Tag Archives: John Armstrong

Misty Short Stories X: Mythical Creatures and Legends

In the tenth instalment of themed discussions on Misty short stories, we look at how Misty portrayed mythical creatures and legends. Vampires and werewolves are excluded because Misty did so many of them it would make the entry too long. Maybe at some point they will have their own Misty Short Stories entries.

There are a couple of cases where the creatures in these stories fall into a grey area. Strictly speaking, they are not mythical, but they share enough parallels with mythical creatures to be included here.

1: Creatures of the Deep

As these stories show, Misty drew on a lot of mythical sea creatures, particularly ones with hypnotic/bewitching powers. Sea monsters in Misty were far less common, but there were exceptions.

Mermaid

Misty: #88

Rafael Busom

Sheila meets a mermaid, but finds out the mermaid wants to capture her soul so she can venture on land; otherwise, she will be turned into a fish. The mermaid tries to bewitch Sheila with her music and lure her out to sea so they can swap places. Sheila tries to run, but no matter what she tries, she still hears the mermaid’s music. The spell gets broken when the mermaid gets caught in a fisherman’s net and becomes a fish. Although relieved to be free of the spell, Sheila does have a pang of pity for the mermaid because she was so beautiful.

 Thoughts

We can just see the connotations of this story if Sheila had been male. Indeed, so often it is men who get bewitched by mermaids/sirens, so it is a twist to have a female fall under the spell.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

Misty: #81

Artist: Blas Gallego

Reprint: Best of Misty Monthly #8

Criminals hide their loot in a deserted lighthouse, and shoot the lighthouse keeper Andy dead. They hear a girl’s voice calling for her father and go in search of her, but both end up dead. Andy’s daughter has had her revenge on them, but it is not until the final panel that we learn she is a mermaid.

Thoughts

One does have to wonder how the lighthouse keeper can have a mermaid for a daughter. Guess the lighthouse is so isolated the lighthouse keeper doesn’t get much company other than mermaids. It is a nice twist, having the daughter turn out to be a mermaid, and her using her mermaid powers to wreak justified deaths on the two killers.

Seal of Secrecy

Misty: #20

Artist: John Armstrong

Margaret’s father won’t let her swim in the sea or even learn to swim, saying the currents are too treacherous and her mother and uncle drowned in a boating accident. One day a girl named Dawn swims into the cove and befriends Margaret. When Dad hears about Dawn he says she must be a Silkie i.e. a seal that takes on human form to lure people to their death, but Margaret does not believe it. Dawn returns and Margaret enters the sea with her. She discovers she can swim and dares Dawn to race her to the nearest headland. But unknown to Margaret, her mother was the Silkie and she lured the uncle to his death (no boating accident). The real reason Dad kept Margaret away from water was her Silkie blood, but it won in the end. Meanwhile, Dawn’s family are waiting for her…

Thoughts

This story is very reminiscent of the Jinty story “Combing Her Golden Hair”, but it has more sinister overtones. At first Dad comes across as stupid, overprotective and superstitious. But after the reveal, we see Dad has a more serious and noble reason the grandmother in the Jinty serial than for trying to fight a (losing) battle against Margaret’s Silkie heritage: it will turn her into a killer if she discovers it. He is also traumatised at losing his brother at the hands of his Silkie wife. But like the grandmother, in the end he could not win against the mythical heritage. One can only hope that as Margaret is only part Silkie and is still part human, she will not start luring people to their deaths.

Seal Song

Misty: #10

Artist: Juan Solé?

Reprint: Best of Misty #3

Meg Peters’ stepfather, Jack Tanner, abuses her and her mother. Then Meg encounters a seal on the beach. She recognises it as one she saved as a pup. It sings along to her recorder and its song comforts her. Tanner discovers the singing seal and tries to capture it so he can make money out of its singing. But the singing hypnotises Tanner and draws him out into the sea. A sudden tidal wave sweeps him away, never to be seen again. Meg and her mother are happy again, but Meg is at her happiest when she is with her singing seal.

Thoughts

It’s not clear if this singing seal is a mythical creature (a good Silkie, maybe?), but it comes close enough to merit inclusion here. The seal certainly is reminiscent of a siren or mermaid in the way it hypnotises Tanner with its singing and lures him to his doom.

The Sea’s Graveyard

Misty: #33

Artist: Jose Canovas

Jane Holden and her father out on their boat “The Sea Lady” and get caught in a severe storm. Jane thinks she sees a figure outside. The Sea Lady founders, and Jane regains consciousness in the hold of a strange old-fashioned ship. She finds scrolls that list the names of the ships and crews that have foundered over the ages – including themselves. Then she discovers the ship is at the bottom of the sea. Jane now realises she and her father are in Davy Jones’ locker. Davy Jones appears, and Jane recognises him as the figure she saw earlier. She throws a lantern at Davy Jones, destroying the scroll that bears the name of the Sea Lady and herself and her father as casualties. This frees them from Davy Jones’ locker, and a rescue ship is surprised to pick them up six days after they foundered. Jane has no memory of her encounter with Davy Jones. A sailor comments that it’s not often someone escapes from Davy Jones’ locker.

Thoughts

Indeed, it is not often you escape from Davy Jones’ locker. But it looks simple to do – just destroy the scroll with the name of your ship and name on it. Davy Jones himself sure is a frightening figure and one of the scariest in Misty’s stories. He appears as a hooded figure and there is a terrible smell of decay about him. When his face is finally shown, he seems to have some sort of reptilian skin. His locker is brilliantly conceived and the artwork really brings it to life. It is the hold of a ship that appears to be some sort of ships’ museum, and the reveal that it is at the bottom of the sea is a stunner.

