Tag Archives: storyteller

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.

Damian Darke

  • Damian Darke– Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #68 (07 Jan. 1978) [not in every issue]
  • Damian Darke– Debbie: #258 (21 Jan. 1978) –  (?)
  • Damian Darke– Mandy: #841 (26 Feb. 1983) – (?)
  • Artists: Various

Plot

damian darkeDamian Darke is a storyteller of  strange and spooky stories. We don’t get  background on where he came from or how he knows such stories, but they seem to be documented in a large book that he keeps with him. He has a very distinctive look, dressed in old fashioned clothes and always accompanied by a raven. While Damian Darke introduces each story and usually had a closing statement about it, each story had it’s own individual title. The  stories were varied from cursed objects, ghost stories, timeslips and other strange occurrences. A List of stories  can be found  here.

I’m going to discuss ten of my own favourite Damian Darke stories here (listed alphabetically rather than a particular ranking).

1.  A Spoonful of Evil…. [Spellbound: #43] 

Carol loves going to auctions, one of her latest purchases is some old cutlery and her flatmate Sue chides for buying such junk. The next day, Carol and Sue are enjoying soup together when suddenly Sue takes ill. It seems to be some sort of food poisoning but Carol has not been effected. Once Sue has recovered she brushes it off as a bug and even is happy to try some soup again, but then Carol falls ill. The doctor is called again, and surprises the girls by asking if he can bring back a friend of his, an expert on local history. The girls can’t see how that could help but agree. The historian asks to exam their cutlery, his suspicions are confirmed when he finds a spoon with the devil’s head stamped on it.

spoonful-of-evil He then tells Sue the story of a Silversmith who claimed to have seen the devil and made a bargain with him, 12 innocent souls in exchange for his. He made a dozen spoons with the devil head mark and into the silver he mixed a deadly poison so that if the spoons were used twice, it was fatal. After 12 people had died from the poisoning he tried to recover the spoons but only found three. Now that the fourth has been found, Damian Darke ends with a warning that eight of the deadly spoons are still out there and asks the reader have they examined the spoons in their kitchen recently…

I like this story, the girls are lucky to have shared the spoon, although one could say they were unlucky to find it in the first place! It is one of those stories where it is not a person that needs a learn a lesson, but an unfortunate happenstance, which is scarier in a way! I like also in the story of the silversmith, it is left vague to whether he did actually see the Devil – the doctor in telling the story says he “imagined” seeing him. We don’t know whether there was some supernatural instance, and what the Silversmith may have done originally to get the attention of the devil, although it seems he was certainly capable of murder. It could have easily have been just a delusion by the man, with deadly consequences.  That we are still left wondering where the other eight spoons are, is also a troubling and compelling ending. (Although in a Nikki reprint they make it the twelfth spoon, taking away some of the fear)

2. Another Pair of Hands…  [Spellbound: #54]

Abigail Barton and her Aunt Ruth move to a remote cottage which was a long walk to the nearby village. Still they are happy with the cottage, but for some reason they are unable to find a housemaid willing to work at the cottage. When Ruth falls sick, it is up to Abigail to keep things running as she doesn’t want to worry her aunt. The work is taking it’s toll on Abigail though and exhausted she falls asleep in the kitchen. She is woken surprised by a young woman, who introduces herself as Biddy Breen and is there to offer her services. Abigail is delighted by the work Biddy does although she is puzzled by why she is always gone in the morning before she gets up.

When the doctor comes to visit Ruth he is happy to see her recovered and rested. Abigail tells him they have got help from a girl Biddy Breen, which shocks him. He tells them Biddy Breen used to work in the cottage but one dark night wandered off the road and was drowned. Finding out the place is haunted, Ruth immediatly wants to pack up and leave, but Abigail persuades her to stay , she tells her Biddy has been a good friend to them and she believes she can get her to leave. That night she stays up until Biddy appears, she thanks her for her help but tells her she can rest now.  Damian tells us Biddy’s  ghost was never seen again and in time the village people stopped fearing the cottage and the Barton’s lived there happily.

another-pair-of-hands

Not all the stories had to have some evil presence, here Biddy is not a ghost to be feared as she is kind spirit who wants to help. Although people still fear the unknown, the village people don’t want to come near the cottage because of the rumors of it being haunted and even Aunt Ruth knowing the help Biddy has given her first instinct is still to run away. It is only Abigail that acknowledges that Biddy has been a friend to them and she also returns the favor by releasing Biddy so she can rest in peace.

