Tag Archives: Terry Aspin

No Friends for Fran

Plot

Sally Lenton had just moved to the village of Hollybrook. Whilst exploring, she went to the grounds of Denby house and spotted an unhappy girl at the window. She found out the girl was Fran Halliday and her mother kept her a prisoner because she was afraid Fran may catch a dreadful disease and die like her elder sister did. Mrs Halliday agreed Sally could be friends with Fran on the condition she could not ever leave Denby house, as she didn’t want her to bring any germs in. With the help of Mrs Gill the housekeeper, Sally sneaks back to her mother and with her agreement, she goes back to Fran to stay for the school holidays.

Notes

  • Art: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • No Friends for Fran – Suzy: #84 (14 April 1984) – #93 (16 June 1984)

Dark Days for Dot and Carrie

Plot

Dot Preston was convinced that the girl who arrived at her children’s home was actually her twin sister, Carrie, believed killed in a second World War air raid  4 years previously. When Carrie is to be fostered, Dot convinces her to runaway so they can stay together and she sets out to find proof they are sisters.

Notes

  • Art: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • Dark Days for Dot and Carrie – #51 (27 August 1983) – #60 (29 October 1983)

 

The Curse of Crawley Moor

Plot

With her dying breath, many centuries before, an evil witch Regina, had vowed that six black horses would bring destruction to the village of Salem, on Crowley Moor, every hundred years. When Julie Carton found out about the curse she decided she must break it. The only way she could do it, was by taming the six stallions which ran wild on the moor.

Notes

  • Art: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • The Curse of Crawley Moor – Suzy: #239 (4 April 1987) – #248 (6 June 1987)

Hard Times for Hatty [1978]

Plot

In 1840, Hatty Clifton is abducted by a pair of swindlers, the Rackhams, while visiting London with her parents. After the parents are fooled into thinking Hatty has died in a drowning accident, the Rackhams force her into helping with their fraudulent sideshows and games of chance at fairgrounds. Hatty’s attempts to escape are proving unsuccessful, and when she gets badly injured on the high wire the Rackhams refuse to get medical attention for her. However, Hatty manages to get the doctor in, who begins to suspect what’s going on. He starts making enquiries with the police and Hatty’s parents.

Notes

  • Artist: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • Hard Times for Hatty – Debbie: #291 (9 September 1978) –  #299 (4 November 1978)

 

Beanstalk Brenda

Plot

After Brenda Halford had touched the leaves of a strange plant, she begun to grow at an alarming rate. It was causing many problems for like when she was supposed to represent her school at netball but hearing cruel remarks about her height caused her to run off.

Notes

  • Art: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  •  Beanstalk Brenda – Suzy: #116 (24 November 1984) – #125 (26 January 1985)

The Green Lady (1986)

the-green-lady-cover

 

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #102

Artists: Cover – uncertain; story – Terry Aspin

Plot

Lucy Lang seems all set to spend her summer holiday at Sheringdale, her boarding school, when a letter arrives from rich Great Aunt Alicia inviting her to spend the holiday at her place, Random House. Great-Aunt is also inviting Lucy’s cousin Cheryl, whose mother (Aunt Jean) is ill in hospital.

When Lucy meets Cheryl at the railway station, Cheryl is rude and cold towards her. Lucy is also surprised to find Cheryl has dark hair instead of blonde, which she thought Cheryl had. Cheryl says she had a change of hair colour, but is soon behaving in other ways that are not so easily explained. She tells Lucy she does not care for her. Even more strangely, Cheryl says she has the perfect way to make sure Lucy stays quiet if she finds out things. And right from the start, Cheryl pulls nasty tricks on Lucy and tells lies about her to completely discredit and blacken Lucy in the eyes of Great-Aunt. One trick is telling Great-Aunt completely false story that Lucy deliberately tried to pull her under when they swim in a lake. Cheryl acts in other odd ways too: she does not recognise her mother’s Christian name; she behaves as if she is a non-swimmer and afraid of water when Aunt Jean said she was a keen swimmer; and she tells Great-Aunt that Lucy has a teacher called Miss Dean, but Lucy has never had a teacher by that name.

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Eventually, Lucy tells Cheryl she has had enough of her, the fraud! The girl replies she is not Cheryl at all. Some friends of hers have kidnapped the real Cheryl, and Lucy had better stay quiet or Cheryl will suffer. When Lucy discovers the imposter is interested in the valuables of the house, she concludes that theft is the motive for the kidnapping.

The imposter tells Great-Aunt she is going to send Aunt Jean a get-well card. Guessing the imposter is planning to relay a message to her accomplices, Lucy follows her and sees her slip a message into the collar of a dog, which then goes in response to someone’s signal. Lucy tries to follow the dog but loses it, and the search makes her late back. The imposter then returns in tears and gives Great-Aunt a phony line about Lucy deliberately losing her in the woods. As a punishment, Great-Aunt locks Lucy in her room.

Lucy creeps up the drainpipe to do some investigating. In the attic, she comes across information about the family’s most valuable heirloom, a miniature called “The Green Lady”. Lucy concludes this is what the imposter is after. But as she climbs back down, the imposter takes photographs of her, and tells Lucy that she is going to use it as “evidence” that Lucy stole the heirloom.