Safe Until Morning

Misty: #26

Artist: Josep Gual

Reprint: Best of Misty Monthly #6

Rita is bored stiff with her camping holiday with her parents. She falls into the lake, but a monster lifts her out. It scares off bikers who try to mug her and keeps watch over her until morning. Next day a search party finds Rita. The parents decide to go home, saying they’ve spent two months looking for the Loch Ness Monster without success and reckon it must be a legend.

Thoughts

It’s a nice take, having the Loch Ness Monster as the protector and rescuer of a girl in trouble. We are left hoping Nessie will stay safe like Rita, as the closing text box says. Come to think of it, when Nessie appears in a girls’ serial, he (she?) tends to be portrayed as sympathetic instead of a dangerous monster that needs to be hunted down and destroyed. Bunty’s “Humpy Dumpy” is one example.

The Sea Demon

Misty: #42
Artist: Unknown

A ship picks up a survivor, Wendy Coles. She tells them her family yacht was attacked by Gorr, a sea demon who disguised himself as a human, Mr Pocock, whom they picked up on their travels. She tells them not to pick up any more survivors in case one of them is Gorr. They ignore this and continue to search for survivors. But unknown to them, Wendy is the sea demon.

Thoughts

Though the sea demon is not strictly a mythical creature, it is close enough to be included here. Certainly it shares several characteristics with the other mythical beasts here, particularly ones that assume human form to trap people, or simply lure them to their doom. In fact, Gorr deserves to have a serial. His power to assume any human form and his lust for destruction and evil would make him a brilliant and frightening antagonist that would be extremely tough to destroy, which would make for a thrilling, exciting serial.

Misty Short Stories VIII: Ghosts

In our eighth volume on Misty short stories we turn to the subject of ghosts, which, predictably, is huge. Owing to the expanse of the subject, there will be no individual thoughts for each story. However, the stories will be grouped into subthemes in accordance with the role the ghost served in the story, and there will be “closing thoughts” at the end.

1: Revenge from Beyond the Grave

It is no surprise that a lot of ghosts in Misty’s complete stories were there to inflict comeuppances. In many cases the motivation was revenge for causing the death of the person who is now a ghost, by murder, neglect or other means. The ghost’s revenge usually takes the forms of:

  • Punishment fitting the crime, sometimes in a “give them what they want” manner (“The Disembodied”)
  • Ruin them (“Dance of Death”)
  • Ensure they don’t enjoy their ill-gotten gains (“Black Agnes”)

Dance of Death

Misty: #27

Artist: John Richardson

A cruel innkeeper, Joseph Higgins, forces fiddler Peter Price and his daughter Nancy to play and dance for their supper, ignoring their protests that they are too cold and hungry to put on a good performance. Their performance is predictably awful, and the cruel spectators torture Nancy too. Higgins kicks them out into the cold, where they freeze to death, and smashes Price’s fiddle. But their ghosts start haunting the inn, fiddling and dancing, which drives off customers. Higgins tries to sell the inn, but nobody will buy it with those ghosts in “permanent residence”, and he is ruined.

A Room of Her Own

Misty: #69

Artist: Joseph Gual

Lorna Barnes is taken in by the Hennings after her grandmother dies, but their daughter Joan does not want to share her room with Lorna. So Joan tries to get rid of Lorna by playing “haunted house” to scare her away (a trick also used in the Misty short story, “Nightmare!”). It goes too far when Lorna runs away in terror and drowns in a swamp. But Joan soon finds she still doesn’t have the room to herself – she is now sharing it with Lorna’s ghost.

Malice in Wonderland

Misty: #75

Artist: Bob Harvey

Reprint: Best of Misty #8

The ghost of a girl haunts a fairground, Wonderland. She has driven off customers and the once-booming fairground is now deserted. The owner, Richard Hobson, confronts the ghost for ruining him. She says she is making him pay for the negligence of the roller coaster that caused her death, which he bribed his way out of in court. Hobson tries to run her over with the same roller coaster, but forgets she is a ghost, and only sends himself plunging to his death. He in turn becomes the resident ghost of Wonderland, which reopens under more savoury management, and can only watch as its new profits go into the new owner’s pocket.

The Disembodied

Misty: #68

Artist: John Richardson

On a class trip Olivia rips a page out of a book of spells that was once owned by an baron who practised black magic She uses the spell to summon the spirits of three of her teachers to give her all the answers to a school test. But she gets greedy and demands more and more information from them, which keeps them up past dawn, despite their protests. When Olivia learns the three teachers have died, she discovers too late she overlooked something: if the spirits do not return to their bodies before dawn they will become disembodied and cling to the person responsible for their deaths until the day their true deaths should have occurred. The disembodied spirits take revenge by giving Olivia more and more answers until she gets information overload – literally – and her head is ready to burst.

Black Agnes

Misty: #59

Artist: Josep Gual

In 1665–6 London, Agnes Barton takes up a position as a servant in the wealthy Patterson household. She poisons the family, taking steps to ensure everyone puts it down to plague, so she can steal their moneybox. But she soon finds the Pattersons’ ghosts are following her around. At Pudding Lane the haunting drives her to breaking point and she throws the stolen money back at the ghosts: “Take your gold! Begone I say!”, but knocks over a candle while doing so. This starts the Great Fire of London, and she perishes in the blaze.

