- The Painting – Bunty: #1663 (25 November 1989) – #1672 (27 January 1990)
- Art: Norman Lee
Life had been tough for the Blakes since Mr Blake lost his job, money was tight and there were lots of arguments. They get a new start though, when Mr Blake inherits a cottage from his aunt. Emma and her younger brother Bobby, settle quite quickly and Emma is sure they will all be happy in their new home. Mr Blake even gets an interview for the local supermarket. While clearing out some things, Emma has a rummage around the attic and comes across a parchment with a warning, surrounded by twigs and leaves. Not knowing its meaning she looks under the sheet behind it and finds a portrait of a lady who bears an uncanny resemblance to herself. A strange voice tells her to take the painting from the attic, and she suggests to her Dad, to do just that. While her Mum is unsure about hanging it as there is something about the eyes she doesn’t like, Emma snaps at her. She soon apologies, not knowing what made her act out. Later the painting tells her to burn the rowan that was in the attic. She does, but the wind catches the bonfire and nearly sets the thatched roof on fire, luckily Bobby alerts their parents in time to stop it.
When Mrs Blake decides to sell the painting, Emma is haunted by dreams where the girl from the painting tells her “we are one” and to stop her being sent away. Emma tries to turn her parents against each other, as Mr Blake does think they should keep the painting, but Mrs Blake wins out. But when Emma causes trouble with her Dad’s interview clothes and mum gets blamed, he decides he’s not going to trouble of contacting dealer about the painting. The painting also causes trouble when Bobby gets a puppy, but it is the dog that is blamed for the trouble and Bobby has to take him back to where he got him from. Meanwhile at home, Mrs Blake still senses something is wrong with the painting and that nothing has gone right since they found it. Taking it down and covering it up breaks its hold on Emma, though she can’t remember what she did while under it’s influence. Returning the pup to their neighbour, Miss Bonner, she has some interesting revelations, when she hears about the pup barking at the painting. She says the girl in the painting was also named Emma and she will come and talk to their parents about the painting. Later at home, even though being covered weakens it, the painting still has enough hold over Emma to uncover it, so it can command her to to stop Miss Bonner from interfering. She sets a fire at Miss Bonner’s house, making her look absent minded, so Miss Bonner’s nephew uses it as an excuse to send her to a nursing home. Miss Bonner knows the other Emma would be proud but warns Emma to take care.
When Mr Blake runs into an art dealer, Mr Carter, he comes to look at the painting. He confirms what Miss Bonner said, that the portrait is of a girl named Emma. Present Emma, meanwhile sets the dealer up so it looks like he was going to steal an antique vase. While Mr and Mrs Blake are glad they didn’t sell the painting to a “con-man”, Bobby is suspicious. He does some investigating and manages to get a recording of Emma talking to the painting, but it is destroyed. Still not defeated, Bobby tries to show his parents whats happening in person, but Emma’s too quick for him. Bobby’s next stop is to go to Mr Carter to enquire about a book he mentioned. We get the history of portrait Emma – Emma Lukin was proven to be a detestable witch of terrible power in 1689. Before she was burned at the stake, an artist painted her portrait and she declared, that one day when she meets her likeness she shall be alive again. Bobby gets photocopies of the story but the Portrait’s powers are getting stronger and she makes Emma appear in front of Bobby, causing him to swerve on the road into a car. Luckily he is not seriously hurt but Emma makes sure he can’t remember anything.
Emma Lukin is growing more powerful, when Emma Blake expresses concern for Bobby, she tells her witches don’t cry and gets her to turn cold. Mr Carter hearing about the accident tries to deliver the book to the Blakes but Emma sets it on fire and Mr Blake thinks Carter was trying to fire bomb them! Bobby’s memories aren’t completely gone and after having a dream he goes to Miss Bonner for help. She gives him some rowan to protect him, while his parents go to visit Miss Bonner. Meanwhile Lukin is ready to take over Emma completely and merge with her. Bobby interrupts them and Lukin almost kills him, but Emma saves him. Her tears for her brother destroys the magic of the painting and it dissolves. When the Blakes return, her father is disbelieving at first, then seeing the evidence he cant deny it. They clear Carter’s name, Miss Bonner moves back to her cottage and everyone can have a fresh start again.
Stories involving an object with powers over the protagonist, is a big part of girl’s comics. These objects take many forms, such as toys, statues or often it is a piece jewellery such as in The Power Over Paula or In Paula’s Place but evil influence from a painting is also popular. The paintings usually bear a resemblance to the protagonist (often because they are an ancestor) and the person may have been accused of witchcraft, Penny and the Portrait is another example of this type of story. This story is interesting in that not only does the Painting have control over Emma, she also wants to physically merge with her taking her over completely. There is some very creepy imagery in the last episode, as Witch Emma reaches out from the painting to join with other Emma. Although for the most part we might think the protagonist will win out like they usually do, any doubts we might have is spoiled a bit by the cover of the issue which tells us how the Painting will be destroyed! Still it is a lovely cover and I did like when the comics depicted stories from inside.
It is good to see the sibling bond between Bobby and Emma, while Emma becomes more lost in the painting’s influence, Bobby is the more proactive, investigator. I like that as the painting gets stronger, Emma also gets more supernatural powers. It is also well done that they save each other in the end, Bobby interrupts the spell and Emma saves him from falling. Love and Emma’s tears undoing the witch’s spell is fitting with the narrative, as it seems in this story to be a successful witch you must close off all your feelings. It’s good to see that more people are suspicious of the painting too, helping Emma, even if its unwittingly at times. Mrs Blake always feels an unease with the painting, and covering it up does make it’s powers wane, Mr Carter goes out of his way to try and warn the Blakes about the Painting (getting arrested in the process!) and Miss Bonner also tries to warn them and gives the rowan to Bobby to protect him. Mr Blake is the biggest disbeliever, which makes it harder for the others to get rid of the panting. An odd thing was that it is heavily implied that Miss Bonner’s nephew wants to move her into a home so he can get the cottage, but in the end, when she is proven to be sane, he has no problem with her moving back in. Perhaps they just wanted happy ending for Miss Bonner and didn’t have time to develop that subplot as it wasn’t important to the main story.
Not essential for the story but I did note that at this time in Bunty, it seems some stories didn’t have a consistent story logo, so the font style for the title kept changing. It seems like an odd choice, but it may have been Bunty was experimenting with look and style at this time, as it was just after they changed to glossy paper and had more full colour strips. This is one of the stories that got to make use of have of having full colour and the art by Norman Lee is quite vibrant, like I mentioned the painting is very creepy at times and I liked the flashback to the witch’s story. The pacing of the story is also good, as we see Emma lose control more, Bobby’s desperate investigation and potential allies being defeated by the witch.