Tag Archives: Norman Lee

The Secret of the Gipsy Doll (Dolwyn’s Dolls) [1984]

Published: as ‘The Secret of the Gipsy Doll and Two Other Stories about “Dolwyn’s Dolls”’. Bunty PSL #259, 1984.

Reprinted: as ‘3 Great Stories about Dolwyn’s Dolls’. Bunty PSL #378, 1994.

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

This Bunty PSL presents three stories from “Dolwyn’s Dolls”. On three occasions a visitor walks into Meg Dolwyn’s doll shop while she is mending a doll. She tells them the story of the respective doll she is mending.

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

In Victorian times a maidservant named Mary, who works at Lancing Manor, tries to run away. But she is caught by the eldest son of her employers, Vernon Vardon, and he looks a very nasty type. Mary’s sweetheart, a gipsy named Romany Smith, goes to Mary’s defence when Vardon threatens to attack her, and he lays quite a punch into Vardon. Vengeful Vardon makes insinuations that he is going to have Smith arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing silverware from Lancing Manor. Worse, Mary seems to believe the accusations against Smith and he pleads his innocence to her in vain.

That night Mary regrets not sticking up for Smith more. But she is shattered to see Smith burning his gipsy caravan, which is the gipsy way of saying he has gone forever. Mary dies of a broken heart over her sweetheart a year later.

On the day Mary dies, a package arrives for her. It is a gipsy doll with the words “look into my heart” embroidered on it. The doll is placed in Mary’s room in case her family come to collect her belongings. Nobody does, and no servant will sleep in there, so the room is left to gather dust.

In the next century Mary’s room is converted into a bedroom for Jenny Vardon. Jenny has strange dreams of the burning gipsy wagon and the gipsy doll, which is crying. Jenny still hears crying when she wakes up and finds it is coming from the cupboard. Inside, she finds the gipsy doll.

Jenny looks into its heart and finds money and a letter for Mary. It is from Smith, who went to Boston, bettered himself, and sent money for Mary to join him. He had also heard that Vardon himself was taking the silverware, and selling it to pay his debts. So the truth is out at last, but it’s come too late for Mary.

Thoughts

Many of the Dolwyn stories had supernatural elements. Some were kept ambiguous while others, such as this one, were more overt. It is not surprising that this story contains supernatural overtones. The room Jenny sleeps in would have a reason for being haunted as a girl died in it from a broken heart, and there are also the Romany elements, which hint at gypsy spells and curses.

This is the saddest, and spookiest, of the three Dolwyn stories in this PSL. The revelations come too late to reunite Mary and Romany Smith in life. Still, the fact that the gipsy doll seemed to lead Jenny to it and look into its heart suggests that it was to help the two lovers rest in peace, and they are now.

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

Carole’s mother has remarried and they move to a better house. Stepfather says it’s time for Carole to throw out her old doll, Lindy. Carole won’t hear of it, but stepfather does not respect this. As a result Carole runs away with Lindy and goes back to where she lived before. Her old friends can’t put her up, so they help her camp out in an old building and bring her supplies. They also lock the door at her request, but this proves to be a near-fatal mistake.

While Carole is asleep an old tramp accidentally sets the building on fire. By the time Carole is awake, the room is ablaze and she can’t get out because the door is locked. The firemen have arrived but don’t know she is up there. Carole throws Lindy from the window to alert them to her presence. Her dolly SOS works, and she is rescued. After this, stepfather has a new respect for Lindy and arranges a new dress and repairs at Meg’s shop for her.

Thoughts

This “love me, love my doll” story shows you should never underestimate the love for a doll or tell a child that it’s time for them to say goodbye to their dolls. They should be allowed to decide for themselves.

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

Another visitor, Millie, comments on how the doll Meg is repairing looks so old and ragged. Meg replies that the doll, Daisy, was in fact bought only recently. It sounds like Daisy really has been through the wars then. Sure enough, that’s what her story is about.

Daisy was a birthday present for June, but then June’s dog Rex snatches Daisy and runs off with her. And that’s just the start of really rough adventures that have Daisy ending up at Meg’s shop for repair.

Rex loses interest in Daisy and leaves her to lie on waste ground. Billy Watson and his gang find her and, being a rough lot, use her as target practice for kicks. Billy’s sister Josie comes along and tells him to desist, but what really draws off the boys is that there has just been a road accident. Josie hides Daisy in a makeshift shelter. But she does not come back for some reason, and rain starts.

Another girl, Moira, comes along and finds Daisy. Moira’s home is dysfunctional, with her parents always arguing, and she is particularly anxious to stay out of Dad’s way. When she gets home he is in a really foul mood because he was involved in the road accident. He insists the accident was not his fault: the accident girl just came out in front of him and he had no time to stop. But he is terrified that he will lose his new van driver’s job because of it. When he sees Daisy he gets into such a rage that he throws her out in the street.

Another gang of yobs find Daisy and set about using her as a goal for footy practice. But the female member of the gang proves more kindly. She stops the boys cold and takes Daisy to the hospital for the children’s ward.

As luck would have it, Daisy ends up in the accident girl’s ward, and she is none other than June. June and Daisy are reunited and the sight of Daisy jogs June’s memory about the accident. She makes a statement that clears Moira’s father: the accident happened because she couldn’t find the brakes on her new birthday bike.

Meg finishes the repairs on Daisy. As she does so, she tells Millie that you can’t always tell by appearances, whether it’s dolls or people.

Thoughts

As Meg states, this story is a lesson in how you can’t always judge by appearances. This is best shown with the yobs who find Daisy in the street. The male punks are as rough as they look when they try to use Daisy for footy practice. But the girl, although she has a punk look, shows she has a kind heart. And as with Lindy, this is a “doll saves the day” story, in this case helping to clear the very driver who threw her out into the street.

We do have to wonder how Meg was able to relate all of Daisy’s misadventures from the moment she is snatched from the dog to ending up in June’s ward. How could anyone have been able to find all the people who encountered Daisy in the interim and piece the whole story together?

Dolwyn’s Dolls [1983]

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #246

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Meg Dolwyn runs a doll shop and many of her dolls have tales to tell.