Lead Kindly Light

Misty: #57

Artist: Maria Barrera

Ruth’s stepfather Jabez Penallen is a shipwrecker and he whips her into being his accomplice. Ruth sees no way to escape. Running away is hopeless because Jabez will only find her again. Reporting him is no use because he has everyone believe he is a devout, respectful churchgoer. An old friend, Sybilla, arrives and helps Ruth escape on a ship, but Jabez wrecks it while not knowing she was on board. Ruth returns as a ghost, but Jabez does not realise she is one. She uses his own false light and takes advantage of his blind rage towards her to lure him to his doom over the cliff. She then extinguishes the wrecker’s lantern forever.

Misty Short Stories III: Witches

For the third volume of Misty Short stories I have selected Misty stories with a corresponding theme: witchcraft and how Misty portrayed witches in her complete stories. As many of the stories have a similar theme, they have been grouped together under subheadings, with “thoughts” attached. I have also included closing thoughts at the end of the overview. Text stories have been omitted from this list. So witch-themed text stories such as “The Story of Little Wytching” have been excluded.

1: The Wise Woman

The true definition of “witch” is wise woman, a person who would use folk magic and herbal knowledge to help people. But witch-believers did not always see it that way and wise women were always vulnerable to being persecuted as agents of Satan. As the following stories show, Misty had the sense to frequently show the witch as she really was: a wise woman. However, they also show that how the wise woman’s help was received, or even understood, depended very much on how much the protagonist needed – or deserved – her help.

Bookworm

Misty: #99

Artist: Jordi Badia Romero

Reprints: Scream & Misty Halloween Special #2

Joanie Preston is a bookworm, but also a selfish, lazy girl. She wants to live the life of Lady Agatha in a book she is reading, where she can live in ease and comfort and never have to work. She finds a spellbook in Professor Margolis’ collection of forbidden books. She bullies Old Nell, who has a reputation for witchcraft, into helping her cast one of the spells to transport her into the Lady Agatha book. She ignores Old Nell’s warnings that it is evil black magic and can only bring disaster. While Joanie is casting the spell the Professor finds out and tries to intervene. This causes Joanie to take the wrong book into the magic circle – and its title is “Dracula”.

Thoughts

It is curious that although Old Nell warns Joanie that using the black magic will lead to catastrophe, what really causes Joanie’s undoing is her accidentally taking the wrong book into the magic circle. The danger of using black magic might have been more effective if Joanie had gone into  the Lady Agatha book after all, only to find it’s not what she expected – a monkey’s paw sort of thing.

If Only…

Misty: #51

Artist: Carlos Guirado

Poor girl Lois is jealous of rich, spoiled girl Kora, so she visits a witch, Widow Farley. Farley agrees to help because Kora is a girl after her own black heart and Lois deserves the spell.  The spell has Lois and Kora switch bodies. Then Lois finds out too late what Farley really meant by her deserving the spell: Kora was dying, and this is why she was spoiled.

Thoughts

We are told that Widow Farley is a more black-hearted wise woman than the other examples below, but it gets no development. The story would have been fine to leave that part out and have Widow Farley give Lois the spell just to punish her for her jealousy.

Aunt Mary’s Blessing

Misty: #21

Artist: Uncertain

Dying – and creepy – Aunt Mary tells Melody that she has Romany powers, which include precognition, and Melody is to inherit the art. Melody does not want any part of it. After her death, Aunt Mary appears as a ghost to Melody and tells her where to find the box that contains her inheritance. Sensing what is happening, Mum gives Melody a crucifix for protection but a teacher confiscates it. Aunt Mary draws Melody to her house and directs her to dig up a box, which contains a hand. As the hand touches Mary left hand, it crumbles into dust, and Aunt Mary tells Melody she will not see her again. Later, Melody has a premonition that her hospitalised father will be okay, but inwardly adds, while looking at her left hand: “But will I?”

Thoughts

So Melody is fated to inherit Aunt Mary’s powers. But are these powers really evil or is it just a case of people being afraid of something they don’t understand? Aunt Mary sure is creepy, but is she evil? And would Melody inheriting the powers make her evil? Or will Melody find it a great gift that she learns to accept and love? The title does say Aunt Mary’s inheritance is a “blessing” after all.

A Girl’s Best Friend

Misty: #48

Artist: John Richardson

Reprint: as Carla’s Best Friend in Tammy 15 January 1983

Blind Carla and her guide dog meet Old Greta. They are kind to Greta while others avoid her because she says she is a witch. That night Belle slips out to Greta’s house, and Greta realises why Belle has come. Next morning, Carla is astonished and overjoyed to find she has suddenly regained her sight, but then realises Belle is missing. Greta explains that she did use a spell to restore Carla’s sight, but for it to work, someone else has to give up his or her sight in return. Belle made the choice to do so, and now she is blind. Shocked to see Belle blind in her stead, Carla begs Greta to reverse the spell. Greta says Belle will still have a good life as long as Carla reciprocates the love and affection Belle showed her when she was blind. Carla hugs Belle and promises her all the love in the world forever.

Thoughts

This is one of Misty’s most brilliant and moving short stories. Carla regains her sight with the help of the witch, but it’s not a happy ending. It’s a bittersweet ending that leaves us all in tears when we learn the price that has been paid for Carla’s new sight. We cry even more when we learn Belle will stay blind, and will need all the love and help she can get.

