- Looking for Lucy – Nikki: #10 (27 April 1985) -#19 (29 June 1985)
- Artist: Guy Peeters
- Distant Cousin – Bunty: #1919 (22 October 1994) -#1931 (14 January 1995)
- Artist: Ron Lumsden
These are two different stories but have so many similarities I decided to look at them together. Both stories revolve around a protagonist going to a boarding school where her cousin is also meant to attend. Both have not seen their cousins in years and when they arrive they find some mysterious cover-up about said cousin. Everyone is hiding something and they can’t get the truth from staff or pupils, so it’s up to the protagonist to investigate, solve the mystery and find their cousin.
Although there is a common plot thread, there are differences in how the stories are told. In Looking for Lucy, Shirley Wright arrives at the school where everyone claims that there is not and never was, a Lucy at the school. Shirley tries to find evidence of her cousin’s existence in the school, but every time she finds a clue, someone destroys the evidence. In Distant Cousin, Jenny Clayton, has kind of the opposite problem as everyone claims the her cousin Claire is at the school but she believes the person who claims to be Claire is not her cousin. So she is out to prove “Claire” is not who she says she is and find her real cousin.
Firstly Looking for Lucy – Shirley is surprised that no one has heard of her cousin, Lucy Semple, but surprise turns to concern when she soon suspects a cover up. She starts hunting down evidence of her cousin, such as trying to find her name on the class register. She finds one register is brand new, with no Lucy in it, in the same classroom she finds a table with L.S. carved into it with hockey sticks. As this is early in her investigation and the girls in her dorm seem friendly, she tries to enlist their help. She tells one of the girls, Janet, about the desk but when she goes to show her the desk, it is gone. She then decides it’s best to talk to an adult and goes to the headmistress, Mrs Bull, but even she denies Lucy’s existence! Knowing that Lucy liked hockey, she tries to track her down checking old school magazines, only to find the sport pages have been torn out. She does manage to find an old team list with the name L Semple on it. Again Janet pops up and Shirley suspects she is destroying any evidence she finds, but but when the list goes missing at a time Janet couldn’t have took it, Shirley realizes she can’t trust anyone!
She writes to her parents for advice, she receives a letter from them but it seems they didn’t get her letter. On a trip to a place the school have visited before, she finds photo with someone she is sure is her cousin. She confronts the girls that were in the photo and they first claim not to remember the other girl, then later say she was an old school girl Jane Smith, a common name that would be hard to track down. She tries writing again but with her parents are moving around a lot she doesn’t know when they will receive the letter. At a hockey match she thinks she has a good opportunity as she can ask opposing team about Lucy. She also believes she may have found an ally in Ruth, who seems sympathetic. But then during half-time when she wants to talk to the other team, she is tricked and gets locked in a shed. Knowing that Ruth was the only person with opportunity to lock her up, she decides to be even more careful collecting evidence and keeping it secret.
She tries to throw the girls off by saying she’s lost interest and that her parents have told her not to worry. Late during a party game she is hiding, when she overhears some pupils saying they are glad Shirley stopped asking questions, as they hate lying. While trying to see who is talking. she slips and hits head. She recovers and is more determined then ever to find out what happened to Lucy. She finally finds solid evidence, when she gets one of the girl’s old photo album, she finds a photo of her cousin in front of school with her name on the back. She goes to police only to be stopped by teacher with Lucy! Mrs Bull explains, that Lucy has been sick with an infectious disease and had to be kept quarantined. They didn’t want people to know about Lucy’s illness in case parents pulled their children from the school and they were afraid of financial disaster. As it is a happy school everyone pulls together to keep it secret and since Lucy is fully recovered they hope Shirley can be happy at the school too.
In Distant Cousin Jenny Clayton is excited to get a scholarship to Larchwood, and her mother calls Aunt Mary, who doesn’t seem enthused about Claire looking out for Jenny. They have never had much to do with that side of the family and Jenny has never met her cousin, so she is unsure of what to expect. Still on the day “Claire” greets her and shows her to the dorm. She seems friendly, but when Jenny talks about other family members, she seems to shut down, Jenny thinks its her snobbery. She begins to suspect, there is something strange about her cousin, and that she is keeping secrets. “Claire” is secretive about the letters she receives and appears to lie to the school to get a weekend away (She goes home for a grandparents golden anniversary, but Jenny knows there are no family anniversaries happening). Jenny tries to settle into school and does make some other friends. One time down town with some of her new friends, Sandra points out Alison’s gang and Jenny is confused as she doesn’t know anyone named Alison but does see Claire. Then later another girl calls “Claire”, Alison, she then claims that Alison is her middle name and she uses it a lot. Jenny doesn’t buy this story and quizzes Alison about their family, trying to catch her out but she seems to have brushed up on her information as she is able to answer most of her questions.