3. Behind the Green Door  [Spellbound:  #15]

In 1850, siblings Grace and John were sent out to sell matchboxes every day by their brutish stepfather, who kept all the money they made for himself. In extra money they do make Grace makes sure to hide it away so they can save up to run away from their stepfather. One day when they are out, John can’t resist taking a look behind  a green door that’s ajar. It opens up to a beautiful garden, even more surprising several well dressed people welcome them to join them for tea. They also seem to know their names and give the children money as they leave and invite them back the next day.

Their stepfather, Sykes, is suspicious of what they have been up to as they seem happy, so he follows them the next day. He catches them at the green door and shoves them aside to enter. He is in for a shock though, as unlike the children he doesn’t come across a garden instead he finds himself in the path of a carriage. Grace and John have no means to follow him as the Green door disappeared as Sykes went through. When they go home, they find out that Sykes was killed after he stepped out in front of a runaway dray horse. They are puzzled and they never find the green door again but they live a happier life with Sykes gone.

green-door

There’s some lovely artwork here (it’s the same artist as recent post Little Dolly Demon). When Grace and John find the garden it is quite exquisite with fountains and peacocks. There is a nice contrast of what the people see as they go through the door, and certainly Sykes, terrified look as the carriage come from the fog is very effective. The mysterious door is not explained but it does seem to judge those that go through it – Grace and John are rewarded, while Sykes meets only death.

4. Day of Vengeance  [Spellbound:  #17]

Many years ago, Old Hannah a clothes cleaner, was an irritable and sharp-tongued woman, only one girl; Margot, befriended her. One day while washing clothes, Old Hannah staring into the water suddenly told Margot to run to the men working in the filed near the mountains and to warn them to run as they were in danger. At first the men don’t listen to Margot but when Old Hannah appears something in her voice makes them listen. They are saved before the a giant rockfall comes crashing down. One man Herr Bauer takes special interest in Old Hannah’s premonition an visits her trying to persuade her that working together they could make a profit with her talents. Hannah tells home she rarely gets visions and only talks of them if there is danger and she has no interest in his greed.

Herr Bauer doesn’t take this well, he soon turns the village against Hannah, saying that having a witch in their midst is the cause of disasters such as crops failing. The villagers riled up and went to attack Hannah and burn her cottage down. Despite Margot’s efforts to save her Hannah is stoned and left on the mountain to die. Even then the villagers aren’t sated, seeing how upset Margot is, they begin to question if she was too close to the witch and should be banished. The elders decide to meet to discuss the matter. That night Margot is surprised to hear Hannah out beating clothes, she rushes to see her but then realises she is a ghost, beating 12 bloody clothes and singing a terrifying song. At the elder’s meeting a few days later, the building collapses killing the 12 men, so Old Hannah has her revenge and protects Margot.

day-of-vengeance

The greed of one man who was quite willing to use Hannah’s supernatural powers for his own means, quickly turns to a righteousness when he is rejected. That he is able to turn the villagers against a woman who saved their lives, shows who quickly fear and superstition can be aroused particularly in the time period the story it is set. Bad enough the fate of Old Hannah but that they then turn their attentions to Margot for trying to help Hannah is unforgivable. Which Old Hannah obviously thinks too and the very creepy image of her beating the clothes, lets us know that she should never have been crossed.

5. Horror in Haunted Woods  [Debbie: #324]

Sue, Karen and Christy are doing a school project about  local legends and get help from knowledgeable Mrs Rivett. She tells them the legend of how the local wood got the name Dog Wood. In the 17th century, the ashes of a witch who’d been burned at the stake were buried under the tallest tree in the wood along with ashes of her two pet dogs. People believed if anyone was to touch the Witch’s Firtree, the Dog-People, half men and half beasts,would rise from their graves to destroy them. On the way home Karen and Christy make Sue touch the tree. She is not worried, she believes what Mrs Rivett told her superstitious people got hurt because they frightened themselves so much.
horror-in-haunted-woods

A few nights later Sue sees dogs at the window, she tries to  to shoo them but then sees they only have the head of a dog, she is terrified that the dog-people have come to destroy her. Her parents don’t believe her telling it was a dream. But the next day cycling home she sees them again she falls from her bike and is chased, she ends up at the Witch Fir where she sees a figure beneath the tree. Sue thinks her days are numbered and that it is the witch returned, but then it is revealed to be Mrs Rivett. She calls out to the dog people telling them they should be ashamed of scaring the girl, it is then revealed that it is Karen and Christy in masks. They only meant it as a joke, but Mrs Rivett harshly reprimands them. She helps Sue back to her bike and she reassures her, that she needn’t worry about old wive’s tales and if there were such things as ghosts, she believes they would just be ordinary people who would come back to help anyone in trouble. Sue is comforted by this, she tells her parents when she gets home, but they inform her it couldn’t have been Mrs Rivett that helped her as she died from a heart-attack that morning!

