Tag Archives: Mystery story

Was My Mother a Witch? [1979]

 

Published: Judy Picture Story Library #190

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

Halloween is in the offing, which makes it fitting to focus on some more of the spooky publications from DCT.

Plot

The year is 1656. Anne is the adopted daughter of Pastor Septimus Bartholomew. Anne has always been happy there, but then small disquieting things begin to happen. Her father gets oddly upset when Anne jokingly calls one of her siblings “my little imp”, and also when she speaks endearments to a kitten.

These seem such trivial things, but they foreshadow something more worrying when Anne pays a visit to Pendleton, the village of her birth. An old woman (who looks like a witch herself!) tells Anne that her mother was a witch. As she is approaching thirteen, her own powers of witchcraft will soon awaken too, and she would have a Devil’s mark on her body. Following this, Anne begins to doubt herself. She wonders if she has inherited witchcraft from her mother, and whether a mark on her arm is the Devil’s mark like the old woman said.

Mary, the servant woman, tells Anne it’s all superstitious nonsense, and that mark on her arm is not a devil’s mark but a scar from a rose thorn. All the same, Anne has horrible nightmares of being a witch’s child that night and is still full of self-doubts.

Soon after, Anne is given a place as a seamstress to a grand lady, Mistress Latimer at Pendleton Hall – which is in the very village where her alleged witch mother lived. The sewing goes very well, but Anne is still troubled by the story about her mother and the doubts about herself. She grows even more fearful she is a witch when the household dog, Toby, reacts very badly to her for no apparent reason.

Unwisely, Anne tells people in the household that she wonders if she is a witch because of the allegations against her mother. Though Emmie the housekeeper is sensible about it, she does tell Anne that her grandmother was feared because was said to have powers to foretell the future. She also says plague killed the mother and her family, and Anne was the only survivor. However, the ensuing gossip spread by others has Lady Latimer telling Anne to leave the hall the next day.

That night Anne slips out to the ruins of the cottage where her mother once lived. She examines an old cauldron Emmie said was there, but there is nothing untoward or sinister about it.

On the way back Anne rescues the dog Toby from a trap set by the manservant of the hall. Emmie tells Anne that her act of kindness is proof she is not a witch, and gives logical explanations for Toby’s initial hostility towards her. Anne’s mind is now put to rest, but she is so glad when her family summon her home.

Thoughts

The story definitely means well in its message that the old belief in witchcraft was a product of ignorance and superstition. From the sound of it, Anne’s mother was a victim of it rather than being any practitioner of black magic, presumably because her own mother had what would now be called psychic powers. Anne was very fortunate that she experienced little more than self-doubt and some gossip. There have been so many other girls in girls’ comics who suffered full persecution that started with such rumours, such as Ellie Ross in Bunty’s “Witch!” Nor did Anne have any weird experiences that could suggest genuine powers of some sort as her counterparts in stories like “Witch!” did.

As this is a story set in the age of witchcraft persecution itself, it feels so pat and unrealistic that Anne got through it so unscathed and with such little trouble. The 17th century people in the story are not reacting to these rumours of witchcraft with the fear and hysteria that they should have. It is acknowledged that even the 17th century would have had its share of sceptics, who come across so exemplary in the forms of Mary and Emmie. But the others in the story who believe it more are not really reacting as dangerously as they should have been. In those days, once that sort of rumour got going, Anne would have found herself persecuted on all sides from witch-hunting mobs and such. Nor would she have been able to cast off the accusation of witchcraft as glibly as she did. Once the label of witchcraft stuck in those times, it was there to stay. Even if anyone was acquitted of witchcraft in those times, the accusation still cast a long shadow over their lives.

Although the story is well meaning in its intentions and the artwork works well, particularly in the spooky night scenes, the plot feels weak and unconvincing. Also, there is little drama or excitement in the story, while the potential was there to use the 17th century fear of witchcraft and its life-threatening ramifications for Anne to make it a far more intense and thrilling story.

Just One Leading Lady! [1982]

Published: Debbie #501 (18 September 1982) – #505 (16 October 1982)

Episodes: 5

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Lorrsadmin and Phoenix for scans

Plot

Cathy Collins wants to play the lead in Dormy Drama Club’s next production. Two other girls, Sonya and Gail, are her rivals for it. Cathy’s friend, backstage girl Connie, keeps telling Cathy stories about a ghost haunting the theatre. The ghost is said to be of an actress who was so jealous of her rivals that she killed them. Cathy rubbishes such stories, but it’s not long before she sees the ghost in her nightmares. It does not help that the production they are putting on is a spooky one either.

It becomes apparent that someone is out to eliminate the rivals for the leading role, but it’s clearly no ghost. It’s a flesh-and-blood person whose maxim is that there’s only room for “just one leading lady!”, hence the title of the story.

Strike one comes when Sonya falls off the stage and claims she was pushed. The others accuse Cathy of pushing Sonya to get the leading role. Connie is the only one to stay friendly with her.

After accusing Cathy too, Gail storms off into a dressing room. The troublemaker strikes again by locking Gail in the dressing room overnight to make her ill from the freezing temperatures in there.