The Queen’s Hair

Misty: #43

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Reprint: Best of Misty 4

Tyrannical Queen Elida administers cruel justice to her subjects and throws them in her dungeons. The real reason for this is that she blames them for an illness that caused her hair to fall out and she has to wear wigs. Elida strikes a bargain with a witch for a spell for new hair. The witch gives Elida a headband that will make her hair grow again, but she must not wear it for more than 24 hours. Elida reneges on the deal and throws the witch into her infamous dungeon.

Although Elida does grow new hair she does not forgive, and she leaves her prisoners in the dungeons to rot while she throws a celebration. But then Elida’s hair starts growing crazily and uncontrollably. She realises it’s because she forgot to remove the headband after 24 hours (we thought that might happen). Elida soon finds there is no way of stopping the super-growing hair or removing the headband. The witch can’t help as she died in Elida’s freezing dungeons. Elida’s angry subjects seize the moment to storm the castle, rescue the prisoners, and exact revenge on Elida. But they find there is no need for revenge because the hair is now engulfing the whole castle and bringing Elida down with it.

Thoughts

As with Old Greta, the witch is the helper. But the witch would have really been able to help Elida if she hadn’t been beyond helping. Growing her hair back was not enough to help Elida. She had grown so cruel and selfish that she was totally beyond redemption, and she was given a chance to redeem herself. Plus she reneged on her bargain with the witch, which was really asking for trouble. We can’t help but wonder if the witch caused Elida to forget to remove the headband in time and it was she who engineered her own death in the dungeons, rather than the cold.

John Armstrong

Anyone who has read girls comics will be familiar with John Armstrong’s work. From his long run drawing for Bella at the Bar, strips in cult favorite comic Misty and a run of covers for Bunty in the 1990s, along  with many other strips, he was a prominent contributor to girls comics. Sadly John passed away on 28 August this year. Down the tubes have printed a nice memoriam piece for John which you can read here. Clearly he will be missed, and while John was deserving of more recognition for his work, it is nice to know that he was able to see some of his work reprinted (with credits), with the Rebellion treasury line.  First was the Misty reprint of Moonchild and more recently Tammy’s Bella at the Bar.

                       

Until I started this blog, I wasn’t familiar with creator’s names (due to credits regrettably  not being given) and there are still many unknown, but lucky some have been tracked down. Of course some artists were able to sneak in a signature in the background, so these days it can be like a “Where’s Wally?” looking for Armstrong’s distinct J.A. signature. When I first started reading comics, while I wouldn’t have known his name, Armstrong’s art was instantly recognisable. When I was younger, probably his work for Bunty covers is where I first noticed him, I was fan of The Comp and really liked his depictions of some of my favourite characters. I’ve found more of his work since and it is always top quality. He is maybe best known for his gymnastic stories due to his work on Bella and I recently covered a late Bunty story he did Secret Gymnast.   But he had quite a range, whether it was horse stories, family drama, romance, mystery or historical . His protagonists were often of a working class background and his talent at depicting emotions always came across in the strip. A story from a Bunty annual that stuck with me, is a blind girl that is told by her parents that she is their princess, when she get’s her sight back and sees (in her eyes) that she is not as pretty as a princess she is devastated. Then there was his work on Misty, when I did a list of some of my favourite short stories of that comic, it’s no surprise majority are drawn by him (see that blog post here). There are many other stories that I can see clear in my mind because of his artwork, it would be impossible to pick one favourite, and I can still enjoy reading his old stories (I also look forward to discovering the old stories I haven’t read yet).

 

 

Secret Gymnast [1993]

  • Secret Gymnast – Bunty: #1873 (4 December 1993) – #1884 (19 February 1994)
  • Art: John Armstrong

Plot

Ginny Jones, enjoys sports, but she has yet to find the one that fits her best, she gets a bit too enthusiastic for team sports! After a hockey match she gets into a fight with some girls from the competing school. She escapes them by running away through a building site. Unknown to her, while she is maneuvering around the site, she is being watched. The older woman sees potential on her and invites her into her house. Ginny keeps a safe distance as the woman seems strange and her house derelict. She leads her to a gym and tells her she has been looking for a promising student for quite a while and wants to train her to be a gymnast. Ginny agrees to be trained despite some oddness from her new coach, like her habit of calling her Gina and wanting to keep the lessons secret.

Coach is a hard taskmaster and in keeping up with her training she gets in trouble in other parts of her life.  Ginny does feels she’s already learnt a lot and thinks maybe she doesn’t need the coach or the hassle. But after doing badly, in a school competition, she realises she does still need Coach. She tries to follow Coach’s directions, so even when her dad treats the family to McDonalds she sticks to her diet. She is tempted by a doughnut but  then she hears Coach’s voice telling her to remember her training, which causes her to drop the doughnut. Ginny thinks it must have been her guilty conscience, that made her hear the voice. Later when they pass the derelict houses, where Coach lives, her father mentions that they will all be torn down soon and only few squatters live there. So Ginny concludes that’s why Coach is always in a rush, because she isn’t supposed to be there.