horror-in-haunted-woods-2

There is some very frightening imagery with the dog people, even though it turns out to be a prank, it’s easy to see how Sue could be so terrified. Mrs Rivett helping her and telling her that maybe ghost just come back to help people is a bittersweet ending as clearly Sue had great admiration for the woman is upset by her death, very well captured with her expression and the tear in the last panel.

6. Mystery at Howlen Hall  [Spellbound:  #21]

Prudence Vane goes to visit her cousin Marella who had wrote to invite her to spooky house she had bought. Marella a flighty young lady was quite excited at the prospect of a ghost hunt. When Prudence arrives at Howlen Hall, she is told Marella has gone travelling and the housekeeper Dorcas does not seem keen for her to stay. When Prudence mentions the ghost, Dorcas seems surprised, then denies that there is a ghost and says Marella was just having a joke. That night Prudence is woken from her sleep by a moaning noise. She goes to investigate, she finds what appears to be Marella’s room and sees all her jewels are there, she begins to worry something is terribly wrong  as Marella wouldn’t travel without her jewels.

mystery-at-howlen-hall

Prudence investigates the house further and is startled by the sudden appearance of an old white haired woman. Dorcas arrives and tells her the woman is just  an old family dependent and Prudence should go back to bed. Prudence is not happy with whatever is going on, Dorcas swears Marcella is safe and gives her word that the truth will be revealed the next day. The following morning, Prudence confronts Dorcas and asks her if the old woman was a ghost. She was no instead she is revealed to be Marcella. It seems that one night Marcella decided she wanted to raise the ghost of Howlen Hall, when the servants returned they found her looking like an old woman and her mind gone. Being so wealthy Dorcas wanted to make sure Prudence was a real friend before revealing the truth. Damian Darke ends telling us Marella never recovered and serves as a warning to those who would delve into unknown forces.

I like the mystery of this story, the twist at the end was unexpected and although we never see how Marcella came to be the way she is, the warning is clear!

7.  Mystery on the Moors  [Debbie #258]

Sally and Pat were spending time hiking in the Yorkshire moors. On their way back to town, they decide to wait for the last bus so they get back before dark. While their waiting, Pat runs down to the nearby stream to freshen up, meanwhile a hearse pulls up to the bus stop and the driver offers her a lift. Sally goes to fetch Pat, but he is gone by the time they get back, Pat thinks he must have got tired of waiting. Soon the bus comes along and Pat is shocked the driver is the same as the man she saw before. She shoves Sally off the bus and tells him they were mistaken they don’t want that bus. Sally is mad at her telling her she has taken the joke  too far. They set off walking towards town, Sally grumbling along the way when they are passed by police cars and ambulances. They come across the scene of the accident, it seems the bus’s brakes failed coming down the hill. The girls had a lucky escape due to the unusual warning!

mystery-on-moors

8. Swamp of Evil  [Spellbound:  #7 / Reprinted – Mandy #841]

Wicked  money-lender Jethro Stern, is delighted to get an invitation to Lady Gladwell’s house. Having heard rumors of her falling on hard times since her her husbands death, he plots to get her house. While dining with Lady Gladwell he also mentally makes inventory of the fine things around him, one painting draws his eye – in it three men drown in a swamp, it makes Jethro’s blood run cold. He tries to concentrate on Lady Gladwell’s conversation as she asks about a possibility of a loan. Noticing his interest in the painting, she invites him to look at the rest of her collection of paintings. He brings him to a room of many strange paintings of Jethro’s victims such as Sammy who was crippled and couldn’t work and Mrs Watson who died in a workhouse.

swamp-of-evil

Jethro is disturbed by the paintings and Lady Gladwell tells him she is not having money problems but brought him here to ask him to release his hold on the poor town folk and leave forever. But Jethro will not tear up his arrangements, she tells him it’s a pity he has made that choice and leads him to the door. Jethro is eager to get away from Gladwell, but he soon finds himself lost in a fog and slowly realizes he seems to be in the Swamp of Evil painting. The next day a servant Mary is cleaning when she notices that the painting now has four figures one of which looks suspiciously like Jethro Stern.