When this trick is discovered, everyone believes Cathy did it to get rid of both rivals. Mrs Shaw the drama club teacher tells Cathy to leave the club, pending investigation. Cathy’s protests of innocence are futile.

However, Cathy loves the theatre too much to just walk away, so she quietly watches the production from a distance. Mrs Shaw tries out various girls for the lead, none of whom are suitable. Cathy is surprised to see Connie try out for it too; she always thought Connie was happy being the backstage girl. Mrs Shaw gives Connie a minor role, saying she does not have enough experience for the lead. Cathy secretly sympathises, recalling her own experience of having to build up for a long time in the club before being allowed any major roles.

Afterwards Cathy overhears Connie practising all the lines for the lead. Connie sees her and asks her what she thought. When Cathy tries to say, in a very tactful manner, that it was wooden, Connie goes off into a big brag that she is a better actress than Cathy and the other rivals. Moreover, she gloats, she was the one who hurt Sonya and Gail and she was trying to wind Cathy up with phony stories about the ghost. She was out to get rid of all three rivals so she could grab the lead from backstage. Connie says it’s no use Cathy telling anyone because they won’t believe her. But Connie has miscalculated: Graham the SFX guy has not only overheard but also recorded everything!

A few days later, Connie has left the club permanently, everything is patched up, and Mrs Shaw is trying to work out who will play the lead. It’s not shown who gets it in the end, but Cathy doesn’t mind. She knows she will be a leading lady someday.

Thoughts

This is clearly a whodunit story, despite all the attempts of the antagonist to turn it into a ghost story. We can see that is no ghostly hand locking the dressing room door on Gail; it’s someone who is trying to take advantage of that rumour. And it is obvious from Cathy’s thought balloons that she is not guilty. Readers must have concluded that it is a third party in the group who is out for the role, and some may even have suspected it was Connie.

When Connie reveals her guilt to Cathy, readers were probably shaking their heads and thinking “poor fool”. Connie was so naïve and deluded that she could just leap into a starring role from backstage, and by playing dirty tricks instead of speaking out that she wanted to act too. The reality, which Cathy knew all too well, was that one had to build up experience on smaller roles before attempting a big one. Connie got a taste of that when Mrs Shaw said she did not have enough experience for the lead and gave her a minor role. So Connie hurt two girls and discredited a third for nothing. Yet she still has the delusion that she can play the lead far better than the other three girls.

Perversely, although Connie’s acting of the role was wooden, Cathy realises that in “a horrible way” Connie is indeed a much better actress – in the way she had fooled everyone into thinking she was content being a backstage girl when in fact she was using it as a springboard to grab the lead. To say nothing of fooling Cathy into thinking that she was her one and only friend. So did Connie have a talent for acting after all, which could have led her into starring roles with proper training and experience? Maybe it would have if she’d gone about things the right way, but she ruined whatever chance she had with nasty tricks.

Donna’s Double

Plot

Sophie Benson and Donna West are best friends. When Donna moves away, she loses touch with Sophie with no explanation. Then Sophie and her family move. At her new school, Sophie encounters Wendy Smith, whom she soon realises is really Donna. But Donna is acting very strangely – she is behaving in a timid, frightened manner and does not acknowledge Sophie. When Sophie tackles Donna, she admits she is Donna but begs Sophie to keep calling her Wendy. Sophie agrees, but is determined to find out what is going on.

donna'sdouble

Notes

  • Artist: Eduardo Feito

Appeared

  • Donna’s Double –  Bunty: #2168  (31 July 1999) – #2175 (18 September 1999)

No Joy for Jenny / “Is Bob My Brother?”

Plot:

Jenny Selby (Ruth in the reprint) is overjoyed when her brother John (Bob in the reprint) returns after being considered lost on a climbing expedition in the Himalayas. Then she begins to suspect the man is an impostor who is after the money John/Bob is set to inherit on his 21st birthday. When her suspicions become apparent, the man sends her away to boarding school. Jenny/Ruth returns secretly and, with the help of her dog Dirk, finds a sick man in a dingy room whom she is sure is her real brother. But the man does not claim to be John/Bob or recognise Jenny/Ruth.

Bob

Notes:

  • Artist: Julio Vivas (Also referenced elsewhere as Julian)
  • The story first appeared in Emma with the title “No Joy for Jenny” later it was reprinted with both Jenny and her brother renamed and a new title “Is Bob My Brother?”.

Appeared:

  • No Joy for Jenny – Emma: #56 (17 March 1979) – #65 (19 May 1979)
  • Reprinted as “Is Bob My Brother?” –  Mandy: #927 (20 Oct. 1984) – #936 (22 Dec. 1984)

 

Who is ‘J’?

Plot

Vicky Brown’s sister Mary is emotionally upset by someone with the initial ‘J’, and then has an road accident that leaves her comatose. Vicky turns detective to track down ‘J’, believing ‘J’ to be responsible for Mary’s accident. But this has her hurting a lot of innocent people whose names begin with J because she has wrongly assumed they are ‘J’.

J

Notes

  • Artist: Barrie Mitchell? (unconfirmed)

Appeared

  • Who is ‘J’? –  Mandy: #919 (25 August 1984) – #932 (24 November 1984)