After she has to letdown her school P.E. teacher by turning down a rematch competition, Ginny is happy that Coach wants to enter her in a local competition. There is a fee to be submitted with the entry form but when she brings it up with coach, she goes strange and looks tired. Ginny says she’ll get the money somehow, she thinks if Coach is a squatter she musn’t have much money either. Ginny manages to scrape money together but it leaves nothing for her mom’s upcoming birthday. She decides to cook her a birthday tea instead, but then she loses track of time at practice and is home late. Her younger sister, Kylie, is upset that she spoiled mom’s birthday.

Ginny’s secret training causes more problems as she falls out with a friend, after she doesn’t help with a paper round as she promised. She does think that at least Coach will be pleased that she placed third, at the local competition, but Coach informs her she expected more. Ginny doesn’t know if she should continue, saying that perhaps she is wasting Coach’s time. Coach backtracks, but Ginny is still feeling fed up. Coach says if she doesn’t see her the next day then she’ll take it that the training is over. But the next day Ginny has to look after her brother and sister while her mom is at the dentist, she doesn’t want to let them down again, but it causes her to be late to practice. As soon as she can, she rushes to practice, Coach is still there but she looks ill. Concerned, Ginny says she’s ready to dedicate herself to practice. Coach informs her they are running out of time she must practice before and after school.

At school she feels obliged to play a hockey match but is injured. Coach of course is not pleased with this, Ginny says if she could explain to her teachers about her gymnastics training, she wouldn’t be put in this situation. But Coach insists until she wins the regional championship she must keep it secret, after that it doesn’t matter. She has ointment to help with Ginny’s ankle and after a bit of rest she is able to pick up her training. As the competition nears, Ginny improves and Coach praises her more, but she also seems more forgetful. Meanwhile the houses are to be knocked down soon and Ginny gets cleared away by some Workmen. She goes back later and more of the house is boarded and a sign saying “Danger Demolition” is outside. She does find Coach still there, but she shies away when Ginny goes to physically thank her for her help. The big competition the next day, she bumps into her friends who are there to watch and she explains that she is a contestant and that’s what she’s been up to all this time. Ginny is delighted when she wins and rushes to tell Coach. She has to climb in a window as the door is blocked and there is no sign of Coach. She is going to leave Coach a note, but when she picks up a piece of paper to write on, she finds it’s and old newspaper article that says Coach Vera Ramsey along with her student Gina were killed two years ago (how this paper got there in the first place is a mystery in itself!). Ginny yells out her thanks to the Coach and promises to keep up the hard work, a year later she has kept her promise and remembers to thank both Vera and her current coach when she is presented with her medals.

Thoughts

With the release of Tammy’s Bella at the Bar, it seems an ideal time to look at other John Armstrong work featuring a gymnast. A possible prototype to Bella, A Leap for Lindy, was already discussed on the Jinty resource site, and here in Secret Gymnast we get to see a post-Bella work. Bella is probably Armstrong’s most famous work and we can see here that Ginny bears a close resemblance to Bella.  Armstrong has said he enjoyed drawing gymnastic stories (he certainly had a talent for it), so it is bit surprising that other than Bella there are so few of his stories that feature a gymnast. He did a lot of work for IPC and DCT but this is the only gymnastic story that I know of that he did for DCT (if I’m wrong and he did others, please let me know!). Perhaps  gymnastic stories just weren’t as popular as they were in the 70s/early 80s or Bella’s fame was too much and they didn’t want her to overshadow other stories, as one can’t help but draw comparisons.

A lot of the stories Armstrong drew, featured a working class protagonist, Ginny is no exception, but perhaps being set in the 90s, the world has improved somewhat since the Thatcher era. Money is still tight, Ginny struggles to get money together for entry form, there are people without work, the school can’t afford proper gymnastic equipment, there are derelict houses…. but Ginny’s father has a job, they can send her younger sister to ballet lessons (even if they couldn’t afford to also send Ginny), and have treats like a trip to McDonalds. Also it’s noted the houses being knocked down and new development built up, which will offer more jobs, so Britain doesn’t seem to be as desolate a place as it is portrayed in some of the 70s stories (although it’s still far from perfect!). It is interesting looking at the social commentary in these stories as an adult, as I probably didn’t read much into it as a child.

Unlike Bella, at least Ginny does not have to deal with cruel guardians, her family are generous with what they have and seem supportive, I’m sure they would have supported her gymnastics if they knew about it (although they probably wouldn’t approve of her being trained in a rundown house with a strange woman!). The main conflict of the story comes from Ginny keeping her training secret, it leads her to let down her family and friends with no explanation. Ginny does feel guilty about this and there are times she sacrifices her gymnastics in order to make up for previous events, such as competing in the hockey match and babysitting for her mom. As we see her struggle to balance these things, we also root for her to succeed and are pleased to see her training pays off.

The other driving plot of the story is the mystery surrounding Coach. Why she lives in a run down house, what her name and background is, and why she seems confused and abrupt at times. There are hints of something ghostly about her from early on, but not enough to make it too obvious. One of the more blatant instances of supernatural Ginny hearing her voice stopping her from breaking her diet, but even that can be explained away. There is real sense of urgency in Coach, Ginny must win as she hasn’t the time to start again, she knows time is running out. We see her strength fading, presumably her spirit is tied to her house and gym and the closer it gets to it’s destruction the weaker she becomes. We can hope she finds some sense of peace, when she achieves what she set out to do – train a champion and that is why she lets go and is not there when Ginny comes to tell her the news. It is nice that the last panel shows that Ginny acknowledges her first Coach and honours her.