Again the art is very well done here capturing the creepy atmosphere. Jethro Stern certainly seems to be deserving of his punishment. He also gets more of a chance at mercy than others, but he rejects his chance of redemption.

9. The Cavalier’s Cloak  [Spellbound: #37]

Judy and her family were spending Christmas at an old Quaker Cottage. While exploring Judy finds a portrait, with a man wearing a cavalier cloak which is surprising since they are in a Roundhead area. That night Judy is woken by knocking at the door and someone asking to be let in. She goes out to investigate but can’t see anyone, the door slams behind her and she is left out in the cold. An old man approaches her and offers his cloak to shield her from the cold.  She asks if it was him calling out, he says no but tells her a story of the family that lived in the house.

One evening Prudence and her father hear knocking at the door, they find what they think is a royalist, Prudence wants to help but her father does not. Then it turns out to be his son John who had gone fighting for Cromwell, his father is even more repelled at the thought of his son being a turncoat and shuts the door on him without listening to explanation. Prudence can’t sleep listening to John’s continued feeble knocking. She goes out to John, he explains that  a young Royalist soldier fatally wounded gave him the cloak to protect him from the cold. Prudence says she knew he wasn’t a traitor but when they go to return to the house the door has locked behind them. They knock at the door but their father remains stubborn, ignoring the knocking thinking John must learn the error of his ways. He is horrified the next morning to find both his children dead from the cold.

cloak

The man tells Judy that since that night the cottage has been haunted, he reveals himself to be Issac Bunyan the father (and man from the painting) and he has worn the cavalier’s cloak everyday since as penance for his cruelty. He then disappears as Judy’s father comes to the door wondering what Judy is doing outside wearing a tattered rug.

10. Whisper, Whisper… [Spellbound:  #11]

In 1931, Marcia Walton finds a charming cottage for sale cheaply  due to it’s dreadful history. Marcia is not superstitious and is happy to buy it. She starts redecorating and when she finds a mirror in the attic she cleans it up and hangs it above the fireplace. A few weeks a young squire, Mr Martin, is worried when no-one has seen Marcia in some time. He investigates and finds her on the floor thin and drawn and muttering about voices. It turns out the mirror was made by a poor craftsman for a wicked duke who killed him rather than pay him a fair price. Since then the owners of the mirror had been tormented by endless hateful whispering. Not only that but whoever destroy the mirror will never be free of the curse. Marcia also notes it would be evil to give the mirror to anyone else but Mr Martin thinks he has a solution.

Marcia is upset when she sees Mr Martin give the mirror to an old woman, she tries to take it back as she’d rather live with the curse than let a sweet old woman suffer. But then the woman stops her and asks her to write an explanation as she is completely deaf. Then Marcia understands the squire wasn’t being cruel it is in fact the perfect solution as the old woman would never hear the whispers. Damian Darke does muse that it happened many years ago and the mirror must be out there somewhere maybe in an attic waiting to be found.

whisper-whisper

It’s interesting that the cursed object can’t be gotten rid of. Most stories with cursed objects involved some way to break the curse or at least destroying the object would end it. How they solve this problem is a very clever and unexpected.

Final Thoughts

Continuing with the eerie stories for the Halloween season, Damian Darke certainly delivers on the spooky, dark and twisting stories. As discussed before the spooky storyteller was certainly common used to tell short stories. Damian Darke is particularly similar to Diana‘s The Man in Black, which isn’t surprising as Spellbound seemed to be influenced a lot by that comic. Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then with Mandy (although the Mandy stories seem to be mostly repeats). Some stories were also reprinted in Nikki, but Damian Darke was edited out and they came under the name Midnight Mystery. Damian Darke also appeared in had several Debbie Picture Story Library books. It’s easy to see why it lasted Storytellers were quite a favored story device and the series produced many engaging stories as well as having some terrific artwork.

 

Cremond Hall / Cremond Castle / Blackwell Hall

Plot

Cremond Hall had been the country seat of the Earls of Cremond for many hundreds of years. Now, it was uninhabited except for its custodian, Miss Hatherleigh, and the echoes of its past. Miss Hatherleigh tells strange stories of about the Cremond Hall (later referred to as Cremond Hall), each story had an individual title.