One day a man calls in and asks about a doll, which he notes has been repaired. Meg says the doll’s name is Tina and she belonged to a girl named Trudy Talbot. Trudy had moved to a South American country with her parents because of her father’s job. They live in a very luxurious house and servants tend to their every need.

There has never been any need for Trudy to be unhappy or cry. So she is a bit surprised when Dad presents her with Tina, who is a crying doll. He tells her to leave all the crying to Tina, because she’s a big girl now. Trudy takes this a bit too literally and from then on does not cry; she has Tina do all the crying. Trudy is reserving this for when there is a real need to cry, but does not think there will ever be one.

But all that changes the day after Dad gives Tina to Trudy. Revolution sweeps across the country and it is taken over by revolutionaries who rule by terror and the gun. Those who stand against them are arrested as “enemies of the revolution” (political prisoners), and among them is Mr Talbot. As a result, Castro-type soldiers tear the Talbot home apart while they search it, and Trudy and her mother become prisoners in their own home, with their servants for jailors. The Talbots’ food worsens too because Cook is taken into the army and the replacement is the gardener’s boy. The Talbots have no idea exactly why all this is happening because they are only being told the vaguest of details. Trudy comments on how her mother is crying while she does not because she promised Dad. Instead, she has Tina do the crying.

The servants agree to help Mum and Trudy escape – in exchange for all of Mum’s jewellery, mind you. The servants drive them as close to the border as they can. Mum and Trudy have to make the rest of the way on foot through dire, dangerous jungle conditions. Fortunately they bump into some kindly tourists, who help them to get to Britain.

Mrs Talbot comes to rent the flat above Meg’s shop. Meg deplores that it’s bit pokey for two, but Mrs Talbot says it is all she can afford. Trudy is a bit surprised to see Tina looking like she is crying of her own accord, but accepts it. Then Mrs Talbot is taken ill and dies. Trudy still has Tina do all the crying for her and says Tina is all she has left.

Then one evening the revolutionaries catch up. They burst into the flat, rip Tina open (hence the mending she had), and find what they have been looking for all this time: a cassette that Dad had hidden inside Tina. As the men leave with the cassette, they tell Trudy to blame her father for everything that has happened to her because he is “an enemy of the revolution”.

Trudy does not accept that. Instead, she blames Tina and turns against her. As she does so, she starts crying for the very first time. And now that Trudy’s tears have started, there is no stopping them. Eventually Trudy follows her mother to the grave, from a broken heart.

It turns out the man Meg is telling the story to is none other than Mr Talbot. He had escaped prison and the despotic regime, made his way to Britain and was trying to find his family. The cassette was evidence against the terror regime. Dad had been hoping to spread the word with it. He leaves, heartbroken that he has come too late and that his cassette destroyed his family instead of helping bring justice to the downtrodden country. As he goes, a strange thing happens: Tina starts crying.

A few days later, Jill the girl from next door, makes one of her frequent visits to Meg’s shop. Meg is mending a doll and Jill remarks that a broken doll must be the saddest thing there is. This has Meg spinning another doll yarn, and we get a hint of a moral that Jill needs to put what she just said into perspective. Meg heard the story from a customer named Sally, who dropped in the other day.

Sally accidentally broke her grandmother’s “lucky doll” when she got startled by a thunderstorm. She panics about this, because her grandmother told her stories about how much the doll meant to her, that it is her lucky doll, and great-grandmother made it, “every stitch” (Sally thought this meant the doll, not the doll clothes).

So Sally runs away, in the violent stormy weather, to find a way to get the doll mended, but has no luck. She sees an ambulance outside her house and assumes the grandmother has been taken to hospital because she was heartbroken about the doll, and bad luck has started because she broke grandmother’s lucky doll. Sally runs away in panic, thinking people are searching for her because they blame her for what happened to grandmother.

Her panic drives her into the countryside, where she has scary encounters with a tramp, a farmer and cows. Then Sally comes across Meg’s shop and sees an identical doll the window, at a price she can afford. Sally sneaks home to get the money, but grandmother catches her. They have noticed she was missing and have been worried sick about her.

When the story comes out, Sally finds she had been worried over nothing and misunderstood a lot of things. Among them was finding out that the doll was a recent one, bought to replace an older one that got worn out. This doll in turn can be replaced. Grandmother hadn’t even noticed the doll was gone and the ambulance had been for Jimmy next door. What does upset grandmother is that Sally would think she would love an old doll even more than she would love her. And so Sally learns that there are much sadder (and more important) things than a broken doll.

Thoughts

Dolwyn’s Dolls appeared as a Bunty serial in 1982. Dolwyn proved popular and she spawned two appearances in Bunty annuals and two picture story libraries. Dolwyn belonged in the tradition of the storyteller who had collected an assortment of items that all had tales to tell and each week she would tell the story of one such items. Other stories in this tradition included The Button Box (Tammy) and Jade Jenkins Stall (M&J).

The Dolwyn stories would entertain, a number of them would teach morals, and there were spooky, creepy ones – not surprising as the strip is dealing with dolls and toys, which have often been associated with hauntings and the supernatural. One story, “Major’s Revenge”, was about a cruel boy named Toby and his rocking horse, Major. Toby has a strange accident that breaks his leg. Toby claims Major came to life and took him on a wild, nightmare ride as a punishment for his cruelty. Perhaps it was just a hallucination brought on by the accident as Toby father says. All the same, nobody is willing to ride Major anymore and Meg does not put him in display in her shop although he is in much better condition than the one in the shop. At least the accident makes Toby more considerate although he limps for the rest of his life.

Unlike the regular strip or the other Dolwyn picture story library, the two doll stories in this picture story library are not individually titled. They are told to customers as Meg goes abut her business in the shop.

Both stories are tear-jerkers with sympathetic heroines who, one way or other, are plunged into turmoil, terror, tears and confusion. The second story ends on a happier note than the first one. We are so relieved when everything is sorted out for Sally after all the horrors her imagination puts her through when she runs away. We are even relieved that grandmother wasn’t even angry over the broken doll. The first story, on the other hand, is nothing but tragedy and tears, and ends on a note that is creepy as well as sad.