The Boy Next Door [1989]

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

Plot

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

Boy next door1

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

Boy next door2

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

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

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

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

Boy next door5

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Thoughts

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

Boy next door3

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

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

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Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve – Review

mistyThere has already been quite a few reviews of this new Rebellion reprint of Misty Stories, which is great to see it’s being well received.  This isn’t the first Rebellion book I have got and I was pleased to see the quality I expected continues for this reprint. It’s glossy paper, well bound (which having had books where the pages fall out the first time you open them is an important factor!) and (for the most part) faithful reprinting of the material.

The two stories chosen are certain to be among favorites. Moonchild – inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie and written by Pat Mills with art by John Armstrong was one of the first stories printed in Misty. It follows Rosemary Black a girl with a crescent moon scar on her forehead who develops strange powers. Her oppressive, abusive mother claims it is wickedness in her, while she also has to deal with nasty bullies in school.  The reprint is taken from the 1983 Misty annual rather than the original issues, but unless you’re familiar with the original it is hardly noticeable and doesn’t take away much from the atmospheric story. John Armstrong’s art is great and certainly I am fan of the bigger splash pages he does. Unfortunately because of the use of thin lines the art appears faded in some places, it may distract a little, but it is a minor quibble and Rebellion have done well in reproducing the story.

moonchild       4-faces

The second story is The Four Faces of Eve written by Malcolm Shaw with art by Brian Delaney, it is a mysterious story about Eve, a girl who has amnesia, but then has nightmares about a girl dying. As she tries to unravel the mystery she also finds she has a connection to two other dead girls too. Although it is a close call, this is my favorite of the two stories, the mystery, the questionable parents, the suspenseful build up and the gorgeous art by Brian Delaney. This reprint is more faithful, including the title and recap box for every episode.

Along with the stories there are two crafty features which are a nice addition, a foreword from Pat Mills and profiles of the creators in the back, including Shirley Bellwood who was responsible for the art of cover girl Misty. Although the book may look thin, there is a lot packed in and all of it is good quality (and certainly it’s no thinner than a lot of other trade-paperbacks). It will entertain fans of old girls comics or people who like a good supernatural story and appreciate fantastic artwork.

[Misty: Featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve. Rebellion Publishing, 2016. ISBN 9781781084526]

Read comixminx review focusing on publishing choices here:

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve (2016)

Misty Short Stories II

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

1: The Girl Who Walked on Water

Misty: #35

Artist: José Canovas

Writer: Barry Clements (?)

Plot

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

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

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

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

Girl Who Walked on Water panel copy

Thoughts

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

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

2: The Treatment

Misty: #75

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

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

The Treatment panel copy

Thoughts

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

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

3: The Chase

Misty: #40

Artist: Douglas Perry

Plot

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

The Chase panel copy

Thoughts

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

4: Sticks and Stones

Artist: John Richardson

Misty: #9

Plot

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

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

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

Sticks and Stones panel copy

Thoughts

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

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

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

5: The Purple Emperor

Misty: #12

Artist: Isidro Mones

Plot

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

Purple Emperor panel copy

Thoughts

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

6: The Gravedigger’s Daughter

Misty: #78

Artist: John Armstrong

Plot

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

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

Gravediggers Daughter panel copy

Thoughts

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

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

7: Vengeance is Green…

Misty: #15

Artist: José Ariza

Plot

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

Vengeance is Green panel copy

Thoughts

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

8: Monster of Greenacres

Misty: #85

Artist: Jacques Goudon

Plot

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

Monster of Greenacres panel copy

Thoughts

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

9: The Monkey

Misty: #80

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

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

Monkey panel copy

Thoughts

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

10: Danse Macabre

Misty: #52

Artist: Maria Barrera

Plot

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

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

 Danse Macabre panel copy

Thoughts

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

Bunty 2009

bunty 2009This is the last Bunty annual, not including any ‘best of Bunty’ books that came out after it.  At a mere 80 pages including covers already it’s at a disadvantage for being 48 pages less than the older annuals. The cover shows a clear change in how they market the book. A cover girl appears but is mostly overwhelmed by flashy banners advertising whats inside and celebrity pictures.  Of course when this annual came out, the weekly issues had stopped for many years, so it may be understandable they are trying different methods to entice readers in with. Inside the annual, there is a table of contents, there are only 8 stories altogether; 4 picture stories, 2 text stories and 2 photo stories, the book is more feature heavy with 22 features. Some of the features  are factual articles, quizzes, posters and puzzle pages. The whole annual is full colour. (For just a list of contents click here)

Picture Stories

The Comp       (Pages: 19-25)

Art: Peter Wilkes

There are a lot of reprints in this annual, but this story I can’t confirm is a reprint,  it has some more up to date (for the time) references, like mention of the  X-Factor tv show, but it may have just updated the dialogue. At Redvale Comp there is going to be a concert for an end of term fund raiser. Laura, Roz,  Hayley and Becca are trying to think of an act for the concert and decide they will perform as  a tribute band – the Spice Girls, as they were when they started. They need a fifth person, they ask Nikki but she says her and Claire are more comfortable handling backstage stuff. Freddy volunteers to be Scary Spice. Stancee, Roz’s stepsister directs the group. They plan to mime and dance, but then the auditions take place and don’t allow any props. They try their best and luckily their routine and explanation means they barely make it, despite the bad singing. On the night of the concert in their costumes they are the hit of the concert, even if Jayne the Payne and Margaret aren’t impressed. The story is fine, nice to see the Comp gang again, although it may seem familiar to me because I think it was quite common for The Comp annual stories to revolve around some sort of concert!