It was later reprinted in Nikki under the name Blackwell Hall.

cremond

Notes:

  • In it’s first appearance it was referred to as Cremond Hall but later stories called it Cremond Castle.
  • The stories would mostly appear as standalone in sporadic issues although some stories did have 2 parts.
  • Was reprinted in Nikki under the name Blackwell Hall

Appeared:

  • Cremond Castle – First Appearance: Spellbound:  #21 (12 September 1977)
  • Last Appearance: Spellbound – #69 (14 January 1978)

List of Cremond Hall/Castle Stories:

  • The Doves of Sorrow  – Spellbound: #21 / Reprinted – Nikki: #212
  • Night of the Black Swans – Spellbound: #38 / Reprinted – Nikki: #213
  • The Little Crusader – Spellbound: #39
  • For the Love of Marie – Spellbound: #40 / Reprinted – Nikki: #214
  • The Rocking Horse – Spellbound: #41 / Reprinted – Nikki: #215
  • The Forgotten Music Box – Spellbound: #42 / Reprinted – Nikki: #216
  • The Sad-Eyed Princess – Spellbound #43
  • The Queen’s Destiny – Spellbound / Reprinted – Nikki: #217
  • Rosa Never Cries – Spellbound/ Reprinted – Nikki: #218
  • The Lovely Lucinda – Spellbound: #48- #49
  • Mary, Mary…  – Spellbound: #67
  • Night of the Black Archers Spellbound – Spellbound : #68 – #69

Dolwyn’s Dolls

  • Dolwyn’s Dolls–  Bunty:  #1287 (11 Sep. 1982) – #1291 (09 Oct. 1982)
  • Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones
  • Other Artists: David Matysiak, Norman Lee and Douglas Perry

Plot

Megan Dolwyn owns a small doll shop down a cobbled street. She entertains customers telling them stories about where the dolls come from, some are sad stories, some are mysterious, some have a good moral and some even have a magical element.

When a bored girl on holiday comes into her shop, she tells the story of a doll named Elizabeth. The doll was a birthday present for a  girl Meg, who named the doll after a young princess in 1943. Tragedy strikes soon after as her house is struck by a bomb and her mother killed. Meg was taken to a hospital in a weak condition, and with her father a POW and no other family, she doesn’t have a lot to fight for. But then Elizabeth talks to her and convinces her to fight and even helps her to walk again. Her father returns from the war and Dolwyn reveals to the customer she knows all this, because she was the little girl.

dolwyns dolls

In another story a woman comments on an ugly doll. Dolwyn tells her the doll called Martha belonged to a girl named Sandra. Sandra’s father was a lorry driver often away, he mother was loving but quite disorganized. Her mother gives her the doll and a nice tea before leaving the family. Sandra stays with several family relatives until her father remarries a woman named Jane. Jane looks after Sandra well and gives her a new toy to replace Martha. But Sandra doesn’t care if Martha is falling apart and that her mother had faults, she won’t give up the last gift her mother got her.  Jane accepts that and brings Martha to be repaired.

dolwyns dolls 2

Another girl Sally loves dolls so much and spends all her time with them. She has a near life size doll Sarah Jane  so when her parents plan to go abroad she switches her place with the doll putting it under blanket in backseat of the car. She thinks while their gone she can have fun playing with her dolls all the time but she soon realises make believe isn’t fun when she’s locked in her playroom with no food or bed. Luckily her parents come back the minute they discover Sarah Jane and Sally gives up playing with dolls after that. Someone else that learns a lesson is Maggie, who wishes for the life of child star Goldie. After returning Goldie’s doll she gets opportunity to see how the other side lives but it turns out not to be all that great and quite boring so she is happy when she is home.

dolwyns dolls 3

From a picture story library, a more tragic tale is servant girl Mary falls in love with a gypsy but he is accused of thievery and leaves. Mary dies of a broken heart, she doesn’t even see the gypsy doll that was sent to her. Years later a girl living in the house finds the gypsy doll and discovers a note and money that is from the gypsy who traveled to America and wanted Mary to join him. Also is evidence that he was innocent of the theft.

Thoughts

Like I mentioned in a previous post, an advantage of these storyteller serials is that you had some familiarity with the serial and a variety of stories so even if one story didn’t appeal to you another could. The stories were often emotional in tone, and sometimes hinted at supernatural (such as the doll talking to Meg, though it’s not confirmed if this was just imaginary). Although there is some variety, I think having tales just about dolls was  a bit restrictive compared to serials like Jade Jenkins Stall or The Button Box had a much wider scope to play around with. There are some memorable stories like the gypsy doll, from a Bunty picture story library, that is one I enjoyed and remember well. I also liked in  the Martha Doll’s story, how Sandra was attached to the doll that her mother gave her, even though she had left. It did not matter how nice and more organised, an”ideal mother” that Jane was, it didn’t diminish Sandra’s love for her mother and she wanted to keep onto that reminder.

