- Paula and the Wasps of Terror – Diana: #187 (17 September 1966) – #196 (19 November 1966)
- Reprinted as Paula – Spellbound: #22 (19 February 1977) – #31 (23 April 1977)
- Reprinted and translated to Dutch as“Paula” – Debbie Groot Mysterieboek #7 (1978)
Paula Spencer is a brilliant young violinist, whose career is derailed after an accident. After her first big concert, while driving home, the car suddenly starts to fill with wasps. Her father, Sir William Spencer, a high court judge, loses control of the car and they crash. Paula’s music instructor is killed in the crash and her father is left badly injured. Paula injures her hand, and her father worries he has ruined her career. In order to help her father, she is determined to play violin again, but the injury to her hand isn’t the biggest obstacle she has to overcome, it’s her new fear of wasps (spheksophobia). What she doesn’t know is her new teacher Mahsud Krishnan is using this fear against her as he has a vendetta against Sir William.
Krishnan sprays flowers near Paula with a powder that attracts wasps, and places a wasp in her violin case. When Paula can’t go on playing for her father because of the wasp, he relapses due to worry of her ruined career. Paula’s fear gets so great, she does not want to leave her house, she practices her violin in a boarded room, which does seem to help with her progress. This does not make Krishnan happy though, he suggests she makes a recording for her father, only for a wasp to appear in the middle of the recording. He plays an edited version to Sir William making it sound like Paula hates the violin and can’t have it near her. This causes Sir William to have another relapse. Paula does find an ally when she is assigned a young physiotherapist, Hilary Dewar, to help with her recovery. Not only does Hilary help with Paula’s hand, she also wants to help her overcome her fear of wasps and is the first to suspect someone is working against Paula.
Hilary finds out Paula’s violin has golden acacia scent on it which attracts wasps, and she also listens to the tampered recording, so now they know someone is out to get Sir William. For first time Paula is able to play for her father without problems and Sir William shows signs of improvement. Paula’s confidence grows especially after Hilary gives her a wasp repellent spray, but again it is tampered with and ends up attracting wasps while she plays for her father and she ends up with several stings on her hand. Later at home, Hilary convinces Paula the spray is safe, but when she uses it to kill a wasp, she accidentally gets spray in Krishnan’s eyes. He is angry thinking he is blinded, and his motivation for being against the Spencers is first hinted at, as he says “first my brother and now me – thanks, to the Spencers!” (Really at this stage, Hilary who overhears this remark should be able to figure out who is behind these attacks!). There is no permanent damage to his eyes and so he is able to play his next trick, sneaking a queen wasp into Paula’s violin case. Hilary drives them into a lake to escape the wasps.
The hospital is to have a concert, and not only is Paula going to play violin at it, she also gets Krishnan to teach her to play the sitar after hearing him play. The Indian music is not the pleasant surprise for Sir William that Paula had planned and then wasps attack and Paula does not want to play her violin piece. Krishnan convinces Sir William that Hilary is at fault for letting Paula play tennis, interrupting her studies, so he tells Hilary she must leave. This leaves Paula alone and vulnerable, to Krishnan’s schemes. Luckily Hilary still wants to look out for Paula, so she stays close by, keeping a watch on the house. This is very fortunate when Paula’s is chased from the house by a swarm of wasps, Hilary rescues her and takes her to stay in a yacht. She is going to keep her safe until they find out who is trying to harm her. Hilary asks Paula, why her father would be sad when hearing Indian music, she guesses it may have reminded him of her mother who was killed in Delhi. Meanwhile Krishnan is still working against the Spencers, telling Sir William, that Paula is missing feared drowned! This causes him to collapse and doctor’s fear he won’t recover.