Trudy’s story is by far the more powerful of the two stories because it has far greater emotional wallop. It’s even more heart-breaking to see Trudy bottling up her emotions and having Tina as the only outlet for the tears she keeps inside her while she has so much to cry about as the revolution tightens its noose and destroys her happiness, her home, and her family. Trudy has to stop depending on Tina if she is to express her emotions properly. Eventually she does so, but the way in which she does it is even more heartrending because it is so unfair. Tina is no more to blame for Trudy’s unhappiness than Trudy herself is. The blame rests with the political events that overtook the country.

Trudy’s story also has the hints of the supernatural that permeated many Dolwyn stories. Twice it is insinuated that Tina is taking on a life of her own and crying of her own accord. There was some buildup of a supernatural element in the second story too, when Sally’s imagination runs riot at the bad luck she must have brought on her family by breaking the lucky doll. But it turns out it was just a replacement doll and Sally was freaking out over nothing. The supernatural had nothing to do with it.

The Chosen One (1985)

the-chosen-one-cover

Published: Bunty Picture Library #263

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #394

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

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scream! (1997)

Scream cover

Mandy Picture Library #272

Published: 1997

Cover: Peter Wilkes?

Writer: Anne Bulcraig

“Scream!” takes a complete break from the usual pattern of girls’ picture libraries. Instead of being one complete story it is a collection of five shorter-length stories, and they are all spooky, creepy stories. Unsavoury girls get their comeuppances while other girls get caught in scary experiences that they may or may not emerge from unscathed. All stories are labelled as a “Scream!”. This take harkens back to the days of horror comics Misty and Spellbound two decades before. It was a trend that was seldom seen after both comics folded and is fondly remembered.

Scream 1: Framed! – artist Norman Lee

Katie Knight feels lonely after her best friend Joanna Bland emigrates, but soon becomes friends with new girl Lisa Jones. Lisa says she and her mother look after animals of all descriptions and invites Katie and her dog Soda around for the weekend.

When Katie arrives, she is surprised to find the walls of the house are lined with paintings of animals done by Mrs Jones, but no real animals are present. Meanwhile, Soda is acting strangely, and when the girls take a walk in the wood, he gets really terrified. Katie thinks the wood is weird too, and eventually realises it has no birds or animals. Later, Katie is baffled to find that a cat she saw in one of the paintings has changed position from when she last saw it.

Then Katie wakes up one night and discovers that Soda has somehow been turned into one of Mrs Jones’ paintings. Katie explains that they have had to turn to pets for their paintings because all the wildlife realised what was going on and fled. What happens next with Katie and the Joneses is not recorded. Some weeks later, a new girl brings a guinea pig with her to a weekend stay with the Joneses….

 Scream 1

Scream 2: Green Fingers – artist Carlos Freixas

Sarah Peters is a very selfish girl who grabs whatever she wants and never helps anyone, not even when it is an emergency. In class Sarah suddenly gets interested in a green issue project when she hears the prize money will pay for the top she has her eye on. On the way home she sees a plant in a window box that has leaves shaped like hearts and cute animals. It is so unusual it is guaranteed to win. She asks the owner if she can have a cutting. The owner says she needs to test Sarah to see if she is a suitable candidate. It turns out to be a test for kindness, and of course the selfish Sarah fails dismally. The owner refuses to give her the cutting, saying the plant has powers to reflect the nature of its owner. Only nice people are safe tending it and it would be dangerous for someone like Sarah. But Sarah is not having that; she sneaks out in the night and helps herself to a cutting.

After one night with Sarah the leaves start changing shape. They are going from hearts and cute animals to ghoulish faces and creepy animals. Sarah is bewildered and revolted at the new shapes, but does not get rid of the plant or reconsider what the lady said. The lady warns Sarah to return the cutting before it is too late, for even she does not fully understand the plant’s powers. Sarah does not listen and denies ever taking the cutting.

When Sarah returns home from school, her mother asks her to go and pick up an urgent prescription for a neighbour who is not well. But Sarah cares far more for watching her favourite television programme and goes into the house to watch. Then, as Sarah approaches her bedroom, she is astonished to find her cutting is now growing so much that it is coming out through the door. She goes into her room, where the plant starts crawling all over her. She screams for help – but the plant has learned its behaviour from the girl who never helps anyone.

Scream 2

Scream 3: House Warning – artist unknown

Julie Wood and her family move into a large house in the country. Julie is bewildered when everyone at her new school avoids her for no apparent reason, and her mother gets the same treatment at the supermarket. A neighbour asks Julie if she is having problems with the house yet, and then things do start going strangely wrong for the family in the house. Eventually, a boy at school tells Julie the reason people avoid her is the house. It seems to be alive and won’t let anyone live in it ever since its owner died the previous year. Julie questions the neighbour again. The neighbour says the house is grieving for its late owner, “Old Kate” Murray. Old Kate loved the house and now it will not accept anyone else.

In the night, a strange lady wakes Julie up, which alerts Julie to a fire. Julie manages to extinguish the fire before it catches proper hold. Then Julie realises the woman was Old Kate and it had been her ghost that was driving people out. But this time Old Kate needed help to save her house from burning down, and got it from Julie. From then on, the Woods have no more trouble with the house.

Scream 3

Scream 4: Skin Deep – artist Maria Dembilio

Nadine Andrews and her family are on holiday at a holiday camp. Nadine is a vain girl who infuriates everyone with her conceit, including her sister Emily. Nadine wants to enter the “Miss Happy Holidays” beauty contest. At the fair Nadine meets a fortune teller, and is surprised that the fortune teller somehow knows she wants to enter the contest. The fortune teller sells Nadine a beauty cream that will guarantee she wins. The effects on Nadine’s face seem like magic and she does win.

But the effect wears off next day. Nadine feels cheated and goes back to the fortune teller to get her money back. Nadine is extremely unreasonable when the fortune teller says she never said the effects were lasting, and becomes rude and insulting to her. Deciding Nadine needs a lesson, the fortune teller gives her an even stronger and longer-lasting cream that is guaranteed to make her really stand out. She says the price will be very high – but it isn’t money, which she refuses to accept. When Nadine puts on the cream, she is shocked to find her face has gone all distorted! The effects wear off eventually and Nadine stops being so vain.