So while there were some stories I liked, a lot of the others didn’t have much of an impact on me. There are some other appealing points to the serial such as the art is nice, Meg Dolwyn herself is quite memorable, as is the look of the shop. Also the backstory of Meg Dolwyn gives us a good insight into our storyteller and would explain her love of dolls.

dolwyns-dolls4

List of Appearances

  • Dolwyn’s Dolls–  Bunty:  #1287 (11 Sep. 1982) – #1291 (09 Oct. 1982)

 Other Appearances:

  • Dolwyn’s Dolls – Bunty Annual 1983
  • Dolwyn’s Dolls – Bunty Annual 1984

Short Stories & Storytellers

Short stories were a popular feature in girls comics, most likely because it was quicker to plot out a  2-4 page story, a variety of artists and writers could work on a series of short stories with no pressure on developing a big plot. Also it was a good way to fill up space, complete stories also could be used as stand in, before a new serial started or to acknowledge a special occasion, such as a special Christmas story (e.g. Stir It Up- M&J). If there was a long running series of short stories, there was usually a theme or storyteller to tie the stories together. Often the story would still have their own individual title but would have the logo or storyteller introducing the story so we can have more of a  connection with it.

Themes

First looking at some of the regular short stories that were linked by a theme rather than a storyteller. The most loosely connected theme was in Nikki  where the logo of  Short Story is what linked the stories. This series continued in Bunty for a while after the comics  merged. Although these stories didn’t have a particular theme they were usually set in present day and based on school girls and often involved boys. A story with a more definite theme was; Broken Hearts (Suzy/Bunty) not surprisingly these stories often involved romance but not always as hearts can be broken in many ways. Such as a girl’s jealousy of her sister goes too far when her sister ends up in hospital and she regrets her actions. More stories that related to heart issues but focused solely on romance were Judy’s It Must Be Luv and later in M&J was The Boy Zone, the latter reprinted a lot of Nikki’s Short Story. Also in Judy was  Zodiac  where each story represented a star sign, like the Gemini story about twins who can’t agree about anything. An Emma short series focused on dogs in The Dog Next Door. In Debbie the fabled origin stories of flowers were told in old time setting in Flower Story. Misty had lots of short stories some of which came under the heading of  Beasts / Nightmares. More on the mystery and spooky side was A Turn of the Key in Spellbound, where hidden secrets were often uncovered. M&J  reprinted some of these under the slightly revised heading The Key Turns.

boyzoneit must be luvzodiac2Misty 001 28

Storytellers 

As well as having a theme a Storyteller was a popular way to tie things together. While still telling a variety of stories there was also a character that you could identify with the stories making it more connected and  maybe you could have your favourite storyteller. There was two frequent inspirations for storytellers either a special item, or those that were inspired by the mysterious and spooky.

Examples of the  item Storytellers include  Dolwyn’s Dolls (Bunty)  A Tale from the Toy Museum (Bunty) Mother Goose (Judy), The Silver Saddle (Mandy), Madame Marlova Remembers (Debbie) The Button Box (Tammy) and Jade Jenkins Stall (M&J).

Dolwyn’s Dolls took place in a small doll shop, where the owner sold and repaired dolls and told her customers many stories about dolls, sometimes the stories had a magical element. Very similar was  A Tale from the Toy Museum but it had a bit of wider scope with more toys rather than just dolls. Also the storyteller herself had more background development as she was a grandmother telling her bored granddaughter tales when she comes to stay with her over the holidays.  Mother Goose from Judy had another shop owner specialising in nursery and fairytale items. Once Upon a Rhyme in Mandy also dealt with fairy tales but was more magical as the stories were told by a fairy godmother. A more updated version of this theme was Jade Jenkins Stall, although it was not actually titled as such as each story Jade told had it’s own title. Jade stories came from items she sold at her second hand charity stall and she introduced each story. Jade addressed the reader the directly and also interacted with the characters in her tales, often they would return the item they bought at the stall. It was a good modernisation of item storyteller also Jade’s second hand stall meant stories were very much in the present. The Button Box has a more family theme, as a family heirloom is a box filled with buttons from all across history and social classes. Unusually it is not a wise older person telling the tales but a young girl Bev who was confined to a wheelchair. In Mandy’s The Silver Saddle Janet’s aunt Helen, tells her the stories of the girl riders and their mounts who have done notable deeds and earned an inscription on the silver saddle. Another story where we learn more about the storyteller is  Madame Marlova Remembers  from Debbie. Marlova didn’t collect a particular item but had many stories about the ballerinas she taught over the years. She went onto have a prequel serial about how she became a ballerina.