However, the imposter’s threat gives Lucy the idea of travelling to Cheryl’s house to find evidence that the girl is an imposter. Facilitated by a newly arrived gift of a bicycle from her father, she does so. Upon arrival, Lucy sees a woman who is ostensibly going in to clean the house. But when Lucy enters the house afterwards, she finds the house is a tip.

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Then Lucy finds the real Cheryl bound and gagged. As she unties Cheryl, Cheryl explains that a neighbour volunteered to help out with the housework when her mother took ill.  But when the neighbour found out how rich Great-Aunt was, she hatched the scheme of sending her daughter in, posing as Cheryl, to steal the heirloom. Helping the scheme along were big brother Len and his dog Bonzo to carry messages.

The neighbour and Len then corner the girls. The girls put up a fight and scream for help. While they do so, Great-Aunt arrives with the imposter, who tells her relatives that the game is up: Great-Aunt (who got suspicious of her) caught her red-handed and extracted a full confession. The plotters give up the fight and are handed over to the police. Great-Aunt tells Cheryl that her mother has recovered enough to have visitors, and she apologises to Lucy. When Lucy and Cheryl see the miniature, they marvel at how such a tiny thing could have caused so much trouble.

Thoughts

When we see the tricks Cheryl is playing on Lucy, the story seems set up to be another one about a scheming cousin who tries to push out another one. Only the cover saying that a girl’s life is in danger because of a miniature painting suggests it is something bigger than that. And there are odd things about Cheryl that hint she is not just out to cause trouble for Lucy. So it is not too much of a surprise when the imposter reveals herself to Lucy, though it makes a nice change from the spiteful cousin formula. The girl isn’t pulling these tricks because she’s spiteful – it’s all part of a bigger design to commit a crime.

Once it is revealed that a plot to commit a crime is at the centre of the trouble, the story gets really tense and exciting. Lucy knows a crime is planned but doesn’t know just what the criminals are after. She can’t speak out because Great-Aunt has been tricked into thinking badly of her, and the imposter has blackmailed her into staying quiet. She’s all on her own, and she has to figure out the crime while being under a cloud and then being confined to her room. And she is desperately worried about the real Cheryl, who has been kidnapped and being held somewhere, and it sounds like her life is in serious danger. When Lucy sets off on her own, the drama intensifies as we wait anxiously to see what Lucy will find at the other end, including what dangers that might await her. And what will happen when the imposter finds Lucy has gone? She is bound to guess where Lucy is headed and why. It will certainly scare the criminals into stepping up their game or worse, and the imposter making a grab for the miniature points to that.

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The criminals certainly are clever, even if their scheme depends too much on neither Great-Aunt nor Lucy not knowing Cheryl by sight. The imposter bears no resemblance to the real Cheryl and isn’t wearing a disguise, so the plotters must have put some interrogation on Cheryl in order to know they would get away with just planting a strange girl at Great-Aunt’s. The imposter does not put much effort into fooling Lucy – she goes for those nasty tricks instead to discredit her while working her way in with Great-Aunt to get close to the valuables. The tricks certainly look clever. Great-Aunt says afterwards that the girl was not that clever and it was gullibility on her part when she should have seen straight through the girl. Still, it is easy to say that in hindsight. And in the end, Great-Aunt shows perceptiveness in how she finally got suspicious of the girl: the girl refuses to go see her mother when news comes that the mother is well enough for visitors. Great-Aunt was expecting Cheryl to be eager to see her mother, so the refusal made her suspicious at last.

The artwork of the popular Terry Aspin (known for Bunty’s “Maisie Mercury” and “School’s Out!”) lends itself well to the story. However, we are a bit puzzled at the bejewelled hand making a grab for the miniature on the cover. Neither the imposter nor her mother would be wearing such expensive ladies’ jewellery, so whose hand is it? It’s probably just artistic licence for dramatic effect, and perhaps the jewels do make it more effective.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

Slaves of the Teasets 1

Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

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After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

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The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.

Princess of the Sun

Plot

The perfectly-preserved body of Nusta Calixapas, daughter of the last of the Inca kings, comes to life when it is discovered during an archaeological expedition. Nusta refuses to be separated from Melanie Mace, an archaeologist’s daughter, whom she makes her personal maid. So Nusta comes to England and Melanie’s boarding school, but her haughtiness as a royal is not making her popular. She also starts developing strange fainting fits, but recovers in the sunlight.

Notes:

Appeared:

  • Princess of the Sun –  Bunty: circa #877 (2 November 1974) – #888 (18 January 1975)

The Portrait of Pauline

Plot

When selfish Pauline Grey gets her portrait done by a street artist, she is told that it will show the true nature of the sitter. Pauline does not believe it, but changes her mind when the portrait begins to change for the worse. Realising she must change her ways if the portrait is to improve, Pauline makes genuine efforts to do so, but things tend to go wrong and the portrait ends up looking bad again.

Pauline 1

Notes

  • Artist: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • The Portrait of Pauline –  Mandy: #1226 (14 July 1990) – #1239 (13 October 1990)