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Scream 5: Time Slip – artist Claude Berridge

During half-term break, Trudi Clark accompanies her father on an archaeological excavation at a site where a medieval village is said to be. The dig yields an old box that looks at least three hundred years old and Dad asks Trudi to hold it. But when she does, the whole environment changes to a medieval appearance, with no sign of her family. A boy runs by and tells Trudi to misdirect a man who is chasing him, which she does. She makes friends with the boy, whose name is Carak. Carak comments on her strange clothes. Trudi begins to think she has been transported to the past, when the medieval village existed. But then Carak serves her hamburgers, which were not around in medieval times.

Then Carak notices the box, and says Trudi must have stolen it from the museum. Trudi wants to hold onto it as she hopes it will get her back to her own time. When Carak says it is five hundred years old – not three hundred – Trudi realises that she has been transported to the future, not the past. A replica of the medieval village has been built as a tourist attraction, and the museum has exhibits not only of medieval times but the 20th century as well. Carak is surprised when the cabinet the box is supposed to be in is still sealed. Then he sets off an alarm and the man, Mr Peters, starts chasing them both. They find a place to take refuge in.

Trudi decides to tell Carak what happened. Carak opens the box, which contains three rings. He explains they are time travel devices that can take someone into the past, present or future. The trouble is, nobody knows which ring is which. When Trudi held the box, she must have had her hand too close to the “future” ring. Mr Peters catches up, and Trudi takes a chance on one of the rings. But this ring transports them to the past and the real medieval village. A woman comes in and thinks they are robbers. As they flee, Trudi trips up and a man grabs one of her Wellington boots. They take another shot at the rings, and this time they come to Trudi’s own time period, and the clock time is just before the box was found. Carak takes the box and goes back to his own time.

This time, Dad’s find is the Wellington boot that Trudi lost in medieval times. Trudi hopes he does not look too closely at the boot and realise it has been buried at that spot for years – how will she be able to explain that to him?

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Secret Gymnast (1987)

Secret Gymnast cover 1

Published: Bunty Picture Library #290

Artist: Norman Lee

Note: Not to be confused with the Bunty serial “The Secret Gymnast”

Plot

Fran Farley’s father had died just as he was making a name for himself as a violinist. Fran’s mother wants Fran to follow in her father’s footsteps. She drives Fran very hard while constantly going on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, which include putting her own concert career on hold. Mum even has Fran home-tutored (with an outdated tutor) because it fits in with violin practice better than school, although Fran misses school. Fran is unhappy about it all; she does not live for the violin the way her father did, and she does not feel she has enough talent to be a top violinist. But Mum won’t accept Fran does not have what it takes to follow her father.

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One day at the music shop Fran overhears a woman, Marion Cole, who desperately needs Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for a gymnastics floor exercise, but the shop does not have it. Fran steps in to help it is one of her practice pieces. So Fran brings her violin to the gym to play the piece while Marion records it. Then Fran has a go at gymnastics and discovers she has a real flair and enthusiasm for it. Marion immediately suggests she join the beginners’ class.

Fran joins the class and makes her mark there immediately. But she is finding it very difficult to get a chance to speak to her mother about it, especially as Mum is now driving her extra hard to get her into a music scholarship. So it goes the way of going to the class behind her mother’s back and trying to fit gymnastics around her violin practice. Added to that, Fran finds a girl in her gymnastics class, Sylvia, dislikes her.

Nonetheless, Fran is soon good enough for a gymnastics competition. Her class all win badges and certificates, but they are put out when Fran has them miss the celebrations because she has to dash back home before her mother suspects anything. Back home, Fran hopes to show her mother what she has won. But before she can say anything, Mum says she is going to an audition with Stefan Mayer, a great German violin teacher and an old friend of her father’s. And so it all continues, juggling secret gymnastics around violin practice, which is more demanding than ever.

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At the audition, Fran decides to do her best. Afterwards, Mr Mayer confirms Fran’s suspicions when he tells her, in effect, that he is not seeing her father’s genius in her, only competence. He will take her on, but only for the sake of her father. Mum is overjoyed, although she will be taking on extra work to pay for the new classes. Fran is less than enthusiastic about them.

Meanwhile, secret gymnastics continue. They get more difficult to fit in with violin practice, which are even more intense because of the upcoming Mayer classes. Worse, Sylvia dislikes Fran even more after it becomes evident that Fran is better than her. When Fran gets worried her secret will be discovered at an upcoming gymnastics display, Sylvia gets suspicious and wonders if it is a way to get rid of Fran. Meanwhile, Marion hopes Fran will take part in the display because it could open up an important coaching post for her.

Then Sylvia finds Mrs Farley playing piano at her dance class. In a “casual” conversation, Sylvia’s suspicions are confirmed and Mum finds out Fran is doing gymnastics behind her back. She is horrified because she considers gymnastics as “mindless contortions” that have the potential to damage Fran’s violin arms. She moans about this to Fran when she confronts her, and all the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father. Fran says gymnastics are far more important to her than the violin, which she will never be able to play the way her father could.

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They retire to bed, where Mum finally begins to wonder if Fran does not really have her father’s talent. Meanwhile Fran starts sleepwalking while dreaming about competing for the Olympics, and is using the balustrade on the balcony as a beam. Mum finds her, and is terrified that Fran could fall to her death if she wakes. Fran comes off safely and wakes up. Mum was so impressed with the beautiful movements Fran made that she relents and lets Fran pursue gymnastics.

Within a month, everything has turned out splendidly (except for, presumably, Sylvia). Fran’s gymnastics are in full swing, which Mum now appreciates as an art as well as a sport. Mum has resumed her concert career, Marion gets her post, and Fran qualifies for the junior championships.

Thoughts

This story is one of my personal favourites. The story is solid and shows the writer has done their homework on both music and gymnastics. Of course there has to be a jealous rival in the gymnastics class, but she does not do much beyond telling on Fran to her mother. She pulls no sneaky tricks to sabotage Fran. This is probably because it would not fit into the 64-page booklet; if it was a serial, there would certainly be scope for dirty tricks from the rival. But it makes a nice change not to have it.