dolwyns-dolls    madame marlova

(Left to Right: Dolwyn’s Dolls,Madame Marlova Remembers)

The spooky storyteller was a popular choice, the stories were not so tied to one particular storyteller so could be used again, for example Tammy’s Storyteller’s Strange Stories were reprinted with Jinty’s Gypsy Rose now telling the tale (read more  about Gypsy Rose here). Two very similar looking character’s were The Man in Black, from Diana and Damian Darke from Spellbound. This is not surprising considering that Spellbound seemed to feature other stories that originated in Diana (i.e. Supercats, The Strange Ones).  Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then Mandy (He also appeared in some Debbie Picture Story Library books). Spellbound also had Miss Hatherleigh a custodian of Cremond Hall, who told strange stories of the Cremond family that date from the 12th century. Judy had She of the Shadows a mysterious veiled woman telling stories, but more notable was the later character Bones, a skeleton in Skeleton Corner  that also continued on in M&J. While other spooky storytellers may be mysterious a special otherworldly, having a skeleton truly passed it into supernatural.

damian darkeshe of the shadowsskeleton_corner_06

(Left to Right: Damian Darke, She of the Shadows, Skeleton Corner [Bones])

Thoughts

Clearly with the amount of stories that fall under the heading these were popular themes. As well as regular writers and artists, I suspect similar to 2000AD’s Future Shocks it could be a good way to test out new talents. While I liked some of the complete stories that had a theme, I found those linked with a storytellers as well were better, probably because I can more easily associate a particular story with a character. Also in some cases like The Button Box and Madame Marlova we got more insight into the storyteller and their lives. In some cases particularly the spooky stories the length constraints can affect the story, and sometimes the endings become predictable and rely on familiar twists. Still clearly a big advantage of these complete stories was you get a great variety in one serial, so you were sure to find a story that works for you.

Madame Marlova Remembers / The Dancing Days of Lisa Marlova

Plot

Each week Madame Marlova tells a tale from the world of ballet. Many of them are stories of inspiration and courage for aspiring ballerinas in Madame Marlova’s class while others teach morals such as leaving nothing to chance because chance can be risky. Some have a more unusual take, such as one story about dancing marathons in the days of the Great Depression.

Marlova

 

In a sequel The Dancing Days of Lisa Marlova,   Madame Marlova has retired and settles down to writing her memoirs. Now the story of how she became a top ballerina is told in full.

Marlova

Notes

  • Each of the Madame Marlova Remembers stories had individual titles
  • For a list of stories go to next page

Appeared

  • Madame Marlova Remembers  –  Debbie: #186 (4 Sep 1976) – #211 (26 Feb 1977)
  • The Dancing Days Of Lisa Marlova  – Debbie: #376 (26 Apr 1980) – #387 (12 Jul 1980)

Other Appearances:

  • A Girl Like Betsy… – Debbie Annual 1984

 

A Tale From the Toy Museum

Plot:

Tamsin Treco stayed with her grandmother who ran a toy museum in a Cornish fishing village. Tamsin loved to hear the stories behind many of the toys that were on show.

Tale From the Toy Museum

Notes:

  • Art: Douglas Perry
  • Art: David Matysiak (Bunty Annual 1988)
  • The stories had different titles ever week, accompanied by a sub heading “A Tale From the Toy Museum”
  • The first story was called “The Little Drummer Boy”

Appeared:

  • A Tale From the Toy Museum –  Bunty:   #1493 (23 August 1986) – ?

Other Appearances:

  •  The Forbidden Doll – A Tale from the Toy Museum – Bunty Annual 1988
  • A Model Family – A Tale from the Toy Museum – Bunty Annual 1989

Skeleton Corner

  • Skeleton Corner – Judy: (?) – #1635 (11 May 1991)
  • Skeleton Corner –  M&J: #11 (27 July 1991) – #41 (22 February 1992)
  • Skeleton Corner  – M&J:  #48 (11 April 1992) – #194 (28 Jan. 1995) [not in every issue]
  • Artist: Oliver Passingham (M&J: 11-41, 48, 50, 52, 61-63, 65-66, 69, 72, 77, 91-92, 98)
  • Artist 2:  Unknown (M&J: 129-141, 143, 150, 163, 171, 173, 191-194)

Plot

There wasn’t an ongoing plot, instead a skeleton, named Bones, introduces short scary stories, sometimes with a moral attached. It was usually 2 to 3 pages long. The stories varied from greedy girls getting what they deserved to innocent people being hassled by gremlins! A few stories focused on Bones and also had him interact with characters and influence outcomes.

