Tag Archives: Judy Picture Story Library

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

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Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

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The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

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Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

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Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

Little Dolly Demon (1981)

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Published: Judy Picture Story Library #220

Artist: Unknown

Plot

Alison Kirby and Denise Vale are best friends. Right now they are in a bit of trouble with their teacher over an essay on why they like where they live, which in their case is Halbury Tower apartment block. Although Alison is having trouble putting it to paper for the essay, she does like to live at Halbury Tower. It’s not grotty as some apartment blocks are, there’s no vandalism, the lifts always work (makes a change!), the caretaker Mr Teal is nice and cheerful, and the tenants are always friendly to each other.

But all that is about to change with the arrival of Little Dolly Demon!

LDD’s arrival certainly lacks for nothing that night. There’s a violent storm, and Alison is surprised to see a ball of light in the sky. There’s a clap of thunder, and Alison thinks she heard something crash on the roof. That something is LDD, landing on the roof in a flash of light, and it can move on its own.

Next morning Alison and Denise are on the roof and find LDD. They are surprised to find the doll bone dry despite all the rain and take it in, thinking it must be lost. As they do so, the cat ring on Alison’s finger (a present her dad picked up in Malta) starts to burn hot and Alison can’t take it off. They leave LDD in Denise’s room, and once LDD is alone it gets to work with Denise’s satchel and the exercise book Alison left in it. Then, Alison is surprised to see Denise acting as though she is hypnotised (by LDD of course), but the pain from the ring forces her back. Under LDD’s influence, Denise throws Alison’s exercise book down the rubbish chute. Later, Denise finds her exercise book has gone too. As a result, they get into trouble with teacher and have their first-ever row. Later the caretaker finds Alison’s now-ruined exercise book in the garbage and then Denise finds her room has been mysteriously vandalised and her own exercise book ripped to shreds. Of course it’s LDD’s handiwork, but Mum blames Denise.

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Later, Denise gives LDD to Mr Teal, and then his cupboard suddenly falls into chaos without explanation. Later, a ball is thrown through his window – from the inside – but Mr Teal becomes uncharacteristically bad tempered and he wrongly blames some boys who were playing a ball game. He doesn’t listen to the girls when they try to defend the boys either. Then he finds his own flat is flooded.

Alison and Denise have noticed that the trouble seemed to start when the doll arrived. Alison’s ring tingles again and it seems to be drawing her attention. Following its lead, she discovers the doll walking on its own and there are lightning bolts of some sort coming from its eyes. LDD runs after Alison and soon has her trapped. When she tries to use the lift, the doll uses its powers to sabotage it – which also traps Mr Teal in the lift! He is rescued, but the lift is now out of order for the first time ever.

Everyone blames Alison for putting it out of action. Their committee is lodging complaints against her and for the inconvenience the out-of-order lift is causing. The formerly friendly apartment block is now becoming increasingly acrimonious and everyone is at each other’s throats.

At school things are not much better. Teacher is getting fed up with the girls not producing the essays she set (because of LDD’s interference) and is constantly punishing them.

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The doll has disappeared, but soon the girls see it on the roof again. It throws a ball down, which smashes a car windscreen below. Mr Teal blames the girls as they were the nearest to the car, and the tenants join in as they all think the worst of her now, despite pleas from the boys that the ball came from the roof. The girls head for the roof after LDD, which has been committing more vandalism on the roof. Unfortunately it gets away. Mr Teal and the tenants blame the girls for the vandalism, and they even call the police over the matter. This leads to a tenants’ meeting, which is very stormy. The policeman has to urge everyone to keep calm and there is no real evidence against anyone, and he personally believes the girls’ claims of innocence. The rancour at Halbury Tower is now so bad the policeman comments that he is so glad he does not live there.

Meanwhile, a little girl at the apartment block picks up LDD. The girls see her with it and try to take it away. LDD strikes with more powers, which eventually ends up with the tenants irrationally blaming Denise and Alison for a washing machine going haywire (LDD again) and accusing them of bullying kiddies. Now they are even more hostile towards the girls.