Paula is contacted and is able to play the violin over the phone, rousing Sir William from unconsciousness. A week later, Paula is asked to appear on a televised concert with Krishnan conducting. Things start off well until she is attacked by a wasp again and runs off stage. Hilary talks to her and points out someone is using her to harm her father. Paula covers herself in wasp repellent and returns, concentrating only on making her father well again. As the camera’s were able to cover up Paula running off stage, Sir William is indeed happy to see Paula do so well. Meanwhile Hilary has continued with her investigation. She has found out that Mahsud Krishnan’s brother, Akbar, tried to assassinate Sir William but shot Mrs Spencer instead and was sentenced to life in prison. Krishnan’s tries one last attempt to get at Paula, by handing her flowers with 3 queen wasps. Hilary knocks the flowers out of his hands and also knocks the vial containing the wasp attraction liquid that Krishnan had been using. It splashes over him and he is attacked by a swarm of wasps. He makes it to water, but is taken to hospital to be treated for bad stings and shock. With their enemy now revealed, even more good news follows, as Sir William is well enough to return home. Paula also has overcome her fear of wasps with the defeat of Krishnan, and they can all enjoy her playing “The Wasps” by Vaughn Williams.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Spellbound gained a lot from the Diana comic, including some reprints and I can see how this would be a choice for a reprint. Krishnan is quite devious, and while the reader knows he is behind the attacks, his motivations are still a mystery that needs to be solved. What makes this story stick in my mind more, is the wasps, as who wouldn’t be unsettled by the thought of being attacked by a swarm of wasps! I find it little odd that Spellbound shortened the title of this story to the plainer “Paula” considering “the Wasps of Terror” would be fitting with the comic’s themes and would evoke a certain image in readers mind. The art itself does portray the wasps as terrifying, as Paula so desperately tries to escape them.
The art, the wasps as a threat, Paula’s fear, Sir William’s life in jeopardy, Krishnan’s schemes and mystery of why he is doing this, all work well for the story. What doesn’t work so well, is that the characters can be quite frustrating at times! Firstly, Sir William being so devastated by possibly ruining his daughter’s career, while understandable to a degree, it seems like an over reaction that any falter by Paula and he’s convinced her violin days are over. Also though he is in a weak state, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s explained she has developed fear of wasps that is what is stopping her playing, not her hand (or if they have explained, he hasn’t listened). Secondly, is how slow people are to suspect Krishnan! Quite early on (in episode 4) Hilary suspects someone is out to get Sir William through Paula, while she eventually figures out who’s responsible and why, it seems to take a long time to get there. You would think it would have to be someone close to Paula to be able to spray her items with the scent that attracts wasps and with the tampered recording that Krishnan gave to Sir William, he should be a suspect. But even after Krishnan’s mention of his brother and implication of Spencers wronging him, he is continually allowed to teach Paula and play at concerts with her. Possibly as we don’t know all of Hilary’s thoughts, she may have been doing more secret investigations into him but couldn’t do anything against him until she had solid evidence, but if this is the case it doesn’t come across well in the story.
Another observation I had was the Spencers are a wealthy white family and to have an Indian as a villain, at a time when colonization of India hadn’t long ended, stands out to me. As these comics in general had a majority of white protagonists, it’s a shame that when other people were represented it was often in the role of a villain. There is an Indian doctor that appears in one episode, that lends Paula a sitar, but has no role other than that. Aside from that I am curious about Krishnan’s brother, while we know that he is what motivates Krishnan’s act of vengeance, we don’t know why he tried to shoot Sir William in the first place. While that may be a question that would have been too much to get into for a short story aimed at young girls, it is still interesting to muse about such things when reading it today.
I think the strongest part of the story is Paula’s fear of wasps, which comes from a traumatic experience, and while Krishnan had nothing to do with that, he does use it to his advantage greatly afterwards. He does get a taste of his own medicine as he is attacked by wasps and left in shock. We don’t learn what happens to him after that, but I do wonder if he develops a fear of wasps as a suitable punishment! Paula’s fear is perhaps a bit quickly overcome in the end, but knowing that most of the wasp attacks were because of another person’s actions, it would make sense that when that person is gone, to feel less threatened.