The conflict comes from the difficult mother who drives Fran way too hard, is almost absurdly comical in the way she goes on about the sacrifices she has made so Fran will follow her father, and being way too overprotective in keeping Fran fit for violin practice. But Mum’s carrying-on about her sacrifices is selfish and disgusting in the way she uses it for emotional blackmail on Fran. She made them just to get what she wants – see Fran follow her father. It was not for what Fran wanted, and Mum is clearly deluding herself when she thinks Fran is dedicated to the violin. If she took off her rose-tinted glasses she might see that Fran is not showing the same enthusiasm or talent for the violin that her father did – so much so that he would play for six hours without stopping.

Mr Mayer can see it, but it is a pity he does not speak up more about it and perhaps talk some sense into the mother. Instead, he takes Fran just for the sake of her father, though he must know in his heart it will be a waste of time because there is no real genius.

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It is ironic that in gymnastics Fran shows not where her talent lies but also more appreciation for her music as well. Mum moans to Fran that she has lost rhythm in practice while rhythm is no problem for Fran in gymnastics. Mr Mayer tells Fran that she does not make Mozart speak in her violin music; in a floor exercise Fran can really feel Mozart speak in the music.

The sleepwalking resolution feels a bit contrived. On the other hand, the mother did need some shock treatment to snap her out of her selfishness towards Fran, and she gets it when she sees her daughter in danger of falling to her death. It also forces the mother to watch Fran’s gymnastics for the first time and properly judge what she dismissed as “mindless contortions”. And in the end, once Mum has stopped pushing Fran into following her father, everything is so much happier for Mum as well as Fran.

Happiness House (1994)

Happiness House logo

Published: M&J #182 (5 November 1994) – #186 (3 December 1994)

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Maureen Hartley

Plot

Over the holidays, Laura Willoughby and her family move into Lower End Cottage, where Dad plans to set up a nursery business after losing his job. The cottage is a rundown place, and the villagers soon reveal that it has a reputation for being jinxed. People don’t live there long because they have nothing but bad luck in it. The Willoughbys find themselves avoided by a lot of villagers for this reason.

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Soon the cottage’s reputation for being jinxed becomes manifest – the family have nothing but disaster there, something always goes wrong with everything they do, the cottage seems to hate them at every turn, and they suffer injuries from a lot of accidents. Laura also notices there is something weird about the garden too: no insects buzzing, no birds singing, and no flowers blooming. There is also a dirty pond in the garden (note this).

Then Laura finds an old sign that says the cottage used to be called “Happiness House”. She deduces the problem is that the cottage is unhappy for some reason. As Laura loves the cottage despite everything, she sets out to find out why it is unhappy and if anything can be done to make it happy again.

Enquiries with a more helpful villager, Mrs Broadley, reveal that a little girl named Bessie Sawyer had an accident at the cottage years ago, and there is an old song about it:

Bessie Sawyer, Bessie Sawyer, fell into the muddy water.

Bessie Sawyer’s queen today, now poor Bessie’s gone away.

Happiness

Laura tracks down Bessie’s grave. Most of the inscription has worn away, but what remains reveals that Bessie died 1 May 1865 at the age of seven (the same age as Laura’s sister Jenny). Laura then borrows a diary kept by the vicar of the period. It reveals that when Bessie was christened in March 1858, her parents were overjoyed because they had despaired of ever having children. At this point the cottage was still called Lower End Cottage, and Laura construes that they changed its name to Happiness House because they were so happy to have a child at long last. Next, Laura revisits the dirty pond, and recalling the “muddy water” bit from the rhyme, deduces that it must be the spot where the accident struck seven years later.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family have become fed up of all the bad luck at the cottage and are preparing to move out. As they pack up, Jenny finds an old doll, which Laura retains in case it has some bearing on the Bessie mystery.

At the library, Laura finds the final clue in a display of photographs of village life in the 19th century. Among them is a photograph of May Day celebrations in 1865, and the May Queen is a little girl who wears the same costume as the doll.

Putting all the pieces together, Laura surmises that Bessie was crowned Queen of the May in 1865, and her mother dressed up the doll in the same May Queen costume. But on the same day, Bessie somehow fell into the pond and drowned. The tragedy shattered the happiness of Happiness House and cast a pall over the place that still lingers.

Happiness House panel 3

Not knowing what else to do to put things right, Laura cleans up the doll and takes it to Bessie’s grave. It does the trick: when Laura returns, birds are singing and flowers are blooming in the garden, and the cottage itself looks happier. Within days the family (who know nothing about Bessie or Laura’s investigation) have noticed they seem happier in the cottage and they are having no more bad luck. They decide to give the cottage another chance, while Laura puts the “Happiness House” sign back up.

Thoughts

Stories on jinxed houses that cause trouble for whoever lives there because there is something wrong with the place that needs to be put right (or the house just gets destroyed) have appeared before. But I have seen the premise used more for complete stories in annuals, such as “House of Secrets” in Jinty annual 1978, than for serials. The serial itself could fit into an annual as it is only five episodes long. The short length works well, and enables the mystery to be unravelled in record time without unnecessary padding added to drag it out and prolong the family’s suffering in the place.

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The story is one of my personal M&J favourites. The story is straightforward and engaging. The tragedy of Bessie is certain to bring a tear to the eye, and we also feel for the family as nothing but disaster strikes them. The discovery of the Happiness House sign shows that the cottage is not downright evil; it is acting more like a human being who is unhappy and takes it out on others by dragging them down to the same level of unhappiness. We do notice that the bad luck does not seem to strike Laura herself. Perhaps the house senses that she is trying to help and is leaving her alone? The artwork of Norman Lee also adds to the story. Lee was a popular artist, and his style works well with the rural setting of the story and hints of the period aspects.