Bunty_2009_comp

Strictly Dancing!      (Pages: 33-38)

Art: Andy Tew

This was first printed in the 1995 annual under a different name – The Perfect Partner. The story has also had a colour update. now in full-colour rather than the orange/black/white it was before. There are some other changes-  like the lettering is different, there are some alterations to the dialogue (mainly to reiterate the title strictly dancing) and the main characters names are changed. Danielle has her name shortened to Danni and Mark  becomes Nat.

The story itself has Nat and Danni as friends and dance partners. It isn’t until someone points out that they would make a great couple that Danni realises her feelings for Nat aren’t platonic. Unfortunately at the same time Nat gets a girlfriend, Zoe. When Zoe comes to watch their dance practices, Danni can’t concentrate and decides to dance solo for a while. Nat misses Danni though and he realizes he also has feelings for her so the resume their partnership and start dating. The colour update is fine, it doesn’t overwhelm the original drawing, so it works well. The forced extra dialogue can be a bit much though “We’re strictly dancing partners”  “It’s strictly dancing to him. Nothing more”.  Still the story holds up well enough and clearly isn’t outdated that it still works 14 years later.

Bunty_2009_strictly

perfectpartners_B95

The Four Marys      (Pages: 45-49)

Art: Jim Eldridge

This first appeared in the 1999 annual. The story is set at Christmas with the opening splash page of the girls and their class caroling around a Christmas tree. Later at a shop the other Marys tell Cotty that she is going to need to brush up on her French when she wins the Chrismas Card Art Competition, the prize of which is a trip to Disneyland Paris. Cotty modest as ever says others could win including Carol, a kind girl whose parents have fallen on hard times. Cotty notices that  Carol gives a little boy some extra money so he can afford to buy a present and get the bus home. Later at school the paintings for the competition are hanging. Everyone is agreeing Cotty’s is the best, but she no longer wants to win and would rather Carol did. Cotty looks at Carol’s knows how it could be improved. That night she makes some changes to both pictures adding a little extra to Carol’s picture and making hers a little duller. The next day Carol wins the competition.

Bunty_2009_4 marys

It is a nice gesture by Cotty but it does seem to diminish Carol’s abilities a bit.  Because of course no one could actually be better than Cotty! Not only does she have to make her own picture look less good she also has to improve Carol’s picture. Also while Cotty’s painting of the school is nice, it’s not very Christmassy compared to Carols.

Carly’s Cats!        (Pages: 57 – 63)

Art: John Armstrong

Another reprint taken from the 1995 annual. The lettering and the title style have changed, probably to fit in better with the rest of the book. There are some slight changes to the dialogue and little changes like the closing statement in the last panel was initially just a thought rather than spoken out loud. Also the main cat’s name changes from Griselda to Maisie.

The story is about  a girl Carly that works in a cat sanctuary but the cats home lease is up, so they have to try to find homes for each of the cats or the cats will be put down. She finds homes for a few, though she does run into a few problems like a fashion designer, who just wants an exotic cat, Tang, as a background ornament. Carly takes Tang back explaining cats are pets not ornaments, luckily on the way home  Tang escapes and runs into a man’s home who would love a new cat after his old one died. One of the cats Maisie keeps getting into trouble by exploring a neighbour’s property. This turns out to be a lucky thing when a fire starts and Maisie wakes up the owner. In gratitude, she offers the cat sanctuary to set up in her old outbuildings.

Bunty_2009_Carlys cats

This was one of my favourite stories when I read it first time around in the older annual, and it still as good now, this is in large part due to John Armstrong’s great artwork.

Text Stories

The New Girl      (Pages: 40-41)

Writer: Susan Elizabeth Issacs
Illustrations: Susannah Fishbourne

The text stories and their spot art are actually credited in this book! It is strange that sometimes text stories would be credited but they still didn’t like to print who was responsible for picture stories. Anyway this story is about a girl Lexi that moves to a new town. On her first day she makes friends with the next door neighbour Petra and her cousin, Dawn, that lives close by. Petra is going away on holidays, but Lexi is excited to make plans with Dawn. But then Dawn doesn’t call all week. When she sees her in town she ignores her. Then she literally bumps into her spilling drink on her, Dawn calls her an idiot and walks away. Lexi is upset but surprised when Petra returns and she still wants to be friends. It turns out Dawn’s been in hospital with appendicitis and it was actually Dawn’s sister Claire that Lexi ran into.

Suzy Plays a Trick      (Pages: 68-69)

Writer: Tracy Joy Holroyd
Illustrations: Susannah Fishbourne

I wonder is this the same Tracy J Holroyd that wrote Children’s History of Lancashire and Children’s History of Manchester? Suzy and her friend Amy decide to play a trick on the cast of the play their in. There is a ghost story about a twisted grey ghost appearing on the balcony of the old theatre. During rehearsal Suzy plans to dress up as the ghost, and then Amy will point out the ghost to everyone.  The trick starts off as planned, and at first Suzy is impressed at Amy’s acting skills, but then everyone starts panicking so she rushes down, to calm them. She meets the boys on the stairs they tell her they knew it was her playing a trick what everyone was scared of was the appearance of a ghastly twisted grey figure behind her! Nice little scary story and the spot art shows that Suzy is a person of colour, which is nice to see some bit of diversity as all the other protagonists in the annuals are white.

bunty 2009_suzy trick

Photo Stories

Two’s Company…      (Pages: 7-12)

Bunty 2009 twos companySally has some trouble in her school as she is being teased because her mum is temporary head. One girl, Lori, is the leader of all this and gets some boys to ask Sally about an upcoming dance, getting her hopes up and then walking away. Luckily Sally has her friend Jo to support her, so when she sees Lori’s brother, Al, waiting near her house she tells him she knows about jokes and cuts him off before he can say anything. Jo talks to him though and convinces Sally to listen to him, he’s not like his sister and really likes Sally and wants to go to the dance with him. I’m not a fan of photo stories but i will give it some recognition for making a more interesting, eye catching layout than normal.