Later the girls are planning Alison’s birthday, this is further proof for Jenny as she knows Claire’s birthday is close to hers. After this she does some investigating, she finds an old receipt of Claire’s for shoe repairs. She collects the shoes and tricks Alison into trying them on. After this Alison owns up that she is not Claire but won’t tell her why the deception. Jenny tries to talk to the head but she is away at a conference, she then tries the art teachers but she dismisses her. She them rings her Aunt Mary who claims that Claire is at Larchwood and only phoned her yesterday. Jenny thinks maybe Claire has been kidnapped, she wonders if Alison and her friends are too scared to speak out, but then she overhears them saying they’re glad Claire is gone.
During games she sees someone watching from a window of an isolated part of the building. She sneaks up to see her, thinking that she may be Claire, but she is actually a girl named Sophie with measles, and the matron quickly ushers Jenny away. One evening, when the girls are looking at an old photo, they avoid letting Jenny see it but she manages to sneak a look later. One of the girls Pippa catches her, but she tells her she understands, she”d like to help, but she promised not to tell. At least Jenny now knows what Claire looks like. She also gets a hint from a head girl, that Claire got into trouble but is interrupted before she can ask further questions. When Sophie is released from sick bay, Jenny gets to talk to her and she mentions that no-one liked Claire and she remembered the day she left, but then Alison pulls her away. Jenny finds a letter addressed to Alison from Aunt Mary. Watching her later, she sees Alison read the letter and share out the money that was inside, among friends. Jenny tries to ring Aunt Mary again, but instead gets the housekeeper who tells her Claire’s at school and be home shortly. Jenny confronts Alison telling her what she already knows. Alison fills in the gaps, it turns out Aunt Mary bribed her to pretend to be Claire so Jenny wouldn’t find out she was expelled. Everyone is glad everything is out in the open as they like Jenny and glad they can all be friends now.
Both stories are really good at building up the mystery and they are quite engaging. Their downfall is the endings. In both stories it felt like they didn’t know how to end it, Looking for Lucy felt particularly rushed at the end as Lucy appears in the last few panels, just as Shirley is about to enter the police station, then there is a very long expository speech bubble. Despite this I think Looking for Lucy is the stronger story over all. Shirley is really dedicated to her investigation and therefore the tension and urgency can transfer to the reader. Whereas in Distant Cousin Jenny can sometimes be a bit halfhearted, she is annoyed when she messes up her chance with a boy as she goes to ask another boy about her cousin, also she only asks one teacher about Claire and then gives up asking any adult. Although the Headmistress was away first time she wanted to talk to her, she doesn’t attempt to talk to her again after she returns, even when she finds out the only teacher she asked about Claire is new to the school!
In Looking for Lucy it is clear that everyone in the school is part of the cover up which makes things more difficult for Shirley and again builds on the mystery and distrust, there seems to be no one she can turn to for help. She does well in her own investigations, tracking down any scrap of information she can, even if the others foil her progress. But all the build up leads to not much in the end. At least all the school have a combined motivation, but it makes little sense. Why not tell Shirley, Lucy had measles or was spending a term away, anything other than destroying all evidence of her existence! The ending might make more sense if Lucy had an accident at school and they didn’t want to ruin their reputation, that it turns out the school wasn’t at fault. Really the disease, that she picked up abroad during holidays, seems like a flimsy reason to hide everything from Shirley.
Distant Cousin does a nice job in adding new mystery halfways through the story. At first the mystery seems to be that “Claire” is hiding something and sneaking away from school. When she is revealed to be Alison, this changes to Jenny trying to find out what happened to her cousin. This change is slowly developed as we begin to suspect “Claire” is not who she says she is. Unfortunately the characters here have less motivation to lie then in Looking for Lucy. Nobody liked Claire, Alison wasn’t been blackmailed, her family seem to be well off so it’s not like she needs the money. It does seem that Alison’s friends seem to encourage her to go along with charade and she does share the money with friends, but it really doesn’t seem to be a big enough reason to go along with it. In fact she’s relieved when the truth finally comes out. This might have worked better if Alison was a scholarship girl and needed the money or if Claire was blackmailing her. Whatever about Alison’s side of things, how long did Aunt Mary think the secret was going to last? None of the teacher’s are in on it, just some girl’s in Claire’s old class, realistically unless the whole school was involved like in the other story, something was going to slip out eventually!
While the endings leave too many questions as I’ve said the rest of the stories are well done an the art in both is gorgeous. I like Ron Lumsden’s art, he does nice close ups of characters, filling the panel and capturing different expressions. Guy Peeters some has great details in some panels, such as when Shirley visits a church, and the light shines through a stained glass window or nice wide shots of school.