Unfair to Favourites (1985)

Judy Picture Library 271

Published: Judy Picture Library #271.  Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #428

Artists: Norman Lee (cover); Ana Rodriguez (story)

Plot

Jayne and Jean Gentry seem to have everything going for them in the activities they pursue: ballet (Jean), and athletics (Jayne). They are set to go to the top in their various activities and the school even makes allowances for it. But there is one problem – it has bred favouritism among their parents. Dad favours Jayne because she pursues sport, Mum favours Jean because she does the same with ballet, and neither parent pays much attention to the other girl. The root of the favouritism is that each parent only cares about one activity, which they once pursued themselves and are pursuing again through their respective daughter. Neither is willing to be more generous to the other activity; Mum does not care for athletics (“athletics don’t do anything for me”) and Dad is the same about ballet (“ballet nonsense”). Both say they don’t understand the other activity but neither makes an effort to understand it more.

Favourites

Each parent thinks that the other is too single-minded about the activity they do care about while deriding the other activity unfairly. Neither parent comes to the other activity to lend support to their other daughter. For example, Mum is annoyed that Dad doesn’t come to see Jayne perform on stage because he cares more about an athletics convention. Dad is likewise annoyed at Mum for not coming to watch and support Jean perform at an athletics event because she took Jayne to watch the Royal Ballet Company. This is not the case with the sisters themselves, who make the time to watch the other and give moral support.

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Jayne and Jean decide enough is enough and they need to find a way to change their parents. They start with trying to win something in the other activity, with the other’s help. But they forget that there is a reason that one pursues ballet/athletics and the other not – one has the aptitude for it, and the other not. And they soon find that out the hard way. When Jean tries cross-country running with Jayne’s help, she ends up in such a state that she is not fit for ballet class. When Jayne tries ballet with Jean’s help, she ends up with a foot injury that leaves her unfit for a sports event. In both cases the parents blow up, each blaming the other girl and the other parent unfairly. Each parent ends up quarrelling with the other about how they go over the top with the activity they favour, play favourites with their pet daughter, and don’t pay any attention to the other daughter. When Jayne, Jean and their dog Timmy return home wet after unwittingly using a leaky boat, Mum unfairly blames Jayne, thinking she encouraged Jean again, and this leads to a similar row between the parents. Mum and Dad can see it in each other all right – but they can’t see it in themselves, which is what they must do if things are to change.

Jean and Jayne then try to talk to their parents about how they carry on in playing favourites. But both take offence, saying they can’t help not liking ballet/athletics. The girls realise how set the parents are in their ways and it is going to be very difficult to change them.

The stress of the failure takes its toll on the girls, and they lose form at ballet/athletics. Their teachers recommend a break, so the parents stop making their daughters spend so much time at their various activities.

During the break, Jean and Jayne try something else. Jayne has a go at Jean’s other activity, which is skating. But the coach says that although Jayne is good, she is not good enough to make competition standard like her sister. When Jean tries Jayne’s other activity by making a bid for the school swimming trials, she fails because of the same thing – good but not good enough.

Then, after the swimming trials, Jayne grumbles at how fed up they are, and still wondering how to change their parents. A schoolteacher, Miss Maybrick, overhears and asks what is wrong. The girls explain the problem, and Miss Maybrick comes up with an idea – an activity that combines athletic and artistic ability.

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So for the next few weeks, the parents are disappointed to hear that the girls are on strike over ballet/athletics because of a school project that they are very secretive about. When the time comes, the school invites the parents to a gymnastics competition, which Jayne and Jean have been giving up everything else to train for. And it is here that both parents watch their daughters together; Dad sees Jean in action for the first time and Mum watches Jayne for the first time. When Mum watches Jayne’s floor exercises, she sees and appreciates the artistic side while Dad grasps the athletic part. When Jean goes on the bars, Dad is impressed at what she can do there, and Mum says it’s due to ballet, which has given her grace and strong muscles. Before long, both parents are cheering their daughters on. They are thrilled to see them win medals, and finally wake up to their earlier mistakes. Afterwards, they take Jayne and Jean out to a celebratory dinner. The girls know that they are both favourites with their parents now.

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Thoughts

 The premise is a refreshing one – two sisters who are the best of friends but suffer because each parent takes favourites over one child while ignoring the other, just because they are not a fan of the activity the other child pursues. It makes a change having two protagonists suffer in this way. Usually it is just one, who is overshadowed and put down because her sibling(s) excel at their various activities and make Mum and Dad proud while she doesn’t seem to shine at anything.

The portrayal of the parents is rooted in realism and real life, which makes their characterisation so effective. They are not intentionally neglectful or mean; it is just that they are both so single-minded about the activity they are interested in and the girl who pursues it to the exclusion of everything else in life. They are also narrow-minded about the other activity. Both parents make disparaging comments about the other activity, neither will give it more of a chance, or at least try to tolerate it enough to come and watch their daughter. They are too wrapped up in the activity they are interested in.

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The resolution is realistic and also refreshing. The girls confide in someone (which does not often happen in girls’ comics) who comes up with an idea that could be the answer. The girls can’t believe they didn’t think of it themselves.

The teacher and the headmistress are so wonderful in the way they bend over backwards to help the girls with their problem: excusing the girls lessons to train for it, and helping to keep it a carefully guarded secret until the parents are actually watching the event as they don’t know how the parents will take it if they had prior knowledge of it. The girls come away with a whole new appreciation for teachers, as do we. Sometimes teachers are not the idiots or meanies that they are in other stories. Sometimes they are the ones with the brains and wisdom to put everything right.

 

 

The Shop at Shudder Corner (1983)

Shudder Corner cover

Debbie Picture Library: #64

Published: 1983

Artist: Norman Lee

Plot

Jean Marsh and Sheila Hawkins are best friends. Sheila’s uncle runs an antique shop at Shudder Corner, and they earn extra pocket money from cleaning the antiques.

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One day Sheila loses a lens from her torch in the shop and quickly finds a replacement on the floor. She does not realise the lens has a strange, mystical design.

Edited to add: the origin of the lens is slightly different from the original. In the original version, the girls found the lens beside a lightning-struck bush.

But the girls soon find that the lens turns the torch into a time travel device. Whenever it shines on an object that has a strange history attached to it (and in an antique shop, they are surrounded by such objects), the torch transports them to that moment in the past, where they become part of that particular chain of events. They have to stay for the duration, because the torch will not allow them to return – by being switched on again – until the adventure runs its course. Afterwards, Jean’s uncle (who is unaware of the time travel adventures) provides them with context on the object and their adventure.