Choices!      (Pages: 72-77)

This is the better of the two photo stories. Andrea is training to be top athlete, unfortunately it means she hasn’t a lot of time for her friends. She is excited when she is entered into county trials and wants to tell her best friend Jackie. It turns out Jackie has news too some friends have been challenged to an inter school bowling match, they want Andrea to play but she can’t because its the night before the trials. She is upset when Jackie doesn’t understand. During training her coach can tell somethings wrong, and Jackie tells her, she is torn between friends and athletics. The coach listen but tells her that Andrea has to come to her own decision about whats most important. She decides she wants to see how good an athlete she can be. But while athletics is the dream she wants to pursue she is also more conscious of neglecting her friends and realizes she can do more. Her and Jackie make up and Andrea says she’ll come to the bowling game to cheer them on for a little bit.

Bunty_2009_choices

Features

This annual is more feature heavy then previous annuals and there is also more focus on celebrities, but there is still room for quizzes, puzzles and crafts. While some of the articles have photos, the features with illustrations are actually credited.

A to Z of Things We Like!      (Pages: 2-3, 78-79)

Illustrations: Susannah Fishbourne

Inside the covers is a bright list of things that the readers may like such as Friends, Kittens, Reading, X-Mas.

Bunty_2009 AtoZ

Starscope      (Page: 4)

A short horoscope – as a Gemini mine was: A text or email might bring big news. Lucky Month: March, Lucky Number: 7 Star Birthday: Johnyy Depp (9th June)

Posters      (Pages: 6, 18, 39, 70)

A poster for every season of the year. These are photos of animals. Spring – Chickens, Summer- kitten, Autumn – Westie and Winter – Penguin. Each animal also has a funny thought or speech bubble.

10 Funky Facts About…      (Pages: 13, 28, 44, 51, 56)

The more celebrity based feature telling us about; Miley Cyrus, the ‘High School’ Guys (Zac Efron, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel), Ashley Tisdale, Emma Roberts, Dylan and Cole Sprouse

Quizzes:

There are several quizzes throughout the annual, 2 involve answering questions and seeing is full under the mostly a, b, c or d category. Those two quizzes are checking how good a friend you are and what starsign your personality matches up with. There is a also a flowchart quiz to determine what type of holidays do you like

  • How Do You Rate as a Mate?      (Pages: 14-15) [Illustrations: Wayne Thompson]
  • Home or Away?      (Page: 50)
  • Are You Really Like Your Star Sign?  (Pages: 54-55) [Illustrations: Wayne Thompson]Bunty_2009_Mate

 

Puzzles:

There are a variety of puzzles, including Take Five! which has word searches on topics like animals, British places, collectibles.  Other puzzles are crosswords, ladder puzzles and spot the difference.

  • Take Five!      (Pages: 16-17, 52-53)
  • Puzzled!      (Pages: 42-43)
  • Snakes ‘n’ Ladders      (Pages: 66-67)

All About….     (Pages: 26-27, 64-65)

Readers share a part of their life, first up is Alex  who likes reading, baking and helps her dad look after bees. The second is about Amelia, who likes acting, swimming and fortune telling.

We Love Elephants!      (Pages: 29-31)

Three pages dedicated to Elephants, which leads into the next feature…

Create Your Very Own Ele-Friend      (Page: 32)

Some arts and crafts with instructions to make paper mache elephant.

Chill Out!      (Page: 71)

Another factual article about animals, in this case – penguins.

Final Thoughts

The content of this annual is actually fine, there is quite a nice variety, but it does suffer in comparison to other annuals by having less pages. It’s funny that The Best of Bunty Annual that came out last year had a few less pages but seems more substantial (of course has to be noted that the target audience is different for that book). For me at least that is probably because it had more space dedicated to stories, 60 pages compared to the 42 pages in this annual. Another thing that I don’t like in this annual is the lettering, it’s most prominent in comparing it to the older stories that were reprinted. It’s less subtle, bigger and bolder and doesn’t always suit the story.  There is a consistency throughout the annual, which can be nice, I was also happy to see some people credited with their work.

Lords of the Manor

Plot

The Lord family move to a large country estate that Dad has inherited from his late cousin Violet. But when they arrive, they are in for a shock – a new will has been found that leaves the manor to Olive, the other cousin who has always been snobby to the Lords. The only thing the Lords can inherit under the new will is the old railway carriage; it hardly looks fit for human habitation, but the Lords soon make it home, much to Olive’s chagrin. The Lords don’t believe the will is genuine and begin to fight it. But they also have to fight Olive’s designs to turn the manor into a hotel and her mean tricks to get them out.

Notes

  • Artist: John Armstrong

Appeared

  • Lords of the Manor –  Bunty: #2127 (17 October 1998) – (?)