Love

Plot:

Dina was heartbroken when her beloved, father died and she was left in the care of her greedy, bad-tempered Aunt Sylvia. Her aunt was determined to exploit Dina’s skill as a puppeteer and forced her to continue running Dad’s traveling puppet theatre.

puppet-love

Notes:

Appeared:

  • Puppet Love –  Judy: #1582 (05 May 1990) – (?)

The Saving of Sister Susie

Plot

Orphaned sisters Jane and Susie Miller were given a home by their greedy Aunt Margo and Uncle Harry. Jane was used as an unpaid servant, but was more concerned about her aunt and uncle’s plans to exploit Susie as a child model.

saving of sister susie

Notes

  • Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones

Appeared:

  • The Saving of Sister Susie –  Tracy: #01 (06 Oct. 1979) – #12 (22 Dec. 1979)
  • Reprinted – Judy and Tracy:  #1412 (31 Jan. 1987) – #1423 (18 Apr. 1987)