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Jean is always telling Sheila not to use the torch in the shop in case it shines on something with a history. But of course Sheila always ends up turning the torch on for some reason or other. And then they are off again…

In this story, the girls go on three time travel trips with the torch:

Trip 1: The Danson dog collar

In the 19th century, Sheila and Jean meet Bettina Danson. She is running away because her guardian, Sir Charles Danson, is out to kill her and claim her inheritance. There is a legend in the Danson family about a demon dog known as the Hound of the Dansons. Sir Charles capitalises on the legend to unleash a vicious dog (who is wearing the collar) on Bettina as a fake ghost dog to kill her. The dog and Sir Charles trap Bettina and the girls at the edge of a quarry, but then they find a ledge and start climbing down it. Sheila blinds the dog with the torch, and it gets such a fright that it knocks Sir Charles over and he falls to his death in the quarry.

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Back in the present, Uncle tells the girls that the dog collar belonged to the Danson family. There is some tale about a ghost hound and a wicked guardian who was out to inherit a fortune by killing the rightful heir. But “something went wrong” and he “came to a sticky end”. The girls know what went wrong but can’t tell him.

Trip 2: The rose goblet

Sheila shines the torch on a crystal goblet with a rose motif. They are transported to an 18th century manor called Rose Manor, and roses are everywhere: the garden, the hedges, and even the stonework. But then an unpleasant servant takes them for gypsies and seizes them. The master, Squire Allwood, is just as surly and thinks they are gypsy kids who belong to “Mad Meg”. He is about to lock them in the cellar and send for the magistrate when Mad Meg shows up. The squire had driven the gypsies off and Mad Meg takes revenge by cursing Rose Manor with – roses. Immediately the roses start growing and spreading at terrifying rates that threaten to overwhelm the manor. People start fleeing, but Sheila and Jean are trapped in the manor with the roses threatening to smother them. They escape via a secret passage, but outside the nasty squire is about to recapture them. However, the torch comes back on and they return to the present.

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Uncle tells them the goblet came from an 18th century manor that became overwhelmed with roses; it was the gypsies’ revenge when the squire upset them. Ironically, the site where the manor once stood is now part of a famous rose nursery.

Trip 3: The horse brass

Sheila and Jean are working in the antique shop while pondering over a challenging homework assignment on chimney sweep boys. Jean’s notes go under a chest of drawers, and when Sheila pulls out the torch for them, the light shines on an old horse brass that got lost there.

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The girls arrive at a canal at a time when horses pulled narrow boats. The women of the narrow boat are cordial and offer them some food. The girls offer to sell some pegs in return, and the women suggest the big houses. On the way they encounter a climbing boy and his cruel master. The girls overhear the sweep telling the boy to help him and a man named Hobbs steal from the big house, or else. The girls report back to the women, who say the crooks are taking advantage of the boy being small and nimble to break into the house. They hatch a plan to foil them.

So, when the crooks head to the house that night, the girls distract them, rescue the boy and bring him to the narrow boat. But then the crooks seize the girls and force them to help with the robbery in the boy’s place. The girls strike back by throwing the bags of loot downstairs to knock the crooks down, but it rouses the household. The crooks are captured, and claim the girls are their accomplices. The girls are climbing their way down the wall, but the owner sees them and says the magistrate will decide their fate. Fortunately the torch comes back on and everyone below is stunned to see them just disappear.

Back in the present, Uncle is very pleased that the girls have found his missing horse brass, and they will be rewarded. He tells them it comes from a narrow boat, whose master used to be a climbing boy. “By some miracle he bettered himself” and became “quite famous”. The girls realise that the climbing boy stayed with the narrow boat women and “made good”. And their encounter with a real climbing boy helps their homework assignment so much that the teacher is impressed with the end result.

Thoughts

“The Shop at Shudder Corner” was originally a serial in Spellbound. When Spellbound merged with Debbie, Shudder Corner only lasted a few episodes, which is a bit surprising. However, Shudder Corner later resurfaced in the Debbie Picture Libraries and also scored an appearance in the 1984 Debbie annual.

The picture library completely restarts Shudder Corner at the beginning. The origin of the time travel torch is shown to the reader, rather than its powers being briefly explained with a text box before girls plunge into their latest adventure. This is an excellent move that quickly brings readers up to speed with the concept, and those who are not familiar with the original can just enjoy the time travel adventures in the picture library without even knowing its Spellbound origins. The altered origin is also more effective than the original, because it is much simpler, straightforward, and tying the lens directly with the shop makes more sense.

Shudder Corner 1

Storytelling about objects is not new. M&J’s “Jade Jenkins’ Stall” and “The Button Box” from Tammy both starred narrators who would tell the stories behind various objects, such as the items on Jade’s stall or the buttons in Bev’s box. But instead of narration, we see the story itself as the protagonists not only relive it but also become part of it, shaping the events themselves and the history of the object. This approach turns the concept into an adventure strip that makes it even more exciting. It also avoids the moralising and condescending tones that can permeate the narrative versions of “objects with a history” stories.

Time travelling to the moment in an object’s past is not a new concept. For example, Debbie had “Polly’s Patches”. Polly time travels to a period in the past in accordance with whichever patch she rubs on her trousers, which comes from that period. But while Polly is more of a lightweight story aimed at fun, Shudder Corner is a darker take on the concept, beginning with the shop itself. Its Tudor architecture makes it look creepy with the right atmosphere, and the name of the corner it stands on – Shudder Corner – makes it even more spine chilling.

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When you enter the shop, a lot of those objects – such as a stuffed raven in a cage or a necklace in a goblet – can make the ambiance even creepier, especially when you enter the shop while it is dark. This is not surprising for a story that began in Spellbound, and it also gives Shudder Corner a bit more of an edge as a time travel story. The artwork of Norman Lee also lends itself brilliantly to the spooky vibes and the period settings the girls end up in. Lee has long experience in drawing both supernatural and period stories, so he is a sensible choice to draw Shudder Corner.

The girls always end up in trouble and even risk their lives in whatever period they land in. The torch always rescues them when it’s time to go home – but not before then. Until then, they are in constant danger while they relive the history of the object. It is a shame that Shudder Corner was not carried much further in Debbie.