Thoughts

As it is nearly Halloween time I thought this would be appropriate to write about. Comics like Misty and Jinty were better known for their spooky stories, but there was still room for these kind of stories in other comics too.  Skeleton Corner  was a bit of a softer approach, to the IPC comics but there were still some gems of stories featured. The storytelling skeleton, Bones, while he may appear scary he didn’t have a creepy personality, he was presented as a more as a friendly person who just happened to be a skeleton. He did set the tone well for the stories, as being a supernatural character that was possibly creepy but not overly disturbing!

The art was done be  a few different artists, though one that popped up a lot was Oliver Passingham:

I particularly like this, where a girl is unknowingly talking  to a poltergeist, the poltergeist looks very pretty with some other-world qualities as well. The supernatural being wasn’t seen always depicted as a scary, hideous character.

The stories themselves varied and of course being short stories they were sometimes they were limited with the space to work with. Often the stories had a girl who was greedy, selfish or ignored the rules getting a fitting punishment. Other times the main character could be a nice person, who just had the bad luck to move into the wrong house or meet the wrong person.

Here’s a selection of some of the stories:

Aladdin’s Cave Story (M&J: #108)

Jo Johnson and her friend Emma are stuck waiting at a bus stop, so the begin playing a prize giving arcade game called Aladdin’s Cave. They win a brooch at first and are surprised when their money is also returned. They continue doing this for a while, but Emma begins to get nervous she worries that something is wrong that the goods might be stolen and that something’s not right with the game and leaves. Jo continues but then the machine starts to shake and all the prizes help form an unfriendly genie

           

The Gate Story (M&J:  #140)

Sally Townsand is a late comer to her new boarding school, so she is given a single room that isn’t normally used. Sally doesn’t like an old faded picture of gates hanging up and is going to take it down, but the housekeeper insists it must always stay there.

Sally takes it down later anyway, she notices a crack in the wall but figures her poster can hide it just as well. That night she is woken up by knocking and tearing noises coming from the wall. Bits of plaster start to fall off. She runs to get the housekeeper who place the picture back up and tells her as long as its there nothing can get through. Bones ends the story by explaining that gates are used to keep things in as well as out.

     

Disappear Story (issue:141)

Rachel Gunn and her family move into a new house, they are quite happy and she settles in quickly at her new school. Her younger brother tells her how the previous family disappeared  Soon after Gary starts disappearing and reappearing.

Rachel thinks its Gary playing tricks on her, until it happens with her parents as well. She wakes up one morning and there is no trace of her family, though the car is still in the driveway. Feeling scared she rings the police. The police arrive but there is no sign of Rachel and they discuss how its strange that the same thing happened to the previous family, but its not like people vanish into thin air! This has a nice bit of a build up for a short story and it’s made even creepier when these things are left unexplained.

There was of course many stories in its long run, others I liked included;  a girl goes to a party at the department store she works at, only to discover that she was with mannequins all night. Another has a girl being turned into a tree. There were some spooky and interesting stories,  though like I said they were quite constrained with fitting the story into 2/3 pages, familiar twists appeared such as a person talking to a ghost while thinking another person is really the ghost. Sometimes the ending is left ambiguous with Bones only hinting at what may have happened.The art was done be a few different artists, but whoever was on drawing duties always did a good job. It was not a new concept to have a spooky storyteller telling stories, The Man in Black (Diana), Damian Darke (Spellbound) and Gipsy Rose (Jinty) all scared readers and taught them lessons weekly. Skeleton Corner continues this tradition and was successful in continuing to have an enjoyable run of stories.

The next page has a list of stories that appeared.

The Silver Saddle

Plot

Janet Marlow, from Australia, was staying with her Aunt Helen  who owned a famous strain of Arabian horses which had been bred by the family for generations. She also owned a silver saddle bearing shields inscribed with the names of the riders and their Arabian mounts who had performed notable deeds. Janet begged her aunt to tell her the story behind each shield.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Silver Saddle – Mandy: circa #165 (14 March 1970) – #171 (25 April 1970)