Alison has now realised her ring is acting as some kind of LDD detector and protector, and the girls use it to go in search of LDD. Sensing Alison’s approach, LDD starts a fire and uses its powers to make sure the fire spreads quickly. Denise and Alison help people evacuate, but they themselves get trapped on the roof. In the distance they can see LDD dancing and cackling, and using its powers to turn the flames into an inferno and directing them wherever it pleases. In the smoke, they see LDD’s face and realise it does not intend them to escape.

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But then LDD gets squashed flat under the wheels of a reversing fire engine and is destroyed. Without LDD, the flames die down and the fire is soon under control. The girls are rescued, and are hailed as heroines for their work in evacuating others. Later they find an imprint in the street where LDD was crushed and realise what happened.

Two months later repairs are finished at Halbury Tower, and the tenants are back to their old friendly selves. The acrimony and nastiness disappeared with the destruction of LDD, and the girls are resigned to never unravelling the mystery of LDD. Alison still has to write her essay on why she likes living in an apartment block (two months on and she still hasn’t written it?!). The girls reiterate how they like living in an apartment block.

Thoughts

It is October and Halloween time, so it is fitting to focus on some of the spooky, scary stories from girls’ comics this month. I think you will agree they don’t come much more scary than Little Dolly Demon. The cover itself says it all in just how terrifying LDD is. That expression of LDD on the cover breaks the fourth wall, for it seems to be staring right at the reader, which makes it even more unnerving. For those who think LDD was inspired by Chucky, the answer is no. LDD precedes Chucky by seven years, which means LDD is original and ahead of its time.

It is not just the powers of LDD – walking on its own, laughing, shooting rays out of its eyes, and possessing the ability to manipulate things, people, and even fire – that make it so frightening. It is also LDD’s very appearance, particularly its hairstyle and the expressions on its face when its malignance manifests. And it is all brilliantly rendered by the artwork. The artist is not known, but has a style that is a perfect match to terror and spookiness and has been seen elsewhere in spooky stories, such as Mandy’s “Teddy”.

Adding to the terror is the total mystery on the origins of LDD or why it acts in the way it does. LDD could have been possessed by an evil spirit. Perhaps LDD was the product of black magic. LDD could even have been some sort of demon in the form of a doll. Or perhaps there was some other reason. But there is no way of knowing. LDD does not actually speak either, which means the doll itself never offers any explanation. It just pops out of nowhere in a violent thunderstorm – probably created by more of its powers – and gets to work. It probably makes a regular habit of travelling from place to place, spreading mayhem and discord wherever it goes. Except that in this case LDD met its match in the girls who were armed with a protective ring. Like LDD, the reasons how or why the ring acted in the way it did are left a mystery, which further adds to the paranormal effect of the story. Hollywood could easily make a movie with LDD.

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There is also an insidious element to LDD that adds to its creepiness. The girls note that its very size, which is small, enables it to escape and hide very easily. And being a doll, LDD can just sit and pose as an ordinary doll, where an unsuspecting child could pick it up and lavish love on its, not realising the danger. And this is precisely what happens with the little girl who picks up LDD.

Further adding to the creepiness and mystery of LDD is that it has no known name, unlike most evil dolls/puppets in girls’ serials. It is not given one either, except at one point where the girls nickname it “Kookie” before they realise the threat. But the nickname does not stick. It is just “the doll”.

The story takes the opportunity to comment on the merits of living in an apartment block – provided it is a nice apartment block where the tenants are friendly, the lifts work, and everything goes smoothly. There are other apartment blocks that aren’t. In some girls’ comics stories there are even apartment blocks that possess terrifying secrets/powers of their own, such as “The Sentinels” from Misty. This particular apartment block degenerates into one of the grotty apartment blocks once LDD arrives. Sometimes things do go wrong just when everything seems perfect, even without an evil doll to cause it all. The girls emerge even more appreciative of living in an apartment block once the baleful influence of LDD is lifted from it.