 

 

When the Mummy Walks…

  • When the Mummy Walks… – Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #10 (27 Nov. 1976)
  • Art: Norman Lee

Plot

In Victorian London, Jenny Hunt gets a job as an assistant curator at Granville Museum. Miss Brisson her employer, makes it clear  to Jenny that she is not happy that she was obliged to hire someone. She also lets her know that the Ancient Egyptian exhibit is under her supervision only. Luckily the other employees are friendlier such as Bob Clark, the odd job boy, and the people in her lodge who admire her ring, she got from her father, from Egypt. While walking through the Egyptian section, Jenny and Bob find the Mummy case is opened, Miss Brisson accuses them of opening it. She tells them the Mummy is the Golden Priestess of Manaton and is not to be messed with.  Later from her room Jenny sees a light on in the museum, she goes to investigate and is horrified to see the Mummy walking about.

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She tells the porter, Mr Pitt,  who doesn’t believe her. She goes back to investigate herself, and sees the Mummy return and Miss Brisson with it, proving that her surprise at the open Mummy case earlier was an act. Jenny does finds an ally in Bob, meanwhile Miss Brisson is keeping a closer eye on Jenny. Jenny and Bob follow the Mummy the next night. The Mummy has hypnotic powers over a police man, who stops Jenny and Bob while the Mummy breaks into a house stealing a box from a safe. They manage to get away from the policeman and see the Mummy leaving the house. Later Jenny investigates finding out the house was Professor Brents, an Egyptologist who led the first party into the tomb of Maraton. Miss Brisson catches Jenny researching this.

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That night they see Miss Brisson bring the Mummy to life with a totem, Miss Brisson knows they are watching though and she orders the Mummy to catch the spies. She has a plan to get the two fired by having the Mummy hypnotize them to steal things. Luckily Jenny’s scarab ring protects her, so she is able to play along and then slip back the stolen jewels later. With her plan backfiring Miss Brisson thinks its time for more drastic actions, ordering the Mummy to arrange an “accident” for Jenny. Jenny continues her investigation and has figured out the next victim is John Cresswell , who was another member of the tomb exploration party.  Unfortunately  they are unable to stop him being attacked and the treasure being stolen. Meanwhile they get trapped in the house.

They manage to escape Jenny heads to graveyard next, knowing this is where Mummy disappeared last time. They see it go down a grave and find lots treasure hidden there. She takes a ruby as proof. Jenny decides to head home for the weekend and get advice from her father. Unknown to her, the Mummy watches her. The Mummy attacks Jenny and Bob’s carriage and if not for Bob’s quick action they would have gone into a quarry.

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They make it to Jenny’s parents but Miss Brisson has beaten them to it and talks to the Hunts discrediting Jenny. Miss Brisson has also found the ruby that Jenny had, so now knows they have found her hideout. Returning to the museum, Miss Brisson leads Jenny and Bob into a trap at the grave tomb. While Jenny almost  convinces the Mummy not to attack, the Mummy collapses a wall sealing the two into the tomb. They manage to find a way out and coincidentally find the new hiding place for the treasure. They decide to let Miss Brisson think they are dead and lead the police to the treasure, although they don’t tell them about the Mummy as they don’t think they would believe such a story.

Miss Brisson is angry at these turn of event, she decides to do one more big robbery of the police station and get rid of Jenny once and all before leaving town. The first part of her plan goes well for her, as the Mummy hypnotises the police and gets back the treasure, but when she orders the Mummy to attack Jenny, the ring still protects her. Jenny swears by the scarab ring that she is not the enemy and Miss Brisson is going to take the sacred relics for herself. The Mummy turns on Miss Brisson, melting the amulet, destroying Miss Brisson’s power over her, before killing Miss Brisson. The Mummy having got its revenge goes back to its inert state.

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Thoughts

I thought I should have a post that gets in the Halloween spirit.  This was the first story in Spellbound and it s good creepy story with some mystery. Mummys were not the usual supernatural beings of choice for stories in girls comics so that makes it quite fresh. The design of the Mummy makes her both elegant and menacing. Of course the real villain in the story is Miss Brisson, who comes across as quite sinister in her own right, particularly when she towers over Jenny after catching her snooping. There is an eerie atmosphere built up, with shadows, foggy nights and the locations such as the graveyard and the empty museum. There is also some really nice and varied composition throughout.

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It is a pity that the Mummy is just a puppet for Miss Brisson, she is not just seeking revenge on her own, but at least she gets to turn on Miss Brisson in the end (although I’m still not sure how it was capable of such reason).  Since Miss Brisson is the true enemy, a lot of the Egyptian background is under developed, such as what is special about Jenny’s ring that it protects her.  When Jenny goes to her father for help, I hoped to find out more about the ring and interested to know what Mr Hunt’s knowledge of Egyptian tombs and Mummys was. It seems that whole trip was a pointless diversion and adds nothing to plot, except for Miss Brisson showing her deviousness again. At least Jenny doesn’t let the setbacks deter her and she is determined to stop Miss Brisson. It’s a good story with mystery, interesting villain and atmospheres. It is a good introduction for readers to know what to expect from the Spellbound comic.

The Shop at Shudder Corner

Plot:

Sheila Hawkins and Jean Marsh helped in an antique shop called The Shop at Shudder Corner, run by Jean’s uncle. When Sheila replaced a broken lens in her torch with a mysterious piece of glass, she found that when she shone it on certain antique curios, she and Jean were transported back in time . . .

shop at shudder corner

Notes:

  • Art: Norman Lee
  • Art: David Matysiak (Debbie Annual 1984)

Appeared:

  • The Shop at Shudder Corner – Spellbound: #14 (25 Dec. 1976) – #21 (12 Feb. 1977)
  • The Shop at Shudder Corner – Spellbound:  #32 (30 Apr. 1977) – #39 (18 June 1977)
  • The Shop at Shudder Corner – Debbie:  #372 (29 Mar. 1980) – #374 (12  Apr. 1980)

Other Appearances:

  • The Shop at Shudder Corner – Debbie Annual 1984